The Michigan Wolverines, playing yesterday for the first time in 23 days after a COVID layoff did what no team could do in slowing some of this team's incredible forward momentum, trailed Wisconsin by 12 at halftime in Madison. Everything we've seen this year from sides derailed by protocol suggested that the final half would bring more of the same and Juwan Howard's crew would limp home with a lopsided, but ultimately inevitable loss in their return to play.
Instead the toughest, perhaps destined team in the nation blitzed the Badgers for 20 minutes, outscoring them 40-20 and emerging with what has to be considered one of the best victories of the college basketball season.
Isaiah Livers played all but two minutes and poured in 20 points, including some huge baskets down the stretch. Hunter Dickinson was all that is man, adding another 11 points while grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking five shots. Franz Wagner and the rest of his frontcourt cast held both Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter without a single rebound, encapsulating the winning plays that have so often been maize-and-blue this season.
Michigan may not be the most purely talented roster in the country. But it's a strong possibility they are the best team. At 14-1, they're on pace to win the Big Ten and earn a top seed if they can survive the gauntlet of makeup games.
Bet against them at your own risk.
Because Juwan Howard is already what Michigan dreamed he could be, here in Year 2 of the experiment. He's succeeding on the court and on the recruiting trail. He has reimagined the face of the program and has everyone rowing in the same direction.
The Athletic's Brendan Quinn has a great piece today detailing the loud ways in which Howard has announced his arrival and the return of the program to elite status, which was a matter of if not when following John Beilein's departure. The thing that stands out is the organization Howard's set up, ensuring he's sharing the labor and fruits of success with an entirely competent and fearless staff.
This, of course, is the hallmark of perennial contenders. This is not some flash in the pan in Ann Arbor. A sturdy foundation is there and it will only be fortified as five-star recruits file into their dorms and pull up those famous shorts.
A blindingly bright future, though, should not obscure the plain fact that as we sit here today, this is a team that's proven it can win it all this year. After all, if a 23-day layoff, a hostile road environment, and double-digit halftime hole at the hands of a ranked team prove to be light work, there's no reason to believe they won't be up for the heaviest of lifts.