[Ed-Ace: It's my pleasure to welcome Matt Way as a basketball contributor. Matt also contributes to bballbreakdown.com and his work has shown up in several corners of the basketball internets. As you'd expect, he'll be bringing an analytical bent with film breakdowns to match. We're very excited to have him on board, and you can follow him on Twitter @waymatth.]
Nine seasons into the John Beilein era, Michigan basketball still lacked a defensive identity. Beilein’s defenses had never finished in the top 35 nationally and they routinely failed spectacularly against good offenses. Opponents replicated the success that Michigan’s offense did in creating open looks from behind the arc.
Enter Billy Donlon.
As the primary defensive assistant, Donlon transformed a system focused primarily on not fouling into a more aggressive scheme which became among the best in the country at limiting three point attempts. His replacement, Luke Yaklich, improved on the foundation Donlon laid, resulting in Michigan fielding the third-best defense in the nation by year’s end.
|Michigan Basketball Three-Point Defense Rankings|
|Season||Opp. 3PAr||Opp. 3PT%|
Under Donlon and Yaklich, Michigan’s defense has become a top ten unit in terms of suppressing attempts from behind the arc.
Research suggests that three-point defense at both the college and NBA levels is largely about preventing attempts. Certainly teams can control the quality of shots by closely contesting them, but once the ball is released, a defense has no impact over whether it ultimately goes in. Contesting shooters is most impactful in its deterrence of the shot itself.
The variance in three-point defense is evident in Michigan’s opponents’ recent shooting percentages. Despite suppressing attempts in 2016-17, they were at the bottom of the barrel in terms of shooting percentage. Ranking similarly this past year while running a similar scheme, opponents shot significantly worse. Some of this likely relates to the quality of contests, but a lot of it is due to bad luck.
Yaklich’s iteration was better than its predecessors in one important area: defending screens. Where teams in the past took more casual routes chasing off-the-ball, last year’s team was aggressive in both fighting through picks and switching them.
[Hit THE JUMP for a deep dive into stats and video.]