Here’s a PSA for all Michigan basketball fans: Don’t worry about any of the outside noise. That little number next to the team’s name, the national ranking, don’t even bother with it. The Associated Press college basketball poll started on Jan. 20, 1949. The original poll had 20 teams, with Saint Louis the first school to hold the No. 1 ranking. From the 1961-62 season through 1967-68 only 10 teams were ranked. It expanded again to 20 teams from 1968-69 through 1988-89. The Top 25 began the next season, and it has stayed at that number ever since. The AP’s final poll is released after the field for the NCAA Tournament is selected (via apnews.com).
This team wasn’t ranked in the AP Top-25 pre-season poll and didn’t enter the rankings until December 14, when they checked in at #25. The national ranking wasn’t even a thought 20 years ago because the Wolverines went without AP Top-25 ranking from the 1998-99 season until the 2005-06 campaign, but let’s not go there. The Maize & Blue are currently ranked #2 in the nation with an 18-1 record overall and 13-1 in Big-10 Conference play. The lone blemish on Michigan’s record was that road game in Minnesota against the then-ranked 23rd Golden Gophers, 75-57, a game without starting senior guard Eli Brooks. Michigan did receive 4 votes for the #1 spot currently owned by Gonzaga, which has stayed in that position since Week 1 of the college basketball season.
THE IMPORTANT NO. 1 IS TOURNAMENT SEED
Right now, the rage on Twitter is Michigan vs. Gonzaga fans arguing over who should be the #1 team in the country. Although that “#1” looks nice, it really means absolutely nothing. When it comes to the NCAA Tournament in a couple of weeks, there will be four “#1” seeds, that’s what is most important as the tournament is seeded to hopefully give number 1’s the best possible route to the Final Four. The most important task at hand for Michigan is a Big-10 regular season title, a Big-10 Tournament title, and then the hopes of an NCAA championship. Keep your eyes on the prize, folks.
Gonzaga is currently 24-0 overall & 15-0 in their conference, bonus points for those of you who actually know what conference they play in – the West Coast Conference. Gonzaga is a different breed from all other mid-major & low-major programs. They haven’t missed the NCAA tournament since the 1997-98 season (we don’t count last year because the tourney was cancelled, but the Zags were 31-2 & ranked #2 in the country). They’ve gone on to be a #1 seed in the tournament 3 different times & will again this year, all without a National Championship. The Zags conference play is, mid-major, nothing more. But they do an excellent job of scheduling High-Major opponents in their non-conference schedule and this season it includes wins vs. #6 Kansas (102-90), Auburn (90-67), #11 West Virginia (87-82), #3 Iowa (99-88) and #16 Virginia (98-75). They had former #2 Baylor on the calendar but that game was cancelled due to COVID-19. Gonzaga hasn’t played a ranked opponent since December 26th, their W versus defending champion Virginia.
RELAX, ENJOY MICHIGAN’S QUEST
Gonzaga is more than likely not going to surrender their #1 ranking with only the WCC tournament left on their slate. Michigan still has their Tuesday evening game against #4 Illinois & then a home-and-home series against Michigan State (13-10, 7-10) this Thursday & Sunday.
- UM is 6-1 against the AP Top-25, Gonzaga is 4-0.
- Gonzaga is ranked #1 in the NCAA Net rankings, Michigan is #2.
- Michigan is 8-1 in Quadrant 1, Gonzaga is 7-0.
- Gonzaga is #1 in the KenPom ranks with UM at #2.
- The Zags have KenPom’s #1 offense & the #10 defense, Michigan is #5 in offense & #4 on defense.
We can go back & forth just like all those good people on Twitter, but what matters most for this Michigan team is that they stay focused on the task at hand. One game at a time, for 40-minutes, dialed in on each possession. The Wolverines have proven their worth in the country’s toughest conference, game after game. Let’s all just sit back, relax, and enjoy this historically special season for the Maize & Blue.
Photo from the Detroit News