The Evolution of Michigan's Three-Point Defense

The Evolution of Michigan's Three-Point Defense

Submitted by Matt Way on June 27th, 2018 at 2:07 PM

[Ed-Ace: It's my pleasure to welcome Matt Way as a basketball contributor. Matt also contributes to and his work has shown up in several corners of the basketball internets. As you'd expect, he'll be bringing an analytical bent with film breakdowns to match. We're very excited to have him on board, and you can follow him on Twitter @waymatth.]

Nine seasons into the John Beilein era, Michigan basketball still lacked a defensive identity. Beilein’s defenses had never finished in the top 35 nationally and they routinely failed spectacularly against good offenses. Opponents replicated the success that Michigan’s offense did in creating open looks from behind the arc.

Enter Billy Donlon.

As the primary defensive assistant, Donlon transformed a system focused primarily on not fouling into a more aggressive scheme which became among the best in the country at limiting three point attempts. His replacement, Luke Yaklich, improved on the foundation Donlon laid, resulting in Michigan fielding the third-best defense in the nation by year’s end.

Michigan Basketball Three-Point Defense Rankings    
Season Opp. 3PAr Opp. 3PT%
2014-15 217 178
2015-16 210 178
2016-17 8 314
2017-18 7 58

Under Donlon and Yaklich, Michigan’s defense has become a top ten unit in terms of suppressing attempts from behind the arc. 

Research suggests that three-point defense at both the college and NBA levels is largely about preventing attempts. Certainly teams can control the quality of shots by closely contesting them, but once the ball is released, a defense has no impact over whether it ultimately goes in. Contesting shooters is most impactful in its deterrence of the shot itself.

The variance in three-point defense is evident in Michigan’s opponents’ recent shooting percentages. Despite suppressing attempts in 2016-17, they were at the bottom of the barrel in terms of shooting percentage. Ranking similarly this past year while running a similar scheme, opponents shot significantly worse. Some of this likely relates to the quality of contests, but a lot of it is due to bad luck.

Yaklich’s iteration was better than its predecessors in one important area: defending screens. Where teams in the past took more casual routes chasing off-the-ball, last year’s team was aggressive in both fighting through picks and switching them.

[Hit THE JUMP for a deep dive into stats and video.]

The Journey At The Big Ten Tournament

The Journey At The Big Ten Tournament

Submitted by Brian on March 7th, 2018 at 5:47 PM

The Journey has discovered the word "ass," and it is good. That single concession has opened up a large world of coach and player talking from which to draw from, and the result is a hagiographic documentary series with a bit of a harder edge. They documented every Big Ten Tourney game; here are those that Michigan participated in.


Yes, the plane is still a thing. Make sure you catch the Simpson death stare riiiight at the end.


Hard Edge Tim Miles, yo.




Beilein and Painter seem to have a real mutual affection.

(I still think calling the series "The Journey" is something a Hallmark exec would reject as too treacly. Is it too late to call it "The Journey, Ass"? Why did everyone suddenly go quiet? LOOK ME IN THE EYE.)

Snips, Fingernails, And Spartan Dawg Trails

Snips, Fingernails, And Spartan Dawg Trails

Submitted by Brian on March 5th, 2018 at 12:55 PM


[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

I still don't believe in Zavier Simpson.

I do not believe that Simpson explored the theoretical upper reaches of the backboard as he flipped up a Layup In Name Only over Dutch windmill Matt Haarms. I don't believe that ball survived re-entry and went through the basket. I don't believe that he just got Carsen Edwards so mad he wanted to fight Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman's chest, one day after he outplayed Cassius Winston for the second time, in his fourth game in four days. I don't believe that a guy who attempted six twos in his first nine games is ripping down the lane so frequently that he turns John Teske into a dunk machine and then legitimately earns… this. This big-ass mood.

Try doing that in any situation you may encounter. Actually, don't. You will die. Zavier Simpson walks the earth still except he doesn't because none of this happened and he does not exist.

I know I have seen all of this with my lying eyes. I have seen four-foot-two Zavier Simpson make 57% of his twos, and not believed a damn one of them. Zavier Simpson does not care about this. He is busy eating keratin.

I'll tell you what I believe. I believe Zavier Simpson's dad literally fed his son big heaping bowls of fingernails he'd cadged from local beauty schools, homeless shelters, morgues, Greek restaurants, and hospitals. I believe he did not distinguish between finger- and toenails, and sometime mixed in cat claws, which are also keratin. I believe this explains Simpson's lack of stature and general approach.

