Week 7 Conference Wins Update
“Break their hearts my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy.”
- Miss Havisham (Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations)
Seven weeks in and all the Big Ten teams have played at least 6 games. The Bye for Michigan came at the perfect time, sandwiched between two scrimmages which altogether amounts to the equivalent of a mid-season training camp. When the team breaks training after this week’s scrimmage, it will begin preparations in earnest for the second half of the season, beginning in East Lansing with an exhibition in exacting vengeance. Meanwhile, Sparty has demonstrated its ability to lull the Wolverines into a false sense of security by playing dead to the visiting Wildcats of Northwestern. To similar ends, the Buckeyes saw fit to play some sort of ruse with Wisconsin by squandering a 4th quarter lead only to put the kibosh on in it in OT.
The impetus of this diary is the desire to characterize the competitive landscape of the Big Ten Conference through the synthesis of total win probability distributions for each of the teams. The distributions are derived from the relative expected points ratings from Bill Connelly (S&P+), ESPN (FPI), and occasionally Ed Feng (The Power Rank). The key is that the ratings are based on expected points, which are in turn translated into win probabilities. Each of these three ratings are generated from their respective advanced statistical analyses and metrics. In doing so, they achieve varied results ... some more pleasing than others depending on your point-of-view.
Anyway, here you will find further ruminations on said statistics into still more statistics as a means for enabling further discussion, jumping to conclusions, flying off of the handle or goading your rival. Also included is a fresh look at the all-important head-to-head win-differential probability distribution for the matchup between a select pair of contenders in the B1G East.
Schedules, Spreads & Win Probabilities
B1G East Schedule Rundown
The table of schedules below shows the overall schedules for all seven teams in the B1G East based on the Bill Connelly’s S&P+ weekly ratings. The last table simply shows a rank-ordering of the B1GE teams based on their expected in-conference win totals, it’s not a projection of divisional standings based on projected wins, losses, and tie-breakers.
The main discussion now following OSU’s defeat of Wisconsin at Camp Randall revolves around which team has a more significant win over the Badgers: Michigan or Ohio State? Seeing as how Michigan was idle this week and could do nothing to either improve or erode its position, it could be inferred that any change in relative position between the two would be attributable to performance in the one game that was played. That said, the numbers have spoken, and it would appear that the numbers like Michigan. OK, so maybe some difference is attributable to some further removal of pre-season factors in the case of S&P+, but the results are even better in that case. Anyway, the Buckeyes can no longer claim to be the only team in Big Ten that is favored in all of its remaining games. That distinction, my friends, belongs to your ever-lovin’ Wolverines. This is because UM, by virtue of lingering residue of its unprecedented throttling of Rutgers now two weeks ago, is ranked #1 in all the land by S&P+, and is now two spots ahead of OSU. Yea. Just swirl that around in your mouth for a moment before swallowing, and then savor the warmth as it passes down your esophagus. That right there is like a shot of 125 proof Booker’s small-batch bourbon. It’ll cure what ails you and make you want to howl at the moon!
The Wolverines lead over the Buckeyes in expected wins has expanded to just over 0.6 wins. At nearly 8.5 expected wins, Michigan is the only team in the B1G expected to exceed 8 wins. As inferred above, the only game OSU is not a favorite in is The Game. As for OSU, they managed to survive a tough road game at Wisconsin. Next on their slate is another tough road test at a resurgent Penn State. That as well as a later OSU matchup versus the Huskers may make or break the Buckeyes’ prospects heading into The Game. It’s worth noting that like Wisconsin, Penn State will have the benefit of playing OSU at home and coming off a bye. The bottom line is that OSU is the only remaining game in which PSU is an underdog, and the Nits stand as the clear #3 with about 6.3 expected B1G wins. The Nits - currently rated in the top five in several major S&P+ offensive categories (including standard and passing down efficiency, as well as passing efficiency and passing IsoPPP) - are showing enough offensive creativity to make things interesting when they host the Buckeyes.
