here's one vote for "John Beilein's head in a Futurama jar"
What is the possibility of switching to a 3-4 defense next year? With a lack of a proven option at DT, and a seeming plethora of linebackers coming in that look ready to start from Day 1, it seems like it would be a wise move. Mattison ran it at Baltimore so we wouldn't need to worry about running a system our DC doesn't understand. Or is that asking for trouble with Will 'high pads' Campbell trying to absorb double teams?
This comes up over and over. Look:
Brian - Any chance Mattison takes a stab at running a 3-4 next year with Will Campbell as the space eater in the middle and Cam Gordon/Jake Ryan the speedy LBs? I image he prefers that base defense because of the variety of blitzing looks it can bring to confuse a 20 year old QB but has he discussed it at all in press conferences. Also, the LBs coming in are upgrading the athleticism to potentially smooth the transition in coming years.
-Jim Dudnick BBA '01
I think I've already dispelled it multiple times, but here it goes again: Michigan will not switch to a 3-4. If it looks like they're recruiting to a 3-4, well, that's because the 4-3 under is halfway between a traditional 4-3 and a 3-4.
Consider the effect of shifting the line against the strength of the formation:
- The SDE moves inside the tight end and becomes vulnerable to double teams
- The NT hovers near the center
- the DT is lined up just outside the guard
- the WDE gets outside the tackle and is hard to double team
What personnel do you want for that? You want a big bulky DE on the strongside and a penetrating, athletic whip on the weakside. Your nose tackle needs to be able to take on and beat double teams either by splitting them or forcing both players to stay in to block him; the three-tech also must hold up on the interior. That's not that different from what you want from your three down linemen and weakside OLB in the 3-4; add in the SLB hovering around the line and the two MLB types hanging out off the LOS and the under is probably closer to the 3-4 than a 4-3 in terms of personnel.
What the under gives you that the 3-4 doesn't is flexibility in your playmakers. This year Mike Martin one-gapped the hell out of opponents, darting into the backfield and destroying play after play. Next year Ondre Pipkins or maybe Campbell (but probably Pipkins) may be able to shove opponents five yards backwards but he's not going to be as explosive. This should be okay since he will free up Demens. In the 3-4 Martin is not a viable nose (or at least not as good of one) because he has to two-gap—hold his ground and be able to pop off either side. Theoretically, anyway. These days fronts are multiple.
Moving to the 3-4 does not fix any hypothetical issues on the line; Roh and the various WDEs become OLBs* and you're still replacing the three interior players. Instead of allowing those new guys to take one gap and hit it hard you're asking them to play both sides of a player, which means they have to be immensely strong and able to anchor; quickness is much less of a consideration. The 3-4 would exacerbate potential issues with young and/or light players (like Brink). It is the opposite of a panacea.
*[Remember that Michigan's one-year dalliance with the 3-4 saw Lamarr Woodley play OLB.]
35th in Kenpom seems low for a team that beat their number 3 and 6 teams. This seems to be a big game team, they play well against good teams and then sleep walk through Iowa and Alabama A&M Tech State. What would our ranking be if we removed every team over 50th (arbitrary cutoff)?
I don't know but I agree that Kenpom seems to have a weakness in that sloppy games against poor competition seem to have a greater impact on the rankings than they do expectations from Vegas. This can make the rankings and predictions look odd.
But that's tough to weed out. If I understand his methodology correctly, Pomeroy tests out changes to his rankings and only implements them if they improve the overall accuracy of his prediction engine. The '06 Gonzaga team is one that Pomeroy thinks his system underrated because they did not play with much effort defensively unless they had to and thus didn't rack up the huge margins of victory that see teams like OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin near the top of his ratings this year.
In Wisconsin's case you can make an argument that their defensive style is dominant against weak competition but fails for whatever reason against better competition… but then how do you explain the Badgers' considerable success over the past half-decade? If you can't find some correlation to go with your model that's as useless as a correlation without a model.
Michigan beat Western Illinois by four and a few other weak teams by ten or thirteen and thus hover lower in the rankings than they maybe should. (Iowa is another matter. That's not screwing around after getting a big lead, it's getting blown out by a bad team.) Could Pomeroy find a way to downplay games between badly mismatched teams? Maybe. If and only if it made the prediction engine stronger, though. Evidently he hasn't.
DISCLAIMER: I know I rely on Kenpom's tempo-free stats extensively but they are just numbers and they do have flaws even Pomeroy admits; that doesn't make them bad or useless. It's a reminder to keep them in perspective.
