Dear Diary: Ce Matin, Pas de Lapin

Dear Diary: Ce Matin, Pas de Lapin

Submitted by Seth on March 22nd, 2013 at 10:08 AM

UM_VS_SDSU

Wallpaper by jonvalk.

Before we dip into this week's user content, go draft your FreeRoll team! You've got until noon. Draft Street kindly sponsored yesterday's liveblog.

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Kids who were my age in France all grew up with this song Ce Matin, un Lapin (this morning, a rabbit…) about a hare who turned the tables on a hunter and thus commenced the bunny revolution. The singer is a lady named Chantal Goya who spent years trying to carve out a niche in pop music by being ironically jejune, then found her calling by dropping the irony and singing kids songs on the French Disney Channel.

Kids my age who went to Michigan might remember a band called Tally Hall who have followed a similar career path. In 2005 I earned my Level 5 music cred badge by sharing a booth at a New York bar with the Atlantic Records people while Tally tried out for them. The music folk tossed around fancy adjectives like "jejune" to capture how fresh and cool it was to find a rock band that can occupy the antipode of metal the Beatles brushed with An Octopus's Garden. They signed them, but after one album the label forgot about them and that lapsed into that. Recently my best friend reported via Facebook that his three-year-old is a huge Tally Hall fan.

All this week Michigan fans shared a booth with all the really cool basketball people while they circle-talked themselves into the South Dakota State Jackrabbits as the hipster upset pick and Nate Wolters as the best point guard in the country (though you've probably never heard of him).

Nine minutes into the second half the rabbits were finally starting to lose pace with the Wolverines when Burke and LeVert* went up for a rebound and Wolters ran in to give Trey a 'Wisconsin Special' undercut hip check that sent Michigan's own pretty good guard crashing to the floor. As Burke clutched his head the panic claxons went off in yours. There was no foul (of course), the ball was awarded to the Jackrabbits (of course), and they of course went right down the court and scored.

burkefallen

Bryan Fuller|MGoBlog

You could imagine the Disney ending from here, a Cinderella advance amidst the cheers of Spartans in brand new turquoise tees. All it would take was 11 minutes of indifferent D, refs that hate us, threes that clang, twos that shouldn't have been shot, and Spike Albrecht running around with the ball like a mad chicken, to end the career of Michigan's greatest player since _____(?) with the prostrate pose above.

Here's how it really went:

  • Stauskas drove hard (NJAS!) to the basket and through hard contact to make a layup and collect a rare and-one, which he made. 52-43.
  • Wolters forced to take a long two, missed, rebounded by Albrecht
  • Albrecht does his running around thing, gets the ball to Hardaway, TIMMMAYY makes a jumpshot. 54-43.
  • Wolters misses a three, Horford MANBALLS the rebound out of another contestant's hands.
  • Trey Burke returns, drives inside collecting ALL THE DEFENSE, then kicks out to wide open Hardaway for three, buried. 57-43.

That was enough for the Wolverines to finish off the rascally rabbits, final score 71-56.

As it turns out the audience for simple cutesy catchy formulaic music is little kids, rabbits tend to lose to hunters, and Michigan is better at major sports than those guys you've probably never heard of. Who could have imagined? Also as it turns out this little game column was all a prelude to the Diary of the Week by saveferris, who looked at the performance of past 4 seeds and found, well, the higher seed you are the better your prospects for tourney success. File all of this under the kind of duh that takes occasional reminding.

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* His surname is French for "The Green" but a "leveret" is a baby rabbit.

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Etc. Every goal from hockey's WMU sweep plus a few bad puns of blue/blew from MGoBlueline. The basketball game is at noon on Saturday so you can watch that then still make it to the Joe. LSAClassof2000 looks at run vs. pass balance over recent Big Ten history, finding Wisconsin and Ohio State run a lot. Need to get the 4th quarters and blowouts out of there though if you want to find the meat. Blockhams was drawn before Ryan was hurt, isn't funny anymore.

[Jump, Best of the Boards]

Variations On A Pull-Up Jumper

Variations On A Pull-Up Jumper

Submitted by Ace on March 20th, 2013 at 10:57 AM

At my childhood home in Ann Arbor, a framed photo is propped up on the bookshelf in my brother’s old room. It shows my brother, Jack, and me with a close family friend in the cheap seats of The Palace of Auburn Hills. It was the spring of 1995, and I was seven years old. I couldn’t look more excited to be there, the smile on my face borderline cartoonish.

My father, a Detroit native and Michigan grad, had moved the family from San Francisco to Ann Arbor less than two years prior. In that time, he’d introduced me to Michigan football and Red Wings hockey; my brother and I alternated fall Saturdays with him at the Big House, and early summer evenings were reserved for watching playoff hockey in the living room. Dad was never a big basketball guy, though, so I had to look elsewhere to find an NBA rooting interest.

My father’s business partner lived in Ann Arbor at the time. Gail was a Boston native and, naturally, a Celtics fan—“The Celtics will rise again,” she’d like to say—and she also acted as a second mother to Jack and me. When my parents wanted a break from raising the two of us, we’d spend the night at Gail’s apartment. That was where she introduced us to basketball; one of my most vivid childhood memories is sitting on her bed, eating popcorn and watching J.R. Rider win the ’94 Slam Dunk Contest with his between-the-legs “East Bay Funk” dunk.

Gail also introduced us to Michael Jordan, and like most everyone of my generation, I couldn’t get enough of watching him play. He’d retired to play baseball, of course, but we’d pop in Bulls championship VHS tapes and marvel at the greatest. When I got home, I’d go to the backyard and play on the Little Tykes hoop set up on our brick patio, throwing down one-handed—and in my mind, buzzer-beating—dunks with my tongue out, just like Mike. Though I also watched the Pistons, rooted for them, collected their sports cards, I never pretended to be Grant Hill or Joe Dumars. If you’re not the best in your dreams, why have dreams?

On March 18th, 1995, I was in the midst of one of these backyard fantasy sessions. My mother rarely interrupted these except to call me in for dinner. This time, though, she walked out of the back door bearing an important message.

"He’s back."

This was how, less than a month later, I’d be photographed at the home of the Detroit Pistons wearing a Bulls hat and Michael Jordan Birmingham Barons shirt. Jack wore a similar outfit. Gail, the Celtics fan, donned a Bulls sweatshirt. Some athletes transcend sports fandom.

**********

My lasting memory of that night is seeing Jordan, wearing #45 and playing his way into shape, commanding the full attention of every spectator. He may not have been at the peak of his game, but the best player on the court was obvious to everyone in the building. From the cheap seats, my eyes rarely left Jordan, awestruck by his effortless greatness.

The box score shows that MJ scored 29 points that night, going 12/23 from the field while adding nine rebounds and nine assists; a great game, sure, but not one that would leave a lifelong impression on a budding sports fanatic if not for the nature by which it was achieved—with complete ease and confidence, Jordan moved through the game like he was starring in a play for which only he knew the script.

The box score also shows that Scottie Pippen had the night off, Allen Houston and Terry Mills combined to hit 10/13 three-pointers, and Joe Dumars dished out 13 assists. I remember none of these things, just watching Michael Jordan lead the Bulls to victory and going home happy.

**********

Last Thursday, I walked past Michael Jordan’s statue and into Gate 3 ½ of the United Center, though a winding hallway adorned with photos of other Bulls greats, going by Jordan’s old locker room before finding a spot in the media workroom. Michigan’s opener in the Big Ten Tournament was the first road basketball game I’ve covered this season, so I immediately checked the seating chart—I get stressed in unfamiliar settings and wanted to know exactly where I needed to be when the game started.

As it turned out, press row at the United Center is courtside—unlike the Crisler Center, where the media is seated in the upper bowl—and I had a spot near the end of the second row. I’ve watched a lot of basketball, but this would be a new perspective. When covering games, I try to act like I’ve been there before, maintain a certain level of professional decorum, but when I got to my seat I couldn’t help but pull out my phone and snap a picture of the view:

**********

As a blogger/fan working among full-time beat reporters, covering this year’s Michigan team has presented a challenge. The Wolverines have not just won in a way I’ve never experienced, they’ve done so while churning out the highlights; every instinct I have is to leap out of my seat and yell after each alley-oop, twisting layup, step-back three, or go-ahead jumper. This, of course, is not acceptable behavior in the working press area. I’ve been forced to perfect the subtle lean back in my seat, eyebrows arched, mouth slightly agape, reserving a slight shake of the head for the best of plays.

No player has elicited that response more than Trey Burke, for obvious reasons. On a team as talented as Michigan, his skill stands head-and-shoulders above the rest, even if he’s usually the smallest guy on the floor. While the others wear their emotions on their sleeve and struggle to consistently play their role, Burke wears the same expression as he goes about his business—calm yet intense, and utterly composed at all times.

He looks this way while making opponents defend air with his hesitation crossover, or throwing a pinpoint lob, or doing his best Rajon Rondo impression, or doing his best Dirk Nowitzki impression, or sneaking up to block Aaron Craft from behind, or picking Keith Appling clean at halfcourt and throwing down the winning dunk.

**********

The Look was there for the second half of Thursday’s game. Michigan came out of halftime with just a two-point lead on the lowly Nittany Lions; Burke had started slowly, just 3/9 from the field, and it felt like the rest of the team was waiting for him to take charge.

The Wolverines were now shooting on the basket directly in front of me, giving me an ideal view of the Trey Burke Experience. Three minutes into the half, Burke inbounded the ball to Tim Hardaway Jr., took the return feed, and calmly drilled a corner three, standing no more than six feet in front of me. I turned into that wide-eyed kid again, and would stay that way for the remainder of the game, as Burke poured in 13 second-half points and the Wolverines pulled away, eventually winning by 17.

One moment in particular left me shaking my head in disbelief while I suppressed every urge to go into full-on fan mode. One of Burke’s go-to moves off the pick and roll is to stop his drive on a dime at the free-throw line and rise for a quick, unguardable pull-up jumper. With just under 13 minutes left, Burke took a Jordan Morgan screen and made his way into the lane, briefly checking over his shoulder to locate his defender, PSU’s D.J. Newbill, who was trailing him after fighting over Morgan’s pick.