Meanwhile, the Indiana defense continued to display an emergent saltiness in the Hoosiers loss to Nebraska, holding the Huskers to an un-Hoosier-like 360 yards of offense and 5-15 on 3rd down. The Hoosiers expect just under 4.5 Big Ten wins, but are underdogs in only two of its remaining games, which should make them bowl eligible. Maryland is slipping off the bubble after its second loss, being an underdog in 4 more games and expecting just over 3.1 B1G wins. After giving up over 50 in losing to Northwestern, prospects for MSU to qualify for bowl eligibility are just about gone. Sparty is an underdog now in five of its remaining B1G games (including at Illinois) - up one from last week, before they lost. As for LOLRutgerz, The Scarlet Knights will be seeing red for the rest of the season.
The FPI results differ slightly, the most notable difference that Michigan holds the #2 spot, followed by OSU at #3. In turn, M tops all teams in the B1GE with just over 8.2 expected wins, ahead of OSU by just over 0.2 wins. Nonetheless, FPI results still show OSU to be favored in all of its remaining games; so of course the only game in which U-M is not favored is The Game. The margin, however, is only 0.6 points. Penn State has separated from all others as the clear #3 in the B1GE at nearly 5.8 expected wins and is an underdog in only one more game. Indiana, with about 3.7 expected wins is an underdog in 3 more games; and Maryland, expecting about 3.2 wins is an underdog in 4 games. MSU, meanwhile, is favored in only one more game this season: Rutgers. That would be sufficient to send Indiana and Maryland bowling, as well as keep Sparty home.
Here’s a link to a chart showing the results from the Power Rank-ings.
B1G East Expected Conference Wins
The bar plots below show the expected total overall wins distributions for teams in the B1G East, in alphabetical order. Noted above each bar is the probability for that number of wins (you may need to click & embiggen to read it). The bar with the highest value is the most likely outcome (the mode). Also flagged on each plot is the expected overall win total (the mean). The last line plot is just an overlay of the same data from the other seven bar plots.
The “big take-away” from this round of distributions is that Michigan and Ohio State are no longer tied for the highest mode, that distinction belongs to UM with a mode of 9 wins and an undefeated season. OSU shows a mode of 8 wins, skewed slightly toward 7 wins. The next highest mode is Penn State at 6 wins leaning strongly toward 7, followed by Indiana at 5 wins leaning strongly toward 4 wins, and Maryland at 3 wins. MSU has settled into the 2 win mode leaning toward 1 win, while Rutgers is not likely to get more than 1 win. Clearly, the B1GE will be decided between U-M and OSU by significant a margin. UM now has the edge for the best chance of having an undefeated season at 54.1% (up from the 18.8% before obliterating Rutgers) or about 5:4 odds, followed by OSU with an 21.1% likelihood (9:2 odds). At this point, the overlaid S&P+ distributions show the grouping of the Big Two with the remainder of the B1GE fairly spread out, with at least four and possibly five teams likely to be bowl eligible. Lagging behind are Sparty and LOLRutgerz, both of whom stand as the only teams at this point registering any significant likelihood of going winless in the Big Ten. At a likelihood of 61.2%, LOLRutgerz going winless is the only thing that’s more assured than Michigan going undefeated.
The FPI results differ somewhat from the S&P+ results above. Both UM and OSU register modes of 8 wins, with both teams skewing significantly toward 9 wins. UM registers a 37.2% chance to win out. After beating Wisconsin last week, the likelihood of OSU to go undefeated has risen to 29.9% from 20.0% last week. From there, a clear separation of 2 wins exists to the next closest contender, Penn State, who also stands another 2 wins ahead of Indiana and Maryland, with modes of 4 wins and 3 wins, respectively. Sparty lags further behind with a mode of 2 wins, now only one win ahead of Rutgers. You heard it here first: Rutgers at MSU is shaping up to be something of a Battle Royale, a veritable slobber-knocker of self-loathing not seen since Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Here’s a link to a chart showing the results from the Power Rank-ings.
