The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
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]
In the late stages of last week's narrow victory over Minnesota, John Beilein drew up a beautiful post-timeout play that culminated with Jon Horford dunking over three Gophers (capital 'G', of course, or that's a far less impressive feat):
Pretty cool dunk, right? After the jump, check out several more enjoyable GIFs from the last two game--WAIT, HOLD IT RIGHT THERE.
That white-haired Minnesota fan has seen kingdoms rise and fall, winters that lasted a generation, and the White Walkers descend upon
Westeros Minneapolis, but this she cannot bear to witness. Winter is coming—nay, winter has arrived—and this lady knows it.
Don't ever say a Spartan never did anything for you.
[After THE JUMP, Mitch McGary stays fresh to death, Richard Pitino is a strange fellow, Zak Irvin catches fire, Northwestern plays "defense," and dunks on dunks on dunks.]
1/5/2014 – Michigan 74, Northwestern 51 – 10-4, 2-0 Big Ten
METAPHOR ALERT: Drew Crawford jumping futilely as Stauskas is about to put a dunk on the Wildcats' faces. [Bryan Fuller]
Game. Blouses. [Fuller]
Drew Crawford's been around forever. He's always been too good to be one of those eighth year senior types; players like that generally need to be obscure bench types for a hunk of their career. Crawford was instantly a starter, playing almost 30 minutes as a freshman, so you knew exactly how long Crawford had left and that he would get an extra year with the Wildcats after injury ended what should have been his final season in 2012-13. His presence is not a surprise.
But Drew Crawford's been around forever all the same. This is how long Drew Crawford's been around: he helped pilot a season sweep of Michigan that was depressing but not all that surprising. This was 2010, when Michigan was coming into a year with expectations for the first time ever and sputtered to a 15-17 record. Northwestern beat Michigan twice, and it wasn't particularly close. The combined margin of the two games: Northwestern +21.
As I delved back into game logs from Crawford's career against Michigan I was surprised to find that against Michigan he'd had as many clunkers (2/21/2012: 6 points in 27 minutes) as the maddening why-is-Drew-Crawford-knifing-me-I'm-just-a-merchant outings. I expect Drew Crawford to be maddeningly good and look like perfect fit for Michigan. I expect to write something about how Michigan should follow Bill Carmody around, you know, just in case*.
History says that's confirmation bias. Sometimes Crawford's good, because he's a good player. About half the time he's not much of a factor. I remember the good bits because when he was a freshman and Michigan was getting solidly beaten by the Wildcats, he was dumping in threes.
With Michigan and Northwestern slated to play only once this year, Crawford had to compress his awesome game with his meh one. He duly obliged, scoring 13 in the first half and just four in the second. Not coincidentally, Michigan pulled away in the second half, first pushing the lead out to 12, then enduring a period of sloppy basketball in which Northwestern crept to within 6 before blowing the doors off. Twitter got jumpy about the Wildcats hanging around for a bit there, and not without reason: they were.
But let's reflect on the fact that 2010 is not that long ago, Drew Crawford has not in fact been around forever, and that Michigan is down one Naismith winner, one other NBA first round pick, and their preseason All-American. Northwestern's not a good version of Northwestern, but neither was that Wildcat outfit that swept Michigan back in the day. They went 5-11 in their other Big Ten games.
Meanwhile, Michigan fans were slightly cranky about a game with a Kenpom win percentage chart that looks like this:
I was too, for a bit, but then I thought about Drew Crawford and how Northwestern is still pretty much Northwestern and that Michigan is no longer around, even with Mitch McGary in a suit. After some wobbles early you had to wonder, but after ripping off four straight wins with a couple of quality outings in there, Michigan now seems back on track to be whatever you thought they might be minus their best player.
This is not a smoldering heap. Playing a Northwestern outfit that is provides a reminder that things could be a lot worse.
*[Another excellent reason Michigan should follow Carmody around just to see what he's doing: Imagine Bacari Alexander in a huge black trenchcoat going SHHHHH at anyone who calls him by name as he tries to figure out who Carmody is looking at in this Lakeview gym divided between basketball and a Magic The Gathering tournament. SURPRISE: it's one of the Magic players, and he'll shoot 45% from three for whoever Carmody is scouting for.]
Horford coming into his own. [Fuller]
Let's hear it for center depth. McGary out, Morgan and Horford combine for 38 minutes, 15 points on 11 shot equivalents, and 16 rebounds as Northwestern acquires four OREBs. It was in fact Morgan who kept Michigan solidly in the lead about midway through the first half, and since no one has ever been more enthused about pointing out a good hedge than Shon Morris we got to hear plenty about the various small defensive things both were doing. (Don't take this as a criticism: compare Morris to virtually anyone the BTN has for football. Go Shon Morris.)
