Mailbag: Tourney Prospects, OL Flipping, MANBALL Re-evaluating

Submitted by Brian on March 6th, 2012 at 12:24 PM

Basketball: really as good as all that?

Via UMHoops

Now, it doesn't matter for the Big Ten regular is what it is, we went 13-5, and earned a share of the title.  But what does it mean for the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA?

Ask yourself this question when it comes to evaluating the Michigan season...was it a solid 13-5 or a weak 13-5?  Was it a 13-5 that with a few breaks was 15-3?  Or was it a 13-5 with a bunch of breaks that could have easily been 10-8?  Which of those is more representative of the basketball we saw this year?  Death from above in the two tournaments?

Northwestern looms.  Twice we played them.  Twice we went overtime with them. Could have lost both.  Didn't. Positives to be sure.  But who shows up come Friday? …

To me, happy we share the title.  Not convinced at this point we are as good as either of those other two teams.  Proud of the heart, proud of the overall result.  Concerned about the two tourneys.

Bluntly, Michigan was not as good as either of the two teams they tied with. You can see that in the efficiency margins:

                      W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP    EM
1.  Ohio St.         13-5   65.4    1.10    0.93    +0.17
2.  Michigan St.     13-5   62.5    1.08    0.92    +0.16
3.  Wisconsin        12-6   58.0    1.03    0.97    +0.06
4.  Michigan         13-5   58.9    1.06    1.01    +0.05
5.  Indiana          11-7   65.4    1.11    1.06    +0.05
6.  Purdue           10-8   64.0    1.10    1.09    +0.01
7.  Northwestern     8-10   61.0    1.08    1.12    -0.04
8.  Minnesota        6-12   62.6    1.00    1.04    -0.04
9.  Iowa             8-10   65.8    1.03    1.09    -0.06
10. Illinois         6-12   63.7    0.97    1.05    -0.08
11. Penn St.         4-14   62.3    0.97    1.10    -0.13
12. Nebraska         4-14   61.9    0.93    1.09    -0.16

Kenpom will confirm that for you: it has MSU and OSU #2 and #3 behind Kentucky with Michigan idling at 20.

Meanwhile, going 13-5 would not have netted Michigan a title in any other year since the Big Ten went back to 18 games. Most years they wouldn't even be within a game. There's no denying they were fortunate to end up where they are now. Michigan lost one close Big Ten game (@ Indiana, 73-71) and won four to six (NW x 2, MSU, Purdue, maybe Minnesota and OSU depending on how you feel about five-point games). You can grub grub grub about will to win and finding ways to win and winning is for winners; I don't buy that stuff.

In terms of efficiency margin and Kenpom rankings, Michigan is about where we'd hoped they'd be before the season: slightly improved despite the loss of Darius Morris, short of truly contending for a conference title. In terms of wins they're a three seed and a Big Ten champ.

I don't say this to bring anyone down. It's wonderful. For this team to accomplish what they have is fantastic, and at this point anything after winning a 3-14 matchup in the first round is gravy.

I do think they'll be a particularly vulnerable three, though, and won't be surprised to see them flame out in the second round*. I also won't let that damage the wonderful run they went on to erase a lot of bad streaks. From a logical perspective I get the "concern"; from an emotional perspective it went from 90% house money to 110% as soon as Buford hit that shot. The worst that happens is Michigan State fans say "see you weren't really a Big Ten champ." This will not prevent the banner from going up.


*[I'm not predicting that by any means. Michigan gave Duke all they wanted last year and a hypothetical second-round opponent will be much worse than the Blue Devils were last year. Beilein is a consistent outperformer when he reaches the tourney.

HOWEVA, I do loathe the prospect of drawing a couple of the current six-seeds in Jerry Palm's bracket. They are all dangerous mid-majors: UNLV, New Mexico, Wichita State, and St. Mary's. In Kenpom's eyes that's two teams better than Michigan (Wichita, New Mexico) and two who are a dozen or so spots worse (UNLV, St. Mary's).

You may remember the Dohrmann UCLA article mentioning the success of a couple transfers out of the program: that's basically UNLV. Chace Stanback is a 6'8" guy hitting 47% from three; Mike Moser is a 6'8" guy in the top ten in defensive rebounding with high usage and an inside-out game.

