Michigan opened the Big Ten title game with consecutive three-pointers.
That was the good. From there, the game became a slog. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford each picked up two fouls early in the first half, leading John Beilein to play Max Bielfedt for 12 critical first-half minutes. Morgan's absence proved especially integral; without him on the court, the interior defense suffered, MSU dominated on the boards, and Michigan couldn't find a rhythm offensively.
The officiating didn't help matters; while both teams were victimized with early foul trouble, the Spartans weathered it much better than the Wolverines. Mostly, the constant whistles just made the game unbearable. Both teams were in the bonus around the midway point of the first half; in the second half, neither team got there until the waning minutes. The inconsistency was maddening, albeit not determinative.
The real problem for Michigan was the offense; the Wolverines shot 36% from two and made just six of their 23 three-point attempts. Given the numbers, it's frankly surprising that the final margin wasn't larger. Nik Stauskas went just 4-for-14 from the field with three turnovers, needing six free throws to reach 17 points, a team high. Caris LeVert shot 2-for-10 with three turnovers of his own. Glenn Robinson III went 2-for-8, and didn't hit a field goal until the second half. Aside from Derrick Walton's 11 points on eight shot equivalents, Michigan got almost nothing in the way of secondary scoring, either.
Michigan got outplayed, plain and simple. Those hammering the panic button, however, should keep last year's Big Ten Tournament—and subsequent run to the NCAA title game—in mind. Now the Wolverines wait to see if today's loss cost them a one-seed.
3/15/2014 – Michigan 72, Ohio State 69 – 25-7, 15-3 Big Ten, BTT Finalists
Sometimes when you're on. Good lord man. This team is capable of sending anyone watching into a fit of giggles as shot after shot splashes down. The general process:
- All right, here we go.
- ON FIAH!
- /giggling fit
As Michigan extended to a 16-point lead early despite Ohio State doing offensive things that are well out of character (IE: making shots), it was giggle fit time. Michigan has previously done this to Nebraska and Illinois in the process of running them out of the building. If they're fortunate enough to make a tourney run at least one win will be reminiscent of the Florida game last year, wherein there is a period of death from above that leaves the other team looking like Dresden.
Welp. I don't know, man. Michigan's defense looked pretty good to me in the mirror universe where Shannon Scott remains Shannon Scott. Scott entered the game a 28% three point shooter and a 38% shooter on two point jumpers. He got zero looks at the rim and yet exited with 18 points on ten shots. Yeah, most of his jumpers were not particularly contested, but there's a reason for that. When Scott elevates for a jumper you have just done a good job as a defense.
The other problem with the defense was a problem with the offense. Steve Kerr mentioned that all of Michigan's seven first half turnovers were live-ball situations. Live-ball turnovers lead to transition, and transition leads to sadness. Michigan failed to push the margin out to crippling levels because of uncharacteristic sloppiness when Ohio State turned up the pressure.
Other than that, the defense did what it wanted to do: protect the rim and live with whatever else happens. OSU just hit shots they usually don't.
Hidden in the terror is a comfortable-ish win. Michigan was 10/19 from the line, well below their season average. Jordan Morgan was the biggest part of that, as he went 2/7. That dropped his season total from 62% to 57%.
Craft. When Craft does something Crafty and wins, there is a collective old white sportswriter dude explosion, and when he does something Crafty and loses, the OWSD collective sighs and shakes their head at a world full of haters. Forde is on it:
For all the many people who hate Aaron Craft, here’s your chance to pile on.
You’re a strange, sad lot. You’ve got issues. Ripping a guy with a 3.9 grade-point average who plays his guts out is a weirdly trendy thing to do for college basketball fans.
But for those disposed to do so, congrats. Today is Bash Aaron Craft Day.
I'm not here to bash Aaron Craft, but let's be clear: he is a role player. He is the apotheosis of the role player, sure, but the reason people get cranky about Aaron Craft is the never-ending hagiography for a guy who is merely a pretty good player.
There is frankly a racial component to this. You don't see people falling all over themselves to hype up Briante Weber, whose VCU team is ranked and headed for about the same seed as OSU thanks in large part to Weber's third consecutive year at the top of the Kenpom steals leaderboard. Or his teammate Shannon Scott, who is also top ten in steals. It's Craft that gets glorified as the underrated gutty gritty leader in a way that is out of proportion to his talent.
