Muhammad Take The Wheel

Submitted by Brian on February 19th, 2018 at 1:10 PM

2/18/2018 – Michigan 74, Ohio State 62 – 22-7, 11-5 Big Ten


[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

It happens about three times a game: Michigan's offense will stall out to not much, someone will fling the ball to Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and he'll plunge through a thicket of defenders to the rim. The result, far more frequently than it seems like it should be, is two points when none recently beckoned.

There is a universal undercurrent to all of Abdur-Rahkman's sweeping, acrobatic, contested layups: "why not that, but all the time?"

His uncanny ability to get to the basket in bad situations has been a bedrock of Michigan's late clock offense for years, and remains so. If you can get to the rim and hit 69% with five seconds left on the clock, perhaps we should explore doing that more often.

And yet. MAAR has carved out an incredibly specific size of role no matter how he was operating in that role. His usage went from 16.5 as a freshman to 16.3 as a sophomore, to 16.3 again, and if you'd poked at Kenpom a month ago you would have seen that same 16 staring out at you. This despite a skyrocketing ORTG and a Michigan offense that verges on wonky. It would be unwise but understandable to grab MAAR by the shoulders and shake him, yelling "ahhhhh do more stuff."

Or perhaps this maneuver has already been executed.


As his career rounds the last bend, Abdur-Rahkman finally emerges from the shadow of the role player. He's not an all-conquering, all-usage Trae Young, but going from 16% usage to 20 over the last 7 games has corresponded to a 5-2 stretch where the only thing preventing 6-1 with a win at Purdue was Purdue shooting 80% on halfcourt shots—170 ORTG was not sufficient to win game MVP or, like, the game. Michigan's two worst offensive performances in that stretch by some distance where the two low-usage MAAR games against Northwestern's zone.

It doesn't seem right to say that as MAAR goes, so does Michigan, but it does seem like he provides a baseline of efficiency that the rest of the team can build on. Dude has had 16 turnovers all season, and this recent surge hasn't seen that rate increase: he's got two in those seven games.

Maybe he's already taking all the shots he can be efficient on because he has a spooky ability to identify when he's got a lane. But it kind of feels like if Michigan is going to do something surprising in the tournament, it's because MAAR decides he's going to dominate the ball, just once, in case it's awesome.




Making yo coffee hot. Jordan Poole entered this game with Michigan locked in a tight contest largely because of their moribund three-point shooting. Poole was 2 for his last 15, and naturally hit 4 of 5 because he has no memory. The rest of the team was 3 of 15, which is a recipe for certain doom sans Poole.

It is completely irrational but it feels like Mo Wagner's first attempt from three dictates whether Michigan's going to burn up the nets or imprison them in a wall of bricks for imagined insults. It was the latter here until Poole rescued them.

This was also a good compare and contrast between Poole and Robinson. OSU focused on limiting Robinson and held him two two attempts; Poole's ability to threaten a drive and pull up got him a couple of unassisted opportunities he canned.

Inverse free throw juju. Hopefully whatever witchdoctor flipped the teams' free throw shooting abilities can hold that spell until March. OSU shot 9 of 19 versus Michigan's 17 of 24, thus preventing a heartstopping finish. A large part of this from Michigan's perspective was getting the right guys to the line: Wagner, MAAR, Robinson, and Poole had 14 attempts. Simpson and Matthews had 7.

Simpson also debuted a new Rip Hamilton free throw homage that got him to 4/6, although the last two rattled around before going down. Whatever helps.

At long last, board obliterated. Dunno what OSU's done to Jae'Sean Tate this year but that looked like the old Tate to me. He was the spearhead for an OSU OREB vanguard that clobbered Michigan for what was the first time probably all year. Michigan got out-OREB'd 15-4, but did make up for it with a +7  TO margin, preventing a serious FGA gap.

We're filing this under Just A Thing for now.

Board obliteration obscures defense. Hoop Math's numbers for yesterdays game are bonkers. They have 8% of OSU's shots at the rim, and 72% two point jumpers. Those seem to exclude putbacks, of which OSU had nine attempts and five makes. Minus those, OSU was 14 of 38 from two—37%. OSU is 32nd nationally in 2PT%.

A large part of this was Keita Bates-Diop going 2 for 11, with that work split about equally between Livers and Robinson. Neither guy did much on offense, but they more than earned their keep by sending a kPOY candidate to one of his worst games of the season. Ace reports that Synergy has Robinson a dang near average defender this year, up from 23rd percentile a year ago. This is largely because teams are trying to post him up a lot more than they did last year. Robinson's proven fairly adept at fending off fours like KBD and Jaren Jackson on the block.



Zounds! Zavier Simpson's offensive line is decent, but not astounding. What he did to CJ Jackson, though: three points on 5 shot equivalents, zero assists, three turnovers. Simpson committed zero fouls doing this. Jackson hadn't been held without an assist all season. Let's check in on opposing point guards over the last few games:

  • Jordan Bohannon, Iowa: 9% usage, 7 points. 5 A: 0 TO though.
  • Brad Davison, Wisconsin: 10 points on 11 shot equivalents, 1 A, 1 TO, 88 ORTG.
  • Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern: 24 points on 14 shot equivalents, 5 A, 1 TO, 162 ORTG
  • Nate Mason, Minnesota: 22 points on 19 shot equivalents, 2 A, 0 TO, 122 ORTG.

So not a consistent murder-like substance. It should be noted that approximately all of Mason's twos were pull ups just inside the line that he's been miserable at this season.

What a strange team. OSU, that is. I'm slightly worried that Chris Holtmann has managed to put together a team that will get a solid NCAA seed with this pu-pu platter of available options. Andrew Dakich may be shooting well this year but he's still more or less the walk-on he was at Michigan, except now he's getting 20 minutes a game. His line in 22 minutes yesterday: 0/3, one TO, one steal, one foul. OSU has four pretty good players and then zero.

Holtmann's decision to sit Micah Potter, who is a solid offensive option, for nonentity freshman Kyle Young only exacerbated that gap. Young had Dakich-like usage in 22 minutes, and that puts an enormous burden on your good players to survive in the usage 30s.

Bracket updates. About what you'd expect on the two major-network experts to update after OSU. Lunardi moved Michigan from a 6 to a 5; Palm moved Michigan from an 8 to a 7. OSU is a 5 on Palm's bracket. I'm struggling to see a two-seed gap between these resumes with an identical number of wins and losses. I'm leaving out the H2H and Maryland home wins:

  • OSU Ws: MSU, @ Purdue. Bad Ls: none.
  • M Ws: @ MSU, UCLA, @ Texas. Bad Ls: @ Northwestern.

OSU has the #13 SOR per ESPN; Michigan is #15. If it's not tight it's because RPI and quadrants are mis-evaluating Michigan's season.

Michigan has two more Q1 opportunities to finish the season, so they have some upward mobility left.



February 19th, 2018 at 1:35 PM ^

Poole was 2 for his last 15, and naturally hit 4 of 5 because he has no memory.

I'm thinking no conscience is as likely. Most likely, is a lack of memory assuaging that lack of conscience. I don't mean that as a pejoritive either. One of my all time favorite teamates, came across the ten second line in a big game many years ago. As Dennis goes dribbling by, Coach says, "You're gonna have to start shooting it!" Two ... tops ... and as likely one dribble later, that puppy went up.

Miss, make, it didn't matter, the boy had the green light and he wasn't about to squander the opportunity.

Shooters, gotta shoot it.


February 19th, 2018 at 1:44 PM ^

Holtmann's going to win Big Ten COY but I don't think his team is quite the bunch of spare parts people make it out to be.  He's got a POY candidate (Bates-Diop), another guy that's a tough matchup (Tate), a couple excellent shooters (Jackson, Williams) and a big hoss in the middle (K. Wesson).  Other than Wesson, those are all upperclassmen.

The one real personnel issue he has is that he apparently has to play Dakich major minutes, but overall it seems like he inherited a group of upperclassmen hungry to prove something - and got Bates-Diop back from injury.  




February 19th, 2018 at 2:05 PM ^

Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, a badly slumping Tim Hardaway Jr. (28% from 3 that year), Jordan Morgan, and a good-but-not-POY-level Trey Burke.  That team had to scratch and claw for everything.  Unfortunate that it lost in the first round of the NCAAs, but it really had overachieved all season and may have just run out of gas.  (The loss to Groce and signing of LeVert made it worth it in the long run, anyway.)





February 19th, 2018 at 5:19 PM ^

they lost by double digits at fellow B1G co-champs OSU and MSU and beat both at home in very close games (and then were absolutely crushed by OSU in the BTT).  They eeked out two OT wins over NW and a few other close wins.

They definitely did scratch and claw for everything and weren't that talented.  Credit to them for splitting with those two teams and getting that share because they weren't nearly as good or talented.


February 19th, 2018 at 1:37 PM ^

when this praise Rahk post was going to come.  Rahk has gone from a consistent player to an even better consistent player and go-to guy.  I love when Belein finds players like these.  It take sa huge burden off other players when we have two go-to scorers in Mo and Rahk.  Great team win, these guys can make noise as usual in the tournament.  Hopefully Charles gets out of his slump, he is often times one of the top two or three players on the court.


February 19th, 2018 at 2:17 PM ^

My Director's son played AAUs with MAAR in Allentown PA.  My Director told me that MAAR was coming to Michigan before anybody knew about it. 

My reaction was "Who?" 

I had to keep learning over and over how to say his name so I could talk about him with my Director and score brownie points.

He was an off the radar pickup to say the least.

Beilein knows how to find these guys.




February 19th, 2018 at 1:50 PM ^

I can provide some clarity here as a Butler/Michigan fan. 

Chris Holtmann is a very good coach, but we will have to wait and see how high his ceiling is. His salvage job this year is exactly what made him really good at Butler. He seems to have an uncanny ability to see what his roster is good at and then maximize that. For example here were his three seasons at Butler

14-15- Kenpom: 20 (O 64 D 8). He takes a good shot blocker surrounded by solid defenders to a 5 seed in the tournament

15-16- Kenpom 30 (O 15 D 97) After lossing all the best defensive options he pivots to a wide open offensive approach to salvage an 8 seed with a thin roster.

16-17 Kenpom 25 (O 20 D 49) Holtmann's most complete roster. This team was largely aided by a grad transfer and two traditional transfers in their final season. They swept Nova and Xavier

Now here comes the reassuring part. Looking at the fact that they swept two of the toughest teams in the conference you would think that Butler won the Big East. However, Holtmann seems to have a weird thing where his teams will turtle for five games at a time, and they always have another conference team that is their kryptonite (see PSU this year and Creighton last year. 

Last year Butler, despite being as complete as it has been since Brad Stevens' final four runs, lost @Indiana State, @St Johns, home to Gtown, choked at home to Seton Hall to end the season. This doesn't even include the 20 point comebacks it took to beat Depaul and Georgetown. 

Additionally, he did not win a conference tounament game in three tries, and performed exactly to seed in all three appearances in the NCAA tournament. 


TL:DR Really good coach, but with some weird flaws that have me questioning whether he'll ever be a Final Four caliber coach.


February 19th, 2018 at 2:08 PM ^

This is useful information and good background. However, I don't take too much comfort from it. On a large scale Holtmann reminds me of Mel Pearson, who is taking the spare parts of the Michigan hockey roster and competing for an unlikely tourney berth this year. Holtmann does have some pieces, but in basketball a lot of teams do. Wisconsin isn't exactly riding Ethan Happ to the top of the table, for example. 

There are no doubt some flaws, but those same flaws could be seen on a lot of teams. Few basketball programs don't go through bad slumps (Michigan is not immune) and a lot of good coaches have stretches that if you thin-slice them look like a series of bad tournament performances, including Beilein. If you looked at Beilein's postseason record prior to the NCAA tournament in 2013, he was a guy who at Michigan could win won game before losing, and whose team had choked in the first round of its previous tournament appearance.


February 20th, 2018 at 8:12 AM ^

I can see your perspective. For me as a Butler fan, it just seems like a familiar pattern. There are also some questions of whether he'll be able to recruit at level higher than the skill level he already has on the team. At Butler, he had some big recruiting wins for Butler's caliber, but those are ones he'll need every single year at OSU. 

I also want to see how he does in both tournaments this year. At Butler he seemed like a totally different coach in the regular season versus the post-season. 


February 19th, 2018 at 1:55 PM ^

I have felt like that first triple each game from Wagner is worth 10 points for most of the season. If he hits it, its gonna be a fun game. If he misses it, there tends to be a lid on the rim for long stretches.

The only way to shake off a miss is if Wagner gets a dunk early on. I have no evidence for any of this, but it has seemed to be a perfect feelingsball indicator all year.

Yinka Double Dare

February 19th, 2018 at 1:55 PM ^

"I'm slightly worried that Chris Holtmann has managed to put together a team that will get a solid NCAA seed with this pu-pu platter of available options."

I have watched a fair bit of Butler games over the years as my wife is an alum and Holtmann knows what he's doing. Will be interesting to see what his recruiting looks like at a school that has been able to recruit well in the past, but he was thrown into a weird situation at Butler and made it his own quickly and got them to the tourney his first year. 


February 19th, 2018 at 2:17 PM ^

I'm good with having a 6'11" Zack Novak. 

As for Rahk, I will admit at this point that I seriously questioned offering him a scholarship when the staff reached out to him.  This is one of the many reasons why Coach Beilein evaluates talent for the program and I do not.  I will miss Rahk's reliable, old man game when he's gone.  He is a steady presence that this team would, I think, sorely lack in his absence.


February 19th, 2018 at 5:25 PM ^

and definitely illustrates Wagner's improvements on defense.  He is reaching and gambling less on defense and playing a lot more solid, just being in the right spot, getting his hands up and letting the guy take tough shots.

Wesson is a pretty good matchup for him too because Wagner is tall enough that just putting his hands up makes it tough (as opposed to Haas who can just look right over him) and Wesson isn't quick enough to make moves and get around Mo like Juwan Morgan and others have.  So that left only Wesson's ability to use his weight, which he did effectively a couple times but had a quiet day overall.


February 19th, 2018 at 2:14 PM ^

I'm struggling to see a two-seed gap between these resumes with an identical number of wins and losses.

Because there is none.

Some of these seedings are just pre-season-college-football-esque lazy habit . . . a team tends to hover way too long around where they were three months ago, despite all evidence to the contrary. 

It takes a while for reality to catch up.



February 19th, 2018 at 6:37 PM ^

of us in kenpom.  8 spots ahead in RPI.  That's two seeds ahead in a margin based system and a W/L based system. That's some consensus.

They've played a more difficult schedule to date.

They definitely deserve to be one seed ahead right now, and probably two.

A couple wins this week for M and we definitely would vault ahead of them.


February 19th, 2018 at 2:19 PM ^

Palm has a crappy Kentucky team ahead of us as a 6 seed. They are just 18-9.

He also has Oklahoma and Seton Hall as 7 seeds even though they are under .500 in their conferences.


February 19th, 2018 at 5:36 PM ^

ranks.  So it's not that confusing.  Kentucky is 18th, Seton Hall 26th and we're 28th. OU is 34th but they have the #1 SoS in the country and the committee obviously liked that when they revealed their last rankings so he's baking that in a little bit.


February 19th, 2018 at 10:39 PM ^

Yeah, OU with the #1 SOS playing in the always over-rated B12 with all their terrific athletes and teams who never get better as the season wears on. Make them play a disciplined, fundementally sound HS team who plays good defense in the post-season and they become a Jr. High team. Kansas winning 73 consecutive conference championships pretty well defines this situation.


February 20th, 2018 at 3:35 PM ^

I'm merely stating that they have objectively the most difficult schedule in the country right now per the unbiased statistical rating site,

And primary reason for that tough SoS is they play in objectively the toughest conference top to bottom.  That's not a media narrative, it is a statistical result.  And the other reason they have the #1 SoS in the country is that they scheduled a fairly tough non-conference slate as well. One that included games at Wichita State, and away from home against USC, Oregon and Arkansas.

The committee loves that and I'm merely pointing it out.

That said, I watched some of the OU game against Kansas last night and they looked like they've quit.  Absolutely terrible effort.  If they don't turn it around the committee should view them as the team they have been lately, not the team they were early in the season before teams figured out Trae Young.

BTB grad

February 19th, 2018 at 2:25 PM ^

I thought I was the only one who thought about the first Wagner 3-pointer that way... it's a lot like how 2k works. You make the first 3 and you'll be raining them all game. Wagner = video game

N. Campus Tech

February 19th, 2018 at 2:40 PM ^

The team needs someone to take over the game at the end of the shot clock and to closeout games. Charles Matthews isn't "the guy." He wants to be, but he has a poor handle, misses free throws, too many turnovers. Like Irvin, he's best when he's the second banana.

Poole isnt' ready.

It has to be MAAR. He has the skills. Just needs to assert himself. I hear Maverick Morgan called him "soft." Plays like he's from the suburbs.


February 19th, 2018 at 2:44 PM ^

Maybe he's already taking all the shots he can be efficient on because he has a spooky ability to identify when he's got a lane.

I suspect that this is indeed the case. He approaches the lane, he sees a specific combination of opposing players in specific positions that he recognizes (from Beilein's superb coaching and from having watched film) as being vulnerable to attack, and he says, "Let's go." That's basketball IQ, and MAAR's is off the charts.


February 19th, 2018 at 3:48 PM ^

Thanks for MAAR for his years of flexibility, steady play, and leadership. It is great that he is emerging during this last stretch of his career. Senior guards that are peaking can make March very interesting.....we got the benefit of that just last year and it was great fun.  MAAR you have always provided whatever we needed. It has been a pleasure and I can't wait to see what these next few weeks have in store. 

Duncan Robinson is not who we thought he would be, but he has worked his ass off to find other ways to contribute. He didn't make a field goal but he was a strong contributor on Sunday. He could not have done that two year ago. I appreciate his hard work to maximize his value to the team. I still love a 6 three night like last week, but we need all of the other things he now brings too.

This team has been growing up in front of us all season. It has been frustrating at times, but there have been many more exciting moments and great wins. 

2 on the road, the Big Ten Tourney and then on to March Maddness. Let's squeeze every drop of success out of what is left ahead.