WIN THE GAME
Stop! Have you considered you may not have to do this? [Fuller]
Always something to complain about.
Now that Stauskas has escaped from the Lilliputians and the offense has duly gone back to Brobdingnagian, are there ways to get the defense performing, say, at a top-50 instead of 100-ish level? 75? Or do you think at this point they just are what they are?
Ace: I think the Indiana game, despite the win, rid us of any notion that the defense will have a postseason breakthrough. The Wolverines are who we thought they were: a superlative offensive team with some major defensive issues. Michigan couldn't stay in front of Indiana's guards, failed to get back in transition—including after multiple made baskets—and had to go to the high-risk 1-3-1 for the entire second half to create enough empty possessions to somehow win while giving up a 66.3 eFG%. The Hoosiers entered the game with a 48.0 eFG% in conference play. That's bad, mmmmkay?
So, yeah, the defense is an issue, and projects to be going forward. Michigan was a much better defensive squad last season, and while they gave up a respectable 0.98 ppp in the NCAA Tournament, that figure swells to 1.03 after excising the first weekend. Also, that run featured the unleashing of Mitch McGary, Embodiment of Chaos, and this year's squad doesn't feature anyone with his ability to force turnovers, which proved key in the run to the title game. (Caris LeVert leads this season's squad with a 2.2% steal rate; McGary was at 3.4% last season, Trey Burke at 2.8%.)
With Michigan preparing for a potential three games in three days, followed by a prep week for the tournament that's likely to be geared more towards rest and scouting than working on defensive fundamentals, I don't think they're going to come up with a magical solution to the myriad defensive issues. The offense is capable of carrying this team into the Final Four. That's a good thing, because that will have to be the case if we're going to see a repeat of last year.
[jump…preferably before the shooter does]
This baby's still got a few surprises
Brian: I am generally with Ace. They are what they are. Ben Wallace is not walking through that door. But there is a wildcard that Ace mentions and dismisses too quickly: the 1-3-1. That defense has been a regular feature of games Michigan is flailing in, and about two thirds of the time it proves perplexing enough to the opponent to get Michigan back in games. Pitt last year, FSU and Indiana this year. It promises a rescue or two in the tourney, a tight turnaround situation against teams that don't necessarily know who they're playing or see a junk zone, like, ever. It could prove a critical secret weapon in games where Michigan's defense isn't up to snuff.
|The hope is what Michigan gives up in this (which frankly they're giving up anyway), they'll make up with a few more turnovers|
Ideally that would not have to be the case, but we're short on ideals on that side of the ball. Maybe the 1-3-1 is not suited for competing in the Big Ten, and thus got dumped by Beilien, but the guy made a living off the thing as he ran through tournaments as a scrappy underdog. Applied in ten-minute bursts, it could give Michigan the distance it needs as a scrappy underdog on defense... that just happens to have a nuclear-powered offense.
That nuclear power is what got Michigan past Indiana and promises a tourney run. Yeah, Beilein's West Virginia outfits were good on offense, even very good. But they do not hold a candle to what he's been able to construct at Michigan. The Elite Eight WVU team was eleventh in the country on O... and almost nine points per hundred possession adrift of this year's Michigan offense. The ranking isn't much higher but things get spaced out at the edges of the distribution. Dropping nine points of efficiency would take Michigan's offense down to 29th nationally; adding nine to their defense would shoot them up to sixth(!). Would you feel better about this team if their Kenpom profile said 29/6 instead of 3/94? You probably would. But those teams are ranked the exact same.
That's why the 1-3-1 can be a critical game flipper: it doesn't have to be good consistently. It just has to disrupt the opponent long enough for Michigan to run away and hide, as it did in a ten minute stretch of the second half against the Hoosiers when they scored ten points. At the very least it's a card to play when straights get dire.