That's unfair to the his teammates and Craft himself. I've long defended the guy whenever people try to trash his game (no offense to Derrick Walton, but put Craft on this Michigan team and oh my gawd), but that's because I love guys who can make an impact without using possessions. They need to be put with high-usage guys, though—you know, stars. Craft is not that. But he comes with an avalanche of hype enough to get him on the midseason Wooden list as he leads his team to a 10-8 Big Ten record while taking 15% of OSU's shots.
At its heart, Craft backlash is Forde-and-company backlash. Some of it's misdirected; a lot of it is from 14 year olds; everyone would be much better off if people in the media would just acknowledge that Craft is who he is. GIFs of aairballs are prominent because the media is insistent on pretending Aaron Craft is something other than what he is.
Please be a new meme, please be a new meme, please be a new meme. We've had planking and Bradying and all sorts of ing ings, and now there needs to be an internet full of pictures of clothed people sitting in bathtubs looking hard.
YOU DON'T WANT THIS
Is Glenn On Fire Watch. Another efficient game with 11 points on 9 shot equivalents, and he brought defensive impact with a couple of blocks and three steals. He's still alarmingly light on rebounds.
There is the hint of a recovery in his three point shooting, as well. Over the last four games he's 5/13. Not much to go on for a guy who was at 32% last year and is at 28% this year, sure. Still another data point for those hoping Glenn is this year's tourney Mitch.
Is Stauskas Human Watch. NOPE.
I mean, he does that crossover to three pointer thing.
Death from above watch. Michigan's quest to end the season with five guys shooting 40% from three is very, very close. Walton is at .398, Spike at .390. LeVert has pulled himself a couple points above the line, sitting next to Irvin. Stauskas can't even see 40% unless he's got binoculars.
Seeding business. Most observers from Lunardi to the Bracket Matrix have moved Michigan to the one line after Wisconsin's Big Ten Tourney exit, and a lot of folks are speculating that Michigan may be locked in to that spot no matter what happens today.
Here’s my prediction: Michigan gets the fourth No. 1 seed today regardless of whether it wins or loses the Big Ten title game.
— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) March 16, 2014
Seems pretty easy for the committee to have a contingency plan based on the result of the championship game, but in past years it has seemed like they ignore or at least downplay Sunday results.
If Michigan does get that one seed they'll be in the East and acquire a Michigan-friendly Madison Square Garden. In that event I withdraw my Syracuse request, as they're one of the few schools that could overwhelm Michigan's NYC fanbase.
It's pointless to mention this when they're just going to unveil the brackets in a few hours but I started this sentence anyway so I will proceed by mentioning that I am not a huge fan of Lunardi's bracket, which features Oklahoma State as the eight seed, and greatly prefer the GW/Stanford setup presented by Palm.
Another motivation to get that one: Louisville has moved up to the three line on just about everyone's bracket, so a one can't draw the red hot 'Cards until a regional final.
SHON AND TOM
A short play in one act
Tom, a basketball coach
Shon, a television color commentator
SHON: "Yes. Yes, Tom. What is it Tom."
T: "I just had a thought Shon."
S: "What is that thought Tom."
T: "There are millions of planets and some of them have life, Shon. Inevitably some of these societies are millions of years more advanced than ours. They have not visited. There is no evidence of their existence. We dream of traveling the stars, but we cannot. Otherwise someone would have visited us.
"The reason we have not been visited by any of these societies is that it is simply not possible. Physics is a dead end, Shon."
S: "But what about when the sun…"
T: "All of this dies, Shon. We have an expiration date. Physics is a dead end."
S: "Physics is a dead end."
T: "I have a great sadness all about me, Shon. It overwhelms my being. It is as if we already do not exist."
|WHAT||Michigan (25-7, 15-3 B1G) vs. Michigan State (25-8, 12-6)|
|WHERE||Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana|
|WHEN||3:30 pm Eastern, Sunday|
|LINE||Michigan -1 (KenPom)|
PBP: Kevin Harlan
Analysts: Greg Anthony/Steve Kerr
Right: Tom Izzo, in a rare moment of restraint. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Michigan can cap off the rare three-game season sweep of Michigan State with a win. Oh, right, and secure the Big Ten Tournament title and almost certainly the final one-seed in the Big Dance.
