Mailbag: 3-4 Switch (Again), Kenpom, Basketball Leaders, The More You Know Comment Count

Brian January 19th, 2012 at 12:26 PM


What is the possibility of switching to a 3-4 defense next year?  With a lack of a proven option at DT, and a seeming plethora of linebackers coming in that look ready to start from Day 1, it seems like it would be a wise move.  Mattison ran it at Baltimore so we wouldn't need to worry about running a system our DC doesn't understand.  Or is that asking for trouble with Will 'high pads' Campbell trying to absorb double teams? 

This comes up over and over. Look:

Brian - Any chance Mattison takes a stab at running a 3-4 next year with Will Campbell as the space eater in the middle and Cam Gordon/Jake Ryan the speedy LBs? I image he prefers that base defense because of the variety of blitzing looks it can bring to confuse a 20 year old QB but has he discussed it at all in press conferences. Also, the LBs coming in are upgrading the athleticism to potentially smooth the transition in coming years.


-Jim Dudnick BBA '01

I think I've already dispelled it multiple times, but here it goes again: Michigan will not switch to a 3-4. If it looks like they're recruiting to a 3-4, well, that's because the 4-3 under is halfway between a traditional 4-3 and a 3-4.


Consider the effect of shifting the line against the strength of the formation:

  • The SDE moves inside the tight end and becomes vulnerable to double teams
  • The NT hovers near the center
  • the DT is lined up just outside the guard
  • the WDE gets outside the tackle and is hard to double team

What personnel do you want for that? You want a big bulky DE on the strongside and a penetrating, athletic whip on the weakside. Your nose tackle needs to be able to take on and beat double teams either by splitting them or forcing both players to stay in to block him; the three-tech also must hold up on the interior. That's not that different from what you want from your three down linemen and weakside OLB in the 3-4; add in the SLB hovering around the line and the two MLB types hanging out off the LOS and the under is probably closer to the 3-4 than a 4-3 in terms of personnel.

What the under gives you that the 3-4 doesn't is flexibility in your playmakers. This year Mike Martin one-gapped the hell out of opponents, darting into the backfield and destroying play after play. Next year Ondre Pipkins or maybe Campbell (but probably Pipkins) may be able to shove opponents five yards backwards but he's not going to be as explosive. This should be okay since he will free up Demens. In the 3-4 Martin is not a viable nose (or at least not as good of one) because he has to two-gap—hold his ground and be able to pop off either side. Theoretically, anyway. These days fronts are multiple.

Moving to the 3-4 does not fix any hypothetical issues on the line; Roh and the various WDEs become OLBs* and you're still replacing the three interior players. Instead of allowing those new guys to take one gap and hit it hard you're asking them to play both sides of a player, which means they have to  be immensely strong and able to anchor; quickness is much less of a consideration. The 3-4 would exacerbate potential issues with young and/or light players (like Brink). It is the opposite of a panacea.

*[Remember that Michigan's one-year dalliance with the 3-4 saw Lamarr Woodley play OLB.]

35th in Kenpom seems low for a team that beat their number 3 and 6 teams. This seems to be a big game team, they play well against good teams and then sleep walk through Iowa and Alabama A&M Tech State.  What would our ranking be if we removed every team over 50th (arbitrary cutoff)?

I don't know but I agree that Kenpom seems to have a weakness in that sloppy games against poor competition seem to have a greater impact on the rankings than they do expectations from Vegas. This can make the rankings and predictions look odd.

But that's tough to weed out. If I understand his methodology correctly, Pomeroy tests out changes to his rankings and only implements them if they improve the overall accuracy of his prediction engine. The '06 Gonzaga team is one that Pomeroy thinks his system underrated because they did not play with much effort defensively unless they had to and thus didn't rack up the huge margins of victory that see teams like OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin near the top of his ratings this year.

In Wisconsin's case you can make an argument that their defensive style is dominant against weak competition but fails for whatever reason against better competition… but then how do you explain the Badgers' considerable success over the past half-decade? If you can't find some correlation to go with your model that's as useless as a correlation without a model.

Michigan beat Western Illinois by four and a few other weak teams by ten or thirteen and thus hover lower in the rankings than they maybe should. (Iowa is another matter. That's not screwing around after getting a big lead, it's getting blown out by a bad team.) Could Pomeroy find a way to downplay games between badly mismatched teams? Maybe. If and only if it made the prediction engine stronger, though. Evidently he hasn't.

DISCLAIMER: I know I rely on Kenpom's tempo-free stats extensively but they are just numbers and they do have flaws even Pomeroy admits; that doesn't make them bad or useless. It's a reminder to keep them in perspective.


