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Inside the Numbers: The fifth golden era of Michigan basketball

Friday, April 11th, 2014


Michigan(MGoBlue.com)

The college basketball season officially has ended. Accordingly, this will be the final entry of my “Inside the Numbers” series for the 2013-14 athletic season. This hiatus will last a few months until I begin previewing the 2014 Michigan football team this summer. But I still will write for Maize and Go Blue in the meantime. I am starting a bimonthly mailbag. If you have any questions about Michigan football and basketball that you want answered, please tweet them to me (@DrewCHallett) or email them to me (drew.maizeandgoblue@gmail.com), and I will answer them here. On that note, I hope you enjoy my last “Inside the Numbers” piece on the 2013-14 Michigan basketball team. 

Michigan is a “football school.” Always has been. Always will be. This is expected when Michigan is the winningest football program of all-time, leads the Big Ten with 42 conference championships, owns 11 national championships, has three Heisman Trophy winners, plays its home games in the nation’s largest football stadium, and has made more television appearances than any other college football program. But this “football school” label should not overshadow the achievements of the Michigan’s basketball program. Especially right now.

Michigan basketball is not some poor or substandard program. Michigan has won 14 Big Ten regular-season championships, which is one more than the number Michigan State has won. The Wolverines have appeared in the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight 13 times each. Michigan has participated in the Final Four seven times. Only nine schools in the nation have advanced to the Final Four more often. And the Wolverines have celebrated one national championship. Indiana and Michigan State are the only Big Ten programs with more than one national title.

Unlike the football program, though, Michigan’s basketball program has experienced only sporadic success. Historically, Michigan has not always been one of the best basketball programs in the nation. Michigan has not competed for Big Ten or national championships on a consistent basis. When the Wolverines have competed at such a level, they have not been able to sustain it for an extended period of time. This is why, from the inaugural NCAA Tournament in 1939 to 2011, there had been only four brief stretches during which Michigan was near the top of the college basketball landscape.

A-Maize-ing Stretches of Michigan Basketball (1939-2011)

Years

Overall
Win Pct.

Conference Win Pct.

B1G Titles

Sweet Sixteens

Elite Eights

Final Fours

1964-66

79.27%

83.33%

3

3

3

2

1974-77

79.31%

79.41%

2

3

3

1

1985-89

78.31%

72.22%

2

2

1

1

1992-94

78.43%

72.22%

0

3

3

2

Other 58 Years

52.65%

43.46%

1

0

1*

0

*Michigan appeared in the 1948 NCAA Tournament when the field had only eight teams

When John Beilein arrived in Ann Arbor in April 2007, it had been 13 years since Michigan had last been considered elite and nine years since Michigan had participated in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines were in a rut and in need of a new leader to rebuild their program. The first few seasons under Beilein were slightly rocky. Yes, Michigan overachieved in 2009 with a 21-win season and its first NCAA Tournament since 1998. But a disappointing sub-.500 record in 2010 and underwhelming start in 2011 gave the impression that Michigan was still a long ways away from the top of the mountain.

Then, suddenly, everything began to click a few weeks into the Big Ten season in 2011. With a worrisome 1-6 conference record, Michigan traveled to East Lansing, a place where it had not won since 1997, to play rival Michigan State. With the program trending downwards, Michigan seemed destined to suffer yet another loss at the Breslin Center. But Zack Novak and Stu Douglass had different plans. Novak buried a career-high six triples, and Douglass drilled a three-point dagger with 20.2 seconds left to secure a surprising victory for the Wolverines. The win turned around the season. Michigan closed with a 10-5 record and pushed No. 1 seed Duke to the brink in a promising NCAA Tournament appearance.

Thanks to Beilein's ability to identify under-the-radar recruits and develop them for his system, Michigan is amid another golden era (MGoBlue.com)

Thanks to Beilein’s ability to identify under-the-radar recruits and develop them for his system, Michigan is amid another golden era (MGoBlue.com)

While this was happening on the court, Beilein was striking gold on the recruiting trail. In August 2010, Beilein landed an undersized point guard, whom Rivals ranked No. 136 in the 2011 class when he committed. His name was Trey Burke. One month later, Michigan received a pledge from an athletic wing whose father played in the NBA. The commitment earned little fanfare, though, because Rivals ranked the prospect only No. 118 in the 2012 class. His name was Glenn Robinson III. In March 2011, a Canadian sharpshooter, whom Rivals ranked No. 106 in the 2012 class at the time, decided he wanted to be a Wolverine. His name was Nik Stauskas. Then, after Beilein landed the highest-ranked recruit of his career in the form of five-star Mitch McGary, Beilein added a last-second commit, whom Rivals did not rank nationally, to the 2012 class. His name was Caris LeVert.

