...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
OR: LESSONS FROM A LIFE HARD LIVED
2/16/2014 – Michigan 62, Wisconsin 75 – 18-7, 10-3 Big Ten
Michigan was one bounce away from a Big Ten title last year and went to the Final Four. This year they're tied at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State. And still there are multiple games per year that I am immediately sick about because Michigan gets down by one billion immediately.
Maybe they cut the deficit to a million and then eventually lose. Point stands. I don't think they've actually won a one billion point deficit game; the closest they've come is the most recent outing against Ohio State that reached a maximum deficit of ten. The four in the last two years:
- Michigan goes down 29-8 in the first half at Ohio State, eventually ties game, loses 56-53.
- Michigan goes down 31-15 in first half at MSU, rest of game proceeds like that.
- Iowa leads 27-11 at Iowa, rest of game proceeds like that.
- I dunno, pick a first-half point against Wisconsin: 14-4, 26-11, 34-16. Michigan narrows it to five before Wisconsin ends the game on a sealing run.
Does this happen to other very good basketball teams? I assume it must. There are two types of people: those who are suspicious of their own brains and those who assume they have no biases. I'm in the former group and therefore assume that other teams headed for Sweet 16 seeds regularly get their ass handed them in appalling fashion.
Let's just head over to Kenpom and…
I've got Kansas's game against Texas, wherein the Jayhawks ended up down 17 near the end of the first half and never really closed that deficit. Villanova will run screaming from the room if you so much as use a word that begins with C after their two outings against Creighton. And… and that's about it. I didn't check every single loss in the KP top 25, but I did do a lot of them and it does appear that getting smacked upside the head with a giant ham in the first 15 minutes is a notable rarity amongst teams that purport to be as good as Michigan does.
This is no fun. I can deal with losing to Arizona or even grumbling through that Indiana game much better than I can the series of increasingly agitated expletives followed by dismal silence that has resulted from these… things. Games they are not. Games are competitive contests of sporting intent. These are flayings, followed by an excruciating period of bleeding out.
The Ohio State one was okay, I guess. That was the first hamblast game and Michigan recovered from it to acquire a moral victory. (Tedious person about to let me know that he doesn't believe in moral victories: you're a fan, you certainly do, please stop parroting press conferences, both teams played hard.) The three since have been solid platforms of misery.
You can't turn them off because you remember that Ohio State game—it was a trap!—and you can't watch them without removing all emotion from your life, gazing dumbly ahead like a cow on a conveyor belt, bleating in directionless anguish every once in a while. The comeback trail is only satisfying in retrospect if the comeback is completed. Teasing contact and then letting go is just the cherry on top of the cow-conveyor-belt sundae.
I may have tortured that metaphor until it died. I have no regrets. It knew the risks, coming into this column after that game. It'll get an MGoState funeral; its wife, a jaunty comparison between Zak Irvin and a modern piece of kitchen technology, gets full benefits.
For my part, I'm spending the next week assembling a couch fort in the living room and testing out colanders for protective potential. I plan to peer out my viewport, Super Soaker in hand, until it feels safe to come out. If it feels safe to come out. I'm bringing a lot of soup.
Thanks, Increasingly Dangerous Nebraska™! Really did us a solid there, winning at the Breslin. Michigan retains its virtual one-game lead over the Spartans based largely on the fact that Michigan's next game is at home.
Is Nebraska headed for the bubble? Yeah, but probably the wrong side. They've got zero good nonconference wins and a bad loss versus UAB. I don't wins over OSU, Miinnesota, and @ MSU get you in with, say, an 18-12 record and 10-8 in conference. They'd have to either go 5-1 down the stretch (doable, but not probable: PSU, Purdue, @ Illinois, NW, @ Indiana, Wisconsin) or notch another big scalp in the BTT to get in.
But hey, that's quite a turnaround from last year, when Nebraska was dismal and senior-heavy. The Cornhuskers get everyone except Ray Gallegos back next year and will be projected to grab a bid.
Sound all available alarms. The Stauskas crisis is reaching peak levels. 11 points on 13 shot attempts, 2 assists, and 3 TOs lead to a single-game ORTG of 78 and, worse, is reflective of his past five or six games. Asking Stauskas to be more aggressive has just caused him to take a lot of bad shots. Sometimes they go in because Stauskas, but bad shots are bad shots no matter who takes them. Michigan really has to figure out something to combat the point guard gambit here. This is trouble.
At least this one was a tough runner from an angle. GRIII possessions not so much. [Bryan Fuller]
Why was the 6'6" guy on the 7-foot guy again? Michigan inexplicably singled GRIII up against Kaminsky so often that it became clear this was on purpose when Hayes was in the game. This was nuts. Kaminsky abused the much shorter Robinson for a series of easy buckets and four OREBs; Hayes just stood in front of Morgan/Horford and launched 15-footers. If switching those matchups ends up with Hayes posting GRIII, okay. That's going to work out better than Kaminsky. Even if you thought Kaminsky couldn't post up—no idea why that would be the case—after his first extremely easy bucket over GRIII it was time to put the biggest dude available on him.
Not like GRIII was much better against Dekker. Pro: he somehow acquired 5/8 from two in this game—seriously, look at the box score and you'll be like "wha?"
So, so passive. Michigan's disruption stats in this game were pathetic: 0 blocks, 0 steals, 2 Wisconsin turnovers. TWO. Yeah, yeah, HORSE, but that's so far out of bounds that you can't keep up. Wisconsin had 8 more FGAs and 3 more FTAs. The shooting wasn't that different; it was largely on shot advantage.
Michigan's defense has now farted down to 89th on Kenpom, which is 50 spots below last year. McGary only played 20 minutes a game; is that really the entire difference? I mean, I don't remember either Burke or Hardaway as the kind of players who made you think that they would be missed on the defensive end, Burkesteal excepted.
Irvin: nope. The Irvin giveth and the Irvin taketh away: 1/7 in this game. None were exceptional looks, but most looked plausible as he shot them. I guess in this game he was The Dutch Oven, because it took him a long time to get warmed up. Are you quitting this blog yet? Because of the Irvin stuff? I don't really blame you.
Also nope: Walton, 0/6 from the floor.
Caris! Caris jacked up some horrible-idea threes, which went in. Then he got some good looks, that went in. He was only 2/7 from two but with 6/6 FTAs on drives he was really 5/10 from there. He still dribbles around too much for my tastes but when Stauskas is in a funk he's picked Michigan up multiple times.
Credit to the bug man. Wisconsin nailed it down after getting blown up by Michigan the last time out. M did scrape over the 1 PPP mark at 1.03 mostly thanks to blazing FT shooting, 89%. But the whole tenor of the game was different. The wide open twos Wisconsin gave up in the first game were way less open. Michigan did get some, but more often those twos were at least semi-contested.
Meanwhile, Michigan didn't even attempt a three until they were down by a bunch. Getting up to 16 was kind of desperation.
2/11/2014 – Michigan 70, OSU 60 – 18-6, 10-2 Big Ten
I'ma fall in this basket if that's what it takes
Early, it was a layup line for Ohio State. A combination of transition off turnovers and long misses and plain old WHAT ARE YOU DOING defense led to a stretch where OSU made seven consecutive shots, because all of those shots came within a foot of the rim. For its part, Michigan was stuck outside, with the now-standard point-guard-on Stauskas gambit making it difficult for Michigan to initiate offense through their best player.
Aside from the inexplicable avalanche of offensive rebounds, a sense of déjà vu prevailed. This was the same game Trey Burke's Michigan team had at OSU, the same feeling of being overwhelmed by a road game they had just experienced at Indiana and Iowa. Craft or a Craft-like substance was stuck to Michigan's engine, gumming up the works.
Dan Dakich rhapsodized; ESPN kept showing one particular defensive sequence where Stauskas got Walton a wide open corner three that GRIII rebounded and missed a putback on. What would ESPN have shown had either of those really good shots gone in? The same thing. The Aaron Craft narrative does not bow to things like reality. He is a winner, and if Ohio State does not win, they still win, because anything else is impossible.
And then Michigan was down four at halftime. Four is a lot less than 20. Four is doable.
In the second half, Craft stayed stuck to Stauskas. Michigan came unstuck from Craft. Stauskas managed to find snatches of space in which to rise up or attack the basket on his way to 15 efficient points but was largely removed from generating shots for his teammates. Walton became a free-range annoyance to anyone who happened to have the ball.
Except Craft. Walton played free safety against Craft. If provided a mildly psychoactive taco, Craft would have seen Walton as a giant middle finger extended in the general direction of his offensive competence. A very small, very distant middle finger. And he still would have passed the ball to someone on the perimeter.
On the other end, Walton did a thing that was pretty good, and then a thing that reminded you of you-know-who, and then another couple things and then you had to say it even if you were afraid to do so.
The word "Burke" was uttered, in comparison instead of deficit, when Walton took a mishandled dribble and exploded to the basket for an and-one against a seven foot shotblocker. He extended his body past applicable limits and crashed to the floor after. It had to be mentioned. It was like seeing a ghost.
This is not even that shot.
This is an entirely different shot that is the same shot that is Burke's shot.
Walton's stats were incomprehensible in relation to his play. When he scored near the end of the first half and up flashed his line—two points, four rebounds—it felt wrong. The narrative of his play was at odds with the blunt numbers, and even afterwards he still has an impossible-seeming 2/8 in the two-point column. The other stats, however, back him up: 13 on 13 shot equivalents, ten(!) rebounds, six(!) assists, one turnover. OSU has the fourth-best defense in the country; Derrick Walton drove the bus against them in the second half as Michigan put up 70 in a 59 possession game.
For his part, Craft finally launched his uncontested three, which was an airball. A gritty winner of an airball, but an airball. Dakich started looking for another mancrush—literally, on air, this is a thing that literally happened on air.
As Michigan surged, you remembered the other bit of that Ohio State game last year: a 20-minute trudge to tie the game before a final slump finally condemned them. This trudge was from ten back, but it was no less of a grind against pretty much the same team that ground Michigan's offense into paste a year ago.
This Michigan team doesn't have a Burke, but when there's one Aaron Craft maybe it's better to have three mini-Burkes thrusting their rapiers wherever the armor is weakest.
Hello. Michigan has now won at OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin. In the same year and everything. They also have a road win over (probably) tourney-bound Minnesota, and are very likely to end the conference season at least 6-3 away from Crisler. 7-2 is a distinct possibility. Yowza.
This probably missed. Michigan now knows the feeling. [Fuller]
Parade of missed bunnies. Here's a sentence I never thought I'd say: that game reminded me of the Michigan-Arizona game, with Michigan in the role of offensive rebound machine that can't convert any of the resulting layups. Michigan had 14(!), most of them in the first half, and after that frustrating 20 minutes they only led OSU 7-4 in second chance points.
This feels like a team-wide problem but it was mostly a Robinson thing. (Morgan did miss a first-half putback but that was his only miss of the night.) On the one hand, Robinson flashed to the bucket without a box-out on several possessions and created extra shots. On the other, those extra shots did not go in the basket. They kept flashing huge disparities in FG% in the first half and wondering how Michigan was in the game; those disparities would have been significantly less huge if Michigan was just getting one look at the basket.
Haunted. Now add in the three point play caused when Caris momentarily lost his mind and 'saved' a ball going out off of OSU. This is why large sections of the first half were agonizing about a score that should have been near even.
But welcome back, super-efficient two-headed center. As mentioned, Morgan missed one shot. Horford also missed one, a 15-foot jumper on which he was left open. Both guys used clever moves to get short-range buckets on route to a 7/9 night on which Michigan dominated the boards.
Box score change request. Spike Albrecht only got four minutes, picking up another turnover and missing one shot. HOWEVA, that missed shot should be credited as an assist, as he drove into the lane and put it so high off the window that there was little chance of a bucket. He did this because Amir Williams tries to block everything. Amir Williams tried to block it; the ball went directly to Morgan on the weakside; Morgan actually made the layup.
Amir Williams. There's no nice way to say this. He is not all there. OSU has yanked him from long stretches of games for defensive incompetence; in this one Michigan's two centers picked up seven OREBs despite being much smaller and less athletic. He also committed one of history's worst fouls when he ran over Walton with the shot clock expiring on a critical possession down the stretch.
I remember Williams getting yanked from the M-OSU game at Crisler two years ago after some comically bad defensive possessions, and while he has improved somewhat from that point he remains a massively frustrating guy prone to fits of ain't-care. I know this because I was rooting for OSU in their game against MSU and built up large reserves of loathing for his game.
Irvin up and down. Irvin extended OSU the same favor Williams did at the end of the first half by fouling LaQuinton Ross on a three. It wasn't nearly as bad. He's a freshman, not a junior, and that was a quality look from the corner instead of a desperation jack from about five feet behind the line. It was still bad. Irvin also added in a trio of errors on possessions down the stretch:
- fouling Ross as he initiated a desperation drive to the basket with three seconds on the shot clock
- turning the ball over on a sloppy perimeter pass
- getting burned by Ross on the next offensive possession for a layup and an OREB that turned into a three point paly
The refs credited the first foul to Horford, somehow, but it was Irvin who made the contact, and Stauskas is listed as the guy with the TO in the box score. I don't think I'm remembering it wrong, because at the time everyone in the room was moaning at Irvin.
[UPDATE: I remembered this wrong. The bail out foul was in the first half, as was the ensuing TO, and then the third error was the foul on the three. Irvin did get a TO from Ross in between these issues.]
So there's that. But Irvin also had ten points on five shot equivalents. This is a much shorter section than all the things that went wrong but it's equally as important. That is two points per Irvin-initiated shot. That is good, Adam Jacobi. His threes were needed shots in the arm when Michigan was getting wobbly; he's nearing Stauskas for team three point champion. Achievement unlocked: Modern-Day Microwave.
Wait. Should we call him "The Induction Burner"? Or is that stupid?
Yeah, okay, it's stupid.
This three was slightly lower pressure. [Fuller]
Glenn is so broken don't take that oh OKAY. Another miserable game for Robinson, but this one was capped off by a critical corner three in crunch time that pushed Michigan out to 7 and was the beginning of the end. He was 2/9 on his other shots, many of them point-blank. At points it was like his God-given athleticism was just an elaborate way to troll Michigan fans.
But at least it seems like the message has been received. Michigan posted him up for one of his buckets. Robinson eschewed dribbles for the most part (0 A, 0 TO) and went hard on the offensive glass. Even if it didn't pay off in this particular game, more 4 OREB performances from Robinson will get him into that "quiet 14 points" range he was so effective in last year.
His defense was also notably better on Ross than alternatives. Irvin was inserted for a run in the second half right after a couple of plays around the rim on which Robinson did not convert, and there were a couple of possessions on which it was clear that Ross could just back Irvin down inside the paint whenever he wanted. GRIII is much more sturdy.
Hurdle cleared. Kenpom had Michigan with a 33% chance to pull that game off. The algorithm has been giving OSU a bit of the Wisconsin treatment this year after the Buckeyes stormed through an undefeated nonconference schedule with no good teams on it. Despite being .500 in the league they're still in the top 20. Even if they're overrated by computers, that was a road game against a 19-5 team, Michigan's last against anything resembling a tourney outfit.
Their only trips remaining are to Purdue and Illinois, collectively 7-15 in the league. Michigan is now better than 70% to win every game left on the schedule save MSU, a 65% proposition, and is projected to finish a boggling 15-3 in the league.
Craftbow. I don't hate Aaron Craft and would take him on this Michigan outfit no question even if he is allergic to shots. But man, I hate Aaron Craft. This has nothing to do with anything other than the Tebow effect wherein announcers praise a player so much that you're just so damned sick of hearing about it.
Dakich is normally my favorite color guy other than Jay Bilas, but hearing him call an OSU game is pure torture. His normally reasonable comments about effort go from getting your hands up on shooters and boxing out to ludicrous flights of fancy wherein he literally says things like "the ball knows" that you have reversed the floor and then goes in. In this game he started the first ten minutes bitching about how Michigan was barely trying, and then had to stare at Michigan ending the game on a dominant run.
Effort is so fetishized by commentators that they'll ignore randomness, confusion, youth, and uncertainty to rail on it. Craft exacerbates that 1000%. It got so bad that Dakich started going on and on about Horford's huge effort level… on an uncontested dunk. I'm delighted I never have to hear about Craft again. No offense to the man himself.
Creepy balance. To the point about many mini-Burkes instead of one Burke: Michigan played seven guys an appreciable amount of time in this game. Usage: 22, 22, 21, 19, 18, 18, 16. Walton and GRIII are at the top; LeVert is at the bottom.
2/8/2014 – Michigan 67, Iowa 85 – 17-6, 9-2 Big Ten
Did you know it took like three hundred years for people to agree that they should not spell a lower-case F like they spell a lower case S?
I know it seems obvious enough that some under-typeface apprentice would eventually get into a life-threatening slap-fight with the over-apprentice about this issue, but the only people they could relate this life or death issue to were their immediate family. Since everyone got wiped out every five years by the epidemic du jour, the end result was a bunch of corpses and no progress towards anything resembling sense in written language. Which of course brings me to "welp."
"Welp" is unique amongst internet utterances, and that makes me love it. "Welp" is an expression of fatalism in the face of disaster. It maintains no sense of irony, mitigation, or aloofness. To say it is to say "this hurt me, and it is unfair and stupid, and now I am moving on."
Compare that to any other sentiment expressed by an internet meme in an effort to find a better one, like, morally. Go on. Go ahead. I submit that you have not found anything even in that category, let alone competing with it.
And this, of course, brings me to opponent three point shooting.
Michigan's defense is sinking like a stone in Big Ten and national rankings, and deservedly. When Roy Devyn Marble pulled up for an open transition three after a Michigan make, fuming was an appropriate response. (Silent fuming, or at least just twitter fuming.) Caris LeVert was standing next to Glenn Robinson in the paint; there was no reason whatsoever for a clearly-dangerous Marble to not be a priority.
But even so, come on man. A week after Yogi Ferrell was 8/9 from three, Marble was 6/10 and started 6/7; as a team, Iowa shot 59%. They started out 9/12. One game earlier, Iowa went 3 of 20 against Ohio State. They're dead last in threes attempted in the league for a reason.
In between these two games, Michigan bombed the Cornhuskers back to the stone age. I'm ready for basketball to resume being a game instead of an exercise in flipping a coin to see who gets a face-eating bear dropped on them. To some extent, you just have to say this hurt me and is stupid and let's move on.
