After plum forgetting to rank the gifs the last time out, that feature is back just in time to attempt to pick a top moment from Sunday's triumph against Michigan State. I'm sure that won't be hard at all. It's clearly that Burke stealthat other Burke stealthe floor slappingthe other floor slappingHardaway trolling IzzoMcGary's magnificent pump fake oh god help me.
This is not the number one gif of the game—you'll have to hit the jump to find that out—but this totally unaltered look at the interaction between Tim Hardaway Jr. and Tom Izzo is, again, totally unaltered and completely true to life in every way:
Good to see that when Hardaway's shot isn't falling, he's finding other ways to help the team win. Or, at the very least, trolling Izzo on national TV.
[Hit THE JUMP for the top ten gifs from the game, plus several honorable mentions because I'm terrible at making difficult decisions.]
One of the great things about this here blog is the user-generated content. After the Michigan State game the board came though with a photoshop thread inspired by Melanie Maxwell's great shot of Trey Burke's steal. This, in turn, has inspired a new regular feature—"Shop Class"—where we'll highlight the best work from these threads (and I'll throw my hat into the ring, as well).
Let's start with one of the many variations of that Maxwell shot, this one posted by hail2thevict0r, who maximized the Appling shadenfreude:
In a similar vein, BlueBarron was reminded of a meme of yore—though I'd imagine the Spartans were quite impressed, actually:
Brian's front-page commentary led to my own effort:
Michigan forward Mitch McGary said Appling used a spin move earlier in the game, which Michigan won 58-57, and Burke told him exactly how he was going to swipe the ball.
"He told me whenever (Appling) spins, he puts it in his right hand and it's an easy steal," McGary said. "Tim and I were just hoping he didn't hang on the rim."
Note that if it didn't work Appling would have had a choice between pressing the opportunity presented and giving Michigan a last shot of their own or holding for the final shot—it was an excellent time to go for broke.
Champions are made in the hot tub eating pizza. Greg unearths this great shot of Michigan kicker Bob Bergeron eating pizza in a hot tub that made SI:
He got to keep the pizza. Wild west back then.
CIVILIZATION. This is the end of it. There is nowhere to go but down from this.
Gritalanche. It was a gritclone on Saturday. A toughdome.
Michigan's Mitch McGary provides much-needed energy, toughness off bench against Michigan State
“We’ve had some real pretty wins here, where we did everything right and the ball went in and we just played lights-out,” Beilein explained after the win. “Today, it was all about grit.”
Michigan allowed Michigan State to rebound half of their misses. Congratulations to Mike Rothstein, who did not play along.
Burke steals a signature win for Michigan
Or at least his headline writer. You never know who does those things these days.
Make sure you use the right block M, as long as it's some shade of blinding yellow. Via Kyle Meinke, Michigan's persnicketiness about the block M:
I'm fine with this. Persnicketiness is good with the whole branding thing. but don't try to tell me that that color maize represents the colors Michigan is using on their uniforms these days. Y'all need to get your persnick on more.
BONUS: Hey, #FFCC000 is what I settled on when I was eyeballing what maize was way back in the blogspot days. I was off on the blue, using #000022. This portion of the post brought to you by things no one cares about but me.
Tiebreaker scenarios. The events of last week have caused an enormous hairball in the Big Ten standings below Indiana. Michigan actually has a not-infinitesimal shot at the title since Indiana finishes with Ohio State and Michigan. These teams are still in the hunt:
Indiana: share clinched. Win outright by winning at home versus OSU or @ Michigan.
OSU: win out (@ IU, Illinois), Michigan beats IU
Michigan: win out (@ Purdue, IU), OSU beats IU
Wisconsin/MSU: IU loses out, win UW/MSU game, don't blow last game against low-level opponent.
The chances are not good, but they're not zero. You may shake your fist at the Wisconsin and Penn State games now. In the event that a bunch of teams tie at the same record, Michigan is hurt by going 0-1 against Wisconsin (grrr) and often loses the tiebreaker and gets stuck without a bye in the first round of the Big Ten tourney, playing (grr) Penn State. If Michigan finishes 12-6 in the Big Ten that is at least a 50/50 proposition.
Lolizzo. Classic "my players destroyed the universe, but it's my fault" line:
"We were looking to get Gary a shot at the top of the key or to Keith and we didn't run it right," Izzo said. "We had a couple of freshmen in there that struggled with it. That was my fault."
Sports are hard, and even great players usually succumb to their hardness. When the hockey team had TJ Hensick, when they were tied or trailing late I spent all moments with Hensick on the bench pining for his next shift, and mostly was disappointed when nothing happened. I mean… Denard Robinson. That guy was so great that he ran through two Ohio State defenders and teleported to the endzone, and yet that first sentence is a large chunk of his Michigan career epitaph.
There's a reason Wikipedia describes Casey at the Bat like so:
For a relatively short poem apparently dashed off quickly (and denied by its author for years), "Casey at the Bat" had a profound effect on American popular culture. It has been recited, re-enacted, adapted, dissected, parodied and subjected to just about every other treatment one could imagine.
