Mailbag: Big Man Rotation, Dealing With Withey, NBA Departure Odds, Big Puppy's Breed, Unhappy Visitors
I received a recruiting mailbag question via email and, in the process of requesting more questions on Twitter, this mostly turned into a basketball mailbag. So, here's a hoops mailbag with a couple of bonus football recruiting questions, I guess.
Starter of the future, also starter of the present (Photo: Bryan Fuller)
Do you think that Morgan getting rest against VCU could help him have a serviceable/good game against Kansas? — @carlseikoll
This is the first of two questions about the big men, so let's focus on Jordan Morgan's situation for now. He got a lot of rest against VCU—the whole game, in fact—on the heels of playing just one minute against South Dakota State and 18 combined minutes in the Big Ten Tournament.
It'd be nice to pin the blame for Morgan's reduced role on his midseason ankle injury, but I think we're beyond that point—he played over 22 minutes in each of the four games leading up to the BTT. It's entirely possible that coming back from the injury too soon sapped his confidence, especially in his ability to get lift off the floor and go up strong when finishing with the basketball. Or a bad stretch of games and subsequent benching may just be getting in his head.
Whatever the reason, it seems unlikely that John Beilein would keep Morgan nailed to the bench in the VCU blowout—not giving him the chance to regain some confidence in a low-risk situation—only to have a big role in store for him against one of the nation's best teams (and best big men). Which leads to the next question...
What is the hierarchy of McGary, Horford, Morgan, and what they can do to stop Withey? — @stephenjnesbitt
Mitch McGary is the starter at this point, a point I doubt anyone will dispute. He's emerged as both the team's most consistent and productive center, and as long as he stays out of foul trouble he should play the majority of the team's minutes from here on out.
Given the above, Jon Horford is the next man on the floor, and Morgan should be used either sparingly or only in case of emergency. While this rotation worked out great in the first two tournament games, however, there's reason to worry heading into the Kansas game.
The reason, of course, is Jeff Withey—a real, functional, productive big man, something Michigan didn't really see in the first two NCAA games. I don't think there's a huge gap between Michigan's three big men offensively, aside from McGary's stellar offensive rebounding; all three aren't players Beilein is going to post up often, especially against one of the country's best shot blockers. Against Kansas, whoever's playing center won't do much more than set picks and fight for putback opportunities.
The difference will come at the defensive end. Morgan has certainly struggled in the last couple weeks, to the point that I don't think Michigan can confidently throw him into the fray on Friday; that's a problem, because he's still by far their best on-ball post defender, and Withey is a skilled post player with a high usage. McGary, meanwhile, has done everything well recently except defend on the ball—overlooked in his performance against VCU was the Rams' lone big man, Juvonte Reddic, scoring 16 points on 7/11 shooting in 24 minutes, with only one of those baskets coming off an offensive rebound. McGary is also foul-prone, though not as much as Horford, who commits a sky-high 6.4 fouls per 40 minutes.
I still don't think Morgan will play much, if at all. If he does, it will be because Withey is terrorizing the defense in the post. The best thing Michigan can do against Withey on Friday is to try to lure him away from the basket as a shot-blocker—expect a lot of pick-and-roll action—and look to deny him post touches defensively. This is one of the worst games for the Wolverines to be without a full-strength (mentally and physically) Jordan Morgan, but that's the way the ball bounces.
[Hit THE JUMP for the odds of Michigan's underclassmen jumping to the NBA, searching for Big Puppy's breed, and a couple of recruiting questions.]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Kansas|
|WHEN||7:37 PM Eastern, Friday|
|LINE||Michigan –1 (Kenpom)|
I'm putting this at the top here because it's good at providing a framework for the whole team. Four factors. Ranks are in parentheses and out of 347.
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||53.2 (26)||20.4 (201)||34.1 (94)||40.3 (65)|
|Defense||41.1 (1)||18.5 (253)||29.2 (69)||32.3 (83)|
One game after taking on the #1 turnover-generating team Michigan takes on the #1 eFG% defense team. Kansas is #1 in two-point D and excellent at three-point D, probably because their perimeter defenders are long and do not have to sag as much. Withey solves a lot of problems in the paint, propelling the Jayhawks to #3 in block percentage basically by himself.
