A great deal of you may have stopped following Michigan basketball this season.
Look, it's okay if this is true, particularly in recent weeks. Things haven't been exactly what we would call "pleasant." Michigan's season already seemed to be crumbling apart before the team's two best players, Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr., were sidelined with foot injuries. Though the undermanned Wolverines have responded valiantly to this adversity, going toe to toe with some of the Big Ten's best teams in hostile environments, they still suffered soul-crushing loss after soul-crushing loss, falling in overtime against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Illinois and at the buzzer against Indiana. Accordingly, Michigan has lost five of its last six games and is on the precipice of dipping below .500.
Nonetheless, if you've been disinterested in Michigan basketball, you must tune in now.
Why? Because this will be the most important week of the season for Michigan.
Regardless of records or recent performance, it's always an important week when a rival comes into town. The stakes are raised. The Crisler Center crowd is electric. The energy on the floor is off the charts. The bad blood between the two rivals begins to bubble. And Michigan knows it must defend its hardwood against Michigan State and Ohio State.
But, this week, Michigan doesn't host just one rival at the Crisler Center. It hosts both.
That's right. Both Michigan State and Ohio State will travel to Ann Arbor to battle the Wolverines this week. The Spartans will bus into town tomorrow night, riding the high of their resume-boosting home win against Ohio State this past Saturday and hoping to maintain their position on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Then, five days later in a Sunday matinee, the Buckeyes will clash with the Wolverines at the Crisler Center with the goal to avoid dropping out of the race for second place in the Big Ten.
It's not often that Michigan plays both Michigan State and Ohio State in the same week. Sure, it happened last season when the Wolverines edged the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals before losing to the Spartans in the championship game the next day. But that was on a neutral floor in the conference tournament. Both games this week will be in front of a frenzied, pumped-up, sure-to-be-sold-out Michigan crowd of 12,707. The last time Michigan hosted both Michigan State and Ohio State in Ann Arbor in the same week was during the 2006-07 season. That was almost a decade ago, and it could be longer than a decade from now when it happens again. So cherish the hate this week.
This also is the most important week of Michigan's season because what happens will have a significant impact on its postseason hopes. Michigan's chances to be an at-large NCAA Tournament team have been all but erased, but even an invitation to the NIT seems more unlikely than not. Every team that's been asked to participate in the NIT has had a .500 or better record, yet Michigan must win three of its final five regular-season games to ensure that it won't have a losing record. Therefore, if Michigan is defeated by both the Spartans and the Buckeyes, the Wolverines would need to win each of their last three games, which consists of road trips to Maryland and Northwestern a home game against Rutgers. The odds of winning all three according to KenPom: 7.4 percent. So, if Michigan wants its young roster to acquire postseason experience and extra practice time, it most likely must beat at least one of Michigan State or Ohio State this week.
The obvious counter argument is that the week of the Big Ten Tournament will be the most important week of Michigan's season, not this week. It can be well-argued that, given Michigan's current record and resume, the regular season is of little significance because Michigan's only chance to participate in the NCAA Tournament is to make a magical run in the five-day Big Ten Tournament and win the Big Ten's auto-bid.
However, the odds of Michigan making such a run will be slim at best, and most fans already have accepted that the Wolverines won't appear in the NCAA Tournament.
Do you know what Michigan fans haven't accepted and never will accept? Michigan being swept by both Michigan State and Ohio State. If the Wolverines don't earn a win this week, they will be 0-4 against their two rivals unless they meet one of them again in the Big Ten Tournament. And, when we remember Michigan was 0-2 against Michigan State and Ohio State in football this past season (I understand if you choose not to), the Wolverines are staring down the possibility that they may not beat either the Spartans or the Buckeyes once in their two most popular sports for an entire academic calendar.
That just can't happen.
And a rivalry win or two would provide needed bliss in what's been a frustrating season.
That's why this week is the most important week of Michigan's season. Don't miss it.