Basketbullets: Still-Not-A-Bubble Watch, The Last Two Plays

Submitted by Ace on March 2nd, 2017 at 2:46 PM


Five days ago. [Bryan Fuller]

That wasn't a fun way to lose. I'll cede that point. The reaction to a one-point road loss, however painful it may have been, has still been borderline hysterical. Heading into last night, Michigan had won five of six—with the one loss a ref screw-job in Minneapolis—while moving off the NCAA tournament bubble. They have the best offense in the Big Ten by a wide margin and a defense that's steadily improving. They lost last night on a prayer of a play that was inches away from backfiring spectacularly; if Nathan Taphorn's pass flies another six inches or so, Michigan is inbounding under Northwestern's basket with a chance to win in regulation.

With a night to sleep on it, here's where things really stand: Michigan is still comfortably in the NCAA tournament field. Jerry Palm's latest bracket denotes 15 bubble teams, including Michigan State. Michigan, projected as a nine-seed, isn't one of them. Joe Lunardi dropped the Wolverines one seed line—to a nine-seed. Michigan is still an eight-seed on the Bracket Matrix, though they'll slide back to a nine as more projections are updates; that's still not on the bubble.

Illinois, a team that Penn State swept this season, has moved into the field on several projections, including Palm's. This year's bubble is really soft. If Michigan loses out, they're in danger of a nerve-wracking Selection Sunday. They have two very winnable games left: at Nebraska, a team that's never beaten Michigan since joining the Big Ten, and a neutral-site game in the BTT against a team that won't be seeded higher than ninth. KenPom gives Michigan a 63% chance to beat Nebraska. The most likely BTT scenario, a 7/10 matchup with Ohio State, gives M a 68% chance of picking up another win, per Bart Torvik's tourney simulator. That works out to a 12% chance of losing both games.

The rending of garments is premature.

[Hit THE JUMP for the final play and more.]

About That Last Play

At the risk of sounding like a defender of the man about to set the program record for wins: I have no problem with the way John Beilein approached the final play. Here's Beilein explaining the approach after the game, via UMHoops:

Just had some unusual things happen and ended up losing the game that way. Had to be an absolutely perfect pass to make that happen. If we don’t switch the screen, McIntosh can get loose, with 1.7 (seconds) he could dribble and get a 15-footer. So we decided to switch it. Pardon’s not going to make a shot unless it’s a layup; it was a perfect pass. Those of you who want to put a man on the ball, it doesn’t make any difference. If a guy is way back you waste a man. … Putting a man on the ball backfired for us this time but since it was a dead inbounds, we thought it was the right thing to do.

Putting a man of the inbounder made perfect sense given the situation, which required a perfect pass—making that more difficult on the front end is a good idea, and you risk a Laettner situation if you don't.

Beilein explained why switching was the play given the setup; you're expecting a shorter pass and heave instead of the huge risk Chris Collins took to chuck it 90+ feet. (As mentioned earlier, that play was really damn close to being a turnover that would give M the ball under Northwestern's basket.) While this resulted in a mismatch with Derrick Walton on Dererk Pardon, the long heave gave Michigan plenty of time to recover. Unfortunately, Beilein can't move DJ Wilson's legs for him:

Once the pass was made, there was no reason for Wilson to even think about McIntosh. There wasn't nearly enough time on the clock for Pardon to do anything but shoot once he caught the ball. Wilson hesistated. If he didn't, he had a good chance at pinning Pardon's shot to the glass.

Such is basketball. You can tick off the buzzer-beaters against Michigan all you like; keep in mind that the last-gasp play involving a Beilein team this most closely resembled was GRIII's game-winner at Purdue.

Michigan's Last Shot

It's really too bad Zak Irvin ended up with the ball in the position he was in on Michigan's final possession. To that point, he'd had a strong game, scoring 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting with only one turnover—a scoring boost that was sorely needed with Moe Wagner off his game.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman pulled down a rebound with ten seconds on the clock and immediately pushed it up the court. To that point, MAAR had been successful on his forays into the paint: he had two layups, a pair of shooting fouls, and three assists because he'd been aggressively driving the ball. Michigan is usually a very efficient team when pushing the tempo off of defensive rebounds; why call a timeout and let Northwestern get set?

