this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
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?]
11/24/2014 – Michigan 70, Oregon 63 – 4-0
Tight all the way. Announcers will proclaim basketball A Game Of Runs. This was a game of ambles, or strolls, or little rabbit hops. The entire game was played in a narrow window between tied and Michigan +8, causing maximum tension throughout. Michigan would push out to five or six or that lovely 8 that one time and then Oregon would hit a three or get a rebound putback and the tension would ratchet up again.
This was a nice reminder that it is possible to have feelings about sports.
I'm soaked in joy [Joseph Dressler]
Hello Ricky Doyle. The obvious story of the game: after a paltry two minutes against Detroit, Doyle came off the bench to register 24 of the game-winning variety.
His defense was worlds better than anyone else available at center. He was capable of hedging hard, Morgan-style, and recovering. He brought a shot-altering presence. There were a number of opportunities to compare him directly to Donnal as Oregon attempted to post both guys up as likely weaknesses. Doyle gave up a series of difficult attempts that ended in misses and took multiple charges; Donnal gave up buckets and gave fouls. There was a particularly revealing sequence midway through the second half when Michigan tried to steal a few minutes with Donnal and had to lift him after Oregon went right at him on back-to-back possessions.
Doyle also displayed a knack for finishing around the rim, going 4/5 on the night. He went up strong when provided the opportunity to, and as described in the game recap his savvy on the sealing putback was beyond his years. I was like KICK IT OUT, he was like KICK IT OUT, Oregon was like HE'S GOING TO KICK IT OUT WE HAVE TO STOP THIS, and Doyle was able to recognize a lack of options in that department and deliver a mansome finish against three guys.
And about two minutes into the game he was leaving a trail of sweat behind him, hair plastered to his head. That shot on the right makes him look like the world's largest Rascal. I can't find this to credit it but someone suggested we call him "Ice Bucket" because he perpetually looks like he just took the Ice Bucket Challenge. Big, big night.
Eclipse of the Beilein. I would be surprised to find another game in Beilein's tenure at Michigan—or anywhere—with as few three-point attempts as that one. Michigan launched just 13, hitting 5, compared to 33 two-point attempts. Oregon refused to sag and their zero-center lineup featuring a lot of quick guys provided few opportunities to get them out of alignment.
The cost for Oregon was allowing a ton of driving lanes. That is normally not a huge problem for a Michigan opponent, but LeVert was able to get to the basket and draw a whopping 13 FTAs; as a team Michigan had 29, with only a few due to late-game fouling.
The contrast in LeVert's game between long shots—3 of 13 on the night from the field—and drives was stark. LeVert had a number of Long Contested Isolation Jumpers that banged off the back rim and set up Oregon's transition game. The drives got Michigan vital points and set Oregon against a half-court defense. This was no doubt the message Beilein was sending with an unusually fiery rant during a late timeout.
YOUTH IS WASTED ON THE YOUNG [Bryan Fuller]
Chatman starts strong, then wobbles. We saw Kam Chatman's best burst of play as a Wolverine in the first few minutes of the game. He set up Mark Donnal for an easy dunk and had a sinuous finish of his own. Then things got rough, on both ends. Michigan eventually yanked him after some defensive breakdowns; before that he'd bricked another three and missed two of his four FTAs wildly.
There hasn't been much to indicate that anyone else is ready to take those minutes, so Michigan is going to have to keep rolling with him and hope he can be more like that guy early instead of that guy late.
Irvin: not just a shooter. Zak Irvin joined the parade of guys heading to the bucket, drawing a couple fouls and finishing some swooping drives smoothly. Early yet, but so far he seems to have a good feel for when he can attack closeouts and looks much more comfortable doing so than GRIII or THJ ever did. I've been wary about the idea Irvin is going to become a complete offensive player because of those two antecedents; so far, so good.
Beilein autobench ack. Walton was limited to six points in 24 minutes as the Beilein autobench saw him out for most of the first half and for five or so minutes in the second. I love John Beilein but… Walton averaged 2.5 fouls per 40 last year. Michigan voluntarily fouled him out of this game.
Silver lining is that he'll be relatively fresh for tonight's game. Michigan had its usual early-season-tourney spate of weird lineups in the first half, but with the game on the line and no bench players other than Doyle distinguishing themselves, Michigan had to go with a heavy, heavy dose of LeVert (39 minutes) and Irvin (38 minutes). Hell, Spike got 35 himself. If Michigan's going to win against 'Nova, Walton's going to have to have a huge game.
