Monday, March 21, 2011

Escaping Charlotte's Web: Coach K's Near-Disaster

One possible philosophy: If you're not really stretching with the post titles, then ain't alive.

Speaking of alive, well...we are. Barely. As you guys have probably gathered by this point, I am a reactive person. And I don't always bury those reactions. I think a strong initial impression should be out in the open. Maybe it's right, maybe it's wrong, or maybe it's kind of right but too extreme. In any case, it fosters discussion, and I've never felt comfortable with people who censor themselves.

Here's my point: after yesterday's game, I was angry.

I'm a fairly positive fan when Duke wins, especially in the tournament. You can't have a healthy relationship with sports if you're an unwavering perfectionist, because the perfect game is all too rare. But Duke's win over Michigan was the odd case where I couldn't even enjoy advancing. If I had written today's post at that moment, it would have been a raving piece of vitriol.

But today, after teams like Notre Dame and Syracuse and Texas have been sent home, I feel more grateful. So let's get both sides of the story, because I think they're both true:


Plainly speaking: Coach K's 900th win was his worst. He took a talented, special group of basketball players with the potential to do great things and nearly ruined their season.

The game's first half had the distinct sickening feeling of a contest that would come down to the bitter, terrifying end. Aside from a few offensive rebounds, the Plumlees were awful. Our 3-point shooting was cold. Kyle Singler was playing like he's played all season, and missing foul shots to boot. Zack Novak and Evan Smotrycz were out of their respective minds. Nolan Smith picked up 2 early fouls, Seth Curry couldn't hit his shots, and Kyrie Irving, again, looked slow.

I still had a sour taste in my mouth from the UNC win, and my state of mind at halftime was decidedly negative. We held a 37-33 lead, but it felt like the wrong kind of game. You could tell the Michigan fans were representing themselves well, and the closer things stayed, the more support they'd have from the powder blues who stuck around to root against Duke.

The Wolverines were playing like they had nothing to lose. When we attacked their 1-3-1 zone, it paid dividends, but all too often we weren't attacking. In the SCSD live chat, nobody felt good. It seemed like the kind of game that would require a late escape. When the second half started, it confirmed our worst fears; Michigan got within two on a Jordan Morgan lay-up. Everybody braced themselves for the battle.

And then Nolan Smith happened.

In less than two minutes, he scored 10 points all by himself. He rescued us, like he's done so many times this season. By the 14:28 mark, our lead had ballooned to 12, 49-37. This was the explosion we'd been waiting for, the promised and patented run. Michigan's shooters had come back to earth, and now it was time for the real talent to assert itself. We were too good, and too tough, to let these guys hang around. Cream's gotta rise, baby.

Michigan fought hard, though, and despite being down by as many as 15, they brought it back to 6 on two separate occasions. Still, it was evident by the flow of the game that they couldn't stick with us, wouldn't have the firepower both to score the points they needed and contain Duke on defense.

But it turned out, lucky wolves, that they wouldn't need to contain us on defense. Coach K would handle that on his own.

The dreaded fucking stall. We've seen it cost us before, too many times, and now he was unleashing it again. WITH 8 MINUTES REMAINING. 8 minutes. Against a team that could shoot threes. Against a team playing a 1-3-1 defense, which is perfectly, perfectly designed to harass a point guard trying to run a stall.

A couple thoughts:

1) Some people were lamenting our inability to attack the 1-3-1. Guys, that wasn't the issue. We attacked it pretty well at various points throughout the game. In the final 8 minutes, the Dukies were under orders not to attack. Imagine a younger sibling is a pain in the ass, constantly getting in your face and being a pest. Eventually, you throw him to the ground, he runs off and cries, and in a flash he understands the consequences and stops bothering you, right? But what if, for some reason, you were completely unable to react and just had to stand there while he annoyed you? You'd be playing into his hands, going against your natural instincts, and all the problems would persist.

2) Others, including myself, concluded after the game that John Beilein out-coached Coach K. (My tweet: "Congrats to John Beilein for making K look like he was coaching his first game.") I no longer think that's true. I think Coach K out-coached himself. The 1-3-1 wasn't some kind of brilliant tactical maneuver. Beilein had gone to it before, and then he went away from it at times because Duke showed an ability to attack. He only went to the 1-3-1 at the end out of desperation. He needed to try something new. If Coach K hadn't called off the dogs, the 1-3-1 would've met the same fate it met before. Instead, we played right into Beilein's hands.

