LSU 77, Michigan 75

LSU 77, Michigan 75

Submitted by Ace on November 21st, 2017 at 2:35 AM

via Alejandro Zuniga

I'm starting this a little before 2 am, so this won't be a standard recap. Some scattered thoughts following a loss that may have a big impact on this season in several directions.

The schedule impact is rough. Michigan's tourney fortunes may end up tied closely to the fate of this LSU team if the Wolverines end up on the bubble. While LSU has looked good early on, they were terrible last year—this could wind up being a bad loss on the resume, though I suspect Tremont Waters is going to get the Tigers respectable soon. The bigger deal is having an opportunity to play Notre Dame replaced by a date with D-II Chaminade, a no-win game for Michigan. Instead of getting three quality opponents out of this week, they only get two.

The point guard situation is the team's biggest problem. Let's get the bad out of the way. While there were some flashes of talent from Eli Brooks, who canned a pull-up three and had a nifty drop-off assist to Moe Wagner, the point guard position is still in major flux. John Beilein put his trust in Brooks down the stretch; Brooks missed a couple crucial shots, got pickpocketed by Waters, and had a difficult time staying in front of Waters down the stretch.

Those are growing pains you expect from a freshman point guard. The problem is that Brooks is being relied upon in the first place. Zavier Simpson almost wasn't playable because of his passivity on offense—he didn't attempt a shot in ten minutes—and he had his troubles with Waters as well, picking up four fouls. Jaaron Simmons went 0/1 with an assist and a turnover in 15 minutes. Even if this team is going to run through the wings, which it sure looks like will be the case, they need way more production from this spot.

Duncan Robinson's defense is one, too. LSU mimicked Oregon's game plan from last year's tournament, isolating Robinson when they got the opportunity and attacking him off the dribble. To little surprise, this worked.

Far more concerning was Robinson's offense, which was all but nonexistent. He was unable to shake lanky 6'5" wing Brandon Sampson, scoring his only points on a transition three and getting nothing in the halfcourt. Michigan will be in trouble against bigger, more athletic teams if they're unable to find ways to free up Robinson for shots.

Charles Matthews looks like a star. There was still plenty of good in this game, none better than the performance of Matthews: a game-high 28 points (9/15 2-pt, 1/2 3-pt, 7/10 FT) with six offensive rebounds and two assists while playing his usual strong defense.

Michigan's offense was at its best when it ran through Matthews, especially when he paired with Moe Wagner (24 points, 6/7 2-pt, 3/7 3-pt) as a screener. The most effective play was the side pick-and-pop, which opened driving lanes for Matthews to sky for short jumpers and easy midrange opportunities for Wagner. It took the team most of the first half to find this offense, however, and they strayed from it at times in the second; I'm excited about the future of a team that makes this their identity.

Other quick notes:

  • While Jon Teske didn't make a huge splash tonight, he still looked good out there. He batted another offensive rebound back out for a reset, engulfed a shot off a drive, and dished out a pretty assist. His post passing looks like it could be special—it's already quite good.
  • This was a rough game for Ibi Watson, who chucked four shots, making only one, in eight minutes and giving up some easy blow-bys on defense. He's going to lose his minutes to Brooks and perhaps Jordan Poole, who got in for a minute tonight, if things don't get better fast. He may be a good player in practice but it's not translating to games.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had an uneven performance. He couldn't find the mark from the outside, missing all five of his threes. He was great at getting to the basket, however, and made 4-of-8 twos, including some tough baskets to keep it close down the stretch. MAAR was often the only Wolverine willing to assert himself, especially when Wagner and/or Matthews weren't on the floor.
  • Isaiah Livers had a putback and a steal in 12 minutes. I noticed some trouble on defense and on the boards, though, and that type of stuff is going to hold him back from getting more minutes unless Robinson goes into an extended slump.
  • Tomorrow's game against Chaminade tips off at 8 pm EST on ESPN 2.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Michigan 61, Southern Miss 47

Michigan 61, Southern Miss 47

Submitted by Ace on November 16th, 2017 at 9:46 PM

Big Nasty. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

In an effort to speak a new identity into existence this offseason, Michigan's coaches and players started calling sophomore Jon Teske "Big Nasty." They hoped that would replace "Big Sleep," the moniker Teske picked up during a quiet freshman year as a little-used third-stringer.

Now Moe Wagner's primary backup, Teske was every bit Big Nasty tonight against Southern Miss, tallying his first career double-double with ten points and 11 rebounds. The seven-footer made all five shots from the field and grabbed five offensive boards. He did all this in only 15 minutes, earning a standing ovation when he exited in the game's waning moments.

Without Teske's breakout performance, this could've been another uncomfortably close game against an overmatched opponent. After Michigan jumped out to an early 9-2 lead at the first TV timeout, USM fought their way back as—stop me if you've heard this before—Michigan couldn't can open looks while their opponents made an unsustainable percentage of their three-point shots. Fittingly, an off-balance pull-up triple by Tyree Griffin fell at the buzzer to give the Golden Eagles a one-point halftime lead.

Michigan still looked disjointed to open the second half, trading the lead with USM until Teske checked in with 13 minutes to play. He was a much-needed spark. His defensive rebound led to a quick Duncan Robinson three in transition to give M the lead for good; he'd cap a 13-0 run with a putback and a smooth baseline jumper. USM didn't threaten again.

MAAR finished with a team-high 14 points. [Campredon]

It was the third straight game that Michigan couldn't dominate a body-bag opponent. Their expected stars again underwhelmed. Wagner posted a quiet 12 points and six rebounds. Charles Matthews went scoreless in the first half, finished with six points and two turnovers, and looked unsure of when to assert himself. Point guards Zavier Simpson and Jaaron Simmons didn't make a shot from the field, though Simmons at least dealt out five assists, including a slick cross-court feed for a Matthews corner three that blew the game wide open.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was a notable exception, grinding out ten first-half points when the offense was struggling. He'd finish with a team-high 14 points and gave out five assists; his ability to make something out of nothing in late-clock situations proved critical.

Michigan will face a significant step up in competition with three games in three days at next week's Maui Invitational, starting with LSU on Monday. While the early portion of the season hasn't been pretty, there's reason to believe a simple correction in shooting luck, much like what occurred midway through last season, will have this team looking dangerous. Through three games, the Wolverines are making 32.9% of their three-pointers, even though their looks have been of decent quality; opponents are hitting a scorching 48.1%, even though the perimeter defense hasn't looked nearly that awful.

There are still problem areas. Michigan needs more production from their point guards, and Matthews looks alarmingly gun-shy for a player who's supposed to be one of the team's top two scorers. Teske's emergence, however, answers at least one big question, and could even give John Beilein some added lineup flexibility down the road.

Stick around, Big Nasty.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Michigan 72, Central Michigan 65

Michigan 72, Central Michigan 65

Submitted by Ace on November 13th, 2017 at 10:04 PM

Bench Mob, activate. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

It's me again, the guy who tells you not to pay too close attention to the final score.

This time we're talking basketball. Michigan went to 2-0 this evening with a win over Central Michigan that never felt particularly alarming nor particularly comfortable. While it wasn't pretty in the moment, however, there were some promising signs for the future of this young team.

Much like North Florida in the first game, the Chippewas came out in a zone defense that kept the Wolverine attack stagnant. They also started off hot from beyond the arc, making five of their first ten three-point attempts to jump out to an early 22-14 lead.

Then the Wolverines got some good things going. Zavier Simpson calmly sunk a three over the zone, then worked his way to the hoop for a layup. Moe Wagner took ownership of the defensive boards. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman salvaged a possession with a hard driving layup to beat the shot clock. After an 0-for-4 start, Duncan Robinson drilled a triple. Jon "Big Nasty" Teske checked in for Wagner, blocked two shots, and got hit with a terrible foul call on a third. Teske combined with Simpson for a textbook shutdown of a pick-and-roll that led to an Abdur-Rahman three that gave Michigan a one-point halftime edge.

MAAR kept a sometimes-stagnant offense going with some tough shots. [Campredon]

Frustratingly, Michigan couldn't hit enough of their open looks to really pull away in the second half; on the game, M would go 10-for-34 on three-pointers. Instead, they had to grind out a win with defense and timely transition buckets. That began early in the stanza, as blocked or altered shots by Matthews and Wagner begat five fast break points for Abdur-Rahkman, capping a 15-3 Michigan run.

The offense had its moments breaking down the CMU zone. While Matthews didn't look confident in his three-point shot, he was able to get into the lane and get the defense moving to set up a couple baskets, then showed off his athleticism with a hanging jumper in the lane. Jaaron Simmons, who was mostly quiet as the backup point guard, got a three-pointer to go in rhythm after some nice ball movement. Abdur-Rahkman, who led the team with 17 points, saved another late-clock situation with a slick step-through scoop that rattled home. With some late fast break points helping out, Michigan eventually clawed to 1.13 points per possession.

But it was the defense, which held CMU to 1.01 PPP despite 10-for-24 three-point shooting, that stood out for Michigan. Simpson's constantly pesky approach, which resulted in two steals and multiple other knockaways tonight, will make him hard to unseat as the starting point guard if he continues making open threes (2-for-3 tonight). Matthews generated some points all on his own by jumping a passing lane and going coast-to-coast for a dunk. Wagner looked improved as both a rebounder and defender—he's noticeably stronger and putting in a greater effort on that end. Teske made some impressive plays on the boards and looked surprisingly fluid; less surprisingly, he proved difficult to shoot over.

While it's not safe to assume that Michigan will be as good of a shooting team as last year, they'll certainly be better than they were tonight; Robinson and Wagner won't combine for too many 3-for-13 nights from downtown. Meanwhile, there are some early signs that Wagner and the rest of the squad have improved in the expected problem areas of defense and rebounding. That's a tradeoff I think John Beilein will take this early in the year.

[Hit THE JUMP for the box score.]

Hoops Preview 2017-18: Wings

Hoops Preview 2017-18: Wings

Submitted by Ace on November 10th, 2017 at 9:57 AM

[Photos/graphic: Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Previously: Point Guards

The second part of the three-part position previews comes one day before Michigan opens the season, which means I'm way behind. While the season preview will continue into next week, I should probably post the first game info, right?

Oh, dammit, they scheduled it while the football game is almost certainly going to be in the fourth quarter, and you'll have to pay for a stream if you're not there.

WHAT: Michigan vs. North Florida
WHERE: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
WHEN: Saturday, 7:30 pm EST
TV: BTN Plus ($, online stream only)

Uh, don't expect an instant recap, but I'll get some notes posted on this game once I get a chance to actually watch it.

Anyway, the wings. Michigan loses two starters, DJ Wilson and Zak Irvin. Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews, a similarly sized player with a similarly broad set of skills, is the clear replacement for Irvin. As for Wilson, well, can we interest you in some three-point shooting? Ask about the rest later.

[Hit THE JUMP for individual player previews.]

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.]

Unverified Voracity Should Run The Option

Unverified Voracity Should Run The Option

Submitted by Brian on October 17th, 2016 at 12:26 PM


[Eric Upchurch]

The best quote. ESPN was offered full and frank access to a Wisconsin DBs meeting before the Ohio State game. This was kind of a questionable decision since ESPN published some takes on OSU's personnel that would seem to have a negative impact on Wisconsin's ability to use said takes. For example, Jim Leonhard's take on Curtis Samuel would seem ripe for Samuel to break tendency:

"You watch him, the thing that he gets guys on is if he kind of goes lazy in a route, don't believe it," Leonhard said. "He'll stem you. He's going to break hard as hell. Everything he's going to do, he's going to be patient at the top of routes. But if he starts just kind of bending into something, he's going opposite. Don't fall for the trap."

I almost always think coach secrecy is absurd paranoia but I was shocked Wisconsin let this get published, especially before the game even happened.

Anyway, at the end of the piece there is a quote directly relevant to your interests:

"You just have to communicate, which you've done a really good job of," he said. "Is that nearly as hard as Michigan last week? Michigan was something new every single snap. These guys are almost the complete opposite. You'll watch the game and be like, 'Damn, they did exactly what we saw.' We'll just have to see early recognizing the formations that they're going to be in, then we'll motion."

I can't tell you how many times during the Carr era that we'd be on the other end of that quote, with teams playing Michigan and then stating that M did exactly what they saw on film and nothing else. I love the alternative.

Meanwhile the other side of the ball just got the same makeover. I love that Michigan went out and got Defensive Jim Harbaugh in Don Brown. Michigan's gone from a very simple defense under Durkin to a blizzard of different looks. Craig Ross mentioned on WTKA that a Power 5 offensive coordinator told him that he spent most of BC week just trying to figure out what the hell Brown was doing.

Michigan is now an incredibly difficult opponent to prepare for on either side of the ball.


