in town for free camps
It's been just over a month since Mitch McGary announced his "decision" to go pro. The scare quotes are present because there was no decision to make if McGary were to act at all in his own self-interest.
This sucked. This sucked because Mitch McGary is a joy to watch on the basketball court, a 6'10" mace attached to a giant pendulum, swinging violently back and forth while pausing only to wreck shit. This sucked because he's equally fun off the court, with his unicycle and Bieber-crooning and invaluable coaching advice and generally making Michigan's bench seem like the best party on campus, even if McGary was the only one partying:
What sucked most of all, though, was the feeling that McGary had only scratched the surface of his potential, and factors almost entirely out of his control* limited our exposure to just 12 career starts. Mitch McGary's Michigan career lasted all of 966 minutes played. That's just over 16 hours. That's not nearly enough.
So while I had no trouble writing effusively about Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III after their departures, I've spent the last month struggling to put McGary's career into words. I try to analyze and am left instead with a whole lot of feelings. How does one discuss an athlete hyped to Webberian proportions before he ever enrolled who, apart from one brilliant six-game stretch, never produced as expected yet was beloved all the same?
Probably by ignoring all of that, sitting back, and watching him work, because again: when Mitch McGary was on the court, the only proper response was to drop everything and watch Mitch McGary. He didn't give you a choice in the matter. He grabbed your attention like so many entry passes:
McGary was a defensive force with impeccable timing. His steal rate as a freshman easily surpassed that of Trey Burke, Master of the Halfcourt Pickpocket. He protected the rim. He seemingly rebounded everything. Michigan's defense suffered mightily last season without McGary's interior presence and game-changing ability to erase opponent possessions.
He also boasted remarkable skill for a big man. Defensive boards turned into fast breaks in the time you could say "Unseld." Sometimes he'd eschew that route and just do everything himself. Occasionally he'd finish his coast-to-coast forays with a Rondo-esque fake behind-the-back pass. Speaking of point guard skills, he could thread multiple defenders without looking. Perhaps my favorite McGary play came in the Kansas game, when he hit a baseline turnaround right in Jeff Withey's face like it was routine, not a work-in-progress shot he'd rarely—if ever—utilized to that point.
He did these things while accepting a backup role until it was time to unleash him for the 2013 NCAA Tournament, playing in an offense that relied on him more as a garbageman than a creator, and being the team's #1 scholarship cheerleader and hype man.
Look at the GIF at the top of the post, one more time. It's a 25-point blowout of Northwestern, and there's McGary, showing more effort in one play than some guys do in four years. Sure, he lost the ball out of bounds, but it's not like you can be mad about it; even if it didn't end well, that play brought life to a dull affair, and we were all better for having seen it.
That's how I'll choose to remember Mitch McGary. The flashes of brilliance. The occasional mistakes born from genuine enthusiasm that bordered on excessive. Most of all, the feeling, after everything, that I enjoyed my life just that much more thanks to a big kid from Indiana who seemed to enjoy everything.
*Yes, there's the weed thing. Read that David Roth piece, then think about the punishment for McGary's transgression versus one of another Michigan center—the football one, Graham Glasgow, suspended for part of spring practice and one should-be-a-cupcake non-conference game for drunk driving. I find one of these things far worse than the other, and it's the one that puts other people's lives in actual danger.
xkcd. it's funny because SCIENCE okay?
As the Rigelians informed us, basketball it turns out is the universe's favorite sport. Of the trillions of basketball leagues worthy of broadcast, the most incompetent is Lockeceles VI's "Internashunil Assosiation of Basketball Playig and Shoving Sharp Objects Into Our Eyes [sic]," [sic] best known for their ruling that the Targavian Turnips should have to play an entire season hopping on one leg and bent sideways after a local columnist accused the Turnips' frontcourt of not hustling. Fortunately for the players, Targavia was a city entirely made up of chiropractors, so nobody's life was ruined. The season was of course a disaster.
|If the NCAA just claimed the refs were getting too expensive we would have believed it.|
The second most feckless basketball league in the universe is, of course, Earth's "National Collegiate Athletic Association," which recently challenged the IABPSSOIOE[sic]'s title by issuing a one-year (effectively life) suspension to an injured player who tested positive for a recreational, performance-reducing substance that everyone uses.