The combination of Michigan’s end-of-the-season turnaround in 2011 and Beilein’s superb recruiting of under-the-radar prospects ushered in what can now be considered the fifth golden era of Michigan basketball. Since 2011, Michigan has posted an 83-27 overall record (75.45 win percentage). The Wolverines’ 83 wins are the most they ever have had in a three-year span. U-M’s 59 total wins in 2013 and 2014 are the most ever by the school in consecutive seasons. With this type of on-court success, Michigan recently has accomplished goals and records that it has not done been able to do since the Fab Five era.

For starters, Michigan has been the best Big Ten basketball program during this timeframe. Since 2011, Michigan has a 40-14 conference record (74.07 win percentage). No Big Ten school has more conference wins or a higher conference win percentage in that span. The closest is Michigan State with 38 conference wins. Accordingly, the Wolverines won a Big Ten regular-season championship in 2012 and 2014. These were Michigan’s first conference championships since 1986. Further, Michigan ran away with the title in 2014, winning the Big Ten by three games. This was a feat no team had achieved since Michigan State in 2009. For the first time in almost three decades, Michigan sits atop the Big Ten without an equal.

Michigan’s success has translated to the postseason, too. Michigan has been no lower than a No. 4 seed in each of the past three NCAA Tournaments. Its No. 2 seed in 2014 was its highest since it was a No. 1 seed in 1993. Yes, the Wolverines fell unexpectedly to Ohio in the Round of 64 in 2012. But they have more than made up for it since then. Michigan has advanced to the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons, doing so in consecutive years for the first time since 1992-94. This included a magical run to the national championship game in 2013, where Michigan finished as the national runner-up. In these two NCAA Tournaments, the Wolverines accumulated eight wins. No other school in the nation can claim more in this span.

Michigan is amid this golden era of regular-season and postseason success because it has become the nation’s gold standard for offense. The Wolverines have finished in the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency in each of the past three seasons. Michigan actually led the nation in this category in both 2013 and 2014. In fact, Michigan’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating of 124.1 in 2014 was the highest by any team in the nation for the 12 seasons this stat has been tracked. Therefore, Michigan’s offense this past season was the most efficient in the nation since at least 2002. Beilein’s offensive system is predicated on having four guards or wings on the court, spacing, constant motion, and outside shooting. With the proper weapons at Beilein’s disposal, few teams, if any, can score at a rate like Michigan.

Regardless of who goes pro, Michigan should remain elite next season (MGoBlue.com)

Regardless of who goes pro, Michigan should remain elite next season (MGoBlue.com)

And Beilein has found the proper weapons. Beilein has hauled in some of the best talent Ann Arbor has seen in decades, even if those players were not considered blue-chip recruits by other elite programs. In 2013, Burke was named the consensus National Player of the Year. It was the second time ever a Wolverine had received such an honor and the first time since Cazzie Russell in 1966. Additionally, Burke also was honored as a consensus first-team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year. Burke was Michigan’s first member of an All-America first team since Chris Webber in 1993 and first Big Ten Player of the Year since Glen Rice in 1989.

There were some outsiders who claimed that Michigan was a one-man program and would return to mediocrity with Burke’s departure. This was far from case. The following season, Stauskas became Michigan’s go-to player and blossomed into a star. Stauskas, like Burke in 2013, was named to an All-America first team and the consensus Big Ten Player of the Year. It was the first time a Wolverine had been a first-team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year in consecutive seasons since 1964-66 and 1988-89, respectively. McGary was a preseason first-team All-American in 2014, but his season was derailed by a lower back injury. LeVert was selected as a member of the All-Big Ten second team in 2014 after having a minimal role as a freshman the previous season. And Robinson III has been a two-time All-Big Ten honorable mention and projected to possibly be a first-round draft pick.

