further adventures in Jed York being unsuited for his position
3/22/2014 – Michigan 79, Texas 65 – 27-8, Sweet 16
The last time Michigan played an NCAA tourney game involving a two seed, it was their first bid in ten years. After not quite blowing a huge lead against Clemson in the 7-10 game they ran up against a brick wall named Blake Griffin. Insofar as you can call one of the most athletic dudes on the planet a "brick wall," anyway.
Michigan was still not exactly complete at this juncture. Manny and DeShawn headlined; the rest of the starting lineup consisted of freshman versions of Novak and Douglass plus the CJ Lee/David Merrit walk-on duo. Kelvin Grady, Jevohn Shepherd, Laval Lucas-Perry, Zack Gibson, and Anthony Wright were the bench. Every time you end up looking at that roster the immediate thought is "these guys made the second round of the tournament?"
Meanwhile, Griffin's stats are as hilarious as you would expect from "Blake Griffin takes on guys like Zack Novak." He used almost a third of Oklahoma's possessions, rebounded a third of defensive opportunities, drew more fouls than anyone else in the country, and shot 66% from the floor—mostly by dunking from halfcourt. Watching him live was mostly an experience in terror. Dual undercurrents cut it: one of outrage that he could do the things he did and still call himself human, a second of excitement at the same thing.
Michigan managed to stick close despite foul trouble for Harris. Anthony Wright played the game of his career, and Michigan kept in contact. As the second half progressed, though, a feeling of inevitability fell over the proceedings. Michigan was just not good enough to make up the deficit presented them. They made a push or two; each was quickly met with a riposte.
That is entirely the wrong word, since it indicates finesse. Every time Michigan approached Oklahoma it was called a nerd and thrown bodily into a dumpster.
"Hey, Novak! Your kid is going to have a picture of that on his wall!"
Michigan lost by ten; it may as well have been a billion. Novak would later be featured in a Sports Illustrated article dedicated to all the guys Griffin has posterized. He took it with good humor, because sometimes life puts you in china shop with Blake Griffin and asks you to get it tea.
Nik Stauskas has taken to opening games with a demonstration of force. The first shot of most Michigan games is Stauskas raising up over his defender to hit an eyebrow-cocking three. Welcome to the gun show, it says. I can do this whenever I want. Later he'll fly over a screen and rise up when the big starts sagging back into the lane. It goes in, because it just does. One moment is all it takes. In your face, Charlie Murphy. Stauskas is the Big Ten player of the year for a reason.
That reason is not that he has to take all of Michigan's shots. He takes barely more than an average share of them, so when you start freaking out about Stauskas the ball is in someone else's hands. That person is generally flying towards the basket (if he is Jordan Morgan) or aligning himself for a catch and shoot three pointer he knocks down at 40% (if he is anyone else). They'll bail you out with a turnover maybe twice a half.
This is a different kind of hopeless thing to be in opposition to, but it is just as dispiriting as knowing that Blake Griffin has the ball on a fast break and you are supposed to do something about it. Novak in SI:
"When I get to the three point line, I start thinking, Why am I doing this?" … "Next thing I know his feet are at my face."
You can get in deep, quick. If Michigan is going well, things will get somewhat out of hand before the opposing coach throws his hands up at the man to man defense that has been the heart of his philosophy for his entire career and goes to a zone. Yeah, against a team that shoots 40% from three. Yeah, we're not even much of a zone team. It can't be worse is the thought. Often it is followed by why am I doing this?
Texas was so discombobulated by the basketball portion of the first half that they came out in the second determined to play volleyball on one end and a random matchup zone on the other. It worked, a bit. Texas pulled to within six. Things threatened to get serious, but then a rather important flaw in the idea of playing zone against Michigan presented itself. First Robinson got lost, then LeVert, then Albrecht.
They rained in death from above, as they are wont to do.
The look on the faces of Texas' staff right now ... if you could only see.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) March 22, 2014
I know that look. I have had that look, when Blake Griffin was doing Blake Griffin things and the only response was stare ahead and think what is anyone supposed to do about THAT?
I thought about Griffin in the second half as Texas drew nearer. I was nervous, of course, but it was only a part of my consciousness instead of its entirety. In a commercial break someone said something about the last four minutes of stagnation, and I said they were still getting great looks and they would be fine. It then dawned on me that I meant it.
I was not waiting for the roof to fall in. I was waiting for water to find its level. And then it did. They're still bigger and stronger than Michigan, but these days it's the bullies getting put in the dumpster.
The column in one emoji. I could have just embedded that LHN tweet instead.
— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) March 22, 2014
I'm not just going to do Novak like that. I did write a thing about Novak getting posterized that I should link if I'm going to include that picture.
Epic victory. Jordan Morgan flat wore Cameron Ridley out, with an assist from the opening nine-minute stretch of gametime without a whistle. Ridley was coming off a 17-point, 12 rebound, 4 block, 2 A, 0 TO performance against Arizona State's 7'2" shotblocker Jordan Bachynski.
Morgan limited him to 5 FGAs and six points and out-rebounded him. And he had 15 points himself in a fashion so quiet I exclaimed "how did that happen?" when someone mentioned it to me in the immediate aftermath.
That is a terrific sign for Morgan's matchup with Vol Jeronne Maymon, who is another 6'8" widebody post type.
The zone did put a brief halt to Michigan's offense after it adapted from a straight 2-3 that Michigan melted into a pile of scrap. To my eyes that drought was largely bad luck. Stauskas had a Blake Griffin-level dunk rattle out; Robinson had a putback facilitated by the zone go halfway down before popping out; a couple of open looks didn't fall. It happens. And then water finds its level.
The best scouting report ever. The way that game played out was downright eerie. Isaiah Taylor takes nothing but floaters; Isaiah Taylor took nothing but floaters aside from a couple of takes where he actually got to the basket, and then he finished with the most Isaiah Taylor line ever: 8/22, all shots from two.
Junk defense after junk defense. The hypothesis that Illinois actually did Michigan a favor by scaring the hell out of them with a 2-3 zone is now upgraded to a theory. It took about four possessions for Texas to decide a straight up 2-3 was even more doomy than their man to man, with the last straw a Morgan dunk from the baseline.
They then switched to a 1-3-1 for one possession, which frustratingly saw Michigan do nothing for about 30 seconds until Stauskas rose for a long contested three that led to a transition opportunity. Barnes immediately shelved that in favor of an odd-looking matchup zone that I couldn't quite figure out. Michigan seemed hesitant about it, too, but eventually Texas started matching up with the wrong dudes. There was that one LeVert three on which he didn't have anyone within ten feet of him.
Mildly mitigated. Normally you'd look at a game in which Michigan picked up 11 offensive rebounds and say that was good enough for shot parity. Nope, as Texas spent the second half rebounding damn near every one on their infinite misses and finished the game with more OREBs than Michigan had DREBs.
That is an alarm bell heading into a matchup with a burly Tennessee outfit, though again some of those just seem like crappy luck. Texas guards grabbed eight of their offensive rebounds and two were credit to "team"; Morgan and Robinson nearly matched the posts' contributions with seven offensive rebounds to Holmes and Ridley's nine. If that minor advantage holds up for the Tennessee posts I'm feeling pretty good about Friday.
Must work on free throw defense. Texas goes 15/16. Cumong man. Michigan did give most of those FTAs to the Texas guards and not their bricklaying bigs, so they couldn't have expected 10/16… but still. Maybe I shouldn't be complaining in a game where Morgan goes 7/8.
A quick look at Tennessee. Much more on this later, of course, but at first glance Tennessee is Texas after leveling up a few more times. They don't shoot well but make up for it by pounding the offensive boards; their defense is tough to shoot against and doesn't force many turnovers. Unlike Texas, Tennessee does a good job of preventing threes from being launched. They also have a semblance of outside shooting.
