Michigan 72, Northwestern 70 (OT)

Michigan 72, Northwestern 70 (OT)

Submitted by Ace on March 10th, 2016 at 3:04 PM

It wasn't easy. It was, in fact, excruciatingly difficult to watch. In the end, however, Michigan survived a borderline-comedic series of late-game issues to eke past Northwestern, and they'll play for their NCAA Tournament lives tomorrow at noon against top-seeded Indiana.

In a tight game late in the second half, Michigan twice split a pair of free throws that could've helped seal the deal, first by Zak Irvin then Duncan Robinson. On the first occasion, Northwestern capitalized with an Alex Olah three-pointer. On the second, which kept the Wildcats within two points after the shot clock was turned off, Olah put back a Tre Demps miss with 0.1 seconds remaining to force overtime. Robinson shouldn't even have had the chance to extend M's lead in the first place; after Michigan burned two timeouts trying to get the ball inbounds, Northwestern trapped Robinson in the corner on M's third attempt, and before they fouled him the officials missed an obvious travel.

Robinson went off for 14 first-half points then was silent in the second half before his ill-fated trip to the line; his miss there was just his third of the season. That didn't shake the shooter's confidence, however. Robinson opened the scoring in overtime with a triple from above the break, and after Tre Demps and Nathan Taphorn put the Wildcats ahead by three, he knotted the ballgame at 70 with 46 seconds to go with another bomb off a well-designed sideline inbounds play.

After Bryant McIntosh missed a shot on Northwestern's ensuing possession and the ball grazed Taphorn on its way out of bounds to give Michigan the rock, Irvin rose above McIntosh for a long two and the lead with only three seconds left. The game appeared to be over when Irvin tipped Northwestern's desperation inbounds pass to Derrick Walton, who seemingly dribbled out the clock. Since nothing can be easy, though, an official review revealed Walton stepped on the baseline with 0.6 seconds left.

Mercifully, Walton was spared an ignominous fate when Taphorn's three-point attempt at the buzzer clanged harmlessly off the front of the rim.

Robinson finished with a team-high 21 points, Irvin added 16 points and 8 rebounds, and Abdur-Rahkman had 14 and 8. Walton had seven boards and five assists but couldn't get his shot to fall, scoring his only two points at the line while going 0/7 from the field. Michigan's big men were once again dominated by Olah, who put up 20 and 13 despite a quiet first half; Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle combined for just 8 and 6.

Michigan's postseason dreams are still alive for now. If they turn in a similar performance against Indiana, however, the NIT beckons.

Unverified Voracity Baked In An Unforgiving Oven

Unverified Voracity Baked In An Unforgiving Oven

Submitted by Brian on March 8th, 2016 at 1:19 PM


Johnson pictured before he was immolated by 73-degree temperatures [Patrick Barron]

The humanity. Michigan's Florida trip was just another step towards the destruction of collegiate athletics:

"It's been wonderful," running back Drake Johnson said. "I think the team bonding aspect was the best. Obviously, we're here to learn football, but I think being together this whole time, sometimes being on campus can kind of spread you away from your team because you're caught up in school life. Being here has allowed us to accelerate the process of learning."

They will never recover. I will play the world's tiniest violin for them.

Soon, but not yet. Harbaugh on one Brandon Peters:

"It's impressive what he did (this week), as young as he is, being out here for the first time, he's got some real coolness about him," Harbaugh said unprompted Friday evening after the team's final practice at IMG Academy. "It showed up over and over in each of the four days.

"He's not a guy that panics. He's a natural in a lot of ways."

I mean, that sounds like "very soon" but some of the praise on offer here is definitely of the "for a freshman" variety:

"A lot of times with freshman quarterbacks, let alone someone who is coming in at mid-year, you expect fumbled snaps or they can't get out of the huddle. But he was out of the huddle on every snap, every call."

So maybe we can pump the brakes on the inevitable Brandon Peters Is A Real Challenger chatter. Here's hoping he goes redshirt, backup, really good redshirt sophomore. If someone else doesn't pip him in two years.

Linebacker group taking shape. Harbaugh called Ben Gedeon a "stud" after four spring practices, so let's hang on to that when we're squeezing our worry balls about the linebacking corps over the offseason. Also:

“I think Noah Furbush is going to contribute,” Harbaugh said. “Devin Bush Jr. is going to be good (too). So we got some real good players in there. I feel much better about our linebacker situation after four days.”

