1/18/2014 – Michigan 77, Wisconsin 70 – 13-4, 5-0 Big Ten
It was unfair. It was beautiful.
Sam Dekker drove on Stauskas and put up a shot that Horford blocked. Sort of. Along the way somewhere between one and three fouls were committed. Michigan ain't care, though, and they grabbed the loose ball and ran back the other way, finding LeVert open in transition for three. He knocked it down to put Michigan up nine. ESPN cut to Bo Ryan.
You know that moment when you figure out that girl you've been certainly not in love with for 15 years is certainly not in love with you and then sparkles fall from the sky while unicorns burst from the chest of everyone in the coffee shop as you share a deep and passionate kiss that leads to a lifetime of happy contemplation about how fortunate you are compared to people who marry something other than the very embodiment of wonderfulness?
Yeah, you do. You're an American and therefore have been cast opposite Emma Stone in a romantic comedy. So you know that moment is the equivalent of getting socks on Christmas compared to the camera shot that followed LeVert's three: Bo Ryan squeezing every muscle in his face until his skin veritably roiled with the possibility of explosive decompression. His grinchy eyebrows plunged to a level even with his eyes as his mandibles expelled a torrent of profanity so pungent that the refs would have dissolved in front of his face if they had even a passing knowledge of the language of the bug people of Rigel.
SHOULD HAVE SENT A POET
Every Michigan fan's heart grew two sizes that day. On twitter, Ace's mentions filled up with demands for GIFs, and then threats. I cackled uncontrollably and swore joyously in human language at the TV. Somewhere in Iowa, Fran McCaffery found himself with an unprompted, mysterious, and not-entirely-unwelcome erection.
Fun was had watching Wisconsin play basketball. It's 2014, folks. 2014 is not 2013.
This was the proverbial statement win, work done to validate Michigan's play since the frustratingly disjointed Duke game. There the Blue Devils extended their defense to cut off Stauskas and the rest of the team flobbered around for about 30 minutes until LeVert decided he'd keep Michigan vaguely in it by himself.
Since, Michigan's offense blossomed into the prettiest whack-a-mole you've ever seen. Shut one thing down and something else equally deadly pops up. Leave Zak Irvin, and he'll kill Minnesota. Close out Walton wrong and he'll kill Nebraska. Try to keep Stauskas away from the rim and whoops the center got a layup. And then there's Stauskas in the middle of everything, not just shooting.
But aside from 1.15 PPP against Arizona, the competition level left questions. Even last year's beautiful machine tended to seize up and fall over when presented with road contests against the brutes of the Big Ten. These guys had beaten Minnesota and three outfits for whom the word "tournament" means ping pong in the locker room.
No more. While Wisconsin is not quite last year's outfit defensively, they remain Wisconsin, currently in the top 40 on defense on Kenpom, preventer of all threes and shots at the rim. (There's more about this in the bullets section.) Michigan went into the Trohl Center and shot 86%/55%/54%. Heck, that game against Northwestern is looking like an accomplishment now that the Wildcats have established themselves the second-ugliest basketball team in the country*. So they've played a couple upper-echelon defenses to go with some wonky ones They currently lead the Big Ten in two-point shooting by nearly seven percentage points. Subs, man. That's crazy.
After watching Michigan eviscerate attempts to contain them on the pick and roll, Wisconsin was reduced to giving Michigan jumpers and hoping they'd miss. As the first half rolled along, Michigan did not. Glenn Robinson elevated above any hope of a contest on consecutive elbow jumpers that hit back rim and went straight down like the end of a training montage. Nik Stauskas pulled up from just inside the free throw line. When Wisconsin did manage to lose Morgan or Horford, they literally did not miss. Even Michigan's terrifying late drought consisted largely of wide open threes for Stauskas, a near alley-oop for Horford, and a LeVert shot that was halfway down.
Sometimes, the shots do not fall. You would be forgiven for forgetting that with this team.
Bo Ryan remembers, now. His report to the Grand Chitinous One will be filled with k'halaks powerful enough to rattle thoraxes.
*[According to the metric of Adjusted Offensive Efficiency – Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. You can take in #1 with a quick trip down US-23 to Bowling Green.]
