Hoops Mailbag: The Poolebag Comment Count

Ace March 21st, 2018 at 8:04 AM

Yes, this still somehow went in. [JD Scott]

Another tournament week, another multi-part mailbag. This one contains the questions about/inspired by Jordan Poole's buzzer-beater. Yes, I'm as shocked as you are that I sorted them this way. Jump in!

A Free Pass

Hey Ace - Are there any statistics showing whether teams should guard the inbounder in late game situations like against Houston? On the surface, it seems like a huge mistake to let Livers inbound the ball to halfcourt so easily.


While I don't remember seeing such a study and can't find stats on it, I agree that Kelvin Sampson erred in allowing Isaiah Livers to get a clean look on the final play. An opposing staff can only scout so many games, but I'm guessing Houston's coaches didn't get to the Maryland tape.

Even though the outcome of the plays were wildly different, Michigan's game-winners against the Terps and Cougars came on nearly identical setups: Livers hitting Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman with a baseball pass from his own baseline out of a timeout. Neither opponent elected to guard the inbounder even though Livers wasn't allowed to run the baseline.

Maryland's Mark Turgeon explicitly tried to set up his defense to prevent anyone from catching a pass while running towards the Terps basket. Here's how that went:

If you forgot, MAAR nearly got all the way to the hoop, drew a foul, and drained both free throws with the ruthless calm of a serial killer.

Here was Houston's setup:

While the Cougars were more successful in preventing a long pass to a guy on a dead run, they still allowed MAAR to catch the ball a fair distance up the court without any immediate pressure, which let him get upcourt in a hurry even though they had two defenders waiting.

Houston forced a tough shot, but it was still a catch-and-shoot look from a not-entirely-unreasonable distance by a shooter who had the time and space to square up to the basket. That's not a prayer, at least if you're Jordan Poole; ideally, the defense is forcing teams into prayers in that situation.

I don't think having the extra defender back is worth whatever added coverage it provides. Again, Livers can't run the baseline in either of these cases, and he's being asked to throw accurate passes far downcourt. Stick a big man on him and that becomes a great deal more difficult to execute. A tougher pass for Livers means either MAAR has to run farther back to the ball—losing precious time and momentum—or risk never completing the pass at all on a deeper attempt. Beilein's now gushed twice this season about Livers being able to throw pinpoint baseball passes; that's a lot harder to do with a basketball when you're not getting the same amount of space as an actual baseball pitcher.

Recency and confirmation biases may be playing a factor, but I rarely find the fifth defender that stays back even comes into play that often. For the offense, the downside of having the entire court to cover can also be an upside—your players can sprint full-out, which never happens for more than a couple steps in a halfcourt situation. Even with the extra man back, it's hard to keep a team from hitting the player they want—usually after running him through a couple screens—and that can lead, as in Maryland's case, to getting a bunch of players uselessly stuck behind the play while a fast man runs past them.

Houston more productively spent their extra player on MAAR and he still had an easy pass to make because of the amount of space he had on the catch. They did a much better job on the back end than Maryland by preventing MAAR from either driving or pulling up. They still got burned. I thought everyone learned this lesson in 1992: guard the dang inbounder

Or don't, actually. Coaches not doing that is working out pretty nicely for my life.

[Hit THE JUMP for my top-five last-shot-makers of the Beilein era, an evil question that was also the most popular, and MAAR's overlooked move.]

Top Five All Time Cold-Blooded Killers

The Orange Krush remembers. [Bryan Fuller]

5. Stu Douglass. It feels appropriate that the only video of Stu's last-minute three to ice the 2011 victory at Michigan State is a grainy, shaky, filmed-my-TV-with-a-camcorder YouTube uploaded a couple weeks after the shot. There have been so many huge plays since that this one often gets lost in the shuffle even though it's hard to overstate its importance. Michigan was coming off the extremely disappointing 2009-10 season and entered the Breslin Center at 1-6 in Big Ten play; the shot propelled them to an 8-3 finish in the conference and a spot in the tournament. I don't know how Beilein's tenure plays out if that shot doesn't fall; I'm glad I didn't have to find out.

4. Glenn Robinson III. There's more than one way to be an option at the buzzer. GRIII may not have been much of a shot creator or outside shooter in college, but he was a superlative athlete with great hands and touch around the basket. The actual buzzer-beater against Purdue obviously jumps to mind. That's not the totality of GRIII's clutch resumé. The Shot never occurs if GRIII doesn't come up with a loose ball and cooly hit a reverse layup 30 seconds earlier against Kansas in 2013. After Indiana erased a late 11-point Michigan lead, he drilled the go-ahead corner three to sew up an outright Big Ten title in 2014.

He wasn't the guy you asked to run an iso on the final possession, but if the play ended with the ball in his hands, the play usually ended well. The baseline cutter is often the forgotten man in late-game situations as teams overplay the star shooter; GRIII played that role beautifully.

3. Trey Burke. I certainly don't need to explain his inclusion. Burke hit The Shot, then proceeded to hit more insane shots in the overtime period to ensure it wouldn't go down like Chauncey Billups' half-courter against the Nets. Yes, we had issues with Trey Burke heroball before that—there really was a time that was a problem—but, well, that made up for a whole hell of a lot, especially given Burke's considerable other clutch contributions.

