at least it's not just us?
The optimal lineup? (Apologies for reminding you of those shoes.)
Michigan's underwhelming start to this season can in large part be attributed to the dropoff in play at point guard; this was expected with Trey Burke gone to the NBA, but the degree to which it's affected the team's overall performance has surprised. Without Burke drawing the attention of multiple defenders, Michigan's wings have had a much more difficult time generating offense.
As discussed earlier today, Derrick Walton hasn't had a great start to the season, and his status as starting point guard is tenuous after Spike Albrecht played the lion's share of the minutes against Arizona and acquitted himself well. In an effort to figure out which point guard gives the Wolverines the best chance of winning now, I took another look at the Arizona tape along with the usual foray into KenPom and hoop-math wonkery.
We'll start with the tape from Saturday, focusing on the play of each point guard on both ends of the floor, with an emphasis on the type of shots each generated. Here's the reel for Spike:
And here's Walton:
After THE JUMP, I (chart!) chart every shot from the game, break down my impressions of each player based on the above film and the season as a whole, and take a deeper statistical look into their play.
[JUMP, if you will.]
12/14/2013 – Michigan 70, Arizona 72 – 6-4
Well, here we are.
Because 2013 decided we'd had enough nice things the instant the Notre Dame game ended, this basketball team is 6-4 with one actual nonconference game left on the docket. Good news: Michigan is the highest-ranked four-loss team on Kenpom by 16 slots. Bad news: basketball committees don't look at Kenpom. Nor do they hunt down the ref who called a phantom foul on Mitch McGary with under a minute left against Arizona and give him the spanking of his life.
As a result, Michigan is staring down a rocky path to the tournament despite having what looks like three or four NBA first round picks on the roster. They've got a loss to Charlotte that's looking like it'll be filed as a bad one at season's end; their best win is against Florida State, which is probably a bubble outfit. The reliably brutal Big Ten is still Kenpom's #1 conference by a great distance. Wisconsin has not been left twitching in a ditch by the rule changes. Far from it, in fact.
Trey Burke was pretty good*, and not having him around is like trying to walk straight after years at sea. Michigan's stumbles are understandable. At this point they're threatening to take the team right off the pier and into the drink, though.
Things should settle down at some point. As mentioned, Michigan's surge in on-court experience from about 0.7 years per court minute to about 0.9 is a big leap. It takes them all the way from 342nd nationally to… 335th. Kansas and Kentucky are down there, too, and they've both lost three games despite having a pile of lottery picks. No one is sounding the alarms there, and they shouldn't at Michigan.
But… dammit. Michigan gets one more bucket or Arizona doesn't get bailed out and this storyline is one for the dustbin of history. Michigan takes some tough losses and WIN AGAINST #1 ARIZONA into the conference schedule, feeling like they're going in the right direction and ready to throw haymakers in the wild conference melee to come.
Without that, Saturday's game against a wild-card Stanford outfit is enormous. A loss there and you're looking at the Big Ten much differently than you are now. You're trying to squint out a way that a 17-13 team can possibly make the tournament. As a backup. It probably won't come to that, but neither will it come to anything other than Michigan being the 7 seed you don't want to see.
I'm still cool with that after ten years during which Amadou Ba fighting the MSU student section was the most fun thing about the program, but I will confess a certain desire to see Michigan hack through opponent defenses like they are willows in front of the wrong house-sized woodchipper. It seems unlikely Michigan is going to assemble a pile of talent like this again for a long, long time, and watching it fumble a chance to be a Sweet 16 seed because they stick out their arm and Trey Burke is playing for the Utah Jazz** is painful.
Who wants to take 2013 out back and bury it? I know it's not scheduled to expire for another couple weeks, but it's looking really sick and old and sad and I say we put a bullet in its head. For mercy's sake. The half-hour of tears and kicking the body is also for mercy.
*[Jazz record without Burke starting: 1-13. With Burke starting: 5-7. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a PER of 9.5. Burke is at 16 as a rookie point guard. Put Joe Dumars in a V-1 rocket and fire him at wherever Charlie Villanueva is now. Wait. HE'S STILL ON THE PISTONS? AAAAAARRRRGH]
**[Since the rocket just takes him back to the Palace, fire Joe Dumars.]
Autobench okay. Look, here's me not complaining about Beilein's two foul autobench: when Derrick Walton got his second with about six minutes left in the first half he left, as per usual. The limited amount of time this cost him and the fact that Albrecht was playing better makes this a-ok in my book.
