We live in a world that has been largely demystified. We've done a pretty good job of mapping all of the uncharted lands. We have located the Higgs Boson. We have mastered fire and sequenced the human genome. And while there are many things in our world that we do not know, we chalk less and less up to the "unknowable." We give our superheroes gritty reboots to show how they could realistically exist in the world we inhabit. Reality TV has all but replaced the scripted show. Even magic has fallen victim; instead of David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear, David Blaine sits in a glass box for a week and holds his breath for 15 minutes, as if to say, "we all know the physical parameters of this world, so watch me strain against them." The illusion of the supernatural is gone. We are left with merely the unexpected.
It is no surprise, I suppose, that sports have followed suit. We scoff at announcers and commentators who pretend that a thing called "momentum" exists as a causal force separate from the game itself. These mystics see "Team A is currently playing better than Team B" as a sign that Team A is being pushed forward by an invisible yet irresistible hand. The Skip Baylesses of the world insist there is a "clutch gene" which, based on my limited understanding of genetics, is the only gene that can spontaneously appear and disappear based on one’s athletic performance on a given night. Lebron wasn't clutch until he was. Tom Brady was clutch until he wasn't, then he was again, but now he isn't. NBA players develop reputations based on incredibly small sample sizes of high-variation events, all in the name of the almighty narrative.
We modernists see these explanations for what they are: crutches. It's much easier to attribute success to intangible forces than to either find and analyze the underlying reasons or to acknowledge the role of luck and chance. You’ll never hear a commentator say, “sometimes good players miss makeable shots” or “sometimes an average player can do something great.” That isn’t satisfying, but that’s life. We want more, but sometimes there isn’t more.
So when a game like Friday's Michigan-Kansas comes along, every fiber of my rational brain tries to tell me, "these things happen." There was no voodoo. The space-time continuum did not yield just this once to the will of Trey Burke. He took a series of low-percentage shots, and he made them. I mean, look at those four shots. Trey Burke is a 38% 3-point shooter. The odds of him making three NORMAL triples in a row are about 5%. The odds of making those four shots? A 20-foot hesitation pull-up, two 27-footers, and a 30-footer? No "will to win" or "grit" or any of the hundred other clichés you can come up with can make a player capable of reliably making those shots. He got lucky, I tell myself. It was awesome and amazing and a feat of incredible skill and talent that likely won't be repeated in the near future, but it was a fluke nonetheless. “Sometimes when you’re on” and whatnot.
But I've watched the last few minutes of regulation and the first few minutes of overtime a half-dozen times. Each time I've tried to make myself believe that this is just something that happens sometimes. And each time I have failed. At this point I’m willing to swallow the clichés. Trey Burke wanted it more. He had the will to win. He put the team on his shoulders. He made the damn Statue of Liberty disappear. Don't try to tell me how he did it, or if HE did it or whether it was just one of those things that happen. Just this once I am willing to believe my eyes. Lady Liberty is gone. All that remains is Trey Burke pointing at the empty night sky.
The rote play-by-play of those four minutes hardly does his work justice, but it is illustrative.
- Burke forces a ten-second violation.
- Burke penetrates, draws in Withey and dishes to McGary for an easy lay-in.
- Burke hits a long 3.
- Burke drives for a layup.
- Burke hits The Trey.
- Burke hits a long three.
- Burke hits a long two.
That's 13 points, an assist, and a forced turnover in four minutes. He was good before and after that (he scored 23 in the second half and overtime), but those were really the magical minutes. And from a purely statistical standpoint, they were outstanding. But for those who watched the game, it was simultaneously more impressive and completely unsurprising. There's a reason Josh Bartelstein was celebrating when the ball was still in the air, and it is the same reason you felt so good when it left his hand. You've seen him do ridiculous things all year. You have experienced those moments where you both scoffed at his shot selection and laughed because you knew it would fall. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t shot the ball very well for the first 38 minutes, or that he was taking a contested shot from an improbable distance under impossible circumstances. When he released that ball, I’m willing to bet most of you reacted not with a prayer but with an unspoken “watch this.” Bartelstein knew. Bill Self knew. We knew.
Michigan fans also recognize this feeling because they have experienced its opposite many, many times. In the cold recesses of every Michigan fan's consciousness is that collective moment where Evan Turner and Josh Gasser and Kalin Lucas and Ben Brust hold an arm extended as they send a dagger straight into the souls of those helpless onlookers. There was the moment where you, like the audience in a Greek tragedy, knew the hero's fate before he did. You knew those shots were gonna drop. But for one day, Michigan finally had the deus ex machina on our side. By the time Trey hit that long pull-up two, all of your normal thoughts about ‘good shots’ were replaced by your inner Lou Brown telling Ricky to forget about the curveball and throw him the heater. We hastily scribbled a caveat to the “death to long twos” mandate (and all of the other strictures of proper basketball etiquette) that says, “...unless Trey is doing his thing, in which case, just… just watch this.”
