"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Previously: nominal backcourt
Starter: Zak Irvin (Jr.)
Backups: Kam Chatman (So.), DJ Wilson (Fr.*), Moritz Wagner (Fr.)
On a roster that is suddenly brimming with depth this is the spot at which minutes are tightest. The competition here is not really between Irvin and the guys listed as backups—Irvin's playing 30+ minutes guaranteed—but between Kam Chatman, DJ Wilson, Moritz Wagner, and the two guys we covered as "small" forwards. There's about 50 minutes to divide up between the five players.
This preview projects that the bulk of those minutes go to Aubrey Dawkins and Duncan Robinson. Chatman shot 36/26 last year, Wilson is coming off a redshirt after looking pretty bad in 26 minutes before his injury, and Wagner is physically reminiscent of a freshman Caris LeVert. Dawkins was already a pretty good Big Ten player last year and is likely to improve; Robinson is shooting is shooting is shooting on a John Beilein team. They're getting minutes. These guys will get the squeeze.
It is reasonable to expect that one of the three candidates here steps forwards to become a quality bench player. Who that will be is anyone's guess. Chatman settled down late in the year, using his handle and passing ability to create some baskets. The coaches have been talking up Wilson's "productive" redshirt year… and I've also heard that he stepped it up in a big way after Wagner came in on an official visit and took it to him.
A redshirt for someone seems like a good idea. That would probably be Wagner… if he's not clearly better. Which is a possibility. I just don't know, man.
What I do know: Zak Irvin's going to be on the court a lot. Last year we asked him to become a "threes AND" guy. Progress in that department was dubious at best until a late surge forced upon him by the injury issues. Alex covered his remarkable uptick in things other than shots:
Even on the post-apocalypse roster it took several games for Irvin to grok the fact that he had to be Nik Stauskas now. When he did grasp it, he turned in the finest stretch of his Michigan career by some distance. It felt like he had grasped not only his role but how to create shots in the Beilein offense. While his role should be less prominent on next year's roster if only because he's no longer Dion Harris, the efficiency of possessions he uses promises to shoot up.
Irvin will be a big deal for other things, as well. He's going to be drawing guys Caleb Swanigan at (apparently) Purdue. Nigel Hayes at Wisconsin. And so forth and so on. Michigan has never been particularly good defensively at the 4 because of the guys they run out there at the spot; Irvin seems better able to hack it than just about anyone Beilein has had at Michigan. Glenn Robinson was pretty good as a sophomore. Other than that…? If Irvin can rebound at the clip he did late in the year and prove something other than weak spot on D, Michigan will benefit greatly.
Minute projection: Irvin 30, Miscellaneous 10.
[After the JUMP: Doyle, rebounding philosophies, and so forth.]
I thought I'd revisit the basketball roster now that it seems set. We covered similar ground in the Always Next Year post on the team, but now that the Minutes Crunch™ is official, let's look at how things might shake out.
Starter: Derrick Walton (Jr.)
Backups: Spike Albrecht (Sr.), Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman (So.)
Albrecht's hips and Walton's foot are lingering issues hovering over this spot. Derrick Walton was shut down in January and should be back from just about anything by November. His issues massively blunted his effectiveness. Walton went from a 45/41 percent shooter to 32/34. It's never good when a shooting line forces me to remind readers that the first one is twos and the second is threes.
Just about every part of Walton's statistical profile was static or regressed save his reliably mansome defensive rebounding; how much of that was the injury? How much was disorientation in an environment far more focused on his output? How much was just flat-out poor play?
We're hoping the answers to those questions are "lots," "some," and "not too much considering." Michigan and LaVall Jordan's point guard track record should mean that is close to the truth.
Still, the version of Derrick Walton Michigan gets is a major question mark for the season. Point guards have universally played above expectations since Darius Morris's freshman year. I just don't know what expectations are for Walton anymore.
Meanwhile, Spike Albrecht's presence would have certainly mitigated any downside here if he wasn't in the midst of dual hip surgeries. Instead he just probably mitigates any downside. The media has been told that he should be back in five or six months, no problem, but there are whispers he might be forced to redshirt. Albrecht was low usage and could not sustain his ludicrously low TO rates when forced into extensive action; he also led the post-LeVert team in assist rate by a huge margin and maintained shooting efficiency in a more difficult environment.
