Friday, March 31, 2006

Half Empty or Half Full?


The Season in a Nutshell
(Courtesy Steve Perez Detroit News)

Michigan 64 South Carolina 76

And so ends another Michigan Basketball season.

I’m really not sure if I should be happy or disappointed. I guess I’m a little of both.

On one hand I’m happy the season’s over with. No more “we shoulda made the tournament”. No more whining about injuries. No more watching Michigan fold against decent teams. No more Courtney Sims, at least for a summer. No more of the season from Hell. The season of infinite injuries, inexplicable losses, and diminished expectations is finally over.

On the other hand I’m still a tad disappointed about the outcome. After Michigan’s four-o run through the NIT, I really expected a better game out of them. I’m a little sad or disappointed for the following reasons:

1. The season is actually over. In covering the team during the latter half of the season, I really began to re-appreciate the beauty of the college game. While that may sound cliché, I actually mean it. I really enjoyed watching college basketball for the first time in years because of this Michigan team. It was fun to live and die by a Horton three or a Hunter dunk. Because I hadn’t done it in so long, I almost forgot how to feel when I watched Michigan play basketball. Though I was exasperated during Michigan’s prolonged slump towards the end of the regular season, their NIT run rejuvenated me. It was so much fun to watch when they played well. And now that’s over, and that’s disappointing.

2. Daniel Horton, Graham Brown, and Chris Hunter are graduating. Thought they’re all leaving, focus on the last word in that sentence. Graduating. How cool is it that three of our best players actually stuck around Ann Arbor long enough to earn a degree, instead of playing for the Knicks. Not to pipe the horn of self indulgence, but a Michigan degree is a big accomplishment. When your players graduate before moving on, it’s a big deal. Daniel Horton will play at the next level, so at least we’ll get to see him play and remember his 39 point effort against Illinois every time he comes off the bench. (Thanks Dan. Photo courtesy Steve Perez Detroit News). Chris Hunter has a shot of making an NBA team. A long one, but at worst he can make a living overseas playing ball. Graham Brown, the gigantic white boy with the oxymoronic name will be doing something else for a living. The only person in that trio we’re likely to see again is Horton. These guys guided Michigan Basketball through some of its darkest hours without a complaint and with pride. Now they’re leaving. And that makes me a little sad.

3. The game itself was very disappointing. Michigan was never really in the game. They never led and the closest they got was 3 points in the first half. Nothing worked. While yesterday I said Tommy had made some good decisions down the stretch run to get Michigan to the finals, last night he reverted to his Minnesota/Indiana/Ohio State game plans. How you don’t force the ball into Courtney Sims in that game is a mystery to me. He finally has a decent game and you completely go away from him. Yes I’m aware S. Carolina has a very talented and athletic frontcourt, but you have to at least try to feed the hot hand. Sims was hot on Tuesday. You have to give him a chance to do it again. Instead, even though he collected only one foul, Sims only saw 19 minutes of action. Next, when you’re down 12 with 11 minutes to go, a zone defense? Are you kidding me? It was completely predictable. Every game for the last eight games, at some random time in the Second Half Amaker will switch to a zone defense for no reason. Tommy. Listen to me. When you’re losing, you need the ball back. You don’t give the other team 30 seconds of pressure free basketball to run out the clock with. One word: Dumb.

4. Michigan’s game plan was a mystery to me. Every time there was actual ball movement they got points. Too often Hunter would try to do it all himself. Too often the guards would lift up a bad, covered outside shot. Too often no one was there to fight for a rebound. What surprised me most was that S. Carolina wanted that game more. Based on their wins against quality opponents (cough…FLORIDA…cough), even with 15 losses, they felt they should’ve been in the NCAA tournament. So they used Michigan to prove it. They were faster to every lose ball and quicker around the baseline. Their spacing on the floor was excellent and the passing was crisp. I was disappointed Michigan could not match that.

5. The Refs sucked. The “blocked” three pointer? How in God’s name they missed that I can't explain. The ball was practically in the cylinder. Unless Petra Nemcova is taking her top off at center court there is no excuse for missing that call. On the plus, side Tommy Amaker got pissed, for once. He then receded into his cocoon of apathy following his outburst. Most of Michigan’s foul calls were questionable, the third on Abram at the start of the Second Half was a joke. We still wouldn’t have won, but at least it would’ve been closer.

The game really encapsulated everything we liked and disliked about Michigan this season.

1. These guys were athletic. Brent Petway’s hops are beyond description. However they can get a tad bit ridiculous. Exhibit A: the missed Horton/Petway alley oop that that killed three people in the first row when Petway mishandled the ball in mid air. Even though I was annoyed he’d missed the dunk, it was funny listening to the color guys talk about how the dude in the front row now had “Spaulding” permanently emblazoned on his forehead. The worst was when he broke through half the S. Carolina defense for a dunk and almost ripped his own arm off on the rim. If he had I’m sure he would’ve used it to bludgeon Ronaldo Balkman with it.

2. They weren’t athletic enough. S. Carolina was A LOT quicker than Michigan. Their guards were faster than ours and they had some fast hands. Coming away with 10 steals in a championship game is impressive, even if it is the NIT. S. Carolina’s big men were also a lot more physical and athletic than ours. Balkman alone destroyed us. Michigan does not have the beef or the skill to compete with teams that have a true big man. Ohio State/Michigan State/S. Carolina/etc. Hunter was a good forward. Somewhere in between power and small forward. But he and Graham Brown, even with all of his elbows, didn’t have the ability all year to match up with a big man who possessed both of their skills.

3. There is some talent on this team. Horton goes without saying. Dion Harris’ shooting slump is more of a mirage than anything. Hopefully with a summer to recuperate he’ll rediscover his shot. Remember he was shooting in the high 40’s before his ankle injury. For Brent Petway, see above. Despite the fact Sims was barely used in this game when he did get the ball he was aggressive. His lone shot in the second half came off a very good post move and an aggressive spin to the rim. While the shot was a little too hard to go in he did the right things. He actually wanted to succeed when given the opportunity. That’s a good sign. Lester Abram, when not injured or in foul trouble, is a damn good player. When he was actually on the court I thought he played okay. But its hard to find a rhythm when you only play for 17 minutes. It’s a solid core.

4. There’s not enough talent on this team. Horton, basically our entire offense, is gone. When he scores below twenty, we usually lose. No one coming back has the talent to take this team on its shoulders. While all the guys above are good players, there isn’t a superstar, or for that matter even a gas giant that might become a star. If Tommy can ink Patrick Beverly we may be in business. That’s a big if.

5. Coaching. Coaching. Coaching. Ugh. This was not one of Tommy’s better games. True to form, when the game is (moderately) important he collapses. I thought it was pretty funny when Dave Odom, S. Carolina’s coach, said that after watching 30 minutes of Michigan film it was pretty obvious what they were trying to do. 30 minutes to Michigan. That’s pretty sad. If you can’t throw a single new look at a team in a playoff game, that’s bad news. The zone defense, the lack of set plays, the lack of execution, the inability to teach anyone other than Graham Brown how to rebound, not good. But whether we like it or not, Tommy’s here to stay. If you get a chance, write him a letter asking him to go to coaching clinics or rebounding seminars. Please. I begging you.

Still. All really is well in my mind now that the season is over. It was fun. It was exciting at times. Others it was maddeningly frustrating. But, for the first time in years, I actually cared about Michigan basketball. That makes it all worth it.

More Break Down:

Man That's One Smooth Malt Liquor: Best Headline Ever. On top of that, the Free Press has a great break down of the game and season. Spoiler: lots and lots of sarcasm.

Huh? The Detriot News says the Wolverines couldn't match Amaker's intensity. Really? They looked asleep to me. The News also says with all of Michigan's returning talent they should make the NCAA's next year. They also caveat that with the recruiting of Patrick Beverly. Dick Vitale is also mentioned giving his usual handjob to any former Duke assistant.

"See You Next Time Around": Nathan Fenno of the Ann Arbor News has a write up on the game as well. In it he comes to the right conclusion, this is not how this season should've ended. Not in the NIT, but in general. All I can say is that hopefully the security guard quoted is wrong.

Nice Piece on Horton: Jim Carty of the Ann Arbor news says farwell to Daniel Horton. In addition, Horton was named to All NIT Tournament Team.

Johnny Was There: RBUAS will be doing a round up on the game based on his experience. Here's a brief glimpse of what's coming up.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Play It Again, Dan...

Tonight's NIT Final is Horton, Hunter and Brown's Last Game

If you haven't seen Casablanca, stop reading now.

Seriously. Stop.

But if you have, bear with me. As the movie ends Rick and Capt. Renault walk off the runway toward an uncertain future. Neither of them got what they wanted. All they are left with is a path off the runway that neither man would have chosen in a million years. Yet, as they walk away they are smiling, joking and remarking about how this miserable little experience has made them friends.

So go our three intrepid seniors. All three of them are in a situation none of them would've expected. After four hard years, oodles of promise, and staggering disappointment, they find themselves walking away from Michigan never having played in a NCAA tournament game. Like Rick, they were supposed to have gotten what they wanted. They were supposed to get the girl or get into the tourney. But they didn't.

