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Archive for the ‘Opinion/Editorial’ Category

Alarming CFP ranking mistakes cast shadow over wonderful weekend

Friday, November 20th, 2015

CFP banner

Week 12 of the 2015 college football season embodied everything that’s great about college sports. Four of the top 10 teams fell in upset fashion and seven additional games featuring ranked teams were decided by a single score. Two teams, Michigan and Utah, played into double overtime on the road. Kansas, 0-10 on the season, had three chances to knock off one of the Big 12’s best teams on the road.

The weekend was perfect, but Tuesday night was not.

At this time of year, Tuesdays become almost as important as what happens on the field on Saturdays. Tuesday nights are when the College Football Playoff committee releases its weekly rankings and reveal which teams have the chance to play for the National Championship.

The committee is given the most important job in college sports. I won’t bore you with details, but thousands of students and coaches dedicate their lives to each season. Hundreds of millions are spent (and more importantly, earned) through games, travel, television deals and merchandise. This entire process is held together by the common aspiration of every major program in the country: To win championships.

Despite all the chaos that happens on the field, the committee’s job is relatively simple. They put two resumes next to each other, and the better one is ranked higher. Is it the committee’s job to guess which teams are the best? No. The ranking process should be all about resumes. If it’s not, then what’s the point of playing the games?

In spite of the beautiful simplicity of this process, the committee still manages to make baffling mistakes each and every week. It harks on criteria like head-to-head outcomes, scores against common opponents and strength of schedule, yet when the rankings are released, those factors seem to take a back seat to a more ambiguous placement process.

It’s not the committee’s job to get most of the rankings right, it’s the committee’s job to get all of the rankings right. If you disagree, just talk to the players who poured their hearts and souls into 12 fall Saturdays only to finish below a team that didn’t have as strong of a season. When the committee can’t correctly rank Nos. 10-25, why should we have any faith it’ll pick the right teams for the final four?

Before you read any further, remember: This is my opinion on the rankings, and yes, I know only the final top 25 matters. But the weeks leading up to that reveal are important because they set the stage and give us a look at how the committee operates.

Take a look at some of the problems I found in this week’s rankings.

(3) Ohio State ranked above (5) Iowa
Ohio State logo new  Iowa logo
10-0 (6-0) Record 10-0 (6-0)
0-0 vs Top 25 2-0
59 SOS 53
22.6 Scoring Margin 15.2
1 Record vs P5 teams over .500 3
Penn State
N. Illinois
W. Michigan
Best Wins at #20 Northwestern
at #25 Wisconsin

One of the simplest mistakes the committee has made in the first three weeks concerns the Big Ten, which features four top-12 teams.

The conference’s remaining undefeated teams, Ohio State and Iowa, would eventually have to meet in the conference championship game, should they both continue to win. But even so, their placement is an example of the committee refusing to use solid evidence in the rankings.

Do I think Iowa is a better team than Ohio State? Absolutely not. But Iowa has three wins over power five teams with at least seven victories, two of which came against ranked teams on the road. Ohio State, on the other hand, has only one win against a winning power five team: A home win over 7-3 Penn State. The best three wins on Iowa’s resume came at (20) Northwestern and (25) Wisconsin and against Pittsburgh. Ohio State’s best three wins came at home against Penn State, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.

So how does Ohio State land in the top four while Iowa sits on the outside looking in? There really isn’t a good answer. The Hawkeyes went on the road and dismantled the 20th-ranked Wildcats by 30 points last month. The only teams Ohio State beat by 30 were Hawaii and Rutgers.

Sure, this will work itself out on Dec. 5 if the teams meet in Indianapolis. But what if these teams weren’t in the same conference? It’s alarming that the committee feels it can take matters into its own hands instead of letting the play on the field determine who makes the top four.

(11) Stanford ranked above (12) Michigan
Stanford Logo Maize M
8-2 (7-1) Record 8-2 (5-1)
2-2 vs Top 25 1-2
40 SOS 37
15.0 Scoring Margin 17.8
at #22 USC (41-31) Best Win #20 Northwestern (38-0)
at #20 Northwestern
#23 Oregon
Losses Current #13 Utah
#9 Michigan State

Here’s the most indefensible example of the committee completely whiffing on teams with identical records and completely different resumes.

Let’s break down both bodies of work. Michigan’s two losses came to the 9th and current 13th-ranked teams in the country and Stanford’s two losses came to the 20th and 23rd-ranked teams in the country.

Was Stanford more competitive in those loses? Well, the Cardinal lost its season opener by 10 points. The Wolverines lost their first game of an entirely new system by a touchdown. Stanford lost to Oregon after being outplayed from start to finish. Michigan lost to Michigan State after outplaying the Spartans start to finish.

Okay, so it’s not because of the losses.

Maybe Stanford has a better win? Strike two. Stanford’s best victory came over the 24th-ranked team in the country. Michigan blew out the 20th-ranked team in the country.

How about their performances against common opponents, which is specifically outlined as one of the main criterion of the rankings? Michigan finished 2-0 against the common opponents (Northwestern and Oregon State) with a combined score of 73-7. Stanford finished 1-1 with a combined score of 48-40. The Wolverines beat Northwestern by 38 points and Stanford lost to Northwestern by 10 points. That’s a 48-point difference.

But it’s not enough for the committee. Jeff Long and company can’t even build a top 25 by the standards they created. Michigan has a far better resume than Stanford, but the committee threw the Cardinal one spot ahead of the Wolverines. Strike three.

(17) North Carolina ranked above (20) Northwestern
 UNC NorthwesternLogo
9-1 (6-0) Record 8-2 (4-2)
0-0 vs Top 25 1-2
101 SOS 21
22.6 Scoring Margin 15.2
at Pittsburgh (29-16) Best Win #15 Stanford (16-6)
South Carolina Losses at #14 Michigan
#6 Iowa

Now I’ll give you an example of the committee completely overreacting to one week. On Tuesday, it announced that North Carolina, previously ranked 23rd, jumped up six spots to 17th.

You’re probably thinking, ‘Wow, which top 10 team did the Tarheels knock off to earn such a jump?’ Actually, all UNC did was knock off one of the biggest dumpster fires of the season, Miami, at home. How does a win over a team that’s lucky – and I mean LUCKY (see Miami’s win over Duke) – to have an above .500 record vault North Carolina over a team like Northwestern?

North Carolina hasn’t played a single ranked team this season. In fact, UNC’s best win came over a Pittsburgh team that has one win over an above .500 team. The Tarheels spent their preconference season playing two FCS schools and two bottom-feeder power five teams. Oh yeah, and they lost to a 3-7 team.

Meanwhile, Northwestern already played three teams ranked in the top 12 of the playoff rankings, including a comfortable 10-point win over Stanford. The Wildcats also won at Duke before the Blue Devils had the wind taken out of their sails by the officials in the Miami game. For good measure, Pat Fitzgerald’s team won at Nebraska and knocked off seven-win Penn State.

Sure, Northwestern has two losses and North Carolina only has one. But as we’ve seen in Alabama’s rise to No. 2, that isn’t the most important factor in the rankings. It’s flooring that a win over a team as bad as Miami can boost North Carolina over a team that’s played a much better schedule and has much better wins.

(21) Memphis loses… but doesn’t fall

When I saw Memphis ranked at No. 21 in this week’s polls, I couldn’t help but laugh.

After getting dumped by Navy – by a score of 45-20 – Memphis fell eight spots to No. 21 in week 11. This weekend, the Tigers blew a huge 4th-quarter lead to Houston and lost their second straight game. But despite the two-game losing streak and the clear exposing of this team’s defense (80 points allowed in the last two weeks), Memphis didn’t fall a single spot in the rankings.

