3/14/2014 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 3 (OT) – 17-12-4, 9-8-2 Big Ten
3/15/2014 – Michigan 6, Minnesota 2 – 18-12-4, 10-8-2 Big Ten
Michigan is barely ahead of the pack. [Bill Rapai]
Imagine a man tied to a pole with a bungee cord in zero-G. Grip this man with an enormous metal arm and pull him until the bungee cord has no more give. Let go. Watch as the man flies back and forth at maximum amplitude forever, occasionally bonking his head on the pole.
I've just saved you 500 bucks for a hockey season ticket. You are invited to give me a cut with the donate button at right.
What can Michigan's hockey team do? Anything. They can beat Boston College, they can run out to a 10-2-1 start, they can thoroughly dominate Wisconsin in a weekend series, they can beat Minnesota by sniping the water bottle four times.
What can Michigan's hockey team do? Anything. They can lose to Penn State, lose to Michigan State, lose to Penn State, lose to Michigan State. They can let Western Michigan waltz, or possibly tango, through the slot a dozen times in a single hockey game. They can try some sort of center-ice pinch that was months ago but still remains crystal-clear in my memory as the most insane decision I've seen since Jack Johnson was around, making insane decisions seem like good ideas.
Yeah, actually. This hockey team is Jack Johnson, the hockey team.
But they have just about done it, with an assist from Minnesota's backup goalie. They have waddled their way into the NCAA tournament. Since they're on the bubble, their tournament starts one weekend early and has a very strange structure where one loss is permissible in most situations as long as it doesn't come against Penn State.
You may think this doesn't quite count. I do. I will be turning on a television at three on a Thursday to watch Michigan play a hockey game in front of 14 people as I try not to have a panic attack. If that's not the NCAA hockey tournament it's close enough.
If—if—if—ifffffffffffff Michigan does in fact get past Penn State, a possibility I am absolutely not taking for granted because this would be like taking a spiderweb for granted as you clung to it over the Grand Canyon, they will be in barring specific clusters of results. And that will be fine. Just making the tournament was everybody's first and only goal in a year when the second defenseman on the depth chart was terrifying—let alone the second pairing—and the goaltender situation was a cloud of question marks.
Even when they were rushing out to a blazing start, nobody who was watching them play was harboring delusions of grandeur. They're rickety on the back end and only flash their talent at forward often enough to drive you crazy when they go a month without scoring a goal on purpose. As the man said, they are who they are.
And since they are who they are—a man careening endlessly from one extreme to the other—they've got as much of a shot as anyone does in the barely-weighted plinko that is the worst championship format in sports. Once their spot is secured they could roll out onto the ice against the top two teams in the country and hold their own, as they did against Minnesota and Boston College.
They could implode in a pile of sawdust, yeah. Everyone can implode in a pile of sawdust. One seeds get plunked on the regular by random collections of initials that happen to have a hockey team. We've got one, and you don't want to face us, no way. Unless it's one of those days where you really do. But it might not be one of those days. It might be one of those other days. Nothing is certain, except that after it is over you will sit down and hold your head and wait for the room to come to a full and complete stop.
We're in! Ish! [Rapai]
Despite being a three seed if the season ended today, Michigan is not safe with a win over Penn State. Unfortunately, there are a number of scenarios that leave them the first team out if they go 1-1 at the Big Ten tourney. That's because the margins are tiny this year. The RPI gap from 11th—where Michigan sits—down to 17th is less than a point.
Michigan can't get passed by #17 Northeastern since they're out of the HE tournament, but Minnesota State, North Dakota, Vermont, Cornell, and Colgate are all within striking distance. All save Vermont are active in their conference tourneys. If Michigan beats Penn State they will finish ahead of the Catamounts; the rest is up for grabs.
Teams are so tightly packed that changing a single result has surprising and inexplicable consequences. In one scenario, Minnesota State beating Ferris in the WCHA final is the difference between MSU-Mankato finishing outside of the tourney or getting a three seed. It also knocks Colgate out as Michigan passes them for obscure opponents-opponents-win-percentage reasons.
But here are some things I can tell you:
Michigan is (almost certainly) safe if they reach the Big Ten final. Even in the worst case scenario where somehow they face MSU and lose to them, thus crushing their RPI along with my skull and providing MSU a bid, they sneak in over the line unless there are two additional bid thieves. If it's Ohio State or Minnesota their RPI will land them as a three seed even in the event of a loss.
They could sneak onto the two line by winning the tournament. A low two is their top end.
1-1 is very likely good enough. It would take some seriously bad luck for every bubble team to man up in the fashion necessary to boot M from the tourney.
0-1 is not over. BUT LET'S NOT EXPLORE THAT OKAY.
Teams you hate. Life gets much, much easier for Michigan if Cornell and Colgate lose their ECAC semifinals to Quinnipiac and Union, respectively. Both of those latter teams are already in. The two C outfits are right on Michigan's heels. Their performance is almost more important than Michigan's—they can get in with a Penn State loss as long as the ECAC results fall right.
Bid thieves are always a bubble team's foe. Those are UNH in Hockey East, BGSU and Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA, Denver, Miami, and WMU in the NCHC, and any Big Ten university with "State" in the name.
Teams you like. Root for North Dakota in the NCHC and Lowell in Hockey East, the former because it's the only current at-large from that league, the latter because every bit of schedule strength is going to count down the stretch here.
Ballpark. Michigan is 99% to make it with a 2-1 record this weekend, 80% to make it with 1-1, and 50% to make it with 0-1.
So frustrating. I kind of get why Minnesota may have relaxed on Saturday after securing the conference title, but it's not like they had nothing to play for. The #1 overall seed gets the Atlantic Hockey opponent that is generally far worse than any other in the field (but will still have a goalie who makes 60 saves because goalies are all far too good these days). BC and Minnesota were competing for that.
It in fact turns out that they had nothing to play for because Boston College got knocked out of the Hockey East tournament, guaranteeing Minnesota the top seed in the tournament.
