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SportsMonday Column: Nine Michigan basketball facts we know to be true

Patrick Barron/Daily
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By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 9, 2014

This is all new and a little overwhelming. All you know as true is no longer true. Michigan is a … basketball school?

These are heady times for Michigan. A bit confusing, too. The Michigan men’s basketball team has won the Big Ten title with surprising ease. The football and hockey teams seem, respectively, overpowered and inconsistent.

No one is quite sure how to act. To help you navigate this strange, new basketball world, here is a revised list of truths for the Michigan sports fan.

This is what we know to be right. This is what you can believe in.

1. The underclassman is king.

Nik Stauskas climbed the ladder to cut down his portion of the net. The Crisler Center cheered just a little louder than for anyone else.

This was Senior Day for Jordan Morgan, but it was likely Stauskas’ farewell game too. He held up the net and waved to the crowd.

By now, the panic is familiar. Each April, the same questions appear, just with different names.

Will Manny Harris stay? (No.) Darius Morris? (No.) Trey Burke? (Yes. Then no.) Glenn Robinson III? Mitch McGary? Stauskas?

Rather quickly, Michigan has become dependent on its youngest players. This is a good problem to have. But for the foreseeable future, Michigan will only go as far as its underclassmen take it.

Believe in the underclassmen. You don’t really have any other choice.

2. Glenn Robinson III is better than you think.

But cut Michigan fans a break on this one because they’re new to this basketball thing. Most players are not Burke or Stauskas or Caris LeVert.

Most develop slowly and unpredictably. Most are like Robinson.

Believe in him, and he may reward that belief with important 3-pointers from the corner.

3. November is meaningless.

This one should be easy to remember: Michigan basketball in November is about as meaningful as Michigan football in November has been. (Read: not much.)

Sure, the early part of the season reveals a little something about a team. But try to reserve judgment and panic until New Years to avoid ridicule later.

Consider: Michigan State probably should’ve lost to Columbia. North Carolina lost to Belmont. Michigan lost to Charlotte.

The Wolverines have rebounded admirably from that most grave of setbacks. They somehow clawed back from the adversity of early losses to Iowa State, Duke and Arizona.

Believe in March. Believe in April. Beware of the false prophets of November.

4. The 1-3-1 zone is applicable in all situations.

The power of the 1-3-1 zone is boundless. The zone hypnotizes opposing offenses. It bewildered Indiana Saturday, creating 12 second-half turnovers and powering Michigan’s win.

Beilein has been shy to use the 1-3-1 because, he says, he’s afraid of surrendering easy 3-pointers. That’s logical. But teams don’t have much time to prepare for the zone, and it almost always succeeds in slowing down a hot offense, at least for a few possessions.

Beilein has learned to use it more, and so can you. Put it down when you’re stumped on your next Stats exam. With four friends, use it to mystify the bouncers at Rick’s and cut the long line. When driving the caravan to the Big Ten Tournament, put three people in the middle row and one in the back.

The 1-3-1 is good and just. Believe in the 1-3-1.

5. Beilein knows what he’s doing.

When in doubt, reread No. 3. Then No. 4.

6. Spike Albrecht has never actually committed a blocking foul.

Well, sure he has. He probably committed multiple against Indiana. But he scored 17 points in the freaking National Championship Game, so when he gets whistled for three blocking fouls in 15 minutes of play against the Hoosiers, you’re outraged with the calls.

Believe in Spike Abrecht. Believe in the charge.

7. Nik Stauskas jumper.

Believe in the jumper (because you probably don’t have much time left).

8. Caris LeVert has a plan.

LeVert is shifty, but not in the way other players are shifty.

On Saturday, Yogi Ferrell bounced and bounded past defenders. Ferrell was shifty. Ferrell was smooth.

Trey Burke could change speeds and control the tempo of a game. He glided through the lane. Burke was shifty. Burke was smooth.

LeVert is not smooth. LeVert is shifty — like a kid learning to drive a manual transmission is shifty. He lurches and stops and then accelerates much faster than anticipated.

And then the ball goes in. Nothing wrong with that.

Believe in LeVert.

9. Championships feel like this.

There’s confetti on the ground at the Crisler Center, and the place is still mostly full. Charles Woodson is posing for photos with the team. The rim is bare, because Beilein is holding the net above his head.

Atop a ladder, he waves it and, to no one in particular, says, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Then he climbs down and smirks and looks out to a full crowd to tell a story.

“Kathleen just reminded me,” he says, referring to his wife. “When we came here seven years ago, there was about three or four thousand people at our first game. My son, Andy, said to me, ‘Tell me again why we came to Michigan?’ ”

Nearby, Stauskas is searching for his maize and blue Canadian flag. Jordan Morgan, in tears at his farewell hours earlier, smiles big.

Moments ago, Tom Crean walked, briskly and alone, through the tunnel, scowling so severely that his lower lip nearly touched his nose, as if he were trying to swallow his own head.

Now, Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin hold up the trophy: Michigan is the outright Big Ten Champions for the first time in almost three decades.

“Tonight showed why people come to Michigan,” Beilein says.

Believe it.


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