"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
2013-14 puerto rico tipoff
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.]
Have a banana. You'll feel better.
I'm writing up the fourth game of some sort in four days and it's after 10 p.m. on a Sunday, so this will be brief. Michigan lost by two points on a last-second defensive breakdown after trailing for most of the game, only to tie it up late on a Mitch McGary layup off a brilliant inbounds play. Caris LeVert couldn't stay in front of his man on the next possession, McGary had to contest a layup, and Terrence Williams was all alone for the putback with 0.4 seconds left.
Because, based on the Twitter reaction, this is necessary to do, here are some reasons not to freak out and abandon all hope:
- The odds of Michigan shooting 31% from the field again—27% if you excise Nik Stauskas's 6/13 performance—are exceedingly low.
- Glenn Robinson III played all of nine minutes after falling hard on his back in the first half. His absence led to Michigan having to play a lot of two-big lineups, which really bogged down the offense. It also forced them to rely on freshman Zak Irvin, who struggled offensively (3/14 from the field on mostly open looks) and made a couple critical defensive errors.
- Stauskas, who single-handedly carried the offense for most of the game, rolled his ankle badly on a fast break right around the midway point of the second half. He was clearly hobbled for the rest of the game.
Michigan lost by two points against a team that, while not great, is by no means terrible; they did this despite missing a ton of open shots they'd normally make and playing without one of their best players—losing lineup versatility and the ability to switch up defenses—for most of the game. To top it off, the one guy who'd been playing well was clearly limping through much of the second half.
It's one game in a long season. The sky is still intact. Once these seemingly-minor injuries heal up—and Michigan is off until Friday—so is Michigan basketball.
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Charlotte|
|WHERE||Coliseo Roberto Clemente, San Juan, Puerto Rico|
|WHEN||6:30 p.m.* Eastern, Sunday|
|LINE||Michigan –10 (KenPom)|
Right: THERE'S ECSTASY IN THEM THAR HILLS.
After pulling off a seven-point upset in the opening round against Kansas State, Charlotte earned their spot in today's title game with a nine-point triumph over Northeastern. It's worth noting that, according to KenPom, the 49ers are now ranked ahead of KSU; that may not have been as much of an upset as initially thought.
6'4" lead guard Pierria Henry averages 14.4 points and 5.4 assists per game; while he hasn't shot particularly well from the field this year (19/40 2-pt, 1/10 3-pt), he gets to the line at a remarkable rate, drawing 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes. With his size and ability to get to the basket, Henry provides a difficult test for Michigan's point guards; the last 6'4" point they faced, Iowa State's DeAndre Kane, had 13 points and six assists against the Wolverines. Michigan was able to harass Kane into five turnovers and Henry has coughed the ball up 19 times in five games, so Derrick Walton's quick hands could come into play here.
6'3" senior Ben Cherry, a grad-year transfer from Tulane, is the nominal starter at shooting guard—he's a career 43% three-point shooter who doesn't add much else offensively. His role has been mitigated significantly by the emergence of sophomore sixth man Shawn Lester, who leads the team with 16.6 points per game after being academically ineligible last season. Lester's been remarkably effective scorer at the basket, hitting 91% of his shots at the rim despite tallying zero offensive rebounds and getting assists on just 30% of those makes, per hoop-math.com; he's a serious threat off the dribble, and adds to that threat by shooting 46% on two-point jumpers and 37% on three-pointers this season.
6'4" junior Terrence Williams is the third guard in this three-guard lineup; he's been brutally bad from the field this year (12/44 2-pt, 3/9 3-pt) but, like Henry, has made his hay from the line; he's drawing north of six fouls/40 and is 24/32 from the line. Williams shot just 39% from two and 21% from three last season, so his shooting woes don't appear to be an anomaly. He does function as something of a second point guard for Charlotte with 17 assists already this season, though he's balanced those out with 17 turnovers.
6'9" sophomore forward Willie Clayton and 6'11 sophomore center Mike Thorne round out the starting lineup; both are excellent offensive rebounders who should give Michigan's bigs another stiff test on the boards. Both also finish very well around the basket; Clayton shoots 76% at the rim and Thorne is even better at 86%. While Thorne has a much better jumper (40% on two-point jumpers, where he takes over half his shots, vs. Clayton's 18%), Clayton gets to the line at a much higher rate, nearly on par with Henry, though his 56% mark on free throws is actually an improvement over a sub-50% freshman season. Thorne also provides a solid shot-blocking presence defensively with eight so far this year.
Aside from Lester, only two reserves get significant playing time for the 49ers. After missing the first three games with a foot injury, 6'0" guard Denzel Ingram is averaging 22 minutes in the Puerto Rico Tipoff, contributing eight points and 2.5 rebounds per game; he started 28 games as a freshman last season and struggled mightily from the field. 6'7" freshman forward Marcus Bryan is 7/17 from the field, all two-pointers, this year and hasn't added much to the box score otherwise.
Charlotte is now the #97 team on KenPom after tallying home victories over #218 East Tennessee State and #160 Elon along with their neutral-site win over #106 Kansas State and #139 Northeastern. They do have a bad loss on their resumé, a one-point road defeat at #218 College of Charleston.
