I Left Part Of Me Back There, In The Heat

Submitted by Brian on March 31st, 2014 at 11:36 AM

3/30/2013 – Michigan 72, Kentucky 75 – 28-9, 15-3 Big Ten, season over

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Dustin Johnston/UMHoops

Trey-3-vs-Kansas[1]

same damn shot

About three hours later, I realized I was on the same damn road, passing the same damn Indiana towns with ominous overtones in their names.

I was feeling the same damn way. I wanted the miles to evaporate faster than they were, to put all that behind me, to have a stiff drink at home. Mostly I just wanted to sit on a couch and exhale until everything had left my body and I flopped over on my side, inert, until the smell of bacon revived me in a day or a week or a year.

I kept trying to do this exhalation thing, and it was not working. I spent most of the game fearing the immaculately-coifed Kentucky fan in front of me would turn around and ask me to stop breathing so hard on her neck, whereupon I'd have to explain to her husband that yes I may be making your wife's neck uncomfortably moist but you see I am trying to expel my soul which really no that's not what I'm saying oh I see I've just been punched.

We made quite a crew in section 228: me trying to not die and not exist at the same time; the lady who is mercifully tolerant of moist neck; the XXXL Kentucky fan next to me complaining that the refs were treating Stauskas like a pretty pretty princess after every possession; the two Michigan bros a few rows in front of me taking their fashion cues from Macklemore and standing after every basket to make karma-obliterating woofing noises; and the unaffiliated mother with her family on the way to spring break trying to commiserate with me about how the Kentucky fans who made up about 90% of our section were just unreasonably into sports.

It took her a while but I think she finally put me into the unreasonable bin after the teams traded dagger three pointers with a few minutes left and the sun came through the floor of Colts Location Stadium, blasting us all with a heat only she noticed.

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The boxing metaphor is inescapable. I have seen many basketball games; this one is the one that defies you to compare it to anything else. And it was specific: this was not the kind of boxing match where a Cuban with ten thousand amateur fights comes out and touches you up for twelve rounds until he's ahead on all the scorecards. This was two dudes with noses that might as well already be broken strolling out and windmilling at each other until one looks like Chernobyl… and he's the guy still standing.

Max Kellerman talks a lot about how great fighters are not like people, because when they get hit witheringly hard they don't want to dig a hole and lay down in it for a while. They instead get mad and start hammering back. This is an easy thing to feel you are capable of when not being hit witheringly hard, and pretty much the entire point of boxing is to strip this feeling from victim after victim. I have no illusions about my response to being hit like that. I will put my head in my hands, check twitter, and be nearly incapable of standing. One day I'm just going to fall over. I've made my peace with it.

Michigan—this Michigan team, this dead Michigan team—is not like that. They dug out of enough ten point holes midway through the season to demonstrate that, surely. Here every time Kentucky would threaten to pull away Stauskas would swoop into the lane or Morgan would collect a rebound and finish against Kentucky's never-ending assembly line of skyscrapers, or Robinson would nail the late momentum-shifting corner three that has become a trademark over the past month.

If Calipari had ran out to midcourt with a shovel and started whacking Morgan with it while screaming "WHY <whack> WON'T <whack> YOU <whack> DIE," this would have made total sense to everyone in attendance. Kentucky was hitting three pointers and taking zero jumpers otherwise. They rebounded 63% of their misses(!). Michigan was there, riddled with bullets but still lurching forward.

As the game went on and the temperature rose, the building knew. There is an odd shift in the dynamics of an arena once it becomes clear to everyone present that they are watching an out-and-out classic. The stakes, already astronomical, ratchet ever-higher as the imperative to not lose this game, to win this game, to have this thing in your heart forever for cold nights and funerals, reaches critical mass. I mean, what if Michigan loses in overtime to Kansas last year? It does not bear thinking about.

So Michigan executes its version of that Syracuse possession with about seven missed shots in four seconds except Jordan Morgan wills the ball in the basket with his goddamned mind, and then it's just one guy taking a bad shot that looks improbably true.

Shit.

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It was probably the guys tweeting that they were watching Cosmos and regretting that they were responsible adults with children instead of super high and watching Cosmos that put me in this frame of mind but on the same damn road I started thinking about how space was unfathomably large, cold, and empty.

We'd just exited what was temporarily the saddest Culver's in America, on the vanguard of a highway of silent maize-clad Michigan fans acknowledging each other with a sigh and a shrug at chain restaurants and rest stops. In the fifteen minutes it had taken to eat, the twilight had turned definitively into night. The sun down, I tried exhaling again. Still nothing.

