The Defense, For A Given Definition Of The Term
Slicing through M's defense with little resistance. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Do you have a stick? Throw it. Congratuations, you have hit a horrifying Michigan defensive stat.
The Wolverines may have pulled out a victory against a Nebraska team playing without its only viable post player, but they didn't do it by solving any of their problems on defense; the Huskers scored 1.21 points per possession, a hair below the average performance against M's defense in conference play. Michigan is now 185th in adjusted defensive efficiency; their worst finish under John Beilein was 120th in his first year in Ann Arbor.
Through five conference games, Michigan has the worst Big Ten defense by 8.9 points per 100 possessions; B1G opponents are making 52.7% of their twos and 55.3%(!!!) of their threes—and they're rebounding 34.7% of their misses. Michigan is great at not fouling and above-average at stealing the ball; they're somewhere between below-average and terrible at everything else.
Dylan has a post today that goes into further, gruesome detail on Michigan's defense, with one area of focus being the collapse of their pick-and-roll defense:
Michigan’s pick-and-roll defense has completely fallen apart. In the last six games, the Wolverines have allowed .986 points per possession (including pass outs) in the pick-and-roll game. Compared to seasonal numbers across Division I, that would rank 336th nationally.
Only the first half of the Nebraska game is available on the YouTubes, which is probably for the best. This actually came out better than I expected and it's still far from good:
The issue, as Dylan mentions in his post, doesn't appear to be the scheme; no matter how Michigan approaching defending the high screen—usually either with a soft hedge or ICE technique—they're allowing baskets because of individual player breakdowns. Passes into the post, like in the first play, are too easy to make. Blown rotations, like in the second, lead to wide open three-point attempts. Michigan commits the cardinal sin of allowing the P&R ballhandler to split the hedge at the 0:34 mark, something that occurred at least once more in the second half.
They did a little better towards the end of the half, as you can see in the video, but I also forgot to include this abomination:
It was more of the same in the second half. There are two common threads: Michigan has zero rim protection, which allows opponents to attack without fear, and their help/rotation off the ball is awful. I grew up on the suffocating team defense of the mid-aughts Pistons. This is the opposite of that. The problems are so widespread that it's impossible to suggest one or two solutions that could turn things around.
[After THE JUMP: That said...]
Bracket Watch: Getting Late Early
Regarding NCAA hopes, Michigan is backed into a corner. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
After taking only one of three winnable games to start Big Ten play, Michigan has put themselves squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble, and it will be difficult to recover from many more slip-ups.
Michigan is one of the last four at-large teams to make the field in the Bracket Matrix, which is updated as of last night. Of the 28 brackets that were updated yesterday, the Wolverines make only 11. As SI's Michael Beller points out in his first edition of Bubble Watch, they've left themselves with little room for error:
Michigan (11–5, 1–2) is in a similar spot [as Northwestern], without the pent-up frustration of never having made the tournament. The Wolverines did their best work to date out of conference, knocking off SMU and Marquette. But they’ve already lost to Iowa and Maryland in league play and are just 2–4 against likely or potential at-large teams. Michigan is not going to be the brand of team that can afford too many losses to teams without at-large hopes, which may end up describing both of their opponents this week, Illinois (11–5, 1–2) and Nebraska (9–7, 3–1).
That home game against Nebraska is as close to a must-win as you'll get at this point in the year. In addition to tomorrow night's game in Champaign, Michigan gets Illinois at Crisler next Saturday, and a sweep of the Illini would be of significant help; they're the last at-large team in the field on the Bracket Matrix.
Michigan needs to turn it around now because their conference schedule is brutally backloaded. They're favored on KenPom in five of their next eight games and underdogs in five of their last seven; incidentally, five of the next eight are at home and five of the last seven are on the road. Because of the number of coin-flip (or close) games, KenPom currently projects Michigan to finish 9-9 in conference, which would likely put them right on the bubble with a little work to do in the conference tournament. As esteemed Maize Rager and numbers-cruncher Crisler Spidey points out, however, 8-10 is currently more likely than 10-8:
Yikes. 9-9 is now the median at 21%, and 8-10 is more likely than 10-8. Remember what I just said about exceeding expectations? That's because these are the current expectations. The Wolverines have a huge week coming up with a road game against fellow "First Four Out" team Illinois, followed by a home game against conference wild card Nebraska. I really think they need to win both to stay alive. Kenpom claims they have a 38.2% chance of winning both. There have certainly been flashes of greatness from this Michigan team, but they have yet to piece it all together for 40 minutes since the 2k Classic. Now would be an excellent time for the proverbial light to go on.
[Hit THE JUMP for some less depressing stuff, I promise.]