Probability is an implacable thing. When we turn our lonely eyes to hero du jour in our time of need, the odds are stacked against us. If you're great you move that needle only slightly. Your brain is all like
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
They'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
Your brain is kind of dumb, and Casey at the Bat is great at telling you that. Your brain listens but does not hear.
My dumb brain was contemplating a blown ten-point lead against Michigan State on the heels of a blown 15-point lead to Penn State and had decided basketball was a pudding and the universe a fake. Michigan State had the ball, the game was tied, and the shot clock was no longer relevant. Earlier in the year Michigan had lost when a no-hoper went in, and my dumb brain was assuming that would always happen forever.
Burke did this.
The thing about this is that Burke developed that move midway through the season and now deploys it a few times a game. He really ramped it up after his first game against Aaron Craft, seemingly because Craft just pissed him off. A few times a game Burke will muster his energy, hike up his shorts, and go looking for trouble on defense. That's part of his ever-expanding game.
That breakway layup off the from-behind steal is a thing I can see him gearing up for now, and I saw it then, and because my brain is dumb it'll burn that into my memory and not the other times when Casey struck out.
It'll go there next to Braylonfest and Mario Manningham and Ernest Shazor killing that guy and Phil Brabbs and that one time I turned on a basketball game with Michigan down 15 to Wisconsin with six minutes left and saw Daniel Horton eat that deficit into nothingness. It'll probably be the first thing anyone involved with this rivalry thinks about when Trey Burke is brought up. It was the kind of thing that's the first thing on the highlight reel when they put your number in the rafters.
That he followed it up by robbing Michigan State of a chance to respond is icing on the cake. After Ben Brust, any shot in the air with a chance to beat Michigan is going to be two seconds of awful anticipation no matter how likely it is to go in. Trey Burke is both awesome at basketball and extremely protective of my emotions. He curls his lip and tilts his head and probably says "damn" and takes basketballs away from people who should not have them after 38 minutes of carrying twelve teammates and 12-thousand-some people in Crisler on his back.
Dawgs. This program has had a couple of nasty dudes at point guard the past few years. I hope Derrick Walton can inherit that.
Your excuses are lame. Both Izzo and Appling claimed that there was some sort of confusion about timeouts before Burke picked Appling's pocket, which is a pretty weak explanation since Appling has clearly decided no TO is coming when he spins and moves to the center of the court. Y'all got robbed straight up.
Life is strange. Michigan loses to Penn State, then beats Michigan State despite going 0/12 from three. I quiver at the thought of playing Purdue. Everyone will turn into crows and play crowhockey, or something.
Obligatory video review complaint. Nik Stauskas got busted open by a wild Branden Dawson elbow, required 12 stitches and was not able to return—probably because he was concussed—and no foul was assessed after an interminable break. It looked like this:
If that's the way you're going to call it, fine. It was inadvertent. But then stop with the interminable reviews. Apparently nothing is a flagrant foul, so stop looking for them.
It's strange how different sports legislate themselves. If hockey was reffed under basketball rules, every post-whistle scrum would come with two ejections, but in basketball you can crush a guy's face and as long as you weren't looking at him it's cool. That's some sort of penalty in the other two sports where elbows get involved, hockey and soccer, and probably a red card/major. In basketball, nope… but only one sport stops the game incessantly to look at these sorts of incidents. I don't get it man.
Morgan defense watch. After Dan Dakich pointed out that Nix always-always goes over his right shoulder when making post moves it's been something that's stood out to me as I watch MSU play, and in this one it was obvious. In that tendency you could see where Morgan is a superior on-ball defender to McGary.
Against Morgan, Nix put up a bunch of contested shots on which Morgan positioned himself such that Nix would take a bump as he tried to go up. In scattered matchups against McGary it was clear McGary had not absorbed the scouting report; Nix got him for a bucket by threatening to go to the middle of the lane and then spinning over his right shoulder like he always does. Morgan, on the floor at the same time, was visibly irritated at McGary—he probably said something along the lines of "he ALWAYS turns over his right shoulder" or "RTFSR*."
Despite that make the difference in Nix's efficacy was dramatic. Morgan played nine minutes in the first game; Nix went 6 of 9 from the floor and had 3 assists to no turnovers. Morgan had 24 in this one; Nix went 2 of 9 with 2 assists and six turnovers, with one of those makes the aforementioned bucket against McGary. Morgan's absence in the first game was definitely a contributing factor to the ugliness therein.
*["Read the frondling scouting report."]
Mocking floor slap for the win. State did the team floor slap thing in the previous game, and did it in this one, and Big Tough Mr. Men got an alley-oop on their face this time, whereupon Michigan responded with sports sarcasm:
Sports sarcasm is the best. You can tell it is mocking because 1) everyone knows MSU's about to call a TO, and Trey does it twice. I enjoyed that.