The chronicle of Rick Blaine's life seems to mirror our season. Filled with promise in the beginning. Then the Panzer's roll in, everybody gets hurt, then depression, sadness and failure fill the middle part of the story. The ending however, is a story of redemption. Our hero(s) are redeemed not just to those who care about them, but to themselves. There is a form of self redemption and forgiveness for failures in the past that occurs in that last scene where Rick puts her on a plane and where Michigan plays that last game.

So. Here we are. Hours before tip off in what has become a post season of redemption for this basketball team. While winning an NIT championship will not erase the disappointment we all feel at missing the NCAA tournament, it will soften it a tad. Something has changed inside this team for the better. While the Seniors have been themselves, other people have begun to reemerge from the shadows.

Chiefly, their coach Tommy Amaker. Tommy is still on my "must go" list for his inept handling of the last 10 games of the season. During that time he sat on his hands when we needed adjustments, made horrible defensive decisions, and generally drove us all nuts with his "nice guy" attitude when it was obvious the team needed a kick in the pants. I will say this for him though. The last few games have been well coached. While I realize they involve, UTEP, Miami, and Old Dominion, Tommy has called appropriate defenses and stymied runs with proper time outs when necessary. These are things he DID NOT DO all year. In addition, he has actually shown some emotion on the sidelines. He has not been his usual robotic self on the bench. He's been yelling, screaming, pleading with officials and doing a little (just a little) barking at players for dumb decisions. This could be a Tommy I could get behind.

It will have to be a Tommy I can get behind. Billy Martin has repeated said that he is a "Amaker fan" and that Tommy's job is secure. In fact, Martin has gone so far as to say he likes the direction the program is taking. In today's Detroit News, Jim Spadafore interviews Martin and reports that Martin is very happy with Amaker. One of the things that caught my attention was Martins reference to developing enthusiasm. While this seems like an innocuous comment, in reality it is not. The indirect assertion that it took Amaker five years to show enthusiasm about coaching at Michigan and five years to get his players excited about playing is a damning statement. But, of course, this is out of context. I will play devil's advocate and assert that Martin meant Amaker is finally figuring out what it takes to win at a Big Ten powerhouse.

Coaching at Seaton Hall allowed Amaker to lie in the weeds. He could stay quiet and bring in a focused group of overacheivers to play ball and surprise people. This is not the case at Michigan. Every time you hit the floor you wear a bullseye. Perhaps this newly developed enthusiasm is the result of Tommy realizing he has to be a much more active coach to win in the Big Ten. Maybe he now realizes he is the Big Bear in the woods rather than a snake waiting in the grass. If Tommy's realized he is now the Big Dog and not the underdog, its a good thing. We'll see what transpires tonight and over the summer.

For our seniors, this is it. Daniel Horton, Graham Brown, and Chris Hunter. They're playing their last game. So with that in mind, tonight I'm gonna turn on the tube. Put on my old raggety Michigan sweatshirt (Champion reverse double weave), pop a beer, and plop down on my couch to watch them play. I'll yell at the TV. I'll feel disappointment if we lose. But we'll still feel some modicrum of pride if we win. It may not be the path we would've chosen, but we'll all cheer for them just the same.

In our hearts, we'll all ask them to play the same sweet tune they've played the last three games. Make us experience the Michigan basketball we want to remember one last time before we all go our separate ways.

In Casablanca, Rick and Capt. Renault didn't get what they wanted. Neither did this group of seniors. But Rick and Renault walked away happy.

Hopefully, so can Horton, Hunter and Brown.

Game Previews:

Johnnys at the Game. Lucky bastard.

The Detroit news has a bundle of stuff to check out. In addition to the Billy Martin interview, there is a game day preview and a matchup section. Good stuff.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Life Above the Rim

Michigan 66 Old Dominion 43

It was bound to happen. I told you it would. Courtney Sims would explode and give us all false hope for the coming year. Well. Last night it happened. Sims became SIMS for an evening, leading Michigan with 18 points, 8 rebounds, and two blocks. SIMS dominated, Michigan won. Whether this is a permanent transformation or not won't be determined until next year. But, at least for a night, it was fun to watch.

For another game, everything seemed to go right for Michigan. Brent Petway even made a jump shot. Leading early, Michigan allowed Old Dominion to go on 9-0 run to take the lead 21-14. Then the clamps were applied. Michigan smothered the Monarch ball carriers. Even though it appeared the smaller, perhaps quicker, OD guards got open for an outside jumper, every shot was rushed. Every shot was contested. Every open space filled quickly with a white jersey that read "MICHIGAN" across the chest.

Once the clamps were applied, Sims went to work. Sims scored 8 points during an 18-3 Michigan run to close the first half. Believe it or not, he showed some post moves. Old Dominion apparently did not watch any of the Ohio State or Indiana footage because Sims was left one on one in the post most of the night. Honestly, as much as I hammer on Sims, one on one, there are not a lot of people who can guard him. He took advantage of what the Monarchs gave him. He had nifty little moves for easy lay-ins and he snatched up boards like they were covered in chocolate. Near the end of the first he grabbed a Daniel Horton miss out of the air and slammed it back home all in one motion. Watch that play again. I'm convinced Horton pulled a Jason Kidd and bounced that off the backboard intentionally. In the lead. In control. Michigan headed into the locker room up 8, 32-24.

The second half began with a 3-9 run in Old Dominion's favor. Tommy, doing something he hasn't done all year, called a quick timeout to settle the team and break the Monarch's momentum. Surprise. It worked. Note to Tommy. Do this next year too. Dion Harris came out of the huddle and drained a three to put Michigan up five, and from that point on the game was basically over.

It was not over enough to prevent you from seeing what an incredible talent Brent Petway is. From the 14 minute mark on, Michigan spent its time trying to find ways to get the ball to Petway mid flight. Petway actually drew a charge trying to leap over Old Dominion's center for an 'oop on a poorly thrown Harris pass. A few minutes later you realized why Michigan recruited Jarret Smith. In addition for hitting a three, Smith had four assists, including a beautiful alley oop to Petway. Jumping from the first row of seats Petway caught Smith's feed and attempted to send the ball through the earth to China, hoop first. In doing so, Petway jumped over a Monarch defender, kneed him in the head, and hung on the rim long enough to sing an aria from Carmen. It was beautiful. You have to wonder if Petway pays Smith cash money for every oop that gets him on sportcenter. If thats the case, hopefully next year Petway will make Smith a rich man.

As further evidence Michigan had broken Old Dominion's spirit I present exhibits A and B. Exhibit A: With 10 minutes left, Graham Brown bricked a pair of free throws, with the second bouncing high in the air to the right of the rim. Somehow it stayed up long enough for a totally out of control "that's my baby" akward dive/jump by Brown to retain possession. Exhibit B: Sims squared up from just inside the three point line and drained a long two pointer. Seriously, that shot had as much arc on it as a pool cue. But it went in.

No matter the box score. No matter the fact that this team beat Big XII member Colorado. No matter the fact that the Monarchs come from the CAA just like George Mason. No matter the fact that Old Dominion BEAT George Mason earlier this year. It was still Old Dominion. So, the victory was nice, but this is a team Big Ten teams are supposed to beat (please note, UConn did not beat CAA team, hence, not Big Ten).

It means we get to play one more game. It means we could possibly have another banner in the rafters. It means one more game of watching Petway scrape the ceiling and watching Daniel Horton in a Michigan jersey.

I can live with that.

The Finals

Michigan plays S. Carolina in the NIT final on Thursday at 7pm. The Gamecocks beat Louisville 78-63 to advance to the finals. This will be the second straight year S. Carolina has made the finals, winning it last year. They get to defend their "crown". Paul Westerdawg over at the Georgia Sports Blog wondered aloud if winning the NIT twice in a row is akin to being Crash Davis. S. Carolina's coach Dave Odom has already won two NIT's and a third, well that might be like being the all time minor league home run champ. I will submit for consideration that If Tommy wins his second in three years, he should be Nuke LaLoosh.

Staying Put

Jack Johnson has told the Michigan Daily that he will remain at Michigan for another year. Brian, hopefully, has come back in off the ledge.

Football Recruiting Needless and Unwarranted Speculation Update

IBlogForCookies, perhaps one of the best thought out and written blogs on the web, has an update on uber recruit Ryan Mallett. According to a Texas message board, Mallett was issued an ultimatum by Texas on accepting his scholarship offer. Basically, take it or leave it, right now. Mallett apparently refused, and if this is true, Michigan remains the last man standing among is favorites. None of this has been verified by "reputable sources", but if true its a good sign for next year's class. I'm crossing my fingers, but not holding my breath.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Music to Michigan By

Orson and Stranko over at EDSBS got me thinking. They recently killed a little time listing out songs that exemplify crucial emotional conundrums such as "Songs to drink beer to" and "Song You and Your 2 Year Old Both Like." I enjoyed reading it, but It also made me wonder what songs best represent Michigan's sports teams and coaches.

So, based on my limited music experience, I give you Michigan's Three Main Sports and Coaches as music. I obviously paid a little more attention to the football team, but I gave up on Moeller, Szabo, and Strippling.

Please feel free to comment, critize, and provide better insights.

Michigan Football: After the season from hell, its hard not to pick a song that in some way doesn't contain a tad bit of sadness and anger. "You Give Love A Bad Name" seemed to sum up the season pretty well. But despite the fact that half the population of New Jersey has at some point attended Michigan (and like Michigan they love their Camaros), its too obvious to pick. Bob Seager's "Turn the Page" and "Against the Wind" came to mind, but only because he's from Michigan. The Nuge always comes up, but he's insane, so I'll pass on him. Besides "Wango Tango" has no business being played anywhere. Ever. No, the answer lies in White Snake's "Once Bitten, Twice Shy." How many times have you told yourself "I'll never let myself get this worked up over Michigan Football ever again" only to do it the next play. "You didn't know how rock n roll burned/So you bought a candle and you lived and you learned." Michigan Football in a nutshell.

Head Coach LLoyd Carr: "Simple Man" by Skynyrd. Simple words. Simple game plans. Simple offenses. Simple defenses. Etc...

Former Defensive Coordinator Jim Herrmann: "Since You've Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson. Do I really need to explain this? "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys was also considered.

New Defensive Coordinator Ron English: "I Ain't Nothin' But a Dog" by Too Short. Anything from Shorty The Pimp covers English. He played Carr, Michigan and the Bears against each other and came up with his grill gleemin' like a disco ball (different arist, I'm aware). Straight up pimp.

Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord: "I'm a Swing it" by House of Pain. "Some people thought I'd died/That's just a rumor though/Others thought I'd follow up/Now I'm numero Uno." While the first track on the album "Back From the Dead" title wise might make more sense, I think that line from "Swing It" sums up DeBord pretty well. Left for dead after a miserable run at Central Michigan, DeBord is indeed back ontop. Say what you want, but Offensive Coordinator at Michigan is a sweet gig, and if he restores some life and creativity to the Michigan offense he'll live up to his title track.

Assistant Head/Wide Receivers Coach Erik Campbell: This one is tough. What fits for a guy that's given us five receivers that have lead the Big Ten in receptions over the past 7 years? "Big Balls" by AC/DC.

Running Backs Coach Fred Jackson: The easy joke is "Born to Run" but as much as I love Bruce, it don't fit. After last season when Michigan sputtered like a 57 Buick without a healthy Mike Hart, then purred like a brand new Lotus with him, I've gotta go with Lionel Richie's "Hello". Because, yes, it is you we've been looking for. We're looking for you to keep Hart in the lineup for more than a game.

Quarter Backs Scott Loefler: "Fortunate Son" by Creedence. It was amazing watching this guy's stock go through the roof during the offseason. His pursuit of uber recruit Ryan Mallet and success in recruiting blue chippers like Henne (I don't care what you think, I think Henne's a damn good quarterback) have cemented his position a favored son in the Michigan coaching family.


Michigan Basketball: "I Get Knocked Down" by Chumbawumba. They've been knocked around a tad this season. But they've gotten back on their feet every time. This is a particularly resilient team. They seem to hop back up after they've been kicked in the teeth. And they get back up swinging. "Eye of the Tiger" gets a mention because of the boxing reference.

Tommy Amaker: Anything by Kid n Play might seem appropriate with Tommy's patented high top fade, but their "music" was just so horrendous I can't justify mentioning any of it in good conscience. Beck's "Loser" received a head nod. But I gotta go with Tupac's "Me Against The World". How much heat has been on this guy? Its like his office is located in the center of a Viking range. Everyone from Grand Rapids to Toledo to Da Uper has been calling for his head. Just like his team, Tommy's been pretty resilient. Not only is Michigan the last Big Ten team still playing, anywhere, he seems to have found some of his recruiting magic. If he lands Patrick Beverly and at least one other (I'll say decent, because Beverly's a big fish) decent recruit, he will have managed to save his job. But then again "I got nothing to lose/It's just me against the world."


Michigan Hockey: Young. Reckless. A little clueless. Definitely at the top of the heap in terms of athletes around campus. More fun than a barrel of monkeys when they're on. Like watching a train wreck in slow motion when they're not. Reminds me of Motley Crue back in the 80's. Crue's "Same Old Situation" fits the bill. Always competitive. Always entertaining always finding some new exciting way to lose a NCAA tourney game. Either that or drawing the worst bracket in the history of the NCAA's. "If it wasn't for bad luck/I'd have no luck at all."

Red Berenson: "Damn it Feels Good To Be A Gangster" by the Ghetto Boys. Say what you want about this season, Red is a flat out gangster. Uber recruit after uber recruit. Not only does he have the top notch ability to win, but he's also got the ability to scare the crap out of college aged hockey players and get them to do what he wants. Red's pissed on the sides of buildings and walked away with warnings. He's lost Hobey winners to the NHL and simply replaced them. He gets the pick of the litter in recruiting, and he has the privilege of picking his own exit in a business known for the short lives of coaches. Gangsta.

Anyway, its a start, and open for revision. Let me know.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The World Is Spinning The Wrong Way

In Other WTF!?!? News

George Mason beat UConn. I give up. College basketball makes no sense to me.

USC heir apparent John David Booty may miss the rest of spring practice with a back injury. To answer your question, yes, that is his real name. I'm convinced he's got a future in show biz. With a name like they he's either singing country or appearing in porn. The choice is up to him.

Finally, AllState insurance will sponsor the Sugar Bowl for the next four years. Let's add this all up. The country's largest insurer sponsors a football game in city where the worst disaster in recent U.S. history took place and where millions of people who got screwed by their insurance companies live in abject poverty and ruin? This will end in tears. Mark my words.

Thud

Michigan 1 North Dakota 5

The improbable had happened. Holy Cross topped Minnesota in overtime. And it wasn't like Holy Cross hung around on flukey goals and hot goaltending. No. They played even with one of the heavy favorites for the NCAA hockey crown, and beat them. Minnesota was out.

So there it was. Michigan's arch nemisis was gone from the tournament. The team we haven't been able to beat in years. History. Now all we had to do was get to the next level and a team that didn't have our number awaited. All of a sudden you could see light at the end of the tunnel. Faint. But definitely there.

It was kind of like looking across the street and seeing a fresh hundred dollar bill just laying there on the ground. You're not sure at first if its real, so you stop and look again. Then you realize it's real and you head across the street to pick it up.

Then, if you're Michigan, you get hit by a bus.

The bus in question was the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. North Dakota absolutely steam rolled the Wolverines in route to a 5-1 Sioux victory. Michigan came out fast, but they failed to create any legitimate scoring chances. You could tell they were pressing for that first goal. Trying too hard to do too much. Trying to take a very hostile crowd out of the game early.

Then came the inevitable screw up that led to a goal. Two Michigan players collided with each other on the defensive side of the center line allowing UND to break the zone. Out manned, Mitera took a holding penalty three and a half minutes into the game. UND scored off a beautiful pass, and a defensive breakdown, with about thirty seconds left on the penalty. Then things got shaky.

Ruden gave up another power play goal two and a half later on a shot that he probably should've had. Coming in on a two on two, T.J. Oshie put a snap shot on net from just above the left faceoff circle while being defended. Some will say he was screened, but Ruden was off his angle and all of a sudden we were down two goals. Michigan had nothing going on the power play either, coming up empty on two power plays and negating a third with a penalty. The first period ended with Michigan down two goals.

While I wasn't happy about the outcome of the first, I figured down two, home ice for the bad guys, not really that bad a period. Could've, should've been worse. We're still in it!

Wrong.

Three minutes in Michigan gave up a short handed goal. Bad power play offense. Mental mistakes. Two on one. Wrister over the shoulder. Another goal Ruden probably should've had. At that point we were down three, and my buddy and I were revising our Milwaukee plans. Then, Michigan finally got on the board . Kolarik finally beat UND's goaltender Jordan Parise with a nifty give and go wrist shot. Our hopes raised for a second.

Unfortunately, that was as long as our "euphoria" lasted. UND controlled the rest of the period. When Michigan got shots on net they were generally from a distance or at a horrible angle. UND's defense and backchecking didn't allow the Maize and Blue any room to work. When we finally did get a break, Parise slammed the door on our fingers. Then, almost as if we knew if was coming, UND scored on a goal mouth scramble/rebound situation to go back up three with 5 left in the second period.

We kinda knew it was over at that point. But we stayed for the third and watched UND dismantle UM anyway. For most of the third period the Sioux held onto the puck without much resistance. At about the 12 minute mark I leaned over to by buddy and said "they'll score again at the five minute mark just to piss us off." Bingo. With a little more than five to go, a slapper beat Ruden to add insult to injury.

It was an ugly game to watch if you were a Michigan fan. While UND allowed the Wolverines some space to wheel in the neutral zone, once Michigan gained the line they clamped down. What further frustrated the Wolervines' chances was their complete inability to make a decent pass in the offensive zone. There were too many attempts by Michigan's forwards to do it all themselves. Passing seemed to be a last ditch attempt rather than a sound principle of a coherent offense.

What hurt the worst was the total ineptitude on the power play. 1 for 6 on the powerplay while giving up a shortie is bad news. Red didn't seem to happy about the effort either. He told the Detroit News "We had to come up with an upset effort, and it didn't happen." While he was calculated in his post game comments, reading between the lines he wasn't happy with the way Michigan played.

