While it's easy to chalk 2015-16 up as another lost season for Michigan basketball, the program made real progress despite again dealing with injuries that would cripple a lesser squad. The Wolverines improved their win total by seven, made their way back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence, avoiding anything resembling the NJIT-EMU experience of the previous season, and saw promising development from some of their younger players.
Yes, there was plenty of bad, but we'll get to that later. Today's focus is on what went right for Michigan in 2015-16 and the implications for next season and beyond.
More MAAR, More Efficiency. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman flashed potential as a freshman, but a wonky jumper, too many turnovers, a low free-throw rate, and early-season struggles finishing at the rim knocked his ORating down to an ugly 92.5.
This season, MAAR was thrust into a far bigger role after Caris LeVert's injury, and he responded by improving every facet of his game. His turnover rate dropped by more than half, he made 57% of his two-pointers in Big Ten play, he reliably knocked down corner threes, he got to the line more often, and while he won't be confused for a point guard any time soon he showed an increased willingness and ability to dish off the drive.
Most importantly, MAAR emerged as the team's most (read: only) reliable shot-creator in LeVert's absence. 33.2% of MAAR's shots came at the rim, the highest rate for a non-center on the team, per hoop-math. After LeVert (32.7%), the next-closest Wolverine in the rotation was Aubrey Dawkins at 22.4%, and MAAR worked a whole lot harder for his attempts at the basket—Dawkins was assisted on 75.0% of such shots, while MAAR was on just 16.4%. Even though MAAR had to go solo the vast majority of the time, he made an impressive 72.6% of his shots at the rim.
In an offense spearheaded by Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, two players who have struggled to create and finish shots at the basket, that ability takes on paramount importance for next season. If MAAR can increase his usage—still at a relatively low 16.3% this season—while maintaining the efficiency he had this season, he could easily become the team's top option, especially if he improves as a passer out of the pick-and-roll. That would allow Walton to play off the ball more often, the role he's been best at in his Michigan career, and take pressure off Irvin to be an off-the-dribble creator, something he's improved at but still doesn't look totally comfortable doing.
Weezy, Freed. Save a few anomalous performances by Mark Donnal, the center position was a major sore spot this season, but there's renewed hope for next year after the late-season breakout of Moe Wagner.
Over the last four games of the season, Wagner went 9/9 from the field—including a three-pointer—with six offensive rebounds and four blocks in only 55 minutes. He was far and away Michigan's best pick-and-roll big, catching opponents square with his screens—he freed up Derrick Walton on the last play of the Indiana BTT game, forcing the help that opened up Kam Chatman in the corner—and showing great instincts for when to slip to the basket; it helped that he was a more reliable catcher and finisher than Donnal or Ricky Doyle, too. Despite being a skinny freshman, he showed he can hold up in the post on defense and potentially be a sorely needed rim protector.
Wagner's potential is tantalizing. At 6'10", he's got the frame to easily add 15-25 pounds and return next season in the 240-250 range. He dunks when Michigan's other big men go for layups. He has the athleticism and length to alter shots, run the floor, and even beat big men off the dribble. He made 71%(!) of his two-pointers as a freshman. If he can stay on the floor—a big question given his 7.3 fouls/40 minutes mark—he could turn the center spot from a negative into a positive in just one season.
Duncan Robinson. Even after an extended late-season slump—which, given Robinson's lofty standard, meant he made a mere 35% of his three-pointers in conference play—the D-III transfer proved he could more than hold his own at the highest level of college basketball. His shot chart remains a thing of beauty:
Robinson's dropoff can be attributed to issues that should be mitigated next season. He played more games than he ever had before while simultaneously facing a much higher level of competition. Opponents increasingly game-planned to eliminate Robinson as Michigan's other offensive weapons went down to injury or proved ineffective. With a year of D-I experience under his belt and what should be an improved group of players around him next season, Robinson should better be able to maintain his torrid early-season shooting pace. He showed signs of perking up at the end of this season, too, making 5/10 threes in the NCAA Tournament.
While Robinson would be a valuable starter based on his outside shooting alone, he rounded out his game as the season progressed. He drove to the basket more often late in the season, and while he wasn't great at finishing through contact, he shot a solid percentage near the hoop by using the basket to help shield him from defenders—the reverse layup off a baseline cut is becoming something of a signature for him. He went from being a terrible defender to merely a below-average one, separating himself from Aubrey Dawkins in that regard.
