Column: Michigan's late-game NCAA Tournament heroics bring flashbacks of 2013 run
As sports fans, we all have highlights from our favorite teams that we will remember for the rest of our lives. We all have those moments where we will remember exactly where we were sitting and who we were with when we witnessed them.
As a loyal Detroit sports fan, I've experienced more heartbreak than the pleasure of witnessing those moments in the past five years. But what I will remember for a long time is exactly where I was on the night of March 29, 2013.
It was a Friday night, which for an eighth-grade me usually meant hanging out with my friends and playing video games. But this Friday night was different, as I watched the four-seeded University of Michigan Wolverines take on the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks in the Sweet 16 of the greatest tournament in modern sports.
I sat next to my dad on the couch and watched as it looked like Michigan’s run was coming to a close. The Jayhawks looked dominant and were up by 14 with seven minutes left in the game, and my dad and I had all but given up on the team. But when all hope was seemingly lost, National Player of the Year Trey Burke happened.
Down 76-73, Burke ran off a weak screen, followed by center Mitch McGary setting what may have been a very illegal yet powerful screen on Elijah Johnson, knocking him to the ground and allowing Burke the space he needed to pull up right next to coach John Beilein and hit one of the most clutch 3-pointers the NCAA tournament has seen in the past 10 years to tie the game.
Michigan proceeded to dominate in overtime and upset the Jayhawks to continue their tournament run. It wasn’t until that shot from Burke that I truly started to believe this basketball team could go all the way, as they continued on their magical run, beating Florida and Syracuse before losing to the Louisville Cheaters—I mean Cardinals (sorry, I'm still bitter)—in the National Championship.
That rather wordy anecdote all boils down to one fact all sports fans know to be true in their hearts: Every magical championship run usually features one lucky yet clutch shot along the way that causes the fans to truly believe in destiny and that their team can make a run.
I may have felt that same lucky feeling again the night of Saturday, March 17, when Michigan’s Jordan Poole pulled up from deep and chucked up a buzzer beater to send the Wolverines to this year’s Sweet 16. After seeing that shot and the passion on the players' faces as they chased Poole around that Wichita court, I truly bought into this team being able to make a run again.
I have always been a big believer that to win a National Championship, every college basketball team needs three things: a little bit of NBA talent, lockdown defense and the ability to heat up from 3-point range at any moment. This is the formula that has been the most successful in the past 10 years, just like when UConn rode the momentum of Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier to two championships in the past seven seasons.
When it comes to this year’s tournament, this Michigan team follows that formula almost perfectly. Beilein’s spacing on offense—along with the shooting of Poole and Duncan Robinson—makes Michigan dangerous from 3-point range every game. New assistant coaches DeAndre Haynes and Luke Yaklich have finally gotten this team to play defense this season as they can pressure ball handlers and protect the rim much better than teams in years past.
And while this team may not have the sheer NBA talent the 2013 team did, the prospects are still there. If big man Moritz Wagner leaves for the draft, he’s a definite first-round lock in the draft. And upperclassmen guards Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Charles Matthews not only lead this team emotionally, but they also have the scoring ability to earn small roles on an NBA roster one day.
After a very wild first weekend in this year’s NCAA Tournament, No. 3 seeded Michigan is now the highest seed in their region. To make it back to the NCAA Championship game, they will not have to face a team seeded higher than they are, which is an exciting yet scary thought to think about with how mad this March has been.
But deep down, this team feels like a team of destiny to me. They won the Big 10 Tournament for the second year in a row. Yes, they didn’t play up to their standard during the first two tournament games against Montana and Houston. They also needed overtime to beat the lowly Iowa Hawkeyes in their first game in the Big 10 Tournament a month weeks prior. After this hump, they were able to dominate Nebraska, Michigan State and Purdue, proving that while this team may start off tournaments slowly, they can get hot in a hurry and have the ability to beat the top teams in the country.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas, Caris Levert, Jordan Morgan, Spike Albrecht, Burke. These are the players who made the 2013 run possible, and they will all hold a special place in my heart. But this 2018 team can do something those guys never did: finish the job and win the championship.
And in a year full of NCAA scandals, FBI investigations and many sketchy characters, wouldn’t it be poetic justice for Michigan to win it all this year? Louisville’s 2013 banner was taken down earlier this year, as many Michigan fans cheered and believe that banner should now hang in the Crisler Center.
Winning a banner of our own this season just feels like the next logical step on this lengthy path of destiny, to avenge those heroes of the 2013 team previously mentioned. And after seeing this year’s team dominate contenders this season with great defense, solid coaching and a few miraculous shots, I’m left with only one question:
Who's stopping them?