From Portage Northern.
Purdue 69 Michigan 59, Michigan 10-9 (3-4 Big Ten)
Even when I assumed Manny Harris would be hitting the court in West Lafayette with the rest of the Michigan team, I thought Purdue would pretty easily crack an 11.5-point spread. When word got out that he was suspended for the game, I was expecting a blood-letting. At times, it did look like that. But somehow, Michigan managed to scrape out some good possessions and keep the game close. There is no such thing as a moral victory, but this had to be about as close as it gets.
DeShawn Sims was just about all Michigan had working early, but Zack Novak chipped in to help out, finally beating his shooting bugaboo (4-7 from beyond the arc). Sims showed why he's such a great player, carrying the team on his back at a time when Purdue probably could have quintuple-teamed him with no risk of anyone else scoring.
Sadly, Michigan only plays the Boilermakers once this year, and it leaves with a taste of "what could have been?" had Manny participated. As it is, we saw the Michigan team we've known for most of the year: Not bad, but outside of the two stars (or one in this game), not good enough to win the big ones.
- Why, Manny, why? I'm also pretty interested in hearing how a practice can get chippy enough for a guy to get suspended for unsportsmanlike conduct. That was his first missed game in 85 career contests.
- There's no plausible reason that Matt Vogrich should pretty much ever get a rebound, but time and again he manages to do so. He had two defensive rebounds, and one offensive that the boxscore doesn't credit to him, for whatever reason.
- Even when he doesn't shoot well, it's safe to say that Zack Novak is the third most important player on the team. When Manny doesn't play and Novak is actually dropping bombs, his impact to the team is elevated even further.
- My eye for the intricacies of basketball is admittedly untrained, but it really seemed like Stu Douglass had a poor game defensively. There were times that his lack of effort really jumped out at me.
- Purdue is a ton more talented than Michigan at nearly every position (even Sims has competition with JaJuan Johnson), and without Manny, they managed to keep it close. That sucks for now, but does bode well when Beilein gets more of his own players.
- The Wolverines have been rebounding surprisingly well of late. They were only out-rebounded by Purdue by a margin of 4.
The Wolverines host in-state rival #6/7 Michigan State on Tuesday. On short rest, and potentially without Manny for a second consecutive contest, things could get ugly. It is a Maize Out, so pick up your gear today or tomorrow, or plan to show up early: the first 3,000 fans to Crisler will receive a maize t-shirt.
Michigan 76 Coppin State 46, Michigan 6-5 (0-0 Big Ten)
Make no mistake about it, Coppin State is a horrible team. But for the first time since the very beginning of the year, Michigan did what they were supposed to do to an overmatched opponent, and completely ran them off the court. For a basketball team that had (and, in all fairness, probably still has) a lot of ills, the Eagles definitely treated most of the symptoms at the very least.
The shooting woes were dramatically improved, and although making a third of 3-point baskets is nothing to stop the presses over, it's a hell of a lot better than Michigan had been doing. Stu Douglass, in particular, was finally able to get going from beyond the arc, nailing 6 of 10 from long range. Zack Novak, on the other hand, struggled to the tune of 1-7 from 3-point land. If he can get into the same rhythm as Douglass, this team will get a lot better very quickly.
At times, the team seemed to be overly deliberate in running the offense, as they made passes instead of taking marginal looks, and got the shot clock well below 15 on most trips down the court. It didn't make for an exciting game of basketball most of the time, but it resulted in 25 assists on 30 made shots - and a 30-point win.
As good as Michigan looked last night, it's hard to take too much away from the performance. This was basically the basketball edition of Baby Seal U. But if the basketball team can do what the football team didn't, and regain some confidence and polish their game, it certainly looks a whole lot bright for the future.
- Manny Harris ended the game with 5 points. That's a tie for his second-worst scoring output since he's been at Michigan. He still had 7 assists, and would have had more if Michigan's shooters would have made a couple good looks. With more than a week to rest the hamstrings, this performance isn't too discouraging, right?
