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Brian January 9th, 2012 at 1:13 PM

Sorry for the late post. WLW crashed at the worst time possible and their auto-recover function didn't work since it only took down one of my windows. So the column bit is shorter and I'll find links later.

1/8/2012 – Michigan 59, Wisconsin 41 – 13-3, 3-1 Big Ten


If Michigan's season to date was a rollercoaster, it would be one with a cartoon bumblebee on the first car and a You Must Be This Short To Ride This Ride sign out front. They've beaten the teams they were supposed to beat, lost to the ones they were supposed to lose to, and done these things more or less convincingly. Maybe the Virginia loss was a disappointment, but they're 14-1 now. Maybe Minnesota was uncomfortable. These are not events that will cause anyone in a television studio to talk about Michigan's wild season.

On the whole, that's a positive, but it does leave you wondering if Michigan is taking a step forward. Once Trey Burke hit the ground running it seemed like they should, but when you're sifting through the evidence all you've got are some instances of not blowing it. Tough to judge, that.

An 18-point win against Wisconsin is a step forward even if they're notoriously overrated by Kenpom. They are also rated by the people who vote in these things. North Carolina had to scrape by them at home; it took Michigan State overtime to dispatch them. They will likely recover from this sour start to easily claim an NCAA tourney bid, and Michigan ran them out of the gym.

This has a directly comparable moment from last year. It was this:




At that point even that hopeless freshman playing pinball for the win was regarded as "man fun," evidence that Michigan's basketball program was alive at 17-12, 7-9 in the league.

Michigan was rebuilding and started the Big Ten season off so poorly that the narrative of the season was near-misses that would cost them a tourney bid until, suddenly, it wasn't. When they got the bid they were staring down a second round matchup with Duke and the Sweet 16 was not a consideration until Darius Morris was running at the basket with time winding down.

This year they're coming at it from ahead, with a win or two in their pocket and a hope for more. Next year they won't be rebuilding anything. They'll be built, and expectations will loom. Right now we're going through the last vestiges of having no expectations because we have no program. Step by step, inch by inch, Michigan departs its past and becomes something else.

Bullets that can hit the backboard all they want

TREY BURKE! Burke followed up the worst game of his young career by outplaying Jordan Taylor. Taylor had a couple baskets late when he started forcing quick shots; these came against Stu Douglass and were desperate heaves in any case. In the first half Taylor had 4 points on 2 of 8 shooting; he hit a single additional three against Burke in the second half. For the game Taylor's late chucks got him to 12 points on 15 shots; Burke was not the model of efficiency but had 14 on the same number of shots. He did not pick up a single foul.

The rest of the defense! Michigan held Wisconsin to 0.76 points per possession, UW's worst output of the year. Marquette is next best at 0.86. I'm not sure how or why this happened, but it was no fluke. Wisconsin could not find an open shot anywhere. Despite having a terrible night, Taylor was forced into an even larger share of the offense than he usually has. He averages around 25% of UW's shots and hit 30% in this game.

Michigan showed on ball screens and Wisconsin could not pick and roll or find post players in good position. The Badgers had maybe three open looks from three all game, one transition basket, and vanishingly few dunks and layups.

Hardaway: more turnovers please. Last year, this site identified Tim Hardaway's abnormally low turnover rate for a high-usage freshman as a reason he would be an efficient player going forward. It would now like to retract that assertion since now it seems to mean Hardaway is settling for a lot of long twos.

In the last two games he's probably shot a half-dozen jumpers from just inside the three-point line with more than 25 seconds on the shot clock. I don't care who you are: that is not a good shot. You can make the case for the occasional semi-contested jacked up three as a decent opportunity that opens up later driving. You cannot for a slightly shorter shot that has about the same chance of going in but provides 33% less reward. Can Hardaway get that anytime he wants? Yes. Try to find something better with the time allotted.

If this results in more turnovers from young Skywalker, so be it. He's shooting 27% from 3—and probably about that from just inside 3—and 58% from two. Either drive to the basket or kick, and take the threes only when they come to you.

He seems to be overreacting to the first half/second half thing and is now shooting everything all the time. His shot% has cracked 30% and is now in the top 100, which is frustrating when a lot of the shots he's adding are low quality and he's got guys like Novak, Morgan and Smotrycz hanging out being deadly when the offense can create a shot for them.

Sanity check on aisle Wisconsin. Like Miami (That Miami) finishing third in offensive FEI, Wisconsin tenaciously clinging to their #2 spot in Kenpom despite a 1-3 Big Ten start is an unfortunate, credibility-sapping outlier. Sometimes these things happen to systems that try to rank teams by taking every possession into relatively equal account. Kenpom's strength of schedule adjustment is overwhelmed when a team beats its tomato cans by 54, 27, 36, 46, 23, 18, 33, and 34 in low-tempo outings. Computers have hearts, too. You can't expect them not to fall in love with that.

