2/18/2018 – Michigan 74, Ohio State 62 – 22-7, 11-5 Big Ten
It happens about three times a game: Michigan's offense will stall out to not much, someone will fling the ball to Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and he'll plunge through a thicket of defenders to the rim. The result, far more frequently than it seems like it should be, is two points when none recently beckoned.
There is a universal undercurrent to all of Abdur-Rahkman's sweeping, acrobatic, contested layups: "why not that, but all the time?"
His uncanny ability to get to the basket in bad situations has been a bedrock of Michigan's late clock offense for years, and remains so. If you can get to the rim and hit 69% with five seconds left on the clock, perhaps we should explore doing that more often.
And yet. MAAR has carved out an incredibly specific size of role no matter how he was operating in that role. His usage went from 16.5 as a freshman to 16.3 as a sophomore, to 16.3 again, and if you'd poked at Kenpom a month ago you would have seen that same 16 staring out at you. This despite a skyrocketing ORTG and a Michigan offense that verges on wonky. It would be unwise but understandable to grab MAAR by the shoulders and shake him, yelling "ahhhhh do more stuff."
Or perhaps this maneuver has already been executed.
As his career rounds the last bend, Abdur-Rahkman finally emerges from the shadow of the role player. He's not an all-conquering, all-usage Trae Young, but going from 16% usage to 20 over the last 7 games has corresponded to a 5-2 stretch where the only thing preventing 6-1 with a win at Purdue was Purdue shooting 80% on halfcourt shots—170 ORTG was not sufficient to win game MVP or, like, the game. Michigan's two worst offensive performances in that stretch by some distance where the two low-usage MAAR games against Northwestern's zone.
It doesn't seem right to say that as MAAR goes, so does Michigan, but it does seem like he provides a baseline of efficiency that the rest of the team can build on. Dude has had 16 turnovers all season, and this recent surge hasn't seen that rate increase: he's got two in those seven games.
Maybe he's already taking all the shots he can be efficient on because he has a spooky ability to identify when he's got a lane. But it kind of feels like if Michigan is going to do something surprising in the tournament, it's because MAAR decides he's going to dominate the ball, just once, in case it's awesome.
Making yo coffee hot. Jordan Poole entered this game with Michigan locked in a tight contest largely because of their moribund three-point shooting. Poole was 2 for his last 15, and naturally hit 4 of 5 because he has no memory. The rest of the team was 3 of 15, which is a recipe for certain doom sans Poole.
It is completely irrational but it feels like Mo Wagner's first attempt from three dictates whether Michigan's going to burn up the nets or imprison them in a wall of bricks for imagined insults. It was the latter here until Poole rescued them.
This was also a good compare and contrast between Poole and Robinson. OSU focused on limiting Robinson and held him two two attempts; Poole's ability to threaten a drive and pull up got him a couple of unassisted opportunities he canned.
Inverse free throw juju. Hopefully whatever witchdoctor flipped the teams' free throw shooting abilities can hold that spell until March. OSU shot 9 of 19 versus Michigan's 17 of 24, thus preventing a heartstopping finish. A large part of this from Michigan's perspective was getting the right guys to the line: Wagner, MAAR, Robinson, and Poole had 14 attempts. Simpson and Matthews had 7.
Simpson also debuted a new Rip Hamilton free throw homage that got him to 4/6, although the last two rattled around before going down. Whatever helps.
At long last, board obliterated. Dunno what OSU's done to Jae'Sean Tate this year but that looked like the old Tate to me. He was the spearhead for an OSU OREB vanguard that clobbered Michigan for what was the first time probably all year. Michigan got out-OREB'd 15-4, but did make up for it with a +7 TO margin, preventing a serious FGA gap.
We're filing this under Just A Thing for now.
Board obliteration obscures defense. Hoop Math's numbers for yesterdays game are bonkers. They have 8% of OSU's shots at the rim, and 72% two point jumpers. Those seem to exclude putbacks, of which OSU had nine attempts and five makes. Minus those, OSU was 14 of 38 from two—37%. OSU is 32nd nationally in 2PT%.
A large part of this was Keita Bates-Diop going 2 for 11, with that work split about equally between Livers and Robinson. Neither guy did much on offense, but they more than earned their keep by sending a kPOY candidate to one of his worst games of the season. Ace reports that Synergy has Robinson a dang near average defender this year, up from 23rd percentile a year ago. This is largely because teams are trying to post him up a lot more than they did last year. Robinson's proven fairly adept at fending off fours like KBD and Jaren Jackson on the block.
Zounds! Zavier Simpson's offensive line is decent, but not astounding. What he did to CJ Jackson, though: three points on 5 shot equivalents, zero assists, three turnovers. Simpson committed zero fouls doing this. Jackson hadn't been held without an assist all season. Let's check in on opposing point guards over the last few games:
- Jordan Bohannon, Iowa: 9% usage, 7 points. 5 A: 0 TO though.
- Brad Davison, Wisconsin: 10 points on 11 shot equivalents, 1 A, 1 TO, 88 ORTG.
- Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern: 24 points on 14 shot equivalents, 5 A, 1 TO, 162 ORTG
- Nate Mason, Minnesota: 22 points on 19 shot equivalents, 2 A, 0 TO, 122 ORTG.
So not a consistent murder-like substance. It should be noted that approximately all of Mason's twos were pull ups just inside the line that he's been miserable at this season.
What a strange team. OSU, that is. I'm slightly worried that Chris Holtmann has managed to put together a team that will get a solid NCAA seed with this pu-pu platter of available options. Andrew Dakich may be shooting well this year but he's still more or less the walk-on he was at Michigan, except now he's getting 20 minutes a game. His line in 22 minutes yesterday: 0/3, one TO, one steal, one foul. OSU has four pretty good players and then zero.
Holtmann's decision to sit Micah Potter, who is a solid offensive option, for nonentity freshman Kyle Young only exacerbated that gap. Young had Dakich-like usage in 22 minutes, and that puts an enormous burden on your good players to survive in the usage 30s.
Bracket updates. About what you'd expect on the two major-network experts to update after OSU. Lunardi moved Michigan from a 6 to a 5; Palm moved Michigan from an 8 to a 7. OSU is a 5 on Palm's bracket. I'm struggling to see a two-seed gap between these resumes with an identical number of wins and losses. I'm leaving out the H2H and Maryland home wins:
- OSU Ws: MSU, @ Purdue. Bad Ls: none.
- M Ws: @ MSU, UCLA, @ Texas. Bad Ls: @ Northwestern.
OSU has the #13 SOR per ESPN; Michigan is #15. If it's not tight it's because RPI and quadrants are mis-evaluating Michigan's season.
Michigan has two more Q1 opportunities to finish the season, so they have some upward mobility left.