at least it's not just us?
2/1/2012 – Michigan 68, Indiana 56 – 17-6, 7-3 Big Ten
At the beginning of Michigan's most epic brutal stretch of the season, they made a radical change by consigning Evan Smotrycz to the bench in favor of Stu Douglass. Zack Novak wearily took up the mantle of power forward again and Michigan soldiered through. Five of six games into the MEBS they're now 3-2 and guaranteed to come out at least .500, eyeing a Sweet Sixteen seed if they can win the games they should down the road.
Small sample size and all, but I thought it would be interesting to look at the impact that shift has had on Michigan's defense. When Beilein made the shift he said it was his best defensive lineup, after all. Chart? Chart.
Michigan without Stu in the starting lineup:
[note that there are more home games than road; I attempted to adjust for that by subtracting 3.5 points from the opponent's efficiency. A home-road swing is worth 7 points and let's blindly assign half of that to the offense]
|Opponent||Score||Possessions||B10 Off Eff||Expected Score||Delta|
Michigan with Stu in the starting lineup:
|Opponent||Score||Possessions||B10 Off Eff||Expected Score||Delta|
So, there you go. Exceedingly weak statistical evidence in a small sample size* that shifting Douglass into the starting lineup has been worth one and a half points per game. Since Michigan won two of the games he started by 1 and 2 points, this seems relevant to our interests. Let's not make too much of it—Michigan State could blow this away in one shooting streak. But our Bayesian estimate of Douglass improving the M defense should shift over 50%.
This is only part of what Douglass has brought to the table. Now I'm going to delve in to wishy feely stuff; I wanted to get some numbers on the internet to make me feel better about what's about to come.
But… close your eyes and envision the two most improved players on the team this year. Did you get Novak and Douglass? I'm guessing you did, what with images of Douglass driving into the lane and something bad not happening or Novak pulling up for a midrange jumper that gets only net.
this could be going well! (Upchurch)
That's weird. Freshmen get better faster than seniors, especially when the seniors are guards and the freshmen are largely posts. This year's most prominent freshman-to-sophomore transitions have not gone real well. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a fair bit less efficient than he was as a freshman. So is Jordan Morgan. Smotrycz is a lot better but has been marginalized during this important stretch; his incredible shooting in the nonconference season has evaporated in the Big Ten.
Normally that would spell doom. If I materialized in your bathtub in October and said "ooooOOOOOOoooooohhhhhh, TIM HARDAWAY JR WILL AVERAGE 27% FROM THREE POINT RANGE, oooooOOOOOOoooooohhhh" you would be more terrified for Michigan's basketball prospects than the fact you'd just had a time-travelling blogger ghost appear in a place you thought was safe from that sort of nonsense. And that's saying something.
But even though Hardaway and Morgan are less efficient and Trey Burke isn't quite at the level Darius Morris was last year, here they are aiming for a Sweet 16 seed. You can say this is Trey Burke's team, and you'd be right, and you can say Tim Hardaway Jr. is Michigan's most important player, and you'd be right. The two seniors are the guys duct-taping up all the leaks the team has sprung as it moves forward without Morris and Tim Hardaway's 44% conference three-point shooting.
Michigan may get better after they leave on sheer talent, but Douglass and Novak are two remarkable overachievers. Michigan needed two guys like that to change the culture around here after a decade-long tourney-free streak. No one thought they'd be guys snatched from Valpo (if they were even interested!) and Harvard. Even if their numbers shouldn't get raised to the rafters, those who come after them will stand on their shoulders. It may be Trey Burke's team but it's Douglass's and Novak's program.
*[FWIW, Arkansas put up about four more points than you'd expect if M was equal to an average SEC defense. I think that's more about Michigan being unprepared for the press—giving those points up on offense.]
Bullets That Always Go In If Shot By Jordan Hulls
GOOD LORD JORDAN HULLS. Dude was shooting 48% from three before yesterday's 4 of 5 performance. And a lot of those were tough.
God, what does it take to get a three point sniper who's actually lethal in college, too? Vogrich was reputed to be the best shooter in the country and is struggling to get above 25%. Come on, Stauskas.
Christian Watford guarding Trey Burke. It worked for a while as Burke seemed confused by the very idea; then Burke started crossing the dude over and screaming towards the basket. Weird, weird idea. Glad that Burke played through it. It was looking a little hopeless on offense for a while there.
Watford, by the way, annihilated Michigan in the game in Bloomington and is shooting 47% from three—actually much better than he is from 2 (42%). Weird player.
Jordan Morgan guarding Cody Zeller. Great, great job. Zeller is shooting 66% and has a top ten eFG%; Michigan held him to 4 of 9 shooting and IIRC two of his baskets were offensive rebound putbacks. This was almost all Morgan with a little Smotrycz in there, and Zeller could hardly get a shot opportunity.
Morgan's main advantage over most big men is his agility, activity, and endurance. He fronts everyone and rarely gives up good post position; Michigan cheats down behind him to cut off lob passes and leaves that backdoor three open. It's been effective overall.
