When Doug Nussmeier was hired it became clear that multiple changes were on the horizon. One thing not changing: the offensinve coordinator will double as quarterbacks coach. Like his predecessor, Coach Nuss will work directly with the position group of which he used to be a member.
This also meant that the recruiting board would be reevaluated and adjusted to Coach Nussmeier’s liking. Some names have risen, some have fallen, some have been added, and some have been removed. As spring visits are starting to take place Michigan has offered four quarterbacks and there are five others who could be soon.
Blake Barnett – Santiago High School – Corona, CA
Barnett committed to Notre Dame way back in November and the Wolverines offered him on January 20, about two weeks after Coach Nussmeier was hired. Barnett doesn’t appear to be wavering on his commitment to the Irish. He’s not a possibility for Michigan.
Josh Rosen – St. John Bosco – Bellflower, CA
Rosen once told me that Michigan was “too f***ing cold.” and really had zero interest in the Wolverines. That sentiment seems to have changed and I believe Michigan is actually third on his list behind the home-state Bruins of UCLA and Cal. He’s partial to Stanford as well but doesn’t hold an offer from the Cardinal. He is making his decision on March 20th and Michigan may not be out of it just yet....
David Sills – Eastern Christian Academy – Elkton, MD
Sills rose to fame as the 8th grade phenom who committed to USC a few years ago. Today he’s still committed to USC but he will visit Michigan in a few days after being talked into it by current Wolverines and former teammates, Brandon Watson and Freddy Canteen. I asked Sills if a flip to Michigan was something he’d thought about and if they were option #2 behind USC at the moment and he responded in a politically correct fashion. “I’m keeping my options fairly open. Michigan is in the running.” His upcoming visit could be instrumental in securing a flip/commitment from him if that’s what the coaches prefer.
Jarret Stidham – Stephenville High School – Stephenville, TX
Stidham is the most athletic quarterbacks of the offered group and is a true dual-threat kind of talent. He was actually offered the same day that Blake Barnett was and when I originally spoke with him he seemed to like the idea of playing for a coach like Nussmeier. After that day though, his interest in Michigan seemed mild at best and Friday he committed to Texas Tech.
Nick Johns – Gonzaga Preparatory – Washington, DC
Nick Johns is a name that has been hanging around since Borges was still running the offense and Coach Nussmeier decided to keep him on the board. Johns speaks with Nussmeier two to three times a week and maintains high interest in the Wolverines. Coach Nussmeier plans to check Johns out in person some time in the next two weeks to watch him throw. Typically it is protocol for Nussmeier to see a quarterback throw in person before an offer is extended.
Kyle Kearns – Foothill High School – Pleasanton, CA
Kearns is another name that remains from the Borges board and he also continues regular contact with Nussmeier and feels like he is firmly in the mix when it comes to picking up an offer. Kearns told me that Nussmeier is giving the offered guys some time to make up their minds before the next wave of offers go out.
Alex Malzone – Brother Rice High School – Bloomfield Hills, MI
The only local product from the entire list, Alex Malzone has put in the effort to make sure the coaches know he’s around. He has visited multiple times, most recently last week, and stays in close contact with the staff. He says since the hiring of Nussmeier the coaches are showing a lot of interest and plan on watching him throw in person after the dead period.
Travis Waller – Servite High School – Anaheim, CA
A relatively new name on this board, Waller is the best athlete of the group. He’s listed as a dual-threat quarterback but also possesses good size at 6’3” and 190 lbs. and a very clean, natural throwing motion. He lit up when I asked him to give me an overview of what’s going on with Michigan.
I’ve been talking to them once a week. I’m building a pretty good relationship with Coach Nuss! He’s a great guy and I can relate to him a lot. Hopefully I get a chance to visit. They are coming down during our spring ball so I’m looking forward to that. What stands out to me was that he plans on doing some spread and pro-style offenses. It shocked me because most schools I have talked to are all spread. I like being under center a lot actually, which most schools don’t know about me. At Michigan I think I could really get prepared for playing QB at the next level.
Waller currently holds four offers from western universities (Arizona, BYU, Colorado, Washington) but says that Michigan is very high on his list. Waller also mentioned that Coach Nuss has to see him throw in person before an offer will be extended.
Coach Nuss said that they won’t offer a quarterback until they’ve seen them throw in person. He actually said he would offer me right now but he needs to see me in person first, which I respect 100%. I’m really looking forward to him coming out to see me throw!
Brandon Wimbush – St. Peters Prep – Jersey City, NJ
Wimbush is another name that has been off and on throughout the Borges regime and into the Nussmeier era. He was once thought to be a Buckeye lock, but the hiring of James Franklin at Penn State has put the Nittany Lions squarely in the mix. His relationship with Coach Nuss has also blossomed and Michigan may be right up there with their Big Ten brethren.
Not much is really new with Michigan, I’ve just been staying in touch with Coach Nuss, we talk about two or three times a week over Twitter. I hope that offer comes man, hopefully sometime in the spring it will. I have to meet Coach Nuss in person first. I’m sure that will go a long way towards an offer. I’m going to try my best to visit sometime this spring. Coach Manning also will be up to watch me throw soon too.
I asked Brandon about the Buckeyes and any other school that is standing out to him and he played it close to the vest saying he has no leader, just all top schools right now. Ohio State did offer him early, but now that a lot of other schools are showing heavy interest he has definitely slowed down and evened out a bit.
Of the quarterbacks that already hold offers Sills and Rosen are both possibilities for a commitment at this point and one of them is technically committed elsewhere. Sills' verbal pledge to USC is viewed as soft at best and Ricky Town is now also a member of the Trojan recruiting class making Sills’s decommitment seem inevitable. His upcoming visit to Ann Arbor looms large as an integral cog in his recruitment.
Each of the unoffered targets all seem to be offer-worthy according to the coaches based on the effort being put forth to stay in contact with them, visit them, and set up throwing sessions for each of them. With each prospect being in regular contact and all showing similar interest it really is difficult to say who the lead dog is right now for a potential offer. The way things have heated up so quickly with Waller and Wimbush leads me to believe that Nussmeier favors them, but he’s made it a point to remain in close contact and keep the other three on the board as well. The Sills visit is the first domino in the series of events involving quarterback recruiting for the 2015 class.
|WHAT||#1 Michigan (23-7, 15-3 B1G) vs. #9 Illinois (19-13, 8-11)|
|WHERE||Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, Friday|
|LINE||Michigan -5 (KenPom)|
|TV||ESPN/WatchESPN (PBP: Mike Tirico; Analyst: Dan Dakich)|
Right: BAIL. [Fuller]
THE PREVIOUS MATCHUP
Michigan and Illinois played once in the regular season: last Tuesday, when the Wolverines eviscerated the Illini for an 84-53 victory in Champaign. This clinched the outright Big Ten regular-season title for Michigan.
A repeat of this would be more than welcome.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold:
|G||13||Tracy Abrams||Jr.||6'2, 190||74.3||25.0||96.1|
|~3:2 assist-to-TO ratio, takes second-most shots on ILL, 39.0 eFG% (woof)|
|G||25||Kendrick Nunn||Fr.||6'3, 180||46.9||18.1||107.5|
|40% 3-pt shooter, improving as season goes on and workload increases|
|G||24||Rayvonte Rice||Jr.||6'4, 235||81.6||26.3||107.0|
|Volume shooter, best at rim, middling jumper, good rebounder, top-200 steal rate|
|G||21||Malcolm Hill||Fr.||6'6, 210||33.4||20.4||96.1|
|Decent rebounder, gets to FT line well, 78% FT shooter, jumper work-in-progress|
|C||32||Nnanna Egwu||Jr.||6'11, 250||73.2||16.3||97.1|
|Top-60 block rate, excellent off. rebounder, low def. rebound #s, not a scorer|
|F||33||Jon Ekey||Sr.||6'7, 225||65.9||14.1||118.3|
|3-pt specialist hitting 36% beyond arc, good off. rebounder, tiny usage & TO rate|
|G||2||Joseph Bertrand||Sr.||6'6, 200||63.4||20.5||99.4|
|Illini's run has coincided directly with decrease in Bertrand's minutes, production|
|F||22||Maverick Morgan||Fr.||6'10, 250||18.8||13.5||104.4|
|Gets spot minutes, solid finisher, good off. rebounder, gets to line, commits a ton of fouls|
Illinois knocked off Indiana 64-54 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament today, giving the Illini their fifth win in six games. In those five wins, they've held their opponents—Minnesota, Nebraska, MSU, Iowa, and IU —to 0.89 points per possession. That lone loss came to Michigan, of course, when the Wolverines scored 1.33 points per trip.
