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. 

Michigan 99, Texas A&M 72

Michigan 99, Texas A&M 72

Submitted by Ace on March 22nd, 2018 at 11:19 PM


when the walk-on hits [photo courtesy Sam Mousigian/Michigan Daily]

We've seen this game before. A freshman Nik Stauskas shooting Florida out of the gym from the same spot; Texas becoming so overwhelmed the Longhorn Network tweeted a shruggie. Enter this into the canon:

THE MODERATOR: Coach, an opening statement?

BILLY KENNEDY: Felt like we ran into a buzz saw.

Michigan played a near-perfect first half before settling into remarkably productive cruise control in the second. They scored 99 points, the most Texas A&M has allowed this season, on an astonishing 1.38 points per possession. They shot 64% on twos, 58% on threes, and 88% from the line. Eight different players made a three-pointer. One of them was CJ Baird, who started the season as a student manager.

"It was kind of hard to see," said A&M's Admon Gilder. "Because I was just wondering when they were going to miss."

After both underperformed last weekend, Moe Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way. Wagner was the star of the first half, pouring in 14 of his 21 while seemingly gaining confidence with every shot, the most spectacular a running left-handed bank after his patented behind-the-back dribble. Abdur-Rahkman scored 16 of his 24 in the second half, teaming with Charles Matthews (18 points, 13 in the second half) to drop the hammer on an A&M squad trying to cover a 20-point deficit with post-ups. Two more Wolverines, Zavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, finished in double figures.

"We knew that we could pick and choose our spots on offense," said Abdur-Rahkman. "And we didn't shoot too well in Wichita, but we knew that we were confident coming into the game that we could hit get our shots off. We just picked and chose our shots, and we took them."


Abdur-Rahkman led the team with 24 points and 7 assists. [Mousigian]

Meanwhile, Simpson made life miserable for self-proclaimed "unstoppable" Aggies point guard TJ Starks, who made the freshman mistake of giving Michigan's best defender extra motivation. Starks, who'd averaged 19.6 points in his last three games, finished with five on 2-for-11 shooting, a lone assist, and five turnovers. Simpson equaled his mark's point total with a career-high five steals in the first half and added one more in the second for good measure. The Aggies mustered only 28 points on 32 first-half field-goal attempts; Michigan had little issue letting them work post mismatches in the second on the three-is-greater-than-two principle.

Last weekend's Wolverines were just good enough to get through last weekend. Tonight's Wolverines were great enough to beat any team on any day. It didn't take long for them to get into a groove and ooze confidence; Wagner talking trash after an in-your-eye three, Matthews flashing a rare smile after a tough bucket, Simpson eyeing his man with pure disdain after a particularly obvious flop, the whole team running back on defense as Abdur-Rahkman let loose a three-pointer. (Yes, it went in.)

It reached the absurd in the late going. Abdur-Rahkman went behind the back on a fast break pass to Wagner for an emphatic dunk. Austin Davis threw down an alley-oop. Baird sent the bench into hysterics with his three-pointer.

The swagger is carrying over.

"I think we're a very confident team, and I think that's all that matters," said Wagner. "We've been playing within ourselves all year and not looking at the opponent too much. Looking at the game plan, trying to execute that, and I think we've been believing all year we can beat anyone if we play our best basketball. So, Yep."

Michigan will face the winner of tonight's Florida State-Gonzaga matchup on Saturday. No matter which team advances, the Wolverines will enter the game knowing they can—and should—win. Given how they've played over the last month or so, they're not wrong.

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

This Week’s Obsession: Who’s Afraid of the TAMU Zone?

This Week’s Obsession: Who’s Afraid of the TAMU Zone?

Submitted by Seth on March 22nd, 2018 at 2:01 PM

image

go IN! [photo by JD Scott]

THIS ARTICLE HAS A SPONSOR: It’s Nick Hopwood, our MGoFinancial Planner from Peak Wealth Management. If you’ve got a financial question, let Nick know. And when you’re ready to figure out how you’re going to plan your retirement and pay for your kids’ college when you just got done paying for your own, don’t wait to do something about that.

Legal disclosure in tiny font: Calling Nick our official financial planner is not intended as financial advice; Nick is an advertiser who financially supports MGoBlog. MGoBlog is not responsible for any advice or other communication provided to an investor by any financial advisor, and makes no representations or warranties as to the suitability of any particular financial advisor and/or investment for a specific investor.

