Hammond: Tonight is U of M's chance to quiet its critics - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Hammond: Tonight is U of M's chance to quiet its critics

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Jennifer Hammond is a sports anchor and reporter at Fox 2  (Credit: Fox 2 News) Jennifer Hammond is a sports anchor and reporter at Fox 2 (Credit: Fox 2 News)
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WJBK) -

Michigan basketball coach John Beilein has been waiting six years for this moment and Tuesday night he will finally get his wish.

"Wouldn't it be great," Beilein said Monday, recounting his arrival in Ann Arbor six years ago to take over a beleaguered Michigan team fighting for respectability, "if both teams could be really, really good."

Beilein of course was talking about the heated on court rivalry between the Wolverines and Spartans.  Progress was slow and steady and the climb wasn't always easy, but Michigan finally seemed to turn the corner back on January 27, 2011 when Zack Novak, Stu Douglas and Tim Hardaway helped the Wolverines beat the Spartans at the Breslin for what seemed like the first time in forever.  Since its last win in East Lansing, Michigan has posted a 55-18 record and landed the program its first number one ranking in the national polls in 20 years.

Beilein doesn't sugar coat the fact that he works hard for every game at U of M and this one is no different.  But he seemed surprised on Monday when he was told that this is the first time in the history of this rivalry that the teams will meet with both ranked in the Top 10.  "Is that ever?" Beilein responded, realizing that maybe his team has made one giant step.  But there is still plenty of work to be done.

"There's only good in these situations that we have now," Beilein said about the scope of this year's first meeting between the two in state rivals (they play again March 2 at Crisler).  But this is as big as it gets for Michigan AND Michigan State.  Beilein insists it's no bigger than the last or the next, after all, Michigan has played big game after big game in the past ten days alone.  What makes this game so huge are the implications, not only for a possible Big Ten Title but with the possibility for this Michigan program to finally get the respect it deserves, locally, nationally and in its own mind. 

A win tonight in East Lansing would provide an equalizer between the two programs.  Granted Izzo has six final fours in his tenure, "He's seen a lot of Michigan coaches," Beilein joked on Monday, and he's always had the upper hand on the Big Ten and more specifically the Wolverines.  This is Michigan's chance, not only to avoid its first two game losing streak in almost two years, but to go into a hostile arena on the road with the conference title hanging in the balance and quiet its critics -- both in state and out.

"One of the things Michigan likes to do is beat Michigan State, but it's not like I hate Michigan State....  I love to see Michigan win and I work hard for that."  Beilein can make it sound all warm and fuzzy, but to the fans of this rivalry, this means war!

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