Five Key Plays: Michigan at Michigan State


mwc_gamechanger_5[1]Five Key Plays is sponsored by The Wolverines Collection (Swiss timepieces for the ultimate Michigan Man),  post in the comments below to vote on which is a game changer.

1) Derrick Nix dominates the post

If you have a weak stomach or trouble viewing disturbing images, you may want to step away from today’s edition of Five Key Plays now. Michigan was completely dominated by Michigan State on Tuesday in East Lansing, and it all started with post play. John Beilein said it best: “The experience in their post play was big.” That appeared to be the difference as Derrick Nix, a senior, worked over just about anyone Michigan threw at him — from a half-injured Jordan Morgan to freshmen Mitch McGary and Max Bielfeldt to a decidedly shell-shocked Jon Horford. Nix was an absolute force in the paint, working his way up and under, around and through Michigan’s meager post defense. The talented big man finished the game with 14 points, five rebounds and three assists, and by the time Michigan started double-teaming him in the second half, it was too late. Nix deserves credit: he’s an extremely tough match-up for any team because his size allows him to get deep in the post, and once he does it’s very difficult to stop him from scoring. Then, if you send help in the hopes of not allowing him to get too comfortable, he’s actually an excellent passer, especially when it comes to finding his teammates open on the perimeter. It was a microcosm of the game: Nix playing great, combined with Michigan’s post defense playing exceptionally poorly, made for a dominant night in the paint for the Detroit native.

2) Michigan State crashes the offensive glass

Even if Derrick Nix has a terrific game, as he did on Tuesday, if Michigan simply rebounds a decent percent of Michigan State’s misses — as they were expected to given the Wolverines’ stellar defensive rebounding percentage this season — the damage inflicted by Nix could have been managed. But this game was a complete and total breakdown in nearly every phase, and rebounding was no different. This was especially true in the first half.  Once again, John Beilein: “The offensive rebounds that they got took a lot out of us. We have one of the best defensive rebounding percentages in the Big Ten, but it wasn’t even close tonight.” No, it wasn’t. There were instances of the ball bouncing the Spartans’ way, as on the long tip-in by Nix in the first play of the above sequence. But there were also breakdowns in execution, as on the next play: Michigan State gets out on the fast break and instead of closing out under control against Gary Harris, Glenn Robinson III flys by him, leaving Harris unblocked and in perfect position to grab his short miss. This led to — guess what — a Derrick Nix score later in the possession. Finally, there was a good old-fashioned lack of toughness down low, as on the third play of the sequence, which saw the Spartans grab three offensive rebounds before finally scoring an uncontested layup.

3) Spartans score off turnovers in the first half

The two aspects of the game that killed Michigan in the first half were two areas which the Wolverines’ usually don’t have any problems with: allowing extra possessions for Michigan State through giving up offensive rebounds, and killing possessions of their own with costly turnovers. Failure in those two areas tell most of the story as to why Michigan found itself in such a hole going into halftime. Mitch McGary, who definitely had his worst game of the Big Ten season on Tuesday, is heavily featured in the above clip — but he wasn’t alone. McGary found company with Michigan’s other two post players Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan, who racked up two turnovers each. What made these turnovers particularly painful was that they were virtually two points for Michigan State the second they left McGary’s hands — almost no work was required on the part of Branden Dawson in finishing the plays. “We had 16 turnovers and eight of them came out of post play, and virtually all of those were run-outs,” Beilein said after the game. Even when they weren’t automatic twos, did you notice anything about two of the offensive rebounding clips in the previous Key Play selection? Those rebounds came as a result of fast breaks and one of them was the result of a turnover — Michigan couldn’t get set on their box-outs and it made for a much easier offensive rebounding situation for Michigan State. The turnovers and offensive rebounds fed off each other and made for a lethal combination for the Wolverines.

4) Trey Burke has a great night offensively, keeps Michigan (barely) alive in the first half

Trey Burke did pretty much everything in his power to keep the Wolverines in the game, but his teammates weren’t up to the task of helping him out. However, while Burke’s numbers look quite good and it’s tough to argue the fact that he had a good game, there was one thing missing: getting into the lane. Penetration is Burke’s bread and butter, and when he’s not doing that, Michigan struggles. Michigan State’s M.O. on Tuesday was to keep Burke out of the lane, and they did just that, relegating him mostly to long jumpers that failed to open anything else up for his teammates. They did this by hedging extremely hard on all ball screens and keeping Michigan’s action around half court. Give the Spartans credit: they simply didn’t let Burke turn the corner on the hedge like he does for most teams implementing the same strategy. There was also the issue of Burke getting into early foul trouble, and his subsequent benching by John Beilein. There has been a lot of hemming and hawing about Beilein’s tendency to sit players when they pick up quick fouls, and in this case it clearly wasn’t the right move. However, I would caution against giving the decision to bench Burke in the second half too much importance. Michigan lost for plenty of reasons — that probably didn’t help, but it far from a major storyline.

5) Gary Harris catches fire from three point range

As a team, Michigan State didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from deep, but Gary Harris did. The Spartans made seven of their 20 attempts, and five of those makes came courtesy of the Fishers, Indiana native. We keep hearing about the bum shoulder and back spasms that have been plaguing Harris all year, but he’s averaging 13 points per game in league play, connecting on 52% of his triples. While it’s true Harris isn’t slashing to the cup nearly as much as he’s capable of, the injuries have certainly not affected his jumpshot. For most of the first half, the freshman was guarded by Nik Stauskas. The Spartans ran Harris through a myriad of screens to get him open looks, and Stauskas simply couldn’t find his way through many of them, giving up open looks. However, not getting through picks was a misdemeanor compared to the felony of ball-watching. Both Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas were caught watching the ball far too often, and they would lose track of Harris as a result — given that Harris is by far the team’s best shooter, this oversight is pretty much inexcusable. It’s good to be aware of the ball and know where the action is taking place on a given possession, but when you’re guarding a shooter as lethal as Harris, you simply can’t risk leaving him open.

  • Robert Weiner

    Surprised you didn’t put Brust’s shots again. Or getting off the bus. Keeping the faith after this brutal stretch. Hopefully we get revenge on msu and iu in march and Wisconsin in the BTT.

    • JimC

      Yes. Dylan, Joe & co work too hard anyway. Should’ve just shown the Pitt highlights again.

    • davis104

      This. I want to see Wisconsin in the Big 10 tournament really, really badly.

  • Mr_Sledge

    I’m speechless…

  • H.E. Pennypacker

    When will it be brought to everyone’s attention (if it hasn’t been already) that Beilein isn’t recruiting the Nix-type post players, apparently because it doesn’t fit his “system”? Does he understand that he can’t have long-term success in this conference without dominate big men? McGary is a start, I suppose, but it won’t be acceptable if he keeps bringing in SGs and SFs and not straight-up centers

    • Mattski

      Nix wasn’t a “Nix-type” post player for several years, either. If you want to have a conversation about whether Beilein’s (highly adaptable and ever-changing) system is suited to the B1G, make your case. But this tone of mild accusation about a lack of dominant big men doesn’t come close. Until the Wisconsin game we were all crowing about the fact that we suddenly had THREE quite competent bigs. They looked wretched last night, but that doesn’t mean they always will, especially as Morgan heals. And there’s only one Nix in the conference, from what I can see. The team is 21-4, for god’s sake. To suddenly say Beilein’s lifetime hoops strategy has failed because we lost to MSU away just doesn’t cut it.

    • fresh

      I agree 100% with you here, the bad part is though they don’t ever dump anything into the post and let the big men do anything……..horford a few times this year, and then a handful of others. those are easy points that they don’t EVER try to do it………… all reality if I was a big man, Michigans system would be terrible to be a part of, unless you want to get your only points off pick n rolls or offensive rebounds. I was complaining about this last night. I hate when I hear people call Michigan a finesse team. mcgary needs to be given the ball 10 times a game in the post and have him go to work. if nix can get points the way that kid moves, then all of our big men should be doing the same

      • mikey_mac

        Have you seen Horford or Morgan on post-ups? They are pretty bad at it. Half the time they work themselves into WORSE position by the time they shoot compared to when they receive the ball. McGary hasn’t shown any ability to get easy shots off the post either. I have no idea where you’re coming from.

    • Dr_ZC

      JB is not recruiting post Nix-type players, and I am not sure he had a clear plan how to defend Nix yesterday. I got the impression that our game plan to defend Nix was by trial and error. I thought that it would be a good idea to start Hortford, against Nix, and then bring McGary with Max off the bench if things did not go right. I expected that we would push or double Nix off the post, but we never had a clear cut plan. In addition, we NEVER had anybody to PROVIDE us with Energy off the bench. McGary is usually the one to provide such a push but he was a starter.

    • David DeMember

      Nix was terrible his freshman year. He would go entire games barely playing. There aren’t many “Nix like” players in the college game anyways, at least, not on winning teams. I’m trying to think of the last team to win the tourney with a dominent big man…? Uconn actually won AFTER thabeet left. Anthony Davis was playing point forward.

      Athletes and guards win in the frantic college game, GR3 needs to get the fire lit again and we’ll be (hopefully) be fine. Keep in mind, Morgan is our most experience rotation player and he’s basically been out against some of the nation’s premiere big men.

      We lost because they out hustled us in every facet of the game.

    • geoffclarke

      1) Imagine McGary in 3 years (I believe Nix is a senior). 2) 2014 Ricky Doyle. 3) 2015 Diamond Stone and Zimmerman (not sure how realistic our chances are here).

      I expect McGary to work hard on a post move over the summer. Doyle should come in with some size and some post skill. You need good position coaches in college. I think time will tell how good Bacari is in that regard, although I think the early results are positive.

    • Jeff

      I don’t think it’s accurate to say Beilein isn’t recruiting that type of player. He just hadn’t landed one until McGary. He was really involved in recruiting Amir Williams, but he chose OSU. I believe we were also targeting either one of the Plumlees or Zeller, but they just weren’t that interested in us. Having said that, I could see why his system would be more appealing to a guard than a big man. And I wouldn’t have traded Morris or Burke for somebody like Nix. You can’t be loaded at every position.

  • Dr_ZC

    What I think is interesting is that when J Rose mentioned that the fab5 would like to be court-side to watch cheer for this team, many of us said it would be a distraction, and they should allow this team to grow on their own.

    I am pretty sure the fab 5 had their own growing pains in their time, but when it mattered, they rose to the occasion. I hope this team does the same.

    • eddieben

      Exactly. There were numerous games in the two years of the Fab 5 where they were absolutely whipped by 20+ points.

  • champswest

    Two season long concerns (youth & defense) surfaced again last night. We are especially vulnerable to physical pressing defense. Hopefully, we cab learn and improve from this beat down.

  • Wayman Britt

    I wonder what is going thru GR3 head. He is so strong and athletic, but is playing soft and like he would rather be playing video games. I could understand if he weighted 170 lbs and cannot jump, but he is strong. Hopefully Bacari can help in his motivation.

    • David DeMember

      I hope Big Dog barks at him a bit…

  • Randy Swain

    4 BIG games in 9 days… who else in the Big 10 has had that kind of schedule? Nobody. MSU got us at their house at the end of that stretch. Hopefully this blowout will be a huge step in the right direction. We’re really young and it’s really showing. It won’t matter beating up on everybody else. How will we react in big games from here on? That’s what matters. GO BLUE!

    • Wayman Britt

      Randy – I agree the schedule has been difficult, but I don’t buy the we’re young excuse. MSU had two freshman and a sophomore and they destroyed us. Our freshman should be growing up as the season goes on, but they are declining (except Mitch).

      • MSU played two freshmen and a sophomore but also leaned on a senior and two juniors for heavy minutes.

        Michigan played six freshmen and leaned on a sophomore and a junior.

        Youth isn’t everything but pretending that it’s nothing is foolish.

  • Dr_ZC

    I am a bit tired to see most of the folks giving credit to Nix for killing us at the post. We have seen Nix and he is not unstoppable. He is as good as the opposing team wants him to be. It is no secret that MSU will try to establish him early in the game by feeding the post. It is also no secret that they will keep feeding him if he is successful down low. If the defense collapses around him, they will ask him to pass to the free man.

    Nix was destroying us down low. We had NO answer for him. I think in the beginning we played him soft and he took advantage of it. Lately we are playing defense with our gloves on. We always have fouls to spare, as if they give our players coupons in AA for the fouls they did not use after a game. I would put Max on him and ask him to keep him him out of the post at all costs, or flop when he is touched. Play him tough. Challenge MSU to beat us from the outside. With Trice out, put a fast defender on Harris.

    MSU is a team that we have plenty of film to watch. We know what they will do. And yet, we played them as if they came down from Mars. Maybe it was the level of our effort (no hustle), but the bottom line is that we were NOT prepared mentally, physically, or tactically to go against them. And that is why they destroyed us.

  • lavell99

    Couldn’t bring myself to click play on any of the five videos.