THE PREVIOUS MATCHUP
Michigan got a combined 63 points from Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III, turned the ball over just three times, and played MSU even on the boards in a 79-70 win at Crisler. State played some weird guys because Brandon Dawson went Hulk-mode on a table. Caris went running. Keith Appling's wrist prevented him from properly contesting a series of Stauskas jumpers. Or something.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold:
|G||11||Keith Appling||Sr.||6'1, 185||71.5||22.5||110.6|
|Averaging 5.5 points over last 8 games with 33 assists and 21 turnovers|
|G||14||Gary Harris||So.||6'4, 210||72.8||26.1||113.7|
|High usage and high efficiency, great defender, should match up w/ Stauskas|
|G||45||Denzel Valentine||So.||6'5, 225||73.0||18.7||108.1|
|Point forward type, solid rebounder, error-prone, not a great shooter|
|F||22||Branden Dawson||Jr.||6'6, 225||47.9||19.1||119.8|
|Putback machine, also great on defensive boards, blocks shots, not a creator|
|F||5||Adreian Payne||Sr.||6'10, 245||53.9||26.8||111.6|
|Very effective near basket or outside, decent rebounder and shot-blocker|
|F||10||Matt Costello||So.||6'9, 240||35.3||13.9||126.6|
|Excellent shot-blocker and offensive rebounder, shoots 62% from field, foul-prone|
|G||20||Travis Trice||Jr.||6'0, 170||51.7||16.8||116.6|
|Excellent outside shooter, poor inside finisher, decent assist rate, not good at D|
|F||30||Kenny Kaminski||Fr.||6'8, 225||25.2||15.0||135.8|
|Pure stretch four gunner, great shooting numbers, tiny rebounding rates|
|G||3||Alvin Ellis||Fr.||6'4, 195||19.2||15.2||91.8|
|Role diminished since Appling's return, no points (0/3 FG) since February 20th|
Crap, I actually have to write this from scratch because the last one was all about Dawson's absence, Payne playing Michigan for the first time this season, and Appling's wrist.
Point guard Keith Appling has played a lot of minutes since returning from his wrist injury eight games ago, but his production hasn't been there—he's averaging 5.5 points per game in that span on 16/28 two-point and 2/9 three-point shooting. While he's willing to attack the rim—and still pretty effective in that regard—he hasn't shown much confidence in his outside shot. The opposite goes for his backup, Travis Trice, a 45% three-point shooter who hits just 38% of his attempts inside the arc. Appling is the superior defender; Trice is doing a better job of taking care of the ball of late.
Gary Harris is really good at basketball. You know this. While he hasn't had a huge game in the BTT, he's still been quite efficient, and he's also MSU's best perimeter defender. After what Stauskas did to Appling the last time out, Harris should match up with him for most of this game.
The proverbial wild card is Denzel Valentine, who does a little bit of everything as a 6'5" small forward who can also run the point. That includes a new-found outside shot (37% 3-pt) and a surprising number of defensive rebounds; it also includes Izzo-aneurysm-inducing turnovers. His versatility allows MSU to play small if they want—when they need shooting, they'll put out a lineup with him at the four.
For the first time this season, Michigan will face both Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne. Dawson is a beast on the boards, generating the majority of his offense on putback opportunities or open looks created by his teammates. Payne is equally threatening on the block or beyond the arc, though he's been inconsistent since returning from a foot injury that cost him seven games. Payne scored five points on 2/8 shooting with six rebounds in their quarterfinal win over Northwestern, then bounced back today with 18 points on 7/10 shooting—albeit with just four boards—against Wisconsin. His conditioning seems to be an issue.
Matt Costello provides shot-blocking and solid finishing at the rim off the bench. If MSU wants more of an outside shooting threat at the four, they'll bring Kenny Kaminski—35/71 on threes this season—into the game instead. Gavin Schilling is liable to play a few minutes and commit a few fouls—he had four in eight minutes(!) against the Badgers. Alvin Ellis sees spot minutes at guard; he's been a non-factor for the last month.
After losing to Michigan at Crisler, State closed out the regular season with a seven-point loss at home to Illinois, a ten-point home defeat of a reeling Iowa squad, and a two-point loss at Ohio State.
