COLUMBUS — Say what you will about the 2009-10 Michigan men’s basketball team.
You can say they can’t shoot (and that would be true. They shoot an average of 41 percent from the field and under 30 percent from the 3-point line.)
You can say they didn’t really play defense until it was too late in the season (and that would be partially true. Games at Indiana and at Utah come to mind as particularly poor efforts, but they played great defense for stretches against Kansas and Connecticut.)
You can say they don’t have a reliable third starter (and that would definitely be true. When someone steps up, it’s a welcome surprise. It should be expected.)
But as you say those things, make sure you mention this as well: they don’t quit. They haven’t quit on this season, and they certainly don’t quit any games.
Take today’s game against Ohio State. The Buckeyes had everything to play for: a Big Ten title, a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. A loss to lowly Michigan at home certainly wouldn’t look good when it comes time to decide seeding for the NCAA Tournament, either.
Michigan? Maybe they’re still eyeing a spot in the NIT? Other than that, the rest of this season is about pride. Of course the players have their eyes on making an unprecedented run in the Big Ten Tournament and securing an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament …
“We’re a good team,” redshirt sophomore Laval Lucas-Perry said. ‘We just got to make noise in the Big Ten Tournament.”
… But that seems unlikely. The fact is, Michigan went up against a team that not only had a lot more to fight for, but a lot more to fight with. Evan Turner, David Lighty, William Buford, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale make up probably the most individually talented starting five in the Big Ten. Michigan has talented players, but not that kind of talent.
Michigan traveled to Ohio State to play a loaded team with much more on the line.
And at halftime, the Wolverines were leading 33-32.
Of course, it didn’t last. Michigan allowed the Buckeyes to go on a small run at the beginning of the second half, somebody placed a lid on the Wolverine basket and that was that. Ohio State held a seven to nine point lead the rest of the game and nabbed a few free-throw points at the end. It has become a very familiar story for Michigan fans.
But that’s not the only part of the story that’s familiar. Just as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing the lid be thrown on the basket during games, we’ve also gotten used to seeing that not affect the way Michigan plays defense. In fact, of late, it seems to make them play harder, with more desperation.
Just as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing a demoralized, sometimes devastated team in the locker room after these losses, we’ve also gotten used to seeing that same team come out strong and play with intensity the next game, no matter how heart wrenching the previous loss was (I’m talking to you, Iowa game after Michigan State at home).
And yes, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing Michigan lose close games. And while that indicates a maddening inability to close out games, play from behind and hit clutch shots, it also shows that they can play with anyone (Kansas/Connecticut/Michigan State/Ohio State/Wisconsin) and, more important, they never quit.
This season has been hard on everyone — the fans, the players and the coaches.
But through it all, Michigan coach John Beilein can count on his players to come to play every day in practice. And in a season like this one, that counts. It just does.
“We just got to keep working at it,” Beilein said. “That’s all we do every day is just try and get better. I mean it. I should invite you guys to one of our practices, because it looks like it’s October 18th again. Just come in and watch. Nobody on this team is running for the bus.”
Though I’d love to come to practice, coach, I need no further convincing.
Win or lose, the Wolverines prove you right every time they take the floor.