Basketbullets: Montana Comment Count

Ace 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.]

(Mostly) Controlled Aggression

Quick passes to Matthews eventually broke Montana's trap. [Scott]

Naturally, the first game after we discussed Charles Matthews settling into an efficient 15-18%-usage role as a tertiary offensive option, Michigan faces a defense that all but forces him to take a starring role. Montana's traps got the Wolverines out of their normal high ball screen action; the extended pressure made them look for shorter passes to the wing, a tactic Beilein of course has found a way to tie into baseball:

What I love about what Travis has done with his team is they will guard ball screens -- we said they're going to do everything. So in two days we were trying to get ready for everything, and that was one of them, that they came out and trapped us hard.

We had a couple of different things we do about [that]. One of those is to go and hit them short. We call it actually short shop. We call it Barry Larkin for the great Michigan short stop who played with Cincinnati. So we hit Barry Larkin, and Barry Larkin made the plays.

Matthews played the role of Larkin to the tune of 20 points on 31% usage, his highest in any game since December 30th. While his 90 ORTG won't blow anybody away, his shot creation inside the arc kept the offense treading water, which was all they needed given the defensive performance. Not only did he make 7-of-10 two-pointers, he knocked down 6-of-8 free throws. As a bonus, he grabbed 11 defensive rebounds and played his usual quality D.

There were also five turnovers and an 0-for-3 mark from beyond the arc to remind us of Matthews' limitations. In this game, however, I didn't mind the turnovers as much as normal; Michigan needed someone to get aggressive and Matthews embraced that mindset. The tradeoff of some lost possessions was worth it in a game of first-to-50.

Other teams may try Montana's approach; it still looks like a potentially viable way to slow M's offense. Matthews stepping up is a good sign, however, and the team just got a 40-minute crash course in working around the trap.

Backup Point Guards: Extant, Productive

Unconventional but ultimately effective. [Scott]

Simpson's foul trouble tested Michigan's point guard depth earlier, and in a much more critical situation, than most anyone anticipated. After going pointless in the Big Ten Tournament, Jaaron Simmons entered and went a perfect 3-for-3 from the field. While he's not nearly on Simpson's level as a defender, there wasn't a significant dropoff on that end, and Simmons joined Matthews among Wolverines willing and able to attack the basket.

When Simmons needed a breather, Eli Brooks made an immediate impact. He started with a slick assist to Matthews off a baseline drive, followed that with a tough floater on another foray down the baseline, and grabbed a loose ball among some taller players to give M an extra possession. With no turnovers or major defensive breakdowns, you can't ask for much more out of a five-minute stint from your third point guard.

Since I gloated about my predictive abilities in this very post, I should point out I may have been very wrong about the first section.

Here's A Table

None shall pass. [Scott]

Via Bart Torvik, here are the top teams in the country since February 13th, since M's surprisingly high-scoring win at Wisconsin. You won't have to look far to find the Wolverines:

After yesterday's dominant defensive performance—the Grizzlies scored a paltry 0.70 PPP—the Michigan defense is up to third on KenPom, behind only Virginia and Cincinnati. That is the primary reason they've been arguably—and statistically—the best team in the country over the last month. DeCurie was at a bit of a loss after the game when trying to come up with a way his team could've cracked the Wolverines:

Q. Was there anything that you would have changed, Xs and Os-wise, heading into the game?
COACH DECUIRE: Yeah. I would have put a hoop in there that might have been a little bigger.

No. You know, I think you've gotta come in and play your style of basketball. You gotta do what got you here. And if you try to do anything different, you're not going to be aggressive, you're not going to play instinctively. And I thought we did that.

Our biggest issue was we win the paint. We broke even 26-26 in the paint. Our bigs go 3 for 11. 3 for 11. So the three guys that typically we would go inside and get some things in the paint from couldn't get it going. And there were stretches where I'll go small, spread them out and move.

This is a very, very good team. As you can see above, so is Houston. Brian will have the preview later this afternoon. I'm confident the Wolverines will provide much more resistance to Cougars star Rob Gray than San Diego State did last night.



