Hoops Mailbag: Robinson vs. Irvin, Stretch Run, The Tech

Hoops Mailbag: Robinson vs. Irvin, Stretch Run, The Tech

Submitted by Ace on February 21st, 2017 at 4:33 PM

Irvin or Robinson?


Choosing between defense and offense. [Left: Campredon; right: Barron]

I put out a call for hoops mailbag questions over the weekend. A theme emerged:

With Duncan Robinson's semi-emergence on defense (feels weird saying that), why is Coach Beilein not inserting him into the clutch-time lineup for Zak Irvin? I live in constant fear of Irvin hero-ball and I just don't trust him to make shot these days, let alone the right decision.

I'd feel much more comfortable with a Walton-MAAR-Robinson-Wilson-Wagner lineup offensively at the end of the game, and if the defense only takes a small step back isn't it worth it?

Go Blue,

Christian
UM '15

The first two questions are slightly different from the third. To address those first: Zak Irvin is going to remain in the starting lineup. I agree with that choice because of the difference Irvin makes on defense. I disagree with the premise in the first question; the defense can get substantially worse—we all saw as much in January—and Irvin is a big reason why Michigan has improved on that end.

Irvin's versatility on defense is more important than people seem to think. He can do everything from stay in front of two-guards to play passable post defense; did we already forget about this? (And this? And this too?) Michigan doesn't have another wing (DJ Wilson, if you're inclined to count him, excluded) with anything resembling Irvin's combination of strength and quickness; his presence allows M to switch on defense without creating too many mismatches. He's one of Michigan's better on-the-ball defenders, too.

Robinson has made strides on defense; he's still far from a good defender. SI posted anonymous coach quotes today on several potential tourney teams. From the Michigan section, which was critical but fair:

If [senior guard Duncan] Robinson is in the game you want to attack him defensively. Everybody knows that.

Robinson hasn't been caught out of position as often as he was earlier in the season. He's still susceptible to being attacked off the dribble by quicker guards/wings and he doesn't have Irvin's strength to hold up when he's switched onto a post player. Yes, Robinson is the superior offensive player; Irvin, in my opinion, has as much of an edge on defense.

A straight-up comparison between the two isn't sufficient; this is, after all, a team sport. You can gameplan to hide a struggling offensive player, especially when the rest of the offense is clicking like Michigan's. Irvin, in fact, is playing a decreased role in the offense over the course of this slump. This mathematical approach isn't perfect, but Irvin averaged a 27% usage rate over M's first seven conference games, with a high mark of 32% (Maryland) and a low of 21% (Illinois). That average is down to 17% over M's last seven games, in which he's surpassed the 20% only three times, topping out at 24% in the Wisconsin win; he's gone as low at 8% in that span, using only five possessions in the MSU win. Walton and MAAR have been able to pick up the slack.

It's much more difficult to hide a weak defender; you don't get to choose what set the opposing team runs. Robinson has been such an effective offensive player this season in part because John Beilein can cherry-pick his matchup on both ends. Robinson wasn't nearly as efficient as a starter last year (107.7 ORating in B1G games) compared to what he's done as the sixth man this year (122.8 ORating in B1G); while correlation doesn't equal causation, I don't believe that's a coincidence.

If Irvin continues to take on big late-game possessions—I'll admit I cringed when he waved off Derrick Walton in a second-half late-clock situation at Minnesota—then I wouldn't mind seeing Beilein use Robinson over Irvin in certain late-game situations, as Christian suggests, especially if he can go offense-defense with his substitutions. Benching Irvin is a step too far; Michigan still has the best offensive efficiency in the conference with him playing 89% of the available minutes, and he's played a major role in the defensive improvement of the last month. Another stat of note: Robinson averages 22.3 minutes per game in Michigan's seven conference losses; he's at 17.6 in their seven conference wins.

[Hit THE JUMP for the path to the tourney, Minnesota technical explanation, and more.]

Basketbullets: Bubble Watch, X Is Coming, Transition Triples

Basketbullets: Bubble Watch, X Is Coming, Transition Triples

Submitted by Ace on February 10th, 2017 at 12:19 PM

Bracket Watch: Still A Thing!


