at least it's not just us?
"The devil's in the details," said John Beilein after the game, describing the difficulty of winning against good teams.
For 38 minutes, Michigan did enough of the little things to hold a lead against top-ranked Arizona. They shot the ball well, played tough defense on the interior, and didn't allow an athletic Wildcats squad to get into transition at all. Throughout the game, however, they couldn't keep Arizona from owning the offensive boards, and once they started converting putback opportunities down the stretch the Wolverines couldn't hold on—after scoring just two points off nine first-half offensive rebounds, the Wildcats had six critical second-chance points from their eight second-half opportunities. Boxing out, as it turns out, is a critical detail.
Michigan led by 11 points after the first possession of the second half on the strength of an outstanding performance by Glenn Robinson III (right, Fuller), who had 16 points on a perfect 7/7 mark from the field at halftime. For the first time all season, Robinson consistently created his own offense, beginning with a nifty head fake in the post that led to a layup for his first points of the game. Robinson was a non-factor in the latter stanza, however, adding just three points on 1/2 shooting, and the team managed just 12 points—three on a desperation Spike Albrecht shot with two seconds left—in the final 7:55.
The Wolverines still had their opportunities in the late going. The teams played dramatic back-and-forth basketball in the final couple minutes. After Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's three-point play gave Arizona their first lead since the opening minutes with 2:32 to play, Mitch McGary retook control with a pair of free throws, then Brandon Ashley and Nik Stauskas traded quick baskets. Then, when Michigan looked to have the Wildcats scrambling for a good look, McGary picked up a very questionable touch foul on the perimeter; Arizona's Nick Johnson, who played outstanding defense against Stauskas all afternoon, rattled both free throws home with 24 seconds left.
Michigan then tried pushing it up the court for a quick shot; Stauskas got a decent look at a long two but couldn't get it to fall, and the Wildcats had the possession arrow when McGary tied up Aaron Gordon for the rebound. Johnson sunk another pair of free throws, Albrecht managed just a split after Arizona intentionally fouled him with seven seconds left, and Johnson essentially iced the game with a third consecutive perfect trip to the line. While Albrecht made it interesting with a pull-up three with two seconds left, the last-gasp prayer by Stauskas after a missed Arizona free throw only found backboard.
Despite the loss, there were many encouraging signs for Michigan. Robinson's first half certainly qualified, as did another strong second half from Caris LeVert, who finished second on the team with 15 points on 6/15 shooting, ten of those coming after the break. Jon Horford played 25 strong minutes, tallying four blocks—all in the first half—and throwing down a huge dunk on Gordon for his only points of the game. While Derrick Walton was limited to one point in just 14 minutes, Albrecht ran the offense well, dishing out four assists in addition to hitting three of his four attempts from downtown.
In the end, though, Arizona's size and athleticism simply overwhelmed; seven different Wildcats had an offensive rebound (five with 2+), and the massive front line of Gordon, Brandon Ashley, and Kaleb Tarczewski combined to score 46 points on 21/37 shooting.
"It gives us great confidence," said Beilein, referring to hanging in there against a team he praised highly. "But also an attitude to come back and get better now."
The path to improvement, of course, begins with the details.
South Carolina State tried trapping Michigan at halfcourt, packing the paint, and daring Michigan to knock down outside shots.
Challenge accepted. Caris LeVert hit his first five three-point attempts and finished with a career-high 24 points to lead the way for Michigan, while Nik Stauskas, often left all alone in his favorite corner, finished with 23 points and shot 5/6 from beyond the arc. Michigan's 15 made threes (on 28 attempts) came up one short of the school record as the Wolverines cruised from start to finish—they tallied assists on 19 of their 31 made shots, and just four of those came from the team's two point guards.
LeVert's stellar outing wasn't limited to his shooting; he added four rebounds, three assists, a steal, and two blocks while playing totally in control—he didn't record a turnover. Even when accounting for the opponent, he looked like a star in the making, building on his strong play in the two exhibitions and opener against UMass Lowell. While the photo above is representative of SCSU's perimeter, um, defense, LeVert created his shots in a variety of ways, including knocking down a couple threes off the dribble.
While Glenn Robinson III struggled from the field (4/12), he nearly brought down the house on two different dunk attempts that ended in fouls, and a 4/5 night from the charity stripe gave him 13 points to go along with nine rebounds and three steals; even when his shot wasn't falling, he was active on both ends. That said, he looks like the #3 option on this team, and that's without the presence of Mitch McGary; this isn't a bad thing as long as Stauskas and LeVert keep up their current level of play, but if either fall off the questions remain about GRIII's ability to create his own offense.
