Michigan wins first Big Ten Title in 26 years

Michigan "controlled what they could control" the final week of the regular season, resulting in two big road victories and their first Big Ten championship since 1986.

For Michigan basketball fans it was a play that had appeared in a crystal ball since the '85-'86 season. Big Ten title on the line, game tied, seconds ticking away and Ohio State's William Buford hitting a fade away 18-foot jumper to give the Buckeyes a share of the Big Ten championship.

Okay, maybe it wasn't exactly the way fans envisioned this going down.

Since Michigan's 75-61 loss at home on senior night last Saturday to Purdue, John Beilein had been focusing his team on controlling what they could control, with two road games in front of them, in their pursuit of a Big Ten championship. And they went out and got the wins in both – beating Illinois in Champaign, then Penn State in Happy Valley.

"It speaks to their toughness," said GoBlueWolverine's Andre Barthwell. "They haven't lost back to back games all year, they've had the ware-with-all to stop a loss run and start a win run. Coach Beilein is always talking about the next game, move past it -- and that's what he did. He got his team together, got a win at Illinois and a tough victory at Penn State – he moved forward and they now are Big Ten Champs."

The phrase "Big Ten Champs" in the same sentence as the Michigan Wolverines has been a long time coming but is one that is welcomed in Ann Arbor after spending many years building this program back into national relevance.

Michigan is now 33-13 since starting the 2010-2011 Big Ten season 1-6. And the Wolverines have two seniors who, after that rocky start a year ago, helped create a mindset that doesn't appear to be leaving any time soon.

"That season last year, really, is the source of the success that they're having this year," Barthwell points out, "because they learned how to win, they learned that, ‘Hey when the chips are down we still have a chance' -- and that's what last season was all about. Now you move to this year and they expect to win -- that's what you have to love about this group. There are no games on the schedule where they said, ‘Hey we're going to get killed'. That's the legacy that Zack Novak and Stu Douglass going to leave at Michigan, that they got it turned around to the point where those guys know, ‘We're going to win this game, we're going to find a way to do it'."

At 23-8 overall this season and 13-5 in conference play, yesterday evening Michigan still needed the ball to bounce their way up in East Lansing where the Michigan State Spartans hosted Ohio State and were looking to keep the Big Ten title to themselves – and they especially wanted no part of sharing it with a bitter rival.

"It was a great atmosphere, a great game for college basketball," said Scout.com National Recruiting Analyst Brian Snow, who was in attendance at the Breslin Center for the game. "It was fun, and it was weird when everyone booed when they showed the Michigan score on the jumbotron, so it was a fun game."

Ohio State needed a big time performance from someone to balance the ineffectiveness of Jared Sullinger, and senior William Buford answered the call.

Of Buford's performance yesterday (25 points on 8-14 shooting, and the winning basket), Snow said, "There's a reason he's going to be one of the top scorers in Ohio State history. He's had a tough year, but that's William Buford, when he gets hot he gets hot and he caught fire in the second half."

For Michigan fans and even the members of the Michigan basketball program, the task of rooting for Ohio is ‘dirty-jobs yucky', which is why some resorted to a different strategy.

"In regards to Michigan fans, they weren't rooting for Ohio State, they were rooting for Michigan State to lose," said Barthwell laughing.

Of course the 2011-12 season is far from over. With three teams each sharing a piece of the pie at the top of the Big Ten standings, Michigan State (1 seed), Michigan (2 seed) and Ohio State (3 seed) will have a little something extra to prove and a few rematches on the mind when they step foot in Indianapolis next weekend for the Big Ten tournament.

"One thing is quite sure," says Barthwell, "those three are going to have to go through hell to win it." And he adds, "You know what? You hope it's that way."

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