Detroit News writers Bob Wojnowski, Matt Charboneau and James Hawkins break down the national championship game.
San Antonio — Jordan Poole’s bloodshot eyes told the story.
There was the pain and sorrow of walking off the confetti-strewn court, hearing the jubilant celebration from the locker room and falling one win short of Michigan’s second national title in program history after being blitzed by Villanova.
But there was also the burning desire and determination to take the heartache, bottle it up and never forget what it feels like to come so close — yet so far — to reaching the mountaintop.
“To be in this situation and experience everything that it takes to get here, we’re going to work our tails off,” Poole said with a towel draped over his head in the wake of Monday’s 79-62 national championship game loss at the Alamodome.
“At this point, (succeeding) is life or death.”
The Wolverines exceeded expectations by setting a program record with 33 victories — highlighted by a 14-game win streak and a 9-0 mark in March — and ripping off a remarkable postseason run that will add a Big Ten tournament title and Final Four banner to the Crisler Center rafters.
The blueprint has been drawn and the foundation appears to be on stable ground with Michigan coach John Beilein at the helm.
“This is a team of great substance,” Beilein said.
“It wasn’t as much about the flash. It was just like, ‘Coach, let’s just get to work and get better.’ Great growth mindset all year long and that’s what we have to have.
“We had a really good team last year and we lost some really good players from this team. It didn’t look good probably in November, but they just kept growing and growing and that’s all a coach can ask for.”
Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, Charles Matthews talk about Michigan's loss to Villanova on Monday night. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
And now the next step for the Wolverines is to immediately turn the page and grow from the stinging disappointment they’ve experienced.
“We’ve seen it. We know what it takes to get here, especially being the young team that we were,” Poole said. “Everybody knows what it takes to be in a situation like this, everything that you got to go through.
“Now you just got to get back in the lab and get over it. You got to have a short memory and definitely cherish everything while you can, but this season ended and the next season starts (Tuesday).”
Michigan will have to replace several critical pieces next year as starting guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and sixth man Duncan Robinson will graduate, along with backup point guard Jaaron Simmons.
Junior center Moritz Wagner and redshirt sophomore wing Charles Matthews, Michigan’s two top leading scorers, will both have an NBA decision to make and could possibly leave early.
But the cupboard is far from bare. Sophomore point guard Zavier Simpson and freshman forward Isaiah Livers both return from the starting lineup. Backup center Jon Teske and spark plug Poole will likely take on larger roles, while center Austin Davis, point guard Eli Brooks and wing Ibi Watson will all be back.
Michigan will also bring in a highly touted five-man recruiting class that’s highlighted by four-star forward Ignas Brazdeikis and a pair of Michigan Mr. Basketball finalists in East Lansing forward Brandon Johns and Detroit East English Village point guard David DeJulius.
“Personally, for me, I definitely want to get back to this stage and I want to help lead,” Livers said. “I want to do what Duncan and Muhammad was doing even as a sophomore.
“I am super motivated after this game. I already know this offseason is going to be crazy. I know what I have to work on, we all know what we have to work on this offseason as a team and we are going to let the incoming guys know what they have to do.”
As for Beilein, he said he might not go into the office and take one day to relax this week. But after that, there will be no time wasted putting together a plan and starting to prepare for what will hopefully be the grind of another long season.
“We just got to get back to the drawing board and try to get better from this,” Matthews said.
“I think (the future) is extremely bright. We got a lot of good, young guys and once we put this season to closure, we’ll take it from there.”