Jon Horford, meanwhile, has locked down the starting center spot in McGary's absence. In 24 minutes, he finished with nine points (4/8 FG) and 15 rebounds (5 offensive), and his lone block belied his ability to affect shots at the rim—SCSU shot just 15/45 from inside the arc and Horford played a big part in that. Jordan Morgan had four points, six rebounds (one off.), and two blocks of his own in 15 minutes of action; the team functioned much better on both sides of the court with Horford, however, and there's no question which player brings more from an athletic standpoint.
The freshmen had their ups and downs in this game. Derrick Walton had 12 points (5/10 FG) and an assist while creating a couple putback opportunities with aggressive takes to the hoop; he also got caught leaving his feet a couple times on defense and turned the ball over three times. Zak Irvin played solid positional defense but couldn't get his shot to fall, missing a couple open threes from the corner early and finishing with five points on 2/7 shooting. Spike Albrecht added three assists in 14 minutes and didn't record a stat otherwise; Max Bielfeldt contributed a late banked-in three.
Most importantly, the rotation sans-McGary has begun to take shape. Once again, the starters were Walton-LeVert-Stauskas-Robinson-Horford; Irvin was the first man off the bench when Robinson picked up an early foul. Albrecht and Morgan were the next two off the bench, coming in after the first media timeout. Nobody else saw the floor until Bielfeldt came in with just over four minutes remaining, quickly followed by the four walk-ons—if Bielfeldt is holding on to a spot in the rotation, it's by a thread.
It's early and Michigan hasn't played a team capable of posing a real threat; so far, however, it looks like the team's two hyped-up lottery picks may be the #3 and #4 offensive options, and that's quite a remarkable development.
2013-14 Preview Coverage
Media Day Wrap: Beilein transcript + interviews with Horford, Morgan, Walton, GRIII
Position Previews: Bigs, Wings, Point Guards
Preview Podcast: With special guest John Gasaway
A Whole Damn Book: A whole damn book
Tonight's Game Info
What: Michigan vs. UMass-Lowell
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
When: 7pm, Friday (Banner raising ceremony at 6:40)
Line: Michigan -25 (KenPom)
TV: Big Ten Digital Network (subcription required)/MGoBlueTV (ditto)
Radio: 950 AM (Detroit), 102.9 FM (Ann Arbor), Sirius Channel 92, MGoBlue stream
UMass-Lowell is making their Division I debut after finishing 15-13 (10-12) as a member of the Northeast-10 (Division II) last year. A full-blown game preview is rather unnecessary.
"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties." — Sir Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning
As Michigan opens its season tonight against UMass-Lowell, I'm certain of two things about this team: they're raising a Final Four banner tonight, and they will be good.
The first is indisputable fact, not to mention a significant reason why it's easy to state the second: John Beilein's squad returns eight players (three starters, four more rotation guys) from a team that came within a half of requiring a bigger, fancier banner. Among those are two players garnering preseason All-American consideration, arguably the best shooter in America, a backup point guard who dropped 17 points in the first half of the title game, two experienced big men, and a sophomore oozing so much potential that he forced his way onto the court last year despite appearing malnourished.
On top of that, Michigan boasts one of the best coaching staffs in the country and bring in two top-flight recruits who will contribute immediately, one of whom (PG Derrick Walton) has already secured a starting role. They will be good, even without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway.
How good depends on a number of factors, however, and for every certainty there is an equal and opposite uncertainty.
Certainty: Mitch McGary is one of the most skilled, impactful centers in college basketball.
Uncertainty: When will he be able to return from his back "condition", and will it hamper him once he returns? (Also: how much do we weigh his tournament run versus his regular-season output?)
Certainty: Glenn Robinson III is an incredible athlete who had an exceptionally efficient freshman season.
Uncertainty: Can Robinson create his own shot, and can he stay so efficient with a bigger role?
Certainty: Beilein will try to play more two-big lineups this year.
Uncertainty: Will this work, especially with all the practice time McGary has missed? With all the talent on the wings, is it even worth trying?
Certainty: Caris LeVert is getting massive practice hype for the second straight year and looks like a potential breakout star as a shooting guard and part-time point.
Uncertainty: Will his practice/exhibition exploits translate to actual production against real opponents this year?
Certainty: Nik Stauskas is a great shooter; also: Not Just A Shooter.
Uncertainty: Can his lethal efficiency as a three-point shooter and pick-and-roll ballhandler continue when he's the team's first or second scoring option?
