For 25 minutes, it had all the makings of an upset.
Purdue entered Crisler Center as a 16.5-point underdog despite winning their last three games handily, while the home favorites had to shake off the rust from a weeklong layoff. Michigan looked listless offensively and lost defensively as the Boilermakers built a one-point halftime lead on the strength of seven first-half three-pointers.
For the first five minutes of the second half, it was more of the same—Michigan and Purdue trading baskets as the home crowd's consternation grew. Then Glenn Robinson III, playing against his father's alma mater—not to mention a school that couldn't find a scholarship for the in-state high school star—drilled a three from the corner. After baskets by Nik Stauskas and Trey Burke, he bookended a 10-0 Wolverine run with a three from the same spot.
From that point forward, Michigan put it in cruise control, especially after Stauskas exterminated a last-gasp 6-0 Purdue run with a three of his own. The Wolverines, tested mightily on their home court by the team that ruined last season's Senior Day, had managed to survive.
Robinson finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, but unlike previous games those points didn't come quietly. Before sparking the second-half run, Robinson jolted a sleepy crowd to their feet with a huge one-handed slam over DJ Byrd late in the first half after beating two defenders to the baseline. Robinson denied having any extra motivation against Purdue after the game, but his actions said otherwise.
Trey Burke didn't knock down any of his four three-point attempts; otherwise, he was his usual All-American-caliber self, hitting 6-of-10 twos en route to 15 points and a 8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Purdue attempted to pin Burke to the sideline when Michigan ran the pick-and-roll, but Michigan adjusted, often flipping the pick* to free up their point guard.
Stauskas and Tim Hardaway did their part, especially from outside, combining for 25 points and 5-for-9 three-point shooting. However, Stauskas struggled guarding Byrd, who hit some NBA-distance threes in scoring 11 first-half points. In the second half, John Beilein gave Hardaway the task of shutting down the Purdue sharpshooter; Byrd failed to score in the game's final stanza, and the Boilermakers as a team went 0-for-9 from beyond the arc in the second half.
It wasn't the prettiest win for Michigan, but John Beilein—who was just 3-7 against Matt Painter's Purdue teams entering the game—was happy nonetheless with the effort. At halftime, he challenged his team to show more mental toughness.
"They responded really well. Really well," Beilein said, with a hint of a smile creeping across his face.
*having the screener set up on one side, then "flip" over to the other side of the defender
John Beilein likes to say that the best defensive rebound is one by his point guard. Why? That's the best way to get out in transition. I decided to investigate Beilein's claim—at least as it applies to Michigan—by going through this season's play-by-plays and charting each defensive rebound.
In the (chart?) chart below, I've tracked each defensive rebound as well as any resulting fast break field goal attempts or drawn shooting fouls—a fast break, in this case, being defined as any shot coming within 10 seconds of the defensive rebound, so long as the ball remained in play the whole time. Also in the chart is how often each player gets a fast break assist or made basket off their own defensive rebound. "% Opp" is the percentage of individual defensive rebounds that result in fast break field goal attempts or drawn shooting fouls, and "% Conv" is the percentage of made fast break FGA and shooting fouls drawn.
SPOILER ALERT: Beilein's theory is correct.
|PLAYER||Def. Reb.||FB FGA||FB FGM||Assist||Self Make||FT||% Opp||% Conv|
GOOD PLAYERS ARE GOOD
Trey Burke is far and away the best on the team at turning defensive rebounds into transition opportunties, and the reasons are two-fold. For one, it's Trey Burke—you know, the guy you want running the fast break. Second, as you can see in the video at the top of the post, as a diminutive point guard many of Burke's rebounds come on shots that carom far away from the basket, providing a better chance to turn and run than a rebound in the charge circle.
Burke is also the best at converting his own rebound at the other end, with—surprise!—Tim Hardaway Jr. second in that regard; both have seven made baskets off their own rebounds while Hardaway has one more free throw opportunity... off 34 more defensive boards. Though Burke converts at a higher rate, Hardaway has the highest defensive rebound rate on the team by a non-center, and you can see just how valuable his newfound dedication to that area is to the team.
