You should really look at the big version for the background faces [Patrick Barron]
We have a theme, a palpable theme. Michigan plays about as well as they can, is right in it with a team headed to the tournament, and cannot finish the job. Three of Michigan's last four losses have followed that pattern, with the exception a home blowout against suddenly incandescent Iowa.
That was also going to happen—the ugly blowouts against teams that can exploit the various holes in Michigan's roster—but overall it's a familiar theme: Michigan's got a bunch of guys trying their best and not quite making it. This is also known as "the Amaker tenure."
In this case Michigan had to get raided by the NBA draft, lose their top two players, and have their touted freshman spectacularly underperform. They'll be a lot better next year. Take this team, add Walton, Duncan Robinson, DJ Wilson, and a year of experience for literally everyone and you're back to being a tourney team.
Levert? FWIW, I was talking to Sam Webb during my weekly WTKA thing (Thursdays, 9 AM) and LeVert came up; he said that it wasn't a slam dunk he'd go, and I was like "er, what" and he said he likes school, loves the team, and might stick it out. He is very young for his grade. Obviously, the prospect of a guaranteed seven-figure contract is and will remain tempting.
It would be nice to finally get a guy who could go back.
Irvin bust out. Indiana does not have a good defense. Let's stipulate that. But Michigan actually saw a good deal of, you know, offense. Michigan's 13 assists were the most they'd had since the Penn State game, and rarely have they cracked double digits. That's symptomatic of an offense that's struggling and resorting to a lot of heroball.
Nobody has been more negatively impacted by this than Zak Irvin, who was an excellent microwave last year and has struggled to initiate his own offense or find kickouts from his teammates. This leads to a pattern of frustration followed by contested shots off the dribble—not good eats for your offensive efficiency.
Irvin shook that against Indiana, finishing a few buckets around the basket that were set up by his teammates and finding small windows of space for his threes. He initiated a little offense himself. He was efficient. After, Beilein praised his improved "acumen for the game," and that's about right. This was also right, unfortunately:
But if there was one nagging frustration with Irvin on Sunday, it was his struggles to finish at the rim. With eight minutes left and Michigan down nine, the forward missed a fairly routine layup. A minute later, he went up for a layup with his right hand despite being on the left side of the rim, and the shot was blocked as a result.
“He’s got his head on right, and he knows that everybody has parts of their game they need to work on,” Beilein said. “He realizes what some of those are, and he’s working on them.”
Major points to the color guy for pointing that latter problem out immediately and informatively.
Anyway, priority one for the rest of this year is for the rest of the offense to pose enough of a threat to opponents that Irvin can either find open threes or, at the very least, closeouts. He can attack those; when he's just trying to straight up beat a guy he doesn't have the lateral mobility to do that without a bunch of spins and other such moves that bring help defenders into play.
MAAR bust. Freshmen are up and down and hoo boy was MAAR down in this one. His missed bunny after a steal was followed by another Irvin missed bunny and those buckets combined to rankle the remainder of the game, no more so than when Michigan ended up three points short on the scoreboard.
This is no doubt an adjustment period. Teams have seen what MAAR can do and have a scouting report on him; now it's up for Michigan to get MAAR playing better than he's scouted. One priority needs to be moving him from a guy who seems to make up his mind whether it's pass or shot before the drive to one who can find the open guys under the hoop when he draws help.
And then Doyle surges. (Also Donnal.) Meanwhile, Michigan's bigs kept moderately-big Max Bielfeldt (three minutes) on the bench for the first time in forever. Donnal put up seven points on four shots; Doyle had 15(!) on 8 shot equivalents. He was one made FT from having as many points as you can without an and-one or three pointer, on 19% usage in 27 minutes.
This has a lot to do with Indiana, which got a total of five minutes from guys bigger than a willowy 6'7".
Negative: even so they still got crushed on the boards. Doyle's trying to block shots that are not good shots to block: in the first half Irvin or Dawkins or MAAR had successfully contested a drive, forcing Indiana into difficult runner from five feet. It missed, but Doyle had tried to block it and his guy was there for an easy putback. Unless you are a pterodactyl man like Anthony Davis, that's a bad idea.