3) Why the hell did Coach K go to a 4-guard lineup for the last 10 minutes? Look, we know Michigan spreads the floor. We know it can be tough for big guys to get out on shots in those situations. But we were murdering them on the offensive boards. Just making an absolute killing. That's partly how we built the 15-point lead. Then, in a flash of idiocy, Coach K decided we would beat them at their own game. "Sure, let's put 4 guards on the floor. Our guys are better than theirs, and we'll beat them at their own game."

Well, guess what happened? Our offensive boards disappeared, Michigan dragged us to their level, we tried to get out of the jam by launching late threes, and we nearly went home early.

4) And why did we slow the game down? We built the lead by playing fast! Michigan was clearly uncomfortable on the run, and they were already playing cautious because of their foul trouble. So we stop running, and we stop being aggressive? Tell me how that makes sense.

In yesterday's post, we talked about how important pace would be. Michigan plays slow, big-10 basketball, averaging 63 possessions per game. Duke averages 70. Guess how many possessions we had yesterday? 61. Guess how many possessions we had when an inferior Virginia Tech team beat us on the road? 61.

So. Fucking. Stupid. And possibly arrogant. When we played our game, we made Michigan look exactly like the team they are: an 8-seed. Sure, they were hitting some threes. But in case we didn't notice, that wasn't breaking our back. Even when they were really, really hot in the first half, we still came out with a 4-point lead. Then the percentages corrected themselves and we started the rout.

And then, because of hubris or panic or whatever, Coach K took our bigs out, stopped running, and stopped being aggressive in the face of their debilitating foul trouble. Unfathomable.

5) Someone made this comment in the live chat yesterday: "All you people who don't like the stall must hate it when your football team runs out the clock at the end of games, right?"

Tell you what, man. I've seen an awful lot of football games where a team's passing game is spectacular, and they build up, let's say, a 2-touchdown lead. Then the fourth quarter starts, and they decide to play conservative. Run out the clock. But quarters are long. And guess what? It turns out the team was so good at passing because that's their strength. When they start to run, they find out what they already knew, which is that they're not very good at running. Which, incidentally, is why they were passing in the first place. So they go 3 and out, and punt, and the other team scores quickly because the first team's defense didn't get a lot of time to rest. No big deal, though, they're still up 7. They should probably still take the air out of the ball, right? Yeah, run it. Waste time. Oops, another 3-and-out because they still can't run. Another punt. Another quick score by the other guys, because now their defense has nothing in the tank. And, shit, look at that: it's a tie ball game, and there are still 7 minutes left. Better start passing again, since that's how they score. Except now the offense has lost a little confidence, or maybe they meet some bad luck, or maybe the opposing defense suddenly feels rejuvenated. Suddenly, they can't score, and suddenly it's too late, and suddenly a sure victory becomes a loss.

We've all seen that. And we nearly saw the basketball equivalent yesterday. Sure, fine, sometimes the stall works. Maybe even most of the time. But it doesn't work because it's such a brilliant strategy; it works because we have a big enough lead, and there's not a lot of time on the clock. The stall, by definition, takes Duke out of its effective offense. It makes them less likely to score, and it opens the doors of momentum for the other team. That's why I hate it. Why depart from the flow that's worked so well in the first place? It's one thing to run the clock out when you're up 20 with 4 minutes left, but why change a winning strategy when an outcome is still in doubt? It's never made sense.

Eight minutes is far too early to start the stall. That's true against a normal team, but it's especially true against a team that can shoot threes. And believe me, I know I'm not the only one complaining. None of us are probably charter members of the Clark Kellogg fan club, but he was absolutely right yesterday. He took Coach K to task over and over, and I was glad he had the cojones to tell the truth.

Here's what my anger boils down to: we played timid. We played like the inferior team. All the amazing weapons at our disposal floundered on the court in a cowardly prevent offense, unused and withering. We played like a team that was afraid to lose, and that is not Duke basketball. If I were a Michigan fan, here's what I'd be saying to Duke fans after that game:

"Congrats on the win, you scared poseurs. We both know you practically shit yourselves pulling that one out, and we both know that if the game was a minute longer, you'd have lost. Our coach is better, and sure, maybe we're going home, but we walk away knowing we're tougher."