MCGARY'S OUTLET PASSING
Jordan Morgan (and, in small sample size territory, Jon Horford) has a rate well below the team average when it comes to turning defensive rebounds into transition opportunities, which is understandable: as a center, he's not turning and leading the break, and most of his boards come from right under the basket, where it's hardest to spark a transition opportunity.
That makes McGary's ability to turn 48.1% of his defensive rebounds into fast break chances—a better rate than Hardaway—all the more impressive. The difference, as far as I can tell, is in McGary's outlet passing; he's got surprisingly good court vision, which allows him to turn quickly off a rebound and find his point guard. This is one area where McGary has a decided edge on Morgan, especially since his defensive rebound rate is also higher.
GAP BETWEEN FRESHMEN: NOT THE ONE YOU'D EXPECT
What surprised me most when putting this together was the gap between Nik Stauskas (53.1% Opp) and Glenn Robinson III (32.1%). While Robinson matches up against bigger players, ending up closer to the hoop for rebound opportunities, he's also the more athletic of the two. It's Stauskas, however, who's the only player besides Burke to crack 50% in major minutes—this despite rarely being involved in the play at the other end of the floor.
Perhaps there's a lot of noise in these numbers given the sample size (I'd say yes—I'm mostly ignoring the "% Conv" figure because of this) but that doesn't entirely explain that large a gap. Like with the big men, I believe this has to do with the difference in court vision and passing ability; so far this season, Stauskas has proven himself the more adept passer. Meanwhile, Robinson still seems to be adjusting to the college game; in a year, I'd bet his transition rate will be better than Jordan Morgan's.
[Hit THE JUMP for an update on the Kobe Assist and Adjusted Points Per Shot numbers from last month.]
Glenn Robinson III, quite casually, threw down a 360 dunk against Minnesota. I have no memory of a Michigan player ever doing the same, let alone with such ease. So, yeah, the full gif treatment is in order. Above is a little photoshop job, because something about that play didn't quite feel real. Below, every damn replay angle imaginable [click each thumbnail for the gif]:
[For the rest of the Minnesota gifs, featuring several more dunks and John Beilein's strange facial tic, hit THE JUMP.]
For the first time this season, Michigan's offense looked stagnant for prolonged stretches against Ohio State, largely due to the Buckeyes shutting down the pick and roll game. Going back over the film, it was clear much of this had to do with the on-ball defense of Aaron Craft, who hounded Trey Burke into a 4-for-13 shooting performance.
Interestingly, Craft was able to get away with going under the screen for most of the game despite Burke hitting a three-pointer when he did so in the game's opening minutes. With Burke not shooting over the top, Craft was able to take away his ability to get to the basket, and with that the easy buckets that Burke usually creates for himself and his teammates.
While Craft played a stellar defensive game, however, it wasn't his play alone that mitigated Michigan's go-to offensive play; the Wolverines simply didn't execute well on offense. Here's one such example—Michigan has just reset after an offensive rebound, and Mitch McGary comes out to set a screen for Burke:
Note that there's plenty of space in the middle of the Buckeye defense above. In the next frame, you'll see Craft has gone over McGary's screen and is now stuck behind Burke, so OSU center Evan Ravenel steps up to cut off the drive while McGary starts his roll to the basket:
At this juncture, Michigan should be able to create a good look. Burke is past Craft and therefore occupying Ravenel. McGary is heading to the basket, which should force Deshaun Thomas (defending in the paint) to abandon guarding Tim Hardaway Jr. entirely—which, of course, leaves one Buckeye to guard both Hardaway and Nik Stauskas. If Sam Thompson—at the top of the screen—comes down to help, Glenn Robinson III should be open in the corner for a... wait, Glenn, where are you going?
Unfortunately for Michigan, Robinson cut to the basket at precisely the wrong time—he heads right into the space that McGary is cutting towards. When coaches talk about the importance of spacing, this is what they're talking about. The spacing issues Robinson's cut creates are really apparent in the next frame:
Even though Burke still has a step on Craft, OSU has every Michigan option covered. Ravenel is both taking away the drive and any passing lane to McGary, while Thompson is doing the same on Robinson. Thomas is able to step out on Hardaway. Stauskas is occupied in the corner. Now Burke is forced to try to make something out of nothing:
That something turns out to be a contested layup over Ravenel that doesn't even catch iron. Note that a small blanket could cover both Robinson and McGary.
While Craft recovered nicely, this is a play that should've resulted in a Michigan basket, but it was thwarted by inexperience; a simple mistimed cut from Robinson is enough to throw off the entire play.
As Michigan romped through non-conference play, it was easy to forgot that they're still a very young team. Some freshman mistakes are more obvious than others, like when Caris LeVert threw a pass to no one after leaving his feet, giving Ohio State an easy fast break layup. Plays like the one above—after a reset, when a player needs to know on the fly where the offense calls for him to be on the floor—are more subtle, but also show off mistakes born from inexperience.
Those plays should be fewer and farther between as the season goes along; at the same time, this team is going to rely all year on five freshmen. Trey Burke is a great example of a player making a big leap after getting familiar with John Beilein's system—that leap, of course, came between his freshman and sophomore seasons. It's doubtful Michigan is going to eliminate these types of errors by March.
That's not to say Michigan can't make the Final Four by sheer force of talent combined with Beilein's coaching; if they do, though, they'll have to overcome their youth.
Within seconds of Glenn Robinson III's tip-slam on Wednesday night, @pnbloem (BlockM around these parts) recognized some serious gif potential:
@aceanbender Gif that last clip of the dunk from the baseline + sunglasses + "Deal with it."
— Paul Bloem (@pnbloem) January 10, 2013
I'm here to serve:
[For the rest of the Nebraska game in gifs, with a heavy emphasis on Mitch McGary and the NCAA's foremost attention-starved refs, hit THE JUMP.]
After his team held Michigan to their lowest point total of the season, Nebraska coach Tim Miles revealed his bold defensive strategy: the power of statistics.
"We thought, hey, they've been shooting the three great. They've got to return to the mean."
Did they ever. Michigan connected on just 3-of-17 three-pointers, and the Huskers succeeded in taking away their transition game, holding the Wolverines to a single fast break bucket. The Crisler Center crowd expected a blowout; instead, they got a slow-paced affair that was closer than the final score would indicate.
While the Wolverines didn't trail after the opening seven minutes, their lead didn't reach double digits until just 4:39 remained. Up to the final stretch, Miles's plan worked to perfection, with Michigan missing an uncharacteristic number of open looks from deep and failing to get out on the run.
That changed with just under eight minutes to go, when Glenn Robinson III picked Dylan Talley's pocket near the scorer's table, then took flight from not far inside the free throw line for a highlight-reel dunk. After Nebraska responded with a three, Robinson came out of nowhere to tip-slam a missed three by Caris LeVert, snapping the crowd out of a game-long funk and opening a 15-5 Michigan run to close the contest.
Robinson was the only Wolverine to shoot better than 50% on the night, scoring 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting while adding six rebounds. Hardaway, Trey Burke, and Nik Stauskas scored 46 of the team's 48 remaining points, but they also shot a combined 15-for-39 from the field. The Wolverines could not find a rhythm in their half-court sets, tallying just six assists on 21 made shots.
Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan scored just two points between them, but their work on the boards kept Michigan in front—Morgan finished with 11 rebounds (eight defensive), McGary six (three defensive), with the latter repeatedly hitting the deck for loose balls. With just over six minutes left and Michigan holding on to a nine-point lead, McGary threw himself into a pile of three Nebraska Cornhuskers and one orange sphere, coming away with a held ball—possession arrow, Michigan.
As he walked to the other end of the count, McGary threw his hands in the air, summoning perhaps the loudest roar of the night. Moments later, Stauskas found McGary under the hoop, and he banked home a right-handed layup. The Wolverines finally had their double-digit lead, sparked not by Burke and Hardaway, but a pair of freshmen.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, chants of "Beat Ohio" rang out from the Maize and Blue faithful. Michigan survived their first bout with regression, pulling away from a conference cellar-dweller.
If the trend continues on Sunday, they won't be so fortunate.