A guy on the internet asserted that there seemed to be a big gap between serious Michigan hockey fans and the rest of the Michigan fanbase in their reactions to Michigan's frustrating loss to OHIO(!!!) on Friday, and man do I see that. I did the usual kick-the-cat, drink-the-whiskey thing in the immediate aftermath, but then it was just… fine. It sucks for the guys, especially Zack and Stu, but they don't put up banners for getting to the Sweet 16. They do for winning the league, and Michigan did that.
The disappointment from the tournament is real, and I feel what Dylan evidently did after taking that punch in person…
In the present, the retrospection and drooling about the future can wait. This one hurts and there’s no sugarcoating it.
…it's just not viscerally there for me. The guys leaving brought Michigan from a program that hadn't been to the tournament since my dad was wearing his preposterous multicolor neon ski jacket to one that had been there three of four years, from a program that hadn't won the league since Joe Paterno was only kind of old to a sleeping giant with the alarm blaring in its ear. Their story is not Brandon Graham's. Their story isn't even Mike Martin's or Ryan Van Bergen's. It's better.
So, yeah, it's a downer. But if you've been trained in the fu of an April gut punch as well as Michigan hockey fans have, it ranks below… almost everything. Certainly the Nickelback goals and the Air Force horror and the black, burnt grass of an OT loss in the championship game. The hockey team is rarely facing a wall of doom in the bracket that promises to end things well short of the ultimate goal.
The loss doesn't erase the previous 34 games, or the previous hundred and change that saw Douglass set a record for the most games played in a career and Novak near it. The story of the outgoing guys is one of construction and triumph in the face of doubt. DJ Cooper going ham doesn't change that. Novak and Douglass have the luxury of exceeding all expectations, still and always.
The statistical outliers are what truly decide any game. DJ Cooper, a 31% three point shooter, hitting three-of-six NBA range triples. Or TJ Hall, a 27% three point shooter, knocking down a critical second half three, his only shot of the game. Add in Michigan, the ninth best two point shooting team in the country, missing nearly a dozen layups and Ohio, a 68% free throw shooting team, hitting 15-of-17 freebies.
Don't forget Ivo Baltic canning two or three fadeaway 15-footers with Novak's hand in his face. Yeesh. There is your ten-point swing.
There are teams featuring very long forwards and centers who can rely on their arms to dissuade opponents from that ability, teams that get second chances on a ton of missed shots, teams that are just so much of one thing or the other that an OHIO(!!!) can't hang with them unless the probabilities swing two or three standard deviations against them. Michigan was never that team.
They were the best mid-major in the country, per Mark Titus, and when the other team was chuckin' it real good there was always the chance this happened. It did, and if we're executing Real Talk neither Michigan getting hammered by OSU in the Big Ten tourney nor the early NCAA exit was unpredictable given the nature of the season. Evan Smotrycz was the second-most-credible post player on the team for the entire Big Ten season. Tim Hardaway Jr. took more threes than anyone else on the team by a good margin and hit 28% of them. I mean, come on.
None of that changes the narratives of the seniors or the trajectory of the program. Michigan just graduated two universally-beloved program builders and going-pro-in-something-other-than-sports icons who will get a banner sometime next fall. They welcome three top recruits and get a couple of guys off redshirts; collectively they should transform the program from scrappy overachieving underdogs to a full-on Big Ten power program.
After the cat was kicked and the whiskey consumed, it's hard to find something to brood on. If Beilein wasn't about to give his team an extreme talent makeover, we could complain about an artificially low ceiling. If Michigan hadn't broken its Big Ten title drought we could complain about our beloved program builders leaving without anything to mark their passage.
Neither of these things are true, so it seems the thing to do is salute the departed and look to the very near future. Godspeed, men taken from Valpo and Harvard. The last word goes to Novak:
"…coming in, personally, I was the fat kid from Indiana.
"And (we were) able to make three NCAA Tournaments, win the Big Ten in a year when it was the best conference in the country and win a lot of games. You have to keep things in perspective."
The downer bit. I did find it very frustrating that Michigan never switched to a zone for extended periods of time. Michigan's initial forays into zone did give up open looks from three, but given Michigan's crap defense all night it seemed like it couldn't be worse than the man to man. Whereas most of Michigan's shortcomings seemed to be necessary adaptations to their limitations, the man-to-man insistence was one of those things that makes you wonder long-term.
