Merry Christmas, MGoBloggers! Here’s something to keep the basketball fanatic in you warm and cozy until the Wolverines demolish the Chippewas on the 29th.
Living in Brooklyn, I’ve had the good fortune to watch Michigan handle Pitt, K-State and West Virginia in person this year. All three games Michigan looked composed and took care of business emphatically. Even when trailing Pitt by eight in the first half, it never felt like the game was getting away.
Coincidentally, the last time I saw Michigan play a basketball game in person? April 5th, 1993.
For me there is no question, this year’s squad is as fun to watch as the Fab Five was.
First, below is a breakdown of this year’s schedule and difficulty by game. What I’ve done is a Nate Silver style of measuring a team’s rank by averaging their current KenPom and RPI ranking then we can make eyeball adjustments for how tough a game will be based on home or away. I included Michigan on the chart just for comparisons sake. Feel free to print it out and pencil it in the rest of the way.
Despite playing a non-conference schedule that featured wins against five teams from power-conferences, the bulk of Michigan’s difficult games lie ahead. I can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that the B1G regular season championship will be won or lost against the cadre of nearly indistinguishably ranked teams Illinois, MSU, and Ohio.
RPI and KenPom disagree a lot on the caliber of team Pitt is. When Cincinnati comes calling on New Year’s Eve we’ll learn a lot more. There is an undeniable dropoff in competition level going from Pittsburgh
Conference play can be penciled in with nine should-wins and likely-wins to go along with four or five lean-win and toss-up. You could make an argument that @Indiana or @OSU is lean-loss but beyond that it’s a stretch. The fact that you cannot point to a game remaining on the schedule and say “guaranteed loss” should be all you need to know about where expectations are.
That said, Iowa is highly rated and flying under the radar, and we should hope that Michigan doesn’t suffer its annual inexplicable loss to the Hawkeyes.
Interestingly, a number one rating could be on the line January 13th when the pride of Columbus returns home to take on the Buckeyes given that Duke travels away from home to play NC State the day prior.
Comparisons to 2011-12 Michigan Team
Michigan’s NCSoS was #187 last year according to KenPom and #192 this year so against a very similarly grading set of opponents Michigan is vastly outperforming what they did a year ago.
Last season Michigan broke 1.2PPP five times all year. Michigan already has seven games at or above through twelve games this season.
* 2012-13: 1.23ppp (3rd)
* 2011-12 (non-conference): 1.10ppp
* 2011-12 1.07ppp (60th)
Michigan 2012-13 36.9% 69th
Michigan 2011-12 28.0% 285th
It’s as if Zack Novak grew six inches and doubled his motor.
3Pt% (Thank you Nik Stauskas)
Michigan 2012-13 41.1% 7th
Michigan 2011-12 35.0% 135th
Things Michigan Lead The Conference In 2011 (First or Second):
- 3-Pt Baskets Attempted
Things Michigan Leads The Conference in 2012 (First or Second):
- Win %
- Field Goals Made
- Free Throw %
- 3-Pt FG %
- Effective FG %
- Defensive Rebound %
- Assist To Turnover Ratio
- Turnovers Per Game
- Fouls Per Game
To review, these stats all demonstrate a meteoric rise in nearly all major offensive categories. It's just plain filthy.
It is the responsibility of John Beilein, Trey Burke, and Tim Hardaway Jr. to keep the team focused night in and night out and to not overlook any game on the schedule. It is our job as overzealous bloggers and sports fans to do what they cannot. Sorry, pet peeve.
Read the following two statements. Afterwards, select which should be spoken by Michigan’s Mens Basketball Head Coach and which is appropriate only to be posted on a Michigan sports fan blog post.
Statement #1: Central Michigan has a tremendous basketball team with a lot of talent. They play with a lot of poise and can give you a lot of different looks that our guys are going to have to be careful with. We have to be patient and play within ourselves and continue to go out every night and work to be the best basketball team we can be and let the rankings fall where they may at the end of the year.
Statement #2: Iowa looks like it could be a sleeper but that game’s at home so we’re looking at 16-0 going into Columbus to play for Michigan’s best start in school history which, like, awesome. A win in that game and then you start to play connect-the-dots on how does Michigan win the B1G regular season title and see if the Wolverines can’t hold onto a #1 seed going into the tourney.
New Years Resolutions (a.k.a. Michigan will win the B1G / go to the Final Four if…)
In order of importance…
5. Caris LaVert realizes his upside as a lockdown defender and can be a solid contributor on offense. To me this is the biggest unknown remaining for Michigan this year. He is a lanky guard who, at a glance, has the potential to be an impact player. The ten minutes of playing time per game may not seem like much but when you consider that it’s either him or a struggling Vogrich or an Akunne (see: NC State) you begin to realize just how important his role is for every game and why after that N.C. State Beilein burned his redshirt.
4. Tim Hardaway Jr. continues to clean the defensive glass all year long. Hardaway has found where he shines, using a size advantage at the guard position to dominate defensive rebounds. The equation from there is simple – grab the rebound and then out-athlete the other team down the floor in transition. He has always been twice the player when focused and he has maintained it in laser-like fashion through the non-conference slate. Not being called upon to carry the load scoring or creating on the offensive end actually enables him to do both better. Hoping for a streaky Hardaway to get hot from three is a recipe for losses when the random number generator doesn’t fall kindly. What he’s done so far looks to be very much repeatable.
3. Mitch McGary continues to average 1 point and 1 rebound per two minutes of playing time and avoids foul trouble to see his minutes rise into the 25 minute per game range. When he is on, he seems to be involved in every play on both ends of the floor. The amount of upside potential that he can reach by March (avoiding fouls and getting into “playoff” conditioning form) will be tantamount to any legitimate Final Four run. There will be at least one key game where Michigan will need McGary to take over.
2. Nik Stauskas shoots north of 50% and close to an unworldly ~60% from downtown. The Maple Leaf Mamba’s scoring will be the difference-maker in a handful of very competitive games this year. Almost as important is the effect his scoring has on players like Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. – defenses are faced with a catch-22: sag off of Stauskas or defend him close, giving Michigan’s backcourt room to drive.
1. Trey Burke stays healthy, rested, and focused. There is no understating the team will go as far as Burke takes them. It was true last year and anyone watching saw him run out of steam after playing all fourty-five minutes of a B1G conference tournament game versus Minnesota. In Michigan’s final two losses following that the team averaged 0.93 PPP and Burke shot 6 of 26 (2-16 3PT). This year, all signs are pointing to Burke feeling fresher and his body responding better to the rigors and the pacing of the season. The B1G conference play is sure to challenge that, but he has more scoring options to distribute to.
This team is fun to watch and at the holiday break is empirically at better odds to reach a Final Four than any Michigan team in decades. Catch them in action if you can because you never know when, as fans, we'll have this chance again.
See you in 2013.
See you in Atlanta.