"It's a lot easier being a drug dealer than an AAU coach" - this guy. Tell me something I don't know. I mean, don't think but have never tried either.
1/14/2014 – Michigan 80, Penn State 67 – 12-4, 4-0 Big Ten
DUNKS ON DUNKS (or layups I guess) [Bryan Fuller]
What if I told you that Michigan would lose two NBA first-round draft picks and a preseason All-American and this would do essentially nothing to their elite offense? We'll call this one "60 possessions for approximately 70 points" because we're not into the whole brevity thing. It will be directed by John Beilein, with an assist from Nik Stauskas.
A disclaimer, first: IIRC, even though Kenpom's offense and defense rankings are schedule adjusted, high fliers have a tendency to fall back to the pack when they play in tough defensive conferences. That may be simple regression to the mean or an issue with the algorithm. Anyway. I digress for a reason.
The preceding disclaimer is present because hot damn, Michigan's offense has taken the departure of Trey Frickin' Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. like a champ. Sixteen games into the season, Michigan's offensive efficiency has fallen from a tops-in-the-country 120 points per 100 possessions all the way to 119 points per 100 possessions. This mean's they're fifth instead of first*, but seriously Michigan lost the Naismith winner, another first-round NBA draft pick, and Mitch McGary and maintained literally 99% of their offensive efficiency. Hail Beilein, hail Stauskas, hail GRIII and friends. (Hail rule changes.)
That's quite a thing there.
Unfortunately, and as you've probably noticed over the last two games against not-very-good teams, the defense is really hurting. They're currently 77th on Kenpom, down from 48th last year. The eye test confirms this and then some. Michigan just ceded 70 points to Nebraska in a 59-possession game and 67 to Penn State in a 60-possession game, and too many of those were easy drives to the bucket. At one point in the second half of the Penn State game they'd pulled to within two because they scored on six of seven possessions, seemingly without breaking a sweat. Two winless Big Ten teams just combined to shoot 63% from two against Michigan. It's a problem, a large and burgeoning one.
What happened in the stat world?
- The rules changes have had a real impact. Nationwide offensive efficiency is up just under 4 points per 100 possessions. Michigan's defense has slumped worse than the average, but everyone's having some issues. The extremes don't seem to be particularly impacted—the best offense is still around 120 while the best defense is still around 86—but the distribution of teams inside hypothetical maximums and minimums has shifted.
- Michigan's free-throw defense is terrible. Opponents are hitting 74%, which is in the 300s. Michigan has to wave its arms around more and stuff. This is where Michigan misses an intimidator like Mitch McGary. Free throw defense is critical.
- Nothing else, statistically. Seriously, the stats are uncannily similar to last year, with near-identical eFG, TO%, OREB%, and FTA/FGA. The problem there is that last year's stats are after running the brutal Big Ten gauntlet and six NCAA tourney games; this year's are after seven KP100 teams and 9 real bad ones. Thus the hit when Kenpom makes his schedule adjustment.
Eyeballing it, I don't know. Burke was regarded as a middling defender at best. He had his trademark steal but was kind of undersized and tended to marshal his energy so he could do Trey Burke things on offense. Hardaway developed from definite liability to passable over his three years. Neither seemed like an impact player on that side of the ball.
McGary's loss is big, obviously, but at this instant they're only replacing about eight of his minutes per game with Horford/Morgan in the stats (McGary was at just under 20 last year and he's at just under 12 this year, though rapidly dropping.) Something else is just… off.
What that is changes. Against Nebraska the soft hedges provided the Cornhuskers easy lanes to the basket and Spike Albrecht, amongst others, had a tough time closing out in the first half. Penn State pushed it down the floor at every opportunity and was rewarded; Michigan couldn't stop Tim Frazier in transition like, at all.
The see-saw nature of the game was a reflection of the fact that each Michigan possession was essentially four points: Michigan got two if they scored and Penn State got two in transition if they missed. The six-minute lull spanning both sides of the half saw Penn State burst from 25 to 41 points, and another lull after Michigan had pushed it out to 16 saw a quick ten-point burst; in between Penn State struggled to do anything.
What that means for the mightier folk approaching depends on the opponent. Wisconsin isn't likely to push tempo; Iowa sends out waves of players in shifts to facilitate their punishing rate of play. No matter what, Michigan has to get some things figured out right now before they're exposed as paper tigers in the rough and tumble.
*[#1 Creighton($) has some truly astounding numbers, like Doug McDermott taking 37% of Creighton's shots when he's on the court and Ethan Wragge hitting 50%(!) of his 126 three pointers and two of his six(!) twos.]
Gauntlet, ice cream, gauntlet, ice cream. The rest of the season breaks down into chunks neatly:
- TERRIFYING GAUNTLET #1: @ Wisconsin, Iowa, @ MSU
- GENERALLY ICE CREAM TYPE SITUATION: Purdue, @ Indiana, Nebraska
- TERRYIFYING GAUNTLET #2: @ Iowa, @ OSU, Wisconsin, Michigan State
- GENERALLY ICE CREAM TYPE SITUATION: @ Purdue, Minnesota, @ Illinois, Indiana
Michigan's D is wonky enough that they'll probably lose a couple in the ice cream areas of the schedule—away to Indiana and Illinois are most likely—and then man I don't know what's going on with the other seven games. This offense can beat anyone; it's a little difficult to see Michigan going on the road to any of those top ten outfits and coming away with wins.
Not just a Darius Morris reincarnation. Another game, another set of swooping pick-and-roll assists from Stauskas. Michigan's big men were 7/8 from the field and added 5/6 from the line as Stauskas and Morgan/Horford eviscerated Penn State's pick and roll D. Stauskas had five assists, and no turnovers; his assist rate has broken into the nationally ranked section of Kenpom while his TO rate remains just-a-shooter low. In Big Ten play his A:TO ratio is 20:5.
Oh and he's shooting 71% from inside the arc while doubling his FT rate. Just a fantastic, fantastic offensive player, in all ways.
Stauskas got caught on some bad switches to provide PSU buckets, and while he remains a sneaky-excellent on-ball post defender his issue came before the catch on a couple of PSU buckets; switched on the center he just stood passively waiting for the post feed before doing anything. He's tall enough to front a 6'9" guy effectively enough to dissuade an entry, or at least make it a difficult pass.
LeVert also creates. Slow night for LeVert scoring, but had five assists to match Stauskas's output. Michigan does not have a Burke but their shot generation comes from so many places that it barely matters. Most of the time they have four guys on the court who can generate something, and even when Irvin's out there it's three. That's tough to deal with. Who do you hide your crappy defender against?
Hello, nurse. The only Michigan player to miss more than one two point bucket was Glenn Robinson, who had an off night inside the arc (3 of 10). The rest of the team: 16 of 18. Good gravy.
As a team, their two point % in the last three games: 63%, 76%, 68%. None of those teams are good, but holy crap. Michigan's been putting on a clinic against the bottom of the Big Ten, and it's been beautiful to watch.
HELLO NURSE. One can forgive Glenn Robinson some misses from two if he's going to put his goddamned shoulder on the backboard.
Nurse, please smother this man (WITH PUPPIES, this does not constitute a threat). Oh man, what does it take to get a charge? They broke this rule hardcore with their offseason emphasis.
Walton got run over twice in two minutes by Frazier, taking out-of-control shoulders to the chest. These were not Dukeflops. He got blasted into the end line on both, square to the shooter, and the refs just stared at him. Later, LeVert was stock-still as Newbill (IIRC) plowed into him. A ridiculous blocking call followed.
Charges were broken, but now they're even more broken. Suggestion: go back to previous year's rule, add clarification that simulating a charge is a foul, add some sort of mincing pantomimery refs have to do when they call it.
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.
Freshmen sometimes play like freshmen, but fergodsakes…
From Hardaway to Stauskas, Michigan fans in recent seasons have been spoiled by freshmen who show up and can immediately ball with the starters. So what's up with Walton/Irvin? Were we too high on them or is this normal for kids before Christmas? Will they improve enough by March to make Michigan the contender we thought they were at the beginning of the season?
