"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
UNIMPORTANT ASIDE: Big Ten refs are… trying. The over and back rule requires both the ball and your entire body to be across the line to kick in.
lolver and back
Anyway. On to the Titanic Matchup Of Teams Missing Key Large Persons.
It really does not seem like Payne is going to play. Joe Rexrode keeps assuring everyone that this is not a mind game being played by Izzo so Payne can storm out of the locker room Willis Reed-style. For one:
Rexrode: on Adreian Payne, "he's doing nothing [in practice]... I think it's very unlikely he'll play, and may not play for a few weeks."
I was under the erroneous impression that Payne's thing was an ankle issue; it is instead the nasty and persistent plantar fasciitis.
Even if Payne does dress, having missed so much practice time would leave him rusty and out of shape, matched up against a guy who just loves to run the floor for buckets. I know it's hard to believe MSU will leave the guy on the bench, but despite that it seems like the thing to do is look at this game like he's not available.
Kaminski and Costello step into starting roles.
Meet the new frontcourt, then. State has four large persons available for their frontcourt spots: junior Alex Gauna, sophomore Matt Costello, and freshmen Kenny Kaminski and Gavin Schilling. Kaminski is the only one with any sort of perimeter game* and is likely to get all of his minutes at the 4; the other three guys will split 40 minutes at the 5 and there may be some sections of the game where two are out there.
We discussed Kaminski a bit yesterday: he's 6'8" and sits in the corner hitting threes on offense. That's about all he does; his 6.5 DREB rate is in the Nnanna Egwu realm, and while you would expect that to uptick in the absence of Dawson, Kaminski is usually replacing him and most of his playing time has come recently, with Payne out.
Schilling, Costello, and Gauna are all the same guy. This guy is 6'9", has usage in the Matt Vogrich range, fouls a lot, and gets rebounds. The most notable statistical outliers are a bunch of blocks from Costello and the fact that Schilling is on pace to foul out in 18 minutes, should he get that much PT.
Finally, MSU will probably check out a lineup with 6'5" Denzel Valentine at the 4, because Kaminski isn't going the whole way and Valentine provides offense none of the tall guys do.
*[For those that remember the early MSU blitz of Michigan targets in the class that eventually became Stauskas/LeVert/Albrecht/McGary/Robinson, this is an inversion of expectation. Kaminski was the one guy Beilein did not offer and Costello was supposed to be the Beilein-style skilled post who can take threes.]
Goodbye to all boards. Well, not all boards. But lots. When Michigan meets Michigan State, Michigan gets murdered on the boards. The last two years:
2012-13 @ Breslin: M gives up 14 OREB, a 37% rate, loses by 23.
2012-13 @ Crisler: M gives up 19(!) OREB, a 50% rate, wins by one despite hitting zero three pointers. How in the hell did they win that game?
2011-12 @ Breslin: M gives up 12 OREB, a 48% rate, loses by ten.
2011-12 @ Crisler: M gives up 9 OREB, a 36% rate, wins by 1.
In most of these games Michigan responded to this blizzard of second chances with two or three OREBs of their own. It has been an enormous blowout for MSU in this department for four straight games, and it's a miracle Michigan pulled out the two home games by one point despite the bombing. MSU went into each game expecting a massive possession advantage and got it.
A repeat was already looking less likely this year as MSU exchanged Derrick Nix for Denzel Valentine. MSU's OREB rate on the season—one accumulated against a number of tiny nonconference opponents and mostly with the services of Payne and Dawson—is a pedestrian 141st nationally, a big drop from top-50 output the last two years.
Now with Dawson and Payne out MSU has lost more than half of their putback attempts on the year—35 of their 62. The rest of MSU's rebounding numbers are deflated by Dawson and Payne picking up so much of that responsibility, but I think the expectation going in here is that this should be an even matchup. Dawson's OREB rate is elite; they're replacing him with guys who don't provide even half of what he does; they were already just average.
They can D, probably. MSU's defense is tenth in Kenpom and when you click over to just the conference stats they leap to first thanks to huge block and TO rates and excellent two-point defense. Then you look at their schedule.
Big ten offenses come in bands this year.
ELITE: Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin are in the top five.
REAL GOOD: MSU and Minnesota are 26th and 16th, respectively.
GRIM: Penn State is the only other top 100 offense in the league and they're at 88th; OSU, Purdue, Nebraska, Illinois, and Indiana follow, ranging down to 161st.
NORTHWESTERN: The Wildcats are 325th.
MSU has played only teams in the grim zone save one against Minnesota in which they gave up 75 points in a 73-possession OT game. Michigan is on a whole different level from MSU opposition so far, leading the league by five points in eFG%.
And they're now shooting. Previously-reliable bricklayer Keith Appling was 25% from three as a sophomore and 32% as a junior; now he's at 43%. This is the major change in his game from a year ago; he has also incrementally improved his A:TO ratio. That plus Travis Trice and Kaminski's blazing introduction has seen them hit nearly 40% of their threes in Big Ten play, and that seems like a more realistic number than their season average given the increased prominence Kaminski will have going forward.
They still don't take a ton of threes—they are Michigan State, after all—but this is going to look like a four-out-one-in offense that will be extremely disorienting to MSU fans.
Gary Harris is kind of good. Surprise! He's more of a shooter than Stauskas is these days, with more than half of his shots from behind the line. He's only hitting 33%, though. Harris is also their best perimeter defender and can expect to draw Stauskas duty, at least until he picks up a foul. I don't think Izzo wants to match up a foul magnet like Stauskas up against his most critical offensive player all night.
The State of Our Thing With State. Since the Rose Bowl there's been a palpable "I don't wanna talk about it" feel on the board with regard to the in-state rival. The coaching carousel came and went without whisking Narduzzi or Dantonio to someplace that doesn't have polar vortexes every other week, and the latest is they're the presumed leader for McDowell, which would be exactly the kind of straight-up, in-state recruiting win they haven't had yet vs. Hoke.
During the conference makeover meetings last fall—you know, where the principles were told to make divisions that keep the rivalries intact but were not allowed to do the obvious thing and leave Rutgers and Maryland out of it—MSU successfully lobbied to host our game on even years, which is going to be incredibly annoying when Minnesota is our most interesting home game, and even more annoying when we have to visit East Lansing a second season in a row. That after the coldest, wettest, darkest, most miserable sporting event in human history, when all good things in the world—Michigan's season, your soul, Gardner's ribs, etc.—were obliterated, and the trolls pranced around the parking lot shouting MLive comments to each other, and it was called wisdom.
|I expect they'll show up with "You were worked" t-shirts tomorrow. How dumb are Michigan's slogan t-shirts? They make the Izzone seem clever.|
At Michigan State they teach that insolence is the highest form of expression. The last time we played them at Breslin the Izzone showed up with the perfect mockery of those arrogant shirts Adidas made during the non-conference sweep. And if that message didn't put the Fightin' Dave Brandons in our place, an all-encompassing 75-52 exposure did the trick. Until then Michigan's losses on the season were a couple of close-ish, badly officiated, bad-luck-sort affairs at OSU, Indiana, and, just three days earlier, Wisconsin.
Some people called the blowout in East Lansing a Tuesday-turnaround throwaway and moved on; these people are not surrounded by Spartans every day of their lives. For me, if it had rained freezing water droplets containing bits of Gardner's sternum rather than Gary Harris three-pointers, it wouldn't have felt much different.
Of course the last time we played in basketball was March 3rd at Crisler, when Stauskas bleeding profusely from Branden Dawson's elbow promised to be your lasting image of the season. Then Trey Burke pilfered one, and scored, and slapped the floor, and then stole another to seal a one-point victory, and burned a completely different set of images onto our memories.
This week their QB recruit from Cass Tech (whom a year ago a lot of people on the board wanted to be our QB recruit) bodyslammed one of his high school security guards. And we played their mediocre hockey team last night at the Joe, and won 2-1 on PDG's goal at 17:42 in the 3rd, and had a posbang thread for it. These are small things, yet received greater attention because the horrific events of late 2013 are still fresh.
Their basketball team started as everybody's favorite 1-seed, and is currently No. 3 in the nation. But that's just because the last guys they called No. 3 got knocked off at home by the same Michigan team that visits on Saturday. LSA says Michigan's shooting the lights out since conference play began. Brian says because we beat Iowa and Wisconsin that tomorrow is house money. I'm telling you it doesn't feel like that.
More Best of the Board
SIGNS OF OUR TIMES
College Gameday will be at Breslin tomorrow, and that means a thread to brainstorm ideas for signs. Some good 'uns:
- "I DON'T PARTICULARLY CARE FOR YOU PEOPLE"
- "EAST LANSING IS A WOMAN OF NEGOTIABLE AFFECTION" (r.i.p. MGoShirt)
- "SAY 'NOT JUST A SHOOTER!'"
- "QUEME LOS BARCOS; QUEME LOS SOFAS" (r.i.p. other MGoShirt)
- "BEAT STAEE"
- "THIS SIGN GOT INTO MICHIGAN BUT CHOSE TO GO TO STATE"
- "MSU MATH: TWO OF SIX = DOMINATING"
- "LET'S ARGUE ABOUT WHO WAS BORN FIRST"
IF YOU SPONSOR, WE WILL COME
We finally did some live events last year and every one turned out better than my expectations. I've been chatting with several former players with charities worth getting together for. Anyway I'd like to do these again this year and am open to venue suggestions, either in cities with a large contingent of MGoReaders over the summer (not New York or D.C. since we already do those), or at football away games. Mostly I need somebody on the ground in your town, or a connection to a company who'd like to sponsor these in various places across their footprint so we can keep them free.
ETC. Discussion on Walton's defense. Guy who met Fran McCaffery obviously didn't do so during a basketball game. Detroit Lions get a t-shirt for participation (this was a Bears fan's job but replace the kitten with Bubbles and I'd wear it to Ford Field totally). Michigan's new president is being announced right now. Morgan appreciation. Burke eviscerating the Pistons #FIREDUMARS. Brandon Brown recruiting updates on QBs Nick Johns and Jarrett Stidham, and RB Johnny Frasier. Hart changes directions. Preferred walk-on commit (kicker/punter).
Your Moment of Zen:
Ace will have your official preview in a bit, but Iowa's such an interesting team and important game that I thought I would go over some high-level stuff. Iowa goes 11 deep—seriously—so Ace might need a bit of a breather anyway.
They're fast. This is a major contrast in styles, as Iowa is 12th in adjusted tempo while Michigan is 307th. This is because Iowa gets shots off faster than anyone in the country save BYU and Northwestern State.
Opponents tend to take a lot of time to get their shots off, in contrast. Iowa's defensive possession length for Iowa is actually identical to Michigan's.
fee fi fo fum
They're huge. The starting lineup is a seven-footer, two 6-9, guys, a 6-6 shooting guard, and a regular ol' point guard. While that lineup doesn't stay on the floor together that much because Iowa's got 'em working in shifts, they bring a 6-10 guy and a 6-9 guy off the bench. The overall largeness has them in the top ten in Kenpom's effective height stat, and this shows up in the places you'd expect it to: offensive rebounding, blocking shots, and two point defense.
Their defense may be more questionable than it appears on paper. Iowa is benefiting from a weird combination right now: opponents are taking a ton of threes (37% of FGAs) and making a horrible percentage (28%). Kenpom posted about this for much of the last couple years, finding that with certain limited exceptions basketball teams are better off preventing threes from being launched than relying on their ability to defend them, because it appears that teams have about as much control over three-point makes as they do free throw makes.
Now, it is possible that the aforementioned hugeness prevents teams from getting good looks from inside the line and results in a lot of late shot clock jacks, but against reasonable competition that doesn't appear to be the case. Two point shooting by major conference opponents against Iowa this year:
- vs Xavier: 48% (Iowa W 77-74 in OT)
- vs Villanova: 52% (Iowa L 88-83 in OT)
- Notre Dame: 53% (W 98-93)
- @ Iowa State: 52% (L 85-82)
- Nebraska: 31% (W 67-57)
- @ Wisconsin 32% (L 75-71)
- Northwestern: 51% (W 93-67)
- @ Ohio State: 51% (W 84-74)
- Minnesota: 50% (W 94-73)
The Nebraska and Wisconsin games seem like outliers amongst a general trend of Iowa giving up a lot of good shots from within the line. Meanwhile, Wisconsin was 10/22 from three and Nebraska 5 of 18. Conclusion: Iowa is benefiting from a healthy dose of luck when it comes to opponent three point shooting. Also, despite the height this defense looks like it can be had by Michigan's eviscerating pick and roll game.
