2/26/2011 – Michigan 70, Minnesota 63 – 18-12, 8-9 Big Ten
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.
Tim has you covered. Go North Carolina Central!
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 AnnArbor.com. 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: