Previously: Gardening Lessons (The Story), Preview Podcast, Preseason All-Big Ten Teams, Point Guards, Wings Part 1 (LeVert, Irvin), Wings Part 2 (Chatman, Wilson, Dawkins, MAAR), Bigs (Donnal, Doyle, Bielfeldt), Media Day Player Interviews, Big Ten Newcomers, Big Ten Outlook Part 1, Big Ten Outlook Part 2
Improvement from the rest of the squad should help M's young centers get acclimated. [Fuller]
Michigan had their first and only exhibition of the 2014-15 season last night, and on Saturday the games start counting for real. Even by John Beilein Michigan squad standards, this is a young group facing a lot of pressing questions, and the answers will determine if the Wolverines continue the remarkable success of recent seasons or fall back to the pack a bit.
There are so many, in fact, that the preseason mailbag will be a two-parter. Today, Alex and I address your questions about the young group of centers, the possibility of more zone defense this season, and proper expectations for Zak Irvin's sophomore season.
The latest mailbag said you're looking for basketball questions, so here's my biggest wonder heading into the season: What should my expectations be for the production from the center position, a position that seems to be a weakness on an otherwise strong team?
Beilein said he wants Mark [Donnal] or Ricky [Doyle] to eventually emerge as The Guy, but if we consider them to be a platoon (can we call it Donnoyle?), what output should we be happy with and what should concern us? Will Mark Donnal be the perfect fit everyone's been talking about (I won't make the age-old comparison), or will he be overpowered by mean scary Big Ten centers? Will Ricky Doyle be a calming presence on the defense or will we see that classic freshman deer-in-the-headlights look too often?
This message got a lot longer than I planned, but it's just something that I've been discussing at length with the basketball beat writers, and I think it's something that a lot of the fan base is wondering. Let me know what you think!
Ace: Let's start with a point of reference. Last season in Big Ten play—which removes Mitch McGary's scattered nonconference minutes from the equation—the combination of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford averaged 11.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.4 turnovers, and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 70.7% from the field.
A few of those numbers are unlikely to be replicated by a trio of freshman centers—while he'll see plenty of time at the four and maybe even the three, DJ Wilson will get a lot of run at the five—and Max Bielfeldt. Morgan and Horford were both very efficient finishers who didn't take jumpers; that's not the case for any of M's current centers—even Doyle is comfortable shooting from mid-range—and just by virtue of them taking more jumpers, that shooting percentage is going to dip. Replacing seniors with freshmen usually means rebounding will go down and turnovers up, too.
All three main center options have scoring potential, though. Donnal missed his only three-point attempt last night and wasn't a major factor on offense, but if he can consistently stretch the defense he should stick as the starter. Ricky Doyle could easily surpass him, however, and even provide the type of scoring that Morgan/Horford did. Doyle is the bigger guy and looks to have more potential as a rebounder—he had an impressive putback last night—and his tape from high school and the Italy trip shows he's adept at finishing near the basket with either hand. Wilson, when he's at the five, will really spread the floor, and he's easily the best passer and ballhandler of these three; he may also be the best outside shooter.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of this excessively long answer and much more.]
11/10/2014 – Michigan 86, Wayne State 43 – 0-0
Hey: basketball. I took in the exhibition, which exhibited various things I'll now detail.
I hope this was just nerves. Freshmen had a rough shooting night with the limited exceptions of Doyle and Dawkins, none more so than Chatman. He airballed his first two threes, took a bad, contested long two, and bricked a THJ-style pull-up long two; he did hit a three late.
On the good side, his other bucket was an impressive drive to the basket with a finish that made a lot of people look at their buddy so they could do this:
He also added four assists and led the team in rebounding with six; he also looked capable of switching on the perimeter at least as effectively as GRIII.
Shooting was never a strength for Robinson—he developed an elbow jumper he was proficient at but hovered around 30% from three—so even if Chatman isn't a great threat from deep Michigan won't be backsliding too much. And Beilein believes he can coach up anyone's three point stroke.
DJ Wilson. Wilson's going to be an interesting case this year. He's skinny as all git out but with his size and hops he's going to be much better at altering shots than anyone on last year's team other than Horford. Michigan has been playing him mostly at the 5 with occasional forays at the 4, and while Doyle's lingering ankle thing has something to do with that you get the feeling that when opponents have a lanky dude in there Michigan is going to counter with Wilson.
I could have sworn Wilson hit two late threes but the box score only gives him credit for one. Foot on the line? Either way he mitigated some of the freshman shooting questions by hitting those late.
Aubrey Dawkins. Skinnier version of GRIII. Can shoot some, 6'6", athletic, not going to create much. Had some issues dribbling.
