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.]
3/21/2012 – Michigan 71, South Dakota State 56 – 27-7, entry to second round of tourney
This game turned into a Mexican standoff of "if you told me before the game" stats: Trey Burke has six points versus Nate Wolters has ten points versus Tim Hardaway is 5/7 from three. That's two for Michigan, one for South Dakota State, and even if the way everyone got there was a little weird the end result was basically as expected.
What does the "how" suggest about the remainder of Michigan's tourney run? Well.
Michigan can shut down a star dude and simultaneously reduce quality looks from three. Wolters had few quality opportunities and Michigan still managed to hold SDSU to 4/19 from three. The number is dead on SDSU's season average, but few of those looks were top quality. Pair that with holding Wolters to ten points and that's a nice tradeoff.
Of course, Michigan may not be able to do those two things and prevent themselves from getting chewed up on twos. SDSU held themselves in this by hitting 58% inside the line. Concern? Possibly. Michigan's various exertions to reach the Wolters/3P% numbers above left Tony Fiegen open for a series of medium to long range twos, all of which he knocked down. But if that's what your defense gives up, like… okay.
Glenn Robinson may be able to up his production. With SDSU sagging off of Burke, Robinson got three near-identical corner threes in the second half, all of which he took, and all of which he knocked down. Please just do that instead of clutching and driving for an off-the-dribble long two. At least, more often. More than the sheer efficiency of his production I enjoyed the fact that he got 10 shot opportunities, many of which were not simple putbacks that may or may not be there.
Robinson will be critical against VCU as a converter of open-court opportunities. He and Hardaway are Michigan's most effective finishers at the rim (73 and 72 percent, respectively). Those ten to fifteen points of eFG will add up.
Mitch McGary is the starter. Rebounding was dead even in this one, and you'd like something a bit better against a smallish Summit team. One game is two small a sample to extrapolate from, though, and we have a season-long statistical record indicating that McGary is a vacuum, particularly on the offensive end. Add that to a steal-and-dunk on a lazy post pass per game and various other harassments and it's hard to get him off the court once he's on it, as Morgan found out. His turnover rate isn't even that bad: 18.7. Usually any big under 20 isn't a problem.
Michigan's probably going to need to haul Morgan out against VCU, though. Whether it's foul trouble or running up and down the court all the time, McGary will have to sit for longer than he did in the last one.
Head in game, please Mr. Morgan. The aftermath of Thursday's game seems to have shaken Morgan's always-fragile psyche:
"I think I was in for like two possessions, and got two stops," said Morgan, who was named to the Big Ten's all-defensive team this year. "I guess, I mean, that's what I do."
Will he play more Saturday, when the Wolverines face the winner of No. 5 VCU/No. 12 Akron for a bid to the Sweet 16?
"I'm not sure," he said. "It's not my job."
Michigan will need him. Someone dispatch the sports psychologist.
Michigan could end up going super-small. I wouldn't expect a single two-big lineup tomorrow what with the press and all. Michigan will be able to substitute a little more liberally than usual since this is a game in which Hardaway could plausibly run the 4, especially during the 13 minutes or so per game that VCU sits 6'5" Treveon Graham and brings in a 6'3" guy in his place. That would pave the way for extra Spike/Caris action as Michigan tries to get more ballhandling on the floor and avoid a late-game exhaustion slide.
That would make Michigan's four-out, one-in setup almost impossible to sag on. If Burke turns the corner off of a pick and roll, instead of sagging off GRIII and his relatively infrequent threes (62 this year), it's Hardaway or Stauskas. GRIII is still going to be hugely important, but they can rest him more than they usually do and not get pounded on the boards while still giving VCU a defensive conundrum.
Burke says he feels fine. He's fine enough to drop zingers, anyway:
"I'm fine, I'm ready to go for Saturday," Burke said. "I was a little over-dramatic out there, but I got about 30 seconds of rest, so that felt good."
Burke was going about 100 mph, a pace your average Jackrabbit doesn't mind. Since gaining so much national acclaim, he has struggled a bit, as if the attention was wearing. Michigan shadowed Wolters and South Dakota State shadowed Burke. So naturally, that launched a one-on-one showdown between Hardaway Jr. and Brayden Carlson. Huh? Hardaway Jr. is not a surprise, but Carlson was the only Jackrabbit starter not averaging double figures, and he had 16 in the first half.
Halftime stats on the left, final stats on the right, via scacchoops.com
If you're expecting a reasoned, informative recap of the game, I highly recommend stopping right now and looking elsewhere.
Still here? If so, you are either in search of schadenfreude or have a remarkably strong will to make your life miserable.
Michigan lost to Wisconsin 68-59 in a complete abomination of a "basketball" game. The halftime box score resembles something from a middle school junior varsity game in which all the players are blackout drunk. The Wolverines held a three-point lead at the break, courtesy of Wisconsin's inability to hit anything (5/29 from the field). The Badgers made it appear, momentarily, like Michigan had discovered how to play defense.
Then the second half began, and the Wolverines remained stagnant on offense while entirely forgetting how to guard the perimeter. After hitting 2/13 shots from beyond the arc in the first half, Wisconsin connected on 6/9 three-pointers in the second—most of their looks came without so much as a hand in the shooter's general vicinity, let alone a legitimate contest.
Trey Burke did his best to stop the bleeding, scoring 15 of his 19 points in the second half, and Tim Hardaway Jr. (14 points, 5/9 FGs) admirably returned from a sprained ankle to knock down a couple big shots. Nobody else cracked double digits, however, and any semblance of an offense rapidly devolved into the "Trey, go do something" strategy. Burke was forced to jack up 15 shots in the final 20 minutes; no other Wolverine attempted more than four.
Major culprits included, well, pretty much everyone. Ryan Evans scored nine of his 13 in the second half, abusing Glenn Robinson III and Hardaway down low—Robinson struggled so much that Spike Albrecht took his spot in the lineup down the stretch. Jordan Morgan started but played just eight horrible minutes, turning the ball over three times, completely unable to hold onto the basketball. Nik Stauskas went 1/8 from the field. Burke had an uncharacteristic four turnovers, though given the circumstances it's difficult to lay much blame on him.
A guy who shoots free-throw jump shots, a redheaded Art Garfunkel, and Ben "#@*#$@" Brust combined for 28 second-half points, going 4/8 from two and a perfect 5/5 from three. If there's a College Hoops Fan Hell, it is watching that game on a continuous loop while Bo Ryan waves the last bottle of whiskey in existence in your face, refusing to let you drown your sorrows.
Michigan will still play in the NCAA tournament, of course, and there's even a chance that I'm willing to watch basketball by then. They won't play Wisconsin, mercifully.
The main reason Michigan lost a heartbreaker to Indiana on Sunday—yes, even more than their late-game free throw misses—was their inability to keep the Hoosiers off the offensive glass. Indiana rebounded 24 of their 40 missed shots; once second in the country in defensive rebounding, the Wolverines are now eighth in their own conference.
What's odd about this at first glance is that Michigan boasts a trio of centers who are all proficient rebounders. Jordan Morgan (#9) and Mitch McGary (#5) both rank among the top Big Ten players in defensive rebounding percentage, and Jon Horford would rank just ahead of Morgan if he played enough minutes to qualify.
After looking at the film, it's apparent that Michigan's bigs lack the support they need to defend the boards; the team's overall inexperience and poor perimeter defense are most apparent in this area. One play in particular from the Indiana game bears this out:
Let's look at this frame-by-frame, starting with the defensive lapse that begins the sequence—Tim Hardaway Jr. falling asleep in the corner and allowing Victor Oladipo to beat him on a backdoor cut:
Zeller has no problem getting the ball to Oladipo in great position for a shot. With Zeller and Jeremy Hollowell (#33, on the other side of the FT line from Zeller) at the top of the key—drawing Jordan Morgan and Glenn Robinson III way from the basket—Hardaway must fend for himself:
Here's where Michigan's rebounding issues begin in earnest. This is the point where Oladipo releases his shot. Note that Zeller, Morgan's man, has stayed on the perimeter, while Hollowell is crashing the paint behind Robinson. Hardaway is accounting for Oladipo and Robinson should be responsible for Hollowell; both are in decent position right here, while Nik Stauskas has been beaten to a good rebounding spot by Will Sheehy:
At the moment before Oladipo secures his own rebound, however, it's clear that Michigan's perimeter players haven't done their job. Hardaway first goes for the block and then reaches for the ball instead of putting a body on Oladipo, who will easily step by him and get the board. Robinson has watched the ball the entire time and allowed Hollowell a free pass to the basket. Stauskas is lucky not to give up a putback after letting Sheehy get right under the basket. Morgan is in solid position but the ball doesn't bounce his way. This is not good:
Oladipo kicks the ball out to Jordan Hulls, who gets a wide-open look from three after Trey Burke drifted away from the play. At the moment Hulls releases his shot, most of Michigan's players have at least partially recovered—Burke is attempting to close out, Morgan is on Zeller, and Hardaway and Stauskas have found their men. Robinson, however, is still watching the ball, unaware that Hollowell is on the complete opposite side of the lane:
As the shot comes off the rim, you can see three Wolverines—including Robinson—trying to box out two Hoosiers on the left side of the lane, while Morgan is left with the unenviable task of being one guy having to guard two guys:
This, predictably, does not go well. Zeller taps the rebound to Hollowell, who's able to gather the ball and go up for a layup despite Morgan's best efforts to be two Jordan Morgans.
