he grew a beard
1/18/2014 – Michigan 77, Wisconsin 70 – 13-4, 5-0 Big Ten
It was unfair. It was beautiful.
Sam Dekker drove on Stauskas and put up a shot that Horford blocked. Sort of. Along the way somewhere between one and three fouls were committed. Michigan ain't care, though, and they grabbed the loose ball and ran back the other way, finding LeVert open in transition for three. He knocked it down to put Michigan up nine. ESPN cut to Bo Ryan.
You know that moment when you figure out that girl you've been certainly not in love with for 15 years is certainly not in love with you and then sparkles fall from the sky while unicorns burst from the chest of everyone in the coffee shop as you share a deep and passionate kiss that leads to a lifetime of happy contemplation about how fortunate you are compared to people who marry something other than the very embodiment of wonderfulness?
Yeah, you do. You're an American and therefore have been cast opposite Emma Stone in a romantic comedy. So you know that moment is the equivalent of getting socks on Christmas compared to the camera shot that followed LeVert's three: Bo Ryan squeezing every muscle in his face until his skin veritably roiled with the possibility of explosive decompression. His grinchy eyebrows plunged to a level even with his eyes as his mandibles expelled a torrent of profanity so pungent that the refs would have dissolved in front of his face if they had even a passing knowledge of the language of the bug people of Rigel.
SHOULD HAVE SENT A POET
Every Michigan fan's heart grew two sizes that day. On twitter, Ace's mentions filled up with demands for GIFs, and then threats. I cackled uncontrollably and swore joyously in human language at the TV. Somewhere in Iowa, Fran McCaffery found himself with an unprompted, mysterious, and not-entirely-unwelcome erection.
Fun was had watching Wisconsin play basketball. It's 2014, folks. 2014 is not 2013.
This was the proverbial statement win, work done to validate Michigan's play since the frustratingly disjointed Duke game. There the Blue Devils extended their defense to cut off Stauskas and the rest of the team flobbered around for about 30 minutes until LeVert decided he'd keep Michigan vaguely in it by himself.
Since, Michigan's offense blossomed into the prettiest whack-a-mole you've ever seen. Shut one thing down and something else equally deadly pops up. Leave Zak Irvin, and he'll kill Minnesota. Close out Walton wrong and he'll kill Nebraska. Try to keep Stauskas away from the rim and whoops the center got a layup. And then there's Stauskas in the middle of everything, not just shooting.
But aside from 1.15 PPP against Arizona, the competition level left questions. Even last year's beautiful machine tended to seize up and fall over when presented with road contests against the brutes of the Big Ten. These guys had beaten Minnesota and three outfits for whom the word "tournament" means ping pong in the locker room.
No more. While Wisconsin is not quite last year's outfit defensively, they remain Wisconsin, currently in the top 40 on defense on Kenpom, preventer of all threes and shots at the rim. (There's more about this in the bullets section.) Michigan went into the Trohl Center and shot 86%/55%/54%. Heck, that game against Northwestern is looking like an accomplishment now that the Wildcats have established themselves the second-ugliest basketball team in the country*. So they've played a couple upper-echelon defenses to go with some wonky ones They currently lead the Big Ten in two-point shooting by nearly seven percentage points. Subs, man. That's crazy.
After watching Michigan eviscerate attempts to contain them on the pick and roll, Wisconsin was reduced to giving Michigan jumpers and hoping they'd miss. As the first half rolled along, Michigan did not. Glenn Robinson elevated above any hope of a contest on consecutive elbow jumpers that hit back rim and went straight down like the end of a training montage. Nik Stauskas pulled up from just inside the free throw line. When Wisconsin did manage to lose Morgan or Horford, they literally did not miss. Even Michigan's terrifying late drought consisted largely of wide open threes for Stauskas, a near alley-oop for Horford, and a LeVert shot that was halfway down.
Sometimes, the shots do not fall. You would be forgiven for forgetting that with this team.
Bo Ryan remembers, now. His report to the Grand Chitinous One will be filled with k'halaks powerful enough to rattle thoraxes.
*[According to the metric of Adjusted Offensive Efficiency – Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. You can take in #1 with a quick trip down US-23 to Bowling Green.]
That's just how they do. Much complaining from Wisconsin fans on the internet and some from Dan Dakich about the way Wisconsin was defending the pick and roll. To me, it looked like typical Wisconsin: Ryan has always preferred soft hedges where the big cuts off the basket and makes the pass to the guy slipping the screen difficult, if not impossible.
In exchange, Wisconsin gives up two-point jumpers from just inside the lane. Two point jumpers are generally worse shots than those at the rim or from three, and Wisconsin has encouraged them since Ryan's arrival. The problem for the Badgers in this one is that Michigan was hitting nearly every one of them.
Philosophically, Wisconsin just did what they always do. The texture of their stats is the same as it was last year when their defense carried them: good-to-great eFG%, vanishingly few threes attempted, few forced TOs or fouls committed, crash your own boards. It was just fine for them the last five years.
There is something wonky about Wisconsin's defense this year that was not the case last year. That is Wisconsin trading Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans, and Neverending Ginger Assassin…
…for Frank Kaminski, Sam Dekker, and a 6'3" guard. Their ability to contest the jumpers their defense is designed to provide has been seriously compromised by their lack of size. Compounding issues: while Kaminski is taller than Berggren he's nowhere near Berggren's class as an intimidator.
Actually, disregard the previous paragraph's "seriously." Wisconsin's D is 33rd on Kenpom. They're not exactly last year's Penn State outfit. It is a step back; they are still pretty much Wisconsin, and Michigan eviscerated them.
Related: I understand those turnovers. Michigan didn't have many, as was always going to be the case when Michigan's precision met Wisconsin's passivity. Those they did were concentrated with LeVert and Stauskas on pick and roll action when they tried to get the easy buckets Michigan had gotten in the previous three or four games by dumping it off to the bigs. A number of these were after Michigan's opening barrage, when the natural reaction would be to press the ballhandler. Wisconsin stuck to their inherent Wisconsin-ness and the result was a few passes that were near-impossible to complete.
The grim period. Michigan was cruising up 66-53 with eight minutes left and then scored one bucket over the next seven as Wisconsin cut the lead to one. What happened on offense during the dry spell:
- Stauskas turnover.
- Stauskas misses wide open three. Michigan timeout before next possession, Stauskas exits.
- LeVert misses jumper.
- LeVert turnover.
- LeVert misses jumper.
- Stauskas returns. Stauskas misses wide open three.
- Stauskas hits two-point jumper.
- LeVert misses layup.
