One Frame At A Time: Big Ten Tournament

One Frame At A Time: Big Ten Tournament

Submitted by Ace on March 8th, 2018 at 10:59 AM

There are a ridiculous number of GIFs from the Big Ten title run. Instead of attempting to rank all of them or cram everything into one post, I've changed the format up a bit, breaking up the GIFs by game or, in coach- or Poole-related cases, theme. You can find all of them and many, many more at the MGoBlog Gfycat page.

On with the show.

IOWA

Full album.

5. Poole Pocket Pass

4. Split and Assist

3. Corner Dagger

2. Wagner Spin, Dunk, Mug

FRAMES OF THE GAME: TEARDROP FROM HEAVEN

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the tournament in GIFs.]

Unverified Voracity Explores Zero And Uh... Nero? Hero?

Unverified Voracity Explores Zero And Uh... Nero? Hero?

Submitted by Brian on March 7th, 2018 at 12:45 PM

26692246668_e293b27f0d_z

[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

If it keeps going like this I'll learn to spell "renaissance" correctly on the first try. Rob Dauster on Michigan's elite... defense? That is what the card says. Defense.

As surprising as that decision was, the dots connected. Yaklich, like Beilein, spent his life as a teacher and a high school coach before breaking into the college ranks. Unlike Beilein, however, Yaklich has prided himself in his ability to get the most out of a team on the defensive end of the floor.

“As a high school coach, I focused entirely on defense,” Yaklich said. At the high school level, coaching offense is more about skill development, about making your players better shooters, better ball-handlers, better scorers. Figure out a handful of things that you can have success with and trust your players to make plays. “My high school coaches instilled that in me. When I went to Illinois State, I naturally grew into that role. We didn’t have a defensive coordinator, but my voice, that’s what I took pride in.”

At Michigan, that is, quite literally, Yaklich’s role. He was hired to coach Michigan’s defense, to be their defensive coordinator, and the success that the Wolverines have had on that end cannot be overlooked. Prior to this season, Beilein never had a team finish higher than 37th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. In the last four seasons, the Wolverines never finished higher than 69th.

“The smartest thing is I stopped coaching it so much,” Beilein said of his team’s defensive improvement. “I let other people become the voice of it. I wanted one guy, that’s all he thinks about all day long.”

I'm not taking credit for suggesting that Beilein needs a defensive coordinator. But I'm not not taking credit. I will be ambiguously pleased.

Similar resumes. I should have posted this a couple days ago when it was slightly different, with the Stauskas Elite Eight team at the top of the list. But anyway here's Bart Torvik's list of resumes most similar to Michigan's in recent committee history:

image

Nik and company are still #3. These are all at least three seeds and 40% of them are twos. I haven't seen anything else suggesting Michigan can get to a two, but hopefully that indicates Jerry Palm's (and 30% of the matrix's) 4-seed is off.

There is exactly one bracket that puts Michigan on the five line, but it's KPI. For some reason KPI is on the teamsheets, so hooray for that.

One of many maximum Beilein moments. A man who recognizes his own limitations.

Unbalanced schedule FTL. This year was an excellent example of how the Big Ten's schedule cheapens the regular season title. A gent calling himself "Wicked_UMD"—must be a St. Cloud State fan—analyzed how the schedule rotation affected expected wins in league play:

Team Exp Win Delta
Michigan State 1.09
Northwestern 0.66
Purdue 0.65
Nebraska 0.51
Ohio State 0.46
Iowa 0.18
Indiana 0.16
Minnesota 0.02
Wisconsin -0.08
Illinois -0.10
Penn State -0.43
Rutgers -0.77
Michigan -0.81
Maryland -1.27

That half-win edge over Purdue had a fairly good shot at costing the Boilers a share of the title, and Michigan is almost two wins back of MSU—flip that first Purdue game and that is also a title-altering schedule gap.

The net result is a cheapening of the regular season title. Adding two conference games will help somewhat, but only somewhat: each team still misses almost half the conference for a second game annually. There is a way to create a maximally meaningful and fair conference race with just one extra game:

Alternative: 19 game conference schedule.

PHASE 1: round robin.
PHASE 2: line is drawn between 7th and 8th teams in the league. Mini-leagues subsequently play round-robin. Rutgers is relegated to the Big East every year.

PROS: Absolutely fair. Winner is undisputed. Makes Big Ten title a huge important deal. Final six games for teams that make upper half would be knock-down drag out brutal free-for-all for league title. Would give top teams impregnable schedule strength. You could televise the schedule draw with Ronaldo and Messi in suits.

CONS: May cost league NCAA bids if the best team in the bottom half can't get any marquee wins in the last six games or the worst team in the top half just gets blitzed. Bottom half is just kind of sadly playing out the string. Uncertainty about final three home games may impact ticket sales negatively. Extremely distant possibility that the 8th best team 13 games in can climb all the way to the top.

This will never happen because the folks in charge are more interested in milking as much money out of college basketball than making a drastic and potentially awesome change. But seriously you guys.

Mo draft stock. The Draft Express gents on Michigan's center:

Despite his limitations, and the diminishing market for players his size, there's still a role in today's NBA for a highly skilled big man who can space the floor and plays with a competitive spirit. Wagner is young for a junior, not turning 21 until the end of April, so he has time to continue to improve considering he was already a late bloomer to begin with. He'd likely get picked somewhere in the second round if he decided to keep his name in the draft but also could benefit from coming back for his senior year and continuing to work on his weaknesses, namely his defense, passing and overall feel for the game.

