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The Madeleine Game

The Madeleine Game Brian February 22nd, 2021 at 11:55 AM
slightly different picture of Dickinson dunk: check [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

2/21/2021 – Michigan 92, Ohio State 87 – 16-1, 11-1 Big Ten

At some point I realized that I had not had this particular feeling for a long time. Michigan was locked in a battle with a top five team. The game was incandescent. The importance of it left the realm of the practical—this is a Q1A game against a B10 title contender named Ohio State—and entered the realm of the madeleine.

For people who don't live with a humanities PhD and are subject to a process of involuntary weird smart stuff osmosis* that includes a vague understanding of elaborate weirdo Marcel Proust, the madeleine game is one that burns itself into your memory immediately and permanently. Anything that triggers a memory of that game brings along a flood of other memories and resets your emotional state to your state at the conclusion of that game, just as Proust wrote a FOUR THOUSAND PAGE BOOK based largely on memories triggered by encountering a traditional small cake from Commercy and Liverdun.

I'm going to do it to you now. I apologize in advance. Hey, remember that game when Jabrill Peppers got his first college interception?

Sorry sorry I'm trying to delete it. I chose the worst one for the strongest effect, but therse are other, nicer ones. Here's one: the game where McGary got cup-checked. The game where the point guard had a man bun. The game where Tom Izzo fouled at the end for a solid two minutes.

At some point the wider context fades out and the thing that is important is to win this game solely because you will remember Michigan winning or losing this game. From the Kentucky Elite Eight game column:

As the game went on and the temperature rose, the building knew. There is an odd shift in the dynamics of an arena once it becomes clear to everyone present that they are watching an out-and-out classic. The stakes, already astronomical, ratchet ever-higher as the imperative to not lose this game, to win this game, to have this thing in your heart forever for cold nights and funerals, reaches critical mass. I mean, what if Michigan loses in overtime to Kansas last year? It does not bear thinking about.

Michigan of course lost that game. We have just had a Slack conversation about an upcoming podcast segment that will run down the top 10 barnburners of the last 20 years; Seth brought up the Kentucky game because it was a 1.32 vs 1.26 PPP fireball in the Elite Eight, and Ace had an aneurysm expressed via text. Madeleine game. It will never leave you.


The madeleine is asymmetrical. It has a bump in it. When they made them on the Great British Baking Show, the dimensions of said lump were important. One side of madeleine is a sine wave; the other is flat. You can flip it over and it's a different thing.

What you won't think about when you think about this game is Isaiah Livers, a 90% free-throw shooter, missing both, and Franz Wagner, an 85% shooter, immediately missing the front end of a one-and-one. Flip a couple buckets the other way and your particular memory configuration for this game would shove those right to the front of the line, ready to be triggered by someone who says "Duane" and "Washington" in close proximity to each other.

Instead you might think of Hunter Dickinson dunking a meteor through Ohio's throat.

Ohio State fans—poor, benighted Ohio State fans—will probably snap to Justice Sueing's audacious behind-the-back pass to two centers who aren't looking for the ball.

You may also remember that. I don't make the rules. Go for it.

This is the source of that odd and urgent feeling. You'll rewrite history in your head based on the outcome, so every Shot missed or made ratchets up the tension until you're dropping an f-bomb in proximity to children. Until each tiny movement of the ball is scrutinized, each screen set is a potential offensive foul catastrophe, each shot causes the hairs on your head to levitate slightly further from your scalp.

When you're done it's time to lay down and think of paint and grass, and maybe Hunter Dickinson putting a basketball in the earth's core.

*[Ask me for a funhouse mirror version of something Foucault may have said one time!]

[After THE JUMP: shot quality is discussed]


which half was this [Campredon]

After all that shooting. Michigan executed an in-game demonstration of the unreliability of three-point shooting over brief periods, hitting 10/13 in the first half on shots that mostly looked like this:


Then they hit 1/10 in the second half on shots that mostly looked like this:


Meanwhile, OSU went from trailing Michigan badly behind the line at halftime to an 11/22 performance. Michigan was 11/23. When the dust cleared both teams were equally red hot from behind the line.