Evidence of offensive improvement. Michigan's last shot went through all five Wolverines before landing in MAAR's hands in the corner for a wide open look. It didn't go down, but to be able to execute that is something resembling progress.
Also, an alley-oop! It seems like forever ago when Michigan got two or three of those a game from Robinson.
[@ right: Patrick Barron]
Evidence they've got a ways to go. Blackmon (sigh) and Ferrell had a great sequence against the 2-3 in which Blackmon attacked, drawing both high defenders. Ferrell saw this and made a cut to the soft spot of the 2-3, receiving the pass and finishing and and-one against a highly disadvantaged Irvin.
That's not something we've seen much of from Michigan during their extensive opportunities to go up against a 2-3. Very, very rarely does anyone force the zone to react before attempting to get a pass inside the arc, and a lot of the time Michigan spends 20 seconds or so trying to make a pass to initiate their offense against a zone that hasn't been deformed or stretched.
Chatman thing. He did little in his ten minutes. This is something of an improvement. I did wonder what was going on on several possessions where he sat in the middle of the floor like he was flashing to the post against a 2-3. He brought a defender with him, which almost made it look like Indiana was running a 1-3-1. It was a confusing time.
Then I figured out that Indiana was just in man to man and Chatman kept flashing to the post because he didn't recognize that. This happened on three or four possessions and is another ominous sign about how far he has to go.
Must… fight… old man sportswriter… feels. SPOCK. I am not a fan of guys sitting back from their typewriters proclaiming some dude they don't know a scourge of society because he is a bit of a showoff. I think this is more reflective of the person writing it than the subject.
But, man, Troy Williams takes it to another level. Troy Williams flexes at his mom after he successfully pours milk in his cereal. Troy Williams goes to children's hospitals and mean-mugs at cancer patients because he is to date free of same. Troy Williams makes me an old man sportswriter and therefore I dislike him.
Hatch bits. ESPN story and video:
Thing I never want to see again. A Yogi Ferrell pull-up three. I would like him to not be at Indiana, please.
Oh, the faces you'll show. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman's last-second attempt to tie from the corner summed up this Michigan team of late. Indiana looked like they'd win comfortably for most of the game, at times threatening to break the game wide open, but the Wolverines clawed back into it late, overcoming their porous defense with timely buckets.
The final possession played out similarly. Zak Irvin, whose hot hand brought M within striking distance, was clearly the first option, but IU wouldn't allow him a decent look. As the clock wound perilously close to zero, Michigan swung the ball around the arc, and suddenly there was MAAR, standing alone in the corner.
His try caught only iron, and we're once again left to commending Michigan's effort in a narrow loss against a better team.
This team, in its current form, just isn't talented enough to overcome too many mistakes. The first half featured Indiana jumping out to a lead in part due to too many Wolverine turnovers. The second half featured a couple critical missed layups—including MAAR blowing a breakaway that would've pulled M within two—and too many offensive boards for IU.
Michigan struggled throughout on defense, failing to keep Yogi Ferrell (18 points, six assists) out of the lane whether in man or zone; Ferrell did most of his damage in the paint, either swooping in for layups or creating open looks when the defense collapsed. Troy Williams posted 20 and 8 in an impressive performance highlighted by a couple thunderous dunks.
The failings on the other end meant Zak Irvin's 23-point output (9/16 FG) went in vain. Ditto Michigan's most productive performance from a big man in a long time, Ricky Doyle's 15 points on 5/5 FGs and 5/6 FTs. While the offense clicked in the second half, the hole dug in the first proved too deep to escape.
Facing their most difficult stretch of the season ahead, Michigan has a lot of positives to take from the last couple weeks. To actually start recording some signature wins, however, they must start shoring up the mistakes.
This appears to be an effective hedge. [Fuller]
Brian directed me to an excellent Vantage Sports article detailing how NBA teams defend the on-ball screen earlier this week and suggested it would be a good idea to take a closer look at how Michigan does it. Before getting into the Wolverines specifically, a look at the three basic ways to defend this:
- Hard Hedge — The way M's done it the most under Beilein. The defender guarding the screener (usually a big man) aggressively slides out on the ballhandler to cut off a drive to the basket and make quick passes more difficult. This temporarily commits two defenders to the ballhandler and usually requires quick rotation from the other defenders on the court.