I'd forgotten about Morgan's thing where he gets a bucket in most games by running the floor hard after a rebound, and enjoyed its revival in this one. Unfortunately, that also kicked in some other memories of what Morgan tended to do against Northwestern-type teams without large athletic posts (do very well) and what he did against big leapy guys (look overmatched). At least this year when Morgan is not a good matchup they can try Horford, who just went off for 14 points on 6/8 shooting against Minnesota.
I'm still looking at Amir Williams and Adriean Payne with trepidation I would not if McGary was out there; as with the team in general it could be a lot worse.
You did what to who? Northwestern was pretty good about not giving Michigan open threes (6 of 18 on the day), though that came at a stiff price as M shot 63% from inside the arc and acquired 22 FTAs. This was their plan, and it got eviscerated.
But like… at some point in the second half, Spike Albrecht was left utterly alone at the top of the key, and even though it took him a couple seconds to realize that no one was bothering to check him this did not cause a Northwestern dude to, like, check him. He drained a wide open three, his only shot of the day.
something something about how the basketball is The Rock and Walton knows his role [Fuller]
Freshman arriving. Zak Irvin didn't do much with Northwestern aggressively overplaying the three point line. This is fine since his presence helps open up swooping Stauskas drives to the basket, and when Minnesota took a different approach he torched them with 5/8 from behind the line. He's Just A Shooter, and that's fine when he's at 42% on the season—48% in this four game winning streak.
Meanwhile, Walton has started to settle into a third or fourth banana role. His game against Minnesota was more impressive than it appears statistically, as he helped harass the Hollinses into a 4/19 shooting night; against Northwestern he pushed the ball efficiently on the break and penetrated to score or draw fouls; when it wasn't there he kicked it around and let someone else do the heavy lifting. He seems to be finding his niche, and you can slowly expand from there.
Oh look they're passing it to each other how cute. Michigan had a 2 on 0 break with Irvin and Robinson on which Robinson made one very early pass so Irvin could set him up for an alley-oop. This caused Morris to wax about the unselfish play of the team. I saw that a bit differently, as when Robinson passes that ball you know what he is thinking. Everyone does.
Zak Irvin knows what to do not because he has a special bond with GRIII but because he is in Crisler Arena, and everyone knows that if Zak Irvin takes this basketball and lays it in, Glenn Robinson will have a blood vessel burst in his head. He will probably say something along the lines of DO YOU KNOW WHAT I DO FRESHMAN AAAAAAH, so Irvin giving it back is less about charity than it is about self-defense. Which is all well and good because yes we have a two on zero break and Glenn Robinson III, it's time to see something cool. I approve of this entire sequence.
But that first pass came with an implied threat. Let's be real.
Caris. Your mojo. Where did it go? Leaving aside an overmatched Holy Cross squad, LeVert's last three games: one point, four points, seven points. He does have nine assists against four turnovers and five steals in that span, so he is still providing some playmaking and defense; the guy who was taking it to Duke for most of the second half has faded out. He's probably a lot better scouted now and will have to have an adjustment period where he figures out how people are playing him and adapt. Would be nice to get a solid game from him in the near future.
You can see why Carmody got axed, but counterfactuals are fascinating. Q: if Crawford and JerShon Cobb are healthy last year does Northwestern make the tournament? And if so, Carmody keeps his job and then has this team minus Crawford, which goes like 2-16 in the league. Does Carmody then get fired a year after making the tournament for the first time in the history of the program?
Unfortunately, the answer to the first Q is likely "no" since I don't think Crawford and Cobb bring you from 4-14 in the league to a bid, so this is a pointless bullet indeed.
But anyway, yeah, it seems like Carmody had finally run out of magic (the gathering) when it came to scooping up underrated recruits. There's not much on this team, even for Northwestern.
A tip of the hat. Would like to thank the BTN crew for getting "not just a shooter" out of the way quickly. Standing policy should be one "not just at shooter" when he has a pretty assist or thunders to the hoop for a dunk or swooping layup, and then we can all have a little laugh or a shot or whatever as we think about the fact that Nik Stauskas is a white Canadian so we have to say this every time he does something he does all the time—Stauskas's FT rate is nearing the top 100. Then we can move on with the game and acknowledge the fact that Stauskas is approaching elite on offense, in all facets.
On defense… Well, he did help shut down Crawford after halftime, and I'm of the opinion that when he's actually on the ball he does really well these days. Remember Stanford trying to dump it down to a 6'9" guy they'd switched onto Stauskas and getting two heavily contested fade-away misses? Or in this one Crawford making about four different moves before getting off a tough fadeaway that he hit? Stauskas's length is a big asset when he can stay in front of a guy, which is something that he doesn't seem that much worse at than other guys.
