This is not me. I wish it was.
Whoever sent me this POTATO!!!! Much appreciated.... pic.twitter.com/fVaqRvvgTn
— Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41) March 15, 2017
It turns out to be a wildly successful marketing stunt for a company that will send you image or message-emblazoned potatoes. This company is inexplicably not based in Ohio. The best thing to come out of this is the Wall Street Journal giving the headshot treatment to Dirk's tuber:
Twitter did not find this nearly as amazing as I did, but rest assured this is incredibly entertaining.
Oregon: good matchup? The WaPo's Neil Greenberg seems to think so. He's using extremely small sample sizes, but given Chris Boucher's absence that's less unfortunate than it usually is. Transition is a major Oregon focus and Michigan's stepped up their stinginess:
In transition, Michigan has allowed opponents to score 39.1 percent of the time in the tournament, an improvement over their regular-season performance (46.3 percent) and a potential stumbling block for Oregon, who has scored almost two-thirds of the time in transition (63.6 percent) against their first two opponents. No other remaining tournament team has had better results on the break. Take that element away from Oregon, and it’s a big blow.
This item won't surprise you but will shock your January self:
The Ducks also won’t get as many open looks as they have through the first two rounds. Oregon has taken 24 of 32 (75 percent) catch-and-shoot opportunities unguarded, per Synergy Sports, scoring 1.08 points per shot. Michigan, however, has allowed just six of 22 (27 percent) catch-and-shoot attempts without a defender close by.
Oregon is was already a bit three-heavy with Boucher in the lineup and figure to be more so without him even if that hasn't shown up in the three games since his departure, and Michigan is very good at preventing threes from being launched.
They're 5'9" with big hair and one of them doesn't have a work visa. Welp, they've been found. Both DJ Wilson and Mo Wagner are major risers on Chad Ford's NBA draft board:
Moritz Wagner, F/C, So., Michigan
No one did more to help his draft stock over the weekend than Wagner. His career-best performance against Louisville -- 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting -- showed why he was been quickly moving up our Top 100 over the past month. Wagner is a fluid athlete at 6-foot-11 who can score off the bounce and on the block. He also has 3-point range.
When he's engaged and not in foul trouble, he can take over a game. The fact that he did it against a bunch of NBA-caliber athletes on Louisville impressed scouts. He sat at No. 40 on our Top 100 before the tournament and moves up to No. 21 in our latest rankings. That's a huge leap for any player, but if you watched his draft stock all month, it isn't just based on one game. It's just scouts getting more and more comfortable with the idea that he has all the skills he needs to be a good NBA player someday.
D.J. Wilson, F, Jr., Michigan
Wilson showed off all the strengths of his game against both Oklahoma State and Louisville. He's a terrific and versatile athlete who can stretch the floor, finish at the rim and block shots. He can even handle the ball and bring it up the floor.
However, his lack of toughness continues to bother some scouts who want to see him initiate and handle contact better. He grabbed only two boards against Louisville and at times seemed bothered by the physicality. Still, athletic 6-foot-10 guys who can shoot 3s and protect the rim don't come along every day and Wilson has made a strong case to be a first-round pick after hovering in the 30s in our Top 100 all season.
FWIW, I was talking to Sam Webb a month or two ago and at the time his impression was that the NBA was interested in both guys but that they were both likely a year away. Let's hope that's still the case, because I'm guessing Teske and Davis are going to need another year of grooming before they're ready. Also I really want to see weaponized versions of Wilson and Wagner.
If one or both does end up going this will be another situation where Beilein's astounding player development—despite almost no access to one-and-done types Michigan was 12th in NBA players produced entering the season—outpaces his recruiting. Nobody was expecting Trey Burke or Nik Stauskas to be two-and-out, and I don't think anyone thought Wilson or Wagner would have any chance of going to the league this year after the pair averaged two points a game in 2015-16.
Remember when Bernard Robinson sticking at the end of a roster for a year or two was notable to Michigan basketball fans? Slightly different situation these days.
