By MICKEY FURFARI
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
If you didn’t see Michigan’s 81-75 upset of favored Michigan State on Saturday night, you obviously missed one of the nation’s finest major college basketball games this season.
It was the first time in Big Ten history that those two arch-rivals met undefeated in conference competition, each at 6-0. The Spartans were 18-1 overall and ranked No. 3 in the polls, and the Wolverines 14-4 overall and ranked No. 21 in the polls.
ESPN game broadcasters noted that Michigan had played an easier schedule earlier in the season than MSU, in the voters’ view.
But John Beilein’s battling Wolverines seemingly proved in outlasting the Spartans on their own court that Michigan belongs at least in the Top 10 of any national ranking.
The Wolverines, now 7-0, are alone at the top and No. 1 in the league. So that thrill-filled, exciting triumph had to give them a huge confidence boost for the remainder of the campaign.
Certainly this is another feather in the coaching cap of Beilein, the former head coach of men’s basketball at West Virginia University.
While in Morgantown only five years, Beilein compiled a record of 110-60 and numerous other achievements WVU fans enjoyed and likely won’t soon forget by his excellent teams.
Taking over a sagging program the highly successful Gale Catlett gave up after a record 24 years on a worst-ever 8-20 (1-15 Big East) record, Beilein dug in diligently and began his masterful rebuilding process.
Here’s how that’s still sized up so accurately and impressively in the current WVU men’s basketball media guide:
“It was truly remarkable how far John Beilein, the 20th men’s basketball coach in WVU history, brought the Mountaineers in just five years.
“In Beilein’s first season, he led seven scholarship players to 14 wins and a spot in the Big East Tournament (WVU had not qualified for the tourney in 2001-02).
“In his second season, Beilein’s troops won 17 games, including two contests in the 2004 NIT (National Invitation Tournament).
“Then in 2004-05, WVU finished with 24 victories, and an NCAA Elite Eight appearance.
“(That same season) WVU placed second in the Big East Championship (tournament), and defeated a school-record eight AP-ranked teams, and earned a No. 12 ranking in the final poll.
“In 2005-06, the Mountaineers won 22 games (including two in NCAA), making the first time the school has made consecutive trips to the Sweet 16 since the tournament expanded in 1975.
“WVU also finished with 11 Big East victories and a third-place finish, earning the Mountaineers their first ever league bye. Then in 2006-07, West Virginia won 27 games — the second-most in school history — and captured the NIT (Championship).
“It was the first postseason title since WVU won the 1942 NIT.”
Doug Huff, retired Wheeling sports editor, recalled that Beilein was honored by the W.Va. Sports Writers Association as West Virginia Coach of the Year on May 1, 2005, at its event in Fairmont.
In Monday’s update of The Associated Press poll, Michigan jumped all the way to 10th, while Michigan State slipped to No. 7.