Mailbag: The Fouling Question

Mailbag: The Fouling Question

Submitted by Brian on April 4th, 2014 at 12:35 PM


to foul or not to foul this stroke

Foul? An excessively long answer to an excessively long email.

Brain & Staff -

I'm a templar with high INT.

Here is my question - Would it have been a better move for Michigan to commit two quick fouls and put Kentucky on the line shooting 1 and 1 at the end of the game? After Michigan tied the game there were about 27 seconds left. After two fouls Michigan would likely have 20 seconds remaining to take the ball and make a game winning shot of their own.

Oh man, you are about to enter the final frontier of basketball strategy. For starters, this is never happening. John Beilein is a genius but he's not the kind of mad genius who would, say, leave his guys out there with two fouls in the first half even though they don't foul very much. This is a bridge too far.

But, yeah, I thought about it too. Let's look at it.

Here is why I think this is a superior strategy - please feel free to poke holes in it.

1) Kentucky was making 53.40% of their shots. Assuming this is a reasonable expectation for Kentucky's chance of success on its last possession and that they hold for the last shot, Michigan has a 53% chance of losing and a 47% of going to overtime. Michigan has no chance of winning (in regulation) under this scenario baring a huge mistake by Kentucky.

This is optimistic for your strategy. Last shots are bad shots, as Kentucky amply demonstrated. Ken Pomeroy frequently tweets out the fact that teams tied and in possession with the shot clock turned off win 67% of the time, which means they're hitting 34%. Last shots also usually don't provide much of an opportunity for a putback, and anyway that stat about winning the game folds all results in.

2) Putting Kentucky on the line for a one on one yields the following probabilities (assuming a 75% free throw shooter - which is higher than Kentucky's 54.5% average for the game):

56.25% chance Kentucky hits both shots = 2 points

18.75% chance Kentucky hits one shot = 1 point

25.00% chance Kentucky misses the first shot = 0 points

I'm assuming Michigan is able to grab any rebounds (perhaps a big assumption). The key here is that Michigan heads back down the floor with a 25% chance to win with a made shot and tie with a miss, an 18.75% chance that any shot will win the game. and 56.25% chance that any made shot will win or tie.

This is a bit pessimistic for your strategy. Hack-a-blank has been an infrequently deployed strategy throughout basketball history, and never has it drawn an intentional foul call. Michigan had two attractive targets: Alex Poythress, a 64% shooter, and Dakari Johnson, a 45% shooter. Johnson was on the floor. Hack-a-Dakari gives you the ball tied over half the time.

Well, about half the time. The rebound assumption is kind of a big one. In the NBA, about 14% of FT misses are grabbed by the offense. Michigan was giving up an epic OREB rate in this game, though that's somewhat mitigated by the fact that in our hypothetical scenario one of Kentucky's bigs is stuck on the free throw line and can't move until the ball hits the rim. But since your FT% assumption is high it's probably a wash.

3) Assuming we use Michigan's 47.8% field goal percentage in the game as a proxy for their changes of making a shot. I'm also assuming that the chance of taking a 2 or 3 mirror the game percentages as well.

Again, late shots are bad shots.


although sometimes they go in

The impact on Michigan would presumably be less since they're just running their offense looking for the best shot they can in about 25 seconds, so maybe the assumption about Michigan is on more solid ground. But then you've got a potential response from Kentucky and things get complicated fast.

I'm eliding the math based on this assumption in the email provided to cut to the chase, which is that fouling for a one-and-one against a 75% FT shooter looks like this:




This breakdown looks better to me than Kentucky holding for the last shot:



So, where am I going wrong OR why don't we see this strategy more often - especially with teams who have better free throw shooters (ie trading fouls at the end of the game would typically be a losing strategy for the other team).


Jamie (6th Generation - still have never posted)

The main thing that's off about this analysis is the assumption that Kentucky hits a shot at the same rate they did during the game; this is clearly not true otherwise teams would be winning closer to 75% of their games when they've got the ball with the shot clock off in a tie game.

The other thing that's off is that 75% assumption. Here's what the universe looks like if you foul someone you should foul:

Player Down 2 Down 1 Tied
Poythress (64%) 41% 23% 36%
Johnson (45%) 20% 25% 55%

Down one is worse than being tied but it's hardly worse than a coinflip. When Arizona got the ball back with 31 seconds to go against Wisconsin down 64-63 Kenpom gave them a 45% shot at the game. It's basically compressing overtime into one shot. Meanwhile, being down two means you're now in a lose-or-OT situation similar to the one Kentucky just had with win-or-OT, except you have the option of hitting a 3. Michigan's quite good at this.

