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Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Basketball’

Short of a storybook ending, Michigan basketball season a tale of redemption, resiliency

Friday, March 31st, 2017


(Rob Carr, Getty Images)

Spring has arrived, but a dark emptiness seems to permeate through the thick, sticky air. Mother Nature has thrown a curveball at us with dreariness and cold, rain and clouds in lieu of the sunshine and crisp air we have come to expect this time of year as the calendar turns to April.

It’s not just the weather, of course, that’s brought this darkness. It’s the end of Michigan’s wild basketball season that felt like a never-ending story, if only for a moment, before we found that the final pages were missing.

(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

We feel robbed of the beauty we’ve waited for Spring to arrive with for so long, and likewise, we feel robbed of the dream finish that destiny would so surely, we thought, bring for John Beilein’s 10th team in Ann Arbor.

But as with everything else in life, finality is the only certainty, if even it comes prematurely.

At least it was a very good thing while it lasted.

For a long time, this season was not shaping up to be a memorable one, a season that all of us fans hope goes on forever. Michigan sprinted out of the gates with an impressive run through a 2K Classic field that included future NCAA Tournament teams in Marquette and SMU, both of whom were throttled on the way to the Wolverines’ preseason tournament title.

That showing saw Michigan rocket its way into the national polls, but was followed by an underwhelming performance at South Carolina and a rapid return to earth for the season’s expectations. Although, if we had the benefit of foresight at the time, that loss in Columbia wouldn’t seem nearly as bad.

A couple games later, Michigan choked away a home battle versus Virginia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and had another poor performance in a win over a bad Texas team shortly thereafter. The Wolverines would hang with UCLA in Westwood for one impressive, firework-laden half before taking an 18-point loss out West and would later proceed to sweat out a holiday win over a far-better-than-expected Furman squad before conference play kicked off in the New Year.

We all know the story from there. Michigan seemed to run out of gas in what should have been a favorable starting conference schedule, dropping three of their first four and four of their first six with their only two wins coming in home nail-biters over Penn State and Nebraska.

Uncertainties in the latter half of the non-conference season turned into message board maniacs calling for this to be Beilein’s final year.

Two home blowouts over Illinois and Indiana calmed the seas temporarily before a tough loss at Michigan State and a lackadaisical home loss versus Ohio State heard those earlier calls turn into cries for the head coach to be gone — and fast.

(MGoBlue.com)

On that night, Saturday, February 4, Michigan found itself at 14-9 overall and 4-6 in conference play with very few standout wins on their resume. It would take a massive turnaround and a long look in the mirror for the team to fight its way into contention for an NCAA Tournament berth, and no one – not even those closest to the team, I reckon – saw it coming.

But come it did. Derrick Walton Jr. turned into a man possessed, knocking down everything from deep and rekindling his freshman year ability to finish at the rack. Moe Wagner realized his potential after only brief flashes as a rookie, spinning, shuffling, shooting, and driving his way to buckets. D.J. Wilson blossomed from cast-off to potential pro with athletic dishes, drained shots, and opponent shots rejected. And Zak Irvin, whose critics would make you believe he could not compete at the local YMCA, embraced his role as a senior leader and scorer, if merely as a third or fourth option at times.

The team that once left everyone guessing what would happen every time they ran onto the floor began ferociously dispatching each opponent that dared challenge them.

Michigan State was handed its worst loss in years. Indiana was dismantled on its vaunted home court. Wisconsin and Purdue, the clear frontrunners for the Big Ten title, met their fate at the hands of a team on a mission.

By the time March had rolled around, Michigan had pulled off the wholly unexpected, nearly impossible transition from conference also-ran to surefire dancer. Broadcasters still wondered what the team was made of, but those following closely knew that a seismic change had taken place.

The Wolverines were no longer prone to falling apart at the end of a game. They did not let inferior competition dig under their skin. They would not cede a game’s worth of points in a half – not any more, at least.

In reality, this new team could compete with anyone in the country, and in so many different ways. The offense was no longer great – it became otherworldly efficient. The defense was no longer passable – it became a solid unit that forced turnovers and prevented clean perimeter looks.

This team could feel as good about their chances as any other.

And so, with that edge, this team would travel to Washington, D.C., wheels rolling, to give its conference brethren a lesson in basketball.

There’s not much Michigan needed at that point to make a magical March run, the stuff legends are made of. If there was one thing, however, it was a captivating headline.

That story would be served up on a platter in a most harrowing way, as Michigan’s charter plane destined for the Big Ten Tournament skidded 400 yards off the runway, through a fence, and into a field, coming to a startling rest in a shallow ditch after the pilot decided to abort takeoff in extremely high winds.

Still, the team pushed forward with no recognizable timidity. The crash had perhaps brought them closer together, had given them a greater sense of their cause, but it did not change their play. Michigan once again blew through an Illinois team that had labeled the Wolverines as “white collar” in early January, this time in rag tag practice gear because their regular jerseys were stuck on the capsized plane.

Purdue, Minnesota, and Wisconsin would all provide different puzzles throughout the weekend, but the Maize and Blue solved each of them with a veteran mindset and plenty of talent.

With the Big Ten Tournament trophy in hand, Michigan was sent to Indianapolis as a 7-seed in the Big Dance to take on an Oklahoma State team powered by purely offensive fuel. The Wolverines took a dose but returned an even bigger dose of that medicine to the Cowboys to outlast their first round foe in an instant classic with firepower supplied by Walton.

Two days later, the Wolverines faced a Louisville squad that provided a completely different look, with length, athleticism, and defense in spades. Once again, Michigan prevailed, this time behind the sophomore duo of Wagner and Wilson, despite trailing by eight at the halfway point. March would not stop this team’s march, and another classic was in the books.

(MGoBlue.com)

Destiny was still on their side – for one more week, at least.

Unfortunately, that magic ran out too soon and too abruptly. Michigan went toe-to-toe with 3-seed Oregon for 40 minutes but made some uncharacteristic mistakes late in the game, as if their hourglass stepped in the way of what could have been. Derrick Walton’s last shot, a step-back that we had seen him hit so often over the last two months of the season that he may as well have filed for a patent, came up a couple rotations short.

Just like that, the buzzer sounded to signal the end of Michigan’s season. Destiny left the building with a new team in tow.

And that’s how – and why, perhaps – Mother Nature mourns with us today. She, like all of us, was not ready for the suddenness of it all. Storybooks are not supposed to end like this.

But that story, while it was being written, was grand. It was thrilling and exhilarating, mysterious and heartbreaking. It was frustrating at times and, yes, slogging at others. More than anything, though, this story was a memorable one that we won’t soon want to stash away to collect dust, lest we question the power of John Beilein’s teaching prowess paired with the ability of a bunch of talented, fun, good, strong-minded college basketballers.

Just as soon as the final words were penned in this story, however, a new volume’s pages are opening up, waiting to be scribbled upon.

Let’s hope this one is as enjoyable as the last.

(MGoBlue.com)

M&GB Scouting Files: 2017 UM hoops commit Isaiah Livers & MSU commit Xavier Tillman

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017


(Crystal Vander Weit, Kalamazoo Gazette)

A couple weeks ago, I was able to watch 2017 Michigan signee Isaiah Livers play for the third time in his senior season at Kalamazoo Central before he moves to Ann Arbor for the next few years.

In the first two outings I was able to catch, Livers and his Maroon Giant teammates completely outclassed the competition to the tune of a 71-36 blowout at Portage Northern and a 93-51 massacre over Loy Norrix. Livers showed flashes of potential, but watched from the bench in the fourth quarter in both lopsided contests.

Last Friday, however, was different, as the undefeated Grand Rapids Christian Eagles made the trip down U.S. 131 to close out the regular season at Central (boasting a not-so-shabby 17-2 record themselves). Christian, led by Michigan State big man signee Xavier Tillman, Oakland wing signee James Beck, and 2018 Division-1 guard prospect Duane Washington Jr., entered the game ranked No.1 in the state by MLive, and they lived up to that ranking, pulling out a 53-51 overtime nail-biter over the home team.

Enough of the game stories, though. On to the scouting! For a refresher, you can check out my scouting report on Livers after the Portage Northern game. This report will include stats and scouting for the Loy Norrix and GR Christian games, as well as a brief scouting report on Tillman as well.

Isaiah Livers vs. Loy Norrix (93-51 W):
16 points (7-of-9 FG, 2-of-4 3pt.), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 0 turnovers, 1 foul. DNP 4th quarter

Isaiah Livers vs. GR Christian (53-51 OT L):
10 points (4-of-11 FG, 2-of-4 3pt.), 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks, 3 steals, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls

There is no questioning Livers’s potential. He has good size right now at 6-foot-8, 205 pounds and should be able to tack on a few more pounds of muscle to his frame, but there’s certainly room for improvement. Let’s break down some positives and minuses

Strengths

1. Shooting:
In my first game scouting Livers, the senior did almost all of his damage inside the arc, missing his only two three-point attempts. Against Portage Northern and GR Christian, however, the Mr. Basketball finalist showed why John Beilein and company consider him a can’t-miss prospect by pouring in four threes on eight attempts and using his smooth and consistent stroke to knock down a couple midrange jumpers as well.

Livers uses his plus size and a quick enough release to shoot over the defense, and when he’s feeling it, he can be lights-out. Livers drained two threes in the first quarter of Central’s victory over Loy Norrix on his way to 10 points in the opening stanza and another seven points in the first quarter of the loss to Christian, including a triple and a couple pretty jumpers. In those two games combined, the wing prospect was 7-of-9 from the floor and 3-of-3 from deep in the first quarter.

This should correlate well to his projected future role as a microwave off the bench in his early time as a Wolverine. To earn run under Beilein, especially as a freshman, a player must knock down open shots, and Livers has the knack to come out firing – and on fire – from the get-go. We’ve all seen what happens when a designated sniper can’t find the bottom of the net, too – Ibi Watson was supposed to have that role this year, but is just 1-of-18 from three-point land and hasn’t played meaningful minutes since mid-December. If Livers can come in right away and just knock down shots, he should earn 5-8 minutes as a freshman.

2. Athleticism:
Livers’ size and shooting make him an intriguing prospect, but his athleticism is what could make him a very good college player. Livers threw down a couple monster dunks over Loy Norrix, skied for an impressive late offensive rebound over GR Christian, and had a couple springy blocks in both games. He’ll never be the fastest guy on the court, but his physical skills and quickness in short spurts give Livers a leg up and some potential positional flexibility.

3. Hands:
An underrated part of any college prospect is the ability to reliably catch passes without bobbling the ball, particularly for big men. And while Livers will not be a post player in college, it is still important for shooters to be able to catch and release without a hitch. Livers is also able to use his quick hands and length to cause some havoc on the defensive end, anticipating passes and knocking the ball loose to lead to easy transition buckets or at the very least create more possessions for his team. In the three games I scouted Livers, he registered eight steals to just three turnovers.

Weaknesses:

1. Rebounding:
In talking about what Livers will bring to Michigan, Beilein repeatedly mentions the prospect’s need to get better on the glass, and I could not agree more. While often one of the biggest (and probably the most athletic) players on the floor, Livers shows very little desire to bang on the boards. He had one impressive offensive rebound against Christian, but the majority of his boards were of the defensive variety that essentially fell into his hands.

I caught Livers just watching with his hands on his sides far too often when a shot went up – little desire to box out, little desire to go up and get it. I don’t think he’s a prima donna, but he needs to be more gritty on the glass.

2. Aggressiveness:
In total, I saw Livers play approximately 72 minutes of basketball across three games (foul trouble limited his time against Christian). In those 72 minutes of action, Livers made it to the free throw line a measly three times – all against Portage Northern.

I’ve already detailed Livers’s lack of aggressiveness in the rebounding department, but his unwillingness to drive into the teeth of the defense in search of contact is equally worrisome for a guy that projects as a 3 or 4 in Michigan’s system.

Christian’s best player on Friday night was Beck, and partially because he was able to get to the free throw line a handful of times. Livers was content to shoot from the outside and defer to his more willing teammates. On at least one occasion, the lack of aggressiveness likely led to a crucial turnover against Christian, as Livers opted to hold onto the ball for too long and then retreat when a double team closed in as opposed to taking it right at them and drawing contact.

