WICHITA, Kan. — Jordan Poole, take a bow. A Hollywood story now has a Hollywood destination.
Twenty-five feet of beauty.
Twenty-five feet of destiny.
“Madness,” a Michigan assistant coach was heard muttering after the Wolverines advanced to the Sweet 16 on Poole’s last-second, how-the-hell-did-he-make-that desperation 3-pointer, the final punch in a seesaw 64-63 victory in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. “It’s madness.”
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 18, 2018
Seventeen lead changes.
Michigan (30-7) dances on to Los Angeles next week thanks to Poole’s Prayer. The Wolverines survive thanks to the free-throw line, the bane of their existence for what’s felt like ages, after Houston’s Devin Devis missed two of three attempts with 4 seconds left that would’ve ended this bonkers ride right then and there. Coach John Beilein gets to charm California despite a contest that featured 41 personal fouls and 42 free-throw attempts.
And while we’re on the subject, can we take a …
Um, take a breath and …
Maybe talk about the second-half flow and …
Look, I …
When the …
By all that Our Lady of Blessed Whistles holds dear, would you just swallow that thing already?
You had a sneaky feeling the zebras were going to get the first word in on Michigan’s second-round 2018 NCAA Tournament game against Houston late Saturday night.
We just didn’t realize they might get the last word, too.
The officiating in this Michigan-Houston game is King Karl-like in its awfulness
— Kyle Kensing (@kensing45) March 18, 2018
Terrible officiating in Michigan/Houston game. Are you allowed to grab the net while the ball is on the rim. And if it how does a tourney ref miss it. pic.twitter.com/6h5mWQhdgE
— Gotitans3 (@Gotitans333) March 18, 2018
Meanwhile, when Moe Wagner got his fourth foul with 8:43 left in the contest, you knew somebody else was going to have to cowboy up down the stretch.
Enter Jon Teske, The Other 7-Footer.
Enter Charles Matthews from distance.
Enter Duncan Robinson, somehow finding a way.
Enter Poole, from out of nowhere.
A scrappy, wild tilt deserved a scrappy, wild ending, didn’t it? The Wolverines left it where they could, where they could, when they could. Robinson blocking shots. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman sliding into the bench to try to retrieve a loose ball.
We probably should’ve seen it coming: These sides were mirror images of one another, at least on the metrics end of the equation: Flexible, if occasionally deliberate, on the offensive side of the ball (Michigan came into the night ranked No. 332 out of 351 Division I squads in KenPom.com’s adjusted tempo statistic; Houston was No. 166), relentless on the defensive end (Michigan went into the second round ranked No. 3 nationally in Ken Pom’s adjusted defensive efficiency; Houston was No. 16).
In other words, you take the under and tell the kids to shield their eyes.
The second round of the Big Dance, that upset of Louisville last year, Wagner’s national coming-out party, was all silk and sweet affirmation. Saturday, by contrast was … well, more of a slog.
A happy slog, but still.
“What happened last year — everybody points to the plane incident, but I think the biggest issue was Derrick Walton Jr. all of a sudden became a pro,” Fox Sports Detroit analyst and former Michigan standout Tim McCormick had noted before the contest. “There was a lot of last [winter] where Michigan was disappointing — a middle-of-the-pack team — and they got hot in February and carried it right through.
“And the same thing is happening right now. And I think Abdur-Rahkman is playing as an All-Big Ten player on both ends of the floor.”
Mind you, the rims weren’t any kinder to No. 12 — or anyone — in the early going, though. Michigan seemed at the outset to pick right back up where it left off late Thursday night, finding nothing but rim.
The Wolverines whiffed on their first 6 attempts from the floor and were 0 for 5 from beyond the arc; the Cougars took a 4-1 lead going into the first television timeout.
Beilein swapped Isaiah Livers with Robinson after the break, and the senior promptly drained 2 treys and took a charge during an 11-4 Wolverines run over the next 8 minutes. While Abdur-Rahkman (0 for 5 from beyond the arc in the first period) and Wagner (1 for 3 from the field, 2 points at the break) struggled to find their sea legs again, it was Robinson’s 9 points off the pine over the first 20 minutes that helped to keep the Wolverines afloat.
After missing its first 7 attempts from the floor, Michigan connected on 7 of its next 10. Suddenly, it looked as if there might be a few drops of that Madison Square Garden mojo left after all.
If it’s at all possible, it’s time to fill up the tank again, because the next stop’s Hollywood. And with each turn of the page, damned if this screenplay doesn’t get a hell of a lot more bonkers. And beautiful.