Thursday, November 29, 2012

Game 14 Recap, Bulls-Mavs: Absolution

The airspace of mediocrity was far more kind this time around

Bulls 101 (7-7), Mavericks 78 (7-9)

Naturally, after mentioning that Shawn Marion has been averaging less than half of his career average in point thus far this season in my preview, he put up a quick six points within the first three minutes of the game. The Mavs started quicker, but the Bulls showed that they were up to the task early on, jumping out to an early 10-8 lead only to see it evaporate on the heels of a 6-0 Mavs run. The up tempo Mavs capitalized on some sloppiness from the Bulls, who committed four turnovers in less than six minutes of first quarter play. 

The Mavs were similarly sloppy, however, also as detailed in the preview: both teams accrued five turnovers earch in about eight minutes. However, the Mavs were able to weather the storm of of their own brand of sloppiness; a Troy Murphy trey later in the period gave the Mavs a 19-11 lead, extending the already blazing 6-0 run to an 11-1 avalanche.

Despite having been ground to a fine powder by Thibodeau's decision to turn Noah and Deng into Mike Martin/Ryan Van Bergen circa the 2012 Sugar Bowl, Noah was playing well through the first quarter and a half. He amassed seven points on 3-6 shooting, in addition to six rebounds and a block. Similarly, the Bulls' other iron man, Luol Deng, tallied a quick 12 points on 4-7 shooting. His jumper was falling and he didn't seem to be suffering from the effects of accumulated fatigue. 

In a rare stroke, Thibodeau put the entire bench on the floor a few minutes into the second quarter. Yes, even Nazr Mohammed. With the Bench Mob -2.0's kind offerings, the Bulls went up 41-28 at the 6:47 mark. This would be something to get excited about if not for what happened the other night against Milwaukee.

Gibson, Butler, Belinelli and Robinson combined for 25 points during what has to have been one of the bench's most successful (and extensive) shifts this season. Just like the other team that plays in the United Center (or used to before the the minions of herp and derp took hold of the NHL's CBA negotiations), the Bulls cannot survive without any secondary scoring. Unfortunately for the Bulls, their "core" guys aren't quite at the level of Toews, Sharp, Kane and Hossa.

If you're looking for encouraging things in what has been a season mired in mediocrity and incrementally revelatory --in a bad way-- about the Bulls' prospects in a Rose-less world, this is one thing you can point to and say "hey, that's something." 

Even more encouraging, the bench came back onto the floor after a timeout just past the six minute mark. This is progress. Once again, the Bulls found themselves with a sizable surplus; they entered the intermission with a 58-42 lead. Please let that sink in for a moment. The Bulls scored 58 points, in a single half. Okay, the Mavs are truly terrible defensively, and water is wet.

Halftime Stats (Bulls 58, Mavs 42)
Team PPP (points per possession)--1.34 (WOO)
  • Deng: 5-9, 14 pts, 3 rebounds
  • Noah: 4-7, 9 pts, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks
  •  Robinson: 3-4, 10 pts, 5 assists, 2 steals
  • Marion: 5-7, 12 pts
  • Mayo: 1-5, 2 pts, 4 assists
  • Carter: 2-7 (0-5 from 2), 8 pts

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Game #14 Preview, Bulls-Mavericks: Still Looking For a Fiddle Player

Just cruisin' through the airspace of mediocrity 

Chicago Bulls (6-7) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7-8) 

The Opponent 

A season after winning an NBA title, the Dallas Mavericks went through the proverbial hangover, slogging through a 36-30 shortened season only to be mercilessly swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. 

Once again, the Mavs are just sort of limping along, having accrued a mediocre 7-8 record after dropping one to the 76ers last night in Philly. As you already know, the Mavs experienced a bit of roster turnover this offseason, namely losing Jason Terry and Fountain-of-Youth-hogger Jason Kidd. 

Dirk Nowitzki's knee injury has kept him out of all of Dallas' 15 games thus far; even so, the Mavs can still score just as they have been able to do for years. They're averaging 100.9 ppg thus far, good for 6th in the league. On the other hand, the defense has been typically leaky; the Mavs have magnanimously elected to give up 101.6 ppg, good for third worst in the league. The song remains the same. 

In Dirk's absence, Dallas' trio of offseason acquisitions have led the way on the offensive end. O.J. Mayo is averaging 21.5 ppg with a fairly impressive --especially for Mayo-- eFG% of 59%. 

Elsewhere, PG and defensive stopper Darren Collison is 13 ppg and 6 apg. C Chris Kaman is also pitching in a respectable 13.7 ppg and 7.3 rpg, in addition to 1.17 blocks per game, second on the team only to Elton Brand's (?) 1.31 bpg. 

Elsehwhere, Vince Carter is Vince Cartering his way to 13.2 ppg, although he's only shooting 41% from the field, with an eFG% of 51%. 

Otherwise, Dallas features a generic medley of NBA players. Shawn Marion is around, averaging less than half of his career ppg average at 7.6 ppg. Brand, PF Jae Crowder and C Brandan Wright round out the rest of Dallas' meaningful contributors. Wright is averaging 8.5 ppg (2.5 ppg north of his career average), and is shooting a sterling 65% from the field.

Points of Concern 
This is the Bulls, so everything from "making a three every once in a blue moon" to "not giving up 27-point second half leads" is a concern. 

Basically, the only concern worth detailing is whether or not the Bulls can keep up with the Mavs offensively, even without Dirk's services. Without Rose, scoring will continue to be like squeezing blood from a stone for the Bulls, so my initial hunch is that they will have trouble keeping up. 