Here’s the kicker: Memphis didn’t even lose to a team ranked higher in the rankings. The committee ranked undefeated Houston 24th in week 11 and Memphis lost to Houston. Clearly, that means Memphis isn’t as good as the committee thought. But there isn’t any accountability for the loss.

How can you lose a game and not be penalized? That’s a world of college football I don’t want to live in. Most of these teams will have a chance to move up over the next few weeks, but that doesn’t change the clear miscues the committee has made through three weeks.

College football deserves a committee that can get this right. Every season is a clean slate and teams that earn the right to compete for a title this year should be given the chance to do so by the committee. If not, the playoff is no better than the BCS.

Michigan’s College Football Playoff rooting guide: Nov. 14

Saturday, November 14th, 2015

Cardinals Stadium

Only four weekends separate us from when the College Football Playoff and bowl game selection committees will make their final decisions and determine the fate of teams that have earned the right to play in the postseason.

Through Week 10, more than 100 FBS teams have been realistically eliminated from playoff contention. Michigan, an enormous long shot to make the Final Four, is one of the teams still in the hunt. But since the Wolverines already lost two games, they need a ton of help over the next four weeks.

Yes, it would take a Hollywood movie-type finish to the season for Michigan to slip into the top four. But until that last glimmer of hope dies, Michigan fans should enjoy the team’s first meaningful home stretch in almost a decade.

We’ll stick with the movie theme as we break down the first of the final four Saturdays. If you’re a Michigan fan holding out hope, here’s what you should root for.

“I really, really need you”

In honor of Sanka Coffie from Cool Runnings, these teams completely hold Michigan’s fate in their hands. These are the teams that Michigan absolutely needs victories from on Saturday in order to keep the Wolverines’ CFP hopes alive. If even one of these teams falls, Michigan’s CFP dreams die.

No. 14 Michigan (away) against Indiana (3:30pm, ABC): The only absolutely essential game for Michigan this weekend is its own contest in Bloomington. Thanks to a pair of early losses, the Wolverines don’t have any room for error. As soon as they drop a third game, it’s all over.

Result: Michigan 48 – Indiana 41 (2OT)

“It could happen!”

In honor of JP from Angels in the Outfield, this is the “It could happen” group. These are the teams Michigan is rooting for that have a legitimate chance to win on Saturday. Wins by these teams either help the Wolverines move up in the rankings or improve their resume (in order of kickoff time).

South Carolina (home) against No. 11 Florida (12pm, ESPN): Florida will win the SEC East and play in the conference championship game, so there’s another loss in the future. But after a 9-7 win over Vanderbilt last week, a loss to 3-6 South Carolina would drop Florida well below Michigan.

Result: Florida 24 – South Carolina 14

No. 3 Ohio State (away) against Illinois (12pm, ABC): This one might be tough to understand, but Michigan actually needs the Buckeyes to be undefeated when they come to Ann Arbor. A win against a top two team in the country would prompt a big jump for the Wolverines.

Result: Ohio State 28 – Illinois 3

No. 13 Michigan State (home) against Maryland (12pm, ESPN2): Even more surprising than rooting for Ohio State? Michigan needs MSU to bounce back against Maryland. The Wolverines already need the Spartans to lose next weekend in Columbus to have a shot to win the Big Ten, so this week’s game is very important. If Michigan State loses to Maryland and makes it three straight against in Columbus, it’ll drop out of the top 25. That would make Michigan’s loss in October much less forgivable.

Result: Michigan State 24 – Maryland 7

No. 18 Northwestern (home) against Purdue (12pm, BTN): Northwestern is Michigan’s best win of the season. As long as Pat Fitzgerald’s team keeps winning, Michigan’s resume gets better and better. If the Wildcats lose to Purdue, everything they’ve worked for comes crashing down.

Result: Northwestern 21 – Purdue 14

No. 2 Alabama (away) against No. 17 Mississippi State (3:30pm, CBS): Here’s another strange one, but Michigan needs Alabama to lose for two reasons. First, the CFP committee has proven it WILL NOT penalize Alabama for losing, no matter the conditions. Nick Saban’s team lost at home to an unranked team and still sits ahead of five of the six unbeaten teams in the country. So since Alabama will stay ahead of Michigan no matter what happens, the Wolverines might as well avoid being jumped by Mississippi State in the process.

Result: Alabama 31 – Mississippi State 6

Iowa State (home) against No. 8 Oklahoma State (3:30pm, ESPN): Oklahoma State burst onto the scene when it stomped TCU by 20 last weekend. Now, with both Oklahoma and Baylor coming to town over the next two weeks, Michigan needs a team like Iowa State to do the dirty work and knock off the undefeated Cowboys. With no conference championship game, Big 12 teams will have a hard time bouncing back from losses like that.

Result: Oklahoma State 35 – Iowa State 31

No. 12 Oklahoma (away) against No. 6 Baylor (8pm, ABC): Since the Bears lost their starting quarterback to a neck injury, the entire country has been waiting for them to slip up. Once they do, their fall in the polls will be a long one. Without a quality victory to its name, Baylor would fall out of contention with a home loss to Oklahoma. As far as the Sooners, they’ve still got games against TCU and Oklahoma State on the horizon. Michigan can hope for a slip up in one of those contests.

Result: Oklahoma 44 – Baylor 34

No. 5 Iowa (home) against Minnesota (8pm, BTN): If you actually think Michigan has a chance to slip into the top four, you need Iowa to keep winning and head into the Big Ten Championship Game with a 12-0 record. That would mean another opportunity for a top five win.

Iowa 40 – Minnesota 35

“It’s just not believable, Cotton”

In honor of Pepper Brooks, from Dodgeball, these are the true underdog stories. These teams have almost no chance to win, but if they do, it would really help Michigan.

N.C. State (away) against No. 16 Florida State (12:30pm, ESPN3): Another incredible oversight by the CFP committee: Florida State lost a game last weekend and didn’t drop a single spot. Yes, it was to the No. 1 team in the country on the road, but a loss is a loss. If N.C. State pulls an unlikely upset, FSU becomes an afterthought.

Result: Florida State 34 – N.C. State 17

Wake Forest (away) against No. 4 Notre Dame (3:30pm, NBC): Wake Forest is really, really bad. As Notre Dame’s second loss, this would likely drop the Irish out of the top 15.

Result: Notre Dame 28 – Wake Forest 7

Arkansas (away) against No. 9 LSU (7:15pm, ESPN): LSU got pounded against Alabama last week and now faces a streaking Arkansas team. Another loss would devastate Leonard Fournette and Company.

Result: Arkansas 31 – LSU 14

Arizona (home) against No. 10 Utah (10pm, FS1): “How can you ask me to root for Rich Rod’s team!?” Because Arizona is irrelevant on the national scale and Utah is ranked ahead of Michigan. Yes, a Utes loss would diminish Michigan’s opening-week game, but Utah could still win the Pac-12 South and finish in the top 15 with two losses. As long as the Utes stay in the top 25, it’s more important for Michigan to jump them in the poll.

Result: Arizona 37 – Utah 30

Oregon (away) against No. 7 Stanford (7:30pm, FOX): Oregon is starting to play a bit better, but this game is still a long shot. If Stanford losses its second game of the season, Michigan will definitely jump ahead of the Cardinal because of a win against their only common opponent: Northwestern.

Result: Oregon 38 – Stanford 36

How good is this Michigan defense?

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

eMichigan's cornerback Charles Woodson (2) leaps to make an interception in the end zone in the first half on a pass from Washington State's Ryan Leaf during the 84th Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 1, 1998. Watching the play are Michigan's William Peterson (23) and Washington States Kevin McKenzie (9). Player at right unidentified.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)(Mark J. Terrill, AP)

The 1997 Michigan football team is considered the best Michigan team in the modern era. With Heisman trophy winner Charles Woodson leading a defense full of future NFL players, the Wolverines captured a national championship.

Seven games into the 2015 season, Michigan once again features one of the nation’s best defenses. But how does it compare to that legendary 1997 squad? You might be surprised.

The 1997 squad yielded 57 points through seven games compared to 65 allowed by the current team. But 13 of those 65 points allowed weren’t allowed by the defense. Utah’s Justin Thomas returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown in the season opener and Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. Remove those two scores that weren’t allowed by the defense and the Michigan defense has actually allowed just 52 points — five fewer than the 1997 defense through seven games.

1997 vs 2015 Michigan defense comparison (through 7 games)
1997 2015
Points Allowed 57 (8.1) 65 (9.3)
Total Yards Allowed 1,518 (216.9) 1,474 (210.6)
Rush Yards Allowed 537 (76.7) 453 (64.7)
Pass Yards Allowed 981 (140.1) 1,021 (145.9)
First Downs Allowed 80 (11.4) 89 (12.7)
3rd Down % 29/105 (27.6%) 19/97 (19.6%)
Sacks 16 (2.3) 18 (2.6)
Turnovers Forced 21 (3.0) 8 (1.1)

The 1997 Michigan defense allowed 216.9 total yards per game, 76.7 on the ground and 140.1 through the air. This year’s defense has given up 210.6 total yards per game, 64.7 on the ground and 145.9 through the air. Similar to the 386 total yards Michigan allowed to Michigan State two weeks ago, the 1997 squad allowed 354 yards to Notre Dame in Week 3. However, that still yielded a win.

The 1997 Michigan defense allowed its first seven opponents to convert 27.6 percent (29 of 105) of their third downs, while the current squad has allowed just 19.6 percent (19 of 97). The 1997 defense recorded 16 sacks (2.3 per game) through its first seven games, while this year’s team has notched 18 (2.6 per game).

Now, the big difference is the 1997 squad won all seven games, while the current team stands at 5-2. Why is that? Could it be because the 1997 offense was better? Actually, no. While the 1997 Michigan offense averaged 30.7 more total yards in its first seven games than this year’s squad, it averaged 28.1 points per game compared to 28.6 this year. So this year’s team has scored a field goal more than Lloyd Carr’s championship team at this point. Maybe this year’s offense turns the ball over more? Nope. This year’s offense has committed 10 turnovers through seven games, while the 1997 offense turned it over 13 times in that same span.

So what’s the biggest difference between the two teams? I think it comes down to turnovers forced. The biggest — and only — real disparity between the 1997 Michigan defense and the current one is the amount of turnovers forced. Led by Woodson, that defense forced 21 turnovers through seven games, an average of three per game. This year’s defense has forced just eight, 1.1 per game. Give this year’s offense 13 more possessions — and take away 13 potential opponent scoring opportunities — and we very well could be rooting for a top-10 or top-5 team in Minneapolis this Saturday.

In the first year of the Jim Harbaugh era, we are looking at one of the best Michigan defenses in recent memory, one that rivals what most Michigan fans consider THE best Michigan defense in recent memory. It likely won’t yield as many NFL draft picks, but with the exception of turnovers forced, it’s performing at an equal, if not higher, level.

Discussing Michigan’s NCAA Tournament outlook with 131 Sports

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Beilein vs Northwestern(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

My good friend and fellow college basketball junkie Joe Cook (@JLeeC33) from 131 Sports agreed to do a Q&A about Michigan’s challenging season to date. Joe’s specialty is in predicting the NCAA Tournament field, and he has done an outstanding job in doing that over the past few seasons, as seen below. Given this expertise, I asked Joe some questions about the Wolverines’ skimpy resume, what it will take for John Beilein’s squad to rally for a berth in the Big Dance, and the overall state of the Big Ten. [Note: This interview was conducted before it was announced that Caris LeVert would miss the remainder of the season.]

Joe, let’s start off with the basics. You don’t have the Wolverines even sniffing a Tournament berth right now (in your latest bracket, Michigan doesn’t even crack the next four out). Just how far out are they from the field of 68?

I think you captured my feelings perfectly when you said that I don’t have the Wolverines “even sniffing” a berth in the big dance right now. It’s hard to really quantify just how far out of the field the Wolverines are because of how flat and wide the topography of the tournament bubble is this year. I think the easiest way to answer this question is to say that they are one marquee win away from at least being on the radar; think home game against Wisconsin with ESPN College GameDay in town on the 24th of January.

For those of us who are hoping that your projections are way off and Michigan is much closer than that, can you give us an idea what your projection model is based off and just how your projections have stacked up to the likes of Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm, and other so-called experts in the recent past – both in terms of correctly called teams and relation to actual seed line?

I’m an actuary by profession, so it’s really a part of my nature to try to find a way to numerically quantify any sort of sports analysis I perform; bracketology projections are no exception to this rule. Without revealing too much, I’ve developed a couple of minor algorithms using statistical regression that roughly project a team’s seed-line based on factors that the committee has used to seed teams in the past. In the seed projection process, I use this as a baseline measure, and adjust teams up or down based on my own personal “eye test”. As for how my projections stack up…

I’ll just say they stack up very well. You can see for yourself. The bracket matrix website aggregates the projections of all the bracketologists across the internet, and creates composite projections, while also ranking the bracketologists for accuracy. The blurb at the top of the aforementioned link explains the scoring and ranking process. Looking at the results, I have been the second most accurate bracketologist out of more than 100 over the past three years.

Obviously a lot has gone wrong with this Michigan team’s season so far, from a lack of quality to wins to some very bad losses, but if you had to pinpoint one thing holding the Wolverines’ resume back right now, what would it be?

It’s tough to really narrow it down to just one thing, but gun to my head, I would say it’s the lack of quality wins more than anything else. In general, I’ve noticed the committee is willing to overlook bad losses in the face of truly quality wins, because it demonstrates that a particular team has the potential to beat anybody. Michigan has played the likes of Villanova, Arizona, SMU, and Ohio State – four teams that are firmly in the tournament field. They’re 0-4 against these teams, with an average margin of defeat of more than 15 points per game.

What are the factors that you see contributing to these bad losses? Is there a player or two to blame? Is it bad coaching? Are injuries and/or inexperience taking a toll?

I would never say it’s bad coaching when Johnny B. is involved. In my one year as head coach of my former high school’s boys basketball junior varsity team (Yes, I played that card), I was (and still am) one of the firmest Beilein disciples you will find. I think you are on the right path in saying that injuries and inexperience are taking a toll on this team. It’s obvious to me that Walton’s toe injury is still plaguing him. His quick first step was one of his best weapons, and now that it has disappeared, he can’t generate as much space and respect from defenders as he needs to get off clean jumpers. Caris hasn’t taken on the lead “get me the ball and watch what I do with it” role quite like Nik did last season. The bigs are inexperienced and haven’t developed enough athletically to replace J-Mo and Horford.

As it stands today, what is Michigan’s best win and what is Michigan’s worst loss?

The best win has to be the early season W against the Orange, as that’s the only victory the Wolverines have over a team I currently have truly near the field. Frankly, that’s just grasping at straws, as Syracuse just lost a rather embarassing game at Clemson. I don’t think there is much of an argument from any fans of the team that the worst loss this season was the NJIT game.

Certainly the chances don’t look good for the Wolverines to storm their way into the NCAA Tournament, but is there at least a shot (outside of winning the conference tournament)? What is it going to take?

