Poster Boy

Submitted by Brian on February 28th, 2011 at 12:15 PM

2/26/2011 – Michigan 70, Minnesota 63 – 18-12, 8-9 Big Ten


via UMHoops. Uncertain provenance. / David E. Klutho, SI

Outside of Michigan, if you've heard about Zack Novak it's probably because Blake Griffin posterized him. That's what got him in Sports Illustrated, after all. The article starts off by describing Michigan's strategy—let him shoot—before noting that "the coaches do not cover what to do if he decides to jump over your head." Luke Winn reports that after it happened a Memphis fan yelled "Hey, Novak! Your kid is going to have a picture of that on his wall!" Zack Novak: not Blake Griffin.

Saturday Novak got posterized again, this time by a guy who can do this:

Substitute Novak for the motorcycle and that's basically what happened. It was lethal. I'm shocked it's not on Youtube six different ways. Bacari Alexander heard so much about it he admonished the twitter in the aftermath.

It takes a special kind of player on a special kind of team to be famous for being a vague impediment to someone going ham on the rim. It takes a floppy-haired short kid on an overmatched team, specifically. Every time an actual power forward gets on a media guide cover thanks to Novak it's a reminder that Michigan is a short, young, small, and possibly talent-deficient team just trying to make do until it can get some seniors up in here.


But as Alexander pointed out: scoreboard. At the end of the game it read Michigan LOTS, Minnesota NOT QUITE AS MANY despite the fact that Novak's going to be incidentally part of ten year old Minnesotans' walls next year. There were a lot of reasons for this—Tim Hardaway going NBA Jam in the first five minutes, Darius Morris braving the trees to toss in a variety of circus shots—but just about everything that was going to happen already had and Michigan was still down one on the road with three seconds on the shot clock and ninety on the game clock.

Morris tried to drive and was cut off. He had to chuck it out to Novak; Novak was camped out at the NBA three-point line. If he was closer one of Minnesota's enormous tree people would have deflected the pass. As it was the enormous tree person got a hand in his face as he fired an instant before the shot clock hit zero.

Against Iowa and Wisconsin, Novak literally hadn't hit a shot. 

Minnesota came down the floor down two. Novak, who is maybe 6'4", ended up checking Minnesota's Ralph Sampson III (yes that Ralph Sampson). Sampson is 7'1" with long, long arms. He could eat Zack Novak in a single sitting. He'd already hit a variety of mid-range jumpers that Michigan could do nothing about other than watch, and was one-on-one in the block. This is shrug-your-shoulders time. This is the point where you acknowledge the physical limitations brought on by Benzing's test score and Cronin's hip and say "just wait till next year, Big Ten!" as you shake your little tiny baby fist.

Sampson is fighting for position hard enough for the announcer to note it. Minnesota feeds the post. This is shrug-your-shoulders-time.

People say players like Zack Novak do the little things, and they are wrong. I yelped "yes" involuntarily. This hadn't happened for anything else; anything that forces strained noises out of you is probably not a "little thing."

Maybe they say this because it's not the kind of thing that gets you on a poster. That's true, but in the alternate universe where Nick Hornby is on the 50 Sexiest People cover for the 20th straight year and Sufjan Stevens is Lady Gaga, there are posters of Novak leaping in front of Sampson, posters of the Aneurysm of Leadership, posters of Zack Novak bleeding on you and MANBOUNDING you and fronting your six-eight jumping-jack power forward. In them, Novak has an elbow in his back, blood running down his temple, and is plotting how to take a charge.


Bubble Watch

Tim has you covered. Go North Carolina Central!


Massive HT. To UMHoops and Josh Houchin for Five Key Plays.

The best in annoyance. Eamonn Brennan on Michigan's chances:

Huge road win for Michigan, and an even bigger loss for Minnesota. The Wolverines have been quietly (OK, not quietly, because Michigan fans e-mail me more than any non-BYU fan base in the nation) making a late-season push for at-large consideration, and this win will only boost that case. In fact, the Wolverines are probably, if only barely, in the tournament right now. A home win over Michigan State in the regular-season finale might very well seal it.

Say what you will about Michigan fan but boy do they lacerate people on the internet with questions/responses. Hinton agrees.

The zen of good shots. I missed the first Michigan-Minnesota game because of hockey but recall from the stats that Michigan took an epic number of threes and missed damn near all of them; in the first half they took an epic number of threes (22 to just six twos) and this was frickin' awesome until they got to 35 points, at which point it was frickin' awful. What changed? It didn't look like anything. Minnesota has enormous dudes inside and was giving up wide open three after wide open three, so it made sense to take them. Was that bad? Is an open three a bad shot after you've taken five straight? What if you've missed five straight?

I'm really asking here. I can't recall more than a couple first-half threes that seemed like bad shots in isolation. An open three from a 35% shooter is something you can win a lot of games with, but as they clanged off the rim late in the first half I tried to figure out if my frustration was me being a troglodyte or not. The end result was good—9 of 22, 41%, equivalent to hitting 61% of your twos—so… can you complain?

After all, Michigan put up an excellent 1.19 points per possession. In the second half they were far more interior-oriented and scored… 35 points. There's an argument to be made that any three is less good than a layup/dunk and that a team that can get lots of those is going to be better than a team that just bombs from deep. Also an offense like that is less prone to withering droughts.

So if Michigan was really good it would be a problem, and if they're going to be really good they'll have to cut down on the threes, but they're not so fine, especially against the Brobdingnagian Gophers. I think this is what I think.

Statewatch. The popular sentiment appears to be "beat MSU and don't fall on your face and you're in"—even an previously dismissive Lunardi now has Michigan amongst his last four in. That's quite a shift from before the Minnesota game. So goings-on with the Spartans are important. They just got obliterated by Purdue 67-47:

The offensive execution before the shot wasn't great.  The ball screens and movement were enough to create open shots, and on the few occasions MSU did get offensive rebounds (OReb% of 26.3% - low, but not enough to explain a 20 point loss) they could not convert.  Seven points off 10 offensive rebounds isn't good.  Lastly, it seemed as if the Spartans were a bit tentative in the paint.  Dan Dakich made a point a couple times during the telecast that Green and Roe were falling forward on lay-ups, and I think a drive directly at the basket would've at least drawn a foul.

While they should take care of Iowa at home they made the Hawkeyes look like Purdue the last time out. Either way MSU is going to be playing for its tourney life in Crisler on Saturday. It will be the most important, competitive game between the teams in years.

BONUS: The elf who bakes cookies is MSU's third-leading scorer in the last couple games.

Tim Hardaway: five star? Big Ten Geeks asked people to name "ten freshmen better than Tim Hardaway Jr" apropos of nothing on the twitter and then followed that up a comparison between THJ and some of his more hyped peers:

Here’s how he stacks up in terms of offensive rating and possessions consumed in conference play with some other more recognizable freshmen:

Player    Offensive Rating      Poss%  
Tim Hardaway Jr. 112.1 24.4
Jared Sullinger 118.2 26.4
Harrison Barnes 103.4 26.3
Terrence Jones 107.4 29.2
Brandon Knight 112.1 24.8
Perry Jones 114.7 22.2
Tobias Harris 103.1 26
Josh Smith 108.8 25.7

It’s not like Hardaway is a tweener, either.  At 6-5, he’s got the size to play guard at the next level.  We should probably see Hardaway on more mock draft boards, very soon.

Not as good as Jared Sullinger. Everyone else is at least debatable and he's got a clear edge on many. (Caveats about defense apply.)

