Sometimes when I finish crocheting on icy Wednesday evenings, I build houses of cards.
This pastime helps me reflect on the day gone by and allows me to contemplate other issues — such as the prospects of the Michigan men’s basketball team the remainder of the season.
The Wolverines have a certain formula they use to win games. They rely on penetration from their guards to create open shots for their shooters. But when they can’t find penetration or hit their shots, they wind up looking much like my cards in my amateur years of building.
Allow me to let you in on a few tricks of the card-building trade. Glue works. I successfully build houses every time I add a dose of Elmer’s to my construction. That’s not the only way I can build one, but it sure does help matters.
In the same way, this team finds success under specific circumstances. The most prominent of those conveniently involves a house, but one not made of spades and diamonds. Rather, it’s the House that Cazzie Built.
The Wolverines are unbeaten at home and have looked like a different team than the traveling version of the squad. They have been PT Cruisin’ at the Crisler Center this season, where they’ve put up a 14-0 mark. But in visiting arenas, they are a rather underwhelming 1-6.
The Indiana team that Michigan fell to in Bloomington the first week of the year was the same one it beat at Crisler by 12 points last week. And the same Michigan State team that lost to the Wolverines three weeks ago had no problem with Michigan at the Breslin Center on Sunday, as the Spartans swag-stepped to a 10-point victory.
No explanation can help me understand how a team can play the same exact sport under the same exact rules, so much more poorly in a different venue. Yet, I’ll agree that there’s something real about home-court advantage.
Luckily for Michigan, the meaningful games it plays this season won’t be in opposing arenas. But unluckily for Michigan, those games also won’t be at home.
So, just like glue isn’t allowed at my quarterly card-building competitions, the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament are held at neutral sites.
For these games, the dark magic of home-court advantage isn’t around to haunt my dreams. It’s at these times that Michigan will have to win games on its own merit.
When the time comes, Michigan will have to face the consequences of its lack of depth in the post. Redshirt sophomore center Jordan Morgan is the only person able to defend elite big men in the post. And when he tried to do that a week ago, Ohio State knocked him around. After picking up four fouls, Morgan had to spend much of the second half on the bench.
With sophomore center Jon Horford nursing a foot injury that looks to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season, Michigan’s only alternatives to guard the Meyers Leonards and Jared Sullingers remaining on the regular-season schedule are slight sophomore Evan Smotrycz and perimeter-dwelling junior Blake McLimans.
And when the games that matter come around, Michigan must deal with the reality that its most prolific shooter may also be its worst. Sophomore forward Tim Hardaway Jr. has taken 46 more 3-pointers than senior guard Zack Novak and he’s made two fewer.
Hardaway continues to play like his father (circa 2035) and it’s hurting Michigan. His questionable shot selection, turbulent emotions and resemblance to Chris Rock have put the Wolverines in a funny position.
Michigan coach John Beilein has reiterated his faith in the sophomore, but that faith has scarcely been rewarded in Big Ten play. If Hardaway keeps on gunning, he might just shoot the Wolverines out of Big Ten title contention or postseason tournament play.
How freshman point guard Trey Burke performs down the stretch will also have important implications. Early in my card-building days, I would fatigue when I neared completion of one of my mansions. My hands would tremble, and I found it difficult to place my cards like I was used to.
Burke may be at risk of something similar. He has had more difficulty getting into the lane in recent games, and though his numbers haven’t been affected because he’s been draining threes, he does not look as explosive off the dribble.
The Wolverines may not look to be in such bad shape now, sitting comfortably at third place in the conference with a relatively cushy schedule ahead.
Still, their hopes for even greater glory in March rest on a few cards — on threes (by Hardaway), a five (position-wise) in Morgan and an ace in Burke.
And if, somehow, the house hasn’t fallen, King Beilein winds up on top.
— Rothschild doesn’t actually build card houses, nor does he crochet. Still, he enjoyed living out his fantasies through this column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nrothschild3.