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Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma State’

Short of a storybook ending, Michigan basketball season a tale of redemption, resiliency

Friday, March 31st, 2017


(Rob Carr, Getty Images)

Spring has arrived, but a dark emptiness seems to permeate through the thick, sticky air. Mother Nature has thrown a curveball at us with dreariness and cold, rain and clouds in lieu of the sunshine and crisp air we have come to expect this time of year as the calendar turns to April.

It’s not just the weather, of course, that’s brought this darkness. It’s the end of Michigan’s wild basketball season that felt like a never-ending story, if only for a moment, before we found that the final pages were missing.

(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

We feel robbed of the beauty we’ve waited for Spring to arrive with for so long, and likewise, we feel robbed of the dream finish that destiny would so surely, we thought, bring for John Beilein’s 10th team in Ann Arbor.

But as with everything else in life, finality is the only certainty, if even it comes prematurely.

At least it was a very good thing while it lasted.

For a long time, this season was not shaping up to be a memorable one, a season that all of us fans hope goes on forever. Michigan sprinted out of the gates with an impressive run through a 2K Classic field that included future NCAA Tournament teams in Marquette and SMU, both of whom were throttled on the way to the Wolverines’ preseason tournament title.

That showing saw Michigan rocket its way into the national polls, but was followed by an underwhelming performance at South Carolina and a rapid return to earth for the season’s expectations. Although, if we had the benefit of foresight at the time, that loss in Columbia wouldn’t seem nearly as bad.

A couple games later, Michigan choked away a home battle versus Virginia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and had another poor performance in a win over a bad Texas team shortly thereafter. The Wolverines would hang with UCLA in Westwood for one impressive, firework-laden half before taking an 18-point loss out West and would later proceed to sweat out a holiday win over a far-better-than-expected Furman squad before conference play kicked off in the New Year.

We all know the story from there. Michigan seemed to run out of gas in what should have been a favorable starting conference schedule, dropping three of their first four and four of their first six with their only two wins coming in home nail-biters over Penn State and Nebraska.

Uncertainties in the latter half of the non-conference season turned into message board maniacs calling for this to be Beilein’s final year.

Two home blowouts over Illinois and Indiana calmed the seas temporarily before a tough loss at Michigan State and a lackadaisical home loss versus Ohio State heard those earlier calls turn into cries for the head coach to be gone — and fast.

(MGoBlue.com)

On that night, Saturday, February 4, Michigan found itself at 14-9 overall and 4-6 in conference play with very few standout wins on their resume. It would take a massive turnaround and a long look in the mirror for the team to fight its way into contention for an NCAA Tournament berth, and no one – not even those closest to the team, I reckon – saw it coming.

But come it did. Derrick Walton Jr. turned into a man possessed, knocking down everything from deep and rekindling his freshman year ability to finish at the rack. Moe Wagner realized his potential after only brief flashes as a rookie, spinning, shuffling, shooting, and driving his way to buckets. D.J. Wilson blossomed from cast-off to potential pro with athletic dishes, drained shots, and opponent shots rejected. And Zak Irvin, whose critics would make you believe he could not compete at the local YMCA, embraced his role as a senior leader and scorer, if merely as a third or fourth option at times.

The team that once left everyone guessing what would happen every time they ran onto the floor began ferociously dispatching each opponent that dared challenge them.

Michigan State was handed its worst loss in years. Indiana was dismantled on its vaunted home court. Wisconsin and Purdue, the clear frontrunners for the Big Ten title, met their fate at the hands of a team on a mission.

By the time March had rolled around, Michigan had pulled off the wholly unexpected, nearly impossible transition from conference also-ran to surefire dancer. Broadcasters still wondered what the team was made of, but those following closely knew that a seismic change had taken place.

The Wolverines were no longer prone to falling apart at the end of a game. They did not let inferior competition dig under their skin. They would not cede a game’s worth of points in a half – not any more, at least.

