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“CHARTING THE JOURNEY THROUGH CONFERENCE PLAY”
Now that there is some respite from the meat grinder that seems to be the Big Ten basketball schedule (at least until this weekend), I felt it might be an appropriate moment to step back and look at some of the basic numbers and breakdowns for our Wolverines. Much has been said in the postgame threads over the last stretch of games, and indeed, some of it bears itself out in the trends that you will see here. The caveat here is that the conference schedule is not yet complete and these numbers are not final.
I had wanted to do something like this since the Indiana game, but I held off because there simply was not enough data regarding conference play to make much of a determination about where the areas of focus should be at that point. Now, I think you can see some definite trends. I also compiled our statistics in a Michigan win versus Michigan loss format so you can easily see just how stark some of the differences are in some cases.
TABLE 1 – “Michigan Win Vs. Michigan Loss”
The one thing that leapt out immediately, at least to me, is that in conference play, we are shooting about 11% when we win as opposed to when we lose, which is significant considering that our four losses have been at the hands of some of the most defensively efficient teams in Division I basketball, not just the conference. The difference is small for our opponents, who shoot only about 6% better in wins as opposed to losses. It’s a fairly similar story for three-pointers – we are down about 13% in losses compared to wins, whereas our opponents again show a difference of only 6% between the two scenarios.
Here is the shooting data broken out into individual games:
Many of the findings aren’t entirely unexpected – we have fewer assists when we lose, we rebound less, and so on, but there are actually sustained trends that are worth noting at this point. Below are trends for point totals and the running average of points:
In both of these, you can see an overall decline in our own production and a gradual increase in the production of those we have played. Since Indiana, in fact, we are giving up three more points per game on average, which may not seem like much, but when you consider that the fewest we have given up since then is 65, it is noteworthy. Our average in the same period has declined about two points, but our average is bolstered some by some of our early performances in conference play.
Tied somewhat to that would be offensive and defensive efficiency, shown below. This is the running number, cumulative as of each game:
The trends are obviously not favorable, but overall, the efficiency numbers have not slid too much, as you will note. In both case, it is less than a 10% slide. It is enough, however, to say that there are items to address soon on both sides of the ball.
Rebounds and assists have also tailed off somewhat, but turnovers show one notable aberration:
This is here for your perusal. The discussion which hopefully follows will become the conclusion of the board, or at least that is my intention. If there are other statistics that you would like to see charted, let me know and I will insert the data as time permits. I thought I might just get the discussion going with what I did here.
Take three of a look at the remaining schedules:
This is long... if that's not for you you will dislike this...
I may have screwed up the 6-7 order- it is unclear if 2-2 is better than 1-1 given the description- but that is not too important...
Who has the hardest schedule?:
I decided to try something new here and associate a score with each team. The higher the score the harder the opponent is. Since there are 12 teams in the Big Ten the top team gets 12 points, and the lowest team gets 1 point. Any tie ranking all teams get the highest possible rank (both MSU and Indiana are “top team” in this ranking). Below is that ranking.
Next I determined that a road game should adjust the rankings. A team’s road score is their regular score +3. I settled on 3 arbitrarily because it seemed like the best fit. Michigan and Wisconsin on the road seem barely harder than Indiana or Michigan State at home, while Minnesota/Illinois/Iowa on the road seem to be about the same strength as Wisconsin or Michigan at home. This is definitely quite subjective choosing three points- but it is simple. Some teams are much stronger at home and you could argue deserve and even bigger bump than three, while some play at relatively similar strength home or away. Perhaps Indiana and Michigan State should be +5 on the road because beating a top-10 team on the road is so difficult, while Penn State still is relatively terrible at home…. Anyway, I settled on three!
Below is each of the top-5 teams remaining schedules. Below each opponent is the regular score and advanced score. The regular score does not adjust for home/away, while the advanced score adds 3 points for each away game. If you don’t like the advanced score- disregard it.
|GAME 14||GAME 15||GAME 16||GAME 17||GAME 18||TOTAL|
|INDIANA||@MICHIGAN ST||@MINNESOTA||IOWA||OHIO ST||@MICHIGAN|
|MICHIGAN ST||INDIANA||@OHIO ST||@MICHIGAN||WISCONSIN||NW|
|OHIO ST||MINNESOTA||MICHIGAN ST||@NW||@INDIANA||ILLINOIS|
To show you a little bit easier I order the schedules from hardest to easiest below:
Those numbers seem about right- Wisconsin has it pretty easy, Michigan not too bad, and the rest have it pretty rough...
Next I looked more traditionally at the remaining schedules- looking at: the number of home games compared to road games, the number of games vs top-5 teams (note: all parenthesis show home games, road games), the number of games vs the middle-5 teams, and finally the games vs Nebraska and Penn State. Perhaps it’s not the best split with 5/5/2- arguments could be made to put the split at several points but that’s what I chose (mostly because the first two versions used those splits).
|Home Games||Road Games||Vs. Top-5||Vs. Mid-5||Vs. Bot-2|
|Indiana||2||3||3 (1,2)||2 (1,1)||0|
|Michigan St||3||2||4 (2,2)||1 (1,0)||0|
|Wisconsin||2||3||1 (0,1)||2 (1,1)||2 (1,1)|
|Michigan||3||2||2 (2,0)||2 (1,1)||1 (0,1)|
|Ohio State||3||2||2 (1,1)||3 (2,1)||0|
Enough data/tables… onto opinion:
Indiana has the hardest schedule left. They play fewer home games than everyone but Wisconsin, and only two of their opponents are not fellow top-5 teams-one team is Iowa, who has been playing very well and has lost several very close games, and the other is at Minnesota. They have no easy games left and each game is “losable” to some degree. If you told me Indiana lost any of those games I would not be shocked- and that is not a good way to end the season. Obviously the most important game is at Michigan State coming up. MSU gets the edge at home- which means Indiana will have to pull an upset to be number 1. At Minnesota will be tough, and Iowa at home could be a sleeper game if they get caught looking ahead. They wrap up at home against OSU which will essentially be a must-win with a road game in Ann Arbor wrapping up the season. It’s hard to imagine the final game not determining the champion in some fashion. If Indiana beats MSU that final game could be sole possession of first- if not it will determine who will be champion in some way with Michigan hopefully having a shot for a co-championship in that game.
The second toughest schedule according to the point systems. Looking at the traditional details it looks just as hard as Indiana however. Only one game is not against a top-5 team and that is the final game at home against Northwestern. That last game could determine the championship as well. It’s hard to imagine them not losing at least one game. Indiana at home coming up next is huge (covered above) and then OSU and Michigan on the road will be daunting. OSU is a little hard to figure out, and they beat down Michigan in EL, so these games may play out to be less challenging than they may appear. If they lose to Indiana they have to win-out at home and at least split those road games to still feel comfortable- if they beat Indiana a split in the road games becomes easier to swallow- but both of those situations assume a win against Wisconsin which will not be easy either.
No matter how you slice it their remaining schedule is incredibly easy. They play the 4 lowest teams in the conference, and while they play NW and PSU on the road neither of those should be games they should lose. They play at home against Nebraska and Purdue- and both of those should be wins. Purdue is probably the only game that will be a serious challenge other than Michigan State. With 4 losses the MSU game is a must-win (as are all their games). On the road they are not favored to win, but if they pull it off they have to hope MSU loses at least one other game, and Indiana also loses 2. If they beat MSU and take care of the games they should it is not too unlikely they have a shot at being co-champs. (Writing that made me throw-up a little…)
As is the case with Wisconsin Michigan needs to win out. Indiana on the road was close, and then we fought out a win against OSU, before the two most frustrating games all year in Madison and EL. Let’s hope more spacing of games and an easier schedule (particularly compared to what we just went through) will allow us to get back to top-form. A lot of questions remain: were we significantly overrated before? Will Morgan be at full strength? Will the freshman be able to step-it-up? Are Indiana, and particularly Michigan State, a clear step-up from us? Is this team on the rebound- or are we still slumping? Have teams played great games against us- or is our defense underperforming and is that just foolish optimism?
