We sang. We cheered. We lived vicariously through Jordan Poole's smiling face. From all corners of the country, ghosts of tailgates past descended upon San Antonio, joining together to catch a glimpse of the final game of John Beilein's latest miracle creation. It was glorious and sad and fun and excruciating.
I didn't stay for One Shining Moment like I did back in '13. As the streamers fell from the rafters, Jordan Poole wouldn't have a chance to blow confetti off of Jim Nance again, and I was ready to go home. This is not my first lopsided affair, and in my experience there's something cathartic about blowouts. My peace with the result had been made shortly after halftime.
We never thought we'd be playing in April. We didn't think we'd be playing in April 2013 either, which is crazy because that team had twice the individual talent. But at some point, you need to realize that John can take anyone and have them playing in April. It's time we stopped being surprised and learned to appreciate and revere John Beilein. He's the best Coach Michigan has ever had, in any sport. So there, I've said it. John recruits character over stats, develops talent like no one else, and emotes just the right amount of Bo. "The Team The Team The Team" is chanted at the end of every huddle. And Beilein, when pressed about not getting "his" championship, paraphrased Bo when explaining what success is to him, doing his own version of "success is when those players come back and we see what kind of husbands and fathers they are."
I've watched OSM at least ten times since returning to Ann Arbor. There's a lot of Michigan in there. Caught up in my local tunnel vision of Michigan's NCAA tournament run, which was buoyed by the terrible "NBA does NCAA" coverage on TBS, I was isolated from the national attention and broader perspective.
This was a big fucking deal.
Somewhere there's a kid who just decided he only wants to play for the Wolverines, like a younger and more German version of Mo Wagner did back when Trey and Mitch led us to the Finals. And there's hordes of kids that saw something perhaps more important than just success, and that is success with class. From Mo Wagner halting his celebration of the shot of the tournament to console a Houston Cougar, to Jordan Poole giving respect to Sister Jean on his way off the court, to the flurry of post-finals interviews of Michigan players, each of which mostly contained praise for how great Villanova was. This team, so much greater than the sum of its parts, played with huge hearts, amazing togetherness, and a child-like spirit. No one had more fun in March than Michigan. This team, a derivative of one that was forged of near tragedy a year earlier, is the absolute embodiment of their Coach, a man that has changed, adapted, and stayed ahead of a game that has passed so many others by (Hi Tom!). And he's done it with faith, hard work, and occasionally a super soaker.
As the John Beilein narrative devolves into the backhanded complement "best coach to not have a championship," I remind you that John is not done, and does not need your charity. Michigan will be back, probably sooner than later. And they will do it better and cleaner than most, without whining, and without excuses or finger pointing.
This is Michigan Basketball.
March 17, 2018 - Jordan Poole celebrates after hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to defeat Houston and advance to the Sweet 16. Michigan would win 3 more tournament games before falling in the NCAA Tournament Final Game to Villanova.
cinderella /ˌsɪndəˈrelə/ adjective - one suddenly lifted from obscurity to honor or significance
This story has been written many times by many folks, but as we collectively digest what happened last night, it's important to remember where we were and where we are. I've harped on this probably 10 too many times, but this basketball team, who came off of a 2017 B1G Tournament title and was a basket from the elite 8, routinely only played to a half full Crisler. Most of the people tweeting and crowing today didn't see a game this year, definitely not in person and probably not on TV. No one was willing to bear witness to the growth process that has become signature Beilein. So many wrote this team off after falling to LSU in a high school gym in Maui, and again when they got housed at NC...and that was before December 1. The season was an even-keeled "meh" after that, with a little bit of chatter starting after they beat Sparty in EL in January. A feel-good senior day close out of upstart OSU made for a nice finish, followed by a couple road cupcakes to tune-up for NYC. Sandwiched in between those were a 20-point defeat in Nebraska, and the last time Michigan lost: an ass-handing in Evanston, at which point they seemed closer to the bubble than to having something brewing for a postseason run.
Despite floating around the bottom of the AP, they did not appear in the late February ESPN Top-25 Power Rankings (which actually shows 30 teams). They were the 5-seed in the Big Ten tournament. They crapped the bed against then 14-18 Iowa in the first round on Thursday afternoon, needing overtime to move on to Friday. Lose that game and they're probably a 5-seed in the dance. Then there was the Delaney layoff, and rough sledding in the opener in middle of the night against Montana before pulling away late. Then Michigan lost to Houston and the Man Bun, except they didn't...
After all cylinders against A&M, they slogged their way though the (literally) long arms of the Seminoles to make the Final Four. Last night, they could not have looked worse in a half. Fans looked up to see the biggest halftime deficit for the Wolverines since the 1/18 debacle in Nebraska. But they pulled it out. I'm still not sure how.
If Rhode Island was in the game on Monday, would they be Cinderella? How about Saint Mary's? I would think so. And they're on a list of the most powerful from less than 6-weeks ago. So are 29 other teams that are watching from home.
A forgotten team with little support. A style of play that isn't particularly entertaining to watch. Outside of a second-team all Big Ten nod to Wagner, nary an award winner on the squad. If there was an NCAA basketball fantasy draft, there would be 6-men and 7-men selected before you'd see a Wolverine hit the board. No names. No one-and-dones. Just a group of dudes, picking each other up as necessary, going to the National Championship Game. Sounds like Cinderella to me.
In addition to not having any ability to dissect basketball matchups, I don't have a very good track record when talking about "the next game." In short, when we do a preview, Michigan loses. From App State to Michigan State, it is a jinx I believe in. So we can talk about Monday on Tuesday. For now, this is to be enjoyed.