The Michigan basketball team seemed unusually relaxed yesterday as it reflected on the 2000-“01 regular season and spoke about the daunting Big Ten Tournament.
Much of the conversation focused on how the Wolverines dug themselves such a large hole and how they could dig their way back out of it.
With Duke, Maryland, Wake Forest and St. John”s on the pre-Big Ten schedule, Michigan was never able to really get on a roll during the regular season.
“You always want to get off to a good start, just like you want to get off to a good start in a game,” Michigan coach Brian Ellerbe said. “But we”ve played some pretty good teams.”
Michigan then opened up the Big Ten season with four of the first five games on the road, causing the Wolverines to stumble again.
“You”re going up against a lot of really good veterans. You look at the rosters of the first five or six teams in our league, there”s no youngsters on the roster,” Ellerbe said. “I don”t care how good you are in high school, if you come to the Big Ten, and you”re playing against juniors and seniors, you”re going to get baptized a few times.”
Last Saturday was the end to a long, laborious journey for the Wolverines. Michigan (4-12 Big Ten, 10-17 overall) closed out its difficult regular season with a 78-57 loss at the Breslin Center to Michigan State.
Following the game, things sank even lower as the team bus got caught in post-game traffic. The bus had its interior lights on so that the team could eat dinner, allowing rowdy Michigan State passers-by to recognize and taunt the defeated Wolverines.
“They started hooting and hollering and saying all kinds of derogatory statements. Right at that moment I lost my appetite,” Michigan junior Chris Young said.
And with that, Michigan closes the book on a regular season where things were never close to going right. The team was obviously relieved yesterday to be separated from the rest of the year and focusing on the BTT in Chicago.
“I”m just optimistic about it. It”s a totally new season,” Young said. “I think we can do whatever we want. We can go in there and win four games, cut down the nets on Sunday and get our automatic bid to the NCAAs.”
The team hopes with a fresh start, they can finally build some momentum.
“I think under the circumstances, with our schedule and the personnel that we have, I don”t feel like we underachieved,” Ellerbe said. “I think we”re in good spirits. We”re looking forward to Chicago.”
Michigan will face Penn State in the opening round Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The Wolverines fell to the Nittany Lions in State College in their only regular-season meeting, 77-66.
Blanchard lauded: The media named LaVell Blanchard to the All-Big Ten second team, rewarding the sophomore for averaging 17.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
“He”s had a good year. He got better on offense. He got better on the defensive end. He got better at rebounding,” Ellerbe said. “Not many sophomores can say they put up those numbers.”
Blanchard struggled in Saturday”s game against Michigan State, shooting just 2-of-11 from the field. Ellerbe has said all season that the going has been doubly tough for Blanchard, who is the focal point of everyone else”s defense.
“What I would like for him to do is to not get so caught up when he doesn”t score,” Ellerbe said.
Searight still benched: Ellerbe said nothing yesterday to indicate that freshman Maurice Searight will finally return to game action in the Big Ten Tournament.
“He”s had a tough time adjusting to college and college basketball,” Ellerbe said.
Searight has found his coach”s bad side all season for missing practice time among other things. He has not played in a game since Feb. 3 against Wisconsin.