@ Michigan 11/29/2022

What. A. Game! This is the kind of character win that can help shape a team’s resilience and mental toughness over the span of a season. A true road game against a talented opponent who made the Sweet 16 last year, with some unique pieces that offered mismatches (more on this later). Our best player gets hurt mid-game, our second best player fouls out, and we just grit out a win through a variety of strategic shifts and huge plays from a bunch of different players. That senior experience always highlights shone through.

Even more, this was a really interesting game in terms of how it all played out strategically. Michigan has two great players in their 7’1″ Center, Hunter Dickinson, who is shooting almost 60% from the floor and, at 270 lbs, plays with a combination of skill and physicality we hadn’t yet seen, and their 6’8″ SF, Jett Howard who is shooting almost 44% from three, uses his size well off bounce and moving to the rim, and who created a second huge size mismatch for us. This game started out rough, with Michigan scoring 45 points by the end of the first half, but closed brilliantly as we held them to just 23 points in the second half. The adjustment was a result of effort, execution, and strategy, and highlighted CTB’s ability to scheme up changes to alter the course of a game. There’s a ton to discuss here so let’s get into it. As always, likes, dislikes, and sometimes uncertainties. Some of these examples are going to bleed into each other so apologies if I can’t keep everything in a clean silo.

But first a word from…

Like: Reece Beekman – Electric Athlete and Finisher At The Rim

Beekman put his stamp all over this game. He had the VERY difficult challenge of guarding a likely future NBA player who is 5 inches taller than him for most of the game (more on this later), and was hugely impactful on both sides of the ball. His ability to still be a lock down defender and come up with multiple clutch defensive plays at the end AFTER he rolled his ankle and lost his explosiveness, was incredible. But, for this, I want to focus on what he was doing before the injury (sprained? turned? the fact that he played on it and logged 38 of the 40 minutes makes me hopeful he’ll be fully healthy soon).

In the first half of this game, Reece was playing like the logical extension of what the Illinois game version of himself could become. He’s figured out that he can’t be stopped, and now he’s putting it into motion, and not just creating for others, but fully comfortable creating for himself now. He finished with 18 points on 7-10 shooting, but almost all of those came in the first half where he used his explosive ability to finish in traffic to keep us in a game that was otherwise quickly spiraling out of control.

Michigan was primarily playing Howard on Franklin, which was very effective throughout the course of the game. With 4 inches to his advantage, Howard’s length bothered Franklin’s shot both outside and in, limiting our leading scorer coming into the game to 2 total points. This makes me want to digress to my piece over the summer about how Franklin is best suited to play SG, but we’ll leave it here for now because this was a sacrifice that had to be made, especially because Clark played such a strong game. Anyway, this left the 6’4″ Kobe Bufkin on Beekman, a very comparable size matchup but one that proved to be a nightmare for Bufkin while Reece had two healthy legs. Beekman got into the lane at will in the first half, using his knowledge of the offense and explosiveness to take advantage of both his direct matchup and Dickinson’s lack of foot speed while defending the pick and roll. Here are some great examples:

This was still very early, prior to Michigan going lava hot. Shedrick had been having success off the pick and roll and we were feeling confident; pushing both our advantage and the tempo. We’re currently still playing at the third slowest pace in the country behind only North Texas and Ron Sanchez’s Charlotte squad, so I don’t want to paint a picture like the system has changed or like we’re not still patiently running the offense and working toward the best possible shot. This season does feel different than any in recent memory in that we do seem much more aggressive when it comes to running in transition. Where past CTB squads would likely only take the wide-open opportunities, instead opting to slow anything borderline down to settle into the offense, this squad is actively looking to punish unset defenses. What’s especially notable about the clip above is how this isn’t a fast break opportunity, it’s a secondary or non-break opportunity created simply by Clark pushing the ball up to Beekman and allowing him to probe prior to Michigan setting its defense and identifying their man. No one stopped the ball, so he just pushed his advantage for easy points.

Quick call out – Caffaro is setting the screen here and BVP is the four, pulling his man away. This created the wide-open backside of the defense so all Reece had to do was turn the corner off of the screen and there was no help for him to take it all the way to the reverse side of the hoop for his finish. High quality finish that he made look easy but, even more impressively, Bufkin isn’t in that bad of a position coming off of Caffaro’s screen. He goes under it and should have a decent angle but Reece was just faster and wouldn’t be denied. We can look at this play to understand why Dickinson started sagging off so much later in the game.

My god. The dunk. Notice how many of these should have probably been and-1, but this is a special play. Bufkin had to pick up Clark for this possession as UVa pushed it up the floor quickly again, leaving Joey Baker on Beekman. He identified the mismatch, ran a PnR with Gardner and as soon as Gardner’s man turned his back, just exploded down the middle of the lane and finished with power in traffic. Baker had no shot.

ANOTHER non-break scenario where Clark just fed it ahead to Beekman to see what he could get despite unfavorable numbers player-ratio-wise. Dickinson is, as a reminder, 7’1″, but that stutter that Beekman hits him with is lightning quick, freezes him, and he’s able to get to the other side again for another reverse layup. We’ve seen confidence from him this season, especially against Illinois, but this is next level stuff.

“And-1 Ref!” Amen. Another excellent PnR take, this time after Michigan tried to put Howard on him to slow him down, to no avail. Not enough foot speed to stick with him despite the huge reach advantage.

This was actually the hardest shot of all of them. The angle to go glass there was so sharp. Good defense from Bufkin and just better offense from Beekman. The dunk took my breath away but this shot was the sign, for me, that he had it all going and just knew that they couldn’t guard him and decided like he was going to play like it.

He also hit a three, and drew some fouls that were actually called, but all of the above – the ability to quickly get by his man and finish with explosion was lost after the ankle turn, which made the rest of the team’s performance that much harder/more impressive. But he was still running quality offense and facilitating for others, and the threat of what he’d done earlier in the game continued to loom over it. Keep all of that in mind and then watch the biggest shot of the game:

Recall how many times you saw Dickinson get blown by in the above clips and then see how far he sagged into the lane off of the screen to make sure that Reece wasn’t able to drive to the hoop. This left Gardner WIDE open at the elbow to hit the bucket that put them ahead for good.

If THIS is the Reece we’re getting for the rest of the season, we should be incredibly excited.

Dislike: Can’t Play Caffaro

On paper, this looked like a matchup where Caffaro was going to be important to bang underneath with Dickinson and to provide a 1-2 punch with Kadin to hopefully relieve foul trouble. He played 4 minutes and accumulated almost as many fouls, with 3. The unfortunate realization that I came to watching live, and obviously CTB did as well, was that he just couldn’t matchup with Dickinson’s skill:

In both of these he’s still unable to bother Dickinson’s face up while still conceding fouls when being posted. Make note also, in the second clip his hedge almost drew a foul itself and he was much less disruptive and slower to recover than any of the other bigs you’ll see in later clips.

Then on the other end, he just wasn’t offering anything offensively:

In this clip, Dickinson leaves Caffaro around the perimeter to hedge/double Clark and leaves him alone for a leap year prior to be able to saunter back casually, deep into the lane to recover while Caffaro was statuesquely holding the ball.

And here Clark and BVP create and find excellent passes to leave Caffaro wide open. He hesitates, can’t shoot it, and instead uncertainly dribbles over the defender. More decisiveness on the catch and he could have beaten the helping guard to the rim. He also could have kicked the ball out to an open McKneely on the wing when he drew the help.

So, despite conventional wisdom, Caffaro was unplayable in this one, which left us in dire straits when Shedrick wasn’t on the floor. Perplexingly, this was quite often in the first half, as he only played 11 minutes despite having only one foul and playing really well during his time. He also only played 11 minutes in the second half, which was much more due to some unfortunate foul calls and, eventually, “fouling out” by taking an elbow to his face. With Caffaro looking as he was, CTB once again turned to his Small Ball lineup of Gardner at the 4 and BVP at the 5 in both halves, ostensibly counting on the offense created by the unit outweighing the defense lost. Let’s get into it:

Dislike: Voluntary Small Ball Against Big Men

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone struggled to defend Hunter Dickinson. He had 23 points on 9-17 shooting and, when he wasn’t scoring, played with great vision. Michigan’s offense was full-on inside-out. On most possessions, they would get the ball into Dickinson in the post and then he would either have an advantage playing one-on-one, or would pass out of a double team, often creating open looks from the outside for his teammates. Forcing these passes was surely our strategy early on because Michigan was only shooting the 3 ball at a 30% clip coming into the game, but they ended up on fire in this one from deep, shooting 42% for the game but around 60% in the first half. All of that aside, Kadin was definitely our best answer. He still conceded points and passes, but his length and bounce (and quality hedges) made everything much more difficult. Offensively, as well, he finished around Dickinson near the rim with the most ease and drew fouls (many more than were called, too!) on the opposing big man. In fact, the team played so much better in this game with Kadin on the floor than with him out of the game that he surged to the lead in most advanced metrics – BP/M, PER, Defensive Rating, Offensive Rating, and currently holds the best four and five of the best six teammate chemistry ratings on http://evanmiya.com.

