the season has truly begun now
2013-14 florida state
Brennen Beyer won't forget that moment. Long after Al Borges is just a name from a past that may or may not haunt us as fans, the Canton native who stayed close to home will delight in telling his family and friends about the time he—a defensive end—scored a touchdown; he'll have the football to prove it, and the final score of the game will be largely irrelevant.
These moments have been frustratingly few and far between this season, especially this month; even in the shadow of defeat, however, they provide fleeting flashes of joy, even when we're doing our best to detach emotionally.
When Devin Gardner rolled out, couldn't reach the corner, then threw aside Tanner Miller like a defective Weeble-Wobble before hitting A.J. Williams for his first career reception—in the end zone, no less—my reaction wasn't to slump back onto the couch, muttering something about Al Borges's doomed waggles; it was "F*** YEAH, DEVIN." Maybe not so profound or eloquent, but damn if it didn't feel good.
Then Michigan lost, miserably, and I drove home in a funk. But they had their moments, and so did I.
[After THE JUMP, basketball moments.]
Via Diehard Sport
The first half confirmed everyone's worst fears. Michigan couldn't handle Florida State's size on either end of the floor, repeatedly getting caught in mismatches defensively while failing to get to the rim offensively. The Wolverines trailed 37-27 at the break, and a 6-0 FSU run to start the second half had the game on the verge of blowout territory.
Michigan gradually worked their way out of the 16-point deficit, however, thanks to three things: John Beilein's defensive adjustments, Mitch McGary rounding into form, and Nik Stauskas leaving no doubt regarding the identity of this team's go-to scorer.
It started defensively, as Michigan switched from playing exclusively man-to-man in the first half—allowing FSU to exploit their significant size advantage—to a brief dalliance with the 2-3 and a full-blown love affair with the 1-3-1, which led to seven second-half turnovers and got the offense going in transition. It also allowed Caris LeVert, who was attacked repeatedly on the interior in the first half, to become a disruptive force at the top of the zone; he was credited with two steals and generally wreaked havoc defensively.
McGary finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds (7 offensive) with three assists and two blocks, and aside from some trouble finishing at the basket (6/15 from the field) he looked like the McGary of last season's NCAA tournament, crashing the boards with aplomb, affecting shots at the rim, and even leading the fast break. He even tallied an assist with a behind-the-back pass in transition that bounced twice before reaching Stauskas, who calmly sunk a three to cut the Seminoles lead to six; naturally, the fast break opportunity came off a McGary steal.
Then there was Stauskas, who finished with a career-high 26 points despite shooting just 7/16 (3/8 3-pt) from the field. After forcing some questionable perimeter shots in the first half, Stauskas found his rhythm in the latter stanza by repeatedly attacking the basket and taking contact—he finished 9/12 from the line. When Michigan found themselves down by two with 11 seconds to play in regulation, John Beilein entrusted Stauskas to make a play, and his trust was rewarded: Stauskas declined a high ball screen from McGary when he saw an opening, drove hard to the baseline, and finished with a layup to send the game to overtime.
Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, who had a relatively quiet game otherwise, led the way in the overtime period. Stauskas buried a three and added four points from the charity stripe, while Robinson sunk two pull-up jumpers to account for 11 of Michigan's 13 points in the extra period. The Wolverines had to sweat out a desperation heave after Derrick Walton missed two free throws with a chance to ice the game; while FSU's prayer hit the backboard (ack!) it harmlessly bounced well wide of the rim.
The concerns brought forth in the first half still stand, of course; Michigan has traditionally had trouble with very big teams, and Florida State was no exception. The fact that they adjusted so well in the middle of the game this early in the season, however, cannot be ignored; it's entirely possible that the Wolverines just stumbled upon their ideal defense going forward. McGary is doing better than anyone could've reasonably expected while playing his way into shape, Stauskas has taken the mantle as the team's go-to scorer, and a young team showed plenty of fight when they could've simply folded. We may look back at the second half as a critical turning point en route to another special season.
First, however, Michigan must get past Charlotte on Sunday at 6:30 EST to take home the Puerto Rico Tipoff title.
Yes, a 16-point second-half comeback featuring brilliant adjustments to overcome major matchup issues against a good team merits the full Muppet treatment. We're in dire need of them, anyway.
And you can't have one without the other...
Recap of this one will be up shortly. Short version: WOOOOOO STAUSKAS/MCGARY
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Florida State|
|WHERE||Coliseo Roberto Clemente, San Juan, Puerto Rico|
|WHEN||5 p.m. Eastern, Friday|
|LINE||Michigan –3 (KenPom)|
Right: Forward Okaro White is a major matchup problem for Michigan.
The Puerto Rico Tipoff did not go according to plan yesterday; not only did Charlotte and Northeastern pull off upsets against Kansas State and Georgetown on the other side of the bracket, but Florida State broke VCU's vaunted Havoc press time and again en route to an 18-point victory. Michigan ended up being the only favorite to win their game on either side of the bracket.
While VCU's exit means Michigan doesn't have to face a hellacious press while breaking in a freshman point guard, Florida State presents their own matchup issues—namely, size, as the Seminoles's shortest rotation player stands at 6'3". The 'Noles make up for an average-ish offense with an exceptionally good defense, utilizing that length to force a ton of turnovers and tough shots.
