This is maaaaybe premature there, ESPN. Maryland #1 FWIW.
3/4/2014 – Michigan 84, Illinois 53 – 22-7, 14-3 Big Ten – Outright champs
Good. In your face, Nanna Egwu. Good. [Bryan Fuller]
Before Ace took over full-time basketball preview duties, I wrote many of them. I eschewed "preview" to call these posts "Death From Above," because I thought it sounded cool. I fielded regular questions as to what the hell that meant.
If you want the deep background, "death from above" was a maneuver you could execute in walking-robot-wargame Battletech wherein your giant man-shaped robot would take off and attempt to land on the head of an opposing giant man-shaped robot. The goal was to crush the cockpit and pilot, rendering the exoskeleton inert, dripping ominous fluids.
I can only assume that all has been made clear after Michigan's high-arcing deep shots proved laser-guided at Illinois. John Beilein basketball is death from above.
Complete Illinois game notes, updated:
GRIII starts with layup
LOL STAUSKAS I’M DEAD
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) March 5, 2014
Assembly Hall (not that Assembly Hall) drips today.
The three pointer has always been the great leveler in college basketball. Poke a random NCAA tourney upset and you're likely to find a bunch of short guys firing in threes as the favorite struggles outside the arc.
John Beilein came of age as a coach in a milieu of random players barely recruited. He found success by taking spare parts and arranging them into a machine that rained in threes. This was generally effective but not as much as legend would have it. Beilein won regular season conference championships twice in ten years at Richmond and Canisius, and finished third in the gargantuan Big East in 2005-2006. His reputation rested on an upset of South Carolina as a 14-seed with Richmond and the Pittsnogle-era WVU team's runs into the Elite Eight and Sweet 16.
But he'd lifted teams without structural advantage. He made every team he'd had competitive after a one-year adjustment period, though, and that seemed like gold to a Michigan fan. At the time the prospect of a consistently .500 Big Ten team with the occasional third-place finish followed by tourney upsets seemed like heaven. I was stridently in favor of Beilein's hire because I thought he'd turn Michigan into the kind of program that pushes Duke to the brink in the second round.
In that post I asserted that 21-14, 9-9 Michigan would be a one seed in an "exceeded expectations" tournament. I also asserted this:
I've been searching for a Michigan equivalent and in my memory can only come up with the '97 national title team. Unless there was a basketball team that outdid this year's—unlikely—I think you have to go back to 1969 to pull another team that so wildly exceeded what was expected of them.
To find a team with as good a claim to exceeding expectations as this 14-3 outright-Big-Ten-champs outfit that lost Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Mitch McGary you have to go back… uh… one year, when Trey Burke blew up into a Naismith winner and Michigan reached the national title game. The next potential candidate makes you reach back all the way to a team that shared a Big Ten title with Zack Novak at power forward… two years ago.
This is all very strange, not only to us, but to the guy who assembled this unlikely powerhouse.
"I don’t know what to think. I have this funny, quiet feeling where you set out to accomplish a goal and you accomplish it. It’s strange." [ed: –John Beilein]
— Joe Stapleton (@joe_stapes) March 5, 2014
The warmness inside you right now is thanks to the arc on the court that separates two from three.
The great leveler levels because threes are great shots, amongst the best shots. Beilein structured his entire basketball career around that intuition, constructing small-ball outfits everywhere he's gone. Sometimes he had four shooters; sometimes he had five. One guy probed inside as the other four created space around the arc, giving everyone space and time to find shots at the rim.
While the mechanism has shifted as Michigan acquires ball-screen maestro after ball-screen maestro, the overall pattern remains the same. The bigs shoot 70% because the opponent can't let Michigan get threes off. The threes come when they come and go in at a high clip, and something Beilein is in charge of floats higher than they have been in a long time.
It's only right that at the pinnacle of Beilein's regular season career the threes would rain in at will. Dan Dakich keeps saying "the ball knows." While this is normally irritating to your engineering-oriented author, as Michigan rained in death from above yesterday it did feel a little like the three point line sought to repay him for the long years of faith and devotion.
Well, then. There is very little to say about that game except "please Stauskas don't hurt 'em (except do)." Michigan shot 70% from three, goodnight, analysis over.
Other than the swelling three-point percentages from Michigan's shooters the main takeaway here was that Spike needs to take care of the ball better in the late stages of laughers when he is pursuing a double-digit A:TO ratio across the Big Ten season.
[Speaking of Spike, and since there's not really much to talk about game-wise, remember this site's obsession with NC State hobbit PG Tyler Lewis last year? Lewis was a McDonalds All-American despite being the same stature as Albrecht, and then he proceeded to do very little.
Lewis vs Spike, year two:
Lewis is stuck on a team that doesn't assist on many shots, stats are not the be all and end all, etc., but there's not much question who you'd rather have on your team. Hail this staff's talent identification. This has been Brian's Ongoing Obsession With Random College Basketball Players theater.
There will be no Nnanna Egwu section this time since he's pulled his DREB rate into the solid double-digits.]
But seriously. Strugging to say much of anything… oh, okay.
Jon Horford is really into Camus. There is just a shower of post-title photos featuring members of the team smiling an Jon Horford being Jon Horford, and thinking about things and stuff, deep things and hard stuff.
Not even a locker room shot can rouse the corners of Horford's mouth from their slumber:
That's not his postgame photo role, and that's why having Andrew Dakich around is crucial.
MAKE 'EM SAY UNH
Like father, like son.
If I make a joke here I will get a nasty tweet from the man himself [Bryan Fuller]
Non-trivial Horford business. One game ago, Horford got a quick hook in the second half after Mo Walker went to work on him. In this outing, Morgan hurt his back trying to take a charge and was limited to seven minutes. Horford stepped in and picked up ten rebounds; Illinois was limited to five offensive rebounds. On the year, Horford's DREB rate is a McGary-like 26.1.
It's nice to see him bounce back. There have been a number of games this year when one center or the other was having a rough day until the other guy stepped in. Having that flexibility is a big help; hopefully the Morgan withdrawal was a precautionary measure only.