The rest of this is updated from the preview of the first game because very little has changed:
While the Illini defense has been solid throughout the season, they have the worst-shooting offense in the conference on the other end, and a look through their lineup brings forth some awful numbers, like these: point guard Tracy Abrams, a decent passer and solid on-ball defender, takes nearly 24% of the team's shots when he's on the floor—he's shooting 38% from two and 28% from three.
The team's best offensive player is Rayvonte Rice, a bulldog of a guard—6'4", 235 pounds—who takes over a third of his shots at the rim, hitting them at a 63% clip, per hoop-math. He also gets to the line at a high rate, hits 72% of his free throws, and boasts an impressively low 11.5% TORate for a player that relies so much on creating off the dribble. He's not much of a shooter, however, making 30% of his two-point jumpers and 31% of his three-pointers. Rice is statistically the team's best defensive rebounder, which is impressive for him and much less so for the team.
Coach John Groce replaced two seniors, Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey, with freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill in the starting lineup nine games ago; in that span, Illinois is 6-3, and the lineup is slated to remain the same tomorrow. Nunn takes nearly as many threes as twos and connects at a 40% rate from beyond the arc. Hill is holding his own as an undersized four, doing a decent job on the glass while making up for poor shooting from the field by getting to the charity stripe at a 52% rate and hitting 78% of his free throws. Ekey falls into the "just a shooter" category, which isn't too good when hitting just 36% from three, though he's hit some huge shots of late. Bertrand is a worse-rebounding, better-shooting version of Hill, and he gets to the line less often.
The starting center is 6'11" enigma Nnnanna Egwu, who still hasn't put it all together in his junior season. He's a great shot-blocker and solid offensive rebounder, but his 14.3 defensive rebounding percentage is alarmingly low for a center of his size. He boasts a solid mid-range jumper, but his post offense is so poor he's shooting just 43% on two-pointers. For some reason, he's attempted 23 three-pointers, of which he's hit five.
For better or worse, Illinois is stuck with Egwu at the five. Freshman backups Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert play spot minutes, and while their finishing at the basket is well ahead of Egwu's, both players commit a lot of fouls while failing to provide Egwu's shot-blocking. Also, both are somehow worse on the defensive boards.
Colbert's 7.2 DR% is the worst among any qualifying Illinois player—that's 1.1% lower than Spike Albrecht's rate. (EDIT: Colbert no longer plays enough minutes to qualify for KenPom's page, but according to Statsheet his 8.1 DR% is now equal to Spike's.)
Since the last matchup, Illinois knocked off Iowa by three on the road to cap the regular season, then won today against Indiana.
This section from the first preview proved prescient:
Relying on forcing turnovers, especially in the low-error Big Ten, tends to produce results of high variance; Illinois has been very good defensively in the last four games, but they've also been lit up by the likes of Wisconsin (1.34 ppp in Kohl), MSU (1.18 at Ill.), Iowa (1.14 at Ill.), and Wisconsin again (1.21 at Ill.)—aside from last weekend's game in East Lansing, Illinois has had a difficult time shutting down the conference's best offenses.
Illinois forces the second-most turnovers in the Big Ten; they have the third-worst eFG% against. One of these things held up against Michigan.
