Grinchmas

Submitted by Brian on January 20th, 2014 at 12:22 PM

1/18/2014 – Michigan 77, Wisconsin 70 – 13-4, 5-0 Big Ten

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Chris Smith/UMHoops

It was unfair. It was beautiful.

Sam Dekker drove on Stauskas and put up a shot that Horford blocked. Sort of. Along the way somewhere between one and three fouls were committed. Michigan ain't care, though, and they grabbed the loose ball and ran back the other way, finding LeVert open in transition for three. He knocked it down to put Michigan up nine. ESPN cut to Bo Ryan.

You know that moment when you figure out that girl you've been certainly not in love with for 15 years is certainly not in love with you and then sparkles fall from the sky while unicorns burst from the chest of everyone in the coffee shop as you share a deep and passionate kiss that leads to a lifetime of happy contemplation about how fortunate you are compared to people who marry something other than the very embodiment of wonderfulness?

Yeah, you do. You're an American and therefore have been cast opposite Emma Stone in a romantic comedy. So you know that moment is the equivalent of getting socks on Christmas compared to the camera shot that followed LeVert's three: Bo Ryan squeezing every muscle in his face until his skin veritably roiled with the possibility of explosive decompression. His grinchy eyebrows plunged to a level even with his eyes as his mandibles expelled a torrent of profanity so pungent that the refs would have dissolved in front of his face if they had even a passing knowledge of the language of the bug people of Rigel.

imagegrinch

SHOULD HAVE SENT A POET

Every Michigan fan's heart grew two sizes that day. On twitter, Ace's mentions filled up with demands for GIFs, and then threats. I cackled uncontrollably and swore joyously in human language at the TV. Somewhere in Iowa, Fran McCaffery found himself with an unprompted, mysterious, and not-entirely-unwelcome erection.

Fun was had watching Wisconsin play basketball. It's 2014, folks. 2014 is not 2013.

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This was the proverbial statement win, work done to validate Michigan's play since the frustratingly disjointed Duke game. There the Blue Devils extended their defense to cut off Stauskas and the rest of the team flobbered around for about 30 minutes until LeVert decided he'd keep Michigan vaguely in it by himself.

Since, Michigan's offense blossomed into the prettiest whack-a-mole you've ever seen. Shut one thing down and something else equally deadly pops up. Leave Zak Irvin, and he'll kill Minnesota. Close out Walton wrong and he'll kill Nebraska. Try to keep Stauskas away from the rim and whoops the center got a layup. And then there's Stauskas in the middle of everything, not just shooting.

But aside from 1.15 PPP against Arizona, the competition level left questions. Even last year's beautiful machine tended to seize up and fall over when presented with road contests against the brutes of the Big Ten. These guys had beaten Minnesota and three outfits for whom the word "tournament" means ping pong in the locker room.

No more. While Wisconsin is not quite last year's outfit defensively, they remain Wisconsin, currently in the top 40 on defense on Kenpom, preventer of all threes and shots at the rim.  (There's more about this in the bullets section.) Michigan went into the Trohl Center and shot 86%/55%/54%. Heck, that game against Northwestern is looking like an accomplishment now that the Wildcats have established themselves the second-ugliest basketball team in the country*. So they've played a couple upper-echelon defenses to go with some wonky ones They currently lead the Big Ten in two-point shooting by nearly seven percentage points. Subs, man. That's crazy.

After watching Michigan eviscerate attempts to contain them on the pick and roll, Wisconsin was reduced to giving Michigan jumpers and hoping they'd miss. As the first half rolled along, Michigan did not. Glenn Robinson elevated above any hope of a contest on consecutive elbow jumpers that hit back rim and went straight down like the end of a training montage. Nik Stauskas pulled up from just inside the free throw line. When Wisconsin did manage to lose Morgan or Horford, they literally did not miss. Even Michigan's terrifying late drought consisted largely of wide open threes for Stauskas, a near alley-oop for Horford, and a LeVert shot that was halfway down.

Sometimes, the shots do not fall. You would be forgiven for forgetting that with this team.

Bo Ryan remembers, now. His report to the Grand Chitinous One will be filled with k'halaks powerful enough to rattle thoraxes.

*[According to the metric of Adjusted Offensive Efficiency – Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. You can take in #1 with a quick trip down US-23 to Bowling Green.]

