NEW YORK –
Call it a microcosm. Squared.
You know the story. Michigan starts strong, brings oodles of optimism to its fan base and then throws it away in the end.
The current crop of seniors knows it well. It’s the way their four years went. After the Wolverines won the NIT during the seniors’ second year, people expected big things. But two seasons later, there they were: back in the NIT.
This season took that path too. Michigan jumped out to a 16-3 start, and again people expected big things. But seven losses and two wins later, there they were: back in the NIT.
The NIT tournament, of course, ended up the same way too. Michigan won four straight games, and it finally looked as if the pieces had been put together. But once again, the Wolverines folded.
And boy, was it ugly.
Daniel Horton, the second-best free throw shooter in country, hit just 1-of-4 from the line. Brent Petway threw a dunk attempt directly out of bounds. Tommy Amaker earned a technical foul.
But the worst of it was simple: Michigan didn’t win.
Make all the jokes you want. The Wolverines would have been the 66th-best team in the country. Tommy Amaker is making his claim to be an inaugural member of the NIT Hall of Fame. Bill Martin already has his room booked for next year.
But these seniors deserved to go out on top.
These guys took a chance on a young coach. On a team rebounding from scandal. Still they came.
Horton, who single-handedly won a number of games for Michigan this season, deserved better.
Graham Brown, the do-everything workhorse, deserved better.
Sherrod Harrell, the walk-on who ended his career with a start in Madison Square Garden, deserved better.
The list can go on and on. Chris Hunter battled through injury after injury. Amadou Ba always had encouragement waiting for his teammates on the sideline. Horton went through a lot last season.
Something Courtney Sims said after the game may sum up the seniors best.
“Especially for us juniors, this is the group that we always looked to for leadership,” Sims said. “When we came in as freshmen, even though like Bernard (Robinson, Jr.) was here and everything, they were like the leaders.”
This was their last chance. On Senior Night at Crisler Arena, they lost to Indiana. In their last Big Ten Tournament game, Minnesota embarrassed them. In their final chance to hear their name announced on Selection Sunday, they came up empty.
So an NIT title would have meant more than you’d think.
In the end, can you really blame the seniors for this finish?
It’s not their fault that Sims performed a disappearing act during the Big Ten season that would have made Houdini proud.
It’s not their fault that at times during the season, players who didn’t deserve significant playing time were seeing it.
And ultimately, it’s not their fault that Tommy Amaker isn’t the answer for Michigan basketball, and Martin insists that nothing is wrong.
Bringing an NIT championship back to Ann Arbor wouldn’t have solved any of these problems.
A victory would have meant little to nothing in the grand scheme of the Michigan basketball program.
An NCAA Tournament appearance – even a one-and-done – would have been better.
And this team could have done better.
But hey, one more banner hanging in Crisler Arena couldn’t hurt.
Especially when it would be one more way to remember this special group of seniors.
Jack Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.