"This is really important to be here," Lewan said. "I'm here to give back and help out my teammate."
right: Will Moeller/Daily
Nine months ago Michigan fans were suspicious of both of their West Virginia coaching heists. Today one is sitting next to Billy Packer and Jason Whitlock in a suit; the other is a season away from establishing himself for the long haul. Both undertook program-changing measures after a disappointing start, but only one successfully delegated his way to success.
You know who is who. Rich Rodriguez:
- fired Scott Shafer after one year as defensive coordinator,
- hired retread Greg Robinson, and
- forced him to run a 3-3-5-ish defense that incorporated the 3-4 and 4-3 with freshmen everywhere.
He got the sad firing box.
- literally fired or replaced every one of his assistants,
- hired two up-and-comers from smaller schools, and
- all but abandoned the 1-3-1 defense that was his trademark at West Virginia.
If he can wring the expected improvement out of his 46% freshman usage he'll have Michigan's basketball team in the Big Ten title picture for the first time since Fisher was run out of town.
Both coaches tweaked their specialty offense for different players. Rodriguez coaxed an NCAA-average performance out of true freshman Tate Forcier by relying on his scrambling ability in the pocket and using him as a decoy in the run game. (Or at least trying to—Tate had a bad habit of keeping the ball when his read said hand off.) He improved the offense further with sophomore-who-would-have-been-redshirt-freshman-if-Michigan-had-any-options Denard Robinson. Even the Robinson offense wasn't going back to the old Pat White well. Without a Slaton to put oomph in the read and with defenses far more prepared to deal with it these days, he implemented a rushing game that revolved around the quarterback instead of using him as a "gotcha" thunderbolt. He used the QB rushing staples to implement a terrifying play-action game that often saw receivers open by ten yards.
Terrible defense put Michigan in long-field situations (Michigan led the country in TD drives of more than 85 yards), there was no field goal kicking, and the inexperienced Robinson was a turnover machine. The thing was a bit rickety. It was erratic. It put too much load on Robinson's shoulders. It was also incredibly young and promised infinity when Robinson was old enough to cut out the turnovers. It finished #2 in FEI, which you know because I say it every ten seconds.
Beilein lost his only two upperclassmen from the immensely disappointing 2009 team and returned a collection of role players and youth. He had to know his best player was a point guard who couldn't shoot to save his life. He still had a perimeter four and a spread-the-court offense, but he implemented a ton of ball screens that gave defenses a choice between open threes from guys who shoot at a 38% clip or getting pick-and-rolled to death by Morris and Jordan Morgan. Morgan shot 63% as a result and Michigan vastly exceeded expectations.
This lived up to their rep. Both were regarded as innovators. "Genius" is definitely not a word you want to throw around when you're talking about coaches but their peers seemed to regard Beilein and Rodriguez as people you want to talk to. Beilein doesn't talk but gets the most votes when his peers are asked to judge solely on coaching acumen; Rodriguez does, so he pops up at Oklahoma and his coaches get snapped up two seconds after they're let go. Carr's coaching tree is Brady Hoke and Scot Loeffler, end of story. It's tough to throw a rock in college football without hitting someone inspired by or directly associated with Rodriguez.
But he's not here because he couldn't let go. Of all the numbers associated with his tenure at Michigan this is by far the most damning:
It's the 37 next to Syracuse in the FEI defense ratings. That is a schedule-adjusted, I-AA-ignoring measure of defensive competency featuring Scott Shafer and absolutely no talent a few spots off the defenses of Michigan State and Wisconsin. Last year (Shafer's first) they were 72nd, the year before that 80th when Greg Robinson was the head coach and functional DC.
Maybe that wasn't possible here what with Never Forget…
…and all that. But we do know Shafer, a very good MAC coordinator who Harbaugh picked up and then made Syracuse better than anyone thought possible very quickly, is a good coach. And we know he was undermined and pushed out. Evidence suggests Greg Robinson is a terrible coach but he was undermined, too, and instead of a vaguely worse defense than two BCS teams coupled with Denard Robinson—good for 8-4 at least—we got something that was literally the worst ever in various categories.
Beilein had already scrapped the 1-3-1 before the total program reboot and was rewarded with an uptick in his Kenpom numbers from 67th to 53rd. It's a lot harder to tell who's responsible for what, but Beilein seemingly felt everything was insufficient and blew it all to hell. He still teaches the 1-3-1 but only uses it on occasion; he's left the defense mostly to his assistants. His reward: 35th nationally this year. That's better than his previous three years at Michigan. It's better than he ever did at West Virginia, because he knew what he didn't know.
Rodriguez's problem was never his selection of defensive coordinators, it was his refusal to trust them to do their jobs. The thing about Hoke is this: he does. At SDSU he hired Rocky Long to run a 3-3-5; Rocky Long ran a 3-3-5, and it was pretty good, and now he's the head coach. He hired Al Borges to run a passing-oriented West Coast offense; Borges ran a passing-oriented West Coast offense that wasn't quite as good as Michigan's in FEI's eyes but was still top 20. If he "gets" anything it's that he's a former defensive lineman with a narrowly defined set of assets that does not include being a genius of any variety—he's never been a coordinator. So he's hired two guys with very long, very successful resumes to do that stuff for him. That's an upgrade over Rodriguez, who had one—himself. It's an upgrade over Carr, who had zero*.
When I am trying to be cheerful in the face of Hoke's indifferent record I think about the vagaries of MAC budgets and what Hoke did the instant he escaped them. Mattison is the third excellent hire Hoke's made. That's a trend, one that suggests he, too, knows what he doesn't know. Since I'm a Michigan fan I'm bracing for a fatal flaw, but at least it won't be the same one that sunk Rich Rodriguez.
*[Ron English masterminded The Horror and does not count. Before his elevation at Michigan he had never been a coordinator. After he left he led the weak unit on the last Kragthorpe Louisville team and has started the slow process of dying at EMU. The only thing he's proven is that he can yell at several future NFL stars effectively.]
Title disclaimer: hate on Donald Rumsfeld all you want—just not here—but the bit about known knowns and known unknowns and unknown unknowns is a useful bit of language. Not intended to endorse or unendorse anything about Rumsfeld. Disclaimers uber alles.
Again with the killing. The Daily's latest feature is on Michigan's connection to the St. Mike's prep program that produced Louie Caporusso, Andrew Cogliano, Brandon Burlon, and plenty of other Wolverines over the years. It features a what-if on the level of "what if Kevin Garnett went to Michigan":
When Lindros first visited before the OHL draft, Berenson was sure to make the right impression.
Berenson called Lindros into his office with an offer he hoped the 6-foot-4 power forward wouldn't be able to pass up. Hanging in the coaches’ room when Lindros entered was a traditional white Michigan jersey, with the trademark 'M' on the chest. Berenson then revealed the back of the sweater: LINDROS 88.
Lindros had been No. 8 at St. Mike’s, but Berenson was making a statement.
“I didn't let anyone have a high number back then,” Berenson said. “But (Lindros) was big time, and we knew that. Gretzky was 99 — I gave Lindros 88.”
The offer was made and the decision was left up to Lindros. He chose Michigan.
The OHL promptly changed its rules against trading first-round draft picks and Lindros went there instead.
Also most of the pictures are credited to "Danger Nesbitt," which is either author Stephen Nesbitt's ironic nickname or ass-kicking nine year old sister.
Recruiting blitz. Lost in the most crammed sports day I can remember—basketball, hockey, and US soccer were all going on simultaneously—was the commitment of 2012 Canadian wing Nick Stauskas. Stauskas claimed a Kansas offer at one point and was definitely getting recruited by Wake Forest, Iowa State, Butler, and others. Scouting from UMHoops's "Hello" equivalent:
Strengths: Stauskas is a well built swingman who can really shoot the basketball. He has good size for the two-guard and has gotten noticeably stronger within the last year. He is a big time shooter who makes shots in bunches and can never be left unchecked anywhere within 25 feet of the rim. He can handle and pass the ball in the open floor, will attack bad closeouts off the dribble, and isn’t afraid to mix it up inside the paint to battle for rebounds.
The consistent knock is raw athleticism; a half-dozen reports on UMHoops are split down the middle on whether or not he can actually create a shot for himself. On WTKA this morning Sam Webb said he was like Stu Douglass with a better handle, but once you start talking about a 6'6" Stu Douglass who can get to the rack are you really talking about Stu Douglass anymore?
Stauskas's commitment fills Michigan's roster for 2012 if there's no attrition. That's kind of a big if at this point, so Michigan should be planning to fill Darius Morris's slot. Most people talk about Indiana five star Gary Harris as someone to look at but that's something of a pipe dream. I'm still holding out for man-mountain Sim Bhullar because it would be terribly fun to have a 7'4", 300-pound Indo-Canadian on the team. As a bonus, envision Gus Johnson exclaiming his name.
