I'm Not Your Cool Story, Bro Comment Count

Brian December 3rd, 2014 at 12:12 PM

12/2/2014 – Michigan 68, Syracuse 65 – 6-1


[Bryan Fuller]

It wasn't quite as audacious. Michigan had actually run some offense and the launching point wasn't halfway between the three point line and half court. But it wasn't uncontested, and neither was it anywhere near the line. Spike Albrecht raised up, and it felt a lot like a game a couple years ago in a much bigger arena.

Spike wasn't even a novelty at that point. A 5'11" freshman averaging eight minutes a game with Brent Petway-level usage, he was a weird spare part people were still ticked at Beilein for snatching away from Appalachian State at the last second. He'd hit some threes; a couple games earlier he'd unleashed a wicked court-length bounce pass to GRIII long after the VCU romp had descended into delightful farce. That was about all anyone knew about him.

So he comes off the bench for a whopping four minutes against the Orange, in the Final Four, and this guy who looks like he's president of the local chapter of the Young Insert Political Party Heres ends up taking a 35-footer. It goes down, because that game featured a ton of tiny guards against the tiny-guard-murdering Syracuse defense and Michigan beat it by shooting from the courtside seats.

A game later Spike was a national fave-rave tweeting at Kate Upton specifically because he was a nobody. In living rooms across the country, Carls cried out to Mabels that the kid from Pleasantville—Tobey somethingwas winning a national championship. A nation got its cheek-pinching muscles nice and limber.


Yesterday a healthy swathe of Syracuse fandom saw this shot go up and thought not that guy. Anyone but that guy. I project that at least a half-dozen fell to their knees in despair before the shot even went down.

These people were not just thinking about one shot two years ago. They were thinking about the Globetrotters-but-necessary behind the back assist to Ricky Doyle that had Crisler about losing its mind, about Spike defying every piece of conventional wisdom about Syracuse's long-ass 2-3 zone. That conventional wisdom: small guards perish.

As conventional wisdoms go, this is a good one. There is a ton of evidence in favor of this point of view. Trey Burke had three points in that Final Four game. That year's highly-touted one-seed version of Indiana looked hopelessly inept as they went down in a Sweet 16 game. Iowa barely crested 0.9 PPP earlier this year, with PGs Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons putting up 77 and 56 ORTGs in 52 minutes between them. Six-foot guards loathe the appearance of Syracuse on the schedule.

5'11" don't curr though. Michigan's offense functioned best when Albrecht plunged into the middle of these five gentlemen, a gnome amongst the ents, and invariably found the open man. It was stunning as it was happening and the box score is just as jaw-dropping.



Nine assists. Zero turnovers. 11 points on eight shots. Two very sneaky steals. Hell, three rebounds. In a game where scraping over a point per possession was a Christmas miracle, Spike put up an ORTG of 177. 177!

It's not a fluke. When Derrick Walton missed a game against Iowa last year, Spike had seven assists, no turnovers, and four steals in 35 minutes. It was midway through his seventh Big Ten game last year when he coughed up his first TO. His A:TO ratio this year is 34:4. Michigan is increasingly relying on him as a de-facto starter. He had 32 minutes against Detroit, 35 against Oregon, 27 against 'Nova, 27 against 'Cuse. 

Those are the numbers. The eye is even more excited. Spike has gone from a guy who can take the pressure off your main ball handler to a guy extremely aware of the gaps his penetration opens up. His previous tendency to dribble the air out of the ball is all but gone, replaced with an incisiveness that, yes, reminds you of That Other White Point Guard.

As Dakich said on the broadcast after Spike's Globetrotter assist: that was not flash. It made the play. I got a bit frustrated at the passivity of the Michigan offense in the first half, and then I got leery when Michigan tried to screen its way to the interior, because doing that against 'Cuse is asking for a long arm to poke the ball away. I got a little despair-y about it. Then Spike started slashing his way in, utterly confident in his handle, using the fact that he's low to the ground as an advantage. By the time he blew the roof off the place he wasn't a bench player with a cute story.

He was a crutch.

Spike has arrived. He still looks like a whippet interning for Senator Gnome Butterpants IV, but if you try to pinch his cheek your hand is going to look like Syracuse's vaunted zone after he plunges into the lane.

[After THE JUMP: some all-time Kenpom territory approaching?]