This is an exciting time to be involved with Michigan basketball. In each of the past three seasons, the team has competed for conference and national championships. The players have run Beilein’s offensive system to perfection, showing the rest of the nation how offense is supposed to be played. As a result, the players have received multiple national and conference honors to recognize their performances. Additionally, there have been so many other awards, honors, records, and accolades that Michigan and its players have attained since 2011, but there are too many to recognize all of them in this piece. It would be a stat overload. But the message is clear: this is the fifth golden era of Michigan basketball.

The logical follow-up question is, “How long will this fifth golden era of Michigan basketball endure?” Will Michigan drop from its lofty perch in the college basketball world quickly as it has historically? Or has Beilein built this program into a consistent contender that will be among the nation’s best for another decade-plus? This is anyone’s guess. If I had to give mine, I would lean toward the latter, even if one or two Wolverines declare early for the NBA Draft in the next week or so. Nonetheless, Michigan fans should not take this success for granted. Michigan may be a “football school,” but, at the moment, its basketball program is superior and may be for quite some time.

Michigan 79 – Penn State 71: Wolverines outlast Penn State in Crisler rededication

Sunday, February 17th, 2013


Final 1st 2nd Total
#4 Michigan (22-4, 9-4) 32 47 79
Penn State (21-4, 10-2) 32 39 71

Glenn Robinson III had a much needed monster game (Carlos Osorio, AP)

On a day Michigan fans celebrated the history of the basketball program with former stars like Cazzie Russell, Glenn Rice, and Phil Hubbard in the house for the re-dedication of the refurbished Crisler Center, this year’s team slogged its way to an eight-point victory over the still winless-in-the-Big-Ten Penn State Nittany Lions.

Sunday seemed to be the perfect day to welcome back past players as athletic director Dave Brandon cut the ribbon on his crown masterpiece of a basketball facility, but for 30 minutes or so, the Wolverines seemed tired, off, and perhaps lacking effort before finally pulling out a win to end their first losing streak since the end of last season. Penn State has been downright awful in coach Pat Chambers’ second year leading the program, and despite great effort over the past couple games, the Lions simply lack the talent, size, and athleticism to compete in the Big Ten, much less against the cream of the conference. And despite Chambers’ constant bickering with the officials over the 25 fouls called on his players, they once again came up short in the talent department on the court.

With Penn State’s last win coming nearly two months ago at the end of December, the Nittany Lions are running out of time to tally a victory in the new year; a win today would have been huge, but Trey Burke simply would not let it happen.

As fans and players alike welcomed back past heroes with open arms, Michigan’s current All-American point guard set the stage to state his case for his own jersey number to be retired years down the line. Trey Burke has been the unquestioned best floor general in the country, and he continues to prove his worth, this time with a 29-point (9-of-16 FG, 3-of-4 3p., 8-of-9 FT), five-assist, zero-turnover gem as his point guard counterpart, Tim Frazier, could do nothing but watch from Penn State’s bench. Interestingly enough, Burke himself would be at Penn State today if not for a change of heart his last couple years in high school. It’s hard to imagine them still being winless in the Big Ten if that were the case today.

It was pretty clear throughout Sunday afternoon’s contest that no one from Happy Valley would be able to check Burke on the offensive end of the court, but Penn State also had its hands full with freshman running mate Glenn Robinson III.

Robinson, who emerged early this year as one of the premier freshmen in the country with eye-popping athleticism and a knack for always finding the ball around the rim despite his very quiet nature on the floor, has been in a well-publicized struggle throughout Michigan’s last four games, three of which ended as road losses. Today, he finally came around again, providing countless sparks for the laid back afternoon crowd to erupt as he threw down five “He just did that?!” throwdowns on his way to 21 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting mark from the field and 9-of-11 mark from the free throw line. He also managed to grab 10 rebounds to record his second career double-double.

Trey Burke had a season-high 29 points (Carlos Osorio, AP)

In Michigan’s most difficult stretch of the year, a four-game gauntlet that included three road games at top-25 teams and one top-15 home matchup, Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. were the only two Michigan players that seemed to belong on the same court as the competition. Robinson III, who was rolling beforehand, hit the wall hardest, tallying just 18 points in those four games on a horrendous 7-of-24 mark from the field. Today, Robinson III found his game again and got back in his groove by getting behind and jumping above the defense; his teammates found him time and time again.