They rank him 55th, so not even towards the top of the second round. SI has an extensive Big Ten Tournament scouting article that comes to a similar conclusion:

Draft Projection: Second Round

After testing and staying in school last year, Wagner has definitely improved, although he’s still a bit of an acquired taste among scouts. It depends on what you value in your bigs, and his considerable offensive skills will be worth the risk to some teams despite his lackluster defense and physical limitations in that area. Wagner excels as a screener and post-up option and has a good feel for finding pockets in the defense. He’s heavy-footed and looks a bit clumsy at times, but his skill level facing up, attacking closeouts and keeping defenders honest gets the job done in college. He gets some credit for helping lift Michigan to the title (and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player) but the Wolverines won more by playing great team basketball than relying on Wagner to carry them.

It'll be up to Wagner's whim. He's not in the range where he's going to get a guaranteed contract and may end up in the G-League. The money there isn't great so he might decide he'd rather play under the bright lights of the NCAA than for the Fort Wayne Mad Antz even if he delays his earnings a year. If the consensus is that he'll stick on a roster that's a totally different matter.

FWIW, SI on Matthews:

Draft Projection: 2019

The former Kentucky transfer has been plagued by consistency issues throughout his career but has an outside chance at the league depending on how much he can improve over the course of the next year. “I can’t put my finger on what he does well,” says one scout, the sentiment being that Matthews is best suited as a 3-and-D wing given the heavy demand for such players. He has the right type of body to fit in the league, but struggles to create his own offense and has to simplify his approach. He did hit a pair of threes against Michigan State, but must improve his shot selection and become a consistently impactful defender to succeed in the NBA.

Silver lining from his collapse midseason is that Michigan doesn't have to worry about his departure after just one year.

The hopes are dangerously up. George Sipple of the Free Press checks in with Quinn and Jack Hughes, who's currently the projected #1 pick in the 2019 draft. In addition to various items about how he is a generational hockey player is this tantalizing possibility:

Two Hughes at U-M in 2019?
There’s a chance Jack could join his older brother at Michigan next season. The middle Hughes has not committed anywhere, and Ellen and Jim acknowledge U-M is one possibility.

Michigan has had players accelerate to play college hockey early. Jack is currently in his junior year of high school, but, through online courses, he could go on an accelerated academic track, and graduate early to be able to play collegiality next year.

Jack sought exceptional status to play in the Ontario Hockey League as a 15-year-old, but was denied. Among the short list of players who have been granted that status to play a year early are John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid, who are now in the NHL. …

“It could be a perfect scenario,” Jim said of Jack going to U-M. “But they’re not there yet. The beauty is Jack is in a really great spot right now. He values the development he’s getting with Seth and Wrobo.”

For perspective, Hughes is playing up with the U18s as a U17:

Adding Hughes—and presumably keeping Quinn—would radically change next year's outlook.

Brandon Johns highlights. He is up for Mr. Basketball and looks like a perfect fit as a Beilein 4:

His main competition is David DeJulius, it appears.

One and done done? The NBA's one and done rule was always more about the NBA than college basketball, and now that they've got Lebron and a former president criticizing it publicly it may not be long for this world. The proposal is wrought with frippery that attempts to make it seem like one-and-done wasn't a selfish act from the drop:

Current NBA commissioner Adam Silver and several of his top advisers have been engaged in listening tours and information-gathering missions with an array of stakeholders for months. That has included formal meetings with the National Basketball Players Association about adjusting the so-called "one-and-done" age-limit rule. But Silver's aim is much more comprehensive than simply re-opening the door for 18-year-olds to play in the NBA, sources said.

A plan is expected to include the NBA starting relationships with elite teenagers while they are in high school, providing skills to help them develop both on and off the court. It would ultimately open an alternate path to the NBA besides playing in college and a way 18-year-olds could earn a meaningful salary either from NBA teams or as part of an enhanced option in the developmental G League, sources said.

The NCAA is either going to work with the NBA to keep a healthy number of future stars in college basketball or lose them all because of their archaic rules. Survey says it'll be the former because the people in charge care about money.

Etc.: I summon the Bracket Leak Hero from his home in Valhalla. Daily on Lavigne. Also Boka. Amateurism under attack, repeatedly, FBI investigation is good.

The Grandmaster: How Beilein Beat Painter

The Grandmaster: How Beilein Beat Painter

Submitted by Ace on March 6th, 2018 at 4:41 PM


The net may as well be the heads of his enemies. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

On its face, it's an odd decision. After Michigan made only three three-pointers in the first half of the Big Ten championship game, Purdue coach Matt Painter totally altered the way his team played defense. The Wolverines proceeded to run away with the game. Painter bungled the game, right?

A closer look tells a different story. Painter knew that John Beilein was one step ahead of him even though M's shots hadn't fallen early. Presented with a no-win situation, he chose to try to take them out of their normal offense, and to that end he largely succeeded. It didn't matter because Beilein, Moe Wagner, and M's backcourt stayed one step ahead.

The key to Michigan-Purdue games the last two years has been how each team handles the other's big man on defense. In Painter's case, that means finding a way to combat the high ball screen with, at times, five viable three-point shooters spacing the floor. Here's how he tried, and how Beilein countered.

