Mailbag: Allowing Threes, Height == Rebounding?, Why Pulling Is Hard Comment Count

Brian January 22nd, 2013 at 12:18 PM


As you've referenced with KenPom's research several times, it would appear that the best way to defend the 3 point shot is to keep your opponent from shooting them at all. Unfortunately, according to an ESPN insider article, Michigan is allowing its opponents to shoot them on 36.9% of their possessions, which ranks 295th in the nation. Does this concern you? I think we would all hate to see Michigan beaten in the tournament by a less talented opponent with a hot hand from deep because they can't prevent teams from getting off 3 pointers.


Somewhat. The nice thing about Michigan's defense is how few shots at the rim they give up. Michigan's forcing more two-point jumpers than any team in the league except Nebraska:

Team Defensive Summary

Shot Type

% of shots


% of Shots Blocked

Unblocked FG%

At Rim





2pt Jumpers





3pt Shots





The conference:

Team Rim 2PT 3PT
Nebraska 24 46 30
Michigan 25 39 36
Indiana 26 37 36
Iowa 27 38 34
OSU 28 38 34
Minnesota 29 39 32
Penn State 31 30 40
Purdue 33 41 26
Wisconsin 33 42 26
Illinois 34 31 35
MSU 35 34 31
Northwestern 39 30 31

Insofar as shots are migrating to three-pointers, they're shots at the rim. So… that's okay. Ideally you'd like to see that Nebraska shot configuration, but to do that the Huskers give up on the idea of offensive rebounding and steals.

I'm not sure what Michigan can do to improve their defense at this point. Forcing a lot of jumpers plus their defensive rebounding and lack of fouls has propped their defense up, and that's about all they can do. They don't have a shotblocker—at least right now, maybe Horford can provide some of that later in the season—or an elite perimeter defender. They rotate out on pick and rolls to prevent guys getting to the basket, and then you have to start rotating away from the corners. Threes inevitably result… if you're not Wisconsin.

As for the tourney, it will be tough for any major underdog to keep up with Michigan's offense, but a second or third round matchup against a good defensive team that takes and hits a lot of threes would be worrisome.


Whenever Michigan gets a 3-star recruit earlier in the process, there tends to be widespread complaining about taking up scholarships that could be filled by more highly rated players.  The general response to that is, "I trust the coaches to evaluate players."  This got me to thinking that most major programs essentially have their pick of just about any three star player that they want.

My question is, do three star and lower players who go to major programs perform better on average than the total population of three star players?

I understand it would be hard to distinguish between a three star player taken for depth/filling out a roster purposes compared to a three star player who the coaches think are better than their ranking, but I thought it might be an interesting topic to explore.

I'd guess it's actually worse since there's more competition and recruiting sites give recruits at the bottom end of the scale a courtesy bump to three stars 90% of the time a nobody commits to a power program.

At Purdue, everyone is a three-star player and someone has to be relied upon; sometimes you get Kawann Short. At Michigan—at least at Michigan in the near future—the three star is going to have to climb over some other guys to get on the field.

I do think that there is a big difference between a recruitment like Reon Dawson—who Michigan clearly grabbed to fill a previously designated spot that was vacated—or Da'Mario Jones—seemingly offered once Treadwell flitted off—and Channing Stribling, who Michigan liked at camp and then had a very nice senior year. To put in in Gruden terms, did Michigan want THIS GUY or just A GUY?


In your post, "Aging in a Loop", you mentioned how the solid defensive rebounding performance in Columbus proves that we are for real on the boards this year.  I agree completely, but it got me wondering how much of that has to do with our sudden ability to actually have three to four non-midgets (relative use of the term, I get it) on the floor at once.  I can't remember too many Michigan teams having anything resembling a luxury of length in quite some time.

Have ever looked for or found any statistical correlation between average height and rebounding prowess?  Even the least astute observer must realize it will benefit the numbers, but I guess what I'm after is just how much it actually does?

- chewieblue

[Note: since this email came in Minnesota did pound Michigan on the offensive boards.]

