Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Victors | Project OSPREY: Team 101

I did not see any of Team 101's, the 2016-2017 squad of valiant Wolverines, first six games; I could have seen at least some of them if I had made a more strenuous effort, but (a) there are many competing demands for a finite amount of time & (b) before Thanksgiving I devote most of my sports-allocated leisure time to football, without apology. Team 101 looks much the same as 2015-2016's Team 100, in part because now graduated seniors Caris LeVert & "Spike" Albrecht missed so much of their respectively senior years to injury. Albrecht, the last contributor from the Final Four appearance in 2013, is now a grad transfer playing at Purdue; LeVert is in the N.B.A., coming off the bench for Brooklyn. Three sophomores transferred to other schools & will thus be sitting out this season—damnatio memoriae.

For one week, the valiant Wolverines were ranked in the A.P. Top 25—tied for № 25 with Florida State after defeating Marquette & S.M.U. to win the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. After the home loss to South Carolina, that was the end of that; the subsequent defeat by Virginia Tech in the B1G/A.C.C. Challenge seemed to confirm the voters' assessment that the valiant Wolverines are not quite ready for prime time. It's a long season, though, & the Michigan men could well fight their way back into the Top 25. The goal, however, is to be in the Top 64 come time for the "Big Dance," "March Madness." It's not even Christmas; still plenty of time to learn how to play together & win together as a team.

Tuesday, 6 December / Crisler Center
Michigan 53-50 Texas
7-2, B1G 0-0

The victory over Texas was a slog; it would have been unbearable in defeat. However, credit must go to the valiant Wolverines for grinding out the victory. While hardly world-beaters, the epithetless Longhorns are a respectable opponent & it was good to pull out a victory in a game that had so many apparent parallels to the Virginia Tech loss.

Saturday, 10 December @ Pauley Pavilion
(№ 2) U.C.L.A. 102-84 Michigan
7-3, B1G 0-0

The victory over Texas not not much fun to watch; the defeat at the hands of U.C.L.A. was a heck of a lot of fun to watch. The first half was a ridiculous track meet, both clubs running, both clubs raining downs threes, neither side giving much thought at all to defense. The scored was tied, 50-50, at the half. I was giggling throughout the first half, along with the broadcast team. In the second half, well, we just couldn't keep up with the epithetless Bruins' offensive mojo. U.C.L.A. won the back half 52-34. Normally, I would be tickled pink if the valiant Wolverines scored eighty-four points in any contest. (This may have been the first time in the Beilein era that Michigan scored eighty-plus points & lost.) I'm in no way happy with the defeat, but the simple fact is that we ran into a buzzsaw; U.C.L.A. is the real deal.

Tuesday, 13 December / Crisler Center
Michigan 97-53 Central Arkansas
8-3, B1G 0-0

The good news is that the valiant Wolverines didn't let the epithetless Bruins beat them twice; between the cross-time-zone travel & the presumably lower level of the competition, Central Arkansas could have been a trap game, but the Michigan men came out firing on all cylinders, the offense picking up where it had left off at halftime against U.C.L.A.

Saturday, 17 December / Crisler Center
Michigan 98-49 Maryland Eastern Shore
9-3, B1G 0-0

The valiant Wolverines could have easily surpassed one hundred points had not Coach Beilein cleared the bench, allowing the practice squad players to play the last few minutes of the rout. Even then, had a few more breaks fallen their way, even the scrubs might have topped a century. Games like these are fun if your club is the one piling on the points; I don't know how valuable they are as preparation for the crucible of B1G play that lies ahead, but everyone deserves a few wins over powderpuffs.

Thursday, 22 December / Crisler Center
Michigan 68-62 Furman
10-3, B1G 0-0

Furman is an entirely different beast than either Central Arkansas or Maryland Eastern Shore, but the game would not have been nearly so close had the valiant Wolverines gone stone-cold shooting the long ball. From the early first half 'til the dying minutes of the second, the Maize & Blue missed twelve consecutive three-point shots. Most of those were not contested shots, but wide open looks that were simply missed. The valiant Wolverines, as a club, had a bad case of the yips, & it almost cost them the game. By way of contrast, Michigan was a perfect eighteen of eighteen from the charity stripe. Senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. hit a three-pointer in the late going that felt like a drink of water to a man dying of thirst in the desert; it gave the valiant Wolverines a multi-possession lead that changed Furman's endgame, effectively sealing the hard-fought victory.

Next: The B1G season-opener, on the road @ Iowa. I've not seen the tenacious Hawkeyes play, but from what I've heard on B.T.N. (the Big Ten Network), Michigan @ Iowa could well be a defense-optional, Michigan-@-U.C.L.A.-style shootout, though one hopes with a happier outcome. Conference play: welcome to the meat grinder.

Go Blue!

No comments: