Spike was the best player on the floor today. Seriously. (Bryan Fuller / MGoBlog)
This season has been, for the most part, a sequence of ever-increasing disappointments: upsets at home, injuries to our key players, and narrow losses to good teams. Things just haven’t gone our way.
This was a beautiful afternoon of catharsis, when–despite a now-customary second half scoring drought–Michigan beat a good team and a bitter rival. I sat in the student section and, for the first time since the win over Syracuse, Crisler was alive and roaring.
I won’t profess to knowing the exact sequence of events: I didn’t take notes as I sat there, heart racing, as the Wolverines played their best half of basketball all season, then managed to hold on after taking the air out of the ball in the second half. It’s all an almost surreal blur. Our Weird Guys played a team full of veterans and/or blue-chippers, and but for those descriptions there was no doubt as to who was the better team in Ann Arbor.
Spike Albrecht was sublime (and the game MVP per Kenpom), playING one of his best games in a Michigan uniform. Spike had an efficient 16 points, grabbed 4 boards, tallyied 5 assists, swiped 2 clutch steals, and didn't the ball over once. He’s indispensible to this Michigan team. Ohio State threw a parade of long, quick, and athletic defenders at him, Spike was unflappable and managed to hold things together when things looked on the verge of collapse. Some poised inbounding at the end of the game was just icing on the cake.
Zak Irvin played very well too; his early five points (and a nice assist(!) to Ricky Doyle) enabled Michigan to jump out to a critical early lead, and get the crowd active. After Ohio State stormed back Irvin hit an absolutely vital three from the corner–and promptly celebrated with the Michigan bench, which was awesome–to extend the lead back to six. Ohio State never got closer than a few possessions for the rest of the game. Zak posted a line of 15-7-4-2, which says something about him not being just a shooter, or what have you.
Those two were the only Wolverines in double figures, but nearly everyone else chipped in to help pull off the upset. Aubrey Dawkins scored just five points, though two of them came on an impossibly athletic put-back late in the game. MAAR was a non-factor offensively, but he harassed D’Angelo Russell (who only scored 16 points on 16 shot equivalents and had 5 turnovers to just 2 assists) all game. Max Bielfeldt put up a workmanlike 7-and-7 and sonned Michigan expat Trey McDonald for two consecutive offensive rebounds late. Ricky Doyle had a frightening fall and rolled an ankle, but he put up 8 points in just 13 minutes. Even Kam Chatman had a few nice takes to the rack in the first half to tally six points, and Andrew Dakich of all people hit a jumper to extend Michigan’s lead during the torrid first-half scoring binge.
As for Ohio State, it felt like the Buckeyes didn’t play particularly well, but Michigan played a large part in that–UM ran its best offense all year, and the Wolverine defense consistently harassed Ohio State on drives to the basket, a stark change from the recent streak of permissive interior defense at home. Russell led OSU in scoring, but struggled with the Wolverine defense, often appearing visibly frustrated. Senior Shannon Scott just scored two points on six field goal attempts; Sam Thompson played alright, if not efficiently; Russell’s fellow freshmen Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate might have been two of the three best Buckeyes today.
And–because I have to say it – former McDonalds All-American Amir Williams (from Detroit) and fellow center Trey McDonald (from Battle Creek), combined for four points and ten rebounds in 32 minutes. Thad Matta eventually went with Tate as a small-ball five to match up with Bielfeldt because the Buckeye centers simply couldn’t produce.
Call it a regression to the mean–after all, Michigan simply couldn’t lose all of their close conference games down the stretch, right?–but this game felt like such an extreme departure from the bad luck that’s plagued the Wolverines all season. Today, Michigan played well against a quality opponent and made enough plays down the stretch to win; a nucleus of Spike, Zak, and Max--along with afterthought recruits Aubrey and Mo–finally notched a big win without alpha dogs LeVert and Walton around. This individual game doesn’t change the optics of the entire season of course, but dammit, it felt great to see Crisler alive with the euphoria of an exciting Michigan win again – and it showed what this team just might be capable of next year or a few years down the road.
