we hardly knew ye.
12/2/2009 – Michigan 58, Boston College 62 – 3-3
Apparently there was a meeting this offseason and Michigan's three major sports bet each other they could be the most disappointing outfit on campus. Hockey is winning, but narrowly. Assorted thoughts on basketball season so far:
SON OF A BITCH. SON OF A BITCH.
Can We Please Assemble Yost To Point At The 1-3-1 And Call It A Sieve? Holy hopscotching hell. Michigan finally moved away from the disastrous fringe zone defense against Boston College, but before that it had given up enough points to seal Michigan's doom. This comes after the Marquette game, in which the Eagles averaged 1.27(!!!) points per possession, the worst output of the Beilein era, and the Alabama game, which wasn't as bad but lord it wasn't good either.
This isn't even a preparation issue. Marquette and Alabama did not put in special practice time to deal with Michigan when there was a 25% or less chance those teams would play the Wolverines; Michigan just sucks at the 1-3-1. Hard.
If this was football I'd have some amateur but fairly accurate point about scheme; since it's basketball I'm about as mystified as anyone else. The defense wasn't good last year but it wasn't anywhere near this bad and the only difference is replacing a couple walk-ons with Darius Morris. Morris hasn't seemed like the problem so far. Problems: Stu Douglass is a really terrible defender, Manny Harris is lackadaisical himself, and no one got any taller.
…but on the other hand. Morris has given Michigan zero offensively other than some fast break buckets against poor competition. I guess he makes sense in a high-paced transition offense that results from a ton of steals forced by the 1-3-1. Since Michigan is not getting a ton of steals, he's a non-shooter whose main contribution on offense is to pass the ball around the perimeter. Freshman and all that, but right now Stu Douglass is a much better passer and shooter and seems considerably more useful on offense. Is that worth the 3-4 wide open threes he'll give up? This is not a lovely choice.
And now we devolve into talk radio platitudes. Forgive me: I am about to sound like whichever post-Spielman droid is currently Pam Ward's color guy. In multiple ways. Brace yourself.
Doesn't this team look horribly coached? I keep going back to the haunting Manny Harris three against Alabama. With 20 seconds on the shot clock in a tie game with under a minute left, Harris comes over a half-hearted screen from DeShawn Sims and jacks up a three with a hand in his face. It, like 90% of Harris's threes to date, misses, and Alabama comes down for the winning basket after the rebound. Beilein benched Harris and Sims for large portions of the Boston College game, and they deserved it, and the team didn't play much worse. That's about all he can do but good God, by now the upperclass stars on the team shouldn't have to get benched.
Elsewhere in this theory: the 1-3-1 failure and the number of possessions that end with few ideas and few good shot options. Sometimes the dread specter of Amaker offense shows up. This should probably not be happening in year three.
I don't want to overstate the case: obviously I still support Beilein and think he's a good coach who will—has—been the most successful one at Michigan since Tom Goss and Ed Martin crushed the program's will to live. But in the aftermath of the Evan Smotrycz rise, Brundidge commitment and potential acquisition of Casey Prather or Trey Ziegler, I was teetering along the edge of taking back the "Beilein won't ever make Michigan elite" theory offered here earlier… now not so much.
Second: could "leadership" actually be an issue here? Resorting to leadership is the last option around here, but the team seems way, way worse than last year—even when you take things like losing to Iowa and almost doing the same against Indiana—and the only difference is that CJ Lee is running for congress or something and David Merritt is starting the next Nike. Similarly, the hockey team lost Aaron Palushaj but nothing else aside from a couple of gritty grit Gritsteins in Tim Miller and Travis Turnbull and has collapsed to the point where its decades-long tourney streak is in serious doubt.
I usually dismiss heart and leadership and whatnot. I still think this holds in football because football is a bunch of short, complicated bursts of activity. Whatever effect trying really hard has is dwarfed by knowing what the hell to do and doing it right. Aside from the occasional tired defensive linemen, coasting isn't an option. Football is kill or be killed; it has your full attention at all times.
In hockey and basketball, on the other hand, you can sort of do things. You can defend the post with token effort, or lackadaisically close out, or not rotate. You can coast on your forecheck or not backcheck or not finish a check. It's far more possible to give poor effort. So it's conceptually possible to me that gritty heart dirt dog blah blah is actually important, and then you've got two separate teams that are a thousand times worse than they were last year despite personnel situations that should be considerably better but for the absence of Gritzilla. The conclusion, horrifyingly, is that maybe people who like Colin Cowherd aren't always wrong about everything forever.
It's just about over, isn't it? Michigan's put themselves in a position where they've blown virtually all of their winnable quality nonconference games—Creighton doesn't look like it will count—and now must either pull vast upsets against Kansas and/or UConn and maybe also beat Utah to scrape into the tourney with a similar conference record. If they win one of those games they probably have to go 11-7 in the conference to make it, and raise your hand if you think that's likely. Right.
You know, if I ever thought I'd get so much use out of the "i know it's over and oh it never really began but in my heart it was so real" tag, I might have considered another line of work. Like ninja.