Michigan blew out Wayne State tonight in an exhibition that was never remotely competitive. The usual suspects, Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin, led the team in scoring with 16 and 13 points, respectively. Derrick Walton came back from an injury scare—just a cramp, it turned out—to tally 11, while freshmen Kam Chatman and DJ Wilson both turned in nine-point efforts. The team looks expectedly disjointed on offense despite their production; the defensive effort was quite encouraging for a young team's opening game.
That all mattered very little when Austin Hatch, survivor of two tragic plane crashes, subbed into the game with 1:40 left to a standing ovation. The Crisler Center crowd, subdued to that point, nearly burst in nervous anticipation every time Hatch touched the ball, aching for him to take a shot that didn't seem like it would come. Hatch was content to kill the clock in a blowout win. The crowd moaned when not he, but Ricky Doyle, finished a long possession with an easy layup; each time he had touched the ball, his teammates on the bench were literally jumping up and down encouraging him to shoot. He waited.
Then Hatch drew a foul at the top of the key with 12 seconds remaining and Michigan in the double bonus, and the crowd rose once again. The first free throw caught the back iron. The second did not. You're going to want to click that link.
To top it off, John Beilein called a timeout after Hatch sunk his free throw, then wrapped him in a bear hug as he came to the bench.
Words cannot describe the feeling of watching a man who's twice fallen from the sky get to fulfill at least some small part of his big dream. I'm sure Austin Hatch never envisioned his first point at Michigan being this big a deal, a capital-'M' Moment. It was, though, and to see his teammates, coaches, and fans react as they did—special doesn't cover it. The cheers and the hugs and the smiles tell just a fraction of the story, a joyous moment in an unfathomable journey.
Thank you, Austin, for sharing it with us.
TOP FIVE MOST RIDICULOUS GAMES OF THE HOKE ERA
Wide divergence at the bottom. Not so much at the top.
Why I'm skeptical about all timelines, and why I can't say so for certain.
TALKING BIG TEN WITH JAMIEMAC
Penn State-Indiana! Feel the BIG TEN! Also: OSU-MSU and vaguely competitive Purdue-Wisconsin. Basketball talk works its way in at the end.
In tribute to the most ridiculous game ever, songs from the most ridiculous band ever.
"Across 110th Street"
"Cowtown," They Might Be Giants
"Youth Culture Killed My Dog," They Might Be Giants
"Destination Moon," They Might Be Giants
THE USUAL LINKS
I could be done there, but for some reason there are 40 more of these.
I have a problem.
But not nearly as much of a problem as anyone who attended this game. A summary, in lieu of the normal format, because that was not a normal football game, if one is to be so kind to refer to it as "football" in the first place.
[Hit THE JUMP for futility.]
11/8/2014 – Michigan 10, Northwestern 9 – 5-5, 3-3 Big Ten
College football is for remembering. It stands alone in its brevity—even the NFL has you play your division-mates twice. Every year you play a team and then you have glory or death until next year. You can pick any game of remote interest and your friend will say "oh, THAT game" because it is also lodged in his brain.
This happens in other sports but as you add in more and more games, more and more of them are thrown down the memory hole. Hell, even last year's highly memorable basketball season has a number of events in it that I couldn't tell you anything about without looking it up. We beat Stanford? I guess we did.
In football the only things that disappear like that are the tomato can games. Others are notable only in the context of some guy's career. If I say "the Jerome Jackson game" you know it's that Iowa game Michigan won in overtime. "That one time Alain Kashama did something" was the Citrus Bowl win over Ron Zook's Florida. There are of course the titanic battles whose aftershocks rattle down the centuries, and depressing blowouts and fun blowouts and etc.
And then there's this game. This game will also rattle down the centuries, for… reasons. You will poke your buddy and say "hey man remember the M00N game," carefully enunciating the zeroes, and your buddy will either laugh or give you a sharp punch on the arm, depending on his mood.
Immortality comes in all kinds of ways.
FFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUU [Bryan Fuller]
Well, I'm in this to be entertained. And I cannot deny that Saturday was highly entertaining.
By the time the teams had exchanged boggling turnovers at the end of the first half I was giggling. The field goal block sent me into chuckles. The fumble of off Funchess's hip got me up to a guffaw, and when Northwestern followed a boggling Gardner interception by going backwards 30 yards and punting into the endzone I had to lie down and remember to breathe.