Probably not a whole lot of opportunity to deploy these guys for a while now, so let's shake the rust off, and they did beat Hated Rival OSU with a collection of misfit toys.
..and you can't have one without the other…
…NBA interested in Spike yo?
D’Angelo Russell: 16 pts, 5 reb., 2 assists Spike Albrecht: 16 pts. 4 reb., 5 assists, 2 steals
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) February 22, 2015
1/27/2015 – Michigan 58, Nebraska 44 – 13-8, 6-3 Big Ten
I'm not sure whether MAAR is the gum wrapper or the battery, whether Dawkins is the shoe or the lamp, whether Bielfeldt is the broom or the package of pantyhose. I do know that Zak Irvin is pulling the contraption taut. Spike Albrecht is lighting the package on fire. John Beilein is glancing up from his maniac's blueprint, waiting for the moment when Tim Miles's friendly head is dead in the crosshairs.
"Subs away," he says.
Miles: 'Their system ... We made a little run against their 2-3, and we never saw it again.'
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) January 28, 2015
A hit, a palpable hit. Michigan goes to 6-3 in the Big Ten playing a lot of weird guys.
All the weird guys, really. I guess DJ Wilson would be slightly weird at this point, but not nearly so weird as Dan Dakich criticizing his son for not stopping the ball in transition. The weirdness is out there, man. It is starting and not coming off the floor.
Michigan got 37 minutes from a guy in Pennsylvania who Penn State didn't bother to offer and this was fine. Good, even. MAAR/Rahk put up nine points on eight shots, had a few rebounds and a steal, and played good defense. Fellow weird guy Aubrey Dawkins was headed to Dayton before Michigan stepped in; he put up 13 on seven shots, had a killer block, and generally looked like the top 50 recruit Michigan was supposed to have in this class.
And Bielfeldt. I must confess that whenever he ends up on the floor I wonder what on Earth Michigan could have seen in a player who can only be a 6'7" center. I guess they think he can beat up Walter Pitchford. Which he can, somehow.
My theory is that Beilein was working with the medical center on a top-secret growth project that fell through. A 6'10" Max Bielfeldt is really something.
In any case, we're here now, having a season. It's not a good season. But it is a season that's worth watching.
It's quite a trick to have a massively disappointing year—one that was headed that way even before the injury avalanche—and still give off the aura of gritty grit and development that Michigan is. They're not good. They're not bad, though, when they obviously should be.
This collection of guys gets a little less weird every time Dawkins has a line-drive three nestle into the net and hang there for a beat longer than you'd expect, every time MAAR gets to the rim and finishes tough. With LeVert on the shelf, this is next year's team assembling itself one game at a time. Add Duncan Robinson and DJ Wilson and, like, a toe for Walton and you could have something there.
Either way, this assemblage of dudes is flipping through configurations every time the opponent gets a handle on them. They morph into the most effective possible shape given their personal shortcomings and prevent a meh year from becoming a nightmare one. Let's see where it goes.
I'm thinking it goes to the NIT, but I'm okay with that. I'll take a few more games of Beilein pulling out every last banana peel he has for the opposition.
How about those late pickups? Michigan fans were confused when Beilein pulled in both Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman very late in the last recruiting cycle. One seemed necessary given the roster; two was a flier on a random guy. Those pickups are now paying off.
The stats are still lagging, with both guys at the bottom of the list in terms of usage and with MAAR's early struggles holding his shooting numbers down; their play has improved greatly. Dawkins is the most efficient shooter Michigan has right now, at 57/42, albeit with a very small sample size. Both turn it over too much and aren't getting the assists Michigan will need them to acquire down the road, but at the very least both guys look like solid four-year college players.
That "four year" bit seems important these days. Michigan could use a dose of roster continuity in here.
This was a fortunate matchup. Nebraska's okay; Michigan matches up against them well this year. Michigan has a huge weakness on the defensive boards that the Cornhuskers generally do not even attempt to exploit. Pitchford's OREB rate is 3.7. The one guy who does get an appreciable number of OREBs, David Rivers, was out.