Obvious statement of the week: stay out of transition. This is a game in which clichéd color commentator bloviating will actually be right on. Michigan's transition defense is weak. So weak as to be nearly nonexistent:
The Wolverines are allowing a 66.1% eFG% in transition situations, the second worst in the country. Michigan’s half-court eFG% allowed is a more impressive 43.7%, but that leaves a 22.5% gap between Michigan’s halfcourt and transition defenses. That transition defense drop-off is the largest in the country.
Michigan has responded by abandoning the offensive glass; that combined with their inherent Michigan-ness (lot of makes, vanishingly few turnovers) has prevented that weakness from crushing their overall defensive numbers.
Iowa, meanwhile, is fast. Almost 40% of Iowa's shots come in the first ten seconds of the shot clock and their eFG% on those shots is 61%. Those numbers are sixth nationally and in the top 50. That's crazy impressive.
Michigan's transition offense is even more efficient, just used a lot less; meanwhile, Iowa's extensive experience with open-court basketball sees them check in with an impressive 50% transition eFG% on defense. Discretion may be the better part of valor on two on two breaks and the like. Also, you might want to be a little more cautious in that department because…
Michigan needs to do a better job on the defensive boards than they did against Arizona [Fuller]
You're probably going to want to fling everyone at the defensive boards. Iowa crushes the offensive boards and gets putbacks and fouls off of their rebounds. They've got 88 putback attempts on the year to Michigan's 51 and are much, much better at converting them; this is also where big chunks of the White/Olaseni/Basabe free throw parade comes from. Everyone who's not contesting the shooter should head right for the defensive glass.
HORSE don't fail me now. Michigan wins this game by imposing their HORSE style of play—I get a shot, you get a shot, no fouls, no possession advantage, no transition—on Iowa. This is obviously easier said than done against this Iowa.
FWIW, last year's single meeting was
- a 67-possession affair (draw)
- in which Iowa shot ten FTs (M win)
- and got crushed on the boards (M win)
- and allowed Michigan to shoot 65%/46% (M win).
That was the game when undefeated Michigan looked their very best in a 95-67 throttling. This Iowa team is much better in all departments and will not go down so meekly, but in general the last couple years when Michigan has come up against teams that draw a lot of FTs and force a lot of TOs, they have imposed their style on the opponent.
Against a team that gives up a lot of threes and healthy two point percentages (for the most part) Michigan just needs to hit shots. Hitting shots both gives you points and slows down the opponent. Make this Adam Jacobi's worst game ever.
On Monday I went in search of hot takes to explain Michigan's win at the Kohl center and put it in context. Those who didn't watch the game thought it a fluke, the kind of thing that just happens to Wisconsin when they have a cold night. Indiana guys wanted to take credit for showing Beilein how to beat those guys. Michigan fans were split over whether this was a peak performance or on the growth chart. So I asked our guys:
What was that?
- A fluke of 2- or 3-point hotness/coldness that happens in Wisconsin (read: low-possession) games
- A gift from Tom Crean, who exposed the weakness of not-as-good-as-people-thought Wisconsin
- A signature road win from an erratic, young team that puts them on the right side of the bubble after an eventual .500 conference season
- A maturation point of a young, fast-improving eventual Final Four contender as its freshman PG gets used to the flow of the college game and its sophomore SG emerges as an alpha dog.
What's your best explanation (or have you another?), and how did this game affect your expectations for the team come March?
BiSB: I'd rule a couple of those explanations out. The respective 3-point make rates (54% for Michigan, 39% for Wisconsin) were obviously a difference in the game, but it is hardly outlandish in context. Michigan got 9 of its 13 looks from Nik Stauskas (arguably the most dangerous 3-point sniper in the conference), who only made three, while Wisconsin's numbers were right in line with their season stats thus far. Sure Caris LeVert going 3-3 isn't terribly likely, but neither is Ben Brust going 4-5. It was also the highest-tempo conference game Michigan has played thus far, so 7 made threes for this team isn't that much of an outlier.
|Get these men a pick and watch 'em roll. [Fuller]|
Second, Wisconsin remains good, so I'd rule out the Tom Crean thing (also because "let's give credit to the genius who just got worked by Northwestern AT HOME" explanation doesn't sound like fun). Third, while the team is certainly young and erratic, they have the look of much more than a bubble team.
I'd say this game reflects a team that is finding its offensive identity, and it turns out that identity is really effective and fun to watch. Wisconsin has a good defensive team (#29 on KenPom coming into the game), and there were points where Michigan was just toying with it. Teams just don't get those kinds of looks at the rim against Wisconsin, but time and again Morgan or Horford would slip a screen and find a wide-open bucket.
