Sea Legs At Sea Comment Count

Brian December 16th, 2013 at 12:32 PM

12/14/2013 – Michigan 70, Arizona 72 – 6-4


Bryan Fuller

Well, here we are.

Because 2013 decided we'd had enough nice things the instant the Notre Dame game ended, this basketball team is 6-4 with one actual nonconference game left on the docket. Good news: Michigan is the highest-ranked four-loss team on Kenpom by 16 slots. Bad news: basketball committees don't look at Kenpom. Nor do they hunt down the ref who called a phantom foul on Mitch McGary with under a minute left against Arizona and give him the spanking of his life.

As a result, Michigan is staring down a rocky path to the tournament despite having what looks like three or four NBA first round picks on the roster. They've got a loss to Charlotte that's looking like it'll be filed as a bad one at season's end; their best win is against Florida State, which is probably a bubble outfit. The reliably brutal Big Ten is still Kenpom's #1 conference by a great distance. Wisconsin has not been left twitching in a ditch by the rule changes. Far from it, in fact.

Trey Burke was pretty good*, and not having him around is like trying to walk straight after years at sea. Michigan's stumbles are understandable. At this point they're threatening to take the team right off the pier and into the drink, though.


Things should settle down at some point. As mentioned, Michigan's surge in on-court experience from about 0.7 years per court minute to about 0.9 is a big leap. It takes them all the way from 342nd nationally to… 335th. Kansas and Kentucky are down there, too, and they've both lost three games despite having a pile of lottery picks. No one is sounding the alarms there, and they shouldn't at Michigan.

But… dammit. Michigan gets one more bucket or Arizona doesn't get bailed out and this storyline is one for the dustbin of history. Michigan takes some tough losses and WIN AGAINST #1 ARIZONA into the conference schedule, feeling like they're going in the right direction and ready to throw haymakers in the wild conference melee to come.

Without that, Saturday's game against a wild-card Stanford outfit is enormous. A loss there and you're looking at the Big Ten much differently than you are now. You're trying to squint out a way that a 17-13 team can possibly make the tournament. As a backup. It probably won't come to that, but neither will it come to anything other than Michigan being the 7 seed you don't want to see.

I'm still cool with that after ten years during which Amadou Ba fighting the MSU student section was the most fun thing about the program, but I will confess a certain desire to see Michigan hack through opponent defenses like they are willows in front of the wrong house-sized woodchipper. It seems unlikely Michigan is going to assemble a pile of talent like this again for a long, long time, and watching it fumble a chance to be a Sweet 16 seed because they stick out their arm and Trey Burke is playing for the Utah Jazz** is painful.

Who wants to take 2013 out back and bury it? I know it's not scheduled to expire for another couple  weeks, but it's looking really sick and old and sad and I say we put a bullet in its head. For mercy's sake. The half-hour of tears and kicking the body is also for mercy.

*[Jazz record without Burke starting: 1-13. With Burke starting: 5-7. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has a PER of 9.5. Burke is at 16 as a rookie point guard. Put Joe Dumars in a V-1 rocket and fire him at wherever Charlie Villanueva is now. Wait. HE'S STILL ON THE PISTONS? AAAAAARRRRGH]

**[Since the rocket just takes him back to the Palace, fire Joe Dumars.]


Autobench okay. Look, here's me not complaining about Beilein's two foul autobench: when Derrick Walton got his second with about six minutes left in the first half he left, as per usual. The limited amount of time this cost him and the fact that Albrecht was playing better makes this a-ok in my book.


Walton struggling. Michigan's getting very, very little out of Walton, whose TO rate is higher than his assist rate. In Michigan's losses he has 4 assists to 10 TOs; he had one point in 1 minutes against Arizona. His shooting's not actually that bad (73/49/38), but he struggles to find anything that's not in transition.

You knew there was going to be a dropoff from Burke, and a severe one, but even so I badly underestimated the impact of that dropoff. Walton is currently a huge step back from Burke not as a Naismith winner but as a freshman. Freshman Burke was half the player sophomore Burke was but he still absorbed a ton of possessions (27%) with a near top-100 assist rate while shooting virtually the same as Walton does.

Looking at Kenpom, Walton sticks out like a sore thumb. Leave aside Jordan Morgan, who's under 10 minutes a game and is steadily dropping with McGary back. Every other Michigan player has an ORTG of at least 113, with Stauskas, Robinson, LeVert, and Albrecht over 120. Walton is at 99.

For those of you unfamiliar with that particular stat, ORTG tries to pile every offensive stat into one number that indicates how efficient you are. It's very complicated, and generally respected. It exists in a tight range from 90 from 130, because players worse than 90 don't get to play college basketball and players above anywhere near 130 don't  have to for long. The nearest comparable guard to get starter's minutes with a number that low is Tim Hardaway. He had a 103 is a sophomore, when half of his shots were threes he hit at a 28% clip. And that was significantly better than Walton right now at a much higher usage rate. Then you're going back to junior Stu Douglass, who had a 97 in 2011.

Ditto Irvin. Michigan's ability to have freshmen come in and have a major impact early has been a saving grace the last couple years. Not so much this year. Irvin's in the same boat as Walton, only moreso: he had five minutes against Arizona in which he missed one three and picked up two fouls. In other games against real competition:

  • Iowa State: 13 minutes, 0 points, 0 assists, one TO
  • Florida State: 13 minutes, 2 points, 0 assists, 0 TO
  • Charlotte: 26 minutes, 8 points on 3 of 14 shooting
  • Duke: 14 minutes, 5 points on 2 of 5 shooting

Beilein autobench on Caris LeVert forced Irvin to take a heavy load in the Charlotte game and that is basically why Michigan lost; otherwise he's been invisible. By this time last year, Stauskas had already dropped 15 on Pitt, 20 on NC State, and 22 on Bradley. Partially because he had Burke feeding him open looks, yes. But cumong man.

Bench issues. As a result of the previous bullet and the instant evaporation of that two-post idea, Michigan is once again running their perimeter players out there for damn near the whole game. Michigan played LeVert, Stauskas, and Robinson 38, 38, and 37 minutes. That's not necessarily a huge problem in timeout-heavy college basketball—Arizona had an almost identical minute breakdown for their wings—but man when things go wrong, like they did in the Charlotte game, they can go wrong.

Signs of life for either freshman will be very helpful entering the Big Ten.

Speaking of timeout heavy. You know it's a special game when you get not one but two coach TOs that are followed by one possession and then a full media timeout.

Caris comin'. LeVert follows a 24 point game against Duke with 15 on 15 shots against a huge Arizona team. His ORTG has shot up almost 30 points(!) and he has an insanely low TO rate for a guy who makes as many odd plunges into the heart of the defense as he does. His shooting slash line is pretty good, too: 83/53/38.

The one thing that's missing: assists. He's not acquiring them any faster than he did as a freshman, and with so much of Michigan's offense falling on his shoulders of late that means McGary and Robinson aren't getting involved as much. Both of those guys need a lot of assists to produce, and they aren't getting them.

Not just a shooter. Stauskas has doubled his free throw rate from last year and leads the team by about 25 points there.

The Albrecht question. Should Michigan move him into the starting lineup? That is hard to judge. His ten points against Arizona was his first double digit game of the year, and how much do assists against Coppin State and Houston Baptist matter? He's only got extended playing time in two games. One was the Arizona game we just saw. In the other he got 27 minutes against Charlotte and was 2/7 from the floor for 6 points with a 4:2 A:TO ratio. Meanwhile, he's not a good defensive player.

Still… he takes care of the ball, has a high assist rate, and has been quietly efficient over the course of his career. We have another 21 3PAs to add to his small sample size and he's still a 50% three point shooter for his career. In those losses Michigan's had, Albrecht has 12 assists to 5 TOs.

His limitations are such that he's never going to have a usage rate much above his current 15%, but I might roll with that, live with the defensive issues, and put some more weight on Stauskas and LeVert.

The other option to get more production there is Caris at the point with Irvin coming in, and I think that's something to give a run, too. Irvin's going to get some minutes here against Not Arizona, and you might as well try it.



December 16th, 2013 at 12:46 PM ^

walton is more likely to improve over the course of the season than spike.  walton's upside, even for this year is higher.  for that reason, i'd run walton out there more for now, at least until the difference between the two could be the difference between a win and a loss. 


December 16th, 2013 at 1:30 PM ^

I agree.  The profile says guys like Walton figure it out and take a nice step forward as the season progresses, and I think Spike is the Vinny Johnson-type who can come in and give a lift to the second unit but who flounders getting starter minutes and having to play defense for an extended period of time.


December 16th, 2013 at 12:48 PM ^

Maybe it's because the last 3 months of 2013 have been such a drag on my sports psyche, maybe it's because I had work in 2 hours and 3 exams the following week, I don't know. But I left that game feeling if the team couldn't get over the hump in that atmosphere agaisnt a top team, I'm not seeing much more than 10 wins in Big Ten play and at that point I don't know if that's enough to make the NCAA Tournament.

We crucially need this year/next year to continue the momentum of the Final Four run if we're going to continue to compete in the Big Ten and in recruiting. I guess all I can do is hope Beilein can get it straightened out. Good news is that considering his track record so far, that's probably not a vain hope. 


December 16th, 2013 at 1:13 PM ^

I wasn't at the game, but I had a similar thought.  Michigan had all week to prepare, while Arizona played Wed. night.  Michigan was at home in front of a very loud crowd (seemed that way on TV at least), while Arizona was on the road tipping off at what for them was 10:00 AM.  The deck was stacked in Michigan's favor.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:40 PM ^

I truly think this Michigan team is going to be different as the year goes on. Definitely have to earn a tourney invite but once there nobody is going to want to face this team. I truly have a lot of confidence in Beilein, the staff, and the players. There is a lot of talent on this team and unfortunately we have a young point guard and that has been proven to be a difficult place to play as a freshman. I think we're going to be fine when it is all said and done. Brian is right that this weekend's game is huge.


December 16th, 2013 at 12:48 PM ^

I pray the sophomore class- which is basically the starting 5 now - manages to retain 2 or 3 players coming back for their junior years. If Stauskas and/or LeVert comes back...we'll be alright.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:33 PM ^

dude's on court presence is great...shoe toss to the camden crazies is the kind of intangible i really appreciate...but he seems to be a bit of a fair weather shooter. Crushes the easy opponents; can disappear against the best. much like how a rich rod season would play out.

undoubtedly he makes the team better being their starting wing. his defense has improved this year and i think he is committed to being the best player he can be.

i just wanna see some cold blooded threes when the team needs it the most that totally suck the life out of the opponent forcing a tv timeout whilst the cagers rage-hop towards the bench. dude's intangibles would particularly shine in these moments...



December 16th, 2013 at 1:18 PM ^

but LeVert isn't going anywhere with regards to the NBA anytime soon...I'm glad he has improved, but he is not ready for the NBA.

Joe Dumars = Al Borges

Tough loss, gotta win a lot of tough B1G games to get a decent seed in the tourney.

Also I feel like the frosh are getting a bad rap, the previous freshman class had the benefit of multiple open shots/dunks thanks to Burke and THJ....Walton and Irvin will get better, it will just take was nice to see GRIII show up, at least in the first half


December 16th, 2013 at 6:11 PM ^

Well, I think we're in the same boat with Stauskas as well.  LeVert has shown the ability to create off the dribble, something we certainly haven't seen with Stauskas (aside from a pump fake and drive).

Stauskas has other strengths - his finishing and touch is ahead of LeVert, for example - but I think right now neither of them are "complete" packages.  I do think both will continue to improve as the season goes on and could have big B10 seasons.  But, that doesn't mean they're ready for the league.


los barcos

December 16th, 2013 at 12:52 PM ^

i was at the arizona game, but i havent been to a college bball game since my undergrad days.  every other posession there was a break - there didnt seem to be any rythm in the game, the crowd never could get into it. there were just breaks, and breaks, and breaks. 

was the amount of timeouts in this game an anomaly - or is it becoming standard in the college game?  the timeouts had never seemed so pronounced watching on tv...


December 16th, 2013 at 12:54 PM ^

moving quickly if we want to sniff a 7 seed.  If we lose to Stanford it will take a nearly miraculous Big Ten slate to make the tourney.  Anybody who is still thinking the tournament is a given and that it is just about seeding, I encourage you to take a look at the Big Ten schedule and play the "win-loss" game with the remaining schedule.  We have to win numerous games in which we will be the underdog to make the tournament already at this point.  Gotta call it like I see it.  I could not have imagined a more dissapointing start to this basketball season.  I think our tourney chances are at about 40% and sliding.  Stanford is an absolute must win.  At Minnesota is as well.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:33 PM ^

to take a look at any of the current rankings-- for example, Michigan is 23 in KenPom and 19 in Bennett.  Strength of schedule you know--which will be a significant factor in getting to the Dance and seeding.  We play the number 1 team in the country even up--though I appreciate that Zona probably isn't the best team in the country.   But no one is stepping up to separate themselves from the pack--Kentucky, MSU, Duke, UNC, Oklahoma State and Louisville, among others, have all been up and down--and have their own limitations.  One could argue that State has only played one good half of basketball to date--yet I'm comfortable that they will be a team to be reckoned with going forward.  If Wisconsin, Syracuse, Ohio State and Villanova are currently the top teams--after Zona--then there is certainly time to right the ship.  I'd be happy to play any of them now--and certainly in March.

Of course, we need to play better and we need to start winning the close ones, but it is still a matter of seeding.  We'll talk again in March.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:58 PM ^

not saying there is no chance we are going to make the tournament, I just think it is about 50-50 right now.  Check it out:

Stanford Win 7-4, Holy Cross Win 8-4, at Minny loss 8-5, vs. NW win 9-5, at Neb win 10-5, at PSU win 11-5, at Wisky gut punch 11-6, vs. Iowa win 12-6, at MSU loss 12-7, vs. Purdue win 13-7, at Indiana loss 13-8, vs. Nebraska win 14-8, at Iowa loss 14-9, at OSU loss 14-10, vs. Wisky and vs. MSU win one lose one 15-11, at Purdue win 16-11, vs. Minnesota win 17-11, at Illinois loss 17-12, vs. Indiana 18-12, one win and one loss in BIG tourney, 19-13 final record.

Is that a tourney team?  Probably, but at about an 10-11 seed and possible in the "last 4 in" or damn close to it and mainly beause we went to the title game last year and Bielien has a rep.  It is no longer a seeding conversation, Iowa State and Charlotte took away that view of this season.  It is not easy to lose 4 non-conference games and make the NCAA tourney.  They have dug themselves quite a hole and it is going to be a long climb up.  This is now about being on the right side of that bubble my friend.

Space Coyote

December 16th, 2013 at 2:00 PM ^

Not a great seed, but much better than I think you're giving it credit for.

The bigger issue is that obviously some of those are tough to mark up as wins. While Michigan could steal one on the road, they could also drop 1-3 at home against some pretty damn good B1G teams (Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana are all at least solid, probably in that order)


December 16th, 2013 at 4:07 PM ^

I truly don't like to get in discussions with one person on the Board, but your breakdown is simply not  "the best possible scenario".  It is just one scenario; a pessimistic one at that IMHO.  Now I'm kinda hoping for a true "best case scenario"--winning the rest of our games and the National Championship.  And while my tongue was planted firmly in my cheek, there is not one team in the Big Ten we can't beat--though we undoubtedly won't beat them all.  I just don't believe you can predict which ones at this point of the season---and I've seen every Big Ten team play.


December 16th, 2013 at 12:57 PM ^

The worst part of the present moment is, as Brian notes, that this might be the most talented team Michigan puts on the floor in a long time, though I still think McGary is not anywhere near 100%.  It's tough to watch this squad struggle and then think that we as fans will be rewarded for that by watching two or three starters declare early for the draft...This team can still improve quite a bit, but for now...ugh.  The clock is ticking.  The season is already a third done.  The harvest has passed.  Summer is over.  And we are not saved.


December 16th, 2013 at 12:59 PM ^

The V-1 was not a rocket - it was a pulse jet with stub wings that flew on a subsonic, mostly horizontal trajectory. They called it the "buzz bomb" due to the noise of the pulse jet. Basically a crude cruise missile (think Tomahawk).

I think you're thinking of the V-2, which was a rocket powered ballistic missile that flew a supersonic parabolic trajectory. Plus it has more room in it for a Joe Dumars.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:00 PM ^

Looking at the schedule, the next six games are pretty crucial. Of the six, four are at home and a fifth is at Nebraska. That should be five wins, leaving what should be an uncomfortable, but winnable road game against Minnesota. Reeling off a six game win streak before we get to @Wisconsin (#4), Iowa (#25) and @MSU (#5) would get us to 12-4 and a 4-0 conference cushion before the schedule heats up and from there you can afford to go 1-2 in that following three game stretch. Any Big Ten loss in those first four games is a pretty big blow to our conference championship hopes. 


December 16th, 2013 at 1:07 PM ^

wish he had gotten more burn in the zona game (playing with mcgary(particularly in the last five minutes))...especially considering they couldnt get a board to save their life...he seemed less likely to get bullied underneath the hoop than horford...and to me the difference in the game was inability to rebound defensively.

also he's proven to be quite clutch at the end of crucial games.

when beilein was switching defensively at the end he was putting in irvin? i dont get it. they needed rebounds more than anything


December 16th, 2013 at 1:12 PM ^

I'm still not over that garbage call.  How is it that we never...never...never get the home cookin' that nearly every other program receives???  That might've been the worst call since Trey's block in the Finals.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:18 PM ^

That was one of those calls that reminded me that college basketball sometimes makes you (or at least me) feel like a chump for caring about it.  That was like watching two hours of a movie to see what will happen to your favorite character only to have the screen go black and the words "He died. The end." appear on the screen before the plot is resolved. 

kevin holt

December 16th, 2013 at 8:13 PM ^

This is exactly how I feel. I have grown to love college basketball in the last few years (not only because we've gotten better, but because I started watching in earnest my freshman year which was 08), but I just can't help feeling like it can never surpass hockey or football.

It was amazing last year. It made me really happy and I got into it even more. But the games we did lose were often due to stupid luck or stupid officiating. Even winning on stupid luck or officiating feels wrong.

I just hate how much home court advantage seems to affect the refs, and I hate how much the refs affect the game. There's no really easy or simple way to change it, so I don't see it displacing other sports for me.

I mean, hockey is plinko, but not for the same reasons. Idk. This hasn't been me complaining or bawwing, I just wanted to agree.

Space Coyote

December 16th, 2013 at 1:21 PM ^

The one thing I've noticed about LeVert that his held his assist numbers in check is his ability to get the ball to players in a way that they can immediately be in a triple threat with a defender closing out. This was a thing that was always stressed in high school ball, and it just seems he has a lot of bounce passes (which are slower) that aren't necessarily where they need to be when players catch it, etc. That's one of the small things passers do that isn't necessarily seen I think from those that haven't played at even a high school level; just how much easier it is to catch and shoot with a ball put on the shooting hand hip compared to having to reach and then set in a triple threat so that a defender can close out.

Also, I would at least play Spike more minutes. I know Walton has the upside and all, but out of the PG spot you want consistency, and at least Spike has that. He tends to over dribble in the lane sometimes, and like you said, his defense isn't great. But at least you know what you're getting, and when your PG is your #4 or #5 option regardless, it makes sense to me to go to the consistent hand at least more often than they are now.

Space Coyote

December 16th, 2013 at 1:41 PM ^

I assume they were putting him at a wing position. I really haven't been that happy with Michigan's zone defenses this year, even as a change up. In theory I like them, because teams still have to prepare for them, but it seems like the success rate against Michigan's zones have been much higher than against their man defense the last two years.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:25 PM ^

I know this dumb and isn't the point of the post, but can we drop it with the Dumars and Burke complaint?  Pope has been fine, and for all of Burke's greatness so far he is the #1 option on a crappy team, while Pope has a more defined position as a defensive wingman and shooter and has been really good in that capacity.  This just feels like selectively piling on for its own sake, which just seems silly.

As for the game and the team, I'm less bothered than Brian about this squad.  They are still rounding into form and have played all of their 4 losses tight, and really haven't had a crazy miracle win save for (I guess) FSU, and looking at the conference I see teams that are ripe for losses.  And 17-13 probably does get you into the tournament, provided some of thoses wins are against quality opponents.  But I still think this team can pull out a couple of wins and get to 18-19 wins, which would lock them in.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:37 PM ^

Yeah, it kind of had to happen that way.  I'm not a huge NBA fan, but Burke would have been a meh fit for this Pistons team (though his outside shooting could have helped with spacing, I guess, despite it being pretty poor right now), and I'm fine with Dumars not going for the "hometown" kid to goose some ticket sales for a week or two.  Personally, I've seen enough of KCP to really like what he can do defensively, and when you are trying to win you need guys who can play roles, not just be good shooters and scorers. 


December 16th, 2013 at 1:49 PM ^

if you're trying to make the playoffs this year in the NBA you're doing it wrong. Half the conference is deliberately trying to tank it. You're not giong to get any ping pong balls in a super strong draft and you're only marginally closer to competing with Indiana and Miami. There is MAYBE one to-be superstar on that team and a bunch of B+ players. 


December 16th, 2013 at 1:52 PM ^

when appropriately raised.  When a player is under-performing offensively, his defenders almost always over-rate that players defensive contribution.  Pope ain't a defensive stopper by any means--and while his defense is better than his offense that is only because his offense has been abysmal to date---37% from the field, 31% from 3---2.4 rebounds and 0.9 assists.

Pope may well end up a decent or even a good NBA player, but let's not suggest that he has done anything to date to demonstate it.   And when the local pro team passes on an opportunity to take a superior (both going in to the draft and statistically to date) and needed local hero--and I'd rather have Trey and signed/traded for a 2 than Pope and Jennings, then it strikes me as entirely appropriate to bring it up from time-to-time.  And then add to it that pesky little U of M connection.


December 16th, 2013 at 3:46 PM ^

The idea that the Pistons did well at #8 to get a guard who can't seem to find his shot because he plays some solid defense is pretty crazy.  If you're drafting a guard at #8, he damn well be able to score.  You don't draft defensive shooting guards at #8. 


December 16th, 2013 at 5:34 PM ^

First, fans are fickle. If your hero gets hurt or otherwise declines, they'll abandon him quickly (and jump back on when he spikes up again). Second, very few fans fork over bucks because or a single player, even in the NBA. They fork over bucks if you're winning or if you're entertaining to watch live.

There's no real added value to being a fan favorite. The positive buzz quickly fades into "What have you done for me lately?"

Now, if you think he's going to be a good player, of course you take him. Early results notwithstanding, I continue to think Burke's NBA ceiling is limited: TParker is faster, Chris Paul is stronger, Wade could jump out of the gym. Burke doesn't have those physical gifts, and his tremendous willpower and demeanor aren't quite as unusual in his new surroundings as they were in college. If he becomes an above average starting PG that's valuable but not a hideous miss at the #8 pick.

Whether Dumars should be fired is a different question. I just don't think it's unreasonable to think that Burke's not going to be great in the NBA. "That's fine son, but this here's the fleet." And all that.


December 16th, 2013 at 5:46 PM ^

his stats haven't you?  And the fact that the Jazz have gone from the worst team in the NBA to basically 500 since Trey returned?  Really how much better did anyone expect?   Not being Chris Paul ain't an insult.  Wade ain't a point guard.  And Parker---yea, Trey could match that level----not as fast, but a better shooter and much further along as a distributer than Parker was at this stage of his career.  So let's say top ten point guard in a couple of years.  That's worth the 8th pick.

Now what has Caldwell-Pope done to deserve your support?  And if he isn't as good as Lebron, Paul George or Batum (at the 2),  then he too would be a failed 8th pick--under your reasoning.