"The face of the operation is Briatore (referred to exclusively in the film by his colleagues and angry, chanting detractors as "Flavio"), an anthropomorphic radish who spends most of his time at QPR plotting to fire all of the managers."
Photo via Marilyn Indahl/USA TODAY Sports
It looked for all the world like a road loss. Zak Irvin, with just five made shots, led the team in scoring. Nik Stauskas finished just 3/7 from the field. Glenn Robinson III left the game early in the second half with an apparent ankle injury, finishing with six points. Caris LeVert played easily his worst game of the year. Michigan was outrebounded by a whopping 44.1% to 17.9% on the offensive glass. Oh, and Minnesota's last-gasp shot even caught the backboard.
Somehow, some way, the Wolverines clawed their way to a three-point win to open Big Ten play. Irvin's five three-pointers on eight attempts kept Michigan in the game after Robinson fell awkwardly following his fourth block of the night; while GRIII eventually returned from the locker room, he never re-entered the game. While Stauskas struggled from the field, he made play after play down the stretch, dishing out a game-high seven assists—including two in the waning minutes to set up Jon Horford dunks—and throwing down his signature "Game ... Blouses" dunk to give the team a late three-point lead.
With Jordan Morgan in early foul trouble and Mitch McGary spectating in a suit, Horford came up huge, scoring 14 points on 6/8 shooting and pulling down nine rebounds—five more than anyone else on the team—while adding in two steals and a block. While Horford made a few defensive errors guarding Elliott Eliason, who finished with ten points and ten rebounds, his tireless effort in the middle was the difference in this game.
Minnesota took advantage of Horford's occasional mishap and Robinson's absence on the interior, but they couldn't get it going on the perimeter, hitting just five of 19 three-point attempts. They had a tough time finding a clean look on the outside, and Michigan also forced 15 turnovers, eight of those steals.
The end of the game got a little nerve-wracking, to say the least, as the officials initially botched an out-of-bounds call—not to mention missing at least one obvious foul—when Minnesota tried to pressure Stauskas down three points with 22 seconds remaining. While Michigan got the ball back after a review, they ended up with Derrick Walton going to the line instead of Stauskas, and Walton missed both free throws. Fortunately for Michigan, the Gophers' Andre Hollins couldn't tie it up on the next possession, and a Horford free throw extended the lead to four.
Even then, the game wasn't quite over, as Stauskas committed the cardinal sin of fouling a jump shooter, stepping under Malik Smith on a wayward three-point attempt. Smith drilled all three freebies with six seconds remaining to make it a 61-60 game; after a pair of Stauskas free throws, the Gophers had one last chance to tie with five seconds to play. Deandre Mathieu managed to get a decent shot for the tie on the run at the top of the key; to the considerable relief of Wolverines with still-raw wounds from Evan Turner and Ben Brust, Mathieu's prayer wasn't answered.
It wasn't pretty, and there's lingering concern about Robinson's health to boot, but it's tough to overstate the importance of a conference road win for this team. Michigan is 1-0 in the Big Ten (and UNDEFEATED IN 2014) after a game in which the tired coachspeak platitude of "facing adversity" very much applied. Not a bad start to the new year.
I managed to navigate New Year's Eve and a Michigan State Rose Bowl win without overindulging myself, so of course I'm currently suffering from some sort of avian death flu.* The combination of black tea, Ricola, ibuprofen, and pseudoephedrine in my system currently has my reality looking like something out of a Flaming Lips music video, so I apologize in advance if none of this makes any damn sense.
|WHAT||Michigan at Minnesota|
|WHERE||Williams Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota|
|WHEN||7:00 pm Eastern, Thursday|
|LINE||Minnesota –2 (KenPom)|
Right: 5'9" point guard Deandre Mathieu is a speedster (unsurprising), good shooter (ditto), and very solid finisher at the rim in both transition and halfcourt situations (wait, what?).
Minnesota is a very different team from last year's squad after the departures of hyper-athletic terrors Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, the main reasons the Gophers were the nation's best offensive rebounding team, and the dismissal of head coach Tubby Smith, whose insane 11-man rotation strategy likely cost the team a couple wins. This year's team, headed by Richard Pitino—yes, son of Rick—is smaller, more perimeter-oriented, and far less terrorizing on the boards; they're also a quality outfit with a lot of experience.