You know, I was basically okay. I thought about Jordan Morgan and the Kentucky fans all screaming out defensive instructions to their players whenever Stauskas touched the ball and figured out the exact tenor of my sadness. I had been eroded in the presence of the sun, and was glad for it, but now that place was getting smaller and farther all the time.

We were an outbound comet, hoping, waiting for the next opportunity to feel the stellar wind blow.

Bullets

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[Bryan Fuller]

Jordan Morgan. Uh…

I'm not actually sure I can or want to do that. Usually those kind of things are reserved for the Cazzie Russell types but these days anyone that good exits before he can… well, I kind of want to say "program icon status" but if I say "Trey Burke" one of two images pops into your head so that's not quite right. But they're awesome and gone so fast it feels a little weird putting them in the rafters. (Being a Kentucky fan these days must be the weirdest experience in sports. Entirely new team every year.)

Watching Morgan's up and down career end with a tournament run in which he was one man trying to hold back the hordes… it does make you wonder. Morgan is the embodiment of the program's straight arrow up in the Beilein era, and he is an epic twitter troll with two engineering degrees. Save a Tyler Hansborough/Russ Smith type who is awesome but has one critical flaw in his game that prevents the NBA from swooping in on him, it's hard to think there are going to be many more deserving four-year guys.

Nik Stauskas. If that was the last game, and I'm guessing it was, he went out with a bang. I think swooping layups and rim attack after rim attack against Kentucky may perk up NBA draft executives' ears.

It is kind of crap luck that the guys Beilein turns into killers are so so good that they're two or three and out these days. As Morgan demonstrated, seniors are nice to have. You're up, Caris.

Welp. Michigan was set to win this game despite getting bombed on the boards, just as it had been ordained, but Kentucky, the #249 team in the country from three, went 7/11 behind the arc on looks that were mostly contested. If you find randomness on the street, slug it in the gut and say that's from MGoBlog.

SOFT THREE-DEPENDENT BEILEIN. That's continually the line from MSU fans. Michigan from two against freakin' Kentucky: 20/39. Michigan State versus UConn: 7/17. MSU took 12 more threes than twos. Shirtless AXE bro, heal thyself.

(Two point baskets by players who will probably return to MSU next year: 1, by Dawson.)

The NCAA tournament remains great. Hunter Lochmann probably had a stroke when he realized that absolutely no piped in music would be provided. Wait until they see a February NBA game, he thought, 'I'm Gonna Make You Sweat' is gonna make YOU sweat.

Do you know what they did during TV timeouts? Nothing. They put some trivia up on the scoreboard. There was the occasional announcement. Otherwise the commercial breaks were bands playing music and nothing else. It was amazing.

No one left at halftime, muttering about how if they can't hear "Ceiling Can't Hold Us" there's no point to sports. "Why will no one direct me to make noise?" this nonexistent person asks. "Where is my kiss cam? Are you guys even having a sporting contest? GIVE ME MY HAT SHUFFLE."

Anyway, for all the commercialism the NCAA packs into their every waking moment they have really minimized it for the event itself. The tournament is a national treasure for that reason. Michigan should emulate that instead of the ECHL.

Except for PA announcer guy. It started off poorly when he called Caris LeVert "Caress" LeVert and continued for the entire two games; even when not doing that the Colts Location Stadium PA announcer sounded like a terrible parody of a smarmy PA guy instead of a PA guy. Imagine Rob Schneider doing PA guy, and then make him worse at it. Oy.

Stagger. My one problem with the tournament setup is one I'm sure everyone shares: what is up with the game stagger in the Sweet 16? There's no reason MSU and Virginia should be going down to the wire at the same time Kentucky and Louisville are melting down Colts Location Stadium. Also you have large video boards; when game action isn't going on those should be playing other games.

Basketball of the future. Michigan wanted to force Kentucky into two-point jumpers. Nope:

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With that distribution it's a victory that Michigan only gave up 48% from two in the second half, and yes, Daryl Morey is subscribing to Calipari's newsletter.

Stats! This game created or cemented a few remarkable ones.

70%! For a below-the-rim center. John Beilein is a genius, man. Also, best offense in 11 years (shhh, don't mention the rule changes).

