Hoops Preview 2017-18: Point Guards

Hoops Preview 2017-18: Point Guards

Submitted by Ace on November 8th, 2017 at 4:05 PM

[Photos/graphic: Marc-Gregor Campredon]

The team preview posts begin with Michigan's biggest hole to fill. Derrick Walton was nothing short of spectacular in his final season running the point for John Beilein.

Ever since Michigan picked up Ohio grad transfer Jaaron Simmons this spring, the expectation has been that he'd step into the starting spot. At least for the moment, however, this is an open competition with sophomore Zavier Simpson and freshman Eli Brooks. John Beilein at last week's media day:

“It’s all three. We have a scrimmage coming up Sunday. I have no idea who I’m gonna start, it could be any one of those three. That is the honest truth. I would expect that to be revolving a little bit and hopefully somebody wins it down the line. We might have a quarterback controversy.”

So far Beilein has gone with experience within his system; Simpson started last week's exhibition. While it looks like a two-man race between him and Simmons, expect to see all three point guards on the floor as Beilein does his usual early-season tinkering with lineup combinations.

"None of those guards came in and said ‘okay, I’m the guy.’ Maybe it’s because they’re playing so hard against each other, really. There is a war going on out there every day and it’s really good."

Beilein is certainly hoping someone steps to the forefront. As Michigan fans well know, his best teams in Ann Arbor have all featured excellent point guard play.

[Hit THE JUMP for individual player previews.]

Basketbullets: Simmons Fit, Scholarships, Detroit In Detroit

Basketbullets: Simmons Fit, Scholarships, Detroit In Detroit

Submitted by Ace on April 25th, 2017 at 3:16 PM

Jaaron Simmons: How Does He Fit?

Simmons gets a lot of tough buckets at the basket.

Michigan added a significant piece to the roster late last night in Ohio grad transfer Jaaron Simmons, who's in line to be the starting point guard provided he doesn't jump to the NBA. While that seems unlikely given his draft stock—he's unranked on DraftExpress and listed as "likely undrafted" on NBADraftNet's rundown of potential early entrants—Simmons told MLive's Brendan Quinn he's discussing that possibility with John Beilein:

In a phone interview with MLive on Tuesday, Simmons said he is indeed transferring to Michigan and has accepted the program's lone available scholarship. However, having previously declared for the NBA Draft, he does not yet know if he will withdraw [and] spend next season in college basketball.

"I haven't decided yet," Jaaron Simmons said (pronounced "Juh-Ron"). "Me and coach (John) have been talking about that, but I haven't decided."

Simmons said he'll continue to talk to his family and Beilein about the choice to stay in the draft or withdraw and "come up with the decision that's best for me."

Simmons said whether he receives an invitation to the Draft Combine or not will not weigh in that decision. He said he does not have a timeline for his final decision, but does not plan on waiting until the NCAA's May 24 withdraw deadline.

Beilein can't comment on Simmons until he's officially added to the roster, but I can't imagine he'd accept a commitment for the last open 2017-18 scholarship without a pretty good idea that Simmons would withdraw from the draft. Unless his projection changes dramatically, it's hard to imagine Simmons would want to stay in the draft anyway.

Brian covered the basics on Simmons when news of his commitment broke last night. He's first and foremost a pick-and-roll creator, and he took on a huge usage load at Ohio, where his efficiency was hurt by having to create the vast majority of his shots. After the jump, I'll explore how he fits into the projected lineup for 2017-18.


WTKA Roundtable: They Took and We Gave

WTKA Roundtable: They Took and We Gave

42 minutes


NBA? Not open yet. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Sam is back.

Things discussed:

  • Tournament wrap: Wish we had another shot at Oregon.
  • What if Mo Bamba came? He won’t but assume he does. But he won’t. But if you want to be a stretch four in the NBA? Sam has a gut feeling about something here.
  • Dropping Donnal: Michigan is confident Austin Davis and Jon Teske would be ahead of him next year.
  • Moe and Wilson to the NBA? Probably not because of depth—discussion of other players (e.g. Swanigan) who might come back because of it.
  • What to expect from Xavier Simpson next year: Brian compares him to the last Michigan guard you might expect. Also Eli Brooks.
  • The Dienhart vapid #content generator has expanded to basketball. Here’s some takes on the Big Ten next year that take more into account than whether you can read names off a roster.

You can catch the entire episode on Michigan Insider's podcast stream on Audioboom.

Segment two is here. Segment three is here.


Hoops Mailbag: Next Year

Hoops Mailbag: Next Year

Submitted by Ace on March 28th, 2017 at 9:59 AM

It's their team now. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

I'm not ready yet. A memorable season and the collegiate careers of Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin are over; the postmortem will come when I've had a little more time to collect my scattered thoughts. In the interim, a six-part mailbag question about next season has sat in my mailbox for the last few weeks, and while I'm not quite prepared to look back, I'm ready to look ahead.

I'll get this caveat out of the way now: Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson haven't made decisions about their potential NBA futures. This post makes the not-entirely-safe assumption both will be back. DraftExpress' latest 2017 mock doesn't feature either player; in fact, only Wilson makes their 2018 projection. In Chad Ford's latest update, Wagner is a "stock down" after Oregon while Wilson held steady as a late first/early second projection who "most [scouts] think needs another year of school." There's a decent chance both stay. If not, there will be plenty in this space on the ramifications for 2017-18.

Now that we've addressed the elephant, here are one reader's most pressing questions heading into next season and my attempts to answer them.

Can X make the leap? [Bryan Fuller]

Will we have the necessary performance from a Lead Guard to succeed?
We can gush all we want about the big guys and the allure of Charles Mathews, but Michigan's offense has only reached its potential when there was a lead guard at the controls -- Burke, Stauskas, Morris (to a lesser extent), and the 2017 version of Walton.  Can Michigan reach that potential with Simpson/MAAR having the ball in their hands most of the time?

Xavier Simpson came along at the perfect time. He got a year to learn from Derrick Walton, get his feet wet, and process the intricacies of John Beilein's offense. As a drive-first, shoot-second player, he'll step into the ideal lineup to fit his skill set. Simpson's iffy outside shot would normally put a ceiling on the offense; the Darius Morris squads topped out at 38th in offensive efficiency on KenPom. Those teams couldn't play five-out, however. With Wagner and Wilson, this team can and will.

That should leave ample room for Simpson to operate off the dribble. While we only saw flashes of his scoring ability as a freshman, it's worth remembering he was capable of scoring 65 points in a high school playoff game. As he got more comfortable within Beilein's offense, he began to display his playmaking ability, especially off the high screen. He showed no fear of the nation's leading shot-blocker in the BTT semifinal:

In the conference title game, he displayed a Morris-like ability to both see and make a pass from a difficult angle:

Simpson isn't going to be a dead-eye shooter like Walton; hopefully he can use the leadup to next season to refine his outside shot enough where he's at least not treated like Tum Tum Nairn. Regardless, I expect he'll be a relatively efficient offensive player because of his quickness, court vision, and the surrounding talent; he won't need to be the number one or possibly even nos. 2-4 scoring option. As long as he keeps his fouling under control he should be an upgrade over Walton as an on-ball defender.

I'm not entirely sold on Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman as a primary ballhander; he still seems to decide before he drives whether he's going to shoot or pass. He'll take on more late-clock possessions because of his ability to create decent looks for himself outside of the offense. Unless he has a major breakthrough as a pick-and-roll ballhandler, which isn't entirely out of the question, he'll still be better-suited as an off-guard. As I'll discuss later in this mailbag, however, I believe Eli Brooks is going to have a role on this team.

[Hit THE JUMP for Ultimate X Factor and much more.]

Basketbullets: Matchup Chess, The New Rotation, Wagner/Wilson Quote Bonanza

Basketbullets: Matchup Chess, The New Rotation, Wagner/Wilson Quote Bonanza

Submitted by Ace on February 28th, 2017 at 3:46 PM

Stopping all of this has proven quite difficult. [All photos: Bryan Fuller]

Generally, opposing coach press conferences after losses are brief and uninformative. After the Moe Wagner-Derrick Walton pick-and-pop obliterated Purdue's defense to the point they had to entirely change strategies, however, Matt Painter went into great detail on the problems posed by Michigan's offense, specifically those that result from facing two big men that can shoot.

