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.
I saw that going differently, which is odd for me these days. I've pushed away these Wolverines, both on the court and on the field, for fear of being hurt. Call it the Richrod effect if you want, but I think it was starting before that. Maybe '06 when Bo died and we lost to OSU...or maybe '07, with the spectacular combination of App State and a fourth consecutive loss to OSU compounded by a 10-22 season in hoops. Whatever it was, I guess it really doesn't matter. In many ways and on many Saturdays, I've been the battered wife returning home. Fortunately there have been some bright sports when I got there:
Denard is one of them, the NCAA tournament run of Zack and Stu another. Brady Hoke's passion for the players makes me happy. Bacari Alexander's cringe-worthy pre-game antics are just stupid enough to make me (and the players) laugh at him and forget about how serious the task in front of us is. John Beilein is a man whose computer you'd have to clean a thousand viruses out of over Thanksgiving break, and whose daughter you would want to marry. And what Spike did tonight, the 9th leading scorer on the team, pouring in 17 before halftime...there is no better way to put a Beilein stamp on this championship game.
About that Championship Game? Seemed from the twitterverse that it played well on tv. I was in a mostly UL section that bitched about each and every foul, but it seemed to me that the refs were equal in their ineptness. Trading alley-oops near the end was classic. The Spike and Luke show was storybook. We just needed to hit a couple more free throws and make a couple more stops. It really was that close.
What's amazing about the Final Four is that it really is a destination (my Sparty friends will be happy to hear me admit that) as well as a tournament. It might be the only place where you can lose and feel good about it (after some grieving time, that is). This is especially the case when you are not bound by expectations. As the #1 seed, Louisville was the only team in the Final Four carrying that burden. We had already overachieved, Syracuse had already overachieved, Wichita State was just happy to be out of there trailer parks...it was on the Cardinals to win it all in Atlanta, and that's what they did.
With about two minutes left, the tournament Grim Reaper arrived. A man brushed up against me walking down the aisle, carrying with him a pile of newspapers...Louisville championship newspapers. It was a sobering moment as I had not yet given up the fight, assuming another Kansas miracle was on deck. I wondered where the pile of our championship newspapers was, and thought about how stupid that guy was going to feel as we sent it to overtime. I wondered what the catchy titles might have been on the articles in the Michigan version. And then it all just disappeared.
Time ran out in the 2013 National Championship, and on Trey Burke and his glorious time as a Wolverine. It's probably the last we'll see of Timmy too.
But this team is not done.
This program is not dead.
We will not be waiting another twenty years to get this feeling back.
I waited and watched as Louisville accepted their trophy and slowly cut the nets down. One of the backboards was lowered to allow Kevin Ware the opportunity to make the last few cuts on one of them. I welled up a bit during One Shining Moment, and then I walked out with my head held high. While nearly all of my Michigan-loss experiences have been riddled with blame and anger, this one was not. We played at the mountaintop tonight. We fought valiantly to get there. We fought hard when we got there. And we will fight again.
It's great to be a Michigan Wolverine.
...and now it's football season. See you in 144 days.
Editors Note: Our tailgate buddy Jeff offered to fire y'all up while I eat and drink my way through Atlanta. Thanks Jeff! You always have a place here as long as you continue the Shane jokes :)
I can't imagine I'm the only one that has pinched myself several times in the past 36 hours to make sure I'm not dreaming. Say it with me - Michigan is playing for the national championship tonight. 24 days ago they were bounced in the second round of the Big Ten tourney by a Wisconsin squad featuring a 6'6" white power forward sporting a Jew fro. Yet here they are... 8 days into the month of April... still standing amongst the corpses of Sparty, OSU, and Indiana... ascending Mt. Everest with the entire B1G on their back. Let us all take a collective deep breath and reflect upon on how we got to where we are...
That back-of-your-mind fear of repeating last year's first-round exit was laid to rest after we calmly took care of the Jackrabbits. Next came VCU, coached by tourney-legend Shaka Smart, fresh off a 46-point beatdown of Akron (that shitty school from that shittier state) in which they caused 21 turnovers with smothering defense. In 36 hours, Beilein and Co. devised and executed a gameplan that broke the full-court press and went straight for the jugular. More importantly, the potential of #4 was finally showcased. The freshman from Indiana grew from boy to man in 40 minutes, dropping 21 points, 14 rebounds, and nearly taking Briente Weber's head off with a clean pick that showed the nation that we aren't intimidated by physical play. We'll knock you on your ass, beat you by 25, and let our bench play out the final minute... you know, just to pour some salt in the wound.
Then came Kansas. For 37 minutes we were broken, battered, and beaten by an older, more experienced, and seemingly better team. But then... well, we all know what happened next. Then we cruised through Florida and sent the nation a message that we belong in the Final Four. We beat Syracuse and the "untouchable" 2-3 zone (thank you, Zack Novak, for teaching
Morgan how to take a charge). We're one game away from giving the new Crisler Center it's finishing touch - a banner. Let that sink in for a moment. Teams don't get this far by accident. A six-round, 64-team tournament is a fool-proof way to determine the best team in any given sport. Period. The team that wins five straight games against elite programs, at neutral sites, and with little preparation deserves to be right where we've found ourselves: playing for the 'Ship.
We're on to something here. I'll never forget the '98 Rose Bowl. I'll never forget when Tayshaun blocked Reggie, when Henne hit Manningham to beat PSU, when Denard found Roundtree to beat Notre Dame... and I'll never forget where I was when Trey hit that 30-footer.
And neither will you.
Why? Because in the end, that shot will not be a bittersweet memory of a tournament run that ended in a loss at the hands of Louisville. Instead it will be the highlight of a soon-to-be-released DVD summarizing our championship that you'll dust off in the future to show your grandchildren. We'll all gather 'round at tailgate, pointing and laughing at the "WE ON" tattoo that Shane will inevitably get sometime this week. You'll tell stories about this team, about how talented each player was, and how they managed to gel at the perfect time. The best point guard in the nation... the high-flying swingmen, Hardaway and Robinson... the Canadian sharpshooter... and McGary, the frosh that fuels the fire. They will all climb the ladder and cut down a piece of the nets tonight. I know it.
And so do you.
Why? Because you didn't turn the Kansas game off with less than 7 minutes left facing a 14-point deficit. Or even with 21 seconds left and still needing 5 points... to tie. It's because you know this team is special. It's because we have Trey fucking Burke. Trey is a killer. Trey will rip your heart out. If you give Trey an opening, he will kill you. Nobody goes for the kill like Trey. Trey will eat your liver and cap it off with a glass of Chianti. You can have the hall-of-fame coach, the tournament experience, and the motivation to win it for a guy who would be irrelevant if not for having the weakest right leg in the history of sports... I'll take #3 all day. And if he doesn't show up? Timmy will. Or Nik. Or Mitch. Hell, even Spike will bury a three in your face. And if he misses? Glenn will clean up the glass. Rinse and repeat for 40 minutes. Game... Blouses.
They've worn the shirts all season, but now they truly know that good things happen when everyone operates in sync. As an added insurance, their jerseys are maize and blue, thus giving them the same x-factor that helped our football team beat Notre Dame under the lights, and more recently Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. It's a sort of arrog... er... confidence that only comes from putting on the jersey and representing the greatest university in the country.
Keep calm, and beat the piss out of the Cardinals.
Sorry this is brief/late, I've been stuck in Atlanta all weekend on business. I kid, I kid.
Whatever superlative you wish to throw on the pile for tonight will work. Simply put, an amazingly unexpected run for our Wolverines has us 40 minutes from a National Championship. I was just a young teenager the last time we were in the Championship Game, but I remember it like it was yesterday. And despite the bitter ending, and despite the fallout years later, it's one of just a handful of Michigan memories that will be with me for a lifetime. My on again / off again relationship with Chris Webber notwithstanding, it's very difficult not to love the Fab Five. And it's even more difficult not to appreciate his mission to get the band back together for this momentous occasion...
Meanwhile in blatant self-promotion news...a large man in yellow (me) and his financé with hands on face in horror star as Jiminy Cricket in the critically acclaimed feature "Please Make Your Damn Free Throws"...
And how about a picture gallery?