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.
The result last night, and the fashion Michigan got there, was no doubt painful. Lost in the insanity and disappointment, however, were several encouraging signs for the future. Since Brian covered the coaching stuff in today's mailbag, my focus for today will mostly be on the bright side of life.
BUT FIRST, NIT OUTLOOK. So, yeah, that obviously wasn't ideal. DRatings updated their NIT bracketology today, putting Michigan as the second six-seed. A home win over Rutgers isn't likely to change much there (a loss would obviously be a huge blow), which puts Michigan perilously close to the edge:
All regular season champions that did not win their conference tournament automatically qualify for the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). It is important to note that early predictions will be flawed because of this rule. Typically, there are about seven to nine teams that win their conference in the regular season but don’t win their conference tournament and end up in the NIT. So, in early predictions, if your team is a seven or eight seed, then it is likely they won’t make the tournament because of these auto qualifiers.
DRatings currently has ten teams below Michigan projected to make the NIT field. Hold onto your butts.
ZAK IRVIN, EVOLVING. For much of the season, Zak Irvin has been a source of disappointment. If Caris LeVert was supposed to step into Nik Stauskas' shoes, Irvin was supposed to step into LeVert's, becoming this year's guy to add a ton to his game and set himself up for lead dog status/early entry discussion.
It didn't happen right away, but take a look at Irvin's last six games:
|TOTAL (Avg.)||105 (17.5)||20/41 (49%)||16/40 (40%)||17/23 (74%)||3 (0.5)||31 (5.2)||13 (2.2)||9 (1.5)|
Now think about this: Irvin didn't make more than three two-pointers in any game his freshman year—and he only did that twice—and other than the opener against D-II Hillsdale he hadn't made more than four this season until the Indiana game. He had five last night, mostly on NBA-level pullup looks that he generated with surprising ease:
Over the last month, Irvin has raised the bar from top-flight supporting player to potential go-to guy on a good team, and that's a huge step. He's developing moves that reliably get him to the basket—he's incorporating the shot fake, for instance, which is particularly effective given his shooting ability—and he's both finishing and getting to the line more often.
[Hit THE JUMP for more Irvin and a look at the development of three freshmen.]
You should really look at the big version for the background faces [Patrick Barron]
We have a theme, a palpable theme. Michigan plays about as well as they can, is right in it with a team headed to the tournament, and cannot finish the job. Three of Michigan's last four losses have followed that pattern, with the exception a home blowout against suddenly incandescent Iowa.
That was also going to happen—the ugly blowouts against teams that can exploit the various holes in Michigan's roster—but overall it's a familiar theme: Michigan's got a bunch of guys trying their best and not quite making it. This is also known as "the Amaker tenure."
In this case Michigan had to get raided by the NBA draft, lose their top two players, and have their touted freshman spectacularly underperform. They'll be a lot better next year. Take this team, add Walton, Duncan Robinson, DJ Wilson, and a year of experience for literally everyone and you're back to being a tourney team.
Levert? FWIW, I was talking to Sam Webb during my weekly WTKA thing (Thursdays, 9 AM) and LeVert came up; he said that it wasn't a slam dunk he'd go, and I was like "er, what" and he said he likes school, loves the team, and might stick it out. He is very young for his grade. Obviously, the prospect of a guaranteed seven-figure contract is and will remain tempting.
It would be nice to finally get a guy who could go back.
Irvin bust out. Indiana does not have a good defense. Let's stipulate that. But Michigan actually saw a good deal of, you know, offense. Michigan's 13 assists were the most they'd had since the Penn State game, and rarely have they cracked double digits. That's symptomatic of an offense that's struggling and resorting to a lot of heroball.
Nobody has been more negatively impacted by this than Zak Irvin, who was an excellent microwave last year and has struggled to initiate his own offense or find kickouts from his teammates. This leads to a pattern of frustration followed by contested shots off the dribble—not good eats for your offensive efficiency.
Irvin shook that against Indiana, finishing a few buckets around the basket that were set up by his teammates and finding small windows of space for his threes. He initiated a little offense himself. He was efficient. After, Beilein praised his improved "acumen for the game," and that's about right. This was also right, unfortunately:
But if there was one nagging frustration with Irvin on Sunday, it was his struggles to finish at the rim. With eight minutes left and Michigan down nine, the forward missed a fairly routine layup. A minute later, he went up for a layup with his right hand despite being on the left side of the rim, and the shot was blocked as a result.
“He’s got his head on right, and he knows that everybody has parts of their game they need to work on,” Beilein said. “He realizes what some of those are, and he’s working on them.”
Major points to the color guy for pointing that latter problem out immediately and informatively.
Anyway, priority one for the rest of this year is for the rest of the offense to pose enough of a threat to opponents that Irvin can either find open threes or, at the very least, closeouts. He can attack those; when he's just trying to straight up beat a guy he doesn't have the lateral mobility to do that without a bunch of spins and other such moves that bring help defenders into play.