That's just how they do. Much complaining from Wisconsin fans on the internet and some from Dan Dakich about the way Wisconsin was defending the pick and roll. To me, it looked like typical Wisconsin: Ryan has always preferred soft hedges where the big cuts off the basket and makes the pass to the guy slipping the screen difficult, if not impossible.
In exchange, Wisconsin gives up two-point jumpers from just inside the lane. Two point jumpers are generally worse shots than those at the rim or from three, and Wisconsin has encouraged them since Ryan's arrival. The problem for the Badgers in this one is that Michigan was hitting nearly every one of them.
Philosophically, Wisconsin just did what they always do. The texture of their stats is the same as it was last year when their defense carried them: good-to-great eFG%, vanishingly few threes attempted, few forced TOs or fouls committed, crash your own boards. It was just fine for them the last five years.
There is something wonky about Wisconsin's defense this year that was not the case last year. That is Wisconsin trading Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans, and Neverending Ginger Assassin…
…for Frank Kaminski, Sam Dekker, and a 6'3" guard. Their ability to contest the jumpers their defense is designed to provide has been seriously compromised by their lack of size. Compounding issues: while Kaminski is taller than Berggren he's nowhere near Berggren's class as an intimidator.
Actually, disregard the previous paragraph's "seriously." Wisconsin's D is 33rd on Kenpom. They're not exactly last year's Penn State outfit. It is a step back; they are still pretty much Wisconsin, and Michigan eviscerated them.
Related: I understand those turnovers. Michigan didn't have many, as was always going to be the case when Michigan's precision met Wisconsin's passivity. Those they did were concentrated with LeVert and Stauskas on pick and roll action when they tried to get the easy buckets Michigan had gotten in the previous three or four games by dumping it off to the bigs. A number of these were after Michigan's opening barrage, when the natural reaction would be to press the ballhandler. Wisconsin stuck to their inherent Wisconsin-ness and the result was a few passes that were near-impossible to complete.
The grim period. Michigan was cruising up 66-53 with eight minutes left and then scored one bucket over the next seven as Wisconsin cut the lead to one. What happened on offense during the dry spell:
- Stauskas turnover.
- Stauskas misses wide open three. Michigan timeout before next possession, Stauskas exits.
- LeVert misses jumper.
- LeVert turnover.
- LeVert misses jumper.
- Stauskas returns. Stauskas misses wide open three.
- Stauskas hits two-point jumper.
- LeVert misses layup.
- Stauskas misses late-clock forced jack, Morgan fouled on OREB attempt, Stauskas engages beastmode.
The Stauskas shots were just one of those things. He has totally uncontested threes. He must take them.
Meanwhile, LeVert's role in the grim period has drawn some criticism on the internet in the aftermath. I think that's much more the swelling panic everyone felt than a rational evaluation of how Michigan's offense ran with Stauskas off the court, and I say that as a charter member of the WHAT IS HAPPENING WHERE IS STAUSKAS AAAAAH club as it was happening live. Events:
- M tries to post Robinson; LeVert declines entry pass and drives to lane, correctly diagnoses that an alley-oop to Horford is the play but throws it too high. Michigan resets, LeVert turns down P&R, takes a contested two with about ten seconds on the clock that is halfway down and pops out.
- Kaminski gets switched onto LeVert, LeVert tries to drive baseline, is obviously fouled, no call, turns the ball over.
- LeVert ends up taking a semi-contested pull-up shot off the pick and roll. It's a foot on the line item with 14 on the shot clock.
The first is the right idea with execution that's just off, the second is a ref boner, and the third is pretty bad. And as soon as that happened, Stauskas was back. You can't tell much of anything from three possessions and LeVert put up 20 points on 16 shot equivalents.
Stauskas comparison of the week. Stauskas has started adding a thing on the pick and roll that evokes memories of Chauncey Billups: once he gets past the screen, he sticks out his butt to keep his man behind him and then takes a dribble or two, waiting to see how the situation develops.
Stauskas also got 0.01 brownie points for hitting all six of his game-sealing free throws, because I have irrational expectations when it comes to Stauskas hitting free throws.
