The Fire And The Flutter

The Fire And The Flutter

Submitted by Brian on March 20th, 2017 at 12:51 PM

3/17/2017 – Michigan 92, Oklahoma State 91 – 25-11, NCAA second round
3/19/2017 – Michigan 73, Louisville 69 – 26-11, Sweet 16

Michigan's NCAA tournament weekend was a lot like what I imagine it's like to enter Earth orbit.

Stage One

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[Bryan Fuller]

You are strapped to a rocket. In the English language, "rocket" is shorthand for "tube that barely contains fuel." When lit, that fuel explodes; the rocket shunts the exploding bits out its rear to create the kind of incredible, bowel-threatening acceleration that allows one to escape the surly bonds of earth.

I'll be damned if there's a better metaphor for playing Jawun Evans and Oklahoma State. To watch this Oklahoma State team is to be continually surprised that Evans does not literally have flames coming out of his ass, propelling him inevitably towards death or glory at the rim.

At first, there was a lot of noise but not much action. This is also in keeping with rockets, which have various moments early in the enterprise when it is unclear whether the thing will go up or tip over, explosively.

After ten minutes when the game threatened to teeter over into a dud, the acceleration took, and did not stop until all observers were weak kneed and gripped with pallor, as if the blood had been forced from their heads.

Rockets do not have men in grimy outfits and train engineer hats frantically heaping fuel into a furnace to keep the thing from sputtering out and allowing gravity to reclaim what is rightfully hers. Our metaphorical rocket does. The men in hats are flinging three pointers, desperately attempting to stay ahead of gravity's brutal math. Evans and company are providing a constant drag of 1.58 points a possession. Walton and Irvin and Robinson must pump at least that much into the ever-hungry, blazing heart of the engine.

Amazingly, they do so. At first it seems easy. Walton drifts to one corner and then the other to work screens and grab passes for wide open looks. Robinson comes off a screen and rises up from a comfortable spot. A couple of transition opportunities find guys open in the corners. Things are going well—very well—but so far you can chalk it up to a bunch of open looks and good fortune against the nation's #133 defense.

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[Fuller]

Two things happen nearly back-to-back that take it into the realm of the spooky. Zak Irvin comes off a screen, takes a dribble, and fires an objectively bad shot, a heavily contested jack that draws the NO NO NO YES reaction not just from all Michigan fans but also the announcers. Almost immediately after this, Walton passes to Robinson, who's two or three feet from the line and getting more than a token contest. Walton yells at Robinson to shoot. He probably shouldn't shoot. Robinson shoots. It goes down, because of course it does. A bit later, Walton ignores DJ Wilson posting up a 5'11" guy to take this:

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[Fuller]

This goes down. Because of course it does.

As all this is happening, Evans is taking his rocket ass into the lane to claw two points back, like gravity does. Gravity draws you back at a constant 9.8 m/s^2, and you either beat it or you don't. Michigan beat it, in the way movies portray the first stage of rocket liftoff. There is a tremendous amount of noise. The camera shakes impressively. One of the cast members says "ohhhhhhhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiiit." There is a moment of unbearable tension as the G forces ramp up to the maximum humans can tolerate.

Then everything stops. There's a clunk as the first stage departs. You have won! You are alive. You are very high in the air on a fatal trajectory.

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Interplanetary_Superhighway

Stage Two

You've dropped your first-stage booster and watched it burn up in the atmosphere. (Underwood's stunning, immediate departure for Illinois will do nicely in our analogy.) Now you are up up up very far and have entered the realm of orbital mechanics. I've read just enough science fiction to not understand orbital mechanics at all.

The gist seems to be that certain things are all but impossible despite seeming easy, while other things are damn near free because of... reasons. The image above is something called the "interplanetary transport network," which allows you to visit any point of interest in the solar system—eventually, very eventually—by hopscotching through Lagrange points where all the competing gravities of the system average out to zero. This is virtually free in terms of energy.

These are tiny pinholes in a vast expanse of quicksand. Reaction mass is limited and space is very big.

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Louisville basketball has four centers and plays two of them at a time, and if you want to get a shot up it's time to hunt for Lagrange points.

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Mo Wagner changed the way most teams defend Michigan with his white-hot first half against Purdue. After halftime the desperate Boilermakers decided they were going to switch every screen no matter what kind of ludicrous matchups resulted. Michigan was initially confused, and then Wagner was forced to the bench with foul trouble for nine minutes of the second half. By the time he returned there were only a few possessions before Michigan's Lloydball clock-drain offense made the switching moot. Painter's move exited the game more or less untested.

That did not prevent it from quickly being replicated, to middling-at-best effect. The constant switching did dull the effectiveness of Michigan's pick and roll. It dared Michigan to post up, which they simply do not do. It's pretty easy to holler about exploiting a post mismatch when you are a fan looking at a 5'11" guy on DJ Wilson. It's evidently much tougher when you are part of a Beilein basketball organism that forcibly expelled post-ups from its DNA back when it was using flagella to florp around in its Canisius days.

So the switching mostly resulted in a lot of isolation with Walton or whoever against a big. It took Michigan's silky, flowing offense and battered it down to the heroball stuff you see at Kansas or Kentucky, except without the infinite alley oops. Since Walton stepback threes are Very Good Offense, somehow, the switching didn't really slow Michigan down much. All it did was cause me to goggle at Michigan bigs guarded by oompa-loompas and be like all "AARGH THROW IT TO THAT GUY."

There was that particularly brutal possession pictured above on which DJ Wilson was trying to post up a 5'11" dude and Walton decided to jack up a 35-foot three pointer. This went in because of course it did; whether or not Michigan could do anything with this tactic in the event that Walton jacks stopped being Very Good Offense remained an open question. No longer.

In the aftermath of Sunday it is possible to interpret Michigan's somewhat frustrating inability to take advantage of said oompa-loompas as a devastating long con.  Louisville entered the game with a plan: no threes. They would switch everything to remove the rotation, because Michigan will get you eventually if you rotate. They would refuse to help in the post, because that results in rotation. They would make Michigan execute a thing they simply do not do. In an advantageous situation, sure. But they wanted to make the fish ride the bicycle.

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[Campredon]

The fish rode the bicycle.

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It popped wheelies.

Louisville's tactic backfired spectacularly in the second half. The tiny windows their giant posts leave drivers became caverns as 6'7" Adel Deng was repeatedly tasked with checking a guy much taller and more skilled than him. The posts stuck to their shooters, and Michigan lived and died by the two for a change.

Pitino did not relent. If he was going to lose this game it was two points at a time. Thus Michigan calmly and gradually reeled Louisville back in after the disastrous last minute of the first half. Screen and screen until you get your matchup, dump it down, score. Repeat. Regular, controlled thrust, easing Michigan through.

"It was some scheme things," Beilein said of his halftime talk, "but it was more: 'Alright, hit singles. Do not come out of here trying to win in the first four minutes. Let's just win the first four minutes. Let's just win the first four minutes. Win it by two points. Win every segment and you'll win the game.'"

Too bad that doesn't fit on a whiteboard.

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So here we are. Orbit. It's nice. Very pretty. Can see Phoenix from here. Or Glendale. Whatever. Just two more harrowing white-knuckle terrordomes to go.

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[Campredon]

The most explosive team in the country is in the rear view. So too is a nation of angry ents. Confidence is through the roof, relative to your average white-knuckle terrordome experience. Let's go.

Bullets

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SAY 'WHAT' AGAIN, uh, SIR (via @the_mikeyb1246)

"Since Maverick" update. Michigan is up to #6 nationally in adjusted efficiency margin:

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Amongst teams still in the tournament they're #3 behind Gonzaga and Florida. You'll note they're a nose ahead of Kansas.

First-round victim Oklahoma State shows up at #12. (They have a lot of losses, yes. In this time period they were all against tourney teams: two against Kansas, two against ISU, one to Baylor, one to KSU, one to Michigan. Most of those were 3-5 point games.) When I tweeted this out after the game I meant it:

That felt like a #2 going up against a #3. This is not a seeding complaint, or at least it's not much of one. Oklahoma State, like Michigan, was a team that got a ton better about halfway through January and was 1) more or less fairly seeded while 2) being a terrible draw for whoever got them. Michigan did, and barely survived despite scorching the nets.

Finally, the road doesn't get any easier in the Sweet 16 as Michigan draws #10 Oregon. That hurdle is significantly lower with Duck post Chris Boucher out for the season. Oregon's given up significantly more than 1 PPP in the three games since Boucher's injury, against offenses ranging from "somewhat worse" to a "a lot worse" than Michigan.

DJ Wilson, sometimes center, is a thing. Wagner finished the Okie State game on the bench just like he finished the B10 championship game, and this was fine because DJ Wilson was functional at center. The opposition didn't have the ability to blow him away with guys who are both very burly and very athletic. Ethan Happ is burly but not that athletic and Wilson's length bothered him. Mitchell Solomon is pretty much the same minus the post-up skills.

Michigan's ability to go small against a light-speed team and then run Wagner and Wilson at the same time against Louisville provided them the flexibility to get past two crazy outlier teams with just one day of prep. That's a major asset.

Expect more of that going forward: Oregon is minus a 6'10" center they played 20 minutes a game and is now a small-ball outfit that runs out one player taller than 6'7" at a time*. Kansas is along the same lines, with wing Josh Jackson playing the 4 for them most of the time. DJ can play center against both, and likely will.

*[To be specific, 6'9" Jordan Bell is their 5 and they'll give 6'11" Kavell Bigby-Williams 10-15 minutes a game spelling him. Dillon Brooks is the only other Oregon player seeing meaningful minutes who's taller than 6'4".]

Donnal survived against Louisville. Credit to the most maligned current Wolverine: Mark Donnal hit a three and blocked a shot in nine minutes, which went a good way towards offsetting the facemashing he's naturally going to receive when he finds himself trying to check UL's infinite conveyor belt of giant dudes.

I wasn't even irritated at Donnal's foul, which was an enthusiastic boxout of lanky 7-footer Anas Mahmoud. He got whistled for a foul that seemed impossible, because I've spent all season watching Michigan bigs take the same contact and get blasted off their spot. Donnal flipped the script and got a foul for his troubles. Better that than weak post D.

Walton didn't score much against Louisville, but... naturally he led the team in rebounds with seven and had six assists to zero turnovers. Also he was instrumental in harassing Quinn Snider into an 0/9 shooting performance. Also:

Shot parity: close enough! Against UL Michigan lost the offensive rebound battle by six; they won turnovers by five. That'll do when you're the most efficient shooting team around. Against Oklahoma State it was dodgier, with Michigan –10 in OREBs while only ending up +6 in turnovers. Still, if you told me Michigan was going into a game with a top ten OREB offense and came out only –4 in shot margin I'd take that.

