First thing’s first: Michigan still has a long way to go to get back into the NCAA Tournament picture.
However, that was really fun, wasn’t it?
It’s tough to overstate how great it was to see this team battle a bigger, more athletic, more talented team for 40 minutes and come away with a statement win in a game that would have surprised no one if it went the other way. For the first time in longer than I care to think, every Michigan player who saw the court played within their role while adding something positive to the team’s effort, and it showed in the final score. If you told me before the game that Michigan would only shoot 37.3% from the field, I would’ve left Crisler for the comforts of my own home — luckily, that didn’t happen, and I was treated to watching the Wolverines do all the little things it takes to win big games.
DeShawn Sims, despite scoring only eight points on 11 FGA against a huge UConn squad, was a beast on the boards, hauling in 11 rebounds. Seven different Wolverines contributed at least one steal, as Michigan hounded the Huskies’ ballhandlers into turnover after turnover. Stu Douglass did a great job running the point, dishing out four assists to only one turnover, and had a couple huge threes despite a subpar overall shooting day (4-12 from the field, 3-10 from three). Manny Harris had a couple huge dunks to set the crowd into a frenzy, went 8-10 from the free throw line, and added eight rebounds to his team-leading 18 points. Zack Gibson stuffed the stat sheet in only 13 minutes, scoring four points and adding four rebounds (two offensive), two assists, two steals, and a ferocious block to give the team a spark off the bench. Anthony Wright (!) went 3-5 from three, adding nine huge points from an unexpected source. And Zack Novak, well, he played like every stereotype of the gritty white basketball player dictated he should play, pulling down four rebounds against UConn’s enormous front line, battling for every loose ball, adding an assist, steal, and a block, scoring 10 points, and drilling a three-pointer from the top of the key with 1:30 left to break a 58-58 tie.
This was the Michigan team everyone expected to see when the preseason polls had Michigan ranked 15th. It’s not always pretty, but this team is finding a way to get things done the past few games. The Michigan team that showed up on Sunday at Crisler is one that can compete with any in the Big Ten. And who knows — they just might.