national champs baby
After plum forgetting to rank the gifs the last time out, that feature is back just in time to attempt to pick a top moment from Sunday's triumph against Michigan State. I'm sure that won't be hard at all. It's clearly
that Burke steal that other Burke steal the floor slapping the other floor slapping Hardaway trolling Izzo McGary's magnificent pump fake oh god help me.
This is not the number one gif of the game—you'll have to hit the jump to find that out—but this totally unaltered look at the interaction between Tim Hardaway Jr. and Tom Izzo is, again, totally unaltered and completely true to life in every way:
Good to see that when Hardaway's shot isn't falling, he's finding other ways to help the team win. Or, at the very least, trolling Izzo on national TV.
[Hit THE JUMP for the top ten gifs from the game, plus several honorable mentions because I'm terrible at making difficult decisions.]
The past four games have been a rude awakening for a Michigan basketball team once thought to be the best in the country. That same team is now looking up at three teams in the Big Ten standings, not to mention swiftly falling from contention for a one-seed.
The first two losses of this 1-3 stretch were understandable in both outcome and form; losing competitive games at Indiana and Wisconsin—while getting royally screwed by the officials in the latter—is understandable for a team of any caliber. Last night's debacle in the Breslin Center, however, took the cracks exposed in the three prior games and turned them into gaping crevasses.
In an effort to figure out how much to panic, how much to not, and where we go from here, here's a collection of thoughts on this recent stretch.
JOHN BEILEIN CAN'T MAKE HIS PLAYERS OLDER
I shut off my laptop last night after getting multiple tweets asking if John Beilein was at least a big part of the problem. As far as I can tell, Beilein made one critical coaching error last night: removing Trey Burke after his third foul, which sparked a quick 5-0 Spartan run early in the second half. At that point, however, State had already spent the game imposing their will on Michigan, and with the way the game played out it's hard to imagine Burke being in the game for that two-minute stretch would've changed the outcome.
The problem is not John Beilein, who's done a masterful job of putting this team together and coaching them into an offensive juggernaut. The problem is that he can't make his players any older, and now we're seeing why that's an issue. As it turns out, getting experience on the fly in the toughest conference in the country makes for some growing pains; there's no knowing how five freshmen (six if you count Max Bielfeldt) are going to respond when thrown into critical roles in adverse situations.
Ideally, this is a team that would come back intact next year and be an odds-on favorite to make the Final Four—they need the experience, conditioning, and added size. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening are slim to none.
INTERIOR DEFENSE IS A PROBLEM
The hope was that an unstoppable offense would cover for Michigan's defensive shortcomings, but when the offense isn't unstoppable, boy do those shortcomings get exposed. Even in the victory over Ohio State, the Wolverines got abused on the interior defensively, and their two-point defense is now dead last in the conference—B1G opponents connect on 48.9% of their twos against Michigan.
The injury to Jordan Morgan, the team's best on-ball interior defender, has hurt, but the problems go much deeper. Mitch McGary is an active defender with a ton of potential on that end, but he's also prone to freshman mistakes and positional errors, like the one that allowed Jared Berggren to drive for an and-one dunk late in the Wisconsin game. Jon Horford isn't at the same level of on-ball defense as Morgan and he fouls far too much—7.7(!) per 40 minutes in conference play.
Then there's Robinson, who's clearly hit a wall and is struggling mightily to defend larger players. He's not big enough to defend a guy like Derrick Nix or Adreian Payne one-on-one, nor does he have the stamina at this point to attempt to do so and still have an impact on the other end of the floor. He's missing switches and has been late getting out to his man on the perimeter—freshman mistakes, and ones that can't be made in critical moments.
Michigan can spell Robinson with Max Bielfeldt for stretches, but Bielfeldt's offensive limitations make that only a stopgap solution—by my charting, in about a game's worth of offensive possessions in conference play with Bielfeldt on the floor, Michigan is scoring just 0.90 points per possession. The Wolverines are going to need Robinson to find a way out of his funk, plain and simple.
BURKE IS STILL THE LONE CREATOR
When the best point guard in the country leaves the court, there's obviously going to be a bit of a dropoff offensively. Michigan's Burke-free offense is downright stagnant, however, because none of the other players can create a shot at the rim off the dribble.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is still too easy to pickpocket when he puts the ball on the floor inside the arc; last night, you could see him overcompensate by trying to shield the ball with his entire body, which led to some ugly twisting layup attempts in traffic. He's much better when he can drive to the free-throw line and pull up, but opponents have learned to take that part of the court away.
Robinson, for all his athleticism, still hasn't proven himself a threat off the dribble. Nik Stauskas could be that guy, especially with his skill in pick-and-roll situations, but the last four games he's been invisible when his outside shot isn't falling. Caris LeVert isn't strong enough to get all the way to the hoop, forcing him to try an array of pull-up jumpers that aren't falling with any consistency.
The pieces all fit together when Burke is on the floor. When he's not, this team is disjointed and surprisingly easy to defend—take away Hardaway's drive to the middle, don't sag off of Stauskas, and let them miss tough shots.
THE SILVER LINING
Even the most optimistic of Wolverine partisans would've been at least grudgingly accepting of a 2-2 record over the last four games, especially with Morgan hobbled. Despite all of the above, Michigan came within a half-court shot of just that. The last four games also don't discount what happened in the first 21; let there be no mistake, this is still a team that can get hot at the right time and win a six-game single-elimination tournament (yes, that one). Is that likely? Well, probably not. Is it within reason? Sure, if the matchups fall their way.
In fact, this team can still grab a share of the Big Ten title. In a conference that is cannibalizing itself, the Wolverines have one of the easier closing slates—including playing Penn State twice in the next three games—before the season finale against Indiana. If Michigan beats the teams they should beat, they may find themselves in control of their own destiny at the very end after all.
Also, this team still has Trey Burke, who still very much deserves his status as a national player of the year contender. He is still a joy to watch, and this is almost certainly the last time he'll be in a Michigan uniform. I, for one, am going to do everything in my power to sit back and enjoy the privilege of seeing him play.
Michigan did many, many great things against Northwestern, and they will be given their proper due in a moment. But first, let's marvel at the worst inbounds attempt in the history of basketball:
What the heck happened here? Let's go to the diagram, which may or may not be taken straight from Bill Carmody's clipboard:
You know, if there weren't boundaries around the court or rules against using random rich dudes as a sixth player, this just might have worked. Worth a shot, anyway.
[For the rest of the Northwestern gifs, including Nik Stauskas declaring
sexy himself back and Trey Burke And1-ing Alex Marcotullio, hit THE JUMP.]
Glenn Robinson III, quite casually, threw down a 360 dunk against Minnesota. I have no memory of a Michigan player ever doing the same, let alone with such ease. So, yeah, the full gif treatment is in order. Above is a little photoshop job, because something about that play didn't quite feel real. Below, every damn replay angle imaginable [click each thumbnail for the gif]:
[For the rest of the Minnesota gifs, featuring several more dunks and John Beilein's strange facial tic, hit THE JUMP.]
Trey Burke had a virtuoso performance against West Virginia on Saturday, scoring 27 points on 16 shots with eight assists, five rebounds, three steals, and no turnovers. Already the consensus choice for best point guard in the country, he's legitimately in the conversation for national player of the year honors; excise a ten-point, four-assist "dud" against Kansas State, and he's tallied either 16+ points or 7+ assists in every game this season.
John Beilein's offense is complicated, a highly-structured symphony of cuts and screens that relies largely on off-ball movement to create open looks. That is, unless it's time for Trey Burke to score. Last year's offense centered around the high ball screen to get Burke looks at the basket; while that's still a big part of the offense, Michigan is increasingly looking to isolate Burke and let him create.
The Wolverines did this in a variety of ways against West Virginia. Let's take a look at a few of them.
Michigan showed this setup a few times on Saturday. Instead of having two guards up top, Burke is alone with the ball; the 2 and the 3 (Hardaway and Stauskas) set up in the corner; the 4 and the 5 (Robinson and Morgan) form a stack at the free-throw line. This alignment leaves plenty of room on both sides of the court for Burke to maneuver. On this play, Burke doesn't even need help from a screen—he simply sets up his man with a hesitation move and drives hard to the right, netting a short bank:
The help is late-arriving because the threat of an open Stauskas or Hardaway (either in the corner or cutting to the basket) is, well, threatening. Having both bigs at the free-throw line or above draws the defense's shot-blocking threats away from the basket. A defense could try to counter this look by playing zone, but that brings forth a new set of problems, especially against a sharp-shooting team like Michigan.
Of course, for this set to be effective, a team needs a point guard who can create off the dribble and finish. This is not a problem for Michigan, obviously.
[Hit THE JUMP for more Trey Burke driving into big blue circles.]
In a hole called Le Moyne College, there coached a hobbit. This small Jesuit school in Syracuse's shadow's most distinguishing campus experience is everybody gets drunk the first day of spring. (Nearest Michigan equivalent: the first 50-degree day in April when everybody pretends it's 70 degrees and skips class to throw Frisbees in the Law Quad).
