Let's Start Again: Small Forward

Let's Start Again: Small Forward

Submitted by Brian on April 13th, 2018 at 1:27 PM

An irregular series about next year's basketball team. Previously: point guard, shooting guard.

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

ROSTER

Charles Matthews (Jr.*): 25% usage and 102 ORTG has to be some sort of somethin' for Beilein-era players. NBA athlete, superior defender. Not currently on NBA radars because of shooting deficiencies.

Ignas Brazdeikis (Fr.): 19 YO Canadian would be top 40 recruit if folks ranked him. Gets buckets.

Adrien Nunez (Fr): Just A Shooter but at 6'5" can plausibly defend the 3.

I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS

How close is Matthews to his ceiling?

The last time Michigan had a starter with an ORTG around Matthews's 101.6, Zak Irvin was scuffling through a 48/30 season; the team trundled to a 23-13 record and a First Four tourney bid. The most recent edition of Michigan did a lot better… but it would be nice if Matthews could turn it around. Irvin added ~8 ORTG points as a senior, for a target. There's good news and bad news here as Matthews attempts to match that.

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1 TO vs Houston and most of the rest of the tourney schedule [JD Scott]

The good news: "Turnover" Matthews may have run steps when redshirting and frustrated fans to no end during his rough stretch in the middle of the season, but… actually, a 16.5 TO rate from a 25% usage guy isn't horrendous. God Himself Donte DiVincenzo had a TO rate of 16.9 on 23% usage. Various Big Ten non-Cs with a worse TO rate than Matthews last year include Jae'Sean Tate, Cassius Winston, Jaren Jackson, Brad Davison, Bryant McIntosh, Trent Frazier—none of whom matched Matthews's usage.

Matthews's problem was that at one point his TO rate was horrendous and his vector was pointing the wrong way:

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A series of increasingly disastrous games pushed his season TO rate to 19.2 by late February, and it got uglier once you dropped the tomato cans. It was around this time certain bloggers started pleading to move whatever usage was available from Matthews to Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, a man so allergic to turnovers that he explodes if he enters a bakery.

Michigan did this, and things immediately got better. The MAAR Accessories game against Maryland saw Mathews use 21% of Michigan's possessions, his lowest output since early January. Michigan blew the doors off, Matthews turned it over just twice, and the stage was set. The graph above turned into this:

image

And even the five TO blip against Montana came about largely because a desperate Michigan funneled Matthews 31% usage in terrible end-of-clock situations. (Also one of his three TOs against Villanova should been charged to Ibi Watson.)

This looks like a genuinely changed player. 11 games against tourney-ish competition (and Iowa!) is probably the toughest stretch of Michigan's season, and while Matthews's usage did drop into role player territory during the Big Ten Tournament he re-emerged into a >20 player in the Large Dance without ill effect despite Michigan playing Houston, Texas A&M, Loyola-Chicago, and Villanova—all top 20 Ds.

Another year in the same system and with the same relentless attention to detail should only improve Matthews's ability to not boot the ball into the crowd. While his finishing run is optimistic it's closer to what he should do in 2018-19 than his previous output.

[After THE JUMP: (relative) bad news and backups]

The 2017-18 Basketball Season In Photos

The 2017-18 Basketball Season In Photos

Submitted by Ace on April 10th, 2018 at 11:26 AM

Ed-Ace: Our primary basketball photographer and #1 MGoFrenchman Marc-Gregor Campredon put together this look back at the season in photos. I've made some minor edits but left it in MG's voice—he has a way with words that I don't want to disrupt. Without further ado...

Part 1

Et voila: The first month of 2018 seasons in photos with some dull opponent (I did not say boring) and some very good ones!

Oh, I took the liberty to illustrate the away game with others games images because I will never pass on the op’ to showcase our work.

If not precise with another’s name photographs are by Marc-Gregor Campredon! Quotes are from the game recap mostly by Ace but also by many other talented guys.

Exhibition vs Grand Valley State victory 82-50

Teske’d !

vs North Florida victory 86-66

Robinson is elated while dunking.

vs Central Michigan victory 72-65

“It's me again, the guy who tells you not to pay too close attention to the final score”.