While much-improved, Michigan still isn't a very big team. Replacing Novak and Douglass with a couple of 6'6" guys and adding McGary into the mix has pushed them to a hair above average on Kenpom's "effective height,"* but that's in the context of 347 D-I teams. There are entire conferences where the 6'10" guy is a tourist attraction. They remain a lot shorter than Kentucky, Arizona, USC, Miami, Gonzaga, Eastern Michigan, and others. Effectively four inches shorter, in fact.

Michigan's moved up in the world in that stat—they've generally hovered around 250th in effective height since Beilein arrived—but I don't think that's the reason they've been so good at rebounding this year. I crammed together the data available on Kenpom to eyeball an ugly scatter plot, and here it is:


Libre Office makes sinfully ugly graphs yo.

That round ball with a dense central cluster is typical of things that are not correlated. You'd find something similar if you graphed hair color versus desire to eat bananas.

There is no correlation between effective height and defensive rebounding. If you insert a trend line into this—something I don't like to do in low-correlation graphs like because it implies that there actually is a trend—it actually goes down as your height goes up, at a surprisingly steep slope. Some people would try to apply some crazy mechanism to make that make sense here; I'm just going to tell you there is no meaning. There does seem to be some correlation between EH and offensive rebounding, but not much of one.

Anecdotally, that enormous Eastern Michigan team Michigan played earlier this year is below average at both facets of rebounding despite having played only a few games against decent competition. They're hideous on the defensive glass.

In general this is good news for Michigan, a team that trades some rebounding muscle for increased offensive effectiveness. But why are they so much better this year than last? Well:

  1. Luck, always luck.
  2. Effective height does not capture the difference between Mitch McGary and Evan Smotrycz very well.
  3. Michigan has not trudged through their Big Ten schedule yet; IIRC they entered conference play last year in the top ten and ended up 9th in conference, dropping to 99th overall.
  4. Tim Hardaway is serious, man.
  5. Some teams are abandoning the offensive boards in an effort to choke Michigan's transition game off.

If you asked me to put weights on these things I would give them nearly all equal weight, which means they can expect some regression as #1 and #3 betray them but should realize a significant gain from last year's 9th-place conference finish.

SIDE NOTE: You'll notice that GRIII > Novak is not on that list. While it's true that GRIII is much better on the offensive boards than Novak was, their defensive rebounding is essentially identical, lending credence to the idea that getting on the defensive glass is a matter of effort and positioning while offensive rebounding is more about being a skyscraper-bounding genetic freak. Holla at yo' Petway.

*[IE, if you have a seven-footer who plays 10 minutes and a 6'8" guy who plays 30, the 6'8" guy counts three times more than the seven-footer.]

Pulling: hard?

Brian, Quite often the site discusses the ability of an offensive lineman to pull. Why is this difficult? My understanding is that pulling requires the lineman to:

(0) (set up:) ignore the guys across from him before the snap, because the lineman is about to pull,

(1) after the snap, back up a step or two,

(2) run sideways behind other blockers, and then

(3) find a guy to block.

So what is hard? I'm not saying there isn't anything, I just don't know what it is. Is finding the right guy to block hard? Or backing up and running?

Also, have you thought about doing a basketball version of HTTV?

Best, PR

One of the major takeaways from the clinic swing I did last spring was that everything is hard on the offensive line. I missed most of a three-hour presentation by Darryl Funk on inside zone because I was at Mattison's thing, and when I came in I was too far gone to understand much. I also sat in with a wizened consultant who scribbled various v-shaped diagrams on an ancient projector and demonstrated how if you stepped like so your world would end, and if you stepped like so demons would pour into the world from outside known space, but if you stepped like so there was a slight chance of you living to see dinner.

All of these steps looked identical to me. Offensive line is hard.

So. Consider the pull. You are 300 pounds, and you are lined up across from men who would like to run you over, and you are trying to get to a hole past other 300 pound men before a 200 pound man lined up a gap closer to this hole can get there. On the way you may encounter bulges in the line you have to route around. When you arrive you have to instantly identify the guy to block, reroute your momentum, and get drive on a guy.

This is a tall order. Michigan particularly had difficulty with step 2 the last couple years. Here's a canonical example from the uniformz MSU game. Watch Omameh (second from the bottom):

"Run sideways" goes all wrong there as Omameh arcs slowly and Denard ends up hitting the hole before he does; Denard has to bounce as a result when a block on Bullough is promising as the left side of the line caves in MSU.

To get to the place you are supposed to be you have to execute a series of steps as carefully choreographed as anything on dancing reality TV and be able to adapt on the fly, and you have to be able to redirect your momentum quickly enough to go in three different directions in a short space of time, with enough bulk to be, you know, an offensive lineman. Getting there in time is harder than anything the tailback has to do.

How does this impact Michigan's search for run-game competence in 2013? I hope it doesn't since I'd rather have Schofield back at right tackle than moving back inside.



January 22nd, 2013 at 12:37 PM ^

At the beginning of your post Brian you touched on another reason why UM is performing well on the defensive glass - they aren't allowing many shots close to the basket.  Often times shots close to the basket are a result of an offensive players penetration - either the penetrator is shooting the ball or he passes to another player close to the basket.  Once an offensive player has gotten by his defender it forces the rest of the defenders to rotate and help which usually doesn't leave the defenders in a great position to box out and sometimes leaves a 6'4" defender trying to box out a 6'9" offensive player. 


January 22nd, 2013 at 12:39 PM ^

I mentioned this to Brian and figured I'd also post it here: If Michigan is looking for a shot-blocker, I think it's Mitch McGary. After starting the season out of shape (he missed a lot of preseason conditioning with, IIRC, a foot injury), he's got ten blocks in the last six games and generally looks more explosive than he did at the beginning of the season.

Space Coyote

January 22nd, 2013 at 4:50 PM ^

In the sense that I don't think other teams fear him. The term "shot-blocker" I think is more analogous with the rotating help defensive player that scares people at the rim. From what I've seen, McGary isn't really lanky enough and doesn't really jump quick enough (you've seen those guys that seem to be able to jump twice as high but some how can jump twice in the amount of time it takes the other one to jump once) to be extremely feared around the rim.

He has done well at blocking some shots, and I think he's the closest thing Michigan has, but I don't think teams are going to game plan around his shot-blocking ability or guards will be looking over their shoulder every time they get into the lane.


January 22nd, 2013 at 1:09 PM ^

I've seen pull technique taught a few different ways, so I won't claim that is THE ONLY WAY.

However, the issue with Omameh in the video is that his initial step is with his right foot. His stance puts his right foot behind his left, and when he pulls, he brings that right foot even with the left one. Only then does he turn his hips and step with his left foot 90' down the line.  That puts him a full step behind where he should be, and it's what you might call a "false step."

Omameh's first step should be with his left foot.  He should keep the right foot planted, turn the left foot 90' to the left, and then bring his right foot across.  

Personally, I always thought Omameh would be a better fit at tackle.  I don't think his body type and athleticism fit well at guard, but obviously, I'm not in charge.


January 22nd, 2013 at 1:23 PM ^

That is how I was taught in high school to pull as an OG, as well. It was to step with the lead foot first parallel to the line of scrimmage and then cross with the back foot. If you were kicking out, come at a sharp angle to the LOS at the DE or LB you were kicking out. If you were turning up to seal in the DE or LB, dip your shoulder to turn up field quicker. But you are also trusting that your line mates would block their man and fire off the LOS, otherwise you have to run around them and make an adjustment.

I was a 170 lbs. offensive guard (we had a physically small football team / league compared to others). That was one of my favorite things to do was pull and kick out that DE. The trap was another favorite play of mine as an OG.


January 22nd, 2013 at 3:42 PM ^

It's a really good illustration of why you hear coaches harping on "footwork" all the time, and not just with QBs. It's basic stuff like this that screws up a play, rather than some major mistake (or horrible play call). We can all see when a guy throws off his back foot or something similar and sails a pass, but most plays are won or dead at the line, and it's this stuff that makes the difference.  That's why we hear "fundamentals" so much, because it's really basic stuff...that becomes really hard physical repetition in live game situations.

