Unverified Voracity Would Be Off The Chart Comment Count

Brian January 29th, 2013 at 1:03 PM

A picture of the conference. Michigan's defense isn't that much of an issue so far:


It's pretty good, and then the offense is off the charts. It's only in the context of the super-elite teams vying for a national title that it seems deficient. And with that offense… well… Gasaway's latest Tuesday Truths puts it in perspective:

It may turn out to be the case that Michigan is not in fact excellent at defense, that they're merely very good at it. But that needs to be seen in the proper context. First, this isn't a case like, say, Missouri last season, where a good many people chose to overlook the Tigers' vulnerability on D. (There was a push to give that team a No. 1 seed. I still shudder at the memory.) John Beilein's defense this season is day-and-night better, thus far, than Frank Haith's was last season.

Second, whatever Michigan's level of performance has been on defense, the Wolverines have been able to plug that in as one half of an equation whose result has been outscoring the best conference in the country by nearly a quarter of a point per possession. The Wolverines' only loss this season has come not to an offensive juggernaut that was able to exploit UM's worrisome deficiencies on defense, but to the hapless-on-offense Ohio State Buckeyes, who shut down Michigan's offense beautifully.

Lastly, the past 10 years can be ransacked profitably not only for prerequisites (and I'll be joining Luke on this beat soon -- watch for it!) but also for weirdness. I've seen a team rank No. 8 in its 12-team league in two-point accuracy and then go on to win a national championship. I've seen a team rank No. 103 in the nation in offense and then go on to make the Final Four. And do I even need to drag Gordon Hayward into this?

The most likely outcome of March is that Michigan will indeed lose to some other team in the tournament, because they are only amongst a leading group of teams. If and when that happens, people will point to the defense; I'll just be like "Michigan was the Vegas favorite and still 5 to 1 against."

Slightly more favored in the league. Michigan's huge scoring margin in the league sees them favored to win the Big Ten in SpartanDan's Bradley-Terry projection system*, which may not be a huge surprise. What is surprising is how much they're favored by.

Dan's basic system that does not take margin of victory into account says Michigan has a 69% chance of an outright title and an 85% chance of sharing. The margin-aware numbers are 80%(!!!) and 92%(!!!).

Those numbers are probably too high since Michigan is likely to have outperformed its real level of skill significantly in the opening third of the conference schedule, but… wow.

BONUS: Penn State has a 30% shot at going winless in the margin-aware system.

*[College hockey fans: this is KRACH.]

Bullet of stats-enthusiasm-dissing hypocrisy incoming. While I'm generally a fan of Big Ten Geeks, their latest foray into stat assemblage is goofy to me. They use "stops," which is a Dean Oliver formula that crams steals and blocks and rebounding statistics into a number. As with all attempts to create a catch-all defensive statistic, it waves its hand at who is in fact responsible for team defensive rebounding and how replaceable they may or may not be. Also unaccounted for is a player's contribution to the opponent's shot quality.

But they've compiled the numbers and shown you the results:

Let’s look at Stops:

Player Stops per 40 minutes
Adam Woodbury 11.35
Mitch McGary 10.94
Jordan Morgan 10.47
Branden Dawson 10.21
Trevor Mbakwe 10.20
Cody Zeller 10.20
Ryan Evans 9.45

Well, this is interesting—we have a couple of freshmen leading the way. Both Woodbury and McGary are tremendous rebounders (as is Jordan Morgan this season), which explains why they rate so high. And to those who complain that Stops unfairly rewards good rebounders, I think that’s about as valid a point as the complaint that offensive rating unfairly rewards efficient scorers. Rebounding is defense—a big part of it.

So this works if rebounding is, in fact, defense. It's not. It has an impact but the top ten teams in defensive rebounding are 54th, 144th, 162nd, 147th, 103rd, 171st, 240th, 64th, 18th, and 25th in defensive efficiency. As I mentioned when pooh-poohing Mason Plumlee's KPOY candidacy, rebounding is the least important of the four factors. It's only its trackability that makes it so prominent. It's easy to say who got a rebound. It's really hard to credit someone for an effective rotation.

This metric thinks Jordan Morgan is a lot better this year because the team is better at rebounding. His personal DREB rate is a tick better this year, but it's still just 257th. He gets credit that other players don't because Tim Hardaway is mansome this year.

Morgan is then declared the best defensive player in the league because he fouls less often than the other guys at the top of the list, with this capper:

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Jordan Morgan has been the best defensive player in the Big Ten so far. Unbelievable. And in case you’re wondering, Oladipo fouls quite a bit—4.42 fouls per 40 minutes. Talk about the eye test all you want, but the numbers suggest he’s not the best defensive player (or even the best defensive perimeter player) in the Big Ten.

I accuse Big Ten Geeks of gross misuse of stats. Yes, it is unbelievable. Thus you should disbelieve it.

