3/21/2009 – Michigan 63, Oklahoma 73 – 21-14, 9-9 Big Ten
The narrative of Michigan's basketball season was one of gritty, gutty, Eckstein-like overachievement, what with walk-ons at point guard and a 6'4" freshman at power forward and mismatched pieces in many places. It's not like this was a secret. I've typed "walk-ons at point guard" and "6'4" freshman power forward" probably a dozen times over the past couple months, often with exclamation points(!) in proximity.
But series finales are often overwrought things that take thematic overtones and bash them into your forehead, so Michigan drew the most un-Eckstein of opponents: Oklahoma and their THOG SMASH team. Then Manny Harris disappeared—maybe he's an angel—five minutes into the game and was replaced by Anthony Wright.
Wright proceeded to grit his way into 12 first-half points and Michigan went in behind by a single point at the half. They would have had a lead if not for the demands of the narrative, which caused them to blow a couple of easy fast break opportunities and the front-end of a one-and-one that would have pushed their lead to something substantial.
Halftime was spent in shocked contemplation of what had transpired. A brief attempt to calculate the probability of "Anthony Wright is Michigan's leading scorer at halftime of a second-round NCAA tourney game and the team is down one" was abandoned when one particular exponent was too large to fit in a 32-bit integer. A similar calculation for "Manny Harris plays five minutes in the first half and the team is down one" met a similar fate. ("Tim Brando is an abomination" came out to 1.)
So all this was clearly too good to be true, and Michigan duly proved that at the beginning of the second half when Harris emerged from the bench. But just as reality set in and began to harden, CJ Lee took a bite of his grit sandwich and gritted a gritty pair of gritballs, which in gritspeak are three pointers, three being the grittiest number and "balls" being the grittiest way to say "points."
Calculations begun! And hastily abandoned when Oklahoma threw it into Griffin and someone looked sideways at him and was whistled. Or something. Michigan loses, exeunt season.
And so. Here we are. This is going to be an embarrassing confession, but I remember standing in Crisler Arena on another Senior Day a few years ago and choking up a bit as the names along the lines of Chris Young were announced and the whatnot went on.
And I remember thinking that they should retire Lavell Blanchard's jersey, if only for sucking it up and staying home and enduring all the stuff you had to endure during that portion of Michigan's basketball history. At that point, anyone who managed to stay in school for four years without beating anyone with a belt or rolling an SUV or being Gavin Groninger seemed like a hero. I wanted to credit Blanchard with changing the culture of the program.
He actually which he may have done this, but the culture instituted was just a different kind of horrible. A much, much less horrible kind of horrible, but horrible just the same.
Thanks to Anthony Wright, we've all permanently lost our ability to criticize Beilein's rotation. This means we have to consider the walk-ons, and consider what it means when Jerrett Smith is deposited on Grand Valley State's bench and Kelvin Grady on Michigan's in favor of the above-pictured. In Smith's case, it just means he's bad at basketball. In Lee's case it just means he's better than Grady.
In Merritt's case… well. Merritt brought very little on the floor. His playing time is most easily interpreted as a rebuke to whatever Grady was doing that Beilein hated. Merritt is the culture Beilein wants, and he's going to get it, but a half-foot taller and able to pass and maybe score more than a couple points a game. This is just the end of the beginning.
- Michigan fans can't even assert that it was Harris' two quick fouls that doomed them since the guy soaking up the vacated playing time was Wright.
- As obliquely referred to above: Michigan had an opportunity to push its lead out to seven or eight points in the first half, which would have made the final, post-CJ-Lee-apocalypse minutes frenetic as hell. But they blew two fast breaks when guys pushing up the floor just had to catch the ball and lay it up, one of which led to a fast break the other way, and Douglass clanked the front end of a one and one. That's probably a seven-point swing,—you have to credit Oklahoma with about a point for their possession—enough to turn that five point deficit that was the closest Michigan came after their disastrous first few minutes of the second half into a two point lead.
These are the kind of opportunities you have to take if you're the ten seed, I think.
- I see I wasn't the only one to dub Griffin's treatment the Full Tebow. What perfect misfortune to draw the loathsome Tim Brando for this game. I mentioned this on Saturday, but at one point when it was declared Griffin had a "quiet" 30-15 I enjoyed a brief, dark laugh.