I find Palm's fives a lot more palatable: Louisville (#30 Kenpom), FSU (#28), SDSU (#51), and Creighton(#35). No matter what I expect a second-round nailbiter.]

The golden child's effect on the OL.

Brian or Ace or Anybody;

I am confused, when talking about o-line prospects in the 2012 or 2013 class, some say "Fox makes an ideal RT" or "LT-T is the prototype Left Tackle.". Is the fact that Shane "Obama circa 2008" Morris is a southpaw baked into the projections as to who plays where on the OL?  Wouldn't the proto LT be moved to RT for a lefty QB, or no?

Are you and your Bloggy ilk keeping this in mind, does it make a difference for a lefty qb?

Reid McCarthy

I don't think it matters much. Many players at Michigan and elsewhere have flipped from right to left tackle without a problem; when Morris becomes the starter Michigan will put their best pass protector at right tackle and he'll adjust over the course of an offseason. Jake Long switched from right to left after his first year as a starter; Mike Schofield was pressed into service as a left guard after practicing mostly at tackle and did fine.

There might be some slight issues if Morris is either in (because of Gardner injury) or out (because of a Morris injury) of the lineup unexpectedly. In that case you probably wouldn't want to screw up the line's performance by flipping them mid-game and will be exposing either Morris's or his backup's blind side to slightly worse protection. That's life.

Even if that happens it doesn't look like there's going to be a huge difference between the starting tackles at any point in the near future. Whoever the #2 guy is will have beaten out an array of 6'5"-6'7" blue chips. This is not going to be Jake Long opposite Rueben Riley. It's going to be Almost Jake Long opposite Decent Approximation Of Jake Long.

MANBALL concerns revisited.




You have argued over the past several years that you think Michigan will be at a talent disadvantage compared to teams like Ohio and SEC oversigners like Alabama, so long as the status quo persists. You've also argued that, schematically, the best way to deal with this deficit is the spread offense. I am curious if you think Hoke (and Borges) can build an offense in their mold that can truly compete on the national stage. What do you think it will take in terms of recruiting and scheme to be a legitimate contender for the national championship? Do you think that we have the ability to recruit the offensive talent we need to contend for a national title? Or is it perhaps too early to tell?

Obviously an elite defense, which I think we are building, mitigates the need for an elite offense, but recent BCS title games have demonstrated that you can't rely on just defense to win that game. Ultimately I am asking what combination of scheme and talent you think we need to achieve in order to win the national championship.

All the best,

My concerns about Michigan's ceiling have been blown away by Hoke's early recruiting returns. If Michigan is bringing in top five classes consistently—Hoke's already two for two a month into his second class—and is approaching games with the controlled aggression that Hoke, Mattison, and Borges displayed in their first year, there is no reason they can't run a conventional offense and compete for national titles.

When you have a huge talent advantage or are Wisconsin you can line up and beat heads in: top ten FEI offenses* this year include Wisconsin, Stanford, and USC. Alabama was #11. All you need to replicate that is a ton of NFL guys on the line, an NFL quarterback, and some NFL skill guys. Check, check, well… we'll see.

I get the vibe from your email that you're a bit skeptical of Michigan's skill position recruiting. I think that's premature. Shane Morris is a Henne-level QB recruit. Michigan did pick up a consensus four-star in Amara Darboh at WR and came close to flipping Brionte Dunn; this year they've got a top 100 tight end (for now, anyway—Butt will probably fall into the 100-200 range as the year progresses) and seem to lead for a couple five-star types in Ty Isaac and LaQuon Treadwell. If Hoke lands those guys Michigan's weak spot in the 2012 and 2013 classes is…



…uh… cornerback? For now, anyway.

Even if one of those two guys escapes we're still 11 months from Signing Day; more targets will emerge. It seems like Michigan's going to be able to focus a lot of attention on any holes they have in the class come, oh, May.

My main concern with Michigan's scheme going forward is a potential over-reliance on a fullback. It seems like most pro-styles have moved to double TE sets. See this Chris Brown article on Alabama's very MANBALL, very NC-worthy offense. I hope that's where Michigan's going, too. Tight ends threaten defenses vertically in a way that fullbacks do not; they're better athletes, generally, and better targets for downfield passes. Fullbacks… eh.