Brock Spack's best attribute is his mustache. This is a compliment.

Exit Darrell Hazell. Purdue pulled the trigger on their head coach after nine wins in 3.5 years, and is now on the Lowered Expectations dating scene. Everyone's got a list. Hammer and Rails has one, and here's a sad commentary on where they're at:

Name: Brady Hoke

Position: Oregon DC

Why?: Ya, Oregon isn’t very good right now. Hoke was up and down at Michigan. But, he has head coaching experience and is looking for another head coaching job. Getting back into the B1G isn’t easy, but this could be a chance for him as he could take over a Purdue program in shambles.

Chance: With how Oregon has looked this season, I don’t think we take a chance on him. But his head coaching experience in the B1G makes him appealing a little bit.

At least they're unenthused.

The candidates drawing the most mention seem to be WMU's PJ Fleck, former LSU HC Les Miles, and Illinois State HC Brock Spack. Fleck's probably going to get better offers this offseason and should wait on a less difficult opportunity; Miles is probably a real bad idea since by the time he'd have his players in he'd be close to retirement; Spack hasn't lit it up on the FCS level.

If those aren't the names, Purdue might repeat their Hazell move:

Hazell had been a head coach at Kent State for two years, but he was close to a "close your eyes and throw a dart at the OSU assistant roster" move. It would be uninspiring and very Purdue to replicate their failed process from last time.

Bill Connelly points out that Purdue's only successful coaching hires in the past 30 years have been relative outsiders, and he suggests a selection of creative offensive minds at smaller schools. He's correct. This is the pool Purdue should be selecting from. They need something weird to overcome their talent deficiencies, and they have the financial resources to grab a guy from Tulane or Air Force or wherever.

Personally, I would loathe playing a triple option version of Purdue—never schedule Air Force!—and co-sign this tweet from Jane Coaston:

Ken Niumatalolo may not be poachable after he turned down overtures from BYU last year, but if the problem there was BYU's reluctance to go flexbone Purdue might not have a shot. Connelly mentions Air Force's Troy Calhoun, who's won eight games a year two-thirds of the time at a service academy and gave Michigan all it wanted a few years back, and he seems like a good idea. Willie Fritz ran a deeply weird pistol triple option thing at Georgia State; I mentioned him offhandedly during the portion of Michigan's most recent coaching search where I threw out every candidate who was even vaguely plausible. He'd be a good idea.

In non-option options: Jeff Brohm at WKU has assembled Tiller-esque explosive offenses. I'd at least kick the tires on Chris Klieman, the third-year NDSU head coach who's kept Craig Bohl's train running without a hiccup.

For your sake, Purdue, don't close your eyes and grab a manball retread or an assistant who's operated with an embarrassment of riches. Look to someone scrabbling up from down below.

SLEEPER THOUGH. Charlie Strong.

Michigan assistants? Drevno and Fisch draw mention from Feldman in the Others Receiving Votes section of his list. While I think both guys are good coaches and will be HCs somewhere down the road, neither seems like a good fit for perpetually undermanned Purdue, and both guys can find themselves jobs less likely to end in termination. If Purdue's smart they won't focus on either guy; if either guy is smart they'd wait for something like Maryland or Cincinnati.

Another Endzone excerpt. The Postgame runs a piece from Bacon on Harbaugh's long-term prospects in Ann Arbor:

As one of Harbaugh's closest associates, attorney John Denniston, told me, "Jim doesn't like to recruit. He loves to recruit." If that sounds like hyperbole, you might consider the 22-state, 38-stop satellite tour, which Harbaugh described as "more fun than you can possibly imagine, like a pig in slop."

The only issue on that list that would seem to present a compelling reason for Harbaugh to leave is the health of Michigan's athletic department. When people on the book tour asked me to predict how long Harbaugh would coach Michigan, my answer was simple: It depends on his relationship with the next athletic director.

Quinn on Rahk. MAAR's development is probably the second-biggest key for Michigan this year behind that of Mo Wagner:

"For two years now, I've seen a great evolution in his game," Beilein said. "I want to see much more. He's capable of being a superior athlete."

A few things need to happen.

Abdur-Rahkman's jump shooting needs to improve. He raised his 3-point percentage from 29.3 percent (12-41) to a respectable 36.5 percent (31-85) from his freshman to sophomore year, but another jump could elevate Abdur-Rahkman among the best guards in the Big Ten.

