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Inside the Numbers: Breaking down Michigan’s odds to win the Big Ten Tournament

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014


Beilein net(MGoBlue.com)

Last week, Michigan clinched its first outright Big Ten regular season championship in 28 years, winning the league by three games. Accordingly, Michigan will raise a new banner in the rafters of the Crisler Center to open the 2014-15 season. With the Big Ten Tournament on deck, the Wolverines have an opportunity this weekend to add a second banner to that ceremony.

This year—and in recent years—fans have debated whether the Big Ten Tournament really matters in the grand scheme of college hoops. Many fans believe that the 18-game season, not a single-elimination tournament, crowns the true conference champion. Some of those fans even prefer that their team lose in earlier round in order to have extra days to prepare for the NCAA Tournament, unless their team is on the bubble. On the other hand, some fans feel that the Big Ten Tournament can significantly affect the seed a team earns in the NCAA Tournament, so all teams should take the conference tournament seriously.

But debating the merits of the Big Ten Tournament is not the purpose of this week’s “Inside the Numbers.” The purpose of this week’s column is to determine how likely it is that Michigan wins its first Big Ten Tournament since 1998. So put aside your feelings and opinions about the Big Ten Tournament as we explore these numbers.

Michigan’s Hellish History in the Big Ten Tournament

First, the bad news: the Big Ten Tournament has been a place of despair for the Wolverines. Michigan won the inaugural Big Ten Tournament in 1998 as a No. 4 seed, knocking off No. 3 seed Purdue, 76-67, in the championship game. Since then, though? Michigan has not sniffed a Big Ten Tournament championship.

History of Michigan’s Performances in the Big Ten Tournament

Lost in: 

First Round 

Quarterfinals 

Semifinals

Championship

Champion

No. of Finishes

4

8

3

0

1

In the past 15 seasons, the Wolverines have not appeared in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament. Not once. Only two other Big Ten schools have had such a drought. One is Northwestern because, well, it is Northwestern. The other is Nebraska, but this is only the Huskers’ third years as a Big Ten member. Yes, even Penn State has participated in game with a Big Ten Tournament title on the line more recently than Michigan.

Since 1998, U-M has been bounced in the first round or quarterfinals 12 times. Therefore, the Wolverines have played in the semifinals only 20 percent of the time in that span. That is an abysmal rate for a program that needed to string together victories in the conference tournament to receive an NCAA Tournament invite from 1999 to 2008. Yet Michigan never could.

To make matters worse for Michigan fans, if that seems possible, the manner in which U-M has been eliminated from the conference tournament has been soul-crushing. Sure, there have been some top seeds against which the Wolverines never had a fighting chance. But Michigan has lost five conference tournament games by less than five points and has blown five halftime leads that resulted in losses. And, if there is one Big Ten Tournament image that stands out the most in U-M fans’ minds, it is former Ohio State star Evan Turner drilling a game-winning, half-court heave at the buzzer to end Michigan’s season in 2010.

Since 1998, the Big Ten Tournament has been nothing but nightmares for the Maize and Blue.

The No. 1 Seed

However, that may finally change this year. For the first time in school history, Michigan is the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The first Big Ten Tournament was in 1998. Since then, the Wolverines had won the regular season title only once before this season—in 2012. But Michigan shared that championship with Michigan State and Ohio State and lost the top seed to the Spartans on a tiebreaker.

This is unfamiliar territory for Michigan and its fans, so here is how the previous 16 top seeds have fared in the Big Ten Tournament:

Success of No. 1 Seeds in the Big Ten Tournament

 

Quarterfinals Loss

Semifinals Loss

Runner-Up

Champion

No. of Finishes

4

3

2

7

The most likely outcome for the Big Ten Tournament’s top seed is to win the whole thing. Shocking, I know. The No. 1 seed has won the conference tournament just shy of half the time, with it happening at a rate of 43.8 percent. Making the finals is no guarantee, though. The top seed has appeared in the championship game in only nine of the 16 seasons in which the Big Ten Tournament was held. That is just 56.3 percent of the time.

However, those rates are skewed. In the first six years of the Big Ten Tournament, No. 1 seeds were more vulnerable to upsets than they seem to be now. Only one top seed participated in the title match in that span. Since 2003, though, the top seed has appeared in the finals eight out of 10 tries and won the tournament six times. The only two No. 1 seeds that failed to reach the finals are Michigan State in 2009 and Indiana last season, with both falling the semifinals. If the past decade’s trend holds, Michigan seems well on its way to play for and win its first Big Ten Tournament title in 16 years.

Before we hand the Wolverines their trophy and banner, though, let’s preview their path to the 2014 Big Ten Tournament championship.

Michigan could be looking at a rematch with Indiana in its first Big Ten Tournament on Friday (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan could be looking at a rematch with Indiana in its first Big Ten Tournament on Friday (MGoBlue.com)

Quarterfinals

As the No. 1 seed, Michigan receives a first-round bye and awaits the winner of Indiana-Illinois in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup in the quarterfinals. This is a tossup. Not only did Indiana and Illinois split their season series, with the home team holding serve each time, the Hoosiers and Fighting Illini are No. 64 and No. 65 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, respectively. Indiana is a slight favorite, but Illinois is playing its best basketball right now, winning four of its last five against teams in the top seven of the standings.

Indiana has been a tricky matchup for the Wolverines recently. After sweeping U-M last year, an underachieving IU beat Michigan by double digits in Bloomington on Feb. 2 and hung with U-M until the final minute in Ann Arbor on Saturday. The main reason: Yogi Ferrell. The Wolverines have had no answer defensively for the member of the All-Big Ten second team. He has averaged 21.5 points and five assists while stroking 11-of-16 three-pointers (68.8%) against U-M. Plus, Michigan does not want a sea of red in the crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis when it takes the floor for its quarterfinals game.

Thus, Michigan would prefer to see Illinois in the quarterfinals. The Wolverines have had the upper hand in this series recently, winning the previous six meetings by an average of 13.8 points. Of course, the average is skewed by a 31-point win by U-M, but that 31-point win occurred exactly one week ago. Will Michigan tie its program record once again with 16 three-pointers this time? Probably not. But the Fighting Illini have the second-worst offense in the Big Ten and no star that will help Illinois keep pace with U-M’s offense, which is the third-most efficient in the Big Ten since 2005.

Regardless, no top seed has lost in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament in over a decade. Additionally, Michigan will be a significant favorite to defeat either Indiana or Illinois. But those odds will be slightly better against the Fighting Illini than the Hoosiers.

Michigan’s Odds to Reach Semifinals per TeamRankings: 72.46%

Semifinals

If Michigan advances, it likely will face the winner of Nebraska-Ohio State in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup in the semifinals. There is also a slim possibility that No. 12 Purdue could upset both the Buckeyes and the Huskers to reach the semifinals, but TeamRankings gives the Boilermakers just an 8.51 percent chance of doing so. If it does happen, Michigan will be in excellent shape. However, for the sake of this discussion, it is probably safe to assume that Purdue will experience a first-round exit.

Michigan only faced Ohio State once this season, but could face the Buckeyes for the seventh time in the BTT on Saturday (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan only faced Ohio State once this season, but could face the Buckeyes for the seventh time in the BTT on Saturday (MGoBlue.com)

Nebraska has been the Cinderella story in the Big Ten. Nebraska was projected to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten standings in the preseason. An 0-4 and 1-5 start, albeit against some of the Big Ten’s toughest teams, did not alter anyone’s expectation. Yet the Huskers beat Ohio State and Wisconsin at home and Michigan State on the road en route to winning 10 of their final 12 conference contests. Nebraska is on fire right now as it fights for its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1998.

Nonetheless, Nebraska is the team Michigan wants to see in the semifinals, not Ohio State. Nebraska finished with a better conference record than Ohio State because it had a more favorable strength of schedule and some better luck in close games. The advanced numbers tell a different story. OSU is No. 14 in Pomeroy’s rankings. Nebraska? No. 47. In the semifinals, Michigan would be a solid favorite against the Huskers whereas it would be close to a coin flip between the Wolverines and the Buckeyes.

Plus, if the Big Ten Tournament has been a place where Michigan teams go to die, Ohio State has been the Grim Reaper. Michigan and Ohio State have squared off six times in the Big Ten Tournament. The Wolverines have lost all six times, falling to OSU in 1999, 2002, 2007, 2010, 2011, and 2012. To be fair, the Buckeyes have been the higher seed in all but one of those contests (2012). However, there is no doubt that the Buckeyes have the Wolverines’ number in this tournament.

Michigan still has the best odds among Big Ten teams to reach the championship game. If there was ever a time to end this drought against the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Tournament, this year would probably be the year. But, if Michigan wants an easier path to the finals, it would prefer that the Huskers upset the Buckeyes in the quarterfinals.

Michigan’s Odds to Reach Finals per TeamRankings: 43.59%

Finals

If Michigan can get through its first two tournament games unscathed, it will appear in its first Big Ten Tournament finals since 1998, ending the 15-year streak of futility. If the Wolverines can accomplish this feat, which team will it face for a Big Ten Tournament title? According to TeamRankings, the three teams on the other side of the bracket with more than a 25 percent chance to appear in the title game are Wisconsin (35.7%), Michigan State (31.7%), and Iowa (26.2%).

Wisconsin would be the strongest challenger. Prior to losing to Nebraska at Pinnacle Bank Arena, a place where the Huskers went 15-1 this season, Wisconsin had won eight straight games. This includes wins at home against Michigan State and on the road against Michigan and Iowa. Additionally, no team has given Michigan more trouble under head coach John Beilein than the Badgers. Wisconsin is 12-2 against U-M since Beilein arrived in Ann Arbor. This is the opponent the Wolverines least want to face if they want to have the best odds to win the conference tournament. However, a win against the Badgers could be the final push that helps U-M earn the fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Wolverines have better odds against Michigan State and Iowa, but beating either would be no easy task. Yes, both the Spartans and the Hawkeyes have stumbled down the stretch—MSU is 5-7 in its last 12 games and Iowa is 1-5 in its last six. But, if one of these teams reaches the finals, that team likely will have had to beat the other and then Wisconsin to be there. No team that does that is still in a slump, and Michigan would play that team just as it rediscovers its confidence.

So will Michigan win the Big Ten Tournament and earn a second banner in as many weeks? I cannot say. It likely will be a five-team brawl among Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa. But what I can tell you is that Michigan is the favorite to win its first Big Ten Tournament since 1998 as it is the only team with greater than 20 percent odds to finish on top. And, given the success of the top seed in the past decade, Michigan may finally exorcise its Big Ten Tournament demons.

Michigan’s Odds to Win the Big Ten Tournament per TeamRankings: 21.81%

A fitting end: Michigan 84 – Indiana 80

Sunday, March 9th, 2014


Jordan Morgan - The Victors(MGoBlue.com)

Last night was, without a doubt, Jordan Morgan’s to savor. The lone senior on one of the youngest, hottest teams in the country, was playing his final game in the Crisler Center wearing ‘MICHIGAN’ across his chest.

In his five years in Ann Arbor, Morgan has been a part of a lot of successful teams, but he’s never been a player that turns many heads on the floor. More people have used words like “leader” or “glue guy” to describe the engineer from Detroit than “star”, and many point to his off-the-court accolades before talking about how productive he was on it.

But for one last time, Morgan did his best to make sure that Michigan fans will remember him for what he did while wearing that jersey.

While the Indiana Hoosiers started off hot in the hopes of ruining Morgan’s Senior Night and being the only Big Ten team to not fall to Michigan this season, it was number 52 that kept the Maize and Blue in it. Morgan, who has attempted fewer shots per game than the prior season in each of his four years, made Michigan’s first three buckets of the game.

Indiana would make their first nine attempts and jump out to 10-point lead at one point in the first half, but Morgan simply would not let his team throw in the towel. Sure, the Wolverines had already secured an outright Big Ten title with a win earlier in the week at Illinois, but this game was more than just a win or loss. It was Morgan’s lasting legacy, the final page in his epic novel.

Morgan closed out his career in Crisler in style with 15 points and 10 rebounds (MGoBlue.com)

Morgan closed out his career in Crisler in style with 15 points and 10 rebounds (MGoBlue.com)

So Michigan fought back, rallying behind their captain to cut the lead to six at the half and then quickly charging out to a lead in the second half with the help of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, who combined to score 17 of Michigan’s 19 points in the first 5:20 after halftime as the Wolverines jumped ahead 55-50.

After falling behind by 11, Indiana would battle their way back to tie the game with 4:55 to go, but as opposed to last season’s finale when Morgan’s last-second tip rolled off the rim, fate seemed to be on the side of the home team.

Once the game was knotted up at 75 with 1:25 left following the Hoosiers’ 13-2 run, Robinson III caught a Stauskas pass and found himself wide open in the right corner. The sophomore, shooting just a touch better than 27 percent on the year, calmly rose and shot the ball without hesitation. This wasn’t the guy John Beilein would have drawn up to take that shot; after all, Robinson had missed nine of his last 11 threes.

But this one swished through to give Michigan a three-point lead they would not relinquish. A little over a minute later and the Wolverines’ 84-80 win was final, complete with maize and blue confetti and streamers falling from the heavens.

Morgan, who shed a few tears beforehand as he was honored for his contributions to the Michigan program in his seemingly endless five years, would finish his final game a winner and a star with 15 points on just eight shots, 10 rebounds (five of them offensive), two steals, and a block in 29 minutes.

When the Wolverines cut down the nets after the game to celebrate their first Big Ten outright championship in 28 seasons, Morgan was the first to climb the ladder, take a clip, and save one small physical treasure with which to remember his years in Ann Arbor.

What a program outsider may not have realized in watching last night’s game, however, was that Morgan will almost certainly not be the only one gone next year.

Stauskas, the favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year honors, is widely projected to be a first round pick in the NBA Draft later this spring after his breakout season and will likely follow his dreams and make the jump. If that is the case, his last game — 21 points, two rebounds, two assists, and a block — will also be one to cherish despite it seeming so routine at the moment.

Robinson III, who would have been a first-rounder if he had left after last year’s run to the National Championship game, is also thought to have one eye on his future in the NBA, and his 20 points, two rebounds, two assists, steal, and clutch three will not soon be forgotten.

After the game, however, there was no mention of those potential early departures, because, of course, there are more games — and very important ones at that — to play.

Morgan, who will play in his fourth NCAA Tournament later this month, knows this better than anyone else.

“We got more ahead of us, more goals to accomplish, and this is just like the beginning,” he said after the game. “I love playing with these guys, (they are) some of the best teammates, and it’s been an amazing year…so far, so far.”

Three Stars

***Nik Stauskas***
21 points (6-of-13 FG, 1-of-4 3PT, 8-of-9 FT), two assists, two rebounds, one block, one turnover in 35 minutes

**Jordan Morgan**
15 points (7-of-8 FG, 1-of-2 FT), 10 rebounds (five offensive), two steals, one block, two turnovers in 29 minutes

*Glenn Robinson III*
20 points (6-of-13 FG, 1-of-3PT, 2-of-2 FT), two rebounds (one offensive), two assists, one steal, one turnover in 37 minutes

Honorable Mention:
Will Sheehey – 17 points (7-of-12 FG, 2-of-5 3PT, 1-of-2 FT), three rebounds (one offensive), two assists, four turnovers in 34 minutes

Quick Hitters:

 With the win, Michigan has beaten every Big Ten team at least one time for the first time since 1992. At 15-3, the Wolverines also finish Big Ten play with their most conference wins since 1992.

 All of the talk before, during, and after the game has focused on the definite departure of Jordan Morgan and the likely departures of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, and rightfully so. But there could be even more adversity than that. Mitch McGary, who has not played since December, will certainly have a big decision to make on whether he returns to school or jumps to the NBA after turning it down as a potential lottery pick last year. At 21 years of age, McGary is old for his class and may be seen as having less “potential” by the NBA if he does return to school, but there is also uncertainty on where, or if, he would be selected because of his injury.

