Red Flowers Bursting Down Below Us

Submitted by Brian on January 13th, 2016 at 12:58 PM

1/12/2016 – Michigan 70, Maryland 67 – 13-4, 3-1 Big Ten


those people didn't even know us [Bryan Fuller]

This was always going to happen at some point. A marquee win was going to stroll onto the court and get bombed back into the Stone Age by Duncan Robinson and the Enola Gays. Even as the team was getting hammered by various opponents featuring large angry people, I had this faith. (Probably. Shut up.)

They just had to, you know, do it. They had to take the three point shooting and shape it into a win with the other bent and misshapen tools at their disposal. The math had to add up. It had not done that so much this year. But basketball's math is changing.


John Beilein hasn't changed much in the 86 years he's been a college head coach. He will play four, preferably five, people who can shoot three-pointers and try to get away with everything that implies. The 1-3-1 has come and gone but the core has always been the Beilein Long Range Strategic Bombing Initiative.

It's worked. Beilein scrapped his way up the ranks by overachieving everywhere he's ever been. But there was always thought to be a ceiling past which this kind of basketball could not go. Early skeptics noted that Beilein's attention-grabbing tourney runs at West Virginia were paired with mediocre regular seasons. He'd never sniffed a conference title in a major league. Players who could shoot from deep were limited role players. They were Just A Shooters.

The game of basketball has changed, gradually and now radically. With Steph Curry currently redefining what NBA efficiency means as statheads in the background furrow their brows over any shot between the arc and the rim, the zeitgeist has finally come around to the idea that three is more than two.

Meanwhile Beilein has been a whisker away from a national title, a whisker away from another Final Four, and won three Big Ten championships. It's been a little rough so far this year since the post play has been… uh… well…

is there any way to say this diplomatically

if I am not diplomatic will I be arrested

I seem to have been given a choice between being massively dishonest and being banned from speech forever

…not good.

Also Michigan's recent propensity for injury has bit hard as Spike exited for good and Zak Irvin scuffled through a big chunk of the season during which the fact he was about to miss a three was more obvious than the plot of The Force Awakens. Oh, and Caris Levert has missed three games and counting.

But as ways to play basketball go it seems like people are just now catching up to Beilein. The team is catching up to expectations. Now if we can just get some additional Mitch types in here.


Yesterday they did it. Set aside the bigs going 0/5; they are not members of the backing band here. Robinson and company went 12/24. That's 50%. That is good. That is enough to overcome a lot of things. It's enough to overcome Diamond Stone using 40%(!) of Maryland possessions efficiently, for one.

And it's not a fluke. Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman hit his lone three against Maryland and has joined the club: Michigan has five players hitting 40%+ from three. That does not count Irvin, who seems to be recovered from the back-injury-induced early season funk and is hitting 44% over his last five. They have two players, Walton and Robinson, above 50%.

This deep into the season thoughts that Michigan might reclaim their Burke/Stauskas form have been shelved. But if they can poke their nose inside the line enough to avoid the kind of drought they suffered midway through the second half, they can be a fatally flawed team that goes down in a technicolor blaze of glory.


Goddamn, Duncan Robinson. Here are the top ten three point shooters in the country.


Robinson has 42 more attempts than the next-closest guy. The only player I found with significantly more, Oakland's Max Hooper, has 133 and is shooting at a 45% clip.

And is it just me or has he improved defensively? I have not been frustrated by a bunch of blow-bys of late. He seems to be able to stay in front of PF types and is even bothering the occasional person with his length. He's by no means good, but the opposition has stopped targeting him over and over again as the clear weak spot.

Robinson is developing—or probably just displaying—the ability to Not Just Shoot as well. The drive and pretty reverse layup late in the second half was an eye-opener; he's putting up shot fakes and then repositioning as well. He was the alpha dog on Williams two years ago with a diverse all-around game; he should be able to grow into that as he gets more comfortable on a D-I court.


weird face sometimes too [Bryan Fuller]

Derrick Walton is a weird player. Walton is rebounding like a 6'11" guy. His 21.7 DREB rate is almost top 100 nationally. Many of those are of the mansome variety where he launches off both feet and secures a ball a 6'1" guy definitely should not secure. Meanwhile He's hitting 33% of his two-pointers and 53% of his threes.

I am desperately disappointed that Kenpom stopped showing you similar players based on stats*, because what does that spit out for a guy with that DREB rate, assist rate, and shooting profile? Jan Jagla, but good?

