Season Review: The Departed

Season Review: The Departed

Submitted by Alex Cook on May 6th, 2016 at 11:24 AM

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Upchurch / Upchurch / Sherman

Previously: Zak Irvin, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson, Mark Donnal

With the news that Kam Chatman is transferring, what was a five-man rising junior class is now just two. Four players (including Spike – who will be playing for Purdue next season) who played last season are leaving with remaining eligibility. Ordinarily, this would be cause for considerable depth concerns, but since Michigan returns all five starters from last season’s tournament team – something that very few teams can say in this day and age – experience is actually an advantage for this team moving forward. Very rarely are teams able to sustain five-man lineups year over year and it’s reasonable to expect that Walton / Rahkman / Robinson / Irvin / Donnal will execute crisp offense together on the floor. If improvement from Wagner vaults him past Donnal (who’s much more of a known quantity) on the depth chart, all the better.

Right now, that depth chart might look like this:

um depth chart

We’ve seen the effect that limited depth can have on players, and it might be a concern again. Walton will have a very capable backup in Xavier Simpson, and fellow freshman Ibi Watson will get a shot behind MAAR, so the guard situation is much better than it was a year ago. There are enough big men: Donnal and Wagner will run into foul trouble, so there’s a need for a third option to emerge, but all in all, there are enough bodies at the five.

The main concern comes on the wing – and that’s why the departures of Dawkins and Chatman might be felt the most. Michigan has two open scholarships for next season and desperately could use a wing with immediate eligibility (either as ideally a grad transfer or a 2016 recruit) to offset those losses: Dawkins was Michigan’s sixth man and played just under 40% of available minutes, while Chatman chipped in 12%. By the postseason, both were essentially used only to rest the starters – Robinson and Irvin each played right around 90% of available minutes in the Wolverines’ five postseason games. As it stands, those two are the only wings left with any experience.

None of the departures – Aubrey Dawkins, Ricky Doyle, and Kam Chatman – are particularly unexpected; Dawkins fell behind Duncan Robinson and saw his dad take a mid-major coaching job; Doyle and Chatman were on the periphery of the rotation and a path to significant minutes for either was hard to find. Still, all three were good enough to play last year, and their minutes will need to be replaced. Doyle’s minutes will be split easily between Donnal, Wagner, and the freshmen bigs; Robinson and Irvin probably can’t handle many more minutes, let alone taking all the minutes vacated by Dawkins and Chatman.

[What will Michigan be losing? Find out after the JUMP]

Season Review: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Season Review: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Submitted by Alex Cook on April 18th, 2016 at 3:02 PM

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Sherman / Dressler / Upchurch

Previously: Zak Irvin

After last season, I wrote this in MAAR’s recap:

(I know Abdur-Rahkman is from Allentown, which is a little more than an hour from Philadelphia.)

While not the basketball Mecca that New York used to be or Chicago and LA are now, Philadelphia has still contributed immensely to hoops culture, producing greats like Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant, and – more relevant to college hoops – the series of rivalries between the “Big Five” of Villanova, Temple, St. Joe’s, La Salle, and Penn. Among other smaller Philly hoops stories, there’s the idea of the “Philly Guard” archetype.

As far as I can tell, the construct of a “Philly Guard” exists somewhere in the intersection of Allen Iverson and Rocky, an attacking combo guard bestowed with toughness and competitiveness platitudes. Though Abdur-Rahkman is 6’4, his high school film (and flashes of his play at Michigan) suggest that he could very well be a traditional Philly guard… despite not actually being from there. Only 20% of his two-point field goals at Michigan were assisted, he can play the one or the two (though Beilein’s system makes little distinction between the two), and he often injected life into a lost season with occasional bursts of physical ability – my favorite was when he pretty much made Jake Layman run and hide instead of contesting a dunk attempt.

Rahk is one of my favorite players on the team, mostly due to his uniqueness – there’s something about his game that can’t be replicated by anyone else. Since we’ve only seen half a season of him, it might be a while before I can pin down that essential quality about him, but I’m firmly on the bandwagon. Maybe this label will fit him in time, maybe not.

It’s clear what that quality is: more than anyone else on the roster, MAAR can create his own shot and get buckets. Before the season, he was the fourth guard on the depth chart, but by the end, he’d become the best member of the five-man 2014 class and ranked third in team MVP voting. Moving forward, it’s clear that Rahk has locked down the two-guard spot, and – as someone who’s mature for his class – he projects to be at least a solid starter as an upperclassman in the next two seasons.

Often, Michigan’s offense had to work hard for quality looks – instead of seeming effortlessly devastating, the Beilein offense more frequently was run through the ringer, using every constraint and trick to get the smallest windows of opportunity. While they were the most capable creators on the team, going through Derrick Walton or Zak Irvin usually came difficultly, especially against quality defenses. Very rarely were either able to take defenders one-on-one for a bucket, and even though both are above average passers, neither were quite explosive or agile enough to get open at the rate to routinely set up others (in contrast to Caris LeVert, for example). While both are good out of the pick-and-roll, neither are able to attack aggressively in those sets on a consistent basis.

Enter Abdur-Rahkman, a guy who wasn’t able to sustain a high-level usage rate, but someone who was able to do some of the things that Walton and Irvin couldn’t.

[After the JUMP, more on MAAR]

Season Recap: Zak Irvin

Season Recap: Zak Irvin

Submitted by Alex Cook on April 13th, 2016 at 11:38 AM

[This is a series reviewing last year's primary contributors]

irvin vs northwestern

via Ace

It’s worth remembering that Zak Irvin entered the season at less than 100% after losing months of practice and workout time to a back injury. He struggled to return to form early in the season, shooting an abysmal percentage from three – no doubt due at least partially to the lingering effects of the injury. Then, just like last year, he was thrust into a prominent offensive role due to injury and had to stay on the court for nearly entire games in conference play (only Yogi Ferrell played more minutes in B1G games in each of the last two years). After LeVert’s injury, Irvin was forced into much tougher shots, much more offensive responsibility, and a critical leadership role with both seniors injured.

While there were some notable highs – Zak was the best player on the floor in wins against Purdue and Maryland, and he hit a couple huge late-game shots like the one gif’d above – there were struggles as well. Because of his low shooting percentages (over three-quarters of his shots were jump shots, which had an incredibly low eFG% of 41.9%), his efficiency numbers were dragged down, and were the worst on the team:

total poss vs ortg

But, as the chart shows, Zak used more possessions in sum than any other Wolverine. While his usage rate itself wasn’t abnormally high, the sheer amount of minutes he played drives his total contributions close to what you would expect from your lead guy – or at the very least, to within the range of the most critical of your offensive pieces. As you can see, Irvin is near the bottom of the pack efficiency-wise of those types of players.

[After the JUMP, how Zak handled the alpha role]

2015-16 Season In Review: The Bad

2015-16 Season In Review: The Bad

Submitted by Ace on March 31st, 2016 at 3:20 PM


Michigan's top options had a tough time creating good looks at the rim.

Injuries. Let's get this out of the way. Michigan managed to make the tournament despite losing Caris LeVert, who was playing at an All-American level when injury struck, and Spike Albrecht, whose absence kept Derrick Walton on the court for huge minute totals and caused John Beilein to give Andrew Dakich a spot at the end of the rotation. Add in Zak Irvin's wonky back, which affected his shot well into the season, and Derrick Walton still not looking like the player he was before his sophomore-year injury, and it's fair to say health cost the Wolverines at least a couple wins.

The center position. Moe Wagner's late emergence provided hope for the future. For most of the season, however, the center position was the source of much consternation. Ricky Doyle, the presumed starter heading into the season, took a huge step backward as a sophomore; his turnover rate nearly doubled and his teammates clearly lost trust in him as a result. Doyle's struggles may be attributed to the late-season revelation he suffers from sleep apnea, but that realization came too late to save his season or, ultimately, his career at Michigan.

