Another tournament week, another multi-part mailbag. This one contains the questions about/inspired by Jordan Poole's buzzer-beater. Yes, I'm as shocked as you are that I sorted them this way. Jump in!
A Free Pass
Hey Ace - Are there any statistics showing whether teams should guard the inbounder in late game situations like against Houston? On the surface, it seems like a huge mistake to let Livers inbound the ball to halfcourt so easily.
While I don't remember seeing such a study and can't find stats on it, I agree that Kelvin Sampson erred in allowing Isaiah Livers to get a clean look on the final play. An opposing staff can only scout so many games, but I'm guessing Houston's coaches didn't get to the Maryland tape.
Even though the outcome of the plays were wildly different, Michigan's game-winners against the Terps and Cougars came on nearly identical setups: Livers hitting Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman with a baseball pass from his own baseline out of a timeout. Neither opponent elected to guard the inbounder even though Livers wasn't allowed to run the baseline.
Maryland's Mark Turgeon explicitly tried to set up his defense to prevent anyone from catching a pass while running towards the Terps basket. Here's how that went:
If you forgot, MAAR nearly got all the way to the hoop, drew a foul, and drained both free throws with the ruthless calm of a serial killer.
Here was Houston's setup:
While the Cougars were more successful in preventing a long pass to a guy on a dead run, they still allowed MAAR to catch the ball a fair distance up the court without any immediate pressure, which let him get upcourt in a hurry even though they had two defenders waiting.
Houston forced a tough shot, but it was still a catch-and-shoot look from a not-entirely-unreasonable distance by a shooter who had the time and space to square up to the basket. That's not a prayer, at least if you're Jordan Poole; ideally, the defense is forcing teams into prayers in that situation.
I don't think having the extra defender back is worth whatever added coverage it provides. Again, Livers can't run the baseline in either of these cases, and he's being asked to throw accurate passes far downcourt. Stick a big man on him and that becomes a great deal more difficult to execute. A tougher pass for Livers means either MAAR has to run farther back to the ball—losing precious time and momentum—or risk never completing the pass at all on a deeper attempt. Beilein's now gushed twice this season about Livers being able to throw pinpoint baseball passes; that's a lot harder to do with a basketball when you're not getting the same amount of space as an actual baseball pitcher.
Recency and confirmation biases may be playing a factor, but I rarely find the fifth defender that stays back even comes into play that often. For the offense, the downside of having the entire court to cover can also be an upside—your players can sprint full-out, which never happens for more than a couple steps in a halfcourt situation. Even with the extra man back, it's hard to keep a team from hitting the player they want—usually after running him through a couple screens—and that can lead, as in Maryland's case, to getting a bunch of players uselessly stuck behind the play while a fast man runs past them.
Houston more productively spent their extra player on MAAR and he still had an easy pass to make because of the amount of space he had on the catch. They did a much better job on the back end than Maryland by preventing MAAR from either driving or pulling up. They still got burned. I thought everyone learned this lesson in 1992: guard the dang inbounder.
Or don't, actually. Coaches not doing that is working out pretty nicely for my life.
[Hit THE JUMP for my top-five last-shot-makers of the Beilein era, an evil question that was also the most popular, and MAAR's overlooked move.]
Unorthodox. [Eric Upchurch, Marc-Gregor Campredon, Joseph Dressler]
Zak Irvin made six hundred field goals at Michigan. Each one seemed like a minor miracle.
I say this out of admiration. Pick up a basketball, head to the park, and try to replicate Irvin's shot. To do this, stand pigeon-toed while holding the basketball low and in front of you like a hot casserole just out of the oven; with your hands on the sides of the ball, swing it above your head on a path that passes by your left front pocket; as the ball rises in front of your face, rotate your hands so your shooting hand is under the ball; lock your elbows at a 90-degree angle; flick your wrist to release at the apex of your jump; hold your follow-through at a 45-degree angle. It'll look something like this:
You won't make it. Certainly not the first time, and probably not on the hundredth, either.
Perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise that Irvin's career was for a long time defined by its inconsistency.
