well that's just, like, your opinion, man
If you happen to have tickets to a Michigan basketball home game, show up an hour before tipoff. You'll see Nik Stauskas shooting his way around the three-point arc. Many of these aren't just any shots—the between-the-legs stepback is an integral part of his arsenal. He rarely misses. It's a joy to watch.
As Michigan stood on the precipice of another heartbreaking loss at the Kohl Center, Stauskas matched up against Wisconsin freshman Nigel Hayes. He hit him with the stepback. Collectively, we stepped back, too—off the ledge, and into a glorious world full of Muppets and unprecedented road wins.
U-M official says this is highest-ranked road win ever, surpassing beating No. 5 Duke in 1964
— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) January 19, 2014
Stauskas put together an MVP-worthy performance, scoring 16 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, including Michigan's final 11 points of the game. While Stauskas got plenty of help from Caris LeVert (20 points) and Glenn Robinson III (14), he was the driving force behind an offense that put up 1.16 points per trip in this one; the Badgers couldn't corral him as he repeatedly darted into the lane, creating open pull-up jumpers for himself or slipping the ball down low to a teammate—Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan combined for a perfect 6/6 mark from the field.
Tasked with producing just about all of the offense, Stauskas and LeVert had their slipups—collectively shooting 14/32 from the field with six turnovers doesn't always bode well. However, LeVert managed to get layups out of otherwise stagnant possessions—including an and-one in which he swiped a rebound from an unsuspecting Frank Kaminsky—and, when he sputtered in the late going, Stauskas simply took over.
LeVert also played a huge role in Michigan jumping out to a lead to begin with, drilling a pair of triples in the first five minutes when Wisconsin lost him on the perimeter. Stauskas had an early three of his own, Robinson added two near-identical jumpers from the elbow after curling around screens, and the Wolverines found themselves up ten at the midway point of the first half.
Wisconsin kept fighting back on the strength of big-time performances from Ben Brust (14 points, 5/10 FG) and Josh Gasser (16 points, 4/5 3-pt), the men responsible for two particularly brutal Wolverine losses. Every time Michigan threatened to blow the game open, they'd tighten the margin, with a Brust jumper cutting the halftime margin to just five. The Wolverines had shot 61% to that point—including a 4/5 mark from beyond the arc—and a second-half run felt inevitable.
It happened—of course it did—after a LeVert layup pushed the lead to 13 with eight minutes to play. As is the norm at Kohl, it was brutally slow. Both teams went scoreless for two minutes before Gasser hit a three-pointer. Then the floodgates briefly opened, with Wisconsin scoring on each of their next three possessions to make it a one-basket game before Stauskas stopped the bleeding with a two-point jumper.
The Badgers would get as close as one point when Brust, initially stymied by Morgan, wouldn't be denied a layup. But after empty possessions from both teams, Stauskas stepped back and delivered the blow that sent Wisconsin reeling, though the Badgers didn't hit the canvas until stringing out the game at the free throw line. After six consecutive makes at the charity stripe, Stauskas' work was done.
For tonight, anyway. Tomorrow, he'll be back in the gym practicing those stepbacks, because he'll never stop working until he never misses.
But Canadians have icewater in their veins. It's true. You can look this up.
And you can't have one without the other...
Wrenches keep getting thrown into the system when it comes to Michigan’s 2014 running back recruiting. Until about two weeks ago it didn’t really look like Michigan had any realistic running back options in the 2014 class, then there appeared to be one, then he recommitted to Cal, and now there could be two and maybe a long-shot third.
On January 3rd Jeff Jones was offered after a stellar performance at the Under Armour game and it was quickly learned that the interest was mutual. He told me that it was a big deal to get the Michigan offer and he was excited to have it. Jones has been on campus before but wasn’t recruited very aggressively immediately following his brief visit to Ann Arbor. I’ve had limited conversation with Jones and he basically just told me that he has to finish all of his visits before he can make a final decision. The good news for Michigan is that he will take his final visit, to Ann Arbor, on January 31st, just five days before signing day. It’s believed that Jones is considering only Michigan, Florida, and the team he’s currently committed to, Minnesota, so with Michigan getting the last crack at him, there’s reason for optimism.
