The past four games have been a rude awakening for a Michigan basketball team once thought to be the best in the country. That same team is now looking up at three teams in the Big Ten standings, not to mention swiftly falling from contention for a one-seed.
The first two losses of this 1-3 stretch were understandable in both outcome and form; losing competitive games at Indiana and Wisconsin—while getting royally screwed by the officials in the latter—is understandable for a team of any caliber. Last night's debacle in the Breslin Center, however, took the cracks exposed in the three prior games and turned them into gaping crevasses.
In an effort to figure out how much to panic, how much to not, and where we go from here, here's a collection of thoughts on this recent stretch.
JOHN BEILEIN CAN'T MAKE HIS PLAYERS OLDER
I shut off my laptop last night after getting multiple tweets asking if John Beilein was at least a big part of the problem. As far as I can tell, Beilein made one critical coaching error last night: removing Trey Burke after his third foul, which sparked a quick 5-0 Spartan run early in the second half. At that point, however, State had already spent the game imposing their will on Michigan, and with the way the game played out it's hard to imagine Burke being in the game for that two-minute stretch would've changed the outcome.
The problem is not John Beilein, who's done a masterful job of putting this team together and coaching them into an offensive juggernaut. The problem is that he can't make his players any older, and now we're seeing why that's an issue. As it turns out, getting experience on the fly in the toughest conference in the country makes for some growing pains; there's no knowing how five freshmen (six if you count Max Bielfeldt) are going to respond when thrown into critical roles in adverse situations.
Ideally, this is a team that would come back intact next year and be an odds-on favorite to make the Final Four—they need the experience, conditioning, and added size. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening are slim to none.
INTERIOR DEFENSE IS A PROBLEM
The hope was that an unstoppable offense would cover for Michigan's defensive shortcomings, but when the offense isn't unstoppable, boy do those shortcomings get exposed. Even in the victory over Ohio State, the Wolverines got abused on the interior defensively, and their two-point defense is now dead last in the conference—B1G opponents connect on 48.9% of their twos against Michigan.
The injury to Jordan Morgan, the team's best on-ball interior defender, has hurt, but the problems go much deeper. Mitch McGary is an active defender with a ton of potential on that end, but he's also prone to freshman mistakes and positional errors, like the one that allowed Jared Berggren to drive for an and-one dunk late in the Wisconsin game. Jon Horford isn't at the same level of on-ball defense as Morgan and he fouls far too much—7.7(!) per 40 minutes in conference play.
Then there's Robinson, who's clearly hit a wall and is struggling mightily to defend larger players. He's not big enough to defend a guy like Derrick Nix or Adreian Payne one-on-one, nor does he have the stamina at this point to attempt to do so and still have an impact on the other end of the floor. He's missing switches and has been late getting out to his man on the perimeter—freshman mistakes, and ones that can't be made in critical moments.
Michigan can spell Robinson with Max Bielfeldt for stretches, but Bielfeldt's offensive limitations make that only a stopgap solution—by my charting, in about a game's worth of offensive possessions in conference play with Bielfeldt on the floor, Michigan is scoring just 0.90 points per possession. The Wolverines are going to need Robinson to find a way out of his funk, plain and simple.
BURKE IS STILL THE LONE CREATOR
When the best point guard in the country leaves the court, there's obviously going to be a bit of a dropoff offensively. Michigan's Burke-free offense is downright stagnant, however, because none of the other players can create a shot at the rim off the dribble.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is still too easy to pickpocket when he puts the ball on the floor inside the arc; last night, you could see him overcompensate by trying to shield the ball with his entire body, which led to some ugly twisting layup attempts in traffic. He's much better when he can drive to the free-throw line and pull up, but opponents have learned to take that part of the court away.
Robinson, for all his athleticism, still hasn't proven himself a threat off the dribble. Nik Stauskas could be that guy, especially with his skill in pick-and-roll situations, but the last four games he's been invisible when his outside shot isn't falling. Caris LeVert isn't strong enough to get all the way to the hoop, forcing him to try an array of pull-up jumpers that aren't falling with any consistency.
The pieces all fit together when Burke is on the floor. When he's not, this team is disjointed and surprisingly easy to defend—take away Hardaway's drive to the middle, don't sag off of Stauskas, and let them miss tough shots.
THE SILVER LINING
Even the most optimistic of Wolverine partisans would've been at least grudgingly accepting of a 2-2 record over the last four games, especially with Morgan hobbled. Despite all of the above, Michigan came within a half-court shot of just that. The last four games also don't discount what happened in the first 21; let there be no mistake, this is still a team that can get hot at the right time and win a six-game single-elimination tournament (yes, that one). Is that likely? Well, probably not. Is it within reason? Sure, if the matchups fall their way.
In fact, this team can still grab a share of the Big Ten title. In a conference that is cannibalizing itself, the Wolverines have one of the easier closing slates—including playing Penn State twice in the next three games—before the season finale against Indiana. If Michigan beats the teams they should beat, they may find themselves in control of their own destiny at the very end after all.
Also, this team still has Trey Burke, who still very much deserves his status as a national player of the year contender. He is still a joy to watch, and this is almost certainly the last time he'll be in a Michigan uniform. I, for one, am going to do everything in my power to sit back and enjoy the privilege of seeing him play.
