The Roller Coaster of Michigan Basketball

Submitted by jsquigg on January 15th, 2010 at 5:57 PM
    I don't do the diary thing often so as not to take space from those who are better at it, but I have what I think is at least better than average insight having played basketball on a somewhat organized level and as someone who has helped coach the game and wishes to do so in the future.  The mgocommunity response will dictate whether this becomes more than a "once in a great while" thing or if I decide to break things down more consistently in the future.  Now that I feel better about that disclaimer, on to the meat of the diary which will be broken down into two parts:  The Michigan Defense and then Manny Harris.  Keep in mind these observations may be old news and obviously wouldn't take a genius to figure out.

The Michigan Defense

    There have been a lot of complaints from Michigan fans regarding John Beilein, his recruiting (won't cover this today), his coaching style, that he doesn't adjust enough and the fact that he seems to favor offense over defense (people complain similarly about Rich Rodriguez).  I believe that last part in particular to be a myth.  Let's explore coach Beilein's preference defensively before I jump to this year's results (this part will be obvious to those who have watched college basketball a long time).
    Coach Beilein prefers to play man to man except after a made bucket in which he will switch to a 1-3-1 trap.  He has also occasionally thrown a 2-3 defense into the mix (he did this more often before Michigan, probably because he didn't think his kids were quick enough to play man to man consistently).  In fact, while John Beilein's offenses have been consistently excellent in offensive efficiency, his defensive schemes are arguably just as creative.  But like everything in sports, creativity doesn't mean anything if things aren't executed properly and/or a team gets predictable.
    In terms of this year, I have made comments here and there on game recaps as well as on the board that Michigan's defense has improved significantly.  To give evidence of this, I'd like to compare the FG% from the first 10 games to the last 6, excluding cupcakes (Northern Michigan, Houston Baptist, Arkansas PB, Detroit, and Coppin State).  After that, I'll share my observations of what I've seen done differently from a defensive standpoint.
      Over the first 10 games Michigan played 6 legitimate opponents and those opponents shot 50% on average!  That is atrocious put bluntly.
    Over the last 6 games of which the last five have been legit (conference play), those opponents have shot 42.6%. 
That's a significant drop and one reason why I think Michigan can still have a decent year, although it will definitely be an uphill battle.
    Now I'm well aware that anyone can compare these numbers and reach a simple conclusion when obviously it's more complicated than just FG%.  Michigan hasn't been blowing opponents away with the improved defense, and part of that may be the team practicing defense more heavily recently since they have been significantly less efficient offensively.  I may cover the offense in general later, but for now I'll just pass along my observations on the change in defensive strategy.
    In the first 10 games of the season, Michigan was playing man to man with the usual 1-3-1 trap after a made bucket and only a little had they sprinkled the 2-3 in the mix.  Their man to man was atrocious, and I'm being generous.  They weren't pressuring ball handlers well and the help side was often non-existent.  When they happened to get on even a little bit of a roll offensively, they would throw the 1-3-1 out there and it actually was often worse than their man to man defense.
    I'd like to interject here and say that in high school one of our main rivals played a 1-3-1 trap.  The goal of this defense is to get into passing lanes and trap every corner.  Michigan's problems with this defense have been at the top of the defense.  They weren't trapping aggressively enough and because of that there was a lot of space in the gaps of the defense for open shots or lay ups.  I'd like to mention that this defense worked much better last year.
    So what has improved lately?  Coach Beilein has reeled in the 1-3-1 trap for the most part (except for a few possessions a game) and played man to man almost exclusively.  They've still had some trouble with the help side, but they are pressuring the ball much better as well as limiting open shots.  I would speculate that coach Beilein has emphasized the defense a lot more in practice as well as simplifying the defense (something my high school coach did as well).  I am of the opinion that coach Beilein isn't the problem with the inconsistency of our team because I have seen numerous adjustments in all facets of the game just this season.  Now on to a brief observation on Manny.

Manny Harris
    To be honest, as I was watching the Indiana game last night, my opinion of Mr. Harris seemed to change frequently throughout the game as it has all season (to clarify, I'm referring to his play and not him as a person).  In my opinion, he has the most potential and talent on the team.  The problem is that he doesn't seem to play hard all the time and his mental errors have proven to be killer at times.  If he isn't dominating off the dribble, he seems to get lost too easily.
    Let me elaborate a bit on that last point; It was noticeable the change in fluidity of the offense when Harris was benched for Vogrich last night, so the greater question might be what was Vogrich doing differently?  I would answer by simply saying: hustle.  Vogrich cuts as hard as he can and moves much better without the ball, and because of that finds himself making plays where Manny almost never has.
    Manny can sometimes clog the offense by just "hanging around" the wing or by dribbling into trouble and I've rarely seen him cut hard to the bucket this season.  I may sound a little harsh, but Coach Beilein has actually adjusted the offense to accommodate his skills.  In Beilein's core system the ball will rarely touch the floor, but with Manny and Sims there have been a lot more isolation, pick and roll, and post up plays.  I'm glad he did because it would have been stubborn not to, and as a result Manny has been able to take over games.
    In terms of the future, I think Manny will need to develop better habits in some of the gritty aspects of the game.  Whether he's vocal or not his teammates view him as a leader and his play is contagious.  The key to the season is to keep up the defense they've played lately and getting their offense back to the efficiency they had at the beginning of the season (basically less turnovers).

    Well, hopefully this wasn't a waste of space and let me know if I can evaluate other topics surrounding basketball in the future.  At least I enjoyed it.  



January 15th, 2010 at 9:43 PM ^

DeShawn Sims has been playing more consistently of late and one could definitely argue he is the better player. I'm glad your singular point is taken out of context though, as I was saying that to build up to some points about Manny.


January 15th, 2010 at 11:28 PM ^

I don't know about "intentionally wrong." Sims is more polished than Harris is, and Sims has a very good skill set from mid range and close in to the basket. Remember, he outplayed Cole Aldrich, an All-American at Kansas. Besides, Sims is putting up his comparable numbers (to Manny Harris) out of position. At 6'8" he is too short to play the 5, yet he still excels at the position even winning Big Ten Player of the Week near the start of conference play (the week of PSU and OSU). For the record, I still think Harris is a better player, if more inconsistent, but I don't think you're giving enough credit to Deshawn.


January 16th, 2010 at 10:06 AM ^

I had a few drinks when I was posting last night. I certainly could have been more considerate in my response.

I don't disagree with anything that you've said. Sims is forced into playing post when he's built like a 3, but he performs exceptionally well. I didn't intend to downplay Sims accomplishments, if that's the way it seemed. I just don't think there is any argument against Harris being the better overall player.

While they both are among the league leaders in almost every statistical category and have comparable scoring numbers, Harris is in the leaders for rebounding, steals, assists, and assist to turnover percentage. The guy does it all.

I really wasn't trying to get into a debate with anyone. I just got a chuckle out of the OP saying that he was of the opinion that Harris was the most talented player on the team. The statistics seem to agree. Even after you make a case for Sims, you still acknowledge that you feel Harris is more talented. Is there anyone out there that disagrees?


January 16th, 2010 at 11:58 AM ^

Harris may be the better player, but he has problems with shot selection and laziness sometimes. Still, he has a great ability to create a shot for him and others, and he is a great finisher who can get to the line. Sims can create his own shot, but not much else. Harris is a game-changer who can win a game for UM if he plays up to his potential for 40 minutes. Howeva, I do think that Sims is more valuable than Harris if only because of our depth up front.

I don't think anyone can disagree that Harris is the better all-around player, and he might be the second best in the conference. He's not as good as Turner, Turner may be the best in the country.


January 15th, 2010 at 10:01 PM ^

Great post. Good explanation of the suddenly competent defense. While watching the Northwestern-Wisconsin game the other night, the analysts made a point about Beilein's postgame compliments of their man at the top of the 1-3-1, Nash. He was very good at double-teaming and clogging the lanes and I found it interesting that Beilein made a point to compliment him. We've been missing that top man and it has basically taken our 1-3-1 out of the game defensively. Northwestern ran it well and it hurt us big time. Hopefully Morris or someone else can morph into the role that Nash plays for the Wildcats. It would really help our defense.


