1/31/2008 - Michigan 32, Minnesota 52 - 10-ish minutes left, second half
I am one of those irritating people who makes it a point of pride to never leave a sporting event early. Since I matriculated at Michigan, I'm pretty sure the only time I've left a game early was during this dismal year, when I bolted with a couple minutes left in the Oregon game. And after those two weeks who could blame me? Or anyone? When not facing the imminent danger of perpetrating mass homicide, I endure.
I have seen Walter Cross run for 100 yards long after Donovan McNabb turned Michigan's defense into confused goo. (What remained of the student section gamely chanted "Cross is boss" as the minutes ticked off Michigan's futile grasp at respectability.) I have waited out 6-1 losses to Northern Michigan at Yost. I have sat in the world's worst-designed poncho and watched Michigan tackle a directional Michigan school -- which I don't remember and doesn't matter -- in the brief windows when the wind was not whipping said ill-designed poncho into my face and my newly-cleansed glasses had not been re-coated by the insistent, driving rain.
I have sat through it all, melting-hot September games against MAC foes and frigid, dull things against Northwestern and Purdue. Misery has little power over me.
This year, I've gotten through one of the five Michigan basketball games I've attended.
This latest was perhaps the most depressing sporting event I can remember. Michigan quickly fell behind by double-digits in a half-empty arena. The loudest group of people in the place were a hundred or so Minnesota students who had bizarrely decided to crash Crisler en masse on a Thursday night. At some point during the second half they chanted "our house" over and over; all I could think is "how goddamn far away is Minneapolis? Is it Thursday? What day is this?"
It was indeed Thursday; according to Google Maps, Minneapolis is 648 miles from Ann Arbor, 10 and a half hours by car. Seriously... what the hell? I can understand invasions from East Lansing or Columbus or, I dunno, Toronto or something, but Minneapolis? Don't you have better things to do than spend either 20 hours or hundreds of dollars to see your kinda-crappy basketball team beat up on Michigan's very crappy basketball team? Evidently not.
At halftime they had a 40th anniversary celebration for Crisler. Most of the 1968 team was there to receive the hearty applause that is their due. There was a great spiel about Rudy Tomjanovich, the star of that team and one of the names in the rafters at Crisler. He was not there, and that seemed appropriate. Cazzie Russell was, though, and that was sad.
Russell is one of those elderly gentlemen who radiates dignity and authority in their very mien. The nearest equivalent in my experience has been Red Berenson, who seems to terrify first-round draft picks into committing to Michigan merely by cocking his eyebrow. Russell has that sort of bearing.
So he stood with his bearing, and listened to his accomplishments -- which are many -- and was then told he stood in the House Cazzie Built and that seemed like kind of a cruel thing to tell a nice old man who never did you any harm. The House Cazzie Built is half-empty, overrun by bums from half a continent away, and home to a team likely to set records for futility.
Michigan has not so much as reached the NCAA tournament since 1998, an impressive feat matched by an ever-dwindling list of maybe ten major-conference teams. Being there is an act of masochism. But hey... new lights!
I have four more tickets sitting at a drawer at home; I don't know how many more of them I'll use.
- Speaking of the announcer guy... oh, God. At least 5% of the Crisler misery is because of him. I understand the arena is dead, but importing the PA guy from the Sioux Falls Skyforce isn't going to help things. The pizza giveaways SPONSORED BY DOMINOS!!!, the stupid free-throw shooting competitions, the fake cheer in the announcement whenever anyone makes a basket... none of this crap would fly at either Michigan Stadium or Yost. Michigan's always avoided the WOOOO THIS IS SPORRRRRRTZZZ presentation, except at basketball games.
Attention: this is not the D-league.
- It's obviously way too early to make any judgments about Beilein, but it bothers me that the team seems to be getting worse. Michigan was competitive-ish until late against Butler and BC; now they're behind immediately and making meaningless late runs to cover up horrific blowouts. The Wisconsin game stands in exception to this, sure; the overall trend is not good.
- Beilein did not become a bad coach after twenty years of dragging the mucky-mucks of college basketball upwards. There is no need to panic. But he's also not a quick-fix sort of guy. Even if he can recruit at a national level, it will be after he's gone through this roster and rebuilt it into a tourney-ish team and hopefully made a Sweet Sixteen run or something.
- Punch me if I sound like a Notre Dame fan, but good god someone should go find Tommy Amaker and hit him in the arm really hard -- you know, those ones that hit the bone and make you think the other guy is kind of a dick who doesn't know where the limits are -- about his recruiting. Upperclassmen on the roster: Ron Coleman and Jevohn Shepard, and both flameouts were because Beilein came in and asked his kids not to be sucky loafers. Amaker had a remarkable knack for finding the least motivated kids in the country.
- Even the two four-star guys on the roster are kinda crappy: Sims is a horrendous defender and rebounder and Harris is a turnover machine. Ten Minnesota points were a direct result of Harris getting the ball slapped out of his hands.
- They're going to be bad again next year. Lucas-Perry won't be eligible until midseason and the current recruits, while undoubtedly better than Jerrett Smith at all things, are not exactly instant impact types.