Walton struggling. Michigan's getting very, very little out of Walton, whose TO rate is higher than his assist rate. In Michigan's losses he has 4 assists to 10 TOs; he had one point in 1 minutes against Arizona. His shooting's not actually that bad (73/49/38), but he struggles to find anything that's not in transition.
You knew there was going to be a dropoff from Burke, and a severe one, but even so I badly underestimated the impact of that dropoff. Walton is currently a huge step back from Burke not as a Naismith winner but as a freshman. Freshman Burke was half the player sophomore Burke was but he still absorbed a ton of possessions (27%) with a near top-100 assist rate while shooting virtually the same as Walton does.
Looking at Kenpom, Walton sticks out like a sore thumb. Leave aside Jordan Morgan, who's under 10 minutes a game and is steadily dropping with McGary back. Every other Michigan player has an ORTG of at least 113, with Stauskas, Robinson, LeVert, and Albrecht over 120. Walton is at 99.
For those of you unfamiliar with that particular stat, ORTG tries to pile every offensive stat into one number that indicates how efficient you are. It's very complicated, and generally respected. It exists in a tight range from 90 from 130, because players worse than 90 don't get to play college basketball and players above anywhere near 130 don't have to for long. The nearest comparable guard to get starter's minutes with a number that low is Tim Hardaway. He had a 103 is a sophomore, when half of his shots were threes he hit at a 28% clip. And that was significantly better than Walton right now at a much higher usage rate. Then you're going back to junior Stu Douglass, who had a 97 in 2011.
Ditto Irvin. Michigan's ability to have freshmen come in and have a major impact early has been a saving grace the last couple years. Not so much this year. Irvin's in the same boat as Walton, only moreso: he had five minutes against Arizona in which he missed one three and picked up two fouls. In other games against real competition:
- Iowa State: 13 minutes, 0 points, 0 assists, one TO
- Florida State: 13 minutes, 2 points, 0 assists, 0 TO
- Charlotte: 26 minutes, 8 points on 3 of 14 shooting
- Duke: 14 minutes, 5 points on 2 of 5 shooting
Beilein autobench on Caris LeVert forced Irvin to take a heavy load in the Charlotte game and that is basically why Michigan lost; otherwise he's been invisible. By this time last year, Stauskas had already dropped 15 on Pitt, 20 on NC State, and 22 on Bradley. Partially because he had Burke feeding him open looks, yes. But cumong man.
Bench issues. As a result of the previous bullet and the instant evaporation of that two-post idea, Michigan is once again running their perimeter players out there for damn near the whole game. Michigan played LeVert, Stauskas, and Robinson 38, 38, and 37 minutes. That's not necessarily a huge problem in timeout-heavy college basketball—Arizona had an almost identical minute breakdown for their wings—but man when things go wrong, like they did in the Charlotte game, they can go wrong.
Signs of life for either freshman will be very helpful entering the Big Ten.
Speaking of timeout heavy. You know it's a special game when you get not one but two coach TOs that are followed by one possession and then a full media timeout.
Caris comin'. LeVert follows a 24 point game against Duke with 15 on 15 shots against a huge Arizona team. His ORTG has shot up almost 30 points(!) and he has an insanely low TO rate for a guy who makes as many odd plunges into the heart of the defense as he does. His shooting slash line is pretty good, too: 83/53/38.
The one thing that's missing: assists. He's not acquiring them any faster than he did as a freshman, and with so much of Michigan's offense falling on his shoulders of late that means McGary and Robinson aren't getting involved as much. Both of those guys need a lot of assists to produce, and they aren't getting them.
Not just a shooter. Stauskas has doubled his free throw rate from last year and leads the team by about 25 points there.
The Albrecht question. Should Michigan move him into the starting lineup? That is hard to judge. His ten points against Arizona was his first double digit game of the year, and how much do assists against Coppin State and Houston Baptist matter? He's only got extended playing time in two games. One was the Arizona game we just saw. In the other he got 27 minutes against Charlotte and was 2/7 from the floor for 6 points with a 4:2 A:TO ratio. Meanwhile, he's not a good defensive player.
