One Frame At A Time: Houston and Texas A&M

One Frame At A Time: Houston and Texas A&M

Submitted by Ace on May 1st, 2018 at 4:07 PM

I think I've waited long enough that I can post this now.

It's taken me a while to get around to tournament GIFs for a number of reasons, some NCAA-related and some not, but I finally made it through the Houston and Texas A&M games. (As per blog policy, there was no Montana game. It's just a figment of your imagination.) It'll take me a bit longer to get around to Florida State and Loyola Chicago, but I'll get to those too.

One thing I apparently won't get to: a supercut of three-pointers against Texas A&M, as this is what happened when I attempted to put that together with my normally unfailing GIF software:

In the words of the Texas twitter account: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

[Hit THE JUMP for every conceivable angle of the Poole Party, CJ Baird Tha Gawd, and much more.]

The 2017-18 Basketball Season In Photos

The 2017-18 Basketball Season In Photos

Submitted by Ace on April 10th, 2018 at 11:26 AM

Ed-Ace: Our primary basketball photographer and #1 MGoFrenchman Marc-Gregor Campredon put together this look back at the season in photos. I've made some minor edits but left it in MG's voice—he has a way with words that I don't want to disrupt. Without further ado...

Part 1

Et voila: The first month of 2018 seasons in photos with some dull opponent (I did not say boring) and some very good ones!

Oh, I took the liberty to illustrate the away game with others games images because I will never pass on the op’ to showcase our work.

If not precise with another’s name photographs are by Marc-Gregor Campredon! Quotes are from the game recap mostly by Ace but also by many other talented guys.

Exhibition vs Grand Valley State victory 82-50

Teske’d !

vs North Florida victory 86-66

Robinson is elated while dunking.

vs Central Michigan victory 72-65

“It's me again, the guy who tells you not to pay too close attention to the final score”.

Charles Matthews is already a solid starter for Michigan.

vs Southern Mississippi victory 61-47

“Michigan's coaches and players started calling sophomore Jon Teske "Big Nasty." They hoped that would replace "Big Sleep".”

Teske’d again – It will never gets old.

The tourney in Hawaii

vs LSU defeat 75-77

“It took the team most of the first half to find this offense, however, and they strayed from it at times in the second; I'm excited about the future of a team that makes this their identity.”

Already, a lot’s of John Beilein is emerging in Yaklich.

vs Chaminade victory 102-64

“Poole looked good in his first extended action, doing what he's supposed to do: get buckets (…) He should cut into Ibi Watson's minutes if he keeps hitting jumpers.”

Toat's m'goats

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the season in photos.]

Let's Start Again: Point Guard

Let's Start Again: Point Guard

Submitted by Brian on April 4th, 2018 at 1:12 PM

an irregular series about next year's basketball team

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

ROSTER

Zavier Simpson (Jr): Defensive maestro was head of the spear for #3 defense in the country. 105 ORTG isn't bad considering FT/3P issues, but 56% from two feels like a ceiling for a guy his size.

Eli Brooks (So): Started 12 games early in the year before receding. First season not real promising: 15% usage, A:TO ratio of 1:1, 41/25 shooting.

David DeJulius (Fr): Smallish sniper has mad Steph-alike game. Badly underrated by scouting services. Probably, anyway.

I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS

Can Simpson learn to shoot some?

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[Campredon]

Simpson's tour of destruction over the last third of the season culminated in a hamblasting of Naismith winner Jalen Brunson (9 points on 13 shot attempts, 2 A, 2 TO, 80 ORTG). He is a plus player and will be a starter for the rest of his career unless something crazy happens. That's good—see the TO-riddled bodies he left strewn in his wake—and bad—imagine a free throw.

Michigan's offensive ceiling is capped unless Simpson can ratchet up his shooting from the line and from three. There is precedent for this sort of thing under John Beilein. Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman hit 29% of his 41 threes as a freshman; the next year he hit 36% and stuck there for the duration of his career. However, the quantity of those shots kept increasing. MAAR went from 41 to 83 to 111 to 191 threes over the course of his career.

Simpson's already taken step one by going from a nonexistent three point shooter to an extant one, but the trend here isn't super encouraging. Simpson started the year hitting nearly half his shots; he finished it at 29%. His well-documented free throw struggles imply that his true shooting talent is real bad. The glimmer of hope here is that Simpson's new form at the end of the year saw him finish 24/42—57%—after starting 23/49—47%. That's pretty thin.

Does Eli Brooks take a sophomore Beilein point guard leap?

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[JD Scott]

Few things are as consistent as a second-year Beilein point guard taking a quantum leap forward. Darius Morris, Trey Burke, and Zavier Simpson all improved radically as sophomores; the only reason Derrick Walton did not is that foot injury that first hampered him and then knocked him out midseason.