- Stauskas misses late-clock forced jack, Morgan fouled on OREB attempt, Stauskas engages beastmode.
The Stauskas shots were just one of those things. He has totally uncontested threes. He must take them.
Meanwhile, LeVert's role in the grim period has drawn some criticism on the internet in the aftermath. I think that's much more the swelling panic everyone felt than a rational evaluation of how Michigan's offense ran with Stauskas off the court, and I say that as a charter member of the WHAT IS HAPPENING WHERE IS STAUSKAS AAAAAH club as it was happening live. Events:
- M tries to post Robinson; LeVert declines entry pass and drives to lane, correctly diagnoses that an alley-oop to Horford is the play but throws it too high. Michigan resets, LeVert turns down P&R, takes a contested two with about ten seconds on the clock that is halfway down and pops out.
- Kaminski gets switched onto LeVert, LeVert tries to drive baseline, is obviously fouled, no call, turns the ball over.
- LeVert ends up taking a semi-contested pull-up shot off the pick and roll. It's a foot on the line item with 14 on the shot clock.
The first is the right idea with execution that's just off, the second is a ref boner, and the third is pretty bad. And as soon as that happened, Stauskas was back. You can't tell much of anything from three possessions and LeVert put up 20 points on 16 shot equivalents.
Stauskas comparison of the week. Stauskas has started adding a thing on the pick and roll that evokes memories of Chauncey Billups: once he gets past the screen, he sticks out his butt to keep his man behind him and then takes a dribble or two, waiting to see how the situation develops.
Stauskas also got 0.01 brownie points for hitting all six of his game-sealing free throws, because I have irrational expectations when it comes to Stauskas hitting free throws.
[@ Right: Chris Smith/UMHoops]
Just hanging out in the corner. Derrick Walton's night went a little beyond quiet, as he took only three shots and had two assists in 31 minutes. And that's totally fine, as Michigan was on fire for most of the night. Walton took the opportunities that came to him and his 36% three-point shooting is enough to keep his guy on his jock as Michigan works a two-man game against three-phobic Wisconsin.
Walton's reduced role on offense helped him on D, where he held Traevon Jackson—just coming off a monster Indiana game—to 3 for 11 shooting and just seven points.
If Michigan's in a situation where there are transition opportunities or a weak point guard or they're leaving him open in the corner, Walton can take advantage. When those things aren't available he's able to defer. Walton's ability to push the ball was part of Wisconsin's even-more-extreme-than-usual abandonment of the offensive boards.
In Big Ten-long game of "HORSE," Morgan is currently on R [UMHoops]
Horgan. Even acknowledging the fact that 90% of their buckets are assisted layup or dunk attempts, the efficiency with which Michigan's two-headed center is scoring is boggling. Morgan is at nearly 70% for the season and since Mitch McGary got shut down for the season he has 23 makes on 28 attempts. That is 82%. Remember that business where you'd get super mad at Morgan and I'd point my fingers at a shooting percentage in the low sixties and say "please stop, you make no sense"? Yeah, well now his ORTG is 127. Now I point at Kenpom and say "please continue, you make no sense."
Horford has been barely less efficient in that timeframe, hitting 22 of 32, 69%, and since Horford's game is a little bit more diverse—he's got that baseline jumper and a post move or two—that's understandable. At least insofar as "understandable" can be deployed in service of explaining a guy shooting 70% from the floor.
Meanwhile, the bigs have TO rates ranging from acceptable-for-a-big (Morgan's 18, which is a couple of points better than last year) to astounding (Horford's 10, which is equivalent to GRIII's number).
Is this sustainable? Well, somewhat. Six-six shooters are going to plunge into the lane and non-Wisconsins are going to give up a number of good looks, and both of Michigan's bigs are better than they used to be. But there will be some regression and guys like Amir Williams and Adriean Payne have overwhelmed M with their athleticism and shall do so again. I'll take it.
The silver lining. The announcement of McGary's surgery was my muse for a tweet that read simply "GODDAMMIT," and it is still pretty depressing to think about putting the demon from last year's NCAA tournament on a team that's already 5-0 in the Big Ten and 14th on Kenpom. A healthy McGary probably swings a game or two in Michigan's favor and… right, not what this bullet is about.
This bullet is about how it's kind of great that Morgan is back in the lineup and playing well after being relegated to the bench during the run last year. He returned without the expectation of much playing time despite an ability to go anywhere with the grad transfer rule, lost what backup minutes he was looking to get to Horford early, and is now making me go "whoa" a couple times a game. This warms the cockles.
Speaking of "whoa." JORDAN MORGAN PUT IT BACK IN YOUR FACE, WISCONSIN. And then looked like he was thinking "did I do that" afterwards. Yes, yes you did.
I like this better than that. Hoo man I just went back to Tommy Amaker's last year at Michigan($) to compare someone to Morgan and found that the best ORTG guy on that team was Ron Coleman. Viva Beilein.
The road ahead. Recent events have freed the Big Ten from a tyranny of Kenpom projecting a Badger conference championship in a year when they don't have to go to OSU or MSU—the most Badger championship of them all. Your new favorite is MSU at 14-4, with Michigan and Iowa projected a game behind at 13-5, Wisconsin a game further back, and OSU a fringe contender projected to go 11-7. Michigan's next two games are against the two top contenders. It's kind of a big deal.
The upcoming home game versus Iowa is huge. Huuuuuuge. Winning the Big Ten is about holding serve at home and picking off one, maybe two road games against contenders. Michigan's got one in the bag; Iowa has an opportunity to pick one up. Michigan beats Iowa and the MSU game is entirely house money instead of 80% house money.
The Big Ten, man. Basketball is the opposite of football.
1/14/2014 – Michigan 80, Penn State 67 – 12-4, 4-0 Big Ten
DUNKS ON DUNKS (or layups I guess) [Bryan Fuller]
What if I told you that Michigan would lose two NBA first-round draft picks and a preseason All-American and this would do essentially nothing to their elite offense? We'll call this one "60 possessions for approximately 70 points" because we're not into the whole brevity thing. It will be directed by John Beilein, with an assist from Nik Stauskas.
A disclaimer, first: IIRC, even though Kenpom's offense and defense rankings are schedule adjusted, high fliers have a tendency to fall back to the pack when they play in tough defensive conferences. That may be simple regression to the mean or an issue with the algorithm. Anyway. I digress for a reason.