It makes sense to start discussing the personnel in the frontcourt, then. The starting center is 7'3", 235-pound sophomore Boris Bojanovsky, who's mostly just a rim-protector at this stage in his career; he only plays around 30% of the team's minutes, a little less than 7'1", 292-pound(!) backup center Michael Ojo, whose rebounding and block rates would be among the nation's leaders if he played enough minutes. Neither player packs much scoring punch, but they're not asked to do a whole lot offensively aside from pulling in rebounds.
6'8" forward Okaro White is another excellent rebounder, especially offensively, and shot-blocker (nine in four games); unlike the center duo, he's also a very adept scorer, averaging 15.5 points per game while starting the season a white-hot 20/28 on two-pointers. He converted nearly 70% of his shots at the rim last season, per hoop-math.com, and he also has a decent mid-range game. White is quite turnover-prone, an issue that plagues much of this team.
Rounding out the frontcout is 6'9", 220-pound senior Robert Gilchrist, who plays a limited role in the offense; so far this season, he's done well when called upon to score, hitting 11/17 two-pointers and 2/4 three-pointers, though he's 0/6 from the free-throw line. He's another player to watch when Michigan gets into the paint, as he's already tallied six blocks.
6'7", 216-pound sophomore Montay Brandon is the team's starting shooting guard, and despite playing amongst a forest of redwoods he leads the team with an impressive 20% defensive rebound rate. He put up 14 points and 11 rebounds against VCU last night and displayed a knack for getting to the line, though he's struggled to convert once he gets there—last night, 4/9 from the charity stripe, and he connected at just under a 50% rate last season.
6'3" sophomore point guard Devon Bookert is a pretty good representation of this team as a whole; pretty big for his position, an excellent rebounder for his position (4.5 per game this year), and a good defender, but also a guy who struggles with turnovers (13:14 assist-to-turnover ratio). Bookert is an excellent outside shooter (32/61 last year, 7/15 to start the season) and free-throw shooter; if early returns hold, he's also improving as a finisher inside the arc.
Despite covering the entire starting lineup, we've yet to get to FSU's leading scorer on the season: 6'3" senior guard Ian Miller, who's averaging 17 points per game and poured in a career-high 22 (along with seven rebounds) last night. Miller plays about 2/3 of the team's minutes and is currently shooting at rates well above his career averages, including a 93% mark at the free-throw line while drawing a ton of fouls.
FSU's other key backup is 6'5" sophomore guard Aaron Thomas, who plays just about as many minutes as Miller. Thomas is fourth in the country in steal rate, posting 14(!) in four games, and he's done most of his work offensively inside the arc, shooting 65% at the rim while taking almost 75% of his shots from that range. He's one of four Seminoles—joining Brandon, Miller, and White—to be ranked nationally on KenPom in free throw rate, and thus far this season he's connected on 12/16 shots from the line.
VCU (#25 on KenPom) is easily FSU's best win on the season; their other three victories came against #254 Jacksonville, #106 UCF, and #343 Tennessee Martin.
Four factors, with obvious sample size caveats applying (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||58.3 (22)||25.7 (344)||37.0 (75)||59.2 (32)|
|Defense||40.1 (18)||24.4 (15)||32.0 (171)||31.3 (45)|
The offense would be very good if they weren't coughing the ball up at such a high rate; as it is, their extremely fast pace (20th in adjusted tempo) covers for the fact that their offense is only average in terms of efficiency. The defense forces nearly as many turnovers as the offensive gives up, however, and they do so while making life extremely difficult for opposing shooters; teams are hitting just 39.3% of twos (19th nationally) and 27.8% of threes (66th) through four games against the Seminoles.
BOX OUT. If you watched yesterday's game against Long Beach State, you saw Michigan—aside from Mitch McGary—get away with not putting a body on anybody. That won't work out so well against a team of giants, and giants with good rebounding instincts at that. If the Wolverines don't shore up their defensive rebounding, this could turn into a dunk parade for FSU. This game is a huge test for Glenn Robinson III in particular; can he hold up against this much size defensively, or is John Beilein going to be forced to play bigger lineups—limiting Michigan offensively—in order for the team to tread water on the interior?
Stay calm, young Walton. Derrick Walton has shown a lot of promise this season; he's still a freshman point guard, however, and so far this season he's had a bad habit of getting caught up in the opponent's pace. Against a team that turns it over as much as the 'Noles, not to mention such a good defensive team, he's got to know when to attack in transition and when to back off and run the offense. I wouldn't be surprised to see Spike Albrecht end up getting more minutes tonight but for the fact that it's extremely difficult to hide a 5'10" guy out there defensively against FSU; Walton is much better equipped to hang with Bookert on that end of the floor.
Unleash Big Puppy. Beilein limited Mitch McGary to just 14 minutes last night, almost certainly with an eye on keeping him fresh for tonight's game. McGary has to be an animal on the defensive boards this evening; his ability to force turnovers and get this team out in transition—where they've been much better than when they're working the offense in halfcourt sets—is also going to be critical; both FSU centers are very turnover-prone, as are their two starting forwards. Against a team that is so difficult to score on when they can set up their halfcourt defense, Michigan needs to take any opportunity they can to run out, and that all starts with McGary's outlet passing and defensive activity.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 3