Head coach John Beilein has stated multiple times that he will end his career in Ann Arbor, but two of his assistants, Lavall Jordan and Bacari Alexander, are young up-and-comers and will certainly be getting some calls this upcoming offseason from schools looking for new coaches. Jordan has been masterful in developing guards like Darius Morris, Trey Burke, and Nik Stauskas and just missed out on being hired as the head man at Butler, his alma mater, last offseason.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 6-13 1-3 7-8 1 1 2 0 20 2 1 0 1 37
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 1-4 0-2 2-2 0 0 0 3 4 4 0 0 1 25
11 Nik Stauskas* 6-13 1-4 8-9 0 2 2 1 21 2 1 1 0 35
52 Jordan Morgan* 7-8 0-0 1-2 5 5 10 3 15 0 2 1 2 29
23 Caris LeVert* 5-11 1-2 2-2 1 3 4 3 13 2 0 0 2 38
02 Spike Albrecht 0-2 0-1 4-4 0 0 0 3 4 3 0 0 0 15
15 Jon Horford 1-2 0-0 2-2 3 3 6 2 4 0 0 0 0 11
21 Zak Irvin 1-3 1-3 0-0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 1 1 10
Totals 27-56 4-15 26-29 11 14 25 16 84 13 6 3 7 200
Indiana 29-49 7-18 15-17 6 20 26 23 80 17 15 3 3 200
Full Stats

Derick’s 3 thoughts: Indiana

Saturday, March 8th, 2014


Michigan-Indiana header2

Michigan’s final regular season game comes against the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday at the Crisler Center. On paper this game means very little for the Wolverines, who clinched an outright Big Ten championship with a dominating win at Illinois on Tuesday. But finishing the season on a five-game winning streak would put Michigan in prime position to ride a hot streak into postseason play.

Indiana could have put itself in position to steal an NCAA Tournament bid with a winning streak to end the season, but Nebraska beat the Hoosiers in Assembly hall on Wednesday to virtually extinguish their chances to earn an at-large bid. Their only hope at this point is to win the Big Ten Tournament, and Tom Crean’s squad will look to get the momentum going today.

Here are three keys to consider during the final game of the regular season.

Put the Hoosiers in their place: Despite receiving a preseason top-25 ranking, Indiana played dreadful basketball during the majority of the Big Ten season. In fact, Indiana lost to all four of the worst teams in the conference, including an 82-64 waxing at Purdue on Feb. 15.

But on Feb. 2, when Michigan visited Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers put on a shooting clinic, shooting over 61 percent from three-point range. The 63-52 final gave Indiana its third win in a row over Michigan, which lost two close battles with the top-5 Hoosiers in early 2013.

Michigan surrendered a six-point lead with under a minute to play in a heartbreaking senior day-loss to Indiana last season, when a potential share of the Big Ten title slipped from the team’s grasp. This season, the Wolverines must make sure to write a different story.

Yogi Ferrell shot Michigan out of the gym in the last meeting. Can he do it again? (IUHoosiers.com)

Yogi Ferrell shot Michigan out of the gym in the last meeting. Can he do it again? (IUHoosiers.com)

The outright Big Ten champions boast a much more talented team than Indiana does this season, so Saturday offers the perfect chance to end this losing streak to Indiana. Michigan can put Indiana in its place on the final game of the regular season and avenge not only this season’s loss, but also the one that soured senior day for so many Wolverines in 2013.

Take the drive away from Yogi Ferrell: Michigan fans remember Yogi Ferrell for the unbelievable stroke he demonstrated in the first matchup February. The sophomore guard recorded his best shooting percentages of the season both overall (80 percent) and from beyond the arc (87.5 percent).

The numbers expose Ferrell’s impressive shooting against Michigan as an outlier. In the eight games since the unbelievable performance, the Hoosiers lost all three games in which their starting point guard shot double digit three pointers. Ferrell shot a total of 67 longballs in those games and connected on just 22 of them (32.8 percent).

Ferrell rarely stepped inside the three-point line against the Wolverines, but his real value does come inside the arc. He’s shooting a much higher percentage from short range in his past five games (50 percent), and when he gets to the free throw line he is one of the best shooters in the conference at over 81 percent.

Michigan allowed Ferrell and Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble to catch fire from three-point range during its first two Big Ten losses, but that doesn’t mean that the Michigan guards should overcommit to Ferrell as a shooter on Saturday. As one of the lowest fouling teams in the country, Michigan neutralizes the youngster’s automatic stroke from the charity stripe. If he struggles to connect on his first few three point attempts, the Wolverine defenders can erase any memory of the 27 points he recorded back in February.

End the senior night woes: The Crisler Center has posed one of the most difficult places for opposing basketball teams to play during the past two seasons. In 2012, Michigan held a perfect home record going into the final game in Ann Arbor, only to fall to an unranked Purdue team during Zack Novak and Stu Douglas’s senior night celebrations.

Last season No. 2 Indiana provided a much more formidable test, but the results were the same as Michigan suffered its only home loss of the season on senior night. This season, Jordan Morgan hopes to reverse that unfortunate trend.

Morgan’s five-year journey as a Michigan Wolverine takes another step closer to the end as he plays his final home game on Saturday. His leadership and willingness to do whatever the team needs made him a strong leader for Beilein throughout the reconstruction of this basketball program.

Michigan lost two tough games in Ann Arbor over the course of the season, so the pressure to polish off a perfect home slate has long since evaporated. If the Wolverines play at a level anywhere near that of their conference-clinching demolition of Illinois Tuesday, senior night should take care of itself and Morgan will walk off the court with career win number 114.

Prediction:  Michigan 80 – Indiana 67

Jordan Morgan was there and tomorrow he gets the spotlight

Friday, March 7th, 2014


J-mo and team vs Minnesota(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

It seems like a century ago. A vastly underachieving Michigan squad watched its enormous upset bid against the top-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes crumble as Evan Turner’s half-court heave found the net in the 2010 Big Ten tournament.

Michigan couldn’t bounce back from that devastating loss. Back then, Michigan basketball teams didn’t generally earn trips to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, after Turner’s 37-foot prayer sent the Wolverines home from the conference tournament, their 15-17 record left them without an invitation to even the NIT.

That season belonged to a different era of college basketball in Ann Arbor. It was before Michigan contended for Big Ten championships, Wooden Award winners and Final Four appearances.

But Jordan Morgan was there.

Morgan miraculously played in the shadow of four different generations of Michigan basketball. During his freshman season (in which he redshirted), Morgan watched the lackluster final edition of DeShawn Simms and Manny Harris from the bench. His actual playing days began alongside Darius Morris, whose ability to find Morgan wide open under the basket helped the young forward mature.

During the next two seasons, Morgan established himself as a consistent starter for the Wolverines, who earned back-to-back No. 4 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Still, players like Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. commanded the spotlight while Morgan quietly minded his business.

Jordan Morgan has seen it all throughout his five-year Michigan career (AnnArbor.com)

Jordan Morgan has seen it all throughout his five-year Michigan career and gets to go out a champion (AnnArbor.com)

Now his journey nears its end. In his final few weeks of college basketball, Morgan finds himself mentoring a brand new generation of Wolverines. Freshmen Derrick Walton, Jr. and Zak Irvin continue to mature throughout the conference season. Meanwhile, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert stepped up and accepted larger roles in the absence of Burke and Hardaway.

And how many seniors do these young players learn from? Just Jordan Morgan, the only senior on John Beilein’s championship team.

The Detroit native’s career credentials speak for themselves. He has played on four straight NCAA Tournament teams, winning six of nine games so far. He won two Big Ten championships, including the school’s first outright title since 1986. Entering his final game in the Crisler Center, he’s compiled 103 wins during his college career.

Despite all of the program’s success, it wasn’t always easy for Morgan.

During his junior season, Morgan shared time with five-star super-recruit Mitch McGary, who chose to play for Michigan over many other high-profile schools, mainly Duke. Though Morgan welcomed the presence of such a talented player on the roster, McGary cut deeply into his minutes. After averaging 24-plus minutes per game in the previous two seasons, Morgan spent just as much time on the bench during the magical Final Four run, playing just under 16 minutes per game.

