“On the offense last year, they had great spacing. That’s what I remember. Great spacing, great shooters, like Nik Stauskas, who’s not there right now. But they always have someone to fill the roles. They have a cutting offense, kind of hard to guard.”
|WHAT||Michigan v. Illinois|
8:30 PM EST
February 16th, 2011
KenPom: 16% W
|TELEVISION||BTN (Eric Collins, Tim Doyle)|
As I said in Monday's The Path, every game this season is The Most Important Game of the Season Until the Next One. Michigan needs every win they can get from here on out. This one is of particular importance because it's an opportunity for a road win against an RPI top-50 opponent. Winning this game takes the chances at an NCAA tournament bid from "a nice longshot" to "actually possible."
Losing it doesn't doom the chances at a bid, but it makes them unrealistic. They would need at least a couple upsets in their last five games. This is a can't miss any opportunity at one.
If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy:
|Michigan v. Illinois: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Illinois Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. UI Def eFG%||48||26||I|
|Mich Def eFG% v. UI eFG%||181||40||II|
|Mich TO% v. UI Def TO%||25||193||MM|
|Mich Def TO% v. UI TO%||239||98||II|
|Mich OReb% v. UI DReb%||313||192||II|
|Mich DReb% v. UI OReb%||39||156||MM|
|Mich FTR v. UI Opp FTR||341||99||III|
|Mich Opp FTR v. UI FTR||64||302||MMM|
|Mich AdjO v. UI AdjD||48||19||I|
|Mich AdjD v. UI AdjO||77||28||I|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
The stats are daunting, and I'm going to add another to the mix: Michigan is #231 nationally in effective height (this happens when you play 6-4 Zack Novak at the 4 spot), and the Illini are #1. Like Michigan, they start a tall point guard in 6-3 Demetri McCamey, but unlike the Wolverines, they have a 7-footer and a pair of 6-9 players in their starting lineup.
Against other tall teams, Michigan has had some struggles (Minnesota is #7 in effective height), but also exceeded expectations (Syracuse is in the national top 40). It's hard to say whether the height difference played a role in the Minnesota loss, as that game was at the end of Michigan's poorest stretch of play on the season, but it's certainly not a good indication that they'll handle size well. Another thing to be antsy about: the Wolverine bigs have had trouble avoiding fouls. That could spell doom in this game.
As for the tempo-free stats, a lot of Michigan's numbers - particularly shooting the ball - have been trending upward lately, so they are probably playing a little bit better than the season-long or even conference-only stats indicate. On the other side, the Illini are slumping (HT: UMHoops), so who knows which team is actually playing better at this point in the year?
Thanks to Mike Rothstein of AnnArbor.com for pointing this out yesterday: only two of Michigan's players (Stu Douglass and Zack Novak) have ever played in Illinois's Assembly Hall. Two years ago, the Wolverines were pounded 66-51 on the Illini's home court. In last year's only meeting, Darius Morris went 1-7 from the field and recorded a 3-2 assist-turnover ratio in a 44-51 Wolverine loss at Crisler Arena. Novak had a decent game, but Douglass went 0-8 from the floor.
UMHoops's Joe Stapleton has video from yesterday's Darius Morris/Jordan Morgan and John Beilein press conferences. It doesn't come across in Joe's video, but I though Morris seemed very zen about things, FWIW. Dylan previews the game - and points out that Michigan's D is on the upswing in addition to the shooting improvement. Mike Rothstein previews the game for AnnArbor.com.
Michigan is a hungry team at this point, and they know the opportunity that's in front of them. That said, there is more to winning basketball games than hunger. Height throughout the roster is often one of them. I think Darius Morris will win the statistical battle against Demetri McCamey, but at least one of Michigan's big men will foul out. Illinois escapes with a win against Michigan, right around the expected spread. 73-65, Illini.
Had some issues this morning; apologies for the late content.
Ambivalence at maximum. Michigan now has a Chief Marketing Officer, which is a development I meet with trepidation. On the one hand, maybe he'll think that Michigan's main asset is not being a pro sports team and he'll put a replica of Special K's head on a pike outside Michigan Stadium and we will never hear "Let The Bodies Hit The Floor" at a Michigan sporting event ever again. On the other hand, he used to work for the Knicks and might think the thing that's missing from Yost is Saliva.
I have to say the guy's quotes do not fill me with joy:
"Digital marketing is a huge emphasis in the social media world," he said. "How do you take that to the next level?"
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN I LIVE ON THE INTERNET AND THOSE ARE NOT WORDS OF SENSE
There's more like that. Hopefully the guy does more to fill Crisler than to explore "revenue opportunities."
As a side note: There's been some chatter on message boards from people who saw Brandon speak at one of those alumni things about Michigan charging for admission to the spring game and plastering ads all over Michigan Stadium for the event. We'll see if that actually comes to fruition or if it's just idle talk but it sounded convincing, and it was on the internet. So definitely true.
Impending largeness. Michigan's got five games left in the regular season, one against a Minnesota team that escaped Crisler with a narrow win earlier this season. There was a hockey game at the same time so I have no idea what transpired in that game but if it was anything like what happened against Iowa, it was large and lumbering:
That's the zone they played; 45, 50, and 32 are Colton Iverson, Ralph Sampson III, and Trevor Mbakwe, who are all at least 6'8". With 6'7" Rodney Williams getting a bunch of time and Al Nolen out for the rest of the regular season, Minnesota is just an enormous basketball team. They're 7th nationally in Kenpom's "effective height" metric. But wait, there's more: Michigan plays #1 Illinois next. Outside shooting is going to be important, as will the ball movement to exploit some plodders.
This film does not exist. The Fab Five beatiing Illinois in 1993:
The striking thing how Michigan just forces stuff up that goes down, but that might be an effect of Wolverine Historian clipping out possessions that don't end in scores. Also: remember when Chris Webber could jump?
They were totally voluntary, for real. Houston Nutt Roster Katana UPDATE:
Ole Miss releases scholarship numbers; Nutt says departures were voluntary
Houston Nutt Roster Katana UPDATE UPDATE [same article]:
[Nutt] encouraged me to try to talk to the players and ask them if he ran them off. I have tried, of course. Haynes wouldn’t comment when reached on Thursday. And attempts to contact the other players have been unsuccessful.
Houston Nutt Roster Katana UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE:
But soon after losing the competition for the starting job in late August, Bailey was approached by Nutt and (then-Arkansas special teams coach James) Shibest, who told the kicker he would have to pay his own way if he wanted to play football. As they explained at the time, they didn’t realize that Bailey’s partial academic grant would count toward the team’s 85-scholarship limit. …
Bailey and his family couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition, room and board. His father, Gary, is a production technician at Metal Container Corp. who suffers from chronic rheumatoid arthritis. His mother is a wedding coordinator. So Bailey returned home before Arkansas’ 2006 opener and stayed there for several months. Here was the class valedictorian at Yukon Southwest Covenant, just hanging around doing nothing.
Etc.: Adorable child sings The Victors. I elaborated on the Fanhouse/Bleacher Report post for Dave Kindred, who published an article about sports media remaining relevant in the internet era. In a nutshell, I think guys like Luke Winn doing stuff so good ESPN steals it is the route forward for official journalists. Urban Meyer blasts NCAA corruption, provides no details. Darius Morris numbers: sexy.
With Indiana out of the way, Michigan has now reached a certain point in their season. Every game is The Most Important Game Of The Season until it's over, at which point it just makes the next one The New Most Important Game Of The Season. So, what will it take to make the NCAA Tournament? Let's look at the numbers in comparison to the last two Michigan teams.
|Conf Strength (Kenpom)||5th||4th||1st|
|Big Ten Tourney Teams||7||5||???|
This team has a lot more in common with the 10-seed of 2009 than the squad that didn't even make the NIT last season, but it's still a bit worse. With a 3-2 close to the regular season (no small feat), the numbers should be approximately equal to the Tournament squad, though the Big Ten is much tougher this year than it has been in either of the past two seasons. However, the 2009 team had signature non-conference wins against UCLA (a 6-seed) and Duke (a 2-seed). This year's team has beaten Clemson, Harvard, and Oakland. All three are likely to make the tournament - assuming Harvard exacts revenge on Princeton for their only Ivy League loss - but not as top seeds.
