Not Maize, but crose enough!
West Virginia is currently in the Sweet Sixteen. Michigan would not have made the Sweet Sixteen in a seventeen team tournament that featured M versus
- the 0-29 New Jersey Institute of Technology
- the Glendale School for Headless Boys
- Courtney Sims International Toughness Academy
- Five Separate Mounds of Animal Crackers Ranging from Six-Two to Seven-Foot-Even
- Mary Kate Olsen
- Feral Chicken State University
- the Armenian National Team
- Strippers Killed By Kwame Kilpatrick
- Superintelligent Mutated Algae
- Team Oompa-Loompa
- Bill Simmons, his dad, his infant child, "J-Bug," and "House"
- the Knicks
- Avery Queen, Maurice Searight, Josh Moore, Gavin Groninger, and Jerrett Smith, aaaaand
One team is coached by John Beilein. Correction: John Beilein looks at one team with a visage of perfect exasperation and incredulity. It was recruited and assembled by Tommy Amaker. The other team was recruited and assembled by John Beilein. It is coached by Bob Huggins.
The question for beleaguered Michigan basketball fans: how much of West Virginia's current success can John Beilein take credit for? The answer is somewhere between "all" and "none."
Some context for your consideration:
- Beilein took the Gansey-Pittsnogle crew to a Sweet Sixteen and an Elite Eight with a thin, veteran roster. In 2006 ninety-six percent of the playing time was split between seven players, five of whom graduated after 2006.
- In Beilein's last year the only returning contributors were Frank Young and Darris Nichols, who accounted for 20% of WVU's minutes the year before. That team went 21-9 in the regular season, narrowly missing the NCAA tournament. They then won the NIT.
- There were just two seniors on that team: Young, the leading scorer, and center Rob Summers. Summers played about half of WVU's minutes; he was offensively efficient but very low-usage, a Brent Petway sort who takes a small number of really good shots someone else creates for him. His notable contributions were as an offensive rebounder (13.1 percent of shots, 64th in the country) and shot blocker (199th). His minutes were replaced by sophomore Wellington Smith, who's a hell of a offensive rebounder and shot blocker and a decent, low usage scorer.
- This year's WVU team returned about 75% of its minutes; the only freshman who saw any playing time was Beilein signee John Flowers. The players on the team were assembled entirely by Beilein.
Why is West Virginia better this year?
|Team||O. Efficiency||Adj. O. Eff||O SOS||D. Efficiency||Adj D. Eff||D SOS|
|2006||112.5 (20th)||118.3 (13th)||66th||97.8 (72nd)||94.0 (57th)||75|
|2007||111.3 (26th)||116.3 (20th)||47th||95.1 (32nd)||89.9 (21st)||39|
(A reminder: these are all Kenpom numbers and are as such adjusted for tempo; the "adj" efficiencies above are also adjusted for quality of competition and cannot be questioned in any way ever.)
The numbers indicate that under Huggins an outstanding offense got slightly less outstanding and a pretty good defense got significantly better.
What's completely fascinating is the wholesale makeover the offense made while still maintaining approximately the same level of production. Under Beilein, the offense was a manic exercise in extremes. Under Huggins it's much more conventional. Effective, but conventional:
Raw Efficiency : 112.5 ( 20) 111.3 ( 26)
Adj Efficiency : 118.3 ( 13) 116.3 ( 24)
Effective FG% : 54.7 ( 17) 51.6 (102)
Turnover Pct. : 17.0 ( 10) 16.2 ( 7)
Off. Rebound% : 30.2 (270) 34.4 (107)
Free Throw Rate: 20.1 (306) 25.0 (182)
3-Point FG% : 37.4 ( 62) 36.4 (108)
2-Point FG% : 53.4 ( 22) 50.1 (102)
Free Throw Pct.: 71.3 (108) 68.7 (175)
Block Pct. : 8.6 (133) 6.7 ( 15)
Steal Pct. : 9.2 (111) 8.2 ( 29)
3PA/FGA : 49.0 ( 5) 34.4 (165)
A/FGM : 68.7 ( 3) 58.2 (100)
About the only things that remain constant are an extremely low turnover percentage and , to a lesser extent, three-point and free throw percentages. The rest of it tacks to the center like a presidential candidate after he locks up the nominaiton.
Herein you can see the way a Beilein offense is supposed to work: pass it to the wide open guy, wide open guy shoots. That explains the incredible EFG%, the incredible assist percentage, the incredibly bad free throw rates and offensive rebounding. Huggin's team is pretty good at a lot of things but only great at avoiding turnovers.
Let's look at the six returning players:
Nichols suffered. His usage, eFG%, FTRate, and assist rates all dropped precipitously, as did his shooting. Interestingly, Nichols actually took more threes this year.
The slide could be an effect related to the graduation of Frank Young, WVU's best player in 2007 and the recipient of most of the defensive attention.
