hoops game recaps
Shooter [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
After consecutive makes from beyond the arc, everyone in the building save one man within earshot of the press area knew Zak Irvin was putting up another one. "Shoot it!" implored the fan, who must not have caught a Michigan basketball game until today.
Irvin needed no such encouragement, firing away and getting a friendly bounce off the front of the rim for his third triple in as many possessions to give the Wolverines a 28-point lead over Nebraska—with 3:35 still remaining in the first half. Irvin had already scored all 16 of his points by that juncture, hitting four of his seven first-half 3PA (he missed two in the second).
It'd be one thing if Irvin's outburst stood out as particularly unusual; it's another matter entirely when the whole team plays at that level. Glenn Robinson III led the team with 23 points (5/7 2-pt, 3/7 3-pt) while adding five rebounds and two steals. Caris LeVert finished with 16 points (2/3 2-pt, 3/4 3-pt) after opening the game with an alley-oop pass to Robinson followed by consecutive three-pointers. Nik Stauskas only attempted three shots; he still finished with nine points, eight assists, and five rebounds.
Excluding the first four minutes of the game, Michigan peaked at 1.51 points per possession a couple minutes into the second half; they'd finish at an impressive 1.26 despite scoring four points in the final ten minutes. Their eFG% reached as high as 85.7 late in the first half before finishing at a mere 62.5. They led by 41 (41!) at two different points in the second half before slowly phasing out the starters.
On the other end, Michigan stymied Nebraska's offense, limiting them to 0.81 points per trip with a 39.8 eFG%. Until the extended wind-down period, the Wolverines were on pace for their best efficiency margin in conference play in the KenPom era. By halftime, this one was over, and attention could be turned to more important matters, like certain former players in attendance:
L to R: Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner, Will Campbell [Fuller]
It was a laugher, to be sure, and a great way to bounce back from the team's first conference defeat.
Derrick Walton continues to round out his game impressively. His eight points (1/2 2-pt, 2/5 3-pt) and three assists don't leap off the stat sheet, but Michigan didn't need him to do a whole lot tonight. In addition to hitting a couple spot-up shots from beyond the arc, he had a very aggressive fast break finish early in the first half—his improvement running the fast break is apparent and continues to pay dividends.
Glenn Robinson III had as close to a "quiet" 23 points as one is going to get; this is largely because he scored 12 in the second half when the game was no longer competitive. He got his outside shooting game going, hit his favorite free-throw pull-up jumper, and finished with authority on the break for the game's first basket. He also did impressive work defensively, helping hold Nebraska's leading scorer, Terran Petteway, to just five points on 2/10 shooting and matching Petteway's three defensive rebounds with three offensive boards.
Spike Albrecht didn't score, though he still made an impact with four assists, including an alley-oop toss to Jon Horford (7 points, 3/5 FG, 2 REBs) which marked the precise moment this game should no longer have been played. Jordan Morgan played 20 minutes without recording a point, hauling in four rebounds (all defensive) while helping limit the Huskers to a 22.5 OReb%.
Derrick Walton played perhaps the best game of his career [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Michigan fans worried about a sloppy, letdown performance after the Wolverines emerged unscathed from a brutal three-game stretch had a portion of their worst fears realized. They committed an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers tonight, including gaffes on three straight first-half possessions to give Purdue a brief one-point edge.
That didn't last long, however, as the home team simply couldn't miss against a porous Boilermakers defense. The final numbers: 21/33 from two and 7/13 from three for a remarkable 68.5 eFG%. Purdue managed to win the turnover and rebounding battles but few teams could've kept pace with Michigan's shooting this evening.
"We did just a wonderful job of getting good shots and doing just enough to win," said John Beilein in the postgame radio interview, and he may have been understating matters.
The backcourt essentially called their own shots all night. Nik Stauskas scored 16 points on 5/10 FGs, including an explosive blow-by reverse layup late in the first half and a couple now-signature pull-up jumpers in the second. Caris LeVert recorded his first career double-double with 14 points (5/11 FG), 11 rebounds, two assists, three steals, and two blocks; his highlights included a LeBron-esque jump stop layup plus the foul and a coast-to-coast layup off his own steal.