I like Livers’s handles for his size (room for improvement, but not a glaring weakness), but he needs to trust them enough to drive past the three-point line and into the paint, where he can use his size and athleticism to finish in close.

3. Defense:
I’m going to disagree slightly with Ace Anbender’s take from his recent MGoBlog post on Livers. Livers’ athleticism allows him to be a passable defender at the high school level, but you can spot areas where a college offense could take advantage of him. I think Livers plays fine help defense and shows flashes of being a decent shot-blocker right now, but I attribute that more to his size, length, and athletic advantage at the high school level. His on-the-ball defense leaves a bit more to be desired, however.

Livers doesn’t slide his feet well enough on defense, forcing him to defend at an angle rather than perpendicularly when his opponent gets a step on him, which eventually got him into foul trouble in the most important of the three games I watched. Livers needs to get lower to the ground defensively and make sure he uses his long arms to his advantage by cutting off the drive before it happens. Some added strength will also help on this end – Beck threw down a dunk in Livers’s grill early on in the Christian game.

Current Comparison:
While disagreeing with Ace on Livers’ defense, I think he’s spot on when it comes to comparing the 2017-18 freshman to a current Michigan player – it’s D.J. Wilson all the way. Like Wilson, Livers has plus size, length, and athleticism, and can stretch a defense as a bigger wing. He’s also fairly lanky and will have to put on some weight while needing some improvement on his ability to drive the ball as well. For comparison’s sake, let’s make a quick chart to show how I think Livers and Wilson stack up with each other as high school seniors (based solely on Wilson’s film at the time):

Isaiah Livers D.J. Wilson
Shooting X
Rebounding X
Passing X
Blocking X
Ball-handling X
Aggressiveness X
Agility X
Athleticism X X
Hands X

 


Xavier Tillman – PF | 6-8, 270 | Grand Rapids, Mich. (Grand Rapids Christian)
ESPN4-star, #11 PF Rivals: 4-star, N/A 247: 4-star, #22 PF Scout: 3-star, 29 C
247 Composite: 4-star #18 PF, #86 nationally
Other top offers: Indiana, Purdue, Ohio State, Iowa, Virginia Tech, TCU, Illinois

Xavier Tillman vs. Kalamazoo Central (53-51 OT W):
9 points (4/8 FG, 1/3 FT), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 blocks, 3 steals, 5 turnovers, 4 fouls

Before seeing Tillman or Livers play, if you were told that the game you were going to watch featured two 6-foot-8 guys with one going to play for Tom Izzo and one going to play for John Beilein, you would know within a second of walking into the gym which prospect was which. Livers is tall and slender with a polished jumper. Tillman is a bulky and plodding 6-foot-8 big man who won’t dare take a shot beyond the free throw line – even in shootaround.

Once game action hit, however, I was disappointed in Tillman’s overall game at this point. He has good size and a wide body, but got winded very quickly and was frequently the last man up and down the court. Offensively, he has very little polish to his inside game, and failed to demand the ball even when matched up with much smaller defenders in an open post. Tillman actually entered the half with zero points on 0-of-3 shooting (including a missed dunk) and just one rebound before picking up a few buckets on pretty easy layups off the glass in the 3rd and 4th quarters.

The Grand Rapids native did not display many post moves, and while he is certainly physical down low, powerful on the glass, and showed good help defense, Tillman was rather careless with the ball and simply not fast enough for the Big Ten game at this point. Luckily for Izzo, Michigan State should have plenty of big men returning to give Tillman the chance to develop with a redshirt year. The high school senior picked up a couple fouls due to a lack of foot speed and getting winded, and needs to get in shape and get quicker. The closest comparison to Tillman on the Spartan roster currently is clearly Nick Ward, but Tillman lags behind Ward at the same time in their respective developments in just about every department.

Help ChadTough win $100k and you could win $100 M Den gift card

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


If you read this site or follow us on Twitter, you’ve seen me post quite a bit about The ChadTough Foundation lately. As a father of three young kids, it’s something that deeply resonates with me. And with the Michigan connection, it’s something that touches the entire Michigan community.