Ruoff's usage dipped a bit and his assist rate collapsed, but holy hell: 62% on twos and 40% on threes. Ruoff was the nation's 50th best eFG% shooter and I'm betting half of the guys ahead of him are Brent Petway sorts with usages around 10%. I think we'll see why Ruoff got this bump in a bit.
Butler is the starting small forward and saw himself become more of a slasher and interior player: three point attempts dropped as most everything else remained stable. Note the significant bump in offensive rebounding: Butler was closer to the basket.
Alexander upped his already high usage, held his eFG steady, increased his FTrate enormously, and actually increased his assist rate; three pointers plummeted to 9% of his shots. What this says to me: the WVU offense moved to a heavily Alexander-based isolation-kick game. This killed everyone's assists except Alexander, upped Alexander's usage, and turned Ruoff into Kyle Korver.
Mazzula took so few threes this year that the huge jump in percentage should be dismissed as small sample size.
Smalligan, a Zach Gibson type whose main asset is his outside shooting, got killed and is now a bench guy who hardly sees any time because the offense can't figure out how to use a big man outside the arc.
So what in this is relevant? I think there are two things.
- Beilein really does have an offensive system that outperforms the rest of the planet. Huggins returned four starters and 80% of the minutes from Beilein's NIT champions and implemented a conventional, NBA-style offense with an excellent isolation threat down low in the form of Joe Alexander and a couple of guys with three point percentages around 40 to kick to. The result? A slightly worse offense.
- These kids can play, man. There is a concern out there that Beilein got lucky with the Gansey/Pittsnogle group and will never find that sort of success again. And what did that success consist of? A couple of good runs in the NCAA tournament coupled with fifth-place finishes in the Big East and middling seeds. Lose a game here or there and no one thinks Beilein is anything but an above average coach with a low ceiling.
While the "low ceiling" point hasn't exactly been dispelled by the exploits of a seven seed that finished fifth in the Big East, Beilein recruited every player who's seen the floor for WVU this year and is there any one of them that you wouldn't trade for the Michigan player at his position? These guys are talented enough to run Beilein's system one year and then something entirely different the next and finish with a top 25 offense both years. Beilein finds talent that the recruiting services do not. I don't know why, but think it has something to do with an increased focus on guys who just love basketball and would rather shoot 4000 jumpers than play My Little Pony.
The one evident downside: maybe Beilein just can't coach defense? Huggins took the supposedly unathletic group Beilein left him and radically improved their rankings. I'll take a look at the other side of the ball sometime next week.
1/31/2008 - Michigan 32, Minnesota 52 - 10-ish minutes left, second half
I am one of those irritating people who makes it a point of pride to never leave a sporting event early. Since I matriculated at Michigan, I'm pretty sure the only time I've left a game early was during this dismal year, when I bolted with a couple minutes left in the Oregon game. And after those two weeks who could blame me? Or anyone? When not facing the imminent danger of perpetrating mass homicide, I endure.
I have seen Walter Cross run for 100 yards long after Donovan McNabb turned Michigan's defense into confused goo. (What remained of the student section gamely chanted "Cross is boss" as the minutes ticked off Michigan's futile grasp at respectability.) I have waited out 6-1 losses to Northern Michigan at Yost. I have sat in the world's worst-designed poncho and watched Michigan tackle a directional Michigan school -- which I don't remember and doesn't matter -- in the brief windows when the wind was not whipping said ill-designed poncho into my face and my newly-cleansed glasses had not been re-coated by the insistent, driving rain.
I have sat through it all, melting-hot September games against MAC foes and frigid, dull things against Northwestern and Purdue. Misery has little power over me.
This year, I've gotten through one of the five Michigan basketball games I've attended.
This latest was perhaps the most depressing sporting event I can remember. Michigan quickly fell behind by double-digits in a half-empty arena. The loudest group of people in the place were a hundred or so Minnesota students who had bizarrely decided to crash Crisler en masse on a Thursday night. At some point during the second half they chanted "our house" over and over; all I could think is "how goddamn far away is Minneapolis? Is it Thursday? What day is this?"
It was indeed Thursday; according to Google Maps, Minneapolis is 648 miles from Ann Arbor, 10 and a half hours by car. Seriously... what the hell? I can understand invasions from East Lansing or Columbus or, I dunno, Toronto or something, but Minneapolis? Don't you have better things to do than spend either 20 hours or hundreds of dollars to see your kinda-crappy basketball team beat up on Michigan's very crappy basketball team? Evidently not.
At halftime they had a 40th anniversary celebration for Crisler. Most of the 1968 team was there to receive the hearty applause that is their due. There was a great spiel about Rudy Tomjanovich, the star of that team and one of the names in the rafters at Crisler. He was not there, and that seemed appropriate. Cazzie Russell was, though, and that was sad.