There is an alternate universe of Wagner foul bitchin'. One man's comically inept refereeing is another man's comically inept refereeing multiplied by –1, and I have to relate to you, dear reader, that it is the opinion of many Louisville fans that Mo Wagner commits offensive fouls every time he touches the ball.

This is not the most convincing ref incompetence highlight reel I've seen.

I imagine this stems from one of the first times Michigan went after the Deng Adel-Wagner mismatch in the first half. Adel flopped at the same time Wagner appeared to go for the ol' chicken wing on his path to the basket. The refs did not bite on the flop and the wing met air; Wagner went for an easy bucket. After that everything Wagner did seemed to set off cascades of complaints on UL game threads.

Big Ten seeding complaints on point. After the bracket came out there was consternation about the ordering of various Big Ten teams, and it was proven correct. 5 seed Minnesota was a Vegas dog against 12 MTSU and duly lost. Maryland was hammered by 11 seed Xavier. Meanwhile Wisconsin beat Villanova and Michigan beat Louisville to reach the Sweet 16.

The sample sizes are necessarily tiny here, but since there was plenty of evidence before the games were even played they serve to reinforce the fact that the tourney was badly mis-seeded.

Also worth noting that MSU was the only 8-9 not to give its opponent a competitive game. Wisconsin won, Northwestern battled valiantly before losing by 6 thanks in part to that missed goaltend, Arkansas led in the last four minutes. Hell, you can rope in the two seeds here as well: Michigan and South Carolina won while St Mary's and Wichita State battled valiantly to the final whistle. Only Michigan State was blown out, as you would expect them to be.

Wooooof. There was a plague of refereeing blunders this weekend that should but almost certainly won't be the cause for some soul-searching at the NCAA. The most egregious miss—Northwestern's comeback-stalling missed goaltend—saw the NCAA's head of officials show up on one of the studio shows to lamely defend the refs working the game because he, a 70-year-old man watching on TV, didn't catch it. I expect slightly more from a man literally standing under the basket.

Anyway, there were some doozies in Michigan's game, none worse than the two calls late in the first half against Louisville. The first was a phantom call on Walton that turned a turnover into two free throws for UL; the second was the Wagner open-court steal that again turned into two free throws. With Michigan likely to get a fast-break bucket if the second call isn't made that was a six-point swing just after Michigan had finally managed to claw its way back into a tie.

At that moment I could only think of the Trey Burke block and a couple other calls in the title game that prevented that one from truly going down to the wire, as it deserved to, and I resolved to never watch basketball again. I resolve this several times a season, and sometimes multiple times in one game.

And the worst bit about all this. Yahoo has an accurate summation of the worst five calls of the weekend:

  1. Gonzaga goaltend
  2. North Carolina's travel/charge/travel/charge
  3. Arizona's Lauri Markannen blasting a St Mary's player out of bounds, for which the St Mary's player got call
  4. The Plessy v Ferguson flagrant in Seton Hall vs Arkansas
  5. A horrendous charge call EC Mathews picked up in Oregon-Rhode Island.

Every single one of these made a tight game less tight, and every one of them favored the higher seed. (Seton Hall-Arkansas was an 8-9; the rest were serious upset bits.) A lot of the drama of March Madness was sapped by referee errors.

Other Stuff

Best And Worst:

John Beilein’s defining characteristics (at least publicly) are being incredibly nice/genuine and being a bit, how do you say, hokey.  In 2013, he celebrated going to the Sweet 16 with crazy subs, and this year has taken to ambushing players with water guns after big wins.  It’s notable when he freaks out on the sidelines about the officiating because (a) it almost always means he’s getting a technical, and (b) he’s almost always right, and has held his tongue for untold transgressions up to that point.  Maverick Morgan called Michigan “white collar” this year as a pejorative about their toughness, and more than a few fans felt the Wolverines reflected Beilein’s temperament.  Both Louisville and Okie St. outrebounded Michigan this weekend, and a common refrain was that the team didn’t play tough enough on the glass.

But behind that gentile veneer is the heart of a killer.  Okay, maybe not “killer”, but as Ace noted, quite evil.  He knows what his offense can do to other teams.  Matt Painter was exasperated trying to explain the difficulties defending Michigan, the harsh realization that your center has to defend a guy who shoots over 40% from three and can also shake-and-bake you behind his back on the way to the hoop.  That even when the outside shot isn’t falling, Beilein will tax your team the entire time they are in the half-court offense, probing for breakdowns.  And when they are firing from outside at a good clip, ooohhh.  Oklahoma State scored 91 points and didn’t hold a lead after the 10-minute mark of the second half because Michigan shot 11-15 from 3 in the second half, a performance so scarring that OSU’s head coachg Brad Underwood left the Cowboys…for Illinois.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Matt Norlander on the narrative. John Beilein on ESPN:

Brendan Quinn:

D.J. Wilson, another of the day's stars, sank four free throws in the final 17 seconds.

That pragmatism? It was on full display. Wilson, a sophomore, made each free throw like he was in the driveway. Asked about the pressure of the moment later, Wilson sat stone-faced and said: "I don't feel any really."

Five key plays from Oklahoma State.

