somehow we're only 124th
12/2/2014 – Michigan 68, Syracuse 65 – 6-1
It wasn't quite as audacious. Michigan had actually run some offense and the launching point wasn't halfway between the three point line and half court. But it wasn't uncontested, and neither was it anywhere near the line. Spike Albrecht raised up, and it felt a lot like a game a couple years ago in a much bigger arena.
Spike wasn't even a novelty at that point. A 5'11" freshman averaging eight minutes a game with Brent Petway-level usage, he was a weird spare part people were still ticked at Beilein for snatching away from Appalachian State at the last second. He'd hit some threes; a couple games earlier he'd unleashed a wicked court-length bounce pass to GRIII long after the VCU romp had descended into delightful farce. That was about all anyone knew about him.
So he comes off the bench for a whopping four minutes against the Orange, in the Final Four, and this guy who looks like he's president of the local chapter of the Young Insert Political Party Heres ends up taking a 35-footer. It goes down, because that game featured a ton of tiny guards against the tiny-guard-murdering Syracuse defense and Michigan beat it by shooting from the courtside seats.
A game later Spike was a national fave-rave tweeting at Kate Upton specifically because he was a nobody. In living rooms across the country, Carls cried out to Mabels that the kid from Pleasantville—Tobey something—was winning a national championship. A nation got its cheek-pinching muscles nice and limber.
Yesterday a healthy swathe of Syracuse fandom saw this shot go up and thought not that guy. Anyone but that guy. I project that at least a half-dozen fell to their knees in despair before the shot even went down.
These people were not just thinking about one shot two years ago. They were thinking about the Globetrotters-but-necessary behind the back assist to Ricky Doyle that had Crisler about losing its mind, about Spike defying every piece of conventional wisdom about Syracuse's long-ass 2-3 zone. That conventional wisdom: small guards perish.
As conventional wisdoms go, this is a good one. There is a ton of evidence in favor of this point of view. Trey Burke had three points in that Final Four game. That year's highly-touted one-seed version of Indiana looked hopelessly inept as they went down in a Sweet 16 game. Iowa barely crested 0.9 PPP earlier this year, with PGs Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons putting up 77 and 56 ORTGs in 52 minutes between them. Six-foot guards loathe the appearance of Syracuse on the schedule.
5'11" don't curr though. Michigan's offense functioned best when Albrecht plunged into the middle of these five gentlemen, a gnome amongst the ents, and invariably found the open man. It was stunning as it was happening and the box score is just as jaw-dropping.
Nine assists. Zero turnovers. 11 points on eight shots. Two very sneaky steals. Hell, three rebounds. In a game where scraping over a point per possession was a Christmas miracle, Spike put up an ORTG of 177. 177!
It's not a fluke. When Derrick Walton missed a game against Iowa last year, Spike had seven assists, no turnovers, and four steals in 35 minutes. It was midway through his seventh Big Ten game last year when he coughed up his first TO. His A:TO ratio this year is 34:4. Michigan is increasingly relying on him as a de-facto starter. He had 32 minutes against Detroit, 35 against Oregon, 27 against 'Nova, 27 against 'Cuse.
Those are the numbers. The eye is even more excited. Spike has gone from a guy who can take the pressure off your main ball handler to a guy extremely aware of the gaps his penetration opens up. His previous tendency to dribble the air out of the ball is all but gone, replaced with an incisiveness that, yes, reminds you of That Other White Point Guard.
As Dakich said on the broadcast after Spike's Globetrotter assist: that was not flash. It made the play. I got a bit frustrated at the passivity of the Michigan offense in the first half, and then I got leery when Michigan tried to screen its way to the interior, because doing that against 'Cuse is asking for a long arm to poke the ball away. I got a little despair-y about it. Then Spike started slashing his way in, utterly confident in his handle, using the fact that he's low to the ground as an advantage. By the time he blew the roof off the place he wasn't a bench player with a cute story.
He was a crutch.
Spike has arrived. He still looks like a whippet interning for Senator Gnome Butterpants IV, but if you try to pinch his cheek your hand is going to look like Syracuse's vaunted zone after he plunges into the lane.
[After THE JUMP: some all-time Kenpom territory approaching?]
“Today I informed Brady Hoke that he will not be returning as our football coach next year. I had mentioned to all of you a couple of weeks ago that we would be evaluating his status at the end of the season and that's what today's announcement is about, so my primary intent today is to do this with deep respect for Brady, his family, the coaches, and all of those associated with our football program, and it is because of their contributions to the University of Michigan.
