Michigan's basketball team, record wise, is the best in the Big Ten as we approach the midway point. They have the two best wins in the conference, maybe the country: at the Kohl Center against Wisconsin and at the Breslin Center against Michigan State.
Spartans fans can complain that Michigan did the Breslin Center deed without Michigan State dressing Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson, but they conveniently forget that the Wolverines have been winning without a preseason All-American, Mitch McGary. Michigan's ability to play through in-game adversity, overcome disappointment and close out games shows the mental toughness and overall improvement they've made.
One of the primary reasons Michigan has gotten better, and made this a better and more competitive rivalry, is because head coach John Beilein makes his players better. After being just a "shooter" as a freshman, Nik Stauskas is now an NBA first round pick. After averaging just two minutes per game last season, Caris LeVert has exploded into one of the best players at his positon in the conference. True freshman Derrick Walton, saddled with replacing Player of the Year Trey Burke, has gotten better as the year has progressed. And the two big men, Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan, have maximized their abilities.
Look back to Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris, and see how they upped their overall game each season, although Morris should have stayed another year. A lot of credit goes to the player himself, the strength and conditiong coach Jon Sanderson, and the quality assistants (LaVall Jordan, Jeff Meyer, Bacari Alexander). But Beilein steers the ship, and is the man in charge who deserves the lion's share of the credit.
I don't know if Michigan will win the regular season title, but I can tell you the Wolverines won't get caught up in the hype of being the current leader either. Too many people, including me, failed to realize how balanced this team can be even without McGary. But even more have failed to recognize how much better Michigan's players get under Beilein.
There's a saying, "those who stay will be champions." At Crisler Center it should also read, "those who stay will get better, both mentally and physically." The proof is in the players, and results.
[PODCAST] East Lansing Showdown 1-27-14
Shep talks about the Michigan-Michigan State game on Saturday night, what the game means for both teams and how much the Wolverines have improved since the loss of Mitch McGary.
Matt Shepard is the play-by-play voice of University of Michigan basketball, Eastern Michigan University football and the Detroit Lions television network. He can also be found on TV locally on Fox Sports Detroit and nationally on the Big Ten Network for college hockey and baseball.Learn more.