Offensively, they're not good: Illinois is dead last in the Big Ten in two-point shooting (42.1%) and tenth in three-point shooting (30.4%) while getting to the line at the league's worst rate. Scoring points is the goal of basketball, and it's rather difficult to do without putting the ball in the hoop. Not helping matters is their below-average rebounding. Add it all up and the only Big Ten team with a worse offense is Northwestern.
Play in control. Turnovers sparked the Illinois turnaround of late. Michigan boasts the league's second-lowest turnover rate. Taking care of the ball as the Wolverines usually do will go a long way towards winning this game; even though Illinois isn't great in transition, they still score more effectively on the break than they do in the halfcourt.
Exploit perimeter matchups. Illinois is going to have to defend either Nik Stauskas or Caris LeVert (probably the latter) with a player three inches shorter. Expect a healthy dose of high screens for whomever gets this matchup, especially given how willing John Beilein has been to let his stars rise and fire over shorter defenders whenever they get an opening.
Get out on shooters. Should Michigan come remotely close to a repeat of their first offensive performance against Illinois, the only way the Illini can keep up is by getting unusually hot from beyond the arc. While they're not great from the outside as a team, they've got a few players capable of stringing a few shots together: Ekey, Bertrand, and Nunn, especially.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 5
The NCAA tournament is right around the corner and there isn’t much of a secret sauce for winning six games in a single elimination tournament. Have a future NBAer or three, make your three pointers and hope you don’t face a team who goes on a shooting tear.
But this post isn’t about basketball. College football doesn’t have to face anything like a six game elimination tournament and tends to have a lower game to game variance than basketball does. Be in the top 2 after 12 or 13 games and then win a game after a month off. This year it becomes finish in the top 4 and win two games. What the system has done is create some common threads among its last ten champions.
I am approaching this look at what it takes to be a national champion in two phases. This article will focus on the talent portion and what the recruiting profile of past champions has looked like. Next week I’ll look into some of the advanced stats for on the field performance.
I’ll use a similar methodology as I have before for this work. All players are given a rating from 0 (anonymous 2 star) up to 99 (consensus #1). The ratings are based on all available services at the time of a players signing. The star breakdowns are approximately
5 Star: 70-99 points
4 Star: 40-69 points
3 Star: 20-39 points
2 Star: 0-19 points
The roster is then adjusted for age. First year players only get 25% of their total, second year players get 75% of their points and any players in at least their third year on campus get 160% of their recruiting points applied to the team roster total.* A three star who breaks out still counts for less than a five star who is busted. If you’re on the roster, you keep the points all the way through. It’s not perfect, but it is consistent and quantifiable.
*These numbers are based on historical usage/production of players.
Rosters are then added up based on the profile and age of all players still on the roster for a given season. Each team and unit is then ranked and those rankings versus other teams in that season is what I’ll be using to measure the quality of talent for a given group. A player that has a position change from recruiting keeps his points but they are applied to their roster position, not their recruited position.
I’ll be looking at the champions from the past 10 seasons, a nice round number that happens to correspond to the time period that the best information is available on.
Find out how high the beef (offensive line) ranks on the secret sauce
Average Rank: 11th
Top 5: USC 2004 (2), Alabama 2011 (3), Florida 2008 (4), Alabama 2012 (4)
Outliers: Auburn 2010 (22), Florida St 2013 (24)
2013 Michigan Rank: 25th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2007 (1)
Offensive line is one of the toughest positions to project at the collegiate level, but the shear quantity of players on the roster still leads to a strong correlation between overall recruiting prowess at the position to team success. Four out of ten champions were top 5 level rosters for their seasons but this year’s Seminoles were the lowest rated offensive line unit to hold up the Crystal Football.