B1G West Schedule Rundown
The next table of schedules shows the overall schedules for the B1G West based on the Bill Connelly’s S&P+ weekly ratings. Again, the last table simply shows a rank-ordering of the B1GW teams based on their expected win totals - it’s not a projection of divisional conference standings per se.
The S&P+ results have the contenders in the B1GW, in order of overall expected wins, as Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa - all of whom expect to have winning records. Nebraska, now expecting about 6.5 wins, has an edge of nearly 0.8 wins over Wisconsin. From there, Minnesota and Iowa lag another 0.8 to 0.9 wins, respectively. The resurgent Wildcats are expecting about 4.4 B1G wins, which would suffice to make them bowl-eligible. Having traversed the gauntlet that was their early season schedule, however, the Badgers now sit in the catbird seat, being the only team in the B1GW favored in all of its remaining games. On the other hand, Nebraska is an underdog in its next two games (including at Wisconsin), and Minnesota is an underdog in 2 games as well. Iowa may have reached its high-water mark in dispensing Purdue, as it is a favorite in only 1 of its 5 remaining games, that one win however, may suffice to make the Hawkeyes bowl-eligible. Similarly, Illinois is favored in only one remaining game, and Purdue, after letting Darrell Hazell go, will be mailing in the rest of the season.
FPI differs somewhat compared to S&P+, showing Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern as the teams in contention and expecting to have winning B1G records. Nebraska is the leader per FPI, now expecting about 6.5 wins, which leads the Badgers by just over 1 win. Iowa and Northwestern are within 0.5 wins of the Badgers, and 0.8 wins ahead of the Gophers. As with S&P+, FPI results show Wisconsin being favored in all of its remaining games. Nebraska and Minnesota are both two-game dogs. Northwestern is a 3-game dog, and Iowa is favored in only one of its five remaining games.
Here’s a link to a chart showing the results from the Power Rank-ings.
B1G West Expected Conference Wins
The bar plots below show the expected overall win distributions for the B1G West teams, in alphabetical order.
The story in the B1GW is how close the race to Indy remains. Four teams have modes of 5, 6 or 7 wins. Nebraska is currently the only team with a mode of 7 wins, while Wisconsin is at 6 wins. Iowa and Minnesota are both balanced on the 5 win mode. Northwestern is at the 4 win mode, but are skewed toward 5 wins. The only team remaining without a loss is Nebraska, but has only a 1.5% likelihood of staying that way. The Huskers also have the best - and only - chance of a one-loss season in the B1GW at 13.9%.
The FPI results tell a similar story. Nebraska shows a 7 win mode, leaning toward 6 wins; Wisconsin is at the 6 win mode, leaning toward 5 wins. Meanwhile, Iowa and Northwestern show nearly indistinguishable, balanced distributions with modes of 5 wins. Minnesota lurks at the 4 win mode, with a strong skew toward 5 wins. As such, those five teams are at least hopeful bowl-game qualifiers, but Illinois and Purdue…are kicking into rebuilding mode.
Here’s a link to a chart showing the results from the Power Rank-ings.
Michigan vs. Ohio State Wins Differential
The win-differential distribution simply shows the likelihood of one team (say, Michigan) finishing with a conference record that is some number of games better or worse than another team (say, Ohio State). Keeping in mind that in the event of a tie, the winner of the head-to-head match up determines the tiebreaker … the probability of the teams having identical conference records (i.e. a win differential of zero) heading into the final head-to-head meeting is then pro-rated in proportion to the win probability of the head-to-head game. The same principle also applies to the probabilities of either team having a one-game lead going into the head-to-head (i.e. win differentials of +1 and -1). This is because a team trailing by one game would still clinch the tie-breaker by winning the final head-to-head game. Thus, the total likelihood of Michigan finishing ahead of Ohio State is the sum of all the maize-and-blue shaded bars (i.e. U-M wins two or more games than OSU), plus a proportional split of the -1, 0 and +1-differential bars. It’s worth noting that this total likelihood does not indicate the likelihood of making it to the B1G Championship, as it says nothing about how other teams in the B1G East do, or even how Michigan or Ohio State do in the absolute sense. For example, if both teams were to finish tied in the B1G at 7-2, which means that UM and OSU would be losing 2 games each, at which point another team (Penn State) may have a snowball’s chance.
