and... i like them? I think I like them.
Postgame locker room, via @umichbball
67 of the 68 teams that make the NCAA Tournament have their seasons end in heartbreak. For the second straight year, Michigan came excruciatingly close to being that lone exception, only to lose in a classic game.
Even though it's exceedingly likely your team will be one of the unfortunate 67, it's impossible to prepare for a moment like this. We got to bask in the glory of the Tennessee win for, oh, half an hour before fretting about the next opponent. From the moment Kentucky emerged over Louisville, we've spent our time worrying about that matchup.
From the moment of tipoff this afternoon, two of the most talented teams in the country played an incredible back-and-forth affair. And until Nik Stauskas's prayer thudded harmlessly against the backboard, we held out hope. Then it hits, the realization that this amazing run is done—and another shot at that elusive, ultimate banner has gone with it. It's like having your breath return after holding it for two days, only for the first inhale to precede a deep sigh, or perhaps a body-shaking sob.
For Jordan Morgan, there are no more shots. He'll be fine when the shock wears off—Michigan engineering grads tend to do okay after college—but in the interim, I ache for him. To a lesser extent, that goes to the rest of the players and the coaching staff, but I wasn't ready to see Morgan's pundit-defying career end.
I've got no more to offer in the way of words or feelings; after three weeks on tilt, I'm completely spent. Thank you, Kentucky, for giving us a whale of a game. Thank you, Michigan, for being a source of joy all season, again. Thank you, Jordan Morgan, for everything.
The Sponsor: There are a few defining moments which truly capture what it means to be a Michigan Wolverine. Michigan Basketball, thank you for creating those moments for us this season. Bring us home the championship! Go Blue! - MaraWatch & Company.
The Rules: "You must have chaos within you, but mitigate it in your liveblogs, to give birth to a dancing star." –Friedrich Nietzsche
Michigan (28-8, 15-3 B1G) vs.
Kentucky (27-10, 12-6 SEC)
Colts Location Stadium,
|WHEN||5:05 pm Eastern, Sunday|
|LINE||Michigan -1 (KenPom)|
PBP: Jim Nantz
Analyst: Greg Anthony
|Liveblog||Sponsored by Marawatch; starts at 5.|
Win or go home.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold.
This preview assumes that Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein is out after John Calipari said his issue was "not a good ankle injury." He was limping badly after the game, on crutches, and told Kentucky trainers he "heard it pop." Save some Travis Trice blisters heroism, he's out.
|G||2||Aaron Harrison||Fr.||6'6, 218||80%||21||Sort of|
|80/48/35 shooter is UK's most efficient offensive player.|
|G||5||Andrew Harrison||Fr.||6'6, 215||78%||22||Sort of|
|PG-type player awful inside line, has high TO rate. Gets FTs, decent from 3.|
|G||1||James Young||Fr.||6'6, 215||80%||22||Sort of|
|Almost identical statistically to Aaron, but slightly worse in most categories.|
|F||5||Julius Randle||Fr.||6'9, 250||76%||27||Yes|
|Classic PF tough to handle on boards, can get own shot. Only 52%.|
|C||34||Dakari Johnson||Fr.||7'0, 265||33%||20||N/A|
|OREB monster. Block rate/DREB rates not scary. Putback machine. Miserable FT%.|
|F||4||Alex Poythress||So.||6'8, 239||45%||18||Yes|
|OREB guy and rim finisher is black hole on O, good on D.|
|G||15||Dominique Hawkins||Fr.||6'0, 193||17%||8||Yes|
|Almost invisible on offense for good reason. 46/43/13 shooter in small sample.|
|G||23||Jarrod Polson||Sr.||6'2, 182||19%||8||Sort of|
|Gritty walk on has 35 shots on the year.|
For completeness, Cauley-Stein is an elite defensive player, a block machine with a high steal rate. He doesn't rebound as much as you'd expect because he tries to swat everything and his offense is relatively limited.
Welcome to the sequel of the sequel: Kentucky is an upgraded version of Tennessee, which was an upgraded version of Texas. Stop me if you've heard this before: Kentucky is an offensive rebound machine that can't shoot threes and doesn't force turnovers but does do everything else well on D. Or at least they were with Cauley-Stein. They're probably still a number of those things. How many remains to be seen, but that's another section.
The individual players all come with a sameness to them. Kentucky is the world's worst NBA team, a collection of bodies that looks like an NBA All Star game… and often plays like one. But if they've figured something out they've figured something out, and then they're not pleasant to consider.