Minnesota didn't know that on Saturday, though and by the time their backup goalie had ceded his first truly bad goal he'd been beaten on a procession of perfect water-bottle pops that comprised the prettiest set of goals seen in Yost Ice Arena in a long time. And the previous night, when Minnesota was going all out for the title, Michigan played them dead even.
So if they'd done what a team that plays Minnesota dead even does against some of the worst guys on their schedule…
And the avatar of that. Alex Guptill came off his healthy scratch in the aftermath of one of those horrible losses and Got The Message for about the fifth time in his career, playing impressive hockey. Some of the stuff he does is NHL-level.
There was one particular rush on which he repositioned himself in just the proper way so he could snap a shot past the defender's leg. That shot was whistling towards the top of the net before the goalie managed to snag it. It did not go in, but I muttered "Jesus" under my breath because the move and shot were so nasty.
I just hope he doesn't run out of attention before the end of the season here. If he comes back for his senior year—no idea—with the intention of getting an NHL contract for serious he could be a Hobey finalist. Or he could just be the most frustrating player in the last 15 years of Michigan hockey. Enormous wild card.
Sinelli emerging. The crazy thing about Andrew Sinelli these days is that he couldn't manage to find his way onto the ice as a forward during his first two years. He seems so assured with the puck as a defenseman that it's hard to envision him as a healthy scratch. Now that he's settling into his new role he is activating himself on offense more, not only for his hat trick against MSU but also several times in the Minnesota series he found himself in a dangerous position with the puck after making a nice read as to how the play would develop.
Is he Michigan's #2 defenseman now? With Kevin Clare playing his best hockey, probably not… but it's close.
The Hyman breakout. Happy to be right about this:
Inexplicable player enthusiasm of the year. Always one guy on the team who does nothing statistically but I find a way to advocate anyway, and this year it's Zach Hyman. Hyman's 1-2-3 line is obviously bleah. I still manage to think that he's much better at coming out of the corners with a purpose than anyone else on the team and should be flanked by two skilled players to take advantage of his ability to create offense off the cycle.
He seems like a different player, even if the stats aren't showing it. Remember this if he blows up in the next 20 games. Forget it if he doesn't.
After starting out with that 1-2-3 line in 13 games he put up 7-8-15 in his next 21.
Shuart's potential. Max Shuart has a nice combination of size and speed that hasn't really done much in his limited opportunities, but he seems like an intriguing guy to keep an eye on for next year. Could develop into a third line/PK guy.
3/6/2014 – Michigan 84, Indiana 80 – 23-7, 15-3 Big Ten
Hello. I shoot 69%. They gave me a hat. [Fuller]
Arizona's lost, Virginia's lost, Wisconsin's lost, Duke's lost, Michigan State's lost, everyone's lost. They've all done so against teams ranging from mediocre to horrible. Losing is not hard; not losing is super hard. Michigan hasn't lost but three times in an 18 game Big Ten schedule and won the league by a staggering three-game margin. That's hard.
Michigan's done this despite being "soft" by any reasonable definition. Poke an opposing fan in a bad mood and they will hurl this charge. It's hard to dispute. Michigan's defense hovers around 100th in Kenpom. Their rebounding is middling at best. They do not steal the ball or block shots; they're dead last in the league at preventing two pointers from going in. Tom Izzo looks ready to die and is throwing most of his team under the bus for being softbatch, and his outfit is second in the league.
Meanwhile, here are the conference records of teams that finished last in two-point defense in the past ten years: 4-14, 4-14, 7-11, 4-14, 9-9, 1-17, 2-14, 6-10, 1-15, 3-13, 2-14.
This is a parade of Carmody-era Northwestern teams and anybody-era Penn State with the occasional outlier thrown in. You may be familiar with one of those outliers. That 9-9 record was John Beilein's first tourney team at Michigan, Stu and Zack and Manny and a Crisler eruption. Michigan broke through with a statistical indicator that usually means you're Penn State. A bad version of Penn State. Michigan got to the second round of the tourney.
This year's league-worst two point defense annihilated what's statistically the best conference in the country. Last year Michigan took a defense that entered the NCAA tourney in the 70s and charged into the national title game.
This is not a normal thing. Every year, people pull profiles of past NCAA champions out and dismiss Michigan because they don't have enough defense. Michigan does not seem to notice. They are too busy playing NBA Jam.
Michigan must be approaching the practical limit of offensive efficiency. Sometimes, like first halves against Nebraska and Illinois, they approach the theoretical limit.
Over the past decade only a half-dozen teams exceeded Michigan's current output, and they are generally 30 win teams: Chris Paul at Wake Forest, the uber-loaded 2009 Carolina squad that dismantled MSU in the title game, that one year Jon Diebler hit 50% from three off of Jared Sullinger kickouts. These teams are juggernauts, charging through major-conference regular seasons with two or three losses.
This year, the teams scraping the ceiling are not juggernauts. Creighton, Duke, and Michigan are probing these heights with the aid of the sometimes-goofy new rules, but they've all lost at least six games already. None will be top seeds. All have defenses ranging from 80th to 100th on Kenpom. All have offenses that are otherworldly.
Together they comprise a new version of contender, a major-conference version of three-point sniping underdogs. Each takes 40% of their shots from behind the line and connects on 40% of their attempts. The other teams at the top of the the three-point-make charts are more often Utah State and Drake than they are major conference teams.
This year, the feisty 12 shooting down a five-seed has migrated into the protected seeds, with all the rights and privileges therein. Chaos beckons. I've got no idea what's going to happen, but I know that it is going to be crazy. Stock up on subs.
Hall of fame. If you get three encomiums in one career you're a MGoHall of Fame lock. Jordan Morgan has cleared the bar. He has been here for the entire building process and now stands at the top of the Big Ten, net in teeth. Those who stay will be champions. (And most of those who don't.) Hiring John Beilein was a good idea.