Joining Robinson III’s comeback effort was fellow freshman Nik Stauskas, who struggled himself to a lesser extent over the same difficult series of games. His three-point stroke continues to regress to the mean, but Stauskas manages to find offense through other routes as commentators continue to pen him as “not just a shooter”. Today the Canadian scored 18 points on nine shots as he made all three of his two-point attempts and got to the line at a solid rate with his penetrating ability.

Michigan fans at this point can only hope that today’s performances ended the cold shooting spells of Michigan’s two offensive-minded freshmen, but the worries do not end there. Burke, Robinson III, and Stauskas combined for a far-too-many 68 of Michigan’s 79 points. The rest of the team was notably absent from the scoring column, including star junior wing Hardaway, Jr., whose eight points don’t look so good knowing that it took him 11 shots to get there. After that, only two more Wolverines combined to score three points.

Perhaps most concerning of all for John Beilein is the play he got from big men Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Max Bielfeldt. That foursome combined to score zero (yes, zero) points on five shots and only grabbed seven rebounds total in 47 minutes of playing time. The biggest worry for Michigan was not the relatively small winning margin, as the outcome was hardly in doubt for such a lop-sided matchup, but rather the fact that Penn State was able to grab 36 percent of their own misses and 77.4 percent of Michigan’s clankers. One of the Wolverines’ biggest strengths all year has been in their ability to compete on the boards and turn rebounds into points; being out-rebounded by a smaller, less athletic team at home is a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

If Michigan is to compete for a second consecutive Big Ten championship, or at least another share of the title, today’s effort will need to be improved upon. There were plenty of good signs throughout, especially from the aforementioned freshmen scoring wings, but the big men and Tim Hardaway especially need to find their game over the remaining five games.

Still sitting two full games out of first place in the Big Ten, Michigan will probably have to win out to achieve their preseason goal of a Big Ten title. With everybody on their games, the Wolverines have the firepower to do that. If anyone is not playing up to par, however, games against Michigan State and Indiana are going to be difficult to pull out, even in the friendly confines of the christened Crisler Center.

Today’s back-and-forth game with Penn State didn’t do much to convince critics that Michigan has what it takes. But that doesn’t matter now. All that counts are two letters: Ws and Ls. Five more of the former and Michigan is right back in the thick of things. Today was a start.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 6-6 0-0 9-11 3 7 10 3 21 0 1 0 0 33
52 Jordan Morgan* 0-1 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 3 0 1 1 0 0 7
03 Trey Burke* 9-16 3-4 8-9 0 3 3 1 29 5 0 0 2 39
10 Tim Hardaway Jr.* 3-11 1-6 1-4 0 2 2 3 8 1 0 1 0 30
11 Nik Stauskas* 5-9 2-6 6-6 0 1 1 0 18 4 2 0 0 34
02 Spike Albrecht 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3
04 Mitch McGary 0-4 0-0 0-1 2 1 3 2 0 1 2 0 0 20
13 Matt Vogrich 0-0 0-0 2-2 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 5
15 Jon Horford 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 2 0 0 0 1 2 16
20 Caris LeVert 0-2 0-2 1-2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 9
44 Max Bielfeldt 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 4
Totals 23-49 6-18 27-35 7 22 39 15 79 12 6 2 4 200
Penn State 25-57 6-18 15-17 10 25 35 25 71 15 13 1 2 200

Michigan vs Penn State preview

Saturday, February 16th, 2013


#4 Michigan vs Penn State
Sunday, Feb. 17 | 12pm ET | Big Ten Network
21-4 (8-4) Record 8-16 (0-12)
Slippery Rock 100-62
IUPUI 91-54
Cleveland State 77-47
Pittsburgh 67-62
Kansas State 71-57
NC State 79-72
Bradley 74-66
W. Michigan 73-41
Arkansas 80-67
Binghamton 67-39
West Virginia 81-66
E. Michigan 93-54
C. Michigan 88-73
Northwestern 94-66
Iowa 95-67
Nebraska 62-47
#9 Minnesota 83-75
Purdue 68-53
Illinois 74-60
Northwestern 68-46
#10 Ohio State 76-74 OT
Wins St. Francis PA 65-58
Providence 55-52 OT
Bucknell 60-57
Penn 58-47
Army 78-70
Delaware State 80-76 OT
New Hampshire 72-45
Duquesne  84-74
#15 Ohio State 56-53
#3 Indiana 73-81
Wisconsin 62-65 OT
#8 Michigan State 52-75
Losses #6 NC State 55-72
Akron 60-85
Boston College 61-73
LaSalle 57-82
Wisconsin 51-60
#5 Indiana 51-74
Northwestern 54-70
Purdue 42-60
#18 Michigan State 72-81
Nebraska 64-68
#7 Indiana 49-72
#14 Ohio State 51-65
Iowa 67-76
Purdue 49-58
Nebraska 53-67
Iowa 72-74
76.0 Points Per Game 60.8
61.0 Scoring Defense 67.3
716-for-1,449 (49.4%) Field Goal % 501-for-1,304 (38.4%)
584-for-1,402 (41.7%) Def. Field Goal % 504-for-1,196 (42.1%)
284-for-506 (40.3%) 3-point % 116-for-422 (27.5%)
164-for-511 (32.1%) Def. 3-point % 162-for-458 (35.4%)
265-for-378 (70.1%) Free Throw % 342-for-491 (69.7%)
10.6 FT Made/Game 14.3
36.0 Rebounds Per Game 35.5
30.4 Opp. Reb. Per Game 34.0
15.0 Assists Per Game 9.3
9.6 Turnovers Per Game 12.6
5.7 Steals Per Game 5.4
2.8 Blocks Per Game 3.3
G – Trey Burke (18.2)
G – Tim Hardaway Jr. (15.5)
Leading Scorer G – D.J. Newbill (16.2)
G – Jermaine Marshall (14.7)
F – Mitch McGary (6.0)
F – Glenn Robinson III (5.4)
Leading Rebounder F – Ross Travis (7.0)
G – D.J. Newbill (5.8)

After a grueling four-game stretch over the last two weeks, the Wolverines return home for a much needed break. Three losses have left Michigan two games back in the Big Ten race with no wiggle room remaining.

Thankfully, Penn State is next on the docket – for two of the next three – and should allow Michigan the opportunity to work out some of the kinks that have developed over the past couple of weeks.

Penn State comes in winless in the conference and just 8-16 overall. None of the eight wins have come against a quality opponent and two of them were in overtime. Needless to say, this is not a very good basketball team.

The Nittany Lions were dealt a huge blow in the fourth game of the season when point guard Tim Frazier ruptured his Achilles’ tendon. He was a first-team All-Big Ten member a year go as the lone bright spot of the team, averaging 18.8 points per game overall and 19.6 in conference play.

Without Frazier, Penn State needed another playmaker to step up and they got it from D.J. Newbill. The sophomore leads the team with a scoring average of 16.2, but is averaging 20 over the past four games including a 26-point output against Iowa on Thursday. That was nearly enough to earn Penn State’s first conference victory, but Iowa pulled it out 74-72. He also scored 27 on Jan. 16 against Michigan State and has just three games all season of single-digits. Perhaps the most impressive part of Newbill’s scoring is that he does it mostly from inside the arc. He’s just 11-of-54 from three-point range on the season.

Fellow guard Jermaine Marshall averages 14.7 points per game including a 29-point and 10-rebound output against Michigan State, which was by far his best game of the season. He’s a better three-point shooter than Newbill, hitting 31 percent, though he doesn’t shoot as well overall.

No other Nittany Lion averages in double figures. Forward Ross Travis is the third leading scorer at 6.4 points per game, but leads the team with a seven rebound average. He has five games of double-digit rebounds as well as five double-digit scoring games.

Forward Sasa Borovnjak, a 6’9″ junior, averages 6.1 points, but is coming off a 14 points performance against Iowa. Freshman Brandon Taylor averages sis points and is capable of stepping out and hitting the occasional three despite his 6’9″, 235-pound frame.

As a team, Penn State shoots just 38.4 percent overall and 27.5 percent from three-point range. The Nittany Lions turn the ball over 12.6 times per game and give up 34 rebounds per contest.

Even though the Lions nearly pulled off a win over Iowa on Thursday and played Michigan State tough, don’t expect Michigan to have much trouble. The Wolverines will be wearing white retro jerseys to commemorate the 1968 team that opened Crisler Arena. Michigan should win comfortably. Prediction: Michigan 77 – Penn State 59.