I think this is also where Michigan's going. Their TE recruiting is massive—they're looking for a fifth in two years—and there's clear distinction between guys like Jake Butt and Khalid Hill, a 6'2", 230 pound guy designated a "U-back" or "move tight end" according to TomVH.

So, like, whatever. My beefs 14 months into the Hoke era are "that one punt against Illinois" and "taking a scholarship fullback." Oh, and the complete implosion of the offense in a couple games. But that's not a long term issue.

Hoke has dumped game-changer after game-changer on us since his hire to the point where the internet is making memes like this…


Ben Gedeon's visiting, you say?

…if we're feeling for a ceiling it's a bit hard to find right now. One will probably come, but there's no reason to go looking for it just yet.


*[I know FEI put up some weird results this year what with Navy and Miami in the top ten as well but it at least tries to account for strength of schedule and pace of play; FWIW, Stanford was 8th in total yardage, Wisconsin 14th, USC 21st, 'Bama 31st.

Also, as long as you're down here, how about Paul Chryst? I predict Wisconsin has a noticeable dropoff in his absence.]



March 6th, 2012 at 1:29 PM ^

Which is why using a predictive tool to select my brackets was as rational of a choice as flipping a coin. There are years when Kenpom's projections would win a pool, and years (like last year) when using it would mean last place. This is why I don't think you refer to it in looking at Michigan's tournament potential - as Brian did in this post.


March 6th, 2012 at 1:29 PM ^

for my NCAA tourney picks for the last 6 years.  Won 5 of the 6 years. The only exception is last year where there were tons of upsets that made my bracket irrelevant early on.  Generally, it's a pretty good predictor on top 5 teams on who is likely to win the National Championship.  I find teams with top 10 offense and defense, more times than not, are the likeliest national champion.


March 6th, 2012 at 1:33 PM ^

It may also be possible that Michigan's success in end game situations is not a product of dumb luck...perhaps having confident and clutch players like Trey Burke and THJ in those late game situations allow michigan to thrive in such settings. It is also possible that that our coaches end game strategy and coaching on the defensive end is better than average. We have forced many teams into difficult shots when the game was on the line, etc. To dismiss the close game record as a fluke is, to me, a great over-simplification.


March 6th, 2012 at 1:34 PM ^

I think Brian's point is fair and is represented by our projected seeding.

We are projected to be the second best three seed by the Bracket Matrix project. The ones and twos would probably be considered elite while three and below are a step below to varying degrees.

That said, Michigan is good enough to beat anybody on any given day. Hardaway Jr. seems to have turned a corner (regained confidence) and Smotrycz and Vogrich are the x factors. If those two are on our defense and point gaurd are good enough to carry us.

We should not expect a title. However a three seed who also was not elite last year won the whole thing. Two lesser seeds made the Final Four. We have a shot and it is legitimate.

That is enough. Plus a Big Ten regular season championship. Are you serious?


March 6th, 2012 at 1:51 PM ^

I think Margin of Victory is overrated in basketball.  Kenpom punishes UM because they didn't beat Alabama A&M by 40.  Michigan had a bad habit all season of letting overmatched opponents back into games.  Brian has lamented on seemingly multiple occassions what that 0-10 run at the end of the game did to our Kenpom rating.  The Penn State game was the perfect example.  They led by 19, let off the gas and let PSU back in the game.  The final margin was 6.  But they hit a 3 pointer as UM was walking off the court because the game was over.  UM is ranked #20 in Sagarin, same as Kenpom.  But they rank #12 when Sagarin excludes margin of victory. 


Michigan is 5-5 against teams ahead of them in Kenpom's rating.  So I don't really fear facing a team ahead of us in the second round.  I think the risk of that is overstated though.  Of the bracket matrix 5's and 6's only Florida is ahead of us in Kenpom. 