Derrick Walton is settling in for a potential tourney run. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Michigan's NCAA tournament hopes were hanging by a thread heading into Tuesday's blowout of MSU. In the aftermath, well, they're still hanging by a thread, but at least the thread hasn't snapped. The Wolverines are the fifth team out of the field in last night's update of the Bracket Matrix, making 31 of the 99 included brackets. They're moving in the right direction, however, making 17 of the 40 that were updated on Wednesday or Thursday. That update doesn't include today's revised brackets; CBS's Jerry Palm, who already had Michigan as an 11-seed, bumped them up to a 10-seed today—clear of the last four in.

As ESPN's Eamonn Brennan points out in his latest Bubble Watch post, Michigan can strengthen their case for an at-large bid on Sunday by weakening the case for Indiana, a fellow bubble team:

Despite last week's home loss to Ohio State, this could end up being a net-plus week for Michigan's once-long NCAA tournament odds. The Wolverines blitzed Michigan State by 29 on Tuesday, and on Sunday they travel to Indiana, which is not only vulnerable but one of the bubble teams the Wolverines need to drift away if they want to secure their own bid in the coming weeks.

Not that you need the rooting incentive, but Michigan State is another one of those bubble teams that Michigan is hoping to pass; while they did so on Palm's bracket, most have kept the Spartans a couple seed lines above the Wolverines. Michigan still needs to win more than their fair share of coin-flip-ish games down the stretch to have a realistic shot at the field; a victory on Sunday would go a long way towards making that a reality.

[After THE JUMP: getting X going, transition threes, lineage of poodles, etc.]

Basketbullets: Limiting Happ and Hayes, Late-Game Breakdowns, 2017 Class Check-In

Basketbullets: Limiting Happ and Hayes, Late-Game Breakdowns, 2017 Class Check-In

Submitted by Ace on January 20th, 2017 at 9:47 AM

The Post Defense Was... Good?


Michigan put up a surprisingly strong fight in the post. [Patrick Barron]

I don't think I was alone in thinking Wisconsin, boasting two strong post scorers in Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes, would crush Michigan in the paint on Tuesday night. Instead, Michigan limited the Happ/Hayes duo to shooting a combined 8-for-20 on two-pointers with six assists and four turnovers; they were the two least-efficient players among Badgers to play at least 12 minutes.

I went back through the game and pulled clips of every Wisconsin possession that went through the post. While Happ missed a couple makeable shots, Michigan generally played strong post defense, with both DJ Wilson and Moe Wagner standing out for the good:

Given how Michigan has played defense this year, the first thing that jumps out is their effort; they scrapped for post position, didn't give up on plays, and hit the deck for rebounds.

Wilson gave up an easy bucket to Hayes early when he got caught napping on a cut (0:29 mark) and couldn't recover in time to deny prime post position. He otherwise did quite well; he blocked Happ twice and forced a Hayes miss shortly after the aforementioned bucket by establishing good position and forcing him to spin for a tough left-handed attempt.

While Wagner wasn't quite as strong in the post, which allowed Happ to get good position on him multiple times, he used his hands quite well to disrupt Happ on the way up and pulled off the subtle "step in and bump the guy with your chest" thing that often throws off shots and rarely draws a whistle (0:39, 2:23). A couple paint baskets weren't on the bigs, either; I didn't include Vitto Brown getting isolated on Duncan Robinson, which ended in a layup (surprise!), and on the final clip Robinson rotates over to the open big way too late.

The notable exception to M's strong interior defense: Mark Donnal, who gave up an and-one and fouled Happ on the floor just before he could give up another on his two post defense possessions before getting yanked.

In his lone opportunity, Jon Teske gave up a second-chance bucket when he lost contact with Happ after an offensive rebound. I'd still like to see more of him out there; Donnal was physically overwhelmed on defense and once again a non-factor on offense, so Beilein might as well let his behomoth freshman big man work through his mistakes—Teske is much more likely to display significant in-season improvement than a guy in his fourth year in the program.

Michigan still had their fair share of defensive breakdowns, which I'll get to momentarily. That said, this was an encouraging performance on that end of the floor, especially in the paint. If the Wolverines can replicate that level of effort on defense while getting offensive outputs like they have in their non-Wisconsin Big Ten games, they can make a late tourney push. It's a huge if, of course, but it's hard not to feel better about this team after Tuesday night despite the loss.

