Ohio State Bullets

Ohio State Bullets

Submitted by Brian on March 16th, 2014 at 1:14 PM

3/15/2014 – Michigan 72, Ohio State 69 – 25-7, 15-3 Big Ten, BTT Finalists

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IN YOUR FACE CHARLIE MURPHY [Dustin Johnston/UMHoops]

Sometimes when you're on. Good lord man. This team is capable of sending anyone watching into a fit of giggles as shot after shot splashes down. The general process:

  • All right, here we go.
  • YES!
  • ON FIAH!
  • Wow.
  • WOW.
  • /giggling fit

As Michigan extended to a 16-point lead early despite Ohio State doing offensive things that are well out of character (IE: making shots), it was giggle fit time. Michigan has previously done this to Nebraska and Illinois in the process of running them out of the building. If they're fortunate enough to make a tourney run at least one win will be reminiscent of the Florida game last year, wherein there is a period of death from above that leaves the other team looking like Dresden.

Welp. I don't know, man. Michigan's defense looked pretty good to me in the mirror universe where Shannon Scott remains Shannon Scott. Scott entered the game a 28% three point shooter and a 38% shooter on two point jumpers. He got zero looks at the rim and yet exited with 18 points on ten shots. Yeah, most of his jumpers were not particularly contested, but there's a reason for that. When Scott elevates for a jumper you have just done a good job as a defense.

The other problem with the defense was a problem with the offense. Steve Kerr mentioned that all of Michigan's seven first half turnovers were live-ball situations. Live-ball turnovers lead to transition, and transition leads to sadness. Michigan failed to push the margin out to crippling levels because of uncharacteristic sloppiness when Ohio State turned up the pressure.

Other than that, the defense did what it wanted to do: protect the rim and live with whatever else happens. OSU just hit shots they usually don't.

Hidden in the terror is a comfortable-ish win. Michigan was 10/19 from the line, well below their season average. Jordan Morgan was the biggest part of that, as he went 2/7. That dropped his season total from 62% to 57%.

Craft. When Craft does something Crafty and wins, there is a collective old white sportswriter dude explosion, and when he does something Crafty and loses, the OWSD collective sighs and shakes their head at a world full of haters. Forde is on it:

For all the many people who hate Aaron Craft, here’s your chance to pile on.

You’re a strange, sad lot. You’ve got issues. Ripping a guy with a 3.9 grade-point average who plays his guts out is a weirdly trendy thing to do for college basketball fans.

But for those disposed to do so, congrats. Today is Bash Aaron Craft Day.

I'm not here to bash Aaron Craft, but let's be clear: he is a role player. He is the apotheosis of the role player, sure, but the reason people get cranky about Aaron Craft is the never-ending hagiography for a guy who is merely a pretty good player.

There is frankly a racial component to this. You don't see people falling all over themselves to hype up Briante Weber, whose VCU team is ranked and headed for about the same seed as OSU thanks in large part to Weber's third consecutive year at the top of the Kenpom steals leaderboard. Or his teammate Shannon Scott, who is also top ten in steals. It's Craft that gets glorified as the underrated gutty gritty leader in a way that is out of proportion to his talent.

That's unfair to the his teammates and Craft himself. I've long defended the guy whenever people try to trash his game (no offense to Derrick Walton, but put Craft on this Michigan team and oh my gawd), but that's because I love guys who can make an impact without using possessions. They need to be put with high-usage guys, though—you know, stars. Craft is not that. But he comes with an avalanche of hype enough to get him on the midseason Wooden list as he leads his team to a 10-8 Big Ten record while taking 15% of OSU's shots. 

At its heart, Craft backlash is Forde-and-company backlash. Some of it's misdirected; a lot of it is from 14 year olds; everyone would be much better off if people in the media would just acknowledge that Craft is who he is. GIFs of aairballs are prominent because the media is insistent on pretending Aaron Craft is something other than what he is.

Please be a new meme, please be a new meme, please be a new meme. We've had planking and Bradying and all sorts of ing ings, and now there needs to be an internet full of pictures of clothed people sitting in bathtubs looking hard.