To sum up, on this play we've got:
- Hardaway falling asleep on a backdoor cut
- Stauskas getting beat along the baseline
- Hardaway not boxing out Oladipo
- Robinson not boxing out Hollowell
- Robinson not boxing out Hollowell again, nor even being in the same general area
Watch Robinson throughout the play, here in handy gif form:
He never leaves an area covering about 15 square feet until it's far too late. You know how coaches say the key to a freshman succeeding is having the game slow down for him? On defense, at least, the game is going about 200 mph for Robinson, who's trying to defend with his eyes instead of his feet—while he's watching the ball, he's losing his man.
One play doesn't make a trend, of course, but there were several other instances of Michigan's non-centers being the culprit for an offensive rebound.
[For more rebounding pain and suffering, hit THE JUMP.]
"When you are winning a war almost everything that happens can be claimed to be right and wise."
~ Winston Churchill
Trey Burke works the ball up the court, and crosses mid-court with just under nine seconds left. Jordan Morgan sets a high screen on Oladipo, and in an instant the much ballyhooed pre-game narrative is wiped out of the picture. This will no longer be a symbolic battle for the Big Ten Player of the Year. Indiana's best defender is a bystander. Instead it is Cody Zeller on Burke 30 feet from the basket.
History may be written by the winners, but in sports the winners rarely read the history they write. For the victor, the simple fact of the victory can obscure whatever came before. The foibles and missteps were merely a part of the rich tapestry that was their inevitable triumph. It is the character-building fire that forges their mettle. It is for the loser, rather, to lament the components of their fate. Almost exactly a week before Jordan Morgan set his screen, Keith Appling was dribbling the ball up that same court, in a tie game, with the shot clock off, when Trey Burke stole the ball and turned the tables on all the percentages. And when a second Burke steal sealed the game, no one cared that Michigan had frittered away a ten point lead in the last four minutes, or that they had missed the front end of a one-and-one to give Michigan State one last chance. It was Sparty, rather, who spoke with the bitter tinge of "what if" of their blown opportunity to win on what should have been a final possession.
Burke gains the corner on Zeller, but only by a bit. Yogi Ferrell starts to sag off of Stauskas, but thinks better of it. Ferrell knows full well that Burke is taking this one to the rack, but Stauskas is not to be left. Christian Watford is under no such restriction on the far side against Glenn Robinson III, and he helps down. Burke isn't going to leave this one in the hands of a jump shot from a freshman, no matter how talented that freshman may be. Zeller extends an impossibly long arm over Burke, who responds in kind with a fully extended flip of the ball. Jordan Morgan has reached the free throw line.
If you are anything like me, dear Michigan fan, then there is a part of you that is relieved that it got this far. The recent history of Michigan basketball is one of repeated crashes to reality. A first NCAA berth in a decade is followed by a 15-17 season. A first Big Ten title in centuries and a four-seed leads to an early exit against Ohio (YTO). So when Michigan came out of the gates this year as an unstoppable hell-beast, there remained a little voice in your head that urged caution. Like the slave used by Julius Caesar to ride on his chariot to remind him of his mortality, the little voice kept whispering in your ear, "they are not Gods. They are merely human." When Ben Brust hit a half-court heave and Michigan was run out of the Breslin Center and utterly collapsed in Happy Valley, those whispers became screams that could not be ignored. And when Michigan went down 10-3 early, there was a part of you that said, "please not this again."
