1/6/2019 – Michigan 74, Indiana 63 – 15-0, 4-0 Big Ten
Midway through the Penn State game Jordan Poole poked a pass into the PSU backcourt, corralled the ball before it got out of bounds, and attacked PSU's center with a nasty step-through that drew an appreciative "aouww" from play-by-play guy Jason Benetti. Poole got fouled, giving Dan Dakich the opportunity to neatly define Poole's ineffable Poole-ness:
"I guarantee you that he played so much basketball without a coach, or without a ref, or without a scoreboard. Just playing. Where out of bounds is the grass, or out of bounds is the street … there's such a difference between guys who just play and guys who are manufactured by a trainer."
Nobody will ever accuse Jordan Poole of being manufactured. His newly-activated driving game doesn't go in straight lines. It wanders all over the neighborhood like a Family Circus comic, leaving the befuddled in his wake. Watch question marks sprout from the heads of Indiana defenders:
Watch four different Indiana defenders form an honor guard for him as he swoops to the rim:
Watch this guy's best Nick Ward impression:
In one buttoned-down Bob Knight sense that last clip is not the right play. The right play is the kickout to an open 40% three point shooter in the corner. The off the dribble semi-contested jumper is a worse shot. The laws of math say pass. The laws of coaches with slicked-back hair and anger issues say pass.
The laws of basketball demand otherwise, and Jordan Poole is ruled by those and those alone. To not complete the highlight would be the gravest sin. To not take the heat check is unthinkable, because the heat check might go down. And then! And then, well, I mean. You know. The entire arena collapses, overdosed on swag.
This, I think, is what John Beilein meant last year when he said that Poole was a strange player for him to coach. His career has been built by taking limited athletes and drilling them on the basics until they're the kind of regimented outfit that never finishes outside the top 10 in turnover rate. There's a certain mechanical aspect to what Michigan does. This is completely, obviously fine. But with limited exceptions its the system that makes the players go. These days NBA evaluations of Michigan players come with Beilein-is-too-good-at-systems disclaimers.
Poole does stuff that makes your palms itch. Then the shot goes in and you have to pretend that you were on board with the departmental reorganization all along. Yes sir, promoting a technical superstar who's worn the same silvery sweatpants for four years to management is a good idea. Yes sir, that contested NBA three with 20 seconds on the shot clock was within the bounds of the gameplan. Carry on.
You can't yell at a guy for shot selection when he's hitting 60%/47%. Half of those threes are from NBA range. In four Big Ten games Poole is 17/21(!) from two. As the season moves along here his usage is ticking upwards and his efficiency is holding steady.
The swag is approaching uncontained levels. So Poole's a weird guy to coach when you've spent your career being the best fundamentals coach in basketball. But you can't tamp down the swag and expect Poole to remain Poole. A tame unicorn is just a horse.
[After THE JUMP: Brandon Johns reporting for duty]