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 7:12 PM ^

Even if thy switched every screen, they had 2 guys, one of them our best shot blocker, within 5 feet of him when he shot it. As I said, that had to be an absolutely perfect full court pass and I will take that play every time in that game scenario


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:14 PM ^

was the move, IMO, immediately upon crossing half court. Our last three or four possessions had been disastrous hero ball. I think we needed something drawn up that would have got a look and left no time on the clock. OT from that position is perfectly acceptable. Losing that game in that scenario just can't happen. I know it is 20/20 hindsight, but one of your foremost concerns in that situation is to not give the ball back to NW. To me, that is a situation that Beilein needed to micromanage a little more than he did.


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:28 PM ^

Just watched it several times.  DJ wasn't floating around, he was guarding McIntosh exactly like Beilien wanted him to, and he broke towards Pardon as soon as he recognized the pass was going that direction.  Remember he's keeping one eye on McIntosh, and is at an angle that makes it hard to tell exactly where it's going right out of the guys hand.  So he broke as soon as could be reasonably expected.

The weird thing is that after making his break towards Pardon, he held up halfway there like a receiver not running under a deep ball.  That was his error.  Not sure if he was worried about fouling but he could have contested it better.  Bad play on his part.

I still completely disagree with the decision to play man and switch.  You WANT the team to throw it short and have a bomb. Why you'd risk a bad matchup to prevent the type of shot you want (keeping DJ out to spot McIntosh) is beyond me, and I'm sure Beilien is kicking himself in retrospect. A shorter pass and heave is less likely to be successful than a hail mary to your 6'8 center with a TEs catch radius against a 5'11 PG.  That pass has a much bigger margin for error than a 30 foot shot (which would still be contested).  Both plays are highly unlikely of course, but NW had a much better chance the way we played it.

You pack your four defenders in a zone inside the arc so you can keep your tall guys down low, force them to throw short and send your guards out while it's in the air to contest the long bomb.


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:32 PM ^

The switching is so bad. Voluntarily putting our shortest guy on their tallest guy makes less than no sense.

With no switching, worst case scenario is McIntosh gets a little separation on a dead sprint away from the rim. Instead, Pardon catches it over the top with a head of steam toward the cup.

Year of Revenge II

March 2nd, 2017 at 9:41 PM ^

Ummmm…I really have no words, but ignorance has never kept me from expounding endlessly in the past, so here goes.

You have written four concise, logical paragraphs on the last play.  I think it is almost humorous you felt the need to spell it out with such precision and specificity, as ten 12-year-olds playing a reffed, clocked game of five-on-five on a blacktop full court at the park would have defended this play properly assuming each team has one effective leader.

The team on offense would want to get a long pass as close to the hoop as possible trying to get a foul call or a two-foot shot if they were lucky enough to connect on the pass.  The team on defense would have put its tallest, and most athletic big men around the area of the hoop, with the two highest jumpers undeneath on each side of the hoop ready to contest the almost inevitable long pass, and two next highest out a little bit from there just ahead of the foul line. The fifth defender is a quick athlete who stands just past mid court hoping to intercept or knock away a pass in that range if one is attempted.

About the only thing crazier than the way we played to defend this last play is WE HAD THE BALL SIX SECONDS PRIOR TO THE PASS in the frontcourt, but felt the need not to call a timeout in favor of the jacking up a long three-pointer in order to catch the opposition unprepared.  

The only thing crazier than that instead of having a ball handler drive to the hoop for a short shot, foul or kickout is that SOMEBODY NEGGED THIS POST!!!



uncle leo

March 2nd, 2017 at 3:20 PM ^

Telling people to "chill" after this is silly. This was a horribly coached game from top to bottom that could cost this team in the long run if they can't pick up another win. And if they do, this may be the one that sets them on the 9 line, when they had an opportunity to get to a 7 or even a 6 seed with a good tourney run.


uncle leo

March 2nd, 2017 at 7:53 PM ^

Just get annoyed when people tell other people how to feel. 

It's a, "Don't be mad, this team is still good and will make the tournament" comment. When in fact, the expectations are so low we shouldn't be allowed to be upset if they fall short in games they clearly can win.


March 2nd, 2017 at 3:34 PM ^

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.

