I haven't had the chance to go through the full tape yet, but here are a few of the more memorable moments (from a Michigan standpoint) from Monday's title game. Above, obviously, is Spike Albrecht Bonanza. Hit the jump for a couple of high-flying Wolverines and some great shots from the CBS intro.
Look at it.
No, just look. In the image above, there is no whistle. There is just Trey Burke, consensus national player of the year, making another magnificent, awe-inspiring play—and in a season when he's done that time and again, I don't recall #3 blocking a shot quite like that. Stripped of the context of the game, it's simply 60 more frames of Burke's greatness.
We all witnessed a basketball classic last night, no "college" qualifier necessary. Michigan and Louisville put on a showcase of everything that is great about the sport—no two other teams in the country could've combined, on that stage, to showcase such a sublime combination of talent, skill, coaching, and the free-flowing style that makes for the most entertaining of games.
The exception was the officiating, and it's not like the Wolverines bore the brunt of that incompetence alone. Louisville's run to close out the first half could've swung the game even more had the refs not whistled phantom fouls on, if memory serves, both Peyton Siva and Russ Smith as they were in the midst of picking Wolverines clean and heading the other way for a layup. Look closely enough and you'll never fail to find points left on the table.
I watched the game last night at my apartment, with my brother and roommate, just as I had the first five games of the tourney—same people, same seats. After the final buzzer, we sat in silence for a few moments, collecting our scattered feelings. My roommate, normally the one who lets his emotions get the best of him, was the first to break the silence. Let's have a drink, go outside, get some air.
We stood on the back patio, and over a backdrop of hovering helicopters and wailing sirens we talked about the game, this team, the tourney run. The specifics of the conversation are lost to a long night and a few beverages, but I remember the smiles that crept over all of our faces as we recounted our favorite moments from an unforgettable season. Back inside, we flipped on a rerun of Arrested Development on the DVR, laughing with the Bluths like it was any other April night.
Today, I woke up a little late, and yes, with a little bit of a headache. This was what I saw when I turned on my laptop:
Michigan may have lost, but Spike Albrecht is still doing his thing, and I'm not one to count him out these days. After all, he was the Most Eligible Bachelor even before he had one of the most unlikely performances in championship history.
It's always disappointing when your team comes up just short, not because you're disappointed in them, but for them; there's no coach more deserving of a title than John Beilein, no player who's earned a crowning achievement more than Burke, and for a moment after the game I ached for them. But someone always has to ache, and who's to say who's more deserving? You know Kevin Ware; now read about Luke Hancock having the game of his life while his ailing father watched from the stands, or the incredible story of a 13-year-old Peyton Siva talking his father out of suicide, and there's no anger to be felt as Louisville celebrates. They have lives and stories just like our guys, we're just not as familiar with them.
And today, Spike Albrecht—Spike Albrecht!—is the talk of the nation, as is Burke's incredible block and that game, man, that game. Regardless of departures, and there will be departures, this program is in better shape than it was 24 hours ago. The whole country knows what we've known this whole year about Michigan basketball: they've arrived, they aren't going anywhere, and they're damn fun to watch. For 14 minutes, Spike Albrecht made everyone forget about Trey Burke, and we're not even sure he's going to start next year.
Look at it, one more time. It's still beautiful, and forever will be.
We're past the point of coherent thought. Let's watch some pictures move instead.
[Hit THE JUMP for the best gifs from the Syracuse game, including a complete Oliver Stone-style breakdown of Otto The Orange's tragic demise.]
According to all of Twitter, Trey Burke just finished his clean sweep of the national player of the year awards, adding the Naismith and NABC player of the year honors to a trophy case that already included the Wooden and Robertson awards. For a point guard, this is not a common occurrence:
The sweep of the major awards is only the third since 1977 for a point guard, joining Jameer Nelson and Jay Williams.
— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) April 7, 2013
All that and we get to watch him play for Michigan one more time. Not bad.
Image via UMHoops
"Bright youth passes swiftly as a thought." — Theognis
Mitch McGary scored in double figures twice in his first 21 games for Michigan. Before last night, he had 18 assists... all season.
Nik Stauskas had made just two of his previous 16 three-point attempts when he took the floor against Florida.
Prior to the NCAA Tournament, Glenn Robinson III's season high in offensive rebounds was four.
Caris LeVert, expected to take a redshirt year, didn't play in Michigan's first six games. He'd scored a grand total of zero NCAA Tournament points heading into Saturday night.
Going into the last two games, Spike Albrecht had scored 54 points this season, 627 fewer than the man he backed up, Trey Burke.