An average 22-year old player would protest losing over a third of his minutes after two productive seasons, but Morgan continued to play hard when Beilein called upon him. Now he reemerged as a consistent starter in 2013-14, doing Michigan’s dirty work by rebounding, taking charges, and playing tough inside defense.

The redshirt senior plays more minutes than he did last year, but for the fourth year in a row, his field goal attempts have decreased. Still, as he’s done his entire career, when opportunities come he takes advantage of them. He’s currently shooting a career high 67.4 percent from the field.

Morgan’s role in Michigan basketball history has been grossly understated. Former guards Zack Novak and Stu Douglas receive much of the credit for turning around the basketball program, but Morgan was the only player to step foot on the court during the National Championship game that survived a losing season as a Wolverine.

Morgan arrived in Ann Arbor to play in the dark, unfinished Crisler Arena for a team that struggled to make the NCAA Tournament every season. He leaves the Wolverines as perennial Big Ten contenders and defending champions.

He’s not only seen the construction of facilities that compete with college basketball’s finest, but also the commitment of two five-star recruits (McGary and Glenn Robinson III) to Michigan. The culture of this basketball program completely evolved over the past five years, and the only player to witness the entire process plays in Ann Arbor for the final time on Saturday.

You’ll never see Morgan’s jersey hanging in the rafters of the Crisler Center, but when the longtime Wolverine leaves the court for the final time on Saturday, he’s left an amazing legacy in his wake.

Morgan is the only Michigan player celebrating senior night on Saturday — a fitting end for a player that will finally own the spotlight.

We Work: A look back at Michigan’s run to the outright Big Ten title

Thursday, March 6th, 2014


Michigan at Illinois(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Speaking to about 50 members of the University of Michigan’s student section, the Maize Rage, prior to the team’s annual open pratctice on Oct. 21, head coach John Beilein didn’t sugarcoat Michigan’s chances for the upcoming season.

“I like where our team is at this point in the year, but obviously it’s hard to replace two guys like Trey (Burke) and Tim (Hardaway Jr.),” Beilein said. “So we need to see how our players respond and how the freshman fit in.”

Practice proceded much like it had in the previous few years: The projected starters scrimmaged the bench players, assistant coach Bacari Alexander screamed at Jon Horford, and Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan told the students how important we are and thanked us for supporting the team.

That quiet Monday night revealed so little of a team that, in the following four months, has done nothing but make noise during a roller coaster ride of a 2013-14 season.

Zak Irvin's three-point shooting and Caris LeVert's emergence have fueled Michigan's championship run (MGoBlue.com)

Zak Irvin’s three-point shooting and Caris LeVert’s emergence have helped make up for the production lost when Mitch McGary went down (Bradley Leeb, USA Today Sports)

Dreams of another magical non-conference slate crumbled in Ames, Iowa when Michigan fell for the first time in just its third game of the season. After starting 16-0 last season, the Wolverines had just suffered their earliest loss since the 2007-08 season when a loss to No. 5 Georgetown dropped them to 2-1.

Unfortunately for the youngest team in the Big Ten, the losing didn’t stop there. Michigan dropped three of its next seven games and fell to 6-4 on the season, surfacing an unthinkable question into the minds of Wolverine fans: Could the defending national runner-ups and preseason No. 7 team in the country miss the NCAA Tournament?

The biggest blow lay in the shadows until Dec. 27, when Michigan’s preseason All-American forward, McGary, announced his plans to have back surgery that would sideline him indefinitely. This news broke just days after Michigan fell out of the national rankings for the first time in more than a year.

With a difficult Big Ten schedule looming, the wounded Wolverines looked ready to crash and burn, but Beilein didn’t allow that to happen.

Michigan stormed back onto the national stage with a 10-game winning streak that included three straight wins over top ten opponents. The team’s first victory in the Breslin Center since Stu Douglass’ corner three pointer vaulted the Maize and Blue over its in-state rival three years ago placed the new-look Wolverines atop the Big Ten.

McGary’s injury seemingly re-energized veteran post players Morgan and Horford as the duo more than made up for the 6’10″ hole in the middle of Michigan’s lineup. Together, the tandem that fans affectionately dubbed “Morford” solidified the Wolverines defensively and blended into an offense that requires little more than a few put-backs from its center position.

Meanwhile, a revolution developed in the backcourt.

Something clicked for freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. during the beginning of Big Ten play, and he evolved into a leader reminiscent of Trey Burke during his freshman campaign. His confidence skyrocketed after his complete domination of Keith Appling in East Lansing, and even veteran players like Horford acknowledged his leadership, saying he “not only knows what to say, but when to say it.”

Unlike Burke, Walton enjoyed the luxury of maturing in the shadows of emerging guards Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. Stauskas, who figures to become Michigan’s second straight Big Ten Player of the Year, leads his team in points and assists per game and possesses the same take-over-the-game mentality as Burke did on the big college stages.

Nik Stauskas' emergence into likely Big Ten Player of the Year and fringe NBA lottery pick helped Michigan move on from Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Nik Stauskas’ emergence into likely Big Ten Player of the Year and fringe NBA lottery pick helped Michigan move on from Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

LeVert, on the other hand, became Michigan’s most consistent and versatile player after contributing just 10.8 minutes per game to last season’s Final Four journey. The baby-faced sophomore more than tripled his minutes, points, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals and field goals this season.

Michigan twice surrendered its outright conference lead in the next five games when it fell to Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Both stints in second place were short-lived though, as Michigan State coughed up the lead within 24 hours of gaining it.

The Wolverines earned the inside track to the Big Ten championship with a sweep over the Spartans on Feb. 23, when an 11-point first half lead evaporated in the wake of Michigan’s offensive onslaught.

Days later, Glenn Robinson III’s bank shot at the buzzer lifted the Wolverines over Purdue in a game in which they trailed by as many as 19 points. Despite the low standing of that Boilermakers team, that comeback victory propelled Michigan to two more victories, including a 31-point dismantling of Illinois to clinch the Big Ten outright.

On March 9, Michigan State will travel to Columbus to battle Ohio State in the final nationally-televised Big Ten game of the regular season. It must satisfy John Beilein to think about the conference’s officials selling that game to CBS at the beginning of the season as the game that would probably decide the Big Ten champion.

Instead, nearly a full week beforehand, Michigan rendered that matchup completely worthless. Ohio State can finish .500 in the conference at best, while Michigan State ran out of excuses during a home loss to Illinois last Saturday. All season long, Tom Izzo whined about his team’s injuries, only to watch the group that grabbed the preseason No. 2 AP ranking tally a season-low 46 points against a conference bottom-feeder.

In Ann Arbor, Beilein took the loss of an All-American in stride, and Michigan rode it all the way to a championship.

This year’s Michigan basketball team failed to accomplish some of the feats that it did last season. It never held the No. 1 national ranking. It didn’t win 16 games in a row. It may not even make it to the Final Four, though that remains to be seen.

But these players created a legacy of their own. They stomped the Buckeyes in Columbus during Aaron Craft’s final meeting. They silenced Izzo and the all-powerful Spartans with a convincing sweep.

Almost a year ago, a magical run to the Final Four brought the most famous college basketball team ever back together in Atlanta. As Jalen Rose led his former Michigan teammates down the isle of the Georgia Dome towards the court where the Wolverines prepared for the National Championship game, fans realized that Michigan basketball truly returned.

But this year’s team accomplished something that last year’s team and even the Fab Five couldn’t. These players are outright Big Ten champions.

Inside the Numbers: Stumbling out of the gates

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014


Beilein after Minnesota win(MGoBlue.com)

One down. Three to go.

Entering this season, Michigan had four primary team goals. They were: (1) to win the Big Ten regular-season title; (2) to win the Big Ten Tournament; (3) to advance to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament; and (4) to win the national championship. Accomplish any of these four goals, and Michigan would add to their collection of banners hanging from the rafters of the Crisler Center.

