"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
|WHAT||Michigan vs Syracuse|
|WHEN||8:50 PM Eastern, Saturday|
Four factors. Ranks are in parentheses and out of 347.
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||49.1 (139)||18.9 (119)||39.0 (8)||37.6 (136)|
|Defense||42.5 (4)||23.6(19)||34.3 (278)||35.4 (156)|
Syracuse is mediocre at everything on offense save rebounding. They crush the boards in large part because they are huge, starting three guys in the 6'8"-6'9" range and bringing up to three more off the bench depending on the health of freshman DaJuan Coleman. Their guards are 6'4", minimum; point guard Michael Carter-Williams is 6'6".
The size plays into their defensive strengths. Despite not having a single dominant shotblocker like Jeff Withey, Syracuse is #1 in block percentage. Their zone confounds opponents into shooting a ton of bad threes: 40% of opponent shots are from behind the line. That's in the bottom 20 nationally. Normally that's a bad thing, but not when opponents are shooting 28% on them. Syracuse induces bad threes QED: in their Elite Eight matchup against Marquette they got a team that was 304th in threes launched because they were 323rd in making them. Almost half of Marquettes shots were threes; they made 3 of 25. They did not clear 40 points.
For what it's worth, Pomeroy ran the numbers and suggests that even in the random realm of three-point shooting Syracuse's 2-3 zone has a real, negative impact on opponents, but one that may be masked by Syracuse's typically… er… unchallenging nonconference schedule and the Big East's usual shooter deficit. The Orangemen were just 8th (of 16) in defensive 3P% in Big East play.
The zone's drawback is the usual: rebounding. Despite running out a fee-fi-fo-fum lineup, the Orangemen allow opponents to rebound more than a third of their misses.
Syracuse's offense starts with their guards. Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche are the highest-usage players on the team, though 6'8" wing James Southerland gets off more shots. Neither guard is particularly efficient, largely because of shooting issues. Collectively they've launched 280 threes that they hit at 29%. Both also have TO rates over 20.
MCW makes opponent point guards go bug-eyed at the size matchup
PG #1 Michael Carter-Williams makes up for those deficiencies with a massive assist rate (he assists on 41% of Syracuse makes), a lot of free throws, and a steal rate that's near the top ten. He's just not a shooter, though: on the 70% of his shots that aren't at the rim he hits under 30%. If you want a comparable, Darius Morris is a close one. Both are huge, poor-shooting point guards who use their length to exploit passing angles smaller guards can't.
Defensively, Carter-Williams is a load. He doesn't have to D-up opposing point guards one-on-one too often because of the zone, so whatever deficiency in quickness his size provides is covered. Meanwhile, that length makes it difficult for guard-sized guards to shoot over him. He affects passing angles much like a huge team would disrupt passing lanes in the 1-3-1. You probably know this, but six-foot-ish Indiana guards Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls combined for zero points in the Hoosiers's S16 loss to the Orange.
Brandon Triche is a couple inches shorter than Carter-Williams and a vaguely better shooter. He's still 35% on two point jumpers and 29% on threes. Triche is the only Syracuse player other than MCW who racks up an appreciable number of assists. Wing CJ Fair has a fair number of unassisted baskets, but other than that basically all of Syracuse's shots are generated by their starting guards.
Triche may or may not be affected with a sore back on Saturday. The "recurring, nagging" injury has been bothering him since February and may have something to do with his weak shooting numbers.
Speaking of CJ Fair, he is much more of a post-oriented offensive player than his fellow 6'8" wing-type guy. Despite hitting 48% from three he's only taken 60 attempts from that distance all year, and that's not a playing time thing: guy is on the court 35 minutes a game. He takes a huge number of twos, which he converts at 47%. Unusually for… well, anyone, a majority of his shots are two point jumpers. He's pretty good on them, and unusually crappy at the rim. Michigan should be able to check him with GRIII without getting pounded inside.
