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