The backcourt duo of Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins (no relation) returns, and they're the two highest-usage players on the team. Andre is the team's leading scorer (16.2 ppg) despite shooting a decidedly mediocre 49.0 eFG%; his decent three-point shooting (35%) and knack for getting to the free throw line, where he shoots 85%, help cover for too many two-point jumpers that he hits at just a 29% rate. Austin is also a decent outside shooter, more efficient inside the arc, and the superior defender, and while he lacks Andre's ability to get to the line frequently he's a very solid rebounder for a guard. Both players average right around three assists per game while doing a good job of taking care of the basketball.
Joining the Hollinses in the backcourt is 5'9" point guard Deandre Mathieu, playing his first season for the Gophers after transferring from Morehead State. He's been something of a revelation as the team's most efficient offensive player, posting a top-50 assist rate nationally with a very impressive 50/57/80 2P%/3P%/FT% split this season; that includes a 65% mark at the rim despite only half of those attempts coming in transition, per hoop-math. In addition to getting to the line frequently, he's got a top-50 steal rate nationally. Michigan's point guards must be very aware of his lightning quickness on both ends of the floor.
The guards do most of the heavy lifting offensively, as the starting frontcourt of 6'8" forward Oto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason play relatively limited roles on that end. Osenieks is in his third season of unsuccessfully trying to be an efficient stretch four; he's not much of a rebounder at either end, and while he's greatly improved his two-point shooting (56%, up from 42% last season), he's hit just 7 of 24 three-pointers after going 2-for-26(!) as a sophomore and 11-for-41 as a freshman. Eliason is the team's best rebounder by leaps and bounds—there's a pun in there somewhere—and his 10.5% block rate ranks 40th in the country. His shots, which don't come too often, are split evenly between looks at the basket, where he shoots 71%, and two-point jumpers, which he makes just 20% of the time.
The primary backup at guard is 6'2" senior Malik Smith, who came to Minnesota from Florida International along with Pitino; he's a pure three-point specialist currently shooting 37% from downtown. Providing minutes off the bench in the frontcourt are 6'9" sophomore Joey King, a good finisher around the rim who can't rebound a lick, and 6'10", 250-pound junior Maurice Walker, a productive rebounder, scorer, and shot-blocker who only plays ~20% of the team's available minutes because he's absurdly foul prone, committing 7.9(!!) per 40 minutes.
Minnesota is 11-2 on the year with both losses coming in the Maui Invitational, the first an eight-point defeat by #5 Syracuse—not bad—and the second by 14 points at the hands of #40 Arkansas in which the Gophers allowed 52 second-half points—bad. Minnesota has otherwise played relatively midding opponents in the comfortable confines of The Barn, where they defeated common opponent Florida State by ten, with the exception of a blowout road win over #72 Richmond.
Four factors (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||51.0 (107)||16.3 (65)||36.4 (59)||39.9 (181)|
|Defense||46.9 (95)||20.9 (50)||29.4 (90)||34.5 (73)|
Minnesota is quite solid across the board, ranking 25th in offensive efficiency and 68th defensively. With solid outside shooting (35.8%) and strong offensive rebounding, the offensive production appears to be quite sustainable. Defensively, however, some cracks may start appearing as the competition stiffens; despite ranking 248th nationally in 3PA/FGA allowed, the Gophers rank a fortuitous 28th in three-point percentage defense, with opponents currently hitting just 29.4% from outside. Arkansas managed to light them up from the outside, hitting 8-of-17 threes, and Syracuse connected on a respectable 5-of-13 shots from distance.
Fire away. Building on the three-point stats above, as well as the absence of Mitch McGary, I think it behooves Michigan to focus on generating good looks from the outside. They have a size advantage across the board in the backcourt, as the Gopher starting guards stand at 5'9", 6'2", and 6'4". Add in the serious shot-blocking threat of Eliason and it appears Michigan's best chance to produce points will be on the perimeter.
Find the right guy at the point. While Mathieu's size means he should be exploited defensively by Michigan's point guards, there are matchup concerns for the Wolverines against him, as well. Mathieu is quite the pickpocket, which could be tough on Derrick Walton, who's still pretty turnover-prone. That could mean giving Spike Albrecht, the better ballhander, the majority of the minutes is the play, but Mathieu's ability to get to the rim offensively could be a problem with that matchup. Michigan could try to go big and give Caris LeVert extensive time at the point, which would exascerbate Minnesota's size deficiency on defense, but is he quick enough to stay in front of Mathieu? I'm not sure, honestly. It'll be very interesting to see how Beilein manages his lineups tonight.
Close out. Almost 40% of Minnesota's shots are taken beyond the arc, and they're a better three-point shooting team (35.8%, 110th nationally) than they are at converting inside the arc (49.2%, 155th). Michigan has to stay disciplined with their switches on the perimeter, make sure to get their hands in shooter's faces, and generally do everything they can to force the Gopher guards to work for contested inside looks instead of open outside shots. If the perimeter defense isn't up to par, the Gophers could open up a big lead and get serious momentum on their side at home.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Minnesota by 2
*I'm not a doctor, but I believe that's the correct medical term for my self-diagnosed malady.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE
Black and Gordon are the only two starters departing. [Eric Upchurch and Bryan Fuller]
- DT Jibreel Black. Went from average-sized SDE to undersized three-tech to massively incredibly undersized NT over course of the season; effective pass rusher; clubbed by double teams a lot, especially late; NFL FA camp cut type.
- S Thomas Gordon. Inexplicably futzed with midseason as coaches were dissatisfied with him for reasons obscure to me; was that one touchdown on which he was a step late against MSU really that bad? Never a playmaker, but rarely busted large; a solid performer; coaches don't think they'll miss him, I guess.
- SAM Cam Gordon. Michigan's leader in sacks on the season, which says a lot about the Michigan pass rush, no offense Mr. Gordon; beat out first by Beyer and then by Ryan once he returned; did provide quality depth.
- NT Quinton Washington. Lack of utilization only explained by nagging injury, disease, or vampirism, assuming that really bright stadium lights also qualify in this version of vampirism. Like seriously they played Jibreel Black at NT over this guy after he was very good as a junior. Inexplicable. I guess they won't miss him much because they didn't play him?
- Nickelback/S Courtney Avery. Pushed out of corner rotation by freshmen; relegated to rotating in at safety, where he blew coverages because he played them like he was a nickelback. Missed a tackle on Braxton Miller spectacularly.
- SLB Jake Ryan. Was not the barbarian he was as a sophomore with just 4.5 TFLs in his eight games played, but came back from ACL tear in about three weeks so was probably not full-go. Michigan really needs him to return to his terrorizing ways as a senior.
- MLB Desmond Morgan. Better player than he's given credit for; had to deal with way too many free-releasing Gs who saw Michigan's DTs as no threat late; thumper; coverage was pretty solid, at least insofar as when someone tried to dump a ball over Morgan's head he was inches away from making a play.
- CB Blake Countess. Ruthlessly exposed by Tyler Lockett in bowl game; prior to that, largely avoided because when not avoided he was picking off six passes. When not put up against Tyler Lockett, very good, and as a redshirt sophomore. A step up would maybe put him somewhere in the vicinity of All Big Ten.
- CB Raymon Taylor. Targeted extensively; won some; lost some; four INTs of his own, most of them impressive. Run support a problem. Probably good! Probably.
- S Jarrod Wilson. Inexplicably benched midseason like Gordon, then explicably so in the OSU game because he had a huge cast on his hand. Not a playmaker, not a source of WHY DID YOU NO OUCH touchdowns, which is pretty good for a sophomore. Will be relied upon heavily in secondary with little experience other than his person.
- WLB James Ross III. Year lacked impact thanks to poor DT play in front of him; still second on the team in tackles with 85. Never going to be a big guy; needs the defense to shape itself around his abilities by having big ol' absorbers in front so he can slash. Prognosis: maybe.
- SDE Brennen Beyer. Impact rusher early in the year—at least in the context of Michigan's pass rush—faded later; when Ryan came back was shuffled from SAM to SDE, where he was wildly undersized. Hoping for a Roh 2.0 senior season.
- WDE Frank Clark. Total non-factor for first half of season, and just when everyone had given up turned it on and turned in a Tim Jamison-as-a-senior year with 12 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. Somehow became second team All Big Ten with those numbers and 43 total tackles; next year may deserve that.
- DT Willie Henry. When Willie Henry says he trusts a man as far as he can throw them, he means it as a compliment. Massively strong freshman alternated person-hurlin' with guys getting under his pads and blowing him up. Needs technique badly; if he gets it will be fantastic.
- NT Ondre Pipkins. Making some progress when he tore his ACL midseason, complicating many things. Can a very large man keep up the conditioning and recover in time to be effective by fall? Let's hope so.
- MLB Joe Bolden. Sophomore essentially a third starter behind Ross and Morgan; still tends to take hits rather than deliver them; blew a lot of coverages early in the season; figures to reprise role next year.
- SDE/DT Chris Wormley. Tall guy; made a few plays; mostly a nonfactor; freshman.
- An Enormous Pile Of Returning, Undifferentiated Defensive Linemen. Ojemudia, Charlton, Glasgow, Godin, Heitzman, etc.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
Pipkins and Henry are big boys. [Fuller]
A nose tackle! Probably. Also, more size. Michigan's line went from somewhat undersized to massively so when Pipkins went out and Beyer moved from SAM to SDE, giving you a line that often read: Beyer(250 lbs), Black (285), Henry (306), Clark (280). In retrospect, that was asking for it, and Ohio State gave us what we asked for.
Next year Black is out, replaced by some combination of Pipkins, Henry, Maurice Hurst, and maybe Richard Ash. If Henry does get drafted into the nose rotation, Godin and Wormley will probably man the three-tech at 300-ish pounds each. Beyer, meanwhile, will embark on the bacon smoothie diet Craig Roh did as he prepared to play his senior year as an undersized SDE, and while he's still going to be less than ideal at that spot he'll be a lot more plausible at 280.
Jabrill Peppers. Is it too much to hype Jabrill Peppers up as a potential program-changing dude? In year one, probably. But there's an obvious role for him on this defense: boundary corner. Michigan's DBs are generally tiny dudes, and the guys who aren't, like Channing Stribling, are skinny. Michigan could use a 210 pound corner, especially since that pushes Taylor to the nickel package, and that seems like a pretty good nickel package.
Someone next to Wilson. The greatest uncertainty on the defense is who takes over for Thomas Gordon. Josh Furman is an option after getting some playing time late last year; he does not seem like a good one. The other candidates:
- Delano Hill. Claim to fame is being in the middle of OSU fracas that got a couple of contributors booted. Supposedly a guy with a good understanding of safety; definitely a quality athlete.
- Jeremy Clark. 6'4" potential ballhawk will be a redshirt sophomore.
- Dymonte Thomas. Supposed lock starter after spring marginalized; blocked a punt in the opener and missed a tackle when forced into the lineup in the Nebraska game by Countess's concussion.
- Converted Corner. There are a lot of corners and one may get a look further back. Stribling and Reon Dawson are the most likely, because they're not 5'10".
It's nice to have four options instead of two, or one, or zero; there is no indicator who's going to get the nod. Something to watch in spring.
WHAT'S THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Veterans. I've piled the various returning DL into one bullet point and glossed over Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis; Michigan loses just two starters and three contributors while returning everyone else. They'll have three year starters at CB (two, in fact), LB (also two), and on the DL (possibly two, depending on how you classify Brennen Beyer).
Depth. Five guys go out the door, and in compensation Michigan gets to age 14 defensive linemen and welcome in Bryan Mone early. Michigan has a solid two deep everywhere on the line save NT, which is still in the air; they return three ILBs with a lot of experience; they may be bumping a senior three year starter to nickel depending on Peppers, and where do Lewis and Stribling go this year, let alone the two corners they redshirted a year ago?
WHAT'S THE LAST SEASON OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Pass rush. Michigan was 70th in sack percentage (sacks / (passing attempts + sacks)) this year, which is worlds better than it felt like. It is still not good. A half step forward from Frank Clark gets him to 8 or 10, and then a full year of a healthy Jake Ryan adds another 5 or 6, and… actually, you're getting towards pretty good already there. There is the potential for this to move into the 30s, which would be a huge boost to every unit's pass defense.
Getting crushed by spread 'n' shreds. This post was going to be a lot sunnier before the last two games of the year, in which Michigan was bludgeoned. Before that they'd turned in a lot of good performances in which they gave up the ghost late. Their one truly bad performance was getting smoked by Indiana, and that was seemingly more for reasons of unfamiliarity and lack of preparation than out-and-out talent.
Then OSU and KSU laid waste. Now you go back and look at Northwestern clubbing Michigan last year only to lose on a Hail Mary and South Carolina's crew of 5'9" speedsters slicing up M's secondary as South Carolina used their QB to paper over the fact their OL couldn't block for their tailback. Or Ohio State putting up 34 in their lost 6-7 year. There seems to be a developing narrative of Michigan failing to contain spread-to-run offenses more often than not. For every 2013 Minnesota there are two 2011 Ohio States. I would say this is reminiscent of the Carr era, but Michigan would have to be a lot better for that to be true.
Getting crushed generally, up the middle. I want to move Henry to nose tackle in my mind, but then 3-tech becomes this jumble of Wormley/Godin/Strobel/Poggi and I'm not sure how confident I am in that. But then: can you rely on Pipkins, and who is your 0.5 starter at nose? Hurst? Ash? I don't want to move Henry out of the starting lineup, but I don't want him trying to play two positions, and I don't want a questionable Pipkins backed up by a freshman.
WHAT'S INEXPLICABLE JIMI HENDRIX
Are the corners actually good? Now we get to extend this argument about Taylor to a larger stage. PRO: between them the two starting CBs had ten interceptions, virtually all of them the impressive sort where the corner makes a play. No batted balls here. CON: Michigan was 49th in YPA allowed at 6.9. PRO: with a crappy pass rush and safety issues. CON: what safety issues?
I'll take 10 INTs and slightly above average pass defense with that pass rush and those huge chunks of yards Stribling and Lewis gave up because of phasing/gypsy issues. Yes, Tyler Lockett annihilated them. Tyler Lockett does that to everybody. Every-damn-body. Against mortals, I would expect Taylor/Countess to be a high quality pairing. But, you know… Lockett.
What about James Ross? He was supposed to be the bees' knees according to someone. Oh, right, me. He was kind of eh, his year bookended by passing spread after passing spread in which he was mostly dropping into zones effectively and injury. More than anyone else he was hurt by having Black and Henry as DTs, as those guys tended to dart into the backfield to do something and get all the credit or get blown up. In the first case there was a guy releasing into him free; in the second he had to try to pick around three guys moving the wrong way to make his read worth anything.
I think Ross will be good if Michigan can keep him clean.
Oh good another new safety. I hate new safeties.
MANDATORY WILD-ASS GUESS
Despite the alarming trend at the end of the year, the arrow does point up for this outfit, which loses very few contributors and has a ton of guys competing to break through into the starting lineup. There are something like five cornerbacks I'd be relatively confident to see on the field, which is 3-5 more than usual. The linebackers return almost entirely intact; the line does as well. They should be better—possibly a lot better.
The major looming issue is defensive tackle. The Pipkins injury was the worst possible one for the defense to suffer, as they have scant options right now a position on the field where you need at least 1.5 starters.
I don't think I can predict this is a top 10-ish defense without one elite DL, and I don't think I see that happening. Clark and Henry both have potential; I don't think either is going to truly blow up. But plenty of depth and experience everywhere should provide Michigan an opportunity to cut down on the mistakes significantly and ramp it up against everyone who can't just maul them on the line. How many teams will be able to do that… let's say two? Two.
I still think this is a unit that takes a leap forward next year. It's a leap forward from ten spots further back now, but a legit top 20 outfit is my median expectation.
Yea, and God did say unto his people, “hot damn, I’m glad it’s basketball season, for verily, football season sucked.”
~ First Letter of St. Paul to the Annarborites
With the dong-punching albatross of 2013 behind us, we can move fully into winter sports season with vigor and aplomb. But without Mitch McGary. Worst. Trip. Around. The. Sun. EVER.
Every week we’ll keep tabs on Michigan’s non-conference opponents, the state of the Big Ten, the potential NCAA Tournament draw, and the suggested viewing /rooting guide for the upcoming week.
RPI Effect Only Teams:
It’s becoming clear that Michigan’s non-conference schedule was assembled by people who either don’t know how RPI works,* don’t know how math works, or aren’t sold on this whole “Arabic numerals are the wave of the future” thing. Three of Michigan’s opponents, UMass-Lowell (1-11), South Carolina State (4-8) and Houston Baptist (3-9) are below the 300 mark to KenPom, and Coppin State (4-9) fails to crack the super-elite group in the Top 270. Ben Folds Five wrote a song about these teams. Hint: it is not “The Luckiest.”
|RPI: drowning slowly.|
Outside of these masonry-like objects, Michigan played three of the ideal good-enough-to-not-kill-your-RPI-numbers-but-not-good-enough-to-beat-you-unless-LeVert,-Stauskas,-and-McGary-all-miss-significant-time type teams. Long Beach State (4-9) has won three in a row, including wins over Nevada and USC, and gave VCU and NC State some real competition. Holy Cross (6-6) hasn’t really beaten anyone, but they have beaten six non-anyones, so that’s something. Charlotte (8-4) has wins over Michigan and Kansas State, presumably because they were mad about not being invited to the BWW Bowl.
Big Sorts of Teams
Iowa State (12-0)
Significant Wins: Michigan, Iowa, @ BYU, Boise St.
Losses: [404 file not found]
The Cyclones weren’t ranked when Michigan played them, but they definitely are now. Forwards Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang are both shooting around 50% from the field, with Ejim nearly averaging a double-double (18.0 ppg and 8.8 rpg). One caveat is that they have only played one game away from
Iowa City Des Moines Corn Rapids Ames, that being a 2 point win over BYU.
Florida State (9-3)
Significant Wins: VCU, UMass
Losses: Michigan (waives tiny flag), @ Florida, @ Minnesota
How important does that crazy-ass Michigan comeback in Puerto Rico feel now? At the time it was an amusing, “oh that’s a nifty little win,” but in hindsight it is a “THANK YOU BASED GOD” non-conference salvager.
Florida State could easily be 10-1 right now. They blew a 16 point lead against Michigan (including an 8 point lead and possession with 3 minutes left), and lost to Florida by 1 on a last-second offensive rebound despite outshooting and generally outplaying the Gators. Still, they look to be in that second tier of the ACC behind Pitt, Syracuse, and Duke, and MAYBE UNC. They are far from the most skilled team in the country, but will pose some significant matchup problems for a number of teams, given their overall largeness/tallness and tendency to be freeking huge. As Michigan’s best NonCon win, you will want to cheer hard for the Seminoles.
Significant Wins: Michigan, UCLA
Losses: Kansas, Arizona
From the makers of Jadeveon Clowney comes: Jabari Parker!!! Now with kung-fu crossover and Dick Vitale utility belt!!! Duke’s true freshman guard/wing/forward/goalie/ambassador/imperial wizard has been exactly as advertised, looking like the most college-ready of the mega-frosh. He’s averaging 22 and 8, and has scored 19+ points in every game but one this season. Guess which one.*
|Duke is really missing the Yellow Plumlee|
The weird thing is, we really don’t know that much about Duke. They lost to the two elite teams they played, beat Michigan (at home) and UCLA (at MSG), and beyond that have dispatched a large pile of unconvincing opponents by occasionally unconvincing margins. They beat Vermont by 1 point, ECU by 9, and Alabama by 10. Maybe it’s the fact that they are down to three Plumlees on the roster, which isn’t enough to form up the Megazord. They have played great offense and middling defense, and are probably among the favorites in the ACC once Parker settles in (/shudder).
*to those who accused GRIII of not being “into” that game, I suggest you try to stand between a bull mastiff and a squirrel for 40 minutes and tell me how it goes for you.
Significant Wins: San Diego St, Duke, @ Michigan
Losses: [Should have lost to Michigan but KenPom lied to all of us]
They’re okay, I guess. Arizona is deservingly number one in the polls, based on how the polls work, and are definitely among the elite teams, but… eh? Purported super-frosh Aaron Gordon has had a whelming start; according to people who watch last night basketball regularly, he's playing great defense and flashing hilarious athleticism, but isn’t consistent or diverse on the offensive end of the court. Arizona continues to look to Nick Johnson as their primary scoring option, and he’s dropping about 16 ppg. They’re clearly the class of a middle-heavy PAC 12.
Significant Wins: @ UConn
Losses: BYU, Pitt, Michigan (/blasts Katy Perry, waives crap out of tiny flag)
Stanford isn’t all that good. But they are okay. And Michigan beat them. So we will continue to treat them as if they are good. We call this the Akron Delusion.
Pay no attention to the fact that Stanford’s only remotely impressive win was a grinding, brick-laden slugfest over a UConn team that decided to play the entire second half in the style of breakdance-fighting. Seriously: Stanford was down by 10 at the half, scored 25 points in the second half, and won. That’s a crime against ManBearPig.
[After the jump: objects ahead, and the return of THING THEY ARE LIKE]
U-M can get by with three options at center (all photos by Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)
As we welcome in the new year, we've moved on from fretting about the 2013 football team to ... fretting about the 2013-14 basketball team. There's good reason for this, of course, with Mitch McGary's season almost certainly over due to his upcoming back surgery. Your hoops mailbag questions reflect this, as all but one are related to the impact of McGary's absence in one way or another. Without further ado, here's a very McGary-centric mailbag.
@AceAnbender Where to Mitch's minutes go percentage-wise between Irvin, Morgan, and Horford?
— Bry Mac (@Bry_Mac) December 31, 2013
John Beilein announced this week that—at least for now—he's sticking with Jordan Morgan as the starting center and Jon Horford coming off the bench. I don't think McGary's absence will affect the minutes of Zak Irvin very much, if at all; he might see an increase in minutes, but that will be due to his in-season progression as opposed to any need for him to play the four, as Max Bielfeldt and Glenn Robinson III can pick up much of the slack there.
As for how the minutes will be distributed, we already have an idea thanks to the four games McGary has missed so far this season. In the first two games of the year, Horford started and played 22-24 minutes while Morgan added 12-15, with Bielfeldt getting 4-6 minutes of mostly garbage time. The split between Horford and Morgan has reversed in the last two games; Morgan played 22 and 24 minutes against Stanford and Holy Cross, respectively. While Horford only played six minutes against the Cardinal, that's because he picked up five fouls in that span, opening up a few more minutes for Bielfeldt to see the floor.
For the time being, I expect Beilein to go with a 25/15 split between Morgan and Horford, with Bielfeldt picking up a few minutes here and there at both the four and the five. The wild card here is foul trouble: Horford currently averages 4.7 fouls per 40 minutes, while Morgan is at a whopping 6.6 (the change in charge calls has really hurt him defensively). Bielfeldt got 12 minutes against Stanford. Notably, freshman big Mark Donnal didn't see any time despite all three bigs being in foul trouble in that game, which brings me to the next question...
@AceAnbender also, any chance of burning Donnal's redshirt due to need for bigs?
— Morris Fabbri (@MoMoneyMoFabbri) December 31, 2013
I don't think this is going to happen unless another big man misses extended time. Donnal is a lean stretch four at 6'9", 230 pounds, and unlike Caris LeVert last year there isn't a mountain of practice hype to suggest he'll force his way onto the court despite the need to add bulk. Between Morgan, Horford, Bielfeldt, GRIII, and Irvin, the Wolverines have plenty of options when it comes to filling minutes at the four and the five; I don't see the benefit of burning Donnal's redshirt just so he can fill in for a few minutes from time to time.
— Kyle Rosenbaum (@Gkm13) December 31, 2013
This entirely ignores the best aspect of McGary's game: his ability to induce chaos. Despite playing through injury this year, he's currently ranked 29th nationally in steal rate, which not only foils opponent possessions but usually gets Michigan into the fast break, where they're much more effective than in their halfcourt offense. Neither Horford nor Morgan provides that threat, and while Horford has proven to be as good—if not better—at blocking shots than McGary, Morgan is a relative non-factor in that regard.
