Thoughts On Michigan Basketball's Second-Half Surge
Over the last four years, Michigan has gone 22-7 in February, winning at least five games each season, as it prepares for one more contest this month: home against Wisconsin Feb. 27. That success has helped propel the Maize and Blue into Big Ten tournaments (10-1 from 2017-19) and NCAA tournaments (9-3 from 2017-19) with momentum, and has Michigan poised to make noise in the postseason once again.
This season's surge includes four wins - over Michigan State, at Northwestern, Indiana and at Purdue - due in large part to the return of junior Isaiah Livers from injury, but it also includes a pair of victories over Rutgers in hostile territory (Madison Square Garden in New York City and at the RAC in Piscataway, N.J.) without Livers.
John Beilein built a winning culture over his 10+ years with U-M, and thanks to the contributions of leaders like Stu Douglass, Zack Novak, Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Jordan Morgan, Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske, that culture has been passed down from team to team, providing the Wolverines the intrinsic mental tools to elevate their games when urgency rises.
For decades, the Michigan football team enjoyed this type of mental edge, each recruiting class winning at least one Big Ten title from the mid-60s to the early 2000s, as the Maize and Blue passed a winning culture down from class to class. The 2005 freshman class became the first cohort in more than 40 years to graduate without a conference crown but now it's 11 classes.
When the going gets tough for Michigan football ... well, it's too tough, the Maize and Blue 2-12 against Top 10 teams since 2015. The basketball team, on the other hand, is 10-13 against Top 10 teams over the last five years, and looks, once again, to be one of the best 15-20 programs in college hoops as we close in on March.
When a program wins in crunch time and then wins again the next season, and the next, it becomes habit. It becomes who they are. It becomes culture. That's what Michigan has presently, and as evidence this season with a new coaching staff and significant roster turnover, there's good reason to believe the culture will continue.