Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
I'm sitting in the Crisler Center having just watched a thoroughly entertaining Michigan win, in which they would've covered the KenPom spread if not for a meaningless* late layup by Tim Frazier, and I really have no idea what to take from it.
Michigan's offense was stellar, racking up 1.39 points per possession with 18 assists on 28 baskets; Penn State tried a soft 1-2-2 press for large swaths of the game and Michigan tore it apart with beautiful ball movement. The Wolverines turned nine Nittany Lion turnovers into 16 points, played well in transition, and continued to pick apart halfcourt defenses with the pick-and-roll.
However, they also gave up 1.13 points per trip to a Penn State squad averaging just 0.98 in their first four Big Ten contests. In the first half, Frazier repeatedly jetted Michigan's guards, scoring 11 points in the first 20 minutes. In the second half, it was DJ Newbill's turn, as he scored 16 of his 17 points while also generating most of his offense off the dribble. While the Wolverines found more success against the pick-and-roll than they did against Nebraska, their transition defense remained porous, and one way or another opposing guards continued to find their way to relatively easy layups.
Michigan never trailed. They also let a 14-point first-half lead evaporate into just a two-point edge before a Jordan Morgan baby hook ended an extended 18-6 Penn State run. The Nittany Lions would come within a basket of the lead twice more before the Wolverines pulled away. Then again, the Wolverines did pull away, and in style—a spectacular halfcourt lob from Caris LeVert to Glenn Robinson III capped a quick 9-0 run with 12 minutes to play, and they cruised to the finish from there.
The game started with eight unanswered points by Derrick Walton, who sandwiched a pair of confident corner threes around a nice fast break finish. Walton scored 12 points in the first half en route to a career-high 16 on 6/9 shooting. However, he also finished with three turnovers—one of which was sloppy enough to earn a quick hook from John Beilein—and he was one of Frazier's primary victims defensively. He's made huge strides during the season, which was apparent tonight. He's not all the way there yet, obviously.
Nik Stauskas led the team with 21 points, making 7/12 FGs and 4/5 FTs, while also hauling in six rebounds and dishing out a five assists with no turnovers. His deft passing off the pick-and-roll allowed Jon Horford to score 11 points on 4/5 shooting and Jordan Morgan eight on a perfect 3/3 mark from the field; Horford chipped in a team-high seven boards. Again, however, there was a defensive downside—Stauskas defended Newbill for much of the second half and was clearly worn out trying to guard PSU's hot hand while carrying much of the offensive load.
Robinson shook off an 0/5 start from the field to finish with 15 points on 5/8 shooting, and he sparked Michigan's second-half run by jumping a Frazier pass and quickly finding LeVert, who split the PSU defense right down the middle and got the friendly roll for an and-one. For his part, LeVert dropped five dimes on an otherwise quiet offensive night for him (6 points, 2/6 FG); like his guard counterparts, he struggled on the other end of the floor, as much with his off-ball defense as on-ball.
In the end, Michigan played like they've done for much of the year, pairing excellent offense with far too much poor execution on defense. Against Penn State, that was enough to essentially cover the spread. Against the next three teams on the docket—Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan State—that won't be enough to come away unscathed. After Indiana's triumph over the Badgers this evening, Michigan sits tied atop the Big Ten with their in-state rivals; how long they stay there depends on how much they improve at preventing their opponent from carving a path to the hoop.
Terran Petteway, who'd already poured in 14 second-half points, blew past Nik Stauskas with disconcerting ease. While Zak Irvin helped in the paint to force a difficult scoop that caromed off the backboard, nobody boxed out Leslee Smith—who, per hoop-math, has 20 putbacks this season on 72.7% shooting at the rim.
Smith's tip-in attempt lingered on the rim for an eternity before rolling off the mark. Two subsequent swipes at the ball by an indistinguishable assemblage of arms couldn't get the ball closer. We know that feel.
Derrick Walton drilled an running halfcourt shot to finish the first half. He also plowed over Smith on a baseline drive to lay in the eventual winning points; on another day, when the fates aren't as favorable, that's a charge.