Spike was a major reason Michigan managed to remain competitive without Walton and Irvin. In the twelve games Michigan played without those two stars, Spike scored in double digits nine times, shot 45/43%, and had a stellar 60:19 assist:TO ratio. Even before the injuries Michigan was leaning on him heavily for minutes until the freshmen were somewhat more prepared. A senior reprise would have been most excellent. Is that still possible?
If not, MAAR steps into the breach. There are worse backup plans to your backup plans than a guy who put up 18 at Michigan State as a freshman and harassed DeAngelo Russell into an awful game. MAAR needs to work on his deep shooting (29% on fewer than two threes a game) and passing, but Michigan hasn't had a guy who can get to the basket like him since Trey. A bit more on him in the next section.
Minute projection: Fuzzy with injury issues. Call it Walton 25, Albrecht 15.
[After the JUMP: Caris, Dawkins, and the cavalry behind.]
See also: hockey.
a shruggie of a year [Bryan Fuller]
Despite a lot more playing time than anyone expected, Michigan seems content to allow Max Bielfeldt to graduate and move on. As a 6'7" center it seems unlikely he can feature on a team with major aspirations.
That is all.
And this isn't graduating yet but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that Austin Hatch may transition to a medical scholarship at some point.
NBA PIRACY AHOY
The looming unresolved question of the offseason is "wither Caris LeVert?" LeVert would be a mid-to-late first round pick if he decided to enter the draft, but chatter from Scout and Rivals holds that LeVert seems to be favoring a return. I don't have to explain how huge that would be. Fingers will be crossed until the deadline.
Other attrition is unlikely. Zak Irvin's late diversification has not piqued the interest of NBA evaluators just yet; Derrick Walton has not shown the kind of meteoric rise necessary for a guy of his stature to leave early.
technically incoming is the best kind of incoming [Bryan Fuller]
Technically, nobody right now. Michigan has two guys who are functionally incoming, however. D-III transfer Duncan Robinson spent his redshirt year testing Nik Stauskas's practice marksmanship records and gathering hype:
"I texted Nik (telling him the record fell)," Beilein said of Robinson's record on WTKA 1050-AM on Thursday morning, adding that he didn't witness it personally. "(Stauskas) was happy, but he was also sad that the record went down. Duncan can really shoot the ball and as he learns the other parts of the game, he's tough to stop in practice." …
"He can help us against that zone anytime," said Beilein, who kept the record to himself, later saying, "I'm not going to disclose the numbers and maybe it will come out at some time, because I'm not sure I'm supposed to do that."
Robinson should be Just A Shooter, always a handy thing to have around. He could be something more.
Meanwhile, DJ Wilson took a redshirt after a second injury in a few months. Prior to that he'd offered hints that he could be an impact defender and skilled 4/5 man. He'd also struggled immensely in brief spurts of playing time against grown-ass men. (Not Eddie Johnson. Others.) Wilson was a solid four star recruit after an impressive senior season in California and could play either post-type position.
Michigan is also active in the spring recruiting period. Uber-prospect Jaylen Brown just took a visit, and Sam's saying there's a chance; German Moritz Wagner took a visit and seems set to choose Ann Arbor unless his pro team can convince him to change course; late-rising instate post Mike Edwards was just on campus; Seton Hall point guard transfer Jaren Sina, who Michigan recruited a bit a couple years ago, is listing Michigan amongst his options.
Edwards is 6'10" instate player who blew up as a senior, going from a lonely Akron offer to high-major offers from Nebraska and Georgia. Michigan is poking around but has not offered.
Will they? I'd be a bit surprised. Michigan has Donnal and Doyle plus 2016 7-footer Jon Teske; DJ Wilson may play the 5 for them as well. Even if you assume Wilson is a full-time 4, that would be a post per year for four straight. On the other hand, an incessant parade of senior Cs sounds okay by me.
Michigan has at least one slot from Bielfeldt's graduation and may have up to three depending on Hatch and LeVert. It seems like the most likely outcome here is Wagner, and only Wagner, comes.
USELESS BUT MANDATORY MINUTE BREAKDOWNS
After a year in which we fussed about auto-bench and a couple of walk-ons got meaningful playing time in most games, here is a happy about-face: it's difficult to find minutes for everyone if LeVert comes back.
remember me? [Eric Upchurch]
POINT GUARD: Walton 25, Spike 15.
Hard to imagine Walton getting fewer than 30 a game even with Albrecht establishing himself a very good offensive player in trying circumstances last year, but 1) Walton only got 26 as a freshman when he was fully healthy and 2) all of the remaining minutes went to Spike.
