"What (Michigan coaches) told me is that they're focusing on point guards right now, but if anything opens up, they'll definitely come back on and recruit me as hard as they were," said Towns
Photo credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Mitch McGary snatched the rebound out of the air, turned towards the Michigan bench, and let out a guttural yell that could be heard from across the court.
Michigan had looked listless—yes, again—to begin the game against Penn State. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 14-3 lead after Jordan Morgan couldn't finish three layup attempts and the Wolverines as a whole couldn't slow down Penn State's pick and roll. Enter McGary, who ended PSU's run with a layup, then overcame a missed breakaway dunk to record a first-half double-double.
The McGary Growl came with the score tied at 16, and his histrionics immediately lifted the spirits of the players on the bench—and on the court. On the next possession, Nik Stauskas sunk a three, and the Wolverines wouldn't trail for the remainder of the game, pulling away late for a comfortable 17-point win. When called upon to infuse energy to a team that couldn't shake their previous struggles against Penn State, the freshman big man did that and more, finishing the game with ten points on 5/6 shooting (all in the first half) and 11 rebounds, five of them offensive.
After McGary kept the team afloat in the first half, the rest of the team stepped up in the second. Trey Burke led all scorers with 21 points, pouring in 13 in the second half on 4/6 shooting. Stauskas contributed nine of his 15 points in the latter stanza, including a "Game ... Blouses"-style dunk and nifty and-one layup. Jon Horford tallied all 11 of his points in the final 20 minutes, going 4/4 from the field in that span.
Gradually, over the course of the second half, Michigan's lead grew—after PSU's Jermaine Marshall tied the game at 39 with 17:25 left, the Wolverines outscored the Nittany Lions 44-27. Some added defensive intensity certainly helped; after Michigan ceded 14/26 two-point shooting in the first half, Penn State hit 12/26 from inside the arc in the second half. That may be just a two-shot difference, but the makes were more difficult to come by, at least.
Michigan moves on to play Wisconsin in the second game of the day tomorrow (~2:30 EST), and this game brought up some concerns for the rest of the tournament. Interior baskets were far too easy to come by for PSU, especially Sasa Borovnjak, who scored 15 points on 7/10 FG despite no offensive rebounds. The Wolverines looked lost defending the pick and roll, and offensively they biffed more than their fair share of layups.
They finally beat Penn State handily, however, outdoing KenPom's prediction by a point. Blemishes or no, that's taking care of business, and the team's first double-digit win since February 24th was a welcome sight.
Mitch McGary may not play pretty, but his contributions were also a delight—both to the fans and his teammates, apparently.
Say this for the man: he dances when you tell him to dance. (AnnArbor.com)
Thanks for the service. One of the secret joys of being a Michigan fan has been the excellent service provided by John Wilkins and the alumni band when the students aren't available. Wilkins always brought an entertaining flair to the job he created 21 years ago. He has just retired, and he'll be tough to replace:
Deciding to retire from the pep band was not easy for Wilkins. “I will miss the Alumni Pep Band very much,” he said. “The opportunity given to me to conduct a Michigan band at Michigan games, to play this great Michigan music, was a dream that I had since a little boy, a dream come true. Over the years I have developed incredible friendships with the players and will miss working with them on a regular basis. I'm glad that I have been invited to come back every year to conduct the entire Alumni Band at the football game in October on homecoming weekend.”
Also I have that tie.
It's kind of like the Heisman I guess. Denard will be on the cover of EA's most recent slight rehash of NCAA Football 2003. Smile incoming:
He joins Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson. The game will pay tribute by having linebackers jump impossibly high to snag interceptions off everybody.
There were vote shenanigans that threatened to propel Texas A&M's Ryan Swope over the top, but EA promised they would eliminate fake votes, and by "eliminate fake votes" they meant "put Denard on the cover even if he finished last because this is EA, and EA gets dollars son even if it means turning a single player game into an always-online fiasco because we are mad at pirates."
He probably doesn't realize he's twisting the knife. After three straight weekends in Ann Arbor, Drake Harris finally gave the "it's not you… it's me" speech to Michigan State, decommiting. Except he said it was actually you, Michigan State:
"Since I'm just playing football now,” Harris told reporters after his regional basketball game Monday in Grand Rapids, “I want to play at a bigger school, win a national championship."