We may be heading for some truly exciting Kenpom territory. As of this morning, Ricky Doyle is tenth in the nation in OREB rate… and last on his team in DREB rate. Statistically he looks like rebounding Two-Face, half Mitch McGary, half Nnanna Egwu.

I wonder if this might change when Big Ten season rolls around. Michigan's got a decently shiny DREB rate on Kenpom (66th), but their pattern over the last few years has been:

  1. Get through the nonconference season with a nice number built on doing very well against smaller teams and not so well against big ones.
  2. Put up a mediocre-at-best Big Ten number.

The focus this year has been on boxing your guy out and letting the other four gentlemen board. Walton has a whopping 19% DREB rate(!), was Jordan Morgan's number last year.

If Doyle is able to suck up OREBs on a McGary level Michigan might be better served letting him focus more on the ball than his man on the defensive end of the court. We'll see.


Have to end up with something better than this vs 2-3 [Bryan Fuller]

More Doyle. He's got to be the guy. He was huge in the second half, ripping down 5 OREBs and contributing to a couple of the deadball OREBs Michigan got; he was also extremely efficient as a finisher, going 4/6 from the floor and earning two more trips to the line that he converted.

In contrast, Donnal and Bielfeldt were both the recipients of first-half passes that put them about two feet from the basket and couldn't get a shot up, let alone put it in. Against athletic post players neither is a plus finisher. Donnal will hopefully improve over the course of the year; Bielfeldt is what he is.

Collective numbers:

  • 24 minutes of Doyle: 12 points on eight SE, 5 OREB, block
  • 15 minutes of Bielfeldt/Donnal: 2 points on 2 SE, 1 OREB, 3 TO

Doyle picked up the only DREB a 5 got in this game.

    So, then, a key for the season. Doyle's foul rate. He's currently at 5.4 per 40, which is the best of any Michigan 5 and about on par with Morgan and Horford last year. So that's plausible. But you watch some of the fouls he's committing right now and they scream "freshman"—I am thinking of particular of the blocking foul he got on which he was obviously moving into the opponent. With the dropoff severe here, any of those JMo hedging fouls are going to be extremely hard to live with.
    I really wish we had Horford.



Rebounding battle: a weird draw. Michigan crushed Syracuse in the first half and got steady production from Doyle in the second half, ending up with a highly un-Michigan OREB rate: 40%. Less surprisingly, the enormous and bouncy 'Cuse line up put up 42% themselves.

Turnovers turnovers turnovers. Michigan did a great job of forcing a rickety Syracuse offense into 19 turnovers, with just seven(!) of their own that was enough to make up for a big Syracuse edge in two-point shooting largely thanks to putbacks and a total inability to check Christmas.

Walton limited. Not sure if it was the zone or the toe, probably both. He only took one two, hit just one of six threes, and wasn't as active in the rest of his game as he usually is. Tough matchup, probably still feeling the effects of that injury, hopefully just a blip. He's got two weeks to get ready for the Arizona game.

Schedule complaint. It makes no danged sense to play EMU and Syracuse in the same year and play Syracuse first.

Chatman: progressing. Big-time flashback to late last year when Chatman got a wide open opportunity at a corner three and you simultaneously thought "have to take this" and "oh God please make this," a la GRIII. Also a la GRIII, it went down. Chatman hit a couple of those FT-line jumpers the 2-3 zone tends to give up and rebounded well at both ends; he also got his hands on a number of balls.

That latter is becoming a bit of an expectation and, along with Caris LeVert doing the same, is a major reason Michigan's defense is more annoying than it was last year despite a downgrade at the 5 (at least for now).

Chatman's shooting is still disappointingly scattershot. It seems like he hits half his FTs and misses the other half so badly there's no question it's a brick when it leaves his hand. But he chipped in decently here.

Irvin: stop doing that unless we really need you to. Irvin's weaving bad-idea-wait-good-idea layup in the second half was shocking from a guy who was defiantly Just A Shooter last year, causing this thought process: "wow HOORAY wait stop that there are 23 NBA scouts in the building."

Leave him alone, NBA scouts.



December 3rd, 2014 at 12:24 PM ^

All of the pre-season PG chatter focused on whether or not Walton was going to make the freshman to sophomore jump that Morris and Burke made. I didn't see any mention of Spike making a jump, but it appears that he has. The one constant in all this? Beilein. That man is a genius.