Andrew, #5, is the point guard type guy
The Harrison twins are the primary guards. Andrew Harrison (#5) is the point-guard type substance—it's hard to tell when everyone's 6'6"—with his team-high assist rate. Unfortunately for Kentucky, his TO rate is just as high. 23.5 is a number that would make you shake your head if it was a 7-footer turning it in; for a point guard it's turrible. His inconsistency has been apparent even amongst the maelstrom that is the Kentucky freshmen:
He has the handles and jumper, until they disappear. He can be a lock-down defender on individual plays but often lets up on that end and commits a lot of silly fouls. He also seems too reliant on and comfortable with passing to his brother, an NBA prospect but not Kentucky's best player by any means.
Harrison is only a 39% two-point shooter; he gets to the rack a lot (a third of his shots) but only hits half of his generally tough layup attempts and he's a miserable two-point shooter. He may be getting saddled with the Dion Harris shots, to be fair: 4% of his two pointers were assisted this year. FOUR!
Harrison has two three-point modes: he's a good catch and shoot guy near the arc, and then he's a miserable bricklayer trying to catch guys off the dribble, often on shots that are a couple feet behind the line. His main strength as a player is drawing fouls. He's in the top 100 in that department and hits FTs at 77%. Michigan, of course, does not foul much.
Aaron Harrison (#2) is a wing/SG type who's considerably more efficient than his brother; outside of the presumably unavailable Cauley-Stein he's Kentucky's most efficient guy. He's got a relatively low TO rate, decent usage, and shoots 80/48/35. He's much better at the rim than his brother, probably because at least some of his shots are coming off plays other guys made, but he's relatively uninspiring from all ranges.
James Young (#1) may as well be the third Harrison twin. He's also 6'6". Statistically he is a clone of Aaron. Watching Kentucky in person it was difficult to tell who was doing what; their games are all so similar. Young is marginally worse at getting to the basket and finishing, marginally worse in A:TO, marginally worse in defensive categories.
The biggest difference is that Young is about 55/45 threes to twos while Aaron Harrison is the inverse. Meanwhile, point guard Harrison—Andrew—has only 87 3FGA on the season against 208 twos and a bucket of free throws.
Guesses as to Michigan's defensive disposition: Stauskas on Young, LeVert on Aaron Harrison, Walton on Andrew Harrison, but they're just going to switch everything because screw it they're all basically the same guy. Look for Spike to get almost all of his minutes when one of them is on the bench and one of the six-foot zero offense backups comes in.
Video made nine games into the season
Power forward Julius Randle is going to be a lottery pick in a few months and it takes about ten minutes of observation for you to figure out why. Capable of getting to the rack from the three point line and making tough shots once there, Randle has a high ceiling and an NBA body. Randle draws fouls like whoah, rebounds both ends ferociously, and has a 71% free throw stroke that bodes well for the future, when jumpers will have to become a part of his game.
They aren't now. Randle's shots are split evenly between the rim and two-point jumpers. The difference is stark. He hits 71% at the rim and 34% when removed from it. And that 71% is not a Jordan Morgan assisted-dunk fest; he gets his own offense quite a bit. If you watched Louisville you saw a number of Randle buckets where the only appropriate response was "whoah."
But as we saw in the Tennessee game, a disadvantage in size for Glenn Robinson leads to an advantage in quickness. Randle is a much better athlete than Jeronne Maymon, but his ability to check Robinson remains questionable. With Cauley-Stein out Kentucky loses most of their shotblocking. Meanwhile, if Glenn can cut Randle off when he tries to attack from the perimeter a chunk of his game turns into those two-pointers Michigan wants to see.
Starting center Dakari Johnson has actually been starting since the beginning of February, alternating between games where he is a starter in name only (8 minutes versus Arkansas, nine versus Florida) and games of 20 or so minutes. He hadn't had a ton of impact aside from the occasional offensive board and putback until he went 7/10 against Louisville in 31 minutes. Actually, scratch "occasional." Johnson is a facecrushing offensive rebounder. If he'd gotten enough minutes to qualify on Kenpom he'd be fifth in the country, behind only Baylor's Rico Gathers amongst power conference teams.
Johnson's game is limited outside of those putbacks, which comprise almost 60% of his makes at the rim. When not flushing someone else's miss he's 44% in the post. He is a bizarrely great player on jumpers, though, hitting nearly half. Sample size? Maybe, but the prescription is clear for Morgan: crowd the guy if he gets the ball in the short corner or elbow, and for the love of god someone box him out.
On defense Johnson is a huge step back from Cauley-Stein. His block rate of 4.2 is about a third of Cauley-Stein's. He doesn't steal the ball like Cauley-Stein and his foul rate of 5.9 per 40 veritably looms in a game where he's going to have to go 30-35 minutes.
Unlike Tennessee, Kentucky has a bench. His name is Alex Poythress.
Kentucky's bench is now nearly as barren as Tennessee's. They have one guy, 6'8" SF/PF Alex Poythress. Poythress generates little offense on his own—75% of his shots at the rim are assisted or putbacks and he has a tiny assist rate—and is an inefficient shooter. He is a good finisher once he gets to the rim, and he is of course an excellent offensive rebounder who blocks a fair amount of shots; he's mostly of use on defense. Kentucky has played him at the three and in the post during his career. Now that he's the only big backup he'll see almost all of his time spotting Randle and Johnson.
Two other gentlemen will see the court. Six-foot freshman Dominique Hawkins was unearthed yesterday for his first extended playing time since January. In 15 minutes his box score contribution was three fouls and nothing else. Senior heady gritenstein Jarrod Polson has had spurts of playing time throughout the season after a significant bench role a year ago; he has vanishingly small usage. If he does anything it'll be take an open three someone else generates.
While Kentucky spreads their offense around almost equally amongst four players, Michigan has an opportunity whenever Hawkins or Polson is in. First, the point guard can sag off that guy with impunity, and second, that point guard can be Spike Albrecht.
Kentucky's nonconference schedule was middling. Games against power conference teams:
- Michigan State (N): L 78-74
- Providence (N): W 79-65
- Baylor (Semi-Away): L 67-62
- @ North Carolina: L 82-77
- Louisville: W 73-66
A win against a Providence outfit that ended up an 11 seed and a home win over Louisville against a couple of road-ish losses that were close and a neutral court loss to MSU by 4. Kentucky did beat Cleveland State, Boise State, and Belmont, all KP100 teams, FWIW.
And then SEC play. Tennessee alternated losses and blowouts en route to a +0.14 efficiency margin; Kentucky had more close games and only managed a +0.08. They lost to Arkansas twice, LSU once (and escaped with a one-point OT win against them at home), Florida twice, and to a miserable South Carolina team. That's how you end up with an eight seed.
All of that looks lovely if you stop the season right then. It looks less so now, after SEC tourney blowouts of LSU and Georgia followed by a one-point loss to Florida in the title game and a three-game NCAA run that features wins over Wichita State and Louisville. Since the end of the regular season Kentucky has flown up from 25th to 10th in Kenpom. The whole freshman-figuring-it-out thing may apply.
Kentucky in a nutshell: they are 311th in assists and 23rd at preventing assists. On offense they:
- murder the boards, resurrect the boards, and murder them again (42% OREB, 2nd nationally)
- get fouled a ton
- shoot relatively poorly for a team with so much talent
- are pretty bad at a relatively small number of threes
- are mediocre at taking care of the ball
On defense they:
- have a Michigan-level aversion to creating turnovers
- block a ton of shots (but not anymore probably)
- are tough to score against from any range
- aren't too good at rebounding and keeping guys off the line
- are pretty good at preventing threes from going up
Kentucky is about as transition-oriented as Michigan, but considerably less efficient. On defense, they suuuuuuuck at transition relative to their half-court defense, giving up half their transition shots at the rim for a 70% eFG rate. Kentucky has survived their transition threes well enough, but if they give 'em up to Michigan they are going to regret it—Michigan hits 46%.
Hold up against Randle, GRIII, and get yours. There are going to be 15-20 minutes when Poythress is on the floor, whereupon Morgan will get whichever starting big is left. With Johnson just too big for Robinson to handle (see: Frank Kaminsky) Michigan probably* doesn't have the option to put Morgan, who is coming off a straight-up domination of Jarnell Stokes, on Randle for the other 25 minutes.
This reads like a problem. It read like a problem against Tennessee until Jeronne Maymon was exposed as a pylon. Michigan's offense has the ability to do the same thing to Randle, who is quicker than Maymon but still decidedly uncomfortable defending the perimeter. Meanwhile, his mistake-eraser is out. Michigan cannot win the rebounding battle in this game; they have to make up for it by using their perimeter quickness to get it back.
*[They could actually try it since Johnson does not have a post game, especially if one of the backup guards is in. But then Johnson is going to have an even easier time of just jumping over someone for a rebound.]
1-3-1 watch. Turnover-prone, assist-light, often-discombobulated gaggle of freshmen that is mediocre from three-point range: Kentucky is an obvious 1-3-1 target. The rebounding looms, as it is wont to do, but it's going to loom anyway. I didn't like its deployment against Texas since Michigan's defense was forcing all manner of horrible shots anyway; against Kentucky it could be a game-swinger.