Bullets

That's just how they do. Much complaining from Wisconsin fans on the internet and some from Dan Dakich about the way Wisconsin was defending the pick and roll. To me, it looked like typical Wisconsin: Ryan has always preferred soft hedges where the big cuts off the basket and makes the pass to the guy slipping the screen difficult, if not impossible.

In exchange, Wisconsin gives up two-point jumpers from just inside the lane. Two point jumpers are generally worse shots than those at the rim or from three, and Wisconsin has encouraged them since Ryan's arrival. The problem for the Badgers in this one is that Michigan was hitting nearly every one of them.

Philosophically, Wisconsin just did what they always do. The texture of their stats is the same as it was last year when their defense carried them: good-to-great eFG%, vanishingly few threes attempted, few forced TOs or fouls committed, crash your own boards. It was just fine for them the last five years.

There is something wonky about Wisconsin's defense this year that was not the case last year. That is Wisconsin trading Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans, and Neverending Ginger Assassin…

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…for Frank Kaminski, Sam Dekker, and a 6'3" guard. Their ability to contest the jumpers their defense is designed to provide has been seriously compromised by their lack of size. Compounding issues: while Kaminski is taller than Berggren he's nowhere near Berggren's class as an intimidator.

Actually, disregard the previous paragraph's "seriously." Wisconsin's D is 33rd on Kenpom. They're not exactly last year's Penn State outfit. It is a step back; they are still pretty much Wisconsin, and Michigan eviscerated them.

Related: I understand those turnovers. Michigan didn't have many, as was always going to be the case when Michigan's precision met Wisconsin's passivity. Those they did were concentrated with LeVert and Stauskas on pick and roll action when they tried to get the easy buckets Michigan had gotten in the previous three or four games by dumping it off to the bigs. A number of these were after Michigan's opening barrage, when the natural reaction would be to press the ballhandler. Wisconsin stuck to their inherent Wisconsin-ness and the result was a few passes that were near-impossible to complete.

The grim period. Michigan was cruising up 66-53 with eight minutes left and then scored one bucket over the next seven as Wisconsin cut the lead to one. What happened on offense during the dry spell:

  • Stauskas turnover.
  • Stauskas misses wide open three. Michigan timeout before next possession, Stauskas exits.
  • LeVert misses jumper.
  • LeVert turnover.
  • LeVert misses jumper.
  • Stauskas returns. Stauskas misses wide open three.
  • Stauskas hits two-point jumper.
  • LeVert misses layup.
  • Stauskas misses late-clock forced jack, Morgan fouled on OREB attempt, Stauskas engages beastmode.

The Stauskas shots were just one of those things. He has totally uncontested threes. He must take them.

Meanwhile, LeVert's role in the grim period has drawn some criticism on the internet in the aftermath. I think that's much more the swelling panic everyone felt than a rational evaluation of how Michigan's offense ran with Stauskas off the court, and I say that as a charter member of the WHAT IS HAPPENING WHERE IS STAUSKAS AAAAAH club as it was happening live. Events:

  • M tries to post Robinson; LeVert declines entry pass and drives to lane, correctly diagnoses that an alley-oop to Horford is the play but throws it too high. Michigan resets, LeVert turns down P&R, takes a contested two with about ten seconds on the clock that is halfway down and pops out.
  • Kaminski gets switched onto LeVert, LeVert tries to drive baseline, is obviously fouled, no call, turns the ball over.
  • LeVert ends up taking a semi-contested pull-up shot off the pick and roll. It's a foot on the line item with 14 on the shot clock.

The first is the right idea with execution that's just off, the second is a ref boner, and the third is pretty bad. And as soon as that happened, Stauskas was back. You can't tell much of anything from three possessions and LeVert put up 20 points on 16 shot equivalents.

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Stauskas comparison of the week. Stauskas has started adding a thing on the pick and roll that evokes memories of Chauncey Billups: once he gets past the screen, he sticks out his butt to keep his man behind him and then takes a dribble or two, waiting to see how the situation develops.

Stauskas also got 0.01 brownie points for hitting all six of his game-sealing free throws, because I have irrational expectations when it comes to Stauskas hitting free throws.

[@ Right: Chris Smith/UMHoops]

Just hanging out in the corner. Derrick Walton's night went a little beyond quiet, as he took only three shots and had two assists in 31 minutes. And that's totally fine, as Michigan was on fire for most of the night. Walton took the opportunities that came to him and his 36% three-point shooting is enough to keep his guy on his jock as Michigan works a two-man game against three-phobic Wisconsin.

Walton's reduced role on offense helped him on D, where he held Traevon Jackson—just coming off a monster Indiana game—to 3 for 11 shooting and just seven points.

If Michigan's in a situation where there are transition opportunities or a weak point guard or they're leaving him open in the corner, Walton can take advantage. When those things aren't available he's able to defer. Walton's ability to push the ball was part of Wisconsin's even-more-extreme-than-usual abandonment of the offensive boards.

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In Big Ten-long game of "HORSE," Morgan is currently on R [UMHoops]

Horgan. Even acknowledging the fact that 90% of their buckets are assisted layup or dunk attempts, the efficiency with which Michigan's two-headed center is scoring is boggling. Morgan is at nearly 70% for the season and since Mitch McGary got shut down for the season he has 23 makes on 28 attempts. That is 82%. Remember that business where you'd get super mad at Morgan and I'd point my fingers at a shooting percentage in the low sixties and say "please stop, you make no sense"? Yeah, well now his ORTG is 127. Now I point at Kenpom and say "please continue, you make no sense."

Horford has been barely less efficient in that timeframe, hitting 22 of 32, 69%, and since Horford's game is a little bit more diverse—he's got that baseline jumper and a post move or two—that's understandable. At least insofar as "understandable" can be deployed in service of explaining a guy shooting 70% from the floor.

Meanwhile, the bigs have TO rates ranging from acceptable-for-a-big (Morgan's 18, which is a couple of points better than last year) to astounding (Horford's 10, which is equivalent to GRIII's number).

Is this sustainable? Well, somewhat. Six-six shooters are going to plunge into the lane and non-Wisconsins are going to give up a number of good looks, and both of Michigan's bigs are better than they used to be. But there will be some regression and guys like Amir Williams and Adriean Payne have overwhelmed M with their athleticism and shall do so again. I'll take it.

The silver lining. The announcement of McGary's surgery was my muse for a tweet that read simply "GODDAMMIT," and it is still pretty depressing to think about putting the demon from last year's NCAA tournament on a team that's already 5-0 in the Big Ten and 14th on Kenpom. A healthy McGary probably swings a game or two in Michigan's favor and… right, not what this bullet is about.

This bullet is about how it's kind of great that Morgan is back in the lineup and playing well after being relegated to the bench during the run last year. He returned without the expectation of much playing time despite an ability to go anywhere with the grad transfer rule, lost what backup minutes he was looking to get to Horford early, and is now making me go "whoa" a couple times a game. This warms the cockles.

Speaking of "whoa." JORDAN MORGAN PUT IT BACK IN YOUR FACE, WISCONSIN. And then looked like he was thinking "did I do that" afterwards. Yes, yes you did.

I like this better than that. Hoo man I just went back to Tommy Amaker's last year at Michigan($) to compare someone to Morgan and found that the best ORTG guy on that team was Ron Coleman. Viva Beilein.

The road ahead. Recent events have freed the Big Ten from a tyranny of Kenpom projecting a Badger conference championship in a year when they don't have to go to OSU or MSU—the most Badger championship of them all. Your new favorite is MSU at 14-4, with Michigan and Iowa projected a game behind at 13-5, Wisconsin a game further back, and OSU a fringe contender projected to go 11-7. Michigan's next two games are against the two top contenders. It's kind of a big deal.

The upcoming home game versus Iowa is huge. Huuuuuuge. Winning the Big Ten is about holding serve at home and picking off one, maybe two road games against contenders. Michigan's got one in the bag; Iowa has an opportunity to pick one up. Michigan beats Iowa and the MSU game is entirely house money instead of 80% house money.

The Big Ten, man. Basketball is the opposite of football.

Comments

Michigan Arrogance

January 20th, 2014 at 12:50 PM ^

this entire column was just a ruse to troll BHGP by pointing the seach "Fran McCraffery + erection" to MGoBlog.

