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

Submitted by Ace on 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.]

This Week’s Obsession: 2018 All-B1G Hoops Team

This Week’s Obsession: 2018 All-B1G Hoops Team

Submitted by Seth on February 27th, 2018 at 10:08 AM

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THE EVENT: So long as Michigan survives Thursday (and your band of health-compromised bloggers do as well), we’re going to get together this Friday at 2:30 at Wolverine Brewing for our first MGo-gamewatch party. Sponsor Nick Hopwood of Peak Wealth Management, who also sponsors this post, offered to cover the first couple rounds and some food for our tables. Please let us know if you’re coming so we can get a halfway decent count (if we run out of space signups get first priority: https://goo.gl/forms/t0F28mhfnYRRbKPh2

Also if you’re in New York, Dewey’s Pub down the street from MSG tends to collect the MGoBlog contingent after the game.

THE SPONSOR: How are you managing your savings? Your insurance? What kind of accounts do you have for your kids? Our MGoFinancial Planner Nick Hopwood from Peak Wealth Management is the guy to talk to.

Legal disclosure in tiny font: Calling Nick our official financial planner is not intended as financial advice; Nick is an advertiser who financially supports MGoBlog. MGoBlog is not responsible for any advice or other communication provided to an investor by any financial advisor, and makes no representations or warranties as to the suitability of any particular financial advisor and/or investment for a specific investor.

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The Big Ten released its all-conference selections so we decided to complain, of course.

All-Big Ten Team
Coaches Media
Miles Bridges, MSU Miles Bridges, MSU
James Palmer, Neb Ethan Happ, Wis
Keita Bates-Diop, OSU Keita Bates-Diop, OSU
Tony Carr, PSU Tony Carr, PSU
Carsen Edwards, Pur Carsen Edwards, Pur
2nd Team
Coaches Media
Juwan Morgan, IU Juwan Morgan, IU
Moritz Wagner, UM Moritz Wagner, UM
Jae'Sean Tate, OSU Jordan Murphy, Minn
Vincent Edwards, Pur Vincent Edwards, Pur
Ethan Happ James Palmer, Neb
All-defense All-freshmen
Anthony Cowan, Md Trent Frazier, IL
Jaren Jackson, MSU Bruno Fernando, Md
Josh Reaves, PSU Jaren Jackson, MSU
Mike Watkins, PSU Kaleb Wesson, OSU
Dakota Mathias, Pur Brad Davison, UW
Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop, OSU
Freshman of the Year Jaren Jackson, MSU
6th Man Duncan Robinson, UM
Coach of the Year no argument

Brian: Ugh, naming a team without a center is like naming a football team without an OL. My pet peeve is first team all conference basketball teams that wouldn't be very good. And this is a season with Ethan Happ and Isaac Haas!

Seth: Haas got so much love all season on BTN I was both surprised and totally fine with him being left out. I But I agree even Beilein wouldn't play a lineup of Bridges-Palmer-KBD-Carr-Edwards.

Ace: Jackson freshman of the year, KBD player of the year, Duncan Robinson(!) 6th man of the year.

Seth: This is the part where Ace is mad Poole didn't make any of these teams.

Ace: They probably got the right guys since Poole emerged so late, though that lineup doesn’t pass the “this would work on the court” test.

Brian: Two pure Cs might be worse than none. Ugh, all broken, I'm just naming my first team because guh.

C Isaac Haas. Not Haas's fault he's got a windmill on the bench behind him and a team around him. Haas has per-minute stats that stack up with anyone, spearheaded the nation's #15 eFG defense, and plays on an actually good team. Happ's numbers are silly in part because he has one other guy who can play on his team; he's more effective on offense but doesn't bring anywhere near the rim protection Haas does. The Mo mismatch applies to both of these guys; Haas was much better at attacking at the other end of the floor.

Ace: Happ is also way worse at free throws, which is a big deal for both of them. Totally agree with this one. In general, everyone seems to have overvalued raw numbers.

Haas hit one fewer FT on 31 fewer attempts in B1G play.

Alex: PUT SOME RESPECK ON ETHAN HAPP'S NAME, ACE AND BRIAN.

[After THE JUMP: how long until Ace says Poole is robbed you think?]

Who Wants To Glitch Mutombo?

Who Wants To Glitch Mutombo?

Submitted by Brian on February 22nd, 2018 at 1:17 PM

2/21/2018 – Michigan 72, Penn State 63 – 23-7, 12-5 Big Ten

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temporary demon [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Everyone just stood around, afterward, wondering what to do. The gobsmacked victim fell over and laid on the ground. A ball newly loosed into the world at large bounced, and bounced. By the time someone decided to acquire it and maybe continue on with the basketball game and the universe writ large, one of the refs had regained his senses sufficiently to bring a halt to proceedings.

For processing. For reflection. For meditation, and a resolve to continue.

The universe is a simulation and one of our minders spilled coffee on the very strange, very red, very unnecessary switch on subpanel 3F-B that reads DUNCAN ROBINSON on one end and DIKEMBE MUTOMBO on the other. Nobody in that universe knew what it did or who those people are. They refused to touch it, for good reason. Once they saw the nonsense that resulted from flipping it they swiftly restored things back to a known good state.

Such was the time in 2018 where Duncan Robinson blocked the soul out of one of his opponents. These were the events, and the proffered explanation. The explanation was clearly insane but since all other attempts were equally insane—if not more so—people let it slide.

We will not mention the part where Robinson calmly glides inside the line and knocks down three critical shots, because that glitch might be sufficiently non-obvious to get away with. It's like Stauskas! That's the ticket! Please leave Duncan Robinson in this known good state instead of some other known not-so-good states. He has always been like this, we promise. That is his line, and it works.

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

There was a point in the second half when Penn State tried to post Robinson up, again, and my reaction was relief. In part this is because Penn State's players post up with the elegance of a capsized hippopotamus, sure. But also Duncan Robinson is an average-ish post defender and post offense that doesn't demand a double team usually sucks.

Having these background facts coalesce into an honest-to-God feeling was the season's weirdest revelatory moment. Duncan Robinson is defending, and I feel fine. Duncan Robinson is lining up for a transition three dagger, and I feel better.

The thunderous matrix glitch later was only fitting. Michigan weathered one of their unfortunate-but-now-trademark scoring droughts because their defense gave it to Penn State all game, holding the hottest team in the country to under a point per possession.

At first this was largely Zavier Simpson putting his face in Tony Carr's chest, all but removing him from a half of basketball. Once it became clear that Penn State had made the requisite adjustments to get Carr some shots, Michigan moved to a 2-3 zone that started off goofy but morphed into a contested-jumper machine that protected the Robinson/Poole combination that Michigan needed to score any points. Carr only managed to scrape into the green very late when he banged in a couple of raise-up threes during the semi-competitive free throw shooting section of the contest.

That's a gameplan win, especially since Penn State's bizarre solution to the problem Michigan's defense poses was to have first Mike Watkins—who is a good player but gets 80% of his buckets at the rim thanks to someone tossing him an assist—and then his backups—who are jabronis—repeatedly post up. The only buckets that came off this action were a couple of heavily contested jumpers that looked about as likely to go in as a Zavier Simpson skyhook; like the skyhook they did go in. But not very frequently.

Michigan has a defense that causes pretty decent teams to go off script in odd ways in an attempt to deal with it, and no galactic six-eyed goggle beast appears to be on the verge of flipping Michigan back to their old reality. That gives them a shot against anyone.

BULLETS

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if this was in the first five minutes it's worth ten points [Campredon]

First Wagner three theory: confirmed. Michigan's first possession was a Wagner corner three swish, which led to a 10 for 21 performance from deep. For his part Wagner was 4/5. I am not sure if I'm serious about this or not now.

A bit later people got frustrated because Wagner was turning open-ish threes into drives that didn't end well; I sort of shared that frustration but also thought that Penn State had some exceptional help defense blocks on drives that were otherwise easy buckets. They probably took 8 points off the board by coming out of nowhere to swat stuff that was about to be At Rim.

Free throws, our good and true friends. You and everyone else thought "here we go again" when MAAR, Michigan's best FT shooter who ever goes to the line, missed both on Michigan's first trip. Michigan was 16/17 the rest of the way. Matthews and Simpson combining for two FTAs was helpful there.

Michigan's all the way up to... uh... 329th in FT%. Movin' on up!

Shot volume... deficit? Yes. Michigan had 12 TOs to PSU's 10 and lost OREBS by 3. (Largely because PSU had 5 "team" OREBs that are almost always luck; also one of those looked like a horrendous call.) I think that's why the game felt like such a failure slog. At this point in my Michigan basketball observation career anything approximating a TO-heavy game feels like the end of the world.

