ohio state blogs will post literally anything
I guess we should discuss that. The other thing, too. Let's open the floor for questions.
— Jay Winkler (@jman077) February 8, 2016
@AceAnbender when will we stop playing like Rutgers?
— Anthony Lodato (@ajlodato) February 8, 2016
@AceAnbender why is basketball
— Burrill Strong (@sgtwolverine) February 8, 2016
— Stefan Zonia (@iamstefanzonia) February 8, 2016
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) February 8, 2016
I'm sensing some despair. Does anyone have a more specific question?
— Tom Lawrence (@LordSupremo) February 8, 2016
Ah, so. Let's try this again after the jump.
[JUMP, if you dare.]
Video: Rutgers player doesn't realize it's a one-and-one, throws live ball out of bounds for a turnover: pic.twitter.com/RZpFzUNr6n
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) January 28, 2016
You need to know four things about this game:
1. Michigan couldn't hit a shot. They dug an early hole after starting 0/5 from the field and finished the first half 6/18 from three. The outside shots started falling in the second half, but the Wolverines still finished only 20/49 from the field—not for lack of open looks, but much like the Minnesota game, they missed a lot of shots they'd normally make.
2. Mark Donnal sparked the run Michigan needed. With Michigan losing by three with 5:30 left in the first half, Donnal stuffed a shot by Jonathan Laurent, assisted Aubrey Dawkins for a three on the other end, took a charge, drew a foul and hit both free throws, then took another charge. After that sequence, Zak Irvin hit a three, and Michigan suddenly had an eight-point lead. Rutgers couldn't pull closer than five points for the duration.
3. With 1:30 left in a ten-point game, Rutgers committed a shot-clock violation. That is not ideal.
4. On the next Michigan possession, Irvin missed the front end of a one-and-one, Rutgers center Greg Lewis rebounded the miss... and passed the ball to the official standing out of bounds. It took a while, but we hit peak Rutgers.
Duncan Robinson (18 points, 4/9 3P) and Aubrey Dawkins (11 points, 3/4 3P, one spectacular missed dunk) were the two players who found any consistency with their shot. Zak Irvin went 2/8 from the field but hauled in 12 boards and dished out eight assists.
This was Minnesota 2.0: Michigan proved fortunate to play a bad team when they had an off night. Because that team was Rutgers, they won by double-digits anyway.
It's no secret Michigan's defense hasn't been good this season even by the generally mediocre standard set by previous John Beilein teams. The Wolverines rank 134th nationally in defensive efficiency on KenPom; if that stands, it would be the lowest mark in Beilein's tenure by a healthy margin.
When I first watched the Iowa game, I hoped to find one or two issues I could isolate as the main cause of Michigan's defensive problems. On the first viewing, I identified a couple: Michigan's guards gave up the baseline too often, straining their already sub-par weakside defense. This example came to mind:
This was even worse:
There are two big problems on that play. Walton does a poor job defending the high side screen, allowing his man to turn down the pick and get the baseline. This forces Duncan Robinson to rotate over, which he does—he's improved a lot in that regard—but communication is lacking on the weak side and MAAR isn't in position to contest the corner three.
As the screencap at the top of the post indicates, communication was the other deficiency I noticed right away. When Michigan doubled in the post or switched on a screen, they often ended up with two players guarding one guy off the ball while the other was left alone for a layup. Screencaps are sufficient here; both these plays ended in a layup:
Jarrod Uthoff got a crucial late bucket when Iowa ran a pair of baseline screens and Aubrey Dawkins had no idea who to guard:
Those two issues—dribble penetration opening up weakside threes and blowing rotations off the ball—caught my attention on the first viewing.
Unfortunately, a second pass through the game revealed more problems. A couple Iowa three-pointers I initially believed were caused by the weakside defender were instead the product of poor pick-and-roll defense. Michigan eschewed their normal hard hedge against high screens in favor of a softer, more conservative approach for much of the game, and they didn't execute it well.
On this play, Dawkins gets hung up on the screen too long, which causes a domino effect—Mark Donnal has to wait an extra beat before sinking back into the paint, which forces MAAR to stay on the rolling big instead of getting back to his man in the corner:
On this pick-and-roll, Iowa gets a layup when Walton and Donnal play soft, Mike Gesell has an open passing lane, and the help from Robinson is late and wouldn't have prevented an Adam Woodbury bucket regardless:
One more P&R failure for good measure: when Michigan went back to a hard hedge, Walton doubled Uthoff in the paint instead of guarding Woodbury, who was all alone next to the basket.
Finally, Michigan also had trouble identifying shooters in transition, something Beilein discussed in the postgame presser. On this play, Iowa pushes the pace off a defensive rebound, and the Wolverines initially stymie the attempt to get an easy bucket. Again, a lack of communication comes to the forefront, as Dawkins switches men while Iowa swings the ball around the perimeter, which is news to Donnal:
This is pretty basic stuff that Michigan still can't get right. A couple takeaways from the above:
There's no single fix. There's plenty of stuff that's gone wrong here that doesn't even touch on the lack of a true post presence, which I still believe is the biggest problem with Beilein's defenses. There isn't one defender at the heart of these issues—though Dawkins stands out in a bad way, this goes far beyond him. Getting this defense up to simply mediocre will require fixing multiple areas of deficiency.
But if I had to pick one, it's communication. A lot of these easy baskets result from players not talking to each other. Those screencaps are frustrating and telling.
Long story short, it's tough to see Michigan improving to the point where the defense isn't a liability. We're beyond the midway point and there are myriad problem areas. Players like Robinson and Donnal have progressed during the season from starting points that were frankly bad, but they may have maxed out their defensive potential for this season. Hopefully getting Caris LeVert back—whenever that may be—solves some of the communication problems, but those are also widespread enough that I doubt one man clears them up.
The good news is the offense has plenty of firepower. Michigan is going to have to lean on that for the duration unless they have a team-wide defensive improvement we haven't seen out of a Beilein team during the course of a single season.
Michigan crossed the halfway mark of 2015-16 Thursday at Purdue in a game that unfortunately encapsulated much of the season thus far: a shorthanded Wolverine squad turned in a strong offensive performance (accounting for context here) that fell short of covering for their defensive shortcomings against a quality opponent.
While it hasn't been a bad year—Michigan is 12-4; they were 10-6 at this point last season with two awful losses—it hasn't been the bounce-back many expected. The Wolverines have beaten the teams they should beat, but they've yet to take down a top-50 KenPom opponent in four tries, and that'll have to change if they want to make a tourney run.
So what's gone well, what hasn't, and what will swing this season one way or the other?
WHAT'S LIL WAYNE 2005-09
All photos: Patrick Barron/MGoBlog
Caris LeVert. Aside from a woeful performance at SMU, LeVert has been one of the best and most consistent players in the country. He boasts the third-best offensive rating among players who use at least 24% of their team's possessions, per KenPom. His drives are more productive than ever before; instead of snaking his way towards the basket, LeVert is getting there more directly, finishing at the highest rate of his career (77.4% at the rim, per hoop-math), and posting the assist-to-turnover rate of a good point guard—which he functions as for this team, something equally evident in his absence as his presence.
When healthy, LeVert has looked like the potential All-American we hoped he'd become, a triple-double threat any time he steps on the court. Unfortunately, the "when healthy" caveat is now required; I'll cover that in another section.
Duncan Robinson. This is Robinson's definitely-not-altered shot chart from Shot Analytics:
One could leave it at that and conclude Robinson has exceeded expectations. In the beginning of the season, there wouldn't have been much more to say anyway; through the first four games he attempted 16 three-pointers and four two-pointers while failing to tally an assist. Robinson has at least one assist in ten of the 12 games since that point, however, and he's used the threat of his outside shot to generate opportunities for himself and others closer to the tin.
Robinson is quietly improving defensively, too, though he set the bar quite low to start the year. His lethal efficiency on offense more than makes up for that; it's hard to complain about a player who's first nationally in ORtg, eFG%, and True Shooting %.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman. The bright spot in an otherwise dreadful game at Purdue, Rahk was the only Wolverine who could get to the hoop and finish in LeVert's absence. In the two games since LeVert's injury, Rahk is 11/15 on two-pointers, 4/8 on threes, 5/6 from the line, and he hasn't recorded a turnover. While it'd be great to see Rahk pass the, um, rock a little more—only Aubrey Dawkins has a lower assist rate among non-centers—his ability to generate buckets on his own is huge coming off the bench, and as his outside shots develops (11/29 this season) he could carve out a huge role for himself.