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YOU DON'T WANT THIS

Is Glenn On Fire Watch. Another efficient game with 11 points on 9 shot equivalents, and he brought defensive impact with a couple of blocks and three steals. He's still alarmingly light on rebounds.

There is the hint of a recovery in his three point shooting, as well. Over the last four games he's 5/13. Not much to go on for a guy who was at 32% last year and is at 28% this year, sure. Still another data point for those hoping Glenn is this year's tourney Mitch.

Is Stauskas Human Watch. NOPE.

I mean, he does that crossover to three pointer thing.

Death from above watch. Michigan's quest to end the season with five guys shooting 40% from three is very, very close. Walton is at .398, Spike at .390. LeVert has pulled himself a couple points above the line, sitting next to Irvin. Stauskas can't even see 40% unless he's got binoculars.

Seeding business. Most observers from Lunardi to the Bracket Matrix have moved Michigan to the one line after Wisconsin's Big Ten Tourney exit, and a lot of folks are speculating that Michigan may be locked in to that spot no matter what happens today.

Seems pretty easy for the committee to have a contingency plan based on the result of the championship game, but in past years it has seemed like they ignore or at least downplay Sunday results.

If Michigan does get that one seed they'll be in the East and acquire a Michigan-friendly Madison Square Garden. In that event I withdraw my Syracuse request, as they're one of the few schools that could overwhelm Michigan's NYC fanbase.

It's pointless to mention this when they're just going to unveil the brackets in a few hours but I started this sentence anyway so I will proceed by mentioning that I am not a huge fan of Lunardi's bracket, which features Oklahoma State as the eight seed, and greatly prefer the GW/Stanford setup presented by Palm.

Another motivation to get that one: Louisville has moved up to the three line on just about everyone's bracket, so a one can't draw the red hot 'Cards until a regional final.

This Week's Obsession: Def Con Five

This Week's Obsession: Def Con Five

Submitted by Seth on March 12th, 2014 at 10:37 AM

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Stop! Have you considered you may not have to do this? [Fuller]

Always something to complain about.

Now that Stauskas has escaped from the Lilliputians and the offense has duly gone back to Brobdingnagian, are there ways to get the defense performing, say, at a top-50 instead of 100-ish level? 75? Or do you think at this point they just are what they are?

Ace: I think the Indiana game, despite the win, rid us of any notion that the defense will have a postseason breakthrough. The Wolverines are who we thought they were: a superlative offensive team with some major defensive issues. Michigan couldn't stay in front of Indiana's guards, failed to get back in transition—including after multiple made baskets—and had to go to the high-risk 1-3-1 for the entire second half to create enough empty possessions to somehow win while giving up a 66.3 eFG%. The Hoosiers entered the game with a 48.0 eFG% in conference play. That's bad, mmmmkay?

So, yeah, the defense is an issue, and projects to be going forward. Michigan was a much better defensive squad last season, and while they gave up a respectable 0.98 ppp in the NCAA Tournament, that figure swells to 1.03 after excising the first weekend. Also, that run featured the unleashing of Mitch McGary, Embodiment of Chaos, and this year's squad doesn't feature anyone with his ability to force turnovers, which proved key in the run to the title game. (Caris LeVert leads this season's squad with a 2.2% steal rate; McGary was at 3.4% last season, Trey Burke at 2.8%.)

With Michigan preparing for a potential three games in three days, followed by a prep week for the tournament that's likely to be geared more towards rest and scouting than working on defensive fundamentals, I don't think they're going to come up with a magical solution to the myriad defensive issues. The offense is capable of carrying this team into the Final Four. That's a good thing, because that will have to be the case if we're going to see a repeat of last year.

[jump…preferably before the shooter does]

One Frame At A Time: Indiana

One Frame At A Time: Indiana

Submitted by Ace on March 10th, 2014 at 5:38 PM

Originally, this just contained the McGary "SOON" text until I sent it to Brian:

Brian: first one needs to have like three paragraphs of text from horford about existentialism
Me: I can do that
Brian: YES
Me: Taoism work? [link]
Brian: YES
Me: excellent
Brian: Amazing

MGoBlog, catering to a very specific audience since 2005.