Charles Matthews is broken. I don't know what else to say. You have to keep playing him because you need him to break out of his funk if at all possible. At this point he should probably get a quick hook if he starts off like he did in this game. When he is in he's got to slow it down. There's no way he should have 28, 25, 28, 24, 25, 27, and 27 usage numbers in his last seven games. It's one thing to have a struggling guy on the floor. It's another when he's your highest usage player. Downshift to sophomore GRIII and try to build back up from there.

In which I risk the wrath of Ace. Jordan Poole had another good game, and a desperately needed one what with the previous bullet point.

But, if I may lodge a slight protest: he's too much of a heat check dude right now. He gambled for a steal in the second half, missing it and opening up Michigan's defense for an easy Carr three; a bit later he and Duncan Robinson had a two on one break where Poole challenged a defender unsuccessfully instead of setting up his teammate for a layup. His decision making seems stuck on THIS WOULD BE AWESOME. This leads in equal parts to awesome things and freshman things.

In which I try to patch things up with Ace. ON THE OTHER HAND

I'd rather have a guy with too much swag trying to dial it back a little than a guy you have to swag up. Enswaggen. Fortify with Vitamin Swag. You get the idea.

Another reason to root for Penn State. Michigan gets the four seed and a double bye if they beat Maryland and Penn State wins in Lincoln. That is a good reason to root for Penn State.

Another one: I have been sloppy in my assumption that a top 25 Kenpom team is top 75 in RPI. Penn State is not. They were 76th before yesterday. They currently sit 85th, because RPI is mostly a SOS metric and Penn State's SOS is an abomination. This makes them a quadrant 2 team. A win over Nebraska and maybe a couple in the BTT would likely make them Q1, at least on the road. Nobody else on Michigan's schedule is particularly near the Q1 cliff, FWIW.

I'm going to assume the guy left out the caveat. The over/under on NCAA tournament games that are later vacated is 10, as the agent the FBI nailed was taking notes. Very much notes:

“There are spreadsheets detailing who got paid, how much they got paid and how much more they were planning to pay,” said a source familiar with the investigation. “The feds got everything they wanted and much more. Don’t think it will only be players who ended up signing with ASM that got paid. Those spreadsheets cast a wide net throughout college basketball. If your school produced a first-round pick in the past three years, be worried.”

I'm assuming "and your coach isn't John Beilein" was too obvious to mention.

Michigan 74, Ohio State 62

Michigan 74, Ohio State 62

Submitted by BiSB on February 18th, 2018 at 4:38 PM

December was a long time ago.

When Michigan played Ohio State on December 4, everyone expected Ohio State to be a mediocre-at-best Big Ten team. The Buckeyes’ were coming off a 17-15 season and a disastrous offseason, and hadn’t shown anything particularly noteworthy in the early non-conference season. So when Michigan built, and subsequently blew, a 20-point in Columbus, it looked to be a terrible loss and the sign of a team that might struggle to make the NCAA tournament.  Now, ten weeks later, a home win over that same team being (rightly) seen as a massive résumé win.

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Moe goes up, Moe goes down (Campredon)

Ohio State’s turnaround has been keyed by Big Ten Player-of-the-Year frontrunner Keita Bates-Diop, and Michigan’s resurgence has been led by its defense. On this day, the defense won the battle. Bates-Diop finished with 17 points, but he required 17 shots to get there, and turned the ball over 4 times in the process. Overall, the Wolverines forced 14 turnovers, largely the result of excellent perimeter defense that resulted in numerous transition opportunities. Ohio State’s offensive success was largely predicated on offensive rebounding, as the Buckeyes grabbed 15 offensive boards.

Offensively, Michigan was sluggish out of the gate, trailing 14-10 midway through the first half. That was when Jordan Poole did Jordan Poole things. Michigan went on a 12-4 run, nine of which were Poole’s, including a four-point play. Michigan never relinquished the lead. Poole finished with 15 points on 5-8 shooting, including 4-5 from deep. He was the only Wolverine who shot well from outside (the rest of the team was 3-15 from three), and equally importantly, he provided a notable boost of energy.

4O6A5710

Sir, is your microwave running? Well then you’d better try to catch it (Campredon)

The other palpable source of energy was Moritz Wagner. Wagner scored an efficient 12 points, but also spent a large portion of the afternoon scrambling for loose balls and generally being an hyperactive pest. He also benefited from a (generally) laissez-faire approach from the officials, which allowed him to stay on the court despite being involved in some very physical encounters.

