If you’re looking for Ace’s Northwestern Preview, it’s here.
With Michigan’s weekend win over Purdue, the Wolverines probably sealed an NCAA Tournament bid – but more importantly, they continued their excellent month of basketball: they’ve won five out of their last six with the only loss coming on the road in overtime to perhaps the hottest team in the conference (Minnesota). Michigan struggled early in conference play against an easy schedule because of their atrocious defense, but significant improvements on that end helped rack up some key wins during the relatively difficult stretch of Big Ten opponents.
As I pointed out last week, Michigan’s offense has been remarkably consistent. It ranks in the top ten nationally in Kenpom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. Even though there isn’t a surefire NBA player on the roster (by any means), a balanced six-man core has produced one of Beilein’s best offenses in Ann Arbor. Four of the six main rotation players (Walton, Wagner, Wilson, and Robinson) are extremely efficient and five of the six (those four and Abdur-Rahkman) are shooting 38% or above from three. Derrick Walton has played especially well as of late, but Michigan’s offense has been good all season (with the notable exceptions of the South Carolina and Texas games). If Zak Irvin can play well in a complementary role, it can be a lethal – though quite slow-paced – attack. As we saw against Purdue, sometimes Michigan doesn’t even need him to be able to run a good team out of the gym.
Offense at the top of college basketball has improved in recent years. Each team in the top ten of Adjusted Offensive Efficiency has a mark greater than 120 – back in 2013, Michigan’s Final Four season, the Wolverines were the only team in the country over 120. As recently as 2010, the best offense in the country was national champion Duke’s 117.0. That number would rank 30th in the country in 2017. Recent rule changes are surely a big reason for the general improvement offensively, and the increased pace of play has helped make college hoops more appealing.
With an adequate defense – one that has been much better since opponent threes haven’t gone in at an absurd outlier rate – Michigan and its offense can think about improving its seeding or making a run in the Big Ten tournament instead of worrying about their position on the bubble. The Wolverines’ offensive firepower is the obvious strength of the team so I compared the 2017 Michigan offense against elite offenses from the last five years.
[Takeaways after the JUMP]
#27 Michigan (19-10, 9-7 B1G) at
#37 Northwestern (20-9, 9-7)
|WHEN||7 pm ET, Wednesday|
Northwestern -1 (KenPom)
Northwestern -1 (Vegas)
PBP: Kevin Kugler
Analyst: Stephen Bardo
Right: McIntawwwww. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
A Michigan team that suddenly finds itself on firm tournament footing faces a Northwestern team that suddenly finds itself back on the bubble. The Wolverines are an eight-seed in the latest Bracket Matrix. The Wildcats, losers of five of their last seven, have fallen to the ten-seed line after looking like a dead lock heading into February. They are, after all, Northwestern.
This game has significant implications for the NCAA bubble and Big Ten Tournament seeding. Both teams are 9-7 in the Big Ten, one game behind Michigan State and Minnesota, which are tied for fourth place. Michigan can still get the four-seed and a double-bye in the conference tournament by winning out and getting some help; you can play around with the various scenarios here. The only scenario I've found that gets Michigan to the four-seed requires Minnesota to lose out (Nebraska, @Wisconsin) and Michigan State to drop one of their last two (@Illinois, @Maryland).
UPDATE THE FIRST
The BTN helpfully laid out all of the various BTT seeding scenarios:
6. Michigan (9-7)
Can be as high as #4 seed with wins in its final 2 games (at Northwestern and Nebraska) + 2 Minnesota losses + 1 MSU loss OR wins in its final 2 games + 2 MSU losses + 2 Wisconsin losses
Can’t finish higher than #6 with a loss at Northwestern tonight
Could fall as low as #8 with 2 losses + tiebreakers
UPDATE THE SECOND
The line has moved to Michigan -2 after opening at Northwestern -1.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.
