Death From Above!

Submitted by Brian on March 5th, 2014 at 12:22 PM

3/4/2014 – Michigan 84, Illinois 53 – 22-7, 14-3 Big Ten – Outright champs


Good. In your face, Nanna Egwu. Good. [Bryan Fuller]

Before Ace took over full-time basketball preview duties, I wrote many of them. I eschewed "preview" to call these posts "Death From Above," because I thought it sounded cool. I fielded regular questions as to what the hell that meant.

If you want the deep background, "death from above" was a maneuver you could execute in walking-robot-wargame Battletech wherein your giant man-shaped robot would take off and attempt to land on the head of an opposing giant man-shaped robot. The goal was to crush the cockpit and pilot, rendering the exoskeleton inert, dripping ominous fluids.

I can only assume that all has been made clear after Michigan's high-arcing deep shots proved laser-guided at Illinois. John Beilein basketball is death from above.

Assembly Hall (not that Assembly Hall) drips today.


The three pointer has always been the great leveler in college basketball. Poke a random NCAA tourney upset and you're likely to find a bunch of short guys firing in threes as the favorite struggles outside the arc.

John Beilein came of age as a coach in a milieu of random players barely recruited. He found success by taking spare parts and arranging them into a machine that rained in threes. This was generally effective but not as much as legend would have it. Beilein won regular season conference championships twice in ten years at Richmond and Canisius, and finished third in the gargantuan Big East in 2005-2006. His reputation rested on an upset of South Carolina as a 14-seed with Richmond and the Pittsnogle-era WVU team's runs into the Elite Eight and Sweet 16.

But he'd lifted teams without structural advantage. He made every team he'd had competitive after a one-year adjustment period, though, and that seemed like gold to a Michigan fan. At the time the prospect of a consistently .500 Big Ten team with the occasional third-place finish followed  by tourney upsets seemed like heaven. I was stridently in favor of Beilein's hire because I thought he'd turn Michigan into the kind of program that pushes Duke to the brink in the second round.

In that post I asserted that 21-14, 9-9 Michigan would be a one seed in an "exceeded expectations" tournament. I also asserted this:

I've been searching for a Michigan equivalent and in my memory can only come up with the '97 national title team. Unless there was a basketball team that outdid this year's—unlikely—I think you have to go back to 1969 to pull another team that so wildly exceeded what was expected of them.

To find a team with as good a claim to exceeding expectations as this 14-3 outright-Big-Ten-champs outfit that lost Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Mitch McGary you have to go back… uh… one year, when Trey Burke blew up into a Naismith winner and Michigan reached the national title game. The next potential candidate makes you reach back all the way to a team that shared a Big Ten title with Zack Novak at power forward… two years ago.

This is all very strange, not only to us, but to the guy who assembled this unlikely powerhouse.

The warmness inside you right now is thanks to the arc on the court that separates two from three.


The great leveler levels because threes are great shots, amongst the best shots. Beilein structured his entire basketball career around that intuition, constructing small-ball outfits everywhere he's gone. Sometimes he had four shooters; sometimes he had five. One guy probed inside as the other four created space around the arc, giving everyone space and time to find shots at the rim.

While the mechanism has shifted as Michigan acquires ball-screen maestro after ball-screen maestro, the overall pattern remains the same. The bigs shoot 70% because the opponent can't let Michigan get threes off. The threes come when they come and go in at a high clip, and something Beilein is in charge of floats higher than they have been in a long time.

It's only right that at the pinnacle of Beilein's regular season career the threes would rain in at will. Dan Dakich keeps saying "the ball knows." While this is normally irritating to your engineering-oriented author, as Michigan rained in death from above yesterday it did feel a little like the three point line sought to repay him for the long years of faith and devotion.


Well, then. There is very little to say about that game except "please Stauskas don't hurt 'em (except do)." Michigan shot 70% from three, goodnight, analysis over.

Other than the swelling three-point percentages from Michigan's shooters the main takeaway here was that Spike needs to take care of the ball better in the late stages of laughers when he is pursuing a double-digit A:TO ratio across the Big Ten season.

