I did not make this headline up
First, the most important thing:
Michigan raised their 2013 Final Four banner today, and if I can say so myself it looks pretty damn good up there. Josh Bartelstein, Corey Person, and a late-arriving Eso Akunne were in attendance to receive their rings; Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. had some pressing business matters to attend to, I'm told. (Burke's parents were here, though, and got a large ovation when shown on the jumbotron.)
Nothing that could happen against UMass Lowell, a Division I newcomer, was going to top that. For the first 20 minutes, however, Michigan looked like they were trying their best overshadow the ceremony in the worst way possible. From the opening possession, during which Jon Horford missed a what-are-you-doing three early in the shot clock, to the final first half possession, when Horford ignored a wide-open Glenn Robinson III on a backcut and jacked up a long two, the Wolverines looked totally flat offensively. (This makes it seem like it was all Horford's fault; it was very much a team effort.)
The Crisler Center crowd could only look on in shock as the Wolverines went into the tunnel tied 23-23 at halftime. Michigan hit just 6/23 field goals (1/9 threes) and 10/15 free throws while turning the ball over five times to just two assists. While the team looked good defensively, they played disjointed basketball on the other end, never able to get much momentum going. Even when they put in points, it wasn't necessarily pretty; Robinson scored six of his ten first-half points from the free-throw line, Stauskas four of his seven, mostly on forced dribble-drives that ended in hacks.
In the second half, it was a totally different story. The Wolverines opened the second stanza on a 21-2 run that took nearly 11 minutes; from there, they cruised to victory, again with a big push on the defensive end—an aggressive Michigan D forced ten second-half turnovers while the offense coughed it up just twice.
Caris LeVert (above, Fuller) led the way with 17 points, 11 coming in the second half, on 6/11 shooting—he hit all five of his second-half attempts—while also chipping in five rebounds, a nifty assist on a pick-and-roll with Horford, and two steals. LeVert's assist total belied his impressive passing, as Michigan bungled good looks set up by his passes on multiple occasions in the first half. He once again worked his way into the lane with regularity and hit a couple nice pull-up jumpers—if that shot is consistently falling this season, he'll be a very dangerous player.
Robinson finished with a workmanlike 15 points (4/8 FG, 7/10 FT), seven boards, four assists, and three steals. While his on-and-off aggression didn't result in many made baskets, it got him to the line frequently, and his teammates missed a few opportunities to hit him on backdoor cuts that should've resulted in thunderous dunks.
Derrick Walton once again started at point guard, and while he didn't look to create his own offense too much (6 points, 1/4 FG, 4/4 FT), he dished out four assists and was a disruptive defensive force, tallying four steals in addition to forcing a jump ball—he knew the right times to get aggressive and go for the ball, and it paid off handsomely. Fellow freshman Zak Irvin also played a big part in Michgian's second-half run, scoring all of his ten points (1/3 2P, 2/4 3P, 2/3 FT) in the final 12 minutes of play.
Nik Stauskas didn't have his best shooting night, going 1/5 from the field, but he grinded out nine points due to his willingness to drive and absorb contact—he ended up 6/8 from the line and played with the right amount of aggressiveness. While Horford also had a hard time putting the ball in the hoop (5 points, 2/8 FG), he still looked like the team's best center option without Mitch McGary, hauling in 12 rebounds (5 offensive), blocking a shot, and generally making life difficult for Lowell players trying to get clean looks in the lane.
Jordan Morgan, meanwhile, played just 12 minutes, putting up two points and three rebounds but also drawing two fouls—the change in the way charges are being called is a major negative for his defensive style if early returns hold. Max Bielfeldt fared worse, making a four-minute cameo as a center in the first half that included this sequence: missed layup followed immediately by a turnover, then a late rotation on the other end resulting in an easy bucket.