Mini-Preview: Central Arkansas
#32 Michigan (7-3) vs
#324 Central Arkansas (1-8)
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||9 pm ET, Tuesday|
|LINE||Michigan -23 (KenPom)|
PBP: Kevin Kugler
Analyst: Jon Crispin
Right: "Hatfield said that reaction was varied. Some said it looked like the college's librarian. Some said it was too fat, too squatty, just plain ugly. Some faculty said the art department was forcing its ideas on the rest of the campus without first checking. Others thought it okay, especially since the bear was holding a book. Hatfield said President Nolen M. Irby 'took it well,' and apparently enough others did as well because the statue stayed. It remained in front of Main for many years, eventually moving to one or two other campus sites before winding up in the football stadium."
I won't waste much of your time previewing Central Arkansas, one of the 30 worst D-I programs in the country this year. Their lone win of the season came against #240 Army; their most impressive performance was either losing by only 12 at #48 Oklahoma State or taking #142 Little Rock to overtime at home. Three starters have ORatings below 100; two rotation backups have ORatings below 70. There are some stats below; they are ugly.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 23.
A single-digit win would be a fiasco.
[Hit THE JUMP for Basketbullets.]
Moe Wagner is earning John Beilein's trust on defense. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
The Block Is Hot
I wasn't planning to do another Basketbullets before the UCLA game until I sat through John Beilein's presser after Tuesday night's win over Texas. Beilein is coming around to the idea that Moe Wagner is, in fact, his best all-around big man, and a big reason for that showed itself on the game's deciding play:
We got done what we had to get done. Moe’s block at the end was big. Moe’s blocking shots really for the first time in his life. His first blocked shots last year I think were in the Tulsa game. He’s learning when he should leave his feet, when he shouldn’t, to be a bigger presence at the rim. Really pleased with his development, as with DJ.
Beilein's memory is pretty good: Wagner had two blocks in last season's late-November win over Charlotte, then didn't record another before his four-block breakout against Tulsa in the NCAA tournament. Wagner has always possessed the requisite length and athleticism to be a good rim protector; now he's developing the necessary timing to challenge and alter shots without picking up fouls. That was on full display with Wagner's game-sealing block, which came after he and DJ Wilson seamlessly executed a switch. Wagner stayed vertical and waited until the last moment before swatting the ball away:
After recording blocks in two of his 29 appearances last year, Wagner has six in nine games. DJ Wilson has 14. Those two almost entirely account for Michigan's team block rate rising from 6.1% (308th nationally) last season to 8.4% (189th) this year, the team's highest mark since Beilein's first season, when Ekpe Udoh had 92 of the team's 160 blocks. Incidentally, that's the last time Michigan started two bigs. While there's still plenty of room to improve, those two have added a new dimension to the defense.
[Hit THE JUMP for Billy Donlon's clutch veto, a look at the game-winning bucket, and more.]
Beilein has drawn up some easy layups for Wagner. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
I'm gonna try something new here with our hoops coverage. The Basketbullets posts have mostly been game column type things; I'm repurposing the name for what I plan to be a weekly or sometimes semi-weekly post with a couple regular staples—picture page play breakdowns and the KenPom Stat of the Week—and any other items of note. This is a work-in-progress; suggestions for regular features to include are more than welcome in the comments.
Kennesaw State Not-A-Recap
I took a rare weekend off, so I wasn't at the 82-55 Kennesaw State blowout on Saturday, and the time I set aside to go over the game today ended up dedicated to the next section instead. Dylan's recap and Five Key Plays should have you covered.
While rote destructions of teams ranked in the 300s on KenPom are to be expected, this one contained some encouraging signs. Moe Wagner scored a career-high 20 points, making all four his his twos and 3-of-4 three-pointers in 25 minutes; he had no turnovers and one foul. DJ Wilson avoided the foul trouble that plagued him against Virginia Tech and posted an efficient 15-11 double-double. Every Michigan player to see ten minutes of action posted an ORating of at least 106 except Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who continued a troubling stretch of poor games with an 0-for-5 performance. Highlights. Full box score.
[Hit THE JUMP for a seemingly unstoppable set, the KenPom Stat of the Week, and more.]
pick me up [Eric Upchurch]
So that was odd. For some reason during this game I thought to myself that this team was a stereotype of Beilein teams, a stereotype of the variety that gets passed around message boards that always, always call Michigan "scUM."
It more or less is. Michigan is 146th in defensive efficiency even after a strong outing against Purdue. They're 12th in the league in two point defense. They don't get to the line and don't get to the offensive boards. All of these things are more or less true every year. They're less easy to stomach when you get hammered over and over by teams that can exploit Michigan's various and sundry flaws. Michigan's been blown out of the building in every loss save Iowa*, often because they've resembled a grim parody of John Beilein basketball.
So I am thinking this and then Michigan wins a game by holding Purdue to 56 points. Michigan is 5/20 from three and significantly outrebounds a gigantic Purdue outfit. Okay. Whatever. In this very stereotypical Beilein year this was a genre-defying game.