And that pisses me off, because I know our guys are tough. I know we can play under pressure, and I know we're not a bunch of cowards who can't hold a lead. This one is on Coach K. His stall tactics made us lose our confidence, and that's almost unforgivable. And you know what? It might carry over. These kinds of things linger, guys. This one might stay in the brain. Or it might not. But there was no reason for it.

6) Survive and Advance. That's what people were saying after the game. But sorry, that's not good enough for me. Not right now. It's not enough just to win. If this was the championship game, fine. But it's not, it's the second damn round. And believe me, the style of our victory doesn't help our cause. I have a sick feeling we'll be seeing the after-effects of the game's last 8 minutes in the near future.

Here's how it happened. Here's how we almost lost it all:

At 7:32, Nolan Smith makes two foul shots. 64-54 Duke. The stall is in place. He makes a lay-up. 66-54, 7 minutes left. Morris scores, but Nolan hits two more. Morgan makes a lay-up, and it's 68-58 with 6 minutes on the clock. Kyrie turns it over. Morris scores. Dawkins takes a late three, misses, and Michigan fast breaks. That's another problem: missed shots on the stall lead to quick scores for the other team. Morris dishes to Morgan, who throws down a sick dunk and starts woofing. Now the crowd's involved, UNC fans and all, meaning Duke will become even more tentative. Nolan turns it over, but thankfully Novak misses a three. Kyrie misses a shot, but Ryan Kelly's there to tip it in. Even without two bigs in the game, we still manage to get some offensive boards. That's what we could have been doing all along. Now it's the under-4 timeout, and Duke's up 70-62.

When we come back, Tim Hardaway nails a jumper. Nolan waits and waits and waits and misses a three. Hardaway makes another jumper. Duke turns it over. Then, because of the stall, we can't even create an attempt. Shot clock violation. Duke, of all teams, gets a shot clock violation. Hilarious. Hardaway nails a three. Now it's 70-69, and there's one minute left.

The stall has cost us our lead. Coach K has mortgaged our season for a tentative strategy that played right into Beilein's hands. We conceded the philosophical high ground to a team that couldn't hang with us if they tried, and now we're holding on for dear life. We might as well already have lost. We deserve whatever happens.

Kyrie hits a shot, Morris hits a shot. Nolan makes one foul shot, and misses the second. 73-71 Duke, 9 seconds left.

And in that moment, with Darius Morris taking the ball upcourt, we can see it; we can see how the season ends. He fakes the drive, pulls up from three, and hits the shot. Or he penetrates, spots Novak spotting up on the wing, makes the great pass, and Novak does the rest. Or Seth Curry forgets the situation, fouls him on the pull-up, and Morris makes the shot.

It's all there, in a script that's been written in ink over the last 8 minutes: how to fuck up a basketball game.


Then again, Morris missed the shot. We won. Other teams were not so lucky. There are some harsh realities in March, and a couple very good teams got schooled. Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Purdue, and Texas all fell. San Diego State escaped. Florida escaped. UNC escaped. And yeah, Duke escaped.

Who cares if we could have avoided the escape? Who cares if it could have been easier? This is just a game, and saying that the end might be confidence-shattering as we go forward is unsupported speculation. Survive and advance really does mean something, and history is full of eventual champions who had to overcome a bad game against an inferior team.

I just hope Coach K has learned his lesson. Because this has happened before. In fact, that whole game reminded me of nothing so much as Duke-Indiana, 2002.* The worst loss in school history, for my money. Michigan over Duke would have been equally hard to take.

*I heard echoes of Duke-UConn 2004, too.

In the end, I think my negativity about yesterday is a sort of fear-induced trauma. It's hard to watch a team almost lose and not think about the worst-case scenario. It reminds me of a time when I was a little kid riding with my dad in our truck, and we stopped on the side of the road because there was a sheer rock face that I liked to see; the kind they blast to make a road. This time, dad told me we could walk up the side and stand on top. It was winter, though, and he made me promise to stay far away from the edge. So we walked up the side, and got to the top, and I saw the world from 40 feet in the air.

But that wasn't enough; I wanted to get closer. We took some cautious steps forward, and my dad warned me to stop. But I was a fearless young adventurer, bold to the point of heroic, and I wanted to get right to the edge. So I went further, despite the warnings. Right to the very edge. What a view! And because I was a foolish little kid, I slipped on a patch of ice and fell forward. That was it, for me- the closest I've come to dying. But my dad is a strong guy, and I felt a sudden, hard tug on my coat. Instead of falling forward, I was whipped back. He spared me the hard, rocky ground; I landed in a forgiving pile of snow.

Back in the truck, though, I didn't think about the fact that I was still there, jittery and scared but verifiably among the living. No way. I thought about the fall. I thought about how stupid I'd been, and how close to the end. The thing that didn't happen, thank God, played out in my mind over and over. I'm the only person I really know; how is it possible that I could die?

Which, I realize, is a melodramatic way to talk about a basketball game. But we don't watch Duke in a restless state of agitation because we don't care. We don't obsess about strategy, we don't read and write about the team for hours on end, and we don't let their wins and losses affect our mood because it doesn't matter. It's better not to ask the exact name of what we're feeling, just like you never want to look directly in the sun, but it's definitely something.

I'm grateful for the win. I mean it. But I'm still imagining the Morris three-pointer that never happened. I'm still re-living everything that made it possible. Duke, after all, is the only team that matters; how could they lose?

This one's going to take a day or two.



  2. I've never read anything that mirrored my own thoughts as well as this post, the stall is something you do with 3 minutes left and your up by 15, not when you're up by 6 with 5 minutes left....

  3. Hopefully K can do what he is good at and learn from this mistake so that next time they are in this situation we aren't reading a post about how the game was lost.

  4. Unintended consequences (K does NOT get a pass):

    Nolan: “I think the switch that I flipped today was I don’t want to take this Duke jersey off. It’s as simple as that. Michigan was playing us very tough. I enjoy playing for Duke. Every game could be my last and I enjoy playing with my team teammates and trying to do whatever it takes not to lose.”

    I think Nolan saw his cliff face today. I bet K did too (but he's seen it before). I fear the "lingering effect" most - Duke beat handily the teams it was supposed to last year, so this tourney is already different.

    Nolan and Kyle would almost sacrifice their lives to avoid losing their last game in a Duke jersey. K needs to just put them in a position where they don't have to.

  5. I agree that yesterday was a carbon copy of Virginia Tech - stop attacking, exploit the "holes" the defense gives you (those three pointers from the wing), get more panicky as the lead dwindles. I still didn't think it was terrible until it got to 70-64, then the wheels started to come off. The 30 foot standstill Nolan 3 point attempt was the worst shot in the sequence.

    But I was more disturbed by the way our small lineup didn't adjust and gave up a lot more drives and open midrange jumpers after we choked off their threes in the first ten minutes of the second half. I know defenses have to give up something, but I felt like yielding so much on the other end in the halfcourt after building the big lead gave them a lot of confidence.

    I thought one of the Plumlees could have been used more judiciously in an offense-defense type arrangement down the stretch, especially after Smotrycz fouled out, but the first five Duke turnovers of the game were Plumlee generated. Unlike VA Tech in the Final Four last year, where they were composed against the zone, these guys looked flustered, and Michigan is pretty relentless and very well coached in attacking mismatches. In that respect, I thought K's smallball was defensible.

  6. And how bout those baby blue fans in Charlotte? Please do a post some day about the difference between being a Rival and a Homer/Asshat.

  7. Guys, we may have to get used to Kyrie being slow to warm up. He was much better in the second half, but he may have to play through stuff in the first half just to get himself readjusted. Its like the beginning of the season for him all again, with the needing of a half to get his bearings. On plays where he was allowed to go, like the one fast break I can remember, he can wheel. And of course he hit that clutch shot. He's not 100% back, but he is playing well.

    And, Kyrie had a twitcident! His twitter account no longer exists...someone was going off on him, and Kyrie jumped back at him. The account is now gone. The Devil Wolf and Joe Ovies Twitter accounts know better than I, I just got on.