- Soft Show — A less aggressive approach that still briefly commits two defenders to the ballhandler, in this case the defender guarding the screener moves next to the screener, cutting off a drive directly to the hoop; he doesn't move all the way out on the ballhandler, however, and dives back to the screener after cutting off the initial drive. This still requires some weakside rotation.
- Drop Back — The conservative tack. The defender on the screener drops back (surprise!) into the paint, discouraging the ballhandler from driving while also lessening the burden on other defenders to rotate onto the roll man. This does require the defender on the ballhandler to fight over the screen well, otherwise there's room for a pull-up three.
As best I can tell, college teams favor the more aggressive approaches. This is likely due to two things: pro point guards are really damn good, and there's less space inside the arc to cover in college, making it easier to recover after a hard or soft hedge.
I went through the last three games—Rutgers, Wisconsin, and Nebraska—to see how Michigan defended the pick-and-roll. I found nine instances in which Michigan was in man defense against a P&R*; six times they hedged hard and three times they played a soft show. The results:
A few takeaways with picture pages after THE JUMP.
Ace: Michigan's basketball season is almost certainly lost, but there's always the prospect of seeing one or two players transform under Beilein's continued tutelage, especially now that most of the freshmen have bee n thrust into major roles. Which freshman do you expect to show the most improvement over the rest of the season, and which do you want to see show the most improvement?
|Nnanna nnanna, nnanna nnanna, hey hey hey, that's pretty high. [photo: Upchurch]|
Dave Nasternack: Expect: Ricky Doyle. I think this is probably the most obvious choice. First, he's been starting for awhile, now, and has already shown improvement in various areas. I'm guessing he's leading in 'freshman minutes played?' If not, he's got to be close. So, just due to experience on the floor, he's got the be as comfortable in his role as any of the other contenders. Plus, the areas of improvement for Doyle are closely related to experience and mental understanding: positional awareness and some body control (almost always for bigs) vs. increased shooting %s, building muscle, better technique, etc. In addition to a couple of post moves, Doyle has shown patience inside and flashes of passion/GAF, which is exactly what you want to see to fuel his improvement. It would also be ideal if he could grab a few more rebounds.
Hope: While there is definitely something to be said for Aubrey Dawkins, I'm going to go with Kam Chatman. Chatman came into school with a ton of hype and excitement—not to mention a little more hair—but has only showed flashes of his potential in short bursts. While Chatman has looked lost both offensively and defensively for long stretches of this year, I do believe that he has the highest ceiling of any freshman on the roster. Plus, unless Donnal were to move down a position, Chatman is the ideal 4 on this roster. His length, size, and athleticism would make him the most ideal fit for the position that Beilein has had in his M tenure. Chatman will definitely have to improve his court awareness, positioning, and definitely his shooting consistency in order to do so, however. Based on losing his starting spot, a further decrease in minutes, and the eyeball test when he was playing more consistently, I'm guessing that his "growth jump" will come over the summer or in 15/16 rather than in the next couple of months.
John Beilein's still got it.
Aside from Derrick Walton, Michigan couldn't hit an outside shot to save their lives against Minnesota, and for most of the game the offense stagnated. With a heavy dose of the 1-3-1 zone down the stretch, however, the Wolverines hung in the game with their defense, ultimately forcing 17 Gopher turnovers.
The master stroke from Beilein, though, came with 38 seconds left, when he called a timeout after a timely Caris LeVert steal with M holding a tenuous two-point lead. The play he drew up couldn't have worked better. Derrick Walton doubled back to take a Ricky Doyle screen, Doyle slipped to the basket unimpeded, and Walton tossed a lob that Doyle threw down with screaming emphasis on top of Minnesota's Maurice Walker. A Crisler Center crowd that spent most of the afternoon library-quiet followed Doyle's lead.
"He was the guy that was making us go," Beilein said of Walton. "Today was all about Derrick Walton." Walton's strong play down the stretch led to Beilein putting the ball in his hands on the game's critical play; with four options, including shooting it himself, it's safe to say Walton rewarded his coach's trust.
