Now that Michigan has clinched the regular season Big Ten title and we’ve clinched not making the NCAA tournament, you may hear some talk about neither team having anything to play for tonight when they square off in Ann Arbor.
I come to refute that talk.
For Michigan there’s the issue of payback. I guess. They could be motivated by when we beat them on their home court last year to win the Big Ten title. Or they could be motivated by the game at Assembly Hall last year when they were ranked 1st and we were ranked 4th. Or they could be motivated by the time earlier this year when we beat them handily. Or they could be mad that we went 3-1 against them when the Fab Five were there. Or they could be mad about Jay Edwards. There’s lots of reasons for Michigan to want to pay us back for the many, many big games we’ve won against them. Or they couldn’t care less because they’ve already won the Big Ten this year and in each of those other years, we beat them but they went to the National Championship game. Quite frankly, I have no idea what motivates a Wolverine fan. I asked a Spartan fan who told me, “I just think most of them are bandwagon fans and don’t have actual ties to the University.”
So they probably don’t remember any of those games I mentioned.
For us, I urge you to put the thought of an automatic NCAA bid out of your mind. You can, as always, do as you choose, but you’re basically putting all your hopes on a one-man fighter firing a photon torpedo into an exhaust port that’s not much more than two meters wide. I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say that you used to bulls-eye womprats on your T-16 back home and those aren’t much more than two meters. To which I’d reply, “Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe that there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. ‘Cause no mystical energy field controls my destiny. It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.”
And we’d have gotten waaay off topic, so do me a favor and don’t bring up womprats.
There are some chances of altering our seeding in the Big Ten tournament, but to go four days straight and get into the tournament we’d have to string together four good performances in a row. And right now our record is two. So, I wouldn’t spend too much time thinking we’re playing for a six, seven, or eight seed. That matters, but only marginally.
What we’re playing for is much bigger. We’re not grifting numbers runners from Doyle Lonnegan’s crew for the couple thousand dollars they’ve got in their pants. Hell, no. We’re trying to avenge Luther’s death. We’re playing a big con.
It’s a long range goal we have here.
This year has always been a transitional year. We were never going to be competing for the Big Ten title or anything larger than that. I’ve been very up front with you about that all year long. We’re putting pieces in place for what could be a very good team next year. That hope of a good team rests on a lot of variables, not least of which is whether Noah comes back, but with the type of player development I expect to see from Troy and Stan and the kind I hope to see from Hanner, and the impact of James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson actually being able to shoot the ball, we could be looking at a scary good team next year.
What we’re playing for tonight and next weekend are foundational pieces for that team next year. The work of the off-season will be made easier by a strong close to this season. A win tonight and a couple of wins in Indianapolis, combined with a deep NIT run could be the type of experience this group needs to provide the building blocks for what could be.
It takes a lot to build a championship team, something we all would do well to keep in mind after watching what it took to build last year’s title team. A strong finish to a disappointing season could go a long way to that goal.
Don’t fool yourself. There’s a lot to play for tonight.