And although the Michigan Wolverines entered this past week’s Big Ten Tournament as the number-five seed, having to knock off top-seed Michigan State and third-seed Purdue along the way, two of the countries elite programs, their “home away from home” court advantage paid dividends along with their excellent play.
After opening their tournament tenure with a round two win over Iowa and a quarterfinal dismantling of Nebraska, the Wolverines took down Michigan State, 75-64, in front of a large pro-Michigan base, who invaded Madison Square Garden with all of the navy blue and gold imaginable.
“Great game, incredible atmosphere here at Madison Square Garden,” said Michigan head coach John Beilein after the team’s win before a herd of Wolverine fans. “It has every element that you could ever want because of Michigan-Michigan State being here, but basically many of our teams would have commanded that same audience.”
The legion returned for Sunday’s Big Ten title game, where they aided in elevating their Wolverines to victory over Purdue, who was the country’s eighth-highest ranked team, 75-66.
Michigan began to pull away midway through the second half, extending their lead to double-digits as time grew exponentially on their side, eventually putting the game out of reach as the remaining minutes continued to dwindle.
And their fans felt it with every big shot and critical stop, which the Wolverines accumulated many of down the stretch.
“It feels amazing,” said Michigan center Jon Teske, who exploded for 14 points in the title win, including an emphatic dunk over 7-foot-2 Issac Haas, an NBA prospect. “We had great support from our fans who traveled from far distances and great fans out here, out east.”
Moritz Wagner, a 6-foot-11 German-born NBA prospect who the Brooklyn Nets scouted last summer before Wagner elected to return to Michigan, won Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament and shared All-Tournament team honors with teammate Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, Penn State’s Tony Carr, and Rutgers’ Corey Sanders.
Wagner, whose mom came to visit his son from Germany and watch him live at MSG, averaged 15.8 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 49 percent from the field in the tourney.
The Michigan standout was a part of last year’s team that also won the Big Ten Championship before subsequently reaching the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen before elimination.
With the tournament at MSG this season, the Big Ten had to move the tournament up one week in order to comply with the Big East Conference, who annually host their tournament at MSG the week of selection Sunday.
The early playoff awards Michigan an extra week of recovery and practice time, which could serve as a gift or a curse.
Wagner isn’t worried.
“I would just say I don’t think we really think about that too much,” he said of the change in schedule. “We’re going to enjoy this for a couple days and get some rest. Then we’re going to focus on what’s next. Whether that’s an advantage or disadvantage doesn’t really matter.”