I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
Darius Morris had a triple-double against Iowa—just the third in the program's history—and I managed to completely omit any mention of this when I talked about the game. In an effort to repair the fail here it is in its entirety thanks to UMHoops and Josh Houchin:
It got fancy in there for a moment. Almost as if someone was… dancing.
I don't have anything sweeping to say about last weekend's basketball and hockey games that's not a replica of what I said over the past couple weeks. Depending on whether the hockey team is flinging in seemingly unplanned goals or not the team is either okay or difficult to watch, but they are winning just about as much as anyone else in the country so that's an improvement from last year. The basketball team is desperately young and looks it unless it's flinging in half its three pointers, which it has the last couple games.
But I did go to the Joe and Crisler over the weekend, so some assorted items.
Make it rain. I thought "7 of 17 is pretty good" at halftime, and then Michigan went 7 of 9 in the second half, finishing a second straight game with a 3PT% of essentially 50%. This is obviously unsustainable. The top shooting team in the country is Northern Arizona. They're making 45% from behind the arc… and are 312th in 3PA/FGA. Michigan's sixth in that category. The rims will go clang again when opponents are getting out on Michigan's shooters.
But they count just as much as all those jacked up threes they clattered off rims earlier in the year. Michigan's three point shooting has been steadily improving and now they can claim to be above average for what I believe is probably the first time in the Beilein era. They're up to 34.8%, good for #147. Smotrycz, Vogrich, Novak, and Douglass are all at or above 37%. The only sources of three-point shots that aren't net benefits are Morris, who's at 29% on slightly more than two per game, and Hardaway, who's at 31% with nearly six attempts per.
BTW, Michigan State is enduring an agonizingly similar stretch on defense—opponents are shooting essentially 50% on their last 71(!) attempts from three.
Hardaway volume redux. I don't think I had a problem with more than a couple of Hardaway's many, many shots against the Hawkeyes since he was either launching wide-open threes or dealing with a short shot clock. It's tough to complain when he was 5-10 from behind the arc.
After Beilein said he "almost" has a green light to shoot, which seems like a diplomatic way to say "has a little Stu Douglass disease going on" since apparently everyone else on the team has said light. Hardaway's got the worst two point pecentage on the team* to go with his below-average three pointers.
This isn't a knock on Hardaway's potential—if he can just get himself a little more under control and trust in the guys around him, those numbers should increase drastically. The individual stat that will bear the closest attention as Michigan goes into an important 2011-12 season is Hardaway's offensive efficiency rating. I'm betting it takes a big step forward and Michigan suddenly becomes a tough offense to deal with.
*[Colton Christian's 2-for-11 season excluded.]
Not Hassan Wasabi. I vaguely remember John Gasaway praising some Iowa freshman that Fran McCaffery took with him when he left Siena for Iowa, but didn't remember the name. So I spent a big chunk of the first half alternately angry at Michigan's defense and wondrous that a man named "Hassan Wasabi" was playing for Iowa instead of getting kicked in the face by Bruce Lee. (Or Vogrich @ right).
It eventually dawned on me that the guy's name was "Melsahn Basabe," which is still pretty awesome but doesn't quite live up to my misconceptions.
Also awesome: Basabe himself. If Iowa hadn't hired McCaffery he'd be destroying the MAAC, as Gasaway said. Hell, he's already doing that to the Big Ten: he's shooting 57%, around 100th nationally in OReb%, DReb%, and Blk%. He's a black hole with no assists and plenty of turnovers but dang, man. How was this guy ticketed for Siena?
Defense slowly evaporating. Of course, Michigan's defense had something to do with that. Whenever someone shoots 9 of 11 you've been pwned. Halfway through the conference schedule Michigan has flipped their scouting report from the nonconference—the defense is the relative weak point.
I couldn't tell you why other than to go "youth," but remember earlier in the year when I suggested Michigan would actually be a relatively big team this year? That's not happening because McLimans has played himself out of the rotation, Smotrycz has been erratic, and the two centers have been foul-prone. This results in quite a bit more of Zack Novak at the 4 than anyone wanted or predicted. The kicker: a good chunk of the time that lineup features Smotrycz as a hilariously undersized center. Result: effective height in the bottom third of the nation despite having an average height that's 42nd.