What are the options for captains on the men's basketball team next year? With Novak and Douglass around it's something we haven't had to think much about much lately, but what scenarios do you foresee playing out? I figure you're looking at a group of players (provided no unexpected attrition) from Vogrich (Sr), Morgan (Jr), Smotrycz (Jr), Hardaway (Jr), and Burke (So). Being that Vogrich seems to have a dab of the gritty mcgrit that Novak and Douglass feature along with being the only senior, I can see him being one of them. But from there do you hope THJ matures with the imaginary 'C' on his jersey? Do you go back to the sophomore route that worked with Novak and give a nod to Burke? Do you tap into the floppy hair of McLimans? So many options...
That is tough, and gives me the heebie-jeebies as I think about Michigan's inexplicable collapse in 2009-2010 after the departures of CJ Lee and David Merritt. That decline is the most powerful argument in favor of gritty leadership I've ever run across, and Michigan is going to have huge shoes to fill in that department next year. Getting that right is going to be captial-I Important.
Honestly… doesn't Burke seem like the guy despite his youth? He spent the offseason before his arrival documenting his insane workrate on the internet and has immediately become the headiest player on the team, non-Novak division. Hardaway has the passion but often fails to control it; Morgan is a quiet guy who has to be goaded into emotion by Bacari Alexander, Vogrich doesn't seem to have the on-court impact to be a candidate, and Smotrycz… I don't know. Smotrycz just doesn't give off the vibe. I'd guess Burke and Hardaway, as odd as that might seem.
The more you know, part one.
If Wikipedia is correct, Denard Robinson has the chance to be the first player in Michigan history to be a three-time team MVP. There have been 6 two-timers:
Nobody has been a two-time B1G MVP
This may be something to keep in mind when debates about Robinson's place in Michigan history (like, is he patch-worthy) come up. Unless Robinson makes that argument moot.
The more you know, part two.
A commenter dug down to find the last Michigan players who graduated with a winning record against MSU:
It was Louis Bullock (1995-99), unless we're not counting the vacated games. If we're not counting any of them (we vacated the 1992-93 season and everything from 1995-99), I believe we have to go back to the seniors on the 1989-90 team (Terry Mills, Rumeal Robinson, Mike Griffin and I think someone else [ed: Loy Vaught]).
Bullock does not count. Bullock can go to hell. Vacated games do not count generally. So it's been over 20 years. That's what's at stake for Zack Novak and Stu Douglass in Breslin.
Side note: I hear tell Michigan is going to PSL-up the lower bowl in Crisler next year, with one section opposite the students at midcourt designated for high rollers with a 1k+ PSL attached. Part of this revamp will be the addition of a club analogous to the one at Michigan Stadium for said high rollers.
It sure would be nice to somehow name it after a guy who's given his all for the program like Novak…
…instead of a rich guy whose contributions we certainly appreciate but do not viscerally feel, no offense rich guys.
1/17/2012 – Michigan 60, Michigan State 59 – 15-4, 5-2 Big Ten
It was stomach-churning when Draymond Green conjured a pretty good shot out of thirty-five seconds of Michigan State panic, and that moment when the ball hung in the air was heart-stopping. In the vast aeons before its fate was determined, the observer had plenty of time to remember how much he hated backboards.
Oh, backboards. Scourge of the 2011 Wisconsin game at Crisler. Failed Andrew Jackson assassins. Uncooperative gits, backboards. When Josh Gasser had thrown an eyes-closed prayer up last year, a backboard answered his call. I had vowed revenge after it worked this alchemy on Crisler:
Being in Crisler was to viscerally understand the cliche about the air going out of the building. The transition from a standing, raucous crowd to a bunch of pissed off people looking for their jackets was instant, and the ride home was mostly silence.
But Green had not stopped his side-to-side momentum before getting the shot off and when it bounced off the backboard it did so too far to the left; it glanced off the rim. Green's putback attempt was well short, and that was that. Rather than the Gasser shot we'd just witnessed a replay of Deshawn Sims's improbably good look at the end of the 2010 game against State at Crisler.
Crisler blew up, as you might expect. Then something strange happened: nothing. No student or fan set foot on the court. Izzo rushed the referees to plead something or other, the teams shook hands, and then they left the court. No mosh pit. Crisler was loud but something short of delirious.
And there you go: the infamous "gap" is pretty much closed. Novak in the aftermath:
"We're to the point now where (beating Michigan State) is something we expect to do," Novak said. "My first two years, it was like, you've got to do it first -- you've got to do it one time.
"After you get that first one, you get a taste of it, but then you've got to learn how to win."
The last three years Michigan is 3-2 against Michigan State with one failed buzzer-beater on each side, an MSU blowout at the tail end of the disappointing 2010 season, and two solid Michigan victories during the regrettably short Get Off My Court era. If they haven't reached talent parity with State just yet it won't take long for Robinson, Stauskas, McGary, Irvin, Donnal, et al., to make that distinction a hard one to make. The PDC is complete; planned Crisler renovations will bring Michigan's arena in line with the best in the country. John Beilein is pretty good at coaching basketball.
