Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
The day has (mostly) come. Expect a post at about 3:35 today, as Michigan has called a press conference featuring Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III at 3:30 wherein they will either announce their NBA draft futures or talk about their favorite things to put on hamburgers. Here's hoping it's the latter.
I don't think there's a huge amount of suspense with either of those two guys. Michigan is bringing in Muhammed Ali Abdur-Rahkman for an official this weekend, and now there are multiple reports that Robinson has signed with an agent or hasn't signed but is entering the draft anyway.
The suspense is with Mitch McGary, who is not announcing:
McGary's father, Tim McGary, told MLive on Monday night that his son has no intentions to partake in the press conference and is still undecided on whether he return to U-M or not.
"He's still back and forth on it," Tim McGary said.
So he's not gone; neither is he necessarily back. He has until the 27th to make that decision; the NCAA's deadline is an entirely artificial one.
The fact that he's still debating things is obviously good. It is not as good as McGary being ready to announce a return would be; it is still good. Scout's Brian Snow has reported a shift of opinion($) in the Indiana recruiting circles he pings regularly that is positive for Michigan, so there's that. Sam Webb confirmed, insofar as it is possible to confirm an opinion on a decision that clearly hasn't been made yet.
Abdur-Rahkman, 40 in white
ha no but man wouldn't that be something
he's the guy with the ball
not that I had to tell you that
Meanwhile, MAAR. If Michigan does settle on Abdur-Rahkman as a spring take I'll be satisfied; Beilein and company have proved they can ID a diamond in the rough and, like… MAAR for four years. Misspelled Smiths tie in acronym: yes please.
MAAR currently has a slate of mid-major offers after a senior season in which he averaged nearly 24 points a game for Central Catholic. Joe Stapleton's article linked above indicates the seriousness of Michigan's interest—Beilein calls him "at least three times a week"*—despite the fact that he is not just a shooter because he's not, in fact, a shooter:
Abdur-Rahkman would be a slight departure from the prototypical Michigan recruit in that he isn’t known for his shooting. In fact, the graduating senior said that while his shot has improved, he made his living getting to the rim and playing great man-to-man defense.
A defensive stopper type would be welcome, and shooting can develop. If Michigan was to offer it doesn't seem like it'll take a whole lot of thought from MAAR:
“(Michigan is) definitely the top school.”
Abdur-Rahkman also deviates from the Beilein model in that he's old for his class. In fact, he is literally as old as you can be and still play high school basketball in Pennsylvania:
Abdur-Rahkman turned 16 on Sept. 1 at the start of his freshman year, which means, of course, he turned 19 on Sept. 1 of this past year. The cutoff date for meeting the PIAA's age requirement is Sept. 1, meaning that had Muhammad been born on Aug. 31, he would have had to be part of the 2013 graduating class.
He'll be 20 by the time he arrives on campus. Good for immediate readiness, bad for upside. Kind of like grabbing a hockey player after a couple years of JUCO.
*[They deregulated phone calls in men's basketball, if that sounds like a violation to you. Kelvin Sampson sighs heavily at home about this.]
WELP. Here's this draft evaluation of Taylor Lewan from SBNation that discusses Taylor Lewan, who is of interest to us as a Michigan alum who is likely to go in the top half of the first round of the draft.
What a shitty offense
So I wanted to focus this breakdown on Taylor Lewan, not the severe annoyance I had with the way Michigan used him. But since it was the one thing that stood out to me the most while watching Lewan play, I am going to go ahead and address it right off the bat.
Now look, I don't profess to be some kind of expert on offenses, but some things about football I just feel like should be common sense. For instance, if you have a superior blocker at left tackle, most of your help from tight ends and running backs, whether it be run blocking or pass blocking, should go to the other four guys. It should also allow you to design plays built around his athleticism to help get your skill position players free out in space. Stuff like smoke screens (WR takes one step forward then one step back to catch the ball while his blockers lead up in front of him) or really any kind of screens, counter plays (where you pull the offensive guard and tackle from one side of the center to the other side of the center) and any number of sweep plays (runs designed to get wide outside of the offensive tackle).
I didn't see much of that in the five games that I watched. Furthermore, why in the HELL did Michigan keep a tight end to Lewan's side so damn much? He obviously didn't need the help. The quarterback was right handed anyway (with bootlegs you like for the tight end to be lined up to the side of the quarterback's throwing hand), and they could have potentially had a wide receiver there instead of a tight end. It would've increased the chances of success on passing downs as well as run downs if you get the opposing defenses spread themselves out. But is that what Michigan did?
This very long blockquote is not the end of former NFL DE Stephen White's evisceration of last year's Michigan offense, despite it being a very long blockquote. I expect that White will be getting some very stern comments from the folks around here who fought the rearguard action for Team Borges with such heroic ferocity last season when I made statements like "this is stupid," "this makes no sense," and "it is bad when your tailbacks run 27 times for 27 yards."