What are the options for captains on the men's basketball team next year? With Novak and Douglass around it's something we haven't had to think much about much lately, but what scenarios do you foresee playing out? I figure you're looking at a group of players (provided no unexpected attrition) from Vogrich (Sr), Morgan (Jr), Smotrycz (Jr), Hardaway (Jr), and Burke (So). Being that Vogrich seems to have a dab of the gritty mcgrit that Novak and Douglass feature along with being the only senior, I can see him being one of them. But from there do you hope THJ matures with the imaginary 'C' on his jersey? Do you go back to the sophomore route that worked with Novak and give a nod to Burke? Do you tap into the floppy hair of McLimans? So many options...

That is tough, and gives me the heebie-jeebies as I think about Michigan's inexplicable collapse in 2009-2010 after the departures of CJ Lee and David Merritt. That decline is the most powerful argument in favor of gritty leadership I've ever run across, and Michigan is going to have huge shoes to fill in that department next year. Getting that right is going to be captial-I Important.

Honestly… doesn't Burke seem like the guy despite his youth? He spent the offseason before his arrival documenting his insane workrate on the internet and has immediately become the headiest player on the team, non-Novak division. Hardaway has the passion but often fails to control it; Morgan is a quiet guy who has to be goaded into emotion by Bacari Alexander, Vogrich doesn't seem to have the on-court impact to be a candidate, and Smotrycz… I don't know. Smotrycz just doesn't give off the vibe. I'd guess Burke and Hardaway, as odd as that might seem.

The more you know, part one.

If Wikipedia is correct, Denard Robinson has the chance to be the first player in Michigan history to be a three-time team MVP. There have been 6 two-timers:

Ralph Heikkinen
Tom Harmon
Ron Johnson
Mike Hart
Brandon Graham
Denard Robinson

Nobody has been a two-time B1G MVP

This may be something to keep in mind when debates about Robinson's place in Michigan history (like, is he patch-worthy) come up. Unless Robinson makes that argument moot.

The more you know, part two.

A commenter dug down to find the last Michigan players who graduated with a winning record against MSU:

It was Louis Bullock (1995-99), unless we're not counting the vacated games. If we're not counting any of them (we vacated the 1992-93 season and everything from 1995-99), I believe we have to go back to the seniors on the 1989-90 team (Terry Mills, Rumeal Robinson, Mike Griffin and I think someone else [ed: Loy Vaught]).

Bullock does not count. Bullock can go to hell. Vacated games do not count generally. So it's been over 20 years. That's what's at stake for Zack Novak and Stu Douglass in Breslin.

Side note: I hear tell Michigan is going to PSL-up the lower bowl in Crisler next year, with one section opposite the students at midcourt designated for high rollers with a 1k+ PSL attached. Part of this revamp will be the addition of a club analogous to the one at Michigan Stadium for said high rollers.

It sure would be nice to somehow name it after a guy who's given his all for the program like Novak

…instead of a rich guy whose contributions we certainly appreciate but do not viscerally feel, no offense rich guys.


Mr. Yost

January 19th, 2012 at 12:57 PM ^

Good read, especially the 3-4 part. People seem to think 3-4 means taking the 2nd DT off the field and going Roh-Pipkins/Campbell-Black/Brink on the line...Gordon-Morgan-Demens-Ryan at LB...

So you just traded a 220lb Cam Gordon for a 320lb Quinton Washington, Will Campbell or Ondre Pipkins. Not happening. Not unless it's "and long"...(do we not remember 2010!?)

In all actuality, if we went 3-4 it would be Brink-Pipkins-Campbell on the line...Ryan-Morgan-Demens-Roh at LB. As it was said, this doesn't help us. In fact, it hurts us.

Can we please leave the defensive coaching to the guys who took our defense from #108 to #7?!

I'd rather discuss what to do with Devin Gardner next year for the 1,000,000th time than worry about anything on defense scheme wise.


January 19th, 2012 at 1:07 PM ^

It used to be you just buy season tickets. Let's say they're $20/game for 10 games, they're $200.

Now, if you want good season tickets, you get to have a License for your own Personal Seat! So ticket prices don't go up... but for your 10 game package, you have to buy a personal seat license, which will cost (reportedly) $1,000.

Since the internet didn't break permanantly yesterday:


January 19th, 2012 at 12:57 PM ^

I don't believe you Brian.

Michigan will run a 4-3 next year because it has players suited better for the WDE position.

This recruiting class, though, is not for a 4-3.  I don't think any of these guys project out as a true three-tech (although Wormley could grow into it), nor do any of them seem particularly suited for a weak 5-tech (although Strobel could fill that role).

Meanwhile, Ryan, Beyer, Clark, Ojemudia, and RJS all seem like the type of players that would thrive in the Jack role.


