On Monday I went in search of hot takes to explain Michigan's win at the Kohl center and put it in context. Those who didn't watch the game thought it a fluke, the kind of thing that just happens to Wisconsin when they have a cold night. Indiana guys wanted to take credit for showing Beilein how to beat those guys. Michigan fans were split over whether this was a peak performance or on the growth chart. So I asked our guys:
What was that?
- A fluke of 2- or 3-point hotness/coldness that happens in Wisconsin (read: low-possession) games
- A gift from Tom Crean, who exposed the weakness of not-as-good-as-people-thought Wisconsin
- A signature road win from an erratic, young team that puts them on the right side of the bubble after an eventual .500 conference season
- A maturation point of a young, fast-improving eventual Final Four contender as its freshman PG gets used to the flow of the college game and its sophomore SG emerges as an alpha dog.
What's your best explanation (or have you another?), and how did this game affect your expectations for the team come March?
BiSB: I'd rule a couple of those explanations out. The respective 3-point make rates (54% for Michigan, 39% for Wisconsin) were obviously a difference in the game, but it is hardly outlandish in context. Michigan got 9 of its 13 looks from Nik Stauskas (arguably the most dangerous 3-point sniper in the conference), who only made three, while Wisconsin's numbers were right in line with their season stats thus far. Sure Caris LeVert going 3-3 isn't terribly likely, but neither is Ben Brust going 4-5. It was also the highest-tempo conference game Michigan has played thus far, so 7 made threes for this team isn't that much of an outlier.
|Get these men a pick and watch 'em roll. [Fuller]|
Second, Wisconsin remains good, so I'd rule out the Tom Crean thing (also because "let's give credit to the genius who just got worked by Northwestern AT HOME" explanation doesn't sound like fun). Third, while the team is certainly young and erratic, they have the look of much more than a bubble team.
I'd say this game reflects a team that is finding its offensive identity, and it turns out that identity is really effective and fun to watch. Wisconsin has a good defensive team (#29 on KenPom coming into the game), and there were points where Michigan was just toying with it. Teams just don't get those kinds of looks at the rim against Wisconsin, but time and again Morgan or Horford would slip a screen and find a wide-open bucket.
Michigan is doing what Brian, Ace, myself, and a bunch of other people were calling for all year; they're running lots of Stauskas pick-and-roll, as well as lots of high ball screens for Stauskas to get a defender on his hip and force the defense to create an opening. Nik has become an alpha dog, but he's done so in a way that is generating looks for everyone on the court. That might remind you of a certain scrappy little guy who ripped the Pistons to shreds on Friday (#FireJoeD)
Right now, this Michigan team feels a LOT like last year's team: a questionable defense but a terrifying offense that won't turn the ball over or give up many transition buckets. Also they're doing lots of Game Blouses stuff and Lottery GRIII stuff. Which is neat. Beilein Uber Alles. 2014 Uber Alles.
[more answers, and more editorial hash tags, after the jump]
Mathlete: How did this game affect my expectations? Like any good Bayesian, I am predicting a national championship. Last year's team couldn't win in Wisconsin and they were national runner up. That's how these things work right?
|Recommended site for this "even better win" if there's to be one. Heads up: if things go as usual for MSU, the Wolverines will keep it very tight all game then MSU will have their run in the closing five minutes.|
OK, so not really. But it did increment expectations up a notch. Road wins against Top 5 teams are certainly not the expectation for this team's performance on an average night going forward, but it certainly is nice to see that ceiling raised. It's still hard to see this team making a major tournament run with it's two game changers from last year's run gone, but now a second weekend showing seems a lot more plausible than it did as we were closing out [404 - year not found].
There is a very good chance Michigan won't have a better win than this one when the season is finished, but it wasn't entirely fluky either. Michigan shot extremely well in the game, but they are one of the elite offenses in the country. On the surface I agree with Bryan that this year seems a lot like last year. It also seems very different since last year saw everything run through Burke and this year Stauskas, GRIII, LeVert and others have taken terms being the offensive driver. It still seems hard to see this team making a run like last year's but there is no doubt that the expectations go up with every passing game. In some ways, it feels like an odd mix of the 2012 team that squeezed out a conference championship and last year's team and 2013 Burke led group. After an uneven start to the year, you can't ask for a better start to this year's conference play. #Blessed
Ace: While I strongly agree with BiSB's first and third points in his opening paragraph, I must quibble with his second despite my utter disdain for Tom Crean. Michigan won this game by following much the same blueprint as Indiana: find as many ways as possible to open up space inside the arc, especially off of screens, to take advantage of Wisconsin's pack-line defense and its inherently soft middle area. Nik Stauskas essentially played the role of Supersized Yogi Ferrell, who scored 25 points (9/15 2-pt, 4/5 FT) despite shooting terribly from three-point territory (1/8) and dished out four assists in the Hoosiers' upset—much of his production came off of high side screens and isolation, weak areas for this Wisconsin defense that Stauskas also exploited.
