3/09/2017 – Michigan 75, Illinois 55 – 21-11, 10-8 Big Ten
3/10/2017 – Michigan 74, Purdue 70 (OT) – 22-11, 10-8 Big Ten
3/11/2017 – Michigan 84, Minnesota 77 – 23-11, 10-8 Big Ten
3/12/2017 – Michigan 71, Wisconsin 56 – 24-11, 10-8 Big Ten, BTT Champs
Over the course of thousands of years of human history since the invention of writing, many people have written—or chiseled or typed or uh is there a calligraphy verb—unwise things. Incorrect things. Silly, stupid, terribly wrong things. Some of these were supported by the best available evidence available at the time. Some of these had rather a lot of backing.
Nonetheless, diseases are not cured by bleeding out-of-balance humours from the body. No matter what NBA players may tell you, the earth is not flat. And virtually everything written about the Michigan basketball team during the first five weeks of 2017 should be taken to the largest conveniently-located landfill or event horizon and disposed of, never to be revisited. For example, take this festering twit from the depths of the internet reacting to Michigan's trip to East Lansing:
gonna be hard for Irvin to erase this from the top line of his Michigan legacy
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) January 29, 2017
That was either in late January (by ordinal time) or the Cretaceous (by subjective time). There was rather a lot of data backing that up, as Michigan trundled towards the NIT with a defense that at one point had sunk as low as #184 in the country on Kenpom.
Even by then, though, things were fitting into place. That was their fourth straight game of decent to good defense, and Irvin quietly spearheaded it. Future lottery pick Miles Bridges scuffled to 15 points on 17 shots and chipped in couple of turnovers en route to a 94 ORTG. In the return game things would only get worse for him, with 5 turnovers sinking his game ORTG even lower.
Michigan is fighting in the post and closing out like crazy and every single guy on the team has bought in. Only Irvin had to do that while simultaneously coming to grips with his role on the team, and how it wasn't what he wanted it to be. Walton's gotten the headlines and the hosannahs, but in a way it's much harder to fade into the background gracefully than become the lip-curled alpha dog. In that hamblasting of Michigan State at Crisler he had three points on 8% usage. Zak Irvin's learned something about humility this year. Hopefully so have festering twits from the internet*.
*[Spoiler: they have not.]
Irvin is an emblem of a Michigan renaissance unmatched since the Aneurysm of Leadership. Since The White Collar Incident, Michigan is 13-5 and one of the top ten teams in the country.
Also emblems: Derrick Walton, about whom the Trey Burke whispers are getting louder. Duncan Robinson, the world's unlikeliest candidate for defensive stopper and also a gentleman who would have gotten Michigan to overtime against Northwestern if not for Julia Louis-Drefyus's heavenly intervention. DJ Wilson, who can apparently play center now and guard 1-5 and go bucket for bucket with Purdue bigs. Mo Wagner, who firebombed Isaac Haas off the floor and has developed a stick-and-move hedge game that turns late clock in to very late clock. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who nobody even notices anymore because he's just as efficient as everyone else. Maverick Morgan, whose sick burn made Walton so angry he turned into the Hulk.
That's everyone with a usage above "limited roles" and a guy who plays for Illinois.
The improvement is comprehensive and near-unprecedented, and it stretches back half the season now. This isn't a fluke. It hasn't been inconsistent. Michigan has won a bunch of blowouts during that stretch and aside from that inexplicable OSU game all their losses were on narrow, on the road, against tournament teams. They had a plane crash; they arrived at the Big Ten tournament barely over an hour before their scheduled start time; Illinois was more shell-shocked than Michigan was, trailing by 11 by the first break.
I can't explain it. I feel like Robert Hooke looking through a microscope and finding out life was impossibly smaller and bigger than it seemed, simultaneously. I feel like I've just watched a month long Rocky training montage that has turned this Poindexter of a team into... well, still that but a murder hobo version of it. We were given many pieces of evidence and this team has improbably, wonderfully overturned them all.
