LIST OF WWE PERSONNEL?!?
I WAS NOT ALIVE THE LAST TIME THIS HAPPENED.
And you can't have one without the other...
I'M PRETTY SURE MICHIGAN JUST HIT ANOTHER THREE.
(Given the server overload, my desire to celebrate, and the number of words I've already written today, this serves as your postgame recap until Brian's column tomorrow. Short version: they made all of the shots, and they WON THE CONFERENCE.)
Raiding The Old Dominion
Michigan is once against looking to the state of Virginia, where they've pulled Derrick Green and Wilton Speight in the last two classes, for an infusion of talent. The Wolverines have put out offers to 2015 top-100 WDE Clelin Ferrell and heralded 2016 WR Scott Bracey, both of Richmond Benedictine College Prep. In a two-part article, Sam Webb interviewed Benedictine coach Greg Lilly to get the scoop on the pair ($):
Greg Lilly: “Coach Manning has done a great job as far as recruiting the guys. When he has had the opportunity to get to the state of Virginia has always come by and seen us and he has done a really good job when he has been here. He is a very nice guy, personable guy. I think he had a great rapport with the kids. I can’t remember if it was in January or December, whatever that recruiting period was, but Coach Hoke did come in and stop by and let us know how interested they were in both kids. I think both the guys, Clelin and Scott were impressed by that and honored by that. We’re a small private school, 275 boys. It is a military school, a catholic school. There is obviously an emphasis put on their education and them wanting to go to good academic schools and be good student-athletes and obviously Michigan offers that opportunity.”
Ferrell and Bracey have been taking unofficial visits together, and Lilly said "they are going to get out there and see Michigan," when they take some trips this summer. It appears Michigan has a better shot with Ferrell—despite being in the class below him, Bracey holds more offers at the moment—though the Wolverines are in the mix for both.
[Hit THE JUMP for a quick recap of last weekend's visits, the latest on Brian Cole and several other 2015 prospects, and more.]
|WHAT||Michigan (21-7, 13-3 B1G) at Illinois (17-12, 6-10)|
|WHERE||State Farm Center, Champaign, Illinois|
|WHEN||7 pm Eastern, Tuesday|
|LINE||Michigan -1 (KenPom)|
|TV||ESPN/WatchESPN (PBP: Mike Tirico; Analyst: Dan Dakich)|
Right: Nice work, boss. [Fuller]
This section is very simple now that a share of the conference crown is secured. If Michigan wins, they're the outright Big Ten champs.
If Michigan loses tonight and MSU beats Iowa on Thursday, the Spartans can grab a share of the title with a win at Ohio State coupled with an Indiana upset at Crisler on Sunday. Wisconsin is also not out of it; in fact, with Purdue and @Nebraska left on their schedule, the path to sharing a title is easier for the Badgers than the Spartans. Regardless, any Michigan victory will secure the program's first outright Big Ten title since 1986, and they'll have to lose both remaining games for another scenario to come into play.
THE PREVIOUS MATCHUP
Didn't happen. Illinois is one of Michigan's single-plays this season, so this is the first and only matchup between the two in the regular season.
THE LINEUP CARD
I've done away with the SIBMIHHAT column, which caused nothing but confusion, and replaced it with each player's offensive rating, which is more informative anyway. The formula for calculating an individual's ORtg is too complicated to post here; Basketball-Reference has the rundown if you're curious. At minimum, just like with team offensive efficiency, you want to have an individual ORtg above 100. The best ORtg in the country among players using at least 20% of their team's possession is 131.8 (TJ Bray, Princeton); Nik Stauskas is 24th at 123.9.
