Hoops Mailbag: Robinson's Shooting, B1G Expectations, Next Breakout

Hoops Mailbag: Robinson's Shooting, B1G Expectations, Next Breakout

Submitted by Ace on January 6th, 2016 at 12:24 PM


It's more likely than not this will go in. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]

Before Michigan takes on Purdue in their first huge test of conference play, I took a few questions on the season thus far and the outlook going forward. Let's start with a fun one.

Not at all unreasonable! Michigan is essentially at the midpoint of the season—they've played 15 of their 31 regular-season games—and Robinson is shooting 57% on over six three-point attempts per game. That alone is a good sample to go on and feel optimistic.

It's also reasonable based on the eye test. Robinson gets his share of great looks created by the LeVert/Irvin/Walton trio, which knows by now that finding Robinson open on the perimeter is the most optimal shot to generate on a given possession. Mark Donnal's emergence as a pick-and-roll threat is creating more open looks for Robinson as the spot-up option in a three-man game; even if that's not sustainable against better teams, it can only help his output compared to the beginning of the year, when M had little P&R game to speak of.

Most importantly, we already know Robinson is an incredible shooter. He hit 46% of his threes as a freshman at Williams while being the focal point of the offense. He spent his redshirt year shattering Nik Stauskas' practice records. He's got a textbook, repeatable stroke, leaving him less prone to the streakiness of a guy like Zak Irvin.

For Robinson to drop to 50% on the year, he'd have to cool off considerably. If we assume he finishes the season with 200 three-point attempts (he's at 91 right now), he'd have to shoot 44%—a 13-point dropoff from his current average—just to sink to 50%. While his shooting may take a hit due to the increased level of competition, I don't think the effect will be nearly that drastic. This is a special player.

[Hit THE JUMP for a breakdown of M's win probability against top-tier teams, parallels between this squad and the 2011-12 team, a guess at the next breakout performance, and more.]

Basketbullets: Delaware State

Basketbullets: Delaware State

Submitted by Ace on December 14th, 2015 at 3:50 PM


Once again, we're here. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]

Michigan beat Delaware State 80-33 on Saturday, and while the game itself didn't contain much of note, the shuffling of M's lineup due both to injury and personnel issues continued. There's enough of interest for a basketbullets post, starting with...

Mea culpa. So, yeah, I mailed in the game recap. My general stance on these games is to take them about as seriously as one should when the foe is a team that barely looks like they're playing the same sport, but despite the upcoming schedule—Northern Kentucky, Youngstown State, Bryant—I'll be shelving the bad poetry recaps. In my defense, Delaware State was so, so bad; they had as many turnovers (17) as combined made FGs and FTs.

Robinson replaces Dawkins. John Beilein made a move in the starting lineup that wasn't dictated by injury, replacing Aubrey Dawkins with Duncan Robinson. Beilein discussed the move in the postgame presser:

“We feel right now our flow defensively and offensively is better as a starter for Duncan. Get him in there and let him go and get more scorers out there. He and Aubrey do a lot of things very similar, there’s just a different flow right now with him. I think it make other guys better, and as we work at some of the things Aubrey’s working at, we can shore some of his weaknesses up, which I think we some of it today.

The justification is simple. While Dawkins has been a solid offensive player this year, he doesn't add as much on that end as Robinson—they're both mostly spot-up gunners and Robinson is outshooting Dawkins 60% to 39% on threes with a higher volume of attempts while dishing out more assists and turning the ball over less. Both have some degree of disastrous on defense all season, and with that continuing to be the case, Michigan might as well have Robinson out there as much as they can.

That said, when Michigan hits the meatier portion of the schedule, I wouldn't mind seeing Robinson move back to a sixth man role if Dawkins can be something other than awful on defense; bringing Robinson off the bench often allows him more time against an inferior matchup (the opponent's bench wing) when he's on the court.

The point guard situation. With Derrick Walton temporarily sidelined—he'll play tomorrow barring a setback—and Spike Albrecht permanently so, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman got the start and Andrew Dakich burned a planned redshirt (again) to provide backup minutes. With Walton returning, Dakich shouldn't be much of a factor going forward—he had four points, three assists, and two turnovers in 20 minutes—but Rahk's contributions are worth a closer look.

Rahk still isn't a point guard. He has seven assists and six turnovers in 195 minutes this year; his 6.8% assist rate is below every Michigan regular's mark aside from Dawkins and the three centers. He's mostly a drive-and-dish guy without much dish at the moment, but he's showed some signs he could be more on Saturday; after opening the season 3/13 from three, he buried 3/4 attempts against Delaware State. Granted, those shots were great looks, but Rahk looked more confident in his stroke than he has in the past. It'd be critical to M's spacing for him to be more of a three-point threat.

Irvin rounding into form... except in one critical area. Largely unnoticed during the tumultuous start to the season has been Zak Irvin's continued improvement in the Not Just A Shooter™ aspects of his game. He's making 57% of his shots inside the arc and has 31 assists against nine turnovers; he's become a legitimate drive-and-dish guy.

Unfortunately, Irvin's shot appears broken; after going 0/3 from deep on Saturday, he's now 7/38 on the season. Needless to say, he has to figure out what's wrong and correct it if Michigan wants to bounce back from their recent ugly stretch and push for a tournament spot.

Speaking of that recent stretch, it's a little early to write Michigan off considering how well their recent competition has done:

It's a similar story on KenPom: Xavier is 9th, SMU is 20th, and UConn is 26th. Michigan doesn't have a true signature win—Texas is 43rd on KP—but unless the very unexpected happens over the course of the next three games, they'll get through non-conference play without anything approaching a bad loss, which is a lot more than most of the Big Ten can say.

All Right, Fine, Let's Talk About That

All Right, Fine, Let's Talk About That

Submitted by Brian on December 9th, 2015 at 4:34 PM

23483638121_e444f57463_z

[Patrick Barron]

You said this would be a good basketball team.

What are YOU doing here, bolded alter-ego?

I'm bothering you. You said this would, and I fake quote, "not be a festering trash-heap."

I didn't say that but I did imply it. This was not correct, in a general sense. I mean, they did beat Texas and NC State. We may be overreacting here. But a top 25 team this ain't.

My feelings are bad now because you. Hate you.

Okay. Do you still want to talk about this, or was that sufficient for your purposes?

We can talk about it. What is going on, man?

Well…

Center is killing Michigan on offense, too

We are taking it as read that the center position is a disaster on defense. Any large, slightly peevish man is spend games against Michigan flexing so much he looks like he's in a bodybuilding competition.

But wait, there's more: Michigan absolutely does not trust their centers to run the pick and roll and it's killing their offense. Michigan got one roll dunk from Ricky Doyle after a second-half timeout, and other than that bupkis. Moritz Wagner got a layup blocked when he could have dunked the ball early and then Michigan didn't try it again until Beilein probably yelled at them about it.

When the pick and roll isn't working Michigan gets stuck on the outside all day because they don't have dribble penetrators, and the ensuing barrage of bad threes in the first half is the result.

This is a big disappointment since Ricky Doyle was very promising as a pick and roll finisher last year, when he hit 77% at the rim. This year he's down to 65% and, more importantly, he's got an astronomical 32 TO rate—a third of the time he uses an offensive possession it's to thunk the ball to the other team. Last year he was at 12. Maybe he got sweatier?

Wagner's shown some promise here—he used that super-quick layup to get buckets against NC State's enormous shot-blockers. But after that initial failure Michigan didn't go back to him.

Perimeter defense is abominable

I kind of expect it from Duncan Robinson. Ace made a good point on twitter: he is better as a bench player because his minutes generally come when the opponent has substituted as well, which helps Michigan hide him on D. Also, Robinson is shooting 60% from 3 on a burgeoning significant 50 attempts.

But that's a problem and then Dawkins is barely better against the starters. LeVert is better this year but still gambles a lot, and it's not paying off much. Once that happens and rotation starts bad things result.

23270326750_2519985d61_z

[Barron]

Possible solutions on the perimeter can't shoot

Michigan needs four guys who are reasonable shooters from three on the court to run this offense. Kam Chatman, who did a nice job on D against NC State, is 0/8. MAAR is 2/11. That contributes to the offense bogging down.