It’s going to take a miraculous finish that I currently don’t envision happening, but I think Michigan definitely still has a shot, albeit a long one, to make the tournament field. Even with the bad losses, I still think 19 wins is probably enough to allow Michigan to go dancing. That being said, I would worry if none or only one of those wins come against Wisconsin, Maryland, Ohio State, or Michigan State. As I mentioned above, quality wins tend to be a heavily-weighed factor in the committee’s mind when it comes to making a decision on a bubble team’s fate.

Last year, we saw just half of the Big Ten (six teams) go dancing, while the year before that saw a whopping eight (75 percent of teams) make it. In your latest projection, you have six Big Ten teams in the field (Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Iowa). How many of those teams would you consider locks right now, how many Big Ten teams would you consider to likely make it, how many will be on the bubble, and how many will certainly be left out in the cold?

You can book it now: the Badgers, the Terps, the Spartans, and the Buckeyes will be in the tournament field in March. Some might question me putting the Spartans in this category, but I’ve seen enough from them to know that they’re going to have no problem getting to 20-plus wins. In fact, I see all these teams being on the 8-seed line or better when all is said and done. In all honesty, I don’t think I can put any teams in the “likely to make it” category, because I think the gap between these four and the rest of the league is distinct.

I’m going to skip to the locks to miss the tournament (i.e. the teams Michigan must win all remaining games against to have a chance to be dancing). Those teams include Nebraska, Northwestern, Rutgers, and Minnesota. That leaves the Big Ten teams that are squarely on the bubble, and it’s half of the conference! Indiana and Iowa currently sit relatively firmly in the field, but one bad loss could change that in the blink of an eye. The boys from Champaign are right in the thick of things, but if the tournament started today, I think they’d be watching from home – just barely. Then you have the other three bubble teams, who fall into the category by default only because I’m not ready to say they’re locks to be out. This is where Michigan sits, along with Purdue and Penn State.

Both you and I agree on many things, but one area of college basketball that we’d like to see altered slightly is the pace of play. I, for one, like a slower game compared to the NBA, but has college basketball gotten too slow for your tastes? How do you think the powers that be should go about changing it and do you think pace of play can predict success at all?

When I initially heard rumblings of men’s college basketball potentially moving from its current 35-second shot clock to a 30-second shot clock, similar to women’s college basketball, I was definitively opposed to the idea. However, the more editorials I read, the more statistics I analyzed, the more college basketball I watched, the more I started to believe that the 30-second shot clock is right for the game. The tempo of men’s college basketball has become sluggish, and possessions per game numbers have consistently decreased since the turn of the century.

I feel that the NCAA missed an opportunity in recent years by choosing to increase focus on guaranteeing space for the offensive player in possession, rather than focusing on speeding up the pace of play. This misguided decision has led to officials blowing the whistle more on ticky-tack fouls, and players going to the free throw line more frequently than they deserve.

Thanks so much to Joe for his time and expertise in answering these questions, and be sure to check out his blog at 131 Sports and follow him on Twitter (@JLeeC33). You can always tweet your questions to me (@SamSedlecky), email me at, or leave a comment. If you enjoyed this piece, let us know!

What’s wrong with Michigan basketball and what it will take reach the Big Dance

Thursday, January 15th, 2015


Coming off an NCAA Championship game appearance and, last season, an Elite Eight finish that was inches from back-to-back Final Fours, Michigan basketball was thought to have climbed the hump from the scrappy opponent who gives the superior teams a run for their money now and again to a year-in, year-out bona fide contender.

After all, going into this season, it felt eerily similar to the start of the 2013-14 season that saw the Wolverines run away with the Big Ten title outright and earn a 2-seed in the Big Dance.

Yes, John Beilein would have to find a way to replace Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas, but Trey Burke was the Wooden Award winner the year before that, and Michigan bounced back just fine.

And yes, Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan would no longer be donning the Maize and Blue, but McGary hardly played at all last year and Morgan was a solid, if unspectacular, big man who rarely wowed offensively.

And sure, Glenn Robinson III decided to pursue his NBA dreams after two years in Ann Arbor, but Little Dog never seemed to live up to his monstrous hype anyway and was an inconsistent shooter and competitor.

Certainly some new faces would be playing the majority of minutes and plenty of shots would open up, but Beilein has elevated this program to one that can simply reload, not replace — right?

It turns out that maybe we were all a little bit ahead of ourselves – national pundits, local journalists, and Michigan fans alike – in thinking that the Wolverines would once again dominate offensively with another incredibly youthful and inexperienced team. It’s not every year that you see players the caliber of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, and, yes, even Jordan Morgan, sport your team’s colors.

Last year's Big Three formed one of the most efficient offenses in the nation (Detroit Free Press)

Last year’s Big Three formed one of the most efficient offenses in the nation (Detroit Free Press)

And Michigan fans are finally beginning to appreciate the glory those youngsters brought to the program rather than to expect it.

Today, the Wolverines find themselves well out of the NCAA Tournament picture at 10-7 overall and 3-2 in Big Ten play, with a couple of unbelievable losses and even fewer marquee wins.

So what went wrong?

In short, a lot went wrong.

The offense has disappeared for long stretches, the defense has been porous against lowly competition, and the replacements that were expected to be reinforcements have a lot of learning to do.

I don’t think there is any one player to point a finger at for all of Michigan’s shortcomings, and I don’t think John Beilein went from coaching the best offense in the country for two years straight to forgetting how to coach at all (resulting in an offense that’s outside the top 100 in offensive efficiency).

Instead, there are a bevy of problems coming from a number of different areas.

To start, let’s take a look at Michigan’s “Big Three” returning guards: Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr, and Zak Irvin.

Those three players were largely expected to take on the bulk of the Wolverines’ offense, and while they are contributing nearly 60 percent of Michigan’s points – a slightly higher percentage, in fact, than Michigan’s Big Three of Stauskas, Robinson III, and LeVert contributed last season – the points are down overall by a whopping eight per game. To put that number into a bit more perspective, this team is scoring more than 0.2 points fewer on every possession.

The reasons for that dramatic drop-off are numerous, but probably stem from the top. Michigan lacks a go-to scorer with a killer instinct. Scoring droughts have seemingly become the norm for this team rather than the rare exception, and that falls onto the veteran leaders of the team.

LeVert is certainly a capable scorer, and his 14.8 points per game are nothing to scoff at, but I think he is much better suited for the role of Robin to Stauskas’ Batman that he played so adeptly last season as opposed to the alpha dog spot. When Michigan falls down by a handful of points and starts struggling to score points of any kind – as they did the other night at Ohio State for the first seven minutes of the second half, effectively sealing their blowout – they need a leader to step up and demand the ball. But LeVert is not that kind of player. He’s a quiet assassin with no shortage of moves or skills, but a killer that doesn’t quite know exactly when or how to move in and take over.

When he does take matters into his own hands, the young junior from Columbus makes things happen. LeVert single-handedly kept Michigan alive against NJIT with 32 points and led the Wolverines with three straight crucial buckets to secure a big win at Penn State last week. But for as many times as LeVert has taken over, Michigan has gone on long scoring droughts that have buried them – against Villanova, Eastern Michigan, SMU, Arizona, Purdue, and Ohio State. With Stauskas at the helm and LeVert as a second option, that wasn’t an issue last year.

This year's Big Three has struggled with consistency and battled injuries (Melanie Maxwell, The Ann Arbor News)

This year’s Big Three has struggled with consistency and battled injuries, resulting in an offensive efficiency in the 100s nationally (Melanie Maxwell, The Ann Arbor News)

Irvin, like LeVert before him, was expected to go from freshman role player to sophomore sidekick. That transition has proved a bit tenuous for the former Indiana Mr. Basketball.

