so much for that
Inside the locker room. Grantland's Shane Ryan has a great article about Michigan in the locker room after the game:
This is clearly one of the most painful losses of your career. When it's over, you have a few minutes to talk to each other, to be alone, and then it's an onslaught of media. Your pain is still fresh. You can't get mad, you can't get annoyed, you can't refuse, and it lasts a long time. What's that like?
Tim Hardaway Jr.: [laughing] "I mean, it's not — I don't want to say it's brutal, but it is … it's a job. It's their job, it's your job to get stuff, so … I mean, I'm not worried about it, I'm not afraid to talk about it, so … that is the nice answer, but it's honest, I'm honest about it. It's part of what they do. It's part of what everybody does, so I mean, I'm not worried about it at all."
Hardaway's laughter was satisfying, in a way, because it cracked his shell for a moment. It broke through the training, and it showed, for an instant, the real difficulty it presented. The laugh was part sarcastic, part "how could I possibly explain this to you?" and part "it's miserable and depressing, but I know better than to say that on the record." It was also the prelude to shutting down again. I even interrupted him halfway through: "That's the nice answer" — but he was careful not to take the bait a second time. Still, I got that one laugh.
Reason #3,509 I have no interest in having a press pass.
Everyone's main question. McGary backed off the definitely back talk and is now in Hated Chad Ford's top 20. Let's seize on this quote and cuddle it for warmth:
"This will be a great team next year, with great guys coming in and a great group of guys leaving, you can't replace those five seniors," he said. "We'll see."
"There's some unfinished business. ... We'll see next year."
In the immediate aftermath, the News picked up this quote from Robinson:
"Right now, I'll be back. We'll talk about that whenever I need to but you know this isn't the time to talk about that right now," Robinson said. "It's about all these guys in the locker room that played their hearts out tonight."
Burke, of course, seems gone. Hardaway is 50/50 with tea leaves suggesting he leaves. Someone ask Tim Hardaway's hat.
In other news, NBA scouts are kind of jerks.
"I think it was obvious that he was the reason that Michigan got that far. He will be drafted higher than he should be," the scout said. "He wants to be (Allen) Iverson but I'm not sure any organization will just hand him the ball. I question his speed and size. Definitely (at least) an NBA backup point guard."
I question your face, buddy. And your basketball acumen if you think that Burke's an inefficient volume shooter and ball-hog.
Slate on the whatnot. Guhhhh.
After Albrecht’s sadly non-superheroic jaunt to the basket, Louisville’s Chane Behanan plucks the ball off the backboard and throws an outlet pass to Peyton Siva. The Cardinals guard is in the open court with only Burke between him and the basket. On the subject of irrational confidence: Just a minute before, the 6-foot Siva had gone backdoor, leaped high into the air, and stuffed in an alley-oop. Now, Siva jumps from the same spot on the court. Burke, who’s slowed down to time his steps, jumps with him. Their hands meet above the rim, cresting at the midpoint of the backboard square. It’s a beautiful play, proof that you can achieve athletic grace by canceling out your opponent’s best effort.
And then the stupid ref ruins it by calling a stupid foul.
Levin eventually concludes that he's not sure what you could do to make basketball less dependent on the random guesses of [redacted] men in stripes. I wish I could be as benevolent about the lessons to take from the outcome.
Why it took so long to foul. Beilein screwed up:
"I thought we were in the 1-and-1, so it's a coaching error on my part" Beilein said. "We were trying to foul the right guy (Dieng). I was happy (Dieng) was going to the foul line, and I didn't realize we weren't in the 1-and-1. That falls right on me as a coach."
Fire this clown! HOT TAKES
Lawrence Frank disagrees. He got a little hot when the idea of questioning Beilein for sitting Burke as long as he did came up:
"Let's say he (Beilein) puts him (Burke) back, when, I don't know, two-minute mark, three-minute mark, and he picks up his third foul, up 12," Frank said. "What are people going to say then? 'Well, what the hell, you had a 12-point cushion, why would you put him back in the game?'