Wide Receiver & Tight Ends
Average Rank: 9th
Top 5: Alabama 2011 (2), Florida 2008 (5)
Outliers: Alabama 2009 (29)
2013 Michigan Rank: 34th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2009/10/11 (5)
Wide receivers are a tough position to differentiate the source and the cause but the more studies I do, the more I find wide receiver talent and experience to be highly underrated. Of the four position grouping on offense, none had a higher average rating than receivers and tight ends at 9th. In fact, the 2009 Alabama team was the only team ranked above 11th, even though only one team was higher than fifth.
Average Rank: 15th
Top 5: Alabama 2011 (3), Auburn 2010 (4)
Outliers: Florida 2006 (24), Texas 2005 (25), LSU 2007 (27), Alabama 2012 (34)
2013 Michigan Rank: 14th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2006 (1)
Like the common theme of underrated receivers is the overrated nature of running backs. My working theory on this is that running back success is tied so much to athletic differentiation. As the level of play increases, the margins to exploit that athleticism decrease, as does the value of the position. An elite high school running back can win a lot of games without much help, in the NFL I think you could swap anyone between the 2nd and 20th best back in the league and not see much difference. In college, six teams have won the championship with top 10 running back talent while the other four weren’t even in the top 20.
Average Rank: 18th
Top 5: Auburn 2010 (1), Florida 2008 (2), LSU 2007 (4)
Outliers: USC 2004 (52)
2013 Michigan Rank: 20th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2011 (7)
Quarterback is the one position that doesn’t really fit this study. Only one guy plays and depth is important in the long term but largely irrelevant in contributing to a championship season. More quality rated depth does increase the odds that not only do you have the best guy playing, but he is more likely to be a good option, not just the best guy on the roster. Outside of the top 3, no one else was higher than 10th.
Average Rank: 7th
Top 5: USC 2004 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Florida 2008 (3), Alabama 2012 (5)
Outliers: Alabama 2009 (15)
2013 Michigan Rank: 22nd
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2007 (1)
While none of the unit ranks averaged higher than 9th overall, the total for all offensive positions was higher at 7th overall. Having the best overall talent wasn’t necessary, but it was essential to be in the top tier. The first Saban championship at Alabama was the only one that featured an offensive unit ranked below 11th in talent.
Probably important to have some guys who can do this
Average Rank: 5th
Top 5: Texas 2005 (1), Alabama 2009 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Alabama 2012 (1), LSU 2007 (2), Florida St 2013 (3)
Outliers: Florida 2008 (14)
2013 Michigan Rank: 22nd
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2008 (5th)
Throughout the SEC’s championship run, defensive line frequently came up as the key source of strength. The numbers certainly back that up as defensive line has the highest average roster talent ranking of any position group on the field. Half of the last ten BCS champions have had top two defensive line rosters and only Florida 2008 wasn’t among the top 9.
Average Rank: 9th
Top 5: USC 2004 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Alabama 2012 (1)
Outliers: Auburn 2010 (26)
2013 Michigan Rank: 16th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2005 (6th)
Outside out the four units noted above, the remaining teams have all been between 7th and 12th in linebacker rating. Based on the rankings for linebackers, it’s imperative you’re at the very top, but being in the top 10-15 is critical.
Average Rank: 10th
Top 5: Florida St 2013 (2), USC 2004 (4), Alabama 2012 (5)
Outliers: Alabama 2009 (19), Auburn 2010 (29)
2013 Michigan Rank: 16th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2006 (1)
Like linebackers, the defensive back lineups of national champs is concentrated in a high second tier level. 7 out of 10 champs have been ranked between 4th and 9th.
Average Rank: 5th
Top 5: USC 2004 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Alabama 2012 (1), LSU 2007 (3), Alabama 2009 (3), Florida St 2013 (3), Texas 2005 (4)
Outliers: Auburn 2010 (15)
2013 Michigan Rank: 18th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2006 (5)
Seven of the last ten national champions have had rosters rated in the top 5 with two more at 7th. The only team that wasn’t in the top 7 still had the 6th rated defensive line and had Gus Malzahn and Cam Newton on the other side of the ball. Recruiting is important, defensive recruiting is really, really important.
