this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
1/20/2014 – Michigan 54, Rutgers 50 – 12-7, 5-2 Big Ten
BENCH MOB NO MORE [Bryan Fuller]
At one point last night Michigan's lineup consisted of two walkons, two freshmen who had been snatched off the who-dat heap right before the late signing period, and redshirt freshman Mark Donnal. At another point it was Walton, three freshmen, and 6'7" center Max Bielfeldt. To paraphrase the increasingly rat-faced gentleman to the west, Michigan was playing a lot of weird guys. This is how weird: they yoinked a redshirt off a walk-on. It's not going to plan, you guys.
And they won! They won because Rutgers is a basketball team in the same way North Korea is a tourist destination, but Sean Lonergan played 13 more minutes than Caris LeVert did. Michigan is a basketball team in the same way London after the black plague was a city. I'll take it.
In fact Michigan is a zombie in the same way a zombie is a zombie: lurching forward despite taking a staggering amount of damage. They've got their grobbly little teeth into five Big Ten teams already largely because Beilein has deep experience taking the undersized and faintly ridiculous farther than seems possible. I bet a small part of him thinks it's kind of fun he's throwing out a zillion different zones and deploying a rotation that occasionally grabs chemistry students out of Orgo lab. A part much smaller than the eyerolling demon that controls most of his precincts, but an extant one nonetheless.
It is this tiny part of our rage-filled selves we should seek to cultivate.
Against teams that don't yield 25 uncontested threes against a team that barely hints at activity in the paint, the projection is rougher. Michigan's projected to win four of their remaining 11 games on Kenpom and it's hard to dispute that as pessimistic, what with Kenpom unaware that Caris has gone away.
It's going to be ugly. And… I guess, fine, let's just get to it and move on. Michigan saw Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III, and Nik Stauskas depart for the NBA. Jon Horford followed his family's insane NBA dream to 18 minutes a game on a 10-8 SEC Team. (Note to Michigan basketball: if Tito Horford shows up with a babe in swaddling clothes, put it in the river and run.) Caris is kaput and there's obviously something bothering Walton when he's not rebounding his ass off. Irvin is not quite in a Hardaway-esque sophomore funk (still 35% from three) but he's rarely able to generate anything that isn't provided.
You can rip that pile of talent away from a Duke or a Kentucky and they will plug it back in because the next wave of seven-footers from the Nike tanks is just around the corner. Michigan, not so much.
It's a minor miracle that they've done what they have over the last few years without recruiting one-and-done types. Michigan effective experience over the last five years, out of about 350: 335, 207, 342, 330, 326. The only team in that bunch to not win an NCAA game was the 207 squad, which went out early against Ohio. They went to a national title game and nearly another final four in there. And the NBA swooped in on guys who nobody had heard of before they put on the block M.
At some point the wrong combination of guys was going to pop out and Michigan would be pretty bleah. That's this.
Thanks to the two horrendous nonconference losses Michigan would probably have to get to 11, maybe 12 conference wins to get a bid. I guess that's not impossible, but neither is it likely. Against the easiest part of their Big Ten schedule Michigan has five wins that were one-basket games sometime in the last five minutes and two decisive losses.
The only reason anyone is holding out a faint modicum of hope is that 1-6 team that wandered into Breslin and sprayed blood all over the place. If that happens, great. I'm resigned to the NIT and looking for blips of improvement whenever Dawkins skies over everyone or Doyle, like, plays. I was throwing things earlier this year when this improbable scaffold collapsed on itself; now I'm trying to have fun watching it go back up.
Oy. I guess it evened out a little by the end but man, the three point shooting was something else. Rutgers somehow conspired to give Michigan open look after open look and Michigan could not convert. Walton hit a couple key late ones to get Michigan to 8 of 26, 31%.
That's much less of a problem than going 39% from within the arc, but if that happens against non-Rutgers teams it's curtains. Most of them aren't going to give up anywhere near as many open looks, though.
