Michigan 54, Michigan State 64
Michigan, not unlike Jean Ralphio, is reminded
often of its crippling limitations
I find myself having one of two fairly simplistic responses to Michigan basketball games this season, a pair of responses that meld together to form a sort of yin and yang of Michigan basketball as we currently know it. The first, which occurs after Michigan wins, is some combination of WOOO and confident nod at the program's general direction, and, additionally, that there is even a direction at all to begin with. You could not say that about Michigan basketball about the gloomy, dilapidated Gothic castle that was the Ellerbe/Amaker years, a monolithic block of generally unguided strivings. On a similarly basic level, each win is an additional affirmation of the fact that progress is being made, that the team is showing signs of trending upward, and that John Beilein could probably coach a team of lawn gnomes to a respectable record. This hypothetical team would definitely beat Towson. We're in good hands.
On the other hand, when Michigan loses, well, they lose. They really, really lose. Each loss is like an autopsy: ah, so that was what killed him...we can know that because we've seen it before. In order to preempt the notion that I'm being overly critical: a) I'm not and b) I couldn't be happier with the way things are going on a macroscopic level c) John Beilein is an excellent coach/person to have as the leader, philosophically and ethically, of your program and d) that there are severe limitations hampering this team from making any substantial leaps forward (i.e. talent). Okay, enough with the letters.
The second response has been not quite resignation; rather, reasoned acceptance is the best way to put it. It is difficult enough to win on the road, but with the current makeup of this team, we will lose to teams like Michigan State and Ohio and even some lesser teams--like Arkansas--that are able to surgically pinpoint our major weaknesses via their own specific approach to the game of basketball. I realize that is a little bit of an unfair (and crude) point to make, as teams like MSU and Ohio are very good teams; most teams lose to them. That is why they are ranked so highly. With that said, after these sorts of games have ended, I've been fairly at ease. As fun as this season has been, we are not even close to being on the same level as these sorts of opponents. Perhaps that will change next year when talented reinforcements will bring skills sets that Ann Arbor hasn't seen in some time. I guess this is all a roundabout way of saying that the way the Spartans beat us was not at all surprising, and that I guess this isn't so negative after all since I'm not all that upset. If you can't tell, sometimes I devote many more words to a simple concept than are probably necessary; it's a personal flaw of mine.
Speaking of fundamental flaws...zooming down to a micro level re: the game itself, this was another classic cut and dry mapping of the Michigan basketball genome, its flaws laid bare and crystallized for easy incorporation into the overarching "story" of the season. Each of these losses provides a lucid snapshot of what this team constitutionally is, right now, in a manner that has provided and will continue to provide mostly unsurprising results (which is really, I suppose, why I'm not at all upset about this outcome for any reason other than the fact that we lost to a rival). In essence:
- Michigan State played ferocious defense that harkens back to the stonewalling Michigan was subjected to on the gridiron. It's easy to forget this in this sea of verbiage, but MSU played a pretty enormous role in us playing so poorly.
- When Michigan was able to get a decent look or two, they almost always missed. As much as I despise the generic and mostly useless compendium of sports cliches, guys like Evan Smotrycz and Tim Hardaway Jr. simply have no confidence. It is plainly obvious; Michigan cannot go far without at least one of these two using this moment in time as an inflection point to springboard their seasons back up to previously attained heights. On a team with any depth whatsoever, maybe you give THJ the Ben Gordon treatment (circa his time as a Bull) and bring him off the bench just to mix it up. Obviously, we cannot afford to do that.
- Michigan has nobody that can handle the ball with confidence other than Burke. We've known this all season, but these types of losses just turn it up to 11 in this respect. The definitive moment that you could point to as anecdotal evidence: Trey left the game at one point and Michigan almost immediately turned the ball over. It seemed as if Trey had literally just sat down before Beilein frustratedly turned to the bench to point at Trey to reinsert him into the game. At times, the whole situation sort of reminds me of the typical high school basketball roster, afforded only one player that can handle the ball with any efficacy and/or ability to not freak out.
- We got out-rebounded, as a team, by one player. I don't have the energy or desire to dig up the source of this fact, but I read somewhere on Twitter that this is only the third or 4th time this has happened in the Big Ten since the mid 90s.
- Speaking of the aforementioned one player, approximately 99% of my confidence going into this game was derived from the fact that Green would be out of commission or significantly hampered. Obviously, this was wrong. I'm not sure if the injury actually got that much better, if it wasn't as serious as it initially appeared, or if Draymond Green is simply the most ingeniously diabolical troll of all time. In any case, he fooled me. "Oh man my knee it hurts HAHA JUST KIDDING GUYS BOOM OUTREBOUNDED."
- Given that nobody really played well (and that I would rather forget about this game), player bullets probably won't be necessary. Nobody played well, it wasn't fun, and let's just move on. So it goes. There are many games left to win.