We live in a world that has been largely demystified. We've done a pretty good job of mapping all of the uncharted lands. We have located the Higgs Boson. We have mastered fire and sequenced the human genome. And while there are many things in our world that we do not know, we chalk less and less up to the "unknowable." We give our superheroes gritty reboots to show how they could realistically exist in the world we inhabit. Reality TV has all but replaced the scripted show. Even magic has fallen victim; instead of David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear, David Blaine sits in a glass box for a week and holds his breath for 15 minutes, as if to say, "we all know the physical parameters of this world, so watch me strain against them." The illusion of the supernatural is gone. We are left with merely the unexpected.
It is no surprise, I suppose, that sports have followed suit. We scoff at announcers and commentators who pretend that a thing called "momentum" exists as a causal force separate from the game itself. These mystics see "Team A is currently playing better than Team B" as a sign that Team A is being pushed forward by an invisible yet irresistible hand. The Skip Baylesses of the world insist there is a "clutch gene" which, based on my limited understanding of genetics, is the only gene that can spontaneously appear and disappear based on one’s athletic performance on a given night. Lebron wasn't clutch until he was. Tom Brady was clutch until he wasn't, then he was again, but now he isn't. NBA players develop reputations based on incredibly small sample sizes of high-variation events, all in the name of the almighty narrative.
We modernists see these explanations for what they are: crutches. It's much easier to attribute success to intangible forces than to either find and analyze the underlying reasons or to acknowledge the role of luck and chance. You’ll never hear a commentator say, “sometimes good players miss makeable shots” or “sometimes an average player can do something great.” That isn’t satisfying, but that’s life. We want more, but sometimes there isn’t more.
So when a game like Friday's Michigan-Kansas comes along, every fiber of my rational brain tries to tell me, "these things happen." There was no voodoo. The space-time continuum did not yield just this once to the will of Trey Burke. He took a series of low-percentage shots, and he made them. I mean, look at those four shots. Trey Burke is a 38% 3-point shooter. The odds of him making three NORMAL triples in a row are about 5%. The odds of making those four shots? A 20-foot hesitation pull-up, two 27-footers, and a 30-footer? No "will to win" or "grit" or any of the hundred other clichés you can come up with can make a player capable of reliably making those shots. He got lucky, I tell myself. It was awesome and amazing and a feat of incredible skill and talent that likely won't be repeated in the near future, but it was a fluke nonetheless. “Sometimes when you’re on” and whatnot.
But I've watched the last few minutes of regulation and the first few minutes of overtime a half-dozen times. Each time I've tried to make myself believe that this is just something that happens sometimes. And each time I have failed. At this point I’m willing to swallow the clichés. Trey Burke wanted it more. He had the will to win. He put the team on his shoulders. He made the damn Statue of Liberty disappear. Don't try to tell me how he did it, or if HE did it or whether it was just one of those things that happen. Just this once I am willing to believe my eyes. Lady Liberty is gone. All that remains is Trey Burke pointing at the empty night sky.
The rote play-by-play of those four minutes hardly does his work justice, but it is illustrative.
Burke forces a ten-second violation.
Burke penetrates, draws in Withey and dishes to McGary for an easy lay-in.
Burke hits a long 3.
Burke drives for a layup.
Burke hits The Trey.
Burke hits a long three.
Burke hits a long two.
That's 13 points, an assist, and a forced turnover in four minutes. He was good before and after that (he scored 23 in the second half and overtime), but those were really the magical minutes. And from a purely statistical standpoint, they were outstanding. But for those who watched the game, it was simultaneously more impressive and completely unsurprising. There's a reason Josh Bartelstein was celebrating when the ball was still in the air, and it is the same reason you felt so good when it left his hand. You've seen him do ridiculous things all year. You have experienced those moments where you both scoffed at his shot selection and laughed because you knew it would fall. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t shot the ball very well for the first 38 minutes, or that he was taking a contested shot from an improbable distance under impossible circumstances. When he released that ball, I’m willing to bet most of you reacted not with a prayer but with an unspoken “watch this.” Bartelstein knew. Bill Self knew. We knew.
Michigan fans also recognize this feeling because they have experienced its opposite many, many times. In the cold recesses of every Michigan fan's consciousness is that collective moment where Evan Turner and Josh Gasser and Kalin Lucas and Ben Brust hold an arm extended as they send a dagger straight into the souls of those helpless onlookers. There was the moment where you, like the audience in a Greek tragedy, knew the hero's fate before he did. You knew those shots were gonna drop. But for one day, Michigan finally had the deus ex machina on our side. By the time Trey hit that long pull-up two, all of your normal thoughts about ‘good shots’ were replaced by your inner Lou Brown telling Ricky to forget about the curveball and throw him the heater. We hastily scribbled a caveat to the “death to long twos” mandate (and all of the other strictures of proper basketball etiquette) that says, “...unless Trey is doing his thing, in which case, just… just watch this.”
