Hoops Mailbag: The Wagner Effect, The Inbounding Myth, A Beilein Hypothetical

Submitted by Ace on March 27th, 2018 at 2:42 PM

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.

It's time for yet another two-part mailbag. If you haven't submitted a question yet, I'm still taking them: you can tag them with #mgomailbag on twitter or email me.

Moe Impact

even on a bad day, Moe Wagner helps you win. [Patrick Barron]

Is my memory right that Hamilton played small ball for most of the 2nd half? maybe the last 10 minutes, except for the short period when we saw the Livers-Giant matchup, FSU played w/o a center, didn’t they? What a huge change and what a huge credit to Beilein’s scheme and fearlessness that Wagner - even cold as ice - scared the s[not] out of Hamilton in the 2nd half.

John Beilein allows Moe Wagner to shoot his way out of cold stretches for very good reason: he completely changes the way opponents have to approach defense. This is FSU coach Leonard Hamilton after a game in which Wagner went 0-for-7 on threes:

Sure, we did a pretty good job defending him, but I also think the effort that we spent on him, we opened up some opportunities for some other guys, and I think that's one reason why they were probably a little bit more effective. In order to get to him, being the type of three-point shooter that he is -- I think he shoots over 40% from the floor -- when you're trying to get to him and he's a seven-footer, he's their center, well, obviously, he opens up the lane.

And I think that's one of the reasons why they were able to get into the interior of our defense and get some easy ups, some high-percentage baskets because we had to put forth so much effort to close out on him because he's such an outstanding shooter.

Wagner may have been ice cold but I don't exactly blame Hamilton for getting deeply uncomfortable with the quality of looks, especially early in the second half. Michigan was successfully going five-out, getting penetration in the paint (mostly by Zavier Simpson), and kicking out to Wagner for achingly open shots. Hamilton would be hard-pressed to bet on Wagner continuing to miss literally all of those shots.

So, to answer the question, your eyes did not deceive you: after combining to play every minute of the first half, FSU's center trio of Christ Koumadje, Mfiondu Kabengele, and Ike Obiagu played nine combined minutes in the second. Obiagu, who'd emphatically swatted three shots in the opening stanza, didn't see the floor at all.

Going small, while a viable strategy against Michigan, isn't really FSU's game. Using HoopLens data and removing body-bag games, the Noles played over 1400 possessions with at least one center on the floor and under 270 with no center. While their offense improved a bit without a big man hurting their spacing, they went from allowing 46% on two-pointers with a center on the floor to 53% without—the gap between very good and very bad.

Michigan went 10-for-16 on two-pointers in the second half. After recording seven blocks in the first half, FSU had only two in the second. Even when he's broke from the perimeter, Wagner changes games.

[Hit THE JUMP to dispel the inbounding myth and explore a Beilein/NBA hypothetical.]

The Inbounding Thing Isn't Really A Thing

this tends to feel more difficult than it is. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

For all his X and O wizardry, why do Beilein teams seem to struggle so regularly with inbounding the ball? Go Blue!


I've probably fielded this question a dozen times over the last couple years. Inbounds plays make up a relatively small percentage of a team's offense (around 10%) but they get a lot of focus because they become extreme high-stress situations late in games or against pressing teams. Michigan has had the occasional issue getting the ball in (or, like with Isaiah Livers against FSU, not getting trapped once it does) and those instances tend to stick in our minds. 

Michigan has struggled to score off inbounds plays this year. Per Synergy, they're in the 40th percentile in baseline out of bounds plays (BLOBs) and in the 45th percentile in (much less freqently run) sideline out of bounds plays (SLOBs). They're scoring only 0.83 PPP off BLOB plays with a 44.5 eFG%, which isn't pretty. That said, however, the thing we often focus on isn't the problem we believe it is: M turns it over on just 10.6% of such plays, which ranks them 26th nationally.

And what if I told you that Michigan had the #1 BLOB offense in the entire country last year? It's true! The Wolverines poured in 1.12 PPP on BLOBs in 2016-17 with a healthy gap over the #2 team (UMBC, of all squads). Beilein is very, very capable of drawing up some evil inbounds sets—ignore the ball and keep your eye on Wagner and MAAR here:

Michigan's efficiency on inbounds plays ties in to their offensive efficiency as a whole, and those plays do tend to exacerbate a certain issue with this particular team: they're not a great shooting team, especially by Beilein standards, and a lot of inbounds plays come late in the shot clock where you're going to have to get up a quick jumper. Michigan ranks in the 47th percentile this year in late clock offense (under four seconds on the shot clock) for the same reason.

