Make It Take It Comment Count

Brian January 15th, 2014 at 1:21 PM

1/14/2014 – Michigan 80, Penn State 67 – 12-4, 4-0 Big Ten


DUNKS ON DUNKS (or layups I guess) [Bryan Fuller]

What if I told you that Michigan would lose two NBA first-round draft picks and a preseason All-American and this would do essentially nothing to their elite offense? We'll call this one "60 possessions for approximately 70 points" because we're not into the whole brevity thing. It will be directed by John Beilein, with an assist from Nik Stauskas.

A disclaimer, first: IIRC, even though Kenpom's offense and defense rankings are schedule adjusted, high fliers have a tendency to fall back to the pack when they play in tough defensive conferences. That may be simple regression to the mean or an issue with the algorithm. Anyway. I digress for a reason.

The preceding disclaimer is present because hot damn, Michigan's offense has taken the departure of Trey Frickin' Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. like a champ. Sixteen games into the season, Michigan's offensive efficiency has fallen from a tops-in-the-country 120 points per 100 possessions all the way to 119 points per 100 possessions. This mean's they're fifth instead of first*, but seriously Michigan lost the Naismith winner, another first-round NBA draft pick, and Mitch McGary and maintained literally 99% of their offensive efficiency. Hail Beilein, hail Stauskas, hail GRIII and friends. (Hail rule changes.)

That's quite a thing there.


Unfortunately, and as you've probably noticed over the last two games against not-very-good teams, the defense is really hurting. They're currently 77th on Kenpom, down from 48th last year. The eye test confirms this and then some. Michigan just ceded 70 points to Nebraska in a 59-possession game and 67 to Penn State in a 60-possession game, and too many of those were easy drives to the bucket. At one point in the second half of the Penn State game they'd pulled to within two because they scored on six of seven possessions, seemingly without breaking a sweat. Two winless Big Ten teams just combined to shoot 63% from two against Michigan. It's a problem, a large and burgeoning one.

What happened in the stat world?

  • The rules changes have had a real impact. Nationwide offensive efficiency is up just under 4 points per 100 possessions. Michigan's defense has slumped worse than the average, but everyone's having some issues. The extremes don't seem to be particularly impacted—the best offense is still around 120 while the best defense is still around 86—but the distribution of teams inside hypothetical maximums and minimums has shifted.
  • Michigan's free-throw defense is terrible. Opponents are hitting 74%, which is in the 300s. Michigan has to wave its arms around more and stuff. This is where Michigan misses an intimidator like Mitch McGary. Free throw defense is critical.
  • Nothing else, statistically. Seriously, the stats are uncannily similar to last year, with near-identical eFG, TO%, OREB%, and FTA/FGA. The problem there is that last year's stats are after running the brutal Big Ten gauntlet and six NCAA tourney games; this year's are after seven KP100 teams and 9 real bad ones. Thus the hit when Kenpom makes his schedule adjustment.

Eyeballing it, I don't know. Burke was regarded as a middling defender at best. He had his trademark steal but was kind of undersized and tended to marshal his energy so he could do Trey Burke things on offense. Hardaway developed from definite liability to passable over his three years. Neither seemed like an impact player on that side of the ball.

McGary's loss is big, obviously, but at this instant they're only replacing about eight of his minutes per game with Horford/Morgan in the stats (McGary was at just under 20 last year and he's at just under 12 this year, though rapidly dropping.) Something else is just… off.

What that is changes. Against Nebraska the soft hedges provided the Cornhuskers easy lanes to the basket and Spike Albrecht, amongst others, had a tough time closing out in the first half. Penn State pushed it down the floor at every opportunity and was rewarded; Michigan couldn't stop Tim Frazier in transition like, at all.

The see-saw nature of the game was a reflection of the fact that each Michigan possession was essentially four points: Michigan got two if they scored and Penn State got two in transition if they missed. The six-minute lull spanning both sides of the half saw Penn State burst from 25 to 41 points, and another lull after Michigan had pushed it out to 16 saw a quick ten-point burst; in between Penn State struggled to do anything.

What that means for the mightier folk approaching depends on the opponent. Wisconsin isn't likely to push tempo; Iowa sends out waves of players in shifts to facilitate their punishing rate of play. No matter what, Michigan has to get some things figured out right now before they're exposed as paper tigers in the rough and tumble.

*[#1 Creighton($) has some truly astounding numbers, like Doug McDermott taking 37% of Creighton's shots when he's on the court and Ethan Wragge hitting 50%(!) of his 126 three pointers and two of his six(!) twos.]


Gauntlet, ice cream, gauntlet, ice cream. The rest of the season breaks down into chunks neatly:

  • TERRIFYING GAUNTLET #1: @ Wisconsin, Iowa, @ MSU
  • GENERALLY ICE CREAM TYPE SITUATION: Purdue, @ Indiana, Nebraska
  • TERRYIFYING GAUNTLET #2: @ Iowa, @ OSU, Wisconsin, Michigan State
  • GENERALLY ICE CREAM TYPE SITUATION: @ Purdue, Minnesota, @ Illinois, Indiana

Michigan's D is wonky enough that they'll probably lose a couple in the ice cream areas of the schedule—away to Indiana and Illinois are most likely—and then man I don't know what's going on with the other seven games. This offense can beat anyone; it's a little difficult to see Michigan going on the road to any of those top ten outfits and coming away with wins.

Not just a Darius Morris reincarnation. Another game, another set of swooping pick-and-roll assists from Stauskas. Michigan's big men were 7/8 from the field and added 5/6 from the line as Stauskas and Morgan/Horford eviscerated Penn State's pick and roll D. Stauskas had five assists, and no turnovers; his assist rate has broken into the nationally ranked section of Kenpom while his TO rate remains just-a-shooter low. In Big Ten play his A:TO ratio is 20:5.

Oh and he's shooting 71% from inside the arc while doubling his FT rate. Just a fantastic, fantastic offensive player, in all ways.

Stauskas got caught on some bad switches to provide PSU buckets, and while he remains a sneaky-excellent on-ball post defender his issue came before the catch on a couple of PSU buckets; switched on the center he just stood passively waiting for the post feed before doing anything. He's tall enough to front a 6'9" guy effectively enough to dissuade an entry, or at least make it a difficult pass.



LeVert also creates. Slow night for LeVert scoring, but had five assists to match Stauskas's output. Michigan does not have a Burke but their shot generation comes from so many places that it barely matters. Most of the time they have four guys on the court who can generate something, and even when Irvin's out there it's three. That's tough to deal with. Who do you hide your crappy defender against?

Hello, nurse. The only Michigan player to miss more than one two point bucket was Glenn Robinson, who had an off night inside the arc (3 of 10). The rest of the team: 16 of 18. Good gravy.

As a team, their two point % in the last three games: 63%, 76%, 68%. None of those teams are good, but holy crap. Michigan's been putting on a clinic against the bottom of the Big Ten, and it's been beautiful to watch.

HELLO NURSE. One can forgive Glenn Robinson some misses from two if he's going to put his goddamned shoulder on the backboard.


Nurse, please smother this man (WITH PUPPIES, this does not constitute a threat). Oh man, what does it take to get a charge? They broke this rule hardcore with their offseason emphasis.

Walton got run over twice in two minutes by Frazier, taking out-of-control shoulders to the chest. These were not Dukeflops. He got blasted into the end line on both, square to the shooter, and the refs just stared at him. Later, LeVert was stock-still as Newbill (IIRC) plowed into him. A ridiculous blocking call followed.

Charges were broken, but now they're even more broken. Suggestion: go back to previous year's rule, add clarification that simulating a charge is a foul, add some sort of mincing pantomimery refs have to do when they call it.



January 15th, 2014 at 1:32 PM ^

I look at that schedule and see Michigan going 0-7 through the terrifying gauntlets and struggling to win at Indiana, at Illinois, and at Purdue (who has a respectable record save a loss to Washington State).  Wins against PSU, Nebraska, and Northwestern don't give me a great deal of confidence (though they're better than losses, of course). 


January 15th, 2014 at 1:40 PM ^

lose every game in both those stretches.  I like us home against State and home against Wisconsin.  The Iowa game concerns me primarily because I think there will be a tough-loss-hangover from the Wisconsin game but it is winnable.  I also think OSU can be had at Value City.  I know this schedule has not been a "whos-who" of the Big Ten, but Minnesota took State to overtime on the road and Northwestern just beat a ranked Illinois team on the road.  I think Michigan is a little better than you think.


January 16th, 2014 at 11:39 AM ^

I have always wanted to know this.

There's no way that this is not in my top five non-championship game Michigan moments of all-time.

Fuck it, that was the greatest thing ever. My from the couch minor aneurysm expressed perfectly on the actual sideline. Damn, I miss that guy.

snarling wolverine

January 15th, 2014 at 7:01 PM ^

MSU hasn't won at Crisler in four years, and that last time it happened, their Final Four-bound team won by one point over our 15-17 team when we missed a layup at the buzzer.  