- The 400 shots of Griffin's parents may have made me want to claw my eyes out but at least they explained that weird ginger ubermensch effect going on. Over and over again. In the most annoying way possible.
- Also explained: why Griffin's opponents occasionally suplex him. He, Devendorf, and Vasquez should let their powers combine ("Ginger!" "Domestic Violence!" "Inadvisable Media Handling!") to summon forth Captain Douchebag.
Well, that sucked, all of it. My favorite part was the foul on a box out. My second favorite part was the color guy saying Griffin had a "quiet" 32 and 15 or whatever when the announcing team couldn't go 15 seconds without suggesting Griffin be elected president of Awesomeonia. My third favorite part was death in the CCHA tournament.
But at least the other results in college hockey tonight fell in such a way that the most likely bracket facing Michigan tomorrow is:
4. Air Force
So there's that.
So: Oklahoma, possessor of the most terrifying quasi-ginger manbeast* in college basketball lo these many years, comes up against Michigan, possessor of exactly two guys over 6'5", only one of whom plays at a time. Yipes.
Though Kenpom's taking a beating in this year's tournament, it's worth noting that Oklahoma, at 15, is a weak 2-seed in according to the numbers. This is more like a 4-13 matchup than a 2-10. Which I have no idea whether that's better or worse. Given what happens with 4-13 games, we have around a 25% shot, which is about what Kenpom says anyway. FWIW, Oklahoma was only the third-best team in the Big 12 in terms of efficiency margin, finishing behind Kansas and Missouri.
*(I couldn't find a picture that showed it well. I am of the opinion that Griffin is pigmented oddly in a way that I can't put a finger on but is definitely ginger-esque.)
Michigan Offense vs Oklahoma Defense
Two pointers. Oklahoma's extremely good at defending them, 17th nationally at 42.3%, and extremely good at avoiding opponent trips to the line. Continuing a theme, the Sooners get a lot of blocks: 11.4%, 51st nationally.
Three pointers. Oklahoma gives up an average percentage but allows slightly more threes than the average bear.
Possession advantage. The one glaring deficiency on the Oklahoma resume is turnover percentage, at which they languish in the 300s. Opponents just don't turn the ball over, probably because Oklahoma's defense is considerably less in-your-face than that of Clemson or whoever. That makes sense. They can just funnel drivers to Griffin and rely on their outstanding two-point FG defense and rebounding to do the work without getting in foul trouble. This explains the FTA/FGA, too. Don't expect a whole lot of ball denial on the outside.
That defensive rebounding, by the way, is good but not outstanding. They're 119th, which is above average, but for a power conference team that plays a significant portion of its schedule against weaker schools it's probably just average when adjusted for opponent difficulty.
Well? Given Michigan's profile we should expect few turnovers, a ton of threes attempted, very few trips to the line, and the occasional offensive rebound. Sounds like any other Michigan game, actually. Key matchup is Sims versus Griffin; Michigan's going to need more than what Sims provided against Clemson, and it'll be interesting to see what happens if the Sooners try to play man to man and Sims drags Griffin out of the paint. The outside shooting threat Sims provides could seriously limit Griffin's effectiveness on the defensive end.
Oklahoma Offense vs Michigan Defense
Oh, lordy. While Michigan's offense has a decent chance of working just fine, the offensive numbers are intimidating.
Two pointers. Oklahoma makes 56% of its twos, fourth nationally, thanks to Griffin. He's hitting 64% of his twos(!). Oklahoma also has a huge FTA/FGA ratio that is also fourth nationally—they take a bunch of free throws. This is also thanks to Griffin, who is #1 nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. This is probably not news, but: Blake Griffin is good.
Three pointers. Oklahoma's slightly above average at hitting 'em and slightly above average at taking 'em, likely symptomatic of opponents collapsing down on that Griffin guy and leaving open shots for the guys on the perimeter.
Possession advantage. IE: turnovers plus offensive rebounds plus free throw percentage. This is where it gets dicey. Oklahoma's slightly above average at taking care of the ball and pretty good but not obliteratingly good on the offensive boards: they rebound 36.5 of their misses, good for 52nd.
The somewhat good news is that all those free throws taken aren't hugely efficient. Unlike Manny Harris, Michigan's main source of FTs, Griffin has an encouragingly crappy time of it at the free throw line, shooting just 59%. Yes, this means that Griffin averages 1.28 points on an average shot and 1.18 points on an average trip to the line and sort of implies that Eric Puls should see the floor and foul out as quickly as possible, but that's before taking turnovers and stuff into account. It's probably close, though.
