Excellent write up ...thank you
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If you're looking for Ace's Purdue preview, it's right here.
On Thursday morning, a few friends and I woke up early and made the blurry-eyed drive down south to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament. Things looked very bleak for Michigan at the time: Kenpom’s log5 projection gave the Wolverines a 14% chance of reaching the semifinals – and a 14% chance of keeping their dwindling NCAA Tournament hopes alive for Selection Sunday. After Michigan squandered an opportunity to grab a much-needed quality win at home against an Iowa team entering its March meltdown phase, those odds felt even lower.
The Big Ten is still one of the rare college basketball conferences that seems to value its regular season championship more than the conference tournament title – it was one of the last leagues to even adopt the late-season competition. It’s a deeply weird atmosphere: the home of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers is a good venue, but seeing so many fans of different programs pack into the arena – seas of Indiana crimson streaked with Illinois orange, flashes of maize in sections of blue, supporters of almost all fourteen programs (no Rutgers, believe it or not) clad in team apparel milling around the concourse – is very disorienting. There are a lot of old people – and many more families with younger kids than college students in attendance. Every team has its band, which fill the stadium with chants, cheers, and energy far better than piped-in music ever could. A lot of Indiana fans show up to Indiana games in Indianapolis, vast hordes of middle-aged men in candy-striped pants.
In the two full days we’ve been here in Indy, we’ve seen six basketball games in person: three blowouts (Michigan State destroyed Ohio State in a classic root-for-the-meteor game in which you’re secretly glad that there probably won’t be a meteor, and two games – Purdue over Illinois and Maryland over Nebraska – pitted weak underdogs that had played 3 games in 3 days run out of gas against fresh teams with much more talent), Illinois’s upset over Iowa, which was somehow extremely baffling and completely predictable at the same time, and, most importantly, two critical Michigan victories. So far, our Big Ten Tournament experience has been a good one. I’m glad we went.
[After the JUMP, thoughts on UM’s Thursday and Friday in Naptown]
To get to the Indiana game – and I’ll talk about that game in a second, I promise – Michigan had to beat Northwestern, and even though the Wolverines had taken care of teams like the Wildcats all season, the great and mighty Alex Olah alone was enough to have some concern entering the tepid 8 / 9 noon tip. The arena was mostly empty as Michigan leapt out to a 16-3 run, though both UM and Northwestern had modest clusters of fans. After a pretty good half of defense and some hot shooting from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson, Michigan led comfortably at half, but a 13-2 Wildcat run midway through the second half gave them their first lead with less than four minutes left. Surprisingly, there was considerable cheering for Northwestern, as the sections of purple rose to their feet for the first time all game and neutrals scattered through the crowd joined in.
At the time, it was the most exciting finish Michigan had experienced all year; their first overtime game was back-and-forth down the stretch and the consequence of losing compounded the tension. A beautiful dish from Rahkman to Donnal gave Michigan a three-point lead with a minute and a half left in regulation; two missed free throws late gave Northwestern a chance down two with the ball; Tre Demps missed a tough fade-away and Olah somehow converted a ridiculous tip-in from a distance away as time expired. Overtime provided more plot twists: NU grabbed a three-point lead with a minute left before John Beilein drew up a gorgeous set for a Robinson three – contested pretty well and shot while on the move – that tied up the game. Northwestern missed a shot, Michigan got the ball back with the shot clock off, and Zak Irvin nailed a very difficult game-winner.
The Wolverines survived, but would face the Big Ten champs, a red-hot Indiana team, in a de facto road game the next day. One must-win game down, another to get back into the Tournament conversation.
The other game in Session Two, Iowa – Illinois, was really good. Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok were like the only guys to score for the Hawkeyes (and Jok had the best shoes I’ve seen all tournament), the Illini knocked down far more threes than expected, and Iowa looked listless all game, until they went on a late run to tie the game. Malcolm Hill – an underrated player in the Big Ten in a sort of Sisyphean role for Illinois – hit a big shot, not too unlike Irvin’s, and Iowa was sent home early.
It was a really long day, so my buddies and I watched the evening games at the hotel.
