LOS ANGELES — Riding shotgun with Sister Jean to San Antonio. You couldn’t make this @&$% up if you tried.
Sorry. Forgive us, Sister.
It’s just that this Michigan team — heck, this Michigan story — keeps adding layers to the narrative, layers to the bonkers.
During the first half of a 58-54 win over Florida State on Saturday, the dogfight that sent the Wolverines to their second Final Four in six years, Michigan was a holy mess. The 3 seed in the West whiffed on 14 of its first 21 shots and missed 8 of its first 10 3-point attempts.
The Wolverines, a bunch that never self-destructs, turned the ball over 8 times. That was new. They were blocked — violently blocked, old-school-Dikembe-Mutombo-with-a-finger-wag blocked — 5 times. That was ugly.
They led at the break anyway.
Bonkers. Absolutely, positively, #*@&-ing loopy.
Thirteen straight wins will do that to you.
Moe Wagner will do that to you. When Florida State and its army of front-court giants got inside the heads of Michigan guards who were used to a painless path to the lane, it was the Wolverines’ German power forward who found the inside part of his inside-out game (12 points, 6 rebounds) in the second half, posting deep and cleaning up.
Charles Matthews (17 points) will do that you. The Chicago native is one of those NBA-ready wings, a mixer who can create his own shot off the dribble when everything else goes to hell.
Which it did Saturday. A lot. The Seminoles (23-12) didn’t get this far on subtlety. Or finesse.
We know the Wolverines (32-7) can win pretty, like they did Thursday night. More important, we know they can win when the game turns into a Muay Thai fight — all knees and elbows and cuts above the eye.
The West Regional final was the latter, a pair of defenses putting the other side the clinch, each squad attempting to strangle the other with different styles.
‘He keeps his teams grounded. He keeps them focused.’
— Former Michigan All-American Terry Mills on Wolverines coach John Beilein
The Seminoles sag, luring you into a false sense of security, a false sense of space, then collapse on you in the paint, 7-foot Ike Obiagu or 7-4 Christ Koumadje erasing hope from out of nowhere.
The Wolverines smother and confuse on the front end, from the perimeter to the paint. A flurry of arms buzzing and hassling and switching, forcing you to play chess, to think two or three passes ahead in order to find a shot you don’t hate.
Either that, or you have to try make a bunch of shots you loathe.
It’s often the indecision that kills — while its offense failed to unlock Obiagu, Michigan’s defense forced 5 Florida State turnovers in the final 5:17 of the first period, keeping the 3 seed within distance.
Somehow. Despite an uncharacteristic 4 giveaways in the first 8 minutes. And 7 turnovers in the first 13 minutes. Despite Obiagu (3 blocks) threatening to swat away dreams.
Despite Florida State wisely running the Wolverines off the 3-point line and daring them to beat the ‘Noles off the dribble. Despite making everything hard. Harder than it should’ve been.
Then again, no one said getting to the Alamo was going to be a #*@&-ing cake walk.
John Beilein, the Wizard of West Keech Avenue, will do that you. His Wolverines are remarkably prepared, remarkably poised, as a whole, given their relative age, especially now — when the demons of the Big Dance usually start collecting on past debts and feasting on young souls.
This despite the histrionics of Wagner, who at this point doesn’t know any better, and, hell, we’re not sure we’d want him to.
“I think [Beilein’s] attention to detail and his accountability that he holds his players to,” former Michigan All-American and current radio analyst Terry Mills noted before tip. “And it resonates throughout the team, where the players start to police themselves. And they start to more or less hold each other accountable.
“You’ll see players — not necessarily get into fights, but they’ll hold players accountable. ‘Hey, you’re not supposed to do this.’
“So now it takes a little bit off the coaches. [They say], ‘Hey, you guys know what’s right and what’s wrong, you handle that.’ And I think that’s probably the best part of it. Good teams do that.”
Champions do that.
Final Four teams do it, too.
“[They say], ‘You know you were supposed to be there, you know you were supposed to trap, hey, get there,’” Mills continued. “And then once you start to accept that as a player, like, [what they’re] telling you is right, instead of — some players, [when] you tell somebody something, they go, ‘Hey, what are you doing? You don’t tell me what to do.’ But his team accepts criticism among themselves. I think that’s big.
“He keeps his teams grounded. He keeps them focused. And that’s the best part about it. He keeps them grounded, that the reality is, ‘We won the game, but we’ve got other work to do, let’s get back to business here.’”
One more business trip.
One more weekend.
One more #*@&-ing mission.
Sorry, Sister. You ain’t seen nothing yet.