Anyway: Indiana came out with a gameplan that was essentially a Jordan Morgan diss track, starting 6'7" freshman Devin Davis and switching every screen. Morgan was not about to take that slap in the face on senior day. He posted, he rebounded, he kept Michigan in the game during the period where Indiana literally could not miss. He ended 7/8 from the floor with five offensive rebounds and a couple steals.
His makes showed an advanced knowledge of how to finish without the ability to play above the rim, especially the bucket on which one dribble led to a tight-angle layup around Vonleh. He just finished a season shooting 69% as a 6'8" non-leaper. Sure sure sure a lot of those were put on a platter for him, but there are a lot of guys who get things put on a platter for them who don't shoot anywhere near 69%. I mean, his ORtg is higher than anyone on the team other than Albrecht.
BONKERS. Speaking of ORTG, the worst on the team still belongs to Derrick Walton, and his number is 110, up 11 points from midseason. Indiana has one guy above that—Ferrell, obvs. Vonleh is just about tied with Walton.
Michigan's offense is just bonkers this year.
Obligatory photo of everyone else smiling because they did something spectacular and difficult as Jon Horford mediates or something. We would not let you down in a matter this important.
you may be on the court at Crisler after winning the Big Ten by three games
I am on the court as well
but I am also under the Banyan tree
inventing the world anew every moment [Fuller]
Will Sheehey can't check this no mo [Fuller]
Point guard on Stauskas: dead. Hail the Beilein adjustment matrix. Michigan started out against Michigan State by obliterating MSU's previous defensive strategy. A collection of back cuts and down screens got Michigan a bunch of looks at the basket and forced MSU to stop denying the perimeter. At that point Michigan could just run their offense, which was their offense and therefore ridiculous.
Michigan's Borg-like ability to adapt to phaser frequencies was also on display in this one. We spent the better part of a month fretting about opponents shutting down Nik Stauskas by sticking their point guards on him. This strategy was initiated in Michigan's loss at Assembly Hall (Yes That Assembly Hall). Stauskas again drew Ferrell. Results: 21 points on 17 shot equivalents, two assists, one turnover. Stauskas got quick post ups for buckets, drove past Ferrell, shot over Ferrell. Etc.
Stauskas has put up 25, 15, 21, 24, and 21 in his last five games. He's adapted to little guys in his grill, mostly by raining it in from three, but here the drives were also effective.
Zone. The 1-3-1 was the difference in the game. It shot Indiana's uncharacteristically low turnover rate into the stratosphere and didn't give up any worse shots than the man to man was. The 1-3-1 is inherently a high risk, high reward defense that does give up a lot of GRAHHHHH dunks, offensive rebounds, and open threes. It compensates by turning the opponent over. So when you're giving up a lot of GRAHHHHH dunks and open threes anyway, you might as well get some turnovers.
It is frustrating that Michigan did not try out a packed-in 2-3 and dare anyone not named Ferrell to raise up over it. They only have so much time to work on things, I guess, but given Indiana's struggles against a 2-3 it seems like it would have been something to try once it became apparent that dribble penetration was there for anyone who wanted it.
Instead, the 1-3-1 worked just fine. Indiana had 12 second half turnovers, many of them forced by the zone and specifically Caris LeVert's ever-extending hands. He's only credited with two steals in the box score but his impact was much larger than that as the flypaper dude at the top.
Entering the tourney, having the 1-3-1 in Michigan's back pocket is a major asset, especially given that they're down to 93rd in defense on Kenpom. They may have to change what they're doing at some point when the man to man just isn't working.
coachin' in a van down by the river [Bryan Fuller]
Clap on, Clappy. Michigan got the ball back up three with 39 seconds left. Indiana did not trap or press; they eventually fouled Spike Albrecht with 17 seconds left on the shot clock. Crean was apparently screaming at his team to foul for a good 10 seconds of that delay, even so that's just… wow. Let's just say I can't see a Beilein team not knowing that you should try to steal the ball and foul quickly in that situation.
GET OFF THE COURT, SCHRUTE. Crean actually shoved one of his players then forced the referee to box him out on one Indiana possession. Beilein had already been hit with a technical for saying something along the lines of "dagnabit," and Crean's on the court affecting the play. Nothing.
They've got to do something about this in the offseason. Dump your horrible charge changes* and actually enforce technicals against coaches who show up on the court. For the love of pants.
*[Semi-weekly charge bitching goes here. Adriean Payne had been set for a good two seconds on this "block":
Worst block/charge call of the year? pic.twitter.com/6OMl5bILXY
— World of Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) March 9, 2014
Meanwhile, Spike Albrecht can't get a call because he's tiny and flies halfway across the arena when a 6'8" guy puts his shoulder into him. It looks like a flop because Spike Albrecht is tiny. And then Morgan gets a call on the 1-3-1 as he slides under Troy Williams after Williams is already in the air. They need to simplify the call, because the refs simply cannot make it.]
"DAGNABIT" works. Indiana got called for a bunch of travels in the second half after Beilein's tech. I hate coach ref histrionics, but they apparently work.
Brackets. Palm hasn't budged on Michigan as the #2 in the West with Arizona despite the carnage around them. Brad Evans of Yahoo has Michigan fifth overall, presumably matched with Villanova in the East. Lunardi has Michigan the #2 in the South opposite Florida. Crashing the Dance's algorithm has Michigan, Kansas, Syracuse, and Wichita State in a veritable dead heat for spots 4-7.
While it's unlikely Wichita is in any danger of dropping off the one line—algorithms are having slight issues with a 33-0 MVC team—it's anyone's guess how the twos get ordered. At this point it looks like Michigan is a lock to get one; hopefully they can play themselves out of the West. Indianapolis is obviously ideal for the regionals, and it does seem like Michigan can play themselves there by winning the BTT. Kansas and Virginia losses in their tournaments would help.
One thing that seems assured: Michigan will be in Milwaukee for the first weekend. Save Wisconsin, their competitors for that spot (Creighton, Iowa State, Cincinnati, MSU) are probably incapable of passing M on the S-curve.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten tournament sets up nicely for Michigan with Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin on the other side of the bracket:
Indiana is clearly a bad matchup for M; everyone else they could meet before the final is manageable.
