SAN ANTONIO — Sometimes, you can’t fight the bonkers. You’ve just gotta wrap yourself up in that Looney Tunes like a warm, snuggly blanket. You’ve gotta make madness your personal burrito.
Michigan is one win away from a national title. One tilt away from the whole enchilada.
Sometimes, you’ve gotta believe.
Believe in Moe Wagner, whose 24 points and 15 rebounds against scrappy Loyola-Chicago kept the Wolverines afloat on Saturday night when they needed it most, securing a 69-57 victory.
Believe in Charles Matthews, the transfer wing from Kentucky coming into his own, growing up right before our very eyes.
Believe in Duncan Robinson, and the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year, finally finding his sweet stroke, turning desperation into elation.
Believe in defense. Believe in ugly. The Wolverines (33-7) do ugly now. Ugly is the new normal. Ugly is their comfort zone.
Believe in karma. Michigan, which awaits the winner of Villanova and Kansas in the 2018 NCAA Tournament title game on Monday night, wasn’t pegged to land among in the Final Four of the Big Ten, let alone the nation. Last October, more than two dozen conference beat writers got together to cast votes for an unofficial league preseason poll.
The scribes locked in the Wolverines for fifth.
Tied for fifth, actually. With Maryland.
The Terps (19-13) closed the books 30 days ago.
Michigan, meanwhile, danced through New York. Then Wichita, Kan. Then Los Angeles. Then San Antonio.
With each unexpected twist in the narrative, the train picked up steam. And admirers. The Wolverines were a name brand that played like, well — a mid-major.
They prided themselves on defense. And grit. And fundamentals. And exploiting wacky mismatches.
Their big man liked shooting from beyond the arc. Their point guard played every game as if the cat in the other jersey had stolen his lunch money earlier in the day.
Everybody liked the 3-ball. Everybody got their elbows skinned and their knees bloodied. Everybody pitched in.
This bunch was wild. This bunch was different. The 1989 narrative had Glen Rice. The 2013 tale had Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. at the head of the table. The Fab Five were generational icons.
They were The Inevitables.
These guys? These guys are The Unbelievables.
Seventeen hands, one rope. No ditch is too deep.
Believe in destiny. Loyola (32-6), champion of the Missouri Valley Conference, had won 14 straight before it ran into the Wolverines in the national semifinals, and it didn’t take long to figure out why.
‘When you can have that kind of success, that consistent level, I think it says volumes about your program, your leadership and obviously, coach Beilein is one of the best in the business.’
— CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg on Michigan coach John Beilein
The Ramblers pass like the Wolverines pass. They defend like Michigan defends. Angry. Saturday night was like looking in a mirror. And the face staring back was snarling something fierce.
Believe in John Beilein. Michigan’s coach has taken squads to the biggest stages in the Big Dance with more talent. More experience. More pizzazz.
Few have been more fun.
“I think there’s a coronation with making it to the Final Four, quite honestly,” CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg told Land of 10 before the game. “I mean, only four are left after you started with 68, so I think that’s a celebration. I think conference championships are a celebration — I know they get deflected and diminished in this day and age. Anytime you have success and you’re playing for some type of championship, or you get to see some type of championship that’s banner-worthy, that’s noteworthy. That’s success.
“So to have a chance to do this, and to have a 4-year, 5-year period where you’ve gotten to [two] Final Fours. [Michigan] played in a championship game — one of the best championship games, by the way, in recent memory, in terms of entertainment value. The level of play that Louisville and Michigan displayed [in 2013], one of my favorite championship games of the last 20 years to watch as a fan.
“But when you do this, when you can have that kind of success, that consistent level, I think it says volumes about your program, your leadership and obviously, Coach Beilein is one of the best in the business.”
Saturday only added to the legend. The quiet mystique.
“He’s good,” Kellogg continued. “There are a lot of different flavors. I mean, every flavor is not going to get to the marquee. There’s only so much room on the marquee. And just because somebody’s not on the marquee doesn’t mean that they aren’t respected or well-received. There’s just only so much room on the marquee.
“And I think the fact [Beilein] had the kind of success he’s had in the [NCAA] Tournament, people know it, and his peers do, obviously. I love him — he’s one of my favorite guys to go watch conduct practice, his terminology, his way of developing players. He’s as good as it gets, in my opinion.”
Believe in the process.
Believe in the system.
Believe in miracles.
What the Hail?
Sorry, Sister Jean.
Something bigger is happening here. The ride that wouldn’t end, the story that wouldn’t die. And the last chapter could be the loopiest one yet.