Michigan protected Taylor Lewan with a tight end so often that it made it hard for this draft evaluator to, you know, evaluate Taylor Lewan. Meanwhile, the interior of the line was a highway to Devin Gardner's ribs. And the kicker is: the tight ends couldn't even block. Michigan was tossing away its main advantage on the line—dang good tackles—because of their philosophy about manballin' it. That's alarming, because that seems like it comes from the top. It's all well and good to be Stanford or Alabama if you can be that, but when you're on your way to dead last TFLs… probably not.
We'll see. Rubber hits the road in September.
Oh, good. Putting Chad Lindsay on 27 tickets turns out to be premature, as the Alabama transfer is getting his woo on. After his visit to Michigan he hit up Louisville and Oklahoma; this week he's headed to Cal and… Ohio State. Oh goody.
OSU lost four seniors off last year's line and can pitch Lindsay playing time, and you know there's nothing in the world Urban would like more than grabbing Lindsay away from Michigan even if he ends up sitting on the bench the whole year. Especially if he ends up sitting on the bench the whole year.
Get out of there while you still can, Chad.
This will help you feel better about the previous section. Someone's really into Amir Williams saying coach be all over his di—
For pants sake, lady, can you see a camera without reflexively extending your tongue and squinting? I submit that you cannot.
Mascot of the week. The El Paso Chihuahuas' Chico has been hanging with Eight Ball the Tiger:
Mascots should be as frightening as possible. I approve.
YUP. It's almost like arguments against a college football playoff weren't particularly good ones.
40 bowl games next year. Man, I am old enough to remember when the worthless suits who run CFB said a playoff would kill all the bowl games
— jamie mac (@justcoverblog) April 15, 2014
Our worthless suit overlords think so little of us they kept the guy who was issuing these proclamations around to issue the exact opposite proclamations.
The Michigan Difference. Michigan PhD grad makes joke about Darren Rovell on twitter.
— neilla (@_neillam) April 8, 2014
1) "Wait, so who is this guy? Is
@darrenrovell actually famous?"
2) "What did he think we were going to do? Take away your diploma?"
/sings fight song, waves tiny block M flag
I am always very careful about how I mis-state the word rapper. Ace informs me that this gentleman with Devin Gardner is noted rappist "Two Chains," but I say balderdash, I say!
COUNT THE CHAINS, "TWO CHAINS." His real name is Excessive Watches IV. He goes home and takes off all of that, sits down with a Forbes, and looks exactly like Carlton. Fact. E-fact. Also his rap song just cannot compete with the Charleston.
This has been Brian pretends he's more out of touch than he is to forestall accusations of being out of touch theater. Thank you.
Thanks, bro. Horford opens up about his decision to leave to MLive; it turns out his zen does not extend to the rest of his family:
"(Transferring) is something that my family has been trying to persuade me to do for four years," Horford said. "So I guess naturally it's always been inevitable -- when people are telling you something all the time."
I get the feeling that Horford's support system regards Horford's abilities with… uh… enthusiasm not necessarily in line with reality. The reason his playing time dropped late in the season is that he wasn't playing well. I mean… when Morgan went out I was always like WHEN CAN WE GET MORGAN BACK IN. Play better and you get more time. Or wait for Morgan to graduate and go get it like he did.
Please please please let me get what I want (fewer timeouts) this time. Timeouts are a scourge upon basketball, not only turning 60 seconds of clock time into a writhing eternity of nothingness but also reducing the chaos factor that a trailing team attempts to insert into the game late. On four seconds trying to inbound the ball? Timeout. Trapped in the corner? Timeout. Want to get your defense set? Timeout. Timeouts are used to prevent turnovers, keep the leading team in the lead, and let over-coaching guys in suits maintain as much control as possible. They result in two and a half hour games that mean you have to stream the first ten minutes of your game on ESPN3. They are miserable and should be almost entirely removed.
They won't be, but at least the misery of them is a thing that has reached the people who can do something about it:
Everyone agreed that one of the biggest detractions of the current game is the eternity it takes to end a close one. That is largely due to the number of timeouts granted to each team, both officially (five per team per game) and unofficially (coaches are given a minute to substitute when a player fouls out). Replay reviews are viewed as a necessary evil in the quest for the right calls, but they also add to the length of an endgame situation. Coaches cherish their control of the game and thus will be loath to surrender timeouts, but fans everywhere would embrace fewer stoppages in play – especially late in a game. The NCAA said it will begin tracking the length of games next year, as it does in football.
"Length is becoming a concern," said David Worlock, NCAA associate director of men's basketball.
You're going to begin tracking games? And you don't think there's anything wrong with the current replay setup? Argh. But yes, please, shoot timeouts into the sun. One per team per game.