Etc. Rodger Sherman on Wagner. Pat Forde thinks Beilein is famously serious. Must not know about subs. Michigan is a one point favorite over Oregon. Hang on to your butts. Hoo boy does the Underwood departure suck for Okie State. Illinois fans are happy, as they should be. Oklahoma State fans shouldn't be.

Unverified Voracity Boats Botes

Unverified Voracity Boats Botes

Submitted by Brian on March 15th, 2017 at 12:28 PM

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we going to the ship

Michigan represented in the real bracket. This Is March, and that means it's Name of the Year time. College football, which annually raises hundreds of names from obscurity, contributes five participants—at least five that I recognize—to this year's tournament:

1 seed Kobe Buffalomeat, an Illinois State signee.
15 seed Dredrick Snelson Jr, a UCF wide receiver.
11 seed Bumper Pool, a 2018 LB committed to Okie State (who Michigan pursued).
5 seed and Michigan signee Luiji Vilain(!).
1 seed Quindarious Monday, a 2018 safety out of Georgia recently offered by Michigan.

2 seed Sultan McDoom does not appear to be related to Eddie, FWIW. Also there is a Taco Dibbits who is presumably not related to Taco Charlton.

I believe Vilain is the first Michigan-affiliated participant since Iris Macadangdang made it to the final in 2009, losing to LSU DE Barkevious Mingo. Yes I knew that off the top of my head. Yes my brain is very good and full of useful things.

The NOTY bracket is always a magical one that different people will take different things from, like a diamond with 64 gleaming facets. Personally, I'm partial to Boats Botes. Boats.

Many, many spring practice(?) things. I was thinking about splitting out huge data dumps from Sam Webb and Steve Lorenz into a separate post but since they're mostly about winter workouts—ie not even practice—during the heart of NCAA tournment season maybe we'll just jam it in here.

Prepare for JAM:

  • Webb reports that Don Brown is bringing up Mike Wroblewski—who is apparently called "ROBO"—unprompted as the third ILB along with McCray and Bush. Sounds like Michigan will be rotating three guys for two spots.
  • Drevno picks out Mike Onwenu as the gentleman with the biggest offseason improvement. Also mentioned: Rashan Gary, Ian Bunting, and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Meanwhile Lorenz reports that Onwenu has shed significant weight and is in a good spot. 
  • Sam is asked which early enrollees are consistently drawing mention and responds with Cesar Ruiz and—surprise—Donovan Peoples-Jones. Lorenz also mentions Ruiz as "college ready" physically and broaches the possibility he'll be a four-year starter. That would necessarily kick either Mason Cole or Ben Bredeson out to tackle. Frey thinks he can bat Cole around this spring and it won't have a negative impact.
  • Lorenz also asserts that the coaching staff is pushing Juwann Bushell-Beatty because they think he can make it. They thought he was a reasonable option midseason, so he's got to be doing something right in practice.
  • Per Lorenz, Karan Higdon's gotten up to 200 and he'll push Chris Evans.
  • Metellus and Hudson are candidates at both safety and VIPER(!). Metellus is getting talked up a lot as a guy who had "one of the best winters on the roster" by Sam and by Lorenz as the favorite to start next to Kinnel, as he's a "rock solid 205" and a Don Brown favorite.
  • Lorenz reports that Michigan is big on Carlo Kemp and Donovan Jeter has impressed early.

There's more at each of the links but that's how they get you, with the useful information.

Illinois State should have been in. Ken Pomeroy writes on the exclusion of Illinois State from the field. One reason I was mildly incensed about what the committee did this year is that they gave the numbers-literate a window for hope:

In January, the NCAA invited me and several other people to discuss using new metrics to support the tournament selection process. It is encouraging that the people in charge of men’s basketball at the NCAA are interested in using the best tools available.

That discussion obviously went nowhere, as the Minnesota-Wisconsin seeding discrepancy and Illinois State exclusion demonstrate. Kenpom's take on the Redbirds:

Teams from a competitive mid-major conference like the Missouri Valley play a much different kind of schedule. Most games against teams outside the top 100 are conference games, which are just as likely to be on the road as they are at home. Also, very few of those “bad” opponents are going to be as bad as Howard or Western Carolina, whom Marquette played. Although it played many more teams outside the top 100, Illinois State still had fewer games (three) against teams in the bottom 100 than Marquette. As a consequence, a whole lot more of Illinois State’s games against poorer teams were potentially loseable, if the Redbirds had a particularly bad night or their opponent was feeling it. And the Redbirds did lose two of them—road games to Murray State and Tulsa. ...

If Marquette and Illinois State swapped schedules, the Golden Eagles would almost surely lose some games to teams outside the top 100. If you put Illinois State in the Big East, it would have earned some quality wins. No doubt, though, the Redbirds would do much worse than their 17-1 Missouri Valley Conference record when facing the tougher competition. But consider that Xavier went 8-10 against Big East teams not named DePaul and easily earned an at-large bid. The standard for small-conference teams is incredibly high, while the standard for major-conference teams is not as high as you think.

The "bad loss" mode of thinking fails to take into account the fact that when you play a high number of road games against teams with RPIs from 100 to 200, an NCAA quality team will be expected to lose some of them.