Except: since Michigan's makes were mostly like the above and OSU had a number of difficult, off-the-dribble, contested attempts it's probably true that they were in fact more unconscious than Michigan from deep. Washington in particular is one of the conference's best Good At Bad Shots (GABS) guys and bailed OSU out of two ugly possessions with deep jacks that went down.


por ejemplo [Campredon]

So you feel pretty good. This was a tightly-contested game throughout that gave me the impression that if the teams were to play another nine games Michigan would win a solid majority. The shot charts here show Michigan (left) pushing far more OSU shots (right) to uncomfortable places than vice-versa:


Synergy's charting of this game also points to a shot quality advantage for M:

  • Seven of Michigan's 16 post ups drew hard double teams or got flagged with "defense commits"; 0 of OSU's 8 did.
  • OSU had 5 iso possessions to Michigan's zero.
  • Michigan had 10 more spot-up opportunities.
  • Michigan had 10 unguarded jump shots to OSU's 5.
  • The teams were close to parity in 3s attempted and shots just inside the line; OSU had 11 "short jump shots", which are 16 feet and in, to Michigan's two.
  • Michigan did push a little more OSU usage into the midrange than vice-versa, but it was closer than usual.

That's not the whole picture because Washington is a GABS guy and Michigan doesn't really have one except maybe Livers, and OSU's reds are redder at the bucket. When we talk about shot quality sometimes I elide the fact that it varies depending on who's taking the shot. I'd still rather be the team that's getting more open looks, more spot-ups, and is drawing double teams.


disappointed dad Juwan has been obscured much of the year [Campredon]

In which the officiating must be addressed. Well, folks: it wasn't good. Michigan lost every block/charge decision except Liddell running over a stationary Wagner, and while some of those seemed correct (Livers did lower his shoulder into Young in transition and Smith didn't quite get over on an and-one) the calls strayed into the realm of the conspiratorial. A list:

  • Wagner is called for a charge on a player who is sliding out under him after he passes to Dickinson for what would be a Liddell foul on a Dickinson dunk attempt.
  • Dickinson gets a weak offensive foul for extending his elbow, wiping out a bucket. (Dickinson complains that Young is inside the circle but it's not a charge/block situation and anyway the circle doesn't apply to an on-ball defender.) 
  • Brooks gets called for a block when Sueing jumps through his chest; this is an and-one instead of a potential offensive foul.
  • Liddell flops on Dickinson without a warning, which is immediately followed by this absurdity:
  • Immediately after this Smith gets blasted in the chest as an on-ball defender and gets called for a block that turns into two FTs for Walker.

If one or two of those calls happen you can shrug your shoulders about it and offset it with a couple things that got called on OSU (I don't think Liddell actually made contact on his downward swipe on his first foul). But the above is at least ten points worth of garbage officiating that got put directly on Michigan's head.

In addition, Carstensen called a phantom foul on OSU when CJ Walker got switched onto Austin Davis, thus turning a dunk into a non-shooting foul. That was OSU's second of the first half, with 9 minutes gone.


ope let me just whack you in the face a smidge [Campredon]

Dickinson closes again. Hunter Dickinson had a quiet first half and mostly spent his time passing out of hard doubles. His second half, and particularly the last couple minutes, was exemplary. Dickinson was the beneficiary of a late clock Kobe assist from Brooks, who missed a layup rather wildly but drew Kyle Young over, leaving Dickinson alone at the bucket for a putback. On the next possession Dickinson blocked a Liddell fadeaway. Then his gravity drew three guys to a Livers/Dickinson two-man game and left Brooks wide open when he cut to the basket late in the shot clock.

As far as stats go: 8/14 from the floor 6/6 from the line, 5 OREBs, two assists, one TO, two blocks, one steal. Since a couple of those misses were one of those volleyball sequences where you just keep getting your own the line was functionally more like 8/12 from the floor and 3 OREBs.

Chaundee: hello. Brown was one of the key beneficiaries of OSU's lax closeouts, zipping out to 3/3 from three early. He got crunch time over Wagner as Wagner was in the background offensively and turned in one of the most critical effort possessions of the season:

We've occasionally stood on the table for more Brown minutes only for him to put in some rather anonymous lunch-bucket work; my modified take is that Brown can function as a bonus starter when he's on but Michigan can get a feel for who's performing before making decisions about minutes.

