Posts Tagged ‘Jordan Morgan’

How Michigan’s points and bigs performed relative to expectations

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014


J-MO

On Monday, we took a look at how Michigan’s wings performed relative to the expectations that Sam set in his season preview series back in November. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert outperformed in most statistical categories (Stauskas for the second straight season), while Glenn Robinson III and Zak Irvin under performed. The latter, however, was tough to forecast as a true freshman and had some of his potential production eaten up by the emergence of LeVert.

Today, we take a look at the point guards and big men to see how Derick Walton Jr., Spike Albrecht, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Mitch McGary performed.

For a look back at Sam’s preseason team preview and player previews, here they are: the wings, the big men, the point guards. He made his predictions for each player’s points, rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, and minutes. Later this week, Sam will take a very early look ahead at what the 2014-15 season could bring.

Derrick Walton Jr.
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 6.0 2.5 4.0 1.5 2.0 25.0
Actual 7.9 3.0 2.9 0.6 1.5 26.7
Difference +1.9 +0.5 -1.1 -0.9 -0.5 +1.7

Derrick Walton Jr.Recap: While Nik Stauskas had the challenge of replacing Trey Burke’s production, it was Walton that was tasked with replacing his command of the offense. The freshman from Detroit wasn’t expected to score at Burke’s rate, but needed to run the offense effectively, finding the open man and taking care of the ball.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “Walton is a very quick player with the ball in his hands who will be looking to create for others before looking to shoot himself. He will never be the same player that Trey Burke was in Ann Arbor, but Walton clearly has the potential to make a similar impact, and with the talent of this Michigan team, it should be felt instantly.”

And it was, as he finished with a 2:1 assists-to-turnover ratio while contributing just under eight points a game. He had a season-best 19 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists in Michigan’s win at Michigan State on Jan. 25. He also recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, in addition to six assists, in the win at Ohio State.

Future: Walton finished third on the team in assists behind Stauskas and Caris LeVert. With Stauskas gone, and LeVert stepping into his role of go-to guy, it will be up to Walton to make a big sophomore leap. He will still likely share time with Spike Albrecht, but will need to keep his assists-to-turnover ratio roughly the same and increase his scoring production by a few points. He proved  to be a capable three-point shooter this season. Now he needs to show he can create off the dribble like Burke did.

Spike Albrecht
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 3.5 1.2 1.5 0.5 0.8 10.0
Actual 3.3 1.1 2.0 0.5 0.4 14.7
Difference -0.2 -0.1 +0.5 0.0 -0.4 +4.7

SpikeRecap: Albrecht burst onto the scene in last year’s national championship game with 17 points, his first and only double-digit performance of the season. While no one is confusing him with Trey Burke, the performance eased at least some concern following Burke’s departure.

Sam wrote, “This year, expect a year of practice against Burke to pay dividends for Albrecht and a few more girls to flutter their eyebrows while walking by the boyish-faced Spike on the Diag. But most of all, expect to be happy with Albrecht’s contributions. Those contributions won’t be great, and oftentimes they will go unnoticed, but a back-up point guard who flies under the radar is usually a back-up point guard who is doing his job.”

Albrecht did just that, providing a steady hand in 15 minutes a game while splitting time with Walton. He turned the ball over just 16 times in 545 minutes — an average of once every 34 minutes of action — with a 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He contributed 3.3 points per game and was usually good for one big three-pointer per night.

Future: Albrecht will continue to play an important role for John Beilein as a four-year guy who provides consistency while others leave early for the NBA. His role next season will be about the same as this season, sharing time with Walton, taking care of the ball late in games, and knocking down the occasional open three. He’s the perfect point guard option off the bench and will remain so.

Jordan Morgan
Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 3.5 3.0 0.2 0.5 0.8 10.0
Actual 6.4 5.0 0.4 0.4 0.9 20.1
Difference +2.9 +2.0 +0.2 -0.1 +0.1 +10.1
2012-13 Difference -3.9 -1.5   -0.5   -6.1

Jordan Morgan cutting net 3-8-14Recap: Perhaps the feel-good story of the season was the senior-year emergence of Jordan Morgan. He committed to Michigan in 2010 when the program was very different than it is now, stuck with the program despite losing his playing time to Mitch McGary last season, and became one of the most beloved players on the team by season’s end. A year ago, Sam held fairly high expectations for Morgan, but he performed below every one. This year, he over-performed.

In his preview, Sam wrote, “A couple seasons ago, Morgan’s own dad admitted that he was very surprised when Beilein called Morgan in the first place to express interest and ultimately offer him a scholarship. After all, Morgan’s future would be as an engineer. But Beilein did give him that chance, and Morgan has embraced his role in playing basketball for Michigan, no matter what it might be.

“This season, his last, might be Morgan’s most unspectacular in the scoring column, but his leadership and experience will undoubtedly be needed if Michigan is to make another run. Many fans will end up forgetting Morgan’s seemingly insignificant contributions, but Morgan himself will never forget his own journey.”

He was never a star, but Michigan fans most certainly won’t be forgetting his contributions any time soon. Just like the charge he drew late in last year’s Final Four win over Syracuse, Morgan saved Michigan’s season with a drawn charge in this year’s Sweet Sixteen win over Tennessee. Those are the kind of plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet, but are just as important.

Future: Morgan was the lone senior on this year’s team and got a fitting sendoff on Senior Night. He leaves Ann Arbor with an engineering degree, two Big Ten titles, and the program’s career and single-season field goal percentage records. Those are some great accomplishments for a big man out of Detroit that wasn’t highly recruited.

His departure leaves a gap both inside and in terms of leadership. If McGary opts to return next season Michigan will still be in good shape, but if he follows Stauskas and Robinson to the next level, Beilein will need some young guys to step up.

Jon Horford
Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 4.5 3.0 0.8 0.5 0.8 12.0
Actual 3.8 4.2 0.7 0.3 0.5 13.8
Difference -0.7 +1.2 -0.1 -0.2 -0.3 +1.8
2012-13 Difference -3.8 -2.3 -1.4 -0.3   -6.2

Jon HorfordRecap: Horford has battled the injury bug throughout his career at Michigan, but entered the 2013-14 season as healthy as could be. He was still battling Morgan and McGary for playing time, but as the season went on it became apparent that even with McGary sidelined with a back injury, it was Morgan who had earned the coaches’ trust and Horford was left coming off the bench. He proved a capable rebounder, averaging over four per game in less than 14 minutes, but struggled on the offensive end of the court.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “Over the course of two preseason games, Horford recorded four blocks and 21 rebounds, 17 of which came on defense. If he can continue to provide that kind of production while finishing wide open looks in the paint, Horford will see a nice uptick in minutes and could occasionally see the floor next to McGary – a potentially devastating look for opponents.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way as Horford scored in double figures just three times all season — all in a five game stretch at the start of Big Ten play — and had just one more double digit rebounding performance the rest of the way.

Future: Horford could have returned to provide leadership as a fifth-year senior next season and likely see more playing time as a result of Morgan’s graduation, but he announced his decision to transfer elsewhere for his final year of eligibility. This leaves a hole in the front court, depending on what McGary decides to do and means redshirt freshman-to-be Mark Donnal is in line for a big role next season.

Mitch McGary
Points Rebounds Blocks Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 12.0 9.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 28.0
Actual 9.5 8.3 0.8 1.9 1.6 24.6
Difference -2.5 -1.2 -0.2 +0.4 -0.4 -3.4

McGaryRecap: Sam’s predictions for McGary were made with an asterisk because his status was unknown at the time, so any under- or over-performance should also be noted with an asterisk.

In his preview, Sam wrote, “Already this season, McGary has been deemed a preseason AP All-American, but he has one more physical hurdle to climb before fulfilling his vast potential – a lower back “condition” that has severely limited McGary’s practice time this fall and has many wondering when he’ll be back to full strength. Beilein maintains that Michigan is just being extremely cautious with McGary right now, and McGary himself is constantly wearing a smile as he says he feels “fine”, but any back injury for a guy of McGary’s size is worrisome.

“If the super sophomore is completely healthy by Michigan’s first big game, though, the Wolverines should be one of the most talented teams in the country and one of the few with exceptional players at every position. And of course, if McGary picks up where he left off, this condition will just be the latest bump on the rise to stardom.”

Ultimately, McGary played in just eight games, starting four, before he had back surgery and was shut down for the season. It’s impossible to tell how healthy he actually was in the games he played, but he certainly wasn’t 100 percent. Still, he averaged 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and two steals per game.