A lot of people here are selling our homecourt advantage short.  Under Beilein, playing Michigan at Crisler is a tall order.  We've lost three home games in the last three years combined.

Braylon 5 Hour…

January 15th, 2014 at 1:47 PM ^

It still remains to be seen what we can do against elite competition.  We played a very good game against Arizona with a limited McGary but did not finish off that win.  Is the current iteration of Morgan and Horford so much of a drop-off from the far less than 100% Mitch McGary we saw this season? 

I think 2 wins isn't such an unreasonable ask in that 7 game stretch but we will learn a lot about the team in the next 3 games. 


January 15th, 2014 at 1:46 PM ^

I thought Burke was actually a pretty good on-the-ball defender, and he was good at stopping the ball in transition D.  There is definitely a dropoff in that area from him to Walton/Albrecht.

Also, the free throw defense thing may not just be randomness, if you look at who we're actually fouling.  We're not sending poor-shooting big men to the line that much.  Most of our fouls seem to come against opposing guards, and they're shooting about the way they would against other teams - they just get more opportunities against us because we're so poor at denying penetration.  


January 15th, 2014 at 2:20 PM ^

Maybe not great, but the dropoff to less experienced/talented defenders is a big deal.  Going from Burke to Spike/Walton is a enormous/huge dropoff.  Going from hiding Stauskas on the worst offensive player, to giving him real defensive responsibilities is a big dropoff.  Hardway was routinely assigned to the best perimeter threat and held his own, LaVert/Stauskas/Irvin haven't replaced that.

When one guy struggles, the entire defense suffers.  When two positions are defensive liabilities there's no way to be consistently good. 

Walton really has to develop on the defensive end for this team to contend for conference title, but like Trey his upside is limited by size.  LaVert and Irvin are the other guys that we can point to for potential defensive improvement.

Like the OL, you can patch over some limitations with cohesion/teamwork and smart gameplaning but ultimately you need to have talent or experience to be a good unit.


January 15th, 2014 at 8:03 PM ^

Nailed it with the analysis.  Going from solid if only average Burke and Hardaway to more Stauskas and Spike/Walton has hurt.  I think Walton will become just as good on defense or better than Burke when he figures out his spots but Stauskas is going to be a killer on the perimeter probably his whole career.  His feet are just made of cement. Guys blow by him, require help and there are too many plays for the offense to make.


January 15th, 2014 at 10:56 PM ^

He'll get better, just as Trey did.  But he needs to play to do it, which is why I never got the early season call for Spike to play more.

Stauskas is probabiliy a little better than last year, and he can get a lot smarter about things, but I agree about the cement-foot thing.  His defensive ceiling is low.

At the college level, he could be a Dirk Nowitzki caliber offense force.  Like Dirk, he needs the right defensive pieces around him to succeed and he needs to figure out to how to work within his limitations on the defensive end - anticipate, position, funnel to help, etc.

snarling wolverine

January 16th, 2014 at 6:48 AM ^

I think Burke was more than just average.  The guy had 62 steals and 20 (!) blocked shots (should have been 21) in 39 games last year.   I know those numbers don't always tell the whole story, but they're generally signs of a very active defender.  This year, Walton and Albrecht have combined for 12 steals and one block through 16 games.




January 15th, 2014 at 2:26 PM ^

but Burke had some great transitional stops against OSU and obviously the Louisville game.  I think Walton can grow to a better on ball defender just based on his size, but he still is a freshman. This should still give him a lot of room to grow though.

One thing that can help the defense is the multitude of guys who this offense can run through.  This should carry over into the freshness that they play with on D.


January 15th, 2014 at 2:04 PM ^

Find six more wins on the schedule and we'll be dancing where I like Beileins chances of getting to the second weekend with this team no matter who we play.

Problem is where are those 6 more wins (and probably 1 BTT win for good measure)?


Lose ANY one of those games and Michigan has to start winning much more challenging games:


And these games we can pretty much write off, but if Michigan wins any it'll be HUGE:


There is no margin for error as of today for this team to make the tournament.


January 15th, 2014 at 2:16 PM ^

They probably win 5 win the first group you have listed. 

Yes, the second group is tough, but 3 of them are at home, where we are very hard to beat. All four of those Michigan will have a decent chance to win. Writing all 4 of them off as losses is extremely pessimistic. I bet they win two there.

I do agree though, that the last group is death. I would be thrilled if we win one of those.

Barring injuries, the team quitting/giving up or something, or some freak stretch of luck where we shoot terrible or opponents shoot the lights out, this team is gonna be fine.