You may ask what were they smoking at the time, but that would appear rather obvious.
Alas, the burden of picking up the pieces shall fall upon the TV camera crews at Crisler, who must find a way to shoot the games without broadcasting all of those extended middle fingers, and the Michigan Wolverines Basketball team, who'll have to figure out how they're supposed to rebound anything. And it shall fall upon the MGoBloggers to inform you how that will go down:
The cagers are suddenly without a front court. Has Michigan slid back to pack for now or is this all just a setup for the Beilein Little Shooters Magnum Opus? What's your take on Donnal? Can we do this without becoming a study on Bielfeldt anatomy?
Despite being passive, Michigan was 23rd in INTs last year [Eric Upchurch]
Since Hoke has taken over, it seems the expectation / criticism has been largely focused on the offense. Since rich rod left the defense in shambles, hoke & mattison seem to have taken a bend don't break approach and largely been given a pass while they accumulate talent and experience. With most of the experience and talent on the defensive side of the ball this year, does the pressure to get it done and carry the team to victory shift?
I balk at the idea that someone needs to be "given a pass" after turning what was literally the worst defense in Michigan history into the #17 total defense in a year and improving to 13th the next year before dipping to 41st. FWIW, in yards per play terms the Mattison defenses are 46th, 25th, and 41st—a narrative of drastic improvement in year one, another step forward in year two, and then a step back.
I wish that step back hadn't happened, too, but the defense ended up collapsing once it was putting Richard Ash and Nose Tackle Jibreel Black on the field against the top rushing team in the country and then facing Tyler Lockett in a dismal who-cares bowl game they had approximately zero chance of winning once Gardner was ruled out.
Against the rest of the schedule, the defense was good enough to win. They could have carried Michigan to victories against Penn State (1.9 yards a rush, 6.8 per pass), Nebraska (under 300 yards total O), and maybe even MSU (16 points through 3 Q) if the offense was extant. People jumping on the D are a lot like people saying SHANE MORRIS COULD START YOU GUYS: they're letting the unprecedentedly terrible running game color their perceptions of the rest of the team.
That said, yes, last year's D was frustratingly passive and with Michigan returning almost everybody of note (departures from the two deep are limited to Black, the underutilized Quinton Washington, and both Gordons) it is time to take a step forward from passable to very good or great. The offense is not going to get where it needs to be in one year, so if Michigan wants to have the kind of season that makes people think Hoke should be back it's up to the defense to hulk up.
The rivals. We must beat them. Or not.
Can you talk me into a scenario where Michigan loses to both at MSU and at OSU this year and we call the season a success?
Let's step back for a second. There was a thread on the board about the recent Angelique Chengelis article in which she predicted a 10-2 record with losses to MSU and OSU. As always, the thread was split between people going "lol more like 2-10" and people responding to folks that say "I'll be happy with 9-3" with:
Is this what we are now? A program with fans that are "pleased" with mediocrity.
YES! YES, THIS IS WHAT WE ARE NOW. I mean… Michigan had that one 11-2 year that they acquired by shooting the moon six times. Aside from that, Michigan's gone 3-9, 5-7, 7-6, 8-5, and 7-6. And that last 7-6 doesn't really encompass the true face-crippling misery that was last season.
So, yeah, there are a ton of seasons that include road losses to the two teams that met in the B10 championship game last year that seem like a success. 10-2 is obvious. 9-3… sheeeeeeit, I would take any 9-3 record any way any how right now, no questions.
Would it suck to lose yet again to OSU and MSU? Yes! Yes, it would be a kick right in the plaster of Paris. But we're not in a place where we can turn up our nose at anything resembling a fun season. Just getting to a place where I can think "hey, this offensive line might be good next season" is a success. That necessarily comes with some wins, but except in pissy fan ways I'm not sweating who they come against.
Updated minutes for basketball.
It's go time for Derrick Walton [Bryan Fuller]
Can I get a prediction on next year's starting five?
Three and a half of the spots are pretty obvious. The three:
PG: Derrick Walton
SG: Caris LeVert
SF: Zak Irvin
C: Mark Donnal/Ricky Doyle
Michigan might be able to spare some minutes for Donnal at the 4 depending on how foul prone those gentlemen are. Freshmen bigs ten to be very foul prone, so… yeah.