Beginning as usual with the results of the S&P+ analysis, the chart below shows that the most likely outcome (52.0% likelihood) is that U-M and OSU have identical records heading into Columbus. No surprises here by now, as The Game will likely decide who has the better team, and who will play for the B1G Championship. What’s different now than in past weeks is that looking at the head-to-head matchup, UM is now favored with a win probability of 61.2%, so UM collects a 31.8 point share of the 52.0 points for the likelihood of winning coming in tied and finishing ahead one game. OSU collects the remaining 20.2 points.
The second most likely scenario, with a 33.5% likelihood, is that UM comes into Columbus one game ahead of OSU. Of this possible outcome, UM collects another 20.5 point share for the likelihood of winning coming in ahead by one game and finishing up two. OSU collects the remaining 13.0 points, for likelihood of coming in down one game and finishing tied, but winning the tie-breaker.
The next most likely scenario, with a 7.4% likelihood, is that UM comes into Columbus up two games with the B1GCG spot presumably locked up. The outcome of the game does not matter in this case, so UM collects all 7.4 points.
The fourth most likely scenario, with a 6.2% likelihood, is that UM comes into Columbus trailing by one game. Of this, UM collects a 3.8 point share for its likelihood of winning and finishing in a tie, but UM winning the tie-breaker.
In total according to the S&P+ ratings, UM has a 64.2% likelihood of finishing the season ahead of OSU - nearly a 2:1 chance!
Painting a somewhat less rosy picture, here is the same chart based on the FPI ratings following the week 7 results. This shows a much narrower margin for UM in the race against OSU to the B1GCG. As with S&P+, the most likely outcome is that the teams head into Columbus with the same record. In the head-to-head matchup, OSU’s home field advantage gives them the narrowest of margins with a 51.6% likelihood to win the game. To sum it all up - according to FPI, UM has a 51.4% likelihood of beating out OSU at season’s end, or pretty close to an even chance.
Here’s a link to the chart showing the results from the Power Rank-ings, which just don’t seem to have that lovin’ feelin’.
So there you have it. After witnessing more convincing wins by Michigan over the last two opponents shared in common with OSU (Rutgers & Wisconsin), the tables have turned completely. Michigan obliterated Rutgers on the road even more thoroughly than OSU did at home. Also, OSU’s OT win at Wisconsin yielded 23 points to the Badgers in regulation, compared to UM’s 7 points allowed, and OSU’s 23 points in regulation matches UM’s touchdowns and field goals attempted. As for Wisconsin, they will carry on as they still have much to play for, and will surely make its own push toward a spot in the B1GCG and a likely rematch for them - the question is with whom?
The prospects for Michigan football to play in the Big Ten Championship Game are trending in the right direction, while competitive games for OSU in the coming weeks (at Penn State and versus Nebraska) may expose further weaknesses and vulnerabilities. In all, it makes Michigan the team to beat in the Big Ten, and beyond.
Yours in football, and Go Blue!
This past summer my new BFF It's Harambe took on the thankless task of asking his fellow MgoBloggers to rank the top 25 Michigan athletes of all time. As the list was revealed it was clear to this reader that some of the most notable players who competed during the athletic stone age (pre-internet) had been forgotten about. This weekly diary will take a look at the more notable players from our past ommitted from that list (hence the name of the diary Seth) to remind everyone of what they did and why they deserved to be honored and remembered.
