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On Falling Short, When It Counts Most

The Wolverine fell in the championship game on Monday night.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Losing sucks. Nobody likes to go out there, give it their all, and end up falling short. Maybe it sounds obvious, but it’s frustrating to fail, especially when you work so hard.

And losing is even worse when the moment gets bigger. Breaking down when the spotlight is at its brightest isn’t exactly an enjoyable experience. Ask any player who has failed to deliver in a major moment and they’ll talk about the pain associated with that defeat.

Those mistakes can also haunt players for months, or even years, afterward.

For an example, look no further than Chris Webber. Despite having one of the greatest basketball careers in Michigan basketball history, it seems like many remember him more for the mistake he made in the final seconds of the 1993 national championship game than for those years of impressive play on the court.

There are plenty of other examples too. Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing are often remembered more for their postseason struggles than their great careers, Dan Marino is the player who never won a Super Bowl, and Tony Romo is the quarterback that seemed to always make a mistake in the final and most crucial moments of big games.

For Michigan, fans know this feeling all too well. After a miraculous run through the Big Ten Tournament and the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament, Michigan found itself playing for a national championship on Monday night. The Wolverines were solid underdogs, but had a chance to make history on the game’s biggest stage.

Unfortunately, things didn’t end up going all that well.

After a hot start coupled with some great play from Moritz Wagner, Michigan actually had a lead deep into the first half. But Villanova responded with an onslaught from Donte DiVincenzo, who finished with 31 points on 15 field goal attempts. An absolutely absurd performance for any night and it came in the most important game of the year.

Michigan ended up falling by a final score of 79-62 in a game that was never in doubt at any point in the second half. The Wildcats got hot and never looked back. It was a disappointing finish to what had been a magical season in Ann Arbor.

The question for many is about how to react.

Should fans be upset with the loss in the title game, or should they celebrate the success that had gotten them to Monday night?

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. It’s simply ridiculous to claim that the 2017-’18 season was anything close to a failure for the Wolverines. The team was projected to finish on the NCAA bubble and ended up winning 33 games and finishing as national runner-up. By just about any general measure, it was John Beilein’s most successful season in Ann Arbor and it’s ridiculous to complain much about that.

But it’s fine to be disappointed. Michigan was roughly 26 minutes away from a national championship and ended up falling short. That’s painfully close. And while there’s no debating that this group of Wolverines will go down in Michigan history, the team wasn’t able to get that final achievement that would have elevated it to that special tier.

It’s also important to remember that there isn’t always a “next year” when it comes to national championships. Not only does your team have to be incredibly good to have a shot, but it also needs the right breaks in March to get there.

If you don’t buy that argument, just look at this year’s March madness.

During this March, four of the top 10 teams on KenPom didn’t even make it past the first weekend. Heck, Michigan itself needed late heroics from Jordan Poole to make it past Houston in the Round of 32. The Wolverines also went 20 years without a title game appearance between 1993 and 2013. And great programs like Indiana and Purdue have gone more than 15 years without even making the Final Four.

Simply put, it’s impossible to guarantee success at that kind of level.

There’s still plenty to celebrate this season, but for fans who want to put their head down for a few days, that’s perfectly fine, too. It was a great year and an incredible run. It was also a tough finish and one that will haunt many for the coming months.

Either way, it was a blast to follow.