Let's look at some teams from last year that 1) had similar profiles to 201-11 Michigan, and 2) made the tournament. For the purposes of this exercise, only at-large teams from strong conferences are relevant. I've plucked a couple comparable teams from last year's tourney field. For the most part, these were the lowest-seeded teams from their respective conferences.
|2010 NCAA Tournament|
|Conf Strength (Kenpom)||1st||2nd||3rd||4th||5th|
|Conf Tourney Teams||6||7||8||5||4|
A couple notes:
- Georgia Tech was terrible in conference, but had good Kenpom and RPI numbers (they got into the tourney over 10-6 ACC Virginia Tech because the Hokies played a terrible non-conference schedule).
- MIssouri was by far the strongest team to Kenpom. They also had the fewest losses. However, they were one of only two teams to lose in the first round of their conference tournament.
- Louisville is the other first-round loser in their conference tournament. Their strength of schedule and decent finish in the Big East (a 16-team conference) got them in.
- Minnesota is probably the most comparable to Michigan this year. They have the most losses of any of these teams, but played their way into the tournament by reaching the Big 10 final.
- Florida played in the weakest conference of any of these teams, with the worst Kenpom and RPI numbers (taking strength of schedule into account). However, a winning record - and committee guilt about only three SEC teams getting in - helped them make the tournament.
Though they don't want to admit it--Tim Hardaway's epic coachspeak: "Make sure we take it one game at a time. The next game is the most important game."--the players are aware of the opportunity in front of them. The question becomes whether they'll rise to the challenge, as they did two years ago. or fold under the pressure. Here are a few other player quotes about looking to the Tournament:
- Stu Douglass, on whether the team has the tournament in the back of their minds: "We've said it out loud in the locker room. There's no hiding from it."
- Darius Morris, on the team's change after the MSU game: "From there on, we knew what kind of intensity we need to have."
- Darius Morris, on whether the team has talked about making the tournament: "You've gotta visualize your success before it can happen."
- Zack Novak, on watching other Big Ten games on TV: "If I'm watching, I kinda just watch as a fan... I think you usually know what team you need to win to help you out a little bit."
It seems like the team is determined to keep the NCAA Tournament run in the corner of their eye, but in order to achieve it, is focused on the old coaching cliche of "one game at a time."
What does it Mean?
If Michigan goes 3-2 over their final five games - as we'll see, that's no guarantee - their numbers should be comparable to their tournament team of a couple years ago, or Minnesota last year. However, they're doing it in a much stronger Big Ten. It's Kenpom's #1 conference; the past two years it was 5th and 4th. Reaching .500 in conference should land them around 6th, and going 1-1 in the Big Ten Tournament would likely be good enough to get into the tournament unless other results break against them, especially since there are three additional slots this year.
|Ohio State||24-1 (11-1)||1||3|
|Michigan State||14-10 (6-6)||48||48|
|Penn State||13-11 (6-7)||52||70|
That means your rooting interests are as follows:
- You want Michigan to win out (obviously). If they go better than 3-2 in their final five, I think they're a lock. Kempom predicts a win only in the season finale against Michigan State. He gives Michigan less than 25% chance of going 9-9 or better in conference (3-2 or better over the final 5 games).
- Cheer for all of Michigan's non-conference opponents. Bowling Green has a chance to win the MAC, Syracuse can win the Big East, UTEP can win Conference USA, Clemson can win the ACC(!), Harvard should win the Ivy League, and Oakland should win the Summit League. You want very badly for all of this to happen.
- In the Big Ten, cheer against the teams in Michigan's tier (see handy graphic at right), so the Wolverines finish as high in the standings as possible. This means pull against Illinois, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Penn State probably doesn't have a chance to make the tournament unless they win the Big Ten Tournament, but you still don't want them to finish ahead of Michigan.
- Also in the Big Ten, cheer against Purdue and Illinois, since those are the teams Michigan played once. When they play each other (as they did yesterday and will again on March 1st), you want Purdue to win, because of the above point.