Michigan and Michigan State will play for a share of the Big Ten regular season championship on Saturday night. They’ll tip on the heels of the Duke-North Carolina conclusion, which is extremely fitting as the Spartans and Wolverines have built the current second-best rivalry in college hoops — and largely under the radar.
This is thanks in part to the efforts of John Beilein, who has done the unthinkable: become, arguably, the best college basketball coach in the state of Michigan. Or so Wolverines fans would have you believe. It’s very debatable.
What isn’t is the success the regime has brought to Ann Arbor. Michigan has won the Big Ten regular season title twice, the conference tournament twice, and reached the national finals twice since 2008. Michigan State has won the regular season crown four times, the conference tournament twice, and reached three Final Fours.
These are two great programs trying to breathe the same air and draw in the same players. There is healthy disrespect between the partisans, but it’s a neighborly type of hate. Not the blind rage one sees with Michigan-Ohio State.
Speaking of blind rage, here’s a take best taken while seated.
The Michigan-Michigan State basketball rivalry is better, right now, than the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry. At least it has been for the last decade, where things have been fiercely competitive.
MSU has won 12 of the 21 meetings since Beilein’s arrival. Michigan’s football coaches have won one meeting against the Buckeyes since 2004. The basketball teams seem to always have a chance at a national title. The only football team in the UM-OSU game with realistic national title aspirations wears scarlet and gray.
If you’ve made it this far without having an aneurysm, well, first off, thank you. Appreciate the self-control. Now some admissions.
I know my concept of rivalry — that it can be cobbled together piecemeal — is not the prevailing wisdom. The Michigan-Ohio State feud is bigger than just football. But if Duke-North Carolina can be so clearly defined by basketball, why can’t the Mitten State be shaped by the same?
And yeah, there is some part of me that feels slighted that, despite the recent gridiron success, Wolverines won’t admit that MSU-UM football is a pretty damn big deal too.
That transparency not withstanding, why can’t we reassess and challenge existing notions. If an alien came down from parts unknown, you’d have a hard time convincing it OSU-Michigan football was a superior product to Michigan-Michigan State basketball.
Alright, that’s my position. Tear me to shreds. It’s been a good run.