As you've probably heard, the Vols are huge Kenpom darlings, currently 6th in the rankings despite being an 11 seed. They're favored by a point in a game Kenpom sees as a virtual tossup, and trash Kenpom at your peril—they certainly made short work of UMass and Mercer after an OT win against Iowa.
As per usual, bizarrely high computer rankings are built on margin of victory. Tennessee spent the year blowing out SEC opponents or losing to them narrowly. They finished the year with 76-38, 82-54, and 72-45 win over Vandy, Auburn, and Mizzou; they beat Virginia by 25 in December. They also lost to UTEP, NC State, Texas A&M, and Vandy. They're also 0-3 against the Gators.
Um, Texas? You there? [photo via Dustin Johnston/UMHoops]
The scouting report favored Michigan, and this game played to the scouting report.
The Wolverines advanced to the Sweet Sixteen by outshooting Texas considerably, hitting a team NCAA Tournament record 14 of their 28 three-point attempts. The Longhorns connected on less than 40% of their two-pointers, and while they managed to make a second-half surge by overwhelming Michigan on the boards, they simply couldn't keep pace.
After the Longhorns took an early 6-3 lead, Michigan went on a tear, eventually gaining a 30-12 advantage after a Zak Irvin triple—the seventh Wolverine three-pointer in the first 13 minutes. Texas's attempts to push the pace backfired, leading to several open shots for Michigan and a bunch of missed jumpers on the other end. One could only watch agape at the display of offensive firepower:
— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) March 22, 2014
Said firepower, when combined with a returned aversion to turnovers—Michigan committed just four all game—proved impossible to overcome.
While Texas managed to close the gap to 13 points by halftime, Michigan threatened to blow the game open entirely when the Longhorns opened the second half in a 2-3 zone. Michigan scored eight points in three possessions, with a couple Derrick Walton bombs over the top sandwiched around a Jordan Morgan dunk after gorgeous passing shredded the defense.
Them something strange happened. Rick Barnes called for a slight alteration to the 2-3, shading the backside guard over the middle, and then mixed in a fair amount of 1-3-1. Michigan went without a field goal for nearly six minutes. After Michigan had managed to mitigate Texas's size and rebounding advantage in the first half, the Longhorns dominated the boards in the second, and they pulled within six after an Isaiah Taylor jumper.
That's when Glenn Robinson III made two of the biggest plays of his career, first blowing by Connor Lammert and finishing with an impressive floater, then connecting on a three from the wing on Michigan's next possession to stretch the lead back to 11 with 6:45 to play.
A corner three by Spike Albrecht and a four-point trip after Jordan Morgan drew an intentional foul—while making a basket that was waved off, no less—put the final nails in the coffin. While it took them a while, Michigan eventually took advantage of the holes in the Longhorn zone, and once they did the proceedings were academic.
In addition to Robinson (14 points, 5/10 FG, 5 rebounds) and his second-half heroics, two performances really stood out for Michigan. Nik Stauskas led the team with 17 points on 15 shot equivalents while tying a career high with eight assists; his passing was key in picking apart Texas's zone. Then there was Morgan, who scored 15 (5/7 FG, 7/8 FT), pulled in ten rebounds (5 off.), dished out two assists, and recorded two steals. He limited Cameron Ridley to six points and nine rebounds while giving the Texas behemoth all sorts of trouble with his quickness on the other end.
While Michigan's offensive lull in the second half got a little scary, John Beilein had a response for every one of Rick Barnes's adjustments—yes, this was expected—and it's tough to get worried about the offense when they still managed to score 1.4 points per trip. This was another slow-paced game—just 57 possessions, one more than the Wofford slog—with a score that often belied the comfortable gap between the two teams.
With Duke off the board, Michigan awaits the winner of tomorrow evening's Tennessee/Mercer game. Either way, they've cleared the path for a deep run, and they've already accomplished a lot—did anyone imagine this team moving on to the Sweet Sixteen without much resistance after Mitch McGary went down?
Now, with McGary competing for the role of top cheerleader from the bench, Michigan will be favored to play for a spot in the Final Four regardless of who wins tomorrow. Take a bow, John Beilein.
