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February 20, 2012

M is for Momentum

With the clock winding down on Michigan basketball's 56-51 win over Ohio State, fans in the stands began celebrating the return of a once proud program as a legitimate Big Ten contender.

The enormity of that moment alone wasn't lost on either U-M head coach John Beilein (he disappeared into Crisler Center's underbelly for a moment to himself to absorb it all) or the fan base, which stuck around for a half hour to celebrate the victory over the nation's No. 6 team.

Seated among them were some of the nation's premiere football recruits. By then, a handful had already committed, all of them Rivals.com four-star prospects. Shortly after the game, Pickerington (Ohio) defensive end Taco Charlton became four-star pledge No. 6, sending shock waves through Big Ten recruiting circles and those who follow it closely.

It still wasn't over. The next day head coach Brady Hoke and his staff added two more four-stars, giving the Wolverines eight in two days, bringing the total to 10 of the Rivals.com top 200 (out of 11 total commitments), with one - Warren De La Salle quarterback Shane Morris - No. 16 overall and possibly in line for a fifth star down the road.

When Illinois standout lineman Logan Tuley-Tillman joined Ohio four-star tight end Jake Butt on the commitment list, Joliet (Ill.) Catholic running back Ty Isaac - Rivals.com's No. 2 running back prospect and the No. 18 prospect nationally, already high on Michigan as he is on the Wolverines' wish list - summed up what many were feeling with a one-word tweet:

"Wow."

This, of course, all comes on the heels of an 11-2 and Sugar Bowl championship season that caught most - probably even the new coaching staff, though they might not admit it publicly - by surprise.

"If they can get 11 wins out of a group without a single consensus All-Big Ten player, think about what they're going to do with even more talent," one prep coach told TheWolverine.com recently.

And more is on the way. Hoke and his staff secured the No. 7 recruiting class nationally last year, heavy with highly rated linemen. Games are won in the trenches, Hoke noted when he first arrived, and he and his staff backed up his word by addressing needs on both lines with some of the nation's best.

Build great lines, and logic usually dictates the skill positions will follow. It helps, of course, having someone like Morris already in the fold, but Isaac and Illinois four-star receiver Laquon Treadwell both also have U-M at or near the top of their wish lists, and rising. Next week the Wolverines will host Richmond (Va.) Hermitage four-star running back Derrick Green, Rivals.com's No. 64 player overall, and in April will bring in Olney (Md.) Our Lady of Good Counsel four-star linebacker Dorian O'Daniel (No. 37 overall nationally) and his teammate, five-star cornerback Kendall Fuller (No. 4).

Fuller will likely follow his brothers to Virginia Tech, Rivals.com analyst Mike Farrell said Monday, but the Wolverines are in great position for O'Daniel and probably lead. Farrell also reported today that Michigan is now firmly in the mix for four-star linebackers Alex Anzalone of Pennsylvania and Yannick Ngakoue of Washington, D.C., noting Anzalone has been waiting on a Michigan offer.

"I've never seen anything like this … it's Texas territory," Farrell said in comparing U-M to the Longhorns, notorious for cleaning up early. "This is something new. It's pretty remarkable. I think they got the right guys on campus and that they really know the kids they are recruiting. They've got a good feel for kids who might be ready to pop - that said, they still did a good job to actually get them to jump on board.

"Michigan has done everything right, from the way they handled last year's recruiting class to this year's. That's why they're so successful. Brady Hoke is a stand-up guy - not a flashy recruiter, but a guy who just gets the job done. It will be interesting to watch where Michigan and Ohio State finish this year."


Recruiting rankings don't determine who wins and loses on the field, of course. The games still have to be played. But several studies have shown there's a correlation between highly ranked recruiting classes and games won.

Which brings us back to basketball, and Beilein's program. The Wolverines are contending with a single four-star prospect in the top six of the rotation (though in fairness, freshman point guard Trey Burke, now a Big Ten player of the year candidate, obviously should have been).

That changes in the years to come - the part about doing it without highly regarded prep talent, that is. U-M has invested money to put its basketball facilities on par with some of the nation's best, and kids have noticed that and Michigan's success under Beilein. The Wolverines signed one of the nation's top five classes in 2012, headlined by No. 3 power forward nationally Mitch McGary (6-10, 255), and will likely see St. John (Ind.) Lake Central forward Glenn Robinson IIImove up from his No. 34 ranking.

"The 6-foot-7 wing was knocking on the door of five-star status coming out of the summer," Rivals.com reported in putting Robinson No. 1 on the list of most likely to rise. "This winter, he appears to be well on his way to busting that door down. He has size, a complete game and high level athleticism that all translates at a high level. His impact at Michigan should be immediate and sizable."

Class of 2012's Nick Stauskas of Southborough (St. Mark's) Mass., Rivals.com's No. 79 senior nationally, might be the best shooter in his class. Class of 2013 and top 100 standouts Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, already committed as juniors, were in the building Saturday night, while fellow pledges Austin Hatch and Mark Donnal were slated to be. All but Hatch, out for the year while recovering from injuries suffered in a summer plane crash, have had huge seasons for their schools.

Also in attendance were some of the country's top class of 2014 recruits, including Mississippi guard Devin Booker.

And if that weren't enough?

Red Berenson's hockey team swept Northern Michigan over the weekend to continue its remarkable ascent after a disappointing start. The Wolverines are now No. 2 in the NCAA Pairwise Rankings and possibly headed for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan has had its share of glory days in the past, of course, not limited to just the revenue sports. The Wolverines won with regularity in the 1990s with Big Ten football titles (and the 1997 national championship), The Fab Five took college basketball by storm and Berenson's team captured a pair of national championships.

Those good old days seem to be coming back to Ann Arbor for another go 'round.


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