An elimination of live-ball timeouts, or at least limiting those calls to players instead of coaches. This would be a move toward FIBA international rules, which allow no live-ball timeouts.
Reducing the shot clock to either 30 or 24 seconds. Brey said he is in favor, and there seems to be fairly wide support for a reduction of some kind – although there also is a concern about college hoops becoming an NBA copycat league. (Interestingly, Byrd said his Belmont team occasionally uses a 12-second shot clock in practice to force tempo and enhance conditioning.)
With zone defenses viable and the skill level generally reduced, shortening the shot clock just results in more ugly shots. 45 to 35 was necessary, but in college 35 is fine.
[Original photo: Bryan Fuller]
Jon Horford's unexpected decision to transfer will hurt Michigan's frontcourt depth regardless of the NBA Draft decisions of Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. Senior big men with significant playing experience don't grow on trees, and even though Horford struggled down the stretch he posted very impressive rebounding rates while shooting 57% from the field and easily recording the highest block rate on the team.
John Beilein's made multiple mentions of his willingness to look to transfers as a means to improve the team, and—perhaps knowing what we didn't at the time—he reiterated his stance this week:
Beilein expressed a ready willingness to accept transfer players, depending on NBA attrition in this offseason and anticipating more after next season.
“I would be open to transfers,” the coach said. “At Canisius and Richmond and West Virginia, transfers were really important to us. If we have openings and there are transfers who fit who we are, we would be open to that.”
ESPN's Jeff Goodman compiled a master list of all currently available transfers. The list is quite long and not particularly useful for this exercise; if Michigan wants to fill the gap Horford leaves, they'll be looking at a grad-year transfer who'll be eligible to play right away—the only potential exception would be a player with a case for a hardship waiver.
Villanova blog VU Hoops helpfully narrowed Goodman's list to the available grad-year transfers, and I've further cut down their table to frontcourt players. The list is short, and not particularly distinguished:
|M.J. Rhett||Tennessee State||F||6'9"||10.9||9.1||0.8|
|Malik Thomas||Boston University||F||6'7"||5.8||4.0||1.2|
Unfortunately for Michigan, none of these players seems to fit the criteria needed to be worth offering, which would be...
- The ability to come in and play more effectively than the current options on the roster. If McGary goes pro, U-M would need someone who could at least compete for a starting spot.
- Any interest in Michigan whatsoever.
None of these players is a true center, which is a tough break. Jordan Allen (88 ORtg for a bad Hofstra squad), Austin Etherington, and Sommy Ogukwe can be eliminated with one look at their respective stat sheets.
Jeylani Dublin could potentially provide depth—he shot 55% from the field with a top-100 OReb rate last season—but the fact that he played less than half of the available minutes for Longwood, KenPom's 343rd-ranked team with a bottom-ten defense, raises some red flags. Malik Thomas is intruiging given his impressive defensive rebounding (18.0 DR%). However, he's just 6'7, 190 pounds, struggles with his shot, and turns the ball over at what I'd expect to be an unacceptably high rate for Beilein's system.
That leaves Tennessee State's M.J. Rhett, and there's no question he'd be a good fit—he's 6'9", 235 pounds, rebounds very well on both ends, blocks a decent number of shots, and finishes efficiently with a knack for getting to the line. As you'd expect, though, he's the most hotly-pursued player on this list, and his list of schools under consideration—Oklahoma State, Tulane, ASU, Miami, Tennessee, and Mississippi, per Goodman—doesn't include Michigan or any team remotely close to the Midwest. He plans to make a decision two weekends from now, and it appears Tennessee and Miami are the two most likely destinations.
A couple other players on Goodman's list of top available transfers($) fit the bill, but one is already ticketed for Ohio State (ex-Temple F Anthony Lee) and the other, Virginia Tech center Trevor Thompson, has already narrowed his list to three Big Ten schools:
Transferring Virginia Tech basketball player Trevor Thompson announced on Twitter Monday morning that, in no order, Big Ten rivals Indiana, Ohio State and Purdue are his top three options with a decision planned in the next couple weeks.
Thompson will be just a sophomore next year, but Goodman mentions the potential for a waiver, presumably due to VT's coaching change. For Michigan's purposes, however, that's a moot point—he's going elsewhere unless the Wolverines come out of nowhere to make a late push, and that would surprise given there's no guarantee Thompson could even play next season.
Unless another fifth-year senior makes a surprise transfer decision like Horford, it appears Michigan will have to go another route to replace him for next season.
underneath the Banyan tree, wherever he goes
University of Michigan men's basketball head coach John Beileinannounced today (Thursday, April 10) that senior forward Jon Horford (Grand Ledge, Mich./Grand Ledge HS) will not return to the Wolverine program in 2014-15, planning to transfer for his final season of eligibility.
That is not good. With Jordan Morgan graduating, Michigan's only other post is Mitch McGary. Even if he comes back next year, Horford figured to get a significant amount of playing time when McGary was tired or in foul trouble.
