12/2/2014 – Michigan 68, Syracuse 65 – 6-1
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 something—was 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:
Get through the nonconference season with a nice number built on doing very well against smaller teams and not so well against big ones.
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.
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.