"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
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.
1/24/2012 – Michigan 66, Purdue 64 – 16-5, 6-2 Big Ten
Yo, dawg. I heard you like stress testing your heart. So we put the basketball team in an arena so it can either win or lose by two points unless it's getting crushed by Iowa(?!). Hope you enjoy stress testing your heart.
Seriously, though, the last five games:
- Northwestern: W 66-64 (OT)
- Iowa: L 75-59
- MSU: W 60-59
- Arkansas: L 66-64
- Purdue: W 66-64
If this continues massive swaths of Crisler will start keeling over, clutching their chests, whenever the clock ticks under five minutes. It's a hard life when you're a fan of a middling to good Big Ten team this year.
Michigan got the coveted road win, and now doesn't have to hear about their lack of such against good competition. At least not as much. I'm sure they'll bring it up. They stand atop the pile of skulls that is the Big Ten at 6-2. While that's not likely to last what with the murders row Michigan is in the midst of, if Hardaway can be the most recent version of himself they've got a shot at anyone even if Kenpom predicts a 17 point loss to OSU on Sunday.
Kenpom also predicts two more one point games. Keep the paddles handy.
Bullets that have been sweated repeatedly
Stu! I like color guy Dan Dakich a lot and thought he would point out that Michigan switched him onto Lewis Jackson late after he thoroughly trashed Trey Burke for most of the game:
Michigan’s defense was far from perfect due to its inability to contain Lewis Jackson on the pick-and-roll. Jackson sliced his way into the lane for 17 points on eight shots along with eight assists and was the catalyst for a Boilermaker offense that scored 1.09 points per possession.
Jackson was slowed by Douglass and Purdue settled into the four-minute funk that allowed Michigan to edge it. Dakich didn't mention it.
On top of that, Douglass had twelve points on eight shots, two steals, three assists, one turnover, and a couple of "Did Stu Douglass just do that?" moments. The first one, a hesitation move that got him an uncontested layup, reminded me of Chauncey Billups. He's earned his starting role.
Novak. Novak had four attempts and one three-pointer. He needs more usage. If Purdue can get its sniper eight attempts in this game Michigan should be able to get Novak at least a few.
Dakich did point out that Purdue was sticking to the corner shooters to the severe detriment of its interior defense and the numbers bear that out. Michigan shot just 14 threes (28% versus their average of 44%) and hit 58% from within the arc. Morgan was 5 of 7 and his two misses were point blank shots that should have gone down.
Hardaway! I was really frustrated with Hardaway in the first half—the accumulation of a lot of missed threes and poor decisions from earlier games and a few turnovers—and felt that resurface a couple of times in the second half whenever he'd miss or get into trouble on the interior. So I'm not the most balanced Hardaway commentator at the moment.
That said, if four turnovers are required for Hardaway to go 6 of 9 from within the arc, fine. I'd rather have his shots split 70-30 between twos and threes and for Hardaway's TO rate to shoot into the high teens (it's 12.4 right now) than the current situation. Hardaway didn't commit the requested charge. That's the next negative-indicating-a-positive step to take.
Now if the threes can just start falling… I mean, it's hard to believe the same player who shot something like 42% in the Big Ten last year is languishing at 27% this year.
Addition to the Hardaway face pantheon. Via UMHoops:
Depth! We have none. You already know this. Exactly one bench player had more than five minutes—Smotrycz—and there were some crazy plus-minus numbers associated with his entry into the game. Morgan was +18 in his time on the court, Smotrycz –16. There was about four minutes of overlap, FWIW.
Smotrycz entry saw the massive Purdue run on which the Boilers couldn't miss. It didn't seem like it was entirely his fault but it also seemed crazy to keep Morgan, who had a Stu-like game that was even better than a scoreline that looks pretty good already, on the bench for as long as Beilein did. If Michigan's going to wear down, they're going to wear down. They're getting just 22% of their minutes from their bench, which is 327th nationally. For comparison, they're about as starter-heavy this year as they were young last year.