The issues come off the ball, mostly, when he gets lost on screens or closes a guy out either late or with his hands down. I think his bad rap in that department is at least partially undeserved, as Michigan does have a pretty good Kenpom defense (38th) without much size (they're about average) or an imposing shotblocker.
The "Game ... Blouses" dunk came early today. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
After a rather aimless first ten minutes, Michigan poured it on against a hapless Northwestern squad, led by Nik Stauskas and an apparently healthy Glenn Robinson III.
The Wildcats were able to hang with the Wolverines early—as a late-arriving, weather-be-damned crowd slowly filtered into Crisler—thanks to the efforts of forward Drew Crawford, who had 13 first-half points, eight of which came in the first 11 minutes; his two-pointer at that juncture made it a 13-12 U-M lead after Nik Stauskas threw down his signature two-handed slam off a beautiful feed from Spike Albrecht. Michigan immediately went on a 6-0 run, and after a Crawford three-pointer ended that streak, the Wildcats could get no closer than six points down the rest of the way.
|GRIII's ankle looks just fine. [Fuller/MGoBlog]|
Much of that was due to Michigan's defense against Crawford, who didn't score in the second half until there were just over five minutes remaining. No other Wildcat could consistently generate offense, and the second half featured the Wolverines stretching a comfortable lead into a full-on blowout.
Stauskas led the way offensively with 18 points scored in a variety of ways—3/5 two-pointers, 2/5 three-pointers, and 6/8 free throws—while also chipping in four rebounds and four assists. Robinson, who looked to be 100% after injuring his ankle in Thursday's win over Minnesota, scored eight of his 12 points in the second half as the team was able to get out in transition; he played a big part in that, playing active defense up top and helping shut down Crawford on that end.
In the early going, it was actually Jordan Morgan who stood out offensively, scoring eight points while hitting all three of his attempts—including a slick baseline baby hook. Morgan had a quiet second half, but Jon Horford stepped up and continued to produce at the five, getting six of his seven points in the latter stanza. Each big man pulled down eight rebounds and kept Northwestern seven-footer Alex Olah very quiet until the game was out of hand.
Derrick Walton also had a solid showing, taking advantage of Dave Sobolewski's, um, attempts to play defense by repeatedly blowing by him en route to 11 points on 3/4 FGs and and 5/6 FTs. Spike Albrecht only attempted one shot—a made three when Northwestern left him all alone at the top of the key—while making his presence felt as a passer, dishing out four assists to tie Stauskas for the team lead.
After the first ten minutes, the Wildcats simply had no answer for Michigan's combination of size and talent; the Wolverines dominated the boards (29.2 OReb% to NW's 13.3%), won the turnover battle, and shot 65.5% from inside the arc. Michigan did what they were supposed to do against a bad Northwestern squad; perhaps more importantly, it appears Robinson—who threw down two impressive dunks this afternoon—is back to full strength.
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Northwestern|
|WHERE||Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, Sunday|
|LINE||Michigan -14 (KenPom)|
Right: Is "hitting hardwood bottom" a term? If so, it applies to Northwestern and Dave Sobolewski.
Northwestern's first season with former Duke assistant Chris Collins at the helm is off to a rough start; the Wildcats are 7-7 with no quality wins, two very bad losses, and they opened Big Ten play by getting pasted by 27 points at home against Wisconsin—the halftime score of that game was 40-14.
6'5" redshirt senior forward Drew Crawford, who missed most of last season with a torn labrum, is easily Northwestern's best player now that he's back at full strength. Despite his stature, he's the team's best rebounder on both ends of the floor, and the offense leans on him heavily—he takes nearly 30% of the team's shots when he's on the court. Almost 70% of those shots are jumpers, per hoop-math, and his shooting percentages reflect that: he's hitting just 44% of his twos while connecting on 39% of his threes, and he doesn't get to the line at a high rate—when he does, he shoots 81% there.
The next-highest usage Wildcat is 6'1" point guard Dave Sobolewski, whose junior year isn't going too well:
Dave Sobolewski's No. 1 basketball skill is exaggerating contact
— Sippin' on Purple (@sippinonpurple) December 28, 2013
It's worth noting that I have no idea what Dave Sobolewski's No. 2 basketball skill is.
— Sippin' on Purple (@sippinonpurple) December 28, 2013
On the plus side, he's got a very impressive free throw rate. On the negative side is, well, just about everything else: Sobolewski has hit 17-of-44 twos and just 11 of his team-high 59 three-point attempts, his assist and turnover rates are just about equal, and his offensive rating is a cringe-worthy 80.7—if Dave Sobolewski was a team, he'd rank seven points per 100 possessions behind last-place Grambling nationally.
