I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
2/12/2012 – Michigan 70, Illinois 61 – 19-7, 9-4 Big Ten
Sports have their own distinctive rhythms, sounds and moments and rituals that worm themselves into the observer's subconscious after repeated exposure. Basketball is rife with them. The seismic thud of the ball hitting the floor is shockingly tactile from time to time, especially during your first game of a new season. Back-to-back TV timeouts are agony and boredom. And the interval between a three-pointer's departure and arrival, when three fingers are raised in slow motion and a long heavy intake of breath fills the lungs, is the sort of intermittent reinforcement that ends with people saying "but she loves me… she's just misunderstood."
When those rhythms conspire against you in a cosmically unfair (and usually deeply random) fashion, building-wide manias develop. Rattling post after post in hockey, an avalanche of seeing-eye singles in baseball, the clang of iron on open look after open look—these things turn crowds into scalded, nervous things. When the shot goes up, the reaction is something it would take Steve Buscemi to adequately convey.
Oh no, here we go again
Maybe this time basketball will love me
Maybe this time basketball will care
Basketball is just misunderstood
No officer I would not like to press charges against basketball
Maybe next time
Probably next time
Definitely next time
Basketball is just misunderstood
When Tim Hardaway Jr. got an open-ish look from three early, he passed it up. He faked, got past the closeout, and took an open look from the elbow. He missed. He got another midrange jumper a minute later, which he missed. A minute after that he got an open look from three, and the building kind of moaned.
It was a complex moan. It acknowledged the fact that this was a very good shot and that if you are Tim Hardaway Jr. and you're not going to take this shot you probably shouldn't be on the floor at all and while there may be some basketball teams who could afford to bench Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan is emphatically not one of them. It also loathed everything about the preceding sentence because none of it meant Hardaway was at all likely to make it. It was a richly subtextual moan. Given enough time and processing power, Ken Pomeroy could calculate Hardaway's shooting percentage from it. He would find it is not high at all.
Hardaway made it anyway. The building thought maybe basketball would bring it flowers.
It was the other one, though, that really got hearts open again, really open and ready for a surprising reversal that is in no way surprising. It wasn't a good shot, really, but when you're 6'5" and can jump really high there are few truly contested threes. This has been a foundational component of Hardaway's game and seemed brilliant when he was hitting 42% of them. When you're hitting 27%, not so much. Hardaway was hitting 27% as he made a token move to the basket and stepped back for a semi-contested three.
He'd hit one earlier and maybe the wincing wasn't quite as overt as he rose up. This one was perfect. It hit nothing whatsoever on its way through the hoop.
Hardaway didn't push it. There was no heat check, because sometimes a thing like making more than half of your shots in a game is a delicate one that must be shepherded through dangers.
Hardaway wasn't the only struggler to prop up fading hopes of effectiveness. Matt Vogrich had eight points on three shots, all makes, and Novaked himself a game-changing play* when his super-quick rotation on Meyers Leonard condemned Leonard to the bench for most of the first half. Evan Smotrycz hit a couple threes and managed 13 points; though he turned the ball over twice he was also credited with four steals. Michigan did not get blown off the court in the long stretches where a foul-limited Morgan wasn't on it thanks in large part to Smotrycz.
Both Vogrich and Smotrycz followed Hardaway's example and didn't push it. Between the three of them they took eight threes and hit six. As a team Michigan attempted just 35% from beyond the arc. It was a strange mirror of the first half against Nebraska, when Michigan took two thirds of its shots from three against the worst interior defense in the league. Here they took most of their shots from two against one a team much better on the interior than the perimeter.
Whether that was just what Illinois does—they're second in the league at preventing three point attempts—or Michigan treating their newfound deep shooting touch like a Faberge egg, the end result was a building that did not moan. Primed to believe long shots could actually go through the net, when Vogrich rose in the second half there was just anticipation.
Long may it last. It won't last. It might last. Basketball has been more into flowers lately.
*[Except of course if Novak had tried to do the same thing they would have called a block on him because referees hate Novak even more than opposing fans do.]
Bullets Will Drive Us Apart
As always, rely on MGoBlog for your super accurate predictions. In the preview I openly quailed at the prospect of Meyers Leonard going up against Michigan's undersized front line. At halftime I felt like the six-point lead was a missed opportunity that would bite Michigan in the ass after Leonard returned from the game-changing charge Matt Vogrich took on him for his second foul. Leonard's 7'1" frame sauntered onto the court and… scored one point in the second half. He had all of three FGAs, all of which IIRC were putback attempts (he had four offensive rebounds).
That's the game right there. I'm not sure how much of that was Michigan's doing and how much was Illinois drifting away from the early game plan (in short: "ALL OF THE LEONARDS") in favor of whatever it was they decided to do instead. It felt like Illinois didn't even bother looking inside much in the second half. When they did, doubles convinced Leonard to kick it out and active hands from Morgan and Smotrycz forced a number of turnovers. It's a tribute to someone on the coaching staff—maybe various someones—that this motely crew of iffy athletes and short guys finds itself an above-average Big Ten defense.
At least I was on point with the increased use of zone—plenty when Leonard was on the court—and the total uselessness of the backup center (zero points, two attempts both on offensive putbacks against McLimans in 14 minutes). Didn't see Tyler Griffey as the guy who would light up Michigan's sagging perimeter defense.
Player items. Hardaway, Vogrich, and Smotrycz are essentially covered above. All had efficient shooting days for a change; as a unit that put Michigan over the hump despite a 5 of 15 day from Trey Burke. It certainly didn't feel like a 5 of 15 day from Burke, but there it is.
Not much stands out from the boxscore except another game in which Michigan had the crap kicked out of it on the boards. Illinois rebounded 40% of its misses. Michigan is now significantly below average in both offensive (10th) and defensive (8th) rebounding. This is an obvious consequence of moving Douglass into the starting lineup after they cruised through the nonconference schedule seeming like a good to very good DREB team. Not that doing that was a bad idea.
