LoneWolf371, one of OTE's star Michigan commentators, gave me some thoughts on the thrilling Michigan victory over Syracuse. This is some of the best in-the-moment OTE writing in 2013.
Clang. I wasn't in the Georgia Dome, but I imagine the sound of Trey Burke's free throw rolling off the rim made some such sound as Michigan's fragile lead remained at just one point, 57-56. A few weeks earlier, Trey Burke had another chance to ice a game with free throws against Indiana when Michigan was up 71-70. Clang that one went, and Zeller got the rebound, later making a layup to make the game 72-71. Michigan didn't score again because basketball rims suck and push the ball the wrong direction. Sometimes.
After Trey Burke's miss last night, my friends loudly exclaimed frustration, referencing the IU game from earlier this season. "Dammit, not again!" However, this time Trey Burke had one more shot. He made that one, giving Michigan a fragile two-point lead. At the other end of the court Brandon Triche barreled into Jordan Morgan and the referee called charge. Me? I honestly have no idea. Morgan's feet were going up and down, but his lateral movement was minimal. If the referee had called block, I wouldn't be able to complain much. That being said, I sure am glad he called charge. When Jordan Morgan laid down the final dunk of the game, the entire apartment I was in exploded. People jumping up and down, hugging each other, that sort of thing. I had to drive friends home afterwards, and traffic and pedestrians were strung out all over town at 12:30 in the morning. Noises of great delight and partying lasted well into the night. It was a good thing.
Going into this game Michigan knew they would have to find a way to break down Syracuse's 2-3 zone, which meant getting into the center of the court at the free throw line, collapsing the defense, and kicking it out to jump shooters. Unfortunately for Syracuse, Michigan had the perfect man for the job: Mitch McGary. McGary wreaked havoc from center court and always seemed to know who to distribute to, having a game-high six-assists (more than beleaguered star Trey Burke). As if that wasn't enough, he also had 12 rebounds. There were stretches of the game where it seemed as though every missed shot by Michigan would get punched back out to a guard by McGary. Although the topic of Trey Burke's struggles is the most-reported story of the tournament (with regards to Michigan), Mitch McGary's transformation is the most relevant story of the tournament. He's averaged 16 points and 11.6 rebounds per game (compared to 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds on the season), and has easily been the team MVP so far in the post season.
Though pleased with the game's result, I wasn't really surprised. Syracuse's 2-3 zone was a favorable match-up for Michigan, a team brimming with jump shooters and an offensive rebounding mad man in McGary. The Wolverines outrebounded the Orange 36-32, and their 33% rate from three was the highest Syracuse had given up in the tournament (no one else had shot better than 20%). If you wanted to build a team to beat Syracuse, it would look a lot like Michigan.
And so now we find Michigan in the championship game. Everything the Fab Five did, at least from a winning perspective, has been accomplished by this batch of Wolverines in 2013. To be honest, it's kind of surreal. When I was a student at Purdue, I expected my school to be at this moment before Robbie Hummel collapsed on the court at The Barn. I thought they may have a shot to get there again the next year with stars like JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, but VCU ran the Boilermakers out of the tournament with their tails between their legs. I never thought I'd see Michigan here. Michigan? Don't they just play football?
When I first came here I honestly thought the basketball atmosphere was pathetic, having come from a basketball state. Crisler was always quiet, and certainly never full. You could find tickets on Stubhub for $3, not the type of thing you'd expect for a team with multiple 20-win seasons in the last two years. Perhaps it was good for Beilein; I wonder if he would have lasted this long at a more basketball-crazed school. I thought it would take something truly incredible to kindle any sort of true basketball excitement in Michigan. It seems like the school might have that in this team. The level to which the Michigan fan base has embraced this team has been a joy to watch, and I hope it lasts. There's still one more game, and I think Michigan fans will be celebrating again after Monday night. If Michigan wins, I know I'll be.
Beer recommendation: Something I do on my own blog is always end with a beer recommendation, just because we all need beer. A once-in-a-lifetime (or at least fairly rare) chance to observe basketball success deserves a once-in-a-lifetime (or at least fairly rare) beer. So I bring to you, Founders KBS from Grand Rapids, MI
KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) is Founders Breakfast Stout aged in bourbon barrels, so it's delicious. It comes out once a year and is fairly hard to get. In my case, I had to go to my local distributor and sign up on a raffle list to get the opportunity to buy one. I was lucky enough to get a call on Friday that I'd won the raffle and was able to buy two bottles. If Michigan wins on Monday and you're lucky enough to have one, drink it to celebrate! If Michigan loses, use it to drown your sorrows! (Note: If you can't find a KBS, go for Greenbush Brother Benjamin. It's a tastetastic beer with a little more malt than your normal IPA; it should be more widely available. Also, ignore the Ratebeer ratings for Brother Benjamin; they're criminally low and people that don't give that beer a good rating should be ostracized from beer ratings websites.) Go Blue!