WICHITA, Kan. — You know who should be scared as hell right now? Looking at you, Kelvin Sampson.
Because we’ve seen this act before from these Michigan Wolverines. Geez, we just saw it in New York. Show up at a tournament, play like you haven’t picked up a basketball in a week, set the game back 40 years with your shooting, and survive more than advance.
Iowa shot the lights out.
Montana shot the shot clock out.
But if we’ve learned anything from watching this squad, it’s that when a Michigan team goes cold one game — and the Wolverines’ 61-47 win against Montana late Thursday night in the 2018 NCAA Tournament first round was a masterpiece of terrible offense, a Mona Lisa of brickdom — it doesn’t tend to stay that way the next.
Again: Over to you, Kelvin.
Good luck with that, sunshine.
Because the cobwebs are off now.
The training wheels, too.
The Wolverines (29-7) never lost control in the second half, but never quite turned the engine over, either, connecting on just 5 treys in 16 attempts. It was more than a little reminiscent of how Michigan opened the Big Ten tourney two weeks ago, with a 3-for-19 performance from beyond the arc in a squeaker against the Hawkeyes.
The eventual conference tournament champs drew Nebraska next — desperate, win-or-we’re-going-to-the-NIT Nebraska. We all know what happened: Michigan drained 11 of 23 treys, burying nice guy Tim Miles and his Cinderella Cornhuskers in the process.
Granted, no one’s going to confuse Sampson or the Houston Cougars, Michigan’s second-round opponent Saturday, with Cinderella.
Or Montana with the broad side of a barn.
Michigan vs. Montana in 2 seconds. pic.twitter.com/2jcKhQAgQK
— Jimmy Spencer (@JimmySpencerUN) March 16, 2018
This was one for the ages, all right. The dark ages. Michigan and Montana gave us a second half that went 3½ minutes without a point.
And 10 minutes without a shot clock.
With 16:45 left in the contest, the Wolverines up 38-30, a fuse at INTRUST Bank Arena reportedly blew, plunging both baskets — and logic — into limbo.
Which was only apropos, given that both teams were shooting a combined 28 for 64 (.438) and 5 for 17 (.294) from beyond the arc at the time. And a game with no flow suddenly had no shot clock for at least 9 minutes.
If you think you love basketball, watch a replay of the Michigan-Montana game that just ended and you’ll no longer love basketball
— Brennan Mense (@BrennanMense) March 16, 2018
“Muck,” Michigan forward Isaiah Livers called it after the game. “Mucky.”
Hey. Nowhere to go but up, right?
“You can see from week-to-week that Michigan is improving,” Turner Sports analyst and former Elite Eight coach Steve Lavin had observed earlier this week. “It’s beautiful basketball to watch when it’s clicking.”
And when it’s not clicking, well, you get late Thursday night.
An aesthetic masterpiece, it wasn’t. Whether because of the Wolverines’ 11-day layoff — thanks again, Jim Delany — or the unfamiliar-court thing or the late start (10:26 p.m. ET tip), Michigan looked rusty early, turning it over on two of its first three possessions and falling behind 7-0 about 2 minutes into the tilt.
Montana’s switches and traps on the perimeter at the outset caught the 3 seed out of sorts in its half-court sets, while the 14-seed Grizzlies’ cat-quick guard combo of Michael Oguine (11 first-half points) and Ahmaad Rorie (10 before halftime) was able to find lanes to the rim, especially after Zavier Simpson got slapped with his second foul just before the first television timeout. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman picking up a foul 11 seconds into proceedings didn’t help, either.
Coach John Beilein adjusted to the switches and countered with quickness from his wings. Charles Matthews’ layup off the glass with 15:41 left got the Wolverines on the board and snapped a 10-0 Montana run that opened the contest.
Montana’s emphasis on chasing Abdur-Rahkman and Moe Wagner early gave Matthews space to work with, and the Chicago native took advantage. The Wolverines’ swingman connected on 6 of 8 attempts in the first half, posting a team-best 12 points and 7 boards before the break.
Wagner’s first 20 minutes, by contrast, were ones to forget. The German giant fell over after winning the opening tip, an eerie harbinger for the rest of the period. Michigan’s star big man wound up 0 for 3 from the floor in the first half, and his last attempt as the clock expired — a driving layup that rolled off his fingers only to get stuck hard between the rim and the backboard — seemed to sum up his early evening rather neatly.
He left the court with a smile and the absurdity and anticlimax of it all, but Beilein appeared somewhat less amused.
— Vegas Thinks (@Shills0) March 16, 2018
Accent on the former, kids.
“John Beilein’s team is clearly better defensively this season,” Lavin noted, “but they win with their precise offense.”
This time, um, not so much. Maybe we try Saturday without the shot clock and see what happens. At this point, it couldn’t possibly be any worse.