"Look, what it took was a guy that was a transfer walk-on (Hancock) to make four threes. Everyone's entitled to their opinion but trust me, John Beilein knows that Trey Burke's the national college player of the year. It's not a surprise to him. He knows how good the kid is. He also knows how the ebb and flow of the game goes."
Frank said he was stunned that Beilein's decisions were so scrutinized after a well-played game.
"Here's a guy, he's got the youngest team in the tournament, they're in the final game, and yet a story line is coaching. Are you kidding me?" Frank said. "Not that he's infallible or didn't make mistakes. He got the youngest team in the tournament to the finals."
Odes. Michigan blog tribute outbursts come in waves:
- Maize and Go Blue actually uses "ode" in the title.
- MVictors talks about how he shuts down during games. I alternate between that and outbursts when the pressure gets too high.
- Hold The Rope recaps.
- Hoover Street Rag says thanks.
- Genuinely Sarcastic focuses on how damn hard it is to actually win one of these things.
Horford zen. Jon Horford on the post-game locker room:
"It was beautiful," sophomore forward Jon Horford said. "Everyone was so calm. No one was crying, no one was complaining, no one was throwing things. Everyone was just so calm. Coach (John) Beilein just got up and he started to speak and he just set the tone. He stressed the importance of valuing everything we’ve accomplished.
"He just started thanking everyone, from the players and coaches to the support staff, and he just had this air of gratitude. Having great respect for the moment, and understanding the bonds we’ve made as a team are much more important than winning a basketball game, even if it is the national championship."
Spencer Brinton, come on down. Michigan says they'll look for potential JUCO or fifth-year QBs to address the whole "two scholarship QBs on the roster" thing. Projected impact: none. Even if they find a guy to come in, he'd be a JUCO who didn't get picked up already or a fifth-year guy knowingly walking into a situation where he won't start. That guy won't be better than Shane Morris, and if Michigan is going to try to get that redshirt on him they'll probably be riding with Brian Cleary late in games.
It's all about not quite paying the kids enough money to meet federal standards for financial aid. Everyone hates Mark Emmert. Some of us have good reasons. Others are Indiana State, and this creates a problem for that whole "stipend" thing which is really just bringing the athletic scholarship closer to how much it actually costs to attend various colleges:
In some ways, the issue has become a referendum on Mr. Emmert, whose attempts to get things done quickly have alienated certain factions.
“There are some people who will oppose anything he supports, and that’s unfair,” says Sidney A. McPhee, president of Middle Tennessee State University. As head of the NCAA Student-Athlete Well-Being Working Group, Mr. McPhee has become chief arbiter of the stipend debate. …
The climate has frustrated Mr. McPhee, who believes that even the less-wealthy programs have an obligation to make a priority of players and their unmet financial needs. “If you want to compete [in Division I],” he says, “you’ve got to step up."
They've had an almost unanimous straw poll with various stakeholders in favor; they believe anything they do would just get overridden.
Okay, no counsel. How about standing around them with passive menace? Taylor Lewan isn't going to give various Michigan basketball players noogies until they agree to come back next year:
"That's not my place at all," the senior said Tuesday after practice at Glick Field House. "What Trey Burke, Tim does -- I know Tim, have had class with him and he's a great guy -- whatever decision they make, you have to make the best decision for yourself.
"I think if they choose to leave, they'll have my support. I don't even know Trey Burke, but he has my support. Those guys have done a great job and earned everything they get."
NOT EVEN ONE INDIAN BURN TAYLOR GAWD I DON'T EVEN
Tremendous sighting. In the welcome-home pep rally yesterday:
With his team in folding chairs around him on the floor, Wolverines coach John Beilein took to the microphone and thanked the fans for coming out. He said he had heard about the Monday night gathering at Crisler when the arena was nearly filled to capacity, and called it “tremendous.”
Etc.: Wojo on if these guys are going to hang around yo. SBN on Trey Burke. Of course it's the Detroit Free Press with the commemorative national title book. Twit factory, that place. Northwestern fans have discovered the work of the Michigan wikipedia club. They are not best pleased.
Mailbag: Big Man Rotation, Dealing With Withey, NBA Departure Odds, Big Puppy's Breed, Unhappy Visitors
I received a recruiting mailbag question via email and, in the process of requesting more questions on Twitter, this mostly turned into a basketball mailbag. So, here's a hoops mailbag with a couple of bonus football recruiting questions, I guess.
Starter of the future, also starter of the present (Photo: Bryan Fuller)
Do you think that Morgan getting rest against VCU could help him have a serviceable/good game against Kansas? — @carlseikoll
This is the first of two questions about the big men, so let's focus on Jordan Morgan's situation for now. He got a lot of rest against VCU—the whole game, in fact—on the heels of playing just one minute against South Dakota State and 18 combined minutes in the Big Ten Tournament.
It'd be nice to pin the blame for Morgan's reduced role on his midseason ankle injury, but I think we're beyond that point—he played over 22 minutes in each of the four games leading up to the BTT. It's entirely possible that coming back from the injury too soon sapped his confidence, especially in his ability to get lift off the floor and go up strong when finishing with the basketball. Or a bad stretch of games and subsequent benching may just be getting in his head.
Whatever the reason, it seems unlikely that John Beilein would keep Morgan nailed to the bench in the VCU blowout—not giving him the chance to regain some confidence in a low-risk situation—only to have a big role in store for him against one of the nation's best teams (and best big men). Which leads to the next question...
What is the hierarchy of McGary, Horford, Morgan, and what they can do to stop Withey? — @stephenjnesbitt
Mitch McGary is the starter at this point, a point I doubt anyone will dispute. He's emerged as both the team's most consistent and productive center, and as long as he stays out of foul trouble he should play the majority of the team's minutes from here on out.
Given the above, Jon Horford is the next man on the floor, and Morgan should be used either sparingly or only in case of emergency. While this rotation worked out great in the first two tournament games, however, there's reason to worry heading into the Kansas game.
The reason, of course, is Jeff Withey—a real, functional, productive big man, something Michigan didn't really see in the first two NCAA games. I don't think there's a huge gap between Michigan's three big men offensively, aside from McGary's stellar offensive rebounding; all three aren't players Beilein is going to post up often, especially against one of the country's best shot blockers. Against Kansas, whoever's playing center won't do much more than set picks and fight for putback opportunities.
The difference will come at the defensive end. Morgan has certainly struggled in the last couple weeks, to the point that I don't think Michigan can confidently throw him into the fray on Friday; that's a problem, because he's still by far their best on-ball post defender, and Withey is a skilled post player with a high usage. McGary, meanwhile, has done everything well recently except defend on the ball—overlooked in his performance against VCU was the Rams' lone big man, Juvonte Reddic, scoring 16 points on 7/11 shooting in 24 minutes, with only one of those baskets coming off an offensive rebound. McGary is also foul-prone, though not as much as Horford, who commits a sky-high 6.4 fouls per 40 minutes.
I still don't think Morgan will play much, if at all. If he does, it will be because Withey is terrorizing the defense in the post. The best thing Michigan can do against Withey on Friday is to try to lure him away from the basket as a shot-blocker—expect a lot of pick-and-roll action—and look to deny him post touches defensively. This is one of the worst games for the Wolverines to be without a full-strength (mentally and physically) Jordan Morgan, but that's the way the ball bounces.
[Hit THE JUMP for the odds of Michigan's underclassmen jumping to the NBA, searching for Big Puppy's breed, and a couple of recruiting questions.]
Photo credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Mitch McGary snatched the rebound out of the air, turned towards the Michigan bench, and let out a guttural yell that could be heard from across the court.
Michigan had looked listless—yes, again—to begin the game against Penn State. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 14-3 lead after Jordan Morgan couldn't finish three layup attempts and the Wolverines as a whole couldn't slow down Penn State's pick and roll. Enter McGary, who ended PSU's run with a layup, then overcame a missed breakaway dunk to record a first-half double-double.
The McGary Growl came with the score tied at 16, and his histrionics immediately lifted the spirits of the players on the bench—and on the court. On the next possession, Nik Stauskas sunk a three, and the Wolverines wouldn't trail for the remainder of the game, pulling away late for a comfortable 17-point win. When called upon to infuse energy to a team that couldn't shake their previous struggles against Penn State, the freshman big man did that and more, finishing the game with ten points on 5/6 shooting (all in the first half) and 11 rebounds, five of them offensive.
After McGary kept the team afloat in the first half, the rest of the team stepped up in the second. Trey Burke led all scorers with 21 points, pouring in 13 in the second half on 4/6 shooting. Stauskas contributed nine of his 15 points in the latter stanza, including a "Game ... Blouses"-style dunk and nifty and-one layup. Jon Horford tallied all 11 of his points in the final 20 minutes, going 4/4 from the field in that span.
Gradually, over the course of the second half, Michigan's lead grew—after PSU's Jermaine Marshall tied the game at 39 with 17:25 left, the Wolverines outscored the Nittany Lions 44-27. Some added defensive intensity certainly helped; after Michigan ceded 14/26 two-point shooting in the first half, Penn State hit 12/26 from inside the arc in the second half. That may be just a two-shot difference, but the makes were more difficult to come by, at least.
Michigan moves on to play Wisconsin in the second game of the day tomorrow (~2:30 EST), and this game brought up some concerns for the rest of the tournament. Interior baskets were far too easy to come by for PSU, especially Sasa Borovnjak, who scored 15 points on 7/10 FG despite no offensive rebounds. The Wolverines looked lost defending the pick and roll, and offensively they biffed more than their fair share of layups.
They finally beat Penn State handily, however, outdoing KenPom's prediction by a point. Blemishes or no, that's taking care of business, and the team's first double-digit win since February 24th was a welcome sight.
Mitch McGary may not play pretty, but his contributions were also a delight—both to the fans and his teammates, apparently.
2/17/2012 – Michigan 79, Penn State 71 – 22-4, 9-4 Big Ten
Y U NO PLAY DEFENSE (Bryan Fuller)
A home game against Penn State is supposed to be a laugher, and on one side of the ball it was. Michigan put up 1.2 points a possession even without the participation of their centers—literally. McGary, Horford, and Morgan combined for zero points in 43 minutes. No one really noticed because Glenn Robinson III spent most of the day playing NBA Jam and Nik Stauskas was so much more than a shooter that it took five or six drives before something akin to "Not Just A Shooter" got exhumed by the announcers. Michigan did what it does, on one side of the ball.
On the other side of the ball, raise your hand if DJ Newbill's umpteenth only vaguely resisted drive to the basket in the first half caused you to exclaim a variant on "you have got to be kidding me." That's everyone.
Now raise your hand if that exclamation included a swear word you invented on the spot. That's probably just me, but it got bad. Michigan turned to Matt Vogrich in the second half. Since Stauskas was going off this was presumably a move to shore up the defense; Vogrich promptly lost his guy and gave up open corner threes on consecutive possessions. The first one was a reaction to a bad McGary gamble, sure. The second… dot dot dot. At many points Penn State should have been down 15, and the scoreboard said they were down by 3 or 5.
This felt bizarrely familiar to me, and I figured out why: I've watched a lot of NC State this year. This game was disturbingly reminiscent of watching the Wolfpack play. This is not good. You get a window into the psyche of another fanbase when you adopt them as Michigan-by-proxy, and I think NC State fans are pretty pissed off that their combination of players is barely over .500 in a weak ACC. I kind of hate them myself because they combine some breathtaking talent with total indifference on defense. They can beat Duke; they can give up 86 points to Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
Finding a shadow of that team in this Michigan outfit that was until recently cruising towards a one-seed is not fun. This is analysis! This is Thunderdome!
Oh, but that shadow is there. Click the conference-only checkbox on Kenpom and you get a shocking splash of red:
Michigan is easier to shoot against than anyone in Big Ten play. Easier than Nebraska. Easier than Iowa. Easier than Penn State. Easier than Illinois despite Illinois playing with big men that may in fact be ghosts. Easier than the crippled husk of Northwestern.
Northwestern is the Rasputin of the Big Ten: shot, stabbed, poisoned, shot again, trampled by horses, chucked in the river. Finally dead and bloated, they are aimlessly floating towards the next life. It's harder to shoot against them than Michigan.
It gets worse when you consider the low number of transition opportunities Michigan provides since they're so responsible with the ball on offense. It has nothing to do with possibly-meaningless three-point shooting, at which Michigan is perfectly average at defending. It is entirely because they are also dead last at keeping twos out of their basket. It's repeatable stuff that the stats are probably not fully encapsulating. It is Not Good. (This is analysis this is Thunderdome.)
Earlier in the year a few people sounded the alarm about Michigan as a national contender, citing its defense. I said "but look at the outlying offense and wait for the defense to maybe move up a bit, Michigan is for real." That's a tough case to make right now. The offense has given up its massive lead and slid back to third; the defense has gone the wrong direction.
When DJ Newbill has a band in ten years they will be called The Unresisted Forays Into The Crisler Lane, man. Sound the alarm. It's time for a hard look at drastic actions, whatever those might be. Waving your hands in the general direction of a shooter is a start.
From Bryan Fuller:
Threes. They feel not random. The numbers say they are. Opponents' three point shooting since the start of Michigan's brutal stretch:
- Indiana: 7/18, 39%. Season average: 42%.
- OSU: 7/16, 44%. Season: 37%.
- Wisconsin: 10/24, 42%. Season: 34%.
- MSU, 7/20, 35%: Season: 35%.
- Penn State: 6/18: 33%. Season: 30%.
It has felt like Michigan is giving up open look after open look and is getting scorched from deep. The result of this feeling: approximately three extra makes across five games, so far within the province of random noise that Autechre is jealous.
Way back in the ur-blogging days when Big Ten Wonk was an anonymous man with a large vocabulary and not John Gasaway we had a conversation about whether or not the fact that Michigan's opponents were raining in threes at a hellacious clip during a particular Amaker campaign was luck or not. I said yes, he said yes but only partially, and I eventually came around to his point of view. Any short-term blazing above 40% will regress.
Lately, Kenpom has been on a crusade to declare three-point shooting defense to be totally random. I entered this section planning to write that I felt streaks like Michigan's recent one were earned, and now I don't know what to think.
- Michigan is average at defending three pointers (7th in the league, 99th nationally) but gives up a lot (10th in the league, 293rd nationally)
- Their eFG% on threes is 50.4, which is in fact worse than their horrible 2-point defense, so the combination of these two things does make their eFG D worse.
Inside the line or out, pick your poison.
Another thing that doesn't seem right. Newbill ended up 3/10 from two. The guy who hurt Michigan was Sasa Borovnjak at 7 of 9, mostly on uncontested rolls to the basket. Michigan's rotations were late and sometimes the pick and roll guy was making the dump inside, which is a big no-no. When Michigan hedges, they play it such that if the guy getting the ball screen can toss it to the big, they're done. Too much of that in this one.
Trey. Dang man, 29 points on 16 shots—and four extra possessions with free throws, something we actually have to adjust for after this one—five assists, and zero turnovers. A couple of shots bugged me, as they were taken with no hope of an offensive rebound, but the efficiency speaks for itself.
Stauskas. Not Just A Shooter was in full effect as Stauskas picked up 12 points inside the line on perfect shooting—3/3 from the floor and 6/6 at the line, though IIRC one of those trips to the line was a non-shooting foul at the end of the first half. He also added four assists. The only thing he didn't do well was shoot the J, going 2/6.
I did have further frustrations with him on defense, and it seems like Beilein did too since we got to see Vogrich unearthed. That was the equivalent of a frustration foul.
GRIII: hello again. A series of highlight-reel dunks against a porous defense and Robinson is back. His success in this one only highlighted the reasons he'd disappeared in the previous few games: he's a top-quality finisher who rarely takes a bounce to get a shot. If put in a situation where he has to make his own shot, he defers. Once or twice a game he will go at the basket himself. That's all.
