here's one vote for "John Beilein's head in a Futurama jar"
2/26/2009 – Michigan 87, Purdue 78 – 17-10, 8-8 Big Ten
Beat UCLA, nearly lose to Savannah State. Beat Duke, nearly lose to Indiana. Beat Illinois, nearly lose to Northwestern. Actually gack it up against Iowa with Manny Harris on the bench for pissing off the coach, finally killing all hope of making the tourney and…
|DeShawn Sims, F||34||13-16||1-2||2-3||2||5||2||1||2||0||1||29|
|Zack Novak, G||34||1-2||0-1||2-4||1||4||3||0||0||3||3||4|
|Stu Douglass, G||31||2-4||2-3||1-3||0||1||4||3||0||0||2||7|
|C.J. Lee, G||14||2-2||1-1||1-4||0||2||0||1||0||0||3||6|
|Manny Harris, G||35||8-15||3-5||8-11||1||8||4||1||0||4||2||27|
Holy hopscotching hell. Even if the numbers say Michigan is middle of the pack when it comes to inconsistency, it certainly feels like they drank a mysterious serum of their own concoction in November and have since been oscillating wildly between the states of "fresh" and "chuck."
This game was a microcosm. It went from tight but promising at the half—that's what she said—to a ten point lead, at which point the teams traded seven point runs. Purdue went first and the lead careened sickeningly down to three points before Michigan pushed it back out and eventually turned into a laugher. Several minutes of OH GOD MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS later I felt as ill as you can possibly feel with a six point lead and under a minute remaining, but the bleeding stopped: we're back, baby! For now!
The way they did it didn't help my feelings of disorientation. Harris and Sims put on an absolute clinic—with an assist from Stu Douglass, who you'll note above had four assists, no turnovers, and seven points on four shots—against the #5 defensive team in the country. And they did it by hoisting just 16 threes against 30 twos. And when Manny was fouled on drives there were whistles. And Crisler was nominally sold out.
If I'm a little bit inconsistent with my opinion of the team, so is the team.
Here we are again. The freshmen from Indiana are less floppy-haired but the kids from Detroit are still inexplicably faithful and sometimes brilliant. Michigan has an opportunity here, has two cracks at ending its decade wandering in the desert. At some point last night when Michigan led big I remembered that Raftery and company were doing the game and thoughts wandered to what it would be like to hear CBS' fey but iconic "this is college basketball" music and see Michigan and its double-digit seed show up and hear Raftery and Gus Johnson say something along the lines of "this is Michigan's first tourney appearance in ten years."
I have concluded this would feel good no matter what follows, and wish for Michigan to win one of their next two. Come on, kids.
- I don't actually believe that MGoLiveblogs of Michigan basketball games are causing crushing losses, no matter how much evidence piles up, and since these last two games are pretty important we'll brave fate and deploy CILs for both. God help me if they lose both.
- Wooooo assistant technical foul! Did it help? I sort of seemed like it. I don't go in for theories that badgering the referees like you're thinking about killing them helps you with the calls, but Michigan got a lot of calls they don't normally get after Mahoney got T-ed up.
- Do you think the spate of early calls against Michigan—all on obvious fouls—actually helped in the long run? It certainly seemed like that game was called way tighter than most of these Big Ten slugfests are, which undoubtedly had something to do with Michigan's increased presence inside the three point line, and Manny's continued, successful attempts at driving. There was none of that getting lazy or fearful and jacking up poor jumpers. (Ok, there was some of that but the proportion was appropriate.)
- Crisler did not like the Manny Harris charge + assistant coach technical combo. I haven't seen the arena that totally pissed about a call in a long time. And with good reason. I actually thought the Zach Novak blocking foul late where Hummel plowed him after getting his own rebound was way worse, but I didn't have the benefit of replay.
- OTOH, Chris Kramer got absolutely jacked up a few times and could not get a call. LLP (I think) gave him a flying hack as he attempted to dunk that looked like an intentional foul to stop an easy two, but there was no call. There was at least one other instance where he was obviously hacked and didn't get the call, and a couple borderline incidents.
However, I did enjoy Manny Harris driving, dishing, and then clobbering Kramer—who had set up literally under the basket—without getting a whistle. Not because I bear any ill will towards Kramer specifically, just because I hate that crap.
- Did anyone else have a twinge of regret about Grady choosing basketball when he flew back down court and helped slow up a Purdue fastbreak late?
1/4/2009 – Michigan 74, Illinois 64 – 11-3, 1-1 Big Ten
With a couple minutes left in Saturday's game against Illinois the Illini brought the ball up down four. Even with the students absent, Crisler fairly buzzed with nervous anticipation at a critical juncture. Michigan went to man; Laval Lucas-Perry moved up to take the point guard on as he crossed midcourt.
