Big Ten tourney time is always weird for content what with games on at noon.
This was off an Irvin assist [Patrick Barron]
The light is on. Midseason complaining that Zak Irvin hadn't added very much to his game between his freshman and sophomore years was justified. Irvin was a bit more willing to get to the basket but he was a black hole that generated shots only for himself and the predictability of his game—Beilein once mentioned that he really needed to shot fake like, ever—was beginning to catch up to him now that the league had a scouting report on him.
Then Irvin had the light go on. Alex tweeted this out yesterday and it amply demonstrates Irvin's expanding game:
He's developed pick and roll options other than meh pullup jumpers. (He's good at them; they're still way less efficient than, say, asking Aubrey Dawkins to do his best GRIII impression on an alley-oop.) He's generating shots for his teammates, which will eventually make the shots he does take better.
This is necessary if Michigan's going to return to the outrageous offensive efficiency that drove their Final Four/Big Ten Champions outfits. I've grumbled about Michigan's unusually low assist numbers for big chunks of the year. Led by Irvin, Michigan acquired 15 against the Illini.
The king of yesterday's assists. I cocked an eyebrow with about 11 minutes left when Michigan executed a beautiful team sequence that got Doyle a bunny. All five Michigan players touched it after Spike dumped it to Irvin in the corner:
- Irvin drove baseline, drawing help D and kicking to
- MAAR, who passed it to
- Chatman standing in the short corner, who drew recovering attention. At this point
- Spike, who had zero players looking at him or checking him because of the ball movement, cut to the elbow, again drawing a double team from an unprepared on-ball defender and Egwu; Spike drove, whereupon
- Doyle was the recipient of an easy bucket at the rim.
It was a brief flashback to the last couple years, when Michigan would regularly delight with gorgeous basketball. It's coming back you guys.
Next year man. Caris offered some quotes about his upcoming NBA decision that sounded genuinely torn. Judge for yourself:
"It will probably be right up to the last day," LeVert said Thursday, following U-M's 73-55 win over Illinois in the Big Ten tournament.
As for his thoughts on returning to school or entering the draft, LeVert remains undecided.
"Coming back next year would be very fun for me and very beneficial for me and the team as well," LeVert said. "Going to the NBA would also be fun. That's a lifetime dream. It's definitely going to be a tough decision."
That sounds different than the Robinson/Stauskas decisions. As of a couple weeks ago, Sam Webb thought that LeVert was leaning towards returning. So that would be nice.
With or without him, though, Michigan should be very deep and reasonably experienced. An approximate depth chart:
PG: Walton, Albrecht
SG: LeVert, MAAR
SF: Dawkins, Robinson
PF: Irvin, Chatman, Wagner(?)
C: Doyle, Donnal, Wilson
Swap the 2-4 spots to your desire. It's hard to find enough minutes for everyone if LeVert comes back: if Walton, Irvin, and LeVert all get 30 minutes and Spike gets 20—estimates that seem conservative—then MAAR, Dawkins, Robinson, and Chatman are all fighting over 50 minutes a game. Even the scenario with LeVert gone those guys can comfortably split 80.
If Michigan stays healthy, I predict autobench complaining plummets.
MAAR will go at you. Nanna Egwu is not exactly a complete basketball player—I'll miss him getting outrebounded by his entire team—but he is very long and contests shots well. Abdur-Rahkman doesn't care about that. He will drive on anyone and get a reasonable shot up; if it doesn't go in he's set the team up for a Kobe assist. Another year of development and he's definitely a guy who can fill in the point guard minutes Spike will evacuate.
FWIW. Michigan did offer Wagner, as you would expect for a guy who flew in from Germany. Rivals's Eric Bossi gives a ballpark estimate of where he'd be if he was ranked:
His shot looks good and he's very good in pick and pop situations between 12 and 17 feet, he has good skill level, though he's perhaps a bit mechanical in his movements at this time, and he's a good high post passer who competes on both ends but needs strength.
"He's on the NBA radar but not as an early entry guy just yet," Bossi said. "He's more on radar as somebody to monitor when he makes it to a college program."
If he were a part of the 2015 class (and he would come in this fall), he'd be a top 20 to 40 type prospect as an American prep.