In other positive performances, Jaaron Simmons played extended minutes for the third consecutive game, including a solid stretch along side Jordan Poole during Poole’s first half explosion. The highlight of his first half was a pretty feed to Wagner in the post for an easy. It seems pretty clear at this point that he has supplanted Eli Brooks. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson combined for 20 points in the second half.  On the downside, Charles Matthews continued to struggle. He was abused by JaeSean Tate (though Michigan struggled to defend him down low all game), and he was held to six points on six shots while turning the ball over four times. However, he did have a couple of nice takes to the bucket in the second half, and he generally stayed within the flow of the offense.

4O6A5138

Adieu, gentlemen (Campredon)

This was Senior Day, and Michigan said farewell to three active players; Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson, and Jaaron Simmons all played significant minutes in this one, and generally played well. But the star of the festivities was Austin Hatch.  Hatch, who wasn’t allowed to play because of NCAA rules (he took a medical redshirt a couple of years ago) was announced as a starter, and warmed up with the team. Crisler’s greeting was reminiscent of that Brock Mealer when the Michigan football team opened the season against UConn in 2010.

For the second year in a row, a former Michigan grad transfer played Michigan's Senior Night an a different color jersey. But unlike Spike Albrecht, who received a relatively warm reception, Andrew Dakich was booed every time he touched the ball. Such is the nature of rivalry. Dakich finished with 0 points, 0 assists, and a turnover in 22 minutes.

This win removes what little doubt remained about Michigan’s tournament status. They still have a chance to play their way out of a second-round matchup with a 1- or 2-seed, though Michigan has recently been projected anywhere from a 3-seed to a “launched-by-trebuchet-into-the-sun,” so your guess is as good as mine. For the moment, we will have to be satisfied with a hearty round of “NOT LIKE FOOTBALL <clap> <clap> <clap clap clap>.”

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

This Week’s Obsession: Wave a Maverick Wand

This Week’s Obsession: Wave a Maverick Wand

Submitted by Seth on January 24th, 2018 at 3:58 PM

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One of us was just called a sports blogger by an Illinois player. [Bryan Fuller]

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THIS ARTICLE HAS A SPONSOR: You should stop waiting. I know it’s been on your to-do list for awhile. It’s time to talk to Nick Hopwood, our MGoFinancial Planner from Peak Wealth Management and get your future squared away instead of thinking about it all the time.

Our deal is Nick is the guy I go to for financial strategies, and he gets to ask us Michigan questions on your behalf. Anytime it’s a Nick question, we’ll let you know. Anytime you’ve got a financial question, let Nick know. And when you’re ready to figure out how you’re going to plan your retirement and pay for your kids’ college when you just got done paying for your own, don’t wait to do something about that.

Legal disclosure in tiny font: Calling Nick our official financial planner is not intended as financial advice; Nick is an advertiser who financially supports MGoBlog. MGoBlog is not responsible for any advice or other communication provided to an investor by any financial advisor, and makes no representations or warranties as to the suitability of any particular financial advisor and/or investment for a specific investor.

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Nick’s Question:

If you could wave a magic Maverick Morgan wand over one M baller right now?

If you’re not up on the meme, we mean a player on this team who suddenly explodes like Derrick Walton did last year after Illinois player Maverick Morgan suggested Walton/Michigan was soft. So that this isn’t just a highest ceiling discussion, we’re instituting a Poole Rule: the player can only become the best plausible version of himself this year, e.g. Poole can become freshman Stauskas but not Sauce Castillo.

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The Responses:

David: I will take Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Granted, he probably does not have a Walton Leap in him, but if can develop a bit more consistency, perhaps with the ability to finish in the lane/at the rim, that would add another dimension to this offense.

image
Could one of you…? [MG Campredon]

I'm not sure how high his ceiling would be in this regard, but it is most likely the part of the offense that could use the largest increase. Michigan has some shooters—even Z has been able to contribute when left open—and they have a few guys who can exploit some mismatches in Matthews and Wagner, but a consistent lane finisher at the end of the shot clock is a piece that would steady a fluctuating offense. If it could be Rahk in those situations, Michigan would not have to burden other players who have generally performed well in their suited roles.

Ace: (someone should answer Z should I can give my Wagner take without the obvious answer being missed)

Brian: I was going to say Wagner though.

Ace: Okay I’ll take Z

Brian: I mean, you can take Wagner.

Seth: Zagner.

Brian: I just think the Magic Wand version of Z is still a player with 16% usage and always will be.

Ace: Disagree, so you should take Wagner.

