it's a major award
Nik Stauskas is patently unfair. There's no greater evidence than this shot; not only does he stop on a dime, bring the ball behind his right leg and cross over, then rise up in perfect shooting form and hit nothing but twine ... you can see several Wisconsin fans already bracing themselves for the worst before he even jumps, beating their fellow supporters to the defeated hands-on-head punch.
This occurred despite Stauskas going 2-for-8 from three to that point, including a couple open misses that would've effectively sealed the game. He was burying the dagger eventually, and the Badger faithful knew it.
[Hit THE JUMP for a whole lot of Stauskas, co-starring GRIII jumpers, Caris LeVert drives, big men doing big men things, and Bo Ryan gloriously losing his mind.]
1/18/2014 – Michigan 77, Wisconsin 70 – 13-4, 5-0 Big Ten
It was unfair. It was beautiful.
Sam Dekker drove on Stauskas and put up a shot that Horford blocked. Sort of. Along the way somewhere between one and three fouls were committed. Michigan ain't care, though, and they grabbed the loose ball and ran back the other way, finding LeVert open in transition for three. He knocked it down to put Michigan up nine. ESPN cut to Bo Ryan.
You know that moment when you figure out that girl you've been certainly not in love with for 15 years is certainly not in love with you and then sparkles fall from the sky while unicorns burst from the chest of everyone in the coffee shop as you share a deep and passionate kiss that leads to a lifetime of happy contemplation about how fortunate you are compared to people who marry something other than the very embodiment of wonderfulness?
Yeah, you do. You're an American and therefore have been cast opposite Emma Stone in a romantic comedy. So you know that moment is the equivalent of getting socks on Christmas compared to the camera shot that followed LeVert's three: Bo Ryan squeezing every muscle in his face until his skin veritably roiled with the possibility of explosive decompression. His grinchy eyebrows plunged to a level even with his eyes as his mandibles expelled a torrent of profanity so pungent that the refs would have dissolved in front of his face if they had even a passing knowledge of the language of the bug people of Rigel.
SHOULD HAVE SENT A POET
Every Michigan fan's heart grew two sizes that day. On twitter, Ace's mentions filled up with demands for GIFs, and then threats. I cackled uncontrollably and swore joyously in human language at the TV. Somewhere in Iowa, Fran McCaffery found himself with an unprompted, mysterious, and not-entirely-unwelcome erection.
Fun was had watching Wisconsin play basketball. It's 2014, folks. 2014 is not 2013.
This was the proverbial statement win, work done to validate Michigan's play since the frustratingly disjointed Duke game. There the Blue Devils extended their defense to cut off Stauskas and the rest of the team flobbered around for about 30 minutes until LeVert decided he'd keep Michigan vaguely in it by himself.
Since, Michigan's offense blossomed into the prettiest whack-a-mole you've ever seen. Shut one thing down and something else equally deadly pops up. Leave Zak Irvin, and he'll kill Minnesota. Close out Walton wrong and he'll kill Nebraska. Try to keep Stauskas away from the rim and whoops the center got a layup. And then there's Stauskas in the middle of everything, not just shooting.
But aside from 1.15 PPP against Arizona, the competition level left questions. Even last year's beautiful machine tended to seize up and fall over when presented with road contests against the brutes of the Big Ten. These guys had beaten Minnesota and three outfits for whom the word "tournament" means ping pong in the locker room.
No more. While Wisconsin is not quite last year's outfit defensively, they remain Wisconsin, currently in the top 40 on defense on Kenpom, preventer of all threes and shots at the rim. (There's more about this in the bullets section.) Michigan went into the Trohl Center and shot 86%/55%/54%. Heck, that game against Northwestern is looking like an accomplishment now that the Wildcats have established themselves the second-ugliest basketball team in the country*. So they've played a couple upper-echelon defenses to go with some wonky ones They currently lead the Big Ten in two-point shooting by nearly seven percentage points. Subs, man. That's crazy.
After watching Michigan eviscerate attempts to contain them on the pick and roll, Wisconsin was reduced to giving Michigan jumpers and hoping they'd miss. As the first half rolled along, Michigan did not. Glenn Robinson elevated above any hope of a contest on consecutive elbow jumpers that hit back rim and went straight down like the end of a training montage. Nik Stauskas pulled up from just inside the free throw line. When Wisconsin did manage to lose Morgan or Horford, they literally did not miss. Even Michigan's terrifying late drought consisted largely of wide open threes for Stauskas, a near alley-oop for Horford, and a LeVert shot that was halfway down.
