2015-16 Season In Review: The Bad

Submitted by Ace on March 31st, 2016 at 3:20 PM

Michigan's top options had a tough time creating good looks at the rim.

Injuries. Let's get this out of the way. Michigan managed to make the tournament despite losing Caris LeVert, who was playing at an All-American level when injury struck, and Spike Albrecht, whose absence kept Derrick Walton on the court for huge minute totals and caused John Beilein to give Andrew Dakich a spot at the end of the rotation. Add in Zak Irvin's wonky back, which affected his shot well into the season, and Derrick Walton still not looking like the player he was before his sophomore-year injury, and it's fair to say health cost the Wolverines at least a couple wins.

The center position. Moe Wagner's late emergence provided hope for the future. For most of the season, however, the center position was the source of much consternation. Ricky Doyle, the presumed starter heading into the season, took a huge step backward as a sophomore; his turnover rate nearly doubled and his teammates clearly lost trust in him as a result. Doyle's struggles may be attributed to the late-season revelation he suffers from sleep apnea, but that realization came too late to save his season or, ultimately, his career at Michigan.

Mark Donnal stepped into the void and improved markedly from his first year of game action. That said, he still had obvious deficiencies, especially on defense. Getting beat up by AJ Hammons is one thing; making Alex Olah look like Hakeem Olajuwon for the second straight year is another. Unless Donnal gets a lot stronger or becomes a legitimate three-point threat, he seems best suited as a backup center; deploying him against opposing backups would mitigate his weaknesses. For that to happen, though, Wagner must cut his foul rate significantly.

Perimeter defense. It was bad, even by the mediocre standard of previous Beilein squads. Michigan's best perimeter defenders, MAAR and Derrick Walton, had uneven seasons on that end of the floor—especially Walton, who'd vacillate from awful performances to good ones with little indication of what he'd bring on a given day. The three spot the biggest sore spot with Duncan Robinson somehow looking sigificantly less bad than Aubrey Dawkins by the end of the season; Robinson was still quite far from good.

The Wolverines were especially poor in the halfcourt. While their transition eFG% allowed fell in the middle of the NCAA pack, they were 273rd out of 351 teams in non-transition eFG% defense, per hoop-math. The problems were myriad: fighting through screens, guarding isolation, contesting shots, weakside rotation—you name it, really. The problems on the perimeter were amplified by the lack of a rim protector; they still started on the perimeter.

via Shot Analytics

Stars taking one step back for every step forward. There were encouraging developments out of both Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton this season. Irvin did an admirable job playing out of position on defense and rounded out his offensive repertoire, nearly doubling his assist rate. Walton posted center-level defensive rebounding numbers and returned to his freshman form as a perimeter shooter.

But with their bigger roles, flaws were exposed. Irvin's forays to the hoop increasingly resulted in turnovers as the season wore on; his handles still need work and teams exploited the fact that he was far more likely to try to kick the ball out than finish in traffic. Walton simply couldn't finish at the rim, continuing an alarming trend from his injury-plagued sophomore season.

This is where LeVert's absence hurt the most. The only player Michigan could rely upon to consistently generate a decent look—MAAR—still had a limited game; while he could weave his way to the basket in LeVert-like fashion, he wasn't nearly on LeVert's level as a shot-creator for others. Rahkman becoming a better all-around offensive player would be huge for the 2016-17 squad. It's becoming harder and harder to expect Irvin or Walton to live up to the expectations set by M's previous top options.



March 31st, 2016 at 4:03 PM ^

The critique is unfair. Considering his role, his health, and where he was at before, his turnovers are totally acceptable.

Zak's 13% turnover rate is entirely typical. To put it in context - Nik Stauskas was at 12% in '13-14.  Caris' career number was 12%.  Spike's is 15%. When you generate offense you are going to turn the ball over sometimes. Irvin's turnovers are fine unless you think of him as just a shooter. Zak isn't that anymore as you can see by...

A/TO ratio improved dramatically. His freshman year he had more turnovers than assists. Last year they were just about equal (slightly more assists). This year's 5.7 assists vs 3.4 turnovers is a major improvement. It's an entirely acceptable A/TO rate in general and downright excellent for a "power forward". 

Of course Zak isn't a power forward on offense but he's also not a point guard. It's worth comparing to guys like THJ, Caris, and Nik before callilng out Zak for turnovers.

Obviously, there is room for more improvement with Zak' as a passer and finisher on drives, but he still improved dramatically with the ball in his hand this year.




March 31st, 2016 at 6:19 PM ^

Stauskas ('13-14): 5.9 assists / 3.3 TO

Irvin ('15-16): 5.7 asssists / 3.4 TO

They both took about 20 shots.  They both shots well from 2 (48% for Irvin, 50% for Stauskas).

The difference was that Nik was WAY better at getting to the line (10 FTA vs 4) and actually hit his 3s (44% vs 30%).

The argument that Zak gets blocked more and doesn't create enough isn't backed up by stats. 


March 31st, 2016 at 6:20 PM ^

If Zak gets back to hitting 3s at his freshman year clip, suddenly his numbers start looking VERY comparable to a guy who was all-conference player of the year.

It's worth noting here that Zak shot 38% in Big Ten play (which tells you how awful he was in the non-conference play early in the season.) He almost certainly isn't going to get to Stauskas-like 44% but a reasonable projection is for him to be in the 37-38% range (where he has been during Big 10 play over the last 3 years)

If you assume Zak will continue to improve with another year and you take his 30% from 3 shooting as an injury-induced outlier and put him at 38% shooting from 3 - you're talking about an all conference player.

Zak is our best player. He has gotten better every year.  He's not Trey or Nik, but he's a really good player.

Space Coyote

March 31st, 2016 at 6:36 PM ^

Is that Irvin simply had a lot of bad turnovers. It was ball handling in the lane and getting stripped or just awful passes. It's one thing when the turnover is a bit more understandable, a forced pass or something, but Irvin seemed like he easily could have cut a turnover or two a game with just little improvement.


March 31st, 2016 at 6:56 PM ^

He was quoting turnovers per 100 possession, I think. If you look at turnovers per game, Zak averaged 1.9 this season. So, yeah, if he didn't turn the ball over AT ALL, he could have easily cut his turnovers by two a game to zero (or negative 0.1 if you want to be precise.)

We all hate turnovers, but we need to be realistic and compare the actual numbers to what other players are doing. Our team is one of the better squads in the country at limiting turnovers.

Michigan as a team had the 6th lowest turnovers per game out of 346 teams. We were better than 98.6% of the other Division I schools. You all are entitled to your opinions, even when they are wrong. One of our players was responsible for 20% of our turnovers. Given how many minutes he played and how often he had the ball in his hands, I'm OK with that.




March 31st, 2016 at 7:22 PM ^

Irvin did have a rough patch late in the Big Ten regular season when he had 20 turnovers in 5, but  Nik Stauskas had a similar stretch where he had 16 turnovers in 5 games. Caris had 17 turnovers in a 5 game non-conference stretch last year and 16 the year before that.

Zak Irvin not being quite as good at avoiding turnovers as future NBA players isn't one of them.


March 31st, 2016 at 7:36 PM ^

from fans is sometimes pointless, but a few facts sure go a long way. No way in hell are turnovers a problem for Zak, except a couple of times when he went under the hoop trying to generate offense.


Space Coyote

March 31st, 2016 at 7:49 PM ^

I think it's subjective thing. It felt like there were a lot more bad turnovers that could have been prevented, especially down the stretch. Trust me, I'm very much on the Irvin is significantly better than the hate he gets around here train. But especially late, it felt like he'd have one or two really bad TOs each game.


March 31st, 2016 at 7:03 PM ^

I think that's a subjective opinion that may or may not be true.

