Just ask the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team, or the 1982-83 North Carolina State basketball team. Better yet, just ask anyone who has seen Full-Court Miracle.
The movie follows the journey of Philadelphia Hebrew Academy, which has the worst basketball team in the history of the sport. It enters a tournament without a coach but has surprising success, reaching the final against the school’s biggest rival.
There’s a major storm on the night of the championship, and the power goes out at the school, so officials use a generator to keep the lights on, with an agreement that whichever team is ahead when the gym goes dark wins. In a miracle of miracles, the generator restarts despite having run out of gas, and the Philadelphia Hebrew Academy ekes out a buzzer-beating win.
It’s a classic feel-good story of a group of ragtag underdogs overcoming the odds to accomplish greatness through wild and improbable circumstances.
Right now, the Michigan men’s basketball team needs a Full-Court Miracle. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, the power grid at Crisler Center is doing just fine.
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John Beilein is a great coach, but the circumstances facing him today are remarkably difficult.
The Wolverines have more injured or sick players (seven) than healthy ones (six). Their best player, Caris LeVert, is done for the year with a fractured bone in his foot. Their starting point guard, Derrick Walton Jr., couldn’t practice Sunday due to a toe injury. Their backup forward, Kameron Chatman, injured his knee that day in practice. Zak Irvin, Ricky Doyle and Spike Albrecht — who is also already nursing an unspecified midsection injury — are suffering from an illness.
Turn on your TV for Tuesday’s game against Rutgers, and you’ll see plenty of unfamiliar faces on the court. Players such as Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins might need to accept starting roles, while former walk-on Sean Lonergan could see major time. How crazy is that?
It’s mid-January, and Michigan is clinging to its NCAA Tournament hopes. Tuesday is a must-win game, but it’s on the road, and the Wolverines may only dress eight players.
Can they do it?
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Doyle, Chatman and Irvin should all return to complete health this year. Albrecht and Walton probably won’t, but at least they’ll play.
But LeVert isn’t coming back this season. He might not ever play another game in a Michigan uniform. And that’s a shame, because this was his year, and this was his team. That’s what he said on Oct. 16 at Big Ten Media Day, when losing to New Jersey Institute of Technology or Eastern Michigan seemed unfathomable.
“(My role) is to be the leader of the team, one of the captains,” he said. “Hopefully me and Spike can really take on that role.”
And he had from the very beginning of the season. He scored 20 points against Hillsdale, 21 against Detroit, 18 against Oregon and 16 against Syracuse.
But then the NJIT game happened, and it started a four-game losing streak. LeVert didn’t score more than 10 points in the final three. And when Big Ten play began, Michigan suffered deflating defeats at Purdue and Ohio State.
And as the season progressed, it became obvious: LeVert was everything. Stop him, and you’ll stop Michigan. If he gets hot, well, watch out.
LeVert saved the game for Michigan on Saturday. Northwestern’s Alex Olah, the 7-foot center, had boxed him out, and yet the guard managed to tip away a contested rebound. Had he not made the play, Olah could have scored on a putback at the buzzer, and maybe the Wolverines would’ve lost in overtime. But LeVert knocked the ball away, then went tumbling to the ground in pain as the celebration began around him.
Without LeVert, the Wolverines are a “wounded animal,” as Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan explained Monday. Michigan is trapped in a corner, and its only hope for survival is scratching and clawing to escape.
This was LeVert’s team, and it was struggling plenty with him. Now it has to move on without him.
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Expectations for the 2014-15 Wolverines have been adjusted from competing for the Big Ten title, to making the NCAA Tournament, to simply treading water and developing players for next year.
Michigan can’t succeed this season, right? Not now, not with so many freshmen and unproven players.
But remember: In 2011, the Wolverines broke a six-game losing streak by beating Michigan State at the Breslin Center. Then they came within a basket of making the Sweet Sixteen.
Remember: In 2012, Michigan won a Big Ten title with Stu Douglass and Zack Novak starting a majority of games.
Remember: In 2013, Mitch McGary transformed from an underperforming, out-of-shape freshman into a potential NBA first-round pick over the course of a handful of games in March as he helped lead Michigan to the national championship game.
The challenges facing this team are much larger than anything the Wolverines have faced lately. They need several key road wins available, beginning Tuesday in Piscataway. They need three or four players, including several freshmen, to make in-season leaps to greatness; and they need a new leader, a more efficient offense and a less porous defense.
It would take a near-miracle for this team — led by a pair of hobbled guards and a duo of developing centers — to make the NCAA Tournament. It would be Beilein’s best coaching job yet.
It would be worthy of a Disney movie.
Alejandro Zuniga can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @ByAZuniga.