Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske, and Charles Matthews
If you think Z's not the most important player on this team, wait'll you see him after someone says he isn't [Marc-Grégor Campredon]

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The question:

WHO IS MICHIGAN'S MOST IMPORTANT BASKETBALLIST?

The responses:

Seth: We haven't mentioned Livers yet.

Alex: "Most Important Basketballist" is a tough question. "Best basketballist" is also tough, but less so and for different reasons. Most important begs the value-over-replacement question, and since Michigan has such a tight rotation, really any absence from among the main six would be tough. Zavier Simpson is important because he's really good, and because Michigan's third guard, Eli Brooks, can't operate the ball-screen like he does and because Michigan would no longer have a third guard (DDJ would need to step up). Poole is important because his blend of scoring ability and creative ability is unmatched on the roster and Brooks would need to step in for him as well. Iggy or Matthews would be adequately replaced by Livers, but then Michigan would need someone new to back up the 3, 4, and 5. Teske might be the most irreplaceable because Davis would have to soak up a lot of minutes. Michigan weathered Livers's absence okay, I guess. I don't know. It's a tough question.

Seth: I can make a case that Jon Teske is alone as most important. While a few league teams have scary guards to run off the line, everybody seems to have a big. Having a 7'1 dude who can affect all shots at the rim is a major deal in the two's-heavy Big Ten. Having one who's boss on the glass, also generates steals at a fair rate, can switch onto a wing, has a scoring touch, hits .300 on triples, is top 10 nationally in turnover rate, and can stay on the court for 30 minutes a game because he doesn't foul is unfair. Without him, Michigan's trying to small ball and hurry Brandon Johns along while Austin Davis becomes a meme. We've seen those Michigan teams before, and they're worthy of a BTT banner and a tournament run, but Teske is what makes this a 1-seed.

Alex: And you didn’t even mention his ball-screen defense! It’s about as good as I’ve seen at the college level.

Seth: I guess I thought it with the switching but yeah, Teske is unreal in ways that don't show on Kenpom except in team stats.

Alex: Michigan covers most guys with that “flat hedge” which asks a lot of the big: move laterally to contain the ball-handler and to let his man recover, be ready to contest a shot or keep up on a drive, and then rotate back to the big. It’s not easy but Teske makes it look pretty easy — and it requires mobility. A lead-footed seven-footer normally necessitates “drop” coverage, which keeps the big in the paint and concedes a number of things to the offense, especially with guards who take long shots off the dribble. Watching Teske hedge, contain, recover, and force post catches out from the paint is always impressive. Maybe more impressive than his verticality and quick hands.

Ace: Yeah, if we’re going most irreplaceable, it’s Teske and then Simpson. The case for Teske has been laid out so I’ll give one for X. He’s the only lead guard who seemingly has the full offensive playbook down, he sets the tone for the entire team both with his play and his on-court communication, and he guarantees an opposing guard is gonna have a Not Fun Time.

Matthews should probably get a mention, though, too. He’s getting knocked for his lack of efficiency but some of that is him taking on a lot of the offense in a not-always-ideal environment—as a slasher first, he’d be better off if his point guard could shoot instead of usually having an extra defender ready to help. Meanwhile, he’s about X’s equal in terms of defensive ability and can utilize that across any wing position.

image

[Barron]

Seth: These are all important things that don't show up on a stat sheet or in metrics based on things that show up in a stat sheet. Of course we could just define this by talent, or whomever the advanced metrics say is the team MVP, and that would be potential Kenpom Top 10 player/lottery pick Iggy Brazdeikis, who is virtually matching Matthews for usage with a lower turnover rate and the kind of slashing that doesn't even need a shooter shooting behind him. And it's not like Iggy is a bad defender. Far from it. Michigan could weather the loss of Iggy by playing Livers at the four. I doubt Michigan is this good without a very John Beilein version of a one-and-done, especially during free-throw hour.

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"I've got this explosive power forward with NBA range; you've probably never heard of him." [Smoothitron]

 

[After THE JUMP: We love all our Torvik children equally]

Garrett Van Wyhe skates against Michigan State in the Great Lakes Invitational
Van Whye was excellent on faceoffs Friday night, helping Michigan play their possession-oriented game [James Coller]

What Happened? Michigan ground out a 2-1 win against #4 Ohio State in Columbus Friday night, then fell 4-2 to the Buckeyes (one goal was an empty-netter, so meh) on Saturday.

*Blank stare* Okay, yeah, context. Michigan beat Notre Dame in an outdoor game at Notre Dame Stadium January 5th for what appeared to be a win that could propel them to a second half akin to last season’s, then looked like a completely disinterested team during a rare Tuesday night game against Merrimack (the team, not the boat). Friday night’s win again left some hope for a second-half run, then Saturday night’s game… actually, Michigan didn’t look that bad Saturday night, either. There’s hope yet.

Things don’t look great from a Pairwise perspective, though. A cursory glance at the comparisons chart doesn’t reveal one big thing Michigan could do to make a move. They only have 11 games remaining and have to come as close to running the table as possible to steal some comparison points back. That would help, at least as long as the general volatility of the conference continues unabated; the top two teams, Ohio State and Minnesota, are 6-3-3 in conference play and third-place Michigan is 4-5-4. Beating Penn State in their next series (this weekend is a bye) would be a nice start, as Michigan is currently tied for the head-to-head comparison point. (If you’re looking for a Pairwise explainer, USCHO has a good one here.)

So this is another one of those years where Michigan has to win the conference tournament to earn a bid and gets matched up with Penn State, isn’t it? Sort of looks that way.

Anything to take from last weekend that might give us insight into what could happen during the stretch run? Seems like the kind of thing we should put after THE JUMP, no?

[Hit THE JUMP for weekend takeaways that might give insight into the stretch run]

more like snarlton [Bryan Fuller]

File under "let's see if it happens." Jim Harbaugh's latest podcast discussed Josh Gattis and his role at Michigan; Sam Webb has transcribed the newsworthy bits:

Nolan Ulizio

Less of a suprise

The closest Michigan will ever get to the Craig Ross ideal is this team

You wouldn't like Zavier Simpson when he's angry. Unless you're a Michigan fan, I guess. 

You think we practice too much?

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