Once-suspended James Southerland is Syracuse's most efficient offensive player by some distance. He's their only serious three-point threat, hitting 40% on over 200 attempts. He's also the only Orangeman other than the centers to crack 50% on attempted twos.
His hoop-math profile is pretty weird. Only 13% of his shots are at the rim—this is tiny, Spike Albrecht is at 27%—but they appear to be 90% dunks because he hits 90% of them. His jumpers are frequent and meh. Transition? Guys closing out and getting Game Blouses dunks on their face? I don't know man. Syracuse guys say he "can't dribble and his bball IQ isn't the highest," so it appears that the only time Southerland gets to the rim is in transition or when provided an alley oop or whatever from one of the guards.
The recipe here is for hrrrd closeouts. If the guy wants to step inside the three point line and put up a jumper, Michigan will take that.
Syracuse splits their five spot about down the middle between Rakeem Christmas, a 6'9" leaper with a huge wingspan, and Baye Keita, a 6'10" leaper with a huge wingspan. Both block a ton of shots and rebound decently. Christmas is an elite shotblocker; Keita very good. Keita is a very good offensive rebounder; Christmas is okay. Both have an offensive game almost entirely restricted to putbacks and here-is-a-free-dunk-from-your-point-guard. Christmas will put up a jumper slightly more than once a game, Keita even more rarely than that. They shoot decently when they get something off, which is not often. Both are 60% FT shooters.
I suggest boxing Christmas out.
Syracuse brings two guys off the bench for their other four spots. At least they used to before the tournament. Now that it's crunch time, Syracuse is rolling its non-center starters out 35+ minutes a game each. Carter-Williams and Triche have been on the bench for a combined 17 minutes in the three vaguely competitive games 'Cuse has played in the tourney.
Here are the guys you'll see for maybe four minutes:
- Guard Trevor Cooney mostly shoots threes at a 26% clip. Yeah… okay guy. He'll come in to D-up in the zone when Boeheim wants to snatch a little rest for his starters. Chance of trillion: high.
- Wing-type-guy Jerami Grant is pretty nondescript statistically, mostly an inefficient two-point shooter with mediocre rebounding numbers. He does block a lot of shots.
- Center DaJaun Coleman is available, but except for the Montana laugher he hasn't played more than a handful of minutes since January. He's a high-rebound, high-usage, low-efficiency guy if he does end up seeing the court. Again, the only way that'll happen is if Christmas and Keita get in extreme foul trouble.
If any bench player other than Keita plays a significant role, Michigan is feeling good about that.
Syracuse didn't do much in the nonconference schedule other than knock off future seven seed SDSU in the season opener. That was on an aircraft carrier; SDSU was 1 of 18 from three. Since that was outdoors that may not be a particularly meaningful game.
U-S-A! U-S-awwww we have to cancel this probably
Syracuse's other KP100 nonconference wins came against Princeton, Detroit, and Arkansas (at home, by nine). They lost to Temple at MSG. Their nonconference record against future tourney teams, then: 1-1, with a win over a #7 and a loss to a #9.
In Big East play they were kind of meh. They went 11-7; they finished fifth in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Their prime scalp is a two point win at Louisville, which yeah okay nice win. They also won home games against Villanova, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame.
Their losses were numerous but at least they were all understandable. The worst loss was probably at Connecticut or a 22 point bombing Georgetown put on them at the end of the regular season. The Orange then made a run to the Big East final, downing Pitt and the Georgetown team that had just hammered them before getting thumped by Louisville in the final. Syracuse actually led that game 48-43 with 11 minutes left before the Cardinals finished the game on a 35-13 run. Yeah, 35 points in 11 minutes. But that's another game preview.
In the tourney Syracuse took it to the proverbial Next Level, demolishing Montana by a women's scoreline, easing by Cal in a game that was nowhere near a close as the final score makes it appear ('Cuse led by 13 with 2 minutes left), confusing Indiana into one billion Cody Zeller blocked shots, and strangling Marquette by 16. No one has put up more than 60 on Cuse in the tournament and that was Cal inflating their point total in a futile attempt to extend the game: they had 45 points 38 minutes in.