Check one off the list. On Saturday, thanks in part to Illinois’ stunning upset over Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan captured a share of the Big Ten regular season title with a 66-56 victory over Minnesota. This is the second conference championship and third banner the Wolverines have earned since 2011. No other Big Ten school can claim as many in that span.

Michigan has made this march through the Big Ten because its offense has been remarkably efficient. U-M has averaged 1.154 points per possession against conference opponents, which is the best in Big Ten play in the past three seasons. Further, Michigan leads the conference in two-point and free throw shooting and is a smidgen behind the top spot in three-point shooting. Accordingly, Michigan has the third-best adjusted offensive rating in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy.

But the Wolverines have one flaw offensively that they must correct if they want to accomplish any of their remaining three goals: they must showcase their elite offense as soon as the referee tosses up the opening tip. Michigan’s offense has picked up a nasty habit of stumbling out of the gates until the first ten minutes have passed. This has led to some ugly, ugly starts in U-M’s past six matchups.

Michigan’s Offensive Efficiency in the First 10 Minutes – Last Six Games

Date

Opponent

Points

Possessions

PPP

Margin

Feb. 8

Iowa

10

15

0.667

-13

Feb. 11

Ohio State

10

13

0.769

-9

Feb. 16

Wisconsin

9

12

0.750

-11

Feb. 23

Michigan State

11

14

0.786

-11

Feb. 26

Purdue

6

14

0.429

-11

Mar. 1

Minnesota

9

14

0.643

-6

In the first ten minutes of their previous six contests, the Wolverines scored only 55 total points in 82 possessions for a measly average of 0.671 points per possession. These slow starts have been consistent, too, as U-M did not even top 0.800 points per possession in any of them. For context, the worst adjusted offensive rating in the nation is Howard’s 0.881 points per possession. Michigan just could not find an offensive rhythm in the early stages regardless of the quality of the defense protecting the rim.

So why is this happening? Is there an explanation for why one of the nation’s best offenses has struggled so much in the first half of the first half? The answer is not that the Wolverines have lacked effort or focus or have run poor offensive sets. The answer is that their shooting has been freezing ice cold in their past six starts.

Michigan’s Shooting and Turnovers in the First 10 Minutes – Last Six Games

Date

Opponent

Possessions

2PT Shooting

3PT Shooting

Turnovers

Feb. 8

Iowa

15

3-8 (37.5%)

1-6 (16.7%)

2

Feb. 11

Ohio State

13

2-10 (20.0%)

2-5 (40.0%)

2

Feb. 16

Wisconsin

12

3-10 (30.0%)

0-0 (0.0%)

2

Feb. 23

Michigan State

14

3-10 (30.0%)

1-3 (33.3%)

1

Feb. 26

Purdue

14

1-5 (20.0%)

1-8 (12.5%)

2

Mar. 1

Minnesota

14

3-6 (50.0%)

1-9 (11.1%)

0

In the first ten minutes of its past six games, Michigan made only 30.6 percent of its two-point attempts and only 19.4 percent of its three-point attempts for a ghastly effective field-goal percentage of 30 percent. Conversely, U-M has made 54.2 percent of its two-pointers and 39 percent of its three-pointers for a Big Ten-best effective field-goal percentage of 55.8 percent throughout conference play.

This seems to be a result of bad luck or coincidence rather than impressive defense or poor shot selection. Yes, the Wolverines have been more eager to settle for long two-point jumpers early in the shot clock, which are mathematically the worst shots in basketball. But most of U-M’s shots have been open looks. Unfortunately for U-M, though, the shots just have not fallen in these first few possessions, which is peculiar given the offensive talent on Michigan’s roster.

However, this odd phenomenon vanishes once the 10:00 mark in the first half passes. Instead, everything starts to drop for Michigan. Shots hit the twine rather than iron. Points pile up on the scoreboard. It is as if U-M decides to flip the switch to the “On” position and become an offensive juggernaut for the remainder of the game.

Michigan’s Offensive Efficiency in the Final 30+ Minutes – Last Six Games

Date

Opponent

Points

Possessions

PPP

Margin

Feb. 8

Iowa

57

49

1.163

-5

Feb. 11

Ohio State

60

46

1.304

+19

Feb. 16

Wisconsin

53

48

1.104

-2

Feb. 23

Michigan State

68

48

1.417

+20

Feb. 26

Purdue

71

55

1.291

+12

Mar. 1

Minnesota

57

45

1.267

+16

After their dreadful starts in the last six contests, Michigan scored 366 total points in 291 possessions for a superb average of 1.258 points per possession. For context, the best adjusted offensive rating in the nation: Creighton’s 1.258 points per possession. Yet this is what Creighton would be expected to do against an average D-1 college basketball team. Michigan just did it for 185 of 245 minutes against Top 100 defenses in its past six games. A strong argument can be made that U-M has performed like the most efficient unit in the country during those 185 minutes.

Offensive efficiency last 6 games

Michigan is fortunate for that, too. U-M trailed in all six games and by at least nine points in five of them at the 10:00 mark of the first half. If the Wolverines were not that efficient offensively in the final 30-plus minutes of those games, they likely would have cost themselves a Big Ten regular season title. But Michigan scratched and clawed its way back against Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, and Minnesota, outscoring each by at least 12 points after the first ten minutes, to attain a 4-2 record during this six-game stretch.

But the Wolverines cannot afford to continue to dig themselves holes this deep. Comeback bids of this magnitude will not be successful each time. This is not a sustainable formula for success, especially with the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament right around the corner. Tournament play means single-elimination games. Michigan was able to afford two losses in its past six contests and still win a piece of the Big Ten regular season title. One loss in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, though, means the Maize and Blue will be sitting at home empty-handed this March.

So Michigan needs to cure its early-game, cold shooting spell in its final regular season contests against Illinois and Indiana. What is the solution? I am not sure there is one that head coach John Beilein can just implement to improve this team’s shooting in the opening minutes instantly. It may just be regression to the mean. But I am sure that, if these shooting woes are not fixed before tournament play, and Michigan continues to struggle out of the gates, the Wolverines will not check off any of their remaining three goals this season.

Big Ten title race down to three

Friday, February 28th, 2014


UM crowd vs MSU 2-23-14

As February comes to a close and perhaps the greatest month in all of sports approaches, the Big Ten men’s basketball conference remains as unpredictable as ever.

Nearly two weeks ago, the would-be headliner battle between the two Michigan schools that topped the standings all season long suffered a major blow when Michigan fell to Wisconsin and Nebraska shocked Michigan State in East Lansing. Meanwhile, Nebraska put together a five-game winning streak to burst onto the NCAA bubble, only to lose to lowly Illinois and see it all slip away. Even the Iowa-Indiana game scheduled for Feb. 18 proved unpredictable, as an eight-foot beam that fell from the Assembly Hall ceiling postponed the game for over a week.

With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the standings usually provide a clearer picture of what the conference tournament will feature. But in the midst of such an erratic regular season, more surprises surely lie ahead, right?

Spoiler alert: This year’s Big Ten regular season championship is Michigan’s to lose.

Remaining schedule for Big Ten title contenders
Michigan Michigan State Wisconsin
Saturday vs Minnesota, 6pm BTN vs Illinois, 4pm ESPN
Sunday at Penn State, 12pm BTN
Tuesday, Mar. 4 at Illinois, 7pm ESPN
Wednesday, Mar. 5 vs Purdue, 9pm BTN
Thursday, Mar. 6 vs Iowa, 9pm ESPN
Saturday, Mar. 8 vs Indiana, 6pm ESPN
Sunday, Mar. 9 at Ohio State, 4:30pm CBS at Nebraska, 7:30pm BTN

After the victory to sweep Tom Izzo’s Spartans, Michigan firmly planted itself atop the conference with four winnable games remaining.

A trip to Purdue, which provided the most difficult remaining challenge, ended with a miracle in-bounds play for the Wolverines, who snuck out of West Lafayette unscathed, much to the chagrin of championship hopefuls Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Now the only teams standing in Michigan’s way are 5-9 Indiana, 5-10 Illinois, and a struggling Minnesota team with just two conference road wins against the league’s last place squads. John Beilein’s one-game lead should hold up and bring Michigan the long-awaited sole Big Ten title.