Things get complicated fast, but there is a threshold at which the foul is the right move. I think that threshold was breached once Calipari put Johnson on the floor. Part of this is the fact that Michigan is a brilliant offensive team. If the game's coming down to a last shot I want it to be Michigan's. And part of it is the stark line in the table above. Even including a standard OREB chance of 15%*, about 70% of the time you send Johnson to the line you get the ball and any bucket wins. The rest of the time you have a shot to go to OT or win with a three. I'm taking that chance.

…in the long-delayed aftermath, anyway. This isn't (much of) a criticism of Beilein. It's more of a thought experiment. Most people who have brought this up have done so in the context of "I wonder what if…" and then scribbled out assumption-laden percentages. During the event I was just trying not to die. I'm not sure Michigan should have spent any time figuring out how to shift the odds a bit in their favor if this one particular situation came up.

But, yeah, I think if there's a 45% FT shooter on the floor and you have the opportunity to put him on the line for a 1-and-1 in a tie game you do it.

*[Given the way the game was going you may question this but remember that Johnson's at the line and Kentucky is unlikely to have anyone other than Randle as a post since a Michigan rebound would then put Kentucky in a very awkward place defensively. Also Michigan can put two bigs in and call timeout after. Seems fair enough.]

Unverified Voracity Reflects

Unverified Voracity Reflects

Submitted by Brian on April 3rd, 2014 at 1:11 PM


Dustin Johnston/UMHoops

Rounding up the exit. Further takes on the end of Michigan's season come from Genuinely Sarcastic:

In three of the last four seasons, Michigan's season has come down to one final shot in the dying moments. That's actually pretty astonishing when you think about it. All the chaos and moving parts of a basketball game, boiling down to one shot on three separate occasions in three separate games. All three involved different circumstances, and a Michigan program at different stages of its evolution.

Hoover Street Rag:

Sometimes you don't appreciate you have until it's gone.  Which is why I am thankful we were able to send off Jordan Morgan on a high note.  Morgan is exactly what we want our players to be, tenacious, hard-working, always working to be better, and, oh yeah, a pretty damn good student to boot.  To see all of the #ThanksJMo tweets after the game is to know that we didn't lose sight of what was going to end when Stauskas's last shot fell short.  We know we're probably also losing some other players, and we'll deal with that when the time comes, but for now, we appreciate what we had, because it was fun.  It was just fun.

The Daily:

INDIANAPOLIS — Moments after the game, the sun is low in the sky and Lucas Oil Stadium casts a long shadow across Indianapolis as, inside, Michigan walks off the court for the last time together. Jordan Morgan is first, well before anyone else. Glenn Robinson III gives a quick wave to the crowd and puts his head down. Nik Stauskas is emotionless. Mitch McGary, who was never getting into the game, walks off wearing the uniform his teammates have insisted he wear.

Later, Morgan, held up by his press conference, is one of the last to enter the Michigan locker room. Most of the room is composed except for Zak Irvin, who is emotional in one corner of the room, and for Morgan. He wipes his face with his sleeve and cries in front of the television cameras.

His teammates have said the loss is all the more difficult because it means they’ll never play another game with Morgan. The senior doesn’t know how to respond.

He pauses to wipe his eyes.

“I didn’t expect it to be my last game,” Morgan says.

“It’s over. I don’t know what else to say.”

And Nick Baumgardner:

But while every team in this NCAA tournament, save for one, ends its season with a loss, they don't all end their season without regret.

This Michigan team earned the right to live -- forever -- with a clear conscience.

"You can be mad if you want," Michigan's Jon Horford said. "But if you make guys hit tough shots they don't normally hit.

"Then you shake their hand."


[Bryan Fuller]

Draft stuff. NBA draft types seem to be in consensus about Michigan's three early entry candidates: Stauskas is out the door, but the other two should return. "Should" and "will" are two very different things, of course. Also, when NBA draft types talk about these things they talk about them from the perspective of the NBA, not the player.

Disclaimers aside, NBA type on Robinson:

Projecting where Robinson could be selected in this year's NBA draft is difficult. His potential is boundless, but his play has been erratic. The scout described his prospective draft position as "all over the board for some people."

He concluded saying Robinson should return to Ann Arbor to "develop some consistency in his game."

A guy the BTN talked to:

Glenn Robinson III
Why he should stay: Should finally emerge as Michigan’s star player. Showed flashes of what people expected as a sophomore, but not consistently. Should look better with Walton having a year under his belt as point guard.
Why he should leave: Teams still like his skill and athleticism. Could flourish enough in workout situations to alleviate NBA concerns.
Prediction: Stays

As I mentioned in the post a couple days ago, Robinson's clear frustration at being forced to play the 4 is something that will weigh on him. This makes Mark Donnal the most important guy on the team from GRIII's perspective. If Mitch returns Donnal is free to play the 4 for basically all of his minutes, and if he's a 25 minute or 30 minute guy that means Robinson's spending almost all of his time on the wing.

