My fellow Americans, the state of the union is lol. Abroad we have seen the greatest extension of three-point hegemony in our history. We have looked unto the face of Bo Ryan and lol'ed. Our troops deployed to the darkest reaches of Breslin, where the favored Izzo complained about every which thing, and we lol'ed. At home we have faced adversity and Hawkeyes, and won a great battle, and afterwards we lol'ed.
So I ask you, fellow Americans: how do we ensure the security of these lol's that we cherish?
- How long will Michigan remain atop the Big Ten standings?
- How long will the Big Ten remain the nation's best basketball conference?
- How long will the basketball team remain superior to the football and hockey teams?
Mathlete: With Michigan State's win at Iowa, this year has all the makings of a two horse race with Michigan State. In Big Ten play, anything is possible, but at least a share of the title is highly likely at this point. With McGary, Robinson and maybe Stauskas leaving early, next year could be a tough hill to climb, but Beilein has done more with less. Even though Michigan has been recruiting at a higher level, they've missed on several of their top targets and that will likely keep them from being a perennial elite, first tier team. But based on the track record of Beilein, this team isn't going to be far from the top of the conference any time soon.
|What's wrong, kitty cat? [Fuller]|
Last year's conference lineup was incredible, this year's may still be the best, but the teams do seem to be down a bit from last year. Last season the Big Ten had 7 of the KenPom top 26 and 8 of the top 40. This year the eighth best team is Nebraska at #74. Indiana is in the process of rebuilding, Illinois is wandering in the desert, Purdue has turned into a football sch-can't even finish typing that joke. The top of the Big Ten is outstanding but there is a little more breathing room in the mid and lower tiers than last season.
The ACC has 5 of KenPom's top 22 right now and next year they swap out Louisville for Maryland. Once North Carolina finds their way again, they might be good enough to keep Dicky V at home and out of Michigan. Even if the Atlantic Coast steps up their game, no sport is more dependent on coaching and the B1G's best aren't going anywhere. Izzo, Matta, Beilein, Ryan and Crean are all firmly established winners with no indication of jumping ship. Over the next five years, I would be shocked if any other conferences were close to as good as the Big Ten and ACC.
Now this is the tricky question. Football has the capacity to narrow the gap, possibly as soon as this year. The roster is finally in place, all signs point to a good defense getting better in 2014 and the offense has been written about enough at this point. I'm not going to go picking a Rose Bowl or anything, but this season is the first that's 100% on Hoke. The pieces will be there and the excuses will be gone. If the football team can't get to 9 wins this season, that's probably another 3-5 years of basketball superiority as Michigan would be facing another football coaching spiral. I'm not even qualified to write about random number generating playoff hockey, but my guess is that its going to be easier for Michigan to sustain the basketball success under Beilein than re-establish the elite level at hockey. So I guess the 2014 football season will write the story on whether or not we've become a #basketballschool.
[Jump: more answers, and then Ace and I argue for like 6,000 words]
As ever, once the year is over thoughts turn to the future. With four of five Michigan starters on NBA radars it is impossible to predict how they'll be next year, but I sat down to write stuff and this is the thing I wanted to think about—no doubt a lot of you guys are wondering the same thing.
Along with a number of walk-ons Michigan loses scholarship players Blake McLimans and Matt Vogrich, neither of whom was a significant contributor.
As you've heard incessantly for the past three weeks when you were trying to concentrate on something like, oh I don't know, the live fantastic basketball being played in front of your face, Michigan has some gentlemen on their roster the NBA would like to talk to.
Trey Burke almost left after one year, turned himself into a top-10 pick, and has been regarded as gone-gone-gone since about two weeks into the season when it became clear he had gone from a damn good freshman to the best point guard in the country. Anything other than a departure would be a shock. Whether that's NBA draft entry or a transfer to Penn State is yet to be determined.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., is the Michigan player NBA types seem least enthused about. He doesn't feature in the first round of anyone's mock draft and seems destined for one of those 13th-man-then-billion-years-in-Europe careers. Some guy with spiky hair and a terrible track record said he was out the door, which his parents denied.
Even though Hardaway is not a first round pick at the moment, a lot of juniors end up going because they've reached the peak of their NBA attractiveness. If Hardaway makes another incremental improvement in his game, upside-thirsty pro teams will look at a senior who probably tops out as a bench shooter in the league and still pick him in the second round.
On the other hand, he's not really giving much away if he returns. I'd guess he goes, but won't be surprised either way.
Glenn Robinson III is 6'6" and can jump real high. He's also 18 months younger than Mitch McGary, which means he has not hit that Hardaway zone where people expect him to be essentially what he is forever and ever amen. He's consistently rated a pick in the teens. There's been some second-hand message board posts about various interactions that make people believe he'll stay; those are unconfirmed but credible-seeming to me.
Mitch McGary's blazing tournament put him in Hated Chad Ford's lottery. Despite that and his prep school year, he seems likeliest to stay. For one, he directly said he'd becoming back—that he didn't even "have a decision to make"—before the Final Four. Though he's backed off that a little, if he's coming from that mindset chances are he comes back. After the championship game the noises were still positive:
"This will be a great team next year, with great guys coming in and a great group of guys leaving, you can't replace those five seniors," he said. "We'll see."