Dammit. I said I wasn't going to think about McGary what ifs. Impossible not to, though. Imagine Morgan bumping down to the 4 for big chunks of this game with Mitch's crazy defensive rebounding on Dakari Johnson. On the other hand…

Michigan won the Big Ten by three games was a coinflip away from the Final Four without Burke, Hardaway, and McGary. I'd say let that sink in, but it should have been doing so for weeks now and it hasn't and it probably won't. The shots Michigan took should have had them down and out since they don't recruit at a super-elite level, but instead they blew through a conference that had three Elite Eight teams. And even though they're likely to take more NBA hits this offseason, they should enter next year as one of the conference favorites. It boggles the mind.

Comments

Bando Calrissian

March 31st, 2014 at 11:48 AM ^

I'd be behind a Jordan Morgan jersey honoring if it was a one-two punch alongside LaVell Blanchard. I view those guys in pretty much the exact same light, though Morgan played on much better and infinitely more successful teams. Leaders, survivors, players. 

In the end, though, probably not rafters-worthy.

Bando Calrissian

March 31st, 2014 at 1:03 PM ^

Quite a few, actually, but the problem was everyone now firmly on the Michigan Basketabll bandwagon when the goings are good probably wasn't paying attention back then.

A player's individual talent and accomplishments shouldn't be automatically outweighed by the fact that the program was shit and the surrounding cast was sporadic at best. Blanchard was everything Michigan Basketball should be. He put up great numbers, stuck it out when he could have bailed, a local kid done good, etc. etc. etc. 

TheNema

March 31st, 2014 at 1:33 PM ^

I'm not a bandwagon fan. I like Michigan Basketball more than Michigan Football and have since childhood. I have followed every season closely.

The most memorable win when Blanchard was here was Michigan State in January 2003. LaVell scored two points (at the free throw line in the final minute).

I'm not trying to denigrate him, but calling for a retired jersey is ABSURD. I spit out milk when I saw Brian write that he once thought they should do the same thing for him. Ultimately, did Blanchard even lay a foundation? It wasn't his fault, but the program floundered until Beilein took over. Sorry, but wins matter. You are lowering the bar significantly. for the honor with these requests.

 

TheNema

March 31st, 2014 at 11:56 AM ^

I wish you didn't share that retire Morgan's jersey tweet. Seems almost irresponsible to not call @johnmoz an idiot, which would feel like a shot at Morgan when it's totally not.

TreyBurkeHeroMode

March 31st, 2014 at 12:48 PM ^

Hey there, that's me. And I completely get the "idiot" response because, well, guy who's going to be designing medical devices rather than lighting up the NBA or even Greece next year. And there was absolutely a healthy amount of heat-of-the-moment emotion behind it so I'm not on top of the "Retire #52" barricades.

But my rough thinking, in more than 140 characters, is thus:

  • Senior leader when there's damn few of them left any more
  • Stuck around after undergrad degree even though all signs pointed to Mitch getting his minutes this season.
  • Stood up when Mitch went down and led the single most overperforming season I can remember from a Michigan basketball team. (Also, the most FUN team we've had in decades. How you rank them on that with the Fab 5 is a matter of taste.)
  • See Drew's stat points above, there's at least a few places where his name will be in the team's record books and they're not just the result of tenure.
  • 2x B1G champs, Final Four, championship game, 2x Elite 8, four-year tournament streak, etc.
  • And, because this is Michigan, he did this all while earning a pair of engineering degrees.

Look, unless we recalibrate for the modern era, the chances that we'll ever see another Rudy T or Cazzie or Glenn Rice are somewhere between slim and none. So we either decide "Welp, done with jersey retirements forever" or we try to identify the guys who are standouts when compared to their peers, who meant something special to the program, or in some other way earned us pointing to the rafters and explaining to our kids who they were.

Is that J-Mo? Man, I don't know. I think it could be. I do know that as much as I loved Burke and Stauskas, it would rub me really raw to immortalize a guy who was good one year, great the next and then took off for the NBA. I don't begrudge them that decision in the slightest, but that's not what I want to celebrate with my nine year-old son when I take him to Crisler.

(On the other hand, let's stipulate that retiring Morgan's or anybody's jersey just because Brandon can sell a corporate sponsorship on the "THANKS J-MO" glowsticks that he'll hand out to boost attendance against Coppin State during midwinter break is both likely and an abomination. But that's another post altogether.)

TheNema

March 31st, 2014 at 12:58 PM ^

If you are going to retire Morgan's jersey, a FLOCK of former players jerseys not currently retired would have to follow suit and the honor would not only start to lose meaning, but greatly reduce the options an incoming freshman has for a number.

"Look, unless we recalibrate for the modern era, the chances that we'll ever see another Rudy T or Cazzie or Glenn Rice are somewhere between slim and none."

