that makes one of us
Site update. It took a little longer than we thought it would but we have restored commenting abilities for IE users. This serves as your regular reminder that you should switch to Chrome or Firefox. Also, users should be able to upload avatars again. Also I updated the "MGoElsewhere" menu a bit so it contains links to twitter feeds for both Tim and Tom.
The destruction of the innocents. Basketball beat Northwestern 75-66 yesterday as Jordan Morgan went ham (11 of 13, 27 points) against the Phantom of the Opera and John Shurna failed to exist. Shurna's been limited much of the season and apparently picked something new up recently. His last three games are a DNP against OSU and two games in which he played around 25 minutes but only attempted 5 field goals. Michigan may have gotten a little fortunate there.
I don't have a ton to say that UMHoops didn't cover in the link above but some praise is in order for Morris, Hardaway, and Douglass for setting up Morgan's monster night. Almost all of Morgan's baskets were assisted and even on the ones that weren't his teammates were setting him up in excellent position. Example: Douglass had an excellent post feed—in a year when any post feed is a rarity—that allowed Morgan to immediately spin baseline for a layup. Northwestern's D is terrible so this may stand as a career game for Morgan but it was good to see him be so efficient after that Ohio State game where going up soft cost Michigan badly. Morgan started the game off in similar fashion before becoming ruthless.
Meanwhile, at one point I exclaimed "shoot that!" when Hardaway passed up an open three. Progress all around. I wasn't even that mad about the terrifying Northwestern run because it was four straight three pointers, two of them challenged to the point where there could have been a foul.
Kenpom moved a bit afterwards. Not losing a game Michigan was only mildly favored in pushed the season prediction to almost exactly 17.5-13.5 and increased the chance of reaching 9-9 and therefore the bubble to 16%. Slightly beating the prediction moved Michigan up to 52nd, one spot behind Michigan State.
More fodder for next year's optimism. The Only Colors tracks an individual stat called PORPAG that sort of mimics baseball's VORP. (The usual caveats that basketball is a team game and you don't know about defense, etc., apply.) A quick glance at their top 15 shows Darius Morris sixth. That's excellent. More excellent still is that only four players in the top 15 are going to be around next year: UW's Jordan Taylor, Morris, Shurna, and IU's Jordan Hulls. The rest are seniors or Jared Sullinger. So not only is Michigan returning everyone but the rest of the Big Ten is getting hammered by graduation.
This is not a throwdown. So one part of the now confusingly diverse Maize 'n' Brew crew got sick of my repeated assertions that The Process was the worst way to acquire any new head coach, Brady Hoke or not. The result was this very long post that asserts Michigan's most recent recruiting class is "awesome" and makes other arguments that I don't even know what to do with. Since that post's been disputed by another of that site's contributors and effectively countered by a long message board thread here that's surprisingly light on snark and image macros. I'll forgo a response (other than, you know, this) because Mets Maize made it pointless:
One Small Step for Hoke, One Giant Leap for Hokeamania
There you go: the events of the last month delivered with maximum pith. Nothing has changed the fact Michigan had a candidate pool of one in their coaching search that started in January that they were probably going to start no matter the result of the bowl game.
Hopefully we'll start seeing some reason for optimism other than Mattison soon. Nothing in the intervening weeks qualifies, not even Jason Whitlock's endorsement.
Wasted effort. The Sporting News's Dave Curtis went to some trouble to find out that converting third downs is a good idea. It's gotten play a few places because it's February 10th and the long hard college football offseason has started. I don't like this because I am all mathy and stuff and this…
All five BCS bowl winners ranked among the nation’s top 13 teams in third-down differential. The differential statistic, not officially computed by the NCAA, takes a team’s third-down conversion rate on offense and subtracts its opponents’ third-down conversion rate.
…is not useful at all. "Drives are good," it says.
Worse, it places undue emphasis on third down itself when first and second down are equally, if not more, important. This has unfortunately succumbed to linkrot but back in the day I did an analysis of third downs by distance and frequency, coming to the unsurprising conclusion that short was good and great third down conversion rates are often more indicative of what you did before third down than anything else. Just looking at third down rates is goofy because first and second down contribute to the distance you have to go—you're really looking at "first and second and third down conversion rate," which is fine if you want to look at that. Just don't make it seem like third down is really really important when your number doesn't control for the effects of first and second.
Old news. I got distracted writing posts on the 4-3 and Tim Hardaway that ballooned into way longer thing than I thought they'd end up being, so some items fell through the cracks. You've seen these already if you read anything other than the front page here.
