Basketbullets: Can This Team Be Good?

Submitted by Ace on December 6th, 2017 at 2:48 PM

[James Coller]

After the collapse at Ohio State on Monday, there's been quite a bit of consternation among Michigan fans about the course of the season. The Wolverines sit at 7-3, and they're only 2-3 against viable competition, with their best win coming against the #82-ranked team on KenPom. If they don't at least come away with a split in their upcoming games against UCLA and Texas, there's good reason to worry about how this team is going to compile a worthy tournament resumé.

To get an idea of how the season could play out, I wanted to take a look at how John Beilein's Michigan teams have improved (or not) over the course of the season. I'm an idiot, however, so thankfully our very own Alex Cook had the same thought and could actually put it into action. Alex used the game score metric from Bart Torvik*—a 0-100 score for each game based on adjusted efficiency margin—to map out the in-season progression of Beilein's teams. This, for example, is last season's graph. The blue line tracks the individual game scores; the black line is a five-game running average; the gray line is the overall season trend. As you certainly guessed, the 2016-17 graph shows a great deal of late-season improvement:

Waltoning, The Graph

The first question that I had: was last year more the exception or the rule? Alex went through each season to get the answer. Positive numbers show in-season improvement, negative the opposite:

I'm about to get into much more detail, but the initial takeaway is we can't assume that Beilein is going to turn things around this season without a couple things breaking the right way. Using the above as a guide, it's time to take a look at the potential ways this season plays out.

[Hit THE JUMP for season scenarios with past precedent.]

Years That Are (Hopefully) Irrelevant

Let's get these out of the way. The links go to Alex's charts for each year.

2007-08: Beilein's first year, talent level way lower
2012-13: Final Four team with a NPOY at point guard
2013-14: Dominant team from the get-go
2014-15: Caris injury year #1 (though, notably, they did bounce back a bit)
2015-16: Caris injury year #2 (no bounceback this time)

Best-Case Scenarios

Tim Hardaway Jr.'s growth in 2010-11 sparked a late-season surge. [Bryan Fuller]

Two seasons stand out as beacons of hope for this year's team, and they share a common thread: in-season breakouts from one player that raised the entire team's level of play. One is last season with Derrick Walton turning into an All-American level player for the final couple months. The other was 2010-11:

This is the team that started 11-9 overall and 1-6 in the Big Ten before a win in the Breslin Center got the team rolling, and they knocked off Tennessee in the tournament before losing a tight one to Duke. That season is largely remembered for the outstanding play of Darius Morris, who broke out of his cocoon to post the third-best assist rate in the country. Morris was good throughout the year, however. What really keyed this team's run was the emergence of freshman Tim Hardaway Jr., who started lighting up the scoreboard in late January and didn't stop, giving the team the reliable top scoring option it sorely lacked.

Does this team have a path to this level of improvement? Yes, though it requires a couple of things breaking just right.

Point guard play. Both of the previous Michigan teams cited here got stellar point guard play. That won't happen this year, but they can improve dramatically from where they're at right now. Based on how things have played out, I think Beilein needs to go forward with Eli Brooks as his primary point guard and give Jaaron Simmons every opportunity to earn more minutes. Using data from Hoop Lens, I looked at how Michigan has performed in their five games against real competition with each of the three point guards on the floor. These are team stats, not individual stats, and they tell quite a story (PPP = points per possession):

  Possessions PPP Differential Offensive PPP Defensive PPP Off eFG% Off TO% Def eFG% Def TO%
Brooks 152 0.132 1.13 0.99 53.3 11.8 52.0 17.1
Simmons 51 0.000 1.18 1.18 53.8 5.9 55.7 17.6
Simpson 131 -0.198 0.93 1.13 44.5 20.9 56.3 18.8

If you've thought "man, the offense dies when Simpson is out there," the numbers back that up—the team shoots far worse and turns the ball over much more often when he's on the court. While Simpson, I believe deservedly, has the reputation as the best defender among the three, his impact on that end doesn't come close to making up for his lack of offensive punch. I'm ready to see Simmons get more than a short stint or two per game to show what he can do, even if that comes with more defensive lapses than Beilein would like (and Simmons definitely has some of those).