Make no mistake; the game was not a one-man show. Michigan doesn't win that game if Mitch McGary doesn't play the game of his young life despite being punched in the groin for no particular reason. GRIII made an impossible layup from eleven feet under the basket and hit two huge free throws late. Stauskas and Hardaway had solid games. Even Jordan Morgan was there to challenge what would have been a game tying layup at the end of overtime. But that night will rightfully be remembered for Trey Burke. For a few brief minutes he made everyone believe he could do anything. If Michigan needed a four-pointer to tie, he would have made it happen. If the lights went out, he could bring them back up. If that impossibly large scoreboard came crashing down, you get the feeling he would simply shrug and say, "nah, that's cool, I'll carry this too."
Can everyone see this? Good. You’ll like this part (AP)
Brian is right that The Trey is going to be replayed during every NCAA tournament from now to the end of time, and rightfully so. It was one of the most remarkable single moments in recent tournament memory. But my lament is that it will be remembered simply as that moment. Everyone remembers the shots of Christian Laettner and Bryce Drew and Lorenzo Charles, but their shots are remembered in isolation. Trey Burke’s night was more than one glorious bomb. It was an individual effort that both encapsulates his season and made us feel for a brief moment that the gods were on our side.
Michigan fans have been incredibly fortunate to be able to watch Trey Burke do his thing this year, and among the many reasons I am so glad he did what he did against Kansas is that the basketball world got a taste of what we’ve been watching. On the biggest stage, Trey did what we have come to expect. He was unflappable. He was remarkably talented. He was clutch. We may have grown spoiled by this consistent excellence, and it will probably only be after Trey leaves that we will fully appreciate what we all just saw. In the meantime, though, Trey doesn’t seem to be done. He’s got a few more tricks up his sleeve, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss them.
Someone just make sure that he returns the statue before he leaves.
The Florida preview lives here, but we're not quite finished celebrating the Kansas game yet. I make no apologies for this.
After the jump, a few gifs of The Shot (we need a more original nickname for this, by the way) and some incredible reactions by Burke, the bench, and a couple fans.
[JUMP JUMP JUMP]
3/29/2013 – Michigan 87, Kansas 85 (OT) – 29-7, Elite Eight
Every year from now until the country collapses into warring fiefdoms because of peak oil or some other nonsense, Trey Burke rising up from 30 feet over a 6'8" guy will make an appearance on someone's reel of insane NCAA tournament moments. Even after the collapse, if things go badly for you and you are captured anywhere from Topeka to Kansas City you can escape by just uttering the words "Trey Burke" and watching your captors seize helplessly. Collect their weapons and go. Once recovered they will be in a foul mood.
It's going to go in every time. You won't have that sickening lurch in your stomach as the bottom drops out of your hopes and then slowly tick-tick-ticks up the rollercoaster as the improbable trajectory seems true. Josh Bartlestein is way ahead of you on this, and you'll see Bartlestein start celebrating two beats before anyone else in the arena can figure out if they're going to live or die. This time, it'll go down. This time, every time.
Michigan wouldn't have been in this position if the rim had been kind at Ohio State, or at Wisconsin, or at home against Indiana. They'd have popped up a seed or two and avoided a team like the Jayhawks, maybe even gotten the gilded path the Buckeyes got and are determined to make look like the Bataan Death March. Thanks to a delirious two and a half minutes no one has been able to figure out yet, and probably never will, Michigan erased a ten-point deficit, and then that happened, and then Trey Burke did that twice more in overtime and Michigan's where they thought they might be when they walked into Assembly Hall the #1 team in the nation: playing a three seed for the right to go to the Final Four.
At this point I'm not sure that even matters that much. I mean, yeah, obviously it matters. But that shot is going in, over and over, for everyone, forever. It is written on cuneiform tablets found in ancient Sumeria, and a tatoo on Charles Barkley's forehead.
I'll Probably Embed This On The Next Four Posts
Also a little more of the end of the game:
And Burke talking to Sager:
Because Twitter Will Kill Me If We Don't
There is a "WE HAD SUBS IT WAS CRAZY" shirt.
Mystify your friends.
Ima let you block five shots Jeff Withey, but Mitch McGary is the greatest post of all time in this game. Wait, first Withey: the guy blocked a Trey Burke floater on a pick and roll, despite being a good five feet from the shooter. Boggle. Trey agrees:
He kind of surprised me the first half, once I got to the free throw line and shot. He had a piece of it. I think he was deep in the paint and he still got a piece of it.
