1/6/2019 – Michigan 74, Indiana 63 – 15-0, 4-0 Big Ten
Midway through the Penn State game Jordan Poole poked a pass into the PSU backcourt, corralled the ball before it got out of bounds, and attacked PSU's center with a nasty step-through that drew an appreciative "aouww" from play-by-play guy Jason Benetti. Poole got fouled, giving Dan Dakich the opportunity to neatly define Poole's ineffable Poole-ness:
— Daniel Pinedo (@dpgoodness) January 4, 2019
"I guarantee you that he played so much basketball without a coach, or without a ref, or without a scoreboard. Just playing. Where out of bounds is the grass, or out of bounds is the street … there's such a difference between guys who just play and guys who are manufactured by a trainer."
Nobody will ever accuse Jordan Poole of being manufactured. His newly-activated driving game doesn't go in straight lines. It wanders all over the neighborhood like a Family Circus comic, leaving the befuddled in his wake. Watch question marks sprout from the heads of Indiana defenders:
— Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) January 6, 2019
Watch four different Indiana defenders form an honor guard for him as he swoops to the rim:
Jordan Poole slicing through IU's d pic.twitter.com/bolMxvTGW6
— Adam Bowman (@imAdamBowman) January 6, 2019
Watch this guy's best Nick Ward impression:
Poole toi de là pic.twitter.com/v1EgR2hAQD
— NCAA France (@ncaafrance) January 7, 2019
In one buttoned-down Bob Knight sense that last clip is not the right play. The right play is the kickout to an open 40% three point shooter in the corner. The off the dribble semi-contested jumper is a worse shot. The laws of math say pass. The laws of coaches with slicked-back hair and anger issues say pass.
The laws of basketball demand otherwise, and Jordan Poole is ruled by those and those alone. To not complete the highlight would be the gravest sin. To not take the heat check is unthinkable, because the heat check might go down. And then! And then, well, I mean. You know. The entire arena collapses, overdosed on swag.
This, I think, is what John Beilein meant last year when he said that Poole was a strange player for him to coach. His career has been built by taking limited athletes and drilling them on the basics until they're the kind of regimented outfit that never finishes outside the top 10 in turnover rate. There's a certain mechanical aspect to what Michigan does. This is completely, obviously fine. But with limited exceptions its the system that makes the players go. These days NBA evaluations of Michigan players come with Beilein-is-too-good-at-systems disclaimers.
Poole does stuff that makes your palms itch. Then the shot goes in and you have to pretend that you were on board with the departmental reorganization all along. Yes sir, promoting a technical superstar who's worn the same silvery sweatpants for four years to management is a good idea. Yes sir, that contested NBA three with 20 seconds on the shot clock was within the bounds of the gameplan. Carry on.
You can't yell at a guy for shot selection when he's hitting 60%/47%. Half of those threes are from NBA range. In four Big Ten games Poole is 17/21(!) from two. As the season moves along here his usage is ticking upwards and his efficiency is holding steady.
The swag is approaching uncontained levels. So Poole's a weird guy to coach when you've spent your career being the best fundamentals coach in basketball. But you can't tamp down the swag and expect Poole to remain Poole. A tame unicorn is just a horse.
[After THE JUMP: Brandon Johns reporting for duty]
Morgan contained. Juwan Morgan finished with 25 points but required 25 shot equivalents to get there; with no assists and three turnovers Michigan held his ORTG under 100. (On 58% usage! Earlier this year Carsen Edwards had 50% against Michigan and I marveled. I didn't think I'd see that broken a few games later.) In one game they tanked Morgan's 2PT% from 74% to 70%.
And even so I clapped my hands in frustration a couple times at his makes, particularly one where Teske had put Morgan under the basket and he still managed to get a reverse layup in from there. Dude is a dude. Michigan did about as well as you can on him, and in adverse circumstances. Speaking of…
and introducing… [Campredon]
Center so fast you'll freak. Brandon Johns: hello. 13 minutes due to Livers's absence and foul trouble for Teske and Davis. 4/5 from the floor, three offensive rebounds, five defensive rebounds, and one eye-opening block on Morgan. His makes were all at the basket, often off pick and roll slips; a couple were contested shots where Johns was able to finish through contact. He also took off for a eyebrow-cocking dunk from a couple steps inside the free throw line.