Unless Simmons breaks out in a big way, I think the team's best path to success is leaning on Brooks. Matthews and MAAR can handle much of the ballhandling/distribution and Brooks has proven to be the best off-ball player; the offense flows well when he's in the game and he looks passable as a defender, even if I don't think he's better than Simpson like the numbers above suggest. Perhaps most importantly, he takes care of the rock, and the other two PGs have struggled in that regard.

More of this, please. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

A major breakout player. There are several candidates here, at least. Charles Matthews and Moe Wagner both have the ability to play with far more consistency. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has taken well to more of a distributor role and could start putting up big numbers when his outside shooting corrects itself—he's shooting 28% from three when his career number is 35%, and his ability to create his own shot off the dribble continues to be an asset. There's still hope Simmons starts producing in a similar fashion to how he did at Ohio, even if that fades by the game.

I'm zeroing in on three primary breakout candidates, though. That same Hoop Lens data shows that Jon Teske is by far Michigan's most impactful defender; the Wolverines have a 40.9 defensive eFG% when he's on the floor; the only other rotation player with a mark below 50 is Jordan Poole, who's benefiting from playing a lot of his minutes with... Jon Teske. While there's a clear offensive dropoff from Wagner to Teske, the gap in defense is currently even wider. Getting Teske more time, especially if Wagner proves capable of playing some minutes at the four, should be a major priority; he singlehandedly changes how teams have to go about scoring on Michigan in the halfcourt.

Another major breakout candidate is Poole, who was riding high off his 19-point outburst against Indiana but got only eight minutes against OSU. With Michigan's current shooting struggles, they need Poole's deadeye three-point marksmanship, and while he can play a relatively limited role this year (think freshman Zak Irvin, designated gunner), he's flashed the ability to be more than Just A Shooter™.

Not only would more effective, extended play from Teske and Poole help the team in a vacuum, the added lineup flexibility they could provide would help Beilein get better matchups for Duncan Robinson, whose best role is still as an off-the-bench gunner. That brings me to the third potential breakout player: Isaiah Livers, Robinson's current backup. Livers isn't shooting well yet, but he's got a good-looking stroke, and while he's had his freshman moments on defense he's still grading out better than Robinson; meanwhille, he adds more upside as a finisher and rebounder. The best-case scenario for this team is Livers improving to the point that Robinson can once again be the team's sixth man.

Solid Outcomes Of Some Relevance

A couple more Beilein squads showed in-season improvement, but I'm not sure how relevant those years are to this season. The 2008-09 team, Beilein's second in Ann Arbor, got most of their improvement from getting comfortable in the system. There is one strong parallel, however. This team also had a very unsettled point guard situation; eventually, Beilein went away from Kelvin Grady in favor of the steadier CJ Lee, and that helped the team finally snap their NCAA tournament drought.

The 2012 team somehow won a share of the Big Ten title despite starting a guy who didn't really fit at the four (Zack Novak) and a true freshman point guard. That true freshman, however, was Trey Burke. As much as I like Eli Brooks, he's not Trey Burke.

Let's Hope This Isn't The Parallel

Things could get ugly if parallels to 2009-10 continue. [Campredon]

Michigan fell back to earth hard after Beilein's first tournament team. The 2009-10 squad came close a couple times but couldn't tally more than one top-100 victory in non-conference play, and they limped to a 7-11 Big Ten record. They started the season mediocre and finished there:

Unfortunately, there are some foreboding connections between that squad and this one.

Poor point guard play. For as good as Darius Morris was a sophomore, he simply wasn't ready for a starter's role as a freshman. Despite major differences in stature, Morris's statistical profile wasn't too different from Zavier Simpson's: very low usage, higher turnover rate than assist rate, awful outside shooting. (I know Simpson has shot okay from three this year but opponents are leaving him all alone out there and it's killing spacing.) Morris needed a full year before he was ready to run an efficient offense; if this year's PGs need a similar timetable, Michigan is probably missing the tournament.

Below-average shooting. This year's team is shooting 32.5% on three-pointers, which would be the worst mark for a Beilein team by at over 2.5 percentage points since... you guessed it, 2009-10, when they shot a woeful 29.7% from beyond the arc. That team also ran its offense through a wing and a stretch big; Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims both finished in the 30% range on triples. Charles Matthews plays a similar style to Harris and has similar shooting numbers. That's a pretty tight fit.

There's reason to believe Michigan's shooting will improve. Wagner, the Sims parallel in this comparison, is at 34% on threes after hitting 39% of them last year, and he's missed a number of open looks. Robinson and MAAR are both shooting well below their career percentages. Brooks is a solid 7-for-20 so far this year and looks like he'll be a good spot-up shooter. Poole should give the team a major shooting boost with more playing time.

I'm still nervous, though. There isn't a Derrick Walton or Nik Stauskas on this team who can nail triples off the bounce. Walton's constant threat, and the added threat of his two-man game with Wagner, spread defenses out so Wagner and MAAR and Robinson could get great looks. It's possible that without a major scoring threat at the point, shooting numbers stay down. The best way around this is probably continuing to develop Matthews as a drive-and-kick threat; Michigan has gone away from that a bit in the last few games and it's hurt them.

Poor interior defense. Michigan's two-point defense ranks fairly well right now but with every possession Wagner faces a post-up that number seems to go down. This team is playing either Robinson or Matthews at the four for the most part; the alternative is a true freshman. The 2010 team didn't have a rim protector in the starting lineup and had the 6'4" Novak as the starting power forward. They finished 287th in two-point defense. It won't get that dire for this year's squad, but I could see a backslide in two-point defense coming (M ranks 82nd right now), and that's something they may not be able to afford. C'mon, Teske.

The Upshot

This is where we get into some feelingsball territory. Based purely on roster composition, talent, and Beilein's track record, I think this squad is closest to being in the middle category, and I lean more towards them having a late-season breakout than staying stagnant all year—this team has a lot more bullets in the chamber than the 2009-10 team.

I get hung up on the schedule, however. After the LSU loss and subsequent loss of a third game against a D-I team in Maui, Michigan doesn't have a ton of resumé wiggle room. Saturday's home game against a 44th-ranked UCLA squad is as close to a must-win as you're going to get in non-conference play; if they lose that one, the ensuing trip to Texas falls under the same category. Unless Michigan goes on a real run in conference play, the Big Ten could hold them back; it's looking like a mediocre conference this year, and they lose a couple shots at marquee wins because MSU doesn't visit Crisler this year (thanks, Delany) and they don't travel to Minnesota.

As it stands, this is a bubble team whose tournament fate is going to rest on the outcome of one or two games. This may finally be the year where Beilein's scheduling approach keeps his team out of the tournament; I also know better than to doubt his ability to make some remarkable things happen as the season goes along, and it's far too early to write this team off. I'm going to take the semi-optimistic (shocking to most of you, I know) and guess that Brooks, Poole, and Teske settle into roles that help this team find its way into the tourney in the 8-12 seed range.

The Distant Future, The Year 2019

I'm trying to do less writing that's aimed at the lunatic portion of the fanbase, but I do want to quickly address the long-term concerns that were voiced after the OSU loss. This certainly won't rub anyone the wrong way: this upcoming stretch of basketball sets up a lot like the football program's.

That is to say, this is a bit of a transition year, and there's potential for next year to be phenomenal. The only seniors in the current rotation are MAAR and Robinson, who should have ready-made replacements in Poole and Livers. (Simmons will also graduate.) Wagner still has many of the same problems that kept him out of the NBA Draft last year; nbadraftnet's most recent 2018 projection has him as the final pick of the first round, and if you remember last year his stock fell late in the year when his defense and rebounding got exposed in the postseason. Charles Matthews isn't yet on the 2018 draft radar; nbadraftnet has him as the #22 pick in the 2019 draft.

Meanwhile, a reminder that the 2018 recruiting class looks like it'll be one of Beilein's very best:

Brazdeikis and Johns should be instant-impact types, and DeJulius could push Brooks and Simpson at the point. With or without Wagner, Michigan will have depth and size in the frontcourt. They'll have shooters, slashers, and a true rim-protecting center.

I know preaching patience can get tiresome. Still, it shouldn't be too hard to ride the ups and downs of this season given last season's incredible run and the potential for even bigger things next year. John Beilein has been the right coach for this program, is still the right coach for this program, and will be the right coach for this program as long as he wants to be.

[*If you're not familiar with Torvik's site, it's essentially free KenPom with many more ways to play with the data. I can't recommend it enough if you're the type to play around with numbers.]


matty blue

December 6th, 2017 at 2:56 PM ^

"John Beilein has been the right coach for this program, is still the right coach for this program, and will be the right coach for this program as long as he wants to be."



December 6th, 2017 at 3:03 PM ^

Someone did a similar analysis a little while back, but yours is way more comprehensive. But I think it gets to the same conclusion. In that the whole “it takes until February or March for a JB team to get going” is not really a thing to hang your hat on.


December 6th, 2017 at 3:06 PM ^

Go all Golden State Warriors on their ass from time to time. Brooks, MAAR, Mathews, Poole and a big.  Or maybe they have and I've missed it. 

I like the regular season and the B1G Tourny, but its all about MM. I like this team.  I think it's going to be a fun season and a fun MM. I get all the angst about the last loss, but I save my angst for the Lions. Luv this team. 


December 6th, 2017 at 3:15 PM ^

I would love to see some similar teams from other schools.  

Seasonality would be intersting to compare, though basketball scheduling makes it difficult to observe causality. IE The team plays its weekest competition early and some of its best late. SO upsets in both regards are more likely to occur at the ends perhaps leading to confirmation bias. Certainly I have generally felt worse about the teams early then late, often wordering why they couldn't play this way the whole season etc. Combined with the offenses reputation as a hard one to pick up.

A quick look at the numbers doesn't seem to indicate any significant trend however, except last year, and 10-11 which both had a very obvious switch flipped in Feb.

Can we have MOAR ##S!?!



December 6th, 2017 at 3:20 PM ^

I think 90% of the trajectory of the team this year will depend upon the development of Brooks and Livers.

We know Robinson is a defensive liability against good teams and will struggle offensively against athletic competition unless other UM players draw defenders to get him open. Livers needs to earn more playing time to close the athleticism gap at the 4 against good teams.

Z/Simmons both have issues keeping the offense fluid. Brooks is a freshman and already seems to have a better handle on things. That's both a good and a bad thing I guess. Still, he's nowhere near the offensive threat that Michigan PGs of the recent past have been.


December 6th, 2017 at 3:17 PM ^

For a coach who has a reputation for caring more about offense than defense, his decision to stick with Simpson, in particular during the disastorous OSU 2nd half, is a curious one. I am hopeful that we will see more of Brooks and Simmons moving forward. 

I would love to see a breakout from Poole or Livers, but I think the point guard play is probably going to limit this team to a bubble type outfit come March regardless of the freshmens' development.


December 6th, 2017 at 3:21 PM ^

Good stuff.  It's definitely an issue that the PG play has suffered.  At the same time, we are still talking about a very small sample of games, and it doesn't feel like any player is performing beyond his career averages while both Robinson and MAAR are shooting well below their career averages from outside.  Obviously you can't completely disregard the impact Walton had one those numbers, but this still feels like a team that should get itself right a bit with some more time and will make a run at the tournament.  

I agree that Simmons should get some more time; Simpson has been a black hole this year offensively, and even if he's a good defender his size limits that impact somewhat; he isn't going to completely shut down multiple players on the court.  

My assumption is Poole and Brooks will take on larger roles offensively, and maybe that also helps a bit on defense because of their length.  The defense is going to be an issue all season, but even last year they weren't fantastic (69th per KenPom), but more than enough with a top-5 offense.  Right now the defense is about the same (64th) but the offense is only top-40, and that's not going to cut it.

I agree that Beilein has earned the trust to do what he needs to now to win, and people complaining about him at this point are just doing so out of some personal animus.


December 6th, 2017 at 3:55 PM ^

    I think his defense is overrated because he maybe gets an extra steal or two per 40 minutes. I think the DEF eFG% showing the team to have the worst number with him in the game is more telling. You are right about his size. The other thing I picked up recently is that he switches on screens way too often. The other guys can get away with this because Matthews, MAAR, Brooks, Poole, and Duncan are more similar-sized.* But the opposition was sending MO's man to pick Z. Z switched and there were two mismatches for the opposition to exploit, Z on a big and Mo on a guard. I want Z to use his quickness to get around the screener and prevent those mismatches from occurring. Instead, he seems to passively accept the screen and switches who he is guarding.

*Both Z and Brooks are listed at 6', but Z looks more like 5' 9" and Brooks plays more like 6' 1" or 6' 2".


