Can this be fixed? [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
This edition of the hoops mailbag begins with a question that ended up being far tougher to answer than I expected.
What are the biggest 3P% jumps over a career for Beilein at Michigan? Is it reasonable to hope that X and Matthews can get up to that 35 percent head-above-water mark?
While there are several examples of players whose three-point percentage improved at Michigan, the nature of high-level college basketball makes it very tough to draw wide-ranging conclusions. Many of the players in that group—Caris LeVert, DJ Wilson, Moe Wagner, to name just a few—posted tiny samples in their first year.
Even among the Beilein players who have more of a statistical base with which to work, it's tough to pick out his impact without a seriously deep dive. Glenn Robinson III never shot the ball very well from the outside at Michigan but he's grown into a decent NBA marksman; would we have seen that if he stuck around another year or two? The same question applies to Kam Chatman, a 26% 3P shooter in two seasons at Michigan who canned 41% on five attempts per game following his transfer to Detroit. Some of Beilein's skill development work surely played into the improvement of each player, but it's impossible to measure the precise impact.
We're left with cherrypicking examples. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman has an encouraging combination; his volume and percentage both went up substantially and he had to rework his mechanics. That last bit of of particular relevance since Zavier Simpson is going back to "ground zero" to fix his shot. MAAR also went from purely a spot-up shooter to a player capable of drilling a solid percentage off the bounce, which is definitely relevant to Charles Matthews, who's likely to take on more pick-and-roll possessions.
We've seen a lot of evidence that Beilein can identify and develop good shooters even if they're not necessarily tearing it up from beyond the arc in high school—MAAR, Wagner, and Wilson went from prospects whose range was questioned to integral pieces of one of the country's most lethal shooting teams in 2016-17. It's tougher to say, on a case-by-case basis, if Beilein can always fully tap that potential in the short window a player is on campus; as Jason Kidd can attest, a reliable outside shot can take a long time to develop. For every MAAR there's a Darius Morris.
This isn't a complete punt on the question. I believe Matthews will end up in the passably decent range this season; his form is solid and he knows that's the main thing between him and an NBA career. I don't have as much confidence in Simpson making that breakthrough in 2018-19; he's overhauling his mechanics and his peripherals aren't encouraging—namely, he's a career 55% free-throw shooter. (This is admittedly a concern for Matthews, as well, but at least his free-throw shooting improved from his woeful Kentucky mark. Simpson went the wrong way last year.)
I should note this isn't a death knell for the offense by any means. Michigan made the title game with both of those players starting, after all, and they each should be more effective in the pick-and-roll (here's more detail on that with a focus on Simpson and Jon Teske).
[Hit THE JUMP for the recruiting focus after DJ Carton and more.]
— Wade Goodell (@WadeGoodell) July 17, 2018
I didn't get the "where does Michigan turn after five-star PG DJ Carton made a surprise commitment to Ohio State" question I hoped, so this'll do. This is a tough loss for Beilein, as it was clear Carton was the staff's top priority, and confidence was high in landing him; in the end, as Sam Webb suggested it might, an inability to guarantee that he'd run the show from the moment he stepped on campus appears to have made the difference:
"They stuck with me," [Carton] said about Ohio State. "When I said I wanted to slow down my recruitment, they slowed down. They believed in me and they said they’ll give me freedom and let me play my game. I just want to play my game and help my team. I’m willing to do what it takes. They are giving me the keys to the offense and they believe in me."
Michigan couldn't—or wouldn't—say that with Simpson projected to be a senior entering his third year as the starter when Carton will be a freshman. It's an unfortunate miss for a very talented player who now ends up at a rival school. That said, the staff hasn't been caught unprepared. As 247's Josh Henschke and UMHoops' Dylan Burkhardt broke down, there are plenty of other options on the board. The primary candidates:
- Top-50 Detroit CG Rocket Watts. Watts had a breakout performance at the Team USA tryouts and is getting a lot of attention from top programs. Michigan has been in on him for a long time, recently made his top eight, and should be a contender to the end—Watts is close with freshman PG David DeJulius.
- Five-star NY CG Cole Anthony. While the #3 overall player in the class has to be considered a longshot, Anthony doesn't speak much to reporters, let alone give a sense of what direction he's leaning. Michigan has been recruiting him heavily and they do have a connection—his mom is an alum. Anthony has said he wants to play in a ball-screen-heavy offense, too, which could play in M's favor. All that said, they'll be competing with the best of the best here.
- Four-star NY CG Joe Girard. A player who got a lot of attention from M early before Carton became the main focus, Girard is a prolific sharpshooter with some top programs in pursuit. Syracuse is the presumed leader coming off a recent visit and Duke is also involved; the Wolverines could potentially get back in it if they turn up the heat—Girard's dad played for Beilien at Le Moyne.
- Top-100 Southfield CG Harlond Beverly. Another in-state prospect, albeit one taking the all-too-familiar pattern of Michigan players who'll play their senior seasons elsewhere—in Beverly's case, Montverde Academy in Florida. Michigan may have a tough time making up ground here; Beverly was clearly a backup plan, the Wolverines haven't offered yet, and now he's leaving the state. If he does come back to Michigan, it'd likely be as a Spartan.
There are other names that have hit the board lately that I'll cover in a roundup at some point. Losing Carton was a blow to the 2019 class, but landing Watts would get it right back on track.
Expand me. [Campredon]
This is a big picture question. Is this the year we're going to start seeing consistent sell outs at the Crisler Center? Will two championship game runs in 5 years finally start making people excited for basketball in November, or is it truly impossible to be both a football and a basketball school?
It's hard to say. On one hand, fans showed out well the year after the last title game appearance, averaging 12,698 in attendance (24th nationally), about as well as you can hope in an arena with a capacity of 12,707 given how non-conference scheduling goes these days.
On the other hand, attendance has dipped every season since, and while figures aren't out for last season, I can personally attest that Crisler was pathetically dead for the conference opener against Indiana—it didn't feel like much, if any, momentum rolled over from the remarkable Big Ten and NCAA tournament runs of the year prior.
That may change this year with another BTT title, an unexpected title game appearance, and a big-time recruiting class helping sell tickets. That's just part of the battle, however. Reported attendance figures and the swaths of empty seats in the lower bowl tell different stories. Local non-student fan interest, at least when it comes to showing up to games, just hasn't sustained through a remarkable run of basketball.
I believe it's going to take something more than on-court success to change the atmosphere at Crisler, which outside of a handful of huge games—and sometimes not even then—doesn't feel like the home of a crowd that can change games, and you see those all over in college hoops. I'll ring this bell again, and yes, I know that it'll take some minor renovations to the lower bowl: expand the dang Maize Rage. It's a major deterrent for student ticket sales that only a select few can sit courtside while a huge portion are behind the hoop or in the upper bowl, and getting those students courtside could fundamentally alter the feel of Crisler.
Until then, I expect a lot of locals will continue to look at it as a fun place to go on occasion instead of an event, and at this point home basketball games should be the latter.