Bball Assistants Roundtable – Part 3

GoBlueWolverine's Sam Webb goes in-depth with Michigan basketball assistants Bacari Alexander, Jeff Meyer, and LaVall Jordan during their annual roundtable session. In part three the crew focuses on each coach's perceived turning point in the season and the program's defensive strategy moving forward.

Sam Webb:  I don’t know if the following stat has been updated since the end of the Big Ten season… maybe your lead is even greater now... but the stat that we had heard is that since that Michigan State victory up in East Lansing a few years ago when Stu Douglass hit that shot, Michigan has the best record in the Big Ten.  That was a moment where it was clear that that team got ‘it.’  Was there a moment this season… be it a play, a conversation with your team or other coaches or other players when you realized, alright they’ve got it.

Jeff Meyer:  “For me Sam just thinking about it, there were two moments and Val has already alluded to the one, at Kohl.  We had not won at Kohl as a staff and it was a really good Wisconsin team that ended up playing at the Final Four.  To go up there and our kids in a possession for possession game to find a way, to have the will to win and make big shots in the clutch.  It kind of gave you, okay, we’ve got a chance with this group and then to come back and you have a battle at the Breslin and it is a fairly hyped game.  The competition and the game ended up measuring to the hype, which doesn’t always happen, but the way our kids battled.  We didn’t play particularly well throughout, but down the stretch when the game was in the balance and the young freshman, Derrick Walton, did an outstanding job of finishing off that game and our kids, there will to win and their collective spirit to find a way together to win in that moment.  You come out of that game and you’re on the bus ride back home and you feel really really good about what we have with this group and the potential that we have moving forward.”

Sam Webb:  BA?

Bacari Alexander:  “For me specifically, Jeff sited some great moments, but in terms of venue, we challenge our guys all the time, especially our upper classman.  Have you gone in every venue and won.  For the most part, we know that the Kohl Center was a placed that we had identified, but also for me, I thought that the way our guys played at Ohio State really gave me an indication that we had some mettle to us.  It was one of those games were they came out and smacked us right in the mouth and we had to fight, claw and really decide in our minds that we were going to go out there and compete.  The group, Derrick Walton grew up right before our eyes in that particular game was very telling.  The one other game that people probably wouldn’t identify that I thought was very telling about this group was at Nebraska.  Here is a team was like if I could use your words, was Jekyll and Hyde if you will, in terms of how they played away from their venue and how they played at their venue.  The toughness that was displayed, the confidence, the swagger was encapsulated in that moment and then also fast forward to the Ohio State moment was probably when I was convinced that this team has something.”

lavall jordan:  “Only team that won there right?  Did anyone else win at Nebraska last season?”

Sam Webb:  No. 

LaVall Jordan:  “For me Sam, you think about the 6-4 record, Mitch McGary in and out of the lineup, and then we come here.  We have the #1 team in the country, Arizona and it goes down to the wire, back and forth, high, high level affair and we lose that game.  Now after following that game, Mitch is out.  He makes a decision with the coaching staff and you’re headed to the Barclay Center and you’re going to face a Stanford team that you feel like is going to be an NCAA tournament team and it is going to be a big time game and now who are we and I thought that game.  Glenn made the play down the stretch, but in the Stanford game, Zak Irvin subbed in and hit a couple of big shots.  Spike (Albrecht) came in and hit a couple of big shots and Caris.  You saw the group and it led to the win in Nebraska following shortly thereafter.  The win at the Kohl Center, but for me, we learned who are team decided that they were going to be at the Barclay Center against Stanford and Glenn Robinson finished it off by letting you know, hey fellows, I’m going to be here when you need me and he made the play at the end.  That was the start of a ten game streak and it included Nebraska, included the Kohl Center, and included the win at Michigan State when Derrick Walton went 10-10 from the foul line.  I thought then was when the season before, after the Penn State game, guys had the meeting and out five seniors; Corey Person, Josh Bartlestein, Eso Akunne, Blake and Matt Vogrich, held a meeting and kind of got together and decided.  Alright fellows, we’re going to get this done.  The season before, the Michigan State game, you go up there and you’re 1-6 in league play and they had a team meeting beforehand, hey fellows we’re going to get this done.  Zack comes out and makes I think 16 in the first half.  Darius Morris hits a couple of threes and Stu makes the shot.  There was a decision made amongst the group, I thought the Stanford game when Mitch went down and everybody said maybe they’re an NIT team.”

Sam Webb:  “I didn’t say that part.  I said bubble team! (Laughter)

LaVall Jordan:  “I think the team, not the coaches, because there is a point in each season where the team takes ownership of themselves and the coaches have little to do with it outside of strategy from then on.  That was the moment they decided, we’re going to still be a good team and they let everybody know and then we ran off ten in a row and that included some big time victories on the road against formidable opponents.  I thought then, we’ve got a shot.”

Sam Webb:  If you thought that at that time, it proved prophetic because you guys went on another ride.  I call it a haymaker shot, it was a hell of a shot.  Clearly, it wasn’t just luck because he did it a number of times in the tournament despite a hand in his face.  You’re that close to another Final Four.  Guys, you’ve got to turn a page, as joyful as it is to look back on what was, you’ve got to start looking at what’s going to be.  You’ve got guys going on the pros, Mitch, Glenn, Nik; they’re gone.  J-Mo gone in graduation.  Now we’re talking about what you are and what you are going to be.  Now a lot still to be proven.  I think I’ve got an idea.  I want to go to the defensive end of the floor for a change.  We always talk offense.  I think most people have a good idea of what you guys are offensively, ball screen heavy offense.  We know John Beilein, his system is such that you can get looks all over the perimeter, cuts to the basket.  There is so much that you can do within this offense especially within the advent of more ball screen action.  Defensively, I’m curious, where are you guys philosophically with the changes that have come on that end of the floor.  It used to be, man you’re going to get charges, they were going to call charges.  Now without them calling charges, without that deference given to the man who might park himself in the lane, is it going to be the case where it behooves you to be more physical on the perimeter even at the risk of more fouls called?  You know John Beilein, he gives you guys a ton of credit.  He says my assistants tell me all the time, we’ve got to play some more zone, which I just find amazing.  Because I remember when you guys first got here, you guys were all Horizon League guys.  I know in the Horizon League, it is not a bunch of zone, it is all straight hardcore man to man.  So the shoe is kind of on the other foot.  Philosophically where are you guys when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bacari Alexander:  “One thing I will say defensively, your roster sort of dictates how you play on that end of the floor.  Do you have shot blocking prowess, do you have quickness on the perimeter, but in short, what we like to do is have five guys operating as one.  So we statistically look at where a team has the most success at, how we can minimize that.  We look at matchups, what is the ability to give that particular matchup one on one coverage versus double teams and things of that nature.  At what point and time do we change the defense to disrupt rhythm?  So at the end of the game, what we’re looking for is five players operating as one and more importantly each season we’ve talked about the importance of post players knowing the tendencies of the perimeter players, perimeter players knowing the tendencies of the post players.  So that everybody is working in concert with each other.  Now when you talk about the rule changes, I think it put everybody in a flux.  In the sense that teams that took a lot of charges like us here at University of Michigan and teams that maybe got away with that quick arm bar as a player was trying to drive north-south.  It really changed the game from that aspect, so our ability to play defense without fouling has also been a huge part of our success defensively even in the midst of rule changes because we have five guys operating as one defensively.”

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