Michigan 73, Illinois 55

Michigan 73, Illinois 55

Submitted by Ace on March 12th, 2015 at 2:32 PM


The Bielfeldt shot is more representative of today's game. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]

The first two games between Michigan and Illinois this season featured a pair of improbable comeback victories, one by each team.

It looked to be heading in that direction again in the first half of today's Big Ten Tournament matchup; Michigan had an early 12-0 run erased by a subsequent 13-0 charge by the Illini. Even after the Wolverines closed the half with a 23-4 run, carrying a 17-point lead into the break, you'd be excused if you were waiting for the other shoe to drop—Michigan had, after all, blown an 18-point second-half lead against Illinois exactly four weeks ago.

Instead, Michigan pushed the lead higher, and the Illini might as well have absconded for the locker room when Spike Albrecht made his bid for an And1 Mixtape appearance:

Aside from an all-too-familiar scoring drought in the first half, Michigan couldn't have played much better. The team moved the ball beautifully, tallying assists on nine of their 15 first-half buckets. Albrecht had five on the game, playing as Spike does—moving the ball around and hitting a couple deep bombs.

More eye-opening was the all-around effort from Zak Irvin, who posted a 14-6-6 line, working within—and driving—the offense better than ever. Irvin's anticipation on a first-half lob to Aubrey Dawkins, cutting in from the corner, was only the most highlight-worthy sign of his progress. Today made it clear that he's broken through to another level, especially in creating offense off the high screen.

Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman both put their season-long progress on display, as well. Dawkins continued his hot shooting, hitting 9/12 from the field on his way to a team-high 18 points. Rahk hit his lone three-point attempt and had several successful forays to the hoop to net his 15 points, and he also posted a career-high eight rebounds. Max Bielfeldt, starting for the second straight game, became the fourth Wolverine to hit double-figures with ten points.

Whether in zone or man, Michigan proved more than up to the task of shutting down the Illini's three main scoring threats. Malcolm Hill, Rayvonte Rice, and Kendrick Nunn combined to shoot 11/37 from the field; those three accounted for well over half of the team's shot attempts. Secondary scoring was limited to backup forward Leron Black's ten points, but Black also turned the ball over four times—he compounded an obvious first-half charge with a subsequent technical, which Albrecht turned into a five-point trip that extended Michigan's lead to 13.

With the win, Michigan's NIT hopes are now very much alive, though they won't feel secure in locking down a bid unless they upend top-seeded Wisconsin tomorrow at noon. Michigan pushed the Badgers to overtime in their lone regular-season matchup. Given how the Wolverines looked today, they look ready to give the Big Ten's best another fight tomorrow.

Getting There

Getting There

Submitted by Ace on February 24th, 2015 at 1:04 PM


[Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]

For weeks now, I've had half-baked column-type things on Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins saved on my laptop, begging for an easy narrative the subjects couldn't provide. This is MAAR's offense now? Well, he just went 1/7 with four turnovers at Indiana. Dawkins provides a steady shooting presence? It's too bad he just shot 1/8.

This shouldn't be a surprise. Michigan's two late recruiting pickups for 2014 weren't supposed to have significant, let alone starting, roles on this team. As recently as December, when Michigan hosted Syracuse, both registered DNP-CDs. That all changed with the injuries to Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, of course. Instead of easing them into the college game, John Beilein had little choice but to throw them in headfirst and hope they could tread water.

MAAR and Dawkins combined for just seven points on 3/12 shooting against Ohio State; Sunday's game nevertheless displayed their progress.

Abdur-Rahkman drew the unenviable assignment of guarding future top-five pick D'Angelo Russell for much of the game, and he did better than anyone could expect of a freshman defending one of the top scorers in the country. Russell had a hard time freeing himself as Michigan jumped out to a big first-half lead, going just 1/4 in the first stanza; he'd finish with 16 points, but needed 17 shot equivalents to get there, and he turned it over five times.

Time and again, MAAR fought his way over and around screens to stay in Russell's hip pocket, forcing a series of difficult shots. He knew where to be—no small feat for a freshman on defense—and he seemed acutely aware that he'd have to expend most of his energy on that end of the floor. Then, at the end of a rough day on offense, he came through with one of the biggest assists of the game, finding Zak Irvin on a drive-and-kick for a corner three that gave M a six-point lead with six to play. It was the type of play we'd hoped to see from MAAR for weeks.

Dawkins, too, came through late after struggling for much of the day. Shortly after MAAR's critical assist, Dawkins got past Marc Loving and tried a short pull-up from just outside the paint. Although the initial shot went off the mark, Dawkins corralled the rebound after a tip, then pivoted past Jay'Sean Tate to scoop in the putback (above, Fuller). I don't think it's a play he makes in December, when Michigan's freshmen had to think their way through all 40 minutes.

They're still developing, of course. Dawkins made an ill-advised foray to the basket early in the shot clock with Michigan clinging to that late six-point lead; while the Buckeyes blocked the shot, Max Bielfeldt bailed out his teammate with a tough rebound. MAAR got himself trapped next to the Buckeye bench and had to sweat through a lengthy replay in the final minute. Overthinking (or underthinking) is still an issue.