After Irvin's freshman year, it was difficult to keep expectations in check. On a 2013-14 team loaded with NBA talent, he excelled in the role of unabashed gunner off the bench. He hoisted 146 three-pointers and made 43% of them, seamlessly replacing Nik Stauskas, who'd become the team's star, as the instant offense freshman who promised a whole lot more in the future.
Irvin's game, however, was extremely limited. He recorded all of 13 assists in 37 games. His defensive rebound rate was lower than Spike Albrecht's. Nearly 75% of his shots came from beyond the arc; according to hoop-math, all ten of his makes at the rim were assisted.
Moe Wagner is earning John Beilein's trust on defense. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
The Block Is Hot
I wasn't planning to do another Basketbullets before the UCLA game until I sat through John Beilein's presser after Tuesday night's win over Texas. Beilein is coming around to the idea that Moe Wagner is, in fact, his best all-around big man, and a big reason for that showed itself on the game's deciding play:
We got done what we had to get done. Moe’s block at the end was big. Moe’s blocking shots really for the first time in his life. His first blocked shots last year I think were in the Tulsa game. He’s learning when he should leave his feet, when he shouldn’t, to be a bigger presence at the rim. Really pleased with his development, as with DJ.
Beilein's memory is pretty good: Wagner had two blocks in last season's late-November win over Charlotte, then didn't record another before his four-block breakout against Tulsa in the NCAA tournament. Wagner has always possessed the requisite length and athleticism to be a good rim protector; now he's developing the necessary timing to challenge and alter shots without picking up fouls. That was on full display with Wagner's game-sealing block, which came after he and DJ Wilson seamlessly executed a switch. Wagner stayed vertical and waited until the last moment before swatting the ball away:
After recording blocks in two of his 29 appearances last year, Wagner has six in nine games. DJ Wilson has 14. Those two almost entirely account for Michigan's team block rate rising from 6.1% (308th nationally) last season to 8.4% (189th) this year, the team's highest mark since Beilein's first season, when Ekpe Udoh had 92 of the team's 160 blocks. Incidentally, that's the last time Michigan started two bigs. While there's still plenty of room to improve, those two have added a new dimension to the defense.
[Hit THE JUMP for Billy Donlon's clutch veto, a look at the game-winning bucket, and more.]
Michigan had every opportunity to put Virginia Tech away and get a quality home win only to squander it with poor defense, strange substitutions by John Beilein, and a hideous heroball play by Zak Irvin on the potential game-winning shot.
The first half went about as well as one could ask. The Wolverines jumped out to a quick lead and were up by double digits for most of the opening stanza, exploiting VT's matchup zone—something they'd seen already this season against Howard—for a series of open threes and layups. Irvin was especially hot, pouring in 15 of his game-high 23 in the first half, and solid offensive contributions from Duncan Robinson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and Moe Wagner combined with sloppy play from VT to give the Wolverines a nine-point halftime edge.
It was a different story in the second half. The Hokies stopped coughing up the ball, allowing them to attack Robinson and MAAR on the perimeter for blow-by layups and take advantage of Mark Donnal's interior defense seemingly every possession he was on the floor.
"[We were] just doing some strange things on defense, and it really cost us," said John Beilein.
"Sometimes we just lose that edge when you've got to get a stop, we lose that edge to get a stop. We've got to be a better defensive team than that."
Wagner had an efficient outing that left many wanting more. [Campredon]
Even though Wagner clearly outplayed Donnal throughout the game, they each logged 17 minutes, and the difference between the two was stark on both ends. VT's Zach LeDay got most of his 18 points when matched up with Donnal; he found the going tougher against Wagner and, for one possession before he fouled out, DJ Wilson. The Hokies couldn't stop Wagner, who hit 5-of-6 shots—most of them driving layups—for 11 points. Donnal did not score.
Michigan's ball movement petered out in the second half, too, and with it went their hot shooting; they shot only 12-for-30 and 3-for-13 from beyond the arc. Irvin embodied Michigan's struggles. After going 6-for-8 in the first half, making his shots within the confines of the offense, he hit only 4-of-12 in the second, forcing more of his looks. None were worse than his heroball chuck on Michigan's penultimate possession, which badly missed the mark with Michigan down one.