[After the jump, not this again]
3/3/2013 – Michigan 58, Michigan State 57 – 24-5, 11-5 Big Ten
left via @detnewsRodBeard / right Eric Upchurch
Sports are hard, and even great players usually succumb to their hardness. When the hockey team had TJ Hensick, when they were tied or trailing late I spent all moments with Hensick on the bench pining for his next shift, and mostly was disappointed when nothing happened. I mean… Denard Robinson. That guy was so great that he ran through two Ohio State defenders and teleported to the endzone, and yet that first sentence is a large chunk of his Michigan career epitaph.
There's a reason Wikipedia describes Casey at the Bat like so:
For a relatively short poem apparently dashed off quickly (and denied by its author for years), "Casey at the Bat" had a profound effect on American popular culture. It has been recited, re-enacted, adapted, dissected, parodied and subjected to just about every other treatment one could imagine.
Probability is an implacable thing. When we turn our lonely eyes to hero du jour in our time of need, the odds are stacked against us. If you're great you move that needle only slightly. Your brain is all like
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
They'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
Your brain is kind of dumb, and Casey at the Bat is great at telling you that. Your brain listens but does not hear.
My dumb brain was contemplating a blown ten-point lead against Michigan State on the heels of a blown 15-point lead to Penn State and had decided basketball was a pudding and the universe a fake. Michigan State had the ball, the game was tied, and the shot clock was no longer relevant. Earlier in the year Michigan had lost when a no-hoper went in, and my dumb brain was assuming that would always happen forever.
Burke did this.
The thing about this is that Burke developed that move midway through the season and now deploys it a few times a game. He really ramped it up after his first game against Aaron Craft, seemingly because Craft just pissed him off. A few times a game Burke will muster his energy, hike up his shorts, and go looking for trouble on defense. That's part of his ever-expanding game.
That breakway layup off the from-behind steal is a thing I can see him gearing up for now, and I saw it then, and because my brain is dumb it'll burn that into my memory and not the other times when Casey struck out.
It'll go there next to Braylonfest and Mario Manningham and Ernest Shazor killing that guy and Phil Brabbs and that one time I turned on a basketball game with Michigan down 15 to Wisconsin with six minutes left and saw Daniel Horton eat that deficit into nothingness. It'll probably be the first thing anyone involved with this rivalry thinks about when Trey Burke is brought up. It was the kind of thing that's the first thing on the highlight reel when they put your number in the rafters.
That he followed it up by robbing Michigan State of a chance to respond is icing on the cake. After Ben Brust, any shot in the air with a chance to beat Michigan is going to be two seconds of awful anticipation no matter how likely it is to go in. Trey Burke is both awesome at basketball and extremely protective of my emotions. He curls his lip and tilts his head and probably says "damn" and takes basketballs away from people who should not have them after 38 minutes of carrying twelve teammates and 12-thousand-some people in Crisler on his back.
Dawgs. This program has had a couple of nasty dudes at point guard the past few years. I hope Derrick Walton can inherit that.
Your excuses are lame. Both Izzo and Appling claimed that there was some sort of confusion about timeouts before Burke picked Appling's pocket, which is a pretty weak explanation since Appling has clearly decided no TO is coming when he spins and moves to the center of the court. Y'all got robbed straight up.
Life is strange. Michigan loses to Penn State, then beats Michigan State despite going 0/12 from three. I quiver at the thought of playing Purdue. Everyone will turn into crows and play crowhockey, or something.
Obligatory video review complaint. Nik Stauskas got busted open by a wild Branden Dawson elbow, required 12 stitches and was not able to return—probably because he was concussed—and no foul was assessed after an interminable break. It looked like this:
If that's the way you're going to call it, fine. It was inadvertent. But then stop with the interminable reviews. Apparently nothing is a flagrant foul, so stop looking for them.
It's strange how different sports legislate themselves. If hockey was reffed under basketball rules, every post-whistle scrum would come with two ejections, but in basketball you can crush a guy's face and as long as you weren't looking at him it's cool. That's some sort of penalty in the other two sports where elbows get involved, hockey and soccer, and probably a red card/major. In basketball, nope… but only one sport stops the game incessantly to look at these sorts of incidents. I don't get it man.
