A Face Of Granite, A Heart Of Wood, And A Chance Comment Count

Brian February 20th, 2012 at 11:48 AM

2/19/2012 – Michigan 56, Ohio State 51 – 20-7, 10-4 Big Ten


Eric Upchurch

There will never be a "Trey Burke photo spectacularrr" tag on this blog, and that's the way Michigan likes it. There are under ten seconds on the shot clock against the top defense in the country, and Trey Burke is wearing an expression of nonchalant determination.

If he smiles at points they are normal-person smiles, not the arm-flailing, mouthpiece-threatening HRRAAAAAAHHHHs of Tim Hardaway Jr or Jared Sullinger. If you're not exactly calm, the sight of Burke bringing the ball up at least dampens your anxiety—whether you're fan, coach or teammate. He is the fastest and slowest player on the court.

As a group, basketball players cluster on the hysteric end of a continuum of public displays of emotion. Burke is a rare data point on the stoic side of things. He'll never have an Aneurysm of Leadership. He may clap his hands a bit, if he's feeling strongly. At some point someone will make one of those images showing the hilariously unchanging moods of an impassive individual featuring Trey Burke.

Trey Burke eating ice cream: nonchalant determination. Trey Burke taking a calculus exam: nonchalant determination. Trey Burke roaring at the basket with a three-point lead in the final minute of a game against the #1 defense in the country with a foot-taller-than-you opponent who knows your darkest childhood secrets leaping at you…


Dustin Johnston/UMHoops

…nonchalant determination with a touch of premature aging.

Not shown on the jpeg will be the sweet kiss off the high glass and the ball arcing in for the game-sealing bucket, or the previous possession's not-quite-but-pretty-much-sealing blow-by and layup. They will only be implied.


Burke is of course one of many Michigan players who should be in over their heads. Jordan Morgan, Zack Novak, and Stu Douglass are the kind of guys who end up at Penn State and valiantly try to make an NIT. Even Hardaway did not have the recruiting profile you'd think—one and only one recruiting service (ESPN) stashed him at the end of their top 100. Burke himself was once a Penn State commit; after he reopened his recruitment his other finalist was Cincinnati.

stu-stepbackMichigan is not valiantly trying to make an NIT. As of February 18th, 2012, Michigan is contending for a Big Ten title. Douglass and Novak are busting out their Kobe impersonations on step-back jumpers it's unbelievable they're even attempting, let alone making. Morgan is outplaying Jared Sullinger, if only for one game.

As I've sampled Big Ten message boards and blog comment sections over the course of the season, one theme continually re-emerges: I don't know how they're winning with these players. We're closer observers and can piece together a story about grit and surprising defense and making up for bad rebounding with transition points, but even that comes to a stuttering, unconvincing conclusion when the subject of Hardaway's three-point shooting comes up. And how is this lineup the fourth-best defense in the league anyway? Michigan has one post player!

Not even we can explain it. It just is.

If you're in the mood for some advice, here's mine: savor this. If this is Michigan's year of re-establishing itself—Michigan's This Is Michigan year—the things that come afterwards will feature a lot of wins and exciting times and fun. They'll also be burdened with expectations that aren't currently encumbering Michigan's motley crew of players rescued from the mid-major humane shelters of America. You know what it's like to have expectations. You're a Michigan football fan.

Here there is a rare opportunity to play with house money for big stakes. It will be the farthest thing from a disappointment if Michigan doesn't quite break their drought this year; if they do, that banner we know we can't give to Novak (and Douglass) despite wanting to will read "Big Ten Champions 2011-2012."

I'll be twitching uncontrollably as Michigan attempts this over the next two weeks. Trey Burke will eat ice cream and fly by in slow motion.


Our own Eric Upchurch's gallery:

Also: AnnArbor.com photo gallery. UMHoops photos. AnnArbor.com also got Gameday-related shots.



And then I was like…




Titlewatch(!). The chance Michigan ends its 25 year Big Ten title drought is still slim but after Saturday it is extant. Unfortunately, Purdue blew a five point halftime lead against MSU by coming out for the second half and throwing up thirteen straight bricks, so MSU has a one-game edge on OSU and M for the conference lead. Wisconsin is another game back.

Closing stretches:

  • MSU: @ Minnesota, Nebraska, @ Indiana, OSU
  • OSU: Illinois, Wisconsin, @ NU, @ MSU
  • M: @ NU, Purdue, @ Illinois, @ Penn State
  • UW: @ Iowa, @ OSU, Minnesota, Illinois
    Despite the home-road split, Michigan has a considerably easier road than anyone else. They'll probably get at least a share if they win out, which Kenpom thinks has a 15% chance of happening. Winning 13(!) is the most likely scenario, though, and that would require MSU dropping two and OSU one of their last four to get a three-way tie. That's a tall order.