December 6th, 2017 at 5:27 PM ^

Yeah, the switching I didn't notice until recently, but it was clear at times that he let himself get into situations where he was trying to guard just a huge mismatch physically.  Some of that could have been due to the compressed/limited coaching time with the games, so they just defaulted to "switch all the time" and going forward there will be more nuance.  And I agree about the steals; lots of guys get credit for that when I'd argue that not letting the guy score on you semi-consistently is way more valuable than 1 or 2 additional chances at transition points.

And yeah, the listed heights for players is just like pro wrestling - they basically make it up to fit the character.  Simpson is shorter than Brooks pretty obviously when you see them near each other.


December 8th, 2017 at 12:49 AM ^

a switch-all-perimeter-screens policy sometimes.  If that was the case on the possessions you're referring to, it's not Z's fault for not fighting through the screen because that was the way they wanted to defend those screens.

I generally don't like the auto-switch policy and prefer that all screens be fought through and switches are only made on an as needed basis, especially by a guy like Z who should be quick enough to step over or under it and get around it quickly.

It's possible we were doing this in a loud opposing gym which can make it difficult to communicate screens such that the guy being screened can step around it. I still think Moe should be able to yell that the screen is coming easily enough.  Something to keep an eye on.


December 7th, 2017 at 2:25 PM ^

really good takes on what's going on defensively. The OSU comeback illustrates a scary example of what can happen when we have three of what are currently defensive liabilities on the floor at once in Wagner, Robinson, and Simpson. Even a middling to poor squad with a half-ways decent coach can exploit that. Add an out of sync offense to that and you lose a 20 point lead and a game you're going to need back when you get to March.
This needs to be sorted out quickly or I fear we'll have dug a hole we can't climb out of.
On the other hand, there's some nice weapons on offense that could flip this script in a hurry if they get going. The right adjustment of minutes between a couple guys at guard, correct situational substitutions for defense, and who knows? Hopefully we're all looking back in a couple months wondering what the worry was.


December 6th, 2017 at 5:37 PM ^

M's defense was ranked like 189th in kenpom.

If you look at our adj. defensive efficiency from Feb 7 (our home win against MSU) to the end of the season on Torvik's site that allows you to cut the data by dates, we were 32nd in the country in adj. DE in our last 15 games (when we went 12-3) which is 5.5 points per 100 possessions better than our first 23 games.

Our turnaround last year had almost as much or even more to do with defense as it did with Walton's ascension (although both helped, and I would posit that Walton's leadership got guys to play harder, but it was also opponent 3pt% coming back down to earth and putting DJ at center for long periods down the stretch).


December 6th, 2017 at 3:26 PM ^

I loved this piece and I do still think this team has a lot of potential if they get a little stability out of the PG situation.  That Grady/Lee/Merritt team made the tournament with less overall talent.

Here's what it comes down to for me - make your threes.  

While I'll grant you that maybe the lack of a trustworthy PG running the ball screen or being a threat to score has the potential to make 3s harder to come by, that's not what I'm seeing.  I'm seeing guys with long track records miss open shots.  Robinson, Poole, and Rahk have had plenty of open shots just miss.  Rahk has been 37% the last two years and is at 33% with also a low 2pt%.  Robinson has been about 43% and is stuck at 34%.  Maybe Wagner has forced some threes, but he's also below his career average.  

Imagine how the LSU and OSU games play out with a couple more threes.  Heck, even the UNC game was full of missed open threes when it was still competitive.  

Finally, while the lack of quality wins is a problem, the potential ability to rack up a higher quantity of mediocre wins can't hurt.  


December 6th, 2017 at 3:30 PM ^

I know the text contains one comment to help readers decipher the figures, but it's still a major sin of graphical representation to forget to label the axes (let alone that here it's happening on truly every graph).


December 6th, 2017 at 3:36 PM ^

So the good news is that Beilein's "most-improved" teams are quite a bit better than his "biggest mid-season collapse".

But the bad news is that slow starts (which either get way better or... don't) seem to be something of a trend with Beilein. Why is that true? Can anything fix it?

Yeah, it takes time for a team to gel - but that goes the same for all teams. They aren't playing against the late year version of themselves, they are playing against other teams who have the same early-season challenges to overcome. So is Michigan worse at doing that? Michigan's best teams started hot and stayed that way (which seems like a much better path to success - particularly if you might be at or near the bubble and need to avoid early-season boat anchor losses).


December 6th, 2017 at 5:17 PM ^

That take is not as true as it seems. The National Title run year and the following year look like the team regressed. That's because they played so well early. One of those years they were undefeated until Feb. 

Basically, when Beilein has talent who have played in his system for multiple years, they play really well all season. When he is breaking in new players, they struggle early and sometimes get better. 


December 7th, 2017 at 2:55 PM ^

year when we started by beating UCLA and Duke, got off to a 13-3 start and held on to make the tourney at 19-12.  We also started 17-5 (7-2) in 2016.

We've had about as many hot starts as hot finishes.  I agree that the slow start narrative is as dead as the "Beilein's team's always imrpove" narrative.

One interesting thing about this data is the 2014 Elite Eight team.  I argued with someone on here a couple days ago that that team was good throughout the season (arguing against the "improvement" meme), and that the 8-4 start only looked bad because we lost a couple close games to really good teams (ISU, Arizona, Duke) and lost a fluky game to Charlotte with some injuries.

I am surprised to see that season as the second worst decline under Beilein. My guess is that's a quirky result of the game score metric.  We started the season 12th in kenpom, dropped a little bit during that start and ended up right at 12th.  It was as steady a year as I can remember for this team.


December 6th, 2017 at 7:39 PM ^

...was not experienced. In fact, it was the youngest team in the tournament that year.

It’s a fallacy (somewhat) that JB teams get better with more experienced (I.e. upperclassmen) players. His best team was his youngest team ever, but his most talented recruiting wise. Which is why I think his sub-par recurring holds him back.


December 6th, 2017 at 9:50 PM ^

While many people think of the National Runner up team for the amazing Freshman class, they were led by Sophomore Trey Burke, Junior TIm Hardaway Jr, Senior Jordan Morgan, and Sophomore Jon Horford. Yes, the freshman all played significant roles as well, but there were key player who had been in the system for at least one year leading that team.


December 6th, 2017 at 11:45 PM ^

Yes, they were led by Trey who was a sophomore.  And THJ was a junior, but GR3 and Stauskas played almost all the rest of the minutes on the wing as freshmen, our only backup wing (Levert) and guard (Spike) were freshmen, and McGary played as much as Horford and Jmo combined that year.

It was the 342nd most experienced team that year as weighted by minutes.  It was an extremely young team and yet started the season 20-1 and ranked number 1.  That is a very bad example to try to make the point that Beilien's young teams struggle early or start slow.  They don't, necessarily, if they're highly talented.


December 7th, 2017 at 4:21 PM ^

is a guards game (any more or less than it is a wings or bigs game) but that's an entirely different discussion.

Even if that's your argument, then just look at the previous year in which we won the Big Ten with a true freshman PG and a sophomore THJ.  That was a very young backcourt, yet we won the conference with a short 3-star sophomore center (Jmo) and a 6'4 (!!!!) PF in Zack Novak. 

Derrick Walton was just fine as a freshman in 2014 and we also won the conference that year (again with sophomores also in the backcourt).  In each of John Beilien's two Big Ten title seasons we started a freshman PG!  The idea that young players at any position necessarily struggle early in Beliein's system (as opposed to other systems) is not at all supported by the data.

These are truisms for any system:

Freshman < Sophomores < Juniors < Seniors, all else equal

Less talented players < More talented players, all alse equal

There's no evidence that Beilein's system exacerbates the magnitude of these inequalities any more than any other system. 

i.e. young guys aren't any more behind in his system than they are in other systems.


December 7th, 2017 at 2:33 PM ^

my mind as well. Not a huge problem if basketball were more like it was 20-30 years ago, where you could build a squad over 3 or more years. Maybe my eyes and memories are deceiving me, but it feels like in today's game the development cycle has to be compressed from year one, year two into month one, month two.

N. Campus Tech

December 6th, 2017 at 3:53 PM ^

Going into the season we knew it was goign to be a high variable team. They could be really good, they could be really bad or they could be somewhere in between. The X factors are Matthews, Simmons/Simpson/Brooks and Livers. 

They hvae played well in spurts so far, but they really need to step up their games.