On the one hand, awesome. On the other, four mostly unpadded days. Harbaugh also praised McCray but noted his injury history. He can hang out with Drake Harris in his dorm room made entirely from bubble wrap and soothing whale song.

Satellite camps are on. Michigan's got one scheduled in Alabama for June 6th, so those haven't been banned yet.


[Melanie Maxwell/MLive]

MAAR profiled. Or Rahk or whatevs man. Brendan Quinn talks to his dad about the origin of the name:

"Oh!" the 58-year-old booms. "I tell you, man, to this day, it was the most magnificent thing I've ever seen in my life."

It's a Saturday morning in Manhattan and Dawud Abdur-Rahkman — the former David Cody — is rolling. The busy coffee shop disappears as he smiles and squints, telling the story of how he met Muhammad Ali in 1978. His voice crackles like old vinyl.

Every memory is vivid: Ali's sweat flying as he sparred. Ali looking 10-feet tall. Ali taunting the kids in jest, "I told you chumps I'm the greatest!" He remembers meeting Ali one-on-one and only being able to muster, with a tremble, "How you doing, Champ?"

Hey, I remember getting blitzed by that dude. The New York Times has an article on Keith Frazier, former SMU player and walking academic red flag who serves as a poster child for the ridiculousness of the one-and-done rule imposed on the NCAA by the NBA:

Frazier’s educational track record was pockmarked with failure. His high school grades mysteriously and quickly improved whenever his eligibility to play was at stake. He most likely had too many absences and failing grades to graduate from high school. And top officials at S.M.U. ignored their own professors, who recommended that Frazier not be admitted to S.M.U., an academically tough university.

Frazier took an online summer course before enrolling in freshman classes. An S.M.U. team assistant secretly completed Frazier’s work, an N.C.A.A. report found.

Frazier played against Michigan, helped SMU torch us, and has since left school. He would have been better off in the NBA from the drop… and in this case, SMU would have been better off as well. But guys like Frazier are all over college basketball, because they have to be.

This isn't a situation like football where there is a legitimate safety concern for recent high schoolers being put in the shark tank against guys like JJ Watt; it's solely the NBA using the NCAA as a marketing arm. Unfortunately I don't see a solution since the NFL's rule was challenged in court and stood because it was part of a CBA. Jim Delany proposing the return of freshman ineligibility is the nuclear option that will never happen… and really seems like the only option, period.

See also: Ben Simmons, who was left off the Wooden list because of his GPA in his only semester of college.

NOPE. If you're wondering who secured an interview with Tom Anastos and managed to turn it into a sympathetic piece for a guy who has MSU hockey 42nd in RPI in year five, well, it's Graham Couch because of course it is. MSU is so bad at hockey that it makes me, a Michigan fan, upset. And it's worse when Anastos's solution to MSU's problems is to bring in overage players:

Q: What’s the timeline now for the turnaround, to be closer to what North Dakota and other elite programs are on the ice, where there’s a noticeable difference? You’ve got a heralded class coming in but those guys will be young next year.

Anastos: “Yeah, but we have some older kids coming in. We’re not getting to the point where we’re starting to be able to be more patient (in when we bring in a recruit). … To answer your question about North Dakota, I thought it would take a good eight or nine years to be able to get ourselves in a position where you’re competing for those most elite prospects, and you can build the depth in your roster."

Dude was supposed to be connected to every junior program in the state and he cannot compete for the same recruits Michigan does. I'll admit that I don't know a ton about MSU's incoming class but it doesn't seem "heralded" by anyone. It has zero NTDP players. Only one of their guys was even ranked in the midterm CSB rankings. It's not even that old, five years in. North Dakota mostly recruits like Michigan and BC do; the old dudes strategy is one that second-tier programs use to offset the fact they're not bringing in the Kyle Connors of the world.

Why Anastos thinks it would take twice as long as a player is eligible to turn around a program is obvious: it's the only possible justification for the guy keeping his job. Fire this dude, fire Mike Eaves, go to home series in the playoffs, Make the Big Ten Great for the First Time.

Also hire Mel Pearson, Michigan.