Unfortunately, MAAR shied away from the moment. Beilein:

With 10 seconds you can set something up. We just wanted to go and just play off the action. I wish Muhammad would have maybe kept going to the basket because they don’t want to foul at that point. I thought (Irvin) had a pretty good look at the basket. But it wasn’t a set there because it was off a miss. I could have called timeout and we could have run something. My feeling is, 10 seconds to go, full court, let them play basketball and hopefully you’re going to get fouled, find something good, spread the floor and go. I loved having Muhammad with the ball. We did get a good shot. It would have been fantastic if Zak could have made that; it didn’t happen.

Once MAAR passed it off to Irvin, there were four options:

  1. Irvin takes an open three in rhythm
  2. Irvin swings it to Robinson for a less-open three
  3. Irvin drives to try to create a better look than the one he already has
  4. Beilein calls a timeout and hopes the refs grant it immediately [Edit: As commenter jmblue reminds me, Beilein would've needed a Michigan player to call for the timeout since it was a live ball situation. This wasn't really an option.]

I prefer the first option. At that point, the coach is at the mercy of his players, and on this occasion they didn't come through for him. If the same scenario played out again, I still hope he'd let them go and see what they can create in transition; according to hoop-math, Michigan has a 63.1 eFG% in transition after a defensive rebound, a top-20 mark nationally. I'm more open to complaints about Michigan's previous possession, and even then, having the ball in Walton's hands as the shot clock winds down has generally been a good thing.

I'd like to get to more from this game, but I'm about to hop in my car and drive to Kalamazoo to scout 2017 commit Isaiah Livers. I'll have that video breakdown next week and the Nebraska preview—with updated BTT scenarios—either tomorrow or Saturday.



March 2nd, 2017 at 3:20 PM ^

Beilein can't call a timeout himself; a player has to do it.  I don't have an issue with no timeout there.  But I would have preferred #2 or #3.  Robinson was having a good shooting night and so was Irvin - when he ventured inside the arc.  An NBA three with 5 seconds left wasn't the shot for him.  He had plenty of time to pump-fake, drive and pull up for his preferred foul-line jumper.


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:00 PM ^

should have been on the baseline covering the inbound pass.

Very tall young man with very tall hair... Robinson is not tall enough or possesses the leaping capacity to obstruct the view of the inbounding player.


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:27 PM ^

and fell into the inbounder, been called for a Technical foul and given NW two shots and the ball.  While on the block with the free throws being shot, Teske would have tripped again and more than likely broke DJ Wilson's nose as his arms would have been flailing wildly while falling.


March 2nd, 2017 at 8:53 PM ^

to me is that uofm and northwestern are the two smartest schools in the big ten--- and both squads (and coaching staffs) didnt know it was a one-and-one foul shooting situation in the second half.... it eventually worked in our favor.... but


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:48 PM ^

I just noticed that.  Why in god's name would that be Donnal with the taller and longer Wagner on the bench?  Probably didn't matter, but not going with the better option (however marginally better) is curious.


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:45 PM ^

Okay, put Teske on the ball. All he has to do is stand there with his hands up high to make the pass as difficult as possible. 

Then I look over and see Wagner taking a seat on the bench. WTF? 

And there are other things I have issue with on this play, but it has already been hashed over enough.

tee wrecks

March 2nd, 2017 at 3:33 PM ^

Wilson was on the inbounder initially.  Michigan called the timeout and when they reset afterwards, they put Donnal on the inbounder rather than Wilson.  I guess you have to pick your poison:  do you want your bounciest guy on the inbounder or trying to nab the ball on the receiving end.


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:01 PM ^

I hate criticizing college kids. That said, if Beilein puts Moe or even Teske on the in-bounder, they have to change the trajectory of the pass because of the extra length of the defender. That, combined with a 2 minute stretch in the 2nd half when Donnal came in and Michigan promptly went -4 or -6 on the scoreboard, was detrimental to our chances.

But Beilein doesn't trust younger players not to screw up in critical situations.


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:03 PM ^

Is there a good reason not to try burn the clock to make sure we had the last shot?  I'm not being a dick, I'm really curious and basketball game theory isn't my strong suit.  

matty blue

March 2nd, 2017 at 3:14 PM ^

that's literally my only "problem" with the last 10 seconds, and even that's a stretch - sometimes you miss a shot, and the other guy makes his.  it happens.

you definitely would like to put up that last shot as the horn sounds, but you don't want to lose your agressiveness, either.  if you're a good shooter (and irvin is, this board notwithstanding) and the shot's there you take it, and i thought it was.


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:26 PM ^

Irvin's a good shooter inside the arc.  From 3, he's been very streaky the past two seasons (29.8% last year, 31.1% this year).

I'm not that upset with him for shooting there but it wasn't the best shot.  He had time to get a better one.