Then there was Derrick Walton, who built upon his career-high 19 points against Michigan State with a 14-point effort on just seven shots, of which he missed one, while also chipping in three assists and two steals. He looked more confident than ever working the pick and roll, getting to the basket routinely—big man butterfingers robbed him of a couple more assists. After AJ Hammons committed a lane violation on the front end of a one-and-one with three seconds left in the first half, Walton made Purdue pay dearly by covering the length of the court—splitting two defenders in the process—and finishing at the buzzer before Hammons could react to give Michigan a six-point halftime lead.
LeVert [left, Upchurch] and Stauskas [right, Fuller] both got whatever they wanted offensively.
By the second half, it seemed like Michigan's players were trying to one-up each other's plays. Walton dove into the lane and suddenly scooped a pass to a trailing Jordan Morgan, who finished with a layup for two of his 11 points. LeVert followed with his Olympic long jump tryout. Stauskas knocked down a heavily contested jumper from the stripe. Jon Horford worked his way into the paint and hit a turnaround fade away for two of his four points on the night. Zak Irvin responded to a Hammons dunk with a nothing-but-net triple from the wing.
Even though Michigan never played fully within themselves—the split their 16 turnovers evenly between the first and second halves—their ability to create and make good shots* was on full display. They were lucky that their worst turnover performance of the season by both rate and number came against an overmatched opponent; at the same time, it's tough to complain when they still managed to score 1.17 points per possession.
Caris LeVert made up for his four turnovers with some impressive transition defense, including two blocks (though Purdue recovered for a putback after one) and a clean strip that forced the Boilermakers to take the ball out of bounds after a two-on-one break. He used his length exceptionally on both ends in this one, consistently getting his hands on the ball whether it was in an opponent's hands or caroming off the rim.
Glenn Robinson III was a relative non-factor as the only starter to not score in double digits, finishing with eight points on six shots—though he did hit his first three-pointer since January 14th—and three rebounds in 36 minutes. He managed to get to the rim off a nice jab-step in an isolation situation, however, which was a good sign after a couple games in which he created very little in the halfcourt.
Spike Albrecht only played seven minutes due to Walton's superb outing, especially since Walton also played exceptional on-ball defense in this one, holding Terone Johnson to just four points (2/6 FG) and two assists to two turnovers. Spike made the most of his limited time, however, hitting his first layup in Big Ten play and draining a three-pointer on his only attempts.
The defense played well as a unit, forcing Hammons to work hard for his 16 points (7/14 FG), and the combination of Morgan and Horford limited him to just one offensive rebound; the guards contributed some nice help defense on him from the weak side, especially in the first half. (Nik Stauskas had three blocks all on this type of action if memory serves.) The team had issues boxing out, however, as Purdue rebounded 16 of their 37 misses (39%); while that's Purdue's M.O., it was still a weak area in an otherwise strong defensive performance.
*In Stauskas' case, just about any shot is a good shot.
NIK STAUSKAS THA GAWD
I apologize in advance for my inability to form complete thoughts. That game was excruciating right up until the point when it was glorious, which was... the very end, basically.
After quickly losing an early eight-point lead, Michigan fell behind Michigan State by as much as eight points at the 13:29 mark of the second half, mostly due to the heroics of Gary Harris. While hounding Nik Stauskas on the one end, Harris was unstoppable on the other, pouring in a game-high 27 points while adding five rebounds, two assists, and three steals.
The Wolverines clawed back thanks to some remarkable guard play of their own. Nik Stauskas hit five of his six three-point attempts, scored 19 points, dished out four assists, and capped off the effort by trolling the Izzone. His triple with 3:12 remaining gave Michigan a three-point lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Michigan didn't lose that lead in large part due to Derrick Walton, whose 19 points matched Stauskas for the team lead. Ten of those came in the final 2:29, beginning with a fast-break and-one layup after Caris LeVert threaded a perfect outlet pass that hit Walton in stride. Walton also knocked down both of his three-point attempts, 2/4 of two-pointers, and 9/10 from the stripe—8/9 in the game's waning moments. On defense, he helped limit Keith Appling to ten points on 3/11 shooting. If the freshman point guard was nervous, it didn't show.
LeVert scored 17 of his own and pulled down eight rebounds. There was bad with the good—Harris often had his way with LeVert offensively, though that's not a huge knock, and LeVert's three assists were canceled out by three turnovers—but his ability to snake into the lane proved critical, as did his free-throw shooting down the stretch.
