Photo: Detroit News
It’s only fitting that Michigan’s season ended in this fashion. Not with heartbreak at the buzzer, but with a second half comeback that nobody more than a couple steps away from the Michigan bench would have deemed possible. Duke was the bigger, stronger and quicker team and held a 14-point lead with 11:40 to play, even a 12-point lead with 6:25 to play. This game was supposed to be over. These are the defending national champions playing a psuedo-home game with a roster full of NBA draft picks and senior All-Americans. 12-point Duke leads are supposed to grow into 20-point leads rather than dissolve down the stretch.
Not against this Michigan team. This team has far too much fight and poise to go down without lasting every round. No fighter is perfect and the Wolverines have certainly taken their fair share of head shots but they always get back up and fight again. You can question their athleticism or ability but you better not question this team’s moxie. No deficit is too great or situation too dire for this team to fold.
Michigan was left for dead before the season even started. The Wolverines were picked last in the conference and every sign of improvement was met with skepticism. If a conference opening beat-down derailed optimism, a 1-6 Big Ten start eliminated hope. Making the NIT appeared to be an impossible goal. I was dreading the idea of blogging about 10 more losses and vividly remember searching haplessly up and down the schedule for games that Michigan could steal. I found one, maybe two.
Michigan won 10 more games, finished fourth in the Big Ten and won an NCAA tournament game. I challenge you to show me a more impressive turnaround at any other Division I school. What this team accomplished down the stretch wasn’t just impressive, it defied logic.
Michigan played its best basketball with its back to the wall. There’s no question how the 15 guys in the Michigan locker room – five of which averaged double figures in the NCAA tournament – will react to this adversity. They will face it head on like they have for the last 35 games and become better players. The rest of the Big Ten is expected to take a step back next year but they better watch out because this group won’t take one step forward, they’ll take two.
** If you really want the tempo-free analysis. Duke won this game because they got to the free throw line and dominated the offensive glass. Michigan stayed in the game with the second best shooting performance against Duke this season. Four factors here.