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Duel of the Disappointments: Debating whether Michigan basketball or hockey is more disappointing in 2009-10

Ariel Bond/Daily
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BY NICOLE AUERBACH AND RYAN KARTJE
Daily Sports Editors
Published January 13, 2010

It's been a rough year for Michigan sports fans. With Michigan basketball and hockey digging themselves a hole as far as the NCAA Tournament goes, the Daily asks the question, which team is more disappointing? Read Daily Sports Editors Nicole Auerbach and Ryan Kartje's answers below.

Join Kartje and Auerbach for a live chat at 6 p.m. today to share your thoughts.

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Nicole Auerbach: Basketball is more disappointing

Honestly, I felt claustrophobic.

After the Michigan men’s basketball team upset then-No. 15 Ohio State, the Wolverine Nation started to come crawling back. That was fine. It was good to see some enthusiasm.

But when Michigan pulled off one of the most unexpected and exhilarating comebacks against Penn State a week ago, the rest of the fanbase returned to the bandwagon. Or rather, smushed into the bandwagon.

The excitement reminded me, well, of last year. Students wore basketball jerseys to class, classmates tried to scalp tickets on Facebook for upcoming games and the buzz throughout campus was getting louder and louder.

Wait. This couldn’t be happening.

And then Sunday came along and brought us all back to reality. Welcome to Michigan basketball circa 2009-10.

This is the team that lost to Utah, which lost to a school called Illinois State (Who?). These are the Wolverines who, in front of a hopeful Crisler Arena crowd, were embarrassed by Boston College, a team that lost to Maine … at home (Seriously).

Those losses were head-scratchers, but after a while, we became numb to the pain. A few false glimmers of hope later — aka the Ohio State and Penn State shockers — and we couldn’t quite figure out this bipolar team. That question we didn’t dare ask was on the tip of our tongues.

Are the Wolverines actually good?

It took 40 minutes and a blown 17-point lead against a rather mediocre Northwestern team to answer that question once and for all: No.

In the most soul-crushing, stake-through-the-heart kind of way, the answer was no.

And boy, does that suck.

This was supposed to be the year of Michigan basketball. Remember last season — the first March Madness appearance in 11 years? Well, it wasn’t supposed to be a one-and-done deal.

For the first time in more than a decade, fans on campus finally let themselves believe in the program. Fifteen games, 7 losses and an RPI of 162 later, and we're basically back to square one.

But why? Michigan lost a pair of walk-on guards this offseason. That’s it. The core of the team, and most importantly Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, remained.

High expectations practically oozed out of Ann Arbor. The accolades poured in even before the Wolverines began their season: A No. 15 ranking. Pre-season All-Big Ten selections. Features in national college basketball magazines.

Student season ticket sales increased 500 percent, ballooning to nearly 2,500 tickets this season. That’s nearly 2,500 disappointed students who planned their winter classes around midweek games. That’s nearly 2,500 people who expected the season to extend deep into March with a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Now, that sentiment seems almost ludicrous. In fact, this season has felt more like a long, drawn-out dream that none of us can wake up from. Did I say dream? I meant nightmare.

Bad losses, a pathetic 29 percent 3-point field goal percentage, poor interior defense … the list of Michigan's on-court problems could go on for days. The trendy excuse is that the team suffers from a lack of leadership. Me? I don’t believe that, and I don’t buy the “maybe the players just don’t care” argument, either. They care, and they’re good guys. They’re as confused as the fans are, and it’s pretty apparent they don’t know how to fix things any more than we do.

I’m hearing that it’s a pretty similar situation next door at Yost. A talented team that — for some reason or another — has fallen out of the national spotlight. Sure, the hockey team’s 19-year NCAA Tournament appearance streak might snap this year. That’s rough.

Even though Hockeytown is just 40 miles from Ann Arbor, the fact is that college hockey isn’t a major sport here on campus, like football and basketball are. Even if Michigan hockey won 19 straight NCAA titles, it wouldn’t attract 2,500 student season ticket-holders.

If the hockey team’s tournament appearance streak ends, half the campus won’t notice.

But when the basketball team snaps its one-year tournament appearance streak, it’s going to be a long, quiet March.

And after DeShawn and, in all likelihood, Manny leave this summer, it could be the first of many.

— Auerbach can be reached at naauer@umich.edu

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Ryan Kartje: Hockey is more disappointing

Imagine that for 19 straight years, your family has gathered to celebrate your birthday.

I’m talking balloons, chocolate birthday cake with that special frosting your mom knows you like and presents just for you. The whole shebang.

Then, you wake up with a smile on that fateful day, expectations through the roof, because nothing — by your judgment — is out of the ordinary. Much to your chagrin, there’s no cake, no balloons and no presents.

Your family has forgotten your birthday, a la Sixteen Candles.

Except, in this case, the Michigan hockey team is Molly Ringwald. And that birthday you have marked on your calendar year after year, because well, it’s your birthday, that’s the NCAA Tournament.

John Hughes couldn’t have written it any better.

At 12-10, the Wolverines are enduring one of the worst seasons of coach Red Berenson’s 26-year tenure. And with each crushing loss to teams increasingly inferior to their own, hopes of extending the longest streak of NCAA Tournament appearances in the nation to 20 are looking slimmer and slimmer.

With a returning group of 11 NHL draftees — four of those in rounds one or two — and a Hobey Baker finalist from the year before, Michigan looked like the Fab Five on Mark McGwire’s steroid regimen.

So in front of a crowd of loyal Michigan hockey fans on Nov. 7, a following that forgave the team’s near screw-up in the home opener against Niagara and its two-goal defeat at the hands of Miami (Ohio) the night before, fans expected a triumphant comeback, a return to glory, a piece de resistance of sorts.

Instead, they got 65 penalty minutes — 51 in the third period.

For a frame of reference, that’s more than a third of the penalty minutes upcoming CCHA opponent Alaska has tallied all season.

Berenson, a man of little visible emotion, looked embarrassed. He took nearly half an hour to address his team in the locker room, and when he finally left, called them “spoiled brats” to the media.

Four games and 14 goals later, the star-studded defense was underachieving, the offense couldn’t score and Michigan fans were praying for an early arrival from mega goaltending recruit Jack Campbell to spell Bryan Hogan’s mediocrity and turn around a five-game losing streak.

That is of course, before Campbell decommitted, opting instead for the OHL.

And to add insult to injury (literally and figuratively), Spartan forward Corey Tropp, who was kicked off the team for a cheap shot on senior Wolverine Steve Kampfer a year before, beat Kampfer one-on-one to secure the series sweep.

It was enough to stomp on the grave of Michigan’s 19-year streak, but Enemy No. 1 of Michigan hockey fans did his best rendition of “Twist and Shout” on the way out of Yost Ice Arena. And much to the delight of masochists everywhere, Tropp's a shoe-in to be a Hobey Baker Award finalist this year.

Pouring salt in their own wounds became a hobby, one capped off when Berenson benched Hogan for the final period of the Wolverines’ opening round loss to RPI in the Great Lakes Invitational.

As two-time defending GLI champions, Michigan’s expectations were high. And though they trailed early, they even scored two quick goals in the third to tie it up with backup Shawn Hunwick in net.

But in a fit of bad luck that would make Lemony Snicket blush, Hunwick’s 5-foot, 7-inch frame was about three inches from stopping the game-winning goal.

This had to be a dream.

Sure, 2010 was supposed to be the year of Michigan basketball. Bandwagoners all around campus bought tickets in droves when they saw the shiny number before the Wolverines’ name.

But what they don’t understand is that it’s been the year of Michigan hockey for nearly two decades now. And fans abandoned the bandwagon long ago for a charter bus.

Michigan wins are like a lifestyle for hockey fans, who have been coming to Yost for years to get away from the culture of disappointment festering a few miles down the street at Crisler.

Nearly a quarter century of lofty expectations in the Berenson era have been sent swirling down the toilet as Michigan has limped to splits with CCHA basement dwellers like Bowling Green (who has been as bad in the past 19 years as Michigan has been good) and Ohio State.

So when the basketball team misses the Tournament this year, Michigan students will look to the hockey team for postseason comfort. Just like they have every year, with the exception of last season, since 1998.

But this time, there won’t be any birthday candles waiting to be blown out.

— Kartje can be reached at rkartje@umich.edu


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