3/3/2019 – Michigan 69, Maryland 62 – 26-4, 15-4 Big Ten
The Youth will understand things because of Zavier Simpson. Every time he hits a hook the announcers go on a giggly Craig Ross tangent—about old people, not communism—with details about basketball players from the Paleozoic.
ah yes the famous basketballer cliff hagen
— Ace Anbender, fan of basketball, the only sport (@AceAnbender) March 3, 2019
I can't blame them, for I giggle internally in the same way whenever Simpson defies nature to thunk in a sky-hook from the next county over. Sometimes I make up players I am reminded of. Simpson's second hook was a Zebediah Reynolds joint, but his third had more of a Jehoshapat Williams feel to it. Reynolds wore an onion on his belt, which was the style at the time. Williams played most of a season with a raccoon gnawing on his shin. Peaches hadn't evolved yet so the league had to find guys with really big mouths and pay them in conch shells. These are the players Simpson reminds me of.
Why you'd develop such a goofy shot was made explicitly clear on Simpson's most audacious hook to date, a late-clock masterpiece on which Bruno Fernando knew exactly what was coming. Even that flat-topped marvel of human engineering was helpless in the face of the mighty hook:
THE HOOK SHOT! pic.twitter.com/EeA2lBm1ru
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 3, 2019
He topped that in the second half with another late-clock desperation heave. This, like Joe Wieskamp's absurd winner against Rutgers, hit the top corner of the backboard.
My bad, that's what I get for not fact checking what I thought I heard on CBS. Maryland lost to Illinois at home too. But.... THIS !! pic.twitter.com/UiYxHzyKDQ
— Ron Chaney (@ChaneyRon) March 4, 2019
The difference is that Simpson meant to do that.
He meant to do all the things he did, no matter how improbable they look. A few years ago I wrote a column about Spike Albrecht during the grim injury-beset period of 2015 in which I noted that for guys Albrecht's size every venture to the basket is an exercise in improbability:
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.
Simpson has taken this art form and refined it to a knife edge. Five times in this game X bailed Michigan out of a possession that was going nowhere. Michigan twitter, incensed by the Bruno Fernando dunk tracker, pounded the table for a Hook Tracker, and CBS complied. One tracker is about a genetic lottery winner's physical dominance. The other is about a short guy's sheer cussedness.
The Youth will understand old basketball players and geometry. They will be able to trace out parabolic curves from angles diverse. They will have big moods.
Can we stop and appreciate how terrifying X can be when he wants to? pic.twitter.com/vt7jdOLnGv
— Noah Neidlinger (@candor_for_sale) March 4, 2019
At basketball camps across the state 5'6" middle-schoolers will be flinging up shots from behind their ear. Thirty years from now the play by play guy will reference Zavier Simpson when a point guard re-invents the hook out of desperation.
In certain contexts even your author qualifies as Youth. I grew up in an era where the "true point guard" was rhapsodized but rapidly approaching extinction. The shooting guard shot. The point guard was a little guy who ran around gluing parts of the team together. He didn't really shoot; he didn't have to. This was already a rapidly dying concept in the era of the Bad Boys, let alone the Billups-era Pistons or Burke-era Michigan teams. These days, forget it: it's Steph Curry's world.
So I thought all that reminiscing about the real PG was your typical Old Man Yells At Sport stuff. I still do, mostly. Shooting is a good skill to have in the game where all your points come on shots.
But now I get it. The Youth will understand that is magnificent when the guy with seven shots dominates the game. Simpson made or assisted on all but one of Michigan's first-half makes. The decisive three-possession sequence for Michigan was Zavier Simpson with the game on a string. First he finds Teske on a pick and pop; then he takes advantage of Maryland overplaying Teske for a layup; then he takes advantage of Maryland playing both those things and finds a cutting Brazdeikis for a layup. Bang, bang, bang. Surgery.
Maryland was scoring on the other end. The Human Element Center was packed to the gills and screaming, and Zavier Simpson dissected the opposition without batting an eye. The Youth of College Park understand all too well this morning.
[After THE JUMP: Pruno Fernando. As in he's pruned, not that his fingers are wrinkly. nvm I'll start again.]
[After THE JUMP: Bruno Fernandidn'tmakemanyshots]
Fernando neutralized. Bruno Fernando had 12 points on 14 shot equivalents, three TOs, and one assist. In two games against Michigan he's shot 10/23 from two and gotten four FTs with two assists and six TOs. In a table:
|2PT%||FT rate||TO rate||A/GM|
|vs rest of B10||60%||63||24||2.4|
(Apologies for the assist rate copout. It's hard to calculate on the fly.)
God bless Jon Teske and, to a limited extent, Colin Castleton knowing when to foul that dude on the floor. Fernando is a first round NBA center and he put up 92 and 97 ORTGs against Teske. Watching Fernando bang into him and then boggle at the fact that he wasn't going anywhere was quite a thing. Hell, two of his buckets across the two games were inch-perfect alley-oops nobody in the world was going to defend and a couple more were dunks when Teske had to help. When it was one on one in the post it was a blowout. By the second half of this game I was perfectly happy when Maryland dumped it into the post.
…on one end, anyway. Fernando's six blocks went a long, long way towards keeping Maryland in the game. Two or three of those were shots that looked real real nice until Fernando swooped in out of nowhere, and then Maryland was able to convert on ensuing transition opportunities. Fernando turned this into a block:
JFC. A couple were debatably on their way down, but 1) the defense always gets the benefit of the doubt there and 2) who blocks shots at the apex!?
