On Tuesday night, the Michigan men’s basketball team beat Illinois to earn its first outright Big Ten title in almost three decades. What’s more impressive is how they’ve done it.
Michigan’s famous Fab Five left the stage 20 years ago, and were replaced by Tom Izzo’s Michigan State teams a few years later. For more than a decade, the Spartans dominated the state.
Izzo’s teams have earned 16 straight NCAA invitations – and they’ll get another one next week – seven Big Ten titles, five Final Fours, and one national title, in 2000, and he’s done it the right way. His players graduate at roughly an 80% clip, higher than the student body at large. Along the way, Izzo took 18 of 21 against the Wolverines, who have had four different head coaches during his tenure.
But what a difference a few years make. Michigan basketball coach John Beilein has beaten the Spartans in six of their last eight meetings, and returned the long dormant Michigan program to its previous heights.
And by previous heights, I mean 1986, which is the last time Michigan won the Big Ten title outright. I was a senior that year – about the same age as the parents of Michigan’s current players.