- In a 2-game sample size against teams at the opposite end of the "quality" spectrum, it appears safe to say that Michigan is better with Darius Morris coming off the bench. He had another solid performance in limited minutes.
- Speaking of Morris's minutes, I was a little disappointed to not see some of the bench guys get a little more time. The game was out of hand within a few minutes, so I would have liked to see Manny and the starters play less than 32 minutes, and get Gibson, Wright, Vogrich, and the depth players that will be needed during Big Ten play to get a little more comfortable on the court.
- It's nice that DeShawn Sims scored 18 points, and that's not even notable enough that I wouldn't have mentioned him except in this bullet, right?
- In a similar vein, it was nice to get a couple walkons and Cronin some playing time at the end. It was not nice, however, to see that Cronin is still very, very hurt.
- Sam Coleman for the Eagles played very well. He also received chants of "A-va-tar!" from the student section, because he looks like a character from the movie.
- The student section was tiny, by the way, and even those who were there were only half-hearted. It's hard to complain too much during Christmas Break, but it was a poor showing.
- The rest of the fans, however, showed up in strong numbers considering the timing and the opponent. There seemed to be at least as many people as were at the Detroit game.
"All I can say is it felt good, and basically everything that was going up I thought was going in." Stu Douglass, on his shooting performance.
"They were playing the zone, and I kinda felt bad sometimes I was so wide open up top. I didn't wanna shoot, I wanted to get the clock going a little bit. It was going in if I was gonna shoot it that wide open though." Stu Douglass, on his shooting.
"Kansas definitely helped. We kinda got our edge back and we kept it going here. It's huge for our confidence going into the Big Ten." Stu Douglass, on being prepared for conference play.
"I think it's more mental. I just gotta step up and shoot it and not think about it." Zack Novak on his shooting troubles.
"This is the right time for us to be shooting the ball a little better. We shot 33%, and it's sad to say that's improvement, but it's a big improvement" Zack Novak.
"I've got a lot of friends that go to school there, and it's almost like a high school game again for me, having all my friends in the stands. It'll be cool." Zack Novak, on travelling to Indiana next week.
"I come in every game trying to get guys involved... guys like Stu and DeShawn was making shots, so I just was driving and trying to set them up in good position to keep making shots." Manny Harris, on his distributor role.
"The main thing is I'm just happy that our defense was there tonight, and I know that's going to carry oer into the game with Indiana." Manny Harris.
"As far as our shooting woes, I don't think 33% answers the question, but it's double what we did at Kansas, so it's a step in the right direction." John Beilein.
"I still think he's a little slow trying to get by people, and they really packed it in on him, so one of his things was to make that extra pass. If we make a few more shots, he's got 10 assists a game." John Beilein, on Manny Harris.
"They just need to make these shots in games over and over and over again to get used to it again." John Beilein, on team shooting.
The Wolverines have a nice long break to rest and get healthy before they kick off Big Ten play. They'll head to Bloomington on New Year's Eve to face the Hoosiers. Indiana is improved from last year (when they nearly beat the Wolverines in Assembly Hall), but lost to Loyola Maryland last night, and trailed by 18 points at half. They are definitely a beatable squad.
The Michigan basketball team has struggled mightily so far this season, especially given the top-15 expectations that were (probably unfairly) heaped on them in the preseason. With two superstars returning and only two walkons, a backup point guard, and a Canadian leaving the team this was supposed to be a tournament team at the very least, and more likely a Sweet 16 squad.
So, uh, what happened?
There are two primary culprits for Michigan's struggles: defense and three-point shooting. Figuring out the defense is a task for another day (and for someone who knows much more about basketball strategy than I do), but shooting is a little simpler. It's also very important for Michigan, since the Wolverines hoist 42.9% of their shots from behind the arc.
There are two primary factors that play into a shot's likelihood of going in. The first is shot selection. If a player manages to shoot only when he is wide open, it's more likely that he will make those shots, no? Last year at Varsity Blue, I UFRed basketball games, and graded shot selection 1-3 based on how open the shooter was. Manny Harris was the only player who was consistently putting up shots from bad positions, and based on purely anecdotal evidence, I'd say that's probably the case again this season.