This goes double when neither guy really facilitates anyone else's offense. MAAR has an early-Irvin-esque assist rate, which is frustrating because he's able to get to the basket better than anyone else on the team. He shoots decently inside the arc; Michigan needs him to set some other guys up to facilitate the offense.

Zak Irvin is broken

Shooting 20% from three, getting killed on the boards, bleah. He has seemingly not recovered to get in the flow of the game from his back injury, and that's a major downer. Hopefully these upcoming games give him an opportunity to shoot himself hot.

LeVert is not quite an alpha dog

Caris LeVert is very good at basketball, and statistically he's one of the best players in the country. I just think that sometimes, in the wrong matchup, you can shut him down. His ability to get into the lane is so-so, so the right defender can fend him off and then he has a game like he did against SMU. That did not happen to Trey Burke or Nik Stauskas. Maybe this is a one-off bad game—hopefully nothing is quite as bad as that. I think Caris is a very very good basketball player who might be better as a second banana.

Well…

I think our goals have reset to "make the tournament," which kind of sucks, but Michigan should be able to do that. A weak Big Ten gives you some pause but there's going to be a game or three against a tough opponent in which Duncan Robinson goes 11/10 from three, and that should  be enough.

Hoops Preview 2015-16: Wings, Part II

Hoops Preview 2015-16: Wings, Part II

Submitted by Ace on October 29th, 2015 at 2:00 PM

Previously: Hoops Preview PodcastMGoRadio 1.6 (wsg John Gasaway), Point Guards, Wings Part I (LeVert, Dawkins, Irvin)


Kam Chatman only showed flashes of his four-star ability in 2014-15.

Michigan is deeper this season than at any point during John Beilein's tenure. There's so much depth, in fact, that there's a decent chance at least one of last season's regular contributors drops out of the rotation.

Today's preview post focuses on that depth by looking at backup wings Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Kameron Chatman, Duncan Robinson, and Moritz Wagner. DJ Wilson, who could easily fit into this category, will be covered with the bigs.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman


Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog

Year: Sophomore
Measurables: 6'4", 185
Base Stats: 19.0 MPG, 4.4 PPG, 49/29/93 2P/3P/FT%, 1.7 RPG, 27 assists, 28 turnovers
Key Advanced Metrics: 16.5% usage, 92.5 ORating, 1.9 steal %

"Rahk" wasn't expected to be a contributor last season after John Beilein picked him up late in the recruiting cycle. When injuries forced him onto the floor for extended minutes in Big Ten season, however, he emerged as a quality scorer off the dribble—after looking jittery early in the season, he shot 54% on two-pointers in conference play.

Rahkman's rise to a prominent role was critical for Michigan in 2014-15, especially when he took on the scoring burden against Michigan State and Illinois, and even more so when he shadowed D'Angelo Russell in M's upset of Ohio State—Russell needed 17 shot equivalents to score 16 points, had five turnovers against two assists, and looked visibly frustrated with Rahk's defense. John Beilein pointed to defense as the way Rahkman can see extended time on the court this season:

“We haven’t even discussed any redshirt possibilities. Muhammad is not of a young age number one, but he’s got his work cut out for him to get the minutes that he did last year and he knows it. He has some explosion to his game and some speed that we do need on this team. That’s all going to come if he can become an excellent defender on this team then there will always be minutes for him.”

That's in part because Michigan could use a perimeter defensive stopper; it's also in part because there are still significant holes in Rahkman's overall game. He shot 29% from three-point range as a freshman, a figure that must improve to keep from affecting Michigan's spacing. He finished with more turnovers than assists; while he wasn't overly turnover-prone, when he drove to the basket he almost always looked for his own shot, and opponents are going to adjust to that. There's reason to think he can improve in both regards; his impressive free-throw shooting (albeit in a small sample) is a sign his jump shot should come around and he looked confident as a ballhandler last year.

The great news for Michigan is that there isn't nearly as much of a need for Rahk to play big minutes with the return of Walton and LeVert; there won't be minutes to spare at the point and there's a ton of depth on the wing. Rahkman may carve out a role as a defensive specialist or off-the-bench scorer against teams that struggle to stop dribble penetration; anything else he provides would be considered a bonus. He should be a solid role player getting 10-15 minutes; the breakout most likely will have to wait until next year.