What Needs To Happen 
  •  Evil Boozer. Dear Evil Boozer: please just don't show up. Please? I know you are a person that has emotional needs just like the rest of us, but you don't need to be such an attention hog all the time. Yes, we know you are so good at missing 17-foot jumpers and playing horrific defense, but can you just once let Good Boozer have a moment in the sun? You've done it a couple times before, and we'll need you to take one for the team against an opponent that can and will score many points.  
  •  Don't fumble that football basketball, son. The Mavs will give you opportunities to get some easy transition buckets by virtue of the free-wheeling style they play. The Mavs are turning it over 15 times a game, good for a middling 15th in the league. Sadly, the Bulls are worse, sitting at 18th in the league with 15.5 per. The Mavs will look to run and and play defense-free basketball; although possessions will be plentiful, they will also be precious given the two teams' respective offensive prowess (or lack thereof, in Chicago's case). 
  •  Rebounding. The Bulls' once indomitable front court has been giving up some rebounds on the defensive end of late, especially against Milwaukee (an average at best rebounding team). the Mavs are an extremely bad offensive rebounding team: they average 8.9 offensive boards per game, good for an ORB% of 21%. Simply put, if the Bulls don't clean up the glass against this team, the odds of coming away with a W are just about zero.
Useless Prediction Time
  • O.J. Mayo out-athletes the Bulls in transition and off the dribble in the half court. He will hit his season average in points. 
  • Boozer has another Jekyll and Hyde sort of game, where he goes cold then hot then cold from the field with a mercurial fervor. 
  • The Mavs eclipse the 100-point mark. Pursuant to the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls 100-point Rule...
  • Bulls 97, Mavericks 104.

Player Bullets: N.C. State

So, as I mentioned at the end of last night's recap, I'm going to try to start spacing out the basketball coverage here. A general schedule (again, time permitting, what with school and all that being a thing that I have to do):
  • Immediately after the game: recap
  • Following morning: Individual player bullets (observations, stats, etc.)
  • Between then and the next preview: miscellaneous ramblings (posts going WOO, talking about how this is a Beilein team but really isn't, etc.) 
Bullets, Sponsored by Edmund Burke's "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing" Wisdom Emporium:
  • Burke: Went scoreless again in the first half, albeit on only two attempts. Nonetheless, for the second game in a row the Wolverines went into the half despite the lack of scoring. This doesn't matter so much when you drop a whopping nine dimes in the first half alone. Burke hit his offensive stride early in the second half, putting up a quick 10 points in the first ten minutes of the second half. He finished with the following line: 5-9 (3-5 from 3), 18 points, 11 assists, 2 steals, 1 block and 0 turnovers. Also of note, with him matched up on 6'5'' PG Lorenzo Brown for much of the time, Brown only scored six points on 3-10 shooting. All the gold stars go to Mr. Burke. Evil did not triumph because our Burke, a good man, did many things.
  • THJ: A very 2011-12 game for THJ. He scored 18 points on 7-18 shooting and, you guessed it, 1-9 from beyond the arc. When he opted to SEARCH AND DESTROY, the Wolfpack had difficulty checking him. THJ also pitched in 3 boards, 1 steal and 1 block. It was a solid if somewhat inefficient night for THJ (eFG% of 39%).
  • Stauskas: His swag continues to be off the charts. Flying against all preconceived notions about the type of player that a guy like Stauskas is "supposed" to be, he can do it all: he can shoot the three and he can create, going to the basket or to set up a jumper. Stauskas led the Wolverines in scoring, and, most notably, the offense seemed to lose a bit of oomph when he left the game. He finished with 20 points on 6-10 shooting (4-7 from 3), good for a typically hilarious eFG% of 80%.
  • Vogrich: At this point, he is basically only nominally a starter, and I'm not even sure he will even be that after Stauskas' performance last night. The consensus has been that Vogrich is starting due to his superior defense, but that can only took you so far when the other guy is putting up the stats that he is. Vogrich logged a mere five minutes in this one, and didn't attempt a single shot. 
  • Morgan: A standard JMo line: 3-5 from the field for six points. Unfortunately, N.C. State did have some intermittent success on the offensive glass. Morgan has to be somewhat to blame for this, as he only grabbed three boards in 23 minutes of play. He showed some hesitation with the ball on a couple occasions from about 14-16 feet. I was kind of expecting to see him bust out that jump shot that I spent the end of last season talking about re: the one thing he needed to add to his game. Alas, he didn't pull the trigger, once settling to dish it back up top, the other time hesitating at the free throw line and firing a pass that was deflected out of bounds by an NCSU player.
  • McGary: CRUNK had another crunkly game, scoring 8 points on 3-4 from the field (all dunks and layups IIRC), also pitching in 5 boards, a block and lots and lots of generally crunkly play.  I've been going with the Jordan Morgan 2.0 analogy ("energy guy" plus an additional athleticism booster pack), but hey, if Dakich wants to roll with the Hansbrough comparison, who am I to disagree?
  • GRIII: Like Stauskas, Michigan seemed to struggle a bit at times when he was out of the time (whether this is correlation or causation, I'm not sure). GRIII scored a breezy 11 points on 3-5 shooting, also pitching in a team high 7 boards. As expected, he is Michigan's best leaper, which will continue to come in handy on the boards, put-back situations and alley oops (seriously, we can do that now). 
  • Akunne: Akunne has been getting some non-garbage time run these past few games, but that might need to be put on hold after he took a couple questionable shots against the NCSU zone, triggering a decent run from the Wolfpack. His leash was short, as he only logged three minutes. 
  • Albrecht: Didn't play much either (6 minutes), but his contributions will never be perceptible through the lens of a box score. Even on nights like this, Albrecht has done his job if he can come in and play 5-7 minutes, not turn it over and share some of the ball-handling duties with Burke.
  • Horford: Played six minutes, zeroes across the board on his stat line. It's hard to tell whether or not he's still recovering from his foot injury, but his role will continue to be fairly limited on most nights anyway. I still think he will be a very useful player against certain front courts this season, but his certain set of skills wasn't needed tonight. Michigan had some issues on the defensive glass here and there, but not enough to give Horford extensive minutes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Michigan-N.C. State: Showtime

"WE ON!"

