mitch mcgary's unbridled enthusiasm
It's been just over a month since Mitch McGary announced his "decision" to go pro. The scare quotes are present because there was no decision to make if McGary were to act at all in his own self-interest.
This sucked. This sucked because Mitch McGary is a joy to watch on the basketball court, a 6'10" mace attached to a giant pendulum, swinging violently back and forth while pausing only to wreck shit. This sucked because he's equally fun off the court, with his unicycle and Bieber-crooning and invaluable coaching advice and generally making Michigan's bench seem like the best party on campus, even if McGary was the only one partying:
What sucked most of all, though, was the feeling that McGary had only scratched the surface of his potential, and factors almost entirely out of his control* limited our exposure to just 12 career starts. Mitch McGary's Michigan career lasted all of 966 minutes played. That's just over 16 hours. That's not nearly enough.
So while I had no trouble writing effusively about Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III after their departures, I've spent the last month struggling to put McGary's career into words. I try to analyze and am left instead with a whole lot of feelings. How does one discuss an athlete hyped to Webberian proportions before he ever enrolled who, apart from one brilliant six-game stretch, never produced as expected yet was beloved all the same?
Probably by ignoring all of that, sitting back, and watching him work, because again: when Mitch McGary was on the court, the only proper response was to drop everything and watch Mitch McGary. He didn't give you a choice in the matter. He grabbed your attention like so many entry passes:
McGary was a defensive force with impeccable timing. His steal rate as a freshman easily surpassed that of Trey Burke, Master of the Halfcourt Pickpocket. He protected the rim. He seemingly rebounded everything. Michigan's defense suffered mightily last season without McGary's interior presence and game-changing ability to erase opponent possessions.
He also boasted remarkable skill for a big man. Defensive boards turned into fast breaks in the time you could say "Unseld." Sometimes he'd eschew that route and just do everything himself. Occasionally he'd finish his coast-to-coast forays with a Rondo-esque fake behind-the-back pass. Speaking of point guard skills, he could thread multiple defenders without looking. Perhaps my favorite McGary play came in the Kansas game, when he hit a baseline turnaround right in Jeff Withey's face like it was routine, not a work-in-progress shot he'd rarely—if ever—utilized to that point.
He did these things while accepting a backup role until it was time to unleash him for the 2013 NCAA Tournament, playing in an offense that relied on him more as a garbageman than a creator, and being the team's #1 scholarship cheerleader and hype man.
Look at the GIF at the top of the post, one more time. It's a 25-point blowout of Northwestern, and there's McGary, showing more effort in one play than some guys do in four years. Sure, he lost the ball out of bounds, but it's not like you can be mad about it; even if it didn't end well, that play brought life to a dull affair, and we were all better for having seen it.
That's how I'll choose to remember Mitch McGary. The flashes of brilliance. The occasional mistakes born from genuine enthusiasm that bordered on excessive. Most of all, the feeling, after everything, that I enjoyed my life just that much more thanks to a big kid from Indiana who seemed to enjoy everything.
*Yes, there's the weed thing. Read that David Roth piece, then think about the punishment for McGary's transgression versus one of another Michigan center—the football one, Graham Glasgow, suspended for part of spring practice and one should-be-a-cupcake non-conference game for drunk driving. I find one of these things far worse than the other, and it's the one that puts other people's lives in actual danger.
I have a copy of the Kentucky game. I went so far as to open it in the program I use to make GIFs, because despite the outcome I thought Caris LeVert's block/tie-up of Julius Randle was worth GIFing for future reference. Naturally, CBS showed one useless replay angle and cut off the second, useful angle halfway through the play.
There will be no Kentucky GIFs today.
Anyway, the Tennessee game worked out much better and also provided several great moments, none more important than the charge Jordan Morgan drew on Jarnell Stokes:
I know this is an utterly pointless exercise, but this call has been much-discussed—was it really a charge, or did Morgan just hit the deck at the first sign of contact?
Unless you want to argue that Morgan committed a blocking foul—dubious, in my opinion—then the answer is irrelevant. Watch Caris LeVert poke the ball away as the contact occurs; watch how the ball voodoo-spins and somehow stays inbounds, and LeVert making the heads up play to go after it until the whistle blows. If this had been a no-call, it would've been a steal, and the song remains the same.
Since Stokes lowered his shoulder like he was Marshawn Lynch in the open field against a safety, this whole aside was probably unnecessary.
[Hit THE JUMP for the bench mob ending the season in style, Nik Stauskas going Harlem Globetrotter, DEATH FROM ABOVE, and more.]
