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:
Derrick Walton Jr. admitted outside the locker room that he and D.J. Wilson got mixed up on that mid-court screen on the buzzer-beater.
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) March 2, 2017
Wilson was totally lost on the play. He needed to bust his tail to get under the basket and defend the shot. Was kinda floating around. https://t.co/Pv3NraudQ6
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) March 2, 2017
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:
- Irvin takes an open three in rhythm
- Irvin swings it to Robinson for a less-open three
- Irvin drives to try to create a better look than the one he already has
- 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.