in town for free camps
This season hasn't inspired much in the way of GIFs posts. Sunday rectified that.
Different rival, different scenario, but man, does that look deliciously familiar nonetheless.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the Ohio State game in GIFs.]
Note: family stuff has me in a car most of today and may prevent me from doing a lot until Thursday.
2/22/2015 – Michigan 64, Ohio State 57 – 14-13, 7-8 Big Ten
Basketball from the perspective of an Andre Drummond or a Shaq is a simple thing. You come into possession of the ball. You hold it between two fingers, bellow something designed to induce a flight or fight response, survey the various and sundry "flight" responses, and dunk explosively on anyone who chose… poorly. If someone tries to do the same when you are on defense, you fling him into the nearest body of water.
Later, you have a snack.
Basketball from the perspective of Spike Albrecht is a multi-dimensional differential equation in which almost all answers are emphatically wrong ones. To avoid being postmarked to Lake Michigan, Albrecht has to swoop through the lane several times to induce dizziness in the opposition and then find the one local minima that will result in a shot instead of an Ent-shaped man flexing.
He does this regularly.
When he's really dialed in the result has a Globetrotter feel. A few games ago there was a brief referee discussion after Albrecht was fouled and the refs tried to determine whether it was on the floor or not. The thing is: they were probably right it was a pass. It looked like a pass. It felt like a pass.
It felt like a pass that was off by a little bit so instead of just hitting the backboard it grazed the rim. It felt like this for two diametrically opposed reasons. One, whatever it was that Albrecht was doing did not in any was resemble a shot, at least as far as shooting has been understood since World War II. Two, when Albrecht flings balls at the basket like that they're usually a lot closer to going in.
I found out Kenpom's added an "MVP" feature in their box scores because Albrecht locked it down against Ohio State. And, well, yeah: Albrecht out-dueled future top five pick D'Angelo Russell:
- Albrecht: 16 points on 12 shot equivalents, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 0 TO
- Russell: 16 points on 17 shot equivalents, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, 5 TO
Choosing your favorite Spiketrotters play from this game is difficult: the swooping layup past Amir Williams? The assist he wrapped around after faking the swooping layup so convincingly he momentarily fooled himself? The pinpoint, Brady-worthy fade pass to Bielfeldt off the pick and roll? Slipping in for one of his trademarked Very Sneaky Steals to seal the game?
I dunno man, I like 'em both, and I also like both the others. Watching that kind of performance from Albrecht is like a virtuoso slot receiver performance or a hat trick from one of the 5'8" puck wizards Michigan used to collect like pogs back in the day. It's disproportionately fun.
Movies pack their sportsbits with various people overcoming handicaps for a reason. People watch sports instead of those movies for a reason: it's so much better when a script is nowhere near the proceedings. Not that you could script items like we saw yesterday.
P: "So the little guy, he does what?"
W: "He swoops by a seven-foot dude and flings it up underhand from the baseline! And he makes it! A lot!"
P: "The littlest guy on the court. Shooting one-handed grandma free throws on the run against guys a foot taller than him."
P: "I can't decide whether to fire you or shoot you."
We're all pretty eh on this season, willing to give a guy with eight NCAA tourney wins in two seasons a mulligan when his best two players end up on the shelf after a massive pile of unexpected NBA attrition, but not particularly eager to watch Michigan lose a bunch of games. There's no storming the barricades like football, just a desire to fast-forward to next year.
Albrecht paused that thinking a few minutes in yesterday, giving us something to grab on to now, instead of next year. That thing is man versus space bear, with man improbably winning.
This was a game to maximize Spike's utility. He drew Shannon Scott on defense, and Scott barely tried to do anything about the fact he was a half foot taller than his guy. Scott had just four FGAs inside the arc, only one of which he hit. He missed a couple threes and had three assists against two turnovers.
Michigan's had some rough defensive outings of late, but this was a good one. Other than the spate of offensive rebounds early in the second half OSU didn't take advantage of Michigan's size deficiencies.