[Hit THE JUMP for Jordan Morgan GIFstravaganza, all the Andrew Dakich reactions fit to GIF, John Beilein technical spectacularr, the pick, and more.]

Michigan 84, Indiana 80

Michigan 84, Indiana 80

Submitted by Ace on March 8th, 2014 at 9:53 PM


Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog

"It was fun to start the game off like that," Jordan Morgan said, eyes still welled from an emotional night. "I'd done enough reminiscing and getting all soft."

Morgan had tears in his eyes when he held his jersey aloft in the pregame Senior Day ceremony. The "soft" stuff then took a hiatus until postgame. Michigan's lone senior scored the team's first three baskets en route to his fifth career double-double and first of the season.

Morgan's hard work kept the Wolverines in the game while their man-to-man defense faltered, allowing Indiana to hit their first nine shots from the field. He took advantage of Indiana switching picks early, attacking guards on the block and keeping possessions alive with his rebounding. He set the tone for the team's eventual comeback.

"Nobody puts in more time in the gym than Jordan Morgan," John Beilein said during the postgame ceremony, with confetti streaming down on his head and two-thirds of a Crisler net in his hand. "He deserved everything he got tonight."

What Morgan got included multiple standing ovations, 15 points on 7/8 shooting, ten rebounds—five of them offensive—two blocks, a steal, and the first cut of the Crisler net. Tonight, above all else, was Jordan Morgan's night.

The elephant in the room, however, is that two of Michigan's other stars may have also just played their last game in the Crisler Center. Nik Stauskas scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half, getting to the rim at will against Yogi Ferrell and his Hoosier cohorts. When he cut down his piece of the net, Stauskas paused for a moment, then saluted the crowd; if it wasn't a goodbye, it sure felt like one.

Glenn Robinson III may also make the leap to the NBA next season. If so, he went out in style, capping off a 20-point night with a corner three—off a drive-and-dish from Stauskas—that gave Michigan a three-point lead with 1:08 remaining. He'd missed 15 of his previous 17 three-point attempts; when it came down to crunch time, however, he didn't hesitate to rise and fire.


Fuller

While Michigan couldn't prevent Indiana from getting quality looks, a switch to the 1-3-1 in the second half provided them just enough defense to come away with the win. The turnover-prone Hoosiers coughed up the rock just three times in the first half. After Beilein's adjustment, they committed 12 turnovers in the second half alone. That proved critical in conjunction with Michigan's six total turnovers and 11-6 edge in offensive rebounds; they needed every last extra possession to squeeze out this victory.

Caris LeVert played a huge role in that as the disruptive force at the top of the zone, coming away with two steals in addition to his 13 points and four rebounds. The rest of the team had a relatively quiet night—Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, Jon Horford, and Spike Albrecht combined for 15 points, with none scoring more than four apiece.

In the end, it was just enough for Michigan to secure a 15-3 Big Ten record, as well as defeating every Big Ten squad for the first time since 1992. After the game, Morgan's emotions were apparent as he discussed what tonight meant to him.

"You talk about five years worth of emotions wrapped up into one day. So much work, sweat, and adversity that went into putting this program where it is, just years and years of battling, just a constant battle for five years—no matter what it is, whether it's on the court or off the court. It's the culmination of all that."

"I love playing with these guys, they're some of the best teammates..."

Morgan trailed off.

"It's been an amazing year."

He caught himself.

"So far."

One Frame At A Time: Illinois

One Frame At A Time: Illinois

Submitted by Ace on March 6th, 2014 at 11:07 AM

Let's enumerate the wonderful things about this GIF:

  1. The Orange Crush is very bad at casting spells, judging by the two dudes right behind Nik Stauskas.
  2. Stauskas staring down 6'11" Nnanna Egwu for a couple seconds, going "yeah, I got this," and coldly hitting a three in his face.
  3. Derrick Walton meandering back on defense as soon as he sees Stauskas is going to shoot.
  4. Andrew Dakich beginning his roll the dice flourish while the ball is still mid-flight.
  5. Andrew Dakich, period.
  6. Exasperated Orange Crush girl throwing up her WTF hands at the very end.
  7. The Illini fans in the far corner whose will to move/exist has been completely destroyed.

