Trey Burke had—by his standards—a sub-par performance against Nebraska, needing 16 shots to score 18 points and only dishing out three assists. In the post-game presser, I asked John Beilein if Nebraska did anything defensively that he hadn't seen so far this year; without going into details, he mentioned that the Huskers had a different way of defending the pick and roll—Burke's bread-and-butter play.
After taking a look at the film, I think I've found what he was talking about. Last year, opponents utilized a hard hedge—doubling Burke off the screen with their big—as a way to dial up the pressure against the diminutive point guard. On Wednesday, Nebraska came with a variation, which this uneducated blogger will call a 'soft hedge'. To the screencaps!
After Michigan reset up top, McGary comes over to set a screen for Burke. The key player for Nebraska will be McGary's man, Brandon Ubel (#13), who in this frame is fighting through a screen by Tim Hardaway Jr.
As McGary sets the (not great) pick, Burke's man fights hard over the top; his responsibility is to make sure Burke can't pull up for three. Instead of hedging hard, Ubel positions himself a few feet inside the arc; his primary objective is to take away the drive.
Burke's man has successfully gone over the screen and recovered position, with Ubel in position to stymie any attempt to attack the basket off the dribble. Meanwhile, Hardaway's man (#24 Dylan Talley, standing right below the 'B' in the paint) has sunk back to defend a pass to McGary on the roll.
With Burke contained, Ubel slides back onto McGary while Talley heads out towards Hardaway.
I should probably have kept the next part in the video: Talley is late getting back out to Hardaway, who drives to the free-throw line and knocks down a jumper. Still, that was a tougher shot than what Michigan usually produces off the pick and roll (a layup or an open three), and I don't think Talley needed to sink so far into the lane with Ubel falling back.
What does the soft hedge accomplish? A few things.
No open threes. With the guard going hard over the top, Burke doesn't get a good opportunity to pull up for three, especially with Ubel in position to step out and contest.
No dribble drive. With the way the defense is aligned, if Burke wants to drive he can only go to his left—straight into Ubel. That's not much of an option.
No easy slip. One of the ways Michigan counters the hard hedge is to have the screener "slip" the pick—roll to the basket before fully setting the pick, ideally to receive an early pass before the double can get to Burke. With the big hanging back in this case, that option isn't there either.
Of course, there's no perfect way to defend the pick and roll, or John Stockton and Karl Malone wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. I see two counters to the soft hedge. One is what Michigan did above: kick it back out to the wing (in this case, Hardaway), who should have an open look from deep or the opportunity to drive if his defender is late to recover or closes out too hard.
The other actually occurred a few minutes earlier in the game and should've resulted in an easy two points. On this play, Nebraska defends the initial pick in the same fashion; instead of rolling to the basket, however, McGary doubles back and sets another screen going the opposite way. The Huskers are forced to double Burke, and McGary slips the pick; Burke's feed is on the mark, but McGary's dunk attempt ricochets off the back iron:
Surprisingly, Michigan didn't really go back to this tactic despite the fact that it should've resulted in a (successful) dunk.
While Nebraska's defense did a solid job of limiting Michigan's points off the pick and roll, I don't think this is the magic bullet to stop that aspect of the Wolverine offense. The picture-paged example shows some sloppy play from Michigan; McGary's pick is too shallow, allowing Burke's man an easy path over the top, and the offensive spacing on the perimeter isn't ideal. Then, when Michigan countered, they did everything right except convert an open dunk.
The soft hedge is another way to slow down Burke, however, and does a good job of forcing him to give up the basketball—any defense that takes the ball away from Michigan's best player is one we'll likely see a fair amount moving forward.