MAAR. Or "Rahk." Rahk appears to be Beilein's favorite way of saying Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman without taking up nine syllables, and it has its appeal.
Anyway, MAAR has a much better handle than the rest of the freshman and is your third point guard. He had a nice take to the hoop that he followed with a layup that was way too hard; he had a second drive on which he'd gotten an angle to the bucket when his handle betrayed him and the ball looped out of bounds.
He ended up not hitting a shot; early yet.
Center fight. There are four options: Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, DJ Wilson, and Max Bielfeldt. I expect Doyle to emerge into a clear starter, with Donnal giving him a breather. The lack of pick and pop game with Donnal on the court says somethin' about somethin'.
Doyle is both one inch taller and somehow way bigger than Donnal. He seems to have considerably more defensive upside. He's also finished much better around the basket in the two glimpses we've seen of him this fall. Donnal has been a below the rim Morgan type without Morgan's crazy efficiency; Doyle is finishing with both hands easily because he's got those super-huge hands and long arms that allow him to gently deposit the ball on the glass from whatever angle is called for.
This person looks like a person who will finish around the rim. [Fuller]
Wilson will rotate in at the 4 and the 5 depending on matchups and how Chatman's seemingly mercurial shooting stroke is going.
The returning folks. All looked pretty good minus some uncharacteristic three-point foibles (Irvin, Walton, Albrecht, and LeVert combined to go 3 for 12) that we can ignore because we have full-season samples for all those guys in which they hit 40% from deep.
I got this [Fuller]
LeVert looked ready to take on the alpha dog mantle passed down from Burke to Stauskas and now to him. He's taking the late clock shots; his length and ability to get to good spots on the floor mean these are usually okay shots.
Irvin was much more active on the boards, hauling in five rebounds in 29 minutes, and even had shots from within the arc(!). On the podcast we discussed how Irvin needs to be a "three AND" guy this year, whether that's perimeter defense or rebounding or sometimes venturing inside the line. So far so good.
Walton was hampered by a scary-looking injury that turned out to be a cramp; he was very assured on the ball and got to the line seven times—would have been eight if not for the injury.
The rotation. Until such time as one of the freshmen gains enough trust to be put out there in pressure situations, expect the main backcourt sub to be Spike. Beilein's always kept a short bench and Albrecht's utterly reliable with the ball in his hands. This is Beilein's favorite thing. He'll spot Walton for eight minutes a game and then Michigan will have ten or so minutes with both points on the floor, leaving 5-10 minutes for MAAR and Dawkins to scrap over.
A lack of flow. You know it's early and you've got a bunch of freshmen when your guards have to keep yelling at the posts to screen for them. Michigan used its time on offense inefficiently, with several incidents where plays had to be reset because of poor spacing and miscommunication.
In particular, there was one play featuring DJ Wilson where Wilson had two obvious opportunities to drift to the three point line in the corner and either force someone out of the middle or get a good shot. Instead he hung out 15 feet from the basket and neither option opened up. He was far from the only culprit, but that stood out as a moment where I may have been more familiar with Beilein's system than freshman X—I blinked a couple times because I couldn't understand what Wilson was doing.
Beilein seems pretty frustrated right now:
"We don’t have a very good package in, and I’m trying to figure out how that’s happened,” Beilein said. “We held things back today so it’s not on film, but it’s not very far right now. We’re creeping along. We’re moving in the right direction, but it’s really slow.”
He added, “It’s my biggest quandary every day, is whether we can move forward faster. We spend so much time on defense, because we realize that shots aren’t (always) going to drop. It’s hard to believe that we went to Europe and we aren’t further along and we’re not moving as quickly as I would have in past years.”
This team isn't appreciably younger than either of his previous two, which were amongst the youngest in the country. Hopefully they get it figured out before the preseason tourney rolls around.
How to stay good
Michigan endured yet another talent exodus this offseason and has to regress from last year's all-time Kenpom offensive efficiency record. To maintain their elite level they're going to have to make it up in other places. Here are a few candidates.
Rebound some low-hanging fruit. Michigan's rebounding production out of the 3 and 4 spots last year was not impressive. 6'6" PF Glenn Robinson had a 6% OREB rate and an 11.5 DREB rate; 6'6" SF Zak Irvin had a 3.3% OREB rate and a 7.7 DREB rate. Irvin was in fact the least likely guy on the team to get a defensive rebound—even Spike Albrecht beat him out.