The answers to those questions will come in time- that is, unless we lose to Illinois or at Penn State. Both games should be wins- and if we lose either of those games our chance for a championship erode- and our stock will be sliding fast. If we get through those games we still likely need to win out. Last analysis I said I expected a loss at MSU and that we could be said to be favored the rest of the way. Our play at EL changed that outlook significantly. MSU in Ann Arbor will be very intense- and if we win we have a good shot- if we lose it’s all over for co-champ talk most likely. Plus, if we lose, MSU will very possibly go into the last week looking like favorites- a lot will be at stake. Most fans, and presumably the team, will be looking to show that the game in EL was a terrible hiccup; otherwise that game will possibly be a very low point of the season. If we do beat MSU, and took care of business against Illinois and PSU we have a sleeper game at Purdue (who last year cost us an outright title by being the only home loss) before closing against Indiana at home. Worst case, we lost to MSU (and maybe even one of the other three games) and play Indiana with no-chance to win a title- and they show us that they, and MSU, are the class of the conference. Best-case, we took care of business, righted the ship against MSU, and play at home against Indiana for a chance for being co-champs. If that is the case we will have only lost at home once in the last two years, have lots of momentum, and have a good chance to beat Indiana- let’s hope that last scenario plays out!
With five-losses OSU has almost no-chance. It is hard to imagine both Indiana and MSU losing three times, and Wisconsin’s schedule looks like they will be at worst a 5-loss team meaning OSU has essentially no chance at being an outright champ- and almost no chance of a co-championship. Plus, they have to play at Indiana and home against MSU. Although, if you need to make up ground you want to play the teams you need to lose. Minnesota at home, their next game, will be a challenge, and at Northwestern could be a sleeper game. Most likely they end the year a game (or likely more) out- and the last game at Illinois will matter for seeding and if Illinois makes the dance.
I think we are looking at co-champs at 14-4. Who those teams are is very hard to say. Indiana will likely lose at MSU, and hopefully at Michigan as well. At Minnesota, Iowa, and OSU will all be a challenge too- so even if they only lose one of the first games mentioned there is still a good shot they lose one of those.
Michigan State I think has the best chance because they play Indiana at home. I think they are better than OSU and Michigan but will struggle to win both of those games, and may lose both. After that they should beat Wisconsin and NW. I think they have the best chance to go 15-3 and be alone on top of the charts. It really comes down to whether or not we can beat them, in my opinion.
Wisconsin lucked into the easiest schedule to end the year. Luckily for every other fan-base they should lose to MSU- and it’s hard to see 13-5 cutting it. If they pull the upset- they have the four bottom teams left- let’s hope they slip up in one of those- because who wants to see Wisconsin win the championsip….
Michigan has long odds. Granted I projected them losing to MSU and being in good shape last time, the nature of the last few weeks make it tough to be too optimistic at this point. MSU and Indiana at home are very, very tough. But if we want to be champs we need them to lose- so it’s good we play them- and good it is at home for both. Illinois at home could be tough if we play like we have been also. Let’s hope that we can show up and protect the home-court- because we need to!
Ohio State is too far out…
What I said above in nice simple, very subjective number form:
|16 - 2||15 - 3||14 - 4||13 - 5||12 - 6 or Worse|
Hope everyone liked it!
Working on another wallpaper this coming week, but here's another since the last one people were commenting that they didn't like the "artsy" stylings of the recent ones. I like how this turned out, but as always, I'm open to constructive criticism to help me provide more of what the MGoCommunity is looking for.
EDIT: Already nitpicked at my own design. Corrected the alignment of the "the road to march" text area. Not sure why I didn't catch that since I'd originally had it right. Oh well. Carry on.
- Desktop (16:9) -
Mobile version to come!
After the Wisconsin and MSU loses I made comments about the attitude and will of Michigan’s basketball team. Even Dan Dakich (yes, who we all dislike) went on and on about Michigan’s lack of it during the MSU game. Sadly, he was right. Building on Ace’s piece the other day, there are a few pain points from the past four (I’m actually going to include the NW game as well, because 5 is more than 4) games which I thought I would focus on.
FREE THROW ATTEMPTS
One of the best stories I ever heard was from a former NBA star talking about Larry Bird. He said he was one of the very few players who could dominate a game while only taking 10 – 12 shots. He would make 8 or 9 shots with a couple from three. And the rest would come from free throws. I checked it out and indeed Bird averaged 5 free throw attempts per game throughout his career.
Here’s Michigan’s free throw attempts from the past five games. I’m only looking at the five highest players in minutes played due to the smaller rotation with Morgan out.
Keep in mind, that’s attempts, from the 5 primary ball handlers. In the biggest games of the year. Between Hardaway Jr, Stauskas, GRIII, and McGary among 20 opportunities to take at least one free throw in a game they failed to do so in 65% of them. And that includes going up against notoriously aggressive MSU and OSU defenses.