Projected starters are in bold:
|G||13||Tracy Abrams||Jr.||6'2, 190||73.2||25.2||96.2|
|~3:2 assist-to-TO ratio, takes second-most shots on ILL, 38.6 eFG% (woof)|
|G||25||Kendrick Nunn||Fr.||6'3, 180||43.4||18.5||104.8|
|40% 3-pt shooter, bigger role in B1G play, 10/15 3-pt with 9 turnovers in last 3 games|
|G||24||Rayvonte Rice||Jr.||6'4, 235||81.5||26.2||107.9|
|Volume shooter, best at rim, middling jumper, good rebounder, top-200 steal rate|
|G||21||Malcolm Hill||Fr.||6'6, 210||31.9||20.7||99.3|
|Decent rebounder, gets to FT line well, 80% FT shooter, jumper work-in-progress|
|C||32||Nnanna Egwu||Jr.||6'11, 250||72.5||16.2||96.7|
|Top-60 block rate, excellent off. rebounder, low def. rebound #s, not a scorer|
|F||33||Jon Ekey||Sr.||6'7, 225||66.5||14.2||116.6|
|3-pt specialist hitting 35% beyond arc, good off. rebounder, tiny usage & TO rate|
|G||2||Joseph Bertrand||Sr.||6'6, 200||66.2||20.5||100.4|
|Diminishing role of late, shooting 46% from two and 31% from three in B1G play|
|G||1||Jaylon Tate||Fr.||6'3, 160||32.9||17.4||78.0|
|Gets spot minutes, TO-prone, shooting 36% on twos and 1/22(!!!) from three|
Three straight Illinois victories, capped by an upset at the Breslin Center (thanks, guys!), have lifted the Illini out of the Big Ten basement after winning just one of their previous 11 games. They've won with defense in this stretch, holding Minnesota, Nebraska, and MSU to a combined 0.84 points per possession; none of the games cracked 60 possessions.
While the Illini defense has been solid throughout the season, they have the worst-shooting offense in the conference on the other end, and a look through their lineup brings forth some awful numbers, like these: point guard Tracy Abrams, a decent passer and solid on-ball defender, takes nearly 24% of the team's shots when he's on the floor—he's shooting 38% from two and 27% from three.
The team's best offensive player is Rayvonte Rice, a bulldog of a guard—6'4", 235 pounds—who takes over a third of his shots at the rim, hitting them at a 62% clip, per hoop-math. He also gets to the line at a high rate, hits 72% of his free throws, and boasts an impressively low 11.2 TORate for a player that relies so much on creating off the dribble. He's not much of a shooter, however, making 29% of his two-point jumpers and 33% of his three-pointers. Rice is statistically the team's best defensive rebounder, which is impressive for him and much less so for the team.
Coach John Groce replaced two seniors, Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey, with freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill in the starting lineup six games ago; in that span, Illinois is 4-2, and the lineup is slated to remain the same tonight. Nunn takes nearly as many threes as twos and connects at a 40% rate from beyond the arc. Hill is holding his own as an undersized four, doing a decent job on the glass while making up for poor shooting from the field by getting to the charity stripe at a 54% rate and hitting 80% of his free throws. Ekey falls into the "just a shooter" category, which isn't too good when hitting just 35% from three, while Bertrand is a worse-rebounding, better-shooting version of Hill, and he gets to the line less often.
The starting center is 6'11" enigma Nnnanna Egwu, who still hasn't put it all together in his junior season. He's a great shot-blocker and solid offensive rebounder, but his 14.6 defensive rebounding percentage is alarmingly low for a center of his size. He boasts a solid mid-range jumper, but his post offense is so poor he's shooting just 44% on two-pointers. For some reason, he's attempted 23 three-pointers, of which he's hit five.
For better or worse, Illinois is stuck with Egwu at the five. Freshman backups Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert play spot minutes, and while their finishing at the basket is well ahead of Egwu's, both players commit a lot of fouls while failing to provide Egwu's shot-blocking. Also, both are somehow worse on the defensive boards; Colbert's 7.2 DR% is the worst among any qualifying Illinois player—that's 1.1% lower than Spike Albrecht's rate.
Victories at Minnesota and Michigan State in the last couple weeks have bolstered an otherwise poor Illinois resume. Their other Big Ten wins either came at home (Indiana in OT, Nebraska) or at the expense of Penn State. The Illini's best non-conference win is either a two-point road win over #78 UNLV or a one-point neutral-site triumph against #60 Mizzou.
