Nothing But ‘Net – Week #25 – 04/15/2013 – So Close, Again

The (#10) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played in the National Championship game in the NCAA Tournament on Monday (04/08/2013), and they came close to winning it all, but fell just a few points short. They lost to the #1 seed in the Midwest Region (and #1 seed overall in the tournament), Louisville, 82-76, in the Georgia Dome. The loss leaves Michigan with a final record of 31-8.

I have mixed feelings about the game, and the season. On the one hand, I’m very proud of the team and how hard they played to get to the Championship Game, but on the other hand, I’m disappointed that they couldn’t seal the deal. If you look back over the last 14 years of articles, you’ll see that I very seldom blame a loss on poor officiating, and I’m trying hard to avoid that in this case, but it’s difficult. Let’s just say that the refs “let them play”, and that Louisville was quicker to take advantage of the situation. Let’s also say that one controversial call (see below) could have changed the final outcome, and it went against Michigan. I’m not saying that that one call would have resulted in a UM win, but I am saying that the (incorrect) call did make it next to impossible for Michigan to win. Sigh.

It was a game of runs in the 1st half. Michigan led from the opening tip, and built up a nice little 7-point lead (20-13) with 12:05 left in the half. Louisville cut it to 3 (20-17) in the next minute, then Michigan went on their best run of the night: 13-4 over the next 7 minutes, to make it a 12-point lead (33-21) with 3:56 minutes left in the half. That’s when the roof fell in: Louisville went on a 16-3 run to take their only lead of the half, 37-36, with 22 seconds left. Michigan managed to score 2 points in the last 22 seconds, and clung to a 1-point lead (38-37) at halftime.

The 2nd half was tense and close, but once Louisville got the lead back, they never let it go. Michigan managed to stretch their halftime lead up to 4 points (46-42) in the first 3 minutes of the 2nd half, but Louisville went on a 10-1 run, and that was the game. Sure, as close as 2 points (63-61) with 7:57 left, and within 4 points (78-74) with 1:20 left, but they couldn’t get the stops they needed on defense, and they couldn’t hit the big shots they needed on offense. Still, it all came down to one bad call by the officials that made it too hard for Michigan to come back:

The Call. It happened with 5:09 left in the game, and Louisville up by 3 points (67-64). Peyton Siva for Louisville broke away for a dunk, but Trey Burke chased him down, went up with him, and blocked him cleanly. Michigan got the loose ball, and they were headed down court for their own dunk and a chance to cut the lead down to one point, when the officials called a foul on Burke on the blocked shot. Replays from every angle showed that the blocked shot was clean, and the officials blew it, but there’s no review of that kind of play, and Siva hit 2 free throws to put Louisville up by 5 points, instead of 1. That was enough to keep Michigan just far enough behind that they couldn’t catch up. It’s a real shame that one bad call had such a big effect on a great basketball game, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Was the Louisville the better team on Monday night? Probably, but not by much. Did they deserve to win the game? Yeah, but so did Michigan. Was it fair that Louisville won? Not really, but that’s basketball. The refs are human, they make mistakes, and I sure didn’t feel like they were favoring Louisville, they just blew a big call that went Louisville’s way.

The stats show just how close the game was. Michigan shot very well overall (25-for-48 = 52.1%), which was better than Louisville’s percentage (28-for-61 = 45.9%). However, those 3 extra baskets (6 points) on 13 extra shots were the difference in the game. Both teams made exactly the same number of 3-pointers (8-for-18 = 44.4% for Michigan, 8-for-16 = 50.0% for Louisville) and exactly the same number of free-throws (18-for-25 = 72.0% for Michigan, 18-for-23 = 78.3% for Louisville). The big difference came on the boards, where Louisville won the rebounding battle (32-27) and in the turnover battle, where Louisville won 9-12. There are 8 extra possessions for Louisville right there.

Individually, the leading scorer was Burke, with 24 points, and he played a great game, but he did have more turnovers (4) than assists (3) for the first time in a while. He also only played 26 minutes, with foul trouble in the 1st half. When he came out, Spike Albrecht went in, and he had the game of his career. He hit all four of 3-pointer attempts in the 1st half, and ended up with 17 points at halftime. Unfortunately, he was held scoreless in the 2nd half, but it was still an amazing performance.

Two more Michigan players hit double figures, both starters. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III both had 12 points. Unfortunately, it took Tim 13 shots (5-for-13 overall, and 0-for-4 shooting 3-pointers) to score those 12 points.

After going scoreless in the semifinal game vs. Syracuse, Nik Stauskas finally hit a 3-pointer, in the 1st half, but those were his only points. He had a forgettable Final Four weekend.