Charles Matthews is already a solid starter for Michigan.

vs Southern Mississippi victory 61-47

“Michigan's coaches and players started calling sophomore Jon Teske "Big Nasty." They hoped that would replace "Big Sleep".”

Teske’d again – It will never gets old.

The tourney in Hawaii

vs LSU defeat 75-77

“It took the team most of the first half to find this offense, however, and they strayed from it at times in the second; I'm excited about the future of a team that makes this their identity.”

Already, a lot’s of John Beilein is emerging in Yaklich.

vs Chaminade victory 102-64

“Poole looked good in his first extended action, doing what he's supposed to do: get buckets (…) He should cut into Ibi Watson's minutes if he keeps hitting jumpers.”

Toat's m'goats

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the season in photos.]

Michigan 69, Loyola Chicago 57, One More Game

Michigan 69, Loyola Chicago 57, One More Game

Submitted by Ace on March 31st, 2018 at 9:56 PM


Moe Wagner made history with his performance tonight. [Bryan Fuller]

We just had to believe.

Believe in the Moe Wagner First Three-Pointer Corollary. Believe in Luke Yaklich's defense. Believe that Zavier Simpson wouldn't have the worst game of his life for every last minute. Believe that these damn shots would eventually fall. Believe in the Ironclad Law of Duncan Robinson's Six. Believe in John Beilein.

Our beliefs were tested. Michigan shot out of the gate, gaining an early 12-4 edge, before a well-coached Loyola squad started outplaying them. The switching Ramblers defense kept the Wolverines from getting into their usual sets. On the other end, Loyola combined dizzying off-ball motion with strong post-ups from center Cameron Krutwig. While Wagner was a force, tallying 11 points and 11 boards at halftime, he received almost no help. Charles Matthews churned out eight points on 3-for-8 shooting. Backup center Jon Teske made his lone attempt. Nobody else on the team had a bucket.

While Michigan's poor outside shooting wasn't anything new this tournament, the same couldn't be said for the seven-point halftime deficit, nor the simultaneous disappearing acts of Robinson, Simpson, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. The Wolverines had been able to grind out wins without one or two of those players in top form; getting nothing out of all three would be tough to overcome.


The exclamation point. [Fuller]

Ever so slowly, Wagner and friends worked their way back in the second half. Ever so slowly. The margin remained at seven at the first media timeout and climbed to eight on a pair of Clayton Custer free throws out of the second. With the outside shots still clanging iron and Simpson looking entirely out of sorts, Beilein turned to his bench, subbing in Teske and Jordan Poole. With ten seconds of entering the game, Poole drove baseline for a layup. Shortly thereafter, Poole grabbed a defensive rebound in traffic, pushed the pace, and the ball worked around to Robinson for a three-pointer—quite notably, his second, reaching the magic six-point mark while cutting the deficit to three.

Poole, fully at home taking center stage in the Final Four, kept seeking out buckets. After another board, he went coast-to-coast for a tough layup. Wagner knotted the game a minute later by backing out of a double-team and launching a three-pointer right over it. Poole took his the next turn, giving Michigan its first lead of the second half at the line with 6:20 to play.

"The Drip Boys are full of swag, that's what they call themselves," said Matthews. "They bring instant energy, especially this kid here [Poole]. This is my roommate, so I've got my hands tied with him the whole trip long."

In closing time, Beilein went with his go-to guys. Simpson came back in for Simmons, rediscovered his defense, and kept the ball moving without those unsightly turnovers. Matthews hit a gorgeous reverse layup off a sharp pass from Wagner after taking a quick breather. Abdur-Rahkman got Michigan's lead up to double digits with a tough runner, only his second basket of the game, that all but ended the game with 2:13 to play. Sister Jean got a head start up the tunnel right around the time Matthews hammered home the final nail.


How many more, Jordan? [Fuller]

This was, above all, a career-defining performance by Wagner, who finished with 24 points on 17 shot equivalents, 15 rebounds (six offensive), an assist, and three steals. That stat line put him among Hall of Fame company: Larry Bird and Hakeem Olajuwon are the only other players to record 20 points and 15 rebounds in a national semifinal.

