Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Triumphant Return

It was a good winter break, but it feels good to be back in the friendly confines of room 4. I got some sick posters for the room, so it seems a little more homely these days. Myself and Reagan did the drive together from Maryland to Ann Arbor. Well actually I did all the driving, and might I add in record time (7 hours 10 minutes). After getting settled in it was time to go watch the sorry excuse for a basketball team that is the Michigan Wolverines. But hold the phone...they actually won tonight.

This was a must-win for Michigan considering they had lost 2 of their past 3. And as we all know those two losses weren't really that close. They faced off against an Illinois team sporting an identical 12-3 record heading into the matchup. Before the game, I told the other Michigan Daily writers that if the Wolverines lost this game at home to Illinois, then the season would be over. This was simply a game they had to have. And to my shock, the team came up with its most impressive performance to date. Senior captain Lester Abram, who had been playing awful through the first 15 games of the season, put up a virtuoso performance, scoring 25 points and pulling down seven rebounds. He seemed to have a different kind of energy level out there on the floor. In general, Michigan was attacking the basket, and really looked like a totally different team than the one I had grown accustomed to watching so far this year. After the game, many on the team were surrounded by all sorts of media, and gave the usual bland answer when asked what was different. It went something like, "Man, nothin changed. I was just playin' ball out there."

But after the media horde left , I made a beeline for a certain somebody on the team. See, we have some mutual friends plus I've talked to him a lot this year.. So I'm pretty sure he got some level of trust in me. Well he actually has a high level given his response to my question.

Q: What was the difference out there tonight?
A: I gave up pot over break.

That was it. What a great answer. Too bad it was off the record, so I can't print it in the newspaper. And hopefully this blog isn't big enough to the point that anyone finds out I just wrote that.

Les did what all good captains
do: He stepped up in the clutch

I also got a chance to hear Illinois coach Bruce Weber's comments following the game. Obviously he was pretty disappointed because I think he realized how atrocious Michigan actually is this season. He told the media that his team had "no leadership and no heart". He then ripped into Rich McBride and Brian Randle for their poor play. He then proceeded to make a whole boatload of excuses for his team's poor play. And I will admit, his team did play poorly, but I also think he made some catastrophic errors coaching wise.

First of all, if the man had done any scouting whatsoever, he would have realized that Michigan simply cannot handle a zone defense. They have nobody on its roster who can hit an open outside jumper on a consistent basis. But even that sin is forgiveable. But as Wolverine guards Dion Harris, Abram, and Jerret Smith were continually beating Illini guards off the dribble, he still stayed away from the zone. Eric Lacy of the Detroit News came up to me at halftime and put it perfectly. He said, "This game will be a blowout if they play zone." But for some reason Weber didn't do it. Again, although his team did not play well, Weber committed the ultimate sin. He got outcoached by Tommy Amaker! Trust me, that doesn't happen often. I've got a pretty good feeling that this Illini team is on the verge of collapse. After questioning his team's desire, Weber expects them to come out and beat Ohio State on Saturday. I don't think so Bruce. Illinois also faces Iowa on the road, and then have Wisconsin at home. I'm going to give them that Iowa game even though it won't be a gimme, but that still leaves them at 1-3 to start the conference season. My money is definitely on them not making the Tourny at this point.

I don't know how Tommy
outsmarted you either, coach

But let's not allow Tommy to get off the hook here. It wasn't like he did anything special tonight, he simply didn't do anything wrong. His seniors finally came through, despite recent lineup changes that rocked their confidence. The offense still looked stagnant, it was just that Harris and Abram caught fire in the second half. The Wolverines were on life support before this game, and now seem to have righted the ship somewhat. This Saturday they travel to Evanston to face a Northwestern team that just lost by 30 to Penn State at home. It's obviously a game Michigan can not lose.

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