Brian: I DON'T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE
Okay, sorry, sorry. It is kind of weird that all of a sudden Michigan has to deal with freshmen playing like freshmen. Last year Stauskas was pretty great from the drop, GRIII was the perfect addition to a Trey Burke driven team, and even Albrecht came off the bench to play his role effectively and occasionally drop sick dimes on VCU or rain threes on Louisville. The year before that, Trey Burke! The year before that Tim Hardaway was just a (high volume, pretty effective) shooter but I'll take just a shooter from a freshman.
|The last freshman who wasn't really efficient as a true freshman.|
You have to go back to 2010(!) to find a Michigan team that didn't get really efficient play from at least one of its freshmen. That year, Darius Morris did get starter's minutes at the point but barely shot and had a post-like 27 TO rate. And even in that situation you can understand what happened: Morris was a no-shoot pick and roll savant playing with Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. The former was a ball magnet with no conscience, the latter a PF masquerading as a C. He was never going to be a great player until he got to dominate the ball a la Manny.
Michigan's freshmen are not in that situation. Irvin can stand in the corner and jack threes a la freshman Hardaway just fine, hypothetically. Walton, too, is in a situation where he can contribute with his decent three point shooting and hypothetically good on-ball defense without having to dominate the ball, which doesn't seem like a good idea. So they can slot in to provide effective help for the GRIII/LeVert/Stauskas troika that spearheads Michigan shot generation. We just have to see them do it.
I think both have disappointed, and that it's reasonable to expect better production--some production--any production--from guys ranked in the top 50 most places. That's not to write either off. I mean, Caris LeVert. Players get better, often radically. But Michigan fans are well within their rights to be a little disappointed about how it's gone for the freshmen so far.
As for whether they'll get better, I DON'T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE. Someone tell me yes.
[After the Jump: people who work for Brian telling him 'yes']
12/14/2013 – Michigan 70, Arizona 72 – 6-4
Well, here we are.
Because 2013 decided we'd had enough nice things the instant the Notre Dame game ended, this basketball team is 6-4 with one actual nonconference game left on the docket. Good news: Michigan is the highest-ranked four-loss team on Kenpom by 16 slots. Bad news: basketball committees don't look at Kenpom. Nor do they hunt down the ref who called a phantom foul on Mitch McGary with under a minute left against Arizona and give him the spanking of his life.
As a result, Michigan is staring down a rocky path to the tournament despite having what looks like three or four NBA first round picks on the roster. They've got a loss to Charlotte that's looking like it'll be filed as a bad one at season's end; their best win is against Florida State, which is probably a bubble outfit. The reliably brutal Big Ten is still Kenpom's #1 conference by a great distance. Wisconsin has not been left twitching in a ditch by the rule changes. Far from it, in fact.
Trey Burke was pretty good*, and not having him around is like trying to walk straight after years at sea. Michigan's stumbles are understandable. At this point they're threatening to take the team right off the pier and into the drink, though.
Things should settle down at some point. As mentioned, Michigan's surge in on-court experience from about 0.7 years per court minute to about 0.9 is a big leap. It takes them all the way from 342nd nationally to… 335th. Kansas and Kentucky are down there, too, and they've both lost three games despite having a pile of lottery picks. No one is sounding the alarms there, and they shouldn't at Michigan.
But… dammit. Michigan gets one more bucket or Arizona doesn't get bailed out and this storyline is one for the dustbin of history. Michigan takes some tough losses and WIN AGAINST #1 ARIZONA into the conference schedule, feeling like they're going in the right direction and ready to throw haymakers in the wild conference melee to come.
Without that, Saturday's game against a wild-card Stanford outfit is enormous. A loss there and you're looking at the Big Ten much differently than you are now. You're trying to squint out a way that a 17-13 team can possibly make the tournament. As a backup. It probably won't come to that, but neither will it come to anything other than Michigan being the 7 seed you don't want to see.
I'm still cool with that after ten years during which Amadou Ba fighting the MSU student section was the most fun thing about the program, but I will confess a certain desire to see Michigan hack through opponent defenses like they are willows in front of the wrong house-sized woodchipper. It seems unlikely Michigan is going to assemble a pile of talent like this again for a long, long time, and watching it fumble a chance to be a Sweet 16 seed because they stick out their arm and Trey Burke is playing for the Utah Jazz** is painful.