January 16th, 2010 at 1:40 AM ^

Good point. C.J. Lee ran the top of the 1-3-1 last year at times and Stu Douglass isn't getting the job done this year. When my team played zone defense in high school (2-3) we had to move more than in a man to man defense. On TV it doesn't look like it takes as much effort, but if you get caught standing around in a zone the offense can bury you in a hurry. Boxing out is always more challenging when playing a zone as well.
I thought it was painful to watch Michigan against Northwestern's 1-3-1, although the Wildcats have more length than the Wolverines and that always helps a zone defense. You would think the Wolverines would execute better having seen it in practice though.


January 16th, 2010 at 12:04 PM ^

Northwestern also has more experience in the 1-3-1, the loss of Merritt and Lee really hurt our experience in a complicated zone.

This is also where not having Udoh hurts us. It's a pity that he left really, because he would have been excellent in the middle of the zone. It isn't really too productive to wonder what could have been, but I think Udoh (who was on a couple midseason AA teams) would have developed into the much sought after third scorer and shore up our defense and front-line depth. Oh well.


January 16th, 2010 at 4:54 PM ^

I couldn't disagree more. The 1-3-1 is one of the simpler zones to run, compared to a 3-2, box +1, triangle +2. The only zone defense that is more simple in principles is the 2-3 zone. The problem with the 1-3-1 is that whoever is on top has to be patient. When we played the 1-3-1 in high school, we always would use our small forward. He was patient and would wait in the middle of the court and make the ball handler choose a side to attack. This is the key to setting this zone up. Once the ball handler chooses a side, the defender on top must force them to keep dribbling towards the wing. Thats where you create the trap. That defender on top almost has to be on the back hip of the ball handler and ride him in to the trap. Michigan way to often tries to trap high and lacks patience. That is more of a problem than the lack of height at the top. Its all about timing. Even last year we didn't run the 1-3-1 as effectively as NW ran it last weekend. The key though is that Nash is extremely patient and waits for the defender to come to him instead of attacking the defender. It's counterintuitive as my coach use to yell all the time.


January 16th, 2010 at 10:05 PM ^

I agree that Northwestern ran the 1-3-1 more effectively than Michigan has for the most part, but the 1-3-1 is, IMO, more difficult to execute consistently than the 3-2 or 2-3. I've played against those zones and within those zones. The 3-2 and 2-3 are less risky but the 1-3-1 has a higher reward and creates more mismatches down low. I agree that you have to try to force the ball handler into the trap, but there is also the 1-3-1 base defense as well as the 1-3-1 matchup zone, both of which are different from the trap.


January 16th, 2010 at 11:31 AM ^

at 3-2 Big Ten instead of 4-1. The easy part of the schedule is over, but we're only "shooting par/even" on a home/away basis. With our OOC resume, we have to do better than even. (One last OOC upset "chance" tomorrow.)

Before I looked at the remaining schedule, I was expecting to see a home slate that would be almost impossible to "hold serve". Fortunately, Purdue is missing from the home slate.

At the very least, we need to win 2-3 more away games and then lose one less at home to get to 10-8 to have some chance of making a meaningful impression in the B10 tourney. Uphill, but not unrealistic.

Home B10 Games
1/26 No. 8 Michigan State
1/30 Iowa
2/6 No. 16 Wisconsin
2/20 Penn State
2/23 Illinois
3/3 Minnesota

Away B10 Games
1/20 at No. 16 Wisconsin
1/23 at No. 6 Purdue
2/2 at Northwestern
2/11 at Minnesota
2/16 at Iowa
2/27 at Ohio State
3/6 at No. 8 Michigan State


January 16th, 2010 at 11:36 AM ^

since our first five big ten games were against the league's poorer teams [which would include ohio state w/o turner], can it be said that the defense has really improved---or is it more likely that the opponents' lower shooting % will not continue because of the higher-talent teams upcoming [uconn, wiscy, purdue, msu]?