Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
The "Game ... Blouses" dunk came early today. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
After a rather aimless first ten minutes, Michigan poured it on against a hapless Northwestern squad, led by Nik Stauskas and an apparently healthy Glenn Robinson III.
The Wildcats were able to hang with the Wolverines early—as a late-arriving, weather-be-damned crowd slowly filtered into Crisler—thanks to the efforts of forward Drew Crawford, who had 13 first-half points, eight of which came in the first 11 minutes; his two-pointer at that juncture made it a 13-12 U-M lead after Nik Stauskas threw down his signature two-handed slam off a beautiful feed from Spike Albrecht. Michigan immediately went on a 6-0 run, and after a Crawford three-pointer ended that streak, the Wildcats could get no closer than six points down the rest of the way.
|GRIII's ankle looks just fine. [Fuller/MGoBlog]|
Much of that was due to Michigan's defense against Crawford, who didn't score in the second half until there were just over five minutes remaining. No other Wildcat could consistently generate offense, and the second half featured the Wolverines stretching a comfortable lead into a full-on blowout.
Stauskas led the way offensively with 18 points scored in a variety of ways—3/5 two-pointers, 2/5 three-pointers, and 6/8 free throws—while also chipping in four rebounds and four assists. Robinson, who looked to be 100% after injuring his ankle in Thursday's win over Minnesota, scored eight of his 12 points in the second half as the team was able to get out in transition; he played a big part in that, playing active defense up top and helping shut down Crawford on that end.
In the early going, it was actually Jordan Morgan who stood out offensively, scoring eight points while hitting all three of his attempts—including a slick baseline baby hook. Morgan had a quiet second half, but Jon Horford stepped up and continued to produce at the five, getting six of his seven points in the latter stanza. Each big man pulled down eight rebounds and kept Northwestern seven-footer Alex Olah very quiet until the game was out of hand.
Derrick Walton also had a solid showing, taking advantage of Dave Sobolewski's, um, attempts to play defense by repeatedly blowing by him en route to 11 points on 3/4 FGs and and 5/6 FTs. Spike Albrecht only attempted one shot—a made three when Northwestern left him all alone at the top of the key—while making his presence felt as a passer, dishing out four assists to tie Stauskas for the team lead.
After the first ten minutes, the Wildcats simply had no answer for Michigan's combination of size and talent; the Wolverines dominated the boards (29.2 OReb% to NW's 13.3%), won the turnover battle, and shot 65.5% from inside the arc. Michigan did what they were supposed to do against a bad Northwestern squad; perhaps more importantly, it appears Robinson—who threw down two impressive dunks this afternoon—is back to full strength.
Photo via Marilyn Indahl/USA TODAY Sports
It looked for all the world like a road loss. Zak Irvin, with just five made shots, led the team in scoring. Nik Stauskas finished just 3/7 from the field. Glenn Robinson III left the game early in the second half with an apparent ankle injury, finishing with six points. Caris LeVert played easily his worst game of the year. Michigan was outrebounded by a whopping 44.1% to 17.9% on the offensive glass. Oh, and Minnesota's last-gasp shot even caught the backboard.
Somehow, some way, the Wolverines clawed their way to a three-point win to open Big Ten play. Irvin's five three-pointers on eight attempts kept Michigan in the game after Robinson fell awkwardly following his fourth block of the night; while GRIII eventually returned from the locker room, he never re-entered the game. While Stauskas struggled from the field, he made play after play down the stretch, dishing out a game-high seven assists—including two in the waning minutes to set up Jon Horford dunks—and throwing down his signature "Game ... Blouses" dunk to give the team a late three-point lead.
With Jordan Morgan in early foul trouble and Mitch McGary spectating in a suit, Horford came up huge, scoring 14 points on 6/8 shooting and pulling down nine rebounds—five more than anyone else on the team—while adding in two steals and a block. While Horford made a few defensive errors guarding Elliott Eliason, who finished with ten points and ten rebounds, his tireless effort in the middle was the difference in this game.
