Friday, March 23, 2018

Michigan 99, Texas A&M 72: Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening

When Michigan raced out to a 9-4 lead, things seemed different — but it was still early.

When that lead ballooned to 27-10, the corners of mouths lifted slowly, buoyed by cautious optimism.

When the Wolverines led 52-28 at the half — oh yeah, that's a paddlin'.

There are almost too many great moments to call out from this game — above all else, the sheer ferocity with which it happened was remarkable.

For a team that is supposedly not a vintage sharpshooting, defense-somewhat-optional Beilein outfit, this one has now on several occasions brandished a palette of ominous hues to paint grandiose pictures of woe and despair. These images were splashed onto canvases left behind at Maryland and Penn State, in New York City, and, now, in Los Angeles, as tokens of great feats, like a contemporary basketball Bayeux tapestry.

One shot falls, then another, then the other team loses its mind in an apocalyptic din, Michigan defenders swatting and swarming and racing. Another shot falls, then another, and in the cruelest zero-sum game, air is duly siphoned from opponents' lungs and deposited into Michigan's own — a physiological transfer of metaphysical wealth.

ESPN shot chart says it all. Michigan picked apart the zone, rained in threes and TAMU failed to respond from beyond the arc.

The opponent is quickly left gasping for air. West Virginia has its press; Michigan has its ability to execute (and now, get in your shirt on defense, whether in transition or the half court). Seven different Wolverines hit a three in the first half; it's not just one guy. 

From the outset, Michigan had no intention on purveying any such air. When you've got a monopoly, it's a brutal supply-demand market for a buyer. The rest of the way, Texas A&M had to give everything it had, living every moment on a knife's edge — comebacks are tiring and costly. That's why they're so remarkable when they happen; so many can chip away and get close, even pulling ahead for a time (for example, Kentucky led Kansas State by one point after trailing for a long time). 

Comebacks are costly, which is in part why so many can look so promising before ultimately dissipating.

The Aggies, however, never had a chance. 

Their version of a comeback journey saw them cut the deficit to 18 points, but that was with just over six minutes remaining. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman hit a triple on the ensuing possession, and Charles Matthews, the best iteration of Charles Matthews (8-for-11, 18 points, 5 rebounds), added a jumper to push the lead back up to 23. 

Did Jordan Poole's buzzer-beating shot against Houston create a break in space and time, granting the Wolverines supernatural powers of precision, speed and strength in the process? Probably not, but there has to be some explanation for how the Wolverines were able to look like a bottom-of-the-barrel offense for two games only to then put up 1.41 points per possession tonight at the Staples Center. 

On defense, Zavier Simpson tallied six steals, two more than the entire Aggies team. Calling Simpson a defensive pest doesn't do him justice; he is a walking harbinger of doom. A&M freshman guard TJ Starks, who will probably be a pretty good player when all is said and done (and was thrust into a much bigger role than he was probably ready for this year) struggled to the tune of 2-for-11 shooting and as many turnovers as points (5). 

It's hard to play when you can't breathe, when mistakes mount up faster than successes and a mulligan is only an option on the golf course when the season is over. 


Had Michigan lost against Houston, there's no doubt it would have been a disappointment. Michigan had surged to a conference tournament title and a No. 3 seed — by definition, anything less than a Sweet 16 would have been disappointment. Such is the way of expectations, which rise and fall with performance. 

Even so, it would have been a disappointment that could have been overcome. Michigan had a great season and with the next class of recruits, the future is exceedingly bright. 

But Poole's miracle shot stopped all of that talk, as he buried one at the buzzer before juking Michigan teammates like Denard Robinson on his fumbled-snap touchdown against Western Michigan. 

It's on to the Elite 8, where the Wolverines will face yet another team fresh off of an upset in Florida State. Michigan will be expected to win, and justifiably so. 

If this tournament has proven anything, though, it's that expectations can be shattered in the span of a 40-minute game. But if this Michigan shows up again Saturday night, it's hard to see this team not making it to San Antonio. 

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