That's fine, but after the tough stretch it seems like far too much of Michigan's shot creation is on Burke's shoulders. Stauskas does a good amount for a third option; Hardaway not so much and then Michigan gets almost none from the 4 and 5 aside from putbacks.
Not so good: Hardaway, centers. Hardaway didn't shoot well. Okay, it happens.
The centers were a little bit more alarming. The shooting is one thing. They went 0/5 in 43 minutes. The rebounding is another: just 3 and 3 as Penn State outrebounded M 31% to 22%. Defensive rebounding is the only thing that Penn State actually does well (5th in conference; they have no other above-average factors) so I guess that's expected. But combine those numbers with Penn State's frequent dump-ins to Borovnjak—which are usually the hedger's fault for providing a passing lane or not getting back once the ball screen recipient tosses it to another perimeter player—and it was rough day.
I'm torn on Morgan. On the one hand, I'm hoping that Morgan's ankle is still bothering him extensively and he shouldn't be playing because then the fact that he seems like he's not offering any help to the beleaguered defense has an explanation. On the other, I'd really like him to be full strength posthaste. At least Michigan doesn't have a midweek game coming up. Hopefully he'll be ready by Illinois.
End of half heroball update. Burke was forced into the backcourt by his man, then trapped as he crossed the line, causing him to dump the ball with time running out and getting Michigan another terrible shot. Because Burke wasn't taking it, it did not go in.
What is the point of those end of half timeouts? All of them seem to consist of "Trey, go do something" and 28 seconds of staring at each other. I would prefer something with a second option like "Nik, go do something" or "Tim, go do something."
This week's refereeing outrage! Er, it actually went in Michigan's favor as Newbill picked up a critical third first-half foul on something that was not even close to a charge.
How do you fix charges? I don't know. Newbill's first charge was legit, as he plunged his shoulder into Stauskas and knocked him back with an arm, but this caused Pat Chambers to have a conniption fit because Stauskas didn't collapse into a Duke-like pile of flop and shame. His second was not, but did feature a guy getting bowled over. I think I'd change the rule so that feet had nothing to do with it except when it comes to getting outside the circle. It's a charge if the guy nails you directly in the chest, and a block if it's to the side. Expand the no-charge circle a bit and make the reform that Jay Bilas is always on about where if you move under a guy who's already in the air it's a block. And explicitly make simulating a charge a foul.
Anyway: Michigan got to the line a whopping 35 times after games of 2 and 6 FTAs. This is because Penn State is not at all subtle in their hackathon, for which I commend them. Unmissable foul perpetrators of Happy Valley, the honesty in your illegality is award-worthy.
Here is an award.
Uniforms. I liked them.
The past four games have been a rude awakening for a Michigan basketball team once thought to be the best in the country. That same team is now looking up at three teams in the Big Ten standings, not to mention swiftly falling from contention for a one-seed.
The first two losses of this 1-3 stretch were understandable in both outcome and form; losing competitive games at Indiana and Wisconsin—while getting royally screwed by the officials in the latter—is understandable for a team of any caliber. Last night's debacle in the Breslin Center, however, took the cracks exposed in the three prior games and turned them into gaping crevasses.
In an effort to figure out how much to panic, how much to not, and where we go from here, here's a collection of thoughts on this recent stretch.
JOHN BEILEIN CAN'T MAKE HIS PLAYERS OLDER
I shut off my laptop last night after getting multiple tweets asking if John Beilein was at least a big part of the problem. As far as I can tell, Beilein made one critical coaching error last night: removing Trey Burke after his third foul, which sparked a quick 5-0 Spartan run early in the second half. At that point, however, State had already spent the game imposing their will on Michigan, and with the way the game played out it's hard to imagine Burke being in the game for that two-minute stretch would've changed the outcome.
The problem is not John Beilein, who's done a masterful job of putting this team together and coaching them into an offensive juggernaut. The problem is that he can't make his players any older, and now we're seeing why that's an issue. As it turns out, getting experience on the fly in the toughest conference in the country makes for some growing pains; there's no knowing how five freshmen (six if you count Max Bielfeldt) are going to respond when thrown into critical roles in adverse situations.
Ideally, this is a team that would come back intact next year and be an odds-on favorite to make the Final Four—they need the experience, conditioning, and added size. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening are slim to none.
INTERIOR DEFENSE IS A PROBLEM
The hope was that an unstoppable offense would cover for Michigan's defensive shortcomings, but when the offense isn't unstoppable, boy do those shortcomings get exposed. Even in the victory over Ohio State, the Wolverines got abused on the interior defensively, and their two-point defense is now dead last in the conference—B1G opponents connect on 48.9% of their twos against Michigan.
The injury to Jordan Morgan, the team's best on-ball interior defender, has hurt, but the problems go much deeper. Mitch McGary is an active defender with a ton of potential on that end, but he's also prone to freshman mistakes and positional errors, like the one that allowed Jared Berggren to drive for an and-one dunk late in the Wisconsin game. Jon Horford isn't at the same level of on-ball defense as Morgan and he fouls far too much—7.7(!) per 40 minutes in conference play.
Then there's Robinson, who's clearly hit a wall and is struggling mightily to defend larger players. He's not big enough to defend a guy like Derrick Nix or Adreian Payne one-on-one, nor does he have the stamina at this point to attempt to do so and still have an impact on the other end of the floor. He's missing switches and has been late getting out to his man on the perimeter—freshman mistakes, and ones that can't be made in critical moments.
Michigan can spell Robinson with Max Bielfeldt for stretches, but Bielfeldt's offensive limitations make that only a stopgap solution—by my charting, in about a game's worth of offensive possessions in conference play with Bielfeldt on the floor, Michigan is scoring just 0.90 points per possession. The Wolverines are going to need Robinson to find a way out of his funk, plain and simple.
BURKE IS STILL THE LONE CREATOR
When the best point guard in the country leaves the court, there's obviously going to be a bit of a dropoff offensively. Michigan's Burke-free offense is downright stagnant, however, because none of the other players can create a shot at the rim off the dribble.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is still too easy to pickpocket when he puts the ball on the floor inside the arc; last night, you could see him overcompensate by trying to shield the ball with his entire body, which led to some ugly twisting layup attempts in traffic. He's much better when he can drive to the free-throw line and pull up, but opponents have learned to take that part of the court away.
Robinson, for all his athleticism, still hasn't proven himself a threat off the dribble. Nik Stauskas could be that guy, especially with his skill in pick-and-roll situations, but the last four games he's been invisible when his outside shot isn't falling. Caris LeVert isn't strong enough to get all the way to the hoop, forcing him to try an array of pull-up jumpers that aren't falling with any consistency.
The pieces all fit together when Burke is on the floor. When he's not, this team is disjointed and surprisingly easy to defend—take away Hardaway's drive to the middle, don't sag off of Stauskas, and let them miss tough shots.
THE SILVER LINING
Even the most optimistic of Wolverine partisans would've been at least grudgingly accepting of a 2-2 record over the last four games, especially with Morgan hobbled. Despite all of the above, Michigan came within a half-court shot of just that. The last four games also don't discount what happened in the first 21; let there be no mistake, this is still a team that can get hot at the right time and win a six-game single-elimination tournament (yes, that one). Is that likely? Well, probably not. Is it within reason? Sure, if the matchups fall their way.
In fact, this team can still grab a share of the Big Ten title. In a conference that is cannibalizing itself, the Wolverines have one of the easier closing slates—including playing Penn State twice in the next three games—before the season finale against Indiana. If Michigan beats the teams they should beat, they may find themselves in control of their own destiny at the very end after all.
Also, this team still has Trey Burke, who still very much deserves his status as a national player of the year contender. He is still a joy to watch, and this is almost certainly the last time he'll be in a Michigan uniform. I, for one, am going to do everything in my power to sit back and enjoy the privilege of seeing him play.
Michigan dodged a bullet today when X-rays revealed no broken bones in Jordan Morgan's ankle, but the Wolverines likely will have to make do without their starting center for the next couple games, at least. How much will his absence hurt Michigan?