There are metrics that take this into account. "Wins Above Bubble"—defined as "the amount of wins you have - than the amount of wins an average bubble team would expect to have against the schedule you faced"—is an easy concept to grasp that ranks on overall resume instead of the distorted windows that arbitrary RPI bins provide. Illinois State was excluded despite being 1.5 WAB, ahead of 7-seed Dayton and 9-seeds MSU and Vandy*.

We blithely dismiss Illinois State's record because it came against "nobody", but anybody can be somebody on the road. Take Illinois State's game at Missouri State. On the day of the game, Missouri State was ranked #130 in Kenpom—bad loss territory if this was RPI. Illinois State was ranked #44, which is where nine-seed VT is ranked today and ahead of at-large picks VCU, Seton Hall, Providence, and USC. Kenpom gave Illinois State—which, again, was performing like a legit NCAA tournament team at the time—just a 63% shot at victory. Play nine road games against teams from 100 to 200 and an NCAA bubble team should lose a couple, as Illinois State did. Their record should have been enough to get them in the field.

*[I don't think WAB should be used for seeding; it's a selection metric. I mention the above teams because they were not only in the field but evidently not even on the bubble.]

New hockey coach maybe possibly. This gentleman appears to be Pavel Datsyuk's agent:

Obligatory disclaimer: agents are not always reliable sources, and the deletion of said tweet makes it even shakier. If, however, he is correct and Michigan has already moved to secure their next head coach that could mean they've gone off the board. IE: they hired Not Mel. It seems doubtful that this guy would be in the loop if it was Pearson.

Etc.: TTB talks to James Ross. Surveying the wreckage at Michigan State. The money has to go somewhere. It goes to already-well-off people. Quinn on Okie State. We got boned.

Maverick Prophecy

Maverick Prophecy

Submitted by Brian on March 13th, 2017 at 2:31 PM

3/09/2017 – Michigan 75, Illinois 55 – 21-11, 10-8 Big Ten
3/10/2017 – Michigan 74, Purdue 70 (OT) – 22-11, 10-8 Big Ten
3/11/2017 – Michigan 84, Minnesota 77 – 23-11, 10-8 Big Ten
3/12/2017 – Michigan 71, Wisconsin 56 – 24-11, 10-8 Big Ten, BTT Champs

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[Paul Sherman]

Over the course of thousands of years of human history since the invention of writing, many people have written—or chiseled or typed or uh is there a calligraphy verb—unwise things. Incorrect things. Silly, stupid, terribly wrong things. Some of these were supported by the best available evidence available at the time. Some of these had rather a lot of backing.

Nonetheless, diseases are not cured by bleeding out-of-balance humours from the body. No matter what NBA players may tell you, the earth is not flat. And virtually everything written about the Michigan basketball team during the first five weeks of 2017 should be taken to the largest conveniently-located landfill or event horizon and disposed of, never to be revisited. For example, take this festering twit from the depths of the internet reacting to Michigan's trip to East Lansing:

That was either in late January (by ordinal time) or the Cretaceous (by subjective time). There was rather a lot of data backing that up, as Michigan trundled towards the NIT with a defense that at one point had sunk as low as #184 in the country on Kenpom.

Even by then, though, things were fitting into place. That was their fourth straight game of decent to good defense, and Irvin quietly spearheaded it. Future lottery pick Miles Bridges scuffled to 15 points on 17 shots and chipped in couple of turnovers en route to a 94 ORTG. In the return game things would only get worse for him, with 5 turnovers sinking his game ORTG even lower.

Michigan is fighting in the post and closing out like crazy and every single guy on the team has bought in. Only Irvin had to do that while simultaneously coming to grips with his role on the team, and how it wasn't what he wanted it to be. Walton's gotten the headlines and the hosannahs, but in a way it's much harder to fade into the background gracefully than become the lip-curled alpha dog. In that hamblasting of Michigan State at Crisler he had three points on 8% usage. Zak Irvin's learned something about humility this year. Hopefully so have festering twits from the internet*.

*[Spoiler: they have not.]

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[Sherman]

Irvin is an emblem of a Michigan renaissance unmatched since the Aneurysm of Leadership. Since The White Collar Incident, Michigan is 13-5 and one of the top ten teams in the country.

Also emblems: Derrick Walton, about whom the Trey Burke whispers are getting louder. Duncan Robinson, the world's unlikeliest candidate for defensive stopper and also a gentleman who would have gotten Michigan to overtime against Northwestern if not for Julia Louis-Drefyus's heavenly intervention. DJ Wilson, who can apparently play center now and guard 1-5 and go bucket for bucket with Purdue bigs. Mo Wagner, who firebombed Isaac Haas off the floor and has developed a stick-and-move hedge game that turns late clock in to very late clock. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who nobody even notices anymore because he's just as efficient as everyone else. Maverick Morgan, whose sick burn made Walton so angry he turned into the Hulk.

That's everyone with a usage above "limited roles" and a guy who plays for Illinois.

The improvement is comprehensive and near-unprecedented, and it stretches back half the season now. This isn't a fluke. It hasn't been inconsistent. Michigan has won a bunch of blowouts during that stretch and aside from that inexplicable OSU game all their losses were on narrow, on the road, against tournament teams. They had a plane crash; they arrived at the Big Ten tournament barely over an hour before their scheduled start time; Illinois was more shell-shocked than Michigan was, trailing by 11 by the first break.