I point this out because free throw attempts are indicative of attitude. Sometimes you just have to make the other team foul you so you get a chance to get two points (or at least one) at the end of a game. Too often Michigan has had late game possessions which end in jump shots (most of them fading away from 18+ feet). Michigan (#6 in field goal percentage) is shooting 49% as a team. Michigan (#133 in free throw percentage) is shooting 70% as a team. I prefer 70% to 49% when I’m scrapping for points at the end of a close game.
Beilein has said in interviews he get’s just as excited about one of his players taking a charge as he does a dunk. In watching this team, you can tell Beilein and the other coaches work with the players on taking charges. i.e. he is using a rule in basketball as part of his strategy. I personally disagree with this because it is a very passive defensive attitude. When a player sets up to take a charge he gives the opposing player the ability to get a vertical advantage. Keep in mind, most charges come within 5-8 feet of the basket. Having a vertical advantage really means something in that close of range. Additionally, there are three things which can happen when a player sets up for a charge: 1) they get the charge call which equates to a turn over (yay) 2) There is no call made and the player either makes or misses the shot (keep in mind this is a closer in shot with no vertical defender because he is planted firmly to the ground) (advantage offense) 3) The ref calls a blocking foul and the player has a chance at making an uncontested shot from close range (boo). So of the three things that could happen, only one of them is actually good for the team. Now rewind to the end of the Wisconsin game. Michigan up 3. Jared Berggren (all 6’10” of him) beats his man and is driving uncontested to the hoop. Burke (all 6’0” of him) sets up just outside the charge circle to take the charge. Berggren dunks and gets the blocking foul on Burke. Berggren makes the free throw. Tie game. No ref will ever call that a charging foul. Instead of going back down court at worst up one (at best up two or three depending on Berggren making both free throws) with the shot clock turned off meaning Wisconsin would have to foul. Michigan goes back down court tied. I would much rather Burke make a hard foul to force Berggren to shoot free throws. Again, it’s about attitude. Be passive and hope the ref makes the call, or proactively make the other team beat you.
MY PERSONAL ANEURYSM OF LEADERSHIP MOMENTS
Against MSU in the first half when it was still a 10-12 point game and all hope was not lost Burke picked up his dribble against the sideline with 15 seconds left on the shot clock. Hardaway Jr. was hanging out about 5 feet behind the three point line on the same side of the court as Burke. What he was going to do from that position I have no idea. The other Michigan players (all freshman, BTW) were properly spaced in the corner and on the other side of the court. The MSU defender immediately jumped Burke as the ref started counting the 5 second call. What happened? Nothing. That’s right nothing. Stauskas did not come to take the ball from Burke. Ok. Freshman. Hardaway (a Junior, not just Jr) was standing 10 feet away and continued standing there instead of helping his teammate out. I lost it. My 15 month old boy stood staring at the TV and his dad bewildered. The dog ran and hid under the table. The wife went to comfort the boy.
In the second half, when it was still a 16-18 point game with 12 minutes left, Valentine of MSU got a long rebound against the sideline. He was losing his balance and looking for someone to pass to. Stauskas was within 5 feet of him. Stauskas turned and ran back down court to play defense. Valentine regained his balance, came down court and Harris made an uncontested 3. The wife had taken the boy for his bath. The dog was still under the table.
This is about attitude. Do you jump at the opportunity to make a play or do you let opposing team dictate?
This is why I have concerns about this team for the tournament. Who will get that one point when you really need it without relying on a jump shot going in? Who will step up and make the other team react to your pressure?
One final point about attitude. I love Coach Beilein. I would want few others representing Michigan. On a whim I went to Google images and typed in Tom Izzo angry, Bill Self angry, Mike Krzyzewski angry, and John Beilein angry. Here’s what I got:
Seriously. Not kidding at all.
Friendly advice on a philosophy of watching college basketball from a Kansas grad:
Despite being a Michigan fan through-and-through, I attended KU as an undergrad. Why am I telling you this? Well, Mr. Spanish Inquisition, I am telling you this because it was while attending KU that I learned important lessons about following college basketball, lessons that I list below (and that you can of course take or leave). I've meant to post this at some point, and now seems as good a time as any given last night.