My suspicison is that the general dissatisfaction with the team bleeds over into our perception of things.  Irvin missed a lot of shots and that's frustrating for fans, but "make more shots" isn't a very compelling analysis so maybe sometimes looking for something more that isn't there.  I think expectations are a big part of it too - we may shrug off a bad turnover from one guy, say Spike because he's a 5'11 2-star, and get frustrated because we expect the 6'7 5-star recruit to do better.

Zak isn't Tim or Nik or Caris, but he's not nearly as far off as people think and - more importantly - he's the closest thing we have.


March 31st, 2016 at 7:31 PM ^

And if he wasn't wearing himself out guarding bigger, stronger opposing 4s, and could instead play the 3 exclusively,  I think we'd see him at his best, and as we saw at the end of 14-15, that's pretty damn good.  

37% is really the floor of what we need him to shoot, though.  For us to do well, with limited contribution from the bigs, we need to be shooting at least that, if not more, as a TEAM, and Irvin, who should be one of our better 3 point shooters, probably needs to be better.


March 31st, 2016 at 11:31 PM ^

Blocked shots do not equal turnovers. While I don't have numbers specific to Irvin, our team was 263rd in blocked attempt rate at 10.3%. Rahk was especially good at finishing and avoiding shot blockers, so that leaves two people responsible for our block shot %, Walton and Irvin. Anecdotally, I have never seen a player have as many jump shots blocked. Something Beilein also commented on. Quote is over in report card for Irvin at umhoops.com.


April 1st, 2016 at 1:36 AM ^

I'm not sure why you're putting it on Irvin. Walton makes sense as his FG% at the rim is bad. Our centers were all undersized and seemed to get blocked with regularity. I also felt like Robinson got blocked an inordinate number of times for a guy his size.


March 31st, 2016 at 6:01 PM ^

He also shot the ball considerably worse from 3 and probably led the country in blocked fg attempts. I don't exactly blame him for some of his struggles this year as a lot of weight was put on his shoulders, but at the same time, he demonstrated he's not a guy you want to build an offense around.


March 31st, 2016 at 6:17 PM ^

First of all, Irvin's season-long turnover rate was 15%, not 13%, a difference that's far from unsubstantial. I like to look at conference-only numbers since they eliminate a lot of the variation you get from quality of non-conference schedule. Looking at the players you brought up:

Irvin 15-16: 18.8 assist rate, 18.3 turnover rate
LeVert 13-14: 16.2 ARate, 14.6 TORate (was 25.2/12.9 in 14-15 before the injury)
Stauskas 13-14: 20.5 ARate, 15.1 TORate
Hardaway 12-13: 11.2 ARate, 14.9 TORate

I agree that Irvin improved quite a bit as a shot-creator this year, but his turnovers are an issue, and that became apparent down the stretch as opponents looked to pickpocket his too-high dribble or cut off his baseline kickouts. He had 20 turnovers in the last five conference games; four of those were losses. Plus, his shooting numbers this year were way worse than those of the other players mentioned.

I'm encouraged by many aspects of Irvin's play, but to say his turnovers are acceptable is to overlook both the numbers and what was quite apparent simply from watching the team play down the stretch.


March 31st, 2016 at 6:39 PM ^

The numbers I looked at say 13%. Those are here:  http://www.sports-reference.com/cbb/players/zak-irvin-1.html

It did bump up to 16% in the Big Ten and I agree that looking at conference numbers is a useful exercise.

Irvin putting up numbers like these NBA-caliber players doesn't belong on the list of bad things that happened this year. Not when so many things went wrong. Even if Zak's turnover rate was objectively bad (it seems our sources disagree here) you still have to consider the context. -- It is as a massive improvement for him, he did it coming off a major back injury, and he did it without having anywhere close to the caliber of teammates that these guys had.

I think you're picking on Zak here.  It's indisputable that his shooting regressed, particularly given his ultra-efficient freshman year.  But everything else about his game got better.