It was disappointing when M00N ceased being a potential final score, but at least it came on a terrible error—a muffed punt. Anything skillful breaking the deadlock would have been unjust. My wife was peeved, because she is not a True Fan™ and wanted to see a 0-0 regulation. I kind of did, too. Not every day you see something like that.
It is every day that Michigan finds itself in a football game hardly recognizable as sports. When you bring up the M00N game to your buddy you will probably be making a point about the descent into unwatchable dreck that was the last two years of the mercifully short Hoke era.
This is Hoke's version of RichRod's gloriously futile 67-65 win over Illinois. Both games were narrow, pyrrhic victories over bad opponents punctuated by two-point conversion stops. Both showed off the abilities of the team's good unit against an overmatched opponent and the total lack of ability of the team's miserable unit. And both were the same kind of delirious fun that sees you wake up naked in a haystack the next morning, with no idea where you are or even what month it is. Or where your hair is.
Nothing about that Illinois game changed Rodriguez's trajectory, and this won't move any needles either. Michigan's been plunged into a disaster of their own making and shows no signs of climbing out. That they've encountered a couple of teams even more BIG TEN(!) than themselves of late says more about the league than this outfit. It's no surprise that the other two teams Michigan's beaten in Big Ten play faced off in one of the ugliest games of the year immediately before M00N.
At least we've got a symbol now. Any time anyone wants to reference how far Michigan's come since they led the nation in TFLs allowed and somehow got worse the next year just needs two letters and a couple zeroes.
[After THE JUMP: but what if Hoke wins out?]
Kicking off a weekly Big Ten hoops column highlighting ten—not fourteen—of the most interesting teams, games, players, storylines, and statistics in the best basketball conference in the country.
1. The Big Ten has an enormous middle class
Wisconsin’s clear status as the frontrunner is the strongest preseason narrative surrounding the Big Ten and while the Badgers are compelling in their own right (aside from their unaesthetic style, of course), there’s another storyline that may not be getting enough attention: the middle of the Big Ten is as strong as ever and the fight for survival in the morass of teams directly behind Wisconsin will provide quality, reasonably high-stakes basketball on a near-nightly basis.
There are the Badgers, and there’s everyone else—you could take Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio State and put them in almost any order, 2-through-8 looks so fluid in the Big Ten. To the point, Ken Pomeroy’s ratings have one team in the top ten (Wisconsin), but eleven in the top forty. Dan Hanner’s projections corroborate: Wisconsin—and nobody else—is in the top ten, but there are five in the top 25 and nine in the top 40.
It’s unlikely that there will be eleven of fourteen teams in the top forty by season’s end—Indiana (26) and Purdue (40) immediately stand out as overrated by Pomeroy’s system—but there should be a great number of enjoyable games between the middle-tier teams. That should be the biggest intriguing thing about the league this season: the title race likely won’t be very suspenseful, but the jockeying for position in the standings (and eventually on the seed lines for the NCAA Tournament) will be fascinating. The Big Ten will be a conference of staunchly upper-middle class teams this season—filling new subdivisions along artificial lakes and living the American Dream.
2. Top-40 Kenpom teams often make the tournament
Since the tournament expanded from 65 to a nonsensical 68, only two top-forty teams per season were excluded from the NCAA Tournament. Of those, Wichita State—ranked 59th entering the tournament—won the NIT, Stanford—ranked 53rd—won it, Baylor defeated Iowa in the NIT final, and SMU lost in the final (to Minnesota) last season.
Pomeroy’s preseason top-forty has eleven Big Ten teams (Wisconsin 6, MSU 12, OSU 14. Michigan 15, Indiana 26, Iowa 32, Maryland 33, Nebraska 34, Minnesota 37, Illinois 38, Purdue 40) and, because of the inevitable cannibalization that comes along with the zero-sum nature of conference play, it’s essentially impossible for all of those teams to finish that highly. Still, the above chart is illustrative of a basic implication in Pomeroy’s ratings: the Big Ten probably has a lot of tournament-caliber teams and monitoring which ones fall on the right and wrong sides of the NCAA bubble will surely be a compelling late-season storyline.
[After the JUMP: who's in? Who's out? Does age help you anymore?]