The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
2/23/2010 – Michigan 52, Wisconsin 53 – 17-12, 7-9 Big Ten
For a while, the house we lived in—1331 Geddes, AKA "the Unlucky Palindrome," the purple-doored white house almost but not quite right next to the CCRB—had a fairly sizeable hole in the wall. Raffi's hip put it there. I put Raffi's hip there with a sort of flying tackle.
After this we were both on the ground. This was Raffi's territory. He has cerebral palsy, which means he can't walk that well or supinate his hands—he got around with the aid of crutches. As a result his arms were thick, meaty bludgeons. Since I'd just delivered a wall-shattering flying tackle to a guy who can't walk very well he used them to hit me, hard. It hurt.
This was "man fun." It was a semi-regular occurrence when someone had been studying too long or just felt like delivering a flying tackle. You would pick an available person and hurt them, and they would hurt you, and everyone would laugh.
Watching a freshman shooting 28% from three missing his buzzer-beater badly enough to make it was like absorbing one of Raffi's flat, heavy blows. I'd never witnessed something like that in person, and… yeah. Being in Crisler was to viscerally understand the cliche about the air going out of the building. The transition from a standing, raucous crowd to a bunch of pissed off people looking for their jackets was instant, and the ride home was mostly silence.
But I'm not upset in the aftermath despite this being objectively worse than the Evan Turner half-court dagger last year. Last year's team was under .500, a miserable disappointment after being ranked #15 before the season. Even Michigan fans who thought that was a bit much didn't expect the massive regression we got. That shot just meant Michigan didn't get their very narrow chance at winning two more games and the automatic bid that went with it. Losing was the merciful end, but it stood as a symbol for everything that went wrong. It was somewhere between irritating and infuriating.
Josh Gasser punting it in off the backboard—BACKBOARDS DIE—is probably going to cost Michigan an at-large, and it comes after a season of near-misses. I already wrote the bit about that scoring chance you get with five minutes left in the hockey game. It turns out that if Michigan is watching the NCAA Tournament selection show with a jaundiced eye they'll be thinking about threes clanging off rims in Champaign and a one-armed freshman shooting a three pointer so wildly errant it hit a courtside photographer before going in. And not being able to finish the deal against Ohio State earlier. And needing one measly point to avoid overtime against Kansas.
By all rights we should be waking up today like most Sundays the past three falls: hungover, pissed off, and mopey. It doesn't seem like we are, collectively—aside from one nutball on WTKA this morning the mood was downright chipper for the first time since the Notre Dame game.
It's obvious why. Just being in a position to be hurt is good after what happened last year and what the expectations were for this one. I admit that as I edited Tim's season preview I cocked an eyebrow at Tim's sunny conclusion:
The one thing they can promise, though, is that they'll be fun to watch. Maybe not in every individual game, but seeing these young players grow over the course of the season should be an entertaining - if often frustrating - experience all its own.
31 games later that may be the most accurate season prediction ever purveyed in this space*.
It sucks that a blind Chinese six-year-old threw a ball through the center of the earth that just happened to have enough momentum to pop up through the underside of the basket and fall back through, but Michigan has the most improved player in the conference, the best freshman who will be around next year, no seniors, the 336th most-experienced team in the country, and two good guards on the way to fill out the roster. According to Kenpom this is already the best team Beilein's had at Michigan—they are 48th while the tourney team was 50th. There has been no point in the post-sanctions history of Michigan basketball where optimism is as warranted.
In the light of morning not even a tiny meteor launched from Tralfamadore billions of years ago falling through the Crisler arena roof and subsequently the net can take away the feeling that sometimes it's good to hurt because at least you know you're alive. Michigan basketball is alive.
*[Although I did say football would go 7-5 this year. Third time's a charm.]
Non-bullets of glassy destruction
Novak no shoot. Beilein apparently said that he doesn't believe playing Zack Novak at the 4 is affecting his shooting but it's hard to see the correlation as something other than causation. I don't think Michigan has a choice—in the Iowa and Wisconsin games when Smotrycz was put on Basabe/Leuer it led it instant easy baskets and a quick switch. I think the reason Michigan's mostly playing Smotrycz at the five is because he gets annihilated by guys with ball skills.
