I did not make this headline up
Previously: Purdue & Minnesota (GRIII Edition)
Of course Spike Albrecht is familiar with the "Big Balls" dance that originated in the (terrible) sequel to a classic baseball movie before being popularized as a basketball celebration by Sam Cassell.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the GIFs, featuring Nik Stauskas making Andrew Dakich do Andrew Dakich things, Jordan Morgan's old man strength, Jon Horford's zen calm, and much more.]
GRIII: Pretty, pretty good at the whole "jumping" thing. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
I'm at a loss for words.
Michigan just secured their second Big Ten title in three years with two games remaining on the schedule. The year the Wolverines didn't win, they made the national championship game. At least four plays tonight were more spectacular than anything I witnessed Michigan do in the entire Ellerbe/Amaker era—good lord, Glenn Robinson—and this wasn't a good offensive effort by this team's standards.
The novelty of Michigan basketball being a legitimate national powerhouse hasn't worn off in the slightest. I still can't help but blurt out "oh my god" on press row when Nik Stauskas throws a lob to GRIII and he throws it down on two people without regard for gravity or human life. Ditto when the backup point guard with one scholarship offer sparks another highlight-reel alley-oop with an Unseldian outlet pass, then follows it up with a leaping high-wire act to tap keep a critical possession alive. Or when Caris LeVert, one-time Ohio commit, continues to develop into an all-B1G player before our very eyes.
I'm still trying to comprehend last year. Now this? Without Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway Jr. or Mitch McGary? My brain is a 404 error. The page you are looking for does not exist. Please return to the front page and continue staring at the banners above you until you're 100% sure this is reality.
Adding to my confusion is the manner by which Michigan won tonight. Their shots weren't falling in the early going; unlike the last handful of games, however, the Wolverines weathered an early opposition run with quality defense. Minnesota led 15-9 at the ten-minute mark of the first half. At halftime, Michigan led 31-20, even providing a signature defensive moment during their 22-5 run, a spectacular Robinson block of an Andre Hollins fast break layup.
The offense eventually found its rhythm thanks to the exploits of Michigan's three stars. Stauskas knocked down 5/8 three-pointers en route to a game-high 21 points. Though LeVert (13 points) struggled outside the arc (1/5), he hit 4/8 two-pointers, dished out five assists, and used his three defensive rebounds to ignite transition opportunities. Robinson added 12 points, half of which came on alley-oops, seemingly touched the rafters to pull down a critical late offensive rebound before finishing the job himself, and knocked home one of his signature 18-footers.
Jordan Morgan scored five points on three shots, but that only scratches the surface on his contributions tonight. He drew a huge charge call in the second half, played his usual excellent defense, and pulled in ten rebounds. Morgan's final board, on a Stauskas miss with 1:45 remaining, led to Spike Albrecht sinking a dagger to put Michigan up ten, capping a high-impact outing for Michigan's backup point guard. Derrick Walton only played 18 minutes; in that time, he scored eight points on five shots.
Michigan will raise their third banner is as many years when the 2014-15 season begins. Several of tonight's key figures won't be in uniform—Morgan, definitely, and who knows what will happen with the pro prospect sophomores? It'll be a familiar feel to start a Michigan season, and that alone is astounding to this child of the late '90s and early aughts.
Better yet, this season isn't over, and once again the Wolverines are rounding into form as the calendar flips to March. I think this Beilein fellow just might work out.
Indiana took down Michigan on Sunday due to two things: their pick-and-roll defense, explained in excellent detail by both UMHoops and Inside The Hall today, and Yogi Ferrell's blitzkrieg from beyond the arc (video courtesy of ITH):
After taking a closer look at the film, much of the blame for Ferrell's 7/8 performance can be attributed to mistakes by Michigan, though bad luck and simply great shooting also played a big role. It's time for some picture pages, gut-punch by gut-punch.
Click all the images for a full-size view.
Indiana runs a simple weave on the perimeter, with Ferrell dribbling from the top of the key over to Will Sheehey on the wing; Ferrell hands it off to Sheehey. Something is already amiss here, as both Derrick Walton (originally guarding Ferrell) and Glenn Robinson III (Sheehey) are both focusing on Sheehey and have stopped moving their feet:
Sheehey smartly takes one dribble towards the hoop, cutting off Walton's route back out to Ferrell while forcing Robinson to prevent the drive instead of switch onto Ferrell:
Ferrell gets a perfect look at the basket as Walton is far too out of position to recover:
What happened? Obvious miscommunication/confusion between Walton and GRIII, for starters. Walton expects a switch; GRIII expects Walton to continue following Ferrell. Considering Walton had an easy path to stick with Ferrell and no screen was involved, I'm inclined to believe this was his mistake.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
1/22/2014 – Michigan 75, Iowa 67 – 14-4, 6-0 Big Ten
If this was a miss, it was his only one. [Bryan Fuller]
Jordan Morgan is old. Not human old. He is ZZ Top Beard old. He's columns about Richard Sherman old. He's archeology old. He's Seven Nation Army old. He has shale and fossilized invertebrates and a layer of iridium in him.
You think I am exaggerating for effect. I am not. Jordan Morgan committed to Michigan on December 18th, 2007. This is what Jordan Morgan and Miley Cyrus looked like then.
Michigan had not been to the NCAA tournament since Robert Traylor was around.
Jordan Morgan is older than the sea. It is not out of the question that Jordan Morgan impacting the earth was the genesis of life itself.
Morgan was in fact the first guy John Beilein recruited to Michigan who wasn't a late scramble pickup.
Ben Cronin and Stu Douglass preceded him chronologically but were in the 2008 transitional class that, like most transitional classes, gave off the aura of "random tall passerby, here is a scholarship." Douglass was pirated from Harvard, Cronin from… hey, a Beilein offer at West Virginia. When those guys signed on Beilein was looking for bodies he could mold.
Morgan was not one of those guys. Morgan was recruited way early, on purpose. He committed three months before Zack Novak did. Remember Zack Novak? Guy with the bulging forehead comprised entirely of veins and leadership who had a pathological inability to not try his hardest at everything he'd ever considered doing? Guy who is now two years gone from the program? Yeah. That guy. Morgan beat him to the punch by three months.
Jordan Morgan is a million years old. This is how old Jordan Morgan is: Michigan sucked at basketball when he signed up.
This is no longer the case. (Someone tell the official site.) Last night, Michigan went toe to toe with a top ten opponent and came out on top… again. Since Novak's Aneurysm of Leadership, Michigan is 39-14 in the Big Ten. Morgan played 24 minutes in that game, because he is 1,000 years old.
And yes, Michigan's stormed through the last three years of Big Ten basketball on the shoulders of NBA first-rounders past and future. This latest victory was largely thanks to Nik Stauskas playing like a guy Joe Dumars will gleefully pass over in the upcoming NBA draft. (If he even gets an opportunity to do so.) But underneath Stauskas's very obvious boggling efficiency there are other boggling efficiencies to consider.
Historically, the Jordan Morgan prediction matrix has been a simple one. If he is playing against a guy approximately his size, he will have a good game. If he is playing against a seven-footer or guy who plays like one by jumping real high, he will be invisible save for good positional defense. That matrix has been taking efficient shot after efficient shot in this Big Ten season; yesterday it finally toppled over.
Here is Morgan's stat line from Michigan's game against the biggest team in the conference: 5/6 from 12, 2/3 from the line, 12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 offensive rebounds by guys he is checking. He kept Horford stapled to the bench, and it wasn't anything Horford (eight minutes, 3 rebounds, 0 FGA, 0 TO) was doing. He was just the best option. The matrix is collapsed in a heap like a security guard around a Michigan State quarterback recruit.
At some point it doesn't matter if Morgan's shots are largely provided on platters by Stauskas, LeVert, and company. Bunnies get missed. Sometimes dunks fly right back out of the basket. Large gentlemen deposit your shot into the stands. I think that point has been reached, because I was checking out Aaron White's numbers and found something familiar in them. If you've been around this site for a while you know that Aaron White is an MGoBlog fave-rave, because he is maniacally, spectacularly efficient. Well…
- WHITE TRUE SHOOTING PERCENTAGE: 71.5, #2 nationally
- MORGAN TS%: 71.3, would be #3 if Morgan was at 40% of Michigan's minutes.
White's usage numbers are higher, but not by that much. The only guy who's putting up more points per shot attempt is one Ethan Wragge, who you may remember from such games as…
Ethan Wragge at the half: 24 points, 0 dribbles
— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) January 21, 2014
Creighton: avoid at all costs.
It would be something if Morgan had his numbers as a jumping jack who can fling things in the basket from above it, like Glenn Robinson III. Since he is not, it is something else. You'd say it's impossible for a below-the-rim guy like Morgan to be so ruthless except for the numbers staring you in the face.
71%. It's there, on paper, looking back at you just as confused as you are. I am not supposed to be this large, it whispers. Tell me there is a theoretical maximum. Please. Yes, Jordan Morgan shooting percentage, yes. You will not grow and grow until you engulf the state and then the nation. It is axiomatically impossible. This is good for both you and the Big Ten, because without that there's no telling what the combination of Stauskas, Beilein, and Morgan might end up at. It might be a number so big it could describe Morgan's metaphorical age.
The imposition of style. Over the past few years there have been teams that try to speed Michigan up or turn them over or press them and they've all failed. Add Iowa to that list. Here's quite a stat in an eight-point Michigan win: Michigan had 12 fast break points to Iowa's 4.
Meanwhile. 66 possessions is a little faster than Michigan generally goes… and way, way off Iowa's normal tempo. That is a comprehensive win.
And they didn't sacrifice offensive rebounds. It seemed like the boards were going to be a major sore spot both pregame and in the first eight minutes as Melsahn Basabe went nuts, but by the end of the game Iowa had been battled to a standstill. Both teams had 10 OREBs; Michigan had one additional opportunity to grab one. Shutting off transition and still grabbing 30% of available offensive boards is quite a trick.
Spike! Dang, man. 35 minutes with Walton sidelined with the flu, and the results are seven points, three boards, seven assists, four steals, and zero turnovers. The second-half steals were all quickly converted into fast-break points and two of them broke up attempted Iowa fast breaks themselves; in particular, the clean swipe that led to an Irvin transition three to push Michigan's lead back to seven was a play that should come with an exclamation point in the box score. That was a five point swing and about 3.5 of those were Spike's, with the remainder going to Irvin.
Michigan was fortunate that Walton was sidelined for a game against a point guard Spike could check. Mike Gesell is just not a volume shooter. Even so, Michigan probably came out better than the expected in that matchup: Gesell was just two of four from the floor with two assists and a turnover.
I don't think anyone has any illusions that Spike is going to be able to guard Appling without fire raining from the sky, so it'll be important to get Walton back for Saturday. Travis Trice does play 18 minutes a game, though, and Albrecht can deal with him.
Yet another of Stauskas's 34 bricks on the night [Fuller]
Stauskas. Crushingly disappointing performance from a player who will never live up to his potential and SHOULD DEFINITELY BE IGNORED BY THE NBA FOR AT LEAST ONE MORE YEAR.
are they gone, the scouts?
So… yeah… wow. That ball-on-a-string assist where he crossed White over twice and then plunged through two help defenders before feeding Morgan was a bittersweet symphony right there. Hooray: that guy plays for Michigan. Oh no: he's not going to be around much longer.
Might as well ride him as long as you can. At this point it's barely worth mentioning that he was ludicrously efficient except when left wide open from his favorite spot in the world. 26 points on 17 shot attempts, five assists, and I'll-take-it defense against Aaron White. Nik Stauskas.
It is going to be really disappointing when Michigan finally finds itself without an alpha dog who can drive them through tough moments, but what a run: Morris, Burke, Stauskas. The series of defiant lip curlers who have passed through Ann Arbor of late is amazing.
What do we think of Iowa's three point defense now? On the one hand, Michigan was only 8 of 27. On the other, did it really seem like Iowa had much of anything to do with that? They got some hands in faces but no more or less than any other team and it seemed like Michigan was mostly hitting the hard ones and missing the easy ones, Stauskas in particular.
Aside from late-clock chucks, most three pointers are the same catch and shoot quality, and I don't think Iowa has anything special to them that prevents opponents from hitting from deep.
Warming up. Zak Irvin returned from deep freeze to provide a much-needed shooting spark in the second half, hitting 3 of 7 from three and even venturing inside the line for a transition bucket. We have photographic evidence.
A palpable two pointer [Fuller]
His usefulness was much more obvious against a team like Iowa that gives up a bunch of threes; previously he was forced to sit in the corner with a guy on him against Wisconsin, et al.
At least he's there, forcing people to check him. Have you seen an Indiana game this year? It's ugly. The only guy who can shoot at all is Yogi Ferrell, and he's their main creator. The result is a lot of possessions where opponents pack the paint with impunity and the second-worst offense in the league.
I don't know what it is with both Indiana teams, but they've apparently decided to stop recruiting shooters. You're in Indiana! You can't throw a basketball without knocking over a 5'11" white dude who does nothing but hit 45% from deep for four years. You should take advantage of this opportunity instead of recruiting gentlemen who give themselves a self-high-five when they hit the backboard.
Late subs. I was confused late when Beilein kept swapping Morgan for Horford on made second free throws, and then it became apparent: by switching the centers, Michigan gave themselves plenty of time to get set defensively so Iowa could not get the whisper of a transition chance afterwards.
It's beginning to feel like last year.
Not necessarily the potential Final Four part, not just yet, even though an eight-point win over Iowa following a triumph at the Kohl Center is a major statement. The realization that we're witnessing something special, though? Something to treasure while it lasts? Oh, it's here.
From the jump, Nik Stauskas was on. He tied a career high with 26 points, shooting 4/5 from two, 4/9 from three, and 6/7 from the line; he also chipped in five rebounds, five assists, a block, a steal, and even shut down Iowa's Aaron White—an apparent mismatch on paper—in the first half. He's playing at a level that more than justifies the NBA talk, and he knows it.
"Offensively, I just think there are very few people that can stay in front of me right now, so I just tried to attack [White]," Stauskas said after the game. "My confidence has been on another level since the beginning of the season. Just with the games I've been playing and the success we've been having, it just keeps growing and growing."
His coach knows it, too.
"I watch him every day and he just has an ability right now that's very rare to get his own shot, to get to the rim, to make foul shots, to draw fouls," said John Beilein. "I don't know if I ever get surprised too much. I love his growth. You know what I am surprised [about] a little bit? For a shooter and a scorer, he's really embraced defense. He did a great job on Aaron White in the first half."
So does the opposition.
"The amazing thing about him has been his consistency all year," said Fran McCaffery. "He's obviously somebody that everybody marks when they're getting ready to play Michigan, yet he's still able to get shots out of the offense, get shots on his own. He's really doing a lot off the dribble, his length helps him there, and he's got great range, obviously."
The shot-making—and shot-creation—of Stauskas didn't just put points on the board for Michigan; it took away Iowa's hope for a high-tempo game. The Hawkeyes entered the game as the fastest-paced major-conference team in the country, averaging 73 possessions per game. Michigan, which averages 64, imposed their pace on Iowa, keeping them out of transition enough to make this a 66-possession game. The reason was simple, according to McCaffery.
"They were making shots. It's harder to run on makes than misses."
While Stauskas led the way, it takes a total team effort to defeat such a quality opponent, of course. With Derrick Walton limited to just three minutes, all in the first half, due to flu-like symptoms, Spike Albrecht had to play 35 minutes in his first career start. He thrived, scoring seven points, dishing out seven assists to zero turnovers, and making perhaps the play of the game. With under four minutes to go, Iowa had cut the Michigan lead to just four points when Roy Devyn Marble corralled a loose ball at halfcourt. Albrecht was the only Wolverine back on defense, facing a two-on-one, when he jumped Marble's crosscourt pass and immediately got the ball upcourt to Glenn Robinson III, who found Zak Irvin in the corner for a game-altering three.
"To be honest, because they had a two-on-one going, I was like, 'I'm too little, we're kinda screwed either way,' so I just went for a steal and luckily I was able to jump it and Zak knocked down a huge shot for us," Albrecht said.
Iowa would get the lead down to three with 2:32 left when Spike struck again, beating the Hawkeye zone with a lob that Robinson just barely managed to stuff into the basket; from there, Michigan pulled away. Albrecht also pulled off the same trick he did to Florida in last year's tournament, sneakily pilfering an Iowa inbounds pass and hitting a quick jumper just a split-second after a GRIII dunk to give the Wolverines a big four-point swing early in the second half.
To seal the win, Jordan Morgan capped off a stellar performance—12 points, 5/6 FG, 7 rebounds in 32 minutes—by using every inch of his vertical to block Melsahn Basabe's layup attempt with 46 seconds left and the Wolverines clinging to a six-point lead.
Zak Irvin (11 points, 3/7 3-pt) also chipped in a couple critical plays; before capping off Spike's steal with a triple, he followed up a three-pointer with a fast break layup in addition to keeping a possession alive with an offensive rebound in the corner. Glenn Robinson III added 14 points despite struggling with his outside shot (6/10 2-pt, 0/5 3-pt); he did his best work defensively in the second half, limiting Basabe to two points after he'd poured in 15 in the first stanza. The only player who had a really rough game was Caris LeVert (5 points, 2/9 FG, three turnovers), who almost single-handedly brought Iowa back into the game with an inbounds turnover that led to a White layup followed on the next possession by an awful crosscourt pass that Iowa easily picked off and turned into another layup to make the deficit just six.
After White and Stauskas traded baskets, Irvin sank a dagger to put Michigan up seven, then the lob to GRIII put the game away. Michigan had successfully forced Iowa to play their game; in fact, they did even more than that, outscoring the Hawkeyes 12-4 in transition, beating them at their specialty while playing at a more comfortable pace.
"I thought we had a good pace," said John Beilein. "We ran when we wanted to run. We had a lot of trust in this team that they would really understand what the plan is ... I liked our pace today."
Now it's on to East Lansing for a titanic matchup with the Big Ten lead at stake. Michigan is playing with house money after consecutive wins over top-ten teams. They're also playing with Nik Stauskas, which may be the biggest advantage of them all.
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.]