This GIF, by my highly scientific ratings, comes in at #6 for the Illinois game. You're gonna want to hit the jump and watch the rest.

[JUMP and make Tracy Abrams bail the heck out]

MGoGIF: Rain

MGoGIF: Rain

Submitted by Ace on March 5th, 2014 at 4:37 PM

A couple GIFs to tide you over until tomorrow. First, a new entry in the Andrew Dakich Celebration Pantheon:

Also keep an eye on Stauskas, busy trolling the entire Illinois student section, and if you're of legal age you're allowed to look at the Orange Crush and their variety of inappropriate hand gestures.

The second GIF requires a jump, because it contains every Michigan three-point make from the game. Yes, all 16 of them.

[JUMP]

Death From Above!

Death From Above!

Submitted by Brian on March 5th, 2014 at 12:22 PM

3/4/2014 – Michigan 84, Illinois 53 – 22-7, 14-3 Big Ten – Outright champs

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Good. In your face, Nanna Egwu. Good. [Bryan Fuller]

Before Ace took over full-time basketball preview duties, I wrote many of them. I eschewed "preview" to call these posts "Death From Above," because I thought it sounded cool. I fielded regular questions as to what the hell that meant.

If you want the deep background, "death from above" was a maneuver you could execute in walking-robot-wargame Battletech wherein your giant man-shaped robot would take off and attempt to land on the head of an opposing giant man-shaped robot. The goal was to crush the cockpit and pilot, rendering the exoskeleton inert, dripping ominous fluids.

I can only assume that all has been made clear after Michigan's high-arcing deep shots proved laser-guided at Illinois. John Beilein basketball is death from above.

Assembly Hall (not that Assembly Hall) drips today.

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The three pointer has always been the great leveler in college basketball. Poke a random NCAA tourney upset and you're likely to find a bunch of short guys firing in threes as the favorite struggles outside the arc.

John Beilein came of age as a coach in a milieu of random players barely recruited. He found success by taking spare parts and arranging them into a machine that rained in threes. This was generally effective but not as much as legend would have it. Beilein won regular season conference championships twice in ten years at Richmond and Canisius, and finished third in the gargantuan Big East in 2005-2006. His reputation rested on an upset of South Carolina as a 14-seed with Richmond and the Pittsnogle-era WVU team's runs into the Elite Eight and Sweet 16.

But he'd lifted teams without structural advantage. He made every team he'd had competitive after a one-year adjustment period, though, and that seemed like gold to a Michigan fan. At the time the prospect of a consistently .500 Big Ten team with the occasional third-place finish followed  by tourney upsets seemed like heaven. I was stridently in favor of Beilein's hire because I thought he'd turn Michigan into the kind of program that pushes Duke to the brink in the second round.

In that post I asserted that 21-14, 9-9 Michigan would be a one seed in an "exceeded expectations" tournament. I also asserted this:

I've been searching for a Michigan equivalent and in my memory can only come up with the '97 national title team. Unless there was a basketball team that outdid this year's—unlikely—I think you have to go back to 1969 to pull another team that so wildly exceeded what was expected of them.

To find a team with as good a claim to exceeding expectations as this 14-3 outright-Big-Ten-champs outfit that lost Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Mitch McGary you have to go back… uh… one year, when Trey Burke blew up into a Naismith winner and Michigan reached the national title game. The next potential candidate makes you reach back all the way to a team that shared a Big Ten title with Zack Novak at power forward… two years ago.

This is all very strange, not only to us, but to the guy who assembled this unlikely powerhouse.

The warmness inside you right now is thanks to the arc on the court that separates two from three.

