Death From Above: At Michigan State

Death From Above: At Michigan State Comment Count

Brian February 5th, 2012 at 1:02 AM

[ed: whoops. This was supposed to publish 12 hours ago.]

tom-izzo-michigan-state[1]THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT Michigan at MSU
WHERE Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI
WHEN 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
LINE MSU –10 (Kenpom)


Right: Izzo's permanent expression should Michigan win this game.


Pretty much the same team already covered in the post dedicated to the game at Crisler, with two major exceptions.

Exception one: Draymond Green's knee. Green and Izzo have been telling everyone only death will prevent him from going and he'll be essentially fine. Green's mom keeps popping up in these stories to say less optimistic things, though. The most recent:

“I think he’d play if he still had a crutch,” Babers said.

Green does still have some swelling, she said, and he’s still feeling the effects of the stomach flu that he picked up over the weekend. Babers said she wouldn’t be surprised if Green comes off the bench and plays less than usual Sunday.

While Green's health is important, he's not an electric athlete and is short for a PF, so Michigan's four-guard lineup has been effective against him in the recent past. He struggled to seven points in Crisler earlier this year. If he's limited, Michigan will see a lot more of Branden Dawson.

Dawson's an intimidating athlete who is a horse on the offensive boards and will likely take up a bunch of Green's slack on the other end of the floor if he's replacing him in the lineup. He is not a three point shooter, however, and lacks Green's point forward skills. He's also a freshman and may be vulnerable to defensive lapses against Michigan's complicated offense.

Exception two: Brandon Wood has been booted from the starting lineup in favor of senior walk-on Austin Thornton:

Senior Austin Thornton was told he'll start in Wood's place, with both players finding out about the lineup change halfway trough Friday's practice. … Wood's issues, as Izzo sees them, are mostly on the defensive end. When the 6-foot-2 veteran of four college basketball programs was hitting shots, those deficiencies were somewhat masked.

Michigan scorched MSU's interior defense to win by a point despite ugly outside shooting in the first matchup, so Izzo goes with gritty stereotype and coaches' favorite to staunch the bleeding.

Thornton doesn't provide much offensively aside from three-pointers but he is hitting 40 percent this year on admittedly infrequent attempts. His usage is miniscule; Izzo's plan may not hold up to reality if Green is not effective and he has to find shots.


Since losing to Michigan the first time out MSU has throttled Purdue and Minnesota at home and lost a horrendously ugly game at Illinois by a single point.


Conference four factors:

Factor Offense (Rk) Defense (Rk) Avg
Effective FG%: 53.0 3 43.5 3 49
Turnover %: 19.4 8 18.9 8 20.8
Off. Reb. %: 38.8 1 29.1 3 32.5
FTA/FGA: 34.7 7 34.6 6 36.5

Another notable number: opponents are hitting just 28 percent of their threes in conference play. Despite this, they shoot buckets of them (35%). Opponents don't shoot well from two, either—Michigan's 17 of 24 in the first game much have driven Izzo nuts.


Test Green. Obviously. Michigan should run him around the court as Novak gets a bunch of screens and see how he reacts. Actually they should do that anyway: Novak's inability to get shots off has been a major drag on offensive efficiency.

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE: if Green is fine, go to page 21. If Green is not fine, go to page 25.

PAGE 21. Draymond Green is basically himself. This is bad since MSU has played very well this year and is at home. Unless Michigan gets hot from three it's hard to see them keeping up when they have to fight the usual road woes. Where do the points come from if Michigan is abdicating offensive boards, MSU isn't giving up the relentless parade of easy buckets they did in Ann Arbor, and the free throw line is a rumor?

PAGE 25: Draymond Green is severely limited. This still isn't great but removing Green from the equation puts a lot of pressure on Keith Appling to create all the shots. That's a dicey proposition with Appling 2 of 19 in his last two games and apparently incapable of playing 31 minutes a game without passing out from exhaustion. Travis Trice and Brandon Wood will just about have to split 40 minutes in that event to give Michigan State a second ballhandler. That could lead to additional easy twos for Michigan.

Novak would get to double hard on any post stuff since Dawson is not a shooter, but the downside would be Dawson clubbing Michigan on the boards even more than he is already expected. Defensive rebounding has gone poorly for Michigan the last two times they've played State and a Green injury just means even more time for a dynamic guy on the offensive glass.

Non-Green related items? Non-Green related items.

Hardaway versus Thornton needs to be a win. Hardaway has closed out lackadaisically for much of the year; if he's got a Thornton matchup he needs to close out hard, hard, hard. Thornton's shooting 39% from two and is not much of an assist threat. If he gets an open shot just within the line, fine.

Meanwhile on the other end of the floor, Hardaway needs to be a productive user of the energy he won't be spending on defense. Michigan has not figured out how to get Hardaway effective shots much this year but the above three point defense and Hardaway's cold shooting makes it seem clear what he should do: go inside.

Hope they're not shooting well from outside. Michigan is resigned to giving up a fair number of open threes as they try to fight their lack of size.

Get handsy and take care of the ball. Michigan beat Indiana largely because turnovers were 14-6. With MSU projected to have a huge offensive rebounding advantage, it gets really hard to win if Michigan isn't winning turnovers by a significant amount. Turnovers cannot be rebounded and often lead to good transition shots on the other end.


MSU by ten.


UMHoops preview. on the Aneurysm of Leadership.


Death From Above: At Akron State

Death From Above: At Akron State Comment Count

Brian January 27th, 2012 at 12:57 PM


Jared%2BSullinger%2BOhio%2BState%2BBuckeyes[1]THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT Michigan at North Korea DPR
WHERE Value City Sellout Arena, Columbus, OH
WHEN 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
LINE OSU -17 (Kenpom)



Hmmm. This isn't good. Ohio State is #1 in the Kenpom rankings and not far off with squishy hoo-man voters. Their tempo free individual stats are pretty terrifying.

At the top of the heap is post Jared Sullinger, who is…

  • shooting 61% from 2 on 26% of OSU shots
  • in the top 100 in eFG%
  • getting to the line more than five times per game
  • rebounding almost 30% of opponent misses, fourth nationally
  • not turning the ball over much
  • getting a good number of blocks and steals

/shakes fist at NBA lockout. Okay, right, obvious high lottery pick on the other team. Super. Good thing they don't have…

Oh, right, they do. Seconday scoring comes from senior William Buford and sophomore Deshaun Thomas, both of whom absorb about as many of OSU's shots as Sullinger does. Thomas is actually better than Sullinger on twos (62%, 34% from 3) and almost as efficient overall; Buford has a been a little erratic but still bests Michigan's high usage players in ORtg. While Ohio State puts up very few threes (26%, 317th), if one is going up chances are its one of these two dudes launching it. Buford's hitting 39%. You can't leave these guys alone on the perimeter but neither are you asking for it, Diebler-style.

OSU plays four out, one in most of the time and Buford has to pick up a lot of the defensive rebounding; Thomas and Sullinger crash the boards on offense (along with Sullinger vacuuming up all those opponent misses).

The fourth guy on offense is PG Aaron Craft, a sophomore whose main role is setting up everyone else; his assist rate of 27 is the highest on the team amongst players who see a bunch of time. He doesn't shoot much but is efficient (53% on twos, high free throw rate) when he does. He can be prodded into the occasional three.

Where Craft thrives is on defense. He's by far the Big Ten's best at stealing the ball and his high-pressure defense starts opposing offenses in a hole even when he's not shooting down court for an easy bucket.

Past the big four it's a large array of young role-players. Guard Lenzelle Smith is the only other Buckeye to average over half of available minutes; he is an extremely low-usage player who rebounds, steals, and occasionally snipes from deep. Oddly, his FT% is exactly the same as his three-point percentage: 49%. Low sample size and all, but weird.





OSU only played three top 100 Kenpom teams in the nonconference schedule, beating #13 Florida by 7, crushing Duke by 22 in the Big Ten/ACC challenge, and losing by 11 at Kansas in a game Jared Sullinger missed. They also beat SEC opponent South Carolina by eight; Not That USC also has losses against Elon and Tennessee State. So… yeah. Not good.

OSU's Big Ten schedule has been by far the easiest in the conference to date. Opponents are winning at a 39% clip in games not against Ohio State. The next softest schedules belong to Illinois and PSU at 45%; Michigan opponents are at 48%. This might make you feel a bit better if Ohio State hadn't annihilated all six of their victims. I mean, yeesh:

  • Northwestern: W 87-54
  • Nebraska: W 71-40
  • @ Iowa: W 76-47
  • Indiana: W 80-63
  • @ Nebraska: W 79-45
  • PSU: W 78-54

Their two losses in conference are by four at Indiana and by five at Illinois during the Chris Paul supernova; at home they are winning their Big Ten games by an average of 29 points.


Four factors:

Factor Offense (Rk) Defense (Rk) Avg
Effective FG%: 53.8 26 44.6 36 49
Turnover %: 17.1 16 26.7 5 20.8
Off. Reb. %: 34.9 91 23.6 3 32.5
FTA/FGA: 37.5 146 29.1 31 36.5

Er. That adds up to the country's top defense, something you probably could have extrapolated from the Big Ten scores above, and the #14 offense. Other notable tempo free numbers are a high pace for the Big Ten and a huge quantity of twos launched.


Um, so, like… you can… No, probably not.

Maybe try to… Not likely, that.

If you move it like this and shake it like so and squint really hard? Still kind of seems like a ten point loss even then.

Drat. You said it.

Get insanely hot from three. Hey, maybe. If the random number generators fall right and a bunch of jacked-up three-pointers are dropping, Michigan can stay in contact. Michigan kept it close in a four-point loss at Crisler last year by going 11 of 24 from deep.

Convince Big Ten refs to put two early fouls on Sullinger in a home game. That's the ticket! While you're at it, I would like three on Buford and a pony. A pony made of lemon ice cream.

Make Tim Hardaway a superior defender. THE State University of South of Michigan's two primary non-Sullinger scorers are 6'6" and 6'7" athletes. Stu Douglass will draw one, leaving the other to either Novak or Hardaway. Neither of those seem like a good matchup, but Hardaway is a match for either in terms of length and jumping. Zack "I'm not a very good athlete" Novak may end up repeatedly bashing one in the head until he's ejected.

Unfortunately, Hardaway's athleticism hasn't made him a good defender so far in his career. If he doesn't get lit up 1) I'll be surprised and 2) Michigan will be a lot closer to winning.

Maybe zone? The closest thing to an Achilles heel OSU has is their outside shooting. If a 2-3 or 1-3-1 zone can cut off supply to Sullinger and befuddle Thomas, I'll take the tradeoff given OSU's blistering shooting inside. Luke Winn's latest power rankings* (which are excessively bullish on Michigan) reveal a surprising fact:

This year's Wolverines are heavily man-to-man, though, playing 87.9 percent of their possessions in man according to Synergy.

What's curious is that, in a small sample, Michigan's defense has been much better this year in zone, holding opponents to 0.667 PPP using a combination of 2-3 and 1-3-1, as opposed to 0.856 PPP in man. Beilein seems to be employing the zones as a very effective changeup, in groups of just a few possessions at a time.

If you had asked me about that I would have assumed those numbers were reversed because it seems like going to the 1-3-1 ends up in a dunk or an uncontested corner three most of the time.

They aren't, though, and if Michigan can't match up on OSU's main perimeter scorers maybe they should pack the post with a zone and live and die by OSU three point shooting. This might be the ticket according to Eleven Warriors:

The mixed bag of Buford’s inconsistency to date and the lack of a consistent three point threat to complement Buford on the perimeter and give Sullinger and Thomas more room to operate will most likely be to blame if the Buckeyes fall short of the Final Four.

*[Which also contain a factoid that reinforces my dislike for those long Hardaway two pointers via the lens of Michigan State:

As a team, 26.2 percent of Michigan State's jumpers fell into the Long Two category, and the team converted them at a clip of just 0.682 PPP. This wasn't the only reason the Spartans' offense ranked 62nd in the country in 2010-11, but it was part of it.

This season, the Spartans are being much smarter about their jump-shot selection: Just 17.3 percent of their jumpers are Long Twos. Their two-point field goal percentage has jumped from 46.7 percent last season to 52.9 percent now, and their offense ranks ninth nationally in efficiency.

Death to the long two.]

Watch your pockets, Trey Burke. Maybe get a fanny pack or something for your passport. Burke had one of his poorer performances of the year against lightning-quick Lewis Jackson last time out and now faces a guy who inverts the danger to defense. Free transition buckets are not points Michigan can afford to give up at OSU, and getting into the offense efficiently will be required if Michigan's also-very-good two point shooting is going to keep pace.

Beast up, Morgan. Morgan has been a critical component of Michigan's offense in spurts against Arkansas and Purdue. Unfortunately, he has struggled against Sullinger, averaging just over five points in three meetings last year and getting destroyed on the boards. Sullinger had thirteen offensive rebounds in Michigan games last year to Morgan's three.

Closing that performance gap somewhat is feasible.


OSU by double digits. It seems like there's going to be a horrible run by OSU at some point, whether it's the first five minutes or ten minutes into the second half.


