When Mitch McGary went down with a likely season-ending back injury, things didn't look bright for Michigan. After all, the Wolverines weren't all that impressive even with him. They were 7-4, and with a loaded and deep Big Ten, they seemed like a borderline top-25 at best.
Then came McGary's injury – and suddenly Michigan wasn't even a sure-fire NCAA tournament. The ceiling seemed like fifth-best in the Big Ten; the floor seemed like eighth.
Instead, Michigan has rolled off eight wins in a row and now sits at 6-0 in the Big Ten after beating Iowa on Wednesday, 75-67.
After being left off the Wooden Award midseason list earlier in the day, Nik Stauskas was phenomenal. He finished with 26 points, five rebounds and five assists, demonstrating why he is a legitimate All-American candidate and potential lottery pick. Jordan Morgan continued his solid play as McGary's replacement, with 12 points and seven boards, and Glenn Robinson III went for 14 points and nine rebounds.
Moreover, the Wolverines' defense was fantastic. They held Iowa to under one point per possession; only the third time that has happened to the Hawkeyes this season. Moreover, it was tied for Iowa's lowest total scoring output of the season. They shot just 20 percent from 3-point range and turned it over 14 times.
This was supposed to be the stretch that showed whether Michigan was for real in the Big Ten. It started with a road win at Wisconsin, followed that up with Wednesday's win over Iowa – and Saturday brings a road trip to Michigan State. Now, though, it's not a must-win for the Wolverines. They have already proven they will be a tough out despite McGary's absence, and a win over the Spartans would just be icing on the cake.
Going forward, I would still say Michigan State is the favorite in the Big Ten -- but the case can be made that the gap between Michigan and the other contenders (Wisconsin, Iowa) has diminished considerably. This has been a tremendous job by John Beilein.