Alpha Dog

Submitted by Brian on December 10th, 2012 at 12:09 PM

12/8/2012 – Michigan 80, Arkansas 67 – 9-0


mgouser Blazefire wins a cookie for being inside my brain / Dustin Johnston/UMHoops

A guy named Kikko Haydar popped off the bench, and John Beilein wondered who he was. So did the rest of Crisler. It turned out we already knew him: Haydar is from the Merritt/Lee school of useful walk-on that Michigan fans know so well. He hit a three, and then another, and then another, and when Michigan lost him again in the second half Kikko Haydar got a Nik Stauskas Memorial Road Crowd Groan. It was warranted. He hit it.

This is a problem. Some walk-on jumping off the bench to pick up 12 points on 5 shots throws a wrench in many of your victory plans, especially when this is part of a team-wide 60% effort from behind the line. For most teams, it is a problem that affects your win-loss record and makes everybody sad. For Michigan, it affects their Kenpom ranking in a displeasing way and just makes super-nerd subscribers to Kenpom slightly annoyed that Pitt has jumped Michigan and I mean seriously Ken let's get some margin of victory capping up in here. I may or may not be in the latter group.

Anyway. When an overeager Haydar picked up the blocking foul in the shot above, he laid on the floor theatrically for a moment, and then Tim Hardaway Jr. helped him up. Haydar smacked his hands together and smiled. Dollars to donuts he thought something like we are going to lose but at least I've got a story to tell about the time I rained on future NBA players. His parents are both professors, I mean.

Arkansas did lose. By a lot, while shooting 60% on 17 threes.


Arkansas made a push in the second half thanks to a bunch of Michigan turnovers and their unconscious three-point shooting, and I had an experience I only recognized as strange afterwards: I was annoyed. Not frightened or despairing or waiting for the inevitable thing that always happens to happen, like any sports fan who's watched a frustrating outfit has. Annoyed.

Like when Penn State scored on a screen to bring the Pit Bull game to within a touchdown. You know, this game:


Annoyed because the scoreboard isn't going to reflect what happened here today.

I thought back to watching Beilein's first team against Boston College, 3-3 on their way to 10-22. The BC game was the first one against a real opponent in Crisler, and I remember thinking the second-half run the Eagles used to put the game away was something bound to happen to this collection of young guys without much direction. A few players who saw the floor for at least 25% of Michigan's minutes: Zack Gibson, Jevohn Shepherd, Anthony Wright, Ron Coleman. Lee and Merritt were still a year away from maximum playing time. At some point you're going to have a collection of players out there that loses the plot, and then that's that.

Saturday I had the exact opposite experience. This team is too good and too deep and just too damn efficient to let a middling team keep it close even when they execute their impression of Beilein's first team.

So: here we are. It took nine games of watching these guys to go from thinking they're overrated to comparing them to the 2006 football team's defense. The capital-e Expectations have arrived, and are settling in for a long stay. This is going to be a different thing for all of us.

I spent large chunks of last year talking about how lovely it was to be able to appreciate a Michigan team with Novak and Douglass for exactly what they were, and be content with how they ended up as soon as they got that banner in Crisler. The loss to OHIO in the tournament sucked but it didn't suck in that way I know so well from hockey fandom:

The guys leaving brought Michigan from a program that hadn't been to the tournament since my dad was wearing his preposterous multicolor neon ski jacket to one that had been there three of four years, from a program that hadn't won the league since Joe Paterno was only kind of old to a sleeping giant with the alarm blaring in its ear. Their story is not Brandon Graham's. Their story isn't even Mike Martin's or Ryan Van Bergen's. It's better…

The loss doesn't erase the previous 34 games, or the previous hundred and change that saw Douglass set a record for the most games played in a career and Novak near it. The story of the outgoing guys is one of construction and triumph in the face of doubt. DJ Cooper going ham doesn't change that. Novak and Douglass have the luxury of exceeding all expectations, still and always.

These gentlemen do not have that luxury. They are too too good at basketball to lose to a short guy nailing a bunch of threes, as OHIO did last year. They are too too good to get flustered by a full-court press, or even see much of one.

This is no longer a scrappy program. This is a program that will step on your throat. It took nine games.

They are the hunted now.


Shots from Bryan Fuller:


Forty minutes of mildly annoying warmth with mosquitoes. Arkansas's vaunted press was rarely applied in this game, in part because Arkansas rarely got an opportunity to set it up because they weren't making many baskets—they stayed in it by making most of their makes worth three. When Arkansas did get a make and set up, Michigan broke the press with a couple passes and that was it. I don't recall a single turnover forced by the press.

That's another example of the growth on the team after they got flustered and behind 17-4 last year. This time out they were calm and prepared; they've now got four guys on the floor who are above-average handlers for their position most of the time, and a plan. Once Michigan got it to Burke it was over, and Arkansas knew it. Nice to prove that.


BOX OUT! …is something Mike Anderson must scream in his sleep. Michigan—which I remind you is Michigan, a historically rebound-allergic team—outrebounded Arkansas. On Michigan misses. Yes. Michigan had 16 offensive rebounds to 15 Arkansas defensive rebounds. On the other side of the ball, it was 5 to 23.

This is something you could have predicted as Arkansas is horrendous at defensive rebounding and meh on offense; it's still something to marvel over. It's hard to remember that Mike Anderson took three Missouri teams to the tournament before moving to Arkansas, because the team Michigan just went up against looked Amakerian in its inability to do anything right. Just year two for him, I guess.

[@ right: Fuller]

Ruthlessly hacked to the bench. Matt Vogrich, we'll always have the 2011 Tennessee blowout in which you went 5-5 from the floor for 11 points in 16 minutes and got a gritty offensive rebound and a gritty steal and generally contributed to a huge fun tourney blowout that eventually produced this picture:


He'll probably show up in a game or two this year when injury or foul trouble forces him to but it really looks like short of that he's joined the McLimans brigade. Which is something, because though he'd had a dismal start to this year Vogrich had some bonafides coming in and now he's seemingly done save for extenuating circumstances.

I can't say that's wrong—Vogrich was really not playing well. I'm just pointing it out as another example of Beilein changing his mind in ways some other coaches would not.

Now. Now. Now. That Caris LeVert hasn't done a whole lot in Vogrich's stead is actually evidence that the coaches are planning for this to be the year. LeVert has a lot more upside, and if he doesn't get there this year you can always try Vogrich again in February and make a decision as far as march goes. But Beilein went into this year thinking about LeVert's redshirt senior season; now he's thinking about ten to fifteen possessions in a game this march. That's the right call, I think.



Let's hear it for Horford. Another game without a shot attempt in which Jon Horford comes out seeming like a potentially key piece in some game down the stretch when Michigan is struggling with a post player. UMHoops highlighted this defensive possession that is an I be like dang moment:

Three blocks, four rebounds, and a steal in ten minutes on the floor is exactly what Michigan needs from Horford when the starting lineup is pouring in at least twelve per person. McGary and Horford are producing a lot of extra possessions, and the offense doesn't need that many more to be lethally efficient.



Little Big Dog is also a highly efficient peripheral scorer. He lead Michigan with 17 in this one and did it in two ways, mostly: on wide open shots from behind the line and on layups/dunks other people set up. Robinson has the athleticism to make those assisted interior buckets extremely high percentage and is beginning to finish through contact effectively, but Michigan doesn't really run anything from or through him. He's there to finish, clean up, and shoot when you sag off him, and he's doing all of those exceptionally well: he's got a top 100 ORtg, a low TO rate, and a top 250 OReb rate.

Part of the reason this team is playing so well is it has guys who are extremely effective without the ball, and Robinson is probably the best example of that.


  • Rebounding rate (O/D): Robinson 11.6/14.3, Dawson 11.2/13.2
  • Twos: Robinson 32/53, 60%. Dawson 47/77, 61%
  • FTs (FT rate/FT%): Robinson 39/76%, Dawson 28/45% (he was 60% last year FWIW)
  • A/TO rate (A/TO): Robinson 7.3/13.8, Dawson 13/25.6

Dawson has a higher usage rate by a few points and seems to be in a situation where he's being asked to generate some offense of his own. The big differences are in shooting (big edge to GRIII, who's hitting 38% from three and is a non-liability on the line) and defense (statistically a big edge to Dawson, who is blocking a ton of shots and getting a ton of steals; in this case I think those statistics bear out a real difference since GRIII is not an impact defender by any stretch of the imagination).