Rebounding issues. Oregon came in averaging big piles of OREBs, as you might expect from a team with a lot of bouncy 6'6" guys who crash the boards. You'd want Michigan to do better than they did, though. Oregon rebounded almost half their misses.
The fives were overwhelmed not by length but by numbers. Neither Donnal nor Doyle pulled in a DREB—Doyle did have three on the other end—but with 11 OREBs between the three main Duck forwards it's hard to put the blame on them exclusively.
One issue: another rough night for Chatman forced Michigan to use a Spike lineup featuring Irvin at the 4 for most of the second half.
The damage. Via hoop-math, 10 of the 18 Oregon OREBs were immediately put back up, with seven buckets resulting. That's the only reason this game was close. Can Michigan do anything about it is the question.
Physics is a dead end, Shon. How is the wreckage of the Indiana program going, Tom Crean?
I told you I told you all
Michigan has a new starting center, I think. Ricky Doyle came off the bench to provide ten points, a monster block, and three offensive rebounds. The most critical of those came with under a minute left; Doyle looked for passing options, found none, and then displayed savvy beyond his years by following a single power dribble with an up-fake and a bucket that stretched the Michigan lead to five. Once the ensuing jacked-up three landed safely in Zak Irvin's hands it was time to exhale.
In the aftermath Michigan has a very odd Beilein-era win. Michigan shot just 13 threes against 33 twos and got to the line a whopping 29 times. Oregon's game plan was to shut off Death From Above; they succeeded but Michigan was diverse enough to scrape out the win anyway.
Defensively Michigan was proficient when able to corral Oregon into a half-court game. Star Oregon guard Joseph Young shot just 5-16 and only cracked 20 points with a series of desperate late forays that got him to the line—in one case, questionably. As a team, Oregon shot 26% from three and turned the ball over 14 times.
Rebounding was the only thing keeping them in it. Oregon grabbed almost half their misses. That's an issue that will have to be addressed. With Oregon's multiple bouncy 6'6" guys crashing the boards the centers were overwhelmed—neither Donnal or Doyle got a single defensive rebound.
But that's a win over a Pac-12 team that looks a bit better than its preseason predictions; Villanova is tomorrow after the Wildcats dismantled VCU by taking care of the ball and punishing the press—stop me if you've heard that one before. Doyle will again be key as 'Nova brings more size than any opponent to date.
1 hour 15 minutes
BATS [Eric Upchurch]
The usual pratfall.
Big three, yes please. Spike taking a leap forward. Need more production at the 4 and 5.
TALKING BIG TEN WITH JAMIEMAC
This diverges into a discussion about the ticket bubble and Big Ten expansion and how it feels like the breaking point has finally been reached. The appearance of bush league. The Bits Of Broken Chair trophy is amazing.
"Across 110th Street"
"What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted?," Jimmy Ruffin
"When Disaster Strikes," Busta Ryhmes
THE USUAL LINKS
11/17/2014 – Michigan 77, Bucknell 53 – 2-0
then he served Bucknell pancakes [Eric Upchurch]
That was rather impressive. The Bison are not a SWAC pushover. Historically they're one of the best teams in the Patriot League, and while they fell off a bit last year they were still good enough to put scares into Stanford and St. John's and beat Penn State by ten.
Michigan blew 'em off the court, opening up a 48-19 halftime lead and coasting from there.
We never think of the Kenpom. Speaking of the coasting: it got sloppy in the second half, with Michigan settling for a ton of long twos off the dribble with 25 seconds on the shot clock. These went clang, as dictated by Karma, and the blistering hot start petered out into a less than blistering 1.15 points per possession.
Broken record time: I don't mind open jumpers taken in rhythm, especially after you've gotten past a guy on a closeout and know you've got space to elevate without being harassed. I really do not like low-efficiency long twos that come without exploring your possession for better shots. There's a reason you can get those whenever you want. It's hard to yell at guys when you're hammering the opposition, but hopefully that's one of them coaching points that can be deployed.
THE CALVES THAT ATE THE AMERICAN WEST. So… remember that time someone asked why Max Bielfeldt keeps taking threes and Beilein responded that he was an assassin in practice? I guess that's accurate. On a night where one of the Big Three was struggling with his shot and Michigan got little production out of the four spot, Bielfeldt laid waste to the Bison. He hit all three of his attempts behind the arc and scoring 18 on 10 shot equivalents. Max was a one-man Manifest Destiny out there.
