fair point that
11/15/2014 – Michigan 92, Hillsdale 68, 1-0
AHHHHHHHHHHHH basketball exists [Dustin Johnston/UMHoops]
No drama just bullets:
Big three. Big three. Big three. Chances a basketball podcast uses "The Big Three Killed My Baby"—the White Stripes' screechy intro to the world off their self-titled debut—are 99.9%. Outside of the uber-recruit laden one-and-done factories There are few in the country who can match Michigan 1 to 3. The backcourt troika all went over 20 points efficiently, and there is more where that came from.
Yes, just a D-II team, but even so Walton/Irvin/LeVert all cracked 20 points on 13-ish shot equivalents. None of these guys got their points via volume. As a result, they picked up where they left off last year at 1.33 points per possession. Single-game ORTGs for the big three: 170, 166, and 144. That's nuts.
Usage was also in the same range it was last year: the six guys who cracked ten minutes all had their usage fall between 16 (Chatman) and 25 (Albrecht!) percent. Last year's Michigan team was efficient in part because no individual player had a particularly heavy load. Even without Stauskas they look ready to repeat that feat.
- LeVert looks ready to take over the late-shot-clock mantle capably handled by Burke and Stauskas the last couple years. He's a long 6'7" with an excellent ability to get to his spot and get off a clean jumper, and that's a fine option when you have to get a shot off, any shot. Also he had nine assists. And eight rebounds.
- Walton, meanwhile, is also verging on being able to get what he wants when he wants it. He got the the line ten times, had four assist and just one TO. I don't want to talk about a Trey leap yet… but hey man Beilein point guards have gotten really really good in year two. Hell, you could even throw Stauskas in there if you want.
- Irvin didn't fill up the box score like he did against Wayne State; he did show off a couple of drives off of closeouts that were absent from his game last year. He was actually 5/6 from inside the line… which is about a month's worth of games from last year.
In re: Irvin twos: About half of those were THJ-style pull-up jumpers just inside the line. You know me and my hatred of long twos, but even I have to admit those looked like they might go down often enough to be a decent option.
[After THE JUMP: the five spot, defensive issues, calmer than you are.]
They stuck to the script.
Michigan raises banners on opening day now. They did so again today, hoisting the 2014 Big Ten title banner to the rafters and handing out rings in a pregame ceremony. Continuing tradition, the biggest names from that championship squad weren't able to attend due to professional obligations; Glenn Robinson III was absent, and the parents of Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas, and Jordan Morgan stood in for their sons who've taken the next step.
After all the hubbub before tipoff, a familiar scene for the returners but not for the squad's six freshmen, the Wolverines came out flat, allowing Hillsdale to ride hot outside shooting to a 15-6 lead. Then Michigan roared back by doing what they do best: shooting the rock. Three consecutive triples tied the score before M took the lead for good with a Kameron Chatman basket with 8:59 to go in the half.
Michigan leaned heavily on their veterans for production, and they came through in a big way. Caris LeVert flirted with a triple-double, posting a 20-8-9 line while hitting 4/6 three-point attempts. Derrick Walton may have been even better, leading the team with 22 points (5/8 FG, 9/10 FT), dishing out four assists, and masterfully running the Michigan fast break. Zak Irvin diversified his shooting a bit, adding several midrange buckets and even a few strong drives to the hoop on his way to 21 points on 8/12 field goals. The three stars lived up to the billing.
The rest, as expected, is a work-in-progress. Hillsdale knocked down 10/23 three-pointers in large part because the new faces in the lineup struggled on defense, especially working through the myriad off-ball screens set by the Chargers.
The freshmen showed their talent and their youth. Mark Donnal earned the start at center, had a couple nifty layups, worked hard on the offensive glass, hit a nice-looking mid-range jumper in the second half, and defended quite well for the most part, but also allowed a couple of easy buckets. Kam Chatman went 1/7 for 4 points in 30 minutes and allowed too many open shots; he also passed the ball well and had a stellar crossover in transition that led to an and-one opportunity.
Aubrey Dawkins sunk a three and seemingly reached into the upper bowl to rip down an offensive board in his limited time on the court. Ricky Doyle scored seven points in eight minutes but didn't look as quick to rotate on defense as Donnal. DJ Wilson played the entirety of his nine minutes at the five and pulled down four boards but didn't make a major impact otherwise. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman missed his pair of shots in four minutes of play, though he did display the ability to blow by defenders.
While the victory was hardly in doubt for most of the game, Michigan wasn't able to truly put it away until around nine minutes remained, and the Wolverines extended a 12-point lead all the way out to 30 over the course of the next several minutes.
In the end, it felt like an early-season cupcake game should for such a young team. The team won comfortably while getting enough of a test to have several areas of improvement to emphasize before Monday night's game against Bucknell, this squad's first against D-I competition. In the meantime, Michigan fans can rest comfortably knowing that this team can still shoot (11/19 from three) and the stars look ready to shine.
11/10/2014 – Michigan 86, Wayne State 43 – 0-0
Hey: basketball. I took in the exhibition, which exhibited various things I'll now detail.
I hope this was just nerves. Freshmen had a rough shooting night with the limited exceptions of Doyle and Dawkins, none more so than Chatman. He airballed his first two threes, took a bad, contested long two, and bricked a THJ-style pull-up long two; he did hit a three late.
On the good side, his other bucket was an impressive drive to the basket with a finish that made a lot of people look at their buddy so they could do this:
He also added four assists and led the team in rebounding with six; he also looked capable of switching on the perimeter at least as effectively as GRIII.
Shooting was never a strength for Robinson—he developed an elbow jumper he was proficient at but hovered around 30% from three—so even if Chatman isn't a great threat from deep Michigan won't be backsliding too much. And Beilein believes he can coach up anyone's three point stroke.
DJ Wilson. Wilson's going to be an interesting case this year. He's skinny as all git out but with his size and hops he's going to be much better at altering shots than anyone on last year's team other than Horford. Michigan has been playing him mostly at the 5 with occasional forays at the 4, and while Doyle's lingering ankle thing has something to do with that you get the feeling that when opponents have a lanky dude in there Michigan is going to counter with Wilson.
I could have sworn Wilson hit two late threes but the box score only gives him credit for one. Foot on the line? Either way he mitigated some of the freshman shooting questions by hitting those late.
Aubrey Dawkins. Skinnier version of GRIII. Can shoot some, 6'6", athletic, not going to create much. Had some issues dribbling.
MAAR. Or "Rahk." Rahk appears to be Beilein's favorite way of saying Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman without taking up nine syllables, and it has its appeal.
Anyway, MAAR has a much better handle than the rest of the freshman and is your third point guard. He had a nice take to the hoop that he followed with a layup that was way too hard; he had a second drive on which he'd gotten an angle to the bucket when his handle betrayed him and the ball looped out of bounds.
He ended up not hitting a shot; early yet.
Center fight. There are four options: Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, DJ Wilson, and Max Bielfeldt. I expect Doyle to emerge into a clear starter, with Donnal giving him a breather. The lack of pick and pop game with Donnal on the court says somethin' about somethin'.
Doyle is both one inch taller and somehow way bigger than Donnal. He seems to have considerably more defensive upside. He's also finished much better around the basket in the two glimpses we've seen of him this fall. Donnal has been a below the rim Morgan type without Morgan's crazy efficiency; Doyle is finishing with both hands easily because he's got those super-huge hands and long arms that allow him to gently deposit the ball on the glass from whatever angle is called for.
This person looks like a person who will finish around the rim. [Fuller]
Wilson will rotate in at the 4 and the 5 depending on matchups and how Chatman's seemingly mercurial shooting stroke is going.
