Mailbag: Bad Times, Autobench, Coleman Assessed, McCray Location

Submitted by Brian on March 4th, 2015 at 12:06 PM


things were bad all around when Bump was doing his best

Bad times man

Could this year be the first year that all three major sports missed the post season?

I tried to look it up but realized I was wasting too much time doing so.

Thanks for the leg work. Sorry for bringing it up, though.

-Brandon Hall

This isn't actually that hard to do. Michigan had a 30-some year bowl streak starting with Bo and a 22-year tourney streak starting early in the Red era. Basketball made the tournament the last two years, so we start with 1974 and go back from there. So:

  • Hockey had a tourney drought from 1965 to 1976(!)
  • Basketball made it in '74, reaching the Elite Eight, but hadn't made the tourney since 1966 previously.
  • It was Rose or nothing for football back then, and nothing happened in 1974 and 1973

So, 1973. Meanwhile, the late sixties were not much fun to be a Michigan fan, with no postseason appearances from the big three from 66 to the 1970 Rose Bowl.

Hockey still has a shot to avoid the trifecta. Also HARBAUGH


Why in the world does a coach as good as Beilein continually pull the autobench? Which is basically taking the penalty for a crime you haven't committed yet. Also, what's the team's +/- in the last 5 minutes of the first half this season? That seems like when the autobench would be hurting us. Thanks.


Funny you should ask that, I was just about to—



Given the discussion via both the website and Twitter today railing against the autobench, I put together the attached file to see what's actually going on. Thought you might be interested in the results. Dan Dakich said something interesting during the broadcast about people not talking enough about the importance of the time at the end of the first half on the outcome of a game. I've always thought this, as well, so I also put in a +/- on Michigan's performance from the final media timeout of the first half to halftime [in both autobench and non-autobench situations].

The document is here if you want to look at the details. The summary data follows.

The first column is Michigan's overall margin at the end of the game. The second is Michigan's performance in the last four minutes of the first half in all games; the third is Michigan's margin in autobench situations.


parens means negative numbers

The conclusion seems to be that John Beilein has not adapted his autobench policy to the injuries of Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, and is still coaching like he has solid depth. This is emphatically not true, as the result of the autobench today put Andrew Dakich and Sean Lonergan on the floor for extended time. 

Anyway, like I said, I thought you might find this interesting.

Go Blue,

Zach Jones

This was pre-Northwestern but with the only autobench in NW coming from Kam Chatman it's still accurate. Most of Michigan's deficit in Big Ten play post-injuries has come in autobench situations.

Autobench was a reasonable strategy earlier in the year when the guy coming off the bench was usually Spike (or Spike was the autobench subject). Lately it has gone very un-well.

These are tiny sample sizes that you can't draw any statistically significant conclusions from, but they do confirm the eyeball test. Michigan scored once in ten possessions at the end of the first half when Irvin and MAAR were benched, and that was the difference. MAAR's absence in the MSU game corresponded with a huge MSU run that put that game out of reach.

It's one thing to bring Dawkins or MAAR or Spike into the game because one of your guys has a couple fouls. It's another to have a lineup with Lonergan and Dakich on the floor.

The other recent controversy.


I watch the multiple M games with my Michigan grad neighbor and occasionally we get into battles about Michigan coaching strategy.  This came into fruition during the NW game in both the regular time and the OT.  I have always held the strategy:  if it is under the shot clock (35 seconds left ) with a lead of over 2 points you should foul with the ball under ½ court with the opposing player in no act of shooting.  This holds true especially in the 1-and-1 and with a timeout (to escape the trap by calling timeout).  My theory is that you give the opposing team no chance to tie the game on their possession.  Add to that if the ball is brought up court by a poor free throw shooter, to miss the 1-and-1 reduces dramatically to the 2 points awarded.  I also have a time out to call in the event of an inbounds trap.  The net is you give up 2 points max up by one with an out of bounds pass and a timeout.  You inbounds the pass up by one shooting a 1:1 probably immediately fouled.   

My neighbor argues that playing good defense is a valid strategy, citing the NW player stepping out of bounds giving Michigan the ball.