Michigan didn't earn any style points in their NCAA Tournament victory over Wofford, but those don't really matter this time of year. A substandard offensive performance didn't prevent the Wolverines from advancing with relative ease.
The Terriers certainly helped in that regard, erasing any good that came from hitting 50% of their twos by going just 1-for-19 from beyond the arc despite generating good looks. They played like a 15-seed, and on a night when Michigan sat below one point per possession for much of the second half, that was fortunate.
Nik Stauskas cracked the career 1,000-point barrier with a second-half triple en route to a team-high 15 points on ten shot equivalents. Glenn Robinson had 14, albeit on 14 shots, while adding seven rebounds. Jordan Morgan played the best all-around game of any Wolverine, tallying ten points (4/6 FG), ten boards, two assists, a steal, and a block.
The numbers tell the story here. In a very low-possession game—just 56, a slog even by Big Ten standards—the shooting gap made an enormous difference, one that wasn't so easy to see due to the pace and some uncharacteristic turnovers. With the officials letting the teams play (hooray!), it was all about which team could generate buckets, and Wofford was just as likely to get the ball stuck above the backboard—yes, this happened—as they were to connect from the outside.
Michigan can't hang their hat on this defensive performance; Wofford's inability to make shots was due to their inaccuracy more than anything the Wolverines were doing. By the same token, the offensive performance wasn't as bad as it looked at times. Caris LeVert isn't going to get held to six points very often, and Zak Irvin missed all four of his three-point attempts despite getting some decent looks.*
It wasn't a fun game to watch, and Michigan will need to step it up offensively if they want to make a run in the tournament. After they ran out to a double-digit lead against an overmatched opponent in a somnolent atmosphere, however, the ugliness of this game is at least understandable.
Now the Wolverines await the winner of Texas/ASU, which is happening right now on CBS.
*Admittedly, also some not-so-decent looks.
Thank you, Dustin Johnston, for lobbing this softball over the heart of the plate. It's remarkable, not to mention hilarious and captivating, that Jon Horford coexists peacefully on a team with these two hooligans:
Note John Beilein's futile effort to wave Andrew Dakich and Mitch McGary back to the bench. You cannot stop their enthusiasm. You can only hope to contain-- no, that seems impossible, too.
[Hit THE JUMP for Aaron Craft's greatest contribution to the Aaron Craft debate, Nik Stauskas making absurd layups, various moments of Illinois failure, the bench mob takeover, and more.]
Jordan Morgan's shot got the roll. Tracy Abrams didn't give his a chance, clanging his last-second floater off the front iron.
In an all-too-close game against Illinois, that ended up being the difference for Michigan, which narrowly avoided being bounced in their first Big Ten Tournament game despite playing ugly defense and seeing their offense grind to a halt when the Illini switched to a 2-3 zone in the second half.
In the early going, it looked like the Wolverines would win comfortably. Michigan jumped out to a 12-7 lead despite missing a few open three-point looks. After the Illini closed the gap, Michigan pushed it back up to five by halftime thanks to a spectacular breakaway dunk by Caris LeVert. At the break, Michigan was 7/12 from two and 6/13 from three. The defense wasn't playing very well, sure, but Illinois would inevitably have trouble keeping up. Right?
Wrong. John Groce called for the 2-3 zone for most of the second half, and suddenly the Wolverines couldn't generate anything inside the arc. Michigan only attempted five two-pointers in the second half. To make matters worse, the outside shots stopped falling: 4-for-17 on threes in the latter stanza. Nik Stauskas, despite leading the team with 19 points, had an unusually poor day from the field, shooting 2/2 inside the arc but just 2/10 beyond it; his saving grace was getting to the line, where he hit 9/10 attempts.
While Michigan went cold, Illinois kept carving up the Wolverine defense, and Rayvonte Rice gave the Illini a 63-61 lead on a layup with just 2:31 on the clock. For some reason, however, Groce decided that was the time to go back to man-to-man defense. Stauskas immediately took advantage, driving past his defender and drawing a foul; he'd split the pair of free throws to close the gap to one.