While it took a full half to gel, Michigan eventually got their act together offensively, and it was nice to see the defense carry the day even against an overmatched opponent—Lowell finished with just four fast-break points and rebounded only ten of their 35 missed field goals while yakking up 15 total turnovers. Let's go ahead and chalk up the first half performance to post-banner malaise and never speak of it again.
2013-14 Preview Coverage
Media Day Wrap: Beilein transcript + interviews with Horford, Morgan, Walton, GRIII
Position Previews: Bigs, Wings, Point Guards
Preview Podcast: With special guest John Gasaway
A Whole Damn Book: A whole damn book
Tonight's Game Info
What: Michigan vs. UMass-Lowell
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
When: 7pm, Friday (Banner raising ceremony at 6:40)
Line: Michigan -25 (KenPom)
TV: Big Ten Digital Network (subcription required)/MGoBlueTV (ditto)
Radio: 950 AM (Detroit), 102.9 FM (Ann Arbor), Sirius Channel 92, MGoBlue stream
UMass-Lowell is making their Division I debut after finishing 15-13 (10-12) as a member of the Northeast-10 (Division II) last year. A full-blown game preview is rather unnecessary.
"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties." — Sir Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning
As Michigan opens its season tonight against UMass-Lowell, I'm certain of two things about this team: they're raising a Final Four banner tonight, and they will be good.
The first is indisputable fact, not to mention a significant reason why it's easy to state the second: John Beilein's squad returns eight players (three starters, four more rotation guys) from a team that came within a half of requiring a bigger, fancier banner. Among those are two players garnering preseason All-American consideration, arguably the best shooter in America, a backup point guard who dropped 17 points in the first half of the title game, two experienced big men, and a sophomore oozing so much potential that he forced his way onto the court last year despite appearing malnourished.
On top of that, Michigan boasts one of the best coaching staffs in the country and bring in two top-flight recruits who will contribute immediately, one of whom (PG Derrick Walton) has already secured a starting role. They will be good, even without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway.
How good depends on a number of factors, however, and for every certainty there is an equal and opposite uncertainty.
Certainty: Mitch McGary is one of the most skilled, impactful centers in college basketball.
Uncertainty: When will he be able to return from his back "condition", and will it hamper him once he returns? (Also: how much do we weigh his tournament run versus his regular-season output?)
Certainty: Glenn Robinson III is an incredible athlete who had an exceptionally efficient freshman season.
Uncertainty: Can Robinson create his own shot, and can he stay so efficient with a bigger role?
Certainty: Beilein will try to play more two-big lineups this year.
Uncertainty: Will this work, especially with all the practice time McGary has missed? With all the talent on the wings, is it even worth trying?
Certainty: Caris LeVert is getting massive practice hype for the second straight year and looks like a potential breakout star as a shooting guard and part-time point.
Uncertainty: Will his practice/exhibition exploits translate to actual production against real opponents this year?
Certainty: Nik Stauskas is a great shooter; also: Not Just A Shooter.
Uncertainty: Can his lethal efficiency as a three-point shooter and pick-and-roll ballhandler continue when he's the team's first or second scoring option?
Certainty: Michigan is starting an extremely talented freshman point guard.
Uncertainty: Michigan is starting an extremely talented freshman point guard.
The list goes on and on*, and I'm okay with this. The uncertainty surrounding the football team this year has largely stemmed from "can this non-functional unit become functional"-type questions. The uncertainty surrounding the basketball team, on the other hand, is more of the "can this good thing become great" variety.
If the pieces all fall into place, Michigan is a national title contender once again. If they don't, this is still a team capable of winning the Big Ten (so long as Michigan State doesn't go full juggernaut, at least), and barring a rash of injuries they'll be a fun team to watch. None of us have any idea what's going to happen; it's still all but guaranteed to be more rewarding than watching this year's football team. Sit back and enjoy Michigan's status as one of the nation's elite programs, one that reloads instead of rebuilds, and savor that banner. We'll worry about certainties another time.
*Will the team's added functional size and experience on the wings equal better defensive performance, for example.