March 6th, 2012 at 2:24 PM ^

The only teams I think we would be completely overmatched and uncompetitive with are Syracuse, Kentucky, North Carolina, and probably Kansas. All of them, beyond being obviously very good teams as they're all currently the favorites to be 1 seeds, are very long and would leave us completely overmatched down low and would stifle our ability to get perimeter shots off. The good thing about being on the 2-3 seed line is that you don't have to see one of those teams until the round of 8, giving them 3 chances (well, really 2 chances) to be upset. If we're going to make a tourney run, I think it rests on someone else taking down the top seed in our bracket. 

We're vulnerable to any team (including the first round) having an unconscious shooting night or our players being incredibly cold in an unfamiliar building, but that's the nature of the tournament for almost all teams beyond the truly elite (and I don't think the Big 10 has a team that's truly elite this year).


March 6th, 2012 at 3:00 PM ^

Syracuse scares me the most.  I think UM would just end up jacking up a bunch of 3s against that zone and get run out of the building.  I think UM can do stuff against Kentucky to make it competitive.  I worry a little about Kansas but we took them to Overtime last year. 


March 6th, 2012 at 2:10 PM ^

Michigan is #20 in kenpom is because they didn't destroy bad teams in the non-con. If that is the measure of a team then sure OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin are better. Also, the notion that winning close games is pure luck is just silly. Lastly, Michigan has been playing the best down the stretch of the co-champion group and with the Dawson injury I think we have the best chances in the real tourney. Not to mention that Beilein has always done well in the tourney and is notoriously difficult to prepare for with little time.


March 6th, 2012 at 2:41 PM ^

if you take away games against shitty teams, Michigan match up quite favorably with the top big 10 team.  I believe Michigan is in the top 10-15 in that regard.  That tells me that Michigan plays much better when they face elite competitions which is good enough for me.

Eye of the Tiger

March 6th, 2012 at 3:19 PM ^

Brian summed up my feelings exactly: when Hoke was hired, the most positive thing I could think of was "let's give him a chance, maybe he'll be beat expectations."  But my expectations weren't that high.  I wanted Harbaugh, and saw Hoke as a consolation prize.  

*Then he hired one of the best DCs in the business, and put together an excellent staff

*Then he saved the 2011 recruiting class from oblivion.

*Then he started putting together the best recruiting class we'd seen in probably 8 years.  

*Then he led us to 11 victories, including one over Ohio and a BCS win.

*Then he finished a top 10, arguably top 5 recruiting class...and one that seems even better than its ranking.  

*Then he started building an even more highly regarded recruiting class.

*All the while he has handled the media, the factions, alumni and vested interests deftly.  

*He has refrained from gratuitous bashing of the previous coaching staff, even when and where it would be easy to do.

*He has done everything in the classiest manner possible.  

I have to say,  at this point I'm having trouble finding anything NOT to like.  You get the impression he's been honing his vision for how he'd lead the University of Michigan football team for decades.  

Blue boy johnson

March 6th, 2012 at 3:43 PM ^

Brian's morose take on M basketball is at the laughable point for me.

M won a share of the title but Brian wisely points us to the fact that OSU and MSU are actually better teams on paper. Pretty deep shit there Brian. And here I thought M was actually the more talented bunch.


March 6th, 2012 at 6:32 PM ^

... but neither should any other single number.

Brian is saying that we should win our first game and anything after that is gravy - house money - because the team wasn't expected to do well.  How is that failing to celebrate their accomplishments thus far?  He's not saying they weren't deserved - he's saying they were unexpected and all the sweeter for that.

As far as our tournament prospects, I think Kenpom sees the same things I do:  that Michigan plays decent to good defense but is inconsistent, that their "best" player has been shooting poorly all season, that they're small up front and vulnerable to good post-up games, that they have no real depth anywhere, and that even the best freshmen have a habit of coming up short at the end of their first long, high-pressure season.

Michigan is better than a lot of teams - perhaps all but 12 teams in the country - but they're not an elite team.  For Michigan to make a deep run in the tournament, they'll need to step up their game from the regular season, playing solid post defense while not getting in foul trouble, and get THJ's shot to fall.

Put more simply,




March 6th, 2012 at 7:49 PM ^

How exactly is Michigan basketball "fortunate" to be where they are?  Luck doesn't put you into a tie for first place.  Other teams lost close games too, and Michigan earned where they are.