Zone panic watch. There won't be a zone attempt in this game since Calipari can barely get his guys to play one defense, let alone two. Advantage Michigan?
I WILL STRIKE DOWN UPON THEE WITH GREAT VENGEANCE [Bryan Fuller]
DEATH FROM ABOVE. Concerns about Michigan being able to deploy their prime weapon against Tennessee were blown away by an 11 for 20 performance against one of the country's stingiest three-point defenses. Kentucky is good but not on Tennessee's level in this department, and it is really easy to see Michigan initiating drives, getting dudes lost via Beilein wizardry, and raining in death from above. It'll be there to take. Michigan can shoot over Kentucky's guys.
As a bonus, death from above from opposition teams tends to lure Kentucky into a machismo battle—NBA all star game, remember—and causes them to launch up long, contested, terrible shots.
Salt. Jordan Morgan has been one man fighting a horde of giants in this tournament and the road gets no easier tomorrow. He will draw Randle on a number of important possessions, and if he can body up like he did against Stokes Randle is going to have a frustrating night. Meanwhile he has to battle Johnson for defensive rebounds and has an opportunity to clean up on the pick and roll and the offensive boards himself, as Kentucky is generally unfamiliar with the concept of a box out.
Take care of the ball. Generally this goes without saying but after some ugly turnovers from Walton, LeVert, and the team as a whole late in the game, I'm going to say it: Michigan needs one of those four turnover games, not a 13 turnover outing. Fortunately they've drawn a Kentucky team that does not steal the ball, playing without their best steal man.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by one.
On Monday, Michigan secured its first commitment in about five months when consensus 4-star defensive back Garrett Taylor decided to verbally pledge to the Wolverines. Taylor is the #1 prospect in the state of Virginia and he makes it three years in a row that the Michigan staff has pulled an elite talent out of the Richmond area, with Derrick Green and Wilton Speight preceding him.
Taylor is a big-time talent, boasting nearly 40 offers from virtually every major university in the country. Opposing coaches gave high praise about his abilities on the field, as well as a small glimpse of his reputation off of it.
|Taylor's a 4-star prospect with a 5-star's offer sheet.|
"Garrett is a special player with outstanding ability at corner. He is tall and long for a corner which gives him an advantage when dealing with the taller receivers. He was definitely a defensive presence who we had to game plan around. He seems to be a great young man away from football as well."
- Head Coach Clint Alexander, Woodberry Forest School
"Garrett Taylor is a very good player who is tough to compete against. He has the ability to take away a teams best receiver which is what St. Christopher's and Taylor did to us this past fall. As a player, Garrett is big and fast with a good skill set. Combine that with his physical playing style and it becomes a real challenge for opponents to be able to line up against him."
-Head Coach Mark Palyo, Collegiate School
When speaking to Garrett personally it was easy to see why the Michigan coaches were so fond of him. He’s a very intelligent young man with a lot of maturity for a guy in high school. He spoke about his decision and his main recruiter, who happens to be his position coach now as well.
I’m feeling great about my decision! Coach Manning is a great coach and a great guy. I’m really glad I’ll be able to get coached by him. He’s just very down to Earth and honest, there is no nonsense with him which is what my family and I want. All of the Michigan coaches really feel like that. That’s what I loved about the staff.
This sentiment is consistent with every recruit I talk to. The coaches have developed an amazing sense of family and the players and recruits really respond well to it. Couple that with the other things Michigan can offer and it’s no surprise why campus visits make such an impact. Garrett agreed.
|Home is where the M's are.|
When I was there I just felt at home. They had everything that I was looking for academically and the coaching staff was great. I feel like I will fit in really well in their defensive scheme and could possibly play early. The coaches said they recruited me for my size and length at corner and they think that I’ll fit in well with the group that’s going to be there. With Stribling already there and Peppers coming in we could be scary good. I knew about the players that would be there and it was definitely attractive. I’m excited to come in and compete for playing time. Playing with players like that will only make me better.
As soon as Taylor committed, fellow Virginian and current Wolverine Wilton Speight tweeted about how Richmond is becoming quite the pipeline to Ann Arbor. I asked Garrett about what draws fellow and former recruits to Michigan from Virginia and if he had any connections that might help in the future.
I can’t really think of anything specific other than it’s just such a great school. I mean it literally has everything you could be looking for. As far as other recruits I’m kind of close with [2016 WR] Scott Bracey just out of the respect we have for each others game and skill. Other than that I’m not really a huge social media guy in terms of connections with other recruits. I use it more for me and my friends from school.