If push comes to shove the obvious move is to try to get through the last few games without him. The only thing at stake now is a two or three seed line.
Speaking of. Expect Michigan to PLAY SOME WEIRD GUYS in the Big Ten tourney. Beilein has always run out some WTF lineups when faced with the possibility of three games in three days, and with Morgan questionable, Max Bielfeldt may be called on for double-digit minutes. Having a 6'6" center is not conducive to winning the Big Ten tourney title, but I don't think Beilein cares one whit about that.
Nobody seems to. A lot of fanbases openly pine for a second-game exit so as to not have three consecutive games before a potential Thursday/Saturday NCAA tournament weekend. They should really just dump the thing and play a couple more conference games, but I don't think the NCAA would let that fly.
Defense? Illinois is a very bad offensive team (206th on Kenpom) but they got worse after Michigan dealt with them. After 1 PPP in the first half, Illinois couldn't do much of anything in the second. That marks consecutive opponents held under a point per possession. This is not exactly the Goin' To Work Pistons yet, but Michigan doesn't have to make a ton of progress in the D department to look like an (even more) dangerous tournament opponent.
No idea exactly why this improvement is going on. If they can maintain that through the next few games that would be encouraging.
Seed lines. Michigan is still stuck on the three-line with little upward mobility unless they can leapfrog the top ACC teams (Syracuse, Duke, Virginia) or pass Wisconsin by winning the Big Ten Title. Jerry Palm did pump Michigan over Duke given Duke's extremely weak road accomplishments and Syracuse is in a full-on tailspin after losing to Georgia Tech at home. (I told you about Syracuse.) If the Orange lose their season-ender against Florida State, a game that Kenpom predicts will be a nailbiter, they could drop to the three line and open up a slot for Michigan as a two. Virginia will provide competition there.
Not that it matters much this year, as one of the most wide-open tournaments in memory beckons.
Glennwatch. Did some good things—couple steals, good work from within the arc, a three. Drove to the bucket for a basket, too. His steal lead to a fast break on which Tracy Abrams got a contest in that by all rights should have forced a layup attempt. NOPE. Dunk metropolis.
Afterwards Abrams looked like he'd seen the Ark of the Covenant.
ENHANCE [Bryan Fuller]
One negative thing: he's got to stop bringing the ball up when he gets a rebound. His handle is very vulnerable to open-court steals and he doesn't initiate much transition offense.
Also, he took a contested three-point jack. That is vaguely acceptable if you are Nik Stauskas who rains death from above. When you're at 27% on the year, don't take that shot. Taking open ones, okay. Those are still decent to good shots even for a guy locked in a sophomore slump as bad as Tim Hardaway Jr's. That hand-in-the-face stuff not so much.
Still, we can add this to the recent string of encouraging GRIII performances after 13 points on 10 shot equivalents.
Just when you thought he was bottled up. Stauskas is 12 of 17 from three in his last two games, pushing his season average to 46%. One of them was a contested jack in front of 6'11" Nnanna Egwu. Another was from the parking lot right before the half. Good lord.
This is why Michigan should not settle for long twos early in the shot clock, because at any time they can get a switch and have a guy take a pretty decent three point look.
The climb. Remember early in the year when people were projecting Wisconsin would walk away with the title because of schedule imbalance? Well, Michigan's single plays were Northwestern, Penn State, Illinois, and Ohio State. The only team not in the vicinity of the bottom of the Big Ten standings is OSU, and Michigan only got a road game against them. This is the opposite of a fluke.
3/1/2014 – Michigan 66, Minnesota 56 – 21-7, 13-3, guaranteed share of Big Ten title
He moved it with his mind [Eric Upchurch]
Let us recalibrate ourselves.
I'm 34. Growing up, it was expected that Michigan won things. In football. And therefore in everything else, because football is everything except at, like, Kansas. (Kansas hired Charlie Weis on purpose. Basketball focus is kind of a disease.) That bled into other things, and then success was expected. This Is Michigan.
Success is still expected, in rhetoric and increasingly anachronistic Michigan-directed hate from fanbases around the Big Ten. Rivalry things I get. I don't get Iowa being livid about everything after taking five of six because of Bo, basically. Even after the key thing was eminently humbled, the new guy came in saying This Is Michigan, and yours truly and everyone else ate it up.
But the reality is that Michigan is in an increasingly demographically unfavored situation, waiting until water scarcity and global warming drives the people back into its bosom. Reputation and momentum worked in tandem to forestall the impact of these trends, and then: kaboom. First basketball, then football, and then sort of but pretty much hockey.
The dominion of Michigan is increasingly hard to see sustained. There is a lot of money and fanbase and these things should keep them above middling; Michigan fans expect any program fielded to be mentioned in the same breath with the elites. We are ill prepared to deal with anything but, what with infinite bowl streak that still defines our self-perception. 13 years into the post-Cooper era at OSU and it still feels like a cruel surprise.
Here's the thing.
Birthright fandom kind of sucks. You expect thing X and you must have thing X and anything slightly short of thing X is terrible. Being around OSU fans talking epic crap about every slightly deficient player on their team is both revelatory and probably a glimpse into what I thought in the immediate vicinity of 1997. See Kentucky basketball.
Hoping not to die is more fun. Ask an MSU fan about this, in re: Rose Bowl.
These things are inevitable historical trends that catch entire fanbases up and cannot be resisted. Success begets the expectation of more of that. What I am saying is that Michigan is now a hope-not-to-die set of programs with a birthright fanbase. We should recalibrate ourselves, for good fun.
When Michigan hired John Beilein they hadn't been to an NCAA tournament since 1998, when Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock were team leaders. The year before, Maurice Taylor joined those gentlemen on a team that didn't make it at all; Taylor left for the NBA draft, where the Knicks drafted him because they are the Knicks. He tooled around the NBA for a decade, shooting long twos and flinching from any loose ball that came within three feet of him.