One night early this season the entire Michigan team was worried about its star. The Wolverines had traveled to Hawaii during Christmas vacation, and as usual Dolan was pushing hard in practice. At one point he climbed out of the pool and passed out. I thought, Oh, my god, he's going to die on me,'' says Urbanchek. But he had just hyperventilated because of all the coughing. The next day he was back in the pool.''
Unlike the more famous and decorated Michael Phelps who made the Top 25 list this summer, Tom Dolan is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 400 IM and a former world record holder in the event who attended classes and swam for the University of Michigan. Simply competing on that level in one of the sport’s toughest events is quite an accomplishment, but Dolan’s severe exercise-induced asthma (he has a partially-blocked windpipe) catapults his successes into another category entirely.
Dolan, had exercise-induced asthma and an unusually narrow esophagus that allows him only 20%of the oxygen intake of the average person. These conditions make it hard for Dolan to breathe, which might not present a problem if he were on the chess team. However, he was arguably the best male swimmer in the U.S. His remarkable success has led his rivals to one conclusion: He must be growing gills. ``It can really get bad in our workouts,'' says Dolan. There will be a real tightness in my chest, and I won't be able to get a lot of air. But my coach says it actually helps me in meets because it increases my ability to withstand stress.'' `"He has an incredible tolerance for pain, says Michigan coach Jon Urbanchek, So he does suffer, but there is a good side.''
Dolan was born on September 15, 1975 in Arlington, Virginia. He started swimming competitively for the Washington Golf and Country Clubs summer swim team when he was five years old. He became serious about swimming when he joined the Curl-Burke Swim Club. Despite his asthma, Dolan became one of the best age group swimmers not only in the Washington, DC area, but in the entire country. Dolan rose to prominence by “following Mike Barrowman’s work ethic and Mark Spitz’s toughness” under the tutelage of coach Rick Curl. He chose to attend the University of Michigan after graduating from Yorktown High School in 1993. By choosing Michigan, Dolan was able to train with Eric Namesnik. Namesnik had dominated the 400 IM during his college career, setting the American record in the event four times. Namesnik was already an alumnus when Dolan started college, but the two trained together and raced each other every day since Namesnik was still swimming for Urbanchek as a member of Club Wolverine.
It was reported that the two 400 IMers did not like one another although they were training partners for several years. At the 1994 US National Championships during Dolan’s freshman year, he won the 400 free, 800 free, 1,500 free, and the 400 IM. His 400 IM time of 4:13.52 was an American record, beating the standard that had been set by Namesnik. Later that year at the World Championships in Rome he set the world record in the 400 IM with a time of 4:12.30. Dolan became a dominant force in NCAA Division 1 swimming as well, winning national titles in 1994 (800 free relay), 1995 (500 free, 1,650 free, 400 IM, 800 free relay), and 1996 (500 free, 1,650 free, 400 IM, and 800 free relay).
As the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games loomed on the horizon, Dolan and his Michigan coach Jon Urbanchek were ready. In Atlanta, Dolan edged Namesnik to win the 400 IM in 4:14.90, earning his first Olympic gold medal. Dolan also swam the 200 IM at those Games, but he finished seventh. At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Dolan successfully defended his 400 IM title, winning gold again and breaking his own world record in the process with a time of 4:11.76. Dolan held the world record in the 400 IM from 1994 to 2002. Dolan earned another Olympic medal at the Sydney Games–a silver–in the 200 IM.
Dolan retired shortly after the 2000 Olympics. He worked for the United States Olympic Committee and as an investment banker before opening the Tom Dolan Swin School in Dulles, Virginia on February 1, 2012. The motto for the Tom Dolan Swim School is “Swim Thru Life” and people of all ages can learn to swim thanks to the school’s lessons. Tom was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an "Honor Swimmer" in 2006.