Morgan defense watch. After Dan Dakich pointed out that Nix always-always goes over his right shoulder when making post moves it's been something that's stood out to me as I watch MSU play, and in this one it was obvious. In that tendency you could see where Morgan is a superior on-ball defender to McGary.
Against Morgan, Nix put up a bunch of contested shots on which Morgan positioned himself such that Nix would take a bump as he tried to go up. In scattered matchups against McGary it was clear McGary had not absorbed the scouting report; Nix got him for a bucket by threatening to go to the middle of the lane and then spinning over his right shoulder like he always does. Morgan, on the floor at the same time, was visibly irritated at McGary—he probably said something along the lines of "he ALWAYS turns over his right shoulder" or "RTFSR*."
Despite that make the difference in Nix's efficacy was dramatic. Morgan played nine minutes in the first game; Nix went 6 of 9 from the floor and had 3 assists to no turnovers. Morgan had 24 in this one; Nix went 2 of 9 with 2 assists and six turnovers, with one of those makes the aforementioned bucket against McGary. Morgan's absence in the first game was definitely a contributing factor to the ugliness therein.
*["Read the frondling scouting report."]
Mocking floor slap for the win. State did the team floor slap thing in the previous game, and did it in this one, and Big Tough Mr. Men got an alley-oop on their face this time, whereupon Michigan responded with sports sarcasm:
Sports sarcasm is the best. You can tell it is mocking because 1) everyone knows MSU's about to call a TO, and Trey does it twice. I enjoyed that.
McGary FTs. Having Mitch McGary receive the inbounds pass at the end was clearly not the best idea, but Michigan put themselves in a situation where that was possible by using up all their timeouts early. When MSU tripled Burke it was a scramble off the make and the other options were Horford and a covered LeVert.
1) Dump basketball timeouts. End game situations are more chaotic and fun without them.
2) Don't call all of them, especially when you're just setting up a play instead of preserving a possession.
McGary other game. A mixed bag. Like the rest of the bigs he shares in the issues rebounding. One DREB in 21 minutes is Nnanna Egwu level output. He was efficient offensively, going 4/6 from the floor and hitting 3/5 FTs, and he generated a few of those shots himself with two-bounce drives and a nice short corner turnaround. He's showing things that should lead to an increased offensive role as he develops.
Paging Caris Levert. (Upchurch @ right) With Stauskas knocked out four minutes in, Caris LeVert got starters minutes. He did okay with them, scoring eight points on 4/8 shooting from two, missing three attempts from deep, and getting a couple steals. He was mostly guarding Gary Harris; Harris had an eh day with 16 points on 16 shot equivalents.
As long as Stauskas isn't suffering ill effects from the concussion I don't think he'll see his playing time cut much if at all… as long as he's not doing the things that caused Beilein to explode at him in the Penn State game. Competition for that spot will improve it, and if Caris is reliable enough to get him 16 minutes instead of eight Michigan can rest Tim Hardaway a bit more.
Statistical extremes. Take your pick as to which was more of an anomaly: Michigan going 0-fer from three or MSU coughing up 18 turnovers to Michigan's 7. I'll take the former since Michigan is a notoriously low-turnover team and MSU has had their share of issues. Also in the anomaly bucket: MSU rebounded half their misses. While not entirely unexpected, that is extreme.
Speaking of the rebounding. Hammered. Michigan went with the dual-big lineup for nine minutes; it didn't help much. As mentioned, McGary just had 1 DREB. Morgan had four, Horford none in four minutes. If the ball wasn't bouncing to a guard chances are Michigan did not get it.
Michigan's rebounding is reverting after another nonconference season in which they found themselves top-ten. After entering Big Ten play #2 in DREB they're down to 45th. They're fifth in Big Ten play, still a major step up from last year's ninth but not an earth-shaking paradigm change.
Burke fall down make fast break. Michigan State exploited a couple of things to get some early fast break opportunities off of makes: 1) Burke falls down a lot after he tries layups and 2) he never gets a call on this even if someone has bashed him to the ground. You'd like to see him keep his feet, but it's hard to see how in a lot of these situations.
Drinkin' your milkshake part 2. Drake Harris visited last weekend. This weekend…
Devin Gardner changes his twitter handle like every two weeks.
I hear tell he's supposed to be back next weekend, too? Dios mio, man.