at least it's not just us?
Freshmen sometimes play like freshmen, but fergodsakes…
From Hardaway to Stauskas, Michigan fans in recent seasons have been spoiled by freshmen who show up and can immediately ball with the starters. So what's up with Walton/Irvin? Were we too high on them or is this normal for kids before Christmas? Will they improve enough by March to make Michigan the contender we thought they were at the beginning of the season?
Brian: I DON'T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE
Okay, sorry, sorry. It is kind of weird that all of a sudden Michigan has to deal with freshmen playing like freshmen. Last year Stauskas was pretty great from the drop, GRIII was the perfect addition to a Trey Burke driven team, and even Albrecht came off the bench to play his role effectively and occasionally drop sick dimes on VCU or rain threes on Louisville. The year before that, Trey Burke! The year before that Tim Hardaway was just a (high volume, pretty effective) shooter but I'll take just a shooter from a freshman.
|The last freshman who wasn't really efficient as a true freshman.|
You have to go back to 2010(!) to find a Michigan team that didn't get really efficient play from at least one of its freshmen. That year, Darius Morris did get starter's minutes at the point but barely shot and had a post-like 27 TO rate. And even in that situation you can understand what happened: Morris was a no-shoot pick and roll savant playing with Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. The former was a ball magnet with no conscience, the latter a PF masquerading as a C. He was never going to be a great player until he got to dominate the ball a la Manny.
Michigan's freshmen are not in that situation. Irvin can stand in the corner and jack threes a la freshman Hardaway just fine, hypothetically. Walton, too, is in a situation where he can contribute with his decent three point shooting and hypothetically good on-ball defense without having to dominate the ball, which doesn't seem like a good idea. So they can slot in to provide effective help for the GRIII/LeVert/Stauskas troika that spearheads Michigan shot generation. We just have to see them do it.
I think both have disappointed, and that it's reasonable to expect better production--some production--any production--from guys ranked in the top 50 most places. That's not to write either off. I mean, Caris LeVert. Players get better, often radically. But Michigan fans are well within their rights to be a little disappointed about how it's gone for the freshmen so far.
As for whether they'll get better, I DON'T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE. Someone tell me yes.
[After the Jump: people who work for Brian telling him 'yes']
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.
Photos by Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog. Optional, highly recommended soundtrack.
While most of you were probably watching football, Michigan blasted an overmatched Houston Baptist squad this afternoon, tying a school record with 16 three-pointers en route to posting an absurd 1.64 points per possession and winning literally every statistical battle.
Nik Stauskas led the team with 25 points, shooting a scorching 6/9 from downtown and looking quite spry on his previously-injured ankle after being rendered completely ineffective Tuesday at Duke. Glenn Robinson III scored 17 points on 6/9 shooting, mostly getting his buckets in transition, including a couple of spectacular alley-oops. Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin each posted 14 points; Irvin was very effective wit his perimeter shooting (2/2 2-pt, 3/5 3-pt) while Walton was a perfect 3/3 from downtown.
The story of the game, however, was Mitch McGary, Fast Break Point Guard Extraordinaire. The master of chaos finished with a stat line of 14 points, nine rebounds (one off.), six assists—tying his career high from last year's Syracuse game—four steals, and a block; five of his six dimes came in transition, as did a couple of his buckets.
#10's face pretty much says it all (Fuller)
"He's one of our better push men," John Beilein said in the post-game radio interview, referring to McGary's ability to start the fast break. "I don't think anyone wants to take a charge from him."
No kidding. I can't describe the experience of watching McGary charge down the court any better than The Wolverine's Andy Reid:
Mcgary leading a break is like seeing a car skitter uncontrollably down an icy hill, then whip around perfectly into a parallel parking spot
— Andy Reid (@AReid_Wolverine) December 7, 2013
For a brief moment in the second half, it looked like McGary's day had skittered to a halt; after attempting to block a Houston Baptist shot, he fell hard onto his back and lay on the court in what appeared to be a good deal of pain. Being Mitch McGary, however, he popped up to his feet, attempted to wave Jon Horford away from the scorer's table, and waved for the crowd to cheer louder as he skipped—no, seriously, skipped—to the bench. The crowd obliged.
From there, McGary continued to put on a show, a freakily-skilled bull on parade leaving terrified defenders in his wake. Yes, it was a rote blowout against a bad team—the 54-point final margin was the largest for Michigan under Beilein—but it was a pleasure to watch. If this is Mitch McGary still rounding his way into shape, I can't wait to see what he looks like at full strength.
First, the most important thing:
Michigan raised their 2013 Final Four banner today, and if I can say so myself it looks pretty damn good up there. Josh Bartelstein, Corey Person, and a late-arriving Eso Akunne were in attendance to receive their rings; Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. had some pressing business matters to attend to, I'm told. (Burke's parents were here, though, and got a large ovation when shown on the jumbotron.)
Nothing that could happen against UMass Lowell, a Division I newcomer, was going to top that. For the first 20 minutes, however, Michigan looked like they were trying their best overshadow the ceremony in the worst way possible. From the opening possession, during which Jon Horford missed a what-are-you-doing three early in the shot clock, to the final first half possession, when Horford ignored a wide-open Glenn Robinson III on a backcut and jacked up a long two, the Wolverines looked totally flat offensively. (This makes it seem like it was all Horford's fault; it was very much a team effort.)
The Crisler Center crowd could only look on in shock as the Wolverines went into the tunnel tied 23-23 at halftime. Michigan hit just 6/23 field goals (1/9 threes) and 10/15 free throws while turning the ball over five times to just two assists. While the team looked good defensively, they played disjointed basketball on the other end, never able to get much momentum going. Even when they put in points, it wasn't necessarily pretty; Robinson scored six of his ten first-half points from the free-throw line, Stauskas four of his seven, mostly on forced dribble-drives that ended in hacks.
In the second half, it was a totally different story. The Wolverines opened the second stanza on a 21-2 run that took nearly 11 minutes; from there, they cruised to victory, again with a big push on the defensive end—an aggressive Michigan D forced ten second-half turnovers while the offense coughed it up just twice.
Caris LeVert (above, Fuller) led the way with 17 points, 11 coming in the second half, on 6/11 shooting—he hit all five of his second-half attempts—while also chipping in five rebounds, a nifty assist on a pick-and-roll with Horford, and two steals. LeVert's assist total belied his impressive passing, as Michigan bungled good looks set up by his passes on multiple occasions in the first half. He once again worked his way into the lane with regularity and hit a couple nice pull-up jumpers—if that shot is consistently falling this season, he'll be a very dangerous player.
Robinson finished with a workmanlike 15 points (4/8 FG, 7/10 FT), seven boards, four assists, and three steals. While his on-and-off aggression didn't result in many made baskets, it got him to the line frequently, and his teammates missed a few opportunities to hit him on backdoor cuts that should've resulted in thunderous dunks.
Derrick Walton once again started at point guard, and while he didn't look to create his own offense too much (6 points, 1/4 FG, 4/4 FT), he dished out four assists and was a disruptive defensive force, tallying four steals in addition to forcing a jump ball—he knew the right times to get aggressive and go for the ball, and it paid off handsomely. Fellow freshman Zak Irvin also played a big part in Michgian's second-half run, scoring all of his ten points (1/3 2P, 2/4 3P, 2/3 FT) in the final 12 minutes of play.
Nik Stauskas didn't have his best shooting night, going 1/5 from the field, but he grinded out nine points due to his willingness to drive and absorb contact—he ended up 6/8 from the line and played with the right amount of aggressiveness. While Horford also had a hard time putting the ball in the hoop (5 points, 2/8 FG), he still looked like the team's best center option without Mitch McGary, hauling in 12 rebounds (5 offensive), blocking a shot, and generally making life difficult for Lowell players trying to get clean looks in the lane.
Jordan Morgan, meanwhile, played just 12 minutes, putting up two points and three rebounds but also drawing two fouls—the change in the way charges are being called is a major negative for his defensive style if early returns hold. Max Bielfeldt fared worse, making a four-minute cameo as a center in the first half that included this sequence: missed layup followed immediately by a turnover, then a late rotation on the other end resulting in an easy bucket.
While it took a full half to gel, Michigan eventually got their act together offensively, and it was nice to see the defense carry the day even against an overmatched opponent—Lowell finished with just four fast-break points and rebounded only ten of their 35 missed field goals while yakking up 15 total turnovers. Let's go ahead and chalk up the first half performance to post-banner malaise and never speak of it again.
2013-14 Preview Coverage
Media Day Wrap: Beilein transcript + interviews with Horford, Morgan, Walton, GRIII
Position Previews: Bigs, Wings, Point Guards
Preview Podcast: With special guest John Gasaway
A Whole Damn Book: A whole damn book
Tonight's Game Info
What: Michigan vs. UMass-Lowell
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
When: 7pm, Friday (Banner raising ceremony at 6:40)
Line: Michigan -25 (KenPom)
TV: Big Ten Digital Network (subcription required)/MGoBlueTV (ditto)
Radio: 950 AM (Detroit), 102.9 FM (Ann Arbor), Sirius Channel 92, MGoBlue stream
UMass-Lowell is making their Division I debut after finishing 15-13 (10-12) as a member of the Northeast-10 (Division II) last year. A full-blown game preview is rather unnecessary.
"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties." — Sir Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning
As Michigan opens its season tonight against UMass-Lowell, I'm certain of two things about this team: they're raising a Final Four banner tonight, and they will be good.
The first is indisputable fact, not to mention a significant reason why it's easy to state the second: John Beilein's squad returns eight players (three starters, four more rotation guys) from a team that came within a half of requiring a bigger, fancier banner. Among those are two players garnering preseason All-American consideration, arguably the best shooter in America, a backup point guard who dropped 17 points in the first half of the title game, two experienced big men, and a sophomore oozing so much potential that he forced his way onto the court last year despite appearing malnourished.
On top of that, Michigan boasts one of the best coaching staffs in the country and bring in two top-flight recruits who will contribute immediately, one of whom (PG Derrick Walton) has already secured a starting role. They will be good, even without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway.
How good depends on a number of factors, however, and for every certainty there is an equal and opposite uncertainty.
Certainty: Mitch McGary is one of the most skilled, impactful centers in college basketball.
Uncertainty: When will he be able to return from his back "condition", and will it hamper him once he returns? (Also: how much do we weigh his tournament run versus his regular-season output?)
Certainty: Glenn Robinson III is an incredible athlete who had an exceptionally efficient freshman season.
Uncertainty: Can Robinson create his own shot, and can he stay so efficient with a bigger role?
Certainty: Beilein will try to play more two-big lineups this year.
Uncertainty: Will this work, especially with all the practice time McGary has missed? With all the talent on the wings, is it even worth trying?
Certainty: Caris LeVert is getting massive practice hype for the second straight year and looks like a potential breakout star as a shooting guard and part-time point.
Uncertainty: Will his practice/exhibition exploits translate to actual production against real opponents this year?
Certainty: Nik Stauskas is a great shooter; also: Not Just A Shooter.
Uncertainty: Can his lethal efficiency as a three-point shooter and pick-and-roll ballhandler continue when he's the team's first or second scoring option?
Certainty: Michigan is starting an extremely talented freshman point guard.
Uncertainty: Michigan is starting an extremely talented freshman point guard.
The list goes on and on*, and I'm okay with this. The uncertainty surrounding the football team this year has largely stemmed from "can this non-functional unit become functional"-type questions. The uncertainty surrounding the basketball team, on the other hand, is more of the "can this good thing become great" variety.
If the pieces all fall into place, Michigan is a national title contender once again. If they don't, this is still a team capable of winning the Big Ten (so long as Michigan State doesn't go full juggernaut, at least), and barring a rash of injuries they'll be a fun team to watch. None of us have any idea what's going to happen; it's still all but guaranteed to be more rewarding than watching this year's football team. Sit back and enjoy Michigan's status as one of the nation's elite programs, one that reloads instead of rebuilds, and savor that banner. We'll worry about certainties another time.
*Will the team's added functional size and experience on the wings equal better defensive performance, for example.
Forget defense, this Concordia player was just trying to get out of the poster pic.twitter.com/2EbUZzsOvN
— Dustin Johnston (@DJPhotoVideo) October 30, 2013
There's your game in a nutshell. Michigan ran rampant over an undersized and overwhelmed Concordia squad, and the visitors only made matters worse by insisting on running a full-court press for much of the game. This, unsurprisingly, did not go well.
Stat lines of importance:
Glenn Robinson III: 33 points, 8/9 2P, 4/6 3P, 5/5 FT, 3 rebs, 4 asts, 2 stls, 1 TO
Nik Stuaskas: 23 points, 5/5 2P, 2/3 3P, 7/7 FT, 3 rebs, 3 asts, 1 block, 1 steal, +103(!!!)
Caris LeVert: 16 points, 6/6 2P, 1/2 3P, 1/3 FT, 4 rebs, 10(!) asts, 3 stls, 1 TO
Derrick Walton: 11 points, 2/3 2P, 2/4 3P, 1/2 FT, 4 rebs, 4 asts, 4 stls, 1 TO
Scattered thoughts from a rote exhibition blowout—Concordia caveats very much apply:
- Michigan opened with a starting lineup of Albrecht, Stauskas, Robinson, Morgan, and Horford; Beilein played two bigs for lengthy portions of the game, and it's clear he's serious about incorporating that in a major way even without the services of Mitch McGary, who watched from the sideline in a (pretty sharp) suit.
- Derrick Walton looked every bit the part of a starting point guard. He pushed the pace well, displayed impressive hands on defense, and had a nice balance of looking for his own shot and creating open looks for others.
- Caris LeVert may be gunning for that point guard spot himself. He dished out ten assists to just one turnover, confidently got to any spot on the floor he wanted, and finished strong at the rim on multiple occasions. Again, it's Concordia, but he looked very capable of living up to the sky-high practice hype.
- Also in the good sign department: Glenn Robinson couldn't miss from the field, whether contested or not, and he also dished out four assists while picking just the right spots to get aggressive.
- Nik Stauskas remains Nik Stauskas, which is quite nice.
- Zak Irvin scored a quiet ten points on seven shots, displaying a nice shooting stroke while also showing off his defensive prowess; his combination of length and quickness gave Concordia a lot of problems. That goes for the team as a whole, as well; we saw the "nobody shorter than 6'6" lineup with LeVert running the point, and it was dominant defensively (even more so than the rest of the lineups).
- One thing that I think will hold up regardless of opponent: Michigan is looking to run off of every defensive rebound, and with good reason. The outlet passing from the bigs—and also the guards—was impressive, leading to a ton of easy fast break buckets. With a pass-first guard like Walton leading the break, the team looked unstoppable in transition—this is a very athletic team that can finish at the hoop.
- Mark Donnal appears headed for a redshirt; he didn't enter the game until the score was 111-36 with 5:38 left, and most of his time was spent alongside the walk-ons.
I can't bring myself to write much more about such a meaningless game; I'll say that, even accounting for the opponent, just about everything that could go well went well. The shooting was obviously great (30/41 from two, 11/22 from three), the team moved the ball around very well without turning it over (26 assists, 6 TOs), and the Wolverines were effectively aggressive on defense. Yes, there's good reason this game didn't count; that doesn't mean there isn't reason for optimism after seeing Michigan perform with such brutal efficiency.