fair point that
A picture of the conference. Michigan's defense isn't that much of an issue so far:
It's pretty good, and then the offense is off the charts. It's only in the context of the super-elite teams vying for a national title that it seems deficient. And with that offense… well… Gasaway's latest Tuesday Truths puts it in perspective:
It may turn out to be the case that Michigan is not in fact excellent at defense, that they're merely very good at it. But that needs to be seen in the proper context. First, this isn't a case like, say, Missouri last season, where a good many people chose to overlook the Tigers' vulnerability on D. (There was a push to give that team a No. 1 seed. I still shudder at the memory.) John Beilein's defense this season is day-and-night better, thus far, than Frank Haith's was last season.
Second, whatever Michigan's level of performance has been on defense, the Wolverines have been able to plug that in as one half of an equation whose result has been outscoring the best conference in the country by nearly a quarter of a point per possession. The Wolverines' only loss this season has come not to an offensive juggernaut that was able to exploit UM's worrisome deficiencies on defense, but to the hapless-on-offense Ohio State Buckeyes, who shut down Michigan's offense beautifully.
Lastly, the past 10 years can be ransacked profitably not only for prerequisites (and I'll be joining Luke on this beat soon -- watch for it!) but also for weirdness. I've seen a team rank No. 8 in its 12-team league in two-point accuracy and then go on to win a national championship. I've seen a team rank No. 103 in the nation in offense and then go on to make the Final Four. And do I even need to drag Gordon Hayward into this?
The most likely outcome of March is that Michigan will indeed lose to some other team in the tournament, because they are only amongst a leading group of teams. If and when that happens, people will point to the defense; I'll just be like "Michigan was the Vegas favorite and still 5 to 1 against."
Slightly more favored in the league. Michigan's huge scoring margin in the league sees them favored to win the Big Ten in SpartanDan's Bradley-Terry projection system*, which may not be a huge surprise. What is surprising is how much they're favored by.
Dan's basic system that does not take margin of victory into account says Michigan has a 69% chance of an outright title and an 85% chance of sharing. The margin-aware numbers are 80%(!!!) and 92%(!!!).
Those numbers are probably too high since Michigan is likely to have outperformed its real level of skill significantly in the opening third of the conference schedule, but… wow.
BONUS: Penn State has a 30% shot at going winless in the margin-aware system.
*[College hockey fans: this is KRACH.]
Bullet of stats-enthusiasm-dissing hypocrisy incoming. While I'm generally a fan of Big Ten Geeks, their latest foray into stat assemblage is goofy to me. They use "stops," which is a Dean Oliver formula that crams steals and blocks and rebounding statistics into a number. As with all attempts to create a catch-all defensive statistic, it waves its hand at who is in fact responsible for team defensive rebounding and how replaceable they may or may not be. Also unaccounted for is a player's contribution to the opponent's shot quality.
But they've compiled the numbers and shown you the results:
Let’s look at Stops:
Player Stops per 40 minutes Adam Woodbury 11.35 Mitch McGary 10.94 Jordan Morgan 10.47 Branden Dawson 10.21 Trevor Mbakwe 10.20 Cody Zeller 10.20 Ryan Evans 9.45
Well, this is interesting—we have a couple of freshmen leading the way. Both Woodbury and McGary are tremendous rebounders (as is Jordan Morgan this season), which explains why they rate so high. And to those who complain that Stops unfairly rewards good rebounders, I think that’s about as valid a point as the complaint that offensive rating unfairly rewards efficient scorers. Rebounding is defense—a big part of it.
So this works if rebounding is, in fact, defense. It's not. It has an impact but the top ten teams in defensive rebounding are 54th, 144th, 162nd, 147th, 103rd, 171st, 240th, 64th, 18th, and 25th in defensive efficiency. As I mentioned when pooh-poohing Mason Plumlee's KPOY candidacy, rebounding is the least important of the four factors. It's only its trackability that makes it so prominent. It's easy to say who got a rebound. It's really hard to credit someone for an effective rotation.
This metric thinks Jordan Morgan is a lot better this year because the team is better at rebounding. His personal DREB rate is a tick better this year, but it's still just 257th. He gets credit that other players don't because Tim Hardaway is mansome this year.
Morgan is then declared the best defensive player in the league because he fouls less often than the other guys at the top of the list, with this capper:
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Jordan Morgan has been the best defensive player in the Big Ten so far. Unbelievable. And in case you’re wondering, Oladipo fouls quite a bit—4.42 fouls per 40 minutes. Talk about the eye test all you want, but the numbers suggest he’s not the best defensive player (or even the best defensive perimeter player) in the Big Ten.
I accuse Big Ten Geeks of gross misuse of stats. Yes, it is unbelievable. Thus you should disbelieve it.
Victor Oladipo isn't a high-end defensive rebounder because he's frequently sticking his hand in the face of the highest-volume shooter the opposition has. His role defines his numbers. You can cram defensive rebounds into a slightly modified form all you want—notice that not one perimeter defender appears on this stops list—but all you get is a comparison between yourself and David Berri. Deployed.
Sometimes you have to go by the eye test because the stats compiled are inadequate, and until basketball stats get crazy detailed individual defensive performances are in that bucket.
BONUS WONKY STATS COMPLAINT. Most attempts to compile defensive numbers underrate the value of a steal, by the way. A defensive rebound is just the successful conclusion of a defensive possession ending in a missed shot. A steal ends a possession by itself—it's the miss and the rebound rolled into one—and frequently leads to a transition opportunity at the other end. That latter part is not well accounted for.