"The pride of Columbus, Ohio." I've never been a fan of the Crisler PA guy ("WHO WANTS FREE PIZZZAAAAA") but I have to give it up: dubbing Trey Burke the Pride of Columbus was A+ trash talk. Sixty-five points awarded.


Matta WTF. I've had to shut up about my theory that Matta is as dumb as a rock as his team has annihilated everyone on defense, but Saturday provided a great flashback to the days when OSU was only pretty good and Matta seemed like a major impediment to them being better.

The situation: Michigan is up three with 42 seconds left on the clock as they inbound the ball. Matta doesn't foul, betting on a stop and OSU hitting a three after getting the ball back with seven seconds left. WTF?

You got Morg-owned. Jordan Morgan outplayed Jared Sullinger head to head. Full stop. This is a big component of how:


AnnArbor.com; Dustin Johnston/UMHoops

On two tightly-spaced second half possessions he ran the floor well ahead of Sullinger and threw down explosive dunks as Sullinger looked on in disgust.

Morgan may not be very tall or an explosive leaper but he has no equal in the league when it comes to running the floor as a center. He may have missed his true calling as a tight end.

[INTERMISSION: let's take this opportunity to Homer-drool over the prospect of a 6'8" tight end who can run like Morgan.]

Anyway, Morgan: 11 points on 5/8 shooting, 11 rebounds (2 offensive), 0 TOs. Sullinger: 14 points on 6 of 14 shooting, 8 rebounds (3 offensive), 3 TOs. Michigan has to react to Sullinger a lot more than vice versa, granted, but Morgan was efficient offensively and stellar defensively. Sullinger cannot say the same.

Also, damn that's a pass right there. Also also, if Morgan keeps missing absolute bunnies one of these days I'm going to pass out. He and Douglass had groaners in the first half I dwelled on.

Please, please please let Hardaway get what he wants this time. 13 points on 5 shots, 2 of 2 from three. Four turnovers and zeros most everywhere else on the stat sheet are less appealing but I'll take that efficiency.

Step-back step-ups. I wasn't quite right that Michigan needed to shoot significantly better from three than Ohio State to win—Michigan had a narrow edge with three makes on 13 shots; OSU needed 16 attempts to match—but that's because most of Michigan's long-range makes came from just within the three-point line. Hardaway had a couple of "no no no… YES" long twos with a bunch of time on the shot clock early; late Michigan got critical buckets from Douglass and Novak on NBA-style step-backs.

It's been said before but it's worth repeating: Lavall Jordan has worked miracles with both Novak and Douglass. Those guys now have the ability to get their own shot off the bounce when they have to or they sense an opportunity. Neither produced shot one last year. The development of the two seniors is akin to Michigan's defensive coaches turning Will Heininger into a pretty good player over the course of a single year—evidence that Michigan's player development is top notch. Combine that with the waves of talent in both major sports and you're cooking.

Offensive board obliteration measuration. Not incredibly horrible: OSU rebounded a third of their misses. That's only slightly above the national average of 32.2%. Also it seemed like a lot of them came on a couple of possessions where OSU got three or four putback attempts; patterns like that bother me less because I'd rather have the opponent have one possession with a very, very high rate of success than four with a less-but-still-very-good rate. Also at some point there are just a ton of dudes around the basket and they're all taller than you.

Obligatory reffing section. After trolling OSU message boards for some schadenfreude and discovering the reaction of the Michigan internet to Jay Bilas, I'll abort my planned ref-railin'. Not necessarily because I'm wrong but because I'm obviously so partisan that I can't be trusted in these matters.

Also, I was waiting for the whistle on this late Craft layup attempt and one never came:


Dustin Johnston/UMHoops

Whether or not this event was actually quality D, it's one on which whistles are all but certain. I do question a bunch of calls but whatever.

Okay, it's just a conceit above. It's a pretty good conceit but this AnnArbor.com photo exposes its limitations:


ALL CAN BE FORGIVEN. I'll never say a bad word about Dave Brandon again if

1) Michigan wins at least a share of the Big Ten title and
2) the resulting banner bleeds like this:


Just the trickle down the side.

(Also, that's an excellent demonstration of the differences between Maize and our current yellow.)


UMHoops recap and Five Key Plays, featuring all of the charges:

Eleven Warriors recap. Andy Reid on Morgan's game. MANBALL? MANBALL:

"He played like a beast," Tim Hardaway, Jr. said. "He played like a man against the best big man in the country. And he took that to heart all week. All he heard was, 'Jared Sullinger, Jared Sullinger, Jared Sullinger,' and he wanted to come out here and show he could compete. He did a great job of that and took care of business."

Baumgardner on Morgan and other matters.


