1/13/2019 – Michigan 80, Northwestern 60 – 17-0, 6-0 Big Ten
The inevitable question came in the post-game press conference: what was the difference between Zavier Simpson's shots tonight and the ones that got him lifted for crunch time in Welsh-Ryan? Beilein went for the laugh line first: "the ball went in." The assembled press duly laughed. Same question to Chris Collins, same answer.
One question, to both head coaches, and the exact same answer.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 14, 2019
But because John Beilein is John Beilein, he realized that was flip and dismissive. So he quickly followed that up with "that's a great question" and noted two things. The first: Northwestern was the first and to-date-only team to leave him open like that. The implication was that despite the shots being open Simpson was maybe not mentally prepared to take them.
The second: Simpson took the Northwestern sag as "a personal affront." Northwestern made Zavier Simpson mad. This is inadvisable.
So anyway there was a heat check at the end of that. It followed on from the first step-back 18-footer of Simpson's career and five makes from three in nine attempts. Heat checks are generally annoying since they are by definition bad shots.
This one had to be taken. Zavier Simpson had to continue shooting ever more improbably until he missed. If he hit the heavily contested off the dribble three that clanged, the next time down was going to be a flip throw.
This is not 'Nam. There are rules. Flip throw.
Perhaps lost in the second-half delirium was the first-half delirium when Jon Teske did more or less the same thing, flinging in three first-half three pointers and subsequently breaking the brains of his opposition. Dererk Pardon went from nine career three point attempts to thirteen without banking another one in. Pardon's backup, Barrett Benson, flung one so wide of the backboard it might have been a poorly-disguised assassination attempt against a photographer.
Northwestern's centers were convinced that this was magical opposite day. They thought they might live out their Steph Curry fantasies, and who could blame them? I counted my limbs last night and was unsure whether to be relieved or disappointed when there were still four of them. Surely in such circumstances a tall man will be permitted to hit career three pointer #3, in Crisler Arena where the walls between dimensions are thin.
It was not to be so for Pardon and Benson, who don't have the reserves of sheer cussedness that Simpson does. They cannot refine their anger to a fine white-hot line and use it for revenge and mincing garlic.
Simpson can. His career has been one long exercise in proving the skeptics wrong. And there were many skeptics, including yours truly. I may have wondered in the MGoSlack chat what Beilein saw in a 5'10" point guard who couldn't shoot. I still wonder what Beilein thought he was getting when he got tired of waiting for Cassius Winston. Beilein's as close as anyone can be to a genius when it comes to doing the basketball, but I struggle to believe even he saw a world in which a player who is the very opposite of everything he's done in 40 years of coaching became the beating heart of a 17-0 team.
But then nobody envisioned a Zavier Simpson heat check in a pulsating arena, either. Expectations are just another way to piss off the last man in the world you want to motivate.
[After THE JUMP: Fun With Torvik, Teske edition.]
This was fun though [Fuller]
Huh. Down Vic Law, Northwestern started Erstwhile Michigan Recruit Pete Nance. Nance didn't do much on offense but he was given a bizarre defensive matchup: Simpson. Nance is 6'10". Simpson went off in the second half but that was more Northwestern's strategy to hedge off Simpson and let what happens happens.
Nance did get turned around once and put Simpson on the line; Simpson got one of his trademark sky-hooks in, but for large portions of the first half it looked like Simpson didn't really know what to do with a guy a foot taller than him who did a decent job of keeping up.
True shooting talent. Teske is up to 30% from three on the season; Simpson is up to 33%. I don't think either has a ton of upside left to get up much farther but if they can even maintain those levels that stresses defenses in a way that should be profitable for Michigan's three drivers.
It would be nice if Simpson could spread his makes out a bit more. He's gone 5/10, 2/4, 3/4, and 4/7 this year… and has two makes in the other 13 games.
Teske, the possession generator. My weirdly specific prediction in the season preview TWO was that Jon Teske's possession disruption stats (OREBs, steals, blocks) would sum to a total higher than Mitch McGary's 2013 season. So far Mitch's 16 OREB + 3.9 block + 3.4 steal rate is carrying the day at 23.3, because Teske hasn't maintained his 13.8 OREB rate from last year. He's at 8.1 OREB + 8.2 block + 1.9 steal, which is "just" 18.2.
StatWatch™: Jon Teske's block percentage is higher than his turnover rate. That is ... uncommon. pic.twitter.com/gbNjDAVFbj
— Bart Trvik (@totally_t_bomb) January 14, 2019
Teske's 6.6 TO rate is 10th nationally, which is tops in the nation for anyone taller than 6'6". Mitch's TO rate was 18, admittedly on 21% usage instead of 16%.
Teske's rock-bottom TO rate is making me rethink some of my strident opposition to midrange twos. A Teske 10-footer isn't a great shot but neither is it a turnover. There's definitely a correlation between tons of threes and low TO rate; I'd bet there's also one between other twos and shots at the rim, which closes some of the gap.
Ace ran some Fun With Torvik and found that the only two high-major players in his database with more than 60% of minutes played with a block rate >8 and a TO rate <10 were Teske, Iowa's Jared Uthoff, and Anthony Freakin' Davis.
Teske, the hedger. A couple mentions on the broadcast and post-game that Big Ten coaches assert that Jon Teske is the best pick and roll defender in the conference. Jon Crispin also made a good point: Michigan is comfortable switching PNR late in the clock because Teske can move well enough to make that work. A couple minutes later M switched Teske in a late PNR and Teske forced a difficult contested three.
Message received. Charles Matthews was notably more aggressive about getting shots up at the rim in this game: just one two-point jumper and 6/7 at the rim, none of them assisted. A couple of those were offensive rebounds and a couple were drives left when Northwestern vastly overplayed screens, but Matthews did scratch out a couple of attempts at the rim that easily could have been those fadeaway twos that aren't going down.
Matthews did commit a charge and a couple of "I forgot to dribble" traveling calls early held his efficiency down but this was a way forward for his usage.
NBA continuation please. The NBA's traveling regulations are a bit… nonexistent for my tastes by by God they've got it right with their extremely permissive approach to continuation. If you get fouled and there's any hint of a shooting motion or the thought of a shooting motion you should get the benefit of the doubt. And-ones are cool and fouls should be punished maximally to promote scoring and open basketball.
Yes, this is about the Iggy coulda-shoulda and-one. Why anyone planning how to basketball would not want that bucket to count is a mystery.
The good news is that given the way NCAA officiating is going that might actually happen. The verticality rules explicitly privilege guys who are trying to block shots instead of take charges, thus encouraging actual basketball to be played.
Every change over the past ten years that doesn't involve going to the monitor has been somewhere between good and excellent.