The First Half: Hard Hedges, Layups, and Frustrating Missed Threes

Purdue spent the opening half defending high ball screens much the way Michigan used to: by overplaying the ballhandler. It's a different tactic than the switch-heavy defenses M has seen for the most part since the Nebraska debacle and, in addition to being something a lesser coach may not have expected to see, it better fits Purdue's personnel than switching every screen, especially when Isaac Haas is on the floor.

But Beilein was ready, even if his preparation didn't produce the desired results. For the most part, Michigan fans were treated to this: Wagner (or Duncan Robinson) slipping the screen, getting a wide open look, and missing.

That's not even the most open look Wagner missed, but it's representative.

"You can't allow them to do what they want to do," said Painter in the postgame presser. "And if you do, now it's just hitting or missing, especially when they put skill—[Beilein's] ideal thing is having a five that can shoot. That's why Teske's picking pops, going into the short roll into [the] elbow, Wagner being able to make the threes and drive the ball. He makes them special."

Even as M's shooters struggled to make shots they'd normally put down, the offense kept up an impressive average of 1.23 points per possession. The team didn't turn it over once despite Purdue's high-pressure approach. The scrambling Boilermakers defense opened up the lane for drives once the ballhandler broke pressure. Beilein busted out a 1-4 high screen with Robinson setting the pick and while the primary intention was to free up Robinson beyond the arc, Purdue's overplaying of Simpson also allowed him to attack the basket:

Beilein also made some adjustments. He got Wagner an easy layup by calling for a double ball screen out of a late-half timeout with Charles Matthews as the ballhandler, Isaiah Livers popping to the three-point line, and Wagner rolling to the hoop.

Michigan's ability to space, shoot, and drive makes this play almost impossible to defend given Purdue's approach. They switch the defender on Matthews but he's still able to turn the corner and keep his man behind his hip because of a solid screen by Wagner(!). Matthews' initial defender is forced to stay home on Livers or give up a wide-open three-point attempt. The center has to continue playing Matthews or give up a dunk. The weakside help defender is faced with a choice: rotate hard into the paint in a probably fruitless attempt to stop Wagner or stay home to keep Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman, a deadly spot-up shooter, from putting three points on the board.

"Our weak side and our guys in ball-screen defense, sometimes when the ball got deep, had to stay home," said Painter. "And you gotta force them to throw the ball out and they didn't do that."

One wraparound pass from Matthews is all it takes for the easiest bucket of Wagner's afternoon. Painter couldn't bank on M's shooters continuing to miss great looks and his team was getting ripped apart in the paint anyway—while they weren't quite as aggressive in their P&R defense against Jon Teske, they needed to alter how they defended him, too.

Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, Beilein also got a halftime.

[After THE JUMP: Painter makes his move and Beilein counters.]

Michigan 75, Michigan State 64

Michigan 75, Michigan State 64

Submitted by Ace on March 3rd, 2018 at 6:03 PM


MOOD. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Everything's coming up Michigan.

After an ugly first half, the Wolverines took it to Michigan State to secure a season sweep and a shot at their second consecutive Big Ten Tournament title. In addition to being a delectable and important victory over a chief rival, Michigan once again showed how far they've come this season.

Today's hero lost his starting job after four games this season and didn't regain it until January. Zavier Simpson, Bench Player, feels like forever go. He played a brilliant game on both ends, scoring 15 points on 4/8 shooting, pulling down seven boards, handing out two assists, making life tough on Cassius Winston, and even bolstering M's post defense when switched onto MSU's big men. He routinely broke down the Spartan defense with blow-bys of Winston (and even defensive ace Tum Tum Nairn). Then he iced the game at the line while showing no signs of his season-long free-throw struggles.

"It was a sweet sight to see Zavier's shots just go right through the middle," said John Beilein. "Of his foul shots the last couple of days, maybe 8-for-10 or 10-for-12, shooting it right down the middle".

Critically, Simpson did a lot of his best work in the first half as the rest of the team scuffled on offense. Moe Wagner went scoreless on seven shots in 12 first-half minutes and M was a woeful 4-for-18 from beyond the arc; Simpson was the only Wolverine to hit more than two shots in the opening stanza. Michigan stayed close with defense, holding the Spartans to 11-for-31 shooting themselves, but Wagner's wonky shot and MSU's strong offensive rebounding portended bad things. State held a three-point lead heading into the tunnel.


Not even Tum Tum could check Z. [Campredon]

Then it all clicked. Beilein ran much of the offense through Wagner to open the second half, and he responded with five points in five minutes. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman got going with an early three. Charles Matthews shocked the Spartan defense (and others) by taking Miles Bridges left off the dribble for an uncontested dunk. MAAR, Duncan Robinson, and Wagner drilled three straight triples, and suddenly Michigan was up six.

"I told him, this is my great motivation at halftime, hey, Moe, are you going to make a shot? Because right now you're stinking the place up," said Beilein. "Just make one shot. We played with each other like that. He just smiled: Yes, Coach, I can do that."

Michigan State could only inch closer; they didn't get the margin lower than five points in the game's final seven minutes. According to KenPom, Michigan delivered the third-best defensive performance against MSU this season. Though offensive rebounds ruined some of Michigan's better defensive possessions in the first half, they still managed to hold State below a point per possession in each half. The Wolverines now rank sixth(!!!) nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. I'll give you a moment to reassemble your jaw.