McGary FTs. Having Mitch McGary receive the inbounds pass at the end was clearly not the best idea, but Michigan put themselves in a situation where that was possible by using up all their timeouts early. When MSU tripled Burke it was a scramble off the make and the other options were Horford and a covered LeVert.
1) Dump basketball timeouts. End game situations are more chaotic and fun without them.
2) Don't call all of them, especially when you're just setting up a play instead of preserving a possession.
McGary other game. A mixed bag. Like the rest of the bigs he shares in the issues rebounding. One DREB in 21 minutes is Nnanna Egwu level output. He was efficient offensively, going 4/6 from the floor and hitting 3/5 FTs, and he generated a few of those shots himself with two-bounce drives and a nice short corner turnaround. He's showing things that should lead to an increased offensive role as he develops.
Paging Caris Levert. (Upchurch @ right) With Stauskas knocked out four minutes in, Caris LeVert got starters minutes. He did okay with them, scoring eight points on 4/8 shooting from two, missing three attempts from deep, and getting a couple steals. He was mostly guarding Gary Harris; Harris had an eh day with 16 points on 16 shot equivalents.
As long as Stauskas isn't suffering ill effects from the concussion I don't think he'll see his playing time cut much if at all… as long as he's not doing the things that caused Beilein to explode at him in the Penn State game. Competition for that spot will improve it, and if Caris is reliable enough to get him 16 minutes instead of eight Michigan can rest Tim Hardaway a bit more.
Statistical extremes. Take your pick as to which was more of an anomaly: Michigan going 0-fer from three or MSU coughing up 18 turnovers to Michigan's 7. I'll take the former since Michigan is a notoriously low-turnover team and MSU has had their share of issues. Also in the anomaly bucket: MSU rebounded half their misses. While not entirely unexpected, that is extreme.
Speaking of the rebounding. Hammered. Michigan went with the dual-big lineup for nine minutes; it didn't help much. As mentioned, McGary just had 1 DREB. Morgan had four, Horford none in four minutes. If the ball wasn't bouncing to a guard chances are Michigan did not get it.
Michigan's rebounding is reverting after another nonconference season in which they found themselves top-ten. After entering Big Ten play #2 in DREB they're down to 45th. They're fifth in Big Ten play, still a major step up from last year's ninth but not an earth-shaking paradigm change.
Burke fall down make fast break. Michigan State exploited a couple of things to get some early fast break opportunities off of makes: 1) Burke falls down a lot after he tries layups and 2) he never gets a call on this even if someone has bashed him to the ground. You'd like to see him keep his feet, but it's hard to see how in a lot of these situations.
Drinkin' your milkshake part 2. Drake Harris visited last weekend. This weekend…
Devin Gardner changes his twitter handle like every two weeks.
I hear tell he's supposed to be back next weekend, too? Dios mio, man.
Trey Burke's legs were failing him. He'd just missed a jumper, and on the ensuing Michigan State fast break he couldn't get back to close out on Gary Harris—while Harris missed the open three, Michigan's discombobulated defense couldn't keep Derrick Nix from hitting the putback.
The basket cut the Wolverine lead to four with just over six minutes to play, and the only Wolverine to consistently produce offensively appeared to be running on fumes.
On the very next possession, Burke found a way past MSU's Keith Appling for another layup. He'd score six more points to close out the game, and of course came up with two steals to seal a classic nailbiter against Michigan's chief basketball rival. The only Wolverine with more than four made field goals, Burke ground his way to 21 points on 8/17 shooting with eight assists, two turnovers, and five(!) steals. As if that wasn't enough, he held Appling to nine points on nine shots.
The lasting images of this game will be Burke's pickpocketing of Appling at midcourt, subsequent breakaway dunk, his jubilant—and yes, just a bit mocking—slapping of the floor (left, Upchurch), and his final swipe of Gary Harris to end the game. For me, though, it will be him trying, and failing, to get back on Harris, only to dig into the deepest recesses of his soul and find the energy to pull out the win.
Michigan's chances to win took a huge blow just four minutes into the game, when an errant elbow from Branden Dawson caught Nik Stauskas flush above the eye, opening up a nasty cut that required 12 stitches and left the Wolverines without their best outside shooter. Not coincidentally, Michigan missed all 12 of their three-point attempts in the game. Miraculously, this didn't spell their demise.
That had much to do with Michigan's much-maligned big men. Jordan Morgan, who barely played in the first contest between these two, hounded Spartan forward Derrick Nix into six turnovers with stellar on-ball defense and several drawn charges. Mitch McGary scored 11 points off the bench (4/6 from the field) with three offensive rebounds, bringing the team much-needed energy and even hitting a couple clutch free throws down the stretch (yes, he also missed the front end of a one-and-one and had a critical late turnover, though it appeared the latter was a botched call, by no means the only one in this game).
With Stauskas absent, Caris LeVert was forced to take on a big role and came through as well as one could ask of a rail-thin freshman in a tight, physical contest. While he missed all three of his shots from downtown, he hit 4/8 two-pointers—including a pretty up-and-under at the first half buzzer to cut Michigan's halftime deficit to three—and played solid perimeter defense. Fellow freshman Glenn Robinson III chipped in eight points (4/6 field goals), and unlike the first game the Spartans couldn't take advantage of his interior defense, in large part because John Beilein did his best to play two bigs when Nix and Adreian Payne were both on the floor.
There were struggles, of course. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored just six points on 3/12 shooting and had three turnovers, looking like the scuffling Hardaway of last year. In the first half, the Spartans rebounded ten of their 20 missed shots, and the Wolverines' inability to keep them off the glass opened up the perimeter—State took advantage by hitting 5/11 first-half threes. A late five-point possession for MSU featured an and-one and two offensive rebounds, cutting a ten-point lead in half when it appeared the Wolverines could cruise to victory.
In the end, though, it was Burke's day. Even with the gas tank perilously close to empty, Burke staked his claim as the best player in the country. In doing so, he not only kept the Wolverines from going into a tailspin, but propelled them to second place in the Big Ten, with an outside—but very real—chance that next Sunday's game against Indiana will be for a share of the conference crown.
The final stat line may not be as gaudy as some of his others, but this was Trey Burke's entry into Michigan basketball lore. Slap the floor—the Wolverines aren't done defending their Big Ten title.
Hello. I went away, and did not tell anyone because I thought to myself "I'll have plenty of time to put some posts together in the evenings," which was not true. I should just admit to myself that sometimes I am actually on vacation. Anyway, on with talking about things.
2/24/2013 – Michigan 71, Illinois 58 – 23-4, 10-4 Big Ten
I did not have the privilege of taking in the Dan Dakich Trollganza, since I had no audio. I may have missed some things. Thing I didn't miss: Dakich's Trollrankings having Illinois in front of Michigan despite Michigan having beat them by 74 at Assembly earlier this year.
That's just cheap heat; I bet Doris turned him down and now he's taking out his anger at any available target. Doris, why?
Photos. From Eric Upchurch.
Trey Burke is kind of good, and in this one he was kind of Deshaun Thomas. On the one hand, Burke had a game that will rank with his statistical best no matter when he leaves: 26 points on 15 shot equivalents, eight assists, and the obligatory solitary turnover. Commence the waving of flags and blasting of trumpets.
On the other hand, where did everyone else go? Robinson and Hardaway edged into double digits, Stauskas was 0-fer, and the supporting scoring was a step back. I guess this is mostly Stauskas's off night, as if he gets off his requisite ten this is not even a conversation; as it was, Michigan still managed 1.15 PPP. To me that largely seemed like…
Illinois did not prevent Michigan from getting into transition. Doing that was always going to be difficult since Illinois relies on jumpers so much, and the Illini exacerbated their usual slate of ready-made breakaways off of long rebounds with a ton of open-court turnovers. Though turnovers were nearly equal—Illinois 13, Michigan 10—Michigan tripled Illinois's steals with 9, and it seemed like every one of those
came at a junction where Illinois was pressing to extend their lead to an unmanageable distance or fight their way back into the game, and
led to an uncontested layup.
Thus a 61% shooting night from two and Robinson's customary 5/6 line on which most of his makes required no dribbles. Burke, too, had two or three freebie layups. Those transition opportunities provided most of the distance between Michigan's twos and Illinois's twos, so provided most of the final margin in a game statistically even otherwise.
It's back: post-half run. Hypothesis about beating people with half-time adjustments took some hits over the ugly four-game run earlier, but it was golden in this one as Michigan went from down 31-28 to up 43-34 over the course of the first five minutes of the second half.
This did not compare to Michigan's blitz a few minutes later. Illinois hit a three to bring it to within four and then suffered a four-minute barrage spurred by those open-court turnovers. When it was over they were down 17 and it was all over but the pointless timeouts.
Morgan's defense: ninja impact. McGary started and after Michigan gave up 11 quick points Horford got a crack; those two alternated until Michigan found itself down eight with eight minutes left, whereupon Morgan came in. Morgan would play 17 of the remaining 28 minutes; Michigan would outscore the Illini by 21 in that time. Morgan's first stretch of PT from around 8 minutes to around 4 was a big chunk of that, as Michigan went on a 13-3 run on which the Illinois points were a Tyler Griffey free throw off of a GRIII foul and an unassisted Nnanna Egwu jumper. I know that's Morgan's man but like okay.
Morgan suffered the banked end-of-half three, and then came in a minute into the second half when McGary picked up a third foul. This was of course the second-half run; by the time Morgan left Michigan had made up a two-point deficit and led by seven. Morgan gave up a foul to get Tracy Abrams a couple FTAs; the only other make in that sequence was a DJ Richardson jumper.
So… yeah, if you want to point to Morgan as the guy who subtly swung the game from extreme danger to comfort you go right ahead. At this point it's clear his ankle is still bothering him but Michigan needs him; hopefully that's a good sign for Michigan's chances down the stretch as he gets healthier. He is clearly a better option than anyone else when McGary isn't acting as a possession fountain. In this game, McGary wasn't, with just one OREB and a steal. In that case the hedge-and-respond game Morgan has going is something the other two guys can't match.
Minutes: an issue? Burke went his customary 39; Robinson and Hardaway had 36 each. Against Penn State(!) Burke went 39, Stauskas 34, Robinson 33. The debacle at MSU obscures what the numbers might have been in a game where Michigan was within 20 for big chunks of the second half; Burke went 40 in the OT game at Wisconsin with Stauskas at 39, Hardaway at 37, Robinson 33.
You get the idea. Michigan plays all starters except their five big minutes. Burke's minutes have been especially big. Is this going to catch up with Michigan come tourney time as Burke turns into a walking corpse?
As best as I can figure, it's not an issue. A lot of good teams ride their starters hard. Last year's final four featured Kansas (314th in bench minutes), Kentucky (323rd), Louisville (340th), and Ohio State (308th). Michigan's currently 328th in that stat, which is either "a troubling lack of depth" or "a ticket to the Final Four" depending on your half-empty/half-full status.
At 35 minutes a game Burke is 88th nationally and on another level from the other guys, who range from about 200th to about 400th in minutes averaged. He's not that far in front of the various point guards from last year's FF, though. UK's Marquis Teague and KU's Tyshawn Taylor averaged 33; Craft was at 32. Only Peyton Siva was a significant step back.
Last year's FF strongly suggests that the best teams in college basketball are heavily dependent on their starters and that PGs can handle minutes in the mid-30s without much problem. If Michigan goes out and Burke has an aberrantly bad game, his heavy minutes over the home stretch of the season will get a lot of blame. But he'll probably just have had a bad game.
First episode Walter White, part infinity. Beilein yo:
would you like to hear about covalent bonds they're super exciting (Upchurch)
Free throws! Michigan had some of them, and had most of them before a brief period of end-game fouling on which Burke was 3/4. (The previous possession ended with a Burke shooting foul but one after 35 seconds had expired—definitely not on purpose.) 17 is not a huge number, but after the last month or so where trips to the line have been beyond rare it's nice that Michigan can put together some FTAs even if they're against two of the hackiest teams in the league.
Rebounding lockdown. After a frustrating start in which Illinois picked up 6 offensive rebounds as they built a 21-13 lead, Michigan locked it down. After the first 12 minutes Michigan allowed two more OREBs and finished the game in a dead heat with the Illini on the boards. Still not great against one of the poorer rebounding teams in the league; we'll live with it.
There was a point at which I thought Nnanna Egwu had read the blog and was super mad about its season-long obsession with the fact that he can't grab a ball to save his life; this faded somewhat as the game progressed. We can add another 22 minutes without a defensive rebound to Sam McLaurin's ledger; the man is a miracle.
2/17/2012 – Michigan 79, Penn State 71 – 22-4, 9-4 Big Ten
Y U NO PLAY DEFENSE (Bryan Fuller)
A home game against Penn State is supposed to be a laugher, and on one side of the ball it was. Michigan put up 1.2 points a possession even without the participation of their centers—literally. McGary, Horford, and Morgan combined for zero points in 43 minutes. No one really noticed because Glenn Robinson III spent most of the day playing NBA Jam and Nik Stauskas was so much more than a shooter that it took five or six drives before something akin to "Not Just A Shooter" got exhumed by the announcers. Michigan did what it does, on one side of the ball.
On the other side of the ball, raise your hand if DJ Newbill's umpteenth only vaguely resisted drive to the basket in the first half caused you to exclaim a variant on "you have got to be kidding me." That's everyone.
Now raise your hand if that exclamation included a swear word you invented on the spot. That's probably just me, but it got bad. Michigan turned to Matt Vogrich in the second half. Since Stauskas was going off this was presumably a move to shore up the defense; Vogrich promptly lost his guy and gave up open corner threes on consecutive possessions. The first one was a reaction to a bad McGary gamble, sure. The second… dot dot dot. At many points Penn State should have been down 15, and the scoreboard said they were down by 3 or 5.
This felt bizarrely familiar to me, and I figured out why: I've watched a lot of NC State this year. This game was disturbingly reminiscent of watching the Wolfpack play. This is not good. You get a window into the psyche of another fanbase when you adopt them as Michigan-by-proxy, and I think NC State fans are pretty pissed off that their combination of players is barely over .500 in a weak ACC. I kind of hate them myself because they combine some breathtaking talent with total indifference on defense. They can beat Duke; they can give up 86 points to Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
Finding a shadow of that team in this Michigan outfit that was until recently cruising towards a one-seed is not fun. This is analysis! This is Thunderdome!
Oh, but that shadow is there. Click the conference-only checkbox on Kenpom and you get a shocking splash of red:
Michigan is easier to shoot against than anyone in Big Ten play. Easier than Nebraska. Easier than Iowa. Easier than Penn State. Easier than Illinois despite Illinois playing with big men that may in fact be ghosts. Easier than the crippled husk of Northwestern.