December 3rd, 2014 at 1:30 PM ^

I hope he stays and becomes the next head coach or if he leaves next year gain a couple of years of experience and then comes back. The man just knows how to speak to PGs and SGs.He is a wizard and so is Beilein though of course I am grateful to the rest of the staff who are also great.

We may be able to create a dynasty but of course I want Beilein for however long he wants to which is probably another five years.

Very excited and can't wait to see Chatman come on line which again speaks to the rest of the coaches.


December 3rd, 2014 at 12:27 PM ^

Great write up, but the schedule complaints are, at times, annoying.  Sure, we could all sit down and come up with a dream schedule.  The fact is, it takes two to tango.  Your opponents have goals for their schedules.  And you have to work around the schedule of everyone else on your schedule and they have to work around the schedules of everyone on their schedule and on it goes.  Not to mention the TV networks.

Scheduling is an imperfect puzzle.  You'll never have exactly what you want, so you hope to fill it (an accomplishment itself) in the best way you can.


December 3rd, 2014 at 12:52 PM ^

In addition you've just played 4 games in 7 days. 

Having a few cupcakes lets you try some different things in games that you wouldn't against Syracuse/Arizona/etc.  It also lets you get some extra minutes to the young guys and guys like Max.  You want a solid OOC schedule but you definitely want to mix in some easy wins.


December 3rd, 2014 at 12:57 PM ^

The complaint isn't that EMU is a cupcake, it's that EMU's coach is a former Cuse assistant who runs the 2-3 just like Syracuse does. Playing them first allows you to try out your zone offense so it's not as much of a culture shock when you play Syracuse. Once we knew we were playing Syracuse we should have had EMU moved earlier to the schedule (instead of say Detroit). 


December 3rd, 2014 at 12:34 PM ^

"His previous tendency to dribble the air out of the ball is all but gone, replaced with an incisiveness that, yes, reminds you of That Other White Point Guard."

Funny, I was thinking of John Stockton.  Short, not very athletic, but an accurate shooter, feisty defender (when you're 5'11"-6'1" with no speed feisty is about all you got really), patient yet opportunistic on getting into the paint, quick but sound decisions, insane A:TO ratio, crisp entry passes to the finisher.  I was watching Albrecht work the pick-and-roll and thinking "Albrecht-to-Doyle" much like I was thinking "Stockton-to-Malone".

Albrecht is inherently limited as a defender (though he could improve his low block) but his offense seems to more than make up for it.  Unless Syracuse is worse than I thought they looked, he belongs out there.


December 3rd, 2014 at 12:34 PM ^

How is it that no one wanted Spike besides us (and Appalachian State)?  Sure, he's a little undersized and not that athletic, but how could no one else see what kind of game he had?  Beilein is amazing.

On the downside, this season we seem to again have that issue of going stagnant offensively right when we have an opponent down for the count.  For some reason our teams the last few years seem to really struggle in that stretch from about 5:00 to 1:00 left in the second half.   Usually we end up scraping it out, but occasionally it comes back to haunt us, like in the Villanova game.


December 3rd, 2014 at 12:42 PM ^

Its hard to see exactly how most guy's games will make the jump from HS to CBB. I think "undersized" and "not that athletic" make it even tougher. Spikes got a great handle and he's a passing wizard with a shot that is decent to streaky deadly. However, until you see the result vs. legit competition it looks a little goofy and not necessarily a lock to translate...I think the marriage is perfect. There's a chance he's not the guy he is at UM if he ends up elsewhere, and we're damn fortunate he is here.


December 3rd, 2014 at 1:51 PM ^

Totally agree about Spike.  This is especially since this guy is not likely to leave early for the NBA*, so he can bring stability to a team along with his other qualities.

*Not a dig on Albrecht.  The NBA looks for size and speed, even if those guys are sometimes total meatheads.   


December 3rd, 2014 at 12:35 PM ^

I like a team where no name guys like Spike and Doyle are suddenly legit Big Ten starters and guys like Irvin just methodically leap forward every year because that's what Beilein does.

I love that we're 6-1 right now, because if we're that good now, I can't wait to see where Beilein has us in February and on


December 3rd, 2014 at 1:25 PM ^

How far back are you going with this pattern?  Honest question.