Wisconsin also has a narrow road loss to UNC and wins over Kenpom favorites BYU and UNLV, with only a home loss to Marquette a potential blemish before the clunky conference start. That the Badgers are still #2 after a home loss to Iowa and an 18 point blowout to M is a little dismaying; maybe Kenpom can find a way to discount possessions that are obviously scrub vs scrub or something.

UPDATE: Kenpom has a Wisconsin FAQ that seems driven by a lot of twitter @ replies.

The leap. The anticipated Kenpom surge was major: 12 spots—or three full seeding ranks in Pomlandia. Michigan's many indifferent outings against bleah competition saw them enter Big Ten play 52nd.

Let's go, Hoiberg Home for Lost Big Ten Boys. Michigan's meh nonconference schedule features just one win over a probable tourney participant (Memphis; Oakland is 3-4 in the Summit)… or at least it did until Iowa State swept Texas and A&M last week to kick off the Big 12 slate 2-0. The Cyclones also beat Iowa, which isn't a huge deal but does mean they're on a 7-game win streak in the aftermath of their loss in Crisler. Kenpom now projects a .500 conference record for them.

That would probably not get them in since their best nonconference win is against the Hawkeyes and they have losses to Drake and UNI, the other two instate schools. If they can swing an extra game or two their way, they could make it. FWIW, they're already in the top 50 in RPI.

The road ahead. Michigan has two should-win games next against Northwestern and Iowa. Iowa's on the road, though, which makes things touchy. See: recent Michigan trips to Carver-Hawkeye. See also: insane charge/block calls against Hardaway and Novak that cost Michigan the Indiana game.

Anyway, once they get past the next two games they have this daunting gauntlet (all rankings Kenpom):

  • #7 Michigan State
  • @ #85 Arkansas (annual inexplicable nonconference game)
  • @ #29 Purdue
  • @ #1 OSU
  • #8 Indiana
  • @ #7 Michigan State

If they can take care of business over the next week they can come out of that stretch .500 and still have established themselves a tourney lock. The home stretch is much easier: @ Nebraska, two against Illinois, @ Northwestern, @ Penn State, and return games from OSU and Purdue. If they manage to go 2-3 against the above conference opponents they'll be 7-4 in the toughest conference in the country with two gimmes and plenty of other games left to get to the .500 mark that will be auto entry for any B10 team this year.



January 9th, 2012 at 1:29 PM ^

I'm not sure they'll recover to easily make the tournament.  Their non-conference results are "meh," and they're already behind the 8-ball in the Big-10.  I don't see where their offense is supposed to come from going forward.  Taylor is good but they just don't have any of their usual 6'10 punchable guys who can punish you for sagging off or switching on a screen.   

matty blue

January 9th, 2012 at 1:56 PM ^

For LOTS of reasons. Two from this one:
1. The whole review thing, unexplained in the Arena. I read somewhere that he was asking about an errant Novak high-five that may have brushed a Wisconsin player, which (if true) is both classically douchey and, with his team down 15 with 6 minutes left, completely pointless. I noticed that it pissed off the ref, too, so you know - doubleplusungood
2. After Beilein pulled all five starters up 17 with under 2 minutes remaining, Ryan kept the starters in AND went full-court for the first time. I don't root for injuries, but man, it would've served him right.

Also - Rudy T was sitting halfway up in the upper bowl. Shoulda been court side with the royalty.


January 9th, 2012 at 2:46 PM ^

Well, as I mentioned in another thread, Novak had no problem with Ryan's attempt to get him called for a technical, and in fact said he would "have done the same thing" if he was in Ryan's shoes (per article):

Afterward, Ryan said he held no hard feelings toward Novak, and actually paid him a compliment.

"At a time like that in a game, if I can get two free throws and the ball, (I'm doing it)," Ryan said. "But Novak was great, he came up to me and said 'coach, if I was where you were, I'd have done the same thing.'

"He was great. I like that guy."

There's also this photo that accompanied another article showing Novak and Ryan talking after the game:

Blue boy johnson

January 9th, 2012 at 2:10 PM ^

Iowa State plays Missouri Wednesday. The game starts right after the Michigan vs NW game. Iowa State might have the most dynamic player in the country in 6'8'' 270 Royce White. The guy is amazing. It isn't often that you can make a claim that a player is the best rebounder and the best playmaker in the country, but you can make the argument for Royce White.

I watched Iowa State against Michigan, Texas, and Texas A&M. In all three games the color commentator was getting his first look at Royce White and they all raved about his abilities. Against TAM, White had a triple double; 10 points, 10 assists, and 18 rebounds, and completely dominated the game without looking to score. Think Chris Webber with a little better handle and a little less of a low post game.

