The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
2/2/2013 – Michigan 52, Indiana 63 – 16-5, 8-1 Big Ten
Stauskas was barely involved, but they don't take pictures of guys hanging around at the three point line. [Chris Howell/Hoosier Scoop]
There was a second-half possession on which Nik Stauskas stood in the corner and watched, hands on hips. Zak Irvin—this team has more guys apparently missing a C in their names than any in the country, where is that on Kenpom—banged in a three pointer that I barely noticed before it went in, because I was distressed and looking at Stauskas to rescue things. He did not.
The only thing that was unique about this particular possession was the hands. The standing eventually became standard. This was because Yogi Ferrell, Indiana's lightning quick, generously-listed-at-six-foot-even point guard, was guarding him. Ferrell started out in much the same way as Gary Harris did, denying heavily on the perimeter, and for whatever reason back cuts against this behavior are infrequent nowadays. Michigan did not even attempt one. When Stauskas did get the ball he felt harried enough to dump it to someone else most of the time.
Stauskas was effectively shut off for most of the first half until late, when he attempted to back Ferrell down on one possession, and drive by him on another. The post-up resulted in a shot that was well off; the drive ended with a charge call as Stauskas extended his arm.
And that was that, really.
I thought that Stauskas would be pissed and Beilein would do something to get his star into the game. Over the past couple years, Michigan has an excellent track record when it comes to storming out of the locker room at the half and putting it on the opponent. There was not a hint of that in this game. The second half largely followed the first. Other than a couple of nice passes, Stauskas's contribution was limited to a couple of jacked late-clock shots and the standing around.
In Stauskas's stead, things fell on LeVert, Walton, and Robinson, far less efficient players who went about the business of being less efficient.
This was massively frustrating. Cat-quick or not, ball screens require hard decisions on the part of a defense. When Michigan did get into the Stauskas pick and roll offense a couple times in the second half, Michigan got quality looks at the basket. I have a ton of faith in John Beilein's overall genius because I have eyes frequently applied to basketball games, and seeing the lack of answers on his part was distressing. So, too, was Stauskas's growing passivity.
This was the second time this year that Stauskas had been eliminated from the offense. The first time was against Duke, and that was another listless loss where Michigan was tagging along behind the opponent with a series of LeVert drives that never seemed like they would come together into the surge Michigan needed to take the lead. Cut off the head and the rest of the team flails; unlike Trey Burke, opponents have shown an ability to do that with Stauskas.
Whether that's because of an inherent difference in their attitudes or just the fact that Burke brought the ball up most of the time while Stauskas gets involved in the offense after lining up on the wing, I don't know, but somehow, some way Michigan has to get the ball in the right hands. They are not good enough on defense to get away with nights featuring six shots from the man.
One call. I didn't have much problem with the refereeing in this one despite it being an Assembly Hall game. There were a couple of things each way that were wrong, sure. I was too busy being incensed about Stauskas's lack of involvement to really get any lather up about officiating.
But, man, if Derrick Walton gets what looked like a blazingly obvious charge call on Ferrell, this game changes significantly. That would have been Ferrell's second, knocking him out for about eight minutes, both freeing up Stauskas and removing 85% of Indiana's offense. I'm not sure what else Walton is supposed to do there: he was moving with Ferrell, square to the shooter, and got plowed in the chest. Ferrell got the same call a few minutes later, and it was the right one.
I have no idea what a charge is anymore, so I am now qualified to referee college basketball.
(The other thing that drove me nuts was Michigan getting a blocking call on a flop a few minutes after Indiana's flop didn't draw one.)
Our defensive stopper isn't stopping anything of late. LeVert draws the opposition's best perimeter scorer, and the results have been grim. Ferrell blazed the nets in this one, as did Gary Harris in the MSU game. While Purdue's guards didn't do much, they are Purdue.
