Now that the bounty of Big Ten Tournament GIFs has been posted, I wanted to revisit the weekend's tactical battles like I did with Monday's post on the Purdue game. Today's post will cover the Iowa and Nebraska games. I'll have another one on the MSU game and probably a bit more on Purdue, too.
To the pictures, moving and otherwise.
Iowa: Shutting Down Bohannon, Evil Beilein Overtime Set
Switching and stealing led to easy points. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
The top priority for any team that plays Iowa is stopping guard Jordan Bohannon, a 30-foot pull-up three-pointer waiting to happen. While one such shot sent this game into overtime, Bohannon otherwise made only 2-of-10 threes, and his lack of volume was just as important as his lack of makes. He went for a 13-minute stretch in the first half without attempting a triple and had another eight-minute long-range drought in the second. Four of his attempts came in the final minute of regulation or the overtime period.
While Bohannon was nearly the hero, he finished with only 11 points on 15 shot equivalents. The defense allowed Michigan to avoid an upset despite a brutal 3-for-19 performance from beyond the arc on the other end.
How did Michigan accomplish this? While Zavier Simpson has deservedly received a lot of credit, it also extends to the entire squad. Luke Yaklich deployed a switch-heavy scheme to prevent Bohannon from getting open looks and the team executed it with precision. Michigan not only slowed Iowa's most dangerous scorer but came up with eight steals in the process, which led to some easy buckets.
Here's my favorite defensive possession of the game. The whole team plays it perfectly, and Simpson's ability to cover, and hold, a lot of ground stands out. He's circled in blue in these screencaps; the clock is circled to emphasize the speed at which all this occurs. Michigan's defense was flying.
Simpson picks up Bohannon at halfcourt but takes a hard pick, something Teske or Livers likely should've called out. While he gets over it, he ends up switching onto the screener, Tyler Cook—Iowa's 6'9", 255-pound post threat.
Iowa goes at this size mismatch right away, posting Cook on Simpson and clearing the near side of the court for him to go to work.
Cook only gets a couple dribbles—and nowhere near the hoop—before Jon Teske comes over for a well-timed double-team. As doubles go it's very low-risk; by clearing out for Cook, Iowa has no spacing on the weak side, so three Wolverines effectively cover four Hawkeyes. Cook doesn't have much of a choice but to kick it back out.
The ball quickly swings to Bohannon, and Luke Garza comes over to set a quick high screen. Simpson takes a brief pause to make sure Garza doesn't slip to the basket...
...then gets over to trap Bohannon in a flash, closing any window for a shot. Bohannon has to swing it back to Garza; Livers gets back on him before he can do anything.
Bohannon and Garza reset and try another quick screen. Simpson fights over the top, passes Bohannon off to Livers, and swings back around on Garza, closing off the pop for a three while Livers prevents a pull-up or drive from Bohannon.
Garza cuts hard to the hoop and Simpson hangs with him, anchoring in the post and holding surprisingly decent position. It doesn't matter, as Bohannon tries an aimless crossover, goes to pick up his dribble, and gets stripped by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who's close enough to take a calculated gamble.
Bohannon got only six three-pointers off in halfcourt sets and made two—one when Livers blew the switch, the other on a 25-foot pull-up. The final score may have been close, but Michigan held the nation's #19 offense (yes, the Hawkeye defense is very bad) to 0.95 points per possession, a huge drop from the 1.09 PPP they posted in Big Ten play.
[Hit THE JUMP to see how Beilein freed up Robinson in OT, his adjustments to Nebraska's defense, and more.]
DIABOLICAL DUNCAN SET
Before I get to the go-ahead three, I was wrong in Monday's post about the Robinson/Simpson pick-and-pop being a specific wrinkle for Purdue. Robinson's triple late in regulation came on a similar action. I've noticed it sprinkled throughout the BTT film and it's been quite effective. My favorite evil variation shows up in the Nebraska section.
Anyway, the go-ahead three. Appropriately, they ran a V-cut for the Exeter kid:
Not a lot needs to go into analyzing this one; great offense doesn't have to be complicated and Michigan got just what they wanted early in the possession. Robinson starts with the ball on the wing, heads to the center of the court, and swings it to Charles Matthews; he's now in position for a cut to the hoop, which opponents have to respect—Robinson's used crafty off-ball movement to make just under 60% of his twos the last two seasons.
Jon Teske, who's quickly grasping the art of the screen, dummies a pick on Robinson's man but lets him get past, which is part of the plan. Teske quickly flips the screen as Robinson makes a sharp cut back to the arc; this time, he catches Robinson's defender and forces him out of the play. The Ringmaster isn't going to miss this look often:
When Robinson is literally the only player on your team capable of hitting a three in a game, that's a hell of a play to break out in crunch time.