John Beilein hates no one and makes self-depreciating jokes about subs being crazy and brings in Novaks and Burkes and Stauskases and Morgans. It is in fact cute when he loses his mind at the latest refereeing outrage he's been exposed to, even as it seems to get results these days.
He picks out random post-grad point guards from Indiana and leads them to double-digit A:TO ratios, and even when Michigan does happen to have a pile of NBA players on their roster it's by accident and development. Nobody's rushing to give these gentlemen shoe contracts until Beilein (and Alexander and Meyer and Jordan) reconfigure them.
This is one thing. This is a good thing. I supported Beilein's hire because I thought his floor was what he would do at West Virginia and Richmond and wherever he'd ever been, bringing in guys who would outperform recruiting expectations and enter many NCAA tournaments as the team you don't want as a Sweet 16 seed.
Then there is the other thing. Beilein won a Big Ten title with Novak as his power forward, and went to the championship game the next year on the back of a Penn State decommit and an NBA legacy no one really seemed to want. And this year, down both of those first-round draft picks he and his assistants identified and developed, down the one super-blue-chip recruit Beilein has ever acquired, Michigan won the Big Ten. They are just about a lock to win it outright for the first time in almost 30 years.
I know you are inclined because of that drought, and I think I probably don't have to tell many people this thing, but I kind of have to tell myself. This is not normal. This is not something that can be expected. This is not Michigan, not in that sense.
It seems to be Michigan. And the Michigan it posits is a different, bizarre, wondrous thing. Not because of anything inherent. There are places better able to recruit with athletic departments better at creating an environment. This has nothing to do with institutional momentum, because there was none. This is whole cloth, from which they've made three banners in three years. And counting.
This is not This Is Michigan. This is better.
Randomness is random. Very frustrating start from behind the line as Michigan goes 2/12 on mostly high quality looks (there were a couple Stauskas jacks that were tough). Irvin in particular went 0/3 on three must-take shots. But things evened out with a hot streak that saw Michigan finish the game at 39%, just about on their season average.
I was about to start rage-shaking about another impossibly slow offensive start when Michigan kicked it into gear. So there's that.
GRIII doin' things. Figures that as soon as I say Robinson should basically never take anyone off the bounce he starts doing that rather effectively. He drove to the lane and dumped a pass off to Morgan for an and-one. I was all like "urk?" Then he drove Buggs to the baseline and set up Stauskas for the triple in Stauskas/LeVert Corner, and I was like "guuuurk?"
That is real progress. He's had three assists in consecutive games, a feat he only achieved once before this year, against Penn State, and he's generated at least a few of his own shots. It's still a work in progress, as the frustrating turnovers when he brings the ball up indicate, but at least the last four games (averaging 6/9 from two) provide a indication of that progress stuff.
And then there were the usual GRIII-is-destroying-Tokyo things. He re-enacted his game winner against Purdue and brought the house down on 1) a Stauskas alley oop and 2) a bang bang bang transition oop that had me waving myself with an elaborate hat and moaning "mercy!"
I do think he needs to have more impact on the boards on both ends. The OREB/putback after Minnesota had closed in the second half was awesome; it reinforced his ability in that department and the unfortunate rarity of things like that. He's got close to the same athleticism Braden Dawson does (Dawson is thicker) but is nowhere near Dawson's spectacular 13.2 OREB rate.
The zoom in. Ace pointed out that if you zoom in on one of Eric's GRIII-destroys-Tokyo images you get magic:
This contains the Horford/McGary dichotomy, the bench mob going off, Andrew Dakich like crane-kicking a dude, and John Beilein reacting exactly how I did, with a sort of stiff "okay hurray GET BACK ON DEFENSE."
Long twos! Argh! I don't mind a long two with 12 or 10 or 8 seconds on the shot clock. Once the clock gets much under that people start overplaying the shot you have to take, and your chances of finding something super is not great. Even 15 is tolerable. 25 sends me into conniption fits, especially against one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten, and it certainly seemed like Michigan was taking a ton of 'em.
That Stauskas aggressiveness thing does lead to a bunch of questionable shots, and I'm okay with it when the payoff is 3 points at like a 30 or 35 percent rate, two at a 35 or 40 percent rate drives me nuuuuuuts.
The elbow jumpers are fine, the threes are fine, it's just those shots a step inside the line that make me hear Bo Ryan cackling in the background.
Turned that off. Morgan and Horford got beat up a bit early as Elliot Eliason went 4/5 and got another layup that Horford had to foul on (he missed both FTs). And then Eliason ceased existing. Major credit to Morgan for preventing entry passes and ripping down several critical MANBOUNDS late.
Morgan didn't get many opportunities on the offensive end, partially because he had a rough game catching passes and the occasional offensive rebound, but the brief second-half section where Horford came in and got crushed by Mo Walker hammered home how well Morgan was cutting off the things Minnesota was trying to do inside. I am slightly worried that there will be a chemistry breakdown next year without him even if McGary comes back, and while that's probably an irrational fear borne of recent Merritt/Lee and Glendening departures, it is real.
Title chance update! Secured. Win @ Illinois or against Indiana and it's outright.
Seed update. The three seed is now unanimous amongst serious prognosticators. Algorithmic source Crashing The Dance was the last holdout, as it still has Creighton and Iowa State ahead of M, items which do not seem true to humans with good track records. Michigan's chance at a 2 is pretty slim, though. They are not likely to pass Syracuse or Duke, Villanova would have to drop some unexpected games, and Wisconsin is hard to pass with their wins over Florida and UVA. If only Michigan could have gotten six more points against Charlotte and Arizona they'd probably be a one, but alas and alack.
2/26/2014 – Michigan 77, Purdue 76 (OT) – 20-7, 12-3 Big Ten
If you're wondering where I was last night on twitter, I was studiously avoiding it because I was in Auburn Hills watching Lydia Loveless refuse to stop playing music when the rest of you were watching Michigan play Purdue. Lydia Loveless is a machine built to play country music some people are now describing as "cowpunk."
There was no encore, just the increasing irritation of her band as the set went on and on and on. She gave them a break to play a couple songs by herself, and then eventually it became clear the show was over about three songs after she had clarified they had time for just one more. Then after the end of the set she asked the guy behind the bar if being out of time meant they had to stop. To his immense credit, the guy made a combo shrug/thumbs-up motion. Lydia Loveless donned a jacket and drafted her pedal steel guitar bandmate to cover
- Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream."
- An Eagles song that I don't recall lyrics from but sounded enjoyable despite it being the Eagles.
- One Direction's "They Don't Know About Us."
These were all transformatively great. It was insane, worrying—I asked the MGoWife if someone would have to tackle Lydia Loveless off the stage for the show to end—and ultimately awesome.
So I watched the Purdue game despite not watching the Purdue game, and then I watched it again. The second time only moved the swearing from the entertainment to the viewer, and concluded more strangely.
It did not start strangely. It started like it always starts, with Michigan falling in a well. They have something like a 98% chance to hang a banner at the end of the year and they have ended up in double-digit first half holes in five games running. This has to be some sort of record. Someone sic a sports bureau on the combination of conference championships and consecutive games with double-digit deficits.
I'll be over here deciding not to throw a glass of whiskey either at the cat, or the TV, or going outside and throwing it as far as I can manage in the hopes it will turn into a CERTIFICATE OF MENTAL TOUGHNESS that will self-replicate 12 times and flit away into the hands of the Michigan basketball team. Perhaps then, assured that their grit and determination in the face of adversity has been demonstrated to the point of official, gilt recognition, they will f---ing stop it.
I don't know about you, but when the basketball team you are hoping wins gets down that much, the ensuing trudge back (if there is one) is an exercise in irrational hatred of everything. The OSU and MSU games were fine, as ten-point hole was ephemeral. Michigan quickly achieved near-parity and went from there. This one was an extended exercise in rolling around with a straight jacket on. I don't need them to play better or win more. I just need the points to be more evenly distributed across the 40 minutes of play. (I need them to play better and win more. More, always more.)
But hey, they won. On the backs of Glenn Robinson, Jordan Morgan, and Spike Albrecht, just like everyone expected.
Robinson in particular played a complete game the likes of which he has not put together in a long time: 17 points on 13 shot equivalents, eight rebounds, three assists, and one turnover. He generated a good number of his shots himself, against a defense that was amped up and aggressive on the perimeter.
I've made no secret of my frustration at Robinson's game this year. He hasn't seemed to add anything; meanwhile LeVert and Stauskas are entirely different players. His rebound rates are pedestrian at best. (He's currently tied with Derrick Walton in DREB rate.) I am still suspicious of his awareness on defense—his dude, Rapheal Davis, had five offensive rebounds one game after multiple MSU baskets were directly attributable to Robinson not getting back in transition.
And then sometimes, Lottery GRIII appears. Sometimes he elevates for a jumper that cannot be contested because getting your hand in his face would require cutting it off and throwing it at him. Sometimes there's a lob in the direction of the basket and he continues ascending after he makes the catch. Sometimes, though. Just sometimes.
At Michigan's time of need they knew Purdue would overplay Stauskas and that they should try to hit something over the top, because they needed one measly point and they had 2.9 seconds to get it. They drew up a lob pass with Spike screening GRIII's guy, and executed—barely.
The pass was a rainbow that managed to get over an outstretched hand but took its target a step too far outside, a step too far towards the baseline. Robinson took a power dribble as he landed from the catch to reset his feet; he did not gain the requisite distance as Spike's defender came in to harass him. It looked grim.
But there are people who can make a One Direction song sound poignant, and there are people who can catch alley-oops and hang there, untethered. Some people can leap from behind the backboard outside the paint and still be in the air five feet later, just where they need to be as the clock strikes zero.
Gotta shore up that free throw defense. If you screamed "MISS ONE FOR CHRIST'S SAKE" sometime in the second half with a Boiler at the line, you are not alone. The worst FT shooting team in the Big Ten hit 17 straight to open before the final, fateful miss; Michigan was a couple of shots behind their season average at 17/25. When all was said and done that was the difference between an extremely annoying but eventually comfortable win and TERROR IN CENTRAL INDIANA.
That business is just luck, pure and simple. At one point Stephen Bardo chalked it up to Purdue's "focus." Stephen Bardo could show up at a casino and praise the little old lady at the slots for her mental toughness when she hits a jackpot.
The hand of fate. A lot of these early holes seem like a series of completely random misses and makes. Michigan fell down against MSU early because Denzel Valentine hit a 30-footer and a running transition 3 while Michigan's generally excellent three point shooting put up a bunch of bricks; here Purdue gave up a half-dozen quality looks from three early and Michigan started 1/7 behind the line.
Meanwhile, Terone "Ann Arbor's All-American" Johnson hits his first four. Purdue isn't quite the crew of bricklayers they were last year but they're still 9th in conference at making threes and 11th at taking them, and at one point Michigan was 1/7 from three while Purdue was 5/10. Things returned to normal for the Boilers by the end; Michigan, not so much.
A very distributed night. If it was hard to pick out anything in particular anyone was doing right, that's because Michigan spread everything out. Six players grabbed offensive rebounds; five had at least three assists; six guys had at least eight points. Robinson and Morgan were your best players in terms of efficiency, but everyone was setting up everyone for shots so it was a team effort to get to 1.12 PPP despite shooting 6/23 from three.
Call it, for pant's sake. Heard today from someone who talked to a MAC assistant. Refereeing came up and he said that refs have a really tough job because they do all kinds of games for all kinds of conferences and they're told to call games differently based on what conference they're in. It will not surprise you that the Big Ten tells people to let things go way more than others.
This is cold comfort to Nik Stauskas today, I'm assuming. By the end of the game he was plunging into the lane and missing layups badly because he wasn't getting hammered on them. The standard of refereeing shifted dramatically from Sunday, when Bill Raftery deployed "nickel-dimer" a half dozen times in the first half, to Wednesday, when you had to ride over a guy's foot with a lawnmower to get a call. Unless it's Jordan Morgan, who will be told to stop bleeding all over the court and get up.
Just one of those nights. I had almost no problem with the shot selection aside from a couple of possessions where LeVert dribbled around for 15 seconds and hoisted one; Robinson also had a couple of nononoYES long twos. The 23 attempts from behind the arc were almost entirely great looks, because Purdue gives up great looks from three quite a bit. They're dead last in conference by some distance at permitting three point looks.
The crappy shooting got in Michigan's head. There was one transition opportunity on which Caris passed up an open corner three from the run-away-I-know-it's-good spot, whereupon Michigan turned the ball over. I exclaimed "SHOOT THE BALL"; the TV informed me that John Beilein had just exclaimed "SHOOT THE BALL" and I felt better.
Spike! Kept Walton stapled to the bench despite the terrifying prospect of a Spike-vs-pick-a-Johnson defensive matchup, and it paid off. He grabbed a rare two-point bucket, stole the ball twice, set up Morgan for two of his OT flushes, and had one bad ass alley-oop to Robinson.
Walton didn't do much other than shoot some threes against the persnickety perimeter defense of the Johnsons; Spike was better able to find shots for his teammates. "Luxury" doesn't begin to cover Albrecht's status on the roster.
2/21/2014 – Michigan 4, Penn State 5 (OT)
2/22/2014 – Michigan 5, Penn State 2 – 15-10-3, 7-6-1 Big Ten
They did call this. [Bill Rapai]
I just don't know, man. Michigan came out on Saturday and did what they should do to a team with six wins on the season—blow 'em out of the water. On Friday they blew a 3-0 lead, re-took the lead with 2 minutes left, and then proceeded to lose in overtime. That was no fluke. Penn State—the team with zero seniors—put up 40 shots on goal.
Michigan announced that wasn't going to happen again by holding PSU to five shots in the first and then put on the gas in the second. That they did this almost entirely without the services of Mac Bennett, who left the game early in the first period with some sort of arm injury, only reinforces the fact that Friday's effort can only be described with terms ranging from "pathetic" to "sad."
Since last year happened, Friday wasn't the ugliest thing I've seen transpire in Yost. Not by a longshot. It was still a disturbing callback to that grim Tuesday against Bowling Green. There are reasons the team isn't competitive with the Minnesotas of the world, but they don't include whatever Alex Guptill was doing on his shorthanded backcheck Friday. He's the last guy back and barely moves his feet; goal; healthy scratch the next night despite potting a goal that coulda/woulda won the game.
Rumors flew about bad apples last year bringing other folks down, and it seems like not all of them were shed in the offseason. It is a frustrating counterpoint to the basketball team when you see zero development from the vast majority of the upperclassmen.
Who's better this year? Hyman. Bennett. And I guess Sinelli, though it's tough to tell since he wasn't playing D before this year. The drafted forwards are all stuck in neutral, occasionally doing something that flashes their talent but failing to pick up on the reasons Compher and Copp are outdistancing them in points. If not bailed out by the goaltending this year, Michigan would be well adrift of even the tenuous tourney spot they claim now.
Before the season I asserted it would be tough for the guys who don't like to skate to maintain that level of laissez faire because Copp and Compher would force them to act right. That has not been accurate. The guys without buckets of talent play hard; the ones with soft hands float around the perimeter of the ice, and always shoot on two-on-ones.
If the team's going to play like they did Friday with Guptill and like they did Saturday without, it might be time to move on. Unfortunately, Michigan cannot scratch everyone except Compher, Motte, Copp, and Hyman—I have worked this out on paper and there are not enough people—so they'll have to skate some frustrating guys. Nailing the king of coasting to the bench at least sends a message about, you know, trying when the puck's not on your stick.
Pairwise update, AKA RPI update. Michigan's RPI survived the series at Minnesota because Minnesota's real good at the RPI now downplays road games you lose. It did not do so well after the Penn State split. Michigan is 14th, which is right on the cutline. At the end of the year whoever's in that spot is watching the conference tournament results in a panic.
I know I said they were in good shape, but they blew a rather comfortable margin over their current spot with two losses to a team with four other wins on the year. Given the difficulty of the schedule they're facing, they are probably okay if they go 4-2 down the stretch, but that requires either sweeping the next two weekends (home and homes against Ohio State and Michigan State) or taking something off Minnesota.
Given how they're playing, I bet Michigan goes into that Minnesota series really needing a split. Old Yost would know something like this and be a-rage. New Yost will probably not.
Hyman's point totals are beginning to match his play. [Bill Rapai]
It's happening. Zach Hyman was out there being impossible to take the puck off of on the boards and generating chances off the cycle for the whole season; he was still stuck on like three points. That has changed as Michigan pairs him with guys like Motte and occasionally Compher. He is on a five game point streak and has a 2-4-6 line over the past three weekends; he's now up to 14 points, nipping on the heels of the guys in the second group of scorers behind Compher and Copp.
The Kile check. It looked bad live but on the GIF you can tell that the contact is not severe and happens at the dot. A two minute penalty to be sure, but didn't rise to the level of (another) five and a game.
The check on Bennett. A hard check directly to Bennett's chest where the opponent stopped striding well before the hit; clean. No idea why Bennett was not aware of the guy coming in; someone's got to yell at him about it.
Bennett is out this weekend, making it hard for Michigan against a decent OSU team with a somewhat fearsome back line. He may be back the week after.
2/23/2014 – Michigan 79 – Michigan State 70 – 19-7, 11-3 Big Ten
There's a point where you cannot deny the thing you dearly wish was not true. For Michigan football, that moment was a Raymon Taylor interception followed by a negative-yardage drive that sealed loss 5 of 6 at Spartan Stadium last fall. Or maybe it was before that. Maybe it was the collective dread experienced by the fanbase going in. Michigan played Michigan State, and everyone expected to lose.
When they did, and it was worse that anyone could have imagined, any lingering sense of superiority went up like a torch. Michigan ended up dead last in TFLs allowed. Michigan State went from an offense that couldn't get yard one against WMU—one that looked a lot like Michigan's, in fact—to a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl win.