Michigan beat Iowa State fairly easy, 76-66, although Iowa State did make a late run to close the gap. Michigan bigs could do little with White and he finished with 23 pts. 13 rebs. 3 asst and 4 steals.

panthera leo fututio

January 9th, 2012 at 3:38 PM ^

Granted, I haven't watched White play much this year, but really? Dude's averaging 12 and 9 in thirty minutes this year, is Chad Ford's 96th best draft prospect, and isn't in Draft Express's top 100. Comparisons to Chris Webber and claims of best rebounder and best playmaker in college (Thomas Robinson? Anthony Davis? Harrison Barnes? Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?) seem like they might be a little over the top...

Blue boy johnson

January 9th, 2012 at 6:52 PM ^

Chad Ford better get with the program.

Only think that will derail White are personal issues, hopefully he can keep them at bay.

White would have been a lottery pick last year, had he not sat out the previous two seasons. He wasn't a 5* talent coming out of HS for nothing. In HS White was rated the #2 small forward in the country by Rivals and was 6'7'' 210. He now weighs 270 and has the skill level of a small forward. And according to Greg Kelser, "Has the biggest hands I've ever seen"

panthera leo fututio

January 10th, 2012 at 1:59 PM ^

It's not just Ford; I haven't seen anyone with White anywhere near the top few tiers of a draft board. At 6'7" 270, what position is he going to guard? Again, I haven't really seen him play, so maybe he's got outstanding quickness and strength, but he'd still be a major liability defensively against 3s and 4s. And 12 points per game at Iowa State is not exactly setting the world on fire. And it's not like nobody's ever overcome serious character issues to be drafted high in the lottery (see Demarcus Cousins) -- it seems very unlikely to me that that's the reason nobody is paying attention to him.

Mr. Yost

January 9th, 2012 at 2:16 PM ^

Am I the only one that doesn't hate the annual "inexplicable non conference game"?

I feel you can really gain something from winning and you don't lose as much by losing. What I mean is, if you can spring board you for the rest of your conference season. It's always a name opponent and on national TV. If you lose, you can say "oh well, let's just focus on the conference."

It's also a nice mid-season break/gauge.

Blue boy johnson

January 9th, 2012 at 2:23 PM ^

Belien explained why they have played the "inexplicable non conference game". They would have rather played the game in December, but couldn't because of the way the schedule and finals occur. I think M can play 13 non conference games and if they can't fit them all in before the BIG schedule they will schedule one during conference play


January 9th, 2012 at 2:31 PM ^

The rest look like needed splits, winning at home and losing on the road.  Win both the other two, you're rolling, split and you're ok, lose both, and it's not panic time, but it's not great either.


January 9th, 2012 at 2:33 PM ^

This next month is gonna be so awesome to watch. I think we stack up well with the rest of the Big Ten, and I feel confident about all of our games


January 9th, 2012 at 2:36 PM ^

If Hardaway Junior starts hitting his jumper and Smotrych-Lobstrytch finds his stroke again this team could conted with OSU for the B10 title.  As poorly as this team played at Indiana (Hoosiers are now 33-5 against us lifetime there) to have a chance to win on a half court heave impressed me.  Although Sullinger lost 25 pounds in the off-season I think a little less Sullie will allow Jordan Morgan to push him off the block if the refs call B10 play the B10 way. 



Indiana/Michigan (we need the split at home)

Michigan State: Although 3-0 in B10 play I would be surprised if they come out .500 against us and the Hoosiers.

Illinois/Purdue: This will be a tough game in Champaign-they HATE M.  We need Hummel to go cold-or graduate already.

Wisconson: Will be tough in Madison but I like our chances to prevail.

The rest of the field we can only afford one road loss if any.


El Jeffe

January 9th, 2012 at 6:13 PM ^

In addition to more turnovers, I'd like to see THJ get at least one offensive foul caused by him dunking over some fool. It would set a nice tone for the game. If he doesn't get one dunk-related charging call he's not doing it right, IME.

San Diego Mick

January 9th, 2012 at 6:26 PM ^

We need Horford to get healthy and be able to give us some inside minutes and rest for the other bigs. Besides getting crucial experience moving forward.

I mean of all the people that could've gotten hurt from the bench guys, why did it have to be Horford? Vogrich needs to start hitting his shots otherwise he's almost worthless except for getting some guys rest in the back court.

Burke is a bonafide stud and his 3 star ranking is comical, that guy is at least a high 4 if not 5 star player who reminds me of Chris Paul in style and stature.

I love this team and was impressed that we almost beat Indiana there while not playing a good game and getting a couple of questionable calls. I also think we're farther along than Brian seems to think.

Evil Monkey

January 9th, 2012 at 8:45 PM ^

agree with his Hardaway's assessment. I mean he's struggling mightily from 3. But we know he can shoot the rock and it will come, I'm sure of it. Hopefully last game was the start from 3. He's a great player and he knows it, I think thats why hes forcing shots. If he drove a little more and let the game come to him which he did last game; we'll be fine and so wil Michigan basketball.