To set this up: Purdue started the game with Caleb Swanigan defending Wagner. Michigan exploited the matchup by forcing Swanigan out to the perimeter, usually with high screens. Wagner feasted.

Wagner went 9-for-12 in the first half, hitting 5-of-6 twos and 4-of-6 threes. Michigan fielding a lineup with five viable outside shooting threats wreaked havoc on Purdue's defense and their rotation. 7'2" center Isaac Haas usually plays 20 minutes per game, often pairing with Swanigan to form an imposing frontcourt duo. Here's what happened when Purdue put both big men out there:

If Michigan's big men can't shoot, Swanigan wouldn't be in no-man's land, and Haas would be in position to block Simpson's shot into the tenth row if he manages to get into the paint anyway. The threat of Wilson and Wagner instead opened a cavernous lane for the quick point guard to bolt through.

As a result, Haas played only seven minutes in the first half, and just two with Swanigan also on the court. The adjustment Painter had to make in the second half forced his second-best player off the floor almost entirely:

We just went and switched everything, knocked them out of their [pick-and-pop] action. The downside of that is now you have your bigs guarding their guards and they can break you off the dribble. Then you have to help, now you’ve got to get to their shooters. When you have a good point guard and you have bigs that are skilled that can shoot and spread you out, you have to pick your poison. We can flip it on them, but when you don’t score the ball at the rim—and I thought we had a lot of opportunities for Haas in there, missed dunk, layups, a hook, that he normally makes—if we could’ve made those plays, we could’ve lived with all of it, because we wouldn’t have been out of the game, and now we put them in a bind because they’re eventually going to foul us and get out of the game. But if we can’t keep you in the game because [of defense], that gets hard for us. We just decided at half that we had to switch, and then when Donnal came in the game we could play Isaac [Haas]. But obviously we didn’t play well enough to be able to get back in.

Haas played four second-half minutes, entering the game after Michigan inserted Donnal and exiting at the first stoppage after Beilein lifted Donnal and put DJ Wilson at center. The combination of Wagner and Wilson in Beilein's offense rendered the second-best player on the Big Ten's best team effectively unplayable.

[Hit THE JUMP to see how Michigan took advantage of Purdue's new defensive tack.]

Michigan 82, Purdue 70

Michigan 82, Purdue 70

Submitted by Ace on February 25th, 2017 at 7:29 PM

Derrick Walton capped his Crisler career with a vintage performance. [Bryan Fuller]

"We're not done yet," said a triumphant Derrick Walton, addressing the Crisler Center crowd after a Senior Day victory over Purdue that all but locked in Michigan to a NCAA tournament bid.

The Wolverines looked the part of a team capable of making a run in March. They scored on their first possession against the current Big Ten leaders, getting a Moe Wagner layup off a Walton assist. Those two would lead the way in a game Michigan never trailed.

The matchup of Wagner and national player of the year candidate Caleb Swanigan took center stage in the first half. The German big man didn't just hold his own: he dominated. Forcing the burlier Swanigan to defend in space, Wagner poured in 22 first-half points, making five of six two-pointers and raining in four of his six three-point attempts. While Swanigan had an efficient nine points in the half, timely Michigan double-teams forced two turnovers, and he couldn't get the defense to collapse—the normally hot-shooting Boilermakers went only 5-for-16 on threes.

"That's just my guy, man," Walton said of Wagner. "I've got an absurd amount of respect for him. We go through [the pick-and-pop] so much in pregame, that's just our little thing. He knows where I'm at. I know where he's at. With a defense like that, I feel it was my priority to get him the ball in space."

Purdue adjusted in the second half, putting Vincent Edwards on Wagner and switching on every screen, but by then it was too late. Duncan Robinson's corner three-pointer sent Michigan into halftime with a 15-point lead, and the Wolverines would push the margin as high as 22 points before a last-gasp Boilermakers comeback made matters uncomfortable for a couple possessions.