With recent Michigan commits like Shane Morris, Wilton Speight, and Michael Ferns being some of the best recruiters in the country, Taylors statement might come off as a letdown, but don’t worry, he’s willing and able to embrace any role necessary.
I don’t use social media like that right now but if that’s what’s needed and the coaches ask me to do it, I’m all for it. They haven’t really said anything to me about that yet.
Garrett chose Michigan over dozens of schools but it came down to a battle between the Wolverines and the Stanford Cardinal. Garrett explained why Michigan had the final edge.
Michigan’s business school is very prestigious. It’s at the top in the country just about every year. They knew exactly what tracks I needed to take in order to build a good resume for law school too, so that was the difference.
Taylor fits The Pattern(tm) when it comes to the type of kids that the coaches want to bring in. He’s mature, smart, stable, and talented. He will add to a highly touted group of defensive back recruits by the time he arrives on campus which will be in the fall of 2015. Taylors high school doesn’t allow early graduation so he will arrive in Ann Arbor on the traditional timeline as opposed to the increasingly popular early enrollment track. The 2015 class will be small in size but great in quality if the coaches continue to land players like Garrett Taylor.
After the charge. [Dustin Johnston/UMHoops]
As it turned out, the Sweet Sixteen matchup between Michigan and Tennessee was determined by mismatches up front.
Jeronne Maymon couldn't handle Glenn Robinson III without fouling—or stay in front of any of Michigan's perimeter players—while Jordan Morgan outscored and outrebounded Jarnell Stokes, then all but sealed the victory by taking a charge when Tennessee called Stokes's number with a chance to win the game.
It started with Robinson, who opened the game with an easy blow-by against Maymon for a layup, stymied his post-up opportunity on the other end, and then drew the Tennessee big man's first foul. That set the early tone—Tennessee couldn't hang with Michigan's offense while playing two bigs, but their lack of depth meant going without one also hurt them dearly.
When Maymon checked back in, he quickly picked up his second foul on a Morgan and-one. After another stint on the bench, he allowed Caris LeVert to swoop by him for an easy two and found himself on the pine once again. Maymon would finish with two points, three rebounds—just one offensive—and four fouls in 17 minutes. Robinson scored 13 on nine shots, pulled down five boards (two off.), and held his own in the post for 39 minutes.
With Maymon neutralized, it appeared Michigan would win with ease. Tennessee's defense opened up, and the Wolverines took advantage, hitting 7-of-9 three-pointers in the first half; their 45 first-half points were the most ceded by the Volunteers all season. Uncharacteristically, the only significant category Michigan didn't win in the first half was turnovers; that'd turn out to be an omen, and not a good one.
I'll assume you watched the game, and therefore spare you the gory details of Tennessee's second-half run that, based on my Twitter feed, drove everyone not obligated to write a game recap to drink heavily. (Don't worry, I'll join you degenerates soon.) The turnovers kept coming. Nik Stauskas, who'd score 14 points on 13 shots, went cold from the outside. Jordan McRae, who finished with a game-high 24 points, kept finding his way to the basket.
A blown out of bounds call that somehow held upon review, a turnover after Robinson couldn't handle a lob to halfcourt, and another inbounds turnover when LeVert caught the ball with a foot on the line; that sequence set up the Vols, once down 15 in the second half, with the ball down just one point with nine seconds on the clock.
That's when Morgan, who led Michigan with 15 points and seven rebounds, made a play reminiscent of last year's Syracuse game. Tennessee's plan was simple: post up Stokes. That plan backfired when Morgan anticipated Stokes's drive, beat him to the spot, and planted his feet as Stokes lowered his shoulder into Morgan's chest. In the most Jordan Morgan play of them all, Michigan's lone senior drew a charge, refusing to allow his career to end on this night.
Michigan's early shooting bonanza—helped mightily by the freshman duo of Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin, who combined to hit 5-of-5 triples—allowed them to survive a late storm that they helped create with sloppy play. It wasn't pretty. A lot of it wasn't fun. But they survived.
On the backs of two of the more scrutinized players to come through this program—Morgan, too soft/untalented/unskilled to center a real contender; Robinson, too soft/one-dimensional/reliant on his athleticism to live up to his five-star billing—Michigan made the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season. In the regional final, whether they play Louisville or Kentucky, they'll face a mismatch or two; they might just create a couple themselves, too.
The turnovers came back, but then so did Morgan’s charge-drawing wonder chest at just the right time. Survival means advancement means these guys:
And you can't have one without the other…
Morgan runs into the tunnel and yells "Mismatch my ass!"
— Neal Rothschild (@nrothschild3) March 29, 2014
Go ahead and unclench.