Weaknesses include TOs at both ends, though on defense that looks like a conscious decision to funnel people to their shot blocker and not an actual problem-type substance. The TO rate on offense is unambiguously bad, and if my viewings of Kansas games so far this season is representative that's just Kansas chucking balls every which way.
#23 Ben McLemore is projected to be the second pick in the NBA draft by Chad Ford and may go #1 depending on who gets the top pick and what they think about Nerlens Noel and his knee. This is reputed to be an extraordinarily weak year at the top of the draft, but still. When he jumps he seems to glide upwards almost supernaturally.
Really "Hey Man Nice shot," clip assembler guy? Really?
He's Kansas's highest-usage player, but he doesn't reach focal point levels like Burke and his super-high usage kin. He takes a lot of threes—just under half his shots—and knocks them down at a 43% clip. He's also efficient inside the line (56%) and a Stauskas-level free-throw shooter. He doesn't get a ton of FTs and his assist to turnover rate is meh; he's about filling it up. He's a GRIII-level finisher at the rim who doubles as Stauskas from deep. Yipes.
So far he has not done that in the tourney. He had a meh eleven points on nine shot equivalents in the 1-16 matchup; he flung ugly bricks against the scoreboard for the duration of the UNC game, scoring two points on ten shot equivalents, both of those at the free throw line. This guarantees he will go 8/10 from three against Michigan.
Try to get him to take two point jumpers, I guess. Easier said than done. Hardaway will check him. He shut down DJ Byrd, you know.
THIS IS NOT GOING WELL THIS IS BAD I SHOULD GIVE THIS SPORT UP –#3
#5 Jeff Withey is not only a defensive force, he also shoots 58% from two and gets to the line consistently with an acceptable-for-a-big 18.0 TO rate. Hoop Math says he's actually Kansas's best shooter inside the arc (at least amongst folks with an appreciable number of attempts), hitting on 40% of his two point jumpers.
Meanwhile on the other end of the floor:
Dude doesn't just erase shots, he puts them in the hands of his teammates. Michigan probably has a bit of an advantage here—actually more of a mitigated disadvantage—since half of Withey's blocks come on guys he's defending straight up. (Is this normal or boggling? It feels boggling.) That's an avenue Michigan rarely uses.
Still. If you've watched these guys this year you know how difficult layups become when he's on the court. The grim FG% on non-transition shots* at the rim Hoop Math has is evidence enough:
- Post-rebound, at rim (19% of shots): 38%
- Post-score, at rim (42% of shots): 45%.
For comparison, Michigan FG% defense numbers in those situations are 63% and 57%.
The difference is huge. Enormous. Hugenormous. I like John Beilein just fine but whenever he picks up a commitment from a guy who might play the five who isn't a 7'3" dude from Senegal with never-ending arms I'm like "d'awwwww." Withey is the difference between Kansas, one seed, and Kansas, probable first-round losers to Bucknell again.
He picks up 2.7 fouls per 40, too. If Michigan can get him into foul trouble, that is enormous. It is highly unlikely.
*[ie, shots not in the first ten seconds of the shot clock.]
#15 Elijah Johnson is a point-guard-ish player. He's got a top 200 assist rate and a TO Rate just about as high; he doesn't get to the line and shoots 76/43/33. No Kansas player has outlandish usage; he, Withey, and McLemore are the most frequent shooters. Johnson is the guy you want absorbing those attempts. He's barely above 50% at the rim and shoots 33% on two-point jumpers. His three rate is acceptable, though. Run him off the line without giving him an opportunity to set someone up for a dunk and you're probably good.
Small forward Travis Releford is a transition fiend, as detailed by Luke Winn earlier this year:
as of January 30th; doubt much has changed there
A third of his shots are in transition. Whoever ends up checking him will have to abandon the boards entirely and flee downcourt as soon as the ball goes up.