Michigan shot 56% from two against him, boggle.
Okay, Mitch. First, inhale.
12/17 from the floor against Jeff Withey with 5 offensive rebounds and 9 defensive rebounds. Three steals. An assist. One turnover. One blocked shot and a second that was so clean in this world of "you can do anything as long as your arms aren't fouling a dude" that the sound of the whistle made me leap from my seat and cry "noooooo," Vader-style.
McGary spearheaded another blowout on the boards against Kansas, with Michigan doubling up the Jayhawks in offensive rebounds and winning the tempo-free battle 33% to 23%. He put up 25 points on 19 shot equivalents and generated at least eight extra possessions for M. He didn't pick up a foul until deep into the second half. I think we've just seen the best game of his career.
McGary has definitively arrived now. It's one thing to beat up on Juvonte Reddic and the four dwarves, entirely another to leave scattered bits of Jayhawk in your wake. The finer points of defense still elude him; that's the difference between McGary being pretty dang good next year or All American. That and free throws.
Now that we're used to the hugeness and the energy, the striking thing about McGary is how skilled he is. He hit an elbow jumper in this one and followed that up with a late turnaround from the short corner that was some Duncan business. His bunnies go down at a huge rate because he can slam them down when appropriate but also has excellent body control and the ability to shoot with both hands. Most of McGary's makes don't even touch the rim.
['shop via Ace.]
Relatedly. At halftime I made a comment about how I missed the version of Kansas that shot itself in the foot until it ran out of feet and just kept shooting, and more than one person said something about how they missed Burke. I was a little confused by this, and then the TV put up some chyron stating that he had zero points. Oh.
I didn't really feel that. Michigan had over a point per possession at halftime largely thanks to Burke getting the offense set up, and if he missed shots they often drew so much attention that GRIII or Mitch McGary was able to get a putback. Faced with the prospect of taking on Withey, he mostly got his teammates involved. Five assists is a lot of assists in a half.
I was frustrated by a thirty-foot bomb that came early in the shot clock and set up a break the other way. It felt selfish. Even that turned out to be necessary range-finding as Trey unleashed his inner Jimmer in the second half.
Win graph. Per reader request, the win graph from Kenpom:
Michigan's win probability dipped to 0.6 with 2:33 left, down ten. That was one in a hundred—one in two hundred. Trey's shot took Michigan from 10% to just over 30%.
Jordan Morgan, scrapping. Morgan only got five minutes, about which more later. This bullet is a feel-good bullet about Morgan dusting himself off and turning in two huge plays:
- scrapping to the ground after Hardaway's missed three pointer and eventually getting the ball to GRIII for his acrobatic layup.
- forcing Nutpunch Johnson to orbit so far around the corner that by the time he realized Hardaway wasn't leaving McLemore, anything he threw up was going off he side of the backboard.
His boxscore contributions were thin (though I guess three rebounds in five minutes is pretty good), but Michigan did need him and he did come through. Beilein lifted McGary for him on that final possession; it's hard to see McGary pushing Johnson as far outside as Morgan ended up doing. Also, Morgan eventually decided to do nothing:
"I was going to go up with (Johnson) and I saw he was looking to pass. I backed off a little bit but the angle he had wasn't necessarily the best," Morgan said. "He didn't have a good angle to put it off the backboard, so he got caught too far under and if it had been a floater, that would have been tougher than putting it off the glass."
That zen decision is not something McGary specializes in.
Karma is going to punch you in the nuts. Speaking of ol' Nutpunch Johnson, he picked up an obvious charge shortly after being assessed the flagrant one, sat, came back, picked up a cheap one on an out of bounds play, and sat yet more time. He ended up getting 20 or so minutes in the last 25; he hit some shots… and had 0 assists to 5 turnovers, not even counting the mess he made of the last play. Oh and that McGary statline. Oh and missing the front end right before Burke blew everyone's brains up.
My only regret is that Johnson is a senior—otherwise we would have a delightful couple years of competing nicknames for the guy in the blogosphere.
Spike. I don't get it. Michigan gave Albrecht 11 minutes, and I was confused by about 10 of those—Burke sat for one. In this game it seemed like Michigan badly needed post defense, especially at the four. Kevin Young, Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis combined to go 11/14, give or take an Ellis attempt against McGary when Withey was on the bench.
At 5'11", Albrecht is not noted for his post defense. While he was perfect for the up-and-down VCU outing, having him out there for a big chunk of time right after halftime was odd. He barely touched the ball on offense, and Michigan's defense with him out there was pretty porous.
Morgan at the four seemed like the move. Robinson had a decent night on offense and added three steals of his own, but, man, 11/14. Am I crazy here?