Morgan's ankle. Nothing broken, just a sprain, AP got a totally gross picture of it, if he can play basketball on Wednesday he will play basketball on Wednesday—I bet he cannot play basketball on Wednesday.
Zak Irvin continues rain of destruction. Last week: 26 points and 30 points in wins. One was over Arsenal Tech, both the best-named and top-ranked team in the state until Zak Irvin declared his school was now named Sharkfin Elfin 3000 and scored almost half of his team's points in a 64-59 win.
You want to watch the whole game, you say? You have free time.
If you are going to do this you probably want to start at halftime. Irvin scored 26 of his 30 after the break.
Zing. John Niyo on the Nobody Remembers #1 thing:
"It's Jan. 27," Beilein said after a 74-60 victory at Illinois last weekend, "and not one of you can remember who was No. 1 last Jan. 27."
Well, actually many of us can. It was a 20-1 Kentucky team that went on to win the Southeastern Conference and the SEC tournament and eventually the NCAA title.
But point taken.
5 to 1 against, 5 to 1 against, 5 to 1 against, repeat until you internalize the likely outcome of the season is not cutting down nets…
Etc.: You can be happy about being #1. Via UMHoops, the view on Bielfeldt from Peoria. Being back on top is nice and you should be happy. Here's an excellent primer on Beilein's 1-3-1 from the man himself.
Michigan dodged a bullet today when X-rays revealed no broken bones in Jordan Morgan's ankle, but the Wolverines likely will have to make do without their starting center for the next couple games, at least. How much will his absence hurt Michigan?
If the numbers from conference play are any indication, not nearly as much as you'd think.
I spent yesterday compiling the statistics for each five-man unit John Beilein has deployed in Big Ten play (garbage time excluded) to see if I could spot any trends. The entire spreadsheet of all 40(!) different lineup combinations is available for your perusal as a Google Doc. Here are the five most common lineups the Wolverines have used, divided up by offensive statistics...
The raw numbers are tough to compare, so this is where tempo-based stats come in handy. I've calculated each unit's number of possessions using KenPom's standard formula (2PA+3PA+(0.475*FTA)+TO-OR). From there, it's easy to calculate points per possession, which I've multiplied by 100 to give the standard offensive and defensive efficiency numbers. Also included is plus/minus, for those curious.
|Off Poss||Off Eff||Def Poss||Def Eff||+/-|
Well, then. Only the top two lineups have enough data to really rely upon (Michigan averages around 65 possessions per game, so even those have less than two full games of data)—the Horford lineup's numbers come almost entirely from the Illinois game.
Caveats aside, there's little doubt that Michigan's starters play are playing far, far better—on both ends of the court—with Mitch McGary at center than Jordan Morgan. The offensive efficiency with that lineup is off the charts*, and that defensive efficiency number would put Michigan just behind Ohio State, one of the best defensive teams in the country, at third in the Big Ten.
To see if this trend bore itself out regardless of the surrounding lineup, I calculated the offensive and defensive efficiency numbers for any lineup featuring Morgan/McGary/Horford...
|Off Poss||Off Eff||Def Poss||Def Eff|
|ALL Morgan Lineups||180.6||109.1||179.2||102.1|
|ALL McGary Lineups||199.1||126.1||202.6||90.3|
|ALL Horford Lineups||43.3||124.7||43.8||89.0|
...and the team's four factors statistics when each of the three centers is on the court:
Here is where you can really see the difference between Morgan and McGary. When McGary is on the floor, Michigan rebounds over 10% more of the available misses on offense, and while they get to the line far less frequently, they shoot better from the floor. This could be chalked up as an anomaly, since the two-point shooting numbers are virtually equal for Morgan lineups and McGary lineups, while Michigan shoots 46.6% from three with McGary compared to 34.0% with Morgan.
There's a possible explanation for that, however, in the defensive numbers. The Wolverines force more turnovers with McGary on the court (19.2% to 15.6%), and of late many of Michigan's best looks from three have come off their transition game. That probably doesn't account for a 12-percent difference, but even if that's normalized there's still a gap in offensive production between the two; I consider McGary the better passer, a factor that may also contribute.
The difference between the two defensively is easier to figure out. McGary's activity defensively helps the team force more turnovers, while his excellence on the glass leads to a better rebounding rage. While McGary fouls more often than Morgan, the team fouls so rarely as a whole that the foul rate isn't affected greatly.
As for Horford, the sample size issues make it tough to take away anything concrete, but thus far the team hasn't missed a beat when he's on the floor—in fact, they're doing unsustainably well on both ends, with an eFG% of 64.5 on offense and 40.0 on defense. He's an interesting case defensively; like McGary, he's disruptive on defense, leading to more turnovers, but opponents are rebounding better with him on the floor than either Morgan or McGary.
I've said this before, but I'll make it clear in this post: John Beilein has stated repeatedly that he's very happy with the rotation as it is, and it could take some fantastic play from McGary paired with sub-par performances from Morgan for him to consider making any changes. When Morgan returns, I fully expect him to slide back into the starting lineup, and that's fine—given the physical demand of the position, regardless of who's starting McGary and Morgan are going to split minutes relatively down the middle anyway.
What this shows, however, is that Michigan has something special in Mitch McGary. Not only that, but Horford's solid work in limited time means the Wolverines shouldn't be in trouble if Morgan misses more than a couple games.
I'll have more notes from this five-man lineup data tomorrow, including insight on Caris LeVert's impact and how Michigan fares when they go to the bench.
*Michigan's overall conference-only offensive efficiency is 118.9, which is over ten points clear of Indiana for the Big Ten lead.
