After that horrible excuse for a basketball game last Wednesday in West Lafayette (Purdue 79, Michigan 43), the Wolverines returned to Crisler Arena with a renewed determination.
“We were angry at the way we had played,” senior tri-captain Chris Young said. “We came back and had two very good days of practice.”
But that intensity and attitude didn”t carry over into yesterday”s game, and there is no excuse for that.
I didn”t expect Michigan to pull the upset against the Hoosiers, who might be the best team in the Big Ten. But I was counting on hearing Tommy Amaker say that he “was proud of the kids” effort” as he often does after a quality loss.
Instead, he acknowledged that his team “certainly had a lot of breakdowns” and “was not as tough at crucial moments as it needed to be.”
After the game, Michigan forward Bernard Robinson lamented the Wolverines” failures.
“We”ve got a losing record We”re almost playing for nothing,” he said.
What happened to pride? Doesn”t wearing that uniform mean anything?
That was the only comment I didn”t want to hear from this team. This year is not over. The fans are still coming to the games, and every Wolverine needs to give 100 percent every time he steps on the court.
Young was right to be angry after losses to Purdue and Colorado State, and the fans should be angry with their team if it gives up and accepts losing just because it”s 10-14.
Robinson went on to discuss how he still gets up for practices “to make himself better.”
This team may not be headed for postseason play, but there are still plenty of reasons to dig down and play hard besides individual improvement.
With games coming up at Iowa, at Wisconsin and at home against Ohio State, the Wolverines could still finish in last place in the conference.
If that isn”t a reason to show up on game day, I don”t what is.
Working hard in practice is a worthwhile goal, and Amaker”s emphasis on that will make the Wolverines better in the long run. But he must find a way to get his guys to play when the cameras and fans show up or this season will be come another ugly 10-18 failure.
“I think what we have tried to do is just expect some of the little things along the way,” Amaker said. “We recognize that this is a process.”
The Wolverines appear to be doing a great job with those “little things” as long as no one is watching, and completing that “process” doesn”t appear to be a short-term goal.
Losing these games is “frustrating, but I think we are realistic also. It wouldn”t be wise for us not to have a semblance of balance and perspective in knowing who we are,” Amaker said. “For us to expect to be a certain team or at a certain level, is probably unfair to our kids.”
Wow, that is what I call confidence in your team.
Amaker shouldn”t expect a Final Four run anytime soon, but I never have gotten the impression that this team was exceeding expectations.
Setting the bar too low is just as “unfair” as setting it too high.
Amaker has been focused on the long-term since day one, forcing his team to adapt to his pressure defense and motion offense, benching players that don”t give him the effort he wants, and putting a renewed emphasis on off-court behavior.
But in the short term, he needs to get his team to play like they practice.
“Our kids have worked hard in practice, and that to me is the sign more so than the actual game,” Amaker said. “You can judge some things by how we practice.”
Yep, some things. But not everything.
Right, wrong, or indifferent, players and coaches are judged on their performances when thousands of people are watching.
Amaker can have the greatest practice squad in Michigan history, but at the end of the day, his team needs to win games to be as successful as “efficient” teams like Indiana.
“I”m very confident that, in due time, we”ll be able to become an efficient basketball team,” Amaker said.
Deep in his soul, Amaker believes in that promise. But before he can expect the rest of the University community to take his word at face value, his team has to show more signs of success on the court.
Steve Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.