Three-point shooting. Michigan is shooting 43% from beyond the arc as a team. Four high-volume shooters—Robinson, LeVert, Dawkins, and Derrick Walton—are making 45% or better. It boggles the mind to consider where the team's numbers would be if Zak Irvin (15/59) had been shooting like he did as an underclassman.
[Hit THE JUMP for the bad and the we're-not-sure-yet.]
Michigan announced less than an hour before tipoff that Caris LeVert would miss the Penn State game with a lower leg injury. The Nittany Lions ran out to a 7-0 lead as the Wolverines struggled to even get a shot off in early going.
Instead of faltering, though, Michigan found their groove from beyond the arc, netting all of their first 18 points from beyond the arc. Duncan Robinson utilized his deadly pump fake to free up his own shot and assist on a couple others during that stretch, Zak Irvin got into rhythm, and a hot streak from Aubrey Dawkins turned a deficit into a rout.
Mark Donnal earned the start at center. After an inauspicious start—Donnal sat after one minute due to a foul—he picked up where he left off against Illinois, making his first seven shots on his way to a team-high 16 points and eight rebounds. The work of Robinson (six assists) and especially Irvin (seven) off the dribble left room for Donnal at the rim and he continued to look great catching and finishing off the high screen. His effort on the defensive end also stood out; in two games, Donnal has gone from odd man out to effective starter.
That couldn't have happened without a great team effort to move the ball around. Michigan assisted on 18 of their 29 made field goals, forcing Penn State to try an ill-advised switch to zone that had little positive effect. Dawkins took full advantage by slicing through the defense for a pair of layups and feeding off Robinson and Irvin to drill all three of his triples. He'd finish with 14 points, Irvin had 16 of his own—making 4/6 threes—and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman posted 14 on 5/7 shooting.
It's dangerous to take too much away from a matchup against Penn State, which looked as listless as their football team. That said, it's hard to ignore the transformation of Donnal—and to a lesser extent Irvin and even Robinson—in the absence of Michigan's best player, especially when Derrick Walton had a rough day.
A trip to Purdue looms on Thursday. If LeVert returns while his supporting cast continues to display this level of in-season improvement, however, Michigan can put themselves right back into the conversation as one of the Big Ten's upper-echelon teams.
There's an exceedingly good chance this pass resulted in a bucket. [Eric Upchurch]
Entering this week, Michigan had three triple-doubles in program history. After Derrick Walton's ten-point, 11-rebound, 13-assist outing this evening, the Wolverines now have two in the last two games.
Walton did a masterful job picking apart Youngstown State's 2-3 zone, which the Penguins stuck with for most of the game despite giving up a parade of easy buckets. Walton's largesse benefited just about everyone donning white; four other Wolverines also finished with double-digit points—led by Caris LeVert and Aubrey Dawkins with 19 each—even though none cracked 30 minutes played.
One need look no further than Dawkins' performance to get an idea of how this game went. After playing only four minutes of garbage time in Tuesday's win over Northern Kentucky, he didn't check in until the 8:50 mark of the first half today, by which point Michigan had already run out to a 19-point lead. By halftime, Dawkins had 13 points and two Sportscenter-worthy dunks, including this savage and-one finish of a Walton lob:
The second half featured far more unlikely alley-oop combinations, most notably one from Kam Chatman to Ricky Doyle and, later, a lob lay-in by DJ Wilson—whose ankle was healthy enough for him to play six late minutes—from Andrew Dakich.
While YSU's insistence on playing zone makes it difficult to take too much away on that end, it's worth noting Michigan's quartet of big men held Penguins center Bobby Hain, who entered the evening averaging 14.7 points and 7.4 rebounds, to seven points on 3/10 FGs and a lone rebound.
Michigan has one more tune-up—Wednesday night against Bryant—before starting Big Ten play. If any conference opponents want to try out a zone defense, the Wolverines are quite ready.
Tonight's bad poetry:
Never 2-3 zone
Against a John Beilein team
Unless you want death