Pre-Tourney Mailbag, Part One: Judging Success, Sixth Man Effect, Two Bigs, Closers

Pre-Tourney Mailbag, Part One: Judging Success, Sixth Man Effect, Two Bigs, Closers Comment Count

Ace March 13th, 2018 at 11:47 AM

Yes, it's another multi-part pre-tournament mailbag, as y'all continue to ask a lot of good questions. While I've mostly got part two finished, I'm still open to adding another question or two. If you'd like to do that, email me or tag your question with #mgomailbag on Twitter.

What Is Success?


success: achieved. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

No matter what transpires the rest of this month, this season has been a rousing success. This was supposed to be a transition year between the experienced 2016-17 squad and the set-to-be-crazy-talented 2018-19 team. John Beilein's most successful teams need a star point guard or Stauskas-like point-wing to run the offense; the players we expected to fill those spots were a MAC grad transfer and a (have you heard this before?) Kentucky transfer with an iffy shot. I figured it'd take a decent bit of Beilein coaching magic—baked into my preseason expectations at this point—to get this team somewhere in the five-seed to eight-seed range in the tourney.

While the season was on that track for a while, it's all come together late for the second straight year—Michigan has a three-seed and will hang at least one more banner in Crisler. We've seen talent development from Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, and Jon Teske that's taken the expectations for next year to even greater heights. Luke Yaklich not only held up Billy Donlon's miraculous defensive turnaround; he built on it to the point Michigan boasts a top-five defense despite fielding a frontcourt with some very limited players on that end.

It'd be quite nice to avoid a massive upset against Montana; anything beyond that, even though M will be favored, is playing with house money. I will admit some greed, however, and mention that any loss will still hurt for two main reasons:

  1. John Beilein is 65 and it's difficult to predict how coaches will age. While I'm not seeing any signs of a decline—if anything, quite the opposite—there are only so many years left, and even when trying to set aside bias I can't think of a college coach more deserving of a national title.
  2. HOO DANG WOULD IT BE NICE FOR THAT TO HAPPEN IN THE YEAR LOUISVILE VACATED THE BEILEIN/BURKE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP AND FIRED RICK PITINO.

Fandom insanity aside, though, this season has already surpassed any reasonable preseason expectations, and the next one should be even better—so long as this team doesn't pull a 2014 Ohio State Football and beat the hotly anticipated future squad to the punch.

[Hit THE JUMP for much, much more.]

Comments

Moving Picture Pages: Iowa and Nebraska

Moving Picture Pages: Iowa and Nebraska Comment Count

Ace March 9th, 2018 at 3:06 PM

Now that the bounty of Big Ten Tournament GIFs has been posted, I wanted to revisit the weekend's tactical battles like I did with Monday's post on the Purdue game. Today's post will cover the Iowa and Nebraska games. I'll have another one on the MSU game and probably a bit more on Purdue, too.

To the pictures, moving and otherwise.

Iowa: Shutting Down Bohannon, Evil Beilein Overtime Set

Switching and stealing led to easy points. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

BREAKING BOHANNON

The top priority for any team that plays Iowa is stopping guard Jordan Bohannon, a 30-foot pull-up three-pointer waiting to happen. While one such shot sent this game into overtime, Bohannon otherwise made only 2-of-10 threes, and his lack of volume was just as important as his lack of makes. He went for a 13-minute stretch in the first half without attempting a triple and had another eight-minute long-range drought in the second. Four of his attempts came in the final minute of regulation or the overtime period.

While Bohannon was nearly the hero, he finished with only 11 points on 15 shot equivalents. The defense allowed Michigan to avoid an upset despite a brutal 3-for-19 performance from beyond the arc on the other end.

How did Michigan accomplish this? While Zavier Simpson has deservedly received a lot of credit, it also extends to the entire squad. Luke Yaklich deployed a switch-heavy scheme to prevent Bohannon from getting open looks and the team executed it with precision. Michigan not only slowed Iowa's most dangerous scorer but came up with eight steals in the process, which led to some easy buckets

Here's my favorite defensive possession of the game. The whole team plays it perfectly, and Simpson's ability to cover, and hold, a lot of ground stands out. He's circled in blue in these screencaps; the clock is circled to emphasize the speed at which all this occurs. Michigan's defense was flying.

Simpson picks up Bohannon at halfcourt but takes a hard pick, something Teske or Livers likely should've called out. While he gets over it, he ends up switching onto the screener, Tyler Cook—Iowa's 6'9", 255-pound post threat.

Iowa goes at this size mismatch right away, posting Cook on Simpson and clearing the near side of the court for him to go to work.

Cook only gets a couple dribbles—and nowhere near the hoop—before Jon Teske comes over for a well-timed double-team. As doubles go it's very low-risk; by clearing out for Cook, Iowa has no spacing on the weak side, so three Wolverines effectively cover four Hawkeyes. Cook doesn't have much of a choice but to kick it back out.

The ball quickly swings to Bohannon, and Luke Garza comes over to set a quick high screen. Simpson takes a brief pause to make sure Garza doesn't slip to the basket...

...then gets over to trap Bohannon in a flash, closing any window for a shot. Bohannon has to swing it back to Garza; Livers gets back on him before he can do anything.

Bohannon and Garza reset and try another quick screen. Simpson fights over the top, passes Bohannon off to Livers, and swings back around on Garza, closing off the pop for a three while Livers prevents a pull-up or drive from Bohannon.

Garza cuts hard to the hoop and Simpson hangs with him, anchoring in the post and holding surprisingly decent position. It doesn't matter, as Bohannon tries an aimless crossover, goes to pick up his dribble, and gets stripped by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who's close enough to take a calculated gamble.

In motion:

Bohannon got only six three-pointers off in halfcourt sets and made two—one when Livers blew the switch, the other on a 25-foot pull-up. The final score may have been close, but Michigan held the nation's #19 offense (yes, the Hawkeye defense is very bad) to 0.95 points per possession, a huge drop from the 1.09 PPP they posted in Big Ten play.

[Hit THE JUMP to see how Beilein freed up Robinson in OT, his adjustments to Nebraska's defense, and more.]

Comments

One Frame At A Time: Big Ten Tournament

One Frame At A Time: Big Ten Tournament Comment Count

Ace March 8th, 2018 at 10:59 AM

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

On with the show.

IOWA

Full album.

5. Poole Pocket Pass

4. Split and Assist

3. Corner Dagger

2. Wagner Spin, Dunk, Mug

FRAMES OF THE GAME: TEARDROP FROM HEAVEN

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

Comments

Snips, Fingernails, And Spartan Dawg Trails

Snips, Fingernails, And Spartan Dawg Trails Comment Count

Brian March 5th, 2018 at 12:55 PM

26752637568_147817c8b4_z

[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.

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

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.

25730438977_c82ce8a9ac_z

[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.

 38771577980_a013bb1a25_z

[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.

Comments

Michigan 75, Purdue 66, Big Ten Tournament Champs

Michigan 75, Purdue 66, Big Ten Tournament Champs Comment Count

Ace March 4th, 2018 at 7:44 PM

BIG NASTY. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Four wins. Four days. A trophy.

Old hat.

For the second straight year, Michigan pulled off the improbable and ran through the best the Big Ten had to offer for a conference tournament championship. They sealed it this evening by running away from Purdue, which never held a lead after the game's opening three minutes. The big, bad Boilermakers could only stay at arm's length, then the Wolverines laid the hammer down in an incredible second half only marred by some late free-throw trouble that never put the outcome in serious doubt.

Just about everything John Beilein touched turned to gold; he outdueled Purdue's Matt Painter in what's been the Big Ten's most intricately fascinating coaching matchup the last two years. Painter chose to hedge hard against the ballhandler on high screens in the first half; while Michigan went 3-for-11 on mostly wide-open threes, they drew Purdue's towering big men far from the hoop—the Wolverines went 13-for-19 inside the arc and didn't have a shot blocked or commit a turnover.