Michigan (16-15, 8-10 B1G) vs
Wisconsin (28-3, 16-2)
|WHEN||Noon ET, Friday|
|LINE||Wisconsin -12 (KenPom)|
Right: Michigan gets another chance to topple the titans of the Big Ten. [Marc Gregor/MGoBlog]
Derrick Walton went through warmups before the Illinois game, though on the broadcast the announcers relayed that John Beilein didn't expect him to play. After the game, Walton left open the possibility of a return tomorrow:
"It's day-by-day," Walton said of his injury. "I try to see what I can do, do some warm-ups, see how I feel and if it feels well I'll play."
It'd be quite a surprise if he was able to start (or play close to starter's minutes), but some more help off the bench would be quite welcome.
After two straight strong performances as the starter, Max Bielfeldt will again take the tipoff at center. He's certainly earned it with his recent play.
If Michigan wins, they're almost undoubtedly in the NIT, and they'd have a winnable semifinal game against Purdue—unless Penn State pulls another big upset—to get into the conference title game. As it stands, the Wolverines are on the NIT bubble; they had work to do to get in heading into today, but the resounding win over the Illini may have pushed them into the field.
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||24||Bronson Koenig||So.||6'4, 190||82||17||No|
|Low usage, very efficient PG. Shot 45% from three in Big Ten play.|
|G||21||Josh Gasser||Sr.||6'4, 192||85||11||No|
|DEATH TO BACKBOARDS|
|F||15||Sam Dekker||Jr.||6'9, 230||81||22||Kinda|
|Extremely efficient inside the arc, not a great outside shooter. Solid rebounder.|
|F||10||Nigel Hayes||So.||6'8, 235||84||21||No|
|Excellent rebounder, nice touch around hoop, now has 3-pt range.|
|C||44||Frank Kaminsky||Sr.||7'0, 234||80||29||No|
|1st in KenPom POY race. Nightmare matchup, can score in post or bomb threes.|
|F||13||Duje Dukan||Sr.||6'10, 218||36||19||No|
|Struggling with his shot. Not much of a rebounder.|
|G||3||Zak Showalter||So.||6'2, 185||19||16||Yes|
|Not asked to do much in his limited minutes. 31.5 eFG% in conference play.|
|F||30||Vitto Brown||So.||6'8, 237||12||23||Very|
|Good rebounder, not a huge offensive threat.|
Rampaged through the Big Ten. Only conference losses came at Maryland and, uh, Rutgers. There's no way to explain the latter, even when accounting for Frank Kaminsky's absence in that game.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
The Bielfeldt shot is more representative of today's game. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]
The first two games between Michigan and Illinois this season featured a pair of improbable comeback victories, one by each team.
It looked to be heading in that direction again in the first half of today's Big Ten Tournament matchup; Michigan had an early 12-0 run erased by a subsequent 13-0 charge by the Illini. Even after the Wolverines closed the half with a 23-4 run, carrying a 17-point lead into the break, you'd be excused if you were waiting for the other shoe to drop—Michigan had, after all, blown an 18-point second-half lead against Illinois exactly four weeks ago.
Instead, Michigan pushed the lead higher, and the Illini might as well have absconded for the locker room when Spike Albrecht made his bid for an And1 Mixtape appearance:
Aside from an all-too-familiar scoring drought in the first half, Michigan couldn't have played much better. The team moved the ball beautifully, tallying assists on nine of their 15 first-half buckets. Albrecht had five on the game, playing as Spike does—moving the ball around and hitting a couple deep bombs.
More eye-opening was the all-around effort from Zak Irvin, who posted a 14-6-6 line, working within—and driving—the offense better than ever. Irvin's anticipation on a first-half lob to Aubrey Dawkins, cutting in from the corner, was only the most highlight-worthy sign of his progress. Today made it clear that he's broken through to another level, especially in creating offense off the high screen.
Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman both put their season-long progress on display, as well. Dawkins continued his hot shooting, hitting 9/12 from the field on his way to a team-high 18 points. Rahk hit his lone three-point attempt and had several successful forays to the hoop to net his 15 points, and he also posted a career-high eight rebounds. Max Bielfeldt, starting for the second straight game, became the fourth Wolverine to hit double-figures with ten points.