One: Wojo interviewing Brady Hoke. Amongst the increasingly familiar Passion For Michigan, Denard As NFL Vick, and Tremendous Toughness segments were a couple of things that are not familiar. One was Hoke saying he was "pissed off" at Michigan's factionalism the past three years, which is a refreshingly blunt way for a coach to say anything. The other was the admission that beer had a role in shaping Hoke's physique:
Q. Did you just drop a hint you were a bit wild back in your college days?
A. Uh, yeah, for two years I really didn't have the best goals in mind. I wanted to play football and try to drink every beer in Muncie, Ind. And I tell parents that on visits.
I'm trying to ignore the bit that follows wherein "funnest" gets deployed. Football coaches and grammar, man.
Hoke comes off as likeable, down to earth, etc. Even if you're of the opinion that ADs tweeting out old Jason Whitlock articles as evidence in favor of anything is awful, at least the guy he hired has a solidly positive rootability factor.
Q. How often do you chew a kid's tail?
A. Oh, usually daily.
Do yourself a massive favor by taking that out of context.
Two: De-emphasizing Denard, a little bit. This is almost a week old and has the freshness of Abe Vigoda but:
"To a degree … we're blowing a lot of it up," new Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "In our offense, I don't see Denard rushing for 1,700 yards, and I told him that. But I could see him rushing for 1,000 yards, and I could see him throwing for that 700 or 800 he didn't rush for."
Hives hives hives hives hives… mmm smaller, treatable hives. Borges later praises Denard's completion percentage as a couple other coaches make noises about a running game that looks "a little different" and emphasizes more "downhill" running. It then throws this in at the end:
Michigan was eighth nationally in total offense, averaging 488.69 yards, 13th in rushing (234.54), 25th in scoring (32.77) and 36th in passing (250.15).
…and returns ten starters. I'll come around on Al Borges after he's got a tall strapping fellow bombing it for 10 YPA but the chances I don't spend next year bitching about the misapplication of Denard Robinson are slim. I'm not even sure how you get him 1,000 yards if he's taking snaps from center. You can only run so many waggles and Incredibly Surprising QB Draws. As always, I hope to be pleasantly surprised. Hoke uber alles.
Etc.: Michigan picks up a 2013 hockey commit; JT Compher is a forward from Illinois who seems high-end, like first-round OHL pick and easy NTDP pick high-end. We'll see if that holds up as he ages. Mets Maize on the Northwestern game. More justified hockey grumbling. Spring game will be April 16th. Michigan football documentary series planned. The Wolverine Blog points out that the guys who "couldn't shoot ever" now can and that's probably another thing we can add to the list of reasons Darius Morris is awesome. Scot Loeffler becomes Temple's OC.
[note: this post and the BWS post were written before the Northwestern game.]
A hearty thanks to Burgeoning Wolverine Star for showing men of pessimism what pessimism really is in his post on Michigan basketball's immediate future. Whereas I'm content to downplay Michigan's chances at making the tourney this year, BWS wants you to know that Michigan isn't making the tourney next year, the year after, or ever again.
I kid. I think so, anyway. But the thing that struck me as true Keyser Soze-level pessimism was when BWS downplayed the possibility Hardaway will blow up by comparing him to Manny Harris:
Hardaway's measurables and stats are remarkably similar to Harris' throughout his career at Michigan:
PPG RPG APG FG% 3P% Harris 07-08 16.1 4.2 2.7 38.10% 31.80% Harris 08-09 16.9 6.8 4.4 41.50% 32.70% Harris 09-10 18.1 6 4.1 42.10% 30.80% Hardaway 10-11 12 3.8 1.5 37.50% 32.60%
Not that adding Manny Harris to this team wouldn't be beneficial, but Hardaway's production and body type--to say nothing of his predilection to take bad three pointers--are things Beilein has had to play with in the past. With any luck, Hardaway will avoid the general apathy and combativeness with the coaching staff that Harris showed toward the end of his career at Michigan, but regardless, seeing Hardaway turn into an unstoppable force is a little optimistic IMO.
The thing about Harris is that he didn't get much better, as the above chart suggests. None of those percentages have anything to do with frequency. Harris's usage rates as a sophomore and junior were almost identical, he took as many threes, as many twos, etc. The main difference between the two years was a considerable drop in assist rate that the team mirrored, dropping from third to 21st in percentage of shots assisted. Since the only losses from the team were two walk-on guards and the Grady buried behind them you can argue that Harris actually got worse between his sophomore and junior years. Also, Manny collapsed every Big Ten season as defenses collapsed on him.
BWS uses this as a cautionary tale about projecting Hardaway down the road, but I think that's backwards. Players improve as they age and they improve a lot when they are young. Manny not improving at the same time he was getting suspended, sitting on the bench for OT against Iowa, etc., says more about Harris specifically than Beilein's ability to deal with a Harris-type player.
Even if Beilein's inability to cajole Harris into learning how to use his off hand or not jack up strange three-pointers multiple times per game suggests Hardaway's fate, Harris still improved radically after his first season. There will be graphs. Meanwhile, Hardaway has a much better offensive efficiency mark than Harris as a freshman with nearly as much usage. He's almost reached Harris's sophomore and junior marks because of one glaring difference between the two players: turnover rate*. Harris was at 22% as a freshman and only got down to 16.5% as a junior; Hardaway is 14th nationally at 9.3%.