The Illinois defense ranks third in the conference in efficiency, and they've sparked the recent win streak by forcing a bunch of turnovers, as you can see in this chart from the Big Ten Geeks:
Relying on forcing turnovers, especially in the low-error Big Ten, tends to produce results of high variance; Illinois has been very good defensively in the last four games, but they've also been lit up by the likes of Wisconsin (1.34 ppp in Kohl), MSU (1.18 at Ill.), Iowa (1.14 at Ill.), and Wisconsin again (1.21 at Ill.)—aside from last weekend's game in East Lansing, Illinois has had a difficult time shutting down the conference's best offenses.
Offensively, they're not good: Illinois is dead last in the Big Ten in two-point shooting (40.9%) and tenth in three-point shooting (31.2%) while getting to the line at the league's second-worst rate. Scoring points is the goal of basketball, and it's rather difficult to do without putting the ball in the hoop. Not helping matters is their below-average rebounding. Add it all up and the only Big Ten team with a worse offense is Northwestern.
Play in control. Turnovers sparked the Illinois turnaround of late. Michigan boasts the league's second-lowest turnover rate. Taking care of the ball as the Wolverines usually do will go a long way towards winning this game; even though Illinois isn't great in transition, they still score more effectively on the break than they do in the halfcourt.
Exploit perimeter matchups. Illinois is going to have to defend either Nik Stauskas or Caris LeVert (probably the latter) with a player three inches shorter. Expect a healthy dose of high screens for whomever gets this matchup, especially given how willing John Beilein has been to let his stars rise and fire over shorter defenders whenever they get an opening.
Cool the hot hand. Kendrick Nunn is 10/15 on three-pointers in his last three games, all Illinois wins—Michigan can't afford to lose him on the perimeter in what should be a tight, low-possession affair. Nunn's also turned the ball over nine times in those three games, so dialing up the pressure should mitigate his effectiveness. He'll likely be Caris LeVert's responsibility, and while LeVert's quick hands should force some turnovers, his tendency to forget to challenge shots could come back to bite Michigan.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 1
(Yes, the projection changed by a point since last night, when I drafted this post. I'm doing the KenPom Appeasement Dance as I write this.)
According to LeVert, Illinois assistant coach Dustin Ford called him about a week after Groce took the Illinois job. He told LeVert that Groce would be reaching out shortly to discuss Illinois.
The call never came.
A few days later, on May 11, 2012, LeVert committed to Michigan during an official visit.
LeVert, of course, had been an Ohio commit when Groce was the head coach there before he took the Illinois job. Oops.
Jon Horford confirmed that he plans to return to the team for his fifth year. He graduates this spring.
Pat Forde goes in on John Calipari. Yes, you'll enjoy reading that.
Previously: Purdue & Minnesota (GRIII Edition)
Of course Spike Albrecht is familiar with the "Big Balls" dance that originated in the (terrible) sequel to a classic baseball movie before being popularized as a basketball celebration by Sam Cassell.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the GIFs, featuring Nik Stauskas making Andrew Dakich do Andrew Dakich things, Jordan Morgan's old man strength, Jon Horford's zen calm, and much more.]
Between game-winners, Showtime-esque fast breaks, the alley-oop bonanza, and the many other plays of note from Purdue and Minnesota, OFAAT is split into two parts. Part one belongs to Glenn Robinson III.
GRIII dunk photo via @umichbball
Glenn Robinson's alley-oop finish over two Minnesota players elicited reactions normally reserved for Cirque du Soleil, the Top Thrill Dragster, or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The above screencaps come from one replay of GRIII's slam. So does this:
The man on the left reacts to this spectacular feat with a golf clap. The woman on the right is... dead? Even her reserved husband(?) appears concerned:
"Honey? Honey? ... Well, it was a hell of a way to go."
Keep this clearly deceased woman in your thoughts as you watch GRIII inflict pain and suffering upon all who dare cross his path, after the jump.
[JUMP, but not as high as GRIII or your knees will literally explode into a confetti of ligaments and bone shards.]
3/1/2014 – Michigan 66, Minnesota 56 – 21-7, 13-3, guaranteed share of Big Ten title
He moved it with his mind [Eric Upchurch]
Let us recalibrate ourselves.
I'm 34. Growing up, it was expected that Michigan won things. In football. And therefore in everything else, because football is everything except at, like, Kansas. (Kansas hired Charlie Weis on purpose. Basketball focus is kind of a disease.) That bled into other things, and then success was expected. This Is Michigan.
Success is still expected, in rhetoric and increasingly anachronistic Michigan-directed hate from fanbases around the Big Ten. Rivalry things I get. I don't get Iowa being livid about everything after taking five of six because of Bo, basically. Even after the key thing was eminently humbled, the new guy came in saying This Is Michigan, and yours truly and everyone else ate it up.
But the reality is that Michigan is in an increasingly demographically unfavored situation, waiting until water scarcity and global warming drives the people back into its bosom. Reputation and momentum worked in tandem to forestall the impact of these trends, and then: kaboom. First basketball, then football, and then sort of but pretty much hockey.
The dominion of Michigan is increasingly hard to see sustained. There is a lot of money and fanbase and these things should keep them above middling; Michigan fans expect any program fielded to be mentioned in the same breath with the elites. We are ill prepared to deal with anything but, what with infinite bowl streak that still defines our self-perception. 13 years into the post-Cooper era at OSU and it still feels like a cruel surprise.
Here's the thing.
Birthright fandom kind of sucks. You expect thing X and you must have thing X and anything slightly short of thing X is terrible. Being around OSU fans talking epic crap about every slightly deficient player on their team is both revelatory and probably a glimpse into what I thought in the immediate vicinity of 1997. See Kentucky basketball.
Hoping not to die is more fun. Ask an MSU fan about this, in re: Rose Bowl.
These things are inevitable historical trends that catch entire fanbases up and cannot be resisted. Success begets the expectation of more of that. What I am saying is that Michigan is now a hope-not-to-die set of programs with a birthright fanbase. We should recalibrate ourselves, for good fun.
When Michigan hired John Beilein they hadn't been to an NCAA tournament since 1998, when Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock were team leaders. The year before, Maurice Taylor joined those gentlemen on a team that didn't make it at all; Taylor left for the NBA draft, where the Knicks drafted him because they are the Knicks. He tooled around the NBA for a decade, shooting long twos and flinching from any loose ball that came within three feet of him.
John Beilein hates no one and makes self-depreciating jokes about subs being crazy and brings in Novaks and Burkes and Stauskases and Morgans. It is in fact cute when he loses his mind at the latest refereeing outrage he's been exposed to, even as it seems to get results these days.
He picks out random post-grad point guards from Indiana and leads them to double-digit A:TO ratios, and even when Michigan does happen to have a pile of NBA players on their roster it's by accident and development. Nobody's rushing to give these gentlemen shoe contracts until Beilein (and Alexander and Meyer and Jordan) reconfigure them.
This is one thing. This is a good thing. I supported Beilein's hire because I thought his floor was what he would do at West Virginia and Richmond and wherever he'd ever been, bringing in guys who would outperform recruiting expectations and enter many NCAA tournaments as the team you don't want as a Sweet 16 seed.
Then there is the other thing. Beilein won a Big Ten title with Novak as his power forward, and went to the championship game the next year on the back of a Penn State decommit and an NBA legacy no one really seemed to want. And this year, down both of those first-round draft picks he and his assistants identified and developed, down the one super-blue-chip recruit Beilein has ever acquired, Michigan won the Big Ten. They are just about a lock to win it outright for the first time in almost 30 years.
I know you are inclined because of that drought, and I think I probably don't have to tell many people this thing, but I kind of have to tell myself. This is not normal. This is not something that can be expected. This is not Michigan, not in that sense.
It seems to be Michigan. And the Michigan it posits is a different, bizarre, wondrous thing. Not because of anything inherent. There are places better able to recruit with athletic departments better at creating an environment. This has nothing to do with institutional momentum, because there was none. This is whole cloth, from which they've made three banners in three years. And counting.
This is not This Is Michigan. This is better.
Randomness is random. Very frustrating start from behind the line as Michigan goes 2/12 on mostly high quality looks (there were a couple Stauskas jacks that were tough). Irvin in particular went 0/3 on three must-take shots. But things evened out with a hot streak that saw Michigan finish the game at 39%, just about on their season average.
I was about to start rage-shaking about another impossibly slow offensive start when Michigan kicked it into gear. So there's that.
GRIII doin' things. Figures that as soon as I say Robinson should basically never take anyone off the bounce he starts doing that rather effectively. He drove to the lane and dumped a pass off to Morgan for an and-one. I was all like "urk?" Then he drove Buggs to the baseline and set up Stauskas for the triple in Stauskas/LeVert Corner, and I was like "guuuurk?"
That is real progress. He's had three assists in consecutive games, a feat he only achieved once before this year, against Penn State, and he's generated at least a few of his own shots. It's still a work in progress, as the frustrating turnovers when he brings the ball up indicate, but at least the last four games (averaging 6/9 from two) provide a indication of that progress stuff.
And then there were the usual GRIII-is-destroying-Tokyo things. He re-enacted his game winner against Purdue and brought the house down on 1) a Stauskas alley oop and 2) a bang bang bang transition oop that had me waving myself with an elaborate hat and moaning "mercy!"
I do think he needs to have more impact on the boards on both ends. The OREB/putback after Minnesota had closed in the second half was awesome; it reinforced his ability in that department and the unfortunate rarity of things like that. He's got close to the same athleticism Braden Dawson does (Dawson is thicker) but is nowhere near Dawson's spectacular 13.2 OREB rate.
The zoom in. Ace pointed out that if you zoom in on one of Eric's GRIII-destroys-Tokyo images you get magic:
This contains the Horford/McGary dichotomy, the bench mob going off, Andrew Dakich like crane-kicking a dude, and John Beilein reacting exactly how I did, with a sort of stiff "okay hurray GET BACK ON DEFENSE."
Long twos! Argh! I don't mind a long two with 12 or 10 or 8 seconds on the shot clock. Once the clock gets much under that people start overplaying the shot you have to take, and your chances of finding something super is not great. Even 15 is tolerable. 25 sends me into conniption fits, especially against one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten, and it certainly seemed like Michigan was taking a ton of 'em.
That Stauskas aggressiveness thing does lead to a bunch of questionable shots, and I'm okay with it when the payoff is 3 points at like a 30 or 35 percent rate, two at a 35 or 40 percent rate drives me nuuuuuuts.
The elbow jumpers are fine, the threes are fine, it's just those shots a step inside the line that make me hear Bo Ryan cackling in the background.
Turned that off. Morgan and Horford got beat up a bit early as Elliot Eliason went 4/5 and got another layup that Horford had to foul on (he missed both FTs). And then Eliason ceased existing. Major credit to Morgan for preventing entry passes and ripping down several critical MANBOUNDS late.
Morgan didn't get many opportunities on the offensive end, partially because he had a rough game catching passes and the occasional offensive rebound, but the brief second-half section where Horford came in and got crushed by Mo Walker hammered home how well Morgan was cutting off the things Minnesota was trying to do inside. I am slightly worried that there will be a chemistry breakdown next year without him even if McGary comes back, and while that's probably an irrational fear borne of recent Merritt/Lee and Glendening departures, it is real.
Title chance update! Secured. Win @ Illinois or against Indiana and it's outright.
Seed update. The three seed is now unanimous amongst serious prognosticators. Algorithmic source Crashing The Dance was the last holdout, as it still has Creighton and Iowa State ahead of M, items which do not seem true to humans with good track records. Michigan's chance at a 2 is pretty slim, though. They are not likely to pass Syracuse or Duke, Villanova would have to drop some unexpected games, and Wisconsin is hard to pass with their wins over Florida and UVA. If only Michigan could have gotten six more points against Charlotte and Arizona they'd probably be a one, but alas and alack.