SAN ANTONIO — If you really want to know why this Michigan team is so easy to root for — and why neutrals should grab a seat on the bandwagon — we give you Wolverines coach John Beilein on Sunday, and this lunchtime exchange:
Reporter: If this NCAA Tournament was a movie, what actor would portray [Villanova coach] Jay [Wright] and what actor would portray you?
Beilein: To answer that question, at the end of the game [Monday], he’ll still look like George Clooney, and I will look like Columbo by Peter Falk at the end of that thing.
So there’s your comparison. I’d like to say Kevin Costner, but I can’t go there.
Michigan is business in the front, party in the back, a basketball mullet in pink Jumpmans. On the court, they swarm and nip like piranhas, the best defense — No. 3 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com — still dancing.
Off the court? Well, off the court, they’re goofs. Water-gun fights, humility and hugs. Brothers in arms, kids having too much fun right now to know when to quit. And it trickles down from the top:
John Beilein told me I asked an easy question. If this NCAA Tournament were a movie, what actor would portray Jay Wright, and who would portray Beilein?
"At the end of the game tomorrow, he'll still look like George Clooney. And I will look like Columbo by Peter Falk." pic.twitter.com/OFSvVpSB1O
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) April 1, 2018
In one 15-minute span on Sunday at the Alamodome, Beilein referenced George Clooney, Peter Falk, Kevin Costner, the Buffalo Braves and Randy Smith.
And if that isn’t enough reason to get you on board, America, fine. Here are 10 more, in no particular order:
10 REASONS AMERICA SHOULD ROOT FOR THE WOLVERINES ON MONDAY NIGHT
10. They’re the underdog — and a big-time underdog, at that
Michigan is one of just 11 NCAA Tournament title game participants since 1985 — when the Big Dance expanded to 64 teams for the first time — to be installed as an underdog of 6 points or more by Las Vegas sports books.
Those other 10 ‘dogs posted a record of 4-6 in the championship game. Mind you, none have actually won the thing since 1999 — UConn, a 9.5-point underdog, upset Duke, 77-74 — and the four heavy favorites since 2000 are 4-0 with an average victory margin of 9.8 points.
9. Charles Matthews
When he’s cashing NBA checks, you’ll remember where you were when the 6-foot-6 wing guard did this:
Charles Matthews having a game.
I see you, kid. pic.twitter.com/5puqbmIyCx
— Due# Overdose of FINAL 4 SWAG (@JDue51) March 23, 2018
Charles Matthews : 17 points (7-12 shooting), 5 rebounds & 3 steals in 35 minutes pic.twitter.com/N7azZxiigx
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) April 1, 2018
Charles Matthews is here. 👀 pic.twitter.com/xC1q1TsJke
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) March 25, 2018
Big dunk for Charles Matthews. His 10th points of the game, stretches Michigan lead to 5. pic.twitter.com/sOgYnzhZfw
— Landon Dillion (@LandonDillion06) March 16, 2018
8. This defense is crazy real
And crazy spectacular. Villanova drained 18 treys in a 95-79 rout of Kansas in one national semifinal late Saturday night. Michigan has given up 18 3-pointers — total — in its first five NCAA tourney tilts.
7. That whole FBI cloud hanging over the sport? They haven’t been mentioned
Big-time college hoops, on its best days, has always danced along a slippery slope of relative morality. It’s no secret that stars — and stars’ families/entourages — want to be paid for their talents as soon as possible, which is another reason why the 1-and-done arrangement between the NCAA and NBA ain’t long for this world.
When the lid was lifted by Yahoo Sports as to the names and schools targeted by recent FBI investigations — a report that showed at least 20 major programs in possible violation of NCAA rules — it was almost more notable who wasn’t on the list.
Michigan, for one.
Beilein, for another.
Love #JohnBeilein and what he represents. In light of the college hoops corruption being brought to light by the FBI's investigation, we are fortunate to have Coach Beilein. Even his peers recognize his integrity, which means a lot these days. #GoBlue 🏀https://t.co/fu8nKPHVlK
— Sam "Obi" Won (@SamObiWon) February 24, 2018
A preseason poll taken by CBSSports.com asked more than a 100 coaches which big-time program head “does everything by the book and operates completely within the NCAA’s rulebook.” Beilein finished first. And it wasn’t close.
6. Also, ya know, this
John Beilein has had single-year APR scores of 1,000 three times now in his career.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) June 20, 2012
5. The Drip Boys
Jordan Poole, you already know, and so does Sister Jean. But swing man Ibi Watson, Poole’s co-swag-leader of The Drip Boys — the subset of the Michigan bench mob so named for their matching haircuts, tight on the sides — was also in rare form during the media’s open locker room session Sunday.
At one point, the 6-5 Ohio native grabbed a television crew, plopped in front of Poole’s locker, stuck a microphone in his teammates’ face and did the let’s-play-TV-reporter bit.
A few minutes later, and he and Poole unveiled the all-time Drip Boys starting five:
- PG — Prince
- SG — Odell Beckham Jr.
- SF — Kelly Oubre
- PF — Tyrann Mathieu
- PF — D.J. Wilson
A few minutes after that, another camera crew jumped in between Poole and roommate Isaiah Livers. And this happened:
Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers play "The Newlywed Game" before NCAA title game https://t.co/gPD2icmqwl
— MLive.com News (@michigannews) April 1, 2018
The Overdose of Swag is currently single, ladies.
Line forms at the front.
4. Duncan Robinson
In 2014, the 6-8 New Hampshire native was helping lead Williams College to the Division III men’s basketball championship game.
On Monday, the fifth-year senior will play his final collegiate game for the Division I national title.
Some endings make no damn sense. And some come full-circle.
3. Moe Wagner
Basketball aside, and that’s a big aside, the 6-foot-11 German star is one of the most genuine, honest, approachable and thoughtful people you’ll ever meet in this, or any other, walk of life.
He just has lousy taste in sitcoms.
2. Austin Hatch
He survived two plane crashes. He’s a living, walking testament to perseverance, character and faith. In this locker room, Hatch — who’s served as an undergraduate student assistant coach — is everybody’s big brother.
And, apparently, a damned good trash-talker.
“He’s helped me with the trash talk, a little bit,” walk-on forward C.J. Baird said. “I came from a small town, so I was never good at trash talk, so I just kind of take it.
“But he definitely likes to talk a little bit. And likes to talk about him and his day and how he would be able to beat up on all of us. And it kind of shows — like, that confidence really resonates with him, so it’s kind of easier for me to kind of show a lot more confidence out on the court.”
The 6-foot-5 Baird appeared in only two games during the regular season, racking up just 8 minutes along the way. In the NCAA Tournament, he’s played in two contests and logged little more than a minute and change, but he’s made those seconds count — dropping a 3-pointer against Texas A&M and adding a block against Loyola-Chicago in the national semifinal.
Whatever big brother said, dude, it’s working.
1. John Beilein
In a style sport, a style stage, Michigan’s coach epitomizes substance. Since taking his first Division I college job in 1992, he’s been to four Elite Eights, two Final Fours and one title game before Monday night. But he’s never won the big one.
“This [is] like approaching some 12 — I haven’t done the math — like 1,200 games as a head coach,” the 65-year-old New York native said. “And it’s just like, you hang in there and you just do your absolute best, every single day. And some day, you’re going to say, ‘I gave it everything I had.’ And if I’m falling into my grave, that’s OK, too.
“But you just do everything you can to be the best coach, the best mentor, the best husband, the [best] grandfather, father, every day. And you go do it again. And that’s all I want to be.”
Coach. Mentor. Husband. Grandfather. Father. Every day. He’s the guy from Canisius, who never stopped coaching — never stopped acting — like the guy from Canisius.
Big-time school, small-school ego, small-school work ethic.
“I’m not enjoying this; I’m working,” Beilein said Sunday. “I love working. But it’s not like I’m sitting around laughing all day long and saying, ‘Isn’t this great?’
“I got a great view of the concert and a great sound for the concerts right outside me. And I’m looking and saying, ‘Boy, those guys are all having fun.’ But we have work to do.”
Columbo is due, baby. Long overdue, now that you mention it.