[I'm behind on the Mattison presser transcript. It will be posted this evening.]
- Drew Dileo is still questionable to return this week.
- No turnovers.
- Stop the run.
- Be physical.
- Don't commit penalties.
“Good practices so far this week. Gonna have a really good one today. Got outside, did a little more crowd noise, trying to recreate the atmosphere, which you never can totally. You play on the road in this league, especially at certain places, it’s a hostile environment. Communication’s going to be particularly important on both sides of the ball.”
If you were granted a wish on both sides of the ball, what two things would they be?
“Taking care of the ball from an offensive perspective. That’s something high up there that is something that is important. You just look at games during the year, you look at NFL games, the turnover margin is so critical. Defensively, I think the transition – we’ve got to stop the run. Langford’s had three very good weeks. Overall with him and the other backs, they are 100-and-some yards a game. Might be close to 150 with the way they’ve been playing.”
Michigan State has a pretty good defense, as you may have heard, and this deep into Michigan State having pretty good defenses there's nothing you can say about it other than "I wish that was not the case." There is some Bud Foster action going on in East Lansing.
Let's review what went down the last two years, in an effort to figure out what Michigan's looking at and what they might do in response.
The trash tornado game. With winds howling around Spartan Stadium, Borges put the game on the arms of Robinson and Gardner and got little in return.
Shotgun or under center? This was almost entirely a shotgun game, and when Michigan went under center it was to throw. Setting aside the disastrous fourth-and-inch from the nine on which Michigan went goal line play action and Brandon Moore didn't block his guy, Michigan saw five snaps from the I-form (two more were penalties, one on each team). One of these was a pitch to Toussaint for four yards. The others were throws. The first was a wild, jinking 15-yard touchdown scramble for Robinson on Michigan's first drive; the others were a sack, a one-yard throwback screen, and an incompletion to Hopkins in the flat off play action.
First down approach? 16 passes, 11 runs. Not that it really mattered. Michigan got a 34-yard touchdown when Roy Roundtree broke a tackle on a slant. They had one other good gain, a 29-yarder acquired when Robinson ignored two open guys, threw at Hemingway as a linebacker was undercutting him, and threw it high enough to get over the LB but short enough for Hemingway to grab it—a lucky fluke. Their other first-down passes acquired a total of –3 yards.
Running was no better, with 36 yards on their 11 attempts. Four of these were Denard's (18 yard total), which boggles. Michigan had 27 opportunities to run Denard Robinson on first down and did it four times. But that's not really relevant with Gardner, who's much more of a dual-threat.
What worked? Virtually nothing. That one long completion where Roundtree beat a tackle in cover zero was the longest play, Denard's should-have-been-pick-six was #2, and #3 was a double A gap blitz on which Vincent Smith was hit in the backfield but managed to pop through a tackle. Breaking tackles to get more than five yards is no way to live.
The rest of it was Robinson running around: a scramble, a jet sweep, a run-around improv throw, a jet stretch, and a QB draw were Michigan's most successful plays outside of the aforementioned.
Was it really as bad as all that? Yes and no. Borges did rip open the MSU defense for several plays that should have been big gains only for his quarterbacks to throw it at covered guys.
Spielman's faith that Robinson would have found the open guy is probably optimistic, but inserting a clearly overwhelmed Gardner was a huge tactical misstep, as he blew multiple opportunities to gash MSU. This in turn may have led to the WR move, which in turn led to the Nebraska game, which… let's stop the counterfactual history of the Michigan program before our heads go numb.
On the downside: Michigan had no answer for MSU timing their snaps, both with double A blitzes and plain old running at the quarterback. This was maddening since it had just happened the year before; there were no adjustments. And they relied on Brandon Moore, who had seen virtually no meaningful snaps in his career, on that deadly fourth down. When that guy doesn't execute, you share in the blame for putting a guy who'd never seen live bullets in a stressful situation. But he's a tight end, and all tight ends must tight end even if they obviously can't tight end.
Wurrfle furffle torghern furfen. Michigan abdicated without really trying here. See: 4 first down Denard runs. The constant snap issues were a coaching issue, not a toughness one. Ditto the thing where Molk put his head up a nanosecond before the snap and had to figure out which of the two linebackers he was going to block and which one he was going to let scream up the middle unmolested.
[2012 and 2013 after the jump]
Watch the birdie.
In my day freshmen appeared on the scene knocking down Bobby Hoying passes, shutting down Terry Glenn, and cleaving Eddie George. Then they'd switch to offense and fold Mike Vrabel in twain. What's the matter with kids today? The cast today:
- Ann-Margret as Brian Cook
- Dick Van Dyke as Seth Fisher
- Bobby Rydell as Ace Anbender
- Jesse Pearson as Brandon "Birdie" Brown
|Of the young linebackers, we've seen a lot of Bolden but not much from him. [Upchurch]|
It's an expectation (or a conceit) at Michigan that recruits follow a "track" of progression that should see them all-conference and worth drafting after four years in the program. Of the 2012 class and the few '13 guys who've seen action, who do you see as ahead of schedule, or worryingly behind?