He's also a superlative offensive rebounder, ranking 83rd in that regard, though Horford and Morgan actually have slightly higher rebound rates on that end—we'll see if that holds with increased minutes. On the other end, while Horford is just about equal with McGary when it comes to defensive rebounding, there's a big dropoff to Morgan, who's posted just a 15.9 DReb% in comparison to 25.4% for McGary and 24.6% for Horford.
Also, McGary has easily the best chemistry with Michigan's perimeter players on the pick and roll, especially Nik Stauskas and Spike Albrecht. Horford is inconsistent when it comes to setting a good screen, while Morgan—as we've seen for four years—has trouble catching entry passes cleanly and finishing strong at the rim. McGary's passing acumen—especially when Michigan faces zone defenses—will also be missed; his assist rate is around double those of the other two bigs. Beilein's offense may not run through the post; that doesn't mean it won't suffer without McGary.
@AceAnbender odds Mitch comes back next year? Doing so could boost his draft stock, but he might feel urgency to get paid.
— Dan Roehrig (@DanRareEgg) December 31, 2013
This is going to be a very tough call for McGary; he turns 22 in June, old for a rising junior, and if he was guaranteed a first-round spot I don't think there's any question he'd turn pro. That's in seroius doubt at this point, however. Even before the injury, ESPN's Chad Ford had dropped McGary down to the #24 spot on his big board ($). In the immediate aftermath of the injury, ESPN's Jeff Goodman got this quote from an NBA general manager:
"He should have left," one NBA general manager told ESPN.com. "Now he's a borderline first-rounder. He would have been a lock last season."
The latest NBADraftNet mock has McGary going as the seventh pick of the second round. Barring a pretty miraculous recovery, McGary isn't going to have a chance to raise his stock before it's time to declare for the draft, and I believe he'll come back if he's projected as a second-round pick—unlike first-rounders, those players don't get guaranteed contracts, and a strong junior season from McGary could easily vault him back into the first round.
Alright, let's do one non-McGary question since this is getting rather depressing.
— Gustavo Adventure (@colintj) December 31, 2013
It's certainly a viable lineup, especially on the defensive end, as LeVert is currently the best player on the team at defending opposing point guards, in my opinion (with a freshman and a 5'10" guy as his competition, I don't think I'm going out on a limb here). Beilein has talked about going to this lineup more often as a situational defensive lineup at the end of games and I'm in full support of this.
15 minutes a game of this, however, might be a bit much. While LeVert is great at taking care of the ball, his assist rate (14.8%) is well below Derrick Walton's (19.5%), way below Spike Albrecht's (27.7%), and even trailing Nik Stauskas (18.0%). When LeVert is running the offense, it often devolves into him dribbling the air out of the ball in isolation situations; while he's getting pretty good at getting buckets out of those plays, that's not a very sustainable way to run an offense.
That said, Beilein's offense doesn't really require a traditional point guard, and between Stauskas and LeVert there are two solid creators off the dribble when Michigan goes big. If they can get the offense to run more smoothly when LeVert initiates the play, this lineup could very well turn into Michigan's best—that's a big if, though, and deemphasizing the point guards could hamper Walton's development.
2013 may have ended on a sour note (or several), but that doesn't mean it's not worth looking back at some of the highlights of the calendar year—especially, say, a few choice moments from March and April. While I've almost certainly omitted several worthy candidates, here are my picks for the 20 best (unedited) MGoGIFs of 2013.
If you'd like to peruse all of this year's GIFs, here are links to my Flickr sets for the 2012-13 basketball season, 2013 football season, and 2013-14 basketball season. Since Flickr is pretty cumbersome, you must click on each still frame, then right-click on the still frame and hit "view original" to see the actual animation. Alternatively, you can journey through the "one frame at a time" tag on this here blog.
Since it was difficult enough just to narrow this down to a list of 20, these GIFs are presented in chronological order, and you can vote for your favorite at the end of the post.
DANCIN' DENNIS NORFLEET (January 1st)
Because no MGoAnything is complete without some Norfleet.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the GIFs]