It's not the inbounding. It's definitely not the coach. This year, it's the shooting.

A Hypothetical I'm Glad Will Stay A Hypothetical

a Hall of Fame-level college coach. [Barron]

For a number of reasons, I believe Beilein is much better suited to the college game than the pro game. For one, his offense is so intricate that the adjustment from 30 to 24 seconds on the shot clock would significantly alter how he'd have to approach what he's best at doing: getting his offense quality shots via the system. He'd also face defenses the likes of which he's never seen; NBA defensive schemes are so much more advanced—and so much more effective given the huge size/athleticism gap—than what you face in college.

His personality is also much better suited to the college game. While the San Antonio Spurs have managed to build a culture like that at Beilein's Michigan—tight-knit to the point of operating like a family—it took a remarkable convergence of ownership, general manager, head coach, and star players to make it work. Beilein is a control freak; in the NBA, the head coach is often the guy with the least amount of control. (See: most anyone who's coached LeBron James, and this isn't a shot at Bron.)

While a role with USA Basketball could be more realistic, Beilein is 65 and I don't see him wanting to add a big job like that. The USA program might want him as an offensive mind but this is a coaching staff with Coach K and Jim Boeheim. A big draw of coaching in that program is the recruiting opportunities it provides. I don't think I have to say much more to convince you it probably isn't the right fit for Beilein. 


Indy Pete - Go Blue

March 27th, 2018 at 2:54 PM ^

Mo missed all sorts of open looks; crazy to think that it still helped us on offense.  When I think of players who help the team without scoring nearly at all, I always think of Livers.  That guy is nearly invisible on the stat sheet, but his spacing as a decent open three-point shooter helps the offense.  Also, his athleticism and effort on defense and the boards also helps the team.  Also, his starting has allowed Duncan Robinson to become the #1 scoring threat off of the bench when he checks into the game.  I don't think there is a single player in the rotation who is not very important to this team's success.  We are looking at a very unique team where the sum is much greater than the parts.  I think if you gave this exact same roster to dIzzo, K, Self, or Williams, they might not make the tournament.  Yet Coach Beilein has put this crew into the Final Four with a program record of 32 wins.  The magnitude of this accomplishment cannot be overstated.

Whole Milk

March 27th, 2018 at 3:48 PM ^

I'm all for including Izzo, K, and Williams in that group that struggles without elite talent. I would not go so far as to say Self though. That dude can flat out coach and does it without elite talent. Of the guys contributing on his team, Newman is the only guy who was a 5*, and that was with Mississippi State. There is a reason that Kansas has won as many consecutive Big 12 titles as they have, and it isn't because they have always recruited top end talent. 

Whole Milk

March 28th, 2018 at 10:00 AM ^

I wasn't saying that they don't, just that they certainly aren't reliant on it as much as the other blue blood programs in the country. Kansas gets compared to the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world and they simply do not always recruit at the same level as those other schools, and rely much heavier on development of the Devontae Grahams of the world. Compare the number of 5*'s Kansas has had over the last 10 years to the other blue bloods:

Kansas - 11 (7 in the '13-'15 classes)

Kentucky - 35

Duke - 20

Arizona - 14

UCLA - 12

I should have clarified. Compared to the other 300+ teams in college basketball, Kansas has elite talent, but other than a 3 year period where they were excellent in recruiting, they have far under recruited the other top notch programs in college basketball, and none of them have won 11 straight conference titles like Self and Kansas have. 


Shop Smart Sho…

March 27th, 2018 at 3:25 PM ^

My assumption with complaints about inbounding is that whenever they have an issue, it makes people remember several years ago when the team was legitimately bad at inbounding the ball. I'm sure we all remember timeouts being burned and turnovers from not getting the ball in. If I remember correctly, this was when Spike and Trey were inbounding the ball, and if the opponent put a tall bouncy guy in front of them, they were pretty well screwed. After that year is when they built in the safety valve of chucking the ball deep over the 10 second line.

L'Carpetron Do…

March 27th, 2018 at 4:00 PM ^

No but when there's pressure, especially in tight important games it can become a major issue.  

I seem to remember the end of the NCAA game vs Tennessee in 2013 (or 2014?) being incredibly nervewracking because they couldn't get the ball in safely. I remember sweatin' that one out.

Was there an analysis of inbounding vs. a full-court press?  They're definitely much better at it now but they're still not that good at it.  There were some hairy inbounding moments the last few years, that's for sure.


March 27th, 2018 at 5:48 PM ^

From Synergy:

2012-13 team: 97th percentile on BLOBs, 65th on SLOBs, 95th after timeouts
2013-14 team: 100th percentile (#1 overall) on BLOBs, 91st on SLOBs, 98th after timeouts

Seriously, Beilein is good at this.


March 27th, 2018 at 4:14 PM ^

I had heard that the Celtics took a run at hiring Beilein in 2013 after the run to the national title game. Agreed that he was much better suited for the college game, and certainly happy he stayed where he was.


March 27th, 2018 at 6:07 PM ^

Wagner may have been ice cold but I don't exactly blame Hamilton for getting deeply uncomfortable with the quality of looks, especially early in the second half.

Wagner was cold, but man he was getting a lot of open looks.  That has been true all tournament.  Even when he has been missing shots, the looks have been there.

Beilein's offense is doing what it is supposed to do.

As an opposing coach, that has to give you the heebeegeebees.  You know you are being "got", you're just riding your luck hoping that he'll keep missing shots. 

Coaches are control freaks, they don't like to count on hope and luck.


Mitch Cumstein

March 27th, 2018 at 7:10 PM ^

The shot clock comment on college vs NBA reminded me of a thought I had during the game. I wonder if Hamilton’s strategy of the soft press shortened the effective half court shot clock enough to hurt Michigan offensively, especially in the 1st half. May be something we see again this weekend.


March 28th, 2018 at 12:36 PM ^

we took more time to get the ball up the court and had less time to let our half court offense break down their defense.

And that's FSU's game.  They press and play a ten man rotation (all ten play more than 25% of their minutes and no one plays as many as 75%) against everybody.

Looking at the Loyola minutes distribution, it's actually fairly similar.  They go nine deep that play more than 23% of team minutes, but their guards have gone most of the way in the tournament (86% for Custer and 75% for Richardson) and it's toughest on guards to press so I'd be surprised if they pressured like FSU.

Their game is to switch 1-4 and that's how I'd expect them to try to stop Michigan.  It's a strategy that worked for Nebraska in the first meeting and Northwestern's matchup zone is similar to an agressively switching man defense.  We'll have to have some answers and that might involve Z, MAAR and Matthews being able to take them off the dribble.  Our screen action won't provide the open looks that it typically does. 



March 28th, 2018 at 12:21 AM ^

They didn't go small for defense, they went small for offense.

They didn't ditch their centers until there was 13:30 left in the second half when Kabengele got his third foul.  At that point the score was 38-30.

They had 30 points in the first 26.5 minutes of the game! 

The contributions of their centers to that point: 2-8 FGs, only 1 (!!) FT taken, only 2 OREBs total (!!!), and 2 TOs for a combined Ortg of about 40.

They had played great defense to that point. I thought they were really good in the first half and did give up a few open threes (which we missed anyway) at the beginning of the second half but they had only given up 38 points in the first 26.5 minutes despite turning it over a ton (which is how we scored a lot of our points).  That is a 57 point pace and absolutely excellent half court defense.

Their defense was better with the bigs in there. The problem is, they couldn't score playing 4 on 5 on offense.  Their centers can only score getting OREBs and lobs (not to be confused with BLOBs or SLOBs) but our defensive rebounding is so good (and that was the positive Wagner effect in this game) that they weren't getting OREBs and our on ball pressure is so good they weren't able to get lobs up.

They were down 8 and needed some offense and it was a smart move.  They actually sacrificed some defense (Wagner's easy OREB and And1 was one of the costs of going small) to try to get offense because they had to. It was effective enough to force us to go small.  We put Livers in at center after Wagner and Teske picked up three shooting fouls trying to guard their slashers from about the 7 minute to 4 minute mark. They scored  And then I'm pretty sure our 7-0 run in to go up 10 was going small with Livers at the 5.