Getting Smotrycz to improve and getting Christian to the point where he can do at least one thing on offense—corner threes maybe—are key points for next season. I'm not sure how much more Michigan is going to get out of Morgan and Morris and we have an idea of what Hardaway will become. The shooting guard will be a white guy who shoots threes and occasionally Carlton Brundidge. The four is the biggest issue.
Beilein's bedroom. Has a poster of Jon Leuer where other people put Megan Fox. Jesus. He has a 119 ORtg and he's taking nearly a third of Wisconsin's shots! Random mock draft has him going in the second round to the Pistons, which okay. I'm all over that. I can't imagine him being not useful.
Also, Beilein has to be looking at Keaton Nankivil and thinking "where can I get a 6'8" to shoot 48% from three?" Either that or "was that guy in The Usual Suspects?"
Late game strategy. I was fine with it; the problem came on the last foul when Michigan could only burn a second or two off the clock. If they get a bit more Wisconsin is trying to shoot with three seconds. As it was, Michigan really needed to not have three guys in the paint by the time the pass was made. That ball was going up.
Senior day? What are they going to do for it? Are they going to bother with it?
THAT IS ALL
|WHAT||Michigan v. Wisconsin|
6:30 PM EST
February 23rd, 2011
|THE LINE||Michigan +4.5.|
|TELEVISION||BTN (No Tim Doyle, Thankfully)|
This is This Most Important Game of the Year Until The Next Game. Tonight's game can give Michigan a top-50 RPI win, which would firmly state their case for an NCAA Tournament bid. Lose, and it's going to be an uphill battle for the next 4+ games. Other teams helped Michigan out over the weekend so the Wolverines control their destiny for now. They shouldn't worry about anyone but themselves.
So. It's a little scary that such an important game comes against this caliber of opponent. The Badgers are hovering in the top tier of the Big Ten along with Ohio State and Purdue, one of the nation's elite teams. They have the most efficient offense in America, though you wouldn't know it just looking at their final scores because they are also the slowest team.
Last time these teams faced off Michigan traveled to the Kohl Center, where the Badgers Just. Don't. Lose. Wisconsin Just. Didn't. Lose. In fact, they won by 16 points, getting 20 from future Big Ten Player of the Year Jordan Taylor and 17 from Jon Leuer.
That loss kicked off a 6-game losing streak in which Michigan's defense was terrible. Those six games straight included five of the worst six performances on that side of the ball for Michigan this season--the only exception was against the country's third-best offense in Kansas (go figure). If Michigan can prove that was just a fluky rough stretch, things should go much better tonight. FWIW, Wisconsin's shooting percentages plummet on the road.
With a few games under each team's belt, it's finally reasonable to look at the stats. If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy.
|Michigan v. Wisconsin: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Wisconsin Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. Wisc Def eFG%||62||75||M|
|Mich Def eFG% v. Wisc eFG%||182||43||WW|
|Mich TO% v. Wisc Def TO%||21||313||MMM|
|Mich Def TO% v. Wisc TO%||228||1||WWW|
|Mich OReb% v. Wisc DReb%||318||29||WWW|
|Mich DReb% v. Wisc OReb%||51||81||M|
|Mich FTR v. Wisc Opp FTR||339||44||WWW|
|Mich Opp FTR v. Wisc FTR||55||332||MMM|
|Mich AdjO v. Wisc AdjD||51||51||-|
|Mich AdjD v. Wisc AdjO||62||1||W|
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.
Wisconsin is a team that is good at the basketballs. Having the conference's best point guard (and probably best player) goes a long way toward holding onto the ball. It also helps the Badgers get the ball in good spots to shoot it - and shoot it they do. They're Michigan's mirror when it comes to getting to the foul line (not very much) and preventing the opponent from doing the same.
In areas where the teams aren't in a dead heat, Michigan is at a disadvantage in all of them. Where Michigan is a bad offensive rebounding team, Wisconsin is pretty good. Both are good on the defensive glass. The Badgers make shots better than Michigan and they're better at preventing the opponent from doing the same.