I know that nobody here really wants to remember the game and the play that happened on October 17th, 2015, but I wanted to organize my thoughts and also take a moment to appreciate the University of Michigan and its fan base.
For those of you already confused or unaware, I am better known in the world of college football as the 'Shocked Michigan Fan.' Yes, that guy that you are probably envisioning right now with his hands on his head. I have been a fan of Michigan athletics for as long as I can remember and jumped up and down with joy in the middle of my high school class when I learned that I had been accepted into the College of Engineering at U of M in Ann Arbor. Ever since Jalen Watts-Jackson crossed that goal line and my disappointment graced millions of TVs across the country, I can only say that I’ve never been more proud to call the University of Michigan my home.
Immediately after the game, I stood with my friends and the entire UM student body in shock. I watched as the Spartans dog piled only a few feet from me and proceeded to watch them shout at the student section. I saw them raise Paul Bunyan and have a party in the middle of the Big House. Still unsure if what I had witnessed was a reality, I began to stagger up the steps of the stadium and back to West Quad. When I finally decided to check my phone, I found that I had received dozens of texts from family, friends, and people I barely knew showing me my 10 seconds of fame. That night, I watched SportsCenter anchors Max Bretos and Jonathan Coachman gawk at my image on national television.
In the days immediately following, things picked up quickly. Here on mgoblog there was already some outreach.My friend created a post about possible legal action and there was plenty of discussion and advice. Special thanks to BiSB for handling some matters there that I won’t delve into. Another topic was created dedicated entirely to concern over my well-being. On the outside, I spoke with multiple news outlets from all over that wanted to talk about what it was like to be ‘The Guy,’ as I would generally be known.
In the past year, I’ve had some experiences I could have never imagined. In my lifetime I did not expect to be on TV more than a few times, but then I was being flown to Atlanta to attend the College Football Awards Show. I shook hands with Dabo Swinney, Derrick Henry, Deshaun Watson, and even Mark Dantonio.
Even with the trip and the dozens of interviews, one thing that has stood out is the power of the University of Michigan fan base. I’ve talked to hundreds of people affiliated with the university who I would have never met before the fame. This ranges from alumni to current students to those who simply follow the football team. I’ve run into people in my hometown, while I was on vacation in North Carolina, and of course Ann Arbor, among other places; all expressing their excitement and jumping at the chance to snap a quick picture with me. It has been a positive experience every time. Nearly every person has shown some sort of concern about how I am handling the fame, sometimes offering money and compliments as forms of support. The UM community has truly proven themselves as the best community in the world.
Now, it’s a year later and I sit here with high anticipation for the rest of this season, especially with a trip to East Lansing coming soon. We had many long years with our football team and that heartbreaking play was just one more trial on the way back to the top. Once again, thanks to everyone who I have met over the last year. It has definitely been a year of experiences that I will never forget. Here’s to a great finish to the 2016 season, Go Blue!
Yours in football,
Chris Baldwin (‘The Guy’)
Caveat: I, unfortunately, will not be able to cover every single game due to football season and other Blog-related responsibilities. Also, as far as the statistical approach goes, I will be at the mercy of both the video availability of games and the creative ways to get shot charts from each game. (Like for the Ferris State game, they apparently only gave out 1st and 2nd period shot charts). Hopefully, I can make this work for the most part.
(Paul Sherman) Quite a debut
Like I stated previously, I was unable to see this game and only have two of the three shot charts. However, through two periods, M only generated 16 attempts at the net in 5v5 play. That is even worse than the first game against Union (the second game was a little better). The offensive questions still abound. Multiple people who did see the game told me that Ferris generally dominated play and M had trouble finding scoring opportunities. The shooting charts seem to back that theory. While they did manage to win this game, Ferris State is an 0-4 WCHA team. If you are unable to control the puck against them, it does not bode well for upcoming weekends.