Wagner scored 22 of his 24 points in the first half. [Fuller]

Fittingly, the seniors to play a huge role in fending off that comeback. Zak Irvin struggled to score again today, but he made his mark with a big defensive play, chasing down Carsen Edwards to force a fast break miss when Purdue had a chance to cut the lead to single digits. The Boilermakers subsequently got it to a six-point game with 2:14 to play. Walton ended the threat by ducking under Swanigan to hit leaning three-pointer that beat the shot clock and effectively ended the threat.

"I silently thanked God because there was no reason I should've made the shot," Walton said. "It was probably one of the worst possessions we had all game. You just kind of dribble the ball around for six seconds. It's just one of those times. We had a lot going against us this season. It was one of those moments where it was kind of 'okay then, we finally got a good bounce of the ball.'"

"I was actually about to chase it. It was not a good shot."

Walton finished with a very Walton stat line: 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting, 11 rebounds, five assists, no turnovers, and a steal. Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman both finished in double figures on combined 7-for-9 shooting. DJ Wilson added nine points and a critical stint at center in the second half when Mark Donnal proved ineffective. Xavier Simpson got into the act, hitting both his field goals—a transition corner three and an eye-opening layup after driving past Swanigan—and dishing out a pair of assists.

Xavier Simpson gave the fans a taste of what's to come after Walton. [Fuller]

The team was in high spirits in the aftermath. Asked if Irvin cried, Walton couldn't help but laugh, then said loud enough for his fellow senior to hear, "I think he choked up on the mic. He did. I looked at him."

"No I didn't!" Irvin yelled from across the room.

They know there's still more to accomplish, however. 

"We already experienced something like this where we've had some success," Walton said, referring to the wins at Madison Square Garden. "We want to show who we really are by consistently bringing the same effort."

"You've just got to spend a film session with me to know that they know they haven't punched any ticket," said John Beilein. "There's a lot of work to do. You don't know what can happen down the stretch here with teams that are trying to get in there."

Northwestern fits that description. Michigan will head to Evanston on Wednesday in the midst of their best stretch of basketball all season. The team we've seen the last few weeks could make quite a bit of noise in March. Today's win made it much more likely they'll get the chance to do so.

Basketbullets: Bubble Watch, X Is Coming, Transition Triples

Basketbullets: Bubble Watch, X Is Coming, Transition Triples

Submitted by Ace on February 10th, 2017 at 12:19 PM

Bracket Watch: Still A Thing!

Derrick Walton is settling in for a potential tourney run. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Michigan's NCAA tournament hopes were hanging by a thread heading into Tuesday's blowout of MSU. In the aftermath, well, they're still hanging by a thread, but at least the thread hasn't snapped. The Wolverines are the fifth team out of the field in last night's update of the Bracket Matrix, making 31 of the 99 included brackets. They're moving in the right direction, however, making 17 of the 40 that were updated on Wednesday or Thursday. That update doesn't include today's revised brackets; CBS's Jerry Palm, who already had Michigan as an 11-seed, bumped them up to a 10-seed today—clear of the last four in.

As ESPN's Eamonn Brennan points out in his latest Bubble Watch post, Michigan can strengthen their case for an at-large bid on Sunday by weakening the case for Indiana, a fellow bubble team:

Despite last week's home loss to Ohio State, this could end up being a net-plus week for Michigan's once-long NCAA tournament odds. The Wolverines blitzed Michigan State by 29 on Tuesday, and on Sunday they travel to Indiana, which is not only vulnerable but one of the bubble teams the Wolverines need to drift away if they want to secure their own bid in the coming weeks.

Not that you need the rooting incentive, but Michigan State is another one of those bubble teams that Michigan is hoping to pass; while they did so on Palm's bracket, most have kept the Spartans a couple seed lines above the Wolverines. Michigan still needs to win more than their fair share of coin-flip-ish games down the stretch to have a realistic shot at the field; a victory on Sunday would go a long way towards making that a reality.

[After THE JUMP: getting X going, transition threes, lineage of poodles, etc.]