|G||30||Bryant McIntosh||Jr.||6'3, 185||85||27||99||Yes|
|Good distributor. Takes lots of tough shots, occasionally makes them.|
|G||20||Scottie Lindsey||Jr.||6'5, 210||67||23||109||Kinda|
|NW's leading scorer in slump since midseason bout with mono.|
|F||4||Vic Law||So.||6'7, 205||81||21||104||Not At All|
|Solid defender, rebounder, and outside shooter. Only making 35% of twos.|
|F||34||Sanjay Lumpkin||Sr.||6'6, 220||70||11||127||Kinda|
|Low-usage garbageman type. Iffy outside shot.|
|C||5||Dererk Pardon||So.||6'8, 235||56||14||121||Very|
|Strong finisher, rebounder, and shot-blocker. Plays 70% of mins when healthy.|
|F||44||Gavin Skelly||Jr.||6'8, 225||47||19||111||Kinda|
|Gets offensive boards and blocks. Struggling to finish, turnover- and foul-prone.|
|G||12||Isiah Brown||Fr.||6'2, 175||41||27||90||Yes|
|Like McIntosh, but without the assists.|
|F||32||Nathan Taphorn||Sr.||6'7, 215||28||16||127||Not At All|
|Just A Shooter™, hits 45% of his threes.|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Stopping all of this has proven quite difficult. [All photos: Bryan Fuller]
Generally, opposing coach press conferences after losses are brief and uninformative. After the Moe Wagner-Derrick Walton pick-and-pop obliterated Purdue's defense to the point they had to entirely change strategies, however, Matt Painter went into great detail on the problems posed by Michigan's offense, specifically those that result from facing two big men that can shoot.
To set this up: Purdue started the game with Caleb Swanigan defending Wagner. Michigan exploited the matchup by forcing Swanigan out to the perimeter, usually with high screens. Wagner feasted.
Wagner went 9-for-12 in the first half, hitting 5-of-6 twos and 4-of-6 threes. Michigan fielding a lineup with five viable outside shooting threats wreaked havoc on Purdue's defense and their rotation. 7'2" center Isaac Haas usually plays 20 minutes per game, often pairing with Swanigan to form an imposing frontcourt duo. Here's what happened when Purdue put both big men out there:
If Michigan's big men can't shoot, Swanigan wouldn't be in no-man's land, and Haas would be in position to block Simpson's shot into the tenth row if he manages to get into the paint anyway. The threat of Wilson and Wagner instead opened a cavernous lane for the quick point guard to bolt through.
As a result, Haas played only seven minutes in the first half, and just two with Swanigan also on the court. The adjustment Painter had to make in the second half forced his second-best player off the floor almost entirely:
We just went and switched everything, knocked them out of their [pick-and-pop] action. The downside of that is now you have your bigs guarding their guards and they can break you off the dribble. Then you have to help, now you’ve got to get to their shooters. When you have a good point guard and you have bigs that are skilled that can shoot and spread you out, you have to pick your poison. We can flip it on them, but when you don’t score the ball at the rim—and I thought we had a lot of opportunities for Haas in there, missed dunk, layups, a hook, that he normally makes—if we could’ve made those plays, we could’ve lived with all of it, because we wouldn’t have been out of the game, and now we put them in a bind because they’re eventually going to foul us and get out of the game. But if we can’t keep you in the game because [of defense], that gets hard for us. We just decided at half that we had to switch, and then when Donnal came in the game we could play Isaac [Haas]. But obviously we didn’t play well enough to be able to get back in.
Haas played four second-half minutes, entering the game after Michigan inserted Donnal and exiting at the first stoppage after Beilein lifted Donnal and put DJ Wilson at center. The combination of Wagner and Wilson in Beilein's offense rendered the second-best player on the Big Ten's best team effectively unplayable.
[Hit THE JUMP to see how Michigan took advantage of Purdue's new defensive tack.]
The Thompson-Robinson Conundrum
Michigan's QB board consists of NV QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the end*. Thompson-Robinson has publicly stated that UCLA will be very hard to beat, and nobody believed him. The last seven crystal balls have been to Michigan, including a number of 24/7 contributors and Lorenz. Combine those facts with an impending commitment...
