Scoreboard

Submitted by BiSB on March 12th, 2013 at 11:15 AM

"When you are winning a war almost everything that happens can be claimed to be right and wise."

~ Winston Churchill

Taketh Away

(h/t @willbrinson, @detnewsRodBeard)

Trey Burke works the ball up the court, and crosses mid-court with just under nine seconds left. Jordan Morgan sets a high screen on Oladipo, and in an instant the much ballyhooed pre-game narrative is wiped out of the picture. This will no longer be a symbolic battle for the Big Ten Player of the Year. Indiana's best defender is a bystander. Instead it is Cody Zeller on Burke 30 feet from the basket.

The screen

History may be written by the winners, but in sports the winners rarely read the history they write. For the victor, the simple fact of the victory can obscure whatever came before. The foibles and missteps were merely a part of the rich tapestry that was their inevitable triumph. It is the character-building fire that forges their mettle. It is for the loser, rather, to lament the components of their fate. Almost exactly a week before Jordan Morgan set his screen, Keith Appling was dribbling the ball up that same court, in a tie game, with the shot clock off, when Trey Burke stole the ball and turned the tables on all the percentages. And when a second Burke steal sealed the game, no one cared that Michigan had frittered away a ten point lead in the last four minutes, or that they had missed the front end of a one-and-one to give Michigan State one last chance. It was Sparty, rather, who spoke with the bitter tinge of "what if" of their blown opportunity to win on what should have been a final possession.

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Burke gains the corner on Zeller, but only by a bit. Yogi Ferrell starts to sag off of Stauskas, but thinks better of it. Ferrell knows full well that Burke is taking this one to the rack, but Stauskas is not to be left. Christian Watford is under no such restriction on the far side against Glenn Robinson III, and he helps down. Burke isn't going to leave this one in the hands of a jump shot from a freshman, no matter how talented that freshman may be. Zeller extends an impossibly long arm over Burke, who responds in kind with a fully extended flip of the ball. Jordan Morgan has reached the free throw line.

The shot

If you are anything like me, dear Michigan fan, then there is a part of you that is relieved that it got this far. The recent history of Michigan basketball is one of repeated crashes to reality. A first NCAA berth in a decade is followed by a 15-17 season. A first Big Ten title in centuries and a four-seed leads to an early exit against Ohio (YTO). So when Michigan came out of the gates this year as an unstoppable hell-beast, there remained a little voice in your head that urged caution. Like the slave used by Julius Caesar to ride on his chariot to remind him of his mortality, the little voice kept whispering in your ear, "they are not Gods. They are merely human." When Ben Brust hit a half-court heave and Michigan was run out of the Breslin Center and utterly collapsed in Happy Valley, those whispers became screams that could not be ignored. And when Michigan went down 10-3 early, there was a part of you that said, "please not this again."

[After the jump, not this again]

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Perhaps he would have had a better look if he had pulled up for the one-handed six foot floater he has been featuring lately. Maybe he was looking for contact, or maybe he thought Ferrell was going to continue to help and be in a position to block his shot. Or maybe he just figured these things must be decided at the rack, where men are men and where he is at his most All-American. Burke's shot hovers over the bucket, but hits the back of the iron and hops out. Jordan Morgan has completed his rim run in front of Oladipo, and Zeller's momentum has carried him out of the play. It's just Morgan and the ball and a moment of destiny. He takes a bump from Ferrell, but it falls squarely in "you can't call that there" territory. Having played too large a role to begin with, the referees are sitting this one out.

The board

But the Michigan team that showed up on Sunday was not the one that nearly lost to Penn State and then actually lost to Penn State. The team that showed up was the Michigan team that had won the Preseason NIT and disemboweled its early season schedule with brutal athleticism. Once again they had too MUCH energy. They were carrying play. They were playing DEFENSE. They were playing the #2 team in the country and looking like the better team. It doesn't erase the sub-.500 February or the Penn State loss that would have embarrassed lesser Michigan teams than this one. It doesn't answer all the questions about this team: the defense is still suspect, their shooters are streaky, free throws remain an unconvincing proposition, and they still might want to grab a defensive rebound every now and then. But for 40 minutes, they once again felt like those demigods who heard those whispers of mortality and responded, "WE ON."

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The ball hits of the square. And the front iron. And it begins to roll along the rim. For a full second, the ball offers no clues as to its intentions. A half-inch either way would be enough to provide some clarity, but the ball refuses to relent to the subconscious demands of the thousands looking on breathlessly. Perhaps a butterfly flapped its wings in Central Park, or perhaps quantum mechanics dictates that sometimes that ball has to fall away. Or perhaps shit happens. But for whatever reason, or for no reason whatsoever, it rolls off the rim.

The rock

Don't get me wrong; this sucked. It sucked on a number of levels. It sucks to lose a close game. It sucks to lose winnable games to good teams. It sucks to feel like you gave one away (because you gave one away). It sucks to feel slighted by the refs and fate and the general bloody-mindedness of the universe, but to have no recourse. To fall one point short of a second consecutive Big Ten title is almost by definition heartbreaking, and to do so in this fashion was simply cruelty for the sake of cruelty. An inch away from not having to watch Tom Crean stride around the court smiling and casting aspersions on Michigan assistants for sins long since forgotten. An inch away from a banner. An inch away from not letting down Michigan State and Ohio State... okay, so not everything about it sucked. But almost.

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The clock expires. Indiana celebrates. Michigan stands stunned, seemingly unable to contemplate the fickleness of what just happened. The crowd looks to court, the scoreboard, the clock, and back to the court. Those of us at home sit, mouth agape. It was unlike so many finishes with fouls and timeouts dragging the last 30 seconds out for 20 minutes. They had a lead, and then it was gone, and the game was over. Quickly. Finally. Mercilessly.

The aftermath

Some people also took it as a sign that this team can't close. After all, Trey Burke had a one-and-one with Michigan leading by one, and missed the front end. Winners close. Winners finish. Never mind the fact that Michigan nailed nine of ten free throws, most of them by Burke, in the last two minutes of its previous game to slam the door. Never mind the fact that Michigan had missed the same front end of a one-and-one against Michigan State in an identical situation, but were hailed for their gritty grit after the game because scoreboard. The winner doesn't need to look beyond the score. Quick, describe the first three quarters of the Under the Lights game. Describe the first 52 minutes of Braylonfest. [ed-S: There was Stanton and lots of spread 'n shred, and then suddenly there was no more Stanton]. Earlier this year Johnny Adams tried to say Michigan's win over MSU wasn't that impressive because Michigan didn't score a touchdown. And the universal response was, correctly, "scoreboard."

The temptation is to rely too much on wins and losses for purposes of predictive value (see: Notre Dame football, 2012). Michigan outplayed mighty Indiana for 40 minutes. They outscored mighty Indiana for 39 minutes and 46 seconds. And as that ball sat on the rim, you couldn't ask for a more pure coin-flip of an outcome. Did Michigan play that much better or worse of a game depending on what happened in those last nine seconds, let along whether a coin came up heads or tails? Trey Burke missing that free throw is a 21% event. Trey Burke stealing that ball from Keith Appling is, what, a 5% event?  Should Michigan feel that much different about the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA tournament because this time the long odds came in on the wrong horse? This was probably the best game Michigan has played in six weeks. It was easily their best defensive performance in recent memory. They had their foot on the throat of the giant after a sub-par game from their workhorse, and there aren't many teams out there with a throat as invulnerable as Indiana. And yet they could not finish. This felt like equal parts soul-crusher and springboard. There may be no moral victories, but surely a return to form that challenged the best means something for the coming weeks.

But perhaps I am being overly optimistic. After all, scoreboard.

Comments

a2_electricboogaloo

March 12th, 2013 at 11:33 AM ^

Definitely the right way to look at it.  

The loss was a blow emotionally, but I feel like some people making a huge deal out of it. It really wasn't.  It doesn't change the team.  We lost a game that we were a few millimeters from winning.  Because we lost guys like Lundardi are saying we're a three seed, but if we would have won the game we would have been in good shape for a 1 seed.  But that's asinine.  The difference between a 1 and 3 seed isn't a few millimeters.  The differences is the players on the court.  When push comes to shove, yes we had a rough month, but I still like our team, and  I think they still can go far.

M-Wolverine

March 12th, 2013 at 1:30 PM ^

Who cares?  There's a big difference between a 1 and 2 seed, but is there really that big a difference between a 1 and a 3 seed? You play a 14 seed instead of a 15, and you play a 6 instead of a 7 seed. If you were going to lose to a 6 seed, playing the 7 probably doesn't put you in the Final Four. The big drop is going from a 3 to a 4 or 5. I guess I'd rather be a 2 and get to play a 3 than vice versa, but either way you're going to have two really tough on paper games without upsets. So winning the conference tourney and getting a 1 would be great. If losing one of the first couple drops us from a 2 to a 3, I'm not really sweating it.

eth2

March 12th, 2013 at 11:36 AM ^

Imagine my surprise when I noticed after reading this more philosophical thought piece that it was not from the pen of Brian. Damn good read. Hats off to BiSB. Hope there is more where this came from.

CooperLily21

March 12th, 2013 at 11:47 AM ^

In all seriousness, I am so happy to see you contributing more than just intelligent and humerous comments on the Board.  You are clearly a talented writer - you consistently combine your great storytelling ability with wit and thought-provoking analysis and we are all the better for it.  I'm glad Brian recognized your talent and is giving you more and more play on the Front Page.  And I'm glad you are in a position career-wise to have the time.  The one thing I learned (the hard way) after school is that no amount of money can substitute for time to do things you love and its clear in your writing that you are doing something you love.  On behalf of all of us, please keep up the great work.

/wipes tear

/gags after re-reading the extreme SAP above

mGrowOld

March 12th, 2013 at 12:07 PM ^

Wow.  Recently there was a thread started lamenting the general state of the board and the front page specifically.  The consensus (which I shared BTW) was that Brian was a fantastic writer and it was his prose that drew most of his here and it was his prose that we looked most forward to reading.  And, whatever ails the blog might have, would be cured if only Brian would deem to write more frequently than he does today.

After reading this I believe we have a new sherrif in town.  Or at the very least someone who possesses comparable writing skills to Brian.  This piece recieved my "spine chill test" whereby something written is evaluated emotionally to see if I get chills when i read it.  And this piece passes that test with flying colors.

Thank you BiSB.  This is simply amazing.

mgobaran

March 12th, 2013 at 12:15 PM ^

Wow. Just wow.

Not only did you turn 9 seconds into more than 1,600 words, you left me wishing it was even longer! Great piece. Can't wait for more to come.

wile_e8

March 12th, 2013 at 12:20 PM ^

I think this post sort of gets down to the heart of why the KenPom rankings are generally more accurate at predictin the future than just looking at wins and losses. Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is just a handful of events of varying probability going one way or the other. How you win or lose matters more for predicting the future than whether those events went your way in certain games.

nmumike

March 12th, 2013 at 12:37 PM ^

your prose put a "heart getting ripped out of your body" experience and put some perspective to it. What I like to see is the ability to be funny, serious, intelligent and thoughtful, and your writing does that.

If you are seeking feedback, it looks as though most here agree that you are putting quality thoughts down on paper.

 

MikeCohodes

March 12th, 2013 at 12:39 PM ^

That was outstanding BiSB.  I didn't know you had that level of seriousness in you, I always thought of you as more funny than serious.  Major kudos to you sir, that was probably the best thing I've read on here in a long time. Seriously, well done.

turd ferguson

March 12th, 2013 at 12:45 PM ^

As I started reading this, I wondered whether I was up for reliving the end of that game. It turns out that's much easier when the writer makes you feel like he experienced and interpreted the thing exactly as you did.

Very well done.

kicknback1

March 12th, 2013 at 12:51 PM ^

I've seen the replay...well, far too many times now, but I'm interested in what may have happened with Ferrell on Jordan's tip attempt. 

It appears that he could have gotten his hand up on Morgan's hand as he had the ball and hit it just enough to put a little extra mustard on Morgan's attempt. As you know, the ball came off the glass to the front of the rim, where it teased the Wolverine faithful for a second or two, and then rolled off to a slow, painful death. 

It's also possible that Ferrell's hand never reached Jordan's and that Jordan just put it up with too much on it (as we've seen him do before).

As I've watched over the season, we don't do a very good job (Jordan and Mitch in particular) on tipped balls. Would have been nice if Jordan would have been able to catch that one and jam it in, as we've seen GRIII do on more than one occasion. Of course, they aren't the same type of player/athlete. 

Would like to see Jordan and Mitch go up stong with two hands, pull down the rebound and go back up with a strong jam. You're big guys..... play big, play strong. 

 

Ernis

March 12th, 2013 at 1:07 PM ^

When pain bites, bite back.

Great perspective sir. I would offer one more bit for the "things that didn't suck about this" column: The closeness of the loss, and the overall high quality of M's performance, as it pertains to ongoing performance.

Close losses like this offer some of the best motivation and teaching opportunities out there. Consider: The team played very well, better than their opponent in most respects, and still came up short. They set the bar high and still lost. They have learned --the hard way-- that the bar needs to be higher, that they need to perform better. This lesson being learned at the hands of such an able opponent, the view of how and where to improve performance is that much clearer. Finally, the visceral experience drives the lesson home like no other method can -- a hot spike driven into the forehead by Vulcan's hammer.

This may be an ideal outcome, relating to tournament performance. It is not only the victor who emerges from the fire forged into a stronger being. As with all things, though, it is not the fire itself but one's response to the heat that creates the outcome. Personally, I see too much drive in this team for them not to bite back, now, when the need is greatest.

nickb

March 12th, 2013 at 1:11 PM ^

it would not have mattered if Jordan's tip would have gone in. There was still time on the clock and we would have found a way to lose. This team is as talented as any in the country but does not have the heart to win when it matters. Coaching is the issue. Also, how can a basketball team in a championship game be out of time outs with two minutes left?

Very sad.

j_watters

March 12th, 2013 at 1:32 PM ^

A perspective that needed to be read, I appreciate the writing.

If I am Beilein today, getting the team ready for the B1G tournament and the NCAA, I preach the following:

We have experienced a loss on a stunning in and out offense possession

We have experienced a loss on a miracle buzzer beater

We have experienced a David/Goliath type loss

We have experienced a butt kicking

We have experienced a loss where we clearly outplayed another team and came up short

The point? All those emotions, experiences felt usually come as a surprise to teams in the tournament. Think about how many seasons end on something above. We know how all that feels and how to deal with it, heck we know how to avoid it!

I feel a big run coming on for our boys.

M-Wolverine

March 12th, 2013 at 1:37 PM ^

And any math guy want to do the odds of all three of them missing the free throws? It's not like McGary was fouled three times in a row.

But then all free throws are not equal.

jmblue

March 12th, 2013 at 2:59 PM ^

The annoying thing is that if Zeller would have been called for a charge instead of a travel on the play where he ran GRIII over a few minutes earlier in the game, then the foul that put Burke on the line would have been IU's 10th  of the game, giving Burke two free throws instead of a one-on-one.

Mannix

March 12th, 2013 at 2:27 PM ^

But before knowing who wrote it, I'd say close to Brian but distinct in its flavor. Still, I agree w the first poster. This blog is good for the front page alone.

Much Lamentation about content but when it arrives, darn good. All that's missing is a good crossword puzzle.

k.o.k.Law

March 12th, 2013 at 3:12 PM ^

It was not meant to be.

Woulda coulda shoulda.

If intentional foul called on GRIII dunk, he still might have missed, we could have turned it over, IU could have hit threes.

I am all in for UM, but, I would have left our guys on the lane for the last free throw.

Which does not mean we would have secured the rebound.

Per earlier Kansas fan post, this is the pain you get for loving your team.

I am proud of their performance; they left it all on the court.  That is all I can really ask.