"We were trying to isolate him and they took him away a little bit. We know what to do when they take him away and we didn't do it," Beilein said. "It's that simple. So now we got isolated and we got all gunked up there, we couldn't call timeout, and we got a bad shot."
"I wish we had a timeout to really put something together. They blew it up and we didn't counter well."
After two VT free throws and a deflected inbounds pass, Michigan had one last chance on a sideline inbounds play with 3.7 seconds left. Wagner saved a long toss to Robinson, who got a half-decent look to tie it, but his shot rimmed out as the buzzer sounded.
"It's a great learning curve game for us, and we'll grow from it," Beilein said. "We didn't deserve the win the game the way we played those last ten minutes."
2/6/2013 – Michigan 76, Ohio State 74 (OT) – 21-2, 8-2 Big Ten
I guarantee Tim Hardaway Jr has never heard of obscure indie band Rilo Kiley or heard "A Better Son/Daughter" or even seen The Wizard, in which then-preteen future obscure indie band singer Jenny Lewis debuted along with Super Mario 3. (It was a heady time.) But I also guarantee that for most of the second half he heard that song he had never heard, the bit about sometimes when you're on.
Mitch McGary sings "La Cucaracha" to himself most of the time, but especially during basketball games.
INNER LIFE OF MITCH MCGARY
/INNER LIFE OF MITCH MCGARY
Nik Stauskas… obvious.
One day Nik Stauskas will find out that not everybody in the whole world has BALL SO HARD going through their head 24 hours a day, and a lot of previously inexplicable things will magically explain themselves. That one time he cut off an old lady at the supermarket and spiked her baguette to the floor. The aftermaths of various domino-spiking incidents. That thing about racing a horse. &c.
Glenn Robinson III hears nothing but jet engine takeoff, and knows nothing about the world of music. He knows the roar of escape velocity only. He can talk to birds. Birds are in fact sick of talking to Glenn Robinson III. Excuse birds, they have to go regurgitate some food now.
Trey Burke… Trey Burke is a tough one.
Narrative whatnots ranging from your own to trash-talking Ohio State fans on twitter to Mike Tirico and Dick Vitale tell you that Craft versus Burke was once again a victory for Craft and his infuriating brand of that's-80%-of-a-foul-argh defense. Then you go look at a box score that tells you Burke put up 16 points on 12 shots and had eight assists against two turnovers, and your brain has an ellipses as it tries to fit that into the thing you thought might have happened.
Then you remember that Michigan's grand strategy at the end of the game and OT was "Burke, go do something" and the resulting tough stepback threes were more on Beilein walking Burke into a trap with no time on the clock than any fault of his, and you revise that shot count down to ten and… well. First of all, it's impressive that Burke only took ten shots from the structure of the offense. He is an alpha dog. His natural inclination when things get heated is to take everything on his shoulders, and this game wasn't heated so much as it was generating enough energy to thaw most of the state should a Crisler door blow open at an opportune time. Burke still kept himself even-keeled.
Previous Ohio State games have featured plenty of frustrating moments when the pick and roll has been more of an invitation to get trapped towards the sidelines than a way to generate offense, and while there was a bit of that here, it was less prominent. Multiple times Burke turned a tough drive into a kickout three instead of a low-percentage two, and I felt surprise. This is a guy who wants to put it on his shoulders, sometimes to Michigan's detriment. Here he dialed it back a bit—22% usage versus 32% in Columbus—and found plenty of payoff in the form of Hardaway and Stauskas raining in threes.
Those stepbacks at the end of the game were an alternate scenario largely avoided. Burke had to absorb some Buddhism in this one, and win the game without winning it.
Except, of course, for the part where he won it. The part where he almost seemed to let Craft by him on purpose because he knew a pullup in the lane was coming, and thwacked the ball to Glenn Robinson to preserve the slimmest of all leads—to preserve their claim to being elite. It's the bit of the box score you hardly look at because Trey Burke is generously listed at six feet tall.
Aaron Craft is Ohio State's primary assist generator. He had one in this game, a game in which his team put up 55% from two. None of that was generated by Craft, who turned the ball over as much as Burke and found out that putting the game on your shoulders is a grand burden indeed. On the last three possessions Burke stripped him, blocked him, and rode him into the doom of Tim Hardaway. The last play was pure Craft: riding your man down the court on the edge of a foul, forcing his attention onto you on his shoulder until it is too late.
