2/19/2012 – Michigan 56, Ohio State 51 – 20-7, 10-4 Big Ten
There will never be a "Trey Burke photo spectacularrr" tag on this blog, and that's the way Michigan likes it. There are under ten seconds on the shot clock against the top defense in the country, and Trey Burke is wearing an expression of nonchalant determination.
If he smiles at points they are normal-person smiles, not the arm-flailing, mouthpiece-threatening HRRAAAAAAHHHHs of Tim Hardaway Jr or Jared Sullinger. If you're not exactly calm, the sight of Burke bringing the ball up at least dampens your anxiety—whether you're fan, coach or teammate. He is the fastest and slowest player on the court.
As a group, basketball players cluster on the hysteric end of a continuum of public displays of emotion. Burke is a rare data point on the stoic side of things. He'll never have an Aneurysm of Leadership. He may clap his hands a bit, if he's feeling strongly. At some point someone will make one of those images showing the hilariously unchanging moods of an impassive individual featuring Trey Burke.
Trey Burke eating ice cream: nonchalant determination. Trey Burke taking a calculus exam: nonchalant determination. Trey Burke roaring at the basket with a three-point lead in the final minute of a game against the #1 defense in the country with a foot-taller-than-you opponent who knows your darkest childhood secrets leaping at you…
…nonchalant determination with a touch of premature aging.
Not shown on the jpeg will be the sweet kiss off the high glass and the ball arcing in for the game-sealing bucket, or the previous possession's not-quite-but-pretty-much-sealing blow-by and layup. They will only be implied.
Burke is of course one of many Michigan players who should be in over their heads. Jordan Morgan, Zack Novak, and Stu Douglass are the kind of guys who end up at Penn State and valiantly try to make an NIT. Even Hardaway did not have the recruiting profile you'd think—one and only one recruiting service (ESPN) stashed him at the end of their top 100. Burke himself was once a Penn State commit; after he reopened his recruitment his other finalist was Cincinnati.
Michigan is not valiantly trying to make an NIT. As of February 18th, 2012, Michigan is contending for a Big Ten title. Douglass and Novak are busting out their Kobe impersonations on step-back jumpers it's unbelievable they're even attempting, let alone making. Morgan is outplaying Jared Sullinger, if only for one game.
As I've sampled Big Ten message boards and blog comment sections over the course of the season, one theme continually re-emerges: I don't know how they're winning with these players. We're closer observers and can piece together a story about grit and surprising defense and making up for bad rebounding with transition points, but even that comes to a stuttering, unconvincing conclusion when the subject of Hardaway's three-point shooting comes up. And how is this lineup the fourth-best defense in the league anyway? Michigan has one post player!
Not even we can explain it. It just is.
If you're in the mood for some advice, here's mine: savor this. If this is Michigan's year of re-establishing itself—Michigan's This Is Michigan year—the things that come afterwards will feature a lot of wins and exciting times and fun. They'll also be burdened with expectations that aren't currently encumbering Michigan's motley crew of players rescued from the mid-major humane shelters of America. You know what it's like to have expectations. You're a Michigan football fan.
Here there is a rare opportunity to play with house money for big stakes. It will be the farthest thing from a disappointment if Michigan doesn't quite break their drought this year; if they do, that banner we know we can't give to Novak (and Douglass) despite wanting to will read "Big Ten Champions 2011-2012."
I'll be twitching uncontrollably as Michigan attempts this over the next two weeks. Trey Burke will eat ice cream and fly by in slow motion.
Our own Eric Upchurch's gallery:
And then I was like…
I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL DUDE
Titlewatch(!). The chance Michigan ends its 25 year Big Ten title drought is still slim but after Saturday it is extant. Unfortunately, Purdue blew a five point halftime lead against MSU by coming out for the second half and throwing up thirteen straight bricks, so MSU has a one-game edge on OSU and M for the conference lead. Wisconsin is another game back.
- MSU: @ Minnesota, Nebraska, @ Indiana, OSU
- OSU: Illinois, Wisconsin, @ NU, @ MSU
- M: @ NU, Purdue, @ Illinois, @ Penn State
- UW: @ Iowa, @ OSU, Minnesota, Illinois
Despite the home-road split, Michigan has a considerably easier road than anyone else. They'll probably get at least a share if they win out, which Kenpom thinks has a 15% chance of happening. Winning 13(!) is the most likely scenario, though, and that would require MSU dropping two and OSU one of their last four to get a three-way tie. That's a tall order.
"The pride of Columbus, Ohio." I've never been a fan of the Crisler PA guy ("WHO WANTS FREE PIZZZAAAAA") but I have to give it up: dubbing Trey Burke the Pride of Columbus was A+ trash talk. Sixty-five points awarded.
Matta WTF. I've had to shut up about my theory that Matta is as dumb as a rock as his team has annihilated everyone on defense, but Saturday provided a great flashback to the days when OSU was only pretty good and Matta seemed like a major impediment to them being better.
The situation: Michigan is up three with 42 seconds left on the clock as they inbound the ball. Matta doesn't foul, betting on a stop and OSU hitting a three after getting the ball back with seven seconds left. WTF?
You got Morg-owned. Jordan Morgan outplayed Jared Sullinger head to head. Full stop. This is a big component of how:
AnnArbor.com; Dustin Johnston/UMHoops
On two tightly-spaced second half possessions he ran the floor well ahead of Sullinger and threw down explosive dunks as Sullinger looked on in disgust.
Morgan may not be very tall or an explosive leaper but he has no equal in the league when it comes to running the floor as a center. He may have missed his true calling as a tight end.
[INTERMISSION: let's take this opportunity to Homer-drool over the prospect of a 6'8" tight end who can run like Morgan.]
