Yes, we beat #10, and undefeated in the Big Ten, Michigan. And yes, I called it. We played well on both ends of the floor and Yogi was amazing, but the most interesting part of the game came with 10:08 to go in the first half.
Tom Crean got booed.
It was an interesting phenomenon and one not normally heard at Assembly Hall. If anything, the home fan base has been too forgiving of coaches in the past. Knight got wild cheers for getting thrown out of games. He even had the whole 17,000+ on his side when we were all nearly certain he was going to punch Ted Valentine in the neck. The home crowd even chanted for Kelvin Sampson in the three games after it was revealed he had lied to the NCAA, cheated on a much larger scale than was previously known, and was clearly about to get fired.
So, what did Tom Crean do that got him booed in the middle of the first half of a Big Ten home game?
He had a line up on the floor that couldn’t possibly score and, as it turned out, couldn’t defend either.
We all know my position on criticizing substitution patterns, but I will tell you that when I saw that line up I said out loud to a room filled with no one else, “There’s no one on the floor who I’d want to take a shot. This is a bad line up.”
So, booing Hoosier fans, I’m with you on this one. I didn’t get it. But I’ve spent so much time arguing how insane it is to criticize substitution patterns and fighting against the false proposition that Crean is an idiot who can’t coach and should be worried about his job because we aren’t undefeated right now that I found myself instinctually trying to justify it.
And I think I figured out what was going on there. It was what I assumed to be the case at the time, but I went back and watched it and I’m pretty sure I’m right. I’m not saying it was a good line up, but I am saying that I see what he was doing there and it wasn’t crazy.
It’s basically something that Crean does a lot and it’s just smart clock management. As we get closer to the under 12:00 timeout, Crean will frequently make a substitution or two. A lot of coaches do this, and the reason is pretty obvious. You take a guy out with 13:00 to play, he gets a minute’s rest heading up to the time out, he gets the time out, and he gets back in. He gets five minutes of real time rest for 90 seconds of game time. Watch the Minnesota game this Saturday, you’ll see the same thing.
So what happened here? Why did this go so haywire?
At 13:04 Crean subbed Hanner for Noah. It was a perfectly reasonable sub. No one had a problem with this. We were up 10-7. Six seconds later Troy tried his patented drive from the wing that gets called for an immediate travel and was called for an immediate travel. Crean subbed Austin in for Troy at the 12:39 mark. Troy gets a break and a small conversation about dribbling before he moves his pivot foot. Perfectly understandable. Eleven seconds later Will took a bad 3-pointer, and Crean sent Jeff Howard in for Will at the next dead ball. It was the 12:18 mark and he decided to try to grab a few extra seconds rest for Yogi too, by putting Jonny Marlin in at the same time as Jeff Howard.
What was the thinking here? Well, I can only guess, but this seems to make the most sense to me. The ball was just blown dead three times in the previous minute, there was a really good chance we’d be looking at an 11:58 timeout, that’s one possession. Let’s get Yogi a breather real quick, rely of Jonny and Jeff to play solid defense which they’ve shown the ability to do when on the floor together, slingshot around the time out and bring back some starters. No harm, ho foul.
Except, Austin turned it over at 11:34 and Michigan got a dunk, and the crowd started to get restless about this line up of Jonny, Stan, Austin, Jeff, and Hanner. 30 seconds later Hanner missed a shot and Irvin hit a jump shot to give Michigan the lead. The crowd booed and Yogi went to the bench to check in with 10:50 to play in the half.
Now it was time to wait for the next dead ball to correct this line up issue. But Jonny took a terrible shot, Austin missed a putback, and Michigan ran out for a lay up. 13-10 Michigan. Crowd’s boos get louder and Crean calls a time-out.
Now, I know I made some suppositions there that I would normally warn you against because I don’t know for sure that Crean was making those decisions based on what I just said, but if we proceed from the assumption that Crean actually had a reason for those subs and wasn’t just choosing random players and random intervals to sub in for other players, then we have to say he was making decisions based on thought and reason.
And if he was making decisions based on thought and reason, and he’s ofttimes used this time-out to grab a couple of extra minutes of rest time for guys, then what I put forth as his thinking is at best the most logical assumption and at worst highly plausible.
Does that make it a good and effective line up? No, it does not.
But it does make it reasonable, and the facts remain that Yogi was only out of the game from 12:18-10:50 before being sent to check in, and he went to the scorer’s table the second Michigan took the lead. As a coach you hate to waste a timeout there when the TV timeout is coming at the next dead ball, so Crean tried to make it to the next whistle, but a bad shot and poor transition defense made waiting longer impossible, and he called that time out.
So, while I won’t ask you to think that lineup was a great one, I will ask you to think about what you’re booing. A sound clock and player management strategy that is employed at every level of basketball across the country, that lasted about 90 seconds, gave up six points, and was reversed as soon as it was clear it wasn’t working.
Also, and in closing, don’t inflate your own sense of self-importance by assuming that your boos had anything to do with his decision to make a sub or call a timeout. The play of the guys on the floor dictated those decisions.
And since we won, Crean clearly out coached Beilein. Except for those two and a half minutes when he was the worst coach on the planet.