My memory is a liability of its own so I'm just going off this one game, but Syracuse seemed weirdly hesitant to exploit him for some reason.  He's a heady defender so you have to keep an eye on his hands but his lateral quickness isn't special and when you can force him to rotate into the paint he can't do much besides watch when his man goes vertical.  I mean, bully for us and you can get away with limited defense if you've got an ORTG of 177, but sometimes it looked like Syracuse was over-respecting Albrecht as if he was 8" taller than he is.  Was he doing anything in particular to warrant that caution?


December 3rd, 2014 at 2:56 PM ^

He's gotten smarter and more confident.  He'll still get toasted sometimes, but much like his passing and driving he is a lot more comfortable with his skillset and making great decisions.  He's taking very smart risks for steals and playing off his man when he can.  He has gotten significantly better.

Beilein is a system. Plug and go.


December 3rd, 2014 at 12:53 PM ^

IMO the best part of the team this year is our ability to battle for our points and rebounds. We have tiny Derrick Walton Jr. going down low and ripping down rebounds, and Doyle pulling offensive boards down and giving himself a second chance to score. Caris is creating his own shot and it seems as though Irvin and Doyle are being very aggressive and attacking the rim. This is Big Ten basketball and I love seeing it out of our guys right now. 


December 3rd, 2014 at 12:54 PM ^

It makes no danged sense to play EMU and Syracuse in the same year and play Syracuse first.

Whatever, I mean, the ACC/B1G Challenge is nice and all but it pales in comparison to the Washtenaw County Championship.


December 3rd, 2014 at 12:54 PM ^

This game felt a lot like last year's AZ game. Cuse had a tough inside presence, good defense around the perimeter, and kept it close the entire game. Of course, unlike last year, we did enough to win (despite the bricked FTs), and I think that bodes favorably for the future, particularly with a young team.  

It's fun to watch Doyle and Chatman improve with each game. Aside from the crowd pleasing alley-oops, I don't feel like we miss GR3's production much and Chatman's ceiling seems like it may be higher overall. Doyle also seems further along than Mitch was at this point (and age). Interestingly, despite losing 3 players to the NBA, this could end up being a more formidable team by March than last year's was.


December 3rd, 2014 at 1:00 PM ^

write up Brian, always appreciated. I love the way Spike plays the game, it looks effortless on his part. He is the epitome of a great teammate, doesn't try and do too much and does whatever it takes to help the team win! The best part about Spike is that he is going to stick around for his senior year and continue to be a strong leader/presence on the floor. Such a great pick up by Coach B. Also looks like Irvin is taking that jump, looks like he's had more driving lay-ups this season than his whole career!


December 3rd, 2014 at 2:10 PM ^

If we did have him, he would still be unhappy with how few minutes he was getting, which would likely continue to shrink as the season goes on (given Doyle's steady improvement).

I think you could make an argument that Spike is just as good of a point guard as Walton.  Walton can do some things that Spike cannot, but the reverse is also true.

Impressive win considering that two of our three go to guys had subpar nights.

Is Donnal really a 5?  Wasn't he recruited to be a stretch four?


December 3rd, 2014 at 3:02 PM ^

would play over 30 minutes a game on this team.  I know Doyle had a very good game but the rebounding, shot-blocking, experience and offensive skils aren't in the same galaxy.  You're talking about one of the best rebounders in the country (better than McGary and Morgan) AND a guy who can knock down threes. A future NBA player.  Doyle might be too, but he's a freshman.

Donnal is a Beilein 5. He is not athletic enough to be a 4.

Spike is not as good as Walton.  John Beilein knows a thing or two.  Also defense is a thing, it matters.


December 3rd, 2014 at 3:21 PM ^

That was really a phenomenal play. Maybe a notch or two below the Legg goal or the Woodson pick, but still up there with stuff like Marquise Walker's Iowa catch or the Brandon Graham MSU hit.


December 3rd, 2014 at 4:16 PM ^

I feel like Michigan is head of where they were last year.  

Last year in the final 5 minutes we choked away the game against Charlotte.  Against Arizona we let them back in the game the final 5 minutes, got the BS foul call on McGary and lost. Against Stanford we almost choked the game away in the final 5 minutes but won.  By B1G season we were pulling away the final 5 minutes.  

This year, we didn't have the Charlotte game, the Arizona and Villanova game are comparable, then this game is comparable to Stanford.

UM Indy

December 3rd, 2014 at 4:59 PM ^

And have said so on this board on many occasions that Zak would be very effective this season driving to the basket and finishing.  Not Just A Jump Shooter indeed.