Anyway, Morgan: 11 points on 5/8 shooting, 11 rebounds (2 offensive), 0 TOs. Sullinger: 14 points on 6 of 14 shooting, 8 rebounds (3 offensive), 3 TOs. Michigan has to react to Sullinger a lot more than vice versa, granted, but Morgan was efficient offensively and stellar defensively. Sullinger cannot say the same.
Also, damn that's a pass right there. Also also, if Morgan keeps missing absolute bunnies one of these days I'm going to pass out. He and Douglass had groaners in the first half I dwelled on.
Please, please please let Hardaway get what he wants this time. 13 points on 5 shots, 2 of 2 from three. Four turnovers and zeros most everywhere else on the stat sheet are less appealing but I'll take that efficiency.
Step-back step-ups. I wasn't quite right that Michigan needed to shoot significantly better from three than Ohio State to win—Michigan had a narrow edge with three makes on 13 shots; OSU needed 16 attempts to match—but that's because most of Michigan's long-range makes came from just within the three-point line. Hardaway had a couple of "no no no… YES" long twos with a bunch of time on the shot clock early; late Michigan got critical buckets from Douglass and Novak on NBA-style step-backs.
It's been said before but it's worth repeating: Lavall Jordan has worked miracles with both Novak and Douglass. Those guys now have the ability to get their own shot off the bounce when they have to or they sense an opportunity. Neither produced shot one last year. The development of the two seniors is akin to Michigan's defensive coaches turning Will Heininger into a pretty good player over the course of a single year—evidence that Michigan's player development is top notch. Combine that with the waves of talent in both major sports and you're cooking.
Offensive board obliteration measuration. Not incredibly horrible: OSU rebounded a third of their misses. That's only slightly above the national average of 32.2%. Also it seemed like a lot of them came on a couple of possessions where OSU got three or four putback attempts; patterns like that bother me less because I'd rather have the opponent have one possession with a very, very high rate of success than four with a less-but-still-very-good rate. Also at some point there are just a ton of dudes around the basket and they're all taller than you.
Obligatory reffing section. After trolling OSU message boards for some schadenfreude and discovering the reaction of the Michigan internet to Jay Bilas, I'll abort my planned ref-railin'. Not necessarily because I'm wrong but because I'm obviously so partisan that I can't be trusted in these matters.
Also, I was waiting for the whistle on this late Craft layup attempt and one never came:
Whether or not this event was actually quality D, it's one on which whistles are all but certain. I do question a bunch of calls but whatever.
Okay, it's just a conceit above. It's a pretty good conceit but this AnnArbor.com photo exposes its limitations:
ALL CAN BE FORGIVEN. I'll never say a bad word about Dave Brandon again if
1) Michigan wins at least a share of the Big Ten title and
2) the resulting banner bleeds like this:
Just the trickle down the side.
(Also, that's an excellent demonstration of the differences between Maize and our current yellow.)
"He played like a beast," Tim Hardaway, Jr. said. "He played like a man against the best big man in the country. And he took that to heart all week. All he heard was, 'Jared Sullinger, Jared Sullinger, Jared Sullinger,' and he wanted to come out here and show he could compete. He did a great job of that and took care of business."
Baumgardner on Morgan and other matters.
This morning, the state of Michigan must be rubbing its collective eyes, because look at the Big Ten standings now. Michigan State, which hammered Ohio State on the road earlier, is at the top with a 10-3 mark (21-5 overall) and could create space with a win at Purdue on Sunday, or create a three-way tie with a loss. Michigan (20-7, 10-4) and Ohio State (22-5, 10-4) are just behind, and who would have dreamed up this scenario?
With two weeks left, Michigan and Michigan State are grappling for a title, and go back to the preseason and try to envision that. While you're at it, go back five years when John Beilein arrived and imagine the Wolverines being here.
"To walk into that arena (before the game) was a bit moving," Beilein said. "I felt it wasn't just a rivalry game. It was a team playing for contention for a Big Ten championship, and I thought it was special. When you're rebuilding a program, there's a lot of little moments, a lot of small victories. This was one of them."
Meinke on Burke. Daily on Morgan. Beard on the hyped-up atmosphere at Crisler. Daily on Novak. Daily on GREATEST FEBRUARY 18TH EVER. Does The White Tiger have a giant head of himself? He's in the right area. Holdin' The Rope not at Holdin' the Rope.
2/10/2012 – Michigan 2, Michigan State 3 – 17-10-4, 11-8-4 Gongshow
2/11/2012 – Michigan 3, Michigan State 2 (OT) – 18-10-4, 12-8-4 Gongshow
Jake Chelios is actually older than his dad. LSJ
Sometime over the weekend one of the announcers mentioned that David Wohlberg and Torey Krug were teammates back when they were little kids and that struck me as odd because Wohlberg is a senior and Krug is a junior. However, a quick birthdate check shows that Krug is only a few months younger than Wohlberg and they could have been on the same teams.
Then you check Chris Heisenberg because one of your buddies asks you if State has anyone coming in next year worth noting and the birthdates leap off the page:
- Michigan: '94, '94, '94, '94, '94, '93, '91
- State: '94, '93, '93, '93, '93, '93, '92, '92, '91 (soph transfer), '90 (almost certainly a walk-on, also a junior transfer)
Michigan's always had a few overage kids scattered around the roster—Langlais and Chiasson are the most recent. Often they're depth guys picked up late when Michigan has a roster hole to fill. That '91 above is goalie Steve Racine, who's being brought in to back up NTDP goalie Jared Rutledge. That's inevitable when the NHL is signing guys every summer and every quality NHL-draft eligible player has been committed to a school for two years.
Michigan State has made them the rule rather than the exception, though. Two of eight underclassmen are the proper year for their class. Two of six juniors are as well. The seniors are the only class that looks vaguely like a team that recruits at a high level: five guys who came to college immediately after receiving a high school degree, four who didn't. The creeping Comleyization is clear.
And yet every game Michigan plays against them is a narrow, stomach-churning affair. This made all the sense in the world when they were coming off a November from hell. It makes less after they've gone on a run that sees them leap to second in the PWR.
Rivalry? I guess. After the Lee/Merritt defections blew up a basketball team it's hard to scoff at all clichés.
The thing about it is: while MSU has played Michigan relatively even this year, that talent distribution has lead to years in which the Spartans are awful alternating with ones in which they're decent. When they're decent they finish a few games back of the champion, make the Joe sometimes, and limp into the tournament as a three seed. Once they managed to spin this into a national title but no one thinks that was anything more than a few near-random games.
So unless there's a galvanizing event like Corey Tropp using Steve Kampfer's head for driving practice, games against State have to compete with those of ten years ago on their own terms. They come up flat most of the time. The best days of this rivalry are so long ago that Michigan State's players can remember them.
I couldn't have done it without your hatred of scoring chances, fun, and America
I miss the days when I loathed Mason's brand of suffocating anti-hockey. It's just not the same when you're beating Torey Krug and a bunch of guys who fondly remember Charles In Charge. When the Big Ten fires up I'll probably switch maximum hatred to Minnesota (because obviously).
The good news is that Heisenberg's page shows Tom Anastos's philosophy. State's got one 2013 commit, an NTDPer, and five 2014 guys. Four of them are '96es. Who knows if they're any good yet, but at least Michigan State is back to recruiting like a team that expects to be elite instead of Southern Northern Michigan.
It will take some time for the Comley geezers to clear the roster, though. We're looking at another five years of Michigan-Michigan State hockey being a cute regional showcase before there's any hope of violent, bowel-shaking clashes. And we're relying on a guy whose first year of coaching is this one. Ask again later.
Bullets that don't understand this newfangled grunge stuff
League status. Ferris State's resounding sweep of Notre Dame (ND's only goal on the weekend came after Ferris took a 5-0 lead Saturday) makes them a heavy favorite. Baseball standings are not super useful anymore but here they are anyway:
|2||Western Michigan||12||9||3||42||63-56||24||1 2/3|
|6||Ohio State||11||10||5||39||73-71||26||3 2/3|
|Northern Michigan||9||9||6||36||62-67||24||3 2/3|
|Notre Dame||11||10||3||36||60-62||24||3 2/3|
|11||Bowling Green||4||16||4||19||34-73||24||9 1/3|
If the Bulldogs take care of BGSU next weekend they've got it in the bag unless Western takes all six points in the final league series. Michigan is fairly secure for a first round bye and a second round home series, but the parity of the league is such that Michigan could play damn near anyone in the second round.
Aside: Ferris is now 20-8-4 and #2 in the PWR rankings. They are in position to turn in the best year in program history, and good for them. Bob Daniels's teams have always played an interesting up-tempo style of hockey and if they had a bastard or two along the way at least they were bastards who scored a ton of goals. (Chris Kunitz most prominently.)
I hope they can find their footing in the rapidly approaching new world order. If Michigan isn't going to continue "so-called rivalries" (Berenson's words) against Miami and Notre Dame they'd better be filling their nonconference schedule with Michigan teams. I'm not up for 14 Atlantic Hockey opponents every year.
Pairwise status. Michigan's weekend was as close to a nonentity as is possible: their RPI hardly budged and their record against teams under consideration got slightly worse. Teams move around them, however, and Michigan slipped. That's because Ferris surged forward after a sweep of a strong opponent and BC won the Beanpot.
The ballpark estimate from a couple weeks ago—that Michigan needed to go 6-2 down the stretch to have a one-seed when the playoffs start—is looking a little shaky at the moment after Denver swept Minnesota. That plus some dumb COP stuff gives them the comparison against Michigan despite a yawning RPI gap; you want them to lose a bunch down the stretch.
Teams you want to lose:
- Ferris State. Comparison is based entirely on RPI and Michigan will win if Ferris slips up down the stretch.
- Denver. Michigan can't do anything but hope Denver loses games against TUCs.
- Alaska. Michigan's only opponent near the TUC cliff. M's 1-1 record against them means they would like to see them drop out.
- Northeastern. See Alaska except M is 0-1 against them.
- BC. Michigan has that comparison at the moment but it's narrow and they'll lose it if BC beats them in RPI.
- Lowell. See BC.
It is still status quo: it will be hard to take comparisons against UMD and BU; everything else is fair game.
Treais. All of the secondary scoring is coming from AJ Treais, and he's doing most of it himself. There was a good cycle to get him a scoring opportunity on Saturday but the rest of it is just Treais taking shots from decent or bad angles and sniping it. Hope he can keep it up.
Lynches. Kevin got two this weekend but I was not surprised when Red said this postgame:
“I can tell you, there were times in the third period I thought about not putting him out in the overtime,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “That line got caught in their own zone and they got in trouble. And I thought, I don’t know if I can trust them in the overtime.
“I know that Kevin’s had a good record against Michigan State. I know he’s had a good record at Joe Louis. They got one shift in overtime, and bingo. So you never know.”
That's officially the fourth line, and it's scary when they get caught out there with the bottom pairing and can't clear the zone. Michigan seemed to carry play when that wasn't happening; that was happening far too often.
At least they scored, something you can't say for…
Nominal third line. I don't get it. They look somewhere from pretty to very dangerous when they're out on the ice but the Hyman-Moffatt-Sparks combo cannot put a puck in the net. Hyman has two goals on the year; Sparks hasn't gotten a point since he returned from the land of healthy scratches, and Moffatt has done a little bit of damage but on the power play IIRC.
But it looks like they will score at some point. Sparks is shoveling passes across the crease with regularity; someone is going to get a stick on one of them and put it into the net. Sparks also rang a post last weekend. It'll come. Maybe.
