February 11, 2016 by darvon
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February 8, 2016 by James O'dell
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February 5, 2016 by James O'dell
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January 29, 2016 by Erin Rose
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January 24, 2016 by James O'dell
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January 23, 2016 by Drew Hallett
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Michigan will challenge one of the Big Ten's best scoring duos in a game between the Wolverines and Huskers that should go down to the wire.
Who: Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-8, 4-3 Big Ten)
When: Saturday, January 23rd, at 2:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena -- Lincoln, Neb.
The prospect of Michigan beating Nebraska in Lincoln this afternoon radically has changed in recent weeks. On January 5th, the Huskers were #156 on KenPom and had just lost to Iowa to drop to 8-8 (0-3 Big Ten). At that point, Michigan was a sizable favorite to win. Since then, though, Nebraska has played its best basketball. The Huskers have won their past four games, beating down three lower-tier Big Ten teams before stunning Michigan State, 72-71, in East Lansing. As a result, they have shot up KenPom's rankings to #78, making today's contest a tossup in the eyes of the computers and Vegas.
This puts Michigan in a difficult spot. Not only is this no longer a game that Michigan should win, a loss would harm Michigan's resume substantially. Though the Huskers have risen on KenPom quickly, their RPI hasn't. They are only #150 in RPI, so a loss would hand Michigan its first defeat against a team outside the RPI top 100 and maybe put the Wolverines, who are a #8 seed on Bracket Matrix, back onto the bubble, while a win wouldn't do much. So this game suddenly has become much more significant.
And, once again, Caris LeVert likely won't be available. On Friday, John Beilein ruled that LeVert was doubtful for the game and, for the first time in three weeks, indicated the injury isn't related to the two previous fractures LeVert has suffered in his left foot. Beilein still expects LeVert to be back this year. But it shouldn't be today.
I discussed Nebraska's recent surge above, so let's dig into its basketball profile.
Offensively, the Huskers have improved tremendously. Last season, they were 285th in adjusted offensive efficiency (96.3), and, this season, they are 66th (109.0). The main catalyst for this is its shooting. After being 290th in eFG% (46.2) and 340th in three-point percentage (28.4) last season, the Huskers are 81st (52.0 eFG%) and 106th (36.2 3P%) in those categories, respectively, this season. They are effective inside the arc as well. Though they don't get many shots around the bucket (339th in pct. of shots at the rim), they are 79th in two-point shooting (51.0 pct.) because they can knock down their mid-range jumpers. However, the drawback of this is that they don't get to the free-throw line often (170th in FTR), but, when they miss their shots, they do a decent job of earning second chances (73rd in OR%). What will be interesting to watch is Nebraska's turnovers. For much of this season, Nebraska has had problems giving up the basketball (204th in TO%), but, in Big Ten play, the Huskers own the third-best turnover rate (15.1 pct.).
Defensively, Nebraska is 104th in adjusted efficiency (99.6), which is a solid step in the wrong direction after the Huskers were 25th in that stat last season. Plus, their defense hasn't been much better in conference play, ranking ninth in efficiency (106.4). The one thing that they do well is grab defensive rebounds (32nd in DR%). Other than that, though, nothing stands out. Nebraska's defense is 88th in eFG% (47.3), permitting opponents to make 46.1 percent of their twos (90th) and 33.2 percent of their threes (107th) -- though Big Ten offenses have had more success. On top of that, Nebraska is just so-so at forcing turnovers (150th in TO%) and below-average in free-throw rate (255th).
Nebraska is led by its two 6-foot-7 wings, Kansas transfer Andrew White and senior Shavon Shields, who have become one of the Big Ten's best scoring duos. White has averaged 17.0 PPG, which is the sixth-best in the Big Ten, mostly because of his three-point shooting. He's hit 53-of-122 triples (43.4 pct.), and almost all of those have been of the catch-and-shoot variety. But as the saying goes: he's more than just a shooter. He also is a capable slasher that can finish at the rim or drain mid-range jumpers (61.4 2P%). Accordingly, White's offensive rating is 122.8, which is fifth in the Big Ten among players with a usage rate of at least 20 percent. And, when White isn't being one of the Big Ten's best offensive players, he's been a great defensive rebounder (19.1 DR%), tallying 6.1 RPG.
