The role of attitude in basketball

Submitted by trueblueintexas on February 14th, 2013 at 3:02 PM

After the Wisconsin and MSU loses I made comments about the attitude and will of Michigan’s basketball team. Even Dan Dakich (yes, who we all dislike) went on and on about Michigan’s lack of it during the MSU game. Sadly, he was right. Building on Ace’s piece the other day, there are a few pain points from the past four (I’m actually going to include the NW game as well, because 5 is more than 4) games which I thought I would focus on.


One of the best stories I ever heard was from a former NBA star talking about Larry Bird.  He said he was one of the very few players who could dominate a game while only taking 10 – 12 shots. He would make 8 or 9 shots with a couple from three. And the rest would come from free throws.  I checked it out and indeed Bird averaged 5 free throw attempts per game throughout his career.

Here’s Michigan’s free throw attempts from the past five games. I’m only looking at the five highest players in minutes played due to the smaller rotation with Morgan out.

Hardaway Jr. 0 0 5 0 0
Stauskas 1 3 0 0 0
GRIII 2 0 5 0 0
McGary 2 0 1 0 0
Bruke 6 4 0 2 1
TOTAL 11 7 11 2 1

Keep in mind, that’s attempts, from the 5 primary ball handlers. In the biggest games of the year. Between Hardaway Jr, Stauskas, GRIII, and McGary among 20 opportunities to take at least one free throw in a game they failed to do so in 65% of them. And that includes going up against notoriously aggressive MSU and OSU defenses.

I point this out because free throw attempts are indicative of attitude. Sometimes you just have to make the other team foul you so you get a chance to get two points (or at least one) at the end of a game. Too often Michigan has had late game possessions which end in jump shots (most of them fading away from 18+ feet).  Michigan (#6 in field goal percentage) is shooting 49% as a team. Michigan (#133 in free throw percentage) is shooting 70% as a team. I prefer 70% to 49% when I’m scrapping for points at the end of a close game.


Beilein has said in interviews he get’s just as excited about one of his players taking a charge as he does a dunk.  In watching this team, you can tell Beilein and the other coaches work with the players on taking charges. i.e. he is using a rule in basketball as part of his strategy. I personally disagree with this because it is a very passive defensive attitude. When a player sets up to take a charge he gives the opposing player the ability to get a vertical advantage. Keep in mind, most charges come within 5-8 feet of the basket. Having a vertical advantage really means something in that close of range.  Additionally,  there are three things which can happen when a player sets up for a charge: 1) they get the charge call which equates to a turn over (yay) 2) There is no call made and the player either makes or misses the shot (keep in mind this is a closer in shot with no vertical defender because he is planted firmly to the ground) (advantage offense) 3) The ref calls a blocking foul and the player has a chance at making an uncontested shot from close range (boo). So of the three things that could happen, only one of them is actually good for the team. Now rewind to the end of the Wisconsin game. Michigan up 3. Jared Berggren (all 6’10” of him) beats his man and is driving uncontested to the hoop. Burke (all 6’0” of him) sets up just outside the charge circle to take the charge. Berggren dunks and gets the blocking foul on Burke. Berggren makes the free throw. Tie game. No ref will ever call that a charging foul. Instead of going back down court at worst up one (at best up two or three depending on Berggren making both free throws) with the shot clock turned off meaning Wisconsin would have to foul. Michigan goes back down court tied. I would much rather Burke make a hard foul to force Berggren to shoot free throws. Again, it’s about attitude. Be passive and hope the ref makes the call, or proactively make the other team beat you.


Against MSU in the first half when it was still a 10-12 point game and all hope was not lost Burke picked up his dribble against the sideline with 15 seconds left on the shot clock. Hardaway Jr. was hanging out about 5 feet behind the three point line on the same side of the court as Burke. What he was going to do from that position I have no idea. The other Michigan players (all freshman, BTW) were properly spaced in the corner and on the other side of the court. The MSU defender immediately jumped Burke as the ref started counting the 5 second call. What happened? Nothing. That’s right nothing. Stauskas did not come to take the ball from Burke. Ok. Freshman. Hardaway (a Junior, not just Jr) was standing 10 feet away and continued standing there instead of helping his teammate out. I lost it. My 15 month old boy stood staring at the TV and his dad bewildered. The dog ran and hid under the table. The wife went to comfort the boy.

In the second half, when it was still a 16-18 point game with 12 minutes left, Valentine of MSU got a long rebound against the sideline. He was losing his balance and looking for someone to pass to. Stauskas was within 5 feet of him. Stauskas turned and ran back down court to play defense. Valentine regained his balance, came down court and Harris made an uncontested 3. The wife had taken the boy for his bath. The dog was still under the table.

This is about attitude. Do you jump at the opportunity to make a play or do you let opposing team dictate?

This is why I have concerns about this team for the tournament. Who will get that one point when you really need it without relying on a jump shot going in? Who will step up and make the other team react to your pressure?

One final point about attitude. I love Coach Beilein. I would want few others representing Michigan. On a whim I went to Google images and typed in Tom Izzo angry, Bill Self angry, Mike Krzyzewski angry, and John Beilein angry. Here’s what I got:


Seriously. Not kidding at all.



February 14th, 2013 at 3:59 PM ^

Thank God somebody gets it.  It's very, very important coaching decision.  How do I have my players defend when the perimeter has been penetrated?  You can either do it the wimpy way(try and take a charge) or do it the manball way(Go up with your best athletic effort and say while swatting 'Get that shit outta here!).  I really don't know the statistically better way to handle it but I don't care.  You choose the latter for manhood and intimidation reasons.  Yea you might get a foul, but blocking a shot gets the defending players fired up.  Just like a punishing hit in football(which players can probably get away with for the next 3-5 years before we move to something like rugby tackling rules with pads).  When you've just gotten your shit thrown back in your face, you come a way a bit intimidated for the next time and it affects the game going forward.

One might say 'we don't have any shot blockers'.  Then shame on the coach.  However, that is not the case with this Michigan team.  They have good athletes who would love to play this way I bet...

Beilein is big thinker and very good strategist, but he's wrong on this tactical matter and it affects his team in a much deeper way than he might think...



February 14th, 2013 at 6:05 PM ^

I equate a 6'0, 200 lb guy taking a charge from a 6'10, 250 lb guy as whimpy. I mean, if you're going to be a man, the least you can do is take a charge from a rhino, or a mac truck.  Or better yet, you can foul him in a meaningful way because we all know that 6'0 guys block 6'10 guys!

Sarcasm aside, you guys really think the tough thing is to try to block the shot?! Like, really? You're telling me it's a wimpy play to stand still...right in front of 250 lbs' coming your way....I call bullshit. 

Manball does not include using stupid fouls which do nothing. You really think Berggren would be intimidated by Burke slapping him? Or that Burke going up for a block would accomplish anything. Dude's 10" shorter! The most likely outcome from that is a trip to the "and-1" line, which puts us in the same situation as previous. If he tries to take the charge, maybe that's 0 points, and it's more likely to be zero points than if he fouls the guy.

To reiterate: not only is taking the charge the better play (all coaches will tell you that) but it's also a pretty-damn-tough play. 


February 14th, 2013 at 7:35 PM ^

Sorry. Maybe I didn't make my point clear. I would prefer Burke rake his arms to prevent the layup or dunk at all. This forces Berggren to shoot two free throws instead of having a chance at the three point play, which he got to tie the game. There was less than 30 seconds left and Burke had less than three fouls. Trying to save a foul doesn't matter at this point in the game. Burke has a much better shot at helping his team going for the aggressive foul than trying to take the charge in this situation. It's not a matter of playing "MANBALL" for the sake of showing you have a pair. It's making the smart aggressive play, not a passive one, in a key moment of the game.


February 14th, 2013 at 6:27 PM ^

It's a bit tough to get FTA's on the road in the Big Ten when the refs are letting the home team commit what would be misdemeanors outside of the building while on defense.  


February 15th, 2013 at 12:47 AM ^

Google "John Wooden angry" and see what you get...I think he knew something about coaching basketball.

Seriously though I appreciate the analysis but it's based on a few rough games in a brutal stretch of the schedule.  Good defense is about moving your feet and being in position and these freshman are still learning.  I think they hit a patch here where the thinking probably dulled the reactions and caused some hesitation.  I'm looking for a bounce back toward the end of the season and hopefully a tournament ready team.

This is a young team and it showed Tuesday night.  Sparty looked bigger and older and I think for the first time we really got overwhelmed - it's a learning experience - these coaches know how to pick them back up and I expect them to.


February 15th, 2013 at 11:53 AM ^

Although I used the last five games for the analysis, the issues hold true for the whole season. Michigan is 336th out of 347 in free throw attempts for the year. They don't publicize charging stats, but I have watched every game this year and it is not going out on a limb to say Michigan is in the + differential for the season vs their opponents. My frustration with the Hardaway thing was that he is a Junior not a Freshman making a mistake they teach you in high school.

The only picture of him not in his 80's.


February 15th, 2013 at 10:40 PM ^

Good find on Wooden - he's shouting for a timeout.  He was never a screamer.  I get your point but I'm happy with Beilein and his demeanor.

I don't completely disagree with you but don't think it is all systemic.  A lot of it should get better with age and experience.

I also agree that Hardaway is not improving as much as you would hope in certain areas and will not be surprised if he's back next year.

To me the biggest problems in these last 4-5 games have been the absence of Morgan (back against MSU but I don't think 100%) and more importantly the wilting of Stauskas and Robinson on offense.

The reason he values the charging calls so much is they exact a large penalty, especially if the player who charged was about to score.  They lose the basket and get hit with a foul on the same play.  The lost score doesn't show in the stats but it's real.


February 16th, 2013 at 8:40 AM ^

You don't necessarily have to be a screamer to have attitude, but you can't say this team is tough. And it isn't just the last few could see the team was soft earlier when they were winning, just winning covers a lot of blemishes.

I think they'll still make a decent run in the tourney, but if their jump shots are going, they are in trouble and need to learn/know how to grind out a bucket or two.


February 15th, 2013 at 8:09 AM ^

(1) Taking a charge is a good play. It guarantees a turnover. Shot blocks are nice, but they result in a loose ball, not necessarily a turnover.

(2) I'm glad Beilein doesn't act like a complete asshole on the sideline.

(3) You should turn off the tv before you get so angry you are scaring your son.


February 15th, 2013 at 11:59 AM ^

1) Taking a charge is only good if you get the charge call. If you go through the film you have to count how many times a player sets up for the charge and does not get the call to understand the impact it is having on the team.

2) I don't disagree at all. You can have attitude without being an asshole.

3) I think you missed the humor/sarcasm. My son was not scared. Maybe the dog was a little.(yes /s).


February 15th, 2013 at 12:24 PM ^

(1) Obviously if you don't get the call the outcome is not good, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good strategy overall. But the other options--fouling hard enough to prevent a shot and going for the shot block-- have consequences too.

Foul shots are easier for most players than contested shots, even close range contested shots. You also get yourself into foul trouble, get the other team into the bonus on common fouls faster, etc.

Blocks are good when you get the block, but often a guy going for a block is coming off of the man he's defending, which means he won't be in position to rebound if he doesn't get the block and the shot gets missed.

(2) I guess I missed the point of the angry coach pictures then.

(3) My apologies on the missed humor. In my country jokes are funny.


February 15th, 2013 at 5:27 PM ^

I love clean basketball and coach Beilen clearly preaches this and his players practice it.  I also believe that there is room in clean basketball to send a message with a clean hard foul.  One of the Michigan State bigs (I am not sure who) sent Jordan Morgan to the ground with a hard foul when  Jordan Morgan was going for  a dunk.  Dakich said it wasn't a foul and the refs called a foul.  The message the Michigan State player sent was that Michigan State controls the paint and it seemed that Michigan backed down after that.

Michigan doesn't send the same  message that it controls the paint.  I don't know whether going for so many charges is good or bad.  I do know that the Michigan defense doesn't send a message that their opponents have any reason to fear going in the paint.

I know Brian and others have mentioned that from a statistical analysis, running your offense through big players in the paint is less efficient than effective outside shooting.  However, on a more primal level, the team that is is able to be aggressive in the paint sets an overall tone that spills over to all other areas of the game. 





February 15th, 2013 at 11:24 PM ^

free throws are indicative of attitude. There are so many more things that go into that, not the least of which is style if play. I for one, am glad that my coach doesn't look like Izzo on the sidelines. I get it that you don't like the UM style of play and would rather that they be a more physical team like MSU, but it is what it is. Different styles can be just as successful, after all, UM and MSU have the same record. I don't think attitude is the right word for your argument. Perhaps aggressive, urgency or style of play is more to the point.


February 16th, 2013 at 8:34 AM ^

But do you think um is as good as msu...even if um beats msu at crisper, it won't be by over 20.

I agree with the attitude article, but I would go further and say the team is soft. I think that reflects the coaching. If you spend practice shooting instead of working on rebounding or post moves...that's what you'll see in the game.


February 16th, 2013 at 9:54 AM ^

In my humble opinion basketball players are a little different than most sport athletes.  I have been a strength coach and worked with basketball at three different universities.  Granted, none of them were big time programs like the B1G, but there were two Division I programs in there.  And, as a whole, basketball players are not tough.  They are not as willing to be physical, to work hard, to push themselves past their thier percieved limits, etc. as lets say a football, hockey, or baseball player would.  This is a generalization, there have been some good ones, but there have been plenty of slackers, many of which were some of the better players.  It's hard to put a finger on why this is, but it's just an observation in my time working with athletes.  Basketball teams have always had the most attitude problems and required the most motivation to get them working.  


February 16th, 2013 at 2:01 PM ^

Interesting observation. My theory would be basketball players spend more time on things like shooting and dribbling since that is very much a muscle memorization process and very important to the game, where as football places equal emphasis on the skills as well as the physical attributes. I.e. you can have all of the technique in the world, if the other guy is bigger and stronger that will negate some of your technique advantage. Don't know as much about hockey to have a theory on that one.


February 16th, 2013 at 4:16 PM ^

It's culture and not the sport or the qualities it requires in my opinion.  All skills are motor programs the more experience you gain in them the better your ability to perform them quickly and explosively, and do so with less effort.  As Stu McGill says:


"The best athletes rarely outperform their peers in pre-season testing like bench pressing and squatting.  Their distinguishing qualities are motor control.  The ability to exert strength quickly, deactivate muscle quickly, and optimally project forces throughout the body linkage is characteristic of this skill." 


This is true of all sports, not just basketball.  For example, building speed, agility, and quickness, particularly in the frontal plane (laterally) and start and stop ability is a very important thing in basketball that can be trained away from the game, meaning with the strength staff with no balls or coaches.  But, players seem to be more interested in those things that are more instant gratification orentated.  They tend to be more externally motivated for whatever reason.  Show, talk, blocked shots, dunks, "look at me" type attitudes seem to be more common amongst basketball players than other sport athletes.  I think it's more culture than sport.


February 16th, 2013 at 12:54 PM ^

Yes, I mentioned baseball in my post as well.  In fact, baseball has been some of the hardest working groups I have been around.  Basketball stands out as less willing to push themselves than any other sport as a whole I've worked with which has been consistent across high school, Division II college, and Division I college athletes.


February 16th, 2013 at 2:05 PM ^

Fouls are attitude not channelled properly, although they can be used well in stopping easy buckets, intimidation, and contesting shots.

That said, the spirit of the post I completely agree with 100%. I'm actually depressed about our losing streak and wish these young young men would learn not to back down and in the MSU game, may down and die. I keep asking myself where is the pride, the swagger, the "fuckin bring it bitch!" attitude. If in the coa he's shoes, what do you tell them? How do you prepare them for road games to not act like deer in headlights, drive the lane, and just impose our definite talent level.

Show them a boxing movie, something that inspires...all I know is that this team does need attitude and to man up.


February 16th, 2013 at 2:11 PM ^

The correlation I see between free throw attempts and attitude is a player making the decision that they are going to have a chance to score points on a possession no matter what. A few examples of players like this over the years during the tournament have been: Kemba Walker from UConn, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist from UK, Miles Simon from Arizona, John Wallace from Syracuse, the whole damn Duke team from the early 90's, Corliss Williamson from Arkansas, Shelvin Mack from Butler. I could go on, but the image I have of all those players during their teams tournament runs is going to the hole strong forcing the other team to stop them. To me that's an attitude.


February 16th, 2013 at 4:11 PM ^

Not attitude. Don't get the two confused. Listing out other players as examples is great, but how to you get the young guns n OUR team to go to the whole "strong"? There were times I saw Hardaway, McGary, hell even Burke, shy away from contact over the past four games. It's almost as if they are playing afraid. They need a little bit of Hoke toughness and a chip on their shoulder.

They seem to be content with being a bunch of pull up jump shot sissies. Even if they were told to drive to the hole strong, do you think this group of young men has the salt to dunk in someone's face? They haven't showed me they welcome the challenge and Coach B sees it too as that is what he called for at half time. Problem is we won't get a true test until we play MSU and Indiana at home.

snarling wolverine

February 16th, 2013 at 5:09 PM ^

You can argue that Burke should have simply let Bergren dunk (as we still would have had a one-point lead), but the idea that he had any way of contesting the shot other than taking a charge is crazy.