Rolling lines versus riding your horse. It seemed like Krug and Shelgren got literally every other shift both nights, didn't it? It was certainly a different approach than Red's determination to roll his lines and pairings pretty much evenly even when the back end isn't holding up their part of the bargain. Red has occasionally taken a sixth defenseman out of the equation but it seems like M would benefit from putting the big line out there more frequently.
2/12/2012 – Michigan 70, Illinois 61 – 19-7, 9-4 Big Ten
Sports have their own distinctive rhythms, sounds and moments and rituals that worm themselves into the observer's subconscious after repeated exposure. Basketball is rife with them. The seismic thud of the ball hitting the floor is shockingly tactile from time to time, especially during your first game of a new season. Back-to-back TV timeouts are agony and boredom. And the interval between a three-pointer's departure and arrival, when three fingers are raised in slow motion and a long heavy intake of breath fills the lungs, is the sort of intermittent reinforcement that ends with people saying "but she loves me… she's just misunderstood."
When those rhythms conspire against you in a cosmically unfair (and usually deeply random) fashion, building-wide manias develop. Rattling post after post in hockey, an avalanche of seeing-eye singles in baseball, the clang of iron on open look after open look—these things turn crowds into scalded, nervous things. When the shot goes up, the reaction is something it would take Steve Buscemi to adequately convey.
Oh no, here we go again
Maybe this time basketball will love me
Maybe this time basketball will care
Basketball is just misunderstood
No officer I would not like to press charges against basketball
Maybe next time
Probably next time
Definitely next time
Basketball is just misunderstood
When Tim Hardaway Jr. got an open-ish look from three early, he passed it up. He faked, got past the closeout, and took an open look from the elbow. He missed. He got another midrange jumper a minute later, which he missed. A minute after that he got an open look from three, and the building kind of moaned.
It was a complex moan. It acknowledged the fact that this was a very good shot and that if you are Tim Hardaway Jr. and you're not going to take this shot you probably shouldn't be on the floor at all and while there may be some basketball teams who could afford to bench Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan is emphatically not one of them. It also loathed everything about the preceding sentence because none of it meant Hardaway was at all likely to make it. It was a richly subtextual moan. Given enough time and processing power, Ken Pomeroy could calculate Hardaway's shooting percentage from it. He would find it is not high at all.
Hardaway made it anyway. The building thought maybe basketball would bring it flowers.
It was the other one, though, that really got hearts open again, really open and ready for a surprising reversal that is in no way surprising. It wasn't a good shot, really, but when you're 6'5" and can jump really high there are few truly contested threes. This has been a foundational component of Hardaway's game and seemed brilliant when he was hitting 42% of them. When you're hitting 27%, not so much. Hardaway was hitting 27% as he made a token move to the basket and stepped back for a semi-contested three.
He'd hit one earlier and maybe the wincing wasn't quite as overt as he rose up. This one was perfect. It hit nothing whatsoever on its way through the hoop.
Hardaway didn't push it. There was no heat check, because sometimes a thing like making more than half of your shots in a game is a delicate one that must be shepherded through dangers.
Hardaway wasn't the only struggler to prop up fading hopes of effectiveness. Matt Vogrich had eight points on three shots, all makes, and Novaked himself a game-changing play* when his super-quick rotation on Meyers Leonard condemned Leonard to the bench for most of the first half. Evan Smotrycz hit a couple threes and managed 13 points; though he turned the ball over twice he was also credited with four steals. Michigan did not get blown off the court in the long stretches where a foul-limited Morgan wasn't on it thanks in large part to Smotrycz.
Both Vogrich and Smotrycz followed Hardaway's example and didn't push it. Between the three of them they took eight threes and hit six. As a team Michigan attempted just 35% from beyond the arc. It was a strange mirror of the first half against Nebraska, when Michigan took two thirds of its shots from three against the worst interior defense in the league. Here they took most of their shots from two against one a team much better on the interior than the perimeter.
Whether that was just what Illinois does—they're second in the league at preventing three point attempts—or Michigan treating their newfound deep shooting touch like a Faberge egg, the end result was a building that did not moan. Primed to believe long shots could actually go through the net, when Vogrich rose in the second half there was just anticipation.
Long may it last. It won't last. It might last. Basketball has been more into flowers lately.
*[Except of course if Novak had tried to do the same thing they would have called a block on him because referees hate Novak even more than opposing fans do.]
Bullets Will Drive Us Apart
As always, rely on MGoBlog for your super accurate predictions. In the preview I openly quailed at the prospect of Meyers Leonard going up against Michigan's undersized front line. At halftime I felt like the six-point lead was a missed opportunity that would bite Michigan in the ass after Leonard returned from the game-changing charge Matt Vogrich took on him for his second foul. Leonard's 7'1" frame sauntered onto the court and… scored one point in the second half. He had all of three FGAs, all of which IIRC were putback attempts (he had four offensive rebounds).
That's the game right there. I'm not sure how much of that was Michigan's doing and how much was Illinois drifting away from the early game plan (in short: "ALL OF THE LEONARDS") in favor of whatever it was they decided to do instead. It felt like Illinois didn't even bother looking inside much in the second half. When they did, doubles convinced Leonard to kick it out and active hands from Morgan and Smotrycz forced a number of turnovers. It's a tribute to someone on the coaching staff—maybe various someones—that this motely crew of iffy athletes and short guys finds itself an above-average Big Ten defense.
At least I was on point with the increased use of zone—plenty when Leonard was on the court—and the total uselessness of the backup center (zero points, two attempts both on offensive putbacks against McLimans in 14 minutes). Didn't see Tyler Griffey as the guy who would light up Michigan's sagging perimeter defense.
