...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
Michigan's first round opponent is Wofford, the single representative from the Southern Conference. It will not surprise you that Wofford's mascot is the terrier. Since 90% of terriers are named something along the lines of "Wofford," this is a natural fit. Also Wofford has the best logo in college sports.
Anyway, Wofford finished in a tie for third in the SoCon, well behind regular-season champion Davidson. They won the conference tourney after Western Carolina took out Davidson in OT by beating WCU themselves.
Let's meet the Terriers.
As 15 seeds go, Wofford is a good draw. They're 184th; the other 15s are 98th, 129th, and 163rd. The only teams Michigan's played in that range this year they've blown out… or lost to that one time:
- #145 Long Beach State: W 85-61
- #176 Charlotte: L 63-61
- #151 Holy Cross: W 88-66
- #135 Northwestern: W 74-51
Meanwhile, Wofford's ventures into the Kenpom 100 have not gone well. At all:
- #75 Georgia: L 72-52
- #76 Iona: L 76-55
- #57 Minnesota: L 79-57
- #34 Saint Louis: L 66-52
- #12 VCU: L 72-57
All of these games were double-digit losses, as were Wofford's two conference matchups against #118 Davidson. In their only other game against a team in the top 200 on Kenpom they lost to William and Mary by three, at home.
Everything is crazy, etc., but Wofford hasn't been able to stay in contact with any team approaching Michigan's stature. Save an inexplicable reversion to Charlotte form complete with Caris LeVert sitting for most of the first half, Glenn Robinson getting only nine minutes, and Nik Stauskas limping around in the second half, Michigan should win the game.
Maybe You Should Play More Than Two Guys
In addition to William & Mary, Wofford also took on Emory & Henry and Johnson & Wales this year. Both of those are lower division teams; it is a great disappointment that Wofford's third game against a non D-I opponent was against Hiwassee instead of, I don't know, Steve & Bruce.
You'll Hear About
Primary game storyline will be about Aerris Smith, a senior with a senior citizen's knees who gutted out this season despite having no business doing anything more strenuous than thinking about chess while lying down and having a lemonade.
His minutes plummeted due to health issues this year but he played a few painful possessions for most of the year. He won't play against Michigan; he will get a soft-focus feature.
Also not playing: spectacularly-named junior Indiana Faithfull, who's injured.
You'll Actually Watch Play
Terrier point guard Karl Cochran is a Russ-Smith-level go to guy and a magnificent statistical oddity. For one, last year he launched 40% of Wofford's shots when he was on the court. This was a situation of desperation as the 2013 Terriers were horrendous—like 339th horrendous—on offense and he was the only semblance of a pulse. His usage was second in the country.
This year he's dialed his role in the offense back from insane to implausible. He still launches a third of Wofford's shots, but he's matured into a terrific all-around player. He's near the top 100 in steals, hits 40% from deep, has an Albrecht-level assist rate with a low TO margin, and does all of this with astronomical usage. And then there's his incredible 18% DREB rate, equivalent to Jordan Morgan's. Karl Cochran is 6'1".
Cochran's main problems: he does not get to the line much—just 74 FTAs despite the huge usage—and he is not effective inside the line. He is taking a lot of Dion Harris shots, I'm sure.
The Terriers are very small. Wofford's primary interior dude is 6'6" junior Lee Skinner, who has very good rebound rates, doesn't shoot well, and gets to the line. The backup posts are 6'7" and 6'6"; Wofford plays two of those three post-type objects the whole game. Except for that bit about fouls, that sounds like a good matchup for Jordan Morgan. Hopefully Mike Kitts is somewhere far away with a sock stuffed down his mouth.
Wofford gets some three-point shooting from a couple of freshmen who occupy a designated corner gunner role, but outside of Designated Corner Gunner and Cochran none of their guys are a threat to pull up unless a 30% shooter is a threat. Shut up about Shannon Scott.
They've Got The Same Shirts
Adidas: not even trying.
"You want us to design MULTIPLE shirts? Like, more than one? As many as several? What do we look like, an enormous international clothing retailer?"
Also, all of those guys have a career in voiceovers waiting for them when they're done. Those are some sonorous mofos right there.
The Future Should Michigan Be Fortunate Enough To Advance
Michigan did get stuck in a loaded regional, but it's mostly loaded for everyone else. Wichita draws the #17 team in Kenpom (Kentucky) as a potential second round matchup and the #2 (Louisville) in a potential Sweet 16 game. UMass will enjoy being a major underdog against a play-in game winner, whoever it is. Tennessee is somehow ranked above(!) Michigan.
Michigan did field the minor misfortune of drawing Duke—both the committee's and Kenpom's top #3. This is a tiny disadvantage relative to other threes. The difference between the Blue Devils and Creighton is nonexistent and Michigan also had a road loss to Iowa State. I only regret not drawing a flailing Syracuse outfit.
The only bad thing about the regional from Michigan's perspective is the very low chance their hypothetical elite eight matchup will be a non-elite team. That is not a big deal. If they were relying on an Arizona/Florida/Virginia upset in the other regions that wasn't likely to happen anyway.
Rick Barnes answers the question "how many NCAA wins do I have since 2009?"
The more important thing is that the potential second round matchup against Texas or Arizona State seems comfortable. Texas is the worst 7 by some distance; their lone nonconference game of any credit to them is a narrow win at North Carolina and they went 11-7 in the Big Twelve. They are atrocious shooters in all departments and rely on offensive rebounding to prop their offense up. They try to block everything and give up a bunch of OREBs themselves. Anything can happen, etc. It's not a scary profile.
Arizona State is in largely on the strength of a double OT home win over Arizona. Their most notable nonconference win is over Marquette; they got blasted by Creighton on a neutral court; they went 10-8 in the Pac-12 and got blown off the court by Stanford in their conference tournament opener. They're almost the complete opposite of Texas on offense: good shooters who abandon the offensive boards like crazy. On defense they are just like Texas, anchored by a shot-blocker.
Neither of these outfits is a UConn or Memphis or Kentucky that would veritably loom as a potential second round exit. Then once you get to the Sweet 16, you're going to be playing someone pretty good, and Duke's hardly invulnerable against lower-level teams. In the past month they've lost to Wake Forest, scraped by Clemson by a point, scraped by Maryland by a point. They could go down.
Yeah, it's loaded. For Wichita. I'll take a rematch against Duke in Indianapolis with a healthy Nick Stauskas as a potential coinflip S16 matchup.
Michigan lost the Big Ten title game but did get to Indianapolis as a two-seed in the Midwest region. Their first round opponent is Wofford. The local bracket:
10. Arizona State
Should Michigan reach the Sweet 16, Duke is the 3 with UMass the 6, facing down the worst possible Kenpom 11 in the Iowa/Tennessee winner. Potential elite eight matchups include Wichita State, Louisville, and Kentucky.
So… positive early, ramping up late.
Michigan opened the Big Ten title game with consecutive three-pointers.
That was the good. From there, the game became a slog. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford each picked up two fouls early in the first half, leading John Beilein to play Max Bielfedt for 12 critical first-half minutes. Morgan's absence proved especially integral; without him on the court, the interior defense suffered, MSU dominated on the boards, and Michigan couldn't find a rhythm offensively.
The officiating didn't help matters; while both teams were victimized with early foul trouble, the Spartans weathered it much better than the Wolverines. Mostly, the constant whistles just made the game unbearable. Both teams were in the bonus around the midway point of the first half; in the second half, neither team got there until the waning minutes. The inconsistency was maddening, albeit not determinative.
The real problem for Michigan was the offense; the Wolverines shot 36% from two and made just six of their 23 three-point attempts. Given the numbers, it's frankly surprising that the final margin wasn't larger. Nik Stauskas went just 4-for-14 from the field with three turnovers, needing six free throws to reach 17 points, a team high. Caris LeVert shot 2-for-10 with three turnovers of his own. Glenn Robinson III went 2-for-8, and didn't hit a field goal until the second half. Aside from Derrick Walton's 11 points on eight shot equivalents, Michigan got almost nothing in the way of secondary scoring, either.
Michigan got outplayed, plain and simple. Those hammering the panic button, however, should keep last year's Big Ten Tournament—and subsequent run to the NCAA title game—in mind. Now the Wolverines wait to see if today's loss cost them a one-seed.
3/15/2014 – Michigan 72, Ohio State 69 – 25-7, 15-3 Big Ten, BTT Finalists
Sometimes when you're on. Good lord man. This team is capable of sending anyone watching into a fit of giggles as shot after shot splashes down. The general process:
- All right, here we go.
- ON FIAH!
- /giggling fit
As Michigan extended to a 16-point lead early despite Ohio State doing offensive things that are well out of character (IE: making shots), it was giggle fit time. Michigan has previously done this to Nebraska and Illinois in the process of running them out of the building. If they're fortunate enough to make a tourney run at least one win will be reminiscent of the Florida game last year, wherein there is a period of death from above that leaves the other team looking like Dresden.
Welp. I don't know, man. Michigan's defense looked pretty good to me in the mirror universe where Shannon Scott remains Shannon Scott. Scott entered the game a 28% three point shooter and a 38% shooter on two point jumpers. He got zero looks at the rim and yet exited with 18 points on ten shots. Yeah, most of his jumpers were not particularly contested, but there's a reason for that. When Scott elevates for a jumper you have just done a good job as a defense.
The other problem with the defense was a problem with the offense. Steve Kerr mentioned that all of Michigan's seven first half turnovers were live-ball situations. Live-ball turnovers lead to transition, and transition leads to sadness. Michigan failed to push the margin out to crippling levels because of uncharacteristic sloppiness when Ohio State turned up the pressure.
Other than that, the defense did what it wanted to do: protect the rim and live with whatever else happens. OSU just hit shots they usually don't.
Hidden in the terror is a comfortable-ish win. Michigan was 10/19 from the line, well below their season average. Jordan Morgan was the biggest part of that, as he went 2/7. That dropped his season total from 62% to 57%.
Craft. When Craft does something Crafty and wins, there is a collective old white sportswriter dude explosion, and when he does something Crafty and loses, the OWSD collective sighs and shakes their head at a world full of haters. Forde is on it:
For all the many people who hate Aaron Craft, here’s your chance to pile on.
You’re a strange, sad lot. You’ve got issues. Ripping a guy with a 3.9 grade-point average who plays his guts out is a weirdly trendy thing to do for college basketball fans.
But for those disposed to do so, congrats. Today is Bash Aaron Craft Day.
I'm not here to bash Aaron Craft, but let's be clear: he is a role player. He is the apotheosis of the role player, sure, but the reason people get cranky about Aaron Craft is the never-ending hagiography for a guy who is merely a pretty good player.
There is frankly a racial component to this. You don't see people falling all over themselves to hype up Briante Weber, whose VCU team is ranked and headed for about the same seed as OSU thanks in large part to Weber's third consecutive year at the top of the Kenpom steals leaderboard. Or his teammate Shannon Scott, who is also top ten in steals. It's Craft that gets glorified as the underrated gutty gritty leader in a way that is out of proportion to his talent.
That's unfair to the his teammates and Craft himself. I've long defended the guy whenever people try to trash his game (no offense to Derrick Walton, but put Craft on this Michigan team and oh my gawd), but that's because I love guys who can make an impact without using possessions. They need to be put with high-usage guys, though—you know, stars. Craft is not that. But he comes with an avalanche of hype enough to get him on the midseason Wooden list as he leads his team to a 10-8 Big Ten record while taking 15% of OSU's shots.
At its heart, Craft backlash is Forde-and-company backlash. Some of it's misdirected; a lot of it is from 14 year olds; everyone would be much better off if people in the media would just acknowledge that Craft is who he is. GIFs of aairballs are prominent because the media is insistent on pretending Aaron Craft is something other than what he is.
Please be a new meme, please be a new meme, please be a new meme. We've had planking and Bradying and all sorts of ing ings, and now there needs to be an internet full of pictures of clothed people sitting in bathtubs looking hard.
YOU DON'T WANT THIS
Is Glenn On Fire Watch. Another efficient game with 11 points on 9 shot equivalents, and he brought defensive impact with a couple of blocks and three steals. He's still alarmingly light on rebounds.
There is the hint of a recovery in his three point shooting, as well. Over the last four games he's 5/13. Not much to go on for a guy who was at 32% last year and is at 28% this year, sure. Still another data point for those hoping Glenn is this year's tourney Mitch.
Is Stauskas Human Watch. NOPE.
I mean, he does that crossover to three pointer thing.