Robinson isn't quite Nik Stauskas 2.0—Stauskas created far more offense off the dribble—but Michigan ideally only needs him to be a second or third option in the offense instead of being the go-to guy. With more strength to finish drives after another summer of Camp Sanderson, Robinson should be a closer facsimile to Stauskas next season.
Derrick Walton's rebounding. At 6'1", Walton finished 14th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding rate. Yes, some of that is due to the rebounding strategy put in place by the coaches—the big men seal off while the guards crash—but it's still ridiculous. While the rest of Walton's season was a disappointment, his remarkable ability to grab contested rebounds over bigger players shouldn't be overlooked.
Saturday will be the first time anyone is happy with a local football team at Ford Field
Michigan's Ford Field practice has been thrown open to the public, with one slight catch: you've got to reserve tickets on the Detroit Lions' site. Noon to four PM, Saturday. Pretty cool, you guys. A hypothetical second round game in the NCAA hockey tournament would be at 6 PM so no overlap there, thankfully.
So this happened, and it's kind of a big deal if you like hockey:
— Big Ten Hockey (@B1GHockey) March 23, 2016
Assorted takes to follow.
Yes, it's a good idea
There's been a ton of bitching about this move on both sides, which I expect from NDNationers literally still upset about something that happened in 1910. I expected less of that from the Michigan side of things but our thread here is about 80% "f*** Notre Dame." I wish Bo had never said "to hell with Notre Dame." It is the crying Jordan of things Bo said.
I downvote all of you metaphorically. Michigan and Notre Dame should play. In hockey, in football, in whatever. Curling. Sure, curling. They have a strong AD and quality revenue programs, they are a historical rival, they are a geographic fit. Not playing them—not wanting to play them—is juvenile.
This goes double for hockey given the situation the Big Ten finds itself in. Simply put, the schedule is much better off with four games against the Irish than it is without those games. (Especially because those will be home-and-home weekends.) The league is much better off with Jeff Jackson in it than outside of it.
The downside is… what, exactly? Notre Dame will feel less pressure to join the Big Ten in all sports? If you think hockey factors into that decision one iota I have news for you.
No, don't add Arizona State
A seven team conference is a bit odd but is doable. The league schedule expands to 24 games, one team is on a bye they can fill with a nonconference series every week, it's fine. FWIW, Brad Traviola says an eighth team is not currently on the table:
Notre Dame makes seven, and Big Ten deputy commissioner Brad Traviolia said there are no current plans to expand to eight. Some Illinois and Nebraska fans wish their club team would upgrade to varsity, but such a move requires major funding and proper facilities.
Moving to eight gets tricky. Options:
- 28 game conference schedule. With 28 conference games your nonconference gets very restricted. Michigan and MSU are in the GLI every year and the cap is 34, leaving just four slots for new teams. This was the worst thing about the 12-team CCHA.
- 14 game conference schedule. Opposite problem, nowhere near enough.
- Two divisions of four, 20 game conference schedule. This was more or less the CCHA's solution after they went to 12. They rotated pairs of teams through groups of four so the schedule did change up.
- Play everyone three times, 21 game conference schedule. Logistically difficult. Some of the odd games could be taken care of in switch weekends like the old College Hockey Showcase. M would travel to Minnesota for Friday and head to Wisconsin on Saturday while MSU did the opposite, that sort of thing. The eighth team would probably have to be a geographic pair for Penn State, though, and there isn't one that makes sense. I mean, Robert Morris is in Pittsburgh but do we want to add Robert Morris?
All of these have costs in a way that adding team #7 does not, and so the hypothetical eighth team had better be worth it. A team in freakin' Arizona with zero history is not worth it, especially when the Big Ten does not need another RPI anchor. Arizona State doesn't have a name brand in any sport, let alone hockey.
Yes maybe add someone else
There are teams that would be worth it if they were amenable. Foremost is North Dakota, a fierce rival of Minnesota and Wisconsin who Michigan also has a ton of history with. North Dakota is an incredibly well-supported program that would bring a buzz to Yost every time they showed up.
As a Midwest-ish state flagship school, North Dakota fits the Big Ten reasonably well. Bringing them in would mitigate some of the Minnesota hate for the new arrangement. It would improve the overall quality of play. It avoids some of the optics problems with adding a school with a bunch of other D-I programs—North Dakota is D-II in everything else. [Update: this is no longer true.] If they want in the Big Ten would be dumb to say no.
Would they? I think they probably would. Despite being perennially one of college hockey's best teams, just four North Dakota games were on national TV this year. From the Big Ten's perspective you do get a small bump by adding North Dakota, the state, to the footprint. And as mentioned, UND-Minnesota was the fiercest rivalry in college hockey once Michigan State went into the crapper. (And probably before that.) NoDak is the easy #1 choice.