Alex: I would take a 50% better Jon Teske if his path to more playing time wasn't blocked by Wagner. Fun fact: he's 5th in steal rate among B1G players who have played at least 20% of available minutes.

[After THE JUMP is it Moe or Mo?]

My Heart Is Full Of Nick Ward's Ankles

My Heart Is Full Of Nick Ward's Ankles

Submitted by Brian on January 15th, 2018 at 12:56 PM

1/13/2018 – Michigan 82, Michigan State 72 – 15-4, 4-2 Big Ten

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You may be aware that many college athletes with the option leave early for the pros.

I, too, am aware of this phenomenon because it has impacted me repeatedly. I am at peace with some of these departures. Win a big thing, do a business, and/or scrape the ceiling of your potential and I'm cool with it. Charles Woodson, Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Jack Johnson: go on, get out of here.

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Other guys absolutely should not and do not have to listen to my feelingsball about their careers, but their departures sting because they're on the verge of an all-conquering season that we never get to see. They leave Michigan without an indelible moment, or cathartically satisfying victory, or without setting several college towns across the Midwest ablaze with their mind.

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That's mostly fine; I'm not going to tell anyone to not get paid if they can get paid. But their careers at Michigan will perpetually feel a little incomplete. Guys in this bucket: DJ Wilson, Max Pacioretty, Mitch McGary, and yeah probably even Jabrill Peppers. The first thing I think about when any of those guys gets brought up is what could have been and was not. Nobody's fault. Just a thing. If "oh God what if DJ Wilson was on this team" didn't flash across your mind at some point during this week, you're a more serene man that I.

image

Anyway, Moe Wagner can go now.

Moe Wagner could announce he's leaving the team this afternoon and I'd be fine with it*. Moe Wagner induced the most beautiful and futile Michigan State floor-slap of all time from Nick Ward's face. My heart is as full of Moe Wagner as it needs to be, for all time.

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*[Note to Moe Wagner: please do not call this bluff.]

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That there is a rest of the season after the events of this week is promising and also somewhat alarming. If Michigan could pull a Costanza here and immediately leave the meeting I would counsel them to do so, but there are games scheduled and so we press on. Suddenly every single one of those games except @ Purdue and maybe home against OSU is a game we're going to be real upset about losing, because the Big Ten is bad and Michigan is... very good?

Yes. Poke a rating system and it will tell you this. Kenpom flung Michigan up to 17th after the MSU game; Bart Torvik's system has them 14th. At some point we're probably going to start futzing with the stuff on Torvik's site that allows you to rank teams over an arbitrary period of time, like we did last year. Last year's post-Maverick team was a top ten outfit, period. This one might get there.

If it does, Michigan's ability to play unprecedented Beilein-era defense while simultaneously running a vicious five-out offense will be the reason. The play of the game wasn't actually Wagner turning Nick Ward's ankles into slurry (yes it was –ed) but rather his first pick-and-pop three just a couple minutes into the game. He canned that, and his next one, and aside from that one terrifying period midway through the first half when Jaren Jackson was Dikembe Mutumbo, Wagner's ability to haul his man out to the three point line created driving lanes.

These were less lanes and more caverns against Cassius Winston. Zavier Simpson missed three fast-break bunnies in the first minute, possibly because Jackson was swinging his crazy Gumby arms at them. After that he had 12 points on seven shot equivalents from inside the arc, five assists, and no turnovers. Simpson is coming into his own here, but if you took bets about who was going to be Michigan's most efficient scorer against a team of Ents that's blocking 20% of opponent shot attempts... well, Simpson's odds would have looked a lot like the Vikings'.

Meanwhile on the other end, Winston hit a couple shots but turned it over four times and finished with a game ORTG of 90. Simpson took that dude to the cleaners to the point where Izzo called his point guard out in the post-game press conference. (Izzo would like to make it clear that it's all his fault and he's taking 100% responsibility and also his point guard sucks and he hates him.)

Anyone who tells you they saw that coming short of Zavier Simpson's mom is lying... probably. Maybe there is a cadre of the aggressively reasonable out there, folks who can squint through whatever struggles that freshman or sophomore is having in John Beilein's offense and can see through to the finished product. If there are Michigan versions of these people they are sages indeed. Hypothetical MSU versions just have to look at the court, because whatever Miles Bridges is today he'll be until he escapes Tom Izzo's sweaty, increasingly unhinged paws.

