Both of these teams swept Tennessee. One is good. One is not.
Tennessee is such a strange team—capable of beating Virginia by 35 or getting swept by Texas A&M—that a look at a game or two of film seemed like a potentially huge waste of time. Instead, I went through the box scores and available highlights of each of the Volunteers's 12 losses in an effort to find some common threads. Without further ado, here's the breakdown of each game, with a Michigan-centric overview at the end of the post.
All rankings reflect the current KenPom standings, which have Tennessee at #6.
#59 XAVIER 67, TENNESSEE 63 (Nov. 12, Away)
Key Tennessee stats: 16/38 2-pt, 8/19 3-pt, 7/19 FT, 35% OR, 17% TO
Key Xavier stats: 24/46 2-pt, 2/8 3-pt, 13/24 FT, 41% OR, 25% TO
Breakdown: Xavier led wire-to-wire in Tennessee's season opener despite missing two starters. They were helped by terrible shooting inside the arc by the Vols, as well as significant foul trouble for Tennessee's two bigs—Jarnell Stokes fouled out in 20 minutes and Jeronne Maymon had four fouls in 27. Xavier exploited this by generating a ton of shots inside the arc and rebounding far better than Tennessee's opponents normally do. The Volunteer bench, meanwhile, scored just six points in 57 minutes of playing time. Score one for "get the bigs in foul trouble" as a huge key to beating UT.
#96 UTEP 78, TENNESSEE 70 (Nov. 28, Neutral Site)
Key Tennessee stats: 19/42 2-pt, 3/21 3-pt, 23/39 FT, 54% OR, 21% TO
Key UTEP stats: 26/40 2-pt, 3/10 3-pt, 17/26 FT, 23% OR, 19% TO
Breakdown: Once again, shooting struggles got Tennessee into an early hole. Once again, foul trouble didn't help, as Maymon fouled out of this one in 22 minutes — he'd been bad anyway, going 1/6 from the field. I don't know if there's much to analyze from this, especially from Michigan's perspective. The Vols shot poorly enough that rebounding over half their misses didn't help much, and UTEP is one of the tallest teams in the country—they played five players standing at least 6'8" for 10+ minutes in this game.
[Hit THE JUMP for ten more losses and my takeaways from a Michigan perspective.]
Hey, look, a recruit. Now that the drought...
So the Spring Game is in a week. What should we be looking...
You have heard tell of the Beilein Factor, a bracket variable mathematically expressed as "" that allegedly extends the tourney life of Beilein-coached teams. Do you believe in ? What causes ? Is it more dangerous to meet a -factor team where 's time to prepare for you > 5 days, or is the converse true, wherein <2 days to prepare for = greater chance of tournament death?
Brian: We are dealing with small sample sizes here, but since it's all we have to go on... yeah, there does seem to be something about meeting John Beilein in the tournament that makes things go poorly for their opponents.
|Theory: If you'd never seen the 1-3-1 and were expecting to play the Mountaineers' 1st round opponent, it can be tough to crack it in 2 days of practice. [Courtesy WVU Sports Communications]|
Before his Michigan days, you could chalk that up to the weirdness of coming up against the 1-3-1 zone. The easy theory was that conference opponents had a grasp on how to attack it and few others did. Ditto getting Pittsnogled. While it's more common these days, a decade ago the specter of a 6'11" guy raining on you was enough to create a verb.
These days Beilein runs man to man and Dirk Nowitski exists, so big guys who can shoot are just uncommon, not insane. I mean, MSU--the platonic opposite of Beilein basketball--has two bigs who shoot threes. And yet, Beilein has taken Michigan to the tourney five times, solidly exceeding expectations three of those times with one first-round upset and the fifth still pending.
The reasons are a bit more obscure these days, other than the usual "John Beilein is a genius seriously" tag. The general difficulty of getting everything covered in Beilein's offense of cuts and reads and options is a large part of it, of course. The other part is player development. Michigan guys get a lot better, and while the leaps are most notable between seasons that unusual rate of improvement is happening throughout the year. Michigan teaches constantly, and by the end of the year they're incrementally better than the teams they played early in the season are.
That's my best guess, anyway.