Michigan's at the start of a long Big Ten grind that will probably spit them out significantly bruised, but at this point it's hard to see them chewed up enough to miss the tourney. If things fall right they could even sneak a seed with which it's plausible to make a Sweet 16. That's three of the last four tournaments and at least a .500 record against State over the last three years, and then the cavalry arrives. The moment when Beilein's program goes from building to built is fast approaching.
Zack Novak doesn't care about that. He cares about February 5th in Breslin, when he'll have the opportunity to go out with a winning record against Michigan State. The last four-year player to accomplish that was… I have no idea.
Next year is the one everyone's pointing to as the one when big things happen; this year is Novak's last. He is thinking about titles and tournaments and somehow keeping all of the blood vessels in his head intact for another three months. Fans can sit back and wait for help; Novak only has a few urgent months left.
Here they are.
Photos from Eric Upchurch:
These are Creative Commons licensed, as always.
Via MGoVideo, Denard and Roundtree executing the Can't Turn You Loose dance next to a shirtless dude and an engineer:
What a knob.
Last 31 seconds:
Also there are BTN highlights.
The trenchant analysis! So of course after I point out Smotrycz's ability to stay on the floor as a key to the game Michigan starts Stu Douglass and plays 90% of the game with Novak on Draymond Green. Smotrycz gets ten minutes. At least I said Green was a more plausible matchup than most Novak-vs-PF outings.
But so anyway, point Beilein for running out the small lineup and not getting extensively punished for it on the boards… actually, wait. Michigan rebounded one of 23 opportunities on the offensive end and allowed MSU to rebound 39% of their misses. So they did get pummeled on the boards. They eked it out because…
Uh… They eked it out because…
Uh… Okay. They were ferociously effective from two-point range. This continues a season-long theme but was not expected after a couple of rough outings. I think MSU five-star Adreian Payne was a major factor in this. Michigan sliced open the MSU defense early with un- or not-very contested layups largely because Payne's help defense was nonexistent despite having a matchup against Jordan Morgan. Morgan is not a guy you have to worry about taking jumpers, but Payne consistently failed to show at the basket when Michigan's various six-nothin' white guys would drive to the hoop.
As a result, Payne played only 14 minutes and finished with one rebound, that defensive. He should be awesome—dude is a physical marvel—except he's Mike Cox mentally. He got yanked a few minutes in. In the aftermath Izzo would bemoan a lack of "toughness," but what MSU lacked was between their ears, not their legs.
When Payne was out Nix didn't seem much better. For whatever reason the intimidating doom-bringers on the interior took yesterday's game off.
Uh… Also fouls and turnovers. The Valentine crew decided there were no fouls, much to my frustration in the first half when it seemed like various over-the-backs and Hardaway jumpers would have been fouls anywhere else on planet Earth. I know Hardaway is struggling, but there is no way he flat airballs two three-pointers in a short period of time.
HOWEVA, when it came to things actually called, Michigan had the advantage with just 8 fouls to MSU's 12 and 13 FTA to MSU's 5. This did not appear to be a home court effect. Even Michigan State people were unsurprised State had zero FTA at the half.
MSU also had six additional turnovers. Most of those came from Appling and Green as Michigan collapsed on them and they did not find assists to compensate. Appling did somewhat with his five but a 5-4 assist to TO ratio and a couple of charging calls is not ideal.
Tim Hardaway: come on, let's go. While Trey Burke is a fantastic player it doesn't seem disputable that Darius Morris was a much better shot creator last year than Burke is at this point in his career. That's been much to the detriment of Hardaway, who is now taking a lot of bad, contested shots and seeing his numbers drop precipitously. Michigan needs more of his last basket, when he shot by a defender and finished at the rim what with his six-five frame and leaping ability, and less of the shots like the above. Beilein also thinks this. Look at his face.
Hardaway did make an excellent decision to foul Nix on the floor after one of Michigan State's late whip-the-ball-around-until-it's-in-the-post-uncontested possessions. IIRC a turnover followed; those points were the difference (as were all points scored by M or not scored by MSU).
Stu Douglass: hat tip. After 38 minutes versus Iowa Douglass puts in 36 against MSU, plays his usual very good perimeter defense, had nine points on six shots, Michigan's lone offensive rebound, two assists, a steal, and a turnover. Even if I'm probably not going to say "argh where's Stu" next year like I will inevitably do when things are going poorly and Novak isn't around to grit something out, the intangible senior leadership Douglass provides is getting pretty tangible.
Burke. Yes, you're good. That three pointer was still a horrible decision. In all other ways, hurray.
Drive home safely. The visiting Izzone section. We have to talk, visiting Izzone section.
One: you came in a bus. Two: you bought a large section of tickets clearly designated the worst in the building, allowing you to stand as students will. Michigan is clearly complicit in getting you in the building, for whatever reason. Your bus did not appear to have a cloaking device.