Jordan Morgan made the defensive play of the game on the next possession, teaming with Derrick Walton to hedge Tracy Abrams and pin him against the sideline; Abrams's had to chuck up an airball as the shot clock expired, giving Michigan a chance to retake the lead.
They'd do just that off a high ball screen for Stauskas, though not in the way they'd planned:
"Coming out of the timeout, Nik told me he was going to shoot it regardless." - Jordan Morgan
— Dylan Burkhardt (@umhoops) March 14, 2014
Two Illinois defenders made a shot near-impossible, so Stauskas rose above them and delivered a pinpoint feed to Morgan rolling towards the basket. Michigan's senior captain put it up soft, and the ball fell through after a couple bounces on the rim, giving the Wolverines a one-point edge with seven seconds left.
After a timeout with 3.9 seconds remaining, Abrams had one last chance to win the game for Illinois. As Illini guards had done for much of the afternoon, he blew right past the Michigan defense, then pulled up in the paint for a short floater. The shot came out short, however, and the Wolverines—partially out of joy, partially out of relief—ran celebrating to the Michigan bench.
It wasn't pretty. It was a win. Now Michigan awaits the winner of OSU/Nebraska, whom they'll play tomorrow at 1:40 on CBS in the conference semifinals.
On the surface, Michigan's defense shouldn't have experienced the falloff it has this season. While Michigan's young, they're actually a bit older than they were last year. Mitch McGary has not been available, but there has been a groundswell of semi-indignation at Jordan Morgan's omission from the Big Ten's All Defense team.
But backslid they have. Last year's Michigan team finished the year 48th. This year's #48 defense is giving up 97.2 points per hundred possessions, adjusted for schedule. Michigan is well short of this number, at 100.6.
You'll note that this isn't actually that much. Michigan's about 6.6% worse on their possessions this year. The average NCAA defense is in fact 4% worse than last year, what with the rule tightening and virtual elimination of charges. A big chunk of the backslide is everyone's backslide. The rest, well…
The McGary Factor
watching the tourney run prompted this section, yes [Eric Upchurch]
Michigan entered last year's NCAA tournament 11th in the Kenpom rankings. Unfortunately, Kenpom doesn't keep individual running O/D rankings, but Michigan's surge to 48th on D and fourth overall coincided with Mitch McGary beasting up in the tourney. Michigan held a selection of very good teams to under a point per possession. They faced the #32, 21, 34, 12, 29, and 4 offenses in the tourney and held them to 0.97 points a trip.
McGary rebounded everything and stole everything. Michigan kept in contact before their late surge against Kansas thanks to his 14 rebounds. He picked up three steals, as well. McGary had five(!) steals against Florida and 12 rebounds against Syracuse. Jon Gasaway was tossing out stats I can't quite remember but were pretty much "Mitch McGary's DREB rate in the tourney is ALL THE REBOUNDS."
But that was five games. Before that McGary had been limited for much of the year. His impact on the stats is far smaller than his impact in our minds. If you're looking for a reason Michigan's not going to run to the national championship game again, he applies. In a discussion of why Michigan's statistical profile on D is grim he's not a primary driver.
Transition defense is a primary driver, probably the primary driver.
You've probably eyeballed this whilst exclaiming AAAAARRGGGHHH during the year, and your intuition is borne out by the stats. Michigan's actually been fine at preventing transition possessions—defined as shots in the first ten seconds of the shot clock—but they've been a lot worse at preventing dunk-and-open-three city.
This is partially because shots have migrated from two-point jumpers to shots at the rim and threes. They've also been considerably worse at preventing teams from both high-profit areas. While some of this is the new rules emphasis, transition is the part of the game where that has the least impact. Hoop-math doesn't have overall trends, unfortunately. Nor does it fold in free throws. Oh well.