Certainty: Michigan is starting an extremely talented freshman point guard.
Uncertainty: Michigan is starting an extremely talented freshman point guard.
The list goes on and on*, and I'm okay with this. The uncertainty surrounding the football team this year has largely stemmed from "can this non-functional unit become functional"-type questions. The uncertainty surrounding the basketball team, on the other hand, is more of the "can this good thing become great" variety.
If the pieces all fall into place, Michigan is a national title contender once again. If they don't, this is still a team capable of winning the Big Ten (so long as Michigan State doesn't go full juggernaut, at least), and barring a rash of injuries they'll be a fun team to watch. None of us have any idea what's going to happen; it's still all but guaranteed to be more rewarding than watching this year's football team. Sit back and enjoy Michigan's status as one of the nation's elite programs, one that reloads instead of rebuilds, and savor that banner. We'll worry about certainties another time.
*Will the team's added functional size and experience on the wings equal better defensive performance, for example.
Since this game was televised, I'll make this relatively short and sweet—Michigan held a commanding lead for practically the entire game, though they failed to dominate Wayne State to the same extent that they eviscerated Concordia in the first exhibition. Given the amount of lineup shuffling, that's not of particular concern. Once again, here are some assorted thoughts from an exhibition blowout.
THE TWO-BIGS LINEUP SHOULD BE PUT ON HOLD
Michigan once again started both Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan, though this time it was freshman Derrick Walton getting his first career start (of many) instead of Spike Albrecht. Simply put, it didn't look like the two bigs lineup is going to work against real competition pending the return of Mitch McGary. Early on, the spacing on offense was poor, and Morgan looked uncomfortable trying to defend on the perimeter. That didn't change much when they trotted out similar lineups later in the game.
If tonight's game is any indication, Michigan is going to start Glenn Robinson III at the four sooner or later, and until McGary returns it may very well be Horford, not Morgan, who starts alongside him. After playing 22 minutes to Morgan's 14 in the opener, Horford once again got the lion's share of the minutes at center—25 to 14, despite having four fouls to Morgan's one. Neither player factored in much offensively and each fared pretty well on the boards; Horford's ability to block shots (two tonight) may be what's giving him the edge.
CARIS LEVERT AT THE POINT, ON THE OTHER HAND...
When Horford picked up an early foul, Michigan put out a lineup with Caris LeVert running the point and Spike Albrecht playing off the ball. This immediately resulted in an open three for Albrecht after a drive-and-kick from LeVert, who looked very confident in both his shot and ballhanding ability tonight, finishing with 16 points (5/10 FG, 5/7 FT) and three assists against just one turnover. I really liked this look, which allowed Michigan to get Albrecht on the court and take advantage of his shooting while hiding him a bit defensively—it's tough to pick on the 5'10" guy when there are four 6'6"-or-taller defenders disrupting passing lanes.
As you can see above, LeVert even showed off a go-to move, breaking some ankles with the crossover in this one.
NO WORRIES ABOUT SCORING
Tonight wasn't a great one for hopes that Robinson (right, Fuller) is going to create a ton of offense off the dribble; he scored 15 points on 10 FGAs but had difficulty getting into the lane on his own, with one notable exception that seemed more of a defensive miscue than anything else. He does appear more confident in his three-point shot, however, even though he knocked down just one of three attempts tonight.
More importantly, it doesn't look like he has to create offense for Michigan to score. Nik Stauskas led the team with 17 points, hitting 2/4 threes and looking equally effective inside the arc; encouragingly, he laid in a tough and-one on a fast break through heavy contact, something he had difficulty doing last year. LeVert, once again, seemed able to reach any point on the floor he wanted.
Then there's Zak Irvin, who looks ready to take GRIII's place as the Guy Who Scores A Quiet [Double-Digit Point Total]. Despite playing just eight minutes in the first half, Irvin paced the team with nine points, hitting three triples; he'd finish with 13 on 5/8 shooting in 19 minutes of action. One of his second-half makes was a pretty dribble-drive to pull-up jumper; when called upon, he looks comfortable creating his own shot. While fellow freshman Walton shot just 1/4 from the field, he hit 4/5 free throws and drilled a corner three to accompany a 4:2 assist-to-turnover ratio; like LeVert, he worked his way to the inside with relative ease to create offense for others. Walton also had his second Burkeian halfcourt steal in two games. If that becomes a patented Michigan point guard move, I'm totally okay with it.