Lucas-Perry was afforded a moment in the window provided by Illinois setting a play, and used it to smile, big and toothy, before returning to the task at hand.
The thing that jumped out the most in the pre-game was basically the same thing: DeShawn Sims smiling wide before he was introduced as the starter, then settling down to business. After the shell-shock of last year, of the last ten years, it seems that Michigan players are periodically struck by the thought "hey… this is fun!"
Fans, too. When Zack Gibson saw a vacated lane late in the shot clock and beat Illinois' lumbering center off the dribble and threw it down, everyone roared and I looked around me to make sure there were 10,000 people who also saw that. And I saw people smiling, shocked and pleased and I just can't tell you what else because what in the hell is going on?
In the next timeout, Eric Puls came up behind Gibson and put a towel on his shoulders like he was a prizefighter. Gibson tried, with only moderate success, to look nonchalant about the whole thing.
So here we are, two games into the Big Ten season and 1-1. The Illinois game was critical. Start off 0-2 at home in a league where friendly confines matter way too much and it's a tough slog to get to the 9-9 that puts you on the bubble (unless Michigan upsets UConn, in which case 9-9 is a solid berth). It's still a tough slog, but one that looks doable.
The danger of Michigan's wildly divergent nonconference schedule, which had four tough games and then cupcake city, baby(!) was that the UCLA and Duke games were extreme outliers and the game-in, game-out performance of the team would just not be good enough to claw into the top half of the Big Ten. A couple games later, that chance is more remote. Not a whole lot more remote, but they're at least in the class of teams like Wisconsin and Illinois and should be clearly better than the Indiana/Iowa/Northwestern/Penn State collection of teams towards the bottom of the conference.
Not that they won't lose a game or maybe two to that set of four teams, but if they go 6-1 against those guys they need find only two more wins against the rest of the conference to get to .500, and 3 to get to what must be a tourney-clinching 10-8. Baby steps, always.
- The observations about teeth were made possible by the students' winter break; that allowed yrs truly to sit in the second row behind the Michigan bench.
Unfortunately the ambient noise (WHO WANTS A FREE TEEEEEE SHIRT) of Crisler drowned out what Beilein was saying during commercial breaks and timeouts, but I did catch a couple things.
One: about midway through the first half DeShawn Sims pulls down an offensive rebound and goes back up with it, getting hacked from behind; no call. Illinois takes the transition opportunity down and scores. There's a timeout on the floor and Sims goes to the ref, declaring what just happened to be "bullshit". Beilein yanks him immediately, and chews him out—sort of, he's not exactly Bob Knight—about this being the second consecutive game he's done that and Michigan can't afford for him to get a technical every time the refs blow a call. (Word to that, yo. Michigan would give up 20 technical free throws a game and finish with just Eric Puls on the court.)
Two: every time Michigan would give up a bucket in the 1-3-1 in the first half, Beilein would explain to the bench what went wrong. "You've got to get up in that guy to prevent the skip," etc. etc. etc.
- Sitting close to the bench gave me some insight into the value of Merritt and Lee: they were chatty organizers on defense whenever in the game and (in Lee's case, from the bench), shouting out instructions and generally attempting to make Michigan's array of switches work.
- Speaking of which: it looked like Michigan's man to man has given up on the idea of fighting through screens and just switches all the time. Makes sense when you've got four guys basically the same size on the court, but it also leads to some awkward incidents where Kelvin Grady is under the basket checking a 6'6" guy. This ended poorly.
- Manny alternated some rough possessions with his usual slithering to the bucket. His three-point shooting was pretty rough, and he's got to be a little more aware of when to kick out. Too many tough shots and turnovers so far.
- The above-picture dunk wasn't Gibson's only thunderous finish of the day, but on his first dunk he overestimated his athleticism and nearly killed himself. Ball still went in.
As long as we're on the subject: Gibson's always been shockingly good at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim when the lane gets vacated. He's too slow to do it most of the time, as he'll pick up a charge if there's anyone to rotate, but, man, as soon as he put the ball on the floor I was like "this is going to be a gumpy white guy dunk."
- Novak has won a lot of minutes, and deservedly, but what happened to Jevohn Shepherd? Shepherd was playing pretty well in the nonconference portion of the schedule and provides much-needed size and defense to Michigan's normally Lilliputian lineup. Surely he can pick up ten minutes spotting Harris and Novak?
- Good to see LLP taking some guys off the dribble; hopefully as he gets more comfortable we'll see an increasingly diverse game from him.
We join the action with Michigan up 7-2. Jerrett Smith finds Coleman for a backdoor hoop; Udoh comes in and hits a couple soft jumpers in the lane, picks up a block, and a foul. There's a Harris three in there somewhere. Michigan leads 16-6.