Because of the high proportion of transition buckets it's hard to get a picture of him as a player in the half-court. His efficiency numbers are off the charts: he shoots 78%/66%/41%. Despite doing that he's the Kansas regular with the lowest usage rate—and once you adjust for transition that would be by a mile. Weird player. I mean, in 36 minutes against TCU Releford had one point on two shot equivalents for a—drumroll please— 6% usage rate. It seems like if you can keep Kansas from running on you Releford is going to get very few attempts from inside the line.
Power forward #40 Kevin Young is the fifth option. He plays about half of Kansas minutes, hits 57% of his twos and rebounds both ends well. He's a garbage man. 70% of his shots are at the rim, many of which are generated by his 13.3 OREB rate, and he hits just 30% on his two point jumpers. Keeping him off the boards is tough; doing so will reduce his offensive contribution to a few attempts, no more. FWIW, he's a 60% FT shooter so if he's got an easy two lined up Michigan shouldn't hesitate to put him on the line.
Kansas's bench is almost precisely as short as Michigan's. The two teams are 325th and 326th in bench minutes, with Michigan very slightly more generous. The Jayhawks have one perimeter backup of any significance, #1 Naadir Tharpe. He's a 5'11" point-guard-type player with a decent assist rate but a TO rate over 20. His shots are split about evenly between threes he hits at a 34% clip and twos he hits at 36% with extremely rare three throws. A Tharpe jumper from inside the arc is a good thing for Michigan. Note that unlike anyone else on Kansas, Tharpe will jack up contested threes.
Kansas has a couple of 6'8" freshmen backing up their two post spots. #34 Perry Ellis is the better of the two, a good rebounder with an extremely low TO rate who doesn't shoot effectively (47%) but does get to the line frequently and hits his free throws. #31 Jamari Traylor is a guy who puts up very few shots at a 42% clip and turns it over a lot. It's 4 on 5 when Traylor's in on offense.
Kansas lost to Michigan State in their second game of the year in a game that, insanely, was in a dome in Atlanta. They recovered to blitz eventual four-seed St Louis by 14, eventual ten-seed Colorado by 46, and eventual 11-seed Belmont by 29. The epic nonconference hammering stopped there but they also added wins against Ohio State (by eight) and Temple (by seven) before Big 12 play.
In the league they went 14-4, winning it, and took the tournament crown without breaking a sweat. Big 12 play was weird. You of course know about the stunning TCU upset—imagine losing to a version of Penn State that is 129(!) spots worse on Kenpom. That game was sandwiched by losses to both Oklahoma teams, and in their last regular season game Baylor blew them out by 23. (Baylor shot 60% from two and 50% from three, which… WTF.) Add in three OT wins and Kansas's Big 12 season was probably their shakiest in a long time.
Then they trailed at halftime to Western Kentucky and North Carolina, beating the former by only seven. Their lights-out second half against the Tar Heels turned a nine-point deficit into a 12-point win.
It's worth noting that Kansas's struggles in the first couple rounds came on what was a de facto home court. The Jayhawks played three nonconference games and the Big 12 tournament at the Phone Company Center in Kansas City. By the time they finally blew past North Carolina they were into the second half of game eight at the same dang place, one far more partisan than the blue/green divide in Auburn Hills.
I, Brian Cook, promise to not complain about a single Trey Burke stepback jumper in this game. Doesn't matter where it's from, how much time is on the clock, or how nasty it is.
Foot on the three point line, fine. I cede all of the things to Trey taking jumpers in this one, because Jeff Withey can only watch when that happens and Trey is dang good at hitting them.
Also as of January 30th; Luke Winn's power ratings that week were an inadvertent Michigan-Kansas preview.
The relative efficacy of those shots goes up immensely when Withey is waiting inside. Withey blocks don't just erase shots, they erase possessions 75% of the time and fuel Kansas's lethal transition game. If Trey wants to pull up on the pick and roll and take a pretty good shot that has a pretty good chance of seeing Mitch McGary flush it even if it misses, okay. If he wants to run to the baseline and pull up for his leaner, okay. If he wants to step back and rise up, okay. Okay Trey, okay. Her life is in your hands.