Only slightly, though. Beilein has dumped his 1-3-1 already and adopted a bunch of ball screen sets. He's not exactly a stick in the mud. It was just a little surprising to see Michigan get cut up like that without a response.
It is possible that the coaches thought they were fine if they would just rotate better. Novak got caught in the paint time and again when he was one pass from the ballhandler and seemed to be a major reason OHIO(!!!) found itself with open looks from three.
Other downer. Michigan was down three late for about three straight possessions and the offensive devolved into… actually, this may be my memory playing tricks on me. The late-clock offense did feature Burke twice pulling up from three when a big switched onto him, but it also got Novak a corner three and Smotrycz yet another layup Michigan somehow did not convert:
Burke finished the year shooting 35% from three and those were pretty easy to get. That might be the play given that you're down three.
Final numbers. A shooting profile of Michigan's returning contributors:
Burke: 75% from the line, 49% from 2, 35% from three.
Hardaway: 72%, 54%, 28%
Smotrycz: 78%, 53%, 44%
Morgan: 51%, 62%, N/A
Novak was the most efficient guy on the team, hitting 86/56/41 and having the lowest turnover rate but he and Douglass were also in the "limited roles" category on Kenpom. Michigan isn't replacing guys who did the heavy lifting on offense. To maintain their offensive efficiency they'll only have to get few extra shots generated by Burke, Stauskas, Hardaway, et al.
Returns. Speaking of "returning contributors," Burke and Hardaway said they'd be back in the aftermath:
"No, I'm coming back next year," the [Hardaway] said after Michigan's 65-60 NCAA Tournament second-round loss to Ohio on Friday. "I'm coming back."
Burke, who earned the co-Big Ten Freshman of the Year award this season and finished the year as the team's leading scorer, was right in step with his teammate.
"I'm definitely coming back," he said. "I'm just going to learn from this loss and get ready for next season."
Those are emotional postgame sentiments that may or may not hold up over time. Still, Hardaway is not much of a threat to leave after struggling with his shot most of the season and Burke probably has to be an All-American sort to get a lock first-round grade at his height. It doesn't seem likely either will change his mind, especially with the lockout backlog clearing up.
Are we really talking about this? Yeah, Smotrycz turned the ball over when Michigan put him in a crappy situation with seven seconds left. He'd also put up 15 points on seven shots before that. We really need Daily article and message board threads defending the kid because e-loons are on his jock? Sometimes I hate people. Sometimes is almost all the time.
Butthurt. One thing this has really driven home is how amazingly butthurt OSU fans are about Brady Hoke calling them Ohio. It drives them nuts. Their reaction to this whole upset was as if it was some kind of vindication.
And yet they use "TSUN" constantly without recognizing the irony. Even operating under the assumption that many OSU fans are only technically human, that's surprisingly dumb.
Suddenly next year
Stauskas, Robinson III, McGary
As this season wraps up, eyes turn towards next year. Michigan loses Stu Douglass and Zack Novak; they bring in freshmen Mitch McGary, Nick Stauskas, and Glenn Robinson III. They also get bigs Max Bielfeldt and Jon Horford off of redshirts.
Though Novak was regarded as more integral to the team his absence is going to be easier to cope with. His minutes at the 3 and 4 will be fiercely contested by four or five players. Douglass's role as the go-to perimeter defender and secondary ballhandler… um. Michigan's best bets are Stauskas's nasty crossover immediately translating to the college level or a leap forward from Carlton Brundidge. Both are possible. Neither seems especially likely. If Michigan ends up with an unexpected scholarship dollars to donuts they scour for a backup at the one, whether it's the Italian kid with the 'fro or a grad-year transfer. If it's a grad-year guy, Beilein might sidle up to Max "My Name Is On Several Buildings At Illinois" Bielfeldt and delicately broach the idea he could pay tuition next year.
If that doesn't happen, one man's minute breakdown next year:
Point guard: Burke 35, Brundidge 5.
Shooting guard: Stauskas 25, Vogrich 15
Small forward: Hardaway 30, GRIII 10
Power forward: Smotrycz 20, GRIII 15, Bielfeldt 5
Center: McGary 15, Morgan 15, Horford 10
Center is up in the air. McGary could come in and establish himself as a 30 minute guy, in which case I'd bet that sucks up most of Horford's minutes. Christian and McLimans probably won't see the light of day.
That's an 8-9 man rotation with spot minutes from a couple other guys—Michigan's bench minutes should reach the middle of the pack.
Michigan is suddenly huge. If Michigan actually sees the playing-time breakdown above, Michigan's average minute will go to a guy just under 6'6". (Assumptions: Stauskas and GRIII are listed at 6'6", McGary 6'10".) That's a five and a half-inch(!) difference from this year's roster, and that could be a conservative estimate. McGary and Smotrycz may see more time than estimated but probably not less; rosters do things like list Douglass at 6'3" and Burke at 6'1". With that conversion rate, guesses at 6'10" for McGary and 6'6" for GRIII may be an inch or so short.
That will take Michigan's effective height from –1.1 inches, good for a mid-major-ish 250th, to +4.4, which should be top ten nationally. That is whiplash-inducing. It's also pretty good company. Three of the four one seeds (all but MSU) are in the top 12 along with a two (Duke), a couple of threes (Baylor, FSU) and a four (Indiana). And… uh… Illinois.
Michigan's suddenly deep at places that aren't point guard. Assuming one of Robinson or Hardaway can handle some minutes at the two, they'll have two reasonable bench options for every spot on the floor except point guard. When Hardaway is broken, Michigan can put him on the bench. When he's hot they can ride him. They can effectively threaten playing time in a way that they could not last year.
Someone's going to lose out at center. The above minute breakdown at the 5 may be realistic over the course of the season, but when it comes down to crunch time they'll probably go with two guys unless severe foul trouble intervenes. That guess seems like the weakest above.
Can anyone spot Burke? Everyone on the roster has a reasonable backup or two except Burke, whose only support is a seldom-used guy who came in as a shooting guard who can't really shoot. It was a very bad sign for Brundidge when Eso Akunne was drafted to take over point guard opportunities early this year.
I know there's a lot of time for the guy to develop but I'm not seeing it. Maybe there's a system in which a 6-foot guy who could get to the basket in high school but doesn't seem to have the handle to do it in college could be effective, but it's not this one. Add in a scary asthma incident that kept him out of a few practices and prevented him from traveling to Michigan State and his prospects of serious playing time get slimmer still.
Should we play a ton more zone? Length is commonly associated with being good at playing zone. Michigan will have lots of it next year.
Also, a quick survey of the backcourt options reveals nothing even resembling a shut-down on-ball defender unless we want to hand that job to Burke. Since Burke is going to be heavily relied on to run the offense, I'd rather not do that. Other options are Stauskas, Vogrich, and Hardaway. None of them figure to be even above-average, let alone shut-down. While Michigan figures to have a lot more shotblocking next year to cover up for that deficiency, consistently allowing penetration is a recipe for open shots and bad defense.
So… zone, whether it's a 2-3 or a resurgence of the 1-3-1, seems like something Michigan might look at. The argument against it is that you should focus on your existing system and get better at it; the football team has amply demonstrated that changing your D every year is not a recipie for great success.
Can Bielfeldt play? The plan at the beginning of the year was to redshirt and Michigan stuck with that even when Horford went down. This would be ominous except Bielfeldt had some tendinitis issues that sounded relatively severe. Also, big men develop slowly and unpredictably and getting a fifth year out of them is often a much better idea than flinging spare minutes at them when they're an overwhelmed freshman.
Bielfeldt is a wide guy with a good jumper who Beilein says is a "tremendous" rebounder and good in short spaces. This is him:
“Long and bouncy, Max is not,’’ Mathews said. “But in the right program, he could be ultra productive. Because good big men are hard to come by.
“He’s a throwback. He’s gonna bang. He’s gonna be physical. He’s gonna draw contact. He’s gonna set a hard pick. He’s gonna pop and hit an open jumper. He’s gonna be able to guard their 4, their big who is posting up back to the basket. He can get in there and guard that guy. Sometimes, 6-10, long and bouncy doesn’t guard those big, husky bodies inside.
“But Max can do that.’’
I'm not exactly sure where he fits. He's probably not big enough to play as a 5 in college and if he doesn't have a three-pointer it's going to be tough for him to contribute enough on offense to supplant Smotrycz or Robinson.
Hardaway: the usual? Please bounce back please bounce back please bounce back.
Is Nick Stauskas finally the ludicrous 45% three point shooter Beilein has been craving forever? Would it be nice, yes? I speak like Russian contemplating this. Da.
Almost 10 minutes after their final games in a Michigan basketball uniform, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass emerged from the Wolverine locker room one last time — and neither one of them quite knew what to do.
Douglass, eyes puffy and red from the tears that welled inside them moments earlier, and Novak, wearing an emblematic bruise on his cheek and bump across the bridge of his nose, walked a lonely hallway inside the bowels of Bridgestone Arena to meet with the media one final time.
"I don't know," Douglass said in a somber tone. "I just didn't think this would happen today."
It was the end of an era of low expectations for the Wolverines. And that's the kind of ending so many Michigan fans have been anxiously waiting for, isn't it?
Five years after John Beilein arrived to begin another tedious rebuilding effort in Ann Arbor, it's safe to say, as departing senior Zack Novak did following Friday's loss, "The foundation is set in place."
From the new-and-improved basketball facilities on campus to the stable coaching situation to a more-energized fan base, that's hard to argue now, even in a cramped postgame locker room choked with disappointment.
Actually, the football team just demonstrated graphically that changing defenses works just fine if the coaches know what they are doing. So go ahead and change if it makes sense, I don't think we have any issues with the quality of our basketball coaches.
Great write up Brian, and pretty much sums up how I felt after the game ended Friday. I made a comment to my buddy that this will probably be the least talented team Beilein has for the rest of his tenure as Michigan's head coach. The fact that this team shared a Big Ten title with OSU and MSU shows just how great of a coach JB really is.
As far as next year, I pretty much agree with Brian's breakdown, with a few exceptions. I have mentioned it before, but I believe Glenn Robinson III will be the best player on the team next year. He is a kid that would get starters minutes for just about any team in the country as a true freshman. I would say Burke gets 30 minutes a game, with Stauskas or Brundidge backing him up. It does sound like UM will go to more of a two post offense next year, making the SG and SF positions pretty much interchangeable, as well as the PF and C positions. With that said, I think Stauskas, Hardaway, and GRIII will all play about 25-30 minutes a game. As I mentioned earlier, the PF and C spots will be very similar in a two post offense, so who plays where will not be nearly as important as it was this year. McGary is the best rebounder of the bunch so I think he will get the most minutes, but how the post minutes get divided up is anyone's guess.
The roster is being filled with talent that UM hasn't seen in years. In my opinion, the Big Ten will again be the best conference in the country next year, with Michigan and Indiana leading the way.
I know it is conventional wisdom on the Michigan interwebs that we will be going to a two post offense as it seems everyone but Brian (who I tend to side with on this) has Mcgary and Morgan on the floor together, but where is this info coming from? This definitely hasn't been Beilein's style to date.
It is from an interview with Max Bielfeldt from about a couple months ago. I, too, normally side with Brian, but in this instance I think I will go with the person that is actually, you know, on the team.
Comparing Robinson next year to Trey Burke from this year is not apples to apples. Trey was asked to do much more this year due to a lack of talent on the roster. Next year I think things will be spread out much more evenly, and it would not surprise me to see 4 or 5 players average double figures.
In my opinion, Indiana and Michigan will be the teams to beat next year. I believe both Sullinger and Thomas will declare for the draft and they also lose Buford. They do not have near enough talent on the roster now, nor coming in next year, to make up for those losses. MSU will be a very interesting team next year. I think they will be close to the top of the conference, but losing Green will bring them down a notch or two. If MSU is to compete for a conference championship next year, Appling and Payne will need to take their games to the next level. Gary Harris is a stud, but he alone will not make up for the loss of Green. It will also be interesting to see how Dawson recovers from tearing his ACL. This is all just my opinion, so take it for what its worth.
I was frustrated Friday evening, but by the end of the UM-BG hockey game the worst of the sting was gone. This is not a soul-crusher.
This reminds me of the '97 Outback bowl (1/1/97) that we lost to Alabama. My Dad took me to that game, first bowl game I had ever been to, and I enjoyed being there. Alabama took the victory, and I remember how sullen I felt as we waited for our ride with all of the Bama fans chanting "Roll Tide."
By the time we got back to the hotel room, the worst of the sting was gone. '96 Michigan football was a good team with a disappointing ending; get out of their way next year.
Michigan basketball overachieved this year and finished with some disappointment; get out of our way next season.
One thing this has really driven home is how amazingly butthurt OSU fans are about Brady Hoke calling them Ohio. It drives them nuts. Their reaction to this whole upset was as if it was some kind of vindication.
The office Ohio fan (YTO) just came into my office (unprovoked, mind you) and said, "Now maybe Brady Hoke will stop calling Ohio State, 'Ohio.'" My reply: "Maybe when Ohio starts doing a script "Ohio State" or an "OH-IO STATE" chant or maybe when their flag corps figures out how to spell out the whole thing. Until then, they're Ohio." I know cool story bro.
In Russia you don't shoot 3-pointer; 3-pointer shoots you.
I don't really mind the Hockey vs. Basketball comparison. Hockey is 1A for you, and basketball is that other sport we play. That's fine. I feel the same way about Basketball vs. Hockey. When the Hockey team is playing in the Tourney I'm watching and dying with every moment, but I can't say I really feel all that badly about it the next day, other than the rare sould crushing loss. But I can think of many a basketball loss that still sticks with me, from Loyola Maramount on down. More people support basketball than hockey, but this is secondarily a hockey site, so there's playing to your audience, and the feelings are completely valid. It's hard to care about EVERY sport equally. Hockey is a game much more subject to "chance", so bad bounces and the razor thin margins of the game are just things you accept. A couple of years ago when the Hockey teams streak was threatened, they were REALLY playing with house money when the made it in...but it didn't make the loss less painful for Hockey die-hards, I bet.
I haven't really commented on the game....because emotions were high, and I don't want to detract from what they DID accomplish. They won a Big Ten title, something 3 Final Four teams couldn't do, and the talent that was leftover on those teams couldn't do, in the last 26 years. In a really good Big Ten. With honestly (and maybe generously) the 5th or 6th best talent in the League. That will never go away. But losing in the Tourney and not progressing there hurts. Say what you will, but it's the Tournament that matters, and the regular season is devalued. You can never knock a title, but there's a reason that they DO keep track of consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, but no one could ever tell you how many years in a row you finished second in your conference. It's all about the Tourney. And not to progress to the second weekend and take the next step isn't a step back, but it is a minor blemish. It's really the danger that being super pro playoff for football will do. A Big Ten Championship is a great thing when you get to go out and play in a Rose Bowl. Being Big Ten Champ, but losing in the first round of a playoff...it's going to devalue that title much more than a bowl game loss does. That may be progress, but that's just the nature of it.
It is a little unseemingly to still be quoting Kenpom as the explanation for everything, when it spent over a week telling us that a match up with Belmont was super scary top 20 team material, and Ohio was a lower half of the top 100 cake walk. Where Ohio is still playing, and Belmont got beat without much effort by a team that's no longer playing. (And is every game they predict "by 5"?) One example doesn't discount a whole system, but it seems about as random as any other way of looking at things.
If McGary is only playing 15 minutes a game, we either have big problems or a great team. We're so hard up for size and athleticism that I can't imagine he doesn't have a lot of minutes waiting for him. (Though in the "making Kenpom look like genius" category, did basketball prospectus REALLY do a study telling us that, in fact, being tall in basketball IS a good thing?! Boy, that's going to change the way the game has been played for the last 70 years...)
I agree with most of you. I think all of our weaknesses were exposed in this game. We are not very athletic, we are inconsistent shooting, we do not rebound very well and we are short. I think most of this will change next year with GRIII, McGary and even Stauskas. I think we will start Burke PG, Hardaway SG, GRIII SF, McGary PF and then Morgan C, with Smot, Staukas and Vogrich all getting quality time.
This story paints how sad it was for Stu and Novak to leave Michigan on such a sour note. They finally get a decent seed and lose in the first round. They helped bring us to where we are today and it is sad this is their last game. Hopefully next year we can use this experience as a positive to motivate us.
I completely agree with you about the attitude of Michigan hockey fans. I was at the Joe Friday night. I got nervous and PO'ed for maybe 5 minutes while I watched the Michigan bball on my iPhone. Compared to the air force, Miami, and the UMD losses for M hockey, m bball is not even in the same league disappointment. I stewed over the hockey losses for multiple days, sometimes I am still steaming over it (in the case of the Miami screw job).
I think it's performance vs. expectations. Michigan hockey has been so good, for so long, that we expect to be contending for the national championship each year.
This year's basketball team bowed out early in the tournament which was disappointing. But we've been wandering in the wilderness for so long, just sharing the Big Ten title this year was a pretty good achievement.