But outcomes rarely go according to plan in the 2013-14 edition of the Big Ten. If the first place Wolverines do drop any of their final three games, what does it mean?

Iowa’s loss at Indiana on Thursday night and Ohio State’s loss at Penn State made it mathematically official: the only two teams left to challenge Michigan are Michigan State (one game behind) and Wisconsin (two).

Michigan's last-second win over Purdue on Wednesday kept the Wolverines on track for the outright Big Ten title (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Michigan’s last-second win over Purdue on Wednesday kept the Wolverines on track for the outright Big Ten title (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Let’s say Michigan finishes the season by winning two of its final three games. Regardless of what Wisconsin does in its final three games, the Badgers would fall short of the Wolverines, having already lost five times in the Big Ten.

A Michigan loss would, however, leave the door open for Michigan State, which could finish the season in a tie and, despite earning the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, boast a share of the regular season championship. But the Spartans face a one of the toughest stretch runs in the Big Ten.

Michigan State played sub-.500 basketball in the month of February, losing four of seven games. The Breslin Center lost some of its esteem after Nebraska came in and bullied the Spartans last weekend, so a matchup with the desperate Hawkeyes on March 6 could challenge Izzo’s battered team. Iowa’s current three-game losing streak compliment’s Michigan State’s struggles to set up a surprisingly important matchup in the final week of the season.

Days later, the Spartans travel to Columbus in what Big Ten officials probably expected to be a conference-deciding game against Ohio State. However, a sweep at the hands of bottom-feeding Penn State dropped Thad Matta’s team well out of contention, and barring a Michigan loss, this game provides little importance in the bigger picture.

If Michigan does lose, then Ohio State earns a chance to play spoiler for Michigan State and help its hated rival from Ann Arbor. Michigan State hasn’t won back-to-back games since Jan. 21 when a win over Indiana marked its 11th straight at the time. Michigan ended that streak.

Clearly, Michigan State’s quest for a Big Ten title remains an uphill battle.

Wisconsin, unlike the Spartans, plays a much easier schedule to finish the season. Penn State and Purdue, both tied for last place, figure to provide little resistance for Wisconsin next week, setting up an important trip to Lincoln on March 9.

Nebraska’s only loss in the new Pinnacle Bank Arena came at the hands of the first-place Wolverines, who snuck out of Lincoln with a 71-70 win on Jan. 9 after the Huskers missed three layup attempts in the closing seconds. Despite the loss at Illinois on Wednesday, Nebraska’s five-game winning streak puts it tied for fourth place in the loss column in the conference. With a Big Ten record that matches Iowa’s and a nearly-perfect home resume, Nebraska provides a real challenge for Wisconsin to finish the regular season.

Even the most unpredictable conference standings take shape near the end of the season. Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin played well enough through 15 Big Ten games to stay alive into March, but Michigan represents the clear-cut favorite with less than two weeks to go.

The Wolverines may win all three remaining games and leave no room for another contender to catch up. But even if the surprising Big Ten serves up another upset, the odds lie in Michigan’s favor.

Inside the Numbers: Go ahead and order the banner

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014


UM win over MSU 2-23-14(Tony Ding, AP)

The stakes were set when Michigan and Michigan State took the floor at the Crisler Center this past Sunday. The victor would inherit sole possession of first place in the Big Ten and have the inside track to become the Big Ten regular season champion. Never before had the Wolverines and the Spartans played each other under these circumstances with so few games left in the conference season. It arguably was the biggest game in the history of this heated intrastate rivalry.

You already know what happened. The Spartans caught fire and sprinted out to an 11-point lead in the first ten minutes. But the Wolverines fought back to within two points at halftime and used a 21-4 run in a seven-minute span in the second half to pull away. Michigan bested MSU, 79-70, sweeping the season series and beating the Spartans for the sixth time in their past eight meetings.

With Michigan sitting atop the Big Ten standings, many U-M fans have wondered, “How likely is it that the Wolverines win the Big Ten regular season championship?” I have the answer, and Michigan fans will love it.

The Wolverines currently are 11-3 in the Big Ten. With four games left, U-M can end with no worse than an 11-7 record. Only five other Big Ten schools can post such a record, meaning only six teams still are mathematically in the hunt for a conference title. They are Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State, and Nebraska. Here are the conference standings as of yesterday:

Big Ten Standings as of February 24, 2014

Place

Team

Record

Games Behind

1

Michigan

11-3

-

2

Michigan State

11-4

0.5

3

Wisconsin

9-5

2

4

Iowa

8-5

2.5

5

Ohio State

9-6

2.5

6

Nebraska

8-6

3

Ken Pomeroy, a proponent of advanced statistics in college basketball, uses a complex algorithm that provides the odds teams have to win in each of their upcoming games. These percentages can be found on the team pages at his website, Kenpom.com. For example, here are the odds that Pomeroy gives Michigan to win in each of its final four games:

Michigan’s Odds to Win in Each of its Four Remaining Games per Ken Pomeroy

Date

Opponent

Site

Odds to Win

February 26

Purdue

Away

74%

March 1

Minnesota

Home

84%

March 4

Illinois

Away

66%

March 8

Indiana

Home

87%

With these percentages, I can calculate the likelihood that Michigan will finish with a certain conference record. I also can conduct the same analysis for the other teams in contention for a Big Ten championship. Therefore, using this analysis, I determined the likelihood that the Wolverines will win the Big Ten.

Projected records

Odds Michigan Finishes 15-3: 35.7 percent

Michigan controls its own destiny not only to win a Big Ten championship, but also to win it outright. U-M is the only Big Ten team with no more than three conference losses. Therefore, if the Wolverines win each of their four remaining games, they will be the sole Big Ten champion regardless of how the other contenders perform down the stretch.

The great news for Michigan is that it will be a significant favorite in each of its remaining contests. The Wolverines will have at least a 74 percent chance to win in three of their four remaining games. The only one with lower odds to be victorious is at last-place Illinois, but U-M still has a 66 percent chance to upend the Fighting Illini in Assembly Hall. Because these odds are so high, the Wolverines have a 35.7 percent chance to run the table. If they do so, they will have 15 conference wins for the first time since 1993 and their first outright Big Ten title since 1986.

Odds Michigan Finishes 14-4: 43.1 percent

Michigan does have room for error, though. A loss does not hurt U-M’s odds to win a Big Ten championship. No other team can earn a better Big Ten record than 14-4, so the Wolverines still are guaranteed to win at least a share of the Big Ten crown even if they drop one game. Therefore, because Michigan has a 35.7 percent chance to finish 15-3 and a 43.1 percent chance to finish 14-4, it has a 78.8 percent chance to win a share of the Big Ten title without any help.

(Scott Mapes, UMHoops)

Michigan has a 78.8 percent chance of at least a share of the Big Ten title with four games remaining (Scott Mapes, UMHoops)

Even if U-M loses one, it still is very likely to be the outright Big Ten champion. Only one other team can attain a 14-4 conference record: Michigan State. But, to do so, MSU will need to beat all three of its remaining opponents. Because the Spartans still must host Iowa and travel to Columbus to face the Buckeyes, the odds of doing so are low. In fact, Pomeroy gives MSU just a 15.9 percent chance to run the table and finish 14-4. Accordingly, the Wolverines still will be in great position to be the only Big Ten champion with a 14-4 record.

Odds Michigan Finishes 13-5: 17.9 percent

This is the territory where Michigan could see a Big Ten crown slip through its fingers. If U-M finishes the season with a 2-2 record, it opens the door for Michigan State to be the sole Big Ten champion. To do so, MSU would need to run the table and finish 14-4.

As aforementioned, those odds are slim. There is only a 3.4 percent chance that the Spartans finish 14-4 and the Wolverines finish 13-5 or worse. Further, Michigan has a 96.7 percent chance to finish with a 13-5 record or better. If U-M earns such a record, there is a 93.9 percent chance that U-M will be at least a co-champion.