Meanwhile Michigan's zones give up a lot of corner threes against a team with no three point shooting. Petteway is at 34%; tiny pest Benny Parker is at 38% but is loathe to pull the trigger with just 29 attempts on the year. (Parker proved this by passing up multiple open looks in the second half.) The other guys pulling the trigger range from bad to abject.
Once Petteway turned out to be in bad Kobe mode it was just about whether Michigan could pull together enough offense to make it comfortable. They eventually could.
Bid? It's still highly unlikely. We could have been talking about it if they pulled out that Wisconsin game, which would not only have been a non-loss but also a big win. Without it there's not a whole lot of traction to be had in the remainder of the schedule. The Big Ten is having an off year and Rutgers is occupying two slots in the schedule that could have been any other Big Ten team.
Even if Michigan goes 12-6 in conference you're looking at a resume that is like so:
- 19-11 record pending Big Ten tourney
- Best nonconference win over Syracuse, which is likely to be a bubble team
- Maybe three wins over tourney teams in conference (6-3 finish likely assumes wins against NW and Rutgers and @ Illinois)
- Horrendous losses to NJIT and EMU
That's a bubble team, and one that could very easily get passed over. Michigan's RPI is currently 64th, they're 0-5 against top 50 teams, etc. It's a resume that could go either way depending on how Michigan's RPI shapes up.
But what if? Michigan's hit the meat of their schedule with six of their next seven games against Kenpom top 50 teams (and the lone exception is no cakewalk: @ Illinois). Go 4-3 in that stretch and then we might start tracking Bracket Matrix and the like.
Chatman. Oof. Not to pile on but man that guy is just completely out of it. He's not even close on his shots, he's repeatedly losing people on defense, he's turning the ball over a ton… you have to keep rolling him out there some since he's a guy who could turn it around and become a nice player down the road, but the regression from a place that wasn't that far off the ground to begin with is dismaying.
Irvin. With Derrick Walton out someone… needed to pick up the rebounding? Yes, yes, apparently. That was Irvin, who notched a double double. Hopefully this can get him more into games where he's not getting a ton of shots, or not hitting many of them.
69 minutes. Nice.
That could have gone worse. The strange split in Derrick Walton's jumping. MAAR/Dawkins flashes, realistic expectations, why rejecting moral victories is for the men in the arena and we can go ahead and accept them.
FIIIIIIREWAGON. Hobey talk, Pairwise talk. Ace expounds at length. Ladies, please don't drive off the road. Can we please decide on how to pronounce JT Compher's last name?
We welcome in Steve Lorenz of Wolverine 247. Steve is very good at talking about recruiting and horrible at marketing himself. Commits! And guys we think are going to commit in the near future!
"Across 110th Street"
"Here Comes The Sun," M. Ward
"Future Husbands Past Lives," White Sea
THE USUAL LINKS
1/20/2014 – Michigan 54, Rutgers 50 – 12-7, 5-2 Big Ten
BENCH MOB NO MORE [Bryan Fuller]
At one point last night Michigan's lineup consisted of two walkons, two freshmen who had been snatched off the who-dat heap right before the late signing period, and redshirt freshman Mark Donnal. At another point it was Walton, three freshmen, and 6'7" center Max Bielfeldt. To paraphrase the increasingly rat-faced gentleman to the west, Michigan was playing a lot of weird guys. This is how weird: they yoinked a redshirt off a walk-on. It's not going to plan, you guys.
And they won! They won because Rutgers is a basketball team in the same way North Korea is a tourist destination, but Sean Lonergan played 13 more minutes than Caris LeVert did. Michigan is a basketball team in the same way London after the black plague was a city. I'll take it.
In fact Michigan is a zombie in the same way a zombie is a zombie: lurching forward despite taking a staggering amount of damage. They've got their grobbly little teeth into five Big Ten teams already largely because Beilein has deep experience taking the undersized and faintly ridiculous farther than seems possible. I bet a small part of him thinks it's kind of fun he's throwing out a zillion different zones and deploying a rotation that occasionally grabs chemistry students out of Orgo lab. A part much smaller than the eyerolling demon that controls most of his precincts, but an extant one nonetheless.
It is this tiny part of our rage-filled selves we should seek to cultivate.
Against teams that don't yield 25 uncontested threes against a team that barely hints at activity in the paint, the projection is rougher. Michigan's projected to win four of their remaining 11 games on Kenpom and it's hard to dispute that as pessimistic, what with Kenpom unaware that Caris has gone away.
It's going to be ugly. And… I guess, fine, let's just get to it and move on. Michigan saw Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nik Stauskas depart for the NBA. Jon Horford followed his family's insane NBA dream to 18 minutes a game on a 10-8 SEC Team. (Note to Michigan basketball: if Tito Horford shows up with a babe in swaddling clothes, put it in the river and run.) Caris is kaput and there's obviously something bothering Walton when he's not rebounding his ass off. Irvin is not quite in a Hardaway-esque sophomore funk (still 35% from three) but he's rarely able to generate anything that isn't provided.
You can rip that pile of talent away from a Duke or a Kentucky and they will plug it back in because the next wave of seven-footers from the Nike tanks is just around the corner. Michigan, not so much.
It's a minor miracle that they've done what they have over the last few years without recruiting one-and-done types. Michigan effective experience over the last five years, out of about 350: 335, 207, 342, 330, 326. The only team in that bunch to not win an NCAA game was the 207 squad, which went out early against Ohio. They went to a national title game and nearly another final four in there. And the NBA swooped in on guys who nobody had heard of before they put on the block M.
At some point the wrong combination of guys was going to pop out and Michigan would be pretty bleah. That's this.
Thanks to the two horrendous nonconference losses Michigan would probably have to get to 11, maybe 12 conference wins to get a bid. I guess that's not impossible, but neither is it likely. Against the easiest part of their Big Ten schedule Michigan has five wins that were one-basket games sometime in the last five minutes and two decisive losses.
The only reason anyone is holding out a faint modicum of hope is that 1-6 team that wandered into Breslin and sprayed blood all over the place. If that happens, great. I'm resigned to the NIT and looking for blips of improvement whenever Dawkins skies over everyone or Doyle, like, plays. I was throwing things earlier this year when this improbable scaffold collapsed on itself; now I'm trying to have fun watching it go back up.
Oy. I guess it evened out a little by the end but man, the three point shooting was something else. Rutgers somehow conspired to give Michigan open look after open look and Michigan could not convert. Walton hit a couple key late ones to get Michigan to 8 of 26, 31%.
That's much less of a problem than going 39% from within the arc, but if that happens against non-Rutgers teams it's curtains. Most of them aren't going to give up anywhere near as many open looks, though.
Rutgers. Just fire Eddie Jordan now. To be that disorganized with two seniors and two juniors in your starting lineup is a spectacular condemnation of coaching ability even in year two.
Two pointers. There aren't any. Doyle is getting an acceptable number up at a good rate (66%), and that is it. Irvin is at 42%, Chatman a stunning 34%, Walton even worse at 33%… it's night and day from last year when Michigan got a ton of good looks and converted them.
Why that might be. Walton's inability to step forward and become a high-usage, high-efficiency guy is killing the offense. I don't think anyone really expected Irvin to drive a lot of shot-generating, so the burden from the departed Stauskas was bound to fall on LeVert and Walton. LeVert stepped up insofar as he could—big usage, big assist rate, poor efficiency inside the arc. Walton's TO rate is almost as high as his assist rate and he's not effective as a shooter.
I believe that turf toe is a major problem, but we'd better hope so because any renaissance starts with Walton being an all-conference level player.
Chatman versus Dawkins. If you had no idea who was the touted recruit you would pick Dawkins 100 times out of 100. He can leap out of the building, he's decently efficient shooting, and he does not do the very strange things Chatman does multiple times per game. And yet Dawkins was picking between Michigan and Dayton while Chatman was a top 50 recruit everywhere. Very strange.
We're going to explore the boundaries of what Dawkins can do now over the rest of th season, as he's showing some promise. He even had a take to the basket last game out.
This is how you know it's not your year. Spike's TO rate is over 20, and the second highest on the team. Last year he went through a big chunk of the Big Ten season with an infinite A:TO ratio.