#3 Michigan 79 (6-0), #18 N.C. State 72 (4-2)

The Wolverines took the Crisler Center floor in the big game maize jerseys for an intriguing early season contest against N.C. State for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Play early on was a bit sloppy, with each team committing a pair of turnovers within the first three minutes of play. 

The Wolfpack jumped out to an early 6-2 lead, but Nik Stauskas executed a masterful move to the basket, going behind the back and flying through the lane to lay it up on the left side while going right. 

On consecutive possession, THJ found the soft spot in the middle of the zone and calmly knocked in a free throw line extended jumper, and then, off of a block, Burke found THJ in the corner in transition. Again, THJ hit with a nonchalance that belied his 2011-12 shooting woes. 

At the 13:30 mark, the Wolverines were up 14-10, with THJ having already racked up nine points on 4-6 shooting. Shortly after, Nik Stauskas knocked in a trey, again with the 'Pack in the zone. Naturally, they went man on their next possession, where Michigan picked up an offensive board after a missed THJ three but eventually turned it over, again leading to a breakaway dunk for NCSU. 

With 23 points halfway through the first half, Michigan was well on its way to a prolific night on the offensive end against a shaky 'Pack defense. The zone was very clearly not working for them early on, as Dakich's constant admonitions of "you can't zone a Beilen team" echoed. Even worse for the 'Pack, C.J. Leslie picked up a pair of fouls, forcing him to sit at the nine minute mark. 

A beautiful pick and roll between Burke and McGary led to a McGary thunderdunk and a Gottfried timeout. Out of the timeout, Michigan went to the super secret weapon that is the 1-3-1; after knocking it out of bounds, however, they reverted to man after the inbounds. 

Yet another Stauskas trey put Michigan up 30-16. Mercifully, a tv timeout allowed N.C. State to gather itself again. Michigan racked up a 14-point lead with 7:54 to go in the half; with Trey Burke shooting 0-1 from the field and scoring zero points. It is a brave new world, indeed. 

With Eso Akunne taking a couple questionable shots, the 'Pack rattled off a 7-0 run, sticking with the zone on D, as Michigan started to cool off a bit from its previously torrid shooting pace. Luckily for Michigan, Howell had to go to the bench after picking up two quick ones, an unfortunate series of events for Gottfried, as Howell had basically single-handedly brought the 'Pack back during the aforementioned run. 

The 'Pack brought it down to five, but another Stauskas three stemmed the tide. I have to echo Rod Beard here: might need to just CTL+V that sentence for the next four years. 

A lapse in transition D brought Michigan's once sizable lead back to 5, at 41-36. The 'Pack continued to zone away out of necessity (foul trouble), and Michigan started to settle for low-percentage outside shots after eviscerating the middle of the zone earlier in the half.With the final offensive set of the half, Michigan pick and rolled up top and Burke penetrated all the way to the basket before a slick wrap around pass to GRIII for a layup. Michigan entered the intermission up 43-36, a solid performance but slightly unsatisfying after the aforementioned State foul trouble and a once 14-point lead.

Halftime Stats
Team PPP (points per possession): 1.33
  • Stauskas: 4-5 (3-4 from 3), 13 points
  • THJ: 5-10, 11 points, 1 block
  • Burke: 0-2, 0 points (!), 9 assists (!)
N.C. State
Team PPP: 1.16
  • Warren: 3-4, 8 points
  • Howell: 4-4, 8 points
  • Wood: 2-4 from 3, 8 points

Michigan-N.C. State Preview: Showcase

Time: 7:30 ET
Place: Crisler Arena Center--Ann Arbor, MI
Line:Michigan -7


The Wolverines come back to Ann Arbor riding on kingly steeds as the champions of the illustrious and surely not mostly meaningless NIT Season Tip-Off tournament in New York. After a game with decidedly Big Ten undertones against Pitt, the Wolverines out-talented what should turn out to be at least an okay Kansas State team

On the other hand, N.C. State is coming off a wildly successful 2011-12 season, in which the Wolfpack, under new head coach Mark Gottfried (formerly at Alabama), reached the Sweet 16 as a mere 11-seed. As such, the hype train was off to the races; the Wolfpack were ranked #6 coming into the new season, higher than both Duke and North Carolina. 

Unfortunately for the people of Raleigh, the Wolfpack have gotten off to a less than ideal start, even though they are still in fact 4-1 (hardly a disastrous start on paper). They dispatched Miami (OH), Penn State and UMass with relative ease, but things got much dicier thereafter. 

Playing in San Juan, the 'Pack fell to Oklahoma State, losing each half by the same score (38-28), a 20-point defeat that knocked them from their lofty perch in the polls. Only one starter scored in the double digits (freshman G Rodney Purvis) and the 'Pack shot only 36%, managing only 7 assists as a team. 
In their next outing Friday, the 'Pack were given all they wanted by lowly UNC-Asheville, who came into the game at 1-4. They trailed by three at the half, and were down 7 as late as the 8:30 mark of the second half. Powered by C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell and Lorenzo Brown, the 'Pack were able to battle back and grab the ugly win, which is more than can be said for a lot of other big name teams around the country (namely UCLA re: Sunday's loss against Cal Poly). In the end, getting the win is all that matters come Selection Sunday. 

With the 'Pack reeling and the Wolverines flying high, a loss at home would be incredibly disappointing for Michigan. On the heels of a successful trip to New York, where the Wolverines flashed their newfound muscle, depth and overall talent, this is a game that Michigan should be able to bring home for the conference in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. 

The Opponent 

Based on the season to date, the Wolfpack don't appear to be a particularly deep squad. Only 7 players are averaging significant minutes, 8 if you include Thomas de Thaey's 8.0 mpg (he has only played in 3 of State's 5 games). 

 As far as scoring distribution goes, the 'Pack have been getting some incredibly balanced scoring from their top 6, who all average north of 10 ppg. Freshman F T.J. Warren leads the way with 14.8 ppg, with senior F Richard Howell not far behind at 14.6 ppg. Both of them are 6'8'', FWIW. Howell is shooting an absurd 72% from the field, with Warren also not far behind at 68%. It's no surprise that Howell leads the team in offensive rebounds (13); Michigan will, as always, need to clean up on the glass. Unlike years past, this is not a pleading admonition, but a gentle reminder to do the thing that we are no actually capable of doing.

As far as guard play goes, the 'Pack rely on freshman Rodney Purvis and junior Lorenzo Brown for a back court 1-2 punch. They both average just around 11 ppg. As the point guard, Brown is naturally the bigger distributor, averaging 5.2 apg. At six feet five inches, Brown presents somewhat of a matchup problem for Michigan. Unless Beilein deploys the 1-3-1 again, I find it hard to believe that Trey Burke will be matched up on him for extended periods of time, if at all.

Rounding out the top 6 are Scott Wood, a senior forward shooting 45% from beyond the arc on the most attempts of any player on the team (29). C.J. Leslie, a six foot nine inches tall junior forward, registers at a shade under 11 ppg; he is also the team's second most effective rebounder behind Howell, grabbing 7 rpg thus far.

In short, the Wolfpack are a top 25 team if you look at their top 6 alone. However, this is a team that doesn't have many viable options past that; Gottfried went with a 7-man rotation against UNC-Asheville. Outside of the two guards, the other four options are forwards at 6'8'' or 6'9'', with Wood the lone outlier at 6'6'' (and the team's resident 3-point gunner).

Michigan should be able to match N.C. State's front court depth with relative ease by virtue of its own abundance of depth.

The Gameplan 

With only five games in the books, statistical sample size caveats obviously still apply. However, the 'Pack can definitely score, as they sit at 28th in the nation at 80.2 ppg, only three spots behind Michigan. Defensively, however, the 'Pack are an unimpressive 228th in the nation in points per game allowed (69.2).

They don't really block shots, either. Given their personnel, this isn't really a surprise, as they have multiple 6'8/9'' guys but not truly elite guys, height-wise, like Pitt's Steven Adams or KSU's Jordan Henriquez. The 'Pack's block percentage is a lowly 3.8%, just below Michigan's also pretty bad 4.0%. As such, Michigan should not be afraid to attack the basket whatsoever. 

Speaking of, Michigan can potentially win this game in the first half by doing so. Given State's lack of depth, getting guys in foul trouble early could basically mean doom for the Wolfpack, a la last year when Michigan got Meyers Leonard to pick up two quick fouls (I can't remember if this happened in both games against the Illini, but it definitely happened in at least one of them). 

With respect to pace, the 'Pack play a decidedly more up tempo game than the Wolverines, which I have to imagine is partly skewed by their high-scoring, desperate comeback against UNC-Asheville. They are averaging 7 more possessions per game than Michigan, clocking in at 72.2 possessions per. It's not like Michigan doesn't have the athletes to run, but with so much youth at various spots, you would rather have your upper classmen (i.e. Burke and THJ) slice and dice the opponent in the half court, seizing upon defensive opportunism for intermittent bursts of transition ball. 

I wouldn't feel uncomfortable with a faster game, but a faster game would certainly play to N.C. State's liking. So, let's not do that.  

Miscellaneous Stats 
  • State is a mediocre 146th in assist to turnover ratio, clocking in at 0.97 to Michigan's sterling 17th best 1.46. Brown is the most and seemingly only capable distributor on the team, and whomever lands that matchup could very well determine whether this is a 10-point victory or a close one going in either direction.  
  •  Rebounding. State has rebounded 37% of its misses to date, just a tad lower than Michigan's 38%. For the record, Michigan only rebounded 30% of its misses in 2011-12. 
  •  eFG%. The Wolfpack have two players in the top 35 nationally in eFG%: Richard Howell (71.8%) and T.J. Warren (71.3%).
Ending Thoughts, Predictions, Etc.

After a run to the Sweet 16 and the departure of only one significant player from last year's roster, it appears that the college basketball world has jumped the gun a bit with respect to N.C. State's relative quality. Now, odds are they aren't as bad as they've shown the last two games, but it certainly doesn't look good. 

The 'Pack have a formidable top 6 that can all score in the double digits. As mentioned, as a 6'5'' point guard, Lorenzo Brown could prove problematic at times, so THJ (or whoever ends up on him) will need to be on their best game defensively. 

