Basketbullets: Irvin Breakout, Deadeye Dawkins, Post D Comment Count

Ace March 4th, 2015 at 2:05 PM

Dustin Johnston/UMHoops

The result last night, and the fashion Michigan got there, was no doubt painful. Lost in the insanity and disappointment, however, were several encouraging signs for the future. Since Brian covered the coaching stuff in today's mailbag, my focus for today will mostly be on the bright side of life.

BUT FIRST, NIT OUTLOOK. So, yeah, that obviously wasn't ideal. DRatings updated their NIT bracketology today, putting Michigan as the second six-seed. A home win over Rutgers isn't likely to change much there (a loss would obviously be a huge blow), which puts Michigan perilously close to the edge:

All regular season champions that did not win their conference tournament automatically qualify for the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). It is important to note that early predictions will be flawed because of this rule. Typically, there are about seven to nine teams that win their conference in the regular season but don’t win their conference tournament and end up in the NIT. So, in early predictions, if your team is a seven or eight seed, then it is likely they won’t make the tournament because of these auto qualifiers.

DRatings currently has ten teams below Michigan projected to make the NIT field. Hold onto your butts.

ZAK IRVIN, EVOLVING. For much of the season, Zak Irvin has been a source of disappointment. If Caris LeVert was supposed to step into Nik Stauskas' shoes, Irvin was supposed to step into LeVert's, becoming this year's guy to add a ton to his game and set himself up for lead dog status/early entry discussion.

It didn't happen right away, but take a look at Irvin's last six games:

Indiana 23 6/11 3/5 2/5 0 2 2 1
Illinois 8 1/5 2/7 0/0 1 7 1 1
MSU 16 3/7 3/7 1/3 0 3 0 1
OSU 15 3/5 3/7 0 1 6 4 0
Maryland 15 2/4 2/6 5/5 0 3 3 4
Northwestern 28 5/9 3/8 9/10 1 10 3 2
TOTAL (Avg.) 105 (17.5) 20/41 (49%) 16/40 (40%) 17/23 (74%) 3 (0.5) 31 (5.2) 13 (2.2) 9 (1.5)

Now think about this: Irvin didn't make more than three two-pointers in any game his freshman year—and he only did that twice—and other than the opener against D-II Hillsdale he hadn't made more than four this season until the Indiana game. He had five last night, mostly on NBA-level pullup looks that he generated with surprising ease:

Over the last month, Irvin has raised the bar from top-flight supporting player to potential go-to guy on a good team, and that's a huge step. He's developing moves that reliably get him to the basket—he's incorporating the shot fake, for instance, which is particularly effective given his shooting ability—and he's both finishing and getting to the line more often.

[Hit THE JUMP for more Irvin and a look at the development of three freshmen.]

Despite taking defenders off the dribble more often, he's managed to keep turnovers in check, and that becomes even more impressive when noting his uptick in assists. In the first 20 games of the season, he tallied three assists just once, against Coppin State. He's had three or more in five of the last nine games, including each of the last three. I'm not sure Irvin's had a better assist in his career than the pass he threaded between two defenders to Mark Donnal last night. His court vision has improved, and he's a more willing passer now that he's doing a lot more than just spotting up and firing away.

Irvin's also been much more active on the defensive boards, which could be an especially significant development if he's forced into a lot of action at the four again next year. What we've seen of Irvin recently indicates 2015-16 should be his breakout season.

PRONOUNCED WITH AN UMPTY. Also a welcome sight: Aubrey Dawkins splashing in 21 points on just 12 shot equivalents. The kid can flat out shoot; Dawkins is now fourth in the Big Ten in eFG%, behind only MSU sharpshooter Bryn Forbes among non-seven-footers. In the 11 games since the first Northwestern matchup, when Dawkins went scoreless in ten minutes, he's averaged 9.6 points in 33.4 minutes per game; that, of course, corresponds with LeVert's season-ending injury.

Unlike Irvin, Dawkins is still for the most part a one-dimensional player. His superior athleticism provides a lot of potential for a similar breakout, however, and he's already starting to show signs of rounding out his game:

I will never not be amazed that this dude's best offer was from Dayton, even after taking a prep year, before Michigan stepped in. There's always a place for an athletic wing who can shoot threes.

SADLY, FRESHMAN BIGS CAN'T PLAY 50 MINUTES. Seven-footer Alex Olah obliterated Michigan for the second time in as many games, scoring a career-high 25 points on 12/18 shooting. He had 22 on 9/12 FGs in the first matchup; notably, one in which Ricky Doyle barely played due to illness.

It wasn't hard to see who Olah had the toughest time against last night. While Doyle's defense may not have been great, he forced Olah to battle hard for position in the post. Olah went 8/14 with a turnover when Doyle was in the game—still a strong offensive performance, but not a killer one.

The killer is what happened when Doyle was on the bench. Olah went 2/2 from the field against both Max Bielfeldt and Mark Donnal, and those baskets came far too easy. Donnal hasn't developed the physicality to bang in the post with a center that size, and Bielfeldt is just too short to hide in that situation. Northwestern went right at those two as soon as they entered the game; they had a much tougher time forcing the ball into the post with Doyle on the floor. With post defense, off-ball denial is often just as valuable as on-ball defending, and that was evident last night.

ROLE FOR RAHK? Looking to next year, Muhammad-Ali Adbur-Rahkman's potential role is as up in the air as anyone's—he could easily end up coming off the bench, especially if LeVert returns. He may have carved out a role as a defensive stopper, however. His defense against D'Angelo Russell a couple weeks ago opened a lot of eyes, and he was solid again in his matchup against Tre Demps. Yes, Demps ended up being the hero, but he didn't get many easy looks against Rahk—he just happened to make a few absurd triples late in the game. Rahk's offense has been inconsistent, but that doesn't mean he's not making noticeable developments.

INBOUNDING. Frustrating as all hell, I know. For those asking why Michigan keeps using Spike Albrecht as the inbounder when he has such a hard time getting the ball in, Bielfeldt's ill-fated attempt at a baseball pass last night should stand as evidence Spike is the only real option. John Beilein said as much after the Illinois game—having the right inbounder is the top priority and there isn't another player he trusts yet:

"When they put a 6-10, active guy on the ball and you can't move, you're in a five count, you can't pass it backward and you have a guy on you," Beilein said. "Inbounder over action. We believe in getting the right action, and you have to have your best eyes (throwing it in). Muhammad hasn't had to do that a lot of times and he got into a little trouble. And then Spike got it. It was the same situation. There's not a lot you can do if guys aren't running the right routes, and we didn't run the right routes. We didn't do a lot of things right there.

This shouldn't be an issue next year with all the freshmen getting a year of experience; one of those guys, at least, should be able to pick up how to do this.


LeBron James

March 4th, 2015 at 2:12 PM ^

OK, maybe I'm missing something here, but...HOW FUCKING HARD IS IT TO INBOUND THE BALL?! How is there no one else he trusts to do it? It's a simple fucking pass and there is absolutely no excuse to have such difficulty with inbounding the ball. Beilein does it the opposite way on both ends of inbounding. He has Spike both inbound AND cover the opposing inbound, even though he is five foot nothin', a hundred nothin'. You should always have the biggest guy on the court guard the inbound and have someone who is taller than Spike inbound it. Max is clearly not an option, as we have seen his making horrible over hand passes that go nowhere but to the crowd.


March 4th, 2015 at 2:27 PM ^

NW got lucky last night.  They threw up prayers that were answered.  Chalk it up as another break that will probably go Michigan's way next year.  There are a lot of good things going on with this team right now.  When they get Duncan Robinson next year and have everyone back, they are going to be right back where we expect them to be on a yearly basis. I want Caris back, but I think this team is going to be very good regardless.

As for this year, I hope they scrape into the NIT and get some tournament experience outside of the Big Ten.  Whatever happens, everyone on the team worked their asses off,  gave everything they had and improved as the season progressed.  We can't really ask for much more.


March 4th, 2015 at 2:33 PM ^

I mean, we had to lose to NW at SOME point right? Better now than when we're contending in the Big Ten again.

After the last few games in football and even basketball this year, I wasn't surprised to see it go that way. Sad, but not surprised.


March 4th, 2015 at 2:28 PM ^

sorry, but "routes" for an in-bounds pass.  Did not run the right "routes."  We are not trying to go deep on Prime Time for the winning touchdown here.  We are trying to effectively get the basketball IN BOUNDS. 


