For weeks now, I've had half-baked column-type things on Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins saved on my laptop, begging for an easy narrative the subjects couldn't provide. This is MAAR's offense now? Well, he just went 1/7 with four turnovers at Indiana. Dawkins provides a steady shooting presence? It's too bad he just shot 1/8.
This shouldn't be a surprise. Michigan's two late recruiting pickups for 2014 weren't supposed to have significant, let alone starting, roles on this team. As recently as December, when Michigan hosted Syracuse, both registered DNP-CDs. That all changed with the injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, of course. Instead of easing them into the college game, John Beilein had little choice but to throw them in headfirst and hope they could tread water.
MAAR and Dawkins combined for just seven points on 3/12 shooting against Ohio State; Sunday's game nevertheless displayed their progress.
Abdur-Rahkman drew the unenviable assignment of guarding future top-five pick D'Angelo Russell for much of the game, and he did better than anyone could expect of a freshman defending one of the top scorers in the country. Russell had a hard time freeing himself as Michigan jumped out to a big first-half lead, going just 1/4 in the first stanza; he'd finish with 16 points, but needed 17 shot equivalents to get there, and he turned it over five times.
Time and again, MAAR fought his way over and around screens to stay in Russell's hip pocket, forcing a series of difficult shots. He knew where to be—no small feat for a freshman on defense—and he seemed acutely aware that he'd have to expend most of his energy on that end of the floor. Then, at the end of a rough day on offense, he came through with one of the biggest assists of the game, finding Zak Irvin on a drive-and-kick for a corner three that gave M a six-point lead with six to play. It was the type of play we'd hoped to see from MAAR for weeks.
Dawkins, too, came through late after struggling for much of the day. Shortly after MAAR's critical assist, Dawkins got past Marc Loving and tried a short pull-up from just outside the paint. Although the initial shot went off the mark, Dawkins corralled the rebound after a tip, then pivoted past Jay'Sean Tate to scoop in the putback (above, Fuller). I don't think it's a play he makes in December, when Michigan's freshmen had to think their way through all 40 minutes.
They're still developing, of course. Dawkins made an ill-advised foray to the basket early in the shot clock with Michigan clinging to that late six-point lead; while the Buckeyes blocked the shot, Max Bielfeldt bailed out his teammate with a tough rebound. MAAR got himself trapped next to the Buckeye bench and had to sweat through a lengthy replay in the final minute. Overthinking (or underthinking) is still an issue.
Especially when one notes Kam Chatman's unexpected six-point run in the first half, though, it's hard not to be encouraged by the progress of Michigan's freshmen after Sunday regardless of what showed up on the box score. MAAR is hitting 55% of his twos in Big Ten play while developing an outside shot and building confidence on defense. Dawkins has that tantalizing athleticism and truly impressive shooting numbers—he's fourth in the conference in true shooting percentage.
Michigan doesn't have a superstar like Russell in the freshman class, but it's becoming easier and easier to see what John Beilein envisioned when he recruited these guys. It's still hard to come up with a smooth game-to-game narrative to attach to them. That's kind of the point, though—freshmen are unpredictable. Instead of waiting for them to string together enough similar performances to declare they're here, sometimes it's best to note the highs and the lows and realize they're getting there, and that's just fine.
Friday, February 20, 2015
Michigan 3 Ohio State 5
Michigan 1 Ohio State 0 EV 03:52 Larkin (11) from Selman (8) and Hyman (22)
Michigan enters the offensive zone with a numerical advantage. Dylan Larkin passes to Justin Selman instead of dropping it to Zach Hyman, and I’m not sure why considering the defenseman in front of Selman and the open lane in front of Hyman.
Selman gets tied up, but the defenseman is unable to knock the puck away from Michigan’s forwards. He gets a weak swing on the puck, but Larkin is in the process of cutting from the corner to the front of the net and intercepts it.
Larkin has a tremendous advantage in that he’s undefended and the goalie has already hit the ice. Christian Frey is square to a shot from where I drew the arrow on the screencap, but…
Larkin can skate around Frey faster than he can move across laterally to re-square himself to the shot, resulting in an uncontested shot on a half-open net.