If the numbers from conference play are any indication, not nearly as much as you'd think.
I spent yesterday compiling the statistics for each five-man unit John Beilein has deployed in Big Ten play (garbage time excluded) to see if I could spot any trends. The entire spreadsheet of all 40(!) different lineup combinations is available for your perusal as a Google Doc. Here are the five most common lineups the Wolverines have used, divided up by offensive statistics...
The raw numbers are tough to compare, so this is where tempo-based stats come in handy. I've calculated each unit's number of possessions using KenPom's standard formula (2PA+3PA+(0.475*FTA)+TO-OR). From there, it's easy to calculate points per possession, which I've multiplied by 100 to give the standard offensive and defensive efficiency numbers. Also included is plus/minus, for those curious.
|Off Poss||Off Eff||Def Poss||Def Eff||+/-|
Well, then. Only the top two lineups have enough data to really rely upon (Michigan averages around 65 possessions per game, so even those have less than two full games of data)—the Horford lineup's numbers come almost entirely from the Illinois game.
Caveats aside, there's little doubt that Michigan's starters play are playing far, far better—on both ends of the court—with Mitch McGary at center than Jordan Morgan. The offensive efficiency with that lineup is off the charts*, and that defensive efficiency number would put Michigan just behind Ohio State, one of the best defensive teams in the country, at third in the Big Ten.
To see if this trend bore itself out regardless of the surrounding lineup, I calculated the offensive and defensive efficiency numbers for any lineup featuring Morgan/McGary/Horford...
|Off Poss||Off Eff||Def Poss||Def Eff|
|ALL Morgan Lineups||180.6||109.1||179.2||102.1|
|ALL McGary Lineups||199.1||126.1||202.6||90.3|
|ALL Horford Lineups||43.3||124.7||43.8||89.0|
...and the team's four factors statistics when each of the three centers is on the court:
Here is where you can really see the difference between Morgan and McGary. When McGary is on the floor, Michigan rebounds over 10% more of the available misses on offense, and while they get to the line far less frequently, they shoot better from the floor. This could be chalked up as an anomaly, since the two-point shooting numbers are virtually equal for Morgan lineups and McGary lineups, while Michigan shoots 46.6% from three with McGary compared to 34.0% with Morgan.
There's a possible explanation for that, however, in the defensive numbers. The Wolverines force more turnovers with McGary on the court (19.2% to 15.6%), and of late many of Michigan's best looks from three have come off their transition game. That probably doesn't account for a 12-percent difference, but even if that's normalized there's still a gap in offensive production between the two; I consider McGary the better passer, a factor that may also contribute.
The difference between the two defensively is easier to figure out. McGary's activity defensively helps the team force more turnovers, while his excellence on the glass leads to a better rebounding rage. While McGary fouls more often than Morgan, the team fouls so rarely as a whole that the foul rate isn't affected greatly.
As for Horford, the sample size issues make it tough to take away anything concrete, but thus far the team hasn't missed a beat when he's on the floor—in fact, they're doing unsustainably well on both ends, with an eFG% of 64.5 on offense and 40.0 on defense. He's an interesting case defensively; like McGary, he's disruptive on defense, leading to more turnovers, but opponents are rebounding better with him on the floor than either Morgan or McGary.
I've said this before, but I'll make it clear in this post: John Beilein has stated repeatedly that he's very happy with the rotation as it is, and it could take some fantastic play from McGary paired with sub-par performances from Morgan for him to consider making any changes. When Morgan returns, I fully expect him to slide back into the starting lineup, and that's fine—given the physical demand of the position, regardless of who's starting McGary and Morgan are going to split minutes relatively down the middle anyway.
What this shows, however, is that Michigan has something special in Mitch McGary. Not only that, but Horford's solid work in limited time means the Wolverines shouldn't be in trouble if Morgan misses more than a couple games.
I'll have more notes from this five-man lineup data tomorrow, including insight on Caris LeVert's impact and how Michigan fares when they go to the bench.
*Michigan's overall conference-only offensive efficiency is 118.9, which is over ten points clear of Indiana for the Big Ten lead.