Michigan flipped the script on Texas A&M in a Sweet 16 beatdown
Basketball is a game of runs.
A little 8-point run can happen at any given point, and the key is withstanding said run. That logic can be applied to virtually any game on a given night.
But sometimes a better way to describe “a game of runs” is watching a team run someone out of the gym one game and watching it get run out of the gym the next.
That was the story of the last week of basketball for the Aggies. Unfortunately for them, the latter scenario happened in the Sweet 16 against Michigan … and it made the former scenario feel like a lifetime ago.
From the moment it took the Staples Center court to the moment the final buzzer sounded on Texas A&M’s season Thursday night, it felt like role reversal from last Sunday. You know, when the Aggies put UNC into the corner of the ring and delivered haymakers to the jugular until it couldn’t stand on its own two feet.
Thursday, it was A&M’s turn to stand in the corner of the ring and take punches. And boy, did they come in bunches.
Maybe it was a little bit of overconfidence from A&M that led to Thursday’s lopsided result. I mean, how could 18-22 year-old kids not have a little extra swagger after taking the defending champs to the woodshed?
It wasn’t surprising to see T.J. Starks come out and say that he felt “unguardable.” Well, he was pretty guardable Thursday. He had just 5 points on 2-of-11 shooting to go along with 5 turnovers.
Perhaps Starks and the Aggies didn’t quite realize what they were up against. Maybe they watched Michigan grind its way through the opening weekend and only reach the Sweet 16 because of a prayer 3-pointer.
Who knows? Maybe they forgot that John Beilein was one of the best coaches in America, and with nearly a week to game plan, he’s pretty stinkin’ good. Apparently Michigan’s rust from its 2-week conference tournament layoff was gone Thursday. Very gone.
It’s easy to say that Michigan just caught fire from deep and hit some shots to balloon the lead early. It’s true. Michigan was on fire. I mean, 7 players hitting 3s in the first 11 minutes is insane. No wonder it was 33-12 before Texas A&M could even break a sweat.
Part of the problem was that, but goodness, the Aggies didn’t defend like a team in a win-or-go-home game until their bags were packed in the middle of the second half. It wasn’t just dumb luck that the Wolverines caught fire. They hit wide-open buckets. Teams don’t score 99 points when they’re pushed defensively.
That obviously didn’t play into A&M’s hand. It wanted to follow the blueprint from UNC. That is, feed Tyler Davis and get some highlight-reel looks for Robert Williams. That actually happened. Davis actually had 24 points and 8 boards while Williams had 12 points, all of which felt like they came via electric dunks:
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 23, 2018
But that was never going to be enough to beat a team like Michigan. The Wolverines have the look of a team that figured it out. Thursday marked their 12th consecutive win, and they’ve come in a variety of forms. What’s the common denominator (besides the score)? It’s defense. Michigan constantly defended like its season was on the line.
For all the flashes of brilliance of A&M in 2017-18, it couldn’t string enough games together doing just that. It might’ve been a bit premature to think that Texas A&M was capable of putting it all together for 6 consecutive games. That didn’t make Thursday night any less painful of an end.
The only thing more frustrating than a finish like that was listening to Reggie Miller call the Aggies “Texas” multiple times. Salt, meet wound.
But that doesn’t mean that the 2017-18 was a disappointment by any means. Not many teams an overcome an 0-5 start to conference play and make it to a Sweet 16. Shoot, the program only had 5 Sweet 16 trips in program history before this year. Texas A&M overcame injuries, suspensions and just trying to figure out who it was.
By night’s end, it finally felt like we knew who Billy Kennedy’s team was. It was a team that had tremendous upside that could look like a top-5 team on a given night, and it was a team that could spiral out of control against the right team. Michigan was that team.
Maybe if Davis, Starks and Admon Gilder all return — I’m assuming Williams is gone — Texas A&M can be that team that puts it all together at the perfect time like Michigan appears it’s doing right now. Only time will tell.
For now, though, it’ll be a long flight home to think about the run they didn’t go on.