I did not make this headline up
No Twitterverse this week. Instead, we shall plumb the depths of our collective sadness.
We live in some the headiest of times of modern Michigan fandom. The basketball team is coming off a NCAA runner-up season and it is bringing in another bumper crop of highly-ranked recruits. Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison are in the early stages of assembling some sort of Megazord. Michigan’s facilities are new and shiny and fantastic. But to move to the future, it is important to understand the pain of the past.
So, with a few weeks before anything actually happens in the sports world, this seems like a good time to try to answer a simple, cathartic question: what was the worst moment to be a Michigan fan?
Like the Highlander, there can be only one. So I guess this is our search for the Lowlander. Use whatever criteria you wish, but bear in mind what we’re trying to determine. We’re limiting the competition to the 1990’s and on. Obviously crappy things happened before that, but many of us can’t remember too much farther back. The events in question have been divided into four regions:
- The Daggers Region: It was there. It was so close. WE COULDA HAD HIM, MAN. And then... lightning bolt blue screen of death.
- The What-Could-Have-Been Region: The quantum mechanical gateway to an alternate universe in which we were showered with glory and the heavens rained Pop-Tarts and pleasing music played throughout the land.
- The Well-That-Was-Thoroughly-Unenjoyable Region: These were the games or events that hurt your soul from start to finish. Nothing about them was pleasant. Hope was crushed consistently and repeatedly, and then The Fates really went to work on you.
- The General FML Region: Generic embarrassments. A catch-all for the stuff over the years that still has you saying, "ugh, don't even get me started on ______"
We’ll cover the first two regions this week, and the other two soon enough.
I’ve included some concise arguments for and against the thing in question being the worst thing ever. As a palate cleanser, for each entry I’ve also included a comparable event that went Michigan’s way. The wonderful Yang to the craptastic Yin, if you will. When you’re done reading, Vote HERE: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/99RQK2Y.
Again: read. THEN VOTE. Then cry a little.
Are you ready for this? I mean, we’re gonna pick at some serious wounds here. Okay. Let’s do this. (after the jump)
(pic via Dawg Day Afternoon; need help finding the artist)
This week I saw a photo of Jerryworld with its floor removed in preparation for 2013 tourney games, and I was reminded of the horrific things that must be buried in that dirt: the blood from a terrible Indian battle, bits and pieces of Woodson's collarbone (Superbowl XLV) and Denard Robinson's shoulder dislodged by Dee Milliner, perhaps the remains of five hookers.
Among various banners this basketball team has been asked to carry, one is a flag of redemption for Michigan's other sports. Given the site and the stage, sure why not the Alabama game too? The last trip to the Dallas/Ft. Worth/Arlington parking lot from hell dismantled every shred of hope and excitement for the last year of Denard. Now another former Big Ten coach who moved South and built a pro factory of mauling blue chips could end our association with Burke. ClearEyesFullHart starts with Bill Self's Illinois teams to preview tonight's Sweet 16 matchup with Kansas.
If this trip doesn't work, there may be an opportunity in 2015.
Excelius in'dome'ine. Say hello to stopthewnba, who received a points advance so he could post another attempt to get all statistical about the "domes hurt shooting" meme. This is of course super-relevant to Michigan in Jerryworld tonight since we're very much the shootier squad. The data haven't gotten any larger, however there's knowledge gained:
In four of the past five seasons, among Sweet Sixteen teams, one of the top two teams that increase their scoring average in the tournament over their regular season average made the Final Four. Similarly interesting is that in four of the past five seasons, one of the bottom two teams who score LESS in the tournament than their regular season average also made the Final Four:
I think I found the sampling bias in that: the further you go in the tournament the tougher defenses you will happen upon. The teams who score way above their normal rates those who "got hot" and they of course will go further, but good teams who are playing at the same level they did all year should see their scoring rate dip both due to the improved quality of defenses, and the fact that defenders are more rested thanks to all the advertising breaks. What sold this diary to me was the Excel sheet he attached, which gives me an opportunity to try out my new embedding plug-in:
That work? Sweet.
Pipkins Dominates the Michigan Drill. This was on the boards but it' the diary of the week, easy. Michael Scarn took the "Michigan Drill" I referenced last week and broke down how Ondre Pipkins did it right. The drill heavily favors the offense: a defender has to beat a blocker and contact the runner. A snippet:
As he makes contact with Bosch, Pipkins has already driven off his right foot as well, generating more power and force into Bosch. His hands have shot inside very quickly and, as we'll see, will allow him to control Bosch.
When I watched this earlier I didn't want to over-emphasize because I thought Bosch probably true freshman'd something. He did, but Pipkins was able to use his technique mastery to take advantage of that. Read this if you want to know what Hoke is talking about when he gets defensive liney.
Goal by goal. Relive the wonderful Saturday and ultimately disheartening conclusion to hockey's last-ditch CCHA run via your last goal-by-goal analysis until probably sometime next year (hopefully MGoBlueline will start in November). Lost with the championship game was the glory of the semifinal against Miami (NTM), which itself can be a pleasant memory to keep from an otherwise unpleasant season.
You should hold a hat ceremony too! I gave The Michigan Men's Football Experience the recruiting profile treatment:
If you are participating I highly encourage you to take the opportunity to mock the recruiting system as well.
Etc. LSAClassof2000 calculated the chances of various matchups occurring in this tourney, and you can follow the charts as games get decided; Ohio State's victory last night raised the likelihood of Michigan facing them in a championship to…I can't tell but it's like 5% or something. Sweet 16 Wallpaper by jonvalk. Blockhams uses a semicolon incorrectly.
[The Best of the Board, after the jump]
I don't actually have many memories of the Fab Five on the court. I remember being utterly heartsick when Webber called that timeout. That moment is undoubtedly the genesis of my obsession with rules that suck and should be changed*. I remember hating that technical when the ref could have just ignored it and left Webber to figure it out himself.
I also remember a black t-shirt I had commemorating the '92 Final Four, but incompletely. I know Cincinnati was on the shirt. I had to look up the other two teams, look up that Michigan beat the Bearcats in the semi before losing to Duke, look up the fact that Michigan was just a six seed. I remember the shirt being embroidered, because that's what happened in 1992 when you wanted something fancy. It was scratchy. I loved it.
I've got the heartsick and the shirt; everything else has melted away. When Wolverine Historian posted one of their games against Illinois I watched it and was stunned by… well, everything. A stone-cold packed Crisler full of people losing their minds. The helter-skelter nature of the game on both ends. Michigan—Michigan!—having a bunch of defiant, ruckus-raising black guys Jim Nantz remains terrified of to this day.
That is not the equilibrium state of Michigan basketball. That does not come from Earth. It comes from a planet with a green sun and marshmallow donkeys.
Later I remember loathing Chris Webber. Years and years had passed and Webber was on a very good Sacramento Kings team playing the Lakers in the conference finals. Sacramento had just gotten legendarily boned in game six. I remember watching game seven smugly, thinking Webber was born to fail in the moment of truth as he clanged threes and the Kings evaporated.
Anyone with a soul roots against the Lakers for the same reason they root against the Yankees. Sacramento had just suffered through a game that Tim Donaughy could point to years later as an example of a fix only to have obsessives like Bill Simmons say "tell me something I don't know." My loathing for Webber overcame all.
Some years later Webber was a trade-deadline acquisition for the Pistons during the period when the Billups/Prince/Hamilton/McDyess core still had my full attention. I was unhappy with it but dealt. I watched Chris Webber play basketball again. By that point he had suffered a variety of injuries that left him barely able to jump. He was useless defensively, an old man devoid of the thunderous athleticism that I assumed must have been part and parcel of why he was so good in college, the #1 pick in the draft, etc. By all rights he should have been out of the league already. Like Shawn Kemp, basically.
The reason he wasn't was his passing. Someone who paid more attention to the NBA than I did or wasn't 14 the last time he saw Webber play much already knew this. I didn't. I knew Chris Webber, though. I knew he was a liar and a choker and not very smart and just a general all-around jerk who wouldn't even apologize. I knew the Fab Five was just a bunch of guys who played schoolyard basketball because they were so outrageously better than everyone they could get away with it.
I knew Chris Webber until I watched him play. He dropped passes in spaces that didn't exist until he saw them. He hit cutters that didn't know they were open until the ball was in their hands. He was brilliant despite having the athleticism of Artie Lang. He was incredible fun. Despite myself I really liked watching Chris Webber play basketball, and now I don't think I know one thing about him.
To say Michigan has done a 180 in re: the cultural alignment of their basketball team understates things despite that being axiomatically impossible. The old ringleader just called black guys at Duke "Uncle Toms"; the new one is from Chesterton, Indiana, and once knew 62 digits of pi. After Michigan completed its season sweep of MSU the most desperate, laughable assertion I came across from some guy on an MSU message board was that Michigan had "thugs" on its team, an accusation that would have been uncomfortable during the Fab Five era and literally true when Ellerbe was running things into the ground.
Webber's been banned and feels repudiated and people feel free to demand an apology from him before he even thinks about setting foot in Crisler again, so I get why he doesn't feel like he owes anyone anything. If he wouldn't talk to Jalen Rose for his documentary, it's hard to believe he'll actually "tell his side soon" as he hoped on twitter.
This is immensely disappointing to me. I don't hate him any more and don't care about apologies, don't care about the crater he is often blamed for no matter how little input he had on hiring Ellerbe**. I'd just like to know every last detail of what happened.
Because I don't understand Jalen Rose, don't understand Webber, don't understand the lady in the gas station on the South Side of Chicago I asked directions of who responded "I don't know about any damn directions." I do understand the visceral thrill of those bald heads and black socks, but only vicariously, like a kid from Troy buying an NWA cassette. I can't say why I thought Jim Nantz's obviously racist distaste for the Fab Five was obviously racist, but I had a Nantz-like reaction to that lady in Chicago. I understand why my fiancée continually mishears Duke's mascot as the "white devils" and simultaneously have less than zero sympathy for Robert Traylor and would want to punch him in the face if I ever met him and he was tied to a rock and he had no idea who I was and I could definitely run away before he got loose.
Webber's redemption never happened with him or Taylor or Bullock, and while Bullock was from some suburb in Maryland and cannot be redeemed—seriously, he can die in a fire for all I care—maybe if Chris Webber said something brutally honest it would help me be less confused and sad about Michigan basketball in the 90s, and maybe a bunch of other things of greater significance.
It bothers me that Michigan's response to the NCAA scandal was to go from culturally black enough to have Ice Cube in your documentary to Duke Lite, but goddammit I also wanted some directions. I want Chris Webber to gently untie this Gordian knot in an hour-long interview on national television. When he's done the pieces will assemble themselves into a butterfly with big ears and a huge assist rate. This is the least he can do for 13-year-old me and my embroidered Final Four t-shirt. Thanks in advance.
- Timeouts in basketball. There should be one, period, like in hockey.
- The NHL rule where flipping the puck into the stands from your own zone is a penalty. It should be handled like icing, which is what the NCAA does.
- Hockey offsides is brutal. Widen the line to reduce whistles.
**[Tom Goss, not Ed Martin, is the man who killed Michigan basketball.]