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.
Here's something to read as you wait for Hand to make you self high-five or send you further into your depressive tailspin.
STEP AWAY FROM THE GROBAN. Okay yeah don't ever talk to a Michigan player about anything but this is a flashback I do not need right now.
Brady Hoke: Fans who want to bash players via social media 'need to get a life'
At least this time there won't be a moronic media backlash against an obviously correct and appropriate sentiment about douchers on the internet who take their frustration out on players. So at least we've got that going for us. Someone make sure that Mike Rosenberg has still been run out of town on a rail. (He what? He got a job where? As a janitor? Oh. Well, the world is a terrible place.)
The Daily has compiled Ace Williams and other 16 year olds having hissy fits at Gardner on Twitter. While it's getting tiresome every time someone points out that racists, idiots, and the 16-year-old-pretending-to-be-Oxford-attending-face-gel-model Ace Williams have access to the internet, yes, all of these people should be shot into the sun. But I think a lot of people should be shot into the sun. I don't think we should put me in charge of the Which People Go On The Rocket Into The Sun committee.
TOP FIVE PEOPLE GOING IN THE ROCKET INTO THE SUN
- Sepp Blatter
- Fred Durst
- Jonathan Franzen
- Whoever popularized quinoa
- Bill Hancock
Q: Where is Al Borges in that line?
Aw man he doesn't deserve to be burned into a crisp. Don't ask me about this in the immediate aftermath of a muffed punt.
Last. Michigan is now dead last in tackles for loss allowed.
This is amazing. For once, your perception that thing X about your team being the greatest or the worst is accurate. Savor this moment. (Forget about all of this immediately using whatever techniques or substances required to do so.)
Stop thinking about that think about this.
if they called it "Bovember" I would be required to do it by law
Steve Sapardanis rates Michigan mustaches of the 1970s. Why didn't I do this instead of the UFR? Because I am dumb. I am beyond dumb. Anyway, here's Sap's greatest mustache of all time:
That's Jon Giesler (1975-78), who is obviously an offensive lineman.
Booing. Michigan Stadium booed during the Nebraska game. I disapprove of this at all times, but at least this time it was blazingly obvious that the fans were booing two runs into the line for nothing that everyone in the stadium knew were coming and would not work. That is coach-directed, and of a different tenor than the stadium-wide hissy fit early in the Rodriguez era. But hey give the media a chance to write a story about it and they will, asking everybody about it about six times. Even, uh…
Obviously, everyone is entitled to their opinion,” [Desmond] Morgan said. “It’s a little bit disappointing, I would say. The guys in this building are the guys in this building. We’re together. We’re not too concerned about the outside influences, whether the fans are up or down.”
…the defense! File under trying too hard.
Resume thinking about misery. So… yeah. "Line Yardage" is a metric that chops out everything over ten yards and relatively discounts yards from 5-10 in an effort to see which offensive lines are doing the best at getting yards under the assumption that most of the stuff after about five yards is not on them.
You're probably thinking that Michigan isn't doing too well in this stat. You are correct.
Worst single-game Line Yardage average in 2013:
1. Michigan (vs. Michigan State): -0.53
2. Oregon State (vs. SDSU): 0.11
3. Michigan (vs. Nebraska): 0.47
4. Miami (vs. Va. Tech): 0.57
5. North Texas (vs. Georgia): 0.58
Georgia State got a better push against Alabama than Michigan got against Nebraska.
That seems un-good. That's appalling, is what that is. Against Nebraska of all teams Michigan checks in with the third worst line yards number of the season, right on the heels of… ahem…
*losing an average of a half yard on actual run plays against MSU once you cut things off at ten yards*
SMELLS LIKE A PANICKED POSSUM
OH IT IS REALLY JUST FOUL
How it's going. The first data on college basketball's fouling crackdown is in. Drumroll…
So scoring is up, but it doesn’t appear there’s much contribution from a change in the way game is played. It’s almost all due simply to more fouls being called in lieu of turnovers forced. Whatever adjustments teams make to avoid committing fouls have yet to take place.
It's ugly out there right now. Hopefully we'll see adjustments and fewer fouls, except in Wisconsin's case, where I hope every single Badger fouls out in the first seven minutes. If you're a Michigan fan or just a fan of basketball that doesn't look like two pigs fighting over an onion, quotes like these are infinitely delicious:
Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy was quoted as pointing out that if someone pays to see Celine Dion in Vegas, she doesn’t foul out at intermission. In an article about the new defensive rules, USA Today quoted coaches, most notably West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, in various states of dismay regarding the changes that make the use of hand-checks, arm-bars and defensive jabs illegal. In a preseason press conference last week, Xavier coach Chris Mack said, “I think they stink.”
And closer to home:
"You're not going to believe what happened," Izzo said on his radio show Wednesday. "I got home last night, and I walked in the house, and my wife was sleeping, so I gave her a kiss on the forehead. A referee blew his whistle and gave me a technical."
A BWAHAHAHAHAHA was heard emanating from the MGoUndergroundLair.
Come on, baby needs a new All-American center's back. The latest on McGary's back, which needs to come back if Michigan is going to go back to the promised land. Back.
“For the first time now he’s done some workouts,” Beilein said. “He’s had more repetitions in practice over the last 10 days. He’s had repetitions and he looks very good and we’re going to continue increasing his repetitions.”
McGary’s on-court workouts are still limited to non-contact, individual work, according to Beilein.
Previously, McGary was essentially limited to shooting drills.
That's… that is still rather alarming. It sounds like there's little chance he comes back full strength for a while yet.