[Speaking of Spike, and since there's not really much to talk about game-wise, remember this site's obsession with NC State hobbit PG Tyler Lewis last year? Lewis was a McDonalds All-American despite being the same stature as Albrecht, and then he proceeded to do very little.

Lewis vs Spike, year two:

%Min ORtg %Poss eFG% ARate TORate Stl% FTRate FT% 2P% 3P%
Lewis 47.7 103.2 17 37.7 31.4 16.7 0.7 29.2 0.763 0.43 0.196
Albrecht 39.3 128.2 13.5 55.1 25.4 13.2 2.1 24.1 0.737 0.462 0.396

Lewis is stuck on a team that doesn't assist on many shots, stats are not the be all and end all, etc., but there's not much question who you'd rather have on your team. Hail this staff's talent identification. This has been Brian's Ongoing Obsession With Random College Basketball Players theater.

There will be no Nnanna Egwu section this time since he's pulled his DREB rate into the solid double-digits.]

But seriously. Strugging to say much of anything… oh, okay.

Jon Horford is really into Camus. There is just a shower of post-title photos featuring members of the team smiling an Jon Horford being Jon Horford, and thinking about things and stuff, deep things and hard stuff.


[Bryan Fuller]

Not even a locker room shot can rouse the corners of Horford's mouth from their slumber:


That's not his postgame photo role, and that's why having Andrew Dakich around is crucial.



Like father, like son.


If I make a joke here I will get a nasty tweet from the man himself [Bryan Fuller]

Non-trivial Horford business. One game ago, Horford got a quick hook in the second half after Mo Walker went to work on him. In this outing, Morgan hurt his back trying to take a charge and was limited to seven minutes. Horford stepped in and picked up ten rebounds; Illinois was limited to five offensive rebounds. On the year, Horford's DREB rate is a McGary-like 26.1.

It's nice to see him bounce back. There have been a number of games this year when one center or the other was having a rough day until the other guy stepped in. Having that flexibility is a big help; hopefully the Morgan withdrawal was a precautionary measure only.

If push comes to shove the obvious move is to try to get through the last few games without him. The only thing at stake now is a two or three seed line.

Speaking of. Expect Michigan to PLAY SOME WEIRD GUYS in the Big Ten tourney. Beilein has always run out some WTF lineups when faced with the possibility of three games in three days, and with Morgan questionable, Max Bielfeldt may be called on for double-digit minutes. Having a 6'6" center is not conducive to winning the Big Ten tourney title, but I don't think Beilein cares one whit about that.

Nobody seems to. A lot of fanbases openly pine for a second-game exit so as to not have three consecutive games before a potential Thursday/Saturday NCAA tournament weekend. They should really just dump the thing and play a couple more conference games, but I don't think the NCAA would let that fly.

Defense? Illinois is a very bad offensive team (206th on Kenpom) but they got worse after Michigan dealt with them. After 1 PPP in the first half, Illinois couldn't do much of anything in the second. That marks consecutive opponents held under a point per possession. This is not exactly the Goin' To Work Pistons yet, but Michigan doesn't have to make a ton of progress in the D department to look like an (even more) dangerous tournament opponent.

No idea exactly why this improvement is going on. If they can maintain that through the next few games that would be encouraging.

Seed lines. Michigan is still stuck on the three-line with little upward mobility unless they can leapfrog the top ACC teams (Syracuse, Duke, Virginia) or pass Wisconsin by winning the Big Ten Title. Jerry Palm did pump Michigan over Duke given Duke's extremely weak road accomplishments and Syracuse is in a full-on tailspin after losing to Georgia Tech at home. (I told you about Syracuse.) If the Orange lose their season-ender against Florida State, a game that Kenpom predicts will be a nailbiter, they could drop to the three line and open up a slot for Michigan as a two. Virginia will provide competition there.

Not that it matters much this year, as one of the most wide-open tournaments in memory beckons.