*[I assume Pomeroy dumped it because it didn't work, but in this situation that only makes it better. Other possibility: Pomeroy saw Walton's sophomore year and pulled the plug in case his junior year caused his computer to emit smoke and shut down, moaning "why Ken whyyyyyy" as it did.]

Walton is a weird defender. I was very frustrated with him in the Purdue game. He started well and then kept getting beat off the dribble by drives that didn't look like anything other than a meh Purdue guard putting his head down. So of course he comes out against Melo Trimble and crushes him.


didn't go well, could have gone worse [Fuller]

Donnal as the "Evolution of Man" poster. I dunno, man. I assume every Michigan fan had written off Mark Donnal for good. There was certainly a lot of grousing about wasting minutes on him during the cupcake games in December, grousing that I agreed with. And then he got a ton of layups and is… well, he's not good but he is middling with frightening outburst of Mutumbo.

I never thought I would say this but the defensive downgrade when DJ Wilson came in was obvious. Wilson got wreckt on a couple of pick and rolls where he let the PG around him; Donnal got over and cut off penetration. He of course had that sequence towards the end of the first half where he had two spectacular blocks* and looked as surprised as anyone that he had just had two spectacular blocks.

While Diamond Stone more or less had his way with Donnal for much of the day the progress there is undeniable.

*[The first of which caused Tiricio and—ugh—Vitale to rant about how Donnal had committed a foul. Not that I expect Vitale to pay attention to the rules of the game or even the things happening in front of his face, but Donnal "getting [opponent] with the body" was Donnal leaping vertically as opponent rammed into him. That is a major emphasis with the refs this year.]

DJ Wilson is still baking. Clearly very bad in this game, as his brief chunk of playing time in the second half resulted in a 10-2 run for Maryland that he was almost singlehandedly responsible for. Also he floats to the perimeter to shoot threes way too much. But you can see flashes of an effective player in there; he has super-long arms and length, so he gets his hands on a lot of balls and has a future as a shot blocker.

The redshirt was clearly the best idea. He's got a long way to go; he has a very high ceiling.

Speaking of Max Hooper. Hooper has 133 three point attempts that he's hitting at a 45% rate. Pretty good, Max Hooper! How are you doing inside the line?


Wow. Hooper is a junior; in his career he has attempted 11 two-point shots and 344 three.


This has been "Brian and Ace find a freakish basketball player on Kenpom of no interest to you and tell you about it anyway."



January 13th, 2016 at 3:22 PM ^

All I can do is laugh. You seriuosly took that as some kind of attack rather than a lighthearted aside? I follow twitter enough during games to know that Brian has watched nearly every game this season. Not to mention that my comment was not intending to be smartass-y, unlike your "other username" comment. Whatever, I'm done here; You can't argue with stupidity. 


January 13th, 2016 at 1:20 PM ^

In spirit, or in reality.  Robinson is their 4th best player.  He's taken on the role that Dawkins had last year, Irvin had the year before that, and Stauskas had the year before THAT.  It's the freshman just-a-shooter wing role - the floor spacer.  It's an important but ultimately peripheral role. Even if Robinson is probably the best just-a shooter wing Michigan has ever had. 

This is not Robinson's team anymore than the '12-'13 team was Stauskas' team.  Framing it as such is... interesting and inaccurate and raises some questions about perspective.


January 13th, 2016 at 2:06 PM ^

Last night's upset was fueled by hitting threes as Brian wrote.  In this case when discussing three point threats, Robinson and co. is a good description and I am in awe that offense somehow got taken from that.

Sometimes taking a second, reviewing what was said and then posting is a good approach vs. doing the whole, "let's prove I'm the smartest one in the room thing." 


January 13th, 2016 at 2:29 PM ^

But Robinson's been drawing fawning praise all season.  You look at the narrative above and it says next to nothing about Irvin - who played a hell of a game - and emphasizes how weird Walton - who played a hell of a game - is.

Robinson does what he does very well.  But he's done it very well when Michigan's been bombed and when Michigan's won (with the exception of the UConn game, Robinsons shot well every game).  He was not why Michigan won last night.  He went 5-9 from 3 against SMU too.

I don't know what it is but is seems like guys like G.Robinson, Irvin, Walton, and even LeVert have gotten a lot of negative comments and scrutiny but guys like Stauskas, Dawkins, Albrecht, D.Robinson get their warts (ehem defense) almost entirely excused.  I appreciate great 3 point shooting as much as the next guy.  I love great offensive players - it's fun to watch.  But I don't get criticizing Walton's D against Purdue when Robinson's been bad to awful on D all year. I don't get excusing Spike's defense due to his size when Walton and Trey are small too.

