(Posted on behalf of MGoUser Blue Ribbon, who lacked the points but not the effort.)
These are some thoughts I had after the PSU game, prompted partly by MBB’s recent stretch of blah and partly by MGoUser Erik_in_Dayton’s excellent diary about the pitfalls of being a Kansas-style fan. First off, I have to admit I didn’t actually watch the game. I recorded it and then went to the gym, and stupidly left my TV on BTN when I left. When I got home I realized my mistake, but figured it was late enough that the game would have ended. I was right about that; I turned on the tube and saw the aftermath of a court-rushing in Happy Valley. So, I checked the score online, saw the ugly truth, and decided not only to spare myself the pain, but to delete the recording, because teams beating Michigan are not welcome on my DVR.
It occurred to me that some people might say that my decision to forgo the pain of watching PSU earn their first conference win makes me less of a Michigan fan. My initial reaction to that hypothetical suggestion was vociferous disagreement, but after further consideration, I thought about the word from which ‘fan’ is abbreviated, and I realized that maybe being less fanatical about something so far beyond my control as MBB is not necessarily a bad thing. So, if you’re one of those people who consider me less of a fan, or a fair-weather fan, or however you’d articulate it, then okay. I guess that’s easy for me, a lifelong Walmart Wolverine, to say, and for everyone who actually has a personal connection to UM, I hope the pain isn’t too unbearable and fades quickly.
The main point I got from Erik_in_Dayton’s diary was that expecting an easy win against anyone, no matter how lowly and downtrodden they may be, leads to satisfaction at best and anguish at worst, which seems to me a pretty badly skewed spectrum. On paper, PSU didn’t have a chance. But the game is played on hardwood, and the student-athletes of Penn State, despite a clear and significant talent disadvantage, played fearlessly and with complete confidence in their ability to win, even when it looked like the game was slipping away (at least I assume they did; I can’t imagine how else they overcame the talent gap). From the perspective of UM students, alumni, and fans, the game was a disaster of epic proportions, but the other side has a different outlook (Captain Obvious is obvious). For PSU players and supporters, Wednesday’s game was a triumph over adversity, a monumental breakthrough in a season of frustration, and a moment of well-deserved unadulterated joy*. I don’t want to be the kind of fan who can’t appreciate that side of reality. Leave that shit to Sparty, my couch remains at room temperature.
Furthermore, if Michigan played the way they’ve been playing in the recent games I have actually watched (please correct me if I’m wrong here), they played as if having more talented players and building a 15-point 2nd-half lead entitled them to win. I base the previous statement on the impression I’ve gotten from watching the last couple weeks’ worth of games, which is of players exuding the attitude, “We’re here, we’re obviously super-talented, what more could anyone expect from us?” Sometimes the first half has served as a wake-up call, sometimes not. And sdunfortunately for the team and their supporters Wednesday night, they found out the hard way that the only thing that entitles a victory is outscoring your opponent through 40 minutes of basketball.
Despite Erik_in_Dayton’s wise warning, I also learned about the pitfalls associated with a sense of entitlement the hard way, because apparently it affects fans just as much as players, if not more so. After checking the score and deciding not to watch PSU’s breakthrough victory (does that phrasing offend? Should it offend anyone with a sense of perspective?), I checked the box score, and the first thing that jumped out at me was how many FTs Penn State attempted. 27 FTAs?!? Refs must be related to Paterno!!! Then I decided to stop being absurd. Because seriously, is Michigan entitled to give their opponents no more than 15 FTA per game because That’s How They Play Defense, and if they give up more it must be referee bias? Again, absurd. I occasionally (okay, often) forget this as an unabashed maize’n’blue fanboy, but the refs’ job is to call the game as it happens, not to ensure Michigan’s opp. FTA remains within the bounds of statistical normalcy. Especially since, in this case, every postgame account I’ve seen indicates PSU legitimately earned all those trips to the line. So instead of blaming an easy scapegoat when things don’t go well, I’d rather thank the officials for calling the game as fairly as they humanly could (unless anyone has evidence that they did otherwise), and give credit to the opponent for a game well played.
Despite the recent struggles, In Beilein I Trust. And I hope his postgame message included something along the following lines: Talent means nothing without effort. Effort means nothing without execution. Execution means nothing without teamwork. All of these things together still do not guarantee victory, and even victory means nothing without respect: for yourselves, for your teammates, for your opponents, and for the game.
There’s still plenty of time for learning and growth before March Madness is upon us. Even if we only get to the Sweet 16, or (blasphemy alert) lose in an early round, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this has been the best regular season of MBB that anyone born after 1985 can legitimately claim to remember. They really are just kids; praise them when they do well, and encourage them when they fall short of our greedy expectations.
*I think this is especially true given what PSU and their fan base has been through recently. Yeah, in large part they brought that on themselves, but on the other hand, I don’t think ‘they’ includes the kids who I have to believe were thrilled to receive basketball scholarships from PSU, and have worked just as hard as any other basketball scholarship recipients in the B1G.