Despite this, you sneak into the building incognito as if there are Izzone snipers stationed at the entrances. Then you chant "Daddy's better" at Tim Hardaway Jr., which… like… Tim Hardaway is one of the great point guards in NBA history. You know that, right? That's not actually an insult.
No points, mercy on your soul, etc.
Meanwhile. Does the Maize Rage do this? Could they do this? Why is Michigan selling a huge block of tickets to the Izzone? It doesn't seem likely that is the case. Why is Michigan actively annoying its fans by allowing this to happen?
Mathy Q. This would never happen and this is a conversation destined to remain hypothetical, but… how bad of a free throw shooter would someone on the floor have to be for a foul to be the right move in the situation Michigan was faced with last night?
I think a couple guys on the court were within range. Nix was 53% last year and is at 58% this year. If we give him 60% to make calculations easier, a non-shooting foul on him results in the following outcome after the one-and-one:
- 40%: Michigan with ball up one
- 24%: Michigan with ball tied
- 36%: Michigan with ball down one
That's if Michigan gets the rebound on the free throw, generally a good assumption but maybe less so in a balls-to-the-wall board crashing situation late.
I think there's a case for sending an under 60% free throw shooter to the line with 15 seconds or so left if they're going to get a one and one. Again, no one in the universe will ever try this in a game. But it's interesting to consider.
Random. I think of this as Rasheed Wallace version of "THE GAAAAAME." Do you know what I'm talking about? After the Pistons won their championship Wallace called basketball that in his indefinable 'Sheed way. It is impossible to explain and impossible to google, but I swear some people will know what I'm talking about.
In lieu of providing this, here's Wallace signing along to GNR:
This is your erratic reminder that Rasheed Wallace should succeed the Most Interesting Man In The World.
That is not relevant, but you start looking up Rasheed Wallace videos on Youtube and things get crazy.
Green has guaranteed the return game($):
"They won three. Before that, how many how had they won?" Green said. "They got their little three, but they come to East Lansing in a few weeks.
"They better celebrate this one, because I can guarantee you they won’t get one in East Lansing. You can quote me on that one."
Three straight is of course half of Green's career against Michigan to date (MSU was one-play a couple years ago), but don't ask a State attendee to do math.
RCMB provides the 'freude:
Last year was somewhat understandable. We were bad then. We are pretty good this year. Even a mediocre MSU team should blow Michigan out of the water. Michigan can't be good. It doesn't F---ING HAPPEN. FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU
What a knob.
MSU needs better S&C.
Yesterday, I highlighted one of the main issues with Michigan's offense in recent games: their struggles with the hard hedge against the pick and roll. When the Wolverines—especially Trey Burke—run a high screen, opponents have found success by having the man guarding the screener provide a strong double-team on the ballhandler, limiting his ability to drive to the basket and making passes into the post difficult.
There are several ways to counter the hard hedge, as discussed yesterday in both the post and the comments (thanks to all of you who added your thoughts—I'm not a basketball coach, so any additional knowledge about the game is very valuable). One such counter, brought up yesterday by MGoUser Kilgore Trout, is to get the opponent to commit to the hedge and then immediately cross back over, which should create an opening for a pass to the near-side corner.
Though he didn't execute it perfectly, and the play didn't result in a basket, Tim Hardaway Jr. provides a decent example of how to do this, and you'll be able to see the possibilities it opens. With teams over-committing to the screen, something inevitably must open up, and in this case several holes emerge in the defense. Here's the setup, as Hardaway has just received a pass from Trey Burke:
As you can see, Hardaway has the ball on the left wing, and Jordan Morgan is setting an off-ball screen for Douglass in the middle of the court—Stu will head to the near-side corner and Burke will clear out to the high side on the opposite side of the court so the team maintains proper spacing. Now that the team is properly spread out, Hardaway calls for a screen, and Morgan makes his way over:
Hardaway starts to dribble towards Morgan, but as soon as Melsahn Basabe (#1, guarding Morgan) jumps out to hedge, Hardaway makes a quick crossover dribble back to the near side—this is exactly how you want to counter Basabe's aggressiveness in this instance, especially with Hardaway's man already attempting to fight over the pick:
This opens up several possibilities. If Morgan was ready for the crossover, he could crash hard to the basket, forcing the defender guarding Douglass to slide down and vacate the corner or give up an open dunk (or the defender guarding Novak could do this—either way, a open corner three should be there). Morgan doesn't roll hard, likely because he hadn't fully set the screen when Hardaway made his move, and also because Hardaway will drive to the lane himself. Hardaway's drive accomplishes what Morgan's roll would do—force the near-side defender to commit, leaving Douglass alone in the corner:
Unfortunately, what you see above is where this particular play doesn't work as well as it should. Hardaway picks up his dribble before he gets into the lane, so when he passes to Douglass, the sliding defender still has time to get back out and force Stu to drive. I think if Hardaway takes another dribble, it would create enough separation for Douglass to get an open three, a much-preferable option in Michigan's offense (and especially with Stu, who's much more comfortable as a stand-still shooter than a slasher). As it is, the defender is able to get out on Douglass, and Stu drives and misses a pull-up jumper in the paint. Full video of the play:
As was pointed out yesterday, the biggest problem here isn't the play, but the execution. If Morgan dives hard to the basket, or Hardaway penetrates further into the paint, this play likely results in a bucket. Instead, Douglass is forced to settle for a contested fallaway in the lane when he doesn't have the space to get off an open three. If Michigan can execute this adjustment with a little more precision, however, it should help keep opponents from over-committing to the hedge defensively and allow the Wolverines to run the pick-and-roll more effectively.