That's not in the box score. The tree of victory sometimes grows from silent soil. Or something like that. I'm not much better at being Buddhist than Trey Burke.
I'm not sure what Trey Burke's life soundtrack is. Could be Vivaldi or Bombs Over Baghdad. It's probably all things smashed together; Burke puts one headphone to an ear and mashes things together until the thing that comes out doesn't seem like it could have been constructed from the parts that went in.
Rucker park. I couldn't have been the only one who thought about that Kevin Durant video when THJ was going NBA Jam:
There was a nonzero chance of that fourth one resulting in the same court rush.
Begone, heroball. Brief digression on why the fadeaway three from Burke in the previous Ohio State game was okay and this one drove me nuts:
DOWN TWO ON ROAD: If you get a two you have an approximately 50% chance to win. If you get a three you win. If the two is twice as likely to go down (or get you free throws that you make) as the three, it's even. Since you're on the road your chance of winning is slightly lower, so… even if you think that Burke three was only 30% to go in, the drive would have to be around 65-70% to be a clearly better option. (A potential OSU response is irrelevant since any bucket they get means you lose.)
TIED AT HOME: Go get a damn point. If the drive is at all likelier to get you a damn point it is a better idea. It is likelier to get you a damn point. So go get it.
Michigan is an exceedingly low-turnover outfit with multiple excellent scoring options. Putting Burke in a one-on-one situation against the best perimeter defender in college basketball is not your best option, and the potential downside is not just a turnover but a turnover that comes early enough for the opponent to get a meaningful possession. Yeah, it's not impossible, but the reward outweighs the risk.
The 1-4 set late is the equivalent of run-run-pass-punt when you're up late in football. Easy to justify, statistically poor.
I may have to dump the Big Puppy nickname if McGary is going to play like this, not that I have a huge problem with it. (Upchurch @ right.)
Impact. Mitch McGary has it.
He kept Michigan in contact in the first half with dives to the bucket and putbacks, going 5/8. He'd finish 7 of 13, the only Wolverine to hit more than half his twos—the only one to make more than two. The rebounding numbers aren't astounding—3 offensive, 3 defensive—but four steals against one foul is. He is coming over entry passes and busting them up at a rate I haven't seen before from a Michigan player.
In addition to the box score stuff, he was all over the court doing his usual McGary things. Whenever I look at the Kenpom boxes it seems like Michigan has more "team" rebounds on both offense and defense than the opponent. This feels like a McGary halo effect from the guy battering all manner of balls about. For example, late in the game he harassed Lenzelle Smith into the sideline as he attempted to rebound a Michigan miss. Michigan got the ball and a "team" offensive rebound. In the highlights above he hedges Craft into the sideline; Craft attempts to save the possession by hurling the ball off of McGary; the ball deflects to Robinson, who gets credit for a steal* and Michigan fast-breaks the other way. He's a massive possession generator statistically and there's an excellent case to be made that he is being shortchanged by those stats.
McGary's not a slug on offense, either. He can put the ball on the deck for a couple dribbles against other fives; in this one Amir Williams had an excellent block on one of those drives, but the other ended in a layup. His skill level is relatively high for a big. And he does all that other business.
At this point he's swung back from overrated to underrated. I mean, is there much difference between what he's giving M and what Nerlens Noel is giving Kentucky? Noel blocks a butt-ton of shots; McGary is an incredible rebounder on both ends of the floor. They're about even in offensive efficiency. So… who would you rather have? It's at least up for debate if McGary continues pulling down the minutes he has the last couple games.
*[I'm pretty sure that's the letter of the law, right?]
Alright. Defense is something of an issue. Michigan overplayed Deshaun Thomas to decent effect—or Ohio State just forgot to go to him late—and held him to 17 points on 15 shots. Given OSU's struggles to find secondary scoring you would take that as an easy Michigan win when paired with shooting nearly 60% from three.
That was not the case thanks in large part to LaQuinton Ross, who went nuts. He hit seven of ten shots and probably didn't have more than one empty possession since he rebounded a lot of his misses.
Add in Sam Thompson, Amir Williams, and Lenzelle Smith hitting eight of ten twos—Smith had a poor day from three—and that's how Ohio State kept pace with Hardaway's beast mode second half. Everyone other than Craft and Deshaun Thomas was throwing down easy stuff. Michigan said "someone other than Thomas will beat us" and Ohio State was like "okay."
Q: where was the zone? Ohio State struggled against the 2-3 zone in the previous game. Michigan pulled it out briefly and it seemed to be going fairly well. For whatever reason, the coaches didn't like the way it looked and went back to what turned out to be a highly porous man to man.
Revisiting the Morgan thing. I don't know if that's really the issue. I mean, how bad does McGary have to be positionally to wipe out four steals and assorted other turnover generation? Overhelping accusations go back to that discussion about whether that's on the big or the guy who gave up the drive the big felt he had to respond to. There's nothing in the way of stats that suggests Morgan is integral to the defense, so we're left with fuzzy business about rotations. I don't know. My eyes say that 1) McGary is playing really well and 2) Michigan is playing badly on defense. I can't reconcile those.
On the other hand. Hi I just watched the MGoBlue highlights embedded above and they happen to have a good deal of OSU's secondary scoring included. Sam Thompson's 3/3 night consisted of a transition tip dunk and two tough shots, one a baseline runner (not included), the other a baseline 18-footer with a decent contest from Stauskas. Lenzelle Smith's game-tier is a scramble off an offensive rebound that still sees Stauskas chase him off the three-point line with a closeout and forces him to re-set and fire from just inside the arc. That's a pretty good outcome off that OREB.
Maybe OSU just had a good game? There's a lot of randomness in here.
Rebounding check. This looked basically even in the ESPN box score but as per usual, once the whirlwind effect of McGary bouncing balls off all of the faces is taken into account, Michigan comes out looking better. With five team rebounds to OSU's two that pushes them up to 38% to 32%, which is a moderate edge.
More than halfway through the conference season their rebounding is holding up much better than it was last year: they're third on D, fourth on O. Last year they finished 9th and 10th in those categories, respectively. The rest of the schedule is four easy games and four hard ones, so that doesn't seem to be a schedule effect.
Uniformz. I was trying to ignore them as best I could. Unfortunately twitter was nonstop trash-talk about them until the game became so good Michigan could have come out in garbage bags elaborately festooned with penises bearing Dave Brandon's face and no one would have noticed. Twitter, I am trying to grit the ol' teeth here, and you are not helping.
I don't care anymore. This is the scene in Planet of the Apes after Charlton Heston screams "YOU MANIACS YOU BLEW IT UP" in which Charlton turns to his companion and says "I'm hungry, do you guys still have Jimmy John's?" It is what it is. It'll slowly erode my will to live, but whatever. I've said my bit.
The one thing I'd like to mention: Michigan handed out honest-to-god Maize shirts for the Maizeout. I didn't know they actually made those anymore, and can we pick a yellow? No, we cannot pick a yellow.
"But the kids like them." The first album I ever bought was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack. I memorized it. Kids are stupid.
Oblig. ref bit. Spent entire second half grinding my teeth about the Craft post-buzzer (except there was no buzzer) three. Why was there no buzzer? I'm pretty sure the refs can't look at the player and the shot clock at the same time, so they have to rely on the noise. No noise, no shot clock violation. That may be on Crisler instead of the refs. Nik Stauskas put up a prayer after the buzzer went off later, but there was no buzzer so it didn't go off and there was no call.
The phantom foul on Burke was probably the right result since Hardaway did get Thomas's arm on the shot. The ref missed it and had to make up some bullcrap on Burke once it was clear Thomas had airballed it implausibly, but it was a foul. Just not on the dude who got it.
The offensive goaltending non-call… oy.
The sequence at the end was classic late-game ref ostriching: it was a flagrant on Craft and probably a foul on Hardaway. Sometimes they let you get away with some extra contact when you get your hand literally on top of the ball, as Hardaway did. I can see not calling that because by the time the arm contact starts in earnest Hardaway has already destroyed any chance of a shot. Still seemed foul-y to me.
Don't get me started on the "let them decide it on the floor" meme. They are deciding it on the floor as long as you call the game the way you should.