Friday, February 15, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Michigan State

I've been a little negligent of late when it comes to linking my Maize n Brew stuff here, which is probably for the better given the recent stretch. Even Mr. Kurtz is all "man, that stunk," and he was the guy who said "the horror, the horror." So, you know things have gotten pretty real.

Oh well. Anyway, here's my post from yesterday, in which I talk about the Michigan State game and what it means (if anything) going forward:
No, all is not lost. These sorts of things happen, especially when you've been confronted with the schedule that Michigan has in the last 10 days. The good news is that the most difficult portion of the schedule is behind Michigan now. The recently completed 4-game stretch, without looking into this further, has to have been the toughest such stretch in the country thus far. To recap, Michigan: 1) lost a tough one at Indiana despite getting ambushed at the start 2) gritted out an OT victory against Ohio State at Crisler, aided largely by Tim Hardaway Jr.'s sharpshooting 3) lost in OT at the Kohl Center after a ridiculous Ben Brust shot to tie it and 4) got blown out at the Breslin Center to cap this mini-campaign through the Sahara-esque portion of the greater journey.
The only fun thing about writing that post was the title, which I'm still patting myself on the back for. Good job, me. On the bright side, Michigan should have an opportunity for a nice, cathartic blowout victory on Sunday, back in the friendly confines of the Crisler Center. If everything goes according to plan, it will be like a like nostalgic trip to the early portion of the conference schedule, when everything was great and Michigan was invincible and clearly never going to lose a game ever.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sentimental Education

If I can make it there/You know, I'm gonna make it just about anywhere

Youth is an inherent facet of the college game. It is rare to find a team with a starting lineup stocked with upperclassmen; when such teams are to be found, they are typically either a mid-major or not very good. 

It doesn't seem all that long ago that Michigan was busy dominating all comers in Manhattan and declaring themselves kings of Brooklyn for a night. In between passive-aggressive glances and cigarette drags, area hipsters spoke in hushed tones of Spike Albrecht and his underappreciated work "Four Minutes, Goodbye Appalachia." Those were simpler, rawer times, before all this corporatized, uptight Big Ten stuff. 

In a sense, that is what a nonconference schedule is: a formless sea of conflicting interpretations built on an untenable framework of nothing, by and against nobody you've ever heard of, not unlike an indie album. The Big Ten, on the other hand, is an ordered symphony, at times crashing, at times serene, but thematically consistent and often linear in form if not in plot. If not linear, then its general direction is typically clear: forward, like natural selection adapted to the hardwood. 

That's not to say that the former can't be nice; the non-conference schedule surely was just that. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Michigan's cavalry of steely-eyed freshmen led Michigan to an unbeaten mark and, more importantly, the promise of something beyond what many of us --myself included-- had ever had the fortune of witnessing on the hardwood. 

Michigan has taken trips to Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio State and Indiana thus far (Northwestern too, I guess--#B1GCats!), all problematic places to play, and has come away with decidedly mixed results in a season that has otherwise been historic in every way. I don't mean to dismiss everything else to date, but wins against some of those teams aren't worth writing home about vis-a-vis any sort of Big Picture, which may not even exist in the world of college basketball in terms of results. In the span of 40 minutes in March, the Big Picture can become just another mundane piece in the colossal jigsaw puzzle that is your average college basketball season. 

Although I have realized over the past year or two that the losses don't really hit me like they used to, there was still a lingering bitterness Sunday. Perhaps it was the lofty No. 1 ranking, perhaps it was the opportunity to grab Michigan's biggest regular season win in some time, perhaps it was the chance to do so against a superb Indiana team, in that hall of mirrors in Bloomington no less, where every corner reveals a distorted and bizarre view of the very self you thought you knew before entering. 

It should be noted that the season promises to be a great one, and that the end is not near. Michigan will win many more games, and I think it is safe to assume that at least a few of those games will take place in some probably sparsely attended venues in March. 

Other than Michigan's occasional tendency to devolve into an NBA-style heroball game (which, to be honest, I'm not necessarily against despite its inefficiency), perhaps it was the mortality of two of Michigan's youth-belying freshmen, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas. Oddly, Mitch "CRUNK" McGary, he of the frenetic game and spontaneous shrug-inducing bursts of "Did I do that?" strength, has been the most consistent of the three insofar as his particular game is concerned. 

Again, this shouldn't be construed as me sounding the alarm, pushing the panic button, or whatever such phrase you may prefer. Rather, it's part of an overall narrative that is obvious but was somewhat buried by Michigan's pristine start. 

Like the divine right kings of old, it's hard to conceptualize your fallibility when you're strolling down Atlantic Avenue with a crown on your head and asphalt covered in rose petals in your wake. 

It's even harder to imagine when placed in the context of Michigan basketball as a whole. The moment has finally come, the resurgence, the return, and how could it be but linear and unstinting? Unfortunately, that is not and will not be the order of things, for college basketball, like football, subsists on chaos, pointed statistical variances and home crowds seemingly unleashed from the bowels of Hell. 

