The Ball Goes *IN* the Hoop, Guys!

Submitted by Tim on December 17th, 2009 at 7:06 PM


The Michigan basketball team has struggled mightily so far this season, especially given the top-15 expectations that were (probably unfairly) heaped on them in the preseason. With two superstars returning and only two walkons, a backup point guard, and a Canadian leaving the team this was supposed to be a tournament team at the very least, and more likely a Sweet 16 squad.

So, uh, what happened?

There are two primary culprits for Michigan's struggles: defense and three-point shooting. Figuring out the defense is a task for another day (and for someone who knows much more about basketball strategy than I do), but shooting is a little simpler. It's also very important for Michigan, since the Wolverines hoist 42.9% of their shots from behind the arc.

douglassNMU.JPGThere are two primary factors that play into a shot's likelihood of going in. The first is shot selection. If a player manages to shoot only when he is wide open, it's more likely that he will make those shots, no? Last year at Varsity Blue, I UFRed basketball games, and graded shot selection 1-3 based on how open the shooter was. Manny Harris was the only player who was consistently putting up shots from bad positions, and based on purely anecdotal evidence, I'd say that's probably the case again this season.

The second factor that plays a big role in shooting is the ability to actually knock down shots. If you left Ben Wallace wide open at the top of the key on every play, he wouldn't make many shots (and that's why teams do this). The same is not true for, say, Dirk Nowitzki. Talent is not something that varies from game to game. Players go through hot and cold streaks, but Stu Douglass is as good as he is, and isn't likely to get much better or much worse at shooting the three in one offseason. So is there reason to believe that anyone has shot below his ability so far this year? Sounds like time for a—


Chart. Players are sorted by 2008-09 percentage

Michigan 3-Point Percentages
Player 2008-09 % 2009-10 %
Eric Puls .750 .000
CJ Lee .365 -
Kelvin Grady .361 -
David Merritt .351 -
Zack Novak .344 .281
Laval Lucas-Perry .344 .361
Stu Douglass .335 .231
Anthony Wright .333 .167
Manny Harris .327 .289
DeShawn Sims .317 .375
Zack Gibson .233 .222
Jevohn Shepherd .190 -
Matt Vogrich - .462
Darius Morris - .200

So what does it mean? On the face, it would appear that Michigan lost most of its best shooters, but that isn't actually the case. Puls, Lee, Grady, and Merritt all had few attempts (Manny and the two Indiana guys were the only people to shoot over 100 3-balls, and LLP would have gotten there if he'd played the whole season), so there is something to be said for sample size. The better takeaway is that Only Laval Lucas-Perry and DeShawn Sims are shooting better right now than they did last year, and most guys have seen a precipitous dropoff. It would be nice to get Matt Vogrich more attempts, but his defense has been poor so far this year.

Unless guys are exclusively taking horrible shots this year (and John Beilein said Wednesday that poor shoot selection may play some role in the shooting struggles), the bad shooting is an anomaly. They're sometimes painful to watch, but stick with this team, and things will probably turn around.



December 17th, 2009 at 7:28 PM ^

douglas is frustrating to me. he's got a sweet shot but he ain't hittin. unfortuneately, he often passes up wide open 3s, yet takes 1 or 2 dumb attempts per game. those attempts kill his %. douglas is a microcasm of the OPs thesis: when you have a good open look, take the shot; and don't force anything. (this goes for you too manny).

i do think novak's % will improve. he actually rarely takes what i consider a bad shot.

the key to UM's success is these two guys getting better. if douglas continues to struggle, give vogrich his minutes.


December 18th, 2009 at 9:37 AM ^

Douglas has also played questionable defense most of the year. He needs to start hitting open shots to contribute anything on both sides of the ball. In the Utah game, I really didn't think he made a positive contribution. He shot poorly and made multiple ill advised turnovers trying to throw passes to guys with two defenders in front of them. I think he is a much better player than he has shown thus far and I hope he doesn't start having a confidence issue. This team will markedly improve if the three-point shooting comes around.


December 18th, 2009 at 2:30 PM ^

that's the thing. he's probably the best passer on the team, but does his 2 assists/game warrant the minutes he gets. i would decrease his minutes until he starts playing better, because vogrich and morris have much more upside imo. i would give the struggling younger guys with the upside over a struggling guy with more experience.


