ANN ARBOR, Michigan: John Beilein acknowledged Monday afternoon that he had quite a few text messages on his phone.
The Michigan coach just hadn’t checked them yet.
“I’ve been absorbed in Northwestern tape,” Beilein said.
The Wolverines are No. 1 in The Associated Press’ college basketball poll for the first time since their Fab Five days 20 years ago, but Beilein is determined not to get carried away with all this recognition.
Michigan took over the top spot after a 74-60 victory at Illinois on Sunday night. Next up on the schedule is Northwestern, and there’s no reason for the routine to change.
“Our goal at Michigan is to be No. 1 in the Big Ten. When you achieve that honor, you will have a chance at the national championship,” Beilein said. “All through the year polls will spark great interest among college basketball fans everywhere and that is always good. Our coaches and players, however, will remain focused on our goals of improving daily and competing for the championship within our conference.”
Michigan is doing pretty well in that regard, too. The Wolverines tied for the Big Ten title last year, and they’re deadlocked atop the league right now with No. 3 Indiana. The Hoosiers host Michigan on Saturday night.
Michigan received 51 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel Monday. Kansas moved up one spot to No. 2 and had 13 first-place votes. They are the only one-loss teams in the poll. Indiana, Florida, which drew the other first-place vote, and Duke complete the top five.
Duke, which was No. 1 last week, dropped after being routed 90-63 by Miami in the third-worst defeat by a top-ranked team. It was the second straight week the No. 1 team lost.
The Wolverines advanced from No. 2 to become No. 1 for the fourth time. They were at the top for 10 weeks in 1964-65, eight weeks in 1976-77 and three weeks at the start of 1992-93, the Fab Five’s second and final season together.
That season, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson made it to the national championship game for the second straight year.
Jackson now lives in Texas, but he roots for the Wolverines from afar.
“I’m excited about it and I’m very proud of those boys,” Jackson said in a telephone interview Monday. “I’m really excited and pleased about what Coach Beilein has done to turn the program around.”
Michigan fell on hard times after the Fab Five moved on, in part because of NCAA sanctions related to that era. Beilein took over in 2007 and made the NCAA tournament in his second season with the Wolverines, but the program’s rise didn’t really begin until two years ago.
In January 2011, Michigan was 1-6 in Big Ten play when the Wolverines shocked Michigan State in East Lansing. Michigan took off after that victory, reaching the NCAA tournament that year. The following season, the Wolverines won a share of their first conference title since 1986.
Now the Wolverines are national title contenders thanks to guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway and a talented group of freshmen — although the toughest tests are still to come.
After hosting Northwestern on Wednesday night, Michigan faces a four-game stretch against Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State.
“What I’d like to see is what we’ve already seen,” Beilein said. “That they’re on a mission to be the best that this team can possibly be.”
Michigan is the second Big Ten team to be No. 1 this season. Indiana was the preseason No. 1 and stayed there for the first five weeks of the regular season. Duke moved in for four weeks before Louisville and the Blue Devils both held it for one week.
Rounding out the top 10 are No. 6 Syracuse, followed by Gonzaga, Arizona, Butler and Oregon. Miami rode its win over Duke to an 11-place jump in the poll, from 25th to 14th.
Fourteen ranked teams, including half of the top 10, lost at least one game last week. Four teams, including Louisville, which dropped from fifth to 12th, lost twice last week.
San Diego State and Marquette returned to the rankings this week, replacing Virginia Commonwealth, which was 19th, and Notre Dame, which was 24th.