Northwestern is the Rasputin of the Big Ten: shot, stabbed, poisoned, shot again, trampled by horses, chucked in the river. Finally dead and bloated, they are aimlessly floating towards the next life. It's harder to shoot against them than Michigan.
It gets worse when you consider the low number of transition opportunities Michigan provides since they're so responsible with the ball on offense. It has nothing to do with possibly-meaningless three-point shooting, at which Michigan is perfectly average at defending. It is entirely because they are also dead last at keeping twos out of their basket. It's repeatable stuff that the stats are probably not fully encapsulating. It is Not Good. (This is analysis this is Thunderdome.)
Earlier in the year a few people sounded the alarm about Michigan as a national contender, citing its defense. I said "but look at the outlying offense and wait for the defense to maybe move up a bit, Michigan is for real." That's a tough case to make right now. The offense has given up its massive lead and slid back to third; the defense has gone the wrong direction.
When DJ Newbill has a band in ten years they will be called The Unresisted Forays Into The Crisler Lane, man. Sound the alarm. It's time for a hard look at drastic actions, whatever those might be. Waving your hands in the general direction of a shooter is a start.
From Bryan Fuller:
Threes. They feel not random. The numbers say they are. Opponents' three point shooting since the start of Michigan's brutal stretch:
Indiana: 7/18, 39%. Season average: 42%.
OSU: 7/16, 44%. Season: 37%.
Wisconsin: 10/24, 42%. Season: 34%.
MSU, 7/20, 35%: Season: 35%.
Penn State: 6/18: 33%. Season: 30%.
It has felt like Michigan is giving up open look after open look and is getting scorched from deep. The result of this feeling: approximately three extra makes across five games, so far within the province of random noise that Autechre is jealous.
Way back in the ur-blogging days when Big Ten Wonk was an anonymous man with a large vocabulary and not John Gasaway we had a conversation about whether or not the fact that Michigan's opponents were raining in threes at a hellacious clip during a particular Amaker campaign was luck or not. I said yes, he said yes but only partially, and I eventually came around to his point of view. Any short-term blazing above 40% will regress.
Michigan is average at defending three pointers (7th in the league, 99th nationally) but gives up a lot (10th in the league, 293rd nationally)
Their eFG% on threes is 50.4, which is in fact worse than their horrible 2-point defense, so the combination of these two things does make their eFG D worse.
Inside the line or out, pick your poison.
Another thing that doesn't seem right. Newbill ended up 3/10 from two. The guy who hurt Michigan was Sasa Borovnjak at 7 of 9, mostly on uncontested rolls to the basket. Michigan's rotations were late and sometimes the pick and roll guy was making the dump inside, which is a big no-no. When Michigan hedges, they play it such that if the guy getting the ball screen can toss it to the big, they're done. Too much of that in this one.
Trey. Dang man, 29 points on 16 shots—and four extra possessions with free throws, something we actually have to adjust for after this one—five assists, and zero turnovers. A couple of shots bugged me, as they were taken with no hope of an offensive rebound, but the efficiency speaks for itself.
Stauskas. Not Just A Shooter was in full effect as Stauskas picked up 12 points inside the line on perfect shooting—3/3 from the floor and 6/6 at the line, though IIRC one of those trips to the line was a non-shooting foul at the end of the first half. He also added four assists. The only thing he didn't do well was shoot the J, going 2/6.
I did have further frustrations with him on defense, and it seems like Beilein did too since we got to see Vogrich unearthed. That was the equivalent of a frustration foul.
GRIII: hello again. A series of highlight-reel dunks against a porous defense and Robinson is back. His success in this one only highlighted the reasons he'd disappeared in the previous few games: he's a top-quality finisher who rarely takes a bounce to get a shot. If put in a situation where he has to make his own shot, he defers. Once or twice a game he will go at the basket himself. That's all.
That's fine, but after the tough stretch it seems like far too much of Michigan's shot creation is on Burke's shoulders. Stauskas does a good amount for a third option; Hardaway not so much and then Michigan gets almost none from the 4 and 5 aside from putbacks.
Not so good: Hardaway, centers. Hardaway didn't shoot well. Okay, it happens.
The centers were a little bit more alarming. The shooting is one thing. They went 0/5 in 43 minutes. The rebounding is another: just 3 and 3 as Penn State outrebounded M 31% to 22%. Defensive rebounding is the only thing that Penn State actually does well (5th in conference; they have no other above-average factors) so I guess that's expected. But combine those numbers with Penn State's frequent dump-ins to Borovnjak—which are usually the hedger's fault for providing a passing lane or not getting back once the ball screen recipient tosses it to another perimeter player—and it was rough day.
I'm torn on Morgan. On the one hand, I'm hoping that Morgan's ankle is still bothering him extensively and he shouldn't be playing because then the fact that he seems like he's not offering any help to the beleaguered defense has an explanation. On the other, I'd really like him to be full strength posthaste. At least Michigan doesn't have a midweek game coming up. Hopefully he'll be ready by Illinois.
End of half heroball update. Burke was forced into the backcourt by his man, then trapped as he crossed the line, causing him to dump the ball with time running out and getting Michigan another terrible shot. Because Burke wasn't taking it, it did not go in.
What is the point of those end of half timeouts? All of them seem to consist of "Trey, go do something" and 28 seconds of staring at each other. I would prefer something with a second option like "Nik, go do something" or "Tim, go do something."
This week's refereeing outrage! Er, it actually went in Michigan's favor as Newbill picked up a critical third first-half foul on something that was not even close to a charge.
How do you fix charges? I don't know. Newbill's first charge was legit, as he plunged his shoulder into Stauskas and knocked him back with an arm, but this caused Pat Chambers to have a conniption fit because Stauskas didn't collapse into a Duke-like pile of flop and shame. His second was not, but did feature a guy getting bowled over. I think I'd change the rule so that feet had nothing to do with it except when it comes to getting outside the circle. It's a charge if the guy nails you directly in the chest, and a block if it's to the side. Expand the no-charge circle a bit and make the reform that Jay Bilas is always on about where if you move under a guy who's already in the air it's a block. And explicitly make simulating a charge a foul.
Anyway: Michigan got to the line a whopping 35 times after games of 2 and 6 FTAs. This is because Penn State is not at all subtle in their hackathon, for which I commend them. Unmissable foul perpetrators of Happy Valley, the honesty in your illegality is award-worthy.
Michigan looked fresh, resplendent in their 1968 throwback uniforms, several players with Fab Five-inspired fade haircuts. Crisler Center hadn't looked better as the Wolverines took the court in front of a who's-who of former Michigan greats in town for the building's rededication.
Then began the game, an expected blowout win over a hapless Penn State squad, and they didn't look fresh at all.
The Nittany Lions scored more points than they've had in all but two of their conference games, consistently finding gaping holes in Michigan's defense. While it never felt like the Wolverines were in serious danger of losing, neither did it feel like they were in serious danger of playing at their best.
Trey Burke was the only Wolverine who appeared to be playing with full force from the opening tip—no other Michigan player hit a shot from the field until over 11 minutes elapsed. Burke finished with a season-high 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting while doling out five assists with zero turnovers.
While it's expected that Burke will excel every game, Glenn Robinson III's performance this afternoon was a welcome sight after he'd been a non-factor in the last four games. Robinson tied a career high with 21 points (6-6 FG, 9-11 FT), attacking the basket with an array of dunks and adding 10 rebounds for his second career double-double.
Michigan also got an offensive boost from Nik Stauskas, who overcame a 2-for-6 day from beyond the arc by getting to the bucket, hitting all three of his two-pointers and all six of his free throws en route to 18 points. On the other end of the court, though, Stauskas failed to bring the same intensity, and he was repeatedly the culprit when Penn State got an open lane to the hoop.
Stauskas wasn't the only offender, and it was that poor perimeter defense that led to a 32-32 tie at halftime; Penn State shot 50% inside the arc in the first half, and Michigan ceded an uncharacteristic ten free throw attempts. Even as the Wolverines slowly pulled away in the second half, the same problems remained, which is how they allowed a team averaging 0.86 points per possession in Big Ten play to put up 1.06 points per trip this afternoon.
The Wolverines lacked much in the way of secondary scoring. Tim Hardaway Jr. continued to struggle from the field, grinding out eight points on just 3-of-11 shooting. The next-highest scorer was Matt Vogrich with two points, and the three centers—Jordan Morgan, Mitch McGary, and Jon Horford—combined for zero points on five shots.
Morgan started for the first time in four games but is clearly still working his way back from an ankle injury—he played just seven minutes, with Horford taking his spot at the start of the second half. Vogrich, meanwhile, got his first meaningful minutes since non-conference play, but after he allowed two open Penn State three-pointers it was clear he's not the solution to Michigan's defensive woes.
The game wasn't all bad. Robinson dazzled the crowd with a series of impressive finishes, including one off an out-of-nowhere no-look pass from McGary. Burke played like he does, which is to say he dominated, hitting several unlikely looks. Stauskas found a way to produce even when his outside shot abandoned him.
Against a Penn State team that's now 0-13 in the Big Ten, however, it's hard to feel good about a few bright spots. The defensive effort Michigan put forth would result in a loss against any other team in the conference; their next opponent, Illinois, would be overjoyed to face the same level of resistance next Sunday.
It was a win, sure, and a much-needed one at that. If Michigan wants to claw their way back into contention for the regular-season title, though, they'll need to fix some glaring issues, and fast.
The past four games have been a rude awakening for a Michigan basketball team once thought to be the best in the country. That same team is now looking up at three teams in the Big Ten standings, not to mention swiftly falling from contention for a one-seed.