Player items. Hardaway, Vogrich, and Smotrycz are essentially covered above. All had efficient shooting days for a change; as a unit that put Michigan over the hump despite a 5 of 15 day from Trey Burke. It certainly didn't feel like a 5 of 15 day from Burke, but there it is.
Not much stands out from the boxscore except another game in which Michigan had the crap kicked out of it on the boards. Illinois rebounded 40% of its misses. Michigan is now significantly below average in both offensive (10th) and defensive (8th) rebounding. This is an obvious consequence of moving Douglass into the starting lineup after they cruised through the nonconference schedule seeming like a good to very good DREB team. Not that doing that was a bad idea.
The upside of that. Michigan got a ton of fast break and secondary transition points; in the second half when Illinois was crashing the boards hard anything that didn't end up getting rebounded by the trees fell to a shorter faster Michigan player and the resulting transition opportunity was often an odd-man break. I'd be interested to see a breakdown of Illinios points off of offensive rebounds versus points in transition when Michigan actually got the board. I'd guess it would be a small advantage to Illinois, but not one that outweighs the benefits of going small to Michigan's halfcourt offense.
Small sample size. Vogrich is 5/5 from three in his past two games. Result:
Prior to the Nebraska win, Vogrich was shooting 20.5 percent on the season. Now, after one solid week, he's up to 30.8 percent from downtown.
Big Ten… um… title? It is vaguely possible. Via UMHoops, the four contenders (I've taken the liberty of bolding games versus the top four):
|MICHIGAN ST. (9-3)||OHIO ST. (9-3)||MICHIGAN (9-4)||WISCONSIN (8-4)|
|vs. Wisconsin (8-4)||at Minnesota (5-7)||vs. OSU (9-3)||at MSU (9-3)|
|at Purdue (6-6)||at Michigan (9-4)||at N’Western (5-7)||vs. PSU (3-10)|
|at Minnesota (5-7)||vs. Illinois (5-7)||vs. Purdue (6-6)||at Iowa (5-7)|
|vs. Nebraska (3-10)||vs. Wisconsin (8-4)||at Illinois (5-7)||at OSU (9-3)|
|at Indiana (7-6)||at N’Western (5-7)||at PSU (3-10)||vs. Minnesota (5-7)|
|vs. OSU (9-3)||at MSU (9-3)||vs. Illinois (5-7)|
You'll note that Michigan is one of them and that their last game against the cream of the crop is their next one.
It will take either a huge closing run or a specific combination of results to get Michigan a banner; I'd say we can forget about it if Michigan loses against OSU. Unless OSU loses at Minnesota that would mean Michigan was two back with four games left.
If they managed the upset, though…
Illinois team practice. In games they headbutt each other and are eaten.
Weber watch. The vibe I get from the various Illini fans whose blogs I read or who I follow on twitter is extreme frustration with Bruce Weber. That makes sense after concentrating on Illinois's play. The Illini are like a pack of gazelles: breathtaking to watch run around but utterly incapable of passing the ball. Gazelles have hooves, and this fact explains things. Only two or three of the Illini have hooves. The rest of that is on Weber.
I mean, Brandon Paul should be an All-American. Instead he has a lower ORtg than literally every Michigan player with enough playing time for Kenpom to register save Vogrich. If they miss the tourney dollars to donuts Weber is having his hissy fits at home next year*. Because he won't have a job. I'm saying they'll fire him.
*[Seriously. Weber's fits might be worse than those of Bo Ryan and Tom Izzo. At least Ryan and Izzo seem to have a tangible effect on their teams. The only way Weber's message is getting through is if he's screaming "DRIBBLE AIMLESSLY AND THEN TURN THE BALL OVER." I mean:
Three of 22 pictures from the Detroit News gallery above feature Weber having a fit.]
Trillion watch. McLimans had a rare first-half trillion in four minutes.
Sold out? The game was technically sold out. Emphasis on "technically": large chunks of the upper-bowl endzones were empty the whole game. Who is buying those tickets and then ignoring them? I know they're not season tickets up there, so someone must be purchasing and then not using large chunks of the endzone upper decks. Strange.
Incredulous block/charge of the week. Brandon Paul's late first half clobberation of Trey Burke. Burke was set well outside the charge circle and Paul blew him up; this was an and-one instead of Paul's second. I haven't seen a replay but live it was a crazy call.
The only thing I can think might even vaguely justify the call is that Paul didn't hit Burke in the dead center of his chest. For some reason refs have a tendency to call blocks when a stationary defender takes an off-center or glancing blow from the offensive player. Why I don't know. In a situation like the Burke/Paul confrontation it seems like there are only two possible outcomes: a charge or a no-call. Referees disagree.
UMHoops recap. They went inside the play with some Jordan Morgan bunnies. The Crimson Quarry breaks down Indiana's deployment of the 2-3 zone. Michigan ran a lot of 2-3 in the second half yesterday and may resort to it at times down the stretch when they're at a significant size disadvantage (most of the time). Just Cover on the argument about 8-10 Big Ten teams making the tournament.
People are talking about seeding. A four, a five? There are distinct loci on the map of college basketball that Michigan now firmly occupies instead of the Purgatorial listlessness that once loomed over the program for over a decade. People are talking about Michigan's chances to win the conference title, regular season and tournament. That's not to say that Michigan will win either (the former hinges upon whether or not Michigan can beat the Buckeyes at home on Saturday), but people are talking about it. Think about how insane that is, as a concept and as a potential reality. A little over four years ago, Michigan was busy losing to an Amaker-coached Harvard squad, a moment in history that typifies the Universe's mischievous sense of humor.
It's worth noting that with Michigan's ninth win of the conference season they have permanently taken themselves off the bubble. For the first time since [REDACTED] Michigan's not going into Selection Sunday on pins an needles, even if they lose out. That was a preseason goal Michigan has met with authority.
