The Michigan Wolverines have claimed the top spot in the national polls, but they are not satisfied yet.
Glenn Robinson III and the other four freshmen on Michigan were in class together when the news broke Monday that the Wolverines were the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 30, 1992, a span of 7,366 days. The five rookies were awarded with a round of applause from their classmates, and while the team is very accomplished already at this point, even its star freshman forward knows it is far from done.
"It's great for our fan base and it's a good thing to have," said Robinson III. "But at the same time you can't get too caught up in that because I've been on teams that has been high in the rankings that didn't necessarily finish the season where we wanted to."
Michigan's sensational season continued Wednesday night with a 68-46 rout of Northwestern, which completed a regular-season series sweep. The victory bumped the Maize and Blue up to 20-1 overall and a 7-1 Big Ten standing, giving them the best start in school history to this point. The only setback came by three points on the road to a tough Ohio State Buckeyes unit.
Coach John Beilein has restored the program that was tarnished by a scandal that took place during the 1990s under Steve Fisher, who led the school to the 1989 national championship before returning to the title game for a pair of second-place finishes with his "Fab Five." After it became evident that certain players received improper benefits, the NCAA sanctions that followed took their toll on the program.
After six straight seasons without an NCAA Tournament berth under Tommy Amaker, Beilein arrived in 2007 to take the program to new heights. The team finished 10-22 in his first campaign in Ann Arbor before making three NCAA Tournament appearances in four years.
This season, nobody will be surprised if Michigan returns to the Final Four for the first time since 1994. It has dominated on its way to the top of the rankings, outscoring the opposition by an average of 19.4 points per game. The Wolverines are the third new team to be deemed No. 1 in the nation in a row after both Louisville and Duke were upset while sitting in the driver's seat.
"It's not a big shock," Robinson III said on Michigan's ascension to the top. "I knew this team was capable of winning and as long as we play up to our standards and do everything we can on and off the court, we'll be fine."
Michigan avoided a loss in its debut at No. 1 by efficiently dominating the first half against Northwestern. The Wolverines did not commit a foul until the final minute of the opening half and finished the contest with just two turnovers. Superstar sophomore point guard Trey Burke led the way once again with 18 points and eight assists. The humble leader attributed the team's success against NU to the scout team's efforts in practice after the victory. Burke also realizes the road to March Madness will be even more difficult from here on out.
"Every single game the target is going to get even bigger," Burke said. "Everyone wants to knock off the No. 1 team and rush the court."
While starring in Michigan's loaded backcourt, Burke is second in the Big Ten in scoring (17.9) while he leads the conference in assists with 7.1 per game. He has plenty of talent surrounding him with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas on the wings. Hardaway Jr. is the second-leading scorer on the team at 15.5 points per game, and the 6-foot-6 guard provides matchup problems for most foes due to his top-notch athleticism.
Opposing defenses have been unable to double team either Burke or Hardaway Jr. due to the pinpoint accuracy of Nik Stauskas. The rookie guard from Ontario, Canada, has knocked down 49.5 percent of his 3-point attempts to net 12.6 ppg and continues to get open looks as everyone on the team seems to be playing as one.
"There is a lot of sacrifice going on out there. And that is hard in today's world for kids to sacrifice for the team," said Beilein after his team dealt out 14 assists to two turnovers on Wednesday night. "We have moments where that is very difficult for our guys and most of the time they make the right decision. "
Robinson III is the top forward on the squad with 12.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per tilt. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound rookie seems to be rapidly developing and already been projected as an NBA lottery pick after being tabbed as a three- star prospect when he gave his verbal commitment to Michigan.
The trio of Jon Horford, Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary are responsible for controlling the paint area. Although none is receiving quite as much praise as the four double-digit scorers, they are all playing their roles quite well. Morgan missed Wednesday's game due to injury and it is not clear whether he will be available when Michigan travels to Bloomington for a highly anticipated bout with Cody Zeller and the No. 3 Indiana Hoosiers.
Michigan has only defeated the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall once since 1995. The Wolverines will lose their No. 1 ranking if they come up short against Indiana, but their coach made it clear that is not what this team values.
"Down the way, when the season is over, you can talk about that," Beilein said. "We embrace this moment of being No. 1, but we're not focused on we made it. We've got a long way to go."