Snips, Fingernails, And Spartan Dawg Trails

Snips, Fingernails, And Spartan Dawg Trails

Submitted by Brian on March 5th, 2018 at 12:55 PM

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

I still don't believe in Zavier Simpson.

I do not believe that Simpson explored the theoretical upper reaches of the backboard as he flipped up a Layup In Name Only over Dutch windmill Matt Haarms. I don't believe that ball survived re-entry and went through the basket. I don't believe that he just got Carsen Edwards so mad he wanted to fight Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman's chest, one day after he outplayed Cassius Winston for the second time, in his fourth game in four days. I don't believe that a guy who attempted six twos in his first nine games is ripping down the lane so frequently that he turns John Teske into a dunk machine and then legitimately earns… this. This big-ass mood.

Try doing that in any situation you may encounter. Actually, don't. You will die. Zavier Simpson walks the earth still except he doesn't because none of this happened and he does not exist.

I know I have seen all of this with my lying eyes. I have seen four-foot-two Zavier Simpson make 57% of his twos, and not believed a damn one of them. Zavier Simpson does not care about this. He is busy eating keratin.

I'll tell you what I believe. I believe Zavier Simpson's dad literally fed his son big heaping bowls of fingernails he'd cadged from local beauty schools, homeless shelters, morgues, Greek restaurants, and hospitals. I believe he did not distinguish between finger- and toenails, and sometime mixed in cat claws, which are also keratin. I believe this explains Simpson's lack of stature and general approach.

Once I have believed this—once I have envisioned the great heaping piles of milk-soaked nails that do not even soften like Grape Nuts™ eventually do—I can begin to cope. I envision the great piles going into Zavier Simpson's belly, and then I can start to interpret recent events as reality. It even makes a certain amount of sense: the great bezoar lurking in his gut, simultaneously restricting and driving him. The gradual assimilation of the collected protein into his self. The assembled wisdom of various people who'd had their fingernails shorn from them flowing into him, subliminally. The spooky ability to jet into the lane and to the basket and to flip up some crazy bullshit that goes in anyway, derived from the memories of every guy in rec specs at the YMCA.

Does it make sense? No. Does it make more sense if Zavier Simpson is sort of a man and sort of a toenail golem? God no. BUT ALSO YES.

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

The John Beilein era at Michigan is nothing if not a continual stream of people exclaiming "who is that guy?!" And "why is he so good?!" Simpson is its latest and least likely focus. Beilein turning a 6'6" sniper into a lottery pick is, in retrospect, so obvious as to be boring. Of course Nik Stauskas. Of course Tim Hardaway Jr. Of course Caris Levert. 

But I must confess to you, reader, that several times over the past two years I have expressed frustration in our MGoSlack by wondering why Beilein recruited a radically undersized point guard who can't shoot, like, at all.

This critique still stands! Simpson has not hit an off the dribble jumper all season. He's one of the most implausibly listed-at-six-foot players in the country. He's a 50% FT shooter. His three-pointer looks like it was dragged from a James Naismith instructional manual. And he is the alpha dog on a top ten team.

Beilein achieved this in the usual way: by admitting something isn't working and changing it. When he arrived at Michigan, he barely used ball screens and ran a 1-3-1. He evolved, and got to a Final Four. When his defenses fell apart in the aftermath of changes to the charge rule, he admitted he would never be an elite defensive coach and brought in a specialist; when that specialist left he brought in another one.

Possibly by accident he also brought in an elite defensive player for the first time in his career. I don't know if Beilein was making a stylistic choice or simply acknowledging that MSU had won Cassius Winston's recruitment when he suddenly abandoned his pursuit of Winston and scooped up Simpson in a whirlwind weekend. I don't know why Simpson was singled out as the backup plan when he is in many ways the platonic opposite of a Beilein kind of player. But he was, and collectively they made it work. Michigan can give up some shooting from the one when Simpson inflicts this kind of pain on the point guards of four of the Big Ten's best offenses:

  • Jordan Bohannon, Iowa: 11 points on 16 shot equivalents, 3 TOs, 82 ORTG
  • Glynn Watson, Nebraska: 10 points on 12 shot equivalents, 2 TOs, 85 ORTG
  • Cassius Winston, MSU: 11 points on 12 shot equivalents, 1 TO, 102 ORTG
  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue: 12 points on 18 shot equivalents, 2 TO, 77 ORTG

The rest of the team of course has a major hand in this. MAAR in particular was often tasked with running around after Edwards and tracking Winston. But that latter was because Michigan matched Simpson up on Miles Bridges for about ten minutes. Bridges could do nothing except jack up contested 18-footers against a man nearly a foot shorter than him.