1/9/2013 – Michigan 62, Nebraska 47 – 16-0, 3-0 Big Ten
on mah grind (Bryan Fuller)
also note all five Nebraska players are in this shot looking at Burke
Yesterday's game was an ugly slow-it-down slugfest that brought one particular game to mind: Michigan's matchup with that 2005 Illinois team everyone brings up when they attempt to put this year's offense in historical context. The Illini were 23 games undefeated, Michigan was 3-6 in the league and so injury-wracked that walk-ons Sherrod Harrell, Ashtyn Bell, and John Andrews got 51 minutes between them. Collectively they attempted three shots.
Michigan's strategy consisted of taking the air out of the ball, giving it to Dion Harris with the shot clock winding down, and vaguely hoping. It darn near worked. Michigan kept contact the whole night, leading at points, and eventually went down to a narrow six-point defeat. It was an extreme underdog kind of strategy willing to trade possession-to-possession efficiency for increased variance, because over time Michigan was just going to die.
Better to up the randomness: no turnovers, no transition buckets, all half-court jump shots which can do things like rim out. If basketball had innings, you'd lose by more, on average. It doesn't.
So Nebraska came out determined to make this basketball game an exercise in half-court blithering. Michigan obliged, clanking a series of threes and free throws. They were never really threatened and pulled away for a comfortable win at the end—more comfortable than those amazing Illini, by some distance. By the end they'd fallen a few points short of Kenpom/Vegas, understandable in a game with a mere 57 possessions. By comparison, Michigan's only other game in the 50s this year was Binghamton. Give them the extra ten opportunities at the basket they had against Iowa or Northwestern, and change the tempo of the game to get them, and… well, yeah.
This is what it's like to be the overdog against a team that knows they're nowhere near your level. The opponent tries to whittle down the time and opportunities you have to display your superiority, and when your keep coming up craps on your shots things get a little sticky. This game serves as a reminder that the great hand of fate is waiting to crush you, but shouldn't impact expectations going forward much, if at all.
Redundant Bullets Header Section
Photos. From Bryan Fuller:
Concerns: do we have them should we have them what? Yeah, a couple. One: Michigan had only six assists on 21 makes. At times it seemed like too much of the offense was guys going one on one. Maybe that was just Nebraska's defensive philosophy? I don't recall much help defense or switching. Six is a really low number, though, and I don't think that was all on shots that usually go down not doing so.
Two: Nebraska was able to keep their turnovers way down (just six). Turnover avoidance is the only bright spot on their offense, so again this may be part of their extreme underdog philosophy. It would be nice to have a defense that could pick up steals to spur Michigan's excellent transition offense; at this point that does not seem to be in the cards.
Pounding the glass. Michigan's offense actually reached a respectable 1.1 PPP by the game's end despite subpar shooting everywhere because they had their usual lack of turnovers and they pounded the offensive boards. Michigan grabbed 41% of their misses, with three to each of the frontcourt guys (McGary, Morgan, Robinson) and a whopping five "team" offensive rebounds that IIRC were mostly Mitch McGary being a possession-generating animal. Like that one where he was roaring out of bounds and flung it off a Nebraska player. That's probably a "team" rebound.
Because of that, McGary's impact on the box score was considerably lower than I expected it would be after watching the game: 1/4 shooting, three OREB, three DREB, a block, a steal, 18 minutes. That looks like not much, but my eyes are all like "he is rounding into form as a monster possession-generator." Back to back with the Iowa game it's exciting to see him round into a guy who makes an impact whenever he hits the floor, which he will do literally at times. Frequently, even. I bet he dives at squirrels on the Diag if they're orange enough.
Remember when Zack Novak won the Michigan dunk contest?
Tweet of the night #2:
I feel like I just watched a Michigan State football game
Tweet of the night #3, in response to #2:
[ed: reference to this]
Tweet of the night #4, in re: Minnesota:
Please write your own term papers, please write your own term papers, please write your own term papers...
And Tweet of the night #5, in re lol:
Periodic Hardaway complete player alert. Just one assist in this game, which is not a huge surprise with six total, but made up with an 11-DREB double-double. Nebraska got just 18% of their misses, which is fantastic. Also it is perhaps further evidence of extreme underdog strategy: the Cornpack was so focused on getting back to prevent transition opportunities that there was almost never anyone on the glass.
KNITTING LADIES OF CRISLER, WE SALUTE YOU. A Michigan woman comes prepared for commercial breaks.
yeah you know I made this scarf myself
This is becoming a thing.
Periodic bitching about long twos. Gonna do it: in this game there were several instances in which it seemed a player—Burke and Hardaway generally—passed up a good look at a three for a two just inside the line that was at least as difficult a shot. Burke in particular can get that eighteen footer whenever he wants, so unless the shot clock's under ten keep working.
Also in complaints: it seemed like Nebraska went under screens all night and Burke too frequently allowed them to do this instead of pulling up for the three. No hedge and guy goes under screen means that screen is not disrupting the balance of the defense, and the driving lane isn't great since the guy isn't trying to fight through over the top. I'll take an open three from Burke any time.
Stauskas. I'm watching Stauskas get to the basket and dish impressive assists and wonder a bit about next year. If Burke and Hardaway are gone, isn't he going to be the primary creator on offense? I guess it'll depend on how good Derrick Walton is and how much GRIII develops his handle. Smooth out some of Stauskas's rough edges with an offseason, though, and he's a credible shot creator.
Gauntlet: now. The next month of Michigan's season:
- @ OSU
- @ Minnesota
- @ Illinois
- @ Indiana
- @ Wisconsin
- @ Michigan State
Here it is. Purdue and Northwestern should be slam dunks, and I'm not too worried about Wisconsin no matter where it is this year. Then you've got a couple should-wins (OSU at home, @ Illinois) and the four road games that will decide damn near everything. Win all the should-wins and go 2-2 there and you've got to be feeling good about winning the league. In all likelihood there are three losses in this stretch, though, and it'll come down to holding down home court against Illinois, State, and Indiana to finish out the year.
Ah yup. I've seen this in my twitter feed a half-dozen times but if you don't have it, here's Chris Paul apropos of nothing:
Honestly, if Burke went in the top ten would you blink? I would be like "yep."
I regret I only have but one life to give for excessively elaborate charge calls. Ed Hightower is fine after an incident in which, well:
If there's a purple heart for referees, there shouldn't be one. Also Hightower has it.
Last night West Virginia shot 15% on their 3s and 38% on their 2s on the road. And won.
Texas is horrible. Meanwhile, Illinois is all like OH NO NOT AGAIN:
Illinois just crested 1.0 in that OSU game, BTW. They kind of are thrash.
After his team held Michigan to their lowest point total of the season, Nebraska coach Tim Miles revealed his bold defensive strategy: the power of statistics.
"We thought, hey, they've been shooting the three great. They've got to return to the mean."
Did they ever. Michigan connected on just 3-of-17 three-pointers, and the Huskers succeeded in taking away their transition game, holding the Wolverines to a single fast break bucket. The Crisler Center crowd expected a blowout; instead, they got a slow-paced affair that was closer than the final score would indicate.
While the Wolverines didn't trail after the opening seven minutes, their lead didn't reach double digits until just 4:39 remained. Up to the final stretch, Miles's plan worked to perfection, with Michigan missing an uncharacteristic number of open looks from deep and failing to get out on the run.
That changed with just under eight minutes to go, when Glenn Robinson III picked Dylan Talley's pocket near the scorer's table, then took flight from not far inside the free throw line for a highlight-reel dunk. After Nebraska responded with a three, Robinson came out of nowhere to tip-slam a missed three by Caris LeVert, snapping the crowd out of a game-long funk and opening a 15-5 Michigan run to close the contest.
Robinson was the only Wolverine to shoot better than 50% on the night, scoring 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting while adding six rebounds. Hardaway, Trey Burke, and Nik Stauskas scored 46 of the team's 48 remaining points, but they also shot a combined 15-for-39 from the field. The Wolverines could not find a rhythm in their half-court sets, tallying just six assists on 21 made shots.
Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan scored just two points between them, but their work on the boards kept Michigan in front—Morgan finished with 11 rebounds (eight defensive), McGary six (three defensive), with the latter repeatedly hitting the deck for loose balls. With just over six minutes left and Michigan holding on to a nine-point lead, McGary threw himself into a pile of three Nebraska Cornhuskers and one orange sphere, coming away with a held ball—possession arrow, Michigan.
As he walked to the other end of the count, McGary threw his hands in the air, summoning perhaps the loudest roar of the night. Moments later, Stauskas found McGary under the hoop, and he banked home a right-handed layup. The Wolverines finally had their double-digit lead, sparked not by Burke and Hardaway, but a pair of freshmen.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, chants of "Beat Ohio" rang out from the Maize and Blue faithful. Michigan survived their first bout with regression, pulling away from a conference cellar-dweller.
If the trend continues on Sunday, they won't be so fortunate.
At that moment, Iowa's bench decided they'd seen enough. Fran turned to call them back, then thought better of it. Run, my children. Run while you can.
[For the rest of the Iowa game in gifs, hit THE JUMP.]
1/6/2012 – Michigan 95, Iowa 67 – 15-0, 2-0 Big Ten
the desolation of the Fran (Bryan Fuller)
Less than a minute into the second half, an Iowa post fumbled what would have been an easy dunk into the stands. The television cut to Fran McCaffery, a rising star when it comes to volcano-coach sideline outbursts. He obliged, roaring out "TWO HANDS TWO HANDS TWO HANDS" as he quiveringly pantomimed catching a basketball with, yep, two hands. Ace is GIFing this as we speak.
Exactly a minute later, Iowa closed out Nik Stauskas hard, so he drove past his defender and threw down a rim-rattling dunk like he was not, in fact, a freshman 6'6" three-point specialist. On the next possession, same thing except nastier: closeout, Stauskas drives past his man except this time he's in good position, lane-covering audacious spin move for a finger roll. Gus Johnson's voice hit a questioning falsetto pitch as he exclaimed "OH?!," because he is in our brains too.
Nik Stauskas did this, and the camera did not cut to Fran McCaffery because directors aren't that eager to put resigned shrugs on camera. What are you going to do? What can you do?
I've got this Burke guy to check, three star my ass, and he's playing with two sons of NBA players, and they're raining in threes, and that Robinson guy is dunking on anyone I send out there, and now this guy with the ears, the one shooting 55% from three and also being the dunking guy. Screw it. The guy with the ears tears it. I will save my rage for another time, when there is the vague semblance of a point. For right now I'm just going to—
—watch their freshman center block Aaron White's face.
It's okay. I didn't really like his face to begin with.
—watch their freshman center start a break with a half-court outlet pass to Burke. I can deal. That doesn't seem any fairer than finding Canadian Larry Bird but whatever.
—watch their freshman center do the same thing after dribbling three times in the open court… aaaaaaah…
They are going to lose. It is going to happen. They are seventh in Kenpom, and Kenpom's pretty good. Everyone loses, even the really good teams, and it's not like the Big Ten is an SEC-like trip through the daisies. It is brutal. Michigan has nine of their ten toughest games left to play.
Have you seen Trevor Mbakwe? That guy. Victor Oladipo. That guy. Michigan will go on the road, and get it from the refs, and boy this conversation with myself is only indicating the deluded heights expectations are reaching.
If this team bows out in the first round to a MAC team, there will be no "good try you guys, thanks for the banner." There will be wailing, and rending of garments. Because this doesn't come along too often unless you're a Duke or North Carolina type team. Illinois had it back in 2005, and they still talk about that team in a reverenced hush despite its narrow demise in the elite eight. They had it back in 1989, and the MGoWife reports from an undergrad tenure spent in Champaign that they still aren't over losing to Michigan in the Final Four. The rest of the time they've wobbled around good, not great. Even the powers don't always have it all come together.
It has come together for Michigan, and every game starts out with the same doubt—what if they're not that good? What if this is all a mirage? What if I wake up and Nik Stauskas is in fact Gavin Groninger?
Those persist for anywhere from one to 15 minutes, whereupon the nature of this year's team causes the opponent coach to smirk wryly as his guys fall behind by lots. So far. One more whipping, and then the acid test.
From Bryan Fuller:
I know the McGary stuff happened before the Stauskas stuff. Artistic license! It's a nicer way to say "lies!"
GUS. Follow us around, Gus Johnson. You and Raftery, follow this team around, going "uh" and saying "onions" and literally just squeaking in the best way possible. National treasure, Gus Johnson is.
Gus Johnson and the fact that when I check out Big 12 conference games half the time I find they're only on ESPN3 make me almost not bitter that the BTN ended up making the Big Ten grab Rutgers and Maryland.
Big Puppy. McGary had a great game, probably his best at Michigan so far. I mentioned the block and the outlet pass hockey assist stuff above, but I think my favorite play of his was a defensive rebound he corralled in the first half where he had little shot at the ball, so he tipped the thing off the backboard to himself. That kind of thing is one of the reasons he's got the ridiculously high rebound rates he does*. He's got a huge rebound radius.
McGary took a relatively big fall from one-and-done territory to pretty good prospect territory late in the rankings cycle, and that was justified. You can see a version of McGary peeking through the lack of polish that could be the #2 high school basketball player in the country. The rebounds, of course, and then the outlet passing, ability to lead a break for a couple dribbles, what looks like a pretty smooth stroke, and just size in general. Give him a couple inches more vertical leap so he doesn't occasionally leave a dunk on the rim and blocks more shots, and… yeah.
Caris arriving. So we got 32 minutes of LeVert against Central with Hardaway out. Here's what his next two games look like squeezed into one:
30 minutes, 15 points, 1/3 twos, 4/5 threes, 1/2 fta, 3 reb, 2:1 A:TO, a steal, 5 fouls
The three point shooting distorts that a bit, but it's pretty nice to have a guy who's 8/17 so far coming off the bench, and he's got a 3:1 A:TO rate. Dumping the redshirt was the move to make. He's starting to do some of the stuff I expect Burke to do with his ability to shake people with his change of direction.
It is almost redundant to talk about Trey Burke. 19 points on ten shots, 12 assists, one TO. Just another day at the office.
He's got to be the best point guard in the country, bar none. People in the Michael Carter-Williams camp have to explain why having the #4 assist (MCW) rate versus the #11 (Burke) makes up for MCW shooting 42%/28% versus Burke's 62%/41%. There is no amount of defense that can make up for that, especially when Burke is turning the ball over at less than half the rate MCW is.
Two things leapt out about a couple of possessions in the second half after Michigan had blown the lead out big. On the first, he cleared everyone out and went at Iowa's Anthony Clemmons. Clemmons did a great job, first cutting him off and forcing Burke to pick up his dribble, then hounding him on a couple of shot fakes; Burke finally went up and under for an easy two, and the color guy was all like "I don't know what you're supposed to do about that if you're Anthony Clemmons." On the second, he loosed himself with a crossover and launched an eighteen-footer, AKA The Shot Brian Hates More Than Any Shot Ever.
On neither of these possessions did I think what was going on was a bad idea—okay maybe there was a moment in the Clemmons one—and I was not mad at either shot. Because it was just going down.
*[If-he-was-averaging-40%-of-minutes checkin: 7th nationally in defensive rebound rate, 4th in offensive.]
Remember when we were worried about Tim Hardaway Jr. sliding back to his sophomore form? A quaint concern at the moment. Hardaway's coming off 19 points on 13 shots against Iowa and 21 on eight(!) against Northwestern. Against the Hawkeyes he added five assists and five rebounds; Morgan has passed him in DREB but only barely.
Hardaway hasn't had fewer than three assists since the Bradley game, BTW.
Fouls: none. All of Michigan's starters are in the top 200 in terms of fouls committed per 40 minutes, with Stauskas's 0.9 sixth nationally. The bigs will get in trouble from time to time, especially McGary, but once Horford's back—which I imagine will be soon since he dressed yesterday—that concern is not, uh, concerning.
That's the other bedrock of Michigan's defense. They give up the second-least free throws of anyone in the country, and they go together. By not challenging a ton of shots they're in position when and if you miss.
It's also a help for the offense. To date, Michigan hasn't had a period of time where they had to sit a starter for more than a few minutes. I hope that in the event a Michigan non-post picks up a couple quick ones that Beilein will consider the situation and be a little more flexible than he usually is with these things. If it's Stauskas I'm not sure he should even change the rotation.
Philosophy. Michigan's defense isn't good, sure, but the philosophy they've taken is: let's make this a shooting contest. We won't get fouled, and you won't get fouled, and we won't let you have any second chance opportunities, and we won't turn the ball over so you can have transition buckets. Let's see who's better at HORSE. Oh it's us yay.
For the first 13 minutes against Iowa, Michigan looked as disjointed and inconsistent on both ends of the floor as they had all season. The Hawkeyes, coming off a four-point loss to Indiana, looked poised to give another top-flight team a serious test, holding a 21-17 edge with seven minutes left in the first half.
Over the course of the next 27 minutes, the Wolverines scored 78 points.
The onslaught actually began on defense, when Mitch McGary electrified the Crisler crowd with a volleyball spike of a block against Iowa's Aaron White—a display of sheer athletic superiority. From that point, Michigan finished the first half on a 27-14 tear featuring three thunderous dunks—one each by Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, and Tim Hardaway Jr., whose one-handed throwdown will assuredly crack the Sportscenter top ten.
In the waning seconds of the half, the Wolverines somehow moved the ball coast-to-coast in under four seconds, capped by a Robinson layup that sent the team running into the tunnel with an 11-point lead.
Iowa had made their upset bid. There would be no upset.
The acrobatics continued in the second half as the Wolverines pulled away; in all, Michigan totaled 11 dunks by five different players. They also connected on 10-of-22 three-pointers. Of their 36 field goals, 24 were assisted. They committed six turnovers.
Robinson, perhaps more representative than any other Wolverine of the new breed, led the charge with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting and ten rebounds. After the game, he revealed one of his nicknames, "Light Rob," for his ability to register so-called quiet points within the framework of the offense. His points weren't so quiet today—five dunks tend to make some noise—but he once again displayed a knack for showing up in the right spot, rarely needing to do so much as dribble to put the ball in the hoop.
Trey Burke did what Trey Burke does: 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, 12 assists, a steal, and a lone turnover. Michigan's other star, Hardaway, also managed 19 points, hitting 3-of-5 threes and stuffing the stat sheet with five rebounds and five assists. Nik Stauskas, working around the margins, scored 13 and threw down a slam of his own, using his lethal three-point shot to set up the drive.
Then there was McGary, doing the grunt work in his best game as a Wolverine. He finished with five points, hitting his only two field goals of the day; more importantly, he hit the glass, bringing in 11 rebounds in just 20 minutes and keying the fast break with quick outlet passes. Continuing to show more explosiveness after starting the year rusty, McGary tallied three blocks and, yes, dunked.
Despite a margin that hung in the neighborhood of 30 points for much of the second half, Crisler didn't begin to empty until the last couple minutes, after the starters had all been (mercifully) pulled. This was a show, the divine intersection of athleticism and skill, and woe be upon the fan who didn't savor every second.
Asked to compare this team to the others he's coached, John Beilein said, "we run a little faster and jump a little higher." In a grand concession given his previous, tongue-in-cheek dodging of such questions, Beilein even went so far as to say "a few" of his past players may even admit this Michigan outfit is superior to his past squads.
Indeed, Coach. Indeed.