“The player development is the main thing I like (about Michigan),” Williams said. “You can see that they develop their players. They get them in the gym and they work them hard. And their hard work pays off.”
When Beilein Has a Week to Prepare…
A wise man once said, When John Beilein has a week to prepare, there will be subs and it will be crazy. And looking at Michigan’s past games, that’s not really how the games go. Below, I take a look at how Michigan has performed against quality opponents with 4-7 days rest and prep-time. I have removed teams such as Long Beach State and Coppin State because it really does us no good to quantify.
2014 Non-Conference Games
Iowa State on the road with five days rest. Michigan loses 77-70.
Duke on the road with four days rest. Michigan loses 79-69
Arizona at home with seven days rest. Michigan loses 72-70.
Stanford at a neutral site with seven days rest. Michigan wins 68-65.
For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 1-3 in games after significant rest. However, we know that wasn’t the same Michigan team. Also, two road games and three contests versus the remaining Sweet 16 in which Michigan was 1-2.
2014 Conference Games
At Minnesota with five days rest, Michigan wins 63-60
At Nebraska with four days rest, Michigan wins 71-70
At home vs. Penn State with four days rest, Michigan wins 80-67
At Wisconsin with four days rest, Michigan wins 77-70
At home vs. Iowa with four days rest, Michigan wins 85-67
At home vs. Purdue with five days rest, Michigan wins 75-66
Against Wisconsin on four days rest, Michigan loses 75-62
At home against MSU on seven days rest, Michigan wins 79-70
At home vs. Indiana on four days rest, Michigan wins 84-80
Nuetral site vs. Illinois on six days rest, Michigan wins 64-63.
For those of you keeping score at home, Michigan went 9-1 in conference when they had four or more days of rest. Overall, Michigan was 10-4 this season when having four or more days of rest, with a record of 4-2 vs. teams that remain in the Sweet 16 and 5-3 against teams that have made the tournament.
At this point the results are pretty inconclusive. While Michigan tends to win more often than not when they have extra rest, they’ve also won more games in general this year. There have also been outliers this year such as Duke and Wisconsin where the team has had significant rest and looked bad and quick turnarounds vs. MSU where the team has looked good.
Let’s look at some other games to see if we can note any more trends.
Previous tournament games under coach Beilein:
2014 vs. Wofford on five days rest, Michigan wins by 17
2013 vs. North Dakota State on 5+ days rest, Michigan wins by 13
2013 vs. Kansas on six days rest, Michigan wins in OT by two.
2013 vs. Syracuse on five days rest, Michigan wins by two
2012 vs. Ohio on 5+ days rest, Michigan loses
2011 vs. Tennessee on 5+ days rest, Michigan wins by 30
2009 vs. Clemson on 5+days rest, Michigan wins by 3
Again, we find Michigan with a winning record in tournament games with significant rest. Here, Michigan has gone 6-1 in the NCAA Tournament under coach Beilein when they have had a few extra days to prepare. However, there are once again outliers where Michigan doesn’t perform well such as there game against Ohio. On the other hand, there are games on minimal rest such as last year’s contests vs. VCU and Florida where Michigan rolls.
Moreover, when Michigan beats Kansas by two after a furious comeback, is that a win because John Beilein has prepared well? Or rather because Kansas faltered and Trey Burke hit a wild shot? One can make the argument that Michigan stayed close because of great gameplanning by the coaches. It is all up to interpretation.
And while these results are a bit inconclusive because of the varying factors involved in such analysis (road games, top-ranked opponents, injuries, etc.) the results do favor Michigan’s chances a bit when they have extra time to prepare. Overall Michigan is 16-5 this season and in the NCAA tournament over many years under John Beilein when they have significant rest. While 16-5 isn’t a sure bet to win, that’s damn good considering the teams that were played. Wofford may be the only cupcake on that list. And for every South Dakota State, there are a few blue bloods.
Needless to say, Michigan with an extra day this week (six days off vs. Tennessee’s five) certainly favors Michigan but having a good coach favors them a bit more.
I wanted to name this “Best and Worst: Rounds 1000000 and 0100000” but thought better of it.
