spoiler alert: i linked this
In defense of 2015 [Fuller]
Ace: There's no question this basketball season was a strange one. Michigan headed in with many question marks but high expectations, started off the season with a couple quality wins and a very competitive game against one-seed Villanova, went on to lose head-scratchers against NJIT and EMU before getting run off the court by Arizona, lost their two best players to injury, and then saw flashes of great promise from several players that didn't necessarily show up in the team's final record.
Let's try to make some sense of this. What about this season would you consider a success, what was a failure, and how did it affect your expectations for the program moving forward?
Adam Schnepp: I've placed my hands on the keyboard and taken them off three times before I typed this, but not making the NCAA tournament is a failure. I'm hesitant because of the stark negative connotation of the word "failure."
|Anything that leads to more Dakich isn't so much "failure" as "awesomesauce with an oh darn." [Fuller]|
This is a failure that happened because of course it did. As the hockey guy I'm used to watching the type of failure where you have a team loaded with talent that underperforms and shoots itself in the foot until there's nothing left. Nothing. Not even, like, a bloody remnant that doctors could reconstruct. Just, poof, gone. This is a completely different kind of failure, a failure in which there are explanations (NBA attrition, injuries that led to a lineup Tom Izzo would find weird) that make sense and extend beyond "this is just what we do now."
Dave Nasternak: Michigan Basketball isn't in the same place that it was seven years ago (one huge mess, but with John Beilein). Its not even in the same place that it was 3 years ago (bummed about a tournament upset but only a round or two away from its ceiling). After seeing the faces of the players and coaches in that hotel in Atlanta two Aprils ago, this program expects to succeed at the highest level. National Championships, Final Fours, Sweet Sixteens, NCAA Tournament games, Big Ten Championships (regular season and tournament) are all accomplishments that this program expects to be competing for every year.
And that's the right answer. As Michigan players/staff/alumni/fans/constituents... that's why we are connected with this University. Now, we don't consistently get the freshmen that Kentucky and Duke get every year, so some of these goals will be a little too lofty from time to time. But I am willing to bet that if you asked people in and around the program if they were supremely disappointed with not obtaining some (most, all) of these goals, they would not only verbally say that they were, but that you would also be able to see it on their faces. That's just what the Michigan Basketball program has achieved.
[after the jump: no more dancing. Around the question I mean. Lots of the other dancing (not That dancing)]
Big Ten tourney time is always weird for content what with games on at noon.
This was off an Irvin assist [Patrick Barron]
The light is on. Midseason complaining that Zak Irvin hadn't added very much to his game between his freshman and sophomore years was justified. Irvin was a bit more willing to get to the basket but he was a black hole that generated shots only for himself and the predictability of his game—Beilein once mentioned that he really needed to shot fake like, ever—was beginning to catch up to him now that the league had a scouting report on him.
Then Irvin had the light go on. Alex tweeted this out yesterday and it amply demonstrates Irvin's expanding game:
He's developed pick and roll options other than meh pullup jumpers. (He's good at them; they're still way less efficient than, say, asking Aubrey Dawkins to do his best GRIII impression on an alley-oop.) He's generating shots for his teammates, which will eventually make the shots he does take better.
This is necessary if Michigan's going to return to the outrageous offensive efficiency that drove their Final Four/Big Ten Champions outfits. I've grumbled about Michigan's unusually low assist numbers for big chunks of the year. Led by Irvin, Michigan acquired 15 against the Illini.
The king of yesterday's assists. I cocked an eyebrow with about 11 minutes left when Michigan executed a beautiful team sequence that got Doyle a bunny. All five Michigan players touched it after Spike dumped it to Irvin in the corner:
- Irvin drove baseline, drawing help D and kicking to
- MAAR, who passed it to
- Chatman standing in the short corner, who drew recovering attention. At this point
- Spike, who had zero players looking at him or checking him because of the ball movement, cut to the elbow, again drawing a double team from an unprepared on-ball defender and Egwu; Spike drove, whereupon
- Doyle was the recipient of an easy bucket at the rim.
It was a brief flashback to the last couple years, when Michigan would regularly delight with gorgeous basketball. It's coming back you guys.
Next year man. Caris offered some quotes about his upcoming NBA decision that sounded genuinely torn. Judge for yourself:
"It will probably be right up to the last day," LeVert said Thursday, following U-M's 73-55 win over Illinois in the Big Ten tournament.
As for his thoughts on returning to school or entering the draft, LeVert remains undecided.
"Coming back next year would be very fun for me and very beneficial for me and the team as well," LeVert said. "Going to the NBA would also be fun. That's a lifetime dream. It's definitely going to be a tough decision."
That sounds different than the Robinson/Stauskas decisions. As of a couple weeks ago, Sam Webb thought that LeVert was leaning towards returning. So that would be nice.
With or without him, though, Michigan should be very deep and reasonably experienced. An approximate depth chart:
PG: Walton, Albrecht
SG: LeVert, MAAR
SF: Dawkins, Robinson
PF: Irvin, Chatman, Wagner(?)
C: Doyle, Donnal, Wilson
Swap the 2-4 spots to your desire. It's hard to find enough minutes for everyone if LeVert comes back: if Walton, Irvin, and LeVert all get 30 minutes and Spike gets 20—estimates that seem conservative—then MAAR, Dawkins, Robinson, and Chatman are all fighting over 50 minutes a game. Even the scenario with LeVert gone those guys can comfortably split 80.
If Michigan stays healthy, I predict autobench complaining plummets.
MAAR will go at you. Nanna Egwu is not exactly a complete basketball player—I'll miss him getting outrebounded by his entire team—but he is very long and contests shots well. Abdur-Rahkman doesn't care about that. He will drive on anyone and get a reasonable shot up; if it doesn't go in he's set the team up for a Kobe assist. Another year of development and he's definitely a guy who can fill in the point guard minutes Spike will evacuate.
FWIW. Michigan did offer Wagner, as you would expect for a guy who flew in from Germany. Rivals's Eric Bossi gives a ballpark estimate of where he'd be if he was ranked:
His shot looks good and he's very good in pick and pop situations between 12 and 17 feet, he has good skill level, though he's perhaps a bit mechanical in his movements at this time, and he's a good high post passer who competes on both ends but needs strength.
"He's on the NBA radar but not as an early entry guy just yet," Bossi said. "He's more on radar as somebody to monitor when he makes it to a college program."
If he were a part of the 2015 class (and he would come in this fall), he'd be a top 20 to 40 type prospect as an American prep.
Entering the season, Michigan expected Max Bielfeldt to reprise his role as the "break glass in case of emergency" third center for one last year before wishing him well in his future endeavors. Instead, Bielfeldt played his way ahead of Mark Donnal—more than doubling Donnal's minutes in conference play—and produced a little more on offense than starter Ricky Doyle.
With, for now, one scholarship open for 2015-16, it's no longer a certainty that Bielfeldt will move on from the program, even though he went through Senior Day festivities last weekend. The Daily's Lev Facher wrote yesterday that John Beilein hasn't ruled out a return...
“I would like him to go out and explore some options,” Beilein said. “We’ll look at some options and decide whether it’s a good option (for Bielfeldt) to come back.”
...and neither has Bielfeldt, who acknowledges the choice largely lies with Beilein:
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Bielfeldt said. “Family and friends ask me the same thing — I give them the same answer. I really don’t know. I just like knowing what my options are. I’m obviously just going to look for options and kinda weigh them out.”
This raises the obvious question: Is it a good idea to bring Bielfeldt back? The answer isn't as simple as it may appear.
|Michigan's pursuit of 2015 German forward Moritz Wagner may preclude Bielfeldt's return. [Fuller]|
Caris LeVert's upcoming decision could play a huge role in Michigan's choice regarding Bielfeldt. Despite his injury, LeVert is still projected to go in the first round by both DraftExpress (#18) and Chad Ford (#30), but over the last month there's been increased optimism that he'll return for his senior season.
A LeVert return would put Michigan one scholarship away from the 13-man limit—before counting Bielfeldt. That makes the decision-making process more clear-cut.
Michigan hosted 6'10" German forward Mortiz Wagner for a visit last weekend. Wagner, who'd be a freshman in 2015-16, is reportedly leaning towards college ball over playing professionally, and Sam Webb expects Michigan will be the choice if he takes the collegiate route ($). Beilein isn't going to turn down a potential four years from a talented prospect for one more season of a backup-quality player, even if Wagner is much more wing than post.
The Wolverines are also reportedly one of several schools in pursuit of Seton Hall transfer Jaren Sina, who'll sit 2015-16 due to NCAA transfer rules before playing out his final two seasons of eligibility. Given how active Michigan got with both late-emerging recruits (MAAR, Dawkins) and transfer candidates (Cole Huff) after the end of last season, it wouldn't surprise to see even more names emerge if the Wagner recruitment falls through.
What seems clear is that Beilein is keeping the possibility of a Bielfeldt return open as a backup plan, which to me is the approach that makes the most sense. Doyle and Donnal will be better next year—and hopefully less plagued by illness—while DJ Wilson, after plenty of time in the weight and film rooms, should be able to provide spot minutes at the five. Ideally, at least two of those three would progress to the point where Beilein wouldn't need to call on Bielfeldt for significant minutes.
While Bielfeldt's play down the stretch was a pleasant surprise, he still doesn't project as more than an ancillary player on a good team—life is tough for a 6'7" post that doesn't possess game-changing athleticism. Even if LeVert goes pro, it might be best for both parties to look at other options; Bielfeldt could see a larger role at a smaller school (or get his post-basketball career started) while Michigan could continue building for the future. If all else falls through, however, Bielfeldt is a nice fallback plan if he wants to return; he's proven he can be a contributor on this team.
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.
Hatch Gameday. Via MLive:
Positioned on the Crisler court alongside coach John Beilein and ESPN's Rece Davis and Jay Williams, Michigan freshman Austin Hatch looked up at the arena scoreboard as a his tale of loss and triumph played on the video screen.
If, by chance, a pin had hit the hardwood, you'd have heard it.
Beilein brushed a tear from his eye. As images of the 2011 plane crash that claimed Hatch's father and step-mother and left him in an eight-week coma flashed on the screen, Beilein rested his hand on Hatch's leg.
Hatch gave him an "it's OK" glance.
The nonsense of a 14 team conference defined. UNC and Wake are playing nonconference games in 2019 and 2021, because they'd rather do that than wait a zillion years to play each other again. Congratulations, conference commissioners.
This is a bump. Harbaugh was supposedly getting 7-8 million a year; he is not. The gap between his deal and his rumored deal seems to be headed to his assistants:
Michigan's coaching staff will have a fund of $4-5 million for assistant coaches, not including strength staff.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) January 23, 2015
That bumps at the same rate Harbaugh does. Michigan was at 3.5 last year; the top end of that scale would see them third nationally behind LSU and Alabama, pending everyone else throwing money at their assistants.
Other contract details. Harbaugh's deal is pretty standard. It specifies that he gets a private plane for recruiting, which I think we're all happy with. Saving time as you flit about and not dealing with commercial air travel are things that make sense for the head man. The rest of the terms are as favorable as you think they might be for a guy in that kind of demand: if Michigan fires him they're on the hook for the whole deal anyway; if he leaves his buyout is a pro-rated portion of his two million dollar signing bonus. IE, nothing.
Izzo is really something. Walter Pitchford got tossed three minutes in to the MSU-Nebraska game for throwing an elbow at Matt Costello. Tim Miles:
“I thought Walt deserved to get kicked out, after seeing it,” Miles said. “He made a mistake. I know he’s sorry for that mistake. He’s being held, he looks at the ref, but you don’t do that. That’s uncalled for. That’s not us. Walt will learn from that.”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Nebraska indirectly may have benefited from Pitchford’s ejection.
“I thought it energized them,” he said. “Calls went differently after that, like normally they do.”
Izzo could complain about winning the lottery.
Caris evaluated. Draft Express took the opportunity to evaluate Caris LeVert after the information NBA teams will get before next year's draft was abruptly finished by his foot injury. The upshot:
LeVert will need to decide now whether or not to return to Michigan for his senior season. The feedback he gets from NBA teams in the next few months will likely play a large role in that. While this is not considered a weak draft at the moment, it does look fairly shallow at the guard positions, which could help LeVert's stock.
Most places still have him as first round pick, though now he's out of the lottery. As a young junior he still has a lot of upside he could explore in college. Unfortunately, it's often hard for guys to come back when they go into a year expecting it will be their last in college. We saw that with Glenn Robinson III last year. GRIII entered the draft knowing full well he wasn't getting a guaranteed contract because of that momentum.
This is reasonably nasty. Kyle Connor will be a freshman next year.
— USHL (@USHL) January 24, 2015
He's projected as a first round pick.
So this guy exists. Not sure what job this gentleman landed:
— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) January 26, 2015
But he landed a job. Hastings played for D-II Washburn University, which I have just learned has one of the best logo/nickname combinations in college sports:
They are the Ichabods.
Anyway, after college Hastings kicked around the 49ers practice squad for a few years, then landed in the Eagles' front office. He's probably getting one of those analyst jobs Michigan was supposed to be adding.
Etc.: ESPN wants to move next year's semifinal playoff games from New Year's Eve because they're afraid of Ryan Seacrest. Seriously. Charles Pierce on deflategate is mandatory. Harbaughtweets power-ranked. Jon Falk on decals.
Caris LeVert came up limping following the final play against Northwestern last night and was seen on crutches after the game. Today, Michigan confirmed our worst fears—LeVert will miss the remainder of the season with a foot injury:
Junior guard Caris LeVert of the University of Michigan men's basketball team injured his left foot during Saturday's (Jan. 17) game vs. Northwestern and is scheduled to have surgery this week. He will miss the remainder of the season following a 12-week recovery and rehabilitation period. LeVert had surgery on the same foot this past May.
"Caris has been working so hard this season, and for this to happen is very unfortunate," said U-M head coach John Beilein. "If we know anything about Caris, he will do everything it takes to not only get better but to help his teammates during this time. He is a tremendous young man who I will really miss coaching the remainder of the season. However, I am optimistic he will have a complete recovery."
"While this is obviously not what I wanted, I know this team will come together and be stronger because of it," said LeVert. "Now more than ever, it is important for all of us support this team. For me, I am familiar with the recovery process and what work lies ahead for me. I am very confident that I will return 100 percent and have already begun work to ensure that happens."
This is obviously a huge blow to Michigan's hopes of making even the NIT. LeVert leads the team in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks; with Derrick Walton limited by injury, LeVert has often been the only Wolverine capable of creating his own shot. Freshmen Aubrey Dawkins and Kameron Chatman should see a major uptick in minutes with LeVert sidelined.
If this is the end of LeVert's Michigan career—despite a disappointing season, he's still been projected in the first round of the NBA draft by many experts—it's certainly been a good one. Here's hoping for a speedy and full recovery.