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March 9, 2012On the shoulders of a power forward the size of a semi truck and a couple of scorching shooters, Michigan captured the inaugural Big Ten basketball tournament title in 1998.
The fourth-seeded Wolverines ran through Iowa 77-66, thrashed a helpless Minnesota 85-69, and outlasted Purdue 76-67 in the conference's first-ever tournament final.
Big man Robert "Tractor" Traylor stuffed the stat sheet with 17.3 points and 12.7 rebounds per game, and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player following a 24-point, 13-rebound outburst in the crown-clinching final game.
Guard Louis Bullock and forward Jerod Ward added 18.0 and 16.0 points per game, respectively, and floor general Travis Conlan offered unwavering leadership from his point guard spot for the Maize and Blue, averaging 7.0 assists and 1.7 steals in 35.0 minutes per game.
Yet, what stands out more than the Wolverines' larger-than-life MVP, or the shooting stars that knocked down an eye-popping 50.0 percent from behind the arc, is the star-shaped asterisk that accompanies the 1998 squad's name and accomplishments in the record books.
The wins, trophies, and stats that narrate the story of the 1998 team, and what was a historic inaugural conference tournament run, were expunged from record in 2002 following self-imposed sanctions stemming from the Ed Martin scandal.
Fast forward 15 years.
The antithesis of the brash, in-your-face Wolverines of the 1990s, the 2012 Wolverines already hold a major place in Michigan basketball lore after earning the program's first Big Ten title since 1986.
They enter the weekend with a realistic shot at capturing, officially, the program's first Big Ten Tournament crown, and adding another banner in the once-crowded Crisler Center rafters.
No longer an underdog in Big Ten Tournament play, here is a quick peek at some historical facts and figures that pertain to the 2012 Wolverines' quest to cap a magical season with a Big Ten Tournament triumph:
In the history of the tournament, two seeds own a 17-8 total record (.654 winning percentage) and have captured four tournament crowns (not including Ohio State's 2002 title that was forfeited due to NCAA infractions). Only the top seed has fared better with a 27-8 record (.771 winning percentage) and six titles. The likelihood of a championship run drops significantly for third-seeded teams, elucidated by a 9-13 all-time record (.409 winning percentage) and only one Big Ten tournament title.
Prior to this season, Michigan's highest seeding was third in 2003. The Wolverines, coming off of a first-round bye, played poorly and were upset by No. 6 Indiana 63-56. Michigan is a perfect 2-0 coming off of a bye since then, including a resume-boosting 60-55 victory over No. 5 Illinois last season.
U-M often times found itself in the cellar over the past 15 years, limping into the tournament a seventh seed or lower in 10 of 14 appearances (71.4 percent). The Wolverines managed a dismal 6-10 record during those campaigns, with only three of those victories against higher-ranked opponents.
Since head coach John Beilein took over in 2007, the Wolverines are an even 5-5 (.500 winning percentage) and have never been ousted in the first round. In that time span, the Maize and Blue have not lost to a lower-seeded team, but have upset only one team seeded higher - a 55-47 victory over No. 8 Iowa as a nine seed in 2008.
There remain four teams that the Wolverines have not defeated in Big Ten tournament play: Ohio State (0-4), Penn State (0-2), Indiana (0-1) and Wisconsin (0-1). Conversely, Michigan holds an undefeated record against only Iowa (4-0). Michigan is still awaiting its first tournament clash with archrival Michigan State and forfeited its only two matchups with Purdue, both of which were victories.
• Michigan has achieved minor success against its two possible quarterfinal opponents, holding a 1-1 record against Northwestern and a 2-1 record against Minnesota.
The last time Michigan squared off with Northwestern, the Wildcats snuck past the Wolverines 58-56 in 2005 behind 17 points from point guard Mohamed Hachad and 15 points from reserve guard T.J. Parker. In 2007, a stingy Wolverine defense held frigid Minnesota shooters to just 31.8 percent from the floor and defeated the Gophers 49-40 in a low-scoring slugfest.
Looking slightly ahead to possible semifinal matchups, the Wolverines have not officially played Purdue in conference tournament action. In 1999, a 26-point, seven-rebound effort from Bullock fueled the Maize and Blue to a 79-73 overtime victory in a game that was later purged from the record.
The Wolverines also later forfeited a 76-67 victory over the Boilermakers in the inaugural Big Ten title game. Michigan is even less familiar against longshot Nebraska, which will be competing in its first Big Ten tournament.
Michigan is all too familiar with possible semifinal matchup Ohio State. Although winless in conference tournament play against the Buckeyes, the Maize and Blue have taken the Scarlet and Gray to the wire in each of the past two seasons, including a devastating 69-68 loss on a 37-foot buzzer beater by Buckeye standout Evan Turner in 2010. An upset-minded Wolverines squad hung with Ohio State last season, but ultimately fell 68-61.