at least it's not just us?
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.
At that moment, Iowa's bench decided they'd seen enough. Fran turned to call them back, then thought better of it. Run, my children. Run while you can.
[For the rest of the Iowa game in gifs, hit THE JUMP.]
1/6/2012 – Michigan 95, Iowa 67 – 15-0, 2-0 Big Ten
the desolation of the Fran (Bryan Fuller)
Less than a minute into the second half, an Iowa post fumbled what would have been an easy dunk into the stands. The television cut to Fran McCaffery, a rising star when it comes to volcano-coach sideline outbursts. He obliged, roaring out "TWO HANDS TWO HANDS TWO HANDS" as he quiveringly pantomimed catching a basketball with, yep, two hands. Ace is GIFing this as we speak.
Exactly a minute later, Iowa closed out Nik Stauskas hard, so he drove past his defender and threw down a rim-rattling dunk like he was not, in fact, a freshman 6'6" three-point specialist. On the next possession, same thing except nastier: closeout, Stauskas drives past his man except this time he's in good position, lane-covering audacious spin move for a finger roll. Gus Johnson's voice hit a questioning falsetto pitch as he exclaimed "OH?!," because he is in our brains too.
Nik Stauskas did this, and the camera did not cut to Fran McCaffery because directors aren't that eager to put resigned shrugs on camera. What are you going to do? What can you do?
I've got this Burke guy to check, three star my ass, and he's playing with two sons of NBA players, and they're raining in threes, and that Robinson guy is dunking on anyone I send out there, and now this guy with the ears, the one shooting 55% from three and also being the dunking guy. Screw it. The guy with the ears tears it. I will save my rage for another time, when there is the vague semblance of a point. For right now I'm just going to—
—watch their freshman center block Aaron White's face.
It's okay. I didn't really like his face to begin with.
—watch their freshman center start a break with a half-court outlet pass to Burke. I can deal. That doesn't seem any fairer than finding Canadian Larry Bird but whatever.
—watch their freshman center do the same thing after dribbling three times in the open court… aaaaaaah…
They are going to lose. It is going to happen. They are seventh in Kenpom, and Kenpom's pretty good. Everyone loses, even the really good teams, and it's not like the Big Ten is an SEC-like trip through the daisies. It is brutal. Michigan has nine of their ten toughest games left to play.
Have you seen Trevor Mbakwe? That guy. Victor Oladipo. That guy. Michigan will go on the road, and get it from the refs, and boy this conversation with myself is only indicating the deluded heights expectations are reaching.
If this team bows out in the first round to a MAC team, there will be no "good try you guys, thanks for the banner." There will be wailing, and rending of garments. Because this doesn't come along too often unless you're a Duke or North Carolina type team. Illinois had it back in 2005, and they still talk about that team in a reverenced hush despite its narrow demise in the elite eight. They had it back in 1989, and the MGoWife reports from an undergrad tenure spent in Champaign that they still aren't over losing to Michigan in the Final Four. The rest of the time they've wobbled around good, not great. Even the powers don't always have it all come together.
It has come together for Michigan, and every game starts out with the same doubt—what if they're not that good? What if this is all a mirage? What if I wake up and Nik Stauskas is in fact Gavin Groninger?
Those persist for anywhere from one to 15 minutes, whereupon the nature of this year's team causes the opponent coach to smirk wryly as his guys fall behind by lots. So far. One more whipping, and then the acid test.
From Bryan Fuller:
I know the McGary stuff happened before the Stauskas stuff. Artistic license! It's a nicer way to say "lies!"
GUS. Follow us around, Gus Johnson. You and Raftery, follow this team around, going "uh" and saying "onions" and literally just squeaking in the best way possible. National treasure, Gus Johnson is.
Gus Johnson and the fact that when I check out Big 12 conference games half the time I find they're only on ESPN3 make me almost not bitter that the BTN ended up making the Big Ten grab Rutgers and Maryland.