2/5/2012 – Michigan 54, Michigan State 64 – 17-7, 7-4 Big Ten
Playing in Breslin without any tall people was exactly as frustrating as you would expect; Kenpom nailed that particular game down to the point. The way things played out was equally as easy to predict. Michigan struggled immensely to generate shots after Izzo locked down most of Michigan's tricks and niblets. Easy buckets reduced, State annihilated Michigan on the boards, and that was that.
It's hard to get worked up about that after the fact. It was painful during; after it was obvious. The four factors graph might as well read "chalk":
Michigan lost this game on the boards.
This is the kind of thing I was talking about after the Ohio State game. There's only so much you can do when you're running out one guy taller than 6'5" against very large men in a hostile environment. Michigan is at a severe disadvantage against teams with elite size and athleticism.
That's no shame. It does make games like Sunday's uphill battles dependent on lighting it up from three. If this was part of, say, a decade-long slump with no light at the end of the tunnel it might be an occasion to rend the garments a little further. In the context of the last two years of Michigan basketball it's just another indication that Michigan isn't quite there yet.
Since the direction is clear, patience is easy. Two or three hours after the game, anyway.
Michigan has pulled through their brutal Kenpom stretch 3-3 with only the first ten minutes against Arkansas a real disappointment. At this point a tournament bid is basically in the bag. They need two more wins to hit .500 and have seven opportunities to do so, two of which are against Nebraska and Penn State. After fighting through six games against Kenpom top ten opponents in the first 11 games, they have just one in their final seven. Realistic goals include a 12-6 conference record—Beilein's best ever in a power conference—and a Sweet 16 seed.
I'll take it.
Oh, Hardaway. That game was the tipping point when the internet stopped whispering about what's going on with Tim Hardaway Jr. and started yelling uncomplimentary things. And… after going 1 for 10 and meekly saying "thank you sir" on a first-half MSU layup in the midst of months and months of clanged long shots it's hard to disagree with even the foamiest internet commenters.
Hardaway has been a huge disappointment. Burke is a freshman and not Darius Morris. He can only do so much. He needs help and he's getting more of it from Stu Douglass than Hardaway over the past six or seven games. It would be one thing if Hardaway was just in a shooting slump; add in the bad defense and bad shot selection and it's… well, it's not good.
I'm at a loss as to where to go from here: Hardaway is hugely inefficient and his defense is indifferent at best but the main option off the bench in his stead is a three-point specialist shooting 21%. There's nothing you can do except ride the lightning and hope some of those twos from right inside the three point line go down. Michigan just has to live with it and hope he starts finding a scoring touch.
At least the NBA isn't a threat, amirite?
BONUS disappointment: Michigan really needs Hardaway to rebound in this small lineup since he's the second-biggest and most-athletic guy; he had one offensive and one defensive as MSU grabbed almost half of their misses. On the season he's rebounding almost exactly as well as Trey Burke. I just don't know, man.
Novak and Douglass. Nails in this game just like they've been in virtually every other game. Novak was 5 of 8 for 14 points; Douglass only had five points but put up five assists and no turnovers. That's especially impressive when Michigan only had 19 made field goals.
Novak had a hand in Green's face as he knocked down a ton of tough fallaway jumpers; not much you can do about that.
There is small and there is too small. The Smotrycz at the five thing is maybe something you can get away with for a few minutes per game. It is not suited for all of Evan's minutes. Blake McLimans may not be great but at least putting him out there is less of a hilarious mismatch against whoever the post dude is.
Assuming the OSU game is a longshot this will not be hugely relevant down the stretch except against Illinois, whose best offense is tossing it to seven-footer Myers Leonard in the post and seeing what happens. The rest of their offense is Brandon Paul running around being inefficient. Michigan needs to find a way to neutralize the Leonard matchup, and that's not putting Smotrycz on the block.
Well fine then. Draymond Green backed it up.
It is difficult enough to win on the road, but with the current makeup of this team, we will lose to teams like Michigan State and Ohio and even some lesser teams--like Arkansas--that are able to surgically pinpoint our major weaknesses via their own specific approach to the game of basketball. I realize that is a little bit of an unfair (and crude) point to make, as teams like MSU and Ohio are very good teams; most teams lose to them. That is why they are ranked so highly. With that said, after these sorts of games have ended, I've been fairly at ease. As fun as this season has been, we are not even close to being on the same level as these sorts of opponents. Perhaps that will change next year when talented reinforcements will bring skills sets that Ann Arbor hasn't seen in some time. I guess this is all a roundabout way of saying that the way the Spartans beat us was not at all surprising, and that I guess this isn't so negative after all since I'm not all that upset. If you can't tell, sometimes I devote many more words to a simple concept than are probably necessary; it's a personal flaw of mine.
UMHoops recap. I don't think "chemistry" is the problem with Hardaway's play. It doesn't take chemistry to rebound and play D, or choose good shots. Photos from UMHoops. Baumgardner on how MSU slowed Burke. UMHoops rounds up Big Ten action.
2/1/2012 – Michigan 68, Indiana 56 – 17-6, 7-3 Big Ten
At the beginning of Michigan's most epic brutal stretch of the season, they made a radical change by consigning Evan Smotrycz to the bench in favor of Stu Douglass. Zack Novak wearily took up the mantle of power forward again and Michigan soldiered through. Five of six games into the MEBS they're now 3-2 and guaranteed to come out at least .500, eyeing a Sweet Sixteen seed if they can win the games they should down the road.
Small sample size and all, but I thought it would be interesting to look at the impact that shift has had on Michigan's defense. When Beilein made the shift he said it was his best defensive lineup, after all. Chart? Chart.