3/20/2014 – Michigan 57 – Wofford 40 – 26-8, reach round of 32
It's nice to be a two seed. Michigan played an ugly game by its standards. They turned the ball over on almost 20% of their possessions, got to the line just nine times, and allowed a SoCon team to hit half their twos. But since that SoCon team put up an epic brickfest from three, they ran away with a near 20 point victory in a short 56-possession game.
The privilege of being way high up in the seeding is you can have a crappy first game and still not sweat it much. (Usually.) Contrast that with tourney darling Louisville, which found itself down two to Manhattan with two minutes left. There's a big difference between a 15 and a 13 even for a team that is arguably underseeded. Hooray playing well enough in the regular season to draw Kenpom's #184 team.
Yes, that is going up. There was a point in the first half when Zak Irvin had the ball and a relatively open three and did not take it. I fainted at the shock and when I came to apes had taken over the planet. If Irvin gets a look, any kind of look, the ball is being shot. In this one he missed his opportunities; he's still 41% on the year.
Must get it together. That turnover rate is like Amaker's turnover rates before he got to Harvard and became our secret agent. It is against the principles of HORSE basketball and must be fixed up before tomorrow, when a much tougher opponent comes calling. It was probably just one of those things. There seems to be no particular reason that Michigan turned it over a bunch. They were just sloppy, which can be attributed to a lack of focus or randomness depending on your druthers.
The Walton alley-oop that should have had Bob Uecker on the call at right (via Dustin Johnston) was emblematic. Michigan was just kinda off. It happened at an opportune time. Here's hoping it doesn't happen at an opportune one.
Wither the back door? More alarming is that Michigan struggled to get to the rim. Their offense just got over a point per possession—awful by their standards—and it wasn't particularly surprising when I checked the box score. Michigan's offense seemed less purposeful than it usually does.
It shows up in the hoop-math box score. Michigan struggled to create shots, period. Thirteen of their attempts came in the last five seconds of the clock; they got just six shots at the rim in their half court offense, two of those putbacks by GRIII. Because they are Michigan they can waddle through by hitting 57%(!) of their two point jumpers in the halfcourt and put up an eFG% of 81%(!!!) on must-jack shots late. This is always their safety valve.
That they always have a safety valve is lovely, but the offense didn't seem particularly flowing. Wofford pressured the perimeter and Michigan did not have much of a way to punish them for doing so. The general lack of backdoor action (PHRASING) has been a frustration. It was nice that one time against Michigan State when it got them a series of easy buckets early, and then it went away. With Duke and their perimeter overplay potentially looming in the Sweet 16, the ability to get some offense off the backdoor is critical. It really seems like you shouldn't be able to chase a team as skilled as Michigan well past the three point line without suffering something in return.
Wither the dumpoff? I know that Morgan and Horford combined for their usual 6/9 from the floor, but it does seem like these days Michigan's pick and roll game is struggling to get those gentlemen the parade of flushes they've been accustomed to. Opponents are rolling wing defenders underneath, making things more difficult and threatening block/charge decisions that can go in any direction against Michigan's already foul-prone bigs. Hopefully we'll see Michigan look for that kind of defensive action and kick to the corner for threes.
Part of that lack of rim attack. Stauskas picked up two highly debatable charge calls that looked like they could easily have gone the other way or not drawn a whistle. In general it felt like the refereeing swung back to last year's block/charge standards, which is probably good for Michigan if that is at all consistent. It obviously will not be because obviously.
Hey, how about that. Karl Cochran picked up his second personal foul with 11:41 left in the first half. Terriers coach Mike Young sat him for a few minutes, as required to by the coaching Illuminati manual, and then brought him back in. Cochran immediately made some aggressive defensive plays that could have brought a third whistle but didn't and ended up playing 34 minutes. He got just one foul the rest of the way, landing almost precisely on his season average of 2.9 fouls per 40.
A salute to Mike Young. Yeah, he may have been forced into his decision because Cochran is his offense. Hopefully the object lesson there keeps one of Michigan's stars in the game at a point in the future.
Peak bench McGary. Via Dustin Johnston, McGary pew pew pew:
At a later juncture, McGary and Dakich had an albatross-off.
For those of you who don't have twitter. Or for those of you who do and still giggle a little even when it comes up for the 30th time in your timeline. (I have the same relationship to this newspaper cover as I do the tiny kangaroo saying "I love work" in that commercial.)
Oh now you've gone and done it, OSU. Just try any Ohio Bobcat cracks and you will get snapped back at with THE University of Dayton. Trolling has to be limited to… oh, right. That. WELL OTHER THAN THAT YOU'VE GOT NOTHING. NOOOOOOOOOTHING.
Exit Aaron Craft. I'm actually going to miss the bastard. There was nothing quite like the "oh shit Aaron Craft" thing he could do to the unprepared, and nothing quite like Michigan's stars getting pwned by Craft in their first matchup and then coming back to pwn in return. I thought he was a fun player for all the reasons announcers fell all over themselves about him, but turned down about 90%. He was also a terrific nemesis. That he was vanquished at the last is the narrative of the John Beilein era in a one on one matchup.
