a terrible blight on our fine country
Photo by Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog
Now that the disappointment stemming from an early NCAA tournament exit has largely melted away—replaced instead by a crippling fear that Trey Burke will go pro in similarly too-soon fashion—it's time to take a look back on the 2011-12 basketball season. Heading into the season, expectations weren't particularly high after the early departure of Darius Morris, and the burden was largely placed on Burke to get Michigan back to the tournament. From my season preview:
This year's team appears poised for a potential top-25 season and another tournament run, but much of those expectations rely on a smooth transition from a star in Morris to a true freshman in Burke while other players—most notably Hardaway and Smotrycz—pick up the scoring slack and keep the offense running smoothly. With a difficult non-conference slate that includes a brutal draw in the Maui Invitational, plus playing in a Big Ten conference ranked by KenPom as the nation's toughest, this looks to me like a team that will spend much of the season squarely on the tournament bubble.
Exceeding those expectations means that we either see vast improvement from key role players, a huge breakout from Tim Hardaway, or a fantastic freshman year out of Burke—none of those are out of the question, but none are certainties, either. If Michigan suddenly finds that they can't create inside scoring chances without Morris's penetration, or Hardaway spends the season trying to carry the offense by chucking up less-than-ideal shots, Michigan could fall short of their goals as the fanbase begins to look ahead to the arrival of Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nick Stauskas in 2012-13.
Michigan spent most of the season not on the tournament bubble, but firmly in the top 25, thanks to a fantastic freshman campaign from Burke. A late-season push, coupled with a little help from Ohio State, brought the team a share of its first Big Ten title in my lifetime. The team stumbled in the postseason, getting demolished by the Buckeyes in the conference tourney before bowing out to OHIO in the NCAAs, but there's no arguing that the season was a rousing success.
Today's review covers the guards—before you ask, Zack Novak gets lumped in with the forwards—and looks at their highlights, lowlights, and expectations for next year:
Preseason Expectations: Burke headed into the season as the big question mark on the team. We knew the freshman was talented, likely beyond what his recruiting profile would suggest, but would he pick up the offense quickly enough to carry the burden of being the team's lone true point guard?
Postseason Reality: Burke not only grasped John Beilein's complicated offense quickly, but proved to be a dymanic scorer with an on-court maturity well beyond that of the average freshman. He scored in double figures in all but four games and played 30+ minutes in every game after the season opener, including three 45-minute efforts. Burke's quickness and finishing ability made him tough to handle on the pick-and-roll, which became the staple of Michigan's offense, and he was also adept leading the fast break. He also held up well defensively, posting the lowest foul rate on the team despite playing in a conference chock-full of talented point guards. Burke had his freshman moments, struggling a bit against larger guards and aggressive hedging, but he was the clear-cut best player on the team. The only question now is if Burke was a little too good, at least when it comes to the prospects of next year's squad.
Highlight: For a single play, Burke's improbable floater off the high glass to seal the Ohio State victory stands out above the rest, doubly so because he made the shot over childhood friend and future lottery pick Jared Sullinger. For a game, however, I'm going with his 30-point outburst against Minnesota in the first round of the BTT, as the freshman carried the offense in what was otherwise an ugly slog—Burke shot 11-14 from the field, the rest of his teammates a combined 13-35. Burke played every minute of the game, and Michigan needed all of his production in a three-point overtime victory.
Lowlight: The next day wasn't as kind, as Burke—gassed from playing 45 minutes the night before and matched up against B1G DPOY Aaron Craft—was just 1-11 from the field with eight turnovers in a 22-point loss to Ohio State. The larger Buckeyes exploited Michigan's lack of size across the board, giving Burke little room to operate, and the game got out of hand in a hurry.
Key Numbers: 28.7% assist rate, 49.0 2pt%, 34.8 3pt%, 1.7 fouls committed/40 minutes.
Next Year: PLEASE COME BACK. If Burke returns, he'll once again carry the load at the point, as Michigan is hoping to land either a grad-year transfer or true freshman to provide some backup help. Most of Burke's improvement should come from a full year in a college strength program and a greater understanding of Beilein's offense—remember the second-year leap of Morris—which should help him learn how to deal with big, aggressive defenses. There are little things, like leaving his feet on the baseline without knowing where he's going with the ball, that Burke needs to work on. That's picking nits, however, and if he returns he should contend for All-America honors.
Preseason Expectations: Knock down some threes, play the usual solid perimeter defense, spell Burke at the point on occasion, and provide critical senior leadership.
Postseason Reality: The numbers don't jump off the page, but that was never the expectation from a willing role player. Douglass not only was the team's top perimeter defender and an outside shooting threat—he developed into a reliable second ball-handler and had a knack for getting to the rim, an aspect of his game that was entirely nonexistent until this season. Douglass knew how to avoid mistakes on both ends of the floor, posting a very solid 14.4% turnover rate and committing just 2.2 fouls per 40 minutes. Though he never developed into a lights-out shooter, Douglass helped the team in so many ways—especially on defense—that the numbers probably don't do his contribution justice. He stepped into the starting lineup when Evan Smotrycz struggled in Big Ten play, gave Burke the space to run the team, and matched up against the opposing team's best scorer on most nights—nobody will ever accuse Stu of not being a team player.
Highlight: Douglass's best game came on the road at Northwestern, as he helped push the team to an overtime victory with 12 points (4-7 from three) and five assists while shutting down a red-hot Drew Crawford in the second half and OT.
Lowlight: Douglass struggled down the stretch, shooting a combined 6-18 and dishing out just four assists over the team's last three games.
Key Numbers: 15.0% assist rate, 14.4% TO rate, 83.9 FT%
Next Year: Farewell, Stu. Douglass has graduated and will likely pursue a pro career overseas.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Preseason Expectations: After an outstanding freshman season, Hardaway was expected—perhaps unfairly, given his greater first-year production—to make a Morris-like leap to superstardom as a sophomore. Leading the team in scoring was a given, even if it meant a slight dropoff in efficiency, as was contention for postseason honors.