Hardaway complete player watch. Michigan's an extraordinarily good defensive rebounding team this year, currently fourth behind some small schools. They'll come back to earth some in the Big Ten like they did last year. I don't expect that will be nearly as harsh that decline to ninth in the league, though, as you've got Robinson replacing Novak, McGary and Horford replacing Smotrycz, and Tim Hardaway's massive improvement in this category pushing things over the top. Hardaway is mere decimal points away from passing Jordan Morgan in DR%.

Spike! Albrecht isn't giving Burke much more of a rest than he had last year—Burke minutes have dropped only 5%—but he is proving a nice player to have around. In this game he hit a key three and pushed a partial break off the press to set up GRIII for one of his layups. On both plays he showed a confidence that belied his class status if not his years—he's actually a few months older than Burke.

He's probably never going to be a starter aside from a few games at the beginning of next year before the Derrick Walton era gets under way, but he's an excellent guy to have around steadying the ship for the next few years. Burke and Beilein on Spike:

"There was a time around the seven- or eight-minute mark (of the second half) where it was just up and down for about six or seven possessions," Burke said after Michigan's 80-67 win over Arkansas. "I don't know if I had gotten a foul or what, but there was a dead ball and I was pretty tired because it was just non-stop.

"But Spike did a great job. And coach Beilein did a great job of getting guys in and out."

And, sure enough, moments after entering the game with under eight minutes to go Saturday, Albrecht made a difference. The freshman backup point guard nailed a 3-pointer to push Michigan's lead up to seven.

The next trip down the court, he found Glenn Robinson III for a layup. When he left the game two minutes later, the Wolverines were up nine and things were basically in hand.

"Spike was terrific, wasn't he?" Beilein remarked afterward. "I don't think he had a turnover, his numbers were terrific and they continue to be. He really helps us."

John Beilein is good at talent evaluation. E-fact.

Morgan silly foul re-evaluation watch. Repeating myself here but when Morgan shot out to the perimeter to get a silly foul on a screen hedge late in the first half, my reaction would have been…


…last year and has now become…


…and this was a game that Morgan was dominating. I was just like "okay McGary or Horford will maintain approximately this level of play" and that was basically right. I like depth! It's fun.

Three headed-center totals in this one normalized to 40 minutes (they got 49): 15 points on 53% shooting, 16 rebounds, 8 of them offensive, 3 blocks, 3 TO, 2 steals. That center spot may be the least glamorous on the team but it is producing as well as any of the other starters.


UMHoops recap plus five key plays. Also more photos from Dustin Johnston. He got a goodun of the hanging on the rim tech:


I was not surprised when they called that, FWIW, and don't care if it was slightly unsportsmanlike. (Neither does anyone else.) Look how much joy he is bringing Mitch McGary. Mitch McGary only feels that much joy six to eight times an hour. Would you rob him of that?


There's a new ceiling for Michigan basketball these days, and it figuratively extends from the top of the polished Crisler Center straight to the shiny floor. You could argue the structure, from the arena to the team, looks as good as it ever has — and expectations are higher than they've ever been.

The Wolverines aren't some quick-shooting oddity anymore. They're deep, talented and feisty, and here's the notion that should warm Michigan fans — they're getting tough in the trenches, with the size and gumption to rebound.

John Beilein is not impress. Dave Telep hypes up Derrick Walton. Recruiting roundup. Hardaway's not shooting well but other things he's doing mean no one's noticed. Nesbitt column.


Michael Scarn

December 10th, 2012 at 12:23 PM ^

Fun fact: On Inside Michigan Basketball Beilein said this of when they play Albrecht (paraphrasing): "I think it's no secret what we're doing with him.  We're keeping an eye on the TV timeouts and getting him in there for 2 minutes before or after to spell Trey.  That way, Trey gets 4 minutes of rest, and that's huge."

