Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Michigan can't catch a break


The Michigan men's basketball team played its most complete game of the season Tuesday night.

It still wasn't enough to equal a much-needed win.

Michigan lost a heartbreaker 64-61 to Wisconsin to fall to a morose 5-14 overall and 1-6 in the Big Ten.

Back in December, my friend Tick said Michigan might manage just one or two Big Ten wins. I called him crazy. The Big Ten, after all, isn't the power conference it used to be. And Michigan plays bottom-dwellers Penn State and Northwestern twice.

But if the Wolverines continue to be on the receiving end of the type of bad breaks they were Tuesday, Tick might be a prophet.

Coaches like to say that teams create their own breaks. Sometimes, however, that just ain't true.

During the tight second half, there was Michigan's Manny Harris scoring on a baseline runner ... only to have it called off by a questionable charge call. The basket, at least, should have counted since Harris released the ball before he made contact with the defender.

Then with Michigan trailing by a point in the final minute, Harris lost the ball, which squirted away from a teammate before finally being corralled by a Badger, who called a timeout.

And finally, there was Wisconsin forward Marcus Landry connecting on a 3-pointer over the outstretched arm of Michigan's best defender, Ekpe Udoh, to give Wisconsin a four-point lead. Any other basket would have given the Wolverines a chance to tie the game, but not Landry's bomb.

It's hard not to feel sorry for the Wolverines after Tuesday's result. They came oh-so-close to beating the No. 11 team in the country, to getting that signature win they desperately need, and they couldn't get what coach John Beilein calls the "50-50" balls.

Michigan had several opportunities to take the lead throughout the game, but it never did. Not once. It tied it on a Udoh jumper, but Wisconsin quickly retook the advantage.

The Wolverines rightly took a lot of positives from the game. Harris, who was spectacular, scoring a career-high 26 points, said the team has turned a corner.

But this team still needs to learn how to win. Or, better put, it simply needs a postmark win however it can get it. Even if it comes due to a few fortuitous bounces and a 3-pointer by an unexpected source.

Then the Wolverines will turn the next corner, gaining loads of confidence in the process.


Sportsattitude said...

Jake, I have seen about zero Big Ten action this season so far. Do you at least feel John B is getting the most of what he inherited at U of M? Or, do you think it is just a complete mis-match of desired style of play versus the needed players to execute it, similar to Fran Dunphy at Temple (after John Chaney)?

Jake Lloyd said...

Both. Some of Michigan's players are not Big Ten players — more like mid-major players. But guys like Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are legitimate D-1 players, and Harris is already becoming a star.

I think Beilein needs more talent and players that fit his system to really turn this thing around. But I don't think Michigan should be this bad with the current team's makeup.

I guess the biggest thing is that in most of their losses, the Wolverines have gone through five- or six-minute stretches where their offense is awful and other teams put 10-0 or 12-2 runs on them. Eliminate those stretches, and they might have a few more wins.

The Wisconsin game was a good start. I never expected it to be as close as it was.

zekejennings said...

The game against Wisconsin showed what Michigan can do on a good night when a quality opponent might be looking past them. In the end, Michigan still lost. Michigan did some good things against Michigan State on Sunday, but the Spartans showed how far ahead a good team is when its focused on the current opponent. Michigan, meanwhile, suffered its usual lapses.

I didn't expect Michigan to be this bad, but I knew they'd be lucky to finish over .500 with the schedule they have. I expected more out of guys like Jerret Smith and Kendric Price, but they couldn't (or didn't want) to hack it under Beilein's direction. It's been pretty much a worst-case scenario in Beilein's first season, but you do get the sense that the lumps are coming with purpose. Beilein said before the season that it usually takes a year for guys to really grasp his system. Assuming that's true, along with the fact that Michigan returns everybody outside of Ron Coleman, who hasn't been much of a factor this year anyway, and then adds Laval Lucas-Perry, they should be considerably better next season.

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