"Wow," said Wagner upon hearing that fact. "If you put it like that, it's probably cool. But to be honest, I kept looking possession by possession, we had trouble scoring the first half. We scored 22 points and that was kind of the only way we found our way to the basket, grab offensive rebounds and get second-shot opportunities. And I honestly just tried to do my job. The shots were falling the second half. It's a lot more fun when the ball goes through the net."

Wagner also played one of his best defensive games; while Krutwig went 7-for-11 from the field, he also coughed up six turnovers, and Wagner committed only one foul—of paramount importance in a game the Wolverines needed all 36 of his brilliant minutes.

Michigan's now-usual stifling defense handled the rest until the offense finally clicked late. Just don't tell the Wolverines they just knocked off Cinderella.

"We never looked at the team as a Cinderella team," said Matthews. "It's like 300-something Division I teams, and they're one of the last four standing. That's no Cinderella story. We respected them and we knew we had to come out and execute against them."

It took a lot of patience and faith in the system, but it ultimately paid off in Michigan's second trip to the NCAA championship game in six years. The winner of Villanova-Kansas awaits on Monday night.

"Everybody is really happy," said Beilein. "And we're ready to move on to the next game, whoever it is."

[Hit THE JUMP for more photos and the box score.]

Bricklayers

Bricklayers

Submitted by Brian on March 26th, 2018 at 2:01 PM

3/22/2018 – Michigan 99, Texas A&M 72 – 31-7, Elite Eight
3/24/2018 – Michigan 58, Florida State 54 – 32-7, Final Four

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[Patrick Barron]

Michigan's games this week had little in common with each other. One was a delightful firebombing that was all but over by the second commercial break; the other was a tense defensive chess match. (For a given definition of chess.) Michigan shot a gorillion from three, and then reverted to that bad old Wichita stuff where you might as well hand out blindfolds and cigarettes. Michigan's efficiency stars emerged and then evaporated.

The common thread, such as it was, between both wins: the bricklayers. The guys who have flung free throws at the basket with the smoothness of a man with a basketball lodged in his esophagus attempting to aim a Heimlich maneuver. It was the universal consensus of the Michigan fanbase—both the crazed and somewhat less-than-crazed wings—that the season would end in what-if disappointment when several critical free throws down the stretch hit the underside of the backboard. Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews would be the likely perpetrators. This was okay-ish in a year that seemed headed for the NIT when Michigan was down 15 to UCLA, but You Just Cannot Win Basketball Games Like That. But we braced for a what-if.

I was amongst these people, and you're lying if you say you weren't, too. When Florida State whittled down a ten point lead into a shot to tie largely thanks to missed front ends, that prophecy loomed almost as large in my mind as "No Scrubs," which has been a permanent resident since we put it on a podcast a week ago. Even Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, the laser-eyed hero of the Maryland game, has seemingly contracted the bug. Many thoughts flit back and forth when a very important basketball game is in the balance, and only in the aftermath can you hope to sort out the rational from the paranoid and insane.

In the repose of a Monday, it seems that a good way to win basketball games is to suck at free throws and be up ten anyway. Or 20. 20 is preferable.

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[Barron]

TJ Starks had no idea. Even afterward, he had no idea. You can maybe forgive a brash statement or two after he put up 21 in an A&M blowout of the defending national champion. Can't expect every 18-year-old point guard's browser to autofill the "enpom.com" after typing in a K. "Unguardable," he said, in a press conference, and the papers duly printed these words in big letters, because they were bold and silly.

I like to think that Zavier Simpson found out about this because he has a DAMN FOOL OPENS MOUTH Google Alert, but probably one of the student managers sent it to him. I like to think the student manager has a THIS MIGHT ANGER ZAVIER tab folder or instasnap folio or whatever it is the kids are using. This seems far more likely. I like to think that there's one guy on the team that continually shows Simpson tweets from six months ago, and that after TJ Starks had a press conference he fist-pumped and took a two-hour vacation for the first time in a month.

And I like to think that when the student manager showed Simpson the silly quote that he had no reaction except for a slight nostril flare.

A few days later, Starks is holding his own intestines as he asserts that he still feels unguardable. "Do you still feel unguardable?" is kind of a rude question to ask a guy who is holding his own intestines. But ask they do, and Starks answers in the affirmative, and… okay. You know what, actually? As a Michigan fan, thanks.

