Michigan didn”t fall behind this time 34-2 to the Blue Devils in the first few minutes. It was 34-8.
But the progress made from last year wasn”t only cutting the enormous deficit by six points, and the final score by nearly 20 it was more in the intangibles.
As wide as the floodgates opened and as poorly as the Wolverines shot in the first few minutes (1-12 to be exact), one thing was for certain.
Michigan wasn”t going to give up.
The Wolverines weren”t going to crawl into a little shell and just let the bully Blue Devils beat them into to a pulp on their home floor.
Last year, Michigan gave away the game turning the ball over 29 times before “laying down and dying,” according to Duke”s Jason Williams.
This year, the Wolverines” poor shooting was more the culprit than not playing hard or not taking care of the ball. While Michigan looked a little intimidated at the start, the Blue Devils didn”t help matters when they scored on nearly every possession. Even if Chris Young had scored 50 points, instead of 25, the Blue Devils were just a far superior team and are playing at a level where Michigan coach Tommy Amaker admits, “we”re a long ways away from.”
Simply stated, Duke doesn”t have any weaknesses in its roster filled with NBA-caliber players. And the Blue Devils realize it.
It”s about time Michigan understands its limitations, and that everyone realizes that success isn”t going to happen overnight.
Long-time CBS analyst Billy Packer wasn”t afraid to put things in perspective for Amaker and Michigan.
“He”s got a great pedigree, but until guys do it I”m not a hype guy,” Packer said before going on the air Saturday. “I tell it like I see it. I see one team over here that obviously wouldn”t shock you to be in the Final Four. I see a team over here that”s young, basically inexperienced, very limited athletically and is playing in a tough league and is 3-3 now in a non-descript schedule.”
While Amaker continues to push code words like “passion” and “patience,” many Michigan fans are eager in seeking immediate results. They want Michigan at the same stage of national prominence as the “Fab Five” era. Then, fans around the country were glued to their television sets and either loved the trendy baggy shorts or disliked the trash talk and brash cockiness those young superstars brought with them.
Then, everyone was aware of Michigan”s basketball team. Some even envied them.
Nearly a decade later, things are much different.
“There”s no vibe about Michigan on the national scene because they”re not on the national scene,” Packer said. “Tommy has a great reputation, but this program last year was 10th place in the Big Ten and didn”t go the NCAA Tournament. On the national scene, they”re just a blip on the screen.”
Amaker is still in the process of evaluating what he has, and that”s why he never promised an NCAA appearance or a Big Ten title right away. Instead the first year coach is focusing on the goal of improvement.
Whether or not anyone could notice it amid Saturday”s massacre, the Michigan basketball program has made progress. While not in the standings in terms of wins and losses, the Wolverines are actually showing pride, heart and a better effort on the floor consistently.
The team is no longer an embarrassment to the University community, as students showed up in droves to support their team.
“They”ll be good in a few years really good,” said Mike Dunleavy, who is one of Duke”s four preseason Naismith Award candidates. “It just doesn”t happen overnight. Tommy needs to bring in the type of guys he wants, and it will happen.”
Remember that Amaker can only work with his inheritance from Brian Ellerbe.
Remember that Amaker has a top-10 recruiting class coming in next year, including Daniel Horton, one of the premier high school point guards in the nation, and three big men that can help fill the gaping hole at center.
Remember that it takes time for players and coaches to gel together into their newfound roles.
Just look at Duke. It took three years before Krzyzewski could field a team good enough to grab an NCAA Tournament bid and a decade before he won a national title.
Nearly 22 years after he began at Duke including three national titles and nine Final Four appearances no one ever questions Krzyzewski”s moves
“I”m not just saying it because of Tommy: I think they are well coached and they”re together. There”s no sympathy. It”s just a matter of building your program.”
Amaker says he has the patience for that to happen. And so should everyone else.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org