It's going to be up to the freshmen over 6'7" to make this better next year since both recruits are guards. The main problem to my eyes is that Smotrycz doesn't really have a backup. It's either Novak or Christian, neither of whom is a great option.
no blue line for you, except that means all blue line for everyone
Guuuughghghr. Michigan's played some entertaining low-scoring games—Friday against Alaska was one—but they've also played some clunkers, like that OT loss against Ohio State. That was a grunting nothing of a game played mostly between the blue lines that turned on some terrible goaltending. The game against the Joe was the latter. Scoring chances were few and far between anda lot of them were due to error more than someone actually doing something right.
Now I'm full-on worried. Michigan got outshot for the third straight game, this one against the tenth-place team in the CCHA. They've scored two goals in the last three games that weren't shots from the point, and while Caporusso's goal against MSU was a nice effort play by Scooter it was a play where a puck bounced fortuitously, not something Michigan had intent behind. You're going to get your share of those goals over the course of a season but it seems like teams that are Frozen Four good have more goals where plans were successfully executed. Michigan's had very few of those.
Lynch penalty shot. I had no real expectation he'd score, but the way that went down is a depressing summary of where the team is right now. Time was Michigan's second round picks were offensive machines; Michigan's are just guys. Lynch, Rust, Brown, Caporusso—all of them are second or third round draft picks that don't seem to do much in the offensive zone. All are getting outscored by Scooter. That's the big issue with the team—the guys who are supposed to carry the water offensively aren't. They've gotten away with it much of the year thanks to the defensive corps and Rust and Hagelin being an NHL checking line already.
Pairwise. One bad loss and Michigan slides down to ninth. As I said, when I first started looking at the thing a couple weeks ago Michigan was close to their apex with a lot of teams nipping at their heels. They cannot afford to struggle down the stretch.
Hello, Hunwick. Never say Shawn Hunwick can't take advantage of someone else's groin injury. His save percentage was hovering around .900 when Hogan went out. A couple months later he's at .923. Hogan's save percentage this year? .923. Hogan was dressed as the third goalie on Saturday and is close to returning but at this point it's hard to go with him over Hunwick—he's only played nine games in about the past year.
1/27/2011 – Michigan 61, Michigan State 57 – 12-9, 2-6 Big Ten
left two Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com
A couple years ago Michigan fans were wondering if they really had something or if an unexpected win against UCLA was just a one-off when they took on Duke in Crisler arena. Michigan won that game, and the moment I remember most was Zack Novak holding his follow-through an ostentatiously long time. He'd just hit a three pointer to push Michigan well in front that sent Crisler into honest-to-God hysterics. It was an ungritty thing to do, but if anyone can justify a little flash now and then it's Zack Novak.
Yesterday Novak had what can only be described as a leadership aneurysm. It was the grittiest twitchy, alarming fit anyone's ever had. MSU fans rushed to put it on the internet the better to mock him by:
This worked out about as well as painting "1,181" across your hairless, AXE-laden chests.
You know this, but: 6 of 8 from three, 19 points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal, and various dogged things that don't show up in the box score but contribute to the bottom line. In the aftermath of the game David Merritt tweeted something about how if you question Zack Novak's importance to the team you "don't understand team sports*". That and math.
Because Michigan followed up a series of promising performances against elite teams with road duds against Indiana and Northwestern, beating Michigan State won't mean anything outside of the thing itself. Michigan's not likely to get even an NIT bid because of the win. Before my fiancée fell asleep for the second half she remarked that even though Michigan was in front "they make everything seem so hard," and they do.
Michigan is aimless. The announcers kept talking about Michigan taking a lot of time off the shot clock like that was a special strategy for this game when they're almost as slow (327th) as they are young (337th) and played at the exact same pace against South Carolina Upstate. When it's going well they're "deliberate," but to my eyes it's a team that doesn't really know what it's doing. They're forced to improvise when time gets low after chucking it around the perimeter for 20 seconds. It's almost exactly what Amaker teams did down to pulling the big out of the lane to provide a low-threat passing option as the ball cycles around the three point line.
The most eye-opening section of the season was the first half against Northwestern, when the Wildcats team ran a series of intricate cuts that opened up Michigan's defense for a rain of open threes and drives into the lane against mis-positioned defenders:
Michigan gets a lot of that from Darius Morris but Northwestern gets it from all over. Morris has an astronomic assist rate but if you compare the teams there are seven(!) Wildcats between him and Stu Douglass, Michigan's #2 guy. Despite the hype about Beilein, right now Michigan's offense boils down to "do something, Darius."
Fortunately for Michigan, Darius Morris has proven pretty good at not only that but twisting down the lane and getting awkward shots to fall. He was somehow 5 of 8 from inside the arc despite his teammates assisting on zero of his buckets; most of those were Dion Harris-style "well, someone has to put it up" buckets while swarmed in the lane. Combine that with near 50% three-point shooting and a you've got the recipe for an upset.
You don't have something sustainable to go back to the rest of the season.
Michigan's going to get better the rest of the way, but it might be hard to tell because of noise. They'll probably even get better more quickly than more experienced teams. IE, all teams. They still won't be very good. That's okay. Beating Michigan State at Breslin hasn't happened since I was a freshman in college—JESUS—and while it's very Sparty to say they can pack it in the rest of the year and there will still be some satisfaction from the season, it's also true. As a self-contained thing it is the best of all basketball things.
In the larger picture it's just one of those games when Colton Christian hits an 18-footer as the shot clock expires. They happen. Where this game gives hope is for the offseason, when Zack Novak will call for a captain's practice and the his teammates will remember he was the man who sprayed gore all over the Breslin Center and showed Michigan State it was theirs.
*[He also mentioned that he used to throw "Office" quotes back and forth with Douglass.]
Non-bullets and whatnot
Not a vintage MSU team. At some point in early in the game a goofy white guy did something bad and I was about to kick something when I realized he was playing for Michigan State. Late in the first half I was wondering why the goofy white guy never came off the floor when the announcers mentioned his name, which was a different name, and I looked at their numbers and they were different too and it dawned on me that there were two goofy white guys who only did bad things splitting 40 minutes of playing time. One of them was an elf who bakes cookies.
It was at this point hope dawned.
Novak and Stu as reasons for Beilein hope. They're obviously better than Smotrycz on a possession-to-possession "oh God, what was that?" level, and I'd throw in Hardaway and his addiction to chucking up not-very-good shots in there too. Novak and Douglass were just as shaky as freshmen. Douglass had the same disease Hardaway does. Now they have the best eFG% on the team excepting easy-bucket machine Jordan Morgan. Douglass was a conscience free gunner his first couple years; now his usage rate is in the "limited roles" category and his three point percentage is a point short of 40%.
If Hardaway and Smotrycz can advance at the same pace they can be those guys plus three inches each. I'm relatively serene about Beilein's bulletproof status because his recruiting's improved tremendously, the team would be a lot different if Robin Benzing and Ben Cronin hadn't flamed out, and it's at least worth checking out what will happen next year when experience goes from almost dead last nationally (337 of 345) to approximately middle-of-the pack. If you add a year of experience to everyone they'd be in a huge multi-way tie for 126th, but that's generous because Michigan will play Burke and Brundidge.
Beilein's already earned next year, and when they take the inevitable step forward in '11-'12 he'll get year six, and that's got at least a decent chance of working out.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., please report to the lost and found. We have found your conscience. Please re-insert it and stop leading the team in three-pointers attempted despite only hitting 30% of them. He's got a higher percentage of shots while he's on the floor than Morris does, which is kind of amazing. Michigan would be better if he got that usage down to around 20%. I'm sure, like Stu, that he'll learn.
The strange thing about Smotrycz. Does anyone else think his best defense is played in the post? This isn't really a compliment—he's probably the worst defensive player on the team, constantly getting lost. But when Michigan goes tiny they have him defend the five and I can't remember thinking "this has to stop" during any of those long stretches.
Seriously. Someone at The Only Colors complained about my characterization of the streak guys as "meatheads." Seriously?
You can seriously look at those guys and envision them doing anything other than slather each other in AXE as they recite "Sex Panther" quotes back and forth to each other before heading out to a kegger where they are totally going to get laid, or at least slapped?
This has something to do with the juggalos post in the aftermath of the football game this fall, but here I was just making an observation about five guys with spotlessly hair-free chests whooping like monkeys. Michigan has meatheads enrolled. I met plenty. It was not a shot at anyone except the jinx-bringers.
Also, seriously: juggalos in Ann Arbor last fall. Seriously. Never been that bad, even when OSU fans were 30k strong for the 2009 Game. This is because the OSU fans who showed up were the kind that went to the game instead of just hanging out for an opportunity to take out their insecurities. Dozens of Michigan fans have told me this, a good chunk before the post even went up.
Well, that's one streak of days stretching into the thousands down. Bonus for those five gloating meatheads ESPN showed at every opportunity: the guys who painted "1" on their chest don't have to change anything to be accurate tomorrow as long as they sit separately. The "8" guy will have to sit at home and cry for a week.
And you can't have one without the other…