However, if U-M settles for 13-5, it’s not likely to be the outright Big Ten champion. Three other teams can reach 13-5: Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa. There is only a 19 percent chance that all three of them fail to have at least a 13-5 record. Accordingly, Michigan cannot expect to be the only Big Ten team to hang a banner in its home arena next season if it loses half of its upcoming games.

Odds Michigan Finishes 12-6: 3.1 percent

This would be an absolute collapse by the Wolverines. A 1-3 close to the conference season is very unlikely, but not completely out of the realm of possibility. Because Michigan is 10-2 against opponents ranked outside Pomeroy’s Top 50 this season and none of U-M’s final four foes are in the Pomeroy Top 50, no one expects U-M to win only once more in the regular season. But, if it does, the Wolverines can kiss away the crown. There is only a 0.6 percent chance that all four of Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa finish with not better than 12-6 records. One of these three Big Ten foes will do better, leaving the Maize and Blue to wonder how it all fell apart.

Odds Michigan Finishes 11-7: 0.2 percent

Nope.

Takeaway

This is why Sunday’s game against the Spartans was arguably the biggest in the history of the rivalry. With the win, Michigan essentially has locked up at least a share of the Big Ten regular season championship. The Wolverines are guaranteed a share if they finish 15-3 or 14-4, which has a 78.8 percent chance of occurring. And there’s a 93.9 percent chance that they have at least a 13-5 record and grab a piece of the crown. Given Michigan’s remaining strength of schedule, only an utter collapse will send U-M home empty-handed.

Should Michigan begin to plan a banner ceremony for next season? Not yet only because nothing is guaranteed, especially in the Big Ten. But the Wolverines would probably not hurt themselves by getting a head start on the paperwork to order a “Big Ten Champions” banner for 2014.

Sweeping Sparty: Michigan 79 – Michigan State 70

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014


Stauskas dunk vs MSU 2-23-14(Scott Mapes, UMHoops)

In a basketball game being called one of the biggest ever in Ann Arbor, with all the marbles on the line and a clear road to the Big Ten championship at stake, Michigan and Michigan State put on a game for the ages. Back and forth they went, the Spartans jumping out to a quick double-digit lead in the first half, then the Wolverines battling back to make it a two-point halftime deficit and taking a lead themselves early in the second stanza.

All afternoon, it seemed that the game would come down to a last-second possession, but somewhere along the way, Michigan decided they wanted it more and Michigan State lost its steam.

Once the Maize and Blue clawed back from the small but tough deficits they were in to go up 50-49 with 11:18 left, Michigan State was certain to draw closer. And they did, with a Gary Harris three to re-gain the lead less than a minute later. Then Nik Stauskas answered with a three of his own, and we’d all seen the narrative before – Michigan gets over the hump, Michigan State fights back, game comes down to wire, one rival wins in heart-stopping fashion.

After all, three of the past five meetings between these bitter enemies had been decided by five points or fewer – and two by a single point.

Nik Stauskas dominated the second half, scoring 21 of his game-high 25 points (MGoBlue.com)

Nik Stauskas dominated the second half, scoring 21 of his game-high 25 points (MGoBlue.com)

Today, however, the story would follow a different path. Once Stauskas drained that three, good for his 18th, 19th, and 20th points of the day, Michigan got a stop, then two free throws from LeVert, then another stop, and another three from Stauskas to go up by seven. Michigan State called a timeout, and rightfully so with the noise of the Crisler crowd. But after the timeout, it was LeVert’s turn to continue digging the Spartan grave with a three and a dunk off a turnover to give him 21 points on the day.

When the two sophomores finally took their feet off the pedal, Michigan had already amassed a 12-point lead on the backs of the 21-4 run put on entirely by LeVert and Stauskas, and the game was over.

Sure, the clock still had seven minutes and change left, but the Spartans simply weren’t coming back.

When the clock eventually did strike zero, the scoreboard read Michigan 79, Michigan State 70. The Wolverines were back again.

This time around, Michigan State couldn’t blame the loss on two absent stars. Adreian Payne, their best player, was back in full form, and while forward Branden Dawson had to sit out again, both teams were down a starter.

It’s certainly clear now that Michigan has adjusted much better to their adversity than their counterparts in East Lansing. There have been bumps in the road to be sure, but the Maize and Blue have played through the loss of Mitch McGary in mid-December like nothing ever happened.

Stauskas, the sophomore many are calling the best player in the Big Ten, broke out of a mini slump today with spectacular team highs of 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting (3-of-5 from deep) and five assists. LeVert, being billed as the Big Ten’s most improved, complemented his classmate’s game remarkably with 23 points (7-of-15 FG, 3-of-5 3PT) and three assists of his own. Together, the pair who played second fiddle to the likes of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and even McGary and Glenn Robinson III last season, emerged for all to see today with more than 60 percent of Michigan’s total offensive output.

LeVert, with 14 points in the first half, including a wide open, buzzer-beating, corner three that splashed net with LeVert already halfway down the court, kept Michigan alive. Stauskas, with 21 after the break, including shot after shot falling away with a hand in his face, put the nails in Michigan State’s coffin.

The pair also got a big boost from the quiet Glenn Robinson III, who finished with 15 points — 11 in the second half — on 12 shots despite missing all three of his threes and four of his seven free throws.

What stands out most about the win, however, is how Michigan completely abolished Tom Izzo’s defensive game plan and simply out-smarted the Spartans all game long. In the first half, when buckets were hard to come by, the Wolverines scored on a variety of back-cuts against an overly-aggressive defense. In the second half, Michigan drove the ball much better and started hitting their outside shots while stymying Michigan State’s attack with a 1-3-1 zone defense.

Michigan has won six of the last eight against the Spartans (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan has won six of the last eight against the Spartans (MGoBlue.com)

With a quick glance at the box score, it’s clear what the difference was: Michigan turned the ball over just three times while taking advantage of 13 Michigan State giveaways to outscore the Spartans 14-0 off of turnovers.

Postgame thoughts are often overly optimistic or pessimistic based on the very recent play of a given team, but today it seems obvious that this Michigan win will hold great weight for a long time.

With the victory, the Wolverines have complete control of their conference finish. Win the four winnable-looking games (at Purdue, home versus Minnesota,  at Illinois, home versus Indiana) left on the schedule, and the Big Ten title goes to Michigan – no splits, no shares, no ties.

The win also means that even if Michigan and Michigan State somehow play each other two more times this season – highly unlikely – and the Spartans win both (again, this is a hypothetical) no Wolverine will have a losing record against their in-state foes at the end of the season. That includes senior Jordan Morgan, who will in all likelihood finish his career with a 6-2 mark against Michigan State.

Michigan’s triumph also ensures a black mark on Michigan State seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne’s college careers – neither will ever be able to claim a victory over the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.

Following the momentous win, John Beilein credited his team with playing a great game against a great opponent, but noted that his Wolverines will quickly move on after celebrating tonight, because, of course, they are now only “in position to be in position.”

But he didn’t leave the press room before making a statement that just about everyone already realized.

“Michigan is back in so many ways.”

Indeed.

Three Stars:

***Nik Stauskas***
25 points (9-of-13 FG, 3-of-5 3PT, 4-of-6 FT), three rebounds, five assists, two turnovers in 37 minutes

**Caris LeVert**
23 points (7-of-15 FG, 3-of-5 3PT, 6-of-8 FT), three rebounds, three assists, one steal in 39 minutes

*Gary Harris*
21 points (7-of-17 FG, 4-of-13 3PT, 3-of-3 FT), one rebound, four assists, one steal, three turnovers in 39 minutes

Quick Hitters:


 Crisler Center was perhaps as loud as it has ever been today with 3,000 students in the house and a crowd that had less green in this rivalry game than ever before. Jordan Morgan appreciated the boost, saying, “Our fans were great…we gotta give them a lot of credit. They made it a great atmosphere to play in, and I’m sure they made a huge difference in the outcome today.”

