Plinko Pays Some Debts

Plinko Pays Some Debts

Submitted by Brian on March 27th, 2018 at 1:10 PM

3/24/2018 – Michigan 3, Northeastern 2 – 21-14-3
3/25/2018 – Michigan 6, Boston U 3 – 22-14-3, Frozen Four

I've seen NCAA tournament games like Sunday's before: one team gets down, and gets desperate, and dumps all that energy into a relentless pursuit of the puck. Sometimes it's Michigan overturning a 3-0 deficit against Denver to win. Sometimes it's Boston College dominating just about every second despite being down 2-1. Most of the time when this team gets even, they keep going. BC's tying goal in 2004 was game over even if it took overtime. Shots were 45-17 in a game Michigan led the vast majority of. If North Dakota had scored on Shawn Hunwick, that was also game over.

So: Sunday. After about 30 minutes where Michigan had the edge in zone time and staked themselves to a two-goal lead, BU scores on a wraparound, then amps up their forecheck. The ice tilts their direction. When Quinn Hughes isn't on the ice, Michigan barely attempts a controlled zone exit, instead flinging the puck up the boards to BU defensemen. They dump it back in to continue the cycle. The game started to feel like Michigan's recent Big Ten playoff outing against Wisconsin, which this space called Michigan's worst of the year despite the fact that they won it.

And BU scores. They score when Josh Norris flips a pass back to Joe Cecconi in the face of two forecheckers. Cecconi makes a bad situation worse by trying to fling the puck up the slot. Turnover, unchecked guy directly in front of goalie with puck, goal, tie game, game over feeling.

The ensuing three minutes are more of the same; Michigan does not register a shot attempt and BU has a couple of dangerous chances. Then Slaker takes the puck out of the zone—a tiny flag is waved—and gets rubbed out on the boards. This is about the least threatening way hockey players can be configured:

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Slaker duly follows up on the defenseman the puck is wandering towards, and then something magical and very very stupid happens. That guy's attempted D to D pass gets caught up in the snow around the bench and turns into a perfect lead pass for Slaker. Horrified, the defenseman explodes in a shower of equipment and collapses to the ground, where he remains even now. Slaker then skates into the slot and shoots a puck off the other defenseman's shin that goes straight into the net. Various larger flags are waved.

That's more or less it. Michigan puts up an insurance marker a bit later but in a game like hockey even when you're playing badly and giving up a bunch of zone time to the opposition, a one goal lead is usually enough with 13 minutes left. They put up a stat at the beginning of the third that Michigan was a brazillion and one when leading after two and BU was 2-6 when trailing. 

Slaker's goal combined with Michigan's second, which bounced off the end boards and behind the goalie directly to Brendan Warren, and the BU wrap-around goal to lend the proceedings the distinct whiff of Barely Weighted Hockey Plinko. This is why it was very exciting to get in the tournament: it's usually pretty random and this year there is no dominant team that threatens to make it less so. The top seed got blown up by Air Force, which is a movie we've seen before.

Once you're there, though… I have to admit that mixed in with the hope and nervousness is a certain nihilism, because of this terrible format and hockey's failure to address the goalie revolution that shot save percentages skyward. I shook my fist at hockey plinko when Northeastern scored to even a game in which Michigan had a 2-to-1 shot advantage, and muttered something positive about it under my breath when Michigan scored on a harmless-looking play to retake the lead. They don't quite even out.

But here they are, no more or less deserving than Carl Hagelin or TJ Hensick or dozens of other Michigan hockey players who had the misfortune to have the puck bounce the wrong way instead of the right way. Cooper Marody, Tony Calderone, and Dexter Dancs wiped out the best line in the country in game one; Quinn Hughes spent the weekend looking like he had rockets in his skates; the team as a whole mercifully stayed out of the box for the vast majority of both games. Insofar as it's possible to earn anything in single elimination hockey, Michigan has earned their way to their first Frozen Four in seven years.

May our continued existence continue to entertain the hockey gods.

BULLETS

PONCHO TIME? Hockey borrowed something from basketball.

I'll allow it.

This is too random. Some randomness in a tourney is fun. Without it there's no point in playing. Too much randomness and the format is clearly broken, with annually unsatisfying champions that have no real claim to being the best team. This is too random:

After going 12-0 against No. 4s in the first three years, No. 1s are 31-21. A No. 4 seed has won at least one game against a No. 1 in each of the last 13 seasons. Since realignment came about, No. 4 seeds have won eight of 12. …

In the case of those four seeds that became national champions — Yale in 2013 and Providence in 2015 — they were the last teams in the tournament. Providence qualified by .0002 RPI points over Bowling Green in 2015. This year, Duluth was the last team in by .0001 points over Minnesota. In any other year, UMD would've been a No. 4 as well. However, BU, Princeton and Michigan Tech winning their conference tournaments changed all of that.