Mathlete: Unless Michigan makes it one win further than last season, when they lose, it will almost certainly be at the hands of this defense. This is not news. The question is, what are the conditions at which the dangers on defense become greater than the potency of the offense. With the offense having surprising resiliency, especially with their perimeter orientated nature, the question comes back to who has the guns on offense to exploit Michigan's defenses weakness.
|This season's so weird that Wisconsin (6th on Kempom) is one of those elite offensive teams. [Fuller]|
Taking a look at Kenpom's offensive ranks, Michigan has virtually no chance of facing any of the really elite units until at least the second weekend. Assuming Michigan makes it there, that's when the going gets interesting. Brian has done a great job focusing on the matchups and I think that is especially critical for this year's squad. Possibly helping Michigan's case this season is the lack of a really elite top tier of teams. It feels like this tournament could be really wild. If Michigan can survive the first two matchups, the defense would have to survive two more potentially dangerous foes to make a return Final Four trip.
I don't see any way that the defense becomes anything less than a liability all year, but as long as the offense keeps clicking, the future is bright. Michigan won't have any room to spare on defense so the offense is going to have to be on every game. Brian's point about the 1-3-1 being a trump card is a key point. At some point the defense is going to have to put up a stretch like they did in the second half this weekend to allow the offense to get its rhythm back. The 1-3-1 can look bad at times but hopefully strategic deployment can provide the opportunity for the reversion to the mean for an early game offensive showing or a chance for a positive high variance outcome in the later stages.
BiSB: I like the 1-3-1, and I always enjoy seeing it deployed. It's the blue shell of the Michigan defense; it only appears when they're behind, but it's guaranteed to make up some ground on the leaders. But I don't see it as being viable as anything other than a stop-gap measure. There's a reason it worked against Pitt, FSU, and Indiana: those are three teams that aren't... oh, what's the polite way to say this... let's say 'basketball smart' (remember when Syracuse sprung a 2-3 zone on Indiana with only a few decades notice, and befuddled the bejeezus out of Dwight Schrute, et al?). Beilein has been running the 1-3-1 for a long time, and he doesn't feel comfortable with it this year. He mentioned on WTKA on Tuesday that there are parts of the 1-3-1 they haven't even installed yet.
|Fortunately for Michigan, outside the Big Ten are lots of dumb people. [Fuller]|
That said, the 1-3-1 doesn't have to be a panacea. Michigan games are almost like big-time men's tennis. If Michigan breaks serve a few times, they can gain a little separation and trade baskets until the horn sounds. That's what they did against Michigan State, and it served its purpose. Plus, the threat of a bizarre zone will force teams to spend practice time worrying about the thing that will probably appear on three possessions. There's also something to be said for Beilein schematic sub-ness; if you're going to give a team three days to scout and game plan for an new opponent (and 36 hours to do the same for a second team), you want John Beilein on your side.
Michigan has been winning with this formula for two years now. So no, the defense won't be great, and no, I don't think it matters more than it has thus far. They just won the Big Ten by 3 games with this terrible defense. They went to the title game with a similarly terrible defense last year. Snail tempo track meets uber alles.
Seth: Some things are what they are. The 216th two-point defense in the country doesn't suddenly start holding everybody under 50, whatever tricks are up their sleeves. Except…
Except they were the 200th two-point defense last year going into the tournament. Then they had a tourney stretch where they gave up 56 to the Jackrabbits, 53 to the Commodores, 59 to the Gators, and 56 to the Orange. Kansas scored 76 in regular time. Louisville put up 82 and the run was over. They finished 175th in that stat.
All season long we've been saying that Trey Burke and Mitch McGary aren't walking on that floor, and all season long John Beilein has been making do. At the dawn of the Big Ten Tournament this team has a conference crown by three games and is in position for a possible 2 seed, a 3 at worst. Last year was a 4.
What happened last year was McGary beast mode:
That is probably bad news since it's unlikely—short of McGary himself returning—that Michigan's bigs will suddenly transform into rebounding, turnover-inducing terrors while maintaining their offensive efficiency. Stauskas is what he is and since he's the engine of the offense you don't want him exerting so much on defense. There's a distant possibility that Irvin will suddenly get really hot, but Michigan's best chance for the kind of marginal improvement that leads to a tourney run is to turn something they are awful at into something they are mediocre at.
|McGary isn't there to help, but Horgal Morford has been pretty alright despite being exactly the kind of guys Big Ten refs love to hate on. [Fuller]|
So let's find those. That horrible 2-pt defense is related to that 293rd ranking in blocks—that's not going to change. They're 320th in opponent free throw percentage—if that's luck it'll matter but I think that's just an effect of Michigan not fouling bigs very often because we can't afford to end a game without Horford or Morgan. Steal rate is 255th; Walton's probably a year away from Burke-like picking, but flashing the 1-3-1 some against certain teams might inch that up.
Here's one: they're second to last in the country in DREB % from the 4 spot. Typically, Robinson isn't interested in boards. There's no way to turn him into, well, Glenn Robinson (11.2 rebounds/game his last year at Purdue), but there's also no substitute for his ability to leap like Luigi and hover like Peach beside a rim. Anecdotally I've seen him doing a marginally better job of boxing out; the returns could be on their way, especially with the motivation of the NCAA tourney run. If GRIII goes ham en route to securing that 1st round draft spot Michigan's defense could go from laughable (for a tourney team) to something between a chuckle and chortle. Pair this offense, this coach, and a favorable seed with a just-a-bit-cruddy defense instead of a crappy one and we could be in for a long dance.
WIN THE GAME
NEEDS MOAR MARIO REFERENCES
The first real test is going to come in the sweet 16 if it gets that far. Michigan should be able to handle a 15 or 14 seed with their talent even with them getting days to prep prior to the matchup. The second team getting only a day of prep really has their hands full finding a way to shut down all M's weapons, and hoping their own scorers have a good day.
One other factor I believe that was somewhat overlooked in the analysis is Michigan's performance on the road. As of late, the last rough road outing was at Iowa but other than that Michigan has been quite above average in their play away from home even in the difficult B1G. Everyone they will be playing will not be on their home court, combined with Michigan's comfort away from their own I think that gives a little extra boost to their tourney outlook.
Hey look, somebody who actually understands the DEFCON scale before they referenced it in writing.
I was worried most people wouldn't get that I mean this is the opposite state from panic.
More will probably understand the pun (five guys opposed to defense)
I've always been curious why GRIII doesn't get more boards, and why Timmy didn't get many until his junior year. Both those guys can and occasisonally do get tough boards above the rim, but it doesn't happen often. Does Beilein just not emphasize that?
All teams emphasize defensive rebounds. They're an essential part of playing defense. We're OK in that area, ranking 91st nationally grabbing 72.6% of our opponents' misses. (91st doesn't sound that great but the rankings are really packed tight - if we were 2 percentage points better, we'd be in the top 25.)
Now, offensive rebounds are another story. Those we don't necessarily go for that much, other than our post player. We rank 246th in offensive rebound percentage at 30.1% (which is, nevertheless, better than the 27.4% our opponents get against us).
"The ranking isn't much higher but things get spaced out at the edges of the distribution."
This is valuable nuance and is why I follow Brian and some other bloggers but detest color analysts and sports radio hosts.
I've always wondered if your average talking head thinks the "long tail" is a euphemism for women they pick up in the various college towns they visit.
Hell, I remember looking at the rushing offense this year and realizing if they dropped their behind-the-line rushes by even a tenth, the offense would have been immensely better (thought still average).
I partly agree with Brian's quote below:
Would you feel better about this team if their Kenpom profile said 29/6 instead of 3/94? You probably would. But those teams are ranked the exact same.
Although ranked equivalent, I would feel a little better about 29/6 than 3/94, but more so with something in between (say something like 18/17).
I guess I am more concerned with the variance of the highly ranked offense, which can have a big down side (games that appear on the up side are practically automatic wins). With just an above average offensive game, our defense puts the game in jeopardy.
But that is what makes the NCAA tournament exciting.
One thing that I do like is that this team has a lot of positive tournament experience. Some teams will be affected by the pressure (the powerful Michigan teams of the Frieder era always seemed to have this problem); hopefully, this shouldn't be a concern for Michigan.
Has anyone done an in depth look at why Michigan seems to struggle on defense under Beilein? Does he just spend more time on teaching offense? Is it the fact that Michigan is one of the youngest teams in the country and doesn't have the really highly rated recruits that teams like Arizona, Kentucky, and Kansas have? Or do the coaches lack the ability to teach dominant defense?
but I think you hit a lot of it on the head. The team is very young, and it seems like the better defenses are older teams that have played longer together and know each others defensive rotations. A half step to slow means the difference between an easy bucket and a contested shot.
I think it also has to do with the style and type of players Beilein recruits and how he coaches. He wants 4 guys on the court who can threaten from anywhere, and, as Brian has pointed out, is willing to play games of horse with his sharp shooters from outside.
I believe that McGary would have increased the defensive efficiency as well for a couple reasons. While Morgan and Horford are good defensive players, McGary's game adds stress to other teams, as his rebounds could more easily transition to fast breaks. While Morgan probably pulls down as many rebounds per game, those rebounds lead to half court sets. McGary's lead to insane big man dribbles down court, or quick outlet passes, which means the other team is less likely to attack the offensive boards and try for put backs.
I trust our defense to be just good enough for an E8 run or better, especially if the matchups are against teams who struggle to score and get hot.
I believe a lot of it is age, though if you look at those WVU teams their best adjusted D on KenPom was 70, and most were in the mid-to-high 90s. He just recruits kids who can shoot and he's determined that meh defense is worth the trade-off for having great scorers. And, frankly, it has worked for him. I too don't like relying too heavily on the offense, but then again you watch defense-first teams like OSU and MSU and you see them struggle to score against lots of teams and you realize there are trade-offs for every system.
If there is one sport I think it's ok to rely more on offense than defense, it's basketball. While it's not rare for even an elite offense to sputter, it is rare for that offense to sputter for the whole game. You don't necessarily need elite defense to win in that case...you need a defense that is at least timely. One that may give up points, but at least keeps the game within reach and can generate stops when you need to claw back in the game (and the 1-3-1 is a wildcard that can help in that regard)
I think the tournament run Nintendo analogies would have been better served via Mike Tyson's Punch-Out.
Michigan can expect to overwhelm Piston Honda with their offense in the opening weekend, but they might get tripped up by a team with an equally powerful offense, Bald Bull, in the second weekend.. but even then you're at worst a coin flip.
Michigan will have problems when they run into teams that can score points and have a lot of size (Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona, Noah Vonleh, ISU's Ejim, AJ Hammons, Sandman, Super Macho Man).
The good news is this year, unlike past years, there are no Anthony Davis Kentucky Mike Tyson's in the field. Michigan will have a real chance in every game.
Brian touched on this point in his section but a straight ranking can sometimes be misleading when it comes to things that are quantified. Often there is a lump of teams that are within 2 or 3 points of eachother yet are seperated in the rankings by 30 rungs or something. I think a more appropriate way to look at this is to use percentiles which helps discount some of those minor differences between teams in a purely objective way. It's literally grading on the bell curve.
Michigan's Defensive Kenpom is currently 100.5, ranked 94. Georgia's is 98.5, ranked 60. So, while there is a measurable difference between the two defenses, Is there actually an appreciable difference between them?
Also, Michigan's D has been fine against some pretty good offenses according to kenpom: in Iowa (1-1), Michigan State (2-0), and Wisconsin (1-1). The worry needs to be about teams that can catch fire from 3 IMO.
Finally, It's all about the O, if that's on I think we'll be alright.
This. And more to your point, Michigan's defense was around #70 in KenPom before the Indiana game, but the teams are so clumped that one horrific performance against them dropped us about 25 spots.
In basketball I would think that the offense has a bit more control over turnovers. However, turnovers most likely contribute to defensive efficiency. Thus on a matchup basis the efficiencies are relative. If VCU is a good defensive team due to their pressure and forcing turnovers and Michigan is very adept at mitigating that then VCU’s efficiency, on a relative basis, is much lower than the stats show. Also, zone defenses against an average shooting team are going to be much more efficient than against a great shooting team.
With regards to Michigan, I see matchup problems with teams that can man up effectively and contest shots rather than force a lot of turnovers. It would make sense if we struggle with smaller quicker teams that have athletes that can run and stay with our guys.
These general stats are nice to look at but they don’t really paint the best picture because basketball is often a game of matchups.
They have shown it on occasions but not consistently.
Also, UM does not foul. This is positive on the defensive end but does not affect their defensive effeciency rating.
"...when straights get dire." You mistakenly went all in on three aces?
... who doesn't see any elite offenses until the second weekend, I am worried about a potential round-of-32 match up against Oklahoma State, which Lunardi currently has as a possibility at espn.com. While kenpom has OKST at 24 offensively (maybe not technically "elite") they also have his 33rd highest defense and a strong point guard.
I think that's actually my biggest concern in the tourney -- teams with balanced, quality offense and defense and a floor general to make the offense go. We've shown we can beat elite defenses with so-so offense (OSU) and elite offenses with so-so defense (Wisconsin, Iowa). I'd watch out for the balanced teams with a scoring point guard.
I suppose the comfort of 29/6 is that good defense is like a high spade in the hole. Enough effort, and it will be there when you need it. But the offense makes this team so fun to watch. If we could win it all either way, give me 3/94.
Do you guys think that the new block/charge rules have had any affect on Michigan's defense? In the past Michigan was good for drawing at least a couple charges a game but this year it seems they can't buy a call. Theoretically, without those couple extra possessions it would be harder for Michigan's offense to create some separation.
Also, I remember reading or hearing once that Beilein teaches his team to play defense within the rulebook. Meaning he teaches them to play defense without fouling. As Seth mentioned this seems like a tactic to keep guys on the court, but I also remember hearing that refs call a more strict game come tournament time. All the new rule changes that they've implemented are brought out in full force to create a sexier, more fluid game for the expanded viewership. This must provide an advantage for a team like Michigan since they don't foul on defense and have a lot of movement on offense. It also likely creates a disadvantage for typical B1G bruisers like Wisconsin, MSU, etc.
I'm worried about the BTT since I'm sure IU will beat UofI. We'll have to play IU in Indy. IU came close to beating us at Crisler. If we lose to IU we certainly lose the 2 seed. I know that's not the end of the world but it hurts.
What we haven't discussed is why this team with very good players, very good coaches, and an elite offense can't perform better on D. I have a couple of theories to throw out there in an 'educated guess' type of manner. But first picture this - in most games, especially on the road, there's a stretch where Michigan's opponent is overplaying everything and right up in the face of their man constantly. The crowd goes nuts, the team has trouble even initiating their offense, passes are contested, etc. Now can you ever remember a Michigan defense doing that? Morgan works his butt off in the post, Stu Douglas used to play great off-ball defense, and we will get a few steals now and then - but you never get that moment when Michigan is playing hyper-aggressive on D. Why? I think part of it is the not-fouling edict. Teams like MSU, OSU, or even the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks clutch and grab constantly knowing that they'll get called for a few fouls but will trade those for finding out just how far they can go. Michigan rarely does that, which sadly penalizes them with the way refs call the game. It may also have the side-effect of letting shooters get more confidence knowing they aren't going to get mugged consistently. If MGoBlog had a Heiko-like relationship with Beilein I would love to hear his take on this. The other thing hurting Michigan is likely their line-up. Having a bunch of 6'6" offensive players is great, but none of them have the lateral quickness to stay in front of most athletic guards. This isn't likely to change in the near future looking at the roster and incoming recruits either.
Inexperience is a factor. That plays a role in our physical size - we're not particularly big/strong - and just general familiarity with our roles at that end. A lot of our defensive breakdowns come from missed rotations, which is usually due to someone forgetting to communicate or forgetting his responsibility. Veteran teams don't have as many of those lapses.
THE DEFENSE IS WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE. IF YOU WANT TO CROWN THEM, THEN CROWN THEIR A$$ES
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