The second factor that plays a big role in shooting is the ability to actually knock down shots. If you left Ben Wallace wide open at the top of the key on every play, he wouldn't make many shots (and that's why teams do this). The same is not true for, say, Dirk Nowitzki. Talent is not something that varies from game to game. Players go through hot and cold streaks, but Stu Douglass is as good as he is, and isn't likely to get much better or much worse at shooting the three in one offseason. So is there reason to believe that anyone has shot below his ability so far this year? Sounds like time for a—
Chart. Players are sorted by 2008-09 percentage
|Michigan 3-Point Percentages|
|Player||2008-09 %||2009-10 %|
So what does it mean? On the face, it would appear that Michigan lost most of its best shooters, but that isn't actually the case. Puls, Lee, Grady, and Merritt all had few attempts (Manny and the two Indiana guys were the only people to shoot over 100 3-balls, and LLP would have gotten there if he'd played the whole season), so there is something to be said for sample size. The better takeaway is that Only Laval Lucas-Perry and DeShawn Sims are shooting better right now than they did last year, and most guys have seen a precipitous dropoff. It would be nice to get Matt Vogrich more attempts, but his defense has been poor so far this year.
Unless guys are exclusively taking horrible shots this year (and John Beilein said Wednesday that poor shoot selection may play some role in the shooting struggles), the bad shooting is an anomaly. They're sometimes painful to watch, but stick with this team, and things will probably turn around.
12/2/2009 – Michigan 58, Boston College 62 – 3-3
Apparently there was a meeting this offseason and Michigan's three major sports bet each other they could be the most disappointing outfit on campus. Hockey is winning, but narrowly. Assorted thoughts on basketball season so far:
SON OF A BITCH. SON OF A BITCH.
Can We Please Assemble Yost To Point At The 1-3-1 And Call It A Sieve? Holy hopscotching hell. Michigan finally moved away from the disastrous fringe zone defense against Boston College, but before that it had given up enough points to seal Michigan's doom. This comes after the Marquette game, in which the Eagles averaged 1.27(!!!) points per possession, the worst output of the Beilein era, and the Alabama game, which wasn't as bad but lord it wasn't good either.
This isn't even a preparation issue. Marquette and Alabama did not put in special practice time to deal with Michigan when there was a 25% or less chance those teams would play the Wolverines; Michigan just sucks at the 1-3-1. Hard.
If this was football I'd have some amateur but fairly accurate point about scheme; since it's basketball I'm about as mystified as anyone else. The defense wasn't good last year but it wasn't anywhere near this bad and the only difference is replacing a couple walk-ons with Darius Morris. Morris hasn't seemed like the problem so far. Problems: Stu Douglass is a really terrible defender, Manny Harris is lackadaisical himself, and no one got any taller.
…but on the other hand. Morris has given Michigan zero offensively other than some fast break buckets against poor competition. I guess he makes sense in a high-paced transition offense that results from a ton of steals forced by the 1-3-1. Since Michigan is not getting a ton of steals, he's a non-shooter whose main contribution on offense is to pass the ball around the perimeter. Freshman and all that, but right now Stu Douglass is a much better passer and shooter and seems considerably more useful on offense. Is that worth the 3-4 wide open threes he'll give up? This is not a lovely choice.
And now we devolve into talk radio platitudes. Forgive me: I am about to sound like whichever post-Spielman droid is currently Pam Ward's color guy. In multiple ways. Brace yourself.
Doesn't this team look horribly coached? I keep going back to the haunting Manny Harris three against Alabama. With 20 seconds on the shot clock in a tie game with under a minute left, Harris comes over a half-hearted screen from DeShawn Sims and jacks up a three with a hand in his face. It, like 90% of Harris's threes to date, misses, and Alabama comes down for the winning basket after the rebound. Beilein benched Harris and Sims for large portions of the Boston College game, and they deserved it, and the team didn't play much worse. That's about all he can do but good God, by now the upperclass stars on the team shouldn't have to get benched.
Elsewhere in this theory: the 1-3-1 failure and the number of possessions that end with few ideas and few good shot options. Sometimes the dread specter of Amaker offense shows up. This should probably not be happening in year three.
I don't want to overstate the case: obviously I still support Beilein and think he's a good coach who will—has—been the most successful one at Michigan since Tom Goss and Ed Martin crushed the program's will to live. But in the aftermath of the Evan Smotrycz rise, Brundidge commitment and potential acquisition of Casey Prather or Trey Ziegler, I was teetering along the edge of taking back the "Beilein won't ever make Michigan elite" theory offered here earlier… now not so much.
Second: could "leadership" actually be an issue here? Resorting to leadership is the last option around here, but the team seems way, way worse than last year—even when you take things like losing to Iowa and almost doing the same against Indiana—and the only difference is that CJ Lee is running for congress or something and David Merritt is starting the next Nike. Similarly, the hockey team lost Aaron Palushaj but nothing else aside from a couple of gritty grit Gritsteins in Tim Miller and Travis Turnbull and has collapsed to the point where its decades-long tourney streak is in serious doubt.
I usually dismiss heart and leadership and whatnot. I still think this holds in football because football is a bunch of short, complicated bursts of activity. Whatever effect trying really hard has is dwarfed by knowing what the hell to do and doing it right. Aside from the occasional tired defensive linemen, coasting isn't an option. Football is kill or be killed; it has your full attention at all times.
In hockey and basketball, on the other hand, you can sort of do things. You can defend the post with token effort, or lackadaisically close out, or not rotate. You can coast on your forecheck or not backcheck or not finish a check. It's far more possible to give poor effort. So it's conceptually possible to me that gritty heart dirt dog blah blah is actually important, and then you've got two separate teams that are a thousand times worse than they were last year despite personnel situations that should be considerably better but for the absence of Gritzilla. The conclusion, horrifyingly, is that maybe people who like Colin Cowherd aren't always wrong about everything forever.
It's just about over, isn't it? Michigan's put themselves in a position where they've blown virtually all of their winnable quality nonconference games—Creighton doesn't look like it will count—and now must either pull vast upsets against Kansas and/or UConn and maybe also beat Utah to scrape into the tourney with a similar conference record. If they win one of those games they probably have to go 11-7 in the conference to make it, and raise your hand if you think that's likely. Right.
You know, if I ever thought I'd get so much use out of the "i know it's over and oh it never really began but in my heart it was so real" tag, I might have considered another line of work. Like ninja.
1/14/2009 – Michigan 51, Illinois 66 – 13-4, 3-2 Big Ten
Illinois' gumpy 7-foot center can ball, man. I was worried what he'd do to Michigan on both ends of the floor before Michigan's first game against the Illini only for Weber to take him off the floor much of the night because he was worried about Tisdale's defense. That was a mistake he didn't repeat.
Meanwhile, DeShawn Sims fell prey to some rim-outs, was bothered by Tisdale's length, and couldn't finish at the rim a couple times and ended up 3-14. That's the ballgame right there. If Sims isn't a major threat to produce inside and there's a 7-foot shotblocker lingering near the hoop no one is going to get an open three or a backcut and the team's going to shoot around 32.2%, give or take a tenth. This I retroactively predict.
Walkons and white guys featured for about four minutes in the first half and a couple in the second, and that seemed like a bad idea. Sims, Harris, and LLP all on the bench? Urgh. I guess it worked out, sort of.
Stu Douglass put in better minutes in this game than he had in other recent contests, coming up with a couple of good passes and a corner three, but he also took another inadvisable NBA-range three.
I was pretty frustrated by the lack of productive offense. I don't know nearly enough about basketball to tell you why Michigan couldn't get good looks, but there seemed like there was way too much one-on-one stuff, either because the ballhandler wasn't looking for teammates or those teammates weren't cutting to spots on the floor where they'd be useful. Team is still very young and all that, but the offense seemed more, you know, offense-y early in the season.
It wasn't bad luck that Michigan shot 27% from 3; the only really good looks I remember were Stu's aforementioned corner three and one LLP three in transition that didn't go down.
1/9/2009 – Michigan 5, Miami 1 – 14-7, 9-5 CCHA
1/10/2009 – Michigan 64, Iowa 49 – 13-3, 3-1 Big Ten
1/10/2009 – Michigan 4, Miami 0, 15-7, 10-5 CCHA
So one of the parents in the Miami student section forlornly held the above banner aloft throughout Michigan's 5-1 asskicking on Saturday. About halfway through someone told her she was making an idiot of herself and she pointed it the right way, but it was too late: Fun With Palindromes was born.
Hello, weekend. You start late but finish smoooooth. Three Michigan sporting events lead to three blowouts, two of them absolutely critical, and it's all endorphins. I find it really hard to write columns I think are worthy of the "column-type thing" tag week in and week out during the longer and less intense hockey and basketball seasons, so this one's an assemblage of bullets.
Hell, yes. Michigan got a little lucky this weekend when Miami lost Carter Camper and Justin Mercier, their #1 and #3 scorers, for the Sunday matinee, but 9-1 over the course of the weekend brooks no serious "buts." Michigan owned the Redhawks, flat out, and that's a huge step forward from their series earlier in the year when it was the Wolverines scraping one goal across 120 minutes.
Michigan is still way, way behind Notre Dame in the race for the CCHA title, but they cleared one huge hurdle with that sweep. Sweep ND in a home-and-home in three weeks and Michigan is six back—assuming equal points in the next four—but with two in hand. That's a hill to climb; it's doable, though.
More realistically, the sweep puts Michigan in a strong position to finish top-four in conference and get a first round bye; it also will be very helpful at the end of the year when the pairwise somewhat arbitrarily hews the weak from the strong and assembles a tournament field. The PWR is still extremely unstable—even at the end of the year it's moderately unstable—but at the moment Michigan is a shocking sixth despite their rough start. If only Miami hadn't gacked away its holiday tourney despite outshooting their opponents by about 3-1 each night.
Hogan. This weekend was the first during which I felt Hogan seemed a superior alternative to Sauer. Lost amongst the Mingo-witnessed flurry of goals on Saturday was Hogan's solid play on a number of quality Miami chances that kept the door shut; that game could easily have been 3-3 after five minutes instead of 3-0. On Sunday Hogan didn't have a lot of rubber but when Michigan led 1-0 he made an outstanding stop moving side to side by closing the five-hole.
Yost Built mentioned this:
He's not remotely flashy, but he goes out and wins. Also, he hasn't given up a soft goal since the game at Munn over a month ago. Then again, he's only given up two goals since that game at Munn, which is kind of awesome.
Yes. Hogan was giving up a soft-ish goal per game early in the year, and now he's not, at all. I think that's at least somewhat luck; it's not all luck.
Skaters. I was feeling very good about calling Brandon Burlon the breakout player of the second half when he had a goal and an assist five minutes into the weekend, but did anyone else think the rest of his Saturday was kind of rough? Miami's heavy forechecking forced a lot of turnovers out of him, and the rest of the team. On Sunday it appeared that Michigan had figured it out (or Miami was tired or losing Camper and Mercier was a death blow) and was breaking the zone with ease; on Saturday there were a lot of ugly turnovers.
The other guy who leapt out did so on the penalty kill: Tim Miller, who got multiple standing ovations whilst sucking away Miami PP time in the corners. He would have had a great shorthanded goal if Langseth hadn't taken it away, which Miller was still bitching at him about as the team left the ice on Sunday. Miller was making a hockey stop as the pass came across the ice and deflected the puck into the net, a situation that is explicitly allowed by the change in the rule:
To make this rule as clear as possible, the group proposed adjustments to its rules that will allow all goals scored as a result of deflections. This will include deflections off an attacking player who is in the act of stopping, provided neither skate is used to direct the puck into the net. Pucks that are directed or kicked with the skate moving toward the goal will not be allowed.
Yost Built saw the thing many times on replay and sayeth:
Now, I can't remember how the rule reads, since I'm pretty sure they changed it after the title game last season. If the puck can't hit off a skate and go into the net at all anymore, then it was the right call, and just a stupid rule. If it's allowed to hit your skate and you just can't kick it, then it was a terrible call.
The rulebook sayeth: terrible call. Note: this is the second straight year Langseth cost Michigan a goal against Miami.
I bet this seemed like a good idea at the time. The program for the Miami game was very fussy about what you can call Miami of Oh—
Who's up for never calling Miami anything but Miami of Ohio (Not That Miami Of Ohio)? This guy.
Strategy. Here's a tip I've picked up from the local scribes: if a team completely destroys a respectable opponent mere days after you question how good they are, claim it was your criticism that focused them, forging them into the towers of steel they became. Y'all can thank yrs truly for that performance.
More seriously: yes, that was more like it. Michigan made a concerted effort to go inside to Sims, and though the reward was a lot of shots that went down and then infuriatingly rimmed out, the overall quality of looks they got was greatly increased.
One downer, and I again hate to bring this up given the box score, but I didn't like Manny's game in this one much more than I did in the other Big Ten games. He took four three-pointers, each of them with a hand in his face when he just decided to chuck instead of drive, and a lot of his offense came off of turnovers. Take those away and his shooting percentage dips precipitously. OTOH: Harris was super-active in the passing lanes and was the cause of at least four Iowa turnovers that turned into fast-break buckets, mostly by Harris.
I just worry what happens to his offensive efficiency when the opponent isn't as generous, is all. He has not been effective in the halfcourt in conference play.
Stu and Zack. The relative stars of the two Indiana freshmen have crossed since it looked like Douglass was going to be a gritty, tough-nosed gym rat with a high basketball IQ and Novak couldn't buy a bucket. Now it's Novak destined for vaguely uncomfortable praise and Douglass who looks like he'll be in a battle for playing time when Vogrich and Morris arrive (and, hopefully, no one leaves unexpectedly).
This is a really easy observation to make after Douglass took a couple threes from 27 feet and seemed largely responsible for Iowa's garbage-time comeback, but sometimes you have to pick the low-hanging fruit. Douglass' basketball IQ doesn't seem particularly high.
Or, rather, it seems wildly variable. He made two excellent passes in this game, and seems to thread a needle or throw an accurate bounce pass on the break just about every time he gets an opportunity; he also made a great cut to the basket when Novak was trapped and got a layup for his troubles. His future is up in the air. If Good Stu wins I think he can be a significant role player the next couple years and a solid starter as a senior. If Evil, 27-Footer-Chucking Stu wins he's likely to get the Shepherd treatment.
Novak, on the other hand, is the unathletic white guy who actually deserves the "he's white!" praise that will no doubt be heaped on him the next three and a half years. He harasses people into bad decisions, rebounds very well, and does—ugh—the little things that don't show up on the box score.
Great, now I have to take a shower to wash off the sportswriter cliche.
Wha? That was a charge on Manny—you know what I'm talking about—and a blocking foul on Gibson—you also know what I'm talking about. Not like it mattered, but, man… Big Ten referees, folks. Also, what was with the foul on the follow-through of a Novak three that wasn't a shooting foul? Have you ever seen that before? Will you ever see it again?
The near future. With Michigan's two must-wins against the lower echelon of the Big Ten out of the way, they've got a tough road game against Illinois that seems like a freebie. Win and that's great. Lose and, okay, you're still on track.
After that, though, is four game stretch with two against a struggling, depleted Ohio State team that seems NIT caliber at best and one each against Northwestern and Penn State. 3-1 is good, but 2-2 against those four teams with a fairly daunting homestretch (Purdue x2, MSU, UConn, Minn x2, @ Wisconsin with PSU, NW, and Iowa sprinkled in) and it'll be touch and go. I expect/hope they'll be 6-3 in conference at the midway mark.