Just two weeks after Jones was offered another name was thrown into the hat when the coaches decided to offer Marlon Mack, coincidentally on the same day he decided to decommit from UCLA.
Jeff Hecklinski was at Mack's house and stayed for about an hour, with that visit culminating with an offer. Mack said that he was feeling Michigan quite a bit after meeting and talking with Coach Heck and news of his decommitment followed later that evening. He obviously has a lot to mull over and didn’t give me much about what he was going to do. He told me that Michigan definitely has a chance but right now he has no leader, no top group, and no timeline for when he’ll make his final decision.
Kalen Ballage is a name that Michigan recruitaholics are very aware of but fell by the wayside after he, somewhat surprisingly, committed to Arizona State on December 11th. I was able to confirm with Ballage today however that Michigan is indeed actively recruiting him again and that he has been in contact with Coach Funk.
Before Ballage committed to ASU he was always a bit tough to read and today was no different. I asked him if he was solid to Arizona State or if he was considering Michigan again and he cryptically said, “I’m not sure right now.” To me that means he’s at least entertaining the idea of reopening his commitment but right now there’s no real reason to think he’ll decommit or flip to Michigan or anyone else for that matter.
I feel confident in saying that Michigan will definitely add a running back to the 2014 class but right now it is very tough to predict who. Jones seems like option #1. He will officially visit Ann Arbor just five days before National Signing Day and that bodes well for the Wolverines but also leaves them little time to deal with surprises.
Mack is likely option #2 if Jones doesn’t pan out although Coach Heck being in his house and offering in person shows a high level of legitimate interest. Neither Jones or Mack was able to specifically tell me if their offers were committable, but with just 18 days until signing day one would assume that they both are. I never thought Michigan had a great chance with Ballage and I still don’t. He doesn’t appear to be solid to Arizona State but I just don’t think Michigan can suddenly become his leader and flip him within the next two weeks.
It’s been tough to get a good grasp on this situation. The vibes I’m getting suggest it’s about 60/40 in favor of Jeff Jones being Michigan's running back of this class, with Mack a possibility to join regardless of that decision, and the most likely to commit if Jones doesn't.
|WHAT||Michigan at Wisconsin|
|WHERE||Kohl Center, Ninth Circle of Hell, Wisconsin|
|WHEN||6 pm Eastern, Saturday|
|LINE||Wisconsin -8 (KenPom)|
Right: Bo Ryan during a 25-point win. Seriously. (Not pictured: Sam Dekker's face melting off.)
Good news, everyone! Michigan plays Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, where they haven't won since 1999, against a Badger squad that ranks third nationally in offensive efficiency and is probably real pissed off about losing at Indiana on Tuesday. Are you ready for the basketball equivalent of Chinese water torture? Trick question, because there's no preparing yourself for that.
This year's Wisconsin offense may be the best Bo Ryan has ever assembled; the starting five features two efficient, high-usage players filling the roles of leading scorer (Sam Dekker) and distributor (Traevon Jackson) ... and the other three all rank within the top 60(!) nationally in offensive rating. While the defense isn't up to Ryan's normal standards—"just" 24th in efficiency—the combination of lethal outside shooting and Fort Knox-level ball protection on the other end makes Wisconsin one of the most difficult teams to beat in the country, especially at home.
Freed from the shackles that Ryan puts on all his freshmen, regardless of talent, 6'7" forward Sam Dekker has improved his efficiency as a sophomore while taking on the role of go-to scorer. He can score in just about any fashion—especially in transition, where he posts an absurd 81 eFG%—shooting 59% from two and 35% from three. He's Wisconsin's best offensive rebounder, as well; his only apparent offensive weakness is a surprisingly low 60% mark from the free-throw line.
Dekker is joined on the front line by 7'0" center Frank Kaminsky, who currently holds the #10 spot in the KenPom Player of the Year rankings* by virtue of being good at, well, just about everything. Kaminsky is shooting the lights out (60% 2-pt, 21-for-44 3-pt), rebounding well at both ends, rarely turning the ball over, and posting an impressive 6.2% block rate. John Beilein would do the most terrible thing he could imagine to have a Frank Kaminsky, which probably means he wouldn't say "thank you" to his Starbucks barista, because John Beilein is pretty much the nicest guy ever.
The Badgers go with a three-guard look featuring 6'2" junior Traevon Jackson—son of former OSU and NBA star Jim Jackson—running the point. With an assist rate more than double any of his teammates', Jackson's primary role is facilitating the offense; he's also got a decent outside shot (16-for-43 3-pt), and while he's not the most efficient scorer inside the arc, he gets to the line at a high rate.
Jackson is flanked in the backcourt by sharpshooters Ben Brust and Josh Gasser, whom you may remember from [TERRIBLE THING REDACTED] and [OTHER TERRIBLE THING REDACTED]. Brust has already attempted 111 three-pointers this season, the most of any Big Ten player, and he's connecting at a 42% clip; he's actually a worse shooter when he ventures inside the arc, but fouling him is ill-advised—he's 32-for-34 this season at the charity stripe. Gasser is a 39% three-point shooter who's much more effective than Brust as a slasher—he hits 52% of his twos, mostly at the rim, and 87% of his free throws with a FT rate just outside the top 100 nationally.
6'7", 250-pound freshman Nigel Hayes—high school teammate of Chris Wormley at Toledo Whitmer—has come on really strong of late as he's learned to use his solid frame to get to the line; this chart from SI's Luke Winn (published before the Indiana game) speaks volumes:
Hayes has now attempted nearly as many free throws (67, of which he makes 62%) as field goals (71, 52%); he's averaging 11 points in Big Ten play while playing ~18 minutes per in that span. While his rebounding rates are pretty low for a post player, Bo Ryan has been willing to put him out there in place of Kaminsky and play small-ball (or Wisconsin's twisted version of small-ball).
While Hayes has carved out a decent role for himself recently, the Badgers still don't use their bench often—they rank 338th in bench minutes. The primary backup guard is 6'3" freshman Bronson Koenig, a very low-usage player who hasn't attempted more than four shots in a conference game; he's shooting well from two and struggling from the outside.
Wisconsin jumped out to a school-record 16-0 start before Tuesday's loss at Assembly Hall, and they didn't do it against the proverbial tray of cupcakes: those 16 wins include nine KenPom top-100 teams, four of which rank in the top 25 (Florida, St. Louis, Virginia, and Iowa). Their most impressive win is probably the 48-38 suffocation of #17 Virginia in the B1G/ACC Challenge that set the game of basketball back a good half-century.
Now that we're partway into conference play, I'll start posting four factors charts for all the games and Big Ten games only, with sample size issues obviously coming into play on the latter for a while.
Four factors, all games (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||55.2 (12)||12.9 (2)||30.2 (218)||40.7 (173)|
|Defense||45.0 (41)||16.2 (297)||28.6 (59)||23.8 (1)|
Conference-only (four games, Big Ten ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||57.5 (2)||11.4 (1)||27.0 (9)||36.0 (7)|
|Defense||41.9 (1)||12.9 (12)||37.2 (11)||25.0 (1)|
The offense doesn't rebound well; they don't exactly have to, however, when they're shooting 39% from three and 53% from two as a team (and a remarkable 58% from two in conference play). The Badgers still hold the ball for an agonizingly long time on each possession and put up a high number of three-pointers; now they're just doing it more efficiently than ever before.
The defense looks really good on paper, especially when focusing on opponent eFG%, but they don't force turnovers or rebound very well; against Indiana, other flaws were exposed, per UMHoops:
Indiana handed Wisconsin its first loss of the season on Tuesday at Assembly Hall thanks to an impressive offensive showing. The Hoosiers racked up 1.17 points per trip against the Badgers in the worst defensive showing for Bo Ryan’s program in a Big Ten game since March, 2012.
