As I sat in press row watching the seconds tick away in another Michigan victory, only one thought came to mind:
Where was this kind of effort the last three games?
Five weeks ago, the Wolverines were sitting pretty. They had just defeated then-No. 8 Illinois and seemed like a lock to make the Tournament.
Then Michigan decided to mail in the next three games. The Wolverines blew a chance to knock off Ohio State in Columbus, lost by one to Indiana to end the regular season and then forgot to play the second half against Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Ask anyone affiliated with the team about the apparent lack of effort, and they’ll tell you that the intensity was there. Unfortunately, the outcome doesn’t mirror their belief.
After Michigan rightfully received the snub from the NCAA Tournament last Sunday, nobody thought that this team would show up last night against UTEP.
But this Wolverine team likes to surprise.
Michigan came out with the defensive intensity necessary to pull out a victory. The Miners committed 19 turnovers, mainly due to the Wolverines’ pressure.
Michigan got the ball toto the post players early in the game, which opened up the perimeter to the tune of 11-for-21 shooting from behind the arc.
The Wolverines cut down on turnovers and took care of the ball. Daniel Horton had nine assists next to just one turnover, and Jerret Smith dished out six without turning the ball over once.
Unfortunately, this complete effort came a little too late. Because instead of playing on a court in San Diego, Greensboro, N.C., or Salt Lake City in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines played in front of a sparse Crisler Arena crowd.
If Bill Martin had decided to remove the upper bowl of Crisler before the game, the arena would have looked half full.
That’s probably because no one wants to see this team in the NIT. For many Wolverine fans, a Michigan NIT run would be like a nightmare that just won’t end. Every game the Wolverines advance in the NIT would just reinforce the incomprehensible late-season collapse.
Michigan picked up the extra win it needed to make the NCAA Tournament. Only it came a week too late. Had Michigan showed the effort and desire displayed last night against Minnesota or Indiana, the Wolverines wouldn’t need to keep answering questions about what they have to do in these upcoming NIT games.
Sure, Michigan coach Tommy Amaker and his Wolverines have continually stressed that they’re focused on the NIT and want to win it. He had hoped that his players would show the heart to come out and end the season on a high note.
But, what does an NIT title do for this program?
Hanging an NIT championship banner in the Crisler Arena rafters next year would just add insult to injury. This team came so close to making the NCAA Tournament, and they know it. Now, an NIT championship wouldn’t come close to compensating for that empty feeling the players had when the field of 65 was announced, and they weren’t included.
Even if the players don’t feel that way, the 4,400 fans at the game proved that. Talk circled around campus to boycott the NIT and not buy tickets.
Michigan fans don’t want to see another NIT banner alongside the 1989 NCAA National Championship, 1986 Big Ten Championship and the Final Four banners.
With a little more than a minute left in the game, a chant started in the Maize Rage. Some students shouted “season’s over” to the UTEP team.
But that phrase could just as easily be turned around to the Wolverines.
For all intents and purposes, Michigan had its chance to continue its season in the NCAA Tournament, but it failed.
Now, the Wolverines are playing in their second NIT in the last three years.
As far as I’m concerned the season’s over.
Wright can be reached at email@example.com