Ace: I'm not even going to bother with the 2013 class because it's beyond too early to discuss their progression versus expectations; frankly, that's the case for the 2012 class as well, but they at least have a handful of guys who have broken through and seen extensive time.
Three players who are clearly ahead of schedule are Devin Funchess, James Ross, and Willie Henry. Funchess has gone from dangerous-but-terrible-at-blocking tight end to dangerous-and-oh-god-so-dangerous wide receiver, and he's got an NFL future even if his blocking never develops as much as we'd hope. Ross has had an up-and-down year but still has a stranglehold on the weakside LB starting job; he's a future all-conference player once he adds a little more weight to take on blocks—his instincts are already there. Henry's initial expectations weren't as high as the other two, nor has he played at their level consistently, but he's easily exceeded expectations for a late three-star pickup just by seeing the field and holding his own.
[Jump like a Funchess]
Forget defense, this Concordia player was just trying to get out of the poster pic.twitter.com/2EbUZzsOvN
— Dustin Johnston (@DJPhotoVideo) October 30, 2013
There's your game in a nutshell. Michigan ran rampant over an undersized and overwhelmed Concordia squad, and the visitors only made matters worse by insisting on running a full-court press for much of the game. This, unsurprisingly, did not go well.
Stat lines of importance:
Glenn Robinson III: 33 points, 8/9 2P, 4/6 3P, 5/5 FT, 3 rebs, 4 asts, 2 stls, 1 TO
Nik Stuaskas: 23 points, 5/5 2P, 2/3 3P, 7/7 FT, 3 rebs, 3 asts, 1 block, 1 steal, +103(!!!)
Caris LeVert: 16 points, 6/6 2P, 1/2 3P, 1/3 FT, 4 rebs, 10(!) asts, 3 stls, 1 TO
Derrick Walton: 11 points, 2/3 2P, 2/4 3P, 1/2 FT, 4 rebs, 4 asts, 4 stls, 1 TO
Scattered thoughts from a rote exhibition blowout—Concordia caveats very much apply:
- Michigan opened with a starting lineup of Albrecht, Stauskas, Robinson, Morgan, and Horford; Beilein played two bigs for lengthy portions of the game, and it's clear he's serious about incorporating that in a major way even without the services of Mitch McGary, who watched from the sideline in a (pretty sharp) suit.
- Derrick Walton looked every bit the part of a starting point guard. He pushed the pace well, displayed impressive hands on defense, and had a nice balance of looking for his own shot and creating open looks for others.
- Caris LeVert may be gunning for that point guard spot himself. He dished out ten assists to just one turnover, confidently got to any spot on the floor he wanted, and finished strong at the rim on multiple occasions. Again, it's Concordia, but he looked very capable of living up to the sky-high practice hype.
- Also in the good sign department: Glenn Robinson couldn't miss from the field, whether contested or not, and he also dished out four assists while picking just the right spots to get aggressive.
- Nik Stauskas remains Nik Stauskas, which is quite nice.
- Zak Irvin scored a quiet ten points on seven shots, displaying a nice shooting stroke while also showing off his defensive prowess; his combination of length and quickness gave Concordia a lot of problems. That goes for the team as a whole, as well; we saw the "nobody shorter than 6'6" lineup with LeVert running the point, and it was dominant defensively (even more so than the rest of the lineups).
- One thing that I think will hold up regardless of opponent: Michigan is looking to run off of every defensive rebound, and with good reason. The outlet passing from the bigs—and also the guards—was impressive, leading to a ton of easy fast break buckets. With a pass-first guard like Walton leading the break, the team looked unstoppable in transition—this is a very athletic team that can finish at the hoop.
- Mark Donnal appears headed for a redshirt; he didn't enter the game until the score was 111-36 with 5:38 left, and most of his time was spent alongside the walk-ons.
I can't bring myself to write much more about such a meaningless game; I'll say that, even accounting for the opponent, just about everything that could go well went well. The shooting was obviously great (30/41 from two, 11/22 from three), the team moved the ball around very well without turning it over (26 assists, 6 TOs), and the Wolverines were effectively aggressive on defense. Yes, there's good reason this game didn't count; that doesn't mean there isn't reason for optimism after seeing Michigan perform with such brutal efficiency.
What’s the secret to moving the ball against this Michigan State defense?