[@ Right: Chris Smith/UMHoops]
Just hanging out in the corner. Derrick Walton's night went a little beyond quiet, as he took only three shots and had two assists in 31 minutes. And that's totally fine, as Michigan was on fire for most of the night. Walton took the opportunities that came to him and his 36% three-point shooting is enough to keep his guy on his jock as Michigan works a two-man game against three-phobic Wisconsin.
Walton's reduced role on offense helped him on D, where he held Traevon Jackson—just coming off a monster Indiana game—to 3 for 11 shooting and just seven points.
If Michigan's in a situation where there are transition opportunities or a weak point guard or they're leaving him open in the corner, Walton can take advantage. When those things aren't available he's able to defer. Walton's ability to push the ball was part of Wisconsin's even-more-extreme-than-usual abandonment of the offensive boards.
In Big Ten-long game of "HORSE," Morgan is currently on R [UMHoops]
Horgan. Even acknowledging the fact that 90% of their buckets are assisted layup or dunk attempts, the efficiency with which Michigan's two-headed center is scoring is boggling. Morgan is at nearly 70% for the season and since Mitch McGary got shut down for the season he has 23 makes on 28 attempts. That is 82%. Remember that business where you'd get super mad at Morgan and I'd point my fingers at a shooting percentage in the low sixties and say "please stop, you make no sense"? Yeah, well now his ORTG is 127. Now I point at Kenpom and say "please continue, you make no sense."
Horford has been barely less efficient in that timeframe, hitting 22 of 32, 69%, and since Horford's game is a little bit more diverse—he's got that baseline jumper and a post move or two—that's understandable. At least insofar as "understandable" can be deployed in service of explaining a guy shooting 70% from the floor.
Meanwhile, the bigs have TO rates ranging from acceptable-for-a-big (Morgan's 18, which is a couple of points better than last year) to astounding (Horford's 10, which is equivalent to GRIII's number).
Is this sustainable? Well, somewhat. Six-six shooters are going to plunge into the lane and non-Wisconsins are going to give up a number of good looks, and both of Michigan's bigs are better than they used to be. But there will be some regression and guys like Amir Williams and Adriean Payne have overwhelmed M with their athleticism and shall do so again. I'll take it.
The silver lining. The announcement of McGary's surgery was my muse for a tweet that read simply "GODDAMMIT," and it is still pretty depressing to think about putting the demon from last year's NCAA tournament on a team that's already 5-0 in the Big Ten and 14th on Kenpom. A healthy McGary probably swings a game or two in Michigan's favor and… right, not what this bullet is about.
This bullet is about how it's kind of great that Morgan is back in the lineup and playing well after being relegated to the bench during the run last year. He returned without the expectation of much playing time despite an ability to go anywhere with the grad transfer rule, lost what backup minutes he was looking to get to Horford early, and is now making me go "whoa" a couple times a game. This warms the cockles.
Speaking of "whoa." JORDAN MORGAN PUT IT BACK IN YOUR FACE, WISCONSIN. And then looked like he was thinking "did I do that" afterwards. Yes, yes you did.
I like this better than that. Hoo man I just went back to Tommy Amaker's last year at Michigan($) to compare someone to Morgan and found that the best ORTG guy on that team was Ron Coleman. Viva Beilein.
The road ahead. Recent events have freed the Big Ten from a tyranny of Kenpom projecting a Badger conference championship in a year when they don't have to go to OSU or MSU—the most Badger championship of them all. Your new favorite is MSU at 14-4, with Michigan and Iowa projected a game behind at 13-5, Wisconsin a game further back, and OSU a fringe contender projected to go 11-7. Michigan's next two games are against the two top contenders. It's kind of a big deal.
The upcoming home game versus Iowa is huge. Huuuuuuge. Winning the Big Ten is about holding serve at home and picking off one, maybe two road games against contenders. Michigan's got one in the bag; Iowa has an opportunity to pick one up. Michigan beats Iowa and the MSU game is entirely house money instead of 80% house money.
The Big Ten, man. Basketball is the opposite of football.