The preceding disclaimer is present because hot damn, Michigan's offense has taken the departure of Trey Frickin' Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. like a champ. Sixteen games into the season, Michigan's offensive efficiency has fallen from a tops-in-the-country 120 points per 100 possessions all the way to 119 points per 100 possessions. This mean's they're fifth instead of first*, but seriously Michigan lost the Naismith winner, another first-round NBA draft pick, and Mitch McGary and maintained literally 99% of their offensive efficiency. Hail Beilein, hail Stauskas, hail GRIII and friends. (Hail rule changes.)
That's quite a thing there.
Unfortunately, and as you've probably noticed over the last two games against not-very-good teams, the defense is really hurting. They're currently 77th on Kenpom, down from 48th last year. The eye test confirms this and then some. Michigan just ceded 70 points to Nebraska in a 59-possession game and 67 to Penn State in a 60-possession game, and too many of those were easy drives to the bucket. At one point in the second half of the Penn State game they'd pulled to within two because they scored on six of seven possessions, seemingly without breaking a sweat. Two winless Big Ten teams just combined to shoot 63% from two against Michigan. It's a problem, a large and burgeoning one.
What happened in the stat world?
- The rules changes have had a real impact. Nationwide offensive efficiency is up just under 4 points per 100 possessions. Michigan's defense has slumped worse than the average, but everyone's having some issues. The extremes don't seem to be particularly impacted—the best offense is still around 120 while the best defense is still around 86—but the distribution of teams inside hypothetical maximums and minimums has shifted.
- Michigan's free-throw defense is terrible. Opponents are hitting 74%, which is in the 300s. Michigan has to wave its arms around more and stuff. This is where Michigan misses an intimidator like Mitch McGary. Free throw defense is critical.
- Nothing else, statistically. Seriously, the stats are uncannily similar to last year, with near-identical eFG, TO%, OREB%, and FTA/FGA. The problem there is that last year's stats are after running the brutal Big Ten gauntlet and six NCAA tourney games; this year's are after seven KP100 teams and 9 real bad ones. Thus the hit when Kenpom makes his schedule adjustment.
Eyeballing it, I don't know. Burke was regarded as a middling defender at best. He had his trademark steal but was kind of undersized and tended to marshal his energy so he could do Trey Burke things on offense. Hardaway developed from definite liability to passable over his three years. Neither seemed like an impact player on that side of the ball.
McGary's loss is big, obviously, but at this instant they're only replacing about eight of his minutes per game with Horford/Morgan in the stats (McGary was at just under 20 last year and he's at just under 12 this year, though rapidly dropping.) Something else is just… off.
What that is changes. Against Nebraska the soft hedges provided the Cornhuskers easy lanes to the basket and Spike Albrecht, amongst others, had a tough time closing out in the first half. Penn State pushed it down the floor at every opportunity and was rewarded; Michigan couldn't stop Tim Frazier in transition like, at all.
The see-saw nature of the game was a reflection of the fact that each Michigan possession was essentially four points: Michigan got two if they scored and Penn State got two in transition if they missed. The six-minute lull spanning both sides of the half saw Penn State burst from 25 to 41 points, and another lull after Michigan had pushed it out to 16 saw a quick ten-point burst; in between Penn State struggled to do anything.
What that means for the mightier folk approaching depends on the opponent. Wisconsin isn't likely to push tempo; Iowa sends out waves of players in shifts to facilitate their punishing rate of play. No matter what, Michigan has to get some things figured out right now before they're exposed as paper tigers in the rough and tumble.
*[#1 Creighton($) has some truly astounding numbers, like Doug McDermott taking 37% of Creighton's shots when he's on the court and Ethan Wragge hitting 50%(!) of his 126 three pointers and two of his six(!) twos.]
Gauntlet, ice cream, gauntlet, ice cream. The rest of the season breaks down into chunks neatly:
- TERRIFYING GAUNTLET #1: @ Wisconsin, Iowa, @ MSU
- GENERALLY ICE CREAM TYPE SITUATION: Purdue, @ Indiana, Nebraska
- TERRYIFYING GAUNTLET #2: @ Iowa, @ OSU, Wisconsin, Michigan State
- GENERALLY ICE CREAM TYPE SITUATION: @ Purdue, Minnesota, @ Illinois, Indiana
Michigan's D is wonky enough that they'll probably lose a couple in the ice cream areas of the schedule—away to Indiana and Illinois are most likely—and then man I don't know what's going on with the other seven games. This offense can beat anyone; it's a little difficult to see Michigan going on the road to any of those top ten outfits and coming away with wins.
Not just a Darius Morris reincarnation. Another game, another set of swooping pick-and-roll assists from Stauskas. Michigan's big men were 7/8 from the field and added 5/6 from the line as Stauskas and Morgan/Horford eviscerated Penn State's pick and roll D. Stauskas had five assists, and no turnovers; his assist rate has broken into the nationally ranked section of Kenpom while his TO rate remains just-a-shooter low. In Big Ten play his A:TO ratio is 20:5.
Oh and he's shooting 71% from inside the arc while doubling his FT rate. Just a fantastic, fantastic offensive player, in all ways.
Stauskas got caught on some bad switches to provide PSU buckets, and while he remains a sneaky-excellent on-ball post defender his issue came before the catch on a couple of PSU buckets; switched on the center he just stood passively waiting for the post feed before doing anything. He's tall enough to front a 6'9" guy effectively enough to dissuade an entry, or at least make it a difficult pass.
LeVert also creates. Slow night for LeVert scoring, but had five assists to match Stauskas's output. Michigan does not have a Burke but their shot generation comes from so many places that it barely matters. Most of the time they have four guys on the court who can generate something, and even when Irvin's out there it's three. That's tough to deal with. Who do you hide your crappy defender against?
Hello, nurse. The only Michigan player to miss more than one two point bucket was Glenn Robinson, who had an off night inside the arc (3 of 10). The rest of the team: 16 of 18. Good gravy.
As a team, their two point % in the last three games: 63%, 76%, 68%. None of those teams are good, but holy crap. Michigan's been putting on a clinic against the bottom of the Big Ten, and it's been beautiful to watch.
HELLO NURSE. One can forgive Glenn Robinson some misses from two if he's going to put his goddamned shoulder on the backboard.
Nurse, please smother this man (WITH PUPPIES, this does not constitute a threat). Oh man, what does it take to get a charge? They broke this rule hardcore with their offseason emphasis.
Walton got run over twice in two minutes by Frazier, taking out-of-control shoulders to the chest. These were not Dukeflops. He got blasted into the end line on both, square to the shooter, and the refs just stared at him. Later, LeVert was stock-still as Newbill (IIRC) plowed into him. A ridiculous blocking call followed.
Charges were broken, but now they're even more broken. Suggestion: go back to previous year's rule, add clarification that simulating a charge is a foul, add some sort of mincing pantomimery refs have to do when they call it.