March 16th, 2018 at 2:44 PM ^

experience with a sporting event that my team won that I can remember. I was seriously hate watching that game every second after the phantom foul on Simpson 11 seconds in. I was like anger-pacing during the clock outage. I was both too drunk and not nearly drunk enough for that one. Hopefully the rest of our games don’t resemble that fiasco.


March 16th, 2018 at 2:53 PM ^

Honestly, it wasn't that bad. I was annoyed by the early foul calls and pissed off about the TV timeout seconds after the 10 minute delay(!), but for the most part, the team just worked the defense and made enough buckets to hold the game out of reach. 

Detroit Dan

March 16th, 2018 at 5:10 PM ^

The announcing wasn't much fun.  There was no mention of the foul trouble and lineup irregularities for Michigan in the first half.  They shortchanged us of 2 wins in commentary at the end of the game (27 for the year instead of 29), although they did correct that.

The already late advertised starting time of the game was delayed 30 minutes.  The TV station provided no information (that I heard, anyway) as to when the game would actually start.  They just kept playing commercials.

The first play of the game -- the jump ball -- was recovered by Michigan when Wagner hustled and went to the floor.  He was called for travelling.  But apparently he had possession so the next jump ball went to Montana on the alternate possession.

11 seconds later MAAR was called for a foul.

The most disgusting was the LOOOONG delay, followed by a few seconds of action, and then a commercial timeout.

There were a few good things:

- Ace's writeup

- The Montana coach is an excellent sport.

- Michigan players and coaches didn't let the nonsense get to them.  Excellent games in particular by Matthews and Simmons.



March 16th, 2018 at 6:45 PM ^

immediately upon completion of the previous game (since start time is 30 min after that).  So it was listed at 9:26pm for that 30 min stretch.

I didn't see Wagner go to the floor, but my guess is that he slid and grabbed the ball to establish possession and if he kept sliding, that is a travel. You can't travel without possession so the possession came first, then the travel.  It's unfortunate, but if that's what happened, it's the correct call.

The announcing was awful and that's what you get with Steve Lavin.  He is not good.  Also, there will likley be other commentators in this tournament that didn't work a regular season game or didn't work the big ten and don't do their homework such that they won't be able to comment on things that are unusual (like Z sitting for most of the first half).


March 17th, 2018 at 9:42 AM ^

Oh yes it was "that bad". Since we live only 35 miles from the arena I was pleased to take my hugely partisan 8 year old grandson to his first Michigan sporting event. While it was generally fun to be in attendence, both games were some of the worst basketball I have ever seen-in relative terms. It was just painful to watch. Yeah, the defense was good but the offensive response was ineptness of monumental proportions. Even when Michigan did see the wide open man they couldn't even make the simple pass. OMG, I'm just trying to erase all those pathetic images from my memory.


March 16th, 2018 at 5:56 PM ^

HOW young are you?
FB vs Air Force 2012 (or was it 2013?)
UConn around that same time?
MOON fergodsakes?!
Indiana 2016 (Hell, let's JUST say it - ANY game JO'K played EXCEPT Purdue '17 & much of osu '17)
And that's just the past 5 or so years...


March 16th, 2018 at 7:56 PM ^

I was thinking the same thing last night, but I was honestly comfortable during the game...just wasn’t fun to watch. Our BCS win against Va Tech comes to mind as the worst that I can remember. I was happy we won that game but felt very dirty about it.

Wolverine In Iowa 68

March 16th, 2018 at 2:45 PM ^

Credit to Montanna's defense, but as much so, the rust from the extended layoff (Fuck you very much Jim Delaney) affected our starting 5.


Kudos to the team for having version 1.5 go in and spark the turnaround.  Hopefully this shook off the rust so the starters will be focused on Saturday.


March 16th, 2018 at 4:17 PM ^

every team in the pod is significantly better at defense than offense so you got some ugly games.  Late start time and general jitters that teams often have in the beginning of the tournament were probably factors.

Also, Wagner looked absolutely awful the entire game. And it wasn't that he was just missing shots.  He could barely catch the ball, he was extremely slow on his defensive rotations, it was as if he was sick or hungover or something.