The upside of that. Michigan got a ton of fast break and secondary transition points; in the second half when Illinois was crashing the boards hard anything that didn't end up getting rebounded by the trees fell to a shorter faster Michigan player and the resulting transition opportunity was often an odd-man break. I'd be interested to see a breakdown of Illinios points off of offensive rebounds versus points in transition when Michigan actually got the board. I'd guess it would be a small advantage to Illinois, but not one that outweighs the benefits of going small to Michigan's halfcourt offense.
Small sample size. Vogrich is 5/5 from three in his past two games. Result:
Prior to the Nebraska win, Vogrich was shooting 20.5 percent on the season. Now, after one solid week, he's up to 30.8 percent from downtown.
Big Ten… um… title? It is vaguely possible. Via UMHoops, the four contenders (I've taken the liberty of bolding games versus the top four):
|MICHIGAN ST. (9-3)||OHIO ST. (9-3)||MICHIGAN (9-4)||WISCONSIN (8-4)|
|vs. Wisconsin (8-4)||at Minnesota (5-7)||vs. OSU (9-3)||at MSU (9-3)|
|at Purdue (6-6)||at Michigan (9-4)||at N’Western (5-7)||vs. PSU (3-10)|
|at Minnesota (5-7)||vs. Illinois (5-7)||vs. Purdue (6-6)||at Iowa (5-7)|
|vs. Nebraska (3-10)||vs. Wisconsin (8-4)||at Illinois (5-7)||at OSU (9-3)|
|at Indiana (7-6)||at N’Western (5-7)||at PSU (3-10)||vs. Minnesota (5-7)|
|vs. OSU (9-3)||at MSU (9-3)||vs. Illinois (5-7)|
You'll note that Michigan is one of them and that their last game against the cream of the crop is their next one.
It will take either a huge closing run or a specific combination of results to get Michigan a banner; I'd say we can forget about it if Michigan loses against OSU. Unless OSU loses at Minnesota that would mean Michigan was two back with four games left.
If they managed the upset, though…
Illinois team practice. In games they headbutt each other and are eaten.
Weber watch. The vibe I get from the various Illini fans whose blogs I read or who I follow on twitter is extreme frustration with Bruce Weber. That makes sense after concentrating on Illinois's play. The Illini are like a pack of gazelles: breathtaking to watch run around but utterly incapable of passing the ball. Gazelles have hooves, and this fact explains things. Only two or three of the Illini have hooves. The rest of that is on Weber.
I mean, Brandon Paul should be an All-American. Instead he has a lower ORtg than literally every Michigan player with enough playing time for Kenpom to register save Vogrich. If they miss the tourney dollars to donuts Weber is having his hissy fits at home next year*. Because he won't have a job. I'm saying they'll fire him.
*[Seriously. Weber's fits might be worse than those of Bo Ryan and Tom Izzo. At least Ryan and Izzo seem to have a tangible effect on their teams. The only way Weber's message is getting through is if he's screaming "DRIBBLE AIMLESSLY AND THEN TURN THE BALL OVER." I mean:
Three of 22 pictures from the Detroit News gallery above feature Weber having a fit.]
Trillion watch. McLimans had a rare first-half trillion in four minutes.
Sold out? The game was technically sold out. Emphasis on "technically": large chunks of the upper-bowl endzones were empty the whole game. Who is buying those tickets and then ignoring them? I know they're not season tickets up there, so someone must be purchasing and then not using large chunks of the endzone upper decks. Strange.
Incredulous block/charge of the week. Brandon Paul's late first half clobberation of Trey Burke. Burke was set well outside the charge circle and Paul blew him up; this was an and-one instead of Paul's second. I haven't seen a replay but live it was a crazy call.
The only thing I can think might even vaguely justify the call is that Paul didn't hit Burke in the dead center of his chest. For some reason refs have a tendency to call blocks when a stationary defender takes an off-center or glancing blow from the offensive player. Why I don't know. In a situation like the Burke/Paul confrontation it seems like there are only two possible outcomes: a charge or a no-call. Referees disagree.
UMHoops recap. They went inside the play with some Jordan Morgan bunnies. The Crimson Quarry breaks down Indiana's deployment of the 2-3 zone. Michigan ran a lot of 2-3 in the second half yesterday and may resort to it at times down the stretch when they're at a significant size disadvantage (most of the time). Just Cover on the argument about 8-10 Big Ten teams making the tournament.
People are talking about seeding. A four, a five? There are distinct loci on the map of college basketball that Michigan now firmly occupies instead of the Purgatorial listlessness that once loomed over the program for over a decade. People are talking about Michigan's chances to win the conference title, regular season and tournament. That's not to say that Michigan will win either (the former hinges upon whether or not Michigan can beat the Buckeyes at home on Saturday), but people are talking about it. Think about how insane that is, as a concept and as a potential reality. A little over four years ago, Michigan was busy losing to an Amaker-coached Harvard squad, a moment in history that typifies the Universe's mischievous sense of humor.
It's worth noting that with Michigan's ninth win of the conference season they have permanently taken themselves off the bubble. For the first time since [REDACTED] Michigan's not going into Selection Sunday on pins an needles, even if they lose out. That was a preseason goal Michigan has met with authority.
2/8/2012 – Michigan 64, Nebraska 46 – 18-7, 8-4 Big Ten
First half, second half
I cannot pretend that last night's game inspired soaring emotions in me. It was (eventually) a routine blowout of a very bad basketball team and the most interesting bit was the three minutes at the beginning of the second half when Michigan pushed the lead out to an insurmountable margin.