UMHoops talks with Eleven Warriors. Baumgardner on Trey Burke's return home in the colors of the Great Satan. Holdin' the Rope preview.


Death From Above: At Purdue

Death From Above: At Purdue Comment Count

Brian January 24th, 2012 at 4:11 PM

ept_sports_ncaab_experts-527140955-1287505622[1]THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT Michigan at Purdue
WHERE Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, IN
WHEN 7 PM Eastern, 1/24/2012
LINE Purdue -4 (Kenpom)


Michigan starts paying debts incurred during their soft, home heavy opening stretch tonight against perennial tourney participant Purdue. This edition of the Boilers is something less than the Johnson-Moore led teams, which were widely hyped as final four contenders before Robbie Hummel's ACL was the first of all Purdue ACLs to GTFO, starting my favorite elephant-and-ligament-based internet meme:


Hummel will be picking up extra years of eligibility from now to eternity; right now he is a senior and the Boilers' leader. He's the only Purdue player to average more than 70% of available minutes and launches over 31% of his team's shots when he's on the floor. While he hasn't been a terrific shooter (42% on twos, 35% on threes) his extremely low turnover rate makes him an efficient high-volume player.

Diminutive point guard Lewis Jackson and sniper Ryne Smith are the other major parts of the Boiler offense. Jackson is a penetrator and setup man who gets to the line and shoots 52% from two. He isn't much of a three-point shooter but he's too quick for that to affect his game. Trey Burke's played well defensively so far and seems to have the quickness to stay in front of Jackson; if he can prevent the penetration that is the heart of Jackson's game that will go a long way towards slowing the Purdue offense down. Easier said than done.

Smith gets off more than six three-pointers per game and hits 43% of them. That is his role in the offense, full stop. He averages less than a two-point attempt per game.

Guard types Terone Johnson, Kelsey Barlow, Anthony Johnson, and DJ Byrd will also see chunks of time. Barlow is a 6'5" guy who is reasonably efficient with low usage; he gets to the line. He is likely to draw Hardaway defensively; last year he was frustratingly erratic and ended up suspended for "conduct detrimental to the team." Both small forwards seem emotionally volatile, so this matchup could go one way or the other quickly.

Johnson was Purdue's top recruit last year and had a bench role; he succeeds with "aggression." He is an exception to the rule for Purdue:

Of course, the one thing I haven't addressed yet is the abysmal shooting from the Michigan State game. Let's face it: aside from Barlow, Lewis Jackson, and Terone Johnson, we're a jump shooting team. If they are falling, we look good. If Robbie Hummel is 0 for 926,012,965 (approximate) we're not going to look good. Rob looked awful on Saturday and dejected as a whole.

The center position is a platoon of three underclassmen who have ridiculously small usage, very high TO rates, and mainly contribute with offensive rebounding. Hummel is the only other guy on the roster taller than 6'5". Purdue is a short team overall.


Purdue's conference schedule is an eerie inversion of Michigan's, with losses to Wisconsin, Penn State (by 20!), and Michigan State. They have beaten Iowa twice in two attempts, unlike Michigan. Both teams have beaten Minnesota; Purdue also has a win over Illinois.

Their nonconference schedule is kind of eh. They have a few victories over opponents in the bottom half of the Kenpom top top 100 (#61 Iona, #52 Temple, #76 Miami (That Miami)) and losses against #18 Alabama, #51 Xavier, and #133 Butler.


Four factors:

Factor Offense (Rk) Defense (Rk) Avg
Effective FG%: 50.3 130 47.6.0 125 49
Turnover %: 14.8 1 21.9 113 20.8
Off. Reb. %: 33.3 142 31.2 114 32.5
FTA/FGA: 36.8 158 37.6 206 36.5

Purdue is middling at everything except taking care of the ball, at which they are the best in the country. Other tempo free stats that jump out are terrible free-throw shooting (63%), poor three-point defense, and a somewhat high rate of threes.


Hello more Douglass. Horford is still out so expect more small lineups featuring Stu Douglass against a team that is pretty small and appears to ignore their posts offensively.

Somebody other than Novak shoot straight. Or get it to Novak, but he's never going to be a huge usage guy. Michigan's two point shooting has still been pretty good in the tougher section of the schedule. The bleeding is coming from three, where Evan Smotrycz, Tim Hardaway, and to a lesser extent Matt Vogrich and Douglass are renovating Crisler brick by brick. Hardaway is averaging almost six threes a game and hitting 27%. Smotrycz has dropped ten points off his three point shooting in an awful slump; Douglass is at 33%, Vogrich 23%.