Whether in zone or man, Michigan proved more than up to the task of shutting down the Illini's three main scoring threats. Malcolm Hill, Rayvonte Rice, and Kendrick Nunn combined to shoot 11/37 from the field; those three accounted for well over half of the team's shot attempts. Secondary scoring was limited to backup forward Leron Black's ten points, but Black also turned the ball over four times—he compounded an obvious first-half charge with a subsequent technical, which Albrecht turned into a five-point trip that extended Michigan's lead to 13.
With the win, Michigan's NIT hopes are now very much alive, though they won't feel secure in locking down a bid unless they upend top-seeded Wisconsin tomorrow at noon. Michigan pushed the Badgers to overtime in their lone regular-season matchup. Given how the Wolverines looked today, they look ready to give the Big Ten's best another fight tomorrow.
Sam Webb reported this morning that senior Michigan offensive lineman Jack Miller will forego his fifth and final year of eligibility. The returning starter at center will stay at the university and focus on his academic pursuits:
Source indicated #Michigan center Jack Miller has opted to forego his fifth year. Just confirmed by athletic department official
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) March 12, 2015
Jack Miller is not a transfer case. He is leaving to "focus on studies and pursue business opportunities" per #Michigan SID Dave Ablauf
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) March 12, 2015
Miller started 16 games at center over the last two seasons, including all 12 in 2014. Redshirt sophomore Patrick Kugler and redshirt junior Blake Bars will compete to take Miller's spot in the middle of the line. Kugler is the likely favorite given his pedigree and recruiting profile; Graham Glasgow could also be an option if the line shuffles around a bit. As long as one of the centers has a good handle on the offense, Michigan should be no worse for wear. Best of luck to Miller in his future endeavors—it's great to see that he'll be continuing his studies.
#9 Michigan (15-15, 8-10 B1G) vs.
#8 Illinois (19-12, 9-9)
|WHEN||Noon ET, Thursday|
|LINE||Illinois -3 (KenPom)|
PBP: Kevin Kugler
Analyst: Jim Jackson
Right: Nnanna Egwu contests jumper, stares straight into your soul. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
In Michigan's case, "win or go home" takes on a greater significance tomorrow. Not only do the Wolverines need to beat Illinois to stay alive in the Big Ten Tournament—and keep any NCAA pipe dream* going—but they'll most likely need two wins this weekend just to qualify for the NIT.
It's been a rough week for Michigan's postseason hopes. The NIT guarantees spots for teams that win their conference regular-season title but lose in their conference tournament; after Robert Morris and North Dakota State knocked off St. Francis (NY) and South Dakota State, respectively, last night, seven such automatic bids have been claimed. That's burst several bubbles in the process, potentially including Michigan's: The Bracket Matrix and DRatings both left Michigan out of the NIT field in their latest updates. NYC Buckets has M as a seven-seed clinging to one of the last at-large bids.
Meanwhile, Illinois is on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble; they've got plenty to play for this weekend.
*And a pipe dream it is: KenPom's log5 analysis gives Michigan an 0.2% chance at winning the BTT, and just a 2.9% chance of making it past Illinois and Wisconsin.
Ricky Doyle, who missed the Rutgers game due to illness, will be a "full go" tomorrow, according to John Beilein. Doyle could've given it a go last weekend, but with Michigan cruising to victory that wasn't necessary.
Derrick Walton is doubtful to play.
THE LAST TIME
Michigan took on Illinois at Crisler in the Big Ten opener, a game that feels like it took place decades ago. A torrent of threes from Aubrey Dawkins and a surprise changeup to the 2-3 zone led to a comeback, overtime victory on the day Jim Harbaugh was introduced as head coach.