Defense is this team's backbone. Nebraska went 1/20 for a stretch in the first half and it didn't feel like a fluke. Zavier Simpson is the first line of defense, and his mood is contagious.

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Nobody's talking about who's tough anymore. Because everyone knows. Soak Michigan in milk all you want, they're still nails.

BULLETS

Brackets. Lunardi has M as a 3 in Wichita against Bucknell and then TCU or a play-in winner. I wouldn't take much more than the seed from that—Lunardi again put together an impossible matchup since one of the play-in teams is UCLA. He also puts protected seed Wichita State in… Boise, while Michigan plays in Literal Wichita. Jerry Palm has been dogging Michigan all year and still has them as a four, in San Diego. He seems to rely heavily on the NCSOS number the committee head publicly crapped on, so hopefully he's out of touch and not accurately reflecting an out of touch committee.

Despite the above, Detroit should be within reach now for Michigan. You can't do a blind resume comparison between M and MSU because it's immediately apparent who is who, but it seems fairly clear that Michigan now has the better collection of wins. Tourney teams and bubble-ish ones:

  • MSU: UNC(N), Notre Dame, Nebraska, Maryland, @ Maryland, Penn State, Purdue
  • Michigan: UCLA, @ Texas, @ MSU, OSU, Maryland, @ Maryland, @ Penn State, Nebraska (N), MSU (N), Purdue(N).

Seven losses vs four is MSU's main argument, and that's fairly hollow since the only road games they played against a tourney-or-bubble Big Ten opponent were an OSU loss and a Maryland W that M matched. MSU did not play at Purdue, Michigan, Nebraska, or Penn State. Michigan has a better Q1 record at 6-5 than MSU's 3-4. Hopefully that's judged more important than Michigan having one loss in Q2 (LSU) and one in Q3 (Northwestern). RPI thinks it is; Michigan passed MSU in it after the Purdue W.

Also hopefully some RPI jitter slides PSU into the top 75 again—they're 76th. Root for South Carolina, Utah Valley, and Stanford to lose ASAP in conference tourneys.

FWIW, both Xavier and Cincinnati are approximately equidistant from Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, so the committee has three protected seeds in the Midwest that don't really care where they're placed (those teams and Purdue) and two that really do (MSU and M). It seems to make the most sense to put both M and MSU in Detroit and figure it out with the other teams.

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[Campredon]

BY GRUNDLAR'S HAMMER. Who is Jon Teske and why is he so good?

Teske had a breakout game in the final, finishing with authority and playing his usual brand of excellent defense. He also hit a couple of jumpers. We suspect those are good-ish shots already; additional confirmation is nice. 14 points on 10 shot equivalents and a couple assists was good for a 123 ORTG… on 30% usage.

Simpson set up a number of his points but he finished with authority when given the opportunity—see above. He's not Mo, but he provides other things.

I've said it before but I think the C spot will be just fine even if Wagner departs. Austin Davis got a few minutes in the first half and D-ed up on Haas pretty well, forcing him into a tough hook. (That he hit, naturally.) There is a lot of speculation that roster attrition might include Davis, but I think that's really really wrong. Never give up on an underclass big.

Tired legs and open shots. Michigan didn't look particularly fatigued at any point during the tournament—their defense remained top notch for the duration. There was a hint of the four-games-in-four-days during the first half of the Purdue game when good shooters got a series of wide open looks and missed seemingly all of them. Purdue elected not to switch screens and demonstrated why they'd been switching in the first place; Michigan failed to take advantage.

The hard hedge. Fortunately, Purdue was not murderous death Purdue. Michigan had a lot to do with that, preventing even a look from three on most possessions by hedging harder than they have all year. Many, many complaints from the past five years of Michigan basketball have been about the hard hedge getting guys in foul trouble and forcing rotations that Michigan wasn't very good at. This year the hard hedge has been an erratic way to apply pressure at the end of shot clocks; teams that aren't seeing it frequently are much worse at exploiting it. It's a nice changeup. In this game it was the game plan because Michigan was desperate to prevent the rain of threes, and it worked.

What are you doing, Tom. Jaren Jackson Jr played two more minutes than Gavin Schilling and Kenny "Kevin" Goins. He was off the floor for 40% of the game. What are you doing, Tom? Are you panicking and throwing in weird guys in case it works? It kind of seems like it, Tom.

Speaking of Izzo, is there anything more perfectly Izzo than opening up his presser with complaints about Simpson and Matthews hitting threes and the late friendly roll for MAAR? Michigan hit 36% from deep against MSU. Their season average is… 36%. Izzo did not note that Robinson and Wagner combined to go 2/10 on mostly excellent looks. He did not note that Bridges hit a 35-foot prayer at the end of the shot clock.