The Gophers couldn't recover, and a few Zak Irvin free throws provided the final margin. Despite all their struggles, Michigan now stands at 3-1 in the Big Ten, and just sent Minnesota reeling to 0-4.
While Michigan looked resplendent in their 1989 throwback uniforms, their play was anything but attractive for most of the game. They went 0/8 from three in the first half, allowed the Gophers far too many open looks from the perimeter, and eventually fell behind by as much as nine in the second half.
Then Walton took over in the latter half of the second stanza, scoring five straight points to cut the lead to seven, then throwing a fast break lob to Zak Irvin after crossing up a defender in the backcourt off a Spike Albrecht steal. A few minutes later, Walton gave Michigan the lead with another triple, assisted by a cross-court pass from LeVert, who'd later stretch the margin to five when he drew a foul on a three-point try of his own, then buried every free throw. Shortly after Andre Hollins, who scored a game-high 18 points, answered with a triple, LeVert stole a Hollins pass on the sideline; the fateful timeout ensued, and Doyle drove the final nail into the coffin.
Walton and LeVert each tallied 15 points to lead the Wolverines, though Walton did so in much more efficient fashion; he added five rebounds and three assists, while LeVert came away with four steals, three coming in the second half. Doyle, by far M's best big man on the day, scored 12 on 5/8 FGs, including a pivoting, Olajuwon-esque and-one to key the second-half rally; he also pulled in four offensive rebounds. Zak Irvin, who continued to struggle with his shot, chipped in 12 points. Spike Albrecht (six) and Kam Chatman (two) were the only other Wolverines to score on the day.
Even though Michigan continued to have a hard time getting their shots to fall, they found a way to pull out a tough game against a Minnesota squad whose conference record belies their quality. Active zone defense bailed the Wolverines out time and again down the stretch. Add in a little Beilein clipboard wizardry, and suddenly Michigan is riding back-to-back wins into a showdown in Columbus on Tuesday.
For a distressingly long time, it appeared Jim Harbaugh's homecoming day would be slightly tarnished by another basketball loss. Then an unlikely hero emerged.
Aubrey Dawkins—a freshman from Palo Alto, because it's a day for poetry—came into today's game with 15 points on the season. He'd made just two of his 11 three-point attempts. But Michigan could not lose today, and Dawkins made sure of it, leading all scorers with 20 points and drilling six of seven triples. His final three was a dagger, giving the Wolverines a four-point lead with under two minutes left in overtime.
It looked remarkably unlikely that Michigan would even make it that far. After a listless first half that ended with a boneheaded foul to allow Illinois a three-point play, the Wolverines fell behind by as many as 13 in the second half. Then the offense found life. Dawkins sunk shot after shot. A previously stone cold Zak Irvin hit back-to-back threes to halve the Illini lead. Caris LeVert and Ricky Doyle worked the pick-and-roll with an effectiveness unseen so far this season.
Consecutive buckets by Doyle gave Michigan their first lead since the early going with just 1:13 to play, but Illinois' Malcolm Hill—who finished with a team-high 19—grabbed it right back with a pair of free throws. Doyle drew a foul on the next possession and split his pair, giving the Illini a chance to win it with the shot clock turned off. Rayvonte Rice bricked a contested 20-footer and Zak Irvin's miracle heave attempt was just a bit long, and the teams headed to overtime.
From there, Michigan's momentum continued. Dawkins and Irvin combined for ten of Michigan's 14 overtime points, with LeVert providing critical support with a pivoting pull-up in the final minute. Illinois struggled to crack a 2-3 zone that the Wolverines increasingly went to as the game wore on. In front of a raucous, capacity Crisler Crowd, M was able to run the clock out without too much stress.
The much-needed victory capped off a banner day for Michigan fans, who were treated to a brief halftime speech from Jim Harbaugh. The ovation for Harbaugh was as loud as Crisler has been this season.
That didn't last long, however. Dawkins caught fire, Crisler rocked, and the faithful who paid a pretty penny to see Harbaugh's first public appearance went home happy.