His playmaking also needs to improve. Despite playing in 21 more games than LeVert last year, Abdur-Rahkman finished with 13 fewer assists for the season. His 3.7 assists per 100 possessions ranked below Duncan Robinson and Kameron Chatman. While his 27 turnovers in 1,001 minutes played were impressively meager, they also speak to a lack of facilitating for others.

Ian Boyd on OSU. This piece went up before the Wisconsin game and looks fairly prescient right now. It's SBN's Ian Boyd on certain flaws that OSU has demonstrated so far this year:

So if the Buckeye run game were stopped or slowed?

An opponent that knew how to line up against Urban Meyer’s arsenal of formations and variations on option run schemes would undoubtedly have a chance to force this particular team into some obvious passing situations.

The Buckeyes have had 40 TD drives so far this season and 14 of them (35%) required 10 plays or more. They’re very used to having to grind their way down the field with the run game and if you stopped up the works they’d be forced to rely more on their passing game.

Venturing back up to our handy chart, we notice that against the three toughest opponents on Ohio State’s schedule that Barrett threw 63 passes for 394 yards at 6.3 yards per attempt with five TDs and a sole INT. He’s been good at avoiding turnovers, though that may be partly due to simply not throwing many passes in the first place, but simply hasn’t been that threatening throwing the ball. If not for the four touchdown passes he threw to big Noah Brown in the red zone against Oklahoma, those numbers wouldn’t be too impressive either.

Barrett had a good second half against Wisconsin and managed to get OSU to 23 points in regulation. It was a struggle the whole way, though. Michigan's defense is another level up from Wisconsin's; that game gave me great hope that Michigan can turn the Game into a defensive slugfest.

Illinois week. The Illini probably won't be much of a challenge—they got outgained by Rutgers last week and Michigan is a whopping 35-point favorite. But it is an opportunity to point out Illini Board, which is a good Illinois blog/community. Their take on Rutgers:

Because this is just year one. The idea is 2019, with Michigan in Champaign, with the roster rebuilt, and that defense taking the ball away from the Wolverines and stopping them on fourth and one. I flipped the switch to rebuild mode last week, so watching this game in rebuild mode, it was great to see those plays from Milan and Watson. Bodes well for the future.

Remember the Minnesota game in 2008 when we outgained them something like 550-310 yet we lost because we kept turning the football over? That was a few months before I started the blog, but if I was blogging that fall, that game would have been my first “Turnovers Are Football” post. So many times, being on the wrong end of turnovers cost us.

And today, being on the right end delivered a win.

Lovie Smith is the most credible head coach they've had in a while, but it's going to take a long time to get out from underneath the Beckman denouement.

We've been there. Georgia lost to Vandy and their irritating athletic director hasn't crossed the line to get axed, so Get The Picture is feeling pretty gloomy:

It dawned on me leaving the stadium Saturday that one thing is really missing from Georgia football — it’s not fun to watch.  By that, I don’t mean losing sucks.  It does, of course.

What I mean is that watching a Georgia game feels like more of a chore these days than entertainment.

Man, did I write a column or two like that a few years back. It must be frustrating to be UGA and always be good but seemingly never be great—oh right, we know what that's like too. Throw in the fact that Ann Arbor and Athens are almost the same city and the UGA and Michigan fan bases are the most golf-apparel-friendly ones in the country and the parallels go deep between the two schools.

Anyway, this season is super fun and let's be sure to savor it.

Desmond Morgan gets into coaching. He's a GA at Wayne State:

Q: What are some of your responsibilities at Wayne State as a graduate assistant?

Morgan: One thing that’s been really interesting is that playing at Michigan, I was really used to the Division I level, where there’s resources and funding. There’s almost a paid position for everything.

At the Division II level, the resources are very limited. The money isn’t there. Something that I learned quick is that you’re not just a GA who helps an assistant. You do a bunch of other things on top of it.

Here, I spend 8 to 10 hours a week making sure highlight films are done on Friday nights, and we do all of the importing, editing and transcribing of the film. We help coaches with their daily responsibilities, like making copies, making sure meetings are set up to be run.

Juan Harris is single again again again again. The enormous IA DT decommitted from Indiana after three separate Iowa commitments. I can't wait to see where this rollercoaster goes. Hopefully back to Indiana twice more.