Does this mean something going forward? Maybe. Bielfeldt is still way undersized for the 5 spot in the Big Ten, and in this game there were a couple of post buckets by the spectacularly-named Nana Fouland that Bielfeldt could barely contest.
But maybe the four would work? If Bielfeldt is a credible threat in the corner and the matchup doesn't seriously expose him defensively that could be an option, Kenny Kaminski style. Bielfeldt is a decent matchup against Brandon Dawson types who aren't going to blaze by him to the basket, and Michigan's not getting much production out of that spot.
I still don't think you can build a Big Ten defense around a 6'7" post.
[After THE JUMP: rebounding strategy, HULK SMASH, Irvin "not bad" face.]
An externality of Michigan’s ascent has been its ability to simply run overmatched non-conference opponents out of the beautiful Crisler Center. Bucknell has been a solid mid-major program for a few years now and their kenpom rank entering the night (177) suggested that they may be game for a fight. That notion was quickly disproved after Michigan ran out to an early 10-0 lead, capped by a three-pointer from little-used reserve Max Bielfeldt. The rest of the first half was much of the same: Michigan led 10-2 at the under-16 timeout, 24-7 at the under-12, 34-13 at the under-8, 41-17 at the under-4, and 48-19 at halftime.
With the game’s outcome fairly secure, the story quickly became about Bielfeldt – the veteran had yet to make a significant contribution in his time at Michigan and many (including myself) projected that three freshmen would be above him on the depth chart. It was a surprise to see Bielfeldt replace Mark Donnal as the first big man off of the bench, but—as usual—John Beilein made a wise decision in playing the senior center.
In Bielfeldt’s first four minutes on the court, he made two three-pointers (both assisted by Kam Chatman) and was the beneficiary of an excellent drive-and-dish from Spike Albrecht; those eight points doubled his previous career high. He finished with 18 points total on an efficient 7-9 shooting and made each of his three-point attempts. With Michigan’s impressive cadre of lethal offensive weapons, it’s hard to imagine that Bielfeldt was scouted much by the Bison, but Bielfeldt was outstanding. In the end, he finished second on the team in scoring (behind Zak Irvin’s 23 points) and looks like he’s another factor in Michigan’s uncertain hierarchy of big men.
Irvin got his points efficiently – 23 points on 8-13 shooting (4-5 from three) – and seemingly scored at will. His characteristic quick-trigger was on full display, though he did also have a nice assist to Mark Donnal on a screen-and-roll action and had a nice take in transition. Derrick Walton chipped in with 15 points, managed to pull down 8 rebounds, and was extremely aggressive in transition.
The third member of Michigan’s high-octane triumvirate, Caris LeVert, was notably quiet, though his production wasn’t needed. LeVert was 2-11 from the field and eventually just managed 6 points on the night (along with 6 rebounds and 6 assists). Spike Albrecht didn’t shoot well (1-5) but did have six assists; he was so masterful with the ball in his hands and it seemed like he was able to do whatever he liked against the Bison defense.
Beilein did give minutes to six freshmen and they were variably effective: Mark Donnal got the start but was quiet (though he did have two blocks); Ricky Doyle had a few nice post moves; Kam Chatman had a few opportunistic steals on defense but conceded a few open looks because of his inexperience, while contributing little offensively; D.J. Wilson looked a little bit lost on offense and didn’t play much until garbage time; Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman got a little run in the first half but didn’t do much; Aubrey Dawkins was relegated to mop-up duty at the end of the night.
Graphic from Ace Anbender
Michigan just overwhelmed Bucknell from the opening tip. The Wolverines’ shooting regressed to the mean in the second half and Bucknell’s numbers were bolstered by a flurry of late, inconsequential threes from Chris Hass. Michigan’s defense—normally not known for its ability to force turnovers—flustered Bucknell in the half-court and the Bison turned the ball over 17 times. With Michigan’s dominance on the offensive glass, it was a comprehensive win.
These types of games tend to blend together over time, but Bielfeldt’s breakout performance, in particular, was very memorable. If he eventually becomes a key cog on this Michigan team, we’ll look back on this game on an unseasonably wintry November weeknight as the catalyst for something bigger.