MAKE YOUR DANG THREES. 30% isn't going to cut it, and the quality of the looks is going to be worse. But Stauskas, Hardaway, and Burke have proven they can hit some dang threes even if they're ideas that seem not so great until the ball goes through. Unless Kansas goes through one of their phases where they can't get out of their own way—not out of the question—Michigan is going to have to have a nice day from the outside to move on.
No transition. This goes part and parcel with the above: Kansas's offense is hugely efficient in transition and can struggle in the half-court. Michigan's turnover avoidance sets them up nicely to avoid conventional sources of fast-break buckets against (see also: 4 VCU fast break points).
Kansas gets bonus fast break opportunities from Withey crushing shots. Some of that is inevitable; keeping that down to four points provided instead of ten could be the difference in what projects to be a tight game.
Keep out of foul trouble, Mitch. Withey draws 5.1 fouls/40; as a team, Kansas is 65th in getting to the line. McGary is operating on a level beyond the other two posts at the moment; Michigan needs him on the court. Is he going to play 34 minutes again? Probably not. If he's stuck at 15, Michigan's in trouble. 28 they can probably live with.
Generate extra possessions. Kansas's games against WKU and North Carolina were competitive despite opponents shooting 39/15 and 31/29, respectively, because the Jayhawks were intent on giving their opponents every opportunity to stay in contact. Against the Hilltoppers Kansas had 17 turnovers to WKU's 10 and got crushed on the boards. How that happens against a 20-15 Sunbelt team I do not know.
KU turnovers shot up to a whopping 22 against UNC and while Kansas plowed the undersized Tarheels on the offensive boards they gave up an OREB rate of 31% themselves.
Run. KU eFG% defense dips dramatically when shots are taken in the first ten seconds of the shot clock, because Withey is chugging down the court behind the action. Is it a good idea to take this shot in transition? Yes, even if it's not.
Maybe watch Kansas inexplicably self destruct? Can't rule that out. Let's go, having the game handed to you by collection of sixth graders who superficially resemble Kansas.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by one!
What do you like about what you see so far?
“Other than Angelique and Chantel, not much.”
“No, uh … I think we have some good enthusiastic practices and really good hitting, which has been fun. Competition is hot and heavy. Guys working hard. It’s been a fun first six days. Spring football is always kind of fun for the coaches because it’s all about teaching a system and evaluating the players without the pressure of playing a game. It’s kind of nice.”
As expected, John Merrill has signed with the Devils:
Junior defenseman Jon Merrill has signed with the New Jersey Devils, voiding his final year of eligibility, TSN.com's Bob McKenzie is reporting this morning, and rookie blue liner Jacob Trouba might be next, though there is reason to believe he could return to Ann Arbor.
After a Lidstrom-like freshman year, Merrill was beset by personal issues and a broken vertebra this year. He never really recaptured the thrilling—subtly, anyway—puck possession game he displayed in year one, but after shaking off the rust this year he was a major part of Michigan's turnaround. His loss is pretty bad. Not that Michigan expected to get four years out of him anyway. If my apartment was on an Indian burial ground I'd probably be out, too.
Meanwhile, some guy on twitter hears Trouba will follow him. Spath is holding to his 60-40 stay prediction. Red's departure rage level remains at zero; he seems to think either guy is capable of playing in the big leagues next year.
Evan Allen update. Allen is regarded as something of an OHL flight risk after telling some guy on the internet he was keeping his options open earlier in the year. Some twitter chatter suggests he will indeed find his way to Yost:
Wearing #15 at Michigan next year, so excited to start a new chapter in my life in the fall with the maize and blue
Take it FWIW.
If the inevitable WTF departure is not Allen, something comical will befall someone else over the offseason. We should have a pool. I'm taking Zach Hyman, June 18th, vision quest ends with Hyman learning to fly and leaving for Tibet. I'm not good at pools.
