At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
You may have noticed, especially during the second half of Monday's thumping of Bucknell, that Michigan's offense has looked a little different this season. This season's shot chart, via Shot Analytics, puts it in picture form (green dots are makes, red misses):
A little over 34% of Michigan's shots this season have come from midrange, compared to just over 25% last season. It's not a good change, either; midrange jumpers are by nature the game's most inefficient, and the Wolverines are hitting just 33% of such shots this season, down from 39% in 2013-14. A higher volume and lower efficiency is obviously not a good thing.
A closer look reveals that there may be something here worth sticking with, however. With the usual sample size caveats applying, here's a simple breakdown of what's working and what's not:
(If you're wondering why it looks like a three is included in Irvin's chart, he had a foot on the line.)
Simply put, Zak Irvin is working, and a look at the tape reveals that this may be no fluke, especially since Irvin wasn't bad on midrange elbow jumpers last season (8/19). Here are all of Irvin's midrange attempts from this season:
He's getting these shots primarily in two ways: catch-and-shoot jumpers (3/3) and step-ins when defenders overplay his outside shot (2/4). The aborted drive to the rim off a curl-cut stands as the exception, not the rule.
[Hit THE JUMP for a look at why the rest of the team isn't shooting like Irvin, as well as a picture pages of how M is getting Irvin good midrange looks.]
In today's basketball world, the corner three is superior in value to any shot that doesn't come at the rim. It's also the toughest shot in the game to create for yourself; to do so requires a silky touch, a tapdancer's precision, and the guts and/or stupidity to launch a shot that would earn most players a quick trip to the bench.
Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry covered this topic in exacting detail yesterday, posting this fascinating chart that shows the assist rate for shots made from each spot on the floor—three-pointers usually require assistance, and the rate increases as the shooter gets closer to the baseline [click to embiggen]:
Goldsberry's post focused on the players who could create those high-percentage shots for their teammates, because even in the NBA, finding players who do it themselves is a difficult proposition:
Meanwhile, unassisted corners 3s are the white buffalos of perimeter shooting. They don’t come around too often. As it turns out, dribbling into the corner and firing up a 3 is very difficult, and perhaps unwise, as well. It takes a special kind of player to even attempt this task, as Rudy Gay demonstrates for us here: [GIF of Rudy Gay dribbling into the corner and badly airballing a fallaway attempt]
Which brings me to Nik Stauskas. I've written before about his pregame shootaround routine, but it's worth mentioning again. In addition to practicing the usual spot-up threes from various points around the arc, Stauskas always spent time in the corner working his crossover stepback, a move designed to clear out just enough space to launch from a spot that opponents long ago learned to keep him from at all costs.
Without ever having to look, Stauskas's feet nestled precisely between the three-point line and the sideline, the product of countless practice hours transforming process into instinct. By the end of his Michigan career, he made these audacious warmup attempts at about the same outrageous clip that he hit his normal shots. Michigan's shootarounds were considered must-watch because of the team's—and especially Glenn Robinson's—impromptu dunk exhibitions; for me, however, the Stauskas Stepback was always the highlight.
[Hit THE JUMP for more on Stauskas's incredible shot creation in GIF, still, and chart form. Oh, and some more words, too.]
Too many of these (Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)
There's no question Glenn Robinson III is off to a rough start in his sophomore season. Tasked with creating more offense in the absence of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., he's struggled to do so, and his efficiency has plunged—he's shooting 44% from the field after hitting 57% of his shots last year. In Michigan's three losses, representing three of the four toughest teams they've played, he's all but disappeared, and only one of those (Charlotte, against which he played nine minutes before exiting the game after falling on his back) can be explained away by mitigating circumstances.
In a highly recommended stat-based look at Michigan's offensive issues so far this year, UMHoops cited a major reason for GRIII's regression—his lack of attempts at the rim [emphasis mine]:
Last year Robinson attempted 43.5% of his field goals at the rim and converted at a 78% rate. You remember those plays: Trey Burke penetrates and finds Robinson creeping along the baseline for an alley-oop or Robinson leaks out for an easy dunk in transition. Robinson was among the best finishers in the country a year and was the 10th most efficient offensive player in the country because of it.