While it's nice to be irritated about a seven-point halftime lead and despondent at what the late flurry did to Michigan's Kenpom rankings, let's just hit the bullets/analysis section posthaste.
Always Hardaway first. Hardaway was 0/7 in the first half with five of those from three; in the second half he was 3/4 with the miss also from three and added three assists. He's still not rebounding much, though a single-game sample there is not reliable. Bad shots were significantly reduced. Most of his missed threes were good looks, and if there was a frustrating long two there was only one.
Progress or just playing Nebraska? We'll call the second half progress if only because the preceding 60 minutes were such poo. The nice thing about that half was the way Hardaway was used in the offense: catching off screens and diving to the basket without having to rely on his handle to beat a defender.
That should be a primary component of the offense going forward. Hardaway finished at the rim on a couple of those and hit Morgan for easy buckets on a couple others; the catch off the screen limits the time opponents have to sag off three point shooters and rake at Hardaway's dribble. Defenses will of course adjust to this, and then Michigan will have to move to something else in the cat and mouse game, but they'll be able to.
As for the shooting, I don't know. On WTKA this morning Craig Ross was advocating hypnosis, Ira was saying he needs to hook up with the hockey team's sports psychologist, and I declared Hardaway needed to commit a spine-shattering charge before being allowed to take a three. Then we decided all three should be implemented.
Beilein's offense is constructed such that Hardaway is going to have to take his share of threes, and as long as they're within the context of the offense that's fine. Eventually, one will go down.
Measuring the difference between Morris and Burke. Theory: Jordan Morgan usage is highly correlated with shot generation in general and especially by the point guard. Morgan's shooting percentage is unnaturally high because the vast bulk of his attempts are GRAAAA thunderdunks generated by the point guard (and Morgan's movement) or Morgan's ability to run the floor.
I was thinking about this during the game because the correlation between Morgan shot attempts and the efficiency of Michigan's offense was glaring. First half: one Morgan shot attempt (missed). Second half: four (all makes). Morgan usage is not only a sign of GRAAAA thunderdunks but an offense that is generating shots off of movement and penetration; it seems like it is correlated with increased eFG% from the rest of the team.
Anyway, Morgan-Morris-Burke survey says:
- Morgan w/ Darius Morris: 20% of shots @ 63%, 10.7 OREB rate, 19.2 TORate.
- Morgan w/ Trey Burke: 16.4% of shots @ 65%, 11.9 OREB rate, 25.7 TORate.
[OREB rate and TORate included because it seems like he should get more putbacks this year and that Morris apparently got him touches less likely to end up as turnovers.]
Burke has a ways to go before he's as Morris-level freakish shot-generating machine. He may never get there, which is okay since he's a much better shooter. This section primarily designed to wonder at what a meteor of a college player Morris was, and to shake a fist at his early departure.
Burke, though. Efficient day with 12 points on 7 shots and a 5-2 assist to TO ratio. If he improves as much as Morris did from freshman to sophomore year he will be a twenty-foot tall robot who shoots 130% from three.
Stu Douglass, Zack Novak, the usual. Between them: 5/9 from three, 5/7 from two, 5 assists, five steals, 0 turnovers, three fouls, and a partridge in a pear tree. The senior leadership here is damned tangible.
Anyone still talking crap about Douglass is an inveterate complainer. He has been okay to good on the offensive end of the floor and a great perimeter defender on the other end. Bo Spencer went 4 of 12, 1 of 6 from three.
As for Novak, he's hitting 43% from three and in the top 50 of various Kenpom stats; he's also providing the usual torrent of grit. Quality players who will be missed.
Vogrich. Daddy needs a new pair of shoes. Let it ride. Please, please, please let that be a sign that Vogrich can be a useful role player down the stretch. Going six deep is asking for it.
Paging Smotrycz to aisle things that exist. The only things separating Smotrycz from a 13-minute trillion were:
- A defensive rebound.
- Two fouls.
- A turnover.
Not so good, there. Remember when we were complaining about Smotrycz's tendency towards silly fouls because Michigan was crippled without him on the court? Yeah… long time ago. Just as long as "oh God, the hockey tourney streak is dead."
Playing at the five is clearly uncomfortable but Michigan has few other options with Horford sidelined. I actually think they should roll with McLimans a bit more in situations where opposing bigs can't shoot free throws, if only for the defensive rebounding. Smotrycz was ripping them down as a 4 and things have fallen off considerably now that most of his minutes are backing up Morgan.
Even that's not much of a solution. Michigan's just going to have to suck it up and pray that Morgan doesn't get inappropriately handsy in the wrong game. He's been doing a much better job of staying on the floor of late, FWIW. His fouls per 40 is down to 4.0.
This should get a lot better next year with no departures and McGary, Horford, and Bielfeldt all suddenly available for post minutes. It's actually going to be hard to find minutes for everyone next year. And they'll be tall. It's going to be weird.
Trillion watch. Colton Christian picked up a two trillion; Bartelstein and Person were missed FGAs away from the same.
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges has spent much of the season with his name as candidates for other jobs. First was the head coaching position at New Mexico, which eventually went to Bob Davie. Then, it was a potential replacement for Charlie Weis as Florida's offensive coordinator. On Tuesday, Borges said he isn't interested.
"No," Borges said. "This is Michigan, [fergodsakes]. In the noble words of someone we all know and love.
En route. Six Zero has a treat for you in the new year.
Molk will headbutt you. This is a literal thing if you are Jack Miller.
After each of Michigan's coin tosses this year, senior center David Molk would march to the sideline and find freshman center Jack Miller for his pregame ritual: headbutting.
"I like Jack," Molk said earlier this season. "He doesn't like it. He always says it's OK if he knows it's coming. ... I'll just kind of run up to him and grab him, and slam my head into him."