Future: McGary is the one remaining piece of the puzzle that needs to be placed for next season. He hasn’t yet announced his decision of whether to return or to enter the NBA Draft. In one sense, it seems like an easy decision — will an NBA team want a player coming off back surgery who has really only had a dominant NCAA Tournament run that shows his potential? On the other hand, he’s old for his class and his NBA future is getting shorter the longer he waits. If his back is healthy enough for pre-draft workouts, he could work his way solidly into the first round.

A return to Michigan would immediately solidify Michigan’s front court, allowing McGary to play the five and Donnal the four with Zak Irvin and Caris LeVert as the wings and Derrick Walton Jr. handling the ball. That would be a lineup worthy of Big Ten title consideration. If he doesn’t return, however, there will be plenty of questions to be answered inside.
______________________________________________________________________________

Check back at the end of the week for Sam’s look ahead to the 2014-15 season with some very early team and player predictions.

Stauskas, Robinson III declare for NBA Draft

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014


Stauskas-Robinson

Michigan star guard Nik Stauskas and athletic forward Glenn Robinson III announced Tuesday afternoon at a press conference at the Crisler Center that they will declare for the NBA Draft after their sophomore seasons with the Wolverines.

In two seasons, Stauskas and Robinson helped Michigan advance to the national championship and then return to the Elite Eight in addition to the program’s first outright Big Ten title since 1986.

Stauskas took over a team that lost leaders Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. from the 2012-13 team and came within one miracle shot of leading his team back to the final Four.

Thanks to an offseason dedicated to improving his game, Stauskas not only increased his scoring from 11 points per game to 17.5 during his second college season, he also led the team with 3.3 assists following the exit of assist-leader Burke.

“For as long as I can remember I have had a goal of playing in the NBA, whether it was on my backyard court or winning the Big Ten title at Crisler Center,” Stauskas said in a statement released by U-M media relations. “Following some heartfelt discussions with my family, Coach Beilein and the rest of the coaching staff, I am ready to pursue my goals and begin my NBA career.

Robinson and Stauskas are leaving early. Michigan now turns its attention to McGary's decision (Detroit Free Press)

Robinson and Stauskas are leaving early. Michigan now turns its attention to McGary’s decision (Detroit Free Press)

“What cannot be understated is how the University of Michigan has helped prepare me for this moment both on and off the court,” continued Stauskas. “This great university took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to achieve my college basketball dreams. I hope in some small way, I was able provide some lasting moments. As I move forward into this next stage of my life, it cannot be said enough how thankful I am to the Wolverine fans for embracing me. I will always be a Wolverine at heart.”

Robinson, often criticized for his seemingly nonchalant demeanor, stepped up during the later part of the season to give Michigan the boost it needed to contend for a championship. He finally found a comfort level with his mid-range jumper and became an all-round offensive weapon as a result.

“I have thought a lot about the next step in my career over this past year,” said Robinson. “After talking with my mom, my dad, my grandma, Coach Beilein and the coaching staff, I feel the time is right for me to begin my professional career and declare for the NBA Draft. I am confident I have the work ethic, the talent and maturity to pursue this path successfully.

“It has truly been a blessing to have had the opportunity to attend to the University of Michigan and be part of this basketball program,” added Robinson. “The Wolverine fans and U-M alumni are the best in the world. I have developed many relationships and created so many positive memories that I know will last a lifetime. As excited as I am about my future, I will always be grateful for this wonderful two year experience at the University of Michigan.”

The two sophomores helped amass a school record 59 wins in two seasons in Ann Arbor.

Stauskas became a fan favorite with his clutch shooting, most notably jump-starting Michigan’s run to the regular season outright Big Ten championship this season with a step-back three-pointer in Madison to bury the No. 3 Badgers. The flashy guard ended his outstanding college career by dropping 24 points on the eventual-runner up Kentucky Wildcats. Stauskas played 39 minutes during the game and single-handedly kept the Wolverines in the game.

The departure of these two key pieces seemingly leaves the team in the hands of fellow sophomore Caris LeVert, pending the decision of Mitch McGary. LeVert similarly stepped up this season, more than tripling his minutes and trailing just Stauskas on the team with 12.9 points per game and 2.9 assists per game.

Though the loss of his leading scorer certainly stings, John Beilein had to expect this decision. If McGary returns for another season, then Michigan is equipped with enough returning talent to compete for another conference championship. If McGary follows in the footsteps of his classmates, then Beilein will once again have to work his magic with the incoming freshmen. But what’s encouraging is that he’s replaced a similar loss of production before. Pretty recently, in fact.

 

Four-star small forward Kameron Chatman and a pair of three-stars, center Ricky Doyle and power forward D.J. Wilson, certainly bring a fresh wave of talent to Ann Arbor, but filling the holes of all three sophomores would represent an extremely difficult test. Beilein proved he can cope with losing talent to the next level through the team’s shocking performance this season, but Michigan would certainly benefit from keeping at least one of the star sophomores to help LeVert mentor the newcomers.

The loss of Stauskas and Robinson doesn’t bury the defending Big Ten champions for the upcoming season, but McGary’s decision, which could come at any time, will certainly hold a much greater significance now that his teammates have moved on.

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.

The M&GB Hail Awards: Basketball 2013-14

Thursday, April 10th, 2014


Pregame huddle(MGoBlue.com)

With the 2013-14 basketball season in the books and the Michigan Basketball Awards Celebration approaching next week, it’s time to hand out our own awards, the M&GB Hail Awards. This is the first time we’ve done this for basketball, and after doing it for the past three football seasons, we decided it was time to give the boys of the hardwood the same love.

After reaching the national title game and coming up just short a year ago, and then seeing the departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA, a step back in 2013-14 would be expected. But Michigan still had plenty of star power in Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas, but just 10 games in McGary was lost for the season and the Wolverines stood just 6-4 with an embarrassing loss to Charlotte.

But then something started to click. A three-point win over Stanford in the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational started a 10-game winning streak that included wins over three straight AP Top-10 teams. Suddenly, a Michigan squad many had written off before December ended was now a Big Ten title frontrunner. And although the Wolverines lost three of their next five, they won the last five down the stretch to pull away from the crowd and win the Big Ten by a whopping three games.

Entering the Big Ten Tournament as the No. 1 seed, Michigan didn’t have much to prove and needed only to avoid injuries that could derail another long NCAA Tournament run. John Beilein’s squad survived a scare from Illinois in the quarterfinals and completed the season sweep of Ohio State in the semis, but then ran into a hungry and determined Michigan State squad in the championship. But the beauty of it is that the Wolverines still won the season series with the Spartans 2-1.

In the Big Dance, Michigan used its No. 2 seed to its advantage, topping Wofford by 17 points despite a lackluster performance. Texas was up next and the Wolverines answered any questions about their ability to handle a dominant frontcourt, winning by 14. Tennessee presented a similar problem, and after building up a big lead, Michigan committed a flurry of turnovers in the closing minute, needing a heroic charge taken by senior leader Jordan Morgan to pull out the win. The season then came to a close, one step short of a return trip to the Final Four, when Michigan had its hearts ripped out by an NBA-range three from Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison.

Although the goal of a national championship was not reached, this Michigan squad still accomplished plenty, including its first outright Big Ten title since 1986. The offense became college basketball’s most efficient offense in the past 12 years (the KemPom era). Two straight deep tournament runs proves that Michigan is here to stay, and doing so despite the personnel losses from a year ago are a testament to Beilein’s coaching acumen.

Let’s take the time to honor the top players, plays, performances, and moments of the 2013-14 Michigan basketball season.

To revisit our football Hail Awards: 20132012, 2011.

Player of the Year Nik Stauskas

Stauskas 3 vs IowaA year ago, Nik Stauskas played the role of sharpshooter, heeding the playmaker role to Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. He wasn’t needed to do much more than stand behind the arc and toss in daggers. But this season, with Burke and Hardaway playing at the next level, there was a void and Stauskas stepped in to fill it.

Everybody already knew he was more than just a shooter, but in his new role, the Canadian was able to flourish, adding a good penetration game and an affinity for finding the open man to his already proven three-point stroke.

All he did was earn Big Ten Player of the Year and AP All-America second team honors while averaging 17.5 points and 3.3 assists per game. He scored in double figures in 32 of the 36 games and scored at least 20 points 14 times. He was named Big Ten Player of the Week a conference-leading four times and Oscar Robinson National Player of the Week once.

