As Michigan rises in the rankings, so does Burke, an adept ball handler who reads defenses well and excels in ball-screen situations, an NBA bread-and-butter play. Burke continues to be a little sloppy at times, but he is boosting his draft stock significantly in his second season. Burke's field-goal percentage (48.1) and three-point percentage (37) are up from last season.
ESPN's Chad Ford doesn't seem to have updated since the season started.
Not spotted: Tim Hardaway Jr, which is a bit of a surprise given his lights-out start to the season. Hardaway is still languishing in the second round of DX's 2014 mock behind luminaries like Josh Smith and Adriean Payne. Apparently he'll have to continue turning heads through the Big Ten season to break through in draft analysts's minds. Given his start, I think we're expecting that.
(Side note: GRIII has dropped to 25th in 2014 on DX. Meanwhile, both Pitt starting forwards feature on that 2014 mock draft with Stephen Adams 15th and Talib Zanna a second-rounder. Michigan outrebounded those guys badly. NC State meanwhile has the #7 and #8 guys in 2014 and the #20 guy this year. Michigan has already beaten some talented teams.)
Early unreliable tempo free numbers. I hereby take the Kenpom Small Sample Size Oath I understand that player stats are based on extremely limited information in mid-November. A quick check of Kenpom reveals four early trends that leap off the page:
- Unstoppable Throw-Ball-In-Hoop-God Nik Stauskas. Stauskas is currently 4th in ORtg, a composite measure that weights various offensive stats together, 5th in effective field goal percentage, first in true shooting percentage (eFG adjusted for frequency of FT attempts and FT shooting), near the top 50 in TO rate, and is drawing free throws more frequently than anyone on the team. That is all nuts. He'll come down to earth… maybe. His usage is about where Novak was last year; so far he is an offensive upgrade on a guy who shot 85/56/41 from FT/2/3 last year.
- GRIII OReb upgrade. GRIII is the second-best offensive rebounder on the team and is grabbing more than double the opportunities Novak did last year. Not that I'm picking on Novak. It enrages me when people say "John Beilein finally has a lights-out shooter" when Novak shot 41% last year. Novak was awesome. What I am saying is that between Stauskas and GRIII, Michigan has upgraded its shooting and rebounding by splitting Novak into two different people, both of whom are bigger than him.
- THJ complete game watch. After six games, Hardaway is the team's second-best defensive rebounder at 19% and has drastically increased his shooting inside and outside the arc; his TO rate has hardly budged from his extremely good freshman number. Assists are actually down so far.
- Big Puppy sucks up all the rebounds. If Mitch McGary had played 40% of his team's minutes instead of 36% he would rank 8th in offensive rebound percentage and 29th in defensive rebound percentage. He is of course blowing everyone out of the water in this regard so far.
Obviously there's a long way to go before we get much of an idea how legit any of these things are; I remember Michigan being an outstanding defensive rebounding team in the nonconference schedule last year, but click that conference-only box on Kenpom and 2012 Michigan drops from 99th—good—to 9th in conference—not good. This year Michigan's defensive rebounding is 4th nationally, but how will it hold up in the Big Ten? Probably better, but how much? Etc.
Speaking of Novak. UMHoops interviews him:
As for Glenn playing an undersized four, he is built like an upperclassman already so I don’t think he’s going to be getting pushed around by very many people. I think as he gains experience and gets a feel for what players can do at that level, he’ll have no problem guarding guys down low. I think a lot of players underestimate how effective just playing “solid” down low can be. Many guys in college basketball struggle to score through a strong chest. Figure out how to hold your ground and you have won half of the battle. When he stays between his man and the basket, he can be more effective than I was because of his great length. There were times I could guard a guy perfectly, but he’d just shoot it right over me. That shouldn’t happen to him as much.
He doesn't bite on the "potential undoing" question; I will: foul trouble for Robinson would force Michigan into the rickety two-post offense for extended periods and could bring things down. There isn't really a guy who can spell him and shoot unless it's Bielfeldt.
The enduring legacy of DJ Jazzy Jeff. Athlon surveys college basketball players anonymously:
Have you ever received benefits from a booster?
Have you ever had a grade changed because you were an athlete?
Those seem like high numbers, but not as high as these:
What is your favorite TV show?