All in all, I think Michigan has too much depth, and Michigan's size should be able to match up just fine with State's forwards. Unless Michigan puts up a catastrophically awful performance, this is a game that should at worst be a close victory. I picture Michigan leading by about 10-13 for much of the second half before an N.C. State run late makes it somewhat of a game before the inevitable free throwpalooza to close it out. 

Score: Michigan 72, N.C. State 64. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Game 13 Recap: Collapse

Bulls (6-7) 92, Bucks 93 (7-5)

The Bulls got off to a bit of a slow start tonight, allowing the Bucks to grab an early 9-4 lead. Insert "this is the NBA and leads don't matter" verbiage here, but when the first quarter ended the Bulls were up 26-19. Powered by 16 combined points from Hinrich and Hamilton, the Bulls were able to jump out to a lead despite shooting poorly. The Bulls grabbed 6 ORB in the first quarter and into the early stages of the second--one from each of the starters save Hinrich and a pair from Butler-- to mitigate the relatively cold start from the field. 

However, on the not so bright side the Bucks were doing work on the offensive glass themselves; 15 minutes into the game, they had 7 ORB.They came in averaging just over 11 offensive boards per game. 

 As the second quarter went along, the Bulls D began to tighten quite a bit. The Bucks had a hard time getting through on the dribble, resulting in some bad shots and turnovers that the Bulls converted into points (e.g. the kickout to Rip off the Milwaukee turnover for an easy breakaway layup).

As expected, Boozer didn't come out with the same shooting touch he had on Saturday, starting 3/9 from the field through almost two quarters of play. He was able to contribute in other ways, with 3 boards, an assist and a steal. 

Monta Ellis in particular was pressured and harried on the perimeter throughout the first half, and Brandon Jennings didn't fare much better. Combined, the tandem shot 5-13 in the first half, good for just 11 of Milwaukee's 40 first half points. 

Halftime Stats (Bulls 50, Bucks 40)
Team PPP (points per possession)--0.86
  • Ellis: 3-7, 7 points, 2 assists
  • Jennings: 2-6, 3 assists, 4 points
  • Henson: 5-8, 11 points

Team PPP--0.94
  • Hamilton: 7-10, 17 points
  • Hinrich: 2-5 (6-7 FTM-A), 10 points, 3 assists
  • Boozer: 3-9, 7 points, 5 rebounds

Game #13 Preview, Bulls-Bucks: You Again

Chicago Bulls (6-6) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6-5)

The Opponent 
After beating the Bucks Saturday in Milwaukee (a game I had to miss because I was at the Michigan-Cornell hockey game at MSG), breaking up a 3-game Bucks winning streak, the two teams face off again tonight at the United Center. The Bucks enter the game a half game better than the Bulls at 6-5. 

Despite averaging just under 100 points per game heading into tonight, the Bulls D appears to be stiffen up again, holding the Bucks to just 86 points at 17.6% from beyond the arc (3-17). 

The Bucks continue to rely on combo guard Brandon Jennings for a significant chunk of their scoring; he scored 23 on 10-20 shooting Saturday night (although he was only 1-5 from 3). Although I didn't get a chance to watch the game, Kirk Hinrich et al will need to do a better job on Jennings. The fourth-year guard also tallied 7 assists and 5 steals (!).

Of course, the Bucks jettisoned Andrew Bogut in an offseason trade that yielded them another combo guard scoring type in Monta Ellis. Ellis scored 17 on 7-17 shooting Saturday, with only a pair of assists to his name. 

Overall, the Bucks assisted 17 baskets and turned it over 16 times, compared with a Bulls assist:turnover ration of a little over 2:1 (20 assists, 9 turnovers). So, if the Bulls can stop Jennings and Ellis in isolation sets and in transition, holding the Bucks to a sub-90 output shouldn't be exceedingly difficult, especially at home. 

Otherwise, the Bucks have a fairly unimposing cast of characters filling out the rest of the lineup. Small forwards Tobias Harris and Ersan Ilyasova are averaging 8.4 and 6.4 ppg, respectively, with Ilyasova maintaining a horrible PER of 6.6. 

Veteran SF Mike Dunleavy will come off of the bench and chip in some scoring (12.3 ppg), especially from beyond the arc, where he is shooting a sterling 44%. C Samuel Dalembert will come off the bench to be large and whatnot, and rookie Tar Heel John Henson hasn't made a significant impact just yet; he played only 1 minute on Saturday. 

In short, this is a guard-heavy team dependent upon Ellis and Jennings to carry the day. The Bulls should, for the most part, dominate with its front court matchups.

Points of Concern 
Despite not having some big name front court guys, the Bucks are a respectable 11th in rebounding, but only 2oth in offensive rebounding percentage. With the athleticism of the Bucks' guard tandem, the Bulls cannot afford to let the Bucks out-athlete the Bulls on second chance opportunities when the play breaks down. 

Otherwise, it's all about containing Ellis and Jennings, whose athleticism should scare Bulls fan. It's painfully obvious that the Bulls have one of the least athletic starting fives in the league, and players like Ellis and Jennings can do some damage against them. However, they combined for 40 points and still lost on Saturday, so evidently the Bulls got it done elsewhere on the floor.