“This season was undoubtedly a team effort in every sense of the word, but it’s hard to ignore Nik Stauskas’s individual improvement and contributions,” said Sam. “He was the one that I wanted with the ball in his hands late in the game and, more times than not, he delivered. Take a look at Michigan’s losses and then look at the box score. When Stauskas struggled, the whole team usually struggled without his scoring and creating abilities as well.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Guard of the Year Nik Stauskas

Stauskas 3 vs MSU 1-25-14After opening the season with nine points against UMass Lowell, Stauskas scored at least 20 in each of the next five games before being sidelined with an ankle sprain. He was still hampered when Michigan traveled to Duke and managed just four points on two shots, but proceeded to average 18.6 points over the next 12 games.

In three games against Michigan State, he averaged 20.3 points and shot 11-of-16 from three-point range. In the Round of 32 win over Texas, Stauskas scored 17 points and dished out eight assists, and in the Elite Eight loss to Kentucky — what might be his final game in a Michigan uniform — he poured in 24 points. In addition to leading Michigan in scoring, he led the Wolverines in assists, field goals, three-pointers, three-point percentage, free throws made, and free throw percentage.

“Stauskas spearheaded the nation’s most efficient offense of the past 12 seasons by being more versatile as a sophomore,” said Drew. “He attacked the rim more frequently, attempting more than double the number of free throws he shot last year. He was more effective finding open teammates for easy buckets, especially out of the pick and roll, increasing his assist rate from 7.6 to 18.8 percent. And he still made 44 percent of his triples, proving that, despite his versatility, he will always be most dangerous as a shooter.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Caris Levert (1)

Big Man of the Year Jordan Morgan

Jordan Morgan vs MSU 2-23-14Entering the season, Michigan figured to have one of the Big Ten’s best front courts with preseason All-American Mitch McGary and senior Jordan Morgan backing him up. But McGary began the season less than 100 percent and the back injury continued to linger, forcing him to undergo season-ending surgery. As a result, Morgan was thrust back into the starting lineup.

Morgan finished the season with a scoring average of 6.4 points and a rebound average of 5.0, but more than anything, he was a rock inside. The barely-recruited big man from Detroit especially came on late in the season, recording 15 points and 10 rebounds in the regular season finale against Indiana, and averaging 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in the NCAA Tournament. He also set the all-time Michigan records for single-season  (70 percent) and career (63.1 percent) field goal percentage.

“If you asked me this question in the middle of the season, I would have had a very difficult time picking one player here, but Morgan really solidified himself as one of the premier Big Men not only in the conference but in the whole country by March,” said Sam. “JMo’s play was all the more impressive when considering the bigger, more athletic opponents Michigan was facing on a day-by-day basis in the tournament.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Morgan

Morgan block vs TennesseeNot only did Morgan provide a reliable offensive threat late in the season, but he also lived up to his reputation as a solid defender. Although he was snubbed from the Big Ten All-Defensive team — which he was a part of last season — Morgan was consistent against some of the best big men in the Big Ten and the country.

No play provided bigger proof of his defensive prowess than his game-saving drawn charge in the closing seconds of the Sweet Sixteen win over Tennessee. With Michigan clinging to a one-point lead with six seconds remaining, UT big man Jarnell Stokes lowered his shoulder as he made his move to the basket. Morgan took the blow, drawing the charge, and giving Michigan the ball back to seal the win.

“They set a screen for him to come open, so I knew that the play was going to be for him,” Morgan said of the play. “I just know he likes to play bully ball and was just in a stance ready. I don’t know, I just was there. That’s just something I do. I take charges. That’s just what I do.”

“Michigan’s adjusted defensive efficiency was 102.1, which was U-M’s worst under John Beilein,” said Drew. “This was not Jordan Morgan’s fault, though. Morgan may not be the biggest or most athletic defender, but he certainly was the smartest. He knew how to play the angles, whether it would be to prevent a post-entry pass or take a last-minute charge. In the NCAA Tournament, Michigan’s defense noticeably declined when Morgan sat on the bench. It is a scary thought to imagine the Wolverines’ defense this year without Morgan down low.”

Votes: 3
Others Receiving Votes: Caris LeVert (1)

Game of the Year 79-70 home win over Michigan State

GRIII dunk vs MSUThere were certainly plenty of memorable games, but in terms of importance, the Feb. 23 win over Michigan State takes the cake. Michigan had already beaten the Spartans 80-75 in East Lansing a month before, but many discounted it because MSU was missing both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. In this one, Payne was back, and the Spartans held a half-game lead over the Wolverines in the conference standings. The winner was in the drivers’ seat, while the loser had some catching up to do.

Michigan State jumped out to a 22-11 lead in the first 10 minutes, looking as if the Spartans were going to exact revenge for the previous game. But a Spike Albrecht three ended a nearly-four-minute scoring drought and ignited a 10-0 Michigan run. The Wolverines pulled within two by halftime and then outscored MSU 45-34 in the second half. Stauskas and Caris LeVert combined for 48 points on 16-of-28 shooting as Michigan completed the regular season sweep and vaulted into the Big Ten lead.

“Never before had these two rivals played each other under similar circumstances,” said Drew. “Michigan, thanks to 25 points from Nik Stauskas and 23 points from Caris LeVert, overcame an early 11-point deficit and used a 21-4 second-half spurt to beat the Spartans, 79-70. The Wolverines leapfrogged the Spartans into first place and never looked backed, winning their first outright conference title since 1986.”

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: 77-70 win at Wisconsin (1), 73-71 Sweet Sixteen win over Tennessee (1)

Play of the Year Glenn Robinson III buzzer-beater at Purdue

GRIII game-winning shot vs Purdue 2-26-14After the big home win over Michigan State that put Michigan in the drivers’ seat for the Big Ten title, the Wolverines hit the road for a classic let-down game against Purdue. Michigan was expected to win, but games like this were never easy.

Purdue had nothing to play for except to throw a wrench into the title hunt and played inspired ball for 40-plus minutes. The Boilermakers led by as many as 19 points in the first half before Michigan cut it to 13 at the break. In the second half, Michigan began chipping away. Eleven points, nine points, seven points, four points, and suddenly it was a game again.

A Stauskas free throw made it a one-point game with 9:50 to play, but Purdue refused to let Michigan get over the hump. The Boilers maintained the lead the rest of the way, until Stauskas tied it up with a pair of free throws, sending the game into overtime.

In the extra stanza, Michigan took its first lead of the game, but every time the Wolverines tried to exert their force, Purdue answered. A pair of Ronnie Johnson free throws gave Purdue a 76-75 lead with 31 seconds remaining. Michigan missed a shot and was forced to foul, but Purdue missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving the Wolverines one more chance.

With the ball out of bounds on the sideline and 2.9 seconds remaining, Caris LeVert heaved a jump ball across the court to Glenn Robinson III, who came down with it, took one dribble and kissed a runner off the glass as time expired. Michigan survived 77-76.

“A loss at Purdue would have killed all the momentum from sweeping Michigan State, but luckily GR3 pulled it off,” said Derick.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Performance of the Year Nik Stauskas’ 25 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds in 79-70 win vs MSU

Nik Stauskas dunk vs MSU 2-23-14There were plenty of performances that could be considered here, especially by Stauskas, but his performance in the 79-70 home win over Michigan State was a thing of beauty. He followed up a 19-point, 5-of-6 three-point shooting first meeting by lighting up the Spartans for 25 points, five assists, and three rebounds on 9-of-13 overall shooting in the return trip.

That second meeting was an important game for both teams as Michigan State held a half game lead, and Michigan, despite winning in East Lansing, needed the win for its Big Ten title hopes. The Spartans jumped out to a big lead early in the game, but Michigan whittled it down to two at the half. And that’s when Stauskas took over.

He opened the half with a layup to tie the game, and after a MSU dunk, hit a free throw and a jumper to give Michigan its first lead. A few minutes later, after the Spartans had pulled ahead by five, Stauskas scored seven straight to put Michigan back ahead. Gary Harris hit a three, but Stauskas responded with one of his own, and after a pair of LeVert free throws, Stauskas hit another three to give Michigan a seven point lead. He scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half, one of the few moments all season that when he shot you knew it was going in.

“Pick any one of about 10 Stauskas performances throughout the season and you’re sure to be wowed, but his second half against Michigan State at home to help Michigan sweep the Spartans was probably the most exciting,” said Sam. “After Michigan State came out looking like world beaters in the first half, Stauskas paired with Caris LeVert to put on the most impressive run of the season early in the second half, and by the end of it, everyone in the arena knew every Stauskas shot was falling no matter how off-balance or guarded he was.”

