If you just looked at Michigan for the first time within the past couple days, you might wonder how it was possible that the Wolverines were ever unranked.
But there was a time when Michigan, now one of just two teams with a perfect Big Ten record, wasn't finding wins so plentiful and was wondering if the entire season was becoming unhinged. It was the downswingiest downswing in what's been a roller-coaster season, one that most recently has seen back-to-back wins over top-10 teams.
Everything started with promise. The Wolverines were coming off last year's appearance in the national title game, and it yielded a top-10 preseason ranking and a spot on the preseason All-America team for sophomore forward Mitch McGary. But a brutal non-conference schedule followed, and losses came to Iowa State, then Duke, then Arizona. Then McGary elected to have back surgery, sidelining him indefinitely. That is how Michigan fell out of the top 25.
Big Ten season, though, has gone much differently, and with little more than a week left in January, the Wolverines appear to be one of the conference's best teams. A winning streak to open that league schedule against less-than-impressive competition might not have made that abundantly obvious, but then came last weekend's upset of Wisconsin (then ranked No. 3), an upset that came at the Kohl Center, no less, where the Badgers rarely lose. And Michigan followed it up with Wednesday night's takedown of No. 10 Iowa in Ann Arbor.
The win over Iowa was an impressive one, too. The Hawkeyes entered the game scoring more than 80 points a game, and the Wolverines limited them to 67. And Michigan had plenty of offensive fireworks, too, with four players in double figures, led by the 26 points from Nik Stauskas. Stauskas has filled the production void created by McGary's injury, as well as the departure of last year's big scorers, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Stauskas' 18.5 points per game lead the Big Ten.
According to the sophomore sharpshooter, the difference comes down to confidence.
"I just think that everyone's starting to understand their roles, and guys are really confident," Stauskas said after Wednesday's game. "We've got a lot of guys shooting the ball really well and making big shots. We have guys that step up for us."
And, to make things even better for the Wolverines as the college basketball season steamrolls toward March, three of those four non-conference losses came to teams currently ranked in the top 18: No. 1 Arizona, No. 16 Iowa State and No. 18 Duke. No one likes losses, but it's one heck of a resume when you factor in the recent wins.
It all sets up a crazy late-January showdown with No. 3 Michigan State, the only other team without a Big Ten loss, on Saturday. And believe that the Wolverines are ready for this upswing to swing even higher.
"Our team is real charged up from this win," head coach John Beilein said after knocking off Iowa.