Postseason Reality: While Hardaway's per-game numbers weren't bad at all—14.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists—his long-range shooting was inconsistent at best. THJ finished the season shooting 53.5% from two on 235 attempts, a solid improvement over his first season, but just 28.3% from three on 187 attempts, a big dropoff. Tasked with creating his own shot more often, Hardaway struggled with his shot selection, often launching unnecessary long twos or contested threes early in the shot clock. Though he showed flashes of All-American potential, getting hot from the outside or finally using his superior athleticism to get to the basket, he never appeared fully comfortable with his shot, even battling a late-season swoon at the free-throw line. Issues with ballhandling—despite posting a low 14.4% turnover rate—and defensive effort also appeared at times during the season. It wasn't all bad—Hardaway finished the season strong and had several great games throughout—it just wasn't the year everyone, including Hardaway, was expecting.
Highlight: Michigan traveled to Illinois for a critical late-season contest in the midst of Hardaway's funk, and he snapped out of it to the tune of 25 points on 6-7 shooting (9-10 from the line) and 11 rebounds. THJ also scored 20 on 8-13 shooting and dished out four assists in the win over UCLA and poured in a season-high 26 against Penn State.
Lowlight: The dream of sweeping Michigan State twice in as many years met a rude reality in the Breslin Center, as Hardaway managed a season-low 4 points while connecting on just 1-10 shots from the field.
Key Numbers: 4.7 fouls drawn/40 minutes, 53.5 2pt%, 28.3 3pt%
Next Year: It's all but assured that Hardaway will return next season, and with Michigan losing Evan Smotrycz, Stu Douglass, and Zack Novak, he'll have to improve his shot selection from beyond the arc and bring that 3pt% at least close to where it was his freshman year (37%). Whether Burke stays or goes, Hardaway should also work on his handle, as too many times he simply lost the ball while driving into the paint. Mainly, however, Hardaway's 2012-'13 outlook depends on his mental approach; if he's willing to take the ball to the basket more often and play within the offense, his numbers will improve and so should the team. If that happens, we'll see the Hardaway many were afraid would be making the leap to the NBA by now.
Preseason Expectations: A few quality minutes off the bench while displaying the shooting prowess that made him one of the country's top long-range gunners in high school.
Postseason Reality: Vogrich didn't get a lot of burn, playing 26.5% of available minutes, in large part because his 30.2 3pt% mark fell short of expectations. However, Vogrich showed improvement on defense as well as a Novakian ability to come away with a surprising number of offensive rebounds. He also finished better at the rim this season, hitting 13 of his 23 two-point attempts. The long-range shooting, however, is what he's here for, and the significant dropoff from his freshman and sophomore years was worrisome.
Highlight: As Michigan once again needed overtime to put away Northwestern in Evanston, Vogrich hit 3-6 from deep and even chipped in two assists and a block. His nine points were a season high outside of his 11 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Lowlight: A 4-16 slump over a 10-game span in December and January really hampered Vogrich's overall numbers, and unfortunately also coincided with shooting woes from Hardaway and Smotrycz.
Key Numbers: 3.6 OR%, 56.5 2pt%, 30.2 3pt%
Next Year: Vogrich will have a role, but how large of one will depend on his shot with two-guard Nik Stauskas coming to campus as a highly-regarded shooter. If Vogrich can continue to hit the boards, he should get minutes in a thin backcourt, but in the end it all comes down to whether or not he connects from three. I'm guessing he bounces back, as he shot much better in his first two seasons than he did this year.
Preseason Expectations: Provide emergency minutes if Trey Burke needs oxygen.
Postseason Reality: Akunne played just 48 minutes all year, and only 10 in Big Ten play, mostly at the point. He did hit 4-5 of his three-point attempts, but also had four turnovers to a lone assist while looking a bit uncomfortable as a primary ballhandler when faced with pressure.
Highlight: Played 12 minutes against Iowa State and was 2-2 from the field (1-1 from three) for a career-high 5 points.
Lowlight: Coughed the ball up twice in two minutes against Oakland.
Next Year: With so little depth at the point, Akunne might be called upon to play a few minutes. Making sure he's comfortable taking the ball upcourt against a press or trap would be helpful.
Preseason Expectations: Brundidge, despite the four-star recruiting profile, wasn't expected to have the impact of Burke. The big question was how the 6'1" slasher's game would translate to the college level.
Postseason Reality: Brundidge played four fewer minutes than Akunne and shot a combined 1-8 from the field. He never played more than four minutes in a conference game, had a scary midseason bout with asthma, and never looked like he'd settled into Beilein's offense or the pace of the college game in general.
Highlight: The freshman's lone made field goal came against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, when he played a season-high 12 minutes.
Lowlight: His post-season transfer.
Next Year: Brundidge was one of three players to transfer after the season, so here's hoping he lands on his feet and carves out a role for himself at another program.
I had these tweets up from Sam Webb that hinted at some attrition from the basketball team but that's all irrelevant now:
University of Michigan men's basketball head coach John Beilein announced today (Wednesday, March 21) that sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz (Reading, Mass./New Hampton Prep [N.H.]),sophomore forward Colton Christian (Bellevue, Wash./Hargrave Military Academy) and freshman guard Carlton Brundidge (Southfield, Mich./Southfield HS) each decided to leave the Wolverine basketball program and transfer to another school.
Smotrycz is the headliner here. He started the first half of the year before Michigan went to Stu Douglass in the starting lineup; playing out of position the rest of the year at the five he still saw 20 minutes a game and was Michigan's best three-point shooter over the course of the season. He was projected to start at the four next year. His loss is both inexplicable and harmful. Unless Smotrycz was flat out told that McGary and Robinson were going to eat his minutes I don't understand that departure.
Brundidge only saw a few minutes spotting Trey Burke; Christian was also an end of the bench type.