Russell is one of those elderly gentlemen who radiates dignity and authority in their very mien. The nearest equivalent in my experience has been Red Berenson, who seems to terrify first-round draft picks into committing to Michigan merely by cocking his eyebrow. Russell has that sort of bearing.
So he stood with his bearing, and listened to his accomplishments -- which are many -- and was then told he stood in the House Cazzie Built and that seemed like kind of a cruel thing to tell a nice old man who never did you any harm. The House Cazzie Built is half-empty, overrun by bums from half a continent away, and home to a team likely to set records for futility.
Michigan has not so much as reached the NCAA tournament since 1998, an impressive feat matched by an ever-dwindling list of maybe ten major-conference teams. Being there is an act of masochism. But hey... new lights!
I have four more tickets sitting at a drawer at home; I don't know how many more of them I'll use.
- Speaking of the announcer guy... oh, God. At least 5% of the Crisler misery is because of him. I understand the arena is dead, but importing the PA guy from the Sioux Falls Skyforce isn't going to help things. The pizza giveaways SPONSORED BY DOMINOS!!!, the stupid free-throw shooting competitions, the fake cheer in the announcement whenever anyone makes a basket... none of this crap would fly at either Michigan Stadium or Yost. Michigan's always avoided the WOOOO THIS IS SPORRRRRRTZZZ presentation, except at basketball games.
Attention: this is not the D-league.
I actually like Jay Bilas quite a bit. He's one of the rare color guys/studio analysts who will explain the finer details of basketball to the layman. He usually strikes a nice balance between the Vitale and Packer ends of the basketball announcer spectrum. But he's totally nuts about longtime friend Tommy Amaker's firing at Michigan. The latest salvo, and there have been a few previous, is an interview in the Free Press in which Bilas says many ridiculous things. Here's one:
Michigan athletic director Bill Martin said he tells his coaches that their job is to be always knocking on the door of a Big Ten championship every year and knocking on the door of a national championship every few years. Is Beilein capable of those standards? They haven't been doing a lot of knocking the last 40 years. Before Amaker got there, all they were known for was cheating.
A completely false and unprofessional assertion. Michigan has been to the Final Four during the 60s, 70s, and 80s, winning a national championship in '89. Even if you would like to pretend that the Fab Five never happened, that's a record of achievement most schools look up to, asshat. In a four-question interview, Bilas brings up Michigan "cheating" twice. (This is where I point out that none of the violations were recruiting inducements, that if Ed Martin didn't exist the Fab Five still would have attended Michigan, and the same frickin' one-year self-imposed postseason ban and meaningless scholarship reduction penalties were assessed to an Ohio State program that obviously turned itself around quite quickly.)
Bilas has been beating this drum ever since people started question Amaker's job at Michigan, constantly questioning the dedication of the program while simultaneously decrying the one extremely obvious thing they did -- firing Amaker and hiring a guy at twice his salary -- that shows they're paying attention. Why does anyone bother to ask Bilas about this situation? Not only is he a fellow Dukie bound by their arcane preppy rituals, he was a frickin' teammate of Amaker and is evidently his bestest friend in the entire world. As a result, he says things like "Tommy put (the program) in really solid footing, and I think Michigan owes him a debt of gratitude for doing that," when any minimally competent coach could have ceased recruiting Dom Ingerson and Maurice Searight and Avery Queen, who were not only thugs but sucky thugs.
We can stipulate that Amaker was a better coach than Brian Ellerbe -- I mean, God, if we're going to get meatheads into the program let's at least make sure they can play -- but that's all. Michigan owes Tommy Amaker nothing more than the 900k stipulated in his contract. He was a terrible floor coach, a recruiter who couldn't put together a coherent roster, and he looked ridiculous. He is not a martyr. He was not done wrong. Michigan showed him more patience than virtually any other school in the country would: six years is an eternity in college basketball. No school above the Northwestern-Penn State level would tolerate Amaker's result and no one except Bilas would confuse the Michigan basketball program with either of those schools.
I want to be very clear on this: Tommy Amaker was not good for the Michigan program. He "cleaned up the program" only because the worst athletic director in the history of Michigan athletics decided to hire the worst coach in the history of Michigan athletics. Since Amaker is not three standard deviations below the mean it looks like he did a good job, but any basketball coach remotely qualified to coach in the Big Ten would have done a better one. Every reasonable candidate kicked around six years ago would have had more success. Everyone in the world except Dick Vitale, who refuses to criticize any coach ("Dave Bliss is awesome, baby!"), realizes this. Except Bilas.
Jay Bilas is quite literally the least objective person on the planet to talk to about this. So why bother asking?
Elsewhere: Joey demolishes Bilas as well:
What actual insight did a purported expert, Jay Bilas, offer during this interview? None. I feel stupider having read it. It was a bunch of tired talking points and worthless generalities. Not a single person who knows even a little bit about college basketball could have learned anything from this piece