Even PF is not that confusing: it'll be split between Kam Chatman and DJ Wilson. Chatman will also get minutes filling in for LeVert and Irvin; Spike will get 10-15 minutes; Bielfeldt will be in the 0-15 range depending on how the other guys perform and if he can actually hit some of those threes that Beilein says are unstoppable in practice.
My guess at the minute breakdown now:
PG: Walton (30) / Spike (10)
SG: LeVert (35) / MAAR (5)
SF: Irvin (30) / Chatman (10)
PF: Chatman (15) / Wilson (25)
C: Donnal (25) / Doyle (10) / Bielfeldt (5)
MAAR over Dawkins is just a guess. I do think it'll be one or the other by crunch time since Beilein favors short rotations. It is possible that one of the two redshirts.
That's very young and skinny up front—four freshman and Bielfeldt is your frontcourt—but I'd put Michigan's backcourt up against anyone in the conference no problem.
But what about The Process?
I've seen a few stories about how young Team 135 will be. They all highlight the small senior class, but never get into The Process's impact on the class. In my opinion, the 2011 recruiting class was a mess largely because Dave Brandon waited until January to fire Rich Rod (and then spent a couple of days actually firing him). By the time Hoke was hired, there wasn't much time to put together a class. In your opinion, how big of a factor was The Process on this year's senior class?
Don't forget the song-and-dance with the planes and four or five days spent in an apparent effort to throw people off the scent of the most Michigan Man choice available.
We'll never know for sure whether or not Rodriguez was a dead man walking going into the bowl game, but I've heard from multiple people on that disastrous trip that everyone thought he was. This led to a widespread breakdown in order and the performance-type substance Michigan put out there. If there was any chance he'd be back before it, there was zero after. Brandon didn't hang the man swiftly or extinguish the idea he'd be gone, so Michigan got a month and a half of limbo during which Blake Countess inexplicably signed up and nothing else happened in recruiting. Hoke walked into the following recruiting class:
- DEFENSE: DE Chris Rock, DE Brennen Beyer, CB Delonte Holowell, CB Blake Countess, CB Greg Brown, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Kellen Jones
- OFFENSE: OL Tony Posada, OL Jack Miller, OL Chris Bryant (Bryant did commit after Hoke was hired but had been favoring Michigan for months beforehand.)
To this he added in the two or three weeks available to him:
- DEFENSE: DE Frank Clark, DE Keith Heitzman, CB Tamani Carter, CB Raymon Taylor, LB Antonio Poole
- OFFENSE: TE Chris Barnett, RB Thomas Rawls, RB Justice Hayes, QB Russell Bellomy, K Matt Wile.
Both ends of that class are equally subpar. Hoke's ten late adds produced Taylor, Clark, and Wile. There's a possibility that Hayes or Heitzman will contribute at a decent level this year; that is meh.
Given what we've seen from Hoke since, especially before Michigan's offense descended into awful unwatchability, you have to figure he would have done much better with the extra five weeks. He almost certainly would have found a tackle to replace Jake Fisher—he may have in fact held on to Jake Fisher—and found a tight end who was capable of staying on a college campus for more than three weeks. They may have found a better fit at QB than Bellomy, whose main asset was his mobility. And they would have gotten a better idea about a few guys who weren't likely to stick—I'm thinking about Posada mostly, by the time signing day rolled around some people were skeptical about his commitment level—and grabbed a guy to fill out the OL numbers.
So… it was significant. There is a reason schools don't wait until January to throw guys overboard, and Michigan is suffering through that this year.
ludicrous photo illustration of Donnal via the Blade.
I'm trying as hard as I can to not go on a rage bender, so let's just move on to the implications for next year's basketball team. They are not good, obviously, but it is also not the end of the world. John Beilein won a Big Ten title with a 6'4" starting power forward; Michigan will live.
Jon Horford's ever-more inexplicable decision to exit as buckets of playing time beckon leaves Michigan with the following options for tall rebounding folks:
- Mark Donnal. Freshman coming off a redshirt; reputed to be highly skilled perimeter big who certainly could play the 4 in a Beilein offense but now slides down to the five. Has a back-to-the-basket game, not that such things are at all relevant in Ann Arbor. Can be a Pittsnogle pick and pop guy; defense questionable. Supposed to be a below the rim type, though Camp Sanderson has endeavored to change that.
- Ricky Doyle. Gangly three-star freshman out of Florida now standing next to Bacari Alexander in an effort to demonstrate that he's a legit 6'10", Doyle has a decent face up game and is reputed to be your standard hard-working blue-collar rebounder. Freshman bigs, though, are not fifth year senior bigs.
- Max Bielfeldt. If only Bielfeldt's body was as large as his calves. Since they're not, the 6'6"-ish Bielfeldt just gets swallowed by actual posts. The first half of the Big Ten Championship game is the most recent example. Will have a role off the bench against certain matchups.
- Random fifth year guy. Nobody on the radar and Michigan's contingency plan in the event of a McGary exit appears to be Cole Huff, who won't be eligible next year if he does end up transferring in and wouldn't be a post even if he got a waiver.
- Random freshman. See previous bullet: Michigan's late offers have been focused on the wing. If Dawkins or Huff does turn Michigan down they would have a spot to go fishing with. Finding someone this late who is both a fit and able to play basketball is doubtful.
So Michigan's going to have to roll with what they've got, it seems: a 6'9" redshirt freshman and a 6'10" freshman plus Max Bielfeldt.
What about the four?
Irvin is not an ideal option at the 4. [Fuller]
Any thought Donnal would spend significant minutes at the 4 is out the window. Michigan's options there:
- Zak Irvin. Irvin saw the occasional stretch at the four a year ago, always when Robinson was on the bench. It seems doubtful Irvin can provide anything more than a few minutes here and there against a decent matchup, as he's far more wing-shaped than Robinson. His DREB rate was the lowest on the team, yes behind even Spike. That's partially roles and whatnot; I think it's also Zak Irvin not being much of a rebounder. Even a Hardaway-like move there does not make him the best option, which means Michigan's in a different place than they were a few years ago. Also, Irvin is going to be needed at the 3 for about 30 minutes a game.
- Kam Chatman. Chatman measured in at 6'8" at the most recent camo basketball all star debacle, so he'd actually be an improvement over Robinson in the height department despite being widely regarded as a wing player. At around 200 pounds that's understandable. Chatman would probably get beat up worse than Robinson did as a freshman, as he's taller and skinnier—going to be a lot of times he gets shoved under the basket when rebound time kicks in.
- DJ Wilson. Chatman's fellow freshman is the truest stretch four Beilein's brought in during his time at Michigan. Depending on who you listen to and what time they scribbled his weight down, Wilson's either the same 200 pounds Chatman is or a skinny-but-survivable 215 at 6'8" or 6'9". Wilson finally had a healthy high school season and used that to shoot up almost fifty spots in the Rivals rankings.
- Guy who looks suspiciously like Zack Novak wearing a fake beard and stovepipe hat. It could happen.
That seems super young
Yep. For the third straight year, Michigan projects to be one of the youngest teams in the country, with a frontcourt that is handing probably 70 of its 80 minutes to freshmen, has no seniors, and will have only one starter who's even a junior. That junior is almost as young as you can be and still be a junior. Kentucky might be older. For real.
This is not necessarily doom. The last two years Michigan has been 342nd and 330th in Kenpom's experience stat*. This did not matter much: no team in the country collected more NCAA tournament wins than Michigan whilst they were idling at the bottom of the table there.
It is something different to have freshman bigs who are not Mitch McGary, though. Bigs are long-term projects best eased into serious time lest they be overrun. Michigan can and will survive—I see Jane is tweeting out modified Forgot About Dre lyrics, which I second. "Surviving" is not what they did the last couple years, though, and we're probably in for a comedown from the highs of the last couple years.
*[Which is just an average of FR/SO/JR/SR weighted by playing time, so that a senior who plays five minutes a game doesn't throw you all out of whack.]
But I didn't want this to happen
Hey, at least the staggering hypocrisy of the NCAA chasing dudes out of school for an infraction that the legal system treats like whatever dude has a really good rationale behind it.
