If the Michigan Wolverines didn’t have bad luck, they wouldn’t have any luck at all. An encouraging and competitive season for the Maize and Blue took one final wrong turn on a wrenching night in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The scene was set in all its energy and color: A yellow-shirted throng at Crisler Arena was about to celebrate a victory that would improbably yet undeniably thrust the hometown Michigan team onto the NCAA Tournament bubble and the heat of the at-large conversation. Coach John Beilein was on the verge of knocking off the Wisconsin Badgers and gaining a high-quality win that would have vaulted the U of M to 8-8 in the Big Ten and 18-11 overall. Michigan lacked high-value non-conference wins, but a respectable showing in conference play, combined with a triumph over coach Bo Ryan’s Badgers, would have given the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee fresh reason to look at Beilein’s boys. After an immensely disappointing 2010 season in which Michigan missed the postseason entirely, this year witnessed a substantial amount of progress in Ann Arbor. The NCAAs were not a realistic expectation in the fall, but as the Wolverines took a 52-50 lead in the final seconds against Wisconsin, an emergent sense of possibility began to enter the minds and hearts of Michigan men and women. Just one more defensive stop, and the Beilein Bunch would have its biggest triumph of the season safely in hand. Bubble talk was about to bubble up on the UM campus.
And then it happened.
Yes, just when Michigan began to dream big dreams, Josh Gasser shattered them. Wisconsin’s not-so-noted guard, the one who plays in the shadow of all-world performer Jordan Taylor, stole the show… and ripped out Michigan’s guts… with one improbable shot.
The sequence that led to Gasser’s dagger unfolded thusly: Michigan wisely double-teamed Taylor on the left wing with about five seconds on the clock. Taylor surveyed the landscape and accurately concluded that he’d have to give up the ball. Taylor found Gasser at the top of the key, just beyond the three-point line. Gasser was open, but he actually rushed the shot once he caught the ball with roughly 1.5 seconds left. Perhaps thinking he needed to release the ball a split-second earlier so that his shot would count, Gasser flipped the ball awkwardly with his shooting hand. The ball wasn’t shot with textbook form; it was released almost like a push-shot. Nevertheless, the ball banked off the window and into the bucket, leaving Michigan stunned… and in possession of a now-certain NIT ticket unless it wins the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan just can’t catch a break. A team that lost by three to Syracuse, by four to Ohio State, and in overtime to Kansas has played well against elite teams this year. The Wolverines, alas, simply haven’t won. That’s how the cookie has crumbled for them in a 2011 season that’s been full of nothing but bad luck.