This year, just 21.4% of Robinson’s field goal attempts have come at the rim. He’s finishing at an improved 88.9% rate but the opportunities aren’t nearly as plentiful. That’s a major problem because that’s what Robinson does best.
Above all else, this is the clear issue with Robinson this year; without Burke—and to a lesser extent, Hardaway—commanding the full attention of opposing defenses, the easy looks that were there last year aren't happening this year, and Robinson's attempts to create his own offense haven't been nearly as effective.
In an effort to expand on this, I went back to the Iowa State game film—the only game in which Michigan faced a quality opponent, GRIII played extensively and commanded at least 15% of the team's possessions, and the opposing defense wasn't face-guarding Nik Stauskas—to see how his shots were created. This is every shot attempt and turnover by Robinson before Michigan was down multiple possessions in the final two minutes; you should see a common thread:
Most of Robinson's attempts are happening in transition, obviously. When Michigan was in their halfcourt offense, he was almost entirely a non-factor. A few more observations from the tape above and this season as a whole after THE JUMP.
[JUMP for stat wonkery, what's not working, and reasons for hope.]
Totem animal qualities. I thought this was an interesting shot from the extensive ESPN galleries put up in and around the OSU/Indiana games. It's a switch board; each player has an abstract quality they would like to embody they are supposed to dwell on:
Yes, it bothers me that some of these things are qualities one can possess—toughness, perspective, pose—and others are not. You cannot have "smart"; You can be smart. One can have determination; you cannot be determination.
Given the WE ON shirts, we can put grammar next to drawing free throw attempts as Michigan's main weaknesses.
Trice nyet. Travis Trice will miss The Big Game tonight. That leaves MSU with little on their perimeter bench other than Denzel Valentine, a slick-passing wing type with a whopping 31 in the TOrate department. So maybe not as slick passing as you'd hope if you're Tom Izzo. MSU also has Russell Byrd, who's like Stauskas if Stauskas was hitting 18% of his threes.
Expect both backcourts to get scant rest, then. Projected MSU minutes without at least one of Appling/Harris: 0. Impact won't be large except in the unlikely event that Harris or Appling gets in foul trouble.
In the negative column, it doesn't seem like Jordan Morgan will be available, either, after Michigan "shut him down."
Foul: nyet? The foul-or-defend up three late discussion has been raging for years, to the point where Ken Pomeroy's effort starts its title with "Yet another. " Most studies show there's little difference; further most give the slight edge to playing D. Kenpom's results:
W L OT Win% Cases Foul 122 5 10 92.7 137 Defend 598 2 77 94.0 677
That gap is narrow enough that the gap could be chance, but you can say that there's no evidence fouling is better in practice. Note that Michigan's recent misfortune does not make these statistics since this data only covers possessions that start with between 5 and 12 seconds on the clock, which will no doubt give our local Bo Ryans the wiggle room to say this does not apply. While I'm still on Team Foul, the margins here are so narrow that it doesn't seem that important. Certainly less important than the pending invasion of the planet.
I mean, NBA types are two of 64 on similar shots since 1996. Debating whether or not that late game strategy is correct is like debating whether the windows are ready for a hurricane when you live in Michigan.
More games: da. We've heard it before only to have it go poof, but yet another round of stories endorsing a nine or ten game conference schedule has burst onto the internet, leaving a legendary trail of leadership viscera behind:
After spending Monday in meetings with coaches and athletic directors at conference headquarters in Park Ridge, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told the Tribune the status quo of eight conference games “is not even on the table right now.”
It will be nine or 10, with the decision to be made this spring.
Insert the usual AD assertions that without seven home games they will have to dress all of their teams in sackcloth and ashes, but it looks like at least nine games are on the way.
Also on the table: November night games, early conference games, and the usual chatter about having an East-West split. The bizarre bit in there:
Central time zone schools Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Northwestern could be joined by Indiana, Purdue, Michigan or Michigan State. Delany said the conference would try to “figure out a way” to maintain rivalries between in-state schools.
Michigan State keeps getting lumped in with the schools that could be put in the other division… and Michigan is actually in here as well. No further words need to be spent on how dumb it is to have Michigan and Ohio State in opposite divisions; assuming that's not the case, hopefully MSU isn't allowed to nonsensically flee the division Michigan is in and expect to maintain an annual rivalry with them.