I think if you're going to pick on somebody for having too many turnovers (besides every center and poor damn Dan Dakich) Duncan Robinson is a more logical target. For a guy who WAS mostly just a shooter his 11% turnover rate in conference play/10% overall is unacceptable. 


March 31st, 2016 at 6:48 PM ^

...when you keep moving the goalposts. I'm using KenPom, the standard-bearer for college hoops stats. Irvin's turnovers were an issue, increasingly so as opponents adjusted to way he expanded his game, and while he deserves a lot of credit for said expansion, an objective analysis of the team still requires looking at the flaws—turnovers were a flaw, and in conjunction with his shooting numbers an especially troublesome one.

To then turn around and say Robinson's very reasonable turnover rate is "unacceptable" doesn't make any sense to me. Plus, context is important here: Irvin is heading into his final season at Michigan and he's played a major role for three years; Robinson just played his first year of game action against D-I competition. The expectations for them in 15-16 were different for good reason.


March 31st, 2016 at 6:57 PM ^

Kenpom's player stats are premium ($) content that I can't expense.

Just-a-shooters have lower turnover rates than shooting guards, who have lower turnover rates than PGs.  That's been pretty consistent for Beilein teams.  When Irvin played the just-a-shooter role he turnover rate was 7%. Dawkins was at 9% this year.  For what Robinson does for the team, his turnover % was bad.

I'm not 'moving the goalposts' - I'm using the data I have and making year-to-year comparisons for people who have similar roles.  You shifted the comparison to conference play, which I rolled with because I agree it's insightful and pertinent to the discussion.


March 31st, 2016 at 7:11 PM ^

This totally isn't moving the goalposts:

Even if Zak's turnover rate was objectively bad (it seems our sources disagree here) you still have to consider the context. -- It is as a massive improvement for him, he did it coming off a major back injury, and he did it without having anywhere close to the caliber of teammates that these guys had.

I'm done using my time on this. In the final five games you cited below, Irvin went 7/33 on three-pointers. The point of that section in my post was that Irvin and Walton couldn't put it all together this year; for Irvin, a major part of that was the turnovers—which I think I've shown were an issue as teams adjusted to his new style of play—and another major part was him losing his jumper.

Out of the seven games in conference+tourney play in which Irvin dished out four or more assists, he had three or more turnovers in four of them—the exceptions were Rutgers, Nebraska, and the Notre Dame game in which he shot 4/16. When he got more assertive, he struggled to take care of the ball. I'm not sure why this is so hard to accept since it was quite obvious when watching him play.

Yes, Irvin got thrown into a tough situation when LeVert went down and he was tasked with generating more offense. Yes, there were encouraging signs from his play. But take off the maize-colored glasses; he posted an O-Rating below 100 and context only covers for so much of that. Michigan needed him to be a viable #1 option and he wasn't that most of the time.


March 31st, 2016 at 7:36 PM ^

Would you prefer Zak averaged -0.1 TPG like the commenter above?

Denzel Valentine averaged 2.7 TO per game, almost 1 more than Zak, and averaged 5 TO per 100 possessions, ~50% more than Zak, yet Sparty was still able to overcome that and get a 2 seed. Don't get hung up on turnovers. There's more to the story.


March 31st, 2016 at 7:37 PM ^

Robinson, MAAR, Dawkins, and Donnal all had impressively low turnover rates. Also, Michigan may have been sixth nationally, but they were fifth in Big Ten play—they didn't do as good a job taking care of the ball against quality opponents. I'm not trying to lampoon Irvin for no reason here; it's a part of his game that needs work.


March 31st, 2016 at 7:47 PM ^

Turnovers per 40 minutes:

Zak ('15-16): 2.9

Derrick ('15-16): 2.3

Nik ('13-14):  2.2

MAAR ('14-15): 2.2

Caris ('14-15): 2.1

Caris ('13-14): 2.0

Trey ('12-13): 2.0

Tim ('12-13): 1.8





March 31st, 2016 at 7:53 PM ^

Based on that I can see SOME validity to what you are saying.  But we're talking about half a turnover a game. 

And how much of that can be attributed to teammate quality? It's instructive taht Walton went from 1.8 to 2.3 TO/40 from his freshman year to his junior year. I think going form passing to Stauskas, Levert, Robinson, Morgan, McGary is a going to make one a more efficient passer...

I don't agree with ignoring context completely and just comparing Irvin to NBA players is fair to him.  I think I've said my piece.


March 31st, 2016 at 7:36 PM ^

You're bringing up 3 point shooting and ORtg.

The problem against Notre Dame (and many others) was that Irvin missed shots, specifically 3 point shots.  That's got nothing to do with turnovers. They are different things.

Obviously Walton and Irvin didn't put it together well enough to make the Final 4 this year, but (again), turnovers weren't the issue. The numbers don't support your assertion that was problem unless you dip into small sample sizes or set the bar at conference POY.

Irvin got better in nearly every statistical category besides hitting his 3s.  He got a lot worse at that - and better at everything else.


March 31st, 2016 at 7:02 PM ^

his turnover rate over the course of the whole season is just fine as I argue above. You take issue with the last 5 Big10 conference games when he had 20 turnovers, or 4 per game. We lost 3 of those by double digits. An extra turnover or two did not make a difference in those games. Did he cost us a win at Maryland, the #6 ranked team in the country? Come on, you really expect to win on the road against a top 10 team?

We'd all like to explain why we didn't win every game this year, but let's be honest with our critiques. Zak Irvin's turnovers were not that bad, and certainly not bad enough to single out for criticism when the team as a whole is 6th best in the country at avoiding turnovers.


March 31st, 2016 at 6:49 PM ^

5 games, 180 minutes, 6 turnovers (or 1.2 per game).  13 assists give him a A/TO ratio above 2.

You want to argue about Zak's shot selection? OK.  But turnovers weren't the problem down the stretch OR over the course of the season.



March 31st, 2016 at 4:13 PM ^

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March 31st, 2016 at 4:15 PM ^

Was Caris really playing at an all-American level...

...before he was injured? I'm not trying to be harsh about this, but I don't think he was even close to that. Perhaps all big ten though.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad

Ali G Bomaye

March 31st, 2016 at 4:47 PM ^

Buddy Hield was clearly better this season, but this CBS Sports article also includes Kentucky's Tyler Ulis and Virginia's Malcolm Brogdon as All-America guards. Ulis averaged a 17/7/3 and Brogdon averaged an 18/4/3.  In his 15 games this season, LeVert averaged a 17/5/5 and had stellar efficiency marks (51% on 2pt, 44% on 3pt), so yeah, he's up there.

Space Coyote

March 31st, 2016 at 6:42 PM ^

This feels like a pretty spot on critique of the bad this season.

I'd also add just overall depth. Injuries are a part of that, but Chatman didn't look viable until late, Wilson never rounded into form at the 4 or 5, Dawkins didn't improve enough to consistently provide minutes off the bench. That means guys logged a lot of minutes and when someone like Irvin was off there were limited options to go to for production.


March 31st, 2016 at 7:10 PM ^

Beilein didn't trust anyone to play beyond the (non-Center) starters and I think that has a lot to do with the 2nd half collapse against Notre Dame.  Beilein played Dawkins 7 minutes, Dakich 2 and that was it. 

I rarely think fatigue is a factor in college basketball 5 away games (plus an OT) in 8 days and a bunch of travel is liable to wear some guys out when you don't use your bench much.


March 31st, 2016 at 7:43 PM ^

Walton averaged 36+ minutes a game, and Irvin 35+, which is too much for either of them.  32 would be more like it.  We have very few wins where we could pull our starters a few minutes before the end, and too many where we had to fight right down to the last second, and that wore those guys out.