"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
That locks up an NCAA bid no one saw coming, and possibly the title for most over-achieving Michigan team in a long, long time (seriously, does anyone know what the last Michigan team like this was?). Muppets:
Because you can't have one without the other.
I think they were in either way but it would have been harrowing on Selection Sunday; now they've probably played themselves out of Dayton. I have no idea how. Does anyone know how that happened?
I had this post drafted last night. Michigan played poorly in the middle third of the game, and I deleted it. Michigan wins. CAUSALITY!
...and you can't have one without the... whaaaaa?
|WHAT||Michigan v. Illinois|
|WHEN||2:30PM EST (appx)|
KenPom: 33% W
|TELEVISION||ESPN (Dave O'Brien, Dan Dakich)|
This Is The Most Important Game Of The Season. It's the last one of those, too. If the Wolverines win this afternoon in Indianapolis, they'll participate in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. If not, they'll sweat it out on Sunday.
In the teams' lone meeting this season, Illinois emerged victorious in a heartbreaker for fans of the maize-and-blue, as Evan Smotrycz and Stu Douglass missed potential game-winners from 3. Not a bad result, considering Michigan had an uncharacteristically terrible shooting night, but you play to win the game. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Etc.
Since that game, Michigan has continued their strong late-season form, winning three of four, with the only loss coming on a banked buzzer-beater to Wisconsin. The Illini lost three of five, with the only wins coming at home against Iowa and Indiana - by far the worst teams in the league.
If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy:
|Michigan v. Illinois: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Illinois Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. UI Def eFG%||49||24||I|
|Mich Def eFG% v. UI eFG%||155||31||II|
|Mich TO% v. UI Def TO%||13||259||MMM|
|Mich Def TO% v. UI TO%||254||108||II|
|Mich OReb% v. UI DReb%||327||157||II|
|Mich DReb% v. UI OReb%||67||169||MM|
|Mich FTR v. UI Opp FTR||336||67||III|
|Mich Opp FTR v. UI FTR||35||329||MMM|
|Mich AdjO v. UI AdjD||52||20||I|
|Mich AdjD v. UI AdjO||51||34||I|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
The numbers are slightly more skewed in Illinois's favor than they were last time these squads played, though part of that is because the Illini closed the regular season with a trouncing of hapless Indiana (and a big boost to the Illini's field goal defense comes from unforced misses by Michigan last time around).
The keys for Michigan will primarily be based on the bigs. Michigan's post players must stay out of foul trouble. They did a decent job last time, but that's more the exception than the norm, especially against a huge team like Illinois. Keeping Illinois honest defensively will also be a key, and the Jordan Morgan pick-and-roll should be among the ways they do that.
The battle of the point guards will also be a factor. Demetri McCamey used the last game against Michigan to morph from a cancer in the locker room into the senior leader he's supposed to be. He was more scorer than distributor, but he did what he needed to do in order to win.
Finally: HIT YOUR SHOTS. Michigan's shooting had been steadily improving before last time these teams played, but 2/18 certainly isn't an encouraging factor. It's not going to be easy sledding against Illinois, so when Michigan can get an open look, they must hit it. Aside from preventing opponents from putting the ball in the net (at which they excel), the Illini are just an OK team. Take advantage when you can.
The loss in Assembly Hall left a bad taste in the mouth of Michigan's players and coaches, and they knew that a lot of their struggles were unforced. They're out to change that, and as one of the hottest teams in the country since the end of January, I think they will. Tim Hardaway Jr. will lead Michigan in rebounds and scoring, with Darius Morris close to matching his numbers (with assists instead of boards). Michigan pulls away to end the game, earning the 70-63 win.
John Gasaway—AKA Big Ten Wonk—likes crusades. His last one was to obliterate rebound margin and seems to be going well. Not many use plain rebounds as a metric anymore, which is good because it makes no sense at all to do so.