Green / Grady / Woodson
Like many of my generation, I had a little thing when Ace finally posted the long-awaited Hello: Derrick Green post. Like he was all…
And the board was all…
And even Magnus was all…
And I was all…well, nothing that would make for an interesting gif. You kids won't remember this but we've had a five-star tailback commit before. And we got really excited. Like We Beat the Russians to the Moon, except fast-excited. And that was right before a Des-pose'd NCAA 2006 arrived with a new mode where you create a freshman and run him to a Heisman. We were all Grady.
But we were all of us deceived.
The high schooler who plowed through the state turned out to be Thomas Rawls except not fast. Grady was given a lot of chances, especially early, but peaked as a fumble-prone, #2 guy to Hart. The meat of his career was spent nursing an ACL tear that won him his medical redshirt, and flirting with the edge of the Darryl Stonum outer boundary of tolerable off-the-field stuff. He finished his eligibility as a fullback in the 2009 outfit with 783 yards, a 3.9 YPC and 10 TDs.
That's a respectable enough career for a blue collar fullback, but not a blue chip. It's also way too small a sample size to justify acting like a wet blanket over Michigan's first five-star RB since the first Grady.
It is well to remember that we had a lot of highly rated backs before stars became a thing, for example Charles Woodson was one according to a Lloyd interview on one of the videotapes I bought when the video store in the Union closed. A-Train was Prep Football Report's #2 back in the nation. Wheatley in high school was the best all-around athlete the state of Michigan had seen since Harmon. Tom Harmon…well this is why we keep things to recent memory. What we need is more samples. To the rest of the NCAA!
(…where gordie bell just traveled, kinda. His stuff is just off Rivals, and includes four-stars, and is mostly a bunch of lists. Aw heck just read both. And JUMP)
Prospective one-seeds started—or continued to—drop like flies this week. Duke got blasted at Miami; Syracuse lost at Villanova; Louisville is now on a three-game losing streak after dropping games to that same 'Nova team and Georgetown.
This is good news for Michigan in two ways: it gives them some wiggle room as the Big Ten inevitably piles defeat on them, and it helps get Florida on that one-line so Michigan can't face 'em until Atlanta. Yeah, maybe Florida isn't that good. I'd rather have someone else test that
theory hypothesis. If you're thinking about a bet on sports you could do a lot worse than taking Florida and the points.
So with the Big East chaos and Florida's continued rampage in the SEC I'm moving the Gators onto the one-line. Kenpom projects them at 27-3 in the regular season, and while the terrible terrible SEC will be a drag it may not matter.
As for Michigan's numbers, Crashing the Dance has moved Michigan to second and projects the same one-seeds as I do below. M is the top overall seed at the Bracket Matrix. Their RPI has dipped to 7th; RPI forecast projects that is where they will finish. They're up to second on Kenpom, with IU, Louisville, and Duke nipping at their heels. Florida is far and away #1.
Projected ones: Michigan, Duke, Kansas, Florida
The Nonconference Folk
Sweet hoppin' pickles, IUPUI and Binghamton are bad. IUPUI hasn't won in a month. Binghamton… OH MY GOD BINGHAMTON BEAT MAINE. Well done, Binghamton. Work that RPI for us. Uhn.
Fellow struggler EMU just got a lot of pub for holding Northern Illinois to four first-half points; they've actually leveled their MAC record at 3-3. Cleveland State continued losing. Western swept the other MAC directional Michigans last week and is looking like the best team in the West division of that conference, but that's not saying much.
Bradley is going to be a .500 MVC team; Western has pulled well ahead of them on Kenpom.
Big sorts of teams
@ Providence: W 68-64. DePaul: W 93-55
relevant, I promise
Providence isn't good but they do show relatively well in Kenpom (66th) and hung in against Syracuse at home, so the relatively narrow win there isn't as bad as it looks. Also, Pitt was up 10 with two minutes left and Providence never pushed their win percentage past 5 after that.
Then the Panthers did what they do to all bad teams, obliterating them. If you're thinking about a bet on sports you could do a lot worse than taking Pitt to crush a bad team. In a frenetic, up-and-down affair Pitt held the Blue Demons to 28% from the field. DePaul's decided that if they can't be good they'll at least be fast. They're currently the #1 team in the country in adjusted tempo.
Tonight, a huge game for Pitt watchers as the Panthers take on reeling Louisville. The Cardinals have dropped well back in the race for Indianapolis in the second round, but still remain a threat.
BONUS BONUS BONUS: while perusing Big East scores to find out what happened in the Pitt-DePaul game, I discovered, well, this:
Vander Blue scored 13 points and played suffocating defense on the Big East's leading scorer to lead Marquette to an 81-71 victory over Providence Saturday in a game delayed several times because of a dive-bombing bat.
Play on, man. This ain't no tennis.
Kansas State (15-4)
Kansas: L 59-55. @ Iowa State: L 73-67
A very creditable performance against Kansas in which the Jayhawks struggled considerably more than Michigan did when they took on K-State earlier in the year. Michigan had a neutral court, granted.
In that game, K-State jacked a bunch of threes, kept Jeff Withey from recording a block, and held Kansas just under a point per possession. Their offense was rough, as it usually is, and they were considerably aided by a 62% effort at the line from Kansas.
The Wildcats then went out and lost to The Hoiberg Home For Lost Big Ten Boys, albeit narrowly and on the road. Iowa State shot 46%(!) from the free throw line and 50%(!) from three; Kansas State couldn't get an offensive rebound to save their lives and fell despite shooting a lot better than they usually do.