2. Jordan Poole. You're damn right he's already this high. Poole's shooting 100% on potential game-winners, including a 100% mark in NCAA Tournament games. QED.

Seriously, though, Poole is already a tremendous three-point shooter with a knack for making the exact shot that sent Houston home. He's also got a strong off-the-dribble game and zero fear of the moment. I don't think we've seen his last game-winner.

1. Nik Stauskas. Stauskas just ruined lives, man. This is my favorite because of the combination of crossover, stepback, defender (Nigel Hayes), opponent (Wisconsin), location (the Trohl Center), and absolute cold-bloodedness:

Pretty much any shot he hit at the Breslin Center that year would be a suitable final play, too. The only reason Stauskas didn't have a buzzer-beater to his name at Michigan is because he put opponents out of their misery too quickly. Just ask Illinois.

Honorable mention: Derrick Walton is actually in my top five (slide him above GRIII) but this question begged for a section on Stu's shot and GRIII's different style of clutch is underrated. Caris LeVert may have been the best option of all these guys but was too injured in college to show it. Kam Chatman but only when Walton thinks he's Aubrey Dawkins.

Not Cool, Guys

Don't make me choose. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Three people independently came up with this question and multiple others chimed in either to say I should answer it or to provide one of their own:

You sadists.

Let's get Darius Morris against Duke out right away. As great as the win would've been,—and trust me, I don't underestimate the greatness of any tourney upset of Duke—that Michigan team didn't have a potential dark horse title run in them. Last year's team did. This year's team does.

My initial inclination was to go with Walton, a senior whose shot would've sent Michigan to the Elite Eight. That team was playing beautiful basketball and I wasn't ready to see it end. They had a chance to go all the way.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I leaned in the other direction. Michigan still would've had to go through Kansas (in Kansas City), North Carolina, and Gonzaga to win the championship last year; I don't think last year's defense holds up through that gauntlet given what happened in the Oregon game.

This year's team, though, is playing defense at such an elite level that they made it through the first weekend without breaking a point per possession in either game. They have the ability to play much better on offense, albeit not quite at the level of last year's squad. Three things swing it for me:

  1. The Path. As you probably well know by now, Michigan is the best seed left on their entire half of the bracket and could get a remarkably clear path with a couple more upsets; getting to the title game while playing a team no better than a seven-seed is on the table, albeit unlikely. No matter what, it'd be an easier path than a hypothetical 2017 run.
  2. Jordan Poole. I'm completely in the bag for Jordan Poole.
  3. The End. If that Oregon shot goes in it really ruins the analogy and the kicker of the best thing I've ever written.

Your mileage may vary on how heavily you weigh those last two.

You sadists.

We Need To Be Less Literal

well sure I'll use the excuse to post this

The First of Many.

I'd suggest "Poole's Prayer" but at absolutely no point did he ever doubt that was going in.

Going Ham

[sideline reporter voice] Talk to me about the MAAR ball fake that preceded The Shot (Pt. 2).

We really need to work on the name, but first go ahead and watch that video again as many times as you please.


[checks watch]

[grabs breakfast]

Alright, you're back. An underrated bit of this play is the setup by MAAR. As John Beilein said after the game, Poole was not option one.

"I put great shooters out there in the event that we couldn't get to the rim we could win the game," said Beilein. "So in 3.4 seconds, I think it was 3.1, if you catch the ball at half court you can get right to the rim. But they double teamed [MAAR]. And that's when he found Jordan."

MAAR didn't just find Poole. His initial dribbles after the catch are strong dribbles to the middle of the court even though that's the strength of the defense. That forces the double-team to commit. When MAAR brings the ball up to pass, it isn't initially obvious where he's going, especially if you look at the play from the defense's perspective—three players overload the play side while Livers is charging up the far side, and even if he's an unrealistic option that's enough to keep Houston from shifting over to match up with the players already in the frontcourt:

if you’re going to guard the inbounder anyway maybe do it from the start?

Corey Davis (#5, closest man to Ibi Watson) is in a tougher spot than it appeared live. He can't abandon Watson too early and risk allowing a game-tying layup. Moe Wagner is a very dangerous shooter who's also running into his general area. Poole is way the heck out there. MAAR's ball fake freezes Davis for that split-second Poole needed to square and fire; it also nearly caused Davis to commit a shooting foul because of his late, hard closeout. The little things can make all the difference.



March 21st, 2018 at 8:50 AM ^

Love the cold blooded killers! 

I remember yelling and literally jumping up and down for GRIII's shot against Purdue.  The next day I had to drive my dad to a doctor's appointment and while sitting in the waiting room, I rewatched the shot on my phone almost the entire time I was there.

The Staukas shot against Wisconsin was awesome but I didn't feel I could celebrate with 48 seconds left in the game.  Not with how often Wisconsin pulled about 20 miracles out of their asses every year.  

If anyone wants to see many shots of suicidal Spartan fans after the Stu Douglas shot, skip ahead to 1:22:53...