Space Coyote

January 22nd, 2013 at 4:58 PM ^

The thing is too, that people don't realize, is that footwork not only directly makes you slower, but indirectly by messing up other motions. Typically you would like to see Ohameh rip across his body (somewhat similar to when a D-lineman rips, though not as exaggerated because you don't actually need to rip through anyone, it's more to get your momentum going that direction) and keep a bit lower center of gravity as he runs parallel to the LOS. Because his footwork is poor, his upper body motion gets thrown off and he doesn't get an initial burst. It also throws off his path and he loops too much. All stemming from a bad first step. 


January 23rd, 2013 at 7:19 AM ^

I do wonder about coaches that try to teach footwork by the step.  I understand it's extremely common and maybe unavoidable if the kids lack the capacity to "get it", but it's really a rudimentary application of physics that carries over in everything from dancing to martial arts.  Considering the endless permutations and variations that can change instantly at the defense's whim, that's an awful lot of detail that is (maybe?) better absorbed, albeit with more difficulty, as a concept.  Mike Martin learned concepts of leverage and footwork as a wrestler which gave him a very high degree of adaptability on the football field even in the days of GERG.  If you understand the underlying concepts of WHY coach wants you to step here and not here, you'll not only do it on your own, you'll make the correct adjustments in-game when the defense tries to show you an alignment you've never seen before.  Easier said than done, I guess?

Even if the footwork is perfect, you need a "rangy" lineman to pull effectively -- just LOOK at the play as drawn up and you'll see one lineman with a longer route than the others, almost as long as the ball carrier's journey up to the line -- often a guy 100-150 pounds lighter and a lot faster.  Asking a 300-pound man to run that distance over a non-linear route in such a short time is a tall order.  The curling path taken by a pulling lineman is the sort you'll see taken by basketball guards or soccer forwards, not charging elephants.

Would improving technique make Omameh better at pulling?  Maybe, but I've always doubted the ability of ANY lineman to pull well enough to get into position before Denard or Toussaint reached the line.  I'd go as far as question why Borges thinks it's a good idea.  Running power with speedsters puts the ball in the hands of a small, quick guy trapped in a cramped space.  If the O-line doesn't create a seam, and the '12 line often couldn't, you've got all this speed in the backfield and no means of using it, like a sports car stuck in rush-hour traffic.  Spread the line out and get the ball carrier some space, yo.


January 23rd, 2013 at 10:07 AM ^

I'm really confused by your post.  Are you a coach?  Every coach I've encountered has talked about footwork.  Even coaches who principally teach zone running concepts talk about the first and second steps.

There's really no way to coach the sixth or eigth step, because as you mentioned, lots of things can happen (people can get in the way, defenders react differently, etc.), but steps 1 and 2, at the very least, are almost always choreographed.

Concepts are great, and maybe Mike Martin can put ideas of leverage into action without concentrating on other parts of his game.  Maybe he just naturally has good footwork.  But not all guys are Mike Martin.  I've never gone to a Brady Hoke- or Greg Mattison-led clinic, but I'm willing to bet they would talk a lot about footwork during their defensive line sessions.


January 22nd, 2013 at 1:23 PM ^

In my experience playing ball, rebounding is a skill.  A rough analogy to football is a receiver being able to locate and catch a deep ball.  It is a skill that transcends size/speed that relies on hand-eye-body coordination.  Like rebounding, size/speed/jumping helps all things being equal, but there is an innate difference between the Manningham's and Hemingway's (great deep ball catchers) and the Breaston's (not as good deep ball catcher).