As for Mitch, there is almost universal agreement that it would be hard to take the guy in the first round with the questions about his back and relatively thin resume. McGary would have to be confident in his ability to go full McGary in draft camps this month if he was going to make a leap. Anonymous NBA guy:

If he chooses to declare for the draft, McGary's health will be "picked apart in this process" due to an injury classified only as a lower-back condition, according to the scout.

It's clear both Robinson and McGary entered the year planning that this would be their last at Michigan, and that momentum will make deciding to stay more difficult than it otherwise even if it seems like the best idea to return for both.

These days there is no withdrawal, so the dates that matter are April 16th, when the Portsmouth Invitational starts and the 27th, which is the last day to declare. GRIII and McGary will almost certainly decide by the 16th, as Portsmouth is where a lot of first or second round decisions get hashed out.

Also in draft stuff. I'm not sure if this draft blogger the BTN talked to has anything solid or if he's just guessing based on the fact that everyone flees West Lafayette, but here's the hypothetical death knell for Matt Painter's career:

A.J. Hammons
Why he should stay: Showed very little improvement in many ways from freshman to sophomore year. A dominant junior year could make him a first-round pick.
Why he should leave: Skilled big men and shot-blockers are always in demand at the NBA level and Hammons’ development may have stalled at Purdue.
Prediction: Enters Draft

Tom Dienhart also predicted a Hammons departure, FWIW. I know Hammons is a frustrating dude but he's all Purdue has right now.

Other decisions the Big Ten is waiting on include Sam Dekker and (now) Frank Kaminsky at Wisconsin plus Gary Harris and Branden Dawson at MSU. Gary Parrish reported that barring a 180 in the next couple days, Harris is out the door. Dawson is a bit of a surprising name, but he's got financial issues and pretty much is what he is at this point: a 20-minutes-a-game defensive specialist.

MSU is also offering firm handshakes to potential fifth-year players Alex Guana and Russell Byrd. The latter is a little sad, since he had the highest ratio of bark to bite in the Big Ten. From the spectator's position, it's always tough to lose a guy like that.

Freshman talk. Via MGoVideo:

Canteen made a catch! And he's wearing 17. Always enjoy guys wearing oddball numbers I have no association with. Looking forward to Canteen changing it six times over the course of his career.

Wrong move, buddy. Now we're going to try and beat you. Ohio State cockiness increments yearly these days. And one day super super soon they are going to regret it, I tell you. Until then, the prospect of random OSU assistant coaches spouting off about Michigan remains. Ed Warinner:

Standard message board banter. Okay. And then:

Wow. That's personal. I expect that from a guy named WOLVERINEKILLAH88, not so much a coach. Hoke brushed it off on WTKA today, as he is wont to do.

From the People In Charge Of Things Are Just In Charge Of Them file. Texas has a new athletic director, who is in charge of Texas. He is also an idiot.

He sees Texas as being in a unique position to grow its international brand and said it's essential to use athletics as a platform to tell the university's story.

"They shouldn't be done for junketeering purposes," Patterson said. "They should be done in a fashion that grows the profile and the interest of the university of a broad scale internationally."

Patterson reportedly has expressed interest in playing a nonconference football game in Mexico City. Another possibility Patterson acknowledged Tuesday could be a future sporting event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

This dude already scheduled a Texas basketball game in China, but will not even consider playing Texas A&M. The goal appears to be pissing off your core fanbase as much as possible. CEO types are just emperors running around naked as the day is long these days, searching for growth at all costs like their department is a publicly traded company.

Also… "junketeering." Just keep shooting bullets into the English language until it topples, guys.

It's on. The Michigan legislature passed a bill allowing Michigan to sell alcohol for that rumored Man U/Real Madrid friendly this summer, which was followed up by an announcement there would be an announcement tomorrow. Expect them to announce a series of announcements about announcements culminating in a soccer game.

Etc.: A Brian Phillips ode to Raftery and Lundquist. Five Key Plays for Kentucky. More Morgan. Additional Morgan. DJ Wilson update.

I Left Part Of Me Back There, In The Heat

I Left Part Of Me Back There, In The Heat

Submitted by Brian on March 31st, 2014 at 11:36 AM

3/30/2013 – Michigan 72, Kentucky 75 – 28-9, 15-3 Big Ten, season over


Dustin Johnston/UMHoops


same damn shot

About three hours later, I realized I was on the same damn road, passing the same damn Indiana towns with ominous overtones in their names.

I was feeling the same damn way. I wanted the miles to evaporate faster than they were, to put all that behind me, to have a stiff drink at home. Mostly I just wanted to sit on a couch and exhale until everything had left my body and I flopped over on my side, inert, until the smell of bacon revived me in a day or a week or a year.

I kept trying to do this exhalation thing, and it was not working. I spent most of the game fearing the immaculately-coifed Kentucky fan in front of me would turn around and ask me to stop breathing so hard on her neck, whereupon I'd have to explain to her husband that yes I may be making your wife's neck uncomfortably moist but you see I am trying to expel my soul which really no that's not what I'm saying oh I see I've just been punched.

We made quite a crew in section 228: me trying to not die and not exist at the same time; the lady who is mercifully tolerant of moist neck; the XXXL Kentucky fan next to me complaining that the refs were treating Stauskas like a pretty pretty princess after every possession; the two Michigan bros a few rows in front of me taking their fashion cues from Macklemore and standing after every basket to make karma-obliterating woofing noises; and the unaffiliated mother with her family on the way to spring break trying to commiserate with me about how the Kentucky fans who made up about 90% of our section were just unreasonably into sports.

It took her a while but I think she finally put me into the unreasonable bin after the teams traded dagger three pointers with a few minutes left and the sun came through the floor of Colts Location Stadium, blasting us all with a heat only she noticed.


The boxing metaphor is inescapable. I have seen many basketball games; this one is the one that defies you to compare it to anything else. And it was specific: this was not the kind of boxing match where a Cuban with ten thousand amateur fights comes out and touches you up for twelve rounds until he's ahead on all the scorecards. This was two dudes with noses that might as well already be broken strolling out and windmilling at each other until one looks like Chernobyl… and he's the guy still standing.

Max Kellerman talks a lot about how great fighters are not like people, because when they get hit witheringly hard they don't want to dig a hole and lay down in it for a while. They instead get mad and start hammering back. This is an easy thing to feel you are capable of when not being hit witheringly hard, and pretty much the entire point of boxing is to strip this feeling from victim after victim. I have no illusions about my response to being hit like that. I will put my head in my hands, check twitter, and be nearly incapable of standing. One day I'm just going to fall over. I've made my peace with it.

Michigan—this Michigan team, this dead Michigan team—is not like that. They dug out of enough ten point holes midway through the season to demonstrate that, surely. Here every time Kentucky would threaten to pull away Stauskas would swoop into the lane or Morgan would collect a rebound and finish against Kentucky's never-ending assembly line of skyscrapers, or Robinson would nail the late momentum-shifting corner three that has become a trademark over the past month.

If Calipari had ran out to midcourt with a shovel and started whacking Morgan with it while screaming "WHY <whack> WON'T <whack> YOU <whack> DIE," this would have made total sense to everyone in attendance. Kentucky was hitting three pointers and taking zero jumpers otherwise. They rebounded 63% of their misses(!). Michigan was there, riddled with bullets but still lurching forward.

As the game went on and the temperature rose, the building knew. There is an odd shift in the dynamics of an arena once it becomes clear to everyone present that they are watching an out-and-out classic. The stakes, already astronomical, ratchet ever-higher as the imperative to not lose this game, to win this game, to have this thing in your heart forever for cold nights and funerals, reaches critical mass. I mean, what if Michigan loses in overtime to Kansas last year? It does not bear thinking about.

So Michigan executes its version of that Syracuse possession with about seven missed shots in four seconds except Jordan Morgan wills the ball in the basket with his goddamned mind, and then it's just one guy taking a bad shot that looks improbably true.



It was probably the guys tweeting that they were watching Cosmos and regretting that they were responsible adults with children instead of super high and watching Cosmos that put me in this frame of mind but on the same damn road I started thinking about how space was unfathomably large, cold, and empty.

We'd just exited what was temporarily the saddest Culver's in America, on the vanguard of a highway of silent maize-clad Michigan fans acknowledging each other with a sigh and a shrug at chain restaurants and rest stops. In the fifteen minutes it had taken to eat, the twilight had turned definitively into night. The sun down, I tried exhaling again. Still nothing.

You know, I was basically okay. I thought about Jordan Morgan and the Kentucky fans all screaming out defensive instructions to their players whenever Stauskas touched the ball and figured out the exact tenor of my sadness. I had been eroded in the presence of the sun, and was glad for it, but now that place was getting smaller and farther all the time.

We were an outbound comet, hoping, waiting for the next opportunity to feel the stellar wind blow.



[Bryan Fuller]

Jordan Morgan. Uh…

I'm not actually sure I can or want to do that. Usually those kind of things are reserved for the Cazzie Russell types but these days anyone that good exits before he can… well, I kind of want to say "program icon status" but if I say "Trey Burke" one of two images pops into your head so that's not quite right. But they're awesome and gone so fast it feels a little weird putting them in the rafters. (Being a Kentucky fan these days must be the weirdest experience in sports. Entirely new team every year.)

Watching Morgan's up and down career end with a tournament run in which he was one man trying to hold back the hordes… it does make you wonder. Morgan is the embodiment of the program's straight arrow up in the Beilein era, and he is an epic twitter troll with two engineering degrees. Save a Tyler Hansborough/Russ Smith type who is awesome but has one critical flaw in his game that prevents the NBA from swooping in on him, it's hard to think there are going to be many more deserving four-year guys.

Nik Stauskas. If that was the last game, and I'm guessing it was, he went out with a bang. I think swooping layups and rim attack after rim attack against Kentucky may perk up NBA draft executives' ears.

It is kind of crap luck that the guys Beilein turns into killers are so so good that they're two or three and out these days. As Morgan demonstrated, seniors are nice to have. You're up, Caris.

Welp. Michigan was set to win this game despite getting bombed on the boards, just as it had been ordained, but Kentucky, the #249 team in the country from three, went 7/11 behind the arc on looks that were mostly contested. If you find randomness on the street, slug it in the gut and say that's from MGoBlog.

SOFT THREE-DEPENDENT BEILEIN. That's continually the line from MSU fans. Michigan from two against freakin' Kentucky: 20/39. Michigan State versus UConn: 7/17. MSU took 12 more threes than twos. Shirtless AXE bro, heal thyself.

(Two point baskets by players who will probably return to MSU next year: 1, by Dawson.)

The NCAA tournament remains great. Hunter Lochmann probably had a stroke when he realized that absolutely no piped in music would be provided. Wait until they see a February NBA game, he thought, 'I'm Gonna Make You Sweat' is gonna make YOU sweat.

Do you know what they did during TV timeouts? Nothing. They put some trivia up on the scoreboard. There was the occasional announcement. Otherwise the commercial breaks were bands playing music and nothing else. It was amazing.

No one left at halftime, muttering about how if they can't hear "Ceiling Can't Hold Us" there's no point to sports. "Why will no one direct me to make noise?" this nonexistent person asks. "Where is my kiss cam? Are you guys even having a sporting contest? GIVE ME MY HAT SHUFFLE."

Anyway, for all the commercialism the NCAA packs into their every waking moment they have really minimized it for the event itself. The tournament is a national treasure for that reason. Michigan should emulate that instead of the ECHL.

Except for PA announcer guy. It started off poorly when he called Caris LeVert "Caress" LeVert and continued for the entire two games; even when not doing that the Colts Location Stadium PA announcer sounded like a terrible parody of a smarmy PA guy instead of a PA guy. Imagine Rob Schneider doing PA guy, and then make him worse at it. Oy.

Stagger. My one problem with the tournament setup is one I'm sure everyone shares: what is up with the game stagger in the Sweet 16? There's no reason MSU and Virginia should be going down to the wire at the same time Kentucky and Louisville are melting down Colts Location Stadium. Also you have large video boards; when game action isn't going on those should be playing other games.

Basketball of the future. Michigan wanted to force Kentucky into two-point jumpers. Nope:


With that distribution it's a victory that Michigan only gave up 48% from two in the second half, and yes, Daryl Morey is subscribing to Calipari's newsletter.

Stats! This game created or cemented a few remarkable ones.

70%! For a below-the-rim center. John Beilein is a genius, man. Also, best offense in 11 years (shhh, don't mention the rule changes).

Dammit. I said I wasn't going to think about McGary what ifs. Impossible not to, though. Imagine Morgan bumping down to the 4 for big chunks of this game with Mitch's crazy defensive rebounding on Dakari Johnson. On the other hand…

Michigan won the Big Ten by three games was a coinflip away from the Final Four without Burke, Hardaway, and McGary. I'd say let that sink in, but it should have been doing so for weeks now and it hasn't and it probably won't. The shots Michigan took should have had them down and out since they don't recruit at a super-elite level, but instead they blew through a conference that had three Elite Eight teams. And even though they're likely to take more NBA hits this offseason, they should enter next year as one of the conference favorites. It boggles the mind.

Kentucky 75, Michigan 72

Kentucky 75, Michigan 72

Submitted by Ace on March 30th, 2014 at 7:54 PM

Postgame locker room, via @umichbball

67 of the 68 teams that make the NCAA Tournament have their seasons end in heartbreak. For the second straight year, Michigan came excruciatingly close to being that lone exception, only to lose in a classic game.

Even though it's exceedingly likely your team will be one of the unfortunate 67, it's impossible to prepare for a moment like this. We got to bask in the glory of the Tennessee win for, oh, half an hour before fretting about the next opponent. From the moment Kentucky emerged over Louisville, we've spent our time worrying about that matchup.

From the moment of tipoff this afternoon, two of the most talented teams in the country played an incredible back-and-forth affair. And until Nik Stauskas's prayer thudded harmlessly against the backboard, we held out hope. Then it hits, the realization that this amazing run is done—and another shot at that elusive, ultimate banner has gone with it. It's like having your breath return after holding it for two days, only for the first inhale to precede a deep sigh, or perhaps a body-shaking sob. 

