I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
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.
1/27/2013 – Michigan 74, Illinois 60 – 19-1, 6-1 Big Ten
On January 27th of 2010, Michigan was 10-10, 3-5 in the league, miles away from a tourney bid that might validate their breakthrough the previous year. They'd only lost two walk-ons from that team, and were ranked in the top 15 to start the year.
On January 27th of 2011, Michigan was 1-6 in the Big Ten, barely above .500 overall, and following up Manny Harris's disappointing junior season with what looked like another nothing year. It would be the latest in a long line.
On January 27th of 2012, Michigan was 6-2 in the Big Ten, albeit barely. Their last three conference wins had come by a total of five points, and they'd just dropped a game to SEC mediocrity Arkansas. At 16-5 it was clear they were destined for the tourney, but no one expected to storm through upcoming away games at Ohio State and Michigan State. Michigan didn't, but then again it was their best season since… well, that's complicated.
On January 27th of 2013, Michigan eased past a team that had beaten OSU, Gonzaga, and Butler by double digits to stake its claim as the #1 team in the polls. Their average margin of victory in Big Ten wins: 18.
In this game, Jordan Morgan sprained an ankle two minutes in. Jon Horford rotated in, and played well. Max Bielfeldt rotated in, and airballed a free throw, and bricked a free throw. He earned a couple more on the next possession and sunk both. Later, though… later he would go up for a rebound surrounded by four Illini. The ball went into a dense nest of hands. Suddenly Illini players were on the ground, dazed. Bielfeldt was going up for a layup.
This didn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. Max Bielfeldt is still a couple years away from being in the rotation, it was two points, Michigan doesn't need its bench to do much of anything.
Symbolically, it was a microcosm of the season. Put anyone you want out there and they will show you something pleasing and surprising. Stauskas coming in as both a deadeye shooter and a six-six layup machine was the biggest win. Then you've got Robinson being a 40% three point shooter, McGary generating obligatory Wes Unseld references, rail-thin Caris LeVert forcing his coaches to burn his redshirt, and Spike Albrecht providing cool on-court leadership in the maelstrom of the Ohio State game. Oh, and Bielfeldt tossing guys to the floor. Everyone is bringing something unexpected to the table. At some point Michigan should throw Blake McLimans in there in case he's turned into Hakeem Olajuwon. This has been a charmed year.
Michigan's fourth-string center contributed to a double-digit road win over a tourney(?) team. At some point in there the color guy mentioned that last year Michigan went to overtime with Northwestern twice last year, and that just sounded strange.
Expectations are changing so quickly that they're almost keeping up with the radical shift in the program itself, so it's good to remind ourselves what we were watching every year before this one. This is advice not from me, but from a man currently on the other side of the fence.
I’m still inside the Hall as I type this. Didn’t go down to the press conference. Don’t really care about the quotes right now, to be honest. I’m just sitting here looking at all these empty gray seats and replaying the tumble that brought us here. My emotions are tracking exactly with my half-Michigan fan roommate in the first year of the Beilein regime.
That night, I remember discussing the 1989 Final Four. With Illinois ranked #1 and undefeated, and Michigan on their seventh consecutive NCAA-less season, all he could hold over me was the 1989 semi-final. He was still a full fledged Michigan fan in 1989, and he would have never believed that the program that won it all back then would then eventually go TEN consecutive seasons without an NCAA tournament appearance (from 1999 to 2009).
I should call him tonight. Tomorrow is Michigan’s official “all the way back” moment – much like our 2004 victory over Wake Forest here – and I’m curious how he’ll feel about it. Actually, I know the answer to that. He’ll say that his heart switched to the Razorbacks in 1994, and he can’t believe that THAT program has fallen as far as it has.
I guess I’m left thinking that I didn’t enjoy the 2000-2006 run enough. I should have learned my lesson when the Flyin’ Illini were grounded by Bruce Pearl, but I didn’t. It can all go away in an instant, and the fight to get back up there can take a long, long time.
Just ask Michigan. And Arkansas. And Illinois.
I don't think many Michigan fans are having trouble enjoying this. When I watch the games with people, there are bursts of laughter and the occasional Gus-like noise. When Robinson blocks a shot or Stauskas shoots a one-touch pass or Hardaway sets up for a three you can feel is going down before it even leaves his hand or Burke… Burke.
Illinois fans are still pissed off about that loss in 1989. At this point it may even be the bedrock of their unrequited rivalry with Michigan. I've long thought that silly, but I know now that if something untoward happens to this team in the tournament I'll hate whatever program does it, without reason, forever. And that'll probably happen. Michigan is #1 by a nose, and winning six straight against good teams is hard. I have to brace for this, and try to accept whatever fate awaits with the good cheer it seems Illinois fans have about their 2005 outfit.
Whatever happens, it'll be the culmination of a story no Michigan fan is likely to see again. To go from dead in the water to #1 in two years to go from scrapping out two-point wins against Northwestern to this… put it all in your head, and turn it around until it's something you can expansively relate to anyone dumb enough to be born after March. Poor bastards.
Also our greatest cheesemonger:
The Burkite Hersey. Okay, so, don't pile upon me and squeeze until my eyes pop like Tom Izzo's, but wasn't Burke kind of crap in the halfcourt this game?
Let's try to separate out transition. I went through the PBP for this one and found the following transition items:
- Assist to Stauskas after a Burke steal.
- Burke layup after Burke steal.
- Burke layup after GRIII steal.
- Burke dunk after Burke steal.
While we should mentally adjust for the fact that everyone's numbers look worse when fast breaks are taken out of the equation and that generating eight points off of transition is good, here's Burke's line without those events:
3/11 from 2, 1/5 from 3, 4/7 FT, 4 A, 3 TO.
That is not up to his usual standard.
Subjectively, I was frustrated by Burke's tendency to dribble the air out of the ball when Illinois switched Egwu onto him and then jack up a difficult shot*—especially in the first few minutes when Egwu was carrying a foul and would have been vulnerable to a problematic second if he was trying to check Burke on a drive. Even if Burke didn't feel confident in his ability to get a shot off with Egwu's long arms looming behind him, there's no way that guy could actually stay in front of Burke, and once he's driving and the defense is reacting, things should open up.
Burke did seem to adapt a bit later. He lost a few assists when bigs with a mismatch couldn't finish. I don't think many teams are going to be willing to continue that sort of strategy since it seems like one of the major reasons it was effective was the bizarreness of it.
*[The one at the end of the half was okay since it seems like running the clock down without any chance at a turnover offsets the reduced chance at points. I did wish he'd taken the half-step back to make it a three.]
OTOH, THJ. Hardaway had 12 points on nine shots. His rebounding was not up to his usual par, but he added three steals. He's still above 50% on threes in conference play.
Hello Horford (and Bielfeldt). I bet Michigan fans were far less shocked than the BTN announcers when Michigan found little dropoff after Morgan rolled his ankle. Jon Horford's always given Michigan good minutes when healthy, and he did again in this one. Seven points and four rebounds in 17 minutes is pretty good for a third string center. Some turnovers held his ORTG down. Okay.
As a bonus, Bielfeldt ripped down the hands-down most mansome rebound of the year and rebounded from a humiliating trip to the line his first time out to sink two in a row. There's no comparison between post depth last year and this. Obviously.
Ranked. At long last, ranked. Mitch McGary has cracked 40% of Michigan's minutes and now takes his place on Kenpom leaderboards. He's on quite a few:
- 8th in OREB
- 55th in DREB
- 193rd in blocks
- 336th in steals
- 217th in ORating
All of those numbers save ORating (obviously) and block rate (Horford pips him in 13% of M minutes) are tops on the team. Ace mentioned that I might be selling McGary short as a shot blocker last week, and he was right.
Caveat: after the game Beilein and Burke both talked about how Morgan was the centerpiece of the defense, so block numbers aren't everything. McGary is still impressive statistically, and in all the ways a team with four legit scorers wants him to be.
Nik Stauskas is the Tim Hardaway being the Nik Stauskas in the Big Ten of twos. That makes perfect sense, shut up.
The point is: after a shaky start from inside the arc, Nik Stauskas has taken off in Big Ten play. He's hit 15 of 23, 65%. Michigan's started using him on backdoor cuts and shooting him off those curl screens that "Goin' To Work"-era Pistons force-fed Richard Hamilton to great effect. He was 5/6 on twos against the Illini, and IIRC the miss turned into a Kobe assist.
Stauskas has been greatly aided by a shift in his two-point shots. Early, they were actually shots—I remember a couple of badly whiffed floaters early on. Now any shot Stauskas takes inside the line is at the rim. Almost literally. Stauskas has just 12% of his shots come on two-point jumpers, and recently that number is probably zero.
blouses. (Dustin Johnston/UMHoops)
NOT JUST A SHOOTER. Drink. Color commentators who are just sayin' and assure us that they have white friends are contractually obligated to say that Nik Stauskas is "not just a shooter" whenever he does anything like throw down a GAME… BLOUSES dunk or drop a touch-pass dime. I think the guy doing the Illinois game said it five times. Stauskas will be 58, in his 27th year in the NBA, and the color commentator will say he is more than just a shooter.
That touch pass was totally badass though. Stauskas has been charged with some turnovers this year when he's done things like that only for bigs who do not believe he is more than a shooter to fumble the ball out of bounds. They get it.
Boards check. It seemed like Michigan was getting killed. They didn't. They did end up losing the OREB war, but it was close. Michigan grabbed 38%; Illinois 41%. That is not so good given Illinois's performances to date.
Possible downside to losing Morgan? Hard to believe given McGary's numbers.
Caris: the future. Boxscores and whatnot and peripheral business and whatever. I understand that this exuberance may be irrational. Don't care.
There's a reason they pulled that redshirt from LeVert, and at some point he's going to be a big part of the team. He can get places with the dribble, he's a quality long-range shooter, and at some point in the distant future he may be three-dimensional.
Morgan status. He turned his ankle nastily and the report afterwards was not surprising:
Michigan junior forward Jordan Morgan suffered a right ankle sprain two minutes into the second-ranked Wolverines' 74-60 win at Illinois on Sunday, and never returned to action.
Moving forward, his status remains unclear.
"I don't know," Michigan coach John Beilein said after the game. "I know that he has a sprained ankle, that's all I know so far.
"I know it was (bad enough that) he could not put weight on it."
I've had one of those sprained ankles and if I had to guess I'd say Morgan will be out a couple weeks at least. It seems reasonable to leave him on the bench if Horford and company can fill in adequately.
Brah-est student section: Illinois? MSU is strong competition, sure. Obligatory:
how's that working out for you, brahs?
But Illinois's student section seems to be comprised exclusively of dudes whose life goal is to be the brah in those Five Hour Energy commercials.
Eamonn Brennan considers Kansas vs Michigan.
The statistical similarities between this Michigan offense and Illinois in 2005 are striking.
Champaign Room recaps!
Two minutes to go in the first half and you've cut the lead to 28-25? Hey, that's not bad considering how poorly you're shooting and how well Michigan is playing and OH DAMN IT Michigan just went on a 7-2 run to close the half and head to the locker room up eight.
Cut Michigan's lead down to four points before the first timeout of the second half? All right, the crowd's back in it and we've got some momen...son of a bitch Michigan just went on an 11-2 run to put you down 52-39 before the next television timeout.
Over and over again the Illini would give a hint of climbing back into this game and over and over again Michigan would kick them right back down.