That went right in the folder. Even after a 38 ORTG, 2/11, 1 assist, 5 TO night during which Simpson set a personal best with six steals—five of which were during the first half blitz that turned the second half into a rote exercise—it went in the folder. Not acknowledging what happened might help you; it certainly causes nostrils to flare.

A couple days later a presumably-still-furious Simpson did (most of) this to FSU's two point guards:

  • CJ Walker: 2 points on 4 shot equivalents, 0 assists, 3 TOs, 35 ORTG
  • Trent Forrest: 7 points on 8 shot equivalents, 2 A, 2 TO, 89 ORTG

Simpson finished his weekend by anticipating a desperate FSU three as the clock ran down and getting his hand on yet another ball, forcing a guy who wasn't even his man into a desperation heave that was nowhere close.

Also he missed a couple free throws.

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[Barron]

I had no idea. Even afterward: no idea. There were no brash statements about Charles Matthews, really, just assertions that maybe he shouldn't be Michigan's highest-usage player if he's going to turn the ball over buckets—assertions that didn't seem that controversial as Michigan moved usage to Abdur-Rahkman so that he could set New York City alight. But you never know when something's going to click.

So a couple possessions after Charles Matthews got a drive swatted into the crowd by one of A&M's twin towers, he went in again. Up fake, large man jumps into crowd himself, easy finish. From there Matthews took the lead role as Michigan blunted every one of A&M's attempts to get back in the game—or even get it under 20. He drove by the third 6'10" guy, stopped in the lane, and took one of those jumpers where he's eye-to-eye with the rim. He drove through traffic, and put up eight twos that he mostly generated himself, and finished the game with just one turnover.

The resurgence of November Charles Matthews was a B plot in a blowout. It took two days and two minutes for it to pay off. Everyone has a plan until a seven-foot Nigerian comes from the three-point line to block your layup. In the aftermath you might look at the basket like it was suddenly a dangerous thing. Michigan certainly did. Their offense bogged down almost immediately as the shock of Florida State's length settled in. It's one thing to talk about it and practice for it and entirely another when you encounter it for the first time.

Here we should probably use Matthews's full name. Charles Matthews The Kentucky Transfer was the only player Michigan had who was not shocked by Florida State's athleticism. He'd spent a year getting roasted by five stars in Lexington, and knew what it was to go up against five guys with ten guys worth of arms. He kept Michigan afloat in the first half. Hell, he hit his first four free throws to aid the cause. When Leonard Hamilton wondered how his team was down one at the break, answer #1 was "you turned it over 40% of the time"; #2 was Charles Matthews.

After the year in Lexington, Matthews spent a year getting roasted by John Beilein. In the postgame press conference he told a story of how his name during his redshirt year was "Turnover Matthews"; he recalled being told to "touch 212"—ie, run the stairs at Crisler—every practice. Nobody who'd watched him drive with a wince midseason was surprised by that.

Here: two games, 17 two-point attempts, two turnovers total. Seventeen game-saving points in a first-to-55-wins game. No idea. But there it is.

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All year we've been talking about next year, hoping that will be the fusion of Michigan's newfound defensive prowess with the traditional death from above Beilein offense would… uh… get them to the Final Four. As Michigan blitzed through the Big Ten tournament, it became clear this collection of slightly misfit toys was able to outdistance their flaws.

This weekend drove the point home. Michigan's least Beilein players drove Michigan's least Beilein team to San Antonio. They've met halfway. Simpson has a semi-functional three pointer. Matthews has deferred more; has become more responsible with the ball. It was tough to see, for a while, when you've been trained to prize a rain of threes over all else, but it turns out you can use bricks to build something.

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[After the jump: the most bonkers stat]

MGoPodcast 9.24: Go See 212

MGoPodcast 9.24: Go See 212

Submitted by Seth on March 26th, 2018 at 9:32 AM

1 hour and 26 minutes

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We are at the Residence Inn Ann Arbor Downtown, hiding from the angriest point guard who ever lived.

We Couldn’t Have One Without the Other

We can do this because people support us. You should support them too so they’ll want to do it again next year! The show is presented by UGP & The Bo Store, and if it wasn’t for Rishi and Ryan there would be VERY long hiatuses between podcasts.