  8. For Ty and anyone else who's curious:

    Some girl, clearly furious at Kyrie for something, started making really tasteless jokes about his mother being dead. It's disgusting, mean stuff. If you can stomach it, read here:

    Kyrie was clearly rattled. He had some tweets that were like, "everyone read her tweets" and "hate me all you want, but don't talk about my family." A few players texted him their support. I saw Kendall Marshall's text this morning, it said "keep ya head, bro."

    And now Kyrie's off twitter. So, unfortunately, the girl to to him.


  9. I'm the one who made the football comment. Your response is typical, and ignores the most important reason Duke almost blew a 10 point lead: Defense.

    With 8 minutes to go, Duke slowed the game down to one possession (for each team) per minute. In the eight possessions you outlined, Duke allowed 15 points. This is nearly three times more than their season average of 0.91 points/possession! Had Duke made any stops in this sequence, this wouldn't have been an issue, and we'd be talking about Duke's comfortable second round win. On the other hand, had Duke played similarly poor defense and NOT slowed down the game, we'd be talking about a blowout-- for Michigan.

    To anticipate your response, the argument that Duke's offense created easy transition baskets is highly debatable. Turnovers are turnovers whenever they happen in the game. Duke scored three times, plus the shot clock violation, so in four of the eight possessions, Michigan had to inbound the ball. A more valid question is: was the personnel on the floor correct for defending against a team interested in making quick buckets?

    Not liking a strategy because it is ugly ignores the logic: the clock is the friend of the team in the lead. I wonder if Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Washington are regretting their decisions to play a more "normal" offense against Carolina in the last two weeks. I wonder if UCLA regrets letting MSU back in the game by continuing to take shots early in the clock.

    Ignoring the defense is the greatest flaw in the anti-stall ball camp. The job of the defense is to prevent the other team from scoring, and Duke's was ineffective on eight possessions out of 61. Had the game been 70 possessions instead, Duke might have lost.

  10. Not to be *that* guy, but one similarity to Virginia Tech that I haven't seen mentioned is how the player this blog celebrates was curiously ineffectual. It wasn't quite as damaging as it was against V Tech because Andre picked up the slack a little, but I think we need a little more from Seth to go deeper in the tournament. I feel like he brings just a little more on both ends than Dre does, as much as I love Dre.

    Of course, Kyrie's ascendance could make this all a moot point, but I still think Seth is very important.

  11. Nova went with the stall offense in the second half against George Mason. The result? Nova blew a 16 point lead, didnt have a field goal over the last 3:30, went cold from the stripe, and consequently crashed out of the tourney again. So count your blessings.

    With all due respect, Kyrie might need to toughen up. There's always gonna be a fan or group of fans (or an entire fanbase, as witnessed by Arizona State's PLO chant at Steve Kerr) that is going to cross the line and make horrible, inappropriate comments. If it shows that it rattles him, more people are going to join in. Its unfortunate, but true.

    -Craig J.

  12. Matt, defense isn't the only way to beat a team, especially when you've been beating them with offense the entire game.

    Ignoring that for a second, here are the offensive stats in last 8:00: 12 points, 4 turnovers. That's about 1.3 points per minute, and 0.5 turnovers per minute.

    In the 32 minutes before that, we had 60 points and 6 turnovers. That's almost 2 points per minute, and 0.19 turnovers per minute.

    But we already know the stall kills our offense. Fine. Let's look at the defense.

    In 32 minutes before, they scored 52 points. That's 1.6 points per minute. In the final 8 minutes, they scored 19, for 2.4 points per minute.

    Small sample size? Yes. Am I going to look up old games to see if it's consistent? Nope. But for you to dismiss the idea that an inefficient, slow offense leads to unprepared, bad defense is pretty short-sighted. I mean, stall ball has a NEGATIVE EFFECT on our defense, not positive. What's the advantage here?

    And you're also ignoring something that's less measurable, but no less important: momentum. As one team gains in confidence, the other loses. You open yourself up to that type of disadvantage when you drastically alter a style that's been succeeding.


  13. Matt's analysis is thought-provoking. Thanks, I actually feel better about the ending - though not certain we had the best guys out there to maximize defensive efficiency. On that one, however, I will defer to K who knows at least an order of magnitude more than I do about basketball.

  14. I'm assuming you've read the Chronicle article by now, which disagrees this post. It's pretty comical how opposite it is, actually:

    Not sure how I feel about stall ball right now, but one of my friends pointed out that Coach K has been using it to close out games all year, so it's not like this is anything new.