Air Force turtled against SCSU and got lucky, like they did against Michigan some years back. The prevalence of blocked shots and super high save percentages makes that strategy pay off way too often; the sport should take radical steps to increase scoring, so that individual games are more indicative of who's actually better at doing hockey.

Stayed out of the box! Four power plays against on the weekend. One fairly badass goal from Northeastern and that's it. Given the margins here any more would have been disastrous.

But it was rough against BU. Per College Hockey News, Michigan was out-shot-attempted 63-31 at even strength. M helped bridge that gap by blocking almost a third of BU's attempts (19); BU only blocked 6 of Michigan's. Michigan benefited from the randomness this year. Hooray.

I take solace in the fact that Michigan played ND dead even this year and it didn't seem like the Irish were ever able to lock Michigan in their own zone like BU did, even when they trailed in both games of the Michigan sweep.

If Michigan does get OSU that's… sort of okay? 0-5 on the year is far from ideal, but the playoff outing was just about even at 5v5, and even though Michigan was swept in multi-goal games in late January they had huge ES Corsi advantages in both games. (55-31 and 43-23.) I ain't scared of those guys.

Hughes. Before this season my personal ranking of defensemen I've seen play for Michigan went like this:

  1. Jacob Trouba
  2. Mike Komisarek
  3. Zach Werenski
  4. Jack Johnson
  5. Jon Merrill

Hughes is flying up the list despite not even being drafted yet. He's… #3? I think I'd take him over Werenski. His absurd skating nullifies most of his size deficiencies…

…and late in the year he's learned what he can do at this level. He's still a bit wild and will turn the puck over in a bad spot a couple times per game, but that's because he's trying—and largely succeeding at—stuff that nobody else has the ability to even attempt. Here's an excellent twitter thread highlighting some of the things he did in the BU game.

Etc.: Michigan, those loveable underdog scamps. Berenson watched from the stands.

Bricklayers

Bricklayers

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

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

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[Patrick Barron]

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

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

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

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

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[Barron]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also he missed a couple free throws.

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[Barron]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[After the jump: the most bonkers stat]

HUG PROTOCOL

HUG PROTOCOL

Submitted by Brian on March 19th, 2018 at 12:30 PM

3/15/2018 – Michigan 61, Montana 47 – 29-7, Round of 32
3/17/2018 – Michigan 64, Houston 63 – 30-7, Sweet 16

It's a list I don't even have to keep, because it is so narrow. A list gets written down. When you can count the number of persons given TOP SECRET access to the HUG PROTOCOL on your hands—and you could probably have had a finger lopped off in a bag accident and still gotten by—it's not really a list. It's an iron-clad fact of life. The hug protocol is buried deep behind passcodes and false leads and a butler who keeps the secret in a tattoo behind his ear.

So here are the persons that I have engaged in uncompuncted, mutually enthusiastic, joyous hug activities with before this weekend:

  • my parents
  • my brother
  • my wife
  • my son
  • a guy who I can confidently state was from the Indian subcontinent and think was probably Pakistani in the King's Head, a bar in Galway, Ireland, when Robbie Keane scores against Germany during the 2002 World Cup; our hug occurs largely because everyone else in the bar was Irish and we were the dudes left over
  • Everyone within 10 feet of me when Landon Donovan scored against Algeria 

I spent the 1998 Rose Bowl amongst very wrong people. When Trey Burke hit The Shot 1.0 there was still a lot of work to do; fist-pumping and guttural Viking cries were the order of the day. Jumping up and down in a pile, not so much. That shot just swung Michigan from certain defeat to potential defeat. Burke, of course, made damn sure his moment wasn't wasted. That still took some time.

It's a different thing, being rescued half-way.

Jordan Poole (and Isaiah Livers and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman) rescued Michigan all the way, draining the very last tenth of a second off the clock in doing so. And, man, 100% is an entirely different feeling than 95%. Ask a Houston fan today, or yourself a few months ago during the Maryland game when Isaiah Livers dropped a dime on MAAR in an eerily similar situation. MAAR got to the line, swinging Michigan's win probability from LOL NOPE to PRETTY DANG LIKELY. And the main thing to feel was a restricted, conditional hope; after the android version of MAAR nailed both free throws the new feeling was relief.