*[That game was reasonably competitive despite the 11-point final margin.]
Doubly odd. Meanwhile there was a period in the second half when Michigan's offense devolved into ridiculous heroball. Walton, Irvin, and Robinson all took very bad shots on which they tried to beat guys off the dribble, failed, and shot anyway. This was during a 2/20 run from the floor. It was deeply unpleasant, and then Michigan won anyway.
Walton ain't wiltin'. Takes some cojones to drive in the vicinity of Hammons when you're 0/9 for the game and then aim for contact, but Derrick Walton has always been an assassin at the end of games. As a freshman he closed out wins against MSU and Nebraska with and-one drives; here he pushed Michigan in front on their 11-0 closing spurt. He then made four free throws down the stretch to seal it. I'm not a big fan of "clutch" but in his case I'll allow it.
While we're talking about weird-ass Derrick Walton, should be noted that he's still the top defensive rebouder on the team, and that is a good sign, not an ominous one. Michigan always does this thing where their defensive rebounding looks pretty good through the nonconference season and then they finish 10th or so in the league; not so this year. Michigan is 3rd(!) in the league at defensive rebounding. They haven't managed that since 2009, when Anthony Wright was tossing bombs at Oklahoma in the second round of the tourney instead of at Dan Dakich on Twitter.
Walton appears to have a tangible positive effect on Michigan's team rebounding, which is huge for a team that plays as small as Michigan does. A 6-foot-nothing point guard led all rebounders in a game featuring Purdue with 7 DREBs. Again, Purdue versus Derrick Walton and Walton wins.
Ticket more or less punched. Michigan needed to find a couple wins in a difficult closing stretch to feel secure about a bid; with the Purdue win they have reached 19 wins against a difficult schedule (SMU, Texas, UConn, and Xavier are all top-25 Kenpom teams). They've got three wins that will go on everyone's "good" list and zero bad losses. One of those wins is against a projected one-seed. Even if they had a season-ending skid that is not a profile that gets left out, especially when two programs that would normally be in the tournament (SMU and Lousiville) are taking postseason bans this year. And that's before the committee accounts for the fact that Levert has barely played during the Big Ten schedule.
Michigan would likely have to lose out to be on the bubble.
This is what I am saying about post offense. It's inefficient. Purdue makes it work better than most because they have simply enormous dudes but as Ace pointed out, all those post ups lead to a barrage of two point jumpers that aren't good at scoring points. This game was a good example of why. Hammons got shut out(!!!) on the offensive boards and Haas got just one. Those two combined to go 9/21 from the field and 3/7 from the line, with two of the makes Hammons 15-footers. Hammons turned it over 3 times. All this was against a very bad defense.
Hammons is 88% at the rim but:
- 71% of his shots there are assisted
- another 18% are putbacks, so
- 11% of his shots at the rim are unassisted non-rebouds, ie, post-ups.
Meanwhile he's hitting 39% on two point jumpers, which comprise the vast majority of shots arising from post ups. Haas is similar but is hitting 48%. And both guys see a lot of assists on their two point makes, which means raw put-it-on-the deck post ups are mostly a waste of time even when you have the biggest damn team in the world against a bad defense.
I am completely fine with the way Michigan has discarded post-ups entirely. I just wish they'd recruit posts based solely on resemblance to Dikembe Mutumbo; all the guy has to do is dunk and wag his finger.
(Other possibility: Purdue is super generous with assists. They're 11th nationally in A/FGM, and I've seen them play. That's not reality.)
Robinson quiet, but occupying people. Purdue has Raphael Davis. Davis is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Raphael Davis spent most of this game checking Duncan Robinson. This resulted in Robinson not doing much and an ugly offensive game for the rest of the team, but Irvin got loose in part because he got a matchup against Swanigan; only after he'd heated up did Purdue try to match Davis on him.
If Levert does get back to full strength either he occupies the ace defender and Robinson gets loose or he gets to attack those wide open lanes. This is one of two reasons getting LeVert back and functional is so critical; the other is that the committee won't give Michigan the benefit of the doubt for his absence unless he does return.
MAAR, ball-hawk. Abdur-Rahkman helped rescue the game with a couple of key steals late. That's a flash of the perimeter defender we hoped we were getting last year after he shut down DeAngelo Russell; for a lot of reasons that has not really manifested itself. He's probably been Michigan's most consistent defender, but that's not saying much.
While he's not exactly a standout statistically, he's piecing it together this year. He's shooting really well in conference (76%/59%/41%), he's inching up that assist rate, and he's getting to the line. Usage is still in the Spike Albrecht range; that's the main hangup when you're trying to project him. He should be a very solid upperclassman; the ten-point bump in his three point shooting percentage is encouraging.
Okay Caris. Just get right by the Big Ten Tournament. Now that he's seen the court the direst predictions are off the table.