Well, here we are.
After what has been a season with its fair share of ups and downs that is riding off on an unbelievable hot streak, this is it for Michigan Basketball.
You position yourselves all summer, all season, all year for the chance to play in the final game at the end of it all. So many teams enter March not knowing whether or not it will be the last time they take the court together.
The National Championship game is finality. It is over one way or another. And you have to sit all day through it knowing that no matter what happens, this is it.
The end of the line.
Michigan is going to walk into the Alamodome on Monday night against a buzzsaw of a Villanova team that nobody outside of Ann Arbor is going to pick to be beaten. And deservedly so.
A college basketball season is a roller coaster of emotions that has several different groups as “the team to beat” and Jay Wright’s squad has most consistently been considered as such. They will be playing for their second title in three years on Monday night.
The task is tall, the test is tough and the competition is stiff. John Beilein and his group would have it no other way.
Villanova may be the best team in college basketball, but Beilein’s is the best coached and this is his Symphony No. 7 as far as jobs he has done in Ann Arbor. By all accounts and on paper, Michigan has no business being as good as they are.
His staff deserves a ton of credit for that, as well. Beilein sort of had to facelift his assistants the last few years due to guys like Bacari Alexander and Lavall Jordan getting head coaching jobs of their own. Then, Billy Donlon and Jeff Meyer had to be replaced.
A pair of hires from Illinois State in Luke Yaklich and DeAndre Haynes had people scratching their heads, but they have proved their worth all season long and the defensive presence that has been brought to this team gives them a shot in any game they play.
Including Goliath on Monday night.
Michigan Basketball has not won a National Championship since 1989 in what some would argue is the defining moment for the program. Others will likely more correctly say it is the Fab Five and ensuing scandals around that group. Even on Sunday, Michigan was asked about Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and company.
Thankfully, those guys will not be as big a storyline as five years ago when Michigan last was in this spot. Beilein was correct. That era is over.
This group has a chance to become the defining moment in the history of the program.
It is an extremely likable group (unless you live in East Lansing or Columbus) that wins with defense, never gets rattled and does not have a true superstar. It has a lot of those same elements that made the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons so beloved just down the road from Ann Arbor.
If they lose on Monday, it would hurt, but it would not be devastating. Villanova is the most formidable opponent they have played all year and may just have the best player at this level in Jalen Brunson.
But if they win, nobody can yell any longer that their road was easy. The bracket worked out in their favor, yes, but their reward was to take on the NCAA’s most complete team.
Michigan has a chance to wash away the stench of its previous failures and deliver Beilein with his signature moment as a coach and one that should put him right up there with the Fielding Yost, Fritz Crisler and Bo Schembechler-types of the world at Michigan.
This is the golden age of Michigan Basketball and they can cap it off with what would be some much-needed magic in Ann Arbor.
As far as a prediction goes, there’s no reason to back down from it now. Exactly two weeks ago today I said I believed Michigan would win it all and I still do. The basketball logic behind it has to do with how they are coached and the defensive intensity they bring. The rest is gut-feelings and emotions. It just does not feel like this run can end with disappointment.
Buckle up, pour yourself a beverage later. Be prepared to register some high heart rates on your fitness trackers.
National Title game ‘ain’t no place for a nervous person.
“Well it’s all right, even if the sun don’t shine
Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line”