John Beilein is mart.


December 10th, 2012 at 5:25 PM ^

I can't remember a time when I thought about Michigan's coaches and thought that they would have a solid game plan in place. That is a good feeling.

I thought Hador had a great game, but every time he made a basket I thought "Hodor", and wondered what kind of a basketball player Hodor would make.

Thinking about it though he would never get into michigan because of academics and because he is not real.


December 10th, 2012 at 12:27 PM ^

I'm having a hard time taking Kempom seriously when his rankings have Pitt in front of us and it has a 6-4 Wisconsin team at #11. Why is Pomeroy in love with Wisconsin? Isn't it obvious they're not very good?


December 10th, 2012 at 12:57 PM ^

know if Wisconsin is any good or not, but I do know that KenPom = less real talk about good basketball and more reference to some mind-numbing formula to output an endless stream of arbitrary statistics.  You cannot Billy Beane college basketball.  Every reference to KenPom is one less moment that can be spent talking about things that actually matter.


December 10th, 2012 at 1:01 PM ^

Instead of talking about Kenpom, we should continue to reference non-tempo free stats like "points per game" and ignore rebounding margin in favor of raw rebounding numbers.  Are basketball sabermetrics more difficult than baseball ones?  Sure.  Does that mean Kenpom is useless?  Hell no.  


December 10th, 2012 at 1:10 PM ^

Michigan v. Michigan State coming up later this year.  I can tell you that Michigan is going to have some trouble cleaning up the glass and State will muscle them inside.  I know that Trey is going to abuse Appling but that points in the paint are going to be at a premium so Timmy and GRIII need to shoot well to stretch State out a little bit.  Michigan has shown a tendency to take possessions off on defense and State is going to run, even on some makes, and will likely get some easy buckets in transition.  State will hang tough but lacks the flat out fire power to stay with Michigan for 40 minutes.  I don't need KenPom for any of that and I am just tired of hearing everything broken down into numbers.  It does not tell the story of the game. 


December 10th, 2012 at 1:14 PM ^

are quantifiable by numbers.  You can determine how much trouble Michigan is likely to have on the glass by looking at State's offensive and defensive rebounding percentages.  You can look at MSU's opponents' 2 point shooting percentages to determine how tough scoring inside will be, and you can look at MSU's pace to determine how much they run.  Whether or not you NEED Kenpom for any of that, having numbers to back up (or disprove) your intuitions can only make you more informed.  If you don't want to use the stats, fine, but it's odd to be so blithely dismissive of them.  


December 10th, 2012 at 1:21 PM ^

just a little tired of talk of statistics in sports.  People talking baseball now sounds like two people trying to solve some kind of expansive equation and it is just tiresome.  I see the same trend in basketball and I am just a little sick of it. It is very likely that I am overreacting.


December 10th, 2012 at 1:56 PM ^

The formula is only mind-numbing if you don't take the time to read about it.  Like most of math, if you don't try to understand the underpinnings it makes no sense.

Given, I think the formula has some flaws: the aforementioned MOV issue plus the SOS calculations not having as much validity until the conference season starts.  All that said, no formula is perfect, and while he has a couple of outliers that's okay.  If you didn't see any noise or incompatible results, you'd be worried the formula is broken completely.

And yes, you can "Billy Beane" basketball.  You can Billy Beane f'king spelunking and elections if by "Billy Beane"-ing you mean "apply a consistent mathematical formula with the understanding that no modeling algorithm is perfect but may be valuable for predictions."  Vegas has been doing this for years to an extent, and they don't seem to be hurting.


December 10th, 2012 at 12:32 PM ^

The puppy dog reference a week or two ago and this----> "Look how much joy he is bringing Mitch McGary. Mitch McGary only feels that much joy six to eight times an hour", are absolutely perfect.

Mitch McGary is Kenneth from 30 Rock...I would not be surprised in the least to find out that his world is in fact made of muppets.