Part of that development. Congrats to friend-of-blog Andrew Kahn for landing a WSJ byline. It's a look into some player development tools Michigan (and others) are using. Wagner has a bad day against Ohio State and Beilein set to work on his shot:
...Beilein set out to fix Wagner’s problems using one of basketball’s hottest new diagnostic tools: a machine that measures the arc of a shot as it reaches the hoop. ... [tool vendor] Noah’s data says the ideal shot comes in at about 45 degrees.
Wagner’s practice session showed that he was shooting the ball far too high, coming in at around 53 degrees. Beilein knew they had no chance of going in and pressed Wagner to adjust by flattening his shot.
“By the time we were done, he was draining threes all over the place at 45 (degrees), 46, 47,” Beilein said. Wagner, a 41 percent three-point shooter for the season, shook his slump and nailed 8 of 17 (47%) from deep the next four games.
Beilein is still adapting and taking advantage of new tools being created even though he's "no spring chicken," which not every coaching in his 60s does. You can safely assume that Michigan is on the cutting edge with this stuff. The results are proof enough.
Two points. The Big Ten did pretty well in the first weekend of the tournament, sending three teams to the Sweet 16 and Shutting Up All The Haters, except not really. Mark Titus:
As soon as the buzzer sounded on no. 7 seed Michigan’s 73–69 victory over no. 2 seed Louisville on Sunday afternoon, the talk of the internet became whether the Big Ten, which was complete trash from November through early March, had been underrated all season. ... [The Big Ten got three S16 teams and the ACC was bad.] ... Clearly this had to mean something, right?
Of course not. You know what Michigan beating Louisville and Wisconsin beating Villanova proved? That Michigan outplayed Louisville and that Wisconsin outplayed Villanova. How come everyone who gets so wrapped up in conference-pride bullshit always seems to move the goalposts with these arguments?
Neither side of any conference superiority argument generally marshals anything resembling a coherent argument. It is talk-radio fodder.
While a few tournament games don't establish that the Big Ten was at the level it was a few years ago, neither was it "trash." They entered the NCAA tourney fifth out of six power conferences on Kenpom, all of two points behind the second-place ACC. That's roughly the difference between #20 Michigan and #24 Butler, or #37 Northwestern and #44 Illinois State—ie, barely any difference at all. The first two rounds should at least be sufficient to demonstrate that the Big Ten is in the same range as any other power conference (with the possible exception of the Big 12).
This weekend did matter in the computer rankings, sliding the Big Ten up to fourth, and it should influence our perception of the league this year. The real answer, though, is that the Big Ten was just slightly down. Titus seems to be projecting his feelings about Ohio State, which was so trash that many Michigan fans gave up on their season after losing to the Buckeyes*, to the wider league.
Nice. 2017 PF Isaiah Livers won Mr. Basketball. He's a 6'8" stretch four with game and hair fairly reminiscent of DJ Wilson.
Wilson has a couple of inches of both height and hair on Livers, but hopefully he's able to step into the rotation next year.
Star-crossed Ricky Doyle. Remember how he was ill or injured seemingly perpetually? This has not abated, at all.
Ricky Doyle, a Bishop Verot Catholic High School alum, was forced to sit out this season after transferring from the University of Michigan due to NCAA rules, as well as a tumor.
“I just kept having these stomach pains for a long time and I just kind of pushed them off,” he said. “One day, I just had to go to the hospital and it turns out that my appendix has been burst for two months…they found a tumor about the size of a softball and they had to cut 6 inches of my colon out.”
The tumor was non cancerous, Doyle said, and his body formed it naturally around the burst appendix to prevent poison from seeping out and killing him.
Doctors believe the medicine Doyle is on for his sleep apnea dulled the pain to the point where he didn’t realize how severe the tumor was.
