...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
My fellow Americans, the state of the union is lol. Abroad we have seen the greatest extension of three-point hegemony in our history. We have looked unto the face of Bo Ryan and lol'ed. Our troops deployed to the darkest reaches of Breslin, where the favored Izzo complained about every which thing, and we lol'ed. At home we have faced adversity and Hawkeyes, and won a great battle, and afterwards we lol'ed.
So I ask you, fellow Americans: how do we ensure the security of these lol's that we cherish?
- How long will Michigan remain atop the Big Ten standings?
- How long will the Big Ten remain the nation's best basketball conference?
- How long will the basketball team remain superior to the football and hockey teams?
Mathlete: With Michigan State's win at Iowa, this year has all the makings of a two horse race with Michigan State. In Big Ten play, anything is possible, but at least a share of the title is highly likely at this point. With McGary, Robinson and maybe Stauskas leaving early, next year could be a tough hill to climb, but Beilein has done more with less. Even though Michigan has been recruiting at a higher level, they've missed on several of their top targets and that will likely keep them from being a perennial elite, first tier team. But based on the track record of Beilein, this team isn't going to be far from the top of the conference any time soon.
|What's wrong, kitty cat? [Fuller]|
Last year's conference lineup was incredible, this year's may still be the best, but the teams do seem to be down a bit from last year. Last season the Big Ten had 7 of the KenPom top 26 and 8 of the top 40. This year the eighth best team is Nebraska at #74. Indiana is in the process of rebuilding, Illinois is wandering in the desert, Purdue has turned into a football sch-can't even finish typing that joke. The top of the Big Ten is outstanding but there is a little more breathing room in the mid and lower tiers than last season.
The ACC has 5 of KenPom's top 22 right now and next year they swap out Louisville for Maryland. Once North Carolina finds their way again, they might be good enough to keep Dicky V at home and out of Michigan. Even if the Atlantic Coast steps up their game, no sport is more dependent on coaching and the B1G's best aren't going anywhere. Izzo, Matta, Beilein, Ryan and Crean are all firmly established winners with no indication of jumping ship. Over the next five years, I would be shocked if any other conferences were close to as good as the Big Ten and ACC.
Now this is the tricky question. Football has the capacity to narrow the gap, possibly as soon as this year. The roster is finally in place, all signs point to a good defense getting better in 2014 and the offense has been written about enough at this point. I'm not going to go picking a Rose Bowl or anything, but this season is the first that's 100% on Hoke. The pieces will be there and the excuses will be gone. If the football team can't get to 9 wins this season, that's probably another 3-5 years of basketball superiority as Michigan would be facing another football coaching spiral. I'm not even qualified to write about random number generating playoff hockey, but my guess is that its going to be easier for Michigan to sustain the basketball success under Beilein than re-establish the elite level at hockey. So I guess the 2014 football season will write the story on whether or not we've become a #basketballschool.
[Jump: more answers, and then Ace and I argue for like 6,000 words]
Derrick Walton's halfcourt buzzer-beater provided one of those GIFs that's impressive at first glance and even better upon multiple viewings. Walton's one-footed leaping release, perfect shot, and understated fist-pump celebration are all visually appealing. The real gold is in the stands, however, with the synchronized exasperated head-clutching by seemingly the entire section to the right and then, well, this:
A few things:
- Hello, Broncos jersey guy. While your reaction is stellar, I have some questions. Why are you wearing a Trindon Holliday jersey at a Nebraska basketball game that you seemingly care a great deal about? Do you not own Nebraska gear? Why do you care this much about Nebraska basketball in the first place? This seems unhealthy.
- A couple rows above Broncos Guy are two Michigan fans wearing gray who seemingly knew the whole damn time this shot was going in. While the one on the left lets his emotions get the best of him, throwing a Jersey-worthy fist pump, the dude on the right holds the pose perfectly. Nailed it, man.
- Just above the fist-pumper is a Nebraska fan staring at the aisle, planning his exit, and is blissfully unaware of everything that happens.
- The entire Nebraska bench, as well as the section in the corner, has zero reaction whatsoever. They've seen a lot of Huskers basketball. They are immune to pain.
- There are approximately 17 other hidden gems in here, including girl in blue jacket just sippin' her water, guy in button-up throwing his hands up and possibly doing a pit-check, lady whose prayers go unanswered, and the two stoic bros behind Broncos Guy.