No, it didn't. And so ends another Michigan sports season. Well short of expectations. Well short of their talent and in this case, coaching. But in this season of infinite disappointment for football, basketball and hockey, what could be more appropriate.

Now the North Dakota bus heads towards Milwaukee and what's left of Michigan limps home. If you're a Michigan grad or fan between North Dakota and Milwaukee, when you cross the street, make sure you look both ways.

Game Notes:

Yost Built, as always, has a great wrap up on the game. He also points out that Jack Johnson, in taking a roughing penalty late in the third, became Michigan's all time single season leader in penalty minutes. Way to go Jack! Somewhere Chris Tamer is crying.

The Ann Arbor News takes a brief look at the game and the outlook for next year. Goaltending and defense will be the keys. But Sauer's only competition is non-scholarship recruit Steve Jakiel. So we'll have to wait and see how they progress.

USCHO.com pointed out some disturbing CCHA facts in its game wrap-up. First, Michigan State was the only CCHA team to win a game in the first round. Second, in the three CCHA losses, those teams lost by 3 or more goals (UNO lost by 7). Third, this was the first time since 1993-1994 that Michigan didn't win an opening round game. Like I said before, in the season(s) from hell, what could be more appropriate?

Michigan State's overtime loss to Maine in the regional finals means that yet another year will pass without a CCHA team in the Frozen Four. Oh well. At least its not another WCHA love fest.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Tournaments, Recruiting, Spring Practice and Screwing up a Stoning

Michigan to Play Old Dominion In NIT Semi-Finals

The Michigan Basketball team is on its way to New York for the NIT semi-finals at Madison Square Garden. All of New York is abuzz. Well. Not really. But those of us following Michigan's last three games are excited. While it's not what we'd hoped for when Michigan sat 16-3 and #20 in the nation, it's still something. They're still playing.

Michigan will face Old Dominion (24-9). The Monarchs (I believe is what they are called) beat Hostra at Hostra to advance. Old Dominion's player to watch is Isaiah Hunter, who scored 29 points in the Monarch's win. Tip off is at 7pm on Tuesday, which hopefully will be broadcast somewhere other than ESPNU.

On the other side of the bracket, Louisville and South Carolina will meet to determine the NIT's other Final team. South Carolina continued its hot streak topping a solid Cincinnati team last night. Louisville spanked Missouri State in the other quarterfinal matchup to advance. They will also play on Tuesday, March 28.

My Michigan v. South Carolina Final remains intact.

Hockey Time

In real tournament news Michigan drops the puck tonight with North Dakota in Grand Forks, ND in the NCAA Men's Hockey Championships. Michigan was seed #3 in this region with #1 Minnesota, #2 North Dakota, and #4 Holy Cross. Basically, even if you beat a REALLY talented Sioux team (at home!) you run into the Minnesota buzzsaw the next game. As Yost Built and MGoBlog have pointed out, Michigan does not have much of a chance to come out of this bracket. But stranger things have happened.

In 1998, a young, inexperienced Michigan team beat North Dakota (backstopped by NCAA all time wins leader Marty Turco) during their improbable tournament run. Minus Marty, things can be perceived as similar, if you're willing to stretch your imagination. So who knows. Even good teams have off nights, and if Michigan plays like it did early in the year they've got a great chance to come out alive. However, if they play like they have in closing the season they'll be lucky to beat UND. My brain refuses to allow me to think they've got a chance. But my heart says they could pull it off. We'll see. Puck drops at 8:30 CST. No national TV coverage that I'm aware of, so beg your local sports bar to flip around. That's what I'll be doing.

USCHO has a great breakdown of the region and the tournament on their mainpage. Enjoy.

In Recruiting News

Michigan's top basketball target, Patrick Beverly, was named to the Chicago Tribune's All-State first team. They did a piece on the team, Michigan is mentioned along with every other school he's gotten an offer from. On the plus side, it also mentions a relentless work ethic, something that Michigan could probably use a lot more of.

Football Spring Practice Kicks Off

The Michigan Football season unofficially began on Sunday, March 19, with the opening of spring practice. The Ann Arbor news has you covered. Lloyd was at his normal monotone self as well. One of the things he discussed was Kevin Grady's weight issues. "One of the things I thought hurt Kevin Grady a little bit was that he came out of high school ... I can remember at one point when I saw him, he was 240 pounds." Are you kidding me? Look at the size of this monster (at right). Looks like he signed onto the Mark McGuire "Huge In A Week" program. Got tickets?

Duke Chokes Again

All around the nation dreams of taunting your officemates went up in smoke as Duke coughed up its match up with LSU, 62-54. Neither team could hit a barn with a shovel. Duke shot 27% and LSU shot 39%. This marks Duke's third exit in four years when they've reached the Sweet Sixteen. While part of me giggles with glee at the "Haves" of the basketball world falling on their faces, another part of me laughs even harder because its Duke. (at right: The Universal Sign for Choking. Also the Universal Sign for Duke Basketball.)

Underdog Put Down

Everyone's favorite underdog was finally put to sleep, Old Yeller style, by the Memphis Tigers. Memphis beat Bradley 80-64. Despite the fact Bradley was down only 5 at the half, Memphis blew out the Braves in the second half. A quick second half start, combined with stifling defense put Bradley away for good. After the break, Memphis lead by 10 or more from the 15 minute mark on. At least part of your bracket is intact.

Adam Morrison Is Now A Punchline

Gimmie a break. What a freakin' weirdo. Smashing the basketball into your head. Crying on the floor, with 10 seconds left in the game, and you're still IN IT! I'm glad they lost. Not because I harbor ill will toward Morrison or Gonzaga. I'm just tired of the Larry Bird comparisons. This guy is not that good. UCLA came back from 14 down in the second half to beat Gonzaga and advance to the elite 8.

Where will he go in the draft? Lets see... lanky white boy, bad facial hair, overrated outside shot.... Remind you of anyone?

In Battle of Rednecks, Texas Prevails

My tourney bracket has new life. Texas beat WVU. By the way, when did West Virginia become a power, at anything? It's like Virginia Tech. I blinked and all of a sudden they're winning stuff instead of being a doormat.

In Other News

Lawyers Ruin Christmas: He said Jehovah! How the public stoning of Chris Cowherd turned into a discussion of copyright law is a mystery to me. Well. I know how it happened. Sometimes those of us in the legal field gotta learn to let the stoning take place without adding our two cents. Sorry bout that Brian.

Update: Cowherd Appologizes... To Vince Young. Aparently he only says "sorry" to people he wishes to pee on a little more. Cowherd's site issued a mock apology to Vince Young for stating that Vince got a 15 on the Wunderlich, when in fact Vince got a 16. Could this guy be any more of a jackass? Take a peak below at this comments from his ESPN site:

• Circumstantial Evidence- Vince Young was impressive at his personal workout yesterday. Big deal, says Colin. He controlled all the circumstances. And Colin apologizes for inaccurate reporting -- Young actually got a 15 on his Wonderlic test, not 16.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Grand Theft Blogo

In case you haven't ventured over to the M Zone today I wanted to let you know about a semi-serious issue that has come up.

If you haven't been to it, the M Zone is a wonderfully satirical site. Full of life commentary, college sports jokes and insights, and pure entertainment. Like the rest of us in the blogosphere, they spend a chunk of their free time writing, posting, and brainstorming new ways to keep those who so graciously read our ramblings entertained. And like the rest of us they do it for free, while maintaining high standards of journalistic integrity such as citing your sources.

Unfortunately, ESPN has yet again decided they are above such standards.

Yesterday on the ESPN syndicated radio show, CowherdItSomewhereElseFirst, Colin Cowherd blatantly ripped off the M Zone's hard work without so much as a mention. On March 1, 2006, following the uproar over Vince Young's supposed 6 on the Wunderlick Test, the guys at the M Zone put together a mock Wunderlick that was as insightful as it was funny. I personally cracked up and emailed the link to all my friends. However, therein lines the point. I emailed THE LINK. I did not attempt to pass their work off as my own.

Mr. Cowherd decided otherwise. During his March 22 show he read off eight (8!) of the fifteen (15) questions the M Zone had written. That's more than half of their piece. He did so without mentioning the source, or giving credit where credit is due. That is inexcusable. What is even more inexcusable was his response to the M Zone's email stating that he had used their material not only without their permission, but without credit.

This was Mr. Cowherd's response:

WE WERE SENT IT....WE HAD NO IDEA..BUT THE INCESSANT WHINING...MEANS I WON'T GIVE YOU CREDIT NOW..GET OVER IT
CC

When Peter Gammonds inadvertently left out a source on an ESPN article last year, he immediately apologized NATIONALLY and gave credit to his source on Baseball Tonight. In my business, leaving out sources and claiming the work of others as your own is cause for DISBARMENT.

Please visit the M Zone and lend your support. If you are able and willing, please email George Soloman, ESPN's Ombudsman, to voice your objections to ESPN's blatant disregard for ethical journalism using the link below: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?id=2097428 (courtesy of The M Zone [that wasn't so hard, was it?]).

If the response is "its a radio show," that's not enough. Radio personalities are media as well. And it is both our job and theirs to hold such people accountable.

And The Run Continues

One of the great joys of living in a place like Chicago is running or biking down by the lake front. Its absolutely beautiful. As you run or ride south, the lake stretches out to your left and the city skyline scrapes the heavens before you. The pristine waterfront trails seem to go on forever. I cherish those days and afternoons when I can spend a little time riding my bike or simply walking down by the lake. Just to take it all in. It may not be the Boston Marathon I'm running. It may not be the Tour de France I'm riding. But, when I am lucky enough to take it, it is the journey I am on. And I am better for that.

Much to my surprise and delight, the Michigan basketball team seems to have finally grasped this concept. In defeating Miami 71-65 last night Michigan maintained control from start to finish. Apparently there were smiles. Apparently there was jubilation. Apparently they are enjoying this NIT journey for what it is, not for what it should have been.

Michigan's two senior leaders seem to exemplify this concept. Daniel Horton followed up a 29 point night with 19 points and 5 assists against Miami. Chris Hunter continued his draft day push with 16 points and two more blocks. These two young men could've packed it up, and packed it in. Instead, they are playing with an abandon and intensity in NIT as though it contained three different letters. I my mind evidence of character is accepting what has happened in the past and calmly moving forward on the path that those events have left you. Sometimes it brings you success. Other times it brings you failure. But you don't know what it brings until your venture down path laid out before you. Regardless of where the path leads, it leads you somewhere closer to yourself.

Conan O'Brien said in his commencement address to Harvard that he felt the reason got the Late Night slot on NBC was because he went into the interview armed only with the knowledge that he had no real chance of getting the job. This allowed him to be free. To take chances. To be himself in a way he never could've been, were he the favorite for the job. It is in those moments where expectations are minimal that we all seems to shine the most. Not because we shun the spotlight. Far from it. But because we are free not from the expectations of others, but from our expectations of ourselves.

This team has freed itself from itself. They now play with a "come what may" attitude that we all wish they could've found earlier in the season. They are healthy. They are happy. They are playing when their Big Ten counterparts, NCAA or otherwise, are not. They have come to know themselves and their abilities more truly. There are no expectations on them because its the NIT not the NCAA. They don't have to carry the weight of an entire fanbase's thirst for NCAA glory just because they snuck into the tournament. No. They just have to walk with each other a little longer.

The lake is to their left. The city, directly infront of them. Its not the Marathon, le Tour, or the Tourney. Its where they are. Frankly, it ain't that bad. I'm glad they've been able to realize that.

Game Notes:

Unfortunately, due to the fact that the game was on ESPNU, and that I had a hockey game of my own, I missed Michigan's victory. So, if you've got thoughts, comments or simply know something the rest of us don't, post it in the comments section.

Last night's game marked the final game Michigan seniors will play at Crisler Arena. According to the Ann Arbor News this victory erased the sour taste left by Michigan's Senior Night loss to Indiana.

The Detroit Free Press, in addition to an excellent game wrap up, reported that OMG uber recruit Patrick Beverly of Chicago attended the Michigan victory.

The Detroit News didn't miss much either, giving us a whole section on the Beverly visit following their game summary. The News also reported that Crisler was going nuts. That has to be good for Tommy and his recruiting push. Beverly is currently Arkansas top target as well. Cross your fingers.

In other recruiting news, the Diag is reporting that super center, 7'2" Jason Bennett who Amaker has been recruiting heavily may have made up his mind to go to Auburn. You're kidding me right? SEC v. Big Ten hoops? A chance to start right away in a true power conference? Bennett apparently has two scheduled trips (one to Michigan and one to Bama) still on the calendar. We'll keep you updated.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Block

No Words. Only Emotions.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

And There It Stayed

It just seemed to hang there. Stuck in space, hovering between the ceiling and the floor. Caught in the ether perhaps.

As the ball left Dion Harris' fingertips time seemed to slow down. Just to get the shot over the arms of defender in front of him, Harris put enough arc on the ball to put it in geosynchronous orbit. So it stayed there. Carrying the hopes of every Michigan fan who swore never to care again, but were brought back that night on the faint hopes of promise. We'd watched for all of regulation and for two overtimes. Now we were forced to wait a little longer.

Michigan had trailed the entire game. Despite "jumping" out to a 5-2 lead, Notre Dame quickly took control of the game, leading by 8 going into the half. True to its end season form, Michigan allowed its opponent to shoot the lights out. Notre Dame was a blistering 54% percent from the floor in the first half. Despite this, Michigan hung in. Notre Dame never completely took over the game. Runs begat runs. Michigan would close to within four points, maybe two, and then sink back to a seven to eight point deficit. But, unlike in other games where Michigan trailed, you never sensed they could not come back. You sensed they could. You sensed they would. They'd beaten this team before. They'll do it again. At least that's what I told myself.

As the second half began Michigan went on an abbreviated run, cutting the deficit to three points. Notre Dame quickly answered, re-extending their lead to eight. But that was the last time their lead would be secure. Chris Hunter, not wanting to end his Michigan career on his own floor, again became our catalyst. He dunked, he blocked shots, he shot... threes? His shot selection aside, Hunter's block in the second half was the stuff of legends. Up four midway through the second half Notre Dame found Torin Francis all alone under the basket. Michigan had blown an assignment and Francis seemed free to dunk the Irish back to a comfortable lead. Chris Hunter had other thoughts. Leaping four feet from the basket Hunter actually beat Francis to the rim. With his outstretched right arm he stuffed Francis' two handed attempt. On the way down, Hunter ripped the ball out of Francis' hands, and into the waiting arms of Dion Harris who sprinted the other way. Michigan scored on that possession to make the deficit two points. This was Hunter's world. We were all just living in it that moment.

Slowly. Surely. Michigan chipped away. With less than a minute to go they finally retook the lead. Sprinting around the court, in what was (shockingly) a set play, Daniel Horton went left to right around the baseline and hoisted a three behind Graham Brown's perfect screen. Like the screen, so was the shot. Michigan lead by two. What may be lost in all of this was the performance of Notre Dame's Chris Quinn. He is perhaps the whitest white man you've ever seen on a basketball court. He makes ex-Maryland star Steve Blake look tan. If you sized him up on a playground you'd snicker. Then he'd torch you. Quinn made circus shot after circus shot. For the final ten minutes of regulation, Quinn and Horton played "top this" with one another. Some of the shots Quinn made were inconceivable. And with time running out on the Irish's season, he drained another shot to take Michigan to overtime. The ESPN analysts called it perfectly. It was like the two best players at camp were trying to outdo one another and man is it fun to watch. To overtime we went.

By overtime both teams were drained, but Michigan had the quicker step. Despite trailing early, Michigan came back and tied the game. Steals. Turnovers. Balls off the foot. It got a tad sloppy. But with 30 seconds left in OT #1 Michigan had a chance to win the game. Unfortunately, Michigan's attempts to run out the clock also ran out their options as they were forced into a bad shot to end the extra session.

The second overtime was similar. I was three inches from the screen. Yelling. Screaming. Making my wife wonder why she married me. I was fanatical. Willing every Michigan shot into the basket and deflecting every Irish shot with my mind. And with seconds remaining, tied at 84 a piece, Chris Quinn finally blinked. Having made his first freethrow to tie the game, his second rimmed out. We all knew who would take the last shot. It had to be Horton. He had 29 points. He was hot. He was our leader.

So there Horton was. Ball in hand dribbling out the clock. Then he made his move. Seven seconds. Cutting left he ran right into a wall of Irish defenders. Five seconds. Cut off. Four seconds. Nowhere to go. Three Seconds. OMG Dion! Two Seconds! The Shot!

And there it hung. Then, after an eternity, it began to fall. Slowly at first. All of that emotion, all that yelling, and the titanic weight of a season seeking redemption finally brought the ball out of the ether and back to earth. Like the sun beginning to set over the Atlantic. Its arc slowly brought it down towards the ocean. Then....

Splash.

Friday, March 17, 2006

And Then, A Faint Pulse Began To Register

We strained to hear it, but it bore promise

Michigan 82 UTEP 67

The life support meter registered something positive yesterday. Michigan emerged from its self-induced coma to throttle an over matched UTEP squad yesterday at Crisler.

A healthy Chris Hunter is a good Chris Hunter. His 20 point night in Michigan's romp over UTEP only served to underscore the void he will leave next year. This is not to say Hunter's All-American or even Second Team All-Intramurals. But he serviceable and competent in the post. As a starter he was our fireplug. Off the bench he shook the team from its doldrums when wasn't disabled. His absence next year will definitely be noticed. Hopefully Courtney was taking notes last night.

For the first time in three games the Wolverines got their act together. The team committed only 13 turnovers and dished out 23 assists. Let me say that again. 23 assists. Finally looking healthy, Dion Harris went 5 for 9 from the floor including 4 of 5 from three. Perhaps his hot hand carried over to his ball handling as he had only two turnovers for the whole game. I'm sure it was a relief to Daniel Horton not to have to carry the team by himself for once. He settled in nicely with 14 points, 9 assists, and one (1) turnover. Hell, even Jarrett Smith played well, offering up 6 assists and draining a three for the first time in... well... when were the Olympics held in Calgary? And Brent Petway continued his efforts to prove you can score every point of your career by monstrous dunk, he added 10 points.