Still… he takes care of the ball, has a high assist rate, and has been quietly efficient over the course of his career. We have another 21 3PAs to add to his small sample size and he's still a 50% three point shooter for his career. In those losses Michigan's had, Albrecht has 12 assists to 5 TOs.
His limitations are such that he's never going to have a usage rate much above his current 15%, but I might roll with that, live with the defensive issues, and put some more weight on Stauskas and LeVert.
The other option to get more production there is Caris at the point with Irvin coming in, and I think that's something to give a run, too. Irvin's going to get some minutes here against Not Arizona, and you might as well try it.
"The devil's in the details," said John Beilein after the game, describing the difficulty of winning against good teams.
For 38 minutes, Michigan did enough of the little things to hold a lead against top-ranked Arizona. They shot the ball well, played tough defense on the interior, and didn't allow an athletic Wildcats squad to get into transition at all. Throughout the game, however, they couldn't keep Arizona from owning the offensive boards, and once they started converting putback opportunities down the stretch the Wolverines couldn't hold on—after scoring just two points off nine first-half offensive rebounds, the Wildcats had six critical second-chance points from their eight second-half opportunities. Boxing out, as it turns out, is a critical detail.
Michigan led by 11 points after the first possession of the second half on the strength of an outstanding performance by Glenn Robinson III (right, Fuller), who had 16 points on a perfect 7/7 mark from the field at halftime. For the first time all season, Robinson consistently created his own offense, beginning with a nifty head fake in the post that led to a layup for his first points of the game. Robinson was a non-factor in the latter stanza, however, adding just three points on 1/2 shooting, and the team managed just 12 points—three on a desperation Spike Albrecht shot with two seconds left—in the final 7:55.
The Wolverines still had their opportunities in the late going. The teams played dramatic back-and-forth basketball in the final couple minutes. After Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's three-point play gave Arizona their first lead since the opening minutes with 2:32 to play, Mitch McGary retook control with a pair of free throws, then Brandon Ashley and Nik Stauskas traded quick baskets. Then, when Michigan looked to have the Wildcats scrambling for a good look, McGary picked up a very questionable touch foul on the perimeter; Arizona's Nick Johnson, who played outstanding defense against Stauskas all afternoon, rattled both free throws home with 24 seconds left.
Michigan then tried pushing it up the court for a quick shot; Stauskas got a decent look at a long two but couldn't get it to fall, and the Wildcats had the possession arrow when McGary tied up Aaron Gordon for the rebound. Johnson sunk another pair of free throws, Albrecht managed just a split after Arizona intentionally fouled him with seven seconds left, and Johnson essentially iced the game with a third consecutive perfect trip to the line. While Albrecht made it interesting with a pull-up three with two seconds left, the last-gasp prayer by Stauskas after a missed Arizona free throw only found backboard.
Despite the loss, there were many encouraging signs for Michigan. Robinson's first half certainly qualified, as did another strong second half from Caris LeVert, who finished second on the team with 15 points on 6/15 shooting, ten of those coming after the break. Jon Horford played 25 strong minutes, tallying four blocks—all in the first half—and throwing down a huge dunk on Gordon for his only points of the game. While Derrick Walton was limited to one point in just 14 minutes, Albrecht ran the offense well, dishing out four assists in addition to hitting three of his four attempts from downtown.
In the end, though, Arizona's size and athleticism simply overwhelmed; seven different Wildcats had an offensive rebound (five with 2+), and the massive front line of Gordon, Brandon Ashley, and Kaleb Tarczewski combined to score 46 points on 21/37 shooting.
"It gives us great confidence," said Beilein, referring to hanging in there against a team he praised highly. "But also an attitude to come back and get better now."
The path to improvement, of course, begins with the details.
Brennen Beyer won't forget that moment. Long after Al Borges is just a name from a past that may or may not haunt us as fans, the Canton native who stayed close to home will delight in telling his family and friends about the time he—a defensive end—scored a touchdown; he'll have the football to prove it, and the final score of the game will be largely irrelevant.
These moments have been frustratingly few and far between this season, especially this month; even in the shadow of defeat, however, they provide fleeting flashes of joy, even when we're doing our best to detach emotionally.
When Devin Gardner rolled out, couldn't reach the corner, then threw aside Tanner Miller like a defective Weeble-Wobble before hitting A.J. Williams for his first career reception—in the end zone, no less—my reaction wasn't to slump back onto the couch, muttering something about Al Borges's doomed waggles; it was "F*** YEAH, DEVIN." Maybe not so profound or eloquent, but damn if it didn't feel good.
Then Michigan lost, miserably, and I drove home in a funk. But they had their moments, and so did I.
[After THE JUMP, basketball moments.]
Previously: Preview MGoPodcast with John Gasaway, Media Day Wrap, Bigs, Wings (Also, BUY HTTV BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE. There's more great preview content in there than I can possibly cover in a sequence of blog posts.)
With the bigs and wings already covered, that leaves just the point guards to preview. Michigan has two very good options here, plus a third (Caris LeVert) that can be used situationally. Will their powers combined equal that of Trey Burke? Well, no, that's simply unreasonable. Will they still be pretty darn good? This blog says yes.
This looks pleasantly familiar.
Measurables: 6'1", 185
Recruiting Rankings: 247Composite #10 PG, #45 overall
The 2013 Michigan Gatorate Player of the Year winner and Mr. Basketball finalist officially took up the now-hallowed mantle of Michigan Starting Point Guard this week, when John Beilein gave Walton the nod over Spike Albrecht in the exhibition finale against Wayne State. The freshman ranked as high as #30 overall (and no lower than #67) depending on your recruiting site of preference. There were a few common threads in the various scouting reports on him:
- First and foremost, he's a pass-first point guard that keeps everyone involved. Scout hailed him as a "true point guard" whose court vision makes his teammates better. ESPN called him a "true point guard [that] can control the game" in their evaluation. Rivals didn't quite get the memo, calling him "one of 2013's top pure point men," after an AAU tournament last May ($). Whether true or pure, guard or man, Walton is certainly a natural fit at the one, and he'll look to distribute more than his predecessor.
- Walton can score, especially at the perimeter. Scout's report lists three-point range as a positive. ESPN also discusses his outside shooting in a good light and adds that he's got a solid mid-range game. The Rivals article cited above notes his ability to score from the outside or around the basket. When he decides it's time to score, Walton is capable, though it's unfair to compare him to Trey Burke in this regard. (That goes for just about everything, actually.) Early returns here are positive: Walton hit 3 of 7 three-pont attempts in the two exhibition games and looked very confident in his shot; yes, I'll acknowledge that's a tiny sample size.
- At the very least, Walton is going to give plenty of effort on defense, and while Scout lists his size and defensive ability in the "areas for improvement" section, that sentiment isn't echoed elsewhere. ESPN loves his toughness and competitive drive on both ends of the floor. Rivals cites his on-ball defense as a major factor in his lofty ranking. In the two exhibition games, Walton has two Burke-esque halfcourt steals and looks like he's well ahead of where Burke was defensively at this early stage.
There's also his leadership; while most AAU squads are disjointed at best, Walton's Michigan Mustangs won a major tournament in Las Vegas thanks to taking on the identity of their point guard, per Rivals's Eric Bossi ($):
It's only fitting that the Michigan Mustangs took home the 17 and under crown at the Adidas Super 64. ... Taking their cue from tough-as-nails floor general and tournament MVP Derrick Walton, the entire Mustangs team played with toughness, togetherness and a unified purpose. Frankly, there weren't enough teams in Las Vegas -- or any of our other stops between April and July -- that played with the same purpose as the Mustangs so it's good to see their efforts result in a big tournament victory.
Bossi's evaluation of Walton's play in that tournament was glowing, to say the least ($):
Setting the tone for the Mustangs was four-star point guard Derrick Walton. The Michigan bound guard was an absolute stud on both ends of the floor. He went right at defenders' chests on drives, dimed up his teammates with pinpoint passes, defended at a high level and generally played with a level of confidence that allowed him to do whatever he wanted to do.
One strength of Walton's that's become immediately apparent is his ability to push the pace and control the tempo of the game; he's always looking to run when he gets an outlet pass (or a defensive rebound—he had seven combined in the two exhibitions) and that resulted in a lot of easy transition buckets for Michigan. When McGary—and his Unseldian outlets—returns to the court, the fast break could become one of Michigan's primary offensive weapons.