Recruitment isn't fully shutdown but is getting pretty close. One of these schools will have my word soon ... God bless. pic.twitter.com/M6Wdlaugae
— DTR. (@DoriansTweets) February 28, 2017
...and you've got one of those intriguing recruitments that make everyone nervous. Mom is in Michigan's corner.
— DTR. (@DoriansTweets) December 23, 2016
UCLA's coach is on the hot seat. Thompson-Robinson has a hyphen. He knows Harbaugh's rep:
"Coach Harbaugh is a quarterback guru," Thompson-Robinson said on Sunday during the Pylon 7v7 National Championships in Vegas. "With Pep Hamilton there now, that's put the icing on the cake in my opinion. They've really made me a priority throughout the process as well."
You'd think this would be a perfect situation for Michigan, but for whatever reason UCLA just keeps poking its nose in. Boo, UCLA. Go away.
Thompson-Robinson's teammate, NV TE Brevin Jordan, might help out here. Jordan's an H-back type who could be Khalid Hill 2.0, and not every school has a hammer panda:
"Michigan, that's big time," Jordan told 247Sports on Sunday. "The way they run their program is like a professional team with Coach Harbaugh there. They have the Jordan brand, the area is beautiful. I see them as "Tight End U" out there."
They're coming up together this spring.
*[Probably. They did toss an offer to 3.5* FL QB Joe Milton a few days ago. One dollar says that's not commitable unless DTR decides to go elsewhere. FWIW, Milton is Anquan Boldin's cousin and Boldin was pro-Harbaugh after their time together with the 49ers.]
Grad transfers are crootin' too
Per Brice Marich, Cal grad transfer Aaron Cochran has not had any contact from Michigan. I'm surprised, since I know the plan to get 85 scholarship guys to fall camp included Devin Asiasi. You'd think Michigan has a spot and you'd think "guy who started most of a Pac-12 season" would be better than air.
Obligatory Daniel Faalele section
This is like seeing the Loch Ness monster pop out of the lake and pancake a dude:
— Gerry Hamilton (@HamiltonESPN) February 26, 2017
Hilariously, Andy Staples met twitter's blunt end because of this video. He's got a piece coming up on Faalele, and after mentioning this he got multiple replies along the lines of "why doesn't he take on someone his own size?" I have bad news about Yokozuna for you, Twitter.
I already made the "little brother" joke months ago
in west philadelphia, born and raised, on the playground is where i spe
4.5* FL OL Nick Petit-Frere isn't close to having a list; Sam catches up with his coach, who has good things to say about both of Michigan's OL coaches and emphasizes that he is a very legit student who doesn't care about distance:
“Nick is a tremendous student and we know academics are important,” said Ciao. “I think Nick knows that he also going to play football and football is important to him. His decision will be based on what’s the right fit for him as a football player and as a student athlete.”
He'll visit a select list of schools before next season begins. Michigan will endeavor to be one of those, and one dollar says they will. Sam not only talked to Petit-Frere's coach but he also had an extensive interview with the recruit in question:
Sam Webb: When I spoke to Coach Ciao he said there were a couple of places that you were going to try to visit during the spring. Do you have an idea of which places you might hit?
Nicholas Petit-Frere: Michigan was a choice I wanted to go up to. I'm also considering Notre Dame possibly too. A lot of schools have contacted me, trying to get me to come up for a junior day or spring practices, so there's a lot of schools I'm looking at for spring break. That's going to be a good amount of time to do some of the visits I can."
This sounds like the kind of recruitment that boils down to Stanford/ND/Michigan, not Michigan/FSU/Alabama.
Various new names
Here's your early-cycle bulleted list of guys who just popped up on the radar:
- 4* TX RB Keaontay Ingram is a new offer who is "definitely interested"; no visit scheduled yet. Texas is on him, so that will be a tough pull.
- 4.5* FL OL William Barnes picked up an offer from Greg Frey. Barnes is at Apopka, Jeremy Gallon's alma mater. Barnes plans a spring visit and says he's "very interested."