BONUS: Remember the almost-but-not-quite recruitment of Nate Lubick? That paid off with dad:
Stauskas credited his high school coach, Dave Lubick, for helping to connect him with the Michigan staff. "He was the one who started the relationship with Michigan," Stauskas said. "They never would have seen me if not for him."
It was just a couple of years ago that Michigan recruited Lubick's eldest son, Nate, as hard as anyone in the country and while he ultimately committed to Georgetown, the process left Lubick extremely impressed with Beilein.
"I thought it was a gift that I was given, that I was now able to give to this family," Lubick said of getting to know Beilein. "This is a great man and a great coach. I have as much respect and admiration for him as I do anyone I've met in this business."
Invites questions as to why he went to Georgetown, but whateva. If you're curious as to how the younger Lubick did this year, he played half of Georgetown's minutes and shot well but was extremely low-usage. Like Petway low-usage.
As for Bielfeldt. Mike Rothstein got some clarification on just what he is in a Q&A:
…right now they like me playing the four and, depending how I develop, they said I might play a little five as well.
Q: Where do you feel the most comfortable in their offense and defense?
MB: Their four spot. They said next year they are thinking about running a little bit more two-post stuff. I think either one, they are kind of similar to us with the offense. If I can develop my game a little bit over the summer, I think I’d be comfortable at either one.
Bielfeldt says he shoots "when he has to" but is more of a post and short corner guy, so his fit in the offense is going to be interesting. Same goes for Brundidge, FWIW.
The first five. Now that we've got five full classes of Beilein recruits, a brief survey:
2008: Douglass, Novak,
Cronin, Benzing 2009: Morris, Vogrich, Morgan, McLimans
2010: Hardaway, Smotrycz, Horford
2011: Burke, Brundidge, Bielfeldt
2012: Robinson III, Stauskas
Since picking up Douglass and Novak in his first class Beilein has recruited just one unranked kid anywhere except the five—Bielfeldt. Pickups at those four spots all seem to be in the 75-125 range with at least one guy who seems to be (or has already proven to be) massively underrated per class: Morris, Hardaway, Burke, and Robinson III. Morris throws a wrench into theories about four-year players but I don't think anyone expected he'd be in a position to think about moving on when he was recruited.
Redux. I added this a few hours after I posted on the Zapruder goal, but in case you missed it and need to email a North Dakota fan or something:
The guy you're emailing will then say that's not conclusive and you'll throttle him with your mind.
Additional Fab Five stuff. Via Wolverine Historian, the 1993 Purdue game:
Bouncyfreude. Sippin' On Purple adapts This Week In Schadenfreude into This Tournament In Schadenfreude with awesome results:
want to throw up right now, i cried shortly after the loss. F*CK VCU with a capital FFFFFFFF. Your fans are all ugly decrepite mason nazi pricks who don't know the essense of our great program. they were lucky as hell.
If you thought incoherent rage was restricted to football fans… well, no one thinks that. Just click over.
Etc.: MSU C Garrick Sherman transfers. Slightly sketchy seeming since MSU does not have a scholarship for Harris at this instant, but Sherman did play 30% of MSU's minutes this year so it's not like he's a total scrub. Once Nix hits five bills they might regret losing him.
People who write about the NFL draft are probably the dumbest people putting words in sentences outside the USCHO.com message board. EBay watch hits on a highball glass I got for Christmas this year. It did not cost 65 dollars, I checked. Baseball swept by MSU for first time since 1955—yeesh. Jim Jackson says one more year for Morris. A Rich Rodriguez piece? Oh boy! KJ of The Only Colors says goodbye. /shakes fist at time
2/26/2011 – Michigan 70, Minnesota 63 – 18-12, 8-9 Big Ten
Outside of Michigan, if you've heard about Zack Novak it's probably because Blake Griffin posterized him. That's what got him in Sports Illustrated, after all. The article starts off by describing Michigan's strategy—let him shoot—before noting that "the coaches do not cover what to do if he decides to jump over your head." Luke Winn reports that after it happened a Memphis fan yelled "Hey, Novak! Your kid is going to have a picture of that on his wall!" Zack Novak: not Blake Griffin.
Saturday Novak got posterized again, this time by a guy who can do this:
Substitute Novak for the motorcycle and that's basically what happened. It was lethal. I'm shocked it's not on Youtube six different ways. Bacari Alexander heard so much about it he admonished the twitter in the aftermath.
