TUCSON, Ariz. — Less than five minutes into Tournament II, the Michigan Wolverines saw all they needed to see. Jalen Rose had the ball on the perimeter. He should have dumped it inside. Instead, he pulled up and fired a long, long three-point try. It missed. A mistake. No matter. Juwan Howard got the rebound, and out it came to Jimmy King. He also should have dumped it inside. Instead, he took a long, long three-point try from the baseline. It missed. A mistake. No matter. Juwan Howard got the rebound. Out it came.
Eventually — I don’t know how long, because most of us had dozed off by then — Rose, bored with long distance, drove through three people and slammed it home.
End of story. Michigan could have made mistakes all night and still won this game. Actually, Michigan could have taken a bus to Burger King, fed the whole team, come back to the gym and still won this game. That wasn’t a matchup; that was a walk-through. That wasn’t an opponent; that was a tackling dummy. Twenty-five percent in the first half? That was Coastal Carolina’s shooting stat? The last group to shoot something that bad was the camera crew of “Howard the Duck.”
This was Coastal Carolina: clanked jumpers and clanked dunks. Bad passes and bad judgment. By the second half of this contest (and I use the word loosely), the Wolverine players and coaches were looking at the clock. And looking. And looking. I have seen that look before. Back in high school. During last period. At five minutes to three.
“Coach Fisher was telling us to divide the game into four- minute segments, and make sure we won each segment,” Rob Pelinka said after U-M’s 84-53 win.
“He would say, ‘We’re only tied in this segment, fellas. Let’s get going!’ “
Score one for coach’s creativity. Outcome was clear early
But the truth is, Michigan was never in danger. And never really in competition. And because of that, Friday was pretty much useless. Oh, it’s nice for the record books and nice for the fans and nice for the souvenir hawkers. But think of the big picture. Think globally. If the purpose of a first-round win is to prepare you for the second round, Friday night fell as flat as an Arizona tortilla.
“How long did it take you to size up what Coastal Carolina had?” Rose was asked.
“A couple of possessions.”
“And what did you know after a couple of possessions?”
“That they couldn’t match up with us, from center to guard.”
Right. They also couldn’t shoot. I don’t want to say the Chanticleers had an off-night with the basketball. I will say the rim needed a paint job after Coastal was finished. You know how most teams yell “swish!” after a shot? The Chanticleers were yelling, “Heel!”
“We knew we were overmatched against Michigan,” said Coastal coach Russ Bergman. “We were hoping the giant might be sleeping.”
Who could sleep with all that clanging?
How bad were the Chanticleers? Their star player, Tony (I Guess I’m Not) Dunkin was a whopping 4-for-20 from the field. Jerry West had come to scout the kid for the Lakers. I hope he got a nice meal on the plane.
Then again, what did we expect? This is a team that has played Radford, Towson State and Liberty. And those are the teams they lost to. I can’t pronounce some of the teams they beat.
I sensed a blowout coming when I spotted the entire Chanticleer team dressed and ready in the tunnel before the Michigan bus even left the hotel. Maybe the players were anxious; maybe they just wanted to get it over with. From the very start, when they left Ray Jackson wide open time after time — and he burned them with jumpers — you knew this was one-sided.
Said Bergman: “We knew we had to give something up at the start.”
Hope. UCLA will be tougher
But OK. As Chris Webber said, “We’re the No. 1 seed. We’re supposed to play a weaker opponent.”
They did. That’s the good news. The bad news is, this game did nothing to prepare Michigan for what is often the big upset round, Round 2, Sunday afternoon. The Wolverines didn’t get to work on very much, because Coastal didn’t challenge them. Rebounding was simple; just jump over them. Defense was a breeze, because they couldn’t shoot to save their lives. It is doubtful any team U-M faces from here on will be that small, that inaccurate, or that nervous.
Even the atmosphere didn’t do a whole lot to prepare this squad: There was no band (Michigan didn’t send its; Coastal Carolina, well, I don’t even know if it has one).
“It didn’t feel much like a tournament game, to be honest,” Pelinka said.
“There wasn’t too big a crowd at the start.”
“You have to keep telling yourself it’s a big game,” Webber said. “For me, I just look over and see Greg Gumbel (from CBS) and I know it’s the big time.”
Well. Whatever works. Michigan has one day to prepare for UCLA. More important, U-M has one day to get into serious tournament frame of mind, because UCLA can be serious, and Coastal Carolina was not.
And there’s one other danger: thinking ahead. They say you should never do that in this tournament. They say that because it’s so damn tempting. Anyone with a lick of hoop smarts can see this regional is shaping up as a coronation walk for Michigan. Arizona, the No. 2 seed, conveniently departed without ever taking the court against U-M. Georgia Tech, a team everyone was afraid of, said bye-bye on Friday as well. George Washington plays Southern for the right to go the Sweet 16, probably as Michigan’s opponent.
George Washington? Southern? You get past them, you’re one game from the Final Four? Are we sure we don’t have the NIT here?
Ah, well. How strange when your biggest complaint is how easy things are. Michigan has one down, five to go. Time will tell if the Wolverines can kick it into gear.
As for the Chanticleers? Well. They are named after a rooster from the
“Canterbury Tales” by Chaucer. If memory serves, that was a book we read, made a face at, and quickly forgot.
Much like the team.