By: Terry Foster
My wife Abs is a diehard Spartan who hates the University of Michigan. She has an annoying — yet sinister — laugh whenever Michigan loses a game and sarcastically says how sorry she is after a Wolverines defeat.
She is often a bad Spartan, but she is also a typical one. But even she is enjoying the best story in college basketball as the Miracle Wolverines continue their march through the pitfalls and traps of March Madness.
The Michigan Wolverines have given new meaning to survive and advance as they beat Louisville 73-69 Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament. They survived a plane crash or mishap at Willow Run Airport, saw their lives flash before their eyes and became even closer as teammates and brothers.
Along the way, they’ve shed labels of being white collar and cute poodles. They are now a blue collar outfit playing like attack dogs.
In a matter of hours after the crash they were on the court in Washington D.C. beginning their march to the Big Ten tournament championship, mostly winning as a lower seed against teams that enjoyed better regular seasons.
Guard Derrick Walton Jr. has become one of the better players in college basketball during this run. He’s run this team like a captain and made big shots all over the place. But this is not a one man show. Louisville initiated a game plan to wear Walton down. The Cardinals figured if you cut off the head that the body would die.
But then you have a bundle of energy like Moe Wagner who scored 26 points on the inside and by driving the lane to freedom. And there is D.J. Wilson who has awkward inside moves that keep opponents off-balance, can hit the three ball and calmly sinks big free throws down the stretch to keep the Wolverines out of harm’s way.
Do you remember a few weeks ago when some agitated Wolverine fans called for coach John Beilein’s head after losses to Illinois and Ohio State? Now he is considered a smart man who can coach his butt off. He too has discovered that life is more important than basketball and it shows in how he carries himself.
Does Beilien seem like a guy who would attack his players with a giant water soaker? That’s exactly what he did following the Louisville victory. He’s discovered the fountain of youth and has his team believing anything can happen.
“We’re gonna do everything we can to win this whole thing,” Beilein said. “I’m no spring chicken. You get to the Sweet 16, you’re only four games from winning the whole thing. We have to have that belief that we can play with a lot of people.”
Michigan beat Oklahoma State with 16 three balls. Louisville coach Rick Pitino called the Wolverines the Golden State Warriors of college basketball and did not want Walton to beat his team with the three. So he had his lads harass Walton and shadowed him with 7-foot Anas Mahmoud. Michigan only hit six three-pointers but that freed Wagner and Wilson who did their thing in the lane.
So we can throw out the myth that Michigan lives by the three and dies by the three.
“That’s the beautiful thing with this team, there is no ‘man’”, Wagner said. “Every day it can be somebody else. People always say we’re just a shooting team and we know we can shoot. But we also know that’s not the only thing we can do and I’m happy we can show that.”
The best story in college basketball continues Thursday against Oregon in the Midwest regional semifinal as Michigan continues its journey to become the most important story of the season by winning the National championship.
Even my Spartan wife is rooting for that story.