Four factors, with obvious sample size caveats applying (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||49.5 (168)||19.7 (243)||35.6 (89)||56.6 (35)|
|Defense||49.4 (175)||18.6 (161)||28.2 (86)||31.4 (47)|
Aside from their high tempo (75 possession/game, #17 nationally) and ability to get to the line, very little about this team stands out—for good or for bad—on either side of the ball. While it hasn't come back to bite them yet, they do allow a significant number of three-point attempts, which usually is the sign of a sub-par perimeter defense; if that's the case, there's an area that Michigan should be able to exploit in a big way.
BOX OUT. Keeping this the same from the FSU game, as Michigan players not named Mitch McGary still aren't doing a great job getting bodies on potential offensive rebounders. McGary can only block out one of the Clayton/Thorne duo; given that both are very good at attacking the offensive glass, he's going to need some help. This is mostly focused on Glenn Robinson III, though Michigan's wings have also fared poorly in this regard; Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton are having to do way too much work on the defensive glass to cover for their teammates not boxing out. If Michigan can stay about even in the rebounding battle, their shooting should win out over Charlotte's.
Stay calm, young Walton. Hey, kept this one, too. While Walton played a solid game overall against Florida State, shooting well from the outside and playing very good defense on the back end of the 1-3-1, he also forced the action at the rim and wasted possessions when he appeared to get caught up in Florida State's fast pace. Charlotte is looking to make this another high-tempo game; Walton calmed down as the FSU game went along, and hopefully he starts from that point tonight instead of needing a half or so to settle in.
Keep attacking the basket. If their statistical profile is at all telling, Charlotte is going to get their fair share of free throws; if Michigan wants to keep the foul count close, they need to attack the basket like they did during the second half and overtime against FSU. With the 49ers lacking a pair of seven-footers or a fleet of 6'7"-or-taller wings like the Seminoles, getting to the hoop with Stauskas/Robinson/LeVert seems like a good idea regardless.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 10
*NOTE: The early games in Puerto Rico went long, so the start of the game has been delayed. Tipoff will be shortly after the finish of FSU/Northeastern; best guess is sometime between 7:15 and 7:30 Eastern, barring overtime.
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.
|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
Michigan jumped out to a 7-0 lead against an overmatched Long Beach State squad and, despite allowing the 49ers to hang around for much of the game, never really allowed it to be much of a contest, pulling away late for the critical KenPom cover. The Wolverines repeatedly exploited LBSU's attempts to play zone, shooting 14/30 from downtown; Nik Stauskas (24 points, 4/6 three-pointers) and Caris LeVert (20, 4/7) led the way offensively. Michigan will face the winner of tonight's game between VCU and Florida State (7:30 p.m. EST, ESPNU) tomorrow at 5 p.m. EST.
A few scattered thoughts from a 24-point win over a pretty bad team:
- At this point, there's no question who the go-to guy is on this team: Stauskas, the only player who can consistently create his own shot inside and outside the arc. He didn't just knock down spot-up jumpers; he had a nice step-back three with a man in his face, hit three of his four two-pointers, and repeatedly got to the free-throw line (6/8).
- LeVert obviously played a big role in this win, too, and he did it mostly by working his way into the middle of the LBSU zone and becoming a triple-threat: from there, he could pull up for a short jumper, continue working to the basket, or dish it to an open shooter. He finished 8/13 from the field with four assists and no turnovers, facilitating the offense as well as anybody on the floor. His ballhandling/passing could be the key in a potential matchup with VCU, since...
- Derrick Walton had a very up-and-down game. He knocked down 3/7 three-pointers, but missed all four of his two-point shots—IIRC, all on drives to the hoop in which he either anticipated contact or had his shot blocked. Spike Albrecht did a better job getting the offense going, and the team may need his steady hand at the point tomorrow if they're facing the HAVOC press of VCU. Walton did rebound very well, leading the team with seven boards; he had some issues defensively, however, especially contesting shots after switches—a better team would've capitalized more on some wide-open looks.
- Mitch McGary didn't have to do too much in this one; when he was out there, though, he made a major impact, hitting all three of his shots—including a flying one-handed putback off a miss by Glenn Robinson III—and pulling in four rebounds. It's pretty clear he's still working his way into game shape, but despite the back injury he's still starting from a better place than he was last year.
- Two major areas for concern from this game: Michigan did a very poor job of boxing out on defense, even though LBSU didn't always take advantage, and they still have a lot of work to do on their transition defense. These are little issues against bad teams that become very big issues against good ones.
- Wanderin' Jon Horford missed a three-pointer off the backboard in the first half. I thought you should know this, especially since he's making a bit of a habit of it. He also beat a 2-3 with a slick cut behind the back line of the defense for an open 8-footer from the baseline. More of the latter, less of the former, please.
The three different stat-trackers I tried during the game (SCACCHoops, CBSSports, ESPN) all have slightly different numbers, at least when it comes to offensive rebounds and minutes played. ESPN has the most readable box score, so I'll link that if you'd like to peruse more stats from the game.