  15. Matt, you're also dead wrong about possessions. Michigan had 13 in the final 8 minutes, not 8. Just because Duke took 30 seconds per possession doesn't mean Michigan did. So you're argument that it was a defensive anomaly doesn't really hold water, and your points per possession numbers are significantly off.


  16. K was asked specifically about stall ball and said it wasn't dictated by the sideline. UM dialed up the 1-3-1, we've had limited practice time against it, and didn't handle it well.

  17. Andy, yikes! I like the Chronicle, but that's a pretty rosy take. I mean, Mason and Miles played the full first half, and we had a 4-point edge. They were also both in the game when we had the explosion that put us up 12. They were out for good at the 9:20 mark, which is when Coach K tried to "beat Beilein at his own game," and from then on it was a slow bleed where we lost our lead. I have to strenuously disagree with the Chronicler's take, and I think the numbers are on my side.


  18. Shane, I was counting the possessions you outlined from when it was 64-54 with 7:32 left (after Smith's free throws) until it was 70-69 with one minute left. That was the stall-ball sequence, under your own premise:

    1. Michigan: Smotrycz Turnover
    Duke: Smith Layup
    2. Michigan: Morris Jumper
    Duke: Smith Free Throws
    3. Michigan: Morgan Layup
    Duke: Irving Turnover
    4. Michigan: Morris Jumper
    Duke: Dawkins Missed 3
    5. Michigan: Morgan Dunk, woofing
    Duke: Smith Turnover
    6. Michigan: Novak Missed 3
    Duke: Kelly Tip-In
    7. Michigan: Hardaway Jumper
    Duke: Smith Missed 3
    8. Michigan: Hardaway Jumper
    Duke: Shot clock violation
    9. Michigan: Hardaway 3-pointer, 70-69

    So yes I did miss one possession, nine for each team, still 1.67 points/possession. Also, nine possessions in 6.5 minutes is only slightly slower than the 61 possessions in 40 minutes for the whole game. Still, one more defensive stop in that sequence and Duke coasts to a victory.

    If Duke was playing a more "normal" offense, wouldn't they be running off screens, exerting a lot of energy? If Duke wasn't running clock, that would have meant more possessions on defense. Regarding the football analogy, you brought up tired legs, and this could have been an issue had Duke given Michigan more offensive possessions during that sequence. Therefore it's just as plausible that Michigan could have been near that level, and with more possessions they would have scored more than 15 points in those 6 minutes.

  19. i didnt think it was the stall offense i attributed our struggles to kyrie/nolan dynamic....the chemistry isnt there. everyone is used to nolan being aggressive but with kyrie on the floor i feel like he gets timid. sometimes.

    hopefully they work it out during practice this week because we can certainly make the final 4 with zona' & sdsu/uconn standing in our way

  20. i agree with cruxer i dont think coach K would want tell guys to play stall ball.... he has won 900 games. i doubt he dialed that up

  21. Matt, the only thing I'll concede is that it would have been an insane loss, even with the stall ball, if Michigan had actually completed the comeback. I guess what I'm saying is that stall ball will ALWAYS sacrifice points. I truly think it hurts both offense and defense. Does it work most of the time? Definitely, because a) Coach K usually doesn't start it so soon, and b) as you said, a team usually has to be pretty perfect to come back anyway.

    In the last 7 minutes, though, Michigan did come up empty on three possessions, so it's not like they never missed. Novak's three-pointer, for example, could have been a gigantic dagger.

    Point is, I'm of the mind that stall ball isn't worth the risk until such time as a win becomes inevitable. With a 10-point lead at the 7:20-mark, I think it's wise to keep playing our game. There's a time to batten down the hatches, but it wasn't then.

    I do see your point, but I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.


  22. I hate when we play stall-ball, too, but I think yesterday's game might be a case of Beilein going back the 1-3-1 zone after Nolan's 10-point run. Once they went back to the 1-3-1, I think Coach K should have subbed our bigs back in though. But if he did that, we'd have trouble guarding their guards on defense.

    I'm glad we don't have to see a zone that well-run for the rest of the tournament, so I don't think we'll see any lingering issues.

    This team is actually suited for stall-ball with 2 players who can penetrate and create in Nolan and Kyrie.