My keys to rebounding (in rough order)

1. Desire

2. Positioning (2 feet from the hoop or 4, which side of the rim, boxing out, etc...)

3. Hands (hand-eye coordination, securing the ball)

4. Judging the ball off the rim/timing the jump- (Dennis Rodman was the best at this)

5. Size/leaping ability (unless a clear mismatch...i.e. 6'10" vs. 6'4".  In general, 6'7" versus 6'9" does not matter.)


January 22nd, 2013 at 3:47 PM ^


 All he wanted to do was get rebounds and play defense (then later, just rebound). He was underrated for studying where the ball would be and how it came off the rim, because he was a bit kooky; but he learned from Laimbeer how to know where the ball was going sometimes before it even hit the rim. And while his size wasn't the greatest, he added to great positioning a really quick leaping ability. Not only was he getting up to get the ball before other were off the ground, he had the ability to go up fast tip it away, and go down and jump up again before guys could get it. Basically tipping it to himself with a couple of quick hops. Unique athlete.





January 22nd, 2013 at 1:35 PM ^

I feel like there's a problme with that graph, and it's referenced within the article.  Namely, "...that's in the context of 347 D-I teams. There are entire conferences where the 6'10" guy is a tourist attraction."  This graph includes many teams with above-average height who play mostly against other teams of above-average height, and vice versa.  It might be more informative to have a sample size of only major-conference basketball.  Or, even more informative (if more work-intensive) would be a graph that shows games as datapoints rather than teams, and effective height DIFFERENCE as the variable being adjusted.  Just a thought. 

His Dudeness

January 22nd, 2013 at 1:38 PM ^

All due respect Omameh is just not very good at pulling. I have seen him numerous times look as though he is in slow motion when he attempts to pull - along with your "arc" mishap shown here. Maybe he was starting because of strength, lack of depth, etc. but he was not the best OG we have had at Michigan... No offense to him personally, of course.


January 23rd, 2013 at 2:39 AM ^

That is what the coaches in the Big Ten thought of Patrick Omameh.

The guy started for three years on teams that put up 30+ ppg.  Blaming him because the coaching staff can't teach a (by all accounts) pretty smart kid how to do something and/or keep asking him to do something he can't do (we had a pulling linemen on virtually every running play this year; this is not a requirement imposed by the rules of football) is extremely unfair.

His Dudeness

January 23rd, 2013 at 8:26 AM ^

First off I didn't vote your comment down. I agree with most of it.

Second I didn't realize he was 1st team all B1G. That is odd to me, but he did start for 3 years. Maybe it was a "career award?" Not being a dick here, but maybe they saw that he started 3 years at M and thought he must be good. And to be honest he isn't bad at most aspects of the position. He just is remarkably bad at pulling. And that happens to be a pretty major part of the OG position. he is very smart and very strong and not a bad player. That isn't what I am saying. I have just mnoticed in live games (and at home) that he is running through a pool of pudding when he tries to pull. It's noticeable. I don't know if that is unfair, but it is something I noticed.


January 22nd, 2013 at 1:54 PM ^

Plus, you're 300 lbs, moving at full speed, and you have to locate and block a guy more nimble than you are. The RB has to help you out by taking the route designed, and even so an athletic end, a linebacker or a DB will always have a nimbleness advantage.

Watch OL guys trying to block screens to see what I mean.

It's hard as hell, and it has to be done on time.

That's why I love great OL play. I'm no fan of Alabama, but man, this year...

Maison Bleue

January 22nd, 2013 at 2:08 PM ^

2) Effective height does not capture the difference between Mitch McGary and Evan Smotrycz very well.

This sparked a thought. When Maryland joined the B1G, do you think there was that moment of "Awww, shit." in Even Smotrycz? I mean, IMO he left because he saw what was coming and realized, "Man, I am going to be sitting next to Vogrich on the bench next year, a lot." So he left, avoiding having to compete with these guys for minutes. Now he has to compete with these guys for wins, twice a year. It makes me feel sorry for the kid. 