Moe Wagner is one of the country's 40 best defensive rebounders, incidentally. He's a human vacuum now, which is convenient. We have to get the exploded remnants of Nick Ward's lower body off the court before resuming. That's tough, but I've got just the guy for the job.

BULLETS

Obligatory ref rogering section. Michigan State was in the bonus with five minutes gone in each half. This happens every time Michigan plays at Breslin despite Michigan's annual status as one of the nation's most foul-averse teams. (They're less so this year, 93rd instead of top ten, FWIW.)

The only surprising thing was that it took three minutes for TV Teddy to put a garbage foul on Mo Wagner, who watched Nick Ward fall over—inner ear issues for that dude—of his own volition and got hit with a potentially critical foul that took Michigan's leading scorer out of the lineup. His second foul was similarly phantom. It continued much in that vein:

Michigan had 16 free throws during Tom Izzo Eats His Liver Time; before that they had 19 to MSU's 33. This was not an effect of three point shooting. Michigan had just 15 threes; MSU had 12. Michigan had 14 bonus possessions (+3 OREB and -11 turnovers) and continued attacking inside. Michigan got called for nonsense, and MSU didn't.

This annually makes me furious. It's never going to get any better. But after Michigan was good enough to pull away and force TIEHLT with two minutes left, it's all the more reason to savor the performance. It would have been very, very easy to lose composure. Equivalent performances on a neutral court and Michigan blows the doors off by 20.

How about those free throws, though. Michigan was 18/19 from the line before those four terrifying Simpson misses. If they hit their season average... it does not bear thinking about. One dollar to whoever came up with the inbounds play where Simpson and MAAR swapped roles after the whistle blew. That got a 91% shooter to the line instead of a 52% shooter.

Simpson's performance at the line is increasingly inexplicable with every three he cans. He's verging on having a better 3PT% (47%) than FT% (52%). He was at 71% last year on 31 attempts, and he's a much better shooter this year. I don't get it. Hopefully it's salvageable. Having two non-big 50% FT shooters on the floor is rough.

D up. I caught a couple more Jordan-Poole-gets-caught backcuts on the replay; those stood out as almost the only easy buckets MSU got all game. Remember MSU running off of makes for 6-10 points for the last five years? Yeah, that's gone. MSU had almost literally zero transition offense.

This is a trend. Ace mentioned this on the podcast: Michigan's transition D is absurd.

Now that the rest of the D is actually pretty good that's paying off more and more.

Duncan was okay, and this is a big W. Michigan largely got away with Duncan Robinson versus Jaren Jackson. Jackson got a couple buckets on him, but Robinson was able to push Jackson out almost to the three point line repeatedly. MSU was trying to force the ball down Robinson's throat to the detriment of their offensive flow, and several possessions featured MSU wasting half the shot clock trying to exploit that matchup.

With Livers in foul trouble for a chunk of the game Michigan's ability to cope with Duncan Robinson on a top 5 NBA draft pick was a huge factor in the W.

Rebounding: real. I'm calling it: Michigan is a legitimately excellent defensive rebounding team. They just played the two burliest teams in the league and outrebounded both. They've also played Iowa, which is the top OREB team in league play, and fought them to a standstill.

I enjoy Jon Teske. Teske had 3 OREBs in just 8 minutes here and put up 4 points on 3 shot equivalents; he committed three fouls, but see above about the impossibility of a Michigan shot-challenger staying on the court at Breslin.

As a bonus Austin Davis didn't look overwhelmed during his two minutes, grabbing a board and playing a couple of defensive possessions well. Never write off a big.

Purdue 70, Michigan 69

Purdue 70, Michigan 69

Submitted by Ace on January 9th, 2018 at 11:47 PM


[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Thirty-nine minutes and fifty-four seconds of exquisite basketball ruined by replay.

Michigan and Purdue played an absolute classic tonight. Twice the fifth-ranked Boilermakers stretched their lead to double digits; twice Michigan clawed their way back, finally taking their first lead of the game with under five minutes remaining.

Moe Wagner went toe-to-toe with Isaac Haas in the post. Zavier Simpson hit multiple floaters over seven-footers, including one to beat the first-half buzzer. Charles Matthews hit a couple cold-blooded jab-step threes. Jordan Poole scored eight points in seven minutes. Isaiah Livers was everywhere. Regardless of outcome, it was a game that showed Michigan's present and (especially) future are both bright.

But about that outcome. With under ten seconds on the clock in a 69-69 tie, Matthews came off a Wagner screen, got a step on Dakota Mathias, and drove hard to the basket. Mathias reached through Matthews and poked the ball out from behind, no foul, Michigan ball—as with countless plays before it, the gentleman's agreement to give that play to the offense applied.

Then the refs went to the scorer's table and spent five minutes Zaprudering the play, killing much of the considerable excitement from the wild back-and-forth affair before eventually determining the ball lingered on Matthews's hand for a frame or two after the Mathias poke. Purdue got the ball, Wagner committed a (legitimate) foul on Haas, who made the first of two free throws. A buzzer-beating heave by Matthews took a painful journey around the rim and out.

It's hard not to feel robbed. While it's also hard not to be excited about this team, that rings hollow when a call that's never made in the first 38 minutes of a game costs them a much-needed signature win. The future is bright. The present, for the moment, is stupid.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Michigan 75, Iowa 68

Michigan 75, Iowa 68

Submitted by Ace on January 2nd, 2018 at 9:30 PM

The first six minutes of the conference re-opener against Iowa were an ugly slog. Eli Brooks committed a turnover on the team's first possession trying to fit an entry pass to Charles Matthews. Moe Wagner coughed up two turnovers and committed a foul, hitting the bench early. Wagner and Duncan Robinson had a tough time containing Iowa forward Tyler Cook, who opened the game with a Wagner-like behind-the-back dribble and dunk.

As Charles Matthews split a pair of free throws to cut Iowa's lead to 10-8 with 13:43 to go in the first half, John Beilein sent in Zavier Simpson and Isaiah Livers to replace Brooks and Robinson. It paid off immediately. Jon Teske, in for Wagner, rebounded the second free throw; the ball found its way to Livers, who dropped it off to Teske for an open midrange jumper.

Livers or Simpson were involved in Michigan's next four baskets to give the Wolverines a comfortable lead, and the two maintained a high level of play for the duration. Simpson was a bona-fide scoring threat, leading the team with 15 points on ten shot equivalents as he kept Iowa off-balance with aggressive forays to the basket and smooth spot-up threes. He also ran the offense beautifully, dishing out seven assists with no turnovers, and came up with two steals while playing his usual intense defense.

Livers, meanwhile, had the best game of his young career. While he scored 13 points, made all three of his three-point attempts, and added two rebounds, three assists, and two steals, his impact went beyond his stat line. While Michigan never slowed down Cook, who scored a game-high 28 points on 10-for-15 shooting, the presence of Livers greatly improved the overall defense. With Livers also shooting better than Robinson, Beilein went with the freshman for most of the game, playing him 27 minutes. While one-game plus-minus stats can be misleading, it's impossible to ignore that Livers finished a game-high +23 while Robinson was -18. There was a similarly sizeable split (+14 to -7) between Simpson and Brooks.

With those two leading the way, Michigan pushed the lead as high as 15 points in the first half and 17 in the the second. They took their foot off the gas early, allowing the Hawkeyes to get within single digits in the very late going, but they were never in danger of losing.

There is some danger in taking too much away from this game; Iowa is now 0-3 in the conference and, beyond Cook, looked to be at a significant talent deficit. That said, Simpson wasn't doing this kind of stuff against anyone last year, and Livers finally getting his outside shots to fall could be the key to getting Robinson back to the sixth man role to which he's best suited.

The team's ball movement tonight was as good as it's been all season; they had 18 assists on 28 field goals and ripped apart Iowa's zone when they attempted a defensive changeup. They won on the road in a conference game despite getting almost nothing (4 points, 2/6 FG, 2 TO) from Wagner. The reliable playmaking of Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman (15 points, six assists) and Charles Matthews (14 points) went a long way towards covering for that lack of production.

Those are significant developments, even against a team that doesn't look like it'll get any sort of postseason action. A John Beilein team with a true score-pass threat at the point is a dangerous thing indeed; ditto one that can field a lineup with the athleticism and defensive potential of, say, Simpson-MAAR-Matthews-Livers-Teske without seeing a significant drop in shooting ability. This team is taking shape, and they're looking dangerous.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Michigan 76, Jacksonville 51

Michigan 76, Jacksonville 51

Submitted by Ace on December 30th, 2017 at 8:09 PM


Michigan: bigger and better than Jacksonville. [James Coller]

Michigan tested John Beilein's patience, coughing up ten first-half turnovers. Jacksonville tested the structural integrity of the Crisler Center baskets, when they hit them at all. The Wolverines, led by standout performances from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (20 points) and Charles Matthews (18 points, 7 rebounds), eventually cruised to an easy victory.