SEEDWATCH: a seven on Crashing The Dance; a six on Bracket Matrix.
North Carolina State (16-4)
@ Wake Forest: L 86-84. North Carolina: W 91-83
NC State's crap defense perforated wildly against a Wake Forest team that's lost to Nebraska (by 16!), Iona, Richmond, and Seton Hall already. NC State let those dudes shoot 51% from two, sent them to the line 33 times, and allowed them to grab almost 40% of their misses. NC State did all the things they usually did on offense, and lost.
NC State did that again against UNC, but this time kept their opponents off the boards and the free throw line, so they won. Richard Howell is officially nuts. He had 15 OREBs in two games last week.
MCHOBBIT UPDATE: Total of six minutes, one missed shot, three assists, and no turnovers.
SEEDWATCH: 5 on Bracket Matrix; 5 on Crashing The Dance.
BONUS: Wake Forest features a player named "Arnaud William Adala Moto."
Miss St: W 96-70, @ South Carolina: L 75-54
That press business is a feast or famine thing, eh?
.500 SEC team; NIT bid, usual.
West Virginia (9-10)
TCU: W 71-50. @ Okie State: L 80-66.
Results as expected—yeah, TCU is that bad. They're headed for a season around .500.
CONFERENCE OF POWER RANKING POWER POWER
LAST WEEK Eased by Purdue and Illinois, though Purdue kept it close in the first half with some torrid three-point shooting.
THING There's just one more game in this relatively easy stretch before the bear appears: @ IU, OSU, @ Wisconsin, @ MSU. Go 2-2 there and hold serve at home against MSU and Indiana late and they'll likely secure the title. Easier said than done.
OTHER THING Trey Burke is descending into some heroball business at times. In the Illinois game, Nnanna Egwu was repeatedly switched onto Burke; instead of trying to drive it was a lot of dribble dribble dribble questionable long two. Michigan would be better off if they moved the ball around more.
OTHER OTHER THING Here's a candidate for Most Frequently Repeated Sentence In Big Ten Basketball This year: "Nik Stauskas is not just a shooter™." Every time Stauskas puts the ball on the floor for a gliding layup or GAME… BLOUSES dunk or beauty touch pass assist, the color commentator says Nik Stauskas is not just a shooter even if we have been given ample evidence that he is not just a shooter already.
OTHER OTHER THING Meet the new Nik Stauskas: Tim Hardaway, Jr. Hardaway is now 17/31 from three in Big Ten play.
OTHER CANDIDATES FOR MOST FREQUENTLY REPEATED SENTENCE IN BIG TEN BASKETBALL THIS YEAR
- "DJ Byrd from way downtown."
- "Steal by Victor Oladipo."
- "DJ Byrd from Cleveland."
- "Official time out to clean up Tom Izzo's froth."
- "This game does not involve Purdue but DJ Byrd just attempted a three pointer in it despite being in Indiana."
THING THEY ARE LIKE boom headshot
LAST WEEK Clubbed Penn State again. Broke out a inadvisable 2-3 zone at home against Michigan State and survived MSU's unexpectedly frequent and effective three-pointers to avoid a second home loss in the league.
THING Good God, Victor Oladipo: 21 points on 12 shots, many of those generated from his six steals. Steals that lead to fast break dunks seem to be worth far more than the two points they generate—you've defeated an offensive possession and then grab a free two on the other end. They're big deals; Oladipo is kind of good at that.
And then that thing where Oladipo goes from the three-point line to the basket in Denard Robinson time. PLUS: three blocks! Three OREB! I am impress, Oladipo.
OTHER THING Wither Cody Zeller? His absence (two points) in the Penn State blowout was essentially irrelevant; a similar disappearance against MSU was rescued by a late drive to the bucket and charge taken. Still, just nine points and not much in the way of peripheral stat-itude for Zeller in this one. I'd still be a little concerned about his production if I was an Indiana fan.
OTHER OTHER THING Was the 2-3 zone an attempt to hide Jordan Hulls?
OTHER OTHER OTHER THING Yogi Ferrell's shooting numbers aren't great but he was a major part of Keith Appling having a miserable night. Appling couldn't check Ferrell and ended up fouling out.
THING THEY ARE LIKE Last year's Indiana team except Victor Oladipo is awesome.
DESHAUN OF THE DEAD
3. Ohio State (15-4)
LAST WEEK Ran out to a huge lead versus Iowa, stopped scoring, almost gave it all back, yes this sounds familiar. Had no such problems against Penn State.
THING Iowa's defense was permissive enough to make the OSU box score look like an actual basketball team produced it instead of Deshaun Thomas and several undead people. Four Buckeyes hit double figures. Three managed it against Penn State, and Thomas was not Ohio State's leading scorer. Dios mio, man.
OTHER THING Thomas has still cracked the KPOY leaderboard. He's now tenth, and why not: despite jacking up almost a third of OSU's shots he's putting up excellent efficiency numbers and has a rock-bottom turnover rate. If he had gone to the NBA last year, OSU would be an NIT outfit. If you're looking for a Most Valuable Player that really emphasizes "valuable", he's it.
THING THEY ARE LIKE That scene at the end of Shaun of the Dead where Shaun and his zombie buddy are playing playstation—it's gonna be okay, you guys. Unless he eats me.
LAST WEEK Played Wisconsin game against Wisconsin, winning by two. Stayed in contact at Indiana thanks to blazing three-point shooting but never really threatened to take the lead.