Attack this day like Brandon Johns attacked the rim against Indiana: pic.twitter.com/BnQGPlfmKb
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) January 7, 2019
Johns got some time against Clifton Moore, who's so deep of a bench guy that he didn't make the nine-deep player chart in the preview and was one miss and one foul away from a seven-minute trillion. But he also chipped in against Morgan.
Austin Davis had a catch and finish and was able to force Morgan to attempt some tough shots. He also had four fouls in four minutes. The post-game consensus that Johns should be the backup five is probably correct.
The "probably": there were a number of possession with Johns on the court that bogged down seemingly because Johns didn't know exactly what to do as the screener in Michigan's offense. People still have to wave at him to do stuff sometimes, and then the timing's off and your action is relatively easy to defend. There was a four or five minute stretch in the second half with Teske on the bench where Michigan was able to scrape out a couple buckets but they came after some ugly offense.
FWIW, Johns is a shooter. He was a 70% FT shooter in high school and hit 31% of his threes. A couple of years of Beilein refinement and he should be an able stretch five.
The skyhook king. Zavier Simpson hit three more in this game; he missed a couple but has to be shooting those at a 60% clip. Several offensive sets saw Simpson drift to the left corner so he could get those swooping drives in that end with the hook. That was the source of some undefined consternation as I watched Michigan's offensive sets and couldn't put my finger on what was weird about them. It was that: Simpson in the corner, off the ball.
I eagerly await the upcoming story about Simpson developing that hook by playing HORSE with his dad all summer.
Matthews vs Langford: W [Campredon]
Matthews makes his case. Romeo Langford was a bit more efficient than Morgan but a couple of his buckets were on confused switches. Those buckets count but aren't really about Matthews's ability to guard. When not exploiting a couple of uncharacteristic mental errors from Michigan, Langford was 2/7 inside the line. He was 6/6 from the line but Matthews only had one foul, against four steals.
Meanwhile on the other end: 5/12 from two, 2/3 from three, 2/3 from the line, three OREBs, two assists, no turnovers. Matthews also drew the two quick fouls on Langford that made him sit for much of the decisive first ten minutes. He poked the ball loose on IU's first possession; Langford grabbed him. Then he drove baseline with his left hand for an and-one a couple minutes later.
Matthews matched up against a lottery pick and won. Langford's still going to go higher in the draft because he's three years younger. I think I'd rather have Matthews for this season of college basketball. He's not as efficient as Langford on offense but I don't think there's a comparison on the other end of the floor. Indiana stuck Langford on Eli Brooks whenever he was out there. QED.
Meanwhile, please don't look at the following sentences directly, perhaps approach them with some side eye: halfway through the regular season Matthews has gone from a 55% FT shooter and 31% 3P shooter to 62% and 35%, which is the incremental improvement we were hoping for before the season.
Matthews makes his face. Matthews continues adding to his legacy as one of the best facial expression guys of the Beilein era.
Livers update. Sounds like this might be a little bit longer term than hoped:
"I thought we made progress because I think the training staff took some steps to relieve the pain and loosen things up," Beilein said. "I thought we were making progress but it wasn't enough for him today. … If he says, 'No,' (he can't play), he says no. That's up to him and we trust him 100 percent."
Livers participated in warmups but did not seem fully healthy. He didn't dunk, for example, and often shot 3s as his teammates accelerated towards the basket.
"I'm not worried that it's going to be lingering but if in four days he hasn't gotten better, we may look at other (treatment) methods and let the doctors take care of it," Beilein said.
Michigan next two games are at Illinois and home vs Northwestern so they can probably get away with sitting him for those two; then there's no midweek game before January 19th vs Wisconsin.
Yaklich, the conference. Threes are not going up in the Big Ten:
Didn’t see this coming. With 19 percent of the games in the books, the Big Ten’s on track to be the least perimeter-oriented major conference in years.
Less than 33 percent of shot attempts coming from beyond the arc in conference play.
— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) January 7, 2019
This may be a new conventional wisdom forming before our eyes.