I did not make this headline up
1/27/2013 – Michigan 74, Illinois 60 – 19-1, 6-1 Big Ten
On January 27th of 2010, Michigan was 10-10, 3-5 in the league, miles away from a tourney bid that might validate their breakthrough the previous year. They'd only lost two walk-ons from that team, and were ranked in the top 15 to start the year.
On January 27th of 2011, Michigan was 1-6 in the Big Ten, barely above .500 overall, and following up Manny Harris's disappointing junior season with what looked like another nothing year. It would be the latest in a long line.
On January 27th of 2012, Michigan was 6-2 in the Big Ten, albeit barely. Their last three conference wins had come by a total of five points, and they'd just dropped a game to SEC mediocrity Arkansas. At 16-5 it was clear they were destined for the tourney, but no one expected to storm through upcoming away games at Ohio State and Michigan State. Michigan didn't, but then again it was their best season since… well, that's complicated.
On January 27th of 2013, Michigan eased past a team that had beaten OSU, Gonzaga, and Butler by double digits to stake its claim as the #1 team in the polls. Their average margin of victory in Big Ten wins: 18.
In this game, Jordan Morgan sprained an ankle two minutes in. Jon Horford rotated in, and played well. Max Bielfeldt rotated in, and airballed a free throw, and bricked a free throw. He earned a couple more on the next possession and sunk both. Later, though… later he would go up for a rebound surrounded by four Illini. The ball went into a dense nest of hands. Suddenly Illini players were on the ground, dazed. Bielfeldt was going up for a layup.
This didn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. Max Bielfeldt is still a couple years away from being in the rotation, it was two points, Michigan doesn't need its bench to do much of anything.
Symbolically, it was a microcosm of the season. Put anyone you want out there and they will show you something pleasing and surprising. Stauskas coming in as both a deadeye shooter and a six-six layup machine was the biggest win. Then you've got Robinson being a 40% three point shooter, McGary generating obligatory Wes Unseld references, rail-thin Caris LeVert forcing his coaches to burn his redshirt, and Spike Albrecht providing cool on-court leadership in the maelstrom of the Ohio State game. Oh, and Bielfeldt tossing guys to the floor. Everyone is bringing something unexpected to the table. At some point Michigan should throw Blake McLimans in there in case he's turned into Hakeem Olajuwon. This has been a charmed year.
Michigan's fourth-string center contributed to a double-digit road win over a tourney(?) team. At some point in there the color guy mentioned that last year Michigan went to overtime with Northwestern twice last year, and that just sounded strange.
Expectations are changing so quickly that they're almost keeping up with the radical shift in the program itself, so it's good to remind ourselves what we were watching every year before this one. This is advice not from me, but from a man currently on the other side of the fence.
I’m still inside the Hall as I type this. Didn’t go down to the press conference. Don’t really care about the quotes right now, to be honest. I’m just sitting here looking at all these empty gray seats and replaying the tumble that brought us here. My emotions are tracking exactly with my half-Michigan fan roommate in the first year of the Beilein regime.
That night, I remember discussing the 1989 Final Four. With Illinois ranked #1 and undefeated, and Michigan on their seventh consecutive NCAA-less season, all he could hold over me was the 1989 semi-final. He was still a full fledged Michigan fan in 1989, and he would have never believed that the program that won it all back then would then eventually go TEN consecutive seasons without an NCAA tournament appearance (from 1999 to 2009).
I should call him tonight. Tomorrow is Michigan’s official “all the way back” moment – much like our 2004 victory over Wake Forest here – and I’m curious how he’ll feel about it. Actually, I know the answer to that. He’ll say that his heart switched to the Razorbacks in 1994, and he can’t believe that THAT program has fallen as far as it has.
I guess I’m left thinking that I didn’t enjoy the 2000-2006 run enough. I should have learned my lesson when the Flyin’ Illini were grounded by Bruce Pearl, but I didn’t. It can all go away in an instant, and the fight to get back up there can take a long, long time.