 

also, I think this win really makes the next 2 games exciting b/c of what it could mean for a B10 title. this conference is brutal, and I'd be shocked if more than one team gets 14+ wins. when's the Iowa game? not soon enough, that's when

 

MGoLogan

January 20th, 2014 at 1:38 PM ^

Even more important than heart, this team has talent.  When Mitch went down it was almost as if people forgot just how talented Stauskas, Robinson, LeVert, Irvin...etc. truly are.  Stauskas is probably the best offensive player in the Big Ten and I think Glenn Robinson is quietly growing into one of the better wing defenders in the league as well (he shut down Dekker on Saturday).  This team seems to get better every day and I am pretty excited to see where they are when March comes around.

Magnum P.I.

January 20th, 2014 at 1:06 PM ^

I'm glad you pointed out the Billups-butt thing (I seem to remember Trey doing some of that last season, too, no?). I loved seeing Stauskas do that, as it's suggestive of someone who's really under control and confident handling the ball. Chauncey would do it late in games when things got tight. If he didn't see a pass off the pick, he'd often just take one more dribble, head-fake to get the guy on his butt to jump, then get fouled and make both his free throws. It was an unbearably boring style to watch, but with Chauncey's free-throw shooting, it was terribly effective. Great, great wrinkle for Stauskas to add. Kid is getting better all the time. 

Magnum P.I.

January 20th, 2014 at 1:33 PM ^

Yeah, I thought so. When I first saw Stauskas doing it, I thought of Trey, but Chauncey was the real master of that technique. It's so effective and says a lot about Stauskas's ballhandling and vision. I hope to see a lot more that on the pick and roll late in games.

Chauncy was so effective with this because he was thicker and stronger than other  point guards. Really allowed him to stay in control while essentially muscling the opponent out of the way. Might limit Nik's effectiveness using this technique. 

mgobaran

January 20th, 2014 at 1:06 PM ^

Great stuff Brian. Thanks. This is so much better than an article I just read titled "Will the stock market drop if Peyton Manning wins the Super Bowl."

I hate Mondays.

charblue.

January 20th, 2014 at 1:07 PM ^

you have to play each game like the next game is for the title, because it is. If you watch other teams play, you understand that this mindset is not adopted or let's say, sustained, by other teams, with one major exception: MSU, which even on a bad night, because it relies on defense and rebounding first, offensively and defensively, finds ways to win. 

The good thing is: Belein understands this belief system and preaches it. 

Iowa comes at you in waves and has Roy Marble's son in beast mode now. It also has Fran on the bench, who can get a little agitated. But unlike his agitation, Fran's doesn't yet get the same reaction from the refs as Izzo's long crimson whiny harrangues or Bo's explosive mystical looks and pantomimes. Fran just loses it -- with his team and the officials without the results. Izzo and Ryan get lots of conversation and calls, Fran just gets hard looks. 

Anyway, Iowa is a team with lots of long guys and Marble who is really good. And they are looking for respect and another big road win.  Michigan must play another strong game to beat this team, with Iowa coming off big wins in Columbus and a huge double-digit win over Minnesota at home. The Hawkeyes erased a 10-point deficit and then went crazy in the second half for the lopsided victory. 

Compare that loss to the one Minny absorbed in OT at Breslin and you sort of understand the problem facing Iowa is even with an agitated Fran on the bench in Rodney Dangerfield mode. 

 

funkywolve

January 20th, 2014 at 1:08 PM ^

With Iowa already having beaten one fringe contender on the road, OSU, doesn't this game maybe take on even more importance?  They've already played Wisky on the road and lost, so after Michingan, Iowa's remaining away schedule isn't very daunting - Northwestern, Illinois, PSU, Indiana, Minnesota and MSU.  It's not easy to go on the road and win during conference play but that seems like a much easier road schedule than what UM still has left - MSU, Indiana, Iowa, OSU, Purdue and Illinois.

woosterwolverine1224

January 20th, 2014 at 1:42 PM ^

about this article makes me happy.  This team is exactly the kind of team that I would want to follow.  Great team chemistry, phenomenal coaching staff, fun personalities, upperclassmen who have stuck around despite being relegated to lesser roles last year (Morgan), and clear development throughout the season.  