So, Tuesday's classic Ohio State game produced 28 gifs. Those who watched the game should not be surprised by this fact. They'll be split up into two posts today, and starting today there's going to be a new feature: gif rankings. The gifs from each game will be ranked in a completely arbitrary order of greatness by my choosing. There will also be a reader poll pitting the winner against the winner of the previous game's post to determine the reigning gif champ. Without further ado, here's this week's number one, and oh my goodness it is amazing:
FRAMES OF THE GAME
Obviously, the guy who thanks the heavens is the star attraction, but this isn't a one-man show. There's the guy just above Rapture Guy getting nearly as emotional. There's overalls girl unleashing a primal wolf-howl. There's the girl in front wearing a "Even LeBron Hates Ohio" shirt—though, unfortunately, not the MGoApproved version.
But really, it's all about Rapture Guy. Nik Stauskas has just hit a go-ahead three late in regulation, and this makes him happier than I've ever been in my entire life. That is not a sad statement, because he has reached the pinnacle of happiness. You can actually witness the exact moment when every bad feeling he's ever had in his entire life is expelled towards the heavens, leaving only pure joy and a deep, deep love for Michigan basketball. I envy this man, and I salute him.
[After THE JUMP, the rest of the game's top ten gifs, and your chance to vote on a winner so obvious that this better be unanimous.]
2/6/2013 – Michigan 76, Ohio State 74 (OT) – 21-2, 8-2 Big Ten
I guarantee Tim Hardaway Jr has never heard of obscure indie band Rilo Kiley or heard "A Better Son/Daughter" or even seen The Wizard, in which then-preteen future obscure indie band singer Jenny Lewis debuted along with Super Mario 3. (It was a heady time.) But I also guarantee that for most of the second half he heard that song he had never heard, the bit about sometimes when you're on.
Mitch McGary sings "La Cucaracha" to himself most of the time, but especially during basketball games.
INNER LIFE OF MITCH MCGARY
/INNER LIFE OF MITCH MCGARY
Nik Stauskas… obvious.
One day Nik Stauskas will find out that not everybody in the whole world has BALL SO HARD going through their head 24 hours a day, and a lot of previously inexplicable things will magically explain themselves. That one time he cut off an old lady at the supermarket and spiked her baguette to the floor. The aftermaths of various domino-spiking incidents. That thing about racing a horse. &c.
Glenn Robinson III hears nothing but jet engine takeoff, and knows nothing about the world of music. He knows the roar of escape velocity only. He can talk to birds. Birds are in fact sick of talking to Glenn Robinson III. Excuse birds, they have to go regurgitate some food now.
Trey Burke… Trey Burke is a tough one.
Narrative whatnots ranging from your own to trash-talking Ohio State fans on twitter to Mike Tirico and Dick Vitale tell you that Craft versus Burke was once again a victory for Craft and his infuriating brand of that's-80%-of-a-foul-argh defense. Then you go look at a box score that tells you Burke put up 16 points on 12 shots and had eight assists against two turnovers, and your brain has an ellipses as it tries to fit that into the thing you thought might have happened.
Then you remember that Michigan's grand strategy at the end of the game and OT was "Burke, go do something" and the resulting tough stepback threes were more on Beilein walking Burke into a trap with no time on the clock than any fault of his, and you revise that shot count down to ten and… well. First of all, it's impressive that Burke only took ten shots from the structure of the offense. He is an alpha dog. His natural inclination when things get heated is to take everything on his shoulders, and this game wasn't heated so much as it was generating enough energy to thaw most of the state should a Crisler door blow open at an opportune time. Burke still kept himself even-keeled.
Previous Ohio State games have featured plenty of frustrating moments when the pick and roll has been more of an invitation to get trapped towards the sidelines than a way to generate offense, and while there was a bit of that here, it was less prominent. Multiple times Burke turned a tough drive into a kickout three instead of a low-percentage two, and I felt surprise. This is a guy who wants to put it on his shoulders, sometimes to Michigan's detriment. Here he dialed it back a bit—22% usage versus 32% in Columbus—and found plenty of payoff in the form of Hardaway and Stauskas raining in threes.
Those stepbacks at the end of the game were an alternate scenario largely avoided. Burke had to absorb some Buddhism in this one, and win the game without winning it.
Except, of course, for the part where he won it. The part where he almost seemed to let Craft by him on purpose because he knew a pullup in the lane was coming, and thwacked the ball to Glenn Robinson to preserve the slimmest of all leads—to preserve their claim to being elite. It's the bit of the box score you hardly look at because Trey Burke is generously listed at six feet tall.
Aaron Craft is Ohio State's primary assist generator. He had one in this game, a game in which his team put up 55% from two. None of that was generated by Craft, who turned the ball over as much as Burke and found out that putting the game on your shoulders is a grand burden indeed. On the last three possessions Burke stripped him, blocked him, and rode him into the doom of Tim Hardaway. The last play was pure Craft: riding your man down the court on the edge of a foul, forcing his attention onto you on his shoulder until it is too late.
That's not in the box score. The tree of victory sometimes grows from silent soil. Or something like that. I'm not much better at being Buddhist than Trey Burke.
I'm not sure what Trey Burke's life soundtrack is. Could be Vivaldi or Bombs Over Baghdad. It's probably all things smashed together; Burke puts one headphone to an ear and mashes things together until the thing that comes out doesn't seem like it could have been constructed from the parts that went in.
Rucker park. I couldn't have been the only one who thought about that Kevin Durant video when THJ was going NBA Jam:
There was a nonzero chance of that fourth one resulting in the same court rush.