Analysts are saying don't count your 6'4" elite wide receivers before they hatch, but it looks like the field is catching up to Michigan now. They'll have an opportunity:
“I don’t have a frontrunner, I don’t even have a top list right now. I’m supposed to go down to Florida on March 22, and then Ohio State sometime in April and Notre Dame sometime in April. I’m not sure what I’m going to do in the summer. I’ll probably go out and visit some schools out West.”
Harris says he'll enroll early and plans to commit in October. Long way to go.
[Ace, you can just C&P this section into Friday Recruitin'. Sorry.]
Well, yeah. Trey Burke is a first-team All American to the Sporting News and the Big Ten's player of the year, the first time in 24 years a Michigan player has brought that award in. The last guy was Glen Rice, which also yeah. Burke said "I feel honored" in response to being honored. Tautological point guard is tautological.
It really came down to Oladipo versus Burke, and while I love Burke with a Denard-crush intensity you really can make a case for Oladipo, who shot 66% from two(!), was the #5 guy in true shooting percentage, has a near-top-100 OREB rate—something Michigan felt the lash of on Sunday—and is a defensive superstar. It's that versus Burke's huge usage and incredible assist rate and turnover avoidance. It's Woodson versus Manning for the Heisman, except Indiana fans probably won't be bringing it up 20 years later.
Well… uh. Tim Hardaway also made first-team All Big Ten on one of the two ballots. This I am not so sure about. Aaron Craft got the nod on the media ballots—a weird situation where the better defensive player gets the hype and the coaches go for offense—and to me that's a lot more justifiable than going strictly by scoring average. That's how you pick Hardaway over, say, Gary Harris, who shot 74/52/42 on FT/2s/3s versus Hardaway's 69/50/38 on virtually identical usage. Hardaway did rebound a lot better, but what rebounds exactly was Gary Harris supposed to acquire as a the two-guard in a lineup with Payne, Nix, and Dawson?
I haven't watched Harris that closely but I doubt Hardaway brings much defensive value he doesn't. Eh. Awards are pointless, see…
The CCHA's continuing inability to do anything right. This is far less egregious than the various Hunwick-related snubs last year (Hunwick was a top-three Hobey finalist and not the CCHA goalie of the year), but Boo Nieves was honorable mention All Rookie this year despite having the second-most points of any freshman in league play. Alaska's Tyler Morley's 8-7-15 was better than Nieves's 8-14-22.
In other news, highlights of Michigan's 3-2 win over Northern on Friday contain one Michigan goal and two by NMU.
Where was this all year? Hockey resoundingly swept Northern Michigan over the weekend in two games I did not see because I assumed Michigan would not have a home series last week, because when has Michigan ever finished between 6th and 8th in the CCHA? LOL that idea.
In any case, Michigan's Saturday demolition of Northern was so comprehensive it makes you a little mad. Michigan outshot Northern 23-6 in the first period and 16-3 in the second, whereupon it was 4-1 and all over but the shouting. If you can do that now…
Anyway, Saturday's game was a weird one with two penalty shots:
Copp converted the second once the goalie went for a poke and missed it, leaving his five-hole exposed. He also scored a grinder earlier.
A few guys are really standing out on a weekly basis, Copp, Racine, Nieves, Merrill, Guptill, they just are playing on a level that no one else is coming close too. I vividly remember our series against Western earlier in the year because every stoppage of play a Bronco went to a Wolverine, chirped at him and gave him a shove. No one did anything about it. Today I thoroughly enjoyed seeing any Wildcat who went near Racine get a push and shove, most of the the time it was Andrew Copp doing it. Little things that make a big difference.
The Guptill-Copp-Deblois line sees Guptill on a seven-game point streak; Nieves was sick last weekend but played through it.
Vincent Smith AMA. #2 popped up on Reddit yesterday to do an AMA promoting his Pahokee kickstarter, and the first question is… not about Clowney. It's about what kind of sub he ate. Well done, zparts. The second question mentions Clowney, but also finger guns. There was also the inevitable MGoBlog question that got the inevitable "I don't really read it" answer.
There is another. Derrick Walton senior highlights:
He won't be Trey, but if Hardaway and Robinson are back he won't have to be. If he can be a better version of Yogi Ferrell (18% usage, 26 Arate, 43%/32%) Michigan shouldn't have too much of a dropoff on offense what with everyone else back.
The main reason Michigan lost a heartbreaker to Indiana on Sunday—yes, even more than their late-game free throw misses—was their inability to keep the Hoosiers off the offensive glass. Indiana rebounded 24 of their 40 missed shots; once second in the country in defensive rebounding, the Wolverines are now eighth in their own conference.