THING Adreian Payne's three point shooting career:
- Entirety of freshman and sophomore years plus the first 16 games of this season: 1/4
- Last five games: 6/7
The miss was a desperation jack at the end of the Indiana game; he's hit every plausible three pointer he's attempted in January.
It's weird man.
OTHER THING ABOUT ADREIAN PAYNE He's looking kind of scary right now. It doesn't really show up in the box score outside of the three point shooting but he looks like a much better player. The charge Zeller took was one of those where the guy gets there after the guy with the ball takes off, and Zeller had forever because Payne leapt a thousand feet in the air from around the three point line. So… yeah, charge, but a really impressive charge.
50/50 he Puts It All Together around now and makes MSU into a real contender.
OTHER THING Michigan State had a huge nationally televised game and looked dumb; Indiana looked like Indiana.
THIS WEEK IN STOP ASKING FOR POST TOUCHES Against Wisconsin Nix and Payne combined to go 2/7 from the field with no FTAs, 3 assists, and four TOs, though these days who knows where Payne is shooting from.
Things were a bit better against Indiana: 8/14. No FTAs, but Nix had six assists, mostly on high-value open threes.
THING THEY ARE LIKE Flowers For Algernon Guy, but at what point on the cycle?
5. Wisconsin (14-6)
LAST WEEK Played two grim games with 50-some possessions in them, winning against Minnesota and losing to Michigan State.
THING They nearly won that game against Michigan State despite hitting 30% from both two and three and 39% from the free-throw line. Gross. Meanwhile, they didn't do much better against the Gophers—42%/32%/50%. If Wisconsin wants to play HORSE with Michigan that's a matchup Michigan will be fine with.
OTHER THING Wisconsin gave up only nine threes against MSU (19%) and 11 against Minnesota (24%). Preventing three-pointers is a skill. Unlike shooting free throws, it's one the Badgers have.
RYAN EVANS FT WATCH 3/6 last week. Sent to the line late in the Minnesota game, he barely scraped the rim on the first and flung it way too hard on the second, and was then lifted in the last few minutes. If you are trailing Wisconsin there are worse ideas than fouling him every time he touches the ball.
THING THEY ARE LIKE
LAST WEEK Locked in a tight game with Northwestern until the Wildcats unleashed the zone, whereupon they looked upon it like it was a space monolith and withered. Had Wisconsin-style game at Wisconsin, losing by one in a 51 possession game.
We can declare the Gopher renaissance slightly overstated. They'll still be a team you do not want to draw in the tournament… unless you can run an exotic zone.
THING You kind of had to see Minnesota disintegrate in front of your eyes to believe it, but the win percentage graph from Kenpom does a pretty good job of communicating how baffled the Gophers were once Northwestern deployed the 1-3-1:
Take Michigan's game against Pittsburgh and multiply it by 10. It was amazing watching Minnesota turn it over against the guy at the top of the zone over and over again. Does Tubby coach offense? Seriously.
OTHER THING Also Austin Hollins fouled out with 12 minutes left in that game. I'm usually a zealot about not chaining your best players to the bench with foul trouble; even I wouldn't grumble at hiding a guy with four on the bench until eight minutes or so
THIS WEEK IN MINNESOTA INTIMIDATION FACTOR Rebounded 48% of their misses against Northwestern—Mbakwe had nine. However, got badly out-rebounded by Wisconsin en route to defeat.
OTHER TUBBY COACHING BITCH How the hell is this team 278th in defensive rebounding and first (by a mile) in offensive rebounding? They're last in the Big Ten in TOs surrendered, too. The Gophers look like a talented team with abnormally crappy coaching. A Michigan outfit featuring lots of Evan Smotrycz at the five finished 99th last year. There is no possible excuse for these Gophers to be bad on the defensive boards.
THING THEY ARE LIKE a dizzy King Kong who feels like he's about to throw up.
LAST WEEK Fell behind by lots against OSU, almost caught up, lost by nine. Had grim, grim first half against Purdue that morphed into super fun second half and OT; lost.
THING Okay, my love affair with these guys is over. Nobody on this team can shoot even a little bit. Freshman PG Mike Gesell had to take over the scoring load against Purdue, and while he's a pretty good freshman he is no Stauskas. He had to do this because…
OTHER THING Roy Devyn Marble has evaporated in Big Ten play. This week he was 3/15 from two, 1/7 from three. He's shooting 29%/25% since the conference season kicked off, and even that Indiana game when he hit 12 free throws saw him miss 13 of his 14 shots from the field. About the only thing he's done right this year is hit some threes against Michigan.
THING THEY ARE LIKE Maybe I should have termed them a quintessential Amaker bubble team.
LAST WEEK beat up on Nebraska, had every little run they made ruthlessly stomped out by Michigan.
THING Illinois is dying by the three. DJ Richardson scorched the nets for 30 points versus Nebraska, but only one of Illinois's 13 threes from the rest of the team went in and they scuffled to 32%. It was worse against Michigan, 23%. As the season goes along these things stop being anomalies and just become reality.
OTHER THING The last time Tyler Griffey hit a three, Michigan was #1 in the AP poll. Tyler Griffey had not yet been born.
NNANNA EGWU WATCH The rebounding has picked up. He secured a total of ten in the Michigan game. Unfortunately for the Illini, Egwu has started jacking up extremely inadvisable shots, perhaps as part of an attempt to impart a helpless fatalism into Illinois fans*.
*[A futile attempt since any Illinois fan who doesn't have it yet must be immune.]
THE ENNUI QUESTION Should I move them below the line? Mmm… not yet. They're 2-5 in the league but I assert they can make the tourney at 21-11, 8-10 in league play. Very few bubble teams are going to be able to stand up to wins over Gonzaga, Butler, and Ohio State.
