Michigan 78, VCU 53…Or, Some Days You Are The Dog And Some Days You Are The Hydrant…
Sure, Michigan beat the Rams up and down, left and right, top and bottom. The Wolverines played like a team that was ranked number one in the nation during the season, and added Parade All-American Mitch McGary to that mix. It was a dominating performance for Michigan.
The scoreboard registered a 78-53 Wolverines victory, so that's the margin. I say it was closer. I'm not giving in.
College basketball is a sport of emotion, of passion, a between-the-ears war of confidence. You have it and you can do anything. You don't and you're vulnerable. Basketball is also heavy with cause-and-effect. Something happens–a turnover, a three, a foul–and then something else happens as a result of the first event. They are all connected, and many times they are connected to the initial event.
That's why there were two specific points in the Michigan game that could've changed everything. The margin of victory for Michigan came at those junctures, not at the final buzzer. Once they occurred and Michigan controlled the effect, the only thing left was accounting.
First, in the middle of the first half VCU trailed 18-17. The Rams had played average (at best) basketball. Michigan seemed to be in full control of things, despite the scoreboard. However there were wobbles, and when Briante Weber plucked the basketball from Trey Burke you could feel a temperature change.
VCU had forced a havoc-lite sequence where Michigan was 1-4 from the field, and that was Burke's second straight turnover. The momentum of the game was changing in VCUs favor, and you know what happens when havoc gets rolling.
Besides, you've seen games like this not involving VCU. A team makes a few plays, then makes a big play, and presto–they rip off a 14-2 run that changes the game entirely. Mentally and emotionally, both teams begin to carry different body language. The mental leads to the physical. Emotion. Cause. Effect.
Weber fed Troy Daniels, who rose and fired from three. If it swishes, VCU leads and that moment occurs–the entire tenor of the game changes. I'll go to my grave believing those final 30 minutes play out differently if that balls goes in. Instead, the ball caromed away, Michigan grabbed the rebound, exhaled, and reassumed control.
The Wolverines excised VCU from that point forward, a surgical 20-6 run to end the half. The Rams shot the ball terribly during that sequence, at one point missing 14 of 15 shots, but Michigan was impressive in its play.
That was moment number one. Confidence.
VCU was not shaken. The Rams began the second half like an inferno. Shaka Smart opened the half by trapping Burke near midcout. It was a halftime tweak that paid dividends. Burke was harried into three turnovers on Michigan's first three possessions of the half.
The Rams cut the lead to 38-27, and after a Nik Stauskas miss VCU rushed down court buoyed by the spirit of holding Michigan empty on its first four possessions of the second half. Rob Brandenberg zipped in from the wing and rose for a six-footer. We saw Brandenberg knock this shot down 50 times during the season.
This one would've cut the Michigan lead to a nerve-shaking nine points, a single-digit lead after a dominating performance. It would've been one of those nine-point leads that felt like a lot less. But Brandenberg's shot hit front iron and the ball deflected out of bounds off a Rams player.
Michigan then repeated the first half flurry, only this time it was a 26-11 run that put the game out of reach. The Wolverines, on two occassions, did what great teams do–they stepped on our necks.
Michigan is a better team that also played better on Saturday. They saw
blood and they pounced. It's the same standard by which we hold VCU.
Two shots. Two misses. Two mindsets that altered an NCAA tournament basketball game.