Thursday, January 31, 2013

Michigan's Good At Singing, Basketball

Air Greece
So I'm in Ann Arbor this week on business, and my employer was kind enough to get me and my team into the men's basketball game against Northwestern. The host Wolverines are the #1 team in the country right now, not that I really know squat about college hoop. Here's a few takeaways...

> It's kind of intriguing, and nice, to be in a college gym. Crisler holds just under 13,000, doesn't have skyboxes, and when you get into the upper reaches of the bowl, the catwalk intrudes on your sight line a bit. None of that matters, of course; there is no actual benefit to the consumer in the professional pleasure palaces.  And anyone that thinks otherwise is welcome to go hang out with the Maloofs.

> Midwestern crowds are just, well, like Midwestern people: nice to the point of self-parody. Northwestern isn't really a rival to Michigan, in that ants are not rivals to boots, but it's still a little telling that the home crowd didn't really have the heart to put real heat on the visitors. Their team did that, more than enough.

> With 51 seconds left in the first half, Michigan was called for their first and only foul of the period. They also ended the frame with, yikes, zero turnovers. The truly scary thing for Michigan's opponents were that they combine NBA level athleticism (Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson's sons are in the starting lineup) with solid coaching and a bedrock unselfishness. Michigan would end the night with 2 turnovers and 9 fouls, so you can see that they got really sloppy in the second. (Err, no.)

> Of the starters, Trey Burks had the best night with 18-4-8 in 34 minutes, but he wasn't the striking member of the club to me. That was Hardaway, who went 3 of 10 from the field in a 7-2-3 line that didn't speak at all to his quality. Whenever the clock got low, the ball would go to Hardaway, who would simply go wherever he wanted and cause the defense to stretch and break. He's a junior, and maybe won't be a major star in the Association, but he's going to get there. Robinson as well, though I suspect he's going to be too much like his empty calories father once he gets away from college defenses to provide real value. But a 6'6" forward with range and lineage is going to get a call.

> There really wasn't much to say about Northwestern. They try hard, do a reasonable job of maintaining composure against runs, didn't have an ounce of quit in them, and held their own on the boards. That and a couple of bucks might get you a cup of coffee; they are 12-10 and don't have a single athlete that can finish at the rim against next level athletes. They also don't hit enough threes to luck their way into big wins. So, well, moving on.

> The big moment for the home crowd was when 6'-6" 190 freshman guard Nik Stauskas, from the basketball hotbed of Missisauga, Ontario who takes 60% of his shots from beyond the arc, got the rack and finished with a flush. That clearly wasn't in the scouting report, and the home crowd popped the way you think they'd might for a Greek Canadian going all Thunder Dan on them. I don't know if the kid's got the stones to do that against real teams, but if he does, he might also have a future playing hoop in North America.

> Finally, there's this... there are lovely traditions here in Ann Arbor. There are knowledgeable fans, goofy timeout games, cheerleaders and the band and everything else that people love about college ball. But there's nothing -- and, of course, there never really is -- that means this should be associated with a college.

People in Ann Arbor shouldn't have to watch a product that's only for late-age teenagers. They shouldn't have to wave goodbye to any player who is above a certain level, and fail to see more than a sliver of his career. They deserve games that matter, and teams that stay together and gel over time. Just like people in Memphis and Sacramento and New Orleans and every other NBA city.

There's no reason why, beyond tradition and an opiate-level addiction, sports in small towns should have to flow through the college pipe. It denigrates both institutions. And if we had relegation, we just wouldn't, and Ann Arbor fans would get to watch, say, Stauskas grow old and wily and beloved for more than just the butterfly flick of his late acne years.

So thanks, Ann Arbor, for the hospitality and the game; it was fun and I think there is no reason why your team couldn't go deep in March.

And I still want your traditions blown to bits.

But by all means, keep the song.

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