7:19 PM. Dang. Udoh faces up and knocks down a 12-footer. This McCauley guy is pulling Sims out and driving on him. TV timeout 18-10. Notes:
- NC State's second leading scorer is out with a hamstring injury, leaving NC State with five, count 'em, five scholarship players. Yikes.
- Also: Engin Atsur reminds me of a GSI I had named "Emre Enginarlar," who was a fave-rave of ours.
- Epke Udoh... kind of a badass so far.
- Yay Brad Nessler.
- Brent Petway has his number shaved into his head. I don't know how to react to that. It's like he thinks it's 1992.
- Sidney Lowe is NC State's coach. this is causing constant confusion.
Sims abandons his man to double, gets caught way far away, and his dude hits an open jumper. Smith almost tosses teh ball away. WOOOOOOOO PETWAY ALLEY OOP. Nice rebound from Udoh. Abram gets Coleman an open three; miss.
Harris travel bleah. Five TO already.
7:26 PM. WOOOO PETWAY BLOCK. WOOOOO PETWAY BLOCK. WOOOOOO. We can't hit shots on the other end to extend the lead, though. Udoh screws up a rebound, allowing a freshman who looks six to get an and one -- missed the continuation.
Nessler's a little obsessed with Petway... they're in a zone, we're befuddled. Harris jacks up a prayer that misses; Sims cleans it up. 22-14 at the eight minute break.
ESPN 2's bottom line has a countdown to Monday Night Football. I hate Monday Night Football. I hate the implication that I live for Monday Night Football. Tuesday is not six days away from Monday. It is four days away from Saturday, and Saturday does not "tide me over," you college-football-hating communists. In conclusion, please die.
7:33 PM. Lexus doesn't have a sale. They have a "sales event."
Hey, look, Danny Ainge.
Tough turnaround post basket by NC State. Abram miss... followed by crap offensive foul on Sims. Makeup call on the other end. 23 NBA teams have scouts in the building... this is what they call a working holiday. Smith lets his man get open for a three. They can't score, now only up three. Harris bricks a three. Grant goes right around Smith, and Amaker takes a TO.
I love how they're talking about NC State hanging in there like they're playing UConn or something. I know they're supposed to be terrible, but really... as soon as they went to the zone our offense collapsed. And turnover is followed by turnover. Smith AIRBALLS a jumper. Brutal.
Petway another huge block, but it sets up a lucky three. Turnover. Smith gets called for a blocking foul and we hit the break down by two. We haven't scored since the zone got put in. I think the reason I usually hate college basketball is that I spend most of it watching Michigan. Also, the kiddie-pool three point line is ridiculous. And the shot clock is way too long. And the refs are terrible. And the timeout problem is even worse in college. So never mind.
7:40 PM. They go back to man-to-man and Smith drives for a layup. Why go away from the zone? Petway gets a steal but get it poked way. Udoh block falls to NC State. Lucky basket.
Petway tips out a rebound, Ben Wallace Style, and gets a a feed from Smith for a basket... we get a three in our face nad miss one of our own. Smith almost turns it over. Smith is getting torched every time down. Airball from Coleman. This is infuriating. Five scholarship guys, missing their star player, picked last in the ACC, up five with the ball.
7:48 PM. Great. They come down, drive through the lane like we don't exist, and our final shot of the half comes after the whistle. NC State goes into the half up seven.
I don't want to overreact, but we're going winless in the Big Ten, missing the NIT, and Amaker should be fired at halftime. I hate basketball.
7:51 PM. "This team has the potential to make the Final Four." - Digger Phelps. Um.
8:04 PM. Second half starts with two bricked threes and a bricked Sims post move. Plus an open three knocked down on the other hend. NC State up twelve. Turnover. Brutal Petway foul on the other end.
Note: no Michigan free throws in the first half.
Sims bricks a turnaround. Finally something positive: transition opportunity leads to Harris free throws. Aaand that's a loose ball foul they didn't call, I hate you NCAA refs. Udoh in for Sims. More points for NC State, more bricked threes for Michgian. Udoh called for a foul on what looked like a clean block.
Petway knocks down a jumper... rubber rim. ANOTHER open three goes down for Nc State. If this gets to 20 I quit.
Now I'm rooting for it to get to 20 so I can get on with my life.
8:12 PM. Since NC State's best player went out they've outscored Michigan 44-18.
Harris hits a jumper. Offensive rebound for McCauley, then a wide open dunk. Near turnover. DeShawn Sims bricks a jumper. Drive for NC State pushes it to 18. Bricked three... now 2 for 14. One more NC State hoop and I can quit. Foul!
The tension! The horrible tension!
First one's down. Second one's down! NC State by twenty! WOOOOOOOOO.
8:20 PM. Heath Ledger is now macking on Julia Stiles in "Ten Things I Hate About You."
THIS IS WHAT YOU'VE REDUCED ME TO, TOMMY AMAKER.
I'll let you know how it goes.