- Late addition, pointed out by MGoCommenter Bengalfang: right as the shot goes in, you can see a kid behind the Nebraska bench throw an impressively aerodynamic paper airplane for... reasons, I guess.
Given Michigan won by one, this shot turned out to be rather important.
[Hit THE JUMP for a halfcourt alley-oop, Nik Stauskas trick shot magic, Tim Miles unveiling a... toilet, Spike Albrecht giving Andrew Dakich a hearty tweak (trust me, there's no way to describe the GIF that doesn't sound weird), and much more.]
Terran Petteway, who'd already poured in 14 second-half points, blew past Nik Stauskas with disconcerting ease. While Zak Irvin helped in the paint to force a difficult scoop that caromed off the backboard, nobody boxed out Leslee Smith—who, per hoop-math, has 20 putbacks this season on 72.7% shooting at the rim.
Smith's tip-in attempt lingered on the rim for an eternity before rolling off the mark. Two subsequent swipes at the ball by an indistinguishable assemblage of arms couldn't get the ball closer. We know that feel.
Derrick Walton drilled an running halfcourt shot to finish the first half. He also plowed over Smith on a baseline drive to lay in the eventual winning points; on another day, when the fates aren't as favorable, that's a charge.
On a night when 2013-14 Jordan Morgan played the role of 2010-11 Jordan Morgan, the fates cast Leslee Smith as Jordan Morgan vs. Indiana, with Walton playing the part of an early-arriving Ben Brust. We've all seen this show before, and I prefer this director's interpretation.
Nebraska is not last year's Indiana, of course, nor are they Wisconsin, and this 71-70 win featured plenty to be concerned about. A road win in the Big Ten, however, is rarely a thing of beauty. For every poorly-defended Nebraska pick-and-roll, Michigan executed one on the other end. For every blown switch, a beautiful set out of a timeout. For every blown call on Nebraska, one against the Wolverines. The three crucial free-throw misses late were canceled out on the scoreboard by an end-of-half prayer.* These plays offset until a victor had to be determined, and in that critical final minute, Michigan benefited from the breaks of the game.
If Michigan could've done something, anything, to stop the pick-and-roll in the second half, this would've been a relatively easy victory, as the Wolverines played efficient offensive basketball from wire to wire—1.21 points per trip with a 68.0 eFG%. Glenn Robinson III had one of his best games as a Wolverine, confidently knocking down a triple from the wing on Michigan's first possession and going on to score 19 points on 9/12 shooting. He hit multiple pull-up jumpers, got to the hoop off the dribble, and made one of the biggest plays of the game when he purloined a rebound from an unsuspecting Smith, corralled the ball at midcourt, and broke free for a one-handed throwdown to give Michigan a late two-point edge.
The player most representative of this game was Jordan Morgan, without a doubt. Working the pick-and-roll with Stauskas like he once did with Darius Morris, Morgan dropped 15 points on 7/9 shooting, slipping screens with impeccable timing to get wide-open looks at the rim; he even knocked down a pivoting baby hook for good measure. However—whether due to Michigan's defensive strategy, a mid-game foot or ankle injury that briefly took him out of action, or simply being too slow to move his feet—he struggled to stay between Nebraska ballhandlers and the basket on defense, beat to the rim time and again.
On Nebraska's final possession, John Beilein lifted Morgan for Zak Irvin, allowing Michigan to switch on every screen regardless of who set it for whom. That worked initially with Irvin challenging Petteway's shot; it almost backfired completely when nobody was in position to grab the rebound. This is still a team looking for the right answers, and they haven't found all of them quite yet.
One thing is certain, and that's Nik Stauskas' role as alpha-dog. After a relatively quiet first half, Stauskas asserted himself down the stretch, not only as a shot-maker but as the team's best passer; his four assists don't convey how well he moved the ball, especially off the high screen. Yes, he uncharacteristically missed a pair of free throws with five minutes to play. He also scored 12 points on 5/9 shooting, turned the ball over just once while facilitating much of the offense, hit a dagger of a three-pointer prior to that trip to the line, and hit a late layup to give the Wolverines a two-point lead.