If you can manage to get someone other than a Syracuse center in foul trouble, that would be great. If Michigan sees a lot of Trevor Cooney, things get a lot easier for them. The Orangemen are incredibly thin. They essentially cannot replace lost offensive production from any of their starters not named Rakeem Christmas. I'm not really sure Michigan putting them in foul trouble is possible, though: Michigan doesn't draw any fouls and only Southerland averages more than 3 fouls per 40.
It's hard to focus your attention on any particular player in a zone, meanwhile. Best bet might be trying to draw a charge on one of the guards if they pick up an early foul.
Beast up, Mitch. Michigan isn't going to turn it over much and Syracuse is vulnerable on the offensive boards. Mitch McGary is one of the country's best offensive rebound vacuums, and that's not just based on his recent run. He's top ten in OREB rate over the course of the season.
Meanwhile he's pumping in those putbacks at an incredible rate, finishing easily with both hands. A double double beckons if McGary can stay on the court, and he likely will since he won't be picking up a ton of fouls against 'Cuse's low-usage bigs and the play against Syracuse is to keep them away from the rim and see what happens.
Bombs away. Syracuse forces a lot of threes. Michigan's inclined to take them, albeit not quite as much as the usual Beilein team. Where and when Michigan gets the copious threes they'll be putting up is important. If they're coming off Burke stopping at the free throw line and facilitating this is ideal. Kenpom points out that once you focus on Syracuse's Big East schedule their intimidating three-point defense tends to drop away. Even in this year of crubberating defense the Orange were only 8th in 3P% D in Big East play. IE: average.
Michigan has long shooters and a OREB beast; they're playing a D that turns you over a lot and blocks you a ton but gives up a ton of offensive rebounds. When in doubt they should pretend they are Minnesota. Have a shot? Take it. If you miss there's a 40% chance it's going back up anyway.
You: stay away from the rim. If Michigan keeps Syracuse away from the rim, the Orangemen will either be having an out of body experience on jumpers or be idling a good distance under a PPP. The gameplan should be similar that against VCU, except with less respect paid to threes: sag off guys, try to stay in front of them, don't go for low-probability blocked shots. Let them put it up, and let's have a shooting contest.
Southerland is the only exception. Michigan needs to identify him at all times and live in his jock. He is Just A Shooter.
As per usual, go get it in transition. Michigan's been climbing up the tempo charts and is now almost average. Most relevantly for Michigan, Syracuse turns the ball over quite a bit for a top outfit. They're especially vulnerable to steals.
Burke's trademark pickpocket might spot them a 2 or 4 point lead; Mitch might have an opportunity to get some of those perimeter steals against lazy passes, especially since if he misses the opposing big isn't likely to take two dribbles and cram it down Michigan's throat.
Like games against Kansas and Florida, the best way to avoid a clamp-down defensive outfit is to not let it get set up.
Trey Burke: maintain efficiency. If you're looking for a better sample size for that whole "Syracuse destroys small guards" meme, Peyton Siva's consistently miserable outings are worrying. The 6'0" Louisville PG doesn't have great numbers, but that may be because he's had to play Syracuse three times this year. In those matchups he's a stunning 1/20 from three and 3/6 from two. Siva shot 35% from three in games not against Syracuse this year.
Similarly diminutive Russ Smith had better luck, FWIW, with 25, 18, and 10 points at acceptable efficiency rates. What with the Big East being light on Burke-level guards this year we have little data other than those Louisville games and the Indiana demolition.
It goes without saying that Michigan's path to victory gets pretty hazy if Burke is turning in Siva numbers.
Win the high post. Michigan has three avenues into the high post area that is the traditionally-declared weakness of the 2-3 zone: pass to Hardaway, pass to McGary, or screen Trey in there. Hardaway's main weapon is a FT line jumper that he can vary. McGary can take the elbow jumper or drive if the big comes up. The question there is can he maintain an acceptably low TO rate when put in a difficult, decision-demanding situation?
Meanwhile, Burke is an excellent option anywhere on the court but getting him to the spot is tough. He might have to press a bit and risk some turnovers.
In any case, a key metric to look for is GRIII dunks in the half court as he plunges down the baseline.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by one.
They're the "ORANGE" not the "ORANGEMEN". That was changed because to Irish Catholics the latter sounds the same way "South Carolina Klansmen" sounds to you. To clarify, it's a oft-told myth that the school was named for the right-wing fraternal order. The two actually have nothing to do with each other; the school name came from the school color being orange, kinda like how the Cincinnati Reds were so named because the original pro team wore red socks, but they still sometimes get grouped in among teams with offensive Native American monikers.
The way they picked orange is kinda funny. If you go back and look at the original official colors of a lot of schools, pink was a fashionable choice, however 'cuse had adopted "rose pink and pea green" as theirs. When they took the field against Hamilton College in 1889 the Syracuse fans were derided for, well, let me teambuild that:
So to get everyone to stop pointing and laughing the students said "let's be orange." Good change. It's a good change.
How it works:
- I put up a winnable prize that consists of a desirable good.
- You guess the final scores of the designated game, and put it in the comments, preferably in the format of [M's Score]-[Opponent's Score]. First person to post a particular score has it.
- If you guess either game correctly, we contact you. If not, go to (5)
- The desirable good arrives at the address you give us.
- Non-winners can acquire the same desirable good by trading currency for it.
- Seriously, you don't have to actually guess a basketball score to get this shirt. You can buy it.
About Last Time:
It was 87-85 in one OT, but this one guy pretty much predicted we'd have subs:
It was crazy!
This Week's Game:
#4 seed Michigan versus #4 seed Syracuse. Winner is a basketball game away from the championship.
And the Prize: Three Goggles!
Nothing says "Nothing but nylon!" like a 100% cotton tee. Sometimes when you're on…
Fine print: One entry per user. First user to choose a set of scores wins, determined by the timestamp of your entry (make it easy on me and write your score in digits with a hyphen between them. Deadline for entries is sometime within 24 hours before the start of the game—whenever I can get online in that time and lock the thread. MGoEmployees and Moderators exempt from winning because you can change scores. We did not invent the algorithm. The algorithm consistently finds Jesus. The algorithm is banned in China. The algorithm is from Jersey. The algorithm is not just a shooter. The algorithm always fouls Cody Zeller. The algorithm can’t explain why Big Ten officials think it’s their duty to help Bo Ryan. The algorithm spent 10 years as the Indiana of basketball, if that makes sense. This is not the algorithm. This is close.
- RS Fr Brian Cleary is now the backup quarterback. Yes, he's a walk-on, but Al Borges talked him up at the NSD presser as someone who might contribute regardless. Said he "looks like a scholarship QB."
- Hoke has not spoken to Shane Morris since Bellomy's injury, but Borges has.
- With Bellomy out, a real spring game is looking less and less likely.
- Justice Hayes is looking good at RB.
- Jarrod Wilson is standing out at safety.
- Will Hagerup is still suspended.
- Brendan Gibbons has been kicking off a little bit in practice whenever Matt Wile can't make it on account of class.
- When Brady Hoke says "Mitch McGary" five times really fast he gets "Rob Gronkowski."
- Brady Hoke has the hiccups from saying "Mitch McGary" too many times.
“We’ve had good practices. The tempo’s been good. I think the competition level has been good. We’ve got to play faster as a team. I think some of that is some young guys getting used to playing a lot, when you get a number of reps, but we’ve done a pretty good job of being competitive. We need to continue that.”
How has Russell Bellomy’s injury impacted the offense?
“I think the impact is how you feel, number one. You feel terrible for him. The impact as far as depth always hurts you when anyone gets out of the lineup. As far as that’s concerned, we’ll move forward and keep developing Brian Cleary and those guys who are behind Devin.”
