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Inside the Numbers: Stumbling out of the gates

March 4th, 2014 by Drew Hallett


Beilein after Minnesota win(MGoBlue.com)

One down. Three to go.

Entering this season, Michigan had four primary team goals. They were: (1) to win the Big Ten regular-season title; (2) to win the Big Ten Tournament; (3) to advance to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament; and (4) to win the national championship. Accomplish any of these four goals, and Michigan would add to their collection of banners hanging from the rafters of the Crisler Center.

Check one off the list. On Saturday, thanks in part to Illinois’ stunning upset over Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan captured a share of the Big Ten regular season title with a 66-56 victory over Minnesota. This is the second conference championship and third banner the Wolverines have earned since 2011. No other Big Ten school can claim as many in that span.

Michigan has made this march through the Big Ten because its offense has been remarkably efficient. U-M has averaged 1.154 points per possession against conference opponents, which is the best in Big Ten play in the past three seasons. Further, Michigan leads the conference in two-point and free throw shooting and is a smidgen behind the top spot in three-point shooting. Accordingly, Michigan has the third-best adjusted offensive rating in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy.

But the Wolverines have one flaw offensively that they must correct if they want to accomplish any of their remaining three goals: they must showcase their elite offense as soon as the referee tosses up the opening tip. Michigan’s offense has picked up a nasty habit of stumbling out of the gates until the first ten minutes have passed. This has led to some ugly, ugly starts in U-M’s past six matchups.

Michigan’s Offensive Efficiency in the First 10 Minutes – Last Six Games

Date

Opponent

Points

Possessions

PPP

Margin

Feb. 8

Iowa

10

15

0.667

-13

Feb. 11

Ohio State

10

13

0.769

-9

Feb. 16

Wisconsin

9

12

0.750

-11

Feb. 23

Michigan State

11

14

0.786

-11

Feb. 26

Purdue

6

14

0.429

-11

Mar. 1

Minnesota

9

14

0.643

-6

In the first ten minutes of their previous six contests, the Wolverines scored only 55 total points in 82 possessions for a measly average of 0.671 points per possession. These slow starts have been consistent, too, as U-M did not even top 0.800 points per possession in any of them. For context, the worst adjusted offensive rating in the nation is Howard’s 0.881 points per possession. Michigan just could not find an offensive rhythm in the early stages regardless of the quality of the defense protecting the rim.

So why is this happening? Is there an explanation for why one of the nation’s best offenses has struggled so much in the first half of the first half? The answer is not that the Wolverines have lacked effort or focus or have run poor offensive sets. The answer is that their shooting has been freezing ice cold in their past six starts.

Michigan’s Shooting and Turnovers in the First 10 Minutes – Last Six Games

Date

Opponent

Possessions

2PT Shooting

3PT Shooting

Turnovers

Feb. 8

Iowa

15

3-8 (37.5%)

1-6 (16.7%)

2

Feb. 11

Ohio State

13

2-10 (20.0%)

2-5 (40.0%)

2

Feb. 16

Wisconsin

12

3-10 (30.0%)

0-0 (0.0%)

2

Feb. 23

Michigan State

14

3-10 (30.0%)

1-3 (33.3%)

1

Feb. 26

Purdue

14

1-5 (20.0%)

1-8 (12.5%)

2

Mar. 1

Minnesota

14

3-6 (50.0%)

1-9 (11.1%)

0

In the first ten minutes of its past six games, Michigan made only 30.6 percent of its two-point attempts and only 19.4 percent of its three-point attempts for a ghastly effective field-goal percentage of 30 percent. Conversely, U-M has made 54.2 percent of its two-pointers and 39 percent of its three-pointers for a Big Ten-best effective field-goal percentage of 55.8 percent throughout conference play.

This seems to be a result of bad luck or coincidence rather than impressive defense or poor shot selection. Yes, the Wolverines have been more eager to settle for long two-point jumpers early in the shot clock, which are mathematically the worst shots in basketball. But most of U-M’s shots have been open looks. Unfortunately for U-M, though, the shots just have not fallen in these first few possessions, which is peculiar given the offensive talent on Michigan’s roster.

However, this odd phenomenon vanishes once the 10:00 mark in the first half passes. Instead, everything starts to drop for Michigan. Shots hit the twine rather than iron. Points pile up on the scoreboard. It is as if U-M decides to flip the switch to the “On” position and become an offensive juggernaut for the remainder of the game.

Michigan’s Offensive Efficiency in the Final 30+ Minutes – Last Six Games

Date

Opponent

Points

Possessions

PPP

Margin

Feb. 8

Iowa

57

49

1.163

-5

Feb. 11

Ohio State

60

46

1.304

+19

Feb. 16

Wisconsin

53

48

1.104

-2

Feb. 23

Michigan State

68

48

1.417

+20

Feb. 26

Purdue

71

55

1.291

+12

Mar. 1

Minnesota

57

45

1.267

+16

After their dreadful starts in the last six contests, Michigan scored 366 total points in 291 possessions for a superb average of 1.258 points per possession. For context, the best adjusted offensive rating in the nation: Creighton’s 1.258 points per possession. Yet this is what Creighton would be expected to do against an average D-1 college basketball team. Michigan just did it for 185 of 245 minutes against Top 100 defenses in its past six games. A strong argument can be made that U-M has performed like the most efficient unit in the country during those 185 minutes.

Offensive efficiency last 6 games

Michigan is fortunate for that, too. U-M trailed in all six games and by at least nine points in five of them at the 10:00 mark of the first half. If the Wolverines were not that efficient offensively in the final 30-plus minutes of those games, they likely would have cost themselves a Big Ten regular season title. But Michigan scratched and clawed its way back against Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, and Minnesota, outscoring each by at least 12 points after the first ten minutes, to attain a 4-2 record during this six-game stretch.

But the Wolverines cannot afford to continue to dig themselves holes this deep. Comeback bids of this magnitude will not be successful each time. This is not a sustainable formula for success, especially with the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament right around the corner. Tournament play means single-elimination games. Michigan was able to afford two losses in its past six contests and still win a piece of the Big Ten regular season title. One loss in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, though, means the Maize and Blue will be sitting at home empty-handed this March.

So Michigan needs to cure its early-game, cold shooting spell in its final regular season contests against Illinois and Indiana. What is the solution? I am not sure there is one that head coach John Beilein can just implement to improve this team’s shooting in the opening minutes instantly. It may just be regression to the mean. But I am sure that, if these shooting woes are not fixed before tournament play, and Michigan continues to struggle out of the gates, the Wolverines will not check off any of their remaining three goals this season.