A quick note about KU: KU can lay claim to being the Michigan of college basketball. KU’s first coach, for example, was Dr. James Naismith himself, who course invented the game after the indoor dachshund fights that he had organized for his students led to the loss of a number of fingers and eyes. Kansas can also lay claim to Forrest “Phog” Allen (the father of basketball coaching), Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, and William S. Burroughs (the "Gentleman Junkie Jumpshooter"). More, KU has more than 2,000 college basketball victories, consistently dominates the Big 12 (and the Big 8 prior to that), has three national championships and numerous Final Fours to its name, and…you get the idea.
Naismith, moments before realizing that his over-sized ball fit into his basket:
KU fans have understandably high expectations for their team, and this is where the important point is for us: Hardcore Kansas fans are a largely joyless and unhappy bunch. The theory of hedonic adaptation posits (this is the short version) that humans will return to a certain baseline of happiness regardless of their circumstances, and, though hedonic adaptation is not universally recognized as a psychological reality, Jayhawk fans certainly seem exhibit it. They find little happiness in victories – even when those victories are in games that clinch a regular season conference championship or a conference tournament championship. These victories, after all, are expected. They happen most years. Kansas fans are accustomed to them, and what excitement is there in the status quo? The Kansas fan finds little to enjoy in the humdrum realities of simple excellence. Why should we clap when the sun comes up? It comes up every day.
KU fans suffer terribly, though, with almost any loss. Given that KU is supposed to win, it can only be the team’s own failures, the refs, or some cruel trickster god that could cause them to lose. Rarely is an opponent acknowledged as being better than the Jayhawks, and this leads to much hand wringing and gnashing of teeth among Kansas fans. Lose to Oklahoma State at home? How did that happen! Lose to Oklahoma? WTF – is this 1988? Lose to TCU? Is “TCU” even a thing?! These lows are rare, but they sting far more than the victories soothe, and they often last for the whole offseason. “There’s no success like failure,” Bob Dylan sang, “and failure is no success at all.”
Here is where my friendly advice comes to you, my fellow Michigan fans: Do not be like a Kansas fan. Think of every un-played game as a loss (it is, after all, not yet a win). Every game and every play must be won anew, and there is no guarantee at all that Michigan will win any of them. Remember that only five or six years ago Michigan was in the middle of a season that would see them lose to Harvard, Western Kentucky, and Central Michigan, all while winning only six Big Ten games. Remember that every team is like a snail walking on the edge of a straight razor, its destruction possible in any number of ways and its success possible in only a small few.
See this man for more on snails on straight razors:
Further, and for the love of all things holy, do not ever expect your team to make it to the Final Four. In 1996, Kansas fielded a 34-2 team that included Jacque Vaughn (2x consensus All-American), Raef Lafrentz (2x consensus All-American), and Paul Pierce (1x consensus All-American – and also Paul freakin’ Pierce). They promptly lost in the Sweet Sixteen. Kansas then went 35-4 the next year but lost in the second round to Rhode Island. Rhode Island! The tournament is chaos, and you cannot expect anything of chaos. Not even a juggernaut can expect safe sailing.
I imagine that someone will say, “We should expect nothing less than championships from Michigan, or we’ll never get them.” To this I say that we as fans don’t have to have those expectations. The players and coaches do, but we as fans are doing our part so long as we show up to all of the games and yell really loudly. No one will know it if we roll with the punches and savor even victories over the Penn States of the world.
I am not trying to comment here on the status of the Michigan basketball program or make any predictions about it. I am, though, encouraging Wolverine fans not to get caught up in Kansas Fan Syndrome, where success and the expectations that come with it lead to almost nothing but misery. Relish every win or even good play if you can and consider any defeat to be only a return to the likely state of things. Don’t suffer the pain of having your expectations torn down – instead have no expectations.
I should say one more time that I offer this as friendly advice (and I also don’t mean to imply that I’m always able to follow my own advice). And if you don’t find this helpful, well…that’s cool, man. Here are some of Naismith’s fighting dachshunds for your troubles:
(Click the Image to See Full Size Version)
I'd like to pre-emptively apologize to all of the Sparty fans who'll be sure to write in and complain that this is not at all how a sofa looks after it's been torched on a porch. I'm sorry-- I have no reference. I've never burned a couch, sofa or loveseat. Not even a futon.
I'd never make it as a Sparty... Thank you Jesus.
Friday Fun will involve me drawing something about Michigan athletics. I'll do it on Friday, and it might even be Fun.
Some new formatting news for the New Year:
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every Wednesday here at MGoBlog and on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out the Friday Fun, my weekly single panel comic based on trending Michigan events, available on Twitter and the home page every Friday.