These two minutes of video hold in them two of the three greatest moments of my life so far (the third being when my little league team won a championship on a triple play back in ’06. But that deserves its own article.). Both were moments of impossible heroism by guys for whom I would have taken a bullet even before they cemented their places in Michigan lore. But in 2018, it’s not enough to merely appreciate great things for being great. We’re in the ranking business here at joshbobdotcom.com. So, in preparation for future parenthood, I’ll use the rest of this space to compare, contrast, and pick a favorite between the two things I love most.
Both shots saved Michigan’s respective seasons, but how much were those seasons actually worth? We now know 2013 to be the best and most talented team John Beilein has ever assembled, but the legend of the ’13 team is as much derived from what the team and its players did after Burke’s shot went down as it is from what they did in the season leading up to the Sweet 16. In the regular season, Michigan scuffled a bit against its rivals, lost the Big Ten title on its home court to a loaded Indiana squad on the final day of the season, and bowed out in the second round of the Big Ten Tourney. On the other hand, everyone still knew the team was loaded. Trey Burke’s defining moment up until that point was picking Keith Appling’s pocket at halfcourt, but it would’ve seemed a waste of his talents to lose him to the pros without ever making it past the Sweet 16. A win against Kansas added substance to John Beilein’s stylish program and injected a team-of-destiny confidence that carried into the championship against [redacted]. If Burke’s shot rattled out, the Wolverines’ run would have belied the hype and No. 1 ranking they earned early on; after staggered departures sent half the roster to the NBA, fans would be left to wonder what could have been for years to come. Hell, some fans might’ve even tried to get the guy fired a few years down the road.
This year’s team has already more than earned its stripes, boasting a convincing 3-1 record against the Buckeyes and Spartans and a Big Ten Tournament championship in what was initially seen to be a holding year before the cavalry arrived in the 2018 recruiting class. Mo Wagner, MAAR, and Duncan Robinson are poised to depart, but their legacies are already full of career-defining triumphs, and the Wolverines’ top 5 defense(!) should be even better next year. It would have stung to lose to the underrated Cougars as a 3-seed, especially given how the bracket has opened up in the aftermath. Poole’s miracle also made it waaaaaaay easier to shit-talk Michigan State fans after yet another March failure. Also, Poole’s shot was for the win, while Burke’s left work to do in overtime. But, and maybe this is because I took in Burke’s shot as a hopeful freshman in the north campus dorms while I saw Poole’s as a jaded twenty-something in a motel in Liberty, Indiana, to me it felt like Burke’s shot marked a cosmic shift in the fate of the basketball program. Poole’s took this season from a 10 to an 11, serving as a refreshing reminder that we, too, can have nice things, no matter how bleak the rest of Michigan athletics may seem. The edge here goes to Trey.
Michigan-Kansas was a far more aesthetically pleasing game than Michigan-Houston. Both huge Michigan shots followed failure from their foes at the free throw line, but that’s where the similarities end. The Kansas game wasn’t marred by horrific officiating or ugly shooting. It followed the form of a typical 1-4 matchup, with the better team slowly pulling away in the second half as Trey Burke had an off night. Down 10 with 2:25 to go, Michigan faced near-impossible odds. Then: Glen Robinson III jumped a passing lane for a dunk. Trey Burke single-handedly forced Elijah Johnson into a 10-second violation. Burke drove and found Mitch McGary, having a career game, for a layup to cut it to 6. Burke finally connected on a step-back 3 to cut it to 5 after a pair of Travis Releford free throws. After a stop, Hardaway missed a transition 3, but Jordan Morgan dove to the floor amidst 3 Jayhawks, forcing a loose ball that fell to GRIII, who hit an acrobatic reverse layup. Burke drove and finished past the mighty ent Jeff Withey after 2 Kansas free throws, making it 76-73. Y’all know what happened next. Michigan’s comeback was a furious, desperate display of team execution against an excellent and experienced Kansas squad. The gradual crescendo to the climax and aftermath was downright cinematic. If only one domino fell out of place during the Wolverines’ charge, the cascade of joy that followed would have been but a figment of our imaginations.
I’ve been told that Michigan-Houston was a fun game to watch from a neutral point of view, but it all seemed pretty miserable in the moment to me. Michigan air balled open 3 after open 3, a dwarf in a man bun channeled the spirit of Allen Iverson crossed with Steph Curry, the refs over-officiated, and Michigan’s offense was stagnant. Through some lucky bounces, clutch free throw shooting, and the lock-down defense of Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske, Michigan stayed close and even took a lead in the final minute. But after the only two guys who got to the rim all night saw bunnies roll off the rim, I was resigned to defeat. I had already sent out the customary good-job-good-effort texts and tweets as John Beilein iced poor damn Devin Davis with a maximally useful timeout. Burke’s shot felt like destiny. Poole’s was a jolt of joy out of the blue, stealing a game Michigan had no business winning and yanking the Wolverines straight from despondency to delirium. It seemed unfathomable that that game could convey the kind of euphoria that left me cackling at random moments throughout the next day. I went into this blog expecting to give this section and the overall win to Trey Burke. Call it recency bias, call it an irrational man-crush on Jordan Poole, but I’ve swayed myself to make this one a push.
The appeal of Trey Burke’s shot derives from two main aspects. The first, obviously, is the shot itself: everyone in the building knew he was looking for a 3 for the tie, and he still rattled home a rainbow in Kevin Young’s craw from 30 feet out. The second is the crushing screen Mitch McGary set that took both him and Elijah Johnson to the floor. Bodies fell at the feet of the shortest guy on the court as the best player in the country rose to the biggest occasion of his life.
For Poole, there were more moving parts and a defensive urgency borne of time pressure. Michigan’s movement was not frenzied, but rather flawless as Houston ignored the inbounding Livers and failed to pressure MAAR on the catch. In a play the Wolverines have honed down to an art form, Poole caught, rose, and fired over a perfect closeout as a stadium watched and prayed. Thanks to the positioning of the camera, TV viewers knew the line on the shot was pure as soon as it left his hands. Two seasons would depend on the calibration of the most gifted, erratic, and confident player on the court, a freshman whose overdose of swag was only tragic for the Cougars.
As I alluded to earlier, I initially wrote this as a response to young Michigan fans who instantly vaulted this to the top of their lists of great moments in sports fanhood and in life. Influenced by nostalgia, I was incredulous that anything could approach the unassailable moment that was the Burke shot. But I wanted to be sure to do Poole’s shot justice. In doing so, rather than proving my point, I’ve come to doubt my initial position. I had fun watching each shot a few more times, and now I appreciate why parents usually answer with a cop-out when you ask them to pick a favorite. Sorry if you were hoping for something more definitive after 1,400 words, but you’ll have to answer this one for yourself.