Average Rank: 5th
Top 5: USC 2004 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Alabama 2012 (1), Florida 2008 (5), Florida St 2013 (5)
Outliers: Auburn 2010 (10)
2013 Michigan Rank: 16th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2007 (3)
You know recruiting is a good metric of national champions when your outlier is still ranked 10th. When you extend the group to BCS Championship participants, there is still only one team ranked higher than 11th (2010 Oregon) to even make it to the title game.
Recruiting isn’t everything but this is a pretty conclusive look that if you are picking title contenders, you can shorten the list very quickly. All champions were in the top 10 in roster talent and all but Florida 2006 and Auburn 2010 had least one side of the ball in the top 4.
With the field expanded to four that at least theoretically opens the door to a more diverse group of candidates. Of teams ranked 3rd and 4th in the final BCS standings, 8 of 20 met the same criteria as the eventual champs. The average roster of the remaining 12 was over 30 about in line with last year’s Michigan State squad that ranked 26th. With four teams in the final playoff, there are certainly more opportunities for an non-elite talent team to win the title, but it will likely take two wins as an underdog to make it happen. I would expect over the next ten years to have a team or two outside of the mold to win a title, but the trend to remain largely intact.
Also clear from this study is the reinforcement that recruiting rankings mean more for defensive players and that the having highly touted and experienced players on the defensive line is the most critical position group on the field.
How Far Away is Michigan?
From a talent perspective, getting closer but still probably another year away. The 2014 team is projected to be #12 overall in roster rankings, with the offense coming in at #14 and the defense ranked #10. The critical defensive line spot is projected at #13. Oregon 2010 is the only team to make the National Championship without better rankings, but 11 additional teams have cracked the top 4.
Michigan’s projection is still climbing. 2015 will be the year that upperclass is dominated by the stronger Hoke classes and overall talent ranking should have a good shot at cracking the top 10. There are still plenty of other issues to be addressed, but from a purely roster stand point, 2015 should be the first year that Michigan’s roster fits the National Champion profile for the first time since Lloyd Carr left in 2007.
Next Week: the on-field metrics strongest correlated to BCS Champions
You know what it is. Just hit play already.
Name: Prentice McKinney
Ht/Wt/40: 6'3" / 180 lbs. / 4.49
Location: South Oak Cliff High School – Dallas, TX (2015)
Offers: Arizona State, Arkansas, Arkansas State, Boise State, California, Colorado State, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon State, SMU, Tulsa
Rating: ★★★ .8563 (247 Composite)
Ranking: #631 NAT / #40 S (247 Composite)
For the Michigan coaches recruiting Texas is a difficult task. High school football in Texas is like a religion so suitors come from far and wide to pluck the rich talent. Also, most Texas prep stars don’t have to leave the state to play big time college football. Even with those hurdles Michigan has made a great early impression on Prentice McKinney.
McKinney was offered by the Wolverine staff on February 16th and he immediately expressed his affinity for what the University of Michigan is all about.
My coach told me to call Coach Funk and then he told me to Call Coach Mattison. I called him and we talked for a while and then he just told me that they were offering me a full scholarship to Michigan. It was great. I really like it because Michigan is big on academics and that’s what I’m all about. They also have a great football team so all around it’s just a big offer.
Prentice and I talked about how it can be tough for Michigan to get kids out of Texas and he had some thoughts about it.
I’m not exactly sure why that is. I know there are a lot of kids that don’t have the money to take unofficial visits to schools in states that far away. They never get to see what those schools are all about. The only way they can is to wait until your senior year but then you only have five visits.
While Michigan does face some big challenges in landing kids from Texas, Prentice is certain that Michigan will be in play for his final decision.
Yes sir, Michigan will definitely be in consideration. They have a high graduation rate, great history, good coaches, and of course they have a great football program. I don’t know a lot of other details yet because I haven’t been up there yet. I plan on visiting though if I can, but it will probably have to be this summer.
Recently 247Sports reported that Michigan had landed in the top group for Prentice and he expanded on that with me a little bit.