- The perimeter defense could still use work. Wayne State's Bryan Coleman hit 3/5 first-half threes and had 17 points at the break; while he cooled off in the second half, he still found himself with several open looks against Stauskas and Robinson, primarily.
- On the other hand, the transition defense was great—Wayne State finished with zero fast-break points, and Michigan communicated very well while getting back on D, a very good sign for such a young team.
- For the second straight game, Max Bielfeldt struggled to defend the glass while playing center against an undersized team, grabbing zero rebounds in nine minutes of action while also having his fair share of issues defensively. If this is what he's playing like come conference play, he may not have a spot in the rotation, since he isn't a guy who's going to add much offensively.
- Mark Donnal is almost certainly ticketed for a redshirt, as he didn't play until garbage time once again, then immediately forgot to box out on a free throw and committed a foul—that's probably the last we see of him this season unless injuries hit in a major way.
- Welcome back, Ann Arbor Airshow. I missed you dearly.
Before I post a partial transcript of John Beilein's press conference, a few player interviews, and photo galleries from both Eric and Bryan, here are my main takeaways from yesterday's basketball media day:
- First and foremost, John Beilein is serious about playing two bigs and having a lot of lineup versatility—this sentiment echoed from Beilein himself down through the players, almost all of whom discussed playing multiple roles in some capacity. Everything from Walton/Spike/Stauskas/GRIII/McGary to LeVert/Stauskas/GRIII/McGary/Morgan is on the table; this team can play small or go very, very big—both Stauskas and LeVert are capable of running the point.
- Mitch McGary's health is a major question mark. Beilein isn't sure if he'll be ready for the first exhibition game—it certainly didn't seem like it—and would only say he's "day-to-day" when asked about a timetable. When asked about the nature of the injury, McGary responded that it wasn't an injury, but a "lower back condition" that the team is being cautious about right now. That's obviously a point of concern, even though McGary maintained that he felt good about where he's at right now and the upcoming season. He's definitely missing critical practice time—Beilein noted that he hasn't had a chance to practice his perimeter defense, a crucial area for improvement if McGary is going to be able to play the four.
- The physical development of the sophomores has been rather remarkable. Glenn Robinson III's improved vertical is getting a lot of attention—yes, he touched 12'3", maxing out Michigan's device for measuring vertical leaps—and similar gains have been made by Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. All three look noticeably more muscular; though LeVert is still very much on the skinny side, he's no longer rail-thin, and Stauskas appears capable of playing the three if need be. GRIII, meanwhile, looks the part of an NBA player.
- When asked about their new break-the-huddle mantra this year, Beilein responded that it's simply "champions"—whether that applies to the Puerto Rico Invitational, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Big Ten regular- and post-season crowns, or even loftier goals. Last year's team took the expectations to an entirely new level; it's clear this team is comfortable with that.
For direct quotes from Beilein, player interviews with Jon Horford, Jordan Morgan, and Derrick Walton, and photo galleries from media day, hit the jump.
Michigan opens the season on—[checks
watch smartphone]—oh lord, Tuesday, so it's time to get to this previewin' business. Of course, we already have an entire book dedicated to this, and you should probably check that out, as it goes into far more detail than I'm capable of doing here.
I'm dividing up the team like we did in the book for the positional previews: bigs, wings, and point guards. For the purposes of this preview, I'm considering Glenn Robinson III a wing, though he'll get plenty of run as the nominal power forward when Michigan goes to a smaller, more Beilein-friendly lineup. On that note, let's start with the men up front.
Measurables: 6'10", 255
Base Stats: 19.7 minutes, 7.5 points, 59.8 FG%, 44.2 FT%, 6.3 rebounds
Key Advanced Metrics: 16.0 OR% (10th nationally), 22.4 DR% (86th), 3.9 Blk%, 2.4 Stl%
After Jordan Morgan's ankle injury near the end of the 2012-13 regular season, Mitch McGary ascended from highly-touted freshman energy guy to do-everything future All-American with a remarkable run in the NCAA tournament. McGary averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in the Big Dance, dished out six assists (previous career high: two) to break the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone in the national semifinal, recorded eight steals in two games against Kansas and Florida, and generally performed like a guy once considered a top-two prospect in his class.
The tournament performance vaulted McGary onto just about every preseason All-American list, often as the first-team center. That's a lot of hype generated largely by a six-game stretch, though McGary—who started his freshman year slow after an injury hampered his conditioning—displayed flashes of greatness from the get-go, pulling down rebounds and forcing turnovers at a very high rate all season.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the big man breakdown, with some bonus '90s rap nostalgia.]