"Pay this end his regard!" called the 5'10"/185-pound tackle. "Hey, call me a linebacker!" replied James Hall. "What's a linebacker?"

What is this? A tournament of great Michigan teams past as some gimmick to write about Old Blue over the offseason. I write up a fictitious game between two historical Michigan teams, then eulogize the loser. See the play-in round for further explanation.

Since Tom Brady’s career is now just adding some fourth quarter padding to his lead on Montana, I figured we should go back to the beginning of it. It also gives me an opportunity at the start of this series to decide what I’m going to do when a team from the Stone Age faces one from modern times who just thinks it's from the Stone Age. In truth I think it would be a slaughter, like varsity versus the club team. For the sake of keeping things interesting I’m going to set some ground rules:

  • To deal with changing rules, the 1st half is played under the lower seed year's rules, and the 2nd half under the higher seed's rules.
  • Old time teams will be treated like they're on a sliding scale of modern subdivisions, so for example the 1901 team will be treated as if it just romped through Division III. In general, pre-1880s=Club, pre-1916=D3, pre-War=D2, pre-1980=FCS, and late 20th century=mid-majors. This is probably inaccurate, but I don't want to punish old teams too much for existing before the University of Michigan invents time travel.
  • Injured/suspended players can participate equivalent to the % of the season they played, for example the 1998 team gets Marcus Ray for about a quarter.
  • I can cheat for narrative purposes

Here's the bracket, which was made by a phantom NCAA committee we can all agree doesn't know anything about these teams (because I haven't written about them yet):

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Round of 64: 1902 (7-seed) vs 1998 (10-seed)

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Willie Heston outpaces 1998 safety DeWayne Patmon, because unfair characterizations of DeWayne Patmon's speed are pretty much all anyone remembers about DeWayne Patmon

Both of these teams had to follow national championship seasons, and combined most of those loaded rosters with unprecedentedly good recruiting classes. The 1902s had a much tougher act to follow, as their immediate predecessor (Yost’s first) outscored opponents 555-0. They also returned more, including Willie Heston, one of the best backs in the game’s history. Understandably, the 1998s would feel confident about beating 34 doughty white guys.

At first glance it didn't look very competitive. The 1998s had five offensive linemen over 300 pounds, including sophomores Jeff Backus and Steve Hutchinson, while the 1902s were proud of the fact that their average weight was just 180. Hayden Epstein booted the opening kickoff through the uprights, and a gaping Yost had to be informed that under 1998 rules no points were awarded for that.

The 1998 team built up a solid-enough-looking 9-0 lead in the first half, keyed by two 3rd and long conversions by Tom Brady to Markus Knight and Tai Streets. But the 1902s had the C-Will/A-Train running game scouted well, as the small but fearless Yostmen frustrated 1998 Michigan’s blockers with a seven-man front and diving into gaps. Carr extended the frustration to the fans by refusing to throw the ball despite having Tom friggin’ Brady against eleven dudes who’d literally never seen a forward pass.

The 1998s also kept having to start deep in their own zone. The 1902s managed to pin their afterbears back with a pair of gorgeous 60-yard punts by Everett Sweeney. They also were able to churn out a few first downs each drive, with Jim Herrman's '98 defense persistently confounded by Yost's no-huddle, high-tempo offense. The hurry-up forced Carr to burn all his timeouts early, and that contributed to his decision to run then take a knee when the '98s got the ball back on their 30 with over a minute remaining.

“They’re completely immune to deception,” said Lloyd Carr as his team went into the locker room for halftime. “Even our go-to screen pass wasn’t working.”

“That’s because I invented it,” quipped Yost.

[After the JUMP: The second half under 1902 rules, and one of these teams is eulogized]

very same [Patrick Barron]

1/19/2019 – Michigan 54, Wisconsin 64 – 17-1, 6-1 Big Ten

I've already written the column about how playing games at the Trohl Center is an experience that makes you think you're the last human in the land of the bug people, and hoo boy was this a shining example of the genre. The ends of each half, taken together, are kind of amazing. The end of the first half: Wisconsin has multiple fouls to give at the end of the first half and is trying to use them, but the a guy intentionally grabbing a Michigan player doesn't get called for two or three seconds. Michigan's left with under two seconds on the clock and does not convert.

The end of the second: Ethan Happ briefly touches the ball with Michigan down three and gets rid of it; immediately afterward Brazdeikis grabs him, in the way of late game basketball. This too is ignored. When Iggy goes back to foul Happ again, this time completely away from the ball, he's called for a flagrant 1. That essentially ends the game.

I don't really know what you're supposed to do when the referees can't even get the fouls both teams are trying to commit right. When you've got an apoplectic John Beilein at midcourt being held back by his assistants you've screwed up. You made First Episode Walter White mad! He drives a minivan and loves his children! GAH!

It would be nice if Michigan's basketball team was so good it could power through batshit road garbage at the Trohliest of all Centers, but if it was it would have so much power that it could not be permitted off a military base. It's a harsh reality check for a team that had played just one game that went down to the final couple minutes.

GRIM. This kind of offensive performance is a once-every-few-years occurrence:

That was the let's-drink-some-bleach South Carolina game, when Michigan was 8/26 from two and 2/26 from three. Michigan finished that season with the #4 offense in the country after Derrick Walton blew up midseason.

That was on another level in terms of offensive futility. Michigan shot 47%/28%, which is real bad but not the abomination that the South Carolina game was. Michigan's main problem was  giant turnover rate—almost one in every four Michigan possessions ended in a turnover. That was spread almost equally throughout the roster.

[After THE JUMP: Teske though?]

A momentary loss of muscular coordination. A few extra footpounds of energy per second, per second [photo: Patrick Barron]

For an incredible 11 weeks, Michigan managed to avoid a snowstorm. Oh, there was the occasional flurry, but nothing that managed to stick around. This may not seem all the weird to young people who’ve grown up since global warming changed our weather expectations, but to those of us who grew up between the lakes before 2012 the welcome streak of fair weather, underpinned by strong science as it was, seemed as unsustainable as going an entire basketball season in the Big Ten without a loss.

On Saturday winter finally made its presence felt across the upper Midwest. The slippery conditions extended to Wisconin’s Trohl Center, where a team of small children (really, they were using sub-10-year-olds) struggled to keep Michigan’s end of the floor from resembling the state of the roads outside. The combination of Michigan’s lack of traction and some Wisconsin players constantly getting flung backwards by invisible trucks led to a frustrating afternoon for the Wolverine slashers, especially freshman Ignatius Brazdeikis. Iggy, who drew 6’11” Nate Reuvers, got called for two early fouls, played just 23 minutes, and for the first time in his college career finished a game without a point.

Wisconsin’s defense did an excellent job of running Michigan’s offense off the three-point line, and survived their few open looks, with Iggy missing his three, Poole going 1-of-5 (one a moonball that had zero chance of going in), Simpson 1-for-3, and Matthews unable to get one off. An ugly foot-and-rimmer by Teske early in the second half was just the team’s second made three all game.

Michigan spent much of the first half without both of its starting bigs, as Teske picked up a soft reach-on on Happ before Iggy picked up two. That necessitated some long minutes with Austin Davis against Happ. Rather than fouling the sub-50-percent free throw shooter, Davis mostly tried to hold up. The Badgers definitely knew where they wanted to attack with Davis on the floor, and Michigan had to survive some very open perimeters whenever help came. Davis wasn’t bad, but the stretch really made you appreciate how warm and cozy it feels to have Jon Teske on the floor.

Zavier Simpson made sure the game stayed close, bulling his way to the rim to set up easy points for whatever bigs were allowed out, and playing his characteristically dogged defense, especially on the perimeter. ESPN’s broadcast decisions made Wisconsin’s possessions as unwatchable as Brad Davison’s flops, especially in the first half. For a third of the frame much of the Badgers’ offensive zone had an annoying graphic literally covering a third of the frame, and the announcers spent a good four minutes of game time discussing the draft prospects of Michigan, Wisconsin, and, uh Murray State players. Michigan led 27-25 at the break.

When on the floor, Teske made life miserable for Happ, whose 26 points on 22 shots (all at or near the rim) included more than a few friendly Trohl Center rolls. Happ’s incredible post moves are devastating to defenders who leave their feet, but Teske’s size and quick feet allowed him to roll with every shot fake and stay in position.

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Teske’s defense, when available, turned the #2 player to Kenpom into an average man [Barron]

Wisconsin returned the favor and then some on Michigan’s top usage guy, frustrating Charles Matthews into three turnovers and just five points. Much of that usage went to Poole, who finished with an inefficient 14 points on 23 shot equivalents. Livers had a dunk and a beautiful three-pointer late, but also three turnovers. Michigan would finish with 16 of those in a low-possession game.

With Teske’s autobench time served (he’d finish with two) and Happ resting early in the second half, Michigan had its chance to finally generate more than a one-possession lead, but got caught playing too fast. Poole in particular committed a few uncharacteristic turnovers. When Happ returned to the floor with the score tied at the 8:00 mark, it didn’t take my sensitive knees to know a storm was coming. Quickly down four, Poole took a terrible three-point attempt lob, then got flagged for his fourth foul when trying to help on Happ. An Eli Brooks long two was followed by a quick Happ slam and a Michigan timeout.

Again it was Simpson who refused stop fighting the conditions. With 3:00 remaining down six, Simpson forced a turnover, missed a contested transition layup, got the rebound, got fouled, missed two, then set up Livers (missed, rebound out of bounds off Wisconsin) and Teske (made) for open three-point attempts.

Happ got a friendly roll over Teske on a low-percentage (even for him) hook shot from six feet out to push Wisconsin’s lead to five, then made the front end of a 1-and-1 to put it back to six. Livers hit a step-back three to make it a 3-point game with a minute remaining, but the officials whistled Brazeikis for a questionable intentional foul that sent Beilein storming and Happ to the line for two. A few desperation plays later Virginia was the lone unbeaten and Wisconsin got to celebrate its first marquee win of the season.

With the worst part of winter still ahead, this won’t be the last time Michigan has to get out the snow shovels. On Tuesday they’ll host a slushy Minnesota squad that just lost to Illinois(!) before a trip Indiana’s Assembly Hall, another frosty venue that really makes you appreciate the comforts of home.

[Box score after THE JUMP]

The greatest tournament for the greatest Michigan teams of all time.

I also have a BC insider, as it turns out

Michigan journeys into the Trohl Center, where Khalil Iverson will hit his first three in two years. It will bank in, obviously. 

Mazi Smith takes the field for the Under Armour All-America Game

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