Especially when one notes Kam Chatman's unexpected six-point run in the first half, though, it's hard not to be encouraged by the progress of Michigan's freshmen after Sunday regardless of what showed up on the box score. MAAR is hitting 55% of his twos in Big Ten play while developing an outside shot and building confidence on defense. Dawkins has that tantalizing athleticism and truly impressive shooting numbers—he's fourth in the conference in true shooting percentage.

Michigan doesn't have a superstar like Russell in the freshman class, but it's becoming easier and easier to see what John Beilein envisioned when he recruited these guys. It's still hard to come up with a smooth game-to-game narrative to attach to them. That's kind of the point, though—freshmen are unpredictable. Instead of waiting for them to string together enough similar performances to declare they're here, sometimes it's best to note the highs and the lows and realize they're getting there, and that's just fine.

Michigan State 80, Michigan 67

Michigan State 80, Michigan 67

Submitted by Ace on February 17th, 2015 at 11:48 PM


Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog

It could've gone either way. Alvin Ellis drove baseline, Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman squared up, the two collided, then Ted Valentine hopped three times and called a block.

With 13:11 left in the first half, Adbur-Rahkman exited with two fouls. Michigan State led 11-8. When John Beilein reinserted him a little over eight minutes later, the Spartans held a commanding 33-14 lead.

It'd be too easy to point to that 16-point swing and say auto-benching MAAR proved the difference in the game. Michigan's problems tonight went far beyond early foul trouble for their freshman guard. No matter the defensive strategy, the Wolverines couldn't defend the paint. The Spartans finished an astonishing 25/32 on two-pointers, rebounded nine of their 19 missed shots, and turned the ball over just eight times. That's a far bigger issue than who's playing at one spot on the floor.

On this Michigan team, though, the dropoff is so severe that ceding points in the name of caution isn't an option—and, let's face it, playing Andrew Dakich instead of MAAR is handing over points to the opposition. That's twice now Beilein has benched MAAR for extended time while the Spartans pulled away. While it's unlikely Michigan would've forced overtime in this one, seeing MAAR score 12 points on seven shots in the second half—after Dakich went 0/1 with a foul in eight minutes—made it hard to imagine the strategy gave them the best shot at winning.

The story of the game on the other side was the dominance of Branden Dawson, who finished with 23 points (10/12 FG) and 13 boards. Michigan's wings couldn't handle Dawson one-on-one, but when the Wolverines went zone, Travis Trice served up lob after lob for the athletic forward to finish. Trice had an excellent night himself, scoring 22 points and dishing out seven assists; his two early threes from nearly the same spot above the break helped ignite MSU's early run. From start to finish, the Spartan offense ran smoothly and effectively.

The Wolverines, on the other hand, couldn't consistently hang. Zak Irvin needed 15 shot equivalents to score 16 points; Aubrey Dawkins needed 12 for his 12; Spike Albrecht ten for his 12. The big men were all but nonexistent; the bench, of course, depleted. On a night when Michigan's defense needed the offense to wring out every bit of talent, strategy, and luck available, they couldn't maintain that for 40 minutes.

Sometimes it's not your night. Lowrawls Nairn hit just his second three-pointer of the season early on, when Michigan sagged off of him, and it felt then like it'd be a long game. What's equally frustrating as the loss, though, is the overwhelming feeling that it could've—should've—been closer, if only Michigan approached the first half with the same urgency as the second.

Basketbullets: Indiana

Basketbullets: Indiana

Submitted by Brian on February 9th, 2015 at 12:55 PM

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You should really look at the big version for the background faces [Patrick Barron]

We have a theme, a palpable theme. Michigan plays about as well as they can, is right in it with a team headed to the tournament, and cannot finish the job. Three of Michigan's last four losses have followed that pattern, with the exception a home blowout against suddenly incandescent Iowa.

That was also going to happen—the ugly blowouts against teams that can exploit the various holes in Michigan's roster—but overall it's a familiar theme: Michigan's got a bunch of guys trying their best and not quite making it. This is also known as "the Amaker tenure."

In this case Michigan had to get raided by the NBA draft, lose their top two players, and have their touted freshman spectacularly underperform. They'll be a lot better next year. Take this team, add Walton, Duncan Robinson, DJ Wilson, and a year of experience for literally everyone and you're back to being a tourney team.

Levert? FWIW, I was talking to Sam Webb during my weekly WTKA thing (Thursdays, 9 AM) and LeVert came up; he said that it wasn't a slam dunk he'd go, and I was like "er, what" and he said he likes school, loves the team, and might stick it out. He is very young for his grade. Obviously, the prospect of a guaranteed seven-figure contract is and will remain tempting.

It would be nice to finally get a guy who could go back.

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[Barron]

Irvin bust out. Indiana does not have a good defense. Let's stipulate that. But Michigan actually saw a good deal of, you know, offense. Michigan's 13 assists were the most they'd had since the Penn State game, and rarely have they cracked double digits. That's symptomatic of an offense that's struggling and resorting to a lot of heroball.

Nobody has been more negatively impacted by this than Zak Irvin, who was an excellent microwave last year and has struggled to initiate his own offense or find kickouts from his teammates. This leads to a pattern of frustration followed by contested shots off the dribble—not good eats for your offensive efficiency.

Irvin shook that against Indiana, finishing a few buckets around the basket that were set up by his teammates and finding small windows of space for his threes. He initiated a little offense himself. He was efficient. After, Beilein praised his improved "acumen for the game," and that's about right. This was also right, unfortunately:

But if there was one nagging frustration with Irvin on Sunday, it was his struggles to finish at the rim. With eight minutes left and Michigan down nine, the forward missed a fairly routine layup. A minute later, he went up for a layup with his right hand despite being on the left side of the rim, and the shot was blocked as a result.

“He’s got his head on right, and he knows that everybody has parts of their game they need to work on,” Beilein said. “He realizes what some of those are, and he’s working on them.”

Major points to the color guy for pointing that latter problem out immediately and informatively.

Anyway, priority one for the rest of this year is for the rest of the offense to pose enough of a threat to opponents that Irvin can either find open threes or, at the very least, closeouts. He can attack those; when he's just trying to straight up beat a guy he doesn't have the lateral mobility to do that without a bunch of spins and other such moves that bring help defenders into play.

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[Patrick Barron]

MAAR bust. Freshmen are up and down and hoo boy was MAAR down in this one. His missed bunny after a steal was followed by another Irvin missed bunny and those buckets combined to rankle the remainder of the game, no more so than when Michigan ended up three points short on the scoreboard.

This is no doubt an adjustment period. Teams have seen what MAAR can do and have a scouting report on him; now it's up for Michigan to get MAAR playing better than he's scouted. One priority needs to be moving him from a guy who seems to make up his mind whether it's pass or shot before the drive to one who can find the open guys under the hoop when he draws help.

And then Doyle surges. (Also Donnal.) Meanwhile, Michigan's bigs kept moderately-big Max Bielfeldt (three minutes) on the bench for the first time in forever. Donnal put up seven points on four shots; Doyle had 15(!) on 8 shot equivalents. He was one made FT from having as many points as you can without an and-one or three pointer, on 19% usage in 27 minutes.

This has a lot to do with Indiana, which got a total of five minutes from guys bigger than a willowy 6'7".

Negative: even so they still got crushed on the boards. Doyle's trying to block shots that are not good shots to block: in the first half Irvin or Dawkins or MAAR had successfully contested a drive, forcing Indiana into difficult runner from five feet. It missed, but Doyle had tried to block it and his guy was there for an easy putback. Unless you are a pterodactyl man like Anthony Davis, that's a bad idea.

16288510958_1ac48e7c28_zEvidence of offensive improvement. Michigan's last shot went through all five Wolverines before landing in MAAR's hands in the corner for a wide open look. It didn't go down, but to be able to execute that is something resembling progress.

Also, an alley-oop! It seems like forever ago when Michigan got two or three of those a game from Robinson.

[@ right: Patrick Barron]

Evidence they've got a ways to go. Blackmon (sigh) and Ferrell had a great sequence against the 2-3 in which Blackmon attacked, drawing  both high defenders. Ferrell saw this and made a cut to the soft spot of the 2-3, receiving the pass and finishing and and-one against a highly disadvantaged Irvin.

That's not something we've seen much of from Michigan during their extensive opportunities to go up against a 2-3. Very, very rarely does anyone force the zone to react before attempting to get a pass inside the arc, and a lot of the time Michigan spends 20 seconds or so trying to make a pass to initiate their offense against a zone that hasn't been deformed or stretched.

Chatman thing. He did little in his ten minutes. This is something of an improvement. I did wonder what was going on on several possessions where he sat in the middle of the floor like he was flashing to the post against a 2-3. He brought a defender with him, which almost made it look like Indiana was running a 1-3-1. It was a confusing time.

Then I figured out that Indiana was just in man to man and Chatman kept flashing to the post because he didn't recognize that. This happened on three or four possessions and is another ominous sign about how far he has to go.

Must… fight… old man sportswriter… feels. SPOCK. I am not a fan of guys sitting back from their typewriters proclaiming some dude they don't know a scourge of society because he is a bit of a showoff. I think this is more reflective of the person writing it than the subject.

But, man, Troy Williams takes it to another level. Troy Williams flexes at his mom after he successfully pours milk in his cereal. Troy Williams goes to children's hospitals and mean-mugs at cancer patients because he is to date free of same. Troy Williams makes me an old man sportswriter and therefore I dislike him.

Hatch bits. ESPN story and video:

Bring kleenex.

Thing I never want to see again. A Yogi Ferrell pull-up three. I would like him to not be at Indiana, please.

Basketbullets: Michigan State Part I

Basketbullets: Michigan State Part I

Submitted by Brian on February 2nd, 2015 at 3:23 PM

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[Marc Gregor]

Same business. I already wrote the column about John Beilein as MacGuyver, and this was more of that, except moreso. After ten minutes of post-game frustration, I have the same emotional reaction to beating Nebraska handily at home as losing in OT on the road to MSU down LeVert and Walton (and DJ Wilson and Mark Donnal and those five guys in the NBA): wow.