1/10/2013 – Michigan 2, Wisconsin 5 – 10-5-2, 2-1 Big Ten
1/11/2013 – Michigan 1, Wisconsin 3 – 10-6-2, 2-2 Big Ten
Well… I suppose we have to talk about what is going on with the hockey team. On December 11th they had a fun, uptempo game with a very good Ferris State outfit that ended in a 2-2 tie. They were 10-2-2 on the season, and while it was obvious they'd been the beneficiary of some good fortune they seemed like a pretty good team.
Fast forward… wow, over a month, and Michigan has lost four straight games in extraordinarily difficult to watch fashion.
- In the opener of the GLI they failed to cover about a dozen WMU players plunging into the slot and were lucky to even be in the game when Josh Pitt went right through four Michigan players to score with 19 seconds left.
- The next night Michigan made a pathetic Michigan State outfit look like the Spartans of old, allowing 40 shots in a 3-0 loss and barely mustering a scoring chance until the third period.
- Michigan did not score until there were five minutes remaining in Friday's game at Wisconsin, and when they pulled to within 3-2 it took 40 seconds for them to give up an empty-netter.
- Michigan got one goal on Saturday, that on the power play from Copp, in a 3-1 loss that featured a huge scrum with 30 seconds left. At least they're mad, I guess?
the only entertaining thing about the last four games
Since the Ferris game, Michigan's gotten two even-strength goals, one from Copp, one from Travis Lynch. Compher added a shorthander and Moffatt is credited with two power play goals on College Hockey Stats, thought one of them should be Copp's. That's it. If, say, you turned off the Friday Wisconsin game with six minutes left like I did the only even strength goal you've seen in a month and a half was Travis Lynch firing a shot from the top of the circles that hit the square inch necessary for it to go in the net.
Problems. Michigan has them. We knew that they weren't the 10-2-2 outfit their record said they were, but this correction is brutal.
The problems are twofold. One was obvious to everyone from the moment Trouba and Merrill both announced departures: the defense is miserable. I've seen Kevin Clare try to make a neutral zone pinch this year; I've seen Downing blown through in overtime like he was playing in a never-ever league; I've seen converted forward Andrew Sinelli step into a regular shift and thought "well, at least he's not several other options". While it's disappointing that the only veteran who's developed one iota over his time at Michigan is Mac Bennett, anyone staring at this year's line chart on D knew it was going to be a problem. It is.
The secondary scoring was not supposed to be, but we're 18 games into this season and Moffatt, Guptill, Di Giuseppe, and Nieves have 9 even strength goals between them. I guess you could throw Compher in there, but Compher carries so much weight and is a freshman so I'm inclined to give him a pass. Those four guys are supposed to be the team's skill players and at even strength they're scoring at the same rate as Travis Lynch.
Why? I don't really know. Michigan finds itself reduced to throwing shots at the net through defensemen most of the time because they don't have the skill to get around people, so the bulk of their shots are attempts from outside the circles that have little chance of going in or even causing a rebound. Copp actually drives the net and drives play with his effort level; the other guys are just kind of out there, with the exception of Guptill's ability to flip pucks up high from tight angles. That's acceptable if you're a random fourth-liner, but three of the four scoring types mentioned are high NHL draft picks who've been around the block. When Copp's out and Compher's playing on a broken foot they have to step up; at this point it's obvious they can't.
Michigan has yet another bye week (hooray one-weekend conference tournament) and what should be an easy series against a Michigan State team that can't beat anyone but American International, Princeton, and Michigan to find its footing; if they can't come out firing against MSU, oxygen masks will deploy from the ceiling as the downward acceleration becomes stomach-clenching.
Terran Petteway, who'd already poured in 14 second-half points, blew past Nik Stauskas with disconcerting ease. While Zak Irvin helped in the paint to force a difficult scoop that caromed off the backboard, nobody boxed out Leslee Smith—who, per hoop-math, has 20 putbacks this season on 72.7% shooting at the rim.
Smith's tip-in attempt lingered on the rim for an eternity before rolling off the mark. Two subsequent swipes at the ball by an indistinguishable assemblage of arms couldn't get the ball closer. We know that feel.
Derrick Walton drilled an running halfcourt shot to finish the first half. He also plowed over Smith on a baseline drive to lay in the eventual winning points; on another day, when the fates aren't as favorable, that's a charge.
On a night when 2013-14 Jordan Morgan played the role of 2010-11 Jordan Morgan, the fates cast Leslee Smith as Jordan Morgan vs. Indiana, with Walton playing the part of an early-arriving Ben Brust. We've all seen this show before, and I prefer this director's interpretation.
Nebraska is not last year's Indiana, of course, nor are they Wisconsin, and this 71-70 win featured plenty to be concerned about. A road win in the Big Ten, however, is rarely a thing of beauty. For every poorly-defended Nebraska pick-and-roll, Michigan executed one on the other end. For every blown switch, a beautiful set out of a timeout. For every blown call on Nebraska, one against the Wolverines. The three crucial free-throw misses late were canceled out on the scoreboard by an end-of-half prayer.* These plays offset until a victor had to be determined, and in that critical final minute, Michigan benefited from the breaks of the game.
If Michigan could've done something, anything, to stop the pick-and-roll in the second half, this would've been a relatively easy victory, as the Wolverines played efficient offensive basketball from wire to wire—1.21 points per trip with a 68.0 eFG%. Glenn Robinson III had one of his best games as a Wolverine, confidently knocking down a triple from the wing on Michigan's first possession and going on to score 19 points on 9/12 shooting. He hit multiple pull-up jumpers, got to the hoop off the dribble, and made one of the biggest plays of the game when he purloined a rebound from an unsuspecting Smith, corralled the ball at midcourt, and broke free for a one-handed throwdown to give Michigan a late two-point edge.
The player most representative of this game was Jordan Morgan, without a doubt. Working the pick-and-roll with Stauskas like he once did with Darius Morris, Morgan dropped 15 points on 7/9 shooting, slipping screens with impeccable timing to get wide-open looks at the rim; he even knocked down a pivoting baby hook for good measure. However—whether due to Michigan's defensive strategy, a mid-game foot or ankle injury that briefly took him out of action, or simply being too slow to move his feet—he struggled to stay between Nebraska ballhandlers and the basket on defense, beat to the rim time and again.
On Nebraska's final possession, John Beilein lifted Morgan for Zak Irvin, allowing Michigan to switch on every screen regardless of who set it for whom. That worked initially with Irvin challenging Petteway's shot; it almost backfired completely when nobody was in position to grab the rebound. This is still a team looking for the right answers, and they haven't found all of them quite yet.