[Hit THE JUMP.]

Hoops Preview 2015-16: Point Guards

Hoops Preview 2015-16: Point Guards

Submitted by Ace on October 27th, 2015 at 1:04 PM

Previously: Hoops Preview Podcast, MGoRadio 1.6 (wsg John Gasaway)


This was sorely missed last year.

Basketball season is nearly upon us. Unlike previous years, it isn't a much-needed respite from a miserable football campaign, and instead should serve as a delightful second helping of good sports feels as we head into the winter.

As Michigan learned the hard way in 2014-15, it all starts with the point guard in John Beilein's system. Derrick Walton is healthy again after a foot injury derailed and then prematurely ended his sophomore season; now he's poised for the patented LaVall Jordan second-year leap a year later than expected. Spike Albrecht is recovering from surgery on his hips but should be a full go early in the season, giving the Wolverines a starter-quality backup.

This is where the turnaround starts.

[Hit THE JUMP.]

Unverified Voracity Has Physical Intangibles

Unverified Voracity Has Physical Intangibles

Submitted by Brian on October 26th, 2015 at 12:13 PM

16475222002_589f8a484e_z

two gentlemen who won't be on the bench much this season [Patrick Barron]

Incoming: the other thing we're excited about. We taped a basketball preview podcast this weekend and Ace and Alex will be rolling out season preview stuff pretty soon. Media day also transpired. MAAR:

"If he can become an excellent defender on this team then there will always be minutes for him," Beilein said.

MAAR also has to settle down and finish when he gets to the rim, which he does a lot of. Hard to see him getting a ton of minutes this year; equally hard seeing him get a redshirt since he has skills that aren't common on the roster.

Wagner:

At 6 feet, 10½ inches, Wagner is learning the four and five positions in Beilein's system. That involves banging on the blocks. It requires physical play. It demands fighting for rebounds and manning up on defense.

As of now, despite Wagner climbing from 211 pounds to 225 since arriving at Michigan, that's difficult to imagine. It might look like one of those dancing inflatable tube men stuffed inside a phone booth.

"He just hasn't shown that physical ability to rebound yet, but he will," Beilein said. "He's really a talented young man. As I'll tell you every time, (when he plays) you'll say, 'Wow, that was awkward,' and he will be awkward. Then a minute later, you'll say, 'Oh my goodness, did he just do that at 6 feet, 10½ inches?'

Wagner sounds like he's headed for a redshirt. Also he lives for Chipotle. And is six feet ten and a half inches tall.

Kenpom updates. Kenpom has updated itself with preseason rankings. Its exact sauce is secret, but the system takes into account recent performance, returning players, and recruiting rankings. The Big Ten:

  • 9 Wisconsin
  • 13 Indiana
  • 17 Michigan
  • 18 Michigan State
  • 22 Purdue
  • 24 Maryland
  • 36 Iowa
  • 42 Ohio State
  • 51 Northwestern
  • 61 Illinois
  • 66 Minnesota
  • 119 Penn State
  • 137 Nebraska
  • 223 Rutgers

Well done, Rutgers.

None of that is a surprise given the way I've seen the thing work. Wisconsin is being given credit for being very good the past few years; Kenpom looks at the Michigan roster and is like "tell me more." Then it looks at the Big Ten and is all like "dunno": it projects nobody better than 12-6 and has 8 teams within two games of winning the league.

Meanwhile M's nonconference schedule has no middle. They've got four opponents ranging from 23rd to 41st (SMU, Xavier, UConn, NC State) plus a couple TBD opponents who will probably be good in their tournament. Then they have six nonconference opponents Kenpom ranks 240th or worse. Woof.

It's jug week. So you know MVictors is fired up. On the 1903 game:

Speaking of the Armory – We know now that Minnesota equipment man Oscar Munson found Michigan’s water jug inside the Armory a day or 2 after the game, and, we know that Athletic Director L.J. Cooke suspended the jug above his office in the Armory from 1903 to 1909:

Armory and Jug

Quoting Coach Yost:  Before the game a Minnesota man asked him, “Are you going to beat us?”  “Well, that’s what we came up here for,” replied Yost.  “It will be a great game, and probably a close game.  Minnesota has been playing better football than any team in the west this year…if we win this, we win the championship.”