Yeah, Michigan is in my top five with Notre Dame, Boise State, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. Notre Dame could be the school for me, I like Notre Dame but my recruiting process is not over. I don’t know if Notre Dame is really my leader. It’s a fight with Michigan. I can’t accurately compare them right now because I haven’t visited any of those schools. I’m just going by their history right now. The visits will be big for me, but if I had to pick today it would be between Michigan and Notre Dame.
Well there you have it. Prentice didn’t leave much to the imagination when it comes to where he stands right now. He spoke more naturally about Notre Dame and seemed to mention them more in conversation so I definitely think the Irish have a lead, but Michigan is right there as he said in his own words. His visits to South Bend and Ann Arbor will be huge in determining who might end up receiving his commitment. As of right now he doesn’t have a trip planned to either campus but both will probably happen during the summer.
0 - Passing interest or none
1 - Let's see if he visits before we talk
2 - Among large (8-15) group under consideration
3 - Contender in a top 3-7
4 - Tentative lead or solidly in a top 2-3
5 – Trending Blue
The Vibe this time isn’t an educated guess as much as it is a report on what Prentice said himself. I selected Notre Dame today for my Crystal Ball selection and don’t plan on changing it unless he is blown away during a visit to Ann Arbor, which isn’t impossible.
On the surface, Michigan's defense shouldn't have experienced the falloff it has this season. While Michigan's young, they're actually a bit older than they were last year. Mitch McGary has not been available, but there has been a groundswell of semi-indignation at Jordan Morgan's omission from the Big Ten's All Defense team.
But backslid they have. Last year's Michigan team finished the year 48th. This year's #48 defense is giving up 97.2 points per hundred possessions, adjusted for schedule. Michigan is well short of this number, at 100.6.
You'll note that this isn't actually that much. Michigan's about 6.6% worse on their possessions this year. The average NCAA defense is in fact 4% worse than last year, what with the rule tightening and virtual elimination of charges. A big chunk of the backslide is everyone's backslide. The rest, well…
The McGary Factor
watching the tourney run prompted this section, yes [Eric Upchurch]
Michigan entered last year's NCAA tournament 11th in the Kenpom rankings. Unfortunately, Kenpom doesn't keep individual running O/D rankings, but Michigan's surge to 48th on D and fourth overall coincided with Mitch McGary beasting up in the tourney. Michigan held a selection of very good teams to under a point per possession. They faced the #32, 21, 34, 12, 29, and 4 offenses in the tourney and held them to 0.97 points a trip.
McGary rebounded everything and stole everything. Michigan kept in contact before their late surge against Kansas thanks to his 14 rebounds. He picked up three steals, as well. McGary had five(!) steals against Florida and 12 rebounds against Syracuse. Jon Gasaway was tossing out stats I can't quite remember but were pretty much "Mitch McGary's DREB rate in the tourney is ALL THE REBOUNDS."
But that was five games. Before that McGary had been limited for much of the year. His impact on the stats is far smaller than his impact in our minds. If you're looking for a reason Michigan's not going to run to the national championship game again, he applies. In a discussion of why Michigan's statistical profile on D is grim he's not a primary driver.
Transition defense is a primary driver, probably the primary driver.
You've probably eyeballed this whilst exclaiming AAAAARRGGGHHH during the year, and your intuition is borne out by the stats. Michigan's actually been fine at preventing transition possessions—defined as shots in the first ten seconds of the shot clock—but they've been a lot worse at preventing dunk-and-open-three city.
This is partially because shots have migrated from two-point jumpers to shots at the rim and threes. They've also been considerably worse at preventing teams from both high-profit areas. While some of this is the new rules emphasis, transition is the part of the game where that has the least impact. Hoop-math doesn't have overall trends, unfortunately. Nor does it fold in free throws. Oh well.