Line revamp #2. Hockey! Hockey. Michigan's putting the lines in a blender again with a bye week to work on business. The new configuration, according to the Daily:
- Di Guiseppe – Copp – Motte
- Guptill – Compher – DeBlois
- Nieves - Lynch - Moffatt
- Selman – Hyman – Allen
#3 is a guess; the article doesn't really mention it. It would be odd to see Lynch center those guys but Michigan has too many scoring wings to put them all on lines with scoring centers. Hypothetically, anyway. Hypothetically, they have scoring wingers. To date they've been sort of scoring.
So far it seems like they just are who they are and will remain so no matter how many lines are thrown in the Cuisinart.
In other news: Racine is ready to come back but Berenson won't name a starter until the weekend and Mike Chiasson will continue playing in place of injured Kevin Lohan.
Old Yost, man. Follow up to that mailbag question about why Yost isn't what Yost was: here's a clip from a 1999 playoff series against Bowling Green that Michigan Hockey Net unearthed.
Bob Gassoff couldn't play hockey worth a damn but he was kind of like a living program-wide hype man. Flip ahead to 4:30 and just see how many people there used to be in the student section. This was before the overhang and before the most recent seat-stripping renovation; in the same space there are probably twice as many people. What did you do, Bill Martin? Why did you kill that so you could put in some seats for boring people who barely show up?
Etc.: If you haven't noticed I've given up on Ace Williams radio silence since yobs like Bill Simonson are citing him as a credible source, this blowing up my inbox and making various players on Michigan having to tell everyone they know they're not transferring. New policy: repeated statements about his lack of credibility.
Daily on Jon Falk. Daily on the long history the NTDP freshmen have with each other. Is Darryl Funk a witch? Here is a Grape Nuts commercial featuring Biggie Munn. Borussia Dortmund is the best, man. John Kryk on the 1973 vote to send OSU to the Rose Bowl.
QUINOA IS TERRIBLE.
2013-14 Preview Coverage
Media Day Wrap: Beilein transcript + interviews with Horford, Morgan, Walton, GRIII
Position Previews: Bigs, Wings, Point Guards
Preview Podcast: With special guest John Gasaway
A Whole Damn Book: A whole damn book
Tonight's Game Info
What: Michigan vs. UMass-Lowell
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
When: 7pm, Friday (Banner raising ceremony at 6:40)
Line: Michigan -25 (KenPom)
TV: Big Ten Digital Network (subcription required)/MGoBlueTV (ditto)
Radio: 950 AM (Detroit), 102.9 FM (Ann Arbor), Sirius Channel 92, MGoBlue stream
UMass-Lowell is making their Division I debut after finishing 15-13 (10-12) as a member of the Northeast-10 (Division II) last year. A full-blown game preview is rather unnecessary.
"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties." — Sir Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning
As Michigan opens its season tonight against UMass-Lowell, I'm certain of two things about this team: they're raising a Final Four banner tonight, and they will be good.
The first is indisputable fact, not to mention a significant reason why it's easy to state the second: John Beilein's squad returns eight players (three starters, four more rotation guys) from a team that came within a half of requiring a bigger, fancier banner. Among those are two players garnering preseason All-American consideration, arguably the best shooter in America, a backup point guard who dropped 17 points in the first half of the title game, two experienced big men, and a sophomore oozing so much potential that he forced his way onto the court last year despite appearing malnourished.
On top of that, Michigan boasts one of the best coaching staffs in the country and bring in two top-flight recruits who will contribute immediately, one of whom (PG Derrick Walton) has already secured a starting role. They will be good, even without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway.
How good depends on a number of factors, however, and for every certainty there is an equal and opposite uncertainty.
Certainty: Mitch McGary is one of the most skilled, impactful centers in college basketball.
Uncertainty: When will he be able to return from his back "condition", and will it hamper him once he returns? (Also: how much do we weigh his tournament run versus his regular-season output?)
Certainty: Glenn Robinson III is an incredible athlete who had an exceptionally efficient freshman season.
Uncertainty: Can Robinson create his own shot, and can he stay so efficient with a bigger role?
Certainty: Beilein will try to play more two-big lineups this year.
Uncertainty: Will this work, especially with all the practice time McGary has missed? With all the talent on the wings, is it even worth trying?
Certainty: Caris LeVert is getting massive practice hype for the second straight year and looks like a potential breakout star as a shooting guard and part-time point.
Uncertainty: Will his practice/exhibition exploits translate to actual production against real opponents this year?
Certainty: Nik Stauskas is a great shooter; also: Not Just A Shooter.
Uncertainty: Can his lethal efficiency as a three-point shooter and pick-and-roll ballhandler continue when he's the team's first or second scoring option?
Certainty: Michigan is starting an extremely talented freshman point guard.
Uncertainty: Michigan is starting an extremely talented freshman point guard.
The list goes on and on*, and I'm okay with this. The uncertainty surrounding the football team this year has largely stemmed from "can this non-functional unit become functional"-type questions. The uncertainty surrounding the basketball team, on the other hand, is more of the "can this good thing become great" variety.
If the pieces all fall into place, Michigan is a national title contender once again. If they don't, this is still a team capable of winning the Big Ten (so long as Michigan State doesn't go full juggernaut, at least), and barring a rash of injuries they'll be a fun team to watch. None of us have any idea what's going to happen; it's still all but guaranteed to be more rewarding than watching this year's football team. Sit back and enjoy Michigan's status as one of the nation's elite programs, one that reloads instead of rebuilds, and savor that banner. We'll worry about certainties another time.
*Will the team's added functional size and experience on the wings equal better defensive performance, for example.