After Ferrell's third late clock shot I started getting really frustrated with LeVert allowing Ferrell to take virtually uncontested jumpers, and then thought back to last year's Wisconsin game… why doesn't LeVert ever get a hand in anyone's face? He's six inches taller than Ferrell, he should be able to contest his shots. Instead there's a lack of awareness that leads to plenty of rise-and-fire threes that look like bad shots until you see the replay.
This could have been a super-ugly win you exhale and mutter something about road games after, except Indiana kept hitting shots they had to jack up with about two seconds on the shot clock. (This was a glacial 55 possession game.) Michigan's problem is that they let Indiana look like Jordan Taylor-era Wisconsin; almost all of their late jacked shots were actually decent looks. Compare that to the three Stauskas had to take from about 30 feet.
[Chris Howell/Hoosier Scoop]
Morgan up, except for the one thing. Jordan Morgan had an excellent game with ten rebounds, five of them offensive, to go with two blocked shots and two makes. His miss was blocked by Vonleh and immediately put back up by Morgan for two. His rotation on defense was part of the many, many late-clock situations Indiana found itself in, and the resulting makes were not really on him. He was pretty great.
The main exception, of course, was the free throw line, where Morgan was 1 of 5 with a critical missed front end late. That dropped his season percentage almost ten points and as the clock ticked down it was impossible to not look at Michigan's score and add in the missing two or three points even though the team's overall percentage at the line was about average.
Walton: improving, verging on improved. Thirteen points, six of them at the line. Walton's FT percentage has gone up six points in the last couple games and he's consistently chipping double digits more often than not. He's still not up to the task of taking over games in the fashion Michigan needed with Stauskas marginalized, but at this point a solidly productive night is the expectation.
Taking over games… is just not in the cards for GRIII. Like the Duke game, when Michigan was out of its element in the second half the burden fell on Caris. This was due in part to two or three ugly possessions earlier when Robinson tried to create and ended up with a bad shot or a turnover. Chastened, Robinson receded into the background again unless there was a transition opportunity.
It just is what it is. Robinson's NBA draft hype was always built on his ability to jump really high, not his skill level.
Spike limitations. This was a bad, bad matchup for Albrecht. He came in, got smoked a couple times by Ferrell, and then got yanked. He had a period of time in the second half where both he and Walton were in; he chased someone else around.
1/25/2014 – Michigan 80, Michigan State 75 – 14-4, 7-0 Big Ten
Keith Appling had just jumped on Caris LeVert's back from behind as LeVert was going up for a layup. Using LeVert's back as leverage, Appling raked his hands across LeVert's, sending both LeVert and the ball flying. The ref on the baseline looked on dumbly and did nothing as Michigan State took the ball upcourt.
On the sideline, John Beilein executed a sort of rage-squat as he barked at the guy who had evidently been placed on the sideline without any instructions as to what the shiny silver thing in his mouth did. MSU got a layup on the other end; Michigan dumped the ball down to Robinson and got a whistle for an extended hand-check by Russell Byrd.
This did not mollify Beilein. He'd seen enough. He'd had just about enough of being the corny high school chemistry teacher kids roll their eyes at.
artist's impression of MSU lineup
In the aftermath we got the usual press conference from Tom Izzo in which he specifically enumerated all the things he wasn't blaming the loss on. Payne's out. (You may have heard of Mitch McGary, though maybe I shouldn't bring him up since he outcoached Izzo.) Dan Dakich trolled Dawson. (Izzo's the one who recruited Punchy McAngerIssues.) Harris and Appling got tired. (Because they had to play fewer minutes than Stauskas and LeVert.) Appling got his wrist dinged a month ago and can't shoot. (Selected Appling scorelines since injury-type substance: 27, 14, 14, 20, 24. Three point shooting in Big Ten play: 31%, right in line with last year's 32%.) He had to play the crappy players behind his starters. (They are crappy because he hasn't brought in a premier player other than Harris in three years.)
And, of course, the piece de resistance: "curious calls" that happened when the game was tied at 60.
The nerve of this guy.