It takes a special kind of player on a special kind of team to be famous for being a vague impediment to someone going ham on the rim. It takes a floppy-haired short kid on an overmatched team, specifically. Every time an actual power forward gets on a media guide cover thanks to Novak it's a reminder that Michigan is a short, young, small, and possibly talent-deficient team just trying to make do until it can get some seniors up in here.
But as Alexander pointed out: scoreboard. At the end of the game it read Michigan LOTS, Minnesota NOT QUITE AS MANY despite the fact that Novak's going to be incidentally part of ten year old Minnesotans' walls next year. There were a lot of reasons for this—Tim Hardaway going NBA Jam in the first five minutes, Darius Morris braving the trees to toss in a variety of circus shots—but just about everything that was going to happen already had and Michigan was still down one on the road with three seconds on the shot clock and ninety on the game clock.
Morris tried to drive and was cut off. He had to chuck it out to Novak; Novak was camped out at the NBA three-point line. If he was closer one of Minnesota's enormous tree people would have deflected the pass. As it was the enormous tree person got a hand in his face as he fired an instant before the shot clock hit zero.
Against Iowa and Wisconsin, Novak literally hadn't hit a shot.
Minnesota came down the floor down two. Novak, who is maybe 6'4", ended up checking Minnesota's Ralph Sampson III (yes that Ralph Sampson). Sampson is 7'1" with long, long arms. He could eat Zack Novak in a single sitting. He'd already hit a variety of mid-range jumpers that Michigan could do nothing about other than watch, and was one-on-one in the block. This is shrug-your-shoulders time. This is the point where you acknowledge the physical limitations brought on by Benzing's test score and Cronin's hip and say "just wait till next year, Big Ten!" as you shake your little tiny baby fist.
Sampson is fighting for position hard enough for the announcer to note it. Minnesota feeds the post. This is shrug-your-shoulders-time.
People say players like Zack Novak do the little things, and they are wrong. I yelped "yes" involuntarily. This hadn't happened for anything else; anything that forces strained noises out of you is probably not a "little thing."
Maybe they say this because it's not the kind of thing that gets you on a poster. That's true, but in the alternate universe where Nick Hornby is on the 50 Sexiest People cover for the 20th straight year and Sufjan Stevens is Lady Gaga, there are posters of Novak leaping in front of Sampson, posters of the Aneurysm of Leadership, posters of Zack Novak bleeding on you and MANBOUNDING you and fronting your six-eight jumping-jack power forward. In them, Novak has an elbow in his back, blood running down his temple, and is plotting how to take a charge.
Tim has you covered. Go North Carolina Central!
The best in annoyance. Eamonn Brennan on Michigan's chances:
Huge road win for Michigan, and an even bigger loss for Minnesota. The Wolverines have been quietly (OK, not quietly, because Michigan fans e-mail me more than any non-BYU fan base in the nation) making a late-season push for at-large consideration, and this win will only boost that case. In fact, the Wolverines are probably, if only barely, in the tournament right now. A home win over Michigan State in the regular-season finale might very well seal it.
Say what you will about Michigan fan but boy do they lacerate people on the internet with questions/responses. Hinton agrees.
The zen of good shots. I missed the first Michigan-Minnesota game because of hockey but recall from the stats that Michigan took an epic number of threes and missed damn near all of them; in the first half they took an epic number of threes (22 to just six twos) and this was frickin' awesome until they got to 35 points, at which point it was frickin' awful. What changed? It didn't look like anything. Minnesota has enormous dudes inside and was giving up wide open three after wide open three, so it made sense to take them. Was that bad? Is an open three a bad shot after you've taken five straight? What if you've missed five straight?
I'm really asking here. I can't recall more than a couple first-half threes that seemed like bad shots in isolation. An open three from a 35% shooter is something you can win a lot of games with, but as they clanged off the rim late in the first half I tried to figure out if my frustration was me being a troglodyte or not. The end result was good—9 of 22, 41%, equivalent to hitting 61% of your twos—so… can you complain?
After all, Michigan put up an excellent 1.19 points per possession. In the second half they were far more interior-oriented and scored… 35 points. There's an argument to be made that any three is less good than a layup/dunk and that a team that can get lots of those is going to be better than a team that just bombs from deep. Also an offense like that is less prone to withering droughts.
So if Michigan was really good it would be a problem, and if they're going to be really good they'll have to cut down on the threes, but they're not so fine, especially against the Brobdingnagian Gophers. I think this is what I think.
Statewatch. The popular sentiment appears to be "beat MSU and don't fall on your face and you're in"—even an previously dismissive Lunardi now has Michigan amongst his last four in. That's quite a shift from before the Minnesota game. So goings-on with the Spartans are important. They just got obliterated by Purdue 67-47:
The offensive execution before the shot wasn't great. The ball screens and movement were enough to create open shots, and on the few occasions MSU did get offensive rebounds (OReb% of 26.3% - low, but not enough to explain a 20 point loss) they could not convert. Seven points off 10 offensive rebounds isn't good. Lastly, it seemed as if the Spartans were a bit tentative in the paint. Dan Dakich made a point a couple times during the telecast that Green and Roe were falling forward on lay-ups, and I think a drive directly at the basket would've at least drawn a foul.
While they should take care of Iowa at home they made the Hawkeyes look like Purdue the last time out. Either way MSU is going to be playing for its tourney life in Crisler on Saturday. It will be the most important, competitive game between the teams in years.
BONUS: The elf who bakes cookies is MSU's third-leading scorer in the last couple games.
Tim Hardaway: five star? Big Ten Geeks asked people to name "ten freshmen better than Tim Hardaway Jr" apropos of nothing on the twitter and then followed that up a comparison between THJ and some of his more hyped peers:
Here’s how he stacks up in terms of offensive rating and possessions consumed in conference play with some other more recognizable freshmen:
Player Offensive Rating Poss% Tim Hardaway Jr. 112.1 24.4 Jared Sullinger 118.2 26.4 Harrison Barnes 103.4 26.3 Terrence Jones 107.4 29.2 Brandon Knight 112.1 24.8 Perry Jones 114.7 22.2 Tobias Harris 103.1 26 Josh Smith 108.8 25.7
It’s not like Hardaway is a tweener, either. At 6-5, he’s got the size to play guard at the next level. We should probably see Hardaway on more mock draft boards, very soon.
Not as good as Jared Sullinger. Everyone else is at least debatable and he's got a clear edge on many. (Caveats about defense apply.)
John Beilein's eagle eye. Hardaway's emergence and Jordan Morgan turning into a way better player than classmate Derrick Nix have provided enough evidence for me to suggest that Beilein's seems to have an eye for players who are overlooked by recruiting sites. I didn't follow the Pittsnogle era at WVU closely enough to have a grasp on the players he was recruiting and didn't get, but various Michigan targets who have outperformed expectations:
- Beilein was hard after Klay Thompson as he tried to fill out his first recruiting class but Thompson decided to go to Washington State(!?!), whereupon he exploded. He's shooting 42% from 3 and has a 106.4 ORtg despite using a third of WSU's possessions.
- That same year he pursued Kyle Kuric heavily but didn't get him. Kuric went somewhere less embarrassing: Louisville. He's currently sporting a 129.8(!) ORtg because he's hitting 46% from three and 60% from two. He has low usage and only plays 57% of available minutes, but dang.
- Beilein went after Vermont transfer Joe Trapani but lost him to BC. As a senior he's got a 104 ORtg while shooting 29% of the time. He shoots 36% from 3.
- Robin Benzing fell one SAT question short of making this edition of Michigan insane. He was the leading scorer in a U20 Euro championship, got time on the actual German national team, and is a guy who keeps popping up on NBA draft radars.
- Hardaway was a meh three star when he committed.
- Smotrycz was a meh three star when he committed before shooting up with a strong AAU season; he's struggled a bit so far but has potential and was no one when he committed to M.
- Novak had his Valpo offer pulled.
- Morgan had no other D-I offers and even his father was surprised he got one from Michigan.
Add in Pittsnogle and Joe Alexander and Gansey, etc., and I think you've got a strong case to trust the coaches when Beilein brings in someone you've never heard of who doesn't have any offers. Not everyone can pan out explosively but Beilein seems to be more hit than miss.
Dang. Random BTN tweet:
Jordan Morgan has averaged 15.0 ppg and 4.8 rpg over his last five games. He's shooting 71.4 pct during this span.
Recap from UMHoops. Also AnnArbor.com. Big Ten tourney scenarios from AC1997. Zach Travis of MNB on the other Zack. Big House Blog on Novak. Maize n Blue Nation on Novak. Mets Maize on… Novak. Little things… not so much.
In Soviet Russia, Novak discusses topic of dunk:
“I didn’t even really see it. I was turned around a little bit,” Novak said. “So I was under the basket and I saw him dunk it. I didn’t know it was that bad.
“But (my teammates) told me it was pretty bad. He’s just, he’s a great player.”
Rothstein also recaps Michigan's league situation.
And finally, here's this: