national champs baby
1/27/2013 – Michigan 74, Illinois 60 – 19-1, 6-1 Big Ten
On January 27th of 2010, Michigan was 10-10, 3-5 in the league, miles away from a tourney bid that might validate their breakthrough the previous year. They'd only lost two walk-ons from that team, and were ranked in the top 15 to start the year.
On January 27th of 2011, Michigan was 1-6 in the Big Ten, barely above .500 overall, and following up Manny Harris's disappointing junior season with what looked like another nothing year. It would be the latest in a long line.
On January 27th of 2012, Michigan was 6-2 in the Big Ten, albeit barely. Their last three conference wins had come by a total of five points, and they'd just dropped a game to SEC mediocrity Arkansas. At 16-5 it was clear they were destined for the tourney, but no one expected to storm through upcoming away games at Ohio State and Michigan State. Michigan didn't, but then again it was their best season since… well, that's complicated.
On January 27th of 2013, Michigan eased past a team that had beaten OSU, Gonzaga, and Butler by double digits to stake its claim as the #1 team in the polls. Their average margin of victory in Big Ten wins: 18.
In this game, Jordan Morgan sprained an ankle two minutes in. Jon Horford rotated in, and played well. Max Bielfeldt rotated in, and airballed a free throw, and bricked a free throw. He earned a couple more on the next possession and sunk both. Later, though… later he would go up for a rebound surrounded by four Illini. The ball went into a dense nest of hands. Suddenly Illini players were on the ground, dazed. Bielfeldt was going up for a layup.
This didn't mean much in the grand scheme of things. Max Bielfeldt is still a couple years away from being in the rotation, it was two points, Michigan doesn't need its bench to do much of anything.
Symbolically, it was a microcosm of the season. Put anyone you want out there and they will show you something pleasing and surprising. Stauskas coming in as both a deadeye shooter and a six-six layup machine was the biggest win. Then you've got Robinson being a 40% three point shooter, McGary generating obligatory Wes Unseld references, rail-thin Caris LeVert forcing his coaches to burn his redshirt, and Spike Albrecht providing cool on-court leadership in the maelstrom of the Ohio State game. Oh, and Bielfeldt tossing guys to the floor. Everyone is bringing something unexpected to the table. At some point Michigan should throw Blake McLimans in there in case he's turned into Hakeem Olajuwon. This has been a charmed year.
Michigan's fourth-string center contributed to a double-digit road win over a tourney(?) team. At some point in there the color guy mentioned that last year Michigan went to overtime with Northwestern twice last year, and that just sounded strange.
Expectations are changing so quickly that they're almost keeping up with the radical shift in the program itself, so it's good to remind ourselves what we were watching every year before this one. This is advice not from me, but from a man currently on the other side of the fence.
I’m still inside the Hall as I type this. Didn’t go down to the press conference. Don’t really care about the quotes right now, to be honest. I’m just sitting here looking at all these empty gray seats and replaying the tumble that brought us here. My emotions are tracking exactly with my half-Michigan fan roommate in the first year of the Beilein regime.
That night, I remember discussing the 1989 Final Four. With Illinois ranked #1 and undefeated, and Michigan on their seventh consecutive NCAA-less season, all he could hold over me was the 1989 semi-final. He was still a full fledged Michigan fan in 1989, and he would have never believed that the program that won it all back then would then eventually go TEN consecutive seasons without an NCAA tournament appearance (from 1999 to 2009).
I should call him tonight. Tomorrow is Michigan’s official “all the way back” moment – much like our 2004 victory over Wake Forest here – and I’m curious how he’ll feel about it. Actually, I know the answer to that. He’ll say that his heart switched to the Razorbacks in 1994, and he can’t believe that THAT program has fallen as far as it has.
I guess I’m left thinking that I didn’t enjoy the 2000-2006 run enough. I should have learned my lesson when the Flyin’ Illini were grounded by Bruce Pearl, but I didn’t. It can all go away in an instant, and the fight to get back up there can take a long, long time.
