I prefer the shot on the left. So does Beilein. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
After the Nebraska evisceration, I wanted to take a closer look at something we discussed on this week's podcast. Michigan generated 12 more three-point attempts than the Huskers, which added to the growing pile of statistical evidence that the Wolverines have undergone a fundamental shift—not on offense, but on defense. John Beilein gave the money quote on it after the Purdue game:
We’ve made a conscious decision to defend the three-point line, knowing that a tough two is much better to give up than an open three, which we were giving up like crazy in our earlier struggles.
The key number to look at is 3PA/FGA: the percentage of each team's field goal attempts that come from beyond the arc. The offense is shooting threes at the usual Beilein offense rate: 45.3%, 16th nationally. Before this year, Beilein's Michigan defenses haven't been good at preventing opponent three-point looks; his best finish in 3PA/FGA was 108th in 2014, and most of his M teams have been in the 200 range.
This season, Michigan opponents are attempting just 29.0% of their field goals from beyond the arc. That puts the Wolverines tenth in the country.
The shift in defensive philosophy, likely a product of adding Billy Donlon to the staff, has created a massive gap in points generated from the three-point line between Michigan and their opponents. Critically, the Wolverines aren't forcing shots to make it happen. I put together a video of Michigan's three-point attempts (two garbage-time attempts excised) against Nebraska with freeze-frames just before the point of release; there are only a couple questionable shots among the 25:
I did the same for Nebraska's shots. While they had a few wide open looks, Michigan did a much better job of closing out on Husker shooters than vice versa, and that's not even the most telling part of this video—that would be the length of the video itself. What's not in there is the number of times Michigan defenders ran potential shooters off the line, forcing them to take those tough twos instead.
Even if Nebraska had hit their open looks, they had little hope of keeping up with Michigan's offense. Their second three-point attempt of the game came with under five minutes left in the first half; by that point, M had opened up a 20-point lead while shooting 8-for-12 on triples.
As conference champion Purdue found out, it's hard to close the three-point gap on Michigan with two-pointers, even when they're going in at a relatively high rate. It helps, of course, that Beilein's offense also generates great looks inside the arc; Michigan is 12th nationally in two-point percentage. This leaves opponents in a bind. Do they try to match Michigan three-for-three, even though the Wolverines have superior shooters to almost any team they face? Or do they run their normal offense and hope to either hit twos at a remarkable rate or get an off game from Michigan's shooters?
I'm not sure there's a good answer.
[Hit THE JUMP to see the numbers behind the three-point gap.]
Obligatory Daniel Faalele section, now with content
FL OL Daniel Faalele gets his own SI profile complete with Vulcan Bill Brasky stories:
In one of Faalele's early practices Elder taught him to punch the pass rusher with both hands, then grab his chest. During a one-on-one drill that day, Faalele fired his hands to disrupt the lineman's charge. Then one hand disappeared inside the rusher's shoulder pads and the kid went limp. Sensing something wrong, Faalele let go and backed away. "He had grabbed [the defender's] collarbone," Elder says, shaking his head at the memory. Elder clarified: Seize the chest plate of the shoulder pads. "His hands are steel," Elder says. "If he gets them on you, it's over. Doesn't matter if he has good technique or bad technique, it's over."
Faalele's starting to put some steak behind the sizzle as well, impressing at a UA camp:
The massive Australian import created the most oohs and ahhs in the trenches Sunday with his power. He worked up and down the line but most at left tackle, where anyone trying to make a move on him inside felt his incredible punch and it was usually paired with what looked like a finishing move. Faalele buried more defenders than any other lineman on this day and it wasn't particularly close.
Hopefully Michigan's satellite camp appearance will put them ahead of the curve for a dude who can Vulcan nerve pinch guys accidentally.
No public leader for DTR
— Steve Wiltfong (@SWiltfong247) March 5, 2017
Since he was talking up UCLA previously, this is a good sign for Michigan in their pursuit of 4* NV QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson:
Dorian Thompson-Robinson maintains that the schools in his top 12 are all running even, but no doubt he's high on Michigan and UCLA, schools that are scheduled to get a spring visit.
Thompson-Robinson returns to UCLA this coming weekend and Michigan will get him to campus around April 11.
New Michigan offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has made a fast impression and the opportunity to play in a pro-style offense under Jim Harbaugh is advantageous.
Meanwhile UCLA wants to talk to him about being a dentist, because death by electrocution's like life under Jim Mora. The pro-style/dentist statements are not quotes but they do seem like things that DTR told Steve Wiltfong, because ain't nobody else know about dentistry plans.
