3/19/2009 – Michigan 62, Clemson 59 – 21-13, 9-9 Big Ten
burning boat via falling sky @ flickr
"Ships, shoes, basketballs, whatever," Lucas-Perry said. "We're burning ours first, because we're coming to take theirs. We want it bad."
The most famous possibly-effective, possibly-useless motivational ploy in recent Michigan history remains Lloyd Carr's distribution of climbing picks and Into Thin Air to members of the soon-to-be 1997 national championship team, but "Queme los Barcos"—"burn the boats"—is rapidly gaining.
Motivation is a weird thing, and the popular conception of it is weirder. In the popular imagination these things act as functions or enzymes that take ordinary men and transform them in to something greater. Out the other end of these motivational processes come a national championship and Michigan's first NCAA tournament win since 1998.
But what strange items to function as motivation. Here we have 1) a book about people taking an insane risk and dying in the process of it and 2) an apocryphal motivational tactic by one of history's greatest bastards. Judged on the merits, these stories say "don't climb Mount Everest" and "don't get in a boat with one of history's greatest bastards." (Which latter might seem obvious.) Together they kind of say adventure—risk—is stupid, unless you like frostbite or malaria and definitely death.
So go get 'em, kids!
On the other hand we have a bunch of kids who love basketball—as walk-on lionizing story after walk-on lionizing story demonstrate—and are living through one of the most nerve-wracking times of their lives. Chances are they're plenty motivated.
They're also at risk. During the American-Villanova game, the camera lingered on Kermit Washington for a while. I had no idea Kermit Washington went to American, but I sure as hell knew he cold-cocked Rudy Tomjanovich in 1977. Even Washington's wikipedia page says "he's best remembered for" that incident. When it's on your wikipedia page your public image is well and truly screwed.
Meanwhile, Terrence Oglesby was 1 of 8 from the floor with a half-dozen stupid turnovers and fouls when he clocked Stu Douglass and got ejected. During Clemson's brief excursion into last year's NCAA tourney he was 1 of 11.
You can be nice and say he's a young kid with plenty of chances to make up for it and will have a fine life and etc etc etc, but he's got at most two chances to unbrand himself a choker in the hearts of Clemson fans, to turn future bar conversations from uncomfortable things like…
Oglesby: I used to play a little ball.
Random Albanian: Yeah, I was trying not to bring that up.
…into uncomfortable things where you probably won't get asked to sign a body part or a child. The latter seem preferable.
If you're being honest with yourself, Michigan fan, who is Todd Howard to you? Billy Sauer? Brian Ellerbe? Hell, Shawn Crable and Chris Webber? Pretty much everyone feels the same way about these guys, modulated by how much kindness and perspective they possess. The scale ranges from disgust to pity, which isn't much of a scale at all.
The popular conception is backwards: the actions of a select group of kids who accomplish something immortalize whatever story is behind it. Manny Harris' terrifying decision to punish Clemson for their press and the resultant and-one bucket that would force Clemson into fouling the game away work to heighten the fame of "Queme los Barcos." Flaming boats don't help shots go down.
And the popular conception is backwards: these stories aren't motivational. Motivation is not necessary. They're calming. They're stories about people who found themselves in positions they did not expect with more at stake than they had imagined, and dealt with it.
The boats have been burned. The mountain has been summited. The deranged hearts of people who clamor for risk by proxy have been engaged. Lives hang in the balance, and the only way to go is forward.
- Harris was obviously the MVP even if a large number of those threes caused me to cringe as they arced towards the basket, but a couple of supporting cast members deserve a shout out:
- Zack Gibson(!) was outstanding defensively, altering shots and causing a number of easy buckets to miss.
- Stu Douglass had 12 points on eight shots, and even had a drive to the hoop.
- Man, if Michigan managed to blow that the Grady debate would have been a permanent feature of offseason conversation. I have to say that with a lead and the clock running down the biggest risk is that you won't get to blow 35 seconds off the clock and whatever difference there was between Grady and Lee or Merritt in other aspects could not have made up for Grady's ability to get the ball across halfcourt without chucking it out of bounds.
- While I'm complaining: ohmygod foul when you're up three and there's like eight seconds left. Instead Michigan played outstanding D and Clemson had to chuck an airball prayer, but oh the horrible trajectory.
- Was anyone else hoping Oglesby wouldn't get ejected? I couldn't have been the only one.
- Given what Clemson did to us on the boards—they rebounded almost half of their misses—Blake Griffin is going to eat us alive unless Todd Bozeman comes out with his heel tag team and gives him a flying elbow drop.
- Seriously: everyone saw the Griffin suplex, but with about eight seconds left and Oklahoma in transition another Morgan State player set up like he was going to try to take a charge, then gave the Oklahoma guy a flying body block. Todd Bozeman, keep it classy.
- Day's biggest disappointment was American blowing a 14-point lead against Villanova, as that robbed everyone of the chance to chant "U-S-A! U-S-A!" some more.
- Second biggest: VCU not getting a real shot off in the dying seconds against UCLA.