Just ask Michigan. And Arkansas. And Illinois.
I don't think many Michigan fans are having trouble enjoying this. When I watch the games with people, there are bursts of laughter and the occasional Gus-like noise. When Robinson blocks a shot or Stauskas shoots a one-touch pass or Hardaway sets up for a three you can feel is going down before it even leaves his hand or Burke… Burke.
Illinois fans are still pissed off about that loss in 1989. At this point it may even be the bedrock of their unrequited rivalry with Michigan. I've long thought that silly, but I know now that if something untoward happens to this team in the tournament I'll hate whatever program does it, without reason, forever. And that'll probably happen. Michigan is #1 by a nose, and winning six straight against good teams is hard. I have to brace for this, and try to accept whatever fate awaits with the good cheer it seems Illinois fans have about their 2005 outfit.
Whatever happens, it'll be the culmination of a story no Michigan fan is likely to see again. To go from dead in the water to #1 in two years to go from scrapping out two-point wins against Northwestern to this… put it all in your head, and turn it around until it's something you can expansively relate to anyone dumb enough to be born after March. Poor bastards.
Also our greatest cheesemonger:
The Burkite Hersey. Okay, so, don't pile upon me and squeeze until my eyes pop like Tom Izzo's, but wasn't Burke kind of crap in the halfcourt this game?
Let's try to separate out transition. I went through the PBP for this one and found the following transition items:
- Assist to Stauskas after a Burke steal.
- Burke layup after Burke steal.
- Burke layup after GRIII steal.
- Burke dunk after Burke steal.
While we should mentally adjust for the fact that everyone's numbers look worse when fast breaks are taken out of the equation and that generating eight points off of transition is good, here's Burke's line without those events:
3/11 from 2, 1/5 from 3, 4/7 FT, 4 A, 3 TO.
That is not up to his usual standard.
Subjectively, I was frustrated by Burke's tendency to dribble the air out of the ball when Illinois switched Egwu onto him and then jack up a difficult shot*—especially in the first few minutes when Egwu was carrying a foul and would have been vulnerable to a problematic second if he was trying to check Burke on a drive. Even if Burke didn't feel confident in his ability to get a shot off with Egwu's long arms looming behind him, there's no way that guy could actually stay in front of Burke, and once he's driving and the defense is reacting, things should open up.
Burke did seem to adapt a bit later. He lost a few assists when bigs with a mismatch couldn't finish. I don't think many teams are going to be willing to continue that sort of strategy since it seems like one of the major reasons it was effective was the bizarreness of it.
*[The one at the end of the half was okay since it seems like running the clock down without any chance at a turnover offsets the reduced chance at points. I did wish he'd taken the half-step back to make it a three.]
OTOH, THJ. Hardaway had 12 points on nine shots. His rebounding was not up to his usual par, but he added three steals. He's still above 50% on threes in conference play.
Hello Horford (and Bielfeldt). I bet Michigan fans were far less shocked than the BTN announcers when Michigan found little dropoff after Morgan rolled his ankle. Jon Horford's always given Michigan good minutes when healthy, and he did again in this one. Seven points and four rebounds in 17 minutes is pretty good for a third string center. Some turnovers held his ORTG down. Okay.
As a bonus, Bielfeldt ripped down the hands-down most mansome rebound of the year and rebounded from a humiliating trip to the line his first time out to sink two in a row. There's no comparison between post depth last year and this. Obviously.
Ranked. At long last, ranked. Mitch McGary has cracked 40% of Michigan's minutes and now takes his place on Kenpom leaderboards. He's on quite a few:
- 8th in OREB
- 55th in DREB
- 193rd in blocks
- 336th in steals
- 217th in ORating
All of those numbers save ORating (obviously) and block rate (Horford pips him in 13% of M minutes) are tops on the team. Ace mentioned that I might be selling McGary short as a shot blocker last week, and he was right.