Big Puppy. McGary had a great game, probably his best at Michigan so far. I mentioned the block and the outlet pass hockey assist stuff above, but I think my favorite play of his was a defensive rebound he corralled in the first half where he had little shot at the ball, so he tipped the thing off the backboard to himself. That kind of thing is one of the reasons he's got the ridiculously high rebound rates he does*. He's got a huge rebound radius.
McGary took a relatively big fall from one-and-done territory to pretty good prospect territory late in the rankings cycle, and that was justified. You can see a version of McGary peeking through the lack of polish that could be the #2 high school basketball player in the country. The rebounds, of course, and then the outlet passing, ability to lead a break for a couple dribbles, what looks like a pretty smooth stroke, and just size in general. Give him a couple inches more vertical leap so he doesn't occasionally leave a dunk on the rim and blocks more shots, and… yeah.
Caris arriving. So we got 32 minutes of LeVert against Central with Hardaway out. Here's what his next two games look like squeezed into one:
30 minutes, 15 points, 1/3 twos, 4/5 threes, 1/2 fta, 3 reb, 2:1 A:TO, a steal, 5 fouls
The three point shooting distorts that a bit, but it's pretty nice to have a guy who's 8/17 so far coming off the bench, and he's got a 3:1 A:TO rate. Dumping the redshirt was the move to make. He's starting to do some of the stuff I expect Burke to do with his ability to shake people with his change of direction.
It is almost redundant to talk about Trey Burke. 19 points on ten shots, 12 assists, one TO. Just another day at the office.
He's got to be the best point guard in the country, bar none. People in the Michael Carter-Williams camp have to explain why having the #4 assist (MCW) rate versus the #11 (Burke) makes up for MCW shooting 42%/28% versus Burke's 62%/41%. There is no amount of defense that can make up for that, especially when Burke is turning the ball over at less than half the rate MCW is.
Two things leapt out about a couple of possessions in the second half after Michigan had blown the lead out big. On the first, he cleared everyone out and went at Iowa's Anthony Clemmons. Clemmons did a great job, first cutting him off and forcing Burke to pick up his dribble, then hounding him on a couple of shot fakes; Burke finally went up and under for an easy two, and the color guy was all like "I don't know what you're supposed to do about that if you're Anthony Clemmons." On the second, he loosed himself with a crossover and launched an eighteen-footer, AKA The Shot Brian Hates More Than Any Shot Ever.
On neither of these possessions did I think what was going on was a bad idea—okay maybe there was a moment in the Clemmons one—and I was not mad at either shot. Because it was just going down.
*[If-he-was-averaging-40%-of-minutes checkin: 7th nationally in defensive rebound rate, 4th in offensive.]
Remember when we were worried about Tim Hardaway Jr. sliding back to his sophomore form? A quaint concern at the moment. Hardaway's coming off 19 points on 13 shots against Iowa and 21 on eight(!) against Northwestern. Against the Hawkeyes he added five assists and five rebounds; Morgan has passed him in DREB but only barely.
Hardaway hasn't had fewer than three assists since the Bradley game, BTW.
Fouls: none. All of Michigan's starters are in the top 200 in terms of fouls committed per 40 minutes, with Stauskas's 0.9 sixth nationally. The bigs will get in trouble from time to time, especially McGary, but once Horford's back—which I imagine will be soon since he dressed yesterday—that concern is not, uh, concerning.
That's the other bedrock of Michigan's defense. They give up the second-least free throws of anyone in the country, and they go together. By not challenging a ton of shots they're in position when and if you miss.
It's also a help for the offense. To date, Michigan hasn't had a period of time where they had to sit a starter for more than a few minutes. I hope that in the event a Michigan non-post picks up a couple quick ones that Beilein will consider the situation and be a little more flexible than he usually is with these things. If it's Stauskas I'm not sure he should even change the rotation.
Philosophy. Michigan's defense isn't good, sure, but the philosophy they've taken is: let's make this a shooting contest. We won't get fouled, and you won't get fouled, and we won't let you have any second chance opportunities, and we won't turn the ball over so you can have transition buckets. Let's see who's better at HORSE. Oh it's us yay.