Five Key Plays: Michigan State at Michigan


1) Michigan goes on an 8-0 run midway through the first half

A little past the halfway mark of Michigan’s eventual 79-70 victory over Michigan State on Sunday, things weren’t looking good for the Wolverines. Michigan found itself down 11 points, with precious little offense and the Spartans shooting the lights out from deep. Actually, it felt similar to how Michigan played in East Lansing earlier this season, with Michigan State setting the tone early. This 8-0 run really turned things around for the Wolverines to close out the second half. As we’ll see more of later, Caris LeVert makes pretty much everything happen in this stretch. On the first play, we see Michigan going to great pains to get LeVert the ball on a handoff from Jordan Morgan. Caris basically runs in a circle around Morgan trying to lose Denzel Valentine. When he finally does, Morgan gets in Valentine’s way enough to free LeVert for the drive. The sophomore smartly passes out of the paint to Spike Albrecht, who hits the three. Spacing was an issue for Michigan much of the first half, but on this play the spacing was excellent. The next play showcases a very cool set where the ballhandler (Albrecht), dribbles toward another perimeter player (LeVert), and instead of cut up to receive the ball, the latter drifts into the corner. The cool part is where the big (Morgan), instead of setting a ball screen sets an off-ball screen on LeVert’s defender (Russell Byrd). This leaves LeVert open for the three, but we can also see other opportunities arising from this set, such as Morgan rolling to the basket after his defender helps on LeVert.  Also notice LeVert’s subtle tap of Adreian Payne after he hits the shot — he was clearly feeling feisty. Maybe it got into Payne’s head as LeVert gets his hand on the ball when big receives it at the top of the key. The guard makes a great defensive play and then pushes it ahead to Zak Irvin, who slams it home. This run closed an 11-point deficit to only three points, and Michigan was in business.

2) Caris LeVert takes over at the end of the first half

Poor Russell Byrd. He really didn’t have a prayer trying to stay in front of Caris LeVert in this sequence. LeVert was feeling it in the first half — the sophomore scored 14 points in the opening frame alone on 5-of-10 shooting from the field. But even with his efforts, Michigan still found itself down seven with two minutes left to play before halftime. At that point, LeVert took the Wolverines’ offense entirely into his own hands. First, he completely crosses up Byrd at the free throw line before hitting a midrange jumper. An interesting aspect of LeVert’s game is that his handle is so good that he seems more comfortable operating in one-on-one situations instead of with ball screens. Part of the reason he waved off Horford on the first play and then Glenn Robinson III on the second is because he liked his matchup. But LeVert can get by almost anyone with his quickness and handle in a one-on-one set. One thing to notice on this play where LeVert drives by Byrd for a layup is LeVert’s footwork. He has the best footwork on the team, consistently using an array of jump-stop moves and euro-step variations — like this one — to get open deep in the paint. He takes exactly one and a half steps on that move and goes off the correct foot — and he picks up the ball at the free-throw line. His stride is great, but it’s knowing how to use it that makes him so dangerous.  On the final play, LeVert sprints off the court immediately upon releasing his shot, glancing back over his shoulder to ensure it went in. Here’s what John Beilein had to say about this play:

“We’ve got to credit Spike on this,” the coach said. “We go zone, they score on us, so I’m unhappy about that. But it is not our plan for Spike to take the ball out of bounds. There’s six seconds on the clock. He got out of bounds and hit it up because he’s a quick thinker. He got it to Nik who hit it right up and we get a three. That was a huge boost for us, really a big boost.”

3) Nik Stauskas fires away in the second half

As we previously emphasized, Nik Stauskas had a pretty good second half on Sunday. The sophomore scored 21 points and carried Michigan’s offense at times, especially early on: midway through the second half, Stauskas accounted for 16 of Michigan’s 20 points scored. That is just nuts. John Beilein talked plenty about Stauskas after the game on Sunday, and on Monday during the coaches teleconference he continued to drive home the point that a bad shot for most people isn’t necessarily a bad shot for Stauskas.

“I think everyone in February sees some type of slump,” Beilein said. “It’s really hard to maintain what we do. It’s a long, long season. There’s a lot of travel. The number of games that are guys play, the number of late night returns home, it’s tough to maintain what you do. Nik needed to see himself back shooting the ball with confidence, shooting the ball in areas that may not be a good shot for some other players, but it’s a pretty good shot for him. He did that yesterday.”

The are one-on-one plays where Stauskas just imposes his will on the smaller Keith Appling. First, he rises up over him for a long three; then, he takes him off the dribble and bullies his way to the basket; finally, he gets a little bit of luck as a long two bounces off the front of the rim and in. Michigan State just didn’t have an answer for Stauskas.

4) Michigan goes on 13-0 run

This stretch was a pleasure to watch if you’re a Michigan fan. Before Nik Stauskas hit the first 3-pointer of this sequence, Michigan was down 52-51 after a Gary Harris jumper. By the end of it, Michigan held a commanding 12-point lead that it would never relinquish. Stauskas hit a couple of extremely difficult 3-pointers — one off a Jordan Morgan ball screen and one clean over Keith Appling. Those two shots were both taken with over 20 seconds remaining on the shot clock. In the half court, a guarded 3-pointer by Stauskas with a smaller player on him is just a good shot, especially when he’s feeling it like he was on Sunday. But the key with the majority of Michigan’s points in this stretch was that they came off of transition. Beilein made this point during the teleconference on Monday.

“All of that really feeds off our defense,” Beilein said. “If we play really good defense, then we get some transition baskets and that’s the only way you can get easy baskets in this league, is in transition.”

Michigan locked up and forced some misses from Michigan State, and the Wolverines took advantage in the open court. Glenn Robinson III made a great pass to Caris LeVert cutting baseline, resulting in free throws; LeVert’s three came off of delayed transition where the Spartans were still scrambling after Robinson’s missed layup and offensive rebound; on the final play, Spike Albrecht makes a great play, grabbing the defensive rebound off a miss and pushing the ball ahead to Robinson. Robinson gets it to LeVert, who passes up the open three for a sure thing.

5) Glenn Robinson III slams home an absurd alley-oop

This pretty much sealed the game. Ahead by nine points with just over two minutes to play, Glenn Robinson III slammed home the dagger for the Spartans in Ann Arbor. Michigan’s win over Michigan State to complete the season sweep saw a vintage performance from Robinson. He didn’t make a three but shot 6-of-9 from two, grabbed five rebounds (two offensive) and was simply more active than Michigan fans have seen recently. Robinson was making plays on the defensive end, cutting hard on offense and doing what he does best: finish. Given what Nik Stauskas had done to Michigan State in the second half, the fact that three Spartans converge on him during this play is understandable. Unfortunately for them, it left Robinson wide open on the baseline. Stauskas lobs him a less-than-perfect pass, but it’s no problem for the high-rising sophomore. Robinson simply reaches back for the ball, corrals it and stuffs it. It was a fitting end to an emphatic statement by Michigan on Sunday.

  • ChathaM

    Re-watch the 2nd half plays and just watch Dakich on the bench.

    • Nevin

      He’s by far my favorite player to watch on the bench!!

      • countourzealous

        Yet his father is insufferable.

  • chazer

    Wow Caris is a player!! Go back and watch his corner three ball….perfect form and rotation. He’s still very young with tremendous upside and what a great recruit for UM! Look for his range to get deeper next year with added strength.
    Look out because young man is going to be very good! He’s still a little uncoordinated at times but he can get in the lane quickly. I guess playing Burke 1on1 last year helped him….but really he’s helped himself. Seems like a great kid from his interview….Team, Team, Team!!!
    Go Blue!

    • AlwaysBlue

      Caris, in my opinion, might just end up to be the most talented player (thus far) in the JB era. There has always been a practice buzz about him but that didn’t quite translate to the court last season and even now, I think he’s just scratching the surface. He could become a dominant offensive and defensive player.

  • Love the ‘Key Plays’; also love Levert, but he is single-handedly killing my effort to teach my kids to hold a proper follow through…

    • kam

      haha he does seem to sometimes hold it and other times he doesn’t. Idk. whatever works though. The best shooter currently in the NBA, curry doesn’t always hold his follow through either.

  • CZGuy99

    That was one hell of an effort – only 3 turnovers and forced Sparty into 13! Gotta love the relentless “never give up” attitude. Caris’ stock’s value is growing every game… what a competitor. He’s lucky he didn’t get a T for that arm tap, especially since Payne got one for hanging on the rim.

    Also, did anybody notice this? At about the 11 min mark of the 2nd half, Stauskas attempts to drive off the left elbow, switching his dribble to the left hand. A Spartan defender strips him of the ball during the crossover and starts to make what would be a clean break up the court. There’s a whistle and the CBS announcers say something like ‘that was a good foul because it would have been a breakaway’ – and they immediately go to a quick commercial. When they come back from the break, Michigan is inbounding the ball. Was it not a foul and maybe a travel? Or did us TV viewers miss part of the game during commercial break?

    • ChathaM

      I wondered the same thing…no idea what happened there.

      • Wasn’t watching the game on TV, but IIRC it was called a foul on Michigan State, not Michigan.

        • UMHoopsFan

          Yes, the foul call was on Harris (or maybe Valentine, but I think Harris), for chopping Nik’s arm.

          • lsahdjf

            thought they called it on the loose ball after nik got stripped/lost the dribble.

            I honestly thought that was the make-up call to make up for missing the jmo call two calls before.

            my perspective:

            jmo block goes against us, we’re down 1 (key) foul 1 poss
            schilling foul – ball back, mostly inconsequential foul.
            valentine foul – key foul

            now we’re even?

            it was really really bizarre, and now that i write it out, impossible.

          • UMHoopsFan

            Hmm, I’d have to rewatch it. I am pretty sure that Nik went behind his back, the ball came loose, and they called the foul on the MSU defender. Could be that it was loose ball after the ball comes out, but I thought it was on the reach. You could be right though.

          • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

            Definitely was a reach in on MSU there.

      • CZGuy99

        thanks, at least I know I’m not going crazy…. well, unless you’re crazy too

    • JimmyZ5

      Don’t think Caris was anywhere close to a T on that arm tap. In my opinion, it meant anything between “You okay?” (as Payne’s momentum almost takes him into the first row), or “Gotcha!” But a technical? He barely grazes him. MSU fans who lament the difference between Payne’s dunk and LeVert’s need to understand that the penalty wasn’t for duration of time on the rim. It’s for raising your knees and head up like you’re showboating. Refs allow you to hang on for an appropriate length of time, considering momentum would create a wicked flying kick to a cheerleader otherwise.

      • CZGuy99

        I was just thinking the current hypersensitivity these days to taunting – sometimes you don’t even have to touch the other player. Im not an MSU fan, just pointing out how easily something like that can be misconstrued.

      • Mattski

        Yeah, I thought maybe Payne nicked him and Caris was saying no problem, patting him reassuringly.

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      Just a late call. Kind of like the foul called on Irvin? after the layup made by Harris went in.

  • beelza

    The very first time Day-Day said Michigan is still a green state was at the All-Star game when he was handing water to Trey during a TV timeout. Go Blue!

  • Wayman Britt

    I know it’s boring, but what about a key being some of the stops and rebounds we got in the second half. If UM wants to win the conference they must continue to play defense like they did in the second half.

  • Ben

    Mitch is making coming back…maybe! Not sure what this means, but I don’t know why he would say this if he didn’t have plans to come back this year.

    • kam

      if he comes back id like his role to be rebound and finish around the hoop. trying to run plays for him may throw off chemistry.. He can do what jon and morgan do but better!