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November 29, 2012The 2013 Michigan men's basketball team anxiously stood in front of its bench as the 2012 Big Ten championship banner was raised toward the rafters of Crisler Center prior to its ACC/Big Ten matchup against No. 18 North Carolina State - the first such ceremony in Ann Arbor since 1987.
That night 26 years ago, Maize and Blue faithful celebrated back-to-back Big Ten titles under head coach Bill Frieder, and with the talent the 2013 Wolverines possess, John Beilein and company could very well be participating in very similar festivities a year from now.
While the pressures of following in the footsteps of a championship team can be immense, and at times overwhelming, U-M has traditionally thrived under these circumstances, posting a 199-88 all-time overall record (69.3 winning percentage) and a 111-61 conference mark (64.5 percent) in 12 instances of this scenario, and have won back-to-back conference titles four times, most recently the previously mentioned run in 1985-86. It has finished outside of conference's top four only three times.
Michigan entered the 1986 season No. 3 in the country following its conference title run in 1985 and would finish the season ranked No. 5 in the nation and atop the Big Ten standings with a 28-5 (14-4) record. Despite the elation of the rare repeat performance, any hopes of going deep into the NCAA tournament were deflated when the second-seeded Maize and Blue were upset by seventh-seed Iowa State 72-69 in the second round.
Frieder's squad accumulated a 54-9 (30-6) record in those two seasons and had seven players drafted into the NBA, but came crashing back down to earth in 1987 when it finished fifth in the conference with a 20-12 (10-8) record and another second-round exit in the Big Dance.
The first time Michigan captured consecutive conference championships was when Calvin Coolidge was in office and E.J. Mather was manning the sidelines.
The Wolverines won a share of the Big Nine in 1926 with a 12-5 (8-4) record on the shoulders of an outstanding season by team captain Richard Doyle, who averaged 5.3 points per game from his center position (the team averaged 29.2) and became the program's first All-American selection in his only campaign in Ann Arbor. U-M followed up in 1927 with the school's first outright Big Nine title. Led by All-American forward Bennie Oosterbaan's (1927-28) 8.1 points per game, the Wolverines posted a 14-3 (10-2) record.
Mather underwent cancer surgery during the offseason and never fully recovered. Although he returned as head coach in 1928, he was advised by doctors to resign due to his failing health during the season, and the team was essentially directed by then-athletic director Fielding Yost. Amidst the turmoil, the gritty group finished fifth in the conference with a 10-7 (7-5) record, but Mather later lost his battle with cancer in Aug. 1928.
Perhaps the most famed acknowledged run in program history occurred from 1964-66. Under the tutelage of Dave Strack, Michigan ran roughshod over the Big Ten, winning three-straight conference crowns and amassing a 65-17 overall record, including a 35-7 mark within the league.
With the services of three-time All American, two-time Big Ten Player of the Year and 1966 NCAA Player of the Year Cazzie Russell (1964-66) and two-time All American Bill Buntin (1964-65), Michigan made the final four twice, including a runner-up finish in 1965, and reached the regional finals in 1966. The Maize and Blue dropped off the map in 1967 following the departure of Russell, limping to a last-place conference finish with an 8-16 (2-12) record.
Now back to the present.
Following the most recent banner raising ceremony, the No. 3 Wolverines, who possess an acute mixture of key pieces from last season's team and a batch of ultra-talented newcomers, cemented themselves as a true threat to etch a place in Crisler Center lore with a 79-72 primetime victory over an extremely athletic and talented Wolfpack squad.
Whether Beilein and his team can ultimately match the championships runs of its most successful predecessors in 2013 is yet to be seen, especially considering the talent level boasted throughout the Big Ten, but early indicators show that U-M has stockpiled enough talent to not only be a force in the Midwest, but on the national scene, for years to come.