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Things that would make a win probability chart fold in on itself. My first reaction when I saw the thing the NIT's quarters did…

winprob

…to the Louisville-Northern Kentucky game on Kenpom was "this is the most accurate chart." If your sports life doesn't feel like that I don't know you. 95, 96, 97… these are not 100. 100 is 100, and only 100 is 100.

4 to 100 in 3.6 seconds is when the hug protocol is broken out and the room becomes a single hopping organism for a solid 20 seconds. At the same time, Poole is displaying his lateral agility by temporarily escaping the on-court pile. The walk-ons track him down, because walk-ons are crafty by necessity, and then you get the sports picture.

Afterwards, twitter is checked and re-checked. Poole talks to the media, and then John Beilein says Poole has an "overdose of swag."

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[JD Scott]

Folks congratulate a man who just won an Oscar for finally doing something with his life. John Beilein ups his water-fight ante with poncho and goggles.

(It is only a matter of time before he invades the locker room in a firefighting mech.) Over the next 36 hours, Michigan's entire half of the bracket commits seppuku. It's all in front of them, and they didn't even play particularly well.

Take a breath. Enjoy it for what it is, right now. Down big to UCLA this looked like an NIT outfit, and now they're here. Sun yourself. Bask, until you have reached your swag limit, and then bask just a little more. Weekends like this stand on their own.

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[JD Scott]

BULLETS

The other side. Devin Davis feels horrible today despite exceeding his season average on free throws, because the makes and misses came in the worst possible order. Wagner gave him a thought…

…and it didn't help much.

Maybe we can get together later and talk about the funniest Tom Crean transfers who made the tournament while Indiana did not. If that doesn't cheer you up, nothing will.

THE DOOR OPENS. You may be aware of this already, but: Michigan is the highest seed remaining on their half of the bracket after the ignominious demises of Xavier, North Carolina, Virginia, Cincinnati, and Tennessee.

This doesn't mean you should be disappointed if Michigan isn't in the national title game. Everyone is good at this point, and there are no home games unless you're Kansas. A&M over UNC was most welcome but Kenpom gives M a 62% chance against the Aggies—it is anything but a slam dunk to get to the Final Four.

Still… coulda, coulda been worse. #7 Gonzaga and #16 Kentucky are the top teams Michigan can face on the way to the title game. All those teams above are gonzo, and there's a decent chance Michigan beats A&M and gets a team (Florida State) that's currently one slot behind Penn State in Kenpom.

Going to have to do better, though. Michigan is going to run into a team that can score adequately on them despite their excellent defense, and at that point they're going to have to get back to Big Ten Tournament-level offense or they're going to crash out. Michigan's weekend was ugly, ugly stuff. More analysis later. I tried to start writing analysis and, nope, let's hold off on that for a second here.

An excellently timed and cromulent article. The New York Times on Michigan's short shorts:

“The long shorts are out of date,” the sophomore Ibi Watson said. “If they can touch your knees, they’re way too long.”

It is said that fashion is cyclical. The irony is that the same program that bucked the trend by concealing its legs in the 1990s is helping bring skin back in now.

In fact, players on Michigan, seeded third in the West region and set to play Montana in the first round of the N.C.A.A. tournament on Thursday night, lamented that they can’t get find shorts that are quite revealing enough.

So they roll their shorts at the waistband. Once. Twice.

“Three rolls is the max,” Watson said. “If you go four, it’s too much.”

He added, “I think they should just start making shorter shorts.”

Jalen Rose's furious letter to the editor has not yet been published.

I watched them all, and this is the best one. All songs have been put over the buzzer-beater, and I like this one best.

YMMV.

Another angle. Via Alejandro Zuniga and reddit:

The Chaos Is Back In Town

The Chaos Is Back In Town

Submitted by Brian on March 6th, 2018 at 2:36 PM

3/2/2018 – Michigan 6, Wisconsin 5 – 19-13-3, 11-10-3 Big Ten
3/3/2018 – Michigan 7, Wisconsin 4 – 20-13-3, 11-10-3 Big Ten

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keystone flops [Bill Rapai]

Just when you think Michigan has banished chaos from its ranks, Wisconsin rolls into town. This weekend's playoff series was, in a word, bonkers. Michigan scored on their first shot Friday; Wisconsin scored on their first shot Saturday. In between there was a lot of hyper-aggressive forechecking from the Badgers, power play goals by Michigan, and wave after wave of odd-man rushes both ways. Your favorite and mine was a four on one(!) set up by Quinn Hughes and finished with authority by Dakota Raabe and Niko Porikos:

This is the hockey equivalent of Brent Hibbits throwing down that thunder-dunk on Isaac Haas. It was that kind of weekend.

In the aftermath, Wisconsin is wondering what happened to their season

“We expected more out of this group,” said sophomore center Trent Frederic, who led the team with 17 goals. “It is what it is. It’s hard to look back and say we could have won here, could have won here.

“I wouldn’t say we really ever got any bounces all year. Last year, some stuff went our way. Maybe we weren’t as fortunate or maybe that was ourselves. But it just felt like one of those years (where) we were always fighting it.”

…and your author agrees. Michigan played the Badgers four times in their Hey We're Good Now second half and got more or less run out of the building twice. That did not happen against anyone else. One of those times they got run was Friday, a 6-5 Michigan that saw Wisconsin pile up a 53-29 shot advantage. It was all for naught because Michigan was 4/5 on the power play. The only other team that's handed Michigan their ass like that this year is—sigh—Ohio State. OSU is fighting for a one seed. Wisconsin's season is over because they are 5 games below .500.

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[JD Scott]

Wisconsin is almost terrifying. They're VCU on ice. They crippled Michigan's breakout Friday in a game that felt immediately out of hand, but Michigan scored first because one of their defensemen let a puck dribble by him and suddenly Michigan had a two-on-one gifted to them. It continued in this vein, which Michigan scoring slam-dunk PP goals as the Badgers got the puck to the left point and tried to shoot it through four or five bodies, with some success.

In the aftermath there was nothing to do but be glad those maniacs are done and hope that Michigan gained some valuable experience at breaking out of the zone against a heavy forecheck. I guess they were resilient? When Wisconsin punched, Michigan punched back. That they had to punch back after they flung the puck from their defensive zone directly to a Wisconsin stick and then fished the puck out of the net… well, they fixed that on Saturday, a much saner game by shot counts (but not goals). Nicholas Boka's return gave Michigan a second pair of defensemen who have the confidence and skill to break that forecheck, and the tables turned.

The bid's locked in now and the rest of the season is gravy. But also BC, BU, North Dakota, and Minnesota are down or flailing towards the finish line. There's no juggernaut this year, and now that Michigan's in they've got as good a shot as anyone. As long as they stay out of the box.

[After THE JUMP: a mercifully boring pairwise section and an invitation for small schools to jump in a lake.]

Snips, Fingernails, And Spartan Dawg Trails

Snips, Fingernails, And Spartan Dawg Trails

Submitted by Brian on March 5th, 2018 at 12:55 PM

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

I still don't believe in Zavier Simpson.

I do not believe that Simpson explored the theoretical upper reaches of the backboard as he flipped up a Layup In Name Only over Dutch windmill Matt Haarms. I don't believe that ball survived re-entry and went through the basket. I don't believe that he just got Carsen Edwards so mad he wanted to fight Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman's chest, one day after he outplayed Cassius Winston for the second time, in his fourth game in four days. I don't believe that a guy who attempted six twos in his first nine games is ripping down the lane so frequently that he turns John Teske into a dunk machine and then legitimately earns… this. This big-ass mood.

Try doing that in any situation you may encounter. Actually, don't. You will die. Zavier Simpson walks the earth still except he doesn't because none of this happened and he does not exist.

I know I have seen all of this with my lying eyes. I have seen four-foot-two Zavier Simpson make 57% of his twos, and not believed a damn one of them. Zavier Simpson does not care about this. He is busy eating keratin.

I'll tell you what I believe. I believe Zavier Simpson's dad literally fed his son big heaping bowls of fingernails he'd cadged from local beauty schools, homeless shelters, morgues, Greek restaurants, and hospitals. I believe he did not distinguish between finger- and toenails, and sometime mixed in cat claws, which are also keratin. I believe this explains Simpson's lack of stature and general approach.

Once I have believed this—once I have envisioned the great heaping piles of milk-soaked nails that do not even soften like Grape Nuts™ eventually do—I can begin to cope. I envision the great piles going into Zavier Simpson's belly, and then I can start to interpret recent events as reality. It even makes a certain amount of sense: the great bezoar lurking in his gut, simultaneously restricting and driving him. The gradual assimilation of the collected protein into his self. The assembled wisdom of various people who'd had their fingernails shorn from them flowing into him, subliminally. The spooky ability to jet into the lane and to the basket and to flip up some crazy bullshit that goes in anyway, derived from the memories of every guy in rec specs at the YMCA.

Does it make sense? No. Does it make more sense if Zavier Simpson is sort of a man and sort of a toenail golem? God no. BUT ALSO YES.

