Earlier this week, we took a look back at five lows of the 2011-2012 season. Now, it’s time for the much more enjoyable part – a look back at the five most memorable moments of this season.
Michigan beats No. 8 Memphis, earns third place finish at Maui Invitational
Though Michigan finished the pre-season tournament in third place, the Wolverines left Maui with plenty to feel good about. Prior to the tournament, Michigan had yet to play any truly high-quality competition and many questions still remained about where this team would stack up against the upper-echelon of NCAA teams. It didn’t take long in Maui to realize that this Michigan squad had potential to have a special year. In a first round game against then-No. 8 Memphis, Michigan played like a team ready to compete with the nation’s elite. In a 73-61 victory, the Wolverines had it going on both ends of the court. Offensively, Michigan didn’t have to rely on the 3-pointer to score in big numbers — something that many were concerned the Wolverines would have to do in order to win big games. The Wolverines shot only 30 % from behind the arc but still managed to score 73 points. Defensively, Michigan gave the Tigers several different looks, both in man and zone, and it worked as Memphis finished the game with just a 37 % effective field goal percentage. Trey Burke, playing in just his fourth career game, scored 14 points controlled the pace of the game for Michigan against a very aggressive, fast-paced Memphis squad. Many questioned if Burke was ready to compete on a big stage. That uncertainty was answered very quickly and the Memphis game was just a small preview of what was to come for the freshman guard. Michigan fell to No. 6 Duke the following day in the semifinals, 82-75, but once again proved that it could compete with anybody. In the third place game, the Wolverines handled UCLA easily in a 79-63 victory and it was pretty clear that this was going to be an exciting year for Michigan basketball.
Wolverines beat Michigan State for the third straight time
Following Michigan’s worst loss of the season, a 75-59 pounding at the hands of Iowa on Jan. 14th, the Wolverines didn’t exactly have a cupcake game up next to get back on their feet. No. 9 Michigan State loomed, and the Spartans would no doubt be hungry. Michigan had won the previous two contests against Michigan State and the Spartans were eager to start a streak of their own. The Wolverines had other ideas. After Michigan State erased an 11-point second half deficit and took a four-point lead with 4:21 to go, the Wolverines clamped down defensively and didn’t allow another Michigan State field goal for the rest of the game. Offensively, Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a pair of buckets to cut the deficit to one, and Stu Douglass delivered the game winner with 35 seconds to play. The Spartans had a couple chances to take the lead in the final seconds, but once again the Michigan defense stepped up and didn’t allow Michigan State to get a good look before the buzzer sounded. For the second straight year, the Spartans left Crisler Arena with a loss and bragging rights remained in Ann Arbor.
With ESPN GameDay in town, Michigan takes down No. 6 Ohio State, 56-51
If there was one game that confirmed that Michigan basketball was “back,” this was it. College GameDay was in Ann Arbor for the primetime Saturday night matchup and fans lined around the Crisler Center hours before the game. Inside the arena, where Michigan was 14-0 on the season, the electricity was as high as its been since the 1990s, and for good reason. At 9-4 in league play, Michigan sat just one game out of first place while the Buckeyes, at 10-3, sat atop the league in a tie with Michigan State. This was a huge game — and it certainly lived up to the hype. The Wolverines led the entire way but never by more than 10. Each time Ohio State made a run, Michigan responded. Down the stretch, when the Buckeyes cut the deficit to just three on four separate occasions, Stu Douglass and Zack Novak responded with a pair of very difficult step-back jumpers. Then, with just over a minute to play, the freshman from Columbus carried the Wolverines on his back. Trey Burke drove right at former AAU teammate Aaron Craft twice in the final 1:17, and both times, Burke came out on top. His two buckets in the closing 77 seconds of the game sealed the deal for Michigan, and the Crisler Center exploded. There was no question anymore. Michigan basketball was back.
Mitch McGary signs with Michigan
Of all the big steps forward Michigan basketball took this year, arguably the most important came from a player who has yet to even step foot in Ann Arbor as a Wolverine. After he was recruited very heavily by national powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana, Mitch McGary is now a name that is becoming synonymous with Michigan basketball. The No. 2 player in the country at the time of his decision, McGary chose Michigan on November 3, 2011. Mark that date down on your calendar, because it very well could be the date when Michigan basketball took its final step on the way to national prominence. McGary joined Glenn Robinson III and Nick Stauskus, both Top 100 players in their own right, to round up the class of 2012 for Michigan. The Wolverines’ 2012 class, headlined by McGary, is one that has serious potential to turn Michigan into a national contender.
Wolverines earn share of first Big Ten title since 1986
After Michigan’s disappointing 75-61 loss to Purdue on Feb. 25th, dreams of a Big Ten Championship were all but gone. The Wolverines would need to win their final two games (at Illinois and at Penn State) to even have a chance, and they’d need some serious help from both Michigan State and Ohio State. With two games to go in the regular season, the Spartans stood alone at the top of the standings with a two game lead over Ohio State and Michigan; they had already clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title. Michigan State would need to win just one of its final two games—at Indiana or home against Ohio State—to clinch the outright title. To put it simply, the chances of Michigan getting a share of the title were bleak. But somehow, the stars aligned for the Wolverines. On Feb. 28th, the Spartans fell 70-55 to Indiana, and that bleak light got a little brighter for both Michigan and Ohio State. Michigan took care of business against Illinois and Penn State. If the Buckeyes could win in East Lansing in the final game of the season, the Wolverines would earn a share of the title. For maybe the first time in history, Michigan fans turned into die-hard Ohio State fans. And it paid off. The Buckeyes snuck away with a 72-70 victory, sending both Columbus and Ann Arbor into a frenzy. For the first time since 1986, Michigan would claim a Big Ten Championship.