There's a reason Walton starts/started over Spike.  Actually lot's of reasons.  But the difference in narrative commentary on their careers is staggaring. It's backwards. Certainly a lot of it can be explained away by expectations related to recruiting rankings but that doesn't rationalize it fully, IMO.

Stringer Bell

January 13th, 2016 at 5:19 PM ^

Guys like GR3, Irvin, Walton, Levert carry high expectations with them, based on recruiting rankings (doesn't apply to Levert obviously) and previous performances.  I don't think Levert has gotten much criticism but guys like GR3, Irvin, and Walton hadn't or haven't really lived up to the expectations bestowed upon them, which is where the criticism comes from.  Stauskas was phenomenal but his defense, which was really the only weak point of his game here, was criticised and rightfully so.  I think Spike and Duncan are so appreciated here because they vastly exceeded expectations.  No one thought Duncan would light up division 1 competition like he has this season, and no one thought he'd be shooting 55% from 3 on over 100 attempts thus far.


January 13th, 2016 at 5:37 PM ^

when your deficiency is defense, most fans don't really care or know how bad you're hurting the team because there aren't box scores or measures for that.  People go weeeeeeee over guys like Robinson and Stauskas and Dawkins hitting threes but don't really see or care that they just got torched on defense because most people watch the ball and assume it was just a good offensive play and don't notice the lack of defensive resistance. Always been that way with basketball and always will for most fans. 

And yes, you're right about the expectations thing.  That's a huge part of it.


January 13th, 2016 at 6:04 PM ^

for shot selection and for not carrying the all-conference caliber high-efficiency offensive centerpiece torch that Morris-Burke-Stauskas passed around.  He's also been criticized for not being a lock-down defender (which neeeeeeeever happened to Stauskas for reasons that go beyond recruiting rankings).

You are right about EXPECTATIONS influencing the narrative.  But should it be such a big deal.  We have people on here who actually believe that Novak is better than Glenn Robinson, that Albrecht is better than Walton, that MAAR is better than Irvin.

I think it's appropriate to apply recruiting rankings to make expectations, but it's also appropriate to recalibrate after a little while.  We did that with Caris.  Why not with Spike? 

I think there's expectations related to athleticism that are a big factor in this too.

Also - respectfully disagree about Duncan.  A lot of people were on the"the next Stauskas" vibe and Ace predicted he'd shoot over 50% from 3 I believe.  I thought he was crazy and still think it's unlikely, but clearly it's in the realm of possibility.


January 13th, 2016 at 1:24 PM ^

No. Robinson has been the most consistently good player this year outside of LeVert. Irvin and Walton look like they're turning things around and should regain their spots as the 2nd and 3rd best players on the team. As it stands, though, they've gotta string together a few more strong performances to do that.

No doubt that Walton/Irvin have higher ceilings than Robinson if only due to their athleticism, but Robinson is not the 4th best player right now. He's the 2nd. I don't think there's even much of an argument there.


January 13th, 2016 at 1:46 PM ^

most of this game, the offensive strategy was "get Robinson the ball anywhere so he can chuck a three."  And it more or less worked.  Robinson = Freshman Stauskus is not a good comparison.  Freshman Stauskus was the fifth option on a team where options 1-4 were awesome.  Robinson is the second option on a team where option 1 has played like 12 games in the last two seasons.  Once he starts putting the ball on the floor and figuring out how to get that jumper off the dribble a little better he is going to be lethal.  What a steal he was.


January 13th, 2016 at 2:07 PM ^

He's 9th on the team in usage %.  In conference play he's 4th in shot attempts (not even counting FTs).  The guys ahead of him doesn't include Caris.

Robinson is a GREAT specialist.  Michigan wants to get him the ball.  His role is likely to expand after this season.  BUT, he's not the centerpiece of the offense with or without Caris.  His ball skills and passing aren't there yet. He is reliant on others.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with that fact, but a guy like that shouldn't be framed up as the team MVP or even the runner-up, even if you completely ignore the defensive issues.



January 13th, 2016 at 3:37 PM ^

You are using usage percentage as a metric of a player's value? Does that capture the fact that Duncan can go stand in the corner for a whole offensive possession, forcing the other team to play 4 on 4 because they dare not leave him open, thereby spreading the floor and opening it up for everyone else?



January 13th, 2016 at 4:03 PM ^

I'm using usage percentage to respond to the claim that Michigan's "offensive strategy was "get Robinson the ball""

Robinson's spacing is very valuable, as was Stauskas' and Irvin's when they were freshman. Since Robinson is an even better 3 point shooter than those guys his spacing is even more valuable than theirs.

Still, you need guys who can win you a game of 4-on-4, not just guys who can make it into a game of 4-on-4.  I would argue Robinson at this point in the year is doing more than just that though.


January 13th, 2016 at 5:20 PM ^

You wrote, I'm using usage percentage to respond to the claim that Michigan's "offensive strategy was "get Robinson the ball". You are using the season usage percentage to argue someone's comment about last night's game. I watched the whole game. Robinson was integral to Michigan's offense regardless of whether or not he was getting a lot of shots up. He did attempt 9 threes last night, and as Brian showed, he's attempting a high number of threes relative to others with a similar shooting percentage. He was dictating the flow of the game on offense by his mere presence. If he's not shooting ~55% on threes, the defense sags off and the offense bogs down. He may not be the one taking the ball to the hoop like Irvin, but he was just as important to the success of the offense. One final point, usage percentage uses FGA, it doesn't distinguish 2s from 3s. Since Robinson shot exclusively 3s last night (except for that 1 sweet layup,) his value should be increased by 50%. You are letting advanced stats cloud your judgment. Use the eyeball test. This team doesn't win last night with Robinson (or Irvin or Walton or Donnal.)


January 13th, 2016 at 6:01 PM ^

when he went 4/5 from three but was mostly quieted in the second half.  He even jacked up a really ill-advised ugly three at one point.  Not that I could get that upset because that was probably still a 40% shot for him.

Point being, for a guy still working on creating his shot (and shots for others), it's easier for the defense to clamp down and take him out of the game.  Right now, he is a guy that has to take what the defense gives him.  The most valuable offensive players are the guys that create those opportunities for themselves and others. Without Levert, who is the primary alpha dog creator, the offense can easily bog down (even if a 100% three point shooter is standing guarded in the corner, not shooting because he can't create) unless Walton and Irvin step up as creators and they took the challenge as the catalysts of the offense in the second half.  

Robinson did have the beautiful reverse layup during that stretch that was reminscient of Sophomore Stauskas becoming not Just A Shooter.  Hopefully we see more of that going forward, as I'm sure we will.


January 13th, 2016 at 6:31 PM ^

I don't have usage stats for the game. Is it wrong to assume previous usage is representative?  Robinson didn't take an inordinate amount of shots and the offense really didn't look to be doing anything unusual to me.

You can't measure something like spacing directly so it's a subjective argument.  FWIW, there are advanced stats that support your argument for the season (win shares, ORtg, etc.)  But those are with Caris and against a lot of bad teams.

To me, the value of a just-a-shooter is dependant on his teammates.  With Caris having lead ball duties I might buy that Robinson is more important to the team offense than Zak, Derrick or anyone else.  But if Caris is gone, then the guys who run the offense are more valueable than they guys who makes it easier to run the offense.

In conference play (mostly without Caris) Robinson is 5th on the team in true shooting percentage (which takes into account 3s), 3rd in win shares, 5th in win shares per 40.  So, there's not much evidence that Robinson was the catalyst and differentiator you want to make him out to be.

I am using the eyeball test. I'm just using numbers to support my eyeballs.  My eyeballs say we have a Big 3 (when Caris is healthy) that can all shoot 3s, dribble, pass, and play some defense.  On top of that we have a remarkable space-creating shooter. And a huge disadvantage at center.

Shooting is important, but basketball isn't HORSE.


January 13th, 2016 at 7:16 PM ^

found this definition for usage:

"Usage Percentage (available since the 1977-78 season in the NBA); the formula is 100 * ((FGA + 0.44 * FTA + TOV) * (Tm MP / 5)) / (MP * (Tm FGA + 0.44 * Tm FTA + Tm TOV)). Usage percentage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor."

That just doesn't seem intuitively obvious. I don't know what half those abbreviations are for. (and yes, I'm old. Now get off of my lawn! But I'm usually in favor of advanced stats, especially in baseball.) That's why I'm leery of using usage as a gauge of a player's usage. They don't include assists as far as I can tell or hockey assists. It's just who is taking the shots and getting to the free throw line. Does that mean the offense is running through them, or that they are the beneficiary of everyone elses movement and screening. A guy who sits under the boards, grabs a lot of offensive rebounds and gets put backs would have a high usage. Is he integral to the offense?


January 13th, 2016 at 7:43 PM ^

Critically it takes into account free throws, which require a shot attempt but aren't captured in FGA.  

Usage doesn't care who dribbles, screens, creates space, or rebounds. It doesn't consider efficiency or effectiveness. It cares about shots and only shots. Nobody thinks its a measure of player worth. There are different stats for that. It's just a measure of shots taken or possessions used.

You can't argue the offense is centered on getting a guy shots who doesn't shoot very often. I mean you can, apparently, but it's not a good argument.

Re: your question about offensive rebounding...Well, yeah. If a big part of your offense is offensive rebounding this will factor in. An offensive rebound is like getting another possession. For Beilein teams, who barely even try to offensive rebound, it's not a big factor. 




January 13th, 2016 at 1:59 PM ^

I won't dispute that.

But the job of just-a-shooter is very easy and very reliant on having other people create shots for you.  Zak Irvin shot 46% from 3 when he was just-a-shooter and has struggled when asked to do more.  Dawkins shot 47% and his shooting has dipped a bit even though he's moved to a bench role.

Robinson, like Stauskas, is expanding his game and doing more - which portends very well for the Post-Caris World - but he's still mostly just sitting in the corner waiting for open shots or maybe using a screen to catch a pass and get an open look.  It gets a lot harder when you actually create the offense yourself off the dribble - as you see Irvin, Walton, Dawkins learning, as  you saw Stauskas learn in the first part of his sophomore year.  Robinson will likely go through a few bumps as his role increases too.

So, yeah, consistency is good but easier to acheive when the degree of difficulty is mostly unchanged from game to game.  That doesn't apply for our big 3, but it does for just-a-shooter's past present and future.


January 13th, 2016 at 2:15 PM ^

I think you hit on something with Irvin. On a team with many poor defenders, Irvin is probably our best. Most of the time he's assigned to the other team's best player. Playing tight D on the best opposing player will wear you out and take a toll on your offensive game.

I've been tough on Irvin but I try to remember that any offensive shortcomings should be offset by what he's been providing on defense.


January 13th, 2016 at 2:34 PM ^

I know Michigan is an offensive-oriented team but they still have to be respectable on D.  Michigan can't win with 5 Duncan Robinsons.

Irvin's been tasked with guarding a lot of 4s.  When Zak Novak did that we made a statue of him and put it in front of Chrysler (OK, this didn't actually happen but I imagine if the Mgoblog community decided such things it would be so.)  What Irvin did to Caleb Swanigen was absolutely deserving of tremendous praise -- unfortunately we lost and Irvin had a rough day on offense, so he didn't get a ton of credit for it.

Irvin's still not a great defender, but he has improved tremendously.  Caris and Walton have too, IMO.  Donnal is the one who has made an epic leap on the defensive end.

And I do think Duncan Robinson has been better than expected on D at times too.  I've grown optimistic about him on that side too.


January 13th, 2016 at 5:24 PM ^

Maybe it's just that he's better than everyone else on a bad defensive team, but I would say he's a great defender, especially given what he's asked to do.  He's great guarding wings and still pretty good guarding bigs which is extremely valuable versatility.


January 13th, 2016 at 6:36 PM ^

And you make a great point about versatility.  I just haven't seen him personnaly clamp down and keep people in front of him consistently.  He's a lot better than he has been but I still think Walton, MAAR, and LeVert have generally been better perimeter defenders than Irvin.  Subjective tho... 

Perhaps the topic will be decided by who is assigned to guard Denzel Valentine most.  Beilein knows better than we do.


January 13th, 2016 at 1:28 PM ^

And, thus 40% equals 60%!  [6 of 10 from 2 pt land (60%) is the same as 4 of 10 from behind the arc (40%)]  I can't imagine where basketball would be without the 3 point shot, and why more teams aren't taking even greater advantage of it. 


January 13th, 2016 at 1:35 PM ^

Big time sports is always slow to change; there's usually little pressure to inovate.  Get the best athletes, let them do their thing with success.  Small schools/teams with lesser freakish athletes are always the ones that seemingly innovate.  Then that slowly creeps into the bigger teams who learn they can actually apply mathmatically sound principles to the elite athletes and get even better results.  But it's always a battle with 'tradition', one of the mainstays of sports.