Hoops Mailbag: The Poolebag

Hoops Mailbag: The Poolebag

Submitted by Ace on March 21st, 2018 at 8:04 AM

Yes, this still somehow went in. [JD Scott]

Another tournament week, another multi-part mailbag. This one contains the questions about/inspired by Jordan Poole's buzzer-beater. Yes, I'm as shocked as you are that I sorted them this way. Jump in!

A Free Pass

Hey Ace - Are there any statistics showing whether teams should guard the inbounder in late game situations like against Houston? On the surface, it seems like a huge mistake to let Livers inbound the ball to halfcourt so easily.


While I don't remember seeing such a study and can't find stats on it, I agree that Kelvin Sampson erred in allowing Isaiah Livers to get a clean look on the final play. An opposing staff can only scout so many games, but I'm guessing Houston's coaches didn't get to the Maryland tape.

Even though the outcome of the plays were wildly different, Michigan's game-winners against the Terps and Cougars came on nearly identical setups: Livers hitting Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman with a baseball pass from his own baseline out of a timeout. Neither opponent elected to guard the inbounder even though Livers wasn't allowed to run the baseline.

Maryland's Mark Turgeon explicitly tried to set up his defense to prevent anyone from catching a pass while running towards the Terps basket. Here's how that went:

If you forgot, MAAR nearly got all the way to the hoop, drew a foul, and drained both free throws with the ruthless calm of a serial killer.

Here was Houston's setup:

While the Cougars were more successful in preventing a long pass to a guy on a dead run, they still allowed MAAR to catch the ball a fair distance up the court without any immediate pressure, which let him get upcourt in a hurry even though they had two defenders waiting.

Houston forced a tough shot, but it was still a catch-and-shoot look from a not-entirely-unreasonable distance by a shooter who had the time and space to square up to the basket. That's not a prayer, at least if you're Jordan Poole; ideally, the defense is forcing teams into prayers in that situation.

I don't think having the extra defender back is worth whatever added coverage it provides. Again, Livers can't run the baseline in either of these cases, and he's being asked to throw accurate passes far downcourt. Stick a big man on him and that becomes a great deal more difficult to execute. A tougher pass for Livers means either MAAR has to run farther back to the ball—losing precious time and momentum—or risk never completing the pass at all on a deeper attempt. Beilein's now gushed twice this season about Livers being able to throw pinpoint baseball passes; that's a lot harder to do with a basketball when you're not getting the same amount of space as an actual baseball pitcher.

Recency and confirmation biases may be playing a factor, but I rarely find the fifth defender that stays back even comes into play that often. For the offense, the downside of having the entire court to cover can also be an upside—your players can sprint full-out, which never happens for more than a couple steps in a halfcourt situation. Even with the extra man back, it's hard to keep a team from hitting the player they want—usually after running him through a couple screens—and that can lead, as in Maryland's case, to getting a bunch of players uselessly stuck behind the play while a fast man runs past them.

Houston more productively spent their extra player on MAAR and he still had an easy pass to make because of the amount of space he had on the catch. They did a much better job on the back end than Maryland by preventing MAAR from either driving or pulling up. They still got burned. I thought everyone learned this lesson in 1992: guard the dang inbounder

Or don't, actually. Coaches not doing that is working out pretty nicely for my life.

[Hit THE JUMP for my top-five last-shot-makers of the Beilein era, an evil question that was also the most popular, and MAAR's overlooked move.]

The Creator

The Creator

Submitted by Ace on April 16th, 2014 at 1:31 PM

In today's basketball world, the corner three is superior in value to any shot that doesn't come at the rim. It's also the toughest shot in the game to create for yourself; to do so requires a silky touch, a tapdancer's precision, and the guts and/or stupidity to launch a shot that would earn most players a quick trip to the bench.

Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry covered this topic in exacting detail yesterday, posting this fascinating chart that shows the assist rate for shots made from each spot on the floor—three-pointers usually require assistance, and the rate increases as the shooter gets closer to the baseline [click to embiggen]:

Goldsberry's post focused on the players who could create those high-percentage shots for their teammates, because even in the NBA, finding players who do it themselves is a difficult proposition:

Meanwhile, unassisted corners 3s are the white buffalos of perimeter shooting. They don’t come around too often. As it turns out, dribbling into the corner and firing up a 3 is very difficult, and perhaps unwise, as well. It takes a special kind of player to even attempt this task, as Rudy Gay demonstrates for us here: [GIF of Rudy Gay dribbling into the corner and badly airballing a fallaway attempt]

Which brings me to Nik Stauskas. I've written before about his pregame shootaround routine, but it's worth mentioning again. In addition to practicing the usual spot-up threes from various points around the arc, Stauskas always spent time in the corner working his crossover stepback, a move designed to clear out just enough space to launch from a spot that opponents long ago learned to keep him from at all costs.

Without ever having to look, Stauskas's feet nestled precisely between the three-point line and the sideline, the product of countless practice hours transforming process into instinct. By the end of his Michigan career, he made these audacious warmup attempts at about the same outrageous clip that he hit his normal shots. Michigan's shootarounds were considered must-watch because of the team's—and especially Glenn Robinson's—impromptu dunk exhibitions; for me, however, the Stauskas Stepback was always the highlight.

[Hit THE JUMP for more on Stauskas's incredible shot creation in GIF, still, and chart form. Oh, and some more words, too.]

One Frame At A Time: Big Ten Tournament

One Frame At A Time: Big Ten Tournament

Submitted by Ace on March 18th, 2014 at 3:22 PM

Thank you, Dustin Johnston, for lobbing this softball over the heart of the plate. It's remarkable, not to mention hilarious and captivating, that Jon Horford coexists peacefully on a team with these two hooligans:

Note John Beilein's futile effort to wave Andrew Dakich and Mitch McGary back to the bench. You cannot stop their enthusiasm. You can only hope to contain-- no, that seems impossible, too.

[Hit THE JUMP for Aaron Craft's greatest contribution to the Aaron Craft debate, Nik Stauskas making absurd layups, various moments of Illinois failure, the bench mob takeover, and more.]

One Frame At A Time: Illinois

One Frame At A Time: Illinois

Submitted by Ace on March 6th, 2014 at 11:07 AM

Let's enumerate the wonderful things about this GIF:

  1. The Orange Crush is very bad at casting spells, judging by the two dudes right behind Nik Stauskas.
  2. Stauskas staring down 6'11" Nnanna Egwu for a couple seconds, going "yeah, I got this," and coldly hitting a three in his face.
  3. Derrick Walton meandering back on defense as soon as he sees Stauskas is going to shoot.
  4. Andrew Dakich beginning his roll the dice flourish while the ball is still mid-flight.
  5. Andrew Dakich, period.
  6. Exasperated Orange Crush girl throwing up her WTF hands at the very end.
  7. The Illini fans in the far corner whose will to move/exist has been completely destroyed.

This GIF, by my highly scientific ratings, comes in at #6 for the Illinois game. You're gonna want to hit the jump and watch the rest.

[JUMP and make Tracy Abrams bail the heck out]

Death From Above!

Death From Above!

Submitted by Brian on March 5th, 2014 at 12:22 PM

3/4/2014 – Michigan 84, Illinois 53 – 22-7, 14-3 Big Ten – Outright champs


Good. In your face, Nanna Egwu. Good. [Bryan Fuller]

Before Ace took over full-time basketball preview duties, I wrote many of them. I eschewed "preview" to call these posts "Death From Above," because I thought it sounded cool. I fielded regular questions as to what the hell that meant.

If you want the deep background, "death from above" was a maneuver you could execute in walking-robot-wargame Battletech wherein your giant man-shaped robot would take off and attempt to land on the head of an opposing giant man-shaped robot. The goal was to crush the cockpit and pilot, rendering the exoskeleton inert, dripping ominous fluids.

I can only assume that all has been made clear after Michigan's high-arcing deep shots proved laser-guided at Illinois. John Beilein basketball is death from above.

Assembly Hall (not that Assembly Hall) drips today.


The three pointer has always been the great leveler in college basketball. Poke a random NCAA tourney upset and you're likely to find a bunch of short guys firing in threes as the favorite struggles outside the arc.

John Beilein came of age as a coach in a milieu of random players barely recruited. He found success by taking spare parts and arranging them into a machine that rained in threes. This was generally effective but not as much as legend would have it. Beilein won regular season conference championships twice in ten years at Richmond and Canisius, and finished third in the gargantuan Big East in 2005-2006. His reputation rested on an upset of South Carolina as a 14-seed with Richmond and the Pittsnogle-era WVU team's runs into the Elite Eight and Sweet 16.

