Thursday, Jun 30, 2016
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Opinion

Beating the Badgers big for Michigan

In terms of on-court success this season, the University of Michigan basketball team will likely take its place at the end of a long line. But I've been completely impressed with the way second-year coach Tommy Amaker has weathered the turbulent times.

If Amaker indeed becomes the coach who returns Michigan basketball to prominence, many Wolverine fans will remember Wednesday as the night the rebuilding project took its first significant step.

Michigan fans fortunate enough to witness the Wolverines' 66-65 victory over defending Big Ten co-champion Wisconsin are unlikely to forget the emotional comeback Amaker's players generated inside Crisler Arena.

Let's don't kid ourselves: the Wolverines aren't back.

But Wednesday's win signaled that UM is becoming Amaker's kind of team.

Beating Wisconsin after trailing by 15 points with 6:31 to play gives the Wolverines confidence.

The memory of Michigan's 11-18 mark last year and 0-6 start this season is quickly fading. The Wolverines have won eight in a row, upsetting UCLA and Wisconsin along the way.

I don't want to make too much of Michigan beating Wisconsin. But, shoot, Amaker has done more in half a season than he did all of last year.

Amaker is the real story behind Michigan's resurgence. He's the sexy name, the national personality, that Michigan athletic director Bill Martin hired to restore the program.

I originally believed that Amaker was too young and inexperienced to handle such a massive reclamation project. I wanted Martin to hire a motivational tactician such as former Kent State coach Gary Waters, a Michigan native who's doing a wonderful job at Rutgers.

I'm beginning to see things differently. I'm starting to come around.

Again, I'm going to be careful dissecting Amaker and the Wolverines. Michigan is 1-0 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines could look totally different a month from now.

The one positive thing I can say is that Amaker's players seem to have bought into his system. He's convinced them to ignore their postseason ban and impending NCAA sanctions and blend into a cohesive unit.

When the Wolverines play Amaker's system, they're getting good looks at the basket because of continuous ball movement, spacing and court awareness. They're playing stingy defense. When they knock some shots down, they're a pretty good team.

Freshman Daniel Horton keyed the win against Wisconsin, scoring 25 points, draining the game-winning shot and blocking Wisconsin's final shot to preserve the victory.

Horton is Amaker's first major recruit. Amaker needs for Horton to play well early. Horton's success will reflect well on Amaker.

Amaker's Wolverines aren't going to throw up a white flag. Restoring Michigan's basketball tradition is an ongoing process.

It's going to take a lot of blood, sweat and tears to fix the Wolverines.

It's been a long, frustrating process to reach this point, but Amaker is starting to get what he wants from his players. Now Michigan fans might get what they want from the Wolverines.

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