FWIW, Wiltfong expanded on that short note with a full article. DTR says he's "really built a relationship" with Hamilton in the last couple months; he also repeats the fact that UCLA picking up Jedd Fisch is "huge."
Actual (mostly) scheduled visits
- 4* GA CB Myles Sims has locked in a visit for this weekend. Lorenz previously reported that he was very high on Michigan's board, so this might be a situation to keep an eye on.
- 4* MI OL Ryan Hayes will visit "sometime this month" per Lorenz after being forced to cancel a planned official last weekend. Lorenz implies this is likely to come down to Michigan and Notre Dame, with Greg Frey a major asset since Frey recruited Hayes's older brother at Indiana.
- 4* NJ DT Tyler Friday has set a visit for the 26th, which will be his first trip to AA since a camp appearance last summer.
- 4* NY TE Jeremy Ruckert says he's "going to try" to see Michigan again that same weekend. He's not planning to take his recruitment out much longer than that; with Jay Harbaugh moving away from TE he hasn't met his actual position coach yet. Adam Friedman says OSU is "clearly in the driver's seat," but Adam Friedman.
Obligatory list of new names
- 4* WA ATH Tre'Shaun Harrison grabbed an offer, says he'll visit in the spring or summer, says he's considering academics heavily, and he doesn't care about distance.
- 4* OR ATH Talanoa Hufanga: offer, interest, vague visit plans.
- 3* NC DE/DT Alim McNeill grabbed an offer, says he's focused on a "forty-year decision," and that he has vague plans to visit AA over the summer. He told Rivals that Michigan "will be in it to the end."
- 5* FL CB Patrick Surtain Jr says he wants to visit Michigan, but it sounds like he's got a number of other visits locked in and Michigan is currently up in the air; he does not list Michigan in a group of six leaders.
- 3* NY WR Aron Cruickshank is a slot type who has an offer type substance; trying to set up a visit, Brown reports that he's a "mid-tier target" who interest might ramp up in later.
- 4* FL ATH Amari Burney apparently got an offer back in May; he reports that he doesn't hear from Michigan offer but they are still a "very big player" for him.
Grudging 2019 section
FL RB Cesare Mellusi fields an offer, speaks highly of Michigan. This section exists mostly because of his name.
GA ATH Javonni Cunningham gets an offer; it's his second and Howard is the other so naturally he declared Michigan his leader. Vague visit plans. 2019 CA RB Charles Mincy Jr says Michigan leads amongst his four offers. One of the others is Oregon, so that's not bad.
MI CB Marvin Grant, who's at King, was offered by Iowa. He told Allen Trieu he will be visiting Michigan today. Big Ten offer this early for Grant probably means he'll join the Belleville kids amongst the most sought-after players in the 2019 class.
FL QB Joe Milton, who's the entirety of the Michigan QB board other than DTR at this moment, also impressed at that UA camp:
From drills to one-on-ones even through seven-on-seven work, Milton was the creme of the Orlando crop on Sunday. He is physically impressive on the hoof, tall and well put-together, but his arm was fluid with a quick release through the afternoon.
Scout lists him at 6'4.5", so he's definitely a pocket guy.
MO CB Mario Goodrich reiterates a tentative lead for Michigan early in the process, saying they're "probably at the very top right now." Vague visit plans.
CA CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart says Michigan is a possibility for an official, but doesn't really mention any unofficials and says he might commit in late summer if he's ready.
Former commit and OH LB Antwuan Johnson lists Michigan amongst a number of schools he'll be visiting over the summer. Looks like a team tour kind of thing since there are a wide range of schools on the list, ranging from Georgia and Michigan at the top end down to Toledo and Purdue on the bottom.
CA OL Tommy Brown says he's trying to get money together for an unoffical to Michigan, possibly at their Big Man camp.
Michigan begins to fade for FL DE Nik Bonitto.
We Couldn’t Have One Without the Other
We get to make audio content because we can afford the studio time and equipment to make it happen, and that’s thanks to the people running ads between segments.
The show was recorded in the Michigan Room of the Residence Inn Ann Arbor Downtown. It is presented by the Bo Store, UGP & Moe's, and if it wasn’t for Rishi and Ryan we probably would have jobs we might lose for googling the things we google for work sometimes.
