Friday, January 28, 2011

Michigan State upset: Where Wet Owl gets meta

You're welcome, Michigan fans. It's only now that I can reveal the true genius of my plan: criticize John Beilein's performance in order to motivate the team to defeat in-state rival Michigan State and end one of the more infuriating streaks of the last several years. In reality, Wet Owl mocks mocks my predictions and tells Mike Hart, "zone left".

Yesterday's victory against Michigan State was at worst, the end to a losing streak that's been alive since 2007, and at best, a sign of what Michigan's basketball team could be in the future. After coming close a lot of times this year, Michigan finally finished a game off with the help of a Stu Douglass dagger and running the shot clock down to five seconds on seemingly every Michigan possession in the second half. The team played as well or better than they have all year and it finally paid off. Michigan out-rebounded MSU (!), shot 10/21 from three-point range, and finished the game with two more assists than Michigan State. They out hustled and out played the Spartans in their own building, something a non-hockey Michigan team hasn't done in a  while.

Obviously, this one win isn't going to change my opinions on Beilein: I'm still concerned that sustained success under Beilein is either a long time away or never coming. But yesterday's game gave glimpses of what could be: a three-point shooting powerhouse that plays tight defense and hits the boards hard. The team's performance is the best-case scenario going forward, and in the future, increasing experience should lower variance and provide more consistent play. Whether or not Michigan frequently approaches 50% from three-point range is unknown and unlikely, but if they can find a way to avoid their persistent shooting woes, we could see a quick return to the NCAA squad that captured the fanbase's hearts in 2009.

Michigan State, meanwhile, played a remarkably poor game, shooting 5-19 from outside (hey, those are Michigan numbers!) and, as mentioned, were out-rebounded by an undersized Wolverine squad. A missed open layup down the stretch encapsulated the Spartans' game: missing easy shots because Michigan's defense took them out of rhythm. If the two teams played yesterday's game 10 more times, I'd expect MSU to win 9 or 10 of those games. But fortunately, that's not how sports work. Michigan turned East Lansing into Wootcity and made me look silly just days after I questioned the team and coach's performance.

They're now 2-6 in conference and, though the NCAA Tournament is almost certainly out of question now, Michigan can pull itself out of the Big Ten cellar with upcoming games against Iowa, Indiana, Northwestern, and Penn State. If they can win 2-3 of these games, the good vibes from this Michigan State win may help carry the team to the end of the season, but with an upcoming matchup against #1 Ohio State, a loss to any of these Big Ten bottom feeders could quickly send the team spiraling back into a 6-game (or more) losing streak. For now, let's celebrate. Michigan has broken one of our devastating losing streaks.


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