"College basketball is facing a crisis. It’s time for an extreme makeover."
-Seth Davis, 3/2/2015
After a one-year surge in offense spurred by a sometimes-enforced focus on contact and the virtual elimination of off-ball charges, college basketball largely reverted to its old rules this year. The result: a fractional dip in scoring to new lows and sustained outcry from announcers and newspapermen alike.
Damn things like "division," full speed ahead:
Is college basketball in crisis?
Scoring is down. Pace is at an all-time low. Some teams are winning with defense, which is fine, but far too many others are surviving simply because — let's face it — they miss fewer shots.
Damn things like "bothering to look at even one stat," full speed ahead:
[Colorado head coach Tad] Boyle said several factors, including the way the game is officiated, has led to lower scoring. Teams also tend to do the same things offensively, which makes defending them easier. But for the most part Boyle boiled it down. "Better shooting, quite frankly, would really help," he said.
Seth Davis had a major SI piece decrying the decline:
The more things change, the more they ... get worse. College basketball is slower, more grinding, more physical and more, well, offensive than it has been in a long, long time. The 2014-15 season is shaping up to be the worst offensive season in modern history. Through Feb. 22, teams were averaging 67.1 points per game. That is the lowest average since 1952. The previous low for that span was set just two years ago. This more than reverses the gains that were made last season, after the rules committee made adjustments to clamp down on physical defense and make it harder to draw a charge. Thanks to lax enforcement by officials and a foolish decision to reverse the block/charge modification, scoring declined by 3.79 points per game. That is the steepest single-season drop on record.
As of late, the fretting has spread to the athletic director level, as those ADs look at their attendance figures. All of this looks at the state of the game today and shakes its head sadly at what we've lost.
And it's all nonsense.
College basketball has barely changed
The thing about college basketball is how little it's changed over the past 13 years. Kenpom has data back to 2002 showing an eerily static state of play, with a slight trend towards more efficiency.
Things that actually seem to have a trend are bolded:
|Possessions per game||64.8||67.3||67.3||69.5|
Shooting has remained shockingly static, as have all the individual components—despite the three point arc moving back slightly during this sample. Offensive efficiency has in fact increased even without the rules changes that a panicked committee instituted two years ago, implemented after a season (2013) in which offensive efficiency was a half-point worse per hundred possessions than it was in 2002.
Only a few things have actually changed: there are fewer turnovers and steals as teams take care of the ball better; there are fewer offensive rebounds as more teams adopt the Wisconsin/Michigan model of preventing transition opportunities at all costs. And there are fewer possessions.
That's it. Games are in fact getting shorter in terms of time spent doing the basketball. Free throw rates remain essentially constant as the denominator shrinks. There are fewer balls flung out of bounds, stopping the clock. Little that happens during the 40 minutes the clock is actually running has changed in 13 years. There are 7% fewer possessions. That is about it.
This holds at all levels. Major conference stats from leagues that had approximately the same membership over the course of these 13 years (ie, not the Big East) show the same broad trends, albeit with the additional jitter inherent in a much smaller sample size. The ACC has plummeted from the country's second-fastest league to #23:
|Possessions per game||63.3||67.8||70.5||74.2|
The Big Ten is less dramatic but similar:
|Possessions per game||62.3||62.3||62.8||65.1|
The Big Ten has shown some degradation of shooting as fewer fouls are called and effective field goal percentage slips, but the large decrease in turnovers has offset that.
The Big Twelve has undergone a dip in efficiency…
|Possessions per game||64.7||69.1||65.4||70.2|
…but again, we are talking about a league losing approximately one basket per game. Hardly a crisis. The Big Twelve still shows the overall slowdown and hints at the reduction in TOs and OREBs as well.
College basketball is fine when college basketball is being played
There is no college basketball scoring crisis. There is a college basketball actually-playing-basketball crisis.