MAAR bust. Freshmen are up and down and hoo boy was MAAR down in this one. His missed bunny after a steal was followed by another Irvin missed bunny and those buckets combined to rankle the remainder of the game, no more so than when Michigan ended up three points short on the scoreboard.
This is no doubt an adjustment period. Teams have seen what MAAR can do and have a scouting report on him; now it's up for Michigan to get MAAR playing better than he's scouted. One priority needs to be moving him from a guy who seems to make up his mind whether it's pass or shot before the drive to one who can find the open guys under the hoop when he draws help.
And then Doyle surges. (Also Donnal.) Meanwhile, Michigan's bigs kept moderately-big Max Bielfeldt (three minutes) on the bench for the first time in forever. Donnal put up seven points on four shots; Doyle had 15(!) on 8 shot equivalents. He was one made FT from having as many points as you can without an and-one or three pointer, on 19% usage in 27 minutes.
This has a lot to do with Indiana, which got a total of five minutes from guys bigger than a willowy 6'7".
Negative: even so they still got crushed on the boards. Doyle's trying to block shots that are not good shots to block: in the first half Irvin or Dawkins or MAAR had successfully contested a drive, forcing Indiana into difficult runner from five feet. It missed, but Doyle had tried to block it and his guy was there for an easy putback. Unless you are a pterodactyl man like Anthony Davis, that's a bad idea.
Evidence of offensive improvement. Michigan's last shot went through all five Wolverines before landing in MAAR's hands in the corner for a wide open look. It didn't go down, but to be able to execute that is something resembling progress.
Also, an alley-oop! It seems like forever ago when Michigan got two or three of those a game from Robinson.
[@ right: Patrick Barron]
Evidence they've got a ways to go. Blackmon (sigh) and Ferrell had a great sequence against the 2-3 in which Blackmon attacked, drawing both high defenders. Ferrell saw this and made a cut to the soft spot of the 2-3, receiving the pass and finishing and and-one against a highly disadvantaged Irvin.
That's not something we've seen much of from Michigan during their extensive opportunities to go up against a 2-3. Very, very rarely does anyone force the zone to react before attempting to get a pass inside the arc, and a lot of the time Michigan spends 20 seconds or so trying to make a pass to initiate their offense against a zone that hasn't been deformed or stretched.
Chatman thing. He did little in his ten minutes. This is something of an improvement. I did wonder what was going on on several possessions where he sat in the middle of the floor like he was flashing to the post against a 2-3. He brought a defender with him, which almost made it look like Indiana was running a 1-3-1. It was a confusing time.
Then I figured out that Indiana was just in man to man and Chatman kept flashing to the post because he didn't recognize that. This happened on three or four possessions and is another ominous sign about how far he has to go.
Must… fight… old man sportswriter… feels. SPOCK. I am not a fan of guys sitting back from their typewriters proclaiming some dude they don't know a scourge of society because he is a bit of a showoff. I think this is more reflective of the person writing it than the subject.
But, man, Troy Williams takes it to another level. Troy Williams flexes at his mom after he successfully pours milk in his cereal. Troy Williams goes to children's hospitals and mean-mugs at cancer patients because he is to date free of same. Troy Williams makes me an old man sportswriter and therefore I dislike him.
Hatch bits. ESPN story and video:
Thing I never want to see again. A Yogi Ferrell pull-up three. I would like him to not be at Indiana, please.
Same business. I already wrote the column about John Beilein as MacGuyver, and this was more of that, except moreso. After ten minutes of post-game frustration, I have the same emotional reaction to beating Nebraska handily at home as losing in OT on the road to MSU down LeVert and Walton (and DJ Wilson and Mark Donnal and those five guys in the NBA): wow.
Once we have experience/players they'll get back to it. It's unfortunate they ended up on the wrong side of a couple of games that look like they'll prevent them from getting to the tournament. Let's see what the guys can do for the rest of the year and then go into next year with confidence. And so forth and so on.
MAAR/RAHK. In a meme:
MAAR had an efficient 18 points on 14 shots and a few rebounds. He didn't exactly fill up the box score—just one assist and one TO and a bunch of zeroes places other than points—but Michigan needs points more than anything else.
MAAR's ability to get to the basket and hit contested layups is a foundation for expanding his game. Once teams start to focus on him that will hopefully lead to more good looks for other people.
Autobench. In fact Michigan lost this game because MAAR picked up two first half fouls, leading to an extended period with Andrew Dakich on the court. Dakich played 16 minutes, attempted one shot, got one rebound, and turned the ball over once. Replace a few of those minutes with MAAR minutes and that's probably worth another few points—in his absence defaulted to posting Max Bielfeldt.
MAAR then finished with two fouls, frustratingly. I complain about this every time it happens but I'll keep complaining about it. Every year Beilein has one of the least foul-prone teams in the country, and every year he yanks an important player from the lineup for ten minutes because a guy who averages 2 fouls per 40 picks them up early. When that guy is a scholarship player who has some ability it's one thing. When it's a walk-on who was a few bounces of the ball away from a 16-minute trillion it's another.
I'm enjoying the scotch-tape-and-soda thing as far as it goes, but it is still frustrating to feel that you could have won this game if you'd just had faith a guy averaging 3.5 fouls per 4 could handle a few first-half minutes with two.
This is like timeout strategy with NFL coaches: even the best people are seemingly insane about it.
Assist drought. Michigan struggled through this game with a measly 8 assists (30% of their baskets). MSU was at 70%. That's the offense's struggle in a nutshell. There's a lot of one on one basketball and not much ability to find an open guy. Irvin actually led the team with three. That was the second straight game he'd managed that. Believe it or not, that's the first time in his career he's had back-to-back games of three+ assists.
Michigan has very little ability to penetrate without two of their big three, and unless MAAR develops into more of a point guard instead of a shooting guard that's going to persist. The offense's smoothness will require assists in the 15-18 range instead of the 8 number they've put up in many of their Big Ten games.
Irvin. A frustrating year from him, one in which he's suffered greatly from Michigan's general lack of shot generation. He's improved in that department, but he's gone from "zero" to "not much"; many of the shots he gets for himself are heavily contested bad ideas. As a result his efficiency went off a cliff. His assist rate remains well under 10 despite the recent surge-type event and he's not a plus rebounder on either end.
Early in the season I was hoping Irvin could become a "threes and" guy, whether that was threes and D or rebounding or shot generation. He hasn't really. It's not so much about the shooting. He's been hurt by Walton's evident lack of burst all season, and would no doubt be just as deadly as he was last year if he was getting the same shot quality. It's about how he tends to drift out of games when he's not scoring.
Center spot. Bielfeldt hit some shots but not efficiently; he rebounded but was generally overwhelmed by MSU. He did screen much better than we've seen the freshmen do this year—too often they are imprecise and the screen just wastes time instead of creates room.
Michigan needed Doyle to have one of those games in which he seems like a future star; instead they got some iffy defense (he was too aggressive in the short corner in the 2-3) and one shot attempt in 15 minutes. He is a freshman post and so will be up and down for the next two years; really would have been nice to get a Syracuse-like performance from him.
We saw some brief passages with Bielfeldt at the 4 next to Doyle and I wonder if that'll be more common going forward when Donnal gets back. Against low-usage Big Ten 4s, Bielfeldt brings more rebounding, and if MAAR can pick up spot PG minutes that might be a way to prevent the dual-walkon backcourt we saw at the tail end of the first half.
Fifth year though, right? Michigan does not have any recruits in the 2015 class as of now; unless they do there seems to be no reason to not bring Bielfeldt back if he's willing. I know he was thinking about heading elsewhere for his final year so that he could get some playing time… but he is getting some now and I don't see why that would not be the case next year as well.
11/17/2014 – Michigan 77, Bucknell 53 – 2-0
then he served Bucknell pancakes [Eric Upchurch]
That was rather impressive. The Bison are not a SWAC pushover. Historically they're one of the best teams in the Patriot League, and while they fell off a bit last year they were still good enough to put scares into Stanford and St. John's and beat Penn State by ten.
Michigan blew 'em off the court, opening up a 48-19 halftime lead and coasting from there.
We never think of the Kenpom. Speaking of the coasting: it got sloppy in the second half, with Michigan settling for a ton of long twos off the dribble with 25 seconds on the shot clock. These went clang, as dictated by Karma, and the blistering hot start petered out into a less than blistering 1.15 points per possession.
Broken record time: I don't mind open jumpers taken in rhythm, especially after you've gotten past a guy on a closeout and know you've got space to elevate without being harassed. I really do not like low-efficiency long twos that come without exploring your possession for better shots. There's a reason you can get those whenever you want. It's hard to yell at guys when you're hammering the opposition, but hopefully that's one of them coaching points that can be deployed.
THE CALVES THAT ATE THE AMERICAN WEST. So… remember that time someone asked why Max Bielfeldt keeps taking threes and Beilein responded that he was an assassin in practice? I guess that's accurate. On a night where one of the Big Three was struggling with his shot and Michigan got little production out of the four spot, Bielfeldt laid waste to the Bison. He hit all three of his attempts behind the arc and scoring 18 on 10 shot equivalents. Max was a one-man Manifest Destiny out there.
Does this mean something going forward? Maybe. Bielfeldt is still way undersized for the 5 spot in the Big Ten, and in this game there were a couple of post buckets by the spectacularly-named Nana Fouland that Bielfeldt could barely contest.
But maybe the four would work? If Bielfeldt is a credible threat in the corner and the matchup doesn't seriously expose him defensively that could be an option, Kenny Kaminski style. Bielfeldt is a decent matchup against Brandon Dawson types who aren't going to blaze by him to the basket, and Michigan's not getting much production out of that spot.
I still don't think you can build a Big Ten defense around a 6'7" post.
[After THE JUMP: rebounding strategy, HULK SMASH, Irvin "not bad" face.]