Them? [Marc-Grégor Campredon]
Something's been missing to take the edge off before Michigan games since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one. Something like… Punt-Counterpunt, except for basketball.
By Bryan MacKenzie
We all know the bad news: Villanova. They are good. This need not be discussed at length. The good news: Michigan’s offense has struggled mightily throughout the NCAA tournament.
Yes, yes, this is not the good news you were hoping for. You were hoping that I had climbed high atop the thing and consulted the wise oracle, and the runes foretold of a great firebombing from deep. But this is actually better. Because already know what happens when Michigan comes out firing – and hitting – from three. You get a game like Texas A&M, or late-season Maryland, or the Texas Shruggie game, or the Florida Elite Eight Stauskasfest. There is much rejoicing and Twitter screaming and maniacal laughter. A good time is had by all.
According to Science, two of these = a National Championship [Brian Fuller]
Team shooting streaks are as fleeting as Nick Ward’s and Jaren Jackson’s minutes; you never know when they will appear, or how long they will last. Michigan could come out tonight and hit 60% from deep, and no one would be that surprised. But Michigan could also come out flat again, in which case they will lose (as would any team Beilein has ever fielded, and as would 99% of basketball teams assembled in the modern era against this Villanova team). Based on the last two and a half weeks, this would surprise no one either.
Coming into this season, Michigan under John Beilein was a combined 11-80 when its offense put up a Dead Body game (i.e. where their offensive efficiency dipped below 98.6). That just over one win per year. This year, they are 7-2 in those games. They’ve won as many such games this year as they won in the previous eight seasons combined. And this includes three tournament wins this year (Montana, Houston, and FSU) and barely excludes Loyola-Chicago.
It’s hard to imagine that any other Beilein team would even be standing at this point with the kind of offensive production they’ve gotten. Yet here they are, still playing in April. And sure, they still have those Walter In The Crawlspace games in them. We’ve seen three of them in the current 14-game winning streak. But now, for the first time, they have a defense. A real defense. A salty defense. The kind of defense that can get some stops when the offense stalls, as even the most firebreathingest offenses are wont to do. Michigan doesn’t have to be perfect. They have the luxury of being almost perfect. And that might, might just be enough.
One other thing. I feel pretty comfortable with the notion that karma doesn’t really control basketball games. Neither the Universe, nor any omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent entities residing therein, care significantly about the outcome on Monday night. But I feel equally comfortable with the notion that if he/she/it/they ever DID want to put a finger on the scale, it would be in favor of John Beilein winning a title. Winning “The Right Way” may not be fair, as one can only be so upset about players getting paid during the cash bonanza that is the NCAA Tournament. But he has sure as hell won The Hard Way, and the next person I meet with a cross word to say about him will be the first.
Still, as we said before the Loyola game, this is ultimately a battle of basketball teams, and Villanova is statistically better. Michigan probably needs to have one of their Death From Above performances to win this game, and this may be the one opponent against which such a performance might not be enough. That’s a tough ask, even for a wizard.
Villanova 77, Michigan 73
I feel conflicted regarding Villanova being Michigan’s title game opponent. This is exactly the sort of matchup I would want if I were an unaffiliated fan. It has two schools big enough and good enough to produce a quality game with two coaches dragging college basketball ever further out of the 2-points-and-a-cloud-of-dust era, but none of the annoyance of seeing a blueblood like North Carolina for the zillionth time.
In other ways, Villanova is exactly the kind of opponent I didn’t want to see. This almost goes without saying, but Villanova is extremely good. Their Kenpom page is a boon for the antacid industry and it’s hard to imagine Beilein coaching circles around someone like Jay Wright who emphasizes so many of the same concepts but has reached an indisputably greater level of success. On a more personal note, while I’m happy to see Villanova be successful in general, I had always imagined and hoped Beilein’s pinnacle victory would be against one of the villains of College Basketball.
yeah like that guy
I’ve decided not to let any of it bother me, though. I’ve gotten to see this team make a 10-0 deficit look like a well-intentioned but woefully insufficient rec-league handicap against Montana. For Throwback Thursday: an old-fashioned Michigan shruggie game vs. Texas A&M, followed by a win against Florida State where the concept that Michigan lives and dies by the 3 was emphatically destroyed. The Houston game was a simple reminder that sometimes good things just happen to good people.
I didn’t cry, YOU cried
Against Loyola and for the 4th time this tournament, Michigan treated us to the experience of watching a team not playing its best but still winning important games. It’s harrowing and frustrating, but it’s a feeling I never had the privilege to endure growing up in the Amaker era. Coach Beilein and the players have rescued a moribund program and its fanbase from another generation of mediocrity and apathy, and they deserve their damn coronation.
So I’m done doubting; it’s no fun and the team has earned better. Villanova is a tremendous offense; they haven’t seen a defense like this. They hit a ton of 3s; they can’t make any if they can’t get them off. Jalen Brunson could be the best guard in America; X will be in his shirt and in his head for 40 minutes. Michigan’s offense goes into lulls; ask the Aggies about those lulls. Michigan can’t hit free throws; it won’t be close enough to matter.
Just a few more hours before an ass whoopin’. They ain’t know.