Duke is the standard that that Michigan basketball program measures itself against. A win over Duke means the program is where it needs to be. An embarrassing loss to Duke, means someone gets fired. That”s the nature of rivalries in sports, and Michigan-Duke is no different. At least not from the Michigan perspective.
With that in mind, this year”s team promised not to get embarrassed by Duke again. Not on its home court at least.
So imagine the surprise when five minutes into this year”s game, Duke was up 34-8 and Michigan which was 1-for-14 from the field at this point looked, shall we say, a little intimidated.
Has the basketball program evolved just six points in the last year?
Former coach Steve Fisher used to say “At Michigan you don”t have moral victories.” That”s not exactly true. Maybe there shouldn”t be moral victories at Michigan, but there were at times last year. In fact, after last year”s debacle in Cameron, I asked Associate Athletic Director Warde Manuel if he was embarrassed by what had just transpired on the floor.
He looked at me with a “what-a-ridiculous-question expression” and talked about the difficulties playing a team like Duke in a place like Cameron can present.
That was one of many burning bushes last year when it was painfully obvious that this program needed an overhaul.
Sure Tommy Amaker is now the coach, but this rebuilding project needs more than Tommy Amaker. It needs Jason Williams, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and maybe even Dahntay Jones.
There was once a time when Michigan could matchup toe-to-toe with the Blue Devils. Nobody thought that was the case this year at any position, especially the point guard position, where Williams scorched Avery Queen for 35 points Saturday. Sure Williams would be an All Star if he was in the NBA, but Michigan should never be outmatched at a position by that much.
Don”t fret Maize Ragers, things will be better. Come this time next year, highly-touted point guard Daniel Horton will likely handle the rock for most of the game, and that alone will make a huge difference.
But maybe even more vital than point guard play is the attitude of the team. Last year”s team knew it was going to lose before the game even started. This year”s team didn”t look as intimidated by the Duke mystique at least not after the first five minutes. This was especially true for freshman guard Dommanic Ingerson. The Oakland, Calif. native”s play was reminiscent of another west coast shooting guard Jamal Crawford. Expect the team”s attitude to continue to get better
Two years ago against Duke, Crawford was fearless, scoring 27 points, and then taking the blame for the loss after the game. Losing by 43 points, as last year”s Wolverines did, was never a thought in his mind. Rather, the freshman nearly single-handedly beat Duke, repeatedly dribbling the ball up the court, and throwing in fade-away jump shots from all over the court.
Saturday, Ingerson showed similar flashes of brilliance, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers early in the Wolverines” attempt at a comeback, consistently creating his own shots, and repeatedly feeding Chris Young in the post all skills last year”s Wolverines missed.
If Ingerson improves the way most freshmen do, he might be Michigan”s best player when next year”s Duke game rolls around. His growth, in large part, will depend on Bernard Robinson, and more importantly, LaVell Blanchard postponing their dreams of playing in the NBA and staying at Michigan. These two draw attention from opposing defenses and create opportunities for Ingerson.
This year”s team will not make the NCAA Tournament it”ll be lucky to make the NIT. But building blocks are in place for Amaker to do what Krzyzewski did when he first went to Duke take a storied program that was at a low point, and place it back on top.
Raphael Goodstein can be reached at email@example.com.