March 16th, 2018 at 4:49 PM ^

layoff. Wagner is very much a “rhythm” player. When he is in the groove he is awesome, but when he isn’t comfortable it is really ugly. He could have been sick but he mostly just looked a mess which he does from time to time. The entire game was kind of the opposite of what the team needed it to be. They needed to really get to run their stuff to get things rolling again. That did not happen. I expect the first half of the Houston game to be ugly also. I’m not sure that we took anything productive from that game. Perhaps it will be a springboard for Matthews. That could be something.


March 16th, 2018 at 4:42 PM ^

I'm quite surprised that the Witchita pod has produced the final game Thursday and will produce the final game on Saturday, just from a time zone perspective. I would have thought Boise would get the late starts, but I suppose the needs of broadcast might outweigh that, as CBS was there, I suppose, for Kentucky-Arizona.


March 16th, 2018 at 4:22 PM ^

the 15 minute clock outage, the timeouts and other stoppages such that it would be a bit more bearable.

From the 16 min mark in the first half until 2 min left in the game, Michigan was actually pretty good, except Wagner.  In fact, they were good with under 2 min left as well (made FTs!) but that was the standard boring procession to the FT line that teams do to M because we typically don't shoot that well from the line.


March 16th, 2018 at 4:56 PM ^

wasn’t that we played that bad, the entire game was just really choppy and weird. It was way too late to start a basketball game, particularly after two weeks off. The crowd and announcers were sleepy, the players had probably been at the arena for 6 hours and their “ready to play” moment had come and gone. We didn’t play super bad, it was just a bad game. I watch Michigan tournament games for years on DVR. I have Michigan v. Tennessee 2014 original broadcast from the Sweet 16 and will watch parts of it randomly. I can honestly say I will never have any desire to watch a moment of that game again.

Bone Malone

March 16th, 2018 at 2:49 PM ^

Not exactly related to this game, but I hope everyone saw the response of Stephen F. Austin's coach saying that the reason that they lost their first-round game was because millenials don't watch basketball and are "... on their phone and doing that kind of stuff."…

Isn't that like...his job? To make sure players watch film and scout their opponent? Seems like a pretty lazy excuse.


March 16th, 2018 at 2:59 PM ^

And they had two more turnovers than Montana while playing three different point guards against a defensive approach they haven't seen much this year. This team is still very good at turnover avoidance, especially when the offense isn't being forced to run through Matthews.


March 16th, 2018 at 4:36 PM ^

but Montana's pressure defense deserves a little credit.  It was so solid in the half court that I think we were more agressive pushing the ball on the fast break in the second half and threw a couple away.  We had a mindset of, ok, I'm gonna push this before I get trapped.

They forced us into some things.


March 16th, 2018 at 2:52 PM ^

I don't think you can expect the same success with the half-court trap defense if other teams try it.  That's Montana's identity.  That's what they do.  If Houston tries it, it will be like Al Borges trying to run the spread.  That's not what they do and if they try to impliment that system of smartly trapping people, they'll likely fail at it as much as succedd unless they spend the whole off season working on it.

Hackett 4 President

March 16th, 2018 at 2:56 PM ^

Is it part of the rules to reset the clock to when they noticed it wasn't working? They could have saved about 10 minutes of stoppage if they just reset the clock and shot clock to what it was when it stopped working. Instead, they dicked around watching the replays to knock off 7 additional seconds. Nothing happened in that time period except Simpson dribbling near mid court. It's not like it's our fault the clock stopped and we burned that extra time.


March 16th, 2018 at 3:11 PM ^

Yeah screw it, just set the clock back and play the whole damn possesion all over again from the start. 

It's not like somebody scored and you are taking points off the board.  No team was advantaged nor disadvantaged.  

Nothing actually happened.  Why waste a quarter of an hour trying to preserve that? 

Naked Bootlegger

March 16th, 2018 at 3:02 PM ^

Simpson's sketchy 1st half fouls forced him into a 20+ minute game, rather than a 35+ minute game.   I'll take that as a post-victory silver lining.   He'll be on the court for major minutes tomorrow, but should be fresher than initially anticipated.

Otherwise, I was surprised at Montana's quickness.  They effectively disturbed our offensive rhythm.  The Wagner/Teske combo was often open at the FT line, but that pass had to be made at the exact right time to exploit their swarming D.   We cracked it a few times for easy Matthews dunks, but Montana did a great job rotating after the intiial trap. 

Play on.  That's all that matters at this time of year.