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

The Question:

What started us off was this article in the Houston Chronicle:

Texas A&M point guard T.J. Starks fits right in among these bright lights near Hollywood. The loquacious Starks on Wednesday described his game as "unguardable."

"Unstoppable," he added, in case anyone had a hard time grasping the meaning of "unguardable."

Alex: tl;dr: A&M's bad point guard described himself as unguardable.

imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

Seth: Starks’s offensive ratings last 10 games: 96, 93, 106, 38, 79, 206 (Vanderbilt), 78, 76, 78, 83.

Alex: TJ Starks is sometimes not great but this is an interesting read on Williams.

Williams would be best in a role similar to Clint Capela in Houston: anchoring the defense, setting screens, and catching lobs with four 3-point shooters around him. He would be indefensible if he switched spots with Moritz Wagner, the Michigan center he will face in the Sweet 16 on Thursday, who typically plays as the lone big man in John Beilein’s spread offense. The Aggies don’t have the pieces to run something similar.

This is also what I've been thinking:

With A&M head coach Billy Kennedy keeping Davis in the lane as much as possible, Williams has spent a lot of time in college chasing smaller players all over the floor. He put the clamps on UNC senior Theo Pinson, a 6-foot-6 point forward who was the catalyst for their offense, holding him to four points on 2-of-7 shooting. He will have to do something similar against Michigan, which uses senior Duncan Robinson III and freshman Isaiah Livers as small-ball 4s around the 3-point line. How Kennedy handles the matchups upfront will be fascinating. Williams is his best bet to shut down Wagner, Michigan’s best NBA prospect, but there’s no way Davis can guard their smaller players on the perimeter. Kennedy may have to bench his best scorer and play Williams and Trocha-Morelos together, or go to a zone to hide him.

They pretty much have to go zone.

Ace: I’m very okay with a team playing their change-up defense as their base defense.

Seth: Yeah they're not going to be Syracusian at it.

Brian: we're so ass vs zone this year though.

Ace: I think Teske will play a big role tonight. His passing in the middle of the 2-3 has been very good when he’s had the opportunity.

Alex: I'd be willing to place a bet that Davis will get Moe into foul trouble and Teske will have to play a lot. Then they can probably go man.

[After THE JUMP: Alex and Ace set up on the wings, and the rest of us shoot from the key sometimes]

Basketbullets: Montana

Basketbullets: Montana

Submitted by Ace on March 16th, 2018 at 2:27 PM

That Was A Weird One


MAAR's deeply skeptical face. [JD Scott/MGoBlog]

Let's get this out of the way: that was a funky one. Michigan barely crept above 0.90 points per possession in a game they won comfortably (eventually). Montana's aggressive trapping on ball screens broke the offense's rhythm, as did an early flurry of whistles. After the game's very first media timeout, Beilein fielded a lineup of Jaaron Simmons, Jordan Poole, Charles Matthews, Duncan Robinson, and Jon Teske—essentially 1.5 starters with Robinson in there. If you went to bed early and only saw the box score today, you're probably quite confused.

The unusual circumstances make this game hard to judge, even before accounting for the lengthy second-half delay just as Michigan was getting rolling. I thought the offense was on the verge of taking apart the Montana trap when Zavier Simpson had to exit. While Jaaron Simmons and Eli Brooks both had strong shifts—more on that later—there was a longer adjustment period than necessary.

Montana coach Travis DeCurie credited Beilein after the game for both timely strategic adjustments and how well-coached the Wolverines are in general. The latter part kept them in good position while they figured out the former [via NCAA transcript, emphasis mine]:

To me, when I say someone is well coached, they don't beat themselves. You'll make mistakes. There's human error. But I can't recall one possession where they took a bad shot. There will be defensive breakdowns because the offense can manipulate things, but on the offensive end for them, I just can't remember someone taking a questionable shot and allowing us to get some momentum or maybe a low rebound or whatnot.

When they shot the ball, guys knew they were going to shoot it. And to me those are teams that don't beat themselves. And so I don't know how many teams are like that in this field. A lot of teams, they play, they fly around, they're aggressive. They give on maybe a questionable shot here and there, an error on aggression. I think this team plays very smart basketball. And when they play that way, it's just very difficult to manipulate things and make things happen in your favor.

Michigan's turnover avoidance, refusal to give opponents easy transition opportunities off bad shots, and elite (ELITE!) defense allow them to weather storms many other teams could not. Last night's first half went about as poorly as it could for the Wolverines, yet they still held a three-point halftime lead and pulled away for a comfortable win. That, more than anything else, is my takeaway from last night.