On a night when 2013-14 Jordan Morgan played the role of 2010-11 Jordan Morgan, the fates cast Leslee Smith as Jordan Morgan vs. Indiana, with Walton playing the part of an early-arriving Ben Brust. We've all seen this show before, and I prefer this director's interpretation.
Nebraska is not last year's Indiana, of course, nor are they Wisconsin, and this 71-70 win featured plenty to be concerned about. A road win in the Big Ten, however, is rarely a thing of beauty. For every poorly-defended Nebraska pick-and-roll, Michigan executed one on the other end. For every blown switch, a beautiful set out of a timeout. For every blown call on Nebraska, one against the Wolverines. The three crucial free-throw misses late were canceled out on the scoreboard by an end-of-half prayer.* These plays offset until a victor had to be determined, and in that critical final minute, Michigan benefited from the breaks of the game.
If Michigan could've done something, anything, to stop the pick-and-roll in the second half, this would've been a relatively easy victory, as the Wolverines played efficient offensive basketball from wire to wire—1.21 points per trip with a 68.0 eFG%. Glenn Robinson III had one of his best games as a Wolverine, confidently knocking down a triple from the wing on Michigan's first possession and going on to score 19 points on 9/12 shooting. He hit multiple pull-up jumpers, got to the hoop off the dribble, and made one of the biggest plays of the game when he purloined a rebound from an unsuspecting Smith, corralled the ball at midcourt, and broke free for a one-handed throwdown to give Michigan a late two-point edge.
The player most representative of this game was Jordan Morgan, without a doubt. Working the pick-and-roll with Stauskas like he once did with Darius Morris, Morgan dropped 15 points on 7/9 shooting, slipping screens with impeccable timing to get wide-open looks at the rim; he even knocked down a pivoting baby hook for good measure. However—whether due to Michigan's defensive strategy, a mid-game foot or ankle injury that briefly took him out of action, or simply being too slow to move his feet—he struggled to stay between Nebraska ballhandlers and the basket on defense, beat to the rim time and again.
On Nebraska's final possession, John Beilein lifted Morgan for Zak Irvin, allowing Michigan to switch on every screen regardless of who set it for whom. That worked initially with Irvin challenging Petteway's shot; it almost backfired completely when nobody was in position to grab the rebound. This is still a team looking for the right answers, and they haven't found all of them quite yet.
One thing is certain, and that's Nik Stauskas' role as alpha-dog. After a relatively quiet first half, Stauskas asserted himself down the stretch, not only as a shot-maker but as the team's best passer; his four assists don't convey how well he moved the ball, especially off the high screen. Yes, he uncharacteristically missed a pair of free throws with five minutes to play. He also scored 12 points on 5/9 shooting, turned the ball over just once while facilitating much of the offense, hit a dagger of a three-pointer prior to that trip to the line, and hit a late layup to give the Wolverines a two-point lead.
After a rough stretch, Caris LeVert provided a solid offensive performance of his own with ten points (5/8 FG) and five assists, creating buckets for himself and others with his now-signature herky-jerky forays into the paint. While it wasn't a totally clean game from him—three turnovers and some poor on-ball defense come to mind—his assertiveness with the ball and ability to find the open man were encouraging given his recent outings.
Walton, meanwhile, may have finally asserted himself as the no-doubt starter at the point. The halfcourt shot was more luck than anything else, but he played within himself, dishing out four assists to just two turnovers, spotting up when need be—drilling a key corner three early in the second half—and playing solid perimeter defense in addition to hitting the game-winner. Spike Albrecht noticably struggled to contest three-point shots in his eight first-half minutes and was limited to just four minutes in the latter stanza. Nebraska was 5/11 on three-pointers in the first half, with three of those coming against Albrecht. The Huskers went just 2/9 the rest of the way as Ray Gallegos (3/5 in 1H, 1/5 in 2H) couldn't get clean looks over Walton.
There are adjustments to be made, no doubt; Michigan's bigs got caught in no-man's land far too often trying to defend high screens, and the guards let their man get around them far too easily on many a drive. Despite this, however, the Wolverines escaped with a road win; their 3-0 Big Ten record has them tied atop the conference standings with Wisconsin and Michigan State. In a season when, like last year, the conference champion could be determined by a few bounces of the ball, Michigan caught their breaks at just the right time.
