spoiler alert: i linked this
2013-14 illinois #2
Thank you, Dustin Johnston, for lobbing this softball over the heart of the plate. It's remarkable, not to mention hilarious and captivating, that Jon Horford coexists peacefully on a team with these two hooligans:
Note John Beilein's futile effort to wave Andrew Dakich and Mitch McGary back to the bench. You cannot stop their enthusiasm. You can only hope to contain-- no, that seems impossible, too.
[Hit THE JUMP for Aaron Craft's greatest contribution to the Aaron Craft debate, Nik Stauskas making absurd layups, various moments of Illinois failure, the bench mob takeover, and more.]
Primary computer is currently nonfunctional; operating at suboptimal levels while trying to convince a man that he needs to take my computer and fix it. Please bear with me.
3/14/2014 – Michigan 64, Illinois 63 – 24-7, 15-3 Big Ten, BTT semifinalist
The duality of man! [Dustin Johnston]
A good way to escape, I guess. The Illinois game existed in two phases: a man to man phase in which Michigan eventually ran out to a 13 point lead and a zone phase in which Michigan attempted zero(!) two point shots that just about cost them the game. Groce's inexplicable decision to return to a man to man phase on Michigan's last couple possessions was decisive.
It is difficult to overstate how completely Michigan failed to attack the Illinois zone. From the 14:47 mark to the Stauskas free throw against man D with 55 seconds left, Michigan attempted four free throws, zero two pointers, and 15 threes. Most of those were terrible contested looks, with occasional exceptions.
In the aftermath, a couple of people pinged me on twitter, saying that's why they didn't want Syracuse. (That was before Syracuse's yakety sax final possession against NC State.
I'd still take them.)
And, yeah, that was alarming. But the thing about the How To Shut Down Michigan book is that it works until it doesn't work. It was deny Stauskas on the wing until it wasn't possible, and then it was put a point guard on Stauskas until it wasn't. Michigan will work it out. A zone wake up call is a good thing to get right now, especially when you pull the game out anyway. Much better to get that out of the way before next week.
It looked to me like Illinois was overplaying the free throw line and was leaving corner threes open, but Michigan did not take advantage. There's only five guys and Michigan is really good at shooting; they'll work it out.
Meanwhile in that's over now. Stauskas was a FTA machine against their man coverage. He hit both his two point attempts and went 9/10 of the line, all on drives. Whenever Illinois attempted to put Abrams on Stauskas things went not well for them, and the instant Illinois went back to man, Stauskas got to the line an assisted on the decisive Jordan Morgan basket.
It's worth noting that Illinois's late season surge was based on superior man to man defense. In their 6-4 stretch at the end of the year they held all but one non-Michigan opponent under 1 PPP (Iowa got 1.1 in the season finale) and held a number way under. They had a four-game stretch in which opponents could not crest the 50-point mark, and those were all good teams: OSU, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Michigan State. They're up to 15th nationally on Kenpom.
As concerning as the zone ineptitude was, a second consecutive torching of a defense that has been giving the rest of the league fits was further proof that Michigan cannot be contained on offense.
Survive and advance. And if you were feeling kinda bad about what went down, last night provided a reassurance. Syracuse went down; Duke had a near-identical one-point escape against Clemson; St. Louis ate a last second three from St. Bonaventure; North Carolina got rebounded to death by Pitt. Conference tourneys are full of chaos.
Falling into place. With Kansas's loss to Iowa State, Michigan (probably) controls its own destiny in their attempt to lock down the final #1 seed. Beating OSU and Wisconsin/MSU would give them another pair of wins against tourney teams, and it seems like everyone currently putting Villanova on the #1 line is just waiting for someone to take it from them. Meanwhile, Duke and Louisville probably can't catch Michigan without an M loss—Lunardi already has Michigan the top two seed. '
Louisville keeps coming up in these discussions because they're annihilating folks in their conference tourney, but the Bracket Matrix has them a four—nowhere near the conversation.
About what the ideal is. Is it a big deal to get the last one seed instead of a non-Florida/Arizona #2 seed? Not at the hypothetical-regional-final-if-top-seeds-hold level, where you're probably facing down the same team you bumped. But, yeah, it is a big deal. The first, second, and third rounds all feature worse opponents, especially at the Sweet 16 level. There you're facing down a four seed 35% of the time and a five or worse the rest.
Big difference between a probable matchup against a near equal (current 3s: Iowa State, Virginia, Syracuse, Creighton) and a probable matchup against someone in the 5+ range. Current fives: OSU, UConn, Oklahoma, North Carolina.
What was that? Caris LeVert drew the primary defensive assignment on Tracy Abrams on the last play, which was drawn up with about four seconds left. LeVert got super aggressive on Abrams, got beat, and was fortunate not to watch his decision get Michigan beat.
When you consider what kind of player Abrams is, that decision looks even more baffling. Abrams is bad at all kinds of attempts to put the ball in the basket but he's really, really bad at jumpers. He was just 30% on two point jumpers this year and 28% on threes. If you sag off him a bit and then come up to contest when he takes the shot you know he has to take, you're probably looking at Abrams putting up a 20% shot instead of a… well probably not 60% since Abrams is an impressively bad scorer, but way too good of a look.
Jordan Morgan's shot got the roll. Tracy Abrams didn't give his a chance, clanging his last-second floater off the front iron.
In an all-too-close game against Illinois, that ended up being the difference for Michigan, which narrowly avoided being bounced in their first Big Ten Tournament game despite playing ugly defense and seeing their offense grind to a halt when the Illini switched to a 2-3 zone in the second half.
In the early going, it looked like the Wolverines would win comfortably. Michigan jumped out to a 12-7 lead despite missing a few open three-point looks. After the Illini closed the gap, Michigan pushed it back up to five by halftime thanks to a spectacular breakaway dunk by Caris LeVert. At the break, Michigan was 7/12 from two and 6/13 from three. The defense wasn't playing very well, sure, but Illinois would inevitably have trouble keeping up. Right?
Wrong. John Groce called for the 2-3 zone for most of the second half, and suddenly the Wolverines couldn't generate anything inside the arc. Michigan only attempted five two-pointers in the second half. To make matters worse, the outside shots stopped falling: 4-for-17 on threes in the latter stanza. Nik Stauskas, despite leading the team with 19 points, had an unusually poor day from the field, shooting 2/2 inside the arc but just 2/10 beyond it; his saving grace was getting to the line, where he hit 9/10 attempts.
While Michigan went cold, Illinois kept carving up the Wolverine defense, and Rayvonte Rice gave the Illini a 63-61 lead on a layup with just 2:31 on the clock. For some reason, however, Groce decided that was the time to go back to man-to-man defense. Stauskas immediately took advantage, driving past his defender and drawing a foul; he'd split the pair of free throws to close the gap to one.
Jordan Morgan made the defensive play of the game on the next possession, teaming with Derrick Walton to hedge Tracy Abrams and pin him against the sideline; Abrams's had to chuck up an airball as the shot clock expired, giving Michigan a chance to retake the lead.
They'd do just that off a high ball screen for Stauskas, though not in the way they'd planned:
"Coming out of the timeout, Nik told me he was going to shoot it regardless." - Jordan Morgan
— Dylan Burkhardt (@umhoops) March 14, 2014
Two Illinois defenders made a shot near-impossible, so Stauskas rose above them and delivered a pinpoint feed to Morgan rolling towards the basket. Michigan's senior captain put it up soft, and the ball fell through after a couple bounces on the rim, giving the Wolverines a one-point edge with seven seconds left.
After a timeout with 3.9 seconds remaining, Abrams had one last chance to win the game for Illinois. As Illini guards had done for much of the afternoon, he blew right past the Michigan defense, then pulled up in the paint for a short floater. The shot came out short, however, and the Wolverines—partially out of joy, partially out of relief—ran celebrating to the Michigan bench.
It wasn't pretty. It was a win. Now Michigan awaits the winner of OSU/Nebraska, whom they'll play tomorrow at 1:40 on CBS in the conference semifinals.
|WHAT||#1 Michigan (23-7, 15-3 B1G) vs. #9 Illinois (19-13, 8-11)|
|WHERE||Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, Friday|
|LINE||Michigan -5 (KenPom)|
|TV||ESPN/WatchESPN (PBP: Mike Tirico; Analyst: Dan Dakich)|
Right: BAIL. [Fuller]
THE PREVIOUS MATCHUP
Michigan and Illinois played once in the regular season: last Tuesday, when the Wolverines eviscerated the Illini for an 84-53 victory in Champaign. This clinched the outright Big Ten regular-season title for Michigan.
A repeat of this would be more than welcome.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold:
|G||13||Tracy Abrams||Jr.||6'2, 190||74.3||25.0||96.1|
|~3:2 assist-to-TO ratio, takes second-most shots on ILL, 39.0 eFG% (woof)|
|G||25||Kendrick Nunn||Fr.||6'3, 180||46.9||18.1||107.5|
|40% 3-pt shooter, improving as season goes on and workload increases|
|G||24||Rayvonte Rice||Jr.||6'4, 235||81.6||26.3||107.0|
|Volume shooter, best at rim, middling jumper, good rebounder, top-200 steal rate|
|G||21||Malcolm Hill||Fr.||6'6, 210||33.4||20.4||96.1|
|Decent rebounder, gets to FT line well, 78% FT shooter, jumper work-in-progress|
|C||32||Nnanna Egwu||Jr.||6'11, 250||73.2||16.3||97.1|
|Top-60 block rate, excellent off. rebounder, low def. rebound #s, not a scorer|
|F||33||Jon Ekey||Sr.||6'7, 225||65.9||14.1||118.3|
|3-pt specialist hitting 36% beyond arc, good off. rebounder, tiny usage & TO rate|
|G||2||Joseph Bertrand||Sr.||6'6, 200||63.4||20.5||99.4|
|Illini's run has coincided directly with decrease in Bertrand's minutes, production|
|F||22||Maverick Morgan||Fr.||6'10, 250||18.8||13.5||104.4|
|Gets spot minutes, solid finisher, good off. rebounder, gets to line, commits a ton of fouls|
Illinois knocked off Indiana 64-54 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament today, giving the Illini their fifth win in six games. In those five wins, they've held their opponents—Minnesota, Nebraska, MSU, Iowa, and IU —to 0.89 points per possession. That lone loss came to Michigan, of course, when the Wolverines scored 1.33 points per trip.
The rest of this is updated from the preview of the first game because very little has changed:
While the Illini defense has been solid throughout the season, they have the worst-shooting offense in the conference on the other end, and a look through their lineup brings forth some awful numbers, like these: point guard Tracy Abrams, a decent passer and solid on-ball defender, takes nearly 24% of the team's shots when he's on the floor—he's shooting 38% from two and 28% from three.
The team's best offensive player is Rayvonte Rice, a bulldog of a guard—6'4", 235 pounds—who takes over a third of his shots at the rim, hitting them at a 63% clip, per hoop-math. He also gets to the line at a high rate, hits 72% of his free throws, and boasts an impressively low 11.5% TORate for a player that relies so much on creating off the dribble. He's not much of a shooter, however, making 30% of his two-point jumpers and 31% of his three-pointers. Rice is statistically the team's best defensive rebounder, which is impressive for him and much less so for the team.
Coach John Groce replaced two seniors, Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey, with freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill in the starting lineup nine games ago; in that span, Illinois is 6-3, and the lineup is slated to remain the same tomorrow. Nunn takes nearly as many threes as twos and connects at a 40% rate from beyond the arc. Hill is holding his own as an undersized four, doing a decent job on the glass while making up for poor shooting from the field by getting to the charity stripe at a 52% rate and hitting 78% of his free throws. Ekey falls into the "just a shooter" category, which isn't too good when hitting just 36% from three, though he's hit some huge shots of late. Bertrand is a worse-rebounding, better-shooting version of Hill, and he gets to the line less often.
The starting center is 6'11" enigma Nnnanna Egwu, who still hasn't put it all together in his junior season. He's a great shot-blocker and solid offensive rebounder, but his 14.3 defensive rebounding percentage is alarmingly low for a center of his size. He boasts a solid mid-range jumper, but his post offense is so poor he's shooting just 43% on two-pointers. For some reason, he's attempted 23 three-pointers, of which he's hit five.
For better or worse, Illinois is stuck with Egwu at the five. Freshman backups Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert play spot minutes, and while their finishing at the basket is well ahead of Egwu's, both players commit a lot of fouls while failing to provide Egwu's shot-blocking. Also, both are somehow worse on the defensive boards.
Colbert's 7.2 DR% is the worst among any qualifying Illinois player—that's 1.1% lower than Spike Albrecht's rate. (EDIT: Colbert no longer plays enough minutes to qualify for KenPom's page, but according to Statsheet his 8.1 DR% is now equal to Spike's.)
Since the last matchup, Illinois knocked off Iowa by three on the road to cap the regular season, then won today against Indiana.
This section from the first preview proved prescient:
Relying on forcing turnovers, especially in the low-error Big Ten, tends to produce results of high variance; Illinois has been very good defensively in the last four games, but they've also been lit up by the likes of Wisconsin (1.34 ppp in Kohl), MSU (1.18 at Ill.), Iowa (1.14 at Ill.), and Wisconsin again (1.21 at Ill.)—aside from last weekend's game in East Lansing, Illinois has had a difficult time shutting down the conference's best offenses.
Illinois forces the second-most turnovers in the Big Ten; they have the third-worst eFG% against. One of these things held up against Michigan.
Offensively, they're not good: Illinois is dead last in the Big Ten in two-point shooting (42.1%) and tenth in three-point shooting (30.4%) while getting to the line at the league's worst rate. Scoring points is the goal of basketball, and it's rather difficult to do without putting the ball in the hoop. Not helping matters is their below-average rebounding. Add it all up and the only Big Ten team with a worse offense is Northwestern.
Play in control. Turnovers sparked the Illinois turnaround of late. Michigan boasts the league's second-lowest turnover rate. Taking care of the ball as the Wolverines usually do will go a long way towards winning this game; even though Illinois isn't great in transition, they still score more effectively on the break than they do in the halfcourt.
Exploit perimeter matchups. Illinois is going to have to defend either Nik Stauskas or Caris LeVert (probably the latter) with a player three inches shorter. Expect a healthy dose of high screens for whomever gets this matchup, especially given how willing John Beilein has been to let his stars rise and fire over shorter defenders whenever they get an opening.
Get out on shooters. Should Michigan come remotely close to a repeat of their first offensive performance against Illinois, the only way the Illini can keep up is by getting unusually hot from beyond the arc. While they're not great from the outside as a team, they've got a few players capable of stringing a few shots together: Ekey, Bertrand, and Nunn, especially.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 5