Etc.: This is a tradition I could do without. Further reminding us of the Amaker era, Michigan is the 8 seed in the Big Ten tourney and will play Northwestern at noon on Thursday. Big Ten hockey guy who isn't a hockey guy tries to defend league's sneaky rules ploy, fails. Calls removing eligibility from 21-year-old freshman a "modest proposal," unironically.

Ball screens not so much this year.

Michigan 72, Northwestern 63

Michigan 72, Northwestern 63

Submitted by Ace on February 24th, 2016 at 9:25 PM

I doubt any Michigan basketball fan is quite as excited as the team's official account, but despite a hideous start and an underwhelming game in general, the Wolverines kept their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

For that they can thank Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, the only consistent offensive force for Michigan, which played in front of a subdued and sparse crowd of brave souls undeterred by the winter storm. Rahkman scored 19 points and made 8/12 shots inside the arc as he gained the paint again and again.

Michigan's early energy matched that of the audience. Northwestern jumped out to a 10-0 lead; the Wolverines missed their first eight shots—including five by Duncan Robinson alone on a series of good looks—before Zak Irvin finally snapped the dry spell with a layup nearly six minutes in.

Certified Wolverine-killer Alex Olah kept the Wildcats comfortably ahead for most of the half, with Rahkman the main reason Michigan remained within striking distance, before the Wolverines crept back into it despite their shooting woes. Robinson hit the team's first three-pointer just before the first-half buzzer sounded; at that moment it looked like Michigan would pull away when they found their rhythm in the second stanza.

Instead, the second half began much like the first. Northwestern opened with an 8-0 run keyed by back-to-back Aaron Falzon triples before Rahkman stemmed the tide with a layup. Rahkman finally got some help in the form of Aubrey Dawkins, who seemingly found the shot Robinson has lost. His two three-pointers in the span of three possessions tied the game midway through the half. After the two squads went toe-to-toe for five minutes, Dawkins gave the home team the lead for good with his third triple after running the floor off his own defensive rebound.

Rahkman had one more big play, putting back his own miss to extend the lead to five, and the Wolverines were able to ice the game at the line—Derrick Walton (16 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) went 6/6 from the charity stripe down the stretch.

While this game won't blow away the committee by any stretch, Michigan managed to avoid a resumé-crippling loss. It's become a common refrain this season: in a home game against a crummy opponent, the Wolverines made it look tougher than it should've been. They probably need to win one of the final two games against Wisconsin and Iowa if they want to make the tournament. They definitely need to play better to do so.

Basketbullets: A Un-Beilein Win

Basketbullets: A Un-Beilein Win

Submitted by Brian on February 15th, 2016 at 12:41 PM


pick me up [Eric Upchurch]

So that was odd. For some reason during this game I thought to myself that this team was a stereotype of Beilein teams, a stereotype of the variety that gets passed around message boards that always, always call Michigan "scUM."

It more or less is. Michigan is 146th in defensive efficiency even after a strong outing against Purdue. They're 12th in the league in two point defense. They don't get to the line and don't get to the offensive boards. All of these things are more or less true every year. They're less easy to stomach when you get hammered over and over by teams that can exploit Michigan's various and sundry flaws. Michigan's been blown out of the building in every loss save Iowa*, often because they've resembled a grim parody of John Beilein basketball.

So I am thinking this and then Michigan wins a game by holding Purdue to 56 points. Michigan is 5/20 from three and significantly outrebounds a gigantic Purdue outfit. Okay. Whatever. In this very stereotypical Beilein year this was a genre-defying game.

*[That game was reasonably competitive despite the 11-point final margin.]

Doubly odd. Meanwhile there was a period in the second half when Michigan's offense devolved into ridiculous heroball. Walton, Irvin, and Robinson all took very bad shots on which they tried to beat guys off the dribble, failed, and shot anyway. This was during a 2/20 run from the floor. It was deeply unpleasant, and then Michigan won anyway.

Walton ain't wiltin'. Takes some cojones to drive in the vicinity of Hammons when you're 0/9 for the game and then aim for contact, but Derrick Walton has always been an assassin at the end of games. As a freshman he closed out wins against MSU and Nebraska with and-one drives; here he pushed Michigan in front on their 11-0 closing spurt. He then made four free throws down the stretch to seal it. I'm not a big fan of "clutch" but in his case I'll allow it.