The most interesting bracketology debate, by the way, is Duke. Palm had them a 5 seed before their win over UNC, citing a near-total lack of accomplishments on the road. They're now a weak 4 on his bracket. Lunardi still has them a 2. Lunardi's got a rep for not being particularly good until late, when he talks to people close to the committee. If Duke does end up a fringe Sweet 16 seed, that is point Palm.
Congratsketball. Well done, Nebrasketball. By beating Wisconsin you've moved yourselves definitively off the bubble and finished a near-undefeated home season. And the only thing you lose this offseason is Ray Gallegos.
3/4/2014 – Michigan 84, Illinois 53 – 22-7, 14-3 Big Ten – Outright champs
Good. In your face, Nanna Egwu. Good. [Bryan Fuller]
Before Ace took over full-time basketball preview duties, I wrote many of them. I eschewed "preview" to call these posts "Death From Above," because I thought it sounded cool. I fielded regular questions as to what the hell that meant.
If you want the deep background, "death from above" was a maneuver you could execute in walking-robot-wargame Battletech wherein your giant man-shaped robot would take off and attempt to land on the head of an opposing giant man-shaped robot. The goal was to crush the cockpit and pilot, rendering the exoskeleton inert, dripping ominous fluids.
I can only assume that all has been made clear after Michigan's high-arcing deep shots proved laser-guided at Illinois. John Beilein basketball is death from above.
Complete Illinois game notes, updated:
GRIII starts with layup
LOL STAUSKAS I’M DEAD
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) March 5, 2014
Assembly Hall (not that Assembly Hall) drips today.
The three pointer has always been the great leveler in college basketball. Poke a random NCAA tourney upset and you're likely to find a bunch of short guys firing in threes as the favorite struggles outside the arc.
John Beilein came of age as a coach in a milieu of random players barely recruited. He found success by taking spare parts and arranging them into a machine that rained in threes. This was generally effective but not as much as legend would have it. Beilein won regular season conference championships twice in ten years at Richmond and Canisius, and finished third in the gargantuan Big East in 2005-2006. His reputation rested on an upset of South Carolina as a 14-seed with Richmond and the Pittsnogle-era WVU team's runs into the Elite Eight and Sweet 16.
But he'd lifted teams without structural advantage. He made every team he'd had competitive after a one-year adjustment period, though, and that seemed like gold to a Michigan fan. At the time the prospect of a consistently .500 Big Ten team with the occasional third-place finish followed by tourney upsets seemed like heaven. I was stridently in favor of Beilein's hire because I thought he'd turn Michigan into the kind of program that pushes Duke to the brink in the second round.
In that post I asserted that 21-14, 9-9 Michigan would be a one seed in an "exceeded expectations" tournament. I also asserted this:
I've been searching for a Michigan equivalent and in my memory can only come up with the '97 national title team. Unless there was a basketball team that outdid this year's—unlikely—I think you have to go back to 1969 to pull another team that so wildly exceeded what was expected of them.
To find a team with as good a claim to exceeding expectations as this 14-3 outright-Big-Ten-champs outfit that lost Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Mitch McGary you have to go back… uh… one year, when Trey Burke blew up into a Naismith winner and Michigan reached the national title game. The next potential candidate makes you reach back all the way to a team that shared a Big Ten title with Zack Novak at power forward… two years ago.
This is all very strange, not only to us, but to the guy who assembled this unlikely powerhouse.
"I don’t know what to think. I have this funny, quiet feeling where you set out to accomplish a goal and you accomplish it. It’s strange." [ed: –John Beilein]
— Joe Stapleton (@joe_stapes) March 5, 2014
The warmness inside you right now is thanks to the arc on the court that separates two from three.
The great leveler levels because threes are great shots, amongst the best shots. Beilein structured his entire basketball career around that intuition, constructing small-ball outfits everywhere he's gone. Sometimes he had four shooters; sometimes he had five. One guy probed inside as the other four created space around the arc, giving everyone space and time to find shots at the rim.
While the mechanism has shifted as Michigan acquires ball-screen maestro after ball-screen maestro, the overall pattern remains the same. The bigs shoot 70% because the opponent can't let Michigan get threes off. The threes come when they come and go in at a high clip, and something Beilein is in charge of floats higher than they have been in a long time.
It's only right that at the pinnacle of Beilein's regular season career the threes would rain in at will. Dan Dakich keeps saying "the ball knows." While this is normally irritating to your engineering-oriented author, as Michigan rained in death from above yesterday it did feel a little like the three point line sought to repay him for the long years of faith and devotion.
Well, then. There is very little to say about that game except "please Stauskas don't hurt 'em (except do)." Michigan shot 70% from three, goodnight, analysis over.
Other than the swelling three-point percentages from Michigan's shooters the main takeaway here was that Spike needs to take care of the ball better in the late stages of laughers when he is pursuing a double-digit A:TO ratio across the Big Ten season.
[Speaking of Spike, and since there's not really much to talk about game-wise, remember this site's obsession with NC State hobbit PG Tyler Lewis last year? Lewis was a McDonalds All-American despite being the same stature as Albrecht, and then he proceeded to do very little.
Lewis vs Spike, year two:
Lewis is stuck on a team that doesn't assist on many shots, stats are not the be all and end all, etc., but there's not much question who you'd rather have on your team. Hail this staff's talent identification. This has been Brian's Ongoing Obsession With Random College Basketball Players theater.
There will be no Nnanna Egwu section this time since he's pulled his DREB rate into the solid double-digits.]
But seriously. Strugging to say much of anything… oh, okay.
Jon Horford is really into Camus. There is just a shower of post-title photos featuring members of the team smiling an Jon Horford being Jon Horford, and thinking about things and stuff, deep things and hard stuff.
Not even a locker room shot can rouse the corners of Horford's mouth from their slumber:
That's not his postgame photo role, and that's why having Andrew Dakich around is crucial.
MAKE 'EM SAY UNH
Like father, like son.