[Jump for more guesses]
Aaand Alex Guptill took about 30 seconds to follow Phil Di Giuseppe out the door:
— Mark Edwards (@MarkEdwardsHP) March 26, 2014
Guptill was the bar-none most frustrating player I can remember in 15 years of Michigan hockey. Talent coming out his ears that he displayed on nearly every shot; a useless slug without the puck. The former saw him score about a PPG for his career. The latter made Red scratch him on the regular despite the PPG thing. I thought that having Copp as his center would force him into something approximating defensive responsibility. This was not the case.
You can directly trace this season's failure to reach the tournament to Guptill cluelessly poking his stick in the general direction of a Penn State player he had every opportunity to stop from having a breakaway and did not. One Penn State goal later they were back in a game they would later win in OT. That specifically prevented Michigan from reaching the tournament and emblematically represented the lack of give-a-shit that characterized Guptill's career, an attitude that bled over into various other players on the team.
I'll miss that guy's hands. Not so much the rest of his game. Next year will be a fascinating test to see how extreme the anti-leadership emanating from the two departures was.
Winger Phil Di Giuseppe has signed with Carolina:
Michigan's Phil Di Giuseppe has signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, voiding his final year of eligibility.
— Michael Spath (@Spath_Wolverine) March 26, 2014
It's something of a blow to lose a senior-to-be who had a 13-11-24 line and some talent, but I'm putting together a post on the hockey team that inevitably looks at what they should have next year and it's obvious that Michigan was anticipating some attrition. PDG in particular was the subject of OHL rumors after his first year and never really seemed that into the whole Michigan thing.
Ah, hell. Might as well say it: whatever problems Michigan had that caused Red to say that this team had underachieved and it drove him nuts fall squarely on the scoring-line type wingers who were outpaced by Copp, Motte, and Compher not only in the scoring department but the defensive responsibility one. Unfortunately, Michigan doesn't have a Corsi stat or anything like that so your one potential indicator of defensive GAF is blocked shots. And that's pretty stark. Compher + Copp: 56. Moffatt + Guptill + PDG: 32.
Attempts at stats fail. The eyeball test had me groaning about giving a crap for large sections of the year. Whatever culture issues the team has seem centered in an older cohort, and I'm not sure losing them is much of a blow. And now I don't have to figure out how to spell his name 50 times a year.
Michigan is still waiting on a decision from Guptill; no one else seems like a likely departure.
Jordan Morgan recorded his second double-double of the weekend in the most Jordan Morgan way possible: by attempting to take a charge, not getting the call, and grabbing a board anyway while he's flat on his back.
This didn't make the top ten from the weekend. Don't fret, though—Morgan still makes several appearances. For the rest of the first two rounds of the tourney in GIFs, hit the jump.
[JUMP like GRIII over Javan Felix.]
BECAUSE IT'S ILLEGAL TO ENTER AN EMPLOYEE
Somewhere a Tennessee blog is posting a picture of Cato June chasing Jason Witten
So about that Kenpom rank. The good news for Michigan is that they've drawn an 11-seed in the Sweet 16. The bad news for Michigan is that they've drawn the incredibly rare team to have a Kenpom ranking well above their seed line—after their three-game run they are all the way up to sixth(!) in that rating system.
We talk a lot about Kenpom around these parts, but one of the things that's always seemed a little off about his rankings is how lopsided games have a disproportionate impact. Tennessee has had a lot of those. They've also lost 7 SEC games. They are 23-12. Is Tennessee really the sixth-best team in the country, or 11th as they were at the beginning of the tournament? Probably not. Ask Kenpom himself:
I'm not foolish enough to believe the Vols are the 11th-best team in the land (the Sagarin and Massey predictive systems both have Tennessee ranked in the mid-20s). But it's clear Tennessee, coached by Cuonzo Martin, is better than the typical No. 11 seed. It's also obvious the Vols are very difficult to evaluate based on the limited information available to us.
Tennessee is a weird team. It takes a weird team to blow out Virginia and outscore the SEC by 0.14 points a possession—Michigan, 15-3 Big Ten champ, only managed 0.09—and end up one of the last teams in the field because it went 11-7 in a conference that was fifth-best nationally and only had one team seeded above an 8.