Flanking Sobolewski in the backcourt is 6'4" junior JerShon Cobb, a solid outside shooter (37.5 3P%) who takes a ton of two-point jumpers (44% of his shots) that he makes at a paltry 25% clip; when he manages to get to the rim, he's a very efficient finisher, but that hasn't happened often this season. Cobb is a solid defensive rebounder for a guard—though, oddly, a complete non-factor on the offensive glass—and he distributes the ball pretty well.
Glenn Robinson III's status for tomorrow is officially questionable; if there's a game for him to miss, though, it's this one, as the 6'5" Crawford is Northwestern's nominal power forward, and the starting three—redshirt freshman Sanjay Lumpkin—is also listed at 6'5". Lumpkin provides decent rebounding and a solid 55.6 eFG%; he's also Northwestern's lowest-usage regular and, considering his lack of touches, a bit of a turnover machine.
The most intruiging matchup of this game will be Michigan's bigs against seven-foot center Alex Olah, whose season can be encapsulated in his last two games: after fouling out in just 12 minutes against DePaul while failing to record a point, he was the team's lone bright spot against the Badgers, scoring 25 points on 10/12 shooting with six rebounds (four offensive) and two blocks. Aside from the Wisconsin game, he's struggled against decent competition while having his best outings against the likes of Gardner Webb and Mississippi Valley State. He's most consistent as a rim protector, posting a block rate just outside the top 100 in the country.
The most notable reserve is 6'2" guard Tre Demps, who's third on the team in scoring, mostly on the strength of his 38% three-point shooting. He's much less effective inside the arc (42%) and doesn't add much to the box score otherwise. 6'7" forwards Nathan Taphorn and Kale Abrahamson also provide decent outside shooting off the bench; both take the lion's share of their shots from long range.
The Wildcats have only defeated two teams in KemPom's top 250, and those were home victories against middling teams: #149 Western Michigan and #192 Brown. They've been handled easily by the quality teams on their schedule—Stanford, Mizzou, UCLA, NC State, and Wisconsin—and have two ugly home losses on their resume to #150 Illinois State and #132 DePaul.
Four factors (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||47.5 (242)||17.2 (96)||25.8 (317)||40.6 (165)|
|Defense||45.7 (64)||16.1 (300)||28.2 (51)||41.9 (201)|
Pretty much the only good thing Northwestern does offensively is not turn the ball over; they're equally ineffective shooting from inside and outside the arc, don't hit the offensive glass, and don't get to the line frequently—they're also getting an astounding 14.5% of their two-point attempts blocked. Unsurprisingly, they rank 262nd in offensive efficiency on KemPom.
The defense is statistically pretty decent—61st in defensive efficiency—though that appears to be due to a litany of terrible non-conference opponents; Mizzou, UCLA, NC State, and Wisconsin each scored at least 1.15 points per possession against the 'Cats.
Get Olah away from the hoop. Olah is Northwestern's only real shot-blocker, not to mention the team's only viable big man—his backup, 6'9" senior Nikola Cerina, isn't nearly as good a rebounder or defender and he's currently posting a mind-blowingly bad 61.7 ORtg. With Michigan's size advantage on the perimeter, running lots of pick-and-rolls with Jon Horford or Jordan Morgan as the screener should get Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert good looks at the rim while also putting pressure on Olah to stay out of foul trouble.
Step up, Irvin. If GRIII can't give it a go tomorrow, the onus likely falls on Zak Irvin to match up with Drew Crawford defensively. While he's certainly got the size to defend Crawford, Irvin will need to focus more on the defensive glass than he has all season—not the easiest task since Crawford can step out and shoot from distance.
Run, run, run. Northwestern plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country, but they miss so many jump shots that there should be oppotunities for Michigan to push the pace even though the Wildcats prioritize transition defense over offensive rebounding. The results of turning up the heat are two-fold: Michigan can get some easy baskets on the fast break and a high-paced game could tire out a thin Northwestern front line. It all starts with Horford and Morgan; while their rebounding acumen isn't in question, neither has shown the same outlet passing ability as Mitch McGary, and getting the ball to the guards with alacrity will be key to getting upcourt in a hurry.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 14
On the status of Glenn Robinson III’s ankle injury: “I can’t give you much of an update. He had rehab all day yesterday. We’ll know more tomorrow, but we really don’t know right now.
On whether or not it’s a long-term injury: “We’ll know more. I’m not sure. We’ll have to just wait and see. We’d love to see him out on the court tomorrow. You and I and everyone else can find out tomorrow.”
“The young man, he eats right, he trains right, he’s in the gym all the time,” Beilein said. “I couldn’t be happier for any player ever that I’ve coached.”