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The great leveler levels because threes are great shots, amongst the best shots. Beilein structured his entire basketball career around that intuition, constructing small-ball outfits everywhere he's gone. Sometimes he had four shooters; sometimes he had five. One guy probed inside as the other four created space around the arc, giving everyone space and time to find shots at the rim.

While the mechanism has shifted as Michigan acquires ball-screen maestro after ball-screen maestro, the overall pattern remains the same. The bigs shoot 70% because the opponent can't let Michigan get threes off. The threes come when they come and go in at a high clip, and something Beilein is in charge of floats higher than they have been in a long time.

It's only right that at the pinnacle of Beilein's regular season career the threes would rain in at will. Dan Dakich keeps saying "the ball knows." While this is normally irritating to your engineering-oriented author, as Michigan rained in death from above yesterday it did feel a little like the three point line sought to repay him for the long years of faith and devotion.

Bullets

Well, then. There is very little to say about that game except "please Stauskas don't hurt 'em (except do)." Michigan shot 70% from three, goodnight, analysis over.

Other than the swelling three-point percentages from Michigan's shooters the main takeaway here was that Spike needs to take care of the ball better in the late stages of laughers when he is pursuing a double-digit A:TO ratio across the Big Ten season.

[Speaking of Spike, and since there's not really much to talk about game-wise, remember this site's obsession with NC State hobbit PG Tyler Lewis last year? Lewis was a McDonalds All-American despite being the same stature as Albrecht, and then he proceeded to do very little.

Lewis vs Spike, year two:

%Min ORtg %Poss eFG% ARate TORate Stl% FTRate FT% 2P% 3P%
Lewis 47.7 103.2 17 37.7 31.4 16.7 0.7 29.2 0.763 0.43 0.196
Albrecht 39.3 128.2 13.5 55.1 25.4 13.2 2.1 24.1 0.737 0.462 0.396

Lewis is stuck on a team that doesn't assist on many shots, stats are not the be all and end all, etc., but there's not much question who you'd rather have on your team. Hail this staff's talent identification. This has been Brian's Ongoing Obsession With Random College Basketball Players theater.

There will be no Nnanna Egwu section this time since he's pulled his DREB rate into the solid double-digits.]

But seriously. Strugging to say much of anything… oh, okay.

Jon Horford is really into Camus. There is just a shower of post-title photos featuring members of the team smiling an Jon Horford being Jon Horford, and thinking about things and stuff, deep things and hard stuff.

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[Bryan Fuller]

Not even a locker room shot can rouse the corners of Horford's mouth from their slumber:

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That's not his postgame photo role, and that's why having Andrew Dakich around is crucial.

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MAKE 'EM SAY UNH

Like father, like son.

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If I make a joke here I will get a nasty tweet from the man himself [Bryan Fuller]

Non-trivial Horford business. One game ago, Horford got a quick hook in the second half after Mo Walker went to work on him. In this outing, Morgan hurt his back trying to take a charge and was limited to seven minutes. Horford stepped in and picked up ten rebounds; Illinois was limited to five offensive rebounds. On the year, Horford's DREB rate is a McGary-like 26.1.

It's nice to see him bounce back. There have been a number of games this year when one center or the other was having a rough day until the other guy stepped in. Having that flexibility is a big help; hopefully the Morgan withdrawal was a precautionary measure only.

If push comes to shove the obvious move is to try to get through the last few games without him. The only thing at stake now is a two or three seed line.

Speaking of. Expect Michigan to PLAY SOME WEIRD GUYS in the Big Ten tourney. Beilein has always run out some WTF lineups when faced with the possibility of three games in three days, and with Morgan questionable, Max Bielfeldt may be called on for double-digit minutes. Having a 6'6" center is not conducive to winning the Big Ten tourney title, but I don't think Beilein cares one whit about that.

Nobody seems to. A lot of fanbases openly pine for a second-game exit so as to not have three consecutive games before a potential Thursday/Saturday NCAA tournament weekend. They should really just dump the thing and play a couple more conference games, but I don't think the NCAA would let that fly.