They did this by, as usual, forcing tough shots in the paint while running shooters off the line. MSU made only 7 of 25 threes, and several attempts were desperation chucks in the final minutes. Bullying towards the basket and pulling up from midrange wasn't much more effective; the Spartans made 44.7% of their twos, ten percentage points below their season average.


No easy buckets. [Campredon]

Now, for the second straight year, Michigan has a chance to win their fourth game in four days to hang another banner. They've probably locked up a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament and another win would give them an outside shot at a three-seed. It's been a little less dramatic this year; it was no easier to see coming a couple months ago. A swaggering band of Wolverines will face the winner of PSU/Purdue tomorrow afternoon. I wouldn't want to be the team to try to stop this run.

Just ask Michigan State. They're 0-2 against Michigan and 29-2 against everyone else.

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

Michigan 77, Nebraska 58

Michigan 77, Nebraska 58

Submitted by Ace on March 2nd, 2018 at 5:51 PM


Hits first three, M goes off. The hypothesis holds. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

That was pleasantly different.

Michigan played a game entirely unlike both their first matchup with Nebraska and yesterday's overtime win over Iowa, using scorching shooting and suffocating defense to post a 77-58 blowout of the Huskers in the Big Ten quarterfinals.

When these teams last met, Moe Wagner scored only two points in 32 minutes, effectively taken out of the game by Nebraska's all-switch approach on defense. This time around, Wagner and the Wolverines were ready. He surpassed his first-game scoring total within the first two minutes on his way to a monster stat line: 20 points on 18 shot equivalents, a game-high 13 rebounds (three offensive), an assist, two blocks, and a steal in 33 minutes. In case the Huskers weren't fully aware that Wagner had solved their defense, he let them know about it after seemingly every bucket, often removing his mouthguard to let loose the trash talk.

"For him to get 13 rebounds today is exceptional," said John Beilein. "And that's been -- that's one of the things that I think if he's going to play in the pros one day, that was one of the things -- he's a stretch four at that level. Stretch fours have to, they certainly have to rebound. And he's really shown some great growth there."

When Michigan played yesterday, it took them 30 minutes to hit a shot outside the paint. Wagner's triple with 18:18 left in the first half eliminated the possibility of a repeat early and the Wolverines went on to torch the nets. Michigan went 11-for-23 from beyond the arc with Wagner (2-for-4), Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (a perfect 5-or-5), and Duncan Robinson (4-for-7) accounting for all the makes.


Z repeatedly worked his way to the bucket and converted. [Campredon]

Those three combined for 57 points. Zavier Simpson, showing an impressive array of finishes off the bounce, chipped in 12 points, making 4-of-8 field goals and all four(!) of his free throws while adding a game-high six assists. No other Wolverine hit a shot from the field until a meaningless Jordan Poole putback in the final minute.

Outside of a rough game from Poole (1-for-9 from the field), that was more indicative of the main guys carrying the load than a poor performance from anyone else. Nebraska tried ditching their previously effective all-switch man defense in favor of an extended 1-3-1 zone before the first half even ended. That didn't hold up for long; any attempts to go zone in the second stanza were bombarded.

"I think we've just seen it a lot more," Adbur-Rahkman. "As of late, teams have been trying to switch out their defenses against us. And I think we were just more comfortable with it today and we just picked our poison within our offense and found open shots in slots."

Meanwhile, one holdover from yesterday was Michigan's salty defense, which held the Huskers to .866 points per possession. After Nebraska made four of their first five out of the game, the defense went on full lockdown, forcing misses on 19 of their ensuing 20 shots. The Huskers barely scraped above 30% shooting for the game and had to resort to flinging themselves at the hoop in the hopes of drawing fouls; while that worked to an extent—they went 22-for-27 from the line—it couldn't keep their offense afloat.


Nope. [Campredon]

Wagner, Jon Teske, and Charles Matthews blocked two shots apiece. Simpson harrassed point guard Glynn Watson in a 4-for-12 shooting day with two turnovers canceling out two assists. James Palmer Jr. and Isaiah Roby each managed to score 16 points but combined to go 7-for-18 from the field. There were few easy looks, whether at the basket or beyond the arc.

Heck, the game went so well that Michigan even got an excellent six-minute stint out of Ibi Watson in the first half. Coming off seven straight wins and nine of their last ten, the Wolverines will face Michigan State in tomorrow's 2 pm ET semifinal. There's little need to pump up that game, especially with the Spartans looking to avenge a loss on their home floor in this season's only meeting so far.

"It's going to be a challenge again tomorrow," said Beilein. "But we're better defensively than we were back then. But they're probably better offensively. So who knows what's going to happen."

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

Michigan 77, Iowa 71 (OT)

Michigan 77, Iowa 71 (OT)

Submitted by Ace on March 1st, 2018 at 6:16 PM


Moe Wagner "played" M's most critical minutes from the bench. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

"I have no idea how we won the game," John Beilein said to BTN's Mike Hall.

Michigan didn't make a shot outside the paint until under ten minutes remained in the game. Their two best players, Moe Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, fouled out after playing 16 and 22 minutes, respectively. The Wolverines went 18-for-32 from the free-throw line. Players not named Duncan Robinson made zero of their ten three-point attempts while Iowa made four more shots from beyond the arc. Zavier Simpson took a late five-second call with the team clinging to a three-point lead. Jordan Bohannon sunk a dagger to send it to overtime not long thereafter.