For Jordan Morgan, there are no more shots. He'll be fine when the shock wears off—Michigan engineering grads tend to do okay after college—but in the interim, I ache for him. To a lesser extent, that goes to the rest of the players and the coaching staff, but I wasn't ready to see Morgan's pundit-defying career end.

I've got no more to offer in the way of words or feelings; after three weeks on tilt, I'm completely spent. Thank you, Kentucky, for giving us a whale of a game. Thank you, Michigan, for being a source of joy all season, again. Thank you, Jordan Morgan, for everything.

Tourney Preview: Kentucky

Tourney Preview: Kentucky

Submitted by Brian on March 30th, 2014 at 3:31 PM


WHAT Michigan (28-8, 15-3 B1G) vs.
Kentucky (27-10, 12-6 SEC)
WHERE Colts Location Stadium,
Indianapolis, IN
WHEN 5:05 pm Eastern, Sunday
LINE Michigan -1 (KenPom)
PBP: Jim Nantz
Analyst: Greg Anthony
Liveblog Sponsored by Marawatch; starts at 5.


Win or go home.


Projected starters are in bold.

This preview assumes that Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein is out after John Calipari said his issue was "not a good ankle injury." He was limping badly after the game, on crutches, and told Kentucky trainers he "heard it pop." Save some Travis Trice blisters heroism, he's out.

Pos. # Name Yr. Ht./Wt. %Min %Poss SIBMIHHAT
G 2 Aaron Harrison Fr. 6'6, 218 80% 21 Sort of
80/48/35 shooter is UK's most efficient offensive player.
G 5 Andrew Harrison Fr. 6'6, 215 78% 22 Sort of
PG-type player awful inside line, has high TO rate. Gets FTs, decent from 3.
G 1 James Young Fr. 6'6, 215 80% 22 Sort of
Almost identical statistically to Aaron, but slightly worse in most categories.
F 5 Julius Randle Fr. 6'9, 250 76% 27 Yes
Classic PF tough to handle on boards, can get own shot. Only 52%.
C 34 Dakari Johnson Fr. 7'0, 265 33% 20 N/A
OREB monster. Block rate/DREB rates not scary. Putback machine. Miserable FT%.
F 4 Alex Poythress So. 6'8, 239 45% 18 Yes
OREB guy and rim finisher is black hole on O, good on D.
G 15 Dominique Hawkins Fr. 6'0, 193 17% 8 Yes
Almost invisible on offense for good reason. 46/43/13 shooter in small sample.
G 23 Jarrod Polson Sr. 6'2, 182 19% 8 Sort of
Gritty walk on has 35 shots on the year.

For completeness, Cauley-Stein is an elite defensive player, a block machine with a high steal rate. He doesn't rebound as much as you'd expect because he tries to swat everything and his offense is relatively limited.


Welcome to the sequel of the sequel: Kentucky is an upgraded version of Tennessee, which was an upgraded version of Texas. Stop me if you've heard this before: Kentucky is an offensive rebound machine that can't shoot threes and doesn't force turnovers but does do everything else well on D. Or at least they were with Cauley-Stein. They're probably still a number of those things. How many remains to be seen, but that's another section.

The individual players all come with a sameness to them. Kentucky is the world's worst NBA team, a collection of bodies that looks like an NBA All Star game… and often plays like one. But if they've figured something out they've figured something out, and then they're not pleasant to consider.

Andrew, #5, is the point guard type guy

The Harrison twins are the primary guards. Andrew Harrison (#5) is the point-guard type substance—it's hard to tell when everyone's 6'6"—with his team-high assist rate. Unfortunately for Kentucky, his TO rate is just as high. 23.5 is a number that would make you shake your head if it was a 7-footer turning it in; for a point guard it's turrible. His inconsistency has been apparent even amongst the maelstrom that is the Kentucky freshmen:

He has the handles and jumper, until they disappear. He can be a lock-down defender on individual plays but often lets up on that end and commits a lot of silly fouls. He also seems too reliant on and comfortable with passing to his brother, an NBA prospect but not Kentucky's best player by any means.

Harrison is only a 39% two-point shooter; he gets to the rack a lot (a third of his shots) but only hits half of his generally tough layup attempts and he's a miserable two-point shooter. He may be getting saddled with the Dion Harris shots, to be fair: 4% of his two pointers were assisted this year. FOUR!

Harrison has two three-point modes: he's a good catch and shoot guy near the arc, and then he's a miserable bricklayer trying to catch guys off the dribble, often on shots that are a couple feet behind the line. His main strength as a player is drawing fouls. He's in the top 100 in that department and hits FTs at 77%. Michigan, of course, does not foul much.

Aaron Harrison (#2) is a wing/SG type who's considerably more efficient than his brother; outside of the presumably unavailable Cauley-Stein he's Kentucky's most efficient guy. He's got a relatively low TO rate, decent usage, and shoots 80/48/35. He's much better at the rim than his brother, probably because at least some of his shots are coming off plays other guys made, but he's relatively uninspiring from all ranges.

James Young (#1) may as well be the third Harrison twin. He's also 6'6". Statistically he is a clone of Aaron. Watching Kentucky in person it was difficult to tell who was doing what; their games are all so similar. Young is marginally worse at getting to the basket and finishing, marginally worse in A:TO, marginally worse in defensive categories.

The biggest difference is that Young is about 55/45 threes to twos while Aaron Harrison is the inverse. Meanwhile, point guard Harrison—Andrew—has only 87 3FGA on the season against 208 twos and a bucket of free throws.

Guesses as to Michigan's defensive disposition: Stauskas on Young, LeVert on Aaron Harrison, Walton on Andrew Harrison, but they're just going to switch everything because screw it they're all basically the same guy. Look for Spike to get almost all of his minutes when one of them is on the bench and one of the six-foot zero offense backups comes in.

Video made nine games into the season

Power forward Julius Randle is going to be a lottery pick in a few months and it takes about ten minutes of observation for you to figure out why. Capable of getting to the rack from the three point line and making tough shots once there, Randle has a high ceiling and an NBA body. Randle draws fouls like whoah, rebounds both ends ferociously, and has a 71% free throw stroke that bodes well for the future, when jumpers will have to become a part of his game.

They aren't now. Randle's shots are split evenly between the rim and two-point jumpers. The difference is stark. He hits 71% at the rim and 34% when removed from it. And that 71% is not a Jordan Morgan assisted-dunk fest; he gets his own offense quite a bit. If you watched Louisville you saw a number of Randle buckets where the only appropriate response was "whoah."

But as we saw in the Tennessee game, a disadvantage in size for Glenn Robinson leads to an advantage in quickness. Randle is a much better athlete than Jeronne Maymon, but his ability to check Robinson remains questionable. With Cauley-Stein out Kentucky loses most of their shotblocking. Meanwhile, if Glenn can cut Randle off when he tries to attack from the perimeter a chunk of his game turns into those two-pointers Michigan wants to see.

Starting center Dakari Johnson has actually been starting since the beginning of February, alternating between games where he is a starter in name only (8 minutes versus Arkansas, nine versus Florida) and games of 20 or so minutes. He hadn't had a ton of impact aside from the occasional offensive board and putback until he went 7/10 against Louisville in 31 minutes. Actually, scratch "occasional." Johnson is a facecrushing offensive rebounder. If he'd gotten enough minutes to qualify on Kenpom he'd be fifth in the country, behind only Baylor's Rico Gathers amongst power conference teams.

Johnson's game is limited outside of those putbacks, which comprise almost 60% of his makes at the rim. When not flushing someone else's miss he's 44% in the post. He is a bizarrely great player on jumpers, though, hitting nearly half. Sample size? Maybe, but the prescription is clear for Morgan: crowd the guy if he gets the ball in the short corner or elbow, and for the love of god someone box him out.

On defense Johnson is a huge step back from Cauley-Stein. His block rate of 4.2 is about a third of Cauley-Stein's. He doesn't steal the ball like Cauley-Stein and his foul rate of 5.9 per 40 veritably looms in a game where he's going to have to go 30-35 minutes.

Unlike Tennessee, Kentucky has a bench. His name is Alex Poythress.

Kentucky's bench is now nearly as barren as Tennessee's. They have one guy, 6'8" SF/PF Alex Poythress. Poythress generates little offense on his own—75% of his shots at the rim are assisted or putbacks and he has a tiny assist rate—and is an inefficient shooter. He is a good finisher once he gets to the rim, and he is of course an excellent offensive rebounder who blocks a fair amount of shots; he's mostly of use on defense. Kentucky has played him at the three and in the post during his career. Now that he's the only big backup he'll see almost all of his time spotting Randle and Johnson.

Two other gentlemen will see the court. Six-foot freshman Dominique Hawkins was unearthed yesterday for his first extended playing time since January. In 15 minutes his box score contribution was three fouls and nothing else. Senior heady gritenstein Jarrod Polson has had spurts of playing time throughout the season after a significant bench role a year ago; he has vanishingly small usage. If he does anything it'll be take an open three someone else generates.

While Kentucky spreads their offense around almost equally amongst four players, Michigan has an opportunity whenever Hawkins or Polson is in. First, the point guard can sag off that guy with impunity, and second, that point guard can be Spike Albrecht.


Kentucky's nonconference schedule was middling. Games against power conference teams:

  • Michigan State (N): L 78-74
  • Providence (N): W 79-65
  • Baylor (Semi-Away): L 67-62
  • @ North Carolina: L 82-77
  • Louisville: W 73-66

A win against a Providence outfit that ended up an 11 seed and a home win over Louisville against a couple of road-ish losses that were close and a neutral court loss to MSU by 4. Kentucky did beat Cleveland State, Boise State, and Belmont, all KP100 teams, FWIW.

And then SEC play. Tennessee alternated losses and blowouts en route to a +0.14 efficiency margin; Kentucky had more close games and only managed a +0.08. They lost to Arkansas twice, LSU once (and escaped with a one-point OT win against them at home), Florida twice, and to a miserable South Carolina team. That's how you end up with an eight seed.

All of that looks lovely if you stop the season right then. It looks less so now, after SEC tourney blowouts of LSU and Georgia followed by a one-point loss to Florida in the title game and a three-game NCAA run that features wins over Wichita State and Louisville. Since the end of the regular season Kentucky has flown up from 25th to 10th in Kenpom. The whole freshman-figuring-it-out thing may apply.


Kentucky in a nutshell: they are 311th in assists and 23rd at preventing assists. On offense they:

  • murder the boards, resurrect the boards, and murder them again (42% OREB, 2nd nationally)
  • get fouled a ton
  • shoot relatively poorly for a team with so much talent
  • are pretty bad at a relatively small number of threes
  • are mediocre at taking care of the ball

On defense they:

  • have a Michigan-level aversion to creating turnovers
  • block a ton of shots (but not anymore probably)
  • are tough to score against from any range
  • aren't too good at rebounding and keeping guys off the line
  • are pretty good at preventing threes from going up

Kentucky is about as transition-oriented as Michigan, but considerably less efficient. On defense, they suuuuuuuck at transition relative to their half-court defense, giving up half their transition shots at the rim for a 70% eFG rate. Kentucky has survived their transition threes well enough, but if they give 'em up to Michigan they are going to regret it—Michigan hits 46%.


Hold up against Randle, GRIII, and get yours. There are going to be 15-20 minutes when Poythress is on the floor, whereupon Morgan will get whichever starting big is left. With Johnson just too big for Robinson to handle (see: Frank Kaminsky) Michigan probably* doesn't have the option to put Morgan, who is coming off a straight-up domination of Jarnell Stokes, on Randle for the other 25 minutes.

This reads like a problem. It read like a problem against Tennessee until Jeronne Maymon was exposed as a pylon. Michigan's offense has the ability to do the same thing to Randle, who is quicker than Maymon but still decidedly uncomfortable defending the perimeter. Meanwhile, his mistake-eraser is out. Michigan cannot win the rebounding battle in this game; they have to make up for it by using their perimeter quickness to get it back.

*[They could actually try it since Johnson does not have a post game, especially if one of the backup guards is in. But then Johnson is going to have an even easier time of just jumping over someone for a rebound.]

1-3-1 watch. Turnover-prone, assist-light, often-discombobulated gaggle of freshmen that is mediocre from three-point range: Kentucky is an obvious 1-3-1 target. The rebounding looms, as it is wont to do, but it's going to loom anyway. I didn't like its deployment against Texas since Michigan's defense was forcing all manner of horrible shots anyway; against Kentucky it could be a game-swinger.

Zone panic watch. There won't be a zone attempt in this game since Calipari can barely get his guys to play one defense, let alone two. Advantage Michigan?


DEATH FROM ABOVE. Concerns about Michigan being able to deploy their prime weapon against Tennessee were blown away by an 11 for 20 performance against one of the country's stingiest three-point defenses. Kentucky is good but not on Tennessee's level in this department, and it is really easy to see Michigan initiating drives, getting dudes lost via Beilein wizardry, and raining in death from above. It'll be there to take. Michigan can shoot over Kentucky's guys.

As a bonus, death from above from opposition teams tends to lure Kentucky into a machismo battle—NBA all star game, remember—and causes them to launch up long, contested, terrible shots.

Salt. Jordan Morgan has been one man fighting a horde of giants in this tournament and the road gets no easier tomorrow. He will draw Randle on a number of important possessions, and if he can body up like he did against Stokes Randle is going to have a frustrating night. Meanwhile he has to battle Johnson for defensive rebounds and has an opportunity to clean up on the pick and roll and the offensive boards himself, as Kentucky is generally unfamiliar with the concept of a box out.

Take care of the ball. Generally this goes without saying but after some ugly turnovers from Walton, LeVert, and the team as a whole late in the game, I'm going to say it: Michigan needs one of those four turnover games, not a 13 turnover outing. Fortunately they've drawn a Kentucky team that does not steal the ball, playing without their best steal man.


Michigan by one.