Michigan without Stu in the starting lineup:
[note that there are more home games than road; I attempted to adjust for that by subtracting 3.5 points from the opponent's efficiency. A home-road swing is worth 7 points and let's blindly assign half of that to the offense]
|Opponent||Score||Possessions||B10 Off Eff||Expected Score||Delta|
Michigan with Stu in the starting lineup:
|Opponent||Score||Possessions||B10 Off Eff||Expected Score||Delta|
So, there you go. Exceedingly weak statistical evidence in a small sample size* that shifting Douglass into the starting lineup has been worth one and a half points per game. Since Michigan won two of the games he started by 1 and 2 points, this seems relevant to our interests. Let's not make too much of it—Michigan State could blow this away in one shooting streak. But our Bayesian estimate of Douglass improving the M defense should shift over 50%.
This is only part of what Douglass has brought to the table. Now I'm going to delve in to wishy feely stuff; I wanted to get some numbers on the internet to make me feel better about what's about to come.
But… close your eyes and envision the two most improved players on the team this year. Did you get Novak and Douglass? I'm guessing you did, what with images of Douglass driving into the lane and something bad not happening or Novak pulling up for a midrange jumper that gets only net.
this could be going well! (Upchurch)
That's weird. Freshmen get better faster than seniors, especially when the seniors are guards and the freshmen are largely posts. This year's most prominent freshman-to-sophomore transitions have not gone real well. Tim Hardaway Jr. is a fair bit less efficient than he was as a freshman. So is Jordan Morgan. Smotrycz is a lot better but has been marginalized during this important stretch; his incredible shooting in the nonconference season has evaporated in the Big Ten.
Normally that would spell doom. If I materialized in your bathtub in October and said "ooooOOOOOOoooooohhhhhh, TIM HARDAWAY JR WILL AVERAGE 27% FROM THREE POINT RANGE, oooooOOOOOOoooooohhhh" you would be more terrified for Michigan's basketball prospects than the fact you'd just had a time-travelling blogger ghost appear in a place you thought was safe from that sort of nonsense. And that's saying something.
But even though Hardaway and Morgan are less efficient and Trey Burke isn't quite at the level Darius Morris was last year, here they are aiming for a Sweet 16 seed. You can say this is Trey Burke's team, and you'd be right, and you can say Tim Hardaway Jr. is Michigan's most important player, and you'd be right. The two seniors are the guys duct-taping up all the leaks the team has sprung as it moves forward without Morris and Tim Hardaway's 44% conference three-point shooting.
Michigan may get better after they leave on sheer talent, but Douglass and Novak are two remarkable overachievers. Michigan needed two guys like that to change the culture around here after a decade-long tourney-free streak. No one thought they'd be guys snatched from Valpo (if they were even interested!) and Harvard. Even if their numbers shouldn't get raised to the rafters, those who come after them will stand on their shoulders. It may be Trey Burke's team but it's Douglass's and Novak's program.
*[FWIW, Arkansas put up about four more points than you'd expect if M was equal to an average SEC defense. I think that's more about Michigan being unprepared for the press—giving those points up on offense.]
Bullets That Always Go In If Shot By Jordan Hulls
GOOD LORD JORDAN HULLS. Dude was shooting 48% from three before yesterday's 4 of 5 performance. And a lot of those were tough.
God, what does it take to get a three point sniper who's actually lethal in college, too? Vogrich was reputed to be the best shooter in the country and is struggling to get above 25%. Come on, Stauskas.
Christian Watford guarding Trey Burke. It worked for a while as Burke seemed confused by the very idea; then Burke started crossing the dude over and screaming towards the basket. Weird, weird idea. Glad that Burke played through it. It was looking a little hopeless on offense for a while there.
Watford, by the way, annihilated Michigan in the game in Bloomington and is shooting 47% from three—actually much better than he is from 2 (42%). Weird player.
Jordan Morgan guarding Cody Zeller. Great, great job. Zeller is shooting 66% and has a top ten eFG%; Michigan held him to 4 of 9 shooting and IIRC two of his baskets were offensive rebound putbacks. This was almost all Morgan with a little Smotrycz in there, and Zeller could hardly get a shot opportunity.
Morgan's main advantage over most big men is his agility, activity, and endurance. He fronts everyone and rarely gives up good post position; Michigan cheats down behind him to cut off lob passes and leaves that backdoor three open. It's been effective overall.
You can see the good and bad of it in Michigan's conference Kenpom stats. They're #2 in the league at forcing turnovers; over 20% of opponent possessions end without a shot. They never put anyone on the line. Their 2PT% D is acceptable despite being short—their block percentage is last in the league. The main downside is giving up a lot of quality threes. 38% is good for only tenth in the league at 3PT defense. Given the composition of the roster, I'll take it. Michigan has to endure a lot of open threes to give themselves a chance inside. Considering the available athletes they're doing a good job.
Tim Hardaway jack watch. There were three or four, including another long two with lots of time on the shot clock. I don't mind him taking a three in the context of the offense. The ones where he just rises and fires are not good.
Michigan should start running him off Rip Hamilton-esque curl screens with the intent of getting him moving towards the basket with his man already to one side. That seems like it will result in profit. And possibly charges, but who cares about charges?
Watford and Zeller combined for 43 points in Bloomington; they only managed 19 between them last night. Hulls had 18 but he made some pretty tough shots to get there. You can live with that.
1/29/2012 – Michigan 49, Ohio State 64 – 16-6, 6-3 Big Ten
No one expected Michigan to go on the road against Kenpom's #1 team and come back with a victory, so frustration and alarm was kept to a low simmer as Michigan tried and generally failed to find a way through the thicket of arms and athleticism that Ohio State presents. While OSU also goes "small" by deploying just one post-oriented player at a time—6'7" Deshaun Thomas is the second-tallest player OSU starts, and he's an NBA-sized wing slasher who rebounds at a lesser rate than Trey Burke—there is small, and there is "small."
Michigan is the former, Ohio State the latter. Kenpom has OSU's effective height 78th. They're not huge but they're well above average while still getting to play four-out, one-in. So if a game in which an insurmountable three-point halftime deficit ballooned to 15 by the end is dispiriting, it's also an indication of Michigan's future, in which a post is surrounded by a point guard and bouncy guys ranging from 6'4" to 6'7". Just now, that seems like a pretty good recipe for success.
But Michigan's post guy is not Jared Sullinger and with the exception of Tim Hardaway, Jr., their bouncy guys range from 6'2" to 6'2" and have a tendency to bounce their arms into fastbreaking opponents' heads because they're not bouncy, so expected outcomes come out as expected. At the half, it seemed like Michigan's point total was about what you would expect and Ohio State's was a ton of missed putbacks. That proved itself in the second half.
Oh well. This one was house money anyway.
Down the road, the team keeps scraping out narrow wins against good competition and is on track to meet expectations. The overall picture has some concerns. Ubiquitous Michigan basketball messageboardist MHoops1 compiled some stats on three pointers in league play that point to a burgeoning problem:
Tim Hardaway Jr., with 55, has taken more 3s in conference games than anyone else--he is second in 3s per game to Illinois' Brandon Paul (who is shooting just under 40% from 3). …
There are 8 guys who are shooting 20-29% from 3 in conference play--two are Hardaway at just under 22% (2nd worst overall in the conference…), and Smotrycz at just over 24% (4th worst overall, ahead of Walker, Hardaway and Keith Appling of MSU, who is shooting just under 23% from 3.
[Only players with 20 or more attempts are considered.]
I just don't know what happened to Hardaway's stroke. Last year it was the key component driving Michigan to their bid—they took just about as many threes but were third in the conference at hitting them. You can poke at all the psychological explanations you want; I don't buy them and am left with helpless shoulder-shrugging and an increased appreciation for Darius Morris's ability to create shots from everywhere.
No matter what the reason is, Michigan has the most prolific and least efficient three-point shooter in the conference now. This is a trend that extends to the team as a whole. Kenpom's conference-only numbers have Michigan first in three-pointers attempted (43%) and tenth (31%) in makes. Often poor percentages from three aren't that harmful since threes are worth more points (SCIENCE!). Here, though, each three point shot taken is 10% less effective than an average two*. That's a big difference when you consider the standard deviations involved here.
And then there's the free throws. There aren't any. (You may have noticed.) Michigan is dead last at getting to the line. Add it up and it's a parody of Beilein's reputation for perimeter-oriented fooferah.
No one is turning their nose up at 6-3 halfway through what seems like the slightly tougher half of the conference slate, or what looks like a third tourney bid in four years. Playing Ohio State drives home what looks like a ceiling for this edition of Michigan. To compare them, just line Zack Novak up next to DeShaun Thomas. Sometimes your physical limitations catch up to you, like when you're playing a Final Four contender. So it goes.
*[By this I mean the average three pointer is worth more than the average two. The D-I average 3 is worth 1.03 points; the D-I average two is worth 0.95 points. So you can be below average from three and still not hurt yourself too badly if you take a lot. Michigan far exceeds this margin of error.
I know fouls and getting to the line argue in favor of going inside and complicate this analysis considerably.]
And to think you could have pissed off Valpo's conference opponents. Man, do people hate Zack Novak. While in OSU's case it's standard "you elbowed our dude" lingering bitterness, it seems like 75% of previews express some sort of distaste for the gritmaster. That as much as anything else is a tribute to his career. If he ever has a plaque somewhere in Crisler he should be bleeding profusely and it should read "booed at every arena in the Big Ten for obscure reasons."
Free throw non-perturbation. To me it didn't seem like Michigan had a case for many more than the zero free throws they acquired before 37 minutes were gone. Maybe two or three—Craft obviously got Burke's follow through on a three he made anyway—but not so many that it would have had even a slight impact on the game. There was just little way through for most of Michigan's players. It's not hard to not foul a guy like Douglass when you can just follow him to the hoop and block his shot.
Sullinger attention == board obliteration. Michigan did an excellent job of rotating to Sullinger but all that defensive attention unbalanced Michigan's defense and allowed various Buckeyes to hammer the boards. OSU rebounded nearly 50% of their misses, which was death. Not sure what was the cause of the sudden inability to get the damn ball. Let's check!
Culprits in order: Hardaway, Douglass, Smotrycz, Sullinger double, Morgan, McLimans. Well… crap, try to fix that. I can't even claim that the Sullinger doubling was a major factor. It was just guys getting pushed out of the way and out-athleted by a 6-4 dude. Guh.
Smotrycz hat tip. Those possessions when he was matched up against Sullinger could have gone much, much worse. Still not contributing much on offense except in spurts. The small-ball lineup seems very effective defensively but lacks a certain something on offense.
Slightly tougher half in the rearview? I'd say so. Michigan had five at home and four away in the first half and must invert that in the second, but you can call the MSU, OSU, Indiana, Purdue, and PSU and Northwestern games a wash since Michigan will flip home and road with all those opponents. So then you've got:
- DONE: Minnesota, Wisconsin, @ Iowa,
- TO COME: @ Nebraska, Illinois, @ Illinois
Minnesota and Illinois at home are a wash. @ Nebraska is easier, and I'm not sure whether I'd play Wisconsin at home or Illinois on the road. Kenpom says definitely Illinois but it's been a little gaga for Wisconsin's nonconference blowouts all year. Anyway, I said slight. This section has been excessively defensive.
Iowa State watch. The Hoiberg Home for Lost Big Ten boys took out Kansas, which serves as a big, tourney-bid-validating win as long as they perform as expected down the stretch.