This morning, the state of Michigan must be rubbing its collective eyes, because look at the Big Ten standings now. Michigan State, which hammered Ohio State on the road earlier, is at the top with a 10-3 mark (21-5 overall) and could create space with a win at Purdue on Sunday, or create a three-way tie with a loss. Michigan (20-7, 10-4) and Ohio State (22-5, 10-4) are just behind, and who would have dreamed up this scenario?

With two weeks left, Michigan and Michigan State are grappling for a title, and go back to the preseason and try to envision that. While you're at it, go back five years when John Beilein arrived and imagine the Wolverines being here.

"To walk into that arena (before the game) was a bit moving," Beilein said. "I felt it wasn't just a rivalry game. It was a team playing for contention for a Big Ten championship, and I thought it was special. When you're rebuilding a program, there's a lot of little moments, a lot of small victories. This was one of them."

Meinke on Burke. Daily on Morgan. Beard on the hyped-up atmosphere at Crisler. Daily on Novak. Daily on GREATEST FEBRUARY 18TH EVER. Does The White Tiger have a giant head of himself? He's in the right area. Holdin' The Rope not at Holdin' the Rope.

Burke won his fifth Big Ten freshman of the week. I think Cody Zeller is out of moves here. McGary scouting from UMHoops.



February 20th, 2012 at 12:05 PM ^

Too Hard!! It should be easy to understand that BBALL officiating is highly inaccurate, to say the least. And that is the way it is! To question many calls, as he did consistently both ways, from his mid-court seat is annoying and detracts from the game. Like offensive holding, something can be called on every play. Always interresting to see blogs of two teams that played each other and both fan bases are convinced they got jobbed!!


February 20th, 2012 at 3:13 PM ^

The thing about Bilas that must be understood is that since 2001, he has viewed Michigan through a unique lens.  From 2001-07, to him we were The Great School that Hired My Best Friend, and he adored us.  Since 2007, we are The Evil School that Fired My Best Friend and he's pretty much rooted for us to fail ever since.


February 20th, 2012 at 12:10 PM ^

I am not the world's biggest basketball fan. I don't understand many of the nuances of the game, nor do I really want to take the time to learn. I'm also not an English Prof. That doesn't mean I don't recognize a winning effort or know when a person's writing resonates with me. 


February 20th, 2012 at 12:13 PM ^

There's a simple, one-word answer to the question of how Michigan is winning with these players: Beilein.

Michigan has the best coach in college basketball.


February 20th, 2012 at 12:22 PM ^

I think there three main measures of how good a college coach is. Does he represent the program well? Does he recruit well? Does he develop the talent he recruits?. Beilein has been excellent from day one on the first, improving from good to fantastic on the second, and absolutely excellent in the third. He also has "recruited" great assistant coaches to help with the above. I can honestly say that I wouldn't trade him for any coach in America and to be able to say that for 3 sports(football, hockey, basektball) is a pretty special feeling as a Michigan fan. 

The Man Down T…

February 20th, 2012 at 11:19 PM ^

Was going to say that myself.  This coach is GREAT.  Not only does he win, but he wins with great kids. These kids work hard, play right and are good kids off the court too.  Plus they are so much fun to watch.  That is the definition of what we call Michigan sports:  Win and win with class.  Coach is a class act and he picks players that are too.  Someone else said it and I'll resay it:  There's a reason that NBA players are encouraging their sons to play for that man.  We're better off for having him as our coach.


February 20th, 2012 at 12:17 PM ^

I wouldn't hold my hopes up, but I don't know that it's impossible to lose a game and still have a chance at the championship. You need Wisconsin to win a must win game for them, though it is in Columbus, and Indiana to have some Indiana home cooking against MSU. Wouldn't put money on either, but they're not ridiculous (I'm pretty much assuming OSU has to beat MSU at the end).

And I wish a few more people would have taken your advice to "enjoy it now" during the football season.  After the last three years, expectations had died down quite a bit, and predictions were mostly lowered.  Yet there was still a lot of complaining after wins, even one's as historic as Notre Dame.  And not "analyzing the team as we go forward" stuff (which proved wrong anyway, but digression), but immediate reactions.  Savior it a little.  The pain isn't going to lessen, so take the joy to heart a little more.


Edit: And I would have loved to seen some of the other fan boards reaction to "how the heck are they doing this?"....


February 20th, 2012 at 12:32 PM ^

In the highlights, as Trey Burke hits the last runner around 3:15, the camera pans left and in the top corner you see one of the cheerleaders power spike her pom pom like she's Brady.  Love it.


February 20th, 2012 at 12:33 PM ^

They might hoist a banner for it, but if we end up on top of the standings, I can't personally feel like "we won a Big Ten title" when there's a tournament that basically negates the regular season.

