Michigan may be 2017's best sports story so far, and the Wolverines are Final Four good
In the thrall of this moment, we’ll start with a thought on the tournament. This tournament, this annual event. The tournament. It gives us great things every year, things we’ve never seen before but have come to expect that make the sports experience worthwhile.
So now we have Michigan, riding a chain of good-on-top-of-incredible outcomes too rich even for Hollywood. But that won’t stop movie makers. Had Michigan merely been one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament, the team’s weeklong Big Ten tournament epic would’ve warranted a documentary all the same.
The plane scare, the skid-and-careen off the runway from a week and a half ago, has now in part catalyzed a six-game winning streak as charming and unexpected as anything we’ve seen in recent March history. This is already an all-time college basketball story.
This piece is not over. Michigan is in the midst of providing America with a remarkable account of the power and uplifting nature of sports, no matter where the story ends. After the seventh-seeded Wolverines lost their minds from 3-point range Friday, getting over Oklahoma State in a thriller, another win for Michigan on Sunday. An enthralling 73-69 comeback win over No. 2 Louisville locked up a spot in the Sweet 16 for the 15th time in program history.
Michigan’s second-round victory provides this NCAA Tournament’s most captivating arc. To think, after that plane panic, Michigan coach John Beilein gave his players the option of skipping the Big Ten tournament. If they didn’t want to fly to Washington, D.C., they didn’t have to. But the players chose to play. And so they did.. They kept going, winning four games in four days and scooping up a 7 seed.
Sports provide these unpredictable turns. How surreal it must feel to be a part of that program right how — because it’s surreal enough to experience from afar. Scenes like this are why we love the Big Dance: After Michigan’s monumental win Sunday, Beilein broke out the water rifle on his guys in the locker room. What a great sight.
The 64-year-old Beilein, one of the game’s sharpest offensive minds, exacted revenge on Rick Pitino; Louisville famously won the 2013 national championship over Michigan. Now Beilein is orchestrating a March run he’ll place alongside any achievement in his professional career.
But,, Michigan is more than a great story. It’s a great team. A threat for the Sweet 16 and beyond. A team that once only scored 46 points on South Carolina now rates as nation’s fourth-best offense. A group that looked lethargic and discombobulated six weeks ago has now become a Final Four threat.
The Wolverines have found the knack for the big shot, and have gotten better on the fly. If you’ve this team’s past six games, you know it to be true. Derrick Walton Jr., who’s starting to look like latest iteration of Kemba Walker or Shabazz Napier, didn’t even have a vintage performance vs. Louisville (10 points, but no turnovers), but he again found the space to hit teeth-clenching shots. His layup with 23 seconds to go was the clincher.
Moritz Wagner, now a name to know, had 26 points and was 11 for 14 from the field, owning the key and establishing himself as a true NBA prospect. A classic NCAA Tournament breakout game. Wagner’s never looked better, save for this GIF, which sums up the Michigan experience since March 9.
Again, Michigan was beat on the boards, just like in the Oklahoma State game, and yet the wave still came. Louisville’s offense found rot, while Michigan materialized its moments late. D.J. Wilson had 17 points. Zak Irvin, a little overshadowed while still mirroring Walton’s senior streak of culmination, had 11 points.
The Wolverines made only six 3s vs. Louisville, 10 fewer than was downright necessary two days earlier against the Pokes. This team wins because it’s unlocked its ability to adapt. Michigan mutates its style to its opponent, and Beilein has entered into one of the best coaching streaks of his life. Everything keeps blooming. Michigan’s now at 26 wins and counting.
From eighth-seeded champions in the Big Ten to seven-seed victors in their Indianapolis quadrant. Michigan is the winsome threat of the Midwest region. It’s a team riding more than momentum. Whether the plane accident prompted this run, the Wolverines are now a threat to get to Phoenix and that near-disaster will be the element that makes this team indelible forever. This has turned into one of the most memorable runs in the sport’s modern history. There is no substitute for a great sports story, and Michigan’s the best one of 2017 so far.