What does this even mean? We had one of those very guys just LAST YEAR. His name is Trey Burke. You're saying only four-year players should get retired jerseys?

 

 

 

 

Bando Calrissian

March 31st, 2014 at 1:07 PM ^

Remember: Michigan stipulates a player must finish his degree (either at Michigan or elsewhere) in order to have their jersey honored. Which means we'll probably be waiting a while for Burke.

Also keep in mind that Michigan only "honors" basketball numbers. Aside from Cazzie, whose number is the only one that is truly retired, every number in the rafters remains in circulation. 

TreyBurkeHeroMode

March 31st, 2014 at 1:20 PM ^

You're saying only four-year players should get retired jerseys?

I get your point and I'd have to answer "no," but are you saying re: Burke that we should be retiring somebody's jersey because of one great season? Same issue applies, you have to go back into history and re-evaluate past players for that metric as well.

I don't know how we look at it, I don't claim any true insight or absolute certainty on the topic. Without going Full Hoke, maybe what I'm trying to say is that if we're going to be retiring jerseys in the modern era, we do so for Michigan Men. You'd be hard-pressed to find somebody who meets that description more than Jordan Morgan.

At some level, it's like the Detroit Tigers retiring Willie Horton's number. It wasn't just for his play on the field, but also for the time he went out to try to end a riot while wearing his uniform and everything else he did in and meant to the community.

Raoul

March 31st, 2014 at 3:34 PM ^

I'm a big fan of Jordan Morgan, but he really does fall into a fairly large group of players whose careers aren't quite worthy of jersey-honoring. Some of these players have been honored in another way—by having their names attached to one of the postseason awards that Michigan hands out at the annual banquets (see the record book, pp. 7-9). There's one that would fit Morgan well—the Iron Man Award:

Established in 2002, this award honors the Michigan basketball player who exhibits toughness, aggressiveness, and heart on the basketball court.

I wouldn't be surprised if Morgan is this year's recipient, and I think it would be fitting to one day name the Iron Man Award after him.

georgetm2000

April 1st, 2014 at 7:17 AM ^

actually that the NCAA rule is that the hand is part of the ball. Or so they said on the broadcast when looking at the replay of the jump balls Caris forced. It would then I guess apply to shooting as well even though I hate that rule since it affects follow through.

Tony Soprano

March 31st, 2014 at 12:32 PM ^

When Harrison went up for that shot, he was pretty open after clearing space for himself and Levert did a great job reaching and extending towards Harrison to contest the shot.  Had Harrison not been quite so open for the shot, Levert's starting point in the block attempt is more straight up and he probably does get his fingers on it.   Damn it.

Nothsa

March 31st, 2014 at 3:30 PM ^

Levert got back out impressively quickly once it was clear Harrison was pulling the trigger, but Harrison had ample chance to eye that shot, unfortunately. We'll never know if he would have hit that shot if Levert was in his business from the get-go, but Harrison definitely was able to set up, eye, and fly unmolested.

alum96

March 31st, 2014 at 1:54 PM ^

As I wrote in one of the post game message boards, Caris is becoming one of my fav players of the past 10 years in any sport.... quickly catching up to Zack Novak for his intangibles.  He makes those careless errors all over the place yes and drives us nuts but he is a GAMER.  When the light is brighter he gets brighter.  He was not on his A game this past month but late vs OSU in BTT he got that monster rebound, he had that steal vs UTenn on the charge (i.e. if no charge called, we still have the ball due to his hands), and yest the stuff of all NBA top 4 pick Randle, another stuff later (which was probably a foul, shhh), and then that fricking rebound in the closing minute - I swear Caris was near horizontal when he got the rebound and still passed it out to someone and remained in 1 piece when he landed. 

All with a body like Gumby and a face like a young BJ Armstrong (google it kids!).  And this photo above made me crack up - he is so effortless he need not even need to look at the guy he is trying to stuff.  If he had blocked it and this was the same photo it might have been one of the most iconic photos we have... look at me, I'm Caris and I just blocked this shot... in no look fashion!

west2

April 1st, 2014 at 11:43 AM ^

I remember correctly this final shot was a fade away jumper and this photo shows it couldn't have been defended any better without fouling. This play for some reason reminds me of the movie Rudy where he says-put me in coach I can do it-even though you know he can't do it, then darned if he doesn't do it. This kid shouldn't have made this shot and probably shouldn't have even attempted it, but dang it he made it. Huh, it was a...great shot, lucky but great. In response to what's the best system to win a NC? The answer tends to be whatever system the current champion employs. The real answer is there are many ways to win, it takes players, coaching and a bit O' luck as we saw to get there.