What's odd about this at first glance is that Michigan boasts a trio of centers who are all proficient rebounders. Jordan Morgan (#9) and Mitch McGary (#5) both rank among the top Big Ten players in defensive rebounding percentage, and Jon Horford would rank just ahead of Morgan if he played enough minutes to qualify.
After looking at the film, it's apparent that Michigan's bigs lack the support they need to defend the boards; the team's overall inexperience and poor perimeter defense are most apparent in this area. One play in particular from the Indiana game bears this out:
Let's look at this frame-by-frame, starting with the defensive lapse that begins the sequence—Tim Hardaway Jr. falling asleep in the corner and allowing Victor Oladipo to beat him on a backdoor cut:
Zeller has no problem getting the ball to Oladipo in great position for a shot. With Zeller and Jeremy Hollowell (#33, on the other side of the FT line from Zeller) at the top of the key—drawing Jordan Morgan and Glenn Robinson III way from the basket—Hardaway must fend for himself:
Here's where Michigan's rebounding issues begin in earnest. This is the point where Oladipo releases his shot. Note that Zeller, Morgan's man, has stayed on the perimeter, while Hollowell is crashing the paint behind Robinson. Hardaway is accounting for Oladipo and Robinson should be responsible for Hollowell; both are in decent position right here, while Nik Stauskas has been beaten to a good rebounding spot by Will Sheehy:
At the moment before Oladipo secures his own rebound, however, it's clear that Michigan's perimeter players haven't done their job. Hardaway first goes for the block and then reaches for the ball instead of putting a body on Oladipo, who will easily step by him and get the board. Robinson has watched the ball the entire time and allowed Hollowell a free pass to the basket. Stauskas is lucky not to give up a putback after letting Sheehy get right under the basket. Morgan is in solid position but the ball doesn't bounce his way. This is not good:
Oladipo kicks the ball out to Jordan Hulls, who gets a wide-open look from three after Trey Burke drifted away from the play. At the moment Hulls releases his shot, most of Michigan's players have at least partially recovered—Burke is attempting to close out, Morgan is on Zeller, and Hardaway and Stauskas have found their men. Robinson, however, is still watching the ball, unaware that Hollowell is on the complete opposite side of the lane:
As the shot comes off the rim, you can see three Wolverines—including Robinson—trying to box out two Hoosiers on the left side of the lane, while Morgan is left with the unenviable task of being one guy having to guard two guys:
This, predictably, does not go well. Zeller taps the rebound to Hollowell, who's able to gather the ball and go up for a layup despite Morgan's best efforts to be two Jordan Morgans.
To sum up, on this play we've got:
- Hardaway falling asleep on a backdoor cut
- Stauskas getting beat along the baseline
- Hardaway not boxing out Oladipo
- Robinson not boxing out Hollowell
- Robinson not boxing out Hollowell again, nor even being in the same general area
Watch Robinson throughout the play, here in handy gif form:
He never leaves an area covering about 15 square feet until it's far too late. You know how coaches say the key to a freshman succeeding is having the game slow down for him? On defense, at least, the game is going about 200 mph for Robinson, who's trying to defend with his eyes instead of his feet—while he's watching the ball, he's losing his man.
One play doesn't make a trend, of course, but there were several other instances of Michigan's non-centers being the culprit for an offensive rebound.
[For more rebounding pain and suffering, hit THE JUMP.]
"When you are winning a war almost everything that happens can be claimed to be right and wise."
~ Winston Churchill
Trey Burke works the ball up the court, and crosses mid-court with just under nine seconds left. Jordan Morgan sets a high screen on Oladipo, and in an instant the much ballyhooed pre-game narrative is wiped out of the picture. This will no longer be a symbolic battle for the Big Ten Player of the Year. Indiana's best defender is a bystander. Instead it is Cody Zeller on Burke 30 feet from the basket.
History may be written by the winners, but in sports the winners rarely read the history they write. For the victor, the simple fact of the victory can obscure whatever came before. The foibles and missteps were merely a part of the rich tapestry that was their inevitable triumph. It is the character-building fire that forges their mettle. It is for the loser, rather, to lament the components of their fate. Almost exactly a week before Jordan Morgan set his screen, Keith Appling was dribbling the ball up that same court, in a tie game, with the shot clock off, when Trey Burke stole the ball and turned the tables on all the percentages. And when a second Burke steal sealed the game, no one cared that Michigan had frittered away a ten point lead in the last four minutes, or that they had missed the front end of a one-and-one to give Michigan State one last chance. It was Sparty, rather, who spoke with the bitter tinge of "what if" of their blown opportunity to win on what should have been a final possession.