Who wants to take 2013 out back and bury it? I know it's not scheduled to expire for another couple weeks, but it's looking really sick and old and sad and I say we put a bullet in its head. For mercy's sake. The half-hour of tears and kicking the body is also for mercy.
*[Jazz record without Burke starting: 1-13. With Burke starting: 5-7. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a PER of 9.5. Burke is at 16 as a rookie point guard. Put Joe Dumars in a V-1 rocket and fire him at wherever Charlie Villanueva is now. Wait. HE'S STILL ON THE PISTONS? AAAAAARRRRGH]
**[Since the rocket just takes him back to the Palace, fire Joe Dumars.]
Autobench okay. Look, here's me not complaining about Beilein's two foul autobench: when Derrick Walton got his second with about six minutes left in the first half he left, as per usual. The limited amount of time this cost him and the fact that Albrecht was playing better makes this a-ok in my book.
Walton struggling. Michigan's getting very, very little out of Walton, whose TO rate is higher than his assist rate. In Michigan's losses he has 4 assists to 10 TOs; he had one point in 1 minutes against Arizona. His shooting's not actually that bad (73/49/38), but he struggles to find anything that's not in transition.
You knew there was going to be a dropoff from Burke, and a severe one, but even so I badly underestimated the impact of that dropoff. Walton is currently a huge step back from Burke not as a Naismith winner but as a freshman. Freshman Burke was half the player sophomore Burke was but he still absorbed a ton of possessions (27%) with a near top-100 assist rate while shooting virtually the same as Walton does.
Looking at Kenpom, Walton sticks out like a sore thumb. Leave aside Jordan Morgan, who's under 10 minutes a game and is steadily dropping with McGary back. Every other Michigan player has an ORTG of at least 113, with Stauskas, Robinson, LeVert, and Albrecht over 120. Walton is at 99.
For those of you unfamiliar with that particular stat, ORTG tries to pile every offensive stat into one number that indicates how efficient you are. It's very complicated, and generally respected. It exists in a tight range from 90 from 130, because players worse than 90 don't get to play college basketball and players above anywhere near 130 don't have to for long. The nearest comparable guard to get starter's minutes with a number that low is Tim Hardaway. He had a 103 is a sophomore, when half of his shots were threes he hit at a 28% clip. And that was significantly better than Walton right now at a much higher usage rate. Then you're going back to junior Stu Douglass, who had a 97 in 2011.
Ditto Irvin. Michigan's ability to have freshmen come in and have a major impact early has been a saving grace the last couple years. Not so much this year. Irvin's in the same boat as Walton, only moreso: he had five minutes against Arizona in which he missed one three and picked up two fouls. In other games against real competition:
- Iowa State: 13 minutes, 0 points, 0 assists, one TO
- Florida State: 13 minutes, 2 points, 0 assists, 0 TO
- Charlotte: 26 minutes, 8 points on 3 of 14 shooting
- Duke: 14 minutes, 5 points on 2 of 5 shooting
Beilein autobench on Caris LeVert forced Irvin to take a heavy load in the Charlotte game and that is basically why Michigan lost; otherwise he's been invisible. By this time last year, Stauskas had already dropped 15 on Pitt, 20 on NC State, and 22 on Bradley. Partially because he had Burke feeding him open looks, yes. But cumong man.
Bench issues. As a result of the previous bullet and the instant evaporation of that two-post idea, Michigan is once again running their perimeter players out there for damn near the whole game. Michigan played LeVert, Stauskas, and Robinson 38, 38, and 37 minutes. That's not necessarily a huge problem in timeout-heavy college basketball—Arizona had an almost identical minute breakdown for their wings—but man when things go wrong, like they did in the Charlotte game, they can go wrong.
Signs of life for either freshman will be very helpful entering the Big Ten.
Speaking of timeout heavy. You know it's a special game when you get not one but two coach TOs that are followed by one possession and then a full media timeout.