Begone, heroball. Brief digression on why the fadeaway three from Burke in the previous Ohio State game was okay and this one drove me nuts:
DOWN TWO ON ROAD: If you get a two you have an approximately 50% chance to win. If you get a three you win. If the two is twice as likely to go down (or get you free throws that you make) as the three, it's even. Since you're on the road your chance of winning is slightly lower, so… even if you think that Burke three was only 30% to go in, the drive would have to be around 65-70% to be a clearly better option. (A potential OSU response is irrelevant since any bucket they get means you lose.)
TIED AT HOME: Go get a damn point. If the drive is at all likelier to get you a damn point it is a better idea. It is likelier to get you a damn point. So go get it.
Michigan is an exceedingly low-turnover outfit with multiple excellent scoring options. Putting Burke in a one-on-one situation against the best perimeter defender in college basketball is not your best option, and the potential downside is not just a turnover but a turnover that comes early enough for the opponent to get a meaningful possession. Yeah, it's not impossible, but the reward outweighs the risk.
The 1-4 set late is the equivalent of run-run-pass-punt when you're up late in football. Easy to justify, statistically poor.
I may have to dump the Big Puppy nickname if McGary is going to play like this, not that I have a huge problem with it. (Upchurch @ right.)
Impact. Mitch McGary has it.
He kept Michigan in contact in the first half with dives to the bucket and putbacks, going 5/8. He'd finish 7 of 13, the only Wolverine to hit more than half his twos—the only one to make more than two. The rebounding numbers aren't astounding—3 offensive, 3 defensive—but four steals against one foul is. He is coming over entry passes and busting them up at a rate I haven't seen before from a Michigan player.
In addition to the box score stuff, he was all over the court doing his usual McGary things. Whenever I look at the Kenpom boxes it seems like Michigan has more "team" rebounds on both offense and defense than the opponent. This feels like a McGary halo effect from the guy battering all manner of balls about. For example, late in the game he harassed Lenzelle Smith into the sideline as he attempted to rebound a Michigan miss. Michigan got the ball and a "team" offensive rebound. In the highlights above he hedges Craft into the sideline; Craft attempts to save the possession by hurling the ball off of McGary; the ball deflects to Robinson, who gets credit for a steal* and Michigan fast-breaks the other way. He's a massive possession generator statistically and there's an excellent case to be made that he is being shortchanged by those stats.
McGary's not a slug on offense, either. He can put the ball on the deck for a couple dribbles against other fives; in this one Amir Williams had an excellent block on one of those drives, but the other ended in a layup. His skill level is relatively high for a big. And he does all that other business.
At this point he's swung back from overrated to underrated. I mean, is there much difference between what he's giving M and what Nerlens Noel is giving Kentucky? Noel blocks a butt-ton of shots; McGary is an incredible rebounder on both ends of the floor. They're about even in offensive efficiency. So… who would you rather have? It's at least up for debate if McGary continues pulling down the minutes he has the last couple games.
*[I'm pretty sure that's the letter of the law, right?]
Alright. Defense is something of an issue. Michigan overplayed Deshaun Thomas to decent effect—or Ohio State just forgot to go to him late—and held him to 17 points on 15 shots. Given OSU's struggles to find secondary scoring you would take that as an easy Michigan win when paired with shooting nearly 60% from three.
That was not the case thanks in large part to LaQuinton Ross, who went nuts. He hit seven of ten shots and probably didn't have more than one empty possession since he rebounded a lot of his misses.
Add in Sam Thompson, Amir Williams, and Lenzelle Smith hitting eight of ten twos—Smith had a poor day from three—and that's how Ohio State kept pace with Hardaway's beast mode second half. Everyone other than Craft and Deshaun Thomas was throwing down easy stuff. Michigan said "someone other than Thomas will beat us" and Ohio State was like "okay."
Q: where was the zone? Ohio State struggled against the 2-3 zone in the previous game. Michigan pulled it out briefly and it seemed to be going fairly well. For whatever reason, the coaches didn't like the way it looked and went back to what turned out to be a highly porous man to man.
Revisiting the Morgan thing. I don't know if that's really the issue. I mean, how bad does McGary have to be positionally to wipe out four steals and assorted other turnover generation? Overhelping accusations go back to that discussion about whether that's on the big or the guy who gave up the drive the big felt he had to respond to. There's nothing in the way of stats that suggests Morgan is integral to the defense, so we're left with fuzzy business about rotations. I don't know. My eyes say that 1) McGary is playing really well and 2) Michigan is playing badly on defense. I can't reconcile those.
On the other hand. Hi I just watched the MGoBlue highlights embedded above and they happen to have a good deal of OSU's secondary scoring included. Sam Thompson's 3/3 night consisted of a transition tip dunk and two tough shots, one a baseline runner (not included), the other a baseline 18-footer with a decent contest from Stauskas. Lenzelle Smith's game-tier is a scramble off an offensive rebound that still sees Stauskas chase him off the three-point line with a closeout and forces him to re-set and fire from just inside the arc. That's a pretty good outcome off that OREB.
Maybe OSU just had a good game? There's a lot of randomness in here.
Rebounding check. This looked basically even in the ESPN box score but as per usual, once the whirlwind effect of McGary bouncing balls off all of the faces is taken into account, Michigan comes out looking better. With five team rebounds to OSU's two that pushes them up to 38% to 32%, which is a moderate edge.
More than halfway through the conference season their rebounding is holding up much better than it was last year: they're third on D, fourth on O. Last year they finished 9th and 10th in those categories, respectively. The rest of the schedule is four easy games and four hard ones, so that doesn't seem to be a schedule effect.
Uniformz. I was trying to ignore them as best I could. Unfortunately twitter was nonstop trash-talk about them until the game became so good Michigan could have come out in garbage bags elaborately festooned with penises bearing Dave Brandon's face and no one would have noticed. Twitter, I am trying to grit the ol' teeth here, and you are not helping.
I don't care anymore. This is the scene in Planet of the Apes after Charlton Heston screams "YOU MANIACS YOU BLEW IT UP" in which Charlton turns to his companion and says "I'm hungry, do you guys still have Jimmy John's?" It is what it is. It'll slowly erode my will to live, but whatever. I've said my bit.
The one thing I'd like to mention: Michigan handed out honest-to-god Maize shirts for the Maizeout. I didn't know they actually made those anymore, and can we pick a yellow? No, we cannot pick a yellow.
"But the kids like them." The first album I ever bought was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack. I memorized it. Kids are stupid.
Oblig. ref bit. Spent entire second half grinding my teeth about the Craft post-buzzer (except there was no buzzer) three. Why was there no buzzer? I'm pretty sure the refs can't look at the player and the shot clock at the same time, so they have to rely on the noise. No noise, no shot clock violation. That may be on Crisler instead of the refs. Nik Stauskas put up a prayer after the buzzer went off later, but there was no buzzer so it didn't go off and there was no call.
The phantom foul on Burke was probably the right result since Hardaway did get Thomas's arm on the shot. The ref missed it and had to make up some bullcrap on Burke once it was clear Thomas had airballed it implausibly, but it was a foul. Just not on the dude who got it.
The offensive goaltending non-call… oy.
The sequence at the end was classic late-game ref ostriching: it was a flagrant on Craft and probably a foul on Hardaway. Sometimes they let you get away with some extra contact when you get your hand literally on top of the ball, as Hardaway did. I can see not calling that because by the time the arm contact starts in earnest Hardaway has already destroyed any chance of a shot. Still seemed foul-y to me.
Don't get me started on the "let them decide it on the floor" meme. They are deciding it on the floor as long as you call the game the way you should.
Aaron Craft lay on the floor, hands behind his head, defeated.
For 45 minutes, Craft and his Buckeyes put up a hell of a fight, trading blows with Trey Burke's Michigan squad in front of an electric Crisler Center crowd. Both point guards had their moments of triumph—Burke tallying 16 points and eight assists with just two turnovers, Craft pocketing three steals and scoring 11 points of his own.
In overtime, though, Burke came out on top, redeeming his missed three at the end of regulation with an improbable pull-up triple on Michigan's first overtime possession—a shot that would ultimately provide the winning points. Craft had a jumper from the elbow to give Ohio State the win with the shot clock turned off, but it was Burke's turn to win with his defensive exploits, swatting the shot to Glenn Robinson III. Craft was forced to foul—hard enough to get a review, as it turned out—and Robinson gave the Wolverines a two-point lead with his first free throw. The second was off the mark, however, and the ball found its way to Craft, who quickly drove the length of the court for a game-tying layup, only to be blocked again by Tim Hardaway Jr., and left to stare at the rafters waiting for a whistle that never came.
It was a classic finish to a classic game, in front of a Crisler crowd that was louder than any since the days of the Fab Five (or so I'm told—it was certainly the loudest I've heard dating back to the Ellerbe era). Michigan landed the first haymaker, racing out to an 18-8 lead, but the Buckeyes crawled their way back into it—a jumper from unexpected star LaQuinton Ross gave the visitors a 31-30 halftime edge.
Ohio State pushed their lead to as much as eight in the second half, but they couldn't find an answer for Hardaway, who hit all five of his second-half three-point attempts—including triples on three straight Wolverine possessions—en route to a game-high 23 points. Still, the Wolverines struggled to close the gap completely, failing to guard the interior time and again. It wasn't until a Nik Stauskas three with 3:23 to play that Michigan finally retook the lead, one that lasted all of 24 seconds before an Amir Williams free throw tied it up. After trading buckets, Burke's last-second triple caught only iron to bring on overtime.
While Jordan Morgan was limited to four ineffective minutes with a lingering ankle injury, Mitch McGary (at left, Upchurch) shined in 29 productive minutes—his 14 points proved huge, but even bigger were his four steals and stellar outlet passing, sparking the offense without putting the ball in the hoop himself. When Morgan is back at 100%, he'll still have his starting spot—Jon Horford again got the start tonight—but McGary has made his play for a bigger chunk of the minutes. Fellow freshman Stauskas knocked down 3-of-5 triples to do his part, while Robinson again struggled offensively, needing eight shots to notch ten points.
For the Buckeyes, Deshaun Thomas led the way as usual with 17 points, but Robinson's improved defensive effort forced him to take 15 shots to get there. Instead, it was Ross who repeatedly came up with big shots, pouring in 16 while shooting 7-for-10 from the field.
When the final buzzer sounded, however, it was Michigan coming away with the narrowest of victories. A missed call here, a lucky shot there, any small moment could have made the difference; this time it's the Buckeyes who will stare at the ceiling and wonder.
For 25 minutes, it had all the makings of an upset.
Purdue entered Crisler Center as a 16.5-point underdog despite winning their last three games handily, while the home favorites had to shake off the rust from a weeklong layoff. Michigan looked listless offensively and lost defensively as the Boilermakers built a one-point halftime lead on the strength of seven first-half three-pointers.
For the first five minutes of the second half, it was more of the same—Michigan and Purdue trading baskets as the home crowd's consternation grew. Then Glenn Robinson III, playing against his father's alma mater—not to mention a school that couldn't find a scholarship for the in-state high school star—drilled a three from the corner. After baskets by Nik Stauskas and Trey Burke, he bookended a 10-0 Wolverine run with a three from the same spot.
From that point forward, Michigan put it in cruise control, especially after Stauskas exterminated a last-gasp 6-0 Purdue run with a three of his own. The Wolverines, tested mightily on their home court by the team that ruined last season's Senior Day, had managed to survive.
Robinson finished with 12 points and nine rebounds, but unlike previous games those points didn't come quietly. Before sparking the second-half run, Robinson jolted a sleepy crowd to their feet with a huge one-handed slam over DJ Byrd late in the first half after beating two defenders to the baseline. Robinson denied having any extra motivation against Purdue after the game, but his actions said otherwise.
Trey Burke didn't knock down any of his four three-point attempts; otherwise, he was his usual All-American-caliber self, hitting 6-of-10 twos en route to 15 points and a 8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Purdue attempted to pin Burke to the sideline when Michigan ran the pick-and-roll, but Michigan adjusted, often flipping the pick* to free up their point guard.
Stauskas and Tim Hardaway did their part, especially from outside, combining for 25 points and 5-for-9 three-point shooting. However, Stauskas struggled guarding Byrd, who hit some NBA-distance threes in scoring 11 first-half points. In the second half, John Beilein gave Hardaway the task of shutting down the Purdue sharpshooter; Byrd failed to score in the game's final stanza, and the Boilermakers as a team went 0-for-9 from beyond the arc in the second half.
It wasn't the prettiest win for Michigan, but John Beilein—who was just 3-7 against Matt Painter's Purdue teams entering the game—was happy nonetheless with the effort. At halftime, he challenged his team to show more mental toughness.
"They responded really well. Really well," Beilein said, with a hint of a smile creeping across his face.
*having the screener set up on one side, then "flip" over to the other side of the defender
John Beilein likes to say that the best defensive rebound is one by his point guard. Why? That's the best way to get out in transition. I decided to investigate Beilein's claim—at least as it applies to Michigan—by going through this season's play-by-plays and charting each defensive rebound.
In the (chart?) chart below, I've tracked each defensive rebound as well as any resulting fast break field goal attempts or drawn shooting fouls—a fast break, in this case, being defined as any shot coming within 10 seconds of the defensive rebound, so long as the ball remained in play the whole time. Also in the chart is how often each player gets a fast break assist or made basket off their own defensive rebound. "% Opp" is the percentage of individual defensive rebounds that result in fast break field goal attempts or drawn shooting fouls, and "% Conv" is the percentage of made fast break FGA and shooting fouls drawn.
SPOILER ALERT: Beilein's theory is correct.
GOOD PLAYERS ARE GOOD
Trey Burke is far and away the best on the team at turning defensive rebounds into transition opportunties, and the reasons are two-fold. For one, it's Trey Burke—you know, the guy you want running the fast break. Second, as you can see in the video at the top of the post, as a diminutive point guard many of Burke's rebounds come on shots that carom far away from the basket, providing a better chance to turn and run than a rebound in the charge circle.
Burke is also the best at converting his own rebound at the other end, with—surprise!—Tim Hardaway Jr. second in that regard; both have seven made baskets off their own rebounds while Hardaway has one more free throw opportunity... off 34 more defensive boards. Though Burke converts at a higher rate, Hardaway has the highest defensive rebound rate on the team by a non-center, and you can see just how valuable his newfound dedication to that area is to the team.
MCGARY'S OUTLET PASSING
Jordan Morgan (and, in small sample size territory, Jon Horford) has a rate well below the team average when it comes to turning defensive rebounds into transition opportunities, which is understandable: as a center, he's not turning and leading the break, and most of his boards come from right under the basket, where it's hardest to spark a transition opportunity.
That makes McGary's ability to turn 48.1% of his defensive rebounds into fast break chances—a better rate than Hardaway—all the more impressive. The difference, as far as I can tell, is in McGary's outlet passing; he's got surprisingly good court vision, which allows him to turn quickly off a rebound and find his point guard. This is one area where McGary has a decided edge on Morgan, especially since his defensive rebound rate is also higher.
GAP BETWEEN FRESHMEN: NOT THE ONE YOU'D EXPECT
What surprised me most when putting this together was the gap between Nik Stauskas (53.1% Opp) and Glenn Robinson III (32.1%). While Robinson matches up against bigger players, ending up closer to the hoop for rebound opportunities, he's also the more athletic of the two. It's Stauskas, however, who's the only player besides Burke to crack 50% in major minutes—this despite rarely being involved in the play at the other end of the floor.
Perhaps there's a lot of noise in these numbers given the sample size (I'd say yes—I'm mostly ignoring the "% Conv" figure because of this) but that doesn't entirely explain that large a gap. Like with the big men, I believe this has to do with the difference in court vision and passing ability; so far this season, Stauskas has proven himself the more adept passer. Meanwhile, Robinson still seems to be adjusting to the college game; in a year, I'd bet his transition rate will be better than Jordan Morgan's.
[Hit THE JUMP for an update on the Kobe Assist and Adjusted Points Per Shot numbers from last month.]
Glenn Robinson III, quite casually, threw down a 360 dunk against Minnesota. I have no memory of a Michigan player ever doing the same, let alone with such ease. So, yeah, the full gif treatment is in order. Above is a little photoshop job, because something about that play didn't quite feel real. Below, every damn replay angle imaginable [click each thumbnail for the gif]:
[For the rest of the Minnesota gifs, featuring several more dunks and John Beilein's strange facial tic, hit THE JUMP.]
1/17/2013 – Michigan 83, Minnesota 75 – 17-1, 4-1 Big Ten
Trey Burke came to Michigan fully-formed, a stone-hearted superman with a wicked handle and cool demeanor. His only vulnerability is Craftonite. In year two he's improved, of course; he remains essentially Trey Burke, just smoother.
If he does indeed take off for the NBA after this year his impact on Michigan fans will be almost that of spectacular a one-and-done player. An Anthony Davis, a Carmelo Anthony. I beheld this, and it was the unchanging visage of glory! Yea, and it spoke unto me thusly: I ARRIVED AND I WAS.I LEFT AND I AM.
Tim Hardaway came to Michigan as a tall Stu Douglass. He was a streaky gunner who accumulated box score things largely because balls bounce unpredictably and eventually some of them come to you. The tempo-free lines of Douglass and Hardaway from that year are different only in that Hardaway took a bunch more shots and never turned the ball over*. Last year those numbers didn't move much except that the threes didn't go in, and people despaired.
Tim Hardaway is no longer that guy. Even on a night where he hit seven of eight shots he made the rest of the box score relevant: five rebounds, three assists, six(!) turnovers, two blocks, three steals. This is a sanity check for what you are seeing.
You are seeing this: Minnesota is on its horse trying to catch up with Michigan, and they are in the midst of one of those putback-rebound-putback-rebound sequences that inevitably end with a ball going in the basket or free throws. Andre Hollins has the ball surrounded by three Michigan players, and goes up with it and suddenly he does not have it. A jam-packed Williams Arena howls. Dick Vitale exclaims something along the lines of "NO FOUL HOW CAN THAT BE"—and you're kind of like yeah I mean seriously—as Tim Hardaway Jr. flies upcourt with the ball, a seven point lead, and 35 of the 100 seconds left in the game on the shot clock.
When they put the replay on, it's Hardaway airborne. He has jumped in a way that makes it seem like he has already made the decision to foul this guy and not permit a layup, that way-too-early jump that gets you on top of the guy so you can sit on his head and prevent him from getting a three point play. Hollins shows the ball, and Hardaway just, like, takes it. The meme generator in the head goes "yoink." Vitale's says "that looks like ball" and you're kind of like yeah. Imean, seriously.
Hardaway gets ranked on Kenpom's defensive rebounding leaderboard now, as a wing. That is has a very real impact on Michigan's bottom line—they've gone from #99 to the #3 in that stat. He is no longer the frequent target of CUMONG TIM brain rages on defensive possessions. His fouls are down; his steals and blocks are up. The little man in your head with the gavel who sits in judgment of all shots is screaming "TAKE THAT" on 80-90% of Hardaway's attempts, and fist-pumping as Hardaway knocks down nearly 40% of his threes.
When Burke was still shaking off the effects of Sunday's encounter with Craft and Minnesota was blazing the nets from three, hitting their first five attempts, Hardaway had the answer. He kept Michigan level until his bros showed up. When Burke was rattled, Hardaway stepped up. Last year this is a guy who specialized in the long two with a ton of time on the clock. If Tim Hardaway is still that guy, Michigan ends up in the deep end again, wondering if the first 16 games were all a mirage.
Tim Hardaway is not that guy. Tim Hardaway is serious these days.
*[Okay, Douglass had a miraculously weird thing going on with free throws: he took 13 on the season and hit 3; both of those numbers are spectacularly low. Jon Horford attempted 18 free throws that year. He played 14% of Michigan's minutes.]
Welcome back, Yawn At Another Trey Burke Boxscore Bullet. Missed you xoxo. He was inefficient from two but 9 assists to 1 turnover is where it's at. He took some bad shots early in what looked like a carry-over from the Ohio State game, where he was pressing for points. Once Michigan got past that section of the game even thanks to Hardaway going off, Burke ran the break perfectly.
Also, was it just me or was Burke more of a defensive pest for chunks of the game? I wonder if one of the coaches took him aside and was like "if you want to be great-great you have to add some of that Craft stuff to your game." He hounded Minnesota's PG into a steal in the first half, and he had a couple against Craft late in the last game.
Mbakwe. Good gravy. Jordan Morgan had his first two shots blocked by Mbakwe, who had a double-double featuring five offensive rebounds and five blocked shots. It's a tribute to John Beilein that Michigan came out of the locker room with a play that got Morgan a bucket, and that Michigan managed to get him up to nine points in the second half. Speaking of…
BEWARE THE BEILEIN HALFTIME ADJUSTMENT. Michigan won this game in the first six minutes of the second half when they went on a 20-7 run. This is a season-long trend. They did it against Iowa (opened second half with 12-4 run), West Virginia (11-4 run), Bradley(11-4), NC State(13-8), KState(14-2), Ohio State(7-2) and Pitt(8-4). The only game that was close at halftime in which Michigan did not significantly help itself coming out of the locker room for the second half was Arkansas (3-6).