Mind the gap. Three point launch margin over the course of the tourney: +10, +6, +10, +8. An increasingly tired Michigan outfit wasn't as efficient on theirs as they usually are, and it's no surprise to find out that a Beilein team takes a lot of threes.
But the three avoidance is real, and it's spectacular: Wisconsin's first shot in the championship game was a late-clock long two forced by an aggressive MAAR closeout. This is a beautiful place to force an off the dribble shot from:
Once again, barely more than a quarter of an opponent's FGAs were from behind the arc. Michigan moved up a spot in 3PA prevention after the BTT. They're still 308th in 3PA% allowed.
In Soviet Smiths Album, DJ hangs you. In the championship game Mark Donnal was limited to a few brief cameos and avoided a trillion only because he picked up a personal foul; Mo Wagner also played just 24 minutes. Michigan papered over the gap with DJ Wilson at the 5, and this worked brilliantly.
He was able to effectively front Happ most of the time and use his length to bother him when he did get a catch; Happ ended up shooting 6 of 16 from the floor with 3 TOs. With Irvin capable of checking the perimeter-oriented Hayes and Wagner having a rough day on offense, Michigan simply chose to ride with their small lineup in crunch time.
Short turnover Beilein time. So Michigan's two-point shooting was scorching over the course of the four days: 68%, 54%. 68%, 68%. All the more impressive since there were periods in the second half of all four games where Michigan looked too exhausted to run their offense and settled for some heroball.
Minnesota in particular was diced into a fine mist by the Michigan offense. Discombobulated by the lack of Reggie Lynch on the interior—the nation's leading shotblocker had zero as he tried to check Wagner on the perimter—the Gophers fell prey to a half-dozen back cuts in the first ten minutes and fell behind so badly that Michigan's dead-legs period in the second half only got them back to a tie, and from there Walton took over.
That's Michigan's offense going to work when the three point shooting was iffy.
One note of praise for referees. The championship game was downright perfect. I was a little irritated from time to time when Michigan didn't get a particular call but since they were letting various minor bumps go on both ends I soon settled down into a mode where—get this—I was not surprised when fouls happened or what direction they went.
The golden age of offense. Big Ten players who played at least 40% of the time and had a usage rate of at least 16%, ranked by ORTG:
- Duncan Robinson, 126
- Derrick Walton, 125
- James Blackmon, IU, 123
- DJ Wilson, 123
- Juwan Morgan, IU, 122
- Vincent Edwards, PU, 119
- Mo Wagner, 118
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, 116
- Bronson Koenig, UW, 116
- Trevor Thompson, OSU, 115
Only Zak Irvin(103) has the requisite minutes to qualify and is not on this list. This the second-best offense Beilein's ever had at Michigan, slotting in a hair behind the Stauskas/Levert-led Elite 8 team.
A bit on the draw. More on Michigan's first and (potential) second round opponents later in the week. At first blush this is a rough one. Oklahoma State is the #1 offense in the country and a team that, like Michigan, had a mid-season turnaround that has seen them thump a lot of teams and lose narrowly when they do in fact lose. If I had to pick one stat I do not want to see an opponent bring to a matchup with Michigan it's a bucket of OREBs, and Okie State is 6th nationally in that department.
On the other hand, their defense is miserable, like Michigan-before-Maverick miserable, and the only thing they're actually good at in that department is forcing turnovers. This could be a game where Duncan Robinson is 7/11 from 3, that sort of thing.
It should be good for neutrals. Thrill quotient type calculations that prioritize high scoring, close games have Michigan-Okie State as the best game of the first round.
A hypothetical second round matchup against (almost certainly Louisville) is not ideal, but at least the pod also features Kentucky so the crowd in Indy is likely to be relatively split. This version of UL has the usual jumping jacks in the middle that give them a ton of OREBs and swat/alter a ton of shots. Their shooting is only middling; they hang their hat on D and on the glass.
Seeding complaints are real. Maybe not for Michigan, but you know you screwed up as a committee when you've done this:
10-seed Wichita St. opened as a 6.5-point favorite over 7-seed Dayton. On what planet is that fair to the Flyers as a reward for a good yr?
