Feel free to shoot me for the headline.
2/6/2011 – Michigan 65, Penn State 62 – 14-10, 4-7 Big Ten
Michigan played well for about ten minutes yesterday but in those ten minutes they poured in three pointers from all over, drove to the basket with abandon, and twice turned double-digit Penn State leads into deficits. Since Darius Morris kept Michigan in contact during the other thirty and six of the ten minutes came at the end of the game that meant Michigan won.
That isn't a small feat. Penn State spent the past month cannibalizing seeds across the Big Ten by defending their home court. They beat Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan State at the Bryce-Jordan Center. On the road they were this close to enormous upsets of Ohio State (L 69-66) and Purdue (L 63-62). In a not-very-alternate universe they were cruising towards a tourney bid even if they did get crushed by Maine.
So that was a good, weird win. If you want it in a chart (chart):
The point on the graph where it drops like a stone until the end should be labeled "Hardaway kill switch engaged." Down ten and aimless with nine minutes left is when the fan packs it in and starts grumbling. In this game it's also when Tim Hardaway goes from Freshman Liability, Jr., to Just Tim Hardaway, Thanks.
In the two minutes of video above a possible future of Michigan basketball reveals itself. When UMHoops describes the Hardaway sequence above as a "coming of age" Dylan's talking about Hardaway himself, but it could be one for the team as a whole. Those things don't seem that different right now.
Everyone comes back next year, so the various bits of basketball that depend on cohesion (rotation on D, cuts and passing on O, etc.) should improve. Everyone should get incrementally better, which gets you an increment. Michigan's hopes to go from an NIT hopeful to a solid NCAA team rely on at least one guy getting so much better that twitter threatens to kill Tim Doyle again, and the erratic freshman leading Michigan in shots is the obvious candidate.
In the clips above it's not the three-pointers that set hopes to tingle. We've seen Hardaway shoot a ton of threes this year and while he's adding a couple points of shooting percentage to them is encouraging, Michigan has plenty of guys who can take shots from outside the arc. It's the two different drives to the hoop where he glides into the lane and elevates to finish. Yes, you are 6'5". Yes, you are Tim Hardaway's son. Yes, you can turn into the kind of player who's an all-around nightmare. Yes, please, by next year.
This year we expected and got that graph above, struggles punctuated by tantalizing flashes. So far we've gotten slightly more of the latter than we were banking on. Maintain that, reach the NIT, and get one guy—one guy—to make a Morris-like leap and next year Beilein's program can establish itself for real.
Let's get ahead of ourselves bullets
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. File this under general fan overreaction as well:
After PSU Win, Can U-M Make a Tourney Run?
That's The Wolverine Blog laying out Michigan's stretch run and saying "well?" Said run, home games in bold:
Feb. 9 — vs. Northwestern — 14-8 overall (4-7 Big Ten, 3-4 road), No. 53 Sagarin, No. 76 RPI
Feb. 12 — vs. Indiana — 12-12 overall (3-8 Big Ten, 0-7 road), No. 89 Sagarin, No. 148 RPI
Feb. 16 — at Illinois — 15-8 overall (5-5 Big Ten, 11-1 home), No. 27 Sagarin, No. 37 RPI
Feb. 19 — at Iowa — 10-13 overall (3-8 Big Ten, 7-5 home), No. 103 Sagarin, No. 130 RPI
Feb. 23 — vs. Wisconsin — 17-5 overall (7-3 Big Ten, 2-4 road), No. 14 Sagarin, No. 20 RPI
Feb. 26 — at Minnesota — 16-7 overall (5-6 Big Ten, 11-2 home), No. 32 Sagarin, No. 24 RPI
Mar. 5 — vs. Michigan State — 13-10 overall (5-6 Big Ten, 3-6 road), No. 43 Sagarin, No. 49 RPI
Opposite the hockey devil sitting on my shoulder there's a basketball angel screaming "THIS IS TOTALLY DOABLE." There are four games on the schedule (the home games that aren't Wisconsin and @ Iowa) that look like should-wins, which gets Michigan to eight wins, and then if you squint real hard you can see Michigan picking off one of the others to get to 9-9 in the nation's toughest conference. That plus 19-12 overall could get into the new, pointlessly larger field.
There's a problem with the mind's definition of "should," though. Accrording to Kenpom Michigan's easiest game left is against Indiana. Michigan has a 69% shot to win that. Even if Kenpom is wildly pessimistic and Michigan has a 70% shot at all four of its "should-wins" that means they have just a 24% shot to win all four, and even then they'd have to pick off one of the other three, and in reality Kenpom has Michigan a slight underdog @ Iowa. Add it all up and a pretty accurate mathematical model says Michigan has a 10% chance to get to 9-9. Not so good.
Michigan really needed to pull out that Kansas game or the Ohio State game that immediately followed. Even without making the small positive adjustment in expectations that would give them a 35% chance to finish 9-9 or better and a marquee win to thrill the committee with. And at that point 8-10 might be feasible since they'd still be 19-12 overall in that scenario. If that was in play they'd have a 60-70% shot at the tourney.
As it stands they'll have to play perfectly to make it, and with all these freshmen the chances of that are slim. If I had to guess it'd say 17 or 18 wins and an NIT bid, which would be fine by me.
More evidence about the getting ahead of yourself. Michigan's still tenth in the league in efficiency margin, though said margins aren't huge and Michigan's finishing stretch is probably easier than average:
W-L Pace PPP Opp. PPP EM
1. Wisconsin 7-3 56.1 1.19 1.03 +0.16
2. Ohio St. 11-0 63.0 1.14 1.00 +0.14
3. Purdue 7-3 64.0 1.14 1.04 +0.10
4. Illinois 5-5 62.7 1.10 1.03 +0.07
5. Penn St. 5-6 58.6 1.07 1.09 -0.02
6. Minnesota 5-6 61.7 1.07 1.10 -0.03
7. Northwestern 4-7 63.2 1.08 1.14 -0.06
8. Indiana 3-8 63.0 1.06 1.13 -0.07
9. Michigan St. 5-6 61.6 1.03 1.10 -0.07
10. Michigan 4-7 59.7 1.07 1.15 -0.08
11. Iowa 3-8 65.9 1.00 1.11 -0.11
AVG. 61.8 1.09
Big Ten Wonk (aka John Gasaway) dubs this "The Year Nobody Sucked" because the league's worst team is way better than LSU or DePaul or Wake Forest, all of whom are just getting hammered. So… on paper we're filing three teams with better conference efficiency margins as should-wins when we're constructing our tourney fantasies.
Also of note in the above numbers: Michigan's defense is the worst in the league. It's close; the number is still the number. This isn't hugely surprising given the fleet of underclassmen and Zach Novak's persistent inability to escape the 4, but it's a comedown from earlier in the season when the Michigan D was shockingly proficient. I think we've got an obvious route for Michigan's offense to improve, but the defense is murkier. Michigan needs Smotrycz and Hardaway to get a lot better, I think, but without numbers that's just one guy's opinion.
Very aggressive. Earlier in the year I mentioned that Morris should have more of a nose for the basket when Michigan ran the shot clock under ten and in this game he went nuts with an array of floaters in the lane, layups he'd fought for tooth and nail, and various other shots where the viewer was like "bad idea bad idea bad idea actually that looks like he got a decent shot off it went in yay."
Part of this was Penn State adopting OSU's defensive approach—stick to the shooters and force shots from the lane. It worked for OSU because they have athletic shotblockers in the post and Michigan missed a lot of short-range shots. Penn State just gave up a lot of points in the lane.
Torrent. The rest of UMHoops' five key plays. Game recap. AnnArbor.com scouts Trey Burke against Brookhaven; UMHoops catches him going for 35 in a narrow loss to St. Edward. Mets Maize also chips in recap bits. Since I neglected to mention him:
Just when I thought you couldn't possibly be any dumber, Stu Douglass, you go and do something like this... and totally redeem yourself! Consitent with Michigan's inconsistent season, Stu, who probably had his worst game of the year against Ohio State a few days ago, had his best game yet: 14 points, including 4/5 from behind the arc, 4 boards and 3 assists off the bench. I still think Stu needs to have more shot clock awareness at the 1, but he made timely 3's all game. One 3 came mid-way through the 2nd half to cut Penn States's lead from 10 to 7 when Michigan JUST started to look as if they were ready to give up. STUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.
MGoUser 2012 also assesses Michigan's chances at a tourney bid and comes to the same conclusion—wait 'til next year.