I had the CORSI score at 22-16 in favor of Ferris State through two periods. I can definitely live with giving up 22 attempts in two periods. They did allow the Bulldogs to get seven chances in the lower slot, however. I would hope to see more of those attempts come from the perimeter. Again, the Wolverines got some steller goaltending, which again seemed to cover up a somewhat leaky defense.
One of the bright sides for M has been their power play. They tallied both of their goals in this game on the man advantage. Jake Slaker got his first career goal as M took the lead midway through the second period. Slaker would also tally an assist on the Wolverines second power play goal. Sam Piazza's game-winner also came up a man in the third period. It was Piazza's third goal of the season, giving him the team lead. Michigan did draw five power plays on the night and definitely took advantage of their opportunities.
Unfortunately, Michigan's parade to the penalty box continued against Ferris State. They took seven penalties in total. That is still too many, especially from a defense that is struggling to keep puck away from the front of the night. Fortunately, on Saturday, Michigan was able to kill six of the seven Bulldog power plays.
This has definitely been the brightest spot for the Wolverines...and they apparently are ridiculously deep. M has started a different goalie in each game this season and all three goalies have performed very well. Jack LaFontaine got his first career start and stopped 28 of the 29 shots that he saw. He came into Michigan as a highly regarded recruit and, by all accounts, lived up to the billing in his first opportunity. A knowledgeable friend said it was a "stand on his head" performance. Even with a bit of a leaky defense and a lacking offense, Michigan's goaltending has put them in position to win every game this season.
ODD MAN RUSHES
n/a for tonight
FINAL CORSI SCORE (though 2 periods)
Ferris State 22, Michigan 16
[Bryan Fuller – MGoBlog]
John Beilein’s entering his tenth season at Michigan – making him the fourth-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten. At this point, his methods, basketball ideology, recruiting habits, and distinct offensive style have become very familiar in Ann Arbor; even though there legitimate questions about his recruiting and his typically poor defenses, he’s one of the best offensive minds in college hoops. After having two teams that were legit national title contenders, things have trended downwards for Michigan: they missed the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15 and barely snuck in last year.
Of course, the injury to Caris LeVert was a devastating blow – as were many of the other injuries that have plagued Michigan since their Final Four trip a few years ago. Even though Michigan didn’t particularly play well in non-conference play last season, that wasn’t the fault of LeVert: the senior had developed into an All-American caliber player, was putting in the best defensive effort of his career, and seemed much more comfortable in an alpha dog role than he did as a junior. Unfortunately, he was lost to a season-ending injury for the second consecutive season – and was still a first-round draft pick.
Even without LeVert for almost the entirety of conference play (as well as Spike Albrecht, who was also sidelined by injury), Michigan scraped together an NCAA Tournament resume that was good enough to barely get the Wolverines in as one of the last four teams – forced to play in the “First Four” in Dayton. The best thing about their resume was the lack of truly bad losses, and Ohio State was the only team that wasn’t tournament-quality to beat Michigan. A handful of marquee wins – against Maryland, Purdue, and Indiana – were enough. Michigan’s mediocre conference efficiency margin (+0.4) suggests that they were lucky to get in.
Each of the starters from last year’s team will be back. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin are the veterans; both were highly-regarded as recruits but have seemingly hit their ceilings – Walton shot 36% from two and Irvin had a sub-100 offensive rating last season. Joining them are Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, a slashing junior guard who’s old for his class, Duncan Robinson – mostly Just A Shooter – and Mark Donnal, a redshirt junior center who’s being pushed by tantalizing German big man Moritz Wagner.
While that starting five has a decided lack of star power – and most of the bench transferred, leaving incoming freshmen likely to play – continuity and experience are things that Michigan hasn’t been able to enjoy for several years. Even without a star, those factors (as well as Beilein’s expertise) should mean that the offense will be among the Big Ten’s best. Ultimately, this seems like a high-floor, low-ceiling type team: unless there’s significant defensive improvement, it’s hard to envision a leap back into the conference’s top tier.
[More on the Wolverines after the JUMP]