April 3, 2013

Final Four *Giddy Laughter*

"I'm telling you, Uncle Phil. This is the year they prove their worth. Our coach finally has the right type of players for his offense, including an experienced junior center. They have a ridiculously talented group of freshmen who is going to put this team over the top. In this freshmen class we have: a sharpshooter with NBA-range; a point guard with poise, capable of running Coach's offense; a wide-bodied power forward who isn't afraid to throw his weight around; a 6-7 forward who is top 25 in his class, and a guard/forward who is ready to contribute and provide depth. They are ready for the next step." These were some boastful words from me to a man who is 1) a devout Spartan and 2) not my actual uncle, but rather a family friend.

"You know what there Kevbo, I'll believe it when I see it. Talk all you want, but when you visit East Lansing, you know my boys will put a whoopin' on your 'talented' freshmen," replied a cocky Uncle Phil.

He was right. All the confidence I had in this team was shattered after the alley-oop fest that was the Michigan-MSU game in East Lansing. It made me reevaluate the direction of this team. Were the freshmen as good as we thought, or were they just shell-shocked in an intimidating environment? Is this the right coach for this team? How do they recover?

That conversation between Uncle Phil and me took place in 1999, and those freshmen were Gavin Groninger, Jamal Crawford, Leland Anderson, LaVell Blanchard, and Kevin Gaines. The junior center: Josh Asselin. The coach: Brian Ellerbe.

Watch the highlights from that game. It still hurts, but it makes games like the ones from the past weekend that much more enjoyable:

Remember ESPN+?

There are many, many turrible memories of my Michigan Basketball fandom. This 114-63 squeeker sticks out because it tends to get posted on Facebook the day before UM and MSU play their first game each season. Watching that game, my rooting interests went from "try to win!" to "try not to get doubled up :-(" Michigan succeeded at the latter, scoring 63, but only losing by 51. Sweet, sweet, sweet victory.

Via UMGoBlog, (who will be shocked to see people clicking on that random page in 2013), Jamal Crawford left Michigan after his sandal-ridden freshman year. Kevin Gaines and Leland Anderson also left for different reasons. The former drove drunk and hit a woman; the latter wanted to be a wrassler. Brian Ellerbe was fired after the following season. Gavin Groniger finished his career a Wolverine, never living up to the hype, but still earning a University of Michigan degree. LaVell Blanchard started for four years at Michigan, leading the team in points and rebounds all 4 years. He also provided one of the positive memories from my youth, sparking a big comeback win over The Vampire and his Wisconsin Badgers in 2003. He still shows up now and then at the Intramural Sports Building on Hoover Street in Ann Arbor. He shoots/dribbles around in thick winter gloves to improve his ball-handling. Nice guy.


11 years later, this happened:


It's hard to deny that the program-changing moment for Michigan basketball came in the same building as that tightly-contested 2000 UM-MSU matchup. If Michigan wants to be considered a quality basketball program that is taken seriously on a national level, you have to start beating MSU. They are the cat's pajamas when it comes to basketball in this state. You can't just win at home every now and then to be considered great. You have to go into their house and take it from them.

"But Kevbo, MSU was unranked and rebuilding. How important of a win could that be?"

You listen here, you made-up question asked by nobody. UM was 1-6 in the Big Ten going into that game. They were coming off a disappointingly stupid season in 2009-2010 that was seen as a step back after their NCAA Tourney appearance in 2009. That win was the first of 8 in the span of 11 games. It propelled them to an 8 seed in the NCAA tournament where they almost took out the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils. That win in East Lansing has been well-documented as a program-changer.


This year, Michigan and its talented group of freshmen walked into the Breslin Center with swagger and walked out with sadness. MSU played a tremendous game and lead by over 30 at one point. The freshmen looked lost, and MSU was poised to reclaim status as unanimous top-dog in the state. The difference between the 2000 and 2013 teams is coaching and attitude. The 2000 team hit rock bottom, shattering into a million pieces and faded away to oblivion. The 2013 team's struggles didn't end in East Lansing. They gave Penn State their first win of the Big Ten season. A missed lay-up gave Indiana a 1-point win and coast UM back-to-back Big Ten Titles. They then lost to the Wisconsin under-cutters in the 2nd round of the Big Ten Tourney.

Like that that 2000 team, the 2013 team crashed into rock bottom. Luckily for them, they hit rock bottom with so much velocity they were able to bounce back to new heights. I was only 5 the last time Michigan made the Final Four, which doesn't technically exist anyway. So this is all new to me. Frankly, this is all new to John Beilein too. He's never been to a Final Four neither. I'm surprised he knew what to do with his hands while talking to an Easter Egg Craig Sager.