Michigan is doing what Brian, Ace, myself, and a bunch of other people were calling for all year; they're running lots of Stauskas pick-and-roll, as well as lots of high ball screens for Stauskas to get a defender on his hip and force the defense to create an opening. Nik has become an alpha dog, but he's done so in a way that is generating looks for everyone on the court. That might remind you of a certain scrappy little guy who ripped the Pistons to shreds on Friday (#FireJoeD)
Right now, this Michigan team feels a LOT like last year's team: a questionable defense but a terrifying offense that won't turn the ball over or give up many transition buckets. Also they're doing lots of Game Blouses stuff and Lottery GRIII stuff. Which is neat. Beilein Uber Alles. 2014 Uber Alles.
[more answers, and more editorial hash tags, after the jump]
Just about the most closely watched thing of this basketball season, right after McGary's clinical charts and forwards moving backwards on contact, has been the play of Derrick Walton. Reasons: here played Trey Burke, a couple of disappointing performances in the late non-conf schedule, Trey Burke used to play that spot, and because we read his recruiting profile and thought hey, freshman Trey Burke!
This weekend we got a chance to see Walton play against another of the highly rated point guards from his class. Granted, Bronson Koenig was on the floor for all of four minutes on Saturday, but that's 240 unheard-of seconds on a Bo Ryan team. It was also excuse enough to compare Walton's learning curve so far to the other 2013-14 freshman PGs.
Here's the class:
|Andrew Harrison||Kentucky||6'5"||205||5-5-5||1||109.1||Been improving lately.|
|Kasey Hill||Florida||6'1"||160||5-5-5||2||99.7||Splits PG time with sr PG/SG|
|Terry Rozier||L'ville||6'0"||170||5-4-5||3||116.3||Playing SG|
|Tyler Ennis||Syracuse||6'2"||180||5-5-5||5||122.4||Is good at basketball|
|Rysheed Jordan||St.Johns||6'4"||185||5-5-4||5||93.5||In and out of the lineup|
|Anthony Barber||NC St||6'2"||165||4-4-5||5||99.0||Starter since 5th game|
|Demetrius Jackson||ND||6'1"||185||4-4-4||7||115.1||Playing SG|
|N. Williams-Goss||Wash||6'4"||180||5-4-4||7||100.9||12/3 A/TO last 2 games.|
|Derrick Walton||Mich||6'0"||170||4-4-4||8||101.6||Not Trey Burke.|
|Conner Frankamp||Kansas||6'0"||160||4-4-4||9||97.1||Backup to Naari Tharpe|
|Roddy Peters||Md.||6'4"||180||4-4-4||10||90.5||Splits time with Seth Allen|
|Zach LaVine||UCLA||6'4"||170||4-4-5||11||120.0||Now 6'5, Playing SF|
|Stevie Clark||OklaSt||5'10"||163||4-4-4||13||109.0||Backup to Marcus Smart|
|Tim Quarterman||LSU||6'5"||180||4-4-4||15||82.0||Backup SG|
|Wesley Clark||Mizzou||6'0"||175||4-4-4||15||93.4||Sixth man|
|Bryson Scott||Purdue||6'1"||170||3-4-4||16||102.1||Backup to Ronnie Johnson|
|Monte Morris||IowaSt||6'1"||175||4-4-4||18||125.6||Playing SG|
|Billy Garrett||Depaul||6'3"||160||4-4-4||21||103.0||Starter since 6th game.|
|Nate Britt||N.C.||6'2"||180||4-4-3||22||84.6||Recently benched.|
|E.C. Matthews||R.I.||6'4"||180||4-4-4||23||97.5||Playing SF|
|Kendal Yancy||Texas||6'4"||195||4-4-3||23||98.9||Buried on the bench|
|Bronson Koenig||Wisc.||6'3"||180||3-4-4||25||116.0||Backup to Traevon Jackson.|
*star ratings from ESPN, Rivals, and Scout, respectively
**average national positional ranking from sites that ranked as a PG
The sites were in agreement that Walton belonged at the top of the consensus 4-stars; nobody threatened to add a fifth. I see one real standout above who isn't Just a Shooter™ at this stage. The closest comparisons around him are either riding bench or nearly a half-foot taller. Here's a closer look at those from above who've started at least a third of their team's games at PG:
I don't know how to read that except Tyler Ennis (NTTE) is pretty good, and 1.42 assists for every turnover isn't good but at least it's in line with two (Harrison and Jordan) of the four consensus 5-stars in his class. Mock drafts have Ennis from the end of the lottery to near the end of the first round. It is not freshman Trey Burke, nor does that show a guy whose role is dishing it to an array of sophomore scorers. Part of that is not having McGary to flip to inside for an easy two-from-the-elbow, part of that is the Stauskas-LeVert pick-and-roll game only asks Derrick to be a viable three-pointer threat on the opposite perimeter. But I can't hide my own disappointment that Walton has yet to find the keys to engage Lottery Pick Glenn Robinson.