What do you do with this stuff? It doesn't appear that Oklahoma crushes the boards quite as much as Clemson did against Michigan. Aside from Griffin, who's an absolute vacuum defensively and very good offensively, they've got one other guy who plays much and hits the boards, and he's 6'7".
As far as Griffin goes, I guess you have to front him, double him constantly, prevent him from getting the ball, and possibly give him a ninja suplex to stop him. Any Michigan player with spare fouls should use them liberally should Griffin find himself in an advantageous position. Michigan's status as a team that uses a few different zones should help limit the damage Griffin can do, as they can switch between a few different defenses and confuse entry passes and the like from Oklahoma's young and not that great guards.
Slidin', again. Michigan may be fortunate to have run across a team that, like Clemson, is sliding a bit as the season comes to an end. Oklahoma finished its year by losing four of six, including an opening-game loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tourney. I wouldn't get too excited, though: all of those losses game to quality tournament teams and only the Kansas game was at home. This is not analogous to Clemson's situation, which saw the Tigers drop games against the likes of Georgia Tech.
Coachin'. The Beilein-as-tourney-mastermind meme continues with another upset for his hall of heads, albeit against the active coach with the worst PASE score in all the land. Jeff Capel doesn't have much of a record, but it's better than Oliver Purnell's:
- 2004: Capel gets VCU in as a 13 seed, where they lose to #4 Wake Forest by a single point.
- 2008: Oklahoma makes the field as a 6, handily beating St Joseph's in the first round before getting clubbed by Louisville 78-48.
Capel went to Duke, for whatever that's worth. Anger about someone else getting a good coach from Duke? General anger about the white Devils? I don't know.
Common Opponent. There was just one: Oklahoma beat Purdue 87-82.
The General Feeling Of Foreboding
Yeah, I've got it too. Or, rather, I've got it as much as anyone can have it when you're dealing with this Michigan basketball team that has exceeded expectations so massively.
Michigan finds itself facing a team poised to exploit their greatest weakness. I mean…
For being a scout team player that saw all of 20 minutes of floor time this season, Eric Puls got plenty of attention Friday afternoon.
The 6-foot-10-inch University of Michigan redshirt freshman played the role of Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin during Friday's practice session at the Sprint Center as the Wolverines prepared for tonight's NCAA Tournament South Regional test against the No. 2-seeded Sooners.
…greatest weakness, man. I am racking my brain for things Eric Puls has in common with Blake Griffin and can come up with two: being 6'10" and having a cardiovascular system.
Playing man to man against Griffin is a recipe for points on your face and Michigan is going to have to do that after misses and turnovers, though thankfully there probably won't be much in the way of turnovers. They don't even have the post depth to foul freely.
I can see Michigan staying in the game for a while, but I can also see that one deadly Oklahoma run that pushes a close game to an eight or ten point gap all too clearly. This is probably it, but hey: okay.
Bad news first: we aren't going to Grand Rapids. Thanks, CCHA!
Now, the good news: Duluth won last night and Minnesota's chances of making the tournament are extremely slim. Even better, the two last teams in the tourney in some scenarios are Miami and Ohio State. Unless the committee does something unprecedented like seed-switching or scheduling intraconference first-round games, they'd be forced to hand Michigan a first-round matchup against a small-conference autobid. Even even better, the two-seed in Michigan's bracket in virtually all scenarios is Yale. Yale's had a great year but ECAC teams rarely reach the Frozen Four.
This seems to be what we're looking at if all favorites win:
1. Michigan (#4 overall)
4. Air Force (#15 overall)
2. Yale (#5 overall)
3. Minnesota Duluth (#12 overall)
No offense to any of those teams, but that's a great draw.
Now… there are some nasty combinations, like Duluth winning the WCHA and Cornell the ECAC and the consolation games going right, that slide Minnesota into the tournament. If Air Force wins the CHA, these have the Gophers the #15 team with Air Force in front of them, at which point the committee has a difficult decision between listening to the silly pairwise and giving ND a game at Minnesota or flipping the seeds and shipping Michigan. Which they'd probably do.