I can't explain it. I feel like Robert Hooke looking through a microscope and finding out life was impossibly smaller and bigger than it seemed, simultaneously. I feel like I've just watched a month long Rocky training montage that has turned this Poindexter of a team into... well, still that but a murder hobo version of it. We were given many pieces of evidence and this team has improbably, wonderfully overturned them all.

Bullets

Mind the gap. Three point launch margin over the course of the tourney: +10, +6, +10, +8. An increasingly tired Michigan outfit wasn't as efficient on theirs as they usually are, and it's no surprise to find out that a Beilein team takes a lot of threes.

But the three avoidance is real, and it's spectacular: Wisconsin's first shot in the championship game was a late-clock long two forced by an aggressive MAAR closeout. This is a beautiful place to force an off the dribble shot from:

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Once again, barely more than a quarter of an opponent's FGAs were from behind the arc. Michigan moved up a spot in 3PA prevention after the BTT. They're still 308th in 3PA% allowed.

In Soviet Smiths Album, DJ hangs you. In the championship game Mark Donnal was limited to a few brief cameos and avoided a trillion only because he picked up a personal foul; Mo Wagner also played just 24 minutes. Michigan papered over the gap with DJ Wilson at the 5, and this worked brilliantly.

He was able to effectively front Happ most of the time and use his length to bother him when he did get a catch; Happ ended up shooting 6 of 16 from the floor with 3 TOs. With Irvin capable of checking the perimeter-oriented Hayes and Wagner having a rough day on offense, Michigan simply chose to ride with their small lineup in crunch time.

Short turnover Beilein time. So Michigan's two-point shooting was scorching over the course of the four days: 68%, 54%. 68%, 68%. All the more impressive since there were periods in the second half of all four games where Michigan looked too exhausted to run their offense and settled for some heroball.

Minnesota in particular was diced into a fine mist by the Michigan offense. Discombobulated by the lack of Reggie Lynch on the interior—the nation's leading shotblocker had zero as he tried to check Wagner on the perimter—the Gophers fell prey to a half-dozen back cuts in the first ten minutes and fell behind so badly that Michigan's dead-legs period in the second half only got them back to a tie, and from there Walton took over.

That's Michigan's offense going to work when the three point shooting was iffy.

One note of praise for referees. The championship game was downright perfect. I was a little irritated from time to time when Michigan didn't get a particular call but since they were letting various minor bumps go on both ends I soon settled down into a mode where—get this—I was not surprised when fouls happened or what direction they went.

The golden age of offense. Big Ten players who played at least 40% of the time and had a usage rate of at least 16%, ranked by ORTG:

  1. Duncan Robinson, 126
  2. Derrick Walton, 125
  3. James Blackmon, IU, 123
  4. DJ Wilson, 123
  5. Juwan Morgan, IU, 122
  6. Vincent Edwards, PU, 119
  7. Mo Wagner, 118
  8. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, 116
  9. Bronson Koenig, UW, 116
  10. Trevor Thompson, OSU, 115

Only Zak Irvin(103) has the requisite minutes to qualify and is not on this list. This the second-best offense Beilein's ever had at Michigan, slotting in a hair behind the Stauskas/Levert-led Elite 8 team.

A bit on the draw. More on Michigan's first and (potential) second round opponents later in the week. At first blush this is a rough one. Oklahoma State is the #1 offense in the country and a team that, like Michigan, had a mid-season turnaround that has seen them thump a lot of teams and lose narrowly when they do in fact lose. If I had to pick one stat I do not want to see an opponent bring to a matchup with Michigan it's a bucket of OREBs, and Okie State is 6th nationally in that department.

On the other hand, their defense is miserable, like Michigan-before-Maverick miserable, and the only thing they're actually good at in that department is forcing turnovers. This could be a game where Duncan Robinson is 7/11 from 3, that sort of thing.

It should be good for neutrals. Thrill quotient type calculations that prioritize high scoring, close games have Michigan-Okie State as the best game of the first round.

A hypothetical second round matchup against (almost certainly Louisville) is not ideal, but at least the pod also features Kentucky so the crowd in Indy is likely to be relatively split. This version of UL has the usual jumping jacks in the middle that give them a ton of OREBs and swat/alter a ton of shots. Their shooting is only middling; they hang their hat on D and on the glass.

Seeding complaints are real. Maybe not for Michigan, but you know you screwed up as a committee when you've done this:

That line is the best available guess from people with many dollars riding on accurate projections and just about matches Kenpom's 7-point projected margin. That corresponds to a 75% shot at a Wichita win. Congrats, Dayton. Here's a 25% shot at a first round game as a 7 seed.

I don't think Wichita should have been given a two like a world that seeds exclusively by Kenpom would, but does anyone blink if the Shockers are a 6? No. The team testing out the theory that Wichita State is actually good despite a loss to 3-9 19-14 Michigan State would be one of the last at-larges in the field and thus just happy to be here.

Don't even get me started on the Big Ten. The committee talked a big game about finally modernizing their approach, and that was all balderdash.

When the committee chair is Mark Hollis I don't know why anyone expected better except for blind optimism.

Well, poop. They've been found. Chad Ford didn't have anyone from Michigan on his draft radar this season, but that's changed. He's got a list of the top guys to watch in the NCAA  tournament; Wilson and Wagner check in towards the tail end of the list:

25. D.J. Wilson

Wilson is an athletic forward who can both stretch the floor and protect the rim. He has a rare combination of explosiveness and skill. His inconsistency and soft play (despite his size he doesn't really like contact in the paint) concern NBA scouts.