Michigan raced out to a 20-9 lead early in the game and did something they haven't been able to do in months. They held the lead. For once a 14-4 run didn't sap all the energy they had. Instead of letting a down team back into the game as they usually do, Michigan put the Miners away. At half time Michigan was up 10, and the game was pretty well in hand. From half time on it was over. Michigan was up 20 with six minutes to go, and Amaker put in the scrubs.

Yea. Its a win. We didn't give up a big lead in the first or second halves. Yes its UTEP. Yes they suck. But they were in the NIT with us, so they were doing something quasi-correct. So this was a semi-quality win against a would-be bottom tier Big Ten team (i.e., northwestern or Purdue. Feel free to dispute that, but neither of them are still playing.). Michigan put away an inferior opponent with a gusto that's been missing in recent games. A lot of it can be attributed to the overall health of the team. However, I'll turn a cynical eye and offer that its because the pressure's off.

This team played loose and fast. Petway took up residence somewhere above the shot clock and attempted to dismantle the backboard every chance he got just for fun. Harris was finally healthy enough to get some lift off for his jumper, but he also didn't have to be the "other guy" who was responsible for getting Michigan in the NCAA's anymore. Horton was finding open shooters rather than charging down the lane, aimlessly throwing ill-advised passes to waiting defenders. No. This was a different team. This was a fun team. This was a team that could take or leave this tournament. This was a team free from expectations.

The season ended for these guys on selection Sunday. They know it. And they're happy to play on borrowed time.

Good for them. Enjoy it. Make us enjoy it. Make us cheer with every alley-oop and trey. Make us forget the season of lost promise for a few more games. Make us believe once more that there is a pulse, however faint, pumping away in the body that is Michigan Basketball.

More on the rest of the NIT after lunch....

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Tournament Coverage: NITpicking Edition

Once Again, Minnesota Screws Things Up

In the first upset of my NIT bracket, Minnesota takes out Wake Forest. Not really that big a deal, but still, what does this team have against me? First they ruin Michigan's season, now they're ruining my predictions. Assholes. Doesn't matter. I didn't have the winner going any farther anyway.

Here's what I got right:

Old Dominion beats Colorado - You heard it head first. Hot team over a stumbling one. Makes me nervous about tonight.

Notre Dame shoots down Vandy - Smart kids beat up on the smarter kids. My hopes for a UM/ND game remain intact. (at right: How Notre Dame beat the smart kids.)

Houston Stomps BYU - Tom Penders has his boys ready to play!... in the NIT. This is a better team than any of us are giving them credit for.

South Carolina over W. Kentucky - SEC team beats... well... I'm not sure who they beat. But they won.

Here's What I Got Wrong:

Miami goes all Tony Montana on Oklahoma St. - Didn't see this coming. The way Miami finished the season, and the way they played all year, lead me to believe they were one and done. Wrong again. This takes out one of my quarterfinalist, by three bleeping points.

Minnesota beats Wake Forest - see above.

Clemson over La Tech - Like I said before, coin toss on this one. It did me wrong. Clemson won the right to face an angry Louisville team. Good job boys.

In short, I went 4 for7. Great batting average, but meh on the prediction side. Hopefully my prognostications for tonight will prop up my NIT Tournament Challenge standings on The Ocho.

Who Needs Bracket Help?

Well, its too late. The games have begun. But, if you want to know what the blogosphere has predicted RBUAS and Straight Bangin' have their brackets up. Johnny went 'Nova and Joey went UConn.

Me? No idea. I've got five different brackets. If you pressed me, I'd go with the safe pick, UConn. If given free reign... Texas. They've got size, quickness, and can shoot. Plus I think the loss to Kansas was kinda flukey. Kansas was pissed about the Big XII trophy award. Added motivation. I also picked BC in one bracket. I really like the way they play, and dammit, they got some hops.

Texas, UCLA, and Ohio State have the easiest roads to the Final Four. Texas doesn't have to play anyone until the Elite 8. I can't see W. Virginia or Iowa giving them much of a game. UCLA may have the best shot because I can't see Gonzaga living up to the hype. Ohio State also has a legit outside shot at the title. I hate writing it, but if they get hot outside they could easily waltz into the Final Four.

Dark Horse? UCLA. Talent. Easy road. Sweet Sixteen minimum. I know they're a 2 seed, but no one is talking about them.

Prince of Darkness Horse? Indiana/Michigan State. In know they're both Big Ten Teams. I know there's not an outside chance in hell this pans out. But I see Indiana as a Sweet Sixteen Team, and if Michigan State can get by a much more athletic UNC squad I see them making a push to at least the Elite Eight.

No Light Escapes From the Black Hole Horse? San Diego State. This has been the season of infinite pain. It would just fit.

Watch the Tourney at Work!

A buddy sent me this link:

"Watch most/all the games online for free. NCAA(R) March Madness(TM) on Demand - Watch LIVE game broadcastsfrom the first 3 Rounds – all FREE! To learn more, click here: http://www.ncaasports.com/mmod"

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

NIT Bracket Breakdown II

After Lunch and Full of...

Well, you already know that I've got Michigan in the Finals. So who're they gonna play. Read on...

The Louisville Bracket

Louisville v. Delaware St. - Delaware State lost to Maryland, Marquette, Michigan, and Northwestern. Badly. Louisville in a laugher.

Clemson v. Louisiana Tech - Clemson is not a team that scores a lot of points. It is a team that gives up a lot of points. Louisiana Tech doesn't score a lot, but doesn't seem to allow too many points either. Coin flip. Louisiana Tech in a squeaker.

Missouri State v. Stanford - Based solely on the alcoholic tree, I'm picking Stanford. That and I want to see those jackasses on the committee see that Missouri State's record against its wheelchair basketball league is not the same as playing in a real conference with true D1A athletes. Stanford wins, the Tree gets wasted and arrested.

Houston v. BYU - Gotta go with Houston. In case you forgot, Houston beat LSU and Arizona this year. They went 3-3 in their last six. The Stormin' Mormon's also had a pretty good year, beating tourney bound SDSU and Air Force. This should be the best game of the round. Houston wins.

Third Round - Louisville over La Tech; Houston over Stanford

Fourth Round - Houston over Louisville

The Cincinnati Bracket

Cincinnati v. Charlotte - Cinci's pissed. They think they should be in the Tournament. Instead they're here. They're going up against a relatively talented Charlotte squad who has the misfortune of playing in the A10 during a down season. I'll take Cinci. Barely.

Minnesota v. Wake Forest - Wake Forest. Minnesota can't find its ass with both hands. This time they don't get to play Michigan. Wake Forest takes it.

Florida State v. Butler - These are the types of teams Florida State built its shoddy tournament resume beating. They'll stay true to form. FSU over Butler.

South Carolina v. Western Kentucky - South Carolina over W. Kentucky. Who the hell is Western Kentucky? Seriously. Aren't we just making up names at this point?

Third Round - Cinci over Wake; S. Carolina over FSU

Fourth Round - South Carolina over Cincinatti

Semis - South Carolina over Houston

There you have it. South Carolina will play Michigan for the NIT title.

The Winner Is: I'll play the homer... Michigan. yea. We're the first worst. woo.

Please also realize if Michigan plays like it did against Minnesota revise the predictions to look like this:

Third Round - ND over Michigan ; Oklahoma St. over Creighton
Fourth Round - Oklahoma St. over ND
Semis - Rutgers over Oklahoma St.
Finals - S. Carolina over Rutgers

NIT Predictions and Other Stuff

Decomposing the NIT

Time to take a quick look at the Other Tournament. That's right, it's the Maize n Brew Breakdown of the NIT.

Because Michigan doesn't play until tomorrow, I ignored the opening round games. Here's how the NIT will play out from here, Maryland and Michigan brackets now, Louisville and Cinci brackets after lunch.

The Maryland Bracket

Maryland v. Manhattan - Maryland had a tough year. Losses to teams like Miami, Temple and Clemson likely cost them a Tournament berth. However, six of their other losses came to ranked teams. Manhattan gave 'Cuse a scare but didn't play anyone else, losing 10 games with a MAAC schedule. Maryland in a blowout.

Colorado v. Old Dominion - Colorado's alternated wins and loses for about a month. This team's got some decent athletes, and don't forget they knocked off Oklahoma earlier in the year. A similar team to Michigan, they needed a win in their Conference Tournament to go to the dance and laid an egg. Old Dominion absolutely crushed DePaul, beat Richmond, beat Virginia Tech, beat Georgia, and came close against Wisconsin. They finished the season 6-2. Old Dominion win.

St. Joes v. Rutgers - St. Joe's finished the season 8-2. They played GW tight and put up 94 on the Zags in a loss. Rutgers has a one man offense in Quincy Douby. Quality wins include Louisville, Marquette and Seton Hall. Rutgers wins.

Hofstra v. Nebraska - Oooh. The nail biter of the tourney. Screw Nebraska. I'm taking Hofstra on general principles. (Caveat - If sun belt officials are used, Nebraska wins).

Third Round - Maryland over Old Dominion; Rutgers over Hofstra.

Fourth Round - Rutgers over Maryland

The Michigan Bracket

MICHIGAN v. Utep - Mike Price tries to redeem himse... Wrong sport. UTEP lost by a point to Texas Tech and by 3 to UAB. Three dudes average in double figures. That's all I've got. Michigan snaps its losing streak.