December 17th, 2009 at 7:40 PM ^

There is a third factor, and it's form. This is supposed to be something that is cured by the many, many reps in practice, but it looks to me that Douglass, and to a lesser degree, Novak are inconsistent in their form. Douglass especially appears to be drifting back or to the left on his jump shots, even when they're open. They're just not going to go in consistently when that happens.

MC Hammer

December 17th, 2009 at 7:49 PM ^

is mostly about effort, especially factoring in who they've played, as they haven't been at a significant athletic disadvantage so far this year.

The 1-3-1 lends itself to more steals, as well as more open looks, but Michigan is not in the 1-3-1 all the time.

At the game I went to against Houston Baptist, they looked lazy, esp. in transition.

I've seen the same things in other games as well.


December 17th, 2009 at 10:45 PM ^

in the context of man-to-man defense b/c there are less principles to learn (think pick-n-roll adjustments), however the same cannot be said about different types of zones. Zone defense requires a higher IQ b/c there are rotations involved depending on how an offense attacks it.

So why the drop-off in defensive performance from last season to this one? There are a few reasons that I notice. Merrit and Lee were seniors, so while they were limited w/ respect to their offensive talent, they had high IQs relative to the zone principles. Remove them and insert a true freshman in Darius Morris and you can expect a drop-off. Hopefully, Darius can improve so that Michigan has better performances defensively by the time the team is in the grind of the B10 season.

Next, the 1-3-1 zone is no longer catching opponents by surprise. You could see how Alabama and Marquette were able to attack the zone from the sides rather than settle for corner three-point shots or from 3pt. land spots midway between the corner and the top of the key. Simply put, opposing coaches have plenty of film now to study how Coach B uses his Michigan players in that set-up.

I've noticed that Michigan has slightly more success when it switches into a 2-3 zone and I assume it's b/c teams have less knowledge of how to attack this set-up when Michigan goes into it. Does that mean Michigan should primarily use the 2-3 zone? Not really. Coach B will switch defenses intelligently to adjust to opposing teams.

Finally, Lee and Merrit prevented penetration well. I think the younger players will grow to do this better too. Michigan will have to play really well defensively to beat Kansas (captain obvious). Anyway, these are growing pains. Stick with them. Go blue!

Kilgore Trout

December 17th, 2009 at 8:17 PM ^

I'm pretty much on board with this. I think there's probably some shot selection factor in all of this, but after watching for it in the last few games, it doesn't really look like they're taking too many bad shots. They just aren't making them, and that's really what it comes down to for me. Anyone who's played basketball knows it's a game of feel and momentum in every facet of the game. I've never played at anything near this level, but I know that when the shots are going down you get a little bit more energy for the defensive end and for rebounding. Conversly, when they aren't going down, it really drags down every aspect of your game. I think this team has a chance to get hot and make a run and still get to those preseason goals, but the shots have to start falling.


December 18th, 2009 at 2:46 AM ^

it really drags down EVERY aspect of your game? eh. I agree with the spirit of your statement in that players get down on themselves when the shot isn't falling, however defense is entirely a mindset (assuming adequate conditioning for whatever level of play one is considering). From my personal experience, I look forward to trying to shut down my man regardless of how my shot is falling. It's a mentality of pride that my man won't beat me (this is in the context of man to man) to the hole or to a rebound. Thus, aside from the IQ aspects of a zone defense, missing shots shouldn't effect the fundamentals of hands out and up, boxing out and communication for help. Shooting well is and should be an added bonus for players with the right defensive mindset, like Purdue's Kramer. So, I agree that some aspects of the game suffer from poor shooting, but they shouldn't include the defensive intensity a player has throughout the game. Put simply, basketball is about so much more than shooting. When the five players are in sync to stop a team, the easier buckets in transition (off the missed shots) will increase the shooting percentage for Michigan which will likely lead to better shots overall. Shooting doesn't enhance defense. Defense enhances shooting.

Kilgore Trout

December 18th, 2009 at 10:07 AM ^

Shooting doesn't enhance defense. Defense enhances shooting.

I think this is true for a lot of teams (MSU for example) but I don't think this is necessarily true of every team and especially this team. If they are trying to base their defense off of the 1-3-1, making shots helps you set it up and limits transition opportunities. I don't necessarily argue that defense doesn't enhance shooting, but I think you're incorrect in saying that shooting doesn't enhance defense. It does from a mind set and strategic standpoint.

There are different philosophical ways of playing basketball and the one you described definitely seems to be a pretty solid way of winning championships and winning consistently. (MSU, Wisconsin, Purdue). If you're a grind it out, shut them down team I think you're right on. But, if you're the Nuggets from the 80's, Loyola Marymount from the late '80s or UNLV from the Tarkanean days, there are other ways to get it done.

Anyway, I think you have some good points, but every team and every player doesn't feed off of the same motivation.


December 17th, 2009 at 10:43 PM ^

a good shooting team to begin with. They were pretty bad at shooting the ball last year. Surprisingly, they're shooting the ball overall better than last year.

Their defense has gotten worse this season compared to last season. Although they're forcing turnovers at a very good rate, but they need to do a better job of defending. Their FG defense regressed big time. That is the main culprit of Michigan's sudden regression.


December 18th, 2009 at 2:12 AM ^

need to turn around fast because as it stands now Michigan is about the 8th best team in the conference (considering what I've seen from most of the teams).

An upset over Kansas would put Michigan back into the discussion as a possible Tourney team-- a decent 10-8 record in conference (very optimistic) probably won't be enough unless there's an outofconference upset somewhere... or unless Mich beats MSU or Purdue twice. 12-6 is probably the marker for getting back into the discussion since the hole they've dug is so deep.

G Money

December 18th, 2009 at 3:17 AM ^

Made sweet 16.
Lost no one of importance. Distance from players lost to NBA potential = distance from earth to sun.
Retained two upperclassmen projected to be in the NBA draft after this year.
Recruited a top 100 player at a position that previously was led by a walk-on.
Everyone else gets a year of experience.

Brian, what would you say - all things being equal - if another team had the year we are having? Objectively speaking.


December 18th, 2009 at 9:29 AM ^

We made it to the round of 32. And I think Sims is a marginal NBA player, more likely to make an NBA team as a free agent than get drafted. I felt the same way before the season started.

While the players lost were not all star caliber we lost all three of our point guards and despite the talent upgrade, Morris is still just one true freshman running a completely foreign offense and defense.

The obvious offensive problem is 3 point shooting but I think Morris is having a difficult time getting our shooters in position for open 3s compared to last year with our walk-ons.

I know you asked Brian but I will answer. We overachieved last year and shouldn't have been ranked 15 preseason. That being said, we are playing terribly right now and are underacheiving. We should have beaten every team we have played so far if you consider potential.


December 18th, 2009 at 7:07 AM ^

did not go to the sweet 16 last year. That, however, does not lessen the impact of the surprisingly ineptitude shown thus far to do the things that got them to the NCAA tourney last year.

The major problem with the three point shooting to this point, in my opinion, is the lack of confidence in the shot and the hint of hesitation that you see when ever any player takes one.

Michigan's glaring lack of an inside presence on defense will not be cured this season, so I think that there best odds for success are just to become a complete run and gun team. Pull threes, threes in transition, threes off the dribble, threes, transition hoops. They seem to playing like the future of the program rides on every possession, and it making the team VERY tight, from whistle to whistle.

Michigan is a streaky shooting team, however, they are also a very contagious team. The only way for them to get out of this shooting slump is to make shots, and the only way to make shots is take them, as many as possible until they start falling. Beating Kansas is unlikely, but I think they should play this game with the intent of getting out of this slump, one way or another. Even if the three (or shots in general) are not falling until garbage time, just take them until they go in, and remember them going in. A short hot shooting streak can take care of the shooting woes faster than one might think.


December 18th, 2009 at 10:42 AM ^

Good post, Tim.

Man, if Stu and Zach can end the season with last year's shooting numbers, then Michigan will get its fair share of Big 10 wins and be right back in the mix when its all said and done.

As for tomorrow, I just hope the guys can delay that creepy, eerie, cool, intimidating Rockchalk Jawhawk chant as long as possible. Hey, if the students only feel comfy breaking that out in the final minute that means Michigan at least gave them a helluva run for their money.


December 18th, 2009 at 10:43 AM ^

the problem is with man to man. no one helps out!!! the BC game was perfect example when the one guy had how many easy layups because guys weren't rotating??? its happened in every game this year. man to man works off of help D and switching on picks.

the 1-3-1 is working fine because they are creating turnovers out of it. but like any zone defense there are holes that makes it easy to break. with the 1-3-1 the whole goal is to trap the guy bringing the ball up and force him to make a bad pass. what you don't want is that guy to make a pass down to the corner, because the zone is broken(this is also how you break a 3-2 zone). by having the ball in corner, everything is now on the player running the baseline. he has to be able to get over there and get a hand up, so another defender can come over and trap. if they are late with the trap then its a easy pass to the foul line or a skip pass across the court. if you get the defenders running side to side you'e won, because sooner or later someone is going to be left wide open.

also with ANY zone defense an aggressive guard will break it. look at what marquette did. they drove to the basket for easy layups or dumped it off to a wide open player.

zone D's work by quick rotaition and talking on the floor. if the D isn't calling out cutters, there is no way of knowing when someone just cut to the basket for a easy layup or dunk.


December 18th, 2009 at 8:43 PM ^

"the problem is with man to man. no one helps out!!! the BC game was perfect example when the one guy had how many easy layups because guys weren't rotating???"

I understand man-to-man defense as NOT having rotations. Sure players will switch on pick-n-rolls (if they're not instructed to go over or under the pick) and players will slide over for help defense if a teammate gets beat, but it's not b/c guys weren't "rotating."

I think your post makes sense except for the way it opens. It seems more of a typo b/c later you mention rotations in the context of zone defense. Anyway, this is more for clarification than anything else.

So I'm watching the Cavs play the Bucks (Why these NBA teams? I'm outside the US and there's little American sports programming, so I'll take what I can get) and the Bucks players, while on defense, have their hands down. This is just laziness b/c it takes effort to keep one's hands consistently out to disrupt passing lanes. This is just another example of how effort/mindset truly affect the quality of the team defense.

Finally, I wrote earlier that shooting doesn't enhance defense, but that defense enhances shooting. While it's true that it's easier to set up the defense (particularly a zone defense) after made shots, I still believe transition defense (off of missed shots) can be as effective as a set defense with the right team effort and mindset.


December 18th, 2009 at 12:41 PM ^

Believe it or not (and this comes from someone who played organized ball) I believe the loss of Merritt and Lee has impacted the team quite a bit. They both were excellent vocal leaders, and they were pass first guards who both defended better than Darius Morris does at this point.
Another thing that has changed this year is that Stu Douglass and LLP are both playing the point, which they didn't have to do last year. This has, IMO, affected Douglass' shooting as well as affecting where the offense starts in the half court. LLP is shooting better, but I think that both he and Douglass are having to defend out of position this year more than last, and this is a team that already had to overcome size limits last year.
I think they'll come around, but it's definitely an uphill battle.


December 18th, 2009 at 12:53 PM ^

With the lack of inside presence teams are able to easily stay outisde on our shooters. The only person who ever takes the ball inside is Manny and he seems to not get aggressive until the second half, and this puts so much pressure on our shooting. BY not driving the ball to the basket our shooters get less good looks, and for some reason they still take these looks. If michigan could get to the basket more and get simms going on the insde it will open up the outside shots for us, but with no inside game its pretty tough.

But really the concerning thing to me is the D. Its flat out terrible. It's every man for himslef out there, I can probbaly count the number of times someone has come over to help on someone elses many on one hand. The defense just must rotate better and help to be successful. And the 1-3-1...thats has been terribel if you ask me. yes it has created some turnovers, but most of these turnovers have come against temas not as athletic as us. The most athletic team Michigan has played so far Marquette, kileld the 1-3-1, which leads me to believe that it will get killed when we get into big ten play. Also 1-3-1 and any zone really leaves the wings open and inside if u can get the ball into the top of key, but with this team its been terrible so far. If the ball is anywhere near the key its almost always two points and the wings have been wayyy to open all the time. But really it comes down to defense is mostly about hustle, and this teams doesnt seem to hustle much on that end unfortunately.