Everything goes down. That's just how Wisconsin plays. I contradict myself on the dry spell near the end because we recorded this before I managed to rewatch it for the column today. Cackling about Bo Ryan.
Jordan Morgan sends it back. Hard hedging returns; a good performance against Wisconsin but how applicable is that to teams that don't provide matchups that are quite as friendly?
TALKING BIG TEN WITH JAMIEMAC
There is no bubble. The ineffable lightness of Fran McCaffery. Tom Crean as "Clappy," per internet. The statistically bizarre Northwestern Wildcats. Zak Irvin discussed. Dan Dakich's Overused Michigan Story Cram Period.
"Across 110th Street."
"The Mariner's Revenge Song," The Decemberists
"You And All Of Us," Hoots And Hellmouth
The usual links:
As recently as yesterday, it appeared all but assured that Michigan would take a running back in the 2014 class, whether it be Jeff Jones or newly offered Marlon Mack or perhaps a reinterested Kalen Ballage.
Not so fast, my friends. This morning, Sam Webb said on his WTKA recruiting segment* that he doesn't expect Jones or Mack to end up in the class—a change from his earlier stance—and he reiterated that in a board post on GBW (link $). 247's Steve Lorenz confirmed that report this afternoon and added that he believes it also applies to Ballage ($).
As of now, the reasoning behind this shift from the coaching staff is unclear. There's an optimistic take out there, though; Doug Nussmeier visited 2015 RB commit Damien Harris last week in the midst of rampant speculation—including from his fellow commits—that a decommitment was on the horizon. Harris has been quiet of late; it's possible that Nussmeier felt more comfortable with Harris' status—and Michigan's depth chart at RB—after the visit and felt a scholarship could be better used at another position (or in the 2015 class). It may also help Harris' commitment status if he's reassured that there won't be extra competition from a running back in the class ahead of him.
It appears it's Malik McDowell or bust to round out the 2014 class; given the needs already filled and the small projected class size for 2015, banking a scholarship or two isn't a bad idea, even if it means a less exciting Signing Day (again) this year. For what it's worth, while Sam Webb continues to be optimistic that McDowell will stay close to home, at least one reliable Florida State insider likes their chances after McDowell took his official to Tallahassee last weekend.
[Hit THE JUMP for info on Michigan's two most recent 2015 offers, the final Rivals 100, the DetNews Blue Chip list, and more.]
1/18/2014 – Michigan 77, Wisconsin 70 – 13-4, 5-0 Big Ten
It was unfair. It was beautiful.
Sam Dekker drove on Stauskas and put up a shot that Horford blocked. Sort of. Along the way somewhere between one and three fouls were committed. Michigan ain't care, though, and they grabbed the loose ball and ran back the other way, finding LeVert open in transition for three. He knocked it down to put Michigan up nine. ESPN cut to Bo Ryan.
You know that moment when you figure out that girl you've been certainly not in love with for 15 years is certainly not in love with you and then sparkles fall from the sky while unicorns burst from the chest of everyone in the coffee shop as you share a deep and passionate kiss that leads to a lifetime of happy contemplation about how fortunate you are compared to people who marry something other than the very embodiment of wonderfulness?
Yeah, you do. You're an American and therefore have been cast opposite Emma Stone in a romantic comedy. So you know that moment is the equivalent of getting socks on Christmas compared to the camera shot that followed LeVert's three: Bo Ryan squeezing every muscle in his face until his skin veritably roiled with the possibility of explosive decompression. His grinchy eyebrows plunged to a level even with his eyes as his mandibles expelled a torrent of profanity so pungent that the refs would have dissolved in front of his face if they had even a passing knowledge of the language of the bug people of Rigel.
SHOULD HAVE SENT A POET
Every Michigan fan's heart grew two sizes that day. On twitter, Ace's mentions filled up with demands for GIFs, and then threats. I cackled uncontrollably and swore joyously in human language at the TV. Somewhere in Iowa, Fran McCaffery found himself with an unprompted, mysterious, and not-entirely-unwelcome erection.
Fun was had watching Wisconsin play basketball. It's 2014, folks. 2014 is not 2013.
This was the proverbial statement win, work done to validate Michigan's play since the frustratingly disjointed Duke game. There the Blue Devils extended their defense to cut off Stauskas and the rest of the team flobbered around for about 30 minutes until LeVert decided he'd keep Michigan vaguely in it by himself.
Since, Michigan's offense blossomed into the prettiest whack-a-mole you've ever seen. Shut one thing down and something else equally deadly pops up. Leave Zak Irvin, and he'll kill Minnesota. Close out Walton wrong and he'll kill Nebraska. Try to keep Stauskas away from the rim and whoops the center got a layup. And then there's Stauskas in the middle of everything, not just shooting.
But aside from 1.15 PPP against Arizona, the competition level left questions. Even last year's beautiful machine tended to seize up and fall over when presented with road contests against the brutes of the Big Ten. These guys had beaten Minnesota and three outfits for whom the word "tournament" means ping pong in the locker room.