What Needs To Happen 
  • FIND. THE. SHOOTER. In this case, it's Dunleavy. Fairly self-explanatory. He was only 1-4 on Saturday, and can hit if you leave him open, just like any other NBA shooter. There's no reason to let a guy like Dunleavy beat you, so it all starts with good offensive sets and shots on the other end and vigilant transition D when those long rebounds do set Ellis/Jennings off to the races.
  • Force 'em to settle. Ellis and particularly Jennings are far less dangerous when they're launching shots from outside. Hinrich et al simply need to keep the tandem in front and perimeter help needs to be vigilant or the pair will score more than 40 combined this time around. The Bulls cannot afford to let the Bucks' average front court guys to get going with easy buckets off of penetration dishes from Ellis/Jennings. The Bucks are 13th in the league in 3-point attempts per game but are shooting only 30%, good for 26th in the league. Let them eat cake shoot threes! Well, they can have cake too if they want it but they'll need to wait 30 minutes until entering the game again. I'm looking at you, Milwaukee front court. Safety first.
  • Hit the glass. The Bulls rebounded 40% of their 50 misses (20 ORB) on Saturday. Assuming that, say, Boozer doesn't go 10-15 again from the field --probably a safe assumption given his season thus far-- the Bulls might need that sort of tenacious effort on the glass one more time.
Useless Prediction Time 
  • Boozer does not go 10-15 this time against Milwaukee; the 2012-13 adventure in Boozer shooting swings back to the Evil Boozer side of the pendulum. 
  • The Bulls rebound at least 40% of their misses once again. 
  • With Deng and Noah playings 42 minutes and Boozer playing 36 on Saturday, I'm looking for a relatively well-rested Taj Gibson to have one of the better games of his at times somewhat underwhelming 12-13 season.
  • Bulls 96, Bucks 91.

Shameless Self-Promotion Time (Ohio State)

(HT: Mike DeSimone

  • In light of Saturday's flurry of second half turnovers, nihilism might just be the way to go. Hey, it's an ethos, right? At least that's something, unlike what many might term Al Borges' playcalling in the second half. As usual, I tend to side with Al on a macroscopic, Big Picture level, although even I have to wonder about certain things. Why am I still going...just go to Maize n Brew, where I wrote about The Game. It's going to be a very long month or so until Michigan's next game, likely against an SEC team that should be favored by a solid amount. Feel the excitement

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Words, Words, Words

Michigan-Kansas State, 11/23/12 (NIT Season Tip-Off) from HoldTheRope on Vimeo.

You heard 'em. Beat Ohio.

Michigan-Kansas State: Overnight Metamorphosis

Michigan 71 (5-0), Kansas State 57 (5-1)

With most people thinking about tomorrow's tilt in Columbus, the basketball team was busy flexing its newfound muscle and depth against a second straight opponent with a pulse. Michigan jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first five minutes of play, a lead that it never relinquished. As I sat in Madison Square Garden, a palpable sense of evolution filled the arena, of challenger becoming the challenged. 

As expected, Kansas State just didn't have the same depth, athleticism and overall basketball ability as Michigan. There's not much use in going through the game itself; Michigan was better, and it was obvious from the very beginning.

What is worthy of discussion is how different of a team Michigan has looked thus far from past Beilein teams. Watching Michigan trudge through a relatively mediocre performance en route to a win on Wednesday and then watching them dismantle what is probably at least an okay team tonight makes it fairly obvious that this is just a different entity we're dealing with here. 

This isn't any of Beilein's previous Michigan tourney teams, for which Michigan's hopes on a given night were always tenuously balanced on the shooting strokes of Stu Douglass, Zack Novak, Tim Hardaway Jr. etc. Michigan would run out onto the floor and attempt to balance expensive china on top of a stick sitting on the tips of their noses, every night for 40 minutes. Not a one of them could slip, not one of them could drop a single plate, or Michigan was sunk. Sometimes they managed to succeed, like the game in East Lansing on Jan. 27, 2011.. The game ended and we all marveled at the fake that not a single shard was to be found anywhere on the ground. 

Even when they won, even when Michigan entered the rankings --like last year going into Fayetteville at #19-- it always seemed structurally flawed, which is fine as long as the structure doesn't collapse, termites and all. Results will always rule the day, after all. 

It might be a little early to start making grand, sweeping statements about the state of Michigan basketball, but watching Michigan against Pitt and Kansas State this week was a legitimately new and exciting experience for me as a U-M basketball fan. I saw things that I had never seen before in a Wolverine basketball team, fundamental things that are common components in championship teams and/or contenders.

I saw a Michigan team that was not only unquestionably talented, but unquestionably deep, athletic, well-coached, experienced in spots, and so on. Think about how many of those factors were missing within the program since the Fab Five. Odds are, Michigan was missing at least one or two of those things in a given year. 

Now, Michigan is the king of the hill. 

