Another tournament week, another multi-part mailbag. This one contains the questions about/inspired by Jordan Poole's buzzer-beater. Yes, I'm as shocked as you are that I sorted them this way. Jump in!
A Free Pass
Hey Ace - Are there any statistics showing whether teams should guard the inbounder in late game situations like against Houston? On the surface, it seems like a huge mistake to let Livers inbound the ball to halfcourt so easily.
While I don't remember seeing such a study and can't find stats on it, I agree that Kelvin Sampson erred in allowing Isaiah Livers to get a clean look on the final play. An opposing staff can only scout so many games, but I'm guessing Houston's coaches didn't get to the Maryland tape.
Even though the outcome of the plays were wildly different, Michigan's game-winners against the Terps and Cougars came on nearly identical setups: Livers hitting Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman with a baseball pass from his own baseline out of a timeout. Neither opponent elected to guard the inbounder even though Livers wasn't allowed to run the baseline.
Maryland's Mark Turgeon explicitly tried to set up his defense to prevent anyone from catching a pass while running towards the Terps basket. Here's how that went:
If you forgot, MAAR nearly got all the way to the hoop, drew a foul, and drained both free throws with the ruthless calm of a serial killer.
Here was Houston's setup:
While the Cougars were more successful in preventing a long pass to a guy on a dead run, they still allowed MAAR to catch the ball a fair distance up the court without any immediate pressure, which let him get upcourt in a hurry even though they had two defenders waiting.
Houston forced a tough shot, but it was still a catch-and-shoot look from a not-entirely-unreasonable distance by a shooter who had the time and space to square up to the basket. That's not a prayer, at least if you're Jordan Poole; ideally, the defense is forcing teams into prayers in that situation.
I don't think having the extra defender back is worth whatever added coverage it provides. Again, Livers can't run the baseline in either of these cases, and he's being asked to throw accurate passes far downcourt. Stick a big man on him and that becomes a great deal more difficult to execute. A tougher pass for Livers means either MAAR has to run farther back to the ball—losing precious time and momentum—or risk never completing the pass at all on a deeper attempt. Beilein's now gushed twice this season about Livers being able to throw pinpoint baseball passes; that's a lot harder to do with a basketball when you're not getting the same amount of space as an actual baseball pitcher.
Recency and confirmation biases may be playing a factor, but I rarely find the fifth defender that stays back even comes into play that often. For the offense, the downside of having the entire court to cover can also be an upside—your players can sprint full-out, which never happens for more than a couple steps in a halfcourt situation. Even with the extra man back, it's hard to keep a team from hitting the player they want—usually after running him through a couple screens—and that can lead, as in Maryland's case, to getting a bunch of players uselessly stuck behind the play while a fast man runs past them.
Houston more productively spent their extra player on MAAR and he still had an easy pass to make because of the amount of space he had on the catch. They did a much better job on the back end than Maryland by preventing MAAR from either driving or pulling up. They still got burned. I thought everyone learned this lesson in 1992: guard the dang inbounder.
Or don't, actually. Coaches not doing that is working out pretty nicely for my life.
[Hit THE JUMP for my top-five last-shot-makers of the Beilein era, an evil question that was also the most popular, and MAAR's overlooked move.]
[Ed (Seth) note: Brian's off today. but Jane Coaston (twitter: @cjane87) has finally written something for this site. Jane is an incredible writer (and an entertaining follow) who spends most of her day making the world better, and probably would have saved it by now if she wasn't so obsessed with college sports]:
He looked so small.
I was looking at Trey Burke in a Utah Jazz uniform at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and all I could think is, “He looks so damn small.”
When you leave college, you find that the world is big. The world is bigger than Ann Arbor or Michigan or the Big Ten or sports could ever be. It is bigger than Crisler, or this school, or that school, or any school. When you leave college, you have left the biggest little place you will ever be.
You will find that the world is full of a thousand stupid paper cuts. It is full of unspeakable evils, yes, but it is also full of HR managers and disappointing movies and nonexistent reminders for the things you were supposed to do two days ago. You are in debt to someone, probably. You should have cleaned out the back of your fridge in June. Your boss visibly loathes you. And your parents are suddenly old and you don’t remember how that happened. They weren’t old, and now they are, and they will now never not be old again.
Your sophomore year roommate who yelled at you once when you got drunk and threw up in a trash can will get married. The kid who you were convinced would never exist outside of the Brown Jug is now an investment banker in New York; he’s engaged now, too. Much of these changes seem to take place in spurts of activity on Facebook, but sometimes you run into someone you used to know and they’re still them, but a different them. Sometimes they’re so different that you don’t quite know what to say.
Charles Woodson is different now. Tom Brady is different now. Every Michigan player you have ever loved or hated or some bizarre yet totally understandable combination of the two is completely different from the way they were when they played in maize and blue. Trey Burke is different now. He’s playing in the Summer League before his second year in the NBA. He’s 21. He makes $2.4 million dollars a year. And he was roughly 25 feet away from me, playing in front of 13,911 fans on a Wednesday night.
“Are y’all here for Trey Burke? I see all this Michigan stuff and I’m trying to put it together.”
The guy in front of us - who turned out to be a West Virginia grad and friends with Patrick Beilein - turned around to ask us why we were wearing Michigan sweatshirts at a Wizards game. So did the two men next to us, who told us that Michigan-Louisville was the best title game they’d ever seen, and that the upcoming tournament should be a good one. “Good to see y’all representing your university,” one of the men said.
And we weren’t alone. When Trey Burke’s name was announced during warm-ups, at least six people in the area immediately yelled out, “Go Blue!” There were Michigan shirts in every section, Michigan sweatshirts, Michigan basketball jerseys. We had somehow turned an NBA regular season game into the Trey Burke and some other guys and Gortat! Show. This same Wizards team would later go on a mildly improbable playoff run, but on that night in March, we were there for Trey.
Trey Burke is different now, but he’s still Trey Burke. He still got the Steal. He still hit the Shot. The sands of time will turn to glass and the mountains will be made low and Trey Burke will still have put a Michigan team that had barely sniffed the Sweet Sixteen (or hell, the NCAA tournament) for over a decade into the championship game on a run that made me glad I chose to go to devote much of my sanity to the University of Michigan athletics department. I didn’t go to a Wizards game. I went to go see Trey Burke, Michigan player.
Desmond Howard hasn’t worn the winged helmet in 22 years but he will always be diving in the end zone on fourth down for a touchdown. Charles Woodson will be running back a punt on a cold day in November and beating Ohio State with a rose between his teeth for the rest of his life. Denard Robinson will always throw a floating pass to Roy Roundtree, who will fight through pass interference to catch it, and it will always be a touchdown, and we will always win. Maybe it’s strange to hold onto the projections of people like that, but we do it anyway.
Things change, and it’s terrifying. Our offensive line is literally one giant question mark. Michigan’s athletic department makes decisions that make me uncomfortable. I am not doing what I want to be doing with my life and I spend a lot of time trying to not think about that.
The State of Our Thing With State. Since the Rose Bowl there's been a palpable "I don't wanna talk about it" feel on the board with regard to the in-state rival. The coaching carousel came and went without whisking Narduzzi or Dantonio to someplace that doesn't have polar vortexes every other week, and the latest is they're the presumed leader for McDowell, which would be exactly the kind of straight-up, in-state recruiting win they haven't had yet vs. Hoke.
During the conference makeover meetings last fall—you know, where the principles were told to make divisions that keep the rivalries intact but were not allowed to do the obvious thing and leave Rutgers and Maryland out of it—MSU successfully lobbied to host our game on even years, which is going to be incredibly annoying when Minnesota is our most interesting home game, and even more annoying when we have to visit East Lansing a second season in a row. That after the coldest, wettest, darkest, most miserable sporting event in human history, when all good things in the world—Michigan's season, your soul, Gardner's ribs, etc.—were obliterated, and the trolls pranced around the parking lot shouting MLive comments to each other, and it was called wisdom.
I expect they'll show up with "You were worked" t-shirts tomorrow. How dumb are Michigan's slogan t-shirts? They make the Izzone seem clever.
At Michigan State they teach that insolence is the highest form of expression. The last time we played them at Breslin the Izzone showed up with the perfect mockery of those arrogant shirts Adidas made during the non-conference sweep. And if that message didn't put the Fightin' Dave Brandons in our place, an all-encompassing 75-52 exposure did the trick. Until then Michigan's losses on the season were a couple of close-ish, badly officiated, bad-luck-sort affairs at OSU, Indiana, and, just three days earlier, Wisconsin.
Some people called the blowout in East Lansing a Tuesday-turnaround throwaway and moved on; these people are not surrounded by Spartans every day of their lives. For me, if it had rained freezing water droplets containing bits of Gardner's sternum rather than Gary Harris three-pointers, it wouldn't have felt much different.
Of course the last time we played in basketball was March 3rd at Crisler, when Stauskas bleeding profusely from Branden Dawson's elbow promised to be your lasting image of the season. Then Trey Burke pilfered one, and scored, and slapped the floor, and then stole another to seal a one-point victory, and burned a completely different set of images onto our memories.
This week their QB recruit from Cass Tech (whom a year ago a lot of people on the board wanted to be our QB recruit) bodyslammed one of his high school security guards. And we played their mediocre hockey team last night at the Joe, and won 2-1 on PDG's goal at 17:42 in the 3rd, and had a posbang thread for it. These are small things, yet received greater attention because the horrific events of late 2013 are still fresh.
Their basketball team started as everybody's favorite 1-seed, and is currently No. 3 in the nation. But that's just because the last guys they called No. 3 got knocked off at home by the same Michigan team that visits on Saturday. LSA says Michigan's shooting the lights out since conference play began. Brian says because we beat Iowa and Wisconsin that tomorrow is house money. I'm telling you it doesn't feel like that.
"EAST LANSING IS A WOMAN OF NEGOTIABLE AFFECTION" (r.i.p. MGoShirt)
"SAY 'NOT JUST A SHOOTER!'"