Mark Donnal stepped into the void and improved markedly from his first year of game action. That said, he still had obvious deficiencies, especially on defense. Getting beat up by AJ Hammons is one thing; making Alex Olah look like Hakeem Olajuwon for the second straight year is another. Unless Donnal gets a lot stronger or becomes a legitimate three-point threat, he seems best suited as a backup center; deploying him against opposing backups would mitigate his weaknesses. For that to happen, though, Wagner must cut his foul rate significantly.

Perimeter defense. It was bad, even by the mediocre standard of previous Beilein squads. Michigan's best perimeter defenders, MAAR and Derrick Walton, had uneven seasons on that end of the floor—especially Walton, who'd vacillate from awful performances to good ones with little indication of what he'd bring on a given day. The three spot the biggest sore spot with Duncan Robinson somehow looking sigificantly less bad than Aubrey Dawkins by the end of the season; Robinson was still quite far from good.

The Wolverines were especially poor in the halfcourt. While their transition eFG% allowed fell in the middle of the NCAA pack, they were 273rd out of 351 teams in non-transition eFG% defense, per hoop-math. The problems were myriad: fighting through screens, guarding isolation, contesting shots, weakside rotation—you name it, really. The problems on the perimeter were amplified by the lack of a rim protector; they still started on the perimeter.


via Shot Analytics

Stars taking one step back for every step forward. There were encouraging developments out of both Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton this season. Irvin did an admirable job playing out of position on defense and rounded out his offensive repertoire, nearly doubling his assist rate. Walton posted center-level defensive rebounding numbers and returned to his freshman form as a perimeter shooter.

But with their bigger roles, flaws were exposed. Irvin's forays to the hoop increasingly resulted in turnovers as the season wore on; his handles still need work and teams exploited the fact that he was far more likely to try to kick the ball out than finish in traffic. Walton simply couldn't finish at the rim, continuing an alarming trend from his injury-plagued sophomore season.

This is where LeVert's absence hurt the most. The only player Michigan could rely upon to consistently generate a decent look—MAAR—still had a limited game; while he could weave his way to the basket in LeVert-like fashion, he wasn't nearly on LeVert's level as a shot-creator for others. Rahkman becoming a better all-around offensive player would be huge for the 2016-17 squad. It's becoming harder and harder to expect Irvin or Walton to live up to the expectations set by M's previous top options.

Postseason Hoops Mailbag, Part II: Spike, Breakout Player, Bigs, Bigs, More Bigs

Postseason Hoops Mailbag, Part II: Spike, Breakout Player, Bigs, Bigs, More Bigs

Submitted by Ace on March 30th, 2016 at 4:29 PM


Dawkins, Wilson, and Chatman give M three non-Wagner breakout candidates.

Part one of the postseason mailbag, which definitely didn't include an egregious error in the original post, can be found here. Part two got quite lengthy, so let's get right to it.

A Spike return is very unlikely.

While that door isn't completely closed, it would shock me if Spike ended up back on the roster next season, and I think it would shock him, too:

With that, Albrecht and Beilein shook hands and parted ways. According to Albrecht, Beilein told him that if an additional scholarship should open up at Michigan, the program would "entertain the idea of" him returning, but added that such a scenario is unlikely.

"That's a long shot," Albrecht said Monday. "And really, I don't even know if they'd want to bring me back because they'll already have two very talented point guards on the roster next year."

I know it's hard to come to terms with this because Spike is such a beloved figure, but this is the best arrangement for both parties involved. The issue with bringing Spike back, even if a spot does open up, is you're then impeding the development of a highly regarded player at the same position. Xavier Simpson is the future at point guard for this program and they justifiably want him to get plenty of time next year. If he's stuck behind Walton and Albrecht, it's hurting the team down the road just so the team can have a marginal one-year upgrade at backup point guard—and that's not a slight against Spike, just an assessment of Simpson's talent. Plus, Albrecht isn't exactly a sure thing after coming off surgeries to both his hips.

As Spike mentioned above, returning to Michigan isn't necessarily his ideal scenario, either. If he's healthy, there's a good chance he'll start at another program—he'll be able to choose a school with that role available to him. That's not going to be the case in Ann Arbor with Walton coming back and Simpson arriving.

If there's further attrition, I'd rather see Michigan go after a grad transfer shooting guard, preferably one who's a positive on the defensive end—that's a far bigger need than a third point guard. Alternatively, they could go after a stretch four to take pressure off Zak Irvin if there's attrition in the frontcourt. That's far from the sentimental choice, but I think it's the best one for the team.

It appears John Beilein is thinking along the same lines. According to ESPN's Jeff Borzello, Michigan is one of the programs that's contacted grad transfer Columbia combo guard Grant Mullins, who's a 44% three-point shooter. At 6'3" with a PG-like assist-to-turnover ratio, Mullins could play either guard position. The coaches also reportedly contacted Sacred Heart transfer Cane Broome (that is apparently a real name), but there doesn't appear to be strong mutual interest; Michigan isn't listed among the schools Broome plans to visit, per CBS's Jon Rothstein.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag.]

Postseason Hoops Mailbag, Part I: Third Guard, #FreeWeezy, Defensive Improvement

Postseason Hoops Mailbag, Part I: Third Guard, #FreeWeezy, Defensive Improvement

Submitted by Ace on March 30th, 2016 at 10:26 AM

I put out a call for mailbag questions last week and got a high number of responses, many of which are now moot after Michigan's scholarship situation got sorted out in the last couple days. I'm running this in two parts and I'm still taking questions for the second; you can email me or ask your question on Twitter with the tag #mgomailbag.

On with the show, which starts with a somewhat prescient Smoothitron question that came in before Ricky Doyle's transfer announcement.

Guard rotation concerns.

Hey Ace,

Am I crazy for thinking the 3rd guard is the biggest question mark on the roster for 16/17?

As maligned as the 5s have been, Wagner, Donnal, plus some modest improvement seems ...fine? Not to mention, there is always the longshot of whatever other 5s that are on the roster at that point breaking out.

At guard, we'll have Walton and MAAR playing huge minutes and freshmen+Dakich behind them. It will be bad news for us if Dakich has to soak up minutes, so Michigan will probably have to rely on a freshman to fill a substantial role, or potentially a huge one if injuries strike.

As successful as Michigan has been relying on freshmen contributors, it seems scary, especially for someone like me who now assumes there will be 1-3 devastating injuries every year.

Abraham May
@Smoothitron

Short answer: I'm still far more concerned about the center position.

[Hit THE JUMP for the long answer and questions about Moe Wagner and the outlook for next year's defense.]

2015-16 Season In Review: The Good

2015-16 Season In Review: The Good

Submitted by Ace on March 24th, 2016 at 3:40 PM

Previously: MGoPodcast 7.22, Postmortem Feelingsball

While it's easy to chalk 2015-16 up as another lost season for Michigan basketball, the program made real progress despite again dealing with injuries that would cripple a lesser squad. The Wolverines improved their win total by seven, made their way back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence, avoiding anything resembling the NJIT-EMU experience of the previous season, and saw promising development from some of their younger players.

Yes, there was plenty of bad, but we'll get to that later. Today's focus is on what went right for Michigan in 2015-16 and the implications for next season and beyond.

More MAAR, More Efficiency. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman flashed potential as a freshman, but a wonky jumper, too many turnovers, a low free-throw rate, and early-season struggles finishing at the rim knocked his ORating down to an ugly 92.5.

This season, MAAR was thrust into a far bigger role after Caris LeVert's injury, and he responded by improving every facet of his game. His turnover rate dropped by more than half, he made 57% of his two-pointers in Big Ten play, he reliably knocked down corner threes, he got to the line more often, and while he won't be confused for a point guard any time soon he showed an increased willingness and ability to dish off the drive.

Most importantly, MAAR emerged as the team's most (read: only) reliable shot-creator in LeVert's absence. 33.2% of MAAR's shots came at the rim, the highest rate for a non-center on the team, per hoop-math. After LeVert (32.7%), the next-closest Wolverine in the rotation was Aubrey Dawkins at 22.4%, and MAAR worked a whole lot harder for his attempts at the basket—Dawkins was assisted on 75.0% of such shots, while MAAR was on just 16.4%. Even though MAAR had to go solo the vast majority of the time, he made an impressive 72.6% of his shots at the rim.

In an offense spearheaded by Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, two players who have struggled to create and finish shots at the basket, that ability takes on paramount importance for next season. If MAAR can increase his usage—still at a relatively low 16.3% this season—while maintaining the efficiency he had this season, he could easily become the team's top option, especially if he improves as a passer out of the pick-and-roll. That would allow Walton to play off the ball more often, the role he's been best at in his Michigan career, and take pressure off Irvin to be an off-the-dribble creator, something he's improved at but still doesn't look totally comfortable doing.

Weezy, Freed. Save a few anomalous performances by Mark Donnal, the center position was a major sore spot this season, but there's renewed hope for next year after the late-season breakout of Moe Wagner.

Over the last four games of the season, Wagner went 9/9 from the field—including a three-pointer—with six offensive rebounds and four blocks in only 55 minutes. He was far and away Michigan's best pick-and-roll big, catching opponents square with his screens—he freed up Derrick Walton on the last play of the Indiana BTT game, forcing the help that opened up Kam Chatman in the corner—and showing great instincts for when to slip to the basket; it helped that he was a more reliable catcher and finisher than Donnal or Ricky Doyle, too. Despite being a skinny freshman, he showed he can hold up in the post on defense and potentially be a sorely needed rim protector.

Wagner's potential is tantalizing. At 6'10", he's got the frame to easily add 15-25 pounds and return next season in the 240-250 range. He dunks when Michigan's other big men go for layups. He has the athleticism and length to alter shots, run the floor, and even beat big men off the dribble. He made 71%(!) of his two-pointers as a freshman. If he can stay on the floor—a big question given his 7.3 fouls/40 minutes mark—he could turn the center spot from a negative into a positive in just one season.

Duncan Robinson. Even after an extended late-season slump—which, given Robinson's lofty standard, meant he made a mere 35% of his three-pointers in conference play—the D-III transfer proved he could more than hold his own at the highest level of college basketball. His shot chart remains a thing of beauty:

Robinson's dropoff can be attributed to issues that should be mitigated next season. He played more games than he ever had before while simultaneously facing a much higher level of competition. Opponents increasingly game-planned to eliminate Robinson as Michigan's other offensive weapons went down to injury or proved ineffective. With a year of D-I experience under his belt and what should be an improved group of players around him next season, Robinson should better be able to maintain his torrid early-season shooting pace. He showed signs of perking up at the end of this season, too, making 5/10 threes in the NCAA Tournament.

While Robinson would be a valuable starter based on his outside shooting alone, he rounded out his game as the season progressed. He drove to the basket more often late in the season, and while he wasn't great at finishing through contact, he shot a solid percentage near the hoop by using the basket to help shield him from defenders—the reverse layup off a baseline cut is becoming something of a signature for him. He went from being a terrible defender to merely a below-average one, separating himself from Aubrey Dawkins in that regard.

Robinson isn't quite Nik Stauskas 2.0—Stauskas created far more offense off the dribble—but Michigan ideally only needs him to be a second or third option in the offense instead of being the go-to guy. With more strength to finish drives after another summer of Camp Sanderson, Robinson should be a closer facsimile to Stauskas next season.

Derrick Walton's rebounding. At 6'1", Walton finished 14th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding rate. Yes, some of that is due to the rebounding strategy put in place by the coaches—the big men seal off while the guards crash—but it's still ridiculous. While the rest of Walton's season was a disappointment, his remarkable ability to grab contested rebounds over bigger players shouldn't be overlooked.