Belated Basketball Mailbag: Two Posts, OSU-Level Defense, Murderer's Row

Belated Basketball Mailbag: Two Posts, OSU-Level Defense, Murderer's Row

Submitted by Brian on April 23rd, 2013 at 12:08 PM

Playing big?


512x[1]I've been watching the debate over who is going to start for Michigan next year with McGary and Robinson moving down to the 4 and 3 respectively. My thought is that doesn't UM need Stauskas or LeVert to start at the 2 because they need the extra ballhandler to assist the point guard?

I don't know much about Irvin's ball skills, but last year Michigan had Stauskas and Hardaway to assist Burke with bringing the ball up the court from time to time, so at a minimum they need at least one other above-average ball handler to assist Walton/Albrecht in their starting 5.  Thoughts on this?



Like everyone else, I did a virtual spit take when McGary and Robinson declared they'd be moving a slot down in the offense. That goes against everything John Beilein's spent his career developing, and "right after a loss in the national title game" seems like a weird time to decide a conventional two-post lineup is where it's at.

First, one of Stauskas and LeVert is going to be on the court almost all the time in any scenario. When they're both on the bench, Michigan's proably in a dual-point lineup. Irvin does have some off the dribble game, but he dribbles looking for the pullup even in high school and will struggle to create shots by himself in year one. Minutes for Horford and Morgan at the five come from the guys who would play the three not named GRIII (ie, LeVert and Robinson), not the SG position.

Let's take a look at hypothetical worlds, one in which Michigan continues much like they have been, another in which McGary is mostly at the 4 and Robinson the three.


PG: Walton (25) / Albrecht (15)
SG: Stauskas (30) / LeVert (10)
SF: Irvin (30) / LeVert (10)
PF: GRIII (30) / Morgan (10)
C: McGary (30) / Morgan&Horford (10)


PG: Walton (25) / Albrecht (15)
SG: Stauskas (30) / LeVert(10)
SF: GRIII: (20) / Irvin (20)
PF: McGary (30) / GRIII (10)
C: Morgan (25) / Horford (15)

You're taking minutes from LeVert and Irvin and handing them to Morgan and Horford. Is that plausible? We are talking about a redshirt senior and a redshirt junior at center versus a freshman and sophomore who was on a redshirt track last year, so… it isn't totally implausible.

To make it work, though, McGary has to be ready for a lot of weight offensively as a high-post forward who can be a triple threat from the free throw line. Otherwise the spacing Beilein's spent his career building breaks down and things get grunty. Also, Robinson has to be a more willing and effective shooter. Michigan isn't going to be able to go with two bigs if the starting three has a usage rate of 13%.

Do I think this is particularly likely? Uh… no. I do think we'll see periods where McGary acts as a high-post fulcrum, and Michigan will try to develop a two-post offensive plan for times when Robinson isn't feeling it, is in foul trouble, or has a bad matchup like this year's Michigan State games. Michigan will try to acquire some flexibility they lacked this year when Robinson's backup was Still Glenn Robinson.

Upshot: Michigan will spend a lot of time this offseason working with those two guys at the positions they said they would work at, and then go with what works. That'll depend on

  1. How much LeVert improves
  2. How good Irvin is immediately
  3. How quickly Morgan can shake his funk

I think the answers to #1 and #2 are "a lot" and "quite good as long as he's not burdened with creating shots too much," so talk of playing big will remain mostly talk.



where is M's Oladipo?

Hey Brian,

I understand Michigan will be losing Burke and Hardaway BUT I feel that this might not be that big of a blow if they improve defensively. See their defensive ceiling is very high and with an entire offseason ahead maybe this team could become one of the better defensive teams in the Big Ten but the question is, how do they do so?

I view Ohio State as an example. They lost almost 43% of their scoring with the losses of Sullinger and Buford but managed to be within one poor half of being in the Final Four. A lot of their success could be attributed to their outstanding defense.

- Ali Maki

Where is Michigan's defense going to come from? Ohio State didn't just have Aaron Craft, they also had 20 minutes a game from steal fiend Shannon Scott and rebounding from everywhere. Fun fact: every non-point guard to play for OSU this year had a higher DREB% than Nnanna Egwu, and even the PGs were in double digits.

Meanwhile, Michgian's 39th-ranked defense is the second-best of his entire career. (The 2011 outfit finished 34th.) Thad Matta has done better than that every year but one since 2003. Beilein compensates by having great offenses—actually, Matta has a lot of those, too. Anyway. The point is: until we see Michigan take a leap forward into uncharted territory for Beilein it's going to be tough to predict they can scrape together a top-ten defense, which OSU has been for three years running.

