Man Versus Nature, Mostly Space Bears Comment Count

Brian December 11th, 2015 at 11:20 AM

[Editor's Note: This ran as the game column after last year's win over Ohio State. When I started thinking about writing a Spike career obit it occurred to me that I was just going to rewrite this.]

2/22/2015 – Michigan 64, Ohio State 57 – 14-13, 7-8 Big Ten


[Bryan Fuller]

Basketball from the perspective of an Andre Drummond or a Shaq is a simple thing. You come into possession of the ball. You hold it between two fingers, bellow something designed to induce a flight or fight response, survey the various and sundry "flight" responses, and dunk explosively on anyone who chose… poorly. If someone tries to do the same when you are on defense, you fling him into the nearest body of water.

Later, you have a snack.

Basketball from the perspective of Spike Albrecht is a multi-dimensional differential equation in which almost all answers are emphatically wrong ones. To avoid being postmarked to Lake Michigan, Albrecht has to swoop through the lane several times to induce dizziness in the opposition and then find the one local minima that will result in a shot instead of an Ent-shaped man flexing.

He does this regularly.

When he's really dialed in the result has a Globetrotter feel. A few games ago there was a brief referee discussion after Albrecht was fouled and the refs tried to determine whether it was on the floor or not. The thing is: they were probably right it was a pass. It looked like a pass. It felt like a pass.

It felt like a pass that was off by a little bit so instead of just hitting the backboard it grazed the rim. It felt like this for two diametrically opposed reasons. One, whatever it was that Albrecht was doing did not in any was resemble a shot, at least as far as shooting has been understood since World War II. Two, when Albrecht flings balls at the basket like that they're usually a lot closer to going in.


I found out Kenpom's added an "MVP" feature in their box scores because Albrecht locked it down against Ohio State. And, well, yeah: Albrecht out-dueled future top five pick D'Angelo Russell:

  • Albrecht: 16 points on 12 shot equivalents, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 0 TO
  • Russell: 16 points on 17 shot equivalents, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, 5 TO

Choosing your favorite Spiketrotters play from this game is difficult: the swooping layup past Amir Williams? The assist he wrapped around after faking the swooping layup so convincingly he momentarily fooled himself? The pinpoint, Brady-worthy fade pass to Bielfeldt off the pick and roll? Slipping in for one of his trademarked Very Sneaky Steals to seal the game?

I dunno man, I like 'em both, and I also like both the others. Watching that kind of performance from Albrecht is like a virtuoso slot receiver performance or a hat trick from one of the 5'8" puck wizards Michigan used to collect like pogs back in the day. It's disproportionately fun.

Movies pack their sportsbits with various people overcoming handicaps for a reason. People watch sports instead of those movies for a reason: it's so much better when a script is nowhere near the proceedings. Not that you could script items like we saw yesterday.

P: "So the little guy, he does what?"
W: "He swoops by a seven-foot dude and flings it up underhand from the baseline! And he makes it! A lot!"
P: "The littlest guy on the court. Shooting one-handed grandma free throws on the run against guys a foot taller than him."
W: "Yep!"
P: "I can't decide whether to fire you or shoot you."

We're all pretty eh on this season, willing to give a guy with eight NCAA tourney wins in two seasons a mulligan when his best two players end up on the shelf after a massive pile of unexpected NBA attrition, but not particularly eager to watch Michigan lose a bunch of games. There's no storming the barricades like football, just a desire to fast-forward to next year.

Albrecht paused that thinking a few minutes in yesterday, giving us something to grab on to now, instead of next year. That thing is man versus space bear, with man improbably winning.

[After THE JUMP: a few bullets from the original post that are no longer relevant.]


This was a game to maximize Spike's utility. He drew Shannon Scott on defense, and Scott barely tried to do anything about the fact he was a half foot taller than his guy. Scott had just four FGAs inside the arc, only one of which he hit. He missed a couple threes and had three assists against two turnovers.

Michigan's had some rough defensive outings of late, but this was a good one. Other than the spate of offensive rebounds early in the second half OSU didn't take advantage of Michigan's size deficiencies.

Hey! Chatman! The moment when everything was truly coming up Milhouse was Kam Chatman tip-toeing the sideline to chase down a loose ball and then finishing a transition layup in traffic, spurring an OSU timeout. Before that he'd finished a truly difficult bucket, spinning to the basket against solid defense and looking for a moment like the top 50 prospect he was in high school. It's more baby step than steps. I'll take it all the same.

Ditto Irvin. Aided by the still-baffling Amir Williams's post-defense-type-substance, Irvin was also a major step up from where he's been lately. He was generating shots for people other than himself—four assists—and driving. He still has a bad habit of always going up with his right hand on any layup, though.

Rough day for the freshmen guards. Lost in the actual offensive efficiency was MAAR and Dawkins combining for just seven points on 12 shots with 4 TOs. MAAR did have four assists.