You can see the good and bad of it in Michigan's conference Kenpom stats. They're #2 in the league at forcing turnovers; over 20% of opponent possessions end without a shot. They never put anyone on the line. Their 2PT% D is acceptable despite being short—their block percentage is last in the league. The main downside is giving up a lot of quality threes. 38% is good for only tenth in the league at 3PT defense. Given the composition of the roster, I'll take it. Michigan has to endure a lot of open threes to give themselves a chance inside. Considering the available athletes they're doing a good job.
Tim Hardaway jack watch. There were three or four, including another long two with lots of time on the shot clock. I don't mind him taking a three in the context of the offense. The ones where he just rises and fires are not good.
Michigan should start running him off Rip Hamilton-esque curl screens with the intent of getting him moving towards the basket with his man already to one side. That seems like it will result in profit. And possibly charges, but who cares about charges?
Watford and Zeller combined for 43 points in Bloomington; they only managed 19 between them last night. Hulls had 18 but he made some pretty tough shots to get there. You can live with that.
1/29/2012 – Michigan 49, Ohio State 64 – 16-6, 6-3 Big Ten
No one expected Michigan to go on the road against Kenpom's #1 team and come back with a victory, so frustration and alarm was kept to a low simmer as Michigan tried and generally failed to find a way through the thicket of arms and athleticism that Ohio State presents. While OSU also goes "small" by deploying just one post-oriented player at a time—6'7" Deshaun Thomas is the second-tallest player OSU starts, and he's an NBA-sized wing slasher who rebounds at a lesser rate than Trey Burke—there is small, and there is "small."
Michigan is the former, Ohio State the latter. Kenpom has OSU's effective height 78th. They're not huge but they're well above average while still getting to play four-out, one-in. So if a game in which an insurmountable three-point halftime deficit ballooned to 15 by the end is dispiriting, it's also an indication of Michigan's future, in which a post is surrounded by a point guard and bouncy guys ranging from 6'4" to 6'7". Just now, that seems like a pretty good recipe for success.
But Michigan's post guy is not Jared Sullinger and with the exception of Tim Hardaway, Jr., their bouncy guys range from 6'2" to 6'2" and have a tendency to bounce their arms into fastbreaking opponents' heads because they're not bouncy, so expected outcomes come out as expected. At the half, it seemed like Michigan's point total was about what you would expect and Ohio State's was a ton of missed putbacks. That proved itself in the second half.
Oh well. This one was house money anyway.
Down the road, the team keeps scraping out narrow wins against good competition and is on track to meet expectations. The overall picture has some concerns. Ubiquitous Michigan basketball messageboardist MHoops1 compiled some stats on three pointers in league play that point to a burgeoning problem:
Tim Hardaway Jr., with 55, has taken more 3s in conference games than anyone else--he is second in 3s per game to Illinois' Brandon Paul (who is shooting just under 40% from 3). …
There are 8 guys who are shooting 20-29% from 3 in conference play--two are Hardaway at just under 22% (2nd worst overall in the conference…), and Smotrycz at just over 24% (4th worst overall, ahead of Walker, Hardaway and Keith Appling of MSU, who is shooting just under 23% from 3.
[Only players with 20 or more attempts are considered.]
I just don't know what happened to Hardaway's stroke. Last year it was the key component driving Michigan to their bid—they took just about as many threes but were third in the conference at hitting them. You can poke at all the psychological explanations you want; I don't buy them and am left with helpless shoulder-shrugging and an increased appreciation for Darius Morris's ability to create shots from everywhere.
No matter what the reason is, Michigan has the most prolific and least efficient three-point shooter in the conference now. This is a trend that extends to the team as a whole. Kenpom's conference-only numbers have Michigan first in three-pointers attempted (43%) and tenth (31%) in makes. Often poor percentages from three aren't that harmful since threes are worth more points (SCIENCE!). Here, though, each three point shot taken is 10% less effective than an average two*. That's a big difference when you consider the standard deviations involved here.
And then there's the free throws. There aren't any. (You may have noticed.) Michigan is dead last at getting to the line. Add it up and it's a parody of Beilein's reputation for perimeter-oriented fooferah.
No one is turning their nose up at 6-3 halfway through what seems like the slightly tougher half of the conference slate, or what looks like a third tourney bid in four years. Playing Ohio State drives home what looks like a ceiling for this edition of Michigan. To compare them, just line Zack Novak up next to DeShaun Thomas. Sometimes your physical limitations catch up to you, like when you're playing a Final Four contender. So it goes.
*[By this I mean the average three pointer is worth more than the average two. The D-I average 3 is worth 1.03 points; the D-I average two is worth 0.95 points. So you can be below average from three and still not hurt yourself too badly if you take a lot. Michigan far exceeds this margin of error.
I know fouls and getting to the line argue in favor of going inside and complicate this analysis considerably.]
And to think you could have pissed off Valpo's conference opponents. Man, do people hate Zack Novak. While in OSU's case it's standard "you elbowed our dude" lingering bitterness, it seems like 75% of previews express some sort of distaste for the gritmaster. That as much as anything else is a tribute to his career. If he ever has a plaque somewhere in Crisler he should be bleeding profusely and it should read "booed at every arena in the Big Ten for obscure reasons."