Undoubtedly, Irvin has taken his game to another level this season, upping his scoring average by nearly eight points per game and adding many inches to his vertical leap, but he is simply not the creator this team so desperately needs. Irvin was comfortable in his role as an off-the-bench sniper, and he thrived to the tune of 42.5 percent from downtown, even though opposing defenses knew he was only going to shoot threes. Now, Irvin has attempted to shoulder a bigger load and his shooting has suffered. He’s still capable of big, efficient scoring nights – take, for example, his first four games in which he poured in 20.3 points per game on 51.9 percent shooting from downtown – but the pressure and increased usage have seen his three-point shooting percentage drop more than six points while his overall field goal percentage is down nearly three points.

Lastly, Walton looked to improve on a very solid freshman campaign to become more of a scoring point guard this season, but a toe injury suffered early in the season is clearly hampering the Detroit native’s play all over the floor. Last year, Walton’s quickness and deft play on the break were crucial to Michigan’s ridiculous offensive output, but this year, Walton is a step and a half slower because of his toe. If you don’t believe me, watch Michigan’s win at Ohio State from last season and then re-watch the Wolverines’ loss at Ohio State from a couple nights ago. Like Irvin, Walton’s shooting numbers are drastically worse than last year, but the cause is much different.

With these Big Three struggling to produce with the same efficiency as last season, Michigan’s role players would need to pick up the slack, but that’s been far too big a task for Spike Albrecht and a company of freshmen who were probably forced into action before they were ready.

Kam Chatman, the jewel of Michigan’s six-man recruiting class, was expected to come in and seamlessly replace Glenn Robinson III. That, more than anything, has turned out to be the biggest single shortcoming on this squad. Robinson III, though sometimes inconsistent from long range and almost always quiet in his ways, was an incredibly efficient and reliable scorer and a terrific finisher around the basket. Chatman, on the other hand, has been almost the exact opposite, to the point where Beilein has decided to replace him in the starting lineup with the 5’11” Albrecht.

The Portland native was seen as a high four-star from most recruiting publications, and his basketball savvy was projected to translate into a solid, if unspectacular, freshman season. But Chatman has struggled to pick up the offense, his confidence appears to be wavering, and his shooting has been downright miserable – mothers, cover your children’s eyes – to the tune of 31.5 percent on twos and 25 percent on threes for 4.1 points per game. Contrast that with Robinson’s freshman season (65.2 percent 2-pt, 32.4 percent 3-pt, 11 ppg on nearly three shots more per game) and you see where things really start to go awry.

Robinson’s biggest strength was his ability to finish everything around the bucket with his strength and athleticism. If GRIII caught a pass sitting open within five feet from the hoop, it was two points guaranteed. If he rebounded a teammate’s miss, it was an easy deuce for him. If he received an alley-oop, there was no doubt about the finish. The same cannot be said of Chatman, who doesn’t have the strength or hops to work magic in the lane like his predecessor at the 4-spot and whose confidence is waning (never more clearly than in a missed alley-oop layup attempt against Penn State in which there wasn’t a defender within 15 feet of him).

Fellow wing man Aubrey Dawkins has had one shining game against Illinois, but he’s also been fairly quiet the rest of the way despite flashing signs of tantalizing potential, while Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is just starting to get consistent playing time and looks to be a couple seasons away from being an offensive threat.

Down low, Ricky Doyle has performed admirably for a freshman big man, but his defense has certainly made Michigan fans yearn for the days of Jordan Morgan manning the post, and his free throw shooting has been curiously poor of late. Doyle also needs to work on improving his hands, fighting for rebounds, and learning the offense (as does every other freshman). Redshirt freshman Mark Donnal has gone from starter to backup, and while he’s also shown some nice glimpses, he’s probably a season or two away from being a consistent scorer. Lastly, D.J. Wilson – my pick for freshman MVP – was unimpressive early on before falling prey to the injury bug, making a redshirt season (pretty please!) seem like a reasonable outcome for the high-potential California native.

As a whole, this Michigan team is lacking in more ways than could have been imagined, and while the defense is actually significantly better than last season, the offense has collapsed into a rocky mess. What was expected to be around a top-20 squad competing in the Big Ten once again looks instead to be a team that has a steep and treacherous path to simply earn a ticket to the Big Dance.

The good news for Michigan is that there’s still a long way to go until March, and anything can happen in the wonderful world of college basketball – especially when your average player on the court has just over one year of experience. And of course, there’s always the chance to win an automatic bid with the conference tournament, but I certainly wouldn’t bet on the Wolverines’ chances there.

Instead, the Maize and Blue will need to quickly improve on a resume that sports two black eyes and little muscle. Michigan has two terrible losses – NJIT and EMU – that are really hurting and only two top-50 KenPom home wins – Syracuse and Minnesota (neither of which is in the top 40) – that leave much to be desired. Right now, Michigan’s players are certainly kicking themselves over those two December losses, but perhaps even more crucial was the neutral court game against Villanova that the Wolverines let slip away after a crazy comeback. Change that L into a W and Michigan is squarely on the bubble already.

So what exactly will it take from here on out for the Wolverines? I think to have a realistic chance at being solidly on the bubble, Michigan needs to go 8-5 the rest of the way and win at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament.

Which eight games do those have to be? I’m not sure if that makes a huge difference. Michigan obviously needs to take care of their matchups with conference cellar dwellers (Northwestern,  at Rutgers, Nebraska, at Northwestern, Rutgers) and win a few marquee games as well. If the other three wins are Iowa, at Indiana, and at Illinois, I’d be a little concerned. To be safe, I think Michigan needs to take at least two from some combination of Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State, and Ohio State.

With five games left against that group, the opportunity is there. Will the Wolverines seize it?

You may want to temper those expectations again.

Can Michigan’s offense improve? A case study on in-season improvement

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Michigan offense(

Michigan’s offense has been the subject of great concern through the first third of this season. It looked great against Appalachian State in Week 1, but of course, that was against Appalachian State, a first-year FBS school and a team nowhere close to the three-time FCS champion team it was when it beat Michigan in 2007. The offense was exposed against Notre Dame in Week 2, failing to reach the Irish red zone or score a single point, resulting in Michigan’s first shutout in 30 years. While it sputtered a bit in the first half against Miami (Ohio) in Week 3, the end result showed a solid performance. But the problems came back last week against Utah as the offense once again failed to reach the red zone or score a touchdown.

So what gives? Is there any hope for a turnaround as the season goes on, or is it simply a lost cause? Let’s take a look at a recent comparison that could provide a sliver of hope.

Offensive Comparison through four games
Team 1 Team 2
22.0 Offensive points per game 20.5
10 Offensive touchdowns 10
1,363 Total yards 1,617
340.8 Total yards per game 404.2
748 Rushing yards 844
187.0 Rushing yards per game 211.0
4.6 Rushing yards per carry 5.6
615 Passing yards 773
153.8 Passing yards per game 193.2
6 Turnovers 12

We need to look no further than our friends 60 miles up Interstate-96 for a recent example of an inept offense turning things around over the course of a season. A year ago at this time we were all mocking the Michigan State offense for its inability to move the ball and find the end zone.

In the chart above, Team 1 is last year’s Michigan State offense through its first four games. Team 2 is this year’s Michigan offense through its first four games. As you can see, they compare rather favorably. Both offenses scored 10 touchdowns, but Michigan State made two more field goals than Michigan’s has. Michigan’s offense averaged 64 more yards per game, 24 more rushing yards, a whole yard more yard per carry, and 40 more passing yards. The main difference is that Michigan’s offense turned the ball over twice as many times as Michigan State’s did.