[Hit THE JUMP for the aforementioned breakdowns, highlights of a couple 2017 commits, and more.]

Michigan 72, Penn State 69

Michigan 72, Penn State 69

Submitted by Ace on January 4th, 2017 at 11:36 PM


Walton's play in transition late sparked M's comeback. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

It wasn't impressive, or encouraging, or—at least for the first 30 minutes or so—fun, but Michigan pulled their proverbial asses out of the fire with a strong finish against Penn State, closing the game with a 30-15 run to erase a 14-point deficit and steal much-needed conference win.

"Their seniors made plays at the end," said PSU coach Pat Chambers.

"They got the stops when they needed," he added. "That's what senior-led teams do."

"Our seniors, who were not on their 'A' game, were nothing short of spectacular in the last four minutes," John Beilein concurred.

You, Michigan fan, may have cocked an eyebrow at those statements. For tonight, at least, they held true. While they struggled for most of the game, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton both came up big down the stretch. Walton nailed a three to pull Michigan within one, then fed DJ Wilson on a fast break for the go-ahead alley-oop. When PSU's Lamar Stevens grabbed the lead back with a jumper, Irvin answered with his pet midrange shot. Walton extended the lead at the free-throw line, Irvin drilled a tough stepback shot, and the two combined to ice the game at the line, going 6/6 in the waning moments to fend off PSU's comeback effort.

The game proved frustrating at times for both coaches. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

The Wolverines didn't open the game nearly as well as they closed it, of course. This was a boring slog for a half-hour of game time. Penn State got into the paint time and again, while Michigan couldn't do the same or hit their outside shots, going 1-for-9 from three-point range in the first half.

"They drove us wherever they wanted to in the first half," said John Beilein. "And we let them."

The second stanza began much the same way; PSU's first two buckets came in the paint before three straight triples extended the lead to 14. The turning point, according to Beilein, came during an emotional huddle at the under-12 media timeout.

"I didn't have to say anything," Beilein said. "It was all, the circle that I was in, they were all extremely charged up and upset at each other. And I'm not meaning pointing fingers [at each other], they were very encouraging, and very strong words that, no, we're not losing this game. We're not starting off in the league 0 and 2. We're going to make this happen."

Duncan Robinson entered the game shortly after that timeout and proceeded to account for a five-point run of his own with two shots to cut the deficit to eight. The Wolverines steadily chipped away at the lead from there, benefiting from some PSU turnovers to get out in transition for easy points. Then the seniors closed it out.

The season can take two forms from here. Michigan can carry the emotion from that huddle over to the rest of the Big Ten schedule and fight their way into the tournament, or they can play the listless brand of basketball we saw for much of this game and settle for an NIT bid. Only time will tell.

Hoops Mailbag: More Weezy, Late Clock Offense, Best Five

Hoops Mailbag: More Weezy, Late Clock Offense, Best Five

Submitted by Ace on December 30th, 2016 at 4:36 PM


What's German for "you should play me more"? [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Michigan begins Big Ten play on Sunday at Iowa. As the team's long holiday break comes to a close, it's a good time to take some mailbag questions. I got enough good questions this time around that I'll probably do another one of these next week; a couple of these required deeper dives than I expected.

I'll begin with this: I'm less concerned about the team making the tournament than most Michigan fans, or at least that's the sense I get. They're 10-3 with no resume-crushing losses and a couple neutral-site blowout wins over top-40 teams. While it's early yet to keep tabs on this, the Wolverines are a nine-seed in the Bracket Matrix with eight at-large teams below them. A handful of the teams ahead of them have the look of paper tigers. I'm not ready to believe Minnesota and Northwestern are tournament squads; both are currently ahead of Michigan in the matrix. This team is in better shape both statistically and resume-wise after the nonconference schedule than last year's team, which had Caris LeVert through the Big Ten opener. Unless there's an injury to a major contributor, which we obviously can't rule out, then this will be a tournament team.