With what we have to work with we can figure that a just over a fifth of Michigan's defense has gone from 1.08 PPP to 1.24 PPP. That is most of the statistical decline right there.
|Morgan committing a block under 2014 rule-type substances. [Eric Upchurch]|
The Insane Near-Abolition Of The Charge
There was a ton of speculation as to whether the new rules would help or hurt Michigan. Survey says: probably both. The good: offense takes off, foul trouble becomes more prevalent without touching Michigan, and Michigan's excellent free throw shooting is more prominent. The bad: Michigan's primary way to defend the rim has become more fraught with peril than ever.
FTAs have gone up nationwide, of course, and Michigan remains one of the country's least foul-prone outfits. They've dropped from first to third in that department. While that doesn't seem like a significant move, remember that thing I said in This Week's Obsession about how things tend to get stretched out at the ends of these Gaussian-ish distributions. Michigan's FTA/FGA allowed last year was preposterous 22.7, 13 points lower than the national average. This year FTAs are about 13% more common nationwide. Michigan is seeing opponents shoot 23% more FTAs.
If Michigan was in the middle of the pack that effect would feature a 40 spot dip in FTA/FGA; since Michigan was the nation's best by some distance a year ago it looks like they're basically the same. They are not.
Most of this is Jordan Morgan clutching his head and shooting imaginary eye lasers at the refs. His fouls per 40 minutes have leapt from 3.5 to 5.3, and one dollar says almost all of that is the charge random number generator being recalibrated away from defenders. The other difference that doesn't seem to be this year's whistle emphasis is increased playing time for the relatively foul-prone Spike Albrecht, who also gets whistled for a lot of ARE YOU SERIOUSLY HIGH RIGHT NOW SERIOUSLY blocking calls.
Free Throw Defense
Michigan was pretty good at it last year (68.5, 118th) and is miserable at it this year (72.9, 321st). Just one of those things. Every time I mention this someone asks about whether the distribution of shots between posts and guards is impacting this, and every time I say "maybe, but if so that is probably just luck as well."
This post was going to be longer. But:
- Michigan is a better defensive rebounding team this year, both in conference and overall.
- Michigan's TO force rate has dropped, but again so has the rest of D-I's. They were 240th last year. This year they are 243rd.
- Michigan's eFG allowed on half-court possessions has gone from 46.3% to… 45.9%. IE, it has improved in a tougher environment to play D.
They're not fouling more, they're not allowing more shots per possession, they're not allowing teams to shoot better in their half court sets. 100% of the defensive regression from last year to this year is on crappier transition D and charges being broken.
Is This Good Or Bad?
Well, it indicates what kind of team you'd like to see Michigan deal with in the tournament: slow ones. Failing that, it seems good that there's such an obvious problem that Michigan can try to mitigate by dumping a ton of practice time into.
On the other hand, we just saw Indiana chew Michigan up in transition, and they're not an efficient team in that department. They are a frequent team, with 28% of their shots coming quickly. But a big chunk of that is Indiana taking debatable shots quickly because they know their half court offense is going to suck. That's an obvious reaction, one Michigan should have seen coming. And yet there were multiple Indiana transition baskets of of Michigan makes. Almost 40% of Indiana's attempts were in transition*. This is not a waning issue.
Michigan has been able to slow down transition-oriented teams this season. Iowa and Michigan State are 6th and 13th at putting up early shots, respectively, and Michigan is 3-1 against those teams with three respectable defensive showings. (The two MSU games look bad because Izzo spent two solid minutes at the end of each game in a foul/matador cycle, but prior to that both games featured MSU at right around one PPP.) In the fourth, Iowa ran out to a big lead with a bunch of threes from Roy Devyn Marble, some of them in painfully wide open transition. 30% of Iowa's shots were fast, they went in at a 75% eFG clip, and Michigan got blown off the court.
I'd rather have one issue that Michigan can mitigate by sending waves of guys back than a big dip in half-court D, so I tentatively suggest this is a hopeful sign.
*[And of course Indiana was crazy efficient in half-court situations in that game. The overall trend is decent—or at least the same—half-court defense, though. Consider it stipulated that if Michigan plays half court D as badly as they did against Indiana, they're dead meat.]