In the moment that Burke peered over his shoulder, Penn State center Sasa Borovnjak—who’d been cautiously ceding ground—stepped up hard. At 6’9”, Borovnjak gave Burke, listed at a generous 6’0”, a sudden and tall obstacle. Normally, Burke likes to shoot that pull-up jumper like Chauncey Billups shoots his free throws—on a line, drilling that spot on the back of the rim that great shooters always seem to find. This time, however, that trajectory was no longer an option.

It’s barely perceptible on film, but what Burke did next is what separates him from the rest of the country—and every Michigan player I’ve had the opportunity to watch play. With an ever-so-subtle double-clutch, Burke shifted his right hand an inch or so to the underside of the basketball, then released a high-arcing shot that barely eluded Borovnjak’s outstretched fingers. The ball hit nothing but twine.

Burke momentarily held his shooting pose, as if to show the world that it's really as simple as this. For him, at least, it is.

The crowd reacted as they had for most of Burke’s baskets: with polite applause. This is what we’ve come to expect from him. We're jaded by a 20-year-old sophomore.

**********

Burke would hit two strikingly similar shots later in the half, each recalling the one before but noticeably different in execution. I’ve included his highlights from the game in the above video. What strikes me the most isn’t Burke’s skill in shooting, passing, dribbling, or even on-ball defense, a part of his game that’s seemingly come out of nowhere in the latter half of the season. It’s Gus Johnson—that Gus Johnson—barely changing the inflection of his voice as he relays Burke’s latest masterpiece to the television audience.

**********

The next afternoon, Burke couldn’t will Michigan to a victory over Wisconsin, though not for lack of trying. With the Wolverines down ten points with just over five minutes left, Burke almost single-handedly pulled the team back within four, recording a steal, two free throws on the ensuing foul, two more baskets, and even a block in the next 2 ½ minutes—his only miss in that span led directly to a Mitch McGary putback. The comeback stalled there as the defense faltered, but in an otherwise dreadful game Burke once again reminded everyone why he should be the national player of the year.

Burke put up 19 points and seven assists in that game, almost exactly matching his season average for both categories. This season, the question has ceased to be whether he’ll produce—he’s scored 15 points or more in every Big Ten game—but how hard he’d have to work to get there and if he’d have sufficient help along way. The Badgers made it a struggle—Burke took 22 shots, making only eight—and even then Burke’s misses were just barely off the mark. Left with no margin for error, it felt like Burke was mere inches away from dragging his team to victory anyway.

**********

Much like the peripheral players faded from that night at Auburn Hills, eventually my memories of the Wisconsin loss, the late-season swoon, the crappy perimeter defense, they’ll all be lost to time, or at least need to be jarred into clarity by a Google search. What will stick is Trey Burke, expressionless, pulling up for that right-hand floater, each one nearly identical yet perceptibly different.

Incidentally, Michigan returns to the scene of my dalliance with sports bigamy on Thursday. I will not be there, having intentionally missed the deadline to apply for a credential. I want to experience Burke’s (likely) final games as a Wolverine as my seven-year-old self did Michael Jordan’s comeback: free to wear my team’s colors, leap out of my seat, and holler when a rare talent pulls off moves most of us save for backyard dreams.

Wisconsin AARRRGGGHHH, Michigan FFFFUUUUUUU

Wisconsin AARRRGGGHHH, Michigan FFFFUUUUUUU

Submitted by Ace on March 15th, 2013 at 5:14 PM


Halftime stats on the left, final stats on the right, via scacchoops.com

If you're expecting a reasoned, informative recap of the game, I highly recommend stopping right now and looking elsewhere.

Still here? If so, you are either in search of schadenfreude or have a remarkably strong will to make your life miserable.

Michigan lost to Wisconsin 68-59 in a complete abomination of a "basketball" game. The halftime box score resembles something from a middle school junior varsity game in which all the players are blackout drunk. The Wolverines held a three-point lead at the break, courtesy of Wisconsin's inability to hit anything (5/29 from the field). The Badgers made it appear, momentarily, like Michigan had discovered how to play defense.

Then the second half began, and the Wolverines remained stagnant on offense while entirely forgetting how to guard the perimeter. After hitting 2/13 shots from beyond the arc in the first half, Wisconsin connected on 6/9 three-pointers in the second—most of their looks came without so much as a hand in the shooter's general vicinity, let alone a legitimate contest.

Trey Burke did his best to stop the bleeding, scoring 15 of his 19 points in the second half, and Tim Hardaway Jr. (14 points, 5/9 FGs) admirably returned from a sprained ankle to knock down a couple big shots. Nobody else cracked double digits, however, and any semblance of an offense rapidly devolved into the "Trey, go do something" strategy. Burke was forced to jack up 15 shots in the final 20 minutes; no other Wolverine attempted more than four.

Major culprits included, well, pretty much everyone. Ryan Evans scored nine of his 13 in the second half, abusing Glenn Robinson III and Hardaway down low—Robinson struggled so much that Spike Albrecht took his spot in the lineup down the stretch. Jordan Morgan started but played just eight horrible minutes, turning the ball over three times, completely unable to hold onto the basketball. Nik Stauskas went 1/8 from the field. Burke had an uncharacteristic four turnovers, though given the circumstances it's difficult to lay much blame on him.

A guy who shoots free-throw jump shots, a redheaded Art Garfunkel, and Ben "#@*#[email protected]" Brust combined for 28 second-half points, going 4/8 from two and a perfect 5/5 from three. If there's a College Hoops Fan Hell, it is watching that game on a continuous loop while Bo Ryan waves the last bottle of whiskey in existence in your face, refusing to let you drown your sorrows.

Michigan will still play in the NCAA tournament, of course, and there's even a chance that I'm willing to watch basketball by then. They won't play Wisconsin, mercifully.

F*** Wisconsin.

Michigan 83, Penn State 66

Michigan 83, Penn State 66

Submitted by Ace on March 14th, 2013 at 5:13 PM


Photo credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Mitch McGary snatched the rebound out of the air, turned towards the Michigan bench, and let out a guttural yell that could be heard from across the court.

Michigan had looked listless—yes, again—to begin the game against Penn State. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 14-3 lead after Jordan Morgan couldn't finish three layup attempts and the Wolverines as a whole couldn't slow down Penn State's pick and roll. Enter McGary, who ended PSU's run with a layup, then overcame a missed breakaway dunk to record a first-half double-double.

The McGary Growl came with the score tied at 16, and his histrionics immediately lifted the spirits of the players on the bench—and on the court. On the next possession, Nik Stauskas sunk a three, and the Wolverines wouldn't trail for the remainder of the game, pulling away late for a comfortable 17-point win. When called upon to infuse energy to a team that couldn't shake their previous struggles against Penn State, the freshman big man did that and more, finishing the game with ten points on 5/6 shooting (all in the first half) and 11 rebounds, five of them offensive.

After McGary kept the team afloat in the first half, the rest of the team stepped up in the second. Trey Burke led all scorers with 21 points, pouring in 13 in the second half on 4/6 shooting. Stauskas contributed nine of his 15 points in the latter stanza, including a "Game ... Blouses"-style dunk and nifty and-one layup. Jon Horford tallied all 11 of his points in the final 20 minutes, going 4/4 from the field in that span.

Gradually, over the course of the second half, Michigan's lead grew—after PSU's Jermaine Marshall tied the game at 39 with 17:25 left, the Wolverines outscored the Nittany Lions 44-27. Some added defensive intensity certainly helped; after Michigan ceded 14/26 two-point shooting in the first half, Penn State hit 12/26 from inside the arc in the second half. That may be just a two-shot difference, but the makes were more difficult to come by, at least.

Michigan moves on to play Wisconsin in the second game of the day tomorrow (~2:30 EST), and this game brought up some concerns for the rest of the tournament. Interior baskets were far too easy to come by for PSU, especially Sasa Borovnjak, who scored 15 points on 7/10 FG despite no offensive rebounds. The Wolverines looked lost defending the pick and roll, and offensively they biffed more than their fair share of layups.

They finally beat Penn State handily, however, outdoing KenPom's prediction by a point. Blemishes or no, that's taking care of business, and the team's first double-digit win since February 24th was a welcome sight.

Mitch McGary may not play pretty, but his contributions were also a delight—both to the fans and his teammates, apparently.

Unverified Voracity Thanks John Wilkins

Unverified Voracity Thanks John Wilkins

Submitted by Brian on March 13th, 2013 at 4:07 PM

03102013_SPT_UM_Indiana_Bball_DJB_1246_fullsize[1]

Say this for the man: he dances when you tell him to dance. (AnnArbor.com)

Thanks for the service. One of the secret joys of being a Michigan fan has been the excellent service provided by John Wilkins and the alumni band when the students aren't available. Wilkins always brought an entertaining flair to the job he created 21 years ago. He has just retired, and he'll be tough to replace:

Deciding to retire from the pep band was not easy for Wilkins. “I will miss the Alumni Pep Band very much,” he said. “The opportunity given to me to conduct a Michigan band at Michigan games, to play this great Michigan music, was a dream that I had since a little boy, a dream come true. Over the years I have developed incredible friendships with the players and will miss working with them on a regular basis. I'm glad that I have been invited to come back every year to conduct the entire Alumni Band at the football game in October on homecoming weekend.”

Also I have that tie.

It's kind of like the Heisman I guess. Denard will be on the cover of EA's most recent slight rehash of NCAA Football 2003. Smile incoming:

NCAA_CoverVote_Winner_Blog_Robinson_656x369[1]

He joins Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson. The game will pay tribute by having linebackers jump impossibly high to snag interceptions off everybody.

There were vote shenanigans that threatened to propel Texas A&M's Ryan Swope over the top, but EA promised they would eliminate fake votes, and by "eliminate fake votes" they meant "put Denard on the cover even if he finished last because this is EA, and EA gets dollars son even if it means turning a single player game into an always-online fiasco because we are mad at pirates."

He probably doesn't realize he's twisting the knife. After three straight weekends in Ann Arbor, Drake Harris finally gave the "it's not you… it's me" speech to Michigan State, decommiting. Except he said it was actually you, Michigan State:

"Since I'm just playing football now,” Harris told reporters after his regional basketball game Monday in Grand Rapids, “I want to play at a bigger school, win a national championship."

Analysts are saying don't count your 6'4" elite wide receivers before they hatch, but it looks like the field is catching up to Michigan now. They'll have an opportunity:

“I don’t have a frontrunner, I don’t even have a top list right now. I’m supposed to go down to Florida on March 22, and then Ohio State sometime in April and Notre Dame sometime in April. I’m not sure what I’m going to do in the summer. I’ll probably go out and visit some schools out West.”

Harris says he'll enroll early and plans to commit in October. Long way to go.

[Ace, you can just C&P this section into Friday Recruitin'. Sorry.]

Well, yeah. Trey Burke is a first-team All American to the Sporting News and the Big Ten's player of the year, the first time in 24 years a Michigan player has brought that award in. The last guy was Glen Rice, which also yeah. Burke said "I feel honored" in response to being honored. Tautological point guard is tautological.

It really came down to Oladipo versus Burke, and while I love Burke with a Denard-crush intensity you really can make a case for Oladipo, who shot 66% from two(!), was the #5 guy in true shooting percentage, has a near-top-100 OREB rate—something Michigan felt the lash of on Sunday—and is a defensive superstar. It's that versus Burke's huge usage and incredible assist rate and turnover avoidance. It's Woodson versus Manning for the Heisman, except Indiana fans probably won't be bringing it up 20 years later.

Well… uh. Tim Hardaway also made first-team All Big Ten on one of the two ballots. This I am not so sure about. Aaron Craft got the nod on the media ballots—a weird situation where the better defensive player gets the hype and the coaches go for offense—and to me that's a lot more justifiable than going strictly by scoring average. That's how you pick Hardaway over, say, Gary Harris, who shot 74/52/42 on FT/2s/3s versus Hardaway's 69/50/38 on virtually identical usage. Hardaway did rebound a lot better, but what rebounds exactly was Gary Harris supposed to acquire as a the two-guard in a lineup with Payne, Nix, and Dawson?

I haven't watched Harris that closely but I doubt Hardaway brings much defensive value he doesn't. Eh. Awards are pointless, see…

The CCHA's continuing inability to do anything right. This is far less egregious than the various Hunwick-related snubs last year (Hunwick was a top-three Hobey finalist and not the CCHA goalie of the year), but Boo Nieves was honorable mention All Rookie this year despite having the second-most points of any freshman in league play. Alaska's Tyler Morley's 8-7-15 was better than Nieves's 8-14-22.

In other news, highlights of Michigan's 3-2 win over Northern on Friday contain one Michigan goal and two by NMU.

#gongshow

Where was this all year? Hockey resoundingly swept Northern Michigan over the weekend in two games I did not see because I assumed Michigan would not have a home series last week, because when has Michigan ever finished between 6th and 8th in the CCHA? LOL that idea.

In any case, Michigan's Saturday demolition of Northern was so comprehensive it makes you a little mad. Michigan outshot Northern 23-6 in the first period and 16-3 in the second, whereupon it was 4-1 and all over but the shouting. If you can do that now…

Anyway, Saturday's game was a weird one with two penalty shots:

Copp converted the second once the goalie went for a poke and missed it, leaving his five-hole exposed. He also scored a grinder earlier.

Center Ice has recaps of Friday and Saturday. They've recovered from that January funk and go to Western this weekend. CI:

A few guys are really standing out on a weekly basis, Copp, Racine, Nieves, Merrill, Guptill, they just are playing on a level that no one else is coming close too. I vividly remember our series against Western earlier in the year because every stoppage of play a Bronco went to a Wolverine, chirped at him and gave him a shove. No one did anything about it. Today I thoroughly enjoyed seeing any Wildcat who went near Racine get a push and shove, most of the the time it was Andrew Copp doing it. Little things that make a big difference.

The Guptill-Copp-Deblois line sees Guptill on a seven-game point streak; Nieves was sick last weekend but played through it.

Vincent Smith AMA. #2 popped up on Reddit yesterday to do an AMA promoting his Pahokee kickstarter, and the first question is… not about Clowney. It's about what kind of sub he ate. Well done, zparts. The second question mentions Clowney, but also finger guns. There was also the inevitable MGoBlog question that got the inevitable "I don't really read it" answer.

There is another. Derrick Walton senior highlights:

He won't be Trey, but if Hardaway and Robinson are back he won't have to be. If he can be a better version of Yogi Ferrell (18% usage, 26 Arate, 43%/32%) Michigan shouldn't have too much of a dropoff on offense what with everyone else back.

Etc.: Denard pro day interview. Who wants to dwell on the Indiana game? Special teams… not bad? Jordan Morgan : Space Jam :: Brian : Big Lebowski. Hockey's had a lot of breakaways of late.

Hoops Picture Pages: Defensive Rebounding Woes

Hoops Picture Pages: Defensive Rebounding Woes

Submitted by Ace on March 13th, 2013 at 2:13 PM

The main reason Michigan lost a heartbreaker to Indiana on Sunday—yes, even more than their late-game free throw misses—was their inability to keep the Hoosiers off the offensive glass. Indiana rebounded 24 of their 40 missed shots; once second in the country in defensive rebounding, the Wolverines are now eighth in their own conference.

What's odd about this at first glance is that Michigan boasts a trio of centers who are all proficient rebounders. Jordan Morgan (#9) and Mitch McGary (#5) both rank among the top Big Ten players in defensive rebounding percentage, and Jon Horford would rank just ahead of Morgan if he played enough minutes to qualify.

After looking at the film, it's apparent that Michigan's bigs lack the support they need to defend the boards; the team's overall inexperience and poor perimeter defense are most apparent in this area. One play in particular from the Indiana game bears this out:

Let's look at this frame-by-frame, starting with the defensive lapse that begins the sequence—Tim Hardaway Jr. falling asleep in the corner and allowing Victor Oladipo to beat him on a backdoor cut:

Zeller has no problem getting the ball to Oladipo in great position for a shot. With Zeller and Jeremy Hollowell (#33, on the other side of the FT line from Zeller) at the top of the key—drawing Jordan Morgan and Glenn Robinson III way from the basket—Hardaway must fend for himself:

Here's where Michigan's rebounding issues begin in earnest. This is the point where Oladipo releases his shot. Note that Zeller, Morgan's man, has stayed on the perimeter, while Hollowell is crashing the paint behind Robinson. Hardaway is accounting for Oladipo and Robinson should be responsible for Hollowell; both are in decent position right here, while Nik Stauskas has been beaten to a good rebounding spot by Will Sheehy:

At the moment before Oladipo secures his own rebound, however, it's clear that Michigan's perimeter players haven't done their job. Hardaway first goes for the block and then reaches for the ball instead of putting a body on Oladipo, who will easily step by him and get the board. Robinson has watched the ball the entire time and allowed Hollowell a free pass to the basket. Stauskas is lucky not to give up a putback after letting Sheehy get right under the basket. Morgan is in solid position but the ball doesn't bounce his way. This is not good:

Oladipo kicks the ball out to Jordan Hulls, who gets a wide-open look from three after Trey Burke drifted away from the play. At the moment Hulls releases his shot, most of Michigan's players have at least partially recovered—Burke is attempting to close out, Morgan is on Zeller, and Hardaway and Stauskas have found their men. Robinson, however, is still watching the ball, unaware that Hollowell is on the complete opposite side of the lane:

As the shot comes off the rim, you can see three Wolverines—including Robinson—trying to box out two Hoosiers on the left side of the lane, while Morgan is left with the unenviable task of being one guy having to guard two guys:

This, predictably, does not go well. Zeller taps the rebound to Hollowell, who's able to gather the ball and go up for a layup despite Morgan's best efforts to be two Jordan Morgans.

To sum up, on this play we've got:

  • Hardaway falling asleep on a backdoor cut
  • Stauskas getting beat along the baseline
  • Hardaway not boxing out Oladipo
  • Robinson not boxing out Hollowell
  • Robinson not boxing out Hollowell again, nor even being in the same general area

Watch Robinson throughout the play, here in handy gif form:

He never leaves an area covering about 15 square feet until it's far too late. You know how coaches say the key to a freshman succeeding is having the game slow down for him? On defense, at least, the game is going about 200 mph for Robinson, who's trying to defend with his eyes instead of his feet—while he's watching the ball, he's losing his man.

One play doesn't make a trend, of course, but there were several other instances of Michigan's non-centers being the culprit for an offensive rebound.

[For more rebounding pain and suffering, hit THE JUMP.]

Scoreboard

Scoreboard

Submitted by BiSB on March 12th, 2013 at 11:15 AM

"When you are winning a war almost everything that happens can be claimed to be right and wise."

~ Winston Churchill

Taketh Away

(h/t @willbrinson, @detnewsRodBeard)

Trey Burke works the ball up the court, and crosses mid-court with just under nine seconds left. Jordan Morgan sets a high screen on Oladipo, and in an instant the much ballyhooed pre-game narrative is wiped out of the picture. This will no longer be a symbolic battle for the Big Ten Player of the Year. Indiana's best defender is a bystander. Instead it is Cody Zeller on Burke 30 feet from the basket.

The screen

History may be written by the winners, but in sports the winners rarely read the history they write. For the victor, the simple fact of the victory can obscure whatever came before. The foibles and missteps were merely a part of the rich tapestry that was their inevitable triumph. It is the character-building fire that forges their mettle. It is for the loser, rather, to lament the components of their fate. Almost exactly a week before Jordan Morgan set his screen, Keith Appling was dribbling the ball up that same court, in a tie game, with the shot clock off, when Trey Burke stole the ball and turned the tables on all the percentages. And when a second Burke steal sealed the game, no one cared that Michigan had frittered away a ten point lead in the last four minutes, or that they had missed the front end of a one-and-one to give Michigan State one last chance. It was Sparty, rather, who spoke with the bitter tinge of "what if" of their blown opportunity to win on what should have been a final possession.

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Burke gains the corner on Zeller, but only by a bit. Yogi Ferrell starts to sag off of Stauskas, but thinks better of it. Ferrell knows full well that Burke is taking this one to the rack, but Stauskas is not to be left. Christian Watford is under no such restriction on the far side against Glenn Robinson III, and he helps down. Burke isn't going to leave this one in the hands of a jump shot from a freshman, no matter how talented that freshman may be. Zeller extends an impossibly long arm over Burke, who responds in kind with a fully extended flip of the ball. Jordan Morgan has reached the free throw line.

The shot

If you are anything like me, dear Michigan fan, then there is a part of you that is relieved that it got this far. The recent history of Michigan basketball is one of repeated crashes to reality. A first NCAA berth in a decade is followed by a 15-17 season. A first Big Ten title in centuries and a four-seed leads to an early exit against Ohio (YTO). So when Michigan came out of the gates this year as an unstoppable hell-beast, there remained a little voice in your head that urged caution. Like the slave used by Julius Caesar to ride on his chariot to remind him of his mortality, the little voice kept whispering in your ear, "they are not Gods. They are merely human." When Ben Brust hit a half-court heave and Michigan was run out of the Breslin Center and utterly collapsed in Happy Valley, those whispers became screams that could not be ignored. And when Michigan went down 10-3 early, there was a part of you that said, "please not this again."

[After the jump, not this again]

Indiana 72, Michigan 71

Indiana 72, Michigan 71

Submitted by Ace on March 10th, 2013 at 7:15 PM


The final shot (Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog). An even more painful angle here.

This wasn't how Trey Burke's almost-certainly-final home game was supposed to end.

With 27 seconds left and Michigan clinging to a one-point lead, Burke stepped to the line for a one-and-one. The 79% free-throw shooter caught the left side of the iron, and a stunned Crisler crowd watched the ball ricochet to the corner, where it was corralled by Cody Zeller. On the other end, Zeller laid in two of his game-high 25 points to give Indiana the lead, and with no timeouts it was up to Burke to engineer a game-winner with 13 seconds left.

Burke's found daylight driving down the left-hand side, but he couldn't finish with his outstretched left arm while trying to draw contact. The rebound went directly to Jordan Morgan, whose putback hung for an agonizing moment before falling unceremoniously off the precipice. Christian Watford chased down the rebound and saved the ball to Zeller, and in the blink of an eye Michigan had gone from the verge of a second straight Big Ten title to watching the Hoosiers celebrate an outright crown on their home floor.

Michigan's first home loss of the season has consequences going beyond a missed banner; with the loss, the Wolverines are locked into the fifth seed of the Big Ten Tournament. Instead of a bye, Michigan will face Penn State in the first round on Thursday afternoon.


Fuller/MGoBlog

In the aftermath, John Beilein praised his team's effort, but said there are "some things we have to work on" if his team wants to compete in Chicago this week and, beyond that, the NCAA Tournament.

Rebounding is clearly one of those things. Indiana pulled down 24 of their 40 missed shots, which helped them overcome an unusually subpar shooting effort from inside the arc (23/54). Four of Zeller's ten rebounds came on offense, while Victor Oladipo tallied seven en route to his own double-double (14 points, 13 rebounds). Oladipo also starred on defense, playing most of the game man-up on Burke; while Michigan's star tallied 20 points, it took him 20 shots to get there, and his four assists were cancelled out by four turnovers.

With Burke held in check, Michigan's supporting cast couldn't get the job done. Tim Hardaway Jr. was 4/6 from two but just 1/6 from three and missed the front end of his own critical late one-and-one with the chance to extend Michigan's lead to five. Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III combined for 17 first half points but just eight in the second stanza. Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary were 5/14 from the field and each had just two defensive rebounds.

In the end, failing to do the basics cost Michigan a banner. In the last 52 seconds, the Wolverines missed three of four free throws—along with the chance to attempt two more—and allowed six points to Zeller, two of them on a putback after Michigan once again couldn't box him out. When it came time to prove which team was the best in the Big Ten this season, Indiana stepped up.

Instead of rising to the occasion, Michigan fell victim to familiar bugaboos, then watched as their two best players missed undefended 12-foot shots to seal it. The final shot rolling off the rim was the final nail in a coffin the Wolverines had constructed for themselves.

A dejected Trey Burke walked off the court with his head down after the final buzzer. His magnificent, brief career at Crisler is probably over, and he won't want to read the last page of this particular chapter.

Basketbullets: Purdue Part 2

Basketbullets: Purdue Part 2

Submitted by Brian on March 7th, 2013 at 1:14 PM

3/6/2013 – Michigan 80, Purdue 75 – 25-5, 12-5 Big Ten

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You'd be forgiven if you hurled your cookies at the trough of Michigan's lurching roller-coaster of an evening last night. To go from 12 up to 12 down is a painful 20 minutes of basketball, and after the Penn State debacle the prospect of yet another gross loss way out of proportion to how difficult it is to play on the road loomed.

I went into "if you can't say anything nice…" mode on twitter; judging from the tenor on WTKA today many people who did not probably should have. Our reactions to the swings in basketball games are interesting: everyone is happy if Michigan had fallen behind by 12, gone up 12 in the second half, and saw their lead whittled down to five by the end. It seems like people judge these things like Kenpom's wingraphs do:

image

That black time when Purdue built their peak is the thing that seems to be lingering on in people's minds today, because Purdue isn't very good this year. I'm among the grumbly crowd today even though I think I should rationally say that the order of points isn't important just so long as you pile up the expected number before the end of the game, which Michigan just about did. While Purdue's not great, the line here was 6 according to both computers and Vegas, and Michigan was a free throw from hitting it.

And yet. It seems like Michigan's playing with fire and calling in Trey Burke to put it out once you accidentally get it on the cat and he spreads it through the house. Trey got that glint in his eye because Terone Johnson made at least one bad decision amongst his impressive barrage of lane runners:

Burke said he was spurred by some good-natured trash talk by the Boilers' Terone Johnson and his younger brother, Ronnie.

"Both of them. The Johnson brothers and a couple others," Burke said. "We knew it was going to be that type of game. Purdue is coming off a win at the Kohl Center in Wisconsin."

Burke said it was the run-of-the-mill trash talk, such as, "You can't guard me" after made baskets.

"I think it got me going — that shouldn't be something that gets me going but I was passive a lot in the first half," said Burke, who added seven assists and five rebounds in 37 minutes.

I cannot imagine what would possess oneself to poke something as spiky as Trey Burke. I guess 32 points on a bunch of tough shots. In any case, Burke activated alpha dog mode down the stretch and clawed Michigan back into the game, as he is wont to do and Michigan plays for a second consecutive Big Ten title on Sunday.

That's a lot of weight on one man's shoulders, even the player of the year. Kemba Walker teaches that it is possible for some dude to drag teams to glory; it's a lot easier when he's got significant backup. Michigan got it in this game… on offense. Right now anyone disqualifying Michigan from serious things because of a lagging defense is hard to argue with.

Photos

From Bryan Fuller:

Bullets

Trey usual. Burke had a couple of free trips to the line late but otherwise earned all of his 26. He earned most of those down the stretch. Those came on 24 shot equivalents. That's not a great ratio out of context. In context you're sucking up almost 40% of Michigan's possessions and carrying Michigan back from a huge deficit, so scraping above a PPP is pretty dang good. I'm not even sure the passivity Burke bemoaned is that big of a deal. The story of Michigan's first half offense was missing point-blank shots.

Meanwhile it was the usual in A:TO: 7-1, and he added the three or so steals that's becoming customary*. He had a number of those one handed-floaters where he puts the ball up and yoinks his hand back like it is a hot potato:

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These go in more than it seems they should. (Fuller)

When Michigan was climbing up their second-half hill, Trey alternated between being an alpha dog at people and seeming super pissed off when other folks—usually Stauskas—were not getting him the ball. Stauskas was getting to the line consistently. This is the only thing that saved him from the wrath of Burke.

Speaking of…

*[Q: Trey gets credit when he pokes a ball out from behind and it goes to another player, right? Or is it the guy who secures the ball? If it's the latter Trey probably got shortchanged since his teammates corralled some balls that were set free by his on-ball D.]

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Ouch. (Fuller)

Hello Mr. Stauskas, nice to see you again. Michigan's shiner-sporting Canadian got a sly "not just a shooter"-type compliment early in the game when he drove into the lane. Everybody drink. By the end of it Stauskas had attacked the basket so consistently that the announcers did not even bother to mention he could do things other than shoot when he drew his third shooting foul of the half. IIRC, one of his trips to the line was a freebie when he got hit away from the basket with Michigan in the bonus; even so his ratio of attempts inside the line to attempts outside was 8:4.

He also locked down DJ Byrd, who had three points on seven shots and couldn't find an uncontested three all night. It was his best game in a long time.

You'd like him to hit more of those swooping layups, I guess, but at least he's now getting the block/charge calls he wasn't earlier in the year. He suffered some truly horrendous decisions on those early in the year. Refs probably assumed he was just a shooter. No more! For now.

Rough night for Mitch. 3/4 shooting but only 13 minutes, 3 fouls, two TOs, and zero rebounds. Michigan got beat up on the boards 24%/38% and the bigs take the brunt of the blame there. McGary, Horford, Bielfeldt, and Morgan played 42 minutes and acquired five rebounds between them, with only two of those on the defensive end. Yech.

It seems like Tim Hardaway is not shooting well even when he is sometimes. Tim was partially responsible for the missed bunny parade; he still finished 3/7 from both inside and outside the arc. That is… pretty good, actually. Yeah, a couple of those buckets came in transition but when one is a thunderous and-one that came because you made a move to get past a guy trying to take a charge that's still a point earned.

And yet it seems like Hardaway scuffled. I don't know man.

Hi I'm Matt Vogrich. Hi Matt.

I'm leaving now. I'm Matt Vogrich. Bye Matt. Thanks for hitting a three this time.

Halftime run: all right OH WHAT THE… Michigan came out of the locker room seemingly poised for Beilein Patented Halftime Adjustment run, getting the first two baskets out of the break. Then they scored two to Purdue's 11 over the next five minutes. Oy.

The sixth-most irritating thing about college basketball refereeing. Guy puts two hands on midsection of opponent and gets away with it. Happens 92.3% of the time. Should be a clear-cut call: bring both hands down to check opponent, make even vague contact, call.

Sliding. Kenpom's reflecting the eye test when it comes to Michigan's defense, which was floating in the high 30s midway through the conference season but has now slipped to 60th—coincidentally the exact place they finished 2012. If they stay there, some team is going to raid them and there's nothing Burke or anyone will be able to do about it.

It's disappointing. You'd think that they'd move the other direction since they're so young and hypothetically getting better faster than older teams who are closer to a full grasp of what their coach wants them to do.

Stupid half court heave and stupid Penn State game. Without those, Michigan has locked up a share and Indiana is playing for one.

Random thing about hypothetical tourney matchup that will almost certainly be irrelevant. 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:

John Gasaway@JohnGasaway

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.