While we're talking about weird-ass Derrick Walton, should be noted that he's still the top defensive rebouder on the team, and that is a good sign, not an ominous one. Michigan always does this thing where their defensive rebounding looks pretty good through the nonconference season and then they finish 10th or so in the league; not so this year. Michigan is 3rd(!) in the league at defensive rebounding. They haven't managed that since 2009, when Anthony Wright was tossing bombs at Oklahoma in the second round of the tourney instead of at Dan Dakich on Twitter.

Walton appears to have a tangible positive effect on Michigan's team rebounding, which is huge for a team that plays as small as Michigan does. A 6-foot-nothing point guard led all rebounders in a game featuring Purdue with 7 DREBs. Again, Purdue versus Derrick Walton and Walton wins.

Ticket more or less punched. Michigan needed to find a couple wins in a difficult closing stretch to feel secure about a bid; with the Purdue win they have reached 19 wins against a difficult schedule (SMU, Texas, UConn, and Xavier are all top-25 Kenpom teams). They've got three wins that will go on everyone's "good" list and zero bad losses. One of those wins is against a projected one-seed. Even if they had a season-ending skid that is not a profile that gets left out, especially when two programs that would normally be in the tournament (SMU and Lousiville) are taking postseason bans this year. And that's before the committee accounts for the fact that Levert has barely played during the Big Ten schedule.

Michigan would likely have to lose out to be on the bubble.


[Eric Upchurch]

This is what I am saying about post offense. It's inefficient. Purdue makes it work better than most because they have simply enormous dudes but as Ace pointed out, all those post ups lead to a barrage of two point jumpers that aren't good at scoring points. This game was a good example of why. Hammons got shut out(!!!) on the offensive boards and Haas got just one. Those two combined to go 9/21 from the field and 3/7 from the line, with two of the makes Hammons 15-footers. Hammons turned it over 3 times. All this was against a very bad defense. 

Hammons is 88% at the rim but:

  • 71% of his shots there are assisted
  • another 18% are putbacks, so
  • 11% of his shots at the rim are unassisted non-rebouds, ie, post-ups.

Meanwhile he's hitting 39% on two point jumpers, which comprise the vast majority of shots arising from post ups. Haas is similar but is hitting 48%. And both guys see a lot of assists on their two point makes, which means raw put-it-on-the deck post ups are mostly a waste of time even when you have the biggest damn team in the world against a bad defense.

I am completely fine with the way Michigan has discarded post-ups entirely. I just wish they'd recruit posts based solely on resemblance to Dikembe Mutumbo; all the guy has to do is dunk and wag his finger.

(Other possibility: Purdue is super generous with assists. They're 11th nationally in A/FGM, and I've seen them play. That's not reality.)

Robinson quiet, but occupying people. Purdue has Raphael Davis. Davis is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Raphael Davis spent most of this game checking Duncan Robinson. This resulted in Robinson not doing much and an ugly offensive game for the rest of the team, but Irvin got loose in part because he got a matchup against Swanigan; only after he'd heated up did Purdue try to match Davis on him.

If Levert does get back to full strength either he occupies the ace defender and Robinson gets loose or he gets to attack those wide open lanes. This is one of two reasons getting LeVert back and functional is so critical; the other is that the committee won't give Michigan the benefit of the doubt for his absence unless he does return.



MAAR, ball-hawk. Abdur-Rahkman helped rescue the game with a couple of key steals late. That's a flash of the perimeter defender we hoped we were getting last year after he shut down DeAngelo Russell; for a lot of reasons that has not really manifested itself. He's probably been Michigan's most consistent defender, but that's not saying much.

While he's not exactly a standout statistically, he's piecing it together this year. He's shooting really well in conference (76%/59%/41%), he's inching up that assist rate, and he's getting to the line. Usage is still in the Spike Albrecht range; that's the main hangup when you're trying to project him. He should be a very solid upperclassman; the ten-point bump in his three point shooting percentage is encouraging.

Okay Caris. Just get right by the Big Ten Tournament. Now that he's seen the court the direst predictions are off the table.