Free throw non-perturbation. To me it didn't seem like Michigan had a case for many more than the zero free throws they acquired before 37 minutes were gone. Maybe two or three—Craft obviously got Burke's follow through on a three he made anyway—but not so many that it would have had even a slight impact on the game. There was just little way through for most of Michigan's players. It's not hard to not foul a guy like Douglass when you can just follow him to the hoop and block his shot.
Sullinger attention == board obliteration. Michigan did an excellent job of rotating to Sullinger but all that defensive attention unbalanced Michigan's defense and allowed various Buckeyes to hammer the boards. OSU rebounded nearly 50% of their misses, which was death. Not sure what was the cause of the sudden inability to get the damn ball. Let's check!
Culprits in order: Hardaway, Douglass, Smotrycz, Sullinger double, Morgan, McLimans. Well… crap, try to fix that. I can't even claim that the Sullinger doubling was a major factor. It was just guys getting pushed out of the way and out-athleted by a 6-4 dude. Guh.
Smotrycz hat tip. Those possessions when he was matched up against Sullinger could have gone much, much worse. Still not contributing much on offense except in spurts. The small-ball lineup seems very effective defensively but lacks a certain something on offense.
Slightly tougher half in the rearview? I'd say so. Michigan had five at home and four away in the first half and must invert that in the second, but you can call the MSU, OSU, Indiana, Purdue, and PSU and Northwestern games a wash since Michigan will flip home and road with all those opponents. So then you've got:
- DONE: Minnesota, Wisconsin, @ Iowa,
- TO COME: @ Nebraska, Illinois, @ Illinois
Minnesota and Illinois at home are a wash. @ Nebraska is easier, and I'm not sure whether I'd play Wisconsin at home or Illinois on the road. Kenpom says definitely Illinois but it's been a little gaga for Wisconsin's nonconference blowouts all year. Anyway, I said slight. This section has been excessively defensive.
Iowa State watch. The Hoiberg Home for Lost Big Ten boys took out Kansas, which serves as a big, tourney-bid-validating win as long as they perform as expected down the stretch.
If you wanted to concoct the most painful possible basketball game to watch, at least when it comes to mid-January non-conference road games, Saturday's 66-64 heartbreaker at Arkansas was about as bad as it gets from a fan perspective. We saw:
- The end of the Kentucky game go long, causing most fans—including myself—to miss at least the first few minutes of the game.
- Arkansas hit their first 11 shots from the field en route to opening up a 20-point lead.
- Michigan turn the ball over five times in the first ten minutes as they looked entirely unprepared to handle the Razorbacks's "40 Minutes of Hell" full-court press.
- The Wolverines embark on a lengthy comeback run, only Arkansas kept Michigan at arms-length until Zack Novak cut the deficit to two points with just 3:48 left.
- A four-minute stretch during that span in which neither team scored a point.
- Zack Novak almost kill a guy.
- Trey Burke's final shot go halfway down then cruelly bounce out as the buzzer sounded.
That was not fun. At all. The most joy I got from that game was watching Novak stick it to the Arkansas crowd by sinking clutch three after clutch three, only I felt guilty doing so because I'm pretty sure Novak should've been ejected. Yes, he made an effort to block the shot, but nailing an airborne player in the head with your forearm while running at full speed is pretty damn dangerous.
That's besides the point, though. The point is that Michigan could never quite put it all together, dropping a very winnable game and leaving the Wolverines still lacking a true road win this season. If M lands on the bubble come tournament time, this is going to be the "what if?" game that could come back to haunt them.
The key was that press, spearheaded by a deep Arkansas rotation that kept fresh legs on the floor while Michigan's fairly-thin core group of players tried to keep pace. The Wolverines looked blindsided by the press early on, and instead of slowing the game down and playing at their tempo, they sped up. I don't have video of the opening minutes, but the sequence that led to Novak's flagrant foul is pretty indicative:
I'm pretty sure that play violated Rush the Court's first three rules for breaking the Arkansas press. Even when Michigan was able to get through, settling down into their half-court offense was another issue entirely.
Other than Jordan Morgan, who scored 16 points on 7-11 shooting and had eight straight to key Michigan's second-half surge, no Wolverine had an all-around solid game statistically. Trey Burke dished out six assists to just two turnovers and grabbed seven (!) rebounds, but his 13 points came on 6-19 shooting and he was just 1-6 from deep. Novak led the team with 17 points and connected on 5-7 three-pointers, but he turned the ball over four times and struggled to keep pace defensively. Nobody else cracked double-digits in the scoring column, and it took the still-slumping Tim Hardaway Jr. eight shots to score nine points.
Michigan will look to move on from this game quickly, but the remaining stretch is brutal. The Wolverines head to Purdue tomorrow night (KenPom: 35% win probability), then play at Ohio State (5%), at home vs. Indiana (43%), and at Michigan State (13%) over the next two weeks. In fact, going by KenPom, the Wolverines are projected to win just four of their remaining 11 games. While that would give the team a 20-11 record (10-8 B1G), almost assuredly locking up a spot in the tournament, the team could be looking at another uphill battle to even reach the second day, let alone the Sweet Sixteen.
While that would still satisfy expectations, we all know from experience that life on the bubble is a stressful existence. With Hardaway struggling, Smotrycz disappearing, and the team leaning heavily on a freshman point guard, something is going to have to change—and soon—if Michigan wants to avoid a late-season swoon. I trust John Beilein to make the necessary adjustments, but once again, the burden will be placed on a group of mostly-inexperienced players to pull through.
And yet, Michigan remains tied atop the Big Ten standings. Please don't ask me to explain what's going on this year. It's probably best to strap yourself in, because it's going to be one hell of a ride from this point forward.
In lieu of the time-consuming and largely superfluous offensive UFRs, I'm going to start reviewing the offensive output of Michigan's basketball games by examining the available advanced metrics while also utilizing the UFR shot chart and picture pages. Think of it as an offensive UFR without all the unnecessary charting.
It's impossible to discuss the win over State and not start with Trey Burke's performance. I mean, goodness, Burke inspired this piece from Grantland's Shane Ryan...
I'm coming out with the big guns today: Trey Burke is the most exciting player in college basketball.
You want caveats? OK. Trey Burke is the most electric, dynamic, breathtaking human being wearing a Division I uniform, and Tuesday night he etched his name into Michigan lore with a 20-point virtuoso turn in a 60-59 home win over rival Michigan State. Also, he's the coolest customer on the court at any given time, and he's only a freshman.
...as well as this incredible video from mgodisney:
We'll get into why Burke was so successful later, but first, his numbers. By traditional stats, he was ruthlessly efficient with his shot, scoring 20 points while going 8-11 from the field (3-6 from three), and he also managed to hand out three assists, though those came along with three turnovers. Burke was lethal on the pick and roll, a welcome change from the last couple games, and his only major negatives came when he got caught in the air on the baseline, which happened a couple times and led to turnovers. His offensive rating was a stellar 135.5, well above his season average of 109.1 and by far the best mark he's put up against high-quality competition.
As far as rest of the team goes, things weren't quite so easy. Stu Douglass recorded the team's lone offensive rebound of the night, and if you take away Burke's numbers, the Wolverines shot just 15-34 from the field and hit only 3-15 from beyond the arc. Most of the squad actually shot the ball at least decently well, but Tim Hardaway Jr. forced up several long shots (3-9 FG, 0-4 3-pt), and Evan Smotrycz also had a quick trigger finger after hitting a couple layups early (2-6 FG, 0-2 3-pt). Now that I've given away large portions of it, I might as well go ahead and post the shooting chart.
|Burke||1/1||1/1 (1F)||1/1 (1F)||2/2||-||-||1/2||1/2||1/2||4/5||2/3 (1F)||2/3 (1F)||8/11 (2F)|
|Hardaway||(1F)||2/2||0/2||-||1/2||0/1 (1F)||-||0/2||0/3||(1F)||3/6||0/6 (1F)||3/9 (2F)|
|Smotrycz||-||2/3 (1F)||-||-||-||0/1||-||0/1||0/1||-||2/4 (1F)||0/2||2/6 (1F)|
|Morgan||1/1||1/1 (1F)||-||-||-||0/1||-||-||-||1/1||1/1 (1F)||0/1||2/3 (1F)|
|Douglass||2/2||(1F)||-||-||-||0/1||-||1/1 (1F)||0/2||2/2||1/1 (2F)||0/3||3/6 (2F)|
|TOTAL||4/4 (1F)||6/7 (4F)||2/4 (1F)||2/2||2/3||1/6 (1F)||1/4||4/9 (1F)||1/9||7/10 (1F)||12/19 (5F)||4/19 (2F)||23/45 (8F)|
You have no idea how happy I am that those numbers matched the box score. Anyhow, you can see the root of Hardaway's struggles in the chart—he took twice as many heavily-contested shots as anyone else on the team, including three from long distance. Michigan as a whole didn't get many good looks against a strong Spartan defense, but when they did, those shots usually came from very close to the basket. You can also see how much Michigan emphasizes hollowing out the defense—creating open shots either at the basket or beyond the arc—when you look at the two-point shots. Burke had the team's only two uncontested attempts in that category, and when the team put up a contested two-pointer, it was usually because the play they ran didn't work effectively.
Looking at the four factors, which you'll likely recognize from UMHoops's game recaps, the key to Michigan staving off the Spartans was a decidedly-low turnover rate coupled with an uncharacteristic propensity for getting to the free-throw line:
The lack of offensive rebounds is disconcerting even when taking into account MSU's size, rebounding acumen, and the fact that Michigan went small for most of the game. It's going to be difficult to continue winning without hitting the offensive glass, as it essentially forces the team to play mistake-free (or, at least, mistake-very-limited) basketball while connecting on a solid percentage of their shots. The Wolverines got away with it here, but I don't foresee them winning many more games during this tough stretch of the schedule if they're hauling in just one offensive rebound.
They key to the game was Michigan's ability to run the pick and roll, something they struggled with mightily when Iowa consistently brought a hard hedge against Burke. The Wolverines found success against the hard hedge early against MSU by having Jordan Morgan slip to the basket early, and this really set everything up for the offense, as State had to respect the roll and couldn't pressure Burke so heavily.
Here's the first instance of Morgan slipping the pick—he comes out to Burke, immediately dives to the hoop, gets the pass with space, and makes a great pass himself to Novak for a corner three:
That's a fantastic play by Morgan to recognize see the open man so soon after getting the ball—a lot of big men would commit a charge on that play, but he gets the pass off quickly.
I have two more videos that were supposed to go here that play off the above. Unfortunately, YouTube won't let me access my uploaded videos (which are unlisted, so I can't get to them from my user page) and keeps giving me an error message. As soon as I can access them, I'll either update this post or do a picture pages post. Sorry about that. In short, Michigan made great strides in running the pick and roll, and it led to baskets. Informative, I am.
Of course a half-hour later it works again. Moving on, this play shows Morgan once again rolling hard to the basket, and while Nix initially hedges, he scrambles back quickly to Morgan. This opens up the drive for Burke, who crosses over and gets to the hoop for a layup:
That play was created thanks to Morgan's first early slip, causing MSU to adjust their defense and play less aggressively. Against Burke, that's a green light to drive into the paint, and he took advantage.
Finally, here you see another way to counter the hedge, as Burke identifies to double-team early, crosses over away from the pick, and gives it to Smotrycz in the corner. With the Spartan defense focused on the perimeter, the quick reversal creates space for Smotrycz to drive, and he catches a bit of a break when he misses the lay-in but State snatches the ball off the cylinder:
It's a simple adjustment, but one Michigan hadn't made prior to this game. As Burke is able to absorb Beilein's complicated offense and continue to learn how to properly read a defense, the hard hedge should become less and less effective against him. It certainly helps to have a great offensive mind in John Beilein as the head coach.
Note: Offensive Ratings are for the game, courtesy of Statsheet. ORtg is measured by points produced/possessions used—the formula is quite complicated and comes from Dean Oliver's Basketball On Paper, but think of it as the number of points produced per 100 possessions.
Trey Burke (ORtg: 135.0): Has been covered extensively above. He's pretty good.
Stu Douglass (ORtg: 128.7): Douglass obviously had the game-winning points, which is always nice, and he also chipped in two assists while only turning the ball over once. Burke mostly ran the show, but Douglass was very capable running plays on occasion, and his four-point play in the first half was huge. He did force up a couple of long bombs, but for the most part Stu played within the offense and took advantage of his opportunities.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (ORtg: 108.2): Hardaway looked plain out of it for much of the game on both ends of the floor, but he did pick it up late in the game, creating an open two-point jumper for himself and then getting a critical layup when he drove baseline. He didn't turn the ball over, which helped out his offensive rating, but I'd be fine with a turnover or two per game if they were the result of more aggressive play. Hardaway is a very inconsistent spot-up shooter, and he needs to take the ball to the basket more often, as it not only creates more good shots for him, but for his teammates.
Zack Novak (ORtg: 106.0): Novak was relatively efficient from the floor, hitting half his shots, but he didn't attack the basket like we've seen him do with great effectiveness this season. Not only that, but he was blanked on the offensive glass, a rarity for Mr. GRIT. The offense mostly ran through Burke or Hardaway, for better or worse, relegating Novak mostly to taking shots at the tail end of the shot clock—that's when he hit his best shot of the game, a pull-up at the free-throw line over Draymond Green that barely touched net on its way down.
Jordan Morgan (ORtg: 81.2): Morgan's ORtg is awfully low due to a pair of turnovers despite very few touches—very small sample size applies here (as it does for all individual games, but low usage really exacerbates things). Morgan mostly functioned as the designated screener, and in that role he performed well, as you saw above. He does turn the ball over far more than what is ideal—Morgan has a 27.5% turnover rate this season, which is not good at all—and missing a pair of free throws hurts too, but Morgan isn't asked to do much in this offense and he did his job in freeing up Burke to create.
Evan Smotrycz (ORtg: 75.3): Oof. It looked early on like Smotrycz might be returning to form as he got a pair of baskets driving to the hoop, including a startling and-one after a glacial—but effective—crossover, but he began forcing perimeter shots and finished just 2-6 from the field in 10 minutes of play. Smotrycz shot the ball on 53.3% of his touches, a rate more than double any other Wolverine, and if you're going to be a black hole offensively, you'd better be an efficient black hole. Smotrycz wasn't, and therefore rode pine for most of the game.
Matt Vogrich (ORtg: 173.2): Hello, small sample size. Vogrich did have a pretty up-and-under layup that came out of nowhere, but his only other shot was a missed three on a relatively open look. Other than two defensive rebounds, he had no other impact on the box score. Nice drive, though.
Blake McLimans (ORtg: 0.0): Played five minutes. I'm not entirely sure he even touched the ball.
1/17/2012 – Michigan 60, Michigan State 59 – 15-4, 5-2 Big Ten
It was stomach-churning when Draymond Green conjured a pretty good shot out of thirty-five seconds of Michigan State panic, and that moment when the ball hung in the air was heart-stopping. In the vast aeons before its fate was determined, the observer had plenty of time to remember how much he hated backboards.