With that out of the way, the key to season is Moe Wagner earning John Beilein's trust enough to become the focal point of this team. This is both on Wagner and Beilein. Wagner, for his part, needs to cut down on the oft-inexplicable mental errors that he makes on defense; those have been Beilein's focus when he explains why Wagner got pulled from a particular game or doesn't have a bigger role in general. Beilein, for his part, needs to realize that Michigan is usually better off with Wagner in the game even when he's made a couple mistakes. While I understand the need for teaching moments, they don't always need to come during games, especially when they may be at the expense of the team's chances to win.

There are already encouraging signs on this front. Wagner has played 25+ minutes in three of the last six games; the exceptions were UCLA, when he got in foul trouble, and the blowouts over Central Arkansas and Maryland Eastern Shore, when Beilein had a chance to give Jon Teske some extended playing time.

Meanwhile, Wagner's relatively low minute total—he's still playing a shade less than half of the available minutes—partially obscures the reality: when Wagner is on the floor, he's the lead offensive player. His 24.0% usage rate is the highest on the team, as is his 26.2% share of shot attempts when he's on the floor. His seven assists already outnumber last season's total by three. He's cut his turnover rate nearly in half, an especially difficult feat given the major uptick in usage. He's drawing more fouls. Most importantly, he's obscenely efficient as a scorer, shooting 71% on twos and 50% on threes. While those numbers will fall back to earth as Wagner can no longer feast on the Kennesaw States of the basketball world, it's clear that Wagner has the highest ceiling as a scorer of any of Michigan's rotation players, and it may not be close.

Wagner has done an excellent job of cutting down his foul rate, which has dropped from 7.3 fouls per 40 minutes last season to 3.9 this season. As long as that continues, it's time for Wagner to play closer to 30 minutes per game than his current mark of 19.2.

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

Basketbullets: Central Arkansas, M's Point Guard Problem, Isaiah Livers

Basketbullets: Central Arkansas, M's Point Guard Problem, Isaiah Livers

Submitted by Ace on December 13th, 2016 at 3:27 PM

Mini-Preview: Central Arkansas

THE ESSENTIALS

WHAT #32 Michigan (7-3) vs
#324 Central Arkansas (1-8)
WHERE Crisler Center
Ann Arbor, Michigan
WHEN 9 pm ET, Tuesday
LINE Michigan -23 (KenPom)
TV BTN
PBP: Kevin Kugler
Analyst: Jon Crispin

Right: "Hatfield said that reaction was varied. Some said it looked like the college's librarian. Some said it was too fat, too squatty, just plain ugly. Some faculty said the art department was forcing its ideas on the rest of the campus without first checking. Others thought it okay, especially since the bear was holding a book. Hatfield said President Nolen M. Irby 'took it well,' and apparently enough others did as well because the statue stayed. It remained in front of Main for many years, eventually moving to one or two other campus sites before winding up in the football stadium."

THE THEM

I won't waste much of your time previewing Central Arkansas, one of the 30 worst D-I programs in the country this year. Their lone win of the season came against #240 Army; their most impressive performance was either losing by only 12 at #48 Oklahoma State or taking #142 Little Rock to overtime at home. Three starters have ORatings below 100; two rotation backups have ORatings below 70. There are some stats below; they are ugly.

THE TEMPO-FREE

Really ugly.

THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES

Michigan by 23.

A single-digit win would be a fiasco.

[Hit THE JUMP for Basketbullets.]

UCLA Postmortem: Bad Defense, Good Offense, or Both?

UCLA Postmortem: Bad Defense, Good Offense, or Both?

Submitted by Ace on December 12th, 2016 at 4:04 PM


MAAR probably gets a pass for not contesting this one.

I regret responding to this with "that's easy enough":

I went back through the UCLA game and charted each three-point attempt by both teams save for the last couple minutes of garbage time. The no-late-heavy shot contest system is relatively self-explanatory and looks at how well the defender guarded the shot attempt. Heavy contest shots, especially from beyond the arc, are bad ideas; late contest is enough of an opening to get a good look but isn't completely wide open; no contest is wide the hell open.