Family Guy (9.6%)
Fresh Prince (6.8%)
Everybody Hates Chris (5.5%)
Fresh Prince of Bel Air went off the air in 1996, and Martin in 1997, which means these kids were like two or three. [HT: Daily Gopher]
More alumni points. Michigan's changed the priority points system to further prioritize alumni and former letterwinners, but the thing I found fascinating was the chart MLaw06 attached to his diary:
Climbing halfway up the points list costs about 2000 bucks; getting to 90 costs as much as a new car. (A new car!) The change deflates point values slightly but on a 1-1 ratio that's like giving alums an extra $1,500 head start on other folk. Opinions on this will be split down the middle between alums and non-alums.
Ah yup. Via Maize and Blue Nation, correlation:
The strength of that correlation may change if Michigan gets aggressive about throwing under Borges. Right now, pretty stark, especially those two years under 40 rushing yards.
Protip: don't do this. Former ND hockey player Riley Sheahan arrested wearing a teletubby costume (Tinky Winky, if you're interested). Arrest is for being drunk and driving; drunkenly stated he had not finished high school when asked if there was anything that might prevent him from properly answering the questions. Was carrying a teammate's license on him. None of this is good. Except the costume.
BONUS: Apparently "superdrunk" is a term of law in this state?
JongShow. Hockey commit Nolan DeJong is profiled by the Hockey News:
“I like to be offensive,” he said. “But I take pride in my defense. I’d say my stability, my size and reach are my strengths. I like to be as active as possible, but I want to work on my positioning.”
De Jong would also admit he’s not the most physical out there, but has a pretty good role model right now in locked-out Colorado Avalanche rearguard Ryan O’Byrne, who is a volunteer coach for his hometown Victoria squad while the NHL is on ice. De Jong also worked out with O’Byrne and Jeff Compton, whose clients include several NHL and Western League franchises, in the off-season.
Etc.: Four Michigan guys make the BTN All-Freshman team. I look forward to a day when that number is zero, or one or something. Next year probably won't be that year since redshirts are included and Michigan figures to start at least two freshman OL.
Big Ten title game not a hot seller. With how spread out the conference is going to be it might be wise to just make it a home game for the team with the better conference record, with record of your conference opponents breaking ties.
Leftover Big Ten/ACC thoughts from Brennan. Minnesota is kind of good this year; mentally swap those guys with Wisconsin. College hockey features on Grantland. This post about the athletics bubble may overreach a bit but the general outline is right. People who decided to add Maryland say adding Maryland is a good idea. NC State/Michigan key plays. Barking Carnival interviews Texas F Girl.
I've got to get on a plane shortly so shortly the links will go.
Brief thoughts on the first exhibition:
- Albrecht is an extremely wise pickup; if he can hit threes and break the press and get M's offense in motion he'll be at least a solid backup for four years. Michigan needed some stability at that PG spot and he looks like he'll provide it.
- Stauskas is going to be a lights out three point shooter and he has enough other game to contribute to the rest of the offense; D needs work.
- McGary's FTs will probably be fine, his stroke looks good. Hopefully that leg injury clears up and he gets that extra 10% athleticism that made him a huge prospect after his AAU season.
- GRIII is Branden Dawson-ish with more shooting and less rebounding but probably not much less rebounding.
- Hardaway played a much more complete game than we're used to seeing. Thumbs up.
- Know Your Foe from the MZone says "must resist making little Brown Jugs" joke at picture of hot woman in brown bikini, predicts 28-10.
- Who Are You And Why Do We Care exists, predicts on non-football factors, does so 38-13.
- Maize and Go Blue goes with 37-10.
- Maize and Blue Nation says 27-2, which I should have thought of.
- The Daily Gopher can't even find a jug picture where it's being held by a Minnesota player—RVB is the man—and goes with 31-13.
- I'm In Love With A Fringe Bowl Team has a mathematical model that says 33-23 and a non-gambler guy who picks Michigan to cover: "I would have loved to start this post recalling the last time the Gophers beat Michigan in Minnesota, but I don't remember it at all. This is mostly because it was five years before my birth."
Kovacs is a truthful dude. Post-Nebraska:
"A lot of it is the games we played," Kovacs said. "Air Force didn't necessarily throw the ball on us a lot, and Alabama didn't have to.
"There's some open receivers last game that (quarterback Taylor) Martinez didn't see. There were a couple blitzes we ran, and we had a guy running down the middle of the field wide open. Can't let that happen. We've been fortunate they haven't hit 'em yet."
So that means the secondary is playing at a high level, but maybe not its highest level?