Jon Horford also stepped up big, connecting on all three of his field goals and contributing three boards and three blocks. Jordan Morgan rebounded well—four of his five came on offense—but was limited severely by foul trouble. Glenn Robinson III scored nine but struggled with his shot. Mitch McGary, meanwhile, provided valuable coaching advice in the late stages:
WIN THE GAME (via)
In the end, Michigan's total team effort overcame a remarkable performance from Harris and a shorthanded Michigan State squad (I'm required to mention this by law). It also finished off a three-game gauntlet that the Wolverines improbably got through unscathed:
KenPom gave Michigan only a 3.89% chance to beat all of Wisconsin, Iowa & MSU during this stretch. U-M's one win away.
— Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) January 25, 2014
Like, really improbably.
— Zack Novak (@novak3159) January 26, 2014
The end result: Michigan is alone in first place in the Big Ten, the last undefeated squad standing, and the schedule eases up significantly during the next three games—Purdue, at Indiana, and Nebraska. Despite breaking in a freshman point guard, dealing with the loss of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., and losing Mitch McGary before conference play began, Michigan is in the driver's seat on the road to the conference title.
Michigan State's seniors will finish with a losing record overall against Michigan. They're currently 2-5.
— Bry Mac (@Bry_Mac) January 26, 2014
It's beginning to feel like last year.
Not necessarily the potential Final Four part, not just yet, even though an eight-point win over Iowa following a triumph at the Kohl Center is a major statement. The realization that we're witnessing something special, though? Something to treasure while it lasts? Oh, it's here.
From the jump, Nik Stauskas was on. He tied a career high with 26 points, shooting 4/5 from two, 4/9 from three, and 6/7 from the line; he also chipped in five rebounds, five assists, a block, a steal, and even shut down Iowa's Aaron White—an apparent mismatch on paper—in the first half. He's playing at a level that more than justifies the NBA talk, and he knows it.
"Offensively, I just think there are very few people that can stay in front of me right now, so I just tried to attack [White]," Stauskas said after the game. "My confidence has been on another level since the beginning of the season. Just with the games I've been playing and the success we've been having, it just keeps growing and growing."
His coach knows it, too.
"I watch him every day and he just has an ability right now that's very rare to get his own shot, to get to the rim, to make foul shots, to draw fouls," said John Beilein. "I don't know if I ever get surprised too much. I love his growth. You know what I am surprised [about] a little bit? For a shooter and a scorer, he's really embraced defense. He did a great job on Aaron White in the first half."
So does the opposition.
"The amazing thing about him has been his consistency all year," said Fran McCaffery. "He's obviously somebody that everybody marks when they're getting ready to play Michigan, yet he's still able to get shots out of the offense, get shots on his own. He's really doing a lot off the dribble, his length helps him there, and he's got great range, obviously."
The shot-making—and shot-creation—of Stauskas didn't just put points on the board for Michigan; it took away Iowa's hope for a high-tempo game. The Hawkeyes entered the game as the fastest-paced major-conference team in the country, averaging 73 possessions per game. Michigan, which averages 64, imposed their pace on Iowa, keeping them out of transition enough to make this a 66-possession game. The reason was simple, according to McCaffery.
"They were making shots. It's harder to run on makes than misses."
While Stauskas led the way, it takes a total team effort to defeat such a quality opponent, of course. With Derrick Walton limited to just three minutes, all in the first half, due to flu-like symptoms, Spike Albrecht had to play 35 minutes in his first career start. He thrived, scoring seven points, dishing out seven assists to zero turnovers, and making perhaps the play of the game. With under four minutes to go, Iowa had cut the Michigan lead to just four points when Roy Devyn Marble corralled a loose ball at halfcourt. Albrecht was the only Wolverine back on defense, facing a two-on-one, when he jumped Marble's crosscourt pass and immediately got the ball upcourt to Glenn Robinson III, who found Zak Irvin in the corner for a game-altering three.
"To be honest, because they had a two-on-one going, I was like, 'I'm too little, we're kinda screwed either way,' so I just went for a steal and luckily I was able to jump it and Zak knocked down a huge shot for us," Albrecht said.
Iowa would get the lead down to three with 2:32 left when Spike struck again, beating the Hawkeye zone with a lob that Robinson just barely managed to stuff into the basket; from there, Michigan pulled away. Albrecht also pulled off the same trick he did to Florida in last year's tournament, sneakily pilfering an Iowa inbounds pass and hitting a quick jumper just a split-second after a GRIII dunk to give the Wolverines a big four-point swing early in the second half.
To seal the win, Jordan Morgan capped off a stellar performance—12 points, 5/6 FG, 7 rebounds in 32 minutes—by using every inch of his vertical to block Melsahn Basabe's layup attempt with 46 seconds left and the Wolverines clinging to a six-point lead.
Zak Irvin (11 points, 3/7 3-pt) also chipped in a couple critical plays; before capping off Spike's steal with a triple, he followed up a three-pointer with a fast break layup in addition to keeping a possession alive with an offensive rebound in the corner. Glenn Robinson III added 14 points despite struggling with his outside shot (6/10 2-pt, 0/5 3-pt); he did his best work defensively in the second half, limiting Basabe to two points after he'd poured in 15 in the first stanza. The only player who had a really rough game was Caris LeVert (5 points, 2/9 FG, three turnovers), who almost single-handedly brought Iowa back into the game with an inbounds turnover that led to a White layup followed on the next possession by an awful crosscourt pass that Iowa easily picked off and turned into another layup to make the deficit just six.
After White and Stauskas traded baskets, Irvin sank a dagger to put Michigan up seven, then the lob to GRIII put the game away. Michigan had successfully forced Iowa to play their game; in fact, they did even more than that, outscoring the Hawkeyes 12-4 in transition, beating them at their specialty while playing at a more comfortable pace.
"I thought we had a good pace," said John Beilein. "We ran when we wanted to run. We had a lot of trust in this team that they would really understand what the plan is ... I liked our pace today."
Now it's on to East Lansing for a titanic matchup with the Big Ten lead at stake. Michigan is playing with house money after consecutive wins over top-ten teams. They're also playing with Nik Stauskas, which may be the biggest advantage of them all.
If you happen to have tickets to a Michigan basketball home game, show up an hour before tipoff. You'll see Nik Stauskas shooting his way around the three-point arc. Many of these aren't just any shots—the between-the-legs stepback is an integral part of his arsenal. He rarely misses. It's a joy to watch.
As Michigan stood on the precipice of another heartbreaking loss at the Kohl Center, Stauskas matched up against Wisconsin freshman Nigel Hayes. He hit him with the stepback. Collectively, we stepped back, too—off the ledge, and into a glorious world full of Muppets and unprecedented road wins.
U-M official says this is highest-ranked road win ever, surpassing beating No. 5 Duke in 1964
— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) January 19, 2014
Stauskas put together an MVP-worthy performance, scoring 16 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, including Michigan's final 11 points of the game. While Stauskas got plenty of help from Caris LeVert (20 points) and Glenn Robinson III (14), he was the driving force behind an offense that put up 1.16 points per trip in this one; the Badgers couldn't corral him as he repeatedly darted into the lane, creating open pull-up jumpers for himself or slipping the ball down low to a teammate—Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan combined for a perfect 6/6 mark from the field.
Tasked with producing just about all of the offense, Stauskas and LeVert had their slipups—collectively shooting 14/32 from the field with six turnovers doesn't always bode well. However, LeVert managed to get layups out of otherwise stagnant possessions—including an and-one in which he swiped a rebound from an unsuspecting Frank Kaminsky—and, when he sputtered in the late going, Stauskas simply took over.
LeVert also played a huge role in Michigan jumping out to a lead to begin with, drilling a pair of triples in the first five minutes when Wisconsin lost him on the perimeter. Stauskas had an early three of his own, Robinson added two near-identical jumpers from the elbow after curling around screens, and the Wolverines found themselves up ten at the midway point of the first half.
Wisconsin kept fighting back on the strength of big-time performances from Ben Brust (14 points, 5/10 FG) and Josh Gasser (16 points, 4/5 3-pt), the men responsible for two particularly brutal Wolverine losses. Every time Michigan threatened to blow the game open, they'd tighten the margin, with a Brust jumper cutting the halftime margin to just five. The Wolverines had shot 61% to that point—including a 4/5 mark from beyond the arc—and a second-half run felt inevitable.
It happened—of course it did—after a LeVert layup pushed the lead to 13 with eight minutes to play. As is the norm at Kohl, it was brutally slow. Both teams went scoreless for two minutes before Gasser hit a three-pointer. Then the floodgates briefly opened, with Wisconsin scoring on each of their next three possessions to make it a one-basket game before Stauskas stopped the bleeding with a two-point jumper.
The Badgers would get as close as one point when Brust, initially stymied by Morgan, wouldn't be denied a layup. But after empty possessions from both teams, Stauskas stepped back and delivered the blow that sent Wisconsin reeling, though the Badgers didn't hit the canvas until stringing out the game at the free throw line. After six consecutive makes at the charity stripe, Stauskas' work was done.
For tonight, anyway. Tomorrow, he'll be back in the gym practicing those stepbacks, because he'll never stop working until he never misses.
I'm sitting in the Crisler Center having just watched a thoroughly entertaining Michigan win, in which they would've covered the KenPom spread if not for a meaningless* late layup by Tim Frazier, and I really have no idea what to take from it.
Michigan's offense was stellar, racking up 1.39 points per possession with 18 assists on 28 baskets; Penn State tried a soft 1-2-2 press for large swaths of the game and Michigan tore it apart with beautiful ball movement. The Wolverines turned nine Nittany Lion turnovers into 16 points, played well in transition, and continued to pick apart halfcourt defenses with the pick-and-roll.
However, they also gave up 1.13 points per trip to a Penn State squad averaging just 0.98 in their first four Big Ten contests. In the first half, Frazier repeatedly jetted Michigan's guards, scoring 11 points in the first 20 minutes. In the second half, it was DJ Newbill's turn, as he scored 16 of his 17 points while also generating most of his offense off the dribble. While the Wolverines found more success against the pick-and-roll than they did against Nebraska, their transition defense remained porous, and one way or another opposing guards continued to find their way to relatively easy layups.
Michigan never trailed. They also let a 14-point first-half lead evaporate into just a two-point edge before a Jordan Morgan baby hook ended an extended 18-6 Penn State run. The Nittany Lions would come within a basket of the lead twice more before the Wolverines pulled away. Then again, the Wolverines did pull away, and in style—a spectacular halfcourt lob from Caris LeVert to Glenn Robinson III capped a quick 9-0 run with 12 minutes to play, and they cruised to the finish from there.
The game started with eight unanswered points by Derrick Walton, who sandwiched a pair of confident corner threes around a nice fast break finish. Walton scored 12 points in the first half en route to a career-high 16 on 6/9 shooting. However, he also finished with three turnovers—one of which was sloppy enough to earn a quick hook from John Beilein—and he was one of Frazier's primary victims defensively. He's made huge strides during the season, which was apparent tonight. He's not all the way there yet, obviously.
Nik Stauskas led the team with 21 points, making 7/12 FGs and 4/5 FTs, while also hauling in six rebounds and dishing out a five assists with no turnovers. His deft passing off the pick-and-roll allowed Jon Horford to score 11 points on 4/5 shooting and Jordan Morgan eight on a perfect 3/3 mark from the field; Horford chipped in a team-high seven boards. Again, however, there was a defensive downside—Stauskas defended Newbill for much of the second half and was clearly worn out trying to guard PSU's hot hand while carrying much of the offensive load.
Robinson shook off an 0/5 start from the field to finish with 15 points on 5/8 shooting, and he sparked Michigan's second-half run by jumping a Frazier pass and quickly finding LeVert, who split the PSU defense right down the middle and got the friendly roll for an and-one. For his part, LeVert dropped five dimes on an otherwise quiet offensive night for him (6 points, 2/6 FG); like his guard counterparts, he struggled on the other end of the floor, as much with his off-ball defense as on-ball.
In the end, Michigan played like they've done for much of the year, pairing excellent offense with far too much poor execution on defense. Against Penn State, that was enough to essentially cover the spread. Against the next three teams on the docket—Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan State—that won't be enough to come away unscathed. After Indiana's triumph over the Badgers this evening, Michigan sits tied atop the Big Ten with their in-state rivals; how long they stay there depends on how much they improve at preventing their opponent from carving a path to the hoop.