Our other sponsors are also key to all of this: HomeSure Lending, Peak Wealth Management, Ann Arbor Elder Law, the Residence Inn Ann Arbor Downtown, the University of Michigan Alumni Association, Michigan Law Grad,Human Element, Lantana Hummus and Ecotelligent Homes

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1. Ent Moot: The FSU Game

starts at 1:00

Emotional impact of 7’4” dude’s emphatic blocks was greater than their basketball impact. Michigan had a tough time getting into their offense; FSU kept them to just one or two actions. Nice to have Duncan to shoot some free throws at the end there because we almost died the way we thought we would. Is Reggie Miller fine? No, Reggie Miller is not fine.

2. Death from Above: The Texas A&M Game

starts at 20:36

People on Texas A&M bench putting their towels down and dying. Least hyped tip slam of all time. Z responded to T.J. Starks’s “unguardable” comment by setting a first-half turnover record. Every time it was about to stop being a solid, no-nervousness game, Charles Matthews took over. Both games he’s been way more effective stopping in the lane: got those breaks fixed. Thank you C.J. Baird!

3. Final Four Preview

starts at 38:13

Sorry, Sister Jean. Surprising Final Four team but closest thing to a mirror match Michigan can get unless/until Villanova, except Loyola’s got a Donnalish backup center. KSU wasn’t very good, so this isn’t the craziest 11-seed run. New challenge for this tournament: everyone on the floor can shoot. However there’s a big drop-off in defensive athleticism. Offense is kind of beautiful.

Nova: ridiculous. Z is big enough to switch on to centers but Z isn’t thicc like Jalen Brunson. If Nova tries to with win this with Brunson post-ups, be our guest. Kansas has 40% shooters and a thunderdunker.

4. Ace’s Frozen Four Hockey Podcast wsg David Nasternak

starts at 1:09:54

Mel has us in the Frozen Four in his first year! Ace watches hockey and has hockey takes now. BU: Most talented team in the country and one of the worst-coached (down-year Kentucky of hockey). More of that Wisconsin stuff where there’s one too many attackers. Crapshoot hockey is fun when we get a Lidstrom bounce. Slaker got away with a PENalty. Northeastern: surprisingly dominant performance by top line vs the best line in the country. FYI we’re planning on a hockeycast sometime this week unless y’all have a major objection to that idea.

---------------------------------

MUSIC

  • “Still Alive”—(Portal End Credits) by Jonathan Coulton and performed by Ellen McLain
  • “1,2,3,4”—Feist and the Cast of Sesame Street
  • “Future/Now”—MC5
  • “Across 110th Street”

THE USUAL LINKS

C.J. Baird is going to be 80 years old that’s still going to be his avater. He doesn’t have to think about that anymore. He’ll like stand in profile at Ashley’s and hold his fingers up the right way and someone will buy him a beer. And that man might be me.

Michigan 58, Florida State 54, West Region Champions

Michigan 58, Florida State 54, West Region Champions

Submitted by Ace on March 25th, 2018 at 12:52 AM


Champions of the West. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]

Say it again, Dana Jacobson. Say it again and again, everyone.

Michigan is going to the Final Four. John Beilein, the true king of Ann Arbor, is one victory—against, of all teams, 11-seed Loyola—away from his second championship game in six years and an opportunity for the program's first national title since 1989.

The Wolverines got there in a most un-Beilein way. This was not Thursday, when they rained fire on Texas A&M. This is what many fans feared Thursday would look like, as a very large, athletic Florida State squad held Michigan well under a point per possession. Michigan, meanwhile, couldn't hit a three-pointer, going an appalling 4-for-22 from beyond the arc. Any past Beilein team would've lost this game.

But not this one. For as good as FSU's defense played, Michigan's was a cut above. The Seminoles had one more field goal (16) than turnovers committed (15). They kept a transition-reliant FSU scoreless on fast breaks; the Wolverines scored 12 in transition because of live-ball turnovers. That, above all, made the difference in a game featuring great halfcourt defense and ugly shooting.

"I've never seen a team work so hard and be so connected on both ends of the floor, even when things do not go right on the offensive end," said Beilein. "They were exceptional on defense. We had that string of plays where Moe was wide open, Charles is wide open, Duncan was wide open, and they didn't go down and sulk at the other end. They ended up just playing better defense so that we could win the game."