"I don't know," Kovacs said. "I think we're playing all right. I think last game we didn't play well enough at all, specifically the defensive backs."
- Well, yeah. Gibbons:
"I really don't groom that much," Gibbons said, smiling.
Now he's going to bleed on you, Baumgardner. Or more likely whoever wrote this headline:
Michigan's Nik Stauskas and Matt Vogrich could finally give John Beilein a consistent deep threat in Ann Arbor
Zack Novak shot 41% from three last year, and whenever he gets back from wrecking Belgium he's going to be ANGAR. Elsewhere, Spike Albrecht is called "mini Steve Nash," which is definitely not getting ahead of ourselves and headline guy is definitely going to put a "got" in between the first two words of this one after a loss at some point this year:
Youth served: Michigan's talented freshmen five show ability, poise in college debut
Falk on Jug. Not like that.
Whatever that might mean.
Seriously, they can do this? Whenver M plays at Northern I think the exact same thing Yost Built does:
Unlike SOME SCHOOLS THAT I KNOW OF, Northern offers streaming video of their games for $7. You can also buy a season pass for $75, and if you're reading this blog, don't have season tickets, and claim that you wouldn't fork out that much for a Michigan version of the same thing, I will call you a damn liar. It's 2012 and this is Michigan fergodsakes. We shouldn't have less access to video of games than Northern Michigan fans. Just saying.
I've watched three or four games at NMU the past few years, and M hockey fans outside of the local area can't get one.
Meanwhile, MHN highlights the scheduling thing we'll hear all season:
LAST TRIP TO MARQUETTE?
The Mining Journal’s Matt Wellens talked to NMU coach Walt Kyle about scheduling the Wolverines in the future. Kyle is open to the idea, however it must be on “fair terms.” By that he means a basic home-and-home series where the Wolverines would travel to NMU one year and NMU would return the favor the next year. He is not open to two-for-ones and payout deals.
Honestly, good for NMU.
Etc.: Stuffing the Passer. Michigan expects lack of goalie ejections at Northern Michigan. Yost Built previews NMU. NCAA dooms Midwest regional to 20 people in stands for 13th year of 14 by giving it to Cincinnati, which has one program (Miami) within a four hour drive. Leitch should totally ditch the Knicks. Catching up with Hunwick.
PROS: If he was a Football Manager player, would have an influence and work rate of 20. This means he's a gritty grittenstein who everyone loves because he defies his physical limitations to be pretty good. Had an Aneurysm of Leadership to lead Michigan to its first victory in Breslin since 1997.
Also nailed six threes in that game. Iconically bled all over himself in a game against Illinois during Michigan's first tourney push since the program's NCAA immolation. Kind of a walking capital-L Leadership avatar. The kind of player opposing fans loathe. Our Brian Cardinal. Swears like a sailor and has problems keeping his emotions in check.
CONS: Was never a star. Senior year usage was 14.3%, in the "role player" arena. Repeatedly posterized by men a half-foot taller than him, though this could be filed under a positive from a grit perspective. Clocked an OSU player late in a loss to get booted.
PROS: Amazing sophomore year saw him finish top five in assist rate nationally and shoot efficiently despite an astronomic usage rate. Told Kalin Lucas to get off his #$&*ing court, and Lucas had to since Michigan had just swept Michigan State for the first time since paper was invented. Was the engine of Michigan's second tourney birth since the NCAA immolation, this one not a skin-of-your-teeth bubble nailbiter. Nearly led Michigan to an upset of Duke in the secound round. If only that floater had dropped…
CONS: Made a poor decision to enter the draft early, limiting his impact to that one year—his freshman year was not exactly Trey Burke's. Draft entry decision seemingly taken in full knowledge that he was unlikely to go in first round. That's tough to take, and it seems like a one-year phenom has to be more phenomenal to get in here.
Also while it's not his fault that Tim Doyle called him "butterfly," it is a regrettably true thing.
PROS: Best player on Michigan's tourney-drought-breaking team, with massive usage (32%, top 25 nationally), a nearly-as-massive assist rate, and okay shooting. Major factor in the win at Minnesota that essentially got Michigan into the tourney.
A guy who signed up with Michigan when he had other options and there wasn't much reason to be a Wolverine. Stuck with it despite the Amaker firing. Way less crazy than Alex Legion. Actual full name is "Corperryale L'Adorable Harris," which… wow. Key guy in Michigan's perception-altering wins over UCLA and Duke in 2009.
CONS: Also made a debatable-at-best decision to enter the draft early and has spent his NBA career on the fringes of the Cavs' roster. Had blowups with Beilein that caused him to sit during critical periods. Tended toward lazy habits like jacking up contested threes. Had a little Rasheed Wallace disease while at M wherein he seems like less than he should be. Michigan disappointed greatly in his final year despite losing only a couple of walk-ons and Kelvin Grady.
PROS: Yeah, he's eligible. If this is a surprise it just goes to show how long ago 2006 seems in basketball terms.
Horton's teams never made the tournament but in his last go-round he was the main man on an outfit Kenpom likes better (#31) than a couple of Beilein outfits that got in. And he was fantastic: 28% usage the #35 assist rate, a bunch of steals, 90% free throw shooting, 49% from two, and 39% from three. That team would have made the tourney if they a) hadn't gone from 16-3 to 18-10 to end the year and b) hadn't blown it against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament.
I think we all forget how good Horton was because his teams never got anywhere.
CONS: Teams never got anywhere. He's holding the NIT MVP trophy above, a career-summing photo if there ever was one. While this isn't his fault it is a downer. Got suspended for most of his junior year thanks to a domestic violence thing he pled guilty to.
This was difficult to separate out since there are a number of candidates with things to recommend them: Brent Petway, Graham Brown, and Stuart Douglass were tough to leave out, but they all seemed like junior versions of Novak in the grit category.
PROS: The other top banana on Michigan's drought-breaker. A skilled power forward forced to play out of position at center too much, Sims was a wildly inconsistent player capable of dropping 20 on 8 shots one night and 2 on 8 the next night. These swings correlated very well with the height of his opponent. Are you a below-the-rim 6'8" kid at Northwestern? Forget it. Are you a shotblocker? Enjoy your feast.
Sims came back from an unimaginable personal tragedy—his brother was shot to death—endured during his freshman year to be a mainstay for his final three years. He was high-usage, a quality rebounder, and rarely turned the ball over. These things made up for some eh shooting percentages to make him an efficient player. Another guy who had options but decided to go with Michigan at a time where there was little reason to.
CONS: Has the same knock Manny Harris did since his final year was the disappointing follow-up to the tourney appearance. Was never a really great player and doesn't bring Novak-level fan intangibles (FANTANGIBLES!) with him.
Staying for a while. Helmet numbers are around until someone gets tired of them again if correspondence sent to Shane Morris is any indication:
I like them so much better when they're the same color as the rest of the helmet. Let's work on that, kids. Also someone send one of these to Treadwell with a #1 on it.
Michigan Replay, 1999. Intro not present, unfortunately. Post PSU win. This was smack in the middle of the We Own Penn State period.
Old, old school. Great article by John Kryk as he catches up with 91-year-old Al Wistert to talk about how his brain's doing and various other things. Wistert is hale and hearty, full of stories:
Wistert said he often did take a pounding; speed can help an undersized tackle avoid only so much contact.
"It was always a problem," he said of his size. "Each guy that I played against outweighed me by 40 or 50 pounds, and that was never easy.
"Playing nine years in the NFL would be a long time in any era. I didn't have a lot of injuries, though. I usually played 60 minutes and didn't come out of the game. But I managed to survive it. I guess I was pretty tough."
Wistert said he doesn't recall there being any protocols, or even concerns, back in the '40s about the effects of hits to the head. He doesn't recall having suffered a concussion, and said he doesn't know of any teammates who were ever kept out of a game for having had, in the parlance of the day, his "bell rung."
"No, I don't remember any serious precautions that they would make about that. So I guess there wasn't any concern about it."
Wistert played both ways for nine years in the NFL at 214 pounds. Different era then. Obviously.
NEVER TALK JIM DELANY. Unless you're telling that story about how you fingerbanged Mark Shapiro. All responses to all questions should be colorful anecdotes about turning his outrage into yearning. That's quality stuff.
It's just the everything else that's an issue:
"I don't have a lot of regard for that team," Delany said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Who is that team?
"I don't have a lot of regard for that team," he said. "I certainly wouldn't have as much regard for that team as I would for someone who played nine conference games in a tough conference and played a couple out-of-conference games on the road against really good opponents. If a poll doesn't honor those teams and they're conference champions, I do.
He didn't say Alabama. Did he have to? Anyone ever heard of a team not winning its division or its conference but going on to win the national championship?
GODDAMMIT JIM DELANY NOW ALABAMA IS GOING TO SHOW UP IN DALLAS AND TRY TO WIN. OUR WHOLE PLAN WAS THIS: DO NOT MAKE ALABAMA FEEL LIKE THEY SHOULD WIN THIS FOOTBALL GAME. OUR WHOLE PLAN IS NOW: AAAAAAAAIIIIEEEEEE. I SHOULD SHAKE YOU, SCREAMING "GET AHOLD OF YOURSELF" AND YES I KNOW THAT'S IRONIC.
Or maybe this doesn't matter and Alabama was already thinking they should win the game. But probably not.
Potentially useful walk-on? Michigan's acquired a preferred walk-on named Chris Maye from Union City, Michigan. He's a defensive back and he seems pretty fast:
Maye had several opportunities; officially visiting U-M and Michigan State for track, as well as making official visits to U-M, MSU and Army for football. He was the No. 1 track recruit at U-M, but Maye set his sights on playing football, actually turning down track scholarships.
With Brink poised to contribute and Kovacs entering his fourth year as a starter, guys like these are worth keeping an eye on in case they turn out a lot better than expected. Or Dantonio offers them. Whichever comes first.
Slash. Slash is old now, and I wonder if he just has a wig with the hat attached that he puts on when he wants to be Slash and takes off when he just wants to be an old guy in leather pants. Maybe he has to take the leather pants off too.
Anyway: Jay Bilas is sick of watching basketball teams beat up on weak sauce that probably shouldn't even be in D-I and has a radical solution($):
The bottom half of Division I is simply not competitive enough on a consistent basis to justify the bloated size of Division I. If Division I is reduced to a more reasonable size, there would be better games, a better distribution of talent across a smaller pool, and a better and more marketable product.
If Division I shrinks to 120 or 150 teams, the cry that Butler and VCU would be left out is the first one hears. Slow down. Look at the 120 FBS teams on the football side, and then look at the top 150 in the BPI. Teams like Butler (which just bolted the Horizon League for the Atlantic 10) and VCU would be among the 120 to 150 teams that are qualified and committed to a better Division I. It would include plenty of committed and competitive teams, and nobody would miss the early-season games against sacrificial lambs.
Most of the competitive programs would make it above that bar, and Bilas further suggests that top D-II teams—where the bottom 200 teams would end up—could get bids to the NCAA tournament to keep the Cinderella factor high. End result would be much better nonconference scheduling. It's a win for fans.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where John Calipari cancels the IU-Kentucky series because he can't get Tom Crean to move it off of home courts. Fans are about #10,000 on the list of stakeholders. As long as the NCAA is a loose confederation people are going to make eyes at status they can't achieve. There's nothing to be done except make sure you avoid the real dregs so your RPI doesn't suffer.
Answering rhetorical questions. It's my hobby. Here are three masquerading as one:
Zack Novak: The world's smallest, toughest and most self-deprecating power forward?
Smallest: at a major college level, yes. Not for all of D-I thanks to the problem above. Toughest: um… probably not. Most self-deprecating: hell yes. Should have asked "most likely to have a rage fit" as well:
“A great all-around athlete,” Beilein later added, gesturing along the table of 10 honorees at Barton Hills Country Club. “If he had chose wrestling, he’d be sitting next to (wrestling assistant) Sean (Bormet). If he had chosen hockey, a great defenseman, he would have been. (Hockey coach) Red (Berenson), don’t you think so? Knock some people around. (Football coach) Brady (Hoke), a cornerback? One of those other things -- a safety?
“(Golf coach) Chris (Whitten), that’s the one thing I know, he would not be sitting next to you -- unless Happy Gilmore can make a comeback, because every club would be broken by the end of the first round.”
I find it odd that Beilein knows who Happy Gilmore is. This is probably unfair.
It's like Japan, except flat and slippery and less irradiated. That would be Michigan hockey practices this fall. The addition of Andrew Copp, an end-of-the-bench NTDP player who is likely to be Danny Fardig 2.0, gives Michigan 15(!) forwards, 9(!) defensemen, and 4(!) goalies this fall. Some of these guys are deep roster players who aren't getting scholarship money and don't expect to play, but the defense corps is especially jammed now that it appears everyone's back next year.
Michigan brings in two NTDPers who will be drafted, one very high, and these guys who played frequently last year:
Two of those guys are probably going to get scratched every weekend unless Connor Carrick is also in the scratch mixture.
Scoring is the main issue. The cavalry there arrives in 2013. A senior-year blowup from AJ Treais would be most welcome.
Etc.: BYB's Kurt Mensching gets a Detroit News columnist gig. May they replace Rosenberg as effectively. Kyle Bosch will enroll early. The Hoover Street Rag posts its version of Special K for a day. These posts are tempting me to put together a list of the worst possible stadium anthems. Sigur Ros: untoppable?
From our very own Zack Novak photoshop thread.
This is part two of the hoops season recap; part one, covering the guards, can be found here.
It should not come as a surprise to those who have followed John Beilein's Michigan squads that a post covering the team's "bigs" would feature a photo of 6'4" Zack Novak at the top of the post. Michigan entered the season relatively thin in the frontcourt, and things only got worse when backup center Jon Horford suffered a stress fracture in his right foot in December, an injury that would ultimately sideline him for the remainder of the season. When Evan Smotrycz suffered through a brutal slump to start conference play, Novak found himself starting at power forward, reprising his role from years past instead of playing his natural two-guard position.
While Michigan got solid seasons out of Novak and Jordan Morgan, along with some inspired efforts from Smotrycz, the lack of size up front was the team's greatest weakness. This was exposed each time Michigan played Ohio State or Michigan State, especially away from Crisler, and even when all of the bigs got in foul trouble at Northwestern and Colton Christian played important minutes at center. This shouldn't be as much of an issue next season with the addition of Mitch McGary and the return of Horford, but Smotrycz's departure hurts. Let's look back on each player's individual contributions:
Preseason Expectations: Morgan entered the season as the returning starter after a surprising redshirt freshman season, but he still had to hold off Jon Horford to keep the job. The hope was that he'd develop his post game while continuing to play solid defense, rebound, and hit his fair share of high-percentage shots.
Postseason Reality: Morgan still hasn't displayed much in the way of a back-to-the-basket game, and he missed a maddeningly large amount of layups. The latter point was a source of great frustration, along with his propensity for early foul trouble, but overall Morgan was quite solid in the middle. His defense improved—including a sharp decline in foul rate—his rebounding was solid, and he shot just a hair under 62% from the field. Trey Burke didn't look to Morgan as much as Darius Morris did last year, and there was a clear adjustment period while he got used to playing with a different style of point guard. While there wasn't a big leap forward in Morgan's offensive game, as many had hoped, he did not regress, either. Meanwhile, he was in better shape, running the floor well and consistently posting strong defensive performances. Morgan probably isn't ever going to be an offensive force, nor a intimidating shot-blocker—the touch and explosive athleticism just aren't there—but he's a solid presence who should end up as a four-year starter.
Highlight: The Ohio State win was the most memorable of the season, and it was also the best game of Morgan's career, as he posted his first double-double—11 points (5-8 from the field) and 11 rebounds—while limiting Jared Sullinger to 14 points on 6-14 shooting. Morgan also beat Sullinger down the court for a pair of thunderous dunks in transition.
Lowlight: When Michigan matched up against Ohio State in the conference tournament, things didn't go so well. The Buckeyes dominated the Wolverines inside, and Morgan could only muster three points (1-5 shooting) and four rebounds while turning the ball over three times.
Key Numbers: 61.9 2pt%, 17.8 DR%, 3.9 fouls committed/40 minutes
Next year: Morgan should start at center once again, and it would be nice to see him break out a go-to post move. Mostly, however, Michigan will need him as a rebounder/defender/screen-setter, which falls right into his comfort zone. Also, make layups, please.
Preseason Expectations: Novak was expected to make a grand return to shooting guard, where the hope was that is offensive production would rise now that he no longer had to guard players a half-foot taller while shouldering a large part of the rebounding load.
Postseason Reality: Novak, of course, had to slide back to power forward when Smotrycz was benched early in Big Ten play, and for the fourth straight year his play improved despite not being the focal point of the team. He shot very well from the field—56% on twos, 41% on threes—and posted the team's best ORtg—his 123.3 mark was 39th in the country. Then, of course, you get Novak's trademark grit, as he still marveled with his ability to rebound among the trees while providing solid defense against players who theoretically should be dunking all over him (sometimes they did, but that happens when you're a 6'4" post player). Novak finished his career as the consummate role player, knocking down threes, hitting big shots when called upon, and otherwise doing everything to raise the level of play from his teammates. Michigan fans may not miss having a natural shooting guard at power forward when the 2012 reinforcements arrive, but they'll sure miss Zack Novak.