Beilein spent almost a decade there, twice that of anywhere else, turning the moribund program into a regular Division II playoff team. From there it was five years at Canisius, which you remember because in 1996 your bracket suddenly had Canisius on it and you weren't used to various Gonzagas and Xaviers being on there yet. Then it was Richmond for five years, which you also remember because in '98 they popped into your bracket and then beat South Carolina.
At this point in the story I turn you over to ClearEyesFullHart, your diarist of the week and a guy making a bid to become the diaries' official basketball columnist guy. Gale Catlett, the Mountaineers' coach for over two decades, was being ousted as sanctions were coming down and his replacement was barely there long enough to celebrate Chanukah (8 days)…
Long story short, a laundry list of coaches turned the job down after that (including Bob Huggins) until John Beilein took on the challenge. He was tasked with rebuilding the program as well as the culture from the ground up. That is exactly what he did, taking West Virginia to the Elite Eight, the Sweet 16, and winning an NIT Championship in his 5 years as West Virginia’s coach.
Five years each step of the way since Le Moyne, and here we are at six, facing Bob Huggins and the program he took over after Beilein transformed it into something Huggins would find worthwhile, and with Beilein having transformed Michigan into something that both Lloyd Carr and people who rank basketball teams find worthwhile.
Except when they're letting Arkansas stay in it too long|Upchurch
CEFH also wrote a preview for Binghampton that turned out to be way more entertaining than watching Michigan play Binghampton.
"Football isn't statistical enough," –MGoBlog readers. Football, especially college, is the ultimate low sample size sport. You're barely into your first set of rank-determining games before the season ends. A single play's expected points swing is often greater than the final margin of victory. That and the NFL's aesthetic need to standardize their product across brands into a package experience targeted at the meanest possible demographic has led to the sport being a heaven for platitudes. Platitude is the enemy of the MGoBlog diarist.
For example, take "our only goal is to win the game." Not so says biakabutuka experience, because truly, assigning an arbitrary time point to the general goal of scoring more than the opponent needlessly removes good data. I mean other than specific scenarios of trying to kill clock before a go-ahead score at the end of a game or maneuvering to have the last possession of the half, aren't coaches always playing for the lead? What if the score of every play could be used to calculate team strength, wouldn't that multiply the available samples significantly? You see where he's going with this? I wonder if he can't add an expected score component so that teams get credited with advancing toward the end zone since coaches aren't trying to get a touchdown every play. Also he needs to figure out a way to scale the importance of any given point by scenario since teams do give up, and because the final score is ultimately the goal.
Etc. The guy who keeps shamelessly plugging his wife's website shares a harrowing tale of Ohio sports fandom (at a Browns game but everyone immediately says "that's so Columbus!"). Western Kentucky offering a parking spot for Bobby Petrino's hog draws out the THE_KNOWLEDGE. Brian already covered the Avant gif but here it is the thread from whence it came. I still haven't given up my quest since college to call him "Shoop", an onomatopoeia for the sound his hands make when a football is near.
Best of the Board
ANARCHY IN FIVE…FOUR…THREE..TWO…ONE…
No that is not a gif of Nick Sheridan's first throw vs. Utah, or even Russ Bellomy's first chance to do something other than pad a blitzer from Lincoln's field turf last year. What you are seeing is our moderating team telling the board that at least for a couple of weeks before we get back to bowl and recruiting season the in-season off-topic rules are lifted. To encourage appropriate pos-banging the mods offered a contest of gif posting. I went for Sound of Music…
Denard as Kal-El and Denard on Wife Day
Magic: The Gathering Mouton and Ezeh
Sparty's new helmet and hating on Rod
I can't believe that I call this my job!
Also a reminder to thank your local mods—imagine having to spend hours deleting 85 reposts of a NSFW Kate Upton gif so that everyone can still enjoy the rest of the thread.
EPIC HOKE DOUBLE-POINT TO WISCONSIN WOLVERINE
Think of the most epic player pics from the last few years turned into threshold iphone wallpapers.
The real version of the Jake Ryan photo above is gonna be the next HTTV cover BTW.
MICHIGAN ENGINEERS ARE NERDS OF AWESOME
The M-gineers made a somewhat Pythonic video of a torch lighting ceremony to announce the 2013 Mr. Engineer Contest, which they're getting Denard and Kovacs to judge. If you don't recognize the scenery it's because that is North Campus; don't worry LSA student you don't ever have to go there except when your artist friend has a showing.
Every snap video of South Carolina-Arkansas for more scouting pleasure. Expected visitors this weekend from robbyt003. Cal trying a logo other than a seal = fail; Michigan need not worry since the Block M works for the university as well as the athletic dept.
Your moment of zen: