Carlos Beltran watched an Adam Wainwright curveball go past him and the Cardinals celebrated their pennant. The 2006 New York Mets would not be going to the World Series, which was sad for Mets fans, but they’d be back. This was just the beginning of a dynasty, or at least a string of playoff appearances. Except it wasn’t. The Mets haven’t been back to the playoffs since.
I keep reminding myself that all but one team goes home unhappy every season. Keep telling myself that the Michigan basketball program—with its great coach, modern facilities, and incoming talent—has a bright future. But chances like Monday night don’t come around too often. Louisville, a basketball blueblood, was playing in its first title game since 1986. Indiana has been once since 1987. Kentucky won in ’98 and didn’t get back until last year. UCLA went to the final in 1980 and has made it back just once since, despite four Final Four appearances. The list goes on.
The NCAA Tournament is a wonderful maze, but it’s difficult to navigate, even for the best teams. Louisville was the favorite this year, and for all the “There’s No Dominant Team” talk, most experts picked them. And yet, their betting odds of winning were 4 or 5 to 1. Think about that—the best team this year was not going to win it all about 80 percent of the time. Surviving the opening weekend is hard. Reaching the Final Four requires beating two more really good teams. Michigan did all of that plus beat Syracuse to reach Monday’s championship game. They led by 12 early. They led at half. They were down just three with five minutes to go. So close.
Ask any Michigan fan if they’d take that scenario—down three with five minutes to go in the national championship game—and they would, whether you asked in June, January, or even on Monday afternoon.
I mean, our back-up point guard is hitting on Kate Upton in what many are calling the ultimate heat check. Think that’s ridiculous? Really? More ridiculous than his 17-point outburst in the first half of the national championship? It was that kind of season for Michigan, and this is what fans should remember:
In consecutive weekends, these Wolverines killed the spirits of a gator and an orange. Trey Burke, in the midst of winning nearly every Player of the Year award out there, delivered the Tournament’s signature moment. Go back farther, and you’ll find Michigan atop the polls for the first time in 20 years. You’ll recall thrilling last-second victories over Michigan State and Ohio State. It was the best Michigan team—as far as talent, record, and NCAA Tournament success—since the Fab Five.
There is a fine line between having the talent to win a national title and watching that talent leave early for the NBA. John Beilein and Michigan, as crazy a thought as this was just two years ago, are walking that line. Burke, a sophomore, is probably gone. Junior Tim Hardaway, Jr., may join him. NBADraft.net projects both of them, along with freshmen Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, as first round picks.
Help is on the way (Michigan has three four-star recruits, good enough for a top-15 class), but there’s no guarantee the roster will gel like it did this season. Michigan might not get a favorable opening weekend draw in the NCAA Tournament. Burke might not be there to play hero in the Sweet 16.
Michigan had a great chance to win the national championship last night. Wallowing in self-pity because they didn’t is a shame. Assuming they’ll be back soon would be a mistake.
The actual game
Beilein made a mistake sitting Burke for what equated to the second quarter. Whenever I’m watching an elimination game, I like to quote Dan Fouts in Waterboy: “Last game of the season, can’t hold anything back now.” Beilein played it safe when he should be going for the jugular.
The logic coaches use when dealing with foul trouble is misguided. By removing Burke at the 11:09 mark and sitting him for the rest of the half, Beilein essentially fouled out Burke on his own. At worst, Burke stays in the game, picks up three more fouls, and has to sit for the last 10 minutes or so. Again, that’s the worst case scenario. More likely, Burke is smart enough to keep himself out of trouble (he only had two more fouls the rest of the way, both coming in the final five minutes).
Beilein would tell you he was ensuring Burke would be available at the end of the game—and he did play the entire second half—but maybe Burke’s presence extends the Michigan lead in the first half enough so that he is not needed in the final minutes should he foul out.
Team loses. Fans complain about refs. Fans of winning team say the bad calls didn’t affect the outcome. This scenario plays out for every important game, so I won’t harp on it. But this crew was bad in a unique way, messing up easy calls, as opposed to difficult block/charge calls. To paraphrase my girl Taylor Swift, I knew they were trouble when they walked in, as they missed an obvious goaltend on Gorgui Dieng and a clear kick-ball on McGary in the opening minutes. This was a jump ball. There was no whistle when McGary pulled Chane Behanan’s shoulders down as Behanan attempted a lay-up (he somehow scored anyway). And, of course, there was the Burke block on Peyton Siva that was called a foul. The refs did not decide this game, but they were not good.
The other thing Americans complain about while watching sports are the announcers. I speculated on Jim Nantz’s championship call yesterday, only to be disappointed by his call: “Louisville completes the emotional journey to the championship!” My guess is that Nantz is aware of the hype surrounding his call and doesn’t want to become known for it; this is the second straight year he’s taken a conservative route and avoided a pun. The world is worse off because of it.
One Shining Moment
I give the 2013 version of “One Shining Moment” a C+/B-. As a former Michigan Daily music writer, I’m somewhat of an expert on this sort of thing.
The good: The lyrics and video matched up pretty well—showing two soon-to-be fired coaches, Tubby Smith and Ben Howland, shaking hands during “But time is short” was genius. They did a good job of incorporating game footage: Craft’s buzzer beater and Burke’s shot against Kansas were both accompanied by audio.
The bad: The game footage was zoomed in too much; you couldn’t get a great feel for the awesomeness of Dunk City when the camera is inches from the rim. Also, instead of showing Marquette celebrating, show the final seconds from their games against Davidson or Butler.
Bottom line: Let me choreograph the video next year. I’ll do it for free.