There was a bit of trivia going around basketball circles last week that teams named after birds all won their first round games. That's true, but including Kansas makes that a bit of a factoid: a Jayhawk ain't no kind a' bird!
The veracity of this internet knowledge is unverified, but the term comes from just before the Civil War and one of many incredibly stupid compromises they tried to come up with over the great uncompromisable thing. When they couldn't decide whether Kansas would be entered as a free state or a slave state, Congress decided to leave that answer up to whoever could get more settlers in there (caveat: settlers must be alive enough to vote). In the most violent fan poll until the invention of the internet, people from both sides, but mostly northern anti-slavery folk (cause there was more of us) poured into Kansas.
The pro-slavery people, rather than graciously accept defeat, formed up bandit brigades along the Missouri border, hence the term "Border Ruffians," and tried to harass, rob, and murder their way to an electoral victory. In response, the new homesteaders formed up their own guerrilla groups. Possibly naming themselves after popular Revolutionary John Jay, these makeshift counter-terrorism bands became known as Jay-hawkers. They were celebrated across the freedom conference footprint, but quickly became just bandits for the other team instead of protectors.
Just as "Wolverines" became popularly associated with the hardy, stubborn, fierce Michigander regiments who took that as their mascot in the Civil War, the Kansas Union regulars popularized "Jayhawks" but real jayhawkers continued guerrilla attacks on rebel camps and Confederate homesteaders. The opposite were the "Bushwhackers," former border ruffians who robbed, burned and murdered under the rebel cause. And if you were an indiscriminate band of lawlessness in Kansas, you were a "Red Leg."
So what I'm saying is if there is some sort of ornithological protection spell over the 2013 NCAA Tournament, Kansas isn't under it.
How it works:
- I put up a winnable prize that consists of a desirable good.
- You guess the final scores of the designated game, and put it in the comments, preferably in the format of [M's Score]-[Opponent's Score]. First person to post a particular score has it.
- If you guess either game correctly, we contact you. If not, go to (5)
- The desirable good arrives at the address you give us.
- Non-winners can acquire the same desirable good by trading currency for it.
- Seriously, you don't have to actually guess a basketball score to get this shirt. You can buy it.
About Last Time:
How is it there's no footage on the internet of a Wolverine devouring a rabbit? Get on this David Attenborough. The Glove guessed 74-55, which is as close as anyone got to the 71-56 final score of the SDSU (NTSDSU nor TSDSU) game.
This Week's Game:
#4 seed Michigan versus #1 seed Kansas for a trip to the Elite 8.
And the Prize:
Stick around. We may learn something.
Fine print: One entry per user. First user to choose a set of scores wins, determined by the timestamp of your entry (make it easy on me and write your score in digits with a hyphen between them. Deadline for entries is sometime within 24 hours before the start of the game—whenever I can get online in that time and lock the thread. MGoEmployees and Moderators exempt from winning because you can change scores. We did not invent the algorithm. The algorithm consistently finds Jesus. The algorithm is banned in China. The algorithm is from Jersey. The algorithm is not just a shooter. The algorithm always fouls Cody Zeller. The algorithm can’t explain why Big Ten officials think it’s their duty to help Bo Ryan. The algorithm spent 10 years as the Indiana of basketball, if that makes sense. This is not the algorithm. This is close.
- Chris Wormley has been cleared to do everything.
- Brennen Beyer is temporarily moving to SAM until Jake Ryan returns.
- Dymonte Thomas is practicing at corner and nickel.
“Well, how about our basketball team, huh? Golly.”
Are you happy they recruited Mitch McGary?
“Yes. No question about it. I already promised him he’d be a five-technique right away, and we’d get him a lot of sacks. No question about it. I love him. It’s funny -- I saw him one time the team was going to eat somewhere, I just happened to run into him when my wife and I were out. I had never stood next to him, and I just looked at him and all I kept thinking was ‘Wow, would he be good as a five-technique.’ ”