The Liddell shift. I remember watching the OSU-Illinois game and rather scoffing at the way OSU won it, because EJ Liddell went 4/7 from three. Prior to that he'd had a total of eight makes for his career; was 3/14 on the season; last year he was a 19% shooter from deep. Since he's gone 14/28. Liddell hasn't had a ton of volume but his evolution into a stretch five has given him gravity much like Hunter Dickinson has gravity. This corresponds with a surge in OSU's offensive efficiency:

straight line is trend line, solid red line is moving average, dotted is 5 game moving average


After 13 games OSU's adjusted offensive efficiency was at 118.3, which is excellent. Since Liddell established himself as a must-check perimeter threat they added 5.2 points per 100 possessions, which puts them in Gonzaga/Baylor/Iowa territory. So, yeah, now I get "how is OSU good" more.

Franz. Wagner didn't have his best scoring game and had a tendency to turn down open threes, but after a couple early turnovers he was solid, if relatively quiet. He had four assists and put up nine points on seven shot equivalents. He also had a crucial contest on what was other a Zed Key bucket:

Wagner did not fill up the block/steal bits of the box score, unfortunately. A couple buckets from Wagner disruption would have made this far more comfortable.

I wonder if Wagner might draw a Liddell matchup in a potential rematch. I don't think that would go particularly well on the block, but if Young's on the floor Dickinson can probably be more of a paint-bound rim protector than he was able to be in this game.

Washington torches Brooks. We've made the case that Brooks is sneakily one of the most important players in the Big Ten in large part because his defense is unflashy but incredibly effective. That was not the case here. I don't mind CJ Walker hitting tough change of direction pull-ups on him, because whatever.

Duane Washington repeatedly getting layups on Brooks was a surprise. This kind of thing is an exceeding rarity in games other than this one:

Washington is not quite D'Mitrik Trice when it comes to getting to the rim but he hasn't been far off in his career. He was 51% at the rim last year and is at 47% this year even after yesterday's explosion.

Brooks did have two important late clock buckets, one at the end of the first half and one that was the functional dagger when he cut to the basket late to put Michigan up eight.

I did not like the extended periods of zone. Michigan had eight zone possessions in a couple of bursts and these possessions went badly, largely because half of them saw OSU grab offensive rebounds. OSU only had seven for the game; four of them were against the zone. A couple were because Michigan's tendency to switch to man late put their big guys away from the basket, but there was also the usual zone stuff where a boxout doesn't happen because there's late recognition of a need for one, as on this incident:

The shot quality Michigan was giving up in the zone wasn't bad aside from an open Liddell three that happened when Dickinson appeared to forget the late man switch and one Washington layup, but an inability to finish possessions was a problem.

Title race considerations. Since Iowa and OSU have now been saddled with five conference losses each, the Big Ten title race is effectively down to Michigan and Illinois. Illinois is 12-3 and is set to play a full 20-game schedule; Michigan is 11-1 and will only play 17. So 1) there can't be a split title and 2) Michigan has the equivalent of a 1.5 game lead in the standings. Illinois cannot pass them unless Michigan loses two.

Profile picture for user A Lot of Milk

A Lot of Milk

February 22nd, 2021 at 12:24 PM ^

Great write up as always

What stuck out to me yesterday in terms of defensive gameplan is that Ahrens only took two threes, airballed one of them, and bricked the other. Played only fifteen minutes and only stat was a single rebound. His first game without a three since they lost to NW (over a month ago). Michigan was prepared defensively, it took Washington a career effort and Liddell one of his better games to keep them in it. If Michigan shoots even close to their average from three in the second half (on really good looks) this is a comfortable double digit win

Very impressed by this team and excited for the rest of the year

Profile picture for user The Fugitive

The Fugitive

February 22nd, 2021 at 12:25 PM ^

It's great to be on the winning side of one of these gigantic matchups. It brought me great joy to see Justice Sueing fail his in game audition for the Harlem Globetrotters which resulted in Livers essentially putting the game out of reach. 

After winning that game, I can't see this team being intimidated in any matchup. They can win in so many ways.

Profile picture for user crom80


February 22nd, 2021 at 12:26 PM ^

Watching live, I thought Smith's pass leading to the Dickinson dunk was a last second desperate going out of bounds pass that was going to be turned over and was yelling that sounded something like 'NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOyay?'

2020-21 ohio state
hunter dickinson
chaundee brown
madeleine game
proust i guess proust
quality shots
good at bad shots guy
refereeing OUTRAGES argh!
franz wagner
eli brooks
2-3 zone

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