All those guys had a clear path to playing time, though. Brooks does not. He got only about 8 minutes a game last year, with the majority of those early in the season when the PG spot was still unsettled. Brooks could emerge into a solid rotation option… or flounder and get passed.

Jay Wright did confirm, apropos of nothing, that Villanova was after him hard and thought he was in the boat. So he's got that going for him. But if it doesn't happen now it's late early, because of the next guy.

How well, and how quickly, does David DeJulius translate?

Before Zavier Simpson's tour of destruction kicked off, most of the mutterings about Michigan's future at point guard were about DeJulius. This was because of Simpson's clear limitations and the crazy string of single-game highlight videos that DeJulius was pumping out:

DeJulius is a different kind of cat than Simpson. He evidently took the vast majority of his threes off the bounce as a senior, and while nobody covering high school basketball ever gives you a denominator, he is at least a large upgrade on Simpson from the free throw line.

I'm not saying he's Trey Burke, but… uh, the pattern here is pretty similar. Burke got dumped in the three star bin because of AAU struggles on a poor team and then torched Ohio as a senior. Nobody noticed and his ranking diverged from his talent. DDJ shot poorly for a version of The Family that was pretty short on talent before torching the state of Michigan. Nobody with a ranking wand has noticed. The main difference thus far is that Michigan voters are willing to overlook DDJ's head to head torching of Foster Loyer while Ohio takes its Mr. Basketball award seriously.

DeJulius isn't going to push Simpson out of a starting spot unless he actually is Trey Burke. It still seems likely that he's got a role to play. Maybe that's ten minutes, maybe that's 20.

OUTLOOK

Michigan's worst case scenario here is a static version of Simpson playing 35 minutes a game because his backups can't hack it. That's still pretty good—obligatory mention of Michigan's ranking on Torvik after he emerged as the starter—but if Wagner ends up entering the draft Michigan faces the prospect of starting three tenuous shooters in Simpson, Matthews, and Teske. That could make Michigan's offense tough to watch.

Excellent Scenario 1 is that Simpson inches up his shooting numbers to 60% from the line and 35% from three. Those are relatively modest gains that would make hack-an-X unprofitable and punish switching defenses more effectively.

Excellent Scenario 2 is that one of Brooks or DDJ is able to dent Simpson's minutes by being enough of an offensive upgrade to sustain the defensive downgrade. That would give Michigan options if they're down and need some offense or the opposition point guard isn't much of a threat or X is just having an off game. A Simpson that stays static but only has to play 20-25 minutes because Michigan has a second quality player would be fine.

Your author's guess is that Scenario 2 is the likely outcome, with DeJulius immediately demanding minutes.

Unverified Voracity Is Clearing Tabs, Killing Time

Unverified Voracity Is Clearing Tabs, Killing Time

Submitted by Brian on April 2nd, 2018 at 3:11 PM

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[Bryan Fuller]

Nice face. The Ringer's Paolo Uggetti on Michigan's expressive star:

“I’m shook. I’m a very nervous person before games,” Wagner says. “I’m a wreck, and I don’t allow myself to relax. On the court, it’s gone, but before, I can’t stand it.”

The court is Wagner’s comfort zone, and with good reason. Once the headphones and warm-ups come off and the clock begins to run, Wagner is a different person. On this particular night, he puts together his best game of the Dance, tallying 21 points and draining all three of his shots from deep in 30 minutes. Michigan beats Texas A&M by 27 to advance to the Elite Eight—it’s the type of game Wagner loves most: a blowout. “It’s better for the nerves.”

Very same. Maybe there's actually something to the First Wagner Three theory?

Don't try this at home, if you have a lamp post in your home. The South U scene post-game:

Hangin' with Sister Jean. Jordan Poole on his post-game interaction with the most famous nun in America:

"She got those guys," Poole told reporters afterward. "She had their back the entire time and everybody talks about them being a Cinderella story and she was getting a lot of attention.

"But being able to build a fan base how she did, and being able to have Loyola have so many fans out here and travel well, and I just thought the entire concept and everything that she brought to the table, and being able to have such a a big impact on the team, being in a situation like this, I thought it was amazing."

Charles Matthews probably still doesn't know who she is.

Various videos. All makes in the semi:

Individual reels for Wagner…

…and Charles Matthews are also available.

Contest all the shots. This is extraordinary after Michigan contested all but three of FSU's attempts in the Elite Eight:

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Michigan contested 24 of Loyola's 27 shot attempts from the field in the second half, including the first 16 Ramblers shots. Loyola didn't record an "open" shot until 4:43 remained in the game, by which time the Wolverines held a five-point lead.