Glennwatch. Did some good things—couple steals, good work from within the arc, a three. Drove to the bucket for a basket, too. His steal lead to a fast break on which Tracy Abrams got a contest in that by all rights should have forced a layup attempt. NOPE. Dunk metropolis.

Afterwards Abrams looked like he'd seen the Ark of the Covenant.


ENHANCE [Bryan Fuller]

One negative thing: he's got to stop bringing the ball up when he gets a rebound. His handle is very vulnerable to open-court steals and he doesn't initiate much transition offense.

Also, he took a contested three-point jack. That is vaguely acceptable if you are Nik Stauskas who rains death from above. When you're at 27% on the year, don't take that shot. Taking open ones, okay. Those are still decent to good shots even for a guy locked in a sophomore slump as bad as Tim Hardaway Jr's. That hand-in-the-face stuff not so much.

Still, we can add this to the recent string of encouraging GRIII performances after 13 points on 10 shot equivalents.

Just when you thought he was bottled up. Stauskas is 12 of 17 from three in his last two games, pushing his season average to 46%. One of them was a contested jack in front of 6'11" Nnanna Egwu. Another was from the parking lot right before the half. Good lord.

This is why Michigan should not settle for long twos early in the shot clock, because at any time they can get a switch and have a guy take a pretty decent three point look.

The climb. Remember early in the year when people were projecting Wisconsin would walk away with the title because of schedule imbalance? Well, Michigan's single plays were Northwestern, Penn State, Illinois, and Ohio State. The only team not in the vicinity of the bottom of the Big Ten standings is OSU, and Michigan only got a road game against them. This is the opposite of a fluke.



March 5th, 2014 at 3:01 PM ^

MCLordOfTheRings was released first, unless you're referring to the books, in which case both have been available for decades.

Besides, MCHobbit stole his riff from Rick Sackville-James.

/ oh I'm so going to get neg-banged for this one

// I regret nothing


March 5th, 2014 at 12:41 PM ^

Easier to say we should get rid of the BTT now. I remember a few years where it was the only hope we had in March. A dagger from Evan Turner in 2010 is the first thing that comes to my mind.


March 5th, 2014 at 12:42 PM ^

that cuse's loss dropped them to the 3 line in lunardi's mind, lunardi disclaimers not withstanding.

seems to me that as long as michigan makes the B1G final, the only thing keeping them from jumping to the 2 line would be duke and Virginia meeting for the acc title.


March 5th, 2014 at 12:45 PM ^

Ivy League goes without a conference tournament. Auto-bid goes to regular season winner.

My guess is the B1G tournament makes a large lump of cash, so that's why they wouldn't want to get rid of it.


March 5th, 2014 at 1:00 PM ^

The Pac-10/12 has gone stretches without a conference tournament as well.  There shouldn't be any NCAA objection to dropping the BTT.  It's up to the league.

Personally, I definitely want to drop it so we can add at least two more games to the league schedule.  This business of playing five teams twice and eight once is going to make a lot of people unhappy, whether it's due to a competitive disadvantage or a lousy home schedule.


March 5th, 2014 at 1:14 PM ^

The NCAA is more concerned about maximum number of games.  I think there's an argument to add one game, on the basis that every Big Ten team will play at least one conference tournament game each year.

The Big Ten, and Big Ten Network, would object to elimination of the tournament based on television.  My guess is Chicago/Indianapolis might have an issue, too.


March 5th, 2014 at 12:47 PM ^

I remember Beilein's first few teams here being among the worst 3-point shooting teams in the conference, and it was so frustrating because our offense would generate such good looks. "When are all the shooters we're recruiting going to start hitting their shots?" we wondered.  Well, we have our answer, and it is glorious.



March 5th, 2014 at 12:49 PM ^

One of the more enjoyable regular season games I can remember - everything worked in perfect rhythm.