Oh, backboards. Scourge of the 2011 Wisconsin game at Crisler. Failed Andrew Jackson assassins. Uncooperative gits, backboards. When Josh Gasser had thrown an eyes-closed prayer up last year, a backboard answered his call. I had vowed revenge after it worked this alchemy on Crisler:
Being in Crisler was to viscerally understand the cliche about the air going out of the building. The transition from a standing, raucous crowd to a bunch of pissed off people looking for their jackets was instant, and the ride home was mostly silence.
But Green had not stopped his side-to-side momentum before getting the shot off and when it bounced off the backboard it did so too far to the left; it glanced off the rim. Green's putback attempt was well short, and that was that. Rather than the Gasser shot we'd just witnessed a replay of Deshawn Sims's improbably good look at the end of the 2010 game against State at Crisler.
Crisler blew up, as you might expect. Then something strange happened: nothing. No student or fan set foot on the court. Izzo rushed the referees to plead something or other, the teams shook hands, and then they left the court. No mosh pit. Crisler was loud but something short of delirious.
And there you go: the infamous "gap" is pretty much closed. Novak in the aftermath:
"We're to the point now where (beating Michigan State) is something we expect to do," Novak said. "My first two years, it was like, you've got to do it first -- you've got to do it one time.
"After you get that first one, you get a taste of it, but then you've got to learn how to win."
The last three years Michigan is 3-2 against Michigan State with one failed buzzer-beater on each side, an MSU blowout at the tail end of the disappointing 2010 season, and two solid Michigan victories during the regrettably short Get Off My Court era. If they haven't reached talent parity with State just yet it won't take long for Robinson, Stauskas, McGary, Irvin, Donnal, et al., to make that distinction a hard one to make. The PDC is complete; planned Crisler renovations will bring Michigan's arena in line with the best in the country. John Beilein is pretty good at coaching basketball.
Michigan's at the start of a long Big Ten grind that will probably spit them out significantly bruised, but at this point it's hard to see them chewed up enough to miss the tourney. If things fall right they could even sneak a seed with which it's plausible to make a Sweet 16. That's three of the last four tournaments and at least a .500 record against State over the last three years, and then the cavalry arrives. The moment when Beilein's program goes from building to built is fast approaching.
Zack Novak doesn't care about that. He cares about February 5th in Breslin, when he'll have the opportunity to go out with a winning record against Michigan State. The last four-year player to accomplish that was… I have no idea.
Next year is the one everyone's pointing to as the one when big things happen; this year is Novak's last. He is thinking about titles and tournaments and somehow keeping all of the blood vessels in his head intact for another three months. Fans can sit back and wait for help; Novak only has a few urgent months left.
Here they are.
Photos from Eric Upchurch:
These are Creative Commons licensed, as always.
Via MGoVideo, Denard and Roundtree executing the Can't Turn You Loose dance next to a shirtless dude and an engineer:
What a knob.
Last 31 seconds:
Also there are BTN highlights.
The trenchant analysis! So of course after I point out Smotrycz's ability to stay on the floor as a key to the game Michigan starts Stu Douglass and plays 90% of the game with Novak on Draymond Green. Smotrycz gets ten minutes. At least I said Green was a more plausible matchup than most Novak-vs-PF outings.
But so anyway, point Beilein for running out the small lineup and not getting extensively punished for it on the boards… actually, wait. Michigan rebounded one of 23 opportunities on the offensive end and allowed MSU to rebound 39% of their misses. So they did get pummeled on the boards. They eked it out because…
Uh… They eked it out because…
Uh… Okay. They were ferociously effective from two-point range. This continues a season-long theme but was not expected after a couple of rough outings. I think MSU five-star Adreian Payne was a major factor in this. Michigan sliced open the MSU defense early with un- or not-very contested layups largely because Payne's help defense was nonexistent despite having a matchup against Jordan Morgan. Morgan is not a guy you have to worry about taking jumpers, but Payne consistently failed to show at the basket when Michigan's various six-nothin' white guys would drive to the hoop.
As a result, Payne played only 14 minutes and finished with one rebound, that defensive. He should be awesome—dude is a physical marvel—except he's Mike Cox mentally. He got yanked a few minutes in. In the aftermath Izzo would bemoan a lack of "toughness," but what MSU lacked was between their ears, not their legs.
When Payne was out Nix didn't seem much better. For whatever reason the intimidating doom-bringers on the interior took yesterday's game off.
Uh… Also fouls and turnovers. The Valentine crew decided there were no fouls, much to my frustration in the first half when it seemed like various over-the-backs and Hardaway jumpers would have been fouls anywhere else on planet Earth. I know Hardaway is struggling, but there is no way he flat airballs two three-pointers in a short period of time.
HOWEVA, when it came to things actually called, Michigan had the advantage with just 8 fouls to MSU's 12 and 13 FTA to MSU's 5. This did not appear to be a home court effect. Even Michigan State people were unsurprised State had zero FTA at the half.
MSU also had six additional turnovers. Most of those came from Appling and Green as Michigan collapsed on them and they did not find assists to compensate. Appling did somewhat with his five but a 5-4 assist to TO ratio and a couple of charging calls is not ideal.
Tim Hardaway: come on, let's go. While Trey Burke is a fantastic player it doesn't seem disputable that Darius Morris was a much better shot creator last year than Burke is at this point in his career. That's been much to the detriment of Hardaway, who is now taking a lot of bad, contested shots and seeing his numbers drop precipitously. Michigan needs more of his last basket, when he shot by a defender and finished at the rim what with his six-five frame and leaping ability, and less of the shots like the above. Beilein also thinks this. Look at his face.
Hardaway did make an excellent decision to foul Nix on the floor after one of Michigan State's late whip-the-ball-around-until-it's-in-the-post-uncontested possessions. IIRC a turnover followed; those points were the difference (as were all points scored by M or not scored by MSU).
Stu Douglass: hat tip. After 38 minutes versus Iowa Douglass puts in 36 against MSU, plays his usual very good perimeter defense, had nine points on six shots, Michigan's lone offensive rebound, two assists, a steal, and a turnover. Even if I'm probably not going to say "argh where's Stu" next year like I will inevitably do when things are going poorly and Novak isn't around to grit something out, the intangible senior leadership Douglass provides is getting pretty tangible.
Burke. Yes, you're good. That three pointer was still a horrible decision. In all other ways, hurray.
Drive home safely. The visiting Izzone section. We have to talk, visiting Izzone section.
One: you came in a bus. Two: you bought a large section of tickets clearly designated the worst in the building, allowing you to stand as students will. Michigan is clearly complicit in getting you in the building, for whatever reason. Your bus did not appear to have a cloaking device.
Despite this, you sneak into the building incognito as if there are Izzone snipers stationed at the entrances. Then you chant "Daddy's better" at Tim Hardaway Jr., which… like… Tim Hardaway is one of the great point guards in NBA history. You know that, right? That's not actually an insult.
No points, mercy on your soul, etc.
Meanwhile. Does the Maize Rage do this? Could they do this? Why is Michigan selling a huge block of tickets to the Izzone? It doesn't seem likely that is the case. Why is Michigan actively annoying its fans by allowing this to happen?
Mathy Q. This would never happen and this is a conversation destined to remain hypothetical, but… how bad of a free throw shooter would someone on the floor have to be for a foul to be the right move in the situation Michigan was faced with last night?
I think a couple guys on the court were within range. Nix was 53% last year and is at 58% this year. If we give him 60% to make calculations easier, a non-shooting foul on him results in the following outcome after the one-and-one:
- 40%: Michigan with ball up one
- 24%: Michigan with ball tied
- 36%: Michigan with ball down one
That's if Michigan gets the rebound on the free throw, generally a good assumption but maybe less so in a balls-to-the-wall board crashing situation late.
I think there's a case for sending an under 60% free throw shooter to the line with 15 seconds or so left if they're going to get a one and one. Again, no one in the universe will ever try this in a game. But it's interesting to consider.
Random. I think of this as Rasheed Wallace version of "THE GAAAAAME." Do you know what I'm talking about? After the Pistons won their championship Wallace called basketball that in his indefinable 'Sheed way. It is impossible to explain and impossible to google, but I swear some people will know what I'm talking about.
In lieu of providing this, here's Wallace signing along to GNR:
This is your erratic reminder that Rasheed Wallace should succeed the Most Interesting Man In The World.
That is not relevant, but you start looking up Rasheed Wallace videos on Youtube and things get crazy.
Green has guaranteed the return game($):
"They won three. Before that, how many how had they won?" Green said. "They got their little three, but they come to East Lansing in a few weeks.
"They better celebrate this one, because I can guarantee you they won’t get one in East Lansing. You can quote me on that one."
Three straight is of course half of Green's career against Michigan to date (MSU was one-play a couple years ago), but don't ask a State attendee to do math.
RCMB provides the 'freude:
Last year was somewhat understandable. We were bad then. We are pretty good this year. Even a mediocre MSU team should blow Michigan out of the water. Michigan can't be good. It doesn't F---ING HAPPEN. FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU
What a knob.
MSU needs better S&C.
Other basketball takes. Grantland* oddly dispatched a guy to cover the Michigan-Northwestern game. He comes back with an impression of Ann Arbor clearly derived from the rims clanging so loud it sounds like a Gary, Indiana, steel mill before it closed in 1979, but once he gets past the grim midwesternness of it all it's a good piece:
. In the post, Smotrycz and Novak get rough with Shurna, putting their bodies into him, bumping him off the ball, and generally making him fight for every inch. Shurna hates this physicality, hates it viscerally and philosophically and every other way you can hate something. More often than not, he casts a look at the referee, hoping for a foul call, before retreating to the perimeter. He'll finish the game with 21 points, but after his second jumper of the half, with 19 long minutes remaining, he's scored all but four of that total. The rest of the game is a vanishing act.
I still think whenever Beilein ends up with an open scholarship late he should scour Northwestern's commitments for whoever their totally rad guy is going to be. That seems preferable to snatching Colton Christian away from low majors.