Hey! Chatman! The moment when everything was truly coming up Milhouse was Kam Chatman tip-toeing the sideline to chase down a loose ball and then finishing a transition layup in traffic, spurring an OSU timeout. Before that he'd finished a truly difficult bucket, spinning to the basket against solid defense and looking for a moment like the top 50 prospect he was in high school. It's more baby step than steps. I'll take it all the same.
Ditto Irvin. Aided by the still-baffling Amir Williams's post-defense-type-substance, Irvin was also a major step up from where he's been lately. He was generating shots for people other than himself—four assists—and driving. He still has a bad habit of always going up with his right hand on any layup, though.
Rough day for the freshmen guards. Lost in the actual offensive efficiency was MAAR and Dawkins combining for just seven points on 12 shots with 4 TOs. MAAR did have four assists.
Even in this year. Michigan's now 7-8 in the league with games against Northwestern and Rutgers on the docket. 9-9 is a thing that could happen even with this roster. That's quite a bottom compared to all the other bottoms Michigan basketball has experienced. Flip a couple of those OT results and they'd have faint tourney hopes, even.
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.
12/2/2014 – Michigan 68, Syracuse 65 – 6-1
It wasn't quite as audacious. Michigan had actually run some offense and the launching point wasn't halfway between the three point line and half court. But it wasn't uncontested, and neither was it anywhere near the line. Spike Albrecht raised up, and it felt a lot like a game a couple years ago in a much bigger arena.
Spike wasn't even a novelty at that point. A 5'11" freshman averaging eight minutes a game with Brent Petway-level usage, he was a weird spare part people were still ticked at Beilein for snatching away from Appalachian State at the last second. He'd hit some threes; a couple games earlier he'd unleashed a wicked court-length bounce pass to GRIII long after the VCU romp had descended into delightful farce. That was about all anyone knew about him.
So he comes off the bench for a whopping four minutes against the Orange, in the Final Four, and this guy who looks like he's president of the local chapter of the Young Insert Political Party Heres ends up taking a 35-footer. It goes down, because that game featured a ton of tiny guards against the tiny-guard-murdering Syracuse defense and Michigan beat it by shooting from the courtside seats.
A game later Spike was a national fave-rave tweeting at Kate Upton specifically because he was a nobody. In living rooms across the country, Carls cried out to Mabels that the kid from Pleasantville—Tobey something—was winning a national championship. A nation got its cheek-pinching muscles nice and limber.
Yesterday a healthy swathe of Syracuse fandom saw this shot go up and thought not that guy. Anyone but that guy. I project that at least a half-dozen fell to their knees in despair before the shot even went down.
These people were not just thinking about one shot two years ago. They were thinking about the Globetrotters-but-necessary behind the back assist to Ricky Doyle that had Crisler about losing its mind, about Spike defying every piece of conventional wisdom about Syracuse's long-ass 2-3 zone. That conventional wisdom: small guards perish.
As conventional wisdoms go, this is a good one. There is a ton of evidence in favor of this point of view. Trey Burke had three points in that Final Four game. That year's highly-touted one-seed version of Indiana looked hopelessly inept as they went down in a Sweet 16 game. Iowa barely crested 0.9 PPP earlier this year, with PGs Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons putting up 77 and 56 ORTGs in 52 minutes between them. Six-foot guards loathe the appearance of Syracuse on the schedule.
5'11" don't curr though. Michigan's offense functioned best when Albrecht plunged into the middle of these five gentlemen, a gnome amongst the ents, and invariably found the open man. It was stunning as it was happening and the box score is just as jaw-dropping.
Nine assists. Zero turnovers. 11 points on eight shots. Two very sneaky steals. Hell, three rebounds. In a game where scraping over a point per possession was a Christmas miracle, Spike put up an ORTG of 177. 177!
