I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
2/17/2012 – Michigan 79, Penn State 71 – 22-4, 9-4 Big Ten
Y U NO PLAY DEFENSE (Bryan Fuller)
A home game against Penn State is supposed to be a laugher, and on one side of the ball it was. Michigan put up 1.2 points a possession even without the participation of their centers—literally. McGary, Horford, and Morgan combined for zero points in 43 minutes. No one really noticed because Glenn Robinson III spent most of the day playing NBA Jam and Nik Stauskas was so much more than a shooter that it took five or six drives before something akin to "Not Just A Shooter" got exhumed by the announcers. Michigan did what it does, on one side of the ball.
On the other side of the ball, raise your hand if DJ Newbill's umpteenth only vaguely resisted drive to the basket in the first half caused you to exclaim a variant on "you have got to be kidding me." That's everyone.
Now raise your hand if that exclamation included a swear word you invented on the spot. That's probably just me, but it got bad. Michigan turned to Matt Vogrich in the second half. Since Stauskas was going off this was presumably a move to shore up the defense; Vogrich promptly lost his guy and gave up open corner threes on consecutive possessions. The first one was a reaction to a bad McGary gamble, sure. The second… dot dot dot. At many points Penn State should have been down 15, and the scoreboard said they were down by 3 or 5.
This felt bizarrely familiar to me, and I figured out why: I've watched a lot of NC State this year. This game was disturbingly reminiscent of watching the Wolfpack play. This is not good. You get a window into the psyche of another fanbase when you adopt them as Michigan-by-proxy, and I think NC State fans are pretty pissed off that their combination of players is barely over .500 in a weak ACC. I kind of hate them myself because they combine some breathtaking talent with total indifference on defense. They can beat Duke; they can give up 86 points to Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
Finding a shadow of that team in this Michigan outfit that was until recently cruising towards a one-seed is not fun. This is analysis! This is Thunderdome!
Oh, but that shadow is there. Click the conference-only checkbox on Kenpom and you get a shocking splash of red:
Michigan is easier to shoot against than anyone in Big Ten play. Easier than Nebraska. Easier than Iowa. Easier than Penn State. Easier than Illinois despite Illinois playing with big men that may in fact be ghosts. Easier than the crippled husk of Northwestern.
Northwestern is the Rasputin of the Big Ten: shot, stabbed, poisoned, shot again, trampled by horses, chucked in the river. Finally dead and bloated, they are aimlessly floating towards the next life. It's harder to shoot against them than Michigan.
It gets worse when you consider the low number of transition opportunities Michigan provides since they're so responsible with the ball on offense. It has nothing to do with possibly-meaningless three-point shooting, at which Michigan is perfectly average at defending. It is entirely because they are also dead last at keeping twos out of their basket. It's repeatable stuff that the stats are probably not fully encapsulating. It is Not Good. (This is analysis this is Thunderdome.)
Earlier in the year a few people sounded the alarm about Michigan as a national contender, citing its defense. I said "but look at the outlying offense and wait for the defense to maybe move up a bit, Michigan is for real." That's a tough case to make right now. The offense has given up its massive lead and slid back to third; the defense has gone the wrong direction.
When DJ Newbill has a band in ten years they will be called The Unresisted Forays Into The Crisler Lane, man. Sound the alarm. It's time for a hard look at drastic actions, whatever those might be. Waving your hands in the general direction of a shooter is a start.
From Bryan Fuller:
Threes. They feel not random. The numbers say they are. Opponents' three point shooting since the start of Michigan's brutal stretch:
- Indiana: 7/18, 39%. Season average: 42%.
- OSU: 7/16, 44%. Season: 37%.
- Wisconsin: 10/24, 42%. Season: 34%.
- MSU, 7/20, 35%: Season: 35%.
- Penn State: 6/18: 33%. Season: 30%.
It has felt like Michigan is giving up open look after open look and is getting scorched from deep. The result of this feeling: approximately three extra makes across five games, so far within the province of random noise that Autechre is jealous.
Way back in the ur-blogging days when Big Ten Wonk was an anonymous man with a large vocabulary and not John Gasaway we had a conversation about whether or not the fact that Michigan's opponents were raining in threes at a hellacious clip during a particular Amaker campaign was luck or not. I said yes, he said yes but only partially, and I eventually came around to his point of view. Any short-term blazing above 40% will regress.
Lately, Kenpom has been on a crusade to declare three-point shooting defense to be totally random. I entered this section planning to write that I felt streaks like Michigan's recent one were earned, and now I don't know what to think.
- Michigan is average at defending three pointers (7th in the league, 99th nationally) but gives up a lot (10th in the league, 293rd nationally)
- Their eFG% on threes is 50.4, which is in fact worse than their horrible 2-point defense, so the combination of these two things does make their eFG D worse.
Inside the line or out, pick your poison.
Another thing that doesn't seem right. Newbill ended up 3/10 from two. The guy who hurt Michigan was Sasa Borovnjak at 7 of 9, mostly on uncontested rolls to the basket. Michigan's rotations were late and sometimes the pick and roll guy was making the dump inside, which is a big no-no. When Michigan hedges, they play it such that if the guy getting the ball screen can toss it to the big, they're done. Too much of that in this one.
Trey. Dang man, 29 points on 16 shots—and four extra possessions with free throws, something we actually have to adjust for after this one—five assists, and zero turnovers. A couple of shots bugged me, as they were taken with no hope of an offensive rebound, but the efficiency speaks for itself.
Stauskas. Not Just A Shooter was in full effect as Stauskas picked up 12 points inside the line on perfect shooting—3/3 from the floor and 6/6 at the line, though IIRC one of those trips to the line was a non-shooting foul at the end of the first half. He also added four assists. The only thing he didn't do well was shoot the J, going 2/6.
I did have further frustrations with him on defense, and it seems like Beilein did too since we got to see Vogrich unearthed. That was the equivalent of a frustration foul.
GRIII: hello again. A series of highlight-reel dunks against a porous defense and Robinson is back. His success in this one only highlighted the reasons he'd disappeared in the previous few games: he's a top-quality finisher who rarely takes a bounce to get a shot. If put in a situation where he has to make his own shot, he defers. Once or twice a game he will go at the basket himself. That's all.
That's fine, but after the tough stretch it seems like far too much of Michigan's shot creation is on Burke's shoulders. Stauskas does a good amount for a third option; Hardaway not so much and then Michigan gets almost none from the 4 and 5 aside from putbacks.
Not so good: Hardaway, centers. Hardaway didn't shoot well. Okay, it happens.
The centers were a little bit more alarming. The shooting is one thing. They went 0/5 in 43 minutes. The rebounding is another: just 3 and 3 as Penn State outrebounded M 31% to 22%. Defensive rebounding is the only thing that Penn State actually does well (5th in conference; they have no other above-average factors) so I guess that's expected. But combine those numbers with Penn State's frequent dump-ins to Borovnjak—which are usually the hedger's fault for providing a passing lane or not getting back once the ball screen recipient tosses it to another perimeter player—and it was rough day.
I'm torn on Morgan. On the one hand, I'm hoping that Morgan's ankle is still bothering him extensively and he shouldn't be playing because then the fact that he seems like he's not offering any help to the beleaguered defense has an explanation. On the other, I'd really like him to be full strength posthaste. At least Michigan doesn't have a midweek game coming up. Hopefully he'll be ready by Illinois.
End of half heroball update. Burke was forced into the backcourt by his man, then trapped as he crossed the line, causing him to dump the ball with time running out and getting Michigan another terrible shot. Because Burke wasn't taking it, it did not go in.
What is the point of those end of half timeouts? All of them seem to consist of "Trey, go do something" and 28 seconds of staring at each other. I would prefer something with a second option like "Nik, go do something" or "Tim, go do something."
This week's refereeing outrage! Er, it actually went in Michigan's favor as Newbill picked up a critical third first-half foul on something that was not even close to a charge.
How do you fix charges? I don't know. Newbill's first charge was legit, as he plunged his shoulder into Stauskas and knocked him back with an arm, but this caused Pat Chambers to have a conniption fit because Stauskas didn't collapse into a Duke-like pile of flop and shame. His second was not, but did feature a guy getting bowled over. I think I'd change the rule so that feet had nothing to do with it except when it comes to getting outside the circle. It's a charge if the guy nails you directly in the chest, and a block if it's to the side. Expand the no-charge circle a bit and make the reform that Jay Bilas is always on about where if you move under a guy who's already in the air it's a block. And explicitly make simulating a charge a foul.
Anyway: Michigan got to the line a whopping 35 times after games of 2 and 6 FTAs. This is because Penn State is not at all subtle in their hackathon, for which I commend them. Unmissable foul perpetrators of Happy Valley, the honesty in your illegality is award-worthy.
Here is an award.
Uniforms. I liked them.
The past four games have been a rude awakening for a Michigan basketball team once thought to be the best in the country. That same team is now looking up at three teams in the Big Ten standings, not to mention swiftly falling from contention for a one-seed.
The first two losses of this 1-3 stretch were understandable in both outcome and form; losing competitive games at Indiana and Wisconsin—while getting royally screwed by the officials in the latter—is understandable for a team of any caliber. Last night's debacle in the Breslin Center, however, took the cracks exposed in the three prior games and turned them into gaping crevasses.
In an effort to figure out how much to panic, how much to not, and where we go from here, here's a collection of thoughts on this recent stretch.
JOHN BEILEIN CAN'T MAKE HIS PLAYERS OLDER
I shut off my laptop last night after getting multiple tweets asking if John Beilein was at least a big part of the problem. As far as I can tell, Beilein made one critical coaching error last night: removing Trey Burke after his third foul, which sparked a quick 5-0 Spartan run early in the second half. At that point, however, State had already spent the game imposing their will on Michigan, and with the way the game played out it's hard to imagine Burke being in the game for that two-minute stretch would've changed the outcome.
The problem is not John Beilein, who's done a masterful job of putting this team together and coaching them into an offensive juggernaut. The problem is that he can't make his players any older, and now we're seeing why that's an issue. As it turns out, getting experience on the fly in the toughest conference in the country makes for some growing pains; there's no knowing how five freshmen (six if you count Max Bielfeldt) are going to respond when thrown into critical roles in adverse situations.
Ideally, this is a team that would come back intact next year and be an odds-on favorite to make the Final Four—they need the experience, conditioning, and added size. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening are slim to none.
INTERIOR DEFENSE IS A PROBLEM
The hope was that an unstoppable offense would cover for Michigan's defensive shortcomings, but when the offense isn't unstoppable, boy do those shortcomings get exposed. Even in the victory over Ohio State, the Wolverines got abused on the interior defensively, and their two-point defense is now dead last in the conference—B1G opponents connect on 48.9% of their twos against Michigan.
The injury to Jordan Morgan, the team's best on-ball interior defender, has hurt, but the problems go much deeper. Mitch McGary is an active defender with a ton of potential on that end, but he's also prone to freshman mistakes and positional errors, like the one that allowed Jared Berggren to drive for an and-one dunk late in the Wisconsin game. Jon Horford isn't at the same level of on-ball defense as Morgan and he fouls far too much—7.7(!) per 40 minutes in conference play.
Then there's Robinson, who's clearly hit a wall and is struggling mightily to defend larger players. He's not big enough to defend a guy like Derrick Nix or Adreian Payne one-on-one, nor does he have the stamina at this point to attempt to do so and still have an impact on the other end of the floor. He's missing switches and has been late getting out to his man on the perimeter—freshman mistakes, and ones that can't be made in critical moments.
Michigan can spell Robinson with Max Bielfeldt for stretches, but Bielfeldt's offensive limitations make that only a stopgap solution—by my charting, in about a game's worth of offensive possessions in conference play with Bielfeldt on the floor, Michigan is scoring just 0.90 points per possession. The Wolverines are going to need Robinson to find a way out of his funk, plain and simple.
BURKE IS STILL THE LONE CREATOR
When the best point guard in the country leaves the court, there's obviously going to be a bit of a dropoff offensively. Michigan's Burke-free offense is downright stagnant, however, because none of the other players can create a shot at the rim off the dribble.
Tim Hardaway Jr. is still too easy to pickpocket when he puts the ball on the floor inside the arc; last night, you could see him overcompensate by trying to shield the ball with his entire body, which led to some ugly twisting layup attempts in traffic. He's much better when he can drive to the free-throw line and pull up, but opponents have learned to take that part of the court away.
Robinson, for all his athleticism, still hasn't proven himself a threat off the dribble. Nik Stauskas could be that guy, especially with his skill in pick-and-roll situations, but the last four games he's been invisible when his outside shot isn't falling. Caris LeVert isn't strong enough to get all the way to the hoop, forcing him to try an array of pull-up jumpers that aren't falling with any consistency.
The pieces all fit together when Burke is on the floor. When he's not, this team is disjointed and surprisingly easy to defend—take away Hardaway's drive to the middle, don't sag off of Stauskas, and let them miss tough shots.
THE SILVER LINING
Even the most optimistic of Wolverine partisans would've been at least grudgingly accepting of a 2-2 record over the last four games, especially with Morgan hobbled. Despite all of the above, Michigan came within a half-court shot of just that. The last four games also don't discount what happened in the first 21; let there be no mistake, this is still a team that can get hot at the right time and win a six-game single-elimination tournament (yes, that one). Is that likely? Well, probably not. Is it within reason? Sure, if the matchups fall their way.
In fact, this team can still grab a share of the Big Ten title. In a conference that is cannibalizing itself, the Wolverines have one of the easier closing slates—including playing Penn State twice in the next three games—before the season finale against Indiana. If Michigan beats the teams they should beat, they may find themselves in control of their own destiny at the very end after all.
Also, this team still has Trey Burke, who still very much deserves his status as a national player of the year contender. He is still a joy to watch, and this is almost certainly the last time he'll be in a Michigan uniform. I, for one, am going to do everything in my power to sit back and enjoy the privilege of seeing him play.
2/2/2013 – Michigan 73, Indiana 81 – 20-2, 7-2 Big Ten
Midway through the second half, Michigan popped into a 1-3-1 zone for a possession. I did not like this. I immediately thought "you can't run this defense with Jordan Hulls on the floor," and Indiana duly tossed the ball around the perimeter until Hulls was presented with an open three-pointer. He knocked it down. The 1-3-1 did not reappear.
Hulls didn't do much other than that. Unfortunately for Michigan, two of the other things he did were bury two more open threes; he missed only once. This is what you expect from Jordan Hulls, and it's why he's out there trying to check dudes a half-foot taller than him on defense.
To beat a team with a guy who shoots like that playing next to a sticky-fingered nightmare of a defender, the man Hulls is checking has to at least keep pace with the guy. Nik Stauskas didn't. He, too, is the sort of player that sends you to your toes when he's left wide open in transition, the sort of shooter that can create a buzz in an arena before the ball has even left his hand. He, too, had four good looks from three before the game had been decided. He missed all of them. (Hulls fouled him on a fifth.) The fourth miss was incredible, deflating, infuriating. This is not what is expected.
In a game where just about everything else did go as expected, that seems like the difference between a rock-'em-sock-'em affair ending at the buzzer and the marginally exciting contest that instead unfolded: Michigan's best shooter did not hit when presented with excellent looks.
And they were excellent. I'm not sure if Michigan came out with a concerted plan to emphasize the Hulls-Stauskas matchup or if Stauskas improvising based on his belief that Hulls couldn't check him; either way Michigan came out of the gate attacking that guy, and for naught. Stauskas drove for marginally-contested layups, and missed. He was found for marginally- or un-contested threes and missed. Michigan launched itself into desperation mode with two minutes left down nine, down exactly the same number of points Hulls had tossed in from behind the arc and Stauskas hadn't.
This is not to pile on Stauskas, who played about as well as he could up until the moment he let a shot go. This was not the Ohio State game, when he could not move towards the basket and found himself hacked out of the offense, reduced to jacking up deep, contested threes out of frustration.
When Stauskas made contact with Hulls he was largely quieted—along with the zone three two of his other looks came in transition. Stauskas didn't turn the ball over and had a couple assists. I can't recall any frustration shots launched. Afterwards, Beilein revealed Stauskas had missed practice the day before with the flu. Independent random trials can be a bitch even when you're healthy.
But there it is. While Glenn Robinson sputtered to two points and contributed little else in 40 minutes, his presence in the game always feels light. He largely cleans up other people's misses or throws down their assists. His absence or presence is something felt less viscerally than thinking TAKE THAT at maximum brain volume and seeing something betray Nik Stauskas's swag.
So it goes. Sometimes the damn thing won't go in the basket. The only thing to do is keep shooting.
Protip: stop falling behind by lots in tough road games. Against OSU, Michigan's offense came out discombobulated and staked the opponent to a 21-point lead. In this one, Michigan's defense couldn't make a rotation or stop the ball in the first ten minutes and staked the opponent to a 15-point lead.
Protip: once you have fallen behind by lots in a tough road game and come storming back, DO NOT TIE THE GAME. When this happened in Columbus Michigan started jacking up bad shots and was on the wrong end of a decisive 6-0 run. In Bloomington they managed to tie the game just a few minutes into the second half, and then suffered an 11-0 run.
Clearly a mandate must go out indicating that it's threes only if you have fallen behind by lots only to claw back and find yourself down two in a tough road game. No more ties. No more.
Protip: just predict what Kenpom predicts. Twice this year arrogant predictor guys at this very website have arrogantly deviated from the Great Book Of Kenpom and predicted road victories, first myself for the OSU game and then Ace for Saturday. Kenpom was off by a total of three points in these games. Yea, and it was wroth.
Halftime adjustments check: no. Michigan clawed back to even after five minutes, but then suffered the aforementioned run.
The Morgan question. Was his absence a major problem? The two minutes on a gimpy ankle he got seems to indicate the answer is yes, as does Indiana shooting 59% from 2. McGary's box score says no: 5/7 from the floor, 3 OREB, 4 DREB, an assist, 0 TO, two blocks, two steals, and a Wes Unseld hockey assist not recorded. Horford added a couple buckets, blocks and turnovers in ten minutes.
In the aftermath I've seen various folk complain about McGary overhelping and thus setting up Cody Zeller's three tip dunks, but if Oladipo is screaming at the basket that seems McGary has a bad choice either way. By helping McGary forced tougher shots and misses on those, at least. If he's not there and Oladipo throws down a rim-rattling dunk, um… well, that's not good either. It seems like the problem there is on the initial drive and McGary is picking the lesser of two evils.
Because this is an attempt to quantify the defensive prowess of an individual player, we of course have wildly differing metrics here. Some low-sample-size Synergy data from UMHoops suggests that Morgan is by far the better defender. That is in direct conflict with some low-sample-size data Ace assembled that suggests Michigan is a crap-ton better with McGary on the floor.
I don't know, man. Keep "road game at Indiana" in perspective here: despite giving up 1.17 PPP, Michigan's defensive ranking on Kenpom actually moved up slightly after the game. If Indiana shot too well from two they also got up far fewer shots than Michigan thanks in large part to McGary, and without the intentional fouls at the end of the game that PPP rate drops to 1.10. It's complicated.
One spot at which Morgan may have helped: the four. Michigan hasn't taken Glenn Robinson off the floor since Morgan got hurt, and in this game he wasn't doing anything to justify 40 minutes. Morgan would have brought extra rebounding and been better able to hold up against Christian Watford on the block; Robinson would probably have been more effective if he knew he was going to get some rest here and there.
Speaking of the overhelping bit. I think we can put the Tim Hardaway Jr lockdown defender meme to rest. Oladipo roared into the paint with frequency against him, hitting 5/9 from two and IIRC having two of those misses thundered back into the basket by Zeller since he'd drawn two guys.
Hardaway's better than last year; in no way, shape, or form does he approach the level of an impact perimeter defender like, say, that Oladipo guy.
Hardaway was an effective shooter in this one, largely when Oladipo switched off onto Burke.
Oblig. Burke check. Hoo boy he put up a lot of shots: 24 in total. We should remove the rushed heaves at the end of the game to get a better picture of what he did when quality was more important than quantity. This slices out four 3PA, one of which went down, and two generous assists on similarly rushed heaves by Hardaway and Stauskas.
Those excised, Burke:
- 5/12 from 2
- 3/8 from 3
- 3/4 from the line
- 6 A, 3 TO, 2 steals, 2 OREB(!)
- 22 points on 20 shots
Burke was tasked with a good number of Oh God Oh Jesus Oh God late-clock possessions as Indiana's defense came to play; he had difficulty with Oladipo, as you might expect. His numbers would have been less extreme and likely less inefficient if Stauskas had been healthy and accurate. As it was more and more of the offense devolved onto him.
He carried Michigan when they had to be carried. To exceed a point per shot against a top-tier defense while sucking up 40% of Michigan's possessions is remarkable.
Oblig. ref check. Fouls were even before Michigan went into game extension mode. There was a 15 to 7 FTA disparity for Indiana that seems mostly attributable to random chance. Two goofy calls stood out: the Oladipo continuation bucket and a blocking foul assigned to Hardaway that was a textbook charge—one, in fact, that Hardaway repeated moments later, getting the call.
Rebounding check. Michigan lost the battle on the boards thanks in no small part to those Zeller slams. It was close—29% to 34%—though, far less of a factor than IU doubling up Michigan when it came to turnovers.
The bright side! This may put a damper on GRIII to NBA worries?
"Cumong man" of the game. Indiana hit 88% of their free throws and didn't miss once in their last 14 tries. This is not conducive to exciting finish, Indiana. I am dissapoint.
The oddity of having a really good basketball team. You get punished by having Dick Vitale assigned to your games. I've always experienced him as an annoying presence on Duke broadcasts I'm not going to watch more than a few minutes of; this year I've finally been exposed to 40 minutes of the guy repeatedly.
I am not enjoying this experience. Take it away, Wikipedia:
He is known for catchphrases such as "baby"
The worst part is that when Vitale finally retires—he's 73—the ESPN executives who have not ordered him to do middle school games at 3 AM on ESPN3 will slide a howler monkey into his place and hope no one notices.
I wonder how Duke fans must feel about the guy. Sure, he's basically an extension of your university but even when he's yelling inanities in favor of your team, they are still inanities detracting from the important thing you are trying to pay attention to. And he is omnipresent. I don't think I could deal, man. We should have asked Jamiemac—who admitted no rooting interest in Saturday's game!—about that when we were quizzing him about the Yankees' chances this year in the podcast.
Anyway, in most other sports ascending to the big time level is a reward. Gary Thorne does the NCAA hockey tournament, and Sean McDonough will do your college football games. People bag on Musberger but I like him, and there's no comparison between Vitale and Herbstreit. Big NBA games get you Marv Albert.
I guess Tim McCarver and Jim Nantz do loom, but what this is all about is WHERE'S GUS JOHNSON, STRING?
HUH? WHERE IS GUS? STRING!
It's strange to me that I love Raftery and Gus Johnson so much and find Vitale so detestable. All three bring buckets of enthusiasm and get criticized for it by haters. I am only in that group for the last guy. Maybe it's because "baby" is not a catch phrase, it is a useless appendage, where as "onions" is delightful and Gus Johnson makes lip-curling noises.
Does anyone like Vitale? Stand and be heard. I want to know if he appeals to anyone. We should do announcer approval ratings.
Before I get any more behind on these, here's a double dose of gifs from the Purdue and Illinois games, plus a couple extras from recent Michigan appearances on BTN's The Journey. As always, click the still thumbnails to open the gifs in a lightbox, and hit 'escape' to stop animation on any browser but Chrome.
Kids are weird, man.
[For the rest of the gifs, including Trollface Ted Valentine, hit THE JUMP.]
A picture of the conference. Michigan's defense isn't that much of an issue so far:
It's pretty good, and then the offense is off the charts. It's only in the context of the super-elite teams vying for a national title that it seems deficient. And with that offense… well… Gasaway's latest Tuesday Truths puts it in perspective:
It may turn out to be the case that Michigan is not in fact excellent at defense, that they're merely very good at it. But that needs to be seen in the proper context. First, this isn't a case like, say, Missouri last season, where a good many people chose to overlook the Tigers' vulnerability on D. (There was a push to give that team a No. 1 seed. I still shudder at the memory.) John Beilein's defense this season is day-and-night better, thus far, than Frank Haith's was last season.
Second, whatever Michigan's level of performance has been on defense, the Wolverines have been able to plug that in as one half of an equation whose result has been outscoring the best conference in the country by nearly a quarter of a point per possession. The Wolverines' only loss this season has come not to an offensive juggernaut that was able to exploit UM's worrisome deficiencies on defense, but to the hapless-on-offense Ohio State Buckeyes, who shut down Michigan's offense beautifully.
Lastly, the past 10 years can be ransacked profitably not only for prerequisites (and I'll be joining Luke on this beat soon -- watch for it!) but also for weirdness. I've seen a team rank No. 8 in its 12-team league in two-point accuracy and then go on to win a national championship. I've seen a team rank No. 103 in the nation in offense and then go on to make the Final Four. And do I even need to drag Gordon Hayward into this?
The most likely outcome of March is that Michigan will indeed lose to some other team in the tournament, because they are only amongst a leading group of teams. If and when that happens, people will point to the defense; I'll just be like "Michigan was the Vegas favorite and still 5 to 1 against."
Slightly more favored in the league. Michigan's huge scoring margin in the league sees them favored to win the Big Ten in SpartanDan's Bradley-Terry projection system*, which may not be a huge surprise. What is surprising is how much they're favored by.
Dan's basic system that does not take margin of victory into account says Michigan has a 69% chance of an outright title and an 85% chance of sharing. The margin-aware numbers are 80%(!!!) and 92%(!!!).
Those numbers are probably too high since Michigan is likely to have outperformed its real level of skill significantly in the opening third of the conference schedule, but… wow.
BONUS: Penn State has a 30% shot at going winless in the margin-aware system.
*[College hockey fans: this is KRACH.]
Bullet of stats-enthusiasm-dissing hypocrisy incoming. While I'm generally a fan of Big Ten Geeks, their latest foray into stat assemblage is goofy to me. They use "stops," which is a Dean Oliver formula that crams steals and blocks and rebounding statistics into a number. As with all attempts to create a catch-all defensive statistic, it waves its hand at who is in fact responsible for team defensive rebounding and how replaceable they may or may not be. Also unaccounted for is a player's contribution to the opponent's shot quality.
But they've compiled the numbers and shown you the results:
Let’s look at Stops:
Player Stops per 40 minutes Adam Woodbury 11.35 Mitch McGary 10.94 Jordan Morgan 10.47 Branden Dawson 10.21 Trevor Mbakwe 10.20 Cody Zeller 10.20 Ryan Evans 9.45
Well, this is interesting—we have a couple of freshmen leading the way. Both Woodbury and McGary are tremendous rebounders (as is Jordan Morgan this season), which explains why they rate so high. And to those who complain that Stops unfairly rewards good rebounders, I think that’s about as valid a point as the complaint that offensive rating unfairly rewards efficient scorers. Rebounding is defense—a big part of it.
So this works if rebounding is, in fact, defense. It's not. It has an impact but the top ten teams in defensive rebounding are 54th, 144th, 162nd, 147th, 103rd, 171st, 240th, 64th, 18th, and 25th in defensive efficiency. As I mentioned when pooh-poohing Mason Plumlee's KPOY candidacy, rebounding is the least important of the four factors. It's only its trackability that makes it so prominent. It's easy to say who got a rebound. It's really hard to credit someone for an effective rotation.
This metric thinks Jordan Morgan is a lot better this year because the team is better at rebounding. His personal DREB rate is a tick better this year, but it's still just 257th. He gets credit that other players don't because Tim Hardaway is mansome this year.
Morgan is then declared the best defensive player in the league because he fouls less often than the other guys at the top of the list, with this capper:
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Jordan Morgan has been the best defensive player in the Big Ten so far. Unbelievable. And in case you’re wondering, Oladipo fouls quite a bit—4.42 fouls per 40 minutes. Talk about the eye test all you want, but the numbers suggest he’s not the best defensive player (or even the best defensive perimeter player) in the Big Ten.
I accuse Big Ten Geeks of gross misuse of stats. Yes, it is unbelievable. Thus you should disbelieve it.
Victor Oladipo isn't a high-end defensive rebounder because he's frequently sticking his hand in the face of the highest-volume shooter the opposition has. His role defines his numbers. You can cram defensive rebounds into a slightly modified form all you want—notice that not one perimeter defender appears on this stops list—but all you get is a comparison between yourself and David Berri. Deployed.
Sometimes you have to go by the eye test because the stats compiled are inadequate, and until basketball stats get crazy detailed individual defensive performances are in that bucket.
BONUS WONKY STATS COMPLAINT. Most attempts to compile defensive numbers underrate the value of a steal, by the way. A defensive rebound is just the successful conclusion of a defensive possession ending in a missed shot. A steal ends a possession by itself—it's the miss and the rebound rolled into one—and frequently leads to a transition opportunity at the other end. That latter part is not well accounted for.
Morgan's ankle. Nothing broken, just a sprain, AP got a totally gross picture of it, if he can play basketball on Wednesday he will play basketball on Wednesday—I bet he cannot play basketball on Wednesday.
Zak Irvin continues rain of destruction. Last week: 26 points and 30 points in wins. One was over Arsenal Tech, both the best-named and top-ranked team in the state until Zak Irvin declared his school was now named Sharkfin Elfin 3000 and scored almost half of his team's points in a 64-59 win.
You want to watch the whole game, you say? You have free time.
If you are going to do this you probably want to start at halftime. Irvin scored 26 of his 30 after the break.
Zing. John Niyo on the Nobody Remembers #1 thing:
"It's Jan. 27," Beilein said after a 74-60 victory at Illinois last weekend, "and not one of you can remember who was No. 1 last Jan. 27."
Well, actually many of us can. It was a 20-1 Kentucky team that went on to win the Southeastern Conference and the SEC tournament and eventually the NCAA title.
But point taken.
5 to 1 against, 5 to 1 against, 5 to 1 against, repeat until you internalize the likely outcome of the season is not cutting down nets…
Etc.: You can be happy about being #1. Via UMHoops, the view on Bielfeldt from Peoria. Being back on top is nice and you should be happy. Here's an excellent primer on Beilein's 1-3-1 from the man himself.
Michigan dodged a bullet today when X-rays revealed no broken bones in Jordan Morgan's ankle, but the Wolverines likely will have to make do without their starting center for the next couple games, at least. How much will his absence hurt Michigan?
If the numbers from conference play are any indication, not nearly as much as you'd think.
I spent yesterday compiling the statistics for each five-man unit John Beilein has deployed in Big Ten play (garbage time excluded) to see if I could spot any trends. The entire spreadsheet of all 40(!) different lineup combinations is available for your perusal as a Google Doc. Here are the five most common lineups the Wolverines have used, divided up by offensive statistics...
The raw numbers are tough to compare, so this is where tempo-based stats come in handy. I've calculated each unit's number of possessions using KenPom's standard formula (2PA+3PA+(0.475*FTA)+TO-OR). From there, it's easy to calculate points per possession, which I've multiplied by 100 to give the standard offensive and defensive efficiency numbers. Also included is plus/minus, for those curious.
|Off Poss||Off Eff||Def Poss||Def Eff||+/-|
Well, then. Only the top two lineups have enough data to really rely upon (Michigan averages around 65 possessions per game, so even those have less than two full games of data)—the Horford lineup's numbers come almost entirely from the Illinois game.
Caveats aside, there's little doubt that Michigan's starters play are playing far, far better—on both ends of the court—with Mitch McGary at center than Jordan Morgan. The offensive efficiency with that lineup is off the charts*, and that defensive efficiency number would put Michigan just behind Ohio State, one of the best defensive teams in the country, at third in the Big Ten.
To see if this trend bore itself out regardless of the surrounding lineup, I calculated the offensive and defensive efficiency numbers for any lineup featuring Morgan/McGary/Horford...
|Off Poss||Off Eff||Def Poss||Def Eff|
|ALL Morgan Lineups||180.6||109.1||179.2||102.1|
|ALL McGary Lineups||199.1||126.1||202.6||90.3|
|ALL Horford Lineups||43.3||124.7||43.8||89.0|
...and the team's four factors statistics when each of the three centers is on the court:
Here is where you can really see the difference between Morgan and McGary. When McGary is on the floor, Michigan rebounds over 10% more of the available misses on offense, and while they get to the line far less frequently, they shoot better from the floor. This could be chalked up as an anomaly, since the two-point shooting numbers are virtually equal for Morgan lineups and McGary lineups, while Michigan shoots 46.6% from three with McGary compared to 34.0% with Morgan.
There's a possible explanation for that, however, in the defensive numbers. The Wolverines force more turnovers with McGary on the court (19.2% to 15.6%), and of late many of Michigan's best looks from three have come off their transition game. That probably doesn't account for a 12-percent difference, but even if that's normalized there's still a gap in offensive production between the two; I consider McGary the better passer, a factor that may also contribute.
The difference between the two defensively is easier to figure out. McGary's activity defensively helps the team force more turnovers, while his excellence on the glass leads to a better rebounding rage. While McGary fouls more often than Morgan, the team fouls so rarely as a whole that the foul rate isn't affected greatly.
As for Horford, the sample size issues make it tough to take away anything concrete, but thus far the team hasn't missed a beat when he's on the floor—in fact, they're doing unsustainably well on both ends, with an eFG% of 64.5 on offense and 40.0 on defense. He's an interesting case defensively; like McGary, he's disruptive on defense, leading to more turnovers, but opponents are rebounding better with him on the floor than either Morgan or McGary.
I've said this before, but I'll make it clear in this post: John Beilein has stated repeatedly that he's very happy with the rotation as it is, and it could take some fantastic play from McGary paired with sub-par performances from Morgan for him to consider making any changes. When Morgan returns, I fully expect him to slide back into the starting lineup, and that's fine—given the physical demand of the position, regardless of who's starting McGary and Morgan are going to split minutes relatively down the middle anyway.
What this shows, however, is that Michigan has something special in Mitch McGary. Not only that, but Horford's solid work in limited time means the Wolverines shouldn't be in trouble if Morgan misses more than a couple games.
I'll have more notes from this five-man lineup data tomorrow, including insight on Caris LeVert's impact and how Michigan fares when they go to the bench.
*Michigan's overall conference-only offensive efficiency is 118.9, which is over ten points clear of Indiana for the Big Ten lead.