It is not particularly surprising that athletic directors will leap at any explanation they can get their hands on to explain ever-slower games and declining attendance, even if that entails flogging a measly 7% decline in the number of shots as the end of basketball. It's not surprising because the alternative is finding the true culprits: the athletic directors themselves.
The athletic directors are the ones signing the contracts that see every timeout, and there are a million timeouts, followed by a commercial. They're the ones who implemented the ridiculous review system that stops play for minutes at a time to not give someone a flagrant foul or arbitrarily decide to overturn or not overturn an out of bounds call that was already pretty arbitrary.
They are the ones responsible for this:
Overall, the last 60 seconds of the 52 [most recent 2014 NCAA tourney] games combined have taken five hours, 44 minutes, and 51 seconds to complete. (That's including the five bonus final minutes from overtime games.) 5:44:51 is 605 percent longer than realtime; the average final minute took 5:57 to finish, with a median of 5:29.
That is insane.
Maybe people were inclined to put up with that when the alternatives were watching Hee-Haw or silently playing chess in a room with one very loud ticking clock. Not so much these days.
The problem is with the product. Fix the product. You might make less money right now, but with a better product you will be better off in the long run. Here's how you fix the product:
- Coaches must sacrifice a digit to call a timeout. The timeout signal is now a head coach handing one of his freshly snipped fingers or toes to the referee. Until such time as the coach has too few fingers to manipulate the shears, he must snip the fingers off himself. Afterwards his wife or children must.
…what? "Too extreme," you say? "This is barbaric," you say? "I will not condone this sort of behavior in our society," you say?
- Severely reduce the number of timeouts. Ideally this is one, like hockey. More realistically you need to cut them down to three. Timeouts benefit nobody except megalomaniac coaches. They drastically lessen the immediacy of frantic finishes. By allowing teams in the lead to avoid five-second calls, tie-ups, and turnovers after getting trapped they reduce the chances of a trailing team coming back.
- All remaining timeouts before the last five minutes take the place of media timeouts. The timeout-ten-seconds-of-play-timeout thing is an awful frustration in the middle of the game.
- Media timeouts are every five minutes, not four.
- If you want to shorten the shot clock to 30 seconds, okay I guess. I was previously opposed to this since it would lead to more ugly late clock shots from college basketball outfits without guys who are particularly good at isolation, but the stats over the 15 years suggest that basketball could withstand a slight dip in efficiency okay.
You'll give up some money initially, but increased competition for fewer spots will make up some of it—you're still the only live game in town these days—and increased ratings from being less positively insufferable to watch will support the rest. As a side benefit, people will be more inclined to watch your games when they consist largely of game instead of t-shirt cannon.
The game is the same. It is eerily the same. If there's a difference it's in the stuff in between the game.
— Zoltan Mesko (@ZoltanMesko) January 17, 2014
ATTN: New Yorkers. Rather large game approaching on the 23rd. If you seek the camaraderie of your fellow Michigan Man, here is a thing you might do: hang out with Zoltan Mesko and two small dogs at Professor Thom's, with proceeds going to a good cause. Details:
Professor Thom's, February 23rd, Noon.
Happy hour drink specials, complimentary appetizers, door prizes & more!
A $10 donation at the door (or online) to benefit the Zoltan Mesko Foundation will be your ticket to the event. If you can't make it, but would still like to donate please do so at zoltanmeskofoundation.org
Here is the facebook page. No word about speedo availability, ladies.
Just the worst. If you follow me on twitter you already know about this, but since many people don't for excellent reasons like "tends to go on rants about Penn State bench players," let me introduce you to John Johnson, a guy getting ten minutes a game for Penn State who drives me completely insane because:
- His ORTG is 87, which is actually up two points from last night.
- Despite this he takes 23% of PSU's shots when he's on the court.
- He has an assist rate of 4.6 and TO rate of 20.
- His parents named him "John Johnson," which is… wow. Also what happens when he finds out about Major Major Major Major? Exactly.