Nebraska: Switches Get Stiches, Running Off Rebounds
REVIVING THE PICK-AND-ROLL
Z and Moe picked apart the Husker D. [Campredon]
I apologize for this, but we must revisit Michigan's regular-season trip to Lincoln, when Tim Miles utilized an all-switch approach to spark a blowout. The Huskers, especially lanky big Isaiah Roby, completely neutralized M's high screen game; Moe Wagner and Zavier Simpson combined to score five points on nine shots. The Wolverines had their worst offensive performance of the season.
Michigan was on short rest the first time around and mostly ran their normal offense, which bogged down against the switches. As the ugly first M possession of the game shows, that often resulted in drives directly into defenders. First, Wagner tries to take Roby off the bounce, but Roby makes a quick recovery off a switch and knocks the ball away.
Michigan retained possession and went right to the pick-and-roll. Even though Wagner gets a switch onto a much smaller player, they can't find a way to get the ball to him before a bigger defender rotates into the post to help, so they swing the ball to Isaiah Livers in the corner. The Huskers recover, Livers essentially drives into their entire team, and he coughs up the ball.
The offense slowed to a halt. While Michigan enjoys playing at a leisurely tempo, that's because they're running a complicated offense and preventing opponent fast breaks. This was a different story; M had to take 16 shots in the final five seconds of the shot clock and made only five. The Huskers laid down a blueprint for being Michigan that most subsequent opponents at least attempted to follow the rest of the season. That helped the preparation:
"As of late, teams have been trying to switch out their defenses against us," said MAAR in the postgame presser. "And I think we were just more comfortable with it today and we just picked our poison within our offense and found open shots in slots."
Fast-forward to last weekend and the approach is completely different; so are the results. Instead of running their normal sets, Michigan used a lot of a 1-4 looks—the ballhandler up top, everyone else down near the baseline—to set up high screens. This did a number of things, including dragging Roby—a guy who likes to hunt blocks—a little closer to the paint. That cost him on an early Wagner three:
Michigan also benefited a great deal from the evolution of Simpson over the latter part of the season. While Z didn't look like much of a pick-and-roll threat early in the season, he now ranks in the 80th percentile as a P&R Ballhandler on Synergy when you include passes, and he's become especially dangerous as a driver when he turns down the screen. Simpson's quickness catches defenders off guard; he's learned that taking off early and going away from the pick often results in layups.
Beilein broke out some other wrinkles, too. Here's the aforementioned evil usage of Robinson as a screener:
Robinson starts with the ball on the wing and dribbles to the opposite side of the floor; Matthews cuts hard to the basket to clear out space. Simpson slides over and gets a short pass from Robinson that almost serves as a dribble handoff; Robinson then squares as if he's going to set a pick before slipping to the corner, where a defender has to stick close to him.
Meanwhile, Wagner has moved up to set a second screen, which Z takes. The Huskers switch the screen but Wagner's hard roll keeps him a step in front of Glynn Watson, who had to fight over the pick and also keep the possibility of a Wagner pop-out three in mind. Even with a defender sagging into the paint and conceding a potential corner three-point attempt by Matthews, Wagner has an uncontested layup.
Nebraska's first-game strategy got shredded so badly they even tried breaking out a 1-3-1 in the second half. It did not go well. In a stark contrast from the first game, Michigan went 5-for-11 in the final five seconds of the shot clock; the offense mostly stayed out of late-clock situations in the first place, especially when you factor in that M went into clock-killing mode for a good chunk of the second half.
This time around, Wagner and Simpson combined for 32 points on 26 shot equivalents and Z dished out six assists. When they're playing on that level, Michigan is very tough to beat.
RIP AND RUN
Michigan looked to run off defensive rebounds. [Campredon]
Another way Michigan avoided those late-clock situations was generating early offense, especially off defensive rebounds. According to Synergy, the Wolverines pushed the ball in transition off Nebraska misses only ten times in the first matchup; in the rematch, that number jumped to 23.
Even if Nebraska managed to stop the initial fast break, the increase in tempo got their defense unsettled. Robinson gets the ball upcourt in a hurry after this Wagner board and Simpson does a great job of probing the middle of the defense, forcing it to collapse on him. In a flash, the ball gets to the corner for a MAAR three that Nebraska's defender can't close out on:
It was even easier when the guards swooped in for rebounds. MAAR grabs one here and the rest of the team takes off, spreading the floor with shooters. The Huskers never get set and MAAR goes coast-to-coast right up the gut:
While Simpson only grabbed one late defensive rebound in this game and immediately got fouled, he had a huge impact in that area in the rest of the tournament, and Michigan reaped the benefits on offense. He grabbed 18 defensive rebounds in the tourney. After removing the end-of-game boards, the Wolverines scored 1.47 PPP on possessions following Simpson defensive rebounds. Most of the baskets came in transition or, especially for Michigan, relatively early in the shot clock, and that PPP figure would be even better if not for two missed transition layups by Matthews.
A year's apprenticeship under Derrick Walton looks to have been quite beneficial for Z.