* * *
We arrived downtown at a lot a few blocks from Banker’s Life Fieldhouse a little less than two hours from tip-off, and even then, Indiana fans swarmed the sidewalks. After fruitlessly looking for tickets in the area around the arena, we ate lunch and watched the first half of the game at a restaurant. With some haggling and a discounted rate, we got some tickets and went in at halftime. From there, it was an amazing experience: Michigan played its best game of the year and the second half was filled with high-level back-and-forth basketball as the Indiana fans roared around us and a familiar sense of creeping dread settled deep in the pit of my stomach, much stronger than usual. By the end – the very, very end – Kam Chatman had drilled a contested game-winning three and we Michigan fans had screamed and jumped around, high-fiving and hugging, in front of an absolutely stunned partisan crowd. Two days, two buzzer beaters.
Since it’s hard to consolidate my takeaways into a coherent narrative, a bulleted list:
This win over Indiana will go down as one of Beilein’s most memorable at Michigan, and that finish was the best I’ve ever seen in person. Considering the context – it was the definition of a must-win game, it happened against the loathed Tom Crean, it happened in front of so many Indiana fans – this win not only does a lot to boost confidence in the program after a mostly rough year, but also provides a lot of schadenfreude in the “you wrecked our program” beef. I don’t know if Michigan gets in the tournament regardless of what happens today against Purdue, but Chatman’s winner was surely the highlight of the season either way.
So far, this trip to the Big Ten Tournament has been excellent. Let’s hope it lasts a little bit longer.
Excellent write up ...thank you
Why even link to a post that's right underneath this one?
Why post such an unnecessary question?
"vast hordes of middle-aged men in candy-striped pants"
This will make the Buzzfeed "19 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Travel to Indiana" list
IU fans unloading tickets at bargain prices?
I thought the same thing about Bielfeldt on the last possession. He did some good things at times, and his knowledge of Michigan as a team was surely helpful. But if one guy - Bielfeldt or Beilein - is going to have a mental advantage, it's going to be the coach who basically declined the extension option on the player.
Very good read, thank you. Wish I was there. Give em hell today. Go Blue!
Very good indeed. It made me feel like I was there.
Great read - all Hail & Go Blue beat Perdue.
Beilein explained the no timeout after the game. He said hey had a set with corner threes available - pretty standard. The way Indiana was set up defensively he saw that they wouldn't be able to stop the ball and defend the corner, so he let the play continue as was.... AND THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED (by a margin of a few inches, but still). Nice to hear his reasoning and see that it paid off. Beilein!
Yeah, a lot of times it's better to just play it out. Don't let the defense get set properly. (And given our adventures trying to inbound the ball, probably good to avoid that, too.)
Well done, Alex. Enjoy the games and let's hope there will be another celebratory piece from you tomorrow.
Hope you are staying there for the mojo. Thanks for the write-up
Well I DO!
Let me help you out with that.
WE'RE IN. Jesus. smh
Our RPI says otherwise
No way it beats the win over Kansas in the Elite Eight, featuring the Trey Burke long-bomb. That was the greatest Michigan win since the Fab Five era.
It was probably the most memorable game that he was actually in attendance.
Yep. The Title Game against Louisville was memorable too, but I'm still so salty about it.
We played Kansas in the Sweet 16. The Elite Eight game was when we destroyed Florida.
How is Wisconsin the team not on the bubble instead of us. They got knocked out by neb, worse record then us, and worse loses than us. They have a few more good wins, but I don't know how we are still on the bubble.
I definitely agree with the "you wrecked our program" deja vu. And I love that Beilein is way too classy to ever stoop to that kind of behavior.
He currently has Monmouth in the tournament and Michigan out.
Monmouth has 4 top 100 wins, they are;
#33 Notre Dame
Michigan has 4 top 26 wins. No losses to teams outside the top #70.
But I must say, it is deeply flawed with ridiculous outliers.
How the FUCK is St. Mary's a Top 30 team with their resume???
Garbage. If M isn't already in it is because of the flawed RPI.
Why the fuck is St. Bonaventure a "lock"?
Why the fuck is Butler a "lock"?
Why the fuck are there a number of 19 and 20 win teams "locks"?
Because they played an EMU instead of a Bryant?