Death from above watch. Michigan's quest to end the season with five guys shooting 40% from three is very, very close. Walton is at .398, Spike at .390. LeVert has pulled himself a couple points above the line, sitting next to Irvin. Stauskas can't even see 40% unless he's got binoculars.
Seeding business. Most observers from Lunardi to the Bracket Matrix have moved Michigan to the one line after Wisconsin's Big Ten Tourney exit, and a lot of folks are speculating that Michigan may be locked in to that spot no matter what happens today.
Here’s my prediction: Michigan gets the fourth No. 1 seed today regardless of whether it wins or loses the Big Ten title game.
— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) March 16, 2014
Seems pretty easy for the committee to have a contingency plan based on the result of the championship game, but in past years it has seemed like they ignore or at least downplay Sunday results.
If Michigan does get that one seed they'll be in the East and acquire a Michigan-friendly Madison Square Garden. In that event I withdraw my Syracuse request, as they're one of the few schools that could overwhelm Michigan's NYC fanbase.
It's pointless to mention this when they're just going to unveil the brackets in a few hours but I started this sentence anyway so I will proceed by mentioning that I am not a huge fan of Lunardi's bracket, which features Oklahoma State as the eight seed, and greatly prefer the GW/Stanford setup presented by Palm.
Another motivation to get that one: Louisville has moved up to the three line on just about everyone's bracket, so a one can't draw the red hot 'Cards until a regional final.
SHON AND TOM
A short play in one act
Tom, a basketball coach
Shon, a television color commentator
SHON: "Yes. Yes, Tom. What is it Tom."
T: "I just had a thought Shon."
S: "What is that thought Tom."
T: "There are millions of planets and some of them have life, Shon. Inevitably some of these societies are millions of years more advanced than ours. They have not visited. There is no evidence of their existence. We dream of traveling the stars, but we cannot. Otherwise someone would have visited us.
"The reason we have not been visited by any of these societies is that it is simply not possible. Physics is a dead end, Shon."
S: "But what about when the sun…"
T: "All of this dies, Shon. We have an expiration date. Physics is a dead end."
S: "Physics is a dead end."
T: "I have a great sadness all about me, Shon. It overwhelms my being. It is as if we already do not exist."
|WHAT||Michigan (25-7, 15-3 B1G) vs. Michigan State (25-8, 12-6)|
|WHERE||Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana|
|WHEN||3:30 pm Eastern, Sunday|
|LINE||Michigan -1 (KenPom)|
PBP: Kevin Harlan
Analysts: Greg Anthony/Steve Kerr
Right: Tom Izzo, in a rare moment of restraint. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Michigan can cap off the rare three-game season sweep of Michigan State with a win. Oh, right, and secure the Big Ten Tournament title and almost certainly the final one-seed in the Big Dance.
THE PREVIOUS MATCHUP
Michigan got a combined 63 points from Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III, turned the ball over just three times, and played MSU even on the boards in a 79-70 win at Crisler. State played some weird guys because Brandon Dawson went Hulk-mode on a table. Caris went running. Keith Appling's wrist prevented him from properly contesting a series of Stauskas jumpers. Or something.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold:
|G||11||Keith Appling||Sr.||6'1, 185||71.5||22.5||110.6|
|Averaging 5.5 points over last 8 games with 33 assists and 21 turnovers|
|G||14||Gary Harris||So.||6'4, 210||72.8||26.1||113.7|
|High usage and high efficiency, great defender, should match up w/ Stauskas|
|G||45||Denzel Valentine||So.||6'5, 225||73.0||18.7||108.1|
|Point forward type, solid rebounder, error-prone, not a great shooter|
|F||22||Branden Dawson||Jr.||6'6, 225||47.9||19.1||119.8|
|Putback machine, also great on defensive boards, blocks shots, not a creator|
|F||5||Adreian Payne||Sr.||6'10, 245||53.9||26.8||111.6|
|Very effective near basket or outside, decent rebounder and shot-blocker|
|F||10||Matt Costello||So.||6'9, 240||35.3||13.9||126.6|
|Excellent shot-blocker and offensive rebounder, shoots 62% from field, foul-prone|
|G||20||Travis Trice||Jr.||6'0, 170||51.7||16.8||116.6|
|Excellent outside shooter, poor inside finisher, decent assist rate, not good at D|
|F||30||Kenny Kaminski||Fr.||6'8, 225||25.2||15.0||135.8|
|Pure stretch four gunner, great shooting numbers, tiny rebounding rates|
|G||3||Alvin Ellis||Fr.||6'4, 195||19.2||15.2||91.8|
|Role diminished since Appling's return, no points (0/3 FG) since February 20th|
Crap, I actually have to write this from scratch because the last one was all about Dawson's absence, Payne playing Michigan for the first time this season, and Appling's wrist.