"Whereas the CSMAS rightly focused on the fact that marijuana and other street drugs are not performance enhancing, the committee also recognizes that the universe of sport is special, and the student-athlete is obliged to embrace the spirit of sport."
I'ma go build a lego Mark Emmert so I can hurl it off a building.
Possesses excellent dunkface (via PennLive)
First reported by Sam Webb and confirmed by multiple sources, 2014 Allentown (PA) Central Catholic G Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman committed to Michigan while on his official visit this afternoon.
Abdur-Rahkman picked up heavy interest from the Wolverines as they prepared for the potential losses of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III; once those two declared for the NBA Draft, MAAR's recruitment hit the fast track. He becomes the fifth member of Michigan's 2014 class, joining Kam Chatman, Ricky Doyle, Austin Hatch, and DJ Wilson.
|3*, NR SG||NR SG||2*, 64, #101 SG||NR SG||NR SG|
As one would expect from a prospect picked up as a late-cycle contingency plan, MAAR flew under the radar of most of the recruiting services, with only ESPN even bothering give him a complete ranking—and they don't even list his weight. The other sites are in relative agreeance regarding his measurables; all list him at 180 pounds, with Rivals and 247 pegging him at 6'4" and Scout shaving off an inch.
Unsurprisingly, scouting reports on a largely overlooked prospect are hard to come by—there's not a single scouting-related article on him on Rivals, Scout, or 247. ESPN's evaluation was last updated in June 2013, so while it gives us a starting point, it doesn't include any progress MAAR made during his senior season [emphasis mine]:
He's extremely versatile with the size and length to offer minutes at any of the three perimeter positions, and is a match-up problem virtually anywhere on the court because he's capable of making plays for himself and others over top of smaller guards and has the speed, quickness, and handle to go by most bigger wings. He's equally versatile defensively where his size, length, and ability to cover the court might even be bigger weapons.
He's a dribble drive player on the offensive end, and not yet a consistent outside shooter. That flaw in his offensive repertoire is likely to be exposed much more at the next level when the game slows down and he's not able to get out in the open floor with the same frequency. Even at that, he's going to be much more effective in an up-tempo system at the next level.
He has a very intriguing combination of size, length, quickness, and smooth handle but he's going to have to continue to get more skilled on the perimeter in order for his game to translate as well to the college level.
The inconsistent jump-shooting is a concern for any guard coming in to play for John Beilein, though MAAR's drive-oriented game at the very least gives U-M a different type of player to put out there, especially if he lives up to his reputation as a defensive stopper.
The most recent, thorough analysis of Michigan's latest addition comes from UMHoops, which posted a scouting report on MAAR this week, as well as the video embedded later in this post. The whole thing is obviously worth your time; Dylan praises his transition game and passing ability, sees room for improvement in his shooting and ballhandling, and comes away with this conclusion:
Abdur-Rahkman might not be the traditional Beilein wing, but he would bring a lot of things to Michigan’s backcourt that are currently lacking. He looks like a natural fit to play the two-guard spot, but down the line he could potentially slide to the three or the one. Michigan’s inability to contain dribble penetration last season was no secret and Abdur-Rahkman might be able to shore up some of those concerns – especially down the line. He’s already physically mature (he’ll turn 20 in September) which means he could be ready to play at a college level, but also that he’s been able to bully younger players at the high school level.
That last bit means MAAR is probably closer to his ceiling than your average incoming freshman, which can be a benefit in the short-term but does add some concern for how much he'll improve over the long haul.
Sam Webb asked Abdur-Rahkman for a self-evaluation this week, and he had no issue noting the areas of his game that need improvement ($):
I’m more of a facilitator, get in the lane, drive and kick, find the big guys inside. I can play defense. I’m a good defender – perimeter. I can shoot a little bit…I need to get better. Dribbling better, but need to get better. Midrange is pretty good.
Despite his scoring acumen, note that MAAR calls himself a facilitator first and foremost.
Coach/teammate evaluations are difficult to trust entirely for obvious reasons, but do at provide insight into how a prospect handles himself in the locker room, and Abdur-Rahkman comes in for high praise in that regard:
“He is a complete player,” [Central Catholic head coach] Dennis Csencsits said. “Not only does he lead us in scoring but he leads us in assist, he is a very good rebounder so he is a really well-rounded player, very smart, very savvy basketball player.”