— Mike James (@ivybball) March 13, 2017
That line is the best available guess from people with many dollars riding on accurate projections and just about matches Kenpom's 7-point projected margin. That corresponds to a 75% shot at a Wichita win. Congrats, Dayton. Here's a 25% shot at a first round game as a 7 seed.
I don't think Wichita should have been given a two like a world that seeds exclusively by Kenpom would, but does anyone blink if the Shockers are a 6? No. The team testing out the theory that Wichita State is actually good despite a loss to
3-9 19-14 Michigan State would be one of the last at-larges in the field and thus just happy to be here.
Don't even get me started on the Big Ten. The committee talked a big game about finally modernizing their approach, and that was all balderdash.
Once again, everybody who thought the Selection Committee had gotten off their RPI addiction looks like a fool.
— Jeff (BPredict) (@BPredict) March 12, 2017
When the committee chair is Mark Hollis I don't know why anyone expected better except for blind optimism.
Well, poop. They've been found. Chad Ford didn't have anyone from Michigan on his draft radar this season, but that's changed. He's got a list of the top guys to watch in the NCAA tournament; Wilson and Wagner check in towards the tail end of the list:
25. D.J. Wilson
Wilson is an athletic forward who can both stretch the floor and protect the rim. He has a rare combination of explosiveness and skill. His inconsistency and soft play (despite his size he doesn't really like contact in the paint) concern NBA scouts.
He's on the first-round bubble, but a big NCAA tournament could change things for him. He was outstanding in the Big 10 tourney for Michigan with 26 points, eight boards and three blocks against Purdue and 17 points, six boards, three assists and two steals against Wisconsin to lead Michigan to the title.
26. Moritz Wagner
Wagner might be the biggest sleeper on this list. The native of Germany brings many of the things that Lauri Markkanen brings to the table and is just six months older, such as size, agility, a terrific 3-point stroke and a high basketball IQ.
Like Markkannen, he isn't a great rebounder or shot blocker, but you don't find many players with his size and skill set in the draft.
He's still got both in the 30-50 range—ie, the second round—and FWIW, I've heard that both are planning to return next year. I wouldn't count on year four from either.
Plane? Busted. Shots? Busted. Tourney bracket? Busted. Here's to John Beilein's fourth banner.
Aaaand you can't have one without the other...
3/5/2017 – Michigan 93, Nebraska 57 – 20-11, 10-8
This is not a game column.
God DAMN, Derrick Walton. There was a point last night where Derrick Walton took a terrible shot with verve and élan and it went in and I was neither mad at the shot nor surprised at the outcome. The rest of his night was on that level: 18 points, 16 assists (a program record), 5 steals, and... sigh... one rebound. Walton missing a triple-double because of insufficient rebounds is a killer.
Also killer: Derrick Walton. He is now taking those Chauncey Billups transition pull-up threes and I love them even when they do not go down. He is efficient inside the arc for the first time since he was a freshman, and he's doing Trey Burke things, and he's making himself a verb. If I say a senior has "gone Walton" you know what I mean. Not that anyone is likely to have such a transformation again.
I have gotten in the occasional twitter fight with Minnesota fans who are arguing that Nate Mason should be first-team All Big Ten, and I would just like to state for the record that any such assertions are insane homerism. The only thing Mason has on Walton is volume, and that volume is underwhelming: he's shot 268 twos at a 38% clip this year.
Well then. Michigan's 36-point road annihilation of Nebraska ends their regular season and confirms Michigan as one of the weirdest teams in the country. It also conjures a hypothetical: would you rather be a nine seed that plays like a six or a six seed that plays like a nine? The former team wins a lot of blowouts and drops close games; the latter wins a disproportionate share of close games.
Being a six seed that isn't quite as good would feel better. Michigan is the nine because of their record in games decided by five or less: 3-6. Last year's team was 6-1 and still slid into Dayton. Also last year's team finished the year losing six of their last nine. Michigan's inverted that, albeit in a much worse Big Ten.
So either nearly the same crew of players went from super clutch to not clutch or this is a much better team that doesn't look like one record-wise because their point distribution across games was suboptimal.
An illustration. Nobody really doubts Michigan's sea change on defense anymore. Nonetheless, Nebraska provided an easy before-and-after photo for Beilein: the game at Crisler in January was in the immediate aftermath of the Maverick Morgan White Collar Incident; Michigan won a barn-burner 91-85. Nebraska shot 59% from two and 50% from 3, with Tai Webster torching Michigan for 37.
Yesterday, Webster was held to 8 points; Nebraska shot 53% from 3 and was just 2/15 from three. Ace and Alex have mentioned this before and it bears re-emphasizing after a game where Michigan gave up just 15 attempts from behind the arc: a big part of three point defense is keeping them from being launched in the first place, and Michigan is suddenly very good at that.
A selection of team D stats from last year to this year, with major shifts bolded:
Michigan's now slightly better than they were a year ago because they've offset big declines in rebounding and three-point percentage allowed with more turnovers forced, better free throw D (high five!), and a severe restriction on opponent threes. Even last year's team, which was dead last in the league in 2PT% D and right on the NCAA average for 3PT% D, gave up more points per three attempted than per two.
Obviously this is not a complete picture of the value of two-pointers since you're much more likely to draw free throws inside the line, but in case you've missed the last 20 years of basketball it remains the case that three is more than two even in extreme environments. Michigan's closeout competency surge is the biggest effect of hiring Billy Donlon: Michigan has never (never!) been in the top 100 in that stat under Beilein, and now they're in elite company.
Why Michigan's rebounding has declined is a bit of a mystery. It's mostly the same crew playing with the exceptions of DJ Wilson and Mo Wagner. Those two guys are replacing either wing types or Michigan's 2016 centers, who were Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle. Both of those guys had DREB rates barely over 10%. IE: they were not good rebounders. I maintained last year that Doyle was good at boxing out while letting others grab the ball; Ace theorized that Michigan's stronger closeout game has taken guys away from the basket.
Dunno. Area for improvement next year.
The volume of shift. Ace didn't want to round this and I don't either. Michigan's defense post-Nebraska-torching: 0.998 points per possession. That's a 12 game sample against much better competition* than the bad old days and would have been fourth in the league.
Perspective: Michigan's D improved just as much as Derrick Walton did after Maverick Morgan.
*[That ugly five game stretch to start the conference season is even uglier when you consider that it came against five opponents who were #3, #8, #11, #12, and #13 in offensive efficiency.]
Don't look at it. Use your peripheral vision. Zak Irvin's miserable stretch ended after the Indiana game. Since then he's been middling, hitting 53%/35% from the field on third-banana usage and helping Michigan's team-wide defensive renaissance. With Walton emerging as the team's alpha dog and Wagner either running things inside or throwing entire defensive systems into disarray ("Let's switch bigs on to Walton" –Tim Miles), third-banana, doesn't-dribble-out-half-a-shot-clock, zero-hero-ball Zak Irvin has re-emerged into an asset. Even if there's like one or two hero-balls in there.
Also in post-Maverick surges. MAAR is quietly the sixth-most efficient player in conference play. There was a point midseason where everyone seemed pretty mad at him, including Beilein. That seems like a long time ago, what with MAAR shooting 56/49 in Big Ten play, with many of those two-pointers difficult late-clock takes to the bucket when Michigan can't get anything else going.
One of the key questions on next year's offense is "how does MAAR maintain his efficiency at much higher usage?" He's at 17% now and will probably tack on 5% next year—that's a big leap. Pretty well if he just up that assist rate, I think. MAAR's done something pretty difficult for a guard: his career shooting percentage inside the arc is higher in conference play than it is over the course of the season, for three straight years. The kind of shots he gets are good ones.
Graham Couch time! It's been a minute since we checked in with the only beat writer on the planet who thinks Martin Luther King Day is for lazy people. It takes time to regather yourself after such a take and find the next thing you're going to be spectacularly, inanely wrong about. Couch rises to the occasion:
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – If Michigan State is left out of the NCAA tournament this month, MSU’s non-conference schedule next season should be a who’s who of the SWAC and MEAC, with a couple mid-level MAC and Missouri Valley Conference teams sprinkled in to give the illusion that competition matters.
MSU is in line for a bid mostly because they successfully gamed the RPI by losing to good teams. That's how they're one spot behind Michigan in that metric despite a 25-spot gap in Kenpom, two fewer wins, and the same conference record. MSU beat one nonconference team of consequence, Wichita State; Michigan beat Marquette and SMU. MSU also lost to Northeastern. The only reason to project those teams at or near the same seedline is because the NCAA is still relying on the archaic RPI, and the RPI has rewarded MSU for losing to good teams.
What would the SWAC-and-MEAC schedule do to Michigan State's RPI? Annihilate it. The worst thing you can do as a college basketball team looking to game the system is play teams ranked 300+. Graham Couch's argument is "if the NCAA puts MSU in the NIT, MSU should throw a fit... and put themselves in it." I can't let this zinger languish on Slack:
By and for juggaloes.
2/25/2017 – Michigan 82, Purdue 70 – 19-10, 9-7 Big Ten
GERMAN DURANT [Bryan Fuller]
For months I'd chalked the Purdue game up as a loss. Michigan has certain deficiencies, you see, and Purdue has 7'2" Ivan Drago and a guy better at rebounding than 7'2" Ivan Drago. These gentlemen aimed a dagger straight at Michigan's primary weakness. Therefore, pessimism.
That pessimism was well founded. Purdue grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, 36% of those available. Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan had five of those. Swanigan went 7/8 from inside the arc. And it didn't matter. Mo Wagner summoned the spirit of Stauskas and spearheaded a run-away-and-hide first half that was reminiscent of the good ol' days when official Twitter accounts had no recourse from posting shruggies during NCAA tournament games.
Purdue fans must have felt the same creeping helplessness Texas's social media wrangler during Wagner's barrage. Wagner posted up the dead-certain Big Ten POY successfully. He took him off the dribble. Somewhat later he hit three straight triples like he was Kevin freakin' Durant at Rucker Park. On defense he was... acceptable? Swanigan scored a bunch but some of that was very late during Michigan's no-threes period and some of it was when Wagner went out briefly in the first half. Swanigan got his but he also got got by Wagner's Mitch McGary impression, as Ace helpfully clipped:
Wagner knew he couldn't win the strength battle so those little gambles are making the best of a bad situation. Five turnovers drove Swanigan's game ORTG down to 109 despite his hot shooting. That's below his season average, and that's a massive win, one that led to a massive win.
Wagner, meanwhile? 148 ORTG. Like the turnover embedded above, it's a trap(!).
People get the Death Star all wrong. When a real life thing is compared to fiction's most well-trodden trope it's a supreme thing. A thing of tremendous power at the top of the game. That's not right. Whenever a Death Star shows up—and it shows up in every Star Wars movie because it's not called New Idea Wars—it is immediately and spectacularly destroyed by someone throwing a can of soup at it.
I submit that this year's Michigan basketball team is a real Death Star kind of team. Charge 'em up and point 'em in the right direction and they will turn a bucolic, pastoral world into rubble.
MSU—By 29 to Michigan
Indiana—By 30 to Michigan
Purdue—By 12 to Michigan
Marquette—By 18 to Michigan
SMU—By 22 to Michigan
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) February 25, 2017
Penetrate their flimsy defenses with some chunky clam chowder or, like, whatever Ohio State purports to be this year* and you'll be rewarded with a gradually expanding cloud of pine-scented debris. They put the thermal exhaust ports at backup center and for some unfathomable reason created nine-foot-high neon signs that blink SHOOT HERE. It doesn't have to make sense, because Ewoks.
It is possible that Michigan has turned the blinking signs off. That awful period at the beginning of conference play when every Michigan basketball observer except Ace gave up is now firmly in the rearview mirror. Michigan's defense is... acceptable? Both Dylan and our entire Slack chat took note of a particular play in the second half on which Michigan looked like they knew what they were doing:
Purdue's been very good this year not only because of their big guys but because they've surrounded them with shooters. Almost 40% of their shots are threes and they go down at a 40% clip. Michigan held Purdue to just 16 attempts, barely more than a quarter of their shots. They hit barely more than 30%, because a lot of them were contested jacks like the above.
That's a trend that's taken them off the bottom of the conference in most stats. Michigan actually hasn't given up significantly more than a point per possession since their win against Nebraska in the middle of January. That's an 11 game stretch of 1.01 PPP, which would be good for fifth in the league. Pair okay defense with an offense that is as scorching as any Beilein's had...
Michigan's adjusted offensive efficiency is now 120.3 - the team that made it to the title game a few years ago was 120.2
— bauncey chillups (@bauncechill) February 26, 2017
...and you're looking at the proverbial Team Nobody Wants To Play In The NCAA Tournament. Per this guy on twitter, Michigan was the best team in the Big Ten during February. One that nearly lost to Rutgers, just in case anyone was getting cocky.
One thing is clear: when Michigan takes the court a fireball will soon follow.
*[Ohio State Basketball 2016-17: "We Take A Comparison To A Can Of Soup As A Compliment."]
The cost and the benefit. Credit to John Beilein for rolling with Wagner for the vast bulk of the first half. He got an early foul and the bench time that results; Donnal came in and did what you'd expect against the Purdue front line for a few minutes in which Michigan was –7; Wagner returned and did not exit the rest of the half. This allowed Michigan to race out to a huge halftime lead.
Wagner's quick fouls in the second half were not the Bad Mo Whistle coming back out; they seemed to be sheer tiredness, especially the third, on which he grabbed Swanigan so blatantly that he did the sheepish hand raise thing. Every Michigan beat writer noted the time of his departure (14:58) but Michigan managed to extend their lead during the nine minutes he was out. This was largely because...
DJ Wilson functioned as the five. A few more Donnal minutes that were headed in a very bad direction and then Michigan went with their smallest possible lineup: DJ at the five. This had the same offensive benefits that Wagner did against Purdue's bigs, and Wilson did an admirable job using his tremendous length to deny entry passes to Swanigan. It's a stopgap, but I'm way on board with stopgaps at backup center.
Peak Derrick Walton. In a game featuring Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan, Derrick Walton led all rebounders with 11. He had literally half of Michigan's defensive rebounds. This is kind of a problem but not a huge one—Michigan is 9th in DREBs in the league.
Also in Derrick Walton news, 17 points on 13 shot equivalents, five assists, zero turnovers, and a steal. Find me a better point guard in the Big Ten. Melo Trimble has one thing on him: volume. Nobody else is even in the conversation.
Pretty good refereeing! There was only one thing that was insane.
The above is Wagner getting clocked in midair by Haas without a call. Nothing else stood out at bad either way; even the second half foul-fest looked to be entirely initiated by the players.
Third banana time. Zak Irvin was a perfect third banana as a freshman during the good ol' days. With Walton and Wagner blowing up Irvin's back to being #3, and that's fine. Sometimes he hits some shots and pulls Michigan over the hump—his 16 against Rutgers were desperately needed—and sometimes he throws up bricks and dribbles it off his foot and fades into the background. Michigan can live with Irvin scoring just four, as he did against Purdue, if he's only taking eight shots.
It would be really nice if he could get back to that 40% three point clip he had early in his career.
The late slowdown. With about six minutes left Michigan took the air out of the ball and proceeded to give everyone a near-heart attack. It's obvious when that slowdown took place on the Kenpom probability chart:
Michigan in blue
The Walton heave at the buzzer starts off Michigan's final scoring flurry. There has been a lot of consternation in the aftermath. I'm of two minds. I was freaking out like everyone else, and I hated those four minutes of bleeding the clock and shooting your offense in the foot. It's especially grating because Michigan has one of the nation's slowest and most efficient offenses. If they just act normally they are likely to run a bunch of time off the clock and get a good look.
On the other hand, the defensive end of the floor was close to the worst case scenario...
The Boilermakers scored on 10 of 11 possessions after DJ Wilson hit a three to put Michigan up by 21 points with 8:50 to play. That’s 25 points in 11 possessions or 2.3 points per trip. That’s more than a basket every trip down the floor and Purdue scored just 45 points in the other 54 possessions of the game.
...and Kenpom was almost entirely unmoved.
Whittling it down to six with just over two minutes to go got Michigan down to a 95% win percentage, and Walton's dagger shut the door again. So it was probably the percentage play to shut down the variance.
Still felt like a couple minutes too early.
Bubble watch turns into something else. Michigan's punched their ticket and is now trying to get out of the 8-9 game, but there is significant bubble intrigue left in the league: Northwestern. At the beginning of February the Wildcats were 18-4 and cruising towards a bid. After losing five of seven—oddly one of the two wins in there is at the Trohl Center—they're 20-9, 9-7, and solidly on the bubble. They finish with Michigan and Purdue at home. Both those games are near coinflips to Kenpom.
It would have been disappointing if Northwestern's first NCAA bid was a cruise to a six-seed. This feels much better. The downside is that Michigan's going into Welsh Ryan against some desperate dudes.
2/19/2017 – Michigan 78, Minnesota 83 (OT) – 17-10, 7-7 Big Ten
I was pretty mad last night for obvious reasons, and it occurred to me that I hadn't been actually mad at a Michigan sporting thing since football ceased. Hockey's fallen into the abyss to the point where the poor damn SID for that sport is issuing game recaps like this:
Michigan's Comeback Bid Falls Short at Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. -- The University of Michigan ice hockey team fell, 5-2, to Wisconsin on Friday night (Feb. 17) in a Big Ten Conference matchup at the Kohl Center.
Juuuust a little short. Now that their record has caught up with their play (they're 1-7-2 in their last ten games, including an 0-2-2 record against Michigan State, the worst power conference team in RPI) it's been hard to even pay attention. Even when I am at a game I come away from it with few opinions other than "they are bad but Lockwood is good." It happens in front of you and then it is gone. Hockey isn't even interestingly bad.
Michigan's big three sports have endured seasons like this before, of course, but football's so short and their 3-9 was such an anomaly that it still held some interest, as a historical artifact if nothing else. I did get used to ignoring various basketball teams because they started walk-ons at point guard and their game strategy was to hold the ball for 30 seconds and then get the one half-decent player on the team to heave up a heavily contested jumper.
Ignoring hockey (hockey!) is weird to me, but here we are. We sold our tickets to the most recent Michigan State game because 75 bucks sounded better than a punch in the gut, and when I tried to turn the game on only to find it was not televised, I was relieved. So that's where we are in 2016 with hockey: I can legitimately be surprised when a game is not televised, and I can be fine with missing the saddest has-been rivalry in sports.
In that light, getting mad on twitter about TV Ted Valentine is actually kind of nice. Don't get me wrong: I'd rather watch a college basketball game not run by people so deranged they might end up on CNN attacking the independent judiciary. I'd rather watch a college basketball game in which Michigan does not set a Beilein-era record for free throws allowed (41!). I'd rather have guys who don't give Michigan a tech from halfway across the court for no apparent reason. I nonetheless choose fist-clenching impotent fury over the listless apathy hockey's induced.
And that is a little something after Michigan's early conference swoon looked fatal. This chart is the change in teams' efficiency margins since conference play started; Michigan is the line that flirts with becoming Indiana 2.0—remember when they beat Kansas and UNC?—before reversing:
Here's the change in B1G teams' efficiency margins since the opening of conference play. Maryland is on fire. pic.twitter.com/Las2y7cgtB
— snwman (@bkbtNUmbers) February 20, 2017
Now I have a reason to silently hope people I've never met get a mildly debilitating disease that renders them unable to referee basketball games without having much impact on the rest of their lives and suddenly realize that this has already happened. Possibly twice.
So I've got that going for me. A silver lining.
Eh, I'm kind of fine with Wagner fouling out like that. Michigan's down one with about a minute left and Wagner tries his Mitch McGary poke. It works, but in the process of it working Wagner hits the guy in the face and fouls out. Shon Morris immediately starts bemoaning how dumb that was.
I don't know about that. Michigan only got to overtime because Wagner was successful at prying the ball loose at half court and getting a quick two points. Repeating that in overtime down one swings your victory percentage way up—at least 30-40 percent, I'd guess. It's a risk but it might be a good one.
This style matchup. Watching Michigan play Minnesota is always an interesting contrast in styles. Beilein recruits a ton of skilled shooters and has them run an intricate offense; Pitino recruits guys chiseled out of marble who have never seen a basketball and has them run wildly at the basket in case that works out.
I greatly prefer Beilein's approach for a number of reasons, with one exception: gol dang it would be nice to have a Reggie Lynch at center. Lynch was not highly recruited and in fact played his first two years at Illinois State; he was #1 in block rate both of his two years there and is #1 this year. My kingdom for a guy who can affect shots. Maybe Jon Teske will figure out which bits are his knees and which are his elbows next year.
In all other ways, Minnesota basketball looks painful.
Free throws. In addition to the ref rogering, Michigan went through a stretch last night where Derrick Walton and Duncan Robinson went 1-5 from the free throw line. Robinson is 81% and Walton 88%. There's a divide here between the kind of person who goes all MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS as if this was a moral failing deserving of a loss and persons like myself who look at an event like that as an improbable statistical event that is worth no more than a shrug and a shake of the fist at Gamblor.
Minnesota's troubles evaporated in the second half; by the end of the game they were right on their 68% season average. Michigan was at 50%, which I don't have to tell you is not what they average. That is one of the reasons they lost.
Ohio State muscled their way to the basket, then missed, then rebounded, picked up a foul, and made their free throws. Then Michigan attempted a three. That could be how the game ended, or any possession in a one-way physical battle that might have elbowed Michigan out of a place in the tournament. In fact I wrote it with six minutes left in the game. I get no points.
In a game expected to come down to whose backup center spent more time on the floor Michigan couldn’t keep its starter out there for more than five minutes. Unable to win battles in the paint Michigan lived and died by its three-point shooting while Ohio State owned the boards, taking 16/33 offensive rebound opportunities and 26/33 on their own end. The numerous second opportunities on Michigan’s side led to a lot of fouls, putting the Wolverines’ best frontcourt defenders on the bench and exacerbating the mismatches down low.
Derrick Walton continued his inspiring play since the Illinois “white collar” comment, leading all scorers with 25 points and nearly his team to a late comeback. Walton finished 6/9 from distance (a possible 7th was called a two-pointer could have gone either way). He also led the Michigan defensive effort with 10 rebounds, including his team’s first OREB of the game late in the 1st half, when he out-leapt even his own center:
Walton also drove to nearly tie it right before freethrowtime, missing both a tough layup and his attempted put-back. After Ohio State missed two free throws—just their third and fourth whiffed freebies of the game—Walton again put Michigan within one with his last three-pointer. That would do it for Wolverine scoring; Ohio State made their next four attempts to finish 24 for 28 at the charity stripe.
Michigan started on a 9-2 run and pushed it as far as 19-8 early. But Ohio State battled back to a 36-35 halftime lead by dominating the boards on both ends despite their own foul troubles. The Buckeyes’ 10-1 first half advantage in offensive rebounds was augmented by an uncharacteristic six turnovers for Michigan, half off the hands of Irvin.
Matters got worse early in the first half as both Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson quickly picked up their third fouls. Ohio State took advantage, pushing their lead to 47-39 by the next break as their frontcourt feasted on Donnal and Robinson. Wagner came back in at the 15 minute mark but immediately picked his fourth whistle, putting Donnal back on the floor. Moe would enter again late, fouling out on Michigan’s last wrap-up in the waning seconds. Teske did not play.
Michigan has its other, more basketbally rival coming to town for a night game this week. It’s hard to see this team making the tournament if they’re as accommodating to those guests too.