So, it was confusing to see him only play for 11 minutes in the first half despite only having one foul. Defense was already tough enough with him in there. We put him on Dickinson and, despite being our best option, Dickinson is one of the best players in the country for a reason. Gardner was on Williams, which allowed him to help more aggressively since Williams shoots under 30% from outside. CTB put Beekman on the 6’8″ Howard because of Beekman’s defensive prowess, but that was certainly a challenge. Howard was able to gain confidence shooting from outside over Beekman’s recoveries, and was able to use his size to capitalize on drives created through ball movement as the team had to react to Dickinson touches. These were the biggest pain points. Franklin took Bufkin and Clark hounded Llewellyn. Both had some success taking open opportunities created by Michigan playing through Dickinson and, secondarily, Howard, but neither were a focal point of the offense. Setting all of this up so that we can understand the context of what’s going on in some of the clips below during our first half defense with Shedrick in:

It looks like Beekman and Franklin got a little crossed-up on who was best to rotate back to Bufkin, but I’m not sure it would have mattered. This was just good offense. Shedrick had a quality hedge and recovery, followed by a quality hedge by Gardner who immediately dove to double the Dickinson post touch. Franklin collapses to take Williams, and Dickinson just turns and makes a great, quick, and accurate pass to Bufkin for the three. Point of order to make for some of the clips to come – it would have been great to have more size on the perimeter here – preferably at the 3 so that either Beekman wouldn’t have had to take Howard or so that this rotation from Franklin taking the post and then trying to contest the three would have been easier. But this is a great example of how Michigan played throughout the first half on offense. Work the offense into a Dickinson touch in the post, let him score or wait for the double and find an open man on the outside, hit a three or create a quality driving lane (mostly hit a three).

Here are a couple of examples of Reece being in good position under normal situations but Howard’s size allowing him to heat up from outside confidently.

It takes a lot for a guard/small forward to be big enough that Reece has trouble bothering them. Think, Alondes Williams from last year, Shannon Jr. from this year, big, sizable players who he gave fits. But Howard was a different level of big and unbothered. In both of these, Reece is right there in his hip pocket by the time he shoots but isn’t able to bother him.

Here’s one off of the drive at the end of the shot clock. Reece mostly did a good job of keeping him out of the paint in one-on-one situations like this, but this was an example of Howard’s confidence handling the ball and his ability to keep it high and finish. He did this a few other times throughout the game, normally exploiting rotations reacting to post defense.

So, what to do? Neither Franklin nor McKneely were the answer defensively. Dunn got 5 minutes of run and I was pleading for more of him throughout the game. He seemed like the logical response to such a big wing, and here’s a great example:

This is one of the small ball packages, which I’ll get to in just a moment, but with Dunn on Howard and Beekman on Bufkin. Dunn’s contest on the Howard three is much more invasive and results in a miss. This was not the direction we went most of the game, though, much to my chagrin. Neither McKneely nor Dunn were looking much for their own offense when they were in the game and didn’t look confident on that end. Perhaps CTB felt like he couldn’t sacrifice as much there to keep Dunn in the game. Given how Howard was smothering Franklin, I’d argue that was mostly a moot point, but we did trot out another solution in the second half that was very exciting to see that I’ll get to in a bit.

We spent about a 4th of the first half (a little more) with the “Small Ball” lineup on the floor when Kadin was out and with Papi determined not to be a solution. I think the hope was that it would open things up offensively (which it did a little) and that if we could just stop Dickinson, the rotations would be there on the outside OR their shooting would regress to their form prior to this game. That did not happen and it also made Dickinson’s life far too easy…

We started out in this lineup oddly leaving BVP to defend one-on-one (after often sending double teams to help Kadin) which was a head scratcher to me. These clips really highlight how futile that effort was. BVP has been a quality defender for us, but is giving up 5 inches and 30 lbs to Dickinson. You can see how there’s very little he can do to either bother the shot, keep him out of the lane, OR keep Dickinson off of the glass on his miss. Note also, how disciplined Michigan was (especially in the first half). They didn’t miss an opportunity to go right at the mismatch and their offense made a point to set up the post entry as a priority.