Notes:

  • Moe Wagner, who started in his first appearance since rolling his ankle against Texas, took even longer to shake off the rust than the rest of his teammates. He moved well, however, and got into the rhythm of the game in the second half, when he scored all seven of his points.
  • Abdur-Rahkman proved unstoppable, making all eight shots from the field on his way to a team-high 20 points. He could score at the rim whenever he wanted.
  • Rotation watch: Ibi Watson played only four minutes before getting pulled following an ugly step-in two that drew Beilein's ire. Eli Brooks remained the starter with Zavier Simpson getting nearly equal time; Jaaron Simmons didn't enter until the final minutes. Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers each played 12 minutes.
  • Poole went on a personal 8-2 run late with a couple threes and a slick layup in traffic.
  • Jacksonville had, by my count, four first-half airballs.
  • Penn State held on to beat Washington in the Fiesta Bowl, keeping the Big Ten perfect in bowl games. You probably know this because that's what you were watching.
  • The Wisconsin-Miami game is on ESPN right now. You're probably already watching it.
  • Michigan gets a very quick turnaround, heading to Iowa (9-6, 0-2 Big Ten) to resume conference play on Tuesday evening (7 pm, ESPN2).

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Michigan 59, Texas 52

Michigan 59, Texas 52

Submitted by Ace on December 12th, 2017 at 11:56 PM

It may have been ugly. Texas may have been shorthanded. For Michigan, though, tonight's 59-52 road victory over the Longhorns capped a huge week for their tournament chances.

While a defensive slugfest wasn't the unlikeliest scenario, I don't think anybody expected this game to play out the way it did. Both teams struggled to hit from beyond the arc, but Michigan scored more efficiently than a tall Texas squad on two-pointers, especially as they built a 12-point halftime lead. The Longhorns led 2-0 at the under-16 timeout; they wouldn't lead again. Facing five-star skyscraper Mo Bamba, Michigan won the battle of the boards.

After the achingly slow start, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman got the team rolling with a corner three and never looked back. The Wolverines, especially MAAR, got more confident attacking the basket even with Bamba protecting the rim, and they were able to hit a surprising number of tough shots. Of Michigan's 14 first-half field goals, 12 were two-pointers.

The lead didn't remain comfortable for long as Texas made multiple second-half surges. Duncan Robinson and Isaiah Livers both had trouble slowing down Dylan Osetkowski, who led the way for Texas with 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting. He was the only Texas player who could maintain any sort of effeciency on offense, however; the rest of the team went 10-for-25 on twos and 3-for-16 from downtown.

After Osetkowski went on an early second-half tear, Michigan answered with an 11-0 run spearheaded by Charles Matthews and Moe Wagner. Shortly after the run ended, however, Wagner rolled his right ankle over Bamba's foot, and he was quickly ruled out of the game. Seemingly given new life, Texas went on a 7-0 run of their own to close the gap to seven.

As he had all night, MAAR came up big, though perhaps a tad lucky; his banked-in three-pointer ended the run and all but ended the game with 4:53 remaining. He'd add one more tough bucket and a free throw to keep UT at bay, finishing with team-highs of 17 points and ten rebounds.

After beating UCLA and Texas in back-to-back games, Michigan gets a few tune-up contests before conference play starts in January, beginning with a matchup against Detroit on Saturday. While the schedule would allow Michigan to avoid rushing Moe Wagner back, his injury thankfully doesn't sound too serious anyway:

Jon Teske played 18 minutes because of Wagner's injury and early foul; he was a defensive presence, blocking two shots and adding a steal. While he failed to make an offensive impact, he covered much of the gap with his defense, continuing an encouraging run of play for him. Zavier Simpson had another solid performance, getting into the lane for a couple tough buckets, dishing out four assists, and once again earning John Beilein's trust to handle crunch-time minutes. Jordan Poole only played eight minutes but made both of his shots, a tough transition bucket and a step-in jumper off a nifty move at the arc.

So long as Wagner's injury doesn't have a significant impact, this was a huge night for the boys in blue. The victory has already moved Michigan up five spots on KenPom, and for now they should be on the right side of the bubble in early tourney projections. Even if Texas collapses without leading scorer Andrew Jones, which looks like a distinct possibility, the Wolverines just came through a tough five-game stretch with a 3-2 record, strengthened their resumé, and got a better idea of the rotation going forward. Now Beilein gets a few games to tinker before Big Ten play resumes.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]