If the Artists Formerly Known As Sioux don't want to come, there are other programs that would be worth it:
- Miami. Quality program with a new rink. Hating on Enrico Blasi is great fun. Geographic fit makes three-game league configuration feasible.
- Whichever Minnesota program the Gophers want. St. Cloud, UMD, whatever. Good programs that will be good in the future. Mitigates Gopher hatred of new league. Geographic fit.
- Western or Ferris. Neither team is going to knock your socks off with their on-ice performance but they are a geographic fit and old CCHA rivals.
Let's Play Hockey suggested Miami along with Arizona State, UConn, and UNO. Only Miami should be a viable contender amongst those schools. UConn has most of the baggage ASU does and is already in Hockey East. The only reason they would join the Big Ten is in the faint hope that would be a prelude to joining in all sports, and see Notre-Dame-to-the-Big-Ten-in-all-sports above for my take on that. UNO is a good program vaguely in the footprint but it's not much better or worse than a lot of schools a lot closer.
Notre Dame keeping its NBC contract is good
This is not the right take at all:
Keeping the TV contract is what actually surprises me the most about Notre Dame to B1G in hockey. B1G flinched. https://t.co/cQ4i3ifJwG
— Matt Wellens (@mattwellens) March 22, 2016
This isn't basketball or football. The BTN cannot televise all of its hockey. Other channels pick up games for the rest of the league all the time; there is no reason not to allow Notre Dame to do the same. Meanwhile now I know two road games will definitely be on a channel I get. From a fan's perspective anything that gets a game on TV is good; the NBC contract takes pressure off the Big Ten Network's limited programming space.
Now we can definitely do the State Championship thing
Trophies are good [Patrick Barron]
Notre Dame now becomes an obvious choice to fill out the field for the Michigan hockey championship I've been advocating since the dissolution of the CCHA. There are seven hockey programs in Michigan spread across three conferences now; they should play each other, and they should give someone a trophy for it.
Add Notre Dame in now and divide the eight teams into groups of four that switch annually. Michigan and MSU are never in the same group. Two WCHA teams are in each group. Hypothetical groups:
|Group A||Group B|
|Ferris State||Michigan Tech|
|Northern Michigan||Notre Dame|
Each team plays the others twice. Teams in the same conference have an early-season conference series that counts towards the standings without adding additional nonconference commitments. The top two in each group advance to the GLI. The bottom two play a consolation round at the Joe either a couple days before or at the same time. Hand out a big ass trophy to the winner.
This is a:
- Six-game commitment for the WCHA teams, ND, and one of M/MSU.
- Eight-game commitment for M/MSU every other year and WMU.
Michigan, MSU, and MTU have already committed two of those games with their annual participation in the GLI. With a 24 game conference schedule Michigan would have 2-4 dates to play with annually and could still go out to Boston, play a tomato can, that sort of thing.
It is doable, and it would make the GLI a bigger event. It would provide a semblance of the old CCHA and amp up early season nonconference games. It's more or less adding an FA Cup to the college hockey schedule. The state of Minnesota would probably follow suit in short order.
Maybe things can start making sense now
ND to the Big Ten makes sense. Could this be a new era of not shooting yourself in the foot in college hockey? Please Tiny Jesus make it so:
No regional sites have been selected past 2017. And, according to Kristin Fasbender, the NCAA’s director of championships and alliances, the committee and the college hockey body as a whole will explore whether a new structure to the regional portion of the tournament, which could include playing games at campus sites, is a more viable option.
“I think there is continued conversation about [changing the regionals],” said Fasbender. “The committee keeps talking about what [the tournament] looks like when we go forward.
“We’re in a year here where at our four regional sites, none of our host institutions are in them. So I think we’ll continue to have this conversation as we get into the championship in Tampa and at the coaches’ association meetings in April and the [NCAA Division I men's ice hockey] committee meetings in June and trying to talk more about what we want to continue to look at globally for the whole tournament as we go forward.”
It's long past time to move to campus sites. North Dakota earned the opportunity to host a regional. Instead they're in Cincinnati, playing in front of nobody. But I'm a broken record about neutral site college hockey.
Don't overlook this sick Rutgers burn
Red on the move:
“Expansion is brought up every time the Big Ten is mentioned so (the move) is a good step in the right direction,” Berenson said. “It makes sense geographically. It’s not like we’re going out to play Rutgers or something. We’re playing a team that is in the Big Ten footprint.”