While Horford struggled badly down the stretch, you could say the same for Jordan Morgan last year and that worked out okay. Fifth-year senior bigs tend to be better than you'd expect. Horford's departure opens up time for Mark Donnal and likely means a redshirt for Ricky Doyle is no longer an option. That latter is unfortunate; again, see Jordan Morgan.
The one possible silver lining here is that the reason Horford is moving on is that he feels he'll get more playing time elsewhere, a decision that implies McGary's return and maybe even Robinson's since that would increase competition for minutes everywhere. It's hard to believe he would skip town with 30 minutes a night staring him in the face. But Horford was always a bit of a different guy.
3/6/2014 – Michigan 84, Indiana 80 – 23-7, 15-3 Big Ten
Hello. I shoot 69%. They gave me a hat. [Fuller]
Arizona's lost, Virginia's lost, Wisconsin's lost, Duke's lost, Michigan State's lost, everyone's lost. They've all done so against teams ranging from mediocre to horrible. Losing is not hard; not losing is super hard. Michigan hasn't lost but three times in an 18 game Big Ten schedule and won the league by a staggering three-game margin. That's hard.
Michigan's done this despite being "soft" by any reasonable definition. Poke an opposing fan in a bad mood and they will hurl this charge. It's hard to dispute. Michigan's defense hovers around 100th in Kenpom. Their rebounding is middling at best. They do not steal the ball or block shots; they're dead last in the league at preventing two pointers from going in. Tom Izzo looks ready to die and is throwing most of his team under the bus for being softbatch, and his outfit is second in the league.
Meanwhile, here are the conference records of teams that finished last in two-point defense in the past ten years: 4-14, 4-14, 7-11, 4-14, 9-9, 1-17, 2-14, 6-10, 1-15, 3-13, 2-14.
This is a parade of Carmody-era Northwestern teams and anybody-era Penn State with the occasional outlier thrown in. You may be familiar with one of those outliers. That 9-9 record was John Beilein's first tourney team at Michigan, Stu and Zack and Manny and a Crisler eruption. Michigan broke through with a statistical indicator that usually means you're Penn State. A bad version of Penn State. Michigan got to the second round of the tourney.
This year's league-worst two point defense annihilated what's statistically the best conference in the country. Last year Michigan took a defense that entered the NCAA tourney in the 70s and charged into the national title game.
This is not a normal thing. Every year, people pull profiles of past NCAA champions out and dismiss Michigan because they don't have enough defense. Michigan does not seem to notice. They are too busy playing NBA Jam.
Michigan must be approaching the practical limit of offensive efficiency. Sometimes, like first halves against Nebraska and Illinois, they approach the theoretical limit.
Over the past decade only a half-dozen teams exceeded Michigan's current output, and they are generally 30 win teams: Chris Paul at Wake Forest, the uber-loaded 2009 Carolina squad that dismantled MSU in the title game, that one year Jon Diebler hit 50% from three off of Jared Sullinger kickouts. These teams are juggernauts, charging through major-conference regular seasons with two or three losses.
This year, the teams scraping the ceiling are not juggernauts. Creighton, Duke, and Michigan are probing these heights with the aid of the sometimes-goofy new rules, but they've all lost at least six games already. None will be top seeds. All have defenses ranging from 80th to 100th on Kenpom. All have offenses that are otherworldly.
Together they comprise a new version of contender, a major-conference version of three-point sniping underdogs. Each takes 40% of their shots from behind the line and connects on 40% of their attempts. The other teams at the top of the the three-point-make charts are more often Utah State and Drake than they are major conference teams.
This year, the feisty 12 shooting down a five-seed has migrated into the protected seeds, with all the rights and privileges therein. Chaos beckons. I've got no idea what's going to happen, but I know that it is going to be crazy. Stock up on subs.
Hall of fame. If you get three encomiums in one career you're a MGoHall of Fame lock. Jordan Morgan has cleared the bar. He has been here for the entire building process and now stands at the top of the Big Ten, net in teeth. Those who stay will be champions. (And most of those who don't.) Hiring John Beilein was a good idea.
Anyway: Indiana came out with a gameplan that was essentially a Jordan Morgan diss track, starting 6'7" freshman Devin Davis and switching every screen. Morgan was not about to take that slap in the face on senior day. He posted, he rebounded, he kept Michigan in the game during the period where Indiana literally could not miss. He ended 7/8 from the floor with five offensive rebounds and a couple steals.
His makes showed an advanced knowledge of how to finish without the ability to play above the rim, especially the bucket on which one dribble led to a tight-angle layup around Vonleh. He just finished a season shooting 69% as a 6'8" non-leaper. Sure sure sure a lot of those were put on a platter for him, but there are a lot of guys who get things put on a platter for them who don't shoot anywhere near 69%. I mean, his ORtg is higher than anyone on the team other than Albrecht.