When breaking it down by halves, the story of the game emerges:

  No Contest Late Contest Heavy Contest
Michigan (1st Half) 3/4 7/10 2/2
Michigan (2nd Half) 0/1 2/6 0/1
UCLA (1st Half) 5/6 5/6 0/2
UCLA (2nd Half) 3/3 3/4 0/2

I expected a bit more NBA Jam (i.e. drilling heavily contested shots) in UCLA's first-half results; instead, I saw a series of errors that led to good looks, and those errors got way worse in the second half. Meanwhile, Michigan's offense stopped generating easy looks beyond the arc in the second half at the same time they cooled off on tougher shots.

[Hit THE JUMP for blood, oh god, so much blood.]

Michigan 79, Marquette 61

Michigan 79, Marquette 61

Submitted by Ace on November 18th, 2016 at 12:03 AM


Marquette had no answer for Michigan's size. Seriously. [Joseph Dressler]

"They're just too big," said Karl Ravech, the ESPN play-by-play man. He was talking about a Michigan basketball team. It was a true statement.

"The defense by Michigan has really been outstanding," Fran Fraschilla added a short time later.

By the second half, the two were discussing how future opponents would handle Michigan's size as Moe Wagner demonstrated precisely why they were on that topic:

The key to it all was the insertion of DJ Wilson into the starting lineup in Duncan Robinson's stead. Both players flourished in their new roles. Wilson looked every bit as good as he did in the season's first two games, if not better, tallying his first career double-double with ten points and 13 boards and filling out the box score with a pair of assists and blocks. Robinson came off the bench to match his season point total, hitting 3-of-4 three-point attempts to finish with ten himself. The switch allowed John Beilein to unleash Wilson and pick ideal matchups for Robinson; it paid off immediately.

Michigan jumped out to an early lead due to hot outside shooting and a torrent of Marquette turnovers. Even the big men got into the act, with Wagner, Wilson, and Mark Donnal all connecting on first-half triples. Robinson's pair of first-half bombs got the lead up to double digits, and a strong stretch by Donnal—his tip-in of a Xavier Simpson miss elicited Ravech's comment—helped push the margin up to 24 points at the break.


DJ Wilson dominated the boards. [Dressler]

The Wolverines were able to set it on cruise control for the second half. They eased up a little too much at times, committing some sloppy turnovers to allow Marquette to get as close as 12 points down, but every run was swiftly rebuffed.

The frontcourt was the story of the night, as it should've been: Mark Donnal went 6-for-9 for 15 points, Wilson was everywhere, and Wagner tallied nine points and the SportsCenter posterization. That overshadowed a quietly solid performance from the others. Zak Irvin had his midrange game going early and started knocking down threes, too, on his way to a 16-6-6 stat line marred only by four turnovers.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman finished with 15 via frequent trips to the line and some tough twos. Derrick Walton and Xavier Simpson didn't need to score to make an impact. Both played excellent perimeter defense and the offense didn't skip a beat when Walton sat with two fouls early on. Notably, Beilein let Walton re-enter the game with two fouls midway through the half, and he rewarded his coach's confidence by not picking up another the rest of the way.

The resounding victory puts Michigan in tomorrow night's 2K Classic title game against SMU, another team that looks like it will surpass preseason expectations after a comfortable 76-67 win over Pitt in the other semifinal. That game tips at 7 pm on ESPN2. A bigger, burlier Mustangs squad should provide a tougher matchup; if Michigan is able to get through that close to as well as they did tonight's game, it'll be time to get really excited about where this season can go.

Hoops Preview 2016-17: Wings (Part I)

Hoops Preview 2016-17: Wings (Part I)

Submitted by Ace on October 31st, 2016 at 5:16 PM

Previously: John Beilein media day transcriptBilly Donlon media day quotesMGoPodcast 8.7Alex's team preview, Point Guards


[Paul Sherman/MGoBlog]

After a hiatus for State Week, the hoops preview continues with a look at Michigan's starters on the wing. I'll cover the backups in a separate post later this week; Seth's been kind enough to take over the Maryland FFFF this week so I have time to get these posted before the season starts.

The starting wings will be the same as last year: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman mans the two while Duncan Robinson and Zak Irvin occupy the nominal forward spots. All three had their ups and downs in 2015-16; all have the potential to make a huge mark on the 2016-17 season if they can more consistently play to their strengths.

[Hit THE JUMP for the player previews.]