John Beilein's eagle eye. Hardaway's emergence and Jordan Morgan turning into a way better player than classmate Derrick Nix have provided enough evidence for me to suggest that Beilein's seems to have an eye for players who are overlooked by recruiting sites. I didn't follow the Pittsnogle era at WVU closely enough to have a grasp on the players he was recruiting and didn't get, but various Michigan targets who have outperformed expectations:

  • Beilein was hard after Klay Thompson as he tried to fill out his first recruiting class but Thompson decided to go to Washington State(!?!), whereupon he exploded. He's shooting 42% from 3 and has a 106.4 ORtg despite using a third of WSU's possessions.
  • That same year he pursued Kyle Kuric heavily but didn't get him. Kuric went somewhere less embarrassing: Louisville. He's currently sporting a 129.8(!) ORtg because he's hitting 46% from three and 60% from two. He has low usage and only plays 57% of available minutes, but dang.
  • Beilein went after Vermont transfer Joe Trapani but lost him to BC. As a senior he's got a 104 ORtg while shooting 29% of the time. He shoots 36% from 3.
  • Robin Benzing fell one SAT question short of making this edition of Michigan insane. He was the leading scorer in a U20 Euro championship, got time on the actual German national team, and is a guy who keeps popping up on NBA draft radars.
  • Hardaway was a meh three star when he committed.
  • Smotrycz was a meh three star when he committed before shooting up with a strong AAU season; he's struggled a bit so far but has potential and was no one when he committed to M.
  • Novak had his Valpo offer pulled.
  • Morgan had no other D-I offers and even his father was surprised he got one from Michigan.

Add in Pittsnogle and Joe Alexander and Gansey, etc., and I think you've got a strong case to trust the coaches when Beilein brings in someone you've never heard of who doesn't have any offers. Not everyone can pan out explosively but Beilein seems to be more hit than miss.

Dang. Random BTN tweet:

Jordan Morgan has averaged 15.0 ppg and 4.8 rpg over his last five games. He's shooting 71.4 pct during this span.


Recap from UMHoops. Also Big Ten tourney scenarios from AC1997. Zach Travis of MNB on the other Zack. Big House Blog on Novak. Maize n Blue Nation on Novak. Mets Maize on… Novak. Little things… not so much.

In Soviet Russia, Novak discusses topic of dunk:

“I didn’t even really see it. I was turned around a little bit,” Novak said. “So I was under the basket and I saw him dunk it. I didn’t know it was that bad.

“But (my teammates) told me it was pretty bad. He’s just, he’s a great player.”

Rothstein also recaps Michigan's league situation.

And finally, here's this:

dechellis gangsta


James Burrill Angell

February 28th, 2011 at 12:29 PM ^

Who would have guessed this undersized, underaged team would be where they are. Amazing we head into Saturday with the chance to sweep the season series from our hated in-state rival, possibly qualify for the tournament and possibly knock said rival out of the tournament.


February 28th, 2011 at 12:39 PM ^

My only real issue with the threes was that three were taken by the wrong guys: Morris, McLimans (I know he supposedly has range, but never shows it) and Horford.  Toss their attempts out and the team was 9-20 in the first half and 12-25 for the game.  Really can't quibble with that.  If a guy's wide open, and has time to get set and squared up - and isn't shooting 1-17 - I can't really argue with it, especially against a gigantic team like Minnesota.

Don Keypunch

February 28th, 2011 at 12:45 PM ^

W.G.A.S. if the only reason Novak is on the cover is because one of the Gophers dunked over him IN A LOSS. Novak and Co. would much rather have the road W, and a much better chance of getting into the tournament, than to have had one of their own on the SI cover making a imilar play in a losing effort.

Other Chris

February 28th, 2011 at 12:47 PM ^

This is why my son wears his Michigan 0 jersey proudly.  That, and the elbow to the face freshman Novak gave  some Buckeye during a free throw rebound, which sealed the favorite player deal for my kid, who handles the Ohio piece gingerly in the United States map puzzle, lest he accidentally touch Columbus.


February 28th, 2011 at 12:48 PM ^

Just an FYI for fellow out-of-staters for Saturday's game: It's a CBS regional broadcast.  I checked my local station, and I'm getting Oregon-Arizona.  And DirecTV doesn't offer ESPN Full Court for a single weekend like I know they used to for ESPN Gameplan, so a half season package costs $80.  Moral of the story: plan ahead and get your streaming/bar watching/sports package plans in order.


February 28th, 2011 at 12:56 PM ^

As a casual basketball watcher it seems to me that when you're in a drought more often than not you won't get out of it with a three. You need to go to the basket and either get a layup or get fouled. Then the threes can start flowing again. I guess my hypothesis is that it's something psychological.

That's probably just confirmation bias on my part though.

Let's NOT see Timmy on any draft boards, by the way. Not because I want to keep him as much as he's nowhere near ready for the pros. The only part of his game ready for the nba is his jump shot, which.. oh my god.


February 28th, 2011 at 1:13 PM ^

that segment on Novak was one of your best.  Ever.  Gave me goose bumps towards the end.  Man, I love that kid.  Freaking warrior.

If teams were awarded spots in the tourney based on heart, Michigan would be a 1 seed.

Webber's Pimp

February 28th, 2011 at 1:40 PM ^

Speaking of recruiting and identifying talent...There are 2 separate yet related items that are worth discussing here:

1. This team is a big man away from actually being a top squad nationally. I'm thinking that if Beilein can somehow pull in one more additional recruit in the 2011 class this team is bound to explode next year. As things stand we are highly competitive. But think of what we have coming in: Burke (a PG and Ohio player of the year candidate with ice water in his veins) and Brunridge (a tough SG who gets his points driving in the paint and at the FT line). If we can somehow bring in an additional low post scoring presence - LOOK OUT! Heck if anything an additional big man would give us a little more depth against the bigger squads.

2. I don't know if it's been discussed here but Coach B has adjusted his offensive philosophy. You'll still see us launching up 3's but there's quite a bit more going on in our half court set. Specifically I've seen allot of the two man game w/ Morgan and Morris posting up the opposition. This slight shift in the offensive attack has made all the difference. We look organized out there and we can get buckets when we need them. Any low post recruit who has watched us play this year should be able to realize that there is much more to this offense than just shooting 3's. Color me an optimist but I think we are really on the verge of having something special here.

MI Expat NY

February 28th, 2011 at 1:53 PM ^

At this point in the recruiting season, we're not landing a top flight big man, Amir Williams was the only possibility.  

I do think you're right that we're one big man away from being a top flight team next year, so that improvement is going to have to come from within.  I am confident that Morgan is going to continue to get better, but either Smotrycz or Horford are going to have to develop into a reliable Big Ten quality starter in order for us to be really good next year. 

If Smotrycz and Horford are only marginally better and Novak is continuing to have to man the 4, I think we climb into being a comfortable tournament team, but no better than a 7-8 seed.  If Smotrycz and Horford are both competent Big Ten players, this team gets scary.  An inside rotation of Morgan, Smotrycz and Horford, Novak at the 3, Hardaway at the 2 and Morris at the 1, with Douglass, Brundidge and Burke providing depth at the guard positions makes for a very formidable 9 man rotation.  That's a good team, maybe even a top 15 type team.  But ultimately, it all comes down to Smotrycz and Horford and their ability to improve their games and their physical presence.


February 28th, 2011 at 2:48 PM ^

Why the hell didn't we land Amir Williams? We offer instant playing time, close location to friends and family and putting your home state school back on the map. It's not like we lost him to a warm weather climate program, we lost him to Ohio fucking State.

One of the most frustrating recruiting whiffs in a long time.





February 28th, 2011 at 3:31 PM ^

Like Trey Burke...

You don't get to decide what factors go into the decisions the recruits make. If Amir Williams had been a kid that wanted to go to Michigan but the coaches didn't offer soon enough, or give enough attention then you have your "whiff." As far as I can tell,  that isn't the case.

Williams probably just thought OSU would have more success over the next four years than UM. Not a foregone conclusion anymore, IMO, but understandable based on recent history.

From what I understand, Williams is far from a program changing type talent, anyway. Personally, I look forward to Jordan Morgan taking Amir Williams to school for the next three seasons.


February 28th, 2011 at 2:20 PM ^

The rebound Novak pulled down in traffic during the 2nd half was my favorite play of the game right up until his final trey and steal to seal the victory.  I love the way he throws off a pile of people and comes up swinging.  For those who don't remember the rebound,, has it up as play #3 of the 5 key plays post.   

Novak reminds me of Bill Bixby from an old episode of The Incredible Hulk when he busts out and throws off people twice his size to get to the ball.   Novak's a seemingly mild mannered guy who accomplishes unimaginable feats of strength when he's angry, and if you're going to play Michigan, you don't want to see Novak when he's wouldn't like him when he's angry.  






February 28th, 2011 at 2:31 PM ^

We've taken 12 more than Wisconsin this year and made 11 more.  You think they are complaining about the Three?  We also make 38.7% compared to their 37.1%.  We took a butt load of threes against Minnesota because they have allowed more made threes (133) than anyone in the Big Ten, 13 more than the next closest- Iowa.  Not coincidently, we took 28 threes against Iowa in Ann Arbor and 20 in Iowa City.

The team allowing the least amount of threes in the Big Ten?  Wisconsin.  In Ann Arbor we took  only 13 while in Madison we attempted 21.  I think the amount of threes we take now is largely dependent on the opponent.  If those teams are comprised of a gaggle of trees clogging up the middle and they allow a lot of threes?  Bombs away.

I think Beilein's gameplan is take what they will give you.


A bit off topic, but I think Tubby Smith is the most overrated coach in the Big Ten, if not the country.


February 28th, 2011 at 3:17 PM ^

Agreed about Tubby. When Amaker was fired, Tubby an Lickliter were considered great possibilities according to my friends. I admit I wanted Tubby, but was pleased with Beilein
<br>Now, looking back, Lickliter is gone, Tubby hasn't done much, Sampson is gone, Crean is struggling...I think we made out damn well with Beilein.


February 28th, 2011 at 2:39 PM ^

Every time an actual power forward gets on a media guide cover thanks to Novak it's a reminder that Michigan is a short, young, small, and possibly talent-deficient team just trying to make do until it can get some seniors up in here.

OK, I can't complain about what our record is this year and I'm hopeful and don't really want to bash Beilein, but, um, what IS the excuse for this? "This" being asking Novak to guard bigs for three consecutive years now.

I don't think this is about yet another "WAH No Upperclassmen WAH" post about Michigan athletics (reminder, this is college BASKETBALL. Seniors are welcome but not required).

I said this in the Minnesota open thread after the thunder dunk, but can we stop making excuses and just admit that Beilein, strange as it sounds, actually WANTS a system that has Novak guarding power forwards as an acceptable loss? Going back to West Virginia, he has always liked small lineups. His teams have usually sucked ass at defensive rebounding. We have one useable big on this squad and he is bringing in a recruiting class next year that isn't going to help that problem.

This is who Beilein is and even though we all like the high floor we get through his tremendous teaching, the low ceiling that comes with his favored style is kind of a bummer.


February 28th, 2011 at 2:52 PM ^

OK, I can't complain about what our record is this year and I'm hopeful and don't really want to bash Beilein, but, um, what IS the excuse for this? "This" being asking Novak to guard bigs for three consecutive years now.

Did you bother reading the post?

This is the point where you acknowledge the physical limitations brought on by Benzing's test score and Cronin's hip and say "just wait till next year, Big Ten!" as you shake your little tiny baby fist.

Add in Udoh transferring and you end up with quite a few people Beilein would have rather had guarding bigs. He's tried to get big guys, but it just hasn't worked out for reasons besides talent. Hopefully the current group of freshmen big men develop into Big Ten caliber contributors so it won't be this way forever.


February 28th, 2011 at 3:10 PM ^

He's trying to get bigs? OK.

But we have Brundidge and Burke coming in next year and Amir Williams left the nest to go to Ohio State. Obviously no one in last year's class was capable of coming in right away and guarding bigs or getting tough boards. Benzing, Cronin and Udoh were a while ago now. That's not the excuse it used to be.

I don't want to pigeonhole Beilein. I just wish our recruiting of bigs was a greater priority or at least met with greater success. We would have to get blessed with an incredibly special group of shooters to ever field the kind of team we all dream of with this type of small ball roster.





February 28th, 2011 at 3:30 PM ^

This argument is orthogonal to your original post.  I wish we had recruited bigs with more success as well.  I'm guessing Beilein does also.  That does not mean Beilein WANTS to always play undersized power forwards.  This post has not for one second made me think about admitting that.

And as far as losing those players a while ago: It's not that long ago compared to the amount of time it takes to get an upperclassman replacement.  And as for underclassmen replacements, they're there and not ready to contribute yet.


February 28th, 2011 at 8:04 PM ^

People at this blog put WAAAAAAY too much emphasis on upperclassmen/underclassmen status. It became such an excuse in football that Brian convinced himself (and of course, many others) that no one could ever expect anything from any player that wasn't at least a junior.

It was a little much then, but for that mentality to carry over to basketball is absurd. Freshmen can play in hoops. And a lot of guys hit full stride by the end of their sophomore seasons. It's a different animal.


February 28th, 2011 at 3:58 PM ^

So the fact that we have 5 bigs with freshmen eligibility means he doesn't prioritize recruiting big men? Add to the fact that if Beilein had his way, we might have two more bigs(Cronin and the german guy) and your argument quickly becomes nonsensical. When we made the tourney two years ago, we rebounded 70.3% of our opponents misses in conference play, good for 4th in the conference.  This year we rebound a little worse at 69.4%(6th in conference), but in a much stronger conference overall. To say that having JB means always having bad defensive rebounding is dumb.


February 28th, 2011 at 2:58 PM ^

Pure and simple.  I enjoy having read over the last few years how everyone uses the "that's who he is meme" in regards to Beilein.  Remember how he was just a 1-3-1 guy, that's just who he is.  Well, uh, what happened.  We've played the 1-3-1 how many times this year?  Maybe, and that's a big maybe, once per game.  When Horford, McLimans and/or Smots can play defense, Novak will be back outside.  Beilein is doing what he needs to do to get wins and right now that means Novak plays against the bigs.

I'm glad Novak doesn't complain like some fans.  Oh yeah, nice poster Minnesota, but you lost the game.

MI Expat NY

February 28th, 2011 at 3:27 PM ^

I think saying Beilein wants to have Novak guarding opposing bigs is a bit of a stretch, a better statement is that he is more ok with being undersized at the PF position than most coaches.  It is true, that going back to his WVU days, he has typically been undersized at the PF position, but that only tells half the story.  Beilein likes stocking his rotation with 6'5"-6'8" flex guys that can all play the guard/sf/pf if need be.  For three years, Novak has really been the only guy to fill that role, and he's undersized to do it.  I'm sure, Beilein would prefer to have Smotrycz guarding the opposing PF, it's just that unfortunately, Novak is better at it.

I share your frustrations about losing out on Amir Williams, he most likely would have made a bigger difference in the program than the combination of our two guard recruits, at least for next season.  Lets just hope that Horford or Smotrycz takes a Morris type leap into next season.  


February 28th, 2011 at 3:13 PM ^

I can't wait til next year when the entire Big Ten hates Novak's guts for being that guy that announcers always single out all game long for being the grittiest Gritty McGritterson ever to play basketball and then shoves the knife in the gut by burying a three at the best possible time.  Novak rocks.


February 28th, 2011 at 3:34 PM ^

Reminds me of  Wayman Britt covering the Hughes twins (one at a time) and Steve Grote blasting Bruce Parkinson in the face, only ..... you know, not black ............... or blond.

Brings a little tear to my eye


February 28th, 2011 at 3:52 PM ^

"Hasn't Zack Novak graduated yet?  Isn't this like his 6th year or something?"

If he doesn't get some annual player award named after him, there is something wrong.  Personally, I would make it the Captain award (or maybe the True Grit award).


February 28th, 2011 at 4:24 PM ^

Great points about Beilein's recruiting. I don't know that Dave Brandon is necessarily looking at the same info, but that has to be some of what was behind his vocal backing of Beilein before the season started as opposed to his treatment of RRod (not really trying to beat that dead horse). I remember a game this past fall when the announcer's even brought up the difference in the treatment. Beilein is thankfully here to stay.