Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.comThere are some moments that feel bigger than they actually are in the grand scheme of things: your first kiss, getting your first job, acing a particular test. Each has some cultural significance that tells you This Is Important despite the fact that these moments are likely to happen far more frequently in the future than they have in the past. The worst case scenario for most of these is a missed opportunity, but there are some instances that don't necessarily have to happen; when Target rejected my application as a 16 year old, it felt deflating, but chances were that I'd spend most of my life working in some capacity.
When Darius Morris' floater clanged off the rim against Duke to end the Wolverines' season last year, everyone was disappointed. Michigan had missed its opportunity to make a truly profound statement: not only had Beilein begun to turn around a moribund program, but the evolution was complete; Michigan can compete with anyone, on any stage, at any time. Instead it felt like another close loss, the likes of which the team has seemed to suffer on a regular basis over the last three years. Sports are zero sum events--there are no moral victories--so despite Michigan's fate last night hinging on a similar shot that could have just as easily gone the other way, the results are profoundly different.
It's a reach to say that Michigan has a better basketball program than Michigan State now. They don't. Tom Izzo's win total and the Final Four appearances and the recruiting rankings and the championship banners hanging in the Breslin Center are enough proof of that. But Michigan is a better team than Michigan State, which is something that can't be said that frequently in the history (certainly the more recent history) of Michigan basketball.
Most importantly, though, Michigan has finally arrived. When they were ranked #15 in the preseason poll heading into the 2009-2010 season, most fans were skeptical. The team still had noticeable blemishes and the wins that put them on the map the previous year felt more like feel-good stories than the actual emergence of a contender. But with the program's third straight win over their in-state rival--and a team with annual national title aspirations and potential, to boot--the Wolverines have finally fulfilled the promise that they've been inching toward since Beilein set foot in Ann Arbor.
- Everyone knew that Michigan was going to lose that game in the second half. And then they didn't. A big thanks goes to Keith Appling who continues to play faster than his mind can process. Credit obviously goes to Michigan's defense as well, about which more in a moment, but Appling, as he did last year, plays too quickly.
- Jordan Morgan, Zack Novak, and Stu Douglass are the reason Michigan won this game. Despite their middling stat lines, these guys all stepped up throughout the game defensively. Down the stretch, I would've liked to see Douglass covering Appling more frequently, but this is a minor complaint. Morgan denied the post, Novak did his grit thing, and Douglass displayed his usual defensive prowess.
Beilein also deserves credit for the defensive performance. He just pushes the right buttons at the right time, mixing in 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone defenses with the team's typical man coverage. He uses the zone sets sparing, but they almost always seem to work when he deploys them.
- Trey Burke: good.
- I think the Hardaway hype train has finally run out of steam. The two charges that he took on defense were momentum shifting plays, but otherwise, Hardaway continued his unimpressive season. And yet it's hard to argue with his season averages (15.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.5 APG). Hardaway is a utility superstar (think Joe Johnson): not amazing at anything but pretty good at just about everything with an emphasis on scoring. His defense is still a huge problem and he appears to be a malcontent. Hardaway has to be one of the most humdrum stars in the country.
- It still boggles my mind that a team full of three-point specialists can't hit three pointers. I know that everyone's enduring vision of Novak is of him scrapping for rebounds and bleeding from his forehead, but watching him clanging wide open threes off the rim will be my lasting memory of him, fair or not.
- This is a great NCAA Tournament resume piece. One or two more of these (and taking care of business against the Big Ten's lower-ranked teams) and Michigan could be looking at a 5 or 6 seed in the tournament.