Vandy v. Notre Dame - Wife went to ND. All her friends went there. Gotta pick em. Want to play them again just to either: (a) rub it in that they suck worse than we do; or (b) confirm that this is in fact the year of infinite pain. Either will do. ND over Vandy.

Creighton v. Akron - Admit it. You've played as Akron on NCAA 2005 just to win with the worst team in D1A. Akron played absolutely no one this year. Creighton beat Nebraska and a #25 ranked Northern Iowa team. Creighton wins.

Miami (Da U) v. Oklahoma St. - Man how the mighty have fallen. Eddie Sutton. Good luck. State did manage to beat Texas and to play at all with all the crap going on around them took some balls. Miami spent the last half of the season getting ass rammed by the ranked and almost ranked members of the ACC. Oklahoma St. pounds Da U.

Third Round - Michigan over ND; Oklahoma St. over Creighton

Fourth Round - Michigan over Oklahoma St.

Semis - Michigan over Rutgers (Rationale? Now that it doesn't matter Courtney Sims will play like a man possessed, dominating the tournament. Iti'll do two things: 1) Piss us off because that's the way he should've played all year; and 2) give us false hope for next year because he'll revert when it matters.)

Good Stuff Around The Blogosphere

Is RBUAS gonna have to choke a bitch!? Johnny goes off on the tournament selection process. Superb writing with a tinge of vengeance.

Burnt Orange Nation has a tourney breakdown for you. If you're team makes it, I suppose its more fun to follow. Here's their link to the Atlanta breakdown. You can access the rest by clicking on their home page. Be sure to check out their 41 reasons Texas will win it all. Self indulgent, but funny.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

March Anger

It's Tournament Time!

That's right. The NIT! If you're looking to fill out a bracket for your office pool, the 2006 NIT bracket can be printed up here. I hope you're as excited as I am.

I'll do a rundown of the NIT tonight and post it tomorrow.

The Fallout Continues

Jim Spadafore of the Detroit News puts the blame for this season's collapse squarely on Amaker in his recent article. With regard to Tommy's job security, Spadafore says Amaker's not on the hot seat and his job seems secure. What really confused the hell out of me is that Spadafore says Michigan should make the tournament next year AND contend for the Big Ten championship.
[T]he Wolverines should finish in the first division of the Big Ten because they return seven of their top 10 players: juniors Harris, Abram, Sims and Brent Petway, sophomore Ron Coleman and freshmen Jerret Smith and Jevohn Shepherd. Incoming freshmen DeShawn Sims of Detroit Pershing, a top candidate for Mr. Basketball; Anthony Wright, a 6-6 forward at Oak Hill Academy (Va.), and 6-4 wing K'len Morris of Grand Blanc also should help. It's also important for Amaker to sign high school pehnom Patrick Beverly of Chicago to replace Horton. Also, the Big Ten will be down because Michigan State, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa will be losing a host of key contributors.

Please note the added emphasis I placed on the middle sentence. Someone has to replace Horton's production (e.g. the unsigned Beverly), otherwise this pronostication is moot. I'm all for rosey predictions, but the line up he listed is a mid-Big Ten team. None of the players he mentioned (perhaps with the exception of Abram) has shown an ability to take over a game at a critical period or manage to hold onto the damn ball. Michigan's future is entirely dependent upon Amaker's ability to lure a top name recruit to Ann Arbor to replace the scoring void left by Horton's departure. This is an ability he has not shown since his first recruiting class, so you'll pardon me if I'm a little skeptical of Spadafore's predictions.

Unlike the News, Schembechler Hall is calling for blood. Jim Carty over at the Ann Arbor news is flat out pissed. And Greg Johnson of the Grand Rapids Press knocks the Maize and Blue around a bit. Finally, Michael Rosenberg at the Free Press zero's in on Tommy to cap the festivities. All is not well in Ann Arbor. Tommy's taking more shots than Alex Murphy at the beginning of RoboCop.

In addition to the rush to blame, there is a calling out of the darkness that perhaps Michigan got screwed and should be in the Dance. Mgoblog took a look to see that Air Force and Utah State made the tournament to the exception of Michigan and several other talented schools (Cincinnati getting my "What? No Reach Around?" Award). While I believe the "body of work" Michigan did over the season should have been enough to make the Tournament, finishing the season the way we did completely overshadows those accomplishments. Air Force finished the season winning 7 of 10, including a 6 game winning streak. Utah State also finished the season winning 7 of 10, with 4 game and 3 game winning streaks.

Playing in the Mountain West and WAC doesn't even come close to playing in the Big Ten. However, winning counts for something. And that's something Michigan didn't do.

At Least One Men's Team Will Play In A Real Tournament

The Michigan Hockey team managed to pull its collective head out of its ass this weekend for just long enough to beat Ferris State in the second round of the CCHA playoffs. The Wolverines beat FSU 6-4 and 3-2 to advance. This likely cements a NCAA tournament bid for the Icers. Their reward? They get to play Michigan State on Friday in the CCHA semis. The Blog That Yost Built has all the details.

In addition T.J. Hensick and Matt Hunwick were named to the All-CCHA second team.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Three Letter Tournament. Four Letter Word(s).

Dancing With Myself... Michigan Left Out Of The NCAA Tournament

Jay Bilas at ESPN did everything he could. Really. He tried to ask the ugliest girl in the room to dance because he felt it was the right thing to do. He pounded on Joe Lunardi and Digger Phelps saying Michigan should be in over any school from the SouthEastNorthern MidMissouriIowaBibleBelt ConferenceAlliance. For two days he spent every waking moment telling everyone how good Michigan had been over the course of the season. How you had to look at their 3 wins over top 25 opponents. How you had to look at the fact Michigan played in the nation's toughest conference. How their body of work meant more than their losing 7 of 9 to close the season.

Thank you Jay Bilas for looking past the buck teeth, the bow legs, and the large hump on Michigan's back that grew larger with every loss. Thank you for overlooking Michigan's faults and championing our cause.

And thank you Tournament Selection Committee for ignoring him.

Don't get me wrong. I'm steamed Michigan didn't make the tournament. UAB? Are you kidding me? 24 wins don't count when you play nursing colleges and the Academy for the Disabled a dozen times. However, its was impossible for the Committe to ignore the collosal collapse that ended Michigan's season. 2 and 7 in their last nine. A losing record against their own conference. 3-8 against the RPI top 50. Michigan's final game of the season against Minnesota showcased every reason to feed them to the NIT.
  1. Horrendous coaching (With 3 minutes left, trailing by a half dozen, Michigan went to a zone defense. A zone f-ing defense!?!? No no. You keep the ball. The Minnesota players were so shocked they weren't getting pressured they almost bounced the ball off their feet.);
  2. Lack of production from anyone down low (Paging Courtney Sims. Your bus is leaving.);
  3. A total inability to hold onto the damn ball (21 turnovers. Twenty. One. But hey. Its down from the 24 they had against Indiana);
  4. Terrible shooting (37% from the floor, 18% from three against a horrible Minnesota defense);
  5. A total inability to play like a team when it matters (Down 10 in the second half to a team they'd beaten by 22); and
  6. Finally, the fact that this was Michigan's 3rd straight must win game, and they lost it.
This is not a team that belongs in the NCAA tournament. Many people, like Jay Bilas, have tried to build up the team. Say its not Tommy's fault. Say it was the injuries. Say the moon wasn't properly aligned. Say our hair wasn't done right and we should've schedule that humpectomy months ago. Say we should be in.

Oh no. We shouldn't. And if you're looking for blame, I'm laying it on Amaker. I ignored the warning signs and the calls for his head over the past month. No more. When your team coughs up the ball 21 times which turn into 20 Minnesota points, you take the blame.

Before Thursday I wasn't quite ready to call for a coaching change, but now I'm happy to pick up a torch. Amaker's been given a week a piece to prepare for his last two opponents and has failed, in spectacular fashion, to get his team ready to play. In both games, must win games, Michigan came out sluggish, inept, and totally unable to play the team oriented basketball that made them successful earlier in the year.

His failure to play Lester Abram against Indiana only magnified his coaching inneptitude. When a player hasn't played in over two months, he needs as much game time as possible. Abram was obviously winded, slow, and out of synch. Even five minutes against Indiana would have given him some measure, some yardstick, to prepare him for the Big Ten Tournament. Instead, we saw a tired shadow of Lester careening toward the basket, out of control, out of breath, and out of the game. He fouled out by charging over a game ready defender on the possession that ended the season, scoring only 2 points in the game.

If Amaker didn't have talent on his team, perhaps I'd sing a different tune. But, there is. Further, with no true talent in the pipeline, our best player graduating, and a proven inability to make critical adjustments during a game, the fat lady is singing. Loudly. It's time for Tommy to pack up his turtleneck, blazer, and high top fade, and call in a career at Michigan. If he doesn't resign, Martin needs to step in a make the change. When the Tribune runs a photo of your team, in basketball rich Chicago with the tag line, "Michigan misses its 8th straight tournament", something's gotta be done. NIT's don't cut it at Michigan.

Seeming to know the inevitable was coming, Michigan refused to allow cameras in the clubhouse yesterday as the team awaited its fate. There were some surprises. There were some snubs. However, Michigan wasn't one of them.