A selection of 6'7"-ish forwards in the Big Ten last year:
- Troy Williams, IU: 8 OREB and 15 DREB
- LaQuinton Ross, OSU: 7.5 and 17
- Terran Petteway, NEB: 3 and 15
- Shavon Shields, NEB: 5 and 16
- Jon Ekey, ILL: 8 and 15
- Aaron White, Iowa: 7 and 19
- Melsahn Basabe, Iowa: 12 and 23
- Branden Dawson, MSU: 13 and 21
- Denzel Valentine, MSU: 5 and 18
(Should be noted that the Nebraska guys' OREB rates are a reflection of a team-wide allergy.) It isn't too hard to find guys with much better production. While Dawson and White are rebounding specialists who find a lot of their value as players in what happens when a shot caroms off the rim, no one is going to mistake Williams, Petteway, Valentine, or Ross for D-oriented role players.
Michigan can seriously beef up production here, and so far so good. Chatman led the team with six rebounds; Irvin had five.
Block some dang shots. Michigan had vanishingly little shotblocking on the team last year. Michigan was 308th nationally, and this contributed to their very bad two-point D.
The freshmen promise to change that. Wilson is long and bouncy and once Doyle settles in it's easy to see him getting his share of swats. His arms are oversized. Michigan had six blocks in this game, albeit against a highly undersized opponent. If Doyle and Wilson can block some shots, alter others, and convince drivers to pull up because of the first two items, that goes some distance towards repairing last year's conference-worst two point D.
Get some steals. Steals are great. Open-court turnovers lead to transition opportunities on which Michigan is deadly. Michigan had eight, with the sneaky Spike Albrecht picking up three.
Stay in front. We all love Nik Stauskas but his defense was never a strong suit; meanwhile Robinson was not awesome laterally and gave up some inches to most of the guys he was checking. Replacing Stauskas with Irvin could be a major upgrade—too early to tell yet—and having athletes like Chatman and Wilson who are close to GRIII's level while also being significantly longer should help the D recover from its swoon into the triple digits on Kenpom.
Hooray basketball. Hooray not being scoreless 30 minutes into the game.
Michigan blew out Wayne State tonight in an exhibition that was never remotely competitive. The usual suspects, Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin, led the team in scoring with 16 and 13 points, respectively. Derrick Walton came back from an injury scare—just a cramp, it turned out—to tally 11, while freshmen Kam Chatman and DJ Wilson both turned in nine-point efforts. The team looks expectedly disjointed on offense despite their production; the defensive effort was quite encouraging for a young team's opening game.
That all mattered very little when Austin Hatch, survivor of two tragic plane crashes, subbed into the game with 1:40 left to a standing ovation. The Crisler Center crowd, subdued to that point, nearly burst in nervous anticipation every time Hatch touched the ball, aching for him to take a shot that didn't seem like it would come. Hatch was content to kill the clock in a blowout win. The crowd moaned when not he, but Ricky Doyle, finished a long possession with an easy layup; each time he had touched the ball, his teammates on the bench were literally jumping up and down encouraging him to shoot. He waited.
Then Hatch drew a foul at the top of the key with 12 seconds remaining and Michigan in the double bonus, and the crowd rose once again. The first free throw caught the back iron. The second did not. You're going to want to click that link.
To top it off, John Beilein called a timeout after Hatch sunk his free throw, then wrapped him in a bear hug as he came to the bench.
Words cannot describe the feeling of watching a man who's twice fallen from the sky get to fulfill at least some small part of his big dream. I'm sure Austin Hatch never envisioned his first point at Michigan being this big a deal, a capital-'M' Moment. It was, though, and to see his teammates, coaches, and fans react as they did—special doesn't cover it. The cheers and the hugs and the smiles tell just a fraction of the story, a joyous moment in an unfathomable journey.
Thank you, Austin, for sharing it with us.
TOP FIVE MOST RIDICULOUS GAMES OF THE HOKE ERA
Wide divergence at the bottom. Not so much at the top.
Why I'm skeptical about all timelines, and why I can't say so for certain.
TALKING BIG TEN WITH JAMIEMAC
Penn State-Indiana! Feel the BIG TEN! Also: OSU-MSU and vaguely competitive Purdue-Wisconsin. Basketball talk works its way in at the end.
In tribute to the most ridiculous game ever, songs from the most ridiculous band ever.
"Across 110th Street"
"Cowtown," They Might Be Giants
"Youth Culture Killed My Dog," They Might Be Giants
"Destination Moon," They Might Be Giants
THE USUAL LINKS
I could be done there, but for some reason there are 40 more of these.
I have a problem.
But not nearly as much of a problem as anyone who attended this game. A summary, in lieu of the normal format, because that was not a normal football game, if one is to be so kind to refer to it as "football" in the first place.
[Hit THE JUMP for futility.]