With all that going against them, Michigan somehow found a way to pull out a 77-71 win over the pesky Hawkeyes to advance to the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. It was about as un-Beilein a game that the Wolverines have won in recent memory. The vast majority of their offense came from attacking the basket, going 25-for-43 (58.1%) on two-pointers. Michigan's resulting shot chart is unlike any I remember from the Beilein era (via ESPN):


Layups and, uh, more layups.

Meanwhile, the defense bounced back from an uncharacteristically bad first half to shut down Iowa's offense for the duration, highlighted by an overtime session in which the Hawkeyes didn't hit a field goal after their opening possession. That allowed Michigan to ultimately pull away despite an unnerving number of missed free throws in the deciding period.

Part of what made this game so frustrating is that Wagner and MAAR were both excellent when they were on the floor. MAAR stuffed the stat sheet with nine points on nine shot equivalents, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals; Wagner had 11 points, made four of his six two-pointers, and had a gorgeous no-look assist to Charles Matthews. An enragingly tight whistle—the two teams combined for 46 fouls—prevented either player, and Michigan, from getting into a consistent rhythm, however. 


Matthews and Teske both came up big down the stretch. [Campredon]

Coming at just the right time, it was a get-right game for Charles Matthews. He led the team with 16 points, going 5-for-10 from the field and 6-for-10 from the line, and pulled down eight rebounds.

The supporting cast also picked up the slack. Robinson made three critical three-pointers, pulled down five boards, and came up with two steals while playing sturdy post defense. His counterpart at the four, Isaiah Livers, converted a few tough shots around the hoop to tally his most points (nine) since early January. Simpson converted five-of-nine two-pointers, frequently beating Bohannon off the dribble, grabbed a Waltonesque five defensive rebounds, and played his usual suffocating defense—Bohannon finished only 3-for-14 from the field. Jordan Poole had an up-and-down afternoon but did get a crucial steal and dunk in the second half. Like almost all of his teammates, he could finish at the hoop but didn't have his outside shot going.

Jon Teske's contributions were quite difficult to overlook. Iowa had a hard time converting at the rim with him patrolling the paint for 28 minutes; his two blocks and steal undersell his impact on defense. He did a lot more than come up with stops at the basket, including snatching a couple huge rebounds late and tapping another to Robinson while simultaneously sealing off Tyler Cook to effectively seal the game in overtime. While Teske struggled to actually put them back, he also grabbed a team-high four offensive rebounds. With Wagner unable to avoid whistles, Teske came up huge.

Michigan will hopefully get a few more threes to fall tomorrow afternoon in a tougher test against four-seed Nebraska. Even if they don't, though, they've found ways to win games anyway—plus, their two stars are impressively well-rested going into their second game in two days.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Pre-BTT Hoops Mailbag, Part Two: Lineup Combos, Facing Nebraska-Types, Fouling, NBA Futures

Pre-BTT Hoops Mailbag, Part Two: Lineup Combos, Facing Nebraska-Types, Fouling, NBA Futures

Submitted by Ace on February 28th, 2018 at 2:11 PM

If you missed it, here's part one of the pre-BTT mailbag, and today's podcast also featured extensive hoops discussion. Let's get right back to it.

Lineup Combos: Unlocked


Recent adjustments have given Beilein more lineup flexibility. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

It has indeed. When I ran a mailbag in mid-December, those lineup pairings were necessary to keep the team afloat. They aren't anymore.

While Isaiah Livers still holds the starting job, his minutes have faded significantly. Per KenPom, Duncan Robinson has played 71% of the minutes at the four over the last five games, and it's because he can be on the floor with Wagner again. Since conference play resumed, Michigan scores 1.13 points per possession and allows only 1.02 when the Robinson/Wagner combo is on the floor. The numbers get even starker when you look at the nine-game stretch since the second Purdue game, which I believe is around the time Luke Yaklich made his defensive tweak to keep Robinson mostly in the post: 


via HoopLens

The defensive numbers are impacted by some three-point luck (good for Robinson/Wagner, bad for other lineups) but there are still some significant takeaways. First, the offense is lethal when Wagner and Robinson are both hitting their threes—no surprise there. The other stat that stands out to me is their ability to dominate the defensive boards. Wagner has really stepped up his game as a rebounder; Robinson doesn't go get them often, but he's done a great job of sealing off his man—usually an offensive rebounding threat—to allow Wagner and the guards/wings to swoop in and grab the ball.

So long as the impact of these defensive adjustments remain, we should continue to see Robinson play around 30 minutes per game, even if Livers continues to start. Robinson is much more impactful on offense and his hidden impact on rebounding (plus his solid post defense) has made him a more valuable defender of late than Livers. (I can't believe I just typed that.)

Luke Yaklich unlocked Michigan's best lineups. With Robinson playable on defense again, John Beilein can be comfortable putting out groups like Simpson-MAAR-Poole-Robinson-Wagner that are capable of ridiculous shooting stretches like the 51-points-in-15-minutes torching of Maryland. That's been missing from the M offense this season; it's back now.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag.]

Pre-BTT Hoops Mailbag, Part One: Yaklich Praise, Slump-Bust Odds, Poole Comps

Pre-BTT Hoops Mailbag, Part One: Yaklich Praise, Slump-Bust Odds, Poole Comps

Submitted by Ace on February 27th, 2018 at 3:10 PM


This mailbag, basically. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

No time for an intro, the BTT is coming. This is the first of a two-part all-hoops mailbag.

The Yaklich Effect

Let's start here: I'm never going to be able to bring myself to not say Jordan Poole. I just can't.

With that out of the way, Yaklich has been phenomenal; while Michigan's defensive improvement has been widely noted I still don't think he's getting his due. Despite working with a lineup that has some defensive limitations, he has M up to 11th(!!!) in adjusted defense on KenPom, a significant leap from last year's finish of 69th. No John Beilein team has finished higher than 34th, and that was in his last year at Richmond in 2002.

TrueBlue2003 had a great look last week at one adjustment Yaklich made to better accomodate the team's personnel. That's been indicative of a wider trend. He's introduced multiple variations on the 2-3 zone—you could see him adapt from a wide spread to a tightly packed zone in the PSU game—and they've been remarkably effective as a changeup; per Synergy, Michigan has the best zone defense by points per possession allowed (a paltry 0.692) among high major teams. They've only played 78 zone possessions (a fast-paced game's worth), so the sample is small, but there's much more in the way of numbers that indicate Yaklich is doing a remarkable job.

The main source of Michigan's defensive prowess comes from their ability to keep opponents out of high-efficiency scoring situations, especially transition. We've discussed M's ability to both prevent and shut down opponent fast break opportunities before and the numbers just keep getting better.

The Wolverines are in a league of their own among high major teams at combining those two skills. They rank second among high majors in transition PPP, allowing 0.845 PPP—rather incredibly, an ever-so-slightly better mark than they allow in halfcourt defense (0.858).* They rank first among high majors (and fifth in all of D-I) at preventing transition chances in the first place; they comprise only 11.0% of opponent possessions. Only three other high majors allow less than 0.90 PPP on transition opportunities; they rank 182nd (Louisville), 271st (Cincinnati), and 345th (West Virginia) at preventing those transition chances. That is, in a word, bonkers.

Michigan's analytics-minded approach to defense extends well beyond keeping opponents from running. I put together Synergy stats last night comparing the play types Michigan's offense runs and their efficiency versus the same numbers from opposing offenses against M's defense. This table could be a lot prettier but it shows how well the Wolverines have forced opponents into shots that generally aren't very efficient (while the offense is, as usual, doing the opposite):


click to embiggen

Michigan generally forces pick-and-roll ballhanders to finish themselves, allowing Zavier Simpson to harass guards into tough shots while the rest of the defense stays home and prevents more effective scoring chances: passes to the roll man and kickouts to open shooters. Opponents funnel a ton of their possessions through the post, and even though M is downright bad at post defense, it's still not very efficient offense. They're really good at contesting the rare putback opportunities they allow.

This is a Moneyball defense and I can't wait to see what Yaklich does when next year's team gets an infusion of athleticism while the majority of this group comes back. He's entered the conversation, at least in my mind, as a potential Beilein successor; combining Beilein's offensive principles with Yaklich's defense could produce remarkable results. Of late, is already is.

*A note on these numbers: Synergy counts putbacks as their own possession for PPP so they can properly separate out each scouting category, which is why these numbers are lower than Michigan's actual PPP allowed.

[Hit THE JUMP for discussion of Simpson's and Matthews' respective Achilles heels, Jordan Poole's comparable players, and a reader-submitted photoshop.]

Remember That Time I Set That Guy On Fire Man Good Times Good Times Dude Was Totally On Fire

Remember That Time I Set That Guy On Fire Man Good Times Good Times Dude Was Totally On Fire

Submitted by Brian on February 26th, 2018 at 12:20 PM

2/24/2018 – Michigan 85, Maryland 61 – 24-7, 13-5 Big Ten, end of regular season

NOW THAT I AM LIMBER MY OPPONENT GOES TIMBER

Michigan used to set people on fire with some frequency. Burke or Stauskas would get off to one of those starts, and it would rain death from above on opponents. Three specific examples jump out: a game at Illinois in 2014 where Michigan scored ten points in two minutes and finished the first half with 52, the official-twitter-shruggie Texas game—specifically the 31-6 run that induced said shruggie, and the Elite Eight game against Florida where the Gators let Stauskas shoot six open threes from the same spot on the floor.

This hasn't happened much since the Godmode guys headed to the NBA—last year's MSU game at Crisler is the pleasant exception—and hadn't really happened this year at all unless you count the ludicrous speed Purdue game. Since the above paragraph focuses on the opponent being on fire, not everything touched or looked upon by either player on either team, we'll exclude it. This was Michigan's first incineration of the season. Don't take it from me, take it from this guy in the background who beheld MAAR's half-closing three and decided that the last place he wanted to be was the Homesure Lending Center.

What a good time to incinerate a decent team on the road, the last game of the regular season. Brings a feeling of zesty confidence headed into the post-season. Dreams of Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman doing that to a one-seed in the Sweet 16, sort of thing.

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[Paul Sherman]

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

And of course there is the annual self-abasement for the thoughts that you could not dismiss during the early bit when a 15 point hole against UCLA looked like an NIT bid on the horizon. As per usual we've been poking around Bart Torvik's site to catch the wave, but Torvik made it easy this year:

Two clunkers. One probably due to the compressed schedule, the other that ugly road game against Northwestern's zone. One sketchy game against Minnesota. Otherwise, a lot of pew pew pew and opponents hitting the dirt. Also: Michigan yelling at Purdue that they've been shot and are dead and Purdue going "nuh-uh, I have a forcefield."

This is the way of things. Michigan comes out of the gate slowly because they're trying to get a handle on John Beilein's kaleidoscope offense. You think about the recruits that Michigan missed on and how they would certainly be better than the goons currently in front of your face. Some SEC team with a five star on their roster despite no history of doing anything at all stabs Michigan in the neck. Michigan Basketball Twitter starts discussing successors. Two months later every word from that dark period is memory-holed and we all gather around the fire to talk about subs and super soakers and sing kumbaya.

Sometimes there's a returning core able to avoid that grim early period; sometimes your best player gets injured for the year. Otherwise the script is so familiar by now that JJ Abrams could direct it. The bit at the end where Michigan wins a large number of basketball games in a short period of time is nice.

It's even nicer this year, what with the feds on the case in college basketball. Whatever your opinions about whether the FBI should be looking into this or what college basketball should look like going forward, it is absolutely fantastic to not have your heart skip a beat when Pat Forde tweets.

AGENT IMPLICATES MOST OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL is like, whatever, you know? We're just over here playing five-out and never turning the ball over, like we do. Hope that all works out for you and the FBI.

BULLETS

Stats are kind of eh. Michigan got up so much that the second half was for Chris Farley evaluations and Beilein's patented prevent offense. Things got sloppy, and there was a lot of late clock stuff, and so I'm not sure how seriously to take anything in the box score. Except one thing.

Muhammad takes the wheel! I can't promise you that 41% usage is a career record for MAAR but it sure as hell is. 28 points on 22 shot equivalents, seven assists, two turnovers, and two OREBs as a bonus—never before and probably never again. Unless it's the glasses. But MAAR is the one guy on the team who can both shoot and drive with efficiency and is thus Michigan's best hope for a ball-dominant postseason star.

Michigan, being Michigan, isn't going to have many games where its top usage guy is over 30, let alone 40. It doesn't have to. It does need someone who can be efficient up to 24 or 28. Hopefully this Rahk renaissance lasts through the next month.

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[Paul Sherman]

Matthews scored some points. Okay, maybe two things. The second thing is that Charles Matthews saw the ball go through the basket in the second half. That made for his first non-miserable outing since Wisconsin and only his 5th in the last 16. Perhaps more encouragingly than that was his usage, which dipped to 21% as MAAR took the wheel. Matthews provides excellent defense and solid OREBs so if his tendency to suck up a bunch of possessions without scoring can be minimized he's still a plus player. For that to happen other guys have to take more shots, and etc etc. I've said it before.

Teske alters the shots. Jon Teske didn't score but that might have been his best game of the season? I might be serious about that. His ten minutes saw him contest maybe a dozen shots, several of which looked like easy finishes until he got involved. Teske was able to fall off his defender despite the opposition starting their drive as Teske, back to the basketball, recovered on a pick and roll; he was only hit with one foul; he at one point intimidated Huerter into a bizarre miss.

I've said it before, but if Mo does go Teske is going to be a different but potentially just as effective post presence.

Don't look at it head on yet. 12/16 from the line. Lack of Matthews/Simpson FTAs (just four) a major factor there. Increased time for Poole very helpful; he's up to 82% on the year.

Wee bit fortunate. Michigan gave up too many good looks from the outside for Maryland to only hit three of them. Their two Just A Shooter guys are hitting 40% on the year and combined to go 1/10. Mostly this happened after the game was decided and closeouts came with less urgency.

Bracket glance. Michigan is now appearing on a fair number of five lines at the Bracket Matrix. Large Media Conglomerate Bracketing still has them as a six, but Michigan is now the top six at BM by some distance. I'd guess they stick there even if they go 1-1 at the Big Ten Tournament. Moving up would probably mean making the final with a win over MSU unless the teams directly in front of them (Kentucky, Rhode Island, Gonzaga, OSU) take a tumble. 

Who Wants To Glitch Mutombo?

Who Wants To Glitch Mutombo?

Submitted by Brian on February 22nd, 2018 at 1:17 PM

2/21/2018 – Michigan 72, Penn State 63 – 23-7, 12-5 Big Ten

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temporary demon [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Everyone just stood around, afterward, wondering what to do. The gobsmacked victim fell over and laid on the ground. A ball newly loosed into the world at large bounced, and bounced. By the time someone decided to acquire it and maybe continue on with the basketball game and the universe writ large, one of the refs had regained his senses sufficiently to bring a halt to proceedings.

For processing. For reflection. For meditation, and a resolve to continue.

The universe is a simulation and one of our minders spilled coffee on the very strange, very red, very unnecessary switch on subpanel 3F-B that reads DUNCAN ROBINSON on one end and DIKEMBE MUTOMBO on the other. Nobody in that universe knew what it did or who those people are. They refused to touch it, for good reason. Once they saw the nonsense that resulted from flipping it they swiftly restored things back to a known good state.

Such was the time in 2018 where Duncan Robinson blocked the soul out of one of his opponents. These were the events, and the proffered explanation. The explanation was clearly insane but since all other attempts were equally insane—if not more so—people let it slide.

We will not mention the part where Robinson calmly glides inside the line and knocks down three critical shots, because that glitch might be sufficiently non-obvious to get away with. It's like Stauskas! That's the ticket! Please leave Duncan Robinson in this known good state instead of some other known not-so-good states. He has always been like this, we promise. That is his line, and it works.