A little more detail on the divisions model that seems to have the most favor this instant:
Although the Big Ten presented the athletic directors -- and several university presidents who came to the league office Sunday -- with several models for divisions, don't be surprised if the league decides to keep things simple with an East-West alignment following the additions of both Maryland and Rutgers in 2014. The simplest solution -- one the athletic directors are discussing -- is to assign teams based on their time zone (Eastern or Central).
The lone caveat: there will be eight Big Ten teams in the Eastern time zone -- Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Purdue -- and only six in the Central time zone (Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois). So one team from the Eastern time zone would need to move.
That article from Rittenberg also plays up the possibility that Michigan State will end up in the other division. This would either stick Michigan with a protected crossover—thus trading games against interesting teams in the other division for constant Purdue/Indiana games—or bust up the in-state rivalry. Neither is appealing. Let us condemn Michigan State's Rose Bowl hopes to death and keep them in the East.
The worst part about this is I can no longer dump on Indiana State as much. Indiana State, of course, submitted an override to the barely-passed multi-year scholarship legislation reading as such:
The current system works. We don't need to get into bidding wars where one school offers a $75% for 2 years and the other school then offers 85% for 3, etc., etc. This puts the kid into a situation where they almost need an agent/advisor just to determine the best "deal." Again, if it isn't broke, don't fix it. [Indiana State]
Since I've used the tree people as the primary example of why the NCAA's governance structure is permanently broken: programs with nothing in common with each other are under one large dumb tent. So I am dissapoint, Big Ten, that you are trying to fight the recent recruiting deregulation:
We are specifically concerned with the following three proposals and ask that they be tabled along with Proposal 13-2:
Proposal 11-2: Athletics Personnel - Limitations on the Number and Duties of Coaches - Elimination of Recruiting Coordination Functions
Proposal 13-3: Recruiting - Deregulation of Modes and Numerical Limitations on Communication
Proposal 13-5-A: Recruiting - Elimination of Printed Recruiting Materials and Video/Audio Legislation
We have serious concerns whether these proposals, as currently written, are in the best interest of high school student-athletes, their families and their coaches. We are also concerned about the adverse effect they would have on college coaches, administrators and university resources.
There's nothing in the first and last proposals that has material impact on prospects or their associated hangers-on, and the horrors of communications deregulation seem eminently preventable. "Hello, Coach X. Please limit your contacts with me to X in timeframe Y, or I will not consider your school." Or, like, turn your phone off when you don't want to use it.
The assertions about "adverse effects" on people in the athletic department who now have to hire "u r gud art fertbar"-texting interns and print glossy media guides are more credible, but shortsighted. If you want to play on level ground on the big stuff you have to let the NCAA dump big sections of meaningless secondary violations.
In the building. Zack Novak returns to the scene of the Aneurysm of Leadership tonight:
"It's going to be so weird, I've only been to one Michigan basketball game in my life watching it, it's going to be odd," Novak said by phone Monday. "But I know this would be a big win for them, and I know they'll be ready to go.
"I know it's disheartening to lose a game the way they did at Wisconsin, but it's a great opportunity for them to go in and get a win on the road at Michigan State. That would totally bring the team's psyche right back to where it needs to be. It'd get their swagger back, and that's big."
His team in Holland has a week break.
Ondre is smaller. Down to 315 from 347.
Etc.: Four down at Alabama, leaving just six left to cut. Tifos at Georgetown. The Daily bombs hockey after suffering yet another sweep. Twice. Michigan's commits are lighting up high school basketball—Derrick Walton has had triple-doubles in two of his last three games, and Irvin puts up 30 a game it seems. Paterno business is "200 pages of nothing." Hate quantified. Players only.
The mantra that "defense wins championships" isn't restricted to football, and that's starting to get kicked around as a potential problem for Michigan when the bullets start flying in March. Luke Winn gets the first kick at the can by leaving them out of a five-deep Prime Title Contenders tier in his recent column:
You might be asking, what about Michigan? If the Wolverines' profile stays the same, they could be the most interesting test-case of this NCAA tournament. They have the nation's best offense but only the No. 45 defense -- not red-flag-worthy, but well worse than any champ from the past 10 years. Michigan cutting down the nets in Atlanta would be a breakthrough statement for the power of offense.