Close. Michigan's first turnover against Purdue came with about 12 minutes left in the game. They had a total of five.

Retroactive NYC defense. There has been a lot of pushback from access-merchant types in the media about putting the tournament in New York. These are largely based on the fact that Michigan has a ton of alumni in NYC and packed MSG. I'm obviously in favor of that. Accelerating the schedule remains a bad decision, one Delany copped to in public. If the Big Ten can play in NYC at the usual time they should do so semi-regularly. It's not worth the hassle otherwise. A 20 point loss at Nebraska says hi.

Poole: argh. Maaaaaan was that a rough four days for Jordan Poole. His decision making was mostly fine, it was just that whenever he took a shot it hit the underneath of the backboard. I choose to believe that the aura of MSG overwhelmed him, and since Michigan's not going to be in the NIT it doesn't matter. Yeah.

The greatest tweet in history. Not knowing this has been killing me for years.

The second greatest tweet in history.

Twitter: good sometimes.

Michigan 75, Purdue 66, Big Ten Tournament Champs

Michigan 75, Purdue 66, Big Ten Tournament Champs

Submitted by Ace on March 4th, 2018 at 7:44 PM

BIG NASTY. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Four wins. Four days. A trophy.

Old hat.

For the second straight year, Michigan pulled off the improbable and ran through the best the Big Ten had to offer for a conference tournament championship. They sealed it this evening by running away from Purdue, which never held a lead after the game's opening three minutes. The big, bad Boilermakers could only stay at arm's length, then the Wolverines laid the hammer down in an incredible second half only marred by some late free-throw trouble that never put the outcome in serious doubt.

Just about everything John Beilein touched turned to gold; he outdueled Purdue's Matt Painter in what's been the Big Ten's most intricately fascinating coaching matchup the last two years. Painter chose to hedge hard against the ballhandler on high screens in the first half; while Michigan went 3-for-11 on mostly wide-open threes, they drew Purdue's towering big men far from the hoop—the Wolverines went 13-for-19 inside the arc and didn't have a shot blocked or commit a turnover.

Much of that was due to the stellar play of Jon Teske, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the first-half minutes after Beilein gave Wagner the usual break following his first foul. Teske was a force on both ends and Beilein let him ride for 12 first-half minutes. Teske rewarded his coach's faith with dunks off the pick-and-roll, increasingly lengthy midrange shots off the pick-and-pop, a thunderous block, and a stellar late defensive posseession on an otherwise dominant Isaac Haas, who picked up a cheap frustration foul in response.

"I really have no words to explain," said Teske.


Big lights. Little dude. Huge buckets. [Campredon]

Zavier Simpson was masterful on both ends as well. His chemistry with Teske created multiple open baskets. He got the hoop with regularity and finished. When Purdue overplayed him on screens, he generated wide open looks for Michigan's shooters. He played lockdown defense on Purdue's best perimeter player, Carsen Edwards, who went only 3-for-9 in the first half.

"He's a pit bull," said Beilein. "We have a picture of a big, mean pit bull in our locker room for every game. And he is that guy. He's one that loves to play defense."

"Muhammad and I just wanted to come out and set the tone," said Simpson. "We wanted to play great defense from the start so our energy could be contagious. And as you've seen, others followed."

While the Wovlerines went into the break up 38-33, however, it felt like they'd missed a golden opportunity to blow the game open. The announcers, and most everyone else, felt a tight finish coming.

That did not happen. Painter chose not to continue playing with fire on screens, switching them to prevent open looks instead of sticking with the aggressive hedging approach. After a few forced shots over Haas, Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman ruthlessly attacked the basket, combining for 15 second-half points and five assists.

"It takes a long time to sort of build up the substance to your team that can persevere and just won't give in," said Beilein. "They won't give in to fatigue. They won't give in to momentum changes. They just stick in there."

"You always learn something when you play them," said Painter. "And you fix something. As a coach you think you've got them figured out, you don't have them figured out."


Wagner was all smiles in the second half. [Campredon]

Moe Wagner, with his mother watching from the stands, removed any doubt of the outcome. His 4-for-5 second-half performance featured a Dirk-like turnaround fallaway three as the shot clock expired, a blow-by layup, and another triple right in the grill of Matt Haarms. He did more than just score; he led the break after a steal then hit a trailing MAAR for a big three, and he battled hard on the boards, helping M limit Purdue to three offensive rebounds after they'd pulled down seven in the first half.

"Those guards are good but not everybody has a guy like Wagner that can stick 3s, drive the ball, and play with passion," said Painter.