The return trip to Champaign didn't go quite as well. Michigan surprisingly controlled much of the game... and then allowed a 21-2 run to close the game, including a 14-2 margin in the overtime period. Aubrey Dawkins had a really sick dunk, at least.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations; I've switched over to conference-only stats for %Min and %Poss now. 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||3||Ahmad Starks||Sr.||5'9, 170||60||22||Not really|
|Middling assist:turnover, decent shooter, not a threat inside the arc.|
|G||25||Kendrick Nunn||So.||6'3, 190||86||22||No|
|Good outside shooter, less efficient inside arc, solid defender.|
|G||24||Rayvonte Rice||Sr.||6'4, 230||40||25||No|
|Stocky, high-usage slasher now hits threes. Solid defensive rebounder.|
|G||21||Malcolm Hill||So.||6'6, 230||85||24||No|
|Cooled off after nearing 50/40/90 status; still a dangerous all-around scorer.|
|C||32||Nnanna Egwu||Sr.||6'11, 250||78||14||Yes|
|Good shot-blocker, offensive rebounder. Had poor year offensively.|
|G||1||Jaylon Tate||So.||6'3, 170||56||14||Very|
|High assist and turnover rates. Almost never shoots. Gets to line a ton.|
|F||12||Leron Black||Fr.||6'7, 220||35||19||Very|
|Very good rebounder. Not a great finisher. Foul-prone.|
|C||22||Maverick Morgan||So.||6'10, 250||22||18||Very|
|Poor finisher, way better on off. glass than defense. Not a big shot-blocker.|
Illinois is looking to play their way into the NCAA Tournament after finishing an even 9-9 in conference play. Faced with a pretty tough slate, they dropped four of their last six after their second meeting with Michigan.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
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The Harbaugh era seems considerably less paranoid than the previous regime. Practice reports are coming in from a lot more sources than they used to; no doubt this is partially because excitement sees a lot more people on the sideline. I do hear that they're less concerned about "X looks good, tempo is fast" reports getting out.
Tempo is fast, by the way. Harbaugh has brought a high-rep style to practices in an effort to get everything he can out of every countable hour. It is not exactly Oregon hyper-speed where all coaching is done after, in film. It's a lot closer to that than the Hoke-era practices were. A recruit's parent took in a practice and posted about it to a Facebook group, and his impressions match some others I've been sent:
1. Tempo of practice and the philosophy. Very different from last year. 2 sets of scrimmages per field. A play is being ran an avg of 25 to 35 secs. If they went two groups, they would alternate but each group ran a play every 25secs. So ... Coaches saw 2 plays every 30 secs. Ton of reps. Very different from last year. Coaches are coaching very quick between plays. Emphasis on getting the reps in during practice and correcting mistakes in film. Practice was very similar to how Saban runs his practices.
2. There really is competition at EVERYTHING. I saw several of these "competitions." A couple examples ... QBs did a "fastest release/ball speed" comp. On command, they had to throw a bullet pass 20yds. Malzone looked good. Several races took place today as well but most know about those.
Those were vintage 1990s; these are a lot closer to modern speeds. Michigan is running multiple reps at a time on opposite ends of the field with first and second teams.
(Aside: I can't help but draw a line between Hoke's deliberate practice pace and his program's inability to operate at any other speed.)
Practices have also been extremely long. How one practice can be longer than another when NCAA maximums are mandated for everyone is unclear; possible that Hoke was spending some of his countable hours in other ways? That seems highly improbable, but so do Michigan's results the past couple years.
Harbaugh bein' Harbaugh
When practice was over Harbaugh brought the team around him and awarded the day to the defense. As a reward he told them they had to run while the offense watched because “here, the winners are the ones that earn the opportunity to get better.”
Quarterback Battle Royale
Whether it's the WWE kind or the Quentin-Tarantino-porn that is way better than the Hunger Games, what Michigan has on its hands qualifies as such. Jedd Fisch was carefully neutral during his press conference yesterday, as coaches are. He asserted that everyone was even and getting even reps, as coaches do.
But allow your author to read into things some. Fisch on Malzone:
"He's got a lot going on. But he's handled it unbelievably well. He's unbelievable in terms of his ability to not let things bother him. To be consistent and play the game. If a play doesn't go right, he's right back in there for the next one. A short-term memory is phenomenal for a quarterback."
Wilton is a very large man, he's a big guy (at 6-foot-6). He can see everything. He's a pretty good athlete and he throws the ball well. He doesn't seem to have had a ton of experience.
"Shane has a very strong arm, as everybody knows, he spins it well and he just has to understand that, really, that's not the most important thing. If you have a really strong arm, then you have a really strong arm. That's what you have. Now, it's a matter of 'what can you do with it?' How do you utilize it? His skill set and his arm strength are tremendous and he's very comfortable. It's fun to watch him in the huddle, he has a really good command of what we're asking him to do."