Let's dig deeper into those things after…
1/18/2014 – Michigan 77, Wisconsin 70 – 13-4, 5-0 Big Ten
It was unfair. It was beautiful.
Sam Dekker drove on Stauskas and put up a shot that Horford blocked. Sort of. Along the way somewhere between one and three fouls were committed. Michigan ain't care, though, and they grabbed the loose ball and ran back the other way, finding LeVert open in transition for three. He knocked it down to put Michigan up nine. ESPN cut to Bo Ryan.
You know that moment when you figure out that girl you've been certainly not in love with for 15 years is certainly not in love with you and then sparkles fall from the sky while unicorns burst from the chest of everyone in the coffee shop as you share a deep and passionate kiss that leads to a lifetime of happy contemplation about how fortunate you are compared to people who marry something other than the very embodiment of wonderfulness?
Yeah, you do. You're an American and therefore have been cast opposite Emma Stone in a romantic comedy. So you know that moment is the equivalent of getting socks on Christmas compared to the camera shot that followed LeVert's three: Bo Ryan squeezing every muscle in his face until his skin veritably roiled with the possibility of explosive decompression. His grinchy eyebrows plunged to a level even with his eyes as his mandibles expelled a torrent of profanity so pungent that the refs would have dissolved in front of his face if they had even a passing knowledge of the language of the bug people of Rigel.
SHOULD HAVE SENT A POET
Every Michigan fan's heart grew two sizes that day. On twitter, Ace's mentions filled up with demands for GIFs, and then threats. I cackled uncontrollably and swore joyously in human language at the TV. Somewhere in Iowa, Fran McCaffery found himself with an unprompted, mysterious, and not-entirely-unwelcome erection.
Fun was had watching Wisconsin play basketball. It's 2014, folks. 2014 is not 2013.
This was the proverbial statement win, work done to validate Michigan's play since the frustratingly disjointed Duke game. There the Blue Devils extended their defense to cut off Stauskas and the rest of the team flobbered around for about 30 minutes until LeVert decided he'd keep Michigan vaguely in it by himself.
Since, Michigan's offense blossomed into the prettiest whack-a-mole you've ever seen. Shut one thing down and something else equally deadly pops up. Leave Zak Irvin, and he'll kill Minnesota. Close out Walton wrong and he'll kill Nebraska. Try to keep Stauskas away from the rim and whoops the center got a layup. And then there's Stauskas in the middle of everything, not just shooting.
But aside from 1.15 PPP against Arizona, the competition level left questions. Even last year's beautiful machine tended to seize up and fall over when presented with road contests against the brutes of the Big Ten. These guys had beaten Minnesota and three outfits for whom the word "tournament" means ping pong in the locker room.
No more. While Wisconsin is not quite last year's outfit defensively, they remain Wisconsin, currently in the top 40 on defense on Kenpom, preventer of all threes and shots at the rim. (There's more about this in the bullets section.) Michigan went into the Trohl Center and shot 86%/55%/54%. Heck, that game against Northwestern is looking like an accomplishment now that the Wildcats have established themselves the second-ugliest basketball team in the country*. So they've played a couple upper-echelon defenses to go with some wonky ones They currently lead the Big Ten in two-point shooting by nearly seven percentage points. Subs, man. That's crazy.
After watching Michigan eviscerate attempts to contain them on the pick and roll, Wisconsin was reduced to giving Michigan jumpers and hoping they'd miss. As the first half rolled along, Michigan did not. Glenn Robinson elevated above any hope of a contest on consecutive elbow jumpers that hit back rim and went straight down like the end of a training montage. Nik Stauskas pulled up from just inside the free throw line. When Wisconsin did manage to lose Morgan or Horford, they literally did not miss. Even Michigan's terrifying late drought consisted largely of wide open threes for Stauskas, a near alley-oop for Horford, and a LeVert shot that was halfway down.
Sometimes, the shots do not fall. You would be forgiven for forgetting that with this team.
Bo Ryan remembers, now. His report to the Grand Chitinous One will be filled with k'halaks powerful enough to rattle thoraxes.
*[According to the metric of Adjusted Offensive Efficiency – Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. You can take in #1 with a quick trip down US-23 to Bowling Green.]
That's just how they do. Much complaining from Wisconsin fans on the internet and some from Dan Dakich about the way Wisconsin was defending the pick and roll. To me, it looked like typical Wisconsin: Ryan has always preferred soft hedges where the big cuts off the basket and makes the pass to the guy slipping the screen difficult, if not impossible.
In exchange, Wisconsin gives up two-point jumpers from just inside the lane. Two point jumpers are generally worse shots than those at the rim or from three, and Wisconsin has encouraged them since Ryan's arrival. The problem for the Badgers in this one is that Michigan was hitting nearly every one of them.
Philosophically, Wisconsin just did what they always do. The texture of their stats is the same as it was last year when their defense carried them: good-to-great eFG%, vanishingly few threes attempted, few forced TOs or fouls committed, crash your own boards. It was just fine for them the last five years.
There is something wonky about Wisconsin's defense this year that was not the case last year. That is Wisconsin trading Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans, and Neverending Ginger Assassin…
…for Frank Kaminski, Sam Dekker, and a 6'3" guard. Their ability to contest the jumpers their defense is designed to provide has been seriously compromised by their lack of size. Compounding issues: while Kaminski is taller than Berggren he's nowhere near Berggren's class as an intimidator.
Actually, disregard the previous paragraph's "seriously." Wisconsin's D is 33rd on Kenpom. They're not exactly last year's Penn State outfit. It is a step back; they are still pretty much Wisconsin, and Michigan eviscerated them.
Related: I understand those turnovers. Michigan didn't have many, as was always going to be the case when Michigan's precision met Wisconsin's passivity. Those they did were concentrated with LeVert and Stauskas on pick and roll action when they tried to get the easy buckets Michigan had gotten in the previous three or four games by dumping it off to the bigs. A number of these were after Michigan's opening barrage, when the natural reaction would be to press the ballhandler. Wisconsin stuck to their inherent Wisconsin-ness and the result was a few passes that were near-impossible to complete.
The grim period. Michigan was cruising up 66-53 with eight minutes left and then scored one bucket over the next seven as Wisconsin cut the lead to one. What happened on offense during the dry spell:
- Stauskas turnover.
- Stauskas misses wide open three. Michigan timeout before next possession, Stauskas exits.
- LeVert misses jumper.
- LeVert turnover.
- LeVert misses jumper.
- Stauskas returns. Stauskas misses wide open three.
- Stauskas hits two-point jumper.
- LeVert misses layup.
- Stauskas misses late-clock forced jack, Morgan fouled on OREB attempt, Stauskas engages beastmode.
The Stauskas shots were just one of those things. He has totally uncontested threes. He must take them.
Meanwhile, LeVert's role in the grim period has drawn some criticism on the internet in the aftermath. I think that's much more the swelling panic everyone felt than a rational evaluation of how Michigan's offense ran with Stauskas off the court, and I say that as a charter member of the WHAT IS HAPPENING WHERE IS STAUSKAS AAAAAH club as it was happening live. Events:
- M tries to post Robinson; LeVert declines entry pass and drives to lane, correctly diagnoses that an alley-oop to Horford is the play but throws it too high. Michigan resets, LeVert turns down P&R, takes a contested two with about ten seconds on the clock that is halfway down and pops out.
- Kaminski gets switched onto LeVert, LeVert tries to drive baseline, is obviously fouled, no call, turns the ball over.
- LeVert ends up taking a semi-contested pull-up shot off the pick and roll. It's a foot on the line item with 14 on the shot clock.
The first is the right idea with execution that's just off, the second is a ref boner, and the third is pretty bad. And as soon as that happened, Stauskas was back. You can't tell much of anything from three possessions and LeVert put up 20 points on 16 shot equivalents.