1. That Basketball Season
starts against 1:00
Why doesn’t Kenpom let us sort stats by before and after an Illinois player calls the team “white collar”? Since then Michigan’s been legitimately the 4th best defense in the conference, the 6th best offense in the country, and the second-best team in the Big Ten. Other than Zak Heroball what’s the worst shot Michigan takes?
2. Maverick Morgan Memorial Bracketology
Big Ten MVP is the poker of the bear. Graham Couch’s plan to get MSU to stop gaming RPI to get on the bubble despite an atrocious season is a brilliant one. BTT: Get past Purdue and it’s four games in four days versus the short bench for a B1G title. Will it take that to get off that 8-9 seed line?
3. Gimmicky Top 5: Upside Down BTN Personalities
starts at 50:55
Stephen Bardo set a new record for worst sports broadcast by a sober person, inspiring our top five list of worst BTN commentators.
4. Harbaugh vs Everybody
starts at 1:10:40
We catch up on an offseason’s worth of Jim Harbaugh at the business end of some of the dumbest national media takes in the history of sports hot takes. Why is Pete Finebaum mad about Harbaugh trying to hire an NFL WRs coach? Why is Stewart Mandel hyperventilating about Michigan having exactly 85 players for exactly 85 scholarships? Basically there’s nothing that unethical cheating hypocrites hate more than a competitive, ethical, authentic, rule-abiding innovator.
- "Sabotage"—Beatie Boys
- “All Our Songs”—Built to Spill
- “It’s Raining Men”—Weather Girls
- “Across 110th Street”
THE USUAL LINKS
Livers has a smooth, consistent release. [Bryan Fuller]
My trip last Thursday to Kalamazoo didn't quite go as planned. 2017 hoops commit Isaiah Livers and Kalamazoo Central lost an overtime thriller to 2017 MSU commit Xavier Tillman and undefeated Grand Rapids Christian. I spent the game filming from the stands and planned to deliver a detailed scouting report once I had a chance to go back over the video; the bulk of the video got corrupted.
So this is going to be a little shorter and lighter on detail than I hoped. Maize & Go Blue's Sam Sedlecky, who was also in attendance, helpfully jotted down stats while I was too busy working the camera to take notes. Livers tallied 10 points (2/7 2P, 2/4 3P), 5 rebounds (with one impressive offensive board), 2 blocks, 3 steals, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, and 4 fouls.
Livers got off to a hot start, scoring seven points in the first quarter. He picked up his second and third fouls in quick succession in the second quarter, however, and never fully regained his rhythm in the second half.
It was still easy to see what John Beilein likes in Livers. He played within the confines of Central's offense; his one assist doesn't fairly represent his court vision and willingness to share the rock—if anything, he was too deferential at times. He displayed a fundamentally sound, consistent shooting form; his release is a touch long, but his size and elevation on his jumper helps cover for that, and he can shoot both spotting up or off the bounce.
Livers didn't get much going towards the basket in this game, likely due to his foul trouble and the interior presence of Tillman, who had five or six blocks and altered several other shots. While he's a good ballhandler for a 6'8" forward, he couldn't consistently get past opposing defenders off the dribble—he had the ball swiped away a couple times, including on a critical turnover in the late stages. He looks like he'll be a three-and-D player initially while he refines his offensive skill set.
His defense looked like a strength, especially in transition and on weakside help—those two situations are how he accrued his two blocks, one of which was an impressive chasedown on a fast break. He's got active hands, which had good and bad results in this game; he can be very disruptive but has to be better at picking his spots, especially once he has a foul or two. He showed the ability to stick with smaller players on the perimeter, which will be important—his best shot at contributing as a freshman is to show he can guard threes and stretch fours.
I'd like to see more of Livers before coming to a conclusion about his chances of cracking the rotation next year. Based on what I've seen of him so far, I like his chances of doing so. He looks like a natural spot-up shooter and he possesses the athleticism to develop into an excellent player on both ends. While he's not quite as big, he's got a similar skill set to DJ Wilson. Like Wilson, he's going to need to gain the strength to hold up inside and resist the temptation to float around the perimeter. Unlike Wilson, I think he can be a year-one contributor as a backup 3/4 so long as he shows some comfort in the offense.
3/5/2017 – Michigan 93, Nebraska 57 – 20-11, 10-8
This is not a game column.
God DAMN, Derrick Walton. There was a point last night where Derrick Walton took a terrible shot with verve and élan and it went in and I was neither mad at the shot nor surprised at the outcome. The rest of his night was on that level: 18 points, 16 assists (a program record), 5 steals, and... sigh... one rebound. Walton missing a triple-double because of insufficient rebounds is a killer.
Also killer: Derrick Walton. He is now taking those Chauncey Billups transition pull-up threes and I love them even when they do not go down. He is efficient inside the arc for the first time since he was a freshman, and he's doing Trey Burke things, and he's making himself a verb. If I say a senior has "gone Walton" you know what I mean. Not that anyone is likely to have such a transformation again.
I have gotten in the occasional twitter fight with Minnesota fans who are arguing that Nate Mason should be first-team All Big Ten, and I would just like to state for the record that any such assertions are insane homerism. The only thing Mason has on Walton is volume, and that volume is underwhelming: he's shot 268 twos at a 38% clip this year.
Well then. Michigan's 36-point road annihilation of Nebraska ends their regular season and confirms Michigan as one of the weirdest teams in the country. It also conjures a hypothetical: would you rather be a nine seed that plays like a six or a six seed that plays like a nine? The former team wins a lot of blowouts and drops close games; the latter wins a disproportionate share of close games.
Being a six seed that isn't quite as good would feel better. Michigan is the nine because of their record in games decided by five or less: 3-6. Last year's team was 6-1 and still slid into Dayton. Also last year's team finished the year losing six of their last nine. Michigan's inverted that, albeit in a much worse Big Ten.
So either nearly the same crew of players went from super clutch to not clutch or this is a much better team that doesn't look like one record-wise because their point distribution across games was suboptimal.
An illustration. Nobody really doubts Michigan's sea change on defense anymore. Nonetheless, Nebraska provided an easy before-and-after photo for Beilein: the game at Crisler in January was in the immediate aftermath of the Maverick Morgan White Collar Incident; Michigan won a barn-burner 91-85. Nebraska shot 59% from two and 50% from 3, with Tai Webster torching Michigan for 37.
Yesterday, Webster was held to 8 points; Nebraska shot 53% from 3 and was just 2/15 from three. Ace and Alex have mentioned this before and it bears re-emphasizing after a game where Michigan gave up just 15 attempts from behind the arc: a big part of three point defense is keeping them from being launched in the first place, and Michigan is suddenly very good at that.
A selection of team D stats from last year to this year, with major shifts bolded:
Michigan's now slightly better than they were a year ago because they've offset big declines in rebounding and three-point percentage allowed with more turnovers forced, better free throw D (high five!), and a severe restriction on opponent threes. Even last year's team, which was dead last in the league in 2PT% D and right on the NCAA average for 3PT% D, gave up more points per three attempted than per two.
Obviously this is not a complete picture of the value of two-pointers since you're much more likely to draw free throws inside the line, but in case you've missed the last 20 years of basketball it remains the case that three is more than two even in extreme environments. Michigan's closeout competency surge is the biggest effect of hiring Billy Donlon: Michigan has never (never!) been in the top 100 in that stat under Beilein, and now they're in elite company.
Why Michigan's rebounding has declined is a bit of a mystery. It's mostly the same crew playing with the exceptions of DJ Wilson and Mo Wagner. Those two guys are replacing either wing types or Michigan's 2016 centers, who were Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle. Both of those guys had DREB rates barely over 10%. IE: they were not good rebounders. I maintained last year that Doyle was good at boxing out while letting others grab the ball; Ace theorized that Michigan's stronger closeout game has taken guys away from the basket.
Dunno. Area for improvement next year.
The volume of shift. Ace didn't want to round this and I don't either. Michigan's defense post-Nebraska-torching: 0.998 points per possession. That's a 12 game sample against much better competition* than the bad old days and would have been fourth in the league.
Perspective: Michigan's D improved just as much as Derrick Walton did after Maverick Morgan.
*[That ugly five game stretch to start the conference season is even uglier when you consider that it came against five opponents who were #3, #8, #11, #12, and #13 in offensive efficiency.]
Don't look at it. Use your peripheral vision. Zak Irvin's miserable stretch ended after the Indiana game. Since then he's been middling, hitting 53%/35% from the field on third-banana usage and helping Michigan's team-wide defensive renaissance. With Walton emerging as the team's alpha dog and Wagner either running things inside or throwing entire defensive systems into disarray ("Let's switch bigs on to Walton" –Tim Miles), third-banana, doesn't-dribble-out-half-a-shot-clock, zero-hero-ball Zak Irvin has re-emerged into an asset. Even if there's like one or two hero-balls in there.
Also in post-Maverick surges. MAAR is quietly the sixth-most efficient player in conference play. There was a point midseason where everyone seemed pretty mad at him, including Beilein. That seems like a long time ago, what with MAAR shooting 56/49 in Big Ten play, with many of those two-pointers difficult late-clock takes to the bucket when Michigan can't get anything else going.
One of the key questions on next year's offense is "how does MAAR maintain his efficiency at much higher usage?" He's at 17% now and will probably tack on 5% next year—that's a big leap. Pretty well if he just up that assist rate, I think. MAAR's done something pretty difficult for a guard: his career shooting percentage inside the arc is higher in conference play than it is over the course of the season, for three straight years. The kind of shots he gets are good ones.
Graham Couch time! It's been a minute since we checked in with the only beat writer on the planet who thinks Martin Luther King Day is for lazy people. It takes time to regather yourself after such a take and find the next thing you're going to be spectacularly, inanely wrong about. Couch rises to the occasion:
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – If Michigan State is left out of the NCAA tournament this month, MSU’s non-conference schedule next season should be a who’s who of the SWAC and MEAC, with a couple mid-level MAC and Missouri Valley Conference teams sprinkled in to give the illusion that competition matters.
MSU is in line for a bid mostly because they successfully gamed the RPI by losing to good teams. That's how they're one spot behind Michigan in that metric despite a 25-spot gap in Kenpom, two fewer wins, and the same conference record. MSU beat one nonconference team of consequence, Wichita State; Michigan beat Marquette and SMU. MSU also lost to Northeastern. The only reason to project those teams at or near the same seedline is because the NCAA is still relying on the archaic RPI, and the RPI has rewarded MSU for losing to good teams.
What would the SWAC-and-MEAC schedule do to Michigan State's RPI? Annihilate it. The worst thing you can do as a college basketball team looking to game the system is play teams ranked 300+. Graham Couch's argument is "if the NCAA puts MSU in the NIT, MSU should throw a fit... and put themselves in it." I can't let this zinger languish on Slack:
By and for juggaloes.
Michigan already knew their Big Ten Tournament fate heading into their game at Nebraska. The game still had stakes, however.
One more victory and the Wolverines could feel secure about their NCAA Tournament standing. They wrapped that up early in the second half, then turned their focus to history.
Derrick Walton got his name in the Michigan record book with 16 assists, breaking Gary Grant's mark of 14 through masterful orchestration of John Beilein's offense. Walton also led the team with 18 points and five steals. He turned the ball over only twice.
With his 209th win, Beilein tied with Johnny Orr atop the all-time wins list among Michigan coaches. The final buzzer also required an update to my favorite running stat of the season:
Each of these team's biggest losses this year was to Michigan
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) March 6, 2017
Heading into tonight, Nebraska's worst loss of the season was by 17 points—at Kansas. Michigan doubled that margin and added a bucket for good measure.
They did so in much the same fashion by which they defeated the Huskers at Crisler. Walton played the role of distributor in the first half, working the pick-and-pop with Moe Wagner, who sunk all three of his three-point attempts in the opening stanza. Zak Irvin and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, the other primary beneficiaries of Walton's largesse, joined Wagner as double-digit scorers in the first half.
Unlike the game in Ann Arbor, Nebraska couldn't come close to keeping pace. Tai Webster and Glynn Watson combined for 50 points on 21-for-35 shooting in the first matchup; they had 13 points tonight, going 5-for-17 from the field. The invigorated, pesky Michigan defense forced 16 turnovers and locked down the perimeter, limiting the Huskers to a 2-for-15 performance from beyond the arc.
Walton began hunting his own shot in the second half, especially when Wagner had to sit after picking up two quick fouls. He scored 11 points in the half before Beilein called off the dogs. Michigan pushed the lead as high as 38 on an Ibi Watson fast break layup from Xavier Simpson; Sean Lonergan scored his third and fourth points of conference play on the previous possession.
The final numbers are astonishing. Michigan scored 1.43 points per possession while ceding only 0.88 by the Huskers. They went 20-for-27 on twos, 14-for-27 on threes, and 11-for-14 at the line. Of their 34 field goals, 20 were assisted. With the defense taking away any threat of the outside shot, Nebraska had no means to stay close.
Michigan faces Illinois at noon on Thursday in the 8/9 game of the conference tournament, a fitting start to a postseason run with a much brighter outlook since the Maverick Morgan Revenge Tour began in January. The squad that showed up tonight—and the one that administered to five other teams their worst beating of the season—can play with anybody in the country.