[Hit THE JUMP for Matthews unleashed, the backup point guards, and fun with split stats.]

This Week’s Obsession: Beilein-Shakalaka

This Week’s Obsession: Beilein-Shakalaka

Submitted by Seth on March 14th, 2018 at 12:46 PM

image

THIS ARTICLE HAS A SPONSOR: It’s Nick Hopwood, our MGoFinancial Planner from Peak Wealth Management. We’re going to act like kids in this article but first some seriousness: I had a big health scare recently and I’m talking to Nick now because we were not ready for things to go pear-shaped, and also I have two kids and if everything goes just fine I really wasn’t preparing correctly for their futures.

Anytime you’ve got a financial question, let Nick know. And when you’re ready to figure out how you’re going to plan your retirement and pay for your kids’ college when you just got done paying for your own, don’t wait to do something about that.

Legal disclosure in tiny font: Calling Nick our official financial planner is not intended as financial advice; Nick is an advertiser who financially supports MGoBlog. MGoBlog is not responsible for any advice or other communication provided to an investor by any financial advisor, and makes no representations or warranties as to the suitability of any particular financial advisor and/or investment for a specific investor.

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

The Question:

An exercise shameless stolen from someone who shamelessly stole it from someone else:

You get to pick three Beilein-era players for your NBA Jam team (two starters, one sub). As a bonus, you get to pick an unlockable player from the pre-Beilein era. For those unfamiliar with NBA Jam, this video should give you an idea of what we’re looking for here—there’s a strong emphasis on athleticism, dunking, outside shooting, blocking, and shoving other players to steal the ball.

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

Seth: My favorite part about this topic is that there is a non-zero chance one of our readers can actually reprogram an NBA Jam rom for us.

Alex: There are eight stat categories: speed, 3pt, dunk, pass, power, steal, block, clutch.

image

Ace: I’m taking Caris/Stauskas/McGary/Rice, fwiw.

slackbot: Canada on Apple iOS 11.2Fire on Apple iOS 11.2

[ED: We’ve been programming secret auto-replies into our group IM system. If we trip a keyword, slackbot will interject itself. –seth]

David: Wait...is this a thing? I was at lunch.

BiSB: /WAITING FOR PLAYER DAVE. HIT 'A' TO START.

David: Let me plug in my Game Genie first.

Brian: This should be a draft.

Seth: Our readers do love it when we draft fantasy teams.

Ace: …he said, after I got halfway through my writeup.

Brian: Ok never mind.

Alex: I think a draft would be sensible as well.

Sorry, sorry I'm tryi--

Brian: Ace can go first because he's upset.

David: How many ppl are involved?

Ace: I’m always the bad guy.

/giphy diva

ty giphy

David: OH MAN

Seth: I'm sure that has nothing to do with how you sit in your lair and giggle all the time.

Ace: I actually am working in the basement right now.

Alex: I don't really know where I would put this in the post, but would like to mention it: Stella's in Grand Rapids—a whiskey bar with probably the best burgers in the city—has an arcade section with the OG NBA Jam game. It's as great as it sounds. Shout-out to Stella's.

@adam Catch me at Stella's sometime to get that work from the Stockton-Malone Jazz.

Seth: Our house rule was you couldn't take the Jazz.

Alex: That was just the first team that came to mind - I was going to be courteous and let him use the Pistons. I guess I'll go with the Hardaway-Mullin Warriors. I DON'T PLAY WITH THE STACKED TEAMS IN 2K I SWEAR!

Seth: Draft order:

image

Seth: I really didn't want to go first damn my eyes.

RULES: It's a snake draft, 3 rounds of Beilein players only, and a fourth round for a secret unlockable character.

BiSB: Then the 4 unlockable players are all in the 4th round Deal?

Seth: YES

Ace: cool

David: fair

BiSB: Seth, Venric Mark is waiting...

[After THE JUMP: HE’S ON FIIIIIIRRRE!]

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Pre-Tourney Mailbag, Part Two: The Z Factor, Defensive Credit, Tightening The Rotation

Pre-Tourney Mailbag, Part Two: The Z Factor, Defensive Credit, Tightening The Rotation

Submitted by Ace on March 14th, 2018 at 10:19 AM

SPONSOR NOTE. HomeSure Lending is once again sponsoring our NCAA Tournament coverage this year. Matt will be hosting an informal watch party tomorrow night at HOMES Brewery, and buying the first round for any MGoBlog readers who come. If you're looking at buying a house this spring/summer you should talk to him soon.