The Badgers clearly have some defensive issues to work out and their issues against Indiana stemmed from a failure to stop dribble penetration. Indiana was 28-of-48 on two point attempts and Yogi Ferrell (9-of-16 on twos), Will Sheehey and Stanford Robinson got to the basket at will.
A numbers-heavy look at the Badger defense at that link reveals issues against the fast break, pick-and-roll, and isolation looks that Michigan can potentially exploit. The Wolverines will probably have to do most of their damage in those areas if they want to keep pace with Wisconsin, one of the very best teams in the country at preventing and defending opponent three-pointers.
Unleash Stauskas. Wisconsin's defensive deficiencies appear ripe for exploitation by Nik Stauskas, especially with how well he's working the pick-and-roll with both big men in recent games. The Badgers will do everything they can to run him off the three-point line; that can open up gaps inside for Stauskas to drive or dish off to an open big. Caris LeVert could also get his penetration game going against Wisconsin—with their small backcourt, he's going to have a size advantage against whomever is defending him.
Don't blow rotations, please. Perimeter defense, especially on switches, has been a sore spot for Michigan this season. They simply can't afford to blow assignments against this Wisconsin team; losing a man on the perimeter is just asking for three points against, and in what should be a slow-paced game those are even more difficult to overcome. This won't be easy—not only do the guards have to be at peak awareness, the bigs are going to play in some uncomfortable spots with Kaminsky stretching the floor.
Quick outlets. Michigan isn't going to force many turnovers against Wisconsin given their ability to take care of the basketball, but that doesn't mean they can't get out in transition. The Badgers aren't a great rebounding team and their transition defense is iffy—after every Wisconsin miss, Michigan's bigs should be looking to move the ball upcourt with alacrity. This may be the only way the Wolverines can consistently generate open perimeter shots, and they'll need to do so if Wisconsin is hitting threes at their usual high rate.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan has a chance here if they can strike a fine balance between exploiting Wisconsin's trouble defending penetration and creating enough good looks from the outside to keep up with their three-point makes. I'd actually be pretty optimistic about this if not for (1) Michigan's own defensive issues probably cancelling this out, and (2) the goddamn Kohl Center, which cannot burn to the ground soon enough.
UMHoops preview. Maize n Brew preview. MnB Q&A with Bucky's 5th Quarter. Fouad recounts Michigan's struggles at Kohl if you're looking for a good hate-read. I jumped on the UMHoops podcast this afternoon with Joe Stapleton, David Merritt, and B5Q's Phil Mitten—listen for plenty of Wisconsin talk, a look at the 4-0 start in B1G play, and lots of OutKast. You can never go wrong with lots of OutKast.
*Kaminsky will be the fourth member of the top ten to face Michigan this season, joining Arizona's Nick Johnson (#3), Iowa State's DeAndre Kane (#7), and Duke's Jabari Parker (#9).
RPI Effect Only Teams:
The Big Four RPI torpedoes remained on course this week. UMass-Lowell (3-12) beat Binghamton, and in doing so moved up to become only the second-worst team Michigan has played. They ceded that particular crown of used car parts to Houston Baptist (4-12), who lost to Stephen F. Austin, though I’m not sure whether we’re talking about the school or the long-deceased American empresario*.
South Carolina State (5-11) lost to Morgan State and Coppin State, but beat Maryland Eastern Shore, which is the second-toughest of the Maryland beaches. Coppin State (5-11) lost to Savannah State in addition to their glorious triumph over the aforementioned South Carolina State. The Fightin’ Coppinites are the only one of the Four Horsemen of the RPIpocalypse threatening to break into the Top 300.
Long Beach State (5-11) beat UC Davis, but lost to UC Irvine, and this week they take on UC Santa Barbara. What, are you afraid of Riverside? Holy Cross (7-9) lost to Bucknell, and dropped to 1-3 in the Patriot League. Charlotte (10-5) suffered a really bad loss to UTSA.
*[NOTE TO MY BIOGRAPHER: Please refer to me as an “American empresario” at every opportunity. We should probably work it into the description on the dust jacket. Call me to discuss.]
