(A full write up on the Camp Randall Classic will be posted tomorrow. I'm still sorting through the hundred plus photos I took and trying to sort out how best to phrase some things. It was an amazing experience and tremendous game that, unfortunately, was marred by some horrible officiating at the end. In the meantime, I thought we'd look at the bigger picture today. - Ed.)
The last few months have been difficult for Michigan fans. And for once this has nothing to do with football. About a year removed from Michigan's first NCAA tournament in the prior ten years, the basketball team showed us why it's a questionable bubble team. A questionable NIT bubble team. Instead of performing like the NCAA tournament team they were supposed to be, Michigan played like the collection of mismatched parts we now know them to be in a blowout home loss to Wisconsin. Likewise, after nearly two straight decades of NCAA tournament invites, the men's hockey team (barring winning every remaining game and/or the CCHA tournament) will not have its name called at selection time. Despite dominating long stretches of the Camp Randall Classic, Michigan failed to capitalize on it's chances while allowing the Badgers to convert theirs. The result, a lost weekend.
Maybe I should be a little more disappointed about it, but I'm not. Honestly, it's kind of hard to get upset about it anymore. After almost twenty years of certainty on the ice and scores of players bolting for NHL/AHL paychecks, I guess it was inevitable that Michigan would miss the NCAA torunament. On the hardwood, Michigan seemed to cheat fate last year. Making the NCAA tournament after a 10 year absence and a roster littered with freshmen and guards posing as power forwards and centers. This year the tab came due, and Michigan wasn't able to ante up to pay their tournament bill. The result of it all is that neither hockey nor basketball will see a meaningful post season for the first time I can remember.
For me, the relative demise of the hockey team is not particularly surprising. This team simply can't put the puck in the net. They are blessed with speed and crafty hands, but are without a pure sniper or goal scorer. If you've followed Michigan for any period of time, that's shocking to say out loud. But years of attrition in our recruiting classes has come home to roost. High level recruits being lured away before they ever signed their letters of intent and others bolting before their junior seasons. Goaltending recruiting and play that has never panned out. The result of which is a team of second and third line players being asked to play above their capabilities. A team that is very different in make up and ability than any team I've seen Michigan field since 1994.
On the hardwood Michigan basically traded last year for this year in an even up swap. last year Michigan had no business (at least on paper) being as good as it was. Upsets over UCLA, Duke, etc... Freshman playing over their heads and ability levels. In hindsight, this year should've been last year. Flashes of consistency followed by maddening straights of bad. Michigan simply wasn't going to be able to compete this year without leadership, orperhaps more importantly, without additional size down low. Redshirts for potential contributors. A hip injury ending another big man's career. This wasn't the same team from the year before.
Watching the basketball and hockey games in Madison Saturday, there really wasn't much of a surprise. The basketball team was sloppy, rushed shots, and couldn't defend anyone. On the ice, Michigan controlled the tempo of the game but couldn't score and couldn't match Wisconsin's insensity on the penalty kill. It's been this way all season for both teams. It wasn't going to change over night.
It is what it is. A pair of mediocre teams that weren't able to live up to our high expectations. A another record or streak or whatever goes by the wayside and the only post season available looks like the NIT. A bill that's come due after a number of years of good living on the ice and another that popped up from living in the fast lane last year.
So we're paying the check that was bound to come due with this year. And if we're lucky, we're also putting a healthy down payment on future sucess as well.