 

TLDR/ Viva Beilein 

Evil Empire

January 20th, 2014 at 1:46 PM ^

My colleague couldn't think of the name but recognized him as the 'guy from Wisconsin who was there forever that always hit big shots.'  He liked "Neverending Ginger Assassin."

 

 

charblue.

January 20th, 2014 at 1:49 PM ^

win is gravy. While the schedule for Michigan is daunting playing three ranked teams in a row, including two top 5 on the road, consider the upside: beating both Iowa and Sparty does for inner confidence -- paving a new road to greater tournament Karma. 

Anyway, when you win these things one at a time, it sort of makes the challenge a more digestible opportunity for glory. I mean win at Breslin, and then winning at Assembly Hall and the Mackey Center seems more possible. 

Lose at Breslin, and you start plotting how the other half survives until the next meeting. It's just the nature of projecting the season. 

funkywolve

January 20th, 2014 at 2:15 PM ^

Agree that you need to take care of business at home, but I don't think every road win is gravy.  Granted it's tough to win just about any where on the road but if you want to contend for the big ten title, you almost have to come out of say Lincoln, Evanston and Happy Valley with wins and then in places like Bloomington, Champaign, Minny, West Lafayette you better win at least 50% if not more.  The real gravy is going on the road to Madison, East Lansing, Columbus and Iowa City and coming away with wins.

BlackOps2ForLife

January 20th, 2014 at 1:54 PM ^

An absolutely huge win. I would have been happy going 1-2 in this tough three-game stretch, but now I expect 2-1 at least. We should beat Iowa, but it will be tough. I still think MSU will dominate Michigan, much like the game in East Lansing last season, but we will return the favor in Ann Arbor later this season.

El Jeffe

January 20th, 2014 at 2:13 PM ^

Count me in as an early joiner of the WHAT IS HAPPENING WHERE IS STAUSKAS AAAAAH club.

I thought Beilein scored an 11.9 out of 10.0 in coaching in that game, but leaving Stauskas on the bench (and apparently waiting for the under 8 timeout) pushed it down from 12/10.

I mean, Stauskas needs rest and energy and all, but that's what timeouts and Red Bull are for.

Still in all, a fantastic win.

Hannibal.

January 20th, 2014 at 2:35 PM ^

This is the first time in a long time where I feel like we won a close, shittily officiated game where we got most of the calls.  That sequence where the refs missed an obvious foul and then Lavert hit a trey was something that we were on the wrong end of repeatedly last year.  And then there was the foul that rescued us from a shot clock violation.  Definitely not a bad call, but that's the kind of shit that never happened to us last year against Wisky, OSU, or our other close losses. 

89Grad

January 20th, 2014 at 3:17 PM ^

Great win.  I think our best half-court offense is giving the ball to Stauskus and letting him create.  I wonder what our points per possession number is when Stauskus is doing that versus the rest of the time (for possessions that are not transition shots). 

Levert was outstanding.  If he can become a solid #3 scorer on a consistent basis, this team will be in very good shape in mid March. 

fukkyt

January 20th, 2014 at 4:35 PM ^

I don't know how he does it. Being benched so many times and yet continues to excel every time he's called upon. Plus he has already graduated from College of Engineering and working on a Master degree!

denardogasm

January 20th, 2014 at 4:44 PM ^

I was a little surprised by the comparison Stauskas boxing out while dribbling at the free throw line to Billups. The obvious comparison for me is with Burke! When I think of Trey Burke I think of 1. The shot 2. The Appling steal and subsequent giggling and 3. Him pulling the move in question about 100 times last season. He's been doing it in the pros as well. I can't be the only one who remembers this.

ca_prophet

January 20th, 2014 at 8:05 PM ^

I have a quibble, which is that LaVert's drive into the big guy wasnt an "obvious you must call this" foul, and I certainly wouldn't have expected the call given what else had gone down already. I thought a lot of fouls were missed but mostly missed consistently; the refs seemed like they were going to call things that might lead to injury and that was about it for both sides.

Still, he played very well and the shot that he missed really did look like it went in and came out again. I was expecting us to go cold and have Wisconsin make a run, because we were absolutely shooting the lights out before that - even Staukas misses now and then! - but we recovered to get Staukas free for that critical three and then made our shots during the Free Throw Parade.

Iowa is a big game. Go get 'em Blue!