Other stuff here: Ace FFFF!
|WHAT||Michigan vs Nebraska|
Ann Arbor, MI
3:30 PM Eastern
November 9th, 2013
|THE LINE||M –6.5|
|WEATHER||sunny, low 50s, 0% chance of rain|
Via Nebraska version of E3W, The Dailyer.
Liveblog: getting started around 3pm, presented by Marawatch. Former Mich. cornerback Brandon Williams will be present to talk about Go Blue Then And Now's latest efforts and what it's like to wear #12 for your entire career (since no starter has managed that since).
Take the Michigan ground game. Put it on the other side of the ball. This is the story of Nebraska's season: bogglingly utter ineptitude at stopping folks other than Purdue from running epic distances without much skill.
Now remove that team's starting quarterback but give them a Big Ten schedule reading Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern, and you have the Nebraska Cornhuskers: a good record against a terrible schedule and two uncompetitive losses to middling teams, with multiple close calls against bad ones.
Saturday is Michigan versus Funhouse Mirror Michigan, except Devin Gardner persists against all odds.
Run Offense vs Nebraska
After brutal disappointment last week Michigan finds sweet sanctuary in the form of the Nebraska defense, which more often than not has been ground into paste this year, often by the start of the second quarter. The Huskers opened the year by giving up 600 yards of offense to Wyoming, 219 of it on the ground. Since then they've done well against… uh… Purdue.
|South Dakota State||33||271||2||8.2|
(Omitted Southern Miss, FWIW, since USM is so bad I don't think games against them mean anything.)
Nebraska has been very good at getting to the QB, which somewhat obscures how bad they've been against actual rushes. I smashed some stats together from CFBStats to fix that issue. Here is the Big Ten against ground games:
Nebraska's been worse than Indiana over the course of this season, and basically equivalent to Purdue and Illinois. Moveable object, come on down.
Why is Nebraska so pliable on the ground? Ace:
their line got consistently pushed off the ball by Northwestern. The DEs weren't disciplined in containing the edge and the DTs couldn't get push. What this means for Michigan is a matter of considerable debate; if Borges decides it's time to go full spread-to-run, I think the Wolverines will have success getting Gardner and Toussaint to the edge. At the very least, this won't be a State-like massacre up front. …
The linebackers are a mess. This will be covered in more detail later—redshirt freshman MIKE Michael Rose made his first start against Northwestern and didn't fare well, getting out of his lane with regularity and eating blocks due to a lack of aggressiveness.
Ace highlighted a particular wow freshman experience on one of Green's rips up the middle:
A battle of blown assignments looms. That sounds pretty good to me after last week; when guys get out of lanes then it's more about seeing the opportunity and taking it more than anything else, and even if by this point Fitzgerald Toussaint would regard a gaping hole like a POW emerging into the sunlight after years of captivity, the second or third time he sees one he might do something other than gape open-mouthed in wonder.
But on the other hand. Michigan rushed for 23 yards on 20 carries against Michigan State, has struggled to put up mortal numbers against some very bad rushing defenses, and is currently spinning through interior linemen at an alarming rate. Nothing is working except murdering Devin Gardner.
I can't tell you I expect much better this week. Michigan was incapable of running from under center against the Hoosiers until a late breakthrough after the game was decided, and even then their YPC was solidly under Indiana's season average. Operating from the shotgun was effective, at least.
Michigan tends to cycle through several phases when they approach their rushing offense:
- WE ARE GOING TO MANBALL YOU
- High numbers of big sets get no yards at all
- well I guess we'll spread you out a bit but we don't like it
- Shotgun rushing is generally effective
- Weak opponent approaches
- WE ARE GOING TO MANBALL YOU
- repeat ad nauseum
This is a prime candidate for manball reset, as Michigan's coming off a game where they couldn't run in any formation and can thus vaguely justify gravitating back towards their desires. That would be bad except Nebraska may just shatter anyway. But still probably bad.
