Sunday, March 22, 2009

All good things come to an end

Michigan's basketball team has exceeded any kind of expectations that any rational person who had been observing them in recent years could make. They were coming off of a 10-22 season in which they finished tenth in their conference and lost their starting center Ekpe Udoh transferred to Baylor. The Wolverines had two largely unheralded guards coming in as freshman from Indiana, the 2007 Michigan Mr. Basketball in Manny Harris, an undersized center in Deshawn Sims, two walk on point guards, and a coach who has over 30 years of experience who decided it was time to go to work.

Wins over UCLA and Duke began to peak some interest in the program as the Wolverines got out to a great non conference start with only two losses. Michigan needed to make an impressive showing in the conference schedule to get a NCAA tournament berth. It looked like the team would falter especially after consecutive 18 point losses to Purdue and Ohio State on the road. Michigan needed a spark, and they got it with late season home victories over Minnesota and Purdue at home, before finishing off the season with a dramatic come from behind victory against Minnesota on the road.

The Wolverines finished the regular season 19-13, on the bubble for the tournament, needing one more win to get that precious 20th win to get them over the hump for certain. They played Iowa, a team that had beaten them two weeks before. With that in mind Deshawn Sims stepped up to the plate and hit a home run in basketball terms. Scoring the first 14 points of the game, Sims would finish with 27 as the wolverines coasted to a 28 point victory.

Despite a loss in the next round of the Big Ten tournament to Illinois, Michigan was in the dance for the first time since 1998 (when i was 10 years old). WOLV TV went gaga for the Hoops team and there is video coming for it.

Michigan would face Clemson in the first round of the tournament. The Tigers had size and a stifling full court press that had frustrated most of their opponents. What the Wolverines had was heart, and when they saw a 16 point second half lead dwindle to one, Manny Harris drove to the lane got the lay in and the foul and converted it to put on ice with less than 40 seconds in the game.

They faced their end against Blake Griffin and the Oklahoma Sooners, and while the national media may focus on Griffin's great performance. I personally admire how the young and grossly undersized Wolverines went about trying to stop him and for some periods of the game managed to slow him down without having to resort to taking charges. It was a great effort by a young team that will be back in the tournament next year.

I believe in my heart that if John Beilein does not receive the National Coach of the Year award he should be given another one, the Lemonade Maker of the Year. Because he took the lemons that he was given by the previous tenure and he made tournament quality lemonade in two years, not many coaches can say that they turned around programs that quickly.



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