Coming on the heels of Wednesday's ugly overtime win over Northwestern, Michigan's lethargic effort against Iowa on Saturday resulted in a 75-59 loss. Many of the team's problems offensively can be traced to the ineffectiveness of the pick and roll. John Beilein has placed a lot of emphasis on the pick and roll this season, and it is often how Michigan starts out their offensive sets. Earlier this year Trey Burke ran it with great effect, and his offense flourished; getting freed up to start out plays allowed Burke to utilize his quickness and finishing ability to create baskets for himself and others.
While Burke has managed to score 19 points in each of the last two games, his efficiency has plummeted, as he's just 12-30 (40%) from the field during that span, a number that's actually inflated due to several garbage-time buckets against the Hawkeyes. I believe the main issue lies with the pick and roll, and how teams are now defending it.
Both Northwestern and Iowa hedged hard with the man defending the screener, putting extra pressure on Burke, keeping him from turning the corner and driving, and making it difficult for the diminutive guard to find passing lanes. Let's take a look at an example to see what's bogging down the offense. Here's a play from Saturday where Iowa stymies two pick-and-roll attempts, eventually forcing a turnover.
First, the setup. Burke has the ball on the left side early in the shot clock, and Jordan Morgan gets into position to set a screen towards the middle of the court:
Burke dribbles over to the pick, and Morgan dives to the basket. The problem is that Morgan's defender, Melsahn Basabe, comes out to double Burke instead of rolling to the post with Morgan. This is just after the mesh point of the pick, and already Burke is being forced to retreat:
Even though Morgan is open and has a lane to the basket, Burke doesn't have a path to get him the ball. By the time Basabe peels off and heads back to Morgan, Burke is all the way out on the center-court logo, still trying to turn the corner and in no position to make a play. He's forced to pass off to Novak, and the offense will reset.
Novak will swing it down to Smotrycz, then the ball will come back around to Burke, where he calls another play, again asking for Morgan to come over and set a screen. Again, Iowa hedges, and Burke doesn't help matters at all by running nowhere close to the pick, giving his man ample room to go over the top and stay right with him:
Basabe hounds Burke as Devyn Marble (#4) also chases him to the sideline—there's no chance Burke can pass to Morgan on the roll, and once more he's forced to pass off to Novak. Iowa turns up the pressure at the end of the shot clock, and Novak will lose control of the ball, leading to an Iowa steal right before the shot clock expires.
Here's the full play on video:
At no point in this play did Michigan even have a decent look at the basket, and it was due to their inability to counter the hard hedge, an issue that would present itself several times over the course of the game. So, what do we learn from this, and how can Michigan counteract this level of pressure?
Burke and Morgan have to execute better. Teams can defend the pick and roll however they want and you're going to run into problems if you don't do a fundamentally sound job of setting it up. On the first screen in the above play, Morgan rolls to the basket early—he never comes into contact with Marble, nor does he affect the path Marble must take to stay on Burke, eliminating the potential for a switch or even a delay in getting out to Burke. On the second screen, Burke doesn't come close to the pick, and Marble can just run right over the top of Morgan while staying between Burke and the basket. Morgan has to stay at home and make sure he sets a solid screen, and Burke has to do a better job of rubbing against the screen to give it maximum effect. Neither happened in conjunction on this play.
Michigan needs to adjust how they run the P&R. Interestingly, Michigan appears to have a built-in adjustment for the hard hedge, and it was highlighted by former Wolverine point guard David Merritt over at UMHoops back in December. Watch what happens against Memphis when Burke runs a high side screen with Jon Horford; the Tigers hedge, so Horford sets himself again and sets a pick coming back in the other direction, getting Burke one-on-one and giving him space to get into the lane:
There's another option I've seen put forth (possibly by Brian, and also by some frustrated Tweeters this weekend), and that is to run the high screen not with Burke, but with Tim Hardaway, Jr., whose extra size would help him see and pass over the double-team. I'm skeptical about how well this would work, as Hardaway isn't nearly as quick as Burke—he's more effective offensively when coming off screens away from the ball and getting passes while cutting. It is an option, however, and could also be a way to get Hardaway going towards the basket instead of settling for long jumpers.