Michigan's scholarship crunch just got blown away: Michigan could bring in two additional guys in the 2012 class and still have room for their three guys in 2013 without any further attrition. They only have one active target, 6'5" Findlay Prep PG/SG Amedeo Della Valle. He's got a top five Michigan is a part of along with Texas A&M, Ohio State, Arizona, and Gonzaga. They could also get in on the Trey Ziegler transfer sweepstakes now.
3/16/2012 – Michigan 60, OHIO(!!!) 65 – 24-10, 13-5 Big Ten, end of season
I'm about to paint with the kind of broad brush that had a couple people call me kinda racist after I asserted that Illinois DT Corey Liuget and I probably didn't have a lot of common life experiences, but here goes anyway.
A guy on the internet asserted that there seemed to be a big gap between serious Michigan hockey fans and the rest of the Michigan fanbase in their reactions to Michigan's frustrating loss to OHIO(!!!) on Friday, and man do I see that. I did the usual kick-the-cat, drink-the-whiskey thing in the immediate aftermath, but then it was just… fine. It sucks for the guys, especially Zack and Stu, but they don't put up banners for getting to the Sweet 16. They do for winning the league, and Michigan did that.
The disappointment from the tournament is real, and I feel what Dylan evidently did after taking that punch in person…
In the present, the retrospection and drooling about the future can wait. This one hurts and there’s no sugarcoating it.
…it's just not viscerally there for me. The guys leaving brought Michigan from a program that hadn't been to the tournament since my dad was wearing his preposterous multicolor neon ski jacket to one that had been there three of four years, from a program that hadn't won the league since Joe Paterno was only kind of old to a sleeping giant with the alarm blaring in its ear. Their story is not Brandon Graham's. Their story isn't even Mike Martin's or Ryan Van Bergen's. It's better.
So, yeah, it's a downer. But if you've been trained in the fu of an April gut punch as well as Michigan hockey fans have, it ranks below… almost everything. Certainly the Nickelback goals and the Air Force horror and the black, burnt grass of an OT loss in the championship game. The hockey team is rarely facing a wall of doom in the bracket that promises to end things well short of the ultimate goal.
The loss doesn't erase the previous 34 games, or the previous hundred and change that saw Douglass set a record for the most games played in a career and Novak near it. The story of the outgoing guys is one of construction and triumph in the face of doubt. DJ Cooper going ham doesn't change that. Novak and Douglass have the luxury of exceeding all expectations, still and always.
As for the game itself, Michigan was never a team that could go into an opening-round game with the outright expectation of victory. Kenpom had 'em by five and then the Bobcats and Michigan combined to do this:
The statistical outliers are what truly decide any game. DJ Cooper, a 31% three point shooter, hitting three-of-six NBA range triples. Or TJ Hall, a 27% three point shooter, knocking down a critical second half three, his only shot of the game. Add in Michigan, the ninth best two point shooting team in the country, missing nearly a dozen layups and Ohio, a 68% free throw shooting team, hitting 15-of-17 freebies.
Don't forget Ivo Baltic canning two or three fadeaway 15-footers with Novak's hand in his face. Yeesh. There is your ten-point swing.
There are teams featuring very long forwards and centers who can rely on their arms to dissuade opponents from that ability, teams that get second chances on a ton of missed shots, teams that are just so much of one thing or the other that an OHIO(!!!) can't hang with them unless the probabilities swing two or three standard deviations against them. Michigan was never that team.
They were the best mid-major in the country, per Mark Titus, and when the other team was chuckin' it real good there was always the chance this happened. It did, and if we're executing Real Talk neither Michigan getting hammered by OSU in the Big Ten tourney nor the early NCAA exit was unpredictable given the nature of the season. Evan Smotrycz was the second-most-credible post player on the team for the entire Big Ten season. Tim Hardaway Jr. took more threes than anyone else on the team by a good margin and hit 28% of them. I mean, come on.
I tried to warn us. We didn't listen!
None of that changes the narratives of the seniors or the trajectory of the program. Michigan just graduated two universally-beloved program builders and going-pro-in-something-other-than-sports icons who will get a banner sometime next fall. They welcome three top recruits and get a couple of guys off redshirts; collectively they should transform the program from scrappy overachieving underdogs to a full-on Big Ten power program.
After the cat was kicked and the whiskey consumed, it's hard to find something to brood on. If Beilein wasn't about to give his team an extreme talent makeover, we could complain about an artificially low ceiling. If Michigan hadn't broken its Big Ten title drought we could complain about our beloved program builders leaving without anything to mark their passage.
Neither of these things are true, so it seems the thing to do is salute the departed and look to the very near future. Godspeed, men taken from Valpo and Harvard. The last word goes to Novak:
"…coming in, personally, I was the fat kid from Indiana.
"And (we were) able to make three NCAA Tournaments, win the Big Ten in a year when it was the best conference in the country and win a lot of games. You have to keep things in perspective."
The downer bit. I did find it very frustrating that Michigan never switched to a zone for extended periods of time. Michigan's initial forays into zone did give up open looks from three, but given Michigan's crap defense all night it seemed like it couldn't be worse than the man to man. Whereas most of Michigan's shortcomings seemed to be necessary adaptations to their limitations, the man-to-man insistence was one of those things that makes you wonder long-term.
Only slightly, though. Beilein has dumped his 1-3-1 already and adopted a bunch of ball screen sets. He's not exactly a stick in the mud. It was just a little surprising to see Michigan get cut up like that without a response.
It is possible that the coaches thought they were fine if they would just rotate better. Novak got caught in the paint time and again when he was one pass from the ballhandler and seemed to be a major reason OHIO(!!!) found itself with open looks from three.
Other downer. Michigan was down three late for about three straight possessions and the offensive devolved into… actually, this may be my memory playing tricks on me. The late-clock offense did feature Burke twice pulling up from three when a big switched onto him, but it also got Novak a corner three and Smotrycz yet another layup Michigan somehow did not convert:
Burke finished the year shooting 35% from three and those were pretty easy to get. That might be the play given that you're down three.
Final numbers. A shooting profile of Michigan's returning contributors:
- Burke: 75% from the line, 49% from 2, 35% from three.