How’s Bellomy doing?
“He’s doing fine. He’s disappointed, like we all are. We can all imagine how he’d feel, but he’s doing fine.”
This is the kind of week when bad news cannot possibly live for long on the front page, so naturally Jacob Trouba's departure news is immediately followed by this, from MLive's Kyle Meinke:
"I haven’t even thought about (leaving),” [Mitch McGary] told MLive.com after practice Tuesday at the Crisler Center. “I don’t have a decision to make -- I’m coming back.”
Is he 100 percent sure?
“Yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I’m coming back.”
McGary wasn't thought to be a huge flight risk until his recent tournament success, and thankfully he's put those fears to rest. Feel free to break out your go-to dance move to celebrate.
Your nightmares. (Keith Srakocic/AP via CBCSports)
NHL reporter EJ Hradek just tweeted an awful thing:
Daily's Matt Slovin appears to have confirmed. With him and Merrill leaving that's a top line of…? Bennett-Downing? I don't want to think about it. At least when he's next-Pronger (except not the worst person ever) we can beat our chests and such. Good luck to him. I'm gonna go pout or…oh hey look basketball!
We live in a world that has been largely demystified. We've done a pretty good job of mapping all of the uncharted lands. We have located the Higgs Boson. We have mastered fire and sequenced the human genome. And while there are many things in our world that we do not know, we chalk less and less up to the "unknowable." We give our superheroes gritty reboots to show how they could realistically exist in the world we inhabit. Reality TV has all but replaced the scripted show. Even magic has fallen victim; instead of David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear, David Blaine sits in a glass box for a week and holds his breath for 15 minutes, as if to say, "we all know the physical parameters of this world, so watch me strain against them." The illusion of the supernatural is gone. We are left with merely the unexpected.
It is no surprise, I suppose, that sports have followed suit. We scoff at announcers and commentators who pretend that a thing called "momentum" exists as a causal force separate from the game itself. These mystics see "Team A is currently playing better than Team B" as a sign that Team A is being pushed forward by an invisible yet irresistible hand. The Skip Baylesses of the world insist there is a "clutch gene" which, based on my limited understanding of genetics, is the only gene that can spontaneously appear and disappear based on one’s athletic performance on a given night. Lebron wasn't clutch until he was. Tom Brady was clutch until he wasn't, then he was again, but now he isn't. NBA players develop reputations based on incredibly small sample sizes of high-variation events, all in the name of the almighty narrative.
We modernists see these explanations for what they are: crutches. It's much easier to attribute success to intangible forces than to either find and analyze the underlying reasons or to acknowledge the role of luck and chance. You’ll never hear a commentator say, “sometimes good players miss makeable shots” or “sometimes an average player can do something great.” That isn’t satisfying, but that’s life. We want more, but sometimes there isn’t more.
So when a game like Friday's Michigan-Kansas comes along, every fiber of my rational brain tries to tell me, "these things happen." There was no voodoo. The space-time continuum did not yield just this once to the will of Trey Burke. He took a series of low-percentage shots, and he made them. I mean, look at those four shots. Trey Burke is a 38% 3-point shooter. The odds of him making three NORMAL triples in a row are about 5%. The odds of making those four shots? A 20-foot hesitation pull-up, two 27-footers, and a 30-footer? No "will to win" or "grit" or any of the hundred other clichés you can come up with can make a player capable of reliably making those shots. He got lucky, I tell myself. It was awesome and amazing and a feat of incredible skill and talent that likely won't be repeated in the near future, but it was a fluke nonetheless. “Sometimes when you’re on” and whatnot.
But I've watched the last few minutes of regulation and the first few minutes of overtime a half-dozen times. Each time I've tried to make myself believe that this is just something that happens sometimes. And each time I have failed. At this point I’m willing to swallow the clichés. Trey Burke wanted it more. He had the will to win. He put the team on his shoulders. He made the damn Statue of Liberty disappear. Don't try to tell me how he did it, or if HE did it or whether it was just one of those things that happen. Just this once I am willing to believe my eyes. Lady Liberty is gone. All that remains is Trey Burke pointing at the empty night sky.
