At least, according to the voters in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.
How did Michigan get there? By handling its b-i in Minneapolis. I was totally off, as Michigan won with ease despite almost 2/3 of its shots coming from perimeter players. Although, in my defense, Dion Harris and Daniel Horton made 14 of the 25 shots that they took, and if they're going to be that accurate on a consistent basis (which they aren't), they can do what they want. Kind of.
Kudos to Horton who came through with 32 points and was again assertive without being (too) wild (6 TOs). During the game, Brian continued to pioneer his real-time retrospective analysis method and his comments, linked here, are worth checking out. So, too, are John's over at the authoritative and swoon-inducing Big Ten Wonk. I keep meaning to update my blogroll (I'm lazier than Gabe Watson in February), and when I finally do (this weekend?), Big Ten Wonk will likely get its own section, tentatively titled "Why Do I Even Do This?" (OK, enough slurping. Sorry.) As John rightly points out:
It wasn't all sunshine for the Wolverines. Not only was alleged big man Courtney Sims again little, but...Lester Abram got hurt again and will not be available during the planned circumspection which we are all now committed to undertaking tomorrow night. It's a shame, too, because: a) Michigan, not deep with talent, could use him, and; b) Injuries = excuses. Yeah we lost, but Lester was hurt. That routine gets old. Especially when teenage recruits get all teenager-y and eschew consideration of mitigating circumstances like who was injured and instead focus on things like how often Michigan State beats Michigan in this post-Fab Five era of clean basketball and mildly to fully inept coaches. Or, as Dick Vitale would say it, "k-o-ches."
If Michigan wins tomorrow, it will finally have a reason to realistically consider participating in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan is currently 13-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten. It has avoided the proverbial and sadly common bad losses--only losing to ranked opponents UCLA at home and Illinois and Indiana on the road--while collecting a quality win over competitive-in-the-ACC Miami and an increasingly less impressive win at fuck-this-16-team-Big East Nawter Dame (again, that's a Vitale phonetic). A win against the Spartans would not only give UM an impressive conquest for its resume, but it would also make the remaining schedule much less daunting.
At 4-2 in the Big Ten, UM could effectively aim to finish 5-5 and still make it to the tourney. Oh by the way, there are 5 homes games left after Wednesday, and UM still has trips scheduled to Penn State and Purdue. That could be seven Ws (but we all know it won't be.) The bad news, though, is that of those ten remaining games, only three jump out as games that don't immediately send me into emotional-meltdown-management mode (alliteration!): at PSU (2/1), at Purdue (2/11), and against Minnesota (2/15). Plus, you never like having to count on winning road games, because as we all should know by now, it's never an upset when the home team wins. (Well, unless UConn travels to some place like Monmouth.)
The other games that I have tactfully avoided until now? #21 Wisconsin (1/28), at Iowa (2/4), #16 Ohio State (2/9), at #12 Michigan State (2/18), #7 Illinois (2/21), at #16 Ohio State (2/25), #11 Indiana (3/4). That's a lot of numbers before the names of the schools, huh? And I don't know what to expect out of Iowa. Michigan could easily lose all seven of those games.
And that brings me back to beating Michigan State. Committing a cardinal sports sin and momentarily assuming that the three games identified before as best-chance wins actually are won, that would mean that UM had to win two more to finish 9-7 in the conference with at least three quality wins (Miami, MSU, and some other team). Of the seven dangerous games, four are at home, and starting out the end-of-season death march at 4-2 in the Big Ten means UM would only need to split those four. 3-3 would mean that it had to beat good teams at home 75% of the time down the stretch. That has not been a hallmark of this program.
So there it is. Michigan might not have to win tomorrow, but it sure would make things easier. And if nothing else, it would just be nice. When I was a student, Michigan State's fans used to vacation at their summer home in Ann Arbor, regularly chanting that they owned Crisler Arena. I am sick of that shit.