Now selection sunday is over. We sit alone. Waiting for a dance partner. Since no one's asking, we might as well boogey alone.

Michigan's a #1 Seed... in the NIT

I can't express how little I give a shit about being a one seed in the NIT. It's like being the prettiest girl wearing head gear and a full body cast. It's like being the coolest person at a Star Trek convention. It's like finally making the junior varsity basketball team, as a Senior. No matter what happens, no matter how well you do, you're still a loser.

I'll still follow the team. I'll still report on the games. But you can't make me think its an accomplishment.

Michigan's next game is Thursday against either UTEP or Lipscomb. Once I know who they're playing I'll give a write up and some analysis. Might even take a look at the whole NIT field if I'm feeling ambitious. We'll see.

If you'll excuse me I've go a beauty contest to judge at the American Unibrow Fellowship.

The Season of Illusion. A Homeric Look Back.

No. The Odyssey Homeric. Specifically the Island of Sirens. Bear with me. For those of you who don't remember The Odyssey, the Island of Sirens was populated by man-eating monsters who fed on the flesh of sailors dumb enough to get near them. How? Illusion. Though hideous monsters, their voices were supposedly so sweet and melodious that simply hearing their song brought you under their trance. Once under their spell, sailors would guide their ships into the Island where the monsters would devoure them one at a time. Despite the fact they were watching their friends being eaten before their eys, they continued to listen, believing everything was all right. Then a sense of gloom would befall them. And about two seconds later the Sirens would rip them apart, eat them alive, and use their bones as toothpicks.

That pretty much sums up the whole damn season. A giant illusion used to draw us in, make us believe, and then break us in half to suck out our spirits. On February 1, 2006, Michigan stood at a sweet sounding mark of 16-3. Music to everyone's ears. We all began to believe that this incredible start wasn't a mirage. And we were all drawn under the sweet illusion of Tournament seedings and Big Ten contention. We all were guilty of steering the ship into the Isle of Sims at some point this season. We told friends "Michigan looks good." We bragged "16-3 baby!" We pulled right up to the monster, smeared ourselves in barbque sauce, put on a sign that said "Eat Me From The Inside Out", and then stared in bewilderment as the demon known as Michigan Basketball devoured our bodies heart first.

It wasn't as if we hadn't seen the warning signs. Blown out by Iowa. Its okay, Joe Lunardi says we're still a lock at a 5 seed (devours your freshman year roommate). We lost three straight. Things are fine, everyone's hurt, imagine how good we'll be when everyone's healthy (eats your family). We needed to beat Ohio State or Indiana to lock up a dance invite and didn't. No worries, Indiana's got a worse record and their going, plus Lester Abram's almost back, really, and Dion Harris can't miss EVERY shot he takes (inhales your flag football team and best friend). For Christsakes! We just lost to Minnesota. F-ing Minnesota! We're not gonna... Wait a second you're gonna ea... Ha Ha! You lunch now Sucka! (eats you, soul first).

Fooled. Suckered. Eaten. All of us in the Michigan blogosphere have tried to chronical the season as best we can. We'll continue to do so with what remains of the second season because we're still under the spell. But as I sail away from the Isle of Sims, missing my torso, though my heart won't admit it, I know I've been fooled.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Post Game Analysis Up Soon

Sorry. Work sucks. Still pissed about the game.

This always cheers me up though. Hope it helps.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Worst. Game. Ever.

I'll post a recap after the anger subsides.

Just as a heads up, George Washington lost to Temple today. This means one less at large bid for the Tournament committee to waste in an attempt to save Amaker's job.

This was a collapse of unparalleled incompetence. To finish the season 2-7, losing to a team you'd beaten by 22 points the game before, is inexcusible. Tommy's gotta go.

more later....

Let The Games Begin

Game Day!

The game's at 2:30 EST. Who's excited?

Apparently the gents at the Free Press and Detroit News finally figured out that Harris and Sims are important to a post season run. The Detroit News did a quick story on Dion Harris' struggles since returning from injury and the Free Press took a gander into Courtney Sims disappearing act last Saturday. Way ahead of you boys.

The Diag is reporting Abram will play today and there's a slight possibility Chris Hunter will suit up too. You know my stance on Abram. However, just having Hunter on the bench would be a huge morale boost for the team. Cross your fingers.

Johnny's been hard at work doing a post-mortem on the Indiana game that includes a look ahead to today's game. Anything that compares watching the NCAA tournament to sleeping with a prositute is worth reading.

I'm tired of going to the three letter tournament. Wanna go back to the four letter one. The Ann Arbor News did a sampling of 10 bracket watchers and found 9 of them putting Michigan in the NCAA tourney. The lone dissenter was CBS Sportsline, where their columnists (O')Doyle (Rules!) and Mejia are saying we only get a three letter tourney this year. Haters.

Unfortunately I'll be working during the game so my good friend Mr. Gamecast will be up and running. Stuck at work too? Click here to get the UM gamecast version. Works pretty well. If I can figure it out I'll put up an open thread for the game. My preview of the game can be found here.

Go Blue!

Picking a Coach

Brian's still praying for the gods alter time, accelerate the harvest, or telepor... um... for football season to get here a little quicker. He's found a formula for picking and hiring assistant coaches that guarantees us victory. If you're jonesin' for football too, and you hate Ohio State, Tressel's Blog is for you.

Fun At The Expense Of Others

I've gotta post this little gem, at right, from Deadspin. Enjoy.

One Last Thing

What the hell happened at the World Baseball Classic yesterday? How on God's green earth does Team USA lose to Team Canada? Ever? They're using hockey sticks as bats for christsakes! We invented the f-ing game, and we came up with this half-ass tournament so we could win it not finish with South Africa at the bottom of Pool B. Mutter among yourselves.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Minnesota (Re)Preview

Deja Vu All Over Again

Well. Here we are again. Michigan on a minor losing streak. Minnesota on the horizon. A must win game. Someone's still hurt. Yada yada yada...

Stop me if you've heard it all before.

Depending on who you read, Michigan is either On the Bubble or a loss away from being bubble fodder. Regardless of whether you're reading the glass as half full or half empty columns, they all have the same ending: Michigan has to win on Thursday.

Thankfully when there was a must win game, and Minnesota is on the calendar, Michigan has taken care of business. Michigan posted a 71-55 win at Minnesota on January 21, and on February 15 thumped the Gophers again 72-50 in Ann Arbor despite missing Abram, Harris, and Smith. Both games were significant for different reasons. The January 21 game stands out because it robbed us of Lester Abram for the majority of the season. The February 15 meeting is important because it stopped the bleeding after a three game losing streak.

So, on Thursday, Michigan faces another crucial against a team it has thoroughly dominated this season. The key, this time, won't be Daniel Horton. He's scored 32 and 21 against the Gophers. We know what he will do on Thursday.

The key is the rest of the Michigan team. For Michigan to have any chance of not only a long tournament run, but simply pulling out a win, someone else has to step up. The question is, who's it gonna be?

Courtney Sims, after a small streak of consistent aggressive games, disappeared against Indiana. Though I've been burned by him in the past, he scored in double figures the previous three games, I'll wager a quarter he scores more than the one point he had against Indiana. The next candidate is Dion Harris. Long shot at best. His ankle is still bothering him, that's the only way I can explain it. (Otherwise his shooting 5-29 shooting over the past four games means he suddenly has developed walleye vision, glaucoma, or jumpshotophobia). Brown, while beginning to score, has been a turnover factory on the offensive side of the ball (13 in the last four games). He's good for 4 points and 9 rebounds. Coleman and Petway? We'll see. They've had decent performances that last few games, but nothing to write home about. However, Coleman did score 13 last time these teams played so he could be a wildcard. Finally there is the question of Lester Abram. Everyone is saying he'll play. I'll believe it when I see him on the floor careening out of control towards the basket. Only then will I believe it.

While there are questions, Michigan has stacked up well against Minnesota. All the question marks I listed above have performed admirably against the Gophers this year (Sims being the exception, having scored only 4 points against them this year). Ron Coleman put in 13 during the last game and the bench contributed 15 points in the victory. The first game, well, that was all Horton.

In their last meeting Michigan limited the Gophers to just 35.7% shooting from the floor and 13% from three. If Michigan allows (insert team name here) to get hot from three, especially in the second half, its gonna be bad news. I don't see that happening though. Judging by Michigan's past performances, Amaker is going to lower the defensive hammer on Minnesota in an attempt to get Michigan ready to play press D against Iowa and in the Tournament. I think you'll see a defensive intensity from Michigan that wasn't quite there against Indiana.

In the grander scheme of things, going into this game Minnesota's got nothing to lose. At this point, they're playing for the NIT. Further, this could be the last game ever for Minnesota's best players. Grier, Hargrow, Boone, and Stamper are all seniors. There's plenty of motivation on the Gopher's side, so expect them to play loose and fast early, try to grab a lead and then press the hell out of Michigan.

While that will be their gameplan, I don't expect it to work. Michigan's played well against the Gophers and I don't expect that to change. Horton will be Horton. Harris will snap out of his funk. Brown will grab a ton of boards. Petway will either block a shot into next week or tear down a rim. And the story should remain the same. Deja Vu.