January 19th, 2012 at 1:14 PM ^

I believe they will run a 4-3 base next year because that is what the talent dictates.

As for what Mattison and Hoke say they are going to run, no I don't really believe them much.

After Black graduates it looks like this team is going to have one guy at 330lb, a bunch of guys from the 230-260lb range, and a bunch of guys from the 280-300lb, and nobody from the 260-280lb range.  That screams 3-4, as all of the possible 3-techs seem undersized and all the weakside edge rushers seem far more suited for the linebacker position.

If, in two years, this team has some combination of Frank Clark, Jake Ryan, Brennen Beyer, and Mario Ojemudia playing WDE on 1st downs against Wisconsin, there will be hell to pay.


January 19th, 2012 at 1:33 PM ^

You're assuming that none of those guys you listed gain any weight, right? Or cut weight?

In the 4-3 Under the NT is it's own position. 3 and 5 tech need similar athletes. WDE and SAM need similar athletes.

read this:

4-3 Under personnel is the same personnel you need for a 3-4. It's just that the defense itself is simpler to run (see Magnus's comments about 1 vs. 2 gaps)


January 19th, 2012 at 2:29 PM ^

I'm assuming they will all develop as should be expected.  Wormley, Strobel, and Godin all weigh in the 260s now (IIRC) and have the frames to add a lot more weight.

Meanwhile, these are the sizes of our WDE as they stand now:

Frank Clark: 6-2, 228

Brennen Beyer: 6-2, 225

Mario Ojemudia: 6-2, 215

Even if those kids add 40lbs, they will still be rather undersized to play DE.


January 19th, 2012 at 3:26 PM ^

40lbs would put Clark at 268... or Brandon Graham's playing weight while he destroyed the B1G from the WDE spot...

Also, Beyer and Ojemudia are both LBs at this point, SAMS, but they should be more agile than a WDE.

Roh's there now at 270, which is actually big for a 4-3 Under WDE. Remember that the WDE and the SAM are somewhat similar body-types. As Magnus noted, we also have quite a few recruiting classes between then and now.


January 19th, 2012 at 4:00 PM ^

Clark is going to have a very hard time putting on 40lbs.  Graham was a 6'2, 251LB, 5* linebacker prospect coming out of high school.  Plus I don't think Clark is gonna be able to overcome his physical shortcomings in a similar way to Graham.


January 19th, 2012 at 1:27 PM ^

I think folks are getting too caught up in the number of LBs in the class.   I will say something that folks don't want to hear, we simply do not have the talent at the LB position to compete at big-ten/national championship level.  Think about it, we had a RS Fr and a true Fr starting at 2 out of 3 LB positions. That tells me the coaches felt talent wise, those were the best of the bunch.   That is why we took so many LBs, its not a matter of depth for a possible 3-4 move but more so getting a depth of talent at the position in general.  So lets stop the 3-4 talk, both Hoke and Mattison has stated its a 4-3 over so there you go. 


January 19th, 2012 at 2:50 PM ^

Honestly, I forgot about Jordan Paskorz. And to think that Bolden, Ringer, RJS, and Ross ALL will be significant contributors is laughable. Odds are that one or more of them will not pan out. Its not being mean, its just reality. Attrition and recruiting misses aren't exclusive to any particular position. 


January 19th, 2012 at 2:40 PM ^

It has nothing to do with the number of linebackers and everything to do with the defensive line.  Nobody in the last two recruiting classes look like they will develop neatly into the role of the WDE.  Ojemudia and Clark are undersized, Strobel, Wormley and Godin all seem like 3/5 tech double team eaters.  And Pipkins is gonna be eating double teams all game long either way.

Mr. Yost

January 19th, 2012 at 4:01 PM ^

Soooo....we have no time between now and when Black leaves to get a WDE?

What about playing Strobel on normal downs and bringing in Ojemudia and Clark in pass rushing situations?

Where is Heitzman?

What about Jake Ryan playing WDE?


There are so many possibilities and you're freaking out without thinking of any of them...

Mr. Yost

January 19th, 2012 at 1:05 PM ^

I can put all of these players into roles from this past seasons team.

Pipkins: NG - Mike Martin

Wormley: SDE - Ryan Van Bergan

Strobel: SDE - Ryan Van Bergan/Craig Roh

Godin: DT - Will Heininger

Ojemudia: RDE - Frank Clark

...that wasn't even hard. A strong space eater to push the pile back...a strong SDE to hold the edge. Another guy who will be a pass rusher from that position in "and long situations" (currently Roh moves to this position and Jake Ryan moves into Roh's spot at WDE). Godin has the frame to add weight and play Heininger's spot easy. Ojemudia to Frank Clark is to obvious to even explain.

As for guys on the team...Ryan already has a SLB/WDE role similar to Bobby Carpenter's at OSU. Beyer was playing WDE in the "BEAR" Formation before he got hurt. He can easily grow into a WDE and replace Roh in 1.5 years.

The personnel is already similar, but Brian already said that.



January 19th, 2012 at 2:59 PM ^

Roh played WDE this year and played at about 40-50lbs heavier and 2 inches taller than either Clark or Ojemudia.  Maybe more.

Frank Clark was a backup who was a passing downs only sort of guy.  He will be for his entire career unless he does some remarkable bulking up.  Clark and Ojemudia are both smaller than Jake Ryan.

Seattle Maize

January 19th, 2012 at 3:27 PM ^

I think the reason they got Roh so big for that position was because he was an ineffective pass rusher, so the coaches decided he would be better as a run stuffer. That's why Ryan, Beyer and Clark came in on passing downs. Once they add some weight an strength I wouldnt be surprised to see them pass up Roh.


January 19th, 2012 at 12:58 PM ^

I know some people that would argue that the 3 down linemen in a 3-4 system are not two-gap players.  They are still responsible for a gap, but their alignment allows them to sometimes play two gaps.  Rather than playing on one shoulder or the other, they often align head up on a center or tackle.  So even though their first step might be to the right or the left, their initial alignment helps them recover and play that other gap.

It's more of a distinction of verbiage than application, but I guess it's a point worth making.


January 19th, 2012 at 1:19 PM ^

I think the "leadership" aspect of our basketball season two years ago, while real and valid, gets overplayed to a degree.

When we lost Lee and Merritt, we lost more than "leadership" - we lost our top two point guards (and gained one who was extremely not ready as a freshman), and lost our best on-the-ball defender (Lee). Stu, who, we can agree, is fine in few-minutes stints as a PG, but not a long term option, was leaned on to be both. As sub-MAC level recruit in his sophomore season, it was a tall order.

I'd be willing to bet that if Burke was closer to to Freshman Morris than Sophomore Morris, we wouldn't be sniffing a tourney bid this year either.

There were actual basketball problems - there's a reason why our defense regressed and every single returning player shot significantly worse - we lost our best defender, and our main facilitators.

Kilgore Trout

January 19th, 2012 at 1:25 PM ^

That team lost their top three PGs when you include Kelvin Grady's departure.  He was a solid player who would have contributed throughout his career. 

I was thinking about how much trouble this team would be in if Burke got hurt and actually wondered if Beilein would consider giving Grady a call. 


January 19th, 2012 at 1:58 PM ^

FWIW, Novak and Douglass weren't even born until after that last MSU game in the 89-90 season. Novak was born after they graduated and Douglass was born in March, so during tournament time.

They are playing to be the first players to graduate with a winning record against MSU since before they were born.


January 19th, 2012 at 4:04 PM ^

Well, Dugan Fife (6-2) and Ray Jackson/Jimmy King (5-3) had winning records against MSU before some of their games weren retroactively vacated (making Fife 2-2 and the others 3-3). Can we count them, if they weren't at fault for the vacating?  The university's stance for guys like that is ambiguous.  The records are supposedly vacated but their statistics are still valid.


January 19th, 2012 at 5:05 PM ^

The question is really "Would Michigan have won those games if the ineligible players had not been playing?". There isn't any way to know for sure, but you lean toward no because technically the team was ineligible. However, with stats, there are arguments to be made that the eligible players would have been forced to score more without the ineligible players or that the ineligible players allowed the eligible players to take better shots. I think that leads to assuming that the eligible players did what they did independent of the ineligible players so that they can keep their stats.


January 19th, 2012 at 2:04 PM ^

I wouldn't give anyone the patch treatment other than Tom Harmon, if they wanted to unretire his number (which they should).

Though Denard still has a senior year to earn his way into that category.


January 19th, 2012 at 2:56 PM ^

next year, but what took you so long?  Burke and THJr are the only options.  And yes, this team will miss Stu and Zack more than most people think.  Next year we will be taller, more talented and more athletic, but we may not be better in the win column.


January 19th, 2012 at 3:34 PM ^

I'm wondering how someone could forget Loy Vaught but remember Mike Griffin. Griffin was a 30 point per game player in high school, but spent a good chunk of his career get booed by the crowd for passing up wide open 12 footers. Vaught was a steadying force on that team - a national championship winning team - that rebounded, defended and blocked shots. He went on to a long NBA career, earning the nickname, "Mr. Clipper."

He and Juwan Howard have been my favorite M basketball players until this Zack Novak guy showed up.