I'm not sure how much of that is random chance and how much of it is poor shot selection, but the trend is clear. Michigan is a terrific two-point-shooting team and launches 44% of their shots from three. That's just the offense. Michigan has to start hitting. There's not really another option.

Except for Hardaway. Hardaway has options. Good God, man, you are 6'5" and can jump out of the gym. Go to the hoop. I want Hardaway to commit a charge per game from here on out. If he gets an open three, fine, but no more of this contested jack stuff. His shot selection is becoming getting reminiscent of Manny Harris.

Watch Hummel self-destruct, or just destruct. Purdue's coming off a hammering at the hands of Michigan State in which Robbie Hummel went 0 of 11 from the floor. If that happens again Purdue is not winning. That is not going to happen again. Hopefully this won't, either:


Hummel has been very good against Michigan in the past and will be in the friendly confines of Mackey; do not expect a repeat.

If you're getting the vibe that terrible shooting from people you think are good shooters has plagued both teams, well, yeah. Whoever ends up losing this game is going to sink further into their ice-cold funk.

Keep Jackson out of the lane. As I said above, easier said than done but if Burke can D Jackson up like he did Jordan Taylor that is huge.


Purdue by 4.


Previews abound. Choose from Hammer and Rails, UMHoops, and Holding The Rope. The Purdue-oriented preview doesn't distinguish between offensive rebounding and defensive, so maybe not that one.


Death From Above: Arkansas

Death From Above: Arkansas Comment Count

Brian January 20th, 2012 at 3:42 PM

THE ESSENTIALS85408489.jpg.21417.0_crop_340x234[1]

WHAT Michigan at Arkansas
WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville, AR
WHEN 2 PM Eastern, 1/21/2012
LINE M –2 (Kenpom)
TV National on CBS


Despite a relatively shiny 13-5 record, Kenpom ranks the Razorbacks Michigan's third-easiest opponent left this season ahead of only Nebraska and Penn State. As we'll see in the next section, that's because Arkansas has played few good teams and beaten none of them.

I happened to flip on the TV after the State game Tuesday and was serendipitously presented with the Arkansas-Kentucky game. Unfortunately, the huge talent mismatch and Arkansas's insistence on pressing made my observations brief and not very useful:

  • Good god, Anthony Davis.
  • Trey Burke shouldn't have any problem breaking this press.
  • Jesus, that guy's arms make him look like a dinosaur. Also he seems to be dunking on every possession.
  • Arkansas has a guy who kind of looks like Joakim Noah.
  • I think the Pistons should try to lose the rest of their games this year…
  • …not like you can tell the difference between Dumars doing that and trying to win these days.
  • The only thing more impressive than Anthony Davis's arms is his unibrow.

And so on.

1004333[1]If Arkansas was futilely trying to press Kentucky despite the rain of Davis dunks it produced you can rest assured they will do the same against Michigan, which has not broken a press in a way that would threaten the defense yet this year. Their offense thrives on transition and bogs down considerably when forced into the halfcourt, so they've got to try to prop up their top-30 steal rate or the offense is reduced to "Please do something, BJ Young." (@ right. Via Hawgs Illustrated.)

Young is a freshman taking over 30% of Arkansas shots when he's on the floor. He shoots 42% from 3, 56% from two, and has a decent assist rate. He does not get to the line much and he turns the ball over too much. Even so he is impressively efficient for a high-volume scorer. Unfortunately for Arkansas, their 40-minutes-of-hell style limits his minutes. No Arkansas player averages more than 70% of available playing time and Young, their go-to guy, only gets 59%.

Arkansas's other efficient players are sophomore sniper Madarcus Wade, a near-50% three-point shooter on more than four attempts a game, and platooning senior forward Marvell Waithe. Both are low usage types.

Aside from Wade and Young, Arkansas has some hugely ineffective three point shooters. Rickey Scott is 3 of 34 on the year, Rashad Madden 10 of 37. The amazingly named* Julysses Nobles is hitting a third of his attempts; he is really struggling within the arc.

Overall, it looks pretty simple: deal with Young and don't let Wade get good looks at that basket. Any relatively contested shot by someone other than those two is a good one.

*[Arkansas is a strong contender for Name Of The Year National Champions. Wade, Waithe, and Nobles are all positives, and then you've got Devonta Abron and Hunter Mickelson.]


There isn't much of one. Arkansas played only two Kenpom top 100 foes in their nonconference schedule and lost both. Those were @ UConn by 13 and @ Oklahoma by 15. They also dropped a "Semi-home" game against #209 Houston, currently 1-4 in CUSA. The rest of their nonconference schedule was against low majors. Positives include a win over #115 Charlotte and beat common opponent Oakland 91-68 early in the year.

They do have a couple of a decent wins at home in the SEC, beating Mississippi State and LSU by about ten points at home. They lost at Ole Miss, however, and are coming off a 23-point scalding at the hands of Kentucky that wasn't even as close as that.


Four factors:

Factor Offense (Rk) Defense (Rk) Avg
Effective FG%: 49.0 170 44.7 37 49
Turnover %: 18.3 45 24.6 25 20.8
Off. Reb. %: 33.8 122 36.2 294 32.5
FTA/FGA: 39.4 99 33.4 114 36.5

These should be taken in light of the Arkansas schedule.

The other thing that leaps out from the stat sheet is pace. Michigan remains one of the country's slowest teams; Arkansas is one of the country's fastest. This is partially because of their pressing style. It is also a dedication to running in any conceivable situation: look at those awful defensive rebounding numbers compiled against mostly low-major short stuffs. Razorbacks will bail for cherry-picking opportunities at any opportunity.

This presents an interesting dilemma for Michigan: get back to deny transition opportunities or try to pound the boards. Survey says the former.


Go small again? This seems like a game where having Stu Douglass available to check a huge-usage perimeter player is a good idea. Arkansas has four guys over 6-8 who each average about 40% of available minutes so about half the time Arkansas is playing only one of them, leaving Novak with a matchup against a similarly-sized player.

Going small has other benefits. It adds another ballhandler against the press, and reduces the defensive workload of Michigan's most important offensive player. With Smotrycz struggling  and Arkansas the worst-rebounding team on both ends of the floor in SEC play I'm betting on another Douglass start.

Feel free to sag off most players. Whoever has Wade needs to stick with him; when he's out of the game Michigan can collapse off the other guards without getting hurt much. This is something Michigan has done a lot of this year to the detriment of their three-point percentages; this doesn't seem like an opponent where they'll get burned by leaving their Thornton-equivalents to help in the post.

Limit Wade shots. He's already low usage. He can be taken out of the game entirely, and then Arkansas's offensive efficiency really starts hurting.

Don't get baited into their pace. Michigan is not a good transition team and should keep it cool.

Win turnovers. Immovable object versus irresistible force matchup here. Michigan thrives on avoiding turnovers; Arkansas thrives on creating them. Whichever strength wins out here is likely the difference.

Hardaway bad idea shot count: three or less. Go to the hoop, please.


Michigan by 2.

Etc.: a composite schedule put together by RCMB poster Andy_H shows the difficult road Michigan has ahead:


Click for big. Michigan has a more road-titled schedule than anyone in the league and they're currently tied for the most difficult league schedule with a couple other teams. Revel in YOUR FIRST PLACE MICHIGAN WOLVERINES while you can.

UMHoops preview. Ditto from Holdin' the Rope. Rush the Court breaks down the Arkansas press.


Death From Above: Michigan State

Death From Above: Michigan State Comment Count

Brian January 17th, 2012 at 12:46 PM



A quality Michigan State team is brutalist architecture, all extruded concrete and towering bureaucracy. There is a rebounding tax for every possession. There is a paint tax. There is a three-point tax. There is never, ever a refund and you must get that basket stamped in triplicate.

This has transpired this year. The next section has all the numbers, but rest assured that this is a team that will brutalize you on the boards and pound you on the interior on both ends of the floor. Hope you like Blake McLimans, because Jordan Morgan will have two fouls in the first five minutes.

Anyway. The MSU offense runs through senior point-forward-type-guy Draymond Green and sophomore PG Keith Appling, who is currently in the midst of a Morris-like second-year leap. You probably know about Green: he's a roly-poly shortish post with great range (41% from three) and court vision. He is a monster rebounder, grabbing 25% of opponent misses when he's on the floor and 9% of his team's whiffs.

Appling has been a revelation after a freshman year during which he was mostly a defensive specialist. He's shooting 52% from two, gets to the line, and has an excellent assist rate; while his turnovers are a bit of a problem he adds up to an efficient, high-usage player on the whole.

