A couple of weeks ago, the MGoBraintrust assembled at a secret location somewhere in Ann Arbor to discuss Official Business. During that meeting of the minds, Brian suggested that I chart a basketball game. “Just chart one thing,” he said. “Don’t do it like a UFR.”
I didn't. A basketball UFR — like this one — would be a herculean endeavor for me, and my grading would be tenuous and subjective (and likely ill-informed) at best. Instead, I watched film to focus on a small but essential facet of the game. Defense is harder for most laypeople to judge compared to offense, especially during a live game. It’s obvious Michigan is good, but how? And why? A lofty defensive efficiency ranking, strong four factor metrics, and counting blocks and steals for individual players only tells you so much. We notice a lot during games, but miss a lot too.
I rewatched the game, took notes, and feel like I learned a lot. Indiana’s top two players — senior big Juwan Morgan and freshman swingman Romeo Langford — are All-Big Ten level talents, and they’re pretty much the only two offensive options for Indiana, especially without their starting point guard, Rob Phinisee.
I charted all of their touches:
Click on images to enlarge
[Clips, breakdowns, and analysis after the JUMP]
The real story of the game happened here:
But a lot of other stuff happened!
Juwan Morgan works in the post
It took until there were 11:40 minutes left in the first half for Indiana to get Juwan Morgan a touch in the mid-post, in the paint, on the low block, or at the rim (aside from an offensive rebound and missed put-back). Morgan’s early touches came on the perimeter. He drifted to the wing and missed a three after rolling on a ball screen; he isolated Jon Teske, drove into the paint and threw up a wild layup; he spotted up for three after an offensive rebound by someone else. Even after exiting the game with his second foul, Indiana didn’t make an effort to get him the ball in the post, at least right away.
Isolating Teske from the perimeter didn’t really work. Michigan shrank the floor really well when they noticed their big man guarding a quicker center at the three-point line.
Morgan’s ability to stretch the floor paid off with some three-pointers (a little more on that later), but Teske moved his feet well enough to keep up on drives. He started 1-7 shooting from the field, and the only make came on a post up on Teske with no double. Indiana focused on getting him the ball near the basket in the second half and it paid off. On the first play out of the break, Indiana ran a set to get the ball to Morgan in the short corner isolated on Teske. He backed down and scored a tough bucket.
Throughout the game, Michigan guarded Langford pick-and-rolls with a flat hedge from Teske. He moved laterally to contain Langford and to allow his primary defender (usually Charles Matthews) to recover to the ball. Indiana saw this on their second possession of the game.
The Hoosiers ran stuff to exploit that look. One tactic was to have Morgan roll into post position and have Langford give up the ball for a post entry from a different angle.
On this play, Jordan Poole tags Morgan, the roller (who had recently scored or drawn a foul on three consecutive possessions and commanded the only post double of the game)… and abandons the entry man, Al Durham, a good shooter who misses a wide open three.
Indiana also ran action with a Langford-Morgan ball-screen, a down screen from Durham on Morgan’s man, and a pass to Durham for an entry.
Especially after halftime, Indiana decided that they wanted to feed the post. Michigan was fine with that. They still played Langford ball screens with the soft hedge; they still refused to double Morgan on the touch or on the dribble on almost every possession. The Wolverine defense is designed to create inefficient shots, and they were willing to let Morgan beat them.
Each of Michigan’s bigs defended him without help, even after it was evident that Indiana’s preferred offense was to go through Morgan in the post.
Indiana’s depth was strained, and Morgan took a shot, drew a foul, or turned the ball over on almost half of their total possessions, despite only playing 27 minutes due to foul trouble in both halves. He was their most reliable offensive option, but an inefficient one. Here’s how all of his touches that led to shot attempts broke down:
- Jon Teske — 16 possessions, 14 points, 5-12 FG (1-1 3P), 3-4 FT, 2 TO
- Brandon Johns — 5 possessions, 5 points, 2-5 FG, 1-1 FT
- Austin Davis — 3 possessions, 3 points, 1-2 FG, 1-3 FT
- Eli Brooks — 2 possessions, 3 points, 1-2 FG (1-1 3P)
- Jordan Poole — 1 possession, 0 points, 0-1 FG (0-1 3P)
Initial Touch Location:
- Interior — 17 possessions, 15 points, 5-12 FG, 5-8 FT, 2 TO
- Perimeter — 8 possessions, 6 points, 2-7 FG (2-3 3P), 1 TO
- Mid-Range — 3 possessions, 4 points, 2-3 FG
- Low Block — 7 possessions, 6 points, 2-6 FG, 2-2 FT, 1 TO
- Paint — 6 possessions, 5 points, 1-3 FG, 3-4 FT, 1 TO
- Top of the Key — 4 possessions, 6 points, 2-4 FG (2-3 3P)
- Mid-Post — 3 possessions, 4 points, 2-3 FG
- Wing — 3 possessions, 0 points, 0-3 FG (0-2 3P)
- Short Corner — 2 possessions, 4 points, 2-2 FG
- Rim — 1 possession, 0 points, 0-2 FT
- FT Line — 1 possession, 0 points, 0-1 FG
- Half Court — 1 possession, 0 points, 1 TO
- Post Up — 9 possessions, 8 points, 3-8 FG, 2-3 FT
- Iso — 5 possessions, 4 points, 2-5 FG
- Pick-and-Pop — 3 possessions, 6 points, 2-3 FG (2-3 3P)
- Roll Man — 3 possessions, 2 points, 1-2 FG, TO
- Spot Up — 2 possessions, 0 points, 0-2 FG (0-2 3P)
- Offensive Rebound — 2 possessions, 0 points, 0-1 FG, 1 TO
- Drive and Dish — 2 possession, 5 points, 1-1 FG, 3-3 FT
- Lob — 1 possession, 0 points, 0-2 FT
- Pass — 1 TO
Ultimately Indiana had a pretty good offensive showing. They were without their starting point guard, playing on the road against one of the best defenses in the country, and scored 1.07 points per possessions — slightly above average — after a horrible start to the game. The lion’s share of the credit should go to Morgan, who was able to create his own offense when given the opportunity. The message to the Hoosiers at halftime was to get Morgan the ball in the post, and they did.
