Notebook: MBB Derails Purdue, WBB Has a Clunker, Talking Football Coaches with Flipping The Field
The men are back in the NCAA Tourney picture while the women lose their edge in the Big Ten title race. Also: The Bucket Problem/Flipping The Field crossover podcast is only slightly redacted.
SITE STUFF: It’s been something of a marathon week on the home front, so I’m gonna cover the major developments from last night’s pair of games, then dig into more detailed analysis when there’s a break in the schedule early next week. But first…
Flipping The Field Says “Go Blue”
This week’s free podcast is one we’ve been teasing for a couple weeks: a collaboration with the good lads/our mortal enemies Patrick Mayhorn and Ryan Donnelly of Flipping The Field, the best national college football podcast that dedicates 30% of its time to Ohio State and another 20% to Cincinnati.
If you’re looking for a breakdown of Jim Harbaugh’s return, Michigan replacing both coordinators, the state of The Game, and spicy stories from the recruiting trail — well, we did eventually get to those, sure. Did we also get sidetracked by creepy boosters, “Mickey Mouse” offenses, and proper squat form? Of course.
We think you’ll like it. Subscribe to both podcasts!
MBB: In The Zone
That’s the performance we’ve been waiting to see.
Michigan expected to be a top-five team instead of one that induces a court-storming when they beat a top-five team. Instead, the new additions haven’t had the expected impact, the pieces haven’t fit together, and Juwan Howard has spent much of the season tinkering with ways to cover up glaring issues.
Perhaps last night’s 82-58 romp over #4 Purdue was a fluke. After all, Michigan shot 12-for-21 on three-pointers while the Boilermakers were only 4-for-18.
Then again, you can erase Michigan’s 24-point in advantage from beyond the arc and the game would’ve still been tied — and that ignores how well M was generating open looks while limiting Purdue’s.
Howard may also have landed on a defense that’ll work for his personnel. After Penn State established a double-digit first-half lead on Tuesday night by attacking Michigan’s perimeter defenders off the dribble, the Wolverines shifted from playing man to a 2-3 zone. PSU scored 23 points over the game’s final 24 minutes.
Shutting down the 128th-ranked offense on KenPom for a little more than a half isn’t proof of concept, so it was greatly encouraging to not only see Michigan limit Purdue’s top-ranked offense to 0.94 points per possession, but do so while adjusting the 2-3 zone for Jaden Ivey and Matt Painter’s offense:
According to Synergy, Michigan’s man and zone defenses have been about equally effective in the halfcourt, and a lot more of those man defense possessions came against the dregs of the schedule. We’ll see how it holds up now that opponents will have it scouted; it’s a reason to hope for a late-season turnaround for the moment.
For a team desperate for Q1 wins, Michigan got a massive resumé boost last night. Bart Torvik’s projections give the Wolverine a 70.5% shot at a tourney bid with their average outcome being an eight-seed. If they can keep the momentum going at home against Ohio State tomorrow, they’ll be in great position to grab an at-large spot.
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WBB: Turnovers (Of Course) and Missed Layups (What?) Doom Michigan Against MSU
Turnovers finally caught up with Michigan.
The Wolverines have played with fire; they got burned in the Breslin Center against a Michigan State team in need of quality wins to get into the NCAA Tournament, committing 17 turnovers in a 63-57 loss. Leigha Brown missed her second straight game with a lower-leg injury, again sporting a walking boot on the bench.
Michigan has usually been able to overcome their mistake-prone ways by playing great defense, offsetting the lost possessions with rebounding, and scoring with efficacy. The Wolverines were +5 in offensive rebounds and held the Spartans below a point per possession by forcing 18 MSU turnovers.
It turns out you need all three, though. Michigan — and, in particular, Naz Hillmon — had an uncharacteristically difficult time finishing around the rim. Hillmon’s second half was downright disorienting to watch. She went 6-for-18 from the field after halftime, bricking a lot of shots she usually finds routine, while turning it over twice and missing two of her three free throw attempts.
Michigan’s offensive rebounding advantage isn’t as much of an edge when it’s Hillmon collecting her own misses, especially if she still doesn’t convert. The Wolverines finished 20/45 on two-pointers and 3/12 on threes — even the reliable Maddie Nolan was 1/6 from beyond the arc. Laila Phelia scored 9 points on 3/8 shooting with five turnovers, including three traveling violations.
Given the unusually poor shooting from the top three available scorers, plus Brown not being available, I’m inclined to put this loss on the bounces going the opponent’s way. It happens to the best of teams.
That said, the offense noticeably missed Brown’s playmaking and late-clock shot creation while maintaining a reasonable turnover rate. The conference title race is tight with Indiana, and based on remaining schedule difficulty, Ohio State could make a move as well.
Using win probabilities from Her Hoop Stats, here’s a projection of how the Big Ten will shake out — for projected records, expected wins are rounded to the nearest whole number, and expected win percentage is based on the projected record:
Michigan is a rounding error away from letting the title slip from their grasp. If they don’t go 3-1 in a tough final four games, they’ll need a fair amount of help to hold on.
There are a couple wild cards at play. The Big Ten has been rescheduling some previously postponed games, including adding Indiana-MSU to this week’s slate. Michigan’s only missed game was against conference doormat Illinois. Getting a near-guaranteed win back in there could ultimately make the difference.
The Hoosiers have the most games to make up (three in addition to the rescheduled MSU game), including a potential title-eliminator trip to Iowa. OSU and Maryland could both add likely victories in Penn State and Illinois, respectively. Here’s how HHS projects the title race to go if every possible makeup game is played:
While it’s still close, there’s one significant difference: Michigan can drop one more game than projected and still tie for the championship.
UPDATE THAT I SAW RIGHT AFTER SENDING OUT THE EMAIL: Indiana at Iowa is back on the schedule. That’s great news for Michigan.
Indiana has been fortunate not to trip up as a favorite while star center Mackenzie Holmes is sidelined with an arm injury. While her timeline for a return has been a vague gesture towards the end of the regular season, it sounds like she’ll be back sooner rather than later:
The Hoosiers may need that to be the case if they’re going to get through one, and perhaps two, matchups with Caitlin Clark and Iowa.
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