After a rough stretch, Caris LeVert provided a solid offensive performance of his own with ten points (5/8 FG) and five assists, creating buckets for himself and others with his now-signature herky-jerky forays into the paint. While it wasn't a totally clean game from him—three turnovers and some poor on-ball defense come to mind—his assertiveness with the ball and ability to find the open man were encouraging given his recent outings.
Walton, meanwhile, may have finally asserted himself as the no-doubt starter at the point. The halfcourt shot was more luck than anything else, but he played within himself, dishing out four assists to just two turnovers, spotting up when need be—drilling a key corner three early in the second half—and playing solid perimeter defense in addition to hitting the game-winner. Spike Albrecht noticably struggled to contest three-point shots in his eight first-half minutes and was limited to just four minutes in the latter stanza. Nebraska was 5/11 on three-pointers in the first half, with three of those coming against Albrecht. The Huskers went just 2/9 the rest of the way as Ray Gallegos (3/5 in 1H, 1/5 in 2H) couldn't get clean looks over Walton.
There are adjustments to be made, no doubt; Michigan's bigs got caught in no-man's land far too often trying to defend high screens, and the guards let their man get around them far too easily on many a drive. Despite this, however, the Wolverines escaped with a road win; their 3-0 Big Ten record has them tied atop the conference standings with Wisconsin and Michigan State. In a season when, like last year, the conference champion could be determined by a few bounces of the ball, Michigan caught their breaks at just the right time.
With trips to Madison and East Lansing looming later this month—not to mention hosting a revitalized Iowa squad in between—the team held serve when they desperately needed it. Don't be surprised if we look back on this game as a turning point after the season plays out.
*Before anyone takes this too literally, I know that's not how it works. Go ahead and post "3-9 is UNACCEPTABLE" now, because you are fundamentally right that Michigan shouldn't miss that many free throws; just remember to conveniently ignore that the Wolverines are 57th in the country—third in the Big Ten—at making them, and free throws are worth one point regardless of the time on the clock.
|WHAT||Michigan at Nebraska|
|WHERE||Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, Nebraska|
|WHEN||9 pm Eastern, Thursday|
|LINE||Michigan -4 (KenPom)|
Right: Lil' Red status update—STILL TERRIFYING EVEN WHEN UPSIDE-DOWN.
Tim Miles is slowly extricating Nebraska from the darkest depths of major college basketball; while the Huskers still struggle to consistently hang with quality competition in Miles' second year, they're no longer a gimme win for half-decent teams—just ask Miami—and Michigan can't except tonight's game in Lincoln to be a cakewalk.
6'6" sophomore wing Terran Petteway leads the team in scoring (17.3 ppg) in his first year playing for the program after a transfer from Texas Tech. He does this largely by volume, taking 30% of the team's shots when he's on the court. While he's a solid outside shooter (40% 3-pt), his efficiency inside the arc (44%) leaves a lot to be desired, though he helps make up for this by getting to the line frequently and shooting a lights-out 87% at the charity stripe.
6'7", 219-pound sophomore Shavon Shields is the #2 offensive option in the starting lineup; while he's listed as a guard/forward on the official roster, he's the nominal power forward among the Husker starters. His best attribute is drawing fouls—a third of his points come at the free-throw line—and while he's a decent finisher at the rim (61%, per hoop-math.com), his shooting has been MIA this year (26% on 2-pt jumpers, 30% on 3-pt). Shields and Petteway both do a decent job of hitting the defensive boards, though neither is stellar in this regard.
The rebounding onus falls on the big man tandem of 6'10" sophomore Walter Pitchford and 6'8", 255-pound junior Leslee Smith; the two split their minutes pretty evenly and each brings something different to the table. Pitchford, the starter, takes nearly as many three-pointers (17/46 this year) as two-pointers (26/52), and does most of his damage as an inside/outside offensive threat; quite remarkably, he's the only qualifying player in the country who's yet to record a turnover this season.
Smith is the superior rebounder—ranking in the top 100 on both ends of the floor—and shot-blocker, in addition to being more efficient around the hoop, hitting 62% of his twos. Smith also draws far more fouls than Pitchford and converts at a solid 72% clip; however, he's not an outside shooting threat and has recorded half as many turnovers (20) as made baskets (40), which explains why Pitchford gets the starting nod over him.