One thing is certain, and that's Nik Stauskas' role as alpha-dog. After a relatively quiet first half, Stauskas asserted himself down the stretch, not only as a shot-maker but as the team's best passer; his four assists don't convey how well he moved the ball, especially off the high screen. Yes, he uncharacteristically missed a pair of free throws with five minutes to play. He also scored 12 points on 5/9 shooting, turned the ball over just once while facilitating much of the offense, hit a dagger of a three-pointer prior to that trip to the line, and hit a late layup to give the Wolverines a two-point lead.
After a rough stretch, Caris LeVert provided a solid offensive performance of his own with ten points (5/8 FG) and five assists, creating buckets for himself and others with his now-signature herky-jerky forays into the paint. While it wasn't a totally clean game from him—three turnovers and some poor on-ball defense come to mind—his assertiveness with the ball and ability to find the open man were encouraging given his recent outings.
Walton, meanwhile, may have finally asserted himself as the no-doubt starter at the point. The halfcourt shot was more luck than anything else, but he played within himself, dishing out four assists to just two turnovers, spotting up when need be—drilling a key corner three early in the second half—and playing solid perimeter defense in addition to hitting the game-winner. Spike Albrecht noticably struggled to contest three-point shots in his eight first-half minutes and was limited to just four minutes in the latter stanza. Nebraska was 5/11 on three-pointers in the first half, with three of those coming against Albrecht. The Huskers went just 2/9 the rest of the way as Ray Gallegos (3/5 in 1H, 1/5 in 2H) couldn't get clean looks over Walton.
There are adjustments to be made, no doubt; Michigan's bigs got caught in no-man's land far too often trying to defend high screens, and the guards let their man get around them far too easily on many a drive. Despite this, however, the Wolverines escaped with a road win; their 3-0 Big Ten record has them tied atop the conference standings with Wisconsin and Michigan State. In a season when, like last year, the conference champion could be determined by a few bounces of the ball, Michigan caught their breaks at just the right time.
With trips to Madison and East Lansing looming later this month—not to mention hosting a revitalized Iowa squad in between—the team held serve when they desperately needed it. Don't be surprised if we look back on this game as a turning point after the season plays out.
*Before anyone takes this too literally, I know that's not how it works. Go ahead and post "3-9 is UNACCEPTABLE" now, because you are fundamentally right that Michigan shouldn't miss that many free throws; just remember to conveniently ignore that the Wolverines are 57th in the country—third in the Big Ten—at making them, and free throws are worth one point regardless of the time on the clock.
1/5/2014 – Michigan 74, Northwestern 51 – 10-4, 2-0 Big Ten
METAPHOR ALERT: Drew Crawford jumping futilely as Stauskas is about to put a dunk on the Wildcats' faces. [Bryan Fuller]
Game. Blouses. [Fuller]
Drew Crawford's been around forever. He's always been too good to be one of those eighth year senior types; players like that generally need to be obscure bench types for a hunk of their career. Crawford was instantly a starter, playing almost 30 minutes as a freshman, so you knew exactly how long Crawford had left and that he would get an extra year with the Wildcats after injury ended what should have been his final season in 2012-13. His presence is not a surprise.
But Drew Crawford's been around forever all the same. This is how long Drew Crawford's been around: he helped pilot a season sweep of Michigan that was depressing but not all that surprising. This was 2010, when Michigan was coming into a year with expectations for the first time ever and sputtered to a 15-17 record. Northwestern beat Michigan twice, and it wasn't particularly close. The combined margin of the two games: Northwestern +21.
As I delved back into game logs from Crawford's career against Michigan I was surprised to find that against Michigan he'd had as many clunkers (2/21/2012: 6 points in 27 minutes) as the maddening why-is-Drew-Crawford-knifing-me-I'm-just-a-merchant outings. I expect Drew Crawford to be maddeningly good and look like perfect fit for Michigan. I expect to write something about how Michigan should follow Bill Carmody around, you know, just in case*.
History says that's confirmation bias. Sometimes Crawford's good, because he's a good player. About half the time he's not much of a factor. I remember the good bits because when he was a freshman and Michigan was getting solidly beaten by the Wildcats, he was dumping in threes.
With Michigan and Northwestern slated to play only once this year, Crawford had to compress his awesome game with his meh one. He duly obliged, scoring 13 in the first half and just four in the second. Not coincidentally, Michigan pulled away in the second half, first pushing the lead out to 12, then enduring a period of sloppy basketball in which Northwestern crept to within 6 before blowing the doors off. Twitter got jumpy about the Wildcats hanging around for a bit there, and not without reason: they were.
But let's reflect on the fact that 2010 is not that long ago, Drew Crawford has not in fact been around forever, and that Michigan is down one Naismith winner, one other NBA first round pick, and their preseason All-American. Northwestern's not a good version of Northwestern, but neither was that Wildcat outfit that swept Michigan back in the day. They went 5-11 in their other Big Ten games.
Meanwhile, Michigan fans were slightly cranky about a game with a Kenpom win percentage chart that looks like this:
I was too, for a bit, but then I thought about Drew Crawford and how Northwestern is still pretty much Northwestern and that Michigan is no longer around, even with Mitch McGary in a suit. After some wobbles early you had to wonder, but after ripping off four straight wins with a couple of quality outings in there, Michigan now seems back on track to be whatever you thought they might be minus their best player.
This is not a smoldering heap. Playing a Northwestern outfit that is provides a reminder that things could be a lot worse.
*[Another excellent reason Michigan should follow Carmody around just to see what he's doing: Imagine Bacari Alexander in a huge black trenchcoat going SHHHHH at anyone who calls him by name as he tries to figure out who Carmody is looking at in this Lakeview gym divided between basketball and a Magic The Gathering tournament. SURPRISE: it's one of the Magic players, and he'll shoot 45% from three for whoever Carmody is scouting for.]
Horford coming into his own. [Fuller]
Let's hear it for center depth. McGary out, Morgan and Horford combine for 38 minutes, 15 points on 11 shot equivalents, and 16 rebounds as Northwestern acquires four OREBs. It was in fact Morgan who kept Michigan solidly in the lead about midway through the first half, and since no one has ever been more enthused about pointing out a good hedge than Shon Morris we got to hear plenty about the various small defensive things both were doing. (Don't take this as a criticism: compare Morris to virtually anyone the BTN has for football. Go Shon Morris.)
I'd forgotten about Morgan's thing where he gets a bucket in most games by running the floor hard after a rebound, and enjoyed its revival in this one. Unfortunately, that also kicked in some other memories of what Morgan tended to do against Northwestern-type teams without large athletic posts (do very well) and what he did against big leapy guys (look overmatched). At least this year when Morgan is not a good matchup they can try Horford, who just went off for 14 points on 6/8 shooting against Minnesota.
I'm still looking at Amir Williams and Adriean Payne with trepidation I would not if McGary was out there; as with the team in general it could be a lot worse.
You did what to who? Northwestern was pretty good about not giving Michigan open threes (6 of 18 on the day), though that came at a stiff price as M shot 63% from inside the arc and acquired 22 FTAs. This was their plan, and it got eviscerated.
But like… at some point in the second half, Spike Albrecht was left utterly alone at the top of the key, and even though it took him a couple seconds to realize that no one was bothering to check him this did not cause a Northwestern dude to, like, check him. He drained a wide open three, his only shot of the day.
something something about how the basketball is The Rock and Walton knows his role [Fuller]
Freshman arriving. Zak Irvin didn't do much with Northwestern aggressively overplaying the three point line. This is fine since his presence helps open up swooping Stauskas drives to the basket, and when Minnesota took a different approach he torched them with 5/8 from behind the line. He's Just A Shooter, and that's fine when he's at 42% on the season—48% in this four game winning streak.
Meanwhile, Walton has started to settle into a third or fourth banana role. His game against Minnesota was more impressive than it appears statistically, as he helped harass the Hollinses into a 4/19 shooting night; against Northwestern he pushed the ball efficiently on the break and penetrated to score or draw fouls; when it wasn't there he kicked it around and let someone else do the heavy lifting. He seems to be finding his niche, and you can slowly expand from there.
Oh look they're passing it to each other how cute. Michigan had a 2 on 0 break with Irvin and Robinson on which Robinson made one very early pass so Irvin could set him up for an alley-oop. This caused Morris to wax about the unselfish play of the team. I saw that a bit differently, as when Robinson passes that ball you know what he is thinking. Everyone does.
Zak Irvin knows what to do not because he has a special bond with GRIII but because he is in Crisler Arena, and everyone knows that if Zak Irvin takes this basketball and lays it in, Glenn Robinson will have a blood vessel burst in his head. He will probably say something along the lines of DO YOU KNOW WHAT I DO FRESHMAN AAAAAAH, so Irvin giving it back is less about charity than it is about self-defense. Which is all well and good because yes we have a two on zero break and Glenn Robinson III, it's time to see something cool. I approve of this entire sequence.
But that first pass came with an implied threat. Let's be real.
Caris. Your mojo. Where did it go? Leaving aside an overmatched Holy Cross squad, LeVert's last three games: one point, four points, seven points. He does have nine assists against four turnovers and five steals in that span, so he is still providing some playmaking and defense; the guy who was taking it to Duke for most of the second half has faded out. He's probably a lot better scouted now and will have to have an adjustment period where he figures out how people are playing him and adapt. Would be nice to get a solid game from him in the near future.
You can see why Carmody got axed, but counterfactuals are fascinating. Q: if Crawford and JerShon Cobb are healthy last year does Northwestern make the tournament? And if so, Carmody keeps his job and then has this team minus Crawford, which goes like 2-16 in the league. Does Carmody then get fired a year after making the tournament for the first time in the history of the program?
Unfortunately, the answer to the first Q is likely "no" since I don't think Crawford and Cobb bring you from 4-14 in the league to a bid, so this is a pointless bullet indeed.
But anyway, yeah, it seems like Carmody had finally run out of magic (the gathering) when it came to scooping up underrated recruits. There's not much on this team, even for Northwestern.
A tip of the hat. Would like to thank the BTN crew for getting "not just a shooter" out of the way quickly. Standing policy should be one "not just at shooter" when he has a pretty assist or thunders to the hoop for a dunk or swooping layup, and then we can all have a little laugh or a shot or whatever as we think about the fact that Nik Stauskas is a white Canadian so we have to say this every time he does something he does all the time—Stauskas's FT rate is nearing the top 100. Then we can move on with the game and acknowledge the fact that Stauskas is approaching elite on offense, in all facets.
On defense… Well, he did help shut down Crawford after halftime, and I'm of the opinion that when he's actually on the ball he does really well these days. Remember Stanford trying to dump it down to a 6'9" guy they'd switched onto Stauskas and getting two heavily contested fade-away misses? Or in this one Crawford making about four different moves before getting off a tough fadeaway that he hit? Stauskas's length is a big asset when he can stay in front of a guy, which is something that he doesn't seem that much worse at than other guys.
The issues come off the ball, mostly, when he gets lost on screens or closes a guy out either late or with his hands down. I think his bad rap in that department is at least partially undeserved, as Michigan does have a pretty good Kenpom defense (38th) without much size (they're about average) or an imposing shotblocker.
12/28/2013 – Michigan 14, Kansas State 31 – 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten, season mercifully over
we are desperate lonely and underpaid [Adam Glanzman]
If you were disinterested in a December bowl game that kicked off at 10:15 PM, don't feel bad about it. You are far from alone. Frank Clark:
"I think a lot of guys lost the will to play as a family. That's one thing you can't do in football. In football, you've got to stick in there and stay together as a family.
"It was our mindset from the jump, we weren't totally into it I would say. We didn't come out with a lot of energy."
For their part, the coaches didn't bother to go into the hurry-up down 18 points with 8 minutes left. As far as unconvincing attempts to look interested go, the fan is on level footing with the rest of the program.
The coaches did go up-tempo once it was 31-6, mysteriously. You've already given up. No one is going to feel better about losing by three scores to a 7-5 Big 12 team instead of four. I guess you have to send the message that You Never Give Up despite having already given up. That's the kind of program this is. We Never Give Up (we gave up).
That's as indicative of the current state of the Michigan football program as anything. Fail to live up to expectations, try to make it look good with meaningless hand-waving after things are decided. Michigan is just six… eight… sixteen… okay, thirty-five plays away from a really good season, you know, and Lloyd Carr's seniors are about to ride to the rescue.
I guess it's good that Michigan conceded from the drop that they could not run the ball whatsoever, because they were right about that. Eight tailback carries on the night, and three of those were option pitches. Michigan did not repeat their mistakes from the Penn State game.
Unfortunately, while they've learned what they cannot do they have not learned to do anything. Kansas State gave up 301 rushing yards to Oklahoma on the second to last weekend of the regular season; Michigan stared that front seven down and said "no thanks, we like end-arounds."
The most frustrating thing about this season is that any hint of progress is quickly stomped out. Michigan has a human run game against Northwestern, then gets obliterated by Iowa; they are once again human against Ohio State, then correctly assume they are helpless against Kansas State.
Meanwhile, the defense is so incompetent against a modern packaged offense that Kansas State essentially ends the game by the second quarter. Michigan had zero answers for a play that Rich Rodriguez pioneered at this very university. Here we are, talking a big game about how This Is Michigan and playing football like it's 1989, the last time This Is Michigan actually meant This Is A Consistently Elite Football Program.
Bo hovers over the program with speeches about the team the team the team, but his penchant for running quarterbacks and option football and running the damn ball has been discarded in favor of notions about a "pro style" offense that reflects the modern-day NFL in no way whatsoever. Chip Kelly's taking a team that was 4-12 last year to the playoffs with Nick Foles as his quarterback. QED.
At the beginning of the year I wondered aloud if Michigan was going to end up on the wrong side of history here, what with their failed attempt to move to the spread traumatizing them so much that they'd mutter something about Denard Robinson holding the offense back from its true form, which is apparently lots and lots of end arounds with two tackles next to each other. And sacks. Michigan's base play this year was a tackle for loss. This was our innovation.
I like the thing where the quarterback pulls up to throw late better.
It'll get better. I mean, you'd think so. I know that's what everyone said about the offensive line this year. But we've detailed the various ways in which the previous coaching staff decimated this roster on both lines and the fact that Hoke has collected and retained a lot of guys who will be maturing over the next couple years. Michigan won't be ripping the redshirt off an offensive lineman midseason again.
But at some point I realized that the only thing that resembled what football used to be—fun—came when Dennis Norfleet grabbed the ball on kick returns and once when he took an end-around. He juked a guy and got nine yards and I felt a little flutter. Then the grim trudge resumed.
Maybe the reason I hold onto Denard so hard is because he's about 90% of the fun that Michigan football has provided since Bo died. As this season descended into a lifeless backwards march, I kept thinking about my uncle's exclamation during the 2008 Fandom Endurance III Northwestern game: "We do this for fun!" We did even then. There was a perverse joy in our abject stupidity. Five years on, all the diamonds have been sifted from that ash. We do this out of momentum now.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Obviously no one on the defense can acquire this, as the defense was completely disassembled. The offense… barely scraped over 200 yards thanks to a Shane Morris QB draw that went for 40. Jesus. Uh.
Well, Jeremy Gallon did break the single-season receiving record and is a cool dude, so Jeremy Gallon.
Honorable mention: Shane Morris?
Epic Double Point Standings.
3.0: Jeremy Gallon (ND, Indiana, K-State)
2.0: Devin Gardner(ND, OSU)
1.0: Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU), Matt Wile (Nebraska), James Ross (Northwestern)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Nope.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
10/12/2013: Devin Funchess shoots up the middle of the field to catch a 40 yard touchdown, staking Michigan to a ten-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. (Right?)
10/19/2013: Thomas Gordon picks off an Indiana pass to end the Hoosiers' last drive that could have taken the lead.
11/2/2013: Clock expires.
11/9/2013: Nebraska muffs a punt through no action of Michigan's.
11/16/2013: Michigan executes a clock-running last-second field goal to get the game to OT.
11/23/2013: 404 file not found
11/30/2013: Michigan forces a Hyde fumble to get back in the game.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK. Michigan, down 31-12 with two minutes or so left, runs a two-point conversion that features Jeremy Gallon taking an end around and throwing the ball to a wide open dude for the score.
First of all, you gave up already. Screw you and your two point conversion. Second, every Ohio State fan on twitter instantly said something along the lines of "oh wow that totally would have worked against us." I don't think it's possible to be more disgusted with a successful two point conversion.
[AFTER THE JUMP: stuff.]
Welp. There's not much you can do when your QB is a freshman who is liable to put the ball in a defender's chest twice consecutively when you finally do have to open things up far, far too late and your tailbacks rush eight times for 16 yards. Borges did the things he could do, implementing a screen and edge-rush attack that saw Michigan mount actual drives on their first two possessions.
Unfortunately, you can only run constraints for so long before they start getting obliterated, and once the scripted fancy new stuff was over so was the offense. The game was over once Michigan could not punch the ball in on either of their first two possessions and then punted once; down 21-6 without a prayer of a non-gimmicky offense, it was over. Gameplan took Michigan their first 120 yards, and then they had no more. On an individual game level, you can't expect much more from your offensive coordinator.
That Michigan went into this bowl game utterly convinced they could not run the ball conventionally against a not particularly good run defense is a huge failing that you can spread out to at least three different people: Rodriguez, Funk, and Borges. Rodriguez for the roster, Funk for being the position coach, and Borges for treating this rag-tag assemblage of walk-ons and freshmen like they're the Denver Broncos and expecting they could handle every run concept ever expressed by man as they were being bounced around like gas molecules.
Statistical complaint #341. It's inane that those touch passes forward that are essentially handoffs get filed as passes. Jeremy Gallon's probably happy that is the case since without those he probably does not pass Braylon Edwards for the single-season receiving record; everybody else should be shaking their fist at the NCAA scorer in the sky in a futile attempt to get stats that make sense. Scorers should be able to judge whether a play is a run or pass and credit accordingly.
One step forward, one step back. Michigan's approach to this game was mentioned above, but to reiterate: despite being forced to start a freshman quarterback Michigan assumed they were totally incapable of moving the ball on the ground. And they were.
I have no idea how this line improves enough next year for Michigan to be able to do anything after losing both tackles, who are going to be on NFL rosters next year. They can be better, but like the radioactive situation Rodriguez walked into the reclamation project here is a two-year job. (Yes, thanks in large part to Rodriguez.) Next year's line has no seniors and one junior.
God willing, Michigan goes into spring practice focused on getting this unit competent at one base running play instead of three and does not try a blizzard of different combinations during the season. That might be enough to make their running game bad. Anything more is in the realm of the fantastical.
Morris eval. Could have been worse. Hosing hoser hoses, which mitigates some freshman issues since he can rifle the ball late and not get punished because the thing gets there so fast. Has accuracy issues caused by firing every ball a hundred miles an hour and predictably put two balls in K-State defenders' chests late when Michigan was forced to try to go downfield; overall an encouraging debut. Morris's wheels are a surprising asset, as well. He is not Gardner; neither is he Navarre. He could be a Connor Shaw type QB who takes the occasional carry to mess with defenses. (Hypothetically.)
QB controversy? No. The training wheels were obvious and once taken off the punishment was immediate. Given what we've heard about practice he has Gardner's INT issues except worse, and as long as both guys improve at the same rate Gardner will still be well ahead.