Let's assume they win home outings against Penn State and Nebraska. Can Illinois win four of these games?
- HOME: Wisconsin, Indiana, Purdue
- AWAY: MSU, Minnesota, Northwestern, Michigan, Iowa, OSU
I think they can. Likely? No. As unlikely as Kenpom thinks? (~20 percent.) No. And hell, it might be tough to leave them out at 7-11. Last year a 22-14 South Florida team with one good win (@ Louisville) and losses to Penn State, Auburn, and Old Dominion got in. Above the line they stay.
THING THEY ARE LIKE the pointless destruction and creation of meaningless human life
HENRI LINE OF ENNUI
LAST WEEK kept it close for a half against Michigan, whereupon their bullcrap threes abandoned them; was on the happy end of that fun Iowa-Purdue game.
THING AJ Hammons was a useless seven-foot lump against Michigan.
OTHER THING AJ Hammons was probably the best player on the court against Iowa, with apologies to Terone Johnson's double-double. While Hammons wasn't particularly effective on offense there was an obvious difference in Iowa's ability to get any shot worth having when he left the game.
OTHER OTHER THING Purdue's advancement is a bad thing for the league since they've got very little shot at an NCAA bid what with a loss to Eastern Michigan on the ol' record; honey Purdue don't care.
With DJ Byrd likely to be the only departure from this edition of the Boilers, a .500-ish Purdue will be eyeing large improvement and an NCAA bid next year. I project the rims at Mackey will experience a barrage of practice three-pointers heretofore unknown to man.
RONNIE JOHNSON THREE POINTER WATCH nyet
THING THEY ARE LIKE Something specifically designed to piss off Jim Delany. Garlic, then. Or rap. Like, early-90s rap that's about as offensive as bubbles. Bust A Move. Yes. Purdue is Bust A Move.
not that bust a move
/disapproves of loose women
/takes refuge in Bob Seger
LAST WEEK Picked up the Loki baton from Illinois, beating Minnesota by deploying the 1-3-1 in the face of the uncomprehending Gophers and then losing to Nebraska by lots.
THING Seriously, WTF, Northwestern?
OTHER THING Oh you were 6 of 29 from three.
THING THEY ARE LIKE Chaos.
11. Nebraska (11-10)
LAST WEEK DJ Richardson beat them by 20, with some help from the other Illini. And then they cruised against Northwestern. Life is weird.
THING For a guy who was supposedly out for the year, Brandon Ubel played a suspiciously large number of minutes against Northwestern: 39. Assertion: Brandon Ubel is not, in fact, out for the year.
THING THEY ARE LIKE corn quicksand
LAST WEEK Crubberated by Indiana. Not quite crubberated by Ohio State, but basically.
THING they ain't winning a single game this year in the league you guys
OTHER THING it's at Nebraska or nothin'
OTHER OTHER THING okay maybe Purdue at home
OTHER OTHER OTHER THING and everybody knows neither of those is happenin'
THING THEY ARE LIKE movies my wife likes
hoo boy you should see some of these movies
Tourney locks sans Illinois-2011-style implosion
projected seeds included
#1 MICHIGAN, #2 Indiana, #3 Michigan State, #4 Ohio State, #5 Minnesota
Northwestern Memorial wrong side of the bubble award
Rutgers Memorial what's a bubble award
Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska, Purdue
Games relevant to your interest that are on the TV and may be worth watching after the first ten minutes. Bolded teams are suggested teams to root for, calibrated for …
1) helping M win conference title
2) best chance for quality-win pile-up to help M seeding
3) greatest number of tourney teams from league
4) eff Michigan State
5) also Wisconsin
Pitt at Louisville, 7 PM, ESPN
Kansas at West Virginia, 9PM, ESPN
Wisconsin at Ohio State, 7 PM, ESPN
Nebraska at Minnesota, 9PM, BTN
NC State at Virginia, 7 PM, ESPN2
Northwestern at MICHIGAN, 6:30 PM, BTN
Indiana at Purdue, 8:30 PM, BTN
Texas at Kansas State, 8PM, ESPN2
Illinois at Michigan State, 7 PM, ESPN
Penn State at Iowa, 8PM, ESPNU
Arkansas at Alabama, 9PM, ESPN2
Purdue at Northwestern, noon, ESPN2
Syracuse at Pitt, noon, ESPN
Miami at NC State, 4PM, CBS
Tennessee at Arkansas, 4PM, ESPN
Kansas State at Oklahoma, 6PM, ESPN2
Ohio State at Nebraska, 7 PM, BTN
MICHIGAN at Indiana, 9PM, ESPN
Iowa at Minnesota, 1PM, BTN
Wisconsin at Illinois, 3:30 PM, BTN
Everyone said stuff about the Fab Five next, and a few people bugged me for muppets. I'm not going to celebrate sportswriters voting on something, but…
Ace and I were doing a podcast and it came up that the Illinois game came on the anniversary of the Aneurysm of Leadership from which a line straight up to this point can be drawn. Ace suggested this should be memorialized.
It shall be so.
The font of all excellence.
1/27/2013 – Michigan 74, Illinois 60 – 19-1, 6-1 Big Ten
On January 27th of 2010, Michigan was 10-10, 3-5 in the league, miles away from a tourney bid that might validate their breakthrough the previous year. They'd only lost two walk-ons from that team, and were ranked in the top 15 to start the year.
On January 27th of 2011, Michigan was 1-6 in the Big Ten, barely above .500 overall, and following up Manny Harris's disappointing junior season with what looked like another nothing year. It would be the latest in a long line.
