Most Important Mid-season Improvement/Development?

Submitted by Space Coyote on March 10th, 2014 at 8:36 AM

The ways in which the Michigan basketball team developed over the course of the year are very impressive, and are obviously a huge reason that Michigan is currently in position to at worst get a three seed, likely get a two seed, and still has a puncher's chance at a one seed. Oh, and not to mention that Michigan won the B1G by three games.

My question, up for discussion, is which mid-season improvement/development was the most important, not just in terms of immediate results, but also heading into the tournaments?

I think the revitalization of Nik will be a big emphasis, but I'm going to go a bit different direction. While Michigan still struggles a bit on defense (the start of the Indiana game was nauseating), I think the improvement and development of the 1-3-1 zone has directly lead to 2-3 wins in the second half of B1G play. Early in the B1G, it seemed like every time they went zone it was free buckets for the other team. But MSU and Indiana I remember off hand really struggling against it and that allowing Michigan to get big stops at big times.

For a team that sometimes struggles to get stops, but doesn't necessarily need a ton of stops to be successful, I think the development of that different look and little extra thing for opposing teams to have to prepare for on short notice is a huge benefit going into the tournament, and I think may be the biggest and overlooked development this year.

So what say you guys? Nik's reemergence? Morgan's improved low-post play and patience when he gets the ball in his hands? GRIII turning the corner? The two-headed PG monster and their continued development?


Space Coyote

March 10th, 2014 at 8:50 AM ^

But that was more of an offseason development in my mind. LeVert proved he was a legit weapon early in the season. While he probably still was more important than most expected throughout B1G play, I wouldn't say that was a big midseason change that Beilein and this team added to their repetoire.


March 10th, 2014 at 10:28 AM ^

Caris was no doubt a good surprise in the OOC schedule, scoring against a lot of lesser comptition.  But I seem to remember a lot of people holding their breath whenever he got the ball. He was a bit awkward and not very smooth. 

Now though, he has really honed is game through BIG play, he is a lights out shooter, and a pretty good defender.  An enormous sophomore leap in my opinion. 


March 10th, 2014 at 8:55 AM ^

GRIII actually being able to do more than be on the receiving end of an alley oop:  I'll admit, I constantly complained about GRIII's lazy, uninspiring play.  IMO, he truly was a waste of minutes for the bulk of this year who was dependent on others to get his points and I believed he would never really turn the corner while in a Michigan jersey.  However, he has made me eat my words as he has really turned up his game in the past few weeks and turned into a legitimate threat who can create for himself.  Yes, he still has his moments (and a lot of them at that), but now, teams can't ignore him which makes us all the more dangerous come the tourney.

Space Coyote

March 10th, 2014 at 9:00 AM ^

In that, both are really athletic and because of that athleticism, can get some really good looks at the basket. My complaint about GRIII is the same that I had about TH's last year, he gets good looks around the hoop but still struggles to finish sometimes.

Lately, though, he's been a bit better, and his outside shot is starting to pick up, though still not always consistent. Still wish he didn't waste his dribble so much, as I think he's a much bigger threat off the catch, but with the pretty good looks off of aggressively attacking the hoop and starting to hit some shots, the potential is starting to turn more into production. That puts a ton of stress on opposing teams.

Mr. Yost

March 10th, 2014 at 9:17 AM ^

THJ helped the team in a BUNCH of other ways last year.

Even when his shot wasn't falling, he played very solid defense for most of the year and he was the J-Mo barking out orders and getting people in position.

GRIII seems like he doesn't want to get sweat on him or he'd rather wink at the cheerleaders.

THJ was our backup point guard until Spike emerged...even still, he brought the ball up and handled the offense and really grew in that area. If you remember @Arkansas and @OSU the year before...he was AWFUL and at handling the ball. THJ brining the ball up the court is what beat VCU in the tournament because they couldn't press us and he was so tall that he'd see over the guards and get the ball into the right hards so we could score early in the game.

THJ's shot was awful and his shot selection was even worse his sophmore year. However, his junior year he really improved in other areas.

To me Irvin is playing a lot more like THJ his sophomore year than GRIII to THJ's junior year.


March 10th, 2014 at 9:25 AM ^

What THJ most certainly did (even in his freshman year) that neither Irvin or GRIII do is drive to the basket with authority and throw it down.  He didn't do that as much as he could've and should've (especially when he was in a slump and only thought about long ball), but he realized he had the skills and strength to do that.  I can only imagine how dangerous GRIII would be if he suddenly realized he could do that as well.  Irvin...I don't know if he's ever going to be that type of player.  To that effect, he does kind of remind me of the jumpshot only version of THJ when the floor anywhere under 18 ft away from the rim is lava.

So yes, I guess you could say Irvin is playing a little more like sophomore year THJ, but GRIII's skillset and potential does more align with junior year Timmy.

Mr. Yost

March 10th, 2014 at 10:47 AM ^

GRIII is below average on defense, he doesn't communicate, and he doesn't help the team in other ways.

I guess we just agree to disagree, but I always loved how THJ helped Michigan win in little ways last year (unlike his sophomore year).

GRIII really is just a body if he's not contributing offensively. Which is exactly what THJ was his sophomore year.

Last year THJ was so much better than he'll ever get credit for. He routinely guarded the other teams best perimeter player. He post defense was WAY above average for someone his size. He brought the ball up the court when teams like MSU, OSU, VCU and Louisville would press us or double team Burke. He was a leader on offense and defense.

In fact, I don't even think he showed his athleticism like GRIII does until his JUNIOR year. GRIII is a freak of nature athletically. THJ was solid until I saw some of his nasty dunks in year 3. But if we're just talking dunk contest, I'm taking GRIII every time.

Back to THJ's year last year. If anyone is playing more like him it's LeVert, not GRIII. LeVert plays defense (most of the time), he guards the other teams best player, he plays some point guard, he's hot and cold offensively, he actually communicates (albeit, not like THJ). He hustles, he dives for loose balls, he provides some energy. And he can finish at the rim.

All of that is way more THJ (junior year) than GRIII. The dunking and the streak shooting, IMO, is about the only thing they have in common. And that's selling THJ short because he did a TON more for us last year. We didn't even need his offense - we don't get to the Sweet 16, let alone the Championship game if THJ doesn't do the other little things for us (that I have yet to see from GRIII on a consistent basis).


March 10th, 2014 at 11:02 AM ^

You know what, I'll take that.  Caris' role and how he plays is the most similar to junior year THJ out of all of them.  

BTW - I was not meaning to say I thought GRIII was as important and impactful as THJ by any means.  I was just saying the the potential of what he could do offensively (if he really tried to be more than just pure athleticism more often), would look more like Timmy than how Irvin plays.  But yeah, I'll take THJ over him anyday as their actual production is not comprable at all.

Mr. Yost

March 10th, 2014 at 11:16 AM ^

But I think what's so frustrating to all of us is that if he played with more energy, effort and toughness...even for a SF (not a PF). He could be out of this world good. Better than THJ. We'd be comparing him to guys on a national scale.

He's that talented, I'm sure he works at his game...I'm not saying he doesn't. But in games, if he just had a LITTLE THJ, McGary, Morgan in him then his entire game would be a LOT better. It wouldn't just comparing him offensively.

That's what I loved about THJ, outside of shot selection (which was a BIG impact because he took AWFUL shots his sophomore year)...he didn't improve THAT much offensively. His numbers were better because he took better shots, I don't think he was that much better of a shooter or a scorer.

However, he got SOOOO much better as a leader, on the defensive end, and with his ball handling that it didn't matter. He took care of the things he could truly control. It can hard to control the ball going through the net, but you can always control getting on the floor for the loose ball or barking out "SCREEN" or playing amazing help side or hustling back or getting better/more comfortable bringing the ball up against pressure.

That's all you can ask of a player. i.e. Jordan Morgan. He's going to have hands of stone and miss more bunnies than we can stomach...but the kid plays his ass off, he does all of the little things, he leads, he fights, he hustles, he talks, he helps us in so many other ways that when that beautiful Stauskas pass bounces off his hands out of bounds we just shrug and expect him to get it back on defense.


March 10th, 2014 at 11:33 AM ^

According to this chart GRIII is not as bad on defense as everyone claims he is. The numbers show that he is the best defender on this team (not including the big men) and it's not even close. This chart might not be perfect but considering people on this site supossedly cite fact over perception everyone should tread a little more carefully when talking about GRIII. I think his lack of offense production for the majoirty of the season (until this latest strech in which he has been brilliant) has made him a scapegoat for any of the team's problems. 