Once I have believed this—once I have envisioned the great heaping piles of milk-soaked nails that do not even soften like Grape Nuts™ eventually do—I can begin to cope. I envision the great piles going into Zavier Simpson's belly, and then I can start to interpret recent events as reality. It even makes a certain amount of sense: the great bezoar lurking in his gut, simultaneously restricting and driving him. The gradual assimilation of the collected protein into his self. The assembled wisdom of various people who'd had their fingernails shorn from them flowing into him, subliminally. The spooky ability to jet into the lane and to the basket and to flip up some crazy bullshit that goes in anyway, derived from the memories of every guy in rec specs at the YMCA.

Does it make sense? No. Does it make more sense if Zavier Simpson is sort of a man and sort of a toenail golem? God no. BUT ALSO YES.


The John Beilein era at Michigan is nothing if not a continual stream of people exclaiming "who is that guy?!" And "why is he so good?!" Simpson is its latest and least likely focus. Beilein turning a 6'6" sniper into a lottery pick is, in retrospect, so obvious as to be boring. Of course Nik Stauskas. Of course Tim Hardaway Jr. Of course Caris Levert. 

But I must confess to you, reader, that several times over the past two years I have expressed frustration in our MGoSlack by wondering why Beilein recruited a radically undersized point guard who can't shoot, like, at all.

This critique still stands! Simpson has not hit an off the dribble jumper all season. He's one of the most implausibly listed-at-six-foot players in the country. He's a 50% FT shooter. His three-pointer looks like it was dragged from a James Naismith instructional manual. And he is the alpha dog on a top ten team.

Beilein achieved this in the usual way: by admitting something isn't working and changing it. When he arrived at Michigan, he barely used ball screens and ran a 1-3-1. He evolved, and got to a Final Four. When his defenses fell apart in the aftermath of changes to the charge rule, he admitted he would never be an elite defensive coach and brought in a specialist; when that specialist left he brought in another one.

Possibly by accident he also brought in an elite defensive player for the first time in his career. I don't know if Beilein was making a stylistic choice or simply acknowledging that MSU had won Cassius Winston's recruitment when he suddenly abandoned his pursuit of Winston and scooped up Simpson in a whirlwind weekend. I don't know why Simpson was singled out as the backup plan when he is in many ways the platonic opposite of a Beilein kind of player. But he was, and collectively they made it work. Michigan can give up some shooting from the one when Simpson inflicts this kind of pain on the point guards of four of the Big Ten's best offenses:

  • Jordan Bohannon, Iowa: 11 points on 16 shot equivalents, 3 TOs, 82 ORTG
  • Glynn Watson, Nebraska: 10 points on 12 shot equivalents, 2 TOs, 85 ORTG
  • Cassius Winston, MSU: 11 points on 12 shot equivalents, 1 TO, 102 ORTG
  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue: 12 points on 18 shot equivalents, 2 TO, 77 ORTG

The rest of the team of course has a major hand in this. MAAR in particular was often tasked with running around after Edwards and tracking Winston. But that latter was because Michigan matched Simpson up on Miles Bridges for about ten minutes. Bridges could do nothing except jack up contested 18-footers against a man nearly a foot shorter than him.

Defense is this team's backbone. Nebraska went 1/20 for a stretch in the first half and it didn't feel like a fluke. Zavier Simpson is the first line of defense, and his mood is contagious.


[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Nobody's talking about who's tough anymore. Because everyone knows. Soak Michigan in milk all you want, they're still nails.


Brackets. Lunardi has M as a 3 in Wichita against Bucknell and then TCU or a play-in winner. I wouldn't take much more than the seed from that—Lunardi again put together an impossible matchup since one of the play-in teams is UCLA. He also puts protected seed Wichita State in… Boise, while Michigan plays in Literal Wichita. Jerry Palm has been dogging Michigan all year and still has them as a four, in San Diego. He seems to rely heavily on the NCSOS number the committee head publicly crapped on, so hopefully he's out of touch and not accurately reflecting an out of touch committee.

Despite the above, Detroit should be within reach now for Michigan. You can't do a blind resume comparison between M and MSU because it's immediately apparent who is who, but it seems fairly clear that Michigan now has the better collection of wins. Tourney teams and bubble-ish ones:

  • MSU: UNC(N), Notre Dame, Nebraska, Maryland, @ Maryland, Penn State, Purdue
  • Michigan: UCLA, @ Texas, @ MSU, OSU, Maryland, @ Maryland, @ Penn State, Nebraska (N), MSU (N), Purdue(N).