I have to tell you about this here because BISB stole my platform to lob statistical oddities at you and now I just track Illinois defensive rebounding anomalies in my basement.
Did you know the Big Ten now has TWO guys named Maverick? Or that Purdue has only three guys playing more than half their minutes, and nobody (NOBODY) averaging 30 minutes a game? Or that Northwestern starts a guy, Sanjay Lumpkin, who takes fewer than 10% of available shots? Only me and the basement elves did.
By the way, do we have a Reggie Cleveland All Star team for guys who should be oompa-loompas but are in fact 6'6" half-Indian dudes? Because… well, you see where I'm going with this.
OTHER THING. Rewatching the Ohio State game made one thing clear: Amir Johnson tries to block everything. I mentioned the Morgan basket on a missed Albrecht shot that was functionally equivalent to a pass as Williams came over. That is a canonical example but far from the only one. About ten minutes into the first half it became clear that OSU's defensive rebounding problems were about 80% Williams attempting to swat everything, leaving Michigan bigs all alone on the weakside.
The offensive rebound numbers don't even tell the full story, as there were a number of instances in which Michigan was in position to add to their totals until funny bounces intervened. The numbers back this up, especially if you tick over to the conference only Kenpom stats. Ohio State is 11th in the league at defensive rebounding. And it doesn't even help their defense. In league play OSU is 10th at defending twos.
OTHER OTHER THING. What, you want links to things? Oh fine. Here is your Indiana schadenfreude after they managed to lose to Penn State despite being up 11 with three minutes left.
This is absolutely 100% unacceptable. This team is hot garbage with a bevy of talent. Seriously, I'm not going to talk any crap about youth or inexperience. That had nothing to do with the non-stop disasters that we've witnessed this year. I even want to try and blame this most recent egg on Tom Crean and I can't find where I actually feel he had a problem in this game.
Win chart? Hell yes.
I'd like to thank the Nittany Lions for doing that to someone else this year.
New rules. The NCAA proposes allowing replay booths to not only overturn targeting expulsions but also the targeting penalties, which was always going to happen once it became clear that leaving half of a non-penalty to stand was rage-inducing. So hooray.
The committee also recommended a rules change that will allow defensive units to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, with the exception of the final two minutes of each half, starting with the 2014 season.
If a team snaps the ball before 29 seconds on the play clock they will be hit with a five yard delay of game penalty.
You try to not be a jerk about everything and this is how they repay you.
More offensive yet is the stated reason for these changes:
“This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute,” said Calhoun.
Nobody buys this. A player who is hurt or in trouble can fall over and the game will stop to accommodate them.
Speedy coaches have texted any reporter they know expressing their skepticism/disgust, and some guys have even taken to twitter to express something than bland positivity. "Think of the children" isn't flying in this case. The pushback here exceeds anything I've seen in the last decade or so. Even the hated clock rules that got rolled back after one season didn't get public heated disagreement from coaches.
But… Matt Hinton does point out that very few snaps would have much chance of running afoul of the rule. Oregon averaged 20 seconds per snap, so how many would actually be under ten? Not many.
I went back to the the canonical example of lightspeed, Indiana, to find out. Specifically, I wondered if that play on which Indiana's tempo burned Ray Taylor for a touchdown would have been affected. You know, this one:
That play was snapped exactly eleven seconds after the previous one ended. IE, it would have been legal, probably. Indiana may have had to wait a beat if the play clock took a second to reset.
Ten seconds is not many seconds. It may not even be enough to substitute confidently. If the rule does get passed it's probably not going to have the huge impact people fear it will.
It goes without saying that getting the rule change passed would be good for Michigan, which regards speed as a distasteful attempt to gain advantage.
