Michigan Basketball: Wolverines at Illinois — Preview — Playing For a Number One Ranking in Hoops
Distraction, Expectation, or Defining Moment? And, Does It Really Matter?
Michigan will again (likely) play for a number one ranking on the road this Sunday against Illinois. The last time Michigan was in a similar position was only a few days ago on the road against Ohio State. In that game, Michigan could not cope with Ohio State’s pressure on the ball and dug a huge first half hole.
Now that other top teams have recently lost, Michigan gets another chance against the suddenly up and down Illini. The Illini Head Coach, John Groce, was a long-time assistant to Ohio State’s Thad Matta. Groce preaches and teaches the same defensive intensity and he, like Matta, emphasizes pressure on the perimeter. Groce does not have Aaron Craft, but he does have one of the best guards in the Big Ten, Brandon Paul.
Illinois can play hot when ahead and blow cold when things start to unravel. What happens will soon be determined.
Michigan players have publicly held the expectation of reaching the top of the rankings. This can be a great motivator, or a distraction. It frankly depends on the focus and mental toughness of the team.
Some teams, like Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky have high expectations that have been realized through decades of talent, intensity, and a mental state of expecting to win. Not being number one can affect those teams more so than being number one. Programs of this nature do not mind the big bullseye on the back, and prepare to defend the ranking with tenacity.
Some teams have not been in such lofty positions for years and when the ranking becomes reality, or the chance exists to ascend, the thought process overtakes the preparation. The old phrase “They thought about it too much” can apply. Teams in this boat can play in a fog as concentration and toughness can evaporate.So, how important is gaining a top spot with a win against Illinois for Michigan? Obviously there is importance attached to such a venture. Michigan’s effort to get back to the top of the basketball world will have been vindicated, regardless of the length of the reign. The coaches will receive some vindication, albeit in this profession such a grace is temporary. Recruits will take notice and critics at least silenced for a period of hibernation.
It is not the end all this season to be number one, however. The view here is that Michigan could beat several top teams this season, and lose to the same teams. The same can be said for Duke, Indiana, Syracuse, Louisville, Kansas, and many other teams. There really is no number one dynamo that is “the lock” to win the whole thing like in years past. There may be as many as 8-12 teams that have a true and legitimate shot at winning the NCAA crown this spring. It is quite possible for number one to bounce back and forth many times in the next seven weeks. The Big Ten may guarantee that statement as the top tier teams will in probability knock each other from the throne two or three times this season, allowing teams from other conferences to take a crack at keeping the ranking.
March will matter, but some time in the big boy chair would be nice, that is, if the team can handle the associated clamor. The win will outrank the rating in eventual importance. Consistency will be the ultimate hallmark of this year’s champion.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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