Irvin or Robinson?
Choosing between defense and offense. [Left: Campredon; right: Barron]
I put out a call for hoops mailbag questions over the weekend. A theme emerged:
@AceAnbender why doesn't Duncan Robinson start/play Irvin's minutes? Irvin is broken and it's not like the D can get substantially worse
— RIP D (@affluenzaQB) February 21, 2017
— Bob Dively (@bobdively) February 20, 2017
With Duncan Robinson's semi-emergence on defense (feels weird saying that), why is Coach Beilein not inserting him into the clutch-time lineup for Zak Irvin? I live in constant fear of Irvin hero-ball and I just don't trust him to make shot these days, let alone the right decision.
I'd feel much more comfortable with a Walton-MAAR-Robinson-Wilson-Wagner lineup offensively at the end of the game, and if the defense only takes a small step back isn't it worth it?
The first two questions are slightly different from the third. To address those first: Zak Irvin is going to remain in the starting lineup. I agree with that choice because of the difference Irvin makes on defense. I disagree with the premise in the first question; the defense can get substantially worse—we all saw as much in January—and Irvin is a big reason why Michigan has improved on that end.
Irvin's versatility on defense is more important than people seem to think. He can do everything from stay in front of two-guards to play passable post defense; did we already forget about this? (And this? And this too?) Michigan doesn't have another wing (DJ Wilson, if you're inclined to count him, excluded) with anything resembling Irvin's combination of strength and quickness; his presence allows M to switch on defense without creating too many mismatches. He's one of Michigan's better on-the-ball defenders, too.
Robinson has made strides on defense; he's still far from a good defender. SI posted anonymous coach quotes today on several potential tourney teams. From the Michigan section, which was critical but fair:
If [senior guard Duncan] Robinson is in the game you want to attack him defensively. Everybody knows that.
Robinson hasn't been caught out of position as often as he was earlier in the season. He's still susceptible to being attacked off the dribble by quicker guards/wings and he doesn't have Irvin's strength to hold up when he's switched onto a post player. Yes, Robinson is the superior offensive player; Irvin, in my opinion, has as much of an edge on defense.
A straight-up comparison between the two isn't sufficient; this is, after all, a team sport. You can gameplan to hide a struggling offensive player, especially when the rest of the offense is clicking like Michigan's. Irvin, in fact, is playing a decreased role in the offense over the course of this slump. This mathematical approach isn't perfect, but Irvin averaged a 27% usage rate over M's first seven conference games, with a high mark of 32% (Maryland) and a low of 21% (Illinois). That average is down to 17% over M's last seven games, in which he's surpassed the 20% only three times, topping out at 24% in the Wisconsin win; he's gone as low at 8% in that span, using only five possessions in the MSU win. Walton and MAAR have been able to pick up the slack.
It's much more difficult to hide a weak defender; you don't get to choose what set the opposing team runs. Robinson has been such an effective offensive player this season in part because John Beilein can cherry-pick his matchup on both ends. Robinson wasn't nearly as efficient as a starter last year (107.7 ORating in B1G games) compared to what he's done as the sixth man this year (122.8 ORating in B1G); while correlation doesn't equal causation, I don't believe that's a coincidence.
If Irvin continues to take on big late-game possessions—I'll admit I cringed when he waved off Derrick Walton in a second-half late-clock situation at Minnesota—then I wouldn't mind seeing Beilein use Robinson over Irvin in certain late-game situations, as Christian suggests, especially if he can go offense-defense with his substitutions. Benching Irvin is a step too far; Michigan still has the best offensive efficiency in the conference with him playing 89% of the available minutes, and he's played a major role in the defensive improvement of the last month. Another stat of note: Robinson averages 22.3 minutes per game in Michigan's seven conference losses; he's at 17.6 in their seven conference wins.
[Hit THE JUMP for the path to the tourney, Minnesota technical explanation, and more.]
Before and after. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
At the 17:35 mark of the second half last night, Ethan Happ backed Moe Wagner down from just inside the three-point line all the way to the charge circle and hit a baby hook. That marked his ninth field goal in ten attempts; he had 20 points, five assists, no turnovers, and no fouls. Up to that point, Michigan had been content to let their big men try to handle Happ on their own, as they'd done much more successfully in the game in Madison. It wasn't working. John Beilein adjusted (thanks to UMHoops' Orion Sang for saving me the transcription work):
“We looked at our numbers last time that we played this — Northwestern just double-teamed him the whole game and it was a point per possession, and when we didn’t double team him last time it was 0.6. So we said we can have it in our package, but we’re not going to do it unless we need it. Not all of those were post-ups — he blew by Mo a couple times. Mo’s 21 points, I’m really happy about that. He’s got to improve his defense too, he got sloppy a few times. He’s just got to get better there. Happ is really good. Part of where Wisconsin is so successful with us and others is there’s just so little low-post game in college basketball. … It’s unique for people to guard.”