    I think I made conflicting points, but my main point is that I don't think we tried to take the air out of the ball but rather, we didn't really attack their 1-3-1 well.

  23. If the argument is WHEN to implement the stall ball, that is totally fair. It was early even for K-- over the years I've noticed he goes to it when the lead is approximately double the number of minutes left. For a 10 point lead, that would be at 5 minutes, not 7.5. This makes sense if you expect to score on about half of your 30-second possessions (which also admits that the offensive efficiency takes a hit). I'm just sensitive to the all-too-common argument that ALL stall-ball is bad, which I know you were not making.

    So it may be that it was some other combination of factors-- K himself suggested the 1-3-1 may have rattled the team, making it look like stallball. Then there's the decision to keep Mason and Singler on the bench. But it wasn't the offensive strategy alone that nearly cost Duke the game.

  24. This was a fantastic post. I couldn't agree more. When I saw Duke start the stall I was screaming NOOOOOOOO! Keep attacking! You're the better team! Don't give a desperate team that can hit the three ball an opportunity to mount a come back. It gets extremely frustrating when Duke is told to start the delay game so far out when only up by 10

    The Michigan turn around really happened when Michigan abandoned the offensive sets and used their quickness advantage over guys like Ryan Kelly, or Singler to beat Duke off the dribble. The Michigan coaching staff torched Duke in this game with their quick recognition of what was and wasn't working.

    That being said Michigan had a lot of things go right and Duke had a lot of things go fairly awful. Better team won, and if this game was played 10 more times the result would have been worse for Michigan every single time.


  25. Matt,

    One thing you are consistently ignoring is the bad shots and turnovers stall ball creates, which leads to easy buckets for the opposition.

    Nolan, in particular doesn't even run stall ball correctly. Typically you would make your move around 10 seconds. Too often he waits till 6 seconds to get going which leads to bad shots. And with everybody standing around the perimeter, it often leads to a bad three, a long rebound and a breakout for the opposition. This happened several times Sunday.

  26. By my count, Michigan scored on 15 of its last 19 possessions.* Most though not all of that was with either a four-guard set or a three-guard set with Singler and Kelly. I would definitely agree that defense was the main issue, and my primary beef is with the choice of personnel.

    *My count treats the Irving rebound/step on the line play as no change of possession.

  27. As for stall ball, I've gone through the last 14 Duke possessions to try to figure out whether it was actually stall ball or just our perception. Here goes:

    1. 9:27-9:01 (Dawkins miss 3)
    2. 8:55-8:40 (Kyrie FTs)
    3. 8:20-8:01 (Kelly layup, sweet diagonal pass)
    4. 7:41-7:32 (Nolan FTs)
    5. 7:22-7:04 (Nolan layup)
    6. 6:38-6:25 (Nolan FTs)

    Can't say I see any stallball yet. You'll notice that Duke scored on 5 straight possessions there. Of course, they were giving up points nearly every possession too.

    7. 6:08-5:54 (offensive foul)
    8. 5:18-4:53 (miss 3-pointer)
    9. 4:48-4:24 (Smith turnover)

    Here's where you can argue that stall ball began, although my impression was that Nolan and Irving were just having a hard time figuring out the zone at this point, plus they were now starting to press which was a good move by Beilein. At any rate, it's certainly where the offensive breakdown began.

    10. 4:03-3:26 (miss jumper, Kelly follow for 2)
    11. 3:10-2:40 (miss 3-pointer)
    12. 2:18-1:43 (shot clock violation)
    13. 1:26-0:32 (stall, miss 3-pointer, rebound, KI basket)
    14. 0:11-0:09 (1 of 2 FT's)

    No question that stall ball was being employed here as a strategy. The funny thing is the worst possession is the one where we scored. No way should you pass up a 2 for 1 opportunity there.

  28. I love the points on stall ball and agree with most of it. I think some debate should also be devoted to the lack of defensive intensity in the second half as well. At the start of the game you could see Duke players all over the place harrassing passes and dribbles. Duke forced a number of early turnovers. That all ended though in the second half for some reason. Duke was never really in foul trouble and is deep enough that tired legs shouldn't have been an issue. What gives? Did Coach K call off the dogs for some reason?