"QUEME LOS BARCOS; QUEME LOS SOFAS" (r.i.p. other MGoShirt)
"THIS SIGN GOT INTO MICHIGAN BUT CHOSE TO GO TO STATE"
"MSU MATH: TWO OF SIX = DOMINATING"
"LET'S ARGUE ABOUT WHO WAS BORN FIRST"
IF YOU SPONSOR, WE WILL COME
We finally did some live events last year and every one turned out better than my expectations. I've been chatting with several former players with charities worth getting together for. Anyway I'd like to do these again this year and am open to venue suggestions, either in cities with a large contingent of MGoReaders over the summer (not New York or D.C. since we already do those), or at football away games. Mostly I need somebody on the ground in your town, or a connection to a company who'd like to sponsor these in various places across their footprint so we can keep them free.
We live in a world that has been largely demystified. We've done a pretty good job of mapping all of the uncharted lands. We have located the Higgs Boson. We have mastered fire and sequenced the human genome. And while there are many things in our world that we do not know, we chalk less and less up to the "unknowable." We give our superheroes gritty reboots to show how they could realistically exist in the world we inhabit. Reality TV has all but replaced the scripted show. Even magic has fallen victim; instead of David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty disappear, David Blaine sits in a glass box for a week and holds his breath for 15 minutes, as if to say, "we all know the physical parameters of this world, so watch me strain against them." The illusion of the supernatural is gone. We are left with merely the unexpected.
It is no surprise, I suppose, that sports have followed suit. We scoff at announcers and commentators who pretend that a thing called "momentum" exists as a causal force separate from the game itself. These mystics see "Team A is currently playing better than Team B" as a sign that Team A is being pushed forward by an invisible yet irresistible hand. The Skip Baylesses of the world insist there is a "clutch gene" which, based on my limited understanding of genetics, is the only gene that can spontaneously appear and disappear based on one’s athletic performance on a given night. Lebron wasn't clutch until he was. Tom Brady was clutch until he wasn't, then he was again, but now he isn't. NBA players develop reputations based on incredibly small sample sizes of high-variation events, all in the name of the almighty narrative.
We modernists see these explanations for what they are: crutches. It's much easier to attribute success to intangible forces than to either find and analyze the underlying reasons or to acknowledge the role of luck and chance. You’ll never hear a commentator say, “sometimes good players miss makeable shots” or “sometimes an average player can do something great.” That isn’t satisfying, but that’s life. We want more, but sometimes there isn’t more.
So when a game like Friday's Michigan-Kansas comes along, every fiber of my rational brain tries to tell me, "these things happen." There was no voodoo. The space-time continuum did not yield just this once to the will of Trey Burke. He took a series of low-percentage shots, and he made them. I mean, look at those four shots. Trey Burke is a 38% 3-point shooter. The odds of him making three NORMAL triples in a row are about 5%. The odds of making those four shots? A 20-foot hesitation pull-up, two 27-footers, and a 30-footer? No "will to win" or "grit" or any of the hundred other clichés you can come up with can make a player capable of reliably making those shots. He got lucky, I tell myself. It was awesome and amazing and a feat of incredible skill and talent that likely won't be repeated in the near future, but it was a fluke nonetheless. “Sometimes when you’re on” and whatnot.
But I've watched the last few minutes of regulation and the first few minutes of overtime a half-dozen times. Each time I've tried to make myself believe that this is just something that happens sometimes. And each time I have failed. At this point I’m willing to swallow the clichés. Trey Burke wanted it more. He had the will to win. He put the team on his shoulders. He made the damn Statue of Liberty disappear. Don't try to tell me how he did it, or if HE did it or whether it was just one of those things that happen. Just this once I am willing to believe my eyes. Lady Liberty is gone. All that remains is Trey Burke pointing at the empty night sky.
The rote play-by-play of those four minutes hardly does his work justice, but it is illustrative.
Burke forces a ten-second violation.
Burke penetrates, draws in Withey and dishes to McGary for an easy lay-in.
Burke hits a long 3.
Burke drives for a layup.
Burke hits The Trey.
Burke hits a long three.
Burke hits a long two.
That's 13 points, an assist, and a forced turnover in four minutes. He was good before and after that (he scored 23 in the second half and overtime), but those were really the magical minutes. And from a purely statistical standpoint, they were outstanding. But for those who watched the game, it was simultaneously more impressive and completely unsurprising. There's a reason Josh Bartelstein was celebrating when the ball was still in the air, and it is the same reason you felt so good when it left his hand. You've seen him do ridiculous things all year. You have experienced those moments where you both scoffed at his shot selection and laughed because you knew it would fall. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t shot the ball very well for the first 38 minutes, or that he was taking a contested shot from an improbable distance under impossible circumstances. When he released that ball, I’m willing to bet most of you reacted not with a prayer but with an unspoken “watch this.” Bartelstein knew. Bill Self knew. We knew.
Michigan fans also recognize this feeling because they have experienced its opposite many, many times. In the cold recesses of every Michigan fan's consciousness is that collective moment where Evan Turner and Josh Gasser and Kalin Lucas and Ben Brust hold an arm extended as they send a dagger straight into the souls of those helpless onlookers. There was the moment where you, like the audience in a Greek tragedy, knew the hero's fate before he did. You knew those shots were gonna drop. But for one day, Michigan finally had the deus ex machina on our side. By the time Trey hit that long pull-up two, all of your normal thoughts about ‘good shots’ were replaced by your inner Lou Brown telling Ricky to forget about the curveball and throw him the heater. We hastily scribbled a caveat to the “death to long twos” mandate (and all of the other strictures of proper basketball etiquette) that says, “...unless Trey is doing his thing, in which case, just… just watch this.”
Make no mistake; the game was not a one-man show. Michigan doesn't win that game if Mitch McGary doesn't play the game of his young life despite being punched in the groin for no particular reason. GRIII made an impossible layup from eleven feet under the basket and hit two huge free throws late. Stauskas and Hardaway had solid games. Even Jordan Morgan was there to challenge what would have been a game tying layup at the end of overtime. But that night will rightfully be remembered for Trey Burke. For a few brief minutes he made everyone believe he could do anything. If Michigan needed a four-pointer to tie, he would have made it happen. If the lights went out, he could bring them back up. If that impossibly large scoreboard came crashing down, you get the feeling he would simply shrug and say, "nah, that's cool, I'll carry this too."
Can everyone see this? Good. You’ll like this part(AP)
Brian is right that The Trey is going to be replayed during every NCAA tournament from now to the end of time, and rightfully so. It was one of the most remarkable single moments in recent tournament memory. But my lament is that it will be remembered simply as that moment. Everyone remembers the shots of Christian Laettner and Bryce Drew and Lorenzo Charles, but their shots are remembered in isolation. Trey Burke’s night was more than one glorious bomb. It was an individual effort that both encapsulates his season and made us feel for a brief moment that the gods were on our side.
Michigan fans have been incredibly fortunate to be able to watch Trey Burke do his thing this year, and among the many reasons I am so glad he did what he did against Kansas is that the basketball world got a taste of what we’ve been watching. On the biggest stage, Trey did what we have come to expect. He was unflappable. He was remarkably talented. He was clutch. We may have grown spoiled by this consistent excellence, and it will probably only be after Trey leaves that we will fully appreciate what we all just saw. In the meantime, though, Trey doesn’t seem to be done. He’s got a few more tricks up his sleeve, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss them.
Someone just make sure that he returns the statue before he leaves.
By ubiquitous request, we present tonight's commemorative unit of fashionable upper body apparel. (UPDATE: Those waiting on the store link to order your shirt, be patient. It's off the hook in there. UPDATE UPDATE: now working.)
It was someone's birthday. Someone who'd been really good this year. We had the grandkids over and had pizza and chicken wings. But the pizza was cold. And they forgot the wings (They usually have such great wings).
We thought about calling it a night—there will be another birthday next year—but then Trey...Trey said "Let's get subs!"
But it was far away, the place with the subs. Really far away. Like past the county line and closer to the state border than the edge of the arc. But that kid, he just went and delivered the subs. One after another: bologna and ham; three-salami and roast beef with provolone; turkey, swiss, mortadella and capacolla on cracked whole wheat, no tomato. Every order went down. And suddenly there we were…
Trey Burke doesn't have to prove anything to anyone anymore. If he doesn't win national player of the year, it'll be an upset. NBA types are scrambling over each other to draft him in the top ten despite his lack of stature. He picked up the baton left by Darius Morris and jammed Michigan forward into its first Sweet 16 in almost 20 years. (Turnovers be damned!) As a freshman he was the best player on a team that broke an even longer Big Ten title drought. Trey Burke must find internal motivation these days; haterz are thin on the ground.
If Michigan goes out against shot-swatting Jeff Withey and his band of athletic freaks, oh well. Vegas has figured it and pegs the Jayhawks as favorites; Kenpom has Michigan by one, basically a pick 'em. If Michigan's run ends here that won't reflect poorly on Burke. Like Denard Robinson, Burke's done all he can do in this town.
Unlike Denard, all of his limbs are still working, and if things break right mosaic artists in southeast Michigan are going to be living large for a while. With the potential for a tourney upset past, Burke's at the same point Shawn Hunwick was last year when his .932 save percentage saw Michigan into the hockey tourney as a top seed. The options now are: great or the greatest.
As always, merely great is the heavy favorite. The gauntlet Michigan has to run reads something like Kansas-Florida-Syracuse-Louisville. We are entering the Super Meat Boy Warp Zone portion of the tourney.
Michigan, unfortunately, cannot respawn.
I don't think these things weigh on Burke. When you can remember the one blistering sequence at Ohio State where Burke was rattled and a detriment—remember the gravity-shift terror of the new universe you found yourself in—that says more about his base state of being than any step-back jumper you care to name. There's a tag on this here blog about it. Trey Burke is more of an emoticon than any other point guard I've experienced, and it's this one:
He does things that make pinwheels explode from Mitch McGary's head with the laconic coolness of Death harvesting a plague-ridden city. Also my head, Mitch McGary being a low bar to clear in the realm of cranial pinwheel explosions*. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if he turned out to be a robot.
He's got a tough job tonight. Kansas runs out a pile of swarming, long, experienced athletes. If you get past the first guy, this guy lurks:
Even though Burke should get 20 minutes against 5'11" Naadir Tharpe nothing's coming easy. Michigan needs Trey Burke to make it look like it, though, to glide to that spot on the baseline he takes his leaner from, to toss his hot-potato floater over Withey's outstretched fingers, to pull up at the top of the key and fire in a three, to push any sliver of a fast break.
One game doesn't define a player, especially one who'll be running an NBA team for the next decade. Burke's just adding exclamation points after his name at this juncture. We're about to hit the exponential part of the curve, though.
W x = games into tourney; y = burke apotheosis points
My preferred Burke exclamation point count comes with scientific notation. Screw Mudville, let's do this.
*[OH MY GOD HUMMUS IS 50 CENTS OFF /does cartwheels into banana display]
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.
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.
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.
2/6/2013 – Michigan 76, Ohio State 74 (OT) – 21-2, 8-2 Big Ten
I guarantee Tim Hardaway Jr has never heard of obscure indie band Rilo Kiley or heard "A Better Son/Daughter" or even seen The Wizard, in which then-preteen future obscure indie band singer Jenny Lewis debuted along with Super Mario 3. (It was a heady time.) But I also guarantee that for most of the second half he heard that song he had never heard, the bit about sometimes when you're on.
Mitch McGary sings "La Cucaracha" to himself most of the time, but especially during basketball games.
INNER LIFE OF MITCH MCGARY
/INNER LIFE OF MITCH MCGARY
Nik Stauskas… obvious.
One day Nik Stauskas will find out that not everybody in the whole world has BALL SO HARD going through their head 24 hours a day, and a lot of previously inexplicable things will magically explain themselves. That one time he cut off an old lady at the supermarket and spiked her baguette to the floor. The aftermaths of various domino-spiking incidents. That thing about racing a horse. &c.
Glenn Robinson III hears nothing but jet engine takeoff, and knows nothing about the world of music. He knows the roar of escape velocity only. He can talk to birds. Birds are in fact sick of talking to Glenn Robinson III. Excuse birds, they have to go regurgitate some food now.
Trey Burke… Trey Burke is a tough one.
Narrative whatnots ranging from your own to trash-talking Ohio State fans on twitter to Mike Tirico and Dick Vitale tell you that Craft versus Burke was once again a victory for Craft and his infuriating brand of that's-80%-of-a-foul-argh defense. Then you go look at a box score that tells you Burke put up 16 points on 12 shots and had eight assists against two turnovers, and your brain has an ellipses as it tries to fit that into the thing you thought might have happened.
Then you remember that Michigan's grand strategy at the end of the game and OT was "Burke, go do something" and the resulting tough stepback threes were more on Beilein walking Burke into a trap with no time on the clock than any fault of his, and you revise that shot count down to ten and… well. First of all, it's impressive that Burke only took ten shots from the structure of the offense. He is an alpha dog. His natural inclination when things get heated is to take everything on his shoulders, and this game wasn't heated so much as it was generating enough energy to thaw most of the state should a Crisler door blow open at an opportune time. Burke still kept himself even-keeled.
Previous Ohio State games have featured plenty of frustrating moments when the pick and roll has been more of an invitation to get trapped towards the sidelines than a way to generate offense, and while there was a bit of that here, it was less prominent. Multiple times Burke turned a tough drive into a kickout three instead of a low-percentage two, and I felt surprise. This is a guy who wants to put it on his shoulders, sometimes to Michigan's detriment. Here he dialed it back a bit—22% usage versus 32% in Columbus—and found plenty of payoff in the form of Hardaway and Stauskas raining in threes.
Those stepbacks at the end of the game were an alternate scenario largely avoided. Burke had to absorb some Buddhism in this one, and win the game without winning it.
Except, of course, for the part where he won it. The part where he almost seemed to let Craft by him on purpose because he knew a pullup in the lane was coming, and thwacked the ball to Glenn Robinson to preserve the slimmest of all leads—to preserve their claim to being elite. It's the bit of the box score you hardly look at because Trey Burke is generously listed at six feet tall.
Aaron Craft is Ohio State's primary assist generator. He had one in this game, a game in which his team put up 55% from two. None of that was generated by Craft, who turned the ball over as much as Burke and found out that putting the game on your shoulders is a grand burden indeed. On the last three possessions Burke stripped him, blocked him, and rode him into the doom of Tim Hardaway. The last play was pure Craft: riding your man down the court on the edge of a foul, forcing his attention onto you on his shoulder until it is too late.
That's not in the box score. The tree of victory sometimes grows from silent soil. Or something like that. I'm not much better at being Buddhist than Trey Burke.