Take your Rich Rodriguez excuses, your theories about how it's all about whether Michigan is down or up, and stuff them in the closet. There is only one way to look at Michigan State football: up. The countdown clock is justified.
Michigan now has an opportunity to flip that script in basketball. They've won six of eight in the series. This year they've upset the paradigm of the previous couple years where MSU hammers Michigan at the Breslin Center and Michigan squeaks by at Crisler. They reached near-parity on the boards and just forced MSU to take more threes than twos. Both games featured extended foul-fests after Michigan opened up double-digit leads.
Talk of "closing the gap" is over.
On the RCMB, people complained about how nice Crisler is. For every one guy making rapidly downvoted assertions about how Dawson would have made the difference there were three asserting that Beilein owns Izzo—an assertion a lot of Michigan fans would be skeptical of.
For now. No matter what damage the NBA does to Michigan's roster in the offseason, it's Michigan State who will have to scramble to keep up when Payne, Appling, and Harris exit. Two straight years of recruiting airballs worthy of an unchecked Aaron Craft will do that. Meanwhile, Michigan's picking off Indiana Mr. Basketballs and consensus top-50 players from Oregon. They've got the king of exceeding expectations in the tourney. If Michigan takes care of business down the stretch they will be outright Big Ten Champions, one inch away from a three-peat.
They of course have to avoid the mother of all trap games in Mackey and hold home court against Minnesota and Indiana; they have to perform in the tourney to put the full lockdown on Michigan State's lingering sense of superiority. The opportunity is there.
Meanwhile, Michigan State will keep telling anyone who looks like a reporter about the blister between their toes in just the wrong spot. Appling:
"Those shots that (Nik) Stauskas got off on me, he probably wouldn’t have been able to get off on Branden,” Appling said.
That's the state of the programs, and it comes from the top. One guy flings histrionics back and forth and watches his scrubs woof at Michigan in an attempt to show they're tough. After they lose, they complain about the universe-wide conspiracy against them.
The other guy saves it up for one withering blast and refuses to answer questions about Mitch McGary, because they've moved on. Michigan found themselves in a hole in both of these games and pulled themselves out, because toughness is something other than acting hard because of something someone else did. Michigan State is cordially invited to get off our court. No drama necessary.
FLOOR SLAP WATCHDOG. Once; beginning of first half; Stauskas layup. In fact may have enraged Stauskas to the point where he saw nothing but blood and contested three pointers that were going in anyway because eff you, that's why.
Insofar as the floor slap set the tone, it was for a 45-point second half.
"Is the United States wasting billions of dollars a year prosecuting marijuana cases?"
"Prohibition is a failed policy, and disproportionately affects the lower rungs of the social ladder. Ask the Tick for our platform specifics. Or maybe he's Batman, we can never tell." [Bryan Fuller]
Three. Michigan won this game because they turned it over three times. With the teams matching each other on offensive rebounds (7; Michigan had more opportunities and thus slightly lost the board war) and MSU suffering 13 turnovers, that translated into ten extra shots via which Michigan won the game despite allowing MSU to shoot 68%/38%.
In fact, you probably remember all three:
- Shot clock violation in the first half.
- Twenty minutes of game time later, Stauskas throws a pass to the roll guy out of bounds. Camera cuts to Beilein, who smiles.
- Michigan is breaking four on two up 12 when Harris intercepts a Stauskas pass, thus preventing the Crisler roof from coming off.
That's it. MSU's not their vintage selves in the TO forcing department (sixth in the league) but three is ridiculously low. Michigan was just on the other end of that in a loss to Wisconsin featuring two Badger turnovers.
"They just wanted it more." I've seen a couple of MSU reporters deploy this cliché in the aftermath. While that assertion is always some guy with a parrot head substituting repetition for thought, in this case it's even dumber than usual. Adriean Payne afterwards:
[UPDATE: Video was taken down. It was Payne very near to tears]
That ripped him to his core. Talking about "wanting it more" is always vaguely insulting; here it is explicitly so.
Seriously though. I don't want any Payne-oriented roughhousing in the comments about that. That is exactly how you want the guy to react both as a Michigan State fan and as a Michigan fan. Think about Junior Hemingway after the Sugar Bowl. That kind of reaction is 80% of why college sports is more compelling than Ask Me About My Dreams pro sports.
I mean, we taunt the floor-slapping but there's no pro team that would do something so dorky and tauntable because they're too cool for school. As always, the rule here is that spiciness wins and should be encouraged. Payne above is a level above spiciness, into deep haunt-your-ass hurt, and I respect that.
Y'all be outside. Payne posted up successfully one time in this game. And I'm not talking about making a shot; I'm talking about taking one. Payne had one post shot, a miss that drew a legit foul on Horford. Morgan and Horford spent every bit of energy they had denying, denying, denying, and with the occasional double forcing Payne to pick up his dribble they shut off the post defense implosion suffered against the Badgers.
Michigan started playing no-threes defense with two minutes to go; before that MSU's shot breakdown stood at 20 twos to 21 threes. Michigan took 35 twos, 19 threes. That plus the rebounding draws in both games are a massive departure from the Payne/Nix-era Spartans, who were guaranteed to annihilate Michigan on the boards and launch a ton of shots from the post.
That's not likely to change in the near future, as Payne exits without a suitably intimidating replacement and Michigan acquires the services of a bonafide post-sized stretch four in Mark Donnal. Dawson makes some difference but as noted before the first matchup, MSU was only a middling OREB team this year when the stats were mostly a Dawson+Payne MSU outfit.
If McGary comes back, Michigan could have an advantage in interior burliness, as impossible as that sounds.
Make 'em say unh. I thought about Tim Hardaway Jr's assertion in January early in this game:
'Don’t give him a week to prepare for you because you will lose'
Michigan finally had some time to rest, recuperate, and plan for the heavy perimeter ball-denial that had largely neutralized Nik Stauskas for the past month. They came out with a bunch of back-cuts and down-screens for their posts; Stauskas got a dunk off one and had Harris beat a few other times in the first five minutes; Harris started playing Stauskas far more cautiously and Michigan got into their regular Stauskas-led offense. Ball denial: denied.