Seven losses vs four is MSU's main argument, and that's fairly hollow since the only road games they played against a tourney-or-bubble Big Ten opponent were an OSU loss and a Maryland W that M matched. MSU did not play at Purdue, Michigan, Nebraska, or Penn State. Michigan has a better Q1 record at 6-5 than MSU's 3-4. Hopefully that's judged more important than Michigan having one loss in Q2 (LSU) and one in Q3 (Northwestern). RPI thinks it is; Michigan passed MSU in it after the Purdue W.

Also hopefully some RPI jitter slides PSU into the top 75 again—they're 76th. Root for South Carolina, Utah Valley, and Stanford to lose ASAP in conference tourneys.

FWIW, both Xavier and Cincinnati are approximately equidistant from Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, so the committee has three protected seeds in the Midwest that don't really care where they're placed (those teams and Purdue) and two that really do (MSU and M). It seems to make the most sense to put both M and MSU in Detroit and figure it out with the other teams.



BY GRUNDLAR'S HAMMER. Who is Jon Teske and why is he so good?

Teske had a breakout game in the final, finishing with authority and playing his usual brand of excellent defense. He also hit a couple of jumpers. We suspect those are good-ish shots already; additional confirmation is nice. 14 points on 10 shot equivalents and a couple assists was good for a 123 ORTG… on 30% usage.

Simpson set up a number of his points but he finished with authority when given the opportunity—see above. He's not Mo, but he provides other things.

I've said it before but I think the C spot will be just fine even if Wagner departs. Austin Davis got a few minutes in the first half and D-ed up on Haas pretty well, forcing him into a tough hook. (That he hit, naturally.) There is a lot of speculation that roster attrition might include Davis, but I think that's really really wrong. Never give up on an underclass big.

Tired legs and open shots. Michigan didn't look particularly fatigued at any point during the tournament—their defense remained top notch for the duration. There was a hint of the four-games-in-four-days during the first half of the Purdue game when good shooters got a series of wide open looks and missed seemingly all of them. Purdue elected not to switch screens and demonstrated why they'd been switching in the first place; Michigan failed to take advantage.

The hard hedge. Fortunately, Purdue was not murderous death Purdue. Michigan had a lot to do with that, preventing even a look from three on most possessions by hedging harder than they have all year. Many, many complaints from the past five years of Michigan basketball have been about the hard hedge getting guys in foul trouble and forcing rotations that Michigan wasn't very good at. This year the hard hedge has been an erratic way to apply pressure at the end of shot clocks; teams that aren't seeing it frequently are much worse at exploiting it. It's a nice changeup. In this game it was the game plan because Michigan was desperate to prevent the rain of threes, and it worked.

What are you doing, Tom. Jaren Jackson Jr played two more minutes than Gavin Schilling and Kenny "Kevin" Goins. He was off the floor for 40% of the game. What are you doing, Tom? Are you panicking and throwing in weird guys in case it works? It kind of seems like it, Tom.

Speaking of Izzo, is there anything more perfectly Izzo than opening up his presser with complaints about Simpson and Matthews hitting threes and the late friendly roll for MAAR? Michigan hit 36% from deep against MSU. Their season average is… 36%. Izzo did not note that Robinson and Wagner combined to go 2/10 on mostly excellent looks. He did not note that Bridges hit a 35-foot prayer at the end of the shot clock.

Close. Michigan's first turnover against Purdue came with about 12 minutes left in the game. They had a total of five.

Retroactive NYC defense. There has been a lot of pushback from access-merchant types in the media about putting the tournament in New York. These are largely based on the fact that Michigan has a ton of alumni in NYC and packed MSG. I'm obviously in favor of that. Accelerating the schedule remains a bad decision, one Delany copped to in public. If the Big Ten can play in NYC at the usual time they should do so semi-regularly. It's not worth the hassle otherwise. A 20 point loss at Nebraska says hi.

Poole: argh. Maaaaaan was that a rough four days for Jordan Poole. His decision making was mostly fine, it was just that whenever he took a shot it hit the underneath of the backboard. I choose to believe that the aura of MSG overwhelmed him, and since Michigan's not going to be in the NIT it doesn't matter. Yeah.

The greatest tweet in history. Not knowing this has been killing me for years.

The second greatest tweet in history.

Twitter: good sometimes.

Hoops Preview: Nebraska, Big Ten Tournament

Hoops Preview: Nebraska, Big Ten Tournament

Submitted by Brian on March 2nd, 2018 at 11:22 AM

1519053162_8b3432a8d86bd1c87964db8dbb164883THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT #16 Michigan (25-7) vs
#50 Nebraska (22-9)
WHERE Madison Square Garden
New York, NY
WHEN 2:30 PM
LINE Michigan –4 (KenPom)

ayyyyyyy i'm rappaporting over heah


Michigan slid by Iowa in overtime yesterday and now looks to punch their five-seed card (probably? maybe?) against Nebraska, which sits inconveniently just outside the top 50 bin that would offer a Q1 win at a neutral court. But still.

They get a rested Cornhuskers outfit that hamblasted them in their only meeting of the year, so this should be a tight one. If Michigan can't improve it's three point shooting from the opener—and the first game—it won't be.


Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.

Note: all MPG numbers from Nebraska's last five games as that is more representative.

Pos. # Name Yr. Ht./Wt. %Min %Poss ORtg SIBMIHHAT
G 5 Glynn Watson Jr. 6'0, 173 78 22 99 Yes
39/28 shooter has excellent A:TO ratio. Let him shoot.
G 11 Anton Gill Sr. 6'3, 195 56 15 115 No
Just A Shooter hitting 39%.
F 24 James Palmer Jr. 6'6, 210 81 29 110 Sort of
Has amped up alpha-ness since last meeting. Huge FT rate, 52% on a lot of unassisted twos.
F 13 Isaac Copeland Sr. 6'3, 195 85 20 115 No
Good-at-bad-shots guy hits 44% on 2PJ that are half his shots. Range out to 3.
C 14 Isaiah Roby Jr. 6'8, 225 76 18 120 No
Guards 1-5 w top 100 block rate. Busted out in B10 play, 125 ORTG and top FT rate in conference.
G 15 Evan Taylor So. 6'5, 208 49 18 113 No
Baffling gent shoots 43/47 but has ~85% of his usage from two. Gets to line.
C 32 Jordy Tshimanga So. 6'11, 268 34 20 85 Very
Remains miserable on O. 6.9 fouls/40. Huge OREB rate is main contribution.
G 12 Thomas Allen Fr. 6'1, 180 15 18 96 No
Literally the only bench player < 6'5". Role has shrunk to 6 MPG of late.

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

Hoops Preview: Iowa, Big Ten Tournament

Hoops Preview: Iowa, Big Ten Tournament

Submitted by Brian on March 1st, 2018 at 11:31 AM

Alicia Jay Z film New York video TLH4a_E0tfHxTHE ESSENTIALS

WHAT #16 Michigan (25-7) vs
#95 Iowa (14-18)
WHERE Madison Square Garden
New York, NY          
WHEN 2:30 PM
LINE Michigan –9 (KenPom)

ayyyyyy i'm just walkin heah


Postseason time for a Michigan outfit that is streaking, recording five comfortable wins in a row after a nonsense game at Northwestern. Michigan's played themselves on to the five line, per the Matrix—Rhode Island chipped in by getting deathmurdered by St Joe's a couple days ago—and needs this game and tomorrow's to maintain that spot, even tenuously. Make it past the semi and then maybe we're talking about a protected seed.

This game should be a relatively easy one against an Iowa team Michigan has comfortably beaten twice, the second just a couple weeks ago. Fran McCaffrey's unlikely to have another trick up his sleeve in a tournament setting, and Iowa played yesterday.

You never know and all that. Maybe Michigan will shoot four for a zilly from three. They do not have the advantage of a plane crash this time around. Which is good! Unless they lose.


Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.

Pos. # Name Yr. Ht./Wt. %Min %Poss ORtg SIBMIHHAT
G 3 Jordan Bohannon So. 6'0, 180 78 20 122 Not at all
SG forced to play point, good A:TO ratio. Lethal shooter, but terrible inside the line.
G 4 Isaiah Moss So. 6'5, 205 59 22 111 No
Multi-purpose O weapon w high shot volume and middling efficiency. Again, force inside line.
F 51 Nicholas Baer Jr. 6'7, 210 43 16 107 Sort of
Defensive pest and OREB threat is mediocre scorer.
F 5 Tyler Cook So. 6'8, 215 67 26 110 Very
Skilled 4/5 took it to M in first matchup, then got DUNCBLASTED two weeks ago.
C 55 Luka Garza Fr. 6'10, 235 50 24 121 Sort of
Rebounding machine w solid block rate, efficient, low TO interior scorer. Excellent long two shooter.
F 35 Cordell Pemsl So. 6'8, 240 42 19 107 Very
Hambeast PF rebounds everything and dunks off assists.
F 20 Jack Nunge Fr. 6'11, 225 41 19 109 No
Stretch 4 still a bit skinny; poor DREB gent.
G 25 Maishe Dailey So. 6'7, 195 40 16 103 No
Super large G is another guy Michigan should run off the line as his efficiency drops inside it.

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