The Grandmaster: How Beilein Beat Painter Comment Count

Ace March 6th, 2018 at 4:41 PM

The net may as well be the heads of his enemies. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

On its face, it's an odd decision. After Michigan made only three three-pointers in the first half of the Big Ten championship game, Purdue coach Matt Painter totally altered the way his team played defense. The Wolverines proceeded to run away with the game. Painter bungled the game, right?

A closer look tells a different story. Painter knew that John Beilein was one step ahead of him even though M's shots hadn't fallen early. Presented with a no-win situation, he chose to try to take them out of their normal offense, and to that end he largely succeeded. It didn't matter because Beilein, Moe Wagner, and M's backcourt stayed one step ahead.

The key to Michigan-Purdue games the last two years has been how each team handles the other's big man on defense. In Painter's case, that means finding a way to combat the high ball screen with, at times, five viable three-point shooters spacing the floor. Here's how he tried, and how Beilein countered.

The First Half: Hard Hedges, Layups, and Frustrating Missed Threes

Purdue spent the opening half defending high ball screens much the way Michigan used to: by overplaying the ballhandler. It's a different tactic than the switch-heavy defenses M has seen for the most part since the Nebraska debacle and, in addition to being something a lesser coach may not have expected to see, it better fits Purdue's personnel than switching every screen, especially when Isaac Haas is on the floor.

But Beilein was ready, even if his preparation didn't produce the desired results. For the most part, Michigan fans were treated to this: Wagner (or Duncan Robinson) slipping the screen, getting a wide open look, and missing.

That's not even the most open look Wagner missed, but it's representative.

"You can't allow them to do what they want to do," said Painter in the postgame presser. "And if you do, now it's just hitting or missing, especially when they put skill—[Beilein's] ideal thing is having a five that can shoot. That's why Teske's picking pops, going into the short roll into [the] elbow, Wagner being able to make the threes and drive the ball. He makes them special."

Even as M's shooters struggled to make shots they'd normally put down, the offense kept up an impressive average of 1.23 points per possession. The team didn't turn it over once despite Purdue's high-pressure approach. The scrambling Boilermakers defense opened up the lane for drives once the ballhandler broke pressure. Beilein busted out a 1-4 high screen with Robinson setting the pick and while the primary intention was to free up Robinson beyond the arc, Purdue's overplaying of Simpson also allowed him to attack the basket:

Beilein also made some adjustments. He got Wagner an easy layup by calling for a double ball screen out of a late-half timeout with Charles Matthews as the ballhandler, Isaiah Livers popping to the three-point line, and Wagner rolling to the hoop.

Michigan's ability to space, shoot, and drive makes this play almost impossible to defend given Purdue's approach. They switch the defender on Matthews but he's still able to turn the corner and keep his man behind his hip because of a solid screen by Wagner(!). Matthews' initial defender is forced to stay home on Livers or give up a wide-open three-point attempt. The center has to continue playing Matthews or give up a dunk. The weakside help defender is faced with a choice: rotate hard into the paint in a probably fruitless attempt to stop Wagner or stay home to keep Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman, a deadly spot-up shooter, from putting three points on the board.

"Our weak side and our guys in ball-screen defense, sometimes when the ball got deep, had to stay home," said Painter. "And you gotta force them to throw the ball out and they didn't do that."

One wraparound pass from Matthews is all it takes for the easiest bucket of Wagner's afternoon. Painter couldn't bank on M's shooters continuing to miss great looks and his team was getting ripped apart in the paint anyway—while they weren't quite as aggressive in their P&R defense against Jon Teske, they needed to alter how they defended him, too.

Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, Beilein also got a halftime.

[After THE JUMP: Painter makes his move and Beilein counters.]

The Second Half: Get Switched And Die Trying

Unleash the guards. [Campredon]

Painter's solution was the same one most of Michigan's opponents tried down this season's final stretch: switching every ball screen. There's good reason Nebraska, the team that destroyed M's offense with this tactic (once, at least), went to this immediately while Purdue broke it out as more of a last resort: Isaac Haas is many things, but a perimeter defender isn't one of them.