  • Tim Hardaway Jr.: An unbelievable performance for THJ, the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. He went 10-15 from the field, expertly finding his way to good spots on the floor for him to pull the trigger when electing to take an outside shot. When he drove to the basket, he did so with a calculating and almost effortless precision. 23 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block. As far as his injury goes, I was at the game, and he walked off on his own power after a minute or so of lying on the floor. He went into the locker room thereafter, reappearing after a short while to sit on the bench. You never know how these supposed head injuries will go, but it goes without saying that caution bordering on paranoia should be the order of the day here regarding a return to the floor. 
  • Trey Burke: As difficult as it is to find negatives after a start like this, Burke has started slow during these two games at MSG. Maybe it's the MSG rims or something, but I'm not really all that worried. You want to know something that's kind of hilarious? Trey Burke, Michigan's best player, didn't take a single shot in the first half, and Michigan was still up 5 going into the break. It wasn't even really a "close" five, Michigan was clearly better. Burke had a nice second half, going 5-10 for 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and a block. 
  • Glenn Robinson III: Not a great day from the field (3-11, 9 points) but he was active elsewhere (12 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block). Watching him out-athlete the Big Ten is going to be fun. 
  • Nik Stauskas: Cold-blooded swag. Shot 3-6 from the field for 10 points (2-3 from beyond the arc). He is the kind of shooter for whom every 3-point shot looks good as soon as it leaves his hands. It appears that Beilein has finally found his huckleberry re: an elite shooter. 
  • Jordan Morgan: Jordan "Bad Foul" Morgan reared his head. Morgan only had a chance to play six minutes, acquiring exactly 0.0 points and 2 boards. On the bright side, Michigan is no longer dead when Morgan decides to engage in some pointless tick-tackery 35 feet away from the basket. Depth is nice. 
  • Matt Vogrich: Still a nominal starter because his defense is better than Stauskas'. Really wish he'd shoot like he did earlier in his career, although that's more of a general wish and not necessarily tied to his performance in this one. He went 1-3 from the field, with all three of his shots, oddly, being of the 2-point variety. 
  • Spike Albrecht. Speaking of depth, it appears that Spike is a viable backup point guard. He even offered up a nifty trey on his singular attempt from the field. He played 12 solid minutes in which he didn't turn it over or do anything egregious. This is exactly what we needed last season, but alas, Michigan kind of needed Burke to pull a Martin/RVB circa 2012 Sugar Bowl, basically all season. Also, I hope I'm not the only one that thinks of Spike, the dog from Rugrats, whenever Spike's name is mentioned. No? Okay then. (This is what I get for growing up in the '90s.)
  • Mitch "Crunk" McGary. Seriously, Mitch gets pretty jacked up. It's fun, but I kind of get the feeling that he's the type of guy that gets pumped up about literally anything. "Didn't nick myself shaving this morning? WOOOOOO YEAHHHHH." However, I am certainly not complaining, and I stick by my Jordan Morgan 2.0 comparison. He had six points on 2-4 shooting, 3 boards, 1 assist and 1 block. 
  • Jon Horford: Can't remember where I saw this, but someone noted that Horford might have the best post move of any front courter...I have to agree. Horford was 3-5 from the field (6 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists). Some shaky moments at times on the defensive end, but I'm sure he's still recovering to a certain extent, and maybe the fitness level is not quite there. He likely won't ever be like his brother Al on the offensive end, but he has the ability to be a much better defensive player with the ability to pitch in a post move or two a game, in addition to whatever garbage points he can vacuum up. 
  • Max Biefeldt: Is kind of just a rotational body at this point, but he might be a useful player in Big Ten play. Somehow had the ball just ripped out of his hands on the perimeter, which isn't good. Otherwise, he didn't attempt a shot in seven minutes (but did tally one block). 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Who Are You and Why Do We Care?: THE Ohio State Buckeyes


Is there a rivalry here?
Its only the greatest rivalry in sports. When these two colleges face off it is called "The Game," and it has been the regular season finale all but three times since 1935. Michigan and OSU have met 108 times. Michigan leads to series 58-44-6. The Big Ten Championship has been decided by The Game 22 times. 

The numbers do not say the whole story in this rivalry. Michigan and Ohio are natural rivals akin to cats and dogs. Starting in 1934, any time Ohio State beats Michigan every OSU player receives a gold pants pendant. In 1950, Ohio State had the option to cancel the game against Michigan due to weather, but they refused. Even though Michigan didn't complete a pass or a first down, they blocked two punts (one for a touchdown and one for a safety), and Michigan won the Snow Bowl 9-3. The "Snow Bowl" lead to Woody Hayes being hired as Ohio State's head coach. In 1968, Ohio State was winning 50-14 late in the fourth quarter, and they decided to go for a two-point conversion. Woody Hayes supposedly said that he went for two points "Because [he] couldn't go for three."Bump Elliott resigned after the game, and Bo Schembechler was hired. Riding a 22 game winning streak, Ohio State came into Ann Arbor to play against Bo's first Michigan team. The Wolverines won 24-12. During this decade, Woody Hayes coined phrases such as "That team up north" so he would not have to say Michigan. Once Hayes retired, the rivalry became less about the coaches feud, and more about play on the field. Both teams have had long win streaks back and forth including OSU's seven game* win streak, which was ended by Michigan last year. 

When did we see them last?
Last season, Luke Fickell's Ohio State Buckeyes entered the Big House with a 6-5 record. After Rich Rodriguez was fired and Jim Tressel was forced to resign, the 2011 match up became the third time in history that two first year coaches lead their teams onto the field for "The Game." Ohio State received the ball to start the game, and took advantage. Braxton Miller completed a 54 yard pass over Blake Countess to Corey Brown for a touchdown. After two three and outs, Michigan got the ball in Ohio State territory. Two plays later, Denard Robinson ran for a 41 yard touchdown. On Ohio State's next possession, the Buckeyes were doomed by penalties. Holding on Zach Boren, false start on Jack Mewhort, and holding in the end zone by Mike Adams gave Michigan a safety and a 9-7 lead. After the free kick, Michigan had good field position, and again took advantage of it. Denard threw a perfect pass to Junior Hemingway for the touchdown. 

In the second quarter, Ohio State kicked a field goal. Three plays later Ryan Shazier forced a Denard Robinson fumble. The Buckeyes converted the turnover into a 19 yard Braxton Miller rushing touchdown. The Wolverines responded with a nine play 80 yard drive capped off with a Denard 6 yard touchdown run. Again, Michigan's secondary was unable to contain Ohio State's wide receivers, as DeVier Posey got great separation from Troy Woolfolk, and scored on a 43 yard reception. 

