[PROGRAMMING NOTE: as per tradition, OSU UFR comes early next week, as I rediscover "doing things."]
11/27/2012 – Michigan 79, NC State 72 – 6-0
get swag son (Dustin Johnston/UMHoops)
I showed up on Michigan's campus in 1997 and did not go to basketball or hockey games for whatever reason. That year, hockey won a national title and basketball got bounced in the second round as a three-seed. I went with hockey, and that quickly proved to be a wise choice. Brian Ellerbe was resident at Crisler. Mike Comrie was at Yost.
A few years later I got a phone call the morning of the Michigan State game from my uncle, offering me a ticket. I muttered some excuse and went and did something else, what I don't remember. Michigan got annihilated like they always do. I felt like a bad fan, but short of being strapped to an immaculately-trained fetchin' donkey I was not going anywhere near Crisler that day. Michigan did not have the facilities to immaculately train fetchin' donkeys. Or basketball players.
At some point during the Amaker era I swung by a few games; I parked in the blue lot next to the stadium. Empty spaces abounded around me, and no one charged me. We wandered down from our upper-deck seats to the lower bowl without issue.
In the early days of the blog when liveblogs were just me updating a post with pictures of MacGuyver, I had a rule: I could stop once Michigan was down by 20.
The first time I went to a lot of games at Crisler was six years ago, in Beilein's first year. I got a partial season ticket to watch Michigan lose to Boston College after they had already lost to Western Kentucky; the next game they lost to Harvard. By 11. Harvard had just hired Tommy Amaker. The Canadian on that team shot 19% from 3 and 48% from the line.
During this period of time, the basketball team had to practice at the IM building when schedules overlapped with the women.
Several lost Chilean miners were found on the Crisler concourse after weeks of searching.
A small boy who had wandered up to the top row to see what it was like in 1999 was found ten years later the next section over, having developed a taste for foam padding and a hatred of whatever it was that Amaker called offense. When asked by the pith-helmeted explorers if he would like to return to civilization, he asked if it involved 20 turnovers a game, was told it did not, and left.
Yesterday seemed like the same old Michigan basketball before the game. When they raised Michigan's first championship banner since 1986, the stands were barely half-full and the three completely empty sections in the endzone grated.
But when I looked up after Michigan had forced a timeout out of a top-20 team, everyone had come in from the cold. It was loud, and Mitch McGary was waving his arms like a maniac to make it louder, and I thought to myself that guy has no idea.
He does not remember about the feral child and how Amaker offered him a scholarship that one year. He doesn't know you could park on the concourse if you wanted or that the answer to the question "would you rather have Michigan State tickets or an STD?" was "is the STD treatable with antibiotics?"
If he knows anything it's that people from Chesterton end up at Michigan because they are needed to have Aneurysms of Leadership at critical moments, and that Crisler ArenaCenter is under construction. Was under construction. It's all shiny now, just in time for Michigan to return to alpha-dog status.
None of these guys know anything. Nik Stauskas has spent most of the last 16 years shooting in his backyard and probably needs to be informed about recent developments like the fall of communism. Glenn Robinson just showed up, too, and even the veteran-ish stars came in for tourney appearances and an already-underway player development center. They have no idea that Michigan basketball is a self-flagellating moribund dungeon of a program still kicking itself for transgressions over a decade past that people just will not shut up about, ever.
Let's not tell them.
I AM ON TO YOU NIK* STAUSKAS
Congratulations on 3.5 million youtube views.
*[I'd been calling him Nick because at some point I thought I read something that said he prefers it, but Michigan and Kenpom both go with Nik so I will as well.
BONUS: every time I tag his name now I get to remember there is a tag on this blog like so: "nike would like you to wear this aerodynamic fez".]
Seriously though. 20 points on ten shots. 4/7 from three, which lowers his season average to 58%. And this:
NC State seems like a pretty awful defensive team but Pitt and Kansas State are not and he put up lethally efficient games against them as well. Probably the most remarkable stat in Stauskas's young career: he's leading the team in both free-throw rate and turnover rate (at a bogglingly low 7.7). Oh, and he's 20 of 21 from the line.
boggle boggle boggle boggle boggle
aint even phased that's less weird than someone shooting 58% from three
Shocking stat, of the somewhat not great variety. Hardaway was one of nine from three in the last outing, which shocked me when I looked it up because I didn't remember him taking anywhere near that many attempts from deep. None of them were bad shots, I guess—I have an elephant memory for those.
