11/10/2014 – Michigan 86, Wayne State 43 – 0-0
Hey: basketball. I took in the exhibition, which exhibited various things I'll now detail.
I hope this was just nerves. Freshmen had a rough shooting night with the limited exceptions of Doyle and Dawkins, none more so than Chatman. He airballed his first two threes, took a bad, contested long two, and bricked a THJ-style pull-up long two; he did hit a three late.
On the good side, his other bucket was an impressive drive to the basket with a finish that made a lot of people look at their buddy so they could do this:
He also added four assists and led the team in rebounding with six; he also looked capable of switching on the perimeter at least as effectively as GRIII.
Shooting was never a strength for Robinson—he developed an elbow jumper he was proficient at but hovered around 30% from three—so even if Chatman isn't a great threat from deep Michigan won't be backsliding too much. And Beilein believes he can coach up anyone's three point stroke.
DJ Wilson. Wilson's going to be an interesting case this year. He's skinny as all git out but with his size and hops he's going to be much better at altering shots than anyone on last year's team other than Horford. Michigan has been playing him mostly at the 5 with occasional forays at the 4, and while Doyle's lingering ankle thing has something to do with that you get the feeling that when opponents have a lanky dude in there Michigan is going to counter with Wilson.
I could have sworn Wilson hit two late threes but the box score only gives him credit for one. Foot on the line? Either way he mitigated some of the freshman shooting questions by hitting those late.
Aubrey Dawkins. Skinnier version of GRIII. Can shoot some, 6'6", athletic, not going to create much. Had some issues dribbling.
MAAR. Or "Rahk." Rahk appears to be Beilein's favorite way of saying Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman without taking up nine syllables, and it has its appeal.
Anyway, MAAR has a much better handle than the rest of the freshman and is your third point guard. He had a nice take to the hoop that he followed with a layup that was way too hard; he had a second drive on which he'd gotten an angle to the bucket when his handle betrayed him and the ball looped out of bounds.
He ended up not hitting a shot; early yet.
Center fight. There are four options: Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, DJ Wilson, and Max Bielfeldt. I expect Doyle to emerge into a clear starter, with Donnal giving him a breather. The lack of pick and pop game with Donnal on the court says somethin' about somethin'.
Doyle is both one inch taller and somehow way bigger than Donnal. He seems to have considerably more defensive upside. He's also finished much better around the basket in the two glimpses we've seen of him this fall. Donnal has been a below the rim Morgan type without Morgan's crazy efficiency; Doyle is finishing with both hands easily because he's got those super-huge hands and long arms that allow him to gently deposit the ball on the glass from whatever angle is called for.
This person looks like a person who will finish around the rim. [Fuller]
Wilson will rotate in at the 4 and the 5 depending on matchups and how Chatman's seemingly mercurial shooting stroke is going.
The returning folks. All looked pretty good minus some uncharacteristic three-point foibles (Irvin, Walton, Albrecht, and LeVert combined to go 3 for 12) that we can ignore because we have full-season samples for all those guys in which they hit 40% from deep.
I got this [Fuller]
LeVert looked ready to take on the alpha dog mantle passed down from Burke to Stauskas and now to him. He's taking the late clock shots; his length and ability to get to good spots on the floor mean these are usually okay shots.
Irvin was much more active on the boards, hauling in five rebounds in 29 minutes, and even had shots from within the arc(!). On the podcast we discussed how Irvin needs to be a "three AND" guy this year, whether that's perimeter defense or rebounding or sometimes venturing inside the line. So far so good.
Walton was hampered by a scary-looking injury that turned out to be a cramp; he was very assured on the ball and got to the line seven times—would have been eight if not for the injury.
The rotation. Until such time as one of the freshmen gains enough trust to be put out there in pressure situations, expect the main backcourt sub to be Spike. Beilein's always kept a short bench and Albrecht's utterly reliable with the ball in his hands. This is Beilein's favorite thing. He'll spot Walton for eight minutes a game and then Michigan will have ten or so minutes with both points on the floor, leaving 5-10 minutes for MAAR and Dawkins to scrap over.