No more. While Wisconsin is not quite last year's outfit defensively, they remain Wisconsin, currently in the top 40 on defense on Kenpom, preventer of all threes and shots at the rim. (There's more about this in the bullets section.) Michigan went into the Trohl Center and shot 86%/55%/54%. Heck, that game against Northwestern is looking like an accomplishment now that the Wildcats have established themselves the second-ugliest basketball team in the country*. So they've played a couple upper-echelon defenses to go with some wonky ones They currently lead the Big Ten in two-point shooting by nearly seven percentage points. Subs, man. That's crazy.
After watching Michigan eviscerate attempts to contain them on the pick and roll, Wisconsin was reduced to giving Michigan jumpers and hoping they'd miss. As the first half rolled along, Michigan did not. Glenn Robinson elevated above any hope of a contest on consecutive elbow jumpers that hit back rim and went straight down like the end of a training montage. Nik Stauskas pulled up from just inside the free throw line. When Wisconsin did manage to lose Morgan or Horford, they literally did not miss. Even Michigan's terrifying late drought consisted largely of wide open threes for Stauskas, a near alley-oop for Horford, and a LeVert shot that was halfway down.
Sometimes, the shots do not fall. You would be forgiven for forgetting that with this team.
Bo Ryan remembers, now. His report to the Grand Chitinous One will be filled with k'halaks powerful enough to rattle thoraxes.
*[According to the metric of Adjusted Offensive Efficiency – Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. You can take in #1 with a quick trip down US-23 to Bowling Green.]
That's just how they do. Much complaining from Wisconsin fans on the internet and some from Dan Dakich about the way Wisconsin was defending the pick and roll. To me, it looked like typical Wisconsin: Ryan has always preferred soft hedges where the big cuts off the basket and makes the pass to the guy slipping the screen difficult, if not impossible.
In exchange, Wisconsin gives up two-point jumpers from just inside the lane. Two point jumpers are generally worse shots than those at the rim or from three, and Wisconsin has encouraged them since Ryan's arrival. The problem for the Badgers in this one is that Michigan was hitting nearly every one of them.
Philosophically, Wisconsin just did what they always do. The texture of their stats is the same as it was last year when their defense carried them: good-to-great eFG%, vanishingly few threes attempted, few forced TOs or fouls committed, crash your own boards. It was just fine for them the last five years.
There is something wonky about Wisconsin's defense this year that was not the case last year. That is Wisconsin trading Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans, and Neverending Ginger Assassin…
…for Frank Kaminski, Sam Dekker, and a 6'3" guard. Their ability to contest the jumpers their defense is designed to provide has been seriously compromised by their lack of size. Compounding issues: while Kaminski is taller than Berggren he's nowhere near Berggren's class as an intimidator.
Actually, disregard the previous paragraph's "seriously." Wisconsin's D is 33rd on Kenpom. They're not exactly last year's Penn State outfit. It is a step back; they are still pretty much Wisconsin, and Michigan eviscerated them.
Related: I understand those turnovers. Michigan didn't have many, as was always going to be the case when Michigan's precision met Wisconsin's passivity. Those they did were concentrated with LeVert and Stauskas on pick and roll action when they tried to get the easy buckets Michigan had gotten in the previous three or four games by dumping it off to the bigs. A number of these were after Michigan's opening barrage, when the natural reaction would be to press the ballhandler. Wisconsin stuck to their inherent Wisconsin-ness and the result was a few passes that were near-impossible to complete.
The grim period. Michigan was cruising up 66-53 with eight minutes left and then scored one bucket over the next seven as Wisconsin cut the lead to one. What happened on offense during the dry spell:
- Stauskas turnover.
- Stauskas misses wide open three. Michigan timeout before next possession, Stauskas exits.
- LeVert misses jumper.
- LeVert turnover.
- LeVert misses jumper.
- Stauskas returns. Stauskas misses wide open three.
- Stauskas hits two-point jumper.
- LeVert misses layup.
- Stauskas misses late-clock forced jack, Morgan fouled on OREB attempt, Stauskas engages beastmode.
The Stauskas shots were just one of those things. He has totally uncontested threes. He must take them.
Meanwhile, LeVert's role in the grim period has drawn some criticism on the internet in the aftermath. I think that's much more the swelling panic everyone felt than a rational evaluation of how Michigan's offense ran with Stauskas off the court, and I say that as a charter member of the WHAT IS HAPPENING WHERE IS STAUSKAS AAAAAH club as it was happening live. Events:
- M tries to post Robinson; LeVert declines entry pass and drives to lane, correctly diagnoses that an alley-oop to Horford is the play but throws it too high. Michigan resets, LeVert turns down P&R, takes a contested two with about ten seconds on the clock that is halfway down and pops out.