There is no clear third banana a la Smotrycz. Instead there is a horde of six players averaging at least 45% of MSU's minutes who are not the stars. They are:

  • Valpo grad-year transfer Brandon Wood. Kind of sucks for Valpo that they lose the best player in their league before his senior season; Wood is a good three point shooter who is also hitting nearly 60% from within the arc; he has a solid assist rate, low turnovers, and cracks the top 100 in Kenpom O-rating.
  • Derrick Nix and Adriean Payne, the two-headed center. Collectively they rebound 12% of MSU misses, which is a lot. Their offense is Morgan-like: high efficiency shots someone else gets them or they generate with offensive rebounds. Straight post-ups are more frequent than they are in the Michigan offense. They are still not frequent.
  • Freshman burlywing Branden Dawson, another punishing offensive rebounder with low usage outside of putbacks. He's not Green—he does not shoot 3s and is hitting 59% of his FTs—but he's just a freshman.
  • Freshman Travis Trice, a combo guard who is MSU's best three-point shooter but has struggled inside the line.
  • Senior gritty gritterson Austin Thornton. Low usage, bad shooting, inexplicably high FT rate.

MSU's steady diet of putbacks evens out usage numbers into a great flat plain after Green, FWIW.

So, yeah. This is a large team that crashes all of the boards and has great eFG numbers on both ends of the floor. Surprise!


Kenpom loves MSU almost as much as Wisconsin and for the same reasons: pounding blowouts of bad teams. MSU against low majors has equaled 35, 22, 32, 42, 20, 14, and 35-point wins. That's not quite as dominant but MSU hasn't started the Big Ten slate off 3-3, so people aren't asking Pomeroy annoying questions about them.

Their four factors are so Izzo:

Stat Offense(Rk) Defense(Rk) NCAA avg
Effective FG%: 52.7 (48) 43.5 (23) 48.9
Turnover %: 20.0 (134) 21.3 (143) 20.8
Off. Reb. %: 39.4 (13) 27.0 (16) 32.5
FTA/FGA: 39.8 (97) 35.3 (147) 36.6

Crawl a bit deeper and you get even further down the Izzo hole: a block percentage of 14% places them in the top 30; they are shooting just 27% of their shots from 3. They yield a ton of low-quality long shots because going inside… eh… not the best idea.


State has bounced back from their disappointing season of a year ago, whipping off a 15-game win streak after opening the season with a noncompetitive loss to North Carolina (ON A BOAT) and a five-point loss to Duke that wasn't much more competitive than Michigan's. Then they waded into the usual array of teams starting a one-armed Prussian who died in 1894 at center, and crushed them all.

Amongst the Prussians were two quality teams. MSU whipped FSU at home in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and won by seven at Gonzaga. Those teams are 28th and 29th in the Kenpom rankings, FWIW; Michigan is 35th.

In conference, MSU has home wins over Iowa (by a ton) and Indiana (by 15), road wins against Nebraska and Wisconsin (the latter in OT). Their most recent outing was a seven-point loss to Northwestern that made Michigan fans feel a lot better about the usual debacle that transpires whenever Michigan visits Carver-Hawkeye.



Yeah, that's basically [SCREW YOUR FIRST NAME SPELLING ARGH] Payne.

For the love of God, rebound. Obscured in the Morris get-off-my-flooring last year was the fact that MSU—surprise!—brutalized Michigan on the boards. At Crisler, State rebounded 38% of their misses while allowing M just 12% of theirs. While things were considerably more even in East Lansing, MSU still had a 26%-22% edge.

Now that MSU has repaired the horrendous backcourt situation that turned last year into a struggle, there is no way in the thousand hells Craig James is destined for that Michigan wins the game if they are blown out like the last time these two teams met at Crisler.

The good news for Michigan is they're suddenly a quality defensive rebounding team… as long as Smotrycz is on the floor. About that…

For the love of God, stay out of foul trouble. With Horford out the only backup with any size is Blake McLimans. While he's been serviceable in short bursts lately, his usage is minuscule and Michigan often goes small with Smotrycz at the five when Morgan gets in trouble (or Smotrycz gets in trouble). I can't imagine that's an option against MSU's extruded concrete. The over/under on McLimans minutes in this game is 15. I'm betting on the over.

If Smotrycz is the guy who's out that either puts Novak on Green—actually more plausible than most Novak-PF matchups—or forces McLimans and Morgan on the court simultaneously, whereupon one of them will pick up three fouls in ten seconds. Either of these things seems to be asking for it.

Find a way to generate shots off of something other than the pick and roll. Curl screens for Hardaway, Burke driving to the bucket to dish, Smotrycz shooting over the smaller Green, Morgan… uh… watching other people generate shots… something. Because MSU will hedge just as hard as everyone else has and then it's one-armed backwards three-pointer time.

Tim Hardaway, Jr.: go to the basket. Wot it says on the tin. Also, if you could rebound like a mofo that would be good.


State by four.

BONUS heebie-jeebies: this may be the effect of the last couple games overriding reason but, man, I am not confident here. I think the matchups overrule the numbers and Michigan's shooting from the interior will be ugly, which means three-point shooters can be covered with impunity, and… like… the boards. The boards after the inevitable big man foul trouble. /cowers

Etc: UMHoops preview and chat with TOC; the return post over at TOC.


Death From Above: Northwestern

Death From Above: Northwestern Comment Count

Brian January 11th, 2012 at 3:49 PM

PROLOGUE. I kind of feel like I have to preview football games because if I didn't what's to stop this blog from evolving into a version of Bring Your Champions, They're Our Meat with a focus on obscure old videogames instead of European history. Which wouldn't be awful, per se, but wouldn't be a job either.

This existential necessity does not exist for basketball games and previous attempts at regular previews have mostly not said anything super interesting because what is there to say? We shoot the three and then we burn.

But… but… like… there we go with the existential necessity. So. I'm not making any promises, but here is a preview-type substance previewing tonight's game against Northwestern in the hoopythrowsport.



Shurna also has a recurring role on the Simpsons

Northwestern remains the maddening province of Bill Carmody and his one inexplicably good player per year surrounded by insane shootists. Sometimes the shootists are insanely good; sometimes they are lunatic foreigners who have never made a three but will not be dissuaded from trying.

This year's inexplicably good player is John Shurna. Shurna:

  • plays nearly 90% of Northwestern's minutes
  • shoots nearly 30% of Northwestern's shots
  • hits 42% from 3 and 47% from 2
  • is extremely responsible with the ball
  • kind of looks like an albatross with a broken arm when he shoots.

He's a 6-9 Beilein power forward who Evan Smotrycz will likely guard. Michigan should run at him hooting like maniacs to force him off the three point line.

This year Northwestern has another excellent player: 6'5" wing Drew Crawford. He is at 43% on 67 attempts from 3 and is shooting 56% from inside the arc. He never ever turns the ball over, maintains a usage not quite as huge as Shurna's but still dang impressive, and also is on the floor for 35+ minutes a night.

Their shootists are a trio of no-usage short stuffs who never take twos and collectively average around 37%. Their uniforms read Sobolewski, Hearn, and Marcotullio. The lunatic foreigner is Luka Mirkovic, who's 0 for 9 from three this year and is a typical Northwestern big, which means NU sucks at rebounding.

Note that unlike Beilein, Carmody has stuck with the 1-3-1; expect to see it for big chunks of the game.


Northwestern is a version of Michigan in many respects:

FOUR FACTORS Offense Defense
Effective FG%: 53.0 51 48.8 178
Turnover %: 15.5 5 21.3 150
Off. Reb. %: 25.5 329 34.1 234
FTA/FGA: 32.0 265 30.2 55

They shoot well, rarely turn it over, suck on the boards, don't get to the line, and play mediocre defense. Michigan's versions of these numbers are very similar with one exception: rebounding. Michigan sucks way less at it, to the point where they're actually very good (25th!) defensively. They're a bit below average offensively. Michigan turns it over quite a bit more and shoots it better; they're a more aggressive, more athletic version of the Wildcats.

They're 65th in Kenpom. Michigan is currently 26th. Kenpom projects a nine-point M victory.


NU played four Kenpom top 100 nonconference opponents and went 2-2, beating LSU and Seton Hall while losing to Baylor (by 28!) and Creighton. They also beat GT, the Penn State of the ACC, by 16. In the Big Ten they were annihilated at OSU, easily beat turrible Penn State at home, and lost a nailbiter to Illinois at home. They had a couple close shaves against poor teams, but Michigan is in no place to criticize that particular  flaw.


Evan Smotrycz: your help defense is not required. I will go "ooooooh" like Yosemite Sam if Shurna gets an open three because Smotrycz is sagging off of him. If Shurna beats M, let it be from two-point range.

Going small may be to your benefit. Against the 1-3-1 having another ballhandler will help pick it apart, and it's not like Mirkovich is going to go off for 20 or whatever.

Tim Hardaway's inner Trey Burke. Hardaway is not a very good defensive player and will get a challenge from Crawford. Hopefully he can step up like Burke did against Jordan Taylor.


Michigan by nine.

Etc.: Rothstein on the Shurna/Smotrycz comparisons.