If I make a joke here I will get a nasty tweet from the man himself [Bryan Fuller]
Non-trivial Horford business. One game ago, Horford got a quick hook in the second half after Mo Walker went to work on him. In this outing, Morgan hurt his back trying to take a charge and was limited to seven minutes. Horford stepped in and picked up ten rebounds; Illinois was limited to five offensive rebounds. On the year, Horford's DREB rate is a McGary-like 26.1.
It's nice to see him bounce back. There have been a number of games this year when one center or the other was having a rough day until the other guy stepped in. Having that flexibility is a big help; hopefully the Morgan withdrawal was a precautionary measure only.
If push comes to shove the obvious move is to try to get through the last few games without him. The only thing at stake now is a two or three seed line.
Speaking of. Expect Michigan to PLAY SOME WEIRD GUYS in the Big Ten tourney. Beilein has always run out some WTF lineups when faced with the possibility of three games in three days, and with Morgan questionable, Max Bielfeldt may be called on for double-digit minutes. Having a 6'6" center is not conducive to winning the Big Ten tourney title, but I don't think Beilein cares one whit about that.
Nobody seems to. A lot of fanbases openly pine for a second-game exit so as to not have three consecutive games before a potential Thursday/Saturday NCAA tournament weekend. They should really just dump the thing and play a couple more conference games, but I don't think the NCAA would let that fly.
Defense? Illinois is a very bad offensive team (206th on Kenpom) but they got worse after Michigan dealt with them. After 1 PPP in the first half, Illinois couldn't do much of anything in the second. That marks consecutive opponents held under a point per possession. This is not exactly the Goin' To Work Pistons yet, but Michigan doesn't have to make a ton of progress in the D department to look like an (even more) dangerous tournament opponent.
No idea exactly why this improvement is going on. If they can maintain that through the next few games that would be encouraging.
Seed lines. Michigan is still stuck on the three-line with little upward mobility unless they can leapfrog the top ACC teams (Syracuse, Duke, Virginia) or pass Wisconsin by winning the Big Ten Title. Jerry Palm did pump Michigan over Duke given Duke's extremely weak road accomplishments and Syracuse is in a full-on tailspin after losing to Georgia Tech at home. (I told you about Syracuse.) If the Orange lose their season-ender against Florida State, a game that Kenpom predicts will be a nailbiter, they could drop to the three line and open up a slot for Michigan as a two. Virginia will provide competition there.
Not that it matters much this year, as one of the most wide-open tournaments in memory beckons.
Glennwatch. Did some good things—couple steals, good work from within the arc, a three. Drove to the bucket for a basket, too. His steal lead to a fast break on which Tracy Abrams got a contest in that by all rights should have forced a layup attempt. NOPE. Dunk metropolis.
Afterwards Abrams looked like he'd seen the Ark of the Covenant.
ENHANCE [Bryan Fuller]
One negative thing: he's got to stop bringing the ball up when he gets a rebound. His handle is very vulnerable to open-court steals and he doesn't initiate much transition offense.
Also, he took a contested three-point jack. That is vaguely acceptable if you are Nik Stauskas who rains death from above. When you're at 27% on the year, don't take that shot. Taking open ones, okay. Those are still decent to good shots even for a guy locked in a sophomore slump as bad as Tim Hardaway Jr's. That hand-in-the-face stuff not so much.
Still, we can add this to the recent string of encouraging GRIII performances after 13 points on 10 shot equivalents.
Just when you thought he was bottled up. Stauskas is 12 of 17 from three in his last two games, pushing his season average to 46%. One of them was a contested jack in front of 6'11" Nnanna Egwu. Another was from the parking lot right before the half. Good lord.
This is why Michigan should not settle for long twos early in the shot clock, because at any time they can get a switch and have a guy take a pretty decent three point look.
The climb. Remember early in the year when people were projecting Wisconsin would walk away with the title because of schedule imbalance? Well, Michigan's single plays were Northwestern, Penn State, Illinois, and Ohio State. The only team not in the vicinity of the bottom of the Big Ten standings is OSU, and Michigan only got a road game against them. This is the opposite of a fluke.
3/1/2014 – Michigan 66, Minnesota 56 – 21-7, 13-3, guaranteed share of Big Ten title
He moved it with his mind [Eric Upchurch]
Let us recalibrate ourselves.
I'm 34. Growing up, it was expected that Michigan won things. In football. And therefore in everything else, because football is everything except at, like, Kansas. (Kansas hired Charlie Weis on purpose. Basketball focus is kind of a disease.) That bled into other things, and then success was expected. This Is Michigan.
Success is still expected, in rhetoric and increasingly anachronistic Michigan-directed hate from fanbases around the Big Ten. Rivalry things I get. I don't get Iowa being livid about everything after taking five of six because of Bo, basically. Even after the key thing was eminently humbled, the new guy came in saying This Is Michigan, and yours truly and everyone else ate it up.
But the reality is that Michigan is in an increasingly demographically unfavored situation, waiting until water scarcity and global warming drives the people back into its bosom. Reputation and momentum worked in tandem to forestall the impact of these trends, and then: kaboom. First basketball, then football, and then sort of but pretty much hockey.
The dominion of Michigan is increasingly hard to see sustained. There is a lot of money and fanbase and these things should keep them above middling; Michigan fans expect any program fielded to be mentioned in the same breath with the elites. We are ill prepared to deal with anything but, what with infinite bowl streak that still defines our self-perception. 13 years into the post-Cooper era at OSU and it still feels like a cruel surprise.
Here's the thing.
Birthright fandom kind of sucks. You expect thing X and you must have thing X and anything slightly short of thing X is terrible. Being around OSU fans talking epic crap about every slightly deficient player on their team is both revelatory and probably a glimpse into what I thought in the immediate vicinity of 1997. See Kentucky basketball.
Hoping not to die is more fun. Ask an MSU fan about this, in re: Rose Bowl.
These things are inevitable historical trends that catch entire fanbases up and cannot be resisted. Success begets the expectation of more of that. What I am saying is that Michigan is now a hope-not-to-die set of programs with a birthright fanbase. We should recalibrate ourselves, for good fun.
When Michigan hired John Beilein they hadn't been to an NCAA tournament since 1998, when Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock were team leaders. The year before, Maurice Taylor joined those gentlemen on a team that didn't make it at all; Taylor left for the NBA draft, where the Knicks drafted him because they are the Knicks. He tooled around the NBA for a decade, shooting long twos and flinching from any loose ball that came within three feet of him.
John Beilein hates no one and makes self-depreciating jokes about subs being crazy and brings in Novaks and Burkes and Stauskases and Morgans. It is in fact cute when he loses his mind at the latest refereeing outrage he's been exposed to, even as it seems to get results these days.
He picks out random post-grad point guards from Indiana and leads them to double-digit A:TO ratios, and even when Michigan does happen to have a pile of NBA players on their roster it's by accident and development. Nobody's rushing to give these gentlemen shoe contracts until Beilein (and Alexander and Meyer and Jordan) reconfigure them.
This is one thing. This is a good thing. I supported Beilein's hire because I thought his floor was what he would do at West Virginia and Richmond and wherever he'd ever been, bringing in guys who would outperform recruiting expectations and enter many NCAA tournaments as the team you don't want as a Sweet 16 seed.
Then there is the other thing. Beilein won a Big Ten title with Novak as his power forward, and went to the championship game the next year on the back of a Penn State decommit and an NBA legacy no one really seemed to want. And this year, down both of those first-round draft picks he and his assistants identified and developed, down the one super-blue-chip recruit Beilein has ever acquired, Michigan won the Big Ten. They are just about a lock to win it outright for the first time in almost 30 years.
I know you are inclined because of that drought, and I think I probably don't have to tell many people this thing, but I kind of have to tell myself. This is not normal. This is not something that can be expected. This is not Michigan, not in that sense.
It seems to be Michigan. And the Michigan it posits is a different, bizarre, wondrous thing. Not because of anything inherent. There are places better able to recruit with athletic departments better at creating an environment. This has nothing to do with institutional momentum, because there was none. This is whole cloth, from which they've made three banners in three years. And counting.
This is not This Is Michigan. This is better.
Randomness is random. Very frustrating start from behind the line as Michigan goes 2/12 on mostly high quality looks (there were a couple Stauskas jacks that were tough). Irvin in particular went 0/3 on three must-take shots. But things evened out with a hot streak that saw Michigan finish the game at 39%, just about on their season average.
I was about to start rage-shaking about another impossibly slow offensive start when Michigan kicked it into gear. So there's that.
GRIII doin' things. Figures that as soon as I say Robinson should basically never take anyone off the bounce he starts doing that rather effectively. He drove to the lane and dumped a pass off to Morgan for an and-one. I was all like "urk?" Then he drove Buggs to the baseline and set up Stauskas for the triple in Stauskas/LeVert Corner, and I was like "guuuurk?"
That is real progress. He's had three assists in consecutive games, a feat he only achieved once before this year, against Penn State, and he's generated at least a few of his own shots. It's still a work in progress, as the frustrating turnovers when he brings the ball up indicate, but at least the last four games (averaging 6/9 from two) provide a indication of that progress stuff.
And then there were the usual GRIII-is-destroying-Tokyo things. He re-enacted his game winner against Purdue and brought the house down on 1) a Stauskas alley oop and 2) a bang bang bang transition oop that had me waving myself with an elaborate hat and moaning "mercy!"
I do think he needs to have more impact on the boards on both ends. The OREB/putback after Minnesota had closed in the second half was awesome; it reinforced his ability in that department and the unfortunate rarity of things like that. He's got close to the same athleticism Braden Dawson does (Dawson is thicker) but is nowhere near Dawson's spectacular 13.2 OREB rate.
The zoom in. Ace pointed out that if you zoom in on one of Eric's GRIII-destroys-Tokyo images you get magic:
This contains the Horford/McGary dichotomy, the bench mob going off, Andrew Dakich like crane-kicking a dude, and John Beilein reacting exactly how I did, with a sort of stiff "okay hurray GET BACK ON DEFENSE."
Long twos! Argh! I don't mind a long two with 12 or 10 or 8 seconds on the shot clock. Once the clock gets much under that people start overplaying the shot you have to take, and your chances of finding something super is not great. Even 15 is tolerable. 25 sends me into conniption fits, especially against one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten, and it certainly seemed like Michigan was taking a ton of 'em.
That Stauskas aggressiveness thing does lead to a bunch of questionable shots, and I'm okay with it when the payoff is 3 points at like a 30 or 35 percent rate, two at a 35 or 40 percent rate drives me nuuuuuuts.
The elbow jumpers are fine, the threes are fine, it's just those shots a step inside the line that make me hear Bo Ryan cackling in the background.
Turned that off. Morgan and Horford got beat up a bit early as Elliot Eliason went 4/5 and got another layup that Horford had to foul on (he missed both FTs). And then Eliason ceased existing. Major credit to Morgan for preventing entry passes and ripping down several critical MANBOUNDS late.
Morgan didn't get many opportunities on the offensive end, partially because he had a rough game catching passes and the occasional offensive rebound, but the brief second-half section where Horford came in and got crushed by Mo Walker hammered home how well Morgan was cutting off the things Minnesota was trying to do inside. I am slightly worried that there will be a chemistry breakdown next year without him even if McGary comes back, and while that's probably an irrational fear borne of recent Merritt/Lee and Glendening departures, it is real.
Title chance update! Secured. Win @ Illinois or against Indiana and it's outright.
Seed update. The three seed is now unanimous amongst serious prognosticators. Algorithmic source Crashing The Dance was the last holdout, as it still has Creighton and Iowa State ahead of M, items which do not seem true to humans with good track records. Michigan's chance at a 2 is pretty slim, though. They are not likely to pass Syracuse or Duke, Villanova would have to drop some unexpected games, and Wisconsin is hard to pass with their wins over Florida and UVA. If only Michigan could have gotten six more points against Charlotte and Arizona they'd probably be a one, but alas and alack.