I'm not sure what Trey Burke's life soundtrack is. Could be Vivaldi or Bombs Over Baghdad. It's probably all things smashed together; Burke puts one headphone to an ear and mashes things together until the thing that comes out doesn't seem like it could have been constructed from the parts that went in.
Rucker park. I couldn't have been the only one who thought about that Kevin Durant video when THJ was going NBA Jam:
There was a nonzero chance of that fourth one resulting in the same court rush.
Begone, heroball. Brief digression on why the fadeaway three from Burke in the previous Ohio State game was okay and this one drove me nuts:
DOWN TWO ON ROAD: If you get a two you have an approximately 50% chance to win. If you get a three you win. If the two is twice as likely to go down (or get you free throws that you make) as the three, it's even. Since you're on the road your chance of winning is slightly lower, so… even if you think that Burke three was only 30% to go in, the drive would have to be around 65-70% to be a clearly better option. (A potential OSU response is irrelevant since any bucket they get means you lose.)
TIED AT HOME: Go get a damn point. If the drive is at all likelier to get you a damn point it is a better idea. It is likelier to get you a damn point. So go get it.
Michigan is an exceedingly low-turnover outfit with multiple excellent scoring options. Putting Burke in a one-on-one situation against the best perimeter defender in college basketball is not your best option, and the potential downside is not just a turnover but a turnover that comes early enough for the opponent to get a meaningful possession. Yeah, it's not impossible, but the reward outweighs the risk.
The 1-4 set late is the equivalent of run-run-pass-punt when you're up late in football. Easy to justify, statistically poor.
I may have to dump the Big Puppy nickname if McGary is going to play like this, not that I have a huge problem with it. (Upchurch @ right.)
Impact. Mitch McGary has it.
He kept Michigan in contact in the first half with dives to the bucket and putbacks, going 5/8. He'd finish 7 of 13, the only Wolverine to hit more than half his twos—the only one to make more than two. The rebounding numbers aren't astounding—3 offensive, 3 defensive—but four steals against one foul is. He is coming over entry passes and busting them up at a rate I haven't seen before from a Michigan player.
In addition to the box score stuff, he was all over the court doing his usual McGary things. Whenever I look at the Kenpom boxes it seems like Michigan has more "team" rebounds on both offense and defense than the opponent. This feels like a McGary halo effect from the guy battering all manner of balls about. For example, late in the game he harassed Lenzelle Smith into the sideline as he attempted to rebound a Michigan miss. Michigan got the ball and a "team" offensive rebound. In the highlights above he hedges Craft into the sideline; Craft attempts to save the possession by hurling the ball off of McGary; the ball deflects to Robinson, who gets credit for a steal* and Michigan fast-breaks the other way. He's a massive possession generator statistically and there's an excellent case to be made that he is being shortchanged by those stats.
McGary's not a slug on offense, either. He can put the ball on the deck for a couple dribbles against other fives; in this one Amir Williams had an excellent block on one of those drives, but the other ended in a layup. His skill level is relatively high for a big. And he does all that other business.
At this point he's swung back from overrated to underrated. I mean, is there much difference between what he's giving M and what Nerlens Noel is giving Kentucky? Noel blocks a butt-ton of shots; McGary is an incredible rebounder on both ends of the floor. They're about even in offensive efficiency. So… who would you rather have? It's at least up for debate if McGary continues pulling down the minutes he has the last couple games.
*[I'm pretty sure that's the letter of the law, right?]
Alright. Defense is something of an issue. Michigan overplayed Deshaun Thomas to decent effect—or Ohio State just forgot to go to him late—and held him to 17 points on 15 shots. Given OSU's struggles to find secondary scoring you would take that as an easy Michigan win when paired with shooting nearly 60% from three.
That was not the case thanks in large part to LaQuinton Ross, who went nuts. He hit seven of ten shots and probably didn't have more than one empty possession since he rebounded a lot of his misses.
Add in Sam Thompson, Amir Williams, and Lenzelle Smith hitting eight of ten twos—Smith had a poor day from three—and that's how Ohio State kept pace with Hardaway's beast mode second half. Everyone other than Craft and Deshaun Thomas was throwing down easy stuff. Michigan said "someone other than Thomas will beat us" and Ohio State was like "okay."
Q: where was the zone? Ohio State struggled against the 2-3 zone in the previous game. Michigan pulled it out briefly and it seemed to be going fairly well. For whatever reason, the coaches didn't like the way it looked and went back to what turned out to be a highly porous man to man.
Revisiting the Morgan thing. I don't know if that's really the issue. I mean, how bad does McGary have to be positionally to wipe out four steals and assorted other turnover generation? Overhelping accusations go back to that discussion about whether that's on the big or the guy who gave up the drive the big felt he had to respond to. There's nothing in the way of stats that suggests Morgan is integral to the defense, so we're left with fuzzy business about rotations. I don't know. My eyes say that 1) McGary is playing really well and 2) Michigan is playing badly on defense. I can't reconcile those.