In related news, 5'11" guard PJ Thompson isn't much of a post defender. On this play early in the second half, Purdue tries a switch on a Simpson/Wagner high screen. The switch is sloppy; that'll happen when you're changing tactics mid-game. Haas has to respect Z's ability to blow right by him, which gives space for the wraparound pass needed to get another easy bucket at the rim.

By drawing Haas away from the basket and keeping him there, Beilein also opened up second-chance opportunities that don't usually come easy against the Boilermakers.

"In the beginning of the second half, we'd get two or three stops, about three stops in a row, but we couldn't get an offensive rebound," said Painter. "Then when we would go to the matchup, to try to switch and then they had a size advantage down low on a couple of rebounds."

Here's a great example. Michigan has already run a ball screen here to get Haas swiched on Simpson and Thompson on Wagner. Thompson is helpless in the post, so Haas concedes the three-pointer to Simpson. Haas can't abandon Z entirely, however, so Wagner is not only in the best position to tap out the rebound, he does so amongst the Lilliputians. When another chance to go at Haas comes around, Simpson seizes it.

Haas wasn't in foul trouble until Purdue was in full desperation mode but he only played 13 second-half minutes. Beilein and his offense took a player who went 9-for-12 on the other end of the floor and made him relatively unplayable. To do this, Beilein, as Painter mentioned, largely scrapped his usual, inctricate offense in favor of running a quick action to get the desired switch and then attacking. 

He didn't ditch the intricate stuff entirely, however, especially off the ball. Wagner's off-ball pick-and-pop at the top of the screen opens up yet another easy layup when backup center Matt Haarms is late coming off the screen and closes out too hard.

Playing the high screen a little more straight-up when Haarms was in the game didn't go so well, either.

Matt Painter is an excellent coach who's assembled a great team this year. Their only significant weakness is the one Beilein managed to exploit; in doing so, Michigan's mastermind took a taut title game and turned it into a blowout. 



March 6th, 2018 at 4:59 PM ^

and had the postgame presser emailed to me by Marc-Gregor. That's where the quotes came from, so this isn't really actual reporting as much as it is a normal mgopost with some bonus quotes.

(Also, thank you.)

Swayze Howell Sheen

March 6th, 2018 at 5:00 PM ^

thanks for writing it.

I think the other half of the equation was critical too - let Haas beat us with a bunch of two pointers and don't let their three-point specialists get open looks. They looked lost when we didn't collapse on Lurch.



March 7th, 2018 at 9:30 AM ^

in basketball to pick up all these nuances?

I see that Beilein's offenses have a lot of moving pieces, but what makes them particularly difficult to learn?  Is it spacing? Timing? Is it also difficult to implement because of the skill set the 5 guys need (although each team he's had seems to be pretty different skill wise).

I think Stu Douglas mentioned that it's not a trade secret, it's just the amount of attention to detail that is put into everything. I am just surprised to not see more coaches try to match what he's doing like the spread was copied and modified in football.  Thanks. 

Whole Milk

March 7th, 2018 at 9:43 AM ^

The main thing that is difficult to emulate is Wagner, People do not come around like him very often. Take an offensive genius and give him a versatile big man who can get to the basket with ease while also being able to step out and shoot a high percentage from deep gives them so many options offensively. As Painter said, he is what makes us special. 

From what I heard about Beilein is that he works on the fundamentals to an ungodly detailed level. If a pass isn't directly in the shooting pocket, they do it again. If the timing of an off-ball screen doesn't match up with the movement on the ball side, they do it again.

Also, in a world of AAU ball where it is a lot of isolation and up and down stuff, I imagine it has to be hard for many kids to come in and do a lot of screening and cutting in sync with one another. Add in the ability to get quick shots off of those screens, I understand why it takes some time for guys to figure it out. 


March 7th, 2018 at 11:41 AM ^

I think it also takes time for new players to learn all of the nuances.  If the defense does X, you know you have to respond with Y or Z.  Corresponding with that, the players on the backside need to know how to react and get into the correct position/make the correct cuts.  Back in my high school days, we had a similar motion set that was all predicated on what the defense gave you with a number of different options to work with off of that.  I have no insider knowledge of Coach B's offense, but that's just my uninformed view.