Shields averages 16.1 PPG, which is ninth in the Big Ten, but he does it much differently than White. Shields isn't near to being the same three-point threat that White is, having sunk only 14-of-46 threes (30.4 pct.). Where Shields thrives are as a slasher and mid-range jump-shooter, which have allowed him to convert 106-of-203 twos (52.2 pct.) and take 94 trips to the free-throw line (37.8 FTR, 75.5 FT%). Plus, Shields is coming off two of his best scoring performances of the season. He posted 28 points on 20 shots against the Spartans on January 20 and 24 points on 10 shots against Minnesota on January 12.
Nebraska essentially starts two point guards. The one to watch is six-foot freshman Glynn Watson, Jr., who was a top-100 recruit in the 2015 class and has started to play like it in recent weeks. In his last four games, Watson has registered 12.5 PPG on 21-of-38 shooting (55.3 pct.), raising his season average to 8.1 PPG. He doesn't knock down many threes (30.0 3P%) or make his way to the tin often, but he has a solid pull-up jumper that must be accounted for. Further, Watson can do more than just score. He's the team's best distributor (22.0 ast%), ball-handler (2.43 A:TO ratio), and steal-generator (3.4 pct.). The other point guard is 5-foot-9 senior Benny Parker, who is a low-usage player (12.2 usg%) that struggles to score inside the arc (39.5 2P%) and owns a higher turnover rate (24.7) than assist rate (14.6). Parker can hurt defenses behind the three-point line, where he has drilled 17-of-47 treys (36.2 pct.). His three-point percentage has been even higher against Big Ten foes (44.4 pct.), but most of it is due to a 5-of-10 performance vs. Northwestern.
However, neither Watson nor Parker is Nebraska's best scoring guard. That honor belongs to 6-foot-4 junior Tai Webster, who has notched 9.9 PPG. Webster started the first 12 games of the season before he was replaced by Watson. Nonetheless, he's still earning about the same number of MPG (25.6) as he did before he was moved to the bench. Webster loves to drive to the bucket as more than half of his field-goal tries have been layups, dunks, or tip-ins. He can hit jumpers, too (40.6 3P%), but don't expect many.
At center, the Huskers will insert two freshmen that look more like forwards than big men. The starter is 6-foot-8 Michael Jacobson, who was a three-star prospect. Jacobson doesn't get many touches in the post (14.6 usg%), but he's very efficient when he does (119.0 ORtg) because he can hit short-range jumpers and tends to draw shooting fouls on his defender (82.7 FTR, 81.4 FT%). Also, Jacobson is a plus rebounder on both ends of the floor (10.5 OR%, 16.8 DR%) and a solid rim protector (4.4 blk%). His backup will be 6-foot-7 Ed Morrow, Jr., who was a four-star recruit that was designated as a small forward. However, Nebraska can get away with putting him at the 5 because his athleticism helps him succeed around the rim as a scorer (62.0 2P%), rebounder (13.9 OR%, 15.4 DR%), and shot-blocker (5.6 pct.). But Morrow still needs to learn to harness that athleticism at times because he can get into foul trouble too easily (7.0 FC/40).
One last reserve that should earn a large chunk of minutes is 6-foot-8 freshman wing Jack McVeigh, who will give White and Shields a breather when they need it. McVeigh was a three-star talent from Australia that has acclimated to his role as a three-point specialist (62.4 3PA%) and defensive rebounder (14.8 DR%) off the bench well. He's been only average from behind the arc (34.5 3P%), but he's posted a strong offensive rating (108.3) because he doesn't turn it over (14.9 TO%) and can finish when he gets inside.
Go to the Rim: There is no question that Michigan can't miss the same number of open threes as it did against Minnesota on Wednesday (9-of-31 3P), but Michigan can't settle for threes either. Nebraska doesn't have an intimidating defense (9th in Big Ten-only efficiency), and that's particularly the case in the paint, where the Huskers likely won't play a center that's taller than 6-foot-8. Plus, the Huskers have a knack for fouling shooters (13th in Big Ten-only FTR), so a more aggressive approach inside should lead to many trips to the free-throw line for the Wolverines. And free points are fun on the road.
Duncan Robinson's Defense: Unless John Beilein opts to try 6-foot-4 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman on 6-foot-7 Andrew White, 6-foot-6 Robinson will be tasked with the most important defensive matchup of the game. White is an excellent offensive player, ranking sixth in the Big Ten in PPG because he's a lethal three-point sniper and can amass points inside as well. There is no one right way to guard White, and Robinson has earned a reputation for being a subpar defender, though he's improving. One area where Robinson needs to be better is his closeouts, and that clearly will be vital this afternoon.
