The second Michigan completed it's out of conference season flop, I wrote off our chances of making the NCAA tournament. There was no way the selection committee could overlook Michigan's abysmal away record and OOC misses. I was disappointed about it, but not unduly so. "Sometimes you don't get the breaks and sometimes you don't" I told myself.
The breaks. That's been a constant theme this year. A bounce here. A bounce there, maybe the season is different. Ken Pomeroy has a statistic for "luck". Sometimes you don't get a bounce. I get that. A shot rims out. A pass glances off of fingers. The puck his the outside of the post rather than the inside and bounces in. You lay into a pitch, but the ball flies straight into the third baseman's glove. Luck, from play to play, makes a difference. But over the course of a season you make your own luck. Good teams tend to have more luck than bad ones.
The more I watch this Michigan team the less I believe luck has anything to do with the outcome of our season. MGoBlog picked up a UMHoops tweet following the MSU loss that is as telling a statistic as any I've seen this year.
If my calculations are correct. Michigan is 2-6 in games that are within 4 pts in the final 2 minutes.
Out of 8 four-point-two-minutes games, Michigan has found a way to lose 6. That's not luck. That's a pattern. It's not the sign of a good team. Good teams find ways to win those games. Luck means you're 3-1 in games like that. A small sample size because there isn't enough data to come to a conclusion, so it can be safely written away by asserting one team was luckier than the other. But when you look at eight games and similar outcomes, luck has very little to do with it. Luck has even less to do with two pencil thin white dudes from Northwestern putting an exclamation point on a beat down by tossing a half court alley-oop dunk on your ass. The brutal truth is, this is a bad team. And to be perfectly honest, every reason for Michigan's .500 season was on on display Tuesday night in Evanston.
Two of those reasons are the consistently underwhelming play of Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. Tuesday not only were they playing in a world outside of Beilein's system, they were mailing their effort in. On defense both Sims and Harris would've served their teammates better by sitting down mid court. To be fair, most of my defense disappointment is aimed a Sims. Courtney... er... DeShawn showed no interest in banging bodies down low and basically allowed a bunch of skinny white dudes free reign under the basket. The only exception was when he was simply over powered by Northwestern's baby Huie for an easy bucket or rebound. It was so bad and so obvious to everyone, that Beilein benched Sims even though he wasn't in foul trouble and that Beilein's only other option was Zach Gibson.
As for Harris, he was slow to rotate through screens and backed off Northwestern players as if they actually had the quickness to get to the hoop. No. They didn't. They were three point shooters and Harris gave them ample space to shoot. I think what bugged me the most was that there was obvious confusion between Darius Morris and Manny Harris on who took the swaps at the top of the key. You could see Morris trying to communicate with Harris, flapping his arms, pointing, gesturing, and all but using semaphore in an attempt to get some level of communication back from Harris while they were on the floor together. Harris, as a junior and the team's best player, had a duty to answer. But he never did. Sitting 8 rows from the Michigan players bench it was clear whatever miscommunication existed wasn't going to get fixed anytime in the near future.
The result was a rain of second half threes that put the game out of reach as Michigan's guards failed to move through or around the screens and get out on Northwestern's players.
Offensively, Sims and Harris were equally sloppy. To his credit, Sims attacked the basket whenever possible early on. But as the game wore on, he started chucking threes and playing outside the paint, settling for jumpers. Watching him play on tuesday, it was evident that in less than half a season Sims has transformed himself from a potential tweener in the NBA to a back-up over seas. Likewise Harris was completely off kilter. As usual he rushed bad shots early in the shot clock, launched contested threes, and basically tried to "playground" anyone guarding him. When they didn't bite, Harris settled for jumpers. His biggest weakness, lack of a midrange shot, was on full display. As a result. Northwestern completely smothered him. Instead of charging the lane he settled for SEVEN three point attempts. What's worse, inside the arc he only hit for 2 of 7 and one of those makes was a breakaway dunk. If you want to know whether Harris is on, watch his feet on his jumper. When he's on, his feet stay close together. When he's off, those same feet and legs are kicking out like startled pony.
The whole thing was awful to watch, but it's not like the stars got any help. Michigan continues to
live anddie by the three. What's worse, it's apparent no one on this team can make a ten foot jump shot. Frankly, as much as I like Zack Novak's hustle and moxie, right now he is not a Big Ten level player. He can't buy a bucket in the paint. He's physically overmatched at power forward. He can't hit a trey. I'm sorry to say this, but until he can contribute something at the offensive end of the court there is no difference between him and Anthony Wright. Except that Wright is taller. At the other wing, Stu Douglas and LLP were adequate, but they can't be Michigan's better players going forward. They're simply not that talented, and there's no way either is capable of carrying this team offensively or providing lock down defense.
Maybe Michigan is unlucky. Maybe some of those shots should go down. But I dont' think so. When things start going wrong, no one speaks up. No one settles things down. Instead, things get worse and start to spiral out of control. It's not Beilein's fault. I watched him call time outs, take players aside, point and yell directions constantly. But no one listened. All this talk of "luck" comes down to one thing, no one on this team is doing anything to lead it. The closest thing I saw to leadership was from Darius Morris, directing traffic and at least trying to get it right. Stu, Zack, Manny and Sims stand there quietly with their heads down and go through the motions. I know this isn't something you can see on television, but it's painfully evident in person. Maybe it changes at home, I don't know. But on the road this team was rudderless and totally lacking energy.
Look. I like the kids on this team. I'm sold on the coaching staff. But something just ain't right. There's talent there. Manny might become a potential first rounder next year. Sims is a decent ball player. Darius Morris, if he gets an outside shot, is really going to be something special. But right now everyone needs to figure out who and what they want to be. Harris has killed his chances of making any money in the NBA at the end of this year. Sims better learn Portuguese, because I can't think of a single NBA GM that would waste a pick on him now that Isiah Thomas is out of work. Zack has taken a HUGE step backward offensively. Stu is too tied up running the point to be useful offensively. Those are our four starters from last year, and their "unlucky" seasons have dictated this year's team.
There are glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel. Next year's team will be a little more humble and have a little more depth. Manny will have a rough year to counter next year, and hopefully will rise to the challenge. New players will emerge from redshirts, the weight room, and recruiting. Guys like Morris will have a year's experience under their belt. It will get better. But until then we're going to have to make due with what we've got.
A team that isn't unlucky, just bad.