Stauskas comparison of the week. Stauskas has started adding a thing on the pick and roll that evokes memories of Chauncey Billups: once he gets past the screen, he sticks out his butt to keep his man behind him and then takes a dribble or two, waiting to see how the situation develops.
Stauskas also got 0.01 brownie points for hitting all six of his game-sealing free throws, because I have irrational expectations when it comes to Stauskas hitting free throws.
[@ Right: Chris Smith/UMHoops]
Just hanging out in the corner. Derrick Walton's night went a little beyond quiet, as he took only three shots and had two assists in 31 minutes. And that's totally fine, as Michigan was on fire for most of the night. Walton took the opportunities that came to him and his 36% three-point shooting is enough to keep his guy on his jock as Michigan works a two-man game against three-phobic Wisconsin.
Walton's reduced role on offense helped him on D, where he held Traevon Jackson—just coming off a monster Indiana game—to 3 for 11 shooting and just seven points.
If Michigan's in a situation where there are transition opportunities or a weak point guard or they're leaving him open in the corner, Walton can take advantage. When those things aren't available he's able to defer. Walton's ability to push the ball was part of Wisconsin's even-more-extreme-than-usual abandonment of the offensive boards.
In Big Ten-long game of "HORSE," Morgan is currently on R [UMHoops]
Horgan. Even acknowledging the fact that 90% of their buckets are assisted layup or dunk attempts, the efficiency with which Michigan's two-headed center is scoring is boggling. Morgan is at nearly 70% for the season and since Mitch McGary got shut down for the season he has 23 makes on 28 attempts. That is 82%. Remember that business where you'd get super mad at Morgan and I'd point my fingers at a shooting percentage in the low sixties and say "please stop, you make no sense"? Yeah, well now his ORTG is 127. Now I point at Kenpom and say "please continue, you make no sense."
Horford has been barely less efficient in that timeframe, hitting 22 of 32, 69%, and since Horford's game is a little bit more diverse—he's got that baseline jumper and a post move or two—that's understandable. At least insofar as "understandable" can be deployed in service of explaining a guy shooting 70% from the floor.
Meanwhile, the bigs have TO rates ranging from acceptable-for-a-big (Morgan's 18, which is a couple of points better than last year) to astounding (Horford's 10, which is equivalent to GRIII's number).
Is this sustainable? Well, somewhat. Six-six shooters are going to plunge into the lane and non-Wisconsins are going to give up a number of good looks, and both of Michigan's bigs are better than they used to be. But there will be some regression and guys like Amir Williams and Adriean Payne have overwhelmed M with their athleticism and shall do so again. I'll take it.
The silver lining. The announcement of McGary's surgery was my muse for a tweet that read simply "GODDAMMIT," and it is still pretty depressing to think about putting the demon from last year's NCAA tournament on a team that's already 5-0 in the Big Ten and 14th on Kenpom. A healthy McGary probably swings a game or two in Michigan's favor and… right, not what this bullet is about.
This bullet is about how it's kind of great that Morgan is back in the lineup and playing well after being relegated to the bench during the run last year. He returned without the expectation of much playing time despite an ability to go anywhere with the grad transfer rule, lost what backup minutes he was looking to get to Horford early, and is now making me go "whoa" a couple times a game. This warms the cockles.
Speaking of "whoa." JORDAN MORGAN PUT IT BACK IN YOUR FACE, WISCONSIN. And then looked like he was thinking "did I do that" afterwards. Yes, yes you did.
I like this better than that. Hoo man I just went back to Tommy Amaker's last year at Michigan($) to compare someone to Morgan and found that the best ORTG guy on that team was Ron Coleman. Viva Beilein.
The road ahead. Recent events have freed the Big Ten from a tyranny of Kenpom projecting a Badger conference championship in a year when they don't have to go to OSU or MSU—the most Badger championship of them all. Your new favorite is MSU at 14-4, with Michigan and Iowa projected a game behind at 13-5, Wisconsin a game further back, and OSU a fringe contender projected to go 11-7. Michigan's next two games are against the two top contenders. It's kind of a big deal.
The upcoming home game versus Iowa is huge. Huuuuuuge. Winning the Big Ten is about holding serve at home and picking off one, maybe two road games against contenders. Michigan's got one in the bag; Iowa has an opportunity to pick one up. Michigan beats Iowa and the MSU game is entirely house money instead of 80% house money.
The Big Ten, man. Basketball is the opposite of football.