gwkrlghl

March 31st, 2014 at 12:04 PM ^

but damn it I wanted that one and except for random Kentucky 3-pt shooting we had it. If the officials dared call a charge on Kentucky and they weren't just out cold from 3 we might've won by double-digits.

umfan323

March 31st, 2014 at 12:04 PM ^

I feel we will never win that National Championship unless we get bigger and can rebound ...i would like to see us start 2 big men, yea i know that's not how Beleins offense works but it would be nice

Hail-Storm

March 31st, 2014 at 1:55 PM ^

all day any day.  There was some ugly basketball with lots of bigs who couldn't do anything. Michigan's offense and efficiency well make up for some size disparity on the defensive/ offensive boards.  Michigan took down Two teams already that relied on bigs and got nothing.  It took Kentucky shooting the game of their life from 3 to scrape by. 

Anonymosity

March 31st, 2014 at 1:58 PM ^

Yes, Michigan didn't have the size to hang with Wisconsin, in spite of beating Wisconsin in Madison a couple months ago.

And they have no chance at a Championship with this sort of lineup, as long as you ignore the fact that they had a second-half lead in the championship game one year ago with a similar sort of undersized lineup (freshman GRIII playing the 4...).  Okay, fine, McGary is taller than Morgan.

Nice #hottake you have there

jmblue

March 31st, 2014 at 1:05 PM ^

We didn't lose because of size or rebounding.  We lost because UK unexpectedly matched us in three-pointers made (seven).  If they shoot their usual percentage, we win.  

We are not a conventional, defensive-oriented team.  We are offense-oriented, and our offense is extremely good.  As noted above, we just set a record for offensive efficiency.  In many games this season, we recorded the highest points-per-possession average our opponent had given up all year.  (Against MSU, we recorded the two highest PPPs they gave up.)  This comes from having four skilled perimeter guys playing together and spacing out the defense to make it hard to rotate.  

A lot of fans seem to have this notion that we could play two bigs at the same time and still have an awesome offense.  That's  very doubtful.   Playing two big men will only work in this offense if one has perimeter skills.  Otherwise, it screws up the spacing that is essential to the offense's functioning.  

What you can expect from a Beilein-coached team is that we aren't going to be dominant on defense or the glass, but we will be dominant on offense, and as long as we are just adequate on defense, we'll win most of our games.  We have won two Big Ten titles, gone to two Elite Eights and one national championship game using this formula.  It's a good one.

 

 

 

 

MGlobules

March 31st, 2014 at 1:09 PM ^

this season, according to UMHoops. And just to add: the philosophy often is to have the bigs box out, NOT go for layups, so that the smaller players can get rebounds and runouts. It's a unique philosophy, and very hard--unless you're an overweaning a** (which okay, me too)--to argue against the results. 

 

Michigan4Life

March 31st, 2014 at 1:31 PM ^

needs to die IMO.  Look at some of the top KenPom defensive teams (pre-NCAA tourney) and they got knocked out early on. OSU comes into mind. It's the well balanced team that wins championship.  Michigan nearly won it last year after having a subpar defense.  You need to be able to score to win games.

umfan323

March 31st, 2014 at 1:10 PM ^

There was a point during the game when the announcers said they had as many offensive rebounds as we had defensive, during the first half almost all of their points were in the paint..you're trying to tell me more size and better rebounding wouldn't have made a HUGE difference

Indiana Blue

March 31st, 2014 at 1:19 PM ^

Jim Nantz was a fucking Wildcat fan !    On Stauskas FT miss ... "he finally missed one".  They expected the game to be a blow out and called it as such.   Take away the goal tending in the 1st half and count LeVert's 3 that they ruled a 2 .... and guess what the score is !

Go Blue!

 

winged wolverine

March 31st, 2014 at 12:04 PM ^

What would have happened if Morgan hadn't gotten that phantom foul call for his 1st, because that really changed the whole game (as did his two quick fouls in the BTT game). He more than held his own down low, and the offense is just at another level when he's out there because of his understanding of how to screen and the players trust he can do it well. Horford did get better after a few possessions, but his early struggles led to Beifeldt getting some game action.

Regardless, this was such a fun team to watch, as it has been since Beilein came to Michigan. Michigan basketball continues to grow, and now the coaches can tell recruits that they will play in one of the best offenses in college hoops every year, that they'll play for Big 10 and national titles, and that they could be the next Big 10 POY.  The next few years will be fun.