The returning folks. All looked pretty good minus some uncharacteristic three-point foibles (Irvin, Walton, Albrecht, and LeVert combined to go 3 for 12) that we can ignore because we have full-season samples for all those guys in which they hit 40% from deep.
I got this [Fuller]
LeVert looked ready to take on the alpha dog mantle passed down from Burke to Stauskas and now to him. He's taking the late clock shots; his length and ability to get to good spots on the floor mean these are usually okay shots.
Irvin was much more active on the boards, hauling in five rebounds in 29 minutes, and even had shots from within the arc(!). On the podcast we discussed how Irvin needs to be a "three AND" guy this year, whether that's perimeter defense or rebounding or sometimes venturing inside the line. So far so good.
Walton was hampered by a scary-looking injury that turned out to be a cramp; he was very assured on the ball and got to the line seven times—would have been eight if not for the injury.
The rotation. Until such time as one of the freshmen gains enough trust to be put out there in pressure situations, expect the main backcourt sub to be Spike. Beilein's always kept a short bench and Albrecht's utterly reliable with the ball in his hands. This is Beilein's favorite thing. He'll spot Walton for eight minutes a game and then Michigan will have ten or so minutes with both points on the floor, leaving 5-10 minutes for MAAR and Dawkins to scrap over.
A lack of flow. You know it's early and you've got a bunch of freshmen when your guards have to keep yelling at the posts to screen for them. Michigan used its time on offense inefficiently, with several incidents where plays had to be reset because of poor spacing and miscommunication.
In particular, there was one play featuring DJ Wilson where Wilson had two obvious opportunities to drift to the three point line in the corner and either force someone out of the middle or get a good shot. Instead he hung out 15 feet from the basket and neither option opened up. He was far from the only culprit, but that stood out as a moment where I may have been more familiar with Beilein's system than freshman X—I blinked a couple times because I couldn't understand what Wilson was doing.
Beilein seems pretty frustrated right now:
"We don’t have a very good package in, and I’m trying to figure out how that’s happened,” Beilein said. “We held things back today so it’s not on film, but it’s not very far right now. We’re creeping along. We’re moving in the right direction, but it’s really slow.”
He added, “It’s my biggest quandary every day, is whether we can move forward faster. We spend so much time on defense, because we realize that shots aren’t (always) going to drop. It’s hard to believe that we went to Europe and we aren’t further along and we’re not moving as quickly as I would have in past years.”
This team isn't appreciably younger than either of his previous two, which were amongst the youngest in the country. Hopefully they get it figured out before the preseason tourney rolls around.
How to stay good
Michigan endured yet another talent exodus this offseason and has to regress from last year's all-time Kenpom offensive efficiency record. To maintain their elite level they're going to have to make it up in other places. Here are a few candidates.
Rebound some low-hanging fruit. Michigan's rebounding production out of the 3 and 4 spots last year was not impressive. 6'6" PF Glenn Robinson had a 6% OREB rate and an 11.5 DREB rate; 6'6" SF Zak Irvin had a 3.3% OREB rate and a 7.7 DREB rate. Irvin was in fact the least likely guy on the team to get a defensive rebound—even Spike Albrecht beat him out.
A selection of 6'7"-ish forwards in the Big Ten last year:
- Troy Williams, IU: 8 OREB and 15 DREB
- LaQuinton Ross, OSU: 7.5 and 17
- Terran Petteway, NEB: 3 and 15
- Shavon Shields, NEB: 5 and 16
- Jon Ekey, ILL: 8 and 15
- Aaron White, Iowa: 7 and 19
- Melsahn Basabe, Iowa: 12 and 23
- Branden Dawson, MSU: 13 and 21
- Denzel Valentine, MSU: 5 and 18
(Should be noted that the Nebraska guys' OREB rates are a reflection of a team-wide allergy.) It isn't too hard to find guys with much better production. While Dawson and White are rebounding specialists who find a lot of their value as players in what happens when a shot caroms off the rim, no one is going to mistake Williams, Petteway, Valentine, or Ross for D-oriented role players.
Michigan can seriously beef up production here, and so far so good. Chatman led the team with six rebounds; Irvin had five.
Block some dang shots. Michigan had vanishingly little shotblocking on the team last year. Michigan was 308th nationally, and this contributed to their very bad two-point D.
The freshmen promise to change that. Wilson is long and bouncy and once Doyle settles in it's easy to see him getting his share of swats. His arms are oversized. Michigan had six blocks in this game, albeit against a highly undersized opponent. If Doyle and Wilson can block some shots, alter others, and convince drivers to pull up because of the first two items, that goes some distance towards repairing last year's conference-worst two point D.
Get some steals. Steals are great. Open-court turnovers lead to transition opportunities on which Michigan is deadly. Michigan had eight, with the sneaky Spike Albrecht picking up three.
Stay in front. We all love Nik Stauskas but his defense was never a strong suit; meanwhile Robinson was not awesome laterally and gave up some inches to most of the guys he was checking. Replacing Stauskas with Irvin could be a major upgrade—too early to tell yet—and having athletes like Chatman and Wilson who are close to GRIII's level while also being significantly longer should help the D recover from its swoon into the triple digits on Kenpom.
Hooray basketball. Hooray not being scoreless 30 minutes into the game.
The Michigan basketball team held their media day yesterday at the Crisler Center, and the theme of the afternoon was a familiar one: the team's youth. The players discussed leadership, the progress of the six freshmen, and much more; here's what I managed to get on the recorder yesterday.
Soph. Guard Derrick Walton
On his shooting getting better last year: “I understood that there were guys like Nik and Caris, the guys that waited their turn, it was their time to do the things that they’d sat and watched other guys do. I was very comfortable letting those guys make the plays and just contribute to the team any way I could, and that was one of the ways.”
On what prompted him starting: “Just starting to feel more comfortable, getting back and doing the things I was used to doing. Like I said, I was just happy contributing any way I could last year.”
On being comfortable becoming assertive this year: “Of course I have. We talk about it almost every day, just how it important it is for me to be aggressive this year. I want to be successful, so I take it upon myself, and my teammates encourage me every day, so I think I’m doing a good job with it.”
On being the point guard: “I try to find my balance and know that there are other guys who are very capable of making plays. It all depends on the situation. It’s hard to predetermine what may happen, so I just try to play it as is.”
On getting the ball into the post: “To be honest with you, this is the exact same thing we did last year. It just so happens this year we’re getting the ball into the post more. That’s the way it’s been thus far. I honestly don’t see a big difference between what we did last year and what we’re doing this year, there’s just guys getting more looks in the post.”
On his comfort level in the system this year: “Yeah, just knowing all the ins and outs of the offense, knowing how and when to pick my spots, just having a year under your belt in the system, it’s a big leap, that’s all I can say, from freshman to sophomore year, there’s a lot of stuff now that I didn’t even recognize last year.” (2:56.8)
On playing more with the ball in his hands this season: “That’s kinda been my M.O. my entire life. Just sitting back and having to watch another guy do it wasn’t a big deal. I’m just capitalizing on the opportunity I have right now.”
On this year being a return to normalcy for him: “It was different in some ways, but like I said, I was focused on winning and helping the team in any way. That was the role I was given, so I just tried to excel in it as much as possible.”
[Hit THE JUMP for quotes from Caris LeVert, Ricky Doyle, DJ Wilson, and Andrew Dakich.]
Let's get this out of the way: Michigan loses Nik Stauskas, and it's never good to lose a Nik Stauskas. Players that brutally efficient who can also shoulder such a large workload don't come around often; ditto shooters of that caliber. If you're expecting someone to step up and be Nik Stauskas, you will almost assuredly be disappointed.
If you're simply looking for excellent play out of Michigan's starting two and three, however, you should be quite happy this season. Caris LeVert has progressed in a scant two years from beyond-skinny-kid-who's-redshirting to beyond-skinny-kid-who's-too-good-to-redshirt to less-skinny-but-still-very-skinny-#2-scorer to, now, 200-pound-NBA-lottery-prospect. Zak Irvin entered last season as a top-30 prospect and showed absolutely no fear as an unabashed gunner off the bench; even if he doesn't diversify his game as a sophomore, which would surprise, he'll be a critical part of the offense.
LeVert will be the top option this season, and his ability to create off the dribble will be even more crucial with Stauskas in the NBA. Irvin steps into a starting role, and his shooting will be even more crucial with Stauskas in the NBA. While no one man can replace Stauskas, a reasonable step forward from each of these two can go a long way towards doing so.
[Hit THE JUMP for detailed breakdowns of each player.]
"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." — Ralph Waldo Emerson
John Beilein tends his garden. Yet another year of turnover means another year of intense cultivation.
He once had a Shooter, which bloomed into a stunning Not Just A Shooter™. His Tantalizing Athlete blossomed into an Emphatic Finisher. The Quiet Generic Big Man, through years of care, sprouted into an Imposing Leader of Men and Taker of No Shit. Only the Magnus Catulus failed to effloresce into something entirely different; even the greatest gardener can't control the weather.
Michigan enters the 2014-15 season in a familiar position, loaded with talent but forced to reload. Gone to the NBA are Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary; Jordan Morgan's brought his salty style of basketball to Italy; Jon Horford's on-court meditation sessions will now take place in Gainesville.
The Wolverines roster isn't barren, of course. The string bean that was Caris LeVert is now a guru-approved NBA lottery prospect, and he's much less stringy, too. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin promise growth in their second years on campus. Spike Albrecht's steady hand will once again be available off the bench. A bevy of young big men of all shapes and sizes hope to fill the void left by the trio of departing centers.
I cannot and will not forget that the Bench Mob—led by the exuberant Andrew Dakich—returns in force, which brings me to the other Emerson quote I considered placing atop this post.
Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
John Beilein may run a sophisticated offense that takes time and great discipline to master, but the aura around his program has always been one of a loose, joyful group. It's infectious. It's changed the feeling of going to the Crisler Center as much as the exquisite renovations. Hell, it's carrying fans through football season, even as uncertainty again looms over the basketball team.
I don't know if Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal, Max Bielfeldt, and DJ Wilson are a suitable set of big men to make another title run in what of late has been the nation's best basketball conference. I don't know if the loss of Stauskas will leave Michigan one shot-creator short of having another elite offense. I don't know if Kam Chatman can step into GRIII's spot and replace his production. I don't know if Derrick Walton will take a Burkeian sophomore leap. I don't know if Zak Irvin is really more than Just A Shooter. I don't know if last year's regression on defense can be reversed with such a young rotation.
I'm comfortable with not knowing, however, because this isn't the first time. There's plenty I do know, as well. I know that Michigan posted the best adjusted offensive efficiency in the history of KenPom last season, when they had to replace Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
I know that the last time the Wolverines weren't considered a preseason top-three Big Ten team, they went 13-5 to grab a share of the conference crown. This season, with Wisconsin the heavy favorites over a jumble of teams with serious question marks, it appears Michigan will be in the same position.
I know that John Beilein is coaching this team, and that means I have no need to worry.
I know, above all, that basketball season will be fun. This isn't the highest bar to set, but as we've learned all too well from football, it's far from the lowest.
There are 27 days until Michigan opens the season with an exhibition against Wayne State. In that span, I'll be writing a lot of preview content, and much of it will focus on the questions this team must answer to live up to the standard that Beilein has created in Ann Arbor.
There's no question about this, however: it's time to start getting excited, because Beilein's green thumb will once again dig up those virtues most other coaches would never discover.