Michigan basketball is one win away from being atop the mountain of college basketball.
And there’s no program, school, or fan base that deserves it more.
Think back on what’s happened to the University of Michigan’s football & men’s basketball programs the past decade.
In 2008-09, the two programs combined for a 24-23 record. The football team had a historically bad 3-9 season in Rich Rodriguez’s first year as head coach. John Beilein’s second team was better than its first but still missed the postseason.
In 2009-10, they combined for a 20-24 record. Both teams finished with a record under .500. Both teams missed the postseason for consecutive years.
Beilein’s first two seasons were expected to struggle. The success wasn’t going to be overnight.
Football, on the other hand …
As the years went on, it wasn’t as tumultuous as those two years. It was flashes of hope that turned into a roller coaster of emotions.
Michigan basketball went to the NCAA Tournament as a 4-seed, following a 24-10 season that was good enough for second in the Big Ten.
New football coach Brady Hoke went 11-2 and won a Sugar Bowl in his first season.
The basketball team was upset by 13-seed Ohio in their first game of The Tournament.
Following 2011-12, Hoke’s record got worse by the year. He went 8-5, 7-6 and 5-7 in his final three seasons. The 5-7 season in 2014 had him in question early due not only to the team’s struggles, but also to his inability to realize playing a quarterback who can’t walk straight due to concussion symptoms is probably a bad idea.
Despite football’s struggles until 2015, basketball found its rhythm under John Beilein. He kept his job through the hard times and became one of college basketball’s top coaches.
And in 2012-13, he produced one of the program’s best teams ever.
Which brings us to my point as to why Michigan deserves this crown.
Since 2013, the Wolverines’ two most popular sports programs each had an opportunity at a title.
Both of which ended in controversy that will live on forever.
In the 2012-13 season, Michigan basketball made it to the National Championship, going up against a Rick Pitino coached Louisville team.
Down three points with five minutes left, the game had its largest change in momentum when Michigan’s Trey Burke blocked Louisville’s Peyton Siva’s attempt at the net. It was called a foul and sparked the Cardinals to win 82-76.
To Michigan fans: The block has been clean ever since.
The block was clean… pic.twitter.com/eygcfEXObd
— Jim Weber (@JimMWeber) April 1, 2018
In 2016, Michigan football saw its opportunity for a National Championship.
It didn’t make it to the title game, but it was both literally and figuratively inches away.
Michigan, 10-1, traveled to Ohio State without a sure answer at quarterback. Sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight injured himself in the Wolverines’ only loss two weeks prior to Iowa. Junior John O’Korn struggled in his only start, the week before against Indiana.
The Wolverines and Buckeyes were playing for a shot in the Big Ten Championship (Michigan was guaranteed in with a win, OSU was not), and a damn good resume to be considered for the College Football Playoff.
But, similar to the Burke block, an even more controversial ending ended Michigan’s championship hopes.
Ohio State lined up on 4th & inches in overtime, Michigan leading, and a QB sneak from junior quarterback J.T. Barrett was ruled a first down.
And shortly after, the Buckeyes won the game.
The significance of the Barrett first down is its legitimacy.
Was it a first down?
To Michigan fans: J.T. was short.
RT if JT was short pic.twitter.com/4Qe4NvQb4e
— Barstool Blue (@BarstoolUofM) November 21, 2017
And he has been ever since.
There’s plenty more heartbreak in there. Michigan State winning on a muffed punt might be worse than Barrett’s first down, but there was no championship in plain sight.
Even some tearjerkers that people forget about: Aaron Harrison’s shot in 2014 to eliminate Michigan; Allen Robinson’s overtime catch for Penn State; Derrick Walton’s shot missing at the buzzer in 2017; Iowa’s field goal in 2016 to hand Michigan its first loss in Week 10, and the list goes on.
There’s been some great endings for Michigan, too: Trey Burke’s shot to force overtime in the NCAA Tournament vs. Kansas; Roy Roundtree’s game-winning catch to beat Notre Dame; Roundtree’s catch to set up a touchdown & overtime against Northwestern.
And, of course, there’s that Jordan Poole buzzer-beater that many call the sole reason the Wolverines are in San Antonio playing for a title.
But there’s something missing in all of the ups and endless downs: A championship.
Neither program can claim one in the 2000’s.
They’ve been inches away. They’ve been a block away. But they haven’t won one.
On Monday, an offensive Goliath stands in their way in 1-seed Villanova.
Heavily favored against, the Wolverines will be expected to fall short once again Monday.
Its fan base will fill the stands – like they have throughout these roller coaster years – hoping to finally see Michigan win the big one.
And no fan base deserves this underdog upset more than Michigan’s.