Charles Matthews surprised a lot of people tonight. [Barron]

Michigan's heroes weren't the ones you would've expected a month or two ago. Charles Matthews scored M's first points on an and-one dunk, flashed a rare smile, and proceeded to carry the offense through some truly ugly stretches. Using strong drives, sharp pivots, and tough finishes, Matthews finished with a game-high 17 points, eight rebounds, two blocks, a steal, and only one turnover.

"It was special," he said. "Last year all I used to hear in practice was turnover Matthews, turnover Matthews. And go see 212, that's when I have to run up to the top of the bleachers. But I stayed with it. Coach stayed on me. He continued to believe in me, and that continued to help my confidence grow. My teammates believe in me, and I believe in them. So it's just been a special feeling."

Zavier Simpson set the tone early, as well, when he ripped the ball away from FSU's Terance Mann as a parent would take a toy from an unruly child. While the stat line is packed—nine points on 4/8 shooting, three boards, five assists, one turnover, three steals—it doesn't do justice to Simpson's masterful control over the game. On a normal Michigan shooting night, Simpson threatens double-digit assists. Meanwhile, he hit a couple huge shots late and played his usual superlative defense. The two Seminole point guards, Trent Forrest and CJ Walker, combined to go 1-for-9 from the field with five turnovers.

Nobody else, though, could find any consistency on offense. Moe Wagner had an especially brutal outing, failing to hit a field goal in the first half before finishing with 11 points on 15 shot equivalents. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman needed ten shot equivalents to net his nine points. Duncan Robinson didn't make his first three-pointer until 2:25 remained, when his corner triple gave the Wolverines a seemingly insurmountable ten-point lead.

Florida State nearly surmounted it. Free throws, that familiar bugaboo, nearly cost Michigan dearly this time, as Simpson and MAAR went on a 2-for-5 stretch that included missing the front end of two one-and-ones to allow FSU to pull within a single possession twice. After Phil Cofer's putback got the 'Noles cut the margin to two, however, Robinson calmly sunk two free throws. PJ Savoy missed a wild, contested three-pointer with 13 seconds to play, Robinson grabbed the rebound, and for reasons unbeknownst to everyone other than Leonard Hamilton, Robinson was allowed to dribble out the clock.

"We knew they were going to make a run," said Abdur-Rahkman. "We each had to weather the storm and get stops when we needed it. And I think that's what we did."

Michigan is going to the Final Four—say it again—because they got stops. What a team. What a coaching staff. What a world.

[Hit THE JUMP for more photos and the box score.]

Do More, Say More

Do More, Say More

Submitted by Ace on March 24th, 2018 at 12:05 PM


our student manager turned walk-on is better than yours and knows it

The nature of the tournament means you may not get much of a chance to savor a great victory before much of its luster is worn off. Thursday night was, without question, a great victory, and I'm going to make a conscious effort to give it the savoring it so richly deserves.

Upon approximately my hundredth rewatching of the video containing all 14 (FOURTEEN!) of Michigan's three-pointers against Texas A&M, I came to a startling realization. I was genuinely, unironically glad that Reggie Miller, whose commentary I normally find obnoxious at best*, was calling the game for TBS. For one night, he was the perfect person to call a basketball game.

[*I'm pretty sure this video was made in jest. I hope, at least.]

Reggie Miller made a Hall of Fame career from hitting threes—often audacious, sometimes outrageous threes, seemingly always in critical circumstances—and talking a spectacular amount of shit. His game was loud, his personality louder still.

As Miller watched the Wolverines rip the Aggies limb-from-limb, his usual schtick disappeared and genuine joy broke through. He called shots and reacted with glee as they unfolded before his eyes. He found a kindred spirit in Moe Wagner. At one point he uttered "ooh, my goodness" while so taken aback it's almost lost beneath Kevin Harlan's exhilaration.

Michigan did not just rain in a torrent of threes. They matched them with Miller-like theatrics that escalated with each strike.

The show turned to a full-blown three-ring circus, Oakland-style, by late in the first half. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, the silent killer of the squad, lined up a long-range shot in transition. By the time the ball actually went through the net, 60% of the team was back on defense.


