2/17/2008 - Michigan 80, Ohio State 70 - NCAA bound, baby!
...is that we go like 4-1 the rest of the season, then sweep through Illinois, Michigan State, Indiana, and Purdue to grab a shock NCAA tournament bid. Being a sub-.500 team that actually kind of sucks, we're sent to the play-in game in Dayton. Seventeen thousand Michigan fans pack the arena to 150% of capacity as the Wolverines blow out Monmouth.
From there, it's pretty rote: one ho-hum victory after another and a second national championship banner. Michigan basketball fans go from abused to jaded and irritating faster than Bill Simmons. The end.
Or maybe not, but it's amazing what three consecutive wins will do for one's psyche, even if they're against utterly dire, mostly dire, and kind-of-dire competition. The last time we checked in on the basketball team around these parts the results ("I want to die," or words to that effect) fully warranted this blog's "emo" tag; nowadays you can visit your Michigan message board of choice and find multiple threads on how this team is so going to the tourney next year, which it almost definitely isn't.
While the bipolarity of fandom is a well-established phenomenon, bipolarity of basketball teams isn't. The last time Michigan played OSU they hung tough for most of the game until a crippling stretch late wherein they couldn't find a shot even close to "good"; the resulting drought lasted for a good chunk of the game's closing ten minutes and turned a narrow Michigan lead into yet another dispiriting loss. This time they continued scoring via turnover and steal and even the occasional drive to the hoop. A month ago against Minnesota they were so depressing it seemed Michigan would never, ever have a good team again; they have now won three straight.
Hell, midway through the first half against Iowa I got an IM from Black Heart Gold Pants impresario Oops Pow Surprise to the effect of "you have the worst basketball team in the known universe," which was true at that moment in time when the score was 22-7 and Michigan had 7 FGAs. I did not receive the corresponding "AAAAARGH AAAAAARGH AAAAAARGH" note during the 18-2 second half run that erased Michigan's deficit and staked them to a lead they would maintain for the rest of the game, but I sensed it in the cosmos so that was all right.
What happened to the clueless team from earlier in the year? Well, with Harvard spiraling its way towards last place in the Ivy League we can safely assert that it takes more than a couple months to organize a system at maximum entropy, and it takes more than a couple months to turn the smartest basketball team in the land into a confused gooey mess. The progress Michigan was decidedly not making from the Amaker era -- at points during the first Ohio State game the offense was indistinguishable from the random, purposeless ball movement of yore -- has all come in a rush.
So for now the future is bright. Check back in two weeks.
- Rushing the court? Seriously? Whoever started that should be given a swift kick in the appropriate place. I realize this is a beaten-down program, but Ohio State isn't ranked and is (now) likely headed for the NIT. It would have been much better to stay in place and deliver a "drive home safely" chant at the OSU retards occupying the upper reaches of Crisler.
- Speaking of, there was again an organized opponent student section, which, like... WTF. The athletic department has got to put a limit on the number of seats anyone can buy and spread these people out. They did provide a moment of terrific irony by chanting "asshole" at Rich Rodriguez during halftime. Buckeye fans will never change. I have a feeling we're on the downswing of the Well Behaved Buckeye Fan pendulum after the relentless focus OSU had on not being cavemen last year. As soon at that relaxes the slide begins; their pathological antipathy for Michigan is so deep-rooted it can go no other way.
- I say this every time I mention Thad Matta, but I don't think much of his ability to do anything except recruit. What was that 2-2-1 press? Kelvin Grady can't do that much yet but his handle has always been the best part of his game; OSU didn't execute a single effective trap off the 2-2-1 and gave up a lot of open looks because of it. And it was immediately apparent that the only Wolverine with even the vaguest hope of checking Koufous was Udoh, so why did OSU settle for a bevy of perimeter shots during the three-or-four minute window in the second half in which Udoh was on the bench? Zach Gibson comes in the game and Koufous sets up for a three-pointer. Uh... okay.
- Since 75% of college basketball is recruiting, it doesn't really matter.
- The Gibson conundrum -- he can't defend anyone and is the only backup post -- means that incoming C Ben Cronin is going to be key next year. He's 7'1" and ponderous, according to the gurus, but it's hard to ignore a stat line with 17 blocks on it even if this team photo indicates this isn't exactly downtown Philadelphia:
There's one guy on the team Cronin isn't a foot taller than. (Picture during Cronin's sophomore year, so he's probably less spindly now.)
- Michigan had four turnovers at halftime and nine for the game. I... uh. Is that legal? I don't remember.
- Eleven Warriors recap.
- Anthony Wright's emergence into a guy who can shoot and maybe be useful for 20 minutes a game is a huge boost to the program going forward. I don't think anyone was counting on him to do anything except be mini-Ba; now he's obviously the best SF on the roster. Faint praise, perhaps, but since the State game he's shooting 39.3% from three. Though can't really do much else at this point -- in that stretch of six games he has 28 three-point attempts and eight two-pointers, though he's made six of them -- no other SF on the team can do anything. Wright turning into a useful piece is like adding another Stuart Douglass to the recruiting class.
- Anyone looking for more extensive basketball coverage should check out UMHoops.com, a promising new blog with a self-explanatory name.