Just ask Michigan. And Arkansas. And Illinois.
I don't think many Michigan fans are having trouble enjoying this. When I watch the games with people, there are bursts of laughter and the occasional Gus-like noise. When Robinson blocks a shot or Stauskas shoots a one-touch pass or Hardaway sets up for a three you can feel is going down before it even leaves his hand or Burke… Burke.
Illinois fans are still pissed off about that loss in 1989. At this point it may even be the bedrock of their unrequited rivalry with Michigan. I've long thought that silly, but I know now that if something untoward happens to this team in the tournament I'll hate whatever program does it, without reason, forever. And that'll probably happen. Michigan is #1 by a nose, and winning six straight against good teams is hard. I have to brace for this, and try to accept whatever fate awaits with the good cheer it seems Illinois fans have about their 2005 outfit.
Whatever happens, it'll be the culmination of a story no Michigan fan is likely to see again. To go from dead in the water to #1 in two years to go from scrapping out two-point wins against Northwestern to this… put it all in your head, and turn it around until it's something you can expansively relate to anyone dumb enough to be born after March. Poor bastards.
Also our greatest cheesemonger:
The Burkite Hersey. Okay, so, don't pile upon me and squeeze until my eyes pop like Tom Izzo's, but wasn't Burke kind of crap in the halfcourt this game?
Let's try to separate out transition. I went through the PBP for this one and found the following transition items:
- Assist to Stauskas after a Burke steal.
- Burke layup after Burke steal.
- Burke layup after GRIII steal.
- Burke dunk after Burke steal.
While we should mentally adjust for the fact that everyone's numbers look worse when fast breaks are taken out of the equation and that generating eight points off of transition is good, here's Burke's line without those events:
3/11 from 2, 1/5 from 3, 4/7 FT, 4 A, 3 TO.
That is not up to his usual standard.
Subjectively, I was frustrated by Burke's tendency to dribble the air out of the ball when Illinois switched Egwu onto him and then jack up a difficult shot*—especially in the first few minutes when Egwu was carrying a foul and would have been vulnerable to a problematic second if he was trying to check Burke on a drive. Even if Burke didn't feel confident in his ability to get a shot off with Egwu's long arms looming behind him, there's no way that guy could actually stay in front of Burke, and once he's driving and the defense is reacting, things should open up.
Burke did seem to adapt a bit later. He lost a few assists when bigs with a mismatch couldn't finish. I don't think many teams are going to be willing to continue that sort of strategy since it seems like one of the major reasons it was effective was the bizarreness of it.
*[The one at the end of the half was okay since it seems like running the clock down without any chance at a turnover offsets the reduced chance at points. I did wish he'd taken the half-step back to make it a three.]
OTOH, THJ. Hardaway had 12 points on nine shots. His rebounding was not up to his usual par, but he added three steals. He's still above 50% on threes in conference play.
Hello Horford (and Bielfeldt). I bet Michigan fans were far less shocked than the BTN announcers when Michigan found little dropoff after Morgan rolled his ankle. Jon Horford's always given Michigan good minutes when healthy, and he did again in this one. Seven points and four rebounds in 17 minutes is pretty good for a third string center. Some turnovers held his ORTG down. Okay.
As a bonus, Bielfeldt ripped down the hands-down most mansome rebound of the year and rebounded from a humiliating trip to the line his first time out to sink two in a row. There's no comparison between post depth last year and this. Obviously.
Ranked. At long last, ranked. Mitch McGary has cracked 40% of Michigan's minutes and now takes his place on Kenpom leaderboards. He's on quite a few:
- 8th in OREB
- 55th in DREB
- 193rd in blocks
- 336th in steals
- 217th in ORating
All of those numbers save ORating (obviously) and block rate (Horford pips him in 13% of M minutes) are tops on the team. Ace mentioned that I might be selling McGary short as a shot blocker last week, and he was right.
Caveat: after the game Beilein and Burke both talked about how Morgan was the centerpiece of the defense, so block numbers aren't everything. McGary is still impressive statistically, and in all the ways a team with four legit scorers wants him to be.
Nik Stauskas is the Tim Hardaway being the Nik Stauskas in the Big Ten of twos. That makes perfect sense, shut up.
The point is: after a shaky start from inside the arc, Nik Stauskas has taken off in Big Ten play. He's hit 15 of 23, 65%. Michigan's started using him on backdoor cuts and shooting him off those curl screens that "Goin' To Work"-era Pistons force-fed Richard Hamilton to great effect. He was 5/6 on twos against the Illini, and IIRC the miss turned into a Kobe assist.
Stauskas has been greatly aided by a shift in his two-point shots. Early, they were actually shots—I remember a couple of badly whiffed floaters early on. Now any shot Stauskas takes inside the line is at the rim. Almost literally. Stauskas has just 12% of his shots come on two-point jumpers, and recently that number is probably zero.
blouses. (Dustin Johnston/UMHoops)
NOT JUST A SHOOTER. Drink. Color commentators who are just sayin' and assure us that they have white friends are contractually obligated to say that Nik Stauskas is "not just a shooter" whenever he does anything like throw down a GAME… BLOUSES dunk or drop a touch-pass dime. I think the guy doing the Illinois game said it five times. Stauskas will be 58, in his 27th year in the NBA, and the color commentator will say he is more than just a shooter.
That touch pass was totally badass though. Stauskas has been charged with some turnovers this year when he's done things like that only for bigs who do not believe he is more than a shooter to fumble the ball out of bounds. They get it.
Boards check. It seemed like Michigan was getting killed. They didn't. They did end up losing the OREB war, but it was close. Michigan grabbed 38%; Illinois 41%. That is not so good given Illinois's performances to date.
Possible downside to losing Morgan? Hard to believe given McGary's numbers.
Caris: the future. Boxscores and whatnot and peripheral business and whatever. I understand that this exuberance may be irrational. Don't care.
There's a reason they pulled that redshirt from LeVert, and at some point he's going to be a big part of the team. He can get places with the dribble, he's a quality long-range shooter, and at some point in the distant future he may be three-dimensional.
Morgan status. He turned his ankle nastily and the report afterwards was not surprising:
Michigan junior forward Jordan Morgan suffered a right ankle sprain two minutes into the second-ranked Wolverines' 74-60 win at Illinois on Sunday, and never returned to action.
Moving forward, his status remains unclear.
"I don't know," Michigan coach John Beilein said after the game. "I know that he has a sprained ankle, that's all I know so far.
"I know it was (bad enough that) he could not put weight on it."
I've had one of those sprained ankles and if I had to guess I'd say Morgan will be out a couple weeks at least. It seems reasonable to leave him on the bench if Horford and company can fill in adequately.
Brah-est student section: Illinois? MSU is strong competition, sure. Obligatory:
how's that working out for you, brahs?
But Illinois's student section seems to be comprised exclusively of dudes whose life goal is to be the brah in those Five Hour Energy commercials.
Eamonn Brennan considers Kansas vs Michigan.
The statistical similarities between this Michigan offense and Illinois in 2005 are striking.
Champaign Room recaps!
Two minutes to go in the first half and you've cut the lead to 28-25? Hey, that's not bad considering how poorly you're shooting and how well Michigan is playing and OH DAMN IT Michigan just went on a 7-2 run to close the half and head to the locker room up eight.
Cut Michigan's lead down to four points before the first timeout of the second half? All right, the crowd's back in it and we've got some momen...son of a bitch Michigan just went on an 11-2 run to put you down 52-39 before the next television timeout.
Over and over again the Illini would give a hint of climbing back into this game and over and over again Michigan would kick them right back down.
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.]