Etc.: The Big 12 probably isn't expanding because the TV networks will pay them not to. This might seem like a fiasco but could it actually be a bit of Machiavellian brilliance? What went wrong under Hazell other than everything. Nigel Hayes visited Gameday to protest not getting paid. Fred Jackson is the head coach at Ypsi High now. Indiana's struggles in the redzone dissected. The playoff looks all but set, so of course things will implode over the next month.

Brian Kelly Blames Things Dot Com. Recommend Go Iowa Awesome's weekly "Hybrid" column. Harbaugh eats a steak.

Season Review: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Season Review: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

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


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]

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.

Nothing Easy

Nothing Easy

Submitted by Ace on March 21st, 2016 at 3:27 PM

[Left and right: Patrick Barron; middle: Eric Upchurch]

Nik Stauskas, with his ability to make almost any shot a good one, made the game look easy. Trey Burke, with his varied and lethal methods for creating offense, made the game look easy, not to mention beautiful.

Nothing about this season's iteration of Michigan basketball felt easy. It's shown in the pictures, in which seemingly every layup attempt required a Herculean feat of strength and body control just to get the ball on the backboard. It's shown in the statistics; according to KenPom, 10.3% of Michigan's two-point attempts were blocked, a mark worse than all but 13 major-conference programs. It's shown in the despairing comments as the offense ground to a halt against Notre Dame before VJ Beachem delivered the coup de grâce to 2015-16 Michigan.

And that's on the good side of the court. Stopping the opponent has never seemed simple under John Beilein, especially the last few years. The flaws on defense have only been magnified as the offense has gone from historically great to merely good. Every flailing layup attempt swatted into photographers' row didn't just serve as a painful reminder of the team's scoring limitations, but also what they lacked on the other end.

[Hit THE JUMP for feelingsball.]

Michigan 67, Tulsa 62

Michigan 67, Tulsa 62

Submitted by Ace on March 16th, 2016 at 11:58 PM

Zak Irvin had been, for lack of a better word, terrible. His last shot had barely grazed the rim. His last drive had resulted in a depressingly predictable turnover. He'd made one three-pointer all game.

But when Irvin's defender ducked under a Moe Wagner screen, he didn't hesitate to rise and fire with Michigan down a point and less than a minute on the clock. Despite some trepidation from onlookers...

...Irvin's shot found twine. A couple stops and five free-throws later, Michigan booked a trip to Brooklyn to face six-seed Notre Dame.

While the game got the desired result, it's not one Michigan fans are likely to want to relive. Both teams went through first-half scoring droughts that exceeded six minutes. After the Wolverines finished the half on a drawn out 19-4 run to take an eight-point lead, they gave it all back in the first three minutes of the second before both teams went ice-cold.

John Beilein played Andrew Dakich for five frustrating minutes while Derrick Walton sat on the bench with foul trouble. For murkier reasons, he sat Wagner—Michigan's biggest bright spot all game—in favor of Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle before rectifying that error for the home stretch.

While the Wolverines were effective when they attacked the basket against an undersized Tulsa squad, only Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman—and on a couple surprising occasions, Wagner—was willing to drive to the paint with any consistency. MAAR wasn't a paragon of efficiency with 16 points on 5/16 FG, but he created havoc on the Tulsa defense that led to putback opportunities and drew enough contact to get extra points at the line (6/8 FT).

Wagner, meanwhile, played like he should be the clear-cut starter at center. After recording two blocks all season, he had four tonight in addition to pulling down eight rebounds and making both his shot attempts, including a poster-worthy slam on a second-chance opportunity to give M a late three-point lead. Michigan functioned better on both sides of the court with Wagner on the floor.

Duncan Robinson opened the game with a three; while he wouldn't hit another until late in the game, he found other ways to contribute—he grabbed 11 rebounds, dished out a team-high four assists, and finished a few forays to the hoop to tally 13 points. The contributions of MAAR, Wagner, and Robinson—a sophomore no major program wanted, a freshman who barely clung to a role this season, and a D-III transfer—allowed Michigan to overcome underwhelming performances from their two go-to guys.

Then, with the pressure on, Irvin delivered. It wasn't pretty. It was, in fact, cringeworthy, as Beilein's face can attest. At this point in the year, however, the final score is all that matters.

Now somebody grab me a drink.