This is good post defense by Vander Plas on Williams here and he makes a difficult shot fading away. In a vacuum, this isn’t an issue – but BVP was on Williams because of transition defense hustling to get back into the play from the other direction. Gardner is on Dickinson here. Williams definitely felt comfortable taking this shot because Dickinson was in great position to grab a potential rebound. Gardner is trying to box him out but is basically pushed under the hoop and, unless the ref were to call a pretty uncharacteristic (and unlikely) over the back on Dickinson, it’s very likely he would have been able to clean a miss up there. On the flip side, the offense did play pretty well with this group – but the tradeoff was rough. Their shooters went off against this matchup, they collected offensive rebounds – Kadin went out of the game with 6:19 remaining in the first half and didn’t return. At the time, we were down 28-24. We trailed 45-34 at the half after just over 6 minutes of small ball.

After the game, CTB said we were playing defense with our tuxedos on in the first half, but also took ownership himself of trying to take certain elements of their inside-out game away but not actually taking either away. To me, this was implicit acknowledgement of this lineup not being the best strategy in this matchup, among other tactical changes, which we’re about to discuss!

Like: Halftime Adjustments and Introducing – The BIG Lineup!

The second half was night and day. Michigan scored just 23 points after the half. Some of this was just a regression to the mean with regard to their three point shooting. They were able to get a few looks in the second half just like those they got in the first, but missed. Some of it was just mentality and effort, surely, but mostly it was the result of a few key tactical adjustments that were huge. It wasn’t actually as simple as just, “play Kadin more” although that would have helped. He actually only played 11 minutes in the second half as well, but that was entirely due to foul trouble as opposed to a voluntary decision.

Kihei increased his on-ball pressure on Llewellyn. CTB must have realized that Llewellyn wasn’t looking to create much offense for himself off the bounce, rather, the offense was running through Dickinson and Howard and Llewellyn was initiating that process but not looking to score prior to that. Clark over-aggressively pressuring his handle without fear of a blowby helped to delay the start of their offensive sets, creating more pressure around shot selection and forcing quicker decisions.

All of our post defenders were much more aggressive about trying to front Dickinson and deny him getting the ball. When he did, whoever was on Williams (usually Gardner or BVP) was much more aggressive about running to double. Just keeping the ball away from him on even just a few possessions was huge, as it forced them to initiate offense elsewhere, often resulting in isolation basketball, which was a far cry from their pristine ball movement in the first half.

Here’s a good example of both of these points. Notice Kihei hounding the ball, and then Kadin with a great front to deny the high-low post pass for the steal:

This next one is much later in the half when foul trouble had Kadin on the bench and we were back to small ball for a bit. Kihei with good pressure again but the key here was BVP working so hard to keep from getting stuck behind Dickinson on this possession, forcing Michigan out of rhythm. Instead, Bufkin has to try to take Franklin one-on-one (nifty dribble to split the double team) and settles for a tough shot at the end of the shot clock:

The rotation below was REALLY cool, even cooler that it came on the biggest defensive possession of the game after we’d just taken the lead. Kihei, again, making life difficult on Llewellyn who attempts to rub him off running toward two high screens from Dickinson and Williams. Gardner is on Williams with BVP on Dickinson. Williams actually sets the screen but they’re close enough to each other that BVP leaves Dickinson for the hard hedge on Llewellyn, which allows Gardner to obstruct Dickinson’s dive toward the lane, front him, and deny the ball his way. A really subtle trade off there but one that was super effective at keeping the ball away from Dickinson and highlighted fantastic communication between Gardner and BVP. BVP recovers to Williams and gives another hedge on Llewellyn who starts to increase his urgency as the shot clock winds down, allowing Beekman to anticipate and jump the passing lane to Howard.

I really think this clip highlights the subtle genius that is CTB. He realized that this lineup wasn’t ideal after the first half. He tried to avoid it for most of the half, but he also realized that he still needed it because he couldn’t go back to Caffaro in crunch time when Kadin wasn’t available, so he added enough other defensive wrinkles to make it more viable when he had to use it. It’s not like it was flawless, there were still several times where Dickinson was able to overpower this group down the stretch; but the tweaks were enough to have a huge impact on the game flow and to create more empty possessions to allow us to get back in it. The basketball nerd in me gobbles this stuff up.