Holdin' the Rope credits Denard in the headline and provides a link to the Novak dunk that brought down the house during Michigan's 10-0 second half run:
Re: Denard, A half-dozen Michigan football players including Roy Roundree and Denard held court in the student section after they were honored for winning the Sugar Bowl. One thing you can say about Michigan football: they are not too cool for school.
HTR also dubs freshman NU PG Dave Sobolewski "Sobocop" in an attempt to insult him for prompting the Morgan tech. This will certainly backfire and cause Northwestern fans to admiringly dub him that for the rest of his career. Sippin' On Purple, make this happen.
*[Grantland pays Brian Phillips and Chris Brown money to write about sports. I'm not hearing criticism of it even if it runs some dumb stuff. That's easy enough to ignore; the good bits are very good. VIVA LOS SIMMONS.]
Donnal update. Even Jordan Morgan is impressed by this stat:
Perhaps no one on the team has bought in to the new approach more than Mark Donnal, the 6-9 junior who is already committed to the University of Michigan. The league's top post player is averaging a team-high 20.4 points and 8.7 rebounds after averaging 15 points and seven boards last season.
Donnal, who probably receives more double-teams near the basket than any other player in the NLL, is sinking 79 percent of his shots from the field, as well as from the foul line.
Big guys in high school usually tower over opponents and can just oaf their way to easy buckets, but if you've seen any video of Donnal you know he's unusually skilled for a 6'9" post type. He's Pittsnogalian.
That sounds like an adjective from a lost chapter of Gulliver's Travels featuring a race of lovable, enormous tattooed weirdos. It's a keeper, that is.
CSB midterms. The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau has released their midseason rankings, which are the first to put a number on prospects rather than a vague letter. Voila:
#9 Jacob Trouba
#28 Phil Di Giuseppe (freshman)
#31 Boo Nieves
#82 Alex Kile (2013)
#157 Connor Carrick
#175 Justin Selman
Incoming goalie Jared Rutledge is the #36 goalie, which would mean he's not getting drafted. Daniel Milne and future Rutledge backup Steve Racine are the only draft-eligible recruits not listed.
Trouba is the top-ranked American. A CSB scout on him:
“Jacob has offensive skills and he really does defend well. You can just tell by how he plays in all areas of the ice that he’s a big kid who skates really well, he loves to jump into the play and has confidence because he knows his skating can get him back, so he rarely gets caught out of position. He’s going to be someone people are going to talk about; we’ve known about him for a couple years and he’s not disappointing this year.”
Remember that these are North American skater rankings only; Europeans and goalies will push these folks down. Those are mid-second-round ratings for PDG and Nieves, not late first.
WCH calls out Connor Carrick as notably under-ranked; if that's true Michigan will definitely have five draftees with Selman a potential sixth. Kile is a surprise. One: I didn't know he was draft eligible this year. Two: he's got 7-8-15 in 29 games with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, which is a far cry from the 38, 35, 30, 29 you see at the top of their scoring charts. He's kind of big at 6-foot, 195, but not the kind of big that gets you drafted above your skill level by the NHL.
Meanwhile in the odious machinations of junior hockey magnates. Nieves's rights were traded in the deadline flurry. This is never good, but Nieves has reconfirmed that he has no interest in the OHL:
Nieves was traded to Saginaw, which isn't any closer to home than Michigan or notorious for shelling out under the table payments. Also if he was going to leave he had an opportunity before signing up for another year of prep hockey with Matt Herr. Usually when a player committed to college changes his mind it's the year before he's scheduled to arrive. Only the specter of competing against Shawn Hunwick is sufficient motivation to ditch when college is around the corner.
Meanwhile in things you'd do for a dollar. Rumor is the Winter Classic is headed to Michigan in the near future, and not just the state:
Multiple sources told Yahoo! Sports this week that the NHL is in advanced discussions with the University of Michigan about holding the 2013 Winter Classic in Ann Arbor.
One source, who spoke on a condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the matter, said Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon wasn't initially sold on the idea of the NHL hosting an outdoor game at Michigan Stadium. But over a matter of a couple of weeks, the source said "something happened to make it go from looking like it could happen to [a point where] it probably will."
No doubt long deliberations with a man dressed in a curly fries outfit eventually led to the breakthrough. Would Dave Brandon threaten to break Michigan's own attendance record and hopelessly conflict a ton of people when Michigan inevitably plays a bowl game on the same day? Yes. The curly fries are very convincing, and there is at least one dollar in it.
Guh. I only talk about coaches who coach for Michigan unless I need to give Tony Gibson minus even more of the points:
The previous CB coach, Gibson, who I believe also is joining the Arizona staff, wasn't big on technique, at least not when he was a WVU. Players have stated that he would tell them, "just get to the spot." Lockwood came in and changed that, and with that change came nice strides of improvement in the cornerbacks.
Unfortunately, the spot was ten yards away from the receiver.
Etc.: The university's policy of exorbitant FOIA fees is an embarrassment. Roundtree's looking for a bigger role next year. BC Interruption is feeling the MGoPlayoff. Horford may be able to return this year. Silver lining if he can't: the ensuing redshirt will give some separation between Michigan's bigs, three of whom may leave in the same year if McGary is two-and-out. UMHoops picture pages a bunch of out of bounds plays.