LOS ANGELES — Call them blessed. Call them sun-kissed. Call them charmed.
Hell, call them Shirley.
Just don’t call the Michigan Wolverines lucky.
“I just look at the situation and [I’m] like, ‘We’re definitely where we’re supposed to be,’ ” freshman guard Jordan Poole told Land of 10 as the Wolverines (31-7) prepared for a Saturday night showdown with Florida State (23-11) in the West Regional final of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Of course, they wouldn’t be here at all — not dunking on the Staples Center rims, not fighting Los Angeles traffic, certainly not dancing — without Poole draining a game-winning, 25-footer as time expired in Wichita.
Jordan Poole game winner with titanic music!!!! pic.twitter.com/HB8SXMlda5
— Michigan Moments (@GoBlueMoments) March 18, 2018
Closers make their own damn luck.
“That just shows that after winning a game like that,” Poole said of the third-seeded Wolverines, who ripped the cork off their offensive bottle on Thursday by stomping the seventh-seeded Texas A&M Aggies, 99-72. “And then coming out here and beating Texas A&M by so many points, it just shows that we’re supposed to be in this situation.”
Although, to be fair, the math sort of does, too. If third-seeded Michigan knocks off the Seminoles, the Wolverines’ path to the Final Four will have come through a 14 seed (Montana), a 6 (Houston), a 7 (Texas A&M), and a 9 (Florida State).
That averages out to having a 9 seed in your way through your first four tilts. While there’s no stinking reason to apologize for it, statistically speaking, that could make 2018 the easiest path — theoretically — to the Final Four for a Wolverines squad since 1993, when Michigan’s hurdles averaged a 9.8 seed line.
Bonus: The winner of the West Region draws the winner of the South in San Antonio, which means the only thing standing between you and the title game is another No. 9 seed (Kansas State) or an 11 (Loyola-Chicago).
Call them felicitous. Call them flourishing. Call them fortunate.
Just don’t call them lucky.
‘The minute you start treating a team, at this time of year, like they can’t beat you — that’s when you get beat. Because every team is capable of beating you.’
— Former Michigan All-American Terry Mills on the perils of the NCAA Tournament
“There is no easy path, obviously,” Michigan guard Jaaron Simmons said. “I mean, we see what’s been going on everywhere. We’ve almost gotten beat already. We’ve just been able to survive and advance. We just had a good game last game. So I don’t think it’s been an easy path at all.”
All the Wolverines can control is what’s in front of them, because they sure as hell can’t control who. They had zero say in the Ramblers’ divine magic, nor whatever contract K-State coach Bruce Weber may or may not have signed in blood. They had no pull in Florida State pulling the rug out from under the West’s top seed, Xavier, in Nashville. Or when it came to A&M bashing second-seeded North Carolina over the head with a two-by-four in Charlotte.
“And that [2 seed] crushed us earlier in the season,” Simmons said. “This tournament just shows how everybody can play. When it comes to college basketball, anybody can play.
“No matter where you are, what level you’re on, whether you go to UMBC or you go to Michigan, anybody can win. And anybody can lose on any given day.”
Weird bracket, man. The weirdest.
“It might the most competitive,” Simmons countered.
Fine margins, 1 through 16, top to bottom. Just ask Houston.
“I think it makes you realize that it can slip away and all be gone, quickly, if you’re not playing on top of your game,” Michigan swing man Ibi Watson said. “We just realized that, after [Poole’s shot], we have to be 100 percent sharp. And I think that’s the main thing that we brought to this first game [in Los Angeles] and we’re looking to bring [it] again.
“They say defense travels. They say defense can always be the same, as long as you’re playing as hard as you can and you get stops. You know offense comes and goes, but if you lock in on D, you have a chance to win every game.”
Teams come and go, too.
Especially if they’re caught looking ahead.
“You look at [Kentucky coach John] Calipari the other day, talking about drinking the poison or whatever,” former Michigan All-American and current radio analyst Terry Mills said. “You can kind of get caught up into that, because you’re saying, ‘Well, they knocked these people out and we got a smoother path.’
“The minute you think that, you get caught. The minute you start treating a team, at this time of year, like they can’t beat you — that’s when you get beat. Because every team is capable of beating you.”
Call them propitious. Call them prosperous. Call them providential.
Just don’t call them lucky.
“No matter how we got here,” Poole said, “it shows that we’re supposed to be here.”
Still: a 14, a 6, a 7 and a 9.
Weird bracket, man. Looney Tunes.
“For sure,” Poole said. He smiled and shook his head a little, letting the Madness of a fortnight marinate. “Yeah. It’s definitely March.”