March 8th, 2018 at 3:34 AM ^

pretty much got it. It's not really something a coach can just adopt as a scheme like you can the spread option in football. There aren't thousands of high school coaches out there running this stuff.
Beilein also has to accept some pretty rough games early to get to late season efficiency; sometimes even a season. The dudes most effectively running the offense are in their 2nd, 3rd, years starting. The top tier teams are dealing with one- and two- and dones and are not going to have the time or patience to instill all these concepts in their guys.
And last, but not least, this isn't some simple scheming we're seeing out of Beilein that just any coach can pick up from a clinic and 'do.'
JB is special. He is a teacher. His players love him, he loves them. He gets these kids to buy in, put the ego aside, put in the work, suffer the losses that sometimes come from the complexity...he also has a helluva knack for finding kids who can do what he envisions - they can't be dummies, either. And coaches them up like crazy. We really, really need to be appreciating what we have here!


March 6th, 2018 at 5:12 PM ^

This is great.  As a sidenote, it's really funny going and reading the same fight we were having in 2013 around this time on Purdue blogs.  Why is this team fading, they should have been a national title contender, etc etc.  The rational half of the fanbase recognizes that Michigan is a shitty matchup for them and that Edwards is hurt, but still.

Personally, I still think the Boilers make the Final Four and have a real good shot at winning it.  We might be the worst matchup for them in the country, for exactly this reason.


March 6th, 2018 at 5:13 PM ^

a million bucks, assuming NBA scouts saw the same lead foot guy you did, Ace. Not only is he slow, but he made NO reaction to both Matthews' and Simpson's wrap-around passes. He came along about 40 years too late for the NBA.


March 6th, 2018 at 5:42 PM ^

several of these clips were just bad defense by Purdue.  They looked like the far more dead tired or unfocused team.

On the PJ Thomson ball screen in the second half, he goes with Z for a step before realizing they're switching and then is too late getting back to Wagner.  If he switched immediately like he should have, he should have been able to at least prevent the bounce pass and force a pass over the top which is a lot more difficult for Z with Haas on him.

On the Wagner OREB, Haas had time to get in front of Wagner but he went straight for the basket, got too deep and it went over his head.  Fairly lazy effort.

And the Wagner blow by of Haarms wasn't anything crazy.  Wagner sets an away screen, opens up and Haarms just made a bad close-out. It's admittedly really hard to close out on Wagner because he's got a great first step. But that's a bit more we-have-really-good-offensive-players-that-you-can't-guard than scheme.

Our offense was incredible and put them in a lot of tough spots, but this was a fairly poor defensive performance for them.  In fact, down the stretch, they really started to get exposed on defense.  Other than Mathias and Edwards as good on-ball defenders and the bigs as shot blockers they have serious defensvie problems.  They have no length on the perimeter so they don't get turnovers or steals, they're susceptible to pull-ups, and the bigs can't stay with smaller guys.

They looked like they could win it all early in the season, but I'd be surprised now if they made the Final Four.  They'll have to get very hot (which is certainly possible).  One caveat is that V Edwards doesn't look the same since the ankle injury.  If he's been limited and gets healthy such that he returns to being a lock-down guy, their margin for error will open up some.



March 6th, 2018 at 5:57 PM ^

I'd add that Beilein knew exactly how to induce those breakdowns. Purdue isn't a great defensive team but they're still 30th in KenPom. Most teams don't have the combination of personnel and coaching to make this kind of stuff happen. I bet a lot of the breakdowns were a combination of fatigue from the tourney and in-game fatigue from having to think so much while playing a really tough game. Michigan played an extra game over the weekend and still looked sharper.

I probably could've tried to cram all that in the post (your analysis looks spot-on to me, as usual) but it's hard to get all the caveats in there without going way long.


March 6th, 2018 at 7:01 PM ^

puts a huge amount of stress on your ability to focus and know what you're supposed to be doing.  The double screen was diabolical in the way it put Mathias in a bind (go with the roller or the "popper"?) and put Edwards in a bind that depended on what Mathias did (take the roller or spy the skip pass).

The fact along that Painter switched the way they played ball screens is probably what confused Thomson (are we switching or am I supposed to fight through this, whoops, there goes the roller).

As far as Purdue's defense, I seem to recall them being top 10 or nearly top 10 when we played them the first time so the fact they've dropped to 30th isn't great (means they've probably not been top 50 the second half of the season).

And they've been lucky on 3pt and FT defense, so I bet those were really lucky to start the season and reverted to the mean in the second half.  They're going to remain a good 2 pt defensive team because of the shot blockers, but they're a bit more like our 2014 team with a scorching offense and a defense that has a lot of flaws.  And again, Edwards absense and current health might be a big contributor.  If he's been hurting, they could get closer to where they were earlier in the season.


March 6th, 2018 at 11:23 PM ^

We played them on 1/9 and 1/25.  According to Torvik, they were 4th in Adj. Defensive Efficiency through 1/8 and 3rd through 1/24.

From 1/25 through 3/3?  123rd.

KenPom defensive efficiency numbers for the intervening games: 135.2 (Michigan), 104.2, 103.0, 116.5 (Rutgers!), 96.5, 107.4, 88.7, 123.3 (Illinois!), 93.8, 117.4 (Rutgers again!), 109.1, and 117.2 (Michigan).

So, yeah, it's safe to say that Purdue hasn't been the same defensively as they were at the beginning of the season.

(For the purpose of comparison, since the 141.3 Michigan surrendered to Purdue on 1/25, Michigan has a 79.4, 101.2, 106.9, 115.2 (Wisconsin), 87.4, 93.6, 96.0, 96.0, 94.2, 90.0, 95.9, and 103.2 (Purdue take III)).


March 7th, 2018 at 12:17 AM ^

yeah, that's even more pronounced than I thought.  Part of that bad stretch was when V Edwards was hurt.  I imagine they've had some wild 3 point luck in there too (like we did last year for really bad stretches and then good stretches).

I don't think they're that bad at defense (100th+), but they have some significant flaws on that end of the floor.


March 6th, 2018 at 7:34 PM ^

Ace, thanks for making something that isn't obvious to me in real-time so much clearer. It will add to my enjoyment of watching Beilein disassemble other teams in the tourney. It got me thinking that we attacked MSU's defense differently and I would love to read your thoughts on how the two games compared to each other. Beats Nebraska (thank you, three pointers), Beat MSU (exploited weak guard play), then played mind games with Purdue (anything you can do, we can do better) on three consecutive days. How well coached you have to be to pull that off?


March 6th, 2018 at 5:31 PM ^

How Mich players instantly make the correct read on the fly,that isn't as easy as it looks and requires a lot of work in Prof.Beilein's Lab.


March 6th, 2018 at 5:42 PM ^

I don’t know that Beilein countered so much as the guys on the floor knew to read each situation on the fly and knew exactly what to do. The credit to Beilein is that he of course taught his players how to do this.


March 6th, 2018 at 5:49 PM ^

I'd bet Beilein had these guys prepped for multiple approaches and they knew how to handle each one. Purdue switched on the very first P&R of the second half and it took one possession for the players to start shredding it — there wasn't a timeout in there for Beilein to give more than some cross-court shouts.

This is another area where Z's emergence has been really huge. Part of the reason he got benched earlier this year is he wasn't doing a great job of reading defenses and getting the offense into the right sets. I'm not seeing much of that at all now.


March 6th, 2018 at 6:01 PM ^

is definitely the key.  makes the right read and makes good passes, like a zone read QB.  no offense to simmons, but the offense doesn't run as smooth with him in there.  he clearly isn't as confident.  that said, he too has improved and i've been happy with his 3 minutes each half recently.


March 6th, 2018 at 6:04 PM ^

PG to make an immediate impact or any of the incoming freshman for that matter (also part of the reason why Fresh Five making an immediate impact is impressive) because JB offense is hard to pick up.

I expect Eli Brooks to make a leap next season. David DeJulius provide different dimension at PG offensively with his shooting but the question is can he pick up the offense quick enough to make an impact?