December 10th, 2012 at 12:33 PM ^

Dog.  Underrated movie.  Some really good acting by Emile Hirsch and Timberlate isn't all bad either.   A really intense and ultimately devastating story told very authentically.  If you have not seen it I do recommend it.  It is worth a watch.


December 10th, 2012 at 12:36 PM ^

Nick Baumgardner over at Mlivefor his basketball coverage. He seems to do about as well as he could given the sheer productive volume required by his organization. And he keeps the twitter feed informed.


December 10th, 2012 at 12:52 PM ^

While I think we're better than Pitt, I don't think ranking them very slightly ahead of us is particularly egregious. We eeked out a win against them on a neutral court where a couple calls at the end maybe change the outcome. That being said, we're ranked in the top 10 of KenPom and THINKING THAT'S TOO LOW! If I had made that statement two years ago, I would have been called a drity liar and deserved it.

Across 110th St

December 10th, 2012 at 12:57 PM ^

Haydars gonna hate...


December 10th, 2012 at 1:06 PM ^

Beilien has been talking about the offense changing to a ball screen offense a lot this year.   He says that is the way things are going.    Not sure if we got anybody at the Beilien pressers but can we try and get him to explain why he and a lot of other colleges are switching?   I understand that when you have PG's like Morris and Burke you want them to have the ball in their hands, but Beilien has been coaching a long time.  If he thought this was the most efficient way to run an offense he would have focused on the PG more over the last 3 decades.  Just more a of a curiosity thing as he has started to refer to this offense like the spread in football 10 years ago.  


December 10th, 2012 at 2:02 PM ^

3 theories (and it should be said, I don't have a great memory of what Belein ran at WVU, my main memory is the Pittsnogle-based offense where he would play outside in):

1. The negative theory. Belein's previous offense was based around a stretch 4-5, who created space by forcing the opponent's bigs away from the hoop to guard against the 3, but was strong enough to score inside if the other team tried to go small on him. The presence of the stretch 4-5 functionally opened the lane for driving possibilities while also creating open shots as defenders had to help off of their men to prevent the drive. For whatever reason, Belein hasn't been able to draw this kind of player to Michigan (the exception being Smotrycz who was never quite big enough a body nor accurate enough a shooter to make it work). This type of player also seems to take longer to develop. Pittsnogle only became a star his junior/senior years.

2. The positive theory. Belein's attracting much better PGs to Michigan than he had at WVU and has adjusted the offense accordingly. Morris -> Burke -> Walton are all PGs who can do far more than just facilitate offense. They're all threats to score themselves and to set up teammates when defenses respond. In adjusting to a ball screen offense, he's putting the ball in his best players hand and asking him to stress the defense through the challenge the ball screen poses (rather than the imbalance created by the floor spacing stretch 4). Note that a stretch 4 isn't antithetical to this offense. He's kind of the ideal ball screener, as he opens the possibility for not only the roll but also the pick and pop (Smot could never do this b/c his body wasn't big enough to create separation on the screen). I think this is likely the corrent answer. 

3. The dominance of underclassmen theory. College basketball is increasingly a game dominated by freshmen and sophomores, with maybe the top 40 players declaring for the draft every year. This weighs against the more complicated motion offenses that Bobby Knight popularized, since they were premised on ability to read  teammates' actions, knowledge that became more sophisticated as players played together for multiple years. Belein has decided that if Michigan is going to be the program he wants it to be, those conditions probably won't occur. The ball screen game creates many of the same things that the motion offenses did, particularly defensive confusion, without needing as much coordination between teammates. Instead, the PG just needs to be able to read what the screening big is doing, where the help is coming from, and act accordingly. This is something that talented underclass PGs can pick up, because they've been running ball screen games their entire careers in AAU ball.


December 10th, 2012 at 2:21 PM ^

He wasn't a great shooter but he was a good scorer in his sophomore year, and it was his vision that made him a threat as a scorer.

Teams were very unsure how to handle him in the P&R because he could pass so well, so if they tried to trap off the pick, he could usually find the roll man, and if they switched, he found the big-little mismatch or the ensuing rotation problem. That meant that teams did was to try to have the guy guarding him fight over the screen, which left that player at a defensive disadvantage as Morris went to the hole, or they had someone on the ball side sag to give help, which is why Hardaway had such a good freshman year.  (Note how different the defense is for Burke, where most teams try to trap or hard hedge because they fear his shot more than his vision). 

