March 13, 2011 - Before there was Trey, Nik, and Glenn, it was Zak, Stu, Darius, Tim and J-Mo. Talk about a different time...Michigan started the conference portion of the season going 1-6 but (including the first win at the Nasser Center since 1997) finished at 9-9 which was good enough for 4th place in the conference, and somehow an 8-seed in the tournament, where they would dispatch of Tennessee before falling by 2 to the 1-seeded Duke Blue Devils. I joined a gathering of the Maize Rage looking on as Michigan got it's bid.
Tough to say if Big Ten Tournament timing had a positive or negative effect on the Wolverines' seeding. On the one hand, the world got to watch us smother the Cornhuskers, Spartans, and Boilermakers because no one else was playing. On the other hand, the world watched everybody else in the days and hours leading up to the selection (shit) show while Michigan sat at home.
Sure, by basically every metric, Michigan is better than Michigan State (and this is easily expanded to all metrics beyond basketball and sports of course), and going in to the tournament, Sparty is going to have to make the Final Four to salvage what may be classified as the worst 4-loss season in college basketball history. But I'm not going to quibble over a few spaces with a team full of (undeveloped and whiny) talent like Michigan State has. Yes, they got Detroit. Yes, they seem to have a little easier path through the first weekend. They also started the season at #2 and lost only 4 games. Michigan started unranked and lost 7. Tough to argue. And despite the complete lack of team chemistry (or defense), watching the occasional brilliance of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson makes all the difference. This committee is the same group of experts that let Trae Young dance and he's only won two games since Feb 1. This is about money. The same money that put the Wolverines in the Outback Bowl and sent Sparty to the Screw-You-Nobody-Wants-to-Watch-You Bowl which I believe aired on tape delay on Christmas Day. Besides, after the first weekend, assuming we both make it through and seeds hold, Sparty will have a date with blue bloods, while Michigan will pick through a pile of mid-majors with a dream.
The Wolverines went from unranked to 3-seed. From bordering on the bubble a week into February to back to back Big Ten Champions. Almost a great season already. But there's still work to be done, and coming up short of getting out of the first weekend will make things feel a little incomplete.
Moving on. Montana is on deck, and if all goes reasonably well a matchup with the winner of Houston and San Diego State will follow. Typical caveats of double digit upstart opponent danger apply. Fill in your own difficult matchup conversation here, either with Montana, then Houston or San Diego State. Every 2,3, and 4-seed is hearing the same story, and their fanbases are having the same anxiety. Somebody's worry is going to be warranted. Things can go wrong. We've got plenty of things that can - ice cold from 3, foul trouble, free throw shooting. But there are a lot more ways for things to go right, and I believe we will be talking about Los Angeles at this time next week. And I also believe in the Bisons.
If ever there were a Big Ten Championship game that was tough to get up for, it was this one. As much as a matching banner and Purdue revenge were unchecked boxes on the to do list, the previous afternoon felt so good, it would be tough to feel better.
But we do.
After dodging a bullet on Thursday, Michigan manhandled three of the top four seeds of the Big Ten en route to back-to-back Big Ten tournament championships.
The team you punched a wall about less than a month ago just cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden. The team you wrote off into a "maybe next year" scenario is the only team to have beaten every one of the other 13 Big Ten teams at least once. Some, like Michigan State, they beat twice. The team you questioned even as recently as this week, wondering if they could upset some of the top tier teams in the Big Ten and make a run at a banner, has dominated. And they were not upsets. Michigan was the team to beat. Michigan was the aggressor. They are the ones who knock.
Wagner was named "Most Outstanding Player" of the Big Ten tournament, but Moe insists the award belongs to his teammates. And he is most certainly correct. Jon Teske was the man on Thursday, filling in for Wagner when he got into foul trouble, and again today, when he actually had more minutes than Moe, as Coach Beilein tried to throw every option he could at Purdue's mutant Ivan Drago.
Mutant Ivan still had 23 points on 9-12 shooting. HOWEVA, Teske and Wagner combined for 31, so there's that. Zavier Simpson has gone from being benched early in the season for PG by committee to on the cusp of a Burke or a Walton (minus FT%). He became a focus of a few timely articles, and all are worth a read:
- Zavier Simpson: Michigan's alpha dog
- Michigan's Zavier Simpson ready for Cassius Winston, Michigan State
- The story of Zavier Simpson and the defensive dogs of Michigan
That last one is behind the paywall at The Athletic, but you should throws those folks some cash, they make a good product.
Anyway, seems like X could become that tournament guy we've been looking for, but the truth is, there are so many role players on this team that can carry them a game, a round, or even to San Antonio.
Some questions remain: Will free throws eventually bite us in the ass? Can we just practice free throws continuously until the tournament? What will be the effects of this long layoff? If we play in Detroit instead of Sparty, will they cry for a week, a month, or forever #disrespekt?
Well, we've got 11 or 12 long days to find the answers. For now, enjoy the championship, and hope that we don't cool off too much in a fortnight.
Oh, and get yourself in a bracket picking mindset, the field is released in a week (so weird that it's not tonight...friggin' Delaney) and it will be time for the 19th Annual UMTailgate.com tournament challenge.
Go Blue Forever
I don't know what I was expecting out of the Wolverines today, but I know what I was expecting out of a Maryland team that had dropped their last two: their absolute best. And that might have been what we saw, arguably the best starting five in the country bringing their A-game, in which case we can continue to hope. Maybe the stark reality of Caris not returning is finally kicking in. No where to go. No one to lean on. Walton and Irvin need to lead. Donnal needs to be what he was today, crafty and scrappy. Someone needs to come off that bench every game the rest of the way like Kameron Chatman did today. Hit threes. Win.
It's been a season of extreme's, as we find ourselves either pleasantly surprised or greatly disappointed depending on the team that shows up. Some ugly wins, but (until tonight) not a lot of feel good losses...if there is such a thing. We're caught in limbo, bitching about Beilein and his foul policies one minute, and wondering how he masterfully makes this youth-filled rag tag bunch competitive the next. A text message I received when the Wolverines took the lead said "I am convinced Beilein is a witch." Another said "if he doesn't take Doyle out right now he should be fired." Extremes. And that was how the game went today. Amazingly competitive with everybody playing bigger and better than they are one minute, completely inept and scared the next, falling victims to dribble penetration again and again and again. They were a little more of the former though, showing a fortitude that has been lacking in the other losses they've had this year. They hung tough with whatever version of Maryland this was before falling 86-82.
Pretty sure the Wolverines need to win their remaining three games to lock in that tourney bid, a tall order considering how Wisky seems to finally be getting it together, and that our final game is against Iowa. I think two out of three would require a not-early exit from the B1G tourney. Seth Davis played carnival barker at halftime, reminding the nation (and the selection committee) how the Big Ten shit the bed in the non-conference and claimed that 5 should be all that make it. Hard to argue. Their not going to take OSU, Wisconsin and us to make 8 that's for sure, and we just got our asses handed to us in Columbus, making next Sunday night's affair in Madison all the more important...meanwhile not sleeping on Chris Collins and the Wildcats on Wednesday.