Yes, a 16-point second-half comeback featuring brilliant adjustments to overcome major matchup issues against a good team merits the full Muppet treatment. We're in dire need of them, anyway.
And you can't have one without the other...
Recap of this one will be up shortly. Short version: WOOOOOO STAUSKAS/MCGARY
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Florida State|
|WHERE||Coliseo Roberto Clemente, San Juan, Puerto Rico|
|WHEN||5 p.m. Eastern, Friday|
|LINE||Michigan –3 (KenPom)|
Right: Forward Okaro White is a major matchup problem for Michigan.
The Puerto Rico Tipoff did not go according to plan yesterday; not only did Charlotte and Northeastern pull off upsets against Kansas State and Georgetown on the other side of the bracket, but Florida State broke VCU's vaunted Havoc press time and again en route to an 18-point victory. Michigan ended up being the only favorite to win their game on either side of the bracket.
While VCU's exit means Michigan doesn't have to face a hellacious press while breaking in a freshman point guard, Florida State presents their own matchup issues—namely, size, as the Seminoles's shortest rotation player stands at 6'3". The 'Noles make up for an average-ish offense with an exceptionally good defense, utilizing that length to force a ton of turnovers and tough shots.
It makes sense to start discussing the personnel in the frontcourt, then. The starting center is 7'3", 235-pound sophomore Boris Bojanovsky, who's mostly just a rim-protector at this stage in his career; he only plays around 30% of the team's minutes, a little less than 7'1", 292-pound(!) backup center Michael Ojo, whose rebounding and block rates would be among the nation's leaders if he played enough minutes. Neither player packs much scoring punch, but they're not asked to do a whole lot offensively aside from pulling in rebounds.
6'8" forward Okaro White is another excellent rebounder, especially offensively, and shot-blocker (nine in four games); unlike the center duo, he's also a very adept scorer, averaging 15.5 points per game while starting the season a white-hot 20/28 on two-pointers. He converted nearly 70% of his shots at the rim last season, per hoop-math.com, and he also has a decent mid-range game. White is quite turnover-prone, an issue that plagues much of this team.
Rounding out the frontcout is 6'9", 220-pound senior Robert Gilchrist, who plays a limited role in the offense; so far this season, he's done well when called upon to score, hitting 11/17 two-pointers and 2/4 three-pointers, though he's 0/6 from the free-throw line. He's another player to watch when Michigan gets into the paint, as he's already tallied six blocks.
6'7", 216-pound sophomore Montay Brandon is the team's starting shooting guard, and despite playing amongst a forest of redwoods he leads the team with an impressive 20% defensive rebound rate. He put up 14 points and 11 rebounds against VCU last night and displayed a knack for getting to the line, though he's struggled to convert once he gets there—last night, 4/9 from the charity stripe, and he connected at just under a 50% rate last season.
6'3" sophomore point guard Devon Bookert is a pretty good representation of this team as a whole; pretty big for his position, an excellent rebounder for his position (4.5 per game this year), and a good defender, but also a guy who struggles with turnovers (13:14 assist-to-turnover ratio). Bookert is an excellent outside shooter (32/61 last year, 7/15 to start the season) and free-throw shooter; if early returns hold, he's also improving as a finisher inside the arc.
Despite covering the entire starting lineup, we've yet to get to FSU's leading scorer on the season: 6'3" senior guard Ian Miller, who's averaging 17 points per game and poured in a career-high 22 (along with seven rebounds) last night. Miller plays about 2/3 of the team's minutes and is currently shooting at rates well above his career averages, including a 93% mark at the free-throw line while drawing a ton of fouls.
FSU's other key backup is 6'5" sophomore guard Aaron Thomas, who plays just about as many minutes as Miller. Thomas is fourth in the country in steal rate, posting 14(!) in four games, and he's done most of his work offensively inside the arc, shooting 65% at the rim while taking almost 75% of his shots from that range. He's one of four Seminoles—joining Brandon, Miller, and White—to be ranked nationally on KenPom in free throw rate, and thus far this season he's connected on 12/16 shots from the line.
VCU (#25 on KenPom) is easily FSU's best win on the season; their other three victories came against #254 Jacksonville, #106 UCF, and #343 Tennessee Martin.