In reality, this new team could compete with anyone in the country, and in so many different ways. The offense was no longer great – it became otherworldly efficient. The defense was no longer passable – it became a solid unit that forced turnovers and prevented clean perimeter looks.

This team could feel as good about their chances as any other.

And so, with that edge, this team would travel to Washington, D.C., wheels rolling, to give its conference brethren a lesson in basketball.

There’s not much Michigan needed at that point to make a magical March run, the stuff legends are made of. If there was one thing, however, it was a captivating headline.

That story would be served up on a platter in a most harrowing way, as Michigan’s charter plane destined for the Big Ten Tournament skidded 400 yards off the runway, through a fence, and into a field, coming to a startling rest in a shallow ditch after the pilot decided to abort takeoff in extremely high winds.

Still, the team pushed forward with no recognizable timidity. The crash had perhaps brought them closer together, had given them a greater sense of their cause, but it did not change their play. Michigan once again blew through an Illinois team that had labeled the Wolverines as “white collar” in early January, this time in rag tag practice gear because their regular jerseys were stuck on the capsized plane.

Purdue, Minnesota, and Wisconsin would all provide different puzzles throughout the weekend, but the Maize and Blue solved each of them with a veteran mindset and plenty of talent.

With the Big Ten Tournament trophy in hand, Michigan was sent to Indianapolis as a 7-seed in the Big Dance to take on an Oklahoma State team powered by purely offensive fuel. The Wolverines took a dose but returned an even bigger dose of that medicine to the Cowboys to outlast their first round foe in an instant classic with firepower supplied by Walton.

Two days later, the Wolverines faced a Louisville squad that provided a completely different look, with length, athleticism, and defense in spades. Once again, Michigan prevailed, this time behind the sophomore duo of Wagner and Wilson, despite trailing by eight at the halfway point. March would not stop this team’s march, and another classic was in the books.

(MGoBlue.com)

Destiny was still on their side – for one more week, at least.

Unfortunately, that magic ran out too soon and too abruptly. Michigan went toe-to-toe with 3-seed Oregon for 40 minutes but made some uncharacteristic mistakes late in the game, as if their hourglass stepped in the way of what could have been. Derrick Walton’s last shot, a step-back that we had seen him hit so often over the last two months of the season that he may as well have filed for a patent, came up a couple rotations short.

Just like that, the buzzer sounded to signal the end of Michigan’s season. Destiny left the building with a new team in tow.

And that’s how – and why, perhaps – Mother Nature mourns with us today. She, like all of us, was not ready for the suddenness of it all. Storybooks are not supposed to end like this.

But that story, while it was being written, was grand. It was thrilling and exhilarating, mysterious and heartbreaking. It was frustrating at times and, yes, slogging at others. More than anything, though, this story was a memorable one that we won’t soon want to stash away to collect dust, lest we question the power of John Beilein’s teaching prowess paired with the ability of a bunch of talented, fun, good, strong-minded college basketballers.

Just as soon as the final words were penned in this story, however, a new volume’s pages are opening up, waiting to be scribbled upon.

Let’s hope this one is as enjoyable as the last.

(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan’s College Football Playoff rooting guide: Nov. 28

Saturday, November 28th, 2015


Cardinals Stadium

Michigan’s College Football Playoff dreams took an enormous hit Saturday night when Michael Geiger’s 41-yard field goal split the uprights and cracked the Buckeyes in Columbus. The Wolverines not only lost a chance to control their own destiny in the Big Ten race, they also missed out on perhaps two opportunities to play against undefeated, top-five opponents.

Now everything falls into the hands of a Penn State that doesn’t look capable of keeping its star quarterback upright, let alone pulling off a monumental upset. Barring something insane, Michigan will have to settle for a nine or 10-win season, which is pretty incredible, considering the direction the program was trending the last seven years.

But until the final game clock hits zero, we’ll keep pursuing those slim championship hopes.

“I really, really need you”

In honor of Sanka Coffie from Cool Runnings, these teams completely hold Michigan’s fate in their hands. These are the teams that Michigan absolutely needs victories from on Saturday in order to keep the Wolverines’ CFP hopes alive. If even one of these teams falls, Michigan’s CFP dreams die.