We would have won the game at Northwestern if we deployed this strategy in both the regular time and/or the overtime.  We let them win by two miracle Trey Burke shots to tie that never should have happened.  Please convince me by math that I am not insane that the “prevent” defense in college basketball is not better than in the NFL and insanely underutilized.      


I am #teamfoul all the way, but any discussion of this has to point out the most extensive study of this decision on the college level was done by Ken Pomeroy and it didn't show what you think it might:

         W    L   OT   Win%   Cases
Foul    122   5   11   92.0    138
Defend  598   2   76   93.5    676

(That post was spurred by Ben Brust's DEATH TO BACKBOARDS heave, because of course.)

Now: fouling does prevent OT. 13% of "defend" instances made it to an extra five minutes. 8% of "foul" instances did. The increased chance of an insta-loss offset that in a sample size that's suggestive but not definitive.

So. Despite being #teamfoul, this is the kind of game theory noodling that is way less significant than anything that gets you a single extra point over the course of 40 minutes. There are some game theory noodles that are worth exploring (fourth down decisions in football, calling your f-ing timeouts when the opponent has first and goal). This one appears to be marginal.

The more important thing is what the hell Bielfeldt was thinking when Olah set a screen for Demps in that situation. There is no way Demps should have been that open.

[After THE JUMP: Mary Sue Coleman's role in Brandongate, Mike McCray deployment, #harbaugheffect]

What about Mary Sue Coleman?


I was really impressed with your retrospective on the Brandon Era. Regrettably, I didn't read the article until this weekend so I could not be a part of the feedback that you put into your aftermath post. One huge omission was any mention of Mary Sue Coleman, both in the original piece and in the "Things I missed" section the next day. 

Why would she be left out? She not only hired him, but seemingly gave him full autonomy to change anything he wanted to in the department. There were some shadowy rumors about MSC's involvement in athletics during her tenure here (none of which I believed) but her allowance of Dave is very much rooted in a sobering reality. How did she get let off the hook? 


Coleman's job was, and Schlissel's job is, much bigger than just the athletic department. By most accounts she did a great job raising funds and building stuff, and those seem to  be the only metrics anyone really cares about these days. By standard accounting she did her job in most respects. I question a lot about the direction of the American university system, but asking her to fix it is asking her to be a sui generis superstar instead of just adequate. Big institutions don't get those kind of leaders much because everything's a compromise.

But, yeah, she deserves a big fat raspberry for her handling of the athletic department. Hiring Brandon, who was one of the key people who got her hired in the first place, was a clear conflict of interest. And as time would tell, Brandon was a terrible fit. The cherry on top was extending Brandon just before her departure. Brandon was no threat to depart; Coleman gave him a six year contract that was 100% guaranteed just before she left. That's an attempt to take the decision-making out of the new president's hands. It turned out to be a multi-million dollar present.

That's cronyism pure and simple.

McCray location?

It depends on a few different things. For one: what is the role of the SAM in this defense? In an under the SAM is often a Jake Ryan type; when playing an over that role tends to go to the lightest, fastest, and most coverage-oriented guy. James Ross was that guy last year. In the former case, SAM is well with in the wheelhouse of a guy who runs 6'2", 240. In the latter not so much.

As for end, it is possible. Mario Ojemudia, the projected starter, isn't much bigger and Lawrence Marshall isn't bigger at all. Michigan could use some more competition there and linebacker seems set. He could get a look there. More likely they roll with what they've got, add the two Florida freshmen, and McCray competes at whatever the ILB slots are. Both of those will be open next year, after all.

The Harbaugh effect

Cracker Barrel crushed it in 2Q

And January comps accelerated...JH impact!!!!

StreetAccount Metrics Recap - Cracker Barrel Q2 Earnings

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 01:09:01 PM (GMT)

  • Key operating metrics:

    • Restaurant comps +7.9% vs StreetAccount consensus +3.8%

      • Nov +5.6%
      • Dec +6.3%
      • Jan +11.4%
      • Traffic +4.7%
      • Average check +3.2%
    • Retail comps +3.2% vs SA +4.7%
      • Nov (0.6%)
      • Dec +0.5%
      • Jan +15%
    • Cost of goods sold 34.7% vs SA 34.2% and year-ago 34.8%
    • Operating margin 9.7% vs SA 8.3% and year-ago 8.5%

Good to know.