Michigan State is first in the conference in three-point shooting while taking the fourth-most attempts. This is real life. They're also a strong offensive rebounding team with Dawson back in the lineup. Turnovers are an issue for them, however, and they don't get to the line much at all.
The Spartan defense is giving up lots of three-point attempts themselves and seeing a solid chunk (36.3%) of those go in. What separates them from Michigan, though, is impressive defense inside the arc, ranking second in the league in 2P% against and first in block rate. They are very foul prone, though striking a balance between attacking their bigs and generating two-point looks that don't rely on bailout calls can be difficult.
Dare Appling to shoot. The biggest defensive adjustment for Michigan in their win over Ohio State was bringing a hard double-team onto LaQuinton Ross whenever he got the ball; they were able to do this because Aaron Craft can't shoot. Appling has been Craft-esque from beyond the arc—both in percentage and willingness to fire—since his injury. If Michigan can get away with sagging off of him while giving extra attention to Harris, they should do it.
Keep the rebounding close. Michigan managed to win the rebounding battle in the first matchup and keep it even in the second, though as every State fan/television announcer will tell you, they haven't had to face both Dawson and Payne yet. I don't expect Michigan to crash the offensive glass much at all; they're going to need some help from the perimeter players on the defensive boards to get this done.
Win the turnover battle. Here's how Michigan can make up for any extra possessions MSU generates with their rebounding: take care of the dang ball. They're much better at this than the Spartans on the average day, though they got a little sloppy today against the Buckeyes (admittedly, a better turnover-forcing squad than MSU). In a game that should be close, the Wolverines can't afford to waste possessions and give up easy buckets on the other end.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 1
It was hilarious. Then it was gut-wrenching. Then it was hilarious again.
Michigan came out swinging against Ohio State, jumping out to a 32-16 lead with a shooting display reminiscent of the game at Illinois—the Wolverines shot 8-for-13 from beyond the arc in the first half. Where the Illini folded, however, the Buckeyes fought back, cutting the 16-point Michigan lead down to four by halftime.
Once again, the Wolverines landed early blows, hitting their first three attempts from downtown in the second half to extend the margin to 12. Once again, Ohio State recovered, this time clawing their way to the lead on an alley-oop slam by Sam Thompson with eight minutes to play.
Background image via Dustin Johnston/UMHoops
From there, the teams traded blows. Jordan Morgan tied the game by splitting a pair of free throws, then Caris LeVert hit a triple that Shannon Scott immediately answered. LeVert split free throws, LaQuinton Ross came back with a layup. A Nik Stauskas pullup jumper followed a Sam Thompson putback. With 2:55 left, two Glenn Robinson III free throws gave Michigan a one-point lead.
Until this point, Aaron Craft, saddled with four fouls, had spent much of the second half on the Ohio State bench. He re-entered the game and immediately picked up a questionable call on Jordan Morgan, the fourth on the Wolverines center. Craft missed both ensuing free throws, however, and Stauskas gave Michigan a three-point lead with a gorgeous up-and-under layup after Craft gambled for a steal.
After the bitter rivals traded misses, Ross brought the margin down to two with a free throw with 44 seconds left after Morgan fouled out. Thad Matta decided to have his team play defense instead of give a foul. That backfired when LeVert flew in from the corner to rebound a missed three from Stauskas as the shot clock expired, forcing OSU to foul Spike Albrecht with six seconds remaining.
Albrecht hit the first and missed the second. Despite having a foul to give, Michigan didn't stop Craft as he charged up the court. Craft rose for the potential tying triple, only to have the ball slip out of his hands. Angels sang, the internet let out a collective belly laugh, and somewhere a single tear fell from the eye of Dan Dakich.
Michigan, winners of their last three matchups with Ohio State, advances to tomorrow's Big Ten Tournament title game. The winner of Wisconsin/MSU awaits.
Primary computer is currently nonfunctional; operating at suboptimal levels while trying to convince a man that he needs to take my computer and fix it. Please bear with me.