Sometimes, the shots do not fall. You would be forgiven for forgetting that with this team.
Bo Ryan remembers, now. His report to the Grand Chitinous One will be filled with k'halaks powerful enough to rattle thoraxes.
*[According to the metric of Adjusted Offensive Efficiency – Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. You can take in #1 with a quick trip down US-23 to Bowling Green.]
That's just how they do. Much complaining from Wisconsin fans on the internet and some from Dan Dakich about the way Wisconsin was defending the pick and roll. To me, it looked like typical Wisconsin: Ryan has always preferred soft hedges where the big cuts off the basket and makes the pass to the guy slipping the screen difficult, if not impossible.
In exchange, Wisconsin gives up two-point jumpers from just inside the lane. Two point jumpers are generally worse shots than those at the rim or from three, and Wisconsin has encouraged them since Ryan's arrival. The problem for the Badgers in this one is that Michigan was hitting nearly every one of them.
Philosophically, Wisconsin just did what they always do. The texture of their stats is the same as it was last year when their defense carried them: good-to-great eFG%, vanishingly few threes attempted, few forced TOs or fouls committed, crash your own boards. It was just fine for them the last five years.
There is something wonky about Wisconsin's defense this year that was not the case last year. That is Wisconsin trading Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans, and Neverending Ginger Assassin…
…for Frank Kaminski, Sam Dekker, and a 6'3" guard. Their ability to contest the jumpers their defense is designed to provide has been seriously compromised by their lack of size. Compounding issues: while Kaminski is taller than Berggren he's nowhere near Berggren's class as an intimidator.
Actually, disregard the previous paragraph's "seriously." Wisconsin's D is 33rd on Kenpom. They're not exactly last year's Penn State outfit. It is a step back; they are still pretty much Wisconsin, and Michigan eviscerated them.
Related: I understand those turnovers. Michigan didn't have many, as was always going to be the case when Michigan's precision met Wisconsin's passivity. Those they did were concentrated with LeVert and Stauskas on pick and roll action when they tried to get the easy buckets Michigan had gotten in the previous three or four games by dumping it off to the bigs. A number of these were after Michigan's opening barrage, when the natural reaction would be to press the ballhandler. Wisconsin stuck to their inherent Wisconsin-ness and the result was a few passes that were near-impossible to complete.
The grim period. Michigan was cruising up 66-53 with eight minutes left and then scored one bucket over the next seven as Wisconsin cut the lead to one. What happened on offense during the dry spell:
- Stauskas turnover.
- Stauskas misses wide open three. Michigan timeout before next possession, Stauskas exits.
- LeVert misses jumper.
- LeVert turnover.
- LeVert misses jumper.
- Stauskas returns. Stauskas misses wide open three.
- Stauskas hits two-point jumper.
- LeVert misses layup.
- Stauskas misses late-clock forced jack, Morgan fouled on OREB attempt, Stauskas engages beastmode.
The Stauskas shots were just one of those things. He has totally uncontested threes. He must take them.
Meanwhile, LeVert's role in the grim period has drawn some criticism on the internet in the aftermath. I think that's much more the swelling panic everyone felt than a rational evaluation of how Michigan's offense ran with Stauskas off the court, and I say that as a charter member of the WHAT IS HAPPENING WHERE IS STAUSKAS AAAAAH club as it was happening live. Events:
- M tries to post Robinson; LeVert declines entry pass and drives to lane, correctly diagnoses that an alley-oop to Horford is the play but throws it too high. Michigan resets, LeVert turns down P&R, takes a contested two with about ten seconds on the clock that is halfway down and pops out.
- Kaminski gets switched onto LeVert, LeVert tries to drive baseline, is obviously fouled, no call, turns the ball over.
- LeVert ends up taking a semi-contested pull-up shot off the pick and roll. It's a foot on the line item with 14 on the shot clock.
The first is the right idea with execution that's just off, the second is a ref boner, and the third is pretty bad. And as soon as that happened, Stauskas was back. You can't tell much of anything from three possessions and LeVert put up 20 points on 16 shot equivalents.
Stauskas comparison of the week. Stauskas has started adding a thing on the pick and roll that evokes memories of Chauncey Billups: once he gets past the screen, he sticks out his butt to keep his man behind him and then takes a dribble or two, waiting to see how the situation develops.
Stauskas also got 0.01 brownie points for hitting all six of his game-sealing free throws, because I have irrational expectations when it comes to Stauskas hitting free throws.
[@ Right: Chris Smith/UMHoops]
Just hanging out in the corner. Derrick Walton's night went a little beyond quiet, as he took only three shots and had two assists in 31 minutes. And that's totally fine, as Michigan was on fire for most of the night. Walton took the opportunities that came to him and his 36% three-point shooting is enough to keep his guy on his jock as Michigan works a two-man game against three-phobic Wisconsin.
Walton's reduced role on offense helped him on D, where he held Traevon Jackson—just coming off a monster Indiana game—to 3 for 11 shooting and just seven points.
If Michigan's in a situation where there are transition opportunities or a weak point guard or they're leaving him open in the corner, Walton can take advantage. When those things aren't available he's able to defer. Walton's ability to push the ball was part of Wisconsin's even-more-extreme-than-usual abandonment of the offensive boards.
In Big Ten-long game of "HORSE," Morgan is currently on R [UMHoops]
Horgan. Even acknowledging the fact that 90% of their buckets are assisted layup or dunk attempts, the efficiency with which Michigan's two-headed center is scoring is boggling. Morgan is at nearly 70% for the season and since Mitch McGary got shut down for the season he has 23 makes on 28 attempts. That is 82%. Remember that business where you'd get super mad at Morgan and I'd point my fingers at a shooting percentage in the low sixties and say "please stop, you make no sense"? Yeah, well now his ORTG is 127. Now I point at Kenpom and say "please continue, you make no sense."
Horford has been barely less efficient in that timeframe, hitting 22 of 32, 69%, and since Horford's game is a little bit more diverse—he's got that baseline jumper and a post move or two—that's understandable. At least insofar as "understandable" can be deployed in service of explaining a guy shooting 70% from the floor.
Meanwhile, the bigs have TO rates ranging from acceptable-for-a-big (Morgan's 18, which is a couple of points better than last year) to astounding (Horford's 10, which is equivalent to GRIII's number).
Is this sustainable? Well, somewhat. Six-six shooters are going to plunge into the lane and non-Wisconsins are going to give up a number of good looks, and both of Michigan's bigs are better than they used to be. But there will be some regression and guys like Amir Williams and Adriean Payne have overwhelmed M with their athleticism and shall do so again. I'll take it.
The silver lining. The announcement of McGary's surgery was my muse for a tweet that read simply "GODDAMMIT," and it is still pretty depressing to think about putting the demon from last year's NCAA tournament on a team that's already 5-0 in the Big Ten and 14th on Kenpom. A healthy McGary probably swings a game or two in Michigan's favor and… right, not what this bullet is about.
This bullet is about how it's kind of great that Morgan is back in the lineup and playing well after being relegated to the bench during the run last year. He returned without the expectation of much playing time despite an ability to go anywhere with the grad transfer rule, lost what backup minutes he was looking to get to Horford early, and is now making me go "whoa" a couple times a game. This warms the cockles.
Speaking of "whoa." JORDAN MORGAN PUT IT BACK IN YOUR FACE, WISCONSIN. And then looked like he was thinking "did I do that" afterwards. Yes, yes you did.
I like this better than that. Hoo man I just went back to Tommy Amaker's last year at Michigan($) to compare someone to Morgan and found that the best ORTG guy on that team was Ron Coleman. Viva Beilein.
The road ahead. Recent events have freed the Big Ten from a tyranny of Kenpom projecting a Badger conference championship in a year when they don't have to go to OSU or MSU—the most Badger championship of them all. Your new favorite is MSU at 14-4, with Michigan and Iowa projected a game behind at 13-5, Wisconsin a game further back, and OSU a fringe contender projected to go 11-7. Michigan's next two games are against the two top contenders. It's kind of a big deal.
The upcoming home game versus Iowa is huge. Huuuuuuge. Winning the Big Ten is about holding serve at home and picking off one, maybe two road games against contenders. Michigan's got one in the bag; Iowa has an opportunity to pick one up. Michigan beats Iowa and the MSU game is entirely house money instead of 80% house money.
The Big Ten, man. Basketball is the opposite of football.
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.]
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']