The first two losses of this 1-3 stretch were understandable in both outcome and form; losing competitive games at Indiana and Wisconsin—while getting royally screwed by the officials in the latter—is understandable for a team of any caliber. Last night's debacle in the Breslin Center, however, took the cracks exposed in the three prior games and turned them into gaping crevasses.
In an effort to figure out how much to panic, how much to not, and where we go from here, here's a collection of thoughts on this recent stretch.
JOHN BEILEIN CAN'T MAKE HIS PLAYERS OLDER
I shut off my laptop last night after getting multiple tweets asking if John Beilein was at least a big part of the problem. As far as I can tell, Beilein made one critical coaching error last night: removing Trey Burke after his third foul, which sparked a quick 5-0 Spartan run early in the second half. At that point, however, State had already spent the game imposing their will on Michigan, and with the way the game played out it's hard to imagine Burke being in the game for that two-minute stretch would've changed the outcome.
The problem is not John Beilein, who's done a masterful job of putting this team together and coaching them into an offensive juggernaut. The problem is that he can't make his players any older, and now we're seeing why that's an issue. As it turns out, getting experience on the fly in the toughest conference in the country makes for some growing pains; there's no knowing how five freshmen (six if you count Max Bielfeldt) are going to respond when thrown into critical roles in adverse situations.
Ideally, this is a team that would come back intact next year and be an odds-on favorite to make the Final Four—they need the experience, conditioning, and added size. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening are slim to none.
INTERIOR DEFENSE IS A PROBLEM
The hope was that an unstoppable offense would cover for Michigan's defensive shortcomings, but when the offense isn't unstoppable, boy do those shortcomings get exposed. Even in the victory over Ohio State, the Wolverines got abused on the interior defensively, and their two-point defense is now dead last in the conference—B1G opponents connect on 48.9% of their twos against Michigan.
The injury to Jordan Morgan, the team's best on-ball interior defender, has hurt, but the problems go much deeper. Mitch McGary is an active defender with a ton of potential on that end, but he's also prone to freshman mistakes and positional errors, like the one that allowed Jared Berggren to drive for an and-one dunk late in the Wisconsin game. Jon Horford isn't at the same level of on-ball defense as Morgan and he fouls far too much—7.7(!) per 40 minutes in conference play.
Then there's Robinson, who's clearly hit a wall and is struggling mightily to defend larger players. He's not big enough to defend a guy like Derrick Nix or Adreian Payne one-on-one, nor does he have the stamina at this point to attempt to do so and still have an impact on the other end of the floor. He's missing switches and has been late getting out to his man on the perimeter—freshman mistakes, and ones that can't be made in critical moments.
Michigan can spell Robinson with Max Bielfeldt for stretches, but Bielfeldt's offensive limitations make that only a stopgap solution—by my charting, in about a game's worth of offensive possessions in conference play with Bielfeldt on the floor, Michigan is scoring just 0.90 points per possession. The Wolverines are going to need Robinson to find a way out of his funk, plain and simple.
BURKE IS STILL THE LONE CREATOR
When the best point guard in the country leaves the court, there's obviously going to be a bit of a dropoff offensively. Michigan's Burke-free offense is downright stagnant, however, because none of the other players can create a shot at the rim off the dribble.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is still too easy to pickpocket when he puts the ball on the floor inside the arc; last night, you could see him overcompensate by trying to shield the ball with his entire body, which led to some ugly twisting layup attempts in traffic. He's much better when he can drive to the free-throw line and pull up, but opponents have learned to take that part of the court away.
Robinson, for all his athleticism, still hasn't proven himself a threat off the dribble. Nik Stauskas could be that guy, especially with his skill in pick-and-roll situations, but the last four games he's been invisible when his outside shot isn't falling. Caris LeVert isn't strong enough to get all the way to the hoop, forcing him to try an array of pull-up jumpers that aren't falling with any consistency.
The pieces all fit together when Burke is on the floor. When he's not, this team is disjointed and surprisingly easy to defend—take away Hardaway's drive to the middle, don't sag off of Stauskas, and let them miss tough shots.
THE SILVER LINING
Even the most optimistic of Wolverine partisans would've been at least grudgingly accepting of a 2-2 record over the last four games, especially with Morgan hobbled. Despite all of the above, Michigan came within a half-court shot of just that. The last four games also don't discount what happened in the first 21; let there be no mistake, this is still a team that can get hot at the right time and win a six-game single-elimination tournament (yes, that one). Is that likely? Well, probably not. Is it within reason? Sure, if the matchups fall their way.
In fact, this team can still grab a share of the Big Ten title. In a conference that is cannibalizing itself, the Wolverines have one of the easier closing slates—including playing Penn State twice in the next three games—before the season finale against Indiana. If Michigan beats the teams they should beat, they may find themselves in control of their own destiny at the very end after all.
Also, this team still has Trey Burke, who still very much deserves his status as a national player of the year contender. He is still a joy to watch, and this is almost certainly the last time he'll be in a Michigan uniform. I, for one, am going to do everything in my power to sit back and enjoy the privilege of seeing him play.