- Kaminski gets switched onto LeVert, LeVert tries to drive baseline, is obviously fouled, no call, turns the ball over.
- LeVert ends up taking a semi-contested pull-up shot off the pick and roll. It's a foot on the line item with 14 on the shot clock.
The first is the right idea with execution that's just off, the second is a ref boner, and the third is pretty bad. And as soon as that happened, Stauskas was back. You can't tell much of anything from three possessions and LeVert put up 20 points on 16 shot equivalents.
Stauskas comparison of the week. Stauskas has started adding a thing on the pick and roll that evokes memories of Chauncey Billups: once he gets past the screen, he sticks out his butt to keep his man behind him and then takes a dribble or two, waiting to see how the situation develops.
Stauskas also got 0.01 brownie points for hitting all six of his game-sealing free throws, because I have irrational expectations when it comes to Stauskas hitting free throws.
[@ Right: Chris Smith/UMHoops]
Just hanging out in the corner. Derrick Walton's night went a little beyond quiet, as he took only three shots and had two assists in 31 minutes. And that's totally fine, as Michigan was on fire for most of the night. Walton took the opportunities that came to him and his 36% three-point shooting is enough to keep his guy on his jock as Michigan works a two-man game against three-phobic Wisconsin.
Walton's reduced role on offense helped him on D, where he held Traevon Jackson—just coming off a monster Indiana game—to 3 for 11 shooting and just seven points.
If Michigan's in a situation where there are transition opportunities or a weak point guard or they're leaving him open in the corner, Walton can take advantage. When those things aren't available he's able to defer. Walton's ability to push the ball was part of Wisconsin's even-more-extreme-than-usual abandonment of the offensive boards.
In Big Ten-long game of "HORSE," Morgan is currently on R [UMHoops]
Horgan. Even acknowledging the fact that 90% of their buckets are assisted layup or dunk attempts, the efficiency with which Michigan's two-headed center is scoring is boggling. Morgan is at nearly 70% for the season and since Mitch McGary got shut down for the season he has 23 makes on 28 attempts. That is 82%. Remember that business where you'd get super mad at Morgan and I'd point my fingers at a shooting percentage in the low sixties and say "please stop, you make no sense"? Yeah, well now his ORTG is 127. Now I point at Kenpom and say "please continue, you make no sense."
Horford has been barely less efficient in that timeframe, hitting 22 of 32, 69%, and since Horford's game is a little bit more diverse—he's got that baseline jumper and a post move or two—that's understandable. At least insofar as "understandable" can be deployed in service of explaining a guy shooting 70% from the floor.
Meanwhile, the bigs have TO rates ranging from acceptable-for-a-big (Morgan's 18, which is a couple of points better than last year) to astounding (Horford's 10, which is equivalent to GRIII's number).
Is this sustainable? Well, somewhat. Six-six shooters are going to plunge into the lane and non-Wisconsins are going to give up a number of good looks, and both of Michigan's bigs are better than they used to be. But there will be some regression and guys like Amir Williams and Adriean Payne have overwhelmed M with their athleticism and shall do so again. I'll take it.
The silver lining. The announcement of McGary's surgery was my muse for a tweet that read simply "GODDAMMIT," and it is still pretty depressing to think about putting the demon from last year's NCAA tournament on a team that's already 5-0 in the Big Ten and 14th on Kenpom. A healthy McGary probably swings a game or two in Michigan's favor and… right, not what this bullet is about.
This bullet is about how it's kind of great that Morgan is back in the lineup and playing well after being relegated to the bench during the run last year. He returned without the expectation of much playing time despite an ability to go anywhere with the grad transfer rule, lost what backup minutes he was looking to get to Horford early, and is now making me go "whoa" a couple times a game. This warms the cockles.
Speaking of "whoa." JORDAN MORGAN PUT IT BACK IN YOUR FACE, WISCONSIN. And then looked like he was thinking "did I do that" afterwards. Yes, yes you did.
I like this better than that. Hoo man I just went back to Tommy Amaker's last year at Michigan($) to compare someone to Morgan and found that the best ORTG guy on that team was Ron Coleman. Viva Beilein.
The road ahead. Recent events have freed the Big Ten from a tyranny of Kenpom projecting a Badger conference championship in a year when they don't have to go to OSU or MSU—the most Badger championship of them all. Your new favorite is MSU at 14-4, with Michigan and Iowa projected a game behind at 13-5, Wisconsin a game further back, and OSU a fringe contender projected to go 11-7. Michigan's next two games are against the two top contenders. It's kind of a big deal.
The upcoming home game versus Iowa is huge. Huuuuuuge. Winning the Big Ten is about holding serve at home and picking off one, maybe two road games against contenders. Michigan's got one in the bag; Iowa has an opportunity to pick one up. Michigan beats Iowa and the MSU game is entirely house money instead of 80% house money.
The Big Ten, man. Basketball is the opposite of football.
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.