Do that against Villanova and you've got a real shot.

Building X. [Editor's note: dad calls him X, I'm calling him X. X is the coolest letter.] Andrew Kahn dives into what makes Zavier Simpson such an effective defender:

"If we trained him like we do Moe (Wagner), he'd look like a fullback on the football team," Sanderson said.

But Simpson was a bit of a "waddler" with tight hips. Sanderson worked to increase his joint flexibility, allowing for further range of motion and better defensive technique. That, along with not fouling nearly as much as last year, has turned Simpson into an elite defender.

"He not only takes in what our coaching staff will tell him about a player, but he has his own little tricks," Michigan's Rico Ozuna-Harrison said. Like Wilson, Ozuna-Harrison is a freshman walk-on who often plays on the scout team that faces the starters. "He knows what hand to guard when you're doing a move. He knows where to place his feet. How to bump you and where. Small stuff that really makes a difference."

Paintball oral history? Okay, sure:

Kapustka: (Beilein) was the first guy taken out. Got hit right in the head.

Abdur-Rahkman: Bounced off his head. Paint all over his face.

Kapustka: It came from the ground. Someone just fired a perfect shot. It was pretty crazy.

Ibi Watson, freshman forward: It was (Eli) Brooks who got him.

Eli Brooks, freshman point guard: /makes exaggerated hand gun motion

Don't miss a titanic Charles Matthews-Jon Sanderson showdown.

A mind-bending counterfactual. Jay Wright, Rutgers coach:

There’s one more minor connection that neither coach may even know about. When Villanova went after Hofstra’s coach, Wright was the school’s sole target. Former athletic director Vince Nicastro used the word “exclusively” in describing whom they were going after.

However, just in case Wright decided the big Rutgers offer was the one he would take, Villanova needed a backup plan. Everyone has to have a list. The name on top of that list, John Beilein.

Not that any sane person is taking the Rutgers job over… literally any other high major school? I think that's true.

Etc.: Two fairly silly reasons Nova will win. Andrew Kahn on Wagner's performance. Andy Staples on the game. Max Marcovitch on Jordan Poole's halftime talk.

Michigan 69, Loyola Chicago 57, One More Game

Michigan 69, Loyola Chicago 57, One More Game

Submitted by Ace on March 31st, 2018 at 9:56 PM


Moe Wagner made history with his performance tonight. [Bryan Fuller]

We just had to believe.

Believe in the Moe Wagner First Three-Pointer Corollary. Believe in Luke Yaklich's defense. Believe that Zavier Simpson wouldn't have the worst game of his life for every last minute. Believe that these damn shots would eventually fall. Believe in the Ironclad Law of Duncan Robinson's Six. Believe in John Beilein.

Our beliefs were tested. Michigan shot out of the gate, gaining an early 12-4 edge, before a well-coached Loyola squad started outplaying them. The switching Ramblers defense kept the Wolverines from getting into their usual sets. On the other end, Loyola combined dizzying off-ball motion with strong post-ups from center Cameron Krutwig. While Wagner was a force, tallying 11 points and 11 boards at halftime, he received almost no help. Charles Matthews churned out eight points on 3-for-8 shooting. Backup center Jon Teske made his lone attempt. Nobody else on the team had a bucket.

While Michigan's poor outside shooting wasn't anything new this tournament, the same couldn't be said for the seven-point halftime deficit, nor the simultaneous disappearing acts of Robinson, Simpson, and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. The Wolverines had been able to grind out wins without one or two of those players in top form; getting nothing out of all three would be tough to overcome.


The exclamation point. [Fuller]

Ever so slowly, Wagner and friends worked their way back in the second half. Ever so slowly. The margin remained at seven at the first media timeout and climbed to eight on a pair of Clayton Custer free throws out of the second. With the outside shots still clanging iron and Simpson looking entirely out of sorts, Beilein turned to his bench, subbing in Teske and Jordan Poole. With ten seconds of entering the game, Poole drove baseline for a layup. Shortly thereafter, Poole grabbed a defensive rebound in traffic, pushed the pace, and the ball worked around to Robinson for a three-pointer—quite notably, his second, reaching the magic six-point mark while cutting the deficit to three.

Poole, fully at home taking center stage in the Final Four, kept seeking out buckets. After another board, he went coast-to-coast for a tough layup. Wagner knotted the game a minute later by backing out of a double-team and launching a three-pointer right over it. Poole took his the next turn, giving Michigan its first lead of the second half at the line with 6:20 to play.

"The Drip Boys are full of swag, that's what they call themselves," said Matthews. "They bring instant energy, especially this kid here [Poole]. This is my roommate, so I've got my hands tied with him the whole trip long."