With what we have to work with we can figure that a just over a fifth of Michigan's defense has gone from 1.08 PPP to 1.24 PPP. That is most of the statistical decline right there.
|Morgan committing a block under 2014 rule-type substances. [Eric Upchurch]|
The Insane Near-Abolition Of The Charge
There was a ton of speculation as to whether the new rules would help or hurt Michigan. Survey says: probably both. The good: offense takes off, foul trouble becomes more prevalent without touching Michigan, and Michigan's excellent free throw shooting is more prominent. The bad: Michigan's primary way to defend the rim has become more fraught with peril than ever.
FTAs have gone up nationwide, of course, and Michigan remains one of the country's least foul-prone outfits. They've dropped from first to third in that department. While that doesn't seem like a significant move, remember that thing I said in This Week's Obsession about how things tend to get stretched out at the ends of these Gaussian-ish distributions. Michigan's FTA/FGA allowed last year was preposterous 22.7, 13 points lower than the national average. This year FTAs are about 13% more common nationwide. Michigan is seeing opponents shoot 23% more FTAs.
If Michigan was in the middle of the pack that effect would feature a 40 spot dip in FTA/FGA; since Michigan was the nation's best by some distance a year ago it looks like they're basically the same. They are not.
Most of this is Jordan Morgan clutching his head and shooting imaginary eye lasers at the refs. His fouls per 40 minutes have leapt from 3.5 to 5.3, and one dollar says almost all of that is the charge random number generator being recalibrated away from defenders. The other difference that doesn't seem to be this year's whistle emphasis is increased playing time for the relatively foul-prone Spike Albrecht, who also gets whistled for a lot of ARE YOU SERIOUSLY HIGH RIGHT NOW SERIOUSLY blocking calls.
Free Throw Defense
Michigan was pretty good at it last year (68.5, 118th) and is miserable at it this year (72.9, 321st). Just one of those things. Every time I mention this someone asks about whether the distribution of shots between posts and guards is impacting this, and every time I say "maybe, but if so that is probably just luck as well."
This post was going to be longer. But:
- Michigan is a better defensive rebounding team this year, both in conference and overall.
- Michigan's TO force rate has dropped, but again so has the rest of D-I's. They were 240th last year. This year they are 243rd.
- Michigan's eFG allowed on half-court possessions has gone from 46.3% to… 45.9%. IE, it has improved in a tougher environment to play D.
They're not fouling more, they're not allowing more shots per possession, they're not allowing teams to shoot better in their half court sets. 100% of the defensive regression from last year to this year is on crappier transition D and charges being broken.
Is This Good Or Bad?
Well, it indicates what kind of team you'd like to see Michigan deal with in the tournament: slow ones. Failing that, it seems good that there's such an obvious problem that Michigan can try to mitigate by dumping a ton of practice time into.
On the other hand, we just saw Indiana chew Michigan up in transition, and they're not an efficient team in that department. They are a frequent team, with 28% of their shots coming quickly. But a big chunk of that is Indiana taking debatable shots quickly because they know their half court offense is going to suck. That's an obvious reaction, one Michigan should have seen coming. And yet there were multiple Indiana transition baskets of of Michigan makes. Almost 40% of Indiana's attempts were in transition*. This is not a waning issue.
Michigan has been able to slow down transition-oriented teams this season. Iowa and Michigan State are 6th and 13th at putting up early shots, respectively, and Michigan is 3-1 against those teams with three respectable defensive showings. (The two MSU games look bad because Izzo spent two solid minutes at the end of each game in a foul/matador cycle, but prior to that both games featured MSU at right around one PPP.) In the fourth, Iowa ran out to a big lead with a bunch of threes from Roy Devyn Marble, some of them in painfully wide open transition. 30% of Iowa's shots were fast, they went in at a 75% eFG clip, and Michigan got blown off the court.
I'd rather have one issue that Michigan can mitigate by sending waves of guys back than a big dip in half-court D, so I tentatively suggest this is a hopeful sign.
*[And of course Indiana was crazy efficient in half-court situations in that game. The overall trend is decent—or at least the same—half-court defense, though. Consider it stipulated that if Michigan plays half court D as badly as they did against Indiana, they're dead meat.]