I think part of why Friday's loss to Ohio was so painful -- outside of the obvious circumstances of the game, of course -- was that we really didn't see it coming. I can't speak for the players and coaches, but I think that we as fans really didn't anticipate much of anything from Ohio. The Bobcats are a veteran team with some very good players, DJ Cooper is excellent, and Ohio's defense gave us a ton of problems. Unfortunately we, and I'm guilty of this too, didn't give Ohio their proper due and didn't think of a lowly MAC team as even remotely comparable to the mighty Big Ten champions. At the same time, I feel like that shared Big Ten title was a bit deceiving -- if it wasn't painfully clear against Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament, we simply weren't on the same level as Michigan State or Ohio State (and the efficiency numbers back me up on this). Michigan was good, don't get me wrong, but they were the type of overachieving team that had its deficiencies masked by a combination of close wins, a very good home record, and enough talent at the top to forget that there wasn't any depth. I guess that this combination of an underrated Ohio team and an overrated Michigan squad was the perfect recipe for an upset.
It's not like Ohio is better than Michigan*. I've seen that attitude and sentiment a lot in the aftermath of the game, and it seems like people have come to the rationalization: "Ohio is better than Michigan" instead of "Ohio is better than we thought they were." It's understandable to make that leap, but it's not true. It's easy to look at the final score and say that Ohio's better, and I'm not forgetting that they led and were in control for most of the game when I said that. There's a reason why Michigan was so successful this year, and it's because it was a good -- maybe not great, but good -- team. Cooper might have been the best player on the floor, and he certainly had the best game of anyone, but Michigan has more talent and is probably better coached than the Bobcats are. Sometimes the better team loses. It happens.
*Don't get me wrong, the Bobcats are a very solid team that has a great shot of making the Sweet 16. I'm not trying to disparage their ability or their very good performance against Michigan, it's just that I personally feel like Michigan is a better team than Ohio is, just like I think that Duke is better than Lehigh and Missouri is better than Norfolk State. I give a lot of credit to Ohio for winning this game, and since this is a Michigan site for a Michigan audience, I'm not going to effusively laud the Bobcats. Sorry.
Still, the manner in which this upset happened is probably the most frustrating part of the whole ordeal. DJ Cooper is a great player, even if scoring twenty points is equally likely to take him ten shots or twenty. He had a very good game -- 7-11 shooting (3-6 from three) and 21 points. For a guy that shoots 40% from the field and 32% from three, that's not going to happen very often, especially when he's shooting ridiculously hard shots. Equally unlikely is Michigan's exasperatingly high amount of missed shots from inside two or three feet. This game was full of anomalies: Cooper's efficiency, Ohio's success shooting free throws, Michigan's poor shooting inside, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass disappearing, and an unprecedented amount of foul trouble for the Wolverines. None of those things are very probable in and of themselves, so a combination of those is just bad luck.
For the most part, Michigan's been very lucky this year. Those who are averse to statistics might say that Michigan's 10-3 record in games decided by six points or less is a result of how "clutch" the Wolverines are or how well they play in late game situations. They're not entirely wrong, but there is an element of luck to how well teams do in close games. A bounce here, a missed shot there, an untimely turnover, whatever, they all can swing games that are down to the wire. I had this exchange with a writer at The Only Colors after the Minnesota game:
@HeckAtTOC Yes, we'll call it the magic touch and hope that there's no regression to the mean please please please.— Alex Cook (@Alex_MnB) March 10, 2012
Well, Michigan finally lost a close one. They were bound to, eventually. The circumstances of the loss are the worst part -- being upset in the first round as a protected seed is bad (although not nearly as bad as losing to a 15, Duke and Missouri), Zack and Stu's careers are over with a resounding thud, and the finality of the season's end is setting in. It sucks that it had to end this way, but Michigan couldn't keep living on the edge forever. That's the primary issue I have with the narratives that the media and fans are establishing for this game; it's not that Michigan choked, or that Ohio was a better team, it's that they finally lost the close one. That's just how it goes sometimes.
Brief Player Bullets:
- Trey Burke -- Pretty disappointing tournament debut for Burke: 5-15 shooting and several missed three pointers down the stretch that would have tied it. If he hadn't have gotten it going in the second half, things could have been much worse though.
- Tim Hardaway, Jr. -- Definitely an up-and-down day for Hardaway, who scored 14 points but was an inefficient 5-14 from the field including some unfortunate missed layups. He and Trey both said that they're coming back next year, so that's good (even if Darius said it at this time last year too).
- Jordan Morgan -- This would have been a bigger story if we'd had won, but 8 points on five field goal attempts and 8 rebounds (including four on offense) is what we want from Morgan moving forward into next year. Solid day for him.
- Evan Smotrycz -- Everybody remembers his turnover that sealed the loss, but Smotrycz had the best day of any Wolverine -- 6-7 shooting, 15 points, and 7 rebounds off of the bench for Evan. Criticism of his game is extremely stupid (especially because no one else was doing well on defense either).
- Zack Novak and Stu Douglass -- It was a poor way for these two to go out, as neither contributed much on offense and both struggled with Cooper and Ivo Baltic respectively on defense. Very good careers for both players, but this game was a sad end.