“Uh. Well, the first thing you have to make sure is you don’t give it to them. Same deal, because they’ve done a great job of feeding off turnovers, either creating opportunities for offense or literally scoring themselves, which is amazing how many times they’ve done that. So that’s the starting point. Take care of the football and minimizing the damage, if in fact there is damage. Making what could be a bad play not into a disaster. That’s number one. Number two is getting your bodies on their bodies, making sure your plays get started, so you give your skill guys a chance to do what they do best, whether it be in the open field or around the line of scrimmage. Those are really key points. If you’re getting hit in the backfield as soon as you hand the ball off, you’re not going anywhere, and they’ve done a lot of that.”
Previously: Preview MGoPodcast with John Gasaway, Media Day Wrap, Bigs (Also, BUY HTTV BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE. There's more great preview content in there than I can possibly cover in a sequence of blog posts.)
Before I get into previewing the shooting guard and small forward types, here's some info on tonight's exhibition against Concordia since there won't be a full-blown game preview for reasons that should be self-evident.
Who: Michigan vs. Concordia
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
When: 7 pm Eastern
TV/Radio: Streaming on MGoBlue (subscription required) and Big Ten Digital Network (game listed as free for now, but may require a subscription). Radio info here.
Alright. On to the wings, where the four players expected to rotate in at the two and three (and some point guard and power forward, too) all have star potential.
Glenn Robinson III
Measurables: 6'6", 220
Base Stats: 33.6 minutes, 11.0 points, 65/32/68 2P/3P/FT%, 5.4 rebounds
Key Advanced Metrics: 15.2% usage, 7.8 OR%, 10.0 TO%, 67% of FGs assisted
As the fourth or fifth offensive option last year (depending on Mitch McGary's ascension point), GRIII ended the season with a very small usage number and absolutely bananas efficiency—his 128.4 offensive rating ranked tenth in the country. The big question—and perhaps the key to Michigan's season—is whether Robinson can continue to be so efficient without the benefit of Trey Burke creating open dunk after open dunk. A full two-thirds of Robinson's field goals last year were assisted, and most of the ones that weren't were putbacks following offensive rebounds; if someone kept track of baskets per dribble ratio, Robinson likely would've led the country in that stat.
For Robinson to become the lead dog that his NBA lottery projections suggest he should be, he'll have to become much more effective and assertive as a creator off the dribble—if he can consistently get himself to the basket, his ridiculous vertical and excellent finishing will lead to plenty of points, especially if he develops his decent—but thus far inconsistent—outside shot. Reports from the summer have been mixed in this regard. Robinson attended several camps and wasn't mentioned as a standout nor as one of the more assertive players. ESPN's Jeff Goodman, however, took a tour of the country's top programs and named GRIII the most impressive player he saw over the likes of Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins, and Adreian Payne ($):
Michigan's Glenn Robinson III was the most impressive player of anyone I saw on the trip. GR3 will see more time at his natural position, small forward, this season. The 6-7 Robinson has added weight and become more athletic.
The questions regarding the son of the "Big Dog" were about his perimeter shot and ability to put the ball on the floor. Robinson buried deep jumper after deep jumper and appears far more comfortable at the 3-spot in John Beilein's offense. It's still yet to be determined whether this aspect of his skill set will translate in games, but it's a good sign with Robinson more assertive on the offensive end. If he can gain a consistent jumper to go with his athleticism, he'll almost certainly be a lottery pick.
If Mitch McGary is healthy and Michigan gets that GRIII, all bets are off regarding this team's ceiling. Another data point in favor of "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" comes from assistant coach Jeff Meyer, who noted that Robinson has made great strides as a ballhandler and distributor:
“He’s worked very diligently in July — we kind of shifted and allowed the best point guard coach in the country [LaVall Jordan] to work with Glenn, with his ball handling. Vall did a great job of putting him through a series of skill development drills,” Meyer said. “Glenn on his own has really worked hard at improving in that area, which is putting the ball on the floor. I think, in terms of the first 15 practices, his ability to take the ball end-to-end with the bounce has definitely improved, his ability to negotiate ball screens, reading the defense and then playing based on what the defense is giving has improved. Through our first 15 practices, I think he’s at 16 assists to three turnovers, so he’s really improved in that area and I know he’s taken a lot of pride in improving in that area.”
This leads to another major question about Robinson, and that's where he'll play the majority of his minutes this year. With McGary dinged up to start the season and John Beilein's preference to bring along freshmen slowly if possible (see: McGary, Mitch), Robinson should reprise his role as a stretch four, especially early in the season. The coaches are very serious about incorporating more two-post lineups—including the starting lineup—and when McGary is healthy that means Robinson could slide down to the three, a much more natural defensive position for him (in Beilein's offense, the three and the four essentially mirror each other).
A move down to the three could greatly benefit GRIII defensively, where he struggled as a freshman last year, especially when trying to defend larger players. A lot of that was due to the usual freshman issues: Robinson got caught ball-watching regularly and often looked unsure of his assignment. A year of experience will help, as will the 10-15 pounds of muscle he added during the offseason—when he does play the four, that'll really come into play.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]