On January 27th of 2012, Michigan was 6-2 in the Big Ten, albeit barely. Their last three conference wins had come by a total of five points, and they'd just dropped a game to SEC mediocrity Arkansas. At 16-5 it was clear they were destined for the tourney, but no one expected to storm through upcoming away games at Ohio State and Michigan State. Michigan didn't, but then again it was their best season since… well, that's complicated.
On January 27th of 2013, Michigan eased past a team that had beaten OSU, Gonzaga, and Butler by double digits to stake its claim as the #1 team in the polls. Their average margin of victory in Big Ten wins: 18.
In this game, Jordan Morgan sprained an ankle two minutes in. Jon Horford rotated in, and played well. Max Bielfeldt rotated in, and airballed a free throw, and bricked a free throw. He earned a couple more on the next possession and sunk both. Later, though… later he would go up for a rebound surrounded by four Illini. The ball went into a dense nest of hands. Suddenly Illini players were on the ground, dazed. Bielfeldt was going up for a layup.
This didn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. Max Bielfeldt is still a couple years away from being in the rotation, it was two points, Michigan doesn't need its bench to do much of anything.
Symbolically, it was a microcosm of the season. Put anyone you want out there and they will show you something pleasing and surprising. Stauskas coming in as both a deadeye shooter and a six-six layup machine was the biggest win. Then you've got Robinson being a 40% three point shooter, McGary generating obligatory Wes Unseld references, rail-thin Caris LeVert forcing his coaches to burn his redshirt, and Spike Albrecht providing cool on-court leadership in the maelstrom of the Ohio State game. Oh, and Bielfeldt tossing guys to the floor. Everyone is bringing something unexpected to the table. At some point Michigan should throw Blake McLimans in there in case he's turned into Hakeem Olajuwon. This has been a charmed year.
Michigan's fourth-string center contributed to a double-digit road win over a tourney(?) team. At some point in there the color guy mentioned that last year Michigan went to overtime with Northwestern twice last year, and that just sounded strange.
Expectations are changing so quickly that they're almost keeping up with the radical shift in the program itself, so it's good to remind ourselves what we were watching every year before this one. This is advice not from me, but from a man currently on the other side of the fence.
I’m still inside the Hall as I type this. Didn’t go down to the press conference. Don’t really care about the quotes right now, to be honest. I’m just sitting here looking at all these empty gray seats and replaying the tumble that brought us here. My emotions are tracking exactly with my half-Michigan fan roommate in the first year of the Beilein regime.
That night, I remember discussing the 1989 Final Four. With Illinois ranked #1 and undefeated, and Michigan on their seventh consecutive NCAA-less season, all he could hold over me was the 1989 semi-final. He was still a full fledged Michigan fan in 1989, and he would have never believed that the program that won it all back then would then eventually go TEN consecutive seasons without an NCAA tournament appearance (from 1999 to 2009).
I should call him tonight. Tomorrow is Michigan’s official “all the way back” moment – much like our 2004 victory over Wake Forest here – and I’m curious how he’ll feel about it. Actually, I know the answer to that. He’ll say that his heart switched to the Razorbacks in 1994, and he can’t believe that THAT program has fallen as far as it has.
I guess I’m left thinking that I didn’t enjoy the 2000-2006 run enough. I should have learned my lesson when the Flyin’ Illini were grounded by Bruce Pearl, but I didn’t. It can all go away in an instant, and the fight to get back up there can take a long, long time.
Just ask Michigan. And Arkansas. And Illinois.
I don't think many Michigan fans are having trouble enjoying this. When I watch the games with people, there are bursts of laughter and the occasional Gus-like noise. When Robinson blocks a shot or Stauskas shoots a one-touch pass or Hardaway sets up for a three you can feel is going down before it even leaves his hand or Burke… Burke.
Illinois fans are still pissed off about that loss in 1989. At this point it may even be the bedrock of their unrequited rivalry with Michigan. I've long thought that silly, but I know now that if something untoward happens to this team in the tournament I'll hate whatever program does it, without reason, forever. And that'll probably happen. Michigan is #1 by a nose, and winning six straight against good teams is hard. I have to brace for this, and try to accept whatever fate awaits with the good cheer it seems Illinois fans have about their 2005 outfit.
Whatever happens, it'll be the culmination of a story no Michigan fan is likely to see again. To go from dead in the water to #1 in two years to go from scrapping out two-point wins against Northwestern to this… put it all in your head, and turn it around until it's something you can expansively relate to anyone dumb enough to be born after March. Poor bastards.
Also our greatest cheesemonger:
The Burkite Hersey. Okay, so, don't pile upon me and squeeze until my eyes pop like Tom Izzo's, but wasn't Burke kind of crap in the halfcourt this game?
Let's try to separate out transition. I went through the PBP for this one and found the following transition items:
- Assist to Stauskas after a Burke steal.
- Burke layup after Burke steal.
- Burke layup after GRIII steal.
- Burke dunk after Burke steal.
While we should mentally adjust for the fact that everyone's numbers look worse when fast breaks are taken out of the equation and that generating eight points off of transition is good, here's Burke's line without those events:
3/11 from 2, 1/5 from 3, 4/7 FT, 4 A, 3 TO.
That is not up to his usual standard.
Subjectively, I was frustrated by Burke's tendency to dribble the air out of the ball when Illinois switched Egwu onto him and then jack up a difficult shot*—especially in the first few minutes when Egwu was carrying a foul and would have been vulnerable to a problematic second if he was trying to check Burke on a drive. Even if Burke didn't feel confident in his ability to get a shot off with Egwu's long arms looming behind him, there's no way that guy could actually stay in front of Burke, and once he's driving and the defense is reacting, things should open up.