Rahk At The Rim (Or Save Us, Caris)

Rahk At The Rim (Or Save Us, Caris)

Submitted by Ace on February 11th, 2016 at 2:01 PM

This began as a post about Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and his ability to consistently get to the rim on his own, something Michigan as a team has been unable to do. That skill proved critical in last night's too-close-for-comfort victory at Minnesota.

While Rahkman had only a pair of two-pointers in the game, they stood out both for being timely and created entirely on his own. On arguably the most important play of the night—if it wasn't Rahkman's late chasedown steal—he drove baseline on Carlos Morris, used his shoulder as a means to create space without committing a foul (barely), and finished through contact for an and-one:

This is where this post takes an unfortunate turn. It's apparent to anyone who's watched Michigan this year that they've had a hard time beating defenders off the dribble and getting all the way to the basket. While looking up the numbers on Rahkman's ability to do just that, which I'll get to in a moment, I stumbled upon this alarming stat:

According to hoop-math, Michigan is 343rd out of 351 D-I teams in percentage of field goal attempts at the rim; M gets only 25.3% of their shots there, a far cry from the median of 36.1%. This isn't a be-all, end-all condemnation of the offense—Rutgers is 24th in the country in that category, while Purdue and Iowa both languish within ten spots of Michigan—but when combined with the individual stats and the eye test, it's easy to identify as one of the team's biggest issues.

I used data from hoop-math to put together this (chart?) chart, which shows MAAR's impressive ability to create high-percentage looks on his own as well as how badly this team needs LeVert back on the court:

  # shots at rim % shots at rim FG% at rim % assisted at rim
Caris LeVert 53 32.9% 77.4% 29.3%
Mark Donnal 47 46.1% 78.7% 91.9%
Zak Irvin 42 18.4% 85.7% 36.1%
Ricky Doyle 39 61.9% 74.4% 79.3%
M-A Abdur-Rahkman 37 29.8% 78.4% 20.7%
Aubrey Dawkins 30 22.9% 76.7% 82.6%
Moe Wagner 29 56.9% 79.3% 56.5%
Derrick Walton 25 14.0% 56.0% 14.3%
Duncan Robinson 15 7.7% 93.3% 57.1%

The critical stat here is the final column, which shows how often a player needs help to get baskets at the tin. It's not a surprise that almost all of Mark Donnal's production at the hoop is on assisted baskets; he's far from a dominant post player and gets most of his looks off the pick-and-roll. Zak Irvin's efficiency is great, but few of his shots are coming at the rim; Derrick Walton's mark is even lower and he's struggling to finish. Aubrey Dawkins' layups and dunks usually require a teammate to find him on a cut or in transition. Duncan Robinson is expanding his game but is still mostly a shooter, and one that looks to pass more often than not when he ventures inside the arc.

The two players able to both get to the rim off the dribble and finish at a high rate are LeVert and Rahkman; Michigan has, of course, had only one of those players available for the vast majority of Big Ten play. The Wolverines need LeVert back on the court in the worst way; his return, though, shouldn't diminish Rahkman's role too much.

That's not solely because Rahkman is capable of beating defenders off the bounce and finishing. He's steadily improved the other facets of his game, as well. After shooting 29% from three as a freshman, he's at 38% this year, and a hair under 40% in Big Ten games; combine that conference mark with 60% shooting on twos and he's fifth in the conference in eFG%. Rahkman has also drawn a lot more fouls—16th in the B1G in FT Rate—and he's making 77% of his free throws. He rarely turns the ball over. Even though he's still not a particularly willing passer, he ranks fifth in the conference in ORating—a very impressive mark even though it's helped by a low usage rate. Though this is admittedly faint praise, he's also arguably the team's best perimeter defender.

Rahkman has proven to be a reliable option when the offense is bogged down in the halfcourt, especially when Michigan needs a bucket late in the shot clock. A healthy LeVert is critical for this team to survive a tough final stretch with enough wins to make the tourney. Rahk has been an overlooked reason why Michigan is even in position to make it, though, and he'll play a crucial role the rest of the way.

Michigan 82, Minnesota 74

Michigan 82, Minnesota 74

Submitted by Ace on February 10th, 2016 at 11:23 PM

After cruising for most of the game, Michigan found themselves against the ropes, up only five in the final minute on the road with the momentum suddenly on the side of host Minnesota.

Derrick Walton had the ball poked away from behind and Carlos Morris looked to cut the lead further with a 2-on-1 the other way. Out of nowhere, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman poked the ball out from behind, chased it down, and threw it off Nate Mason to retain possession. Walton iced the game at the line and the Wolverines escaped Minneapolis with a much-needed win.

Aside from that shaky moment late, Walton was masterful, scoring a career-high 26 points on 9/15 FG with eight rebounds, seven assists, and two steals. He had a hand in 15 of Michigan's 19 points over the final 5:50 of the first half, which culminated in a Rucker-caliber Walton crossover and three in the face of Joey King at the buzzer to give the Wolverines a 14-point lead.

Walton picked up where he left off early in the second half, and he started getting help from Abdur-Rahkman (16 points on a perfect 5-5 night from the field) and Duncan Robinson (14 points, 4/7 3P, career-high 8 rebounds). Michigan's lead reached as many as 19 points and stayed in double-digits until Nate Mason hit a one-handed runner while falling out of bounds with 5:46 to play.

Michigan found themselves unable to keep the Gophers guards out of the paint. Dupree McBrayer bulled his way to the hoop to earn two straight trips to the line. Walton tipped a potential defensive rebound back to Minnesota and Mason nailed a pull-up. A Robinson triple only temporarily stemmed the tide as McBrayer, Mason, and Morris answered with consecutive layups to cut the margin to two.

Then Rahk saved the day, first by putting his shoulder into Morris on a baseline drive for a tough and-one layup, then by cleaning up after Walton on Michigan's next possession. In the process, he may have saved the team's NCAA Tournament hopes.

Michigan 79, Penn State 72

Michigan 79, Penn State 72

Submitted by Ace on January 30th, 2016 at 2:52 PM

Paul Sherman/MGoBlog

When the threes aren't falling for Michigan, they're usually in deep trouble.

Today, however, that was not the case. The Wolverines hit six triples on 20 attempts, tying a season-low set way back in the opener against Northern Michigan, and yet they controlled the proceedings against Penn State while posting an impressive 1.20 points per possession.

The progression made across the board in Caris LeVert's absence was apparent. Michigan went 19/35 on two-pointers and 23/31 from the line, successfully going at the interior of Penn State's defense time and again. Nobody did it better than Zak Irvin, who attacked from the jump, scoring a team-high 20 points—whenever PSU switched a high screen, Irvin drove to the bucket and got results. As a bonus, he drilled a corner three to beat the first-half buzzer.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman also had a lot of success off the dribble, working his way to the point for 15 points. Derrick Walton played the role of distributor with Irvin focused on scoring; he put up a 13-10-7 stat line, and when PSU threatened to make it a game late, he had six points and a gorgeous assist to Rahkman in the final four minutes and change to put it away. Mark Donnal added ten points on 2/4 FG and 6/8 FT with four offensive boards.

Foul trouble limited Duncan Robinson to 27 minutes and after an early triple he couldn't find the mark from deep again, finishing 1/5 from beyond the arc. That would normally spell doom for Michigan in another game without Caris LeVert, but Aubrey Dawkins provided a spark off the bench again with seven points, two steals, and an assist.

A month ago, under these circumstances, Michigan probably loses this game. The emergence of an effective ball-screen game keyed by Irvin and Donnal has changed the complexion of the offense, however, and that's allowed Michigan to be productive even in games when one or two of their main scorers aren't hitting their outside shots—today, Robinson and Walton combined to go 2/9 from three, yet the offense still hummed along.

Michigan will still need more of those shots to fall in marquee games against Michigan State and Indiana this week. For today, though, they managed just fine as a team working from the inside out. Remarkably, even though LeVert hasn't played a minute in 2016, the Wolverines are momentarily just a half-game out of first place in the Big Ten.

Michigan's Myriad Defensive Issues

Michigan's Myriad Defensive Issues

Submitted by Ace on January 20th, 2016 at 10:19 AM

Not ideal.

It's no secret Michigan's defense hasn't been good this season even by the generally mediocre standard set by previous John Beilein teams. The Wolverines rank 134th nationally in defensive efficiency on KenPom; if that stands, it would be the lowest mark in Beilein's tenure by a healthy margin.

When I first watched the Iowa game, I hoped to find one or two issues I could isolate as the main cause of Michigan's defensive problems. On the first viewing, I identified a couple: Michigan's guards gave up the baseline too often, straining their already sub-par weakside defense. This example came to mind:

This was even worse:

There are two big problems on that play. Walton does a poor job defending the high side screen, allowing his man to turn down the pick and get the baseline. This forces Duncan Robinson to rotate over, which he does—he's improved a lot in that regard—but communication is lacking on the weak side and MAAR isn't in position to contest the corner three.

As the screencap at the top of the post indicates, communication was the other deficiency I noticed right away. When Michigan doubled in the post or switched on a screen, they often ended up with two players guarding one guy off the ball while the other was left alone for a layup. Screencaps are sufficient here; both these plays ended in a layup:

Jarrod Uthoff got a crucial late bucket when Iowa ran a pair of baseline screens and Aubrey Dawkins had no idea who to guard:

Those two issues—dribble penetration opening up weakside threes and blowing rotations off the ball—caught my attention on the first viewing.

Unfortunately, a second pass through the game revealed more problems. A couple Iowa three-pointers I initially believed were caused by the weakside defender were instead the product of poor pick-and-roll defense. Michigan eschewed their normal hard hedge against high screens in favor of a softer, more conservative approach for much of the game, and they didn't execute it well.

On this play, Dawkins gets hung up on the screen too long, which causes a domino effect—Mark Donnal has to wait an extra beat before sinking back into the paint, which forces MAAR to stay on the rolling big instead of getting back to his man in the corner:

On this pick-and-roll, Iowa gets a layup when Walton and Donnal play soft, Mike Gesell has an open passing lane, and the help from Robinson is late and wouldn't have prevented an Adam Woodbury bucket regardless:

One more P&R failure for good measure: when Michigan went back to a hard hedge, Walton doubled Uthoff in the paint instead of guarding Woodbury, who was all alone next to the basket.

Finally, Michigan also had trouble identifying shooters in transition, something Beilein discussed in the postgame presser. On this play, Iowa pushes the pace off a defensive rebound, and the Wolverines initially stymie the attempt to get an easy bucket. Again, a lack of communication comes to the forefront, as Dawkins switches men while Iowa swings the ball around the perimeter, which is news to Donnal:

This is pretty basic stuff that Michigan still can't get right. A couple takeaways from the above:

There's no single fix. There's plenty of stuff that's gone wrong here that doesn't even touch on the lack of a true post presence, which I still believe is the biggest problem with Beilein's defenses. There isn't one defender at the heart of these issues—though Dawkins stands out in a bad way, this goes far beyond him. Getting this defense up to simply mediocre will require fixing multiple areas of deficiency.

But if I had to pick one, it's communication. A lot of these easy baskets result from players not talking to each other. Those screencaps are frustrating and telling.

Long story short, it's tough to see Michigan improving to the point where the defense isn't a liability. We're beyond the midway point and there are myriad problem areas. Players like Robinson and Donnal have progressed during the season from starting points that were frankly bad, but they may have maxed out their defensive potential for this season. Hopefully getting Caris LeVert back—whenever that may be—solves some of the communication problems, but those are also widespread enough that I doubt one man clears them up.

The good news is the offense has plenty of firepower. Michigan is going to have to lean on that for the duration unless they have a team-wide defensive improvement we haven't seen out of a Beilein team during the course of a single season.

The Good, The Bad, The Bigs: Hoops At The Halfway Point

The Good, The Bad, The Bigs: Hoops At The Halfway Point

Submitted by Ace on January 11th, 2016 at 4:31 PM

Michigan crossed the halfway mark of 2015-16 Thursday at Purdue in a game that unfortunately encapsulated much of the season thus far: a shorthanded Wolverine squad turned in a strong offensive performance (accounting for context here) that fell short of covering for their defensive shortcomings against a quality opponent.

While it hasn't been a bad year—Michigan is 12-4; they were 10-6 at this point last season with two awful losses—it hasn't been the bounce-back many expected. The Wolverines have beaten the teams they should beat, but they've yet to take down a top-50 KenPom opponent in four tries, and that'll have to change if they want to make a tourney run.

So what's gone well, what hasn't, and what will swing this season one way or the other?


All photos: Patrick Barron/MGoBlog

Caris LeVert. Aside from a woeful performance at SMU, LeVert has been one of the best and most consistent players in the country. He boasts the third-best offensive rating among players who use at least 24% of their team's possessions, per KenPom. His drives are more productive than ever before; instead of snaking his way towards the basket, LeVert is getting there more directly, finishing at the highest rate of his career (77.4% at the rim, per hoop-math), and posting the assist-to-turnover rate of a good point guard—which he functions as for this team, something equally evident in his absence as his presence.

When healthy, LeVert has looked like the potential All-American we hoped he'd become, a triple-double threat any time he steps on the court. Unfortunately, the "when healthy" caveat is now required; I'll cover that in another section.

Duncan Robinson. This is Robinson's definitely-not-altered shot chart from Shot Analytics:

One could leave it at that and conclude Robinson has exceeded expectations. In the beginning of the season, there wouldn't have been much more to say anyway; through the first four games he attempted 16 three-pointers and four two-pointers while failing to tally an assist. Robinson has at least one assist in ten of the 12 games since that point, however, and he's used the threat of his outside shot to generate opportunities for himself and others closer to the tin.

Robinson is quietly improving defensively, too, though he set the bar quite low to start the year. His lethal efficiency on offense more than makes up for that; it's hard to complain about a player who's first nationally in ORtg, eFG%, and True Shooting %.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman. The bright spot in an otherwise dreadful game at Purdue, Rahk was the only Wolverine who could get to the hoop and finish in LeVert's absence. In the two games since LeVert's injury, Rahk is 11/15 on two-pointers, 4/8 on threes, 5/6 from the line, and he hasn't recorded a turnover. While it'd be great to see Rahk pass the, um, rock a little more—only Aubrey Dawkins has a lower assist rate among non-centers—his ability to generate buckets on his own is huge coming off the bench, and as his outside shots develops (11/29 this season) he could carve out a huge role for himself.

Three-point shooting. Michigan is shooting 43% from beyond the arc as a team. Four high-volume shooters—Robinson, LeVert, Dawkins, and Derrick Walton—are making 45% or better. It boggles the mind to consider where the team's numbers would be if Zak Irvin (15/59) had been shooting like he did as an underclassman.

[Hit THE JUMP for the bad and the we're-not-sure-yet.]

Purdue 87, Michigan 70

Purdue 87, Michigan 70

Submitted by Ace on January 7th, 2016 at 9:14 PM

Dustin Johnston/UMHoops

Purdue overwhelmed.

That's the simple version. Without Caris LeVert in the lineup, Michigan took an early lead and remained in striking distance until late, but when the defense faltered the Wolverine offense couldn't keep pace against Purdue's top-ranked D.

Outside of Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who tallied a career-high 25 points on 10/16 FG, nobody could consistently get to the rim and finish against Purdue's front line; center AJ Hammons blocked four shots and altered several others. Michigan had to rely on their perimeter play, and with reigning Big Ten DPOY Rapheal Davis shadowing Duncan Robinson, open looks weren't easy to come by—M managed to reach 40% from three but only following a few makes after the game was decided. Purdue's defense lived up to its billing.

Purdue's offensive success, meanwhile, didn't come in the way most expected. Instead of playing volleyball on the glass, they mixed post touches with a drive-and-kick approach that generated both layups and open three-pointers—the Boilermakers, not a great outside shooting squad, went 9/18 from beyond the arc. With Hammons scoring 17 on ten shots, Michigan couldn't slow the Boilermakers inside or outside the paint.

Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin couldn't make up the difference. Walton needed 12 shot equivalents to net his 12 points; he had trouble dealing with Purdue's size at the rim, and he also strugged mightily on defense. Irvin had to expend a ton of energy guarding burly power forward Caleb Swanigan, and while he did well in that regard, it left him without much juice to carry the offense—he went 2/10 for seven points with three assists and four turnovers.

There were positives to take away here, especially the play of Rahkman and the team keeping the rebounding battle even; that latter part was a huge issue in their previous losses. Mark Donnal didn't turn out to be an instant solution at center, however, even if he looked the best of M's bigs tonight, and for this team to compete with the top-tier B1G squads they need a healthy LeVert.