“This was not an easy decision. You see, I believe the longevity of our best football coaches are tied to the intersection of the performance or measure of wins and losses with the test and expression of values that underscore their program and everywhere I go there is zero question about Brady's values, and I mentioned this trait to you two weeks ago. Brady’s peers, both active and retired coaches, really respect him and his players love playing for him. He has done a great job of molding these young men and focusing them on success in the classroom and in the community. He's really earned the respect of all as being a value-centered coach. We need more men like him in sport today.
“So, you might ask how do you reconcile the tension between results and values? Well, one could also make the argument that we have a very young team and we’re about to pivot next year into being an extraordinary team. It has to do with making sure then that Brady has received adequate time to exhibit that arc of improvement that would come from his effort and I believe that Brady had enough time to produce results and they're just not there today, therefore I believe it's time to make this transition. I don't plan on sharing more of Brady's performance review or assessment frankly because I believe the dignity of this conversation is for him only. My next focus is to make sure that this exit for Brady is handled in a first-class way with heightened consideration for not only Brady himself but his staff and his family. Brady’s a hero. He's been an employee at our university for over 12 years.
“So what's next? Well, I plan on starting the search for his replacement immediately. We want to build on what's been established by Brady. My message to the student-athletes was that we’ll work to put them in the best position to win and reinforce that their daily effort is contributing toward being champions. The criteria for our future coach is defined in winning with the shared values of the University of Michigan. I ask for your patience with this search process. It's not fair for me to comment on potential candidates today or the institutions or organizations they currently may be employed by. I can't compromise the integrity of our search process by commenting prematurely until we have that new coach ready to go.
“I believe that the head coach of Michigan football is one of the finest jobs in American sports today and we will have great options. The University of Michigan remains one of the top programs in the country. Now, it's true that the pendulum has swung into a negative. However, one truth in physics is that as a pendulum is in the negative state it's always building energy for its eventual move back to the positive arc. My objective is to find the right coach for the University of Michigan; an individual who will recruit the best student-athletes and puts them in a position to win in the classroom, on the field, and in the community. This is what makes Michigan world-class and we're going to support that with great enthusiasm. Now, in the interim I've asked Mike DeBord, who's in the athletic department, to oversee the day-to-day aspects of the football program as a sport administrator until a new head coach is hired. Mike will not be a candidate for that job. So thank you. I'll be happy to take a few questions right now.”
I know that you don't want to divulge specifics of your meeting, but can you at least characterize for us the tenor of the meeting with Brady?
“Yeah, I think that first of all I can’t emphasize [enough] what an authentic and real person, so what you see is what you get so when you have a discussion like this it's a very straightforward and deliberate discussion. We took a lot of time together. I was not going to make this a discussion just about wins and losses, and so I wanted him to understand what I really appreciated about him and where I had said that he mastered certain parts of coaching. He needs to leave understanding that others should learn from him in some areas and of course, then, this is the part I’m not going to get into is what were the areas that we didn’t see the mastery in and I candidly said I wished I’d had more time with him. I would have liked to have had a shot at helping him with that.”
[After THE JUMP: the obliteration of the ‘Michigan Man’ meme]
According to Spike Albrecht, Ricky Doyle doesn't have a nickname yet, though he's "a bit of a wild man."
As for Doyle, when asked what it feels like to be a fan favorite, he said he didn't even hear his name chanted in high school.
One of those has already changed. The other should any moment now.
While Zak Irvin led the team with 18 points, it was Albrecht and Doyle who made the difference in the signature win of Michigan's season thus far. Spike broke the Syracuse defense in the second half time and again, doing what you have to do to beat the 2-3. His three three-pointers, including the go-ahead bucket with under a minute left, hit them over the top; when he weaved his way into the heart of the zone, he dished out nine assists, including a Sportscenter-worthy behind-the-back feed to Doyle for an and-one dunk.
Doyle did what Michigan's other centers could not: finish, with authority at that, while matching up physically with Syracuse star Rakeem Christmas, who feasted in the first half with Doyle in foul trouble and cooled in the second when Doyle played all but four minutes. After the game, Doyle discussed the physical progress that made this night possible; since getting to campus, he's cut his body fat from 18% down to 10%. It's hard to say who played a bigger part in Doyle's performance: Albrecht or Jon Sanderson.
In front of a raucous Crisler Center crowd, it appeared as though the Wolverines would pull away in the second half after a tightly contested opened stanza; with seven minutes to go, back-to-back threes by Albrecht and Irvin put Michigan up ten. Syracuse responded, however, spearheaded by hot outside shooting from Trevor Cooney, who made four second-half threes; Christmas knotted the game at 63 with just under a minute to play.
After Albrecht's three put Michigan ahead, then Syracuse's Michael Gbinije cut that lead to one with an impressive runner off the backboard, what had been a well-played game took a turn for the ridiculous. Derrick Walton missed the front end of a one-and-one, only for Cuse's Chris McCullough to chuck the ensuing outlet pass out of bounds. Caris LeVert had another opportunity to put Michigan up three at the line, only to miss the front end of his potential pair; after Syracuse rushed up the court, Kaleb Joseph lost the handle and had to foul LeVert after a wild scramble.
This time, LeVert calmly knocked down his free throws, and Joseph's desperation attempt to tie fell well off the mark as the buzzer sounded.
As the four factors indicate, Michigan won this game not with their shooting—though that perked up quite a bit after they went 3/17 from beyond the arc in the first half—but by taking care of the ball, something Syracuse, with 19 turnovers, couldn't accomplish. Equally important was Michigan's rebounding; facing a big Syracuse team that crashes the glass with aplomb, the Wolverines essentially matched their rebounding rate.
The effort of freshman Kameron Chatman should also be noted; he hit a few critical jumpers en route to 10 points and did yeoman's work on the boards, finishing with nine rebounds. LeVert struggled with his shot, netting his 12 points on 16 shot equivalents, but he helped keep the offense going with six assists. Irvin's three-point shooting (4/11) proved critical, and his first-half breakaway dunk—which, yes, should've been an and-one after he got undercut—provided an early highlight.
Returning from a toe injury, Walton struggled, going just 1/7 from the field. So did Mark Donnal and Max Bielfeldt, neither of whom could slow down Christmas. Albrecht and Doyle had them covered, though, and that was enough to take down a very strong opponent.
Now, about that nickname...
Duke brings its collection of highly-touted freshmen to Madison, WI (source)
*I had my wisdom teeth pulled on Friday, so getting this together took longer than expected. Apologies. – Alex
Table of Contents
Major ACC – Big Ten Challenge storylines
Game previews: Tuesday
Game previews: Wednesday
Nebraska and Rutgers bring home wins
Tom Crean’s seat might be getting warmer
Holiday hoops recap – Part I
Holiday hoops recap – Part II
Holiday hoops recap – Part III
1. Major ACC – Big Ten Challenge storylines
As usual, the annual competition between the Big Ten and the ACC brings some of the most intriguing non-conference fixtures on the college basketball schedule. Unlike early-season tournaments or games at one-off neutral site venues, these will be played on campus – intersectional matchups between some of the most talented and prestigious teams in all of college hoops. As an added bonus, it provides 14 more data-points in the comparative analysis of conference strength.
The headliner of this slate of games is one of the best college basketball games of the year, on paper: two top five teams—Duke, led by possibly the best pro prospect in the country (Jahlil Okafor) travels to face Wisconsin, a veteran team coming off of a Final Four bid. Okafor, a mammoth center with precocious skill and coordination, matches up against Preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky, a versatile inside-out scoring five. Duke’s Justice Winslow meets Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker – both will likely be future NBA players, both are athletic, long wings who can score, defend, and rebound. Senior point guards Quinn Cook and Traevon Jackson form an intriguing matchup. This game – televised Wednesday at 9:30 E.T. on ESPN – is simply a must-watch.
With 14 games total, there are plenty more compelling matchups: Ohio State’s young squad faces its first real trip with a trip just south to face a vaunted Louisville team; Michigan welcomes an unusually inexperienced Syracuse team to Ann Arbor and will look to crack its characteristic 2-3 zone; Illinois and Miami – both undefeated – have a chance to enhance their upstart status; in a matchup of former conference foes, Virginia – and their unaesthetic brand of basketball – heads to Maryland (who will unfortunately be without the injured Dez Wells); Iowa has an opportunity to steal an upset at North Carolina; and Michigan State rekindles a football rivalry with Notre Dame – now a basketball member in the ACC.
This is one of the best short stretches of college basketball in terms of unique, high-level matchups, with the added element of conference camaraderie thrown in. Other leagues have since replicated the ACC – Big Ten Challenge, but this is still one of college basketball’s marquee events.
[AFTER THE JUMP: ACC—B1G analysis, recapping holiday tournaments]