Midway through the second half, Spike Albrecht was informed that to receive a timeout from the officials he has to submit a 20-page research paper on the semiotics of the term "timeout" and submit seven different forms of identification, three of which do not exist. Gary Harris's brilliant perimeter defense on Nik Stauskas was greatly aided by constant jersey tugs and in a couple cases just flat out grabbing the dude as he tried to cut. Travis Trice's attempts to stay in front of anyone on the floor via arm, shoulder, trip, or pathetic mewling would have been hilarious if they had not been uncalled and therefore enraging. Jordan Morgan fouled out on a series of ghost calls, including a double technical acquired after Russell Byrd, of all people, taunted Glenn Robinson. That was Morgan's fourth; Izzo managed to complain that Appling picking up his third with under eight minutes left was a great strain because it forced him to the bench.
Yes, in the same press conference in which he bitched about Appling not getting enough rest. The nerve of this guy.
By the end of Izzo's self-pity-fest you could feel the dim bulbs in the room composing their 30 for 30 pitches:
What if I told you that a team with a lottery pick shooting guard playing out of his mind stayed within five points of a team down the Naismith winner, another first round NBA draftee, and a preseason All-American?
What if I told you they were playing at home, but there was that one time a referee was not utterly petrified of someone in the stands calling him a bad name?
What if I told you that the first team had actually won two of the previous seven games against the second team?
ESPN 30 for 30 presents "THE GREATEST COACH IN THE UNIVERSE OF FOREVER."
Tuesday, January 25th, 2014.
Post-loss Izzo press conferences are IQ tests for Lansing-oriented sports reporters, and they all fail, always. A Mike Griffith gentleman writing for MLive used these sentences back-to-back:
There was no mention of the Spartans having to use a 10th different starting lineup on account of Dawson's injury.
"In the 30 years I've been here, I've never been more proud of a team,'' Izzo said. "I played guys I haven't played in a month.''
Someone remind Griffith to breathe regularly, because it's clear that he doesn't have enough cells to spare for autonomic brain stem functions.
I know. I know that our nation is built on brazenly lying to each other. Cigarettes and organic food and the waiting list for Michigan football season tickets, it's all the same. Some person thinks they can make money on some activity and just lies and lies until the jig's up. But at some point self-respect has to kick in with the observers. I mean. At least you'd think so, right?
This is why I don't go to press conferences. I would just laugh, and laugh, and throw in some derisive snorts and eventually I would just start asking questions like unedited versions of the things I write and eventually I wouldn't get to go to press conferences. I am not a sports journalist because I can't smile when someone deposits a plate of poop in front of my face and calls it pâté.
AND GODDAMMIT JOHN BEILEIN ISN'T CALLING THAT PATE ANY MORE EITHER.
He exploded! With just over four minutes left there was some sort of mutual in-our-grills screaming session, followed by Beilein explaining to one of the other refs that the other end of the Breaking Beilein drama had in fact bumped him—there was a lot of pointing at Beilein's nose in this section, to indicate that someone had impacted this section of Beilein's all-encompassing rage—followed by the ref who had apparently taken aggressive physical action against a coach coming forth to apologize.
It was completely insane. Every neutral I follow on twitter who was watching the game immediately tweeted "I have never seen John Beilein anything like this," echoing the play by play announcer and your brain. Beilein took 30 years of goodwill built up by not being Bo Ryan or Tom Izzo to referees and cashed every last scrap in, somehow avoiding a technical throughout this sequence.
And, of course, it was completely for naught. The very next Michigan possession saw Nik Stauskas thunder in for a transition dunk; Keith Appling again attempted to make a defensive play from behind. This was the result.
SEEMS LEGIT [Dustin Johnston/UMHoops]
This was adjudged to be all ball; Michigan did not score on the ensuing possession. Beilein could do nothing but laugh bitterly on the sideline.