Fernando also seemed to bother Teske into another grim night from three. Like the first matchup Teske was 0-for-many until hitting a critical late one; again these were mostly short. It felt like Teske was rushed and maybe changing his shot angle because of the threat of a Fernando block.
Related: the drought. Simpson picked up two quick fouls at the beginning of the first half and suffered an autobench that lasted from ~18:30 to the under 12 timeout. Michigan was –8 during this period and +17 for the rest of the game. The difference was night and day:
Simpson picked up his third foul with 18:35 left in the second half and didn't return until the 11:01 mark. It was the only time he sat. Maryland scored 18 points during that stretch on 8-of-14 shooting to grab a two-point lead.
Simpson returned, and Maryland missed its next eight shots, going nearly eight minutes between made field goals.
Approximately half of the minus section was because David DeJulius successfully executed a euro-step in transition for an easy layup only for Fernando to get a spectacular block, which eventually resulted in the questionable and-one suffered by Livers. That was one of two four-point swings induced by Fernando blocks out of nowhere. The other is pictured above.
Autobench, oblig. Simpson picked up a silly third foul that led to the autobench described above. I got the DDJ portion of said autobench, I guess: put Simpson on the bench so you can be like "HEY DON'T DO THAT PLEASE" and get him a little rest—IIRC he did not come out in the first half. Extending that to the under 12 really ground the old gears because Poor Damn Eli Brooks got the last four minutes there, badly missing two shots and looking much like he's looked for the whole of conference play.
Simpson did not pick up a foul in the final 11 minutes and change, because he averages a foul every seventeen minutes.
Oh and also. It's actually a disappointment that there aren't more actual PGs in the league, because we haven't had the same ability to point to him wrecking shop as we did last year. But Anthony Cowan is one. Cowan in this game: 4/15, one assist, four TOs.
Aaargh. Michigan was 1/11 from three in the first half and the make was Michigan's worst look, a contested shot from Iggy. The others were semi-contested at best and mostly wide open; Iggy's make was literally the first non-hook Michigan had made away from the rim. Thanks to Michigan's defense this year they were able to get to halftime with a lead, but man that first half felt like a giant missed opportunity to run Maryland out of the building.
Michigan was 5/9 in the second half to get up to 30% for the game. It feels like any game in which Michigan is able to hit 40% from three is going to be a laugher.
Iggy on the attack. Quite a stat: Brazdeikis drew nine fouls and committed none. He again had one of those days where you look at the stat sheet and he's got 21 points out of nowhere. During the aargh section of the first half he kept Michigan afloat by getting to the line and grabbing offensive rebounds.
Encouragingly, he was able to diversify his driving from straight line stuff to some change of direction. His spin moves often caught Maryland hands grasping at him and drew those fouls.
Castleton, established. Colin Castleton is not yet ready to take on the Fernandos of the world but during his first half stretch against Jalen Smith he was completely fine. He did this…
That's MISTER Castelton to you. pic.twitter.com/kw5JyydVDU
— Due# (@JDue51) March 3, 2019
…and that's a thing, there, that separates him from the Austin Davises and Mark Donnals of the world. I will occasionally describe an opponent as a "dunk on assists guy" in a somewhat derisive fashion, but being able to dunk a lot is a good trait to have. It's helped Michigan out on various alley-oops to Teske; its absence has been painful when other guys have manned the 5.
I don't want to fast forward through March but I am looking forward to next year when Michigan once again has a very good backup C.
DDJ got pulled for Brooks for reasons that remain opaque to me. He did chip in a little when he was in: he made a nice move to the basket in the first half that drew Jalen Smith's second foul and sent him to the bench for ~10 minutes. Also until Bruno erased it that transition take was pretty good.
The kiss. Iggy post-game:
My girls the baddest tho so I stay winning ♂️ good road dub https://t.co/hQ0ijkvHEw
— Ignas Brazdeikis (@_iggy_braz) March 3, 2019
As a veteran of the aughts-era Yost student section I must exhort the Maryland student section to ramp their game up.
Who says "I want to play for this guy?" Izzo was at a peak even for him after the Indiana game:
Tom Izzo had some thoughts after Michigan State's loss to Indiana. pic.twitter.com/WDPSJonTYp
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) March 2, 2019
I have no idea how MSU recruits.
Beilein postgame. Via the Daily:
Standing at the podium 20 minutes after the buzzer, John Beilein took a long pause and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying to find the right way to describe Simpson’s presence on the floor.
“Security blanket, is that the wrong word to say?” he asked, before answering himself. “It probably is. I just think there’s a confidence factor when he’s out there.”
Also this is a hell of an X story:
Livers saw that for the first time back on one of his first days in uniform for the Wolverines last season. Assistant coach Luke Yaklich, then newly-minted, was conducting what Livers called Sunday, “this terrible drill that I don’t recommend for anybody.” For 15 minutes, Michigan’s roster was crouched down in a defensive stance, sliding back and forth.
Simpson didn’t let a single person off the hook.
“If you gave up, he’s on you,” Livers said. “Like, ‘Why are you giving up? Get up! Get up! Get up! We’re gonna be solid. We’re gonna be a great defensive team this year.’
“And obviously, numbers don’t lie.”