Gasaway's latest horde of European knights with fuzzy ideas about salvation is aimed at the tournament seeding process:
I’m on the record as thinking that the mere distribution of wins — with due consideration for opponent, time, and place — can yield sufficient information to draw a line across the top quintile of D-I and tell the teams above this line, “You’re in!” But trying to do something as precise as sequencing an entire tournament field on an S-curve armed only with wins is a little like playing the piano while wearing oven mitts. It can be done, but the music would sound better if we freed up our fingers.
A few years ago I had a back-and-forth with Dan Steinberg of the DC Sports Bog about something similar: I was purveying a resume-based results-only college football poll at the same time he was publishing a top 25 from Vegas oddsmakers that claimed it was more accurate. Those are two diametrically opposed methods. The BlogPoll is descriptive: We have this data and this is our best guess at which teams have the most impressive resumes. Vegas is predictive: we have this data and this is our best guess as to who the best teams are.
So do you want your national title picked based on an assessment of the season or the team? I had a viscerally negative reaction to seeing things like LSU at #5 six weeks into the 2006 season when they'd lost to Auburn and LSU and beaten ULL, Tulane, Mississippi State, and Arizona. They proceeded to win the rest of their games. So Vegas was right, except if LSU was a little better and options at the top a little worse you can imagine a scenario where Vegas takes a team like LSU over some luckbox like 2002 Ohio State. Right or not, that ain't right.
The Vegas poll is answering a different question than I want the people deciding who should play for the national championship asking. If there are two major conference undefeated teams and a one-loss team that's so clearly better than the two undefeated teams but has an inexplicable turnover-filled loss in a driving sleet-storm that happened because their quarterback got injured, picking the obviously better team obliterates college football. It's not about some ineffable combination of NFL draft picks and victory margin, it's about wins. If that has embarrassingly dumbed down nonconference schedules at least it's provided a reason to play the games, and a reason to have your heart in your throat when the other team is driving for the win no matter what your MOV is.
No one is going to claim that loosening the dominion of wins over a sport that lets various .500 major conference teams compete for its title "obliterates" anything, but I'm still leery of a world where Michigan's overtime against Iowa is mostly important because it can push Michigan's Kenpom rating up a spot. Gasaway explicitly states he's fine with using wins for tourney selection but that only mitigates the problem; any solid at-large team sees that effect since they're just worried about seeding, not getting over the line.
It would be pretty dumb to have some guy from Wisconsin at the line shooting two to win against Ohio State and have those free throws hardly matter at all. Would it be fair? Yes. Would it result in better seedings for the occasional very good minor conference team that gets thrust into a tough first round matchup and can't show their stuff? Yes. But I think it would make the season much less vital. Sometimes a little unfairness is the lesser evil.
Now, if Gasaway's just talking about alerting the committee to performance-aware metrics when they attempt to evaluate the case of Utah State, a team that's obliterating the WAC but has only played three games against teams with a Kenpom rating higher than 90(!)* and gone 1-2 against them, sure. The way in which the Aggies have acquired their record should be able to influence the committee to bump them a little bit. His endorsement of Bilas's tweet calling RPI a "joke" suggests he's more militant than that.
Once you start talking about tossing a 17-7, 7-7 Big Ten team probably headed for 19-9 and 9-9 (this is Illinois—their finish: @OSU, Iowa, @Purdue, Indiana) onto a line where a Sweet Sixteen bid would only be a mild surprise you lose me**. The Illini's strong nonconference performance should easily see them into the tournament but while I love Kenpom I'd take eighteen games of .500 basketball over his rating when evaluating seeds.
Maybe I've read him wrong.
*[Iowa, the worst team in the Big Ten, is 82nd.]
**[To be clear, I'm not picking on Illinois because Gasaway is an Illinois grad. It's just that they're the Big Ten team with the goofiest-looking Kenpom rating given their record. Playing Texas, UNC, Maryland, Missouri, and Gonzaga in the nonconference will do that.]
[Also, think of the advantage lost in NCAA pools if people were fairly seeded based on Kenpom type metrics. Horror!]
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.