Derrick Walton's halfcourt buzzer-beater provided one of those GIFs that's impressive at first glance and even better upon multiple viewings. Walton's one-footed leaping release, perfect shot, and understated fist-pump celebration are all visually appealing. The real gold is in the stands, however, with the synchronized exasperated head-clutching by seemingly the entire section to the right and then, well, this:
A few things:
- Hello, Broncos jersey guy. While your reaction is stellar, I have some questions. Why are you wearing a Trindon Holliday jersey at a Nebraska basketball game that you seemingly care a great deal about? Do you not own Nebraska gear? Why do you care this much about Nebraska basketball in the first place? This seems unhealthy.
- A couple rows above Broncos Guy are two Michigan fans wearing gray who seemingly knew the whole damn time this shot was going in. While the one on the left lets his emotions get the best of him, throwing a Jersey-worthy fist pump, the dude on the right holds the pose perfectly. Nailed it, man.
- Just above the fist-pumper is a Nebraska fan staring at the aisle, planning his exit, and is blissfully unaware of everything that happens.
- The entire Nebraska bench, as well as the section in the corner, has zero reaction whatsoever. They've seen a lot of Huskers basketball. They are immune to pain.
- There are approximately 17 other hidden gems in here, including girl in blue jacket just sippin' her water, guy in button-up throwing his hands up and possibly doing a pit-check, lady whose prayers go unanswered, and the two stoic bros behind Broncos Guy.
- Late addition, pointed out by MGoCommenter Bengalfang: right as the shot goes in, you can see a kid behind the Nebraska bench throw an impressively aerodynamic paper airplane for... reasons, I guess.
Given Michigan won by one, this shot turned out to be rather important.
[Hit THE JUMP for a halfcourt alley-oop, Nik Stauskas trick shot magic, Tim Miles unveiling a... toilet, Spike Albrecht giving Andrew Dakich a hearty tweak (trust me, there's no way to describe the GIF that doesn't sound weird), and much more.]
The best guy. When it comes to outperforming seed expectations, John Beilein is it.
He was eighth before last season's run, so this is a list that can change quickly even for a veteran. Beilein also has the relative advantage of having a low average seed compared to guys like Krzyzewski and Calipari, who are impressively high on the list for teams that get such high seeds.
Draft bits. Large chunks of the basketball team are playing or not playing their way into the Interesting Decision section of NBA draft hopefuls. Certainly-gone Mitch McGary's back injury now sees him slip off many first round boards and Nik Stauskas turning into Darius Morris + 45% three point shooting has put him on many radars.
UMHoops runs down the opinions out there at the moment:
- GLENN ROBINSON III has seen his stock drop into the fringe of the first round, as he no longer has Trey Burke feeding him regularly. A lot of the evaluations seem to have some lag in them, as they complain about his inability to shoot. Chad Ford: "can’t hit a shot right now and is stuck in tweener land until he develops a reliable jumper." Okay, but I'm kind of expecting him to hit at least one 18-foot pullup per game these days.
- MITCH MCGARY is old, turning 22 in June, and will have a difficult decision. Some guys say he should absolutely return, others go with the tough decision song and dance. McGary either not on first round boards or hanging on at the very end at 29 or 30.
- NIK STAUSKAS comes up when people get detailed enough to list second-rounders. He's not in anyone's first round right now, though he's on the fringe of it at Draft Express and moving up into the mid-40s on Chad Ford's board. That, too, may be lag as Stauskas's offensive arsenal continues to expand. (Will the NBA care about his defense? I don't actually know.)
If Robinson continues playing like he has been the last couple weeks he'll bounce back into the late lottery range he was in last year and be gone; if the other two want to be first round picks it sounds like they would both lean to a return. Early yet, obviously.
It may have been brutally disappointing and eventually soul-crushing, but at least it was fun for neutrals? Michigan makes the top ten in Bill Connolly's top 100 games of the season, in a loss, naturally. They also check in at 24 (a win!), 17 (a win… against Akron), 42 and 43 (OT affairs against PSU and Northwestern), and 92 (the inexplicably included Iowa loss that was brutally unwatchable all the way through). That's six games, which seems like a lot for a totally nondescript 7-6 outfit.
Gallon continuing on. Always difficult to make a living in the NFL as a 5'7" guy, but Jeremy Gallon just might do that. He's at the Shrine Bowl this week, trying to make a name for himself. He is doing so:
One of the shortest players on the field, Gallon has probably been told he's “too small” his entire life, but he certainly doesn't play like it, displaying a competitive chip on his shoulder in every drill and each snap. Despite his shorter stature (5-foot-7), he has good-sized mitts and is a natural hands-catcher. Gallon has excellent controlled momentum in his routes to catch-and-go in the same motion to be a threat after the reception. As one scout put it on Tuesday: “I know he's small, but look at the production. The kid's just a football player.”
This opinion is not a solitary one:
-The best receiver today was Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon, who consistently got the type of separation I was optimistic we’d see this week. The smallest receiver here, Gallon needed to prove he can get free route-wise other than on underneath drag routes and deep comebacks. So far, he’s done it this week. Much of it is thanks to his quickness at the top of his routes. He snaps his head around so quickly, transitioning from a smooth, appearing-to-be slow start into a quick burst away from his defender.
Gallon's not going to go early at his height but I bet he goes in the mid rounds and hangs around forever as a slot receiver.
Yeah, sure Wake Forest, go for it. Even if ESPN was trying to get the ACC to poach Big Ten schools, that was probably some mid-level exec humoring the dude he was talking to at that moment. "Yeah, Wake Forest dude," said the incredibly bored man, "you should totally turn the tables on those jerks, and it will totally work. A-C-C."
We have the money. You have the numbers. Fight. They're having some sort of NCAA jamboree in San Diego this week, and the primary topic is schools with buckets of money no longer putting up with the idea that the Indiana States of the world should be able to rein them in.
At the annual NCAA convention, a sub-committee of the Division I board of directors proposed a rough governance model that would give more autonomy to the five power conferences -- the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC -- and give a stronger voice to athletic directors with respect to how student-athletes are supported.
IE, we want to give some more money to these guys and if you can't afford it pound sand. This in particular is a good idea:
The ongoing education element would allow student-athletes to leave school for an extended time, but retain their scholarship so they could graduate. For example, a player drafted could go on to have a career, but not give up the academic portion of their scholarship and they could return to finish their education at a later date. A player leaving early would still give up their athletic eligibility, but not their academic eligibility.
Regretful and broke now that you're 25 and your pro career didn't work out? Come back to school and get serious, on the NCAA's dime. Jam that through as fast as possible and make it retroactive.
Meanwhile in Emmert complaining. The jamboree is derided as "all for show" by industry insiders in a Stewart Mandel article, with various athletic directors upset. Which ones makes all the difference:
"A lot of us are concerned about where this is headed," College of Charleston AD Joe Hull said after the first seminar broke up. "We're concerned about where this thing will end up."
These are the right people to be upset. UConn AD, Michigan alum, and potential future Michigan AD Warde Manuel got in a zinger that Lloyd Carr would approve of:
And Connecticut AD Warde Manuel cynically suggested the word "revenue" should probably be included among those core values. So at least some people that work in college athletics are just as jaded about the state of college athletics as you are.
Other issues on the table include redefining agent rules (please) and changing coaching personnel rules to limit the increasing use of gray-area guys.
Chris Brown on Pete Carroll. Carroll is a 4-3 under specialist who has huge corners that he plays press coverage with in a cover-3, which seems like a direction Michigan might be headed what with Mattison's under adherence, Michigan's tendency towards cover 3 this year, their obvious desire to grab jumbo corners (Stribling and
Conley Dawson), and Jabrill Peppers coming in next year.
Sherman’s skills allow Carroll to put his spin on old, conservative Cover Three: While this is zone coverage, Seattle’s cornerbacks play tight press coverage on the outside wide receivers as long as a receiver’s initial steps are straight downfield. Notice the coverage drops from the underneath defenders in the GIF below: This is a zone defense all the way, except for those press corners.
They are not likely to be as good, of course, but Mattison does want to be aggressive—remember the ND touchdown in 2011 where all eleven Michigan players were within five yards of the LOS?—and if he acquires confidence in his secondary, they might end up with something not entirely unlike what Seattle does.
Just try not to play Tyler Lockett next year.
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.]