Caris comin'. LeVert follows a 24 point game against Duke with 15 on 15 shots against a huge Arizona team. His ORTG has shot up almost 30 points(!) and he has an insanely low TO rate for a guy who makes as many odd plunges into the heart of the defense as he does. His shooting slash line is pretty good, too: 83/53/38.
The one thing that's missing: assists. He's not acquiring them any faster than he did as a freshman, and with so much of Michigan's offense falling on his shoulders of late that means McGary and Robinson aren't getting involved as much. Both of those guys need a lot of assists to produce, and they aren't getting them.
Not just a shooter. Stauskas has doubled his free throw rate from last year and leads the team by about 25 points there.
The Albrecht question. Should Michigan move him into the starting lineup? That is hard to judge. His ten points against Arizona was his first double digit game of the year, and how much do assists against Coppin State and Houston Baptist matter? He's only got extended playing time in two games. One was the Arizona game we just saw. In the other he got 27 minutes against Charlotte and was 2/7 from the floor for 6 points with a 4:2 A:TO ratio. Meanwhile, he's not a good defensive player.
Still… he takes care of the ball, has a high assist rate, and has been quietly efficient over the course of his career. We have another 21 3PAs to add to his small sample size and he's still a 50% three point shooter for his career. In those losses Michigan's had, Albrecht has 12 assists to 5 TOs.
His limitations are such that he's never going to have a usage rate much above his current 15%, but I might roll with that, live with the defensive issues, and put some more weight on Stauskas and LeVert.
The other option to get more production there is Caris at the point with Irvin coming in, and I think that's something to give a run, too. Irvin's going to get some minutes here against Not Arizona, and you might as well try it.
"The devil's in the details," said John Beilein after the game, describing the difficulty of winning against good teams.
For 38 minutes, Michigan did enough of the little things to hold a lead against top-ranked Arizona. They shot the ball well, played tough defense on the interior, and didn't allow an athletic Wildcats squad to get into transition at all. Throughout the game, however, they couldn't keep Arizona from owning the offensive boards, and once they started converting putback opportunities down the stretch the Wolverines couldn't hold on—after scoring just two points off nine first-half offensive rebounds, the Wildcats had six critical second-chance points from their eight second-half opportunities. Boxing out, as it turns out, is a critical detail.
Michigan led by 11 points after the first possession of the second half on the strength of an outstanding performance by Glenn Robinson III (right, Fuller), who had 16 points on a perfect 7/7 mark from the field at halftime. For the first time all season, Robinson consistently created his own offense, beginning with a nifty head fake in the post that led to a layup for his first points of the game. Robinson was a non-factor in the latter stanza, however, adding just three points on 1/2 shooting, and the team managed just 12 points—three on a desperation Spike Albrecht shot with two seconds left—in the final 7:55.
The Wolverines still had their opportunities in the late going. The teams played dramatic back-and-forth basketball in the final couple minutes. After Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's three-point play gave Arizona their first lead since the opening minutes with 2:32 to play, Mitch McGary retook control with a pair of free throws, then Brandon Ashley and Nik Stauskas traded quick baskets. Then, when Michigan looked to have the Wildcats scrambling for a good look, McGary picked up a very questionable touch foul on the perimeter; Arizona's Nick Johnson, who played outstanding defense against Stauskas all afternoon, rattled both free throws home with 24 seconds left.
Michigan then tried pushing it up the court for a quick shot; Stauskas got a decent look at a long two but couldn't get it to fall, and the Wildcats had the possession arrow when McGary tied up Aaron Gordon for the rebound. Johnson sunk another pair of free throws, Albrecht managed just a split after Arizona intentionally fouled him with seven seconds left, and Johnson essentially iced the game with a third consecutive perfect trip to the line. While Albrecht made it interesting with a pull-up three with two seconds left, the last-gasp prayer by Stauskas after a missed Arizona free throw only found backboard.
Despite the loss, there were many encouraging signs for Michigan. Robinson's first half certainly qualified, as did another strong second half from Caris LeVert, who finished second on the team with 15 points on 6/15 shooting, ten of those coming after the break. Jon Horford played 25 strong minutes, tallying four blocks—all in the first half—and throwing down a huge dunk on Gordon for his only points of the game. While Derrick Walton was limited to one point in just 14 minutes, Albrecht ran the offense well, dishing out four assists in addition to hitting three of his four attempts from downtown.