If only the season were 6 games long and Michigan could play all of its games at home. It doesn't matter how good the offense is when Michigan has the 304th FG% defense out of 350 teams in the country. As long as Beilein is the coach Michigan will continue to lose double digit games every year because he recruits like he's at a mid major and his teams don't play even average defense. That's why unless he has historically great offenses that can mask those deficiencies like he did in 2013 and 2014, you are seeing another season right around the bubble that's been the norm now 7 out of his 10 years here.

Michigan returned all 5 starters from last year and didn't improve their B1G record of 10-8 at all. Beilein is now 8-22 in road games the last three years. For $3.37 million a year that's not cutting it.


March 2nd, 2017 at 4:06 PM ^

Context is important. From Alex's blog earlier this week:

Offense at the top of college basketball has improved in recent years. Each team in the top ten of Adjusted Offensive Efficiency has a mark greater than 120 – back in 2013, Michigan’s Final Four season, the Wolverines were the only team in the country over 120. As recently as 2010, the best offense in the country was national champion Duke’s 117.0. That number would rank 30th in the country in 2017. Recent rule changes are surely a big reason for the general improvement offensively, and the increased pace of play has helped make college hoops more appealing.


March 3rd, 2017 at 8:00 AM ^

Actually, I do think the last 8 games or so are more likely to be what we will see in the future, rather than what happened before:

- Beilein hired a defensive guru as an assistant prior to this season.  He did so because what passed for his defensive schemes were every bit as ugly as you suggest.  In the early season we saw some issues that could be consistent with the players learning a new system.  The D has been world's better since the first Wisconsin game; it's long enough to be a trend.  Even in the Northwestern game, the D was solid up until the fiasco in the last two seconds.

- MAAR and Robinson have improved substantially as defensive players, and Moe has simply blossomed in all areas, including defense.

- Next year, we will have far more talented bigs than we've had in a while.  This can only help in terms of rebounding and shot blocking.

- This is fhe first year since playing in the National Finals Game that the injury bug hasn't taken a major bite out of Michigan.  Regression to the mean (and having your starters available) is our friend.

Consistency does remain an issue, which is kind of a feature not a bug in Beilein's system.  But, I can live with a team that on any given night can beat Kentucky or lose to Rutgers.  After the first Wisconsin game I said that if the team keeps playing defense like this, I'm off the the Fire Beilein Bandwagon, regardless of whether they make the NCAA Tournament.  They have, and I am.

Yinka Double Dare

March 2nd, 2017 at 3:38 PM ^

I have no problem with the theory on how they defended the last play (other than Donnal and not one of the even longer guys on the inbounder), and Irvin's shot was a decent look. The shitty play was whatever the hell our possession before that one was. We got bailed out because Northwestern did the same damn idiotic thing with their possession (dick around with the ball for 15-20 seconds, point guard then dribbles around and ends up taking extremely contested difficult shot)


March 2nd, 2017 at 4:36 PM ^

1. We lost by two, not by one but hey, details and all that.

2. The whole "if the pass flies another six inches" point is funny. If ifs and buts were candy and sluts, we'd all be fucked (and have candy). 

3. You fucking chill. Hopefully with candy and Candy.


March 2nd, 2017 at 7:00 PM ^

They were out of position because Beilein had called them all over to the bench.  Although that's fairly standard for a two-shot foul, it's unusual -- but not unprecedented -- for a 1-and-1.  (IIRC, Michigan did the same thing against Rutgers a couple of years ago, and the Rutgers players were so confused they managed to toss the ball out of bounds).

The violation occurred due to the confusion.  Wagner signaled to the bench, saying, essentially, "hey, it's a 1-and-1 -- want to put somebody in place to rebound?" He was then given the ball, at which point it was too late to get anyone into position.  Walton responded to Wagner a little too late, crossed the three-point arc, and then immediately jumped back.

Once the shooter has the ball, all other players who are not on the lane must be behind the free-throw line extended and also behind the three-point arc.  It was an easy call, and, unfortunately, the correct one.


March 2nd, 2017 at 10:49 PM ^

Correct call or not, that seemed like one the refs can let go. If it's in AA, maybe they do. It's not like he's in the lane fighting for position early. The refs were part of the problem for 1) causing confusion a few times whether it was 1 and 1 or 2 shots. 2) most refs give some kind of verbal or visual "All set?" before putting the ball in play. They did not.

That said, no guarantee Mo makes the first, but frustrating to take his chance away.


March 2nd, 2017 at 6:11 PM ^

Don't care about crazy 4-sigma last shot black swan events.

What concerns me is the bad getting worse free throw shooting.

You have to make free throws to win tourney games.

Rutgers and NW are not close games if we make free throws like we should.


March 2nd, 2017 at 6:50 PM ^

12-12 last game.  We were 11-17 this game which isn't horrible. 23-29 in the last two games is 79 percent - better than our 13th-best-in-the-country season average.

We aren't going to make all of our FTs every game.  This is not something to be concerned about.


March 2nd, 2017 at 6:42 PM ^

5 points in the last 5:56,including missed FT's,a FT lane violation (why no Mich players along the lane? Why was Wagner on the bench so long in the first half?He only had 1 foul.....Time out or no time out? If you get ball with 5 or less seconds you need a time out,otherwise just go with it.You usually get a better look in those instances because the defense is in more of a scramble mode.


March 2nd, 2017 at 6:56 PM ^

Wagner & Walton missed late FT's...The 12-12 was at Home.I believe we were 9-18 @ MInnesota.It's a matter of whether the team can perform in crunch time of a close game,so far they haven't.The wins have been the get a big lead and hang on types.

Year of Revenge II

March 2nd, 2017 at 9:39 PM ^

I b chillin, as evidently our basketball goal is to make the NCAA tournament, the very definition of a yuge VICTORY, and we are still in good shape to achieve our goal.  

We are able to have a football coach who cannot figure out how to use headphones, is not fully aware of a quarterback having a potential concussion when he is sledge-hammered on the head, and lets the team be controlled by a egomaniacal athletic administrator whose biggest claim to fame was that he rode the end of the bench in college, and was able to cut spreadsheet costs at already multi-billion dollar pizza business whose pies taste like cardboard. Scads of M fans defended this coach as a "good guy", which he is; however, that was not the job.

Now you're telling me I should chill when the basketball coach cannot get his players lined up properly for a free throw attempt, and has no clue whatsoever how to defend a basketball Hail Mary, much less field a team who can play defense, or figure out how to get a ball inbounds.  I don't think so.  

What in the good Christ is going on here?  Give the guy a warm thanks for bringing us back from the dead, a financial package, and a gold watch.  It has gotten beyond comical, and not just because we lost one game.

On the good side, Irvin is now playing like he has something resembling a head above his neck.  Great overall game from him, until it came time to decide the game and he jacks up a needless three when the play is either to drive to the hoop yourself, or get it to someone who can.  I like Beilein, but he has got to go if you want to compete to be the best.  

And they are not firing him, so forget about it.  He needs to realize it himself or else we have Bobby Bowden and a decade long decline into basketball senility and irrelevance.

But at least we'll make the tourney some years.  Yeeeesh!



March 2nd, 2017 at 10:33 PM ^

I feel bad for the Michigan basketball fans who actually have expectations for this program beyond the NCAA tounrament participation ribbon and get shouted down constantly by the 18-20 years olds on this board and only know of the Amaker and Ellerbe years.

John Beilein runs a good offense. That advantage is negated by his poor recruiting, worse defense, and the fact that too many times over the last decade we are playing 4 on 5 because we don't have a competent center and continually get out toughed everywhere on the court.

Michigan investing over 100 million into their basketball facilities was the biggest waste of money when you look at the returns since. I hope people are excited for the 38th ranked recruiting class we have coming in next year!


March 2nd, 2017 at 10:39 PM ^

It's frustrating to watch the bubble this time of year. The minute you lose a game people are dropping you down and projecting how you miss the tournament. Talking heads live to create drama.

I thought we played pretty well yesterday but still need to learn to win a tough, close game. This is still a flawed team. Getting to the tourney and winning one game would be a decent accomplishment.


March 2nd, 2017 at 11:01 PM ^

Worst part of last night was that Mo missed that dunk after eviscerating a dude in the 1st half. Not only would that have been a huge highlight, but he probably plays better and we win comfortably.


March 3rd, 2017 at 12:06 PM ^

For those of you looking for someone to blame for Northwestern's unlikely finish, look no further than Drew Dileo and Brendan Gibbons. 

This was just a matter of the universe evening things well as another example disputing the theory that M has had a disproportionate number of miracle finishes go against them.

Start at 4:50...