On the other hand. Hi I just watched the MGoBlue highlights embedded above and they happen to have a good deal of OSU's secondary scoring included. Sam Thompson's 3/3 night consisted of a transition tip dunk and two tough shots, one a baseline runner (not included), the other a baseline 18-footer with a decent contest from Stauskas. Lenzelle Smith's game-tier is a scramble off an offensive rebound that still sees Stauskas chase him off the three-point line with a closeout and forces him to re-set and fire from just inside the arc. That's a pretty good outcome off that OREB.
Maybe OSU just had a good game? There's a lot of randomness in here.
Rebounding check. This looked basically even in the ESPN box score but as per usual, once the whirlwind effect of McGary bouncing balls off all of the faces is taken into account, Michigan comes out looking better. With five team rebounds to OSU's two that pushes them up to 38% to 32%, which is a moderate edge.
More than halfway through the conference season their rebounding is holding up much better than it was last year: they're third on D, fourth on O. Last year they finished 9th and 10th in those categories, respectively. The rest of the schedule is four easy games and four hard ones, so that doesn't seem to be a schedule effect.
Uniformz. I was trying to ignore them as best I could. Unfortunately twitter was nonstop trash-talk about them until the game became so good Michigan could have come out in garbage bags elaborately festooned with penises bearing Dave Brandon's face and no one would have noticed. Twitter, I am trying to grit the ol' teeth here, and you are not helping.
I don't care anymore. This is the scene in Planet of the Apes after Charlton Heston screams "YOU MANIACS YOU BLEW IT UP" in which Charlton turns to his companion and says "I'm hungry, do you guys still have Jimmy John's?" It is what it is. It'll slowly erode my will to live, but whatever. I've said my bit.
The one thing I'd like to mention: Michigan handed out honest-to-god Maize shirts for the Maizeout. I didn't know they actually made those anymore, and can we pick a yellow? No, we cannot pick a yellow.
"But the kids like them." The first album I ever bought was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack. I memorized it. Kids are stupid.
Oblig. ref bit. Spent entire second half grinding my teeth about the Craft post-buzzer (except there was no buzzer) three. Why was there no buzzer? I'm pretty sure the refs can't look at the player and the shot clock at the same time, so they have to rely on the noise. No noise, no shot clock violation. That may be on Crisler instead of the refs. Nik Stauskas put up a prayer after the buzzer went off later, but there was no buzzer so it didn't go off and there was no call.
The phantom foul on Burke was probably the right result since Hardaway did get Thomas's arm on the shot. The ref missed it and had to make up some bullcrap on Burke once it was clear Thomas had airballed it implausibly, but it was a foul. Just not on the dude who got it.
The offensive goaltending non-call… oy.
The sequence at the end was classic late-game ref ostriching: it was a flagrant on Craft and probably a foul on Hardaway. Sometimes they let you get away with some extra contact when you get your hand literally on top of the ball, as Hardaway did. I can see not calling that because by the time the arm contact starts in earnest Hardaway has already destroyed any chance of a shot. Still seemed foul-y to me.
Don't get me started on the "let them decide it on the floor" meme. They are deciding it on the floor as long as you call the game the way you should.
Do you think Coach Beilein wasn't selective enough in the 2013 class, seeing that none of the recruits are in the top 50, and one of them is outside the top 100?
Troy Cleveland, OH
At this point Beilein has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to jumping on recruits early. When he grabbed Glenn Robinson III he was an unranked three-star; he is going to finish his high school career with five stars on Rivals and won't be far off on Scout. Nick Stauskas has broken into the top 100 on all sites as well; I think he'll be a fantastic two-guard for Michigan. Last year Beilein won a recruiting battle with Cincinnati for PSU decommit Trey Burke. The year before he grabbed Smotrycz before his profile blew up and was higher on Tim Hardaway Jr than anyone else. Beilein's evaluation skills are clearly a notch above the field.
So there's that. Beilein's taken a lot of lightly-regarded three stars who happen to blow up either before or after they hit Ann Arbor. Michigan's 2013 class may be in the process of doing that. Derrick Walton just went for 47 in a playoff game; Zak Irvin has had a strong high school season. I'm guessing those guys are more likely to move up than down, though Scout's Brian Snow doesn't seem like he's going to budge on Irvin just yet.
Even if those guys aren't in line for some of the meteoric rises we've seen Michigan recruits have, they don't have to get bumped much to be on par with 2012. Irvin's on the edge of the top 50 on Rivals and Walton is 87. They're starting out with more rep than Robinson or Stauskas, more rep than three of MSU's four 2012 commits.
As for Donnal, I don't care as much what the ratings say about him because it's at that five spot that Michigan is so divergent from a conventional team. Donnal has an extremely high skill level that makes him a great fit for Michigan. Hypothetical athletic limitations—which may or may not be a big deal for a post who just finished his junior year of high school—make him the #124 player in a nationwide ranking; in Beilein's eyes you can bet he's a lot higher.