Then Duncan Robinson got a thunderblock on Carsen Edwards and Zavier Simpson slipped a beautiful pass to Teske for a posterizing dunk on Haas, and the party was on. Michigan stretched the lead as far as 18 before a too-little, too-late Purdue run got them as close as seven while the Wolverines scuffled at the charity stripe. That's a concern for later.

For now, Michigan is once again on a tear heading into the NCAA Tournament, and today's championship may well have locked up a three-seed. John Beilein is a wizard.


Back-to-back champs. [Campredon]

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

Michigan 75, Michigan State 64

Michigan 75, Michigan State 64

Submitted by Ace on March 3rd, 2018 at 6:03 PM


MOOD. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Everything's coming up Michigan.

After an ugly first half, the Wolverines took it to Michigan State to secure a season sweep and a shot at their second consecutive Big Ten Tournament title. In addition to being a delectable and important victory over a chief rival, Michigan once again showed how far they've come this season.

Today's hero lost his starting job after four games this season and didn't regain it until January. Zavier Simpson, Bench Player, feels like forever go. He played a brilliant game on both ends, scoring 15 points on 4/8 shooting, pulling down seven boards, handing out two assists, making life tough on Cassius Winston, and even bolstering M's post defense when switched onto MSU's big men. He routinely broke down the Spartan defense with blow-bys of Winston (and even defensive ace Tum Tum Nairn). Then he iced the game at the line while showing no signs of his season-long free-throw struggles.

"It was a sweet sight to see Zavier's shots just go right through the middle," said John Beilein. "Of his foul shots the last couple of days, maybe 8-for-10 or 10-for-12, shooting it right down the middle".

Critically, Simpson did a lot of his best work in the first half as the rest of the team scuffled on offense. Moe Wagner went scoreless on seven shots in 12 first-half minutes and M was a woeful 4-for-18 from beyond the arc; Simpson was the only Wolverine to hit more than two shots in the opening stanza. Michigan stayed close with defense, holding the Spartans to 11-for-31 shooting themselves, but Wagner's wonky shot and MSU's strong offensive rebounding portended bad things. State held a three-point lead heading into the tunnel.


Not even Tum Tum could check Z. [Campredon]

Then it all clicked. Beilein ran much of the offense through Wagner to open the second half, and he responded with five points in five minutes. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman got going with an early three. Charles Matthews shocked the Spartan defense (and others) by taking Miles Bridges left off the dribble for an uncontested dunk. MAAR, Duncan Robinson, and Wagner drilled three straight triples, and suddenly Michigan was up six.

"I told him, this is my great motivation at halftime, hey, Moe, are you going to make a shot? Because right now you're stinking the place up," said Beilein. "Just make one shot. We played with each other like that. He just smiled: Yes, Coach, I can do that."

Michigan State could only inch closer; they didn't get the margin lower than five points in the game's final seven minutes. According to KenPom, Michigan delivered the third-best defensive performance against MSU this season. Though offensive rebounds ruined some of Michigan's better defensive possessions in the first half, they still managed to hold State below a point per possession in each half. The Wolverines now rank sixth(!!!) nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. I'll give you a moment to reassemble your jaw.

They did this by, as usual, forcing tough shots in the paint while running shooters off the line. MSU made only 7 of 25 threes, and several attempts were desperation chucks in the final minutes. Bullying towards the basket and pulling up from midrange wasn't much more effective; the Spartans made 44.7% of their twos, ten percentage points below their season average.


No easy buckets. [Campredon]

Now, for the second straight year, Michigan has a chance to win their fourth game in four days to hang another banner. They've probably locked up a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament and another win would give them an outside shot at a three-seed. It's been a little less dramatic this year; it was no easier to see coming a couple months ago. A swaggering band of Wolverines will face the winner of PSU/Purdue tomorrow afternoon. I wouldn't want to be the team to try to stop this run.

Just ask Michigan State. They're 0-2 against Michigan and 29-2 against everyone else.

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

Michigan 77, Nebraska 58

Michigan 77, Nebraska 58

Submitted by Ace on March 2nd, 2018 at 5:51 PM


Hits first three, M goes off. The hypothesis holds. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

That was pleasantly different.

Michigan played a game entirely unlike both their first matchup with Nebraska and yesterday's overtime win over Iowa, using scorching shooting and suffocating defense to post a 77-58 blowout of the Huskers in the Big Ten quarterfinals.

When these teams last met, Moe Wagner scored only two points in 32 minutes, effectively taken out of the game by Nebraska's all-switch approach on defense. This time around, Wagner and the Wolverines were ready. He surpassed his first-game scoring total within the first two minutes on his way to a monster stat line: 20 points on 18 shot equivalents, a game-high 13 rebounds (three offensive), an assist, two blocks, and a steal in 33 minutes. In case the Huskers weren't fully aware that Wagner had solved their defense, he let them know about it after seemingly every bucket, often removing his mouthguard to let loose the trash talk.