But how did the quality of opponents compare? I’m glad you asked. Actually, the four teams Michigan has played this season have been tougher than the four Michigan State opened with in 2013. Michigan State played Western Michigan, South Florida, Youngstown State, and Notre Dame, four teams that finished the season with a combined record of 20-29. Essentially, three cupcakes and Notre Dame.

Youngstown State was an FCS program and can be compared to this year’s Appalachian State. Western Michigan, which finished 1-11, can be compared to this year’s Miami (Ohio). Notre Dame is obviously the only shared team, although this year’s Notre Dame is likely a little bit better than last year’s. So that leaves last year’s South Florida compared to this year’s Utah. South Florida went 2-10 last season with wins against Cincinnati (26-20) and UConn (13-10). They lost to McNeese State and Florida Atlantic. Utah is a top-25 caliber team that would likely be in the top third of the Big Ten this season. Much better than last year’s South Florida.

So now that we’ve established that Michigan’s offense has actually been better than 2013 Michigan State’s through four games, and has done so against better competition, let’s look at three factors that could bring about improvement.

1. New quarterback

It appears that Brady Hoke will turn to sophomore Shane Morris this Saturday. Morris has one career start under his belt — the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. He completed 24-of-38 passes for 196 yards and an interception. In spot duty so far this season, he has completed just 7-of-20 for 79 yards and two interceptions. Those numbers don’t suggest much, but given the start to the season, it can’t hurt to give him a shot as the starter and see if he can provide a spark.

One of the main keys to Michigan State’s offensive turnaround last season was the progress of quarterback Connor Cook as the season went on. He didn’t begin the season as the starter, but once he officially won the job, he took it and ran with it. After that Notre Dame game, the job was fully his, and he finished the season with 200-yard passing games in seven of the final 10 games, including back-to-back 300-yard passing games against Ohio State and Stanford.

Nussmeier admitted the offense is still in its infancy and should continue to grow throughout the season (Leon Halip, Getty Images)

Nussmeier admitted the offense is still in its infancy and should continue to grow throughout the season (Leon Halip, Getty Images)

We know that Devin Gardner is capable of putting up big numbers (see: Notre Dame, Indiana, Ohio State in 2013). But we’ve also seen him struggle with consistency, decision-making, and footwork, which have led to turnovers galore. Whether his issues are physical or mental, perhaps it will help him to watch from the sidelines for a bit. Morris doesn’t have the baggage that Gardner has — three different offensive coordinators in five years, switch to receiver, beaten up thanks to a porous offensive line last season — and thus, could show the same type of progression throughout the season that Cook showed a year ago.

2. Growth of Nussmeier’s offense

After three years of Al Borges running the offense, Hoke fired him and brought in Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The early returns on his offense have been underwhelming, but the towel shouldn’t be thrown in just yet. Keep in mind that it has only been four games. Everyone wants to win and win now, especially after the last six years, but installing a new offense takes time.

“[The offense is] still in infancy stages here, we’re still learning to play consistently well,” Nussmeier said after the Notre Dame loss. “It’s about 11 guys on every play, doing the right thing…If it’s 10 guys doing the right thing, and one guy doing the wrong thing, you’re doomed. We’ve got to get 11 guys, on every play, doing the right thing.”

The offense has shown that it can move the ball, but it has been plagued by untimely mistakes — a sack here, a holding penalty there — that have stalled drives, created third-and-longs, and led to turnovers. As Drew Hallett pointed out this afternoon, every team in college football in 2013 combined to score either a touchdown or field goal or reach the red zone 69 percent of the time they crossed midfield. Based on that data, the odds of an offense crossing midfield 12 times and failing to score or reach the red zone 11 of those times was 0.002 percent. Yet that’s what this Michigan offense has done against Notre Dame and Utah.

Eventually, that’s going to improve. As players get more comfortable with the offense and it continues to expand throughout the season, drive-killing mistakes won’t continue to happen — at least with as much frequency. And as that improves, Michigan will score more points.

We’ve already seen Derrick Green show improvement from last season. He has 391 yards through four games. Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford, who finished last season with 1,422 yards — fifth-best in the Big Ten — had just 268 through his first four games last season. In addition, we know the explosiveness Devin Funchess can bring, but much of Gardner’s problems had to do with locking onto Funchess. Perhaps Morris will go through his progressions more than Gardner has and find receivers other than Funchess, which is important for the offense to continue to grow, and allow fellow receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh to take on a larger role. Keeping with the Michigan State theme, no one thought much of Michigan State’s receivers heading into last season, but Bennie Fowler, Tony Lippett, Macgarrett Kings, and Keith Mumphrey played a big part in their success as the season went on.

3. Turnovers evening out

Michigan has averaged three turnovers per game so far this season. It’s impossible to beat good teams when that happens. To make matters worse, the defense, as solid as it has been, only has two takeaways, which means it isn’t setting the offense up with field position that it can take advantage of. Michigan currently ranks last nationally in turnover margin (minus-10). Those numbers are bound to even out during the final two-thirds of the season.

Interceptions are, most of the time, the fault of the quarterback, but which team recovers fumbles is largely a result of luck — the luck of the bounce or being in the right place at the right time. Michigan has lost four of the six times it has fumbled and hasn’t recovered either of the two opponent fumbles. So that’s six of eight fumbles that have bounced the wrong way. Turn those around and the turnover issues aren’t quite as grim. That’s why, as the season goes on, the numbers are bound to equal out.


Of course, Shane Morris might end up being farther behind than we hope, the team might not get a good grasp of Nussmeier’s offense, and it might continue turning the ball over and failing to force turnovers defensively. And just because Michigan State’s offense turned around last season, it doesn’t mean Michigan’s will follow suit. But at the very least, there is recent precedent for it happening and signs that it could. As long as Michigan’s defense continues to play at the high level it has been, any improvement by the offense as the season goes on will give Michigan a chance to win every remaining game.

The Michigan Medley says goodbye

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

The past few days have held plenty of news, so it’s time to bring back our weekly news roundup feature, The Michigan Medley. This feature discusses the top news items from the past week, what they mean for Michigan, and my take on them. Today’s theme is saying goodbye, although for different reasons.

York dismissed

Csont'e York

(Daniel Mears, Detroit News)

On Monday afternoon, Michigan released a statement from Brady Hoke that sophomore wide receiver Csont’e York had been dismissed from the team as a result of an incident that occurred outside Scorekeepers Bar and Grille on July 18.

“Csont’e York has been dismissed from the Michigan football program,” Hoke said in the statement. “Representing the University of Michigan is a privilege and, while second chances are certainly deserved, sometimes it’s better for everyone if that happens somewhere else. Overall, I have been proud of how responsible our team has been this offseason and how hard they’ve worked to prepare for the season.”

On Aug. 3, Hoke suspended York indefinitely while he let the legal system play out, but last week Ann Arbor police released a grainy video of the incident showing York sizing up a victim and punching him in the side of the face. The victim didn’t appear to see it coming and collapsed immediately, ultimately resulting in a broken jaw and lost tooth. Once the video was released, it was only a matter of time before York was dismissed, even as he awaits arraignment on Sept. 8.

York was with teammate Da’Mario Jones that night and admitted to the cheap shot, but said he did it out of nervousness because the victim was threatening he and Jones. York and Jones fled the scene immediately afterward. Jones was not charged and remains on the team.