Despite not playing, Michigan has risen to 39th since he put up his column. There is plenty of time for Michigan to get right in this metric.
But let's say they finish the season about where they are now. This seems like something of an issue. Winn assembled the last ten years of Elite Eight teams and found that relatively few found themselves outside of the top 25 in defensive efficiency.
If Michigan was to make the Final Four with its current defensive numbers they would be better than only four teams in the past ten years—the dual outsiders from a couple years back, Dwyane Wade's Marquette team, and TJ Ford's Texas team. Those are kind of grim odds.
However, not many of the teams to make it were the #1 offense in the country, either. And the ranks can be misleading here. As mentioned, they have slid up six spots whilst eating cheeseburgers the last few days, and if they were to shave a single bucket off 100 Hypothetical Opponent possessions, they'd leap up another 11 spots. The margins here are slim.
Meanwhile Michigan is leading the charts on offense by a mile. Their adjusted efficiency is 3.6 points clear of #2 Florida. You could hack off 3.5 points of that, toss it on Michigan's defensive numbers, and come up with a pairing of the country's #1 offense with the 16th-best defense and then you're looking at a tier I contender, no questions asked.
The point is that maybe the margins matter here, and the wheat gets separated from the chaff by differential. How does Michigan stack up there? Pretty well.
|Team||Conf||Adjusted Offensive Efficiency||AOE RK||Adjusted Defensive Efficiency||DOE RK||Efficiency Differential|
[numbers collected before last night's games, so this overrates Louisville a little.]
Florida has wrecked everyone they've played save K-State and Arizona and are far-and-away leaders here; Michigan is second. This is pretty close to the Kenpom rankings themselves, obviously.
Defense Wins Just As Much Championship As Offense
First: the Defense Wins Championships cliché doesn't stand up. I took Winn's data set, grabbed their year-end adjusted efficiency numbers, and got their efficiency differentials. I gave each team a point for each win they acquired after reaching the elite eight (3 for the champ, 2 for the runner up, etc.), and then acquired r values* between those three metrics of quality and wins. Over the decade-long sample there is basically no difference between offense and defense when it comes to acquiring wins—offense is actually ahead fractionally—and looking at the two metrics together is significantly more predictive:
- AOE R value: 0.28
- DOE R value: 0.26
- Efficiency Differential R value: 0.39
If you were so inclined you could argue that there's a winnowing effect that prevents poor defensive teams from reaching the Elite Eight, but then you're trying to find a mechanism that works for the first three games of the NCAA tournament only to abandon teams in the crunch—not likely.
I like this result. It is intuitive. It implies that scoring two points at one end is as valuable as preventing two at the other. It won't get me on Malcolm Gladwell's Christmas card list or acquire me a professorship at Princeton, but unlike the things that do bring those benefits this result makes sense.
So… as long as Michigan's efficiency differential remains sky high, they've got as good a shot at the title as anyone. Except Florida. Long way to go, obviously; if Michigan ends the season as they stand today they should be amongst the title favorites.
*[A brief word on R values: these are not significant, but something can be suggestive without reaching levels of statistical rigor necessary to declare you've found the Higgs Boson. In this case they're just one datapoint we are making a reasonable argument with, instead of flogging ridiculous things like David Berri does. As always, R can change wildly depending on the parameters you set.]
A COUPLE OF OTHER THINGS
I took the top eight teams so far this year and threw them in with the 80 teams already in this sample and ranked by efficiency margin. There's good news and bad there. The good: Michigan is a notch above last year's Kentucky outfit! The bad: Florida is #2 in the entire sample, behind only the dominant Kansas title team in 2008 and just ahead of the dominant UNC title team in 2005. Florida is ridiculous right now.
Everyone looks good, in fact. Five of the eight teams from this year are in the top quarter of the sample and all are in the top half. I assume there's a flattening effect that goes on as conference play and mean regression brings high-fliers to earth; also this group of teams has not been ruthlessly culled by the VCUs and Butlers of the world. Strong teams also cry, Mr. Lebowski.