BONKERS. Speaking of ORTG, the worst on the team still belongs to Derrick Walton, and his number is 110, up 11 points from midseason. Indiana has one guy above that—Ferrell, obvs. Vonleh is just about tied with Walton.
Michigan's offense is just bonkers this year.
Obligatory photo of everyone else smiling because they did something spectacular and difficult as Jon Horford mediates or something. We would not let you down in a matter this important.
you may be on the court at Crisler after winning the Big Ten by three games
I am on the court as well
but I am also under the Banyan tree
inventing the world anew every moment [Fuller]
Will Sheehey can't check this no mo [Fuller]
Point guard on Stauskas: dead. Hail the Beilein adjustment matrix. Michigan started out against Michigan State by obliterating MSU's previous defensive strategy. A collection of back cuts and down screens got Michigan a bunch of looks at the basket and forced MSU to stop denying the perimeter. At that point Michigan could just run their offense, which was their offense and therefore ridiculous.
Michigan's Borg-like ability to adapt to phaser frequencies was also on display in this one. We spent the better part of a month fretting about opponents shutting down Nik Stauskas by sticking their point guards on him. This strategy was initiated in Michigan's loss at Assembly Hall (Yes That Assembly Hall). Stauskas again drew Ferrell. Results: 21 points on 17 shot equivalents, two assists, one turnover. Stauskas got quick post ups for buckets, drove past Ferrell, shot over Ferrell. Etc.
Stauskas has put up 25, 15, 21, 24, and 21 in his last five games. He's adapted to little guys in his grill, mostly by raining it in from three, but here the drives were also effective.
Zone. The 1-3-1 was the difference in the game. It shot Indiana's uncharacteristically low turnover rate into the stratosphere and didn't give up any worse shots than the man to man was. The 1-3-1 is inherently a high risk, high reward defense that does give up a lot of GRAHHHHH dunks, offensive rebounds, and open threes. It compensates by turning the opponent over. So when you're giving up a lot of GRAHHHHH dunks and open threes anyway, you might as well get some turnovers.
It is frustrating that Michigan did not try out a packed-in 2-3 and dare anyone not named Ferrell to raise up over it. They only have so much time to work on things, I guess, but given Indiana's struggles against a 2-3 it seems like it would have been something to try once it became apparent that dribble penetration was there for anyone who wanted it.
Instead, the 1-3-1 worked just fine. Indiana had 12 second half turnovers, many of them forced by the zone and specifically Caris LeVert's ever-extending hands. He's only credited with two steals in the box score but his impact was much larger than that as the flypaper dude at the top.
Entering the tourney, having the 1-3-1 in Michigan's back pocket is a major asset, especially given that they're down to 93rd in defense on Kenpom. They may have to change what they're doing at some point when the man to man just isn't working.
coachin' in a van down by the river [Bryan Fuller]
Clap on, Clappy. Michigan got the ball back up three with 39 seconds left. Indiana did not trap or press; they eventually fouled Spike Albrecht with 17 seconds left on the shot clock. Crean was apparently screaming at his team to foul for a good 10 seconds of that delay, even so that's just… wow. Let's just say I can't see a Beilein team not knowing that you should try to steal the ball and foul quickly in that situation.
GET OFF THE COURT, SCHRUTE. Crean actually shoved one of his players then forced the referee to box him out on one Indiana possession. Beilein had already been hit with a technical for saying something along the lines of "dagnabit," and Crean's on the court affecting the play. Nothing.
They've got to do something about this in the offseason. Dump your horrible charge changes* and actually enforce technicals against coaches who show up on the court. For the love of pants.
*[Semi-weekly charge bitching goes here. Adriean Payne had been set for a good two seconds on this "block":
Worst block/charge call of the year? pic.twitter.com/6OMl5bILXY
— World of Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) March 9, 2014
Meanwhile, Spike Albrecht can't get a call because he's tiny and flies halfway across the arena when a 6'8" guy puts his shoulder into him. It looks like a flop because Spike Albrecht is tiny. And then Morgan gets a call on the 1-3-1 as he slides under Troy Williams after Williams is already in the air. They need to simplify the call, because the refs simply cannot make it.]
"DAGNABIT" works. Indiana got called for a bunch of travels in the second half after Beilein's tech. I hate coach ref histrionics, but they apparently work.
Brackets. Palm hasn't budged on Michigan as the #2 in the West with Arizona despite the carnage around them. Brad Evans of Yahoo has Michigan fifth overall, presumably matched with Villanova in the East. Lunardi has Michigan the #2 in the South opposite Florida. Crashing the Dance's algorithm has Michigan, Kansas, Syracuse, and Wichita State in a veritable dead heat for spots 4-7.