March 2nd, 2017 at 3:30 PM ^

People love to talk about all the success Beilein has had with "developing" players but completely ignore the fact he's ruined Zak Irvin. Irvin was a 5 star recruit and Indiana's Mr. Basketball out of HS. He shot 43% from 3 as a freshman and looked GOOD. Beilein tried to tinker with his shot and he's never been the same since. Yes he's had injuries but nothing that he hasn't been able to recover from. If he would have just let the kid and his funky release be like Steve Alford is doing with Lonzo Ball we have another 40% shooter on this team from behind the arc.


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:47 PM ^

Don't let facts get in the way of a good FIRE BEILEIN hot take.

Besides, it was probably John who hit Zak in the back with a barbell to cause the injury in the first place.  Or maybe John pushed Zak off a hi-lo.  Or dropped a medicine ball on his back.  Or hit him with Thor's hammer.  Point is, IT'S BEILEIN'S FAULT!!!!!


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:54 PM ^

Don't let facts get in the way of the fact that I mentioned his injury either. Doesn't change the fact that he's hardly missed anytime from it and his shooting stroke DID change after his freshman year at Beilein's behest.


March 2nd, 2017 at 4:10 PM ^

you have a link or source for this about Beilein changing Irvin's release? I would like to see it. Irvin played great at the beginning of the 2014 season and his shot looked identical to the year before. I recall him beginning to press when Levert went down and he was asked to become more of a ball handler and creator. I'm not trying to be a dick but I had not heard this before and am genuinely curious if it is at all substantiated. Why the hell would JB care what his shot "looked like?"


March 2nd, 2017 at 4:12 PM ^

Junior Zak Irvin's three-point shooting is at a career-low 17%. He was one of the better three-point shooters his first two seasons at 42% and 35%.

"If this is going to be the drama all year long, it's going to be the drama all year long," U-M coach John Beilein said today. "There are players out there that will go through shooting slumps. It happens during times. Is that because of they beginning of the year? Is it because of the injury? Something else? He's got to continue to be (solid). Good shot selection will help his percentages. As his percentages go up, our chances of winning goes up."

The injury Beilein referenced was Irvin's September back surgery, which delayed the start of his season. But Irvin has repeatedly said it is not affecting him.

Beilein wouldn't get specific about the physical tweaks they've made, so their focus is shifting to his approach.

"With every player, not just Zak, we try to help them, but everybody's different, anatomically their body's put together differently," he said. "Some wrists go out, some of them are not high flyers, some of them their balance is different. We're trying to find something that mentally he's comfortable with."…


March 2nd, 2017 at 8:28 PM ^

You also completely ignore the fact that maybe, just maybe, Irvin shot a ridiculous percentage his freshmen year because that was literally all he was asked to do:  Be the spot up shooter when other players broke down the defense.  It's much easier to shot those shots than it is when you need to be one of the shot creators.


March 2nd, 2017 at 6:42 PM ^

You do want to use to more clock, but more important than trying to make sure the opponent doesn't get the ball or that you might have a tiny chance at a put back, you have time to get a much better shot. It's tied.  You don't need a three.  He  just scored the last two baskets driving to the hole.  He absolutely should have driven it and he admitted as much in post game.

That said, if he hits it, game over.  If we don't knock it out of bounds, it's overtime.


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:09 PM ^

And the inbounder traveled.  He changed his pivot foot before he threw it.  Probably would never get that call, but it wouldn't be more obscure that the Walton violation that took two free throws from us.


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:22 PM ^

That's not the rule.  (It was posted earlier today on another thread).  The inbounds player is allowed to move backwards and up and down, including jumping and pivoting, provided he stays within a couple of feet of the area where the ball is handed to him.


March 2nd, 2017 at 8:32 PM ^

To go into more detail, an inbounder is given 3-ft in either direction laterally and infinitely many feet back from the line.  An inbounder can run around in circles so long as they stay within that space.  There's no such thing as travelling on an inbound.  


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:10 PM ^

It was the perfect storm for all of that to happen.  If Wagner doesn't challnege for a rebound, Pardon just grabs the ball and the clock runs out.  19 times out of 20 a ball off the rim gets rebounded by somebody.


Michigan played the siutation great on both ends, things just happen.  

Unfortunately, I'm more scared of Nebraska then NW.  Nebraska is way more dynamic as we've seen in wins against Purdue, Maryland, and 1 pt loss to Wisconsin.  LATEEEE Sunday night start on Senior night.  Not a recipe for success for a team that struggles on the road.