What a ride it’s been to the Sweet 16 for the Michigan Wolverines, literally. It’s a ride that begins even before the NCAA Tournament.
Way back on March 8th, the Wolverines were preparing to board their plane and take off to Washington D.C. for the Big Ten Tournament. That’s when it happened. The plane slid off the runway and everyone had to be evacuated. Thankfully non were injured, but all were understandably shook. Including one Moritz “Moe” Wagner.
Wagner is Michigan’s 6’11 sophomore forward from Berlin, Germany that other teams are having a nightmare trying to defend. Imagine having fellow country-man Dirk Nowitzki in college, and that’s the type of player Wagner is. He’s been a problem for the Big Ten all season long, and he’s proving to be a problem for teams in the NCAA Tournament as well.
Speaking of the Big Ten, even after the plane crash, there was still games to be played.
Michigan arrived in Washington D.C. just moments before they’re set to tip off against Illinois. The Wolverines ran through the Illini and the rest of the Big Ten, claiming their first Big Ten Tournament crown since 1998.
The four wins in four days in the nation’s capital earned the Wolverines a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a first round match up with the No. 10 seed Oklahoma State Cowboys, one of the most potent offenses n the entire country.
It was an offensive showdown. The Wolverines won 92-91, and now had a date with the No. 2 Louisville Cardinals two days later. The rematch of the 213 National Championship game didn’t disappoint. Michigan won 73-69 and Wagner poured in 26 points to advance his team to the Sweet 16.
Let’s take it back for a moment. The Wolverines went from near-death experience to one of the last sixteen teams remaining in a span of two weeks. A fact that hasn’t been lost on Wagner, who penned an excellent piece for The Players’ Tribune discussing just what was going through his mind during the plane accident, and what it means for him and his team to still be playing basketball.
On what’s going through Wagner’s mind at the time of the crash
It’s like we’re on Lost. That’s what I’m thinking. Our plane is crashing, we’re out of control, we’re on the runway going some outrageous speed, and our entire team — all of Michigan Basketball, plus families, almost 120 people total — is in serious trouble. Our plane is literally going down.
And I’m thinking about….
Desert islands, and monsters, and time travel.”
His view on how others on the plane were repsonding
“I just see everyone … this plane full of my Michigan family … with this look on their faces that I don’t even recognize. It’s almost, like, an entire emotion that I’ve never seen before. I immediately turn back around. I lean over to look out the window.
We’re careening off the runway and into a field.
Oh no, I think. Oh, God. Oh no.
This is actually happening.
We actually might die.”
On winning the Big Ten Tournmaent
“And then we get to the Big 10 Tournament — and we WIN.
I almost still can’t believe it: We win the Big 10 Tournament … in our scrimmage uniforms … with no practice … and barely any sleep … after a scheiss (that’s a German swear word, don’t worry about it) plane crash. It’s so cool.”
On the Wolverines “Cinderella” moniker
Now we’re in the Sweet 16. It’s wild.
But when I say “wild” … I don’t mean that we’re surprised to be here.
Because, I gotta tell you: We’re not.
This team we have, you know, it’s something else. We’ve gotten key contributions from freshmen; sophomores; juniors; and, most key of all, our incredible seniors — Derrick, Zak, Mark, Duncan, Sean, and Dak. We’ve won games in pretty much every way you can think of: with our shooting; with our defense; with our passing; and, yes, with our toughness. We’ve won the championship of the most competitive conference — no exceptions — in college basketball. And we’ve beaten the 2-seed in our region.
So call us a 7 seed if you want. Call us an underdog if you absolutely … positively … have to. Call us a Cinderella if you don’t really understand what the term “Cinderella” means (like, at all). And call us “white collar” at your own risk.
But don’t call us a surprise.
We feel like we have the best coach in the world, and the best fans in the world, from the best school in the world, in the best city in — come on, I’m from Berlin — America.
And we think our team is pretty good, too.
So we’re going to go out there, and really just do what we’ve been doing all month: our thing. And if we can just do that … then I think there’s a really good chance that we’ll be able to keep on saying the only three words that matter in March. The three words that have taken on an extra-special meaning for us, over these last few weeks — a meaning that goes far beyond basketball, and far beyond Madness, and far beyond everything else.
If you can excuse a little more of my German humor:
We’re still alive.