Monday, March 31, 2014

So, That's What It's Like To Get "Michigan'ed"???

During the 2nd half of the Tennessee game, I explained to my daughter that one of the keys to Michigan’s success this season has been that they make far fewer mistakes than their counterparts.  Fewer Fouls, Turnovers, they make more Free Throws and they miss a lot fewer shots than their opponents. And based on all those stats, Michigan has been successful even though they don’t play defense as well as the other team often times.

However, being a defensive minded guy due to, I dunno’….Football(?)  I still like to see good defense and I had a sneaking suspicion that Michigan might lose in this tourney in a shoot-out that went to 80 or 90 points.  But as long as the formula was working, I was happy and I still am happy to be a supporter of JB and the 3 Point Men and the exciting and winning style of hoops they have played all season…
Until you get a game like yesterday.   Two basketball giants (okay, maybe Michigan isn’t quite up there with Kentucky – but you get my point) that were playing at their best started trading shots and scoring at will.  Defense was an afterthought, sort of.  Kentucky tried taking away the perimeter and Michigan went inside to Mor-Ford for easy points in the paint.  Kentucky took what Michigan was giving and the two teams just slugged it out. 

However, when the other guy doesn’t make a mistake and plays the same game that you are beating everybody with…and maybe even plays it a little better its starts to get a little concerning.  Then, it’s like watching a mirror image of yourself, only they look to be a taller and better on defense than you…And they didn’t miss many of their shots late in the 2nd half.  And, with the score tied and the luxury of having the ball with the last shot, they literally “Burked” Michigan with 3 tics left on the ole’ clock…
Yeah…That sucks.

Still, when I looked at the numbers, Michigan played to their season and tourney averages.  They did not play a bad game; in fact, I’m sure this will be an instant classic as both teams had pretty good (if not great compared to 2 of the other elite 8 games) stat lines.   Michigan, however, had a couple of bad trips and crucial misses in the 2nd half.   And I’m going to go out and state here and now that the pivotal point in the game wasn’t actually IN the 2nd half, at least it wasn’t to this fan…  No, I would need to look to the first half when Michigan was up 10 and I had a thought, however brief, that the Wolverines needed to win the game “Right Now”!  Go out and play like you’re down 10 and hang another 10 on these guys and don’t take your foot off the gas.  Instead, UK came out a little motivated and tied it up going into the half.
That’s the one place I will give the other coach (I loathe) a little credit.  John Calipari used his time-outs whenever Michigan scored more than 6 points in a row.  He made sure that he was on top of the mo-mo and tried to nip it in the bud.  He knows his player and he has finally figured out that they are young and need to be smacked on the ole’ noggin more often vs. less often...

But…every season has to come to an end and in hoops, 67 teams that make it into the NCAA end the season with a loss…there’s no way to win the last game if you’re in the tourney.  No bowl you can hang your hat on.  Just a loss…and at least we can say Michigan’s was a good loss.  If there is such a thing.  A loss that the entire team can look back on and say they left it all out on the floor….
I hate to look at a B1G Championship Season coupled with an Elite 8 appearance and say that it’s somewhat of a disappointment.  However, I’m not sure how you categorize it if you’re not going to call it a disappointment.  This team played so well down the stretch and did so many amazing things that I truly believed they were the team to beat this year, regardless of what all the prognosticators said.  If UK wins the bid enchilada, we can at least say, “Well, there’s that.  We (again) lost to the eventual NCAA Champion.”

But I really believed Michigan was going to win it.
Now, that’s clearly not meant to be.  And I’m going to miss a lot of these players.  I’ve watched each game in the tourney thinking it MIGHT be the last, but a feeling crept in and hung around (even after Michigan tied it) and I didn’t like it.  It wasn’t the, “Okay…we tied it up and we are going to OT” feeling…It was the “Uh-oh…19 tics on the clock and the other guy has the last shot.  And they haven’t missed in like…forever.  I don’t like this…”

Yeah…THAT feeling.
Hence is why I really wasn’t ready to write this post this AM.  I was anticipating a Final Four Weekend and was looking forward to a Monday night against either Florida or UConn.