"For him to get 13 rebounds today is exceptional," said John Beilein. "And that's been -- that's one of the things that I think if he's going to play in the pros one day, that was one of the things -- he's a stretch four at that level. Stretch fours have to, they certainly have to rebound. And he's really shown some great growth there."

When Michigan played yesterday, it took them 30 minutes to hit a shot outside the paint. Wagner's triple with 18:18 left in the first half eliminated the possibility of a repeat early and the Wolverines went on to torch the nets. Michigan went 11-for-23 from beyond the arc with Wagner (2-for-4), Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (a perfect 5-or-5), and Duncan Robinson (4-for-7) accounting for all the makes.


Z repeatedly worked his way to the bucket and converted. [Campredon]

Those three combined for 57 points. Zavier Simpson, showing an impressive array of finishes off the bounce, chipped in 12 points, making 4-of-8 field goals and all four(!) of his free throws while adding a game-high six assists. No other Wolverine hit a shot from the field until a meaningless Jordan Poole putback in the final minute.

Outside of a rough game from Poole (1-for-9 from the field), that was more indicative of the main guys carrying the load than a poor performance from anyone else. Nebraska tried ditching their previously effective all-switch man defense in favor of an extended 1-3-1 zone before the first half even ended. That didn't hold up for long; any attempts to go zone in the second stanza were bombarded.

"I think we've just seen it a lot more," Adbur-Rahkman. "As of late, teams have been trying to switch out their defenses against us. And I think we were just more comfortable with it today and we just picked our poison within our offense and found open shots in slots."

Meanwhile, one holdover from yesterday was Michigan's salty defense, which held the Huskers to .866 points per possession. After Nebraska made four of their first five out of the game, the defense went on full lockdown, forcing misses on 19 of their ensuing 20 shots. The Huskers barely scraped above 30% shooting for the game and had to resort to flinging themselves at the hoop in the hopes of drawing fouls; while that worked to an extent—they went 22-for-27 from the line—it couldn't keep their offense afloat.


Nope. [Campredon]

Wagner, Jon Teske, and Charles Matthews blocked two shots apiece. Simpson harrassed point guard Glynn Watson in a 4-for-12 shooting day with two turnovers canceling out two assists. James Palmer Jr. and Isaiah Roby each managed to score 16 points but combined to go 7-for-18 from the field. There were few easy looks, whether at the basket or beyond the arc.

Heck, the game went so well that Michigan even got an excellent six-minute stint out of Ibi Watson in the first half. Coming off seven straight wins and nine of their last ten, the Wolverines will face Michigan State in tomorrow's 2 pm ET semifinal. There's little need to pump up that game, especially with the Spartans looking to avenge a loss on their home floor in this season's only meeting so far.

"It's going to be a challenge again tomorrow," said Beilein. "But we're better defensively than we were back then. But they're probably better offensively. So who knows what's going to happen."

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

Michigan 77, Iowa 71 (OT)

Michigan 77, Iowa 71 (OT)

Submitted by Ace on March 1st, 2018 at 6:16 PM


Moe Wagner "played" M's most critical minutes from the bench. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

"I have no idea how we won the game," John Beilein said to BTN's Mike Hall.

Michigan didn't make a shot outside the paint until under ten minutes remained in the game. Their two best players, Moe Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, fouled out after playing 16 and 22 minutes, respectively. The Wolverines went 18-for-32 from the free-throw line. Players not named Duncan Robinson made zero of their ten three-point attempts while Iowa made four more shots from beyond the arc. Zavier Simpson took a late five-second call with the team clinging to a three-point lead. Jordan Bohannon sunk a dagger to send it to overtime not long thereafter.

With all that going against them, Michigan somehow found a way to pull out a 77-71 win over the pesky Hawkeyes to advance to the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. It was about as un-Beilein a game that the Wolverines have won in recent memory. The vast majority of their offense came from attacking the basket, going 25-for-43 (58.1%) on two-pointers. Michigan's resulting shot chart is unlike any I remember from the Beilein era (via ESPN):


Layups and, uh, more layups.

Meanwhile, the defense bounced back from an uncharacteristically bad first half to shut down Iowa's offense for the duration, highlighted by an overtime session in which the Hawkeyes didn't hit a field goal after their opening possession. That allowed Michigan to ultimately pull away despite an unnerving number of missed free throws in the deciding period.

