"When you are winning a war almost everything that happens can be claimed to be right and wise."
~ Winston Churchill
Trey Burke works the ball up the court, and crosses mid-court with just under nine seconds left. Jordan Morgan sets a high screen on Oladipo, and in an instant the much ballyhooed pre-game narrative is wiped out of the picture. This will no longer be a symbolic battle for the Big Ten Player of the Year. Indiana's best defender is a bystander. Instead it is Cody Zeller on Burke 30 feet from the basket.
History may be written by the winners, but in sports the winners rarely read the history they write. For the victor, the simple fact of the victory can obscure whatever came before. The foibles and missteps were merely a part of the rich tapestry that was their inevitable triumph. It is the character-building fire that forges their mettle. It is for the loser, rather, to lament the components of their fate. Almost exactly a week before Jordan Morgan set his screen, Keith Appling was dribbling the ball up that same court, in a tie game, with the shot clock off, when Trey Burke stole the ball and turned the tables on all the percentages. And when a second Burke steal sealed the game, no one cared that Michigan had frittered away a ten point lead in the last four minutes, or that they had missed the front end of a one-and-one to give Michigan State one last chance. It was Sparty, rather, who spoke with the bitter tinge of "what if" of their blown opportunity to win on what should have been a final possession.
Burke gains the corner on Zeller, but only by a bit. Yogi Ferrell starts to sag off of Stauskas, but thinks better of it. Ferrell knows full well that Burke is taking this one to the rack, but Stauskas is not to be left. Christian Watford is under no such restriction on the far side against Glenn Robinson III, and he helps down. Burke isn't going to leave this one in the hands of a jump shot from a freshman, no matter how talented that freshman may be. Zeller extends an impossibly long arm over Burke, who responds in kind with a fully extended flip of the ball. Jordan Morgan has reached the free throw line.
If you are anything like me, dear Michigan fan, then there is a part of you that is relieved that it got this far. The recent history of Michigan basketball is one of repeated crashes to reality. A first NCAA berth in a decade is followed by a 15-17 season. A first Big Ten title in centuries and a four-seed leads to an early exit against Ohio (YTO). So when Michigan came out of the gates this year as an unstoppable hell-beast, there remained a little voice in your head that urged caution. Like the slave used by Julius Caesar to ride on his chariot to remind him of his mortality, the little voice kept whispering in your ear, "they are not Gods. They are merely human." When Ben Brust hit a half-court heave and Michigan was run out of the Breslin Center and utterly collapsed in Happy Valley, those whispers became screams that could not be ignored. And when Michigan went down 10-3 early, there was a part of you that said, "please not this again."
[After the jump, not this again]
A short, bittersweet version of OFAAT today, as I was wholly uninterested in capturing a bunch of gifs from a loss that still stings a bit.
As it turns out, however, things could've been much worse. I have looked into an alternate universe in which Victor Oladipo makes that impossible alley-oop, and that alternate universe, well...
...may it rest in peace.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the Indiana gifs, which once again include Ted Valentine being Ted Valentine, attention whore of the highest order.]