I think we can agree this is not a good thing. It will get a bit better next year unless there is unexpected attrition—Hardaway is not going to be coming off a year he thinks represents his skill level, right?—what with three players replacing two. Then you've got Horford back, Beilfeldt off a redshirt, and hopefully some progress from Brundidge. They should have a pretty deep rotation everywhere save point guard.
I must not understand block/charge. There were two blocking fouls and a no-call that seemed totally ludicrous to me. The worst was when a stationary Hardaway took a violent shoulder to the chest; no call and the Purdue guy made an uncontested layup because his defender was looking for a license plate. A couple other Michigan attempts to take charges got called as blocks despite the defensive player's total immobility. You could hear Dakich's skepticism on one three-point play as the replay showed a totally stationary defender getting plowed and he said something along the lines of "uh… good job by that guy of not jumping directly into the player" as the replay showed a guy jumping almost but not quite entirely into a player.
There was also a Purdue bucket on which Smotrycz forced the driver to put almost the entirety of a size 14 shoe out of bounds that the refs missed. Michigan got one call that egregious on a Hardaway turnover magically transmogrified into a shooting foul by a ref who couldn't see what was going on since the players had their backs to him. Add it up and in a hypothetical world where the refs get everything right, Michigan wins by seven or so. I hate college basketball referees.
Dakich: thumbs up. Probably my favorite non-Raftery color guy at the moment, and I like Raftery for the atmosphere he brings a game, not necessarily the analysis. He's continually saying interesting things that make the dude watching at home understand a little more about basketball and he strikes a nice balance when he makes his criticisms. He's not a Knight-like crab but he'll point out that Jackson, for example, is getting into the lane way too easily.
1/21/2012 – Michigan 1, Notre Dame 3 – 14-9-4, 8-7-4 CCHA
1/22/2012 – Michigan 2, Notre Dame 1 – 15-9-4, 9-7-4 CCHA
Rudy does not impress Shawn Hunwick
At one point this weekend one of the announcers called Shawn Hunwick "Rudy" and then laughed about how Notre Dame fans would be mad about that comparison. I just don't even know where to start with that. Maybe here:
|Kent Patterson (COL)||Minnesota||SR||1618:54||56||2.08|
|Kevin Kapalka||Lake Superior||SO||1519:14||63||2.49|
|Andrew Hammond||Bowling Green||JR||1507:05||67||2.67|
|Paul Karpowich (STL)||Clarkson||SR||1458:58||51||2.1|
Rudy was an annoying twerp destined for sketchy pump-and-dump stock schemes who got in late in a blowout once. His life story is a tale of how plucky determination can turn you into a successories poster model and scam artist. Rudy's about as real as Notre Dame football's status as a national power.
By contrast, no one in the country is more important to their team than Hunwick. He plays every minute unless he's probably concussed or Michigan is up 10 goals. He is top ten in save percentage despite getting bombed, despite playing behind a poor penalty kill and mostly without Jon Merrill. He's so good not even the CCHA Gongshow can deny him his rightful place as the all-conference goalie this time around. (Surely. Surely?)
Like Jordan Kovacs, Hunwick long ago left walk-on territory. The journey looks like this:
- We're starting a walk-on? Death!
- He's tolerable for a walk-on but this is a signifier of how far we've fallen and we'll never get good until we get some talent in here.
- He's really good for a walk-on. I should probably stop calling him a walk-on.
- He's pretty good. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- He is my binky.
For both of those guys the term "walk-on" is no longer a signifier of anything other than an improbable backstory. Rudy they are not because they are actually good at things.
It's time to ask the question: is a five-seven walk-on who came to Michigan never expecting to play a game the best goalie in the history of the program?
Statistically, the answer is yes. Al Montoya put up an .895 as a disinterested junior and is out. Marty Turco's billion wins and tourney heroics obscure the fact he put up sub-.900 save percentages until his senior .907. I can't find full Steve Shields stats; the one year hockeyDB has also shows a .907.
Michigan's record book goes back to 1962 and currently lists Billy Sauer's 2007-2008 season at the top of the heap because it hasn't been updated in a couple years. Hunwick's two seasons as the out-and-out starter be 1-2 if whoever's responsible for the book could be convinced you weren't having them on. It's not even a debate when it comes to save percentage. Unless there's a sumo wrestler from the 1920s everyone's forgotten about, Hunwick is the all-time best.
However, hockey's changed considerably even over the last 15 years. In 1996 and 1998 when Turco was regarded as a god despite having those ugly numbers. That was not all in fans' heads, either. Turco went on to a long, successful, colorful NHL career. His first year in the AHL he put up a .920; two years later he was in the NHL. Clearly there was something about Michigan's mid-to-late 90s firewagon hockey that exposed goalies to a lot of high quality chances.
Save percentage alone is insufficient and if there were sports talk radio dedicated to Michigan hockey, people could rage about their favorites without anyone stepping in to say "you're wrong." Because who knows?
But it's not that we can answer that question definitively. It's that we can ask it at all.
It is a sad but undeniable fact that Sauer will mostly be remembered for tourney meltdowns. Hunwick has last year's North Dakota game to his credit. Montoya had a couple of stolen tourney games on his ledger; those are the only ones I can remember that came anything close to last year's grand theft. How close was that? Not close at all.
In the end answering the unanswerable question is going to come down to a few games in April. At this point there's only two ways the question can be answered: maybe, and yes.
*[Michigan's hockey statistical DB doesn't go very far back.]
A good weekend. Speaking of! Hunwick had a second consecutive monster weekend, giving up three goals on 74 shots. One was a no-chancer on a cross-crease pass, another a slot rebound that is the one consistent weakness of his game, the third a close-in shot it was hypothetically possible to stop but very difficult. Last week Ohio State managed one goal.
Michigan's third pairing got stuck in the zone against ND's hard forecheck, the second line seemed to spend most of its time futilely attempting to get the puck back from the Costello line, and defensive breakdowns put him under duress. He still cracked the top ten in save percentage.
You can argue he's the best in the country. The top four are at Union (ECAC) and three Atlantic Hockey schools; #7 is an ECAC guy; #9 is another AH guy. NMU's Jared Coreau and Miami's Connor Knapp are platooning. That leaves Hunwick, OSU's Cal Heeter, Merrimack's Joe Cannata and Mass-Lowell's Doug Carr at the top of the leaderboard in the Big Three conferences.
No one in that group has a huge lead in save percentage and Hunwick's ominpressence would seem to give him an edge. He's logged more minutes than anyone other than Minnesota's Kent Patterson; he has four full games on Cannata. He gets bombed, too. Michigan is yielding a blizzard of shots. That may hurt him when voters look at goals allowed, but he's got a shot at All-American type things.
A bad weekend. No one player is 100% responsible for any goal but Luke Glendening was the guy trying to check the guy shooting on all three of Notre Dame's goals (ENG ignored). Notre Dame's second on Friday was a backcheck he did not get position on and did not control the opponent's stick; the other two were just derpity doo.
(It's possible Merrill was more at fault on the last one.) Glendening also took two dumb penalties, one boarding, one interference.
So… like… he's the captain and everything but he has nine points in 28 games, three in 20 CCHA games; he's –3 in those 20. PDG is +4; Treais does not have conference stats listed at MGoBlue for some reason. Anyone else with those numbers would be fighting Andrew Sinelli for playing time. I'm just this guy on the internet but it's hard to see what Glendening is bringing to the table in terms of stats or the eye test.
Even if Michigan doesn't have a cornucopia of great options, the lines after the raging goal-fest that is Guptill-Wohlberg-Brown haven't been producing much of anything of late. It's time to throw the bottom nine in the blender and see what comes out.
An ugly weekend. Notre Dame was thugtastic to the point where Berenson's biting his tongue:
“They play an overly — I don’t know if it’s overly physical, but some people would say it’s — you know, there’s — I’m not going to say it. But yeah, it’s physical hockey,” Berenson said.
Guptill did not mince his words, though:
“I think they played a really dirty game, I’m going to be honest,” said freshman forward Alex Guptill on Saturday. “It was dirty; it was a mean series. You had to be playing tough out there to get any kind of ice.”
Hunwick is a hothead who will take retaliation penalties; Notre Dame was clearly trying to get him off his game with constant late chops that never get called and a bunch of stuff that probably should have been, most notably a cross-check to Hunwick's head. Hunwick kept his head for the most part. While he picked up a penalty it was a hockey-ref cop-out special wherein a bunch of guys end up in the box and no one gets a power play.
None of this rises to the level of OUTRAGE, but it's annoying when your goalie is under assault constant enough for announcers to delicately bring it up both nights and the referees won't put someone in the box for a couple minutes to stop it. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.
Pairwise bits. Michigan stays fifth in RPI and slides a spot in the PWR for reasons I won't bother figuring out until a couple more weeks are gone.
LIES! A quick glance at Michigan's comparisons is encouraging. Duluth and BU are likely out of reach unless those teams fade hard down the stretch. Comparisons lost against CC, Denver, Lowell, and Ohio State are within reach.
Michigan has significant RPI edges on the first two schools but that Union loss kills them in the COP; everyone is two games above .500 against teams under consideration but CC and DU have had fewer TUC games and therefore have a higher winning percentage. Michigan ties Lowell in COP and will remain tied unless Lowell faces BC or Northeastern in the Hockey East playoffs. Lowell has a significant TUC advantage; the teams are virtually tied in RPI. Because RPI is the tiebreaker, whoever wins that will win the comparison.
Ohio State, meanwhile, got just a tie from a series against Ferris State. They're now 0-3-3 in their last six and have finally bled off their huge advantage in PWR. They've dropped to 4th and are also a tiny hair above Michigan in RPI. OSU has slightly more than a one game lead in TUC; they do have a significant common opponents advantage but not one that Michigan can't make up what with OSU being in the same conference at all.
Michigan can of course slide down by losing a bunch of games. The point of this section: a one-seed is very much in play. Michigan has at least six more opportunities against TUCs and the toughest four games of the brutal stretch run are in the books at 3-1. They've got a bye week, Miami, a road-and-Joe with State, Northern, and then @ BGSU.
Weekly "I can't believe all these CCHA teams are in the tourney" update. Still six or seven. OSU-ND-M-FSU comprise a block from 4 to 7, Northern is 10th, and MSU and Miami are tied for 14th.
Weekly CCHA cat-in-sack update. Nothing is resolved. Miami swept WMU, making things even worse. Baseball standings:
Eight of eleven teams are within a weekend of first place; the difference between the conference champion and not even getting a bye is four points.
Steve Mike Chiasson scratch. Saturday. Got away with it. Still don't understand it.
Argh argh argh argh 2 on 0. It is emblematic of Michigan's odd-man-rush struggles that Guptill and Brown—two of the top three scorers—broke in alone on struggling Steve Summerhays and didn't even got a shot off. They had the right idea but Brown's pass was too far in front of Guptill. That would have made the last period a lot more relaxed.
In all other matters, first line uber alles.
On Friday, Notre Dame made it their goal to seemingly hit Shawn Hunwick as much as possible and try to get in his head. They ran into him, slashed him after the whistle, high-sticked him, at least a half-dozen times (many in the first period alone). The first instance led to a power play. Then the incompetent boobs officiating the game, Keith Sergott and Barry Pochmara, decided to basically let ND do whatever they wanted to our goalie. At one point, Hunwick got frustrated enough that he threw his stick to the ice after a scrum. I thought they then called him for unsportsmanlike conduct--that seemed to be the consensus on the telecast as well--but in the box score they've got him down for slashing. I'm guessing the reaction was based on them evening it up after he got slammed into for at least the fifth time.
He mentions how Friday's game was frustrating for the large quantity of chances against an iffy goalie that were spurned; co-signed.
Penn State picks up their first ever NHL draft pick. Max Gardiner was third rounder in 2010. If you're counting on your fingers trying to figure that out, Gardiner spent a year at Minnesota, where he was 1-2-3 in 17 games and then made a dash for the USHL. Michigan will see him when he is an upperclassman.