Beilein figures out what you're doing on defense and assassinates you. That makes you feel real real good about Michigan's coaching acumen, and the apex of that is Beilein knowing a way to get Jordan Morgan a couple of easy buckets against Trevor Mbakwe.
Schedule now looking manageable. Illinois is looking more like the team that eked it out against Gardner-Webb than the one that took it to Gonzaga because opponents are hitting 43% of their threes in conference play and the Illini are hitting 23%. They're last in the league in both stats.
While that's probably more luck than anything, the Illini are also eleventh on the defensive boards and at giving up three throws; they're mediocre on both sides of the ball on shots coming from within the line.
They've gotten hammered their last three games, the latest an embarrassing 14-point loss at home to Northwestern, and have slid an impressive 30 spots in Kenpom's rankings. All of this makes next Sunday's game at Assembly Hall (not that Assembly Hall) quite a bit less intimidating than it did at the beginning of conference play. With that game sandwiched by home games against Purdue and Northwestern, Michigan is now entering one of two relative breather sections on the schedule. In February it gets real again with the Indiana-OSU-Wisconsin-MSU gauntlet.
It finally cracked. It took a game against the #1 offensive rebounding team in the country to do it, but Michigan finally got beat up on the boards. Minnesota entered the game rebounding 48% of their misses and got 46% in this one, with five coming from Trevor Mbakwe alone.
It was going to happen sometime. Given the gap between Minnesota and the next most prolific set of offensive rebounders in the league (Indiana) is almost ten percentage points, we can hopefully chalk that up to Mbakwe and move on against mortals. M remains the best at defending their own boards in conference play, albeit by a slimmer margin now.
Vogrich == Toussaint. In that I constantly think "Poor Damn Vogrich" whenever he appears in my life. Poor Damn Matt Vogrich had a 0-minute trillion in this one* as he hopped on the floor for about four seconds, seemed to cause a Hardaway turnover as his man left him to attack THJ from behind. Hardaway chewed him out—serious—and Beilein yanked him so he could chew him out. PDV, man.
In this instance you can't blame the blocking; I still feel bad for the guy.
*[The box score has his minutes as "0+"]
Stauskas: let it come man. Opponents are fully aware of the guy now and stick to him desperately because if they let that guy get open their coach will open the bowels of hell upon them. So his shots are down, and his three-point percentage is falling as he offers up a couple of unwise ones out of frustration a game. He's so out of sorts he's missing multiple free throws a game. Freshmen, eh?
At least we saw the first Stauskas backdoor play run successfully. If Vogrich can't even stay on the court for a full minute he can at least tutor Stauskas in the tao of backdoor.
Couple of iffy threes aside, Stauskas did pretty much let it come: he threw down a GAME… BLOUSES dunk, picked up a couple of assists, and collected 11 points on six shots. Hardaway got some great looks in this one, probably because the opponent was so focused on Stauskas.
This Week In Post Touches Suck. McGary got one and nearly flung a turnover. Morgan had one and Mbakwe blocked it without thinking twice. For the game the two centers were 8/11 and I don't think they had a miss that Mbakwe didn't block spectacularly—I think we're okay without using post touches to generate shots.
1/9/2013 – Michigan 62, Nebraska 47 – 16-0, 3-0 Big Ten
on mah grind (Bryan Fuller) also note all five Nebraska players are in this shot looking at Burke
Yesterday's game was an ugly slow-it-down slugfest that brought one particular game to mind: Michigan's matchup with that 2005 Illinois team everyone brings up when they attempt to put this year's offense in historical context. The Illini were 23 games undefeated, Michigan was 3-6 in the league and so injury-wracked that walk-ons Sherrod Harrell, Ashtyn Bell, and John Andrews got 51 minutes between them. Collectively they attempted three shots.
Michigan's strategy consisted of taking the air out of the ball, giving it to Dion Harris with the shot clock winding down, and vaguely hoping. It darn near worked. Michigan kept contact the whole night, leading at points, and eventually went down to a narrow six-point defeat. It was an extreme underdog kind of strategy willing to trade possession-to-possession efficiency for increased variance, because over time Michigan was just going to die.
Better to up the randomness: no turnovers, no transition buckets, all half-court jump shots which can do things like rim out. If basketball had innings, you'd lose by more, on average. It doesn't.
So Nebraska came out determined to make this basketball game an exercise in half-court blithering. Michigan obliged, clanking a series of threes and free throws. They were never really threatened and pulled away for a comfortable win at the end—more comfortable than those amazing Illini, by some distance. By the end they'd fallen a few points short of Kenpom/Vegas, understandable in a game with a mere 57 possessions. By comparison, Michigan's only other game in the 50s this year was Binghamton. Give them the extra ten opportunities at the basket they had against Iowa or Northwestern, and change the tempo of the game to get them, and… well, yeah.
This is what it's like to be the overdog against a team that knows they're nowhere near your level. The opponent tries to whittle down the time and opportunities you have to display your superiority, and when your keep coming up craps on your shots things get a little sticky. This game serves as a reminder that the great hand of fate is waiting to crush you, but shouldn't impact expectations going forward much, if at all.
Redundant Bullets Header Section
Photos. From Bryan Fuller:
Concerns: do we have them should we have them what? Yeah, a couple. One: Michigan had only six assists on 21 makes. At times it seemed like too much of the offense was guys going one on one. Maybe that was just Nebraska's defensive philosophy? I don't recall much help defense or switching. Six is a really low number, though, and I don't think that was all on shots that usually go down not doing so.
Two: Nebraska was able to keep their turnovers way down (just six). Turnover avoidance is the only bright spot on their offense, so again this may be part of their extreme underdog philosophy. It would be nice to have a defense that could pick up steals to spur Michigan's excellent transition offense; at this point that does not seem to be in the cards.
Pounding the glass. Michigan's offense actually reached a respectable 1.1 PPP by the game's end despite subpar shooting everywhere because they had their usual lack of turnovers and they pounded the offensive boards. Michigan grabbed 41% of their misses, with three to each of the frontcourt guys (McGary, Morgan, Robinson) and a whopping five "team" offensive rebounds that IIRC were mostly Mitch McGary being a possession-generating animal. Like that one where he was roaring out of bounds and flung it off a Nebraska player. That's probably a "team" rebound.
Because of that, McGary's impact on the box score was considerably lower than I expected it would be after watching the game: 1/4 shooting, three OREB, three DREB, a block, a steal, 18 minutes. That looks like not much, but my eyes are all like "he is rounding into form as a monster possession-generator." Back to back with the Iowa game it's exciting to see him round into a guy who makes an impact whenever he hits the floor, which he will do literally at times. Frequently, even. I bet he dives at squirrels on the Diag if they're orange enough.
Periodic Hardaway complete player alert. Just one assist in this game, which is not a huge surprise with six total, but made up with an 11-DREB double-double. Nebraska got just 18% of their misses, which is fantastic. Also it is perhaps further evidence of extreme underdog strategy: the Cornpack was so focused on getting back to prevent transition opportunities that there was almost never anyone on the glass.
Periodic bitching about long twos. Gonna do it: in this game there were several instances in which it seemed a player—Burke and Hardaway generally—passed up a good look at a three for a two just inside the line that was at least as difficult a shot. Burke in particular can get that eighteen footer whenever he wants, so unless the shot clock's under ten keep working.
Also in complaints: it seemed like Nebraska went under screens all night and Burke too frequently allowed them to do this instead of pulling up for the three. No hedge and guy goes under screen means that screen is not disrupting the balance of the defense, and the driving lane isn't great since the guy isn't trying to fight through over the top. I'll take an open three from Burke any time.
Stauskas. I'm watching Stauskas get to the basket and dish impressive assists and wonder a bit about next year. If Burke and Hardaway are gone, isn't he going to be the primary creator on offense? I guess it'll depend on how good Derrick Walton is and how much GRIII develops his handle. Smooth out some of Stauskas's rough edges with an offseason, though, and he's a credible shot creator.
Gauntlet: now. The next month of Michigan's season:
@ Michigan State
Here it is. Purdue and Northwestern should be slam dunks, and I'm not too worried about Wisconsin no matter where it is this year. Then you've got a couple should-wins (OSU at home, @ Illinois) and the four road games that will decide damn near everything. Win all the should-wins and go 2-2 there and you've got to be feeling good about winning the league. In all likelihood there are three losses in this stretch, though, and it'll come down to holding down home court against Illinois, State, and Indiana to finish out the year.
After his team held Michigan to their lowest point total of the season, Nebraska coach Tim Miles revealed his bold defensive strategy: the power of statistics.
"We thought, hey, they've been shooting the three great. They've got to return to the mean."
Did they ever. Michigan connected on just 3-of-17 three-pointers, and the Huskers succeeded in taking away their transition game, holding the Wolverines to a single fast break bucket. The Crisler Center crowd expected a blowout; instead, they got a slow-paced affair that was closer than the final score would indicate.
While the Wolverines didn't trail after the opening seven minutes, their lead didn't reach double digits until just 4:39 remained. Up to the final stretch, Miles's plan worked to perfection, with Michigan missing an uncharacteristic number of open looks from deep and failing to get out on the run.
That changed with just under eight minutes to go, when Glenn Robinson III picked Dylan Talley's pocket near the scorer's table, then took flight from not far inside the free throw line for a highlight-reel dunk. After Nebraska responded with a three, Robinson came out of nowhere to tip-slam a missed three by Caris LeVert, snapping the crowd out of a game-long funk and opening a 15-5 Michigan run to close the contest.
Robinson was the only Wolverine to shoot better than 50% on the night, scoring 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting while adding six rebounds. Hardaway, Trey Burke, and Nik Stauskas scored 46 of the team's 48 remaining points, but they also shot a combined 15-for-39 from the field. The Wolverines could not find a rhythm in their half-court sets, tallying just six assists on 21 made shots.
Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan scored just two points between them, but their work on the boards kept Michigan in front—Morgan finished with 11 rebounds (eight defensive), McGary six (three defensive), with the latter repeatedly hitting the deck for loose balls. With just over six minutes left and Michigan holding on to a nine-point lead, McGary threw himself into a pile of three Nebraska Cornhuskers and one orange sphere, coming away with a held ball—possession arrow, Michigan.
As he walked to the other end of the count, McGary threw his hands in the air, summoning perhaps the loudest roar of the night. Moments later, Stauskas found McGary under the hoop, and he banked home a right-handed layup. The Wolverines finally had their double-digit lead, sparked not by Burke and Hardaway, but a pair of freshmen.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, chants of "Beat Ohio" rang out from the Maize and Blue faithful. Michigan survived their first bout with regression, pulling away from a conference cellar-dweller.
If the trend continues on Sunday, they won't be so fortunate.