Caveat: after the game Beilein and Burke both talked about how Morgan was the centerpiece of the defense, so block numbers aren't everything. McGary is still impressive statistically, and in all the ways a team with four legit scorers wants him to be.
Nik Stauskas is the Tim Hardaway being the Nik Stauskas in the Big Ten of twos. That makes perfect sense, shut up.
The point is: after a shaky start from inside the arc, Nik Stauskas has taken off in Big Ten play. He's hit 15 of 23, 65%. Michigan's started using him on backdoor cuts and shooting him off those curl screens that "Goin' To Work"-era Pistons force-fed Richard Hamilton to great effect. He was 5/6 on twos against the Illini, and IIRC the miss turned into a Kobe assist.
Stauskas has been greatly aided by a shift in his two-point shots. Early, they were actually shots—I remember a couple of badly whiffed floaters early on. Now any shot Stauskas takes inside the line is at the rim. Almost literally. Stauskas has just 12% of his shots come on two-point jumpers, and recently that number is probably zero.
blouses. (Dustin Johnston/UMHoops)
NOT JUST A SHOOTER. Drink. Color commentators who are just sayin' and assure us that they have white friends are contractually obligated to say that Nik Stauskas is "not just a shooter" whenever he does anything like throw down a GAME… BLOUSES dunk or drop a touch-pass dime. I think the guy doing the Illinois game said it five times. Stauskas will be 58, in his 27th year in the NBA, and the color commentator will say he is more than just a shooter.
That touch pass was totally badass though. Stauskas has been charged with some turnovers this year when he's done things like that only for bigs who do not believe he is more than a shooter to fumble the ball out of bounds. They get it.
Boards check. It seemed like Michigan was getting killed. They didn't. They did end up losing the OREB war, but it was close. Michigan grabbed 38%; Illinois 41%. That is not so good given Illinois's performances to date.
Possible downside to losing Morgan? Hard to believe given McGary's numbers.
Caris: the future. Boxscores and whatnot and peripheral business and whatever. I understand that this exuberance may be irrational. Don't care.
There's a reason they pulled that redshirt from LeVert, and at some point he's going to be a big part of the team. He can get places with the dribble, he's a quality long-range shooter, and at some point in the distant future he may be three-dimensional.
Morgan status. He turned his ankle nastily and the report afterwards was not surprising:
Michigan junior forward Jordan Morgan suffered a right ankle sprain two minutes into the second-ranked Wolverines' 74-60 win at Illinois on Sunday, and never returned to action.
Moving forward, his status remains unclear.
"I don't know," Michigan coach John Beilein said after the game. "I know that he has a sprained ankle, that's all I know so far.
"I know it was (bad enough that) he could not put weight on it."
I've had one of those sprained ankles and if I had to guess I'd say Morgan will be out a couple weeks at least. It seems reasonable to leave him on the bench if Horford and company can fill in adequately.
Brah-est student section: Illinois? MSU is strong competition, sure. Obligatory:
how's that working out for you, brahs?
But Illinois's student section seems to be comprised exclusively of dudes whose life goal is to be the brah in those Five Hour Energy commercials.
Eamonn Brennan considers Kansas vs Michigan.
The statistical similarities between this Michigan offense and Illinois in 2005 are striking.
Champaign Room recaps!
Two minutes to go in the first half and you've cut the lead to 28-25? Hey, that's not bad considering how poorly you're shooting and how well Michigan is playing and OH DAMN IT Michigan just went on a 7-2 run to close the half and head to the locker room up eight.
Cut Michigan's lead down to four points before the first timeout of the second half? All right, the crowd's back in it and we've got some momen...son of a bitch Michigan just went on an 11-2 run to put you down 52-39 before the next television timeout.
Over and over again the Illini would give a hint of climbing back into this game and over and over again Michigan would kick them right back down.