It's not a fluke. When Derrick Walton missed a game against Iowa last year, Spike had seven assists, no turnovers, and four steals in 35 minutes. It was midway through his seventh Big Ten game last year when he coughed up his first TO. His A:TO ratio this year is 34:4. Michigan is increasingly relying on him as a de-facto starter. He had 32 minutes against Detroit, 35 against Oregon, 27 against 'Nova, 27 against 'Cuse.
Those are the numbers. The eye is even more excited. Spike has gone from a guy who can take the pressure off your main ball handler to a guy extremely aware of the gaps his penetration opens up. His previous tendency to dribble the air out of the ball is all but gone, replaced with an incisiveness that, yes, reminds you of That Other White Point Guard.
As Dakich said on the broadcast after Spike's Globetrotter assist: that was not flash. It made the play. I got a bit frustrated at the passivity of the Michigan offense in the first half, and then I got leery when Michigan tried to screen its way to the interior, because doing that against 'Cuse is asking for a long arm to poke the ball away. I got a little despair-y about it. Then Spike started slashing his way in, utterly confident in his handle, using the fact that he's low to the ground as an advantage. By the time he blew the roof off the place he wasn't a bench player with a cute story.
He was a crutch.
Spike has arrived. He still looks like a whippet interning for Senator Gnome Butterpants IV, but if you try to pinch his cheek your hand is going to look like Syracuse's vaunted zone after he plunges into the lane.
[After THE JUMP: some all-time Kenpom territory approaching?]
According to Spike Albrecht, Ricky Doyle doesn't have a nickname yet, though he's "a bit of a wild man."
As for Doyle, when asked what it feels like to be a fan favorite, he said he didn't even hear his name chanted in high school.
One of those has already changed. The other should any moment now.
While Zak Irvin led the team with 18 points, it was Albrecht and Doyle who made the difference in the signature win of Michigan's season thus far. Spike broke the Syracuse defense in the second half time and again, doing what you have to do to beat the 2-3. His three three-pointers, including the go-ahead bucket with under a minute left, hit them over the top; when he weaved his way into the heart of the zone, he dished out nine assists, including a Sportscenter-worthy behind-the-back feed to Doyle for an and-one dunk.
Doyle did what Michigan's other centers could not: finish, with authority at that, while matching up physically with Syracuse star Rakeem Christmas, who feasted in the first half with Doyle in foul trouble and cooled in the second when Doyle played all but four minutes. After the game, Doyle discussed the physical progress that made this night possible; since getting to campus, he's cut his body fat from 18% down to 10%. It's hard to say who played a bigger part in Doyle's performance: Albrecht or Jon Sanderson.
In front of a raucous Crisler Center crowd, it appeared as though the Wolverines would pull away in the second half after a tightly contested opened stanza; with seven minutes to go, back-to-back threes by Albrecht and Irvin put Michigan up ten. Syracuse responded, however, spearheaded by hot outside shooting from Trevor Cooney, who made four second-half threes; Christmas knotted the game at 63 with just under a minute to play.
After Albrecht's three put Michigan ahead, then Syracuse's Michael Gbinije cut that lead to one with an impressive runner off the backboard, what had been a well-played game took a turn for the ridiculous. Derrick Walton missed the front end of a one-and-one, only for Cuse's Chris McCullough to chuck the ensuing outlet pass out of bounds. Caris LeVert had another opportunity to put Michigan up three at the line, only to miss the front end of his potential pair; after Syracuse rushed up the court, Kaleb Joseph lost the handle and had to foul LeVert after a wild scramble.
This time, LeVert calmly knocked down his free throws, and Joseph's desperation attempt to tie fell well off the mark as the buzzer sounded.
As the four factors indicate, Michigan won this game not with their shooting—though that perked up quite a bit after they went 3/17 from beyond the arc in the first half—but by taking care of the ball, something Syracuse, with 19 turnovers, couldn't accomplish. Equally important was Michigan's rebounding; facing a big Syracuse team that crashes the glass with aplomb, the Wolverines essentially matched their rebounding rate.
The effort of freshman Kameron Chatman should also be noted; he hit a few critical jumpers en route to 10 points and did yeoman's work on the boards, finishing with nine rebounds. LeVert struggled with his shot, netting his 12 points on 16 shot equivalents, but he helped keep the offense going with six assists. Irvin's three-point shooting (4/11) proved critical, and his first-half breakaway dunk—which, yes, should've been an and-one after he got undercut—provided an early highlight.
Returning from a toe injury, Walton struggled, going just 1/7 from the field. So did Mark Donnal and Max Bielfeldt, neither of whom could slow down Christmas. Albrecht and Doyle had them covered, though, and that was enough to take down a very strong opponent.
Now, about that nickname...
11/20/2014 - Michigan 71, Detroit 62 - 3-0
Blow-by. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Apparently necessary perspective. Hoo boy, I guess making the point that having three players account for over three-quarters of the team's points may not be ideal in the long run equated to PANIC for many. It's admittedly difficult to make a nuanced point in a gamer written moments after the final buzzer, so allow me to flesh this out a little more.
It's November. The team has five scholarship non-freshmen. Of course there are going to be growing pains, areas of concern, and the like at this juncture. That's far from saying those issues won't be resolved, or at least mitigated, as the season progresses; on the flip side, that doesn't mean those areas aren't worth pointing out. Michigan is too reliant on their three starting guards right now. The freshmen centers and Kameron Chatman do have to step up, or there will be too many ways to exploit this team, especially when they face larger opponents.
John Beilein still coaches this team, though. In-season improvement isn't just the hope, it's the established expectation, and one only has to think back to the Charlotte game last season for perspective; every basketball team is going to have their share of ugly outings, and Michigan just beat a team with a pulse by nine in such a game.
Another helpful tack. Take a look at the recent scores of the upcoming marquee opponents on Michigan's schedule.
- Oregon, Michigan's opponent next Monday, went into halftime tied at home against this same Detroit team four days ago. They pulled away and won by 17; if the Titans had decided to start fouling at a reasonable time last night, Michigan's final margin might've been very similar.
- Villanova, the most likely opponent if Michigan advances to the final of the Legends Classic (it'll be 'Nova or VCU), nearly lost to Bucknell—the squad M whomped by 24 points—at home last night, needing a late run to win by a misleading seven points after the Bison took a 65-63 lead with 1:51 remaining. 'Nova also had a six-point second-half deficit against #237 Lehigh in their season opener before pulling away.
- VCU, for their part, had a lot of trouble at home against #113 Toledo on Tuesday. The Rockets held a four-point lead midway through the second half and were as close as one point back with three minutes to play before VCU's press forced a few critical turnovers to close it out.
- Syracuse played Cal in Madison Square Garden last night, a neutral-site game that essentially functioned as a home game. The Bears entered the evening as KenPom's #63-ranked squad. Cal won by 14.
- SMU is now 1-2 thanks to a tough schedule and some ugly play; after losing by 16 at Gonzaga on Monday, they committed 19 turnovers on their way to losing by six at Indiana last night, coughing up a 12-point first-half lead in the process.
So let's not freak out just yet.
Derrick Walton! I think this is something that often comes through better in person than on TV, but Walton's court vision in transition is something to behold. It's tough to run a 3-on-2 break better than this:
The move to initiate the break is slick, but the real moment of excellence here is the little dive into the lane just before the pass; even though Max Bielfeldt's spacing here isn't ideal, Walton forces the two Detroit defenders to collapse into the paint, and in doing so he also shortens the pass to Irvin. Walton could've easily stayed wide to the left and tried a cross-court pass to Irvin, but that would've given the far-side defender time to get out and contest the shot. Instead, he hits Irvin in rhythm, and Detroit can only contest the shot late, which is doom against Irvin.
Walton and Caris LeVert are both rebounding very well—both, in fact, have top-200 defensive rebound rates at this very early juncture—and that's allowing Michigan to get out in transition, where they're absolutely lethal.