He's on the first-round bubble, but a big NCAA tournament could change things for him. He was outstanding in the Big 10 tourney for Michigan with 26 points, eight boards and three blocks against Purdue and 17 points, six boards, three assists and two steals against Wisconsin to lead Michigan to the title.

26. Moritz Wagner

Wagner might be the biggest sleeper on this list. The native of Germany brings many of the things that Lauri Markkanen brings to the table and is just six months older, such as size, agility, a terrific 3-point stroke and a high basketball IQ.

Like Markkannen, he isn't a great rebounder or shot blocker, but you don't find many players with his size and skill set in the draft.

He's still got both in the 30-50 range—ie, the second round—and FWIW, I've heard that both are planning to return next year. I wouldn't count on year four from either.

Punching The Ticket: M Close To Moving Off The Bubble

Punching The Ticket: M Close To Moving Off The Bubble

Submitted by Ace on February 15th, 2016 at 2:44 PM


Saturday's win was cause for celebration. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]

Michigan's tournament resumé got a significant boost from Saturday's win over Purdue, which gave the Wolverines a third victory over a top-50 RPI squad heading into a home stretch in which they'll face as many as three more such opponents. (Maryland and Iowa will easily qualify; Wisconsin is on the edge at #44.)

As it currently stands, here are the numbers and rankings of note:

Record: 19-7 (18-7 vs. D-I), 9-4 Big Ten
RPI: 52
KenPom: 48
RPI Strength of Schedule: 91
KP SOS: 65
RPI Top-50: 3-7
RPI 51-100: 0-0
RPI 101+: 15-0

And here's the schedule the rest of the way:

  • at Ohio State (#83 RPI, #73 KP)
  • at Maryland (#6 RPI, #13 KP)
  • Northwestern (#104 RPI, #91 KP)
  • at Wisconsin (#44 RPI, #33 KP)
  • Iowa (#10 RPI, #4 KP)

While even a 1-4 finish with a lone win against Northwestern should put Michigan in decent bubble position barring an immediate exit from the Big Ten Tournament, CBSSports' Jerry Palm notes that M's unusual resumé makes matters less simple:

Michigan picked up a much-needed win at home over Purdue, and the Wolverines own the strangest looking profile in the bracket. They have wins over Maryland, Texas and Purdue, which are three top 25 teams, but those are also their only three top-100 wins. There has been only one team to get an at-large bid with fewer than four top 100 wins since the RPI formula changed in 2005. That was when the committee made the mistake of taking Middle Tennessee State in 2013, which had a gaudy record, but only one top 100 win. The highest seed for a team with only three top 100 wins is a No. 9 seed, which was given to Bucknell in 2006. Even for a team with four top-100 wins, only two teams have been seeded in the top half of the bracket.

A victory at Ohio State would give Michigan that critical fourth top-100 win (barring an OSU collapse down the stretch, at least) with the added benefit of it coming on the road; pulling that off should lock up a bid, especially if M takes care of business against Northwestern to secure 11 conference wins and no bad losses on the resumé.

Michigan had been on a slide down the brackets following the week of home blowouts and the underwhelming victory over Minnesota, but the win over the Boilermakers turned that around. After slipping to the ten-seed line on the Bracket Matrix, they're back to a nine-seed; that's where Palm and Yahoo's Brad Evans have Michigan, while ESPN's Joe Lunardi bumped them up to an eight-seed.

Those bracketologists are all focused on resumé. A different, simpler methodology created by Basketball Prospectus' Drew Cannon is also worth noting; simply adding a team's KenPom and RPI ranking projects the tournament field about as accurately as the traditional method. The "Easiest Bubble Solver" method also produces Michigan as a nine-seed, and for now comfortably clear of the bubble.

Assuming a victory over Northwestern—never totally safe, of course, but KenPom gives it a 78% chance—Michigan should need just one other win to feel very secure about their postseason outlook. Moving off the 8/9 line, which sets up a potential second-round matchup with a one-seed, might require a little more work, though it's worth noting a couple of the current one-seed matchups (Kansas, Oklahoma) may in fact be better for Michigan than a couple of the two-seeds (UNC, Xavier).

In Soviet Unverified Voracity, Otter Eats Crocodile

In Soviet Unverified Voracity, Otter Eats Crocodile

Submitted by Brian on March 6th, 2014 at 2:20 PM

BASKETBALL. This is Henri The Otter Of Ennui's brother, Hank The Otter Of Swank. He's trying to eat a crocodile.

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He has been watching Michigan basketball and is feeling rather metal. \m/

Don't drink? Grantland's Andrew Sharp profiles Nik Stauskas, and, uh…

Shooter. Shooter shooter shooter shooter shooter shooter. His ballhandling has made him a more complete scorer this year, but let’s not kid ourselves. That Wayne song was all about Stauskas.

This feels like meme backlash. Yes, Stauskas is nasty whenever provided an opportunity to launch, and sometimes even when not provided one.

But he has an almost 50/50 split between twos and threes and Michigan's highest FT rate by a wide margin. Shooter-shooter-shooter shooters have profiles more like Zak Irvin's 1:3 ratio of twos to threes and 21 FTAs on the season. Oh, and they're not top ten in the Big Ten in assists.

So… no, Andrew Sharp. No.