Writing on the wall. There's a ton of football stuff that we'll get to in a week or two as part of a spring preview, but one roster note: Sam Webb replies to people asking about a lack of Shelton Johnson coverage that "he is not a part of [Scout's] defensive line preview." I would not expect him on the roster this spring.
Etc.: A lot of people say the tournament saps the importance of the college season. I don't buy that, because I like Big Ten championship banners. For an example of a season that truly doesn't matter, I give you the NBA.
Every Michigan 3 against Oklahoma State. Holdin' The Rope on the Louisville game. Five key plays from said game. We are #3 in Will Leitch's rootability rankings, because of "cattywampus." Leitch on the Brad Underwood hire. TTB talks to Kevin Koger. Jim Harbaugh promotes colon awareness.
Upchurch / Upchurch / Sherman
With the news that Kam Chatman is transferring, what was a five-man rising junior class is now just two. Four players (including Spike – who will be playing for Purdue next season) who played last season are leaving with remaining eligibility. Ordinarily, this would be cause for considerable depth concerns, but since Michigan returns all five starters from last season’s tournament team – something that very few teams can say in this day and age – experience is actually an advantage for this team moving forward. Very rarely are teams able to sustain five-man lineups year over year and it’s reasonable to expect that Walton / Rahkman / Robinson / Irvin / Donnal will execute crisp offense together on the floor. If improvement from Wagner vaults him past Donnal (who’s much more of a known quantity) on the depth chart, all the better.
Right now, that depth chart might look like this:
We’ve seen the effect that limited depth can have on players, and it might be a concern again. Walton will have a very capable backup in Xavier Simpson, and fellow freshman Ibi Watson will get a shot behind MAAR, so the guard situation is much better than it was a year ago. There are enough big men: Donnal and Wagner will run into foul trouble, so there’s a need for a third option to emerge, but all in all, there are enough bodies at the five.
The main concern comes on the wing – and that’s why the departures of Dawkins and Chatman might be felt the most. Michigan has two open scholarships for next season and desperately could use a wing with immediate eligibility (either as ideally a grad transfer or a 2016 recruit) to offset those losses: Dawkins was Michigan’s sixth man and played just under 40% of available minutes, while Chatman chipped in 12%. By the postseason, both were essentially used only to rest the starters – Robinson and Irvin each played right around 90% of available minutes in the Wolverines’ five postseason games. As it stands, those two are the only wings left with any experience.
None of the departures – Aubrey Dawkins, Ricky Doyle, and Kam Chatman – are particularly unexpected; Dawkins fell behind Duncan Robinson and saw his dad take a mid-major coaching job; Doyle and Chatman were on the periphery of the rotation and a path to significant minutes for either was hard to find. Still, all three were good enough to play last year, and their minutes will need to be replaced. Doyle’s minutes will be split easily between Donnal, Wagner, and the freshmen bigs; Robinson and Irvin probably can’t handle many more minutes, let alone taking all the minutes vacated by Dawkins and Chatman.
[What will Michigan be losing? Find out after the JUMP]
Michigan's top options had a tough time creating good looks at the rim.
Injuries. Let's get this out of the way. Michigan managed to make the tournament despite losing Caris LeVert, who was playing at an All-American level when injury struck, and Spike Albrecht, whose absence kept Derrick Walton on the court for huge minute totals and caused John Beilein to give Andrew Dakich a spot at the end of the rotation. Add in Zak Irvin's wonky back, which affected his shot well into the season, and Derrick Walton still not looking like the player he was before his sophomore-year injury, and it's fair to say health cost the Wolverines at least a couple wins.
The center position. Moe Wagner's late emergence provided hope for the future. For most of the season, however, the center position was the source of much consternation. Ricky Doyle, the presumed starter heading into the season, took a huge step backward as a sophomore; his turnover rate nearly doubled and his teammates clearly lost trust in him as a result. Doyle's struggles may be attributed to the late-season revelation he suffers from sleep apnea, but that realization came too late to save his season or, ultimately, his career at Michigan.