He's still at 37% on the year despite that and is shooting nearly 70% from two after going 6 of 9 inside the arc against NC State.
Robinson rebounding update. We mentioned this on the podcast: GRIII had an impressive two games in MSG, picking up 12 rebounds against Kansas State and battling Pitt's 6'9" Talib Zanna—a monster, monster rebounder who is 17% offensive/20% defensive—rebound for rebound. He's currently got an 11%/16% line, which puts him not too far off Branden Dawson's 13%/12% last year. He's converting twos at about the same clip Dawson did last year, and he's 5/13 from 3—Dawson was 0/3 for the entirety of last year.
Schedule strength caveats apply.
Depth? Hmmm: is there any? Michigan is again languishing in the 300s in bench minutes. Burke's minutes have dropped from 89% all the way to 85%, Hardaway's from 84% to 82%, and GRIII is clocking 80% as well. Michigan can throw out three posts, and does technically bring Stauskas off the bench, but yeah at everywhere other than the 5 Michigan's isn't getting much.
That depth at the five is very nice, though: against Kansas State both Morgan and McGary got in foul trouble and Michigan was just like "meh." Against NC State, Morgan played poorly and Michigan just went with McGary mostly.
McGary. Mitch McGary is a 6'10" puppy, one of those with the crazy googly eyes that runs around barking at everything because everything has always been so exciting it will kill him. This is obvious in the numbers: huge rebound rates! 19% offensive! 27% defensive! The worst turnover rate on the team! Averaging 7 fouls per 40! I wish they kept a stat for most times waving your hands up and down exhorting the crowd to be louder! Sometimes he nearly kicks the governor in the face!
That's great. His rebound rates are so high they're unsustainable; they are still extremely encouraging. With the three perimeter scorers Michigan doesn't really need a post who demands the ball, they need a guy who can generate possession advantage and play good defense. If McGary isn't the top-3 national player he was hyped up to be, he's still a huge asset for the team.
The skill is just a bonus. He had a pretty finger roll against Kansas State and took two dribbles to a layup in this one; he has also recovered from a poor start at the free throw line to hit five of his last six (which are the only ones Kenpom records since the rest were exhibitions or the Slippery Rock game).
Burke. Pretty pretty good. And hey look at his second-closest comparable so far:
Not a very close comparison since Burke shoots threes effectively. I'll take Darius Morris plus shooting.
Rotations. A small complaint: I don't like it when the two-post offense is out there with Burke or Hardaway on the bench. Not enough shot creation out there.
Defense. It looks like NC State can score in bunches. Despite that, there is reason for concern whenever your opponent hits 57% from the floor. NC State got a third of the rare misses, and it seemed like there were way too many easy opportunities at the rim. I'm not sure what the issue is here. Michigan goes without shotblockers for the most part and is not forcing turnovers, so there's that, but that was pretty much the case last year as well.
They are exceptionally young. Two of the three starters are freshman and the guy off the bench who plays the most is also a freshman. Hopefully they can work out some kinks before Big Ten play starts; they're through the tough stretch of the nonconference schedule.
This wasn't the best performance of a young season from his precocious, young team. But it was another impressive one from the Wolverines, now 6-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country — the program's highest perch since late in the 1993-94 season.
And that it came on the night they raised a Big Ten championship banner to the rafters, for the first time in more than a quarter-century, well, that meant something, too.
But leave it to the ones with the short attention spans to put things into proper perspective.
"Those guys put a lot of hard work into that banner," said freshman guard Nik Stauskas, who, lest you forget he's a kid, actually admitted to being a Justin Bieber fan after the game. "But it's on to the next one. We want another one."
Michigan’s defense wasn’t nearly as effective as it has been in early season play. As I wrote in the preview, NC State has more than its fair share of individual one-on-one talent and Michigan had no answer on the defensive side of the ball. The Wolfpack matched Michigan’s heroic shooting effort, connecting on 60% of their two point attempts and racking up a 59% effective field goal percentage. Michigan’s front court defense couldn’t slow CJ Leslie, TJ Warren and Richard Howell as they combined to make 22 of 34 shots inside the arc and would have done even more damage if not limited by foul trouble. Michigan’s defensive rebounding also hit a snag, allowing NC State to rebound a third of its missed shots including seven second half offensive boards. 54 of NC State’s 72 points came in the paint and 14 of those were off of offensive rebounds.
Michigan basketball just has a different feel this season, and John Beilein sort of likes it
"I've frankly never had (this kind of athleticism)," Michigan coach John Beilein said after his third-ranked Wolverines improved to 6-0 win a 79-72 win over the Wolfpack. "I sort of like it.
"It's pretty good."
Nik Stauskas says he never followed hockey. When asked about Alanis Morissette, he looks downright befuddled.
"I don't even know who that is."
Yes, Stauskas isn't your typical Canadian. That's because he spent his youth in the backyard—not on a frozen pond, but an asphalt court—hoisting three-pointer after three-pointer.
"I've probably taken a million shots in my life. That's pretty much all I'd do when I was a kid, just go outside and shoot. It's something I'm very confident doing," he said, after leading Michigan with 20 points on 6-10 shooting (4-7 3PT) in a 79-72 victory over NC State.
Thanks in large part to the shooting of Stauskas, Michigan was able to cruise for much of the game against a talented Wolfpack squad, weathering a late 10-0 run by the visitors to give the Big Ten its first win in this year's Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
It's a testament to the balance and depth of this year's squad that Trey Burke went scoreless in the first half; taking what the defense gave him, Burke doled out nine first-half assists as the Wolverines built a 43-36 lead. Burke went into attack mode in the second half, notching his first-career double-double with 18 points and 11 assists—he also had zero turnovers, as the team tallied just six total.
The four factors tell much of the story:
|O. Reb %||24.1||33.3|
Michigan had a lights-out offensive performance with stellar shooting, great ball control, and frequent trips to the free-throw line. Glenn Robinson III had a quiet 11 points on 3-5 shooting to go with seven rebounds, while Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary combined for 14 points while going 6-9 from the field, largely coming on open looks set up by Burke.
The Wolverines struggled to put away an athletic Wolfpack squad, however, as they couldn't protect the defensive glass in the second half—NC State scored ten points off of seven offensive boards in the final stanza. The frontcourt of C.J. Leslie, T.J. Warren, and Richard Howell poured in 46 combined points, taking advantage of the inexperience of Robinson and McGary to create several open looks.
Though the end got a little hairy, this was a game that Michigan largely dominated. Early foul trouble for Howell—who would eventually foul out—and Leslie forced NC State to go to a zone defense, which the Wolverines picked apart with ease. While Tim Hardaway Jr. had an off night from beyond the arc (1-9 3PT), he and Burke both took advantage by getting to the paint for pull-up jumpers—Hardaway finished with 16 points, shooting 6-9 from two-point range.
When Michigan most needed a bucket, leading by just five with 1:38 to play, it was Hardaway who put the game away, finding a lane and banking a shot home from just outside the paint. On a night when Burke went scoreless for nearly 23 minutes and Hardaway shot 7-18—against a top-25 ACC opponent, no less—the Wolverines had a comfortable lead for most of the game and survived a late scare.
For that, they can thank Stauskas—for growing up obsessed with his jump shot, not his wrist shot, even in Ontario.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Michigan has now played five games this year. The closest margin of victory: 28 points.
Yes, two of those were exhibition games against Division II teams, and the regular-season competition hasn't been stellar either. Tonight's opponent, Cleveland State, had to replace four starters, and at 94th in KenPom they're by far the toughest test the Wolverines have faced this year.
Michigan wiped the floor with them, though, starting the game on an 8-0 run, finishing the first half on a 23-2 tear, and cruising to a 77-47 victory. A Wolverine team hasn't made basketball look this easy in a long, long time. I remember the LaVell Blanchard-led 2002-03 squad losing the season opener to St. Bonaventure. In Tommy Amaker's last season, Michigan had to climb out of an early hole to beat something called a "Maryland-Baltimore County" by 12. Even last season, the Wolverines won against Saginaw Valley State—a team they beat by 28 last week—by just nine points. I'm pretty sure one of Brian Ellerbe's outfits found a way to lose the intrasquad scrimmage.
Through five games, Michigan is playing basketball on a different level than their opponents—and any Wolverine team in recent memory. Daniel Horton has nothing on Trey Burke, whose first-half hesitation crossover in transition broke ankles in the upper bowl—he finished with 12 points and seven assists without appearing to break a sweat. Manny Harris never rounded into the complete, efficient wing that Tim Hardaway Jr.—once again stuffing the box score with 17 points (7-12 FG, 3-6 3P), six rebounds, and four assists—has become. Nik Stauskas (15 points, 3-4 3P), well, let's just say he wouldn't be out-shot by Gavin Groninger. I can't even think of a suitable player comparison for Glenn Robinson III, who had an off-night (2-7 FG) and still managed to contribute nine points, seven rebounds, and solid defense, including spiking a layup attempt off the glass.
