2/9/2019 – Michigan 61, Wisconsin 52 – 22-2, 11-2 Big Ten
I'm a person who looks a at lot of box scores. I look at a lot of tempo-free box scores, and a lot of bonus stats derived from play-by-play data, and then I watch the basketball. The thing that continually surprises me is just how neatly most basketball players can be defined by a deep enough dive into box score stats.
Just Shooters are just shooters. D'Mitrik Trice is a great example: he has about 10% of his shots at the rim, shoots a fair number of unassisted threes, and that is enough to paint a picture of Trice's offense exact enough to define him. In the last game the sheer loneliness of Geo Baker was neatly captured by his teammate's assist rate on his twos: under 5%. Ethan Happ, surely one of the most bizarre players in the last 20 years of college basketball, is a butterfly pinned to a board once tempo-free stats are applied.
Most of it is in there. Stats don't capture Simpson's sky hook or Charles Matthews's colossal leaping fadeaways, but they'll tell you the what and a lot of the how.
Charles Matthews's "what" has been wut:
I probably don't need to remind anyone reading this column of the above, specifically the bit that says 27%. It was 24% before this game.
The dissolution of Matthews's despair came gradually—he had two points in the first half—and then all at once. A second-half Matthews post-up got him to the rim, and hooray. The next possession, Matthews post up, Matthews elects to take a contested fadeaway baseline jumper. I did not think that was going in. It did. I didn't think the next one was going in, either. It did. So did the next one, and by the end of the game there was only one person who was going to take the bad-idea shot after Michigan ran the shot clock down. That, too, was a long fadeaway jumper. Swish.
Sure, what the hell. There's no reason Matthews's jumper fell apart this year so there's no reason it can't come back.
If combined with offensive contributions from anyone else, a consistent offensive output from Matthews gets Michigan back to what they were earlier in the season, when they were able to run away and hide from good teams. At Villanova: 19 points on 16 shot equivalents, run away and hide. Vs UNC: 21 points on 16 shot equivalents, run away and hide. There have been blips and bloops since but nothing resembling his finishing stretch last year.
It's hard to square the version of Matthews Michigan has had much of the season with the guy who was banging out a string of efficient tourney performances. Last year's post-season ORTGs: 120, 108, 130, 97, 90, 97, 138, 103, 120, and then a dud in the final: 47. Matthews seemed to be rounding into the final collegiate version of himself, a guy who wasn't ever going to rack up MVP numbers but would be a consistent source of moderately efficient points that Michigan could count on and build off of.
Instead a mid-season drought Atcaman in its intensity.
Matthews has cut his turnovers down and become a functional free throw shooter at the same time so his overall efficiency has been more or less what it was a year ago. But you do want more, because when he hits one of those fadeaways where he jumps so high his head's level with the rim he's a marvel. Matthews alternates between being "Bambi on ice," as Beilein famously described him, and looking like a robot hawk designed to kill God and play basketball. Sometimes when you're on, as the man said.
If Michigan could just bottle that Matthews and mass produce it for 12 or 13 or 16 games down the stretch… but no. Probably not. Matthews is riding back-to-back reasonably efficient games against major competition for the first time all year. There will be oscillations, like there are with Poole and Brazdeikis, and Michigan will hope to ride the waves such that they're able to navigate to post-season destinations.
[After THE JUMP: Happ comes back to the pack]