Minnesota took advantage of Horford's occasional mishap and Robinson's absence on the interior, but they couldn't get it going on the perimeter, hitting just five of 19 three-point attempts. They had a tough time finding a clean look on the outside, and Michigan also forced 15 turnovers, eight of those steals.
The end of the game got a little nerve-wracking, to say the least, as the officials initially botched an out-of-bounds call—not to mention missing at least one obvious foul—when Minnesota tried to pressure Stauskas down three points with 22 seconds remaining. While Michigan got the ball back after a review, they ended up with Derrick Walton going to the line instead of Stauskas, and Walton missed both free throws. Fortunately for Michigan, the Gophers' Andre Hollins couldn't tie it up on the next possession, and a Horford free throw extended the lead to four.
Even then, the game wasn't quite over, as Stauskas committed the cardinal sin of fouling a jump shooter, stepping under Malik Smith on a wayward three-point attempt. Smith drilled all three freebies with six seconds remaining to make it a 61-60 game; after a pair of Stauskas free throws, the Gophers had one last chance to tie with five seconds to play. Deandre Mathieu managed to get a decent shot for the tie on the run at the top of the key; to the considerable relief of Wolverines with still-raw wounds from Evan Turner and Ben Brust, Mathieu's prayer wasn't answered.
It wasn't pretty, and there's lingering concern about Robinson's health to boot, but it's tough to overstate the importance of a conference road win for this team. Michigan is 1-0 in the Big Ten (and UNDEFEATED IN 2014) after a game in which the tired coachspeak platitude of "facing adversity" very much applied. Not a bad start to the new year.
U-M can get by with three options at center (all photos by Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)
As we welcome in the new year, we've moved on from fretting about the 2013 football team to ... fretting about the 2013-14 basketball team. There's good reason for this, of course, with Mitch McGary's season almost certainly over due to his upcoming back surgery. Your hoops mailbag questions reflect this, as all but one are related to the impact of McGary's absence in one way or another. Without further ado, here's a very McGary-centric mailbag.
@AceAnbender Where to Mitch's minutes go percentage-wise between Irvin, Morgan, and Horford?
— Bry Mac (@Bry_Mac) December 31, 2013
John Beilein announced this week that—at least for now—he's sticking with Jordan Morgan as the starting center and Jon Horford coming off the bench. I don't think McGary's absence will affect the minutes of Zak Irvin very much, if at all; he might see an increase in minutes, but that will be due to his in-season progression as opposed to any need for him to play the four, as Max Bielfeldt and Glenn Robinson III can pick up much of the slack there.
As for how the minutes will be distributed, we already have an idea thanks to the four games McGary has missed so far this season. In the first two games of the year, Horford started and played 22-24 minutes while Morgan added 12-15, with Bielfeldt getting 4-6 minutes of mostly garbage time. The split between Horford and Morgan has reversed in the last two games; Morgan played 22 and 24 minutes against Stanford and Holy Cross, respectively. While Horford only played six minutes against the Cardinal, that's because he picked up five fouls in that span, opening up a few more minutes for Bielfeldt to see the floor.
For the time being, I expect Beilein to go with a 25/15 split between Morgan and Horford, with Bielfeldt picking up a few minutes here and there at both the four and the five. The wild card here is foul trouble: Horford currently averages 4.7 fouls per 40 minutes, while Morgan is at a whopping 6.6 (the change in charge calls has really hurt him defensively). Bielfeldt got 12 minutes against Stanford. Notably, freshman big Mark Donnal didn't see any time despite all three bigs being in foul trouble in that game, which brings me to the next question...
@AceAnbender also, any chance of burning Donnal's redshirt due to need for bigs?
— Morris Fabbri (@MoMoneyMoFabbri) December 31, 2013
I don't think this is going to happen unless another big man misses extended time. Donnal is a lean stretch four at 6'9", 230 pounds, and unlike Caris LeVert last year there isn't a mountain of practice hype to suggest he'll force his way onto the court despite the need to add bulk. Between Morgan, Horford, Bielfeldt, GRIII, and Irvin, the Wolverines have plenty of options when it comes to filling minutes at the four and the five; I don't see the benefit of burning Donnal's redshirt just so he can fill in for a few minutes from time to time.
— Kyle Rosenbaum (@Gkm13) December 31, 2013
This entirely ignores the best aspect of McGary's game: his ability to induce chaos. Despite playing through injury this year, he's currently ranked 29th nationally in steal rate, which not only foils opponent possessions but usually gets Michigan into the fast break, where they're much more effective than in their halfcourt offense. Neither Horford nor Morgan provides that threat, and while Horford has proven to be as good—if not better—at blocking shots than McGary, Morgan is a relative non-factor in that regard.
He's also a superlative offensive rebounder, ranking 83rd in that regard, though Horford and Morgan actually have slightly higher rebound rates on that end—we'll see if that holds with increased minutes. On the other end, while Horford is just about equal with McGary when it comes to defensive rebounding, there's a big dropoff to Morgan, who's posted just a 15.9 DReb% in comparison to 25.4% for McGary and 24.6% for Horford.
Also, McGary has easily the best chemistry with Michigan's perimeter players on the pick and roll, especially Nik Stauskas and Spike Albrecht. Horford is inconsistent when it comes to setting a good screen, while Morgan—as we've seen for four years—has trouble catching entry passes cleanly and finishing strong at the rim. McGary's passing acumen—especially when Michigan faces zone defenses—will also be missed; his assist rate is around double those of the other two bigs. Beilein's offense may not run through the post; that doesn't mean it won't suffer without McGary.
@AceAnbender odds Mitch comes back next year? Doing so could boost his draft stock, but he might feel urgency to get paid.
— Dan Roehrig (@DanRareEgg) December 31, 2013
This is going to be a very tough call for McGary; he turns 22 in June, old for a rising junior, and if he was guaranteed a first-round spot I don't think there's any question he'd turn pro. That's in seroius doubt at this point, however. Even before the injury, ESPN's Chad Ford had dropped McGary down to the #24 spot on his big board ($). In the immediate aftermath of the injury, ESPN's Jeff Goodman got this quote from an NBA general manager:
"He should have left," one NBA general manager told ESPN.com. "Now he's a borderline first-rounder. He would have been a lock last season."
The latest NBADraftNet mock has McGary going as the seventh pick of the second round. Barring a pretty miraculous recovery, McGary isn't going to have a chance to raise his stock before it's time to declare for the draft, and I believe he'll come back if he's projected as a second-round pick—unlike first-rounders, those players don't get guaranteed contracts, and a strong junior season from McGary could easily vault him back into the first round.
Alright, let's do one non-McGary question since this is getting rather depressing.
— Gustavo Adventure (@colintj) December 31, 2013
It's certainly a viable lineup, especially on the defensive end, as LeVert is currently the best player on the team at defending opposing point guards, in my opinion (with a freshman and a 5'10" guy as his competition, I don't think I'm going out on a limb here). Beilein has talked about going to this lineup more often as a situational defensive lineup at the end of games and I'm in full support of this.
15 minutes a game of this, however, might be a bit much. While LeVert is great at taking care of the ball, his assist rate (14.8%) is well below Derrick Walton's (19.5%), way below Spike Albrecht's (27.7%), and even trailing Nik Stauskas (18.0%). When LeVert is running the offense, it often devolves into him dribbling the air out of the ball in isolation situations; while he's getting pretty good at getting buckets out of those plays, that's not a very sustainable way to run an offense.
That said, Beilein's offense doesn't really require a traditional point guard, and between Stauskas and LeVert there are two solid creators off the dribble when Michigan goes big. If they can get the offense to run more smoothly when LeVert initiates the play, this lineup could very well turn into Michigan's best—that's a big if, though, and deemphasizing the point guards could hamper Walton's development.
"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.