Key Matchup: Michigan busts versus Nebraska busts. QUIEN ES MAS BUSTO
[Hit THE JUMP for aw hamburgers]
It would seem obvious
Event reminder: MGoBlog is coming to Chicago next Friday. Moe's Cantina, River North, 6-9 p.m.
The coping mechanisms kicked in about Tuesday, and the diaries flowed. The best, I thought, was by Ron Utah, who took this base alignment
…from the UFR and pointed out why it's hard to attack this in myriad ways because MSU's defense is good. That is true, but it doesn't invalidate the primary complaints: it isn't cohesive. Indiana faced the same defense and their OL isn't all that great, but they have committed themselves to running option routes and tempo, and it works because it puts the offense mostly on the shoulders of three really good receivers to execute. A short list of some of the hands Michigan gambled on:
- Toussaint's pass blocking vs. Denicos Allen blitz
- Funchess's threat as an inline blocker vs. MSU having watched Funchess this season at all
- Half-hearted play-action on 2nd and 15 when Michigan hasn't shown a run out of that formation in ever vs. MSU safeties' ability to read play-action.
State's defense is great, and that gives teams limited options for beating them. But the offensive coaching was awful independent of that, on the game level more so on a macro level: They haven't been able to figure out from week to week what the hell kind of offense they are, let alone who's going to be playing it. Eventually they want to be a TE-mismatch outfit but right now there isn't a single TE or RB on the roster who can block. I get it, but it's not getting better because in three years nobody on that staff has been able to answer "what are we going to do about it?"
The OL can't block either. Well the freshmen can't and hey, they're freshmen. But since OL coaches are particularly difficult to judge (especially when their oldest recruits are all redshirt freshmen this year) Erik_in_Dayton went over all of Funk's previous OL charges going back to Ball State. No conclusions—almost everybody was a 2-star recruit—but interesting read.
Meanwhile Gameboy has been trying all sorts of ways of assessing Michigan's O-line experience versus that of other teams. In three attempts he's got a bunch of data and no sense to make of it still because Michigan has two extremes and the coaches don't do things to cover up for their weak points. The chart at right shows O-line starts and game experience. His big mistake I think is averaging: Team One has a tackle with thirty starts and a left guard with none; Team Two has a tackle and guard who've started next to each other for fifteen games. Both average fifteen starts, but Team Two has a big advantage that is hidden by your method.
Chunkums put up a survey to ask if you want to fire which coaches, but your feelings are irrelevant since this staff won't be budged unless there's wholesale failure the rest of the year and Dave Brandon's pimp hand has to step in. Even then, what are the chances Michigan grabs the soon-to-be-unemployed Nebraska OC we're pining over? What's that guy going to do with Morris and Speight? It's clear now that Borges should never have been brought here in the first place, but then a world where Michigan hung on to Calvin Magee for a few years (as OSU did with Fickell) comes with its own negatives. Either way the future is what matters now; if we're going to advocate anything maybe it's a consultant who can teach Borges constraint theory.
While you're assessing, here's a handy chart of Michigan's games under Hoke by dnak438, with the betting lines included. I think jamiemac once told me that Michigan's final lines, like ND's and other power programs, are worse predictors because they're responsive to the huge number of people who bet knowing nothing more than that Michigan is traditionally pretty good. Early lines are more accurate. By the way dnak took my suggestion of rotating the chart 45 degrees. This week I'm suggesting overlaying last week's to see progression:
[Jump to find out how Brian got banned, and you can too!]
MSU offensive UFR successfully pushed down the front page. You're welcome, everybody.
