Moral Victory

Submitted by Brian on December 4th, 2008 at 1:24 PM

12/3/2008 – Michigan 70, Maryland 75 – 5-2

tractor-traylor

Well, they lost, but they did so in encouraging fashion. This is the place Michigan basketball finds itself in ten years after its last tourney appearance: losses to meh ACC squads—no one really expects Maryland to make the tourney—are signs of encouragement. Eh… I'm okay with that.

I hardly remember a good Michigan basketball team. I remember sitting in a couch stolen from the South Quad lobby and watching three-seed Michigan lose to UCLA in the second round, and then it's a black hole of Dom Ingerson and Pete Vignier and Maurice Searight and Courtney Sims and so forth and so on. Even that one year in which they looked pretty good and briefly led the Big Ten was followed by an epic, tourney-bid crushing collapse down the stretch. At work I listened to Michigan lose their first-round Big Ten tournament game to Minnesota, at one point giving up four straight fast-break buckets off turnovers.

And, honestly, I hated that 1998 team even before it became clear that Taylor, Traylor, and Bullock were strangling the program by taking money from a guy they had been explicitly told to avoid. Taylor was a sullen loafer who would become the NBA's worst-rebounding power forward; Traylor would lose 50 pounds right before the draft in order to get some idiotic team to pick him, then immediately gain it all back after he got that cheddar.

traylor-drafttraylor-fat 

It was little surprise he was convicted of tax fraud for helping a drug dealer launder money. These guys were hard to root for even when they won, and that broken backboard picture is a perfect metaphor for what they did to the program: it's pretty now, but picking up the shards is going to be long, bloody work.

I haven't actually liked a Michigan basketball team since Jalen Rose was around. So I sort of like these guys and they might be sort of okay, and this seems just fine to me.

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Last year Michigan lost for a lot of reasons, from terrible fundamentals to lack of talent to walk-on point guards. The walk-ons remain, but just for another three games. The fundamentals are better. The lack of talent remains apparent at certain spots in the rotation.

Add it up and you get a really fringe NCAA team that needed a couple of lucky games to slide in as a ten seed. They managed to get one against UCLA, and entered the second half against Maryland up six, opportunity beckoning. The NCAA tournament lay prostrate, saying "just finish this off and go .500 in the Big Ten and you can make a brief, unsuccessful appearance in me." Michael Scott materialized and exclaimed "that's what she said!" Two minutes later Michigan recovered from the shock naturally caused by the spontaneous appearance of a fictional character; they were down five and couldn't dig out.

This happened last year, too: I remember a competitive game with Boston College that went horribly awry early in the second half. That game got blown open, though, and this one see-sawed between one and four points for most of the second half until Maryland got a dagger three with the clock winding under three minutes. They stuck close, and had a chance. Having a chance is the difference between 10-22 and the NIT; taking it was the difference between the NIT and the NCAAs.

And I'm okay with that. The team is going in the right direction and there is a guy who wears 0 and another one who looks like Spock and another one who will probably play in the NBA but, like, be a good rep for the program. Ben Cronin is going to be endearingly awkward for four years. And the tourney will beckon again.

Bullets:

  • This is going to be a lot of complaints, I realize after I wrote the below, but I'd like to stress I'm totally on board with Beilein and if Manny returns next year that team should break the ignominious streak.
  • I'm sure this is a shared concern: what is with Beilein's rotation? David Merritt is a walk-on for a reason and Kelvin Grady is the perfect sort of point guard to break a press without a sweat. Grady should have seen like 35 minutes with Merritt coming in only when Grady's dead.
  • Similarly, Anthony Wright killed us in the first five or six minutes, launching up a torrent of errant threes and making poor decisions. With Jevohn Shepard looking like a functional basketball player—which is a Beilein-induced miracle, I say—he should be getting Wright's minutes.
  • …or Stu Douglass should. He was largely benched, as far as I could tell. (I watched the game at a bar because no one gets ESPNU.)
  • Speaking of Douglass, does he have Spock hair or what?

    stu-douglass spock_3

    Sorry I couldn't find a better picture, but check it out the next time you see a game. Kid's hair is way Vulcan. I am going to shout "highly illogical" whenever he makes a ridiculous three.

  • After a few games of looking useless, Novak has really come around. Douglass and Novak are the kind of kids successful mid-majors are built around. Either one of them could play for Butler and one might pan out to be that scrappy 12-seed's best player as a senior.  This is night and day from Amaker, who grabbed unheralded recruits like Ron Coleman and Jerrett Smith and Wright (who didn't even start for his high school team!) and saw them play like the kind of kids D-II teams use as role players: Smith is Grand Valley State's seventh-leading scorer and has an A:TO ratio of 19:17.
  • Assuming a loss to Duke, the next major event on the schedule is the debut of Laval Lucas-Perry. If he's as good as advertised Michigan just might eke that tourney bid, as he'll be sucking minutes away from walk-ons. The leap to a functional player who looked pretty good as a freshman at Arizona should be vast.
  • Damn you, Ekpe Udoh's AAU coach.

