A Town Orthogonal To Mudville Comment Count

Brian March 21st, 2011 at 1:17 PM

3/20/2011 – Michigan 71, Duke 73 – 21-14, 9-9 Big Ten, season over lastshotCHANTEL'SCOLUMN

Chantel Jennnings/Daily

This is the point where the author is obliged to disclaim any belief in moral victories, whatever that means.

Wikipedia's article on the concept is a poorly-written stub that goes right to the sports definition before making a couple of flaccid thrusts in the direction of applicability outside of sportswriting disclaimers. Those thrusts are getting crushed to death by rocks but keeping the land in the family, dying at the Alamo, or dying at Thermopylae and seem to indicate the anonymous author has never heard of a Pyrrhic victory. That last link goes to a much, much better article that indirectly confirms that "moral victory" has no currency amongst the sort of people—scientists, historians, television fans—that make for good wikipedia articles. Moral victories, and disclaiming them, appear to be the exclusive domain of people who have just watched their sport-ball team exceed expectations just enough to suffer an agonizing loss.

After disclaiming the moral victory, the author then explains why he feels better about the sport-ball team in question than he did before the sport-ball match in which his team was defeated agonizingly, which kind of seems like exactly what a moral victory is. This makes the disclaimer the equivalent of "I'm not a racist, but…": a lie meant to deflect criticism.

I hate the concept of moral victories and denounce anyone who accepts them. Truly, the only thing worth striving for is numerical superiority, and claiming mitigating factors when you have not achieved numerical superiority is indicative of a diseased mind and probably communism. Love it or leave it.

That said, we totally just beat Duke.

Not, like, you know, when it comes to numbers or anything, but definitely when it comes to not embodying class privilege and being able to parse sentences about Grant Hill's family. Also almost in the numbers. In fact, if Evan Smotrycz was allowed to exist within three feet of a Duke player on a basketball court, we totally won. I will see you all in the Moral Sweet Sixteen, where we will play Butler despite the fact they're in the actual Sweet Sixteen—that's how crazy that Butler game was.

John Beilein had Michigan sing the Victors after the Duke game. I renounce my renouncing of moral victories. We are moral national champs.


I think that last bit might actually be true: in an "exceeded expectations" tournament Michigan is a one-seed. A quick glance at the Sweet Sixteen reveals chalk, the occasional mid-major expected to be good in-conference that pulled out a couple wins at the right time, the eleventh Big East qualifier, Florida State, and a couple of powers bouncing off down years. The only competition comes from the two MWC teams, San Diego State and BYU, and Ohio State, and none of those teams were responding to a victory over a hated rival by saying "too bad this isn't likely to help score an NIT bid."

I've been searching for a Michigan equivalent and in my memory can only come up with the '97 national title team. Unless there was a basketball team that outdid this year's—unlikely—I think you have to go back to 1969 to pull another team that so wildly exceeded what was expected of them*.

vogrichSo no one's mad. No one's thinking about the other places in which the sun shines and the band plays and men laugh, because though Michigan's Casey struck out on a last-ditch floater no one expected to get anything out of this season other than yet another test of how much grim tolerance you can squeeze out of your pores.

We got much more than that: wins over Michigan State, a tourney bid, a grisly human sacrifice in the first round, and something that was most definitely not a moral victory in the second. We got an Aneurysm Of Leadership, a triple doubleDrunken Sailor Assault Basketball, epic Smotrycz wallpaper, a genocidal campaign against backboards, Zack Novak alternate universe posterization, "Get off my court," Tim Hardaway mouthpiece thousand words, Hardaway fighting Harris for efficiency supremacy in context (and eventually winning!), Hardaway engaging killswitch, Matt Vogrich elevating himself into a photoshoppable entity (right), Zack Novak fouling out on five attempts to take a charge, and possibly more muppets than the last three football seasons combined.

We got a season, even if numerical superiority was not acquired against Duke. Next year they threaten to create a program here. If people are naturally leery of an '09 repeat, remember this time around slackers will be bled on by Zack Novak.

*[There was probably a point at which a hockey observer went "whoah," but they were so few and far between then that I'm not even sure that counts. The other main candidate is the '06 football team but in the end they were just another Rose Bowl losing team, so I think that puts them in a second tier.]

Moral Bullets

The engoodening. How does it do? That question is worthy of a post, or a series of posts, but here's a paragraph or two off the cuff anyway.

Engoodening #1: getting Smotrycz most of his minutes at the four. This would be a combination of development from Smotrycz and Horford. This year the only thing worse than having 6'4" Zack Novak guarding enormous leaping machines like Trevor Mbakwe was having Smotrycz do it, so he ended up at the four and Michigan's defense had a hard cap on how good it could be. Michigan was above average in rebounding nationally but click that conference-only box on Kenpom and Michigan turns red and ends up eighth. They're worse (ninth) at defending two-pointers. Getting Horford significant minutes seems like it will improve both numbers since he's easily Michigan's most athletic big. Insert tallest midget joke here.

Engoodening #2: vicious competition at the guard spots. Adding Burke and Brundidge and getting another year of development from floppy-haired assassin Matt Vogrich will put Douglass's minutes under threat and give Michigan an option other than panic when Morris is on the bench. Though I'm not as down on Douglass as the rest of the internet—he consistently draws the other team's top perimeter scorer, though Michigan's propensity to switch screens makes this not quite as impressive as it would be on other teams—he's an obvious target for opposing teams playing pressure defense and very rarely does anything good happen when he attempts to create a shot. Either he'll get better or someone will take his minutes.

Other bits: Jordan Morgan becomes less of a foul machine, Hardaway shoots like he did over the latter half of the season, Darius Morris develops a corner three a-la Richard Hamilton, leaning a bit more on the bench—for perspective, Michigan is actually more starter-dependent(337th in bench minutes*) than they are young(335th)—makes the starters more effective.

*[This is impressively low in a pool of 345 but isn't good for last in the league. It's not even good for second-to-last: OSU and PSU are both lower. If Sullinger and Buford leave OSU could be in for an ugly year; Penn State is going to be atrocious.]

A rocket to Kenpom. If you're wondering what a 30-point bludgeoning and a two point loss at a "semi-away" venue against the #2 team in the country does to your computer rankings, it makes for an implausibly huge leap. Michigan is now #23 on Kenpom, up from 44th before the tournament IIRC. Tennessee lost ten spots in a single game-type substance.

That's still only good for fifth in the league (Purdue, Wisconsin, and OSU are all top ten and Illinois is 17th) but everyone in front of them is getting smashed by graduation and possibly early draft entry. It's still amazing that if you take every possession Michigan played this year, and adjust it for the strength of schedule only 22 teams would expect to do better.

His Old Kentucky Home. I hope this is the last thing I have to say about people who obviously didn't bother watching the Fab Five documentary, but I bet you a dollar Jim Nantz has done this at some point:

It must be awkward for Clark Kellogg to sit next to Nantz as he goes on his righteous crusade without having even the vaguest grasp of the facts. Nantz managed to indict four people who didn't do anything wrong in the eyes of the NCAA and repeat the canard that Rose said anything at all negative about Grant Hill's family, something Grant Hill, Michael Wilbon ("Calvin and Janet Hill were left hanging out there, depicted as anything other than the model parents that they are"), and now Nantz have asserted.

This is literally everything Rose said about Hill's family:

"I was jealous of Grant Hill. He came from a great black family. Congratulations. Your mom went to college and was roommates with Hillary Clinton. Your dad played in the NFL and was a very well-spoken and successful man. I was upset and bitter that my mom had to bust her hump for 20-plus years. I was bitter that I had a professional athlete that was my father that I didn't know. I resented that moreso than I resented him."

In the end this just confirms everything Jalen Rose thought as an 18-year-old—Hill is still the person the world accepts, and asshats like Jim Nantz can't see through the red mist to see that literally the only things Rose said about Hill's family were they were "great," mom went to college, and dad was "well-spoken and successful."

The charitable interpretation is that Nantz is too stupid to parse the above quote, but I don't think that's true.

Morris return reiteration. Just in case:

“Yep,” Morris said when he was asked if he was definitely returning next season.

This echoes what Morris said a week ago, when he said “yeah, I’m here man. I’m not going anywhere.”


Chantel Jennings in the Daily. Matt Vogrich had his car covered in post-its. He cleared off enough to see and left the rest there. Surprise! No one who was zero years old in 1993 wants to talk about the Fab Five. Stu Douglass epic throwdown vs Tennessee. Also more evidence that taking a picture of Tim Hardaway, Jr., is always a good idea:

(caption) Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. (10) and Tennessee's Trae Golden watch as Michigan's Stu Douglass (1) throws down a rare dunk for two of his 10 points. *** Michigan defeated Tennessee 75-45. The Wolverines outscored the Volunteers 42-16 in the second half to blow open a close game. Led by Zack Novak with 14 points, the Wolverines had five players score in double digits. *** The Michigan Wolverines take on the Tennessee  Volunteers in a second-round NCAA tournament game at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photos taken on Friday, March 18, 2011. ( John T. Greilick / The Detroit News )

John Beilein is a nice man according to UT fans. Also just go to UMHoops so I don't have to link a dozen posts, okay?



March 21st, 2011 at 1:38 PM ^

I posted this comment in the Daily: The Sound of Silence thread, but I think it's worth repeating....

It's easy to be saddened by the results of Saturday's game.  And an article like the Daily's contributes to the gray Monday morning skies that are as much a reality as they are a metaphor.  But in times like this, I like to think of the positives and choose, instead to be inspired by what was.  Yes, it was a heartbreaking defeat, but in the big picture, it was the end to a fantastic season, full of great memories.  A fanbase fell in love with the guts and determination of a bunch of young kids who were picked to be LAST in the Big 10. 

Sad?  Sure.  Disappointed?  Hell no. 

Thanks for an outstanding season Coach Belien and you young men of Michigan.


March 21st, 2011 at 1:47 PM ^

Victories shouldn't still hurt so much.

And #23, somewhere between 16 and 32...yeah, that sounds about right.

As for matching hockey teams, what about last year's hockey team? Maybe going into the season expectations were higher (though I don't know why; the team hasn't had an elite season in a long time, either), but by midyear they were in full crash and burn mode, came back at the end, in the CCHA, had a nice Tournament run that came crashing down in a painful loss to an out of State rival full of vinegar over the refs. Seems like how I feel today was pretty similar to how I felt then.

Oh, and Jim Nantz can get hit by a truck.


March 21st, 2011 at 1:47 PM ^

I believe in moral victories. They are generally defined as losses you expected and left you feeling better about the team than before the game.

I understand why athletes do not believe in them. They have to believe they are going to win all the games. I also understand that there are lots of internet tough guys that like to deny moral victories (I'm not putting Brain Cook in this category--his stance on moral victories is clearly unclear.)

I believe in moral victories because I like to be happy. For me, unlike the athlete, sports are entertainment.

I'm not talking trash to any Duke fans but neither would I expect them to me.

There will come a time, sooner rather than later, when Michigan fans will assume they will win all games again and there will be no moral victories. We may have even reached this point in football. Things will probably be better then but the stakes will also be higher--remember how that first loss of the football season crushes your world? Every season.  But at least, things will be normal again.

I decided Sunday that this is my mostest favoritest Michigan basketball team ever. Hows that for moral victory?


March 21st, 2011 at 1:46 PM ^

He makes it so easy to root for the basketball team, not that there aren't many at this point.

As for Jim Nantz, you shouldn't wade too deep into the waters he got into yesterday when you have a t-shirt that says, "Augusta National:  Not openly racist anymore!"

Pibby Scott

March 21st, 2011 at 1:46 PM ^

i am sad but i have my pride. i love this team. and all you crazy cats on this board. the depth of my feeling for humanity is maybe now inch deep. who knew?!


ps jim natz can eat it


pps kyle singler looks like a creature someone from the national geographic might describe as bioluminescent


pppps i hhhhhhhaaaate every kid at duke. i dont think i'm generalizing when i say they're all garbage.


March 21st, 2011 at 1:51 PM ^

People keep suggesting moving him to 2 or 3 but it won't happen and its a bad idea.

1.  Despite the hit we take in shot-blocking and rebounding (especially offensively), Novak is far more effective at 4.  Offensively, he's better pulling big guys away from the rim.  As a wing, he can't dribble around other wings and becomes just another spot-up shooter.  Defensively, he's excellent at boxing out, which allows other players to get rebounds.  This won't matter so much if he's trying to box-out another wing instead of a PF.  Furthermore, he's athletic but not real quick, and won't be great at guarding wings fulltime.  Bottomline: he's more effective at 4 than 3.  And really, same goes for Smotrycz as a 5 compared to a 4, at least offensively. It's a lot tougher to try to drive around a combo forward than a center.

2.  Horford should play more, but it should come at the expense of McLimans, Vogrich, Novak (who played too many minutes) not Douglass.  As mentioned, Douglass will already cede minutes to freshman guards, but he's the best perimeter defender and a floor-spacer.  He shouldn't be the backup PG because he doesn't have playmaking ability, but he should get the bulk of minutes as the 2-guard paired with Morris, who has it in spades.

3.  Consider the impact to Morris of a bigger lineup.  Think he has the same space to operate inside if Horford and Morgan are hanging around the lane instead of Douglass, Novak, Hardaway and Smotrycz spotting up?  Think he's as effective for as long without Douglass checking the opposing pointguard?  This teams best lineup will have Morris/Hardaway/Novak and Douglass in it, unless Horford becomes a real 3-point threat.

4. Smallball is a strategy from Bielien moreso than a weakness that will be addressed within the current roster.  Its a big part of why the team won. Yeah, sure it'd be nice to upgrade Morgan with JaJuan Johnson's shot-blocking and make Smotrycz into a 7 footer who rebounds like Nowitzki, but it's not going to happen. 



March 21st, 2011 at 1:54 PM ^

This team just lost by 2 to Duke, in North Carolina, with a decided disadvantage with the officials.  Why mess with success?  It's like Denard at WR:  sure it'd be nice, but he's better utilized where he is, even with the obvious sacrifices that come with it.


March 21st, 2011 at 6:02 PM ^

Why mess with success? Because success consisted of losing our second game in the Tournament, and the goal (and real success) is winning 5 more games. They did exceptionally well with what they have. But you don't win the Championship with 6'4" Power Forwards.


March 21st, 2011 at 3:50 PM ^

Besides inexperience, 2 of the biggest weaknesses of this team was size/rebounding (which got exploited yesterday) and other ball handlers beside Morris.  Whatever advantage going small gave you, they gave up way more in a size disadvantage than was gained by going small.   Proof was Novak not securing a rebound that led to Duke's last bucket.


Smotryz should start at the 4, move Novak to the 3 and Hardaway to the 2.  You would have a nice 4 man rotation with the bigs at the 4 and 5 spot, Christian can sub for Novak at the 3 or put Vogrich or Douglass in at the 2 and move Hardaway to sub at the 3 to give Novak a blow.  Then you have Burke to give Morris a blow.  The bigger loser of minutes is Douglass.  The guy might defend a little, but  he can not get his shot off, is an iffy ballhandler at best and makes little difference at either end.  Whatever Douglass brings you this year, by next year others will be to more than make up for that.


As for Beilein, his best teams at WV  had bigger guys to space the floor, not having to put 4 guards in the line up.  Also, with a bigger more athletic line up he can use the 1-3-1 more effective.  God love Novak, but they need a bigger line up on the floor next year.


March 21st, 2011 at 4:01 PM ^

Agree with you about rebounding, but that was only a major problem on the offensive end.  What we sacrificed there was made up for in other areas. (e.g., turnovers and 3-pointers).  Furthermore, are you really sure that rebounding would improve if Smotrycz was at the 4 instead of Novak?  I'm not so sure.  Novak is good at boxing out.

If you take Douglass minutes and replace him with some combo of Horford and Smotrycz, you lose in perimeter defense, outside shooting, passing, and turnovers and you take Novak away from what he does best.  That's a lot to give up for a team that wasn't actually that bad at defensive rebounding and probably won't be real good at shot-blocking regardless.

This team was better with Douglass on the floor and Novak at the 4 - that's unlikely to change next year.


March 21st, 2011 at 5:37 PM ^

this year.  However, things could be quite different next year with the addition of 2 or 3 quality freshmen and the hoped for developement of returning players.  If Horford, Smotrycz, Vogrich and others develope physically as well as improve the skill level, some position changes may well benefit the team.

Sgt. Wolverine

March 21st, 2011 at 1:55 PM ^

I'm excited about M basketball.

After the Ellerbe and Amaker eras, it's almost incomprehensible that I can finally make that statement.  John Beilein for Coach of the FOREVER.


March 21st, 2011 at 1:56 PM ^

" If Sullinger and Buford leave OSU could be in for an ugly year;"

Even without Sullinger and Buford, OSU will still finish in the top half of the Big Ten next year. Easily.

Unless he goes crazy the rest of the tournament, I suspect Buford would come back.  Haven't seen him higher than the 2nd round on any draft baords yet.


March 21st, 2011 at 6:24 PM ^

The other factor is that Sullinger's dad is a damn fine HS coach and probably wants his son to get more polish at the college level (or maybe even get his degree).  He is not going to be able to blow guys off the block in the NBA like he can in the college game.  He is already much better on the offensive side than any of the recent OSU big men (who have been complete and utter duds), but again, his size will not be an advantage at the next level.


March 21st, 2011 at 3:48 PM ^

OSU should be good next year regardless of who comes back, but they are losing some Seniors and you never know how a team will respond when leaders graduate. Plus, at some point the NCAA is going to look at the other coaches at OSU along with Tressel, and who knows what they may find. Not saying it will happen, but athletes trading memorabilia for tats doesn't strike me as uniquely football.


March 21st, 2011 at 2:00 PM ^

The feeling of knowing your team is moving on in the tournament is glorious! My Saturday was one of the best in a long time. We destroyed the Vols, and had a real shot at knocking off Duke. Now I'm just depressed. People tell me we are going to be good next year, but they said the same think after Blake Griffin knocked us out two years ago. There are no guarantees, and I felt like we had ligting in a bottle with this team.

It was not to be, and I am feeling no "moral vivtory" today...just sad that we did not win against the team that is the most fun to beat.

Blue boy johnson

March 21st, 2011 at 2:16 PM ^

I gotta say the 75-76 M hoopsters probably out did this years group in over achieving. I was a youngin' at the time and really don't remember what the expectations were, but getting to the national title game certainly wasn't an expectation. The far and away 2 best players on the team, weren't on the team in the previous season. Ricky Green was a juco transfer (from Vincennes CC) and Phil Hubbard was a true frosh. Plus the 75-76 team was smaller than this one.

About Vogrich, I don't see him taking any of Stu minutes, Vogrich isn't a guard. I will happily eat these words should Vogrich return next season with 2 guard skills.


March 21st, 2011 at 2:31 PM ^

i think brian is right.  vogrich has the better stroke and though he doesn't have stu's handle, burke probably has a better handle than stu and could take some of those minutes.  i think stu will be more of a 3 point specialist/defender next year, and those are his best skills.

Blue boy johnson

March 21st, 2011 at 2:55 PM ^

I will cede the point of Vogrich has a better stroke, still doesn't mean he is playing guard next season. Smot arguably has a better stroke than both but you won't see him at guard next year either. I don't see Vogrich's role changing much from what is what this year, basically backing up Hardaway at the 3


March 21st, 2011 at 2:16 PM ^

The team seemed to do a fantastic job bringing Morris back to his feet at the end of the game.  Back in the hotel, he was smiling like he always does with the team hanging out in the lounge area.  It was great to see.  These guys love each other and love Michigan.  I have no doubts that this team will avoid an 09-10 season--especially under the leadership of Darius, Zack, and Stu.

Blue In NC

March 21st, 2011 at 2:21 PM ^

I am a bit surprised that Brian does not mention the 98 hockey team as an overachiever.  They lost a ton of talent from the 97 team, made it into the tourney then won the whole thing.  Of course, maybe Michigan hockey has simply reached the level where it's nearly impossible to significantly overachieve.


March 21st, 2011 at 2:26 PM ^

Having lived the bulk of my post-college life in the Maryland suburbs, and having followed Maryland basketball because it was local, you really get to hate Duke.  Combine that with being a Michigan alum and I am having a hard time finding solace in moral victories.

I just wanted to beat Puke in the worst way yesterday. 

Brian, I know you are right - it was a moral victory, but it still hurts like a mofo to have lost that one yesterday.

The Rake

March 21st, 2011 at 2:28 PM ^

No, its still a loss, but mitigated by hope for the future.