- Hardaway: 72%, 54%, 28%
- Smotrycz: 78%, 53%, 44%
- Morgan: 51%, 62%, N/A
Novak was the most efficient guy on the team, hitting 86/56/41 and having the lowest turnover rate but he and Douglass were also in the "limited roles" category on Kenpom. Michigan isn't replacing guys who did the heavy lifting on offense. To maintain their offensive efficiency they'll only have to get few extra shots generated by Burke, Stauskas, Hardaway, et al.
Returns. Speaking of "returning contributors," Burke and Hardaway said they'd be back in the aftermath:
"No, I'm coming back next year," the [Hardaway] said after Michigan's 65-60 NCAA Tournament second-round loss to Ohio on Friday. "I'm coming back."
Burke, who earned the co-Big Ten Freshman of the Year award this season and finished the year as the team's leading scorer, was right in step with his teammate.
"I'm definitely coming back," he said. "I'm just going to learn from this loss and get ready for next season."
Those are emotional postgame sentiments that may or may not hold up over time. Still, Hardaway is not much of a threat to leave after struggling with his shot most of the season and Burke probably has to be an All-American sort to get a lock first-round grade at his height. It doesn't seem likely either will change his mind, especially with the lockout backlog clearing up.
IT'S NOT MAGIC IT'S CHANCE. Arglebargle argle:
Late-game magic escapes when it matters most
Glarb glarb glarb.
Are we really talking about this? Yeah, Smotrycz turned the ball over when Michigan put him in a crappy situation with seven seconds left. He'd also put up 15 points on seven shots before that. We really need Daily article and message board threads defending the kid because e-loons are on his jock? Sometimes I hate people. Sometimes is almost all the time.
Butthurt. One thing this has really driven home is how amazingly butthurt OSU fans are about Brady Hoke calling them Ohio. It drives them nuts. Their reaction to this whole upset was as if it was some kind of vindication.
And yet they use "TSUN" constantly without recognizing the irony. Even operating under the assumption that many OSU fans are only technically human, that's surprisingly dumb.
Suddenly next year
Stauskas, Robinson III, McGary
As this season wraps up, eyes turn towards next year. Michigan loses Stu Douglass and Zack Novak; they bring in freshmen Mitch McGary, Nick Stauskas, and Glenn Robinson III. They also get bigs Max Bielfeldt and Jon Horford off of redshirts.
Though Novak was regarded as more integral to the team his absence is going to be easier to cope with. His minutes at the 3 and 4 will be fiercely contested by four or five players. Douglass's role as the go-to perimeter defender and secondary ballhandler… um. Michigan's best bets are Stauskas's nasty crossover immediately translating to the college level or a leap forward from Carlton Brundidge. Both are possible. Neither seems especially likely. If Michigan ends up with an unexpected scholarship dollars to donuts they scour for a backup at the one, whether it's the Italian kid with the 'fro or a grad-year transfer. If it's a grad-year guy, Beilein might sidle up to Max "My Name Is On Several Buildings At Illinois" Bielfeldt and delicately broach the idea he could pay tuition next year.
If that doesn't happen, one man's minute breakdown next year:
- Point guard: Burke 35, Brundidge 5.
- Shooting guard: Stauskas 25, Vogrich 15
- Small forward: Hardaway 30, GRIII 10
- Power forward: Smotrycz 20, GRIII 15, Bielfeldt 5
- Center: McGary 15, Morgan 15, Horford 10
Center is up in the air. McGary could come in and establish himself as a 30 minute guy, in which case I'd bet that sucks up most of Horford's minutes. Christian and McLimans probably won't see the light of day.
That's an 8-9 man rotation with spot minutes from a couple other guys—Michigan's bench minutes should reach the middle of the pack.
Michigan is suddenly huge. If Michigan actually sees the playing-time breakdown above, Michigan's average minute will go to a guy just under 6'6". (Assumptions: Stauskas and GRIII are listed at 6'6", McGary 6'10".) That's a five and a half-inch(!) difference from this year's roster, and that could be a conservative estimate. McGary and Smotrycz may see more time than estimated but probably not less; rosters do things like list Douglass at 6'3" and Burke at 6'1". With that conversion rate, guesses at 6'10" for McGary and 6'6" for GRIII may be an inch or so short.
That will take Michigan's effective height from –1.1 inches, good for a mid-major-ish 250th, to +4.4, which should be top ten nationally. That is whiplash-inducing. It's also pretty good company. Three of the four one seeds (all but MSU) are in the top 12 along with a two (Duke), a couple of threes (Baylor, FSU) and a four (Indiana). And… uh… Illinois.
Even if it's not a guarantee, height is strongly correlated with both offensive and defensive efficiency. This year's Michigan was about the third-best team you could put together with two guys over 6'5". That ceiling—one so harshly experienced by fellow first round upset victim Missouri—is about to lift.
Michigan's suddenly deep at places that aren't point guard. Assuming one of Robinson or Hardaway can handle some minutes at the two, they'll have two reasonable bench options for every spot on the floor except point guard. When Hardaway is broken, Michigan can put him on the bench. When he's hot they can ride him. They can effectively threaten playing time in a way that they could not last year.
Someone's going to lose out at center. The above minute breakdown at the 5 may be realistic over the course of the season, but when it comes down to crunch time they'll probably go with two guys unless severe foul trouble intervenes. That guess seems like the weakest above.
Can anyone spot Burke? Everyone on the roster has a reasonable backup or two except Burke, whose only support is a seldom-used guy who came in as a shooting guard who can't really shoot. It was a very bad sign for Brundidge when Eso Akunne was drafted to take over point guard opportunities early this year.
I know there's a lot of time for the guy to develop but I'm not seeing it. Maybe there's a system in which a 6-foot guy who could get to the basket in high school but doesn't seem to have the handle to do it in college could be effective, but it's not this one. Add in a scary asthma incident that kept him out of a few practices and prevented him from traveling to Michigan State and his prospects of serious playing time get slimmer still.
Should we play a ton more zone? Length is commonly associated with being good at playing zone. Michigan will have lots of it next year.