I hope they're wearing helmets when this transpires but wouldn't bet my life on it. Also, JB Fitzgerald has spent his career at Michigan evangelizing the superiority of shoe polish over eyeblack.
All too easy. Michigan has hired another coach, so it's time for another round of Fisk The Creepy Lech, this time with an assist to some guy at Ball State whose butthurt is exceeded only by his knowledge of identity phenomenologies. Yes, it's time once again for Gregg Easterbrook to complain about literally every college coach who's taken another job:
TMQ Readers Know Too Much: I wrote that Kevin Sumlin has joined the ranks of weasel coaches who walk out on their promises the instant dollar bills are waved; then listed Nick Saban, Rich Rodriguez, Randy Edsall and Bobby Petrino as other prominent weasels.
Justin Bauserman of Indianapolis writes, "Brady Hoke belongs among the ranks of weasel coaches. First he walked out on his own alma mater, Ball State, without even coaching in the 2008 International Bowl after the team's terrific 12-1 season. His walkout essentially doomed his team to a loss in the bowl. Hoke broke his promises to Ball State in order to sign a lucrative five-year contract at San Diego State. When more money was waved by Michigan, Hoke walked out on his SDSU deal after just two seasons. How long before Michigan fans rue the day some NFL team offers him more, and he breaks his promises and bolts again?"
San Diego State must have been shocked when Hoke took the Michigan job. Hoke had gone to great lengths to conceal his ultimate goal.
When Weber interviewed Hoke for the SDSU job in late 2008, Weber said he asked Hoke, “How do you see this position at San Diego State fitting in with the arc of your career?”
“He said the end of that arc was head coach of the University of Michigan,” Weber said. “I don’t think I’d want a coach who didn’t have that kind of aspiration.”
Only his closest confidants had any idea of his ultimate destination.
I don’t pretend to know Brady Hoke very well, but I know that his father was a college teammate of Bo Schembechler at Miami University, and that the Wolverines’ crusty Patron Saint became a mentor during Hoke’s eight-year apprenticeship in Ann Arbor. I know how much the place means to him.
And he made sure that he was going to get paid tons of money.
Hoke has left San Diego State to coach football at Michigan, and his deliberations might not have spanned a nanosecond. He accepted the job before money was mentioned, and later said he would have walked to Ann Arbor as a condition of employment.
Easterbrook's complaints about coaches taking better jobs are always dumb, but going after Hoke is a new bar. In this department, anyway. The whole head-injuries-and-jews thing probably still takes the cake.
[Via the board.]
They're onto us. Arizona's Greg Byrne has adapted to the realities of the internet era:
Fly commercial. I know, who flies commercial with a private jet at his disposal? No way. These days, though, it's just too easy to track the tail numbers of private planes online. In this case, Byrne hopped on a flight that stopped in Denver (Couldn't get a nonstop? Really?) before heading to Detroit. In fact, Byrne was spotted in Denver, and news quickly hit Twitter that he was no doubt there to grab Colorado State's Steve Fairchild after his thrilling 3-9 season in Fort Collins.
By doing this and using Wire-style burners Byrne managed to keep his hire so secret that I'm still not sure who Arizona's head coach is.
General bowl-lol update. West Virginia is struggling to sell its 100 dollar Orange Bowl tickets because Stubhub has comparable seats for 19 bucks. WVU blogs note the bowl is spending some of the money it steals from the schools on a cruise for "40 FBS athletic directors and six conference executives."
The Orange Bowl is a nonprofit.
Elsewhere, Village Voice Media burns the whole system to the ground in an extensively-researched piece that ran in weeklies nationwide:
The ticket scheme alone leaves schools awash in red ink. Virginia Tech lost $400,000 on last year's trip to the Orange Bowl — despite getting $1.2 million from the ACC. Though Auburn claimed last season's BCS crown, financial records show it still lost $600,000 — even after a $2.2 million bailout from the Southeastern Conference.
Some bowls have also found a way to scam schools on hotels. Since the bowls usually arrange lodging, athletic directors assume their "friends" are negotiating the best group deals. But that's not always the case.
Under Junker's rule, the Fiesta Bowl required schools to purchase 3,750 room-nights at about $200 a pop. According to the contract, the schools had to pay whether they used them or not.
But what Junker wasn't telling his "friends" was that he'd arranged a side deal with the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. In exchange for funneling teams to Scottsdale resorts, the city's tourism arm agreed to kick the Fiesta Bowl $8.2 million over the 20-year pact, according to a contract discovered by the Arizona Republic.
The whole thing is recommended. It's a comprehensive rundown.
Calling Smotrycz’’s rebounding numbers a year ago “underwhelming” would be kind. They were disdainful for a player that stands 6-foot-9. The same Evan Smotrycz that rebounded like a guard a season ago is suddenly the second best defensive rebounder in the Big Ten.
Rank Player Team Ht Wt Yr DR% 1 Jared Sullinger Ohio St. 6-9 280 So 33.3 2 Evan Smotrycz Michigan 6-9 235 So 23.4 3 Draymond Green Michigan St. 6-7 230 Sr 23 4 Meyers Leonard Illinois 7-1 245 So 22.9 5 Ryan Evans Wisconsin 6-6 210 Jr 21
*Removed Trevor Mbakwe (knee surgery) from the fifth slot.
You can try to discount that as an artifact of Michigan's style but I don't think the argument works. Michigan has played almost entirely man to man and has reaped benefits from Smotrycz's enormous rebound-pinchers. Opponents are only grabbing 27.6 percent of their misses. The national average is 32.6. Michigan is a good defensive rebounding team and Smotrycz is one of the primary reasons.
He's also shooting better than 50% from three. If he can just stay on the floor…
Etc.: If you're wondering why on Earth Michigan signed up for a home and home with Bradley, it was probably had something to do with Bradley hiring Beilein's son. Angry Iowa Running-Back-Hating God is never sated. OSU react roundup from Rittenberg. Coastal Carolina fired the dogs and cats guy (who was actually a fairly successful coach) to hire a billionaire. Boo, Coastal Carolina. Boo.
Quality looks. Photos via Dustin Johnson and UMHoops.
(Stats via Kenpom($).)
With a 90-80 win against Oakland on Saturday, Michigan has completed the competitive section of their nonconference schedule with the exception of their annual inexplicable nonconference opponent stashed in the heart of the Big Ten schedule. This year's: @ Arkansas on January 21st. Why does Michigan do it? I have no idea. It's a persistent mystery.
Anyway, we won't learn much of anything about the team we don't already know as they take on Arkansas Pine Bluff, Alabama A&M, and Bradley. The former two are ranked 300+ by Kenpom; Bradley is 209 and has a loss to Wofford on their resume. We have 95% of the data we'll have by the time Penn State rolls into down on the 29th. So what have we learned?
The Big Ten is insane. Michigan checks in at #39 in the Kenpom ratings, which is good enough for a projected conference record of… 8-10. Glurp. That's because there are five teams in the league currently ranked in the top 15: #1 Wisconsin, #3 OSU, #12 Michigan State, #13 Indiana, and #14 Purdue. Michigan is currently leading a second tier from 39 to 52 with Illinois, Minnesota, and Northwestern. Nebraska's by itself in the 70s; Penn State and Iowa are horrible.
The Big Ten has a monster lead on the #2 Big Twelve for the title of best tempo-free conference in the country. It is a brutal league. Without a hugely disappointing tourney, it will be a runaway winner in the KenPom rankings for the second straight year.
Michigan is not in the top tier because of their defense. Their offense is 21st nationally (about which more later); their defense is 80th. The league has four defenses allowing less than 90 points per 100 possessions*; Wisconsin and OSU are 1-2 nationally at 81 and 83.5. Michigan's giving up 95, which is good for ninth. They beat out only Northwestern, Iowa, and Penn State.
That's a disappointing backslide for a team that you'd expect to be better on D. Darius Morris was the only loss and Michigan went from one of the youngest teams in the country to middle of the pack, but Michigan was 34th last year. Small sample size caveats apply; IIRC last year at this time Michigan's defense was just as shaky and they pulled it together in the Big Ten.
*[adjusted for schedule strength]
They are #1 in the country at something. Go ahead, guess. You'll never get it. No, none of those things: Michigan is #1 nationally in making two pointers. I should have told you to sit down. I cannot be held responsible for people falling over at this news.
Now that you've recovered, it makes some sense, doesn't it? I mean, Jordan Morgan missed a bunny against Oakland and Greg Kelser joked about how that will cripple his 77% shooting, and you were like "whoah." There is one guy on the team with enough minutes to register in the stats who's shooting under 55% percent, that Jon Horford at a horrendous awful terrible 53%. Michigan's four highest-volume two point shooters are at 76% (Morgan), 58% (Smotrycz), 56% (Hardaway) and 55% (Burke).
This is partially an effect of the schedule. The defenses they've gone up against have not generally been high quality. It was somewhat ugly against Virginia, possessor of the one elite defense they've faced so far. Michigan went 12 of 28 from two and only stayed in the game with blistering three point shooting—they actually shot better from 3 in that game than 2, 46%-42%.
That's an abnormally good defense, sure, but half of Michigan's Big Ten games are going to be against Virginia-quality Ds. This is a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust conference. That second half against Duke, when they tore up ALL OF THE PLUMLEES, is encouraging. They're #1 for some reason, it's not all schedule.
The rest of their offensive stats are basically in line with expectations. They shoot a ton of threes (20th), are only decent at making them (86th), rarely turn the ball over, rarely grab offensive rebounds, and rarely get to the line. POT, now and forever.
That's not a revelation. That's just how Beilein plays the game. We should be looking at these items in relation to last year. The four factors:
- SHOOTING. Massively improved thanks to the aforementioned two-point fiesta. Third nationally.
- TURNOVERS. Poor relative to last year. There is no easy finger to point: everyone's TO rates are up. Burke does have an alarmingly high 22.6; raise your hand if "freshman PG's most obvious flaw is an excessive quantity of turnovers" surprises you. Right, that's Josh Pastner and no one else.
- OFFENSIVE REBOUNDING. Less putrescent than usual! Last year they were the Maryland-Baltimore County of offensive rebounding. This year they're Marist. This gives you no context at all. They're up three percent, good for a significant leap.
- FREE THROW RATE. Also less putrescent than usual; they've gone from the Towson of free throw rate to… well, not good but also not terrible.
Smotrycz needs to stay on the floor. Smotrycz has improved massively in just about any category you care to name save one: fouls per 40 minutes. He's at 5.9 this year and was at 6.4 before staying out of foul trouble against Oakland. Minutes that do not go to Smotrycz go to Stu Douglass and Matt Vogrich, statistically inferior players in almost literally all possible ways. And those stats don't even account for the defensive problems Michigan has when Smotrycz is on the bench. Michigan will get significantly better if Smotrycz can get his minutes percentage from the 50s into the 70-75 range.
The same assertion goes for Morgan but at least he has a positional analogue on the roster. Michigan's backup 4 is 6'4" Zack Novak.
Defensive issues. The main one: too many quality three-point looks from opponents. They have not been burned by it yet but Oakland missed an array of wincingly wide-open three pointers, as did Virginia. Duke… did not miss, nor did they shoot a lot of quality threes. But the overall point is this: Michigan is facing almost as many threes as they jack themselves. If they're still near 300th in threes faced at the end of the season opponents will have made it rain and Michigan will be staring at a disappointing tourney seed.