Part of what made this game so frustrating is that Wagner and MAAR were both excellent when they were on the floor. MAAR stuffed the stat sheet with nine points on nine shot equivalents, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals; Wagner had 11 points, made four of his six two-pointers, and had a gorgeous no-look assist to Charles Matthews. An enragingly tight whistle—the two teams combined for 46 fouls—prevented either player, and Michigan, from getting into a consistent rhythm, however. 


Matthews and Teske both came up big down the stretch. [Campredon]

Coming at just the right time, it was a get-right game for Charles Matthews. He led the team with 16 points, going 5-for-10 from the field and 6-for-10 from the line, and pulled down eight rebounds.

The supporting cast also picked up the slack. Robinson made three critical three-pointers, pulled down five boards, and came up with two steals while playing sturdy post defense. His counterpart at the four, Isaiah Livers, converted a few tough shots around the hoop to tally his most points (nine) since early January. Simpson converted five-of-nine two-pointers, frequently beating Bohannon off the dribble, grabbed a Waltonesque five defensive rebounds, and played his usual suffocating defense—Bohannon finished only 3-for-14 from the field. Jordan Poole had an up-and-down afternoon but did get a crucial steal and dunk in the second half. Like almost all of his teammates, he could finish at the hoop but didn't have his outside shot going.

Jon Teske's contributions were quite difficult to overlook. Iowa had a hard time converting at the rim with him patrolling the paint for 28 minutes; his two blocks and steal undersell his impact on defense. He did a lot more than come up with stops at the basket, including snatching a couple huge rebounds late and tapping another to Robinson while simultaneously sealing off Tyler Cook to effectively seal the game in overtime. While Teske struggled to actually put them back, he also grabbed a team-high four offensive rebounds. With Wagner unable to avoid whistles, Teske came up huge.

Michigan will hopefully get a few more threes to fall tomorrow afternoon in a tougher test against four-seed Nebraska. Even if they don't, though, they've found ways to win games anyway—plus, their two stars are impressively well-rested going into their second game in two days.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Pre-BTT Hoops Mailbag, Part One: Yaklich Praise, Slump-Bust Odds, Poole Comps

Pre-BTT Hoops Mailbag, Part One: Yaklich Praise, Slump-Bust Odds, Poole Comps

Submitted by Ace on February 27th, 2018 at 3:10 PM


This mailbag, basically. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

No time for an intro, the BTT is coming. This is the first of a two-part all-hoops mailbag.

The Yaklich Effect

Let's start here: I'm never going to be able to bring myself to not say Jordan Poole. I just can't.

With that out of the way, Yaklich has been phenomenal; while Michigan's defensive improvement has been widely noted I still don't think he's getting his due. Despite working with a lineup that has some defensive limitations, he has M up to 11th(!!!) in adjusted defense on KenPom, a significant leap from last year's finish of 69th. No John Beilein team has finished higher than 34th, and that was in his last year at Richmond in 2002.

TrueBlue2003 had a great look last week at one adjustment Yaklich made to better accomodate the team's personnel. That's been indicative of a wider trend. He's introduced multiple variations on the 2-3 zone—you could see him adapt from a wide spread to a tightly packed zone in the PSU game—and they've been remarkably effective as a changeup; per Synergy, Michigan has the best zone defense by points per possession allowed (a paltry 0.692) among high major teams. They've only played 78 zone possessions (a fast-paced game's worth), so the sample is small, but there's much more in the way of numbers that indicate Yaklich is doing a remarkable job.

The main source of Michigan's defensive prowess comes from their ability to keep opponents out of high-efficiency scoring situations, especially transition. We've discussed M's ability to both prevent and shut down opponent fast break opportunities before and the numbers just keep getting better.

The Wolverines are in a league of their own among high major teams at combining those two skills. They rank second among high majors in transition PPP, allowing 0.845 PPP—rather incredibly, an ever-so-slightly better mark than they allow in halfcourt defense (0.858).* They rank first among high majors (and fifth in all of D-I) at preventing transition chances in the first place; they comprise only 11.0% of opponent possessions. Only three other high majors allow less than 0.90 PPP on transition opportunities; they rank 182nd (Louisville), 271st (Cincinnati), and 345th (West Virginia) at preventing those transition chances. That is, in a word, bonkers.

Michigan's analytics-minded approach to defense extends well beyond keeping opponents from running. I put together Synergy stats last night comparing the play types Michigan's offense runs and their efficiency versus the same numbers from opposing offenses against M's defense. This table could be a lot prettier but it shows how well the Wolverines have forced opponents into shots that generally aren't very efficient (while the offense is, as usual, doing the opposite):


click to embiggen

Michigan generally forces pick-and-roll ballhanders to finish themselves, allowing Zavier Simpson to harass guards into tough shots while the rest of the defense stays home and prevents more effective scoring chances: passes to the roll man and kickouts to open shooters. Opponents funnel a ton of their possessions through the post, and even though M is downright bad at post defense, it's still not very efficient offense. They're really good at contesting the rare putback opportunities they allow.

