...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
2013-14 penn state
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.]
I'm sitting in the Crisler Center having just watched a thoroughly entertaining Michigan win, in which they would've covered the KenPom spread if not for a meaningless* late layup by Tim Frazier, and I really have no idea what to take from it.
Michigan's offense was stellar, racking up 1.39 points per possession with 18 assists on 28 baskets; Penn State tried a soft 1-2-2 press for large swaths of the game and Michigan tore it apart with beautiful ball movement. The Wolverines turned nine Nittany Lion turnovers into 16 points, played well in transition, and continued to pick apart halfcourt defenses with the pick-and-roll.
However, they also gave up 1.13 points per trip to a Penn State squad averaging just 0.98 in their first four Big Ten contests. In the first half, Frazier repeatedly jetted Michigan's guards, scoring 11 points in the first 20 minutes. In the second half, it was DJ Newbill's turn, as he scored 16 of his 17 points while also generating most of his offense off the dribble. While the Wolverines found more success against the pick-and-roll than they did against Nebraska, their transition defense remained porous, and one way or another opposing guards continued to find their way to relatively easy layups.
Michigan never trailed. They also let a 14-point first-half lead evaporate into just a two-point edge before a Jordan Morgan baby hook ended an extended 18-6 Penn State run. The Nittany Lions would come within a basket of the lead twice more before the Wolverines pulled away. Then again, the Wolverines did pull away, and in style—a spectacular halfcourt lob from Caris LeVert to Glenn Robinson III capped a quick 9-0 run with 12 minutes to play, and they cruised to the finish from there.
The game started with eight unanswered points by Derrick Walton, who sandwiched a pair of confident corner threes around a nice fast break finish. Walton scored 12 points in the first half en route to a career-high 16 on 6/9 shooting. However, he also finished with three turnovers—one of which was sloppy enough to earn a quick hook from John Beilein—and he was one of Frazier's primary victims defensively. He's made huge strides during the season, which was apparent tonight. He's not all the way there yet, obviously.
Nik Stauskas led the team with 21 points, making 7/12 FGs and 4/5 FTs, while also hauling in six rebounds and dishing out a five assists with no turnovers. His deft passing off the pick-and-roll allowed Jon Horford to score 11 points on 4/5 shooting and Jordan Morgan eight on a perfect 3/3 mark from the field; Horford chipped in a team-high seven boards. Again, however, there was a defensive downside—Stauskas defended Newbill for much of the second half and was clearly worn out trying to guard PSU's hot hand while carrying much of the offensive load.
Robinson shook off an 0/5 start from the field to finish with 15 points on 5/8 shooting, and he sparked Michigan's second-half run by jumping a Frazier pass and quickly finding LeVert, who split the PSU defense right down the middle and got the friendly roll for an and-one. For his part, LeVert dropped five dimes on an otherwise quiet offensive night for him (6 points, 2/6 FG); like his guard counterparts, he struggled on the other end of the floor, as much with his off-ball defense as on-ball.
In the end, Michigan played like they've done for much of the year, pairing excellent offense with far too much poor execution on defense. Against Penn State, that was enough to essentially cover the spread. Against the next three teams on the docket—Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan State—that won't be enough to come away unscathed. After Indiana's triumph over the Badgers this evening, Michigan sits tied atop the Big Ten with their in-state rivals; how long they stay there depends on how much they improve at preventing their opponent from carving a path to the hoop.
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Penn State|
|WHERE||Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|WHEN||8 pm Eastern, Tuesday|
|LINE||Michigan -14 (KenPom)|
Right: The return of point guard Tim Frazier has helped Penn State go from terrible to, well, slightly better than terrible.
Tonight's game against Penn State affords Michigan a chance at a relatively easy home victory before the Wolverines face a brutal three-game stretch (@Wisconsin, Iowa, @MSU). While the Nittany Lions have improved from last season, when they finished 2-16 in conference play, they're currently 0-4 in the Big Ten and rank behind even an anemic Northwestern squad on KenPom. While it's early yet for a must-win game, a loss here would be a blight on Michigan's resume come tournament time.
Point guard Tim Frazier is back for a fifth year after a ruptured Achilles tendon cost him all but four games in 2012-13, and he's currently playing the most efficient basketball of his career now that DJ Newbill is shouldering a big chunk of the scoring load. Frazier's minutes played, usage rate, and assist rate are still very high—especially the assist rate, which ranks 15th nationally—while he's above 50% on two-pointers for the first time in his career and getting to the line (where he shoots 80%) more frequently than ever before. While his three-point percentage (33%) isn't stellar, that's in large part due to his role as the go-to ballhandler in late-clock situations—only five of his 14 makes have been assisted, per hoop-math. In both halfcourt and transition, Frazier makes the PSU offense go; in addition to being second on the team in scoring (16.6 ppg) he's tallied more than half of the team's total assists.
Many of those go to Newbill, a 6'4" junior swingman whose efficiency has also seen a significant uptick this year en route to his team-leading 17.3 scoring average. After struggling with his shooting and turnovers as a shoot-first point guard last year, his shooting slash line is up to a very impressive 52/42/73 (2P/3P/FT) and he's nearly halved his turnovers. Newbill has been very inconsistent in Big Ten play, however: 19-point and 25-point outbursts against MSU and Indiana, respectively, bookend a seven-point (2/8 FG) game against Illinois and a goose egg versus Minnesota in which he recorded three turnovers and fouled out.