Victor Oladipo isn't a high-end defensive rebounder because he's frequently sticking his hand in the face of the highest-volume shooter the opposition has. His role defines his numbers. You can cram defensive rebounds into a slightly modified form all you want—notice that not one perimeter defender appears on this stops list—but all you get is a comparison between yourself and David Berri. Deployed.

Sometimes you have to go by the eye test because the stats compiled are inadequate, and until basketball stats get crazy detailed individual defensive performances are in that bucket.

BONUS WONKY STATS COMPLAINT. Most attempts to compile defensive numbers underrate the value of a steal, by the way. A defensive rebound is just the successful conclusion of a defensive possession ending in a missed shot. A steal ends a possession by itself—it's the miss and the rebound rolled into one—and frequently leads to a transition opportunity at the other end. That latter part is not well accounted for.

Morgan's ankle. Nothing broken, just a sprain, AP got a totally gross picture of it, if he can play basketball on Wednesday he will play basketball on Wednesday—I bet he cannot play basketball on Wednesday.

Zak Irvin continues rain of destruction. Last week: 26 points and 30 points in wins. One was over Arsenal Tech, both the best-named and top-ranked team in the state until Zak Irvin declared his school was now named Sharkfin Elfin 3000 and scored almost half of his team's points in a 64-59 win.

You want to watch the whole game, you say? You have free time.

If you are going to do this you probably want to start at halftime. Irvin scored 26 of his 30 after the break.

Zing. John Niyo on the Nobody Remembers #1 thing:

"It's Jan. 27," Beilein said after a 74-60 victory at Illinois last weekend, "and not one of you can remember who was No. 1 last Jan. 27."

Well, actually many of us can. It was a 20-1 Kentucky team that went on to win the Southeastern Conference and the SEC tournament and eventually the NCAA title.

But point taken.

5 to 1 against, 5 to 1 against, 5 to 1 against, repeat until you internalize the likely outcome of the season is not cutting down nets…

Etc.: You can be happy about being #1. Via UMHoops, the view on Bielfeldt from Peoria. Being back on top is nice and you should be happy. Here's an excellent primer on Beilein's 1-3-1 from the man himself.



January 29th, 2013 at 1:17 PM ^

Brian, I know you're trying your hardest to drive the point home that it is very unlikely that UM wins it all in basketball this year.  My analytical left brain absolutely agrees with you.  But I, like probably many here, look at this team and ask "if not this year, then when?"  So much talent, and while we have some talent coming in next year, there's also a possibility we lost Burke, Hardaway, and Robinson after this year.  Possibly Stauskas the next?  Even Kentucky has shown that replacing a bunch of NBA ready freshman with other seemingly NBA ready freshman doesn't mean there won't be a large drop-off.  And while Beilien has shown he can unearth unexpected talent, can we expect such unexpected talent to perform at such the high level as they are this year?  So while I realize it is unlikely we go all the way, I cannot help but have my expectations be extremely high if for no other reason that if we can't get it done this year, then I feel it will be a long exodus before we find ourselves here again.


January 29th, 2013 at 1:20 PM ^

Brian is just playing the odds.  He knows that the likelihood that Michigan wins it all heading into the tourney is probably less than 10%.  And those odds will be about as large as any team gets (Florida will be higher, most likely).  Everyone is right to be excited about this team, and who wouldn't be with Burke kicking out to some deadly shooters.  But Brian is rightfully trying to temper the enthusiam.


January 29th, 2013 at 3:33 PM ^

Sure, no one is ever favored to win the title vs....EVERYBODY else.  It's like those who ask "are you taking Tiger Woods, or the field?"  Well, on odds, the field always wins. Kentucky has had ridiculous talent for a number of years. It has only come together one year that they won it all.

But when you have a real shot you might as well enjoy it. I don't understand what the point of watching sports is if you can only get excited about it after you've won the National Championship. Since it's not going to happen that often for anyone, why bother then?


January 29th, 2013 at 1:23 PM ^

That's the same crap that Peter Wolfe uses in his college football rankings that are a part of the BCS.  While it's not as bad as other BCS polls (like Billingsley), I do think it gives extra weight to teams that have played more games.  That shouldn't matter in college basketball though. Still, it's advisable to use margin of victory.  No, mandatory.


January 29th, 2013 at 1:45 PM ^

Rebounding is not a part of defense? This is a joke right?

Limiting/eliminating offensive rebounding is a significant and critical part of a defensive gameplan.


January 29th, 2013 at 2:27 PM ^

Did you stop reading at that sentence? Here are the next two sentences, just to help you out:


It has an impact but the top ten teams in defensive rebounding are 54th, 144th, 162nd, 147th, 103rd, 171st, 240th, 64th, 18th, and 25th in defensive efficiency. As I mentioned when pooh-poohing Mason Plumlee's KPOY candidacy, rebounding is the least important of the four factors.

Emphasis mine.

It matters, but not to the level it affects the stats in the BTG article. It's just easier to track than other more important factors.


January 29th, 2013 at 1:49 PM ^

Defensive rebounding not a part of defense?

Effective defensive rebounding reduces your opponent's shot attempts by denying them second and third chances.

The hell are you talking about?


January 29th, 2013 at 2:29 PM ^

Saying rebounding doesn't =defense is not the same thing as saying rebounding is not a part of defense, especially when he includes it as one of four factors that relate to playing defense a sentence later.

It could have been worded better, but I'm pretty positive Brian is not saying defensive rebounding plays zero role in playing defense.


January 29th, 2013 at 2:39 PM ^

The wording probably has a lot to do with the last sentence of the quoted section of the BTG article:


Rebounding is defense—a big part of it.


And the start of the response is:


So this works if rebounding is, in fact, defense. It's not.


And then multiple people quit reading right there and respond to one sentence out of context.


January 29th, 2013 at 2:47 PM ^

I didn't stop reading.

But if Brian said something he didn't actually mean because it was stylistically similar to what "Big Ten Geeks" wrote, then that's hardly my problem.

As a fan of the Bulls, I've seen a team take the #1 seed in their conference for two straight years predicated on offensive and defensive rebounding. It seems silly to wave it aside.


January 29th, 2013 at 2:59 PM ^


As a fan of the Bulls, I've seen a team take the #1 seed in their conference for two straight years predicated on offensive and defensive rebounding. It seems silly to wave it aside.


That's a fine, sound, logical argument. If you had started with that argument instead of attacking one quote incorrectly out of context I wouldn't have said anything.

El Jeffe

January 29th, 2013 at 3:20 PM ^

Perhaps I can be of some assistance here.

  1. Brian is not saying that defensive rebounding plays no part whatsoever in good defense (I mean, the word "defense" is baked right into "defensive rebounding").
  2. He is saying that if anyone says defensive rebounding is either the only important component of good defense (straw man version) or the most important component of good defense (more plausible version), then they are verifiably, empirically, wrong.

I think you're misrepresenting Brian in (1) and Brian is being too straw man-y in (2).


January 29th, 2013 at 3:49 PM ^

The problem is that you are focusing on the "rebounding is not defense" line, when that was only a reference to the other guy saying "rebounding is defense". Did you go to the BTG post and take them to task for ignoring all the aspects of defense that aren't rebounding? After all, there must be aspects to defense besides rebounding, but he says right there, "Rebounding is defense".

He goes on to say that rebounding is a PART of defense, but a minor one (an arguable point, and you noted with your Bulls reference). But you ignore that in your rush to call out Brian for ignoring the effect of defensive rebounding.


January 29th, 2013 at 1:58 PM ^


Team Avg wins 11-7 12-6 13-5 14-4 15-3 16-2 17-1 18-0 Outright Shared Top 4
Michigan 14.86 0.49% 2.73% 9.88% 22.87% 32.06% 24.34% 7.58% N/A 69.08% 84.78% 99.55%

Not too bad- basically a 2/3 chance we lose 2 or less games the rest of the way...

Althought hte projection system may need some tweaks it's nice being good.  A 1/8 chance of losing 4 games or more the rest of the way is also pretty crazy thinking about where this team has come from to become a top team this year

Funniest stat on the projections- odds of UM going 6-12 (losing out) 1 out of 2.28 billion....


January 29th, 2013 at 2:40 PM ^

5 to 1 against, 5 to 1 against, 5 to 1 against, repeat until you internalize the likely outcome of the season is not cutting down nets…

Why would I want to do that?

Sports is supposed to be pleasurable. Yes, sometimes it is very disappointing but that doesn't mean it should reduce you to a neurotic, puddle of a man who lives in constant fear of Murphy's Law.

I think the seven best teams are all quite close in quality so no one should be excessively bullish, but there is no reason for me to be any less bullish than a reasonable fan of any other team in the country right now. We're good. It should be enjoyed.


El Jeffe

January 29th, 2013 at 3:23 PM ^

I assign my social science methods students an article called something like "False Criteria of Causality," which is a good read. In it, the authors point out that it is fallacious to argue that (P) because a particular cause isn't the biggest single determinant of an outcome, then (C) it is not a strong cause of the outcome.

So, too, saying that M has the best chance to win it all this year is not equivalent to saying that they have a very good chance to win it all this year.


January 29th, 2013 at 4:15 PM ^

...remembering that UK was Number 1 at the end of January. I'm betting he had to look it up, or at least sit and think about it for a while. 

If it were a common recollection, why did I not hear anyone call Beilein on it until I read Brian's quote of Niyo's article?

Not that it matters. #1 now is nice, but only in that it feels good now. This team that I love still has hills to climb and goals to pursue. 


January 29th, 2013 at 6:38 PM ^

Elite Eight, which if this team doesn't make something went wrong, is my vision.  Then if the matchup in that game is favorable I'll then maybe expect the Final Four appearence.  I'm personally not betting on or getting my hopes up for a National Title; call me lackluster fan, it wouldn't be true, I just face reality too much.  But getting to that Final Four would be awesome enough and if it ended in a close, fun game and Michigan lost I won't be going bezerk.  I'll know that I sat through and watched a special season that this school hasn't been accustomed to.