Before the season began, I wrote about the lofty expectations for this team, and how much they had to rely on a talented but enigmatic group of incoming freshmen:
While the hype may be slightly overblown, anything less than the program's first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1994 would be considered a disappointment.
How the team reaches that point is still very much in question. Hardaway, plagued by a balky jumper, ceded the role of lead dog to Burke as the season wore on in 2011-12; if he regains his stroke, he could emerge as the top scoring option. The presence of Jordan Morgan, McGary, and a healthy Jon Horford up front gives Beilein new-found depth and versatility with his lineup—Beilein spoke at media day of an offseason spent studying NBA film to see how the pros utilize two post players, a luxury he hasn't been afforded during his time in Ann Arbor. For their part, McGary and Robinson must live up to sky-high recruiting hype if this team hopes to deliver on their potential.
The extent to which the Wolverines miss Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Evan Smotrycz depends largely on another freshman, Nik Stauskas, and his ability to connect from the outside. Yet another freshman, Spike Albrecht, will be called upon to replace "timeout" as Burke's backup. One more first-year guard, Caris LeVert, has earned rave reviews in practice and could provide scoring punch off the bench.
When the season began, Stauskas and Robinson managed to make an immediate impact. McGary, however, was simultaneously playing his way into shape and learning how to play his game without bashing into everyone and everything (including, very nearly, the Governor). Albrecht was largely a non-factor all the way through Big Ten season, called upon to keep the ship afloat—and no more than that—when the National Player of the Year needed a quick breather. LeVert appeared at least a year away from being a major contributor, showing flashes of sky-high potential but shooting under 30% on the season.
Heading into the tournament, Michigan was regarded, well, maybe not as a one-man show, but to keep it in-state let's say they were the White Stripes and Trey Burke was Jack White—take him away and you're left with a bunch of unmelodious noise that often strays off-beat. When Burke scored six points on 2/12 shooting in the opening game against South Dakota State, it was a clear case of fortunate timing, the only remaining game in which he could perform below his standard and see the Wolverines advance. That opinion did not change when Burke posted 18 and 7 against the vaunted VCU press, and was cemented during the final minutes of the Kansas game—despite his scoreless first half, and McGary's inspired play keeping the Wolverines within striking distance.
Then came the Florida game. McGary continued his transformation into Evolutionary Tim Duncan, posting 11 points, nine rebounds, and five(!) steals in just 21 minutes. Robinson, who'd struggled all season defensively, held Patric Young to eight points and a lone offensive board. Albrecht scored seven off the bench, broke a press with an absurd baseball pass to Jon Horford, and his three steals included this playground special. And Stauskas, of course, bombed the Gators out of the building with a perfect six-for-six performance from beyond the arc. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to shoot 8-for-29. The Wolverines won by 20.
Last night, it was McGary—not Burke—facilitating Michigan's most effective offensive possessions, dishing out six assists (including a no-looker to GRIII) and devastating Syracuse's 2-3 zone from the high post. For the second time in the tournament, Robinson recorded five offensive rebounds. Albrecht only played four minutes, but hit two huge threes—including a Burke-esque 30-footer—and helped handle the rock late when Syracuse turned up the pressure. With a migraine-limited Stauskas unable to score, LeVert stepped onto the big stage and immediately connected on a pair of game-changing triples—he played his usual solid defense and recorded four rebounds for good measure. Burke scored seven points, just one more than Albrecht*. Hardaway was 4/16 from the field. Despite a late Syracuse push, Michigan won with relative comfort.
Above all else, this has been the revelation of the NCAA Tournament. It's impossible to understate the importance of Trey Burke, and how his masterpiece of a season got Michigan here. The contributions of Hardaway, Jon Horford, and the Jordan Morgan Redemption Tour have been invaluable all year, including the postseason. The emergence of the Fresh Five—all of them—however, is the biggest reason the Wolverines are playing for a national title on Monday.
John Beilein deserves much of the credit here, of course—not just for an exquisite eye for recruiting talent (usually before anyone else), but for masterfully managing their roles, minutes, and psyche. Before the tournament, there was no doubt that Michigan could pull themselves together and contend for a title if they played up to their potential. At this point, though, they're not just in position for this year—they're set up to reach the same heights on a regular basis. This is from the same article I wrote before the season:
Despite the inexperience and uncertainty, this team represents Beilein's surest bet to take this program to the next level, and could very well be his best shot for a long time. That may sound rash, but the Wolverines have been close to the leap before, only to fall back: the Amaker tenure crumbled despite early promise, the 2009-10 squad faltered despite making the tournament with the same nucleus the year before, and even last year's team tripped up against 13-seed Ohio in the Big Dance. Trey Burke probably isn't walking through that door next year. There's no guarantee Tim Hardaway Jr. will, either. For that matter, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III have one-and-done potential if all goes well (too well, perhaps).