Much of that was due to the stellar play of Jon Teske, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the first-half minutes after Beilein gave Wagner the usual break following his first foul. Teske was a force on both ends and Beilein let him ride for 12 first-half minutes. Teske rewarded his coach's faith with dunks off the pick-and-roll, increasingly lengthy midrange shots off the pick-and-pop, a thunderous block, and a stellar late defensive posseession on an otherwise dominant Isaac Haas, who picked up a cheap frustration foul in response.

"I really have no words to explain," said Teske.


Big lights. Little dude. Huge buckets. [Campredon]

Zavier Simpson was masterful on both ends as well. His chemistry with Teske created multiple open baskets. He got the hoop with regularity and finished. When Purdue overplayed him on screens, he generated wide open looks for Michigan's shooters. He played lockdown defense on Purdue's best perimeter player, Carsen Edwards, who went only 3-for-9 in the first half.

"He's a pit bull," said Beilein. "We have a picture of a big, mean pit bull in our locker room for every game. And he is that guy. He's one that loves to play defense."

"Muhammad and I just wanted to come out and set the tone," said Simpson. "We wanted to play great defense from the start so our energy could be contagious. And as you've seen, others followed."

While the Wovlerines went into the break up 38-33, however, it felt like they'd missed a golden opportunity to blow the game open. The announcers, and most everyone else, felt a tight finish coming.

That did not happen. Painter chose not to continue playing with fire on screens, switching them to prevent open looks instead of sticking with the aggressive hedging approach. After a few forced shots over Haas, Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman ruthlessly attacked the basket, combining for 15 second-half points and five assists.

"It takes a long time to sort of build up the substance to your team that can persevere and just won't give in," said Beilein. "They won't give in to fatigue. They won't give in to momentum changes. They just stick in there."

"You always learn something when you play them," said Painter. "And you fix something. As a coach you think you've got them figured out, you don't have them figured out."


Wagner was all smiles in the second half. [Campredon]

Moe Wagner, with his mother watching from the stands, removed any doubt of the outcome. His 4-for-5 second-half performance featured a Dirk-like turnaround fallaway three as the shot clock expired, a blow-by layup, and another triple right in the grill of Matt Haarms. He did more than just score; he led the break after a steal then hit a trailing MAAR for a big three, and he battled hard on the boards, helping M limit Purdue to three offensive rebounds after they'd pulled down seven in the first half.

"Those guards are good but not everybody has a guy like Wagner that can stick 3s, drive the ball, and play with passion," said Painter.

Then Duncan Robinson got a thunderblock on Carsen Edwards and Zavier Simpson slipped a beautiful pass to Teske for a posterizing dunk on Haas, and the party was on. Michigan stretched the lead as far as 18 before a too-little, too-late Purdue run got them as close as seven while the Wolverines scuffled at the charity stripe. That's a concern for later.

For now, Michigan is once again on a tear heading into the NCAA Tournament, and today's championship may well have locked up a three-seed. John Beilein is a wizard.


Back-to-back champs. [Campredon]

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

Comments

Michigan 77, Nebraska 58

Michigan 77, Nebraska 58 Comment Count

Ace March 2nd, 2018 at 5:51 PM


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

That was pleasantly different.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Nope. [Campredon]

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

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

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

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

Comments

Michigan 77, Iowa 71 (OT)

Michigan 77, Iowa 71 (OT) Comment Count

Ace March 1st, 2018 at 6:16 PM


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

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

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

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


Layups and, uh, more layups.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Comments

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

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

Ace February 28th, 2018 at 2:11 PM

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

Lineup Combos: Unlocked


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

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

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


via HoopLens

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

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

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

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

Comments

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 Comment Count

Brian 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.

38655608820_c14303c9cd_z

[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.

39570151995_9a0e996f98_z
[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. 

Comments

Shooters Get To Shoot

Shooters Get To Shoot Comment Count

Brian February 15th, 2018 at 1:22 PM

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

38463336350_84021ae636_z

[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

39375887835_068858c6e2_z

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.

38463344050_9675bbd4e5_z

[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.

38463346150_e4fd2c3a94_z

[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.

Comments