Marinate For Two Months

Submitted by Brian on January 3rd, 2018 at 1:38 PM

1/2/2018 – Michigan 75, Iowa 68 – 12-3, 2-1 Big Ten


emerging [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

There are two* kinds of John Beilein basketball teams: flamethrowers from the drop and teams that start in disarray before assembling themselves, Voltron-like, somewhere in the middle of the season.

These latter teams are sometimes flamethrowers—see last year's edition, which was a top 10 team for the second half of the season and was one Walton pull-up three away from winning three different Sweet Sixteen games in one year. Sometimes they are mere crème brulee torches, like Beilein's first tourney team. No matter the intensity, there's almost always a "click" moment for floundering Beilein teams.

It's too early to tell if Michigan's fit the buckle in the clip or if it will in fact happen this season, but surely there are suggestions that it has. Like this:


That is Zavier Simpson's line against Iowa. It looks like a Bonafide Offensive Contributor's Line. This is new. It's getting less new. If you poke recent box scores with a stick you get a picture of a point guard who's emerging. Simpson had a total of five points in Michigan's first four games against Kenpom top 100 opponents; his assist to TO ratio was 5:6. In his most recent four games against non-bodybag opponents he's got 45 points, 12 assists, and four turnovers. And seven steals against just four fouls.

This is a thing you feel gradually, and then there's three seconds on the shot clock and Simpson has an open three he passes up and you're like WHY DIDN'T YOU SHOOT THAT AIGH and... oh. Huh. Instinct now says an open Simpson three is a very good idea, what with his... uh... 46% shooting.

That can't be right.

And yet it is. No amount of staring at the numbers makes them waver into a reasonable improvement from Simpson's 5-of-19-on-shots-that-kind-of-look-like-your-grandma-is-taking-them freshman season. It still says 46%, which is nonsense. It'll still be nonsense if and when Simpson regresses back towards reality, but it's very Beilein nonsense. Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman hit 29% as a freshman, and since he's been a 37% shooter on over 250 attempts. This is a thing.

A functional point guard and Isaiah Livers whispering that he, too, can hit threes and Michigan might be on to something. That something is likely to be a seven-seed because Michigan has only three upcoming games against certain tourney teams and they're the #2 and #3 teams on Kenpom. The rest of the conference has been infected with Rutgersitis that verges on terminal. Maui was bad; so was a nonconference schedule with no fewer than five RPI boat anchors.

If the scheduling is a persistent Beilein annoyance it's more than made up for by the annual flourishing of some guy the recruiting industry thought was a future plumber. If the whole defense-and-rebounding thing is a long term reality, Michigan might be in business for the next few years. Especially once Brent Hibbits rips off the warmups and starts canning no-look threes. You heard it here first.

*[There is a third kind that loses an NBA first round pick and another prime contributor to injury and florps its way to the finish line however it can, but those are filed under Acts of God.]



rebounding? a thing? [Campredon]

About that rebounding. I'm still a wee bit skeptical since Michigan has often entered Big Ten play with a shiny Kenpom DREB number only to finish 11th in the league, but that shiny number has never been as shiny as #12 in the country, where they currently sit. That's tops in the conference, albeit against (mostly) the #298 nonconference schedule.

Still... this feels more sustainable than many falsely positive DREB rates at this juncture. Michigan is getting after it as a team, with every starter over 10% in DREB rate and Wagner hauling down a whopping 27%. That'll come down but it's a huge upgrade from last year's 15. Wagner can't do much about his rim-protection deficiencies at this point but his NBA experience last offseason has seemingly emphasized to him that he needs to round out his box scores.

John Teske, meanwhile, is a huge upgrade on Mark Donnal. Donnal had an 11% DREB rate last year; Teske is at 22%. Zavier Simpson has an 11% DREB rate. At Clemson Donnal is currently sporting a 6.3% DREB rate. It's a new world at C.

Add in Charles Matthews, the best rebounding wing—but not point guard—Michigan's had in a minute, and Michigan has a decent shot at finishing in the top third of the Big Ten. Which is new.

Moving forward with Livers. Ace has been yelling about Isaiah Livers for most of the year and it's probably time to go with him as the starter over Duncan Robinson, whose defensive deficiencies are much better hidden when the opposition throws some backups on the court. Livers is a much better rebounder and on-ball defender, and I think the big efficiency gaps for both Livers and Teske are more about Robinson getting shoehorned into a role that doesn't suit him:


There's undoubtedly some randomness in there since Livers isn't driving Michigan's offensive success with his 108 ORTG. Wagner and Robinson together are bad news on D and Michigan should strive to keep that combo off the floor. The most logical way to do that is to flip Livers and Robinson.

I would also accept "play Mathews at the four some," since against certain matchups he'd be fine. Michigan's best two defensive possessions against Tyler Cook were probably the two times Matthews got switched onto him. But Ace hates that idea even if he is a Jordan Poole stan.

Moving some usage around. Beilein's best teams barely have anyone in the "major contributors" second of Kenpom that denotes a high-usage (24-28%) player. (A "go-to-guy" is virtually unheard of.)  Last year's #4 offense had zero major contributors. Ditto the #3 2014 team. It took NPOY-level Trey Burke to bust through the Beilein usage ceiling.

Michigan does not have a Naismith candidate this year so it would behoove them to slide some of the usage currently going to Matthews and Wagner to MAAR and Simpson. This may be in process with Simpson; see above. That would give their offense some upward mobility and is their best path towards being a team that is legitimately a top 15 or top 20 outfit.



January 3rd, 2018 at 2:32 PM ^

Short answer: Shot equivalents take free throws into account. So for simple math, look at the box score. Take each FGA and FTA. Each FGA is 1 equivalent (because duh) and every 2 FTA is 1 equivalent. So if a player has attempted 5 shots from the field, and 4 free throws, they have 7 “shot equivalents.” Essentially you are just mashing FGA and FTA into a single stat. Or in slightly more “advanced” terms, giving TS% while including the volume of shooting.

Then from there is is common sense-ish. 15 points on 15 shot equivalents is good, but 15 points on 25 shot equivalents is bad.

Fuzzy Dunlop

January 3rd, 2018 at 2:46 PM ^

If you're fouled on a shot and then hit free throws, it doesn't count as a shot for purposes of the box score.  But if you're trying to determine how efficient an offensive player is, you really should include it as a shot attempt.  Thus, those nonexistent "shots" are included as such for purposes of determining your "shot equivalents."


January 3rd, 2018 at 5:44 PM ^

we're 33rd in kenpom, 37th in RPI. We've lost to two unranked teams and haven't beaten any ranked teams.  We have a poor SOS.  It'd justifiably be a stretch for anyone to put us in their top 25.

But we are close and we sort of are sniffing it. We had a vote in the AP poll last week and 5 points in the coaches poll.  We went down to 0 and 1, respectively, this week but I guess that's what happens when you only play one game and that game is against a horrible team that we kind of didn't dominate.

If we take care of business against Illinois this week, we'll get enough votes to be in the top 30ish but still shouldn't be in the top 25.

It's annoying that we have a crucial stretch coming up in which we play Purdue, MSU and Maryland all in a tight 7 day span. But if we split against Purdue/MSU, we'll be ranked the following week.

After that stretch, the conference schedule gets very manageable.



January 3rd, 2018 at 2:13 PM ^

Great read, but I'm not sure if I agree with shifting some usage away from Matthews unless you mean a fairly minimal amount. I'm fine with getting him down closer to 23-24% but wouldn't want to see it much lower than that. He can really create well, which is needed for our offense especially when we get into those unagressive lulls that sometimes occur. The pick and pop with him and wagner is something I love seeing, because that can easily develop further into an even more deadly combo. 


January 3rd, 2018 at 2:20 PM ^

I'm not worried about the rankings at this stage, even if the lunatics at ESPN are now listing "projected seeds" on their game previews in early January.  Win the games you're supposed to win and things will be fine - even if MSU crushes us on their court.  

Another typical trait of Beilein teams is the shortening of the rotation.  We've seen Simmons vanish and neither Davis or Watson ever cracked the rotation.  Poole is likely hanging by a thread too, though his role as a bench gunner will always earn a few minutes (and more if he stops giving up back-door cuts).  The question is what to do with Brooks' minutes.  He's not a liability, but he's also adding zero to the game when he's on the floor.  

One idea might be to give those back-up PG minutes when Z needs a rest to Rahk and bring in Poole.  



January 3rd, 2018 at 6:15 PM ^

is perfectly fine. Especially because he'll mostly be playing with a MAAR, Matthews, Robinson/Livers, Teske lineup.  Just don't turn it over, get the ball to those guys, and play adequate defense and that's enough from the backup PG. He or Simmons will remain in the rotation for 10-15 minutes, at least.

Watson played 2 minutes last night although I'm surprised he even played at all.  He's been passed by Poole for backup wing and there are so few minutes as it is, we should be giving all of the backup 2/3 minutes to Poole.  And Davis is the 3rd C.  He only played while Wagner was out because of necessity.  He wasn't in the rotation before the injury and he won't be as long as Wagner and Teske are healthy enough to play.



January 3rd, 2018 at 2:29 PM ^

Realistically, I think this team could finish 2nd or 3rd in the B1G this year.

MSU will likely roll through undefeated, because nobody has the depth and talent at the 4 and 5 to compete with MSU. 

But it would be awesome to steal second in the B1G away from Purdue. We had their number last year, and I think Mo likes being matched up against the Ents that Purdue sends out there. 

If we can avoid blowing 15 point leads, we could finish in 2nd. And that would be incredible.


January 3rd, 2018 at 7:21 PM ^

MSU's road games:


The hardest road game is @ Minnesota and @ Wisconsin. Neither team should beat MSU, but those have to be the hardest road games.

MSU gets Purdue once, at home, between going to Iowa and going to Minnesota. 

MSU's best chance for a loss in the B1G (in order):

Home vs Purdue
@ Minnesota
@ Wisconsin
Home vs Michigan
@ Indiana
Home vs IU
Home vs Wisconsin

I don't see any of those games being much of a challenge for MSU. Unless the sleepwalk against PSU or Maryland and lose a game because they didn't show up, MSU will go undefeated in the B1G this year. 

And in my opinion, if they don't go at least 16-2, win the BTT, and go to the Championship game, then this season would be a failure for MSU. It's Champions or bust for them. They are too talented, too much depth, too much experience, for anyone in the country to compete with them. 


January 3rd, 2018 at 8:52 PM ^

No one is going to argue that MSU will be favored in almost any given B1G game, but even if you give them a 95% chance in every game left, that's only a 40% chance at going undefeated. Drop that to 90% and the number goes to 15%. Odds are very much against them going undefeated.


January 4th, 2018 at 12:20 PM ^

is that despite them being on the forefront of "RPI gaming" they played a worse non-conf schedule than we did and after games against Southern Utah, Houston Baptist, Clev St. Savannah St., No Florida, etc. they are ranked just 27th (!!) in RPI and have just 3 (!!!) games left against current RPI top 50 teams (one each against Mich, Purdue and OSU).

The only away game they've even played thus far is @Rutgers.

Their wins against UNC and Notre Dame are looking worse by the day (and ND is in big trouble with Colson out now).  If the committee goes on resume and not talent/margin based rankings, I'd be shocked if MSU gets a #1 seed.  They almost have to win out to do so.

Btw, per kenpom their toughest remaining game is @Maryland with a 66% win probability:

1. @Maryland 66%

2. Purdue 68%

3. @Minnesota 73%

4. @OSU 73%

5. @NW 78%

6. @Wisc 78%

7. Michigan 84%



January 3rd, 2018 at 6:25 PM ^

They have a much better chance of competing with MSU for the title than we have of getting second, IMO.  They're playing lights out and are projected to win 5 (!!) more Big Ten games than we are.

I do think we can beat them at home because we're becoming a good team, but Wagner has actually been shut down after his first half of the first game against Purdue.  Did nothing in the second half of that first game and only played 17 of 45 min in the BTT game because he was so ineffective (and foul prone).  He hit some threes on Swanigan but once Painter made the adjustment to put Edwards on him, he was basically unplayable for the next three halves.

I actually think we'll see Teske more than Wagner in that game (like we did last night) because of Teske's ability to match up defensively with the Ents.


January 3rd, 2018 at 2:30 PM ^

One thing that's amazed me this year is how quickly Teske has turned the corner into a contributor.  Historically big men take a while to develop and that can be especially true when they're giant and not athletic freaks.  I started thinking and I can't remember a true 7-footer contributing for Michigan in the last 30 years. Here are some names I thought of:

  • Ben Cronin - injuries ended his career
  • Pete Vignier - may have been 6'11" and was never more than a role player
  • Josh Moore - looked like Shaq....played like a shack
  • Josh Asselin - only 6'11"
  • Eric Riley - I guess this is the answer from the early 90's
  • Roy Tarpley - probably the only "star" on this list

Did I miss anyone?  

Mr Miggle

January 3rd, 2018 at 4:23 PM ^

If you count all of our 6'11" players, it becomes an interesting list. Some of them contributed right away, others took time to develop.

Eric Riley was a good contributor. Josh Moore was the worst. The only other 7 footer I remember (barely) playing was Jon Antonides in the early 80s.


January 3rd, 2018 at 5:38 PM ^

Tarpley seems to be listed everywhere at 6'11".  I saw that Antonides guy listed in the Bentley database but I've never heard of him.  Josh Moore looked like he was potentially going to be a stud with his size and strength.  But he was so bad at everything other than "being big".  I remember a poster that came out with him and Avery Queen (the shortest player ever) from that same recruiting class.  Ah the Ellerbe days....

I don't think changing to 6'11" makes it much better.  You get Courtney Sims but who else?  Webber, Howard, McGary, Baston, Taylor, Traylor, Vaught, Mills, etc. were all 6'10" or less.  

Mr Miggle

January 4th, 2018 at 5:49 AM ^

At 6'11" We had McCormick, who was very good, Asselin, who developed into a decent player, Vignier, who was functional only as a senior, Chris Hunter, who didn't play like a big, 

Josh Moore was the most frustrating player I've seen in a Michigan uniform. A lot of potential, but seemingly unmotivated on the court and in the classroom. Only Ellerbe would have brought him here. Antonides was the same size, but it was obvious he was unathletic. He always seemed like a longshot to contribute. He looked like a walkon, maybe he was. We had a couple more walkons around 6'11".

As a caveat, listed heights are not exactly reliable.


January 3rd, 2018 at 2:47 PM ^

I'm still amazed Purdue is the #3 team in the country per KenPom.  They are a good squad no doubt, but for some reason it just doesn't seem real.

Still, this team has one two-game stretch where a split would be fantastic, then they just need to hold serve the rest of the year.


January 3rd, 2018 at 6:49 PM ^

they have no holes right now.  Shot blocking, great perimeter defense, good post play, great outside shooting...

I do think that ranking is a little inflated by racking up some recent wins at home by large margins and the loss to WKU is a head-scratcher, but they're going to compete with MSU for the conf title.  The fact they don't host the Spartans might be the only thing keeping them from at least tying for it.


January 3rd, 2018 at 3:39 PM ^

I like seeing how this team is evolving. Part of that comes from Beilein willing to play his freshman. I'm very happy to see Livers getting more time over Robinson and how Simpson has responded to Brooks getting the starter role. 


January 3rd, 2018 at 5:09 PM ^

when they get going.  Glad to see it coming around.  Would love to see Michigan knock out MSU or Purdue.  

Hopefully no bad losses the rest of the way.  I'm hoping that OSU loss was the kick in the pants they needed this year. 


January 3rd, 2018 at 6:22 PM ^

I may be the only one, but I really enjoyed reading this year-t0-date summary. Thank you Brian. This type of post is where your strengths come through. Taking an early season game, summarizing nicely, referring to past events, and allowing me to forget the football past. Congrats! Please do this again and again.


January 3rd, 2018 at 9:11 PM ^

If looks matter, then Michigan had the game last night won at the National Anthem. In Iowa they line up across the court. Michigan was all in uniform with all of them with their hands on their heart and attentive (excusing Mo Wagner for reason). Iowa on the other hand did not look particulary attentive and only three players had their hands on their heart. I think some still had sweats on, but I could be mistaken. This is not a political statement. The difference was apparent in discipline and presence. Michigan was ready and looked confident.

At that moment the stench from the bowl game began to recede from my nostrils. As an alum in an opponents home, I was proud to wear the colors.

The rest of the game just completed the beating. Michigan's passing just wore down their will to defend. My Iowa friends were muttering the entire night, particularly about their shattered defense. It was wonderful.



January 4th, 2018 at 3:19 PM ^

and that is the team that returns a lot of guys from a solid previous year but just doesn't have a good PG/leader.  That was the 09-10 year 3 team with Jr Manny Harris, but couldn't cope with Fr Darius Morris and surprisingly took a step back from the previous years tourney team despite losing only the CJ Lee/David Merritt/Kelvin Grady triumvirate (who were great leaders but not players you'd expect missing so much).