By this point in the season, you should be familiar with Wisconsin's stars: Taylor is excellent at holding onto the ball and assisting his teammates. The 6-10 Leuer has great range offensively, and is one of the best defensive rebounders in the conference. 6-8 Keaton Nankivil is hitting almost half of his three-pointers. And Mike Bruesewitz has Carrot Top-inspired hair.
Dylan interviews Bucky's 5th Quarter about the game. WE HAVE DISCOVERED JORDAN TAYLOR'S WEAKNESS:
By Taylor’s own admission, he waited too long against Purdue to hunt his own shot
Oh, come on. Doesn't shoot enough? At least there's a little more:
Taylor is not the quickest point guard either. We recently saw the relentless Lewis Jackson bother Taylor with his tight defense and quicker feet.
Darius Morris is pretty quick for a point guard, but isn't yet known as a defensive stopper. Stu Douglass isn't as fleet of foot, so Taylor might be able to take advantage of that when Darius is getting a rest.
Phil returns the favor, asking a few questions of UMHoops.
Penn State and Wisconsin are locked in a death battle to see who can have the greatest difference between performances on the road and at home... and Wisconsin might actually be winning it. The Badgers are much better in Kohl than they are outside of Madison - though the last few games in Crisler haven't gone so well for the Wolverines.
I really want to believe that Michigan can win this game, but I'm having a hard time doing it. The Badgers will slow down the game and frustrate a young Michigan squad. Tim Hardaway will lead both teams in scoring, but Darius Morris will lose the statistical battle to Jordan Taylor in a 54-51 Badger victory.
Novak fouled out on three obvious charges (2, 3, 5), a blocking foul (1), and one that could go either way(4). The ones where Novak was in position but only got a glancing blow should probably be no-calls, actually. This is why John Beilein—John Beilein!—got a technical foul in Iowa City. In other news, I hate college basketball refereeing.
Also Michigan won in OT against Iowa. The hockey kind of sucked up my attention. Tim Hardaway Jr… dude. This is my analysis. Dude.
|WHAT||Michigan v. Iowa|
|WHERE||Iowa City, IA|
3:30 PM CST
4:30 Real Life Time
February 19th, 2011
|THE LINE||Michigan -2.5.|
|TELEVISION||BTN (Eric Collins, Tim Doyle)|
As Brian said on WTKA Thursday, the outcome of the Illinois game doesn't have a huge negative effect on the tournament chances, except it's one hell of a "lack of positive" effect. Like missing a late goal trailing in a hockey game, it's the coulda-been point where it starts feeling like the thing is really over.
Michigan is now in serious need of an RPI top-50 win, and with four games left, there are only three options: 1) Beat Wisconsin. 2) Beat Minnesota and hope they end up in the top-50. 3) Beat Michigan State and hope the Spartans end up in the top-50. As much as it hurts to cheer for Sparty, #3 would be a huge benefit, because it would give Michigan two wins over a top-50 squad, including one on the road.
Until the fat lady does her thing, this is This Most Important Game of the Year Until The Next Game. The contest of Iowa isn't necessarily a "must-win," but it's definitely a "can't-lose," and since there are only two possible outcomes, well, I guess it's a must-win if Michigan wants to keep their tournament dream alive. A loss doesn't kill it, but means it would be necessary to sweep their final three regular season games (which, I hope they plan to win this one AND sweep the final three), and/or make a conference tourney run.
Last time around, Melsahn Basabe had a coming-out party, reaching a season-high point total (25), while pulling down 8 rebounds and notching a pair of blocks. Not to be outdone, Darius Morris recorded a triple-double, and the Wolverines got the last laugh with a comfortable win in Crisler Arena.
Since then, Michigan has shown that they've snapped out of their midseason malaise, but Iowa has proven that they're no pushover (who knows how they'll react after officially losing the chance to go .500 by losing to Northwestern on Thursday). There are no easy wins in NCAA basketball's toughest conference, especially on the road. Time to earn it.