March 4th, 2015 at 12:34 PM ^

Another thing I don't understand is why Spike keeps inbounding the ball when that has been such a struggle in games lately - plus he is the best free throw shooter so you want him catching the pass to get fouled late in the game.  And I actually root for the other team to make their second free throw because I can't stand the emotional anguish of watching us not box out on free throws and giving them another possession.  Why can't we box out on free throws?  We must have the worst defensive rebounding average on missed free throws in the country.


March 4th, 2015 at 12:49 PM ^

I agree with you 100% that Spike is too small to inbound the ball against a pressure defense.  However, I think Bielfeldt's ole "throw the ball directly out of bounds on the inbounds play" last night probably is not going to help our cause in Beilein's mind.



Still a huge Beilein fan.


March 4th, 2015 at 12:34 PM ^

With Harbaugh's heroics yesterday I don't know where to put my money. That Jeep did roll over.. but it stayed intact? Red Robin for the Harbaugh/Wheatley Bump?


March 4th, 2015 at 12:50 PM ^

I agree with the autobench bitchin', but couldn't it also be a hard line approach Beilein takes to discourage fouling in general? Typically, I think of foul-prone teams as being sloppy, tired, or both. If Beilein wants his guards to play without fouling, therefore limiting opponents' trips to the charity stripe, then maybe he has to stick to this hard line autobench policy. Could encourage cleaner play in the future, and if he's flexible on it then it might not have the intended effect.


March 4th, 2015 at 1:08 PM ^

merit but fouls anymore are so arbitrary and up to refs' discretion that I don't think that's the reason. Refs are so influenced by crowds, coaches, and momentum that trying to teach your guys a lesson about fouling will only make them worse defenders.

Go Blue in MN

March 4th, 2015 at 1:53 PM ^

Also, his players know they will ride the pine if they pick up a second foul in the first half.  If they do it anyway, how can we be confident that they wouldn't pick up a third foul if allowed to remain in the game?  It doesn't matter whether the foul was the player's fault or the ref's fault.

And it isn't true that all 40 minutes are created equal.  Emotion and fatigue being what it is, some games are going to come down to the wire (if reasonably close in the first half).  You just can't say that if Michigan had scored one more point in the first half last night that we would have won the game by one point in regulation.  It doesn't work that way, at least not all the time.  The last few minutes of a close game are the most important and you want to have your best players on the floor.

Having made that defense of the autobench policy, I still disagree with it, at least as strictly applied.  There should be exceptions made depending, as noted by others, who the sub is going to be and how much of a downgrade he is.  Another variable is the player's propensity to pick up fouls.  A player who has a track record of fouling infrequently should be given a longer leash. 

Because (1) Beilein is an outstanding coach and (2) he is very rigid in his application of the autobench policy, even when it seems clearly to be the wrong in-game call, I infer that he is driving home a larger point through the policy. 


March 4th, 2015 at 2:12 PM ^

Yes, I believe that is part of Beilein's thought process.  And that may be acceptable when you have decent subs.  But this year wasn't normal.  You have to adjust to realities.  For some reason, John wasn't willing to and it cost us.  

Between the auto-benching and our inexplicable problem inbounding the ball (see last year as well--particularly Tennessee), John failed this year.  Its too bad because otherwise he and the staff did a miraculous job of making this inexperienced, under-skilled team competitive in almost every game.  That latter should not be lost in the discussion of the former.


March 4th, 2015 at 2:15 PM ^

You might be on to something, but I think the downsides outweigh whatever benefit he's expecting.

Even take the worst-case scenario that you play a guy with 2 fouls and he fouls out late.  If I'm a reserve coming in with three minutes left and the game on the line, I'm going all-out.  If I'm coming in with 12 minutes left in the first, I have no idea how long I'll be out there.