“(Happ’s) good. He missed some shots from four or five feet. He didn’t miss them this time. He’s a good player. But we weren’t going to change just to change knowing we had our package, and save it for the second half. Just save it for the second half and see if we need it.”
From that point forward, Happ went 1-for-3 from the field with one assist and three turnovers. He also committed five fouls, two of which came on the offensive end of the floor. His fourth foul came after Moe Wagner and Zak Irvin combined to force a miss; Happ was visibly frustrated after unnecessarily hacking Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman on the rebound.
Eric Coughlin of the Detroit News tweeted a useful chart displaying how Michigan's defensive adjustment—and Wisconsin abandoning the pick-and-roll—had an enormous impact on Happ's output:
— Eric Coughlin (@EricCoughlin1) February 17, 2017
Mark Donnal looked overmatched in the first half; in the second, with some impressive help defense from Zak Irvin, he more than held his own. Irvin's offensive resurgence would've been for naught if Michigan didn't make, and execute, a mid-game scheme change on defense. It led to one of the most unexpected plays in recent memory:
My coverage of Donnal has been rather harsh at times; last night was his most encouraging game in a long time. Yes, he struggled to guard Happ one-on-one in the first half, but so did all of Michigan's big men; Jon Teske's disastrous two-minute stretch put a serious damper on the #FreeTeske movement. Donnal's seven minutes in the second half were impressive, even more so because he made a positive impact without taking a shot, which isn't exactly his norm. In addition to the block on Happ, he had a nice tipout offensive rebound and perhaps the most forceful blockout of his career:
If that's the version of Donnal we get going forward, there won't be any more controversy about who should back up Wagner.
[Hit THE JUMP for MAAR the quiet killer, updated bracket watch, and more.]
Bracket Watch: Safely In For Now
Get pumped up for a tourney run? [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
While they still have work to do to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament, Michigan made their way back into the vast majority of projected fields after their back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Indiana. The Wolverines are on 92 of the 110 brackets comprising the current Bracket Matrix (updated yesterday evening), putting them as an 11-seed and, critically, avoiding the First Four for now.
The projection for the remainder of the season has also improved. Following the Indiana win and Wisconsin's home loss to Northwestern (yes, that's a thing that really happened), KenPom's algorithm bumped Michigan from a slight underdog to a slight favorite in tomorrow night's game against the Badgers. With games at Rutgers and Nebraska still on the schedule, Michigan is the outright favorite in three of their last six games, and I'm still not sold on Minnesota being as tough an opponent as the numbers suggest.
Friendly neighborhood bracketologist CrislerSpidey ran the win probability numbers for the rest of the season a couple days ago. At that point, Michigan was more likely to finish with a winning conference record than a losing one, and the projections have become slightly more favorable since then:
Tomorrow night's game is, of course, a huge one for M's tourney chances. Wisconsin's offense has been in a statistical nosedive for the last five games, almost exactly coinciding with Michigan's (relative) defensive renaissance. They're vulnerable; Michigan played them close at the Kohl Center; it'd be a much-needed quality win.
[Hit THE JUMP for the bubble rooting guide, how to slow Ethan Happ, and more.]
Bad things in East Lansing. This is going to be a bad week for Michigan State.
Tourney sel. chair Mark Hollis has canceled his 2-week CBB road trip due to obligations as Michigan St. AD that require him to be on campus.
— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) February 13, 2017
Nothing definitive has been released yet save for MSU's statement that three players and one staffer are under investigation for sexual assault; people seem to be expecting something very bad. Bad enough that point and laugh rivalry stuff is inappropriate.
Solomon aftermath. Georgia fired its DL coach, Tracy Rocker, in the immediate aftermath of Signing Day. A Scout article asserted Rocker got in an argument with Aubrey Solomon's mom in an attempt to offer up an explanation, and recriminations ensued. Jeff Sentrell of Dawgnation* interviewed Sabrina Caldwell to get her side of things, and I have some bad news for Teddy Greenstein:
She said a big reason why Georgia didn’t sign her son centered on coaching decisions and not anything specific in their recruiting relationship.
Caldwell said they were affected by the scholarship that was no longer there for 4-star Texas RB and longtime UGA commit Toneil Carter.
Adding to the confusion: SEC All-Freshman kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was not extended a scholarship offer despite what he did to win games for the Bulldogs last season.
She said that was not her family’s fight but that it was a factor into how they perceived UGA.
“We were concerned with the scholarship issues of those not either receiving (them) or getting it pulled and again (this was) not our fight but it played a factor,” she said.
Michigan won that recruitment in part because it looked like the more stable and straightforward program a year after forcibly decommitting multiple kids late in the cycle. While there was something Michigan needed to get fixed (as I said at the time), fix it they did, and next year's Erik Swenson Is Thriving Despite Being Done Wrong article will have the same impact this year's did: nil.
Caldwell's comments caused some introspection at Georgia-focused Get The Picture. It sounds familiar to anyone who read "Pick Up The Damn Phone" last year:
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the amount of angst that cropped up in the comments following my post about Jeff Sentell’s interview with Aubrey Solomon’s mother. It’s hard to let go of a gauzy, romantic image that you’re invested in, and for many, the ideal of a football program that doesn’t stoop to making business decisions when it comes to roster management is a powerful one. (As powerful as the ideal that student-athletes are already more than fairly compensated for the privilege of playing. But I digress.)
Anyway, whatever else one might say about the Process, romantic it ain’t. Kirby is being paid to win. In his mind that includes pushing roster management aggressively. The issues with Carter and Blankenship arose because Smart was at the edge, numbers-wise, with the 2017 class before the four underclassmen stepped up to announce they were staying. That decision — and would any of us have preferred that they leave for the NFL? — meant that Smart had to do a lot of re-jiggering on the fly.
I’m not defending the way the Carter situation was handled. Smart botched that by not stepping up and telling the kid himself. But he’s being paid to put together the best roster he can and that’s what he’s trying to do.
For what it's worth, I believe that recruits' publicly stated reasons why they chose school X are almost always post-hoc backfilling after a decision has been made. Georgia wasn't the choice but Rodrigo Blankenship isn't the reason why.
Also: GTP mentions that 100% above-board Mark Richt often slogged through SEC seasons with 70-some scholarship players. That's the choice the current system gives you: nobly waste resources or push the envelope with the detrimental effects to the croots. That's a dumb system.
Michigan is navigating it better than they did last year, and Georgia will probably follow suit.
*[Despite the fact that it sounds like a dot blogspot, Dawgnation is an Atlanta Journal-Constitution-owned UGA site roughly equivalent to a single-team Land Of 10, which is also an AJC property. IE: they got the journalisms.]
The haves split from the other haves. Also spotted on GTP is this article from Jon Wilner detailing the coming revenue split even amongst the Power 5 conferences:
Fiscal year 2015 school distributions (all figures confirmed):
SEC: $32.7 million
Big Ten: $32.4 million
Pac-12: $25.1 million
Fiscal year 2016 school distributions
SEC: $40 million (confirmed)
Big Ten: $35 million (approximate)
Pac-12: $27 million (approximate)
That looks bad … that is bad … but it’s about to get much worse for the Pac-12.
Remember: The Big Ten’s new Tier 1 deal begins in 2017-18, and it’s also a whopper, averaging $440 million per year.
Which brings us to …
Fiscal year 2017-18 school distributions …
Big Ten: $45 million (estimate)
SEC: $43 million (estimate)
Pac-12: $31 million (estimate)
This is an even bigger gap than it looks because most SEC athletic departments run close to the bare minimum number of sports to qualify as D-I and Big Ten and Pac-12 schools carry up to 12 additional teams under that revenue umbrella.
Not only is paying the players the correct thing to do from a moral, ethical, and free market standpoint; it is a Very Good Thing for the Big Ten as it tries to be good at football. And there can be absolutely no argument that the money is there. As of 2011 the Big Ten's payout was 23 million. By 2018 there will be 22 million dollars a year that did not exist just a few years ago. Half of that is sufficient to pay the revenue sports athletes 100k a year.
In bubble news. (Not that bubble.) Disney CEO and therefore ESPN CEO Bill Iger:
Disney CEO Bob Iger thinks there are too many ads on TV, and he's exploring whether Disney's ESPN and ABC channels should reduce the amount of commercials.
“In general there is probably too much commercial interruption in television,” Iger said during Disney's quarterly earnings call Tuesday, especially when TV is competing with new digital upstarts like Netflix, some of whom don't have ads at all.
Iger said Disney would evaluate the amount of ads aired within programs for its ESPN and ABC TV channels, though he did not say that any cuts to the so-called ad load were looming.
My eyes pop out of my head when my mother voluntarily turns on cable TV programming with ads in it. (It's always HGTV, and they're always building tiny houses for some damn reason.) Live sports has long been the last bulwark against that kind of thing because there are no alternatives, but my God last year was brutal. The number of three-and-outs both preceded and followed by commercial breaks seemed to go up exponentially. At some point you have to balance out the money you're making now with the money your losing down the road by making your product worse, and it's especially grating when the people actually comprising the product are not even compensated.
In bubble news. (That bubble.) Michigan's moved out of the last four in on Lunardi's bracketology. They are one spot behind... Michigan State? The hell?
I mostly look at Kenpom so that's jarring. There MSU is 54th; Michigan 31st. Metrics that are not margin aware, like RPI, have that ranking inversed. MSU is #41 in RPI; Michigan is 61st. MSU's main accomplishment in the eyes of RPI is to have lost to a bunch of good teams.
Insert general scheduling lament here.
The little details. Good rostering continues:
— Matt Baldeck (@MattBaldeck) February 10, 2017
Michigan picks up another longsnapper, Matt Baldeck. Baldeck is making the Threet transfer: enrolling early and then transferring after his first semester. As a walk-on. Who was at Ole Miss.
Etc.: Freddy Canteen transfers to ND, which will be interesting. I expected him to land at a smaller school. Indiana takes from Quinn and Holdin' The Rope. More croot profiles: Brad Robbins, JaRaymond Hall. Not a banner year in the Big Ten.
Bracket Watch: Still A Thing!
Derrick Walton is settling in for a potential tourney run. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Michigan's NCAA tournament hopes were hanging by a thread heading into Tuesday's blowout of MSU. In the aftermath, well, they're still hanging by a thread, but at least the thread hasn't snapped. The Wolverines are the fifth team out of the field in last night's update of the Bracket Matrix, making 31 of the 99 included brackets. They're moving in the right direction, however, making 17 of the 40 that were updated on Wednesday or Thursday. That update doesn't include today's revised brackets; CBS's Jerry Palm, who already had Michigan as an 11-seed, bumped them up to a 10-seed today—clear of the last four in.
As ESPN's Eamonn Brennan points out in his latest Bubble Watch post, Michigan can strengthen their case for an at-large bid on Sunday by weakening the case for Indiana, a fellow bubble team:
Despite last week's home loss to Ohio State, this could end up being a net-plus week for Michigan's once-long NCAA tournament odds. The Wolverines blitzed Michigan State by 29 on Tuesday, and on Sunday they travel to Indiana, which is not only vulnerable but one of the bubble teams the Wolverines need to drift away if they want to secure their own bid in the coming weeks.
Not that you need the rooting incentive, but Michigan State is another one of those bubble teams that Michigan is hoping to pass; while they did so on Palm's bracket, most have kept the Spartans a couple seed lines above the Wolverines. Michigan still needs to win more than their fair share of coin-flip-ish games down the stretch to have a realistic shot at the field; a victory on Sunday would go a long way towards making that a reality.
[After THE JUMP: getting X going, transition threes, lineage of poodles, etc.]
Bracket Watch: The Other Bracket Looms
it us. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
The outlook is grim. After everyone but Derrick Walton sleepwalked their way to a loss against a mediocre Ohio State team, Michigan is 14-9 (4-6 B1G) and out of the projected NCAA tournament field. The Wolverines have to climb out of an increasingly big hole and they may have already missed their chance; KenPom says they've played the easiest conference schedule of any Big Ten team so far, and that's about to change in a major way:
Michigan only has three home games left; of those, a more confident and rested Michigan State squad is by far the most beatable. The Wolverines have yet to win a road game this season; they'll need to take at least two, and quite possibly as many as all five left on the docket, to have a realistic shot at an at-large bid. They're 79th in RPI. I had to edit the second sentence of this post multiple times before it was family-friendly.
If they lose tomorrow night, NIT bracket-watching begins in earnest.
[After THE JUMP: Some good news! Really! Also some bad news.]