As we move into our third full day of a world without sports, this is the day that probably hits the hardest to this point. Right about now, the NCAA Tournament selection committee would begin to meet and put the finishing touches on the March Madness bracket. The Big Ten Tournament is played late enough in the day where the results do not matter a ton, but the game we profile today is one that will always have special meaning.
The 2016-17 Michigan Wolverines were 14-9 (4-6 in conference play) after a loss at home to Ohio State on Feb. 4, 2017. There were actually some rumblings of fans around this time about whether or not John Beilein was long for the job after tapering off the last few seasons.
The two seasons that had preceded it were a 2014-15 campaign that saw the Wolverines struggle all season en route to a 16-16 record. In 2015-16, the Wolverines would start the season 17-5 (7-2 B1G), but lose six of nine down the regular season stretch and be somewhat of a quick out in the NCAA Tournament after a first round loss to Notre Dame (after playing Tulsa in the First Four in Dayton).
The 2016-17 squad flipped a switch, as they won six of the last eight regular season games and entered the conference tournament as an eight-seed. As they were attempting to take off from Willow Run Airport, their plane slid off of the runway and thankfully, nobody was harmed. As a result of this, the Wolverines had to adjust their travel plans and did not arrive in Washington D.C. until about an hour and a half before tipoff against Illinois. They didn’t even have their gear yet and would wind up playing this game in practice jerseys.
The Wolverines would blow out Illinois, beat Purdue in overtime in the quarterfinals and take down Minnesota in the semifinals to earn a date with two-seed Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament championship game.
That’s enough rambling from me. Enjoy.
The Wolverines would win the Big Ten Tournament and head into the NCAAs as a No. 7 seed. What followed was an exciting 92-91 win over No. 10 Oklahoma State and an upset of No. 2 Louisville by a score of 73-69. The Wolverines would fall to No. 3 Oregon by a score of 69-68 in the Sweet Sixteen.
Despite that loss, Michigan Basketball was back under John Beilein and felt like it had its second wind as a program. They would make it to the National Title game the next season and then return to the Sweet Sixteen in 2018-19.
One could argue the 2016-17 season was one that helped Michigan Basketball prove it had staying power, which potentially set the table for a guy like Juwan Howard to come in and be able to have the success he has had on the recruiting trail.
Michigan has had more successful teams, but this group of Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin, Moe Wagner and others will always have a special place in the heart of fans.