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

There was a point in the second half when Penn State tried to post Robinson up, again, and my reaction was relief. In part this is because Penn State's players post up with the elegance of a capsized hippopotamus, sure. But also Duncan Robinson is an average-ish post defender and post offense that doesn't demand a double team usually sucks.

Having these background facts coalesce into an honest-to-God feeling was the season's weirdest revelatory moment. Duncan Robinson is defending, and I feel fine. Duncan Robinson is lining up for a transition three dagger, and I feel better.

The thunderous matrix glitch later was only fitting. Michigan weathered one of their unfortunate-but-now-trademark scoring droughts because their defense gave it to Penn State all game, holding the hottest team in the country to under a point per possession.

At first this was largely Zavier Simpson putting his face in Tony Carr's chest, all but removing him from a half of basketball. Once it became clear that Penn State had made the requisite adjustments to get Carr some shots, Michigan moved to a 2-3 zone that started off goofy but morphed into a contested-jumper machine that protected the Robinson/Poole combination that Michigan needed to score any points. Carr only managed to scrape into the green very late when he banged in a couple of raise-up threes during the semi-competitive free throw shooting section of the contest.

That's a gameplan win, especially since Penn State's bizarre solution to the problem Michigan's defense poses was to have first Mike Watkins—who is a good player but gets 80% of his buckets at the rim thanks to someone tossing him an assist—and then his backups—who are jabronis—repeatedly post up. The only buckets that came off this action were a couple of heavily contested jumpers that looked about as likely to go in as a Zavier Simpson skyhook; like the skyhook they did go in. But not very frequently.

Michigan has a defense that causes pretty decent teams to go off script in odd ways in an attempt to deal with it, and no galactic six-eyed goggle beast appears to be on the verge of flipping Michigan back to their old reality. That gives them a shot against anyone.

BULLETS

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if this was in the first five minutes it's worth ten points [Campredon]

First Wagner three theory: confirmed. Michigan's first possession was a Wagner corner three swish, which led to a 10 for 21 performance from deep. For his part Wagner was 4/5. I am not sure if I'm serious about this or not now.

A bit later people got frustrated because Wagner was turning open-ish threes into drives that didn't end well; I sort of shared that frustration but also thought that Penn State had some exceptional help defense blocks on drives that were otherwise easy buckets. They probably took 8 points off the board by coming out of nowhere to swat stuff that was about to be At Rim.

Free throws, our good and true friends. You and everyone else thought "here we go again" when MAAR, Michigan's best FT shooter who ever goes to the line, missed both on Michigan's first trip. Michigan was 16/17 the rest of the way. Matthews and Simpson combining for two FTAs was helpful there.

Michigan's all the way up to... uh... 329th in FT%. Movin' on up!

Shot volume... deficit? Yes. Michigan had 12 TOs to PSU's 10 and lost OREBS by 3. (Largely because PSU had 5 "team" OREBs that are almost always luck; also one of those looked like a horrendous call.) I think that's why the game felt like such a failure slog. At this point in my Michigan basketball observation career anything approximating a TO-heavy game feels like the end of the world.

Charles Matthews is broken. I don't know what else to say. You have to keep playing him because you need him to break out of his funk if at all possible. At this point he should probably get a quick hook if he starts off like he did in this game. When he is in he's got to slow it down. There's no way he should have 28, 25, 28, 24, 25, 27, and 27 usage numbers in his last seven games. It's one thing to have a struggling guy on the floor. It's another when he's your highest usage player. Downshift to sophomore GRIII and try to build back up from there.

In which I risk the wrath of Ace. Jordan Poole had another good game, and a desperately needed one what with the previous bullet point.

But, if I may lodge a slight protest: he's too much of a heat check dude right now. He gambled for a steal in the second half, missing it and opening up Michigan's defense for an easy Carr three; a bit later he and Duncan Robinson had a two on one break where Poole challenged a defender unsuccessfully instead of setting up his teammate for a layup. His decision making seems stuck on THIS WOULD BE AWESOME. This leads in equal parts to awesome things and freshman things.

In which I try to patch things up with Ace. ON THE OTHER HAND

I'd rather have a guy with too much swag trying to dial it back a little than a guy you have to swag up. Enswaggen. Fortify with Vitamin Swag. You get the idea.

Another reason to root for Penn State. Michigan gets the four seed and a double bye if they beat Maryland and Penn State wins in Lincoln. That is a good reason to root for Penn State.

Another one: I have been sloppy in my assumption that a top 25 Kenpom team is top 75 in RPI. Penn State is not. They were 76th before yesterday. They currently sit 85th, because RPI is mostly a SOS metric and Penn State's SOS is an abomination. This makes them a quadrant 2 team. A win over Nebraska and maybe a couple in the BTT would likely make them Q1, at least on the road. Nobody else on Michigan's schedule is particularly near the Q1 cliff, FWIW.

I'm going to assume the guy left out the caveat. The over/under on NCAA tournament games that are later vacated is 10, as the agent the FBI nailed was taking notes. Very much notes:

“There are spreadsheets detailing who got paid, how much they got paid and how much more they were planning to pay,” said a source familiar with the investigation. “The feds got everything they wanted and much more. Don’t think it will only be players who ended up signing with ASM that got paid. Those spreadsheets cast a wide net throughout college basketball. If your school produced a first-round pick in the past three years, be worried.”

I'm assuming "and your coach isn't John Beilein" was too obvious to mention.