With a few games under each teams' belts, it's finally reasonable to look at the stats. If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy.
|Michigan v. Iowa: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Iowa Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. Iowa Def eFG%||65||182||MM|
|Mich Def eFG% v. Iowa eFG%||176||181||-|
|Mich TO% v. Iowa Def TO%||19||67||M|
|Mich Def TO% v. Iowa TO%||238||261||M|
|Mich OReb% v. Iowa DReb%||319||191||II|
|Mich DReb% v. Iowa OReb%||41||95||M|
|Mich FTR v. Iowa Opp FTR||342||7||IIII|
|Mich Opp FTR v. Iowa FTR||56||269||MMM|
|Mich AdjO v. Iowa AdjD||54||48||-|
|Mich AdjD v. Iowa AdjO||66||140||M|
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 Wolverines dominate the tempo-free stats, and Iowa's only big advantages are in rebounding Michigan misses and not sending John Beilein's squad to the free throw line. To sum it up, Iowa has a very slight advantage on Michigan's end of the court, and Michigan has a pretty hefty advantage when they're playing D.
So I spent a lot of the Illinois preview spilling words on how Michigan had turned into a pretty good offensive team during Big Ten play, and they managed to mae me eat my words by missing EVERYTHING on Wednesday night. A lot of that came from playing the #1 eFG% defense in the Big Ten, but even the open shots just weren't falling that night.
If Stu Douglass (54.7 eFG% on the year, 22.7 against Illinois), Zack Novak (55.2 this year, 42.9 Wednesday), and Darius Morris (52.5 season, 33.3 Wednesday) can snap out of their shooting funk, Michigan should be able to roll on the road. If Jordan Morgan can keep up his excellent form of late, that's icing on the cake.
I'm willing - based on 26 other games of evidence - to believe that the shooting performance was just a really bad night, and it won't be repeated against a much worse defensive team than the Illini. Keeping Melsahn Basabe from repeating his performance from Crisler Arena will be the bigger key to this game. Ken Pomeroy likes the Hawkeyes this afternoon, but I think Michigan emerges from Carver-Hawkeye with the 70-61 victory.
2/16/2011 – Michigan 52, Illinois 54 – 16-11, 6-8 Big Ten
Bear with me: if Michigan's basketball season was a hockey game, last night's basketball game was a really good scoring chance blown when you're down one with five minutes left. At that point you write the game off, because that was it. Objectively, your chance of winning hasn't changed much, if at all, but it feels like a door just closed.
Michigan's NCAA tournament hopes aren't much worse than they were 24 hours ago. Since Kenpom loves Illinois and Michigan outperformed expectations, its season prediction hardly moved. The evaporation of Michigan's 16% chance of winning in Champaign was made up for by significant positive moves in Michigan's four remaining games. But if Michigan's watching the NCAA selection show with a jaundiced eye, thinking about what could of been, they'll be thinking about ball after ball clanging off rims in Assembly Hall.
God, did anyone else scream horrible profanity at the world in general at that point in the second half when Zack Novak set up for yet another wide open three pointer that bashed the front of the rim? It's one thing if Michigan's firing awkward, contested threes deep in the shot clock and another when open look after open look isn't even close to going down. What's Stu Douglass—before yesterday a 40% three point shooter—supposed to do when he's standing still with the ball in his hand and no Illinois player within three feet? Shoot. He shoots, and this goes horribly, and Michigan still almost pulls off a statement win* and we're left to wonder what would have happened if they had just been miserable from three instead of abominable.
And then there's this: 4-28. That's what Michigan shot against Kansas in a game that went to overtime. Sometimes basketball makes you want to punch a wall even when you're in the bonus on the road with 14 minutes left in the half.
In the long view Michigan exceeded expectations again, if slightly, and has managed to stay in games even when threes aren't available or falling. Hope for next year increments slightly again. Right now, argh.
*[Statement is "hey, seriously guys we're on the bubble, seriously." That qualifies for the 335th-most experienced team in D-I]
Non-bullets that do not go in at all ever
Bruce Weber: not so much. That was a terribly coached basketball team that let Michigan hang around despite their inability to throw the ball in Tim Doyle's bad nickname repository by making inane turnovers and taking terrible shots. I'd be pretty upset if I was an Illinois fan. They are huge, veteran, talented, and headed for a second-round matchup with a one-seed.
Tim Doyle: not entirely horrible. I still cringe at "The Butterfly" and believe we should start calling Doyle "The Argyle Sock" in retaliation, but after listening to Stephen Bardo fire out two hours of inane cliches I appreciate Doyle a bit more. Anyone wondering what the hell Michigan could do to stop Tisdale from catching the ball two inches from the basket got some great analysis when Doyle pointed out that Zack Novak was way too far from the guy throwing the entry pass—far enough away that the guy could chuck a chest pass.
Doyle needs to realize his bid to nickname Michigan's point guard has failed and start using an outrageous Russian accent when he makes his Rounders references, but I'm slowly warming to him.
The rack: terrifying. Illinois's length started bothering Michigan immensely towards the end of the first half. After getting a couple shots blocked and seeing a couple others altered beyond recognition, Michigan players were extremely hesitant to take driving lanes and started settling for meh midrange stuff. Morgan was the lone exception, which was good—he was productive in the second half—and bad—a couple of the shots he put up were poor decisions early in the shot clock. Still mostly good.
This tendency had its worst expression on the back-to-back possessions late where Douglass and Morris both took step-back jumpers from the women's three point line. Those were bad shots for a lot of reasons, and it's hard to imagine either of them getting launched against, say, Penn State.
Final shot. Saw some e-complaints about Smotrycz not driving to the hole on Michigan's final possession but don't understand them. Smotrycz may not have been lighting it up from three but he also got blocked when he tried to go to the hole that one time and is not shooting a great percentage from inside the arc. Help defense would have arrived, and time's running down. You get an open three to win and you're a 38% shooter I think you should take it.
Bit before the final shot. The look on Beilein's face as he called timeout after Michigan had run 17 seconds off the clock when a two-for-one opportunity was staring them in the face was not exasperated enough, but for it to be exasperated enough he would have had to break the laws of physics. File under "young team" unless it happens again.
Seriously, make a shot. I have nothing useful to add. Just argh.
Mets Maize. Best bit:
Morris and Hardaway Jr. leadership dynamic. At this point, it's pretty clear they're the leaders of the team but it was interesting to watch them communicate between whistles. At one point, Morris yelled at Hardaway Jr. to "chill out". Unfortunately, they just never got on the same page: Morris with at least a half dozen forced penetrations without a single pass in the half court set, Hardaway Jr. hesitant to pull the trigger, pump fakes and generically drives and kicks. Early in the 2nd half, there was an awkward, back-and-forth turnover-fest by both teams that resulted in Tim Hardaway Jr. trying to push the ball, getting it stolen and an Illini cherry-pickin' jam on the other end.
As UMHoops pointed out on the twitters, Illinois has the best eFG% defense in the league for a reason—and Michigan let it get to them.
Dylan also points out that this was Michigan's best defensive game in a while:
Lost in the offensive struggles is the fact that this was Michigan’s best defensive game in Big Ten play. Michigan held Illinois to .90 points per possession and more impressively just .73 per trip in the second half. Michigan was abused by the high-low in the first half but made the right adjustments to negate Illinois’ size advantage in the second half. Illinois posted an eFG% of 48% – 56% on twos & 22% on threes – and only attempted 9 free throws on the game. Most importantly, Michigan did a great job on the defensive glass, grabbing 76% of Illinois’ missed shots.
A chunk of that was due to Illinois's troubles from three, but those rebounding numbers are impressive against a huge team. Michigan's moved up to 41st in defensive rebounding. (The one major misstep from Doyle and the PBP guy last night was repeatedly claiming Michigan was not a good rebounding team. They're well above average defensively; they get zero offensive rebounds but the overall gap is small. They're about average.)
Certainly Michigan is a game to worry about on paper. But the reality is that they're sloppy on offense, they take too many quick shots, they don't value the ball and they play multiple defenses, none particularly well.
Michigan is 19th nationally in turnover margin, 321st in pace, still 19th nationally in turnover margin, and plays 95% man with the occasional 1-3-1 possession. That's amazing.