March 4th, 2015 at 2:58 PM ^

That works in pick up games but in bounds plays are not just guys running around trying to get open. They are drawn up to get certain guys open in a good position. Think of it like a football play, the combination of routes may not make sense to the casual observer but in a smart offense they all serve a purpose in the overall design of the play.


March 4th, 2015 at 9:20 PM ^

to teach 'em. Cause Beilein is obviously an idiot.

Oh, and you're totally full of beans. We lost five players--three to the NBA, two to injury. And Morgan and Horford. People like to grouse, and that's okay. But Beilein and co have done admirably.


March 5th, 2015 at 8:30 AM ^

This is very true.  Take any other coach and give him Beilein's lineup, and they get destroyed every game.  Not even close.  You just cannot do much better than what JB is getting out of them.  Im actually encouraged by what these kids are doing.


March 4th, 2015 at 3:00 PM ^

Finally hearing it from someone else - felt every inbounds play was like watching the NE Patriots' slot receivers trying to get open for a 4-yard curl route - just over-the-top game planning.


March 4th, 2015 at 3:16 PM ^

We always have had problems inbounding the ball for some reason.  I don't understand why Beilein in all his knowledge can make these players play so well and knows when to change defenses, but cant draw up an inbounds play to save his life.  With that said I still love him but go to a inbounding coaching clinic or something furgodsakes.

Shop Smart Sho…

March 4th, 2015 at 4:14 PM ^

Beilein does a great job with drawing up inbounds plays when the team is under their own basket.  Anything from half-court to the other end of the floor has been bad to terrible ever since Trey took over those duties.  Of course there will be the random brilliant play, but the average play slides way towards bad.


March 4th, 2015 at 2:58 PM ^

There is some accountability that needs to be had by our coaching staff. That was a terrible coaching job down the stretch. We looked lost and did not execute simple things like running 3pt shooters off the lines and properly inbounding. We threw an inbound away for Christ sake and gave NW a chance to win it in regulation. ...when we were up 6 with 20 seconds left. The excuses are old and stale. This team should be 19-10. The MSU road loss was terrible given how well the kids played all game. The NJIT and EMU losses were jokes. The Illinois and NW road losses were both massive coaching debacles. Up in both games late and failed to close. Illinois was a 7pt choke under 2 minutes. NW was a 6 PT in 20 seconds choke. Those losses are on the staff period. We need to stop with the excuses and stop signing the praises of past accomplishments. Beilein is a very good coach and I'm not saying he hasn't been great. He has simply not been great this year and his offense is 11th in the B1G. We cannot effectively inbound the basketball. We struggle on the boards badly and have to play a weak zone defense extensively due to our lack of on ball defensive ability. That's not okay and needs to be fixed asap through recruiting. Stop over recruiting unathletic long stretch 4 types and get some more athletes in here please. We literally don't have the horses to run with most B1G teams anymore. 2 injuries should not do that to a quality program. I'm not saying we should even be a tournament lock given our losses of personnel but being a sub .500 team is absolutely INEXCUSABLE. Apologists can disagree and we all have our opinions. The standard of Michigan Basketball took a long time to get built back up. This season has been far below that standard and the coaching has been as well. The way we lost last night was a ridiculous display of coaching in my opinion. Giving up looks at 3s and throwing away inbounds. Sticking in zones too long and shooting early in the shot clock are all examples of my argument. We did all of that last night and some of it more than once. Next year cannot come fast enough.


March 5th, 2015 at 4:47 PM ^

ridiculously easy to argue with all of this. All of those arguments have been made. The problem here isn't counter-arguments, it's people being pissed about a loss, and losing their heads. Yes, I know you're tired of hearing that losing really good players to injury and graduation makes a team worse. However, denying that, or call it "stale" does not somehow magically make it less true.

Fixed by recruiting "asap"? What, by the next game? I mean, should Beilein have recruited some more guys since the MSU game?

Simple fact - Once Walton and Levert were out, Michigan was going to be a poor team.

Less simple fact - Not every NCAA basketball player will magically turn into a lottery pick from a 120th best recruit in the country. Even with one of the best coaches in the country, which is what we have.

