One of the most frustrating things about this frustrating season is the constant longing for what was. We miss Weezy and Pajamas and Lofton and JaJuan and the Glue Guy. We miss the old style, the controlled chaos, the ability to spark huge runs with hot three-point shooting, and the ability to run and press and force the opponent to either turn it over or call time out because they can't even get the ball in bounds.
And now, the more I read about the Michigan Wolverines, the more I think we're not only battling nostalgia, we're actually going to play our younger selves. Wolverine coach John Beilien is described over and over again by the local press as an innovator. He's known particularly for a 1-3-1 zone that once caused Bruce Pearl to invite himself over to Beilien's so he could learn it. (Beilien apparently doesn't share anything that's not publicly available, so Pearl was stiffed.)
It's not limited to the defense, either. GVX calls Beilien the Gus Malzahn of Big 10 Basketball (duplicate link) and reports that the scout team at Monday's practice ran Beilien's offense and had -- cue the collective groan -- "eye-popping success against the starters." Apparently, Jordan McRae and Renaldo Woolridge "buried numerous open 3-pointers." Hey, let's put them in the real games, huh?
Anyway, not only does Michigan have an offense designed to get open three-point shots and the guys who can hit them, they have an undersized power forward and a center who can shoot threes. Seriously, it sounds like Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith, Dane Bradshaw, and Wayne Chism are back, and they play for the Wolverines. No wonder they've won 7 of their last 11.
Meanwhile, this year's version of the Vols have lost 7 of their last 11, and they're traveling across Hell's Chest from one Armpit to another in Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, the site of a 49-48 loss to Charlotte last December and a 79-60 loss to Louisville in the 2008 Sweet 16. Not exactly the stuff momentum's made of.
This Tennessee team isn't anything like Bruce Pearl's first team at Tennessee, nor is it much like the Elite Eight team from last year. But we always come back to this: This is the same team that beat Pitt in Pittsburgh. It doesn't have to be anything else. When these guys play their best basketball, they can beat anybody. Even a Pearl team disguised in Maize and Blue.