A quiet 21-9-3. LeVert's final stat line looked darn impressive despite a very uneven performance. I'd still like to see him finish more of his drives at the rim instead of settling for pull-up jumpers, but he managed to knock down a couple of those shots last night, and at some point you just shrug and let the NBA prospect take NBA shots; LeVert's 46% shooting mark inside the arc matches his percentage from last season, and that's while shouldering a bigger offensive load without Nik Stauskas around to stretch defenses thin.
Meanwhile, LeVert's got a 25.6% assist rate against just a 11.1% turnover rate, his defensive rebound rate ranks 83rd(!) nationally, and he's been very active on defense. When his outside shot starts falling, and it will, he's going to post some absurd stat lines.
The go-to lineup. This is where those lingering concerns come to the forefront. Michigan's best lineup for the past couple games has been Albrecht-Walton-LeVert-Irvin-Bielfeldt, and I don't think that's going to hold up in the long run—the lineup has its considerable upsides but also some major shortcomings.
The positives: Spike Albrecht has been fantastic thus far this year at generating offense for others, and he found his shot last night, too. With him out there, Walton can crash the defensive boards a little more—and subsequently get M out on the break in a hurry—and spot up for those killer corner threes on the other end. This is also Michigan's most experienced lineup, so their halfcourt offense runs smoothly; these guys know where to be, which isn't the case at the moment with the freshmen.
The negatives: Michigan hasn't faced a big, strong-rebounding team yet, and I'm skeptical of how well this lineup will hold up in that regard once they do. That would be a huge problem, as this lineup would have to continue rebounding at a phenomenal rate to make up for the fact that there's zero rim protection with Bielfeldt at the five and Irvin at the four. Detroit had a few disturbingly easy layups against this group when they were able to get past a perimeter defender; once that happened, they didn't face any resistance.
I think this is a stopgap while the freshmen figure it out, and nothing more than a situational lineup against better teams. Detroit didn't have the size or post skill to attack them at their weakest point; that won't be the case in a week, and definitely not in Big Ten season.
Beilein has been visibly frustrated with his freshmen. [Fuller]
Withholding judgment. Kameron Chatman is struggling out there. DJ Wilson has no clue where he's supposed to be on the court. Mark Donnal blew a layup last night. Ricky Doyle put up a two trillion. John Beilein is unhappy with their development, and it's not hard to see why.
Here's where I scream IT'S THREE GAMES INTO THEIR FRESHMAN SEASONS. Chatman has played the most out of any of these guys, a whole 60 minutes across three games. There are people drawing big-picture conclusions about him and the others from seeing them play basketball for an hour or less. One. Hour. These guys get more burn in a single practice than they have so far this season.
TOTALLY RANDOM ASIDE: In Trey Burke's first official game, against Ferris State, he shot 1/7 from the field with a 0:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Chatman's offensive woes have been disconcerting, sure, but he's also missing shots that are going to start falling; he's 1/5 at the rim this season. His field goal misses from the free-throw area have often come off awkward drives; when he had the chance to catch-and-shoot last night, he stroked an 18-footer from the right elbow, a shot that very much looks repeatable. He's shown flashes of being a very good passer. His rebounding rates are passable and should only improve.
Chatman has a ways to go on defense, but he's already advanced in his ability to disrupt passing lanes. Looking at what guys like D'Angelo Russell and James Blackmon Jr. are doing as true freshmen—in less complicated offenses, with entirely different roles—isn't fair to the kid, and a slow start doesn't mean he won't flourish as early as this season.
The bigs have barely played enough to even have a half-baked opinion, let alone a fully-formed one. Just because Beilein finally has the luxury to put a senior, however limited in terms of size and athleticism, out there to show them how it's done doesn't mean Donnal/Doyle/Wilson won't be critical parts of the rotation going forward.
— Sactown Royalty (@sactownroyalty) November 21, 2014
It's gonna be okay, everyone.