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The John Beilein era at Michigan is nothing if not a continual stream of people exclaiming "who is that guy?!" And "why is he so good?!" Simpson is its latest and least likely focus. Beilein turning a 6'6" sniper into a lottery pick is, in retrospect, so obvious as to be boring. Of course Nik Stauskas. Of course Tim Hardaway Jr. Of course Caris Levert. 

But I must confess to you, reader, that several times over the past two years I have expressed frustration in our MGoSlack by wondering why Beilein recruited a radically undersized point guard who can't shoot, like, at all.

This critique still stands! Simpson has not hit an off the dribble jumper all season. He's one of the most implausibly listed-at-six-foot players in the country. He's a 50% FT shooter. His three-pointer looks like it was dragged from a James Naismith instructional manual. And he is the alpha dog on a top ten team.

Beilein achieved this in the usual way: by admitting something isn't working and changing it. When he arrived at Michigan, he barely used ball screens and ran a 1-3-1. He evolved, and got to a Final Four. When his defenses fell apart in the aftermath of changes to the charge rule, he admitted he would never be an elite defensive coach and brought in a specialist; when that specialist left he brought in another one.

Possibly by accident he also brought in an elite defensive player for the first time in his career. I don't know if Beilein was making a stylistic choice or simply acknowledging that MSU had won Cassius Winston's recruitment when he suddenly abandoned his pursuit of Winston and scooped up Simpson in a whirlwind weekend. I don't know why Simpson was singled out as the backup plan when he is in many ways the platonic opposite of a Beilein kind of player. But he was, and collectively they made it work. Michigan can give up some shooting from the one when Simpson inflicts this kind of pain on the point guards of four of the Big Ten's best offenses:

  • Jordan Bohannon, Iowa: 11 points on 16 shot equivalents, 3 TOs, 82 ORTG
  • Glynn Watson, Nebraska: 10 points on 12 shot equivalents, 2 TOs, 85 ORTG
  • Cassius Winston, MSU: 11 points on 12 shot equivalents, 1 TO, 102 ORTG
  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue: 12 points on 18 shot equivalents, 2 TO, 77 ORTG

The rest of the team of course has a major hand in this. MAAR in particular was often tasked with running around after Edwards and tracking Winston. But that latter was because Michigan matched Simpson up on Miles Bridges for about ten minutes. Bridges could do nothing except jack up contested 18-footers against a man nearly a foot shorter than him.

Defense is this team's backbone. Nebraska went 1/20 for a stretch in the first half and it didn't feel like a fluke. Zavier Simpson is the first line of defense, and his mood is contagious.

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Nobody's talking about who's tough anymore. Because everyone knows. Soak Michigan in milk all you want, they're still nails.

BULLETS

Brackets. Lunardi has M as a 3 in Wichita against Bucknell and then TCU or a play-in winner. I wouldn't take much more than the seed from that—Lunardi again put together an impossible matchup since one of the play-in teams is UCLA. He also puts protected seed Wichita State in… Boise, while Michigan plays in Literal Wichita. Jerry Palm has been dogging Michigan all year and still has them as a four, in San Diego. He seems to rely heavily on the NCSOS number the committee head publicly crapped on, so hopefully he's out of touch and not accurately reflecting an out of touch committee.

Despite the above, Detroit should be within reach now for Michigan. You can't do a blind resume comparison between M and MSU because it's immediately apparent who is who, but it seems fairly clear that Michigan now has the better collection of wins. Tourney teams and bubble-ish ones:

  • MSU: UNC(N), Notre Dame, Nebraska, Maryland, @ Maryland, Penn State, Purdue
  • Michigan: UCLA, @ Texas, @ MSU, OSU, Maryland, @ Maryland, @ Penn State, Nebraska (N), MSU (N), Purdue(N).

Seven losses vs four is MSU's main argument, and that's fairly hollow since the only road games they played against a tourney-or-bubble Big Ten opponent were an OSU loss and a Maryland W that M matched. MSU did not play at Purdue, Michigan, Nebraska, or Penn State. Michigan has a better Q1 record at 6-5 than MSU's 3-4. Hopefully that's judged more important than Michigan having one loss in Q2 (LSU) and one in Q3 (Northwestern). RPI thinks it is; Michigan passed MSU in it after the Purdue W.

Also hopefully some RPI jitter slides PSU into the top 75 again—they're 76th. Root for South Carolina, Utah Valley, and Stanford to lose ASAP in conference tourneys.

FWIW, both Xavier and Cincinnati are approximately equidistant from Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, so the committee has three protected seeds in the Midwest that don't really care where they're placed (those teams and Purdue) and two that really do (MSU and M). It seems to make the most sense to put both M and MSU in Detroit and figure it out with the other teams.

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[Campredon]

BY GRUNDLAR'S HAMMER. Who is Jon Teske and why is he so good?

Teske had a breakout game in the final, finishing with authority and playing his usual brand of excellent defense. He also hit a couple of jumpers. We suspect those are good-ish shots already; additional confirmation is nice. 14 points on 10 shot equivalents and a couple assists was good for a 123 ORTG… on 30% usage.

Simpson set up a number of his points but he finished with authority when given the opportunity—see above. He's not Mo, but he provides other things.

I've said it before but I think the C spot will be just fine even if Wagner departs. Austin Davis got a few minutes in the first half and D-ed up on Haas pretty well, forcing him into a tough hook. (That he hit, naturally.) There is a lot of speculation that roster attrition might include Davis, but I think that's really really wrong. Never give up on an underclass big.

Tired legs and open shots. Michigan didn't look particularly fatigued at any point during the tournament—their defense remained top notch for the duration. There was a hint of the four-games-in-four-days during the first half of the Purdue game when good shooters got a series of wide open looks and missed seemingly all of them. Purdue elected not to switch screens and demonstrated why they'd been switching in the first place; Michigan failed to take advantage.

The hard hedge. Fortunately, Purdue was not murderous death Purdue. Michigan had a lot to do with that, preventing even a look from three on most possessions by hedging harder than they have all year. Many, many complaints from the past five years of Michigan basketball have been about the hard hedge getting guys in foul trouble and forcing rotations that Michigan wasn't very good at. This year the hard hedge has been an erratic way to apply pressure at the end of shot clocks; teams that aren't seeing it frequently are much worse at exploiting it. It's a nice changeup. In this game it was the game plan because Michigan was desperate to prevent the rain of threes, and it worked.

What are you doing, Tom. Jaren Jackson Jr played two more minutes than Gavin Schilling and Kenny "Kevin" Goins. He was off the floor for 40% of the game. What are you doing, Tom? Are you panicking and throwing in weird guys in case it works? It kind of seems like it, Tom.

Speaking of Izzo, is there anything more perfectly Izzo than opening up his presser with complaints about Simpson and Matthews hitting threes and the late friendly roll for MAAR? Michigan hit 36% from deep against MSU. Their season average is… 36%. Izzo did not note that Robinson and Wagner combined to go 2/10 on mostly excellent looks. He did not note that Bridges hit a 35-foot prayer at the end of the shot clock.

Close. Michigan's first turnover against Purdue came with about 12 minutes left in the game. They had a total of five.

Retroactive NYC defense. There has been a lot of pushback from access-merchant types in the media about putting the tournament in New York. These are largely based on the fact that Michigan has a ton of alumni in NYC and packed MSG. I'm obviously in favor of that. Accelerating the schedule remains a bad decision, one Delany copped to in public. If the Big Ten can play in NYC at the usual time they should do so semi-regularly. It's not worth the hassle otherwise. A 20 point loss at Nebraska says hi.

Poole: argh. Maaaaaan was that a rough four days for Jordan Poole. His decision making was mostly fine, it was just that whenever he took a shot it hit the underneath of the backboard. I choose to believe that the aura of MSG overwhelmed him, and since Michigan's not going to be in the NIT it doesn't matter. Yeah.

The greatest tweet in history. Not knowing this has been killing me for years.

The second greatest tweet in history.

Twitter: good sometimes.

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.

Tech Effect

Tech Effect

Submitted by Brian on February 20th, 2018 at 12:23 PM

2/16/2018 – Michigan 4, Notre Dame 2 – 15-13-3, 10-10-3 Big Ten
2/18/2018 – Michigan 1, Notre Dame 0 – 16-13-3, 11-10-3 Big Ten

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[James Coller]

About halfway through the third period on Sunday I started to wonder about 1-0 victories, specifically how long it had been since Michigan had made one lousy goal stand up. (ENGs do not count for our reckoning.) I probably should not have done that. It's the kind of thinking you deeply regret when a puck passes behind the goaltender and still deeply regret even when it miraculously squirts out the other side. I still thought it, though. It seemed plausible Michigan would accomplish this thing.

The answer turns out to be shockingly recent: on February 15th of last year Zach Nagelvoort had a 42-save shutout as Michigan squeezed by OSU 1-0 thanks to a Nick Pastujov goal. But the larger wonderment still stands, I think, because you have to go all the way back to the 2011 Life As A Vole national semifinal against North Dakota to hit the next one.

