Mailbag: 3-4 Switch (Again), Kenpom, Basketball Leaders, The More You Know

Mailbag: 3-4 Switch (Again), Kenpom, Basketball Leaders, The More You Know

Submitted by Brian on January 19th, 2012 at 12:26 PM


What is the possibility of switching to a 3-4 defense next year?  With a lack of a proven option at DT, and a seeming plethora of linebackers coming in that look ready to start from Day 1, it seems like it would be a wise move.  Mattison ran it at Baltimore so we wouldn't need to worry about running a system our DC doesn't understand.  Or is that asking for trouble with Will 'high pads' Campbell trying to absorb double teams? 

This comes up over and over. Look:

Brian - Any chance Mattison takes a stab at running a 3-4 next year with Will Campbell as the space eater in the middle and Cam Gordon/Jake Ryan the speedy LBs? I image he prefers that base defense because of the variety of blitzing looks it can bring to confuse a 20 year old QB but has he discussed it at all in press conferences. Also, the LBs coming in are upgrading the athleticism to potentially smooth the transition in coming years.


-Jim Dudnick BBA '01

I think I've already dispelled it multiple times, but here it goes again: Michigan will not switch to a 3-4. If it looks like they're recruiting to a 3-4, well, that's because the 4-3 under is halfway between a traditional 4-3 and a 3-4.


Consider the effect of shifting the line against the strength of the formation:

  • The SDE moves inside the tight end and becomes vulnerable to double teams
  • The NT hovers near the center
  • the DT is lined up just outside the guard
  • the WDE gets outside the tackle and is hard to double team

What personnel do you want for that? You want a big bulky DE on the strongside and a penetrating, athletic whip on the weakside. Your nose tackle needs to be able to take on and beat double teams either by splitting them or forcing both players to stay in to block him; the three-tech also must hold up on the interior. That's not that different from what you want from your three down linemen and weakside OLB in the 3-4; add in the SLB hovering around the line and the two MLB types hanging out off the LOS and the under is probably closer to the 3-4 than a 4-3 in terms of personnel.

What the under gives you that the 3-4 doesn't is flexibility in your playmakers. This year Mike Martin one-gapped the hell out of opponents, darting into the backfield and destroying play after play. Next year Ondre Pipkins or maybe Campbell (but probably Pipkins) may be able to shove opponents five yards backwards but he's not going to be as explosive. This should be okay since he will free up Demens. In the 3-4 Martin is not a viable nose (or at least not as good of one) because he has to two-gap—hold his ground and be able to pop off either side. Theoretically, anyway. These days fronts are multiple.

Moving to the 3-4 does not fix any hypothetical issues on the line; Roh and the various WDEs become OLBs* and you're still replacing the three interior players. Instead of allowing those new guys to take one gap and hit it hard you're asking them to play both sides of a player, which means they have to  be immensely strong and able to anchor; quickness is much less of a consideration. The 3-4 would exacerbate potential issues with young and/or light players (like Brink). It is the opposite of a panacea.

*[Remember that Michigan's one-year dalliance with the 3-4 saw Lamarr Woodley play OLB.]

35th in Kenpom seems low for a team that beat their number 3 and 6 teams. This seems to be a big game team, they play well against good teams and then sleep walk through Iowa and Alabama A&M Tech State.  What would our ranking be if we removed every team over 50th (arbitrary cutoff)?

I don't know but I agree that Kenpom seems to have a weakness in that sloppy games against poor competition seem to have a greater impact on the rankings than they do expectations from Vegas. This can make the rankings and predictions look odd.

But that's tough to weed out. If I understand his methodology correctly, Pomeroy tests out changes to his rankings and only implements them if they improve the overall accuracy of his prediction engine. The '06 Gonzaga team is one that Pomeroy thinks his system underrated because they did not play with much effort defensively unless they had to and thus didn't rack up the huge margins of victory that see teams like OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin near the top of his ratings this year.