You guys who are suddenly ready to fire Beilein or declare him Brady Hoke are my absolute least favorite part of sports. The whole Drew Sharp effect : If you're not awesome all the time, you suck, and indeed, anything you did before now that looked good also sucked, and you will always suck. BLEAH.

IMO, it's a near miracle they've been in some of these games at all. Yeah, I would have liked to win them.  But for crying out loud, use your head on these comments.



March 4th, 2015 at 3:20 PM ^

You had a sleepless night after a largely meaningless late season basketball game by a sub .500 Michigan basketball team? Also please try to break up blocks of texts, makes it easier to read and have a discussion about.

How many unathletic stretch 4's has Michigan recruited that you are complaining about? RS FR Donnal and FR Chatman? They should recruit more athletes, you mean like Irvin, Walton, Dawkins or MAAR? If you recruit an entire team full of athletes you end up with Indiana, a bunch of pogo sticks who don't know how to play basketball.

Also yes, two injuries will have a significant negative impact on just about every team in the country if they lose their two best players. What would State be without Dawson and Valentine this year? How about OSU without Russell and any other player, Indiana without Ferrel and Blackmon? Kentucky lost Noel two years ago and went to the NIT and they had way more talent than Michigan. Its not just two injuries, its their two best players.

Finally what is your definition of "giving up looks at 3's". You may think fouling up three is the right call, I disagree, but thats fine. That being said, Demps game tying three at regulation was a miracle and not Michigan giving up a good look at a 3.

It was a bad loss during a bad season, but take a deep breath and enjoy the fact that its softball season.


March 4th, 2015 at 3:27 PM ^

sleepless nights after the Illinois, Michigan State, and Northwestern games.  Does that make me like a loser or something?  If it does, my guess is that there a lot of losers on this Board and I remain proud to be among them. 


March 4th, 2015 at 4:24 PM ^

I would love more athletic big men, I am just not sure where they are going to come from. Putting aside the fact that I believe Beilein prioritizes skill over pure athleticism when recruiting, who are the athletic guys 6'8"+ that Michigan would have a legit chance with? Looking around the Big Ten, who are the 6'8"+ athletes you wish Michigan had landed? Those type of athletes are not easy to find or recruit unless you are Kentucky or Kansas.


March 4th, 2015 at 4:39 PM ^

I expect Michigan to be able to at least get a single Kentucky type kid every year. Why shouldn't we? As far as athleticism, give us one Dawson level athlete at the 4 apot. We don't have to start him. What happens is we get banged up and roll out lineups that can't guard in the paint...or at the point position. Yes...Spike is a below average on balm defender. He is also half of the rebounder that D. Walt is. Getting exposed at the 1 and 5 spots athletically is killing us right now. Our 2-3 play has been solid and we are good there athletically. We've had to use Irvin at the 4 and he is our best rebounder which is simply ridiculous. We need at least 2 or 3 athletic bigs on this team. They make them in the McGary mold. He doesn't have to be a once every 10 year player if you recruit well enough. Hell, give me 2 Jordan Morgans and watch us be Elite (8). The drop off in big play has been tremendous.....and we have a second year guy and a senior in that rotation so the excuses are not really legitimate. We need to recruit better athletes at the position. Not everyone needs to be able step out and shoot the damn 3 ball. I think that is getting way overrated and given the usage of the true stretch 4 in our system...we should just veer away from that and recruit McGary and Morgan types. I'm not complaining about anything we haven't had roster wise recently. It feels like we've let off of the gas in recruining lately and are settling on kids. That shouldn't be happening at Michigan. MSU and OSU are smoking us on the trail and neither has sniffed a final four or title game recently. We have and we are getting plastered on the trail. Why?


March 4th, 2015 at 8:43 PM ^

You say Michigan should be able to get one Kentucky level player every year, is that one Kentucky level big guy or one Kentucky level player period at any position?

I appreciate your point and am enjoying the discussion, but I just don't think athletic big men are that common or easy to find. You cite Jordan Morgan, but Morgan was never that athletic, especially as a RS FR. What made him so good later in his career was intelligence and experience, which I am hoping will develop in Doyle and maybe Donnal. I agree, Beilein missed the boat in big men recruiting recently. There was a big gap between Morgan and Doyle/Donnal. McGary filled that briefly, but Beilein should not have been suprised McGary left early, you recruited him knowing that. Maybe Horford leaving caught Beilein off guard, but he should have been prepared for that. I hope Doyle/Donnal and maybe even Wilson can develop and we got Teske and more like him in the future.

I agree OSU is killing Michigan in recruiting and I don't have a good answer for that, but I don't believe MSU is out recruiting Michigan right now, neither is doing that well. Maybe I am just different, but the more I look at Beilein the more I see a Bo Ryan esque coach. A coach who doesn't recruit at the highest level but continually has good teams based on experience and quality coaching. I think Matta will always out recruit Beilein, I just hope this year is an abberation due to unusual player development and Beilein never ends up with a team this young again.


March 4th, 2015 at 7:15 PM ^

I have to disagree with this point.  I can turn on ESPN or FoxSports almost any night of the week and see a mid-major game going on where there is at least 1 player on the courrt 6'8 or taller that is significantly more athletic than any of our big men.   So are you telling me we can't out recruit a MAC school or  WAC (or whatever that conference is called) or Missouri Valley conference school for an athletic big??   Who cares if he's only a 3 star?  Its not like we would ask him to carry the burden of the offense.   Just rebound and contest some shots.  Maybe throw down a nice dunk every game or so.  


March 4th, 2015 at 8:51 PM ^

I call bull on your statement that there are so many athletic 6'8"+ players playing at mid major programs. Give me some names, give me some examples. Again, what Big Ten team has 6'8"+ athletic guys you wish Michigan had?

Wisconsin has Nigel Hayes (who I am not sure is that athletic) and Sam Dekker, who everyone in the country wanted out of high school. Kaminsky is fairly athletic but wasn't productive til his JR year.

Who on MSU do you point to as an athletic big, Costello? Schilling?

OSU has the mercurial Amir Williams and thats it. I don't believe Jasean Tate is 6'8".

Purdue for some weird reason has managed to get a pair of athletic 7 footers.

Indiana has Hannah Parrea, I guess he would count as 6'8"+ and athletic.

I could go on, but most of the other big men in the conference who are good, Olah, Mo Walker, are similar to Kaminsky and are veterans who weren't very productive early in their career, which I hope is the track Doyle and maybe Donnal are on.

If you lower your height requirement I am in, you can find those guys, like Dawkins who no one wanted. Or if you just want more size, I agree with that to, I want more people like Doyle and Teske and less like Beilfeldt or Donnal. But guys 6'8"+ with a lot of athleticism are just not that common.


March 4th, 2015 at 3:36 PM ^

Lulz at saps downvoting you. You make some good points; I know many others share these opinions. People just can't seem to differentiate between this outlook and "Beilein needs to go" as it's all black and white to them. But this coaching staff does deserve some blame for this season.

Also, am I really the only one to sort of think this team started plying better, especially as a "team", when Caris went out? That's no where near an opinion that I don't wish him back, but I can't help but feel that way...sort of!


March 4th, 2015 at 3:40 PM ^

have improved but it is because they all had to start developing their games, they had no choice.  It wasn't anything that Caris was doing wrong or that he wasn't doing enough, it was that everybody was relying upon him to do everything.  One thing is for sure, if he comes back he will be coming back to a much stronger supporting cast that the one he left.


March 4th, 2015 at 2:59 PM ^

show some real growth.  

Ace, here is my question.  Do you think that Zak has the skill level, or will have by next year, to move to the 2 position?  I was looking at the roster by position last night, and the 1 and 2 look like our weakest area (if Caris leaves) and the 3 & 4 look the strongest.  Right now we have Walton, Spike and MAAR to cover the 1 and 2 spots.  It would be a big help if Irvin could be effective there.  It would still leave us Dawkins, Robinson, Chatman at the 3 and Wilson, Chatman at the 4.  I am assuming that we don't use one of the two available scholarships in 2015 on anyone who could step in and start at the 2.


March 4th, 2015 at 3:07 PM ^

He has an unorthodox skill set and still needs developing. He is projected as a late 1st rounder and that all spells NBA flame out more than 10 year pro. He needs more seasoning and should learn from some of the other early entries struggles. Harris...Morris...GR3...Stauskas. Caris is not better than any of these 3 relative to when they left and all of these 3 struggled and or are still struggling with their NBA transition. Caris could benefit greatly from a Senior year on a potentially great Michigan team next year.