Run the pick-and-pop with Smotrycz. Morgan is an effective finisher around the basket, but he's not a threat to pop out to the three-point line and knock down a jumper, which allows defenders to abandon him at the perimeter and wait for help to arrive while hedging on Burke. This isn't the case with Smotrycz, who is still connecting on nearly 46% of his three-point attempts this season despite a recent shooting slump. Having Smotrycz set the screen and then slide out for an open three would likely give Burke a better passing lane if the opponent comes with a hard hedge, and if Smotrycz can knock down those open looks, opponents would be more reticent to double Burke.
Run more plays with off-ball screens. There's also this: Michigan has a lot of great plays that aren't predicated on an early on-ball screen. It's possible teams have found how to take advantage of Burke's greatest weakness—his size—and can render him ineffective on most pick and roll plays. I would think Beilein can devise a way to counter the hard hedge—we've seen one such adjustment above—but if he can't, there's a lot more to the Wolverine offense. Michigan had a lot of success against Wisconsin by setting off-ball screens in the corner for Zack Novak, but I didn't see much of that against Iowa. When facing off against teams with bigger guards and athletic big men, like Iowa, Michigan might have to look for a similar way to generate offense.
1/11/2011 – Michigan 66, Northwestern 64 (OT) – 14-3, 4-1 Big Ten
I blame the Sugar Bowl trophy. Clearly, this edition has fey powers. Those powers are 1) making everything around it uglier so that it seems pretty in comparison and 2) driving Michigan towards improbable victories it does not seem to deserve.
Because of the trophy's presence we got an extensive dose of the exasperated wail basketball has a near-monopoly on*. Scoring is so frequent that extended droughts are rare, rarer still when the team in question is getting of a wide variety of high-quality shots. When that happens and the home team is still missing, still missing, still—argh that one was halfway down—missing, each subsequent missed opportunity comes with a rising crescendo of despair. Normally calm old men start throwing their hands hither and thither. People lose their minds the fifth time "all right, two points" turns into "how did you miss that?"
By my calculations, all minds in Crisler last night were lost 2.4 times in the first half. Michigan limped to the locker room trailing by seven after shooting 25% on their twos. One three that bounced in and around the rim before popping out caused a guy in front of me to undergo this sort of arms-raised twitchy anger dance. I felt ill.
It didn't seem like the team was playing poorly—at least not on offense—but rather that it had been cosmically ordained from above that Michigan was to lose this game. If it had been a video game, 15 minutes in would have been controller-throwing, reset-hitting, pout-and-watch-TNG time.
But they won, didn't they? They won by brutalizing Northwestern on the boards and in turnover margin, by somewhat limiting Wildcat threes (27% opposed to their usual 33%) and refusing to foul unless someone was launching a wild three with less than a second on the clock. It was ugly and terrible; it was the game that you point to at the end of the season as One Of Those Games. It was the inexplicable loss you suck up and overcome… and they won.
So okay. Damage escaped, Iowa next, let's keep on inching.
Bullets that could use a GPS or something
The hedge. Northwestern fiercely hedged all ball screens with Burke and got away with every single one. Burke tried to split one late and was fortunate to get a tenuous kicked ball call; all other saw him take the long way and not end up punishing the hedge.
This is a spot in which Morris had a major advantage because he was a half-foot taller and lanky. Hedge like that and the ball is going to the big slipping the screen for a 70% chance at a Jordan Morgan basket, or Morris will peel around the big guy with a good chance at catching him out of position and using his height to get a solid look. Burke… well, we need some work there.
Hypothesis 1: he should try to use his quickness by accelerating into the hedger before he can get set and get those Chauncey Billups calls. Hypothesis 2: we should run more pick and roll with Hardaway, who can pass over the shorter guy or drive to the basket against a guy who will probably not be blocking his shot. Hardaway has such height and elevation that little pull up jumpers are a high percentage business.
Do you think Beilein would be amenable to answering questions like that?
Small ball. I'm not sure if Northwestern's small lineup killed Michigan or not, what with the massive offensive rebounding numbers Michigan put up and Carmody's decision to go with Mirkovic for most of the stretch. If Michigan's shooting anywhere near a reasonable percentage given their shot quality the offensive benefits of the small lineup are outweighed by their terrible D numbers.
Michigan ended up going small in response, spending much of the second half switching Smotrycz and Morgan O for D; Stu Douglass ended up playing 38 of 45 minutes.