Maybe, just maybe, this will quiet the "yeah, but" crowd concerning Beilein.  For far too long they have cited the maxim that Michigan gets lucky because they rely on the three pointer - which allegedly makes them too vulnerable.  They refuse to acknowledge that Beilein recruits solid shooters, and finds ways to get them open to the point where there is no luck involved.  In fact, I would argue that when Michigan has an offnight shooting, it's luck for the other team.

Go Blue!  Big Ten Champs!


March 5th, 2014 at 12:52 PM ^

I think the only issue with going to more conference games (from NCAA rules) is that the teams would have to agree to play that many less non-conference games. If the Big Ten wanted to, they could just award their autobid to the regualr season champion and eschew the conference tournament (like the Ivy League does).

As far as the game itself, that was just an on night and Illinois has no chance. I feel as if the defense improvement is encouraging and add the Minnesota game as an additional example. We had our usual slow offensive start there, but unlike any of the other games, we didn't give up 3-4 three pointers to put us down double digits. I think playing solid defense in the beginning of games is going to be the key to how far we go in March. 

Blue and Joe

March 5th, 2014 at 12:57 PM ^

Just astounding. To lose two players to the NBA and one to injury, plus have to play one of the strongest shedules in the conference, and still do this is honestly mind blowing. John Beilein deserves to be coach of the year for the entire country

Maison Bleue

March 5th, 2014 at 12:58 PM ^

Michigan is still stuck on the three-line with little upward mobility unless they can leapfrog the top ACC teams (Syracuse, Duke, Virginia)

I have a real hard time buying in to the Virginia hype. They only had to play Syracuse, Duke and UNC once each in conference. Beating Syracuse and UNC at home and losing to Duke on the road. Their Non-Conference is pretty week too, other than a win over SMU on a nuetral floor.

I mean, I get that you have to be pretty damn good team to go 26-5, 17-11 in the ACC, but they seem like a team ripe for upset IMO. Although KenPom has them ranked #2 so I'm probably just an idiot.


March 5th, 2014 at 2:00 PM ^

Yes.  Yes you are.  Go to the corner and feel shame.

Joking.  Only wish to point out that schedule imbalance could be considered a factor IMO if the UVA lead on Duke et al. were a game or so.  Instead it's at least three on all of them.  There's something to be said for taking care of business where the other teams could not.

The weak nonconference performance will keep UVA out of a 1 seed and is keeping them out of a 2 seed right now.  I don't think it'll stop a 2 seed form happening if they win the ACCT.

And the way they play defense makes me far more confident of avoiding any first-week upsets.

matty blue

March 5th, 2014 at 1:24 PM ^

...i'm more excited about this year's BTT than i've ever been.  the prospect of an outright regular-season AND tournament title?  that's some top-level "dream season"-ing, right there.


March 5th, 2014 at 1:24 PM ^

Love that last paragraph.  No flukes here.  One thing about this team that has sort of just blended into the background of the SUPER SURPRISE OVERACHIEVE SUCCESS! hype train (which I am happily on board,) is that we've done outstanding on the road.  We won at UW, MSU, OSU, and Minny.  We launched our title campaign with a three game stretch in which we had to beat the Badgers, Hawkeyes, and Spartans in consecutive games, with two of those away from Crisler.  Look around at some of the other top 25ish teams, and you'll see a handful that have won seven, eight, nine conference home games but have middling road records.  There are some very good teams out there that have yet to really beat anyone of consequence outside of their own arena.  Not so for us.


We've had a tough road through the Big 10, having to play every team in the top half of the conference aside from OSU twice, and having to face every good home team on their floor.  Oh, and we had to do all of that with four starters and a couple more key subs that are all either sophomores or freshmen.  That is very rare, even at the recruiting factory programs.  Virtually any team that wins a power conference is going to feature multiple guys with three or four years of experience.  It is really hard not to be shocked by this level of success if you look around the country at teams that are similarly young, similarly hit by a big injury to a premier player, and playing a similarly tough schedule.  Take a look at this season, flip to past seasons, see how many you can pick out.  Good luck!

