Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Monday, March 13, 2006

NIT-picking, indeed

I can't even frame this in a good news/bad news scenario, can I? If I told you the good news, that Michigan earned a #1 seed in its upcoming postseason tournament, you'd figure out the bad news almost immediately. Because you know the only tournament Michigan would receive a #1 seed in is... the NIT.

I only caught bits and pieces of the NCAA tournament selection while working on "magazine stuff" (which I'll probably write about tomorrow). The people around me were mostly buzzing about the teams (including "my" Iowa Hawkeyes) playing in first-and-second-round games at The Palace on Friday, while wondering where Michigan State was being placed and what seed they'd receive. By paying more attention to who was in and where they were going, the teams that weren't invited to the NCAA tournament kind of got lost in the shuffle.

Maybe it's because I didn't expect Michigan to get a NCAA bid. I was surprised that any so-called "bracketologists" (a term that is thankfully retired until next year) would predict the Wolverines to be invited after losing their last two games to Indiana (oh, look who received a bid over U-M) and Minnesota. (Or was it just Jay Bilas stumping for his fellow Blue Devil, Tommy Amaker?) Anyway, I didn't even think about what happened to Michigan, until I heard the news on the drive home.

Did Michigan get "jobbed"? I'm sure plenty of fans (those that care about Michigan basketball, by the way) will say yes. Sports talk radio is already burning about that, and probably will be all day. If you ask whether or not Michigan is among the best 64 teams in the country, then they probably did get snubbed. But that's not how it really works, and we all know that. Besides, Michigan had control over its tournament fate, but acted like their hands were soaked with lotion. At least their hands should be left smooth this postseason.

▪▪ Michigan's Graham Brown says there's a big difference in motivation between this team and the 2004 squad that won the NIT.

▪▪ The M Zone points out that this is probably the worst overall performance by the Michigan athletic program in 25+ years. (Softball team, a fandom turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo woo woo.)

▪▪ Big Al watched Michigan's tournament die a slow death.

▪▪ Michigan Sports Center praises Jim Nantz and Billy Packer for questioning Craig Littlepage, head of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, about the apparent inconsistencies in the selection process.

▪▪ The Detroit Free Press' Michael Rosenberg explains why Bill Martin won't be firing Tommy Amaker any time soon.

▪▪ Beyond Boxscores is conflicted on Amaker, wanting him to stay, but wondering whether he should.

Is this a bad time for an Iowa alumnus to talk about "his" basketball team, and its #3 seed? Right. Wrong blog, wrong state, wrong time. But I am proud of "my" guys today, even though my two years in Iowa City did nothing to transfuse my Michigan blood.

I should point this out, however: Two years ago, Steve Alford was in much the same position Amaker is now. There was a lot of talk last year that Alford might lose his job if the Hawkeyes hadn't made the NCAA tournament. But he turned it around. That's how fast it can change. Of course, his seniors developed more and played a hell of a lot better, which says a lot about where each team is right now.

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  • At March 13, 2006 11:36 AM, Anonymous kevin said…

    I'm considering converting to Spartanism.

  • At March 13, 2006 12:40 PM, Anonymous Evan said…

    Michigan still lacks mental toughness all around. Daniel Horton took a step forward, but it was too little too late. He needed to be the "leader" he was this year long before his senior season.

    Amaker has built a respectable program. This isn't the pros where one can go from basement to penthouse in 2 years with creative free agent signings and a coaching change. Building a repeat performing is about building a culture, building an attitude, recruiting year after year, et cetera. And with MSU right next door, the best of the best are going to generally be looking an hour west of A2.

    Give the dude some more time. Sims and Harris will be seniors next year and both need to take the next step, and we need to see if Amaker can parlay an NIT win and the promise of playing time into the right home for some stud talent in the next year or two.

    Guys like Amaker who have the right stuff but lack experience need the opportunity to gain a bit more knowledge, a bit more toughness, a bit more perspective. You can tell when coaches don't have it almost immediately (Marty, Dave Lewis, etc). But it's a lot harder to tell when someone has the skill but just won't blossom versus a burgeoning young mind that needs some time. I say you have to give them that time, so let Amaker stay.

  • At March 13, 2006 7:49 PM, Blogger Ian C. said…

    Evan, Amaker's not going to be fired, largely because he has, as you said, built a respectable program. More than anything else, that was what Bill Martin hired him to do. And maybe that's something fans aren't taking under enough consideration.

    (This is sort of reminding me of Notre Dame firing Willingham, saying he did everything but win enough games.)

    Maybe revivals such as Tennessee under Bruce Pearl will turn out be a temporary fix. We'll see. But that's another example of how fast it can change.

    I agree establishing a culture is more important than assembling a good team. But what is Michigan's culture? What is its identity? They really seem to lack one.

    I'd love to think that a NIT win and available playing time could translate into an improved program. But isn't that what was said two years ago, after Michigan won the NIT? How has that turned out?

    And I'll repeat what I said last week: How much more time should he have? I'll shut up about that if Sims and Harris finally live up to their potential, and/or the next class that comes in replaces the departing seniors nicely. Is that how much time he deserves? Another 3-4 years? What if another class cycles through and doesn't noticeably improve under Amaker?

  • At March 14, 2006 10:17 AM, Anonymous Evan said…

    I think 2-3 years is fair for Amaker. I mean, if the team REALLY bombs next year, maybe he gets canned early for not being able to utilize and motivate the obvious talent he has.

    But barring that seemingly unlikely scenario, a few years to develop things is appropriate, I think.

    As for "wasn't all this supposed to happen after 2004?" -- maybe it was. On the other hand, maybe one NIT and (at the time) one or two decent teammates doesn't make an attractive situation, especially if you're from Michigan and know that MSU lost a bunch of guys and needs depth. But maybe Sims, Harris, and two NITs in three years gets it done.

    And maybe it doesn't. Maybe he'll have to keep working it. But building a culture takes a while. As you say, Michigan doesn't really have an identity yet. In some respects, they need a player to help do that. Great coaches build it, but they have great players who exemplify it, publicize it, get it noticed, and ultimately help fuel the machine. Maybe he's still just been lacking that. After all, the "leader" of the team, Horton, didn't really become much of a leader until his foot was already out the door.

    Regardless, he's clearly got the ability to recruit at least some names. And he seems to be a smart guy. He's the NCAA b-ball coaching version of Joey: All the potential, nothing on the resume.



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