Big Sorts of Teams
#8 Iowa State (14-2, 2-2 Big 12)
This week: Lost to Oklahoma (87-82); Lost to Kansas (77-70)
Rough week for Iowa State, though losses at Oklahoma and at home to Kansas aren’t terrible. They play at Texas this week in essentially a coin-flip game. They also continue to play at a ridiculous tempo; their last three games have seen the Cyclones with 74, 78, and 79 possessions. Michigan, by comparison, hasn’t cracked 61 possessions in Big Ten play, and only exceeded 71 possessions once, when they played… Iowa State.
Florida State (11-4, 1-1 ACC)
This week: Beat Clemson (56-41); Beat Maryland (85-61)
Florida State’s defense remains really good, though given that they are the giant walking trees from the Lord of the Rings* that is probably to be expected. They are only allowing an eFG% of 41.0%. This is especially impressive when you take into account the amount of transition opportunities created by Florida State’s Indiana-like turnover numbers.
#23 Dook (13-4, 2-2 ACC)
This week: Lost to Clemson (72-59); Beat Virginia (69-65)
Beating UVA, even at home, is a quality win for Duke, and they might have had another one had they not blown a late second-half lead at Clemson.
With none of Jabari Parker’s Duke, Andrew Wiggins’ Kansas, or McDonald’s All America’s Kentucky being in the AP Top 10, you have to wonder if this signals a move away from individual play, and that the basketball world will once again begin to focus on teamwork and… yeah, sorry, probably not so much.
#1 Arizona (16-0, 3-0 PAC 12)
This week: Beat USC 73-53
Easy week for RichRod and company.
Stanford (9-4, 0-1 PAC 12)
This week: Lost to Oregon State (81-72); Beat Oregon (82-80)
That Oregon win was in Eugene, giving Stanford a second nice road win to pair with its victory at UConn in December. Weirdly, they don’t have home win over a top-125 team, losing their only two such chances to BYU and Cal. They are still a bubble team, and will probably need an upset or two to get to survive on the bubble.
* [ed-S: Treebeard if you're reading this they're just regular ents, not the entwives; sorry, we still haven't seen them, have you tried West Lafayette?]
[AFTER THE JUMP: The Big Ten and other assorted things]
Derrick Walton's halfcourt buzzer-beater provided one of those GIFs that's impressive at first glance and even better upon multiple viewings. Walton's one-footed leaping release, perfect shot, and understated fist-pump celebration are all visually appealing. The real gold is in the stands, however, with the synchronized exasperated head-clutching by seemingly the entire section to the right and then, well, this:
A few things:
- Hello, Broncos jersey guy. While your reaction is stellar, I have some questions. Why are you wearing a Trindon Holliday jersey at a Nebraska basketball game that you seemingly care a great deal about? Do you not own Nebraska gear? Why do you care this much about Nebraska basketball in the first place? This seems unhealthy.
- A couple rows above Broncos Guy are two Michigan fans wearing gray who seemingly knew the whole damn time this shot was going in. While the one on the left lets his emotions get the best of him, throwing a Jersey-worthy fist pump, the dude on the right holds the pose perfectly. Nailed it, man.
- Just above the fist-pumper is a Nebraska fan staring at the aisle, planning his exit, and is blissfully unaware of everything that happens.
- The entire Nebraska bench, as well as the section in the corner, has zero reaction whatsoever. They've seen a lot of Huskers basketball. They are immune to pain.
- There are approximately 17 other hidden gems in here, including girl in blue jacket just sippin' her water, guy in button-up throwing his hands up and possibly doing a pit-check, lady whose prayers go unanswered, and the two stoic bros behind Broncos Guy.
- Late addition, pointed out by MGoCommenter Bengalfang: right as the shot goes in, you can see a kid behind the Nebraska bench throw an impressively aerodynamic paper airplane for... reasons, I guess.
Given Michigan won by one, this shot turned out to be rather important.
[Hit THE JUMP for a halfcourt alley-oop, Nik Stauskas trick shot magic, Tim Miles unveiling a... toilet, Spike Albrecht giving Andrew Dakich a hearty tweak (trust me, there's no way to describe the GIF that doesn't sound weird), and much more.]