Still, I have to give the team and coaching staff a lot of credit.  Everyone else had more or less said Michigan was out of the national picture after McGary opted for back surgery.  They pretty much proved all the critics wrong and the Wolverines were within 3 points of REALLY proving them wrong…That’s hoops - so close…and yet so far away.
The Rest of the Mess

After Wiscy pulled off the miracle in OT against the other wildcats, I was really thinking that 3 B1G teams were going to the Final Four to face Florida, with Michigan being the iffy-est one to get in.  Sparty however, as much as this pains me to say it, reverted back to their mid-season ways with lousy shooting and too many turnovers.  Yes, as someone else pointed out, how does UConn get a game in MSG that close to “home”?  I’m not sure, but I had the same question about Big Blue Nation (not Michigan…Kentucky) lucking out as an 8 seed at Lucas Oil which is a short drive from the Blue-Grass state. 
But I digress…Sparty also upset me in that I really wanted them in the Final 4.  I wanted Michigan and Sparty there to shut everybody up about the strength of the B1G.  Sparty just couldn’t get out of its own way and while they kept it close, I felt Sparty Nation’s pain when, down 5 with 0:30 left on the clock, Apple fouled Shabazz on a 3 point shot and fouled out of the game…It kind of was a final punctuation on a very disappointing game and season for Apple.  If I am a Sparty…it’s a little bitter sweet that he’s leaving.  I’m happy for what he was able to do for me over his career, but at the same time, I’m glad he’s gone. (As a Michigan Slappy, I wish he had another year of eligibility!!!)

I wanted a B1G final that featured the State of Michigan and I wanted to get revenge on Sparty and catch them napping. 
But again, there were a couple of hurdles that needed to be overcome first. 

Was there any measure of success in either of these teams or will they both be looked at as “seasons of failure?”  I guess if you had to measure one team by what was expected coming into the season, then Sparty’s failure surpasses Michigan’s by leaps and bounds.  Sparty was a “Certain” Final 4 team, Championship Favorite, and sat at the number 1 rank in the early season after beating Kentucky in the non-con and before the injuries.  When everyone came back, they returned to favor among the talking heads after the B1G Tourney.  THIS prognosticator questioned the validity of it, however, predicting that Sparty might not make the Final 4 as you just can’t get all the pieces working in sync again in that short time period.  There’s a reason you play pre-season and conference schedules.  Even in basketball.
So, yes…Sparty’s failure was much greater when measured against expectations, but Michigan’s pain is equally as bad if not more so, in my opinion.  Maybe more so for the followers of Michigan who knew what this team was truly capable of and had seen it time and time again.  And Michigan didn’t have a mid-season “slump” where the entire fan base figured it was over and had written the team off.  Sparty to a man had more or less done that and the 3 wins in the NCAA’s could be considered gravy when you look at what had to be overcome. 

However you want to look at it, I guess.  Green and Blue colored glasses, anyone?
Moving forward, GRIII and Stauskas are probably gone, even though I think it’s still way too early to make a prediction on either player at this point.  Morgan is gone because he’s done but there will be a strong contingent of players that return next season.  Plus McGary and a strong freshmen class and well….

Who knows??? 
ESPN stated that out of the 11 million brackets that were received, there are currently around 600 that have the Final 4 correct.  600 people (which is kind of amazing) didn’t take Arizona and Michigan State, two of the most popular championship picks.  Interesting….
If you had TOLD me that one of the teams between UConn and Kentucky were going to make the Final 4, I would have shook my head and said, no…I’ve watched way more basketball than that and I can tell you that there’s no way either one of those teams can win 4 in a row against that competition….not to mention that they BOTH made it.  UConn lost 84-48 against Louiville 2 weeks prior to the NCAA's...And Kentucky through the Midwest?  Through Wichita State?  Through Louisville?  And Michigan?  Ha! You're crazy....
No way…
Which, so much for know anything when it comes to the brackets. 

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