Burke did seem to adapt a bit later. He lost a few assists when bigs with a mismatch couldn't finish. I don't think many teams are going to be willing to continue that sort of strategy since it seems like one of the major reasons it was effective was the bizarreness of it.
*[The one at the end of the half was okay since it seems like running the clock down without any chance at a turnover offsets the reduced chance at points. I did wish he'd taken the half-step back to make it a three.]
OTOH, THJ. Hardaway had 12 points on nine shots. His rebounding was not up to his usual par, but he added three steals. He's still above 50% on threes in conference play.
Hello Horford (and Bielfeldt). I bet Michigan fans were far less shocked than the BTN announcers when Michigan found little dropoff after Morgan rolled his ankle. Jon Horford's always given Michigan good minutes when healthy, and he did again in this one. Seven points and four rebounds in 17 minutes is pretty good for a third string center. Some turnovers held his ORTG down. Okay.
As a bonus, Bielfeldt ripped down the hands-down most mansome rebound of the year and rebounded from a humiliating trip to the line his first time out to sink two in a row. There's no comparison between post depth last year and this. Obviously.
Ranked. At long last, ranked. Mitch McGary has cracked 40% of Michigan's minutes and now takes his place on Kenpom leaderboards. He's on quite a few:
- 8th in OREB
- 55th in DREB
- 193rd in blocks
- 336th in steals
- 217th in ORating
All of those numbers save ORating (obviously) and block rate (Horford pips him in 13% of M minutes) are tops on the team. Ace mentioned that I might be selling McGary short as a shot blocker last week, and he was right.
Caveat: after the game Beilein and Burke both talked about how Morgan was the centerpiece of the defense, so block numbers aren't everything. McGary is still impressive statistically, and in all the ways a team with four legit scorers wants him to be.
Nik Stauskas is the Tim Hardaway being the Nik Stauskas in the Big Ten of twos. That makes perfect sense, shut up.
The point is: after a shaky start from inside the arc, Nik Stauskas has taken off in Big Ten play. He's hit 15 of 23, 65%. Michigan's started using him on backdoor cuts and shooting him off those curl screens that "Goin' To Work"-era Pistons force-fed Richard Hamilton to great effect. He was 5/6 on twos against the Illini, and IIRC the miss turned into a Kobe assist.
Stauskas has been greatly aided by a shift in his two-point shots. Early, they were actually shots—I remember a couple of badly whiffed floaters early on. Now any shot Stauskas takes inside the line is at the rim. Almost literally. Stauskas has just 12% of his shots come on two-point jumpers, and recently that number is probably zero.
blouses. (Dustin Johnston/UMHoops)
NOT JUST A SHOOTER. Drink. Color commentators who are just sayin' and assure us that they have white friends are contractually obligated to say that Nik Stauskas is "not just a shooter" whenever he does anything like throw down a GAME… BLOUSES dunk or drop a touch-pass dime. I think the guy doing the Illinois game said it five times. Stauskas will be 58, in his 27th year in the NBA, and the color commentator will say he is more than just a shooter.
That touch pass was totally badass though. Stauskas has been charged with some turnovers this year when he's done things like that only for bigs who do not believe he is more than a shooter to fumble the ball out of bounds. They get it.
Boards check. It seemed like Michigan was getting killed. They didn't. They did end up losing the OREB war, but it was close. Michigan grabbed 38%; Illinois 41%. That is not so good given Illinois's performances to date.
Possible downside to losing Morgan? Hard to believe given McGary's numbers.
Caris: the future. Boxscores and whatnot and peripheral business and whatever. I understand that this exuberance may be irrational. Don't care.
There's a reason they pulled that redshirt from LeVert, and at some point he's going to be a big part of the team. He can get places with the dribble, he's a quality long-range shooter, and at some point in the distant future he may be three-dimensional.
Morgan status. He turned his ankle nastily and the report afterwards was not surprising:
Michigan junior forward Jordan Morgan suffered a right ankle sprain two minutes into the second-ranked Wolverines' 74-60 win at Illinois on Sunday, and never returned to action.
Moving forward, his status remains unclear.
"I don't know," Michigan coach John Beilein said after the game. "I know that he has a sprained ankle, that's all I know so far.
"I know it was (bad enough that) he could not put weight on it."
I've had one of those sprained ankles and if I had to guess I'd say Morgan will be out a couple weeks at least. It seems reasonable to leave him on the bench if Horford and company can fill in adequately.
Brah-est student section: Illinois? MSU is strong competition, sure. Obligatory:
how's that working out for you, brahs?
But Illinois's student section seems to be comprised exclusively of dudes whose life goal is to be the brah in those Five Hour Energy commercials.
Eamonn Brennan considers Kansas vs Michigan.
The statistical similarities between this Michigan offense and Illinois in 2005 are striking.
Champaign Room recaps!
Two minutes to go in the first half and you've cut the lead to 28-25? Hey, that's not bad considering how poorly you're shooting and how well Michigan is playing and OH DAMN IT Michigan just went on a 7-2 run to close the half and head to the locker room up eight.
Cut Michigan's lead down to four points before the first timeout of the second half? All right, the crowd's back in it and we've got some momen...son of a bitch Michigan just went on an 11-2 run to put you down 52-39 before the next television timeout.
Over and over again the Illini would give a hint of climbing back into this game and over and over again Michigan would kick them right back down.