The last change, which I also thought was really cool – they trotted out a BIG lineup of Clark and Beekman at the 1-2, Gardner defending the 3 and playing the 4 on offense, BVP doing the opposite, and Kadin at the 5. This was somewhat short-lived due to Kadin’s eventual foul trouble; but was VERY effective when it was in there. This gave them much more size, a welcome general physical presence on the wing, and allowed for some cool mismatches of our own. It was a big part of the comeback in the second part of the second half. Dating back to my BVP preview article after hearing of his transfer, I speculated that this could be a thing, so it was pretty cool to see it in action and to see it work well!

So, let’s take a look. Here we have Gardner out on Jett Howard(!), Shedrick on their big (Terrace Reed Jr. in for Dickinson here), BVP on Joey Baker, Beekman on Bufkin, and Clark on 5’11” Dug McDaniel. Gardner has looked a good deal quicker laterally this season, so I am optimistic this is something he’ll be able to replicate in the future, but especially in this matchup, it was cool to see. Howard is more of a skill and physical player, he’s not beating you with footspeed, so Gardner was able to stay with him and be physical with him.

This play was pretty cool because it actually worked. Howard screened Shedrick who wasn’t near the ball, creating some confusion as his man, Reed, set an on-ball screen on Clark. Both Gardner and Shedrick got confused in the rotations (although this was more on Gardner), allowing McDaniel to slip with a free lane to the basket. However, despite both of our “bigs” being out of the play, there was BVP to help, make a prospective shot challenging for McDaniel, and take a charge.

There were some issues with rotations especially early on with Gardner adjusting to defending the 3, like here:

Unfortunately, this led to a foul on the person who could least afford it – Kadin. It was a result of Gardner simply losing track of Bufkin, either thinking he was passing him off to BVP or, more likely, just recovering to Williams after helping with Dickinson out of habit. But that’s something that could be cleaned up through reps and you can still see the benefits of the look. Beekman is back on Howard, Gardner is able to cover the quicker Bufkin and toward the end of the play when Kadin is hedging (one of many disruptive ones!), BOTH Gardner and BVP are in position on the backside to help with Dickinson’s dive.

Cool one below where you can just see how much the size on the hedges and rotations matters, coupled with a great double team on the baseline with both Beekman and Shedrick, forcing the turnover:

This one below was toward the very end of the game after they brought Kadin back in with his 4 fouls. Clearly, this was the lineup CTB preferred down the stretch and wanted to go to in crunch time, which says a lot:

Now Gardner is on Williams and BVP is on Baker. Kadin lays down an oppressive hard hedge and Gardner is there to support on Dickinson, then when they rotate the ball back around and get it to him in the post, Gardner immediately flies down with the aggressive double team, and Reece is able to anticipate and jump the pass back out to Williams. In the first half, this would have been Franklin left on the backside to decide between the 6’7″ Baker and Bufkin (and we saw Bufkin hit a three this way). Notice the difference in having the 6’8″ BVP back there. It makes the passing decisions harder and the potential recovery/contest more effective. Just great stuff.

The last play where Shedrick “fouled out”

That’s a clear offensive foul, so I count this as a win. You’ve got Shedrick and Gardner with just a great and disruptive double team, BVP on the near side and Mr. Opportunistic Reece Beekman looking to jump a pass on the backside. Dickinson just blatantly shoves off even before the elbow because the size across the board is making a real impact.

The lineup above was VERY effective against a Michigan team that was killing us with size, passing, and shooting but not so much with quickness. I fully expect CTB to trot this out again in the future – thinking of games against FSU, UNC, etc. And really, depending on how well Gardner adjusts to that defensive role, we could start to see it in most games. But that was just the defensive side of the ball. The cherry on top was how this lineup allowed for offensive mismatches that our guys, specifically BVP, are just made to exploit.

That’s Joey Baker on BVP in the corner because Reed is on Shedrick and Williams is on Gardner. He simply backs Baker all the way into the hoop with the nifty post move. This was just a smart decision he made on the fly, noticing the mismatch, but it’s something he used to do ALL of the time at Ohio. Check my BVP piece again if you want – highlights galore of him backing players in from the three-point line when he has a mismatch – but those were normally mid-major 4s where this was a major conference 3. Even better!

Then we just forced the mismatch by design:

That’s Jett Howard he just backed in. The same guy who was giving our guards and small forwards fits all game due to his size and is actually the same height as Ben, just didn’t have an answer for or the experience to handle Ben’s back to the basket game. If you freeze it when Ben’s backing Howard down, there’s a cool symmetry between Howard, Dickinson, and Williams – about as big of a combined front court as we’ll encounter this year – with BVP, Shedrick, and Gardner opposite them and us still having the advantage on the inside. And, even though Kadin picked up a foul shortly after this and we had to go back to small ball, BVP was feeling it after that point. He rattled off another post up and three-pointer because Michigan insisted on keeping Dickinson on Gardner and Williams on BVP:

So, yeah. BVP is a Swiss Army Knife who helps to answer a lot of different questions. As exciting as it was to see us thrive with small ball after the Illinois game, I am just excited to see us trust the BIG lineup vs. Michigan and what that could mean down the road. So many different ways this team can beat you!