Zak Irvin vs. Shavon Shields: As it seems to be almost every Big Ten game because he's an undersized 4, Irvin has drawn one of the game's most important matchups. He will go head to head with Shields, who's been a known volume scorer for the past two years. Shields just had one of his best games of the season, scoring 28 points at Michigan State, but he's struggled in his four career starts against the Wolverines, recording 9.3 PPG on just 39.5 eFG%. If Irvin can force Shields into another tough performance by being physical with him down low and sagging off on the perimeter to tempt Shields into jacking up threes, Irvin should be in great shape to outscore him and win this matchup.
This will be the close game that the computers and Vegas project. The things that go in Nebraska's favor are that the Huskers have been on a roll the past two weeks or so, this game will be played in Lincoln, and Caris LeVert is doubtful to be a part of it. The things that go in Michigan's favor are that, with the exception of the SMU loss, the Wolverines have handled themselves well in hostile environments and this should be an offense-oriented contest. And it's difficult to pick against Michigan (16th in adjusted offensive efficiency) in a game where both offenses have a large advantage over the defenses.
Michigan 75, Nebraska 73
Also, Corn Nation's Patrick Gerhart predicts that this will be a close Michigan victory.
January 22, 2016 by Anthony Broome
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Putting this week's controversial saga into perspective, where blame can be assigned to both sides and even media members for stirring the pot.
One of the biggest stories this week on the recruiting trail, both locally and nationally, was the saga between 2016 four-star offensive lineman Erik Swenson and the Michigan Wolverines.
To summarize, Swenson decommitted from Michigan after being a verbal pledge since 2013 under Brady Hoke's staff. He has been telling everyone that will listen that Jim Harbaugh and staff pulled his offer out of the blue and was not transparent about his future.
This, like many things tend to do, set social media ablaze with questions of Harbaugh's ethics on the recruiting trail and how they are handling players they no longer see as fits in the class.
Of course, there two sides to every story. Michigan cannot publicly comment on this situation until signing day, and probably ultimately will not, but it has already become clear that some of the things out there right now are false and/or exaggerated.
Regardless, the questions must be asked.
I was one of these people to jump to conclusions in the immediate aftermath, and for that I apologize. As someone who will have journalism attached to my bachelor's degree, it was a mistake to make a judgement before gathering all of the facts. I pride myself on doing my best to keep people informed by being impartial.
A world with an increased social media presence gives us real-time access to what is going on out there, which in turn creates off-the-cuff emotional reactions.
As the facts begin to emerge, it is becoming more and more apparent that Michigan had hinted that this was a possibility months ago and that maybe he should keep his options open. Since Swenson was a Hoke recruit, the staff wanted to use his senior season to evaluate if he would be sticking around moving forward.
When they viewed his senior film, it sounds like they were not all that impressed with what they saw. Not that any of us normal-folk are great talent evaluators, but when you put his senior film against, say, Stephen Spanellis, it is pretty clear what Michigan is looking for.
The idea that commitments are never official until National Signing Day is absolutely true, and perhaps even moreso with Harbaugh at Michigan. It is not enough just to be dedicated to a cause, but you have to grow throughout the process and be willing to work the entire way.
Harbaugh is not a bad person, and the character assassination going on right now in the media is completely overblown. This is a man and a staff who is pulling out all the stops to do what they feel is necessary to put the best possible team on the field on fall Saturdays.
This is what Michigan fans wanted when Hoke was fired.
Whether or not people want to see it, college football recruiting is a business arrangement. A player pledges himself to a program in exchange for his four-to-five years in college completely paid for. Coaches have a criteria in mind when it comes to what they want to see from their players. They have to hold up their end of the deal.
Sometimes business deals go sour and bridges are burned.
Recruiting is not all sunshine and roses. Sometimes, shady stuff happens on both ends of the spectrum. And it happens at more schools than people would care to realize or report.
Because Harbaugh is always in the headlines, he is an easy target. But he is by no means the first coach ever to do something that upset a recruit and his family.
This will not have much of an impact on the recruiting trail moving forward. When 150-plus offers go out with only 25 or so committable spots on average, someone is going to end up hurt and pissed off. It is what it is.
Forget the past and move on. It may be time for the rest of us to do the same.
January 22, 2016 by Haisten Willis
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One final honor for the star tight end's 2015 season.
Jake Butt had an outstanding 2015 for the Michigan Wolverines. He was the Big Ten's Tight End of the Year with 51 receptions for 654 yards and three touchdowns, and was considered by many one of the best receiving tight ends in the nation.
Now Butt will cap it off by being named to the SB Nation All-America team, which is different from other All-America teams in that it is formed after bowl season.
Here's what SB Nation had to say about Butt:
Michigan improved from 5-7 to 10-3 under Jim Harbaugh despite a roster that wasn't all that different from Brady Hoke's. Nobody embodied that improvement more than Jake Butt, who went from a 21-catch, 211-yard 2014 to 51 for 654. And he's the player with a last name so great, even his head coach just loves saying it.
Butt will have a chance to add to his Wolverines legacy since he is coming back for his senior year in 2016.
January 22, 2016 by Brandon Justice
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Maize 'n Brew caught up with three-star linebacker Antjuan Simmons, who plays his high school football across the street from the Big House.
News broke recently that the three-star 2017 Ann Arbor Pioneer linebacker Antjuan Simmons had trimmed his list of schools to eleven.
Simmons told Maize n Brew prior to hist list being released that Michigan would not make it.
"Other schools have made me a priority," Simmons said. "I have a great relationship with Coach Wheatley, but I want one with the rest of the staff too."
Simmons mentioned that new Ohio State defensive coordinator, Greg Schiano, contacted him the day he was hired.
"I hate that people think just because I'm from Ann Arbor means I have to go to Michigan," he said.
"They're still in the race for me if they try. Like I said, I just want to get a better relationship, and have more contact with (Michigan)."
Following his released list of schools, he received calls from Tyrone Wheatley, his main recruiter, and new linebackers coach Chris Partridge.
Partridge asked Simmons to come visit Michigan Saturday, but it was known Simmons was visiting Notre Dame, who many believe to lead the race for him.
Due to academic tutoring, Simmons had to cancel his Notre Dame visit, and will visit Michigan on Saturday with his high school coach.
Michigan should be able to work its way back into his top list and continue more consistent contact after the linebacker made it clear he did not feel like he was getting enough.
Simmons says he plans on making his college decision later this year.
January 22, 2016 by Drew Hallett
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Corn Nation's Patrick Gerhart answered our questions about Nebrasketball and believes Saturday's game will go down to the wire.
While no Big Ten road game is expected to be breeze, three weeks ago, Michigan was projected to be a sizable favorite at Nebraska this Saturday. The Huskers were 8-8 overall and had lost their first three conference games. Since then, though, they have been on a tear, winning four straight games which includes a huge upset of Michigan State in East Lansing earlier this week. Accordingly, tomorrow's game now is viewed very much as a toss-up and could go either way.
On that note, I spoke with Patrick Gerhart, who is an editor and basketball writer for Corn Nation -- SB Nation's Nebraska team site. We discussed why the Huskers have come on strong in the past few weeks, what Michigan needs to do to contain their two best scorers (Andrew Whit and Shavon Shields), whether they have the perimeter defense to bother Michigan's three-point shooters, and which team will on Saturday.
After opening the Big Ten season with three straight losses, Nebrasketball is rolling. The Huskers have won four straight games, beating up on three weak Big Ten teams before edging Michigan State in East Lansing. Thus, they have shot up from #143 to #77 on KenPom in two weeks. Why are they suddenly playing so well? What changed?
Yeah, that was quite the jump there. None of us could have told you that Nebraska would be playing as well as they are right now. It’s not like Nebraska has had trouble with injuries, academics, or illness this year. I think a lot of it has to do with how young the team is. There are a handful of upperclassmen, but none of them have been able to bring the team together night in and night out to pull off a strong win.
Right now you’re seeing experienced upperclassmen and new freshmen finally playing together. I think a lot of Nebraska's early struggles was guys not sure of their role on the team and the inability to then pull themselves out of holes. If you look at a lot of Nebraska's losses, you will see they were either leading or at least playing competitive ball by halftime. Then they would come out of the locker room and not quite know what to do next. One of the problems I say in many of the wins and losses was the lack of strong leadership on the court. I think we are starting to see that change with the all the guys working better together on and off the court. There’s a lot more talking going on during the games, and guys seem to have a better understanding of their roles.