Mark Donnal stepped into the void and improved markedly from his first year of game action. That said, he still had obvious deficiencies, especially on defense. Getting beat up by AJ Hammons is one thing; making Alex Olah look like Hakeem Olajuwon for the second straight year is another. Unless Donnal gets a lot stronger or becomes a legitimate three-point threat, he seems best suited as a backup center; deploying him against opposing backups would mitigate his weaknesses. For that to happen, though, Wagner must cut his foul rate significantly.
Perimeter defense. It was bad, even by the mediocre standard of previous Beilein squads. Michigan's best perimeter defenders, MAAR and Derrick Walton, had uneven seasons on that end of the floor—especially Walton, who'd vacillate from awful performances to good ones with little indication of what he'd bring on a given day. The three spot the biggest sore spot with Duncan Robinson somehow looking sigificantly less bad than Aubrey Dawkins by the end of the season; Robinson was still quite far from good.
The Wolverines were especially poor in the halfcourt. While their transition eFG% allowed fell in the middle of the NCAA pack, they were 273rd out of 351 teams in non-transition eFG% defense, per hoop-math. The problems were myriad: fighting through screens, guarding isolation, contesting shots, weakside rotation—you name it, really. The problems on the perimeter were amplified by the lack of a rim protector; they still started on the perimeter.
via Shot Analytics
Stars taking one step back for every step forward. There were encouraging developments out of both Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton this season. Irvin did an admirable job playing out of position on defense and rounded out his offensive repertoire, nearly doubling his assist rate. Walton posted center-level defensive rebounding numbers and returned to his freshman form as a perimeter shooter.
But with their bigger roles, flaws were exposed. Irvin's forays to the hoop increasingly resulted in turnovers as the season wore on; his handles still need work and teams exploited the fact that he was far more likely to try to kick the ball out than finish in traffic. Walton simply couldn't finish at the rim, continuing an alarming trend from his injury-plagued sophomore season.
This is where LeVert's absence hurt the most. The only player Michigan could rely upon to consistently generate a decent look—MAAR—still had a limited game; while he could weave his way to the basket in LeVert-like fashion, he wasn't nearly on LeVert's level as a shot-creator for others. Rahkman becoming a better all-around offensive player would be huge for the 2016-17 squad. It's becoming harder and harder to expect Irvin or Walton to live up to the expectations set by M's previous top options.
Ricky Doyle is out:
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- University of Michigan men's basketball head coach John Beileinannounced today (Tuesday, March 29) sophomore forward Ricky Doyle requested and was granted his release from the University and plans to transfer for his final two seasons of eligibility.
"Ricky is a tremendous young man with very high character and plenty of potential to develop into being a fine college player," said Beilein. "We have enjoyed coaching him over the past two years and wish him nothing but the best."
After a promising freshman year Doyle's game and minutes evaporated as a sophomore. With Mark Donnal ahead of him on the depth chart and Mo Wagner coming on late plus two post recruits incoming, the writing was on the wall. Michigan is no longer over their scholarship limit for next year.
AJ Hammons celebrates Purdue's victory.
Midway through the second half, CBS cut to a shot of John Beilein giving Moe Wagner an on-the-fly lesson on post defense. Wagner had just committed a shooting foul on Purdue center Isaac Haas and was subsequently pulled for Ricky Doyle.
On Purdue's ensuing possession, Haas bullied Doyle down low and drew another shooting foul. Any lessons Beilein gave out this afternoon came far too late to salvage Michigan's chances of reaching the Big Ten final and locking up an at-large bid.
Instead, it'll be a stressful Selection Sunday after the Boilermakers dominated the Wolverines in the paint. Michigan played all four of their centers; none provided resistance to the fearsome duo of Haas and AJ Hammons. Hammons finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks; Haas added 11 points in only nine minutes. Michigan's big men combined for ten points—seven by Mark Donnal, who played only 15 minutes due to foul trouble—and four boards.
Purdue opened each half with a big run—8-0 to start the game, 9-0 to open the second half—and whenever Michigan threatened to close the gap, the Boilermakers beat them back with dominant post play; Purdue scored 44 points in the paint to Michigan's 28. Despite being overwhelmed on the interior, the Wolverines frustratingly declined to double-team Purdue's big men until less than four minutes remained; when they finally did so on Hammons, the double was weak, and a few quick passes around the perimeter resulted in a Rapheal Davis layup.
Derrick Walton (14 points, 5 assists, 4 steals) and Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman (15 points, 7/11 FG) did their best to overcome Purdue's considerable advantage inside. They got little help. Zak Irvin and Duncan Robinson shot 2/12 combined from three-point range; the Wolverines were 6/25 as a team. The Boilermakers made two fewer three-pointers—on 13 fewer attempts.
Now Michigan, which entered today as the last at-large in the field on the Bracket Matrix, will nervously await their postseason fate.
Michigan crossed the halfway mark of 2015-16 Thursday at Purdue in a game that unfortunately encapsulated much of the season thus far: a shorthanded Wolverine squad turned in a strong offensive performance (accounting for context here) that fell short of covering for their defensive shortcomings against a quality opponent.
While it hasn't been a bad year—Michigan is 12-4; they were 10-6 at this point last season with two awful losses—it hasn't been the bounce-back many expected. The Wolverines have beaten the teams they should beat, but they've yet to take down a top-50 KenPom opponent in four tries, and that'll have to change if they want to make a tourney run.
So what's gone well, what hasn't, and what will swing this season one way or the other?
WHAT'S LIL WAYNE 2005-09
All photos: Patrick Barron/MGoBlog
Caris LeVert. Aside from a woeful performance at SMU, LeVert has been one of the best and most consistent players in the country. He boasts the third-best offensive rating among players who use at least 24% of their team's possessions, per KenPom. His drives are more productive than ever before; instead of snaking his way towards the basket, LeVert is getting there more directly, finishing at the highest rate of his career (77.4% at the rim, per hoop-math), and posting the assist-to-turnover rate of a good point guard—which he functions as for this team, something equally evident in his absence as his presence.
When healthy, LeVert has looked like the potential All-American we hoped he'd become, a triple-double threat any time he steps on the court. Unfortunately, the "when healthy" caveat is now required; I'll cover that in another section.
Duncan Robinson. This is Robinson's definitely-not-altered shot chart from Shot Analytics:
One could leave it at that and conclude Robinson has exceeded expectations. In the beginning of the season, there wouldn't have been much more to say anyway; through the first four games he attempted 16 three-pointers and four two-pointers while failing to tally an assist. Robinson has at least one assist in ten of the 12 games since that point, however, and he's used the threat of his outside shot to generate opportunities for himself and others closer to the tin.
Robinson is quietly improving defensively, too, though he set the bar quite low to start the year. His lethal efficiency on offense more than makes up for that; it's hard to complain about a player who's first nationally in ORtg, eFG%, and True Shooting %.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman. The bright spot in an otherwise dreadful game at Purdue, Rahk was the only Wolverine who could get to the hoop and finish in LeVert's absence. In the two games since LeVert's injury, Rahk is 11/15 on two-pointers, 4/8 on threes, 5/6 from the line, and he hasn't recorded a turnover. While it'd be great to see Rahk pass the, um, rock a little more—only Aubrey Dawkins has a lower assist rate among non-centers—his ability to generate buckets on his own is huge coming off the bench, and as his outside shots develops (11/29 this season) he could carve out a huge role for himself.
Three-point shooting. Michigan is shooting 43% from beyond the arc as a team. Four high-volume shooters—Robinson, LeVert, Dawkins, and Derrick Walton—are making 45% or better. It boggles the mind to consider where the team's numbers would be if Zak Irvin (15/59) had been shooting like he did as an underclassman.
[Hit THE JUMP for the bad and the we're-not-sure-yet.]