It sucks you have to say this, but yeah you have to say this. Welp:
Goal No. 1 for Doug Nussmeier at Michigan? 'We're not going to go backwards'
May you succeed in this task, for all of our sanities. I'm encouraged by what this quote implies about Nussmeier's approach to data:
"There's a number of different things, you wish you can pinpoint one thing, but we need to get our players to understand how their success rate decreases with loss yardage plays," he said. "You look at statistical football, it doesn't add up. We've got to stay on schedule, within the sticks. We'll talk about that and it'll be a big part of the spring.
"We'll talk about our goals with down and distance, what we're looking for from each play yardage-wise. And what a negative play does to you as far as your percent chances to score and how our negative plays hurt our chances to score last year."
That sounds like a guy who's willing to look at stats to see if there's anything he can learn from them, which is a change of pace from the fancy-stats-are-for-losers approach of his predecessor.
Spartan health update. Izzo had the "feeling" Keith Appling was out a couple weeks as of February 9th, which would make his return for the Michigan game in some doubt. I mean, no doubt, really. But he might not be full go. Well, of course he won't be full go. No Michigan State player will be. For one, they'll be trying to cope with the emotional havoc associated with having a 14 year old call you names on twitter*.
I've had grown men (my players) in my office in tears because of what's being written.
The things these guys play through are insane. It's Iwo Jima out there.
Meanwhile, the Fist of Stupidity gets its pins removed on the 20th, which makes fist owner Branden Dawson hypothetically but not necessarily available for Michigan. Anyone ever had pins taken out of their hand? Would you be ready to play basketball three days after? Seems unlikely to me, but maybe they're really tiny or something.
*[First sentence of first comment: "Social Media is bringging this Country to its Knees."]
Etc.: Wildcats make preliminary argument to local labor relations board. Induction Burner! (It's not happening, Brian, stop trying to make it happen, Brian.) Andrew Sinelli, suddenly key defenseman. We may not have Oompa Loompa Reggie Cleveland, but we do now have the Basil Smotherman All Stars, which are comprised of the guys who sound the most like peers of the realm.
Ace will have your official preview in a bit, but Iowa's such an interesting team and important game that I thought I would go over some high-level stuff. Iowa goes 11 deep—seriously—so Ace might need a bit of a breather anyway.
They're fast. This is a major contrast in styles, as Iowa is 12th in adjusted tempo while Michigan is 307th. This is because Iowa gets shots off faster than anyone in the country save BYU and Northwestern State.
Opponents tend to take a lot of time to get their shots off, in contrast. Iowa's defensive possession length for Iowa is actually identical to Michigan's.
fee fi fo fum
They're huge. The starting lineup is a seven-footer, two 6-9, guys, a 6-6 shooting guard, and a regular ol' point guard. While that lineup doesn't stay on the floor together that much because Iowa's got 'em working in shifts, they bring a 6-10 guy and a 6-9 guy off the bench. The overall largeness has them in the top ten in Kenpom's effective height stat, and this shows up in the places you'd expect it to: offensive rebounding, blocking shots, and two point defense.
Their defense may be more questionable than it appears on paper. Iowa is benefiting from a weird combination right now: opponents are taking a ton of threes (37% of FGAs) and making a horrible percentage (28%). Kenpom posted about this for much of the last couple years, finding that with certain limited exceptions basketball teams are better off preventing threes from being launched than relying on their ability to defend them, because it appears that teams have about as much control over three-point makes as they do free throw makes.
Now, it is possible that the aforementioned hugeness prevents teams from getting good looks from inside the line and results in a lot of late shot clock jacks, but against reasonable competition that doesn't appear to be the case. Two point shooting by major conference opponents against Iowa this year:
- vs Xavier: 48% (Iowa W 77-74 in OT)
- vs Villanova: 52% (Iowa L 88-83 in OT)
- Notre Dame: 53% (W 98-93)
- @ Iowa State: 52% (L 85-82)
- Nebraska: 31% (W 67-57)
- @ Wisconsin 32% (L 75-71)
- Northwestern: 51% (W 93-67)
- @ Ohio State: 51% (W 84-74)
- Minnesota: 50% (W 94-73)
The Nebraska and Wisconsin games seem like outliers amongst a general trend of Iowa giving up a lot of good shots from within the line. Meanwhile, Wisconsin was 10/22 from three and Nebraska 5 of 18. Conclusion: Iowa is benefiting from a healthy dose of luck when it comes to opponent three point shooting. Also, despite the height this defense looks like it can be had by Michigan's eviscerating pick and roll game.