While it's unlikely Wichita is in any danger of dropping off the one line—algorithms are having slight issues with a 33-0 MVC team—it's anyone's guess how the twos get ordered. At this point it looks like Michigan is a lock to get one; hopefully they can play themselves out of the West. Indianapolis is obviously ideal for the regionals, and it does seem like Michigan can play themselves there by winning the BTT. Kansas and Virginia losses in their tournaments would help.
One thing that seems assured: Michigan will be in Milwaukee for the first weekend. Save Wisconsin, their competitors for that spot (Creighton, Iowa State, Cincinnati, MSU) are probably incapable of passing M on the S-curve.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten tournament sets up nicely for Michigan with Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin on the other side of the bracket:
Indiana is clearly a bad matchup for M; everyone else they could meet before the final is manageable.
The most interesting bracketology debate, by the way, is Duke. Palm had them a 5 seed before their win over UNC, citing a near-total lack of accomplishments on the road. They're now a weak 4 on his bracket. Lunardi still has them a 2. Lunardi's got a rep for not being particularly good until late, when he talks to people close to the committee. If Duke does end up a fringe Sweet 16 seed, that is point Palm.
Congratsketball. Well done, Nebrasketball. By beating Wisconsin you've moved yourselves definitively off the bubble and finished a near-undefeated home season. And the only thing you lose this offseason is Ray Gallegos.
3/4/2014 – Michigan 84, Illinois 53 – 22-7, 14-3 Big Ten – Outright champs
Good. In your face, Nanna Egwu. Good. [Bryan Fuller]
Before Ace took over full-time basketball preview duties, I wrote many of them. I eschewed "preview" to call these posts "Death From Above," because I thought it sounded cool. I fielded regular questions as to what the hell that meant.
If you want the deep background, "death from above" was a maneuver you could execute in walking-robot-wargame Battletech wherein your giant man-shaped robot would take off and attempt to land on the head of an opposing giant man-shaped robot. The goal was to crush the cockpit and pilot, rendering the exoskeleton inert, dripping ominous fluids.
I can only assume that all has been made clear after Michigan's high-arcing deep shots proved laser-guided at Illinois. John Beilein basketball is death from above.
Complete Illinois game notes, updated:
GRIII starts with layup
LOL STAUSKAS I’M DEAD
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) March 5, 2014
Assembly Hall (not that Assembly Hall) drips today.
The three pointer has always been the great leveler in college basketball. Poke a random NCAA tourney upset and you're likely to find a bunch of short guys firing in threes as the favorite struggles outside the arc.
John Beilein came of age as a coach in a milieu of random players barely recruited. He found success by taking spare parts and arranging them into a machine that rained in threes. This was generally effective but not as much as legend would have it. Beilein won regular season conference championships twice in ten years at Richmond and Canisius, and finished third in the gargantuan Big East in 2005-2006. His reputation rested on an upset of South Carolina as a 14-seed with Richmond and the Pittsnogle-era WVU team's runs into the Elite Eight and Sweet 16.
But he'd lifted teams without structural advantage. He made every team he'd had competitive after a one-year adjustment period, though, and that seemed like gold to a Michigan fan. At the time the prospect of a consistently .500 Big Ten team with the occasional third-place finish followed by tourney upsets seemed like heaven. I was stridently in favor of Beilein's hire because I thought he'd turn Michigan into the kind of program that pushes Duke to the brink in the second round.
In that post I asserted that 21-14, 9-9 Michigan would be a one seed in an "exceeded expectations" tournament. I also asserted this:
I've been searching for a Michigan equivalent and in my memory can only come up with the '97 national title team. Unless there was a basketball team that outdid this year's—unlikely—I think you have to go back to 1969 to pull another team that so wildly exceeded what was expected of them.
To find a team with as good a claim to exceeding expectations as this 14-3 outright-Big-Ten-champs outfit that lost Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Mitch McGary you have to go back… uh… one year, when Trey Burke blew up into a Naismith winner and Michigan reached the national title game. The next potential candidate makes you reach back all the way to a team that shared a Big Ten title with Zack Novak at power forward… two years ago.
This is all very strange, not only to us, but to the guy who assembled this unlikely powerhouse.
"I don’t know what to think. I have this funny, quiet feeling where you set out to accomplish a goal and you accomplish it. It’s strange." [ed: –John Beilein]
— Joe Stapleton (@joe_stapes) March 5, 2014
The warmness inside you right now is thanks to the arc on the court that separates two from three.
The great leveler levels because threes are great shots, amongst the best shots. Beilein structured his entire basketball career around that intuition, constructing small-ball outfits everywhere he's gone. Sometimes he had four shooters; sometimes he had five. One guy probed inside as the other four created space around the arc, giving everyone space and time to find shots at the rim.
While the mechanism has shifted as Michigan acquires ball-screen maestro after ball-screen maestro, the overall pattern remains the same. The bigs shoot 70% because the opponent can't let Michigan get threes off. The threes come when they come and go in at a high clip, and something Beilein is in charge of floats higher than they have been in a long time.