The rote play-by-play of those four minutes hardly does his work justice, but it is illustrative.
- Burke forces a ten-second violation.
- Burke penetrates, draws in Withey and dishes to McGary for an easy lay-in.
- Burke hits a long 3.
- Burke drives for a layup.
- Burke hits The Trey.
- Burke hits a long three.
- Burke hits a long two.
That's 13 points, an assist, and a forced turnover in four minutes. He was good before and after that (he scored 23 in the second half and overtime), but those were really the magical minutes. And from a purely statistical standpoint, they were outstanding. But for those who watched the game, it was simultaneously more impressive and completely unsurprising. There's a reason Josh Bartelstein was celebrating when the ball was still in the air, and it is the same reason you felt so good when it left his hand. You've seen him do ridiculous things all year. You have experienced those moments where you both scoffed at his shot selection and laughed because you knew it would fall. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t shot the ball very well for the first 38 minutes, or that he was taking a contested shot from an improbable distance under impossible circumstances. When he released that ball, I’m willing to bet most of you reacted not with a prayer but with an unspoken “watch this.” Bartelstein knew. Bill Self knew. We knew.
Michigan fans also recognize this feeling because they have experienced its opposite many, many times. In the cold recesses of every Michigan fan's consciousness is that collective moment where Evan Turner and Josh Gasser and Kalin Lucas and Ben Brust hold an arm extended as they send a dagger straight into the souls of those helpless onlookers. There was the moment where you, like the audience in a Greek tragedy, knew the hero's fate before he did. You knew those shots were gonna drop. But for one day, Michigan finally had the deus ex machina on our side. By the time Trey hit that long pull-up two, all of your normal thoughts about ‘good shots’ were replaced by your inner Lou Brown telling Ricky to forget about the curveball and throw him the heater. We hastily scribbled a caveat to the “death to long twos” mandate (and all of the other strictures of proper basketball etiquette) that says, “...unless Trey is doing his thing, in which case, just… just watch this.”
Make no mistake; the game was not a one-man show. Michigan doesn't win that game if Mitch McGary doesn't play the game of his young life despite being punched in the groin for no particular reason. GRIII made an impossible layup from eleven feet under the basket and hit two huge free throws late. Stauskas and Hardaway had solid games. Even Jordan Morgan was there to challenge what would have been a game tying layup at the end of overtime. But that night will rightfully be remembered for Trey Burke. For a few brief minutes he made everyone believe he could do anything. If Michigan needed a four-pointer to tie, he would have made it happen. If the lights went out, he could bring them back up. If that impossibly large scoreboard came crashing down, you get the feeling he would simply shrug and say, "nah, that's cool, I'll carry this too."
Can everyone see this? Good. You’ll like this part (AP)
Brian is right that The Trey is going to be replayed during every NCAA tournament from now to the end of time, and rightfully so. It was one of the most remarkable single moments in recent tournament memory. But my lament is that it will be remembered simply as that moment. Everyone remembers the shots of Christian Laettner and Bryce Drew and Lorenzo Charles, but their shots are remembered in isolation. Trey Burke’s night was more than one glorious bomb. It was an individual effort that both encapsulates his season and made us feel for a brief moment that the gods were on our side.
Michigan fans have been incredibly fortunate to be able to watch Trey Burke do his thing this year, and among the many reasons I am so glad he did what he did against Kansas is that the basketball world got a taste of what we’ve been watching. On the biggest stage, Trey did what we have come to expect. He was unflappable. He was remarkably talented. He was clutch. We may have grown spoiled by this consistent excellence, and it will probably only be after Trey leaves that we will fully appreciate what we all just saw. In the meantime, though, Trey doesn’t seem to be done. He’s got a few more tricks up his sleeve, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss them.
Someone just make sure that he returns the statue before he leaves.