12/1/2018 – Michigan 76, Purdue 57 – 8-0, 1-0 Big Ten
Bigs are the college basketball equivalent of offensive linemen. They're hard to project. They take a significant amount of time to refine into their final product. Also they are big.
Once you get outside the rarefied air of the kids who go to basketball factories so fake they can't even bother to come up with a real name—there is now a place called "Spire Academy" which naturally now houses LaMelo Ball—when centers arrive on campus they've mostly spent their time raining fire on 6'3" guys who keep asking the ref if they can use pitchforks against it. Also, they are big, so they've been slotted into basketball teams whether or not they really care to be. The bigger the person, the more foreordained it is that they will play center despite a total lack of basketball-related skills. There's a 7'6" dude from Dakar named Tacko Fall who plays for UCF and shoots 27% on free throws. QED.
So when you hear the new big who looks like a newborn deer during the brief moments he's permitted on the court is nicknamed "The Big Sleep," well… this is our concern. Not even the guy with literal narcolepsy got called The Big Sleep.
Two years later, Purdue has switched Carsen Edwards onto The Big Sleep. This is a thing Purdue just does on instinct at this point. Does the tall man's jersey read "Michigan"? Okay, switch a firefly onto him because the one thing Michigan never does is post up. This gambit has waned in its effectiveness over time but usually because the Boilermaker on the guard is a great lumbering thing or, now, a Frenchman on a dilapidated bicycle. Michigan still doesn't post up, basically ever.
This time Jon Teske puts Edwards on his back, receives an entry pass, and dunks. Edwards shrugs afterwards. His face says "what I am supposed to do with that?" He knows the answer is nothing.
This is Teske now, with the rough edges sanded down. He puts up 17 points on 8 shot equivalents. He spearheads the #1 defense in college basketball. There are a lot of reasons that opponents are hitting 36% of their twos, but the foremost among them is Teske. When he's on the court teams are hitting 31 percent. 31! When he goes to the bench opponents get 13 percentage points worth of relief. Teske got switched onto Nassir Little in the last game and matched Little's drive to the basket. That ball ended up in the stands.
Teske roared afterward, much like he does in the photo that leads this post. That came when he put poor Grady Eifert on a poster:
At the top, Simpson is doing his Big Mood walk despite having no involvement in the play. And that's right too. Teske deserves to roar; he deserves all the chest-bumps and weird awkward arm-lock thingies Michigan is doing this year.
He still looks like the nice boy down the street after you increased his pixel count by 50%, and that's why he'll always be Big Sleep to me. Saddi Washington attempted to rebrand Teske as "Big Nasty" last year, but let's keep The Big Sleep around. Big Nasty is taken by Corliss Williamson and generic anyway. Ain't nobody named Big Sleep.
We just have to look at it a different way. The Big Sleep isn't about what Jon Teske is. It's about what he does to your offense, and sometimes your defense. The Big Sleep is a noir movie. The Big Sleep is a wrestling finisher. The Big Sleep is what happens when you tell Cement Ricky you'll have his money in two weeks and don't.
The Big Sleep is what happens when you manage to get past the forest of poking arms around Michigan's perimeter: a giant man in a trenchcoat throws you over his head into the water.
[After THE JUMP: cat and mouse between Beilein and Painter]
The net may as well be the heads of his enemies. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
On its face, it's an odd decision. After Michigan made only three three-pointers in the first half of the Big Ten championship game, Purdue coach Matt Painter totally altered the way his team played defense. The Wolverines proceeded to run away with the game. Painter bungled the game, right?
A closer look tells a different story. Painter knew that John Beilein was one step ahead of him even though M's shots hadn't fallen early. Presented with a no-win situation, he chose to try to take them out of their normal offense, and to that end he largely succeeded. It didn't matter because Beilein, Moe Wagner, and M's backcourt stayed one step ahead.
The key to Michigan-Purdue games the last two years has been how each team handles the other's big man on defense. In Painter's case, that means finding a way to combat the high ball screen with, at times, five viable three-point shooters spacing the floor. Here's how he tried, and how Beilein countered.
The First Half: Hard Hedges, Layups, and Frustrating Missed Threes
Purdue spent the opening half defending high ball screens much the way Michigan used to: by overplaying the ballhandler. It's a different tactic than the switch-heavy defenses M has seen for the most part since the Nebraska debacle and, in addition to being something a lesser coach may not have expected to see, it better fits Purdue's personnel than switching every screen, especially when Isaac Haas is on the floor.
But Beilein was ready, even if his preparation didn't produce the desired results. For the most part, Michigan fans were treated to this: Wagner (or Duncan Robinson) slipping the screen, getting a wide open look, and missing.
That's not even the most open look Wagner missed, but it's representative.
"You can't allow them to do what they want to do," said Painter in the postgame presser. "And if you do, now it's just hitting or missing, especially when they put skill—[Beilein's] ideal thing is having a five that can shoot. That's why Teske's picking pops, going into the short roll into [the] elbow, Wagner being able to make the threes and drive the ball. He makes them special."