Stauskas took it easy, man. I predicted a tough night for Stauskas. He did okay. His attempts were relatively limited, which was fine. He took only good shots, hitting all three inside the arc and 1/4 from three—the OT miss was a killer. 11 points on 9 shot equivalents is decent output; he also had three assists.
But like man, if I can scream "make a free throw" in anguish at anyone, it's Stauskas. That missed front end would have paired with the foul on McGary's block in a Jacob Marley tapdance duet if Michigan hadn't pulled their asses out of the fire.
They really need an advantage call or something. If your foul does not prevent a fast break from fast breaking, the refs should just stick their arms out wildly to indicate a foul is coming but they have chosen to let the play go because the offense is in a fast break state.
If only my predictions weren't literally taking whatever Kenpom says and repeating it because I think predicting sporting events is an incredibly foolish pastime, as last night's game amply demonstrates. By which I mean, suck it local media!
Nick Baumgardner, MLive: Kansas (66-61)
Kyle Meinke, MLive: Kansas (67-61)
Mark Snyder, Detroit Free Press: Kansas (67-63)
Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press: Kansas (70-61)
Jeff Seidel, Detroit Free Press: Kansas (72-68)
Drew Sharp, Detroit Free Press: Kansas (71-65)
Rod Beard, Detroit News: Kansas (72-65)
Matt Charboneau, Detroit News: Kansas (74-68)
John Niyo, Detroit News: Kansas (67-63)
Bob Wojnowski, Detroit News: Kansas (72-68)
Brian Cook, MGoBlog: Michigan (by one)
(I also expected Kansas to win in my heart of hearts.)
Burke postgame from GBW:
Trey Burke has taken the last shot for Michigan before but come up short several times.
Burke has seen his share of misses at the buzzer: Last season at Arkansas and this season at Ohio State, at Wisconsin and at home against Indiana.
One out of five is… fantastic right this instant.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Trey Burke may now officially be a folk hero, and Michigan's season is still alive.
Sample size. Woo.
Before the game, Michigan coach John Beilein wasn't ready to call that a slump or get a good feeling about McLemore's struggles.
"He's played how many games in postseason? Two?" Beilein said. "I wouldn't say that's a good sample size."
Kansas center Jeff Withey was asked before his team faced Michigan whether he could dominate Mitch McGary.
"Yeah, definitely," Withey said. "He's not very tall. ... We'll definitely have to try taking advantage of my height."
That got telephoned into this:
"(McGary) looked at me last night, right before we went to bed, and he said, 'Did you hear what he said about me?" said Glenn Robinson III, McGary's roommate. "'He said, 'I’m not excited about his height. I don’t think anything about his height. And I expect to dominate him.'
"I looked at him and was like, ‘Oh. We’ll show him.’"
If Withey had said his bit a couple days earlier by the time it got to McGary it would have described him as a midget toad, so Kansas actually got off easy there. Seniors hugging and such. Rapping and ancient Chinese texts. Horford is a trip yo:
there was forward Jon Horford, off in a far corner ... reading a book.
One more time: Jon Horford, 15 minutes after advancing to the Elite Eight in one his school's most exciting tournament games ever, was reading a book.
Reporter: Jon. Jon. Jon.
Still no answer.
Finally, after a shout from point guard Spike Albrecht, Horford looks up from his ruffled pages.
"Hey man, what's up?" he said, apparently ignorant to or indifferent of the fact reading a book at this time is not customary. And he wasn't exactly thumbing the pages of Sports Illustrated, either.
Horford was reading the "Tao Te Ching," an ancient Chinese text believed to have been penned between the sixth century and fourth century BC.
A first look at Florida.
That is all. Except for this: Josh Bartlestein is obviously from two seconds in the future. What's it like, Josh? Still awesome? Cool.
By ubiquitous request, we present tonight's commemorative unit of fashionable upper body apparel. (UPDATE: Those waiting on the store link to order your shirt, be patient. It's off the hook in there. UPDATE UPDATE: now working.)
It was someone's birthday. Someone who'd been really good this year. We had the grandkids over and had pizza and chicken wings. But the pizza was cold. And they forgot the wings (They usually have such great wings).
We thought about calling it a night—there will be another birthday next year—but then Trey...Trey said "Let's get subs!"
But it was far away, the place with the subs. Really far away. Like past the county line and closer to the state border than the edge of the arc. But that kid, he just went and delivered the subs. One after another: bologna and ham; three-salami and roast beef with provolone; turkey, swiss, mortadella and capacolla on cracked whole wheat, no tomato. Every order went down. And suddenly there we were…
Let me tell you, it was quite a night. We even made t-shirts!