Robinson III, he of the No. 1 ORtg in the Big Ten, looked like just another athlete on Saturday. Of course, it's not exactly hard to understand why. Indiana is very good, Assembly Hall is a place so fearsome that you can momentarily forget your own name amid the din and, most importantly, GRIII is just a freshman. The high-flying 360 dunks would seem to defy the laws of space and time, but one cannot outjump youth. 

Similarly, Nik Stauskas (NJAS), he of the Big Ten's No. 6 ORtg, is even more prone to bouts of freshmanitis, given his perimeter-oriented game. After all, the rims do get smaller on the road, and I won't wait for scientific inquiry to prove this fact. On Saturday, our favorite Mississaugan went just 3/10 from the field and 1/5 from beyond the arc. That will happen. 

Even Trey Burke, the heart and soul through which this team draws its every breath, is a mere true sophomore. For all his brilliance, we would do well to remember that he is still very much learning what he can and cannot do, what he should and shouldn't do. 

With trips to Michigan State and Wisconsin still on the docket --in addition to home dates against Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana-- there is still room within the amorphous bubble that is college basketball to explore. College basketball is like writing; you don't always get it right, and it is often glaringly so when that is the case. 

On the bright side, it can be a self-correcting mechanism in this way. Unlike seasons gone by, it isn't as if Michigan failed at OSU and IU and didn't have the means to answer back, or, pre-Beilein, didn't know how to. In both games, Michigan rallied back and even had the chance to win despite stretches of frazzled play. Now, Michigan has the pieces to beat anyone, but the challengers are numerous and the divine right that seemed a mandate within the boundaries of the five boroughs has become far from unassailable, if it ever was that to begin with. 

Ohio State. Wisconsin. Michigan State. On a practical level, this upcoming stretch will help to determine Michigan's tournament seeding (Big Ten and Big Dance) and the level of assistance it might need to bring home another regular season conference title, preferably unshared. 

Thematically, there is much more at stake, for Michigan's freshmen and non-freshmen. The next three games will begin to reveal just how far-reaching this sentimental education can be, for the players and fans alike. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Game No. 46 Recap, Bulls-Nets: Gravy, No Gravy

Brooklyn Nets game at Barclays Center
SOURCE: karlnorling

It's been a while since I wrote something here. I wish I had more time to do so, but oh well. 

Bulls 89 (28-18), Nets 93 (28-19)

Anyway, since my last post, a lot of things have happened. The Bulls went 8-3 after that last win on Jan.11 against the Knicks. Luol Deng and Marco Belinelli hit tremendous game-winners against Toronto and Boston, respectively. Jimmy Butler started a bunch of games (plus tonight's) and basically turned into Michael Jordan. I never exaggerate. Thibs's Bulls have also been playing some stifling defense, holding opponents to under 90 in their last seven outings. 

Now that you're all caught up, let's talk about tonight. The Bulls were without the services of Kirk Hinrich, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah due to various injury issues. This necessiated a starting lineup of: Nate-Rip--Gibson-Deng-Mohammed. Although the Nets had cooled off of late, it was a bit much to ask for a win with such a de-clawed (de-horned, I suppose) lineup. 

The Bulls had a rough go of it early on, struggling to get much of anything done on the offensive end. Nazr Mohammed contributed four points during his first shift, i.e. more than quadruple season average. Chicago went down 18-8 at the 3:40 mark of the first quarter, but a Deng layup and a pair of Deng free throws (after yet another masterful rebound plus pass from Jimmy Butler) cut the lead to six. 

The Bulls were clearly trying to gain their bearings offensively; on D, they were doing just fine until the last two minutes. A Gerald Wallace layup late in the first, where he turned the corner on a pick with Deng unable to impede his progress and a couple nice plays from MarShon Brooks extended the lead back to 12. 

Otherwise, it was your standard, lukewarm NBA first quarter. This being the NBA, it was back to a two-point game by the 5:00 mark of the second, with the Bulls down just 31-33 after a Gibson thunderdunk.

Neither team was shooting particularly well at all, but 9-9 from the line for the Bulls --compared to 2-6 for Brooklyn-- helped mitigate that a little bit. It was shaping up to be a game with a final score resembling the matchup on Dec. 15: low-scoring and kind of ugly.

The Bulls took the lead after some classic NBA "ball movement" around the perimeter, concluding with a Deng corner three. Additionally, Deron Williams limped off the floor after landing funny on Brooklyn's previous offensive possession.

Despite not covering themselves in glory early, the Bulls rallied back and competed, as they always do on the road.

Halftime Stats (Bulls 42, Nets 41) 
Bulls PPP:  0.94
  • Deng: 4-11, 13 pts, 3 rebounds
  • Gibson: 4-9, 8 pts, 2 blocks
  • Belinelli: 2-3, 9 pts, 4 assists
Nets: PPP:  0.99
  • Lopez: 5-10, 11 pts 
  • Evans: 4-5, 5 rebounds, 8 pts 
  • Williams: 3-7, 7 pts