The big story was Mitch McGary. Mitch had been playing at a very high level through the whole tournament, and his scoring was the “X factor” that could push Michigan past Louisville. It didn’t happen. Mitch played a solid-but-unspectacular game, scoring 6 points on 3-for-6 shooting, but he wasn’t a factor. Bummer.

Remember how the bench helped beat Syracuse on Saturday to put Michigan in the Championship Game? Other than Spike’s 17 points, they weren’t much of a factor either in this game. Jordan Morgan was the only other bench player to score, with 2 points. Jon Horford and Caris LeVert both played, but didn’t score. A little more bench scoring would have really helped in this one.

So, the season is over, and it was a great season and a successful season, but it could have been so much better. Check back here next week for a complete season wrap-up, final grades, and a look ahead to next season.

Go Blue!

Fab 5: Time for New Ending

It wasn’t supposed to end that way.

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Once a long time ago, the Fab 5 ruled the world. As a University of Michigan during their reign, basketball made for a welcome diversion.

Their swagger, their style, and most of the all their play made them the talk of the country.

Wherever you went people were wearing Michigan gear.

Some older alums shunned their brazen style but most of the country embraced them as budding superstars.

As freshman they came up short in the national championship game but they returned to claim what was surely their pre-ordained  championship the following season.

Of course, we know what happened. Michigan didn’t win, falling to North Carolina 77-71 in the 1993 final. It was painful to watch.

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Chris Webber declared for the NBA draft and the Fab 5 were no more.

And in a perfect world the story would have ended there. A great team comes up short on the court but makes a huge cultural impact before eventually going  pro for NBA riches.

Of course, that wasn’t to be.

Mistakes made during their high school careers would come back to haunt some members of the Fab 5.

Webber, Rose, and Howard would go on to have successful NBA careers but the fallout from the booster scandal that began during their time in Ann Arbor and continued after their departure would result in many of their records being erased by the NCAA.

The scandal would also have grave implications for Michigan basketball program which struggled for years to dig out from the resulting sanctions.

Many Wolverine fans are bitter towards Chris Webber for his role in the scandal.

His comments about Michigan over the years haven’t done much to win over his detractors.

I should know, as I’ve carried around a lot of bitterness towards Webber since his role in the booster scandal became evident. But there is a lot of blame to go around from that era  starting with the coaches, parents, and administrators who all should have made better choices themselves. Not to mention a media (here’s looking at you Mitch Albom) who were eager to profit from the hoopla surrounding the Fab 5.

Webber’s mistakes now are over 20 years in past. It’s time to let it go. I doubt he’s the same person who made the wrong decisions back then.

And while I can’t imagine myself ever actively cheering for him, I’m done rooting against him. There’s too much positive happening with Michigan basketball under John Beilein to keep harping on 20 year old mistakes.

Tomorrow the Michigan Wolverine Basketball team will play for the National Championship in Atlanta. Many players on the team grew up idolizing the Fab 5.

At this point according to Jalen Rose, 4 of the Fab 5 will be present at the game. Only Chris Webber, who lives in Atlanta, has not confirmed his attendance.

Let’s be clear- this will be  a story whether Chris shows up or not. Right now the story depends on what choice Webber makes tomorrow. Hopefully Jalen will convince him to attend.

It would be a great boost for the team and maybe, just maybe, it would provide the groundwork for continued healing between Webber and the University of Michigan.

Webber can’t change the past but he does have an opportunity to inspire this current team by reuniting with his Fab 5 teammates in Atlanta.

It would be a great way to start writing a new ending for the Fab 5.

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Nothing But ‘Net – Week #24 – 04/07/2013 – One Win From Glory!

It’s Sunday morning, I’m in a hotel room in suburban Atlanta (Decatur), my throat is still raw, my hands are still stinging, and my ears are still ringing.  I only slept about 5 hours, and my head is a little fuzzy.  None of that matters, since Michigan won the game.

The (#10) University of Michigan men’s basketball team is in the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament. and they won their semifinal game last night (04/06/2013) against (#16) Syracuse, 61-56, in the Georgia Dome.  Both teams are #4 seeds: UM in the South Region, and Syracuse in the East region.  The win raises Michigan’s record to 31-7.

The Syracuse game was frustrating.  I know that sounds odd for an important victory in the Final Four, but it’s true.  The Syracuse 2-3 zone was everything it was billed to be.  Syracuse has a lot of tall, quick, athletic players who know how to play that zone, and it just sucks the life out of their opponents.  Every halfcourt possession on offense for Michigan was the same thing, over and over: swing the ball back and forth across the top of the zone, hoping one of the defenders would be a half-step slow responding, giving the slimest of gaps to try to exploit.  Occassionally, try passing it to a big man at the free throw line, to see if the zone collapsed just a little too much, for a different slim gap to try to exploit.  Run the shot clock down to under 5 seconds, and take a desperation shot.  Maybe get the offensive rebound, maybe for a quick put-back, probably for a reset, and do it all over again.  And again.  And again.  Over and over.  It was very frustrating.