|We did the Michigan version of this. [ITH]|
Indiana got out in transition and rebounded a little more while Michigan shot much better from the outside in similarly limited attempts; otherwise, their offensive outputs were quite comparable. That's not to say Crean gets the credit for this win by any stretch—the general idea behind attacking Wisconsin has been the same since Bo Ryan got there, it's just a little easier to score on them this year since they don't have a true inside presence. Still, it's hard to set aside the fact that the Wolverines utilized a very similar strategy in Wisconsin's next game; at the very least, it gave Beilein a blueprint when going over film.
My expectations are up from where they were before the game—how could they not after a win at Kohl in what should be a tight Big Ten race?—though I still believe Michigan has an uphill climb to win the conference; the Big Ten schedule didn't afford them any breaks and they matched up very well with a Wisconsin squad lacking their usual size and defensive intimidation. The soft hedging by the Badgers played right into Michigan's hands, their lack of a true power forward allowed Beilein to stick GRIII on Sam Dekker without issue, and the Wolverines' height advantage on the perimeter enabled them to put Derrick Walton in a corner and let Stauskas and LeVert be the focal points of the offense—Wisconsin lacked the requisite size to try Duke's method of ball denial, for instance.
I think we'll learn more about this team's ability in the next two games than we did on Saturday. Iowa's considerable size and excellent transition game pose significant matchup problems. Michigan State, despite injuries and inconsistency, remains the conference's team to beat; unlike Wisconsin, they have a true power forward in Branden Dawson, plus the Spartans have more lineup versatility. If Michigan can dispatch Iowa and at least hang close at Breslin, I'll believe they have a really good shot at the Big Ten title—for now, I think the schedule and their defensive issues will end up costing them by a game or two.
Seth: The genesis of this question was from this Ryan Corazza article from Inside the Hall. Two of the four plays he outlined were just Wisconsin losing the left wing in transition and two were scores off the first pass. The one that interested me most was where Wisconsin was soft hedging, and (backup SG) Stanford Robinson ran right by it, then into the driving lane and right past the defenders.
What we saw against Wisconsin was the same response to the screen, but they'd been coached to fix the glaring mistakes behind it. The result was Wolverine shooters coming off a high screen and being like "Where'd everybody go? Huh. I guess I'll shoot."
At the end of the first half--when that 10-point lead started ebbing away--we got a good look at how this strategy was supposed to work (start at about 2:00 in the 1st).
- Irvin passes to LeVert at the top of the key and crosses, Morgan sets a cross screen, defender chases behind, Dekker switches onto LeVert and is backing up, so long two is open, took, missed.
- Stauskas starts, Morgan sets a ball screen, defender chases, Dekker rotates onto him and is backing up, so Stauskas takes the shot, rim.
Same thing happened again on the first play out of the half. Both the ITH article and Ace's highlight reel above show a guy sagging off a three-point shooter, who just takes the shot. They didn't do that versus Michigan, but what they did to fix it Michigan used (note that the stats show Indiana scored 52 points in the paint).
So while I agree with Ace that the blueprint was there—both Stapleton and Dylan led off their analysis this week with "Wisconsin can't defend a ball screen"—I think the actual things that opened up for Michigan were a reaction to the reaction. Wisconsin felt exposed after Indiana and tried to plug the hole, and Beilein was ready to attack that adjustment.
If we can learn something from this, it's that Michigan's offense is getting to the point where it's just hard to shut down. There's so many tools providing pressure (Irvin's and Walton's shooting, Stauskas and LeVert able to create, Morgan's screens, Robinson's athleticism) that can be on the court at once that if you give 'em a crack they'll blow through it. I think Indiana showed that Wisconsin's defense has cracks.
Side note: how has nobody sent video like this to league officials and put a stop to it? This time it's Gasser throwing a hip check on Walton while he's in the air, but many Badgers have been doing that more than any other team I've watched, and for years. No call because Michigan never gets and-one's. It's long past due for some team to lose a lottery pick for the season to these subtle flight plan redirections and go ape-shit. And then they'll call a foul and Bo Ryan will go ape-shit.