No. 10 Michigan (home) over No. 8 Ohio State (12pm, ABC): As always, Michigan has to take care of its own business for any of this to even matter. Jim Harbaugh’s team has done nothing but improve all season and looks like it can compete with almost any team in the country. A win over Ohio State would make the 3:30 kick in East Lansing worth a glance.

Result: Ohio State 42 – Michigan 13

Penn State (away) over No. 5 Michigan State (3:30pm, ABC): This one probably isn’t happening. Michigan State looks to have really hit its stride heading into the final weeks of the season, and Penn State is just limping toward the finish line. If the Spartans win, it’ll be a Big Ten East title for Mark Dantonio.

Result: Michigan State 55 – Penn State 16

“It could happen!”

In honor of JP from Angels in the Outfield, this is the “It could happen” group. These are the teams Michigan is rooting for that have a legitimate chance to win on Saturday. Wins by these teams either help the Wolverines move up in the rankings or improve their resume (in order of kickoff time).

No. 4 Iowa (away) over Nebraska (3:30pm, ABC, Friday): On the off chance that Michigan does get into the Big Ten Championship game next week, it needs an undefeated Iowa, ranked in the top four, to boost its resume. A title game of that magnitude would really propel Michigan into the conversation during the final rankings.

Result: Iowa 28 – Nebraska 20

No. 19 TCU (home) over No. 7 Baylor (8pm, ESPN, Friday): This might be Michigan’s last chance to jump Baylor, as the Bears have only a home date with an awful Texas team remaining. A loss to TCU would put three of the four Big 12 contenders behind Michigan.

Result: TCU 28 – Baylor 21 (2OT)

No. 23 Utah (home) over Colorado (2:30pm, Pac12): Utah has been killing Michigan the last two weeks. Back-to-back losses to Arizona and UCLA has the Utes clinging to the edge of the top 25 and threatening to turn Michigan’s opening loss into a weak one. They cannot afford a loss to Colorado.

Result: Utah 20 – Colorado 14

No. 16 Northwestern (away) over Illinois (3:30pm, ESPNU): The Wildcats have done nothing but help Michigan since being blown out in back-to-back games to the Wolverines and Hawkeyes. Northwestern needs only a win over Illinois to cap off a 10-win regular season and give Michigan one of the best wins (considering the 38-0 score) of the entire football season.

Result: Northwestern 24 – Illinois 14

No. 13 Florida State (away) over No. 12 Florida (7:30pm, ESPN): Since Florida State’s resume pales in comparison to Michigan’s I don’t think a win over Florida would propel the Seminoles into the top 10. Florida, on the other hand, still has the slim chance to jump Michigan if it somehow knocks off Alabama in the SEC title game. A loss to FSU would take care of that worry.

Result: Florida State 27 – Florida 2

No. 9 Stanford (home) over No. 6 Notre Dame (7:30pm, FOX): This is a tough one, because Michigan should pass the loser no matter what if the Wolverines knock off Ohio State. But if Stanford beats Notre Dame, there’s still a chance the Cardinal might lose to UCLA or USC in the Pac-12 title game. That would lift Michigan over both teams if it wins out. Also, Stanford has no business being ranked above Michigan in the first place.

Result: Stanford 38 – Notre Dame 36

No. 11 Oklahoma State (home) over No. 3 Oklahoma (8pm, ABC): There’s definitely a chance Oklahoma State would jump Michigan with a win over vastly over-ranked Oklahoma, but there’s also a chance the Wolverines would hold serve with a win over Ohio State. This is the only scenario that gives Michigan a legitimate shot to shoot above all four Big 12 contenders.

Result: Oklahoma 58 – Oklahoma State 23

“It’s just not believable, Cotton”

In honor of Pepper Brooks, from Dodgeball, these are the true underdog stories. These teams have almost no chance to win, but if they do, it would really help Michigan.

South Carolina (home) over No. 1 Clemson (12pm, ESPN): Hey, it’s the last week of the regular season, why not root for some chaos? It’s not likely that Clemson can do anything to fall below Michigan at this point, but in a rivalry game, on the road, to a team coming off a loss to The Citadel, anything can happen.

Result: Clemson 37 – South Carolina 32

Auburn (home) over No. 2 Alabama (3:30pm, CBS): The Iron Bowl is one of the biggest crapshoots in college football, and a loss to a bad Auburn team would really put pressure on the committee to (finally) punish Alabama. Would the Crimson Tide fall below Michigan? It would certainly have to be under consideration if Michigan beat Ohio State.

Result: Alabama 29 – Auburn 13

North Carolina State (home) over No. 14 North Carolina (3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2): Despite two FCS games and a laughable loss to South Carolina in the nonconference season, North Carolina has ridden a 10-game winning streak over unranked opponents right into the top 15. If the Tarheels did the unthinkable and won the ACC, they might vault Michigan in the rankings. A loss to rival N.C. State would erase any chance of that happening.

Result: North Carolina 45 – N.C. State 34

Michigan’s College Football Playoff rooting guide: Nov. 21

Saturday, November 21st, 2015


Cardinals Stadium

Upsets around the country kept Michigan’s razor thin playoff hopes alive in Week 11 as four top 10 teams lost, two of which fell below the Wolverines in the rankings. But the playoff committee still isn’t sold on Jim Harbaugh’s team, which moved up only two spots to No. 12.

Michigan will have its eye on another deep slate of games around the country Saturday, highlighted by a pair of Big Ten matchups necessary to keep its East Division title hopes alive. Can the Wolverines win in Happy Valley and slip into the top 10?

Here are the teams Michigan should root for:

“I really, really need you”

In honor of Sanka Coffie from Cool Runnings, these teams completely hold Michigan’s fate in their hands. These are the teams that Michigan absolutely needs victories from on Saturday in order to keep the Wolverines’ CFP hopes alive. If even one of these teams falls, Michigan’s CFP dreams die.

No. 12 Michigan (away) against Penn State (12pm, ABC): It goes without saying that the most important game of the weekend for Michigan is its own. Penn State is undefeated at home this season and Christian Hackenberg is playing likely his last game at Beaver Stadium. A loss would end the Wolverines’ national relevance.

Result: Michigan 28 – Penn State 16

No. 3 Ohio State (home) against No. 9 Michigan State (3:30pm, ABC): Does it feel dirty to read this? It should, but that’s what happens when you lose to MSU at home and put your destiny in someone else’s hands. Without an OSU win Saturday, Michigan can kiss its Big Ten title hopes goodbye.

Result: Michigan State 17 – Ohio State 14

“It could happen!”

In honor of JP from Angels in the Outfield, this is the “It could happen” group. These are the teams Michigan is rooting for that have a legitimate chance to win on Saturday. Wins by these teams either help the Wolverines move up in the rankings or improve their resume (in order of kickoff time).

Virginia Tech (home) against No. 17 North Carolina (12pn, ESPN): Despite an opening season loss to terrible South Carolina and a pair of cupcake wins over FCS schools, North Carolina is shooting up the playoff rankings. The Tarheels could be dangerous if they head into the ACC title game on an 11-game winning streak, so Michigan will be rooting for the Hokies.

Result: North Carolina 30 – Virginia Tech 27

No. 5 Iowa (home) against Purdue (12pm, ESPN2): This should be an easy win for Iowa, a team Michigan needs to stay unbeaten into the Big Ten championship game if it has any hopes of jumping into the top four.

Result: Iowa 40 – Purdue 20

No. 20 Northwestern (away) against No. 25 Wisconsin (3:30pm, BTN): I can’t stress how important this game is for Michigan’s resume. With a win, Northwestern would establish itself as a no-doubt top 15 team with four solid wins on the season. That would make Michigan’s 38-0 win over the Wildcats so much more impressive. Unfortunately, a loss might (unfairly) knock Northwestern out of the top 25 altogether.