Four factors, with obvious sample size caveats applying (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||58.3 (22)||25.7 (344)||37.0 (75)||59.2 (32)|
|Defense||40.1 (18)||24.4 (15)||32.0 (171)||31.3 (45)|
The offense would be very good if they weren't coughing the ball up at such a high rate; as it is, their extremely fast pace (20th in adjusted tempo) covers for the fact that their offense is only average in terms of efficiency. The defense forces nearly as many turnovers as the offensive gives up, however, and they do so while making life extremely difficult for opposing shooters; teams are hitting just 39.3% of twos (19th nationally) and 27.8% of threes (66th) through four games against the Seminoles.
BOX OUT. If you watched yesterday's game against Long Beach State, you saw Michigan—aside from Mitch McGary—get away with not putting a body on anybody. That won't work out so well against a team of giants, and giants with good rebounding instincts at that. If the Wolverines don't shore up their defensive rebounding, this could turn into a dunk parade for FSU. This game is a huge test for Glenn Robinson III in particular; can he hold up against this much size defensively, or is John Beilein going to be forced to play bigger lineups—limiting Michigan offensively—in order for the team to tread water on the interior?
Stay calm, young Walton. Derrick Walton has shown a lot of promise this season; he's still a freshman point guard, however, and so far this season he's had a bad habit of getting caught up in the opponent's pace. Against a team that turns it over as much as the 'Noles, not to mention such a good defensive team, he's got to know when to attack in transition and when to back off and run the offense. I wouldn't be surprised to see Spike Albrecht end up getting more minutes tonight but for the fact that it's extremely difficult to hide a 5'10" guy out there defensively against FSU; Walton is much better equipped to hang with Bookert on that end of the floor.
Unleash Big Puppy. Beilein limited Mitch McGary to just 14 minutes last night, almost certainly with an eye on keeping him fresh for tonight's game. McGary has to be an animal on the defensive boards this evening; his ability to force turnovers and get this team out in transition—where they've been much better than when they're working the offense in halfcourt sets—is also going to be critical; both FSU centers are very turnover-prone, as are their two starting forwards. Against a team that is so difficult to score on when they can set up their halfcourt defense, Michigan needs to take any opportunity they can to run out, and that all starts with McGary's outlet passing and defensive activity.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 3
|WHAT||Michigan vs Iowa|
Iowa City, IA
|WHEN||Noon PM Eastern
November 23th, 2013
|THE LINE||Iowa -6|
|WEATHER||mostly sunny, mid-20s 0% chance of rain
20 mph winds
When the native Iowans realized their state had been abducted by a race of soulless aliens attempting to figure out how our morality worked, they banded together in rebellion. Praying to the great old ones, they struck a terrible bargain: in exchange for freedom and return to Earth and music videos with hot Korean girls making out with Iowa paraphenalia, they would offer up the fecundity of the land. The great old ones were big Mouse Davis fans and thought three yard runs were boring, so they demanded the finest tailback in all Iowa, delivered semiannually.
Eventually, the Greatest, Oldest One was hired as the offensive coordinator. Also, Iowa's defense is much better this year after a flailing period in the immediate aftermath of Norm Parker's departure.
Run Offense vs Iowa
Anthony Hitchens finishes tackles with devastating obituaries of his victims
This existed against Northwestern! Let the sweet taste of reasonable output from tailbacks dissolve on your tongue. And then try to remember it, forever, in case it never happens again.
Iowa is an odd team to read here, as they've been mostly permeable on the ground but utterly crushed Purdue (okay, no surprise there) and Big Ten Power™ Minnesota. The Gophers were held to 30 yards on 27 attempts, and while you should remove sack yards that gets them to about 2 yards a carry, which is completely terrible. Purdue did… it does not matter what Purdue did. Never mind.
In between these dominating bookends, though, Iowa has been kind of bad. Sack-adjusted numbers:
- vs Michigan State: 37 attempts, 135 yards, 3.7 YPC
- @ OSU: 49 attempts, 283 yards, 5.8 YPC
- vs Northwestern: 46 attempts, 234 yards, 5.1 YPC
- vs Wisconsin: 44 attempts, 223 yards, 5.1 YPC
Ace tracked Iowa's performance against NW inside zone plays and found that the same Northwestern offensive line that couldn't move Michigan at all found quality output against the Hawkeyes:
The Wildcats amassed 69 yards on 14 inside zone runs (4.9 ypc) and gained at least three yards on all but one of them.
Dare we cock an eyebrow at what statistics say is the #29 YPC rush defense in the country and suggest that Michigan might have success against them? We might. There's a huge divide between traditional stats (in which Iowa is 9th in total yardage) and advanced ones, where Iowa's defense is slightly better than as Michigan's offense. Yeah… think about that.
Michigan achieved its success against the Wildcats by dumping the idea of a pulling lineman, going primarily with inside zone, and frequently threatening the bubble screen to keep Northwestern's slot linebacker out of the picture. This gave Michigan the opportunity to execute extended double teams on the Northwestern DTs and resulted in a lot of five, six, seven yard runs as Michigan got a hat on everyone in the box.
Iowa is a team that this can work on as well. They prefer to slide their linebackers and play zone, and they like to keep their safeties deep—both of them. Assuming that Iowa puts their top corner BJ Lowery over Gallon, that would leave a box comprised of a not-very-good defensive line, two linebackers, and freshman corner Desmond King, and then it's on James Morris and Anthony Hitchens to make very good plays unless the DTs can hold up. They are pretty good, those two guys, but Michigan can keep their scheme from the most recent game and succeed with it unless Iowa makes a significant change to what they do.
Which is totally possible, because Kirk Ferentz pulls out all the stops against Michigan and Ohio State. But even when he does that, the defense remains the defense. Here is a note of cautious optimism that Michigan's run game will function.
Key Matchup: Michigan guards versus executing doubles well. Michigan should ride with the inside zone against a DL that can get pushed around; getting depth there opens up other possibilities, like the stretch and those throwing things
[Hit THE JUMP for MORE HOT KOREAN GIRLS (actually just more of this year's football team) BUT PROBABLY HOT KOREAN GIRLS]
This 'Merritt's Mention: How much punning has David Merritt had to put up with? Not enough that he balked at calling his fashion-brand-for-a-cause "Merit." The store donates a fifth of its revenues to college scholarships and educational enrichment programs, and he just opened one in Ann Arbor.
We Start Up Front. In 2009 Michigan started off pretty strong, including an encouraging win over Notre Dame. Maybe the shaky backfield got a little beat up for want of a safety or two but hey: Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Then it got worse. Then it got worser. Then it got awful. And then there were lots of diaries (myself among them) blaming attrition and poor recruiting on the old coaches and all sorts of things that could explain it other than "this is what will get our coaches fired."
So…offensive line diaries.
A Single Unified Theory of Offensive Lineptidute? Provided by Yeoman and bumped early last week, "Short Ride in a Broken-Down Machine" is the definitive study relating Michigan's offensive issues to young starters on the interior OL. As to the small correlation he had a great answer:
Given those enormous differences in baseline levels of the various FBS teams it's amazing to me that we could see anything like 5-8% of a performance difference being credited to any one team demographic, especially when the difference is measured using an SOS-adjusted metric like Fremeau.
The rubber really hits the pavement when he thought to compare teams to their historical norm, which is a quite elegant stand-in for expectations (including recruiting). Ultimately he found teams that have significant depth and start freshmen are just fine because the freshmen are just that good, but teams in Michigan's situation typically have very large systemic problems. Because fans tend to overstate, there's a reactionary tendency from the more rational among us to think "it's probably not as bad as it looks." Reality check: it's as bad as if we had Idaho's recruiting problems. Yeoman did throw some hope for next year in the comments:
(1) [OTs Do Matter Theory] The Bust Index for the entire line will improve from 75% to 65%, which would improve oFEI by about .06 and move us (all else being equal which of course it isn't) up about ten spots, or
(2) [OTs Don't Matter Theory] The Bust index for the interior will improve from 69% to 46%, which would improve oFEI by about .175 and move us up about about 20 spots.
He followed up with a Kalis-centric study that tracks every (non-juco) 5-star offensive lineman since 2003 and what contributions that player made in Year X. Findings are the good ones mostly started by Year 2, but that there's no cause to worry until they're not starting in Year 3. Actually the biggest thing to worry about is how few actually make good on their promise, not that Kalis hasn't yet. Diarist of the Month, this guy.
Third Down and Guh. The guy in the running with Yeoman is reshp1, who had a great OL diary two weeks ago, and this week decided to get into all those failed 3rd downs. It's UFR-long, so if you promise to read it (okay if you promise to skim through it) I'll share the money table here. Promise. PROMISE! You know what, fine, I'll put it after the jump, so you still have to click on something you lazy straw man of a dear diary reader.