Michigan received the ball after halftime, and marched down the field. On third and eleven, Denard had all the time in the world, and found Martavious Odoms for a 20 yard touchdown. Later in the third quarter, Will Hagerup fumbled the snap on a punt, which lead to the funniest* .gif of the season: 

*Only because we won...

After the fumble, Ohio State hit a field goal to put the Buckeyes within 3. On the next possession, Michigan scored on a pass from Denard to Kevin Koger. Ohio State got the ball on their own 20 yard line, but Braxton Miller went into super quarterback mode, and completed three straight passes to get the Buckeyes to the Michigan 4, where Boom Herron waltzed in for the touchdown. Michigan, trying to protect their three point lead, drove the length of the field. Fitzgerald Toussaint ran what seemed to be a touchdown, which would have essentially put the game away. Look for yourself: 

The referees decided there was no evidence to call this a touchdown, and rather than score from the one yard line, Michigan responded with a Patrick Omameh holding call and a personal foul, which pushed the Wolverines back to the 26 yard line for 3rd and goal. Brendan Gibbons ended up kicking a field goal to give the Wolverines an uncomfortable 6 point lead with 2 minutes left in the game. After moving fifteen yard forward, the Buckeyes faced fourth and six from their own 35 yard line. Braxton Miller dropped back to pass, and was picked off by Courtney Avery. A Denard Robinson kneel later, and Michigan defeated Ohio State. 

What do they look like?
When I typed "Ohio State Uniforms" into Google, I saw this: 
Of the twenty pictures on that page, only four show Ohio State's "classic" uniforms. Ohio State's colors are Scarlet and Grey.  Their home uniform is scarlet with grey pants and their away uniform is white with grey pants. Their helmet is grey with a red stripe. A very boring helmet early in the year, but slightly more exciting at the end. That is unless Nike decided to mess with their uniforms that week. In recent seasons, when Michigan has faced OSU, they have worn some variations with Nike's Pro Combat Uniforms. Two years ago, they wore this at home, and the year before they wore this in the Big House. Luckily, last year, Nike decided to have Ohio State wear their newatrocities against Wisconsin. Ohio State just came out with new uniforms that they will wear for the Michigan game this season. They look similar enough to their normal jerseys that I can't complain too much. 

Have they won any Big Ten or National Championships?
Ohio State has seven recognized National Championships. Five of the championships came between 1954 and 1970 under Woody Hayes. They won most recently in 2002 under Jim Tressel in a controversial victory over Miami (YTM). They also have won 34 Big Ten Championships, including all of the last six years (Although last year's was vacated). 

Have they had good coaches? 
Since I discussed Hayes earlier, I'll focus on the 2000s here. Jim Tressel was hired as head coach by Ohio State in 2001. Previously he worked at Miami (NTM), Syracuse, and Ohio State as an offensive position coach. From 1986-2000 he was the head coach at Youngstown State. As coach for the Youngstown State Penguins, Tressel had a 135-57-2 record. He was then hired by Ohio State after John Cooper was fired. At Ohio State he went 94-22 including six conference championships and one National Championship. Amidst violations Tressel resigned as head coach on May 30, 2011. Ohio State needed a new coach quickly, so they hired Co-Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach, Luke FickellFickell went 6-6 as head coach of the Buckeyes before Urban Meyer was hired directly after the Michigan game. OSU allowed Fickell to coach in the Gator Bowl against Florida, and was hired as Co-Defensive Coordinator under Meyer. 

Urban Meyer has been a winner everywhere he has gone. He started his head coaching career at Bowling Green where he went 17-6 over two seasons before getting hired to take over at the University of Utah. The Utes went 10-2 in their first season under Meyer, and went 12-0 in the second. The undefeated season got Utah into the BCS. This was the first time that a non-automatic qualifier played in a BCS game. Before Meyer could coach in that Fiesta Bowl however, the University of Florida offered him a seven year $14 million contract. During his tenure at Florida, the Gators won two National Championships, went to a third BCS game (the 2010 Sugar Bowl), and had an overall record of 65-15. Florid went 5-1 in bowl games, with the one loss occurring in the 2008 Capital One Bowl against Michigan in Lloyd Carr's last game. 

After the 2010 season, Urban Meyer retired from coaching, saying that he wanted to spend more time with his family, and improve his health. Urban worked for ESPN for one season before Ohio State came calling. He was offered a 6 year 24 million dollar deal plus $2.4 million in "retention payments." Since arriving in Columbus, he has done no wrong, starting his tenure 11-0 heading into the Michigan game.

Where do they play?
The Buckeyes play at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. It has a capacity of 102,329, which makes it the fourth largest football stadium in the country. The Horseshoe was built in 1921, and it hosted its first game on October 7, 1922. 

Do they really have the "Best Damn Band in the Land"?
The Ohio State Marching Band was created in 1878 as a way to provide music for army cadets in military training. The OSU Marching Band is the only all brass and percussion marching band in the country. The band's largest tradition is the Script Ohio, which was actually first performed by Michigan in 1932. A fourth or fifth year sousaphone player gets the privilege of dotting the i, then bowing

Do they have a goofy mascot?

People from the state of Ohio are called Buckeyes. This is related to the Ohio State tree, the Buckeye. Brutus the Buckeye first appeared in 1965 as a papier-mache chocolate constructed by students. Its gotten slightly upgraded over the years, and is now in its most human form. Videos of Brutus: 
  • Getting Beat Up by Rufus the Bobcat: 
  • Not Handling Richard Simmons Workout Routine: