Sea Legs At Sea

Submitted by Brian on 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 17th, 2013 at 5:06 PM ^

He's been playing 29 minutes a game, so crediting him with the team turnaround seems specious. His shooting so far is atrocious but that will change, and he is distributing the ball.

None of that adds up to star player for me. He might be a top ten PG in a few years but I have my doubts there; a quarter season isn't going to change my mind.

To the last point, I'm not sold on Pope either. What the Pistons needed was a star, and they should have taken the guy who had the best chance to be one. It's not insane to think that Burke was not that guy.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:26 PM ^

I saw a lot of people last year saying that Walton could come in and pick up where Burke left off, but I just didn't see it. I think he can get to the point where he's a very good player, but honestly, I don't believe he'll ever be as good as Burke. I also think Irvin is a bit of a project. I just don't really see the skill level in this freshman class for these guys to get Michigan over the top, but I do think they'll allow Michigan to be a player in the conference for the next couple years. If the team takes off this year or next, I think it will be more about Stuskas, McGary, and Robinson reaching another level.

I also think Albrecht should be the starting PG. He's not dynamic, but he can get the job done. Last year they needed Burke to score, but this year I think they need a distributor. And while Albrecht isn't the best creator around, I think he can run the offense a little more efficiently.

Still...these have been some close losses, and a 2-point loss to the #1 team isn't too shabby.


December 16th, 2013 at 2:49 PM ^

Spike is clearly a better offensive player right now, but they need to improve defensively more than anything else.  They can score without Spike, but they can not defend with him and Stauskas out there at the same time. 

There is no real way around it - Walton has to play for this team to contend for anything.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:33 PM ^

the D was obviously the issue against AZ, but the perimeter O also frustrated me.  often when someone would drive and kick it out to an open shooter, the receiver of the pass would pump fake but then do nothing; allowing the defenders to regain position.  if you pump fake, do something! go back up and shoot to draw a foul or drive the lane.  something!  this happened too many times to count.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:41 PM ^

So Brian says we have 3 or 4 first round NBA picks/players?  Are these guys currently on our roster or are we saying they could/should be first rounders now or somewhere down the line in their careers? The former I care about and is valid, the latter I do not care about because they are not first rounders now and obviously have work to do now.  Now is what translates to wins this year, not that they are a first rounder in 2 years.

Space Coyote

December 16th, 2013 at 1:46 PM ^

McGary is obviously a first rounder based on a lot of things.

Robinson is still likely a first rounder (though his stock is slipping as he hasn't developed as much as many would like) becauase of his athletic ability, potential, and to an ability to hit the outside shot.

Stauskas is likely rounding into a first round pick because of his ability to play a well defined and important role for many NBA teams (shot range, quick shot, length, and enough athletic ability to beat defenders that don't close out properly).

Then you have some collectiong of LeVert, Walton, and Irvin as other potential guys, LeVert obviously the nearest right now who likely has the measurables but needs to remain consistent over the course of the season.


December 16th, 2013 at 2:59 PM ^

Not without dramtically improving his defense.  He could get there, but he is very far away from it and will have to show it at the college level before getting drafted in the first round. 

In other words, while the NBA does draft on potential, you need a baseline of athleticism to be able to defend NBA SGs and Stauskas hasn't shown it.  He is tall and very skilled but not athletic enough for the NBA.  If college SFs are blowing by you consistently...

If there is a 4th NBA player it's unclear who that is.  Horford is probably as realistic as anyone else (defense and rebounding are very good) and I don't think that's real likely.  LeVert, while developing a well-rounded game at the college level, does not have a single NBA-skill.

Michigan has 2 NBA 1 first rounders, 1 other NBA prospect (who likely won't be a first rounder) and then some guys who are fringe prospects (possible 2nd rounders/D-league candidates, depending on how they develop.)

This team is young but also has less talent than last year's.

Space Coyote

December 16th, 2013 at 5:01 PM ^

I could easily see Stauskas as I guy that's picked up late in the first. He won't be a lottery player ever, and I agree that he has to improve his defense, but I feel like those last 4-6 teams would like to pick up a guy like Stauskas because he does have a defined role and fit.

I certainly wouldn't call it a sure thing by any stretch, but "rounding out" and because of the role he fits (he's not a high volume shooter, he can be your corner and perimeter player and you can try to hide him the lesser wing to spark a run or something). If he didn't have the length that he does I would absolutely agree with you. But I don't follow the NBA much, so I could be completely wrong. 

As for LeVert, I tend to agree. I think there are 3 that have a decent shot, and then the others are outsiders.


December 16th, 2013 at 7:57 PM ^

Would be as a 3&D guy.  But you need the D part. 

The comparison at the NBA level is Jon Diebler, another 6'6 shooter.  Stauskas dribbles better than Jon Diebler and is a better college player, but is not good enough to create shots for himself (or others) at the NBA level.  So you have to wonder what else he's bringing to the table.  Right now, from the NBA perspective, he IS just a shooter.


December 16th, 2013 at 5:32 PM ^

IF you were an NBA GM.   Real NBA GMs look at these players differently.  McGary and GRIII are 1st round picks period.  You may think they are over-rated and/or under-performing, but GRIII, for example, brings a set of skills that almost always translate into a 1st round selection.   The NBA is less interested in what you have done than what they think they can get you to do.  Often they are wrong, but that won't change their assessment on draft day.  And as someone already stated, Nik is very possibly a 1st rounder as well.  Think Kyle Korver--or better.  Frankly, I think Nik is playing better D than Caris--though that defies the meme.  Just remember many on this Board were certain Timmy was making a huge mistake and that he wouldn't get drafted in the 1st round or make it the the NBA.

As for Caris and Irvin (and even Walton), it is way too early to see where they will end up.  While I am more a Morgan than Horford guy (at the college level), I agree that Jon could end up with a look-see in the NBA--tough not to get a year or two when your 6'10" or taller.


December 16th, 2013 at 8:06 PM ^

GR3 for athleticism, D, shooting. A 3&D guy with plus upside.  McGary for hands, strength, all-around game.  McGary can be a poor man's Chris Webber. I was not knocking those guys as NBA prospects.

Korver is taller than Stauskas and a better shooter (check the college FT% as evidence).  He's also a far better defender.  Korver is an obvious role model for Nik, but he has a loooong way to get there. Also...Korver was a 2nd round pick.  This is like comparing Trey to Chris Paul instead of Jameer Nelson.  If everything goes right, he might come close.

It is not too early to start to evaluate basketball players' draft potential, since most kids at the top of the draft will be freshman.  Walton could be an NBA player but without elite shooting, size, or quicks, he'll need to really develop his game over a few years to get into NBA draft conversation.  He could do it though.


December 16th, 2013 at 5:42 PM ^

It may be unfair to compare Derrick Walton, Jr. to Trey Burke because, like Denard Robinson (a key missing ingredient from this season's Michigan football team), Trey Burke might have been a once-in-a-lifetime athlete for Michigan.  Also, as talented as he was, Trey Burke was able to spend his freshman season learning the ropes from senior captains Stu Douglass and Zack Novak.  Young Mr. Walton may have no such on-court or off-court tutor for a teammate.
They might have been only scout team players, but the senior leadership and maturity that Josh Bartelstein, Corey Person, Matt Vogrich and Eso Akunne brought to last year’s very young team seems to be sorely missing from this team.
If this team is sweating out Selection Sunday, it will be because it has no marquee out-of-conference wins, and it will have a difficult time securing enough marquee wins, unless they go no worse than 5-4 in their games against Michigan State, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Iowa and Indiana.  Of those teams, Ohio State is the only one that Michigan plays only once this season, and that's on the road.
If Michigan does not go at least 5-4 against the top Big Ten teams, or does not win the Big Ten Tournament, the Arizona game may have been a must-win game for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committe's consideration, both because it was against the nation’s top-ranked team and it was played at home.  (Consider how 18th ranked North Carolina has overcome a couple of terrible losses with impressive wins at Michigan State, at Louisville and at home over Kentucky.  Right now, the Tar Heels are playing like a high seed for the NCAA Tournament, while Michigan is beginning to look like one of those teams that will be spending time on the tournament bubble.)


December 16th, 2013 at 9:06 PM ^

"They might have been only scout team players, but the senior leadership and maturity that Josh Bartelstein, Corey Person, Matt Vogrich and Eso Akunne brought to last year’s very young team seems to be sorely missing from this team."

I've heard this often and wondered -- seriously -- if it's really true.

I can remember the same being said about Merrit and Lee, but they actually played significant minutes. None of last year's seniors did.

I'm sure they were a great bunch of guys, but it's hard for me to believe that their absence is a big deal.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:43 PM ^

The freshmen, Walton and Irvin, will be fine. They're not superstars yet but they've shown that they will both be very good, probably elite, players when all's said and done. It's important to remember that they're playing on a team with many more experienced NBA-caliber players - unlike Burke, TH Jr. or others when they first got here. I do think Levert or Albrecht starting at the point probably does make sense until Walton gets a little more experience.

And the team, in general, will also be fine this year. They just lost by 2 points to the #1 team in the country and the difference was a tipped out rebound and a horrible call by the refs. And essentially perfect FT shooting by Zona. Their other losses were a 2 pt loss when 3 starters were injured, a loss on the road to Duke where they were only down by 6 in the second half with their leading scorer still limping and a close loss on the road to a top 25 team with McGary still not back at full strength. If they are healthy, they are Final Four caliber again this year.


December 16th, 2013 at 1:55 PM ^

it's comforting reading quotes like bacari claiming the team is as committed as ever to improving and that he loves working with this collection of guys (maybe just coach-speak but i think there is something worthwhile to take from it) or that g-rob feels he's never had more fun on any other team than this year's team.

with a team lacking character, early season hiccups can spell doom.

on a team like this with the coaches and players they have, these experiences will pay huge dividends when they are all the more consolidated come march and ready for the way-more-crucial tourney run.

credit to the coaching staff for recruiting quality characters...its a philosophy with serious staying power.


December 16th, 2013 at 2:06 PM ^

Agree with your "Caris at the point" assessment!   That move would allow the coaches a little more 1-3-1 look with Irvin or Levert running the baseline.  Ran the defense twice, one turnover and one time out, in the AZ game.  It gives Belien the length he wants in that zone and is a precursor to adding Chatman in that mix next year.

Walton will get there and I am certain the coaches do not want to destroy his confidence. In the interim, give Caris a little more run at the point.


December 16th, 2013 at 2:16 PM ^



Michigan sports heart-break, in order:

1.  Entire football season
2.  Start of 2013-14 basketball season
3.  Loss in NCAA Championship game
4.  Arizona dedicates its win over Michigan hoops to Rich Rodriguez
Michigan sports enjoyment, in order:
1.  Football win over Notre Dame
2.  NCAA Tournament run
3.  ???
Seth said it right on Twitter this past Saturday:  "Fuck you 2013.  You can just end now for all I care."


December 16th, 2013 at 2:40 PM ^

I like John Beilein, but i think under him, we'll always be a good mid-major, we will always be weak inside, we will never be dominant, and we will always live and die with the three.*  It's simply the offense he runs and the players he recruits.  Spread the court, drive and kick, if you hit the threes you can beat anyone, if you miss you can lose to anyone.  Thats not a recipe for a dominant team, thats a recipe for a mid-major thats hoping to get lucky at the right time.  Not that I think we should fire him, I just think last year was an overachievement and we'll settle into a second tier team.



*Except when we have a wooden award winner driving to the hoop.


December 16th, 2013 at 6:19 PM ^

Michigan was 10/17 from 3 against Arizona.  Did they "die by the three" in that game?

I think "live/die by the three" is one of the most simplistic "arguments" there is out there.  It never hurts to shoot well.  It's not like Michigan is Grinnel and is purposefully giving up layups to take three pointers.


December 17th, 2013 at 5:22 PM ^

Even shooting that well it wasnt enough, because we are terribly weak inside, which was another thing I mentioned.  When was the last time we had a good post scorer?  Tractor-Traylor?  Webber?  The highest percentage shot we can create is a three, which has a low ceiling in terms of high percentage.  Beilein runs a mid-major offense, it will always be inconsistent and weak in the middle.  We're a helluva lot better than we were before him and I love watching his teams, but I think last year was a flash in the pan and his ceiling is a consistent early tourney departure with a mediocre seed.

Ty Butterfield

December 17th, 2013 at 5:50 PM ^

Agree with what you said. Last season was fun but I think it was Trey Burke carrying the team and making the rest of the team better. Burke was a once in a lifetime player. It will be hard for Michigan to match the success of last season without landing a real high profile recruit for next season.


December 16th, 2013 at 4:21 PM ^

Irvin is having a tough start but he's a very good player that's being thrown into the wrong mix.  Our team doesn't have any leadership nor any sense of identity on offense and we don't have Trey to come in and facilitate anymore.  Irvin will be a great player, possibly even next season, but he's not good enough currently to come in and create an offense around him with a team that has no chemistry to it without Burke.  Irvin would've looked just as good as Staukas if he played for Michigan last season.

I'm not seeing it with Walton though.  He reminds me a lot of Yogi Ferrell at Indiana where he's a freshman starter that looks lost on a team full of talented players.  He tries to play too fast and isn't in sync with anybody else on the team.  He's a player that I've already written off because he looks too out of place and I haven't seen any flashes of potential (but who knows, Beilein certainely knows more than me so maybe he can figure it out).

Red is Blue

December 16th, 2013 at 7:29 PM ^

To me, point guard in basketball is analogous to QB in football, if you've got enough surrounding talent, it is possible to win without a really good one, but it isn't easy.