Even as M's shooters struggled to make shots they'd normally put down, the offense kept up an impressive average of 1.23 points per possession. The team didn't turn it over once despite Purdue's high-pressure approach. The scrambling Boilermakers defense opened up the lane for drives once the ballhandler broke pressure. Beilein busted out a 1-4 high screen with Robinson setting the pick and while the primary intention was to free up Robinson beyond the arc, Purdue's overplaying of Simpson also allowed him to attack the basket:
Beilein also made some adjustments. He got Wagner an easy layup by calling for a double ball screen out of a late-half timeout with Charles Matthews as the ballhandler, Isaiah Livers popping to the three-point line, and Wagner rolling to the hoop.
Michigan's ability to space, shoot, and drive makes this play almost impossible to defend given Purdue's approach. They switch the defender on Matthews but he's still able to turn the corner and keep his man behind his hip because of a solid screen by Wagner(!). Matthews' initial defender is forced to stay home on Livers or give up a wide-open three-point attempt. The center has to continue playing Matthews or give up a dunk. The weakside help defender is faced with a choice: rotate hard into the paint in a probably fruitless attempt to stop Wagner or stay home to keep Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman, a deadly spot-up shooter, from putting three points on the board.
"Our weak side and our guys in ball-screen defense, sometimes when the ball got deep, had to stay home," said Painter. "And you gotta force them to throw the ball out and they didn't do that."
One wraparound pass from Matthews is all it takes for the easiest bucket of Wagner's afternoon. Painter couldn't bank on M's shooters continuing to miss great looks and his team was getting ripped apart in the paint anyway—while they weren't quite as aggressive in their P&R defense against Jon Teske, they needed to alter how they defended him, too.
Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, Beilein also got a halftime.
[After THE JUMP: Painter makes his move and Beilein counters.]
1/9/2018 – Michigan 69, Purdue 70 – 14-4, 3-2 Big Ten
This is all Illinois's fault. Or Miami's. Or whichever jabroni awarded this ball to the Hurricanes late in a 2013 NCAA tournament game:
Oh no I read the comments
Oh no, college basketball listened to Youtube commenters. In the aftermath of that game the outrage was sufficient for the NCAA to institute video review on late-game out-of-bounds plays. Thus last night, when a Michigan win-or-OT situation turned into a loss thanks to a replay that literally took seven minutes as two referees pored over every frame of a Dakota Mathias rake on Charles Matthews and eventually awarded the ball to Purdue.
This was insane for many reasons.
One: I spent 39:54 watching a great basketball game between two good teams exchanging haymakers, and then I spent the rest of my life watching the back of a ref.
Two: any replay that takes that long surely falls in the realm of the disputed and should not be flipped.
Three: that call would never be made at any point during the first 39:54 because it does not matter if an offensive player who has been stripped of the ball going to the basket has his finger on the ball a nanosecond after the defender. The basketball rule book functionally reads "if a player is stripped going to the basket it's his team's ball unless it hits his leg or foot. "
Applying a different standard to a late game possession isn't correcting a call, it's getting it wrong in the name of pedantry. This happens a half dozen times in any basketball game...
...and 100% of the time the ball is awarded to the offense. That's the rule even if it's not the rule.
Four: Matt Painter essentially used a coach's challenge, which does not exist in basketball.
Matt Painter says Purdue had to ask for a replay on the Matthews play. Officials weren’t going to check it. ‘I had no idea. I was just guessing.’
Surely the response there could have been "no" or "hard pass" or "Matt you seem nice and you've constructed a fascinating basketball team but please go to hell." It was not. So it goes.
I'm obviously pretty cheesed off that Michigan lost one of their vanishingly few opportunities for a win that could move them up a seed line, but I'm even more vexed that the basketball game I was watching went from wonderful tense fun to a conference call. This is bad. It is bad for the game, and not just people walking bow-legged to work this morning.
If we're going to have replay—and, yes, we probably should, Illinois fans—we must protect the game from idiot pedants. And refs are all idiot pedants. That's the job: memorize this rule book and show up in front of thousands of people who hate you to enforce the rules of a meaningless game. Occasionally Kentucky fans dox you, and you kind of deserve it. This only appeals to the kind of person who loves correcting other people's mistakes more than he enjoys not having his life threatened. Only an idiot pedant signs up. TV Teddy is their king for a reason.
So. You get 30 seconds and then the screen turns off. Because if it's not obvious with three replays it's not worth correcting. Especially in a game like basketball where a gentleman's agreement not to foul someone out on some bullshit (unless their name is Mo Wagner) exists. Especially in a game like basketball that is lovely when it's flowing up and down the court and grimly dismal during its fouls-and-timeouts-and-more-timeouts-and-now-replays closing act.
Because if you didn't care about this game to start, and then got into it because it was terrific, you finished the game watching NCIS. Either figuratively, because it turned into a forensic exercise, or literally, because you changed the channel to one of the 17 different stations constantly playing NCIS.