Tauntings: The Minnesota band entered the field before the game led by a donkey, and, ahem, “the animal wore trousers of Michigan colors.”  [They didn’t get those pants from Moe’s.]  When the Michigan second team players arrived they were greeted with a rousing chorus of “Poor old Mich” by the Gopher Fans.

The Daily Gopher also has jug miscellanea for your reading pleasure.

The next guy, probably/maybe. For no particular reason I spent a chunk of this weekend looking for John O'Korn clips out. Weird experience, that. A game against Rice from his freshman year demonstrates his promise:

There is some dumb freshman stuff in there; there are also a half-dozen throws to make you go "whoah." Against BYU the next year he was middling at best, though his receivers went out of their way to avoid catching the ball, and then against UCF he was in full Hackenberg mode, turfing about every other screen and getting benched for the duration of the season.

O'Korn is about as far away from Rudock as you can get without leaving the "pro style quarterback" designation: a wild, big-armed gunslinger. There's a lot for Harbaugh to work with there; there's also a long way to go. O'Korn's been rooming with Rudock in an apparent effort to get him  more towards the middle of the continuum:

Mastrole said O'Korn is benefiting from living with Rudock, a student of the game and devoted to watching film.

"I'm glad the two of them are rooming together," Mastrole told The Detroit News recently. "John has off-the-charts physical intangibles, and he's a very smart kid. He's going to pick up things and he's observing Jake." …

"He had some turmoil last year but now he's sitting (this season) and learning a lot," Mastrole said. "Jake has been a good fit for him."

I think the word you were looking for there is "tangibles," but I could care less.

That Miami is open. One of the most fascinating jobs in college football is now available for a special someone. That person will have to be a special someone indeed, as Stephen Godfrey and Bud Elliott detail:

Godfrey: I don't know Florida like you do, but I've talked to enough people in the industry to understand the unique problem in Coral Gables. The one thing Luke said that stuck with me the most is how Miami wants to sell "SWAG" on a t-shirt and then recruit and behave in the exact opposite manner. You can't do both.

Bud: You need someone who can relate to the culture at Miami. Golden's "unity overcomes the adversity" slogans were so lame. That is not how these kids are coached when they start in little league. You need someone who relates, who can inspire them. But the administration seems to prefer more of the milquetoast Golden type.

Godfrey: And in 2015, you can't expect the famous Howard Schnellenberger strategy of fencing off "The State of Miami" to compensate for the lack of money and support. Kids in Dade County are uploading highlight clips to Instagram when they're in middle school. Digital film is the biggest change to the recruiting landscape in the last decade, diminishing the local colleges' advantage of identifying prospects before out-of-town schools can. This new hire must be someone for whom local players want to play.

Al Golden, a Penn State alum whose biggest success came at Temple, was as bad a cultural fit as Rich Rodriguez was at Michigan. And Miami is one of the few programs in the country where that "fit" thing looms even larger than it does in Ann Arbor.

This is why Butch Jones, a 63-year-old who hasn't coached since 2010 because he was run out of town by the NCAA, is currently the internet polling favorite at the SB Nation Miami blog. Culture is super-important (and fans on the internet are crazy).

As a result of that and Miami's notorious lack of funding you can probably dump most of the most attractive names on Bruce Feldman's comprehensive list of candidates. (One that includes Jedd Fisch, FWIW.) Tom Herman and Justin Fuente don't have local connections and are going to be pursued by schools with bigger pocketbooks. Dana Holgorsen ($2.3 million already) is probably out of reach monetarily, or will be after his agent gets to work.

But Rich Rodriguez is making just 1.5 million at Arizona, has a ton of South Florida experience in recruiting, and runs a spread offense that would help differentiate Miami from the other two in-state P5 programs. It would be a roll of the dice for both player and program, but… I mean, Deerfield Beach is less than an hour from Miami proper.

Or they could just hire the Rock.

Etc.: Sap on the anniversary of Ufer's passing. We are now #2 in the F+ rankings. Berenson interviewed. Denard was and is the last NCAA football cover athlete. Make or break year for Kam Chatman.

Season in Review: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Season in Review: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman

Submitted by Alex Cook on July 29th, 2015 at 4:00 PM

16615598432_8e7fcd490d_z

Fuller – MGoBlog

For the second time in three years, John Beilein scrambled to fill some scholarships late in the recruiting cycle due to unexpected early draft entrees. The first time, he landed Caris LeVert – who’s since blossomed into perhaps the best NBA prospect Michigan’s had in years – and Spike Albrecht, already a cult hero among Michigan fans. The next duo to commit late in the process was Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: the two weren’t ready early in the year, but were thrust into big roles after key season-ending injuries to two starters. Abdur-Rahkman hardly played before Derrick Walton injured his foot; he was nearly indispensible afterwards:

maar minutes

Partially because Michigan was down to just two scholarship guards, Abdur-Rahkman’s minutes on the bench (usually due to first-half foul trouble) usually meant that Michigan would struggle to stay afloat in that time – Dakich and Lonergan weren’t ever meant to play many (if any) high-leverage Big Ten minutes, but they did. For example, consider Abdur-Rahkman’s best game, an efficient 18-point performance in a loss against MSU. When Rahk picked up his second foul with about ten minutes left in the first half, Michigan led by seven; when he returned to the court after halftime, Michigan was down five. They lost in OT.

To appreciate Rahk’s value – which doesn’t show up in his traditional or advanced metrics (low ORtg, TO rate > Assist rate, 29% from three, etc.) – consider the rotation guards Beilein’s had at Michigan. Of those, there are precious few plus defenders: Rahkman is likely on his way to becoming one, but Michigan hasn’t had a nominal stopper since Stu Douglass graduated. After so many offense-first guards and swingmen, having a guy who you can really trust on defense is another arrow in Beilein’s strategic quiver. Judging defensive value is always somewhat of a crapshoot, but it’s rather clear that – outside of a healthy Walton, perhaps – Abdur-Rahkman could very well be the best defender on the team.* If he improves his three-point shooting, he’ll be a strong candidate to retain his role, even with Michigan’s increased depth across the board.

*Caris LeVert’s defensive value is speculative at best, though he does have the most potential on that end of the floor for the next level. Besides, very few offensive focal points have enough energy to be similarly impactful on defense, especially in college.

[Hit the JUMP for more Rahkman talk]

Roster Set, Let's Talk Minutes: Backcourt

Roster Set, Let's Talk Minutes: Backcourt

Submitted by Brian on May 7th, 2015 at 4:35 PM

I thought I'd revisit the basketball roster now that it seems set. We covered similar ground in the Always Next Year post on the team, but now that the Minutes Crunch™ is official, let's look at how things might shake out.

Point Guard

10467806434_bd46039f4d_z

[Bryan Fuller]

Starter: Derrick Walton (Jr.)
Backups: Spike Albrecht (Sr.), Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman (So.)

Albrecht's hips and Walton's foot are lingering issues hovering over this spot. Derrick Walton was shut down in January and should be back from just about anything by November. His issues massively blunted his effectiveness. Walton went from a 45/41 percent shooter to 32/34. It's never good when a shooting line forces me to remind readers that the first one is twos and the second is threes.

Just about every part of Walton's statistical profile was static or regressed save his reliably mansome defensive rebounding; how much of that was the injury? How much was disorientation in an environment far more focused on his output? How much was just flat-out poor play?

We're hoping the answers to those questions are "lots," "some," and "not too much considering." Michigan and LaVall Jordan's point guard track record should mean that is close to the truth.

Still, the version of Derrick Walton Michigan gets is a major question mark for the season. Point guards have universally played above expectations since Darius Morris's freshman year. I just don't know what expectations are for Walton anymore.

Meanwhile, Spike Albrecht's presence would have certainly mitigated any downside here if he wasn't in the midst of dual hip surgeries. Instead he just probably mitigates any downside. The media has been told that he should be back in five or six months, no problem, but there are whispers he might be forced to redshirt. Albrecht was low usage and could not sustain his ludicrously low TO rates when forced into extensive action; he also led the post-LeVert team in assist rate by a huge margin and maintained shooting efficiency in a more difficult environment.

Spike was a major reason Michigan managed to remain competitive without Walton and Irvin. In the twelve games Michigan played without those two stars, Spike scored in double digits nine times, shot 45/43%, and had a stellar 60:19 assist:TO ratio. Even before the injuries Michigan was leaning on him heavily for minutes until the freshmen were somewhat more prepared. A senior reprise would have been most excellent. Is that still possible?

If not, MAAR steps into the breach. There are worse backup plans to your backup plans than a guy who put up 18 at Michigan State as a freshman and harassed DeAngelo Russell into an awful game. MAAR needs to work on his deep shooting (29% on fewer than two threes a game) and passing, but Michigan hasn't had a guy who can get to the basket like him since Trey. A bit more on him in the next section.

Minute projection: Fuzzy with injury issues. Call it Walton 25, Albrecht 15.

[After the JUMP: Caris, Dawkins, and the cavalry behind.]

Wisconsin 71, Michigan 60

Wisconsin 71, Michigan 60

Submitted by Ace on March 13th, 2015 at 2:24 PM

The season may very well be over, and that might be for the best. This Michigan squad squeezed every last bit of talent and effort out of an undersized, overmatched, and exceedingly young group over the last couple months, to the point that I'm not sure they have much left to prove this year. This team battled harder than anyone expected after the losses of Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, and there's little doubt they're going to be dangerous as all hell next year.

For the first 15 minutes of today's matchup against the Goliaths of Wisconsin, Michigan looked to be on their way to a stunning upset. Eventually, though, the mismatches up front caught up to the Wolverines, who started the game with Zak Irvin guarding Frank Kaminsky and Max Bielfeldt on Nigel Hayes. The Badgers closed the first half on an 18-4 run and kept Michigan at bay, though not by much, through the second half.

The Badgers won by virtue of size, talent, and experience. Aubrey Dawkins looked the part of a freshman against Sam Dekker, who led Wisconsin with 17 points and pulled down four offensive rebounds. Hayes managed nine points and three offensive boards of his own. Kaminsky talled 16 and 12 against a wave of double-teams. Fittingly, a Hayes putback after Kaminsky drew in M's interior defenders proved to be the final nail in the coffin.

But man, did Michigan fight. Irvin once again raised expectations for next year with a tremendous all-around performance. He scored 21 points on 9/18 shooting, hitting an array of NBA-level midrange shots, knocking down three of his seven triples, and finding his way to the basket. Tasked with cleaning the glass against Wisconsin's huge front line, he recorded 11 rebounds, all on defense, which was one off a career high. For good measure, he added three assists and three steals; a baseline dish to Ricky Doyle looked like it was ripped straight from Spike Albrecht's highlight reel.

Doyle, who's been quiet of late, gamely battled Kaminsky in the post, and got the better of the Big Ten Player of the Year his fair share of times: Doyle hit all six of his shots from the field to tally 12 points. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had a couple great takes to the hoop on his way to eight points on 4/7 shooting. Albrecht added ten, highlighted by a couple deep threes.

So, yes, Michigan lost, but the positive indicators for next season were everywhere: a pivoting Doyle finish against Kaminsky, Albrecht dribbling through defenders like Steph Curry before pulling up for a jumper, Dawkins throwing down an Irvin miss on the break, Rahk blowing by the defense for a layup, Kam Chatman tossing an inch-perfect entry pass to Doyle for a layup.

The Wolverines didn't have quite enough juice to overcome one of the best teams in the country. Suddenly, though, the big question for next year is this: how is John Beilein going to find playing time for all these promising young guys? After a season replete with real problems, that's one heck of a good problem.

Brief Bullets: Illinios

Brief Bullets: Illinios

Submitted by Brian on March 13th, 2015 at 11:34 AM

Big Ten tourney time is always weird for content what with games on at noon.

16588556137_eb776c4622_z

This was off an Irvin assist [Patrick Barron]

The light is on. Midseason complaining that Zak Irvin hadn't added very much to his game between his freshman and sophomore years was justified. Irvin was a bit more willing to get to the basket but he was a black hole that generated shots only for himself and the predictability of his game—Beilein once mentioned that he really needed to shot fake like, ever—was beginning to catch up to him now that the league had a scouting report on him.

Then Irvin had the light go on. Alex tweeted this out yesterday and it amply demonstrates Irvin's expanding game:

large[1]

He's developed pick and roll options other than meh pullup jumpers. (He's good at them; they're still way less efficient than, say, asking Aubrey Dawkins to do his best GRIII impression on an alley-oop.) He's generating shots for his teammates, which will eventually make the shots he does take better.

This is necessary if Michigan's going to return to the outrageous offensive efficiency that drove their Final Four/Big Ten Champions outfits. I've grumbled about Michigan's unusually low assist numbers for big chunks of the year. Led by Irvin, Michigan acquired 15 against the Illini.

I mean.

9zV1VUK

Via Ace

The king of yesterday's assists. I cocked an eyebrow with about 11 minutes left when Michigan executed a beautiful team sequence that got Doyle a bunny. All five Michigan players touched it after Spike dumped it to Irvin in the corner:

  • Irvin drove baseline, drawing help D and kicking to
  • MAAR, who passed it to
  • Chatman standing in the short corner, who drew recovering attention. At this point
  • Spike, who had zero players looking at him or checking him because of the ball movement, cut to the elbow, again drawing a double team from an unprepared on-ball defender and Egwu; Spike drove, whereupon
  • Doyle was the recipient of an easy bucket at the rim.

It was a brief flashback to the last couple years, when Michigan would regularly delight with gorgeous basketball. It's coming back you guys.

Next year man. Caris offered some quotes about his upcoming NBA decision that sounded genuinely torn. Judge for yourself:

"It will probably be right up to the last day," LeVert said Thursday, following U-M's 73-55 win over Illinois in the Big Ten tournament.

As for his thoughts on returning to school or entering the draft, LeVert remains undecided.

"Coming back next year would be very fun for me and very beneficial for me and the team as well," LeVert said. "Going to the NBA would also be fun. That's a lifetime dream. It's definitely going to be a tough decision."

That sounds different than the Robinson/Stauskas decisions. As of a couple weeks ago, Sam Webb thought that LeVert was leaning towards returning. So that would be nice.

With or without him, though, Michigan should be very deep and reasonably experienced. An approximate depth chart:

PG: Walton, Albrecht
SG: LeVert, MAAR
SF: Dawkins, Robinson
PF: Irvin, Chatman, Wagner(?)
C: Doyle, Donnal, Wilson

Swap the 2-4 spots to your desire. It's hard to find enough minutes for everyone if LeVert comes back: if Walton, Irvin, and LeVert all get 30 minutes and Spike gets 20—estimates that seem conservative—then MAAR, Dawkins, Robinson, and Chatman are all fighting over 50 minutes a game. Even the scenario with LeVert gone those guys can comfortably split 80.

If Michigan stays healthy, I predict autobench complaining plummets.

MAAR will go at you. Nanna Egwu is not exactly a complete basketball player—I'll miss him getting outrebounded by his entire team—but he is very long and contests shots well. Abdur-Rahkman doesn't care about that. He will drive on anyone and get a reasonable shot up; if it doesn't go in he's set the team up for a Kobe assist. Another year of development and he's definitely a guy who can fill in the point guard minutes Spike will evacuate.

FWIW. Michigan did offer Wagner, as you would expect for a guy who flew in from Germany. Rivals's Eric Bossi gives a ballpark estimate of where he'd be if he was ranked:

His shot looks good and he's very good in pick and pop situations between 12 and 17 feet, he has good skill level, though he's perhaps a bit mechanical in his movements at this time, and he's a good high post passer who competes on both ends but needs strength.

"He's on the NBA radar but not as an early entry guy just yet," Bossi said. "He's more on radar as somebody to monitor when he makes it to a college program."

If he were a part of the 2015 class (and he would come in this fall), he'd be a top 20 to 40 type prospect as an American prep.

Not bad.