Make no mistake; the game was not a one-man show. Michigan doesn't win that game if Mitch McGary doesn't play the game of his young life despite being punched in the groin for no particular reason. GRIII made an impossible layup from eleven feet under the basket and hit two huge free throws late. Stauskas and Hardaway had solid games. Even Jordan Morgan was there to challenge what would have been a game tying layup at the end of overtime. But that night will rightfully be remembered for Trey Burke. For a few brief minutes he made everyone believe he could do anything. If Michigan needed a four-pointer to tie, he would have made it happen. If the lights went out, he could bring them back up. If that impossibly large scoreboard came crashing down, you get the feeling he would simply shrug and say, "nah, that's cool, I'll carry this too."
Can everyone see this? Good. You’ll like this part(AP)
Brian is right that The Trey is going to be replayed during every NCAA tournament from now to the end of time, and rightfully so. It was one of the most remarkable single moments in recent tournament memory. But my lament is that it will be remembered simply as that moment. Everyone remembers the shots of Christian Laettner and Bryce Drew and Lorenzo Charles, but their shots are remembered in isolation. Trey Burke’s night was more than one glorious bomb. It was an individual effort that both encapsulates his season and made us feel for a brief moment that the gods were on our side.
Michigan fans have been incredibly fortunate to be able to watch Trey Burke do his thing this year, and among the many reasons I am so glad he did what he did against Kansas is that the basketball world got a taste of what we’ve been watching. On the biggest stage, Trey did what we have come to expect. He was unflappable. He was remarkably talented. He was clutch. We may have grown spoiled by this consistent excellence, and it will probably only be after Trey leaves that we will fully appreciate what we all just saw. In the meantime, though, Trey doesn’t seem to be done. He’s got a few more tricks up his sleeve, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss them.
Someone just make sure that he returns the statue before he leaves.
Every year from now until the country collapses into warring fiefdoms because of peak oil or some other nonsense, Trey Burke rising up from 30 feet over a 6'8" guy will make an appearance on someone's reel of insane NCAA tournament moments. Even after the collapse, if things go badly for you and you are captured anywhere from Topeka to Kansas City you can escape by just uttering the words "Trey Burke" and watching your captors seize helplessly. Collect their weapons and go. Once recovered they will be in a foul mood.
It's going to go in every time. You won't have that sickening lurch in your stomach as the bottom drops out of your hopes and then slowly tick-tick-ticks up the rollercoaster as the improbable trajectory seems true. Josh Bartlestein is way ahead of you on this, and you'll see Bartlestein start celebrating two beats before anyone else in the arena can figure out if they're going to live or die. This time, it'll go down. This time, every time.
Michigan wouldn't have been in this position if the rim had been kind at Ohio State, or at Wisconsin, or at home against Indiana. They'd have popped up a seed or two and avoided a team like the Jayhawks, maybe even gotten the gilded path the Buckeyes got and are determined to make look like the Bataan Death March. Thanks to a delirious two and a half minutes no one has been able to figure out yet, and probably never will, Michigan erased a ten-point deficit, and then that happened, and then Trey Burke did that twice more in overtime and Michigan's where they thought they might be when they walked into Assembly Hall the #1 team in the nation: playing a three seed for the right to go to the Final Four.
At this point I'm not sure that even matters that much. I mean, yeah, obviously it matters. But that shot is going in, over and over, for everyone, forever. It is written on cuneiform tablets found in ancient Sumeria, and a tatoo on Charles Barkley's forehead.
Ima let you block five shots Jeff Withey, but Mitch McGary is the greatest post of all time in this game. Wait, first Withey: the guy blocked a Trey Burke floater on a pick and roll, despite being a good five feet from the shooter. Boggle. Trey agrees:
He kind of surprised me the first half, once I got to the free throw line and shot. He had a piece of it. I think he was deep in the paint and he still got a piece of it.
Michigan shot 56% from two against him, boggle.
Okay, Mitch. First, inhale.
12/17 from the floor against Jeff Withey with 5 offensive rebounds and 9 defensive rebounds. Three steals. An assist. One turnover. One blocked shot and a second that was so clean in this world of "you can do anything as long as your arms aren't fouling a dude" that the sound of the whistle made me leap from my seat and cry "noooooo," Vader-style.
McGary spearheaded another blowout on the boards against Kansas, with Michigan doubling up the Jayhawks in offensive rebounds and winning the tempo-free battle 33% to 23%. He put up 25 points on 19 shot equivalents and generated at least eight extra possessions for M. He didn't pick up a foul until deep into the second half. I think we've just seen the best game of his career.
McGary has definitively arrived now. It's one thing to beat up on Juvonte Reddic and the four dwarves, entirely another to leave scattered bits of Jayhawk in your wake. The finer points of defense still elude him; that's the difference between McGary being pretty dang good next year or All American. That and free throws.
Now that we're used to the hugeness and the energy, the striking thing about McGary is how skilled he is. He hit an elbow jumper in this one and followed that up with a late turnaround from the short corner that was some Duncan business. His bunnies go down at a huge rate because he can slam them down when appropriate but also has excellent body control and the ability to shoot with both hands. Most of McGary's makes don't even touch the rim.
['shop via Ace.]
Relatedly. At halftime I made a comment about how I missed the version of Kansas that shot itself in the foot until it ran out of feet and just kept shooting, and more than one person said something about how they missed Burke. I was a little confused by this, and then the TV put up some chyron stating that he had zero points. Oh.
I didn't really feel that. Michigan had over a point per possession at halftime largely thanks to Burke getting the offense set up, and if he missed shots they often drew so much attention that GRIII or Mitch McGary was able to get a putback. Faced with the prospect of taking on Withey, he mostly got his teammates involved. Five assists is a lot of assists in a half.
I was frustrated by a thirty-foot bomb that came early in the shot clock and set up a break the other way. It felt selfish. Even that turned out to be necessary range-finding as Trey unleashed his inner Jimmer in the second half.
Win graph. Per reader request, the win graph from Kenpom:
Michigan's win probability dipped to 0.6 with 2:33 left, down ten. That was one in a hundred—one in two hundred. Trey's shot took Michigan from 10% to just over 30%.
Jordan Morgan, scrapping. Morgan only got five minutes, about which more later. This bullet is a feel-good bullet about Morgan dusting himself off and turning in two huge plays:
scrapping to the ground after Hardaway's missed three pointer and eventually getting the ball to GRIII for his acrobatic layup.
forcing Nutpunch Johnson to orbit so far around the corner that by the time he realized Hardaway wasn't leaving McLemore, anything he threw up was going off he side of the backboard.
His boxscore contributions were thin (though I guess three rebounds in five minutes is pretty good), but Michigan did need him and he did come through. Beilein lifted McGary for him on that final possession; it's hard to see McGary pushing Johnson as far outside as Morgan ended up doing. Also, Morgan eventually decided to do nothing:
"I was going to go up with (Johnson) and I saw he was looking to pass. I backed off a little bit but the angle he had wasn't necessarily the best," Morgan said. "He didn't have a good angle to put it off the backboard, so he got caught too far under and if it had been a floater, that would have been tougher than putting it off the glass."
That zen decision is not something McGary specializes in.
Karma is going to punch you in the nuts. Speaking of ol' Nutpunch Johnson, he picked up an obvious charge shortly after being assessed the flagrant one, sat, came back, picked up a cheap one on an out of bounds play, and sat yet more time. He ended up getting 20 or so minutes in the last 25; he hit some shots… and had 0 assists to 5 turnovers, not even counting the mess he made of the last play. Oh and that McGary statline. Oh and missing the front end right before Burke blew everyone's brains up.
My only regret is that Johnson is a senior—otherwise we would have a delightful couple years of competing nicknames for the guy in the blogosphere.
Spike. I don't get it. Michigan gave Albrecht 11 minutes, and I was confused by about 10 of those—Burke sat for one. In this game it seemed like Michigan badly needed post defense, especially at the four. Kevin Young, Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis combined to go 11/14, give or take an Ellis attempt against McGary when Withey was on the bench.
At 5'11", Albrecht is not noted for his post defense. While he was perfect for the up-and-down VCU outing, having him out there for a big chunk of time right after halftime was odd. He barely touched the ball on offense, and Michigan's defense with him out there was pretty porous.
Morgan at the four seemed like the move. Robinson had a decent night on offense and added three steals of his own, but, man, 11/14. Am I crazy here?
Stauskas took it easy, man. I predicted a tough night for Stauskas. He did okay. His attempts were relatively limited, which was fine. He took only good shots, hitting all three inside the arc and 1/4 from three—the OT miss was a killer. 11 points on 9 shot equivalents is decent output; he also had three assists.
But like man, if I can scream "make a free throw" in anguish at anyone, it's Stauskas. That missed front end would have paired with the foul on McGary's block in a Jacob Marley tapdance duet if Michigan hadn't pulled their asses out of the fire.
They really need an advantage call or something. If your foul does not prevent a fast break from fast breaking, the refs should just stick their arms out wildly to indicate a foul is coming but they have chosen to let the play go because the offense is in a fast break state.
If only my predictions weren't literally taking whatever Kenpom says and repeating it because I think predicting sporting events is an incredibly foolish pastime, as last night's game amply demonstrates. By which I mean, suck it local media!
Local writers Nick Baumgardner, MLive: Kansas (66-61) Kyle Meinke, MLive: Kansas (67-61) Mark Snyder, Detroit Free Press: Kansas (67-63) Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press: Kansas (70-61) Jeff Seidel, Detroit Free Press: Kansas (72-68) Drew Sharp, Detroit Free Press: Kansas (71-65) Rod Beard, Detroit News: Kansas (72-65) Matt Charboneau, Detroit News: Kansas (74-68) John Niyo, Detroit News: Kansas (67-63) Bob Wojnowski, Detroit News: Kansas (72-68) Brian Cook, MGoBlog: Michigan (by one)
(I also expected Kansas to win in my heart of hearts.)
Kansas center Jeff Withey was asked before his team faced Michigan whether he could dominate Mitch McGary.
"Yeah, definitely," Withey said. "He's not very tall. ... We'll definitely have to try taking advantage of my height."
That got telephoned into this:
"(McGary) looked at me last night, right before we went to bed, and he said, 'Did you hear what he said about me?" said Glenn Robinson III, McGary's roommate. "'He said, 'I’m not excited about his height. I don’t think anything about his height. And I expect to dominate him.'
"I looked at him and was like, ‘Oh. We’ll show him.’"
If Withey had said his bit a couple days earlier by the time it got to McGary it would have described him as a midget toad, so Kansas actually got off easy there. Seniors hugging and such. Rapping and ancient Chinese texts. Horford is a trip yo:
there was forward Jon Horford, off in a far corner ... reading a book.
One more time: Jon Horford, 15 minutes after advancing to the Elite Eight in one his school's most exciting tournament games ever, was reading a book.
Reporter: Jon. Jon. Jon.
Still no answer.
Finally, after a shout from point guard Spike Albrecht, Horford looks up from his ruffled pages.
"Hey man, what's up?" he said, apparently ignorant to or indifferent of the fact reading a book at this time is not customary. And he wasn't exactly thumbing the pages of Sports Illustrated, either.
Horford was reading the "Tao Te Ching," an ancient Chinese text believed to have been penned between the sixth century and fourth century BC.
By ubiquitous request, we present tonight's commemorative unit of fashionable upper body apparel. (UPDATE: Those waiting on the store link to order your shirt, be patient. It's off the hook in there. UPDATE UPDATE: now working.)
It was someone's birthday. Someone who'd been really good this year. We had the grandkids over and had pizza and chicken wings. But the pizza was cold. And they forgot the wings (They usually have such great wings).
We thought about calling it a night—there will be another birthday next year—but then Trey...Trey said "Let's get subs!"
But it was far away, the place with the subs. Really far away. Like past the county line and closer to the state border than the edge of the arc. But that kid, he just went and delivered the subs. One after another: bologna and ham; three-salami and roast beef with provolone; turkey, swiss, mortadella and capacolla on cracked whole wheat, no tomato. Every order went down. And suddenly there we were…
Trey Burke doesn't have to prove anything to anyone anymore. If he doesn't win national player of the year, it'll be an upset. NBA types are scrambling over each other to draft him in the top ten despite his lack of stature. He picked up the baton left by Darius Morris and jammed Michigan forward into its first Sweet 16 in almost 20 years. (Turnovers be damned!) As a freshman he was the best player on a team that broke an even longer Big Ten title drought. Trey Burke must find internal motivation these days; haterz are thin on the ground.
If Michigan goes out against shot-swatting Jeff Withey and his band of athletic freaks, oh well. Vegas has figured it and pegs the Jayhawks as favorites; Kenpom has Michigan by one, basically a pick 'em. If Michigan's run ends here that won't reflect poorly on Burke. Like Denard Robinson, Burke's done all he can do in this town.
Unlike Denard, all of his limbs are still working, and if things break right mosaic artists in southeast Michigan are going to be living large for a while. With the potential for a tourney upset past, Burke's at the same point Shawn Hunwick was last year when his .932 save percentage saw Michigan into the hockey tourney as a top seed. The options now are: great or the greatest.
As always, merely great is the heavy favorite. The gauntlet Michigan has to run reads something like Kansas-Florida-Syracuse-Louisville. We are entering the Super Meat Boy Warp Zone portion of the tourney.
Michigan, unfortunately, cannot respawn.
I don't think these things weigh on Burke. When you can remember the one blistering sequence at Ohio State where Burke was rattled and a detriment—remember the gravity-shift terror of the new universe you found yourself in—that says more about his base state of being than any step-back jumper you care to name. There's a tag on this here blog about it. Trey Burke is more of an emoticon than any other point guard I've experienced, and it's this one:
He does things that make pinwheels explode from Mitch McGary's head with the laconic coolness of Death harvesting a plague-ridden city. Also my head, Mitch McGary being a low bar to clear in the realm of cranial pinwheel explosions*. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if he turned out to be a robot.
He's got a tough job tonight. Kansas runs out a pile of swarming, long, experienced athletes. If you get past the first guy, this guy lurks:
Even though Burke should get 20 minutes against 5'11" Naadir Tharpe nothing's coming easy. Michigan needs Trey Burke to make it look like it, though, to glide to that spot on the baseline he takes his leaner from, to toss his hot-potato floater over Withey's outstretched fingers, to pull up at the top of the key and fire in a three, to push any sliver of a fast break.
One game doesn't define a player, especially one who'll be running an NBA team for the next decade. Burke's just adding exclamation points after his name at this juncture. We're about to hit the exponential part of the curve, though.
W x = games into tourney; y = burke apotheosis points
My preferred Burke exclamation point count comes with scientific notation. Screw Mudville, let's do this.
*[OH MY GOD HUMMUS IS 50 CENTS OFF /does cartwheels into banana display]
I received a recruiting mailbag question via email and, in the process of requesting more questions on Twitter, this mostly turned into a basketball mailbag. So, here's a hoops mailbag with a couple of bonus football recruiting questions, I guess.
Starter of the future, also starter of the present (Photo: Bryan Fuller)
Do you think that Morgan getting rest against VCU could help him have a serviceable/good game against Kansas? — @carlseikoll
This is the first of two questions about the big men, so let's focus on Jordan Morgan's situation for now. He got a lot of rest against VCU—the whole game, in fact—on the heels of playing just one minute against South Dakota State and 18 combined minutes in the Big Ten Tournament.
It'd be nice to pin the blame for Morgan's reduced role on his midseason ankle injury, but I think we're beyond that point—he played over 22 minutes in each of the four games leading up to the BTT. It's entirely possible that coming back from the injury too soon sapped his confidence, especially in his ability to get lift off the floor and go up strong when finishing with the basketball. Or a bad stretch of games and subsequent benching may just be getting in his head.
Whatever the reason, it seems unlikely that John Beilein would keep Morgan nailed to the bench in the VCU blowout—not giving him the chance to regain some confidence in a low-risk situation—only to have a big role in store for him against one of the nation's best teams (and best big men). Which leads to the next question...
What is the hierarchy of McGary, Horford, Morgan, and what they can do to stop Withey? — @stephenjnesbitt
Mitch McGary is the starter at this point, a point I doubt anyone will dispute. He's emerged as both the team's most consistent and productive center, and as long as he stays out of foul trouble he should play the majority of the team's minutes from here on out.
Given the above, Jon Horford is the next man on the floor, and Morgan should be used either sparingly or only in case of emergency. While this rotation worked out great in the first two tournament games, however, there's reason to worry heading into the Kansas game.
The reason, of course, is Jeff Withey—a real, functional, productive big man, something Michigan didn't really see in the first two NCAA games. I don't think there's a huge gap between Michigan's three big men offensively, aside from McGary's stellar offensive rebounding; all three aren't players Beilein is going to post up often, especially against one of the country's best shot blockers. Against Kansas, whoever's playing center won't do much more than set picks and fight for putback opportunities.
The difference will come at the defensive end. Morgan has certainly struggled in the last couple weeks, to the point that I don't think Michigan can confidently throw him into the fray on Friday; that's a problem, because he's still by far their best on-ball post defender, and Withey is a skilled post player with a high usage. McGary, meanwhile, has done everything well recently except defend on the ball—overlooked in his performance against VCU was the Rams' lone big man, Juvonte Reddic, scoring 16 points on 7/11 shooting in 24 minutes, with only one of those baskets coming off an offensive rebound. McGary is also foul-prone, though not as much as Horford, who commits a sky-high 6.4 fouls per 40 minutes.
I still don't think Morgan will play much, if at all. If he does, it will be because Withey is terrorizing the defense in the post. The best thing Michigan can do against Withey on Friday is to try to lure him away from the basket as a shot-blocker—expect a lot of pick-and-roll action—and look to deny him post touches defensively. This is one of the worst games for the Wolverines to be without a full-strength (mentally and physically) Jordan Morgan, but that's the way the ball bounces.
[Hit THE JUMP for the odds of Michigan's underclassmen jumping to the NBA, searching for Big Puppy's breed, and a couple of recruiting questions.]
Mitch McGary was unquestionably the star of Michigan's tournament weekend. He will appear several times in later on in this post. But my gawd, Spike Albrecht, you just made the pass of the year on a team with Trey Burke. Take a bow.
Four other reasons this gif wins the weekend:
You can see VCU's defender rip open Glenn Robinson III's jersey as he runs down the court. This did not appear to affect GRIII very much.
The bench goes nuts... before GRIII even dunks.
Both Tim Hardaway Jr. (bottom left corner) and Trey Burke (in front of the bench) hop in identical fashion at the exact same time, like it's a Pavlovian response to Robinson's dunk.
Spike rounds off his run at the three-point line. Walk it out like crutches, Spike.
All these things are great, and all pale in comparison to the pass itself. Thread, meet needle.
[Hit THE JUMP to see (and vote for) the best gifs from Michigan's opening weekend, also known as Mitchapalooza.]
It doesn't take long for people to forget who you are. One loss to a MAC team on the big stage seems to do it, even if that MAC team was an overtime away from the Elite Eight. The next year you might find yourself on a bit of a skid to end the year, facing down another mid-major star and instantly targeted by the talking heads as upset city, baby*. Rule one of sports opinion: the last thing that happened will always keep happening.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, I'll be surprised since that means you've been a head coach for a zillion years. You'll also be feeling like John Beilein has been the past week. Drinking decaf tea. Thinking about covalent bonds. Enjoying your grandchildren. Pissed off.
I mean… John Beilein, projected first-round upset victim. I don't know if you know this, head-talker,—I think you should since you will never stop referring to Michigan's 1-3-1 zone—but John Beilein has been around the block. He's made verbs. Have you made a verb? Does it mean "higher seed has just been blitzed out of tournament by three-raining center"? No. It means "seemingly has not watched college basketball since he played it, and probably not even then." Except your verb doesn't exist. "Pittsnogled" exists.
Even if your theory is that Beilein's March blitzes ended at the Big Ten's edge, you've got more evidence against you than in favor of you. In 2009, a ramshackle Michigan ten-seed took out #7 Clemson. At one point that game was a blowout before Michigan went into clock-kill mode. They held themselves in against Oklahoma despite deploying Zack Novak against Blake Griffin and having to rely on Anthony Wright as their primary scorer with Manny Harris stapled to the bench, in foul trouble. Two years later Michigan ran Tennessee out of the gym in an 8-9 game and was inches away from taking #1 Duke to OT.
Basketball's weird, randomness is random, bad things happen to chemistry teachers, yeah yeah. Going out of your way to project John Beilein doing poorly in the tourney is like pressing Trey Burke: once in a while you get lucky. Over the long run you're going to end up holding your intestines, thinking about a foolish life ill-lived.
Don't even get the tiny slice of John Beilein's brain given over to his id (he keeps it between gluten-free pancake recipes and lamp instructions in a disused, dusty corner) started about what happens after you show Summit Trey Burke his intestines. If the tiny disused id could draw Beilein's attention for a fraction of a second, boy, would he be slightly peevish about VCU this, havoc that. About new hotness Shaka Smart and his defense with a name and everything and a two-year-old play-in-to-Final-Four run.
The definition of whippersnapper (Bryan Fuller)
The gap between expectations of serious men—Vegas installed Michigan a slight favorite—and the chatter of VCU havoc-ing Kansas and whoever might come next was large.
"All we've been hearing was the VCU 'Havoc,' we didn't hear anything about us, and we wanted to prove we're no team to mess with right now," Michigan freshman Nik Stauskas said. "All you heard is 'how are they going to stop Nate Wolters?' Stuff like that."
The thing is: Shaka Smart is a great tourney coach. Entering Saturday's game against Michigan he was 7-1 against the spread during March Madness. He did that whole first-four-to-Final-Four thing. He is appallingly young to have done this. I have to tell you that when VCU's band was putting Akron's to shame on Thursday and their dancers were just kind of, I don't know, moving, you know, in a certain way and VCU came out and blitzed Akron it was intimidating. This was before I knew they had a guy with a Tim the Enchanter hat even.
Smart has created an aura. VCU's presence at an NCAA tourney site brings an electricity with it. This havoc thing will be a verb sooner or later. Shaka Smart is 35.
It's just that John Beilein's been doing this since Shaka Smart was playing with Legos. No, since Smart was gurgling out his first words. Dude was one year old when Beilein started his coaching career at an age even more appallingly young than Smart did. On March 19th, Beilein was 10-2 against the spread in the tourney since '05. He's since added two more ATS wins to his docket, the last one a deconstruction of Havoc™ so comprehensive that Michigan put up 1.2 points per possession despite hitting just 30% of their infinite wide-open threes.
Anyone predicting VCU to do things forgot that this was a John Beilein team piloted by Trey Burke. I am almost certain the handshake in the aftermath did not feature Beilein telling Smart he was strapped with gats when Smart was cuddling a cabbage patch. But not completely. Kansas awaits; John Beilein sips tea with eviscerating intent.
*["Upset city, baby" patently unfair here since Dick Vitale in fact put Michigan in his Final Four. I enjoy being patently unfair to Dick Vitale. If you consider this a character flaw in me, I consider it a character flaw in you. So there.]
McGary, of course. (Fuller photo, Ace photoshop, board suggestion at right.)
It will not be news if I tell you that Mitch McGary had himself a day: 21 points on 10 of 11 shooting, 14 rebounds, and even a made free throw. He earned Obligatory Wes Unseld references from the announce team andThe Sporting News.
Oh, and he just might be the best outlet passer we’ve seen since Wes Unseld. Matter of fact, he’s built a lot like Unseld, too, with a hard-edged game like the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer.
He dove on the floor with Michigan up 20, because that is what a St. Bernard would do.
To cap it all off, he gave Kammron Taylor a flashback seizure so bad that Chris Rock (That Chris Rock) had a twinge:
He and GRIII were the engines behind a blowout on the boards: 19% OREB for VCU, 41% for Michigan. He played 34 minutes with a single foul. It was a day. If he can go head to head with Jeff Withey… dot dot dot.
While I don't think that's super-likely, guys do have coming-out parties that suddenly announce they have reached the proverbial Next Level. Beasting on an undersized VCU team with their one quality post stuck on the bench for a big chunk of the game* might count. Going head-to-head with Jeff Withey and coming out even is indisputable. I'm saying there's as chance.
*[Reddic had 16 points on 13 shot equivalents in 24 minutes. His backups saw a total of 21 minutes, in which they attempted zero shots.]
Stat of the game. Michigan gave up all of four fast-break points to VCU and scored 15 of their own. That is the recipe for blowing Shaka Smart off the court.
Stat of the game, part II. Michigan had 12 turnovers, VCU 11. This number is of course under the 15 magic number, or 23 magic percent. VCU also managed just two more steals than Michigan.
Slash and burn. I got a lot of grief about this assertion when Michigan ended up in the same pod as the rams:
Whenever someone posts a bracket and says they like or do not like the matchups therein there is always the guy who says they will boil themselves alive if VCU is a potential second-round matchup. I say bring the Rams on:
VCU 100% dependent on (huge) TO margin. A-10 opponents actually shooting better than Rams.
I'll take that strength versus VCU's many other weaknesses in the matchup game.
Now everyone will kill me if we lose to VCU in the second round. I should have said nothing.
I'm not usually a point-to-my-awesome-prediction guy, because predictions are stupid. (Remember "NC State is the #8 seed no #1 wants to see?") In this case, though, WOOOOOOOO.
Michigan's three and a half ballhandlers defeated virtually all attempts to run that 1-2-1 diamond trap. Except for a brief period right after halftime when Burke got run into a few traps—a couple times by his teammates—trying to heat him up was more loss than win for VCU. The 15 fast break points don't seem to include a number of possessions where the broken VCU press led to crushing GRIII/McGary dunks.
Those two were 17 of 19 combined on twos, and GRIII's miss was a chaotic attempt with guys falling all over the place that McGary immediately rebounded and put back. All but three of those attempts were at the rim. The press mostly set up dunks or layups or Kobe assists, not turnovers.
"Preparation for a game like this does not happen in one day," Beilein said. "If you came to our early drills in October, in the summer, we're catching on two feet, we're pivoting, we're passing the ball to the outside hand. We're valuing each possession. You play a team like VCU, if you don't value each possession and take care of the basketball, they're going to run points on you like crazy. (They're) averaging 75 points a game, 20 of those are off defensive transition off turnovers. We work on it daily.
"The prep was really minor (on Friday), as far as 90 minutes of walking around, doing things."
This was a draw of doom for VCU, playing a team that basically spends every practice defeating your system.
Spike. Hello. Spike Albrecht's 14 minutes came with a made three, a missed two that really should have been a Kobe assist (he drew Reddic and threw one off the backboard to Horford; Horford managed to biff the putback), and a couple of assists. The second blew the roof off the Palace:
(Watch the bench, BTW.) This is the bit where you started cackling madly because this was officially a replay of Tennessee 2011, and bitterly wished Gus Johnson was doing this game—oh my God Gus Johnson doing this game.
Anyway, Spike has a nasty habit of dribbling 25 seconds off the shot clock but eventually teams get irritated that this little white kid is running around the court on them and foul him. I do not think this is a sustainable strategy, but there are worse backup point guards to have.
One thing he's got in common with all Michigan point guards since Darius Morris emerged: kid is unflappable. He showed that today and during a stabilizing cameo after Michigan had gotten run early at Ohio State. Contrast his play with a clearly rattled Caris LeVert, who cost Michigan a few points in four minutes in the first half and then ceded the rest of his time to Albrecht.
"Coach (John) Beilein always said if you're going to do something flashy, it better work," Hardaway said after the game. "I just tried to do the easiest dunk that I knew how to do.
"It ended up being that."
Supporting cast turnovers. VCU got to Burke a bit, forcing seven turnovers out of him. A couple of those weren't his fault—in particular I remember one ill-fated backcourt trap that Nik Stauskas led Burke right into—but that's a high number. It's offset by the 5 the rest of the team picked up. Hardaway and Stauskas operated as press relief and auxiliary ballhandling, finishing the day with a 4 to 1 A:TO ratio. Add in Spike's one TO in 15 minutes and that's an impressive job of TO avoidance.
It's an expected job of TO avoidance, mostly. The exception: Hardaway taking the ball up the floor for big chunks of the game without incident was a bonus. It helped that VCU couldn't put one of their flypaper PGs on him with Burke out there and Theus in foul trouble.
A series of missed lane floaters. VCU was hurt early by a series of possessions that ended with their guards—I guess they're all basically guards—getting into the lane, whereupon McGary would help but not really challenge. The resulting short floaters went clang clang clang.
Looking at the box score, might this have been the gameplan? Rob Brandenberg, Melvin Johnson, Briante Weber, and Troy Daniels were a combined 9 of 24 from two, and if you look at those dudes' season averages and squint away a fast break adjustment, that's not far off what you'd expect from that collection of mediocre midrange shooters.
In compensation, VCU suffered a 3/16 night from three, with designated sniper Tony Daniels going 1/9, and got to the line just 6 times, all of those attempts from large-ish folk Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic. Graham, VCU's highest-usage player, was limited to eight shot equivalents in 35 minutes. As a team, VCU picked up six assists on 23 made baskets. Michigan had 17 on 31.
The problem with Michigan's D is that they kind of have to give something up. If those are lane runners without a Kobe Assist waiting, that doesn't seem too bad.
Behold the power of a withering tourney blowout on Kenpom. VCU rocketed from 22nd to 14th thanks to their Akron annihilation; Michigan providing the Rams the greatest two-game swing in tournament history bounced them up four spots. They are now ahead of Kansas(!) even after the Jayhawks' crunching second half against North Carolina.
All of this is poisoned by Akron playing their game against VCU short four players and the three-standard-dev matchup advantage Michigan had against the Rams, but you guys we're totally beating Kansas! You guys.
I don't think we're going to beat Kansas you guys. They've struggled for 60 of their 80 minutes in the tourney so far, sure. That doesn't change their season-long performance and the looming terror that is Jeff Withey. It seems like their shot is dependent on whether Kansas is a funhouse mirror version of some fourth graders like they were for about 22 minutes against North Carolina or a lethal death machine like they were the final 18 more than anything Michigan does.
I say that in part because turnovers are a persistent Kansas problem. They don't really have a point guard per se; facsimile Elijah Johnson's assist rate is barely above his TO rate. But Michigan does not force turnovers much. Unforced errors from Kansas seem to be make or break for them in this one.
But there's a reason Kenpom has this even. Just as soon as I figure it out I'll let you know about it.
Second small downer thing. Michigan couldn't have put Jordan Morgan out there for like five minutes? I'm worried that his mental state is haywire right now and Kansas looks like a team that will demand more post rotation from M. They play a two-post system with 6'8" senior Kevin Young (season 3PA: 6; season 3PM: 0). Young is a top-100 OREB guy and almost-top-200 DREB guy who shoots 56% from two. Meanwhile, Withey draws 5.2 fouls/40.
With the prospect of McGary foul trouble looming and the possibility Michigan will want to run two posts out there in the event Young is beating up GRIII on the boards, you'd expect Morgan to get 15 minutes or more in this one except for the fact he disappeared almost entirely last weekend.
McGary almost shrugged discussing the hit, with a sly smile yet insisting it was unintentional. That is part of what makes McGary a question mark for how good this Michigan team could be in the final two weeks of the season.
“Mitch, his confidence was incredible today, easy drop-offs and offensive boards that he got and he just kept going,” said Michigan redshirt freshman forward Max Bielfeldt. “He can go on a run, and he’s just very talented. When he gets his game going, he’s really, really tough to stop.
“He’s a guy, when he gets going, he’s going to keep going, and his enthusiasm keeps his game at a high level.”
McGary had 20 pounds on VCU forward Juvonte Reddic, and probably 40 pounds on just about everybody else the Rams could throw at him. Funny what escaping from the rough-and-tumble Big Ten can do for a guy, isn't it?
"I mean, I guess it was easy to grab rebounds," he said.
Easy for him to say. But hard to do justice to his energy level — "He went down and chased all the loose balls," Smart said — that never waned despite his playing a season-high 34 minutes.
"That's Mitch McGary," Burke said. "That's what he does. He's the guy that gives us the spark and makes our engine run."
"Mitch was at the LeBron James Skills Academy the summer before he (committed to Michigan), and he was out of the game and he was getting cups of water for his teammates," Alexander recalled earlier this week. "That, in essence, gave us an idea of the type of person he is.
"A selfless spirit that allows our culture to grow."