In closing time, Beilein went with his go-to guys. Simpson came back in for Simmons, rediscovered his defense, and kept the ball moving without those unsightly turnovers. Matthews hit a gorgeous reverse layup off a sharp pass from Wagner after taking a quick breather. Abdur-Rahkman got Michigan's lead up to double digits with a tough runner, only his second basket of the game, that all but ended the game with 2:13 to play. Sister Jean got a head start up the tunnel right around the time Matthews hammered home the final nail.


How many more, Jordan? [Fuller]

This was, above all, a career-defining performance by Wagner, who finished with 24 points on 17 shot equivalents, 15 rebounds (six offensive), an assist, and three steals. That stat line put him among Hall of Fame company: Larry Bird and Hakeem Olajuwon are the only other players to record 20 points and 15 rebounds in a national semifinal.

"Wow," said Wagner upon hearing that fact. "If you put it like that, it's probably cool. But to be honest, I kept looking possession by possession, we had trouble scoring the first half. We scored 22 points and that was kind of the only way we found our way to the basket, grab offensive rebounds and get second-shot opportunities. And I honestly just tried to do my job. The shots were falling the second half. It's a lot more fun when the ball goes through the net."

Wagner also played one of his best defensive games; while Krutwig went 7-for-11 from the field, he also coughed up six turnovers, and Wagner committed only one foul—of paramount importance in a game the Wolverines needed all 36 of his brilliant minutes.

Michigan's now-usual stifling defense handled the rest until the offense finally clicked late. Just don't tell the Wolverines they just knocked off Cinderella.

"We never looked at the team as a Cinderella team," said Matthews. "It's like 300-something Division I teams, and they're one of the last four standing. That's no Cinderella story. We respected them and we knew we had to come out and execute against them."

It took a lot of patience and faith in the system, but it ultimately paid off in Michigan's second trip to the NCAA championship game in six years. The winner of Villanova-Kansas awaits on Monday night.

"Everybody is really happy," said Beilein. "And we're ready to move on to the next game, whoever it is."

[Hit THE JUMP for more photos and the box score.]

Death From Wherever

Death From Wherever

Submitted by Ace on March 30th, 2018 at 2:43 PM

SPONSOR NOTE. HomeSure Lending is once again sponsoring our NCAA Tournament coverage this year, and once again that is going rather well. I'm not saying Michigan's second run to the FINAL FOUR is due to this great partnership of sports blog and home-financing expert; I'm not saying it isn't, either. I certainly don't want to test this theory. If you're looking at buying a house this spring/summer you should talk to him soon.

ICYMI. Tuesday's mailbag covered Moe Wagner's impact on opponent strategy, the John Beilein inbounding myth, and an interesting hypothetical about Beilein as an NBA coach. Wednesday's covered Loyola matchups, small ball, Jon Teske, and why Z keeps getting robbed (off the court). Brian posted the Loyola Chicago preview yesterday.


Up, then down, then very up. [Patrick Barron]

I was going to write another mailbag today but I'm past the point of rational thought. I should've seen this coming. This team, all season, has bucked expectation seemingly every time they settled into a pattern.

Heading into the season, this was going to be Moe Wagner's team. Or maybe Jaaron Simmons' if his MAC stardom translated, which we quickly learned did not. Perhaps Charles Matthews would fulfill his obvious potential and run the show, which appeared to be the case in November. Then he reverted to Turnover Matthews, the player we belatedly learned had been present for much of his mandated redshirt year, and we hoped he'd give up on being the centerpiece. He did, until the team needed a hard-driving centerpiece in the NCAA Tournament and he won West Region MVP.

Zavier Simpson started the first four games before coming off the bench in favor of Eli Brooks for the next 12. I wrote this on December 6th when exploring potential season outcomes:

For as good as Darius Morris was a sophomore, he simply wasn't ready for a starter's role as a freshman. Despite major differences in stature, Morris's statistical profile wasn't too different from Zavier Simpson's: very low usage, higher turnover rate than assist rate, awful outside shooting. (I know Simpson has shot okay from three this year but opponents are leaving him all alone out there and it's killing spacing.) Morris needed a full year before he was ready to run an efficient offense; if this year's PGs need a similar timetable, Michigan is probably missing the tournament.

I concluded that Brooks would do enough to help the Wolverines make the tourney as a bubble team. My personal Zavier Simpson mea culpa tour started eight days later.


The core. [Barron]

Duncan Robinson, a senior captain, had his starting job taken by a younger player for the second consecutive season, this time while mired in a shockingly uncharacteristic shooting funk. He continued to be a liability on defense until, suddenly, he no longer was that at all, through some combination of dogged work paying off and Luke Yaklich's tactical wizardry. While he stayed out of the starting lineup, he's one of the best five with commensurate playing time, and the team is evidently unbeatable when he scores six or more points.

