TO THE HOT TAKE CANNON
See also: hockey.
a shruggie of a year [Bryan Fuller]
Despite a lot more playing time than anyone expected, Michigan seems content to allow Max Bielfeldt to graduate and move on. As a 6'7" center it seems unlikely he can feature on a team with major aspirations.
That is all.
And this isn't graduating yet but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that Austin Hatch may transition to a medical scholarship at some point.
NBA PIRACY AHOY
The looming unresolved question of the offseason is "wither Caris LeVert?" LeVert would be a mid-to-late first round pick if he decided to enter the draft, but chatter from Scout and Rivals holds that LeVert seems to be favoring a return. I don't have to explain how huge that would be. Fingers will be crossed until the deadline.
Other attrition is unlikely. Zak Irvin's late diversification has not piqued the interest of NBA evaluators just yet; Derrick Walton has not shown the kind of meteoric rise necessary for a guy of his stature to leave early.
technically incoming is the best kind of incoming [Bryan Fuller]
Technically, nobody right now. Michigan has two guys who are functionally incoming, however. D-III transfer Duncan Robinson spent his redshirt year testing Nik Stauskas's practice marksmanship records and gathering hype:
"I texted Nik (telling him the record fell)," Beilein said of Robinson's record on WTKA 1050-AM on Thursday morning, adding that he didn't witness it personally. "(Stauskas) was happy, but he was also sad that the record went down. Duncan can really shoot the ball and as he learns the other parts of the game, he's tough to stop in practice." …
"He can help us against that zone anytime," said Beilein, who kept the record to himself, later saying, "I'm not going to disclose the numbers and maybe it will come out at some time, because I'm not sure I'm supposed to do that."
Robinson should be Just A Shooter, always a handy thing to have around. He could be something more.
Meanwhile, DJ Wilson took a redshirt after a second injury in a few months. Prior to that he'd offered hints that he could be an impact defender and skilled 4/5 man. He'd also struggled immensely in brief spurts of playing time against grown-ass men. (Not Eddie Johnson. Others.) Wilson was a solid four star recruit after an impressive senior season in California and could play either post-type position.
Michigan is also active in the spring recruiting period. Uber-prospect Jaylen Brown just took a visit, and Sam's saying there's a chance; German Moritz Wagner took a visit and seems set to choose Ann Arbor unless his pro team can convince him to change course; late-rising instate post Mike Edwards was just on campus; Seton Hall point guard transfer Jaren Sina, who Michigan recruited a bit a couple years ago, is listing Michigan amongst his options.
Edwards is 6'10" instate player who blew up as a senior, going from a lonely Akron offer to high-major offers from Nebraska and Georgia. Michigan is poking around but has not offered.
Will they? I'd be a bit surprised. Michigan has Donnal and Doyle plus 2016 7-footer Jon Teske; DJ Wilson may play the 5 for them as well. Even if you assume Wilson is a full-time 4, that would be a post per year for four straight. On the other hand, an incessant parade of senior Cs sounds okay by me.
Michigan has at least one slot from Bielfeldt's graduation and may have up to three depending on Hatch and LeVert. It seems like the most likely outcome here is Wagner, and only Wagner, comes.
USELESS BUT MANDATORY MINUTE BREAKDOWNS
After a year in which we fussed about auto-bench and a couple of walk-ons got meaningful playing time in most games, here is a happy about-face: it's difficult to find minutes for everyone if LeVert comes back.
remember me? [Eric Upchurch]
POINT GUARD: Walton 25, Spike 15.
Hard to imagine Walton getting fewer than 30 a game even with Albrecht establishing himself a very good offensive player in trying circumstances last year, but 1) Walton only got 26 as a freshman when he was fully healthy and 2) all of the remaining minutes went to Spike.
Meanwhile Albrecht ended up playing over 30 this year and maintained a healthy 112 ORTG thanks to lots of assists and excellent shooting. There are going to be games and matchups where he may be the preferred option. When Michigan goes up against Bennie Parker or Lourawls Tum-Tum Nairn Jr, Spike's size deficiency isn't going to be, you know, deficient.
Walton could blow up a la Morris/Burke and relegate Albrecht to more bench time. The above is a best guess at a position that's relatively uncertain despite having two upperclassmen.
SHOOTING GUARD, LEVERT EDITION: LeVert 30, Spike 5, MAAR 5.
There will be some dual-point lineups. Spike's five minutes here are a representation of that. Past that, if LeVert's around he's playing a lot of minutes. Surprise!
MAAR looks like he might be the odd man out in the musical chairs of next year's lineup: his handle won't be needed to spot PG minutes, he didn't shoot anywhere near Dawkins's numbers, and he doesn't bring the rebounding others might. Ace pointed out on a podcast that MAAR showed hints that he might be a lockdown perimeter defender (D'Angelo Russell had a terrible game against him) and that this might be a ticket to playing time. That's probably his best hope for PT next year.
SHOOTING GUARD, NBA PIRACY EDITION: MAAR 20, Spike 10, Robinson 10
In the unhappy event LeVert decides on the draft, dual-point lineups increase, MAAR gets a healthy chunk of playing time, and Duncan Robinson finds more time as a floor-stretching kickout option even if that's the extent of his game.
It'll be disappointing if LeVert does enter after these positive noises, but this hypothetical SG lineup is far from ominous.
SMALL FORWARD: Dawkins 25, Robinson 15
Dawkins's late shooting surge—he shot 48% from 3 in Big Ten play as part of a larger improvement in his game has everyone hype, as does the addition of the alley-oop dunk to his arsenal late in the season. This minutes breakdown is looking at Dawkins as 3 defensively but envisions his role on offense similar to that of GRIII: shoot corner threes, cut to the basket for explosive dunks, drive off closeouts.
Meanwhile, Robinson is a wildcard. It seems like his floor is a knockdown shooter off the bench. Robinson hit 45% from three as a freshman at Williams, and if he's given similar quality shots there's no reason to expect a dropoff. Readiness won't be an issue after a redshirt year, especially since highlight videos of his year in D-III demonstrate he's running Beilein's offense down to the cut.
If Jaylen Brown does come to Michigan—knock on wood—he would suck up 30 minutes here, leaving Dawkins and Robinson in a situation similar to MAAR's.
HELLO THIS IS ZAK [Fuller]
"POWER" FORWARD: Irvin 30, Chatman 10, Wagner?
Irvin will be the non-post most suited to bang in the paint on defense and rebound so he goes here. Michigan hopes to get the playmaking ability he demonstrated late last year. He could be the alpha dog; that could be LeVert; hopefully we get something like the Trey/Tim/Nik or Nik/Caris/Derrick teams in which the shots are spread out such that focusing on any one player just makes his assist totals go up.
Chatman struggled for most of last year. Like Irvin and Dawkins, he did come on late with a number of skilled drives to the basket and the first flashes of the passing ability he was noted for in high school. It does not seem likely he will push through anyone to field extensive playing time in year two, but if he can start giving consistently quality minutes off the bench that would set the table for a starting job as a junior if Irvin's improvement carries him to the draft.
Wagner's not even on the team yet; if he comes he will compete at the 3 and 4. He is not coming to redshirt but he's super skinny so playing time in year one might be scant.
CENTER: Doyle 24, Wilson 8, Donnal 8
Bigs develop. Repeat this mantra until you feel good.
Either Mark Donnal takes a quantum leap forward on defense or Ricky Doyle eats up most of the minutes in the post next year, fouls permitting. Doyle has a much larger frame than other options and held his own against the posts of the Big Ten. Since Doyle is also a year younger than Donnal you would expect him to develop more quickly.
Doyle has a terrific ability to finish around the basket and actual post moves. he needs to work on his hands, mostly, and reduce the foul rate that is inherent in project freshman bigs. He hedges pretty well and he gets a lot of offensive rebounds Meanwhile I wonder what the team defensive rebounding rates are with Doyle on the floor versus other options with shinier DREB numbers. Michigan is utilizing a boxout-focused style that often results in a guard skying for the rebound as Doyle butt-shoves his man out of the way.
In any case, I've been a bandwagon member since the start and think he will develop into a very solid option. He shot 61% this year in a finishing environment leagues tougher than that faced by any Michigan post since the Beilein effect kicked in; with more assisted buckets he could scrape Jordan Morgan efficiency levels while providing a bit more size on D.
Donnal, meanwhile, needs to spend the offseason gluing sand to his jaw and making mean faces in the mirror. (Also lifting weights but mostly the first two.) He averaged 6.4 fouls per 40 last year (Doyle and Bielfeldt were around 4), which was indicative of his overall struggles on D. Offensively he was efficient but low-usage.
Wilson could figure in at the 4; the guess here is that Michigan deploys him as a skilled, skinny 5, hoping his promising shot blocking makes up for what figures to be a rebounding deficiency.
FORWARD [Patrick Barron]
A major rebound beckons. This is a team that was a few points away from being 10-8, even 11-7 in the Big Ten despite not having the two guys expected to be stars before the year. If LeVert returns Michigan adds him, Walton, Robinson, Wilson, and possibly a recruit to that team. Meanwhile subtract only Bielfeldt.
Michigan also gets a year older all around. This should see them rise to approximately average in Kenpom's "experience" metric. Michigan has been hovering in Kentucky territory for a while now. It is a Beilein miracle that they've had the results they have despite that.
It'll be nice to have some guys who are a bit older. Michigan started Getting It on offense late last year as the posts realized when they should roll to the basket and the wings figured out their cuts. It wasn't just Zak Irvin knowing he should pass that helped his assist numbers go up; there were also options for him to pass to.
The LeVert version of this team can be really good, especially if Irvin is going to continue to progress and Walton regains the explosion he lost as a sophomore. They would be a Big Ten contender—and depending on what happens with the rest of the league possibly the favorite—and an easy Sweet 16 seed.
The No LeVert version of this team could still hit that ceiling but it seems more reasonable to project them as a second-tier Big Ten team that gets a seed from 5 to 9.
The encouraging strides Michigan took late in the season have been discussed quite a bit around here, often by picking out specific plays representative of individual improvements. To add to that, I dug into the team's final season statistics to pull out some numbers that point to a whole lot more success in 2015-16.
Zak Irvin's rebounds per game before and after Michigan shut down Derrick Walton for the season. Walton somehow managed to haul down nearly five boards a game this season despite his lingering toe injury; he finished with M's second-best defensive rebound rate. When he went out of the lineup, Irvin made a concerted effort to pick up the slack, and in doing so he made it apparent that he can play the four in the Big Ten—he's not going to be Branden Dawson, of course, but Irvin brings a lot more potential to the other end of the floor. Add in Irvin's significant uptick in assists and suddenly he looks like he'll routinely stuff the stat sheet next season.
Michigan's season-long turnover rate, good for tenth in the country. John Beilein's squads have been so careful with the ball that we now take this for granted, but to pull that off while losing two of the team's three primary ballhandlers and replacing them with freshmen is astonishing. Much of the credit here goes to Spike Albrecht, who guided the team with a steady hand throughout; even more encouraging was Zak Irvin taking on a much bigger role handling the ball and still posting a top-25 turnover rate in the Big Ten.
Aubrey Dawkins' eye-popping 2P/3P/FT% splits in conference games, which led to him leading the Big Ten in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage (the latter factors in free throws). The three-point percentage is probably not sustainable long-term, but even with some regression, whatever the coaching staff did to tinker with Dawkins' shot clearly worked. His season-long shot chart shows a great spot-up shooter who can finish his forays to the rim:
Look closely and you can even spy the potential to add a lethal midrange game to the repertoire. That may take a while to bear out, especially if LeVert comes back, but if Dawkins simply comes close to replicating his freshman shooting numbers he'll be a valuable floor-spacer who occasionally swings games with huge point totals.
Derrick Walton's FTM/FTA in conference games, a figure as unsustainable as Dawkins' three-point percentage, so if you'd prefer, take comfort in his 82% clip for the season. While Walton's other shooting numbers took a significant hit due (mostly) to his injury and (somewhat) to fewer open jumpers created by Nik Stauskas and LeVert, his free throw percentage improved a few points while he continued to get to the line at an impressive rate. The best-case scenario for Walton next year has him becoming James Harden Lite, an efficient creator who's going to hit threes or get to the basket for layups and plenty of chances from the charity stripe. With two healthy feet, he's got a chance to be just that.
Spike Albrecht's two-point percentage in the Big Ten. Spike attempted 63 such shots in conference play this season; in his first two full seasons at Michigan, he took just 58 two-pointers combined and made 41% of them. Most everyone assumed Spike's game wouldn't evolve too much from there; he'd spend two more seasons Harlem Globetrotting around the lane before dishing the ball off, and that was fine. Instead, he honed that funky scoop layup and turned it into a legitimate weapon. Spike may never be a true threat to attack the hoop with efficiency, but teams have to respect him in the lane now, and that opens up a lot when he comes off a screen.
Big Ten tourney time is always weird for content what with games on at noon.
This was off an Irvin assist [Patrick Barron]
The light is on. Midseason complaining that Zak Irvin hadn't added very much to his game between his freshman and sophomore years was justified. Irvin was a bit more willing to get to the basket but he was a black hole that generated shots only for himself and the predictability of his game—Beilein once mentioned that he really needed to shot fake like, ever—was beginning to catch up to him now that the league had a scouting report on him.
Then Irvin had the light go on. Alex tweeted this out yesterday and it amply demonstrates Irvin's expanding game:
He's developed pick and roll options other than meh pullup jumpers. (He's good at them; they're still way less efficient than, say, asking Aubrey Dawkins to do his best GRIII impression on an alley-oop.) He's generating shots for his teammates, which will eventually make the shots he does take better.
This is necessary if Michigan's going to return to the outrageous offensive efficiency that drove their Final Four/Big Ten Champions outfits. I've grumbled about Michigan's unusually low assist numbers for big chunks of the year. Led by Irvin, Michigan acquired 15 against the Illini.
The king of yesterday's assists. I cocked an eyebrow with about 11 minutes left when Michigan executed a beautiful team sequence that got Doyle a bunny. All five Michigan players touched it after Spike dumped it to Irvin in the corner:
- Irvin drove baseline, drawing help D and kicking to
- MAAR, who passed it to
- Chatman standing in the short corner, who drew recovering attention. At this point
- Spike, who had zero players looking at him or checking him because of the ball movement, cut to the elbow, again drawing a double team from an unprepared on-ball defender and Egwu; Spike drove, whereupon
- Doyle was the recipient of an easy bucket at the rim.
It was a brief flashback to the last couple years, when Michigan would regularly delight with gorgeous basketball. It's coming back you guys.
Next year man. Caris offered some quotes about his upcoming NBA decision that sounded genuinely torn. Judge for yourself:
"It will probably be right up to the last day," LeVert said Thursday, following U-M's 73-55 win over Illinois in the Big Ten tournament.
As for his thoughts on returning to school or entering the draft, LeVert remains undecided.
"Coming back next year would be very fun for me and very beneficial for me and the team as well," LeVert said. "Going to the NBA would also be fun. That's a lifetime dream. It's definitely going to be a tough decision."
That sounds different than the Robinson/Stauskas decisions. As of a couple weeks ago, Sam Webb thought that LeVert was leaning towards returning. So that would be nice.
With or without him, though, Michigan should be very deep and reasonably experienced. An approximate depth chart:
PG: Walton, Albrecht
SG: LeVert, MAAR
SF: Dawkins, Robinson
PF: Irvin, Chatman, Wagner(?)
C: Doyle, Donnal, Wilson
Swap the 2-4 spots to your desire. It's hard to find enough minutes for everyone if LeVert comes back: if Walton, Irvin, and LeVert all get 30 minutes and Spike gets 20—estimates that seem conservative—then MAAR, Dawkins, Robinson, and Chatman are all fighting over 50 minutes a game. Even the scenario with LeVert gone those guys can comfortably split 80.
If Michigan stays healthy, I predict autobench complaining plummets.
MAAR will go at you. Nanna Egwu is not exactly a complete basketball player—I'll miss him getting outrebounded by his entire team—but he is very long and contests shots well. Abdur-Rahkman doesn't care about that. He will drive on anyone and get a reasonable shot up; if it doesn't go in he's set the team up for a Kobe assist. Another year of development and he's definitely a guy who can fill in the point guard minutes Spike will evacuate.
FWIW. Michigan did offer Wagner, as you would expect for a guy who flew in from Germany. Rivals's Eric Bossi gives a ballpark estimate of where he'd be if he was ranked:
His shot looks good and he's very good in pick and pop situations between 12 and 17 feet, he has good skill level, though he's perhaps a bit mechanical in his movements at this time, and he's a good high post passer who competes on both ends but needs strength.
"He's on the NBA radar but not as an early entry guy just yet," Bossi said. "He's more on radar as somebody to monitor when he makes it to a college program."
If he were a part of the 2015 class (and he would come in this fall), he'd be a top 20 to 40 type prospect as an American prep.
This season hasn't inspired much in the way of GIFs posts. Sunday rectified that.
Different rival, different scenario, but man, does that look deliciously familiar nonetheless.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the Ohio State game in GIFs.]
You should really look at the big version for the background faces [Patrick Barron]
We have a theme, a palpable theme. Michigan plays about as well as they can, is right in it with a team headed to the tournament, and cannot finish the job. Three of Michigan's last four losses have followed that pattern, with the exception a home blowout against suddenly incandescent Iowa.
That was also going to happen—the ugly blowouts against teams that can exploit the various holes in Michigan's roster—but overall it's a familiar theme: Michigan's got a bunch of guys trying their best and not quite making it. This is also known as "the Amaker tenure."
In this case Michigan had to get raided by the NBA draft, lose their top two players, and have their touted freshman spectacularly underperform. They'll be a lot better next year. Take this team, add Walton, Duncan Robinson, DJ Wilson, and a year of experience for literally everyone and you're back to being a tourney team.
Levert? FWIW, I was talking to Sam Webb during my weekly WTKA thing (Thursdays, 9 AM) and LeVert came up; he said that it wasn't a slam dunk he'd go, and I was like "er, what" and he said he likes school, loves the team, and might stick it out. He is very young for his grade. Obviously, the prospect of a guaranteed seven-figure contract is and will remain tempting.
It would be nice to finally get a guy who could go back.
Irvin bust out. Indiana does not have a good defense. Let's stipulate that. But Michigan actually saw a good deal of, you know, offense. Michigan's 13 assists were the most they'd had since the Penn State game, and rarely have they cracked double digits. That's symptomatic of an offense that's struggling and resorting to a lot of heroball.
Nobody has been more negatively impacted by this than Zak Irvin, who was an excellent microwave last year and has struggled to initiate his own offense or find kickouts from his teammates. This leads to a pattern of frustration followed by contested shots off the dribble—not good eats for your offensive efficiency.
Irvin shook that against Indiana, finishing a few buckets around the basket that were set up by his teammates and finding small windows of space for his threes. He initiated a little offense himself. He was efficient. After, Beilein praised his improved "acumen for the game," and that's about right. This was also right, unfortunately:
But if there was one nagging frustration with Irvin on Sunday, it was his struggles to finish at the rim. With eight minutes left and Michigan down nine, the forward missed a fairly routine layup. A minute later, he went up for a layup with his right hand despite being on the left side of the rim, and the shot was blocked as a result.
“He’s got his head on right, and he knows that everybody has parts of their game they need to work on,” Beilein said. “He realizes what some of those are, and he’s working on them.”
Major points to the color guy for pointing that latter problem out immediately and informatively.
Anyway, priority one for the rest of this year is for the rest of the offense to pose enough of a threat to opponents that Irvin can either find open threes or, at the very least, closeouts. He can attack those; when he's just trying to straight up beat a guy he doesn't have the lateral mobility to do that without a bunch of spins and other such moves that bring help defenders into play.
MAAR bust. Freshmen are up and down and hoo boy was MAAR down in this one. His missed bunny after a steal was followed by another Irvin missed bunny and those buckets combined to rankle the remainder of the game, no more so than when Michigan ended up three points short on the scoreboard.
This is no doubt an adjustment period. Teams have seen what MAAR can do and have a scouting report on him; now it's up for Michigan to get MAAR playing better than he's scouted. One priority needs to be moving him from a guy who seems to make up his mind whether it's pass or shot before the drive to one who can find the open guys under the hoop when he draws help.
And then Doyle surges. (Also Donnal.) Meanwhile, Michigan's bigs kept moderately-big Max Bielfeldt (three minutes) on the bench for the first time in forever. Donnal put up seven points on four shots; Doyle had 15(!) on 8 shot equivalents. He was one made FT from having as many points as you can without an and-one or three pointer, on 19% usage in 27 minutes.
This has a lot to do with Indiana, which got a total of five minutes from guys bigger than a willowy 6'7".
Negative: even so they still got crushed on the boards. Doyle's trying to block shots that are not good shots to block: in the first half Irvin or Dawkins or MAAR had successfully contested a drive, forcing Indiana into difficult runner from five feet. It missed, but Doyle had tried to block it and his guy was there for an easy putback. Unless you are a pterodactyl man like Anthony Davis, that's a bad idea.
Evidence of offensive improvement. Michigan's last shot went through all five Wolverines before landing in MAAR's hands in the corner for a wide open look. It didn't go down, but to be able to execute that is something resembling progress.
Also, an alley-oop! It seems like forever ago when Michigan got two or three of those a game from Robinson.
[@ right: Patrick Barron]
Evidence they've got a ways to go. Blackmon (sigh) and Ferrell had a great sequence against the 2-3 in which Blackmon attacked, drawing both high defenders. Ferrell saw this and made a cut to the soft spot of the 2-3, receiving the pass and finishing and and-one against a highly disadvantaged Irvin.
That's not something we've seen much of from Michigan during their extensive opportunities to go up against a 2-3. Very, very rarely does anyone force the zone to react before attempting to get a pass inside the arc, and a lot of the time Michigan spends 20 seconds or so trying to make a pass to initiate their offense against a zone that hasn't been deformed or stretched.
Chatman thing. He did little in his ten minutes. This is something of an improvement. I did wonder what was going on on several possessions where he sat in the middle of the floor like he was flashing to the post against a 2-3. He brought a defender with him, which almost made it look like Indiana was running a 1-3-1. It was a confusing time.
Then I figured out that Indiana was just in man to man and Chatman kept flashing to the post because he didn't recognize that. This happened on three or four possessions and is another ominous sign about how far he has to go.
Must… fight… old man sportswriter… feels. SPOCK. I am not a fan of guys sitting back from their typewriters proclaiming some dude they don't know a scourge of society because he is a bit of a showoff. I think this is more reflective of the person writing it than the subject.
But, man, Troy Williams takes it to another level. Troy Williams flexes at his mom after he successfully pours milk in his cereal. Troy Williams goes to children's hospitals and mean-mugs at cancer patients because he is to date free of same. Troy Williams makes me an old man sportswriter and therefore I dislike him.
Hatch bits. ESPN story and video:
Thing I never want to see again. A Yogi Ferrell pull-up three. I would like him to not be at Indiana, please.
Oh, the faces you'll show. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman's last-second attempt to tie from the corner summed up this Michigan team of late. Indiana looked like they'd win comfortably for most of the game, at times threatening to break the game wide open, but the Wolverines clawed back into it late, overcoming their porous defense with timely buckets.
The final possession played out similarly. Zak Irvin, whose hot hand brought M within striking distance, was clearly the first option, but IU wouldn't allow him a decent look. As the clock wound perilously close to zero, Michigan swung the ball around the arc, and suddenly there was MAAR, standing alone in the corner.
His try caught only iron, and we're once again left to commending Michigan's effort in a narrow loss against a better team.
This team, in its current form, just isn't talented enough to overcome too many mistakes. The first half featured Indiana jumping out to a lead in part due to too many Wolverine turnovers. The second half featured a couple critical missed layups—including MAAR blowing a breakaway that would've pulled M within two—and too many offensive boards for IU.
Michigan struggled throughout on defense, failing to keep Yogi Ferrell (18 points, six assists) out of the lane whether in man or zone; Ferrell did most of his damage in the paint, either swooping in for layups or creating open looks when the defense collapsed. Troy Williams posted 20 and 8 in an impressive performance highlighted by a couple thunderous dunks.
The failings on the other end meant Zak Irvin's 23-point output (9/16 FG) went in vain. Ditto Michigan's most productive performance from a big man in a long time, Ricky Doyle's 15 points on 5/5 FGs and 5/6 FTs. While the offense clicked in the second half, the hole dug in the first proved too deep to escape.
Facing their most difficult stretch of the season ahead, Michigan has a lot of positives to take from the last couple weeks. To actually start recording some signature wins, however, they must start shoring up the mistakes.