In Praise of Michigan’s Buzzer Beater, Which Had Swag and Made Houston Cry

It took a desperation heave from a freshman, but the Michigan Wolverines have secured a ticket to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. They did so at the expense of the Houston Cougars, whose missed free throws down the stretch proved costly. Michigan ran a play to perfection after a pair of Cougar misses from the stripe, getting the ball into Jordan Poole’s hands with just enough time left for the freshman to launch the game-winning 3-pointer in the Wolverines’ 64-63 win.


Pedants will note this was the first true buzzer beater of the tournament. But how does it score on our official March Madness Buzzer Beater Scale? Let’s run the numbers.

In a post-game interview, Poole said the Wolverines have practiced that play countless times. Coach John Beilein confirmed that account, saying Poole “does that all the time in practice. He makes buzzer shots all the time.” He also added that his freshman star has “an overdose of swag,” which is something you certainly can’t rehearse.


Practice that all you want, but it’s not going to advance the ball the length of the court and get a quality shot in 3.6 seconds. Add the fact that Poole probably got fouled, and you have yourself a don’t-try-this-at-home game-winner.

Difficulty rating: 6.0

Michigan needed just 2 points to send the game into overtime, yet they went for broke and it paid off. Does that lower the stakes or raise them? It does both, meaning this is a case of “Schrödinger’s stakes,” which has no affect on our scoring system.


Stakes rating: 5.5

The ball was airborne and at the peak of its parabola when the horn sounded, making this a buzzer beater of unalloyed provenance. (Still, Poole could have waited a little bit longer if he was dedicated to maximum drama.) The monitor review was only a formality, though we’re glad the refs got to see it again because it was pretty darn cool.


Timing rating: 5.7

Michigan was the higher seed while Houston was trying to put together a tournament run worthy of Phi Slama Jama’s distant glory days. The Wolverines aren’t exactly the evil stepmother in this scenario, but they are far from Cinderella.

I will assign them the role of Chandler from Friends, which is worth 4.5 points.

Cinderella-ness rating: 4.5

Announcers’ call
In the game’s closing minutes, play-by-play man Brad Nessler sounded like a man who had just been told he couldn’t redeem his SkyMiles for an international flight. Poole’s shot managed to move the needle slightly, from “somnambulism” to “mild awareness.”

Announcers’ call rating: 4.0


There was jubilation. There were tears. It was perfect.

Reaction: 6.0

Total March Madness Buzzer Beater Score: 5.3

This narrowly edges out Loyola-Chicago’s last-second 3-pointer against Miami to become the best buzzer beater of the 2018 NCAA Tournament (so far).