But kinda yeah. HAHAHAHA

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The main problem with this chart is it doesn't seem to give full credit to the shot right before the half, which was launched from Botswana.

Down goes a guy considerably worse than Frazier! Nevermind that business about Michigan's relative immobility as a three. After Duke and Syracuse losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, respectively, the door is wide open for Michigan to move up to a 2. Also helping is Nebrasketball, which moved into the top 50 in RPI with a win over Indiana. That provides Michigan a couple extra wins in that overvalued category.

Michigan's still definitively behind three teams (Florida, Wichita, Arizona) but they've got a shot at everyone else. They are behind another five or six outfits and thus can't hit that 1 spot without a miracle, but two is at least a 50/50 proposition with Duke ceding advantage with a horrible loss.

In RPI terms the relative equality in record is because of an easier schedule. Duke is 4-4 against RPI top 50; Michigan is 8-5, 10-5 as long as Nebraska sticks. Duke also has one additional bad loss after tonight and zero road pedigree. Michigan is 7-2 on the road in the Big Ten. Beat an Indiana team that may be without Noah Vonleh and has definitely exited the bubble picture and I'm guessing a semifinal exit in the BTT will be good enough for a two.

Foot… ball? SB Nation takes an in-depth look at what Doug Nussmeier will do differently than Al Borges. This passage reinforces just how bonkers Michigan's approach was last year:

For example, the Michigan offense involved six primary run schemes: power, iso, draw, horn (a tackle lead play), inside zone, and outside zone. It's worth noting here, just for comparison, that NFL run-game guru Alex Gibbs believes that a ground attack should be built almost entirely on just inside and outside zone.

"Horn" was a little-used counter on which Michigan's tackles struggled to execute because of a lack of experience. The tackles struggled to execute. You know, the good, veteran dudes.

HOORAY

The run game will likely be built around inside zone and remain committed to the concept from week to week. Whereas Borges would build a million different constraints and play calls around multiple different run and pass schemes, Nussmeier will run inside zone in multiple ways, from multiple formations, and with different constraints built off of it to counter defensive responses. At Alabama, players would rep inside zone against every single defensive look that might come up, ensuring it could be called against any opponent.

Hooray.

Brutal. Tom Seeberg, father of Lizzie, speaks on his daughter's death. After issues here this is compelling:

"I think the context of revealing his name maybe adds to maybe why we certainly accused Notre Dame of conducting a superficial investigation," Seeberg said Tuesday on WGWG-FM 87.7. "But maybe it adds context to why they might conduct a superficial investigation. In a he-said-she-said matter, you can quickly gather forensic evidence to try to determine what happened there, or you can let it linger like they did. Let evidence spoil."

Please read the whole item; it's a fair piece for one that comes from father of deceased person who may or may not have been assaulted by a Notre Dame football player. It may have taken a while, but at least Michigan took what action was available to it—ex post facto or not—in its situation. Some of the things Seeberg's father states apparently sans emotion are crippling.

This is the point where it's really easy to fall into either THEY ARE TERRIBLE homerism or I AM OUTRAGED signaling; I'm not trying to do either and the Chicago Tribune does a terrific job of not doing so either while still allowing the to-date mysterious story from the Seebergs to come forth.

Walton profiled. Derrick Walton on The Journey, which remains a disappointingly but understandably whitewashed version of life in the Big Ten:

Damn if they don't get some remarkable video, though. That shot through Trey Burke to Beilein against Kansas… damn.

Well then, do something about it. Mark Cuban's NCAA rant has been disassembled various places, and deservedly. Cuban asserts that the one-and-done rule is somehow the NCAA's deal, and things go downhill from there. He also asserts that people would be better off if the D-League was a real alternative, which it won't ever be because the NBA would rather take the marketing bonanza that is the NCAA tournament and apply it instead of trying to make the Fort Wayne Mad Antz relevant nationally.

There is a solution here. It's easy, actually: the NBA moves to an NHL-style draft where any relevant player is automatically inserted at 18. This preserves their eligibility. The NBA then allows teams to sign draftees but forces them to guarantee contracts one year longer than their eligibility would last (IE, signing a guy out of HS: five year contract, freshman 4 years, etc) except in the case of graduating seniors, who are owed nothing.

If there's a five-round draft, say, that

  • increases NCAA popularity as NBA fans check out their prospects,
  • reduces bad NBA contracts for unready or plain overrated prospects,
  • encourages the NBA to sign guys when they're ready and only then,
  • allows LeBron-type prospects to immediately hit the NBA like they deserve to.

That is a vast improvement on the current system and 1000% more fun than anything Mark Cuban's come up with.

Here's an interesting metric. Bill Connelly has a novel stat: solo tackle rate for offenses. The teams at the top of this ranking correspond closely to spreads: Kansas State, Texas Tech, Arizona State, Baylor, Indiana. Michigan was middle of the pack; MSU and ND towards the bottom. Meaningful? No idea.

Etc.: Nebraska is one win over Wisconsin from punching their NCAA dance ticket. Viva Nebrasketball! Everything you need to know about that one incredible Iowa cheerleader. His name is Oz! Jim Delany is just the worst. Football is  faster than ever now, for a given version of "now" that includes 1968.

Michigan is included as part of a scouting report series on "second-tier" contenders; nothing in it you don't already know except that Michigan apparently struggles against teams that push tempo. Um?