Even in this year. Michigan's now 7-8 in the league with games against Northwestern and Rutgers on the docket. 9-9 is a thing that could happen even with this roster. That's quite a bottom compared to all the other bottoms Michigan basketball has experienced. Flip a couple of those OT results and they'd have faint tourney hopes, even.



February 23rd, 2015 at 10:24 AM ^

"Basketball from the perspective of Spike Albrecht is a multi-dimensional differential equation in which almost all answers are emphatically wrong ones."

This goes down as one of my favorite Brian quotes...and as someone who is below the average stature this is how I feel about most sports.


December 11th, 2015 at 12:36 PM ^

the all-world representative of every would-be challenged basketball player who never allowed size to dictate his possibilities in playing his game at the highest level and then finding the right path to demonstrate this perserverence in a real-world way that still defies the odds. The fact that a hip injury has diminished him is hard to accept given how he's been the most vocal leader of this team and the program and willing to not accpet mediocrity as a final result.

And maybe that is the answer to why he is stepping away like any great athlete no longer capable of performing at their highest level. What a loss for him and the rest of us. He was a truly fun guy to watch play and show in every imaginable way why playing at Michigan was the Michigan difference for this basketball program under Beilien.

gpsimms not to…

February 23rd, 2015 at 10:43 AM ^

That Spike's "out-dueling" of Russell was actually 1/2 MAAR doing a fantastic job on the defensive end.

I'm not saying Spike wasn't the best player on the court, and fantastic, instead just mentioning MAAR deserves a shout-out besides the "tough day for the freshmen" he was given.


February 23rd, 2015 at 10:54 AM ^

You captured the essence of Spike and that isn't easy. He is a remarkable player. Every time I think he has reached his ceiling, he pushes it higher. He was a warrior yesterday.


December 11th, 2015 at 12:47 PM ^

needs to explain himself. How do you get a giant polar bear emerging from Alaskan waters, finding a Star Wars-like hockey stick big enough to split a fishing trawler and then seque the character into Top Gun drone mode. I just want to know what the guy was on when he created it.


February 23rd, 2015 at 11:03 AM ^

Very underrated defensive performance from Rahk.  Everytime Russell got near the 3 point line he was on him and didn't allow the pull-up 3.  At 6-4, he gave Russell a few issues with his height--probably an interesting thing for NBA scouts to watch.


If Rahk can work on his quickness over the summer, I can see him being a great defender on opposing guards with quick feet and long arms.  Particularly off the bench next year.


February 23rd, 2015 at 11:28 AM ^

Why "off the bench"?  At this point he has earned first right at SG in 2015-2016 barring the very unlikely return of Caris.  He is getting game experience vs legit Big 10 teams vs "tearing it up in practice" ala Duncan Robinson.

Not sure that MAAR is going to improve quickness all that much - I believe he is 20 years old already so this is not a Caris situation where he is growing into his body as a 17 year old when he showed up on campus.   What MAAR needs is a consistent 14-16 foot shot.  He has nice slashing ability so if you can add some form of Reggie Miller intermediate shot guys won't be able to play him for driving only.  He does seem to have ok form at the 3 pt line but coming off a screen and hitting a 15 footer or doing a pick and roll (a lost play in the UM offense) would be a wonderful addition for him.  While he should get some form of Sanderson bump in jumping ability and strength (the latter which will really help a guy who loves to go down the lane so much)  I would not expect massive changes in speed or anything like that at his advanced age (relatively speaking).

Spike has been a revelation on offense -he will be a liability on defense always because of things physically out of his control but really he has become the team glue.

Lost in yesterday's win to a degree was the fact our centers were not a gaping hole of pain.  I though Amir Williams would post 15 and 10 while not breaking a sweat.  It was so nice to get offensive rebounds yesterday in key moments - something other teams get s often against us.


February 23rd, 2015 at 11:52 AM ^

I think you have to give it to Spike if Caris is gone. The thing with MAAR is developing his game without the ball in his hands.  Yesterday's solid defense was a hint that he can do that.

Of course you are right about Spike's defensive liabilities but his offense makes him a better overall player than MAAR.  There may be some opponents where matchups would dictate MAAR getting more PT than Spike, but they won't be most games.


February 23rd, 2015 at 1:55 PM ^

Very fair challenge alum 96.  Rahk is much older than most freshman, but still hasn't spent anytime in a college weight or conditioning program.  No matter how old you are, that is going to improve your ability.


My guess (or hope) is that Beilien wants to get more height on the court in '15-'16.  If Levert is back, he obviously starts at the 2.  If not, I can see a lineup of Walton, Irvin, Dawkins, Robinson/Chatman/Wilson, and Doyle.  Spike & Rahk off the bench.

Whether we have Levert or not, we shold be 1-2 guys deeper next year.


February 23rd, 2015 at 11:14 AM ^

One way for Irvin to step up his game is to look to dunk on the finish rather than the right handed layups.  He can jump out of the gym, now make use of that awesome God given ability.  That and add a pump fake on the jump shots and he still has a high ceiling.


February 23rd, 2015 at 11:45 AM ^

I loved Max's effort yesterday, but he left 6-10 points on the rim yesterday.  Donnal was in the same boat on a couple possessions.  They established good position, but couldn't finish.  We're talking about critical junctures of the second half.  I would bring Juwan in during the offseason to work with these guys down low.  Webber may have been the best player on the team, but Juwan had a polished NBA game down low in college.  That was my wish for McGary before he left, and it's still my wish for the guys we have going forward.


February 23rd, 2015 at 11:46 AM ^

He really just needs to use his left hand to finish (an invaluable skill that I'm surprised he hasn't developed yet). That way he'll use the rim to protect the ball from shot blockers getting easy angles on him. Irvin isn't and explosive or powerful enough leaper to pull off the JUST DUNK IT approach successfully.

Great game from Zak.  Awesome to see his game continue to evolve.  Yesterday it really came together for him and you saw the results.


Candor for Sale

February 23rd, 2015 at 11:40 AM ^

This game was the exact opposite of the MSU game. Our crowd was involved right off the bat and even though they went through their customary scoring drought, the team made huge plays. I came in expecting at least one OH-IO chant in Crisler, but it never happened. As it should be.

El Jeffe

February 23rd, 2015 at 11:45 AM ^

Spike's left-hand-only-fake-layup-to-wraparound-pass to Max was sublime. I hope no one GIFs it; otherwise I'll spend the better part of an afternoon mesmerized and unproductive.


February 23rd, 2015 at 12:14 PM ^

This is ostensibly about current NBA basketball big men, but it's loaded with keen observations on elements to being an effective player (e.g., timing, positiong, versatility, strength, ball placement).

Basketball is a lot more than a height contest.

Some of the things Tyson Chandler talks about are things that Spike excels at -- he puts the ball out ahead of where defenders are.  He uses his body to create seperation.

I think a lot of the thing Chandler talks about applied to Jordan Morgan as well.



February 23rd, 2015 at 12:31 PM ^

Brian, that is inspired writing.  I love the description of the Shaq/Spike dichotomy.

Amir Williams appears to be OSU's answer to Courtney Sims.  He seems like a guy who was pushed into playing basketball because he was tall as a kid, but doesn't have a passion for the game.  


February 23rd, 2015 at 1:06 PM ^

I thought the summary of Chatman and Irvin was right on.  Those several possessions with Chatman in the first half were eye-opening.  My son and I turned to each other and said "who is that?"  For the first time all season I saw multiple positive things, as little as they may have been, from Chatman.  And Irvin had another good game going to the hoop, if he still had a layup blocked.  Progress is definitely there and against a good defensive team where he was the #1 guy.


As for the other two freshmen wings, I thought Brian's piece undersold their contributions.  MAAR looked to fit the role of defensive specialist for the first time - and perhaps moreso than anyone on the roster.  He showed things against an NBA guard that we've hoped to see from Levert.  That is a skill which will earn him minutes his entire career.  He also handled pressure on the other end well and didn't force things - with just 4 shots within the flow of the offense.  

Dawkins probably had a "worse" game, but it was littered with moments of promise as well.  His outside shot wasn't falling today, but that finish in the lane was great.  He also had his usual 2 near-miss highlight put-backs.  There was one that would have brought the house down but he just missed it.  He played 35 minutes and wasn't a liability.  

It was also nice to see the big guys hold their own against a more athletic team after getting abused in similar situations.  They still left points on the court, but overall it was a good game for all three guys.  

Chris S

February 23rd, 2015 at 1:09 PM ^

Great write-up as usual Brian. I'm just surprised you didn't rightfully beat the dead horse even more about the late-game time outs and reviews. If I remember correctly, the last 54 seconds took 18 minutes to complete


February 23rd, 2015 at 4:04 PM ^

Say what you want about it being a rough season, if Michigan gets to 9-9 with all they had to go though, this may be coach's best job yet. Lets hope they squeek into the NIT and make a run to New York City, It woudl be a great builidng block toward next season.


February 23rd, 2015 at 4:33 PM ^

I fully expect - in fact, I demand - that some form of "Space Bear" reference and design be included in the next line of T-shirts.

"No Space Bears" or "Spike the Space Bear Killer" or ... something. OK, those suck, but you know what I mean. You're the creative geniuses. Make this work.

(This is where I'd put the "Shut Up and Take My Money" gif if I could figure out how.)


February 24th, 2015 at 12:32 PM ^

Start working at home with Google! It's by-far the best job I've had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this - 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77    per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.