I have heard that Walton and Irvin are good defenders—Irvin in particular is dedicated and long—and if LeVert can turn some of his rep into actual defense, they should be improved on the perimeter. They still won't have that impact defender you can put on the other team's top scorer or leave in the post to murder anyone who steps in the paint. Without an Oladipo or Craft or Withey or Russ Smith, it's tough for any defense to be great. Those guys are kind of like high-usage players on offense, taking the heaviest duty and allowing other guys to base their game off of what the opponent probably can't do. I don't see one of those guys on the roster next year. Maybe LeVert, maybe Irvin, but probably not.

This is not to say that I don't expect them to improve defensively. They will be less blitheringly young next year. Players improve most from year one to year two, and Michigan has an awful lot of guys making that transition. They will improve. It's a long way from 39 to 9, though.


Consider what Beilein has accomplished, coach a coach. IF we win tonight, he'll have bested Shaka Smart (Final Four, 2011), Bill Self (national champs, 2008), Billy Donovan (national champs, 2006, 2007), Jim Boeheim (national champs, 2003), and Rick Pitino (national champs, 1996). And he'll have done so with the youngest team in the tournament. Wow.


We didn't win but… yeah, wow.

Murderer's row.

Hey Brian,

It seems like Michigan went through Murderer's Row to get to the Final.  Since the seedings can be pretty political, does Kenpom or some other objective measure tell us how difficult our path was compared to the Finals teams in recent history? 

Yes, Kenpom in fact did pile together a toughest-path ranking, and Michigan made the top ten at #8 of 44 teams to make the Final Four in the past 11 years. This year's Wichita State team was #1. The top ten is mostly 3s and 4s plus outlying small conference schools (along with WSU, George Mason and Butler x2), which makes sense since often a 3 or 4 will have to go through a tough second-round matchup and then take out the 1- and 2-seeds in the region.

In Michigan's case the 2-seed went down only to be replaced by what was then the #1 team in Kenpom, Florida. (UF finished second.)



I hope this painting is called "Malcolm Gladwell's childlike naiveté"

I'm curious about Beilein's defensive tactics. Why doesn't M ever run a full-court press? I would have guessed that a young team that rarely fouls would be a good team to press with, but apparently not. Why is that? Then down the road, when these gents have another year of experience, do you think Beilein will feel more comfortable switching up defensive schemes in a game?

Short answer: a press is not free. Short answer #2: …and Michigan was not constructed to run one.

This was the subject of the dumb article Malcolm Gladwell wrote that marked the end of his status as a sports blogosphere fave-rave. Gladwell observed a sociopathic girls' basketball coach (emphasis on girls: 12 year olds, dude) running a full court press and mused about how everyone who doesn't run one must be using their brain wrong. Rick Pitino comes in for praise for actually having the smarts to run a press, first at Providence and then elsewhere. Louisville just won the title, and all it took was… uh… a veteran, hugely talented team specifically recruited to run it.

The press can be effective if you recruit to it. As we've seen with VCU and Louisville, you usually end up with a certain kind of team: cat-quick small guards, a big who can run the floor, an undersized power forward, a deep bench, and one guy who isn't a bricklayer from three. Michigan doesn't look much like this press team except at PF and designated corner gunner.

Most important is the depth: Michigan had none. Teams that press heavily use a lot of energy. They don't run their players out there for almost 90% of available minutes (Burke), or even 85 (Hardaway, Robinson). UL's Smith and Siva were down around 75%; no other Cardinal cracked 65. No one on VCU or Arkansas cracks 70. In Michigan's case, a press would have meant a big chunk of gametime with LeVert or Albrecht out there instead of Burke, Hardaway, et al. And there's no way Robinson can go 35, 38, 40 minutes in a lot of games, so then you're cobbling together 10+ minutes of awkward lineups. Even if you can effectively deploy the press, is it worth those six minutes a game it puts Trey Burke on the bench?

Meanwhile, Michigan was already discombobulated in half-court defense for big chunks of the year. Time given over to a press is time not spent working on half-court rotations that are useful on every possession, or time not spent working on offense. You don't get a press for free, and the consequences of having a crappy one are easy buckets.

Beilein's not a press guy, so Michigan won't run one next year. That's like asking Al Borges to run a spread—if he has to, he'll do it, but it will always be awkward. Hypothetically next year would be a better opportunity since Derrick Walton won't be the player of the year and LeVert and Albrecht will be higher-quality bench options in year two. But it's not happening.