After covering four games in five days, three of them laughable basketball blowouts, I hope you'll forgive the fact that my mind began to wander in the second half. While half-watching Burke effortlessly run the pick-and-roll, or Hardaway skying for a defensive rebound, or perhaps it was Stauskas drilling a three like it was Pop-A-Shot, I thought about Avery Queen.
And I laughed.
Forget the five-star freshman for a moment. You know, the one that scored 21 points on nine shots. Forget the star point guard; yeah, the one with 22 points and nine assists. Forget, even, about the shooting guard, the NBA progeny that turned in another efficient all-around effort.
Jordan Morgan—yes, that Jordan Morgan—stole a pass, dribbled the length of the court, and soared for a one-handed slam. That same Jordan Morgan also split two defenders with a quick hop-step and deftly finished with a layup. He also threw an alley-oop and even crossed a guy over. The coaches had raved in the offseason about Morgan losing weight and gaining some athleticism, but they said nothing about him turning into young Charles Barkley.
That's hyperbole, of course. But man, after that game, it's tough not to be hyperbolic. A sluggish start quickly gave way to a Michigan highlight-fest, with Morgan and Glenn Robinson III and Trey Burke competing for top gif-able honors until Jon Horford came in and blew them away with a savage throwdown in traffic. It's safe to say Michigan hasn't had a team this athletic since the Fab Five days.
What's really scary, though, is that they're skilled to boot. Robinson connected on his first eight shots, including three from distance. Burke overcame some sloppy play and hit four-of-seven threes of his own while getting into the lane at will, finishing when there was space and finding the open man when the defense collapsed. Tim Hardaway Jr. continued to show off his all-around improvement, pulling down seven defensive boards in addition to scoring ten on just five shots. Nik Stauskas missed his first three-pointer, then hit his next three, finishing with ten points.
This team isn't perfect, of course. The defense left too many shooters open, especially in the early going, missing a few switches and getting beat off the dribble—Stauskas and Mitch McGary both had moments of confusion that led to buckets. The Wolverines turned the ball over on 19% of their possessions, with Burke and Robinson each coughing up the pill three times and Stauskas looking shaky putting the ball on the floor. McGary biffed an open layup off a beautiful feed from Burke and generally appears to need some refining on both ends of the floor. And yes, they played IUPUI, which isn't exactly Duke.
When watching a Michigan team that now practices alley-oops, though, and Jordan Morgan going coast-to-coast, it's tough not to get very excited for this season. The Wolverines played a Division-I team with a pulse, had an ugly first ten minutes, and absolutely crushed them in the way that precociously-talented, well-coached teams are wont to do. That's not what Michigan basketball has been, but it sure feels like that's what it's going to be.
A smile crept across John Beilein's face as he pantomimed Trey Burke turning and flipping the ball underhand with "just the right spin" to Tim Hardaway Jr., who buried one of his five three-pointers (that part, unfortunately, not pantomimed by Beilein).
Michigan hit the century mark for the first time since 2007 in a 100-62 beatdown of Slippery Rock in the season opener, and it was Beilein's stars who led the way. Hardaway played one of his most complete games as a Wolverine, scoring 25 points on 8-10 shooting (5-5 from three) and adding ten rebounds, three assists, and a steal. Burke overcame a shaky first half to pour in 21 points of his own (9-17 FGs) and dish out eight assists; after turning the ball over four times in the first half, he had just one in the second stanza and finished on a 6-7 shooting tear.
Burke wasn't the only Wolverine to struggle out of the gate, as Michigan trailed 15-14 just over six minutes into the game before back-to-back threes by Burke and Hardaway—naturally—began to break the game open. They wouldn't completely pull away until a 10-0 run in the opening minutes of the second half, which featured eight points from Hardaway, including an emphatic one-handed dunk off a feed from Glenn Robinson III and back-to-back threes sandwiched around a missed free throw.