Comments

jamiemac

December 4th, 2008 at 1:45 PM ^

good stuff, as always.

I actually like Merrit....he's been a steadying force....JB really likes him and considers him the "glue" of the team......unless he starts becoming a huge liability, dont expect to see his minutes decrease.

I wonder if JB does not like Grady's shot selection....i thought that came into play a few times last night......otherwise, I agree with what you wrote about Grady.....he's fast out there and I liked the way he pushes the ball up the court.

skeet

December 4th, 2008 at 3:12 PM ^

What can he think of Anthony Wright's? That guy is a chucker.

I do agree with what everyone else is saying, Grady is a great ball-handler, but does make some poor decisions, and those missed lay-ups $#^@#!

AnthonyC

December 4th, 2008 at 1:52 PM ^

This season has been a ton of fun so far. Even though they should not be competitive with UCLA, Duke, and at Maryland, they are, and they look like they belong. The quality of coaching is astounding. Walk on PGs average 26 mins per game, and they are still very competitive!

bronxblue

December 4th, 2008 at 2:05 PM ^

Having Lucas-Perry start will certainly make this team better, but I still see the NIT as the ceiling for this team unless (a) the Big 10 plays out far differently than people initially expected - i.e. MSU and Purdue comes back to the pack, OSU/UM/Wiscy jump up, or (b) UM discovers some consistent inside play. Still, I like this team making the jump next year, especially with Harris, Sims, and Lucas-Perry. That's a 3-man setup to rival any in the conference.

MaizeSombrero

December 4th, 2008 at 2:28 PM ^

- While I think we all would like to see Grady replace Merritt, I just don't think he's very good. While Merritt doesn't score much, he doesn't screw up as much as Grady. Grady is poor at handling the ball and passing, two necessary skills for a point guard.

-And Anthony Wright didn't start for his high school because he played at Oak Hill. I think we were going for some sort of Matt Cassel approach here.

-And I concur, Ekpe's AAU coach is a wanger.

Wolverine in Texas

December 4th, 2008 at 3:29 PM ^

The funniest thing about Robert Traylor isn't the fact he got drafted... it's the fact that he got drafted by Dallas and then traded to the Bucks for Dirk Nowitzki straight up! Now that's just ridiculous.

I got to watch the game last night and I'm not real sure what happened in the second half, but I thought Manny Harris seemed frustrated on offense and I didn't see him moving without the ball with energy?

Michigan Arrogance

December 4th, 2008 at 3:35 PM ^

Grady has a better handle but his shot and his shot selection are terrible. he has to have the lowest scoring effeciency on the team.*

Merrit is a RS Sr (i think) who may not have a high ceiling, but doesn't make the offensive mistakes on the court that grady does.

* except for wright who is certainly a chucker. BUT, he has shown in the past to be a good shooter. his shot just isn't dropping now and yes, is making bad decisions with shot selection.

Chrisgocomment

December 4th, 2008 at 3:53 PM ^

Awesome Brian, perfectly said.

My brother and I purposely went to the bar to watch this team and I didn't question that decision for a minute. We went to the bar last year to watch them get hammered by some team I can't even recall...it was a tough decision then. Now, not so much.

Oh, and I mentioned that Stu looks a lot like Topher Grace's character in "That 70's Show"...but yeah, Spock hair is right on.

Erik_in_Dayton

December 4th, 2008 at 4:03 PM ^

I really enjoy watching this year's team. They have a system they believe in and they play together and with energy. Amaker's bunch generally played like five guys who had never met each other.

jmblue

December 4th, 2008 at 4:04 PM ^

Maurice Taylor actually was not on the 1998 team. He went pro the year before, despite turning in a total meh season as a junior (12 ppg, 6 rpg) and missing the tourney. Naturally, the Clippers were suckered into drafting him in the first round.

Bando Calrissian

December 4th, 2008 at 5:44 PM ^

Welcome to the Michigan Basketball Bandwagon, everybody. Those of us who have been puking over the side during the past decade of bumpy complete and utter disappointment welcome you.

The Man Down T…

December 4th, 2008 at 6:38 PM ^

I was happy with last years team too. Take an objective look at last years team and you have to conclude that the team was better at the end of the year than at the start. That is something that was missing badly from Amaker teams. They would start off decent, but never improve. So after going 9-3 in the non conference, they would go on the annual 10 game losing streak because the other teams were getting better and we weren't. Beilein's team improved all last year and they have continued that this year. They will be better at the end of this year too so the NCAA may not be as out of reach as people think. 10-8 in the Big 10 is in reach. We kept to within 15 of Duke. Only one other team has done that this year. They killed us by 30 last year. Coach B is a great coach and the exile from the NCAA's is ending soon.

Coloblue

December 4th, 2008 at 7:08 PM ^

I started watching Michigan basketball at Yost Fieldhouse. Yost Arena still seems new. No matter what we see this season, game by game, win or lose, we are watching a team being built, molded, taught, coached, encouraged and dignified (yeah, that's the word I meant to use) by the first coach we've had who does the whole job since either Dave Strack or ever.