March 4th, 2015 at 3:49 PM ^

I believe this team should've been 19-10 and that record was well within reason in my opinion. With Caris and Derrick back and the amount of depth we will have next year...yes we should be great. We do need to get more athletic at the 4 and 5 spot. That is where DJ Wilson comes in. If our team is well-coached next year, they should be great. I put our record more on coaching than pointing to injuries. I juries are why we aren't competing for a B1G title. They are not the reason we are a losing basketball team. We have not prepared and been coached up well enough this year which is a surprising considering how well he has coached in the previous 3 years with young teams. Beilein has struggled mightily with a young team this year and you can switch the blame to lack of talent if you wish but in the end Michigan should never settle for less than Michigan talent. Dawkins and MAAR are both solid. Donnal, Chatman have dissapointed. Doyle was doing well in the beginning of the year and has tapered off. Wilson was reshirted and that slaughtered this year Because he was our best athlete at the 4 or 5 spot by a mile and a half.


March 4th, 2015 at 3:21 PM ^

You mentioned (semi-jokingly) in one of your tweets that Spike is the best beer pong player on campus. Last night's game felt a lot like beer pong. You hit the last cup and you think it's over but your opponent nails the rebuttal. You haven't lost yet but at least you have a chance to win. This was a Double OT game where your opponent rebutted twice and you got too drunk in the second OT to compete.

Double gut punch.


March 4th, 2015 at 3:24 PM ^

Spike threw away the inbound pass to Irvin in OT that led to Demps' tying triple. To say Spike is the only answer because Bielfeldt clearly was terrible at it, is just wrong. That's on Beilein to develop. Why can't Irvin do it? Or Dawkins?


March 4th, 2015 at 3:27 PM ^

I tend to look at it another way.  Zak Irvin has been a victim of expectations.  It's the expectations that are wrong.

All Zak's done is get better.  If you're disappointed (and I admit that early in the year I was too) it's about you, not him.

Ace's praise is well justified.  And fan appreciation for our best player is overdue.  This team has been so fun to root for and Spike and Zak have really led the charge.


March 4th, 2015 at 3:36 PM ^

As a freshman he was a great role player/6th man type, swinging across 3 positions last year on a top 10 team.  As a sophomore he's emerged into a very good starter and our best player (de facto, but still).  He has improved -- significantly and consistently.

Shouldn't expectations be adaptable? Isn't that "part of the deal".




March 4th, 2015 at 3:56 PM ^

Sometimes it is immediately clear that the expectations are inappropriate.  For how long can one hold on to expectations built on HS careers?

It seems to me that expectations are a fluid thing.  I EXPECT one of our current freshman to end up as an all-conference player over the next three ain't Kam Chatman though, it's Aubrey Dawkins.

If both guys play a similar bit role on the team next year, it's Dawkins that i'll be disappointed in, because I have recalibrated my expectations based on available information. 


March 4th, 2015 at 5:02 PM ^

After last year, it was optimistic to view him as a 2-and-done player when he hadn't shown anything other than elite shooting ability.  His athleticism was good, but not great, and you didn't see too many flashes that would justify an NBA lottery projection. You could say that's a recalibration, but it's a subtle one.  NBA lottery picks are hard to come by, even amongst top 50 recruits.

If I was ever disappointed in Zak, it would have come at the beggining of 2014-15. Not that I EXPECTED him to be Trey or Nik, but when it became clear his career trajectory was closer to THJ than those guys, that's when a more significant recalibration occured.

There was nothing to be disappointed about after that as he has improved steadily since.

He's on track to end up as an all-conference player and NBA draft pick by the end of his career. That's far from disappointing and above the median expectation for a player of his recruiting profile.

Disappointing? No.


March 4th, 2015 at 3:41 PM ^

Is that we shouldn't conflate our dissapointment with the team with individual player evaluations.  I think this happened earlier in the year with Caris too.  Both Caris and Zak showed they were better players than they were a year ago.  Maybe we wanted them to be NBA lottery picks already and they weren't quite there (yet), but the fact is they got better and worked hard and IMO deserve our support.

Sometimes you're only as good as your best player and other times you're only as good as your weakest link.