Best: Survivor Series
(Because I want to lose a quarter of my readership off the bat)*
Growing up, my favorite professional wrestling event was called the Survivor Series, which typically featured teams of 4 or 5 wrestlers competing in an elimination-style match until all members of a team were eliminated. Over time this conceit has been diminished to a minor role as the Series has become a more generic Pay-Per-View, but at its advent it created a rare opportunity to tell a multitude of storylines during a single match. With relatively simple booking, you could put together teams that worked both on a base level (heels vs. babyfaces) as well as a nuanced (frenemies competing together, fissures starting to form between former best friends, etc.) one, while also teasing marquee matchups in the future.
But these matches all shared a fatal flaw, one that probably explains why they are not very common in recent years. Before getting into it, though, I should probably step back for a minute and provide some ground rules for the 2 of you who didn’t skip this section but also don’t follow professional wrestling.
“Good” wrestling matches are like your classic three-act play: the first act sets the scene and fleshes the characters out (via your standard “wrestling holds” and light brawling); the middle act is where the drama begins, typically with the face/good guy in peril as the heel dominates; and the third and final act is when the face mounts his comeback and a resolution occurs, usually with a dramatic final move leading to a victory for one of the wrestlers.
The problem with an elimination-style match is that this predictable formula doesn’t work on a micro level between combatants; on a macro level, of course, you can have the “good” and “bad” teams follow the general formula. But you can’t have 8-9 confrontations end with a finisher and a pin because, well, fans would get bored and you need to “protect” future match-ups by leaving some mystery and uncertainty about the outcomes. And so, watching these old matches you see guys pinning each with transitional or intermediary moves like lariats, sunset flips, and rollups, reserving the more high-impact moves for the end of the match, if ever.
So what does this have to do with UM getting to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year? Well, it’s that this tournament run needs to be viewed as part of a larger piece, of a team “surviving and advancing” as much as vanquishing opponents. Just like last year, these first couple of games were marked by moments of extreme beauty (8-15 from 3 in the first half against Texas, GRIII “chess”-ing fools) and long stretches of blergh (missing 15 of 18 to start the 2nd half against Wofford). Last year’s first weekend was punctuated with the evisceration of VCU’s swarming defense, but it started with a pretty ugly win over South Dakota State.
Blowouts aren’t really this team’s M.O.; even when they are shooting the lights out (like they did against Nebraska and Illinois during the conference slate and for the first half against Texas), they don’t play that ball-hawking, turnover-forcing tempo that leads to the Cardinals dropping 58 in the first half against Rutgers. They deliver knockout shots, but they’re of the “punches in bunches” Floyd Mayweather type instead of Mike Tyson’s “good night sweet prince”.
And unlike last year, where UM was staring down a date with #1 seed Kansas followed by a terrifying Florida team, the Mercer Nae Nae’s give UM another double-digit seed before they’d face either (I’m guessing) a rematch with Louisville or a winnable contest with Wichita St. And so if they can continue playing acceptable enough defense to weather the inevitable rough shooting patches, the path is there for them to make it back to the Final Four.
Best: Going Out in Style
At some point Jordan Morgan’s senior year will end and he’ll move on to the next stage in his life, but he is doing everything he can to keep it going a couple more games. He pulled down 10 rebounds in both games this weekend and added 25 points and 4 assists. In so many ways is he the perfect center for this team (solid rebounder and defender, doesn’t need the ball to be effective, can run and always has his hands up to score off the pick and roll/penetration), and it’s been fun seeing him put a nice exclamation point on a memorable career.
Best: A Dog-Related Pun in Picture Form is Worth a Thousand Puns in Words
So yeah, GRIII had himself a weekend. Going into the tournament, one of the team’s more glaring weaknesses was its lack of a secondary rebounder after Morford. You heard rumblings about LeVert possibly helping out, but you can only expect so much from a guy whose official bio lists him 10 pounds more than Spike. No, if UM was going to have any chance of not getting obliterated on the boards, it was going to be from Robinson, and while it didn’t much matter against Wofford, I thought he held up well (12 total rebounds, including 5 offensive) in that regard while also playing 71 of a possible 80 minutes. Sure, Texas pulled down 21 offensive rebounds, but there are going to be lots of opportunities when you shoot 37% on 62 shots, and it felt like that number was goosed a bit by some clustering in the second half when Texas just crashed the boards in a mad scramble to make it close (they had 6 in about a 5-minute span in the second half as they cut UM’s lead from 17 to 11, and another 3 at the end of the game).
Plus, it felt like Robinson displayed his increasing assertiveness on the offensive end (a team-leading 14 shots against Wofford and another 10 against Texas), especially during that second-half stretch when Texas cut the lead to 8 and Robinson responded with 2 FTs, a block, a jumper and then a 3 to push the lead back out to 11. No matter how many cutaways they make to his dad in the stands at the game, Robinson will never have his game, but there has been a steady increase in his confidence, if not his competence, on the offensive side. He’s still a pretty horrible shooter all year from outside (28%), but he’s deadly from inside the arc (58%) and good at the FT line. He still isn’t a deadeye from outside, but a look at his boxscores shows fewer threes that (I presume) are more in the flow of the offense as well as a renewed scoring touch inside.
They’ll need his athleticism to help wear down Mercer, and Tennessee seems like a bruisier, more defensive-focused version of Texas (#3 in rebound margin nationally, top-20 defense). Holding up against the size and strength of Texas was a positive, and even though it increases the likelihood he’ll leave for the draft, it is great to see Robinson rounding into form when it matters most.
5 starters were in double-figures against Texas and 7 guys scored against Wofford with none more than Stauskas’s 14. Still, the best stat of the weekend is that the team had 31 assists on 46 makes, including a career-high 8 from Stauskas to go along with his 17 points against Texas. Beilein’s offense isn’t designed for a dominant ball-handler or singular scorer, so getting an assist on 67% of your baskets means everyone is touching the ball and the best shot is usually going up.
Best: “Veteran” Sophomores
It is weird to say this about a second-year backup, but having Spike’s “veteran” touch at PG has helped immensely so far in this tournament, especially when Texas turned up the press a bit and Beilein could bring in Spike to spell Walton. Between Stauskas, LeVert, Spike, and Robinson, you have 4 guys who were key parts of last year’s team and readily adaptable to defensive shifts and gameplan changes. Especially if Michigan runs into Louisville or some other team that loves to press and push the tempo, having that many capable ballhandlers will be immensely valuable.
Worst: Hold Onto the Damn Ball
Though they corrected course rather emphatically against Texas, UM had a very uncharacteristic 11 TOs against Wofford. As others noted, it was probably just a weird game that happens to everyone, considering this is one of the least turnover-prone teams in the country, though it was a bit shocking to witness. It (almost) made me sympathize with MSU fans who have had to watch that all year out of guys like Valentine.
And while it didn’t hurt them much against Wofford…
Worst: Damn Rollercoaster
I absolutely recognize that when you have a team as reliant on jumpshots and three-pointing shooting as UM, there are going to be stretches of “Death from Above” when your breakfast tastes better than any one you have ever tasted before, and there are going to be games when nobody seems capable of putting the ball in the hole. But that crystal-clear clarity doesn’t make me un-see that second half against Wofford or silence those concerns of how a game could get out of hand if the other team didn’t shoot 1-11 and 36% overall in that half as well.
I actually do think the defense has taken a small step up in the tournament, as they have escaped the dodgy refereeing of the Big Ten into a world on the “reality” side of the Mason-Dixon line of the charge/blocking call. No matter how you slice it, holding a tourney team to 40 points (a school tournament record) is impressive, and to follow it up with another nice performance against a tough Texas team that can give you fits inside shouldn’t be ignored or minimized. But they’ve also faced two of the worst shooting teams in the country, and no amount of increased pressure and “closing out” is going to sustain a 5/30 rate on 3’s.
So as cliche as it is, UM needs to keep starting games shooting well and build a lead that can be maintained when the shots stop dropping. While the team has shown great resiliency, this offensive scheme is so (relatively) ponderous that it isn’t equipped to score lots of points quickly. Indeed, this team is built to get a lead and then trade you buckets as you try to catch up, with long possessions and the effect it has on the game clock serving as a 6th defender. The nature of single-elimination tournaments is that sometimes you’ll keep throwing scissors while the other team can’t help but stumble into rock, but the fewer times you give let it stay close the fewer times you can be surprised.
Worst: Free Throw Defense
This probably sounds like a broken record, but Texas joined an illustrious list of squads that could not f’ing miss at the line all game. All year the Longhorns shot 66% on FT’s; this game, 94% on 16 shots. That’s a 5-point swing that pushes a comfortable victory into a bit of a runaway. It hasn’t hurt them yet and it may not this tournament, but man is it infuriating to watch.
Of the many things they fail to tell you at the hospital after your wife has given birth is that your sports viewing habits will be indelibly changed by your baby’s arrival. Whereas before you could walk into the living room and basically own the TV whenever your favorite team is playing, now I get this look from my just-returning-to-work-and-definitely-stressed mother of my child.
So combined with work and a long commute, I’ve had to watch these games in non-traditional formats, either on feeds via the internet or on DVR. In a sense it has helped because I know the outcome or am so distracted that I just root for the laundry and the final score. But at the same time, you feel a bit disconnected from the best part of fandom, which is organically enjoying athletes playing a sport and (hopefully) winning. I’m not trying to be a buzzkill because I am absolutely ecstatic that she’s in my life, but for future mothers and fathers out there I’m here to warn you that your friends who say nothing changes are either liars or delusional liars.
Best: On We March
So on to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year, a streak that UM hasn’t enjoyed since [REDACTED]. Looking at the relative struggles of presumed “studs” like Florida, MSU, and Arizona as well as a number of key upsets, I feel much better about this team’s chances to emerge from this bracket, and at the very least make a solid run at a another championship game appearance.
Man, it feels SO nice to enjoy Michigan basketball again.
That is it. This wallpaper was SO much fun to make and, in my humble opinion, one of my best works from a pure photoshop experience. Last year I was on my game for the Tournament wallpapers, so I'm trying hard to bring it again this time. BTW, I know you wouldn't put a tag on a trophy piece, but it helped the image.
Anyway, hope you like it. Here's to rooting for back-to-back Sweet Sixteen appearances from the Wolverines for the first time since the Fab Five. Go Blue, beat Texas!
"Hook 'em [on the wall], Wolverines!" Desktop (1920x1080)
Update 3/20: We filled the initial pool so DraftStreet started a second pool of up to 1,000 people with $20k on the line. You can still use the links below and you'll be redirected to new pool. You will still be automatically entered in the MGoBlog tourney. If you entered the $40k one already you won't be moved or anything.
This is not a bracket game. This is better.
Money? MGofantasy partner DraftStreet is letting us enter/run a mini-game within their
$40,000 (40k one is filled; now entering the $20k one) March Madness fantasy contest. The top 250 125 finishers, i.e. those who make it to the 4th and final round (there are max 2,000 entries in a pool so one in eight entries wins) will split the $40k $20k in prize money, and those who enter through us also get a shot at designing the next MGoShirt or free MGoStore loot.
The Game Explained: For those of you who've rolled our games before you know the drill. For those who haven't, the way it works is you "draft" a team on a salary cap basis: every player has a pre-assigned value based on their production, and you get $100,000 to fit three forwards, three guards, and a pair of stretch players onto your roster. So for example if you start with Doug McDermott, Russ Smith, Jabari Parker and Casey Prather you'll have spent about $80k and will have to fill the rest of your team with scrubs to come in under the cap.
The Contest: Runs through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, i.e. Thursday 3/20 through Sunday 3/23. It's a four-day survival system: those who finish in the top half each day "survive" to the next, until final standings are determined by score on the last day.
The official name is the CBB $40,000 Blowout. Your team(s) will be competing among up to 2,000 entries. There's a $22 entry fee, OR each day before it begins, you can enter a side game for $2 or $5 and win your buy-in.
The MGoContest: Entries from MGoBlog get double-entered into our mini-pool, wherein the Top 5 finishers get to pick any shirt from the MGoStore. The champion gets to help us design the next MGoShirt (must keep to rules of propriety, licensed property, and NCAA rules, e.g. profiting from specific players). You come up with the concept and we'll turn in into a shirt, put it in the store, and send you three of them to give out to friends/family/enemies.
To be in our pool you don't have to do anything extra; just use the links from our site to get to the contest site and I'll track it.
Is there a button I should press or something?
Detail-like substances: You can't play if you're registering from from Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Vermont, or Puerto Rico, because of some anti-gambling internet laws in those places. Must be 18+. Amount of people advancing is predetermined so if <2,000 entries are in the league the top 1,000/500/250 still advance each day. DraftStreet is running the show under their rules.
YES DO MORE THINGS THAT MAKE PEOPLE STAND UP IN FRONT OF YOUUUUU
So you’ve turned your calendar to March and watched some snow melt (finally), and your mind has naturally turned to brackets and the anxiety that goes hand-in-hand with single elimination contests. If you’ve thought about single elimination games that involve ice and rubber spheres instead of hardwood and rubber spheres then we’re on the same page.
At 3pm on Thursday Michigan plays Penn State, the lowest seeded team in the Big Ten Tournament and the team that has given Michigan more problems than first-ranked (in the nation) Minnesota. If Michigan wins, there’s a 96% chance they make the NCAA Tournament. If they lose, that drops to 40-50%. Pretty straightforward and terrifying.
If this is the first hockey game you’ve watched or just the first one you’ve watched this season then this guide’s for you. Think of this as a time investment. If you read it and Michigan wins on Thursday then you’re all set for the NCAA Tournament! If you read it and they don’t win then you must be some sort of human jinx, please don’t watch the basketball team.
Who to watch on offense:
#17 JT Compher, C, FR/#18 Andrew Copp, C, SO
I couldn’t split these two up and put one in the category below because they jointly set the tempo for Michigan. Both are going to forecheck hard enough to create offense, though they can create off the cycle as well. Both of these guys have the mindset of a third-line center with the hands and hockey IQ of a first-liner.
And if those guys aren’t on the ice?
#27 Alex Guptill, LW, JR
Put the puck on his stick and he’s a potential NHLer. Take the puck away from him and, uh, results may vary. He was a healthy scratch once this year essentially because he was putting in zero effort on the defensive end, but he’s since rebounded. He’s not going to win any awards for “best defensive forward,” but he has an incredible ability to move with the puck in tight spaces and keep it away from defenders.
Who to watch on defense:
#37 Mac Bennett, D, SR
This isn’t supposed to be a slight to the other defensemen but actually yeah, it’s kind of a slight to the other defensemen; Bennett is the only one that doesn’t make me nervous when he’s on the ice. He’s a senior, but more important is that he’s made strides in terms of playing a simpler, more balanced game. He’s a calming influence on a very, very young d-corps who knows when to rush the puck and how not to turn it over in the defensive zone as much as the other defensemen.
And if he isn’t on the ice?
#22 Andrew Sinelli, D, JR
He used to be a forward but the transition may be the best thing that’s ever happened to him during his time at Michigan. Sinelli will need to continue to work on little things like gap control, but he’s got the skating ability to hang with most anyone. He’s been really impressive since switching positions mid-season.
What about that guy who lets people use composite materials to throw pieces of rubber at him?
#35 Zach Nagelvoort, G, FR
Since Compher came in with considerable hype I’d say Nagelvoort is the real surprise contributor this season. He wasn’t supposed to be playing this season, but an injury to starter Steve Racine pushed him into the lineup and he hasn’t relinquished that spot since. Nagelvoort likes to handle the puck near his net and has a very good glove hand. His positioning is very good and he stays square to shooters. Hard to ask for more than that from a freshman.
What about the team, the team, the team?
Coin flip. Averaging 3.12 goals/game is good enough for 20th in the nation, but which offense shows up is anyone’s guess. They can hang six on anyone in the nation or they can score one, and they’ve done both against great and terrible competition respectively.
Coin flip. They’re giving up 2.56 goals/game, which again places them 20th in the nation. Some nights they look unstoppable (see last Saturday’s game against Minnesota) and some nights they look beyond confused (see the entire Great Lakes Invitational).
Michigan has scored on 26 of their 129 opportunities (20.16%). This places them 17th in the nation, with the caveat being that every team ahead of them has had more power play chances. They’ve looked better in recent weeks as Luke Moffat has emerged as a legitimate special teams scoring threat. Eight of his 13 goals have come on the power play, so watch for #9 when Michigan has the man advantage.
While it’s not the worst in the nation, it’s the team’s weak spot when considering that they’re ranked somewhere around 20th in the nation in all other team scoring categories. Michigan has killed 105 of 129 penalties (81.4%), which ties them for 35th nationally with American International, which is a school that I did not know existed until I just wrote it down.
Tl;dr. What do I really need to know?
Michigan has to beat Penn State if they want to make the NCAA Tournament and start The Streak™ over. We don’t know which version of Michigan will show up; it will either be the team that can beat anyone in the nation or it will be the team that gifted Penn State two of its three B1G wins.