Result: Northwestern 13 – Wisconsin 7

No. 13 Utah (home) against UCLA (3:30pm, FOX): Now that the Utes have dropped below the Wolverines in the rankings, Michigan needs Utah to keep winning. As long as Utah stays in the top 15, that loss back in Week 1 doesn’t look too bad.

Result: UCLA 17 – Utah 9

No. 22 Ole Miss (home) against No. 15 LSU (3:30pm, CBS): The College Football Playoff committee loves to overreact when one overrated SEC team beats another overrated SEC team. Michigan could get jumped by LSU if the Tigers win on the road against an average Mississippi squad, so Michigan needs this one to go to the Rebels.

Result: Ole Miss 38 – LSU 17

No. 6 Oklahoma State (home) against No. 10 Baylor (7:30pm, FOX): Unfortunately for most of the ranked teams currently on the outside looking in, the Big 12 played a cupcake-laden schedule through the first nine weeks of the season to inflate its rankings before matching up with any real competition. So Michigan finds itself behind three Big 12 teams with only two weeks to go. The problem is, the Big 12 teams are all playing against each other, so they can’t all lose. I won’t go over the entire scenario here, but there is a way Michigan can vault ahead of all four (Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU). That scenario begins with an Oklahoma State win over Baylor Saturday.

Result: Baylor 45 – Oklahoma State 35

“It’s just not believable, Cotton”

In honor of Pepper Brooks, from Dodgeball, these are the true underdog stories. These teams have almost no chance to win, but if they do, it would really help Michigan.

Florida Atlantic (away) against No. 8 Florida (12pm, SECN): Well, the Gators did almost lose to Vanderbilt two weeks ago. If Florida Atlantic doesn’t take care of Florida, Florida State probably will.

Result: Florida 20 – Florida Atlantic 14 (OT)

Boston College (away) against No. 4 Notre Dame (7:30pm, NBCSN): This game will probably be over by the end of the first quarter.

Result: Notre Dame 19 – Boston College 16

No. 18 TCU (away) against No. 7 Oklahoma (8pm, ABC): Yes, TCU is ranked in the top 20, but I just don’t see the Horned Frogs having any chance on the road against the Sooners. TCU barely held on against a putrid Kansas team last year as the injuries appear to have caught up with the Frogs. Oklahoma has no business being in the top 10 after losing to Texas and playing only one ranked team in its first 10 games, but that’s how the committee operates.

Result: Oklahoma 30 – TCU 29

California (away) against No. 11 Stanford (10:30pm, ESPN): Apparently having better wins, better losses and better outcomes against common opponents isn’t enough to boost Michigan ahead of Stanford in the rankings. Unfortunately, it’ll be up to a bad Cal team to help the Wolverines change that this week. If the Cardinal loses this weekend, Michigan can root for it to knock off Notre Dame next Saturday.

Result: Stanford 35 – California 16

Charleston Southern (away) against No. 2 Alabama (4pm, SECN): This would never happen, but it would be hilarious if Alabama lost after Nick Saban’s rant about how good Charleston Southern is. Hey, maybe losing to an FCS school would drop Alabama out of the top 5.

Result: Alabama 56 – Charleston Southern 6

Oh So Sweet: Michigan to Face Virginia Tech in Sugar Bowl

Monday, December 5th, 2011


Imagine how you felt at this time three years ago, watching the bowl selection show and knowing Michigan was staying home for the first time in nearly four decades. Then move forward a year and think about watching bowl season without your beloved Maize and Blue for the second straight year. Now advance to this time a year ago, finally being bowl eligible, but limping into the Gator Bowl on the heels of two blowout losses with a lame duck and beleaguered coach.

Now, imagine Bourbon Street and Cafe DuMonde, creole food and ragtag jazz musicians on every corner. But best of all, imagine Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin, Kevin Koger and David Molk, and the rest of Michigan’s seniors who chose to stay through three head coaches, multiple coordinators, and more scrutiny than any Michigan class in decades now going to a BCS bowl.