I'm sorry to report that Michigan has virtually no control over its fate at this point. Unless there's some wack combination out there I haven't come across Michigan is going to be the last #1 seed no matter what happens against Notre Dame. And it appears that Yale is locked in at #5. There will be considerable jitter in the three and four seeds in Michigan's regional, though.
- Michigan is almost definitely the last #1.
- Yale is almost definitely their #2.
- Grand Rapids is gone.
- Wack stuff can happen at 3 and 4.
Programming note: I'm jammed up, as I'm headed to the hockey game tonight and that will take up a big hunk of time. I plan on getting another numbers-centric preview up for the Oklahoma game tomorrow, hopefully by 2-ish.
via the Fairbanks News-Miner
Also the other team. The hockey team—which is very, very good—takes on Alaska tonight at 8 in the CCHA semifinals. Yost Built has your ten things; this one gives the best picture of what Michigan is up against tonight:
Weird team. They've shut out their opponent on eight occasions this year. They've been shut out ten times. You want to know why Ocho Cinco [Alaska goalie Chad Johnson -ed] won CCHA Player of the Year? They scored 54 goals in CCHA play and still finished fourth. That's 1.93 goals per game. The only team that scored fewer was FYS with 43 (43??!!!). The saving grace for them was that they only gave up 51, tying them with Michigan for the fictional "Jennings Trophy" of the conference, and finishing one ahead of Notre Dame.
First goal will be very important because there don't figure to be many of them. FWIW, KRACH says Michigan has a 73% chance of victory; Michigan and Alaska split in Fairbanks with Alaska winning 4-1 Friday and Michigan taking the Saturday game 3-2.
The latest from practice has Robbie Czarnik definitely available and Ben Winnett questionable; Scooter Vaughn is also practicing as a fourth-line forward.
Northern and Notre Dame are in the other semi; you are rooting for Northern, but without any real hope it will matter.
Good news from elsewhere: Minnesota ended its regular season last night with a loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the WCHA Final Five. The Gophers are currently the last team in the tournament at #14, but most of the possible results from the weekend knock them out. They're in if all favorites win, but all it takes is one more Duluth win or one unexpected autobid and they're at home. Patman's latest tourney update has the Gophers with only a 23% shot at making it in.
Minnesota missing the tourney makes a potential Michigan game in Minneapolis far less likely to be a defacto road game. Duluth can still make it, but 1) Duluth is far away and their fanbase is considerably smaller, and 2) Duluth can get shipped; Minnesota, as a host, cannot.
And hardware. Michigan took home a couple awards at the CCHA banquet: Tim Miller was the best defensive forward and David Wohlberg was rookie of the year. Alaska's Johnson was the POY, as you might expect.
Also, Louie Caporusso is a Hobey finalist. This is a really weak year for the award, so it's not out of the question he wins. However, he's a sophomore without a commanding resume and Kevin Porter just won last year, so it's not likely.
Cooper, a Saline High School graduate, and Burkhardt, a Pioneer grad who runs his own Michigan basketball blog, enjoyed every minute of it smack-dab in the middle of Section 117, where most of the 2,000 or so Michigan fans were gathered.
No link provided, obviously. Eyerolling goes here.
Uh? Far be it from me to harp on typos excessively, as they get through here on a daily basis. But… uh… MLive article on the dynamite Rust-Hagelin-Palushaj line, excerpt of which is sic:
Matt Rust couldn't recall the game and Aaron Palushaj wasn't sure about details, butthere is no comma here Carl Hagelin got the memories going.
Well, copy editor guy, if you're going 100% by the book there isn't, but commas are often a stylistic device used to make a sentence flow differently. Some are optional. Also optional: leaving your corrections in the finished copy.
3/19/2009 – Michigan 62, Clemson 59 – 21-13, 9-9 Big Ten
burning boat via falling sky @ flickr
"Ships, shoes, basketballs, whatever," Lucas-Perry said. "We're burning ours first, because we're coming to take theirs. We want it bad."
The most famous possibly-effective, possibly-useless motivational ploy in recent Michigan history remains Lloyd Carr's distribution of climbing picks and Into Thin Air to members of the soon-to-be 1997 national championship team, but "Queme los Barcos"—"burn the boats"—is rapidly gaining.
Motivation is a weird thing, and the popular conception of it is weirder. In the popular imagination these things act as functions or enzymes that take ordinary men and transform them in to something greater. Out the other end of these motivational processes come a national championship and Michigan's first NCAA tournament win since 1998.
But what strange items to function as motivation. Here we have 1) a book about people taking an insane risk and dying in the process of it and 2) an apocryphal motivational tactic by one of history's greatest bastards. Judged on the merits, these stories say "don't climb Mount Everest" and "don't get in a boat with one of history's greatest bastards." (Which latter might seem obvious.) Together they kind of say adventure—risk—is stupid, unless you like frostbite or malaria and definitely death.
So go get 'em, kids!
On the other hand we have a bunch of kids who love basketball—as walk-on lionizing story after walk-on lionizing story demonstrate—and are living through one of the most nerve-wracking times of their lives. Chances are they're plenty motivated.
They're also at risk. During the American-Villanova game, the camera lingered on Kermit Washington for a while. I had no idea Kermit Washington went to American, but I sure as hell knew he cold-cocked Rudy Tomjanovich in 1977. Even Washington's wikipedia page says "he's best remembered for" that incident. When it's on your wikipedia page your public image is well and truly screwed.
Meanwhile, Terrence Oglesby was 1 of 8 from the floor with a half-dozen stupid turnovers and fouls when he clocked Stu Douglass and got ejected. During Clemson's brief excursion into last year's NCAA tourney he was 1 of 11.
You can be nice and say he's a young kid with plenty of chances to make up for it and will have a fine life and etc etc etc, but he's got at most two chances to unbrand himself a choker in the hearts of Clemson fans, to turn future bar conversations from uncomfortable things like…
Oglesby: I used to play a little ball.
Random Albanian: Yeah, I was trying not to bring that up.
…into uncomfortable things where you probably won't get asked to sign a body part or a child. The latter seem preferable.
If you're being honest with yourself, Michigan fan, who is Todd Howard to you? Billy Sauer? Brian Ellerbe? Hell, Shawn Crable and Chris Webber? Pretty much everyone feels the same way about these guys, modulated by how much kindness and perspective they possess. The scale ranges from disgust to pity, which isn't much of a scale at all.
The popular conception is backwards: the actions of a select group of kids who accomplish something immortalize whatever story is behind it. Manny Harris' terrifying decision to punish Clemson for their press and the resultant and-one bucket that would force Clemson into fouling the game away work to heighten the fame of "Queme los Barcos." Flaming boats don't help shots go down.
And the popular conception is backwards: these stories aren't motivational. Motivation is not necessary. They're calming. They're stories about people who found themselves in positions they did not expect with more at stake than they had imagined, and dealt with it.
The boats have been burned. The mountain has been summited. The deranged hearts of people who clamor for risk by proxy have been engaged. Lives hang in the balance, and the only way to go is forward.
- Harris was obviously the MVP even if a large number of those threes caused me to cringe as they arced towards the basket, but a couple of supporting cast members deserve a shout out:
- Zack Gibson(!) was outstanding defensively, altering shots and causing a number of easy buckets to miss.
- Stu Douglass had 12 points on eight shots, and even had a drive to the hoop.
- Man, if Michigan managed to blow that the Grady debate would have been a permanent feature of offseason conversation. I have to say that with a lead and the clock running down the biggest risk is that you won't get to blow 35 seconds off the clock and whatever difference there was between Grady and Lee or Merritt in other aspects could not have made up for Grady's ability to get the ball across halfcourt without chucking it out of bounds.
- While I'm complaining: ohmygod foul when you're up three and there's like eight seconds left. Instead Michigan played outstanding D and Clemson had to chuck an airball prayer, but oh the horrible trajectory.
- Was anyone else hoping Oglesby wouldn't get ejected? I couldn't have been the only one.
- Given what Clemson did to us on the boards—they rebounded almost half of their misses—Blake Griffin is going to eat us alive unless Todd Bozeman comes out with his heel tag team and gives him a flying elbow drop.
- Seriously: everyone saw the Griffin suplex, but with about eight seconds left and Oklahoma in transition another Morgan State player set up like he was going to try to take a charge, then gave the Oklahoma guy a flying body block. Todd Bozeman, keep it classy.
- Day's biggest disappointment was American blowing a 14-point lead against Villanova, as that robbed everyone of the chance to chant "U-S-A! U-S-A!" some more.
- Second biggest: VCU not getting a real shot off in the dying seconds against UCLA.