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.

Michigan 74, Ohio State 62

Michigan 74, Ohio State 62

Submitted by BiSB on February 18th, 2018 at 4:38 PM

December was a long time ago.

When Michigan played Ohio State on December 4, everyone expected Ohio State to be a mediocre-at-best Big Ten team. The Buckeyes’ were coming off a 17-15 season and a disastrous offseason, and hadn’t shown anything particularly noteworthy in the early non-conference season. So when Michigan built, and subsequently blew, a 20-point in Columbus, it looked to be a terrible loss and the sign of a team that might struggle to make the NCAA tournament.  Now, ten weeks later, a home win over that same team being (rightly) seen as a massive résumé win.

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Moe goes up, Moe goes down (Campredon)

Ohio State’s turnaround has been keyed by Big Ten Player-of-the-Year frontrunner Keita Bates-Diop, and Michigan’s resurgence has been led by its defense. On this day, the defense won the battle. Bates-Diop finished with 17 points, but he required 17 shots to get there, and turned the ball over 4 times in the process. Overall, the Wolverines forced 14 turnovers, largely the result of excellent perimeter defense that resulted in numerous transition opportunities. Ohio State’s offensive success was largely predicated on offensive rebounding, as the Buckeyes grabbed 15 offensive boards.

Offensively, Michigan was sluggish out of the gate, trailing 14-10 midway through the first half. That was when Jordan Poole did Jordan Poole things. Michigan went on a 12-4 run, nine of which were Poole’s, including a four-point play. Michigan never relinquished the lead. Poole finished with 15 points on 5-8 shooting, including 4-5 from deep. He was the only Wolverine who shot well from outside (the rest of the team was 3-15 from three), and equally importantly, he provided a notable boost of energy.

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Sir, is your microwave running? Well then you’d better try to catch it (Campredon)

The other palpable source of energy was Moritz Wagner. Wagner scored an efficient 12 points, but also spent a large portion of the afternoon scrambling for loose balls and generally being an hyperactive pest. He also benefited from a (generally) laissez-faire approach from the officials, which allowed him to stay on the court despite being involved in some very physical encounters.

In other positive performances, Jaaron Simmons played extended minutes for the third consecutive game, including a solid stretch along side Jordan Poole during Poole’s first half explosion. The highlight of his first half was a pretty feed to Wagner in the post for an easy. It seems pretty clear at this point that he has supplanted Eli Brooks. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson combined for 20 points in the second half.  On the downside, Charles Matthews continued to struggle. He was abused by JaeSean Tate (though Michigan struggled to defend him down low all game), and he was held to six points on six shots while turning the ball over four times. However, he did have a couple of nice takes to the bucket in the second half, and he generally stayed within the flow of the offense.

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Adieu, gentlemen (Campredon)

This was Senior Day, and Michigan said farewell to three active players; Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson, and Jaaron Simmons all played significant minutes in this one, and generally played well. But the star of the festivities was Austin Hatch.  Hatch, who wasn’t allowed to play because of NCAA rules (he took a medical redshirt a couple of years ago) was announced as a starter, and warmed up with the team. Crisler’s greeting was reminiscent of that Brock Mealer when the Michigan football team opened the season against UConn in 2010.

For the second year in a row, a former Michigan grad transfer played Michigan's Senior Night an a different color jersey. But unlike Spike Albrecht, who received a relatively warm reception, Andrew Dakich was booed every time he touched the ball. Such is the nature of rivalry. Dakich finished with 0 points, 0 assists, and a turnover in 22 minutes.

This win removes what little doubt remained about Michigan’s tournament status. They still have a chance to play their way out of a second-round matchup with a 1- or 2-seed, though Michigan has recently been projected anywhere from a 3-seed to a “launched-by-trebuchet-into-the-sun,” so your guess is as good as mine. For the moment, we will have to be satisfied with a hearty round of “NOT LIKE FOOTBALL <clap> <clap> <clap clap clap>.”

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Shooters Get To Shoot

Shooters Get To Shoot

Submitted by Brian on February 15th, 2018 at 1:22 PM

2/14/2018 – Michigan 74, Iowa 59 – 21-7, 10-5 Big Ten

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

There are many reasons your correspondent does not coach basketball. One of them is that I would not look at Michigan's defensive issues from their first game against Iowa and solve them by putting Duncan Robinson on Tyler Cook. Cook eviscerated anyone Michigan sent at him en route to 28 points at Carver-Hawkeye; yesterday my humorous tweet about how things were going for Robinson was not quite hyperbolic enough:

Cook actually had four points at that juncture. He'd finish with ten, on 18% usage, and Iowa does not win a game where Cook ends up being a role player. Without Luka Garza going NBA Jam from 15 feet, Iowa's offense would have collapsed in a wet puddle; even with that net-burning activity the Hawkeyes were held to 0.88 points per possession, their third-worst outing of the year.

Also Robinson singlehandedly shot Iowa out of their zone, and the game, by hitting 6/8 threes—many of them from a couple feet behind the line. This naturally leads to a lot of sentences that start with "if" and end with ellipses, like "if Duncan Robinson can just do that six straight times..." or "if Duncan Robinson is possessed by the soul of Glen Rice..." or "if Duncan Robinson made a pact with the Devil..."

Then, yeah, man. Yeah. Sometimes a Mitch McGary comes from out of nowhere. It's not likely with Robinson, who's been a contributor for long enough that he's established a baseline of performance. We probably just saw Robinson's best game at Michigan.

I can accept one "if", though: if Robinson can be the 40%+ three point shooter he was his first two years, that could take Michigan's offense up to "threatening to high seed" levels. Knockdown three point shooting makes it very difficult for a Michigan opponent to not get caught in possession-based quicksand.

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

I keep poking it in case it wakes up and trundles off into the sea, leaving me to wonder if it was ever real. It does not wake up. It does not even seem vaguely fluky. Michigan's defense is legitimate. Crashing the boards on this team leads to more transition opportunities the other way than second chances. Iowa is the top OREB team in the Big Ten and Michigan obliterated them. Iowa got 18% of their misses; Michigan got 28% of theirs.

That's a six shot advantage. Turnover margin provided another ten. Even if Michigan is a wonky shooting team, and they usually are this year, there's almost no way to stay in contact with a team that gets 16 more opportunities to score than you do. When only 10 of your attempts are from three, forget about it.

Michigan now combines elite turnover avoidance, elite defensive rebounding, and elite three-point shot prevention. If they were anywhere near their usual level of sharpshooting this team would be really something. They aren't, so they're just a B outfit headed for a middling seed.

But I think there's something in this new paradigm. Michigan will remain an elite turnover avoidance team as long as Beilein is here. Their worst performance in the past six years was 17th. Preventing threes also seems sustainable. They were 218th two years ago when Beilein turned his staff over and hired a defensive coordinator; under Billy Donlon they were 9th; under Luke Yaklich they are 10th. There's no reason that can't continue.

Rebounding is an open question. This is Beilein's best DREB team by almost four full percentage points, and Wagner is (somehow) now the kind of elite DREB vacuum that might move the needle. You'd think Teske would be at least in the vicinity, though.

If Michigan can go from a team that gets a lot of shots to a team that has a huge shot margin because the opposition isn't getting second chances, and that eFG D is helped out by that 3PA prevention, and they can do this with a Typical Beilein level of shooting... well, yeah, that seems like it would be good.

I eagerly anticipate marrying the era where there's a defensive coordinator with the one where Michigan assassinates archdukes with called bank shots. For now, let's hope Maverick Morgan sent Robinson a shitty DM last week.

BULLETS

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oblig mad fran [Campredon]

Damn me to hell. Yesterday in our Slack chat I wondered why Fran McCaffrey, a guy with one regular under 6'5", didn't play zone. So of course for the first time in McCaffrey's dang career he sends his team out in a 2-3 zone from the drop. Michigan spent their requisite 5-10 minutes staring uncomprehendingly at it, staking Iowa to an early lead, and limped to a 1.1 PPP performance against a defense that was previously horrible.

Michigan—Robinson—eventually shot Iowa out of it, but honestly they should have stuck with it. The zone completely neutralized the Bohannon-Simpson matchup that was a major problem for the Hawkeyes earlier this year. Simpson had one shot attempt, four assists, and three TOs. Charles Matthews also struggled mightily against it, and the Robinson threes weren't always open or anywhere near the three point line.

Michigan's going to continue facing these zones because they don't have many rise-up threats against it. Matthews and Simpson aren't; Robinson evidently can be but if he's having an off game your other options are... MAAR, I guess, and he loathes being a high usage guy. Hopefully next year's vanguard will make zone a very bad idea—DeJulius, Nunez, and Brazdeikis are all guys who can punish the half-closeouts zones generally provide outside shooters.

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[Campredon]

Every day I'm scuffling. Charles Matthews continues to implode down the stretch. We should mention that one of his misses was a Kobe assist that led directly to a Teske dunk. Still: 10 points on 17 shot attempts is grim even if he grabbed four OREBs. A couple of his makes were transition gimmes, too. It's nice that he's able to run the floor and dunk explosively; in our imaginary grading system that's less of a positive than breaking down a set defense.

Michigan just has to live with it, I think. MAAR will turn into a gremlin if he ever gets up to 24% usage in a game, Simpson's total lack of a jump shot limits him, Wagner's already carrying a heavy load, Livers is a role player at this point in his career, and Robinson is 85% Just A Shooter. And it's tough to shove minutes over to Poole when he's 0/4 in a game, as he was here.

Matthews still has a lot of upside to explore but I don't think we're going to see a 180 down the stretch here.

Expand flagrants. Iowa had two hard fouls on Michigan fast breaks that were not declared flagrants. They probably weren't under the current rules. But they should be. On both, the Iowa player had no realistic play on the ball and undercut a Michigan guy in a full sprint. Instead of cool dunk action, we got free throws, and both Michigan players hit the court hard. Those fouls are intentional and are not legitimate defensive plays; they should be two shots and the ball. If you are behind a guy on a fast break you should not be able to grab them without that outcome being worse than no foul at all.

It'll be different without Mo, but maybe not worse. I assume Mo Wagner is headed for the exit after this year even if he's not ranked particularly high on draft boards, because he's done what he can to make himself more attractive to the next level—become an excellent rebounder—and his defensive deficiencies are baked in. I'd love to have him back, but I'm not banking on it.

I am relatively sanguine about this possibility because of Jon Teske, who had 8 rebounds, three offensive, and three steals in 16 minutes. Teske doesn't quite qualify for Kenpom leaderboards—he's about 4 MPG short—but if he did he would be in the top 20 nationally as an offensive rebounder. And his OREB rate goes up as the competition gets stiffer. That's probably a sample size issue, but it does go to show that it's not an artifact of beating up on the Alabama A&Ms of the world. He's also got an absurd-for-a-big steal rate:

He is the blue dot all the way to the right, and would be top 100 in steal rate for all players if he qualified. While Teske isn't an elite shot blocker his post defense is already solid or better, and he's showing flashes of being an efficient scorer with decent usage. He's not far from being this site's Dream Beilein Post, non-Pittsnogle division: an elite possession generator and rim protector. Just has to get that block rate up some and he's going to be a major positive. McGary-esque, perhaps.

FWIW, I was poking around Beilein's history on Kenpom and the one year Michigan's OREB rate wasn't in the red was the Final Four team, which had 20 MPG of McGary, an elite OREB guy (16%), 15 MPG of Jordan Morgan, a very good one (14%), and 5 minutes of Jon Horford, an okay one (10%) along with Glenn Robinson's solid 8% OREB rate. Livers is at 8, Matthews is at 6, and Wagner is at 7. 30 MPG of Teske and his 15% OREB rate has the potential to bring Michigan's OREBs from around 250th to 130th.

That would take Michigan's possession advantage from very good to great.

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[Campredon]

Simmons lives! Jaaron Simmons has 20 minutes in the last couple games; he canned a pull-up three in front of the zone and had a clever steal to set himself up for a dunk. With four assists to one turnover he had a productive outing. He's not in Simpson's class as a defender but he is the man who got absolutely zero help from his Ohio teammates a year ago; if there's a team daring Michigan to shoot over a zone he might be a decent option. Certainly more of a threat than Simpson to do so.

BTN gives, BTN takes. On the one hand, Robbie Hummel is already very good early in his broadcast career. He offers intelligent studio analysis and his color is mostly unnoticeable—a major positive—until he says something insightful. On the other, I find it impossible to listen to Jon Crispin for two hours without thinking about the sweet release of death.

Michigan 58, Northwestern 47

Michigan 58, Northwestern 47

Submitted by Ace on January 29th, 2018 at 9:48 PM


After a slow start, Michigan eventually ran away from Northwestern. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

In a game that will be memorable only for being forgettable, Michigan slowly pulled away from Northwestern after a close, repulsive first half.

The Wildcats inched their way out to an early nine-point lead by hitting the occasional shot while the Wolverines were completely befuddled by Northwestern's matchup zone, choosing mostly to shoot over it to no avail. Michigan scored only five points in the game's first ten minutes. They went 3-for-15 on three-pointers in the opening stanza with two of those makes coming in a late 10-0 run to close the half.

Northwestern couldn't capitalize, however, because Michigan's defense was every bit as stingy. After a quick start, they scored five points over the final 13 minutes of the half, including a seven-minute scoreless stretch to end it.

Given halftime to adjust, John Beilein's squad figured out the zone, scoring 1.19 point per possession in the second half. Charles Matthews repeatedly cut to wide open space on the baseline, finishing with a team-high 14 points on 11 shots with seven rebounds and three steals. Great ball movement led to 4-for-10 three-point shooting on a series of wide-open looks.


While Michigan warmed up, Northwestern struggled to get good looks. [Campredon]

Unlike their foe, Michigan held up on defense, keeping Northwestern well below a point per possession with turnovers on over a quarter of them for the second straight half. Over the whole game, they held the Wildcats to their third-worst offensive performance of the season.

Michigan won comfortably with a balanced attack. Five players finished with at least eight points, including the increasingly used backcourt duo of Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman and Jordan Poole; both also dished out three assists apiece with no turnovers, and Poole whipped around some really impressive passes that didn't immediately lead to buckets. (Related: we'll see that backcourt more in certain late-game situations.) Moe Wagner scored all eight of points in the second half and did strong work on the boards all evening; Jon Teske, meanwhile, grabbed five rebounds in just 11 minutes.

After the initial zone adjustment period, there were only two major downsides. While Duncan Robinson managed to sneak into the gaps for eight points, he missed all six of his threes despite some really good looks. Then, in the game's final moments, Zavier Simpson took a hard shot to the back when Isaiah Livers failed to alert him to Dererk Pardon's oncoming screen. Simpson spent a possession down at midcourt before eventually walking off; he was in obvious pain on the bench, but hopefully it's not something that lingers.

At 7-4 in the Big Ten, Michigan moves into a tie for fourth place with Nebraska. They get the rest of the week to prepare for a plummeting Minnesota squad to come to Crisler on Saturday afternoon.

[Hit THE JUMP for a few more of MG's photos and the box score.]

Purdue 70, Michigan 69

Purdue 70, Michigan 69

Submitted by Ace on January 9th, 2018 at 11:47 PM


[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Thirty-nine minutes and fifty-four seconds of exquisite basketball ruined by replay.

Michigan and Purdue played an absolute classic tonight. Twice the fifth-ranked Boilermakers stretched their lead to double digits; twice Michigan clawed their way back, finally taking their first lead of the game with under five minutes remaining.

Moe Wagner went toe-to-toe with Isaac Haas in the post. Zavier Simpson hit multiple floaters over seven-footers, including one to beat the first-half buzzer. Charles Matthews hit a couple cold-blooded jab-step threes. Jordan Poole scored eight points in seven minutes. Isaiah Livers was everywhere. Regardless of outcome, it was a game that showed Michigan's present and (especially) future are both bright.

But about that outcome. With under ten seconds on the clock in a 69-69 tie, Matthews came off a Wagner screen, got a step on Dakota Mathias, and drove hard to the basket. Mathias reached through Matthews and poked the ball out from behind, no foul, Michigan ball—as with countless plays before it, the gentleman's agreement to give that play to the offense applied.

Then the refs went to the scorer's table and spent five minutes Zaprudering the play, killing much of the considerable excitement from the wild back-and-forth affair before eventually determining the ball lingered on Matthews's hand for a frame or two after the Mathias poke. Purdue got the ball, Wagner committed a (legitimate) foul on Haas, who made the first of two free throws. A buzzer-beating heave by Matthews took a painful journey around the rim and out.

It's hard not to feel robbed. While it's also hard not to be excited about this team, that rings hollow when a call that's never made in the first 38 minutes of a game costs them a much-needed signature win. The future is bright. The present, for the moment, is stupid.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Michigan 75, Iowa 68

Michigan 75, Iowa 68

Submitted by Ace on January 2nd, 2018 at 9:30 PM

The first six minutes of the conference re-opener against Iowa were an ugly slog. Eli Brooks committed a turnover on the team's first possession trying to fit an entry pass to Charles Matthews. Moe Wagner coughed up two turnovers and committed a foul, hitting the bench early. Wagner and Duncan Robinson had a tough time containing Iowa forward Tyler Cook, who opened the game with a Wagner-like behind-the-back dribble and dunk.

As Charles Matthews split a pair of free throws to cut Iowa's lead to 10-8 with 13:43 to go in the first half, John Beilein sent in Zavier Simpson and Isaiah Livers to replace Brooks and Robinson. It paid off immediately. Jon Teske, in for Wagner, rebounded the second free throw; the ball found its way to Livers, who dropped it off to Teske for an open midrange jumper.

Livers or Simpson were involved in Michigan's next four baskets to give the Wolverines a comfortable lead, and the two maintained a high level of play for the duration. Simpson was a bona-fide scoring threat, leading the team with 15 points on ten shot equivalents as he kept Iowa off-balance with aggressive forays to the basket and smooth spot-up threes. He also ran the offense beautifully, dishing out seven assists with no turnovers, and came up with two steals while playing his usual intense defense.

Livers, meanwhile, had the best game of his young career. While he scored 13 points, made all three of his three-point attempts, and added two rebounds, three assists, and two steals, his impact went beyond his stat line. While Michigan never slowed down Cook, who scored a game-high 28 points on 10-for-15 shooting, the presence of Livers greatly improved the overall defense. With Livers also shooting better than Robinson, Beilein went with the freshman for most of the game, playing him 27 minutes. While one-game plus-minus stats can be misleading, it's impossible to ignore that Livers finished a game-high +23 while Robinson was -18. There was a similarly sizeable split (+14 to -7) between Simpson and Brooks.

With those two leading the way, Michigan pushed the lead as high as 15 points in the first half and 17 in the the second. They took their foot off the gas early, allowing the Hawkeyes to get within single digits in the very late going, but they were never in danger of losing.

There is some danger in taking too much away from this game; Iowa is now 0-3 in the conference and, beyond Cook, looked to be at a significant talent deficit. That said, Simpson wasn't doing this kind of stuff against anyone last year, and Livers finally getting his outside shots to fall could be the key to getting Robinson back to the sixth man role to which he's best suited.

The team's ball movement tonight was as good as it's been all season; they had 18 assists on 28 field goals and ripped apart Iowa's zone when they attempted a defensive changeup. They won on the road in a conference game despite getting almost nothing (4 points, 2/6 FG, 2 TO) from Wagner. The reliable playmaking of Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman (15 points, six assists) and Charles Matthews (14 points) went a long way towards covering for that lack of production.

Those are significant developments, even against a team that doesn't look like it'll get any sort of postseason action. A John Beilein team with a true score-pass threat at the point is a dangerous thing indeed; ditto one that can field a lineup with the athleticism and defensive potential of, say, Simpson-MAAR-Matthews-Livers-Teske without seeing a significant drop in shooting ability. This team is taking shape, and they're looking dangerous.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Michigan 76, Jacksonville 51

Michigan 76, Jacksonville 51

Submitted by Ace on December 30th, 2017 at 8:09 PM


Michigan: bigger and better than Jacksonville. [James Coller]

Michigan tested John Beilein's patience, coughing up ten first-half turnovers. Jacksonville tested the structural integrity of the Crisler Center baskets, when they hit them at all. The Wolverines, led by standout performances from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (20 points) and Charles Matthews (18 points, 7 rebounds), eventually cruised to an easy victory.

Notes:

  • Moe Wagner, who started in his first appearance since rolling his ankle against Texas, took even longer to shake off the rust than the rest of his teammates. He moved well, however, and got into the rhythm of the game in the second half, when he scored all seven of his points.
  • Abdur-Rahkman proved unstoppable, making all eight shots from the field on his way to a team-high 20 points. He could score at the rim whenever he wanted.
  • Rotation watch: Ibi Watson played only four minutes before getting pulled following an ugly step-in two that drew Beilein's ire. Eli Brooks remained the starter with Zavier Simpson getting nearly equal time; Jaaron Simmons didn't enter until the final minutes. Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers each played 12 minutes.
  • Poole went on a personal 8-2 run late with a couple threes and a slick layup in traffic.
  • Jacksonville had, by my count, four first-half airballs.
  • Penn State held on to beat Washington in the Fiesta Bowl, keeping the Big Ten perfect in bowl games. You probably know this because that's what you were watching.
  • The Wisconsin-Miami game is on ESPN right now. You're probably already watching it.
  • Michigan gets a very quick turnaround, heading to Iowa (9-6, 0-2 Big Ten) to resume conference play on Tuesday evening (7 pm, ESPN2).

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Michigan 90, Detroit 58

Michigan 90, Detroit 58

Submitted by Ace on December 16th, 2017 at 2:49 PM


Detroit couldn't break through the Wall of Teske. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Mercy.

Fine, some notes:

Detroit was awful. I need to get this out of the way before discussing anything else from this game. Detroit came out looking like a team that had quit on Bacari Alexander, going 5-for-23 from the field in the first half with as many turnovers (15) as rebounds while allowing a parade of open threes for Michigan. Things didn't improve much in the second half. Unfortunately, Alexander may not be long for that job—there's only so much to take away from this game on the Michigan side because of how poorly Detroit played.

While Moe Wagner sat, Jon Teske balled out. As expected, Wagner's minor ankle sprain kept him out. Michigan didn't miss a beat with Teske in the middle, as Detroit simply couldn't handle his size on either end of the floor. In 28 minutes, he scored 15 points on 14 shot equivalents, pulled down six of his ten rebounds on the offensive end, came up with two steals, and somehow didn't record a block while impacting a number of shots. Teske's stamina got tested a bit as Austin Davis fouled out in seven minutes (Davis did provide four points before his exit) and he held up well.

Charles Matthews had a great second half. Matthews didn't even arrive at the arena until 45 minutes before tipoff. Per The Athletic's Brendan Quinn, Matthews's grandmother passed away last week, and Charles went with assistant coach DeAndre Haynes to the funeral yesterday before flying back to Detroit this morning. After a slow start, Matthews was brilliant in the second half, scoring 17 of his 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting while getting to the rim at will.

(Almost) everyone shot well. Duncan Robinson broke out of his funk with a 3-for-4 performance from downtown; Zavier Simpson hit both his triples and 3-of-5 twos; Jordan Poole scored 12 points on ten shots in just 15 minutes; even Ibi Watson got into the act, making 2-of-3 threes. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Eli Brooks were the main exceptions, going a combined 2-for-10.

Isaiah Livers is getting close. He played with great energy, recording five offensive rebounds and two blocks. He showed off his passing skill with three assists, including couple really nice post feeds. He's on the verge of a breakout, but after missing his only three-point attempt, he's 2-for-15 from beyond the arc this season. His form looks fine; if/when those shots start falling, he's going to push for a bigger role and quite possibly Robinson's starting spot.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Michigan 78, UCLA 69 (OT)

Michigan 78, UCLA 69 (OT)

Submitted by Ace on December 9th, 2017 at 4:08 PM


Today's unlikely heroes. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

"I've coached more college games than any of you," John Beilein said to the assembled media. "I've never seen anything like this."

Rarely has a game, and quite possibly a season, turned so dramatically in so little time.

Facing UCLA in a matchup of paramount importance to their NCAA tournament resumé, Michigan allowed the same problems that have plagued this team all year to appear at seemingly the worst time. Despite open looks, they couldn't buy a three, opening the game 4-for-19 from beyond the arc. UCLA's Aaron Holiday got whatever he wanted against Michigan's point guards; ditto Thomas Welsh going to work inside against M's centers.

The Bruins took a three-point lead into halftime, and the lead easily could've been larger if not for some sloppy play on their part. That luck didn't last. UCLA's margin ballooned to 15 when Holiday drilled a three right out of the first media timeout of the second half. Then Charles Matthews, who'd had a quiet first half and opened the second with a traveling violation, started cooking. Every possession went through him, and for good reason; by the next media timeout, Matthews had ten more points and a Kobe assist, almost singlehandedly cutting the defecit to seven.


Charles Matthews went off in the game's final 20 minutes. [Campredon]

Matthews would've been even more productive in that stretch, and throughout the game, if not for major struggled at the free-throw line that extended to the rest of the team. Michigan would finish 8-for-22 from the charity stripe; Matthews posted a brutal 2-for-10 mark. As such, he couldn't bring the team back on his own. A pair of unlikely players picked him up.

"Eli [Brooks] saved the game for us," said Matthews. "I was so glad he made those free throws. I was going to hear about that for weeks to come. They're tough, especially that little dude over there [Zavier Simpson], he's a bull. He just brings toughness that a lot of point guards can't match."

Simpson did more than bring toughness, though he did plenty of that, recording four steals and helping hound Holiday into five second-half turnovers. He also had his best offensive game in a Michigan uniform, scoring 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting with a pair of threes and a couple huge late layups, including an improbable scoop past Welsh to beat the shot clock.

"I call that the three o'clock," said Simpson. "Coach Beilein calls that the time layups, where he wants us to shoot 12 o'clock scoops, three o'clock, six o'clock, nine o'clock. Now I didn't know it was going glass, but I knew it was going in when I released it. It felt good."


Simpson scored 15 points and went 2-for-2 from downtown. [Campredon]

Seemingly all his shots were timely. After Moe Wagner shook off a slow start to add some critical buckets down the stretch, Simpson's "three o'clock" shot got the Wolverines within two, and with only 18 seconds left he pickpocketed Holiday and took it the other way for a layup, bringing M within a single point. G.G. Goloman split a pair of free throws, giving Michigan a chance to tie. When Eli Brooks got fouled on a strong baseline drive, the game came down to the last place Michigan wanted it to be: the free-throw line, where Brooks had gone 3-for-6 to start his freshman year.

"I don't think he's made two in a row all year long," said Beilein.

Brooks calmly sunk both free throws, the first he'd attempted all game. Beilein went back to Simpson for UCLA's final possession. That paid off in spades when he poked the ball away from Holiday, forcing an ugly final attempt by Prince Ali that was well off the mark.

Once Michigan had forced overtime, momentum carried them the rest of the way. Simpson opened the extra period with a three-pointer and Matthews took over from there, responding to a late-game challenge from Beilein, who didn't mince words late in the second half when missed free throws looked likely to cost the team the game.

"You've been the MVP for UCLA so far," Beilein told Matthews. "You've gotta be the MVP for us."

Matthews rose to the occasion, adding four more points in the final period to finish with 20, just behind Moe Wagner (23) for the team high on the afternoon. He also had one of Michigan's three steals in the extra session to ensure the team wouldn't have to sweat out the final seconds at the line.

"It's really a great testimony to our kids," Beilein said. "We did everything we could to play some inefficient basketball. When we really needed to suck it up and get some work done at the end, we got it done. I'm hoping it's a huge benchmark for our team as we go forward."

At the very least, it got Michigan a much-needed quality non-conference win, and they'll get a shot at another on Monday night at Texas. We may very well look back today's game—and the brutal Ohio State loss that preceded it—as a turning point akin to last year's Illinois debacle and its aftermath.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Basketbullets: Can This Team Be Good?

Basketbullets: Can This Team Be Good?

Submitted by Ace on December 6th, 2017 at 2:48 PM


[James Coller]

After the collapse at Ohio State on Monday, there's been quite a bit of consternation among Michigan fans about the course of the season. The Wolverines sit at 7-3, and they're only 2-3 against viable competition, with their best win coming against the #82-ranked team on KenPom. If they don't at least come away with a split in their upcoming games against UCLA and Texas, there's good reason to worry about how this team is going to compile a worthy tournament resumé.

To get an idea of how the season could play out, I wanted to take a look at how John Beilein's Michigan teams have improved (or not) over the course of the season. I'm an idiot, however, so thankfully our very own Alex Cook had the same thought and could actually put it into action. Alex used the game score metric from Bart Torvik*—a 0-100 score for each game based on adjusted efficiency margin—to map out the in-season progression of Beilein's teams. This, for example, is last season's graph. The blue line tracks the individual game scores; the black line is a five-game running average; the gray line is the overall season trend. As you certainly guessed, the 2016-17 graph shows a great deal of late-season improvement:


Waltoning, The Graph

The first question that I had: was last year more the exception or the rule? Alex went through each season to get the answer. Positive numbers show in-season improvement, negative the opposite:

I'm about to get into much more detail, but the initial takeaway is we can't assume that Beilein is going to turn things around this season without a couple things breaking the right way. Using the above as a guide, it's time to take a look at the potential ways this season plays out.

[Hit THE JUMP for season scenarios with past precedent.]