Previously: Iowa Offense
Because I was just reminded that this picture exists, and it sums up the feelings about Michigan/Iowa for anyone without a serious rooting interest.
Now that Michigan is suddenly basing their running game on the inside zone with the overhanging threat of a bubble screen, my choice to break down Iowa's game against Northwestern has become oddly relevant to Saturday's matchup against the Hawkeye defense. In this one, the Wildcats were able to move the ball consistently on the ground (13 first downs rushing, 5.1 ypc with sacks removed) and struggled with any passes that weren't quick, short throws (six first downs, mostly on underneath throws, 4.1 ypa when accounting for sacks).
The Hawkeyes did what they do best: play bend-but-don't-break defense that keeps big plays to a minimum, and they got just enough from their offense to pull out a 17-10 overtime win. On to the breakdown...
Base Set? 4-3 over, though the Hawkeyes spent much of this game with five DBs on the field, lifting SLB Anthony Hitchens, to counter Northwestern's spread attack.
Man or zone coverage? Almost exclusively zone, with the notable exception of playing man the first few times Northwestern showed a 3x1 trips set. The Wildcats would motion the lone back outside of the three receivers. The man coverage worked well when Kain Colter targeted the man covered by outstanding cornerback B.J. Lowery:
There was significant confusion, however, when Northwestern went to the other side of the field, as the Hawkeyes flat-out failed to guard the slant thanks to some nice route design and poor recognition by freshman CB Desmond King (#14):
After this happened a couple times for first downs, Iowa adjusted to playing their usual Cover 2 against this look and Northwestern stopped utilizing it after a couple incompletions.
Pressure: GERG or Greg? Extremely GERG-ian. Iowa rushed more than four players on a passing down once, by my count, and often brought just three pass-rushers from a nebulous front while using MIKE James Morris as a spy with the option of coming on a delayed blitz. This specific wrinkle will be covered further in the play breakdown section.
When Iowa wasn't utilizing that particular look, they tended to rush four linemen with an obvious emphasis on maintaining their lane over getting to the quarterback against a mobile guy like Colter. The Hawkeyes had six sacks on the game; they netted just nine lost yards for Northwestern, as five of the six were coverage sacks in which Colter moved up in the pocket and tried to escape, only to get buried right around the LOS.
Dangerman: I was going to give this to WLB Anthony Hitchens, who tallied nine tackles (2 TFL), a sack, and a forced fumble while making several very impactful hits, including one that blew up a screen in Ryan-esque fashion, but then he bit hard on a play-action and subsequently gave up a wide-open touchdown in a critical situation.
Since I was torn between these two anyway, I'm going with Lowery, who recorded the PBU above and did an excellent job of tackling on the perimeter—that's very critical given Iowa's tendency to play soft zone coverage and rely on their corners to not leak yardage after short completions. He's far and away the team leader in pass breakups with 13 and also tops the Hawkeyes in forced fumbles with three. Northwestern didn't test him a whole lot—they only threw 14 passes all game and mostly stayed away from him—but when they did he made them pay, either by knocking the ball down or tackling receivers for minimal gains.
It's hard to emphasize enough how vanilla this Iowa defense is; they're going to sit back in zone coverage and dare opponents to beat them over the top for big plays. Northwestern only took a couple deep shots and their one long pass completion, a wheel route to H-back Dan Vitale, came on an inch-perfect throw that barely eluded Lowery's fingertips—and that still required Vitale to make a difficult over-the-shoulder catch on the run. Michigan has skill position players better suited to test Iowa deep. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy.
Starting up front, I thought the defensive line was the weak point of this Iowa defense. Though partly by design, they never got much push in the pass rush, nor did they hold up particularly well against the run—Iowa's linebackers rack up a ton of tackles in part because they're almost always the first guys to get decent contact on running backs. Out of curiosity, I tracked Northwestern's success on inside zone runs, and what I found supported this: the Wildcats amassed 69 yards on 14 inside zone runs (4.9 ypc) and gained at least three yards on all but one of them.
Of course, that also speaks to the sure tackling of their linebackers and safeties; the longest of those runs netted seven yards, and a three-yard gain ended with a lost fumble after a huge hit by Hitchens. The trio of Hitchens, Morris, and Kirksey at linebacker impressed; they rarely got out of their zones in pass coverage, while any run that got to them stopped upon contact. The best gains Northwestern got on the ground came on Kolter scrambles—usually up the middle as the DTs couldn't disengage; the DEs contained well—or quick-hitting runs to the edge, which included two speed sweeps by a motioning Vitale.
"A lot faster than you would think" is still not as fast as James White.
Safeties Tanner Miller and John Lowdermilk both did very well in run support and weren't tested at all in coverage; they flow downhill quickly and don't miss many tackles. The BTN play-by-play guy noted that Lowdermilk is "a lot faster than you would think," because he closes quickly and is white.
Lowery is obviously the standout corner; King, the true freshman starter across from him, did an impressive job of tackling for such a young player and didn't make any noticeable mistakes aside from the error in man coverage I pointed out above. Northwestern had inconsistent success getting first downs on hitches and crossing routes over the middle against Iowa's zone coverage; when those routes weren't open, Kolter was running around and usually taking a sack.
Michigan is going to have to find a way to consistently churn out yards in the running game, get receivers open underneath, and avoid turnovers at all costs; the difference between a solid offensive output and a poor one is going to come down to a few big plays going in one direction or the other, especially since the Wolverines haven't shown an ability to sustain drives via short-to-medium gains over the course of a full game. I don't think Iowa's defense is as good as the raw numbers suggest (#9 nationally in yardage allowed); their FEI rating of #46 passes the sanity test for me—they're decent, not great, and like Michigan under Mattison are able to cover up for a lack of playmakers on the line by executing basic schemes and getting solid, mistake-free play from the back seven.
Iowa showed this nebulous front on several third-and-longs in which they'd have just three linemen on the field, nobody would get set, and the front 4-6 players (including linebackers) would move around a lot before the snap:
The Hawkeyes almost always dropped eight men into coverage out of this formation; sometimes Morris would come on a delayed blitz, sometimes he'd rush right away, and in one instance they brought five rushers—on that play, Colter escaped the pocket and picked up a first down. That caused Iowa to mostly abandon this tactic in the latter stages of the game; early on, however, it got them a sack when Morris blitzed late and nobody on the Northwestern line picked him up:
While Northwestern didn't have too much trouble picking these rushes up otherwise, the concern here is that Michigan's offensive line ... well, you've seen enough missed assignments and blitz pickups to know the concern here. I wouldn't be surprised to see Iowa utilize this look often early in the game until the Wolverines prove that they can consistently identify and pick up rushers when they're moving around that much before the snap.
Missing out on potentially the #1 player in the country is never good but luckily for the Michigan faithful the coaching staff got back up and back on the recruiting trail. I’m sure the coaches felt like they took one on the chin when Da’Shawn Hand decided to commit to Alabama, but they wasted no time in trying to find an adequate replacement.
Less than an hour after Hand announced, the coaches extended an offer to Jhonny Williams. Williams is currently committed to Missouri but has been getting a lot of attention on the recruiting trail lately, most notably from Notre Dame and the in-state Wolverines. Williams hails from the tiny village of Berrien Springs in southwest Michigan, the village itself covers just over one square mile. The small school population and low level competition made for a late start in the recruiting game for Williams but on film his size, speed, and athleticism are very apparent. In his high school games and at 6’6” and 230 lbs. Williams stands out like a green hat with an orange bill.
Jhonny seems like a very well-rounded kid and that sentiment was easy to identify the first time I contacted him as he responded with a very business-like but polite text that read, “I’m not ready to comment on the recent events. I’ll let you know my thoughts when I gather them. I need time. Thank you.” I was able to catch up with him Thursday evening and he was much more open this time around.
What exactly is going on in your mind now that you have a Michigan offer? Well, I’m committed to Mizzou, but it was definitely an exciting thing to have that happen.
How seriously are you going to look into Michigan? Are you planning to take a visit? There’s a chance I will visit for the Ohio State game but nothing is scheduled yet.
I’ve read in some other places that a commitment flip is possible since you now have the in-state Wolverine offer. Did you grow up a Wolverine fan and is there any truth to that? (Laughs) I haven’t completely thought about that yet. I never really had a favorite football team growing up. I don’t really want to go into where I was born and raised but it wasn’t in Michigan anyways.
I was also able to find out that the coaches really haven’t been very aggressive toward Williams. He says that the coaches haven’t really called him much at all since the offer. He plans to make a decision by this time next week on whether he will visit for the Ohio State game or not (obviously since the game is next Saturday) and I think that decision will say a lot about how serious his interest in Michigan is. I will try to check in with him again in a few days to see if he has indeed made that decision.