Michigan may be an Elite Eight team, but the slights just keep on coming. Anyone not consistently around the team might think the players are trumping up the “everyone underestimates us” theme, but evidence to the contrary became even clearer in the hours since they advanced to their second consecutive Elite Eight.
The Wolverines are now set to do battle with Kentucky… the preseason #1 team in the country. The Wildcats just thwarted arch-rival and defending champion Louisville in comeback fashion, and last weekend they put forth a masterful showing against the Midwest Region’s #1 seed, Wichita State. Suddenly now all of the preseason prognostications of Kentucky grandeur have been awakened. Vegas dubbed the Wildcats two-point favorites over Michigan and the majority of pundits seem to agree with that line.
In today’s press conference there were further examples of the prevalent view the Wolverines are upstarts. The first came during the formal Q & A with the head coach and five starters at the dais.
Michigan headman John Beilein fielded a question about how significant an opportunity Sunday’s battle with Kentucky will be.
Question: Coach Beilein, Michigan's program has risen to national status in the past few years. What's it like to get the chance to do it against these name brand teams that have been there a long time, Syracuse and Kansas last year, and Kentucky this year?
COACH BEILEIN: I look at it more over time, that Michigan isn't just a good basketball program now. We've been for 50 years. And we've had ups and downs just like Kansas, just like Kentucky has had over time. And it's just in your lifetime maybe you see it that way. But when I think of Michigan basketball I think of Cazzie Russell and Phil Hubbard and Glen Rice, all the way through to all our great teams that have been so good. And what we're trying to do is get Michigan back to where it's consistently in the NCAA Tournament when we had teams -- when we had the teams with Terry Mills and just great basketball coaches, great basketball teams.
So I don't look at it that way. I look at it this is where Michigan should be. We're not newly arrived. We've been a great basketball program for a long time.
To be clear, that question wasn’t intended to be a slight. The more overt occurrences came later during the breakout sessions.
Jordan Morgan has been the champion of the “us against the world mentality” on the team, so it’s seems fitting that he was the first to field a question from (I assume) a Kentucky reporter about the futility of trying to win his individual match-ups tomorrow afternoon.
“You said you use what you have to your advantage,” the reporter said. “I look at what Julius Randle looks like… Dakari (Johnson)… what do you have to your advantage?”
Maybe that was an attempt a subtle disrespect that just failed miserably. Either way, Morgan handled it well as you’ll see in the video below.
Minutes later in an adjoining room the same reporter began educating / warning Glenn Robinson III about the overwhelming athleticism he is will face when Michigan takes the court against the Wildcats.
“Do you really understand how big and athletic they are,” the reporter asked incredulously. “Do you really understand?”
Robinson’s response was a bit of video gold.
So any notion that the Wolverines are embellishing their underdog status should be laid to rest. They’re perpetual over-achievers in the eyes of many. The players to a man say that doesn’t mean a whole lot, and they’re right. No games have ever been won on the basis of someone saying or thinking one of the team’s isn’t good enough. That said, the naysayers can continue to serve the same purpose they’ve served all season… fuel the collective fire in Michigan’s belly.
“I'm not really sure why,” Morgan replied when asked why his team doesn’t get the type of respect he feels it deserves. “I really can't tell you why. As far as just listening to that stuff, I mean we hear it. And I think if anything, we just embrace it and that's just who we are.”
“Our team is a bunch of guys that have been overlooked. Our coaching staff is a bunch of guys who have gotten overlooked. It's just like that's how we play. We got a whole program full of guys that people have always counted out.”
“We just take that and use it as fuel.”