Highlight: Novak absolutely tore up UCLA back in November, scoring 22 points on eight shots from the field and chipping in three rebounds.
Lowlight: The final game in Novak's Wolverine career was sadly forgettable, as he could only muster a season-low two points on 1-5 shooting and didn't record a defensive rebound in Michigan's tourney loss to Ohio.
Next Year: Novak will take his grit to Europe. Godspeed, captain.
Preseason Expectations: Smotrycz was pinned as the X-factor for Michigan, a player who could put the team over the top as a sharp-shooting starter at power forward. After a solid but inconsistent showing as a freshman, he looked due for a breakout season.
Postseason Reality: It was a rollercoaster season for Smotrycz, who struggled early, caught fire at the end of nonconference play, then went into a prolonged slump that saw him lose his starting job for the rest of the season. The surprising post-season transfer fits that narrative all too well. The overall numbers are solid: Smotrycz averaged 7.7 points per game with a 58.9 eFG%, and he was also the team's most effective defensive rebounder, bringing in 21.4% of opponent misses when he was on the floor. However, Smotrycz never quite found his game again after losing his shooting stroke in Big Ten play, and his overall defense left much to be desired; he finished with a sky-high 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes as he played defense with his hands instead of his feet far too often. Smotrycz on average was an effective offensive weapon, but the inconsistency and defensive shortcomings proved too great to justify giving him starter's minutes.
Highlight: Prospects looked good when Smotrycz scored 20 points on eight shots (4-5 from three) and grabbed nine rebounds against Oakland. It's also worth noting that Smotrycz's 15 points on 6-7 shooting was really the only thing keeping Michigan close against Ohio in the last game of the season.
Lowlight: Smotrycz's final start was the debacle at Iowa, and he failed to score in 22 minutes of play while also committing two turnovers. That was the final straw, as Beilein inserted Stu Douglass into the starting lineup against State.
Key Numbers: 58.9 eFG%, 21.4 DR%, 5.8 FC/40
Next Year: Smotrycz won't be here, which really sucks. Best of luck to him.
Preseason Expectations: Fight for the starting center job with Morgan, provide at least 15 quality minutes per game.
Postseason Reality: Horford's balky foot robbed Michigan of any depth at center and prematurely ended what was at times a promising sophomore campaign. He showed up much bigger than he was as a freshman, looking the part of a Big Ten center, and he was very active on the glass and as a shot-blocker. Horford doesn't have a polished offensive game, but he brings a lot of energy and is a more athletic option than Morgan, at least when it comes to quick-twitch explosiveness. Much is still unknown, however, as Horford only appeared in nine games.
Highlight: Horford hit all five of his shots from the field, grabbed seven rebounds, and blocked three shots against UCLA, by far the best performance of his young career.
Lowlight: The stress fracture that erased the season's last 25 games.
Next Year: Horford probably won't surpass Morgan at this point, but he should be a valuable backup who won't be much of a dropoff defensively or on the glass. I really like Horford's athleticism and potential, and we'll see how he develops once he gets through rehab and can go full-steam again.
Preseason Expectations: McLimans came to the team with the reputation of being the type of sharpshooting big man that Beilein loves, but he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn as a freshman. Expectations were rather low, with the hope being that he wouldn't really need to see the court behind a big man rotation of Morgan, Horford, and Smotrycz.
Postseason Reality: McLimans still isn't much of an inside presence, especially defensively, but he did manage to knock down a decent portion of his jumpers, going 5-12 from beyond the arc and 10-21 overall this season. McLimans only played more than eight minutes in a game once during conference play—the aforementioned Northwestern game—and only was used when both Morgan and Smotrycz got into early foul trouble.
Next Year: McLimans may see his role further decrease when Horford returns and Mitch McGary hits campus. He could see some time as a situational shooter, but he's going to need to really improve on defense if he wants to carve out a larger role.
Preseason Expectations: Provide the occasional boost of energy off the bench.
Postseason Reality: Christian played a total of 51 minutes on the year, grabbing six rebounds and hitting a few very unexpected shots. Still didn't display much of an offensive game, and was mostly content to hit the class and save his energy for defense.
Next Year: He won't be here, having also put in his name for a transfer. It's highly unlikely he would have seen the floor.
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.