"There's some unfinished business. ... We'll see next year."
Like GRIII, interactions with McGary's parents from the Final Four weekend have filtered out to the internet; they indicate he'll stay. Let's clutch that unreliable hint to our bosoms.
My personal spidey sense says Burke's out the door (surprise!) while Robinson and McGary stay. Hardaway could go either way.
Side note: there is essentially no withdrawal anymore. Technically you can take your name out of the draft until the 16th, which is before any event that might make you want to pull out. The NBA deadline is the 28th.
Last year rumors had floated around about guys leaving for weeks. Those came to fruition with three post-season transfers. This year it's quiet on that front.
Eyeballing it, the only players who may be in playing-time jams are Max Bielfeldt and Jordan Morgan. Morgan's a bit of a folk hero these days and did find a role as the tourney progressed. I'd bet he gets over the disappointment of losing his starting job and sticks around; he will get minutes. I heard from a good source midseason that Bielfeldt was a little worried about his long-term PT prospects.
Both guys may be affected by NBA decisions. GRIII or McGary leaving would open up a lot of playing time for both. Meanwhile, the high post role McGary flourished in against Syracuse may allow Michigan to go bigger at the four from time to time without making the offense suffer too badly.
You could also throw Jon Horford in amongst the playing time battlers. He seems focused on those study things to the point where he wouldn't want to disrupt his schooling by finding somewhere else to play.
Incoming And Returning
Assuming Burke's departure, point guard Derrick Walton has some big shoes to fill. The good news is he's got serious game. A quick look at any of the various highlight reels out there shows a quick-step PG reminiscent of Burke. He put up over 30 points a game this high school season and is generally rated inside the top 50 at the major sites.
I like single-game highlights because they give you a better picture of a player. (This is in fact irony, people who use the word irony.) There's less to cull from so you get a better picture of what they do. In the above you get deep shooting, floaters, and at about a minute in a crossover-to-three sequence that is very Burke-like.
In his matchup with Kentucky-bound James Young it's a lot of deep shooting; it starts off with the steal I now think of as The Burke:
Walton will not be Burke, at least not sophomore Burke. If he hits freshman Burke levels of performance (74/49/35 shooting, high but not outlandish usage, 29% assist rate, TO rate just under 20) Michigan can survive Burke's loss as long as they don't get the max exodus and do get expected improvements from other players.
Indiana Mr. Basketball Zak Irvin is a 6'6" wing with a huge wingspan and advanced pull-up game. He's ranked in the same neighborhood GRIII was last year (24th ESPN, 34th Rivals, 49th Scout). Judging by highlight tapes and scouting reports…
…he is a bigger version of Tim Hardaway Jr. The buckets on many, many individual game highlight packages up on Youtube have an 80/20 split between jumpers and the rim. He'll occasionally go to the bucket; mostly he's going to shoot threes and pull up. As with most jump shooters, streakiness comes as part of the package.
He's listed between 6'6" and 6'8" and is reputed to have the sort of improbably long arms that allow you to be a defensive pest on the perimeter. With Irvin's blowout high school finish and recent camp performances…
@dandakich Michigan fans..Indiana Mr Bball and Michigan signee Zak Irvin absolutely killing at Indiana Top 60 workout!!
…he might have some upward mobility in the rankings yet. Dakich just hyped him as the Big Ten freshman of the year favorite, which says something what with Noah Vonleh at Indiana.
Irvin is not going to be a super-efficient scorer unless he adds more drive to his game, but he can bounce between the 3 and the 4 and be a plus defender at one of those spots.
Dollars to donuts Mark Donnal redshirts. At 6'8" or 6'9" he's a four or five, and those spots are jammed at the moment. When he does get on the court, think Christian Watford.
Donnal has a high skill level and three-point range; the knock on him is athleticism. If GRIII goes he would likely be forced into the lineup as a more offensive option at the 4 than either Morgan or Bielfeldt, especially in the context of the Michigan offense.
Definitely Returning: Perimeter
Nik Stauskas is the lone starter certain to return. His shooting percentage was mellow Kid Icarus: explosive rise, steady decline. He entered Big Ten play well over 50% and finished the year at 44%; in the final 26 games of the season (IE, Big Ten, conference tourney, NCAA run) he was at a merely respectable 36%. Details:
- He was More Than Just A Shooter™, taking only about 60% of his shots from behind the arc and getting to the rim for a quarter of his attempts. Once he got inside the line the shots there were mostly his own creation—80% of his buckets inside the line were unassisted. Game, blouses. Etc.
- He was great from three, good at the rim, and bad in-between. At 85% he was the best FT shooter on the team.
- His creepy ability to not foul may have been more of a detriment than a positive. Stauskas was second nationally in fewest fouls acquired; he did little rebounding, blocking, or stealing.
- Touchy-feely eyeball test says Stauskas's defense wasn't as bad as the most serious grumblers would have it. Save for Gary Harris in the grim blowout at Breslin, none of the guys he checked really went off. Part of that was Michigan hiding Stauskas against role players for the most part, yeah. I think he'll improve.