To some extent. Michigan's latest struggle has further exposed Michigan's defense as a problem that is not going away. Michigan typically sticks Caris LeVert on the opposition's most dangerous perimeter player, and this has not gone at all well the past month. Michigan turned off Terran Petteway in their laugher, and Purdue does not have a dangerous perimeter player. The other three most dangerous players went off:
Gary Harris: 27 points, 5/9 from 2, 4/6 from three.
Yogi Ferrell: 27 points, 7/8 from 3.
Roy Devyn Marble: 26 points, 6/10 from three.
The thing that made Trey Burke Trey Burke is his general refusal to be removed from the gameplan. It happened, mostly against Aaron Craft. When it happened Burke would fume with hatred until he could stab his nemesis in the face. Sometimes that took a few weeks, as when Burke had 16 points, eight assists, and gave Aaron Craft in last year's OSU rematch. Sometimes it happened on the other side of halftime—ask Kansas.
So here it is for Stauskas. Is it going to be "welp, I guess somebody does put baby in the corner," or is it going to be a rain of hellfire upon all those who presume to check Nik The Great And Powerful? And here it is for LeVert: is it going to be "welp, that three went in" or is opponent going to get off a good three over your dead body?
It is crunch time. Let's see some lip curl.
GET YOUR HANDS UP. It was one thing for LeVert to play frustratingly far off the lightning-quick Ferrell, because Ferrell does just go by guys in a flash. Marble is good, but not that good, and open look after open look just got handed to him by miscommunication and other things. Caris has a bad habit of being in position with his hands down that practically invites guys to raise up over him.
Time to acknowledge reality. Devolving offensive responsibility from Stauskas is painful partially because it turns Glenn Robinson into a guy who's trying to create off the bounce. This doesn't work well very often. Against Iowa it was a complete disaster, as he had 4 TOs against one assist and was 1/7 from the floor. A couple of those were open looks generated by his teammates; the rest were heavily contested jacks.
There was one particularly illuminating possession on which Robinson gingerly prodded at whichever 6'9" guy was checking him and then dumped it off to Walton with the shot clock ticking down. One lightning-quick Walton crossover later he was in the lane getting fouled. Robinson had just tried a similar move; in comparison his looked like he was executing it in a tar pit.
Robinson can do good work coming off curl screens and on cuts, but the only time he should dribble in an effort to score the basket is off a post-up. This is completely fine as long as the team acknowledges GRIII's strengths and weaknesses and plays to them accordingly.
At least Irvin's heating up. 19 points for Irvin in 22 minutes, 4/5 from three, and he was able to take the ball to the hole in transition a couple times. He's slowly diversifying his game, and he does shoot a lot. He's putting up 27% of Michigan's shots when he's on the floor, and his eFG% is near 60%.
Emphasis on "slowly," though. Irvin still does almost nothing other than shoot in a box score. This is the third straight game he's recorded neither a TO or assist; he's got one assist in Big Ten play.
Crushed in McGary stats. Iowa blew Michigan out on the boards with 15 offensive rebounds. That's not a huge surprise against the fee-fi-fo-fum Hawkeyes. Worse is Michigan forcing only 7 TOs and losing steals 9-3. That is an 11 shot advantage handed the Hawkeyes; that's how you give up 1.33 PPP.
This was a game in which Michigan did really miss Mitch. Morgan only got 15 minutes and had zero defensive rebounds; Horford was better but still eh.
Caris steps up, again. As frustrating as LeVert's game was defensively, he was really, really good on offense, with 22 points on 17 shot equivalents. He's not in Stauskas's class as a distributor and he's not as efficient of a shooter, but he is a fine second option. It's just the "second" bit that needs work.
This guy. I knew we were in trouble as soon as this guy.
That guy is a mobile home court advantage. I wish to hire him to do his thing whenever I post something.
2/2/2013 – Michigan 52, Indiana 63 – 16-5, 8-1 Big Ten
Stauskas was barely involved, but they don't take pictures of guys hanging around at the three point line. [Chris Howell/Hoosier Scoop]
There was a second-half possession on which Nik Stauskas stood in the corner and watched, hands on hips. Zak Irvin—this team has more guys apparently missing a C in their names than any in the country, where is that on Kenpom—banged in a three pointer that I barely noticed before it went in, because I was distressed and looking at Stauskas to rescue things. He did not.
The only thing that was unique about this particular possession was the hands. The standing eventually became standard. This was because Yogi Ferrell, Indiana's lightning quick, generously-listed-at-six-foot-even point guard, was guarding him. Ferrell started out in much the same way as Gary Harris did, denying heavily on the perimeter, and for whatever reason back cuts against this behavior are infrequent nowadays. Michigan did not even attempt one. When Stauskas did get the ball he felt harried enough to dump it to someone else most of the time.
Stauskas was effectively shut off for most of the first half until late, when he attempted to back Ferrell down on one possession, and drive by him on another. The post-up resulted in a shot that was well off; the drive ended with a charge call as Stauskas extended his arm.
And that was that, really.
I thought that Stauskas would be pissed and Beilein would do something to get his star into the game. Over the past couple years, Michigan has an excellent track record when it comes to storming out of the locker room at the half and putting it on the opponent. There was not a hint of that in this game. The second half largely followed the first. Other than a couple of nice passes, Stauskas's contribution was limited to a couple of jacked late-clock shots and the standing around.
In Stauskas's stead, things fell on LeVert, Walton, and Robinson, far less efficient players who went about the business of being less efficient.
This was massively frustrating. Cat-quick or not, ball screens require hard decisions on the part of a defense. When Michigan did get into the Stauskas pick and roll offense a couple times in the second half, Michigan got quality looks at the basket. I have a ton of faith in John Beilein's overall genius because I have eyes frequently applied to basketball games, and seeing the lack of answers on his part was distressing. So, too, was Stauskas's growing passivity.
This was the second time this year that Stauskas had been eliminated from the offense. The first time was against Duke, and that was another listless loss where Michigan was tagging along behind the opponent with a series of LeVert drives that never seemed like they would come together into the surge Michigan needed to take the lead. Cut off the head and the rest of the team flails; unlike Trey Burke, opponents have shown an ability to do that with Stauskas.
Whether that's because of an inherent difference in their attitudes or just the fact that Burke brought the ball up most of the time while Stauskas gets involved in the offense after lining up on the wing, I don't know, but somehow, some way Michigan has to get the ball in the right hands. They are not good enough on defense to get away with nights featuring six shots from the man.
One call. I didn't have much problem with the refereeing in this one despite it being an Assembly Hall game. There were a couple of things each way that were wrong, sure. I was too busy being incensed about Stauskas's lack of involvement to really get any lather up about officiating.
But, man, if Derrick Walton gets what looked like a blazingly obvious charge call on Ferrell, this game changes significantly. That would have been Ferrell's second, knocking him out for about eight minutes, both freeing up Stauskas and removing 85% of Indiana's offense. I'm not sure what else Walton is supposed to do there: he was moving with Ferrell, square to the shooter, and got plowed in the chest. Ferrell got the same call a few minutes later, and it was the right one.
I have no idea what a charge is anymore, so I am now qualified to referee college basketball.
(The other thing that drove me nuts was Michigan getting a blocking call on a flop a few minutes after Indiana's flop didn't draw one.)
Our defensive stopper isn't stopping anything of late. LeVert draws the opposition's best perimeter scorer, and the results have been grim. Ferrell blazed the nets in this one, as did Gary Harris in the MSU game. While Purdue's guards didn't do much, they are Purdue.
After Ferrell's third late clock shot I started getting really frustrated with LeVert allowing Ferrell to take virtually uncontested jumpers, and then thought back to last year's Wisconsin game… why doesn't LeVert ever get a hand in anyone's face? He's six inches taller than Ferrell, he should be able to contest his shots. Instead there's a lack of awareness that leads to plenty of rise-and-fire threes that look like bad shots until you see the replay.
This could have been a super-ugly win you exhale and mutter something about road games after, except Indiana kept hitting shots they had to jack up with about two seconds on the shot clock. (This was a glacial 55 possession game.) Michigan's problem is that they let Indiana look like Jordan Taylor-era Wisconsin; almost all of their late jacked shots were actually decent looks. Compare that to the three Stauskas had to take from about 30 feet.
[Chris Howell/Hoosier Scoop]
Morgan up, except for the one thing. Jordan Morgan had an excellent game with ten rebounds, five of them offensive, to go with two blocked shots and two makes. His miss was blocked by Vonleh and immediately put back up by Morgan for two. His rotation on defense was part of the many, many late-clock situations Indiana found itself in, and the resulting makes were not really on him. He was pretty great.
The main exception, of course, was the free throw line, where Morgan was 1 of 5 with a critical missed front end late. That dropped his season percentage almost ten points and as the clock ticked down it was impossible to not look at Michigan's score and add in the missing two or three points even though the team's overall percentage at the line was about average.
Walton: improving, verging on improved. Thirteen points, six of them at the line. Walton's FT percentage has gone up six points in the last couple games and he's consistently chipping double digits more often than not. He's still not up to the task of taking over games in the fashion Michigan needed with Stauskas marginalized, but at this point a solidly productive night is the expectation.
Taking over games… is just not in the cards for GRIII. Like the Duke game, when Michigan was out of its element in the second half the burden fell on Caris. This was due in part to two or three ugly possessions earlier when Robinson tried to create and ended up with a bad shot or a turnover. Chastened, Robinson receded into the background again unless there was a transition opportunity.
It just is what it is. Robinson's NBA draft hype was always built on his ability to jump really high, not his skill level.
Spike limitations. This was a bad, bad matchup for Albrecht. He came in, got smoked a couple times by Ferrell, and then got yanked. He had a period of time in the second half where both he and Walton were in; he chased someone else around.
1/25/2014 – Michigan 80, Michigan State 75 – 14-4, 7-0 Big Ten
Keith Appling had just jumped on Caris LeVert's back from behind as LeVert was going up for a layup. Using LeVert's back as leverage, Appling raked his hands across LeVert's, sending both LeVert and the ball flying. The ref on the baseline looked on dumbly and did nothing as Michigan State took the ball upcourt.
On the sideline, John Beilein executed a sort of rage-squat as he barked at the guy who had evidently been placed on the sideline without any instructions as to what the shiny silver thing in his mouth did. MSU got a layup on the other end; Michigan dumped the ball down to Robinson and got a whistle for an extended hand-check by Russell Byrd.
This did not mollify Beilein. He'd seen enough. He'd had just about enough of being the corny high school chemistry teacher kids roll their eyes at.
artist's impression of MSU lineup
In the aftermath we got the usual press conference from Tom Izzo in which he specifically enumerated all the things he wasn't blaming the loss on. Payne's out. (You may have heard of Mitch McGary, though maybe I shouldn't bring him up since he outcoached Izzo.) Dan Dakich trolled Dawson. (Izzo's the one who recruited Punchy McAngerIssues.) Harris and Appling got tired. (Because they had to play fewer minutes than Stauskas and LeVert.) Appling got his wrist dinged a month ago and can't shoot. (Selected Appling scorelines since injury-type substance: 27, 14, 14, 20, 24. Three point shooting in Big Ten play: 31%, right in line with last year's 32%.) He had to play the crappy players behind his starters. (They are crappy because he hasn't brought in a premier player other than Harris in three years.)
And, of course, the piece de resistance: "curious calls" that happened when the game was tied at 60.
The nerve of this guy.
Midway through the second half, Spike Albrecht was informed that to receive a timeout from the officials he has to submit a 20-page research paper on the semiotics of the term "timeout" and submit seven different forms of identification, three of which do not exist. Gary Harris's brilliant perimeter defense on Nik Stauskas was greatly aided by constant jersey tugs and in a couple cases just flat out grabbing the dude as he tried to cut. Travis Trice's attempts to stay in front of anyone on the floor via arm, shoulder, trip, or pathetic mewling would have been hilarious if they had not been uncalled and therefore enraging. Jordan Morgan fouled out on a series of ghost calls, including a double technical acquired after Russell Byrd, of all people, taunted Glenn Robinson. That was Morgan's fourth; Izzo managed to complain that Appling picking up his third with under eight minutes left was a great strain because it forced him to the bench.
Yes, in the same press conference in which he bitched about Appling not getting enough rest. The nerve of this guy.
By the end of Izzo's self-pity-fest you could feel the dim bulbs in the room composing their 30 for 30 pitches:
What if I told you that a team with a lottery pick shooting guard playing out of his mind stayed within five points of a team down the Naismith winner, another first round NBA draftee, and a preseason All-American?
What if I told you they were playing at home, but there was that one time a referee was not utterly petrified of someone in the stands calling him a bad name?
What if I told you that the first team had actually won two of the previous seven games against the second team?
ESPN 30 for 30 presents "THE GREATEST COACH IN THE UNIVERSE OF FOREVER."
Tuesday, January 25th, 2014.
Post-loss Izzo press conferences are IQ tests for Lansing-oriented sports reporters, and they all fail, always. A Mike Griffith gentleman writing for MLive used these sentences back-to-back:
There was no mention of the Spartans having to use a 10th different starting lineup on account of Dawson's injury.
"In the 30 years I've been here, I've never been more proud of a team,'' Izzo said. "I played guys I haven't played in a month.''
Someone remind Griffith to breathe regularly, because it's clear that he doesn't have enough cells to spare for autonomic brain stem functions.
I know. I know that our nation is built on brazenly lying to each other. Cigarettes and organic food and the waiting list for Michigan football season tickets, it's all the same. Some person thinks they can make money on some activity and just lies and lies until the jig's up. But at some point self-respect has to kick in with the observers. I mean. At least you'd think so, right?
This is why I don't go to press conferences. I would just laugh, and laugh, and throw in some derisive snorts and eventually I would just start asking questions like unedited versions of the things I write and eventually I wouldn't get to go to press conferences. I am not a sports journalist because I can't smile when someone deposits a plate of poop in front of my face and calls it pâté.
AND GODDAMMIT JOHN BEILEIN ISN'T CALLING THAT PATE ANY MORE EITHER.
He exploded! With just over four minutes left there was some sort of mutual in-our-grills screaming session, followed by Beilein explaining to one of the other refs that the other end of the Breaking Beilein drama had in fact bumped him—there was a lot of pointing at Beilein's nose in this section, to indicate that someone had impacted this section of Beilein's all-encompassing rage—followed by the ref who had apparently taken aggressive physical action against a coach coming forth to apologize.
It was completely insane. Every neutral I follow on twitter who was watching the game immediately tweeted "I have never seen John Beilein anything like this," echoing the play by play announcer and your brain. Beilein took 30 years of goodwill built up by not being Bo Ryan or Tom Izzo to referees and cashed every last scrap in, somehow avoiding a technical throughout this sequence.
And, of course, it was completely for naught. The very next Michigan possession saw Nik Stauskas thunder in for a transition dunk; Keith Appling again attempted to make a defensive play from behind. This was the result.
SEEMS LEGIT [Dustin Johnston/UMHoops]
This was adjudged to be all ball; Michigan did not score on the ensuing possession. Beilein could do nothing but laugh bitterly on the sideline.
If we're being honest with ourselves, yeah, Horford was moving on the first "curious call" and Appling got hit by a non-stationary defender as he took a shot. In a basketball game, that is a foul. Whatever happens in the Breslin Center is not a basketball game, though, and maybe John Beilein screaming BE A MAN or IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT BASKETBALL TO BE or I USUALLY GET A FOOTLONG TURKEY WITH THE CHIPOTLE SAUCE AND EXTRA OLIVES WHAT IS YOUR PREFERENCE reminded the men with whistles that road teams are people too. Or maybe it was just continued incompetence. I'm betting on incompetence.
Either way, nearly three years to the day after Zack Novak's Aneurysm of Leadership propelled Michigan to its first win at Michigan State since the Harding administration, another spittle-flecked unhinged rant propelled Michigan. Two minutes of game time later, Michigan had gone on an 8-0 run featuring two wild Keith Appling drives on one side of the floor and perfectly executed transitions on the other.
Beilein sucked all the anger out of his team and unleashed it on those who deserved it, and all that was left was cool execution. In the ensuing parade to the free throw line Michigan took deep breaths and drove the nails deeper, until Izzo was wiping away tears in the press conference and imagining an alternate reality where he was the put-upon underdog.
Bad news, everybody! Technical issues blew up the first half of our podcast. We are trying to reschedule and retape; upshot is no podcast today.
Double point us the way to victory [Bryan Fuller]
Wow. Going into Gauntlet #1, Michigan fans were demanding one win, hoping for two, and not even thinking about three. Three wins later, Michigan is clearly in the driver's seat for the Big Ten title. Not only have they disposed of three top ten opponents, they've taken out two of them on the road. They've also put away road games against a third tourney-bound B10 team in Minnesota and Increasingly Dangerous Nebraska™.
Meanwhile, as Indiana and Illinois continue to struggle* future trips to the Big Ten's sundry Assembly Halls seem significantly less ominous than they did a couple weeks ago. Because basketball is basketball, Michigan's going to have a night where they shoot ARGH from three they're still going to drop a game or two against teams that are clearly beneath them in the Big Ten pecking order. Even so, all they have to do is split Gauntlet #2…
- @ Iowa
- @ OSU
…and it's hard to see anyone passing them. Catching, maybe. Passing… nyet.
If Iowa can beat MSU at home tomorrow, Michigan will be two games clear, and their primary chasers have a schedule that's just as difficult. MSU has games at Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State plus a home game against Iowa; Iowa has home games against OSU, Michigan, and Wisconsin plus trips to Minnesota and MSU.
*[Indiana is now just ten spots ahead of Nebraska in Kenpom and Illinois is 15 spots back. BTW, I am officially claiming Nebraska as my Most Interesting Big Ten Team of 2014-15.]
Chunkums. Yes. Yesssssss. Yesssssssss.
Hitting things with your hand is bad. Appling's wrist is barely attached to the rest of his body and therefore he can't shoot. This is known. It is gospel.
Idea: maybe you should stop hitting things with your hands. Desks, floors, engineers in Rather Hall: these are all objects that should not have force applied to them with hands. Appling and Dawson should have taken NO HIT HARD THINGS WITH SELF 101, but they heard it was a lot harder than BANG THING BANG BANG LOUD 100.
This was slow and weird and distorted. This game featured a full two minutes of intentional fouling and no-threes defense, seriously distorting the stats. Michigan had a whopping 16 free throws on intentional fouls, and then their intentionally crappy interior defense made the game look more offensively oriented and faster than it was.