Burke gains the corner on Zeller, but only by a bit. Yogi Ferrell starts to sag off of Stauskas, but thinks better of it. Ferrell knows full well that Burke is taking this one to the rack, but Stauskas is not to be left. Christian Watford is under no such restriction on the far side against Glenn Robinson III, and he helps down. Burke isn't going to leave this one in the hands of a jump shot from a freshman, no matter how talented that freshman may be. Zeller extends an impossibly long arm over Burke, who responds in kind with a fully extended flip of the ball. Jordan Morgan has reached the free throw line.
If you are anything like me, dear Michigan fan, then there is a part of you that is relieved that it got this far. The recent history of Michigan basketball is one of repeated crashes to reality. A first NCAA berth in a decade is followed by a 15-17 season. A first Big Ten title in centuries and a four-seed leads to an early exit against Ohio (YTO). So when Michigan came out of the gates this year as an unstoppable hell-beast, there remained a little voice in your head that urged caution. Like the slave used by Julius Caesar to ride on his chariot to remind him of his mortality, the little voice kept whispering in your ear, "they are not Gods. They are merely human." When Ben Brust hit a half-court heave and Michigan was run out of the Breslin Center and utterly collapsed in Happy Valley, those whispers became screams that could not be ignored. And when Michigan went down 10-3 early, there was a part of you that said, "please not this again."
[After the jump, not this again]
The final shot (Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog). An even more painful angle here.
This wasn't how Trey Burke's almost-certainly-final home game was supposed to end.
With 27 seconds left and Michigan clinging to a one-point lead, Burke stepped to the line for a one-and-one. The 79% free-throw shooter caught the left side of the iron, and a stunned Crisler crowd watched the ball ricochet to the corner, where it was corralled by Cody Zeller. On the other end, Zeller laid in two of his game-high 25 points to give Indiana the lead, and with no timeouts it was up to Burke to engineer a game-winner with 13 seconds left.
Burke's found daylight driving down the left-hand side, but he couldn't finish with his outstretched left arm while trying to draw contact. The rebound went directly to Jordan Morgan, whose putback hung for an agonizing moment before falling unceremoniously off the precipice. Christian Watford chased down the rebound and saved the ball to Zeller, and in the blink of an eye Michigan had gone from the verge of a second straight Big Ten title to watching the Hoosiers celebrate an outright crown on their home floor.
Michigan's first home loss of the season has consequences going beyond a missed banner; with the loss, the Wolverines are locked into the fifth seed of the Big Ten Tournament. Instead of a bye, Michigan will face Penn State in the first round on Thursday afternoon.
In the aftermath, John Beilein praised his team's effort, but said there are "some things we have to work on" if his team wants to compete in Chicago this week and, beyond that, the NCAA Tournament.
Rebounding is clearly one of those things. Indiana pulled down 24 of their 40 missed shots, which helped them overcome an unusually subpar shooting effort from inside the arc (23/54). Four of Zeller's ten rebounds came on offense, while Victor Oladipo tallied seven en route to his own double-double (14 points, 13 rebounds). Oladipo also starred on defense, playing most of the game man-up on Burke; while Michigan's star tallied 20 points, it took him 20 shots to get there, and his four assists were cancelled out by four turnovers.
With Burke held in check, Michigan's supporting cast couldn't get the job done. Tim Hardaway Jr. was 4/6 from two but just 1/6 from three and missed the front end of his own critical late one-and-one with the chance to extend Michigan's lead to five. Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III combined for 17 first half points but just eight in the second stanza. Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary were 5/14 from the field and each had just two defensive rebounds.
In the end, failing to do the basics cost Michigan a banner. In the last 52 seconds, the Wolverines missed three of four free throws—along with the chance to attempt two more—and allowed six points to Zeller, two of them on a putback after Michigan once again couldn't box him out. When it came time to prove which team was the best in the Big Ten this season, Indiana stepped up.
Instead of rising to the occasion, Michigan fell victim to familiar bugaboos, then watched as their two best players missed undefended 12-foot shots to seal it. The final shot rolling off the rim was the final nail in a coffin the Wolverines had constructed for themselves.
A dejected Trey Burke walked off the court with his head down after the final buzzer. His magnificent, brief career at Crisler is probably over, and he won't want to read the last page of this particular chapter.