March 6th, 2018 at 7:52 PM ^

I think DeJulius will be used in a similar fashion as Poole is this year. Bring him in when you need an injection of offense and shooting then look to hide him a bit on the defensive end. I think Eli will make a leap next season as well, he already looked pretty comfortable running the offense early in his true Frosh season. I don't think we end up seeing a lot of DeJulius running the point as a freshman.

Michigan Arrogance

March 7th, 2018 at 7:30 AM ^

Quoting Beilein in a pre-game speach during the BTT: "I'm not looking for followers. We want leaders at Michigan. Let's go out and be leaders on the court."


I have no doubt that that's what JB is talking about. They need to ID the defensive approach and adjust on the fly, in game and the staff has trained them to do just that. With a Soph 3* PG and a Sr 2* SG.

Indy Pete - Go Blue

March 6th, 2018 at 5:40 PM ^

This type of content drew me in to the MgoBlog a few years ago.  Now, I am addicted, and this is the type of post that can still release additional dopamine to my overwhelmed receptors.  Great analysis - I am a smarter fan because of this read.  I like to say Beilein is a wizard, but now I can cite the type of wizardry he used to beat a senior-laden and uber-talented Purdue team in emphatic fashion.  


March 6th, 2018 at 5:57 PM ^

shows how this team can bust up the switch as well the hedge.  i also love how this team has learned how to break down the zone defense.  thanks northwestern.  that loss hurt at the time, but this team now has that figured out too.  can't believe how much this team has learned and grown this year.

the only way we lose going forward is by missing a lot of wide open 3s; like we did in the first half...and maybe missed FTs.


March 6th, 2018 at 6:18 PM ^

I know the rules here call for not cluttering everything up with thank you notes that don't add anything, but this piece is Beilein good. Watching it, I could feel the chess match was happening, and could tell we were winning it, but I didn't know why or how, and I played basketball pretty darn welll back in the day!:)..You're ability to break all of this down, grab perfect video, and present it in this manner is absolutely ridiculously good! Thx so much.

Blue Durham

March 6th, 2018 at 6:32 PM ^

and why all of this works is the fact that Zavier Simpson can drive to the basket and finish.

His evolution the past year has been incredible, and has opened up so much else (just like a deadly shooter like Stauskas can open up other things).

Right now he is almost as good at getting to the basket as Trey Burke was.

This team is going to be a really tough out.


March 6th, 2018 at 7:38 PM ^

so good at finishing at the rim which is incredible given his size. Next step of evolution is FT shooting and 3 pt shooting. If he ever gets consistency from 3 pt (from 31% to 36-37), he would be a lot more dangerous.Given the fact that MAAR has turned his shooting from weakness into a strength, I have good reason to believe Zavier can do the same.


March 6th, 2018 at 6:40 PM ^

Dumb..In the olden days when I coached the hedger's job was to flash  into the dribblers path  forcing him to take a wider path which gives the ball defender enough time to fight over ball screen and regain leverage on the ball.Shoulders were always parallel to the baseline..In modern day ball the hedger stays to long (especially when a big) and their shoulders are often parallel with sideline...The 1st 3 video's are examples of over hedging,you might as well just double team the ball if you're going to hedge for that long...I did enjoy watching Purdue's bigs running around like  chickens with their heads cut off....NOTE-Most of modern day ball is light years ahead of the old ways,especially on offense but you'll never convince me that 'over hedging' is a good defensive concept.


March 6th, 2018 at 6:44 PM ^

It really did look like for much of the game that Beilein was running a clinic to illustrate the various wrinkles of his offense, and Purdue was the JV team or the Washington Generals.

El Jeffe

March 6th, 2018 at 7:09 PM ^

That first gif is insane. Note that Robinson is on the strong side, and Poole and Rahk are on the weak side. When Moe slips the screen, Rahk cuts hard to the hoop, and if Simmons had been a little more on it, Rahk would have had an uncontested layup. But then the help man off Poole/Rahk has to decide whether to stay home or challenge Moe's shot.

Just gorgeous basketball. Beilein is the chess master while most other coaches are playing Connect Four.