The table is after the jump for anyone so inclined.
[AFTER THE JUMP: A TABLE! WOO!]
As you've referenced with KenPom's research several times, it would appear that the best way to defend the 3 point shot is to keep your opponent from shooting them at all. Unfortunately, according to an ESPN insider article, Michigan is allowing its opponents to shoot them on 36.9% of their possessions, which ranks 295th in the nation. Does this concern you? I think we would all hate to see Michigan beaten in the tournament by a less talented opponent with a hot hand from deep because they can't prevent teams from getting off 3 pointers.
Somewhat. The nice thing about Michigan's defense is how few shots at the rim they give up. Michigan's forcing more two-point jumpers than any team in the league except Nebraska:
Team Defensive Summary
% of shots
% of Shots Blocked
Insofar as shots are migrating to three-pointers, they're shots at the rim. So… that's okay. Ideally you'd like to see that Nebraska shot configuration, but to do that the Huskers give up on the idea of offensive rebounding and steals.
I'm not sure what Michigan can do to improve their defense at this point. Forcing a lot of jumpers plus their defensive rebounding and lack of fouls has propped their defense up, and that's about all they can do. They don't have a shotblocker—at least right now, maybe Horford can provide some of that later in the season—or an elite perimeter defender. They rotate out on pick and rolls to prevent guys getting to the basket, and then you have to start rotating away from the corners. Threes inevitably result… if you're not Wisconsin.
As for the tourney, it will be tough for any major underdog to keep up with Michigan's offense, but a second or third round matchup against a good defensive team that takes and hits a lot of threes would be worrisome.
Whenever Michigan gets a 3-star recruit earlier in the process, there tends to be widespread complaining about taking up scholarships that could be filled by more highly rated players. The general response to that is, "I trust the coaches to evaluate players." This got me to thinking that most major programs essentially have their pick of just about any three star player that they want.
My question is, do three star and lower players who go to major programs perform better on average than the total population of three star players?
I understand it would be hard to distinguish between a three star player taken for depth/filling out a roster purposes compared to a three star player who the coaches think are better than their ranking, but I thought it might be an interesting topic to explore.
I'd guess it's actually worse since there's more competition and recruiting sites give recruits at the bottom end of the scale a courtesy bump to three stars 90% of the time a nobody commits to a power program.
At Purdue, everyone is a three-star player and someone has to be relied upon; sometimes you get Kawann Short. At Michigan—at least at Michigan in the near future—the three star is going to have to climb over some other guys to get on the field.
I do think that there is a big difference between a recruitment like Reon Dawson—who Michigan clearly grabbed to fill a previously designated spot that was vacated—or Da'Mario Jones—seemingly offered once Treadwell flitted off—and Channing Stribling, who Michigan liked at camp and then had a very nice senior year. To put in in Gruden terms, did Michigan want THIS GUY or just A GUY?
In your post, "Aging in a Loop", you mentioned how the solid defensive rebounding performance in Columbus proves that we are for real on the boards this year. I agree completely, but it got me wondering how much of that has to do with our sudden ability to actually have three to four non-midgets (relative use of the term, I get it) on the floor at once. I can't remember too many Michigan teams having anything resembling a luxury of length in quite some time.
Have ever looked for or found any statistical correlation between average height and rebounding prowess? Even the least astute observer must realize it will benefit the numbers, but I guess what I'm after is just how much it actually does?
[Note: since this email came in Minnesota did pound Michigan on the offensive boards.]
While much-improved, Michigan still isn't a very big team. Replacing Novak and Douglass with a couple of 6'6" guys and adding McGary into the mix has pushed them to a hair above average on Kenpom's "effective height,"* but that's in the context of 347 D-I teams. There are entire conferences where the 6'10" guy is a tourist attraction. They remain a lot shorter than Kentucky, Arizona, USC, Miami, Gonzaga, Eastern Michigan, and others. Effectively four inches shorter, in fact.
Michigan's moved up in the world in that stat—they've generally hovered around 250th in effective height since Beilein arrived—but I don't think that's the reason they've been so good at rebounding this year. I crammed together the data available on Kenpom to eyeball an ugly scatter plot, and here it is:
Libre Office makes sinfully ugly graphs yo.
That round ball with a dense central cluster is typical of things that are not correlated. You'd find something similar if you graphed hair color versus desire to eat bananas.
There is no correlation between effective height and defensive rebounding. If you insert a trend line into this—something I don't like to do in low-correlation graphs like because it implies that there actually is a trend—it actually goes down as your height goes up, at a surprisingly steep slope. Some people would try to apply some crazy mechanism to make that make sense here; I'm just going to tell you there is no meaning. There does seem to be some correlation between EH and offensive rebounding, but not much of one.
Anecdotally, that enormous Eastern Michigan team Michigan played earlier this year is below average at both facets of rebounding despite having played only a few games against decent competition. They're hideous on the defensive glass.
In general this is good news for Michigan, a team that trades some rebounding muscle for increased offensive effectiveness. But why are they so much better this year than last? Well:
- Luck, always luck.
- Effective height does not capture the difference between Mitch McGary and Evan Smotrycz very well.
- Michigan has not trudged through their Big Ten schedule yet; IIRC they entered conference play last year in the top ten and ended up 9th in conference, dropping to 99th overall.
- Tim Hardaway is serious, man.
- Some teams are abandoning the offensive boards in an effort to choke Michigan's transition game off.
If you asked me to put weights on these things I would give them nearly all equal weight, which means they can expect some regression as #1 and #3 betray them but should realize a significant gain from last year's 9th-place conference finish.
SIDE NOTE: You'll notice that GRIII > Novak is not on that list. While it's true that GRIII is much better on the offensive boards than Novak was, their defensive rebounding is essentially identical, lending credence to the idea that getting on the defensive glass is a matter of effort and positioning while offensive rebounding is more about being a skyscraper-bounding genetic freak. Holla at yo' Petway.
*[IE, if you have a seven-footer who plays 10 minutes and a 6'8" guy who plays 30, the 6'8" guy counts three times more than the seven-footer.]
Brian, Quite often the site discusses the ability of an offensive lineman to pull. Why is this difficult? My understanding is that pulling requires the lineman to:
(0) (set up:) ignore the guys across from him before the snap, because the lineman is about to pull,
(1) after the snap, back up a step or two,
(2) run sideways behind other blockers, and then
(3) find a guy to block.
So what is hard? I'm not saying there isn't anything, I just don't know what it is. Is finding the right guy to block hard? Or backing up and running?
Also, have you thought about doing a basketball version of HTTV?
One of the major takeaways from the clinic swing I did last spring was that everything is hard on the offensive line. I missed most of a three-hour presentation by Darryl Funk on inside zone because I was at Mattison's thing, and when I came in I was too far gone to understand much. I also sat in with a wizened consultant who scribbled various v-shaped diagrams on an ancient projector and demonstrated how if you stepped like so your world would end, and if you stepped like so demons would pour into the world from outside known space, but if you stepped like so there was a slight chance of you living to see dinner.
All of these steps looked identical to me. Offensive line is hard.
So. Consider the pull. You are 300 pounds, and you are lined up across from men who would like to run you over, and you are trying to get to a hole past other 300 pound men before a 200 pound man lined up a gap closer to this hole can get there. On the way you may encounter bulges in the line you have to route around. When you arrive you have to instantly identify the guy to block, reroute your momentum, and get drive on a guy.
This is a tall order. Michigan particularly had difficulty with step 2 the last couple years. Here's a canonical example from the uniformz MSU game. Watch Omameh (second from the bottom):
"Run sideways" goes all wrong there as Omameh arcs slowly and Denard ends up hitting the hole before he does; Denard has to bounce as a result when a block on Bullough is promising as the left side of the line caves in MSU.
To get to the place you are supposed to be you have to execute a series of steps as carefully choreographed as anything on dancing reality TV and be able to adapt on the fly, and you have to be able to redirect your momentum quickly enough to go in three different directions in a short space of time, with enough bulk to be, you know, an offensive lineman. Getting there in time is harder than anything the tailback has to do.
How does this impact Michigan's search for run-game competence in 2013? I hope it doesn't since I'd rather have Schofield back at right tackle than moving back inside.