 For the fifth consecutive year, Michigan’s Maize Rage teamed up with the Dance Team to put on the show dubbed “Dance Rage.” While Dance Rage previously took place as the main halftime attraction, the entertainment has disappointingly been moved to a timeout in the second half for the past three seasons. Today’s halftime show instead was a no-name magician who received very little attention.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 6-12 0-3 3-7 2 3 5 1 15 1 0 0 0 38
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 1-5 1-3 2-2 1 3 4 3 5 3 0 0 2 28
11 Nik Stauskas* 9-13 3-5 4-6 0 3 3 0 25 5 2 0 0 37
52 Jordan Morgan* 1-2 0-0 2-2 0 2 2 4 4 0 0 0 0 22
23 Caris LeVert* 7-15 3-5 6-8 0 3 3 2 23 3 0 0 1 39
02 Spike Albrecht 1-3 1-1 0-0 0 1 1 1 3 2 0 0 1 13
15 Jon Horford 1-1 0-0 0-0 1 2 3 5 2 1 0 0 0 16
21 Zak Irvin 1-3 0-2 0-0 0 0 0 2 2 0 0 0 1 17
Totals 27-54 8-19 17-25 7 17 24 18 79 15 3 0 5 200
Michigan State 26-48 9-23 9-15 7 24 31 23 70 13 13 2 1 200
Full Stats

Sam’s 3 thoughts: Michigan State

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014


Michigan-MSU header

There are a few games in every college basketball team’s season that are remembered years down the line. Oftentimes those aren’t the blowout wins or brutal losses that set off fan firestorms in their immediate aftermath, but rather the close, season-defining wins and losses over rivals – games that determine conference finishes or tournament outcomes.

For Michigan fans, games like the home Indiana loss of last year and the Evan Turner buzzer-beater in the 2011 Big Ten Tournament still sting, while the wins against Duke and UCLA in 2008 and the nail-biter triumph over Michigan State last season will live on in Wolverine lore forever.

Tomorrow’s showdown with the Spartans (12 p.m. on CBS) has all the makings of one of those matchups that will be remembered for years to come. Not only are the teams fierce rivals who are competing for the upper hand in the Big Ten title race this season. Michigan and Michigan State are also fighting for tournament seeding, rivalry respect on the level of Duke-North Carolina, and perhaps more than anything else, pure bragging rights.

The Wolverines, winners of five of the last seven against the Spartans, will look to sweep the season series while also battling to protect home court and to avenge their loss to Wisconsin just one week ago. Here’s what they will have to do to avoid back-to-back losses for just the third time in three years.

Contain Payne: In Michigan’s 80-75 victory at Michigan State almost exactly one month ago, Spartan senior star Adreian Payne was unable to play due to the plantar fasciitis he’s been dealing with nearly all year long. Tomorrow, that won’t be the case. After sitting out for seven straight games in January and early February, Payne has come back with a vengeance in the twilight of his college career without missing a beat.

Adreian Payne missed the first meeting but has averaged 18 points and seven rebounds in five games since (Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

Adreian Payne missed the first meeting but has averaged 18 points and seven rebounds in five games since (Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

In Michigan State’s last five game, of which the Spartans have won only three times, Payne has been dominant both inside and out, averaging 18 points and nearly seven boards while making 54.2 percent of his shots from the floor and 44.4 percent of his triples (8-of-18). What’s even more impressive is the fact that Payne has done all this damage while playing fewer than 27 minutes per game in that stretch.

For Michigan, team defense as a whole has been a concern lately, but their collapse inside against Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky was particularly eye-opening. Kaminsky, a seven-footer with range stretching beyond the three-point line, is very similar to Payne but with less athleticism, a little more height, and a much slower first step. He simply pounded Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford like pieces of meat to the tune of 25 points (11-of-16 FG, 1-of-2 3PT) and 11 rebounds a week ago.

Last year at Crisler, Payne was a terror himself, amassing 17 points (6-of-11 FG, 2-of-5 3PT) and 11 rebounds in Michigan’s one-point win.

The problem for the Wolverines, and for just about every team facing off with Payne and his Spartans for that matter, is essentially that there is no clear idea of who should defend the beast inside. Morgan gives up a lot of size to Payne and was exposed big time on the dribble-drive against Kaminsky, while Horford lacks the strength to consistently body up Payne in the paint and is not quick laterally either. Glenn Robinson III has the athleticism to compete with Payne, but he’s also shown a complete inability to defend any post-up attempt in the past and would stand no chance in a one-on-one matchup.

I think John Beilein will go with a strategy we’ve often seen in the past against dominant big men like Jared Sullinger and Payne himself by doubling down any time Payne touches the ball inside, rotating the defense, and hoping he can’t find the open man on the perimeter. On the outside, Morgan and Horford need to do their best to hedge screens and quickly get back to Payne or else simply hope that his shot isn’t on.

With no Branden Dawson to worry about again tomorrow, Michigan needs to focus all of their rebounding efforts on keeping Payne off the glass and preventing his rim-shaking put-backs.

Get Stauskas Going: Nik Stauskas, Michigan’s offensive superstar who was shooting up NBA draft boards after scoring double-digit points in 12 straight contests in December and January, has been disappearing far too often lately as teams continue to try to limit his touches. Rather than getting more active and running his man around screens every time down the court, however, Stauskas has largely been content to camp out in his corner starting spot while watching his teammates go to work. That strategy is going to need some re-thinking if the Maize and Blue are to pull out a win tomorrow.

Nik Stauskas has been held to just 11.2 points in his last four games (MGoBlue.com)

Nik Stauskas has been held to just 11.2 points in his last four games, but scored 19 in the first meeting with MSU (MGoBlue.com)

Since putting on a show with 19 points on some hot three-point shooting over Michigan State (5-of-6 from deep, 2-of-6 inside the arc), Michigan’s Canadian marksman has struggled mightily on offense while becoming more and more the focal point of opponents’ defensive plans, averaging just 11.2 points (versus 16.7 ppg on the season), 2.3 assists (3.5), and 3.2 turnovers (1.9) per game over the Wolverines’ past six games. In that same stretch of games, Stauskas has also shot the ball less (7.5 FGA versus 10 on the season and 3.2 3PTA vs. 5.2) and worse (46.2 percent on twos vs. 52.6 percent on the season and 31.6 percent on threes vs. 44 percent).

In Stauskas’s stead, Caris LeVert has had to pick up the slack and lead the team, but Michigan is just not the same offensive juggernaut without Stauskas. In fact, while Michigan has gone 2-2 over their last four games, Stauskas has been the team’s fourth leading scorer behind LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, and Zak Irvin. Tomorrow, Michigan needs to get Stauskas the ball in good spots early on to give him open shots from outside or a nice lane from which to drive and dish, score, or get fouled. If Stauskas reaches his season average of 16 and gets to the line 10 times tomorrow afternoon, I think Michigan wins.

Win the Fast Break: Under Tom Izzo, Michigan State has always been a team that likes to dictate tempo, and not surprisingly, Michigan does the same very well with John Beilein’s philosophies, but the teams play a little bit differently. The Spartans are generally more content to play a faster game and run off of makes or misses while Michigan generally likes to slow things down defensively and run only off turnovers and missed shots.

Recently, Michigan’s turnover woes have led to losing the fast break battle, and if the same happens tomorrow, Michigan State will quite literally run away with things. Two weekends ago against Iowa, Michigan allowed 17 fast-break points on 12 turnovers. Overall, the Wolverines have coughed it up at least nine times in nine straight games.

Look for Michigan to be particularly careful with the ball tomorrow and in getting back in transition against Spartan guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris and big men Payne and Matt Costello. The Wolverines can win making shots and letting Michigan State collect defensive rebounds off their misses, but they’ll be hard-pressed to pull out a victory with the Spartans effectively getting into the lane on the run.

Prediction: This Big Ten season has seen more road wins across the conference than any that I can remember, but Michigan has generally been an excellent home team under Beilein and has won three straight in Ann Arbor over their in-state foe. As previously mentioned, Michigan has lost back-to-back games only twice in the last three seasons (including this one), but has not lost back-to-back home games since January of 2011. I expect that trend to continue tomorrow as Stauskas regains his form and Glenn Robinson III is the surprise star against a Michigan State squad that doesn’t have anyone to match up with him defensively. Michigan wins and takes control of the Big Ten once again with a 77-71 win.