2/19/2009 – Michigan 74, Minnesota 62 – 17-10, 7-7 Big Ten
Last year's Minnesota game, an uncompetitive loss in a lost season and a game in which the bulk of the noise came from a bizarre collection of Minnesota students adrift in the upper deck, was so completely dire that in the aftermath I scolded Michigan for reminding Cazzie Russell that he Built This House:
So he stood with his bearing, and listened to his accomplishments -- which are many -- and was then told he stood in the House Cazzie Built and that seemed like kind of a cruel thing to tell a nice old man who never did you any harm. The House Cazzie Built is half-empty, overrun by bums from half a continent away, and home to a team likely to set records for futility.
I titled that monument to self pity "It's only dark in your hearts," though I did have the self-awareness to tag that post "emo," at least. It was pretty bad. You might have been there, in which case you know.
Here is where the flash forward goes: this time when they played Minnesota, Michigan was up twenty with ten minutes left instead of down that many, and instead of leaving before the atmospheric pressure caved my skull in I was… uh… enjoying… the… basket-ball(?). It remains a bizarre concept even months after UCLA and Duke and the generalized creeping respectability. Michigan has completed step one of their three-part plan towards a long-overdue return to the NCAA tournament.
It's nice to be able to care again. That opinion is liable to reverse itself on a dime, especially if something equally inexplicable and foreboding and ridiculous as an uncontested Courtney Sims dunk goes awry and Michigan flails its way into the NIT one more time, but for the moment I'll take relevance in late February. If we are being honest with ourselves this was an NIT team that shot well in two critical games and twice managed to avoid season-killing awful losses by dint of grit and luck and many, many inadvisable three pointers.
Here they stand ahead of all reasonable projections, needing to split the next four and lift that ever-heavier burden on the program, thanks to a backdoor pass from Jevohn Shepherd and a rain of Zach Novak threes and a Laval Lucas-Perry three that caught the front rim and feathered its way home. Things could be much worse.
- Beilein should find some way to platoon CJ Lee and Kelvin Grady with Lee playing all the defense and Grady all the offense. I heard tell the Northwestern game featured some absolutely comical attempts to break a press that resulted in turnovers. Against Minnesota Grady just shredded it. But he couldn't stay in front of his guy on D again, giving up some easy buckets.
- The thing that really, really bothers me about basketball officiating is how demonstrative the refs are. This can best be seen on charges and continuations, when 90% of refs take the opportunity to let their inner Siegfried or Roy loose with hopping, pointing, slithering dance moves. No. You are supposed to be a robot. If you show more emotion than the Terminator you are failing at your job.
- The world makes much more sense when the three-pointers are falling, doesn't it?
- I hesitate to get ahead of myself here because for every ridiculous game Novak or Douglass turns in there's a clunker or three—see Novak's 21.5% on threes the last five games—but after a game like last night it's hard not to get excited about the program's future. Unless there's attrition Michigan will be replacing a few role players with Morris, Vogrich, McLimans, Morgan, and Cronin next year, and if you want to throw in Eso Akunne as a walk-on replacement go ahead. Even if the bigs are projects they should help immensely on the defensive end; Morris fills a big hole at point guard, and Vogrich will put heat on Douglass and Novak for playing time.