SPONSOR NOTE. HomeSure Lending is once again sponsoring our NCAA Tournament coverage this year, and once again that is going rather well. I'm not saying Michigan's second run to the FINAL FOUR is due to this great partnership of sports blog and home-financing expert; I'm not saying it isn't, either. I certainly don't want to test this theory. If you're looking at buying a house this spring/summer you should talk to him soon.
ICYMI. It's time for yet another
two three-part mailbag. Yesterday's covered Moe Wagner's impact on opponent strategy, the John Beilein inbounding myth, and an interesting hypothetical about Beilein as an NBA coach. If you haven't submitted a question yet, I may have room for one or two more: you can tag them with #mgomailbag on twitter or email me.
To Small Ball Or Not To Small Ball
Could Isaiah Livers hold up at center? [Patrick Barron]
Given how lost Livers looked at the 5 on Saturday, who is the best option to play there if Michigan is forced to go small vs. Loyola? #mgomailbag
— Rob Rogacki (@BYBRob) March 26, 2018
Let's start with some background here. Loyola starts a traditional center—6'9", 260-pound Cameron Krutwig—who plays about half of their minutes; when Krutwig leaves the court, they don't field a player taller than 6'6". Meanwhile, FSU went small for much of the second half against Michigan, and an attempted response by John Beilein with Isaiah Livers at center didn't go well. Livers looked lost and M got outscored 8-3 by FSU in that stretch despite getting an extra possession, failing to make a shot from the field.
There's a chance Duncan Robinson could function much better at center. He's well-versed in the system on both ends to the point that he probably knows the center's assignments better than Livers, he's defended well in the post, and he's been utilized in the offense as a screener with some frequency of late. The worry is a small-ball team would expose his sub-par perimeter defense. I think Robinson could match up well with 6'5", 230-pound forward Aundre Jackson, and in that case Michigan may very well want to go small along with Loyola—a Michigan Lineup of Death with Robinson at center is certainly intriguing in the right circumstances.
That said, Beilein may also choose to flip that mismatch the other way. Loyola's offense hasn't been effective without Krutwig, plummeting from 1.21 points per possession when he's on the court to 0.96 PPP when he's off during the NCAA Tournament, according to Hoop Lens. Their defense has also suffered, allowing 1.08 PPP when he's off versus 0.93 PPP when he's on because they can no longer stop anyone inside the arc—their 2-point percentage allowed balloons from 45.6% to 56.5%.
I have serious questions about Krutwig's ability to handle Michigan's five-out offense; he's not nearly the caliber of athlete as FSU's big men nor is he close to their level as a shot-blocker. Either way, Loyola is going to go small at times. I believe it may be in Michigan's best interest to keep playing their normal rotation unless they discover a true Lineup of Death during practice this week.
[Hit THE JUMP for Teske's potential role and Z getting robbed again.]
What About Doing The Opposite?
Could Teske hold his own against the mites? [Barron]
How many minutes do you expect teske to get vs Loyola with them having smaller lineup? It looked like we took advantage of teams with 7 footers out there so do you expect Loyola to do the same when he is out there? #mgomailbag
— Alex Carstens (@Carstens13) March 26, 2018
I think Teske will get his normal allotment of minutes unless Moe Wagner goes off, which is a distinct possibility against Krutwig and people who can't really challenge his shot. Teske wouldn't provide the same level of mismatch, but we could see him work the pick-and-roll like he did against Purdue in the BTT when Krutwig is on the floor, and there's a chance he can flip the Loyola small-ball mismatch by overwhelming them with his size on both ends.
Like Robinson, Teske could possibly match up with Jackson, who's capable of stretching the floor but doesn't attempt many threes (20/54 this year). That might not be an ideal matchup for Michigan's defense; at the same time, I don't know how small-ball Loyola would handle a true seven-footer with good rebounding instincts and finishing ability on the other end.
Beilein has a lot of options here. He'll ride Wagner as long as he's putting opponents in the usual bind; after that, he has a couple viable choices for countering Loyola's undersized group. No matter who sees the floor for Michigan, they may be at a big advantage when the Ramblers go small—that's when they like to get out in transition, and in case we haven't pounded this into your head enough, the Wolverines have the best defense in the country at preventing opportunities and limiting efficiency on the fast break.
You Rob Z, He Robs You Harder
WHERE'S THE LOVE? [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Love your stuff. Seems to me the critical importance of Simpson, most especially his lock down defense on the opponent’s primary ballhandler, but also his taking direction of the offense, is vastly overlooked – he didn’t even make the all-tournament team from the last weekend, much less the Big1G all-defensive team. What’s your take?
Yes, if you missed it, Zavier Simpson got robbed again: the all-tournament team from the West region featured MVP Charles Matthews, Moe Wagner, MAAR, and two Seminoles, one of whom (Terrance Mann) recorded all of four points with two assists, four turnovers, and four fouls in 35 minutes on Saturday.
Mann scored 18 points the game before, however, and the people who vote for these things tend to look at box scores when making their choices. The box score doesn't just undervalue what Simpson did last weekend on defense, it also fails to show his true offensive contributions—he gets to ten assists against FSU instead of the five he recorded if Wagner and Co. can hit anything from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Simpson turned every point guard he faced into a pile of inefficient goo.
It's not just voters overlooking Z. CBS ranked him 16th of the 20 starters in the Final Four despite acknowledging the stat line doesn't "tell the full story." ESPN's John Gasaway put him 22nd among the top 25 players in the Final Four. Someone forward all of these to Simpson, please.
Matthews was the team's MVP last weekend, but Simpson was just behind him, and I don't think any other Wolverine came close. I think the team would agree with that assessment, too.
If Only He Could Recruit...
What does John Beilein need to do this weekend to stay off the hot seat?
— Scott Bell (@sbell021) March 27, 2018
Thanks for writing in, Scott. I know you're a longtime reader/listener.
In my opinion, if Beilein can avoid the upset on Saturday, he's probably earned himself another year.