In the end, though, Arizona's size and athleticism simply overwhelmed; seven different Wildcats had an offensive rebound (five with 2+), and the massive front line of Gordon, Brandon Ashley, and Kaleb Tarczewski combined to score 46 points on 21/37 shooting.
"It gives us great confidence," said Beilein, referring to hanging in there against a team he praised highly. "But also an attitude to come back and get better now."
The path to improvement, of course, begins with the details.
Duke's gameplan was obvious: don't let Nik Stauskas touch the ball, let alone shoot it, and force the rest of the Wolverines to find a way to score. Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones spent most of the game face-guarding Stauskas, limiting Michigan's leading scorer to four points—all on free throws*—on 0/2 shooting while the rest of the team faltered, save for a late push from Caris LeVert.
The 79-69 final score is rather deceptive; Duke led by double-digits for most of the game and pushed the margin as high as 18 points in the late stages, with Michigan unable to get closer than six points behind in the second half. The Wolverines scored 19 fruitless points in the final two minutes to carve eight points out of the deficit; by that time, Duke was content to keep Michigan at arm's reach with their free-throw shooting.
Simply put, this game was a major indictment of Michigan's supporting cast—at this point, it's clear that Stauskas is the offensive star, the rest playing supporting roles. Glenn Robinson III's woes on both ends of the court showed up at the worst time. He was nearly invisible offensively and ineffective when he attempted to get aggressive, scoring eight points on nine shots—with half those points coming after the game was well in hand—and failing to get to the free-throw line. He couldn't create a clean look for his jump shot or get around defenders to attack the basket. On the other end, he was pulled from the game at least once for repeated failures to box out his man, and when Michigan got lost on perimeter switches he was often involved.
Until Caris LeVert decided to put the team on his back in the second half, when he scored 20 of his team-leading 24 points, nobody else stepped up, either. Duke's aggressive hedging against the pick-and-roll made it difficult to get the ball to Mitch McGary in the post; even when he was open, the guards failed to get him the ball in good position—eight of his 15 points came in the final two minutes after Duke basically stopped boxing out. Derrick Walton had a couple very nice takes to the hoop in transition en route to seven points on 3/6 shooting; in the halfcourt, however, he couldn't facilitate the offense, tallying just one assist to three turnovers, one of which was a what-was-that pass deep into the Cameron Crazies. Zak Irvin was limited to 14 minutes and managed five points on five shots.
LeVert was certainly a bright spot in the second half, slicing his way into the lane with regularity, finishing well, and getting to the line; after going 2/5 in the first half with no free throw attempts, he shot 6/13 from the field in the latter stanza and knocked down all seven of his shots from the charity stripe. If there's one positive to take away from this game, it's his apparent willingness to be the go-to guy when Stauskas is rendered ineffective; after waiting on Robinson and McGary to be the guy, he had to step up and did so. Yes, he's occasionally overmatched by bigger players on defense; he's also very effective at the top of the 1-3-1 and is clearly the team's second-best offensive player this year.
His emergence in this game was too little, too late, unfortunately; Michigan needs more than one of their perimeter players to score consistently if they want to beat good teams, and they didn't have an answer when Duke took away Stauskas. I don't think this is a coaching issue; when an opponent is flat-out turning their back to the play and solely focusing on denying one player the ball, the rest of the offense should be able to create open looks while playing four-on-four. Aside from LeVert, nobody could manage this as Duke funneled everything inside—Michigan was 3/13 from beyond the arc—and forced the perimeter players to beat them off the dribble.
A loss to Duke at Cameron is nothing to be ashamed of, but the way this game played out should be very worrisome for Michigan. Stauskas has been identified as the main threat, and now there's a blueprint for stopping the offense cold unless someone else—not just LeVert—raises their level of play. This is still a young team that can improve dramatically over the course of the year; it's clear they're going to have to if they want to compete for a Big Ten title.
*To further emphasize how much Duke took Stauskas out of the equation, three of his four free-throw makes came after Blue Devil technical fouls, not anything he did offensively.