Ghost of BCook…

March 5th, 2014 at 1:27 PM ^

There is so much enjoyment in watching Michigan's basketball  due to the percieved lower expectations.  As a fanbase, (most of us) were able to live with the bad seasons at the beginning of Coach Beilein's tenure and even now, after three great years in a row, the feeling that we are playing with house money still pervades.  If Michigan loses in the first weekend of the tourney, will anyone truly be angry or will they still remember this as an amazing season?  The weight of the world isn't on these guys, and it shows in the fun that they have out there. 

Conversely, the expectations of Michigan Football are annually so high that even the slightest sign of an early crack puts the weight of the world on the staff and players.   You see it in their faces and the tentative play. The '13 season was psychologically lost after the nailbiter against Akron - fans questioned Hoke, Borges, Mattison, the offensive line, virtually everything, despite throttling Notre Dame the previous week.  It snowballed, and the confidence and swagger was never regained.  Borges was fired.  Many thought Hoke should have been as well. 

The loss to Charlotte in Puerto Rico and the 6-4 start could have had that same effect on the basketball team if it were under the same intense scrutiny, but they were allowed to work it out and improve outside of the microscope, and look how it has turned out. 

Would be nice to see our fan base understand that improvement takes time and give everyone an equal chance at success. 


March 5th, 2014 at 1:35 PM ^

To beat a dead horse, it is interesting how expectations affect job status.  Beilein had a losing record in his third year, and didn't really have that good of a team until his 5th year, and yet Rodriguez got axed after 3.  I still wonder sometimes how things may have turned out if Rodriguez had gotten 5 years, and if his comparisons to Beilein would have remained valid.


March 5th, 2014 at 1:46 PM ^

I think the BTT helps the conference get a team or two into/higher in the tourney each year, and only a couple of years ago it was definitely helpful in getting UM a bid when they beat Minnesota (I believe).  That said, I'm fine with the team losing in the secong game; they aren't going anywhere in terms of seeding and I'd hate to see an injury.  Of course, if they can get to the final without playing their starters forever, then by all means go for it.

As for the road to the conference title, it is probably the most satisfying because they didn't win it because of a scheduling quirk; they split or beat outright every one of the main competitors, and did so usually pretty convincingly.  All banners are great, but this one was earned to the nth degree.


March 5th, 2014 at 4:34 PM ^

Brian do you think Glenn was "shsshhhh-ing" you last night when he shhhh'd the crowd?!  (Like, an Adam Woodbury type thing he did against us to hush the Iowa faithful that didn't think he could dunk).

I've no doubt it was to the Illini fans but upon seeing GRIII do it it reminded me of said Woodbury incident and I find it funny to have him shhh-ing you/the blog (even though you guys' are right about his slumping and overall play this year).


March 5th, 2014 at 1:52 PM ^

Belien's system doesn't leave any room for flukes.  It's smart basketball that never needs to force a shot, it's something to behold. The talent keeps coming and this thing of ours isn't going away.  On another note, how about Spike's back to back TO's? Almost doubling his in-conference TO's in 30 seconds, which means he has 5 total. Freaking 5.


March 5th, 2014 at 2:55 PM ^

Wisky always gets favorable schedule, its been obvious for a very long time now. In football they get out of playing us quite a bit. Does the B1G commish have a home in Wisconsin? I do know the B1G hates UM they always seem to "get unlucky" people would say when scheduling would come out. We play back to back games at MSU in football since when? I am sure the B1G is hard at work right now at getting a favorable schedule ready for UM with their games away at Wisky when we resume football with them. I Am Pissed off and I am not gonna take it anymore. Go Blue!!!


March 5th, 2014 at 3:04 PM ^

I remember from Stauskas's The Journey clip that Coach Bacari was giving him crap about having not made 7 3-pointers in a game yet.  Guess Stauskas can give Coach a little flack now.  Let's hope he beats that number again in the tourney!


March 6th, 2014 at 10:59 AM ^

If I were Nik, this is the one I would be signing when coming back to the MDen.  On my phone it's a bit darker than my flat screen, and it looks phenomenal.  Kudos Mr. Fuller