Following an early exit from the B1G Tournament with a 71-60 loss to Wisconsin earlier today, what we've all likely come to accept for weeks is virtually certain. As better teams dance their way into the NCAA tourney next week, the Wolverines will be wallflowers.
The disappointment stings a little when you think back on their string of tournament invitations since 2011 and the two deep, brilliant runs of the past two years. It'll be odd filling out my bracket and not having to talk myself out of the madness of putting Michigan in the final. I'll just be filling out one this year. I won't be needing the "Go with My Heart" version. The "Use Your Head" will suffice in 2015.
Now normally, I get all jacked out of shape when the Wolverines have a bad year in any major sport, especially when the sweet taste of success is still so fresh. With football, the relentless long-term disappointment and frustration drove me to such bubbling anger that I started writing this blog. I couldn't hold back my words a moment longer.
With this year's basketball team, though, I am utterly calm and accepting of their results. Of course I hoped for more than a 50-50ish sort of ending. Some of the games they lost could have fallen on the W side easily with a little more focus and end-of-game drive. The reason I can watch hoops move on without the Wolverines next week is simple. John Beilein's 2014-15 squad experienced some tough loss. Five extremely talented players left for the NBA early in the past two years. Other senior leaders graduated or transferred. Of those left in the locker room after all that attrition, injuries ended Caris LeVert's season in January and took out Derrick Walton, Jr. for some time not long after that. Beilein was left to rely on kids who probably didn't expect to see game action, let alone extended playing time, for a year or more.
And for the most part, those kids stepped up to the challenge. It may be a better example of Beilein's coaching prowess than their trip to the NCAA finals in 2013. It's no surprise when you can help superstars exceed their already high expectations. It takes coaching talent to patch together starters from the ranks of freshmen, sophomores, and the remaining uninjured junior and senior while keeping the wheels on the bus. This season could have been a total disaster, instead it was just a disappointment. A season we can write off as a rebuilding year, filled with many hopeful and exciting moments amidst the occasional forehead-slapping "what in the hell did I just watch" smack down. And not a soul is calling for Beilein's head on a platter.
I can only explain my calm demeanor for basketball's tough season by contrasting it to my anger with football.
- I see flashes of skill and teamwork that give me hope for the next hoops season. When I saw the same flashes in football, I still had no hope -- mostly because of the next point.
- I believe John Beilein is one of the top basketball minds in the nation and trust that he will do what it takes to adjust and start winning again next year. With football, no one would call Brady Hoke a top mind. Or a developer of talent. With Beilein, you just know you have it good and he's already thinking of how to move forward next season. There's not a single brain cell that's not engaged in re-engineering his team for success. Aware. Fully aware. And that's all I need to say about that.
Hopefully the team will get some more experience and practice time with an NIT bid. I usually mock the NIT as a way to crown the 69th Best Team in College Basketball. This year, I'd look at it as an opportunity we can exploit to better reach the our goals in the future.
It's not Dancing with the Stars, but a useful trip to Arthur Murray to brush up on some moves. The Wolverines will be back next year ready to rumble (or perhaps rhumba?) We can only hope!