Robinson's arm went up the moment the shot did

Not a whole lot changed after halftime other than Michigan's willingness to cede Texas A&M post-up buckets, which lack both efficiency and swagger. Reggie wasn't here for that. Reggie's here for this.

Michigan's team shirts say "DO MORE, SAY LESS" this postseason. It's in the spirit of a John Beilein team, to be sure, but not this one, not anymore. This team is embodied by Moe Wagner removing his mouthguard to talk trash, Charles Matthews laughing in Nick Ward's face, Zavier Simpson's biggest mood, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman coldly staring down his shot while the rest of the team merrily turns the other way, and student-manager-turned-walk-on CJ Baird flashing three fingers after drilling a 25-footer. Effervescent ailurophile-slash-tournament hero Jordan Poole, perhaps the most brash of the bunch, inspires art such as this Smoothitron masterpiece:

This has turned into a team that'll take your lunch money and throw your empty wallet into the woods. Every once in a while, as they did on Thursday, they'll use that money to buy your mom a nice meal. Maybe they'll take her out again tonight. 

Michigan 99, Texas A&M 72

Michigan 99, Texas A&M 72

Submitted by Ace on March 22nd, 2018 at 11:19 PM


when the walk-on hits [photo courtesy Sam Mousigian/Michigan Daily]

We've seen this game before. A freshman Nik Stauskas shooting Florida out of the gym from the same spot; Texas becoming so overwhelmed the Longhorn Network tweeted a shruggie. Enter this into the canon:

THE MODERATOR: Coach, an opening statement?

BILLY KENNEDY: Felt like we ran into a buzz saw.

Michigan played a near-perfect first half before settling into remarkably productive cruise control in the second. They scored 99 points, the most Texas A&M has allowed this season, on an astonishing 1.38 points per possession. They shot 64% on twos, 58% on threes, and 88% from the line. Eight different players made a three-pointer. One of them was CJ Baird, who started the season as a student manager.

"It was kind of hard to see," said A&M's Admon Gilder. "Because I was just wondering when they were going to miss."

After both underperformed last weekend, Moe Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way. Wagner was the star of the first half, pouring in 14 of his 21 while seemingly gaining confidence with every shot, the most spectacular a running left-handed bank after his patented behind-the-back dribble. Abdur-Rahkman scored 16 of his 24 in the second half, teaming with Charles Matthews (18 points, 13 in the second half) to drop the hammer on an A&M squad trying to cover a 20-point deficit with post-ups. Two more Wolverines, Zavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, finished in double figures.

"We knew that we could pick and choose our spots on offense," said Abdur-Rahkman. "And we didn't shoot too well in Wichita, but we knew that we were confident coming into the game that we could hit get our shots off. We just picked and chose our shots, and we took them."


Abdur-Rahkman led the team with 24 points and 7 assists. [Mousigian]

Meanwhile, Simpson made life miserable for self-proclaimed "unstoppable" Aggies point guard TJ Starks, who made the freshman mistake of giving Michigan's best defender extra motivation. Starks, who'd averaged 19.6 points in his last three games, finished with five on 2-for-11 shooting, a lone assist, and five turnovers. Simpson equaled his mark's point total with a career-high five steals in the first half and added one more in the second for good measure. The Aggies mustered only 28 points on 32 first-half field-goal attempts; Michigan had little issue letting them work post mismatches in the second on the three-is-greater-than-two principle.

Last weekend's Wolverines were just good enough to get through last weekend. Tonight's Wolverines were great enough to beat any team on any day. It didn't take long for them to get into a groove and ooze confidence; Wagner talking trash after an in-your-eye three, Matthews flashing a rare smile after a tough bucket, Simpson eyeing his man with pure disdain after a particularly obvious flop, the whole team running back on defense as Abdur-Rahkman let loose a three-pointer. (Yes, it went in.)

It reached the absurd in the late going. Abdur-Rahkman went behind the back on a fast break pass to Wagner for an emphatic dunk. Austin Davis threw down an alley-oop. Baird sent the bench into hysterics with his three-pointer.

The swagger is carrying over.

"I think we're a very confident team, and I think that's all that matters," said Wagner. "We've been playing within ourselves all year and not looking at the opponent too much. Looking at the game plan, trying to execute that, and I think we've been believing all year we can beat anyone if we play our best basketball. So, Yep."

Michigan will face the winner of tonight's Florida State-Gonzaga matchup on Saturday. No matter which team advances, the Wolverines will enter the game knowing they can—and should—win. Given how they've played over the last month or so, they're not wrong.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score and more photos.]

Basketbullets: Montana

Basketbullets: Montana

Submitted by Ace on March 16th, 2018 at 2:27 PM

That Was A Weird One


MAAR's deeply skeptical face. [JD Scott/MGoBlog]

Let's get this out of the way: that was a funky one. Michigan barely crept above 0.90 points per possession in a game they won comfortably (eventually). Montana's aggressive trapping on ball screens broke the offense's rhythm, as did an early flurry of whistles. After the game's very first media timeout, Beilein fielded a lineup of Jaaron Simmons, Jordan Poole, Charles Matthews, Duncan Robinson, and Jon Teske—essentially 1.5 starters with Robinson in there. If you went to bed early and only saw the box score today, you're probably quite confused.

The unusual circumstances make this game hard to judge, even before accounting for the lengthy second-half delay just as Michigan was getting rolling. I thought the offense was on the verge of taking apart the Montana trap when Zavier Simpson had to exit. While Jaaron Simmons and Eli Brooks both had strong shifts—more on that later—there was a longer adjustment period than necessary.

Montana coach Travis DeCurie credited Beilein after the game for both timely strategic adjustments and how well-coached the Wolverines are in general. The latter part kept them in good position while they figured out the former [via NCAA transcript, emphasis mine]:

To me, when I say someone is well coached, they don't beat themselves. You'll make mistakes. There's human error. But I can't recall one possession where they took a bad shot. There will be defensive breakdowns because the offense can manipulate things, but on the offensive end for them, I just can't remember someone taking a questionable shot and allowing us to get some momentum or maybe a low rebound or whatnot.

When they shot the ball, guys knew they were going to shoot it. And to me those are teams that don't beat themselves. And so I don't know how many teams are like that in this field. A lot of teams, they play, they fly around, they're aggressive. They give on maybe a questionable shot here and there, an error on aggression. I think this team plays very smart basketball. And when they play that way, it's just very difficult to manipulate things and make things happen in your favor.

Michigan's turnover avoidance, refusal to give opponents easy transition opportunities off bad shots, and elite (ELITE!) defense allow them to weather storms many other teams could not. Last night's first half went about as poorly as it could for the Wolverines, yet they still held a three-point halftime lead and pulled away for a comfortable win. That, more than anything else, is my takeaway from last night.

[Hit THE JUMP for Matthews unleashed, the backup point guards, and fun with split stats.]

Michigan 61, Montana 47

Michigan 61, Montana 47

Submitted by Ace on March 16th, 2018 at 1:34 AM


(Left) Charles Matthews' dunks were a (the?) bright spot.
(Right) That game, the feeling. [Photos: J.D. Scott/MGoBlog]

Queme los game film.

Make sure the audio track burns, too.

In the Before Time, when I could still hear pitches above a high B-flat, Montana jumped out to a 10-0 lead over a Michigan squad that very much looked like it'd had an extended layoff. The Wolverines adjusted to the aggressive trapping Grizzlies defense and held a three-point lead at halftime. A woman screamed as if she, also, was trapped by grizzlies.


Hopeless. [Scott]

The second half barely got started before the scorer's table lost power, causing a long delay. Just after the clocks returned to working order, TBS went to a media timeout. The screaming continued. Someone help her, please.

Montana went 34 minutes of real time—and ten minutes of game time—without a basket. In the interim, we all moved one day closer to death.

While Michigan didn't look a whole lot better on offense, they were at least capable of occasionally putting the ball in the basket. Charles Matthews mostly dunked his way to 20 points to lead all scorers. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman chipped in 11 as the only other Wolverine in double figures. Others contributed. The screaming grew louder as the arena emptied. Both teams, haunted by visions of murder, failed to crack a point per possession.

The Wolverines face Houston, winners over San Diego State, at approximately 9:50 pm on Saturday. May the wailing of cursed souls cease by then.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]