March 10th, 2014 at 4:07 PM ^

It's really odd that you'd pick fnishing as the area GR3 needs to improve on. What makes you say that? Finishing is like the one thing he's always been great at.. whether he was creating his own shot (at first, never, but happening more often these days) or getting a dish (usually transition or backdoor cut). That was my impression from watching, and the stats back it up.

Chart from UMHoops:

Space Coyote

March 10th, 2014 at 4:44 PM ^

Never the less, it seems like when he's actually taking a defender to the bucket, he misses on quite a bit of looks that look pretty clean, a lot of times from not going up strong with the basketball or anticipating contact it seems.

It's possible it's simply projecting based on something I thought I saw, but I can almost swear in a lot of games he gets half a step on a defender, gets a pretty good look because of his ability in the air, and simply has weak hands or misses close bunnies that are fairly open for most.


March 10th, 2014 at 9:46 AM ^

has more to do with his demeanor than his effort level IMO.  He tends to defer too much and is not the type of person who commands attention with his peersonality.  He's a quiet kid who happen to be a great athlete.  People can interpret as lazy and uninspiring play when it's the opposite.

GRIII is playing out of position at the 4 and has to guard players 3-4 inches taller and has at least 30 lbs on him. That has to take its toll on his body and it would make it a lot worse defensively. 


March 10th, 2014 at 9:58 AM ^

He definitely does seem to have a more quiet, humble personality.  But walking back to the other side of the court (he's very often the last person back on defense), and up until recently, just standing around (no movement, not even at least staying on his toes) when he doesn't have the ball is just plain lazy.  A quiet demeanor and playing out of position is no excuse for that...but he is starting to correct it,.

Mr. Yost

March 10th, 2014 at 11:07 AM ^

LeVert is a great example. He's also "quiet and humble" (not sure how any of us can call these guys humble when we've never met them...I know I lot of quiet shit talkers, especially in basketball, they mumble stuff under their breath all game long).

But LeVert isn't loud or demonstrative like Stauskas (or McGary). At times you can even say he's timid or shy. But he still does all of those little things you mentioned.

There's a difference between because quiet and lazy or "too cool for school."

I'll put it this way. Take away the arm waving and the yelling of McGary...but just focus on the energy and effort. Now imagine if GRIII played with that or even half of that.

He may be national player of the year. You're easily talking about Wiggins/CJ Fair good.

If you want to talk B1G SF's, he got more talent than Draymon Green and DaShaun Thomas...but I can't honestly say he's better than either (not saying he's worse). It shouldn't even be a debate. He plays with effort and energy and toughness...3 things HE can control. If he does that for 30-35 minutes each game, you're talking about a national POY candidate rather than a very good B1G small forward.

He won't even get 1st team All-B1G this year. (Payne, Petteway, Marble, Stauskas, Harris - IMO). May not even get 2nd team when you put guys from Wisconsin, Iowa, Johnson and Purdue's big man in the mix along with the nostalgia from Appling, Hollins, Craft and OSU's seniors. Then you have Ferrell, Vonleh and Sheehey that'll get some looks.


March 10th, 2014 at 12:16 PM ^

seems to disprove that GRIII can't play defense. Standing around on offense is more of a by-product of JB's offense. Moving for a sake of moving is not JB's offense MO.  GRIII is the best at off the ball scoring and does an outstanding job of finding holes on defense to get an easy dunk/layup.


March 10th, 2014 at 12:31 PM ^

I acknowledge that a lot of Beilein's offense seems to make for a lot of sitting in one place, but he does really stand around flat footed more than other players on the team.  Again, that may be by design, but leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  As for defense, I didn't necessarily say he was bad at defending, but if there was an award for most times a Michigan player has walked/lightly jogged back on defense behind everyone else, Glen would win it hands down.

Bottom line is he's drastically correcting these behaviors, and it shows.


March 10th, 2014 at 9:07 AM ^

This team has been outstanding shooting free throws. I had a middle school basketball coach always preaching how free throws will win games.  I watched the MSU/OSU game yesterday and even though OSU won, they made the game much closer than it had to be shooting 61% from the line.


March 10th, 2014 at 10:29 AM ^

Not drifting at all. This has been a huge step, a sharp contrast from last season when it was a weakness that could have burned us much worse than it did. I believe sound FT shooting was a key factor in securing pivotal road wins at Wisconsin and especially MSU that last year's team may not have been able to salt away. And if you drop a game or two like that, Michigan's three game cushion is a lot dicier.

Mr Miggle

March 10th, 2014 at 9:21 AM ^

#2 Jordan Morgan

Walton has shown the most improvement since the early season. Both have become much more consistent. Their positions were the biggest question marks, too.

SC Wolverine

March 10th, 2014 at 10:17 AM ^

I was really excited to see Derek Walton, watching his off-season work-outs, etc.  So it has been really exciting to see him become a real weapon out there.  Remember him missing the key free throws early in the season?  He has really grown in confidence and production since those days.  What an exciting year for that young man, going from high school ball to big-time college ball at UM.  I think he is going to be a serious force next year, and he has really helped this year.

Mr. Yost

March 10th, 2014 at 9:25 AM ^

Most improved players (since mid-season)

---I don't think we have one. I do see that the "light" somewhat came on for GRIII, but he wasn't doing anything he couldn't do. He didn't improve as a player. He just starting playing to his ability for longer stretches of games. 


Biggest development (since mid-season)

---I think this is where GRIII actually goes, because again, he didn't improve. So I'll put him here along with the 1-3-1. Other than that, this team was just a young team that improved as a unit because they finally settled into their roles. Stauskas was the leader, LeVert played off that and GRIII the X-factor. That's who we are. Spike gon Spike, Morford gon Morford. Irvin gon chuck away and Walton is going to make you say "wow" then have occasional freshman moments.


All we needed was time and some close games to figure out who we were. I was hoping to "steal" a game @ Duke or home vs. Arizona, but in the end, they helped prepare us for now. 


March 10th, 2014 at 9:27 AM ^

 The reamergance of Staukus was big. Also obviously these guys playing with a new starting point guard takes time. Walton had a couple big games in that first 4 game stretch that were huge. One final thing. I think Zac Irvin has had some real nice games off the bench. It gave us some bench scoring.

Note: I think Irvin will be really good in the years to come. Im most excited about that young man.


March 10th, 2014 at 9:49 AM ^

I think Zak Irvin needs a serious shot doctor. Yeah, I know a lot of 'em go in, but man, he has got to get the off hand back under the ball. He's got that thing WAY up over the top, and I think it hurts his consistency and his ability to hit open shots. I dunno if you can fix something this basic as a college player, but it just astounds me that he can shoot at all (let alone be as effective as he is) with the "I've got my own hand blocking my shot" approach. :)

To answer the thread - I think it was a combination of Robinson defining some parameters for his game (no contested 3's please), and then getting aggressive for substantial stretches, plus Beilein just getting incredible at figuring out when to switch out Spike/Walton. Truly amazing game management, IMO.



March 10th, 2014 at 11:34 AM ^

I'm ok with you criticising a freshmen shooting 42% from 3 as nuts as that seems but I can 't get past you saying he needs to get his off hand  "back under the ball".  Is that a typo.  The only peole I have seen with their back hand under the ball are my kids who are under 10 who try to heave the ball to get it to the net.


March 11th, 2014 at 2:43 PM ^

I didn't so much intend to criticize as critique.

By "under the ball", I meant get it out of the way. It seems to me in watching slow motion HD of his shot, he's got his left hand kinda around in front, and to some degree "on top of" the ball. By "on top of" I mean around the front curve of the ball further than I would expect from a shooter of his calibre.

Here is a picture that shows what I mean. Note hand on top/front side of the ball:

Irvin Shot


For comparison:

Stauskas - Note Hand on the off hand side of the ball


As the other poster pointed out, this is a pretty stupid critique, given that he does hit a very high % of his three's. Hard for me to argue that.

My only defense is that I'd point out that as you become a more focal point of the offense, the demands on your game change. Less open shots, less assisted shots, more creating your own. At that point, stylistic issues you were "getting away with" before may (note "may" not "will" ) haunt you.

I would also point out that I'm not the only person suggesting his shot looks different:

Obviously Jamaal Wilkes disagrees (weird shooter that became a serious big timer), as do others with fairly strange shots.


Lucky Socks

March 10th, 2014 at 9:58 AM ^

Everyone is important, and I do agree about the 1-3-1. But I'll go with the Freshmen. You're only as good as your weakest link, which is especially true when your team only plays 8 "links." Walton has won a few games, some with scoring and some with incredible rebounding for his position. Irvin has won a game and impacted others with his microwave shootings, and he's been able to get up to speed on defense which puts him on the court in last minute O-D sub scenarios. The pups are playing their roles perfectly and it's been a constant improvement game by game.

Naked Bootlegger

March 10th, 2014 at 10:01 AM ^

I really think sprinkling in the 1-3-1 has spurred us to a handful of wins.   This zone has been active and disruptive in recent weeks.    I think it was the 2nd half key in IU win.  


March 10th, 2014 at 10:04 AM ^

Derrick Walton.  If you remember back in December, Derrick looked completely disjointed.  There was no cohesiveness, he was overwhelmed, and we were 6-4.  Since then, the kid has stepped into his role as the point guard and QB of the offense.  I am more than impressed with his transformation.


March 10th, 2014 at 10:17 AM ^

I think figuring out what they were going to do with Mitch was big.  Obviously, it'd be nice to have him on the floor but I think part of the problem early in the year was guys didn't know exactly what their roles were.  Those games in November and December were roller coasters as to how much Mitch was going to play and contribute.  For a young team trying to find itself with the departures of Burke and Hardaway, it had to be tough on the players and coaches not knowing how much they could get out of Mitch each game.  Once they knew he was going to be out for a while, they could focus on the players who could play and what they had to do to make the team better.


March 10th, 2014 at 10:38 AM ^

Most important mid-season development? I think many have been pretty well covered above.

I'd like to throw out a different one which seems ridiculous, but may have led to success:  the mid-season surgery on McGary. There are several reasons I think this was important:

  • It forced Morford to step up their game. They wouldn't have done the same thing with McGary on the floor.
  • It forced the team to become much more cohesive. They had to play together, if they were going to survive.
  • It gave a real sense of desperation and motivation to the team. Everyone always talks about focus. Losing McGary brought a ton of focus.
  • It allowed McGary to heal properly.

On this last one, I find it fascinating that Beilein and everyone else have steadfastly maintained that McGary is "out indefinitely." They never have said "out for the season." He has gone from rehab off the court, to set shots, to running. With the current time frame, it isn't outside of the realm of possibility that McGary comes back for the sweet 16 weekend. If he was able to play a mere 10 minutes a game, that could make a huge difference. Going to the OP original question, (most important heading into the tournaments,) if McGary is able to play effectively at all in the tourney, and because of the mid-season surgery, that "could" be the most important mid-season development. Now, this whole exercise and speculation on my part is a huge "so there's a chance" pie-in-the-sky pipe dream. I don't predict it happening. But I would still maintain that there were some good side affects for the team caused by McGary being sidelined.


March 10th, 2014 at 10:54 AM ^

That's an excellent point on the 1-3-1, and in that spirit, I'd say Nick's passing.  It seemed like earlier in the year he was trying to be Magic and no-look guys all over, and ended up throwing it away a lot.  He still does that every now and then, but his ability to generate assists has been deadly.  People are so concerned about closing on him or cutting off a lane, when he can put a pass right on the numbers for a dunk or lay-up, it's got to be a soul-crusher for the D.  It brings scoring options into play for guys who don't necessarily create their own shot (GRIII, Morford, whoever is standing underneath or near the basket at the time).

Eastside Maize

March 10th, 2014 at 11:15 AM ^

I think Coach Beilein has given the team a boost by letting his emotion show more. He doesn't go Bobby Knight but he gets his point across to the refs and the team. Coach took a tech and we outscored IU the rest of the way.


March 10th, 2014 at 11:21 AM ^

No, he's not a world beater. He's very streaky and sometimes he gets a little too shot happy... But having the ability to sub him in for Stauskas, GRIII or LeVert when any one of them are struggling themselves or just need a breather and force defenses to be accountable for him has quietly been huge for us. Sure, he's not the player we're all hoping he will become yet, and he's far from a good defender, but outside of Morgan and Walton, nobody on this team is what you would consider a "good" defender. Still, at one time during Glenn's extended struggles, there were a large contingent of fans on this very blog calling for Zac to start in his stead. I think you can credit Zac's effectiveness at least somewhat for that notion.

SF Wolverine

March 10th, 2014 at 11:27 AM ^

Big development is that these guys are five fingers of a fist when they are on the floor. They know their roles, are not selfish, and never get caught looking down at their shoes. They are a real, live TEAM. That is the difference, in my view