The tweets that captured small sections of the fuller quotes came off more negative towards Morris, highlighting "unbelievable" for Malzone and "throw it at the person" for Morris. It was more neutral than that. Via Maize and Blue News:
Even so, the overall vibe from that presser seemed to confirm reports floating around at Scout, Rivals, and in my inbox: there's considerable debate about who looks better between Malzone and Speight… and there ends the debate. Scout's observers tend to like Malzone. Rivals's like Speight. Malzone is reportedly adjusting to the size of the players in front of him; Speight doesn't have that issue and is a year ahead of Malzone in terms of college prep.
Early days obviously, but it feels like the QB race is two horses with Morris lagging behind. Gentry and maybe Rudock are yet to enter.
Tailback Battle Royale
See above in re: term. Tyrone Wheatley has a lot of options here and is doing a lot of correcting in drills. Will be interesting to see if there's a performance differential there. The latest practice video from the department features Wheatley heavily if you'd like to hear him talk some.
Most of these guys look like they've looked. Johnson's out; Smith may be a hair faster; it's tough to tell if Green's vision problems are any better in this context. (Most people observing practice do so from the sideline, where holes are not always visible.)
There is the new guy, of course. Ty Isaac is "huge" and "could be a linebacker." He injured a finger somewhat badly in one practice but shrugged it off to continue with drills. This undoubtedly earned him some Harbaugh toughness brownie points. (He did sit out some on subsequent days.)
Chase Winovich is at least practicing there…
Rt when you see it pic.twitter.com/1FfBEqacoI
— Chase Winovich (@CCWino58) March 11, 2015
…and while Harbaugh seemed pretty dismissive about supposed position moves earlier this spring, they are looking at him there. When I fretted that this didn't make a lot of sense given the seeming surplus at H-back, Ace reminded me that Harbaugh switched guys around like mad at Stanford. Doug Baldwin played both ways; Owen Marecic played both ways. Harbaugh loves to experiment, and when he finds a Football Player that guy tends to Play A Lot Of Football. Possibly the same dynamic here.
Because man does Michigan need something above and beyond Butt/Bunting/Hill/Shallman/Houma? And Pallante? And apparently Henry Poggi?
Is it possible Winovich is getting a legit look at tailback? I doubt it but it's not like Michigan's not looking for options there.
It seems clear that Michigan has a relatively set front seven with a lot of depth at three-tech and some at linebacker. So they're taking the opportunity to test out anyone who may be an effective manballer.
FWIW, Ian Bunting looks promising but could still use some more weight on his frame if he's going to be a true dual-threat at the TE spot. When asked to catch the ball he looks "terrific," with the kind of wingspan that will remind you of Funchess "plus a couple inches." Hands are reputed to be excellent. Sam cited him as a potential breakout player.
Sione Houma has been held out with an injury, FWIW.
Receiver Battle… somewhat Royale
Drake Harris exists! He is full go in practice after like two straight years of hamstring doom. Reports alternate between impressive play and extreme skinniness. I believe both; this year will likely be a learning/glaring at hamstring owlishly/getting bigger campaign for him. 247:
There's no doubt about one thing: Harris is going to have to gain some weight in the next six months if he wants to see the field this season. However, the early impressions of him are twofold. One, he's finally 100% healthy and is a full-go at wide receiver. Two, he's been very impressive off the edge and has been a favorite target for a couple of the quarterbacks in early drills.
Harris was kind of a big deal before his leg acted up on him, remember. He was a top-50 prospect who Michigan had to fend off Alabama for after a 2,000 yard junior season.
Other reports are so scattered it's tough to draw conclusions from them. There are a lot of receivers, there are a lot of reps, an observer can easily sink into confirmation bias. At various time's I've heard good things about Ways, Chesson, Norfleet, and Bunting. Darboh's been absent so far and Canteen may still be too small to get off jams; I wouldn't read a whole lot into the former since Darboh is a known quantity.
OL Somewhat Settled(?) Royale
There's significant rotation along the offensive line, as you might expect. Other than the returning starters the biggest threats for playing time are Patrick Kugler, David Dawson, and Logan Tuley-Tillman. Miller and Braden are the returning starters under the most threat.
It is impossible to tell anything about these guys yet, as this is the point in the year when they're at the greatest disadvantage. Having eight real options is excellent, at least.
Chris Fox is still injured. You may remember that he came in after suffering a severe knee injury in his senior year of high school, ballooned up into the 350 range, and hasn't been talked about much subsequently. At least early this spring he was still on crutches. We are rapidly approaching the point where a medical scholarship is the most likely outcome.