Michigan would like Stauskas to take some of Burke's usage and turn it into his assists. He should spend the summer running a million pick and rolls with McGary—his handle is good enough to make that effective, Darius Morris-style. Doubling his assist rate to around 15—approximately Hardaway level—is feasible and would help out Walton/Spike a lot.
Meanwhile, Stauskas's three point shooting could use some diversity. He was poor off of the dribble and Michigan could not execute catch and shoot screens for him like they did Hardaway. Getting Stauskas's efficiency (top 50 in true shooting) up to 23-25 percent usage will go a long way towards mitigating Burke's likely departure.
Is Upton-chasing, three-draining Spike Albrecht a real thing? I dunno man. In about eight minutes a game he had the lowest usage on the team. Stats are thin on the ground. We do have 18 of 33 shooting from three, 10/12 from the line, and 10/26 from two. That's about what you would expect from a little bugger with a dead-eye shot.
Unfortunately, his stature means that once teams start taking him seriously there's no way he can get the shots he was draining in the tourney with any frequency. (Other than the 30-footers. He can probably still get those.) Can he show more of the at-the-rim finishing he did against Louisville? Can he get that TO rate down to Burke levels—ie, cut it by almost half—and can he act as a bonafide point guard?
I think the answers to all these things are "not yet." Albrecht's got a tight handle and can obviously shoot; too often this year possessions featured him dribbling the air out of the ball without getting past his man or disrupting the defense, i.e. PG job one. But he'll get a shot now. At the very least he's earned a month or two of platooning with Walton until one of them shows he's the better player. I bet Albrecht provides 12-15 minutes off the bench, shoots a bunch of threes effectively, and never quite recaptures the delirious first half of the championship game.
Fellow freshman bench player Caris LeVert looked like a promising player for big swathes of the year. Emphasis on "looked." Statistically he's a bit of a wreck, with a 50/33/30 shooting line and not much else that jumps out except a low TO rate. He was supposed to be a defensive specialist, but all I can remember is that 3/4 Hancock threes came with LeVert trying to guard him. Also the whole Brust thing—not only the half-court heave but the critical OT three he hit when LeVert didn't put a hand in his face on the perimeter.
So he's got a ways to go. The good news is that he should improve a lot. Michigan will slap another 20 pounds on him, he's a freshman, kids get better, etc. He'll probably start if Hardaway goes. He doesn't have to create shots with Walton, Stauskas, and potentially High Post Mitch McGary around him; it would be nice if he took his reputation as a defensive player and lived up to it.
Definitely Returning: Post
Leaving aside the possibility of transfers, everyone is back. Jordan Morgan lost his job late and doesn't look to be getting it back, but recovered from one minute in the opening weekend of the tourney to provide some key plays for Michigan against Kansas and Syracuse. As a senior he can expect minutes here and there spotting McGary; that will certainly include some long stretches when McGary's eagerness gets him in foul trouble.
At this point he is what he is: an agile, undersized post who finishes decently, rebounds well, and provides good positional defense without acquiring anything in the box score that represents it.
Jon Horford has a statistical profile essentially identical to Morgan except in two regards: he's a decent shotblocker and he fouls a lot more frequently. He's not an offensive factor except on putbacks and here-is-a-free-dunk-from-your-point-guard; he does have upside left since he is a big and what's more a big who keeps getting sidelined with injury. His development will be key not necessarily for this team, but for the 2014-2015 crew, when Horford is a senior, Morgan graduates, and McGary is probably in the NBA.
Max Bielfeldt got scattered minutes during Jordan Morgan's period of injury. We don't really know what he's going to be like yet; the best case scenario is one of those undersized Notre Dame forwards that inexplicably collects all of the rebounds.
What It Looks Like
In the Hardaway departure scenario, give or take five minutes here and there:
PG: Walton (25) / Spike (15)
SG: Stauskas (30) / LeVert (10)
SF: Irvin (25) / LeVert (15)
PF: GRIII (35) / Morgan (5)
C: McGary(30) / Morgan (5) / Horford (5)
If Hardaway returns hack out 30 minutes for him from Stauskas, Irvin, and LeVert. If GRIII leaves, that's interesting. I wouldn't put it past Beilein to play Irvin at the 4 for a good chunk of time. That would end up increasing the minutes of both PGs as they would have to play simultaneously with few other perimeter backup options.
What is that? It's hard to say. It's a tourney team, certainly. It's still super young. The minutes above give Michigan an average experience level of 0.95 years, better than this season's 0.73 but still very, very low. Michigan was 342nd at 0.73. 0.95 would have been good for… 329th. (That doesn't account for the fact that McGary and Spike both took postgrad years, FWIW. The experience number conflates age with system/level-of-competition familiarity.)
That collection of players could be anything from a 2 seed to an 8 depending on the Burke dropoff, how sustainable Mitch McGary's tourney run is, and how much the returning freshmen improve. Things get bubbly in the event four Michigan players are in this NBA draft.