While the freshmen weren't filling the tin like they did in exhibition play—combining for 28 points, 11 of those coming in the game's final four minutes—they found ways to contribute. Robinson scored ten points on 5-7 shooting and picked up his rebounding efforts, pulling in eight total (six defensive) in 32 minutes. Mitch McGary pulled down nine rebounds—five offensive, though three came on one possession when he couldn't lay the ball in—in just 12 minutes while chipping in nine points; he also had three fouls, the big reason why he didn't play more. Nik Stauskas only attempted two field goals, hitting one, but got to the line to shoot a pair twice with some aggressive drives to the basket. Spike Albrecht was just 1-5 from the field, but he handed out two assists and didn't turn the ball over.
After missing the exhibition season with a knee injury, Jon Horford played better than the stats would indicate in eight key minutes after McGary and Jordan Morgan both found themselves in early foul trouble. On his first possession of the game, he rebounded a Morgan miss, hit the putback, and drew a foul, then drew a charge on the very next play. Later in the first half, he deftly slipped a pass to a cutting Robinson for an easy layup. While Horford was still limited—not by injury, but by his gas tank after missing the last two weeks—he appeared to have all of his pre-injury athleticism.
The depth is there for this team in a way that it hasn't been under John Beilein. Last year, there was no Horford to step in for Morgan, and certainly no McGary to add a second big man to the lineup. When Burke was off, like he was in the first half, there wasn't an Albrecht there to give him a chance to sit down and regroup, like he did nine minutes into tonight's game. And to have Robinson as a third scoring option, well, let's just call that an upgrade, and that's no slight to Zack Novak or Stu Douglass.
But tonight, the story was Hardaway and Burke. The two had a synergy tonight, Burke knowing just where to give it to Hardaway, Hardaway knowing just where and when to attack, that could take this team from good to great. And yes, at least tonight, there was even just the right spin on the ball.
"Bright youth passes swiftly as a thought." — Theognis
There is no "next year."
Not in today's college basketball, where Kentucky wins a national championship starting three freshmen and two sophomores, the NBA draft age limit creates a one-year holding pen for the sport's brightest young stars, and no graduating senior was selected in this year's lottery. It's not a new reality—as Michigan, home of the Fab Five, should well know—but one that's reaching its apex in the Age of Calipari.
This year's Michigan squad is no exception. The star of the show is sophomore point guard Trey Burke, who nearly exited for the pro ranks in April and, if all goes well, won't be back the next time around. A pair of precocious freshmen, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, will start and hopefully star—three more newcomers should play prominent roles. The grizzled veteran of the team's core, junior swingman Tim Hardaway Jr., is still unable to legally imbibe.
John Beilein is building for the future, and a bright future it is. After sharing a Big Ten title last season, however, and then pulling in Michigan's finest recruiting class since the Ed Martin era, the Wolverines carry a top-five preseason ranking and expectations to win now. While the hype may be slightly overblown, anything less than the program's first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1994 would be considered a disappointment.
How the team reaches that point is still very much in question. Hardaway, plagued by a balky jumper, ceded the role of lead dog to Burke as the season wore on in 2011-12; if he regains his stroke, he could emerge as the top scoring option. The presence of Jordan Morgan, McGary, and a healthy Jon Horford up front gives Beilein new-found depth and versatility with his lineup—Beilein spoke at media day of an offseason spent studying NBA film to see how the pros utilize two post players, a luxury he hasn't been afforded during his time in Ann Arbor. For their part, McGary and Robinson must live up to sky-high recruiting hype if this team hopes to deliver on their potential.
The extent to which the Wolverines miss Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, and Even Smotrycz depends largely on another freshman, Nik Stauskas, and his ability to connect from the outside. Yet another freshman, Spike Albrecht, will be called upon to replace "timeout" as Burke's backup. One more first-year guard, Caris LeVert, has earned rave reviews in practice and could provide scoring punch off the bench.
Despite the inexperience and uncertainty, this team represents Beilein's surest bet to take this program to the next level, and could very well be his best shot for a long time. That may sound rash, but the Wolverines have been close to the leap before, only to fall back: the Amaker tenure crumbled despite early promise, the 2009-10 squad faltered despite making the tournament with the same nucleus the year before, and even last year's team tripped up against 13-seed Ohio in the Big Dance. Trey Burke probably isn't walking through that door next year. There's no guarantee Tim Hardaway Jr. will, either. For that matter, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III have one-and-done potential if all goes well (too well, perhaps).
As the season tips off tonight in a refurbished Crisler Center, there's a distinct sense of urgency—not just to prove that this program is going places, but that they've already arrived. If the season goes according to plan, there won't be need for talk of next year, and that will truly signal the new age of Michigan basketball.