So, how do you beat a dedicated zone team, even a very good zone team?  Outside shooting.  Most teams (NOT Syracuse) will finally abandon their zone for man-to-man if you can hit enough outside shots to pull them out of the zone.  How did Michigan beat Syracuse’s zone?  I have no idea.  I saw it, and I’m looking at the stats, but I still don’t know how they did it.  They did hit eight 3-pointers (on 24 attempts = 33.3%), but they didn’t shoot very well overall (21-for-52 = 39.6%).  They shot free throws terribly (11-for-20 = 55.0%), and missed several clutch free throws at the end of the game, including the front ends of a couple one-and-ones.  It almost cost them the game.  They did win the rebounding battle (37-33), and they tied in the turnover battle (10-10).

Somehow, Michigan managed to build up a decent lead near the end of the 1st half, and lead by 11 (36-25) at halftime.  Syracuse chipped away at the lead for the entire 2nd half, and got as close as 3 points (48-45) with 7:53 to go, then within 1 point (57-56) with 41 seconds left.  Syracuse had the ball, down 3 points (59-56) with 15 seconds left, and took a 2-point shot (why?) with 9 seconds left.  They missed, and Michigan got the rebound and a breakaway dunk for the final margin of victory.

If I had told you before the game that Syracuse would hold Trey Burke to 7 points on 1-for-8 shooting, you would have asked “how badly did Syracuse crush Michigan?”  Trey did a nice job on defense (3 steals and a blocked shot), he had a few assists (4), and he was one of the few Michigan players to shoot free throws well (4-for-6), but he could not get his shot to fall.  I think he was as frustrated by the Syracuse zone as I was.

If I had told you before the game that Syracuse would hold Nik Stauskas scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting, you would have asked “did Michigan get within 30 points of Syracuse?”  Nik got his looks at the basket, and he tried four 3-pointers, but they all clanked.  He was the key to this game.  If he had gotten hot, like he did in the Florida game (6-for-6 from 3-point range), the game would have been much less frustrating.

So, that’s 2 of Michigan’s 5 starters.  How did the other 3 do?  Much better.  Tim Hardaway Jr. was the leading scorer for Michigan, with 13 points (on 16 shots!), including 3 of Michigan’s 8 triples (on 10 attempts!)  Glenn Robinson III  and Mitch McGary both had 10 points, and Mitch had 12 rebounds, for another double-double.  Mitch was a force in there, and he continued his hot tournament play.

For the first time this season, the Michigan bench came through and won the game.  With both Burke and Stauskas having terrible shooting nights, Michigan needed someone to come in an hit a couple 3-pointers to keep them in the game.  Actually, they needed 2 someones, and they got them:  Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert.  Spike went 2-for-2 from long range, and Caris went 2-for-3.  Spike only got those 6 points, but Caris hit a 2-point basket as well, and ended up with 8 points.  All 14 of those points were important points that we made a critical times in the game.  But wait, there’s more:  Michigan also got some bench points from their 2 reserve big men.  Jon Horford had 4 points and Jordan Morgan had 3, including that breakaway slam dunk to wrap up the game that I mentioned above.  So, that’s 21 points in a 61-point game.  Way to go, bench players!

This Week

One last game: the National Championship, on Monday (04/08/2013) at 9:23 p.m. on CBS, against Louisville.  Can Michigan beat them?  Yes.  They have the talent and the right mix of players to win.  Will they?  We’ll just have to play the game and see.

Check back on Tuesday to see what happened, and why.

Go Blue!

P.S. Sorry about the lack of links in this story.  New (to me) laptop, no Microsoft Word, using WordPad, ugh.

Nothing But ‘Net – Extra – Live From Atlanta! (04/06/2013)

Yup, my son (Eric) and I drove down from Milan to Atlanta yesterday, and we’re going to the Final Four games this afternoon. I’ll be writing my weekly column tomorrow, on a new-to-me laptop that doesn’t have Microsoft Word on it (hello, Wordpad!), so if these articles look a little different, that’s why.

The buzz down here is that Syracuse is going to end Michigan’s run to the title. We’ll see. UM has certainly played, and beaten, better teams this year. The big question is: can they keep playing with the intensity and focus that they’ve shown so far in the NCAA Tournament. Fingers crossed.

Go Blue!