This doesn't mean taking plays off, but some bench players know exactly how long they'll be out there, because their job is to spell some star who's playing 35 minutes.  If you stick to that, they can play with unsustainable energy -- tearing up and down the court, diving for loose balls 20 feet away, etc.  This is the proverbial "spark off the bench".

Even if the players are fouling, it makes sense to keep the best ones out there rather than throw a game just for some disciplinary action.


March 4th, 2015 at 12:54 PM ^

Kurt Angle had some pretty good pyro.  I liked the circle above the ring.  Goldberg still had a great entrance with the crowd chanting his name and his smoke exhalation after the sparkly pryo would go off.  I like wrestling.


March 4th, 2015 at 1:19 PM ^

It seems like the best strategy in end of game down by 3 situations is to defend normally unless a player below a certain threshold of FT% gets the ball in his hands. I don't know what that threshold is exactly, but surely someone in the 50-60% range makes it an easy decision -- especially so before the double bonus.

Mr Miggle

March 4th, 2015 at 2:08 PM ^

One that stands out is the trouble we were having rebounding missed free throws. There are risks in employing a strategy you don't practice much. A lot of bad things can happen when you tell players to foul. Intentional foul calls, even flagrants, plus the opponent still getting a shot off. You can't practice everything well, especially with a team playing so many freshmen. 

True Blue Grit

March 4th, 2015 at 1:30 PM ^

regarding MSC and our recently departed infamous AD.  But, he had a lot of people fooled for a long time including me.  Aside from all that though, it's really just not smart to give anyone a big fat guaranteed contract like that these days.  There are just too many negative things that can happen which make it a terrible investment.  But, it seems to be a way of life in corporate America where CEO's are given huge, usually unwarranted bonuses and golden parachute deals by boards of directors. 


March 4th, 2015 at 1:48 PM ^

"the late sixties were not much fun to be a Michigan fan, with no postseason appearances from the big three from 66 to the 1970 Rose Bowl."

It's not like anyone back then wasn't stoned, anyway.


March 4th, 2015 at 1:56 PM ^

I first want to state I completely agree that the auto-bench strategy employed recently is too heavy handed and it frustrates me to no end. I fall more in the "minutes are minutes" camp. 

The only plausible defense for autobench I can think of (that hasn't been discussed extensively) is the profitability for opponents to get fouls on players diminishes as the game progresses. I.e. 3 fouls in the first half is a lot more significant than getting a 3rd foul with 6 minutes left in the second half. 

So by sitting his players in the first, Beilein is taking removing the temptation for opponents to attack those players to draw fouls. By this logic, you may actually end up getting more minutes out of an Irvin or MAAR since they can play more in the second half unmolested than they might in the first.

When they end the game with only two or three fouls, this could be caused by Beilein taking those measures so opponents didn't have an incentive to get additional fouls on them. Had they gotten their fouls earlier they might be under more duress all game.


March 4th, 2015 at 2:00 PM ^

It doesn't change the answer to question 1, but shouldn't the NIT count as "making the postseason"? I'd argue that it should, if we're going to count all bowl games. Not sure the 2014 BWW Bowl is harder to reach than the NIT.

We did go to the NIT in 1971.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad


March 4th, 2015 at 2:11 PM ^

I've coached at the junior level for four seasons, so I've had a very little experience with these things. Regarding the autobench, if you leave the player on the court, the other team is going to go right after him to get the third foul on him. He knows this, so he backs off and tries not to foul. This leads to a virtual layup line for the other team. If he gets that third foul, guess what happens to start the 2nd half? The same thing until he gets his fourth foul. So comparing stats from the autobench situation to normal situations is not appropriate. You have to compare the autobench situation to a situation where one guy is not playing defense.

Historically, coaches have tried to protect a player in foul trouble by going to a zone defense. If MAAR is in foul trouble, (and he's been the most autobenched player by FAAR) you could go to a 2-3 zone, and have him sag back giving the other team wide open threes. The thing is, he can't even contest the three because if he reaches up for the block, there's a chance he catches the shooter's wrist and gets called for a foul. A big you can stick in the middle of a 2-3 and just have him focus on rebounding and clogging up the middle, but the defense is still likely to try and drive and get a blocking foul.