Insane devotion to foul orthodoxy. I can see yanking Smotrycz after his second since Michigan had a reason to go small and Smotrycz is the kind of guy who will foul out if you don't keep an eye on him. But Novak? UMHoops mentioned this gently; I'll restate: guy averages 2.8 fouls per 40 minutes. The risk of bringing him back in for the last five minutes of the first half is not high.
Stu! Douglass has quietly been an effective, important player in the last three games. His shooting helped a lot against Indiana and Wisconsin and his perimeter defense is the best on the team by a wide margin. He had five steals against Wisconsin and two in this game.
Even more importantly, switching Douglass onto Crawford slowed him considerably. In the second half and OT, Crawford had one dunk he was given after Michigan played great defense to deny three-point opportunities as NU wound the clock from 22 seconds to 8 and went 5/6 on free throws from Morgan and Burke fouls. The Douglass matchup:
- 1 steal
- 2 TO
- 1/5 from 2
- 0/1 from 3
IIRC Hardaway had Crawford for most of the first half when he went 6 of 9 with a made three.
Douglass couldn't throw it into Gordon Gee's mouth in this game but since no one other than Hardaway could that's a criticism to save for another time. Even so he was Michigan's second most efficient scorer in this game with 10 points on 10 shots; Hardaway and Burke bested him but Burke only did so thanks to his end-of-game free throw spree.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Ice cold, young man, especially after playing the entire game.
Hardaway launch pad. He took a couple of wince-inducing threes but they went down in this outing. One was a heat check that is not statistically more likely to go in but is impossible to prevent even the meekest low usage guy from taking, so okay.
Two for one. Beilein went for one at the end of the game; it did not work out because the pass to Hardaway was a little off and the resulting Novak three left only a six-second difference between shot and game clock, and then the insane Hardaway foul erased that. Good idea, though.
Speaking of. Ohmygawd what was that at the end of the game? If Northwestern had been in the bonus I think my head would have come off. They are letting almost everything slide and then they call a nothing foul with ten seconds left. Face, meet palm.
And then Douglass hacks the hell out of Crawford because Michigan has fouls to give and the refs ignore that. Quite a sequence there. Don't get me started on Novak trying to take charges.
Timeouts. Argh. All basketball games would be improved by cutting two timeouts. This one would have been immensely so.
*[Hockey has a version of it when one team is throwing chance after chance at a hot goalie and his even hotter goalposts in a close game—call it the Ryan Miller Experience. Baseball has nothing like it and the tenor of a frustrated football crowd is different; the anger is usually more directed. This frustration is a cosmic one.]
Sorry for the late post. WLW crashed at the worst time possible and their auto-recover function didn't work since it only took down one of my windows. So the column bit is shorter and I'll find links later.
1/8/2012 – Michigan 59, Wisconsin 41 – 13-3, 3-1 Big Ten
If Michigan's season to date was a rollercoaster, it would be one with a cartoon bumblebee on the first car and a You Must Be This Short To Ride This Ride sign out front. They've beaten the teams they were supposed to beat, lost to the ones they were supposed to lose to, and done these things more or less convincingly. Maybe the Virginia loss was a disappointment, but they're 14-1 now. Maybe Minnesota was uncomfortable. These are not events that will cause anyone in a television studio to talk about Michigan's wild season.
On the whole, that's a positive, but it does leave you wondering if Michigan is taking a step forward. Once Trey Burke hit the ground running it seemed like they should, but when you're sifting through the evidence all you've got are some instances of not blowing it. Tough to judge, that.
An 18-point win against Wisconsin is a step forward even if they're notoriously overrated by Kenpom. They are also rated by the people who vote in these things. North Carolina had to scrape by them at home; it took Michigan State overtime to dispatch them. They will likely recover from this sour start to easily claim an NCAA tourney bid, and Michigan ran them out of the gym.
This has a directly comparable moment from last year. It was this:
DEATH TO BACKBOARDS
THAT IS ALL
At that point even that hopeless freshman playing pinball for the win was regarded as "man fun," evidence that Michigan's basketball program was alive at 17-12, 7-9 in the league.
Michigan was rebuilding and started the Big Ten season off so poorly that the narrative of the season was near-misses that would cost them a tourney bid until, suddenly, it wasn't. When they got the bid they were staring down a second round matchup with Duke and the Sweet 16 was not a consideration until Darius Morris was running at the basket with time winding down.
This year they're coming at it from ahead, with a win or two in their pocket and a hope for more. Next year they won't be rebuilding anything. They'll be built, and expectations will loom. Right now we're going through the last vestiges of having no expectations because we have no program. Step by step, inch by inch, Michigan departs its past and becomes something else.
Bullets that can hit the backboard all they want
TREY BURKE! Burke followed up the worst game of his young career by outplaying Jordan Taylor. Taylor had a couple baskets late when he started forcing quick shots; these came against Stu Douglass and were desperate heaves in any case. In the first half Taylor had 4 points on 2 of 8 shooting; he hit a single additional three against Burke in the second half. For the game Taylor's late chucks got him to 12 points on 15 shots; Burke was not the model of efficiency but had 14 on the same number of shots. He did not pick up a single foul.
The rest of the defense! Michigan held Wisconsin to 0.76 points per possession, UW's worst output of the year. Marquette is next best at 0.86. I'm not sure how or why this happened, but it was no fluke. Wisconsin could not find an open shot anywhere. Despite having a terrible night, Taylor was forced into an even larger share of the offense than he usually has. He averages around 25% of UW's shots and hit 30% in this game.
Michigan showed on ball screens and Wisconsin could not pick and roll or find post players in good position. The Badgers had maybe three open looks from three all game, one transition basket, and vanishingly few dunks and layups.
Hardaway: more turnovers please. Last year, this site identified Tim Hardaway's abnormally low turnover rate for a high-usage freshman as a reason he would be an efficient player going forward. It would now like to retract that assertion since now it seems to mean Hardaway is settling for a lot of long twos.
In the last two games he's probably shot a half-dozen jumpers from just inside the three-point line with more than 25 seconds on the shot clock. I don't care who you are: that is not a good shot. You can make the case for the occasional semi-contested jacked up three as a decent opportunity that opens up later driving. You cannot for a slightly shorter shot that has about the same chance of going in but provides 33% less reward. Can Hardaway get that anytime he wants? Yes. Try to find something better with the time allotted.
If this results in more turnovers from young Skywalker, so be it. He's shooting 27% from 3—and probably about that from just inside 3—and 58% from two. Either drive to the basket or kick, and take the threes only when they come to you.
He seems to be overreacting to the first half/second half thing and is now shooting everything all the time. His shot% has cracked 30% and is now in the top 100, which is frustrating when a lot of the shots he's adding are low quality and he's got guys like Novak, Morgan and Smotrycz hanging out being deadly when the offense can create a shot for them.
Sanity check on aisle Wisconsin. Like Miami (That Miami) finishing third in offensive FEI, Wisconsin tenaciously clinging to their #2 spot in Kenpom despite a 1-3 Big Ten start is an unfortunate, credibility-sapping outlier. Sometimes these things happen to systems that try to rank teams by taking every possession into relatively equal account. Kenpom's strength of schedule adjustment is overwhelmed when a team beats its tomato cans by 54, 27, 36, 46, 23, 18, 33, and 34 in low-tempo outings. Computers have hearts, too. You can't expect them not to fall in love with that.
Wisconsin also has a narrow road loss to UNC and wins over Kenpom favorites BYU and UNLV, with only a home loss to Marquette a potential blemish before the clunky conference start. That the Badgers are still #2 after a home loss to Iowa and an 18 point blowout to M is a little dismaying; maybe Kenpom can find a way to discount possessions that are obviously scrub vs scrub or something.
UPDATE: Kenpom has a Wisconsin FAQ that seems driven by a lot of twitter @ replies.
The leap. The anticipated Kenpom surge was major: 12 spots—or three full seeding ranks in Pomlandia. Michigan's many indifferent outings against bleah competition saw them enter Big Ten play 52nd.
Let's go, Hoiberg Home for Lost Big Ten Boys. Michigan's meh nonconference schedule features just one win over a probable tourney participant (Memphis; Oakland is 3-4 in the Summit)… or at least it did until Iowa State swept Texas and A&M last week to kick off the Big 12 slate 2-0. The Cyclones also beat Iowa, which isn't a huge deal but does mean they're on a 7-game win streak in the aftermath of their loss in Crisler. Kenpom now projects a .500 conference record for them.
That would probably not get them in since their best nonconference win is against the Hawkeyes and they have losses to Drake and UNI, the other two instate schools. If they can swing an extra game or two their way, they could make it. FWIW, they're already in the top 50 in RPI.
The road ahead. Michigan has two should-win games next against Northwestern and Iowa. Iowa's on the road, though, which makes things touchy. See: recent Michigan trips to Carver-Hawkeye. See also: insane charge/block calls against Hardaway and Novak that cost Michigan the Indiana game.
Anyway, once they get past the next two games they have this daunting gauntlet (all rankings Kenpom):
- #7 Michigan State
- @ #85 Arkansas (annual inexplicable nonconference game)
- @ #29 Purdue
- @ #1 OSU
- #8 Indiana
- @ #7 Michigan State
If they can take care of business over the next week they can come out of that stretch .500 and still have established themselves a tourney lock. The home stretch is much easier: @ Nebraska, two against Illinois, @ Northwestern, @ Penn State, and return games from OSU and Purdue. If they manage to go 2-3 against the above conference opponents they'll be 7-4 in the toughest conference in the country with two gimmes and plenty of other games left to get to the .500 mark that will be auto entry for any B10 team this year.