We all saw this coming, right?
That Michigan would be the last Big Ten team standing? The same Michigan team that finished the season losing six of its final 12 games, handed Penn State its first conference victory in more than a year and fell to fourth place in the conference after blowing a five-point lead to Indiana with less than a minute remaining in the season finale, would be the conference's lone representative in the Final Four?
This is not how it was scripted. Not with Indiana spending much of the season as the consensus top team in the country, Ohio State emerging as the Big Ten's hottest team and Michigan State, well, like most of Tom Izzo's teams, Michigan State seemed to be playing its best ball as the NCAA tournament neared. Even Wisconsin's plodding, physical, defense-heavy style was thought to be tailor made for tournament success. Yet one by one, the conference heavyweights fell, and as of Sunday evening, Michigan, after weekend victories over a pair of conference champions, was the Big Ten's sole survivor, making a most unexpected trip to the Final Four.
Michigan advanced because it received more scintillating play from Trey Burke, who's effectively put to rest any discussion over who the national player of the year should be. But it also advanced because of the emergence of Mitch McGary and because of key contributions from Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. The final seconds had barely ticked off the clock in Sunday's Regional Final when questions about how Michigan will fare against Syracuse's fabled zone began. But there's time for that discussion later. For now, it's time for Michigan to enjoy the moment, one that no one, not even the most ardent Michigan fan, could say they saw coming.
So a conference that was lauded all season as being the baddest conference in the land has but one chance to claim its first national championship in more than a decade. Michigan has an uphill battle to be sure, with Syracuse and overall top seed Louisville likely in its path, but the Wolverines also faced long odds against Kansas and Florida. After dispatching the Jayhawks and Gators, many question whether the Wolverines can maintain their hot streak. But perhaps the more intriguing question is, will fans of other Big Ten teams show solidarity and conference pride next weekend and root for the Wolverines, or will hatred for their rival win out?