On rewatch I was surprised by how the game felt even as MSU extended to an eleven point lead early. Michigan's offense was getting great shots that just weren't going down. MSU was relying on Denzel Valentine hitting jumpers, which worked by sheer bloody chance.
Make 'em say unh, part 2. Stauskas had 25 points on 16 shot equivalents and five assists. His makes from three were all ACK NO YES shots off the bounce with Appling in the vicinity, but he was also 6/8 from inside the arc and drew some free throws. Even some of the questionable long shots had more upset than it might have seemed at the time: on one launch off a pick and roll early in the second half Michigan grabbed an offensive rebound because it was two on one down low after Payne attempted to contest.
Michigan showed a way forward for their ridiculously efficient offense in this one after a tough period. Sustaining that through the end of the season will be encouraging when it comes to tourney time; they added the constraint plays to their base offense.
Dribbles are bad. Glenn Robinson started the game with an ugly long two that bricked, missed all three of his three-pointers just as badly, and was 3/7 from the line. This would be another ARGH GRIII game except for the fact that he was 6/8 on his other shots, largely because those shots came without dribbles.
There was one catch and insta-drive on Russell Byrd, who's probably still hitting himself while repeating "stupid, stupid, STUPID," as we speak. There may have been a power dribble under the bucket after one of Michigan's down screens got him position just outside of the charge circle. Those conclude Dribbles Leading To GRIII Offense.
And lo, it was as it should be. Walton and Stauskas and LeVert found him for dunks or quick layups, and if he'd just hit an open three or convert from the line as he usually does he's at a quiet 20, if such a thing exists.
The week off got Michigan back on that old time Beilein religion, what with the back cuts and guys popping up at the bucket uncontested. Robinson got back in his flush monster mode that he was so prolific in with Trey last year.
Hail Plastic Man. Michigan got through Gauntlet #2 2-2 thanks in no small part to Caris LeVert, who cracked 20 points in three of the four games. In the other he had 9 points, 5 boards, and two assists against zero TOs in the OSU win. He's not quite as efficient as Stauskas because he's not getting to the line or rim as much, but, like, wait a week and he'll be better. At his current rate of improvement he will escape containment and level Tokyo by 2016.
"Would you like to hear my one-man-show version of Les Miz?"
"Maybe later, Jon. Maybe later." [Fuller]
Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor. GRIII's defense was… not good. Schilling got two run-out baskets on which it seemed like maybe Stauskas was doing bad things; on both Schilling simply out-ran Robinson down the floor. On a couple of pick and roll possession he did things like stick to Russell Byrd instead of taking away the easy interior bucket. Walton had a couple of similar errors that irritated, but he is a freshman and Robinson is not.
He was a huge problem in transition and was fortunate that he wasn't trying to check a Dekker in this game. I'm still pretty frustrated with him overall.
"Makeup" call. The sequence where Jordan Morgan took a backcourt charge only to get a ludicrous blocking foul followed by a moving screen on Gavin Schilling looked like a clear makeup call, but on review the previous MSU possession had featured another blatant Schilling moving screen that got Harris an open look from three that he canned. That call was coming either way. The Morgan thing was just the usual vast incompetence. Izzo's reaction was everyone's, but really they just blew it.
The thing about rewatching these games in detail is that for every call you thought was bad live that replay suggests was legit or at least close there are 1.2 things you missed live that are just terrible.
But! Michigan State got away with an extended hand-check in the first few minutes by Valentine on Caris LeVert that I hollered about and then fretted about, fearing a reprise of the clutchy-grabby that prevailed at the Breslin Center. A couple minutes later, Costello got his second for bumping GRIII off a cut; Appling got a perimeter foul for grabbing Stauskas on a cut; Valentine got called for another extensive hand check sequence. Raftery marked each one by saying "nickel dimer"; hail nickel dimers.
I hope that was something other than calling the game the way the home team wants it.
1-3-1. Michigan deployed to excellent effect, not only in the second half but for a critical possession in the first. Appling ran over Jordan Morgan, picking up his second foul and heading to the bench for the next ten minutes. Izzo would moan about it afterwards in his press conference. Of course, if MSU didn't have to learn that they couldn't do various illegal basketball things that would have been one on Appling.
Damn you, Tim Miles! If you did not exist, John Beilein would be Big Ten coach of the year in a walk. Instead it is you in a walk.
For the love of pants. Would someone please run Tom Izzo over?
That's two points just begging to be taken.
"It must be really awkward when your dad says things about Aaron Craft."
"Naw, it's cool." [Fuller]
WHAT DOES JORDAN MORGAN HAVE TO DO. I just don't know, man. A detailed rewatch made it very clear that Payne got a couple of superstar calls on drives by LeVert that would have been fouls on any other post-type substance; meanwhile, Morgan gets his customary dual phantom blocking fouls. One led to a Kaminski three-point play, the other was made up on the other end, except not really.
Morgan is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Big Ten.
OR: LESSONS FROM A LIFE HARD LIVED
2/16/2014 – Michigan 62, Wisconsin 75 – 18-7, 10-3 Big Ten
Michigan was one bounce away from a Big Ten title last year and went to the Final Four. This year they're tied at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State. And still there are multiple games per year that I am immediately sick about because Michigan gets down by one billion immediately.
Maybe they cut the deficit to a million and then eventually lose. Point stands. I don't think they've actually won a one billion point deficit game; the closest they've come is the most recent outing against Ohio State that reached a maximum deficit of ten. The four in the last two years:
- Michigan goes down 29-8 in the first half at Ohio State, eventually ties game, loses 56-53.
- Michigan goes down 31-15 in first half at MSU, rest of game proceeds like that.
- Iowa leads 27-11 at Iowa, rest of game proceeds like that.
- I dunno, pick a first-half point against Wisconsin: 14-4, 26-11, 34-16. Michigan narrows it to five before Wisconsin ends the game on a sealing run.
