2/23/2010 – Michigan 52, Wisconsin 53 – 17-12, 7-9 Big Ten
For a while, the house we lived in—1331 Geddes, AKA "the Unlucky Palindrome," the purple-doored white house almost but not quite right next to the CCRB—had a fairly sizeable hole in the wall. Raffi's hip put it there. I put Raffi's hip there with a sort of flying tackle.
After this we were both on the ground. This was Raffi's territory. He has cerebral palsy, which means he can't walk that well or supinate his hands—he got around with the aid of crutches. As a result his arms were thick, meaty bludgeons. Since I'd just delivered a wall-shattering flying tackle to a guy who can't walk very well he used them to hit me, hard. It hurt.
This was "man fun." It was a semi-regular occurrence when someone had been studying too long or just felt like delivering a flying tackle. You would pick an available person and hurt them, and they would hurt you, and everyone would laugh.
Watching a freshman shooting 28% from three missing his buzzer-beater badly enough to make it was like absorbing one of Raffi's flat, heavy blows. I'd never witnessed something like that in person, and… yeah. Being in Crisler was to viscerally understand the cliche about the air going out of the building. The transition from a standing, raucous crowd to a bunch of pissed off people looking for their jackets was instant, and the ride home was mostly silence.
But I'm not upset in the aftermath despite this being objectively worse than the Evan Turner half-court dagger last year. Last year's team was under .500, a miserable disappointment after being ranked #15 before the season. Even Michigan fans who thought that was a bit much didn't expect the massive regression we got. That shot just meant Michigan didn't get their very narrow chance at winning two more games and the automatic bid that went with it. Losing was the merciful end, but it stood as a symbol for everything that went wrong. It was somewhere between irritating and infuriating.
Josh Gasser punting it in off the backboard—BACKBOARDS DIE—is probably going to cost Michigan an at-large, and it comes after a season of near-misses. I already wrote the bit about that scoring chance you get with five minutes left in the hockey game. It turns out that if Michigan is watching the NCAA Tournament selection show with a jaundiced eye they'll be thinking about threes clanging off rims in Champaign and a one-armed freshman shooting a three pointer so wildly errant it hit a courtside photographer before going in. And not being able to finish the deal against Ohio State earlier. And needing one measly point to avoid overtime against Kansas.
By all rights we should be waking up today like most Sundays the past three falls: hungover, pissed off, and mopey. It doesn't seem like we are, collectively—aside from one nutball on WTKA this morning the mood was downright chipper for the first time since the Notre Dame game.
It's obvious why. Just being in a position to be hurt is good after what happened last year and what the expectations were for this one. I admit that as I edited Tim's season preview I cocked an eyebrow at Tim's sunny conclusion:
The one thing they can promise, though, is that they'll be fun to watch. Maybe not in every individual game, but seeing these young players grow over the course of the season should be an entertaining - if often frustrating - experience all its own.
31 games later that may be the most accurate season prediction ever purveyed in this space*.
It sucks that a blind Chinese six-year-old threw a ball through the center of the earth that just happened to have enough momentum to pop up through the underside of the basket and fall back through, but Michigan has the most improved player in the conference, the best freshman who will be around next year, no seniors, the 336th most-experienced team in the country, and two good guards on the way to fill out the roster. According to Kenpom this is already the best team Beilein's had at Michigan—they are 48th while the tourney team was 50th. There has been no point in the post-sanctions history of Michigan basketball where optimism is as warranted.
In the light of morning not even a tiny meteor launched from Tralfamadore billions of years ago falling through the Crisler arena roof and subsequently the net can take away the feeling that sometimes it's good to hurt because at least you know you're alive. Michigan basketball is alive.
*[Although I did say football would go 7-5 this year. Third time's a charm.]
Non-bullets of glassy destruction
Novak no shoot. Beilein apparently said that he doesn't believe playing Zack Novak at the 4 is affecting his shooting but it's hard to see the correlation as something other than causation. I don't think Michigan has a choice—in the Iowa and Wisconsin games when Smotrycz was put on Basabe/Leuer it led it instant easy baskets and a quick switch. I think the reason Michigan's mostly playing Smotrycz at the five is because he gets annihilated by guys with ball skills.
Getting Smotrycz to improve and getting Christian to the point where he can do at least one thing on offense—corner threes maybe—are key points for next season. I'm not sure how much more Michigan is going to get out of Morgan and Morris and we have an idea of what Hardaway will become. The shooting guard will be a white guy who shoots threes and occasionally Carlton Brundidge. The four is the biggest issue.
Beilein's bedroom. Has a poster of Jon Leuer where other people put Megan Fox. Jesus. He has a 119 ORtg and he's taking nearly a third of Wisconsin's shots! Random mock draft has him going in the second round to the Pistons, which okay. I'm all over that. I can't imagine him being not useful.
Also, Beilein has to be looking at Keaton Nankivil and thinking "where can I get a 6'8" to shoot 48% from three?" Either that or "was that guy in The Usual Suspects?"
Late game strategy. I was fine with it; the problem came on the last foul when Michigan could only burn a second or two off the clock. If they get a bit more Wisconsin is trying to shoot with three seconds. As it was, Michigan really needed to not have three guys in the paint by the time the pass was made. That ball was going up.
Senior day? What are they going to do for it? Are they going to bother with it?