Also, a quick survey of the backcourt options reveals nothing even resembling a shut-down on-ball defender unless we want to hand that job to Burke. Since Burke is going to be heavily relied on to run the offense, I'd rather not do that. Other options are Stauskas, Vogrich, and Hardaway. None of them figure to be even above-average, let alone shut-down. While Michigan figures to have a lot more shotblocking next year to cover up for that deficiency, consistently allowing penetration is a recipe for open shots and bad defense.
So… zone, whether it's a 2-3 or a resurgence of the 1-3-1, seems like something Michigan might look at. The argument against it is that you should focus on your existing system and get better at it; the football team has amply demonstrated that changing your D every year is not a recipie for great success.
Can Bielfeldt play? The plan at the beginning of the year was to redshirt and Michigan stuck with that even when Horford went down. This would be ominous except Bielfeldt had some tendinitis issues that sounded relatively severe. Also, big men develop slowly and unpredictably and getting a fifth year out of them is often a much better idea than flinging spare minutes at them when they're an overwhelmed freshman.
Bielfeldt is a wide guy with a good jumper who Beilein says is a "tremendous" rebounder and good in short spaces. This is him:
“Long and bouncy, Max is not,’’ Mathews said. “But in the right program, he could be ultra productive. Because good big men are hard to come by.
“He’s a throwback. He’s gonna bang. He’s gonna be physical. He’s gonna draw contact. He’s gonna set a hard pick. He’s gonna pop and hit an open jumper. He’s gonna be able to guard their 4, their big who is posting up back to the basket. He can get in there and guard that guy. Sometimes, 6-10, long and bouncy doesn’t guard those big, husky bodies inside.
“But Max can do that.’’
I'm not exactly sure where he fits. He's probably not big enough to play as a 5 in college and if he doesn't have a three-pointer it's going to be tough for him to contribute enough on offense to supplant Smotrycz or Robinson.
Hardaway: the usual? Please bounce back please bounce back please bounce back.
Is Nick Stauskas finally the ludicrous 45% three point shooter Beilein has been craving forever? Would it be nice, yes? I speak like Russian contemplating this. Da.
Almost 10 minutes after their final games in a Michigan basketball uniform, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass emerged from the Wolverine locker room one last time — and neither one of them quite knew what to do.
Douglass, eyes puffy and red from the tears that welled inside them moments earlier, and Novak, wearing an emblematic bruise on his cheek and bump across the bridge of his nose, walked a lonely hallway inside the bowels of Bridgestone Arena to meet with the media one final time.
"I don't know," Douglass said in a somber tone. "I just didn't think this would happen today."
With that, Novak and Douglass were gone.
It was the end of an era of low expectations for the Wolverines. And that's the kind of ending so many Michigan fans have been anxiously waiting for, isn't it?
Five years after John Beilein arrived to begin another tedious rebuilding effort in Ann Arbor, it's safe to say, as departing senior Zack Novak did following Friday's loss, "The foundation is set in place."
From the new-and-improved basketball facilities on campus to the stable coaching situation to a more-energized fan base, that's hard to argue now, even in a cramped postgame locker room choked with disappointment.
Do you think Coach Beilein wasn't selective enough in the 2013 class, seeing that none of the recruits are in the top 50, and one of them is outside the top 100?
At this point Beilein has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to jumping on recruits early. When he grabbed Glenn Robinson III he was an unranked three-star; he is going to finish his high school career with five stars on Rivals and won't be far off on Scout. Nick Stauskas has broken into the top 100 on all sites as well; I think he'll be a fantastic two-guard for Michigan. Last year Beilein won a recruiting battle with Cincinnati for PSU decommit Trey Burke. The year before he grabbed Smotrycz before his profile blew up and was higher on Tim Hardaway Jr than anyone else. Beilein's evaluation skills are clearly a notch above the field.
So there's that. Beilein's taken a lot of lightly-regarded three stars who happen to blow up either before or after they hit Ann Arbor. Michigan's 2013 class may be in the process of doing that. Derrick Walton just went for 47 in a playoff game; Zak Irvin has had a strong high school season. I'm guessing those guys are more likely to move up than down, though Scout's Brian Snow doesn't seem like he's going to budge on Irvin just yet.
Even if those guys aren't in line for some of the meteoric rises we've seen Michigan recruits have, they don't have to get bumped much to be on par with 2012. Irvin's on the edge of the top 50 on Rivals and Walton is 87. They're starting out with more rep than Robinson or Stauskas, more rep than three of MSU's four 2012 commits.
As for Donnal, I don't care as much what the ratings say about him because it's at that five spot that Michigan is so divergent from a conventional team. Donnal has an extremely high skill level that makes him a great fit for Michigan. Hypothetical athletic limitations—which may or may not be a big deal for a post who just finished his junior year of high school—make him the #124 player in a nationwide ranking; in Beilein's eyes you can bet he's a lot higher.
When Carlton Brundidge, a guy who still has a lot of time to turn into a useful player, is the best case for a Beilein recruiting miss* attempting to criticize his 2013 class is like shooting a guy wearing six bulletproof vests.
*[I don't think anyone expected post-signing-day pickup Colton Christian to be anything other than what he is; jury is out on Bielfeldt. Beilein is making a lot of encouraging noises about him. #pleasebelikedraymondgreen
Also, a large number of Beilein recruits that went elsewhere have gone on to agonizingly good careers elsewhere: Kyle Kuric, Kevin Pangos, Klay Thompson, etc. Hell, Green was supposedly about to commit to Michigan before Izzo swooped in on him.]
A follow-up from the Michigan Today story featuring the "athletic colors" and the "official colors" that were so divergent:
After reading about university colors on MGoBlog, I thought you find find some additional information of interest.
An Ann Arbor News article from November 29, 1998, "Hue-ing the line: True blue, maize ways" follows up on the Fall 1996 Michigan Today story "Which Maize? Which Blue?" The 1912 official color color samples (housed at the Bentley Historical Library) were tested in 1997 with spectrophotometers by X-Rite (a company in Grandville, Michigan founded by Rufus Teesdale a Michigan graduate).
According to the Ann Arbor News article, the spectrophotometer readings were converted to printing instructions noting that the numbers "were tweaked a bit to account for some fading of the ribbons since 1912."
The spectrophotometer readings of the 1912 official color samples were:
MAIZE: 9 cyan, 28 magenta, 59 yellow, 0 black
BLUE: 93 cyan, 76 magenta, 24 yellow, 2 black
The 1912 report on the official colors reads a lot like current complaints about color, "In short, the blue color, which is the one longest associated with the University, starting with a shade almost as dark as "navy blue" has gradually weakened until it has the hint known as "baby blue." the maize, likewise, has faded to correspond, and is now an expressionless pale yellow. So delicate have the colors become, that they have not only lost their original character, but are ineffective in decorations, and useless to the Athletic association, which has been forced to employ colors entirely different from those which recent graduates regard as University colors. It is only necessary to see the diversity of the banners which are displayed in the store windows to realize the confusion which exists."
Every time I bring this up I'm pleasantly surprised by how seriously people take this. Again, I've heard that the athletic department would like to move away from the kind of yellow that gets us mentioned in the same breath with the Sounders and Oregon when SI writers are bagging on these babies:
I hope they come with sirens, ladders, and hoses
Let there come a day when Roy Roundtree is wearing sunglasses in Crisler just to look cool instead of prevent retina damage.
On Michigan's late game success.
You mentioned that you don't buy into the "grit" factor as a possible explanation into their 13-5 record given the difference in efficiency margin. I agree that Eckstein-adjectives don't rationalize the difference but I was curious if there is any game experience stats out there that could help.
I know that UM is still young in terms of overall team experience but there's no question in my mind that Novak and Douglas' four years of relevant playing time contributes to that record despite the efficiency. I would also think that having Morgan and Hardaway being second year starters adds to that explanation given the relative short time periods that excellent teams have their players for before they leave for the draft.
I don't know how you would measure it but is there anything that quantifies the experience of the players actually playing minutes in the game. Having two starters that have played significant time over four years has to be somewhat rare in the Big 10's upper tier.
Kenpom does have an experience measure that adjusts for minutes played. Michigan is 209th of 345 with an average of 1.54 years of experience. This is a massive improvement on last year when they were 335th*.
As for Michigan's super-experienced dudes, Michigan's two is better than OSU's one (Buford) and MSU's one (Green; Thornton has not seen a lot of time in his career), but Green has a usage of 28%, Buford 23%. Stu and Zack are around 15% each. Their involvement in the offense summed about equals Green's.
Meanwhile when I think clutch late-game performances, I think Trey Burke putting it as high off the glass as possible against OSU and hitting free throw after free throw. This blog has a tag about Burke's clutch play even though it tries not to believe in clutch. That's a freshman.
So I cannot agree with your police work here when poor Northwestern is so much more experienced (89th), relies two massive-usage upperclassmen, and endured maximum epic pain in all late game situations this year. BOOM REVERSE ANECDOTE'D.
In the face of the post-Merrit/Lee implosion I'm a convert to the gritty winning winners bit, but I think that's equally useful at all times during a game, in practice, etc., not especially at the end of a game.
*[BONUS KENPOM STATISTICAL OUTLIER: Michigan gets 17% of their minutes from its bench. That is 343rd(!) nationally. The only teams more reliant on their starters are Siena, a 14-17 MAAC team, and Youngstown State, a 16-15 Horizon League team.
Oddly enough, having few bench minutes is much less of a problem than having a ton. Alabama is the most bench-heavy team in the tournament at #45 and they are up there involuntarily after two starters were suspended midseason. #60 Kansas State is the first team on the list that seems to have voluntarily played its bench a lot. Life's better at the bottom: 14 teams in the 300s in this category (ie, a third of them) made the tourney, including S16 seeds Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Wisconsin, Louisville, and Michigan.]
Basketball: really as good as all that?
Now, it doesn't matter for the Big Ten regular season...it is what it is, we went 13-5, and earned a share of the title. But what does it mean for the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA?
Ask yourself this question when it comes to evaluating the Michigan season...was it a solid 13-5 or a weak 13-5? Was it a 13-5 that with a few breaks was 15-3? Or was it a 13-5 with a bunch of breaks that could have easily been 10-8? Which of those is more representative of the basketball we saw this year? Death from above in the two tournaments?
Northwestern looms. Twice we played them. Twice we went overtime with them. Could have lost both. Didn't. Positives to be sure. But who shows up come Friday? …
To me, happy we share the title. Not convinced at this point we are as good as either of those other two teams. Proud of the heart, proud of the overall result. Concerned about the two tourneys.
Bluntly, Michigan was not as good as either of the two teams they tied with. You can see that in the efficiency margins:
W-L Pace PPP Opp. PPP EM 1. Ohio St. 13-5 65.4 1.10 0.93 +0.17 2. Michigan St. 13-5 62.5 1.08 0.92 +0.16 3. Wisconsin 12-6 58.0 1.03 0.97 +0.06 4. Michigan 13-5 58.9 1.06 1.01 +0.05 5. Indiana 11-7 65.4 1.11 1.06 +0.05 6. Purdue 10-8 64.0 1.10 1.09 +0.01 7. Northwestern 8-10 61.0 1.08 1.12 -0.04 8. Minnesota 6-12 62.6 1.00 1.04 -0.04 9. Iowa 8-10 65.8 1.03 1.09 -0.06 10. Illinois 6-12 63.7 0.97 1.05 -0.08 11. Penn St. 4-14 62.3 0.97 1.10 -0.13 12. Nebraska 4-14 61.9 0.93 1.09 -0.16
Kenpom will confirm that for you: it has MSU and OSU #2 and #3 behind Kentucky with Michigan idling at 20.
Meanwhile, going 13-5 would not have netted Michigan a title in any other year since the Big Ten went back to 18 games. Most years they wouldn't even be within a game. There's no denying they were fortunate to end up where they are now. Michigan lost one close Big Ten game (@ Indiana, 73-71) and won four to six (NW x 2, MSU, Purdue, maybe Minnesota and OSU depending on how you feel about five-point games). You can grub grub grub about will to win and finding ways to win and winning is for winners; I don't buy that stuff.
In terms of efficiency margin and Kenpom rankings, Michigan is about where we'd hoped they'd be before the season: slightly improved despite the loss of Darius Morris, short of truly contending for a conference title. In terms of wins they're a three seed and a Big Ten champ.
I don't say this to bring anyone down. It's wonderful. For this team to accomplish what they have is fantastic, and at this point anything after winning a 3-14 matchup in the first round is gravy.
I do think they'll be a particularly vulnerable three, though, and won't be surprised to see them flame out in the second round*. I also won't let that damage the wonderful run they went on to erase a lot of bad streaks. From a logical perspective I get the "concern"; from an emotional perspective it went from 90% house money to 110% as soon as Buford hit that shot. The worst that happens is Michigan State fans say "see you weren't really a Big Ten champ." This will not prevent the banner from going up.
*[I'm not predicting that by any means. Michigan gave Duke all they wanted last year and a hypothetical second-round opponent will be much worse than the Blue Devils were last year. Beilein is a consistent outperformer when he reaches the tourney.
HOWEVA, I do loathe the prospect of drawing a couple of the current six-seeds in Jerry Palm's bracket. They are all dangerous mid-majors: UNLV, New Mexico, Wichita State, and St. Mary's. In Kenpom's eyes that's two teams better than Michigan (Wichita, New Mexico) and two who are a dozen or so spots worse (UNLV, St. Mary's).
You may remember the Dohrmann UCLA article mentioning the success of a couple transfers out of the program: that's basically UNLV. Chace Stanback is a 6'8" guy hitting 47% from three; Mike Moser is a 6'8" guy in the top ten in defensive rebounding with high usage and an inside-out game.
I find Palm's fives a lot more palatable: Louisville (#30 Kenpom), FSU (#28), SDSU (#51), and Creighton(#35). No matter what I expect a second-round nailbiter.]
The golden child's effect on the OL.
Brian or Ace or Anybody;
I am confused, when talking about o-line prospects in the 2012 or 2013 class, some say "Fox makes an ideal RT" or "LT-T is the prototype Left Tackle.". Is the fact that Shane "Obama circa 2008" Morris is a southpaw baked into the projections as to who plays where on the OL? Wouldn't the proto LT be moved to RT for a lefty QB, or no?
Are you and your Bloggy ilk keeping this in mind, does it make a difference for a lefty qb?
I don't think it matters much. Many players at Michigan and elsewhere have flipped from right to left tackle without a problem; when Morris becomes the starter Michigan will put their best pass protector at right tackle and he'll adjust over the course of an offseason. Jake Long switched from right to left after his first year as a starter; Mike Schofield was pressed into service as a left guard after practicing mostly at tackle and did fine.
There might be some slight issues if Morris is either in (because of Gardner injury) or out (because of a Morris injury) of the lineup unexpectedly. In that case you probably wouldn't want to screw up the line's performance by flipping them mid-game and will be exposing either Morris's or his backup's blind side to slightly worse protection. That's life.
Even if that happens it doesn't look like there's going to be a huge difference between the starting tackles at any point in the near future. Whoever the #2 guy is will have beaten out an array of 6'5"-6'7" blue chips. This is not going to be Jake Long opposite Rueben Riley. It's going to be Almost Jake Long opposite Decent Approximation Of Jake Long.
MANBALL concerns revisited.
I WANT YOU TO JOIN UP
ALL OF YOU
THAT WAS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE
You have argued over the past several years that you think Michigan will be at a talent disadvantage compared to teams like Ohio and SEC oversigners like Alabama, so long as the status quo persists. You've also argued that, schematically, the best way to deal with this deficit is the spread offense. I am curious if you think Hoke (and Borges) can build an offense in their mold that can truly compete on the national stage. What do you think it will take in terms of recruiting and scheme to be a legitimate contender for the national championship? Do you think that we have the ability to recruit the offensive talent we need to contend for a national title? Or is it perhaps too early to tell?
Obviously an elite defense, which I think we are building, mitigates the need for an elite offense, but recent BCS title games have demonstrated that you can't rely on just defense to win that game. Ultimately I am asking what combination of scheme and talent you think we need to achieve in order to win the national championship.
All the best,
My concerns about Michigan's ceiling have been blown away by Hoke's early recruiting returns. If Michigan is bringing in top five classes consistently—Hoke's already two for two a month into his second class—and is approaching games with the controlled aggression that Hoke, Mattison, and Borges displayed in their first year, there is no reason they can't run a conventional offense and compete for national titles.
When you have a huge talent advantage or are Wisconsin you can line up and beat heads in: top ten FEI offenses* this year include Wisconsin, Stanford, and USC. Alabama was #11. All you need to replicate that is a ton of NFL guys on the line, an NFL quarterback, and some NFL skill guys. Check, check, well… we'll see.
I get the vibe from your email that you're a bit skeptical of Michigan's skill position recruiting. I think that's premature. Shane Morris is a Henne-level QB recruit. Michigan did pick up a consensus four-star in Amara Darboh at WR and came close to flipping Brionte Dunn; this year they've got a top 100 tight end (for now, anyway—Butt will probably fall into the 100-200 range as the year progresses) and seem to lead for a couple five-star types in Ty Isaac and LaQuon Treadwell. If Hoke lands those guys Michigan's weak spot in the 2012 and 2013 classes is…
…uh… cornerback? For now, anyway.
Even if one of those two guys escapes we're still 11 months from Signing Day; more targets will emerge. It seems like Michigan's going to be able to focus a lot of attention on any holes they have in the class come, oh, May.
