At around 11:15 p.m. Tuesday night, when Graham Brown was drawing his fourth charge of the game (last year, at least three of those fouls would have been called on him), it became undeniable: There really is reason to believe this year will be different.
Now, beating Miami at home in November doesn’t mean the Wolverines are ready to win at Michigan State in February, but, in their 21-point win over the Hurricanes, the Wolverines played the kind of complete game we never got to see last year.
Michigan’s three big men – Graham Brown, Chris Hunter and Courtney Sims – were aggressive on both ends of the court throughout, combining to score 27 points and grab 18 rebounds.
And its three guards – Lester Abram, Dion Harris and Daniel Horton – knocked down open shots and played stifling defense on Miami’s talented backcourt.
Although its role players weren’t needed on Tuesday, Michigan has solid backups – in Ron Coleman, Brent Petway (when he returns in January) and the three freshmen – to step in when needed.
So, now that the pieces are in place for a good conference season (let’s take one step at a time, everyone), there’s still one thing the Wolverines need to show they’ve got: bouncebackability.
You’ve either got it or you don’t. Until this year, the Michigan football team had it, allowing them to bounce back from that early nonconference road loss and still pull out the Big Ten. It’s a quality students need, too. Some students, after bombing a midterm, bear down, take extra time on the homework, go to office hours, and eke out a B, while others struggle to avoid ripping up their notebook and don’t worry about the class until the final.
Last year, when Michigan basketball won just one of its last 14 games and seemed to be getting worse as the season progressed, bouncebackability was one of the last words you could use to describe the team. The Wolverines were shorthanded and overmatched, and by the end of the season they were beaten down mentally.
Last season’s end made this season’s start important, and so far, it’s been a success. Michigan gutted out close wins over Butler and its nemesis, Boston University, and have now pulled away from a solid Miami team. That said, though it was important for the Wolverines to start the season well, how they respond to their first struggles will be far more telling.
While a 1-13 stretch won’t happen as long as Abram and Horton are in the lineup, Michigan can’t allow a two-game losing streak to turn into a four-game losing streak if it wants to be considered ahead of teams like Minnesota and Ohio State when the selection committee is filling out the bracket.
If Michigan has that coveted bouncebackability this year, it will be because of Abram and especially Horton, the two players they missed so badly last year. In Abram, Michigan has an efficient player who fits in well alongside streaky scorers like Harris and Hunter. And in Horton, Michigan’s de facto captain, it has a leader who has had a knack for making clutch baskets since he first stepped on campus. The difference Horton makes is already apparent. Without his production down the stretch of games, the Wolverines might have lost to Boston University and Butler.
So even though the Wolverines are delaying the question, sooner or later Michigan will lose a tough game and the question will be asked. Do they have bouncebackability in them?
– As great as the last two Rose Bowls were, Sharad Mattu would give one back in a second for a Sweet Sixteen. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.