Defense? Illinois is a very bad offensive team (206th on Kenpom) but they got worse after Michigan dealt with them. After 1 PPP in the first half, Illinois couldn't do much of anything in the second. That marks consecutive opponents held under a point per possession. This is not exactly the Goin' To Work Pistons yet, but Michigan doesn't have to make a ton of progress in the D department to look like an (even more) dangerous tournament opponent.

No idea exactly why this improvement is going on. If they can maintain that through the next few games that would be encouraging.

Seed lines. Michigan is still stuck on the three-line with little upward mobility unless they can leapfrog the top ACC teams (Syracuse, Duke, Virginia) or pass Wisconsin by winning the Big Ten Title. Jerry Palm did pump Michigan over Duke given Duke's extremely weak road accomplishments and Syracuse is in a full-on tailspin after losing to Georgia Tech at home. (I told you about Syracuse.) If the Orange lose their season-ender against Florida State, a game that Kenpom predicts will be a nailbiter, they could drop to the three line and open up a slot for Michigan as a two. Virginia will provide competition there.

Not that it matters much this year, as one of the most wide-open tournaments in memory beckons.

 

Glennwatch. Did some good things—couple steals, good work from within the arc, a three. Drove to the bucket for a basket, too. His steal lead to a fast break on which Tracy Abrams got a contest in that by all rights should have forced a layup attempt. NOPE. Dunk metropolis.

Afterwards Abrams looked like he'd seen the Ark of the Covenant.

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ENHANCE [Bryan Fuller]

One negative thing: he's got to stop bringing the ball up when he gets a rebound. His handle is very vulnerable to open-court steals and he doesn't initiate much transition offense.

Also, he took a contested three-point jack. That is vaguely acceptable if you are Nik Stauskas who rains death from above. When you're at 27% on the year, don't take that shot. Taking open ones, okay. Those are still decent to good shots even for a guy locked in a sophomore slump as bad as Tim Hardaway Jr's. That hand-in-the-face stuff not so much.

Still, we can add this to the recent string of encouraging GRIII performances after 13 points on 10 shot equivalents.

Just when you thought he was bottled up. Stauskas is 12 of 17 from three in his last two games, pushing his season average to 46%. One of them was a contested jack in front of 6'11" Nnanna Egwu. Another was from the parking lot right before the half. Good lord.

This is why Michigan should not settle for long twos early in the shot clock, because at any time they can get a switch and have a guy take a pretty decent three point look.

The climb. Remember early in the year when people were projecting Wisconsin would walk away with the title because of schedule imbalance? Well, Michigan's single plays were Northwestern, Penn State, Illinois, and Ohio State. The only team not in the vicinity of the bottom of the Big Ten standings is OSU, and Michigan only got a road game against them. This is the opposite of a fluke.

One Frame At A Time: Purdue & Minnesota (GRIII Edition)

One Frame At A Time: Purdue & Minnesota (GRIII Edition)

Submitted by Ace on March 3rd, 2014 at 2:09 PM

Between game-winners, Showtime-esque fast breaks, the alley-oop bonanza, and the many other plays of note from Purdue and Minnesota, OFAAT is split into two parts. Part one belongs to Glenn Robinson III.


GRIII dunk photo via @umichbball

Glenn Robinson's alley-oop finish over two Minnesota players elicited reactions normally reserved for Cirque du Soleil, the Top Thrill Dragster, or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The above screencaps come from one replay of GRIII's slam. So does this:

The man on the left reacts to this spectacular feat with a golf clap. The woman on the right is... dead? Even her reserved husband(?) appears concerned:

"Honey? Honey? ... Well, it was a hell of a way to go."

Keep this clearly deceased woman in your thoughts as you watch GRIII inflict pain and suffering upon all who dare cross his path, after the jump.

[JUMP, but not as high as GRIII or your knees will literally explode into a confetti of ligaments and bone shards.]

Reinforce The Rafters

Reinforce The Rafters

Submitted by Brian on March 3rd, 2014 at 11:04 AM

3/1/2014 – Michigan 66, Minnesota 56 – 21-7, 13-3, guaranteed share of Big Ten title

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He moved it with his mind [Eric Upchurch]

Let us recalibrate ourselves.