    To go along with that, some of the Duke players looked terrible against the basic backdoor cuts and pick and rolls. This is fundamental stuff that can cost you games. Thoughts?

  29. Gosh, great posts from everyone. I have a very intelligent reader base, which is awesome.

    I don't see a single point without merit, and I'll just respond to the post directly above and say that, yes, you're absolutely right about the defense intensity dropping off. Early in the game, I think I tweeted or live-chatted or something-elsed the idea that it would surprise me if Michigan scored 55 points.

    Then it dropped off, and I looked pretty dumb. Was it fatigue? Did Novak's 3s scare us off the scent? Hard to say, but the D looked pretty porous come the second half.


  30. I agree with the commenter above that said the Kyrie/Nolan dynamic seemed off once we went into the stall. Either one of them could have broke down the zone with dribble penetration, split the double teams and gotten to the hoop/found the open man. It seemed to me that neither was quite sure who should start the offense.

    Also, I wish we would start playing a little faster throughout the game. Nolan is practically unstoppable when he gets the ball in the open floor (not to mention Kyrie who we all know when healthy was a one-man fast break).


  31. Point #3 shouldn't be overlooked. I'm glad I wasn't the only one during the game yelling as to why the Plumlees weren't in the game down the stretch. People often think that great outside shooting breaks zones. Wrong. Penetration and dumping it (or lobbing it) to a big man for a dunk breaks zones. Then when they collapse. You kick it out for an easy shot that you can step into. I know Coach K knows this fact. This is how we came out against any other team that played zone this year. Just a bit surprised we decided to go small for defensive purposes.

    I'm not too worried about how momentum, or lack there of, can transfer between games. But it sure would be nice to have a swag going into a very physical game against Arizona. I think everyone knows that our result will be dependent on how our post players do on both ends of the court. Don't foul D. Williams. Rebound. Make them rebound. And keep penetrating when we are in the double bonus with 8 minutes left in a half.

  32. I watched in fear as Michigan brought the ball down the court with a chance to win.

    Sitting with 7 friends (all cheering for Michigan) I knew it was all but over. Similar to the feeling in last year's championship game and the stupid turnover.

    Luckily the shot missed. Win and advance! That being said, I was thrilled that Arizona won.

    Now I don't know who is the better to play, UCONN or SD State.

    I think both are extremely overrated. UCONN is sooo due for a cold night. Is it me, or is it a matter of time before Calhoun turns into Jim Tressel?

    SD State has been beating up nobodies all season long!

  33. I can really only think of two games the stall has cost us -- UK in 1998 and Indiana in 2002. You could argue UConn in 2004, but I would say that had more to do with Shav fouling out and the egregious treatment we got from the refs in the last few minutes (one of the only times I'll blame the refs). I am sure there are other examples, but not many. So 99.9% of the time it works. I don't know about you, but I feel a lot more comfortable with a 6-10 point lead late than I bet most fans of other teams do.

    That said, I think it was a poor strategy against the 1-3-1. It allowed them to set up (notice that most of Nolan's run came in transition). Also, the zone is beat by probing and attacking, and this takes some time. Not even starting the process until there are 10 seconds left on the clock is too late. We've seen great stall ball against man-to-man all year simply because we have set plays for that situation: Nolan on the pick and roll, for instance -- almost a guaranteed layup. Against an unfamiliar defense with only one day to prepare it was not a good strategy.

    However, that same defense and that same Michigan team has played a ton of excellent teams really, really tight. Go check out their schedule and you'll start to feel a little better. I believe Arizona should be a much better matchup for us (ranked lower on Kenpom, too).

  34. The football analogy falls pretty flat. 8 minutes left = 20% of the game. It'd be the equivalent of starting to run the clock with 12 minutes in a football game, and that ignores how much easier it is to to overcome a deficit in basketball than in football.

    8 minutes = 480 seconds, 12 minutes = 720 seconds. In stall ball, you can, at max, eliminate 35 seconds, or 7%. In football, you have 4 downs with 40 seconds, meaning you can kill 22% of the remaining time. So, you have to successfully stall and hold the other team three times just to get the equivalent of killing the clock on one football drive (assuming you don't extend your lead, which is pretty safe considering they weren't trying to score).

  35. K said in the presser that they weren't holding the ball. Just saying.