Thank you for bringing oup Jim Nancy...holy goodness, I want to strangle that guy and put him in a sleeper hold. What a windbag who has no clue. I wanted t orip his head off the last 2 Michigan games he's done. (Note: If you recall he said ina previous game that Fab Five ruined the program for 20 years). What a total a-hole.

As for the program, hats off the Beiein, who ad mid season didnt have tons of support. He does have a clue after all, it appears. I hope it keeps getting better. Also, THJ is some fun to watch when he is scoring. His entusiasm is infectious. I truly hope that this team sticks together for the next few years. They have the potential to be a top 10 program each of the next few years.

Finally, this was a great season, blew away expectations, and I applaud D-Mo for taking the shot he took at the end. He took the best option available, though a dish to THJ for possible layin may have been there (although a big may have lurked for a block), a toss back to Novak for 3 might have been there, but thats a risk to take when you are going full steam and have a good look, and no, he damn well wasn't passing to Stu for 3, despite him being as open as any player could hamnly get. Douglass can't throw it in the ocean, save for the big one he hit at MSU, and I can't wait to see his minutes reduced hard next year.

Go blue.


March 21st, 2011 at 3:02 PM ^

I would rank this beyond the '97 football team in surprise seasons.  That was a senior-led Michigan team that had been competitive with everyone it played the year before.  We were underrated in large part because people weren't sold on Lloyd Carr as a coach.  

This basketball team's leading returning scorer was Zack Novak and it had literally no players taller than 6'4" with game experience entering the season.  It was about as obvious a candidate for the B10 cellar as you could find.


March 21st, 2011 at 3:08 PM ^

The end of the game was so strange with 30 seconds left , within 1 and I KNEW we we were gonna win. Then when we didn't win it sorta kinda felt like we didnt lose. I have never felt the pride for a team that has lost (well put Brian: numerically) a game before. Maybe somewhere in my subconcious I knew the moral victory was in the bag in that last minute of the game.

I've got to say, Brian's post today has to be my all-time favorite. You nailed it Brian- well done.

Blue in Seattle

March 21st, 2011 at 3:37 PM ^

Great post, I love reading this site when you are at your best.  And describing your fandom of Michigan sports in a irrational and articulate way is you at your best.

To me "moral victory" is where you resist the temptation to compromise your morals or ethics to gain the numerical advantage.  It is Bo's father refusing to get the answers to the fireman's exam like everyone else, and then honestly failing the exam.

I don't think Duke is immoral.  I still want that ball to go in the basket, I want Novak to not bounce that rebound out of bounds when they were up by only one.  There are several small events that could have gone the other way.

Of course I agree with you.  This loss sucks, because it's a loss.  But the growth and learning that occurred this season was moral, ethical and all around fun to watch.

Sports is cathartic because it's a celebration of life, both the joys and the suffering.  You can't have one without the other.  And Hope is the thing that moves you from the suffering to the chance for the next joy, despite the chance that it's still more suffering.

"This sport, coached correctly, can make a player a better person", paraphrased from Yost.


March 21st, 2011 at 3:49 PM ^

Great post Brian. This team doesn't even need moral victories - they have 21 real ones to hang their hats on, which are about 11 more than many expected.

The Actual El Guapo

March 21st, 2011 at 5:42 PM ^

He sprung into existence from 2 egg yolks, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of mustard, 1/8 teaspoon of sugar, pinch of cayanne pepper, 3 to 5 teaspoons of lemon juice or white wine vinegar and 1 1/2 cups of olive oil.


March 21st, 2011 at 6:54 PM ^

Just wanted to congratulate UM on a fine BB season.  I was pulling hard for you yesterday (as I do for all B1G teams, in every sport, in non-conference events).  Prior to the season, I expected the Wolverines to finish in a fight with Northwestern and State Penn for 7th place in the league.  You did much better than that, including a sweep of Sparty.  I figured you to play in the NIT, but you made the big dance.  I figured you to lose a heartbreaker (due to inexperience, largely) to Tennessee, but you put on a spectacular show in a blowout win.  I figured the world to crash around you against Duke, but it was yours to win at the end.  All this with no seniors.  The future certainly seems bright.  Just remember, however, that with next year, there are no excuses.  No reason for you not to be a top 10 team in the country, and a real contender for the league championship.  In the meantime, here's to OSU beating Wisky in the championship game!