Meanwhile Albrecht ended up playing over 30 this year and maintained a healthy 112 ORTG thanks to lots of assists and excellent shooting. There are going to be games and matchups where he may be the preferred option. When Michigan goes up against Bennie Parker or Lourawls Tum-Tum Nairn Jr, Spike's size deficiency isn't going to be, you know, deficient.
Walton could blow up a la Morris/Burke and relegate Albrecht to more bench time. The above is a best guess at a position that's relatively uncertain despite having two upperclassmen.
SHOOTING GUARD, LEVERT EDITION: LeVert 30, Spike 5, MAAR 5.
There will be some dual-point lineups. Spike's five minutes here are a representation of that. Past that, if LeVert's around he's playing a lot of minutes. Surprise!
MAAR looks like he might be the odd man out in the musical chairs of next year's lineup: his handle won't be needed to spot PG minutes, he didn't shoot anywhere near Dawkins's numbers, and he doesn't bring the rebounding others might. Ace pointed out on a podcast that MAAR showed hints that he might be a lockdown perimeter defender (D'Angelo Russell had a terrible game against him) and that this might be a ticket to playing time. That's probably his best hope for PT next year.
SHOOTING GUARD, NBA PIRACY EDITION: MAAR 20, Spike 10, Robinson 10
In the unhappy event LeVert decides on the draft, dual-point lineups increase, MAAR gets a healthy chunk of playing time, and Duncan Robinson finds more time as a floor-stretching kickout option even if that's the extent of his game.
It'll be disappointing if LeVert does enter after these positive noises, but this hypothetical SG lineup is far from ominous.
SMALL FORWARD: Dawkins 25, Robinson 15
Dawkins's late shooting surge—he shot 48% from 3 in Big Ten play as part of a larger improvement in his game has everyone hype, as does the addition of the alley-oop dunk to his arsenal late in the season. This minutes breakdown is looking at Dawkins as 3 defensively but envisions his role on offense similar to that of GRIII: shoot corner threes, cut to the basket for explosive dunks, drive off closeouts.
Meanwhile, Robinson is a wildcard. It seems like his floor is a knockdown shooter off the bench. Robinson hit 45% from three as a freshman at Williams, and if he's given similar quality shots there's no reason to expect a dropoff. Readiness won't be an issue after a redshirt year, especially since highlight videos of his year in D-III demonstrate he's running Beilein's offense down to the cut.
If Jaylen Brown does come to Michigan—knock on wood—he would suck up 30 minutes here, leaving Dawkins and Robinson in a situation similar to MAAR's.
HELLO THIS IS ZAK [Fuller]
"POWER" FORWARD: Irvin 30, Chatman 10, Wagner?
Irvin will be the non-post most suited to bang in the paint on defense and rebound so he goes here. Michigan hopes to get the playmaking ability he demonstrated late last year. He could be the alpha dog; that could be LeVert; hopefully we get something like the Trey/Tim/Nik or Nik/Caris/Derrick teams in which the shots are spread out such that focusing on any one player just makes his assist totals go up.
Chatman struggled for most of last year. Like Irvin and Dawkins, he did come on late with a number of skilled drives to the basket and the first flashes of the passing ability he was noted for in high school. It does not seem likely he will push through anyone to field extensive playing time in year two, but if he can start giving consistently quality minutes off the bench that would set the table for a starting job as a junior if Irvin's improvement carries him to the draft.
Wagner's not even on the team yet; if he comes he will compete at the 3 and 4. He is not coming to redshirt but he's super skinny so playing time in year one might be scant.
CENTER: Doyle 24, Wilson 8, Donnal 8
Bigs develop. Repeat this mantra until you feel good.
Either Mark Donnal takes a quantum leap forward on defense or Ricky Doyle eats up most of the minutes in the post next year, fouls permitting. Doyle has a much larger frame than other options and held his own against the posts of the Big Ten. Since Doyle is also a year younger than Donnal you would expect him to develop more quickly.
Doyle has a terrific ability to finish around the basket and actual post moves. he needs to work on his hands, mostly, and reduce the foul rate that is inherent in project freshman bigs. He hedges pretty well and he gets a lot of offensive rebounds Meanwhile I wonder what the team defensive rebounding rates are with Doyle on the floor versus other options with shinier DREB numbers. Michigan is utilizing a boxout-focused style that often results in a guard skying for the rebound as Doyle butt-shoves his man out of the way.
In any case, I've been a bandwagon member since the start and think he will develop into a very solid option. He shot 61% this year in a finishing environment leagues tougher than that faced by any Michigan post since the Beilein effect kicked in; with more assisted buckets he could scrape Jordan Morgan efficiency levels while providing a bit more size on D.
Donnal, meanwhile, needs to spend the offseason gluing sand to his jaw and making mean faces in the mirror. (Also lifting weights but mostly the first two.) He averaged 6.4 fouls per 40 last year (Doyle and Bielfeldt were around 4), which was indicative of his overall struggles on D. Offensively he was efficient but low-usage.
Wilson could figure in at the 4; the guess here is that Michigan deploys him as a skilled, skinny 5, hoping his promising shot blocking makes up for what figures to be a rebounding deficiency.
FORWARD [Patrick Barron]
A major rebound beckons. This is a team that was a few points away from being 10-8, even 11-7 in the Big Ten despite not having the two guys expected to be stars before the year. If LeVert returns Michigan adds him, Walton, Robinson, Wilson, and possibly a recruit to that team. Meanwhile subtract only Bielfeldt.
Michigan also gets a year older all around. This should see them rise to approximately average in Kenpom's "experience" metric. Michigan has been hovering in Kentucky territory for a while now. It is a Beilein miracle that they've had the results they have despite that.
It'll be nice to have some guys who are a bit older. Michigan started Getting It on offense late last year as the posts realized when they should roll to the basket and the wings figured out their cuts. It wasn't just Zak Irvin knowing he should pass that helped his assist numbers go up; there were also options for him to pass to.
The LeVert version of this team can be really good, especially if Irvin is going to continue to progress and Walton regains the explosion he lost as a sophomore. They would be a Big Ten contender—and depending on what happens with the rest of the league possibly the favorite—and an easy Sweet 16 seed.
The No LeVert version of this team could still hit that ceiling but it seems more reasonable to project them as a second-tier Big Ten team that gets a seed from 5 to 9.
the nice bit of the tourney [Patrick Barron]
A three phase season, with the beginning promising, the middle terribly disappointing, and the end promising again, but for next year. The Irvin surge. Freshman bigs: bad. Doyle: thus promising.
Minutes distribution. Hello: Moritz Wagner? X factor overuse. Deep, deep team next year. LeVert? Yes please sir.
"Across 110th Street"
"Intermission," Monty Python
"Dark Days," PUP
"Anti-Summersong," The Decemberists
THE USUAL LINKS
"College basketball is facing a crisis. It’s time for an extreme makeover."
-Seth Davis, 3/2/2015
After a one-year surge in offense spurred by a sometimes-enforced focus on contact and the virtual elimination of off-ball charges, college basketball largely reverted to its old rules this year. The result: a fractional dip in scoring to new lows and sustained outcry from announcers and newspapermen alike.
Damn things like "division," full speed ahead:
Is college basketball in crisis?
Scoring is down. Pace is at an all-time low. Some teams are winning with defense, which is fine, but far too many others are surviving simply because — let's face it — they miss fewer shots.
Damn things like "bothering to look at even one stat," full speed ahead:
[Colorado head coach Tad] Boyle said several factors, including the way the game is officiated, has led to lower scoring. Teams also tend to do the same things offensively, which makes defending them easier. But for the most part Boyle boiled it down. "Better shooting, quite frankly, would really help," he said.
Seth Davis had a major SI piece decrying the decline:
The more things change, the more they ... get worse. College basketball is slower, more grinding, more physical and more, well, offensive than it has been in a long, long time. The 2014-15 season is shaping up to be the worst offensive season in modern history. Through Feb. 22, teams were averaging 67.1 points per game. That is the lowest average since 1952. The previous low for that span was set just two years ago. This more than reverses the gains that were made last season, after the rules committee made adjustments to clamp down on physical defense and make it harder to draw a charge. Thanks to lax enforcement by officials and a foolish decision to reverse the block/charge modification, scoring declined by 3.79 points per game. That is the steepest single-season drop on record.
As of late, the fretting has spread to the athletic director level, as those ADs look at their attendance figures. All of this looks at the state of the game today and shakes its head sadly at what we've lost.
And it's all nonsense.
College basketball has barely changed
The thing about college basketball is how little it's changed over the past 13 years. Kenpom has data back to 2002 showing an eerily static state of play, with a slight trend towards more efficiency.