Once we have experience/players they'll get back to it. It's unfortunate they ended up on the wrong side of a couple of games that look like they'll prevent them from getting to the tournament. Let's see what the guys can do for the rest of the year and then go into next year with confidence. And so forth and so on.

MAAR/RAHK. In a meme:

MAAR had an efficient 18 points on 14 shots and a few rebounds. He didn't exactly fill up the box score—just one assist and one TO and a bunch of zeroes places other than points—but Michigan needs points more than anything else.

via UMHoops

MAAR's ability to get to the basket and hit contested layups is a foundation for expanding his game. Once teams start to focus on him that will hopefully lead to more good looks for other people.

Autobench. In fact Michigan lost this game because MAAR picked up two first half fouls, leading to an extended period with Andrew Dakich on the court. Dakich played 16 minutes, attempted one shot, got one rebound, and turned the ball over once. Replace a few of those minutes with MAAR minutes and that's probably worth another few points—in his absence defaulted to posting Max Bielfeldt.

MAAR then finished with two fouls, frustratingly. I complain about this every time it happens but I'll keep complaining about it. Every year Beilein has one of the least foul-prone teams in the country, and every year he yanks an important player from the lineup for ten minutes because a guy who averages 2 fouls per 40 picks them up early. When that guy is a scholarship player who has some ability it's one thing. When it's a walk-on who was a few bounces of the ball away from a 16-minute trillion it's another.

I'm enjoying the scotch-tape-and-soda thing as far as it goes, but it is still frustrating to feel that you could have won this game if you'd just had faith a guy averaging 3.5 fouls per 4 could handle a few first-half minutes with two.

This is like timeout strategy with NFL coaches: even the best people are seemingly insane about it.

Assist drought. Michigan struggled through this game with a measly 8 assists (30% of their baskets). MSU was at 70%. That's the offense's struggle in a nutshell. There's a lot of one on one basketball and not much ability to find an open guy. Irvin actually led the team with three. That was the second straight game he'd managed that. Believe it or not, that's the first time in his career he's had back-to-back games of three+ assists.

Michigan has very little ability to penetrate without two of their big three, and unless MAAR develops into more of a point guard instead of a shooting guard that's going to persist. The offense's smoothness will require assists in the 15-18 range instead of the 8 number they've put up in many of their Big Ten games.

Irvin. A frustrating year from him, one in which he's suffered greatly from Michigan's general lack of shot generation. He's improved in that department, but he's gone from "zero" to "not much"; many of the shots he gets for himself are heavily contested bad ideas. As a result his efficiency went off a cliff. His assist rate remains well under 10 despite the recent surge-type event and he's not a plus rebounder on either end.

Early in the season I was hoping Irvin could become a "threes and" guy, whether that was threes and D or rebounding or shot generation. He hasn't really. It's not so much about the shooting. He's been hurt by Walton's evident lack of burst all season, and would no doubt be just as deadly as he was last year if he was getting the same shot quality. It's about how he tends to drift out of games when he's not scoring.

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[Eric Upchurch]

Center spot. Bielfeldt hit some shots but not efficiently; he rebounded but was generally overwhelmed by MSU. He did screen much better than we've seen the freshmen do this year—too often they are imprecise and the screen just wastes time instead of creates room.

Michigan needed Doyle to have one of those games in which he seems like a future star; instead they got some iffy defense (he was too aggressive in the short corner in the 2-3) and one shot attempt in 15 minutes. He is a freshman post and so will be up and down for the next two years; really would have been nice to get a Syracuse-like performance from him.

We saw some brief passages with Bielfeldt at the 4 next to Doyle and I wonder if that'll be more common going forward when Donnal gets back. Against low-usage Big Ten 4s, Bielfeldt brings more rebounding, and if MAAR can pick up spot PG minutes that might be a way to prevent the dual-walkon backcourt we saw at the tail end of the first half.

Fifth year though, right? Michigan does not have any recruits in the 2015 class as of now; unless they do there seems to be no reason to not bring Bielfeldt back if he's willing. I know he was thinking about heading elsewhere for his final year so that he could get some playing time… but he is getting some now and I don't see why that would not be the case next year as well.

Scotch Tape And Soda

Scotch Tape And Soda

Submitted by Brian on January 28th, 2015 at 12:20 PM

1/27/2015 – Michigan 58, Nebraska 44 – 13-8, 6-3 Big Ten

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[Bryan Fuller]

I'm not sure whether MAAR is the gum wrapper or the battery, whether Dawkins is the shoe or the lamp, whether Bielfeldt is the broom or the package of pantyhose. I do know that Zak Irvin is pulling the contraption taut. Spike Albrecht is lighting the package on fire. John Beilein is glancing up from his maniac's blueprint, waiting for the moment when Tim Miles's friendly head is dead in the crosshairs.

"Subs away," he says.

A hit, a palpable hit. Michigan goes to 6-3 in the Big Ten playing a lot of weird guys.

All the weird guys, really. I guess DJ Wilson would be slightly weird at this point, but not nearly so weird as Dan Dakich criticizing his son for not stopping the ball in transition. The weirdness is out there, man. It is starting and not coming off the floor.

Michigan got 37 minutes from a guy in Pennsylvania who Penn State didn't bother to offer and this was fine. Good, even. MAAR/Rahk put up nine points on eight shots, had a few rebounds and a steal, and played good defense. Fellow weird guy Aubrey Dawkins was headed to Dayton before Michigan stepped in; he put up 13 on seven shots, had a killer block, and generally looked like the top 50 recruit Michigan was supposed to have in this class.

And Bielfeldt. I must confess that whenever he ends up on the floor I wonder what on Earth Michigan could have seen in a player who can only be a 6'7" center. I guess they think he can beat up Walter Pitchford. Which he can, somehow.

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[Fuller]

My theory is that Beilein was working with the medical center on a top-secret growth project that fell through. A 6'10" Max Bielfeldt is really something.

In any case, we're here now, having a season. It's not a good season. But it is a season that's worth watching.

It's quite a trick to have a massively disappointing year—one that was headed that way even before the injury avalanche—and still give off the aura of gritty grit and development that Michigan is. They're not good. They're not bad, though, when they obviously should be.

This collection of guys gets a little less weird every time Dawkins has a line-drive three nestle into the net and hang there for a beat longer than you'd expect, every time MAAR gets to the rim and finishes tough. With LeVert on the shelf, this is next year's team assembling itself one game at a time. Add Duncan Robinson and DJ Wilson and, like, a toe for Walton and you could have something there.

Either way, this assemblage of dudes is flipping through configurations every time the opponent gets a handle on them. They morph into the most effective possible shape given their personal shortcomings and prevent a meh year from becoming a nightmare one. Let's see where it goes.

D8D6020819B9F3691036B57B1C6BBA4E[1]

I'm thinking it goes to the NIT, but I'm okay with that. I'll take a few more games of Beilein pulling out every last banana peel he has for the opposition.

BULLETS

How about those late pickups? Michigan fans were confused when Beilein pulled in both Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman very late in the last recruiting cycle. One seemed necessary given the roster; two was a flier on a random guy. Those pickups are now paying off.

The stats are still lagging, with both guys at the bottom of the list in terms of usage and with MAAR's early struggles holding his shooting numbers down; their play has improved greatly. Dawkins is the most efficient shooter Michigan has right now, at 57/42, albeit with a very small sample size. Both turn it over too much and aren't getting the assists Michigan will need them to acquire down the road, but at the very least both guys look like solid four-year college players.

That "four year" bit seems important these days. Michigan could use a dose of roster continuity in here.

This was a fortunate matchup. Nebraska's okay; Michigan matches up against them well this year. Michigan has a huge weakness on the defensive boards that the Cornhuskers generally do not even attempt to exploit. Pitchford's OREB rate is 3.7. The one guy who does get an appreciable number of OREBs, David Rivers, was out.

Meanwhile Michigan's zones give up a lot of corner threes against a team with no three point shooting. Petteway is at 34%; tiny pest Benny Parker is at 38% but is loathe to pull the trigger with just 29 attempts on the year. (Parker proved this by passing up multiple open looks in the second half.) The other guys pulling the trigger range from bad to abject.

Once Petteway turned out to be in bad Kobe mode it was just about whether Michigan could pull together enough offense to make it comfortable. They eventually could.

Bid? It's still highly unlikely. We could have been talking about it if they pulled out that Wisconsin game, which would not only have been a non-loss but also a big win. Without it there's not a whole lot of traction to be had in the remainder of the schedule. The Big Ten is having an off year and Rutgers is occupying two slots in the schedule that could have been any other Big Ten team.

Even if Michigan goes 12-6 in conference you're looking at a resume that is like so:

  • 19-11 record pending Big Ten tourney
  • Best nonconference win over Syracuse, which is likely to be a bubble team
  • Maybe three wins over tourney teams in conference (6-3 finish likely assumes wins against NW and Rutgers and @ Illinois)
  • Horrendous losses to NJIT and EMU

That's a bubble team, and one that could very easily get passed over. Michigan's RPI is currently 64th, they're 0-5 against top 50 teams, etc. It's a resume that could go either way depending on how Michigan's RPI shapes up.

But what if? Michigan's hit the meat of their schedule with six of their next seven games against Kenpom top 50 teams (and the lone exception is no cakewalk: @ Illinois). Go 4-3 in that stretch and then we might start tracking Bracket Matrix and the like.

Chatman. Oof. Not to pile on but man that guy is just completely out of it. He's not even close on his shots, he's repeatedly losing people on defense, he's turning the ball over a ton… you have to keep rolling him out there some since he's a guy who could turn it around and become a nice player down the road, but the regression from a place that wasn't that far off the ground to begin with is dismaying.

Irvin. With Derrick Walton out someone… needed to pick up the rebounding? Yes, yes, apparently. That was Irvin, who notched a double double. Hopefully this can get him more into games where he's not getting a ton of  shots, or not hitting many of them.