Charted: CA, WTF
In retrospect, this probably wasn't the best game to watch to scout Nebraska considering Northwestern's litany of injuries—by early in the fourth quarter, they were down to their fourth-string running back in a tie game—and their spread-and-shred style. However, I wanted to get a look at Nebraska in their own beaten-up state: Taylor Martinez sat out, as did both starting guards (Spencer Long, their best OL, and Jake Cotton), starting tight end (Jake Long [NTJL]), and two of their top four wide receivers (Jameel Turner and Kenny Bell, the latter of whom started but exited early). I mean... this is a battered unit:
When redshirt freshman receiverhauled in the tipped Hail Mary pass on the game's final play, Nebraska had five players on the field who'd started the season on offense.
Those were running back, wide receiver Quincy Enunwa and offensive linemen Jeremiah Sirles, Andrew Rodriguez, and Cole Pensick.
Two walk-ons, quarterbackand wide receiver Sam Burtch, were in on the final play. A third, wide receiver Brandon Reilly, was playing earlier in the series.
Given that Martinez is out for Saturday, as are both guards, and Bell, Turner, and Long are all questionable to play, this game gives us the best gauge of how the Huskers will look offensively. Before I get to that, the short recap of the game: Nebraska moved the ball well, outgaining Northwestern 472-376, but the game came down to a hail mary thanks to four interceptions thrown by Husker quarterbacks—the offense only put up three touchdowns, as a pick six accounted for their only second-half score that wasn't a complete prayer. Poor damn Northwestern.
Ameer Abdullah is Nebraska's top offensive weapon, arguably regardless of injuries.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Hybrid. Nebraska mostly operates from the shotgun or pistol; they'll switch it up and go I-form, primarily to get the running game going.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? A combination. Nebraska runs plenty of zone read; they'll also use pulling linemen and POWER concepts from any formation.
Hurry it up or grind it out? Nebraska varied their tempo a fair amount in this game. They can't go full-blown Indiana Light Speed while starting a redshirt freshman at quarterback; they'll still work in plenty of no-huddle, even if they often take their time once they rush to the line.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. has been the starter in place of Martinez despite struggling greatly in the passing game; this is largely because he's fast and nimble, allowing the Huskers to focus on their option attack. Ron Kellogg III has seen time in every game since Martinez went down, as well; he moves around decently in the pocket but isn't the same downfield running threat—when he's out there, Nebraska doesn't really utilize the option. Armstrong gets a solid 7; Kellogg gets a 4.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
ACCIDENTALLY APROPOS ERROR NOTES: Since the NCAA decided to replace their stat pages with much worse stat pages I've been using ESPN's items—still worse than the thing the NCAA just replaced but better. Their drive pages have been consistently erroneous all year, but my irritation just evaporated thanks to this magically accurate error in re: Michigan's drive immediately following Taylor's interception:
CORRECT, intern or robot or whoever. Correct. Except that drive started at the MSU 41, but we forgive all transgressions for spiritual correctness. The best kind of correctness.
FORMATION NOTES: So I just called MSU's stuff 4-3 over but I should point out that everyone is within ten yards of the LOS on damn near every snap. This is M's opener.
This was completely typical. For the most part, MSU did not try to match corners, they just ran their D. They would occasionally move guys down and whatnot, but mostly this was like watching magic. MSU has acquired a variety of guys big time programs didn't want and plays them more aggressively than the most athletic defense in the country, whoever that might be, and apparently no one can do anything about it. It is boggling.
MSU did on occasion flip to man press on the corners; this is designated with "press."
While it was the same personnel, when MSU shaded a guy outside the hash I called this a nickel. As always, with opponent formations I'm not trying to describe personnel.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Gardner until last three plays, Toussaint almost the whole way save one, maybe two snaps on which Derrick Green didn't seem any better at pass blocking.
Line was Lewan/Bosch/Glasgow/Magnuson/Schofield with some limited exceptions featuing Kalis entering as a sixth OL. Paskorz got some snaps at TE; Butt got most of the inline snaps. When Funchess was inline it is noted below; he was inline for every play on Michigan's final drive but mostly split out. No Dileo; WRs were Gallon, Chesson, and a little bit of Jackson.
[After THE JUMP: otters, so many otters]