I really don't see why people are scared of getting to 9 B1G wins.


January 16th, 2014 at 12:16 AM ^

For Michigan to get into the tourney without any worries, I think that they need to go 12-6 in the conference with wins over Indiana, Wisconsin, MSU and Iowa.  If they do that, they won't have to sweat it.  17-13 teams don't make the tournament very often and Michigan hasn't won more than one game in the conference tournament it quite some time.


January 16th, 2014 at 11:36 AM ^

 If we're 11-7 in Big Ten play, we'll be in the tournament for sure, even if it only means 19 wins overall (entering the conference tournament).  Our strength of schedule is going to be extremely high by season's end, as not only is the Big Ten strong overall, but we happen to be playing one of the toughest possible schedules in it (with only one game apiece against PSU and NW, and two games against all contenders).

I think 10-8 also leaves us in a very good position.  I'd be really, really surprised if we didn't make it.

9-9 would put us on the bubble.




January 16th, 2014 at 11:39 AM ^

I will bet you $100 and 1,000,000 Mgopoints that Michigan gets in the tourney with an 11-7 conference record.  The Big Ten champion squad was 24-9 and a #4 seed. An 11-7 squad even w/o a Big Ten tourney win would be at 19-11. Not a fantastic record, but we'd not only be in, we'd be fairly far from the bubble. 


January 15th, 2014 at 2:57 PM ^

In that scenario, yes they'd have to win 2 to get in probably. 9 wins is assuming we lose ALL those games he listed in the second and third groups and then 1 in the top one. I don't see it.

Michigan is a very good team. Very good trams rarely miss the tourney. They'll get it done.


January 15th, 2014 at 2:35 PM ^

I feel as if people act like we can't beat good teams at home. We beat State and OSU each of the last two years at home, when they were nationally elite. We hung with Arizona until the buzzer. Maybe we don't sweep our conference home schedule, but considering we have 2 conference losses in the past 2 years at Crisler, I'll take my chances.


January 15th, 2014 at 3:46 PM ^

I can certainly sympathize with that as it has certainly been a rough ride. I also acknowledge that I tend to be extraordinarily optimistic about our basketball team (exception being I didn't think Trey Burke would ever become...well Trey Burke). However, I really feel this team is going to finish somewhere in the 10-13 Big Ten win range depending on how well the defense comes around. While the Big Ten is deep this year, I don't think anyone in the conference is last year MIchigan or Indiana in terms of talent. If we develop even a little bit on defense, we'll probably end up at 11-7 in conference and a 5-6 seed come tourney time. I'm not sure how many other teams could lose a preseason All-American and match that mark in the Big Ten.


January 15th, 2014 at 3:10 PM ^

i initially predicted UM at 11-7 in conference.  that said, i thought we would be 3-1 at this point (figured we would lose one of those road games).  so my updated prediction is 12-6, assuming no more injuries.  and that easily gets us into the dance.  beat wisky on the road this weekend and we have a legit shot at the BIG title.


January 15th, 2014 at 2:15 PM ^

IMO many of the defensive problems are happening because of a lack of perimeter defense.  Opposing guards are able to get in the lane far too often and far too easily.  Whether it's bad closeouts or lack of quickness or just being flat footed, the on-ball defense on the perimeter is just not good.  Tough to play defense when the opponent is living in the lane.

I don't know if it would help, but I'd like to see them bust out the zone a bit more just to try it.

Indiana Blue

January 15th, 2014 at 2:57 PM ^

with Brian on the "no such thing as a charge" anymore.  I know it a tough call - but it isn't that hard to see which person created the contact, especially if the offensive person lowers their shoulder.   

The IU and Wisky game was nothing but layups and 3 pointers ... looked like a game from the 1950's (except no 3 point arc).  No defense whatsoever.

Go Blue!


January 15th, 2014 at 3:06 PM ^

imo, if it is an obvious charge, call it.  if it's an obvious block, call it.  if it's in a gray area, let them play on.  it's just too much of a penalty for one team to get a foul called on them in the gray area.


January 15th, 2014 at 3:31 PM ^

Teams have figured out that they won't often get called for a charge, so everyone is taking it to the rim.  The last half dozen games that I have watched have been an endless stream of driving to the basket, where chances are good, you will be rewarded with a 3 point play opportunity.  

The defensive tactic of standing still, in front of the guy driving, has become innefective.  He will likely score the basket and you will get a blocking foul and give him a and 1.  The defensive player might better strongly contest the shot in hopes of making the shooter miss.  You will still pick up a foul, but the shooter can only get a 2 point free throw opportunity.