Maison Bleue

January 22nd, 2013 at 3:19 PM ^

Maybe your right. I just remember him quoted as saying he needed to find a "better fit" for his talents. Being a 6'9" forward and your greatest attribute is shooting, It's hard to imagine a better fit than Beilein's system. But kids are kids and they do things for whatever reason enters their kid brains. I still feel bad for him though. He left a school and conference and probably thought, "finally done with all that" only to have to go right back to that conference and face that school he just left. I hope there is no negativity towards him when he makes his way back to Crisler, because he seems like a good kid.


January 22nd, 2013 at 3:28 PM ^

I thought the same thing. Teams who spend the whole game up double digits probably see their opponents shoot more threes. Just like football teams who have big leads give up more passing yards. Teams need to do what they need to do to get back in the game.


January 22nd, 2013 at 3:26 PM ^

Notice that Brian obstinately ignores the suggestion of a HTTV: Basketball Edition at the end of the pulling letter.  I imagine the prospect alone would be enough to break our fearless leader, especially when the bulk of the work would come in the time immediately preceeding and during the heart of football season.


January 22nd, 2013 at 3:53 PM ^

And had a few kinks to work out in the process. Let them have a chance to have that perfected before they take on additional duties, eh?

Though I would imagine it wouldn't have to be as big an undertaking. Maybe more a magazine than a whole Annual.  Wonder if MHoops is up for a joint venture.


January 22nd, 2013 at 3:30 PM ^

When Michael (Schofield) played LG, it was not as easy as it looked the beggining the coaches had to keep telling him to slow, he would get there before the play was fully developed, or he would run by the Defender he was to find to block,,,,as time went on he got much better, even last year the pulled him a lot for being a Tackle.....I beleive Brian did a segment on Michael pulling in 2011......


January 22nd, 2013 at 3:55 PM ^

Because I'm a pessimist, I'm going to stow this one away:


but a second or third round matchup against a good defensive team that takes and hits a lot of threes would be worrisome

I totally feel like that is coming for this team.


January 22nd, 2013 at 3:55 PM ^

Or would they worry about a primarily jump shooting team (not primarily 3 point shooting, but yes, jump shooting) going cold and getting held by some defense to not enough points?

I'm less worried about a hot team being hotter than us in a high scoring affair than the first half of OSU taking over and clanking us out of the Tournament because we can't go inside enough. (Though it's not really keeping me up at night in fear)


January 22nd, 2013 at 4:31 PM ^

The latter. It'll be interesting to see how we do in Madison, because I think that's going to be the gameplan for upsetting Michigan in the tournament. Play slow. Chase shooters off the 3 point line. Try to prevent ball reversal and bump any cutters to make the Michigan offense get stagnant, and try to force us into a lot of late shot clock offensive reinitiations. Send one guy to the offensive glass and four back to choke off any transition, and hope you can win a first team to 50 game.

 If teams outside the top 8 let Michigan play, our offensive efficiency will shine through. I'm not worried about, say, Creighton going crazy and shooting Michigan out of the gym. I am worried about Butler, say as a 4 seed, beating us in Indianapolis by taking the air out of the ball.


January 22nd, 2013 at 6:45 PM ^

The texhnique is difficult ecause there

Must be nonwasted motions to get the timing if the blocks correctly. The guards first step must be what is called a "flat step" which is parallel to the LOS. A pulling tackle must take a deeper step depending on the play. If it is a counter play where a G and a T pull then the tackle must take a deeper flat step to stagger himself. He must stagger himself just in case the guard in frobt of him gets blown up then he doesnt get taken out also. He must also stagger himself with the G because they are taking fifferent angle to block, either thefirst man inside, the end

Man on the LOS or the playsibe backer, depending on the play. You must have perfect footwork while identifying your man and the adjusting your path accordingly to get your helmet on the inside of the block, this is so the man u are blocking cant scrape accross your face. Keep in mind that defenders are "squeezing and apilling" in an attempt to take you out and blow up the play, it is a difficult task to accomplish.


January 22nd, 2013 at 7:12 PM ^

Two notes on height/defensive rebouding 

1. Taller teams probably attempt to block more shots - opens up opportunities for opponents' offensive rebounds

2. Eastern plays a 2-3 zone all the time, which is much harder to rebound out of than man to man