York is the second player to be dismissed from the team under Hoke and the second Hoke recruit to leave the team. Hoke dismissed Darryl Stonum, a Lloyd Carr recruit, in 2012 following a third alcohol-related driving offense. The only other Hoke recruit to leave the program was linebacker Kaleb Ringer, who voluntarily transferred to Ferris State after a knee injury kept him out for the 2012 season.

York played in just one game at receiver as a freshman in 2013 and did not record a catch.

My take: Once the video was released, Hoke absolutely made the right call to dismiss York, but I hope the Harper Woods, Mich. native can learn from his mistake, grow as a person, and lead a successful and productive life. Whether another school chooses to give him a second chance — and whether he makes the most of it — depends on how he grows and learns from his mistakes. Some, like Frank Clark, do make the most of their second chance, but some, like Stonum, don’t.

From a pure football standpoint, this isn’t a huge loss. Jones and Jaron Dukes were also receivers in the same class as York, while a trio of current freshmen — Freddy Canteen, Drake Harris, and Mo Ways — carry high expectations, so Michigan has plenty of young talent at receiver.

Miller hurt

Miller hurt

On Monday evening Columbus Dispatch reporter Tim May tweeted a report that Ohio State quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller had re-injured his shoulder in afternoon practice. ESPN’s Austin Ward confirmed the news and Buckeye blog Eleven Warriors reported that Miller left the practice facility with his arm in a sling.

Miller originally hurt his throwing shoulder in Ohio State’s loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl and had surgery to repair it in February. He had been held out of spring practice and was limited to begin fall camp. Miller reportedly reinjured the shoulder while throwing a routine pass during Monday’s practice and laid on the turf being tended to by trainers for several minutes. The senior will undergo an MRI on Tuesday morning to determine the severity of the injury, but judging by the lack of optimism coming out of Columbus, it doesn’t sound good. The school has yet to comment, but did cancel its media availability with coaches and players Tuesday morning.

If the injury does keep Miller out for the season, the Buckeyes will turn to J.T. Barrett, who has yet to throw a collegiate pass. The redshirt freshman from Wichita Falls, Texas completed 17-of-33 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. Barrett was a four-star recruit, rated as the third-best dual threat quarterback in last year’s class by 247 Sports. But he hasn’t played a down of competitive football in two years. He missed his senior year of high school due to a torn ACL.

Miller was the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year each of the past two seasons. He also won the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football trophy, given annually to the conference’s most valuable player. The news of his injury already sent shockwaves through the betting industry. Bovada downgraded Ohio State’s national title odds from 10-1 to 18-1, while 5Dimes dropped the Buckeyes’ odds to win the Big Ten to 3-1, behind Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Given Ohio State’s schedule, the injury shouldn’t have much of an effect early on. The Buckeyes open the season with Navy, and while the spread for that game has dropped since the news, it is still at 16.5. Virginia Tech, Kent State, and Cincinnati are the other non-conference foes and Ohio State opens the conference slate with Maryland and Rutgers with both bye weeks sprinkled in that six-game stretch. We likely won’t know how much Miller’s loss will affect the Buckeyes until they travel to State College on Oct. 25.

My take: I hate to see anyone get injured, especially a player with such a talent as Miller. It doesn’t matter if he plays for Michigan’s top rival or not, this is sad news, and any Michigan fan celebrating the injury should reexamine his or her priorities. The injury won’t change The Game much anyway. Barrett surely won’t be as explosive as Miller, but he’ll have 11 games under his belt by the time Michigan comes to town. If Michigan’s defense is as good as many hope this season, it will present quite the challenge for Barrett playing in his first Ohio State-Michigan game. But I’d rather both teams be at full speed. Here’s to hoping Miller can recover and continue his playing career, either at Ohio State next season or at the next level.

For Michigan’s sophomores, NBA Draft is calling; Will they answer?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Stauskas - McGary(

Following Michigan’s heartbreaking Elite Eight loss at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats, questions surround the defending Big Ten champions as the focus turns to John Beilein’s next team.

Beilein and his staff showcased the ability to bounce back from the losses of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. this season, but what kind of exodus will the Maize and Blue experience during this year’s NBA Draft?

Nik Stauskas, whose future seemingly holds very little doubt, already said that he considered senior night his final game in the Crisler Center. Barring a miraculous change of heart, the Canadian guard will likely take his talents to the professional level this summer.

But is Stauskas ready to take the leap?

The much-improved wingman added several dimensions to his game during the offseason and evolved into an all-around offensive weapon during his sophomore campaign. Stauskas featured nearly identical shooting stats this season, slightly improving his 46.3 percent field goal mark to an even 47 percent and bumping his three-point percentage from 44.0 to 44.2 percent.

What really helped Stauskas become the Big Ten Player of the Year came with his ability to attack the rim. As a sophomore he created his own offense through the dribble and earned more open shots by putting the threat of a drive in the back of defenders’ minds.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic for Stauskas was his team-leading 3.3 assists per game. After the loss of last year’s assist machine in Burke, Stauskas stepped into the role nicely and still led the team in points, averaging 17.5.

Glenn Robinson III elevated his play late in the season, which could signal his departure (

Glenn Robinson III elevated his play late in the season, which could signal his departure (

Stauskas is undeniably an offensive machine, but his defense falls well short of the NBA level. He often struggled to guard even the simplest Big Ten scoring options, and his defense will likely never reach a level that allows him to guard top NBA talent. Though the defensive struggles hold Stauskas back in the eyes of NBA scouts, waiting another year isn’t going to erase this weakness.

If Stauskas returns to Michigan and repeats his 2014 performance while cutting down on the turnovers, he could be a top 10 pick in a much weaker 2015 draft. But his stock already lands him within the lottery picks, so Stauskas is likely long gone.

Prediction: 95 percent chance Stauskas enters draft

Stauskas’s classmate, Glenn Robinson III, ranked much higher as a draft prospect as a recruit in 2013. But the forward struggled with consistency throughout his first two seasons and dropped to the late-first round of the draft boards as a result.

Until late in the season, Robinson all but disappeared in the Michigan offense. When a teammate threw him a lob, the athletic sophomore would nearly always finish at the rim, but he struggled to create shots for himself.

Then, after his game-winning drive in West Lafayette to beat the last-place Boilermakers, Robinson accepted a bigger role in the offense and Michigan officially clinched the outright regular season Big Ten championship. His continued success led the Wolverines to the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis and then the Elite Eight before a miracle shot by Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison ended the magical run.

During the middle of February, Robinson looked like a lock to return for his junior season. Now, his recent surge puts him back in the NBA Draft picture. Robinson recently showcased the ability to knock down contested jump shots and create for himself. NBA teams may have taken a flier on the athletic forward without his improved shooting, but now he looks like one of the more dangerous options in the draft.

On the defensive end, Robinson improved his game throughout his sophomore campaign. He demonstrated an ability to block shots and snatch rebounds in traffic during the NCAA Tournament, and the sheer athletic ability gives him a high ceiling in that regard.

Prediction: 85 percent chance Robinson enters draft

Michigan’s biggest offseason question lies in whether or not the preseason All-American Mitch McGary will ever play a full season in Ann Arbor. After playing through the team’s rocky 6-4 nonconference start, the former five-star recruit opted to undergo back surgery and never returned to the lineup despite dressing for the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games in Lucas Oil Stadium.

McGary certainly possesses the talent to compete with NBA big men, but his lack of experience despite being nearly 22 years old makes him a huge risk for any NBA team. In a draft stocked with safe picks throughout the first round, McGary represents a potentially unnecessary risk for teams looking to find an immediate impact player.

Another factor to consider is McGary’s ongoing health questions. A player that thrives off of energy and effort figures to put his body at risk more often than the average NBA player, and few teams will risk a first-round pick in what could be the best NBA Draft since 2003 on a question mark like McGary.

