After last night’s 17-point loss to the Golden Gophers, it’s time for Michigan coach Tommy Amaker and the rest of the Wolverines to take a seat on the proverbial couch for a little bit of psychoanalysis.
At this junction, it’s obvious that Michigan is hurting. Five straight losses, a plethora of injuries to both critical and backup players and the suspension of a star will do that to you.
But despite the fact that the Wolverines have everyone but Daniel Horton and Lester Abram, who is out for the season, in the lineup, they’ve still suffered huge defeats in the last two games. Last night, Dion Harris, who previously led the team in points per game, had zero points and fouled out. Michigan’s balanced scoring, which is typically its saving grace, was nowhere to be found.
As I watched both dedicated fans and Maize Ragers alike leave with 15 minutes to go in the second half, the problem became abundantly clear — this team’s problems are not due to its physical deficits. They can be solely attributed to a damaged, now extraordinarily difficult to repair, psyche.
Now, in most situations, I would be quick to chastise fair-weather fans, especially those who are supposed to be supporting a team that is currently swimming in dire straits. But with Michigan down by 11 at halftime, I couldn’t really blame them — the Wolverines have not once come back after being down at halftime this season. That’s right — never. Not when they were losing by just two points at UCLA or even when they were down by six at home against Boston University did they come from behind to win.
This trend begs the question, what happens to this team when it gets into a tough position?
Answer: At this stage of the game, it simply does not seem to have the confidence or psychological strength to overcome the mental roadblocks that accompany all the tribulations that it has undergone.
This is not to say that it does not have the talent or the strength, or that it doesn’t put in sufficient effort to win. With a few exceptions, the Wolverines do and have. But for some reason, once they’re down, they’re out.
There could be numerous reasons for this. Our most recent example — last night’s walloping at the hands of a decent Minnesota team — would indicate that it might have something to do with a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sophomore Courtney Sims and Harris, two of Michigan’s most prolific scorers, were not announced in the starting lineup. Neither scored a single point.
As per team tradition, Harris and Sims learned that they would not take the floor an entire day before the game. That’s one day to ruminate on exactly why you’re not starting when, statistically, you probably should be. One day to wonder what you did wrong.
In certain situations, this could be a productive practice, and this was certainly Amaker’s intent.
Yesterday marked Michigan’s 14th unique starting lineup of the season. Evidently, Amaker is trying to crack the code — find the right combination — to get the Wolverines out of their funk and “ignite” the team.
While this has allowed players such as freshman Ron Coleman, sophomore John Andrews and junior Sherrod Harrell a chance to mature and gain confidence, the lack of faith in Michigan’s true starters, particularly Sims, has proven to be counterproductive.
Of course, it is a coach’s prerogative to send whomever he sees fit into the game, but, to the average observer, it appears as if Sims and Harris are playing down to the role of benchwarmer or crumbling under the pressure of having to perform well in the decreasing minutes they spend on the court.
And when Sims and Harris don’t play up to par, it brings the rest of the team down to where they were in the second half of yesterday’s game — looking as if they were playing in a fog and not clearly seeing what was going on or anticipating what would happen next.
While he might not have the answers, Minnesota coach Dan Munson sounds as if he’s willing to lend a sympathetic ear while the Wolverines work through their troubles.
“I’ve been on the flipside the last couple years, and I really feel what Michigan’s going through,” Munson said. “As I told (Amaker) before the game, ‘There are very few people who understand what you’re going through, and I think I’m one of them.’ ”
Maybe Munson could help. His Golden Gophers are currently 5-3 in the Big Ten, and, afterall, he’s been there.
Hopefully for Michigan, a time comes when it can say the same.
Megan Kolodgy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.