Regarding the inbounds pass, I disliked having to spend practice time on one play. Yes, you've got to have something to go to when the defense decides to go for a steal, but it's one play out of 40 minutes. Normally, you just set a screen and have the guy using the screen run to open space. It shouldn't be difficult. But when the defense needs a stop, and they put a big on your 6' PG whose throwing the ball in, and he's in the corner limiting his options, it becomes more difficult. Is that something I should practice when the situation may or may not come up in a game? A lot of times the defense will just concede the long pass to the backcourt. Do I need to practice that or do I just tell the kids to set a screen and run to the backcourt? It's more important for the kids to understand their roles. The fact that Beilein has Spike inbounding the ball suggests he doesn't trust the freshmen to make a good decision. That old expression, "the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores" is true this season more than ever.


March 4th, 2015 at 2:25 PM ^

"if you leave the player on the court, the other team is going to go right after him to get the third foul on him. He knows this, so he backs off and tries not to foul."

I find it difficult to believe this can't be exploited.  Overplaying something is a bad idea in any sport, so if a team is going to literally change their offensive mindset to target a player for no other reason than he has 2 fouls, I'd anticipate those drives and not have the guy back off but set his feet in the "virtual layup lane" and start drawing charges.  Drives are always a foul risk; it's not like teams wait around for someone to get whistled a couple times to start attacking the paint.  Meaning, if the player has to adapt we're just talking about an inherently foul-prone player, which these guys are not.  On the other hand, if the refs are so caught up in their own excitement that they start calling fouls in bunches, making the 2-foul guy charge bait a bad idea, then this game is way more broken than I thought.


March 4th, 2015 at 5:25 PM ^

is about 20% if I'm understanding that stat. If you are being defended by a guy with 2 fouls in the first half, your usage should approach 100%, so the probability of getting another foul goes up by 4 or 5 times because the other team focuses on attacking you, whether or not you are inherently foul-prone. If you set your feet and wait for me to drive into you, I'm going to pull up and have an uncontested jumper. The shooting percentage of that should be higher than a contested jumper just by definition. Trying to take a charge is also a risky play because the charge/block call is the most disputed/hard to call play in the game.


March 4th, 2015 at 6:47 PM ^

Your points on usage and charges noted, but I'm just throwing out one example.  If the offense shifts its usage of a guy to 100% because his defender can't risk another foul, there's another problem -- I know where the pass is going.  That opens up a bunch of other options, but this time I'll be vague because we can go back and forth on strategy all day.  Every ploy has a countermeasure.  My point is that overplaying is almost without exception a terrible idea, so I'm not sold on the threat of it.  If anything, as a coach I'd love nothing better than my opponent throwing their system out the window in favor of predictable ball movement to a guy who may not even be their best scorer.


March 4th, 2015 at 2:23 PM ^

but I am indifferent to the auto foul with a 3 point lead at end of game situations.  However, the writer who raised the issue made some errors and omissions in his argument.  He twice stated that if you foul, you give up a MAX of 2 points.  Obviously, this is not true.  A missed free throw (missed on purpose or not) can still be rebounded by the shooting team and given another possession (see NW last night) and now they are only down 2 points (if they made the first free throw) and can tie it with a 2 pointer.  Also, you are counting on a college player (in Michigan's case, several 18 year old freshmen) to know when to foul and to insure that the other player isn't in the act of shooting a three.  NBA players may be better qualified to execute this strategy.  If you foul too soon, say with 10 seconds left, the other team can make both free throws, foul you and if you don't make both of your free throws, they are in position to tie or win with a 2 pointer and plenty of time to do it.  Plus, in Michigan's case, you have the extra challenge of trying to inbound the ball after their made free throws.  Not a sure thing.  I have seen players that know they are about to be fouled and so they just throw up a wild shot and are awarded 3 free throws.  

I think the reason many coaches don't like to do the foul with a three point lead strategy is that they don't trust their players to be able to pull it off successfully the one or two times that they may attempt it in a season.  They play defense all the time so that is a more comfortable choice.