I won't miss people talking about Aaron Craft, of course. I love Raftery and Lundquist but their eulogy for Craft was the perfect ending to a four-year love affair: kind of gross and way over the top. Will Leitch has a great article about Craft and the backlash and oh by the way Lenzelle Smith might be a nice guy too but who really cares if Lenzelle Smith stopped existing.
Thank you, Dustin Johnston, for lobbing this softball over the heart of the plate. It's remarkable, not to mention hilarious and captivating, that Jon Horford coexists peacefully on a team with these two hooligans:
Note John Beilein's futile effort to wave Andrew Dakich and Mitch McGary back to the bench. You cannot stop their enthusiasm. You can only hope to contain-- no, that seems impossible, too.
[Hit THE JUMP for Aaron Craft's greatest contribution to the Aaron Craft debate, Nik Stauskas making absurd layups, various moments of Illinois failure, the bench mob takeover, and more.]
1/30/2014 – Michigan 75, Purdue 67 – 16-4, 8-0 Big Ten
Albrecht is one of six Wolverines hitting 38% or better from three [Bryan Fuller]
When your friend asks what Purdue is like this year and you tell him that they are the same bunch of inexplicable bricklayers they were a year ago, there's always that trepidation in the back of your mind. Did I just doom Michigan to witness the Johnson and Johnson and Johnson three point spectacular first-hand?
For one, one of the Johnsons is gone. For two, if you spent this game looking exclusively at the rim Purdue was shooting at you'd come away with the impression that their form was borrowed from Rory Delap.
Michigan struggled with the ensuing rebounds because the normal rules about how to position yourself no longer applied. Missed shots generally pop off the top of the rim and go to the back side. These were going anywhere; on one memorable occasion Michigan gave up an offensive rebound because the shooter left a ten-foot floater so short that it bounced right back to his chest. On several other occasions Michigan players had to snap their head back lest a basketball travelling at speed ricochet into their faces. I'm pretty sure at one point Jordan Morgan asked a Boilermaker "you know we're not playing squash, right?" He responded by flinging a ball really hard in the general vicinity of the backboard.
That's just how it goes for Purdue these days. They're 10th in the conference at making twos; tenth at making threes; dead last at making free throws. They were much the same last year save for the presence of DJ Byrd, who vaguely propped up their three-point percentage. That solitary bit of green in Purdue's shooting stats in the post-Hummel era comes with a massive caveat, though: Purdue took fewer threes than all but six of the 345 D-I basketball teams.
Threes are good shots. Very successful bug people masquerading as humans have built entire programs around not allowing them to be launched while launching many themselves. Purdue regards them as poison, because for them they are.
Meanwhile, when Nik Stauskas comes off a screen and takes a pull up long two I'm not even mad anymore.
I feel this deserves a group hug of some variety. I hate long twos. They are odious rejection of math, unless Michigan is shooting them. Nowadays I just think "well, that's probably going in." Michigan shot over 60% from two for the fifth time(!) in eight conference games and stroked over half of their three pointers for the second consecutive outing. The following players launched jumpers that I felt were probably going in as soon as they left their shooters' hand: Stauskas, Robinson, LeVert, Horford, Morgan, Albrecht, Irvin, Walton. That is everybody.
Purdue fans must have looked on at this like cavemen discovering fire, or amoebas recently out-evolved. As a Michigan fan I remember what it was like, and think there but for the grace of six to eight players on Michigan's roster go I.
You keep telling yourself that the thing is unsustainable and then they keep proving you wrong. At some point is the expectation that Michigan can beat just about anyone by launching whenever they get a window of space? You keep waiting for that game where their shooting fails them and they collapse in a heap, but Michigan just banged in 11 of 19 threes at the Breslin Center. When is it going to get, you know, hard?
At some point, surely. This is the belief required both by reason and superstition. But every time Stauskas goes from velocity to perfect airborne stillness it gets a little harder to remember that.
But Mitch, I am contemplating the duality of existence. Ask for Mitch/Horford shots and ye shall receive.
HI JON DID YOU KNOW I USED TO BE A MUPPET [Fuller]
Aside from the shooting, how did you like the play? Not very much at all, old-timey newspaper reporter of legend. This was a very frustrating game to watch when Michigan was not banging in everything they threw up. Which wasn't that often. But still.
Michigan's sixteen turnovers would have done them in against many opponents, and they kept Purdue vaguely in it after Michigan had pushed out to a double-digit lead midway through the first half. A number were extremely sloppy. I can live with Stauskas trying to thread the needle for an assist and getting picked off; not so much LeVert having his pocket picked at the time line. A return of Morgan's hands issues was also unwelcome.
Turnovers both robbed Michigan of opportunities to continue making it rain and propped up Purdue's miserable offense by giving them transition opportunities; without that spate in the first half this game is a laugher by halftime.
The weird, lost rebounding war. The board war was significantly distorted by the fact that there were so many more opportunities for rebounds underneath Purdue's basket (41) than Michigan's (21), so 16 OREBs to 5 isn't quite the enormous blowout it seemed like at the time.
And while the 16 OREBs given up was frustrating, there was no one thing you could point to as the cause. No Boiler acquired more than two of those sixteen offensive rebounds and about half were weird bounces off bricks or scrums in which four or five players touched the ball until it popped out to someone or another.
Result of previous two bullets. Michigan easily won a game in which they had a whopping 19 fewer FGAs than their opponents. (This was not an MSU/Iowa thing where fouls distort that. Michigan shot 17 to Purdue's 15.) That's cool and all, but let's not try that again.
dunk courtesy Derrick Walton [Bryan Fuller]
Okay, Walton, okay. I was trying to pump the breaks a little bit after Walton's 19-point performance against MSU because I wasn't seeing a whole lot of activity in the half-court offense and the free throws distorted his stats.
I am full speed ahead after this one: 14 points on 7 shots, a couple of steals, and a number of nice assists, none prettier than the wrap-around to Jordan Morgan for an uncontested dunk. Moreover, the transition takes were finishes that featured impressive body control against good defenders—not Travis Trice—and he generated offense in the half-court. He may officially be Coming On, and if so that is bad, bad news for the Big Ten.
Come on guys, think of the computer rankings. Major Kenpom-time failure in this one, as the under 4 timeout saw Michigan up 15 with an excellent chance to hit the 17 point KP spread. Two missed front ends and a couple turnovers later Purdue walked out with their heads held high, because there's something about Purdue that makes them super interested in making final scores look good. (Remember Michigan versus Purdue during the Danny Hope era? Onside kicks down 4 scores with two minutes left, etc.)
As a result, Michigan slips to tenth in the all-important Kenpom rankings. If you guys are just going to do that I don't even know why you bother winning the game in the first place.
What is the opposite of the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars? Because Basil Smotherman is on it. I have been envisioning Basil Smotherman in my head for years, because his name is Basil Smotherman, and at no point did it cross my mind that he was a black guy.
I don't miss Glenn Robinson… yet. I may at some point in the future. Robinson was near invisible for the second straight game. He took a few threes and had one nice post move into a short jumper, and that was it. For almost the entire game he was stuck on one rebound; he had no assists. He was a ghost on the offensive side of the ball.
This is basically fine right now since Michigan can get any shot they want, but it's a bit worrisome that Lottery GRIII that showed up in flashes for the Big Ten season has gone into hibernation again. Just a bit. Maybe the next step on the pick and roll is incorporating the GRIII dive to the basket?
Caris carrying things. For the first time in a while it was someone other than Stauskas who seemed to have the primary offensive burden, and that was LeVert. It wasn't by much with Walton and Stauskas helping out significantly; it did seem like LeVert had stepped forward in this one.
The results weren't incredible: 14 points on 13 shot attempts, two assists against four turnovers. His issues were a main sticking point in the first half as Michigan strove and failed to truly blow the doors off. The eyeball test was kinder. Beilein afterwards:
“He can get to places that you can’t figure out, how’d he just get there?'
if he can cut down on the mistakes he can take the heat off Stauskas significantly.
On to the next team of Indiana bricklayers. Indiana, up next, is just like Purdue when it comes to shooting except their point guard can actually do it and they've got a guy (Will Sheehey) who believes he can but cannot, at least not this year. Think sophomore Tim Hardaway Jr.
I don't get it, man. You're in Indiana! You are within the most fertile ground of corner gunners in the country. Hell, Michigan has plundered Indiana for who-dat snipers for years now. Are you telling me there's not one Novak/Douglass/Albrecht around for these teams to pick up? More for Michigan, I guess.
John Beilein, with 4:01 left, more enraged than he's been since Costco raised the price of tube socks:
John Beilein, 1:33 of game time later:
John Beilein is Walter White if Walter White is also Benjamin Button and boy did this sentence get convoluted in a hurry.
Also, note Michigan's 8-0 run over that span. Coaches, if you have the self-control to not lose your mind at every opportunity, the moments when you completely lose your mind have a much greater impact. This is the Law of Beilein, and I'm totally not basing it on one piece of circumstantial evidence. Nope.
[Hit THE JUMP for Nik Stauskas, more Nik Stauskas, various reactions to Nik Stauskas, and a whole lot more from the last two games.]