Michigan 58, Nebraska 44

Michigan 58, Nebraska 44

Submitted by Ace on January 27th, 2015 at 9:19 PM


Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog

Derrick Walton came out for warmups, limped around on his injured toe, and exited early to the locker room. He'd emerge in sweats, out for a critical game against Nebraska and their stout defense.

You'd have been excused for assuming the worst at that point. Michigan not only found a way to win, though, they did so comfortably, relying on defense and contributions from players who weren't even expected to see significant minutes when the season started.

The Wolverines stifled the Huskers while switching up defensive schemes regularly; star Terran Petteway was totally off his game, going 1/11 from the field to finish with just seven points. Nebraska started cold and couldn't snap out of it, missing contested shot after contested shot. High scorer Shavon Shields even required 16 shot equivalents to tally his 14 points.

With Walton sidelined, Michigan needed a big performance from Zak Irvin, and he came through not only with his scoring—a team-high 14—but also with career highs in rebounds (12) and assists (3). Irvin's effort on the boards covered for Walton's usual contributions in that regard.

The play of a pair of freshmen was just as encouraging. Aubrey Dawkins had an efficient 13 points on seven shots, hitting three triples and two midrange jumpers off curl cuts that were eerily reminiscent of GRIII's pet shot.  Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added nine, helping Michigan pull away in the second half with a pair of impressive transition finishes and a tough and-one. His burst to the basket stood out in a season when Michigan has struggled to get to the rim.

Max Bielfeldt continued his recent solid play with a 12-point, nine-rebound performance; four of those boards came on offense as he simply outworked Nebraska's bigs. His performance proved critical as Ricky Doyle had a quiet 14 minutes and Mark Donnal missed the game due to illness.

Michigan's taken lump after lump and yet have somehow pushed through to 6-3 in the Big Ten. Given the circumstances, this may have been the most impressive win so far. With a collection of walk-ons and freshmen supporting Irvin, the Wolverines blew out a Nebraska squad that entered with the second-stingiest defense in the conference.

While expectations have lowered significantly with Caris LeVert out for the year and Walton hobbled, this team has become... fun? Yeah, let's go with fun.

Wisconsin 69, Michigan 64

Wisconsin 69, Michigan 64

Submitted by Ace on January 24th, 2015 at 9:45 PM

They played their asses off.

Despite Derrick Walton's tying three-pointer in the waning moments of the second half, Michigan couldn't quite pull off a colossal upset against Wisconsin. The ovation from the Crisler Center crowd after the game said it all, though—the fight was well worth the price of admission.

As early as the opening five minutes—in which time Michigan had fallen behind 7-2, their only bucket an implausible Spike Albrecht floater—there were any number of opportunities for the team to pack it in. After all, Albrecht was occasionally defending Wisconsin's superstar seven-footer, Frank Kaminsky, as Michigan frequently switched on defense in a sometimes comical effort to slow him down.

When Wisconsin went on a quick 9-0 run to end the half up seven, it felt like the excitement was over. Ditto when Sam Dekker extended that lead to 11 with an uncontested dunk four minutes into the second, prompting a Michigan timeout. After the Wolverines fought back to tie on a run sparked by the unlikely trio of Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Mark Donnal, and Kameron Chatman, the Badgers landed another series of blows, going up by as much as seven and maintaining the edge until the final moments of regulation.

But Michigan never quit. Walton charged to the hoop time and again, absorbing hit after hit to get to the line; he'd finish with 17 points, going 7/8 from the line. Adbur-Rahkman turned in his finest performance in a Michigan uniform, scoring nine (3/4 FG), playing solid defense, and keeping a couple crucial loose balls alive.

Walton took full control at the end of the half. With M down four and 0:31 on the clock, Josh Gasser missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Walton quickly capitalized with a Euro-step layup through contact. After Bronson Koenig split a pair of free throws, Walton sunk two of his own. Koenig went back to the line, this time drilling both with ten seconds remaining.

At first it appeared Aubrey Dawkins would be forced into a heavily contested heave over two defenders; instead, he dropped a nifty pass to Walton as he found an opening and swished home the tying triple. Crisler got as loud as it's been all season.

Kaminsky dominated the overtime session, opening it with an and-one on Ricky Doyle; he'd score eight points in the decisive period. That Michigan made it that far at all, though, felt like a win in and of itself. They've been written off by just about everyone since Caris LeVert went down for the season, but tonight they showed that when they're on their game, they can hang with the very best in the conference.

Michigan 56, Northwestern 54

Michigan 56, Northwestern 54

Submitted by Ace on January 17th, 2015 at 11:00 PM


The brick (left) and the Rahk. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]

They escaped, at least.

That's about as much as one can say about a two-point win over Northwestern that ended when the Wildcats' leading scorer, freshman Bryant McIntosh, missed an uncontested layup that would've sent the game to overtime.

We'll start with the good. Freshman Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman performed admirably in the stead of Spike Albrecht, who missed the game with an "upper respiratory illness." Rahk accounted for what would ultimately stand as the winning basket, draining a triple from the wing in the final minute to finish with nine points and five rebounds in his first career start.

Caris LeVert, tasked with creating much of the offense on his own, played a strong game in all facets, stuffing the stat sheet with 18 points (albeit on 19 FGA), six rebounds, seven assists, a block, and a steal. While Derrick Walton still struggled inside the arc, he knocked down four triples, grabbed five rebounds, and added three steals. Both handled the ball well, combining for just one turnover; as a team, the Wolverines coughed up the rock just three times.

Michigan even got off to a hot start, hitting their first four three-point attempts and ripping off an 18-0 run that saw them go up 14 with 9:43 to go in the first half.

Now for the bad. Michigan went ice cold to finish the first half, going down a point when Vic Law beat the halftime buzzer, and that carried over into the second; the Wolverines would go 7:08 without a bucket, the seventh time this season they've had a seven-minute drought.

While Zak Irvin knocked down a crucial late three, it was his only basket of the night. He'd finish with six points on 1/5 shooting. Irvin at least had something of an excuse for his shooting woes tonight; he, too, is sick.

Northwestern controlled much of the game due to the interior exploits of Alex Olah, who came within a point of his career high with 22 on 9/12 shooting; he also dominated the glass with five offensive rebounds. Ricky Doyle, suffering from a cold, didn't play at all in the second half after huffing and puffing his way through the first.

In Doyle's place, Mark Donnal had an awful game, going scoreless with one rebound and four fouls in 11 minutes; he looked helpless defending Olah in the post. Max Bielfeldt proved marginally better, posting five points and two boards—all in the second half—in 18 minutes, while Michigan covered his height disadvantage on defense by playing a lot of 1-3-1 zone.

To top it off, John Beilein said after the game that Caris LeVert may have sprained his ankle; he came up limping after the chaotic final play and was seen on crutches afterward. He won't have much time to recover before Michigan heads to Rutgers on Tuesday.

This team sorely needs him. Even with LeVert doing a lot of everything, it took a lot of good fortune for Michigan to squeak by a Big Ten afterthought at home. The road to a postseason bid only gets tougher from here.

Talking About The Basketballs

Talking About The Basketballs

Submitted by Brian on November 11th, 2014 at 1:18 PM

11/10/2014 – Michigan 86, Wayne State 43 – 0-0

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[Bryan Fuller]

Hey: basketball. I took in the exhibition, which exhibited various things I'll now detail.

Player things

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[Fuller]

I hope this was just nerves. Freshmen had a rough shooting night with the limited exceptions of Doyle and Dawkins, none more so than Chatman. He airballed his first two threes, took a bad, contested long two, and bricked a THJ-style pull-up long two; he did hit a three late.

On the good side, his other bucket was an impressive drive to the basket with a finish that made a lot of people look at their buddy so they could do this:

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He also added four assists and led the team in rebounding with six; he also looked capable of switching on the perimeter at least as effectively as GRIII.

Shooting was never a strength for Robinson—he developed an elbow jumper he was proficient at but hovered around 30% from three—so even if Chatman isn't a great threat from deep Michigan won't be backsliding too much. And Beilein believes he can coach up anyone's three point stroke.

DJ Wilson. Wilson's going to be an interesting case this year. He's skinny as all git out but with his size and hops he's going to be much better at altering shots than anyone on last year's team other than Horford. Michigan has been playing him mostly at the 5 with occasional forays at the 4, and while Doyle's lingering ankle thing has something to do with that you get the feeling that when opponents have a lanky dude in there Michigan is going to counter with Wilson.

I could have sworn Wilson hit two late threes but the box score only gives him credit for one. Foot on the line? Either way he mitigated some of the freshman shooting questions by hitting those late.

Aubrey Dawkins. Skinnier version of GRIII. Can shoot some, 6'6", athletic, not going to create much. Had some issues dribbling.

MAAR. Or "Rahk." Rahk appears to be Beilein's favorite way of saying Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman without taking up nine syllables, and it has its appeal.

Anyway, MAAR has a much better handle than the rest of the freshman and is your third point guard. He had a nice take to the hoop that he followed with a layup that was way too hard; he had a second drive on which he'd gotten an angle to the bucket when his handle betrayed him and the ball looped out of bounds.

He ended up not hitting a shot; early yet.

Center fight. There are four options: Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, DJ Wilson, and Max Bielfeldt. I expect Doyle to emerge into a clear starter, with Donnal giving him a breather. The lack of pick and pop game with Donnal on the court says somethin' about somethin'.

Doyle is both one inch taller and somehow way bigger than Donnal. He seems to have considerably more defensive upside. He's also finished much better around the basket in the two glimpses we've seen of him this fall. Donnal has been a below the rim Morgan type without Morgan's crazy efficiency; Doyle is finishing with both hands easily because he's got those super-huge hands and long arms that allow him to gently deposit the ball on the glass from whatever angle is called for.

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This person looks like a person who will finish around the rim. [Fuller]

Wilson will rotate in at the 4 and the 5 depending on matchups and how Chatman's seemingly mercurial shooting stroke is going.

The returning folks. All looked pretty good minus some uncharacteristic three-point foibles (Irvin, Walton, Albrecht, and LeVert combined to go 3 for 12) that we can ignore because we have full-season samples for all those guys in which they hit 40% from deep.

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I got this [Fuller]

LeVert looked ready to take on the alpha dog mantle passed down from Burke to Stauskas and now to him. He's taking the late clock shots; his length and ability to get to good spots on the floor mean these are usually okay shots.

Irvin was much more active on the boards, hauling in five rebounds in 29 minutes, and even had shots from within the arc(!). On the podcast we discussed how Irvin needs to be a "three AND" guy this year, whether that's perimeter defense or rebounding or sometimes venturing inside the line. So far so good.

Walton was hampered by a scary-looking injury that turned out to be a cramp; he was very assured on the ball and got to the line seven times—would have been eight if not for the injury.

The rotation. Until such time as one of the freshmen gains enough trust to be put out there in pressure situations, expect the main backcourt sub to be Spike. Beilein's always kept a short bench and Albrecht's utterly reliable with the ball in his hands. This is Beilein's favorite thing. He'll spot Walton for eight minutes a game and then Michigan will have ten or so minutes with both points on the floor, leaving 5-10 minutes for MAAR and Dawkins to scrap over.

A lack of flow. You know it's early and you've got a bunch of freshmen when your guards have to keep yelling at the posts to screen for them. Michigan used its time on offense inefficiently, with several incidents where plays had to be reset because of poor spacing and miscommunication.

In particular, there was one play featuring DJ Wilson where Wilson had two obvious opportunities to drift to the three point line in the corner and either force someone out of the middle or get a good shot. Instead he hung out 15 feet from the basket and neither option opened up. He was far from the only culprit, but that stood out as a moment where I may have been more familiar with Beilein's system than freshman X—I blinked a couple times because I couldn't understand what Wilson was doing.

Beilein seems pretty frustrated right now:

"We don’t have a very good package in, and I’m trying to figure out how that’s happened,” Beilein said. “We held things back today so it’s not on film, but it’s not very far right now. We’re creeping along. We’re moving in the right direction, but it’s really slow.”

He added, “It’s my biggest quandary every day, is whether we can move forward faster. We spend so much time on defense, because we realize that shots aren’t (always) going to drop. It’s hard to believe that we went to Europe and we aren’t further along and we’re not moving as quickly as I would have in past years.”

This team isn't appreciably younger than either of his previous two, which were amongst the youngest in the country. Hopefully they get it figured out before the preseason tourney rolls around.

How to stay good

Michigan endured yet another talent exodus this offseason and has to regress from last year's all-time Kenpom offensive efficiency record. To maintain their elite level they're going to have to make it up in other places. Here are a few candidates.

Rebound some low-hanging fruit. Michigan's rebounding production out of the 3 and 4 spots last year was not impressive. 6'6" PF Glenn Robinson had a 6% OREB rate and an 11.5 DREB rate; 6'6" SF Zak Irvin had a 3.3% OREB rate and a 7.7 DREB rate. Irvin was in fact the least likely guy on the team to get a defensive rebound—even Spike Albrecht beat him out.

A selection of 6'7"-ish forwards in the Big Ten last year:

  • Troy Williams, IU: 8 OREB and 15 DREB
  • LaQuinton Ross, OSU: 7.5 and 17
  • Terran Petteway, NEB: 3 and 15
  • Shavon Shields, NEB: 5 and 16
  • Jon Ekey, ILL: 8 and 15
  • Aaron White, Iowa: 7 and 19
  • Melsahn Basabe, Iowa: 12 and 23
  • Branden Dawson, MSU: 13 and 21
  • Denzel Valentine, MSU: 5 and 18

(Should be noted that the Nebraska guys' OREB rates are a reflection of a team-wide allergy.) It isn't too hard to find guys with much better production. While Dawson and White are rebounding specialists who find a lot of their value as players in what happens when a shot caroms off the rim, no one is going to mistake Williams, Petteway, Valentine, or Ross for D-oriented role players.

Michigan can seriously beef up production here, and so far so good. Chatman led the team with six rebounds; Irvin had five.

Block some dang shots. Michigan had vanishingly little shotblocking on the team last year. Michigan was 308th nationally, and this contributed to their very bad two-point D.

The freshmen promise to change that. Wilson is long and bouncy and once Doyle settles in it's easy to see him getting his share of swats. His arms are oversized. Michigan had six blocks in this game, albeit against a highly undersized opponent. If Doyle and Wilson can block some shots, alter others, and convince drivers to pull up because of the first two items, that goes some distance towards repairing last year's conference-worst two point D.

Get some steals. Steals are great. Open-court turnovers lead to transition opportunities on which Michigan is deadly. Michigan had eight, with the sneaky Spike Albrecht picking up three.

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[Fuller]

Stay in front. We all love Nik Stauskas but his defense was never a strong suit; meanwhile Robinson was not awesome laterally and gave up some inches to most of the guys he was checking. Replacing Stauskas with Irvin could be a major upgrade—too early to tell yet—and having athletes like Chatman and Wilson who are close to GRIII's level while also being significantly longer should help the D recover from its swoon into the triple digits on Kenpom.

Hooray basketball. Hooray not being scoreless 30 minutes into the game.