When computers run up against weird teams, weird things get spit out. Kenpom's got an algorithm and he only changes it when he can find something that makes it more accurate over the ten seasons of data he's got, as he did when he tried out reducing the influence of blowouts in mismatches. (IE, he mitigated The Wisconsin Problem.) But there's not much you can do with a team that has a set of results as bizarre as the Vols.
Even if the algorithm is irrationally exuberant about the Vols it has to be given some credit for calling UT's outright domination of a higher-seeded UMass in the first round, and they would have given Duke all they would handle. Vegas, too, believes this is not a typical 11-versus-2 matchup, as they opened the line up at –1.5. Kenpom has the Vols by one. It's not a huge analytical difference. It's about which side of the coinflip you shade to. Tennessee may be an 11, but they're much better than their seed. Better than Michigan? Eh… we'll see.
And about that Texas comparison. It remains close. Similarities:
- Frontcourt size. Both Texas and Tennessee deploy two 6'8"+ guys at all times. The center is a widebody type, with a more athletic 4 man. Texas has way more post depth; Tennessee's starters are even better rebounders. PF Jarnell Stokes in particular is a McGary-level beast on the boards, 13th in OREB and 65th in DREB nationally.
- Board murderin'. Team OREB rates are near identical, with both teams acquiring almost 40% of their misses.
- Shooting issues. Tennessee is even worse from three than Texas is, but they shoot more. Go-to guy Jordan McRae is decent, as is Josh Richardson. Everyone else is bad. Tennessee's backups have combined to go 33/135 on the year; PG Antonio Barton is at 33%. Collectively the Vols are 282nd from deep.
- Passive defense. Texas and Tennessee both force few turnovers. Tennessee has a defensive profile a lot like a better Michigan: few FTAs, good rebounding, bad at forcing turnovers, Tennessee is a lot better at FG D.
- Backcourt size: Texas had no one who could reasonably contest jumpers from LeVert and Stauskas, with no one taller than 6'2" other than their posts. Tennessee goes 6'6", 6'6", 6'2" down the roster. They'll be a match for Michigan's size.
- Experience. Tennessee starts three seniors and two juniors. Texas starts three sophomores, a junior, and a freshman.
- Shot blocking. Tennessee doesn't do much of it, preferring to lock down the defensive boards and avoid fouls.
- Transition. Tennessee is a slow team, one that has fewer transition opportunities than Michigan and finishes them at a mediocre 55%. Texas tries to speed things up to help their bad half court offense.
- Depth. Texas has two solid bench players in Lammert and Martez Walker. Tennessee has a bunch of no-usage guys who don't do much more than eat minutes without bringing the world to a screeching halt.
- Preventing threes. Perhaps the most worrying issue for Michigan in comparison to Texas is that Tennessee doesn't give up many threes. That's not a schedule thing, either, as they were second in the league in that department. Texas gives up buckets of threes. This is not a fluke. Tennessee gave up buckets of threes in Bruce Pearl's tenure (best ranking in last three years of Pearl: 289th). When Cuonzo Martin arrived that number immediately plummeted and stayed there (worst ranking: 33rd).
So, yes, a version of Texas that is bigger and a lot better at playing fundamentally solid, unspectacular defense that prevents Michigan from deploying their #1 weapon as easily as the Longhorns did. Do not expect a laugher.
Maybe don't let Jordan McRae run at the rim. Unless the ref is going to give him a ridiculous tech.
McRae and Stokes can get up. Seems likely that LeVert will get McRae as Stauskas matches up with Josh Richardson. If I was Michigan I would be tempted to sag off Barton, the PG, to give other guys some help. Keeping Tennessee away from the rim is a top priority. Easier said than done with this defense.
Zone? Michigan tried a 1-3-1 against Texas to little effect and then dumped it. Tennessee also fits the profile of a team that might be vulnerable to zoning, what with their dodgy three point shooting. Michigan's problem in the 1-3-1 is that it hasn't forced threes in the last few games, it's forced Spike Albrecht to guard 285 pound guys. It kind of feels like the 1-3-1 extends itself too far, or allows too many passes that don't loop over the defense. Its rebounding issues are exacerbated when it's generating short rebounds, too.
A 2-3 might be effective, but Michigan hasn't spent much time on it or played it at all. Seems like this will be a man to man affair unless Michigan gets itself in desperation mode.