The other returning senior, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, looked like the effective role player he'd pretty much always been for much of the year. When Michigan needed someone to grab control as Matthews struggled, however, he took the wheel.


Rolling with it. [Barron]

Talented freshmen Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole had to deal with the considerable learning curve of John Beilein's system plus a newfound emphasis on defensive fundamentals that'd make it much harder for the average freshman to make a quick impact. Both marinated for a while before the blowout loss at North Carolina provided them with extended minutes against real competition. They settled into roles; those roles changed; they adapted, often by the day. Poole went from playing season-saving microwave against Houston to two statless minutes against Florida State.

Jon Teske earned the nickname "Big Sleep" as a freshman in large part due to how completely out-to-lunch he looked on the court. Some offseason chatter had him losing ground to a different big, Austin "Big Country" Davis, who'd redshirted behind Teske last year. Teske held off Davis and had a strong start to the season, using his size to overwhelm lesser opponents, before his production faded when conference play began in earnest. Sometime around Valentine's Day, "Big Nasty" awoke, and this big guy screams at Isaac Haas after dunking in his grill.


Hello, Big Nasty. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

The last time Michigan made it here, the circumstances could hardly have been more different. While the 2012-13 team had lost Stu Douglass and Zack Novak from the starting lineup, every other contributor returned save Evan Smotrycz. The team had a clear leader in Trey Burke, a clear second option in Tim Hardaway Jr., an experienced big man in Jordan Morgan, and a group of prodigious freshmen that quickly settled into well-defined roles. The only significant change in how the team functioned throughout the season was Mitch McGary's postseason breakout, which wasn't too difficult to see coming.

This team isn't like that, not one bit. They play great defense no matter who is on the floor and squeeze enough offense out of their collection of misfit toys to grind out wins. Occasionally it all comes together and they blow a team to bits; more often, it's a matter of waiting to see how the game will dictate which player ultimately takes the lead. Not many teams make it this far in such fashion. For your college-to-pro comparison, you don't need to look far: hello, 2003-04 Detroit Pistons.

Will it end the same way? We'll see. Which player will take the lead? Who knows. Will it matter? I have no idea.

Neither does John Beilein, I'm guessing, but he has a much better plan of how to handle that. If you need me, I'll be curled up in a ball of anticipation.

Hoops Mailbag: Loyola Matchups, Small Ball Possibility, Z Robbed Again

Hoops Mailbag: Loyola Matchups, Small Ball Possibility, Z Robbed Again

Submitted by Ace on March 28th, 2018 at 3:35 PM

SPONSOR NOTE. HomeSure Lending is once again sponsoring our NCAA Tournament coverage this year, and once again that is going rather well. I'm not saying Michigan's second run to the FINAL FOUR is due to this great partnership of sports blog and home-financing expert; I'm not saying it isn't, either. I certainly don't want to test this theory. If you're looking at buying a house this spring/summer you should talk to him soon.

ICYMI. It's time for yet another two three-part mailbag. Yesterday's covered Moe Wagner's impact on opponent strategy, the John Beilein inbounding myth, and an interesting hypothetical about Beilein as an NBA coach. If you haven't submitted a question yet, I may have room for one or two more: you can tag them with #mgomailbag on twitter or email me.

To Small Ball Or Not To Small Ball


Could Isaiah Livers hold up at center? [Patrick Barron]

Let's start with some background here. Loyola starts a traditional center—6'9", 260-pound Cameron Krutwig—who plays about half of their minutes; when Krutwig leaves the court, they don't field a player taller than 6'6". Meanwhile, FSU went small for much of the second half against Michigan, and an attempted response by John Beilein with Isaiah Livers at center didn't go well. Livers looked lost and M got outscored 8-3 by FSU in that stretch despite getting an extra possession, failing to make a shot from the field.

There's a chance Duncan Robinson could function much better at center. He's well-versed in the system on both ends to the point that he probably knows the center's assignments better than Livers, he's defended well in the post, and he's been utilized in the offense as a screener with some frequency of late. The worry is a small-ball team would expose his sub-par perimeter defense. I think Robinson could match up well with 6'5", 230-pound forward Aundre Jackson, and in that case Michigan may very well want to go small along with Loyola—a Michigan Lineup of Death with Robinson at center is certainly intriguing in the right circumstances.

That said, Beilein may also choose to flip that mismatch the other way. Loyola's offense hasn't been effective without Krutwig, plummeting from 1.21 points per possession when he's on the court to 0.96 PPP when he's off during the NCAA Tournament, according to Hoop Lens. Their defense has also suffered, allowing 1.08 PPP when he's off versus 0.93 PPP when he's on because they can no longer stop anyone inside the arc—their 2-point percentage allowed balloons from 45.6% to 56.5%.