If we're being honest with ourselves, yeah, Horford was moving on the first "curious call" and Appling got hit by a non-stationary defender as he took a shot. In a basketball game, that is a foul. Whatever happens in the Breslin Center is not a basketball game, though, and maybe John Beilein screaming BE A MAN or IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT BASKETBALL TO BE or I USUALLY GET A FOOTLONG TURKEY WITH THE CHIPOTLE SAUCE AND EXTRA OLIVES WHAT IS YOUR PREFERENCE reminded the men with whistles that road teams are people too. Or maybe it was just continued incompetence. I'm betting on incompetence.
Either way, nearly three years to the day after Zack Novak's Aneurysm of Leadership propelled Michigan to its first win at Michigan State since the Harding administration, another spittle-flecked unhinged rant propelled Michigan. Two minutes of game time later, Michigan had gone on an 8-0 run featuring two wild Keith Appling drives on one side of the floor and perfectly executed transitions on the other.
Beilein sucked all the anger out of his team and unleashed it on those who deserved it, and all that was left was cool execution. In the ensuing parade to the free throw line Michigan took deep breaths and drove the nails deeper, until Izzo was wiping away tears in the press conference and imagining an alternate reality where he was the put-upon underdog.
Bad news, everybody! Technical issues blew up the first half of our podcast. We are trying to reschedule and retape; upshot is no podcast today.
Double point us the way to victory [Bryan Fuller]
Wow. Going into Gauntlet #1, Michigan fans were demanding one win, hoping for two, and not even thinking about three. Three wins later, Michigan is clearly in the driver's seat for the Big Ten title. Not only have they disposed of three top ten opponents, they've taken out two of them on the road. They've also put away road games against a third tourney-bound B10 team in Minnesota and Increasingly Dangerous Nebraska™.
Meanwhile, as Indiana and Illinois continue to struggle* future trips to the Big Ten's sundry Assembly Halls seem significantly less ominous than they did a couple weeks ago. Because basketball is basketball, Michigan's going to have a night where they shoot ARGH from three they're still going to drop a game or two against teams that are clearly beneath them in the Big Ten pecking order. Even so, all they have to do is split Gauntlet #2…
- @ Iowa
- @ OSU
…and it's hard to see anyone passing them. Catching, maybe. Passing… nyet.
If Iowa can beat MSU at home tomorrow, Michigan will be two games clear, and their primary chasers have a schedule that's just as difficult. MSU has games at Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State plus a home game against Iowa; Iowa has home games against OSU, Michigan, and Wisconsin plus trips to Minnesota and MSU.
*[Indiana is now just ten spots ahead of Nebraska in Kenpom and Illinois is 15 spots back. BTW, I am officially claiming Nebraska as my Most Interesting Big Ten Team of 2014-15.]
Chunkums. Yes. Yesssssss. Yesssssssss.
Hitting things with your hand is bad. Appling's wrist is barely attached to the rest of his body and therefore he can't shoot. This is known. It is gospel.
Idea: maybe you should stop hitting things with your hands. Desks, floors, engineers in Rather Hall: these are all objects that should not have force applied to them with hands. Appling and Dawson should have taken NO HIT HARD THINGS WITH SELF 101, but they heard it was a lot harder than BANG THING BANG BANG LOUD 100.
This was slow and weird and distorted. This game featured a full two minutes of intentional fouling and no-threes defense, seriously distorting the stats. Michigan had a whopping 16 free throws on intentional fouls, and then their intentionally crappy interior defense made the game look more offensively oriented and faster than it was.
This was going to be a snail-tastic 56 or 57 possession game if either team had gotten clear by the two minute mark; it eventually got to a still-slow 63. At the point the fouling started, Michigan had 66 points on 54 possessions (1.22 PPP) and MSU had 60 (1.11). By game's end those numbers had been pushed to 1.27 and 1.19.
So… still offensively oriented, and no wonder with Michigan blazing the nets from deep and MSU following suit with a 50%/41% shooting. A great deal of this was acquired with difficulty since the refs were in a whistle-swallowing mode.
Also distorted: individual stats. If you were shocked that Derrick Walton ended up with 19 points you are not alone. He had nine before the and-one that put Michigan firmly in the drivers seat and then acquired 8 FTAs in desperation time. He hit seven, which was greatly appreciated by Michigan fans and their cardiologists.
This still didn't warrant the BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE WOW reaction the media provided. Walton was good; he did not drive much offense. He picked his spots and fulfilled the niche this site talked about a couple weeks back. This is good and important, of course. It's just not quite as impressive as the box score makes it seem.
FWIW, the other eight intentional FTAs were distributed equally between Robinson and LeVert.
okay this is a two but you get the point [Dustin Johnston/UMHoops]
Except the threes. On my re-watch the thing that leapt out at me was the fact that Michigan's blazing three point shooting was a direct result of MSU giving Michigan a ton of great looks. Caris's game-tying bomb late was a great example. MSU was so concerned about giving up penetration and so aggressive about disrupting Michigan's offensive flow that they plain forgot to defend a corner three from a 38% shooter.
Meanwhile, screens were gone under on Nik Stauskas, or bigs did not aggressively hedge, allowing him to get quality looks that were at best semi-contested. Peripheral shooters took almost entirely wide open looks—IIRC one or two of Irvin's were contested.
Board war: in which a stalemate is declared victory. Michigan actually out-rebounded Michigan State. Yes. Michigan grabbed 11 of 31 opportunities on the offensive boards and held Michigan State to 10 of 33. Michigan's output is thanks to Jordan Morgan and a whopping four OREBs credited to "team."
The main disappointment. Robinson had a pretty miserable night all around. He was hit on the arm without calls on three or four of his shots, but he's got Kenny Kaminski and Denzel Valentine on him. He should be able to get things that are not jumpers. He did only once with an awkward but effective up and under to kick off the second half. When Michigan was looking to generate secondary offense, they turned to LeVert. Robinson did well against Iowa after some early issues on the defensive boards; Michigan wanted more from him in this game.
Nope. Some M fans are trying to make a big deal out of the incident with about two minutes left where Harris and LeVert both ended up on the ground. LeVert ended up there because Valentine came in and whacked him either in the stomach or the viagras; that contact was certainly not intentional.
It was about as bad as the event earlier in the game where Horford was going for a rebound and accidentally brushed/whacked Trice, who went down in a heap because it is really hard to not be in a heap when you're Travis Trice. He's just heap-oriented.
I'd like to thank The Free Press for being a wretched hive of scum and villainy that naturally induces Michigan fans to seek out content not designed to enrage them.
Oh man this guy:
— Stephen J. Nesbitt (@stephenjnesbitt) January 27, 2014
This is why you shouldn't get up in arms about Richard Sherman, because then you start complaining about a lack of class while wishing someone would get maimed for blowing you a kiss. This spurred a long twitter discussion about the practicality or lack thereof of maiming someone in an alley. Twitter thinks it is not very practical since Nik Stauskas probably goes to, like, basketball gyms instead of hanging out in alleys.
Five key plays. The dagger:
1/22/2014 – Michigan 75, Iowa 67 – 14-4, 6-0 Big Ten
If this was a miss, it was his only one. [Bryan Fuller]
Jordan Morgan is old. Not human old. He is ZZ Top Beard old. He's columns about Richard Sherman old. He's archeology old. He's Seven Nation Army old. He has shale and fossilized invertebrates and a layer of iridium in him.
You think I am exaggerating for effect. I am not. Jordan Morgan committed to Michigan on December 18th, 2007. This is what Jordan Morgan and Miley Cyrus looked like then.
Michigan had not been to the NCAA tournament since Robert Traylor was around.
Jordan Morgan is older than the sea. It is not out of the question that Jordan Morgan impacting the earth was the genesis of life itself.
Morgan was in fact the first guy John Beilein recruited to Michigan who wasn't a late scramble pickup.
Ben Cronin and Stu Douglass preceded him chronologically but were in the 2008 transitional class that, like most transitional classes, gave off the aura of "random tall passerby, here is a scholarship." Douglass was pirated from Harvard, Cronin from… hey, a Beilein offer at West Virginia. When those guys signed on Beilein was looking for bodies he could mold.
Morgan was not one of those guys. Morgan was recruited way early, on purpose. He committed three months before Zack Novak did. Remember Zack Novak? Guy with the bulging forehead comprised entirely of veins and leadership who had a pathological inability to not try his hardest at everything he'd ever considered doing? Guy who is now two years gone from the program? Yeah. That guy. Morgan beat him to the punch by three months.
Jordan Morgan is a million years old. This is how old Jordan Morgan is: Michigan sucked at basketball when he signed up.
This is no longer the case. (Someone tell the official site.) Last night, Michigan went toe to toe with a top ten opponent and came out on top… again. Since Novak's Aneurysm of Leadership, Michigan is 39-14 in the Big Ten. Morgan played 24 minutes in that game, because he is 1,000 years old.
And yes, Michigan's stormed through the last three years of Big Ten basketball on the shoulders of NBA first-rounders past and future. This latest victory was largely thanks to Nik Stauskas playing like a guy Joe Dumars will gleefully pass over in the upcoming NBA draft. (If he even gets an opportunity to do so.) But underneath Stauskas's very obvious boggling efficiency there are other boggling efficiencies to consider.
Historically, the Jordan Morgan prediction matrix has been a simple one. If he is playing against a guy approximately his size, he will have a good game. If he is playing against a seven-footer or guy who plays like one by jumping real high, he will be invisible save for good positional defense. That matrix has been taking efficient shot after efficient shot in this Big Ten season; yesterday it finally toppled over.
Here is Morgan's stat line from Michigan's game against the biggest team in the conference: 5/6 from 12, 2/3 from the line, 12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 offensive rebounds by guys he is checking. He kept Horford stapled to the bench, and it wasn't anything Horford (eight minutes, 3 rebounds, 0 FGA, 0 TO) was doing. He was just the best option. The matrix is collapsed in a heap like a security guard around a Michigan State quarterback recruit.
At some point it doesn't matter if Morgan's shots are largely provided on platters by Stauskas, LeVert, and company. Bunnies get missed. Sometimes dunks fly right back out of the basket. Large gentlemen deposit your shot into the stands. I think that point has been reached, because I was checking out Aaron White's numbers and found something familiar in them. If you've been around this site for a while you know that Aaron White is an MGoBlog fave-rave, because he is maniacally, spectacularly efficient. Well…
- WHITE TRUE SHOOTING PERCENTAGE: 71.5, #2 nationally
- MORGAN TS%: 71.3, would be #3 if Morgan was at 40% of Michigan's minutes.
White's usage numbers are higher, but not by that much. The only guy who's putting up more points per shot attempt is one Ethan Wragge, who you may remember from such games as…
Ethan Wragge at the half: 24 points, 0 dribbles
— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) January 21, 2014
Creighton: avoid at all costs.
It would be something if Morgan had his numbers as a jumping jack who can fling things in the basket from above it, like Glenn Robinson III. Since he is not, it is something else. You'd say it's impossible for a below-the-rim guy like Morgan to be so ruthless except for the numbers staring you in the face.
71%. It's there, on paper, looking back at you just as confused as you are. I am not supposed to be this large, it whispers. Tell me there is a theoretical maximum. Please. Yes, Jordan Morgan shooting percentage, yes. You will not grow and grow until you engulf the state and then the nation. It is axiomatically impossible. This is good for both you and the Big Ten, because without that there's no telling what the combination of Stauskas, Beilein, and Morgan might end up at. It might be a number so big it could describe Morgan's metaphorical age.
The imposition of style. Over the past few years there have been teams that try to speed Michigan up or turn them over or press them and they've all failed. Add Iowa to that list. Here's quite a stat in an eight-point Michigan win: Michigan had 12 fast break points to Iowa's 4.
Meanwhile. 66 possessions is a little faster than Michigan generally goes… and way, way off Iowa's normal tempo. That is a comprehensive win.
And they didn't sacrifice offensive rebounds. It seemed like the boards were going to be a major sore spot both pregame and in the first eight minutes as Melsahn Basabe went nuts, but by the end of the game Iowa had been battled to a standstill. Both teams had 10 OREBs; Michigan had one additional opportunity to grab one. Shutting off transition and still grabbing 30% of available offensive boards is quite a trick.
Spike! Dang, man. 35 minutes with Walton sidelined with the flu, and the results are seven points, three boards, seven assists, four steals, and zero turnovers. The second-half steals were all quickly converted into fast-break points and two of them broke up attempted Iowa fast breaks themselves; in particular, the clean swipe that led to an Irvin transition three to push Michigan's lead back to seven was a play that should come with an exclamation point in the box score. That was a five point swing and about 3.5 of those were Spike's, with the remainder going to Irvin.
Michigan was fortunate that Walton was sidelined for a game against a point guard Spike could check. Mike Gesell is just not a volume shooter. Even so, Michigan probably came out better than the expected in that matchup: Gesell was just two of four from the floor with two assists and a turnover.
I don't think anyone has any illusions that Spike is going to be able to guard Appling without fire raining from the sky, so it'll be important to get Walton back for Saturday. Travis Trice does play 18 minutes a game, though, and Albrecht can deal with him.
Yet another of Stauskas's 34 bricks on the night [Fuller]
Stauskas. Crushingly disappointing performance from a player who will never live up to his potential and SHOULD DEFINITELY BE IGNORED BY THE NBA FOR AT LEAST ONE MORE YEAR.
are they gone, the scouts?
So… yeah… wow. That ball-on-a-string assist where he crossed White over twice and then plunged through two help defenders before feeding Morgan was a bittersweet symphony right there. Hooray: that guy plays for Michigan. Oh no: he's not going to be around much longer.
Might as well ride him as long as you can. At this point it's barely worth mentioning that he was ludicrously efficient except when left wide open from his favorite spot in the world. 26 points on 17 shot attempts, five assists, and I'll-take-it defense against Aaron White. Nik Stauskas.
It is going to be really disappointing when Michigan finally finds itself without an alpha dog who can drive them through tough moments, but what a run: Morris, Burke, Stauskas. The series of defiant lip curlers who have passed through Ann Arbor of late is amazing.
What do we think of Iowa's three point defense now? On the one hand, Michigan was only 8 of 27. On the other, did it really seem like Iowa had much of anything to do with that? They got some hands in faces but no more or less than any other team and it seemed like Michigan was mostly hitting the hard ones and missing the easy ones, Stauskas in particular.
Aside from late-clock chucks, most three pointers are the same catch and shoot quality, and I don't think Iowa has anything special to them that prevents opponents from hitting from deep.
Warming up. Zak Irvin returned from deep freeze to provide a much-needed shooting spark in the second half, hitting 3 of 7 from three and even venturing inside the line for a transition bucket. We have photographic evidence.
A palpable two pointer [Fuller]
His usefulness was much more obvious against a team like Iowa that gives up a bunch of threes; previously he was forced to sit in the corner with a guy on him against Wisconsin, et al.
At least he's there, forcing people to check him. Have you seen an Indiana game this year? It's ugly. The only guy who can shoot at all is Yogi Ferrell, and he's their main creator. The result is a lot of possessions where opponents pack the paint with impunity and the second-worst offense in the league.
I don't know what it is with both Indiana teams, but they've apparently decided to stop recruiting shooters. You're in Indiana! You can't throw a basketball without knocking over a 5'11" white dude who does nothing but hit 45% from deep for four years. You should take advantage of this opportunity instead of recruiting gentlemen who give themselves a self-high-five when they hit the backboard.
Late subs. I was confused late when Beilein kept swapping Morgan for Horford on made second free throws, and then it became apparent: by switching the centers, Michigan gave themselves plenty of time to get set defensively so Iowa could not get the whisper of a transition chance afterwards.
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.