With trips to Madison and East Lansing looming later this month—not to mention hosting a revitalized Iowa squad in between—the team held serve when they desperately needed it. Don't be surprised if we look back on this game as a turning point after the season plays out.
*Before anyone takes this too literally, I know that's not how it works. Go ahead and post "3-9 is UNACCEPTABLE" now, because you are fundamentally right that Michigan shouldn't miss that many free throws; just remember to conveniently ignore that the Wolverines are 57th in the country—third in the Big Ten—at making them, and free throws are worth one point regardless of the time on the clock.
In the late stages of last week's narrow victory over Minnesota, John Beilein drew up a beautiful post-timeout play that culminated with Jon Horford dunking over three Gophers (capital 'G', of course, or that's a far less impressive feat):
Pretty cool dunk, right? After the jump, check out several more enjoyable GIFs from the last two game--WAIT, HOLD IT RIGHT THERE.
That white-haired Minnesota fan has seen kingdoms rise and fall, winters that lasted a generation, and the White Walkers descend upon
Westeros Minneapolis, but this she cannot bear to witness. Winter is coming—nay, winter has arrived—and this lady knows it.
Don't ever say a Spartan never did anything for you.
[After THE JUMP, Mitch McGary stays fresh to death, Richard Pitino is a strange fellow, Zak Irvin catches fire, Northwestern plays "defense," and dunks on dunks on dunks.]
The "Game ... Blouses" dunk came early today. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
After a rather aimless first ten minutes, Michigan poured it on against a hapless Northwestern squad, led by Nik Stauskas and an apparently healthy Glenn Robinson III.
The Wildcats were able to hang with the Wolverines early—as a late-arriving, weather-be-damned crowd slowly filtered into Crisler—thanks to the efforts of forward Drew Crawford, who had 13 first-half points, eight of which came in the first 11 minutes; his two-pointer at that juncture made it a 13-12 U-M lead after Nik Stauskas threw down his signature two-handed slam off a beautiful feed from Spike Albrecht. Michigan immediately went on a 6-0 run, and after a Crawford three-pointer ended that streak, the Wildcats could get no closer than six points down the rest of the way.
|GRIII's ankle looks just fine. [Fuller/MGoBlog]|
Much of that was due to Michigan's defense against Crawford, who didn't score in the second half until there were just over five minutes remaining. No other Wildcat could consistently generate offense, and the second half featured the Wolverines stretching a comfortable lead into a full-on blowout.
Stauskas led the way offensively with 18 points scored in a variety of ways—3/5 two-pointers, 2/5 three-pointers, and 6/8 free throws—while also chipping in four rebounds and four assists. Robinson, who looked to be 100% after injuring his ankle in Thursday's win over Minnesota, scored eight of his 12 points in the second half as the team was able to get out in transition; he played a big part in that, playing active defense up top and helping shut down Crawford on that end.
In the early going, it was actually Jordan Morgan who stood out offensively, scoring eight points while hitting all three of his attempts—including a slick baseline baby hook. Morgan had a quiet second half, but Jon Horford stepped up and continued to produce at the five, getting six of his seven points in the latter stanza. Each big man pulled down eight rebounds and kept Northwestern seven-footer Alex Olah very quiet until the game was out of hand.
Derrick Walton also had a solid showing, taking advantage of Dave Sobolewski's, um, attempts to play defense by repeatedly blowing by him en route to 11 points on 3/4 FGs and and 5/6 FTs. Spike Albrecht only attempted one shot—a made three when Northwestern left him all alone at the top of the key—while making his presence felt as a passer, dishing out four assists to tie Stauskas for the team lead.
After the first ten minutes, the Wildcats simply had no answer for Michigan's combination of size and talent; the Wolverines dominated the boards (29.2 OReb% to NW's 13.3%), won the turnover battle, and shot 65.5% from inside the arc. Michigan did what they were supposed to do against a bad Northwestern squad; perhaps more importantly, it appears Robinson—who threw down two impressive dunks this afternoon—is back to full strength.
Photo via Marilyn Indahl/USA TODAY Sports
It looked for all the world like a road loss. Zak Irvin, with just five made shots, led the team in scoring. Nik Stauskas finished just 3/7 from the field. Glenn Robinson III left the game early in the second half with an apparent ankle injury, finishing with six points. Caris LeVert played easily his worst game of the year. Michigan was outrebounded by a whopping 44.1% to 17.9% on the offensive glass. Oh, and Minnesota's last-gasp shot even caught the backboard.
Somehow, some way, the Wolverines clawed their way to a three-point win to open Big Ten play. Irvin's five three-pointers on eight attempts kept Michigan in the game after Robinson fell awkwardly following his fourth block of the night; while GRIII eventually returned from the locker room, he never re-entered the game. While Stauskas struggled from the field, he made play after play down the stretch, dishing out a game-high seven assists—including two in the waning minutes to set up Jon Horford dunks—and throwing down his signature "Game ... Blouses" dunk to give the team a late three-point lead.
With Jordan Morgan in early foul trouble and Mitch McGary spectating in a suit, Horford came up huge, scoring 14 points on 6/8 shooting and pulling down nine rebounds—five more than anyone else on the team—while adding in two steals and a block. While Horford made a few defensive errors guarding Elliott Eliason, who finished with ten points and ten rebounds, his tireless effort in the middle was the difference in this game.
Minnesota took advantage of Horford's occasional mishap and Robinson's absence on the interior, but they couldn't get it going on the perimeter, hitting just five of 19 three-point attempts. They had a tough time finding a clean look on the outside, and Michigan also forced 15 turnovers, eight of those steals.
The end of the game got a little nerve-wracking, to say the least, as the officials initially botched an out-of-bounds call—not to mention missing at least one obvious foul—when Minnesota tried to pressure Stauskas down three points with 22 seconds remaining. While Michigan got the ball back after a review, they ended up with Derrick Walton going to the line instead of Stauskas, and Walton missed both free throws. Fortunately for Michigan, the Gophers' Andre Hollins couldn't tie it up on the next possession, and a Horford free throw extended the lead to four.
Even then, the game wasn't quite over, as Stauskas committed the cardinal sin of fouling a jump shooter, stepping under Malik Smith on a wayward three-point attempt. Smith drilled all three freebies with six seconds remaining to make it a 61-60 game; after a pair of Stauskas free throws, the Gophers had one last chance to tie with five seconds to play. Deandre Mathieu managed to get a decent shot for the tie on the run at the top of the key; to the considerable relief of Wolverines with still-raw wounds from Evan Turner and Ben Brust, Mathieu's prayer wasn't answered.
It wasn't pretty, and there's lingering concern about Robinson's health to boot, but it's tough to overstate the importance of a conference road win for this team. Michigan is 1-0 in the Big Ten (and UNDEFEATED IN 2014) after a game in which the tired coachspeak platitude of "facing adversity" very much applied. Not a bad start to the new year.
CHRISTMAS NOTE: Everyone is off until Friday, except possibly Seth, a general in the War On Christmas. Enjoy the time spent with your family and do everything you can to speed up 2013's untimely demise.
12/21/2013 – Michigan 68 – Stanford 65 – 7-4
No column, just bullets:
I'll take it. With Mitch McGary out and Horford fouling out in six minutes, Michigan was down to Jordan Morgan and Max Bielfeldt for big swathes of this game. Meanwhile, LeVert scores one point on seven shots. I will take a neutral court-ish win over a team that just beat UConn in that situation, even if it's by three points.
We Wisconsin'd 'em. Beilien did the thing again where you get to see him be first season Walter White in the locker room, and the brief snippet they played featured Beilein saying the word "solid" three times in one sentence in re: Michigan's defense. He got that.
He mentioned chests prominently. Michigan used them to annoy a huge Stanford team on a variety of post-up shots that ended up being bad looks because Michigan was committing that foul where you shuffle out, bumping your chest into the shooter as he goes up. Unlike everything Horford did, that never gets called and was not called. Stauskas in particular had a couple of "did I just see that" possessions where a dude got the ball on the low block against him and ended up with a heavily contested fallaway. IIRC he was on a 6'10" guy on those shots.
Stanford ended up shooting pretty well from inside the arc (47%), with their center Nastic going 5 of 6, but again a total of six minutes from Horford and no McGary. Given the circumstances, it was a good effort.
Hey, now I remember why I liked you. Been a huge struggle for Morgan for about half a season now but he really pulled Michigan's ass out of the fire, fronting posts for turnovers, boxing out (though he only had five rebounds himself that very large Stanford team was limited to 18% OREB), and following up his obligatory ARRRGH Y U NO FINISH moment by rebounding his missed bunny and putting it back in. He also put on his Mitch McGary hat on a couple of outlet passes that led to hockey assists. Without Morgan making a consistently positive impact, this is another loss and man things look grim.
Other sectors not often heard from. Michigan was miserable from outside the arc with the exception of Zak Irvin, who went 4 of 8 to prevent the rest of the team's 4 of 23 mark from tanking the season. This pops his season average up to 41%, which will shock you if you missed the Coppin State and Houston Baptist games.
Irvin is Just A Shooter. He's got a miniscule TO rate of 8, an even more miniscule FT rate of 7, and has taken about 70% of his shots from behind the line. But when he starts doing more things than shooting threes, people will not say he's Not Just A Shooter, because he's a black guy.
JUST SAY IT. Raftery teased all game and finally got out a "not just a shooter" near the end of the first half; announcers seem to have glommed onto the fact that the internet gently mocks them for saying Nik Stauskas is not just a shooter every time he adds to his enormous pile of free throws. They are trying not to say it.
Just say it, man. We like it when you say it, because it signifies Stauskas has just thrown down a dunk or somesuch other thing.
Speaking of Stauskas's growing pile of free throws. He had 87 all last year. He's going to blow through that in a couple games now as he's already got 71. The leap in his game is reflected in the statistics, in which he's made a Burke-like freshman to sophomore transition. His usage is up from 16 to 23; his assists have more than doubled while his TO rate slips, he's drawing almost six fouls a game, his FT rate has doubled, and his shooting is right on par with last season save a dip in FT% despite the increased usage.
Things will cool off as Michigan exits the bit of their season where Houston Baptist lets you sit in the corner by yourself and repeat your YouTube videos for a live studio audience, sure. Stauskas's emergence into the guy is undeniable. It was a palpable relief that Stanford wasn't going nuts overplaying him on the perimeter a la Duke.
Unfair expectations theater. Every missed Stauskas free throw engenders a tiny conniption fit from me, because I expect him to be Chauncey Billups at the line and he is not. Meanwhile if Mitch McGary hits a free throw I throw a tiny parade for him. (Tiny Mitch McGary parade: buy it for your small child today.) Good news: I have not had a tiny conniption fit for three games, in which Stauskas is 19/19 at the line, including the clutch pair at the end of this game to make the last-ditch Stanford three merely an alarming thing instead of an OH NO BACKBOARDS situation.
Neutral court-ish. Virtual home court again for Michigan. I mind these neutral court things less in basketball where you have a lot more games to play with and a lot fewer people you're trying to pack in. Also, there are a lot of Michigan fans in New York. This makes it unlike, oh, say, Dallas. It does suck that the nonconference home schedule was Arizona and hot garbage but Michigan probably thought they were getting a home game in the B10/ACC challenge and then got screwed.
I'm still boggled at the economics of playing a tournament like the Puerto Rico one, though, where you're playing all your games in a virtually empty arena. I guess Puerto Rico really wants to convince you that they have a gym in which the floor is always wet no matter what you do. Mission accomplished, land of enchantment.
Glenn. Hello. Second straight game in which Robinson has been very efficient, not only at throwing down monster alley-oops but at creating his own shot. Robinson had 17 and probably should have had a couple more as he went 4/8 from the line. If maintained this development bodes well, as it takes pressure off of the point guards even further.
Go team. (Other team.) FSU just picked up a good win against previously undefeated UMass. Their losses are in OT to Michigan, by one point to Florida, and by ten to Minnesota; Kenpom has them going 20-10 and 11-7 in the ACC, which would make them a win you'd see noted as a nice one when it comes time to parse resumes. Stanford has the look of a bubble team, but hopefully they get some thing straightened out and outperform expectations. There is almost no chance of that since Stanford is comparatively ancient as a team.