ICYMI. Part one of the pre-tourney mailbag addressing what consitutes success, the sixth man factor, the possibility of a two-big lineup, and late game free-throw lineups can be found right here.

Brian also posted the Montana preview yesterday evening if you missed it, and those of you still filling out brackets are strongly encouraged to utilize Seth's bracket assist tool.

MAARch Madness, Moe Buckets, or The Z Factor?


Z's huge leap needs to hold. [Campredon]

This is a tough one. The cop-out (but still true!) answer is Michigan will need all three to play at a consistently high level to make a deep run. As Matt Painter will readily tell you, Moe Wagner is the player who makes the team so dangerous by allowing Beilein to run a true five-out offense. The team's late season surge coincided with Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman taking on a bigger role and thriving.

I have to go with Simpson, though. He's the catalyst for this team on both ends of the floor. On offense, he's the guy running the pick-and-roll, and he's being leaned on more than ever as a finisher in addition to a distributor. On defense, he's tasked with shutting down the opponent's best perimeter threat.

Simpson is also the only one of the three who doesn't have a reliable backup. Wagner has Teske, who's a downgrade on offense but an upgrade on defense. MAAR has Poole, who's liable to score double-digit points in a handful of shots at any given moment. Simpson has Jaaron Simmons or Eli Brooks; while Simmons has looked steadier down the stretch, neither has exactly grabbed hold of a role—Simmons didn't score in the BTT and has multiple assists in a game just once since January. Both are huge defensive downgrades from Simpson, too.

The team's defensive renaissance has allowed them to absorb some bad outings from one of their usual go-to guys without taking losses. That could conceivably happen in the tourney with a down game from Wagner or MAAR; I don't see it happening if Simpson doesn't maintain his current run of form. It's not just about what the player brings; it's about what the player behind them brings.

[Hit THE JUMP for more on Z's impact, who gets the defensive credit, the rotation going forward, and more.]

Pre-Tourney Mailbag, Part One: Judging Success, Sixth Man Effect, Two Bigs, Closers

Pre-Tourney Mailbag, Part One: Judging Success, Sixth Man Effect, Two Bigs, Closers

Submitted by Ace on March 13th, 2018 at 11:47 AM

Yes, it's another multi-part pre-tournament mailbag, as y'all continue to ask a lot of good questions. While I've mostly got part two finished, I'm still open to adding another question or two. If you'd like to do that, email me or tag your question with #mgomailbag on Twitter.

What Is Success?


success: achieved. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

No matter what transpires the rest of this month, this season has been a rousing success. This was supposed to be a transition year between the experienced 2016-17 squad and the set-to-be-crazy-talented 2018-19 team. John Beilein's most successful teams need a star point guard or Stauskas-like point-wing to run the offense; the players we expected to fill those spots were a MAC grad transfer and a (have you heard this before?) Kentucky transfer with an iffy shot. I figured it'd take a decent bit of Beilein coaching magic—baked into my preseason expectations at this point—to get this team somewhere in the five-seed to eight-seed range in the tourney.

While the season was on that track for a while, it's all come together late for the second straight year—Michigan has a three-seed and will hang at least one more banner in Crisler. We've seen talent development from Zavier Simpson, Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, and Jon Teske that's taken the expectations for next year to even greater heights. Luke Yaklich not only held up Billy Donlon's miraculous defensive turnaround; he built on it to the point Michigan boasts a top-five defense despite fielding a frontcourt with some very limited players on that end.

It'd be quite nice to avoid a massive upset against Montana; anything beyond that, even though M will be favored, is playing with house money. I will admit some greed, however, and mention that any loss will still hurt for two main reasons:

  1. John Beilein is 65 and it's difficult to predict how coaches will age. While I'm not seeing any signs of a decline—if anything, quite the opposite—there are only so many years left, and even when trying to set aside bias I can't think of a college coach more deserving of a national title.
  2. HOO DANG WOULD IT BE NICE FOR THAT TO HAPPEN IN THE YEAR LOUISVILE VACATED THE BEILEIN/BURKE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP AND FIRED RICK PITINO.

Fandom insanity aside, though, this season has already surpassed any reasonable preseason expectations, and the next one should be even better—so long as this team doesn't pull a 2014 Ohio State Football and beat the hotly anticipated future squad to the punch.

[Hit THE JUMP for much, much more.]

One Frame At A Time: Big Ten Tournament

One Frame At A Time: Big Ten Tournament

Submitted by Ace on March 8th, 2018 at 10:59 AM

There are a ridiculous number of GIFs from the Big Ten title run. Instead of attempting to rank all of them or cram everything into one post, I've changed the format up a bit, breaking up the GIFs by game or, in coach- or Poole-related cases, theme. You can find all of them and many, many more at the MGoBlog Gfycat page.

On with the show.

IOWA

Full album.

5. Poole Pocket Pass

4. Split and Assist

3. Corner Dagger

2. Wagner Spin, Dunk, Mug

FRAMES OF THE GAME: TEARDROP FROM HEAVEN

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the tournament in GIFs.]

The Grandmaster: How Beilein Beat Painter

The Grandmaster: How Beilein Beat Painter

Submitted by Ace on March 6th, 2018 at 4:41 PM


The net may as well be the heads of his enemies. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

On its face, it's an odd decision. After Michigan made only three three-pointers in the first half of the Big Ten championship game, Purdue coach Matt Painter totally altered the way his team played defense. The Wolverines proceeded to run away with the game. Painter bungled the game, right?

A closer look tells a different story. Painter knew that John Beilein was one step ahead of him even though M's shots hadn't fallen early. Presented with a no-win situation, he chose to try to take them out of their normal offense, and to that end he largely succeeded. It didn't matter because Beilein, Moe Wagner, and M's backcourt stayed one step ahead.

The key to Michigan-Purdue games the last two years has been how each team handles the other's big man on defense. In Painter's case, that means finding a way to combat the high ball screen with, at times, five viable three-point shooters spacing the floor. Here's how he tried, and how Beilein countered.

The First Half: Hard Hedges, Layups, and Frustrating Missed Threes

Purdue spent the opening half defending high ball screens much the way Michigan used to: by overplaying the ballhandler. It's a different tactic than the switch-heavy defenses M has seen for the most part since the Nebraska debacle and, in addition to being something a lesser coach may not have expected to see, it better fits Purdue's personnel than switching every screen, especially when Isaac Haas is on the floor.

But Beilein was ready, even if his preparation didn't produce the desired results. For the most part, Michigan fans were treated to this: Wagner (or Duncan Robinson) slipping the screen, getting a wide open look, and missing.

That's not even the most open look Wagner missed, but it's representative.

"You can't allow them to do what they want to do," said Painter in the postgame presser. "And if you do, now it's just hitting or missing, especially when they put skill—[Beilein's] ideal thing is having a five that can shoot. That's why Teske's picking pops, going into the short roll into [the] elbow, Wagner being able to make the threes and drive the ball. He makes them special."

Even as M's shooters struggled to make shots they'd normally put down, the offense kept up an impressive average of 1.23 points per possession. The team didn't turn it over once despite Purdue's high-pressure approach. The scrambling Boilermakers defense opened up the lane for drives once the ballhandler broke pressure. Beilein busted out a 1-4 high screen with Robinson setting the pick and while the primary intention was to free up Robinson beyond the arc, Purdue's overplaying of Simpson also allowed him to attack the basket:

Beilein also made some adjustments. He got Wagner an easy layup by calling for a double ball screen out of a late-half timeout with Charles Matthews as the ballhandler, Isaiah Livers popping to the three-point line, and Wagner rolling to the hoop.

Michigan's ability to space, shoot, and drive makes this play almost impossible to defend given Purdue's approach. They switch the defender on Matthews but he's still able to turn the corner and keep his man behind his hip because of a solid screen by Wagner(!). Matthews' initial defender is forced to stay home on Livers or give up a wide-open three-point attempt. The center has to continue playing Matthews or give up a dunk. The weakside help defender is faced with a choice: rotate hard into the paint in a probably fruitless attempt to stop Wagner or stay home to keep Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman, a deadly spot-up shooter, from putting three points on the board.

"Our weak side and our guys in ball-screen defense, sometimes when the ball got deep, had to stay home," said Painter. "And you gotta force them to throw the ball out and they didn't do that."

One wraparound pass from Matthews is all it takes for the easiest bucket of Wagner's afternoon. Painter couldn't bank on M's shooters continuing to miss great looks and his team was getting ripped apart in the paint anyway—while they weren't quite as aggressive in their P&R defense against Jon Teske, they needed to alter how they defended him, too.

Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, Beilein also got a halftime.

[After THE JUMP: Painter makes his move and Beilein counters.]