On Sunday night, Michigan was selected by the Sugar Bowl to face the Virginia Tech Hokies on January 3. It will be Michigan’s first BCS appearance since a Rose Bowl loss to USC at the end of the 2006 season and Michigan’s first ever matchup with Virginia Tech.

Michigan hasn’t won a BCS bowl since a 35-34 overtime win over Alabama in the 2000 Orange Bowl. Since then, Michigan has made a BCS bowl three times, all losses in the Rose Bowl, two to USC and one to Texas. Michigan has played in one Sugar Bowl previously (before the BCS existed), losing 9-7 to Auburn in 1984, and is 18-3 all-time against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents. Virginia Tech is 1-0 against Big Ten opponents and  1-2 in Sugar Bowls.

It creates an intriguing matchup two of the nation’s top ten defenses. The Hokies allow 17.2 points per game – identical to Michigan – and rank 12th nationally in total defense, giving up 313 yards per game. Offensively, the Hokies average 28.5 points per game and rank 31st in rush offense and 66th in pass offense. They do boast the nation’s seventh-best rusher, David Wilson, who averages 125 rushing yards per game, but Michigan has seen its share of talented running backs this season.

Neither team is very familiar with the other, having never played before. Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, in his 25th season at the school, said he hasn’t seen much of Michigan but knows Denard Robinson can move.

Michigan coaches and players say likewise about the Hokies, but also talk about what this means for the program.

“It puts us back on the map, so to speak, as a national powerhouse,” said senior Ryan Van Bergen. “It will be great for recruiting, it will be great for the alumni and the fans, but the biggest thing for us: team 132 wants to play again. We’ve really grown close. We have great team chemistry, and the opportunity to play one more game on a stage as big as the Sugar Bowl is huge for us.”

More to follow on the matchup in the coming weeks.

________________________________________________________________________________________

In other BCS news, Alabama edged out Oklahoma State to get a spot in the BCS National Championship game against LSU, thus proving what we all already knew: the BCS system is terrible. The same system that denied Michigan a shot at a rematch against Ohio State in 2006 allowed Alabama a rematch against an LSU team that came into its own house and beat it a few weeks ago. If you don’t think there’s an SEC bias, you’re crazy.

Alabama beat Penn State and Auburn on the road and Arkansas at home. Aside from those three, the Crimson Tide didn’t beat a another FBS team that finished with a record above .500. So much for the “vaunted” SEC.

What about the team they held off? Oklahoma State recorded wins over four teams that finished in the BCS Top 25, including a 44-10 stomping of rival Oklahoma on Saturday, and averaged 49.3(!) points per game. Its only loss was in double-overtime at Iowa State. Seven of the Cowboys’ 11 wins were against teams that finished the season with winning records.

Alabama was given the spot in the BCS National Championship game, not because of the season-long results on the field (the overall body of work), but because of the perception that the SEC is be-all end-all in college football. Critics of some type of playoff or plus-one system should be locked away.

The worst part of it is that the system designed to choose the top two teams completely failed the number one team in the nation. LSU is far and away the best team in the nation this season. They’re the only undefeated team in the country, having beaten Pac-12 champion Oregon on a neutral field, Big East champion West Virginia on the road, Alabama on the road, and 10-3 Georgia on a neutral field.

LSU proved it can beat Alabama at Alabama. Why does it have to prove it again? If Alabama wins, who can anyone rightfully call them the better team? If we’re going to throw any other conference out of contention for this season’s national champion, one of two things should happen: LSU should be crowned national champion right now and Oklahoma State should face Alabama for #2, or Alabama should have to beat LSU twice to claim the crown since the Tide already lost to the Tigers once – in Tuscaloosa no less.

Yet it’s not a perfect system and the BCS relishes controversy and the TV ratings and dollars that come with it. And while the same system that got Alabama into the title game this year screwed Michigan out of it five years ago, Michigan was one of the beneficiaries of it this year. So we’ll enjoy our Sugar in New Orleans while our little siblings to the north are relegated to the Outback Bowl.