Point guard Keith Appling has played a lot of minutes since returning from his wrist injury eight games ago, but his production hasn't been there—he's averaging 5.5 points per game in that span on 16/28 two-point and 2/9 three-point shooting. While he's willing to attack the rim—and still pretty effective in that regard—he hasn't shown much confidence in his outside shot. The opposite goes for his backup, Travis Trice, a 45% three-point shooter who hits just 38% of his attempts inside the arc. Appling is the superior defender; Trice is doing a better job of taking care of the ball of late.
Gary Harris is really good at basketball. You know this. While he hasn't had a huge game in the BTT, he's still been quite efficient, and he's also MSU's best perimeter defender. After what Stauskas did to Appling the last time out, Harris should match up with him for most of this game.
The proverbial wild card is Denzel Valentine, who does a little bit of everything as a 6'5" small forward who can also run the point. That includes a new-found outside shot (37% 3-pt) and a surprising number of defensive rebounds; it also includes Izzo-aneurysm-inducing turnovers. His versatility allows MSU to play small if they want—when they need shooting, they'll put out a lineup with him at the four.
For the first time this season, Michigan will face both Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne. Dawson is a beast on the boards, generating the majority of his offense on putback opportunities or open looks created by his teammates. Payne is equally threatening on the block or beyond the arc, though he's been inconsistent since returning from a foot injury that cost him seven games. Payne scored five points on 2/8 shooting with six rebounds in their quarterfinal win over Northwestern, then bounced back today with 18 points on 7/10 shooting—albeit with just four boards—against Wisconsin. His conditioning seems to be an issue.
Matt Costello provides shot-blocking and solid finishing at the rim off the bench. If MSU wants more of an outside shooting threat at the four, they'll bring Kenny Kaminski—35/71 on threes this season—into the game instead. Gavin Schilling is liable to play a few minutes and commit a few fouls—he had four in eight minutes(!) against the Badgers. Alvin Ellis sees spot minutes at guard; he's been a non-factor for the last month.
After losing to Michigan at Crisler, State closed out the regular season with a seven-point loss at home to Illinois, a ten-point home defeat of a reeling Iowa squad, and a two-point loss at Ohio State.
Michigan State is first in the conference in three-point shooting while taking the fourth-most attempts. This is real life. They're also a strong offensive rebounding team with Dawson back in the lineup. Turnovers are an issue for them, however, and they don't get to the line much at all.
The Spartan defense is giving up lots of three-point attempts themselves and seeing a solid chunk (36.3%) of those go in. What separates them from Michigan, though, is impressive defense inside the arc, ranking second in the league in 2P% against and first in block rate. They are very foul prone, though striking a balance between attacking their bigs and generating two-point looks that don't rely on bailout calls can be difficult.
Dare Appling to shoot. The biggest defensive adjustment for Michigan in their win over Ohio State was bringing a hard double-team onto LaQuinton Ross whenever he got the ball; they were able to do this because Aaron Craft can't shoot. Appling has been Craft-esque from beyond the arc—both in percentage and willingness to fire—since his injury. If Michigan can get away with sagging off of him while giving extra attention to Harris, they should do it.
Keep the rebounding close. Michigan managed to win the rebounding battle in the first matchup and keep it even in the second, though as every State fan/television announcer will tell you, they haven't had to face both Dawson and Payne yet. I don't expect Michigan to crash the offensive glass much at all; they're going to need some help from the perimeter players on the defensive boards to get this done.
Win the turnover battle. Here's how Michigan can make up for any extra possessions MSU generates with their rebounding: take care of the dang ball. They're much better at this than the Spartans on the average day, though they got a little sloppy today against the Buckeyes (admittedly, a better turnover-forcing squad than MSU). In a game that should be close, the Wolverines can't afford to waste possessions and give up easy buckets on the other end.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 1