Upsets happen in the NBA, but they are never of the same scope or formativeness as the college basketball upset.
When Michigan fell against NJIT on Saturday, the next game became The Bounceback Opportunity. Would the Wolverines languish, or flourish?
Things didn't start well, with the Wolverines giving three offensive boards early, and Caris LeVert getting his pocket picked at the top of the key for an early breakaway Raven Lee dunk.
Despite that, U-M jumped out to a 10-2 lead by the 15:23 mark, capped by a Derrick Walton steal and layup. Early, the Wolverines defense stood tall.
But, EMU's did too, as Michigan didn't score again until Max Bielfeldt spit a pair of free throws almost four minutes later. Halfway through the half, Michigan led just 11-10, with EMU on an 8-1 run. Even Spike Albrecht committed a turnover, his first in four games.
Michigan looked out of sorts once again, fortunate that EMU's shooting percentage on second-chance shots was abysmal. The two squads were a combined 6-for-32 from the field through 12 minutes of play; that half of ball won't go in college basketball lore, to say the least.
Both teams limped through the rest of the half, and Michigan went into the break up 21-19, after Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman buried his first college jumper in the final minute.
The teams shot a combined 11-for-44 in the first half, with only Walton (3-for-5, 9 points) doing much of anything for the Wolverines. The Michigan offense regularly found itself up against late shot clocks, launching shots that could only generously be called prayers.
With a date with Arizona looming on Saturday, the Wolverines needed a strong second half to shake off the stench of the last 60 minutes of gameplay.
Whatever John Beilein et al said at halftime, it worked -- well, at least at first.
LeVert answered an EMU three with an layup, and a second EMU three with one of his own. Irvin joined in on the fun, burying a triple to give Michigan a 29-25 lead.
However, the burst was short-lived, as the Wolverines were at just 31 points almost eight minutes into the second half. Albrecht committed a traveling violation, adding a second turnover to his stat line (although it looked like he might not have in fact traveled); when Albrecht is turning it over, you know things are just off.
EMU's Lee drove strong down the lane, finding an open Olalekan Ajayi for two, coercing a Beilein timeout, with Michigan down 34-31 with 11:24 to play.
At this point in the game, you're past the "waiting for them to turn it on" phase and well into the "well, they just need to get it done in any way possible phase." This is a strange place to be for a team that played Villanova tough and landed a victory against Syracuse not too long ago.
A Ricky Doyle slam late in the shot clock energized the crowd and cut the EMU lead to three. Michigan played volleyball on the other end, finally able to corral a rebound, but wasn't able to capitalize at the other end, where Irvin got an open look from the left wing in transition.
Another LeVert layup, putting him in double figures for the night, cut the deficit to one. Despite a lifeless, disjointed offensive performance against the 2-3 zone, all Michigan needed was one run and a few stops to pull away in the end.
A tough Bielfeldt finish from the block put Michigan ahead (and also gave them their first second-chance points of the game, remarkably). Unfortunately for Michigan, EMU answered right back, not content to go quietly.
That's when Irvin struck. The sophomore buried his second triple from the night, this one seemingly from Ypsilanti, to give Michigan the lead once again. Perhaps most importantly, the stroke was confident, a good sign in light of his recent struggles.
Even so, Michigan held a tenuous two-point lead with 4:39 to play. In order to put the pesky Eagles away, they'd need a few more of those.
Remaining defiant, the Eagles launched a 5-0 run to retake the lead. Luckily, Walton found Bielfeldt once again for a nice finish down low.
Encapsulating the entire evening, Albrecht threw it out of bounds out of a timeout with less than a minute to play and the Wolverines down three. Luckily, the Eagles gave it right back at the other end.
Down three, 42.2 seconds left.
Michigan ran its offense, LeVert got a decent look from the left wing, but the shot landed off the mark. Michigan scrambled late to get the requisite fouls just to get EMU in the bonus. EMU's Brandon Nazione missed the front end, but in Michigan's ensuing possession, looking to tie, Walton lost the ball, deflected by EMU across the halfcourt line. Bielfeldt fell on it in the backcourt and called timeout, with just 2.3 seconds remaining.
Irvin's desperation attempt from way out clanged off the iron, and the Eagles emerged with the first win over Michigan since 1997.
In the preview for this game, I mentioned how I didn't really panic when Michigan started 6-4 last season -- this is different. The defense failed the Wolverines against NJIT, but the offense proved to be the culprit tonight, consistently looking out-of-sorts in a way that's rarely been seen since Michigan's rise to prominence. The Wolverines struggled to crack the 2-3 zone, looking at it like a confused person might look at furniture assembly instructions.
Eastern is a solid team, but there's absolutely no reason the Wolverines should lose to them, at home, a few days after a home loss against NJIT. But, it happened, and while the Wolverines picked up nice nonconference wins in Oregon and Syracuse, losses to NJIT and EMU will hurt come tournament time.
If these struggles continue, well, Michigan could be not just fighting for a respectable tourney seed; they'll be fighting for a ticket to the dance, period. Those growing pains are aptly named, as they are indeed growing.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, a trip to Tucson beckons; given these last two outings, that one looks like it might be ugly in a different sort of way.