"The devil's in the details," said John Beilein after the game, describing the difficulty of winning against good teams.
For 38 minutes, Michigan did enough of the little things to hold a lead against top-ranked Arizona. They shot the ball well, played tough defense on the interior, and didn't allow an athletic Wildcats squad to get into transition at all. Throughout the game, however, they couldn't keep Arizona from owning the offensive boards, and once they started converting putback opportunities down the stretch the Wolverines couldn't hold on—after scoring just two points off nine first-half offensive rebounds, the Wildcats had six critical second-chance points from their eight second-half opportunities. Boxing out, as it turns out, is a critical detail.
Michigan led by 11 points after the first possession of the second half on the strength of an outstanding performance by Glenn Robinson III (right, Fuller), who had 16 points on a perfect 7/7 mark from the field at halftime. For the first time all season, Robinson consistently created his own offense, beginning with a nifty head fake in the post that led to a layup for his first points of the game. Robinson was a non-factor in the latter stanza, however, adding just three points on 1/2 shooting, and the team managed just 12 points—three on a desperation Spike Albrecht shot with two seconds left—in the final 7:55.
The Wolverines still had their opportunities in the late going. The teams played dramatic back-and-forth basketball in the final couple minutes. After Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's three-point play gave Arizona their first lead since the opening minutes with 2:32 to play, Mitch McGary retook control with a pair of free throws, then Brandon Ashley and Nik Stauskas traded quick baskets. Then, when Michigan looked to have the Wildcats scrambling for a good look, McGary picked up a very questionable touch foul on the perimeter; Arizona's Nick Johnson, who played outstanding defense against Stauskas all afternoon, rattled both free throws home with 24 seconds left.
Michigan then tried pushing it up the court for a quick shot; Stauskas got a decent look at a long two but couldn't get it to fall, and the Wildcats had the possession arrow when McGary tied up Aaron Gordon for the rebound. Johnson sunk another pair of free throws, Albrecht managed just a split after Arizona intentionally fouled him with seven seconds left, and Johnson essentially iced the game with a third consecutive perfect trip to the line. While Albrecht made it interesting with a pull-up three with two seconds left, the last-gasp prayer by Stauskas after a missed Arizona free throw only found backboard.
Despite the loss, there were many encouraging signs for Michigan. Robinson's first half certainly qualified, as did another strong second half from Caris LeVert, who finished second on the team with 15 points on 6/15 shooting, ten of those coming after the break. Jon Horford played 25 strong minutes, tallying four blocks—all in the first half—and throwing down a huge dunk on Gordon for his only points of the game. While Derrick Walton was limited to one point in just 14 minutes, Albrecht ran the offense well, dishing out four assists in addition to hitting three of his four attempts from downtown.
In the end, though, Arizona's size and athleticism simply overwhelmed; seven different Wildcats had an offensive rebound (five with 2+), and the massive front line of Gordon, Brandon Ashley, and Kaleb Tarczewski combined to score 46 points on 21/37 shooting.
"It gives us great confidence," said Beilein, referring to hanging in there against a team he praised highly. "But also an attitude to come back and get better now."
The path to improvement, of course, begins with the details.
Hey kids. The Michigan Theater's hosting a premiere of a documentary that may be up your alley tomorrow at 7. It's a documentary about a not-very-good Indiana high school basketball team:
It's getting excellent reviews, and was put together by Ann Arbor/Michigan folk, including Davy Rothbart of FOUND. And you can get in free(!) just by mentioning MGoBlog at the box office. It does not get better than that. Except maybe going 9-3. That would be awesome.
Anyway: Thursday, 7, Michigan Theater, an Indiana basketball team. There are also showings in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids; mention the blog and you'll get in free there as well.
"DEAL WITH IT" –Dead Hawk to itself.
IMPORTANT. Here is a story from Don Cherry that he posted on twitter.
1) A big beautiful hawk was killed on North Sheridan Way Service Road last night. How can anybody kill a beautiful bird like that?
2) The bird had to be seen. I can understand, although sad, when I see a squirrel killed on the road, the way they dart in and out .
3) But this hawk did not know how to time it when to get out of the way of as a car comes. Sad. I love hawks. They always look so cool as
4) they sit on a tree like they should be wearing sun glasses.
Sometimes multi-part tweets seem like nouveau free verse with their accidental breaking points and garbled syntax, and this one culminates with the image of a Hawk Cop keeping his eye out for you. Serve and protect (mice not included). Sometimes twitter is great. Other times it's MACK BROWN IS DEAD (I'm not dead yet!).
Also not dead yet. There were reports from campus that Devin Gardner was wearing a sling to classes during the year, and at the bust yesterday he shows up on crutches and in a walking boot.
I FEEL HAPPY
Is there any part of Devin Gardner that is not broken? Is it even possible to judge Gardner's junior year, given that for most of it he was a broken assemblage of bones grinding against bones entirely other than the ones they were supposed to grind against*? For the love of God can someone protect this man?
Hoke says Gardner's issue is turf toe. This will prevent him from practicing this week but won't affect his availability for the bowl, because Devin Gardner is quarterback Rasputin.
*["Hey, tibia, fancy seeing you here. Aren't you supposed to be hanging out with, oh, what's his name? Femur? The big fellow."
AHHHHHHHHHH IT BURNS
"Yes, well I imagine it must. You seem to be getting smaller and there are many more of you."
I AM DISINTEGRATINGGGGGGGGGGGggggggggg
"Strange folk, those leg bones. Don't you think so, ulna?"
Here is a weird thing on Wednesday. Michigan finishes their first-half schedule with a game against Ferris State tonight, for some reason. Ferris is off to a hot start itself, currently 4th in the RPI (Michigan has dropped to fifth since we last checked, just because other team have won games and leapt up) and 13-2-2 overall. The Bulldogs haven't really played anyone outside their conference, splitting against Colgate and St. Lawrence and beating Mercyhurst, but they are scoring tons of goals and are 10-0-2 in the new WCHA.
Center Ice has a preview for you; sounds like there's going to be a lot of pressure on the Michigan defense to escape a heavy forecheck. That is suboptimal. Should be a good one… on a Wednesday. For some reason.
Here's another weird thing. Brennan Serville will return to the lineup tonight. He's displacing Mike Chiasson, leaving converted forward Andrew Sinelli on the ice. Sinelli's played pretty well since moving back to defense. He's small but his puck skills are above average for the position and he's a good skater with relatively good pop for a guy his size. I've noticed him more than Chiasson, certainly, and while Serville is still a mistake factory he's much better with the puck on his stick than Chiasson, and Michigan's going to need to move the puck against Ferris's aggressive forecheck.
Here's yet another weird thing. Michigan is legendarily averse to post touches, something I've been fine with for the most part. Michigan's personnel hasn't lent itself to dumping it on the block and letting someone try to score, and that's not Beilein's wheelhouse, so okay. But with Mitch McGary rounding into shape, Beilein asserts that we might see more than 1% of Michigan's possessions feature a large man on the block:
For those calling for post-entry plays, Michigan coach John Beilein tossed out a modicum of hope on Wednesday morning.
“I think everyone should stay tuned to that because that’s been a process,” Beilein said in an interview with “The Michigan Insider” show on WTKA-AM (1050). “But sometimes we stay away from it, sometimes it frustrates us, sometimes it’s been good to us.”
One of the primary guys calling for post entries has in fact been Sam Webb, who asked the question that led to that answer. Personally, my prescription for success is running a ton of pick and roll with McGary, Stauskas and LeVert. Michigan's gone away from the P&R a lot this year without Burke and the results have been… iffy.
Here's a usual thing that is still a little bit weird. Remember last year when I kept saying that Michigan was just unbelievably young? And that this would get much better the next year even with the departures of Burke and Hardaway? About that.
And that's likely to drop as the season goes on and McGary sucks up more of Horford and Morgan's minutes. This is significant improvement on last year, in fact—their experience number was 0.73—but when you're so far down the list you have to improve more than that to make any real headway.
Not particularly surprising aside: the nation's least experienced team is Kentucky. Kansas is third. Kansas has lost three of their last four and Kentucky is 8-2 with losses to MSU and Baylor and a best win over Providence. It is hard to be young, sometimes, even when you have guys on your roster NBA teams are slavering over.
QWASH speech issues. Quinton Washington's speech was the highlight of the bust, as he opened up about the speech issues that had been the thing politely not mentioned about him ever since his recruitment:
"Coming here, it was hard for me to even pick up a phone," said Washington, who has struggled with speech problems his entire life. "I couldn't order at a restaurant."
Five years ago, Quinton Washington couldn't order food.
This is a problem when you are 300 pounds. Read the whole thing; Washington is a fine example of the reasons you root for the kids inside the uniforms instead of just the uniforms.
Etc.: Michigan is +3.5 against K-State, which sounds about right. I mean okay yeah Michigan blew a late lead to the NTDP, but I mean… Luke Dwyer was in. I'm not bothered. 23 minutes of Jeremy Gallon highlights. RIP Don Lund. Doesn't sound like any juniors are exploring the NFL draft.
Photos by Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog. Optional, highly recommended soundtrack.
While most of you were probably watching football, Michigan blasted an overmatched Houston Baptist squad this afternoon, tying a school record with 16 three-pointers en route to posting an absurd 1.64 points per possession and winning literally every statistical battle.
Nik Stauskas led the team with 25 points, shooting a scorching 6/9 from downtown and looking quite spry on his previously-injured ankle after being rendered completely ineffective Tuesday at Duke. Glenn Robinson III scored 17 points on 6/9 shooting, mostly getting his buckets in transition, including a couple of spectacular alley-oops. Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin each posted 14 points; Irvin was very effective wit his perimeter shooting (2/2 2-pt, 3/5 3-pt) while Walton was a perfect 3/3 from downtown.
The story of the game, however, was Mitch McGary, Fast Break Point Guard Extraordinaire. The master of chaos finished with a stat line of 14 points, nine rebounds (one off.), six assists—tying his career high from last year's Syracuse game—four steals, and a block; five of his six dimes came in transition, as did a couple of his buckets.
#10's face pretty much says it all (Fuller)
"He's one of our better push men," John Beilein said in the post-game radio interview, referring to McGary's ability to start the fast break. "I don't think anyone wants to take a charge from him."
No kidding. I can't describe the experience of watching McGary charge down the court any better than The Wolverine's Andy Reid:
Mcgary leading a break is like seeing a car skitter uncontrollably down an icy hill, then whip around perfectly into a parallel parking spot
— Andy Reid (@AReid_Wolverine) December 7, 2013
For a brief moment in the second half, it looked like McGary's day had skittered to a halt; after attempting to block a Houston Baptist shot, he fell hard onto his back and lay on the court in what appeared to be a good deal of pain. Being Mitch McGary, however, he popped up to his feet, attempted to wave Jon Horford away from the scorer's table, and waved for the crowd to cheer louder as he skipped—no, seriously, skipped—to the bench. The crowd obliged.
From there, McGary continued to put on a show, a freakily-skilled bull on parade leaving terrified defenders in his wake. Yes, it was a rote blowout against a bad team—the 54-point final margin was the largest for Michigan under Beilein—but it was a pleasure to watch. If this is Mitch McGary still rounding his way into shape, I can't wait to see what he looks like at full strength.
Duke's gameplan was obvious: don't let Nik Stauskas touch the ball, let alone shoot it, and force the rest of the Wolverines to find a way to score. Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones spent most of the game face-guarding Stauskas, limiting Michigan's leading scorer to four points—all on free throws*—on 0/2 shooting while the rest of the team faltered, save for a late push from Caris LeVert.
The 79-69 final score is rather deceptive; Duke led by double-digits for most of the game and pushed the margin as high as 18 points in the late stages, with Michigan unable to get closer than six points behind in the second half. The Wolverines scored 19 fruitless points in the final two minutes to carve eight points out of the deficit; by that time, Duke was content to keep Michigan at arm's reach with their free-throw shooting.
Simply put, this game was a major indictment of Michigan's supporting cast—at this point, it's clear that Stauskas is the offensive star, the rest playing supporting roles. Glenn Robinson III's woes on both ends of the court showed up at the worst time. He was nearly invisible offensively and ineffective when he attempted to get aggressive, scoring eight points on nine shots—with half those points coming after the game was well in hand—and failing to get to the free-throw line. He couldn't create a clean look for his jump shot or get around defenders to attack the basket. On the other end, he was pulled from the game at least once for repeated failures to box out his man, and when Michigan got lost on perimeter switches he was often involved.
Until Caris LeVert decided to put the team on his back in the second half, when he scored 20 of his team-leading 24 points, nobody else stepped up, either. Duke's aggressive hedging against the pick-and-roll made it difficult to get the ball to Mitch McGary in the post; even when he was open, the guards failed to get him the ball in good position—eight of his 15 points came in the final two minutes after Duke basically stopped boxing out. Derrick Walton had a couple very nice takes to the hoop in transition en route to seven points on 3/6 shooting; in the halfcourt, however, he couldn't facilitate the offense, tallying just one assist to three turnovers, one of which was a what-was-that pass deep into the Cameron Crazies. Zak Irvin was limited to 14 minutes and managed five points on five shots.
LeVert was certainly a bright spot in the second half, slicing his way into the lane with regularity, finishing well, and getting to the line; after going 2/5 in the first half with no free throw attempts, he shot 6/13 from the field in the latter stanza and knocked down all seven of his shots from the charity stripe. If there's one positive to take away from this game, it's his apparent willingness to be the go-to guy when Stauskas is rendered ineffective; after waiting on Robinson and McGary to be the guy, he had to step up and did so. Yes, he's occasionally overmatched by bigger players on defense; he's also very effective at the top of the 1-3-1 and is clearly the team's second-best offensive player this year.
His emergence in this game was too little, too late, unfortunately; Michigan needs more than one of their perimeter players to score consistently if they want to beat good teams, and they didn't have an answer when Duke took away Stauskas. I don't think this is a coaching issue; when an opponent is flat-out turning their back to the play and solely focusing on denying one player the ball, the rest of the offense should be able to create open looks while playing four-on-four. Aside from LeVert, nobody could manage this as Duke funneled everything inside—Michigan was 3/13 from beyond the arc—and forced the perimeter players to beat them off the dribble.
A loss to Duke at Cameron is nothing to be ashamed of, but the way this game played out should be very worrisome for Michigan. Stauskas has been identified as the main threat, and now there's a blueprint for stopping the offense cold unless someone else—not just LeVert—raises their level of play. This is still a young team that can improve dramatically over the course of the year; it's clear they're going to have to if they want to compete for a Big Ten title.
*To further emphasize how much Duke took Stauskas out of the equation, three of his four free-throw makes came after Blue Devil technical fouls, not anything he did offensively.
Brennen Beyer won't forget that moment. Long after Al Borges is just a name from a past that may or may not haunt us as fans, the Canton native who stayed close to home will delight in telling his family and friends about the time he—a defensive end—scored a touchdown; he'll have the football to prove it, and the final score of the game will be largely irrelevant.
These moments have been frustratingly few and far between this season, especially this month; even in the shadow of defeat, however, they provide fleeting flashes of joy, even when we're doing our best to detach emotionally.
When Devin Gardner rolled out, couldn't reach the corner, then threw aside Tanner Miller like a defective Weeble-Wobble before hitting A.J. Williams for his first career reception—in the end zone, no less—my reaction wasn't to slump back onto the couch, muttering something about Al Borges's doomed waggles; it was "F*** YEAH, DEVIN." Maybe not so profound or eloquent, but damn if it didn't feel good.
Then Michigan lost, miserably, and I drove home in a funk. But they had their moments, and so did I.
[After THE JUMP, basketball moments.]
Via Diehard Sport
The first half confirmed everyone's worst fears. Michigan couldn't handle Florida State's size on either end of the floor, repeatedly getting caught in mismatches defensively while failing to get to the rim offensively. The Wolverines trailed 37-27 at the break, and a 6-0 FSU run to start the second half had the game on the verge of blowout territory.
Michigan gradually worked their way out of the 16-point deficit, however, thanks to three things: John Beilein's defensive adjustments, Mitch McGary rounding into form, and Nik Stauskas leaving no doubt regarding the identity of this team's go-to scorer.
It started defensively, as Michigan switched from playing exclusively man-to-man in the first half—allowing FSU to exploit their significant size advantage—to a brief dalliance with the 2-3 and a full-blown love affair with the 1-3-1, which led to seven second-half turnovers and got the offense going in transition. It also allowed Caris LeVert, who was attacked repeatedly on the interior in the first half, to become a disruptive force at the top of the zone; he was credited with two steals and generally wreaked havoc defensively.
McGary finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds (7 offensive) with three assists and two blocks, and aside from some trouble finishing at the basket (6/15 from the field) he looked like the McGary of last season's NCAA tournament, crashing the boards with aplomb, affecting shots at the rim, and even leading the fast break. He even tallied an assist with a behind-the-back pass in transition that bounced twice before reaching Stauskas, who calmly sunk a three to cut the Seminoles lead to six; naturally, the fast break opportunity came off a McGary steal.
Then there was Stauskas, who finished with a career-high 26 points despite shooting just 7/16 (3/8 3-pt) from the field. After forcing some questionable perimeter shots in the first half, Stauskas found his rhythm in the latter stanza by repeatedly attacking the basket and taking contact—he finished 9/12 from the line. When Michigan found themselves down by two with 11 seconds to play in regulation, John Beilein entrusted Stauskas to make a play, and his trust was rewarded: Stauskas declined a high ball screen from McGary when he saw an opening, drove hard to the baseline, and finished with a layup to send the game to overtime.
Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, who had a relatively quiet game otherwise, led the way in the overtime period. Stauskas buried a three and added four points from the charity stripe, while Robinson sunk two pull-up jumpers to account for 11 of Michigan's 13 points in the extra period. The Wolverines had to sweat out a desperation heave after Derrick Walton missed two free throws with a chance to ice the game; while FSU's prayer hit the backboard (ack!) it harmlessly bounced well wide of the rim.
The concerns brought forth in the first half still stand, of course; Michigan has traditionally had trouble with very big teams, and Florida State was no exception. The fact that they adjusted so well in the middle of the game this early in the season, however, cannot be ignored; it's entirely possible that the Wolverines just stumbled upon their ideal defense going forward. McGary is doing better than anyone could've reasonably expected while playing his way into shape, Stauskas has taken the mantle as the team's go-to scorer, and a young team showed plenty of fight when they could've simply folded. We may look back at the second half as a critical turning point en route to another special season.
First, however, Michigan must get past Charlotte on Sunday at 6:30 EST to take home the Puerto Rico Tipoff title.