Those games were similar in that both featured Michigan scoring a weird early goal and then hanging on for dear life. They got outshot 2 to 1 in both, and at no point until the final buzzer or blessed Scooter Vaughn empty net goal did victory seem probable. I know this about the 2011 North Dakota game because I remember every terrifying moment of the third period. I know this about last year's Ohio State game, which I probably did not watch, because I saw other games that hockey team played. At no point during either game did anyone wonder about 1-0 victories, because clearly this would not be a 1-0 game.

So they are very different than Sunday's 1-0 win against then-#1 Notre Dame, in which Michigan outshot the Irish by a large margin 5x5. Two power plays and another two minutes of frantic face-clenching action after ND pulled their goalie got ND to near-parity, but not quite, and when the buzzer sounded Michigan had finished its four games against the Big Ten's best team having outplayed them everywhere except their penalty kill. And on Sunday they'd done it in a very un-Michigan way: by matching Notre Dame's relentless discipline.

Each team had one opportunity at a three on two, sort of. Depending on how you want to classify odd-man rushes, it might have been zero. Notre Dame's didn't even get inside the Michigan blue line. I don't think I've ever seen Michigan have a game where they don't give up an odd-man rush. Maybe it's happened against a tomato can here and there, but probably not. The last five or so years of Michigan hockey has been about trying to outscore your mistakes, which they managed to do when they the Connor-Motte-Compher line and at no other point.

It's taken a while for new-era Michigan to work past the recent chaos. Since resuming in January, it appears they have. They're 8-5-1 against a slate of opponents who—except for Michigan State—are all either in the tournament or plausibly on the bubble. That's not the greatest run in the history of hockey; it has been good enough to take them from the deep 20s to a three seed. Expecting more would be insane. Just last year Michigan was hovering amongst the very worst teams in college hockey in Corsi...

image

white included to demonstrate that there ain't no more teams

...and this year they're a point or two above average. This is a one year turnaround that matches what Mel did when he arrived at Michigan Tech. Tantalizingly, he had another gear from there.

Tech won 13 games the next year and 14 in 2013-14, the first year of college hockey's new landscape. This alone is impressive in the modern context of Tech hockey; that's the first time Tech had won double-digit games since Bob Mancini did it from 1993 to 1996.

That alone would not be impressive enough to grab the Michigan job, but then Pearson had the following three seasons:

  • 29-10-2, at-large bid to tourney as #2 seed, #5 ES Corsi*
  • 23-9-5, WCHA regular season champs, #3 ES Corsi
  • 23-15-7, WCHA playoff champs, NCAA bid, #3 ES Corsi

Unless Michigan hits the Jack Hughes jackpot, Michigan's not going to have another Connor or Larkin for a couple years here. The recruiting pipeline dried up a little deep into the Red era, so they'll have to make do with guys who grind their way up the ranks year by year, like Tony Calderone. It's been tough for Michigan to win with just those guys of late; transcendent talent was needed, and even then it wasn't always enough.

There's no transcendent talent this year. Even Quinn Hughes is a year away from being able to tell when he should plunder the opposition crease and when he should stay back. Michigan scores goals like the one lousy one they made stand up on Sunday: forcing a defensive zone turnover from the opposition and flinging it in over the goalie's shoulder before the defense can re-set. But it works, because they can go a whole game without giving up an odd man rush. For anyone who watched the last few years of Michigan hockey that sounds like a 180 on a dime in a leaky battleship.

Michigan looks ahead of schedule in year one, headed for a wide-open tourney with a couple of recent one-seed Ws painted on its nose cone. It turns out that Mel Pearson was exactly the right guy. Not because he's been in Ann Arbor for 30 years already. Because he'd already walked into a reclamation project with a power washer and some 20-year-olds.

PAIRWISE SECTION

I said last week that sweeping ND was close to a lock at-large, and whatever particularly devastating combination of events would have made that statement untrue have not come to pass. CHN just ran its Pairwise Predictor—20k Monte Carlo simulations of the rest of the season—and Michigan comes out with a 95% chance of a bid, and a two-thirds chance to get a 3 seed or better.

That doesn't mean this weekend's series doesn't matter. Those projections weight games according to KRACH, the statheads' preferred college hockey ranking system, and one of the main reasons Michigan is in near-lock territory is because that system gives Michigan an 82% chance to win any particular game against Arizona State. Splitting this weekend puts Michigan back down in the danger zone:

image

1-1 this weekend puts Michigan at 13 or 14, most likely

Dave pointed out on the podcast that this year is ripe for bid steals because most of the top spots in the Pairwise are NCHC or Big Ten teams. Providence and Northeastern are the only HE teams currently in the tourney; BC and BU collectively have a ~34% chance to steal a Hockey East Bid. Cornell and Clarkson are the only ECAC teams in at-large spots. CHN gives those two teams a whopping 79% shot at winning the playoff title, but if Cornell does go down a bid steal is likely. Minnesota State is the only WCHA team currently in the field; that's another 38% shot at a steal.

It is possible for Michigan to fall to 14 if they sweep Arizona State and then get swept in the first round of the playoffs by a decent PSU or Wisconsin team, and at that point they'd be vulnerable if two bids get stolen. They are not entirely out of the woods but they'd have to blow it pretty hard to even put themselves in a spot where an odd combination of results booted them.

This weekend is one for focus, though.

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.

They've Gone To Plaid

They've Gone To Plaid

Submitted by Brian on January 26th, 2018 at 12:56 PM

1/25/2018 – Purdue 92, Michigan 88 – 17-6, 6-4 Big Ten

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77%, 7'2", cumong man [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

The most absurd thing about last night's basketball game, which was a nonstop avalanche of absurd things, was that I had a reference point for it. That is, of course, last year's delirious first-round NCAA tournament game against Oklahoma State, which finished 92-91. Last night, which is officially That Michigan-Purdue Game, was 92-88 in an identical number of possessions. (Give Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman the free throws he inexplicably bricked on a night he could have tossed up a blindfolded halfcourt shot and called bank and the similarities get downright eerie.)

That number: 65, so if we do some division... carry the 8... yep, it comes out to plaid. Because I have another exact reference point for this:

I can probably stop typing now, because the above clip sums it up: some introductory exchanges, a jump past anything that could be considered a reasonable or safe velocity, a sudden stop, and then... I'm fine with it. Also my head has been crushed. I would like to fall over now.

Sometimes they get to have Nik Stauskas in evil kiss-blowing ninja mode. Sometimes they get to have Trey Burke.

The thing about Purdue is that they're sort of all Stauskas? Not Haas. Haas is not Stauskas. But he did remind me of that year Jared Sullinger and John Diebler were on the same Ohio State team. Sullinger spent his days posting up with absurd efficiency and kicking it out to Diebler, who hit 50% of his 227(!) threes. OSU was 34-3 and the #1 team on Kenpom that year. It's a good pattern, having an ogre who can hit free throws surrounded by a bonanza of shooters.

That OSU team hit 42% of its threes as a team. 2018 Purdue is at 44%. Meanwhile, designated ogre Haas is now a high-usage 7'2" guy who could throw Brock Lesnar through a brick wall; if he had sufficient minutes to rank on Kenpom leaderboards he'd be in the top 20 in FT rate. He hits those free throws at a 77% clip. He does not get sufficient minutes to rank because Purdue also has a 7'3" Dutchman who's half windmill.

So I don't know what the hell you're supposed to do if you don't have someone capable of checking Haas, and nobody really does. I don't know what you're supposed to do against Haas when that team has five different guys hitting 40+% from three. Even when you do get a good defensive possession in, I don't know what you're supposed to do to prevent Carsen Edwards from getting off bad-idea shots that go down anyway. I don't know how to score on the windmill, although Xavier Simpson evidently does.

I mean, I do know what you're supposed to do: you're supposed to have Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman leave his damn body, shoot 63% from two and 57% from three as a team, and have a +3 shot volume advantage. EXCEPT THAT DOESN'T WORK.

So, okay. I accept that this is the year Purdue has Stauskas and Burke and THJ and GRIII all on the same team. Matt Painter ain't never done nothing to me except leave my corpse gently cooling in the dusty street, so I hope Purdue wins the whole damn thing in March. Still super pissed off about that review from the Crisler game, though.

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Meanwhile for Michigan, it seems clear that this is not The Year, like it is for Purdue and their four seniors. So we can take equal parts frustration, amazement, and hope from this plaid-ass game.

Michigan's thudding offense from the previous three games was gone. Whether that was an opportunity to rest or practice the ways in which opponents were dealing with the Michigan offense I don't know, but a Beilein offense was never going to stay 20-points-in-a-half broken. Zavier Simpson, as mentioned, was able to get several shots up and in against the human windmill, and a couple of misses were Kobe assists. When not playing Purdue the defense is very good, and there's a bunch of talent coming in next year.

Also I am going to spend the next two months squinting at John Teske and hoping. It could happen!