One of the biggest differences between Nebraska last season and this season is the team's ability to shoot. Last season, the Huskers were 290th in eFG%. This season, they are 81st. Some of this seems to stem from that they pose a threat from the three-point line -- hello, Andrew White! -- but they also don't launch a bunch of shots from deep. How has Nebraska's offense changed in the past year? When is it most effective?
A lot of it has to do with the fact that Miles had done something that the past coaches struggled at: getting guys who can shoot. This freshman class is one of the best ones Nebraska has seen in a very long time, many of which are contributing on a fairly regular basis. In the past, Nebraska has relied on one or two guys to really get them through the games. This year, Nebraska actually has some others to take up the challenge.
Guys like Glynn Watson Jr., Jack McVeigh, and Ed Morrow Jr. have had their ups and down but are now getting to the point where they can be relied upon to help out when needed. Such as when White fouled out in the MSU game. Nebraska would have been in trouble a year ago if that had happened to Petteway. No way would the talent that was on the court be able to collectively bond together and push through.
Nebraska has two primary scorers: Kansas transfer Andrew White (17.4 PPG) and senior Shavon Shields (15.6 PPG), the latter of which just tallied 28 points against MSU. How would you describe their games? What must Michigan do to contain them?
Andrew White is the type of player who could probably play anywhere and do well. He’s the guy on the team that will lead you in scoring almost every game. If anyone is hitting the 3’s, it’s him. He’s currently shooting 43% from outside the arc and is leading the team. His size and strength also allows him to be a threat underneath and leads the team in rebounds with 6.1 per game. He can be a bit aggressive at times and has been in foul trouble early on in games, which has hurt Nebraska in some of the losses. If Michigan wants to stop White, keep him from shooting from the perimeter.
While not as talented as White, senior Shavon Shields makes up for it with his all-around ability on the floor. He has been starting since his freshman year and is a constant for the team to rely upon. He likes to play all over, so don’t be surprised to see him shooting outside and also driving to the basket. However, he does do the most damage inside unlike White, who can kill you with the 3’s. Keep Shields from driving to the basket, and it will frustrate him and might get him to lose his cool.
Michigan is one of the best three-point shooting teams. Not only do the Wolverines make a high percentage of them (9th in 3P%), close to half of their shots are behind the arc (11th in 3PA%). Does Nebraska have the perimeter defense to give them trouble?
Yes, Nebraska could cause problems on the perimeter if the Wolverines don’t get the ball to the basket quick enough. One area that the Huskers have done fairly well in over the past few years is defense. While they’re not the biggest on the court, they make up for it with speed and ability to steal the ball. If Michigan’s shooters do not get set in time, they could be forced to shoot the paint. Even without a true big man under the basket, that could cause problems during the game. Guys like Benny Parker and Watson will go for the steal if they see an opening.
Pinnacle Bank Arena can be a hostile environment for opponents, but Nebraska has lost four games at home this season (Miami-FL, Samford, Northwestern, and Indiana). What type of atmosphere should Michigan expect on Saturday afternoon?
It should be quite the ruckus on Saturday. Nebraska is on a four-game winning streak, and the fans have a second jolt of optimism. Even though we do not have a huge basketball history, we really support the team well, and "The Vault" should be packed. If it’s a close game, expect the crowd to get loud. The acoustics in that place are amazing. If you’re there, grab a Runza.
Prediction time! KenPom essentially views this as a coin flip, giving the slightest of edges to the home team. What will happen? Does Nebraska win its fifth straight game? Or will Michigan leave Lincoln victorious? And what will be the final score?
If you asked me a month ago, I think I would have said Michigan would walk away with this. Especially with that nice win against Maryland. But then there was the loss to a good Iowa team and last night’s win against Minnesota left something to be desired. You also can’t forget the loss to Purdue whose play seems to be sporadic right now…Honestly, I really can’t put my finger on who is good in the Big Ten right now.
I think Nebraska’s improved offensive play and home court advantage should help them Saturday. The momentum they are riding into this weekend is huge for the confidence and should show up on the court. That is, it "should". With all that said, I’m still feeling like Nebraska still needs to work on a few things to become a team that can beat Michigan. It will be a close game, and I could see it going either way.
Michigan 76 Nebraska 73
A big thanks to Patrick for his insight. Make sure to give him a follow on Twitter!