Obvious statement of the week: stay out of transition. This is a game in which clichéd color commentator bloviating will actually be right on. Michigan's transition defense is weak. So weak as to be nearly nonexistent:
The Wolverines are allowing a 66.1% eFG% in transition situations, the second worst in the country. Michigan’s half-court eFG% allowed is a more impressive 43.7%, but that leaves a 22.5% gap between Michigan’s halfcourt and transition defenses. That transition defense drop-off is the largest in the country.
Michigan has responded by abandoning the offensive glass; that combined with their inherent Michigan-ness (lot of makes, vanishingly few turnovers) has prevented that weakness from crushing their overall defensive numbers.
Iowa, meanwhile, is fast. Almost 40% of Iowa's shots come in the first ten seconds of the shot clock and their eFG% on those shots is 61%. Those numbers are sixth nationally and in the top 50. That's crazy impressive.
Michigan's transition offense is even more efficient, just used a lot less; meanwhile, Iowa's extensive experience with open-court basketball sees them check in with an impressive 50% transition eFG% on defense. Discretion may be the better part of valor on two on two breaks and the like. Also, you might want to be a little more cautious in that department because…
Michigan needs to do a better job on the defensive boards than they did against Arizona [Fuller]
You're probably going to want to fling everyone at the defensive boards. Iowa crushes the offensive boards and gets putbacks and fouls off of their rebounds. They've got 88 putback attempts on the year to Michigan's 51 and are much, much better at converting them; this is also where big chunks of the White/Olaseni/Basabe free throw parade comes from. Everyone who's not contesting the shooter should head right for the defensive glass.
HORSE don't fail me now. Michigan wins this game by imposing their HORSE style of play—I get a shot, you get a shot, no fouls, no possession advantage, no transition—on Iowa. This is obviously easier said than done against this Iowa.
FWIW, last year's single meeting was
- a 67-possession affair (draw)
- in which Iowa shot ten FTs (M win)
- and got crushed on the boards (M win)
- and allowed Michigan to shoot 65%/46% (M win).
That was the game when undefeated Michigan looked their very best in a 95-67 throttling. This Iowa team is much better in all departments and will not go down so meekly, but in general the last couple years when Michigan has come up against teams that draw a lot of FTs and force a lot of TOs, they have imposed their style on the opponent.
Against a team that gives up a lot of threes and healthy two point percentages (for the most part) Michigan just needs to hit shots. Hitting shots both gives you points and slows down the opponent. Make this Adam Jacobi's worst game ever.
Marty sets the record. Via Michigan Hockey Net:
Juuuust a bit outside. Lake The Posts previews Michigan with a look back at a name that will live in Wildcat infamy:
Red Sox nation hoists names like Aaron “Effin” Boone and Bucky Dent up on the grand facade of ignominious moments in their history. Well, when it comes to Michigan football, the name Wildcat fans will never forget when it comes to last year’s Hail Mary loss in the Big House is Ray Roundtree.
Will almost live in Wildcat infamy, I guess.
It's only fair, Wildcats. I still remember when Anthofy Thorbus furmbled the quail without being so much as touched.
Well, what do we think about this? Shakin' The Southland runs a study that attempts to see if there's any validity to the idea that running a fast offense will hurt your defense, and comes out with this table:
[Methodology note: teams were classified by plays per minute of possession, which you've probably just seized on as a pretty wobbly way to do things since the clock stops on an incomplete pass. This would make a Leach system look faster than it actually is in terms of seconds left on the playclock when you snap the ball.]