This is a Moneyball defense and I can't wait to see what Yaklich does when next year's team gets an infusion of athleticism while the majority of this group comes back. He's entered the conversation, at least in my mind, as a potential Beilein successor; combining Beilein's offensive principles with Yaklich's defense could produce remarkable results. Of late, is already is.

*A note on these numbers: Synergy counts putbacks as their own possession for PPP so they can properly separate out each scouting category, which is why these numbers are lower than Michigan's actual PPP allowed.

[Hit THE JUMP for discussion of Simpson's and Matthews' respective Achilles heels, Jordan Poole's comparable players, and a reader-submitted photoshop.]

This Week’s Obsession: 2018 All-B1G Hoops Team

This Week’s Obsession: 2018 All-B1G Hoops Team

Submitted by Seth on February 27th, 2018 at 10:08 AM

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THE EVENT: So long as Michigan survives Thursday (and your band of health-compromised bloggers do as well), we’re going to get together this Friday at 2:30 at Wolverine Brewing for our first MGo-gamewatch party. Sponsor Nick Hopwood of Peak Wealth Management, who also sponsors this post, offered to cover the first couple rounds and some food for our tables. Please let us know if you’re coming so we can get a halfway decent count (if we run out of space signups get first priority: https://goo.gl/forms/t0F28mhfnYRRbKPh2

Also if you’re in New York, Dewey’s Pub down the street from MSG tends to collect the MGoBlog contingent after the game.

THE SPONSOR: How are you managing your savings? Your insurance? What kind of accounts do you have for your kids? Our MGoFinancial Planner Nick Hopwood from Peak Wealth Management is the guy to talk to.

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.

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The Big Ten released its all-conference selections so we decided to complain, of course.

All-Big Ten Team
Coaches Media
Miles Bridges, MSU Miles Bridges, MSU
James Palmer, Neb Ethan Happ, Wis
Keita Bates-Diop, OSU Keita Bates-Diop, OSU
Tony Carr, PSU Tony Carr, PSU
Carsen Edwards, Pur Carsen Edwards, Pur
2nd Team
Coaches Media
Juwan Morgan, IU Juwan Morgan, IU
Moritz Wagner, UM Moritz Wagner, UM
Jae'Sean Tate, OSU Jordan Murphy, Minn
Vincent Edwards, Pur Vincent Edwards, Pur
Ethan Happ James Palmer, Neb
All-defense All-freshmen
Anthony Cowan, Md Trent Frazier, IL
Jaren Jackson, MSU Bruno Fernando, Md
Josh Reaves, PSU Jaren Jackson, MSU
Mike Watkins, PSU Kaleb Wesson, OSU
Dakota Mathias, Pur Brad Davison, UW
Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop, OSU
Freshman of the Year Jaren Jackson, MSU
6th Man Duncan Robinson, UM
Coach of the Year no argument

Brian: Ugh, naming a team without a center is like naming a football team without an OL. My pet peeve is first team all conference basketball teams that wouldn't be very good. And this is a season with Ethan Happ and Isaac Haas!

Seth: Haas got so much love all season on BTN I was both surprised and totally fine with him being left out. I But I agree even Beilein wouldn't play a lineup of Bridges-Palmer-KBD-Carr-Edwards.

Ace: Jackson freshman of the year, KBD player of the year, Duncan Robinson(!) 6th man of the year.

Seth: This is the part where Ace is mad Poole didn't make any of these teams.

Ace: They probably got the right guys since Poole emerged so late, though that lineup doesn’t pass the “this would work on the court” test.

Brian: Two pure Cs might be worse than none. Ugh, all broken, I'm just naming my first team because guh.

C Isaac Haas. Not Haas's fault he's got a windmill on the bench behind him and a team around him. Haas has per-minute stats that stack up with anyone, spearheaded the nation's #15 eFG defense, and plays on an actually good team. Happ's numbers are silly in part because he has one other guy who can play on his team; he's more effective on offense but doesn't bring anywhere near the rim protection Haas does. The Mo mismatch applies to both of these guys; Haas was much better at attacking at the other end of the floor.

Ace: Happ is also way worse at free throws, which is a big deal for both of them. Totally agree with this one. In general, everyone seems to have overvalued raw numbers.

Haas hit one fewer FT on 31 fewer attempts in B1G play.

Alex: PUT SOME RESPECK ON ETHAN HAPP'S NAME, ACE AND BRIAN.

[After THE JUMP: how long until Ace says Poole is robbed you think?]

Muhammad Take The Wheel

Muhammad Take The Wheel

Submitted by Brian on February 19th, 2018 at 1:10 PM

2/18/2018 – Michigan 74, Ohio State 62 – 22-7, 11-5 Big Ten

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

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.

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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.

BULLETS

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[Campredon]

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.

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[Campredon]

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.

This Week’s Obsession: Wave a Maverick Wand

This Week’s Obsession: Wave a Maverick Wand

Submitted by Seth on January 24th, 2018 at 3:58 PM

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One of us was just called a sports blogger by an Illinois player. [Bryan Fuller]

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THIS ARTICLE HAS A SPONSOR: You should stop waiting. I know it’s been on your to-do list for awhile. It’s time to talk to Nick Hopwood, our MGoFinancial Planner from Peak Wealth Management and get your future squared away instead of thinking about it all the time.

Our deal is Nick is the guy I go to for financial strategies, and he gets to ask us Michigan questions on your behalf. Anytime it’s a Nick question, we’ll let you know. 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.

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Nick’s Question:

If you could wave a magic Maverick Morgan wand over one M baller right now?

If you’re not up on the meme, we mean a player on this team who suddenly explodes like Derrick Walton did last year after Illinois player Maverick Morgan suggested Walton/Michigan was soft. So that this isn’t just a highest ceiling discussion, we’re instituting a Poole Rule: the player can only become the best plausible version of himself this year, e.g. Poole can become freshman Stauskas but not Sauce Castillo.

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The Responses:

David: I will take Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Granted, he probably does not have a Walton Leap in him, but if can develop a bit more consistency, perhaps with the ability to finish in the lane/at the rim, that would add another dimension to this offense.

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Could one of you…? [MG Campredon]

I'm not sure how high his ceiling would be in this regard, but it is most likely the part of the offense that could use the largest increase. Michigan has some shooters—even Z has been able to contribute when left open—and they have a few guys who can exploit some mismatches in Matthews and Wagner, but a consistent lane finisher at the end of the shot clock is a piece that would steady a fluctuating offense. If it could be Rahk in those situations, Michigan would not have to burden other players who have generally performed well in their suited roles.

Ace: (someone should answer Z should I can give my Wagner take without the obvious answer being missed)

Brian: I was going to say Wagner though.

Ace: Okay I’ll take Z

Brian: I mean, you can take Wagner.

Seth: Zagner.

Brian: I just think the Magic Wand version of Z is still a player with 16% usage and always will be.

Ace: Disagree, so you should take Wagner.

Alex: I would take a 50% better Jon Teske if his path to more playing time wasn't blocked by Wagner. Fun fact: he's 5th in steal rate among B1G players who have played at least 20% of available minutes.

[After THE JUMP is it Moe or Mo?]

Purdue 70, Michigan 69

Purdue 70, Michigan 69

Submitted by Ace on January 9th, 2018 at 11:47 PM


[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Thirty-nine minutes and fifty-four seconds of exquisite basketball ruined by replay.

Michigan and Purdue played an absolute classic tonight. Twice the fifth-ranked Boilermakers stretched their lead to double digits; twice Michigan clawed their way back, finally taking their first lead of the game with under five minutes remaining.

Moe Wagner went toe-to-toe with Isaac Haas in the post. Zavier Simpson hit multiple floaters over seven-footers, including one to beat the first-half buzzer. Charles Matthews hit a couple cold-blooded jab-step threes. Jordan Poole scored eight points in seven minutes. Isaiah Livers was everywhere. Regardless of outcome, it was a game that showed Michigan's present and (especially) future are both bright.

But about that outcome. With under ten seconds on the clock in a 69-69 tie, Matthews came off a Wagner screen, got a step on Dakota Mathias, and drove hard to the basket. Mathias reached through Matthews and poked the ball out from behind, no foul, Michigan ball—as with countless plays before it, the gentleman's agreement to give that play to the offense applied.

Then the refs went to the scorer's table and spent five minutes Zaprudering the play, killing much of the considerable excitement from the wild back-and-forth affair before eventually determining the ball lingered on Matthews's hand for a frame or two after the Mathias poke. Purdue got the ball, Wagner committed a (legitimate) foul on Haas, who made the first of two free throws. A buzzer-beating heave by Matthews took a painful journey around the rim and out.

It's hard not to feel robbed. While it's also hard not to be excited about this team, that rings hollow when a call that's never made in the first 38 minutes of a game costs them a much-needed signature win. The future is bright. The present, for the moment, is stupid.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]