Things that actually seem to have a trend are bolded:
|Possessions per game||64.8||67.3||67.3||69.5|
Shooting has remained shockingly static, as have all the individual components—despite the three point arc moving back slightly during this sample. Offensive efficiency has in fact increased even without the rules changes that a panicked committee instituted two years ago, implemented after a season (2013) in which offensive efficiency was a half-point worse per hundred possessions than it was in 2002.
Only a few things have actually changed: there are fewer turnovers and steals as teams take care of the ball better; there are fewer offensive rebounds as more teams adopt the Wisconsin/Michigan model of preventing transition opportunities at all costs. And there are fewer possessions.
That's it. Games are in fact getting shorter in terms of time spent doing the basketball. Free throw rates remain essentially constant as the denominator shrinks. There are fewer balls flung out of bounds, stopping the clock. Little that happens during the 40 minutes the clock is actually running has changed in 13 years. There are 7% fewer possessions. That is about it.
This holds at all levels. Major conference stats from leagues that had approximately the same membership over the course of these 13 years (ie, not the Big East) show the same broad trends, albeit with the additional jitter inherent in a much smaller sample size. The ACC has plummeted from the country's second-fastest league to #23:
|Possessions per game||63.3||67.8||70.5||74.2|
The Big Ten is less dramatic but similar:
|Possessions per game||62.3||62.3||62.8||65.1|
The Big Ten has shown some degradation of shooting as fewer fouls are called and effective field goal percentage slips, but the large decrease in turnovers has offset that.
The Big Twelve has undergone a dip in efficiency…
|Possessions per game||64.7||69.1||65.4||70.2|
…but again, we are talking about a league losing approximately one basket per game. Hardly a crisis. The Big Twelve still shows the overall slowdown and hints at the reduction in TOs and OREBs as well.
College basketball is fine when college basketball is being played
There is no college basketball scoring crisis. There is a college basketball actually-playing-basketball crisis.
It is not particularly surprising that athletic directors will leap at any explanation they can get their hands on to explain ever-slower games and declining attendance, even if that entails flogging a measly 7% decline in the number of shots as the end of basketball. It's not surprising because the alternative is finding the true culprits: the athletic directors themselves.
The athletic directors are the ones signing the contracts that see every timeout, and there are a million timeouts, followed by a commercial. They're the ones who implemented the ridiculous review system that stops play for minutes at a time to not give someone a flagrant foul or arbitrarily decide to overturn or not overturn an out of bounds call that was already pretty arbitrary.
They are the ones responsible for this:
Overall, the last 60 seconds of the 52 [most recent 2014 NCAA tourney] games combined have taken five hours, 44 minutes, and 51 seconds to complete. (That's including the five bonus final minutes from overtime games.) 5:44:51 is 605 percent longer than realtime; the average final minute took 5:57 to finish, with a median of 5:29.
That is insane.
Maybe people were inclined to put up with that when the alternatives were watching Hee-Haw or silently playing chess in a room with one very loud ticking clock. Not so much these days.
The problem is with the product. Fix the product. You might make less money right now, but with a better product you will be better off in the long run. Here's how you fix the product:
- Coaches must sacrifice a digit to call a timeout. The timeout signal is now a head coach handing one of his freshly snipped fingers or toes to the referee. Until such time as the coach has too few fingers to manipulate the shears, he must snip the fingers off himself. Afterwards his wife or children must.
…what? "Too extreme," you say? "This is barbaric," you say? "I will not condone this sort of behavior in our society," you say?
- Severely reduce the number of timeouts. Ideally this is one, like hockey. More realistically you need to cut them down to three. Timeouts benefit nobody except megalomaniac coaches. They drastically lessen the immediacy of frantic finishes. By allowing teams in the lead to avoid five-second calls, tie-ups, and turnovers after getting trapped they reduce the chances of a trailing team coming back.
- All remaining timeouts before the last five minutes take the place of media timeouts. The timeout-ten-seconds-of-play-timeout thing is an awful frustration in the middle of the game.
- Media timeouts are every five minutes, not four.
- If you want to shorten the shot clock to 30 seconds, okay I guess. I was previously opposed to this since it would lead to more ugly late clock shots from college basketball outfits without guys who are particularly good at isolation, but the stats over the 15 years suggest that basketball could withstand a slight dip in efficiency okay.
You'll give up some money initially, but increased competition for fewer spots will make up some of it—you're still the only live game in town these days—and increased ratings from being less positively insufferable to watch will support the rest. As a side benefit, people will be more inclined to watch your games when they consist largely of game instead of t-shirt cannon.
The game is the same. It is eerily the same. If there's a difference it's in the stuff in between the game.