My fellow Americans, the state of the union is lol. Abroad we have seen the greatest extension of three-point hegemony in our history. We have looked unto the face of Bo Ryan and lol'ed. Our troops deployed to the darkest reaches of Breslin, where the favored Izzo complained about every which thing, and we lol'ed. At home we have faced adversity and Hawkeyes, and won a great battle, and afterwards we lol'ed.
So I ask you, fellow Americans: how do we ensure the security of these lol's that we cherish?
- How long will Michigan remain atop the Big Ten standings?
- How long will the Big Ten remain the nation's best basketball conference?
- How long will the basketball team remain superior to the football and hockey teams?
Mathlete: With Michigan State's win at Iowa, this year has all the makings of a two horse race with Michigan State. In Big Ten play, anything is possible, but at least a share of the title is highly likely at this point. With McGary, Robinson and maybe Stauskas leaving early, next year could be a tough hill to climb, but Beilein has done more with less. Even though Michigan has been recruiting at a higher level, they've missed on several of their top targets and that will likely keep them from being a perennial elite, first tier team. But based on the track record of Beilein, this team isn't going to be far from the top of the conference any time soon.
|What's wrong, kitty cat? [Fuller]|
Last year's conference lineup was incredible, this year's may still be the best, but the teams do seem to be down a bit from last year. Last season the Big Ten had 7 of the KenPom top 26 and 8 of the top 40. This year the eighth best team is Nebraska at #74. Indiana is in the process of rebuilding, Illinois is wandering in the desert, Purdue has turned into a football sch-can't even finish typing that joke. The top of the Big Ten is outstanding but there is a little more breathing room in the mid and lower tiers than last season.
The ACC has 5 of KenPom's top 22 right now and next year they swap out Louisville for Maryland. Once North Carolina finds their way again, they might be good enough to keep Dicky V at home and out of Michigan. Even if the Atlantic Coast steps up their game, no sport is more dependent on coaching and the B1G's best aren't going anywhere. Izzo, Matta, Beilein, Ryan and Crean are all firmly established winners with no indication of jumping ship. Over the next five years, I would be shocked if any other conferences were close to as good as the Big Ten and ACC.
Now this is the tricky question. Football has the capacity to narrow the gap, possibly as soon as this year. The roster is finally in place, all signs point to a good defense getting better in 2014 and the offense has been written about enough at this point. I'm not going to go picking a Rose Bowl or anything, but this season is the first that's 100% on Hoke. The pieces will be there and the excuses will be gone. If the football team can't get to 9 wins this season, that's probably another 3-5 years of basketball superiority as Michigan would be facing another football coaching spiral. I'm not even qualified to write about random number generating playoff hockey, but my guess is that its going to be easier for Michigan to sustain the basketball success under Beilein than re-establish the elite level at hockey. So I guess the 2014 football season will write the story on whether or not we've become a #basketballschool.
[Jump: more answers, and then Ace and I argue for like 6,000 words]
In the late stages of last week's narrow victory over Minnesota, John Beilein drew up a beautiful post-timeout play that culminated with Jon Horford dunking over three Gophers (capital 'G', of course, or that's a far less impressive feat):
Pretty cool dunk, right? After the jump, check out several more enjoyable GIFs from the last two game--WAIT, HOLD IT RIGHT THERE.
That white-haired Minnesota fan has seen kingdoms rise and fall, winters that lasted a generation, and the White Walkers descend upon
Westeros Minneapolis, but this she cannot bear to witness. Winter is coming—nay, winter has arrived—and this lady knows it.
Don't ever say a Spartan never did anything for you.
[After THE JUMP, Mitch McGary stays fresh to death, Richard Pitino is a strange fellow, Zak Irvin catches fire, Northwestern plays "defense," and dunks on dunks on dunks.]
Photo via Marilyn Indahl/USA TODAY Sports
It looked for all the world like a road loss. Zak Irvin, with just five made shots, led the team in scoring. Nik Stauskas finished just 3/7 from the field. Glenn Robinson III left the game early in the second half with an apparent ankle injury, finishing with six points. Caris LeVert played easily his worst game of the year. Michigan was outrebounded by a whopping 44.1% to 17.9% on the offensive glass. Oh, and Minnesota's last-gasp shot even caught the backboard.
Somehow, some way, the Wolverines clawed their way to a three-point win to open Big Ten play. Irvin's five three-pointers on eight attempts kept Michigan in the game after Robinson fell awkwardly following his fourth block of the night; while GRIII eventually returned from the locker room, he never re-entered the game. While Stauskas struggled from the field, he made play after play down the stretch, dishing out a game-high seven assists—including two in the waning minutes to set up Jon Horford dunks—and throwing down his signature "Game ... Blouses" dunk to give the team a late three-point lead.
With Jordan Morgan in early foul trouble and Mitch McGary spectating in a suit, Horford came up huge, scoring 14 points on 6/8 shooting and pulling down nine rebounds—five more than anyone else on the team—while adding in two steals and a block. While Horford made a few defensive errors guarding Elliott Eliason, who finished with ten points and ten rebounds, his tireless effort in the middle was the difference in this game.
Minnesota took advantage of Horford's occasional mishap and Robinson's absence on the interior, but they couldn't get it going on the perimeter, hitting just five of 19 three-point attempts. They had a tough time finding a clean look on the outside, and Michigan also forced 15 turnovers, eight of those steals.
The end of the game got a little nerve-wracking, to say the least, as the officials initially botched an out-of-bounds call—not to mention missing at least one obvious foul—when Minnesota tried to pressure Stauskas down three points with 22 seconds remaining. While Michigan got the ball back after a review, they ended up with Derrick Walton going to the line instead of Stauskas, and Walton missed both free throws. Fortunately for Michigan, the Gophers' Andre Hollins couldn't tie it up on the next possession, and a Horford free throw extended the lead to four.
Even then, the game wasn't quite over, as Stauskas committed the cardinal sin of fouling a jump shooter, stepping under Malik Smith on a wayward three-point attempt. Smith drilled all three freebies with six seconds remaining to make it a 61-60 game; after a pair of Stauskas free throws, the Gophers had one last chance to tie with five seconds to play. Deandre Mathieu managed to get a decent shot for the tie on the run at the top of the key; to the considerable relief of Wolverines with still-raw wounds from Evan Turner and Ben Brust, Mathieu's prayer wasn't answered.
It wasn't pretty, and there's lingering concern about Robinson's health to boot, but it's tough to overstate the importance of a conference road win for this team. Michigan is 1-0 in the Big Ten (and UNDEFEATED IN 2014) after a game in which the tired coachspeak platitude of "facing adversity" very much applied. Not a bad start to the new year.
I managed to navigate New Year's Eve and a Michigan State Rose Bowl win without overindulging myself, so of course I'm currently suffering from some sort of avian death flu.* The combination of black tea, Ricola, ibuprofen, and pseudoephedrine in my system currently has my reality looking like something out of a Flaming Lips music video, so I apologize in advance if none of this makes any damn sense.
|WHAT||Michigan at Minnesota|
|WHERE||Williams Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota|
|WHEN||7:00 pm Eastern, Thursday|
|LINE||Minnesota –2 (KenPom)|
Right: 5'9" point guard Deandre Mathieu is a speedster (unsurprising), good shooter (ditto), and very solid finisher at the rim in both transition and halfcourt situations (wait, what?).
Minnesota is a very different team from last year's squad after the departures of hyper-athletic terrors Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, the main reasons the Gophers were the nation's best offensive rebounding team, and the dismissal of head coach Tubby Smith, whose insane 11-man rotation strategy likely cost the team a couple wins. This year's team, headed by Richard Pitino—yes, son of Rick—is smaller, more perimeter-oriented, and far less terrorizing on the boards; they're also a quality outfit with a lot of experience.
The backcourt duo of Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins (no relation) returns, and they're the two highest-usage players on the team. Andre is the team's leading scorer (16.2 ppg) despite shooting a decidedly mediocre 49.0 eFG%; his decent three-point shooting (35%) and knack for getting to the free throw line, where he shoots 85%, help cover for too many two-point jumpers that he hits at just a 29% rate. Austin is also a decent outside shooter, more efficient inside the arc, and the superior defender, and while he lacks Andre's ability to get to the line frequently he's a very solid rebounder for a guard. Both players average right around three assists per game while doing a good job of taking care of the basketball.
Joining the Hollinses in the backcourt is 5'9" point guard Deandre Mathieu, playing his first season for the Gophers after transferring from Morehead State. He's been something of a revelation as the team's most efficient offensive player, posting a top-50 assist rate nationally with a very impressive 50/57/80 2P%/3P%/FT% split this season; that includes a 65% mark at the rim despite only half of those attempts coming in transition, per hoop-math. In addition to getting to the line frequently, he's got a top-50 steal rate nationally. Michigan's point guards must be very aware of his lightning quickness on both ends of the floor.
The guards do most of the heavy lifting offensively, as the starting frontcourt of 6'8" forward Oto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason play relatively limited roles on that end. Osenieks is in his third season of unsuccessfully trying to be an efficient stretch four; he's not much of a rebounder at either end, and while he's greatly improved his two-point shooting (56%, up from 42% last season), he's hit just 7 of 24 three-pointers after going 2-for-26(!) as a sophomore and 11-for-41 as a freshman. Eliason is the team's best rebounder by leaps and bounds—there's a pun in there somewhere—and his 10.5% block rate ranks 40th in the country. His shots, which don't come too often, are split evenly between looks at the basket, where he shoots 71%, and two-point jumpers, which he makes just 20% of the time.
The primary backup at guard is 6'2" senior Malik Smith, who came to Minnesota from Florida International along with Pitino; he's a pure three-point specialist currently shooting 37% from downtown. Providing minutes off the bench in the frontcourt are 6'9" sophomore Joey King, a good finisher around the rim who can't rebound a lick, and 6'10", 250-pound junior Maurice Walker, a productive rebounder, scorer, and shot-blocker who only plays ~20% of the team's available minutes because he's absurdly foul prone, committing 7.9(!!) per 40 minutes.
Minnesota is 11-2 on the year with both losses coming in the Maui Invitational, the first an eight-point defeat by #5 Syracuse—not bad—and the second by 14 points at the hands of #40 Arkansas in which the Gophers allowed 52 second-half points—bad. Minnesota has otherwise played relatively midding opponents in the comfortable confines of The Barn, where they defeated common opponent Florida State by ten, with the exception of a blowout road win over #72 Richmond.
Four factors (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||51.0 (107)||16.3 (65)||36.4 (59)||39.9 (181)|
|Defense||46.9 (95)||20.9 (50)||29.4 (90)||34.5 (73)|
Minnesota is quite solid across the board, ranking 25th in offensive efficiency and 68th defensively. With solid outside shooting (35.8%) and strong offensive rebounding, the offensive production appears to be quite sustainable. Defensively, however, some cracks may start appearing as the competition stiffens; despite ranking 248th nationally in 3PA/FGA allowed, the Gophers rank a fortuitous 28th in three-point percentage defense, with opponents currently hitting just 29.4% from outside. Arkansas managed to light them up from the outside, hitting 8-of-17 threes, and Syracuse connected on a respectable 5-of-13 shots from distance.
Fire away. Building on the three-point stats above, as well as the absence of Mitch McGary, I think it behooves Michigan to focus on generating good looks from the outside. They have a size advantage across the board in the backcourt, as the Gopher starting guards stand at 5'9", 6'2", and 6'4". Add in the serious shot-blocking threat of Eliason and it appears Michigan's best chance to produce points will be on the perimeter.
Find the right guy at the point. While Mathieu's size means he should be exploited defensively by Michigan's point guards, there are matchup concerns for the Wolverines against him, as well. Mathieu is quite the pickpocket, which could be tough on Derrick Walton, who's still pretty turnover-prone. That could mean giving Spike Albrecht, the better ballhander, the majority of the minutes is the play, but Mathieu's ability to get to the rim offensively could be a problem with that matchup. Michigan could try to go big and give Caris LeVert extensive time at the point, which would exascerbate Minnesota's size deficiency on defense, but is he quick enough to stay in front of Mathieu? I'm not sure, honestly. It'll be very interesting to see how Beilein manages his lineups tonight.
Close out. Almost 40% of Minnesota's shots are taken beyond the arc, and they're a better three-point shooting team (35.8%, 110th nationally) than they are at converting inside the arc (49.2%, 155th). Michigan has to stay disciplined with their switches on the perimeter, make sure to get their hands in shooter's faces, and generally do everything they can to force the Gopher guards to work for contested inside looks instead of open outside shots. If the perimeter defense isn't up to par, the Gophers could open up a big lead and get serious momentum on their side at home.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Minnesota by 2
*I'm not a doctor, but I believe that's the correct medical term for my self-diagnosed malady.