2/26/2014 – Michigan 77, Purdue 76 (OT) – 20-7, 12-3 Big Ten
If you're wondering where I was last night on twitter, I was studiously avoiding it because I was in Auburn Hills watching Lydia Loveless refuse to stop playing music when the rest of you were watching Michigan play Purdue. Lydia Loveless is a machine built to play country music some people are now describing as "cowpunk."
There was no encore, just the increasing irritation of her band as the set went on and on and on. She gave them a break to play a couple songs by herself, and then eventually it became clear the show was over about three songs after she had clarified they had time for just one more. Then after the end of the set she asked the guy behind the bar if being out of time meant they had to stop. To his immense credit, the guy made a combo shrug/thumbs-up motion. Lydia Loveless donned a jacket and drafted her pedal steel guitar bandmate to cover
- Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream."
- An Eagles song that I don't recall lyrics from but sounded enjoyable despite it being the Eagles.
- One Direction's "They Don't Know About Us."
These were all transformatively great. It was insane, worrying—I asked the MGoWife if someone would have to tackle Lydia Loveless off the stage for the show to end—and ultimately awesome.
So I watched the Purdue game despite not watching the Purdue game, and then I watched it again. The second time only moved the swearing from the entertainment to the viewer, and concluded more strangely.
It did not start strangely. It started like it always starts, with Michigan falling in a well. They have something like a 98% chance to hang a banner at the end of the year and they have ended up in double-digit first half holes in five games running. This has to be some sort of record. Someone sic a sports bureau on the combination of conference championships and consecutive games with double-digit deficits.
I'll be over here deciding not to throw a glass of whiskey either at the cat, or the TV, or going outside and throwing it as far as I can manage in the hopes it will turn into a CERTIFICATE OF MENTAL TOUGHNESS that will self-replicate 12 times and flit away into the hands of the Michigan basketball team. Perhaps then, assured that their grit and determination in the face of adversity has been demonstrated to the point of official, gilt recognition, they will f---ing stop it.
I don't know about you, but when the basketball team you are hoping wins gets down that much, the ensuing trudge back (if there is one) is an exercise in irrational hatred of everything. The OSU and MSU games were fine, as ten-point hole was ephemeral. Michigan quickly achieved near-parity and went from there. This one was an extended exercise in rolling around with a straight jacket on. I don't need them to play better or win more. I just need the points to be more evenly distributed across the 40 minutes of play. (I need them to play better and win more. More, always more.)
But hey, they won. On the backs of Glenn Robinson, Jordan Morgan, and Spike Albrecht, just like everyone expected.
Robinson in particular played a complete game the likes of which he has not put together in a long time: 17 points on 13 shot equivalents, eight rebounds, three assists, and one turnover. He generated a good number of his shots himself, against a defense that was amped up and aggressive on the perimeter.
I've made no secret of my frustration at Robinson's game this year. He hasn't seemed to add anything; meanwhile LeVert and Stauskas are entirely different players. His rebound rates are pedestrian at best. (He's currently tied with Derrick Walton in DREB rate.) I am still suspicious of his awareness on defense—his dude, Rapheal Davis, had five offensive rebounds one game after multiple MSU baskets were directly attributable to Robinson not getting back in transition.
And then sometimes, Lottery GRIII appears. Sometimes he elevates for a jumper that cannot be contested because getting your hand in his face would require cutting it off and throwing it at him. Sometimes there's a lob in the direction of the basket and he continues ascending after he makes the catch. Sometimes, though. Just sometimes.
At Michigan's time of need they knew Purdue would overplay Stauskas and that they should try to hit something over the top, because they needed one measly point and they had 2.9 seconds to get it. They drew up a lob pass with Spike screening GRIII's guy, and executed—barely.
The pass was a rainbow that managed to get over an outstretched hand but took its target a step too far outside, a step too far towards the baseline. Robinson took a power dribble as he landed from the catch to reset his feet; he did not gain the requisite distance as Spike's defender came in to harass him. It looked grim.
But there are people who can make a One Direction song sound poignant, and there are people who can catch alley-oops and hang there, untethered. Some people can leap from behind the backboard outside the paint and still be in the air five feet later, just where they need to be as the clock strikes zero.
Gotta shore up that free throw defense. If you screamed "MISS ONE FOR CHRIST'S SAKE" sometime in the second half with a Boiler at the line, you are not alone. The worst FT shooting team in the Big Ten hit 17 straight to open before the final, fateful miss; Michigan was a couple of shots behind their season average at 17/25. When all was said and done that was the difference between an extremely annoying but eventually comfortable win and TERROR IN CENTRAL INDIANA.
That business is just luck, pure and simple. At one point Stephen Bardo chalked it up to Purdue's "focus." Stephen Bardo could show up at a casino and praise the little old lady at the slots for her mental toughness when she hits a jackpot.
The hand of fate. A lot of these early holes seem like a series of completely random misses and makes. Michigan fell down against MSU early because Denzel Valentine hit a 30-footer and a running transition 3 while Michigan's generally excellent three point shooting put up a bunch of bricks; here Purdue gave up a half-dozen quality looks from three early and Michigan started 1/7 behind the line.
Meanwhile, Terone "Ann Arbor's All-American" Johnson hits his first four. Purdue isn't quite the crew of bricklayers they were last year but they're still 9th in conference at making threes and 11th at taking them, and at one point Michigan was 1/7 from three while Purdue was 5/10. Things returned to normal for the Boilers by the end; Michigan, not so much.
A very distributed night. If it was hard to pick out anything in particular anyone was doing right, that's because Michigan spread everything out. Six players grabbed offensive rebounds; five had at least three assists; six guys had at least eight points. Robinson and Morgan were your best players in terms of efficiency, but everyone was setting up everyone for shots so it was a team effort to get to 1.12 PPP despite shooting 6/23 from three.
Call it, for pant's sake. Heard today from someone who talked to a MAC assistant. Refereeing came up and he said that refs have a really tough job because they do all kinds of games for all kinds of conferences and they're told to call games differently based on what conference they're in. It will not surprise you that the Big Ten tells people to let things go way more than others.
This is cold comfort to Nik Stauskas today, I'm assuming. By the end of the game he was plunging into the lane and missing layups badly because he wasn't getting hammered on them. The standard of refereeing shifted dramatically from Sunday, when Bill Raftery deployed "nickel-dimer" a half dozen times in the first half, to Wednesday, when you had to ride over a guy's foot with a lawnmower to get a call. Unless it's Jordan Morgan, who will be told to stop bleeding all over the court and get up.
Just one of those nights. I had almost no problem with the shot selection aside from a couple of possessions where LeVert dribbled around for 15 seconds and hoisted one; Robinson also had a couple of nononoYES long twos. The 23 attempts from behind the arc were almost entirely great looks, because Purdue gives up great looks from three quite a bit. They're dead last in conference by some distance at permitting three point looks.
The crappy shooting got in Michigan's head. There was one transition opportunity on which Caris passed up an open corner three from the run-away-I-know-it's-good spot, whereupon Michigan turned the ball over. I exclaimed "SHOOT THE BALL"; the TV informed me that John Beilein had just exclaimed "SHOOT THE BALL" and I felt better.
Spike! Kept Walton stapled to the bench despite the terrifying prospect of a Spike-vs-pick-a-Johnson defensive matchup, and it paid off. He grabbed a rare two-point bucket, stole the ball twice, set up Morgan for two of his OT flushes, and had one bad ass alley-oop to Robinson.
Walton didn't do much other than shoot some threes against the persnickety perimeter defense of the Johnsons; Spike was better able to find shots for his teammates. "Luxury" doesn't begin to cover Albrecht's status on the roster.
2/21/2014 – Michigan 4, Penn State 5 (OT)
2/22/2014 – Michigan 5, Penn State 2 – 15-10-3, 7-6-1 Big Ten
They did call this. [Bill Rapai]
I just don't know, man. Michigan came out on Saturday and did what they should do to a team with six wins on the season—blow 'em out of the water. On Friday they blew a 3-0 lead, re-took the lead with 2 minutes left, and then proceeded to lose in overtime. That was no fluke. Penn State—the team with zero seniors—put up 40 shots on goal.
Michigan announced that wasn't going to happen again by holding PSU to five shots in the first and then put on the gas in the second. That they did this almost entirely without the services of Mac Bennett, who left the game early in the first period with some sort of arm injury, only reinforces the fact that Friday's effort can only be described with terms ranging from "pathetic" to "sad."
Since last year happened, Friday wasn't the ugliest thing I've seen transpire in Yost. Not by a longshot. It was still a disturbing callback to that grim Tuesday against Bowling Green. There are reasons the team isn't competitive with the Minnesotas of the world, but they don't include whatever Alex Guptill was doing on his shorthanded backcheck Friday. He's the last guy back and barely moves his feet; goal; healthy scratch the next night despite potting a goal that coulda/woulda won the game.
Rumors flew about bad apples last year bringing other folks down, and it seems like not all of them were shed in the offseason. It is a frustrating counterpoint to the basketball team when you see zero development from the vast majority of the upperclassmen.
Who's better this year? Hyman. Bennett. And I guess Sinelli, though it's tough to tell since he wasn't playing D before this year. The drafted forwards are all stuck in neutral, occasionally doing something that flashes their talent but failing to pick up on the reasons Compher and Copp are outdistancing them in points. If not bailed out by the goaltending this year, Michigan would be well adrift of even the tenuous tourney spot they claim now.
Before the season I asserted it would be tough for the guys who don't like to skate to maintain that level of laissez faire because Copp and Compher would force them to act right. That has not been accurate. The guys without buckets of talent play hard; the ones with soft hands float around the perimeter of the ice, and always shoot on two-on-ones.
If the team's going to play like they did Friday with Guptill and like they did Saturday without, it might be time to move on. Unfortunately, Michigan cannot scratch everyone except Compher, Motte, Copp, and Hyman—I have worked this out on paper and there are not enough people—so they'll have to skate some frustrating guys. Nailing the king of coasting to the bench at least sends a message about, you know, trying when the puck's not on your stick.
Pairwise update, AKA RPI update. Michigan's RPI survived the series at Minnesota because Minnesota's real good at the RPI now downplays road games you lose. It did not do so well after the Penn State split. Michigan is 14th, which is right on the cutline. At the end of the year whoever's in that spot is watching the conference tournament results in a panic.
I know I said they were in good shape, but they blew a rather comfortable margin over their current spot with two losses to a team with four other wins on the year. Given the difficulty of the schedule they're facing, they are probably okay if they go 4-2 down the stretch, but that requires either sweeping the next two weekends (home and homes against Ohio State and Michigan State) or taking something off Minnesota.
Given how they're playing, I bet Michigan goes into that Minnesota series really needing a split. Old Yost would know something like this and be a-rage. New Yost will probably not.
Hyman's point totals are beginning to match his play. [Bill Rapai]
It's happening. Zach Hyman was out there being impossible to take the puck off of on the boards and generating chances off the cycle for the whole season; he was still stuck on like three points. That has changed as Michigan pairs him with guys like Motte and occasionally Compher. He is on a five game point streak and has a 2-4-6 line over the past three weekends; he's now up to 14 points, nipping on the heels of the guys in the second group of scorers behind Compher and Copp.
The Kile check. It looked bad live but on the GIF you can tell that the contact is not severe and happens at the dot. A two minute penalty to be sure, but didn't rise to the level of (another) five and a game.
The check on Bennett. A hard check directly to Bennett's chest where the opponent stopped striding well before the hit; clean. No idea why Bennett was not aware of the guy coming in; someone's got to yell at him about it.
Bennett is out this weekend, making it hard for Michigan against a decent OSU team with a somewhat fearsome back line. He may be back the week after.