[More after THE JUMP]
Michigan Leading For Costello?
In a video interview with Rivals' Mike Farrell, 2016 four-star QB KJ Costello said he's still looking to take a visit to Michigan soon, though he may have to make it a mid-week visit to fit into his schedule ($). Then Farrell pushed him to say which school among his top three—Michigan, Stanford, and USC—was "in his head the most" at the moment:
Honestly, a couple days ago I got off the phone with Harbaugh. I've got a ton of respect for him. What he's trying to do with the program, it's gonna be something special. I'd love to be a part of that. But then again, Stanford's been a favorite all along and SC is the home town, so we'll see.
It's not quite naming Michigan the flat-out favorite, but given his glowing quotes about the program earlier in the interview and his desire to see campus again, it's safe to feel good about M's chances.
Along with an elite quarterback like Costello, Michigan will look to add a top-flight running back to this class. Last week, Harbaugh made sure four-star NC RB Robert Washington knew he's a top priority, per GBW's Josh Newkirk ($):
“The conversation went well,” Washington said of his talks with Harbaugh. “He said he rates guys on a one to three scale. One being a guy that is starter – a game changer. Two being a guy that can develop into a starter. And three, a guy who is just a role player. He said I am a one. He said ‘you’re a game changer. You’re a big time player.’
“He’s going to recruit the heck out of me. He’s going to come to North Carolina before I commit. So he said he’s going to talk to me more and more every day.”
Washington added he is "very high" on Michigan; they should join North Carolina, Syracuse, and TCU in his top six when he unveils the full group within the next month. He's planning to commit on April 25th, so look for a visit to materialize sooner rather than later if Michigan is going to be a serious contender.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
Mark the date: September 1, 2015. Two days before the Harbaugh era officially kicks off, John U. Bacon's latest book—Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football—hits the shelves, and it's available for pre-order today on Amazon. In anticipation of the release, Brian asked Bacon a few questions about the book, and his answers should pique the interest of those reading this fine site.
BRIAN: So you have a new book coming out. What is it about? Is it about anything that may be of interest to the readership of say, this blog?
JOHN U. BACON: Funny you should ask. We think it might well be of interest to Michigan fans in general, and MGoBlog readers in particular, because they seem to care a lot about Michigan football, and this book happens to be about Michigan football. In fact, MGoBlog’s vaunted leader – you – will make more than a few appearances therein, plus Ace, and even a few of your readers.
More specifically, this is why I think the readership of MGoBlog might be interested in Endzone, from the first draft of the jacket copy:
Endzone: The Rise, Fall and Return of Michigan Football tells the story of how college football’s most successful, richest and respected program almost lost all three in less than a decade – and entirely of its own doing. It is a story of hubris, greed, and betrayal – a tale more suited to Wall Street than the world’s top public university.
Endzone takes you inside the offices, the board rooms and the locker rooms to see what happened, and why – with countless eye-opening, head-shaking scenes of conflict and conquest.
But Endzone is also an inspiring story of redemption and revival. When those who love Michigan football the most recognized it was being attacked from within, they rallied to reclaim the values that have made it great for over a century -- values that go deeper than dollars. The list of heroes includes players, students, lettermen, fans and faculty – and the leaders who had the courage to listen to them.
Their unprecedented uprising produced a new athletic director, and a new coach – the hottest in the land – who vindicated the fans’ faith when he turned down more money and fame to return to the place he loved most: Michigan.
If you love a good story, you’ll want to dive into Endzone: The Rise, Fall and Return of Michigan Football.
So, there it is. And that’s why I think your readers might be interested.
So is this a follow-up to your previous books? In what way?
Short answer: Yes, it picks up where Fourth and Long left off.
Long answer: it gives the reader a deeper understanding of how Michigan football got to where it is today – the bad and the good. Also, Endzone focuses more on the leadership of the athletic department and the university itself than on the team, though we have plenty of interesting stuff from former players, too.
Because this book focuses entirely on Michigan – unlike Fourth and Long – I have the space to write a better biography of Dave Brandon, to shed more light on how the University administration works with athletics, and to include the eye-witness accounts of the decision-making the past four years, including the hiring of Harbaugh – which is an amazing story in itself.
You were of course embedded in the locker room for the first book. For the second you were exiled to St. Helena, with nobody in the AD willing to give you any quotes. How difficult has it been to get inside the department this time around?
I love this blog – and UM fans generally – because when you reference St. Helena, you don’t have to explain it, and your readers don’t have to look it up. That, to me, is the Michigan Difference – or at least one of them.
Although I obviously wasn’t inside the department during the past four years, it hasn’t been hard getting inside the story, because so many people at all levels of the equation have been willing to speak, many even eager. I’ve sent out fewer emails for interviews than I’ve received.
My strong sense, from these many conversations, is that they’re not calling to grind their axe but to explain where Michigan went wrong, and what Michigan could easily avoid in the future. I’ve already transcribed over 90,000 words of interviews – the entire “Bo’s Lasting Lessons” was shorter, by comparison – and not one of them wants Michigan to fail. To a person, they love Michigan, they were heartbroken watching the ship start to sink – and they’re relieved to see it back on the rise.
One simple lesson I’ve already learned: You should not confuse the general with the soldiers. They didn’t always agree, but the soldiers often felt they couldn’t speak up. Now they can.
Have any stories you might be comfortable relating right now to whet appetites?
Well, my publisher would kill me if I did that. But what the heck!
By now most fans know the public narrative – and if they didn’t, your rundown last week hit the main events very efficiently – but it’s the stories behind the stories that Endzone will provide, from Brandon’s experience at Domino’s to how he got hired as Michigan’s AD, to his relationship with President Coleman, to how he fired Rodriguez and hired Hoke, to why he didn’t get Harbaugh or Miles, and how he and his staff faced the growing displeasure with his tenure last fall. (Perhaps you’ve read something about this?)
More specifically, we’ll explore how the Notre Dame rivalry crumbled (not suddenly, as we’ve been told); we’ll explain how the students got the administration’s attention to affect real change; we’ll get to the bottom of the Shane Morris situation; and we’ll spell out how many people worked to get Harbaugh back – from old friends to Regents to Hackett himself, not to mention Jim’s wife Sarah – and how they did it.
Why didn't you take the best advice I've ever given anyone and name this book "Brandon's Lasting Lessons"?
While I greatly appreciate the best advice you’ve ever given anyone – and feel fortunate to be the sole beneficiary thereof -- if I’d named this book “Brandon’s Lasting Lessons,” it would probably come off as disrespectful to Bo, and maybe just a little sarcastic toward Brandon, too. One reader suggested I title it, “I told you so,” which I thought sort of comes off as an “I told you so.”
Plus -- I hate to tell you -- I will do my best to be as fair to Brandon as I can. I’ve already talked at length to a Regent, a player and others who love him. It’s clear that Brandon was very good on academics, for example, and very popular with many student-athletes.
That said, I get your point. If you held Bo’s Lasting Lessons in one hand and Endzone in the other, you might think the previous athletic director was consciously trying to do the opposite of Bo’s advice at every turn – and Endzone will address that, too. In fact, your suggested title is the answer to your readers who wonder why we need to know more about this saga: there are lessons to be learned here, lessons that go deeper than just the list of crises, and if Michigan doesn’t learn them, more mistakes will follow.
Another reason not to title it that: while Brandon is obviously a central figure in this book, the Harbaugh story will comprise the third and final act of Endzone. For once, I’ve got a happy ending to write.
You do realize that I'm going to call it that anyway?
Yes, you’ve made the very clear.
No matter what you do?
Yes, it is understood.
You can't stop this train, Bacon?
I don’t think that’s a question, is it?
Note: family stuff has me in a car most of today and may prevent me from doing a lot until Thursday.
2/22/2015 – Michigan 64, Ohio State 57 – 14-13, 7-8 Big Ten
Basketball from the perspective of an Andre Drummond or a Shaq is a simple thing. You come into possession of the ball. You hold it between two fingers, bellow something designed to induce a flight or fight response, survey the various and sundry "flight" responses, and dunk explosively on anyone who chose… poorly. If someone tries to do the same when you are on defense, you fling him into the nearest body of water.
Later, you have a snack.
Basketball from the perspective of Spike Albrecht is a multi-dimensional differential equation in which almost all answers are emphatically wrong ones. To avoid being postmarked to Lake Michigan, Albrecht has to swoop through the lane several times to induce dizziness in the opposition and then find the one local minima that will result in a shot instead of an Ent-shaped man flexing.
He does this regularly.
When he's really dialed in the result has a Globetrotter feel. A few games ago there was a brief referee discussion after Albrecht was fouled and the refs tried to determine whether it was on the floor or not. The thing is: they were probably right it was a pass. It looked like a pass. It felt like a pass.
It felt like a pass that was off by a little bit so instead of just hitting the backboard it grazed the rim. It felt like this for two diametrically opposed reasons. One, whatever it was that Albrecht was doing did not in any was resemble a shot, at least as far as shooting has been understood since World War II. Two, when Albrecht flings balls at the basket like that they're usually a lot closer to going in.
I found out Kenpom's added an "MVP" feature in their box scores because Albrecht locked it down against Ohio State. And, well, yeah: Albrecht out-dueled future top five pick D'Angelo Russell:
- Albrecht: 16 points on 12 shot equivalents, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 0 TO
- Russell: 16 points on 17 shot equivalents, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, 5 TO
Choosing your favorite Spiketrotters play from this game is difficult: the swooping layup past Amir Williams? The assist he wrapped around after faking the swooping layup so convincingly he momentarily fooled himself? The pinpoint, Brady-worthy fade pass to Bielfeldt off the pick and roll? Slipping in for one of his trademarked Very Sneaky Steals to seal the game?
I dunno man, I like 'em both, and I also like both the others. Watching that kind of performance from Albrecht is like a virtuoso slot receiver performance or a hat trick from one of the 5'8" puck wizards Michigan used to collect like pogs back in the day. It's disproportionately fun.
Movies pack their sportsbits with various people overcoming handicaps for a reason. People watch sports instead of those movies for a reason: it's so much better when a script is nowhere near the proceedings. Not that you could script items like we saw yesterday.
P: "So the little guy, he does what?"
W: "He swoops by a seven-foot dude and flings it up underhand from the baseline! And he makes it! A lot!"
P: "The littlest guy on the court. Shooting one-handed grandma free throws on the run against guys a foot taller than him."
P: "I can't decide whether to fire you or shoot you."
We're all pretty eh on this season, willing to give a guy with eight NCAA tourney wins in two seasons a mulligan when his best two players end up on the shelf after a massive pile of unexpected NBA attrition, but not particularly eager to watch Michigan lose a bunch of games. There's no storming the barricades like football, just a desire to fast-forward to next year.
Albrecht paused that thinking a few minutes in yesterday, giving us something to grab on to now, instead of next year. That thing is man versus space bear, with man improbably winning.
This was a game to maximize Spike's utility. He drew Shannon Scott on defense, and Scott barely tried to do anything about the fact he was a half foot taller than his guy. Scott had just four FGAs inside the arc, only one of which he hit. He missed a couple threes and had three assists against two turnovers.
Michigan's had some rough defensive outings of late, but this was a good one. Other than the spate of offensive rebounds early in the second half OSU didn't take advantage of Michigan's size deficiencies.
Hey! Chatman! The moment when everything was truly coming up Milhouse was Kam Chatman tip-toeing the sideline to chase down a loose ball and then finishing a transition layup in traffic, spurring an OSU timeout. Before that he'd finished a truly difficult bucket, spinning to the basket against solid defense and looking for a moment like the top 50 prospect he was in high school. It's more baby step than steps. I'll take it all the same.
Ditto Irvin. Aided by the still-baffling Amir Williams's post-defense-type-substance, Irvin was also a major step up from where he's been lately. He was generating shots for people other than himself—four assists—and driving. He still has a bad habit of always going up with his right hand on any layup, though.
Rough day for the freshmen guards. Lost in the actual offensive efficiency was MAAR and Dawkins combining for just seven points on 12 shots with 4 TOs. MAAR did have four assists.
Even in this year. Michigan's now 7-8 in the league with games against Northwestern and Rutgers on the docket. 9-9 is a thing that could happen even with this roster. That's quite a bottom compared to all the other bottoms Michigan basketball has experienced. Flip a couple of those OT results and they'd have faint tourney hopes, even.
Spike was the best player on the floor today. Seriously. (Bryan Fuller / MGoBlog)
This season has been, for the most part, a sequence of ever-increasing disappointments: upsets at home, injuries to our key players, and narrow losses to good teams. Things just haven’t gone our way.
This was a beautiful afternoon of catharsis, when–despite a now-customary second half scoring drought–Michigan beat a good team and a bitter rival. I sat in the student section and, for the first time since the win over Syracuse, Crisler was alive and roaring.
I won’t profess to knowing the exact sequence of events: I didn’t take notes as I sat there, heart racing, as the Wolverines played their best half of basketball all season, then managed to hold on after taking the air out of the ball in the second half. It’s all an almost surreal blur. Our Weird Guys played a team full of veterans and/or blue-chippers, and but for those descriptions there was no doubt as to who was the better team in Ann Arbor.
Spike Albrecht was sublime (and the game MVP per Kenpom), playING one of his best games in a Michigan uniform. Spike had an efficient 16 points, grabbed 4 boards, tallyied 5 assists, swiped 2 clutch steals, and didn't the ball over once. He’s indispensible to this Michigan team. Ohio State threw a parade of long, quick, and athletic defenders at him, Spike was unflappable and managed to hold things together when things looked on the verge of collapse. Some poised inbounding at the end of the game was just icing on the cake.
Zak Irvin played very well too; his early five points (and a nice assist(!) to Ricky Doyle) enabled Michigan to jump out to a critical early lead, and get the crowd active. After Ohio State stormed back Irvin hit an absolutely vital three from the corner–and promptly celebrated with the Michigan bench, which was awesome–to extend the lead back to six. Ohio State never got closer than a few possessions for the rest of the game. Zak posted a line of 15-7-4-2, which says something about him not being just a shooter, or what have you.
Those two were the only Wolverines in double figures, but nearly everyone else chipped in to help pull off the upset. Aubrey Dawkins scored just five points, though two of them came on an impossibly athletic put-back late in the game. MAAR was a non-factor offensively, but he harassed D’Angelo Russell (who only scored 16 points on 16 shot equivalents and had 5 turnovers to just 2 assists) all game. Max Bielfeldt put up a workmanlike 7-and-7 and sonned Michigan expat Trey McDonald for two consecutive offensive rebounds late. Ricky Doyle had a frightening fall and rolled an ankle, but he put up 8 points in just 13 minutes. Even Kam Chatman had a few nice takes to the rack in the first half to tally six points, and Andrew Dakich of all people hit a jumper to extend Michigan’s lead during the torrid first-half scoring binge.
As for Ohio State, it felt like the Buckeyes didn’t play particularly well, but Michigan played a large part in that–UM ran its best offense all year, and the Wolverine defense consistently harassed Ohio State on drives to the basket, a stark change from the recent streak of permissive interior defense at home. Russell led OSU in scoring, but struggled with the Wolverine defense, often appearing visibly frustrated. Senior Shannon Scott just scored two points on six field goal attempts; Sam Thompson played alright, if not efficiently; Russell’s fellow freshmen Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate might have been two of the three best Buckeyes today.
And–because I have to say it – former McDonalds All-American Amir Williams (from Detroit) and fellow center Trey McDonald (from Battle Creek), combined for four points and ten rebounds in 32 minutes. Thad Matta eventually went with Tate as a small-ball five to match up with Bielfeldt because the Buckeye centers simply couldn’t produce.
Call it a regression to the mean–after all, Michigan simply couldn’t lose all of their close conference games down the stretch, right?–but this game felt like such an extreme departure from the bad luck that’s plagued the Wolverines all season. Today, Michigan played well against a quality opponent and made enough plays down the stretch to win; a nucleus of Spike, Zak, and Max--along with afterthought recruits Aubrey and Mo–finally notched a big win without alpha dogs LeVert and Walton around. This individual game doesn’t change the optics of the entire season of course, but dammit, it felt great to see Crisler alive with the euphoria of an exciting Michigan win again – and it showed what this team just might be capable of next year or a few years down the road.