Though the sophomore dressed for the final two games of the NCAA Tournament, his health remains a concern. It may take more than just an impressive six-game performance during the 2013 NCAA Tournament to cement McGary as a first-round pick.

McGary must also factor his age into the equation this summer. He turns 22 years old in June, which would make him older than some college seniors. By staying in Ann Arbor for his junior year, the All-American would accept the risk of entering the draft as a 23-year old.

On the other hand, next year’s draft certainly features less talent than the deep 2014 pool. If McGary put together a strong 2014-15 season, he could silence the doubters and move into the first round.

Prediction: 60 percent chance McGary enters draft

Michigan may lose three more key players during the 2014 offseason, but if Caris LeVert continues to improve and Zak Irvin benefits from the coaching that turned both Burke and Stauskas into Big Ten Player of the Year winners, then the Maize and Blue should remain competitive next season.

But if any of the sophomores decide to return for another season, Beilein’s team features enough weapons to match the runs it made the last two years.

Glenn Robinson III boosting Michigan in March

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

GRIII block vs Texas(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Throughout Michigan’s magical run to the 2014 outright Big Ten Championship, players like Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert stepped up and carried John Beilein’s team. In the paint, Senior Jordan Morgan returned to his old form after Mitch McGary underwent back surgery.

All season, the eyes of the college basketball world lingered on these Michigan stars, and Glenn Robinson III flew under the radar.

It seems more than absurd to suggest that such an athletic and exciting player could go unnoticed in college basketball, but Robinson does just that. Despite the weekly highlight dunks and displays of freakish athletic ability, experts labelled Robinson largely as an underachiever, playing first in the shadows of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. and now those of Stauskas and LeVert.

But the former five-star recruit recently stepped up his production, leading the Wolverines to their second straight Sweet 16.

GRIII has averaged 14 points and six rebounds in the two NCAA Tournament games so far (

GRIII has averaged 14 points and six rebounds in the two NCAA Tournament games so far (

In two NCAA Tournament games last weekend, Robinson averaged 14 points and six rebounds for a team that struggled to find its offense against Wofford and desperately needed rebounds against a much bigger Texas team.

Robinson, often criticized for emitting a peaceful, even careless demeanor throughout his college career, appeared to take a page out of his best friend and teammate McGary’s book in 2014. McGary played his best basketball of last season during the Big Dance and gained preseason All-American honors largely because of that.

This season, Robinson struggled with consistency and even disappeared for periods of time, including a two-point effort in the blowout loss at Iowa and 0-of-3 shooting performance in a loss to Charlotte in the Puerto Rico Classic.

When the sophomore struggles on offense Michigan turns into a different team. In five of the team’s eight losses this season Robinson failed to score in double figures.

Since the middle of February, however, he has maintained the most consistent stretch of his young career, scoring at least 10 points in 10 of 11 games. As a result, Michigan finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak, secured a Big Ten title, played in the Big Ten Championship game and finds itself back in the Sweet 16.

Robinson garnered his biggest headlines before stepping foot in Ann Arbor, and has played the role of sidekick ever since. But behind two standout performances by the sophomore on the sport’s biggest stage, the Maize and Blue faithful watched two blowout wins in a weekend that saw powerhouse teams like Duke, Kansas and even undefeated Wichita State fall.

What allowed Michigan to coast in the second and third rounds? The quiet production of Robinson, who did a little bit of everything for the Wolverines, certainly helped. If Michigan hopes to advance to Sunday’s Elite 8, Robinson will have to play a big role in slowing down a hot Tennessee team.

Jordan Morgan was there and tomorrow he gets the spotlight

Friday, March 7th, 2014

J-mo and team vs Minnesota(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

It seems like a century ago. A vastly underachieving Michigan squad watched its enormous upset bid against the top-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes crumble as Evan Turner’s half-court heave found the net in the 2010 Big Ten tournament.

Michigan couldn’t bounce back from that devastating loss. Back then, Michigan basketball teams didn’t generally earn trips to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, after Turner’s 37-foot prayer sent the Wolverines home from the conference tournament, their 15-17 record left them without an invitation to even the NIT.

That season belonged to a different era of college basketball in Ann Arbor. It was before Michigan contended for Big Ten championships, Wooden Award winners and Final Four appearances.

But Jordan Morgan was there.

Morgan miraculously played in the shadow of four different generations of Michigan basketball. During his freshman season (in which he redshirted), Morgan watched the lackluster final edition of DeShawn Simms and Manny Harris from the bench. His actual playing days began alongside Darius Morris, whose ability to find Morgan wide open under the basket helped the young forward mature.

During the next two seasons, Morgan established himself as a consistent starter for the Wolverines, who earned back-to-back No. 4 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Still, players like Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. commanded the spotlight while Morgan quietly minded his business.

Jordan Morgan has seen it all throughout his five-year Michigan career (

Jordan Morgan has seen it all throughout his five-year Michigan career and gets to go out a champion (

Now his journey nears its end. In his final few weeks of college basketball, Morgan finds himself mentoring a brand new generation of Wolverines. Freshmen Derrick Walton, Jr. and Zak Irvin continue to mature throughout the conference season. Meanwhile, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert stepped up and accepted larger roles in the absence of Burke and Hardaway.

And how many seniors do these young players learn from? Just Jordan Morgan, the only senior on John Beilein’s championship team.

The Detroit native’s career credentials speak for themselves. He has played on four straight NCAA Tournament teams, winning six of nine games so far. He won two Big Ten championships, including the school’s first outright title since 1986. Entering his final game in the Crisler Center, he’s compiled 103 wins during his college career.

Despite all of the program’s success, it wasn’t always easy for Morgan.

During his junior season, Morgan shared time with five-star super-recruit Mitch McGary, who chose to play for Michigan over many other high-profile schools, mainly Duke. Though Morgan welcomed the presence of such a talented player on the roster, McGary cut deeply into his minutes. After averaging 24-plus minutes per game in the previous two seasons, Morgan spent just as much time on the bench during the magical Final Four run, playing just under 16 minutes per game.

An average 22-year old player would protest losing over a third of his minutes after two productive seasons, but Morgan continued to play hard when Beilein called upon him. Now he reemerged as a consistent starter in 2013-14, doing Michigan’s dirty work by rebounding, taking charges, and playing tough inside defense.

The redshirt senior plays more minutes than he did last year, but for the fourth year in a row, his field goal attempts have decreased. Still, as he’s done his entire career, when opportunities come he takes advantage of them. He’s currently shooting a career high 67.4 percent from the field.

Morgan’s role in Michigan basketball history has been grossly understated. Former guards Zack Novak and Stu Douglas receive much of the credit for turning around the basketball program, but Morgan was the only player to step foot on the court during the National Championship game that survived a losing season as a Wolverine.

Morgan arrived in Ann Arbor to play in the dark, unfinished Crisler Arena for a team that struggled to make the NCAA Tournament every season. He leaves the Wolverines as perennial Big Ten contenders and defending champions.

He’s not only seen the construction of facilities that compete with college basketball’s finest, but also the commitment of two five-star recruits (McGary and Glenn Robinson III) to Michigan. The culture of this basketball program completely evolved over the past five years, and the only player to witness the entire process plays in Ann Arbor for the final time on Saturday.

You’ll never see Morgan’s jersey hanging in the rafters of the Crisler Center, but when the longtime Wolverine leaves the court for the final time on Saturday, he’s left an amazing legacy in his wake.

Morgan is the only Michigan player celebrating senior night on Saturday — a fitting end for a player that will finally own the spotlight.