Basketball preview here.
Super Saturday. Photos from the doubleheader from the Players' Tribune:
The Manuel UConn tenure. Jeff Jacobs has an exellent, comprehensive rundown of Warde Manuel's tenure at the UConn AD. Some UConn fans blame him for the Huskies getting left behind in the zombie Big East while Louisville got the golden ticket to the ACC; other than that somewhat fanciful complaint his tenure was rock-solid:
There are people who disagree with this, but Manuel handled the Kevin Ollie hiring as full-time coach just about perfectly. Ollie's biggest supporters, some who held their own power, wanted Ollie to get a long-term contract immediately. Manuel wanted to get to know Ollie, wanted to see him in action. Ask yourself this: What defined Ollie? He always had to work the hardest to prove himself on the court and that narrative continued for more than a decade in the NBA. If he was to be a success, the best possible outcome would be for Manuel to wait, like what he saw and give him that long-term deal three to four months into his job. That's what happened.
When Ollie was on his way to winning a national championship in 2014, there was Manuel ahead of the curve to lock in Ollie with a new five-year deal.
UConn's four major sports (football, both basketballs, and hockey) are all on the upswing or maintaining a high level of success. Manuel also pulled UConn out of a Jim Calhoun-generated APR disaster and spearheaded a move to Hockey East.
He's gone as soon as the NFL comes calling. Harbaugh writes an article for the Players' Tribune:
I’ve talked to a lot of people who feel that way about Michigan — and I’ve talked to a lot of other people who feel that way about their college, too. It happens everywhere. You probably feel that way about where you went to college.
But in my unscientific surveying of people I’ve talked to, I feel that it happens the most here at Michigan.
Which is why finally, I moved to Ann Arbor a third time. To be the head football coach.
A lot of people outside of Michigan asked me why I decided to make that third move to Ann Arbor. It’s pretty simple: I love football. I love coaching. I love Michigan. And for me, there’s no better place for those three things than right here in Ann Arbor.
It doesn't hurt that there's no megalomaniacal guy in a fur coat hovering over his shoulder in Ann Arbor.
As a side note, do you know what I see in my head whenever I hear "Players' Tribune"?
This is what I see, except with cards that read "PRESS" sticking out of their hats.
A firm-ish return date. Beilein on Levert's return:
John Beilein to @dandakich , "Caris LeVert has been out 5 weeks, he's getting better, hope to have him back on the court this or next week".
— Producer Kyle (@ProducerKyle) February 1, 2016
It's good to have a timeframe. It's unfortunate that timeframe isn't a little quicker now that Michigan's World Tour Of Bad Big Ten Basketball has concluded.
Death to autobench, in numbers. Tucked away in a piece on Washington having an unprecedented number of guys foul out is this note on the most DQ-averse team in college basketball:
By the way, there has been only one team to avoid a disqualification this season. The last time a Michigan player fouled out was February 17th of last season when the human box-score line-break, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman fouled out against Michigan State. My stance on when to sit players in foul trouble is somewhere between “ignore foul trouble completely” and “always sit guys in the first half that have two fouls”. It’s a very tough problem to study. But it seems to me that if you do subscribe to the latter approach, the fact that none of your players are fouling out is an indication your instincts for loss aversion are too strong.
The fact that Michigan fouls so rarely in the first place makes the autobench even more frustrating in practice. It is what it is; it's a blind spot.
Recruitin' rabblin'. Andy Staples on the decommit thing:
We'll need to hear Michigan's side of the Swenson case before passing judgment, and NCAA rules will keep Wolverines coaches from publicly discussing the specifics of Swenson's recruitment until after he signs. If it turns out Michigan's staff waited until January to tell Swenson—who committed to then-coach Brady Hoke in November 2013—he wasn't wanted, then the Wolverines deserve criticism for being lousy communicators. If Swenson had this knowledge in September or October, he could have reopened his recruitment earlier at a time when other schools would have had more open slots. The well-paid grown-ups here should be held to a higher standard than the high school students, and if Swenson's camp is telling the truth, Michigan's staff might need to learn how and when to break bad news.
It beggars belief that Swenson's camp is telling a full and honest accounting of the story if only because Michigan insiders started chattering about his place in the class months before the actual decommit, first privately and then in public. A final decision may have been delayed; if he didn't know it was because he didn't want to. Either way, Michigan should be explicit about these things much earlier.
The bump. Bill Connelly has an article on the "Bama bump," which is the perception that recruits committed to or recruited by Alabama get rankings boosts. Some services say they peek; others say no way:
To summarize, Luginbill said, "It absolutely exists because of subscription sales." Scout's Brandon Huffman said, "We don't do it, but others might." 247Sports's JC Shurburtt said, "Nah, but they do produce a lot of NFL talent, which matters," which seems like a roundabout way of saying it does kind of exist, only for reasons other than subscription sales.
Only Rivals' Mike Farrell said, "Nope!"
The denials here are odd, since re-evaluating a prospect once you get information like "Nick Saban is a fan" seems, you know, sensible. Connelly is in favor of the bump, and for the most part so am I. And it does exist. In Michigan's case it's usually when they become interested in a lower-rated guy. An unranked or two star player is about 99% likely to work his way up into generic three-star territory by the time Signing Day rolls around.
And for all of Luginbill's protestations, they absolutely do bump guys. When Khaleke Hudson committed to Michigan he was rated a 74 and below guys headed to Georgia Southern and schools of that ilk. Fast forward to today and he's flown up 34 spots. But that's fine! Before the bump Hudson's ranking looked plainly goofy. I think you should be humble enough to take Harbaugh's opinion into account when you rank guys. It's a better system than "did this guy show up to our camp," for sure.
Now, it's possible that Bama sees guys in the manicured regions move up. I don't follow their recruiting closely enough to know. This is not generally the case for Michigan commits, who tend to slide gradually as the recruiting year goes along. When I do job interviews I ask why this is, and I don't think I've heard the correct answer yet*. Michigan commits tend to slide because they stay the same while a select group of recruits below them emerge into big-time prospects. When you're perched in the top 10% of all high school recruits the direction you generally go is down even if you are ranked correctly.
*[It's still useful for hearing a person's ability to reason on the fly.]
Glasgow on Harbaugh. Stay enthusiastic, my friends:
“You know those commercials, The Most Interesting Man In The World? He’s like the most interesting coach in the world,” Glasgow said this week at the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
“He’s a really, really genuine guy and he just really cares about his players. Even though he looks crazy out there on game days and all that stuff, he’s really not like that behind closed doors.”
Only refs and people who drive slowly cause Harbaugh to throw conniption fits. BTW, we already have a "jim harbaugh is the most interesting man in the world" tag.
Jimmy & Johnny. Ann Arbor Pioneer is inducting Jim and John Harbaugh into the Hall of Fame of Purple-Wearing Athlete People on March 11; the eventbrite site just went live yesterday. The Facebook page has been posting vintage photos all week of the Harbros and here's one contest that was over before it began:
Sam & Ira are hosting, and they've invited us.
Michigan replay, 1992. Check the sweater:
Etc.: Former Gilman head coach Biff Poggi is taking another head coaching job in Maryland and thus won't be joining the staff. Carr on the Manuel hire. The year in Harbaugh hijinks. Baumgardner has a long article in which Lorenz and Trieu offer some takes on the class. Why Holtz is going to SOTS.
Michigan crossed the halfway mark of 2015-16 Thursday at Purdue in a game that unfortunately encapsulated much of the season thus far: a shorthanded Wolverine squad turned in a strong offensive performance (accounting for context here) that fell short of covering for their defensive shortcomings against a quality opponent.
While it hasn't been a bad year—Michigan is 12-4; they were 10-6 at this point last season with two awful losses—it hasn't been the bounce-back many expected. The Wolverines have beaten the teams they should beat, but they've yet to take down a top-50 KenPom opponent in four tries, and that'll have to change if they want to make a tourney run.
So what's gone well, what hasn't, and what will swing this season one way or the other?
WHAT'S LIL WAYNE 2005-09
All photos: Patrick Barron/MGoBlog
Caris LeVert. Aside from a woeful performance at SMU, LeVert has been one of the best and most consistent players in the country. He boasts the third-best offensive rating among players who use at least 24% of their team's possessions, per KenPom. His drives are more productive than ever before; instead of snaking his way towards the basket, LeVert is getting there more directly, finishing at the highest rate of his career (77.4% at the rim, per hoop-math), and posting the assist-to-turnover rate of a good point guard—which he functions as for this team, something equally evident in his absence as his presence.
When healthy, LeVert has looked like the potential All-American we hoped he'd become, a triple-double threat any time he steps on the court. Unfortunately, the "when healthy" caveat is now required; I'll cover that in another section.
Duncan Robinson. This is Robinson's definitely-not-altered shot chart from Shot Analytics:
One could leave it at that and conclude Robinson has exceeded expectations. In the beginning of the season, there wouldn't have been much more to say anyway; through the first four games he attempted 16 three-pointers and four two-pointers while failing to tally an assist. Robinson has at least one assist in ten of the 12 games since that point, however, and he's used the threat of his outside shot to generate opportunities for himself and others closer to the tin.
Robinson is quietly improving defensively, too, though he set the bar quite low to start the year. His lethal efficiency on offense more than makes up for that; it's hard to complain about a player who's first nationally in ORtg, eFG%, and True Shooting %.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman. The bright spot in an otherwise dreadful game at Purdue, Rahk was the only Wolverine who could get to the hoop and finish in LeVert's absence. In the two games since LeVert's injury, Rahk is 11/15 on two-pointers, 4/8 on threes, 5/6 from the line, and he hasn't recorded a turnover. While it'd be great to see Rahk pass the, um, rock a little more—only Aubrey Dawkins has a lower assist rate among non-centers—his ability to generate buckets on his own is huge coming off the bench, and as his outside shots develops (11/29 this season) he could carve out a huge role for himself.
Three-point shooting. Michigan is shooting 43% from beyond the arc as a team. Four high-volume shooters—Robinson, LeVert, Dawkins, and Derrick Walton—are making 45% or better. It boggles the mind to consider where the team's numbers would be if Zak Irvin (15/59) had been shooting like he did as an underclassman.
[Hit THE JUMP for the bad and the we're-not-sure-yet.]
Mark Donnal is taking over this game. He's set a new career-high in points: https://t.co/ksZh94arXe
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) December 30, 2015
WHAT IS MARK DONNAL?
— Chris Gaerig (@cgaerig) December 30, 2015
There are few words to describe Mark Donnal right now.
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) December 30, 2015
"You need to take that, Donnal" ~ a thing I said in real life.
— Bryan Mac (@Bry_Mac) December 30, 2015
...so. If you missed this game, you may have a hard time believing this recap, so I want to preface this by saying I triple-checked for typos and splashed cold water on my face: Mark Donnal led Michigan to a road conference win by scoring 26 points on 11/15 FG with nine rebounds (six offense), three blocks, and two steals.
While Illinois is not a good team up front, Donnal looked like a player transformed. He ran the high screen beautifully, finished strong at the hoop, stepped out to drill a triple, pulled down rebounds with authority, protected the rim, and did it all with more confidence than he's ever shown in a Michigan uniform. Perhaps it's an anomaly. Perhaps it's a turning point. For today, if nothing else, it was a whole lot of fun to watch.
In a more expected development, Caris LeVert also had one of his more impressive games, beating Illini defenders off the dribble all afternoon on his way to 22 points (9/16 FG) and ten assists, several of them to Donnal at the rim.
No other Wolverine made more than three shots from the field; Derrick Walton scored nine, Duncan Robinson and Zak Irvin had eight apiece. Michigan pulled away in the second half by riding the LeVert/Donnal two-man game until Illinois showed they could stop it; the Illini never did. After a hot start to the game from beyond the arc the Illini couldn't keep pace, and Zak Irvin did yeoman's work on the defensive end guarding Malcolm Hill, who needed 13 shot equivalents to score 11 points, seven below his season average.
In a most unpredictable fashion, Michigan opened Big Ten play with a road win. Penn State comes to town on Saturday, giving Donnal a golden opportunity to show today wasn't a fluke. If it was, the reality check may come next Thursday, when the team travels to Purdue to face Isaac Haas and AJ Hammons.
Until the time comes, though, I'll work on finding words to describe... that.
That went as expected.
The last time Bryant played at Michigan, the Wolverines rained in a school record 16 three-pointers in a blowout victory. This time around, Michigan one-upped their previous performance, tallying their 17th triple when Kam Chatman beat the shot clock and the final buzzer from right in front of the bench.
Any other drama had long since passed. Michigan tore apart Bryant's matchup and 2-3 zones in the first half, recording 12 of their threes in the first 20 minutes and tallying assists on 17 of their 21 first-half field goals. Even though the defense had a sub-par half, Michigan went into the tunnel with a 22-point lead. The going wasn't quite as easy when the Bulldogs went man-to-man for much of the second, but by that point it hardly mattered.
What did matter, from Michigan's perspective, was seeing Zak Irvin get off the schneid; he connected on 2/4 triples after heading into the game with a 3/19 in the month of December.
"It was a huge weight off my back," said a visibly relieved Irvin after the game.
Irvin was one of several beneficaries of great ball movement by Michigan, led by Caris LeVert (8 assists), Duncan Robinson (6), and Derrick Walton (5). The Wolverines passed up open jumpers for even more open jumpers, and that opened up the paint, especially once Bryant switched to man; Michigan made 20 of 28 two-pointers in addition to their record-setting night from beyond the arc.
LeVert paced the team with 19 points, followed by Irvin with 16, and three others finished in double figures.
At long last, Michigan has made their way through non-conference play, and they'll carry a 10-3 record—with no bad losses—into the conference opener at Illinois on December 30th. The fans aren't the only ones who are relieved to see stiffer competition.
"I want to get on with the Big Ten and play," said John Beilein. Amen to that.
Caris LeVert recorded the fourth triple-double in program history. [Fuller]
Caris LeVert's most memorable play of the evening didn't even count towards the fourth triple-double in Michigan basketball history.
LeVert finished with 13 points, ten rebounds, and ten assists, but his steal and Gumby-like save in the second half stood out as the highlight in a game Michigan controlled from start to finish. Duncan Robinson made a sizable contribution to that assist total, knocking down three of his six first-half triples off LeVert passes.
Robinson scored all 18 of his game-high points in the first half. He also scored them all from the same location:
Does he have a favorite spot? pic.twitter.com/LXPZC8duXb
— Dylan Burkhardt (@umhoops) December 16, 2015
When Northern Kentucky reconfigured their defense to prevent Robinson from getting the ball in the second half, the rest of Michigan's offense benefited, especially LeVert and Derrick Walton. Walton returned from his ankle injury, got the start, and looked healthy—save for a brief scare after a hard foul in the second half—in a 16-point effort.
Outside of LeVert making history, Robinson raining threes, and Walton looking spry, the major intrigue from this game came from how John Beilein handled the rotation. (Alright, and the defense once again being not-so-good, but let's leave that for another day.) LeVert, Robinson, Walton, and Zak Irvin all played 34 minutes or more, while Ricky Doyle (23) and Mark Donnal (14) took up nearly all the minutes at the five; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (11) was the only non-center backup to see anything approaching significant time. Donnal had easily his best performance of the year, netting his season-high 11th point on the pick-and-roll to give LeVert his triple-double.
Andrew Dakich entered in time to run out the clock, and he did so with aplomb.
Tonight's bad poetry:
Duncan made a three.
Duncan made another three.
I need four more lines.