The starting two-guard is 6'2" senior Ray Gallegos, whom you may remember shooting an astounding 4-of-16 on three-pointers against Michigan last year as Nebraska's top offensive option. Miles has reigned him in quite a bit this year; after being a high-usage, wildly-inefficient chucker last season (30% on 271[!] 3-pt attempts), he's now almost exclusively a spot-up shooter and doing well in that role, connecting on 40% of his threes this season—all but one of his makes has been assisted.
6'4" freshman Tai Webster, a native of noted basketball hotbed New Zealand, mans the point. Thus far he's been plagued by the usual freshman PG issues; his 30 turnovers nearly cancel out his 35 assists and his 39/21/58 2P/3P/FT splits are downright ugly. His length may give Michigan's point guards some issues defensively; otherwise, he's a weak spot in this lineup.
Unfortunately for Nebraska, the primary backup guards don't fare much better: 6'0" junior Deverell Biggs takes nearly as many shots as Pettaway despite shooting just 40% from the field, and 5'9" sophomore Benny Parker has a lower ORtg than Biggs while also being a presumed defensive liability at his height.
The Huskers are currently 8-6, though they're just 1-5 against KP100 teams, with that lone win coming at home against Miami; that stands as their only quality win unless you want to count a neutral-site victory over #138 Georgia—the rest have come against your proverbial slate of RPI anchors. They are, notably, still undefeated at home, though the schedule gets most of the credit for that. Their last three games have all been double-digit road losses against top-25 teams, culminating in an 84-53 blowout at Ohio State last Saturday.
Four factors (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||47.6 (242)||16.1 (51)||28.9 (251)||44.5 (104)|
|Defense||48.5 (135)||20.0 (92)||30.5 (132)||50.1 (304)|
Nebraska's offense, statistically, resembles a slightly more competent version of this year's Northwestern squad: sub-par shooting and rebounding, little in the way of turnovers, and a knack for getting to the line. The Huskers have been a better outside shooting team and don't get nearly as many of their shots blocked; otherwise the profiles are eerily similar.
The defense, as you can see, is very reliant on forcing turnovers, and they'll hack their way to the ball in an effort to do so. The Yin: Nebraska is 26th nationally in steal rate. The Yang: they cede the 54-most points at the line. In their two Big Ten games (at Iowa and at OSU) they've failed to force those turnovers (15.4%) while allowing a ridiculous 69.4 free throw rate; the Huskers were also bombarded from the field in those contests, allowing 53% shooting from two and 40% from three.
Attack, attack, attack. If their first two Big Ten games are any indication—not to mention Michigan's skill at holding onto the ball—Nebraska should give up a lot of a drives that end in layups, open outside shooters, or (most especially) free throws. Nik Stauskas should have a field day working off the pick-and-roll, GRIII can go to work on the block, and this seems like the right opponent for Caris LeVert to get his offensive game going again, as well. Michigan should look to drive and kick—or just drive and shoot—until the Huskers prove they're remotely capable of stopping it.
Hands off. This one should favor the Wolverines—Nebraska is heavily reliant on getting to the line to score points, while Michigan currently ranks fourth in the country in opponent free throw rate. Nebraska's ability to generate free throws has plummeted in their two Big Ten games (24.4 FTRate) against teams that foul slightly more often than Michigan. If the Wolverines simply play their normal defense, they should be able to shut down a big part of the Husker offense.
Force Petteway off the arc. Petteway is Nebraska's leading scorer by a wide margin and he's a much more efficient producer from the outside than he is once he gets inside the arc. Regardless of who's defending him, the strategy should be to close out hard and funnel him inside, where Michigan's size should give him issues (especially if Jon Horford, the team's one true rim protector, is on the court).
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 4
UMHoops preview. Two must-read UMHoops features on Stauskas—a look at his statistical progression and a breakdown of his versatility off ball screens and handoffs.
Austin Hatch returned to the court for the first time since the tragic 2011 plane crash, and what he did after checking into the game in the fourth quarter was something straight out of a Disney movie (video courtesy of UMHoops):
According to the LA Times, the jumper "caused his Loyola High coach and teammates to charge onto the court and pick up a technical foul."
Loyola won the game, 87-59.
"It was the best technical foul I've ever been a part of," Loyola Coach Jamal Adams told the Times.
Best news of the year, right there.