At this point we know what we are going to get with Wagner, MAAR and Robinson. If Livers can take over the other wing spot (like DJ last year) and one of the PG can step up, there shoudl be great improvement from were the team is now.


December 6th, 2017 at 4:09 PM ^

I agree with you next year should be good.  I disagree that this year may turn out ok.

The big ten isn't just mediocre its bad. Outside of MSU and minnesota every team in the big ten is likely to spend most of the season at best on the bubble.  That's not a lot of opportunities for marquee wins.  And while I think Matthews and Mo and the rest of the team have enough talent to pull of an upset or two this team is also going to lose some bad games, as evidenced by lsu and osu. With a weak schedule in a league that won't be respected you need to go like 11-7, I just don't see enough consistency from this team to get there.  


December 6th, 2017 at 11:36 PM ^

So has this been sent to JB yet? 


Edit: As some others have alluded to, simply measuring the improvement doesn't tell the whole story. Starting from a high (kenpom ranking, or good set of wins) and regressing to a slightly lower ranking at the end of the season is different compared to losing to EMU/NJIT and ending on a higher note. I understand that the original premise was whether the teams improve over the season or not and that question has been answered. But it also gives rise to other questions without the starting/ending points. 

Thanks for sharing the Torvik website. I will be some good chunk of time there to get some answers. 


December 6th, 2017 at 5:16 PM ^

Robinson is no four, so it's all on Livers to develop. If Moe leaves after this year, we'll be hurting at the five next year. And, Teske/Davis/Castleton don't seem like a lot of offense for the next few years. Livers/Iggy/Johns need to heat up instantly or middle of the pack will be the goal.


December 6th, 2017 at 7:04 PM ^

We're so much better with Teske on the court on defense that it more than makes up for the drop in offense.

Given that Teske is likely to improve on offense (think the 2014 team with Jodan Morgan setting picks and finishing at 70% in the paint while letting shooters shot), and is already elite on defense, we'll be fine at the 5 next year, maybe even better overall depending on Teske's backups.

If Matthews comes back next year, we'll be the favorite to win the conference.  If he doesn't we still should finish top 4. We have a lot of promising young pieces with more arriving next year.

Maize and Blue…

December 7th, 2017 at 1:23 PM ^

has done nothing against good teams or in any of the team's losses.  Done well against the little guys and undersized teams, but I wouldn't bet the team's future on playing an extremely limited player.  JB has so much confidence in him that he got 4 minutes against Carolina (couldn't match up athletically?) and 9 minutes against OSU.

Saying Teske is elite on D is a joke.  Elite against who?  Southern Miss who couldn't beat a good HS team?  He is slow footed and will struggle with anyone who can take him out of the paint.


December 7th, 2017 at 4:49 PM ^

1. He is the primary reason we beat VCU.  I detailed his impact on that game but in 16 minutes of relief for Wagner, who was in foul trouble, Teske was excellent on both sides of the floor and the team was +11 during those 16 minutes.  We were -3 when he wasn't on the floor. He was also good in 12 minutes against IU.

2. As for the losses, two of them likely wouldn't have been losses had he played more. And that's the whole point!  He played well in 8 minutes against LSU and in 9 minutes against OSU. He only played 4 minutes against UNC and had he played more we wouldn't have been murdered so badly (it was 30 at one point).  Read the article, teams are shooting more than 10% less on eFG% when he is in the game.  That is a HUGE impact that isn't offset by a drop in offensive efficiency.  The eye test supports it, the metrics support it.  We're a better team overall with him on the court, regardless of competition.

JB's lack of confidence in Teske is in his preference to outscore teams rather than keep them from scoring more than we do.  But if you give up 10 points for every 8 points you score, you're gonna lose a lot.  Better to give up just 5 even if means you score only 6. 

He's trying to figure out a way to make the Duncan/Wagner combo work defensively through doubles and zones and tricks, but he's eventually going to (hopefully) realize what he finally concluded late last year: the team is better with a competent defensive center.


December 6th, 2017 at 5:23 PM ^

While I like Ace's idea that Teske, Poole, or Livers could be a breakout candidate and I do think all of them have shown potential - I don't think those are the right example to use when looking for hope.  THJ was a starter who got hot.  Walton was a solid starter that turned into a star.  

The three guys mentioned are role players.  I'd like to see them take off and earn more minutes so they're part of the rotation, but the minutes they gain means they're stealing from someone else.  Maybe that's warranted to a point, but not in a significant way.  

I think a better example would be that Matthews is more often the star we've seen glimpses of than what he's shown in some of the losses.  Another would be that one of the PGs steps forward and plays well enough to deserve 30 minutes per game.  The one way I could see Poole being a good candidate is that he takes away minutes from the PGs (move Rahk to the PG for stretches) and away minutes from Robinson.  The issue I see is that Poole sucks at defense as a freshman.

As for Teske, I like his improvement, but I wonder if the defensive benefits you gain from having him at the 5 are washed out by the issues you encounter with Wagner at the 4 or both bigs clogging up the offense on the other end.


December 6th, 2017 at 5:25 PM ^

The OSU game was the first game I was pissed watching because they just didn't play intelligently and that included the coaches.

If you play hard and smart, then you have to accept when a team plays better than you on any given night. I would say that was true of the LSU and UNC games. 

Until Robinson can prove his upside (making 3's) is worth more than his downside (let's just say there are a few) I think you have to put him on the bench. I doubt Beilein will do this. When challenged Beilein tends not to trust Freshman. Whether he likes it or not, I think Livers and Poole are his best chances if he lets them develop during critical moments instead of hiding them on the bench.


L'Carpetron Do…

December 6th, 2017 at 5:46 PM ^

Playing hard is critical for these Beilein teams.  I agree that they played neither smart nor hard the other night vs OSU and as a result they gave the game away. I didn't catch the LSU game but I actually was impressed the way they played early against UNC - a lot of that was luck because they hittheir first  like 8 shots or something - but they were running with them.  It was probably not sustainable because UNC was the more talented team but one monster run killed the game. The momentum was noticeable and could be traced to a single play. After that they got soft and then started making mental mistakes. These episodes are embarassing and cost the team again and again. So much of this is about mindset and they have to realize that. 

Year of Revenge II

December 6th, 2017 at 5:25 PM ^

It CAN be good, but it is not real likely.

No defensive intensity, no leader, and compared to last year where effort turned a soft team into a scrappy one, no talent that compares to Wilson and Walton to take them where they need to go to be good.

I hope to be proven wrong, but I don't see it.


December 6th, 2017 at 6:27 PM ^

I think this is a feelingsball piece that is missed.  In both of those turnaround years which were sparked by focus and effort on the defensive end as much as any individual player raising his offensive game, we had strong leadership.  Zack and Stu in 10-11 and Walton last year.

I'm not sure we have that this year, although I would have said the same thing at this time last year.  Hopefully someone emerges, but I think in that respect, this season could be more like 09-10 when Harris and Sims didn't really take charge over that team.  We missed CJ Lee and Merritt being gone and Zack and Stu were too young to step into that role.


December 6th, 2017 at 5:38 PM ^

I've been pretty bothered by some of the reaction on the boards to the early season. The above analysis is well-reasoned and certainly makes a case for what we've all seen with our own eyes, but I think it misses some nuance that is harder to quantify. I believe a large part of Simpson's large share of PT thus far has been due to a few factors that have nothing to do with merit:

1. Michigan has played a ton of games in a short period of time. This has robbed them of valuable practice sessions that are critical to the players that are less familiar with the system. Simmons clearly is still thinking and not reacting on instinct out there. When it clicks for him he'll get more minutes.

2. It's important to limit minutes to true freshmen early on. Again, we played a lot of games in quick succession. Sitting Brooks in large stretches is good for him. He gets valuable time to observe the offense up close and also hopefully stays fresh for late season when they'll rely on him more. If he hits a wall late season because of overplaying early that could be calamitous.

Yes, Beilein has played the worst of the three options the most early on. But I'd argue he's been right to do so. There aren't must-win games in November and December. JB doesn't (and shouldn't) coach them like they are must-wins. We've seen him successfully balance these personnel issues in the past (starting guys like Donnal and DR who know the system but are/were lesser players). It looks indefensible statistically, but JB has to play the long game here. I'm not saying it's definitely going to work out, but his decisions have certainly made sense to me thus far.

Anyways, that's my rambling two cents. Hopefully somebody thinks that was helpful/insightful haha