Shake and Bake



Why you talking about MSU, bro?
I start writing this piece in a moment of moderate frustration, need an escape from real life. I had already planned on writing it, but needing a break from reality, I opened my blog and got after it. I hadn't even stopped to breathe before I realize I had written close to 1000 words about MSU basketball. That was not the direction I had in mind when I began this post. I tried to justify what I had done, but it was just too obvious. MSU basketball was always ahead of UM basketball. No matter what Michigan did, MSU was way out in front. They have been the bane of UM's existence. In this moment, MSU is still the better program. That's not the question here. The question is: what does all this UM-MSU stuff mean, Basil? It means that we can stop looking at MSU as the Mario to our Luigi. They aren't the benchmark they used to be. We are out on our own now, and we can make our own place in today's NCAA hoops world. From here on out, we can just focus on the very good battles that these programs are sure to have for a few years.

Bad memories
MSU has had the majority of the bad memories of Michigan basketball past. But there are plenty of others that come to mind. Here are some of mine: Knowing A.J. Guyton would hit every transition three. Desperately hoping Joe Crispin, a 90% free throw shooter, misses both free throws in the Big Ten Tournament. That damn Evan Turner shot. Or John Gasser's. Or Ben Brust's, but that just happened. Watching a guy named Scoonie torch your defense. Courtney Sims's missed dunk. Watching Michigan lose to Utah on a very poor feed on my computer. Chris Moore having more fouls than minutes played. At least he looked like a big teddy bear! This Court Design. Chris Hill heaving a 3 pointer at the end of the shot clock to go up 4 (Damn. Another MSU memory, but that one sucked). Brian Cardinal. Having to refresh the gamecast and wonder frustratingly how/why they were losing to Minnesota. This song. Any moment Mike Gotfredson was on the court. Don't get me wrong. I respect the hell out of him. But that was an indication of how bad things had become. Also, the first time I drove to Ann Arbor, I passed by Gotfredson road, and it made me wonder if the two were intertwined... Anyone else have some specific bad memories that made the sweet sixteen that much sweeter (what a pun!).

Watching Kansas
I decided to watch this game in public. It's a bar/restaurant that was mostly full of people who were there to watch either the UM game or MSU game. I was watching quietly and composed. I could hear my girlfriend preparing to give me the "it's just a game speech" which, as you all know, only makes things worse. When Burke launched the game-tying 3, I jumped up so high that I almost kicked some old guy in the head. He was one of the few people there just to eat dinner. Sorry, old guy.

Watching Florida

Hop as in Easter Bunny; Slam as in UM-UF game;
Oh, and I had a celebratory Hopslam afterwards

-Where do we go from here?

Saturday: It's off the heezy for sheezy

I am not about to sit and dissect the 2-3 zone that Syracuse runs. That's not a 2-3 zone. There is a slide package from Hell in there that I cannot wrap my fragile little mind around. I don't even think Jim Boeheim understands it. UMHoops has looked at it a little bit. So has MGoBlog. Jim Beilein is a smart man (and a descendant of Matt Damon!). He'll figure it out.


So why did I write this? Only a handful of people will read it, and only a couple of those people will empathize with it. We have been blessed with 2 great years of Trey Burke. If we are lucky, we will be able to see 2 more games before he travels to the great, mythical NBA, where travelling is encouraged! I do not enjoy the NBA, but I will root for him from here on out.

There have been some true moments of awe in my 25 years of loving sports too much. 2011 Michigan-Notre Dame was one of them. The Kansas game was another. My jaw was dropped for a good half hour after the game. I expressed a smile similar to Phil Mickelson's as he walks up to the 18th green with a big lead. They say that every championship team needs to win a game like that on their road to the title. I'm hoping that was Michigan's game. Whatever happens, that Burke shot will live on the NCAA highlight reel for years. It exists. Forever. Yes.

They have a real shot of winning it all. Syracuse is a tough team defensively, but so were Ohio State, Michigan State, and Kansas. Louisville is playing at an extremely high level, and if Wichita State happens to beat them, they will have proven that they are a legit team that can beat anybody.

It's been a true joy watching this team. It's time to just sit back, and enjoy the weekend. Go Blue.

Sweet 16 Hype

Elite 8 Hype

Final Four Hype

Who will be standing at the end?

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