A lack of flow. You know it's early and you've got a bunch of freshmen when your guards have to keep yelling at the posts to screen for them. Michigan used its time on offense inefficiently, with several incidents where plays had to be reset because of poor spacing and miscommunication.
In particular, there was one play featuring DJ Wilson where Wilson had two obvious opportunities to drift to the three point line in the corner and either force someone out of the middle or get a good shot. Instead he hung out 15 feet from the basket and neither option opened up. He was far from the only culprit, but that stood out as a moment where I may have been more familiar with Beilein's system than freshman X—I blinked a couple times because I couldn't understand what Wilson was doing.
Beilein seems pretty frustrated right now:
"We don’t have a very good package in, and I’m trying to figure out how that’s happened,” Beilein said. “We held things back today so it’s not on film, but it’s not very far right now. We’re creeping along. We’re moving in the right direction, but it’s really slow.”
He added, “It’s my biggest quandary every day, is whether we can move forward faster. We spend so much time on defense, because we realize that shots aren’t (always) going to drop. It’s hard to believe that we went to Europe and we aren’t further along and we’re not moving as quickly as I would have in past years.”
This team isn't appreciably younger than either of his previous two, which were amongst the youngest in the country. Hopefully they get it figured out before the preseason tourney rolls around.
How to stay good
Michigan endured yet another talent exodus this offseason and has to regress from last year's all-time Kenpom offensive efficiency record. To maintain their elite level they're going to have to make it up in other places. Here are a few candidates.
Rebound some low-hanging fruit. Michigan's rebounding production out of the 3 and 4 spots last year was not impressive. 6'6" PF Glenn Robinson had a 6% OREB rate and an 11.5 DREB rate; 6'6" SF Zak Irvin had a 3.3% OREB rate and a 7.7 DREB rate. Irvin was in fact the least likely guy on the team to get a defensive rebound—even Spike Albrecht beat him out.
A selection of 6'7"-ish forwards in the Big Ten last year:
- Troy Williams, IU: 8 OREB and 15 DREB
- LaQuinton Ross, OSU: 7.5 and 17
- Terran Petteway, NEB: 3 and 15
- Shavon Shields, NEB: 5 and 16
- Jon Ekey, ILL: 8 and 15
- Aaron White, Iowa: 7 and 19
- Melsahn Basabe, Iowa: 12 and 23
- Branden Dawson, MSU: 13 and 21
- Denzel Valentine, MSU: 5 and 18
(Should be noted that the Nebraska guys' OREB rates are a reflection of a team-wide allergy.) It isn't too hard to find guys with much better production. While Dawson and White are rebounding specialists who find a lot of their value as players in what happens when a shot caroms off the rim, no one is going to mistake Williams, Petteway, Valentine, or Ross for D-oriented role players.
Michigan can seriously beef up production here, and so far so good. Chatman led the team with six rebounds; Irvin had five.
Block some dang shots. Michigan had vanishingly little shotblocking on the team last year. Michigan was 308th nationally, and this contributed to their very bad two-point D.
The freshmen promise to change that. Wilson is long and bouncy and once Doyle settles in it's easy to see him getting his share of swats. His arms are oversized. Michigan had six blocks in this game, albeit against a highly undersized opponent. If Doyle and Wilson can block some shots, alter others, and convince drivers to pull up because of the first two items, that goes some distance towards repairing last year's conference-worst two point D.
Get some steals. Steals are great. Open-court turnovers lead to transition opportunities on which Michigan is deadly. Michigan had eight, with the sneaky Spike Albrecht picking up three.
Stay in front. We all love Nik Stauskas but his defense was never a strong suit; meanwhile Robinson was not awesome laterally and gave up some inches to most of the guys he was checking. Replacing Stauskas with Irvin could be a major upgrade—too early to tell yet—and having athletes like Chatman and Wilson who are close to GRIII's level while also being significantly longer should help the D recover from its swoon into the triple digits on Kenpom.
Hooray basketball. Hooray not being scoreless 30 minutes into the game.