The other stuff is the usual: they're mediocre at defending twos, rarely get turnovers, and foul too much. They're kind of short, kind of young, and not that athletic, so none of these things are surprises, but, like, Wisconsin. Michigan can be better defensively—they were better last year—and getting that leap from mediocre to quality will be the difference between a season spent idling near the bubble and waiting for Stauskas/GRIII/McGary and a decent shot at a Sweet 16.
Novak usage. Zack Novak's shooting 64% from two, 44% from three, and has a TO rate under ten. His offensive rating is off the charts… and his usage is in the "limited roles" range. While you can't really run an offense through him, if Michigan could focus a little more on getting him shots it seems like he would reward that effort. That pump-and-step-in jumper he's developed is money.
Some Oakland-specific things? Sure.
Trey Burke! That is all.
Trey Burke! No it's not. How crazy would it be if he was backing Morris and eating up half of the minutes currently being forked over to Douglass and Vogrich? Ah, hell. That crossover-in-a-phone-booth that led to a wide open Hardaway three was fantastic, as were many other things. He just needs to get an increment better here (TO rate) and there (three point shooting) to be a bonafide collegiate superstar.
NBA: you hate 5'11" point guards. Leave him to us for now.
Laval Lucas-Perry. The festival of charges and other ill-advised decisions combined with defensive lapses to paint a picture of why LLP and Beilein had a falling out that led to his transfer. I was going to point out that he would still be welcome on a team with zero bench but I looked him up and he's shooting 26% from three and 48% from two. Michigan's getting that out of Douglas.
He does get to the line a lot, FWIW.
Tim Hardaway, come out and play. In the second half it seems like Michigan tries to run its offense through Hardaway for three or four possessions in a row, which is because he has two shots and two points in the first 20 minutes. He refuses to force the issue, which is why his turnover rate remains abnormally low for a guy with high usage. I'd still like to see Michigan force Hardaway into the game earlier; once he starts shooting regularly other opportunities open up.
Brundidge: there is no Brundidge. They have already burned Brundidge's redshirt unless they're going to Devin Gardner him an injury, so insert usual concern about Eso Akunne getting the backup point minutes, such as they are. Akunne looks about as comfortable at the point as I would and the offense gets extraordinarily ponderous when he's in the game.
He hasn't missed a shot yet, though. Let's give him time at the two. I'm not sure if I'm serious here. Vogrich is one for a billion from three, so Akunne may actually provide more value at the moment.
left: no. right: no.
It was the kind of game that leaves you writing a rage list a la Artur Boruc. Here's the Iowa version of this:
THINGS THAT DON’T WORK, FRAN MCCAFFERY
- Having your entire defense collapse on a player charging into the low post area. THIS LEAVES AROUND 3-4 GUYS WIDE OPEN TO SHOOT A 3-POINTER. WHEN EVERY TEAM HAS AN “UNUSUAL” AMOUNT OF SUCCESS BEHIND THE LINE IT ISN’T BECAUSE THEY’RE “JUST HAVING AN ON NIGHT.”
- Having your power forward take countless jumpshots. UNLESS YOUR POWER FORWARD IS TIM DUNCAN, HE SHOULDN’T BE SHOOTING 15 FOOTERS.
Etc., etc. I felt a lot like the above during the game last night as Michigan ran a zillion ball screens on which Virginia showed harrrrrrd, resulting in Stu Douglass dribbling the ball 30 feet from the basket with ten seconds on the shot clock. Apparently our offense only works when the opponent is drunk on coconut milk. /shakes fist
/continues shaking fist
/gets tired, shakes other fist
/realizes he is doing dance moves now
Tony Bennett is a war crime. That was hard to watch. Anything involving a Bennett coaching basketball is. I guess it works. I get that Memphis and UCLA are stupid teams with terrible defenses ripe for Michigan to pick apart and that Virginia is not, but what I don't get is how Michigan tore Duke apart in the second half of that game in Maui.
Guess: Duke doesn't really have a PG and put either Curry or Rivers on Burke, which led to a ton of quality penetration and nine Burke assists. In this game Burke had a tough time with Virginia's similarly lightning-quick PG and the offense was reduced to chucking it around the perimeter a la Amaker.
And we're in pine for next year mode. My inner monologue never gets more AAAARGGGGGH than when Beilein fields a lineup mid-majors would laugh at, like late in the first half when Christian, McLimans, Douglass, and Akunne were out there. Like… together. I know. Novak was the other guy on the floor.
It's times like that when the talent on the team still seems desperately deficient. Next year that lineup reads McGary-Robinson-Stauskas-something-something, which seems more likely to score on large athletic people. Or anyone.
Tim Hardaway Jr. fouled out five minutes into the second half. That is the effect of sitting a guy with two fouls for the final 15 minutes of the first half. All coaches do this, so this is not a Beilein-specific complaint, but good lord. Hardaway averaged 2.5 fouls per 40 last year and Virginia had a couple of shooters on the floor… is Joe Harris really going to draw a ton of fouls on Hardaway?
By sitting your best player the entire first half you're enacting the worst case scenario of leaving him in. Hardaway picked up one foul in the 20 minutes he was allowed to play.
Novak. Nails. Can't guard actual scoring power forwards.
Morgan and Horford. Keep repeating "bigs take time to develop" to yourself. They were in a tough spot against guys taller, older, and more athletic than them. Anyone with that kind of front line is going to shut off Michigan's frontcourt scoring, not that there really is any frontcourt scoring that isn't set up by the guards.
The 1-3-1. Equals six offensive rebounds. The best play against it when you've got seven-footers is to avoid the risk of a turnover by throwing up a brick and crashing the boards. I have no proof of this but it seemed a lot less effective than straight man to man. (We hope to get some proof of this in the future.)
My wildly bipolar relationship with Evan Smotrycz. I was at an Interpol concert a few years back when I ran across this couple. He: a slightly nebbishy lawyer sort in a button down and flat-front pants. She: dyed red hair on the edge of punky, little zebra-striped dress, pouty, vacillating wildly between emotional states. The terms of the relationship were instantly clear. She did whatever the hell she wanted and he put up with it because, goddamn, that dress. I present a metaphor for my feelings about sophomore Evan Smotrycz that seems a lot creepier than I thought it was going to be when I started it.
I loathed Smotrycz for much of Maui and expected to hop on the internet to find that others were ranting about his lack of development only to find the opposite ; in this game he was 4/4, 2/2 from three, and… fouled out in 22 minutes. One, a bailout of their 88% FT-shooting power forward with four seconds left on the shot clock, saw expletives arc gracefully across my living room. All basketball players look incredulous when called for a foul but Smotrycz takes it to another level, especially when he's just done something 1) obvious even to me and 2) really, really dumb.
He is putting on the floor a lot more these days to good effect and he's still the floor-spreading four Beilein wants. It's just that sometimes I want to strangle him. That's all I'm saying.
8 assists. Glarg glarg glarg glarg. When is the last time Michigan had more turnovers (11) than assists under Beilein? Half of those came from Burke, BTW. The rest of the team generated basically nothing.
Open threes. They has them. We don't. Very frustrating. Burke had his moments but isn't at the point Morris was last year. Morris created an absolute ton of shots. Not only was he third in assist rate last year but he launched a quarter of Michigan's shots when he was on the floor.
Burke was never going to fill that void himself, so who else steps up? It looks like the answer is "nobody." Maybe Hardaway, but Hardaway has kept up his freshman tendency of disappearing for long stretches. He doesn't have the handle to create shots in an isolation situation so he has to get things from the framework of the offense. Maybe that means good defenses can shut him down? (See also: his coach leaving him on the bench for 15 minutes in the first half.)
L to R: Greatest photo evar(!), Trey Burke, Evan Smotrycz
Brian has decided to activate the "ninja" half of my job description and deploy me as MGoBlog's go-to basketball guy this season, a role which will only increase as football season comes to a close. Michigan's basketball season officially
kicks tips off tonight against D-II opponent Ferris State in a game that would be far more interesting if it took place at Yost instead of Crisler, but that's non-conference basketball scheduling for you. That means I should probably post a season preview.
Last year saw an extremely youthful Michigan squad overcome the losses of Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims and a six-game midseason losing streak to make a shocking run to the NCAA tournament—highlighted by a season sweep of Michigan State—where they bombarded Tennessee in the first round before falling just short against top-seeded Duke. The Wolverines were poised to bring back every major (and minor, really) contributor from the 2010-11 squad until Darius Morris—the team's leading scorer and only true point guard—decided to leave for the NBA, turning Michigan from a potential Big Ten dark horse into, well, a darker horse, if that makes any sense whatsoever.
Still, the Wolverines return everybody except Morris, add a pair of high-profile freshmen in point guard Trey Burke and combo guard Carlton Brundidge (as well as forward Max Bielfeldt), and have an obvious go-to guy in place in sophomore Tim Hardaway Jr., who is poised to take over the reigns from Morris as the focal point of the offense. This is enough to earn them a preseason #22 rating from Ken Pomeroy, good for fourth in the B1G behind Ohio State (#2), Wisconsin (#10), and Purdue (#19), and just ahead of the Spartans (#24). How will the team fare? Let's start by breaking it down by somewhat-vague position groups:
Yes, point guard gets a section to itself, and this will be the most scrutinized spot on the floor for the Wolverines. As expected, John Beilein has named freshman Trey Burke, a four-star recruit and last year's Mr. Basketball in Ohio, as the starter, and he's under an extraordinary amount of pressure to come in and adequately replace Darius Morris. Their styles couldn't be much more different—Morris is a 6'4", physical creator who used his size to create interior shots (both for himself and others) but struggled with his outside shot, while the 5'11" Burke relies on his quickness and shooting ability to create his own offense. Burke actually fits better into Beilein's offense, but the looming question is whether or not Burke will be able to set up his teammates like Morris (6.7 assists per game last year) while not making too many freshman mistakes with the basketball.
It's likely that Stu Douglass will reprise his role as sixth man and primary backup at both guard positions. Douglass isn't an ideal creator at point guard—last year, he had a higher turnover rate (17.0%) than assist rate (10.9%)—but he's a streak shooter who can occasionally catch fire from deep and as a senior he's well-versed in the offense. Now that he's got a year of experience at point guard—a position he had never played until last season—under his belt, he should be an adequate backup for Burke. Douglass is the team's best perimeter defender, as well, but he must develop more consistency in his shot (48.9% from two, 35.8% from three LY) to become a real threat on offense.
Michigan's only other scholarship senior is the King of the Gritty White Guy Platitudes himself, Zack Novak, a 6'4" shooter/rebounder/unlikely-dunk-contest-winner/sideline-freakout-artist who has spent much of his Wolverine career playing wildly out of position at power forward. Now that Michigan finally has some depth up front, Novak can play the two or the three, and this should help open up his offense—other than seldom-used Matt Vogrich, Novak had the best three-point percentage on the team last year at 38.5%, but he often seemed to get gassed and disappear offensively due to having to guard players half-a-foot taller than him. Unfortunately, he's not a threat inside the arc, posting a paltry 38.0% shooting mark on two-pointers, but his remarkable ability to get rebounds amidst the trees makes him a valuable player on both ends of the floor. I expect Novak will average double-digits in scoring while grabbing 5-7 rebounds per game and providing valuable defense.
Your other starter on the wing is Tim Hardaway Jr., who greatly exceeded expectations as a freshman—averaging nearly 14 points and four rebounds per game—and will now become the team's go-to scorer. Hardaway spent much of last season as a spot-up shooter, and connected on a decent 36.7% of his threes, but this year he'll be asked to do much more creating with the ball in his hands. This was an area he improved upon as the season wore on last year, but he'll still have to get much better now that Morris isn't there to take away a lot of the defensive pressure. Still, Hardaway is the clear best player on the team—he's on both the Naismith and Wooden award preseason watch lists—and he should average at least 15 points a game. The big question here will be his shot selection, as he displayed a propensity for "what was that?"-type jumpers at times last year and could feel more pressure to jack up ill-advised shots as the team's main scorer.
Douglass, again, should be the primary backup at guard, but don't be surprised if 6'4" junior Matt Vogrich sees a greatly increased role this season. Vogrich was a dead-eye shooter from distance last season, hitting 38.7% of his threes, and was much-improved defensively after looking lost as a freshman two years ago. He's still limited in terms of his skill set, but in Beilein's system his sharp shooting will be a big asset off the bench.
The wild card here is four-star freshman Carlton Brundidge, who stands at only 6'1" but is a strong slasher who is at his best when attacking the basket, something you can't say about anyone else on the roster. Brundidge barely played in Michigan's exhibition game against Wayne State last week, but I think his role will increase as the season moves forward—he's one of the more talented players on the roster and could see a lot of time next to Douglass when the senior shifts over to the point, as their respective size and skill-sets make for a solid backcourt pairing.
(I'm throwing the nominal power forwards in here too, just in case there's some confusion when I call, say, the 6'6" Colton Christian a backup big.)
The starter at the four is 6'9" sophomore Evan Smotrycz, a very solid outside shooter (38.1% from three) who many have tabbed as the X-factor for this year's team. Smotrycz reportedly gained 30 much-needed pounds in the offseason, which should help his post defense greatly, but there are still major questions about his athleticism and ability to create shots on offense. Smotrycz doesn't have much in the way of a post game and hasn't displayed the quickness to face up and drive past a player with regularity, and we'll have to see if he's improved in those areas over the offseason. While I still don't think he'll be a major threat in the post, his size and shooting ability are very intriguing, and I think Smotrycz could emerge as the team's second option on offense. Defensively, he should be fine as long as he's not asked to take on quick small forwards or hulking centers, and Beilein now has enough flexibility with his lineups where that shouldn't be a huge issue.
At center, it's a battle between redshirt sophomore Jordan Morgan and true sophomore Jon Horford (brother of Al) for the starting spot. Morgan was the man there last year, and was extremely efficient shooting the basketball (62.7%), but most of his opportunities were either created by the now-departed Morris or the result of offensive rebounds. While he was decent in his on-ball defense, Morgan was extremely foul-prone and did not provide much of a shot-blocking threat. If tabbed as the eventual starter, Morgan should be solid, but he's got his limitations and could really feel the absence of Morris more than anyone else on the roster.
Though it came as a bit of a surprise, it was Horford who started against Wayne State, and he'll take the opening tip once again against Ferris State tonight. An extremely raw prospect out of high school, Horford showed occasional flashes of rebounding and shot-blocking brilliance last year, but often looked awkward with the ball in his hands and frequently settled for outside shots, which he rarely made. Like Morgan, he was very foul-prone, so we'll likely see both big men get major minutes this season, but Horford seems to have the higher upside—he's more athletic than Morgan and has a better shooting touch while providing a much-needed shot-blocking presence on the interior of the defense.
There are two bench players who should see occasional minutes this year: 6'6" sophomore power forward Colton Christian and 6'10" center Blake McLimans. Christian doesn't provide any real threat offensively, but he's a capable rebounder and defender who could turn into an interesting role player if he shows the ability—and willingness—to hit any sort of shot. McLimans is big, which is always nice, but he was supposed to possess a good outside shot and ended up going 1-for-19 for three last year. Since he only shot the ball 41 times total (making 13), this is a bit of an issue, and defensively he's not as strong as either Morgan or Horford. We'll see if Beilein trusts him enough to put him in the rotation, or if he decides to go small and occasionally move Smotrycz to the five, something we saw a fair amount last year.
I hate to kind of punt on this one, but man, who knows? The 2008-09 team was supposed to be mediocre at best, then made a surprise run to the tournament and even knocked off Clemson once they got there. The 2009-10 team brought back pretty much everyone, had a lot of preseason hype, and fell flat to the tune of a 15-17 record. With Harris and Sims gone last season and pretty much the entire team either freshman or sophomores, the 2010-11 squad looked to be terrible, so of course they reeled off 21 wins and once again advanced to the second round of the NCAAs.
This year's team appears poised for a potential top-25 season and another tournament run, but much of those expectations rely on a smooth transition from a star in Morris to a true freshman in Burke while other players—most notably Hardaway and Smotrycz—pick up the scoring slack and keep the offense running smoothly. With a difficult non-conference slate that includes a brutal draw in the Maui Invitational, plus playing in a Big Ten conference ranked by KenPom as the nation's toughest, this looks to me like a team that will spend much of the season squarely on the tournament bubble.
Exceeding those expectations means that we either see vast improvement from key role players, a huge breakout from Tim Hardaway, or a fantastic freshman year out of Burke—none of those are out of the question, but none are certainties, either. If Michigan suddenly finds that they can't create inside scoring chances without Morris's penetration, or Hardaway spends the season trying to carry the offense by chucking up less-than-ideal shots, Michigan could fall short of their goals as the fanbase begins to look ahead to the arrival of Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nick Stauskas in 2012-13.
All I can say for certain is this will be an interesting year, and lucky for us, this is a group that is extremely likable and fun to support. The future is very bright, almost regardless of what happens this year, but we'll just have to see if the Wolverines continue to make a push towards the top of the Big Ten or stay in a holding pattern until blue-chip reinforcements arrive.