- 4* FL OL Curtis Dunlap lists Michigan in a top four. He's at IMG.
- 4* CA OL Tommy Brown says he's "very interested" in Michigan. No visit, etc. Teammate of big time 2019 QB JT Daniels, FWIW. For whatever reason I assume anyone named Tommy Brown will end up at Notre Dame, which went 4-8 last year.
- 4.5* CA LB Solomon Tuliaupupu plans to take in Michigan as part of a swing through various power programs this spring.
- 4* MO CB Mario Goodrich told Josh Newkirk that "Michigan is #1 for sure" after landing an offer. Jordan was cited. Vague visit plans, vague National Signing Day decision plans, rinse, repeat.
- 3* GA CB Chris Jackson named Michigan and Michigan State as his top two. Jackson's dad went to MSU, if you're wondering about the odd geography here. He wants to decide early; unless Michigan thinks Jackson is seriously underrated by the recruiting services that probably means MSU since he's ranked around #800 on the composite and Michigan has a tight class.
- 4* GA CB Chris Smith says Michigan has made him a "priority" and that Harbaugh compared him to the Tasmanian Devil. No top list, vague visit plans, rinse, repeat.
- FL S Sammy Faustin picked up an offer and says he will visit in April. Faustin is currently unranked by everybody.
Grudging 2019 section
OH DB Moses Douglass says Michigan is in his top three with Kentucky and Iowa. Douglas is former NFL player and Springfield HC Moe Douglass's son; Douglass the elder played at Kentucky, which explains the odd list. Douglass is a 2019 kid who missed a big chunk of his sophomore season because of injury and thus could be a big timer or a three-star. TBD.
FL LB Anthony Solomon continues to name Michigan his leader after his unofficial to Ann Arbor. He plans to come back for the spring game. If that trip happens we'll start penciling him into the 2019 class—back to back long distance unofficials in a short period of time are always a very good sign.
KY DE Stephen Herron gave Josh Helmholdt some encouraging quotes:
“He has this board in his room showing a bunch of plays and all the kids he has recruited, like Rashan Gary and Donovan Peoples-Jones and Jabrill Peppers. I was impressed that he has that much organization in his life. His desk is not cluttered like other coaches and he knows where everything is at all times.”
Happy trails to NJ QB Arthur Sitkowski, who committed to Miami, and MI QB Theo Day, who committed to 3-9 MSU. Michigan remains focused on DTR to the virtual exclusion of everyone else. Some possibility Michigan would circle back to one or both if DTR's recruitment goes south. Also in happy trails: FL DT Taron Vincent has apparently narrowed his list to OSU and FSU.
Bama offers IN OL commit Emil Ekiyor. "Offer" or OFFER is as of yet unknown; Ekiyor still says he's committed to Michigan. I sort of believe him but if he takes another round of unofficials after this he's 50/50 to stick... at best.
[Note: Yeah, the picture above is from the first time these teams played this season. It’s a good picture, man. It’s also a picture of Evan Allen, who had a great series. Also, the screenshots from the first game are really grainy because the stream was OSU’s scoreboard and the quality was middling.]
Friday, February 24, 2017
#12 Ohio State 4, Michigan 2
OSU 0 UM 1 EV 12:12 Assists: De Jong
De Jong crosses the line just a fraction of a blade’s length ahead of his teammates, just enough to keep the play onside. As they cross, Allen starts to drop back to provide a passing option as the trailer while the other skater goes hard to the front of the net.
The defenders have to play this with a fairly large gap between themselves and the Michigan skaters due to it being an odd-man rush. Allen gets a ton of cushion when he drops back. Even though only one defender is going to carry the netfront skater, they both have to check where he’s going long enough to make passing pack to Allen the best choice for De Jong.
Allen makes the smart play here and pulls it around the defender, which creates the time needed for a screen to begin to take shape in front of the net. Allen shoots at this point and beats Frey…high? Low? Can anyone tell with this jumbotron feed? The puck went in, I know that much.
[After THE JUMP: I understand this season despite not understanding it at all]