I have serious questions about Krutwig's ability to handle Michigan's five-out offense; he's not nearly the caliber of athlete as FSU's big men nor is he close to their level as a shot-blocker. Either way, Loyola is going to go small at times. I believe it may be in Michigan's best interest to keep playing their normal rotation unless they discover a true Lineup of Death during practice this week.

[Hit THE JUMP for Teske's potential role and Z getting robbed again.]

Bricklayers

Bricklayers

Submitted by Brian on March 26th, 2018 at 2:01 PM

3/22/2018 – Michigan 99, Texas A&M 72 – 31-7, Elite Eight
3/24/2018 – Michigan 58, Florida State 54 – 32-7, Final Four

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[Patrick Barron]

Michigan's games this week had little in common with each other. One was a delightful firebombing that was all but over by the second commercial break; the other was a tense defensive chess match. (For a given definition of chess.) Michigan shot a gorillion from three, and then reverted to that bad old Wichita stuff where you might as well hand out blindfolds and cigarettes. Michigan's efficiency stars emerged and then evaporated.

The common thread, such as it was, between both wins: the bricklayers. The guys who have flung free throws at the basket with the smoothness of a man with a basketball lodged in his esophagus attempting to aim a Heimlich maneuver. It was the universal consensus of the Michigan fanbase—both the crazed and somewhat less-than-crazed wings—that the season would end in what-if disappointment when several critical free throws down the stretch hit the underside of the backboard. Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews would be the likely perpetrators. This was okay-ish in a year that seemed headed for the NIT when Michigan was down 15 to UCLA, but You Just Cannot Win Basketball Games Like That. But we braced for a what-if.

I was amongst these people, and you're lying if you say you weren't, too. When Florida State whittled down a ten point lead into a shot to tie largely thanks to missed front ends, that prophecy loomed almost as large in my mind as "No Scrubs," which has been a permanent resident since we put it on a podcast a week ago. Even Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, the laser-eyed hero of the Maryland game, has seemingly contracted the bug. Many thoughts flit back and forth when a very important basketball game is in the balance, and only in the aftermath can you hope to sort out the rational from the paranoid and insane.

In the repose of a Monday, it seems that a good way to win basketball games is to suck at free throws and be up ten anyway. Or 20. 20 is preferable.

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[Barron]

TJ Starks had no idea. Even afterward, he had no idea. You can maybe forgive a brash statement or two after he put up 21 in an A&M blowout of the defending national champion. Can't expect every 18-year-old point guard's browser to autofill the "enpom.com" after typing in a K. "Unguardable," he said, in a press conference, and the papers duly printed these words in big letters, because they were bold and silly.

I like to think that Zavier Simpson found out about this because he has a DAMN FOOL OPENS MOUTH Google Alert, but probably one of the student managers sent it to him. I like to think the student manager has a THIS MIGHT ANGER ZAVIER tab folder or instasnap folio or whatever it is the kids are using. This seems far more likely. I like to think that there's one guy on the team that continually shows Simpson tweets from six months ago, and that after TJ Starks had a press conference he fist-pumped and took a two-hour vacation for the first time in a month.

And I like to think that when the student manager showed Simpson the silly quote that he had no reaction except for a slight nostril flare.

A few days later, Starks is holding his own intestines as he asserts that he still feels unguardable. "Do you still feel unguardable?" is kind of a rude question to ask a guy who is holding his own intestines. But ask they do, and Starks answers in the affirmative, and… okay. You know what, actually? As a Michigan fan, thanks.

That went right in the folder. Even after a 38 ORTG, 2/11, 1 assist, 5 TO night during which Simpson set a personal best with six steals—five of which were during the first half blitz that turned the second half into a rote exercise—it went in the folder. Not acknowledging what happened might help you; it certainly causes nostrils to flare.

A couple days later a presumably-still-furious Simpson did (most of) this to FSU's two point guards:

  • CJ Walker: 2 points on 4 shot equivalents, 0 assists, 3 TOs, 35 ORTG
  • Trent Forrest: 7 points on 8 shot equivalents, 2 A, 2 TO, 89 ORTG

Simpson finished his weekend by anticipating a desperate FSU three as the clock ran down and getting his hand on yet another ball, forcing a guy who wasn't even his man into a desperation heave that was nowhere close.

Also he missed a couple free throws.

-------------------------------------------

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[Barron]

I had no idea. Even afterward: no idea. There were no brash statements about Charles Matthews, really, just assertions that maybe he shouldn't be Michigan's highest-usage player if he's going to turn the ball over buckets—assertions that didn't seem that controversial as Michigan moved usage to Abdur-Rahkman so that he could set New York City alight. But you never know when something's going to click.

So a couple possessions after Charles Matthews got a drive swatted into the crowd by one of A&M's twin towers, he went in again. Up fake, large man jumps into crowd himself, easy finish. From there Matthews took the lead role as Michigan blunted every one of A&M's attempts to get back in the game—or even get it under 20. He drove by the third 6'10" guy, stopped in the lane, and took one of those jumpers where he's eye-to-eye with the rim. He drove through traffic, and put up eight twos that he mostly generated himself, and finished the game with just one turnover.

The resurgence of November Charles Matthews was a B plot in a blowout. It took two days and two minutes for it to pay off. Everyone has a plan until a seven-foot Nigerian comes from the three-point line to block your layup. In the aftermath you might look at the basket like it was suddenly a dangerous thing. Michigan certainly did. Their offense bogged down almost immediately as the shock of Florida State's length settled in. It's one thing to talk about it and practice for it and entirely another when you encounter it for the first time.

Here we should probably use Matthews's full name. Charles Matthews The Kentucky Transfer was the only player Michigan had who was not shocked by Florida State's athleticism. He'd spent a year getting roasted by five stars in Lexington, and knew what it was to go up against five guys with ten guys worth of arms. He kept Michigan afloat in the first half. Hell, he hit his first four free throws to aid the cause. When Leonard Hamilton wondered how his team was down one at the break, answer #1 was "you turned it over 40% of the time"; #2 was Charles Matthews.

After the year in Lexington, Matthews spent a year getting roasted by John Beilein. In the postgame press conference he told a story of how his name during his redshirt year was "Turnover Matthews"; he recalled being told to "touch 212"—ie, run the stairs at Crisler—every practice. Nobody who'd watched him drive with a wince midseason was surprised by that.

Here: two games, 17 two-point attempts, two turnovers total. Seventeen game-saving points in a first-to-55-wins game. No idea. But there it is.

-------------------------------

All year we've been talking about next year, hoping that will be the fusion of Michigan's newfound defensive prowess with the traditional death from above Beilein offense would… uh… get them to the Final Four. As Michigan blitzed through the Big Ten tournament, it became clear this collection of slightly misfit toys was able to outdistance their flaws.

This weekend drove the point home. Michigan's least Beilein players drove Michigan's least Beilein team to San Antonio. They've met halfway. Simpson has a semi-functional three pointer. Matthews has deferred more; has become more responsible with the ball. It was tough to see, for a while, when you've been trained to prize a rain of threes over all else, but it turns out you can use bricks to build something.

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[After the jump: the most bonkers stat]

Michigan 58, Florida State 54, West Region Champions

Michigan 58, Florida State 54, West Region Champions

Submitted by Ace on March 25th, 2018 at 12:52 AM


Champions of the West. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]

Say it again, Dana Jacobson. Say it again and again, everyone.

Michigan is going to the Final Four. John Beilein, the true king of Ann Arbor, is one victory—against, of all teams, 11-seed Loyola—away from his second championship game in six years and an opportunity for the program's first national title since 1989.

The Wolverines got there in a most un-Beilein way. This was not Thursday, when they rained fire on Texas A&M. This is what many fans feared Thursday would look like, as a very large, athletic Florida State squad held Michigan well under a point per possession. Michigan, meanwhile, couldn't hit a three-pointer, going an appalling 4-for-22 from beyond the arc. Any past Beilein team would've lost this game.

But not this one. For as good as FSU's defense played, Michigan's was a cut above. The Seminoles had one more field goal (16) than turnovers committed (15). They kept a transition-reliant FSU scoreless on fast breaks; the Wolverines scored 12 in transition because of live-ball turnovers. That, above all, made the difference in a game featuring great halfcourt defense and ugly shooting.

"I've never seen a team work so hard and be so connected on both ends of the floor, even when things do not go right on the offensive end," said Beilein. "They were exceptional on defense. We had that string of plays where Moe was wide open, Charles is wide open, Duncan was wide open, and they didn't go down and sulk at the other end. They ended up just playing better defense so that we could win the game."


Charles Matthews surprised a lot of people tonight. [Barron]

Michigan's heroes weren't the ones you would've expected a month or two ago. Charles Matthews scored M's first points on an and-one dunk, flashed a rare smile, and proceeded to carry the offense through some truly ugly stretches. Using strong drives, sharp pivots, and tough finishes, Matthews finished with a game-high 17 points, eight rebounds, two blocks, a steal, and only one turnover.

"It was special," he said. "Last year all I used to hear in practice was turnover Matthews, turnover Matthews. And go see 212, that's when I have to run up to the top of the bleachers. But I stayed with it. Coach stayed on me. He continued to believe in me, and that continued to help my confidence grow. My teammates believe in me, and I believe in them. So it's just been a special feeling."

Zavier Simpson set the tone early, as well, when he ripped the ball away from FSU's Terance Mann as a parent would take a toy from an unruly child. While the stat line is packed—nine points on 4/8 shooting, three boards, five assists, one turnover, three steals—it doesn't do justice to Simpson's masterful control over the game. On a normal Michigan shooting night, Simpson threatens double-digit assists. Meanwhile, he hit a couple huge shots late and played his usual superlative defense. The two Seminole point guards, Trent Forrest and CJ Walker, combined to go 1-for-9 from the field with five turnovers.

Nobody else, though, could find any consistency on offense. Moe Wagner had an especially brutal outing, failing to hit a field goal in the first half before finishing with 11 points on 15 shot equivalents. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman needed ten shot equivalents to net his nine points. Duncan Robinson didn't make his first three-pointer until 2:25 remained, when his corner triple gave the Wolverines a seemingly insurmountable ten-point lead.

Florida State nearly surmounted it. Free throws, that familiar bugaboo, nearly cost Michigan dearly this time, as Simpson and MAAR went on a 2-for-5 stretch that included missing the front end of two one-and-ones to allow FSU to pull within a single possession twice. After Phil Cofer's putback got the 'Noles cut the margin to two, however, Robinson calmly sunk two free throws. PJ Savoy missed a wild, contested three-pointer with 13 seconds to play, Robinson grabbed the rebound, and for reasons unbeknownst to everyone other than Leonard Hamilton, Robinson was allowed to dribble out the clock.

"We knew they were going to make a run," said Abdur-Rahkman. "We each had to weather the storm and get stops when we needed it. And I think that's what we did."

Michigan is going to the Final Four—say it again—because they got stops. What a team. What a coaching staff. What a world.

[Hit THE JUMP for more photos and the box score.]

Do More, Say More

Do More, Say More

Submitted by Ace on March 24th, 2018 at 12:05 PM


our student manager turned walk-on is better than yours and knows it

The nature of the tournament means you may not get much of a chance to savor a great victory before much of its luster is worn off. Thursday night was, without question, a great victory, and I'm going to make a conscious effort to give it the savoring it so richly deserves.

Upon approximately my hundredth rewatching of the video containing all 14 (FOURTEEN!) of Michigan's three-pointers against Texas A&M, I came to a startling realization. I was genuinely, unironically glad that Reggie Miller, whose commentary I normally find obnoxious at best*, was calling the game for TBS. For one night, he was the perfect person to call a basketball game.

[*I'm pretty sure this video was made in jest. I hope, at least.]

Reggie Miller made a Hall of Fame career from hitting threes—often audacious, sometimes outrageous threes, seemingly always in critical circumstances—and talking a spectacular amount of shit. His game was loud, his personality louder still.

As Miller watched the Wolverines rip the Aggies limb-from-limb, his usual schtick disappeared and genuine joy broke through. He called shots and reacted with glee as they unfolded before his eyes. He found a kindred spirit in Moe Wagner. At one point he uttered "ooh, my goodness" while so taken aback it's almost lost beneath Kevin Harlan's exhilaration.

Michigan did not just rain in a torrent of threes. They matched them with Miller-like theatrics that escalated with each strike.

The show turned to a full-blown three-ring circus, Oakland-style, by late in the first half. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, the silent killer of the squad, lined up a long-range shot in transition. By the time the ball actually went through the net, 60% of the team was back on defense.


Robinson's arm went up the moment the shot did

Not a whole lot changed after halftime other than Michigan's willingness to cede Texas A&M post-up buckets, which lack both efficiency and swagger. Reggie wasn't here for that. Reggie's here for this.

Michigan's team shirts say "DO MORE, SAY LESS" this postseason. It's in the spirit of a John Beilein team, to be sure, but not this one, not anymore. This team is embodied by Moe Wagner removing his mouthguard to talk trash, Charles Matthews laughing in Nick Ward's face, Zavier Simpson's biggest mood, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman coldly staring down his shot while the rest of the team merrily turns the other way, and student-manager-turned-walk-on CJ Baird flashing three fingers after drilling a 25-footer. Effervescent ailurophile-slash-tournament hero Jordan Poole, perhaps the most brash of the bunch, inspires art such as this Smoothitron masterpiece:

This has turned into a team that'll take your lunch money and throw your empty wallet into the woods. Every once in a while, as they did on Thursday, they'll use that money to buy your mom a nice meal. Maybe they'll take her out again tonight.