Now, there are lots of reasons for this that have nothing to do with the relative merits of the players. They can be summed up with the words "Darius Morris," who has a Harris-like 18.8 TO rate that no one's complaining about because he's fourth nationally in assist rate. Hardaway does not have to be the primary ballhandler. He doesn't provide the assists Harris did. He has a lower TO rate than anyone on the team, three-point specialists included, despite using more possessions than anyone except Morris. He should learn what shots are good and which are not as his career progresses, something Harris didn't want to or couldn't because he didn't have the butter—[strangling sounds] version of Darius Morris next to him or anyone who could shoot ever.
While I don't think Hardaway is as good as Harris was as a freshman or will be as good as Harris was as a sophomore, he doesn't have to be in the context of this Michigan team to be more efficient than Harris could ever dream of being. Chart? Chart. Chartzzzz.
[These are adapted from the excellent Big Ten Geeks study from a couple years back that showed the general path of improvement as players age. Kenpom has not updated individual numbers from last night yet so these are a tiny bit out of date. Hardaway went 5 of 11—3 of 8 from three—was 4 of 4 from the line, and had four assists to two turnovers, so these are slightly pessimistic.]
Harris maintained an epic usage level his entire career; Hardaway has started off at nearly the same rate.
Due to the high usage both are below average. Harris was less efficient, likely because very few of his buckets were assisted. Hardaway should not expect to improve as much but should at least equal Harris next year; average is within reach.
Harris was slightly above average for the duration of his career but these numbers include a lot of stone-handed post players and are not targeted towards guards; I don't have any data but eyeballing it those numbers seem thoroughly mediocre.
Hardaway's numbers are remarkably good for anyone, even players who believe the ball is radioactive. He's the only freshman on the list until you get to #38, and the first frosh playing outside the Dakotas you find is #44 Jared Sullinger. The guys above him are folks like Wisconsin's Tim Jarmusz (9.5 usage rate), Illinois's Bill Cole(11.5), and… uh… Jordan Taylor (best point guard in the country unless you're an idiot).
His numbers are so good that we can expect him to regress next year, especially if he starts driving more aggressively. They're also too good to be a fluke given his usage.
Since Hardaway doesn't have to be the primary ballhandler he is crushing Harris and the average for freshmen. Improving shot selection, reducing usage, increasing assist rate, and general improvement should send this higher next year—higher than Harris ever achieved.
What would have happened to Manny Harris if he had an awesome point guard next to him? What about awesome point guard + conscience? What about awesome point guard + conscience + actually liking his head coach? These are the questions we're about to find out as we watch Tim Hardaway, Jr., go from maddening but efficient-for-a-freshman to something between a good second banana and a ninja.
SIDE NOTE: These numbers brought home another point: Darius Morris is a better player than Harris ever was, full stop. Literally the only thing Harris has on Morris is a few points of 3PT% and a slight edge in free throw rate**. Morris is shooting far better than Harris ever did from within the arc, assisting on damn near everything he's not scoring, and maintaining an acceptable TO rate.
Freshman, Minutes, And Improvement
To further dispute BWS, he mentions later that people are pointing towards the extreme youth of the team as a reason they will improve considerably:
The biggest source of hope is that Michigan's team is once again one of the youngest in the country. Much like in 2009, Michigan's team is at a serious disadvantage in terms of college experience. This was one of the biggest points of optimism for the 2010 season that ultimately saw the team flame out spectacularly and lose close games in agonizing fashion.
Even before the season it was clear Michigan was overrated at the #15(!) team in the country after finishing the year 50th in Kenpom. People expected them to get better and got worse, something I'd again argue was a chemistry problem largely brought on by Harris. That problem won't be around next year and even if it did the overall percentage of freshman minutes then was far lower than it is this year. In 2009 freshmen played 31% of Michigan's minutes. This year it's 44%.
What's more, the second and third highest usage guys on the team are freshmen who play at least 60% of minutes. In 2009 Douglass and Novak had low usage and Laval Lucas-Perry was a mid-year transfer who only played 33.% of Michigan's minutes. The percentage of possessions used by freshman this year is vastly higher. Two years ago: 26%. Now: 45%. That plus being on the same page should yield a significant improvement in 2011-12.
Yes, Mr. Gaerig, you are too pessimistic about basketball, but you already came to that conclusion yourself.
*[The percentage of possessions used that end in a turnover.]
**[Harris has an individual edge in rebounding but this year's team is much better in that category than they were the last couple years so how much of that is actually meaningful is in question unless you're David Berri. Also Morris doesn't play the three, Hardaway does.]