Although he continues to excel on the court, Abdur-Rahkman’s teammate says the “friendly and outgoing” star has been their mentor.
“Muhammad has helped me become a better leader and a better teammate,” sophomore point guard Zay Jennings said. “Just learning some basketball [techniques] that he does, overall, he is just a good teacher and a good leader.”
As you'll see, MAAR was a scoring machine in high school, but the stats, film, and quotes show that he's an unselfish player, as well.
About those stats—they're quite impressive:
Barring a major surprise, Abdur-Rahkman will be named to the Pennsylvania all-state team next week [Ed: he was], making him the first player in Lehigh Valley history to be an all-state selection four times.
He also was a unanimous choice as The Morning Call's player of the year for the second consecutive year.
The 6-foot-4 swingman was the driving force behind one of the greatest seasons in Lehigh Valley basketball annals.
With Abdur-Rahkman averaging 23.6 points, 4.1 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game, Central Catholic became the first area boys team to win its first 29 games, sweeping the Lehigh Valley Conference and District 11 3A titles en route.
The dream season ended with a 60-50 loss to eventual state champion Neumann-Goretti, but few will ever forget this Central Catholic team or the talents of Abdur-Rahkman.
He finished with 2,136 points — the most in CCHS history and the sixth most in District 11 annals.
That article contains more background on MAAR and focuses, once again, on his humble demeanor and unselfish play. This quote from Abdur-Rahkman sums it up:
"The numbers don't mean much to me," he said. "I'm just glad we won four district titles. That was our goal. We put in a lot of hard work and we just got better each year. One day it will all hit me what we've accomplished but right now, hard work is what I want to be remembered for."
Before picking up the Michigan offer on his visit, Abdur-Rahkman held offers from Bucknell, Delaware, Drexel, George Mason, Lehigh, Robert Morris, and VCU, according to ESPN.
The UMHoops scouting video is a must-watch:
Brian posted his impressions on it earlier this week:
MAAR's shot selection here would be terrible except he's in high school and the shots he's getting off are probably better than wide open looks from a number of his teammates. And he puts down a lot of his terrible, terrible shots. It's the open ones, whether it's at the free throw line or generally, that seem to need work. As UMHoops notes, one of the games here features five threes from MAAR, which is a major outlier for a guy who hit 1.9 a game.
We could see some improvement in MAAR's shooting once the onus for creating most of the team's offense no longer falls on him.
Also, a four-second assessment of his athleticism reveals that...
...yup, he's athletic.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Abdur-Rahkman needs to develop on the offensive end, but he still might see the floor next season—his physical maturity should help him there. While the worries about Michigan's depth for 2014-15 have focused on the frontcourt, Jon Horford's transfer and the NBA losses have created a ripple effect that leaves the backcourt a little thin, especially at the two. While Caris LeVert will play the vast majority of those minutes, Zak Irvin—the presumed starting three—may have to play more minutes at the four than the two, especially if Mitch McGary decides to go pro.
That leaves MAAR as the only backup guard aside from Spike Albrecht and Austin Hatch, and it's unlikely Hatch is going to be ready to play after returning to the court this past season. I doubt Beilein used a scholarship on a 20-year-old freshman at a position in need of depth without plans to utilize him immediately; even with the iffy jump shot, MAAR should carve out a niche role as a defensive specialist who can get out and lead the break. How he's utilized from there will depend largely on the development of his offensive repertoire.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan has one remaining open scholarship for next season. I'd be surprised if they took another recruit in the class. It's more likely they'll look to add a transfer if the right player shows interest, and if that doesn't happen they can pocket the scholarship for 2015-16, which currently has just one open spot—though that figure could grow given the distinct possibility Mitch McGary and Caris LeVert are NBA-bound by that time.
EDIT: Or I'm totally wrong, as Sam Webb just tweeted out the latest offer news:
#Michigan has offered 2014 New Hampton (N.H.) Prep guard Aubrey Dawkins
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) April 19, 2014
This can mean a few things: the transfer front isn't looking so good, Beilein expects further attrition, or the coaches just really like Dawkins. We'll see.