Basketball should not have timeouts*, and it should take steps to assure replays are barely long enough to get one glue commercial in. Let's march to the grave properly distracted, people.
*[As previously discussed I am willing to accept a system where coaches can call timeout if they snip off one of their digits with garden shears and hand it to the ref.]
I will be very Brad Stevens. Stevens famously started walking towards the handshake line in some Butler game that came down to a buzzer-beater before that buzzer-beater went in or not, because one basket wasn't going to sway his opinion of his basketball team much. That's some cold-blooded Vulcan behavior and we'd do well to implement that in the aftermath here.
Michigan went toe to toe with a very very good team that was playing superbly, and the fact they lost is less important than they way they played. If you believe that opponent 3PT% is largely out of your control this game looks pretty dang good. And about that...
A legion of Rip Hamiltons. Dan Dakich made an excellent point when he noted the sheer speed at which Purdue's gunners were running through their cuts and getting to their spots. Maybe half of Purdue's threes weren't drive-and-kick or extra-pass-to-exploit-rotation. They were lightning cuts off screens that Michigan didn't have much shot at defending. As I mentioned on twitter:
Purdue is an ogre surrounded by four Rip Hamiltons
The difference is that Hamilton wasn't canning threes. Purdue is, at a Peak Beilein Team rate of 41%.
In this game Purdue hit 57% on a relatively high rate of threes (their 3PA/FGA of 37% is about the NCAA median), and I think that was more Purdue than Michigan. M has more or less maintained their ability to prevent launches from deep—currently 14th in the country—despite Billy Donlon's departure. They just ran into a buzzsaw.
[@ right: Campredon]
Hello, sir. Lovely of Isaiah Livers to provide sustenance to Ace in his time of need, what with his 249 ORTG. Ten points on four shots will do that. Especially when two of them are on this:
Remember last year when DJ Wilson would turn into the best basketball player in history for three minutes a game? Yeah. If Livers can add that kind of take to his suddenly-surging three point shooting... you know what? Never mind. I'm not trying to get him drafted.
Isaiah Livers is terrible. This is the end of the post, NBA scouts. Promise.
Anyway: since Big Ten play resumed Livers is 7/9 on twos and 7/8 on threes. He's also a clear upgrade from Duncan Robinson in all non-scoring ways. I think MGoBlog says this every 30 seconds, but it's past time to start him and let Robinson return to the microwave role he's excellent in.
This seems to be happening functionally: Livers as played 27 minutes against Purdue and Iowa. Now if Robinson could get his minutes when the opposition has 7th and 8th guys on the floor that would be *kisses fingers*.
7'3" guy on 2 guard [Campredon]
Panic on the streets of Lafayette. I don't know if Matt Painter's constant absurd switching was brilliant or idiotic. It was both? At the same time? Probably? Yes. It oscillated wildly between those two states on possession to possession basis.
On some possessions Michigan would stare blankly into the middle distance for 25 seconds before Charles Matthews thundered at a 7'2" or 7'3" guy with little success. On others Zavier Simpson would check to make sure he had the laces right on the basketball—another good Dakich catch—before lifting up in front of a helpless Isaac Haas. Michigan seemed to figure it out in the second half when they made their push to tie, and then it evaporated late on two or three horrendous offensive possessions, any one of which could have produced a game-winning basket.
I don't know. It's weird and desperate and I feel like if Michigan saw that kind of thing on a regular basis they'd destroy it. Since they don't you get a lot of isolation plays from a team that doesn't have a lot of good iso players, and the offense can turn into a confused slog. The rematch should be fascinating.
Teske is a dude. Michigan got a fast break bucket in the second half largely because Jon Teske was the tallest tree around; he emerged to get a DREB that looked more like an OREB because he was swarmed with dudes. That was a four-point swing. His extended PT in the second half saw Michigan get a point closer to Purdue, and while he didn't score his two OREBs and generally excellent defense were critical.
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say Michigan loses by ten if you replace Teske with Mark Donnal.
DREBs closer to real. In a similar vein: Michigan won the rebounding battle against Purdue with a 34% OREB rate vs Purdue's 24%. This isn't quite as much of an upset as it might seem like. Despite having the two biggest guys in the conference, Purdue's pretty meh on the boards.
They're not bad enough that Michigan will turn up its nose at a W in that category. You might want to sit down for this: Michigan is currently the best DREB team in Big Ten play. Please tell me you're not reading this while driving oh no you hit a tree.
A brief scheduling note. Michigan played Jacksonville during their annual Very Bad Team Invitational in December. This is going to be a boat anchor all year as the Dolphins trundle towards an 11-20 record, per Kenpom.
Purdue, on the other hand, scheduled Lipscomb. Lipscomb is also an Atlantic Sun team, but they're projected to win the conference. They've played four major-conference teams and lost by 22, 23, 10, and 22, but if and when they're 22-7 at the end of the year against a schedule virtually identical to Jacksonville they're going to be much less of an RPI disaster.
Michigan should be scheduling the Lipscombs of the world.