6'7" forward Brandon Taylor earned starts in the first 14 games this season, but in each of the last two contests—and, if the game notes are true, this will continue—he's come off the bench in favor of 6'3" freshman guard Geno Thorpe, presumably in an effort to get more size among the reserves. Thorpe is a very low-usage slasher who generates most of his points at the rim and on the free-throw line. Taylor provides excellent shot-blocking and solid defensive rebounding while finishing very well at the basket on the other end; unfortunately, he settles far too often for his jumper, which is failing him both inside the arc (27.6%, per hoop-math) and outside (29.8% on over half his shot attempts). Taylor's minutes have dropped in each of PSU's four Big Ten games, bottoming out at 15 against Indiana, when he shot 0/7 from three while making his lone two-point attempt.
6'6" forward Ross Travis has shifted to the four in the starting lineup with Taylor relegated to the bench. He's the team's best rebounder on both ends and can stretch the floor, shooting 9/26 from three so far this year, though the vast majority of his attempts occur within the arc, where he shoots just 48%. The nominal center is 6'9", 210-pound sophomore Donovan Jack, who'd be the ideal Beilein stretch four if he could stay on the court; in a very low-usage role, Jack shoots 57% from two and 47% from three with very few turnovers and a top-50 block rate on defense. However, he doesn't rebound well for his position and he commits seven fouls per 40 minutes, limiting his playing time to just under half the available minutes.
Penn State's bench got a boost from two mid-year transfers in 6'1" guard John Johnson and seven-foot center Jordan Dickerson, though Pat Chambers is working them into the rotation slowly. Johnson is shooting well in a very limited role off the bench; he also has a 3.7% assist rate and a 21.1% turnover rate while boasting a very high shot percentage, suggesting he's an offensive black hole. Dickerson has played between six and 15 minutes in his five games for the Nittany Lions; in that span, he's recorded one field goal, three turnovers, six blocks, seven rebounds, and nine fouls. 6'3" senior guard Allen Roberts, a three-point specialist who isn't hitting his threes (17/59 this season) missed the Indiana game due to a "family matter"; if he's available—the game notes don't say either way—he plays right around 20 minutes per game.
Penn State is 9-8 (0-4 Big Ten) with their best win coming in Brooklyn against #66 St. John's, a six-point overtime triumph. They defeated #79 La Salle by the same margin at home (no overtime necessary) and otherwise haven't beaten an opponent ranked in the top 200. The Nittany Lions managed to hang close at home against Minnesota and Indiana, and they even led at halftime when hosting Michigan State only to get blown out in the second half. In their lone conference road game, however, they were obliterated by 20 points at Illinois.
Now that we're partway into conference play, I'll start posting four factors charts for all the games and Big Ten games only, with sample size issues obviously coming into play on the latter for a while.
Four factors, total (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||51.4 (90)||15.1 (23)||28.8 (260)||42.2 (143)|
|Defense||47.2 (94)||15.6 (318)||30.2 (119)||46.1 (268)|
Conference-only (four games, Big Ten ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||43.0 (10)||17.8 (8)||29.1 (7)||44.6 (5)|
|Defense||45.7 (3)||17.4 (6)||40.3 (12)||50.6 (10)|
As you can see, the harsh realities of Big Ten play have greatly affected Penn State's ability to make shots and stop opponents from rebounding their misses. PSU assist rate has plummeted, as have their shooting percentages across the board. On the other end, they've done a very good job defending two-point shots—largely due to the B1G's second-best block rate—but they allow a lot of three-point attempts that opponents make at an above-average rate, which has been an issue all season. They also can't haul in a defensive rebound and have become very hack-happy on their own end of the floor.
Play at their pace. Penn State looks to get out in transition often, playing at the third-highest pace in the Big Ten. Frazier and Newbill, especially, generate a lot of their offense on the fast break. However, running a lot doesn't necessarily mean you have a good transition team—check out this chart from UMHoops that compares percentage of attempts generated in transition and transition eFG% [click to embiggen]:
The Nittany Lions are actually the second-worst team in the conference at converting in transition, while Michigan is the most efficient, albeit on far fewer attempts than MSU and Iowa. If Penn State wants to turn this into a track meet, Michigan should happily oblige.
Crash the boards. In that vein, Michigan shouldn't worry too much about getting all their players back on defense following every shot—given PSU's rebounding woes of late, the Morgan/Horford duo and Glenn Robinson III should look to crash the offensive glass at every opportunity. Second-chance points will be available, especially since Michigan should be relatively perimeter-oriented when accounting for the chasm between Penn State's interior and perimeter defense.
Force PSU to shoot jumpers. Penn State's offense is highly predicated on Frazier and Newbill attacking the basket. Meanwhile, they were just an average three-point shooting team in non-conference play and are hitting just 30.5% from distance in four Big Ten games. Michigan had a lot of trouble staying in front of Nebraska's guards in their last game thanks to some piss-poor pick-and-roll defense; they'll have to be much better in that regard to keep PSU's guards from putting up serious points.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 14