When Carlton Brundidge, a guy who still has a lot of time to turn into a useful player, is the best case for a Beilein recruiting miss* attempting to criticize his 2013 class is like shooting a guy wearing six bulletproof vests.
*[I don't think anyone expected post-signing-day pickup Colton Christian to be anything other than what he is; jury is out on Bielfeldt. Beilein is making a lot of encouraging noises about him. #pleasebelikedraymondgreen
Also, a large number of Beilein recruits that went elsewhere have gone on to agonizingly good careers elsewhere: Kyle Kuric, Kevin Pangos, Klay Thompson, etc. Hell, Green was supposedly about to commit to Michigan before Izzo swooped in on him.]
A follow-up from the Michigan Today story featuring the "athletic colors" and the "official colors" that were so divergent:
After reading about university colors on MGoBlog, I thought you find find some additional information of interest.
An Ann Arbor News article from November 29, 1998, "Hue-ing the line: True blue, maize ways" follows up on the Fall 1996 Michigan Today story "Which Maize? Which Blue?" The 1912 official color color samples (housed at the Bentley Historical Library) were tested in 1997 with spectrophotometers by X-Rite (a company in Grandville, Michigan founded by Rufus Teesdale a Michigan graduate).
According to the Ann Arbor News article, the spectrophotometer readings were converted to printing instructions noting that the numbers "were tweaked a bit to account for some fading of the ribbons since 1912."
The spectrophotometer readings of the 1912 official color samples were:
MAIZE: 9 cyan, 28 magenta, 59 yellow, 0 black
BLUE: 93 cyan, 76 magenta, 24 yellow, 2 black
The 1912 report on the official colors reads a lot like current complaints about color, "In short, the blue color, which is the one longest associated with the University, starting with a shade almost as dark as "navy blue" has gradually weakened until it has the hint known as "baby blue." the maize, likewise, has faded to correspond, and is now an expressionless pale yellow. So delicate have the colors become, that they have not only lost their original character, but are ineffective in decorations, and useless to the Athletic association, which has been forced to employ colors entirely different from those which recent graduates regard as University colors. It is only necessary to see the diversity of the banners which are displayed in the store windows to realize the confusion which exists." - Brian
Every time I bring this up I'm pleasantly surprised by how seriously people take this. Again, I've heard that the athletic department would like to move away from the kind of yellow that gets us mentioned in the same breath with the Sounders and Oregon when SI writers are bagging on these babies:
I hope they come with sirens, ladders, and hoses
Let there come a day when Roy Roundtree is wearing sunglasses in Crisler just to look cool instead of prevent retina damage.
On Michigan's late game success.
You mentioned that you don't buy into the "grit" factor as a possible explanation into their 13-5 record given the difference in efficiency margin. I agree that Eckstein-adjectives don't rationalize the difference but I was curious if there is any game experience stats out there that could help.
I know that UM is still young in terms of overall team experience but there's no question in my mind that Novak and Douglas' four years of relevant playing time contributes to that record despite the efficiency. I would also think that having Morgan and Hardaway being second year starters adds to that explanation given the relative short time periods that excellent teams have their players for before they leave for the draft.
I don't know how you would measure it but is there anything that quantifies the experience of the players actually playing minutes in the game. Having two starters that have played significant time over four years has to be somewhat rare in the Big 10's upper tier.
Kenpom does have an experience measure that adjusts for minutes played. Michigan is 209th of 345 with an average of 1.54 years of experience. This is a massive improvement on last year when they were 335th*.
As for Michigan's super-experienced dudes, Michigan's two is better than OSU's one (Buford) and MSU's one (Green; Thornton has not seen a lot of time in his career), but Green has a usage of 28%, Buford 23%. Stu and Zack are around 15% each. Their involvement in the offense summed about equals Green's.
Meanwhile when I think clutch late-game performances, I think Trey Burke putting it as high off the glass as possible against OSU and hitting free throw after free throw. This blog has a tag about Burke's clutch play even though it tries not to believe in clutch. That's a freshman.
So I cannot agree with your police work here when poor Northwestern is so much more experienced (89th), relies two massive-usage upperclassmen, and endured maximum epic pain in all late game situations this year. BOOM REVERSE ANECDOTE'D.
In the face of the post-Merrit/Lee implosion I'm a convert to the gritty winning winners bit, but I think that's equally useful at all times during a game, in practice, etc., not especially at the end of a game.
*[BONUS KENPOM STATISTICAL OUTLIER: Michigan gets 17% of their minutes from its bench. That is 343rd(!) nationally. The only teams more reliant on their starters are Siena, a 14-17 MAAC team, and Youngstown State, a 16-15 Horizon League team.
Oddly enough, having few bench minutes is much less of a problem than having a ton. Alabama is the most bench-heavy team in the tournament at #45 and they are up there involuntarily after two starters were suspended midseason. #60 Kansas State is the first team on the list that seems to have voluntarily played its bench a lot. Life's better at the bottom: 14 teams in the 300s in this category (ie, a third of them) made the tourney, including S16 seeds Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Wisconsin, Louisville, and Michigan.]