But he'd lifted teams without structural advantage. He made every team he'd had competitive after a one-year adjustment period, though, and that seemed like gold to a Michigan fan. At the time the prospect of a consistently .500 Big Ten team with the occasional third-place finish followed  by tourney upsets seemed like heaven. I was stridently in favor of Beilein's hire because I thought he'd turn Michigan into the kind of program that pushes Duke to the brink in the second round.

In that post I asserted that 21-14, 9-9 Michigan would be a one seed in an "exceeded expectations" tournament. I also asserted this:

I've been searching for a Michigan equivalent and in my memory can only come up with the '97 national title team. Unless there was a basketball team that outdid this year's—unlikely—I think you have to go back to 1969 to pull another team that so wildly exceeded what was expected of them.

To find a team with as good a claim to exceeding expectations as this 14-3 outright-Big-Ten-champs outfit that lost Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Mitch McGary you have to go back… uh… one year, when Trey Burke blew up into a Naismith winner and Michigan reached the national title game. The next potential candidate makes you reach back all the way to a team that shared a Big Ten title with Zack Novak at power forward… two years ago.

This is all very strange, not only to us, but to the guy who assembled this unlikely powerhouse.

The warmness inside you right now is thanks to the arc on the court that separates two from three.


The great leveler levels because threes are great shots, amongst the best shots. Beilein structured his entire basketball career around that intuition, constructing small-ball outfits everywhere he's gone. Sometimes he had four shooters; sometimes he had five. One guy probed inside as the other four created space around the arc, giving everyone space and time to find shots at the rim.

While the mechanism has shifted as Michigan acquires ball-screen maestro after ball-screen maestro, the overall pattern remains the same. The bigs shoot 70% because the opponent can't let Michigan get threes off. The threes come when they come and go in at a high clip, and something Beilein is in charge of floats higher than they have been in a long time.

It's only right that at the pinnacle of Beilein's regular season career the threes would rain in at will. Dan Dakich keeps saying "the ball knows." While this is normally irritating to your engineering-oriented author, as Michigan rained in death from above yesterday it did feel a little like the three point line sought to repay him for the long years of faith and devotion.


Well, then. There is very little to say about that game except "please Stauskas don't hurt 'em (except do)." Michigan shot 70% from three, goodnight, analysis over.

Other than the swelling three-point percentages from Michigan's shooters the main takeaway here was that Spike needs to take care of the ball better in the late stages of laughers when he is pursuing a double-digit A:TO ratio across the Big Ten season.

[Speaking of Spike, and since there's not really much to talk about game-wise, remember this site's obsession with NC State hobbit PG Tyler Lewis last year? Lewis was a McDonalds All-American despite being the same stature as Albrecht, and then he proceeded to do very little.

Lewis vs Spike, year two:

%Min ORtg %Poss eFG% ARate TORate Stl% FTRate FT% 2P% 3P%
Lewis 47.7 103.2 17 37.7 31.4 16.7 0.7 29.2 0.763 0.43 0.196
Albrecht 39.3 128.2 13.5 55.1 25.4 13.2 2.1 24.1 0.737 0.462 0.396

Lewis is stuck on a team that doesn't assist on many shots, stats are not the be all and end all, etc., but there's not much question who you'd rather have on your team. Hail this staff's talent identification. This has been Brian's Ongoing Obsession With Random College Basketball Players theater.

There will be no Nnanna Egwu section this time since he's pulled his DREB rate into the solid double-digits.]

But seriously. Strugging to say much of anything… oh, okay.

Jon Horford is really into Camus. There is just a shower of post-title photos featuring members of the team smiling an Jon Horford being Jon Horford, and thinking about things and stuff, deep things and hard stuff.


[Bryan Fuller]

Not even a locker room shot can rouse the corners of Horford's mouth from their slumber:


That's not his postgame photo role, and that's why having Andrew Dakich around is crucial.



Like father, like son.


If I make a joke here I will get a nasty tweet from the man himself [Bryan Fuller]

Non-trivial Horford business. One game ago, Horford got a quick hook in the second half after Mo Walker went to work on him. In this outing, Morgan hurt his back trying to take a charge and was limited to seven minutes. Horford stepped in and picked up ten rebounds; Illinois was limited to five offensive rebounds. On the year, Horford's DREB rate is a McGary-like 26.1.

It's nice to see him bounce back. There have been a number of games this year when one center or the other was having a rough day until the other guy stepped in. Having that flexibility is a big help; hopefully the Morgan withdrawal was a precautionary measure only.

If push comes to shove the obvious move is to try to get through the last few games without him. The only thing at stake now is a two or three seed line.

Speaking of. Expect Michigan to PLAY SOME WEIRD GUYS in the Big Ten tourney. Beilein has always run out some WTF lineups when faced with the possibility of three games in three days, and with Morgan questionable, Max Bielfeldt may be called on for double-digit minutes. Having a 6'6" center is not conducive to winning the Big Ten tourney title, but I don't think Beilein cares one whit about that.

Nobody seems to. A lot of fanbases openly pine for a second-game exit so as to not have three consecutive games before a potential Thursday/Saturday NCAA tournament weekend. They should really just dump the thing and play a couple more conference games, but I don't think the NCAA would let that fly.

Defense? Illinois is a very bad offensive team (206th on Kenpom) but they got worse after Michigan dealt with them. After 1 PPP in the first half, Illinois couldn't do much of anything in the second. That marks consecutive opponents held under a point per possession. This is not exactly the Goin' To Work Pistons yet, but Michigan doesn't have to make a ton of progress in the D department to look like an (even more) dangerous tournament opponent.

No idea exactly why this improvement is going on. If they can maintain that through the next few games that would be encouraging.

Seed lines. Michigan is still stuck on the three-line with little upward mobility unless they can leapfrog the top ACC teams (Syracuse, Duke, Virginia) or pass Wisconsin by winning the Big Ten Title. Jerry Palm did pump Michigan over Duke given Duke's extremely weak road accomplishments and Syracuse is in a full-on tailspin after losing to Georgia Tech at home. (I told you about Syracuse.) If the Orange lose their season-ender against Florida State, a game that Kenpom predicts will be a nailbiter, they could drop to the three line and open up a slot for Michigan as a two. Virginia will provide competition there.

Not that it matters much this year, as one of the most wide-open tournaments in memory beckons.


Glennwatch. Did some good things—couple steals, good work from within the arc, a three. Drove to the bucket for a basket, too. His steal lead to a fast break on which Tracy Abrams got a contest in that by all rights should have forced a layup attempt. NOPE. Dunk metropolis.

Afterwards Abrams looked like he'd seen the Ark of the Covenant.


ENHANCE [Bryan Fuller]

One negative thing: he's got to stop bringing the ball up when he gets a rebound. His handle is very vulnerable to open-court steals and he doesn't initiate much transition offense.

Also, he took a contested three-point jack. That is vaguely acceptable if you are Nik Stauskas who rains death from above. When you're at 27% on the year, don't take that shot. Taking open ones, okay. Those are still decent to good shots even for a guy locked in a sophomore slump as bad as Tim Hardaway Jr's. That hand-in-the-face stuff not so much.

Still, we can add this to the recent string of encouraging GRIII performances after 13 points on 10 shot equivalents.

Just when you thought he was bottled up. Stauskas is 12 of 17 from three in his last two games, pushing his season average to 46%. One of them was a contested jack in front of 6'11" Nnanna Egwu. Another was from the parking lot right before the half. Good lord.

This is why Michigan should not settle for long twos early in the shot clock, because at any time they can get a switch and have a guy take a pretty decent three point look.

The climb. Remember early in the year when people were projecting Wisconsin would walk away with the title because of schedule imbalance? Well, Michigan's single plays were Northwestern, Penn State, Illinois, and Ohio State. The only team not in the vicinity of the bottom of the Big Ten standings is OSU, and Michigan only got a road game against them. This is the opposite of a fluke.

The Wizardry of Nik Stauskas

The Wizardry of Nik Stauskas

Submitted by Ace on January 29th, 2014 at 4:01 PM

Swish. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]

In the last three games, Michigan earned their status as the team to beat in the Big Ten by sandwiching road wins at Wisconsin and Michigan State around a home victory over Iowa; all three teams ranked in the AP top ten when they played the Wolverines and sit at #6 (Iowa), #8 (MSU), and #14 (Wisconsin) in the latest KenPom rankings. Michigan ranks #7 on KemPom themselves after entering the Kohl Center at #19.

This brilliant three-game stretch also vaulted Nik Stauskas up the NBA Draft boards (from unranked to #14 in Chad Ford's latest rankings[$]), gave him the inside track for Big Ten MVP, and landed him the #8 spot in the KenPom POY standings. Before I get to the video breakdown, here are Stauskas' numbers from the last three games:

  • 68 total points (22.7/game) on 10/19 2-pt, 12/24 3-pt, 12/13 FT shooting
  • 13 assists to five turnovers, 11 rebounds (one off.), three blocks, three steals
  • 28 points generated by assists (includes FTM)
  • 96 points generated on 74 possessions used* for a mark of 1.30 points per possession
  • Let me state that again: 1.30 POINTS PER POSSESSION

Keep in mind that, while Wisconsin is struggling defensively (#10 in B1G defensive efficiency), Michigan State and Iowa rank first and third in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency. Those numbers are patently ridiculous; just as impressive is the variety of ways Stauskas generated those points. I compiled a video of every point Stauskas produced in the last three games, broken down by how the shot originated. It is highly recommended viewing:

Apologies for the slight audio issues in the Iowa clips.

Stauskas scored in just about every fashion imaginable, regardless of how opponents tried to defend him, and created most of his points himself—only six of his points and two of his assists came off non-transition spot-up opportunities. The "Not Just A Shooter™" meme is a tired one at this point; that doesn't mean it's not fitting.

For further examination of how Stauskas is this outrageously productive, hit the jump.


One Frame At A Time: Iowa & Michigan State

One Frame At A Time: Iowa & Michigan State

Submitted by Ace on January 28th, 2014 at 3:13 PM

John Beilein, with 4:01 left, more enraged than he's been since Costco raised the price of tube socks:

John Beilein, 1:33 of game time later:

John Beilein is Walter White if Walter White is also Benjamin Button and boy did this sentence get convoluted in a hurry.

Also, note Michigan's 8-0 run over that span. Coaches, if you have the self-control to not lose your mind at every opportunity, the moments when you completely lose your mind have a much greater impact. This is the Law of Beilein, and I'm totally not basing it on one piece of circumstantial evidence. Nope.

[Hit THE JUMP for Nik Stauskas, more Nik Stauskas, various reactions to Nik Stauskas, and a whole lot more from the last two games.]

Michigan 80, Michigan State 75

Michigan 80, Michigan State 75

Submitted by Ace on January 25th, 2014 at 10:29 PM


I apologize in advance for my inability to form complete thoughts. That game was excruciating right up until the point when it was glorious, which was... the very end, basically.

After quickly losing an early eight-point lead, Michigan fell behind Michigan State by as much as eight points at the 13:29 mark of the second half, mostly due to the heroics of Gary Harris. While hounding Nik Stauskas on the one end, Harris was unstoppable on the other, pouring in a game-high 27 points while adding five rebounds, two assists, and three steals.

The Wolverines clawed back thanks to some remarkable guard play of their own. Nik Stauskas hit five of his six three-point attempts, scored 19 points, dished out four assists, and capped off the effort by trolling the Izzone. His triple with 3:12 remaining gave Michigan a three-point lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Michigan didn't lose that lead in large part due to Derrick Walton, whose 19 points matched Stauskas for the team lead. Ten of those came in the final 2:29, beginning with a fast-break and-one layup after Caris LeVert threaded a perfect outlet pass that hit Walton in stride. Walton also knocked down both of his three-point attempts, 2/4 of two-pointers, and 9/10 from the stripe—8/9 in the game's waning moments. On defense, he helped limit Keith Appling to ten points on 3/11 shooting. If the freshman point guard was nervous, it didn't show.

LeVert scored 17 of his own and pulled down eight rebounds. There was bad with the good—Harris often had his way with LeVert offensively, though that's not a huge knock, and LeVert's three assists were canceled out by three turnovers—but his ability to snake into the lane proved critical, as did his free-throw shooting down the stretch.

Jon Horford also stepped up big, connecting on all three of his field goals and contributing three boards and three blocks. Jordan Morgan rebounded well—four of his five came on offense—but was limited severely by foul trouble. Glenn Robinson III scored nine but struggled with his shot. Mitch McGary, meanwhile, provided valuable coaching advice in the late stages:


In the end, Michigan's total team effort overcame a remarkable performance from Harris and a shorthanded Michigan State squad (I'm required to mention this by law). It also finished off a three-game gauntlet that the Wolverines improbably got through unscathed:

Like, really improbably.

The end result: Michigan is alone in first place in the Big Ten, the last undefeated squad standing, and the schedule eases up significantly during the next three games—Purdue, at Indiana, and Nebraska. Despite breaking in a freshman point guard, dealing with the loss of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., and losing Mitch McGary before conference play began, Michigan is in the driver's seat on the road to the conference title.

Kisses, everyone.