Oh snap, Delany.
The Question: How does Kyle Connor compare vs. the Michigan forwards you've seen?
David: So, my first year of season tickets at Yost was my junior year in college, 05-06. I vaguely watched Michigan hockey in the previous years before, but I made a concerted effort to follow the team, game-by-game, during that 05-06 campaign. I went to a couple of games (and watched a few more on tv) during my first couple years and I remember them losing to BC in '04 and the Colorado College Collapse in '05, but my serious Michigan Hockey fandom began the following season. I just looked up a ton of stats from that 04-05 team and they scored A TON. Eight skaters had double digit goals and thirteen (!!) had 20+ points. Unfortunately, I'll have to let our resident old dudes talk about Tambellini, Hilbert, and Cammalleri.
From what I've seen, I think Connor has to be the best. Not only does his pedigree match up (torched the USHL), but his exquisite skill (see the GTG on Saturday) and sheer volume of production -69 points in only 36 games- exceed anyone else in the last decade (Hensick took 41 games to get 69 points).
My quick Top 5:
5. Carl Hagelin. Our favorite Swede never quite got to 20 goals and only once to 50 points. Hagelin was a terrific skater, a terror on the PK, and maybe the fastest I've seen at Yost. Just never hit Elite in terms of production. He's carving out a nice NHL career, though.
[After the JUMP: Comrie, Cam, Ort, Hagelin, Larkin, Porter, Hensick, Tambo…?]
Orchard Lake St. Mary's linebacker Josh Ross followed in his brother James' footsteps when he announced his commitment to Michigan yesterday morning. The younger Ross showed strong interest in the Wolverines since he emerged as a freshman starter at OLSM; such strong interest, in fact, that according to Steve Lorenz other coaches saw his commitment as a foregone conclusion:
Well over two seasons ago, a coach on another staff offered Ross. When I asked them about their belief in their chances, the answer was pretty simple.
"He's going to Michigan," they said. "We just really like him and his family, so we offered so I could keep in contact with them."
With Ross, it was never really a matter of who he was going to choose, it was when.
In spite of this, Ross put together one of the more impressive offer sheets in the Midwest. He's Michigan's sixth commit in the 2017 class, the first at linebacker, and the third from in-state, joining Oak Park OT JaRaymond Hall and Brother Rice TE Carter Dunaway.
4*, #10 ILB,
4*, #9 OLB,
4*, 81, #11 OLB,
4*, 92, #6 ILB,
4*, #7 ILB,
While the four sites are split as to whether Ross is an inside or outside linebacker, they're generally in concordance on his ability—all have him in the 150-250 range overall. Ross is a good prospect who's not quite in the elite tier.
There's most disparity regarding his size. Rivals lists him at 6'0", 219 pounds; ESPN at 6'1", 220; Scout and 247 at 6'2, 225.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the post.]
[Huge thanks to Steve Sharik for getting a lot of this for me]
He's got nickel down. Also Sam, Rover, Money, Jaguar, Tractor, Dog, Pup, Cat, Bandit, Greyhound, and Aardvark. Read on to find out which two of those are not actually Don Brown positions that Peppers will play. [Bryan Fuller]
We had some bona fide MGoDudes attend the coaching clinic and the open practice in Florida, and they've reported back with a wealth of information about the new Michigan defense.
Coach Steve Sharik is writing up a full feature on it for HTTV, and in the course of editing that we went through all of the standard (and some of the non-standard) positions and terminology. I thought that would be extremely valuable to those of us trying to parse the coachspeak all spring, and figure out exactly what position various Guys and Dudes and whatnot are playing.
This week I thought I'd tackle the 4-man fronts that Michigan will run as their base defense. Brown also has myriad 3-man fronts (whence Winovich) that I'll get into next week.
Here are the two basic 4-man, or as Brown calls 'em, "70" fronts: 71 and 72.
These two alignments we'll see most of the time on standard downs, with personnel changing based on what the offense has in there. If you didn't spot the difference between 71 and 72, it's how the nose and end are aligned. In the first the nose is over the center (a 1-technique) and the end is in a 5-technique off the weakside OT. In 72 those guys have shifted over some, putting the nose over the guard (2-technique) so the end can split out wider. The first is stronger against inside runs, the second gives the end an easier path to pass rush or play a zone read.
And here are the base positions:
Let's meet them.
[After the jump: What's an "A", what's the difference between a Sam, a Jaguar, and a Money, and what the hell is Peppers?]