On Monday, we'll watch this team play together for the last time. We know this. They know this. Despite a rotation lacking a single senior, a large part of the team's core won't be back next year, and for damn good reason.
That no longer concerns me. John Beilein will find a way, replacing his bright youth with brighter youth, just as he has during his entire Michigan tenure.
*Though, for anyone who thinks Burke had an awful game, please refer to Michael Carter-Williams' final stat line.
4/6/2013 – Michigan 61, Syracuse 56 – 31-7, championship game
he doesn't actually have to do anything the game is ova the queensbury thing to do is to slow up and I don't know take a foul or something or probably just wait around until the buzzer goes off
srsly are you insane
--Brian Cook's brain, 4/6/2013
That happened pretty quickly there as the brain assembled Syracuse's pregame dismissiveness of Michigan with who had the ball: Jordan Morgan. Morgan, who had just rescued Michigan's bacon by taking a charge on trash-talking Brandon Triche. Morgan, who went from a three-year starter to afterthought as Mitch McGary blew up. One technical for hanging on the rim is requested. Oh god no actually nevermind.
Morgan may not have had a bone sticking out of him a week ago but his emotional state has to be even more roiled than Kevin Ware. Ware just has to watch everything pensively and not pick his nose during the 15 minutes of gametime he is on screen. Morgan has to go out there and do things. When these things start with Morgan fumbling a sure layup out of bounds, he knows the exact tenor of the moans in the crowd, how even if only 5% of them are actually saying something nasty the rest are thinking it.
Kevin Ware's just a fan for the moment. For long stretches of this last month I've wondered if sometimes Morgan wished he could be. And the living envied the dead.
This was a zombie apocalypse of a game. Most of it was spent with Michigan players peering between the trees, trying to figure out anything approximating a path to the basket. They were not forthcoming. Almost half of Michigan's attempts were from three, many of those the sort of desperation heaves that Syracuse thrives on inducing. Michigan's main accomplishment on many possessions was to not turn the ball over.
Basically every number in the box score that isn't McGary and Robinson throwing down putbacks is ugly. Stauskas: 0-5. Hardaway: 1/6 from two, 3/10 from three. Burke: 1/8. Michigan put together a strong first half on the back of some shots from outside the dome and then collapsed, scoring a miserable 0.74 PPP in the second half. And won.
Syracuse meanwhile shot 21% from 3 and only approached 50% from two because CJ Fair was knocking down sixteen-footer after sixteen-footer. Michigan's approach on offense was Lloydball not just for the harrowing final few minutes but the whole game, shutting down Syracuse's transition offense (just two fast break points) at the expense of even bothering to use Trey Burke, for the most part. There were a couple of possessions in which Burke dribbled himself to a profitable spot, and it seemed strange and frustrating on all those other possessions where he just passed it around the perimeter.
It was Big Ten grind. Thoughts turned to similar games this year when fortune and malice conspired to screw Michigan. Kansas? Don't talk to me about Kansas when Spike Albrecht misses the front end of a one-and-one. I can only think about Indiana, about that time when refs decide they Will Not Decide The Game—clean block at right via Dustin Johnston—and missed front ends and the moment Morgan fell off a cliff like the basketball he left on the rim for weeks until it decided to go the wrong way.
Morgan went away then. The next game was a 2/6 struggle against Penn State in which Morgan was quickly shuffled to the bench after a bobbling start; Mitch McGary came on, racked up a double-double, and that was pretty much that. The nail in the coffin was the next night. Morgan started against Wisconsin, racking up 3 TOs and no shots in 8 minutes. He evaporated straight off the court, opacity dropping to zero percent in front of thousands.
McGary then turned into Wes Unseld—if you haven't heard, ask Jeff Withey. It was Wally Pipping so fierce they might rename the thing, or at least provide a corollary. To get Jordan Morganed is to have your brain damaged by an on-court experience and then watch your backup eat your job in two seconds.
Unless McGary adds 40% three-point shooting to his ever-expanding repertoire—actually, I give that 50/50 at this point—Jordan Morgan's probably never going to start at Michigan again. That's rough for a player who's had confidence issues forever. Probably the first thing Michigan fans heard about the guy was MSU fans making fun of Michigan recruiting someone who infamously broke down in tears at some camp or something. Derrick Nix may have been involved. I don't remember the exact details. I do remember the implication.
Soft. Jordan Morgan was supposed to be soft. May actually be "soft," whatever that means. It's impossible to watch the ups and downs of his career and not think that he lacks the icy veins of a Trey Burke, that he probably experiences sports as oceans of terror punctuated by islands of relief. I know that feel, bro. It's an entirely different kind of courage there. To barely outrun fear is different than simply not having it.
He has done it. After the madness of the last week's Kansas ending and yesterday, Morgan's shattered quote in the aftermath of the South Dakota State game has an entirely different meaning:
"I think I was in for like two possessions, and got two stops… I mean, that's what I do."
Jordan Morgan may fumble balls out of bounds, but in the most harrowing moments of… well, probably his life, his brain worked. He knew Elijah Johnson was going too fast, too far away from the basket to get a shot. He knew he could get to the spot against Brandon Triche. He got stops. Michigan continues on.
I was torn, so deputized! By all rights Mitch McGary deserves one of these things and I haven't actually written one. The secret weapon is Ace, who I badgered into typing something up about Enormous Doom Puppy. I felt this was a bench game, though, so I wanted to focus on a bench player. Also that charge made me carefully extract one of the carefully hoarded swear words from the vault and deploy it. So… yeah.
Speaking of the bench…
This is why you burn Caris LeVert's redshirt. This is why you bring in Spike Albrecht. When they did the former I muttered a number of things about how if you think Caris can give you a few possessions of anything in a tournament game, you have to play him because this is a year in which all of the eggs go in the basket. Meanwhile, everyone in the world cocked an eyebrow at bringing in this little post-grad point guard.
All bow to John Beilein. Albrecht and Levert were collectively the only things saving Michigan from a disastrous three-point shooting night and tourney exit, going 4/5 as the rest of the team was 4/19. Levert added a couple of assists and fine defense in 21 minutes, which is a career high in games when Michigan has full complement of players*. I believe he was mostly checking James Southerland. Since Southerland is not named CJ Fair he had a crappy night.
Meanwhile I must have had a lot of company when my brain started going SPIKE WHERE IS SPIKE when Syracuse deployed their press at the end. That's quite a move, when people are moaning in all caps to themselves about your absence.
*[He had more in the CMU game, which Hardaway missed, and the MSU game at Crisler when Nik Stauskas got his face exploded by Branden Dawson's elbow.]
Also, Mitch. It says something that McGary is still making my jaw drop five games into this run. Six assists increased his career total by a third and tripled his game high, plus he shot okay (4/8) in a game where shooting "okay" is fantastic and ripped down 12 boards. What can you say? There is no comparable. If someone does this in the future, or even looks like doing this over a couple games, they will namecheck him. Because there is no one else.
The free throws, yeah. Louisville might try to exploit that with backup big Stephen Van Treese, who was instantly attacked whenever he hit the floor by Wichita. Might cost Michigan some points.
McGary part 2: boards. Michigan won the board war 36%-29%, and while that Michigan OREB number isn't too surprising against a zone, Syracuse was a crushing OREB machine all year and Michigan held them below the D-I average. Remember earlier in the year when Michigan's outstanding rebounding was the shaky tent pole propping up their entire defense? And how when that went away late in Big Ten play, it collapsed? Opponent OREB numbers in the tourney:
32% is average. The top major-conference team, Arizona, held opponents to 27%. One of Louisville's main assets is their OREB.
Wha happen? How did Syracuse almost halve Michigan's PPP in the second half? This is a thing that I'd need to watch the film closely to figure out but I have some outlines in my head: two possessions into the second half I thought Michigan should call timeout because 'Cuse had changed what they were doing in the zone and Michigan seemed confused.
One, they extended it. Two, they brought up the wing player on the left up, presenting something that looked closer to a 3-2 zone—which as far as I know does not exist—when the ball was at the top of the key. It felt like pushing out this far should have left gaps for GRIII running the baseline for lobs and whatnot but Michigan never found that play. The zone adaptation made Michigan's three-pointers seem even less like good ideas, and hampered the McGary high post game that was so effective in the first half. Michigan never really adjusted.
Trey at least took MCW with him. Burke had a pretty terrible night. It was nowhere near as terrible a the one he induced Michael Carter-Williams into. Syracuse came out trying to post MCW on Burke, which lasted one possession without an entry pass. They probably should have gone back to it, since for the rest of the game Carter-Williams got nothing. He was 1/6 from the floor, didn't get to the line, had just two assists to his five turnovers, and fouled out. ORTG: 28. Burke was a 90 despite the crappy shooting because of his 4:1 A:TO ratio.
Okay guy. Syracuse was in a lot of trouble at the end what with both of the starting guards having fouled out, but that Cooney guy tried to go to the basket down three with under ten seconds left. And then took a tough, contested shot. From two. Okay guy.
I know that feel Rapture guy. Yup, same guy from the GIF:
I'm just glad I wasn't wearing an awesome hat that caused people to take pictures of me at whatever this juncture was.
Watching basketball in a dome. We were in the 200 level in a corner, and this was surprisingly fine. It was a bit far away but I saw the Morgan charge and immediately thought "charge"; ie, I felt I had a good idea of what was going on almost all of the time.
I thought the novelty of a Final Four would be a one-time thing and I would not return if Michigan were to make one in the future. After last night I've flipped on that. If you can stay out of the upper deck it's worth it.
So… this happened. I'm not sure whether to spank or kiss these children.
Is the addition of he Webber pictures gratuitous or necessary shock therapy? Were these moppets close enough to the sideline that Michigan's players could see them? Did everyone in the arena immediately think about this when Michigan burned its last TO with over two minutes left? Don't know, better have been, yes.
Is there an entire article about timeouts? You betcha.
The best thing about Denard Robinson. He was there, in much better seats than I had, and there was chatter about this in my section. With three minutes left they put him on the video board and he looked exactly how I felt. In my experience this never happens* because athletes are understandably cool about the whole cheering for athletes thing. Denard Robinson looked sick with three minutes left and I was I KNOW THAT FEEL BRO and and some point during our eons-long departure from the Georgia Dome we realized he was walking 50 feet behind us and wondered if we could just, like, give him money now that his eligibility had expired. We chickened out; I think to do that at that moment would have been somehow insulting.
But anyway, I get annoyed at everything and they put Denard on the board at the Final Four and he looked like he'd eaten a sea urchin and I felt better. Denard!
*[Though I wish that Jordan Kovacs was famous enough for the world's Nantzes to put him on the video board. He was also there, wearing his hard hat and Cronin's Cronies T and getting crap about the hard hat. Kovacs, always Kovacs.]
'Cusefreude. I really like the SU blog presence—Troy Nunes is in fact an absolute magician—but they do have a terrible, RCMB-glory-days board at Syracusefans.com if you want to wallow. MGoUser "Captain" headed over to TNIAAM and recovered choice bits:
If McGary and Aaron Craft had a baby I would punch it right in the face
srsly cuse baseball cap thrown hard enough will crack an LCD... i learned the hard way
Jordan Morgan made someone throw their hat so hard it broke their TV. Yeah, that gets you a game column.
Five Key Plays. I know you just want this one first.
Presser transcript. UMHoops recap. Terry Mills! Ann Arbor is happy. Bill Tennant, did you really say "frickin'?" I doubt it. Bacari Alexander pregame involves anything other than orange juice lol jk orange juice:
While the Wolverines are keeping themselves humbled and hungry, Alexander has to think of a motivational tool for when Michigan faces Syracuse in one of Saturday’s national semifinal games.
The choice seems obvious to him — orange juice.
“You know that did happen two years ago when we played Syracuse, (a 53-50 loss), out in Atlantic City, and Evan Smotrycz, who was on our roster at the time, was quite upset that I soiled his jersey,” Alexander said. “I hope Evan forgives me. Evan, if you’re out there watching, I’m sorry.”
ATLANTA -- Zack Novak sat in the stands, after being granted a few days off from his professional team in the Netherlands, watching his former coach and teammates advance to the national championship game.
"We wish you were still playing," one Michigan fan said to Novak, who graduated a year ago.
"No, you don't," he replied. "Because now you're seeing what happens when that man has talent."
"We just told him, if we win this whole thing, you're going to have a moment," Michigan senior captain Josh Bartelstein said of Morgan. "And that's going to be the reason we win.
"And sure enough, his moment came tonight. I'm just so happy for him."
Niyo on reserves:
"I think it says we're a team — a true team" assistant coach LaVall Jordan said. "Everybody always says Trey Burke and the Wolverines. But we're a true team."
True to their word, they proved it again Saturday, as a couple freshman role players off the bench provided the early spark and a marginalized upperclassmen sealed the deal.
Hey, Spartans: Just this once, it's OK to cheer for Wolverines