That was a total disaster. The season as a whole was a macrocosm of the defense in each game: pretty good for most of it, gives up one WTF touchdown midway through (Indiana), and then collapses in a heap at the end. Kansas State has an underrated offense but even so, this drive chart…
- 75 yard TD
- 60 yard TD
- 59 yard TD
- 59 yard FG miss
- 33 yard drive ending in fumble one play after Tyler Lockett dropped a touchdown
- 60 yard FG drive
- 39 yards, punt
- 7 yard TD drive
…is a total and comprehensive failure. Michigan did not force a punt until there were 7 minutes left in the game and things were over. This follows a game in which Michigan gave up 393 rushing yards to OSU.
Now instead of having one solid unit that can expect to take another step forward as they age, Michigan has question marks everywhere. Mattison's reputation as salvager and hero took enormous hits over these last two games. Hooray.
Exposed. Tyler Lockett is an incredible player who was checked by essentially nobody this year; it seems like KSU decided they were going with Waters late mostly because he takes best advantage of a guy who is probably the best WR in the country. Any ideas that Blake Countess is in that league as a defensive back are now bleeding out in the gutter after Lockett ghosted in and out of Michigan's defensive backfield all night, knives at the ready.
While Raymon Taylor struggled equally, Taylor had been targeted all year and we had some grasp of how good he was already: decent, but not Lockett good. Countess had largely been avoided and made a lot of interceptions when not avoided; this was a comedown in hype and expectation level on par with that Mattison suffered.
Spread and shred. The most brutal event of the night was K-State busting a fullback up the seam for 40 yards on a version of QB Oh Noes that put Desmond Morgan in a bind: defend the QB draw or cover the fullback. With Waters not a huge threat on the ground, the answer was "cover the fullback fergodsakes"; either way the Wildcats were about to get a good chunk of yards. Morgan acted like it was a run and Kansas State was on their way to their third touchdown.
In the aftermath…
Snyder hit them with that QB run/pass option sweep. That play is no joke. Irony is first team I saw do it was Michigan with Denard under RR
— Smart Football (@smartfootball) December 29, 2013
…that was my exact thought, too. K-State just looked hard to defend in ways that Michigan is not. A lot of people were griping about Michigan's decision not to double Lockett, but when you're going up against a defense that uses the QB's legs in a way that demands attention you find yourself with limited options unless you can win certain one on one battles. Michigan could not, and as in the Ohio State game once that was the case it was over. There is no hiding weak spots against these spread to run attacks, and against Tyler Lockett every member of the secondary is a weak spot.
About that line. Dominated again. Zero pass rush and after some nice stops on the first drive, K-State had a quality day on the ground. Michigan spent much of the day stunting defensive ends into double teams, and those ended up with Clark and Ojemudia and Beyer on their back as dudes darted by.
I will never understand the insane deployment of Quinton Washington this year; we're now deep into Announce Everyone Was Injured All Year time and there hasn't been a peep about Washington, who was a quality starter all last year and spent most of this one on the bench. Without him and Pipkins, this outfit was just too light to hope to hold up. Other than Willie Henry, who is a freshman who needs some technique work badly, the rest of the line is Black, Beyer, and Clark: defensive ends all.
Things should get better next year, at least, with great piles of returning players and Pipkins hopefully coming back from his ACL tear. Much rests on him. I mean, much rests on him for a team that projects to finish third in their division.
* Spielman said something about how he asked Mattison who his best defender was this year, and the first thing out of Mattison's mouth was "Frank Clark." Against Ohio State, Frank Clark had one tackle. Against Kansas State, Frank Clark had one tackle. When your best defender is averaging 1 tackle per game in his last two, something is wrong.
* As Ace pointed out, our two leading rushers were our QB and Tight End. Our running backs should be made to watch how K-State's little Hubert ran. I get it that the offensive line generated zero push, but eventually someone has to break a tackle or make someone miss. Our 4 RBs combined for 8 carries and 13 yards. Our offense was slightly better in not giving up so many TFLs, but that's because we rarely had the ball. K-State had 5 TFLs for a total of 13 yards lost. Hey, I'm looking for positives, no matter how small.
Worst: The Coordinators
I’ll admit to being a bigger fan of Greg Mattison than Al Borges, so up front I want to make it clear that Al Borges called a pretty good first half of football and Mattison seemed absolutely lost in stopping a team whose passing offense was “throw to #16” and “throw to guy wide open in the middle of the field.” Borges has no functional running game, in part, because nobody seems able to block defenders, and so he went about trying ever-ludicrous methods to move the ball on the ground and the air without putting too much pressure on Shane Morris. These were all plays fans have seen before, but he wove in screens, end-arounds, sweeps, and easy middle-distance throws into a coherent gameplan that let UM move the ball pretty effectively on their first couple of drives. At the very least, he came out punching despite having one hand behind his back, and for that he deserves kudos. And in particular during that first foray into the redzone, a PI on either of Morris’s two passes to Gallon and Funchess probably would have allowed UM to score a TD and kept the game closer. The fact the offense sputtered in the 2nd half isn’t that surprising, as WR runs and delayed screens only work so often when your base offense is churning up less than a yard a carry and your WRs are being blanketed when they aren’t dropping passes from your amped-up QB. Borges has shown an ability to adapt somewhat these past couple of games, and next year it is going to need to be flexible because I have a hard time believing it will suddenly start running the ball under center for 4 ypc while airing the ball out with aplomb.
On the other side of the ball, this “bending” defense clearly broke in the first half, as KSU had no trouble moving up and down the field despite holding penalties putting them in some poor down-and-distances. Taylor and Countess couldn’t keep Lockett even remotely contained, and it seemed virtually impossible for the team to bring pressure while also maintain their assignments, leading to long conversions after acres of open field just appeared. The defense tightened up somewhat in the 2nd half, but this defense needs to make a massive step forward next year for this team to improve on their record, and it’s now been two games in a row where the defense seems flat-footed and ill-prepared against good offenses. That needs to change, and given the youth out there (Gedeon, Thomas, and Henry seemed to get significant run) along with some improving older players like Clark and a healthy Ryan, I expect that to happen.
bronxblue brings up the 2013 == death meme, and takes issue with it since the basketball team did make the NCAA final. I would like to point out that my particular version of 2013 == death is based on the Old Yeller premise, in which our once-loved dog contracts rabies, and is therefore 100% accurate except in this version of Old Yeller the dog is a cyborg with shotgun arms and continues blasting us long after our corpse has cooled.