I'm 34. Growing up, it was expected that Michigan won things. In football. And therefore in everything else, because football is everything except at, like, Kansas. (Kansas hired Charlie Weis on purpose. Basketball focus is kind of a disease.) That bled into other things, and then success was expected. This Is Michigan.

Success is still expected, in rhetoric and increasingly anachronistic Michigan-directed hate from fanbases around the Big Ten. Rivalry things I get. I don't get Iowa being livid about everything after taking five of six because of Bo, basically. Even after the key thing was eminently humbled, the new guy came in saying This Is Michigan, and yours truly and everyone else ate it up.

But the reality is that Michigan is in an increasingly demographically unfavored situation, waiting until water scarcity and global warming drives the people back into its bosom. Reputation and momentum worked in tandem to forestall the impact of these trends, and then: kaboom. First basketball, then football, and then sort of but pretty much hockey.

The dominion of Michigan is increasingly hard to see sustained. There is a lot of money and fanbase and these things should keep them above middling; Michigan fans expect any program fielded to be mentioned in the same breath with the elites. We are ill prepared to deal with anything but, what with infinite bowl streak that still defines our self-perception. 13 years into the post-Cooper era at OSU and it still feels like a cruel surprise.

Here's the thing.

Birthright fandom kind of sucks. You expect thing X and you must have thing X and anything slightly short of thing X is terrible. Being around OSU fans talking epic crap about every slightly deficient player on their team is both revelatory and probably a glimpse into what I thought in the immediate vicinity of 1997. See Kentucky basketball.

Hoping not to die is more fun. Ask an MSU fan about this, in re: Rose Bowl.

These things are inevitable historical trends that catch entire fanbases up and cannot be resisted. Success begets the expectation of more of that. What I am saying is that Michigan is now a hope-not-to-die set of programs with a birthright fanbase. We should recalibrate ourselves, for good fun.

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

When Michigan hired John Beilein they hadn't been to an NCAA tournament since 1998, when Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock were team leaders. The year before, Maurice Taylor joined those gentlemen on a team that didn't make it at all; Taylor left for the NBA draft, where the Knicks drafted him because they are the Knicks. He tooled around the NBA for a decade, shooting long twos and flinching from any loose ball that came within three feet of him.

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

John Beilein hates no one and makes self-depreciating jokes about subs being crazy and brings in Novaks and Burkes and Stauskases and Morgans. It is in fact cute when he loses his mind at the latest refereeing outrage he's been exposed to, even as it seems to get results these days.

He picks out random post-grad point guards from Indiana and leads them to double-digit A:TO ratios, and even when Michigan does happen to have a pile of NBA players on their roster it's by accident and development. Nobody's rushing to give these gentlemen shoe contracts until Beilein (and Alexander and Meyer and Jordan) reconfigure them.

This is one thing. This is a good thing. I supported Beilein's hire because I thought his floor was what he would do at West Virginia and Richmond and wherever he'd ever been, bringing in guys who would outperform recruiting expectations and enter many NCAA tournaments as the team you don't want as a Sweet 16 seed.

Then there is the other thing. Beilein won a Big Ten title with Novak as his power forward, and went to the championship game the next year on the back of a Penn State decommit and an NBA legacy no one really seemed to want. And this year, down both of those first-round draft picks he and his assistants identified and developed, down the one super-blue-chip recruit Beilein has ever acquired, Michigan won the Big Ten. They are just about a lock to win it outright for the first time in almost 30 years.

I know you are inclined because of that drought, and I think I probably don't have to tell many people this thing, but I kind of have to tell myself. This is not normal. This is not something that can be expected. This is not Michigan, not in that sense.

It seems to be Michigan. And the Michigan it posits is a different, bizarre, wondrous thing. Not because of anything inherent. There are places better able to recruit with athletic departments better at creating an environment. This has nothing to do with institutional momentum, because there was none. This is whole cloth, from which they've made three banners in three years. And counting.

This is not This Is Michigan. This is better.

Bullets

Randomness is random. Very frustrating start from behind the line as Michigan goes 2/12 on mostly high quality looks (there were a couple Stauskas jacks that were tough). Irvin in particular went 0/3 on three must-take shots. But things evened out with a hot streak that saw Michigan finish the game at 39%, just about on their season average.

I was about to start rage-shaking about another impossibly slow offensive start when Michigan kicked it into gear. So there's that.

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Upchurch

GRIII doin' things. Figures that as soon as I say Robinson should basically never take anyone off the bounce he starts doing that rather effectively. He drove to the lane and dumped a pass off to Morgan for an and-one. I was all like "urk?" Then he drove Buggs to the baseline and set up Stauskas for the triple in Stauskas/LeVert Corner, and I was like "guuuurk?"

That is real progress. He's had three assists in consecutive games, a feat he only achieved once before this year, against Penn State, and he's generated at least a few of his own shots. It's still a work in progress, as the frustrating turnovers when he brings the ball up indicate, but at least the last four games (averaging 6/9 from two) provide a indication of that progress stuff.

And then there were the usual GRIII-is-destroying-Tokyo things. He re-enacted his game winner against Purdue and brought the house down on 1) a Stauskas alley oop and 2) a bang bang bang transition oop that had me waving myself with an elaborate hat and moaning "mercy!"

I do think he needs to have more impact on the boards on both ends. The OREB/putback after Minnesota had closed in the second half was awesome; it reinforced his ability in that department and the unfortunate rarity of things like that. He's got close to the same athleticism Braden Dawson does (Dawson is thicker) but is nowhere near Dawson's spectacular 13.2 OREB rate.

The zoom in. Ace pointed out that if you zoom in on one of Eric's GRIII-destroys-Tokyo images you get magic:

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This contains the Horford/McGary dichotomy, the bench mob going off, Andrew Dakich like crane-kicking a dude, and John Beilein reacting exactly how I did, with a sort of stiff "okay hurray GET BACK ON DEFENSE."

Long twos! Argh! I don't mind a long two with 12 or 10 or 8 seconds on the shot clock. Once the clock gets much under that people start overplaying the shot you have to take, and your chances of finding something super is not great. Even 15 is tolerable. 25 sends me into conniption fits, especially against one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten, and it certainly seemed like Michigan was taking a ton of 'em.

That Stauskas aggressiveness thing does lead to a bunch of questionable shots, and I'm okay with it when the payoff is 3 points at like a 30 or 35 percent rate, two at a 35 or 40 percent rate drives me nuuuuuuts.

The elbow jumpers are fine, the threes are fine, it's just those shots a step inside the line that make me hear Bo Ryan cackling in the background.

Turned that off. Morgan and Horford got beat up a bit early as Elliot Eliason went 4/5 and got another layup that Horford had to foul on (he missed both FTs). And then Eliason ceased existing. Major credit to Morgan for preventing entry passes and ripping down several critical MANBOUNDS late.

Morgan didn't get many opportunities on the offensive end, partially because he had a rough game catching passes and the occasional offensive rebound, but the brief second-half section where Horford came in and got crushed by Mo Walker hammered home how well Morgan was cutting off the things Minnesota was trying to do inside. I am slightly worried that there will be a chemistry breakdown next year without him even if McGary comes back, and while that's probably an irrational fear borne of recent Merritt/Lee and Glendening departures, it is real.

Title chance update! Secured. Win @ Illinois or against Indiana and it's outright.

Seed update. The three seed is now unanimous amongst serious prognosticators. Algorithmic source Crashing The Dance was the last holdout, as it still has Creighton and Iowa State ahead of M, items which do not seem true to humans with good track records. Michigan's chance at a 2 is pretty slim, though. They are not likely to pass Syracuse or Duke, Villanova would have to drop some unexpected games, and Wisconsin is hard to pass with their wins over Florida and UVA. If only Michigan could have gotten six more points against Charlotte and Arizona they'd probably be a one, but alas and alack.