It's only right that at the pinnacle of Beilein's regular season career the threes would rain in at will. Dan Dakich keeps saying "the ball knows." While this is normally irritating to your engineering-oriented author, as Michigan rained in death from above yesterday it did feel a little like the three point line sought to repay him for the long years of faith and devotion.
Well, then. There is very little to say about that game except "please Stauskas don't hurt 'em (except do)." Michigan shot 70% from three, goodnight, analysis over.
Other than the swelling three-point percentages from Michigan's shooters the main takeaway here was that Spike needs to take care of the ball better in the late stages of laughers when he is pursuing a double-digit A:TO ratio across the Big Ten season.
[Speaking of Spike, and since there's not really much to talk about game-wise, remember this site's obsession with NC State hobbit PG Tyler Lewis last year? Lewis was a McDonalds All-American despite being the same stature as Albrecht, and then he proceeded to do very little.
Lewis vs Spike, year two:
Lewis is stuck on a team that doesn't assist on many shots, stats are not the be all and end all, etc., but there's not much question who you'd rather have on your team. Hail this staff's talent identification. This has been Brian's Ongoing Obsession With Random College Basketball Players theater.
There will be no Nnanna Egwu section this time since he's pulled his DREB rate into the solid double-digits.]
But seriously. Strugging to say much of anything… oh, okay.
Jon Horford is really into Camus. There is just a shower of post-title photos featuring members of the team smiling an Jon Horford being Jon Horford, and thinking about things and stuff, deep things and hard stuff.
Not even a locker room shot can rouse the corners of Horford's mouth from their slumber:
That's not his postgame photo role, and that's why having Andrew Dakich around is crucial.
MAKE 'EM SAY UNH
Like father, like son.
If I make a joke here I will get a nasty tweet from the man himself [Bryan Fuller]
Non-trivial Horford business. One game ago, Horford got a quick hook in the second half after Mo Walker went to work on him. In this outing, Morgan hurt his back trying to take a charge and was limited to seven minutes. Horford stepped in and picked up ten rebounds; Illinois was limited to five offensive rebounds. On the year, Horford's DREB rate is a McGary-like 26.1.
It's nice to see him bounce back. There have been a number of games this year when one center or the other was having a rough day until the other guy stepped in. Having that flexibility is a big help; hopefully the Morgan withdrawal was a precautionary measure only.
If push comes to shove the obvious move is to try to get through the last few games without him. The only thing at stake now is a two or three seed line.
Speaking of. Expect Michigan to PLAY SOME WEIRD GUYS in the Big Ten tourney. Beilein has always run out some WTF lineups when faced with the possibility of three games in three days, and with Morgan questionable, Max Bielfeldt may be called on for double-digit minutes. Having a 6'6" center is not conducive to winning the Big Ten tourney title, but I don't think Beilein cares one whit about that.
Nobody seems to. A lot of fanbases openly pine for a second-game exit so as to not have three consecutive games before a potential Thursday/Saturday NCAA tournament weekend. They should really just dump the thing and play a couple more conference games, but I don't think the NCAA would let that fly.
Defense? Illinois is a very bad offensive team (206th on Kenpom) but they got worse after Michigan dealt with them. After 1 PPP in the first half, Illinois couldn't do much of anything in the second. That marks consecutive opponents held under a point per possession. This is not exactly the Goin' To Work Pistons yet, but Michigan doesn't have to make a ton of progress in the D department to look like an (even more) dangerous tournament opponent.
No idea exactly why this improvement is going on. If they can maintain that through the next few games that would be encouraging.
Seed lines. Michigan is still stuck on the three-line with little upward mobility unless they can leapfrog the top ACC teams (Syracuse, Duke, Virginia) or pass Wisconsin by winning the Big Ten Title. Jerry Palm did pump Michigan over Duke given Duke's extremely weak road accomplishments and Syracuse is in a full-on tailspin after losing to Georgia Tech at home. (I told you about Syracuse.) If the Orange lose their season-ender against Florida State, a game that Kenpom predicts will be a nailbiter, they could drop to the three line and open up a slot for Michigan as a two. Virginia will provide competition there.
Not that it matters much this year, as one of the most wide-open tournaments in memory beckons.
Glennwatch. Did some good things—couple steals, good work from within the arc, a three. Drove to the bucket for a basket, too. His steal lead to a fast break on which Tracy Abrams got a contest in that by all rights should have forced a layup attempt. NOPE. Dunk metropolis.
Afterwards Abrams looked like he'd seen the Ark of the Covenant.
ENHANCE [Bryan Fuller]
One negative thing: he's got to stop bringing the ball up when he gets a rebound. His handle is very vulnerable to open-court steals and he doesn't initiate much transition offense.