Golden Age Rap Song That Describes His Game/Impact: "For My Dogs" — DMX
And I'm gonna be the one behind just to keep you on your toes
I be your extra eyes and hold you down around your foes
I be your extra gun you need me let me know
For my dogs I be the first to cock it back and let it go
Walton isn't going to be the first option on this team; he's going to let his teammates know he's got their back, however—whether that comes in the form of assists, timely buckets, or giving his all on defense.
The Bottom Line: Walton is a freshman point guard, and that means he's going to make the occasional mistake on both ends of the court. The difference between Walton and other point guards of recent vintage is that there are other options—not only is Spike Albrecht a viable starter on a solid team, Caris LeVert is quickly emerging as a serious drive-and-kick threat playing the point in bigger lineups. Walton is the starter and should be for the duration; on this team, that means he's going to be pretty good, even if he's the fourth or fifth option on the court whose primary job is to distribute—think Yogi Ferrell on last year's Indiana team, except hopefully with a more consistent outside shot.
[Hit THE JUMP for SPIKE.]
The ghost of Lloyd Carr haunts everything. Oh yes.
Lloyd Carr stopped @Peedi3416 and I one day on the sidewalk and randomly said, "the hardest part about winning is the expectation it brings"
— Anthony Wright (@ItsAntWright) July 26, 2013
Life advice, or just Lloyd Carr musing darkly on a life he perceives as a slate-gray expanse of clouds? Does Lloyd Carr show up at orientation, pick a bright-eyed pre-med student, and tell them "this doesn't make you an adult"? I hope so. It would be very Michigan if one of their former coaches became the Dark Oracle Of Ann Arbor.
Nine minutes of game winning field goals. Right here:
Glenn Robinson III throwing various things down. Also right here:
Kate. I wish you to see this picture. I think the basketball team has gotten their Final Four rings.
A handsome man, now handsomer.
Piling on Emmert. Mark Emmert is getting hammered from all sides these days, with the latest hits a unified front from the Big 5 conferences against the NCAA status quo and an extensive OTL article detailing the chaos inside the organization:
One source said that at least one major conference has gone so far as to send a directive to its representative on the NCAA Executive Committee -- which, among other duties, hires and fires the association's president -- to make it "crystal clear that they were not at all happy with the direction of the entire enterprise under Emmert."
He picked up the dread vote of confidence a while ago.
Meanwhile, with an obviously coordinated assault on the current state of the NCAA launched by the commissioners of the top five conferences, change is coming, and soon. Emmert himself is joining the chorus:
Emmert said he expects significant changes to how the NCAA operates to be adopted within the next year.
At issue is the ability of the richest athletic programs --- which attract the massive television rights fees --- to set policy without the smaller D-I programs stopping them because of financial concerns.
“There’s one thing that virtually everybody in Division I has in common right now, and that is they don’t like the governance model,” Emmert said. “Now, there’s not agreement on what the new model should be. But there’s very little support for continuing things in the governing process the way they are today.”
Emmert actually may have been at the forefront of this, but don't tell anyone that. He may gone about everything in the most ham-handed way possible, but given what he's been trying to do he's likely on board with Division Zero or whatever.
I am too, of course. The gap between programs that are net spenders and those that have to figure out what to do with their buckets of money is untenable, and the players should get some more of the money coming in. If this is the way to do it, great:
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Wednesday he wants lifetime scholarships for athletes to finish their educations and a non-athletic year for “at-risk” students followed by four years of eligibility.
“There’s no one talking about this being some incremental change,” Emmert said. “I think there’s an interest in some pretty fundamental change in the way decisions are made, both to accomodate those (financial) differences but also to deal with concerns people have about representation ... in the policy debates.”
Etc.: Ace points out that OSU has the best record against the spread in conference games over the past ten years, nationally. Michigan is barely below .500. Baseball brings in 16 kids, including the co-Mr. Baseballs in the state. They are 11 guys over their roster limit, though. That's just how baseball works, I guess?
Charlie Weis has an epiphany. Jordan Kovacs gets hazed. The randomness of turnovers is pretty much why Darrell Hazell got to Purdue. Bill Connolly previews State. Think he's way underrating LeVeon Bell and thus overrating MSU's line, FWIW. Connolly also does Iowa. Targeting is going to be a fiasco.