12/6/2008 – Michigan 81, Duke 73 – 6-2
A little under a year ago I wrote one of MGoBlog's top five emo posts ever after a midweek loss to Minnesota in an mostly empty Crisler arena. About 100 Minnesota students with way too much free time were present and responsible for the only noise in the arena.
At halftime, there was a big to-do about Crisler's 40th anniversary and brought back most of the guys from the 1968 team, including Cazzie Russell. Crisler is sometimes called "the house that Cazzie built" and they told him this and I had this reaction:
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.
Michigan has not so much as reached the NCAA tournament since 1998, an impressive feat matched by an ever-dwindling list of maybe ten major-conference teams. Being there is an act of masochism. But hey... new lights!
Beaten down by it all, I left halfway through the second half. Michigan trailed by 20.
On Michigan's last possession of the first half, DeShawn Sims got loose—barely—on a back cut and Jevohn Shepherd zipped a seeing-eye bounce pass through two Duke (Duke!) defenders. Sims threw it down with a roar, Crisler exploded, and Jay Bilas exclaimed "that is Michigan basketball!"
YEAH MICHIGAN BASKETBALL WOOOOOO—
This is Michigan basketball:
This is Michigan basketball: 226, 283, 199. That's Michigan's rank in turnover percentage in the final three years of the Amaker era. This is Michigan basketball: 1998.
I know this. I have seen my share of the stuff. I've created rules like "I stop this liveblog once we go down 20." I've specifically avoided any sort of drinking game involving number of turnovers or possessions that aimlessly pass it around the perimeter until someone has to chuck up a contested three as the shot clock expires because dying of alcohol poisoning after watching a Michigan-Boston U game seems like the most pointless way you could possibly go. Michigan basketball doesn't beat Duke, it starts a game down 34-2.
When you find a guy who can coach, things change. DeShawn Sims and, even more remarkably, Jevohn Shepherd have changed for the better. Crisler is on its way. It was sold out and raucous on Saturday. In January the regents will vote on first-stage approval of a practice facility. Next year the program will use its allotted 13 scholarships for the first time in recent memory. Shepherd is the only senior on the roster.
When you get a win like Duke a couple weeks after a win like UCLA, people call it a "program building" win. Programs are all about perception. What is Michigan basketball? Back door dunks and the 1-3-1 and wide open threes and great turnover margins and horrible rebounding. Floppy-haired white kids from Indiana and inexplicably faithful black kids from Detroit. Brandon Graham rushing the court…
…and DeShawn Sims finding his mother afterwards to hug her and cry.
This is Michigan basketball. That other stuff is the past, finally.
- Okay, now for the coldly rational section of the post: this whole tourney thing isn't in the bag. I think you're going to see this team gack up a couple Big Ten games it "shouldn't" because Manny has an off day and the interior defense gets crushed and the rebounding gets crushed and so on and so forth. I think we've seen Michigan play over their head a couple times and reality will settle in at Illinois or Iowa or Wisconsin or whatever.
They can go .500 in conference now, though, and probably get a bid, and 10-8 with a BTT win is a lock. 20-10 major conference teams with wins over Duke and UCLA get in.
- Those of you who took the under on patently false Bilas accusations that Tommy Amaker wasn't given enough time at Michigan get a dollar. I don't know if he just got over it or he was told, point-blank, to get over it, but there wasn't a peep about it all game.
And, like, good. Bilas occasionally latches onto something and just won't let go but other than that he's the best color analyst in college basketball outside of Bill Raftery (onions!).
- Sims and Harris were obviously brilliant. Somewhat less hyped: that was Kelvin Grady's best game ever. No one on Duke could stay in front of him and he used that to set up the back-to-back ONIONS threes from Novak, a Sims dunk when time was running out, and a sweet layup on which he looked off a Duke defender. Of course, there were also about three missed layups in there. If the guy can just learn to finish…
- Speaking of back-to-back ONIONS threes: Novak can play. He and Douglass are those guys who start for Butler for three years and are the stars of the show when they're seniors and everyone's like "how did this mid-major get so good?" Or they're Mike Gansey. Or Joe Alexander. I cannot stress this enough: when it comes to talent evaluation Beilein is as many standard deviations above the mean as Amaker was below it.
- Anthony Wright's second-half contribution was brief: comes in game, gets extremely unwise loose-ball foul that sends Duke to the line, exits game. The rotation changes I was complaining for (Shepherd for Wright, Grady for Merritt) were mostly executed, though Merritt continued starting.
- Football Muppet posts: 2. Basketball Muppet posts: 2. I think basketball is going to win.