There is basically no difference until you get to truly sloth-like teams. (Of the 723 in the study, 97 qualify as "slow"—"normal" is the vast bulk of the sample with 516.) Ponderous offense does seem to be correlated with good defense in a real (ie, on a per-possession, not per-game) basis, but is the slow offense a cause or an effect? It's pretty easy to dream up the teams at the bottom of the survey: run-heavy, defense-first teams that try to win a game 17-10 and merrily plow into the line once they get a sliver of a lead, and probably before they do as well. Also in the slow sample: teams that run out to huge leads and spend large chunks of the game murdering the clock, like say Alabama.
If you ask me, the slow teams' better defense is the cause of the slow pace, not the other way around. We've all watched enough football to know when you're in the kind of game where defense and field position are the way to play—last year's State game—and when you need to tell the punter "sorry, but come back next week"—2011 OSU. When you have a boa constrictor defense it makes sense to lower the variance and pound out a win.
The other half of the equation does seem more meaningful. Fast teams play in games with more possessions and points on both sides, but once you put up some tempo-free stats the effect on their defenses is basically zero.
Oh come on man. 277 pound Frank Clark gets four FAKEs for his supposed 40 time:
CHICAGO -- Frank Clark played safety in high school and enrolled at Michigan weighing 217 pounds. Two years later, he's a defensive end who weighs 277.
And he can still crush the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.
"That's pretty ridiculous," quarterback Devin Gardner said of Clark's time, which was clocked during an offseason workout earlier this year. "Huge guy, and he's able to do all the things I'm able to do, which is really frustrating for me. I like to think of myself as a premier athlete, and he goes out and does -- if not better -- close to what I'm doing.
"It's pretty amazing to see, and I can't wait for the finished product to be on the field. You guys got a glimpse of it last year, and I feel like he's going to be one of the best defensive players in the league."
If he went to Ohio State he'd be running a 4.3, because their FAKE 40 scale goes to 11. If Frank Clark explodes into all All Big Ten type player… I would like that.
You guys are lame. More like the NO FUN LEAGUE, amirite?
The NFL, they say, has a long-standing pace at which they do things between plays and the referees "aren't going to change just to accommodate someone's offense," said Mike Pereira, a former NFL vice president of officiating who is now an analyst for Fox Sports.
"We have to make sure teams understand that they don't control the tempo, our officials do," said NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino. "We're going through our normal ball mechanics, we aren't going to rush [unless] it's in the two minute drill."
Chip Kelly won't be allowed to ram his offense down the field at warp speed, because a man named "Dean Blandino" says so. That is the most NFL.
A much better idea. Instead of just booting guys for hits that you think may have sort of been illegal in the split second you had to observe it, borrow from soccer. Pat Fitzgerald suggests adding a yellow card to the 15 yard penalty, which is a much better idea than just booting some dude out or doing nothing.
Gardner: likeable. Our starting quarterback is a card.
"People ask me for my number all the time on Twitter. Sometimes I'll give 'em a fake number. Like a 555 movie number. One guy got so mad at me, like, 'I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU GAVE ME A FAKE NUMBER,' and I was like, 'You should know! It says 555! No number in the world starts with 555! You really tried to call that?'"
I had missed the fact that Malcolm Gladwell compared football to dogfighting in 2009. Because dogs == football players, I guess? That's not a massively troubling comparison or anything? Malcolm Gladwell is still defending this position, because Gladwell.
As you've referenced with KenPom's research several times, it would appear that the best way to defend the 3 point shot is to keep your opponent from shooting them at all. Unfortunately, according to an ESPN insider article, Michigan is allowing its opponents to shoot them on 36.9% of their possessions, which ranks 295th in the nation. Does this concern you? I think we would all hate to see Michigan beaten in the tournament by a less talented opponent with a hot hand from deep because they can't prevent teams from getting off 3 pointers.
Somewhat. The nice thing about Michigan's defense is how few shots at the rim they give up. Michigan's forcing more two-point jumpers than any team in the league except Nebraska:
Team Defensive Summary
% of shots
% of Shots Blocked
Insofar as shots are migrating to three-pointers, they're shots at the rim. So… that's okay. Ideally you'd like to see that Nebraska shot configuration, but to do that the Huskers give up on the idea of offensive rebounding and steals.
I'm not sure what Michigan can do to improve their defense at this point. Forcing a lot of jumpers plus their defensive rebounding and lack of fouls has propped their defense up, and that's about all they can do. They don't have a shotblocker—at least right now, maybe Horford can provide some of that later in the season—or an elite perimeter defender. They rotate out on pick and rolls to prevent guys getting to the basket, and then you have to start rotating away from the corners. Threes inevitably result… if you're not Wisconsin.
As for the tourney, it will be tough for any major underdog to keep up with Michigan's offense, but a second or third round matchup against a good defensive team that takes and hits a lot of threes would be worrisome.
Whenever Michigan gets a 3-star recruit earlier in the process, there tends to be widespread complaining about taking up scholarships that could be filled by more highly rated players. The general response to that is, "I trust the coaches to evaluate players." This got me to thinking that most major programs essentially have their pick of just about any three star player that they want.
My question is, do three star and lower players who go to major programs perform better on average than the total population of three star players?
I understand it would be hard to distinguish between a three star player taken for depth/filling out a roster purposes compared to a three star player who the coaches think are better than their ranking, but I thought it might be an interesting topic to explore.
I'd guess it's actually worse since there's more competition and recruiting sites give recruits at the bottom end of the scale a courtesy bump to three stars 90% of the time a nobody commits to a power program.
At Purdue, everyone is a three-star player and someone has to be relied upon; sometimes you get Kawann Short. At Michigan—at least at Michigan in the near future—the three star is going to have to climb over some other guys to get on the field.
I do think that there is a big difference between a recruitment like Reon Dawson—who Michigan clearly grabbed to fill a previously designated spot that was vacated—or Da'Mario Jones—seemingly offered once Treadwell flitted off—and Channing Stribling, who Michigan liked at camp and then had a very nice senior year. To put in in Gruden terms, did Michigan want THIS GUY or just A GUY?
In your post, "Aging in a Loop", you mentioned how the solid defensive rebounding performance in Columbus proves that we are for real on the boards this year. I agree completely, but it got me wondering how much of that has to do with our sudden ability to actually have three to four non-midgets (relative use of the term, I get it) on the floor at once. I can't remember too many Michigan teams having anything resembling a luxury of length in quite some time.
Have ever looked for or found any statistical correlation between average height and rebounding prowess? Even the least astute observer must realize it will benefit the numbers, but I guess what I'm after is just how much it actually does?
[Note: since this email came in Minnesota did pound Michigan on the offensive boards.]
While much-improved, Michigan still isn't a very big team. Replacing Novak and Douglass with a couple of 6'6" guys and adding McGary into the mix has pushed them to a hair above average on Kenpom's "effective height,"* but that's in the context of 347 D-I teams. There are entire conferences where the 6'10" guy is a tourist attraction. They remain a lot shorter than Kentucky, Arizona, USC, Miami, Gonzaga, Eastern Michigan, and others. Effectively four inches shorter, in fact.
Michigan's moved up in the world in that stat—they've generally hovered around 250th in effective height since Beilein arrived—but I don't think that's the reason they've been so good at rebounding this year. I crammed together the data available on Kenpom to eyeball an ugly scatter plot, and here it is:
Libre Office makes sinfully ugly graphs yo.
That round ball with a dense central cluster is typical of things that are not correlated. You'd find something similar if you graphed hair color versus desire to eat bananas.
There is no correlation between effective height and defensive rebounding. If you insert a trend line into this—something I don't like to do in low-correlation graphs like because it implies that there actually is a trend—it actually goes down as your height goes up, at a surprisingly steep slope. Some people would try to apply some crazy mechanism to make that make sense here; I'm just going to tell you there is no meaning. There does seem to be some correlation between EH and offensive rebounding, but not much of one.
Anecdotally, that enormous Eastern Michigan team Michigan played earlier this year is below average at both facets of rebounding despite having played only a few games against decent competition. They're hideous on the defensive glass.
In general this is good news for Michigan, a team that trades some rebounding muscle for increased offensive effectiveness. But why are they so much better this year than last? Well:
- Luck, always luck.
- Effective height does not capture the difference between Mitch McGary and Evan Smotrycz very well.
- Michigan has not trudged through their Big Ten schedule yet; IIRC they entered conference play last year in the top ten and ended up 9th in conference, dropping to 99th overall.
- Tim Hardaway is serious, man.
- Some teams are abandoning the offensive boards in an effort to choke Michigan's transition game off.
If you asked me to put weights on these things I would give them nearly all equal weight, which means they can expect some regression as #1 and #3 betray them but should realize a significant gain from last year's 9th-place conference finish.
SIDE NOTE: You'll notice that GRIII > Novak is not on that list. While it's true that GRIII is much better on the offensive boards than Novak was, their defensive rebounding is essentially identical, lending credence to the idea that getting on the defensive glass is a matter of effort and positioning while offensive rebounding is more about being a skyscraper-bounding genetic freak. Holla at yo' Petway.
*[IE, if you have a seven-footer who plays 10 minutes and a 6'8" guy who plays 30, the 6'8" guy counts three times more than the seven-footer.]
Brian, Quite often the site discusses the ability of an offensive lineman to pull. Why is this difficult? My understanding is that pulling requires the lineman to:
(0) (set up:) ignore the guys across from him before the snap, because the lineman is about to pull,
(1) after the snap, back up a step or two,
(2) run sideways behind other blockers, and then
(3) find a guy to block.
So what is hard? I'm not saying there isn't anything, I just don't know what it is. Is finding the right guy to block hard? Or backing up and running?
Also, have you thought about doing a basketball version of HTTV?
One of the major takeaways from the clinic swing I did last spring was that everything is hard on the offensive line. I missed most of a three-hour presentation by Darryl Funk on inside zone because I was at Mattison's thing, and when I came in I was too far gone to understand much. I also sat in with a wizened consultant who scribbled various v-shaped diagrams on an ancient projector and demonstrated how if you stepped like so your world would end, and if you stepped like so demons would pour into the world from outside known space, but if you stepped like so there was a slight chance of you living to see dinner.
All of these steps looked identical to me. Offensive line is hard.
So. Consider the pull. You are 300 pounds, and you are lined up across from men who would like to run you over, and you are trying to get to a hole past other 300 pound men before a 200 pound man lined up a gap closer to this hole can get there. On the way you may encounter bulges in the line you have to route around. When you arrive you have to instantly identify the guy to block, reroute your momentum, and get drive on a guy.
This is a tall order. Michigan particularly had difficulty with step 2 the last couple years. Here's a canonical example from the uniformz MSU game. Watch Omameh (second from the bottom):
"Run sideways" goes all wrong there as Omameh arcs slowly and Denard ends up hitting the hole before he does; Denard has to bounce as a result when a block on Bullough is promising as the left side of the line caves in MSU.
To get to the place you are supposed to be you have to execute a series of steps as carefully choreographed as anything on dancing reality TV and be able to adapt on the fly, and you have to be able to redirect your momentum quickly enough to go in three different directions in a short space of time, with enough bulk to be, you know, an offensive lineman. Getting there in time is harder than anything the tailback has to do.
How does this impact Michigan's search for run-game competence in 2013? I hope it doesn't since I'd rather have Schofield back at right tackle than moving back inside.