March 21st, 2018 at 9:13 AM ^

Man, that def. rebounding at the end though? Staee just keep getting off. rebounds and put up 3 after 3 after 3.  I remember seeing video of the Maize Rage waiting for the team bus after returning home and Beilein was all smiles.

And a month and a half later it was Morris' turn to sweep the season series on the home court with double behind the back dribbles and gliding finger roll lay in to ice the game. "Get the F off my court!".



March 21st, 2018 at 10:19 AM ^

affected the NBA to this day as well.

I'm sure you are wondering why or how this has affected the NBA. I'm here to help.

I am willing to guess that in the years since Stu made this shot, Draymond Green asked himself what would he do differently if he had the chance to play that sequence again.

The obvious answer? Green decided he should have kicked Stu Douglas in the clock weights and see if he could hit free throws after being so kicked.

While I'm sure Stu is thankful Green can't go back and kick him in the nether region, other NBA players have not been so fortunate.


March 21st, 2018 at 9:20 AM ^

Seth at The Athletic had a piece that mentioned the Sampson's dilemma. Houston had a similar play in their game against SDSU two days prior. They guarded the inbounder and gave up a much better look than Poole's that fortunately (for them) just missed the mark. It would have won the game for SDSU.

In that case, it was after a basket so the inbounder could run the line, so maybe the right decision here would have been to do it again. I would guess the previous game's final play affected Sampson's judgement though. It would be hard not to in that moment.


March 22nd, 2018 at 1:30 PM ^

but I don't think it's clear either way that he should have defended the inbounds.

I think that was a perfectly fine decision and they got what they wanted: defended the paint we could throw a jump ball for an easy two like Northwestern did against us and forced us to inbound it pretty far from the hoop with two guys able to double the ball.

The big mistake was keeping the three guys in a zone inside of the three point line, two of whom weren't really guarding anyone.  Those three should have immediately matched up with Poole, Wagner and Watson after the pass was inbounded where it was.  Instead they sat inside the arc where we were never going to get the ball given how far MAAR started the play from the basket.


March 21st, 2018 at 9:29 AM ^

could have out fought Santino. But I didn’t realize until now (when I saw that first photo), that Livers made it all the way down court before the ball went through the hoop. That is some serious hustle. Good coaching.

yossarians tree

March 21st, 2018 at 1:12 PM ^

The Shot by Burke is still the greatest in my mind. Dude was beyond the hash! I just watched a replay of that Kansas game last night on BTN. Holy crap that Kansas team was fantastic! They were big and athletic all across the lineup and down the bench. Michigan played great and was lucky to even hold on for most of the game. Seriously we were down by 10 with less than two minutes left and by 8 with about 1:20 left in that game. I believe Burke hit two bombs leading up to the one that tied it. Hardaway had one too. Seriously that Kansas team, if they were playing through the field that is still left this year, would dominate everyone--including us. It was an amazing achievment to take them down. 

Kermits Blue Key

March 21st, 2018 at 9:50 AM ^

I saw an interview with Poole where he stated that he did not see the shot go in the basket. However, every replay / picture I've seen seems to indicate otherwise, as he appears to be looking straight at the basket with no obstruction. Is it possible he was experiencing a Frank "The Tank" "That's how you debate!" moment?

True Blue 9

March 21st, 2018 at 10:04 AM ^

I think I saw someone comment on this shortly after the game but has anyone talked to Ibi Watson? lol He seemed like he thought we still lost or something! He just kind of stood there when the shot went through like nothing happened. 

Watching this play still brings the biggest damn smile on my face, 4 days later.  Can't wait til tomorrow!

Hugh White

March 21st, 2018 at 1:30 PM ^

They say you should never explain your own jokes/puns, but -- what the hey -- here's why I advocate for "The Deep End":  It works in four different ways:

1. Deep: as in "From deep".

2. End:  Ends the game, in contrast to Burke's "Trey" which forced OT.

3. The "Deep End", evokes pool (Poole?) imagery.

4. "Deep End" also evokes the bedlam that ensued, as in "off the deep end".

Thanks, from "Moments in Self Indulgence".



March 21st, 2018 at 10:20 AM ^

I stupidly just watched that entire Trey Burke highlight video from the Kansas game. It could also basically be a Mitch McGary highlight video too. Gosh - what could have been if he was healthy that soph. year and able to play in tournament...


March 21st, 2018 at 10:33 AM ^

I suggest naming Poole's shot "The Escape". The offensive performance against Houston wasn't the best. We escaped the first weekend with a victory. But also after making the shot, Poole was clearly escaping the pile. Seems fitting.


March 21st, 2018 at 10:43 AM ^

The inbound pass. Always.

The clock doesn't start till the inbound pass is touched, so while a fastball is nice

Accuracy is more important.


March 21st, 2018 at 10:45 AM ^

Beilein also didn't defend the inbounder on llast second plays when he first got here.  And we paid for it on a number of occasions--Evan Turner and Wisconsin's Brust being two examples.  But now he does--because Beilein learns and adjusts.  (though not so much on his 2 foul rule]