Also, he took a contested three-point jack. That is vaguely acceptable if you are Nik Stauskas who rains death from above. When you're at 27% on the year, don't take that shot. Taking open ones, okay. Those are still decent to good shots even for a guy locked in a sophomore slump as bad as Tim Hardaway Jr's. That hand-in-the-face stuff not so much.
Still, we can add this to the recent string of encouraging GRIII performances after 13 points on 10 shot equivalents.
Just when you thought he was bottled up. Stauskas is 12 of 17 from three in his last two games, pushing his season average to 46%. One of them was a contested jack in front of 6'11" Nnanna Egwu. Another was from the parking lot right before the half. Good lord.
This is why Michigan should not settle for long twos early in the shot clock, because at any time they can get a switch and have a guy take a pretty decent three point look.
The climb. Remember early in the year when people were projecting Wisconsin would walk away with the title because of schedule imbalance? Well, Michigan's single plays were Northwestern, Penn State, Illinois, and Ohio State. The only team not in the vicinity of the bottom of the Big Ten standings is OSU, and Michigan only got a road game against them. This is the opposite of a fluke.
Happy Fun Times Day at MGoBlog continues unabated. Before you get mad at me for putting this video together, please keep in mind that I've already punished myself by... putting this video together. Here are Frank Kaminsky's significant touches against Michigan, sorted by primary defender. It's just as brutal as you'd expect.
Kaminsky scored 25 points on 10/14 2-pt and 1/2 3-pt shooting with four offensive rebounds. He dominated regardless of the defender. That doesn't mean the defender didn't matter, however, at least when it came to forcing more difficult shots. While this video mostly speaks for itself, a little analysis of Michigan's post defenders in this game is warranted.
Morgan started out well, forcing Kaminsky to pass out the post on his first touch despite having pretty solid position. It went downhill in a hurry. Kaminsky's quickness proved especially troublesome for Morgan; three times Kaminsky blew right past him after getting the ball on the perimeter and he committed a foul to prevent a fourth. The threat of Kaminsky's three-point shot exacerbated this issue, as his most successful drives came when Morgan overplayed the outside shot* or got caught flat-footed.
While Morgan forced tough shots on post touches, his size disadvantage and lack of explosive athleticism allowed Kaminsky to get clean looks at the hoop anyway. Morgan's strength is an asset in the post—Kaminsky had a tough time backing him down—but Kaminsky overcame it with his length, mobility, and skill.
The uncalled push-off on the final three-pointer is noted; it's also canceled out by the inexplicable brick when Morgan couldn't fight through traffic and gave up a wide open three-point look.
*[Often because he was late getting out to contest a potential three.]
Glenn Robinson III
This matchup choice confounded me, as John Beilein chose to put Robinson on Kaminsky when Nigel Hayes also took the floor for Wisconsin. My best justification for this is Beilein wanting to ensure Robinson, a better rebounder and defender at this stage than Zak Irvin, didn't get into foul trouble defending Hayes, who draws an astronomical 7.7 fouls per 40 minutes. I still don't get it, though, since Michigan wasn't doubling in the post and Kaminsky overpowered Robinson with ease.
Wisconsin immediately went after the mismatch in the post when Robinson manned up Kaminsky. Both post-ups resulted in baskets on great looks. On the boards, Kaminsky outreached Robinson for the ball when GRIII even bothered to box him out; twice GRIII didn't even manage to do that.
I thought Horford acquitted himself well defensively, making Kaminsky work for good shots when he wasn't the victim of poor defense by his teammates. Or the officials. The first foul call (above), well...
Brian: I noticed that Horford got called for the wisconsin chest bump live
That's a tough call considering (1) Wisconsin does this all the time and (2) the officials let a lot of touchy fouls go in this game.
Horford then got victimized for a basket in which Kaminsky got a half-step advantage on him, then exploited that half-step with an uncalled off-arm hook that kept Horford from recovering. Horford, naturally, got called for a foul.
I'm not sure what to take from this other than knowing Michigan's interior defense isn't very good, especially against big men who can also stretch the floor. With Adreian Payne rounding his way into form, that doesn't bode well for Sunday. Will we see the Wolverines double down in the post more? Quite possibly, as John Beilein said this during his weekly radio show:
Beilein on defending bigs: "If we played (Frank Kaminski) again, (doubling him) would be under consideration."
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) February 18, 2014
That isn't a failsafe solution, of course. Doubling in the post puts more pressure on Michigan's perimeter defenders, and they've been prone to blowing switches and assignments as-is. Wisconsin having Ben Brust and Josh Gasser on the floor—not to mention Sam Dekker on a hot shooting day—made it tough for U-M to commit any more defenders to Kaminsky. With MSU giving plenty of minutes to a lineup featuring Gary Harris, Kenny Kaminski, and Travis Trice—all 40% or better 3-point shooters—surrounding Payne, they face similar issues this weekend even if Keith Appling sits out.