In Wisconsin's case you can make an argument that their defensive style is dominant against weak competition but fails for whatever reason against better competition… but then how do you explain the Badgers' considerable success over the past half-decade? If you can't find some correlation to go with your model that's as useless as a correlation without a model.

Michigan beat Western Illinois by four and a few other weak teams by ten or thirteen and thus hover lower in the rankings than they maybe should. (Iowa is another matter. That's not screwing around after getting a big lead, it's getting blown out by a bad team.) Could Pomeroy find a way to downplay games between badly mismatched teams? Maybe. If and only if it made the prediction engine stronger, though. Evidently he hasn't.

DISCLAIMER: I know I rely on Kenpom's tempo-free stats extensively but they are just numbers and they do have flaws even Pomeroy admits; that doesn't make them bad or useless. It's a reminder to keep them in perspective.


What are the options for captains on the men's basketball team next year? With Novak and Douglass around it's something we haven't had to think much about much lately, but what scenarios do you foresee playing out? I figure you're looking at a group of players (provided no unexpected attrition) from Vogrich (Sr), Morgan (Jr), Smotrycz (Jr), Hardaway (Jr), and Burke (So). Being that Vogrich seems to have a dab of the gritty mcgrit that Novak and Douglass feature along with being the only senior, I can see him being one of them. But from there do you hope THJ matures with the imaginary 'C' on his jersey? Do you go back to the sophomore route that worked with Novak and give a nod to Burke? Do you tap into the floppy hair of McLimans? So many options...

That is tough, and gives me the heebie-jeebies as I think about Michigan's inexplicable collapse in 2009-2010 after the departures of CJ Lee and David Merritt. That decline is the most powerful argument in favor of gritty leadership I've ever run across, and Michigan is going to have huge shoes to fill in that department next year. Getting that right is going to be captial-I Important.

Honestly… doesn't Burke seem like the guy despite his youth? He spent the offseason before his arrival documenting his insane workrate on the internet and has immediately become the headiest player on the team, non-Novak division. Hardaway has the passion but often fails to control it; Morgan is a quiet guy who has to be goaded into emotion by Bacari Alexander, Vogrich doesn't seem to have the on-court impact to be a candidate, and Smotrycz… I don't know. Smotrycz just doesn't give off the vibe. I'd guess Burke and Hardaway, as odd as that might seem.

The more you know, part one.

If Wikipedia is correct, Denard Robinson has the chance to be the first player in Michigan history to be a three-time team MVP. There have been 6 two-timers:

Ralph Heikkinen
Tom Harmon
Ron Johnson
Mike Hart
Brandon Graham
Denard Robinson

Nobody has been a two-time B1G MVP

This may be something to keep in mind when debates about Robinson's place in Michigan history (like, is he patch-worthy) come up. Unless Robinson makes that argument moot.

The more you know, part two.

A commenter dug down to find the last Michigan players who graduated with a winning record against MSU:

It was Louis Bullock (1995-99), unless we're not counting the vacated games. If we're not counting any of them (we vacated the 1992-93 season and everything from 1995-99), I believe we have to go back to the seniors on the 1989-90 team (Terry Mills, Rumeal Robinson, Mike Griffin and I think someone else [ed: Loy Vaught]).

Bullock does not count. Bullock can go to hell. Vacated games do not count generally. So it's been over 20 years. That's what's at stake for Zack Novak and Stu Douglass in Breslin.

Side note: I hear tell Michigan is going to PSL-up the lower bowl in Crisler next year, with one section opposite the students at midcourt designated for high rollers with a 1k+ PSL attached. Part of this revamp will be the addition of a club analogous to the one at Michigan Stadium for said high rollers.

It sure would be nice to somehow name it after a guy who's given his all for the program like Novak

…instead of a rich guy whose contributions we certainly appreciate but do not viscerally feel, no offense rich guys.