Does this happen to other very good basketball teams? I assume it must. There are two types of people: those who are suspicious of their own brains and those who assume they have no biases. I'm in the former group and therefore assume that other teams headed for Sweet 16 seeds regularly get their ass handed them in appalling fashion.
Let's just head over to Kenpom and…
I've got Kansas's game against Texas, wherein the Jayhawks ended up down 17 near the end of the first half and never really closed that deficit. Villanova will run screaming from the room if you so much as use a word that begins with C after their two outings against Creighton. And… and that's about it. I didn't check every single loss in the KP top 25, but I did do a lot of them and it does appear that getting smacked upside the head with a giant ham in the first 15 minutes is a notable rarity amongst teams that purport to be as good as Michigan does.
This is no fun. I can deal with losing to Arizona or even grumbling through that Indiana game much better than I can the series of increasingly agitated expletives followed by dismal silence that has resulted from these… things. Games they are not. Games are competitive contests of sporting intent. These are flayings, followed by an excruciating period of bleeding out.
The Ohio State one was okay, I guess. That was the first hamblast game and Michigan recovered from it to acquire a moral victory. (Tedious person about to let me know that he doesn't believe in moral victories: you're a fan, you certainly do, please stop parroting press conferences, both teams played hard.) The three since have been solid platforms of misery.
You can't turn them off because you remember that Ohio State game—it was a trap!—and you can't watch them without removing all emotion from your life, gazing dumbly ahead like a cow on a conveyor belt, bleating in directionless anguish every once in a while. The comeback trail is only satisfying in retrospect if the comeback is completed. Teasing contact and then letting go is just the cherry on top of the cow-conveyor-belt sundae.
I may have tortured that metaphor until it died. I have no regrets. It knew the risks, coming into this column after that game. It'll get an MGoState funeral; its wife, a jaunty comparison between Zak Irvin and a modern piece of kitchen technology, gets full benefits.
For my part, I'm spending the next week assembling a couch fort in the living room and testing out colanders for protective potential. I plan to peer out my viewport, Super Soaker in hand, until it feels safe to come out. If it feels safe to come out. I'm bringing a lot of soup.
Thanks, Increasingly Dangerous Nebraska™! Really did us a solid there, winning at the Breslin. Michigan retains its virtual one-game lead over the Spartans based largely on the fact that Michigan's next game is at home.
Is Nebraska headed for the bubble? Yeah, but probably the wrong side. They've got zero good nonconference wins and a bad loss versus UAB. I don't wins over OSU, Miinnesota, and @ MSU get you in with, say, an 18-12 record and 10-8 in conference. They'd have to either go 5-1 down the stretch (doable, but not probable: PSU, Purdue, @ Illinois, NW, @ Indiana, Wisconsin) or notch another big scalp in the BTT to get in.
But hey, that's quite a turnaround from last year, when Nebraska was dismal and senior-heavy. The Cornhuskers get everyone except Ray Gallegos back next year and will be projected to grab a bid.
Sound all available alarms. The Stauskas crisis is reaching peak levels. 11 points on 13 shot attempts, 2 assists, and 3 TOs lead to a single-game ORTG of 78 and, worse, is reflective of his past five or six games. Asking Stauskas to be more aggressive has just caused him to take a lot of bad shots. Sometimes they go in because Stauskas, but bad shots are bad shots no matter who takes them. Michigan really has to figure out something to combat the point guard gambit here. This is trouble.
At least this one was a tough runner from an angle. GRIII possessions not so much. [Bryan Fuller]
Why was the 6'6" guy on the 7-foot guy again? Michigan inexplicably singled GRIII up against Kaminsky so often that it became clear this was on purpose when Hayes was in the game. This was nuts. Kaminsky abused the much shorter Robinson for a series of easy buckets and four OREBs; Hayes just stood in front of Morgan/Horford and launched 15-footers. If switching those matchups ends up with Hayes posting GRIII, okay. That's going to work out better than Kaminsky. Even if you thought Kaminsky couldn't post up—no idea why that would be the case—after his first extremely easy bucket over GRIII it was time to put the biggest dude available on him.
Not like GRIII was much better against Dekker. Pro: he somehow acquired 5/8 from two in this game—seriously, look at the box score and you'll be like "wha?"
So, so passive. Michigan's disruption stats in this game were pathetic: 0 blocks, 0 steals, 2 Wisconsin turnovers. TWO. Yeah, yeah, HORSE, but that's so far out of bounds that you can't keep up. Wisconsin had 8 more FGAs and 3 more FTAs. The shooting wasn't that different; it was largely on shot advantage.
Michigan's defense has now farted down to 89th on Kenpom, which is 50 spots below last year. McGary only played 20 minutes a game; is that really the entire difference? I mean, I don't remember either Burke or Hardaway as the kind of players who made you think that they would be missed on the defensive end, Burkesteal excepted.
Irvin: nope. The Irvin giveth and the Irvin taketh away: 1/7 in this game. None were exceptional looks, but most looked plausible as he shot them. I guess in this game he was The Dutch Oven, because it took him a long time to get warmed up. Are you quitting this blog yet? Because of the Irvin stuff? I don't really blame you.
Also nope: Walton, 0/6 from the floor.
Caris! Caris jacked up some horrible-idea threes, which went in. Then he got some good looks, that went in. He was only 2/7 from two but with 6/6 FTAs on drives he was really 5/10 from there. He still dribbles around too much for my tastes but when Stauskas is in a funk he's picked Michigan up multiple times.
Credit to the bug man. Wisconsin nailed it down after getting blown up by Michigan the last time out. M did scrape over the 1 PPP mark at 1.03 mostly thanks to blazing FT shooting, 89%. But the whole tenor of the game was different. The wide open twos Wisconsin gave up in the first game were way less open. Michigan did get some, but more often those twos were at least semi-contested.
Meanwhile, Michigan didn't even attempt a three until they were down by a bunch. Getting up to 16 was kind of desperation.