Kilgore Trout

February 20th, 2012 at 12:52 PM ^

I think Brian said it best a few weeks ago when he said that the contributions of Novak and Douglass are no longer grit and untangibles.  What those guys do every game is "damn tangible."  Retiring their numbers doesn't seem quite right, but they need more than the normal senior honoring, one way or another. 


February 20th, 2012 at 1:29 PM ^

I watched the game with a high school coach who couldn't believe Matta didn't foul that last Michigan possession.  Your basically conceding the game if you can't get a stop.  Even if you do the odds aren't exactly great to get a good look with 11 or so seconds left.  Also, Bilas irritated the hell out of me the entire game.  It felt a little like Spielman but not nearly as bad.  Maybe it's just me. 


February 20th, 2012 at 1:32 PM ^


Meanwhile, Michigan coach Brady Hoke and the football staff — just three weeks after finalizing the 2012 recruiting class — were collecting stars like they were playing Super Mario.



February 20th, 2012 at 1:49 PM ^

So where's the hockey Monday column? Isn't that supposed to go up first?)

(Kidding, of course. Great weekend all around, and obviously huge win for Beilein and the program)


February 20th, 2012 at 2:11 PM ^

Fantastic post otherwise, but I found both football references to be poor choices (Morgan as TE drool and Heininger player development).

A big target who is faster than his defenders would be nice in football and all but.... the fact that we have that, for our starting Center no less, is already damn drool-worthy.  Just seems like a weird thing to mention, given the relative impact and context.  Like talking about Mike Hart after beating MSU and interjecting how welcome his leadership/toughness would on in our baseball team's leadoff hitter.  Perhaps I lack the requisite football-bias.

Heininger wasn't 'turned into a player in a year.  He was solid as Brandon Graham's backup (as a soph), missed 2010 with injury, then started as a senior.  That's a fairly normal career arc.  He's a walk-on who changed positions, but it's not exactly an over-night transformation by the coaches.  Novak and Douglass' skill development in their Senior seasons is more like Chris Perry becoming a reliable blocker and receiving threat in his.  Hopefully we see something similar from Craig Roh next year.


oriental andrew

February 20th, 2012 at 2:36 PM ^

Why did Michigan beat osu?  Clearly because Brady Hoke is a way better pointer than Urban Meyer:


Also, as per the postgame interview:  Trey Burke being interviewed by Erin Andrews after a win over osu - nonchalant determination.  She actually had to ASK him to smile!  And he did - for about 2 seconds...



February 20th, 2012 at 3:18 PM ^

that banner we know we can't give to Novak (and Douglass) despite wanting to will read "Big Ten Champions 2011-2012."

Nitpick: we only put the second year on our banners, so it will read BIG TEN CHAMPIONS 2012.


February 20th, 2012 at 7:07 PM ^

Can we stop using pictures to compare shades of maize?  Someone can take a picture of the same jersey and the result can look anywhere from red to neon green based on camera settings and available light.  And that's before processing in photoshop.


February 20th, 2012 at 9:15 PM ^

Jordan Morgan won that game for Michigan.  I will say that it was of course a team effort but dare I say we expect that out of THJ (maybe not lately), Stu and Novak (I expect their leadership and "grit" every game now), and Trey Burke these days?  What we don't expect, I don't think and is not a knock on Jordan Morgan, is for our big man to play a full game like the way he did.  He shut Sullinger down playing AWESOME defense.  He did what Brian said and played a very good offensive game, running the floor in transition (I do expect that out of him), and did a good job on the glass.  Maybe most importantly, he stayed on the floor.  This goes back to his defense and his smart play on Sullinger.  I think an underplayed theme in that game was Beilein keeping Morgan in the game after picking up his two fouls in a short amount of time.  After those (and one I feel was questionable if I recall) he went back to the smart and gritty battling with Sullinger down low.

Pure opinion of course, as the team played great together, but Morgan stepping up like that was maybe more of a factor than THJ stepping it up lately.  If we can get Jordan Morgan to play that physical/smart/BEASTLY from here on out with the added awakening of THJ (and maybe Smotz) this team really could match-up with most teams in the country; I mean that.

I had so much more to add on this game but I doubt it''ll even get read by many people.  I was so stoked about this victory I wanted to point out all the things good that happened, and obvi there were many.  I know basketball pretty well (more that the average fan) and love to point out things some don't notice, for example.  Who cares right now though, things are to awesome to go back and hash over!

Nice read, Brian.  That was good schtuff.

The Man Down T…

February 20th, 2012 at 11:27 PM ^

ESPN has us as a lock.  Did anyone here really think we'd be fighting for the top and already a lock with 4 games to go?  You would have taken my house on that bet.  Lifetime contract for coach B.