This was going to be a snail-tastic 56 or 57 possession game if either team had gotten clear by the two minute mark; it eventually got to a still-slow 63. At the point the fouling started, Michigan had 66 points on 54 possessions (1.22 PPP) and MSU had 60 (1.11). By game's end those numbers had been pushed to 1.27 and 1.19.
So… still offensively oriented, and no wonder with Michigan blazing the nets from deep and MSU following suit with a 50%/41% shooting. A great deal of this was acquired with difficulty since the refs were in a whistle-swallowing mode.
Also distorted: individual stats. If you were shocked that Derrick Walton ended up with 19 points you are not alone. He had nine before the and-one that put Michigan firmly in the drivers seat and then acquired 8 FTAs in desperation time. He hit seven, which was greatly appreciated by Michigan fans and their cardiologists.
This still didn't warrant the BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE WOW reaction the media provided. Walton was good; he did not drive much offense. He picked his spots and fulfilled the niche this site talked about a couple weeks back. This is good and important, of course. It's just not quite as impressive as the box score makes it seem.
FWIW, the other eight intentional FTAs were distributed equally between Robinson and LeVert.
okay this is a two but you get the point [Dustin Johnston/UMHoops]
Except the threes. On my re-watch the thing that leapt out at me was the fact that Michigan's blazing three point shooting was a direct result of MSU giving Michigan a ton of great looks. Caris's game-tying bomb late was a great example. MSU was so concerned about giving up penetration and so aggressive about disrupting Michigan's offensive flow that they plain forgot to defend a corner three from a 38% shooter.
Meanwhile, screens were gone under on Nik Stauskas, or bigs did not aggressively hedge, allowing him to get quality looks that were at best semi-contested. Peripheral shooters took almost entirely wide open looks—IIRC one or two of Irvin's were contested.
Board war: in which a stalemate is declared victory. Michigan actually out-rebounded Michigan State. Yes. Michigan grabbed 11 of 31 opportunities on the offensive boards and held Michigan State to 10 of 33. Michigan's output is thanks to Jordan Morgan and a whopping four OREBs credited to "team."
The main disappointment. Robinson had a pretty miserable night all around. He was hit on the arm without calls on three or four of his shots, but he's got Kenny Kaminski and Denzel Valentine on him. He should be able to get things that are not jumpers. He did only once with an awkward but effective up and under to kick off the second half. When Michigan was looking to generate secondary offense, they turned to LeVert. Robinson did well against Iowa after some early issues on the defensive boards; Michigan wanted more from him in this game.
Nope. Some M fans are trying to make a big deal out of the incident with about two minutes left where Harris and LeVert both ended up on the ground. LeVert ended up there because Valentine came in and whacked him either in the stomach or the viagras; that contact was certainly not intentional.
It was about as bad as the event earlier in the game where Horford was going for a rebound and accidentally brushed/whacked Trice, who went down in a heap because it is really hard to not be in a heap when you're Travis Trice. He's just heap-oriented.
I'd like to thank The Free Press for being a wretched hive of scum and villainy that naturally induces Michigan fans to seek out content not designed to enrage them.
Oh man this guy:
— Stephen J. Nesbitt (@stephenjnesbitt) January 27, 2014
This is why you shouldn't get up in arms about Richard Sherman, because then you start complaining about a lack of class while wishing someone would get maimed for blowing you a kiss. This spurred a long twitter discussion about the practicality or lack thereof of maiming someone in an alley. Twitter thinks it is not very practical since Nik Stauskas probably goes to, like, basketball gyms instead of hanging out in alleys.
Five key plays. The dagger:
1/22/2014 – Michigan 75, Iowa 67 – 14-4, 6-0 Big Ten
If this was a miss, it was his only one. [Bryan Fuller]
Jordan Morgan is old. Not human old. He is ZZ Top Beard old. He's columns about Richard Sherman old. He's archeology old. He's Seven Nation Army old. He has shale and fossilized invertebrates and a layer of iridium in him.
You think I am exaggerating for effect. I am not. Jordan Morgan committed to Michigan on December 18th, 2007. This is what Jordan Morgan and Miley Cyrus looked like then.
Michigan had not been to the NCAA tournament since Robert Traylor was around.
Jordan Morgan is older than the sea. It is not out of the question that Jordan Morgan impacting the earth was the genesis of life itself.
Morgan was in fact the first guy John Beilein recruited to Michigan who wasn't a late scramble pickup.
Ben Cronin and Stu Douglass preceded him chronologically but were in the 2008 transitional class that, like most transitional classes, gave off the aura of "random tall passerby, here is a scholarship." Douglass was pirated from Harvard, Cronin from… hey, a Beilein offer at West Virginia. When those guys signed on Beilein was looking for bodies he could mold.
Morgan was not one of those guys. Morgan was recruited way early, on purpose. He committed three months before Zack Novak did. Remember Zack Novak? Guy with the bulging forehead comprised entirely of veins and leadership who had a pathological inability to not try his hardest at everything he'd ever considered doing? Guy who is now two years gone from the program? Yeah. That guy. Morgan beat him to the punch by three months.
Jordan Morgan is a million years old. This is how old Jordan Morgan is: Michigan sucked at basketball when he signed up.
This is no longer the case. (Someone tell the official site.) Last night, Michigan went toe to toe with a top ten opponent and came out on top… again. Since Novak's Aneurysm of Leadership, Michigan is 39-14 in the Big Ten. Morgan played 24 minutes in that game, because he is 1,000 years old.
And yes, Michigan's stormed through the last three years of Big Ten basketball on the shoulders of NBA first-rounders past and future. This latest victory was largely thanks to Nik Stauskas playing like a guy Joe Dumars will gleefully pass over in the upcoming NBA draft. (If he even gets an opportunity to do so.) But underneath Stauskas's very obvious boggling efficiency there are other boggling efficiencies to consider.
Historically, the Jordan Morgan prediction matrix has been a simple one. If he is playing against a guy approximately his size, he will have a good game. If he is playing against a seven-footer or guy who plays like one by jumping real high, he will be invisible save for good positional defense. That matrix has been taking efficient shot after efficient shot in this Big Ten season; yesterday it finally toppled over.
Here is Morgan's stat line from Michigan's game against the biggest team in the conference: 5/6 from 12, 2/3 from the line, 12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 offensive rebounds by guys he is checking. He kept Horford stapled to the bench, and it wasn't anything Horford (eight minutes, 3 rebounds, 0 FGA, 0 TO) was doing. He was just the best option. The matrix is collapsed in a heap like a security guard around a Michigan State quarterback recruit.
At some point it doesn't matter if Morgan's shots are largely provided on platters by Stauskas, LeVert, and company. Bunnies get missed. Sometimes dunks fly right back out of the basket. Large gentlemen deposit your shot into the stands. I think that point has been reached, because I was checking out Aaron White's numbers and found something familiar in them. If you've been around this site for a while you know that Aaron White is an MGoBlog fave-rave, because he is maniacally, spectacularly efficient. Well…
- WHITE TRUE SHOOTING PERCENTAGE: 71.5, #2 nationally
- MORGAN TS%: 71.3, would be #3 if Morgan was at 40% of Michigan's minutes.
White's usage numbers are higher, but not by that much. The only guy who's putting up more points per shot attempt is one Ethan Wragge, who you may remember from such games as…
Ethan Wragge at the half: 24 points, 0 dribbles
— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) January 21, 2014
Creighton: avoid at all costs.
It would be something if Morgan had his numbers as a jumping jack who can fling things in the basket from above it, like Glenn Robinson III. Since he is not, it is something else. You'd say it's impossible for a below-the-rim guy like Morgan to be so ruthless except for the numbers staring you in the face.
71%. It's there, on paper, looking back at you just as confused as you are. I am not supposed to be this large, it whispers. Tell me there is a theoretical maximum. Please. Yes, Jordan Morgan shooting percentage, yes. You will not grow and grow until you engulf the state and then the nation. It is axiomatically impossible. This is good for both you and the Big Ten, because without that there's no telling what the combination of Stauskas, Beilein, and Morgan might end up at. It might be a number so big it could describe Morgan's metaphorical age.
The imposition of style. Over the past few years there have been teams that try to speed Michigan up or turn them over or press them and they've all failed. Add Iowa to that list. Here's quite a stat in an eight-point Michigan win: Michigan had 12 fast break points to Iowa's 4.
Meanwhile. 66 possessions is a little faster than Michigan generally goes… and way, way off Iowa's normal tempo. That is a comprehensive win.
And they didn't sacrifice offensive rebounds. It seemed like the boards were going to be a major sore spot both pregame and in the first eight minutes as Melsahn Basabe went nuts, but by the end of the game Iowa had been battled to a standstill. Both teams had 10 OREBs; Michigan had one additional opportunity to grab one. Shutting off transition and still grabbing 30% of available offensive boards is quite a trick.
Spike! Dang, man. 35 minutes with Walton sidelined with the flu, and the results are seven points, three boards, seven assists, four steals, and zero turnovers. The second-half steals were all quickly converted into fast-break points and two of them broke up attempted Iowa fast breaks themselves; in particular, the clean swipe that led to an Irvin transition three to push Michigan's lead back to seven was a play that should come with an exclamation point in the box score. That was a five point swing and about 3.5 of those were Spike's, with the remainder going to Irvin.
Michigan was fortunate that Walton was sidelined for a game against a point guard Spike could check. Mike Gesell is just not a volume shooter. Even so, Michigan probably came out better than the expected in that matchup: Gesell was just two of four from the floor with two assists and a turnover.
I don't think anyone has any illusions that Spike is going to be able to guard Appling without fire raining from the sky, so it'll be important to get Walton back for Saturday. Travis Trice does play 18 minutes a game, though, and Albrecht can deal with him.
Yet another of Stauskas's 34 bricks on the night [Fuller]
Stauskas. Crushingly disappointing performance from a player who will never live up to his potential and SHOULD DEFINITELY BE IGNORED BY THE NBA FOR AT LEAST ONE MORE YEAR.
are they gone, the scouts?
So… yeah… wow. That ball-on-a-string assist where he crossed White over twice and then plunged through two help defenders before feeding Morgan was a bittersweet symphony right there. Hooray: that guy plays for Michigan. Oh no: he's not going to be around much longer.
Might as well ride him as long as you can. At this point it's barely worth mentioning that he was ludicrously efficient except when left wide open from his favorite spot in the world. 26 points on 17 shot attempts, five assists, and I'll-take-it defense against Aaron White. Nik Stauskas.
It is going to be really disappointing when Michigan finally finds itself without an alpha dog who can drive them through tough moments, but what a run: Morris, Burke, Stauskas. The series of defiant lip curlers who have passed through Ann Arbor of late is amazing.
What do we think of Iowa's three point defense now? On the one hand, Michigan was only 8 of 27. On the other, did it really seem like Iowa had much of anything to do with that? They got some hands in faces but no more or less than any other team and it seemed like Michigan was mostly hitting the hard ones and missing the easy ones, Stauskas in particular.
Aside from late-clock chucks, most three pointers are the same catch and shoot quality, and I don't think Iowa has anything special to them that prevents opponents from hitting from deep.
Warming up. Zak Irvin returned from deep freeze to provide a much-needed shooting spark in the second half, hitting 3 of 7 from three and even venturing inside the line for a transition bucket. We have photographic evidence.
A palpable two pointer [Fuller]
His usefulness was much more obvious against a team like Iowa that gives up a bunch of threes; previously he was forced to sit in the corner with a guy on him against Wisconsin, et al.
At least he's there, forcing people to check him. Have you seen an Indiana game this year? It's ugly. The only guy who can shoot at all is Yogi Ferrell, and he's their main creator. The result is a lot of possessions where opponents pack the paint with impunity and the second-worst offense in the league.
I don't know what it is with both Indiana teams, but they've apparently decided to stop recruiting shooters. You're in Indiana! You can't throw a basketball without knocking over a 5'11" white dude who does nothing but hit 45% from deep for four years. You should take advantage of this opportunity instead of recruiting gentlemen who give themselves a self-high-five when they hit the backboard.
Late subs. I was confused late when Beilein kept swapping Morgan for Horford on made second free throws, and then it became apparent: by switching the centers, Michigan gave themselves plenty of time to get set defensively so Iowa could not get the whisper of a transition chance afterwards.