"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
After the Wisconsin and MSU loses I made comments about the attitude and will of Michigan’s basketball team. Even Dan Dakich (yes, who we all dislike) went on and on about Michigan’s lack of it during the MSU game. Sadly, he was right. Building on Ace’s piece the other day, there are a few pain points from the past four (I’m actually going to include the NW game as well, because 5 is more than 4) games which I thought I would focus on.
FREE THROW ATTEMPTS
One of the best stories I ever heard was from a former NBA star talking about Larry Bird. He said he was one of the very few players who could dominate a game while only taking 10 – 12 shots. He would make 8 or 9 shots with a couple from three. And the rest would come from free throws. I checked it out and indeed Bird averaged 5 free throw attempts per game throughout his career.
Here’s Michigan’s free throw attempts from the past five games. I’m only looking at the five highest players in minutes played due to the smaller rotation with Morgan out.
Keep in mind, that’s attempts, from the 5 primary ball handlers. In the biggest games of the year. Between Hardaway Jr, Stauskas, GRIII, and McGary among 20 opportunities to take at least one free throw in a game they failed to do so in 65% of them. And that includes going up against notoriously aggressive MSU and OSU defenses.
I point this out because free throw attempts are indicative of attitude. Sometimes you just have to make the other team foul you so you get a chance to get two points (or at least one) at the end of a game. Too often Michigan has had late game possessions which end in jump shots (most of them fading away from 18+ feet). Michigan (#6 in field goal percentage) is shooting 49% as a team. Michigan (#133 in free throw percentage) is shooting 70% as a team. I prefer 70% to 49% when I’m scrapping for points at the end of a close game.
Beilein has said in interviews he get’s just as excited about one of his players taking a charge as he does a dunk. In watching this team, you can tell Beilein and the other coaches work with the players on taking charges. i.e. he is using a rule in basketball as part of his strategy. I personally disagree with this because it is a very passive defensive attitude. When a player sets up to take a charge he gives the opposing player the ability to get a vertical advantage. Keep in mind, most charges come within 5-8 feet of the basket. Having a vertical advantage really means something in that close of range. Additionally, there are three things which can happen when a player sets up for a charge: 1) they get the charge call which equates to a turn over (yay) 2) There is no call made and the player either makes or misses the shot (keep in mind this is a closer in shot with no vertical defender because he is planted firmly to the ground) (advantage offense) 3) The ref calls a blocking foul and the player has a chance at making an uncontested shot from close range (boo). So of the three things that could happen, only one of them is actually good for the team. Now rewind to the end of the Wisconsin game. Michigan up 3. Jared Berggren (all 6’10” of him) beats his man and is driving uncontested to the hoop. Burke (all 6’0” of him) sets up just outside the charge circle to take the charge. Berggren dunks and gets the blocking foul on Burke. Berggren makes the free throw. Tie game. No ref will ever call that a charging foul. Instead of going back down court at worst up one (at best up two or three depending on Berggren making both free throws) with the shot clock turned off meaning Wisconsin would have to foul. Michigan goes back down court tied. I would much rather Burke make a hard foul to force Berggren to shoot free throws. Again, it’s about attitude. Be passive and hope the ref makes the call, or proactively make the other team beat you.
MY PERSONAL ANEURYSM OF LEADERSHIP MOMENTS
Against MSU in the first half when it was still a 10-12 point game and all hope was not lost Burke picked up his dribble against the sideline with 15 seconds left on the shot clock. Hardaway Jr. was hanging out about 5 feet behind the three point line on the same side of the court as Burke. What he was going to do from that position I have no idea. The other Michigan players (all freshman, BTW) were properly spaced in the corner and on the other side of the court. The MSU defender immediately jumped Burke as the ref started counting the 5 second call. What happened? Nothing. That’s right nothing. Stauskas did not come to take the ball from Burke. Ok. Freshman. Hardaway (a Junior, not just Jr) was standing 10 feet away and continued standing there instead of helping his teammate out. I lost it. My 15 month old boy stood staring at the TV and his dad bewildered. The dog ran and hid under the table. The wife went to comfort the boy.
In the second half, when it was still a 16-18 point game with 12 minutes left, Valentine of MSU got a long rebound against the sideline. He was losing his balance and looking for someone to pass to. Stauskas was within 5 feet of him. Stauskas turned and ran back down court to play defense. Valentine regained his balance, came down court and Harris made an uncontested 3. The wife had taken the boy for his bath. The dog was still under the table.
This is about attitude. Do you jump at the opportunity to make a play or do you let opposing team dictate?
This is why I have concerns about this team for the tournament. Who will get that one point when you really need it without relying on a jump shot going in? Who will step up and make the other team react to your pressure?
One final point about attitude. I love Coach Beilein. I would want few others representing Michigan. On a whim I went to Google images and typed in Tom Izzo angry, Bill Self angry, Mike Krzyzewski angry, and John Beilein angry. Here’s what I got:
Seriously. Not kidding at all.