My main concern with Michigan's scheme going forward is a potential over-reliance on a fullback. It seems like most pro-styles have moved to double TE sets. See this Chris Brown article on Alabama's very MANBALL, very NC-worthy offense. I hope that's where Michigan's going, too. Tight ends threaten defenses vertically in a way that fullbacks do not; they're better athletes, generally, and better targets for downfield passes. Fullbacks… eh.
I think this is also where Michigan's going. Their TE recruiting is massive—they're looking for a fifth in two years—and there's clear distinction between guys like Jake Butt and Khalid Hill, a 6'2", 230 pound guy designated a "U-back" or "move tight end" according to TomVH.
So, like, whatever. My beefs 14 months into the Hoke era are "that one punt against Illinois" and "taking a scholarship fullback." Oh, and the complete implosion of the offense in a couple games. But that's not a long term issue.
Hoke has dumped game-changer after game-changer on us since his hire to the point where the internet is making memes like this…
Ben Gedeon's visiting, you say?
…if we're feeling for a ceiling it's a bit hard to find right now. One will probably come, but there's no reason to go looking for it just yet.
*[I know FEI put up some weird results this year what with Navy and Miami in the top ten as well but it at least tries to account for strength of schedule and pace of play; FWIW, Stanford was 8th in total yardage, Wisconsin 14th, USC 21st, 'Bama 31st.
Also, as long as you're down here, how about Paul Chryst? I predict Wisconsin has a noticeable dropoff in his absence.]
The Fab Five didn't cross my mind. Not when Michigan beat Penn State, not when William Buford's shot found twine and gave the Wolverines a share of their first Big Ten title in my lifetime, not until I read Brian's article today.
This is largely a function of age. When the Fab Five first played at Michigan, I was learning to read books made out of cardboard. I have no strong feelings one way or another when it comes to their legacy, because I can't properly contextualize it without having been there to witness it in the first place. I don't see their relevance to this year's team, though that doesn't mean it isn't there.
The teams I grew up watching, however, were the radioactive fallout from the Ed Martin scandal, and that experience has made me all the more appreciative of the John Beilein era. This has little to do with the character of the players—as a kid, you have little-to-no awareness of these players's existence when they aren't playing ball—and everything to do with coaching, the atmosphere surrounding the team, and the joy of simply watching them play.
I have a particularly striking memory from my early years of seriously following Michigan basketball. Brian Ellerbe was the coach, the Wolverines one year removed from the brief glimmer of hope provided by Jamal Crawford, and it was a gray Thanksgiving weekend in Ann Arbor. My friend Jeff and I would often walk over the Stadium bridge, usually with tickets from his parents, and enjoy all that Crisler had to offer. We had fun because we didn't know any better. On this particular day, we had no tickets, but with all the cash you'd expect a pair of middle-schoolers to have, we decided it was worth at least walking the 15 minutes from my house to Cazzie's and try our luck.
Through the power of the internet, I now know Michigan was playing Wagner, though I don't remember the details of the game. What I do remember is climbing the concrete steps in front of the arena to see a lone middle-aged man holding up two tickets; despite it being just before tip-off, I recall him being one of just a handful of people outside Crisler. Jeff and I walked up to him, each with a five-dollar bill extended—a bargain, in our minds. The man gave us a look of sheer pity, began to reach out for the money, then recoiled.
"I can't, in good conscience, make you pay for these," he said. "Just take them."
We couldn't believe our luck, nor understand why this man would give up a perfectly good pair of tickets for nothing. We settled in to our seats and watched the Wolverines cruise to a 98-83 victory. Both of us thought two freshman starters looked rather promising. Their names were Avery Queen and Josh Moore.
Two weekends ago, a college buddy called me up while on his way to Ann Arbor from Chicago. He'd also grown up as a die-hard Michigan fan in Ann Arbor, graduating one year ahead of me at Pioneer. He wanted to know if I could track down a couple of tickets for the Ohio State game.
When Michigan hired Tommy Amaker, I thought the times were changing. When he brought in a recruiting class featuring Lester Abram, Graham Brown, Chris Hunter, and the talented point guard Daniel Horton, I believed. Watching Horton average 15 points and 4.5 assists as a freshman while spearheading a 13-game winning streak after an ugly 0-6 start, I envisioned Michigan reaching the biggest of big stages while Horton earned All-American honors.
But Horton never got better, at least not until his senior year, when his Herculean late-season efforts were wasted on a team headed for yet another NIT appearance, two years after a deep run in that tourney had lost whatever promise it once held. Michigan never developed any semblance of an offense under Amaker. Aimless perimeter passes inevitably led to a hurried chuck from the perimeter; this was the Amaker Offense, as far as I could tell. Every once in a while Brent Petway would tip-slam an offensive rebound. Those were the moments I lived for.
On Sunday, as it has all season—and every year of Beilein's reign—Michigan's offense had a clear purpose. An intricate series of precise cuts and screens begot open look after open look, and the Wolverines connected with remarkable efficiency. Stu Douglass, once a one-dimensional outside shooter with a severe aversion to the paint, played near-flawless defense while creating baskets both inside and outside the arc. Fellow senior Zack Novak, though plagued by foul trouble, quietly scored 11 points, including a run-stopping jumper late in the second half that should've earned extra points for degree of difficulty. The two leaders and captains barely resemble the unknown two-stars who walked onto campus four years ago.
Sure, Michigan hired John Beilein in part because he's the squeaky-clean head of the ethics committee, a coach who will recruit players who pass the can-you-date-my-daughter test with flying colors. But Michigan also hired John Beilein because he's perhaps the greatest strategic mind in college basketball, a coach with an uncanny eye for talent, and the ability—working in tandem with his assistants—to develop that talent.
The newly-christened Crisler Center has received a major face-lift, the Wolverines are headed to their third tournament in four years—with the potential to grab a three-seed—and a banner will be raised next season over the heads of the best Michigan recruiting class in at least 15 years. More importantly, this team has an identity, and it all stems from their head coach—not just his nice-guy image and his emphasis on character, though that is important, but his offense. This is basketball, after all.
I'll happily pony up a few bucks to keep watching. The days of "just take them" are thankfully behind us.