Votes: 2
Others Receiving Votes: Stauskas’ 23 points, four rebounds, four assists, two blocks, one steal at Wisconsin (1), Derick Walton Jr.’s 19 points, six rebounds, four assists in win at Michigan State (1)

Newcomer of the Year Derrick Walton Jr.

Derrick Walton Jr.Losing an all-everything point guard to the NBA is never an easy task for any coach, but John Beilein got a superb season out of Derrick Walton Jr. The freshman from Detroit started 36 of the 37 games, averaging 7.9 points, three rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game. Most importantly, he provided a steady presence at the point guard position with nearly twice as many assists as turnovers.

Walton wasn’t always counted on to score, but he could certainly do it when needed. His best performance came in the 80-75 win at Michigan State when he scored 19 points, pulled down six rebounds, and dished out four assists. His clutch free throw shooting down the stretch sealed the win. He also recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the Feb. 11 win at Ohio State and finished the season with a 41 percent three-point rate.

“Zak Irvin had an impactful freshmen season, playing his role to perfection as a scoring threat off the bench,” said Drew. “In most years, he would win this award. But it is difficult not to give it to a freshman starting at a position just vacated by the consensus national player of the year. Derrick Walton, Jr. averaged 7.9 points, made 41 percent of his threes, and had the second-highest defensive rebounding rate among Michigan’s guards and wings despite being only 6’1″. Most importantly, he did not shy away in big moments, making clutch plays in the final minutes of critical road wins against Nebraska, Michigan State, and Ohio State.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Those Who Stay Senior of the Year Jordan Morgan

BiP-LF1CMAAZ3HLMorgan wins this by default, but even if he wasn’t the only senior on the team, another would have had a tough chance of beating him. His exploits have already been talked about in the Big Man of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year sections, but his contributions this season should not be downplayed.

Morgan committed to Beilein in 2010 under very different circumstances, when simply making the NCAA Tournament was a major accomplishment. By the time his career came to an end, Morgan had played in more games (142) than any player in Michigan history and started the third most (122). He holds the single season and career field goal percentage records, played in four straight NCAA Tournaments, won two Big Ten titles, and this season was named to the Allstate Good Works Team.

“Morgan, along with Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, is the foundation of the program that John Beilein has built in Ann Arbor,” said Drew. “Morgan committed to Michigan before U-M was considered one of the elite programs in the nation. And it sure did pay off. Most importantly, Morgan exemplified the leadership, determination, and heart that fans hope to see from every future player that dons the maize and blue.”

“Morgan’s grit, leadership, and confidence were absolutely crucial to this team, and were all the more impressive when considering Morgan’s complete loss of confidence in last year’s tournament,” said Sam.

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Most Improved Player  Caris LeVert

LeVert vs Wisconsin 1-18-14When Trey Burke left early for the NBA and Tim Hardaway Jr. graduated, Michigan was in need of playmakers to step up. A sophomore class that performed well as freshmen had plenty of options, and several showed significant improvement in 2013-14, but none more than Caris LeVert.

The Columbus, Ohio native that was once committed to Ohio University started all 37 games and improved his minutes from 10.8 to 34.0 and points per game from 2.3 to 12.9. He scored in double figures in 25 of 37 games and scored 20 or more points seven times. He also averaged 4.3 rebounds per contest and led the team with 141 defensive boards.

When Michigan struggled to find any offense in an early season matchup at Duke, LeVert carried the team with 24 points. He did the same in a loss to Wisconsin when the Badgers shut down Stauskas, scoring 25, and also poured in 23 in the home win over Michigan State. He earned All-Big Ten second team honors and was named to the NCAA Tournament All-Midwest Regional team.

“LeVert often drew an audible sigh from the crowd when he would make mistakes last season, and his inconsistency in limited minutes was certainly frustrating,” said Sam. “Fast forward to this season, however, and one could argue that LeVert’s out-of-nowhere contributions were just as important as Stauskas’s dominance on occasion. And any time Stauskas was off, LeVert was the one picking up the slack. I don’t think anyone truly believed LeVert could improve THAT much in just one offseason.”

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Inside the Numbers: Best offense of the KenPom era

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014


Michigan huddle vs UK(MGoBlue.com)

In 2013, Michigan had the best offense in the nation. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. were the offensive engines, holding the two highest usage rates on the roster. Burke consumed a team-high 29 percent of U-M’s possessions, while Hardaway, Jr. used the second-most at a 22.3-percent rate. And neither wasted many possessions when they had the ball in their hands. They averaged a combined 33.1 points per game, accounting for 44 percent of Michigan’s points. Burke and Hardaway, Jr. were the main reasons why the Wolverines had the highest adjusted offensive efficiency in the country in 2013 (120.3).

It was no surprise then that Burke, the consensus national player of the year, and Hardaway, Jr., member of the coaches’ All-Big Ten first team, decided to forego their Michigan careers and declare for the 2013 NBA Draft. This left a huge void offensively for the Wolverines. How would Michigan overcome their departures offensively? Although Michigan had skilled, efficient players returning, none had before lifted the load the Burke and Hardaway, Jr. had just lifted. It was not preposterous to assume that their individual efficiency would suffer at the expense of a bigger workload. This is why most outside the Michigan locker room, myself included, expected the Wolverines to step back offensively in 2014.

Boy, were we wrong.

Despite the departures of Burke and Hardaway, Jr. and the lower-back injury that forced Mitch McGary to miss most of the season, Michigan led the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency for the second straight season. This is the third time that a school has achieved this feat two years in a row. The other two were Wake Forest (2004-05) and North Carolina (2008-09). However, unlike Michigan, the Demon Deacons and the Tar Heels did not lose their star players after the first year. Wake Forest had current NBA star Chris Paul for both years, and North Carolina kept their core nucleus of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Danny Green, Wayne Ellington, and Deon Thompson intact. Michigan did not have such a luxury and still did it anyway.

In addition to having the best adjusted offensive efficiency for the second straight season, Michigan actually increased its rating in 2014 without Burke, Hardaway, Jr., and McGary. In 2013, Michigan would be expected to score 120.3 points in a 100-possession game against an average NCAA D-1 college basketball team. In 2014, Michigan would be expected to score 124.1 points in such a game. Not only is this a significant improvement, no team has ever posted a better adjusted offensive efficiency in the KenPom era. Therefore, Michigan’s offense this season was the most efficient in the nation since at least 2002.

Top 10 Kenpom era offenses

The 2014 season featured three of the six most-efficient offenses of the past 12 seasons. In addition to Michigan, Duke and Creighton had historically impressive offenses. In fact, for most of the season, the Blue Devils and the Bluejays, not the Wolverines, were dueling for the designation as the nation’s most-efficient offense. However, Michigan made a giant push in the NCAA Tournament for the top spot. After a lackluster showing against Wofford in the Round of 64, the Wolverines scored 1.379, 1.213, and 1.265 points per possession against three top-50-caliber defenses. These offensive explosions propelled Michigan past both Duke and Creighton for the title as the most-efficient offense not only in 2014, but also in the KenPom era.

These offensive explosions were common throughout the entire season, not just in the NCAA Tournament. It did not matter whether the opponent had one of the nation’s best defenses or one of the worst. Most defenses that challenged Michigan’s potent offense limped away whimpering. Ten of Michigan’s opponents—Coppin State, Houston Baptist, Arizona, Holy Cross, Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, Texas, Tennessee, and Kentucky—had their worst defensive performance, in terms of efficiency, against the Wolverines. An additional four opponents—South Carolina State, Long Beach State, Penn State, and Illinois—had their second-worst defensive performance against Michigan. Therefore, 14 of U-M’s 27 different opponents this season had either their worst or second-worst defensive performance against Michigan. And Michigan State’s two worst defensive performances were at the hands of the Wolverines.

So how did Michigan pull this off without Burke, Hardaway, Jr., and McGary? Well, for starters, Michigan had absolutely no weak links on offense. All eight of Michigan’s major contributors—Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, Derrick Walton, Jr., Jordan Morgan, Zak Irvin, Jon Horford, and Spike Albrecht—had an individual offensive rating higher than 110.0. Therefore, all eight Michigan regulars averaged more than 1.10 points per individual possession, which is extremely efficient.

Off efficiency & Usage rate

But, most importantly, the key to Michigan maintaining this offensive success was that five of U-Ms six returners upped their offensive efficiency in 2014. LeVert and Stauskas had the most significant improvements because they increased both their usage rate and offensive rating, which is a difficult task. LeVert’s improvement is eye-popping. He was the least efficient Wolverine last season and had a minor role accordingly. This season? LeVert’s usage rate was the second-highest on the team, and he increased his offensive rating by 18.3 points. A legitimate argument can be made that LeVert’s sophomore season (21.4-percent usage rate, 111.7 offensive rating) was more productive than Hardaway, Jr.’s junior season (22.3-percent usage rate, 106.7 offensive rating). Either way, it is clear that LeVert filled the void left by Hardaway, Jr.

Stauskas’ improvement is just as impressive as LeVert’s even though Stauskas’ offensive rating increased by only 1.3 points. Stauskas had little room to increase his efficiency after recording an offensive rating of 122.8 as a freshman, which was the 36th-best in the nation in 2013. Yet Stauskas did this despite increasing his usage rate from 16.2 to 23.9 percent and becoming Michigan’s offensive star. Generally, a go-to player may struggle with his efficiency because he receives the most attention from defenses and must shoot bad shots in late-shot-clock situations. But Stauskas still upped his offensive efficiency anyway. While he was not the playmaker that Burke was, Stauskas mitigated the loss of the consensus national player of the year as well as any player can.

Three Wolverines improved their offensive efficiency while either maintaining their usage rate or using fewer possessions than last season: Morgan, Horford, and Albrecht. Morgan saw the largest spike in his offensive rating not only among these three Wolverines, but everyone on the team. His offensive rating jumped 18.8 points, just surpassing the 18.3-point spike LeVert’s offensive rating experienced. As a result, Morgan’s offensive rating of 128.2 was the highest on the team and the 26th-best in the country. This is what happens when a player makes a school-record 70 percent of his field-goal attempts.

The only returning major contributor that did not see his offensive efficiency increase was Robinson III. Not only did his offensive rating drop, it plummeted by 14.7 points. But this is unfair. Last season, Robinson III had an offensive rating of 128.4, which was the 10th-best in the nation. Similar to Stauskas, Robinson III had little to no room to improve his offensive efficiency. He pretty much hit the ceiling as a freshman. It is no surprise that his offensive rating dropped to a still very good 113.7 while increasing his usage rate by six percentage points. This is normal. Stauskas is the exception, not the rule. So, although Robinson III was not as consistent or efficient offensively as he was as a freshman, he still was very reliable offensively for a player handling over 20 percent of his team’s possessions.

So what does this all mean? It means that Michigan just had the best offense of the past 12 seasons despite losing two NBA first-round draft picks. It means that John Beilein and this Michigan program is more than just one or two players. It means that Beilein is recruiting skilled players that fit and are developing quickly perfectly in his offensive system, which no other school has been able to match for the past two seasons. And it means that you should not make the mistake of assuming that Michigan’s offense will take a step back next year, even if Michigan loses another player or two to the NBA.

A statistical look at Michigan’s 2013-14 season

Monday, April 7th, 2014


Huddle vs UK(MGoBlue.com)

With the 2013-14 Michigan basketball season in the rear view mirror, it’s time to take a statistical look back at the team. The chart  below is color-coded for each player’s rank in each statistical category based on that player’s team rank. The darker the maize, the higher he finished, with the team leader represented in dark maize and the number bolded. The darker the blue, the lower he finished, with the low man in dark blue and the number bolded.

Two years ago when I did this, the chart showed that Michigan was basically a six-man team. The first six were mostly maize and the bottom eight were mostly blue. This year’s team went a little deeper with a nine-man rotation (counting the injured McGary) before the colors turn to blue. The nine regulars played 97.8 percent of the team’s total minutes all season, while the bottom five played a combined 162 minutes. That’s 35 minutes fewer than McGary played in the eight games he played in.

Nik Stauskas led the team in 10 categories: minutes, minutes per game, field goals made, three-point field goals made, three-point percentage, free throws made, free throw percentage, assists, points scored, and points per game. He also had the most turnovers. He had an average team rank of 4.57.

Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert had an identical average team ranking of 4.79. They were the only two players on the team to play in and start every game, and while Robinson didn’t lead the team in any other category, LeVert led the Wolverines with 141 defensive rebounds. The two ranked second or third in most other categories.

Jordan Morgan led the team in three categories: field goal percentage, offensive rebounds, and total rebounds, while McGary led in rebounds per game and Horford led in blocked shots.

Final Player Stats
Name GP-GS Min Avg
Min
FG-FGA FG% 3FG-3FGA 3FG% FT-FTA FT% OR DR Tot
Reb
Reb
Avg
A TO Blk Stl Pts Avg
Pts
Nik Stauskas 36-36 1281 35.6 185-394 .470 92-208 .442 168-204 .824 15 90 105 2.9 118 67 11 20 630 17.5
Glenn Robinson III 37-37 1194 32.3 182-373 .488 33-108 .306 87-115 .757 54 110 164 4.4 44 46 11 35 484 13.1
Caris LeVert 37-37 1258 34.0 163-371 .439 60-147 .408 92-120 .767 19 141 160 4.3 109 62 10 44 478 12.9
Mitch McGary 8-4 197 24.6 30-55 .545 0-2 .000 16-24 .667 23 43 66 8.3 12 13 6 15 76 9.5
Derrick Walton Jr. 37-36 989 26.7 91-212 .429 43-105 .410 69-87 .793 14 98 112 3.0 106 56 1 21 294 7.9
Zak Irvin 37-0 569 15.4 85-196 .434 62-146 .425 15-21 .714 14 35 49 1.3 13 16 3 9 247 6.7
Jordan Morgan 37-27 743 20.1 98-140 .700 0-0 .000 39-62 .629 72 113 185 5.0 22 32 16 16 235 6.4
Jon Horford 37-7 512 13.8 62-110 .564 0-2 .000 17-26 .654 49 105 154 4.2 19 19 26 10 141 3.8
Spike Albrecht 37-1 545 14.7 38-94 .404 24-62 .387 21-27 .778 6 35 41 1.1 75 16 1 18 121 3.3
Cole McConnell 4-0 10 2.5 1-3 .333 1-3 .333 1-2 .500 0 1 1 0.3 0 0 0 0 4 1.0
Max Bielfeldt 19-0 89 4.7 6-21 .286 3-9 .333 0-1 .000 8 12 20 1.1 0 2 2 2 15 0.8
Sean Lonergan 11-0 23 2.1 2-5 .400 0-1 .000 2-2 1.000 2 2 4 0.4 1 2 1 1 6 0.5
Brad Anlauf 8-0 16 2.0 1-4 .250 0-0 .000 0-0 .000 0 2 2 0.3 1 1 0 0 2 0.3
Andrew Dakich 12-0 24 2.0 1-4 .250 1-1 1.000 0-0 .000 1 3 4 0.3 5 2 0 0 3 0.3
Color Key
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Further analysis will follow in the individual player season profiles in the coming days, but below are the overall team stats and how they compared to last season.

The column on the far right shows the difference for each stat category. A maize highlight means the team improved in that category and blue means it declined. This year’s team won three fewer games and lost one more than a year ago, but improved in conference play by three games, which was good enough to win the Big Ten.

This year’s offense was college basketball’s most efficient offense in the last 12 years according to Kenpom, but it scored 1.3 fewer points per game and shot 0.7 percent worse than last year’s squad did. That said, this year’s team took 278 fewer shots (in just two fewer games) than last year’s, which is a big reason for the great efficiency. This squad improved its three-point shooting by 1.7 percent while attempting 25 more, and improved its free throw shooting by a whopping 6.2 percent while attempting 49 more, compared to last season.

On the glass, this squad pulled down 3.6 fewer boards per game, but also allowed its opponents to rebound 0.9 fewer as a result of the great offensive efficiency. Assists, blocks, and steals all went ever so slightly down, but turnovers improved by a hair.

Final Team Stats
2012-13 (Last year) Category 2013-14 (This year) Difference
75.2 Points Per Game 73.9 -1.3
63.3 Scoring Defense 65.1 -1.8
1,093-for-2,260 (48.4%) Field Goal % 945-for-1,982 (47.7%) -0.7
941-for-2,221 (42.4%) Def. Field Goal % 905-for-2,035 (44.5%) -2.1
296-for-769 (38.5%) 3-point % 319-for-794 (40.2%) +1.7
242-for-745 (32.5%) Def. 3-point % 201-for-632 (31.8%) +0.7
450-for-642 70.1%) Free Throw % 527-for-691 (76.3%) +6.2
11.5 Free Throws Made/Game 14.2 +2.7
35.0 Rebounds Per Game 31.4 -3.6
32.1 Opp. Rebounds Per Game 31.2 +0.9
14.5 Assists Per Game 14.2 -0.3
9.4 Turnovers Per Game 9.3 +0.1
6.1 Steals Per Game 5.2 -0.9
2.8 Blocks Per Game 2.4 -0.4
12,138 Average Home Attendance 12,698 +560
G – Trey Burke (18.6)
G – Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.5)
Leading Scorers G – Nik Stauskas (17.5)
F – Glenn Robinson III (13.1)
F – Mitch McGary (6.3)
F – Glenn Robinson III (5.4)
Leading Rebounders F – Mitch McGary (8.3)
F – Jordan Morgan (5.0)

Stay tuned in the coming days for the individual player season profiles, where we’ll evaluate each player’s contribution to the season, how it compared to his previous season(s), and the main areas of improvement for next season.

This team will never be forgotten

Friday, April 4th, 2014


Stauskas vs Kentucky(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Last year was supposed to be Michigan’s year, and what a year it was. After sputtering near the end of the Big Ten season, the Wolverines, led by All-Everything point guard Trey Burke and fellow future first-round NBA Draft pick Tim Hardaway, Jr., danced their way to the Final Four and then the championship game with pizzazz. And although they ended up falling just short of being NCAA tournament champions, those Wolverines were certainly impressive.

Following the magical run, Burke and Hardaway announced their entry into the draft, and any hopes of a repeat season seemed out the window.

Sure, Mitch McGary, the darling of the Dance, was back for his sophomore season along with best pal and projected lottery pick Glenn Robinson III, and Michigan had another interesting piece in Nik Stauskas, but the consensus was that this year’s squad simply could not become what the previous team was.

And for a long while, those sentiments seemed spot on. After bowling over two overmatched opponents, Michigan traveled to Iowa State and failed to hold onto a win despite the return of the injured McGary. Two more wins came, including an overtime thriller over Florida State in which it seemed that the team may have turned a corner, just to be followed by a head-scratching loss to Charlotte in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

Three of these five may be gone next year but they'll always be remembered for a special season (MGoBlue.com)

Three of these five may be gone next year but they’ll always be remembered for a special season (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan went on to split the next four games, with losses at Duke and to Arizona sandwiched among them, and learned that McGary’s injury would probably hold him out for the rest of the season.

The non-conference season was just about over, Michigan had no big wins to speak of, and perhaps the Wolverines’ best player was down for the count. Just like that, the Maize and Blue went from a potentially solid, but not great, team to a team that many thought had an uphill climb just to make the Big Dance.

We all know where things went from there. Inexplicably, the Wolverines regrouped, winning 15 of 18 Big Ten games, swept Michigan State, won the conference outright by three games, and came inches away from making a second straight Final Four.

None of this was supposed to happen. This team was too young, too small, too weak. Jordan Morgan was not a Big Ten-caliber starter, and much less on a Big Ten championship team. Caris LeVert was too skinny and erratic, Nik Stauskas and Zak Irvin were too one-dimensional, Glenn Robinson III was too passive and inconsistent, Spike Albrecht was too slow, Derrick Walton needed another year of experience, and Jon Horford was, well, Jon Horford.

Together, however, those “toos” became one. This team of misfits banded together as friends and showed all the doubters what they were capable of.

This team wasn’t a fluke. It was a team that maybe lacked some recruiting star power, but certainly didn’t lack heart or a star coaching staff. It was a team that, when things started to click, was perhaps more dangerous than any other in the country. It was a team that was a joy to watch.

There were plenty of bumps along the way, with the non-conference season being the biggest of all. There were puzzlingly lazy starts (Florida State,  at Minnesota,  at Purdue, and Wisconsin) and games that you couldn’t help but sit back, enjoy, and shake your head at (Nebraska, Michigan State,  at Illinois, and Texas). There were heart attacks and heart breaks, comebacks and even a few letdowns.

But more than anything, this was a team to be proud of. It was clear from the start that these guys loved playing with each other and loved playing for their coach. McGary, watching from the bench for the majority of the season, perhaps had more fun than anyone else, and in this day and age of superstars with inflated egos, that is something to behold.

A regular season sweep of Michigan State en route to a Big Ten title highlighted a great season (MGoBlue.com)

A regular season sweep of Michigan State en route to a Big Ten title highlighted a great season (MGoBlue.com)

When players answered questions after games, they gave standard coach-speak responses as they’ve been coached to do, but it still felt sincere. When Stauskas said he was confident that Horford would finish his passes with buckets, he meant it. When Jordan Morgan told everyone that he didn’t care who was scoring the points or collecting the rebounds down low so long as the team won, and then shed tears on Senior Day and after the season-ending loss to Kentucky, he wasn’t faking it.

You rarely heard anything negative about these players because there was little negative to tell. These weren’t the college basketball players who would scuffle with each other and their coaches or the type to break a hand smashing a table in frustration.

By the end of the season, the team had accomplished so much and won so many close games and overcome so much doubt that another Final Four seemed inevitable. Yes, Kentucky proved to be the more talented team, but Michigan had already ousted many talented teams this season. When Julius Randle accidentally tipped in two points for Michigan after Caris LeVert battled for seemingly endless offensive rebounds in what would be the second-to-last offensive possession the Wolverines would have this season, I knew the Wolverines would pull one out like they had so many times before. Even when Aaron Harrison made that improbable deep three with a LeVert hand in his face, I thought Stauskas would drain a heave to send it to overtime, where, of course, the Maize and Blue would punch their ticket to Dallas.

Alas, it all ended too soon. Michigan will not travel to the Lone Star state this weekend to battle for the ultimate prize in college basketball, and this team, these warriors, will never all take to the court as a team again. And it still seems a bit surreal.

When next season rolls around, Morgan will have exhausted his eligibility, and Stauskas and Robinson III will have probably moved on to bigger and better things in the world of basketball. Many of the players will return, but things will be different.

There will be a couple new banners hanging in the rafters of Crisler, however, to honor and remember this team.

Because, after all, this team will never be forgotten.

Inside the Numbers: The variance and cruelty of March Madness

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014


Harrison three(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

The best word to describe the NCAA Tournament is “unpredictable.” When a 68-school, single-elimination tournament is used to crown the national champion, chaos will ensue. Although the following counters what all traditional college basketball fans believe, forty minutes of basketball is not enough time to truly determine which of two teams playing each other is the better team.

This is why, every year in mid-March, there are top-four seeds losing in the Round of 64 (Hi, Duke!). There are double-digit seeds shocking the nation with Cinderella runs deep into the tournament (Hi, Dayton!). There are buzzer-beaters (Hi, Cameron Ridley!). There are overtimes (Hi, Tennessee, Stephen F. Austin, Connecticut, North Dakota State, San Diego State, Saint Louis, and Wisconsin!). This is why the NCAA Tournament is coined “March Madness” and why it is one of the most entertaining, dramatic, and popular sporting events. But this is also why it is one of the cruelest.

Before March Madness takes the nation by storm, the 68 NCAA Tournament teams generally have already played 30 to 35 games. It is during these 30 to 35 games that teams reveal their identity on the hardwood. Some, like Michigan, Duke, and Creighton this year, show themselves to be offensive wizards, with an ability to score from any spot on the floor, but incapable of preventing opponents from doing the same. Others, like Ohio State, Saint Louis, and Cincinnati this season, become defensive juggernauts that cannot buy a bucket for themselves. And few, like Florida, Arizona, and Wichita State this year, excel on both ends of the floor. The identities that teams established in the regular season are the ones that these teams are expected to assume in the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan entered the game with a huge advantage from three but in a one-game scenario, was unable to capitalize because UK shot lights out (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Michigan entered the game with a huge advantage from three but in a one-game scenario, was unable to capitalize because UK shot out of its mind (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Kentucky’s identity is easy to peg. Kentucky has size, size, and more size, boasting a starting lineup and a few key reserves who all are 6’6” or taller. With this size, the Wildcats’ offensive identity is paint domination. UK’s guards love to drive into the teeth of opposing defenses for layups and two-point jumpers. UK’s big men love to receive the ball on the block and use their size, strength, and, in Julius Randle’s case, an array of post moves to generate easy looks around the rim. And, if those shots do not fall, few teams in the nation crash the offensive glass and earn second-chance points as well as the Wildcats.

This was on full display when Kentucky and Michigan squared off in the Midwest Regional final on Sunday evening with a spot in the Final Four at stake. Kentucky capitalized on its size advantage against the Wolverines and set up shop in the paint. The Wildcats took 58 shots. Forty-seven of those were taken inside the three-point line, of which UK converted a healthy 51.1 percent. And, when Kentucky did miss, it grabbed the offensive board a season-high 63 percent of the time. This led to 46 points in the paint and 17 second-chance points for the Wildcats. This may have been more than expected, but it certainly was not a surprise.

However, the same cannot be said about Kentucky’s perimeter shooting. One of the reasons why Kentucky’s identity is paint domination is because the Wildcats have no sharpshooters. Only James Young and the Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew, have attempted more than 50 triples this season, and no major contributor on Kentucky has made more than 36 percent of his threes. Accordingly, prior to Sunday’s game, Kentucky ranked No. 247 in the country in three-point shooting, making a subpar 32.7 percent. Kentucky had not been hot from the outside recently either. UK had made 34 percent of its three-pointers in its first three NCAA Tournament contests and 33.8 percent in its previous 10 games before the Elite Eight.

This is why the most significant defensive key to the game for Michigan, other than trying to prevent Kentucky from assaulting the offensive glass, was to tempt UK’s guards into launching treys from behind the arc. The more frequently the Wildcats tried to add three points to their total, the more likely they would stray away from their offensive strengths. Whether or not Michigan employed a defensive strategy that did this effectively is a debate for another time. The point is that the battle of the perimeter was supposed to be won convincingly by Michigan, the fourth-best three-point shooting team in the nation at 40.2 percent, not Kentucky.

UM-UK 3-pt percentages

The problem for Michigan, though, was variance. If Michigan was to play Kentucky three or four times in a season, or even in all 35 games of a season, UK likely would convert only between 32 and 34 percent of its three-pointers over the course of those games. But Michigan and Kentucky played each other in only one game. And, in one game, there is variance. There will be some individual contests in which the Wildcats will light it up from downtown. There will be more individual contests in which the Wildcats are ice cold and struggle to hit a shot outside 15 feet. Against the Wolverines, it was the former.

Kentucky, a team that had made only 32.7 percent of its three-pointers prior to the Elite Eight, sunk 7-of-11 triples against Michigan for an atypical rate of 63.6 percent. It is the second-highest three-point percentage the Wildcats have recorded this season, with only the 75 percent they made during a 6-of-8 performance against Providence four months ago in December topping it. The effort was led by Aaron Harrison and Young, who combined to make 70 percent of their threes against the Wolverines after combining to make only 34.2 percent in the 37 games they had played before Sunday.

This was the difference in the game. The Wolverines made 38.9 percent of their threes against Kentucky, which falls right in line with U-M’s average for the season. However, this was a stat that Michigan needed to dominate. In its first three NCAA Tournament games, Michigan had outscored its opponents from three-point territory by a substantial margin, 96-24. Against Kentucky, though, Michigan had as many points from threes as the Wildcats (21). Had Kentucky shot its season average against U-M, the Wolverines would have scored about nine to 12 more points from the perimeter than Kentucky. The Wildcats may have rebounded one or two of those additional misses, but that is the difference between Michigan winning by six to nine points and losing by three.

And the shot that buried Michigan? A heavily contested three-pointer by Aaron Harrison, who had made only 34.6 percent of his triples this season before the Elite Eight, with a tad over two seconds remaining.

If this had been a best-of-seven series to determine whether Michigan or Kentucky would advance to the Final Four, it would have been a tough loss for the Maize and Blue. However, the Wolverines would have had six more opportunities to try to win four games, and the odds would have been extremely unlikely that the Wildcats would have another extraordinary three-point-shooting performance.

But this was not a best-of-seven series. This was the NCAA Tournament, where variance, like a one-game spike in three-point shooting, can be the difference between celebrating a second straight Final Four and sitting at home for the last weekend of the tournament. This is what makes the NCAA Tournament one of the best sporting events and one of the cruelest. Unfortunately, for the Wolverines, they just experienced why it can be the latter.

That close: Kentucky 75 – Michigan 72

Sunday, March 30th, 2014


Jordan Morgan vs Kentucky 3-30-14(MGoBlue.com)

A perfect juxtaposition of basketball styles put on a thrilling performance Sunday evening in Indianapolis with a trip to the Final Four on the line. One, the embodiment of college basketball in its truest form, a well-coached mixture of NBA talent and role players performing together as a team. The other, a high-flying collection of all-stars playing an NBA style, vying to extend their reluctant seven-month pit stop in Lexington a few more days before moving on to the next level and the riches that await them.

If games were won or lost by recruiting rankings alone this one wouldn’t have been close. Yes, Michigan has elevated its recruiting over the past few years, but one of John Beilein’s two five-stars was riding the bench as he has since mid-December after undergoing season-ending back surgery. When John Calipari’s four-star big man suffered an ankle injury in Friday’s Sweet Sixteen win over Louisville, forcing him to miss this game, he got a big lift from an unsung hero who just happens to have been rated even higher. No, this one shouldn’t have been close. But it was.

When Michigan lost last season’s national championship game and two NBA draft picks, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., it was assumed that the team would take a slight step back this season. There was plenty of talent, sure, but the leadership of Hardaway and the game-changing ability of Burke would be tough to replace. Then, preseason All-American Mitch McGary was lost for the year and Michigan opened the season 6-4. But instead of wilting, this resilient group of overachievers tore through the Big Ten, winning the conference by three games, and marched right back to the Elite Eight, into this matchup with what had been considered just two weeks ago a highly-heralded group of underachievers.

Aaron Harrison's three with two seconds remaining ended Michigan's season (IndyStar)

Aaron Harrison’s three with two seconds remaining ended Michigan’s season (IndyStar)

Michigan raced out to an 11-4 lead in the game’s first five minutes, sending a message to the young superstars that, despite the disparity in recruiting rankings and NBA potential, they wouldn’t be taken lightly. Kentucky responded with an 8-3 run to pull within two, showing time and again that their sheer athleticism and skill was superior. Of the Wildcats’ first eight baskets, seven were layups or dunks.

Michigan pulled ahead by six at 25-19, but Kentucky’s five-star guard James Young — who went to high school an hour from Ann Arbor — answered with a three. Michigan scored the next seven to open up a 10-point lead and suddenly the pro-Kentucky crowd in Lucas Oil Stadium — a mere three hour drive from Lexington — was stunned. But Michigan went scoreless for the next two-and-a-half minutes and the Wildcats had closed the gap to two. By halftime, Kentucky had tied the game at 37 and captured all of the momentum.

Five-star Julius Randle opened the second half with a dunk to give Kentucky its first lead of the game, but two-star Caris LeVert answered with a jumper. Kentucky scored the next six and it looked like the big boys were finally starting to take charge. But the unheralded LeVert hit a shot, followed by a three from four-star Derrick Walton Jr. After a Randle layup, LeVert hit a three to tie the game at 47. Michigan wasn’t going away.

Michigan regained the lead when lone five-star Glenn Robinson III threw down a dunk with 12:27 to play. Two-star Jon Hoford followed with a dunk of his own and Michigan was up four. But 11 straight points by Kentucky turned a four-point deficit into a seven-point lead before Robinson connected on a three to stop the bleeding. Michigan had gone five minutes and 25 seconds without a point.

After a rare defensive stop, Michigan got a three-point play from no-star Jordan Morgan and it was a game again, 62-61 Kentucky with 4:47 remaining. But Kentucky’s five-star guard Aaron Harrison knocked down a three to keep Michigan from pulling even.

Back and forth went the final few minutes, neither team able to stop the other. Morgan dunk on one end, five-star Alex Poythress layup on the other. Robinson dunk on one end, five-star Dakari Johnson layup on the other. Four-star Nik Stauskas free throws on one end, Harrison three on the other. Robinson three-pointer on one end, turnover on the other. Kentucky’s turnover with 1:39 to play was the first stop for either team since five-star Andrew Harrison turned it over with 5:25 to play.

Michigan found itself within two points, with the ball, with 56 seconds remaining and a chance to either tie the game or take the lead. Stauskas drove to his right, into the lane, but his contested layup attempt was no good. LeVert grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it out Stauskas in the corner for three. His shot missed, but LeVert was there again for the rebound. He found Walton for three, but again it was no good. This time, Morgan was there to tip it in and tie the game at 72.

Just 27 seconds remained and Michigan needed a defensive stop to force overtime. Kentucky had had its way with the dribble-drive all game, consistently beating Wolverine defenders off the dribble and either finishing in the paint or giving their taller and more athletic big men a chance to grab the rebound or tip it in. But with the game on the line, Michigan’s defense held firm, forcing Kentucky — which entered the game shooting just 32.6 percent from three-point range — a contested NBA-range three. It was just the shot Michigan wanted Kentucky to take. And Harrison nailed it. Stauskas’ half-court heave at the buzzer fell just short and the book on Michigan’s season was closed.

Kentucky’s season extends for at least six more days, at most eight, before five — maybe more — players will declare for the NBA Draft and Calipari will reload with four of the nation’s top 25 incoming freshmen. Beilein will await the decisions of sophomores Stauskas, Robinson, and McGary. He’ll also lose Morgan, who defined the essence of pure college basketball, committing to a much different-looking Michigan program in 2010 as an unranked big man, and going out with a degree in industrial engineering as one of the most beloved Wolverines on the team.

Two very different programs. Two very different philosophies. The one that was supposed to win on Sunday evening won, but the difference on the court was virtually nonexistent. The one that didn’t will go down as one of the best in Michigan history. Michigan’s mixture of stars and unsung heroes — some of whom virtually nobody wanted — stood toe to toe with the nations best and proved they belonged. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Three Stars

***Nik Stauskas***
24 points (6-of-14 FG, 2-of-7 3PT, 10-of-11 FT), 1 rebound, three assists, three turnovers in 39 minutes

**Julius Randle (UK)**
16 points (7-of-16 FG, 2-of-2 FT), 11 rebounds (four offensive), one block, one steal, in 32 minutes

*Marcus Lee (UK)*
10 points (5-of-7FG), eight rebounds (seven offensive), two blocks in 15 minutes

Quick Hitters

 The 59 wins over the last two seasons are the most in program history and the highest two-year total since the 1991-92 and 1992-93 teams won 56.

 This year’s team finishes the season as the seventh-highest scoring in Michigan history with 2,736 points.

 Jordan Morgan finished his career as the program’s all-time leader in career field goal percentage (63.1) and single-season field goal percentage (70).

 Nik Stasukas passed Louis Bullock (1995-97) for the most made three-pointers in the first two years. He now has 172.

 Stauskas and Caris LeVert were both named to the Midwest Region All-Tournament Team, becoming the 25th and 26th players in program history to earn regional all-tournament teams.

 

 


_______________________________________________________________

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 6-14 2-2 0-0 1 3 4 1 14 1 0 0 1 37
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 1-7 1-5 0-0 1 2 3 2 3 1 0 0 1 33
11 Nik Stauskas* 6-14 2-7 10-11 0 1 1 0 24 3 3 0 0 39
52 Jordan Morgan* 5-6 0-0 1-1 4 0 4 3 11 0 2 0 0 22
23 Caris LeVert* 4-7 1-3 0-2 2 1 3 4 9 5 1 1 2 31
02 Spike Albrecht 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 7
15 Jon Horford 3-5 0-0 0-0 2 1 3 2 6 1 0 0 0 14
21 Zak Irvin 2-2 1-1 0-0 0 0 0 2 5 0 0 0 0 13
44 Max Bielfeldt 0-1 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
Totals 27-57 7-18 11-14 14 10 24 14 72 11 7 1 4 200
Kentucky 31-58 7-11 6-11 17 18 35 14 75 8 11 6 2 200
Full Stats

Sam’s 3 thoughts: Kentucky

Sunday, March 30th, 2014


Michigan-Kentucky header_NCAAT_1

With one game between Michigan and a second straight Final Four, eyes are starting to turn toward the Wolverine program. Again, however, it will be Michigan’s opponents that are more hyped up by the media. After squeaking by a resurgent Tennessee team following a bevy of late uncharacteristic blunders, the Wolverines will now face John Calipari’s freshmen-laden Kentucky Wildcats at 5:05 on CBS in a game that looks remarkably similar to Friday’s on paper.

The Wildcats, who usually start four freshmen and a sophomore, will likely be without 7’0″ behemoth Willie Cauley-Stein down low after he suffered an ankle injury in a surprise win over Louisville, but still possess loads of talent on a shortened bench. Here are my three thoughts on how Michigan can advance to Dallas next weekend.

Mix it Up Defensively: For the past two games in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan has matched up with much bigger teams that make a living on the offensive glass. Both Texas and Tennessee ranked in the top 10 this season in offensive rebounding and were happy to bang with anyone down low and get points off easy put-backs, and each team had a fair amount of success in grabbing those offensive boards. But Michigan’s defense was just good enough to hold on to victories, and at this point in the season, any win is a celebratory one.

Much like the Longhorns and Volunteers, the Wildcats also struggle to shoot from three-point range, making just 32.6 percent from distance on the year, and Michigan will look to take advantage of that weakness by mixing in a healthy amount of 1-3-1 zone defense. Without Cauley-Stein’s size and rebounding prowess on the floor, Kentucky shouldn’t be as difficult to deal with on their own misses, and the Wolverines should be able to force some bad shots and a few turnovers against an undisciplined squad with that 1-3-1.

Julius Randle will be the third straight dominant big man Jordan Morgan has faced in the tournament (Chet White, UK Athletics)

Julius Randle will be the third straight dominant big man Jordan Morgan has faced in the tournament (Chet White, UK Athletics)

As soon as Kentucky’s freshman sensation, Julius Randle, starts getting some put-backs, however, it will be back to man-to-man, where Jordan Morgan will be asked to shine once again. Michigan’s senior, thriving off of widespread doubt, has been exceptional in the tournament with 40 points, 27 rebounds, four steals, four assists, and two blocks in three games. An equally productive game today should see Michigan on top at the end.

Battle Julius Randle: Julius Randle, just one star recruit in a line of freshmen head-turners to play for John Calipari, is easily the best of the baby Wildcat bunch this year. Measuring in at 6’9″ and 250 pounds, Randle has been a load for every team to handle this season, and with averages of 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds, the Dallas native will be looking to play in front of a home crowd next weekend before likely going in the top three of this year’s NBA Draft.

Riding a wave of three straight double-doubles to add to his whopping 23 on the season (those three included), Randle is a joy to watch for the unbiased viewer but a nightmare for the opponent. Randle is one of those rare wide bodies that moves so effortlessly in the paint, and even with his size, he is incredibly gifted on his feet, possesses excellent hands, and takes on double teams with ease.

When battling one-on-one this evening with the freshman, senior Jordan Morgan may have a few tricks up his sleeve with his leg up in the experience department, but he will certainly be challenged. If Randle goes off for 20 points and 15 rebounds, Michigan will be hard-pressed to pull out a win, but if Morgan can hold Randle somewhat in check with some help from double teams and zone looks, the Wolverines’ magical run will continue.

Win the Turnover War: Michigan and Kentucky, besides their collective youth, are about as opposite as you can be on the basketball court. Michigan runs a smart, precise, and calculating offense designed to get open looks for its stable of shooters and easy lay-ups when defenses cheat while maximizing possessions without giving up fast break buckets. In a sentence, the Wolverines try to win by taking advantage of their strengths and minimizing mistakes.

Kentucky, on the other hand, runs Calipari’s vague “dribble-drive” offense that is akin to superstar NBA play. Calipari runs very few plays and relies on his ultra-talented squad to create, create, and then create some more. The Wildcats operate on the presumption that their skill and isolation style will trump most teams simply because they have better players, and their extremely low 45.1 assist rate (assists per 100 made field goals) reflects that. Michigan’s 56.0 assist rate, on the other hand, is the perfect contrast in style.

With these differences should also come an advantage for the Maize and Blue in the turnover department. John Beilein’s teams are famed for taking care of the ball while Calipari teams generally struggle in that department. This season, the Wolverines’ 14.9 turnover rate ranks 18th in the country while Kentucky’s 18.3 mark is merely pedestrian. In the tournament, Michigan has had some uncharacteristic turnovers woes, however, with four straight late giveaways against Tennessee and 11 total in a somewhat sloppy win over Wofford.

Today, Michigan needs to take special care of the ball and make Kentucky earn their points while running every time the Wildcats hand the ball over. Pay special attention to freshman point guard Andrew Harrison, who has been bipolar in dishing out some incredible assists while also coughing it up at a brutal 23.5 turnover rate.

Prediction: Kentucky’s athleticism and skill could pose some problems early on for a Michigan team that struggles to keep dynamic driving guards out of the lane, but I think Beilein will have the brains and the players on the court to weather any storm and shoot the Wildcats out of the gym. The 1-3-1 defense should see the floor often and Nik Stauskas will again the lead the way with his hot shooting. If Jordan Morgan and Glenn Robinson III play tough and produce, Michigan will dance to Dallas. In the end, I think they will, with a 78-72 win.