Morris did score 15/game as a sophomore (which is when Belein began this offensive transition) and also shot about 5 free throws/game.


December 10th, 2012 at 1:25 PM ^

Having lived through the glory days of the mid to late 70's (Ricky Green, Phil Hubbard and crew) and then the next resurgance under Frieder in the mid 80's (Gary Grant, Tarpley, Joubert & Wade) leading to the National Championship in 89 and then the Fab Five I can tell you there is nothing more exciting and nerve wracking than watching Michigan make a deep run in March.  I have said it before and will keep saying that this team will reach #1 this year at some point as they seemingly have no real obvious weakness and I think they have the best coach in the country calling the shots.  I got chills on Saturday when CBS was going to commercial and Kellog said "Miichigan is starting to flex its muscles" as we were pulling away.

Is it March yet?


December 10th, 2012 at 1:44 PM ^

I was discussing this game and the recent doings of the team with my dad.  He be like dang.  He's like, "Its amazing having guys who can come in off the bench completely cold and hit a three like they've been doing nothing but shoot for the last ten minutes."  For my part I am fascinated by Jordan Morgan.  It's like he's inverted his body shape.  He used to be a little bit wider in the gut than he was in the shoulders.  Now its the other way round and he's killing fools out there.


December 10th, 2012 at 1:49 PM ^

Obviously we've been blessed so far with watching a good, efficient team on the floor game in and game out. My sole concern at this point is not regressing to the mean in terms of rebounding, but in closing on perimeter shooters. Mr. Walk On and the rest of the Razor shooters solidified this.

Is this a product of being slow on rotations in man or not enough zone or both (or neither for that matter)? NCSt did their damage inside and used a lot of back-door cuts to gash, so Michigan adjusts vs Arkansas and gives away open looks. If there's a happy medium to be found, who does that hinge on?


December 10th, 2012 at 2:12 PM ^

I agree with that, and I think it's the price of playing so many excellent freshman. Defensive understanding and help responsibilities lag behind offensive structure. Other concerns (and that these are all pretty minor or refer to one team are really good signs):

1. We haven't played against a really good big man yet (and we will really play against only one all year in Zeller) so we don't know how well we'll defend against a team with a true low post game.

2. We haven't played a predominantly zone team yet. I'd expect Stauskas to make us well suited to play against one, but we don't know how well Burke et al would adjust the offense. I could see running into Syracuse somewhere in the tournament and having a problem. 

3. Pitt and K State were encouraging in terms of rebounding, but I still am nervous about the ability of State and Minnesota to hit the offensive glass.

4. We've only played one true road game, and that against a team with a decided talent disadvantage. That may hurt going into Columbus to start our incredibly difficult month.

But in general for a team with only 2 juniors and no seniors getting significant playing time, the team looks poised and resilient. I have yet to see a situation where they panic, even in the midst of other teams' runs. 


December 10th, 2012 at 3:04 PM ^

While our offense and rebounding remain impressive, I am also concerned about the relatively high shooting percentage of our opponents this year. My concern is what happens when the offense has a tough night, and they will have a few come BT play. Hopefully the D will improve to carry us through cold spells...


December 10th, 2012 at 7:52 PM ^

Heck, we even used to rebound te basketball pretty well. Problem is our oldest players will still in preschool when it was happening. But this is a lot closer to the Michigan basketball I remember; not that we were subjected to for too long.

I know we like to think coaches are using players like NCAA '13 players (anyone remember when EA did basketball too?), but coaches see practice and if LeVert is playing better than the other guys, he plays. You don't calculate what he can do for you in 4 years (if he stays and doesn't go pro, if you're still coaching, etc); you play him because it's fair to the player. And you're not going to get the everyone pitching in and not caring who gets what shots like this team has if they feel like the coach is playing favorites and not rewarding effort and performance.

And I can't believe how fast has spread across the Internet. If they figure a way to embed, it'll be everywhere.