Okay – that’s the meat and potatoes of this one, and I’m tempted to stop here, but there are a few little quick hitters I want to touch on. Consider these after thoughts:

Dislike: McKneely’s Defense

Positionally, he’s fine, but if he’s not shooting or trusting his shot (and Armaan was facing similar struggles) then it’s hard to play him right now due to his defense.

Here he’s in the right position but it’s just first step quickness that gets his man entirely by him (good finish at the rim, by the way!).

Here he just can’t really offer much help or resistance with offside rebounding.

Here he’s a little slow rotating for help and isn’t really able to impact the shot when he arrives.

IMK played 10 minutes in this one despite not really looking for his own offense and looking unsure on that end, but his defense (which is touted because he knows the system) was also a minus against this level of competition. On a team where we’re going to need more defensive help from time to time than offensive help (we really are a great offensive team this year), I think we need to update our portfolio and start flipping Dunn and IMK’s run. Still give him run, more so against opponents where he can build his confidence scoring (let’s shoot up that Syracuse zone!), but I think we can afford to bring him along a little more slowly and don’t need to play him a 4th of the game in a tight one like this where his physicality isn’t quite yet where it needs to be.

Like: Shedrick Three!!!!!!

So cool to see it come to fruition. Definitely a game changer for us if he can do this when the opposition is trying to sag off of him. Loved that it was so early in the game, too!

Dislike: Franklin Over Clark For FTs

Contrary to some discussion I’ve seen, Reece had his option of either Armaan or Kihei for the FTs at the end:

I know Armaan was our best FT shooter statistically coming into this game (now it’s Reece), but both Reece and Kihei have ice water running through their veins. I really only WANT either of those two taking these kinds of free throws at the end of a game. Certainly, if you have to inbound to someone else, there are a lot of guys who could step up, but if you have the option to give the ball to RB or KC (in this case, KC) get it to them. Plus, both had just recently shot from the line. Meanwhile, Armaan had been mostly off the floor, had been taken out of the offense by Howard when he was, and hadn’t been shooting well in his few opportunities. You could tell by his facial expressions and body language at the line that he wasn’t feeling it.

Like: Gardner Doing The Little Things

His go-ahead shot will be the headliner from this one, but Jayden still actually wasn’t very efficient on offense in this one. He was 6-15 from the floor, carrying over his high volume from the previous game but not carrying his high made %. That being said, this was the best I’ve ever seen him on defense, and he did tones of little things throughout the game aside from scoring that added up to a ton of contribution. We already talked about how he was called to defend with versatility, from wing play to guarding a dude 7 inches taller and everything in between. He double teamed from everywhere and, generally was stellar in rotations. His physicality was huge in this game:

That forearm, man. Giving up so much but keeping Dickinson off balance. The exact kind of play this game required.

He grabbed 11 boards, 3 on the offensive end. This kind of tap out featured above is something that’s become a staple this season, and watch how he creates the window to do it just with strength on Williams, keeping him from getting as vertical as he’d like.

He had two assists, including this high-low beauty to Kadin:

And he was just super disruptive on defense, gathering 3 steals including the heads-up support and confidence on the final play of the game:

I mean, Reece got a great strip in there, but this is clutch defending at the end from Gardner, hounding his man down the court and then having the awareness to leave him to contest the shot.

I’ve been critical of his defense (and offense in some situations) in many of my pieces and think that a lot of that still holds in different matchups (in fact, this was not a great offensive game from him) – but he’s added a lot to his game from just an awareness and a hustle perspective and he looks a lot quicker than last year across the board. Plus, if he can reliably defend some 3s, that unlocks a lot of options for our squad. That, and just the savvy clutch factor where he rose to the occasion down the stretch. Jayden’s an exciting piece to an ever-evolving puzzle that I’m getting increasingly excited about as more of it comes into picture.

Great team win! FSU on Saturday. In the past they’ve played us similarly to Michigan where their superior size has given us fits (although they’ve used it at different positions). Potentially an opportunity for our newly showcased “Big” lineup? We’ll see!

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