3/14/2014 – Michigan 64, Illinois 63 – 24-7, 15-3 Big Ten, BTT semifinalist
The duality of man! [Dustin Johnston]
A good way to escape, I guess. The Illinois game existed in two phases: a man to man phase in which Michigan eventually ran out to a 13 point lead and a zone phase in which Michigan attempted zero(!) two point shots that just about cost them the game. Groce's inexplicable decision to return to a man to man phase on Michigan's last couple possessions was decisive.
It is difficult to overstate how completely Michigan failed to attack the Illinois zone. From the 14:47 mark to the Stauskas free throw against man D with 55 seconds left, Michigan attempted four free throws, zero two pointers, and 15 threes. Most of those were terrible contested looks, with occasional exceptions.
In the aftermath, a couple of people pinged me on twitter, saying that's why they didn't want Syracuse. (That was before Syracuse's yakety sax final possession against NC State.
I'd still take them.)
And, yeah, that was alarming. But the thing about the How To Shut Down Michigan book is that it works until it doesn't work. It was deny Stauskas on the wing until it wasn't possible, and then it was put a point guard on Stauskas until it wasn't. Michigan will work it out. A zone wake up call is a good thing to get right now, especially when you pull the game out anyway. Much better to get that out of the way before next week.
It looked to me like Illinois was overplaying the free throw line and was leaving corner threes open, but Michigan did not take advantage. There's only five guys and Michigan is really good at shooting; they'll work it out.
Meanwhile in that's over now. Stauskas was a FTA machine against their man coverage. He hit both his two point attempts and went 9/10 of the line, all on drives. Whenever Illinois attempted to put Abrams on Stauskas things went not well for them, and the instant Illinois went back to man, Stauskas got to the line an assisted on the decisive Jordan Morgan basket.
It's worth noting that Illinois's late season surge was based on superior man to man defense. In their 6-4 stretch at the end of the year they held all but one non-Michigan opponent under 1 PPP (Iowa got 1.1 in the season finale) and held a number way under. They had a four-game stretch in which opponents could not crest the 50-point mark, and those were all good teams: OSU, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Michigan State. They're up to 15th nationally on Kenpom.
As concerning as the zone ineptitude was, a second consecutive torching of a defense that has been giving the rest of the league fits was further proof that Michigan cannot be contained on offense.
Survive and advance. And if you were feeling kinda bad about what went down, last night provided a reassurance. Syracuse went down; Duke had a near-identical one-point escape against Clemson; St. Louis ate a last second three from St. Bonaventure; North Carolina got rebounded to death by Pitt. Conference tourneys are full of chaos.
Falling into place. With Kansas's loss to Iowa State, Michigan (probably) controls its own destiny in their attempt to lock down the final #1 seed. Beating OSU and Wisconsin/MSU would give them another pair of wins against tourney teams, and it seems like everyone currently putting Villanova on the #1 line is just waiting for someone to take it from them. Meanwhile, Duke and Louisville probably can't catch Michigan without an M loss—Lunardi already has Michigan the top two seed. '
Louisville keeps coming up in these discussions because they're annihilating folks in their conference tourney, but the Bracket Matrix has them a four—nowhere near the conversation.
About what the ideal is. Is it a big deal to get the last one seed instead of a non-Florida/Arizona #2 seed? Not at the hypothetical-regional-final-if-top-seeds-hold level, where you're probably facing down the same team you bumped. But, yeah, it is a big deal. The first, second, and third rounds all feature worse opponents, especially at the Sweet 16 level. There you're facing down a four seed 35% of the time and a five or worse the rest.
Big difference between a probable matchup against a near equal (current 3s: Iowa State, Virginia, Syracuse, Creighton) and a probable matchup against someone in the 5+ range. Current fives: OSU, UConn, Oklahoma, North Carolina.
What was that? Caris LeVert drew the primary defensive assignment on Tracy Abrams on the last play, which was drawn up with about four seconds left. LeVert got super aggressive on Abrams, got beat, and was fortunate not to watch his decision get Michigan beat.
When you consider what kind of player Abrams is, that decision looks even more baffling. Abrams is bad at all kinds of attempts to put the ball in the basket but he's really, really bad at jumpers. He was just 30% on two point jumpers this year and 28% on threes. If you sag off him a bit and then come up to contest when he takes the shot you know he has to take, you're probably looking at Abrams putting up a 20% shot instead of a… well probably not 60% since Abrams is an impressively bad scorer, but way too good of a look.