Rutgers. Just fire Eddie Jordan now. To be that disorganized with two seniors and two juniors in your starting lineup is a spectacular condemnation of coaching ability even in year two.
Two pointers. There aren't any. Doyle is getting an acceptable number up at a good rate (66%), and that is it. Irvin is at 42%, Chatman a stunning 34%, Walton even worse at 33%… it's night and day from last year when Michigan got a ton of good looks and converted them.
Why that might be. Walton's inability to step forward and become a high-usage, high-efficiency guy is killing the offense. I don't think anyone really expected Irvin to drive a lot of shot-generating, so the burden from the departed Stauskas was bound to fall on LeVert and Walton. LeVert stepped up insofar as he could—big usage, big assist rate, poor efficiency inside the arc. Walton's TO rate is almost as high as his assist rate and he's not effective as a shooter.
I believe that turf toe is a major problem, but we'd better hope so because any renaissance starts with Walton being an all-conference level player.
Chatman versus Dawkins. If you had no idea who was the touted recruit you would pick Dawkins 100 times out of 100. He can leap out of the building, he's decently efficient shooting, and he does not do the very strange things Chatman does multiple times per game. And yet Dawkins was picking between Michigan and Dayton while Chatman was a top 50 recruit everywhere. Very strange.
We're going to explore the boundaries of what Dawkins can do now over the rest of th season, as he's showing some promise. He even had a take to the basket last game out.
This is how you know it's not your year. Spike's TO rate is over 20, and the second highest on the team. Last year he went through a big chunk of the Big Ten season with an infinite A:TO ratio.
Caris LeVert is out for the year. Several players were sick. Zak Irvin sat most of the first half with foul trouble. Derrick Walton didn't hit a shot until the game's waning minutes.
Sean Lonergan and Andrew Dakich played—at the same time. Aubrey Dawkins led the team in made field goals—with four. The Wolverines were 8/26 from beyond the arc—and 9/23 inside of it.
Michigan beat Rutgers on the road.
It wasn't aesthetically pleasing. It didn't make a whole lot of sense. It was... kinda fun?
The plucky underdog role suits this team, unburdened from expectations. The missteps are much more understandable, while stuff like "WALK-ON LAYUP OUT OF NOWHERE" provides genuine joy. The offense remained disjointed and relatively ineffective, but there's hope to be found in Aubrey Dawkins scoring an efficient 11 points, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman finishing a couple strong drives to the rim, Max Bielfeldt—Max Bielfeldt!—posting 8 and 8. While M didn't shoot the ball well from the outside, they generated a lot of good looks, and the defense—albeit Rutgers-aided tonight—continued to be pleasantly decent.
Losing the lead in the second half felt expected, not disastrous. Then Spike Albrecht scooped in a running layup, Walton drilled back-to-back triples, and Bielfeldt extended the lead with a three moments after he pulled down an offensive rebound. Walton and Irvin iced the game at the line, and just like that, Michigan is 5-2 in the Big Ten.
It's probably not going to last. Wisconsin comes to town on Saturday, and they're easily the best team in the conference. Then again, they lost to Rutgers last week. For tonight, let's celebrate the weird guys, in all their weird glory.
John Beilein's still got it.
Aside from Derrick Walton, Michigan couldn't hit an outside shot to save their lives against Minnesota, and for most of the game the offense stagnated. With a heavy dose of the 1-3-1 zone down the stretch, however, the Wolverines hung in the game with their defense, ultimately forcing 17 Gopher turnovers.
The master stroke from Beilein, though, came with 38 seconds left, when he called a timeout after a timely Caris LeVert steal with M holding a tenuous two-point lead. The play he drew up couldn't have worked better. Derrick Walton doubled back to take a Ricky Doyle screen, Doyle slipped to the basket unimpeded, and Walton tossed a lob that Doyle threw down with screaming emphasis on top of Minnesota's Maurice Walker. A Crisler Center crowd that spent most of the afternoon library-quiet followed Doyle's lead.
"He was the guy that was making us go," Beilein said of Walton. "Today was all about Derrick Walton." Walton's strong play down the stretch led to Beilein putting the ball in his hands on the game's critical play; with four options, including shooting it himself, it's safe to say Walton rewarded his coach's trust.
The Gophers couldn't recover, and a few Zak Irvin free throws provided the final margin. Despite all their struggles, Michigan now stands at 3-1 in the Big Ten, and just sent Minnesota reeling to 0-4.
While Michigan looked resplendent in their 1989 throwback uniforms, their play was anything but attractive for most of the game. They went 0/8 from three in the first half, allowed the Gophers far too many open looks from the perimeter, and eventually fell behind by as much as nine in the second half.
Then Walton took over in the latter half of the second stanza, scoring five straight points to cut the lead to seven, then throwing a fast break lob to Zak Irvin after crossing up a defender in the backcourt off a Spike Albrecht steal. A few minutes later, Walton gave Michigan the lead with another triple, assisted by a cross-court pass from LeVert, who'd later stretch the margin to five when he drew a foul on a three-point try of his own, then buried every free throw. Shortly after Andre Hollins, who scored a game-high 18 points, answered with a triple, LeVert stole a Hollins pass on the sideline; the fateful timeout ensued, and Doyle drove the final nail into the coffin.
Walton and LeVert each tallied 15 points to lead the Wolverines, though Walton did so in much more efficient fashion; he added five rebounds and three assists, while LeVert came away with four steals, three coming in the second half. Doyle, by far M's best big man on the day, scored 12 on 5/8 FGs, including a pivoting, Olajuwon-esque and-one to key the second-half rally; he also pulled in four offensive rebounds. Zak Irvin, who continued to struggle with his shot, chipped in 12 points. Spike Albrecht (six) and Kam Chatman (two) were the only other Wolverines to score on the day.
Even though Michigan continued to have a hard time getting their shots to fall, they found a way to pull out a tough game against a Minnesota squad whose conference record belies their quality. Active zone defense bailed the Wolverines out time and again down the stretch. Add in a little Beilein clipboard wizardry, and suddenly Michigan is riding back-to-back wins into a showdown in Columbus on Tuesday.
LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLOOR
Michigan easily dispatched an overmatched Coppin State squad to snap their four-game losing streak, coasting to a 16-point victory that wasn't as close as the score would indicate. The above GIF is more representative.
Ricky Doyle led the team with a career-high 16 points, going 6/7 from the field; he could've had even more if not for a 4/9 mark from the free-throw line. Derrick Walton recorded a career high in assists for the second straight year against CSU, dishing out nine in addition to scoring nine points.
Zak Irvin hit 3/7 three-pointers on his way to 13 points while hauling in seven boards. Caris LeVert did solid work on the glass as well, pulling down eight rebounds on top of his eight points. Kam Chatman added nine points, Mark Donnal eight, and the bench got plenty of run.
That included Austin Hatch, who tallied his first official career point at the line after getting fouled on a three-pointer that he very nearly sunk. After Hatch narrowly missed another opportunity from the corner, John Beilein called timeout to sub him out and allow the crowd a chance to give him a standing ovation. It was quite a moment to cap off a much-needed win.
11/24/2014 – Michigan 70, Oregon 63 – 4-0
Tight all the way. Announcers will proclaim basketball A Game Of Runs. This was a game of ambles, or strolls, or little rabbit hops. The entire game was played in a narrow window between tied and Michigan +8, causing maximum tension throughout. Michigan would push out to five or six or that lovely 8 that one time and then Oregon would hit a three or get a rebound putback and the tension would ratchet up again.
This was a nice reminder that it is possible to have feelings about sports.
I'm soaked in joy [Joseph Dressler]
Hello Ricky Doyle. The obvious story of the game: after a paltry two minutes against Detroit, Doyle came off the bench to register 24 of the game-winning variety.
His defense was worlds better than anyone else available at center. He was capable of hedging hard, Morgan-style, and recovering. He brought a shot-altering presence. There were a number of opportunities to compare him directly to Donnal as Oregon attempted to post both guys up as likely weaknesses. Doyle gave up a series of difficult attempts that ended in misses and took multiple charges; Donnal gave up buckets and gave fouls. There was a particularly revealing sequence midway through the second half when Michigan tried to steal a few minutes with Donnal and had to lift him after Oregon went right at him on back-to-back possessions.
Doyle also displayed a knack for finishing around the rim, going 4/5 on the night. He went up strong when provided the opportunity to, and as described in the game recap his savvy on the sealing putback was beyond his years. I was like KICK IT OUT, he was like KICK IT OUT, Oregon was like HE'S GOING TO KICK IT OUT WE HAVE TO STOP THIS, and Doyle was able to recognize a lack of options in that department and deliver a mansome finish against three guys.
And about two minutes into the game he was leaving a trail of sweat behind him, hair plastered to his head. That shot on the right makes him look like the world's largest Rascal. I can't find this to credit it but someone suggested we call him "Ice Bucket" because he perpetually looks like he just took the Ice Bucket Challenge. Big, big night.
Eclipse of the Beilein. I would be surprised to find another game in Beilein's tenure at Michigan—or anywhere—with as few three-point attempts as that one. Michigan launched just 13, hitting 5, compared to 33 two-point attempts. Oregon refused to sag and their zero-center lineup featuring a lot of quick guys provided few opportunities to get them out of alignment.
The cost for Oregon was allowing a ton of driving lanes. That is normally not a huge problem for a Michigan opponent, but LeVert was able to get to the basket and draw a whopping 13 FTAs; as a team Michigan had 29, with only a few due to late-game fouling.
The contrast in LeVert's game between long shots—3 of 13 on the night from the field—and drives was stark. LeVert had a number of Long Contested Isolation Jumpers that banged off the back rim and set up Oregon's transition game. The drives got Michigan vital points and set Oregon against a half-court defense. This was no doubt the message Beilein was sending with an unusually fiery rant during a late timeout.
YOUTH IS WASTED ON THE YOUNG [Bryan Fuller]
Chatman starts strong, then wobbles. We saw Kam Chatman's best burst of play as a Wolverine in the first few minutes of the game. He set up Mark Donnal for an easy dunk and had a sinuous finish of his own. Then things got rough, on both ends. Michigan eventually yanked him after some defensive breakdowns; before that he'd bricked another three and missed two of his four FTAs wildly.
There hasn't been much to indicate that anyone else is ready to take those minutes, so Michigan is going to have to keep rolling with him and hope he can be more like that guy early instead of that guy late.
Irvin: not just a shooter. Zak Irvin joined the parade of guys heading to the bucket, drawing a couple fouls and finishing some swooping drives smoothly. Early yet, but so far he seems to have a good feel for when he can attack closeouts and looks much more comfortable doing so than GRIII or THJ ever did. I've been wary about the idea Irvin is going to become a complete offensive player because of those two antecedents; so far, so good.
Beilein autobench ack. Walton was limited to six points in 24 minutes as the Beilein autobench saw him out for most of the first half and for five or so minutes in the second. I love John Beilein but… Walton averaged 2.5 fouls per 40 last year. Michigan voluntarily fouled him out of this game.
Silver lining is that he'll be relatively fresh for tonight's game. Michigan had its usual early-season-tourney spate of weird lineups in the first half, but with the game on the line and no bench players other than Doyle distinguishing themselves, Michigan had to go with a heavy, heavy dose of LeVert (39 minutes) and Irvin (38 minutes). Hell, Spike got 35 himself. If Michigan's going to win against 'Nova, Walton's going to have to have a huge game.
Rebounding issues. Oregon came in averaging big piles of OREBs, as you might expect from a team with a lot of bouncy 6'6" guys who crash the boards. You'd want Michigan to do better than they did, though. Oregon rebounded almost half their misses.
The fives were overwhelmed not by length but by numbers. Neither Donnal nor Doyle pulled in a DREB—Doyle did have three on the other end—but with 11 OREBs between the three main Duck forwards it's hard to put the blame on them exclusively.
One issue: another rough night for Chatman forced Michigan to use a Spike lineup featuring Irvin at the 4 for most of the second half.
The damage. Via hoop-math, 10 of the 18 Oregon OREBs were immediately put back up, with seven buckets resulting. That's the only reason this game was close. Can Michigan do anything about it is the question.
Physics is a dead end, Shon. How is the wreckage of the Indiana program going, Tom Crean?
11/20/2014 - Michigan 71, Detroit 62 - 3-0
Blow-by. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Apparently necessary perspective. Hoo boy, I guess making the point that having three players account for over three-quarters of the team's points may not be ideal in the long run equated to PANIC for many. It's admittedly difficult to make a nuanced point in a gamer written moments after the final buzzer, so allow me to flesh this out a little more.
It's November. The team has five scholarship non-freshmen. Of course there are going to be growing pains, areas of concern, and the like at this juncture. That's far from saying those issues won't be resolved, or at least mitigated, as the season progresses; on the flip side, that doesn't mean those areas aren't worth pointing out. Michigan is too reliant on their three starting guards right now. The freshmen centers and Kameron Chatman do have to step up, or there will be too many ways to exploit this team, especially when they face larger opponents.
John Beilein still coaches this team, though. In-season improvement isn't just the hope, it's the established expectation, and one only has to think back to the Charlotte game last season for perspective; every basketball team is going to have their share of ugly outings, and Michigan just beat a team with a pulse by nine in such a game.
Another helpful tack. Take a look at the recent scores of the upcoming marquee opponents on Michigan's schedule.
- Oregon, Michigan's opponent next Monday, went into halftime tied at home against this same Detroit team four days ago. They pulled away and won by 17; if the Titans had decided to start fouling at a reasonable time last night, Michigan's final margin might've been very similar.
- Villanova, the most likely opponent if Michigan advances to the final of the Legends Classic (it'll be 'Nova or VCU), nearly lost to Bucknell—the squad M whomped by 24 points—at home last night, needing a late run to win by a misleading seven points after the Bison took a 65-63 lead with 1:51 remaining. 'Nova also had a six-point second-half deficit against #237 Lehigh in their season opener before pulling away.
- VCU, for their part, had a lot of trouble at home against #113 Toledo on Tuesday. The Rockets held a four-point lead midway through the second half and were as close as one point back with three minutes to play before VCU's press forced a few critical turnovers to close it out.
- Syracuse played Cal in Madison Square Garden last night, a neutral-site game that essentially functioned as a home game. The Bears entered the evening as KenPom's #63-ranked squad. Cal won by 14.
- SMU is now 1-2 thanks to a tough schedule and some ugly play; after losing by 16 at Gonzaga on Monday, they committed 19 turnovers on their way to losing by six at Indiana last night, coughing up a 12-point first-half lead in the process.
So let's not freak out just yet.
Derrick Walton! I think this is something that often comes through better in person than on TV, but Walton's court vision in transition is something to behold. It's tough to run a 3-on-2 break better than this:
The move to initiate the break is slick, but the real moment of excellence here is the little dive into the lane just before the pass; even though Max Bielfeldt's spacing here isn't ideal, Walton forces the two Detroit defenders to collapse into the paint, and in doing so he also shortens the pass to Irvin. Walton could've easily stayed wide to the left and tried a cross-court pass to Irvin, but that would've given the far-side defender time to get out and contest the shot. Instead, he hits Irvin in rhythm, and Detroit can only contest the shot late, which is doom against Irvin.
Walton and Caris LeVert are both rebounding very well—both, in fact, have top-200 defensive rebound rates at this very early juncture—and that's allowing Michigan to get out in transition, where they're absolutely lethal.
A quiet 21-9-3. LeVert's final stat line looked darn impressive despite a very uneven performance. I'd still like to see him finish more of his drives at the rim instead of settling for pull-up jumpers, but he managed to knock down a couple of those shots last night, and at some point you just shrug and let the NBA prospect take NBA shots; LeVert's 46% shooting mark inside the arc matches his percentage from last season, and that's while shouldering a bigger offensive load without Nik Stauskas around to stretch defenses thin.
Meanwhile, LeVert's got a 25.6% assist rate against just a 11.1% turnover rate, his defensive rebound rate ranks 83rd(!) nationally, and he's been very active on defense. When his outside shot starts falling, and it will, he's going to post some absurd stat lines.
The go-to lineup. This is where those lingering concerns come to the forefront. Michigan's best lineup for the past couple games has been Albrecht-Walton-LeVert-Irvin-Bielfeldt, and I don't think that's going to hold up in the long run—the lineup has its considerable upsides but also some major shortcomings.
The positives: Spike Albrecht has been fantastic thus far this year at generating offense for others, and he found his shot last night, too. With him out there, Walton can crash the defensive boards a little more—and subsequently get M out on the break in a hurry—and spot up for those killer corner threes on the other end. This is also Michigan's most experienced lineup, so their halfcourt offense runs smoothly; these guys know where to be, which isn't the case at the moment with the freshmen.
The negatives: Michigan hasn't faced a big, strong-rebounding team yet, and I'm skeptical of how well this lineup will hold up in that regard once they do. That would be a huge problem, as this lineup would have to continue rebounding at a phenomenal rate to make up for the fact that there's zero rim protection with Bielfeldt at the five and Irvin at the four. Detroit had a few disturbingly easy layups against this group when they were able to get past a perimeter defender; once that happened, they didn't face any resistance.
I think this is a stopgap while the freshmen figure it out, and nothing more than a situational lineup against better teams. Detroit didn't have the size or post skill to attack them at their weakest point; that won't be the case in a week, and definitely not in Big Ten season.
Beilein has been visibly frustrated with his freshmen. [Fuller]
Withholding judgment. Kameron Chatman is struggling out there. DJ Wilson has no clue where he's supposed to be on the court. Mark Donnal blew a layup last night. Ricky Doyle put up a two trillion. John Beilein is unhappy with their development, and it's not hard to see why.
Here's where I scream IT'S THREE GAMES INTO THEIR FRESHMAN SEASONS. Chatman has played the most out of any of these guys, a whole 60 minutes across three games. There are people drawing big-picture conclusions about him and the others from seeing them play basketball for an hour or less. One. Hour. These guys get more burn in a single practice than they have so far this season.
TOTALLY RANDOM ASIDE: In Trey Burke's first official game, against Ferris State, he shot 1/7 from the field with a 0:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Chatman's offensive woes have been disconcerting, sure, but he's also missing shots that are going to start falling; he's 1/5 at the rim this season. His field goal misses from the free-throw area have often come off awkward drives; when he had the chance to catch-and-shoot last night, he stroked an 18-footer from the right elbow, a shot that very much looks repeatable. He's shown flashes of being a very good passer. His rebounding rates are passable and should only improve.
Chatman has a ways to go on defense, but he's already advanced in his ability to disrupt passing lanes. Looking at what guys like D'Angelo Russell and James Blackmon Jr. are doing as true freshmen—in less complicated offenses, with entirely different roles—isn't fair to the kid, and a slow start doesn't mean he won't flourish as early as this season.
The bigs have barely played enough to even have a half-baked opinion, let alone a fully-formed one. Just because Beilein finally has the luxury to put a senior, however limited in terms of size and athleticism, out there to show them how it's done doesn't mean Donnal/Doyle/Wilson won't be critical parts of the rotation going forward.
— Sactown Royalty (@sactownroyalty) November 21, 2014
It's gonna be okay, everyone.