I was impressed with Morgan’s game. Indiana needed to have him score to have a chance, and he got to 25 points without more than a few bad possessions. He’s probably the most versatile center on Michigan’s schedule — and he’s a good passer, despite finishing with no assists against Michigan. Morgan quickly passed out of the post against the one double team he saw, and while Indiana’s not a great three-point shooting team, they would have gotten better looks had they been able to feed Morgan, have him kick it out, and scramble Michigan’s defense a bit. Michigan made him beat them one on one.
Preventing three-point attempts is a foundational principle for Michigan’s defense, and the Wolverines rank in the top five nationally for lowest 3PA / FGA allowed. They stick to shooters, and let players like Morgan go to work down low, mostly against an elite defensive big man in Teske. Morgan won and lost his share of battles in this game, but there was no chance for Indiana to keep pace with how well Michigan was playing on the other end of the floor. Opponent post ups will be a consistent theme throughout the rest of the year — watch how often teams try to feed their center, and watch how Michigan makes them end those possessions with an inefficient shot attempt. The Wolverine defense would rather take away everything else first.
Romeo Langford vs. Charles Matthews
Romeo Langford was the most hyped high school prospect in years to choose a Big Ten school, and the freshman is on track to be drafted in the NBA Draft lottery this summer. Charles Matthews is a veteran former transfer who almost left for the draft and decided to hone his craft for one more season in college. In order to make it to the NBA and stay there, Matthews will have to have a tenable jump shot, yes, but more importantly will be his ability as a one-on-one defender. If a team can count on him to guard the top perimeter players for opposing teams for stretches, he’ll carve out an NBA career.
Michigan typically assigns him the top wing, and they did against Indiana. The Hoosiers sometimes tried to run some action to force a switch (and sometimes was able to get Brazdeikis on Langford), but for most of the game, Michigan’s stopper was shadowing Indiana’s star.
tl;dr, it went kind of like this.
Here’s how Langford’s touches with Matthews as the primary defender broke down:
- Touches: 30
- Points: 6
- 2-Pointers: 2-6
- 3-Pointers: 0-1
- Fouls Drawn: 1
- Free Throws: 2-2
- Assists: 2
- Turnovers: 1
Langford’s two assists came on pick-and-pops to Morgan. One of Indiana’s counters to the flat hedge coverage of Langford-Morgan ball-screens was to have Morgan slip the screen and pop to the three-point line. On this play, Eli Brooks shows help then decides to stick to Devonte Green (33% from three) instead of rotating all the way over to Morgan (42%), even though Poole was ready to rotate to his man. It was the wrong decision; Morgan made him pay.
Langford’s shot attempts when Matthews was the primary defender were generally unsuccessful. On one of the rare occasions where Matthew was beaten off the dribble, Teske was there to contest and force a miss.
Michigan’s flat hedge helped Matthews out when covering Langford in the ball-screen game. Langford isn’t an advanced player with the ball in his hands quite yet, and had most of his best looks in this game come when he was playing off the ball. Indiana had to have him initiate since their starting point guard was unavailable, and did so more often in the second half. Michigan’s ball-screen and dribble-handoff defense was terrific, and Matthews forced Langford into tough looks.
Indiana got a good screen on Matthews and Langford blew past Teske for an easy two. They tried the same action again on the next possession, and Matthews made Langford take this shot.
Eventually Langford just settled for a two-point jumper over a hedging Teske. The shot was decently uncontested, and Langford’s good from the mid-range, but this kind of look isn't that great.
The one foul he drew with Matthews as his primary defender was well-defended and not Matthews’s fault. Even if Teske doesn’t reach in, this is would be a difficult shot and Langford’s not much of a post-up player.
Look at Brandon Johns! Most of Indiana’s ball screens were run towards the middle of the floor, but Matthews sees Langford drive towards the sideline, knows that his screener (Evan Fitzner) is much less dangerous than usual, and doubles.
When Langford found himself guarded by someone else, he fared much better. He had six points on eight shot equivalents with Matthews as his primary defender, and eleven points on six shot equivalents on all other plays. There were a few miscommunicated switches that led to Langford buckets, but since Michigan likes to switch 1-4 often on the perimeter, I didn't assign those possessions to Matthews. Langford’s a talented player, but Matthews played him very well.
That Langford still managed to score 17 points speaks to how talented of a scorer he is and why he's a highly-regarded pro prospect. He may have the highest upside of any of the opposing players Michigan will see all season. Matthews is typically judged on his offensive efficiency, and not as much on his defensive impact, but performances like this demonstrate how valuable he is.