I can’t imagine the grief of losing a kid at such a young age, so I want to fight for the thousands of kids that will get DIPG in the future, to help fund research that may one day find a cure — or at the very least a treatment — for them. I want to fight for the Carr family and for so many families like them, who at the moment have very little hope in battling a disease that carries an average lifespan of less than one year after diagnosis.

The great thing is that we can help make a difference.

Yesterday on WTKA, Tammi Carr shared news of some groundbreaking research that is being done on DIPG as a direct result of The ChadTough Foundation. DIPG receives zero federal dollars, so it is organizations like ChadTough that are making research possible.

From Chad’s tumor, which the family donated, researchers found a mutation that has never been seen in a DIPG tumor before, and because of that they know there are some medications that can impact this in other tumors. That’s a breakthrough made possible by people like you who donate, share, and vote.

So how can you help right now?

From today through Saturday, March 11, vote every single day for John Beilein to win the Infinity Coaches Challenge, which will award $100,000 to The ChadTough Foundation. That money will go directly to the accelerated pediatric brain tumor initiative at Michigan Medicine.

But wait, there’s more!

I am introducing a contest during that time span and one voter will win a $100 gift card to The M Den.

Here’s how:

The M&GB #ChadTough100 Voting Challenge
Step 1. Vote for John Beilein
Step 2. Snap a screenshot of the “Thanks for Voting” page with the date and time visible (see examples)
Step 3. Tweet OR Facebook share that photo AND copy/paste the following text into your tweet/share:
I voted for Coach Beilein to win $100k for @chadtough. Vote & you could win $100 @TheMDen gift card #chadtough100 https://goo.gl/Ukun7q
Step 4. If you don’t have Twitter or Facebook, you can email the screenshot to maizeandgoblue at yahoo dot com (once per day), but you are encouraged to tweet/share in order to spread the word
Step 5. Do it again the next day, and the next, and every day through March 11
Step 6. Tell your family, friends, and coworkers to vote daily as well
Rules and Regulations:
• Each daily tweet/Facebook share OR email will count as one entry (one entry per day per Twitter handle, Facebook name, or email address)
• The more days you vote AND tweet/share/email a screenshot as proof, the more entries you will receive
• If there is no date/time visible on screenshot, entry will not count
• If full copy from Step 3 is not pasted into your tweet/share, entry will not count
• On or after March 12, one winner will be randomly selected from all entrants
• Winner will be notified by Twitter DM or email
• Keep in mind that if you cheat to win, you’re cheating a charity. Do it the right way and vote every day.
Contest runs from 10am ET Tuesday, Feb. 28 through 3pm ET Saturday, March 11

Remember, the goal is to encourage as many people as possible to vote every day for Coach Beilein in order to win $100,000 for The ChadTough Foundation. The M Den gift card prize is just a small incentive to encourage participation. Whether or not you follow all the steps of our challenge, please vote and please share with as many friends, family, and coworkers as possible.

*I am acting as a third-party to help The ChadTough Foundation win the Infiniti Coaches Challenge. This challenge is not officially run by The ChadTough Foundation, the University of Michigan, or The M Den.*

ChadTough needs you to vote now! Seriously, do it now

Monday, February 27th, 2017


The final round of the 7th Annual Infiniti Coaches Challenge is now open. It’s time to get serious because we’re down to the final four — Coach Beilein, Matt Painter, Thad Matta, and Bob Huggins — and this is when it counts. It’s imperative to vote every day from now through Saturday, March 11 to help The ChadTough Foundation win $100,000 for DIPG research.

The Foundation plans to put ALL of the winnings toward the accelerated pediatric brain tumor initiative at Michigan Medicine!

Voting is easy — you can vote once per email address per day. All you need is an account with ESPN.com. Visit espn.com/infiniti to vote for Coach Beilein.

I strongly encourage you to sign up for daily email reminders at chadtough.org/vote so you won’t forget to vote on a Saturday or on that day you have wall-to-wall meetings or while traveling for business.

Thank you! Let’s win this for Chad, the Carrs, and Michigan!

ChadTough needs your help to win $100k for pediatric brain cancer research

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017


Did you know that only three percent of federal funding for cancer research goes toward pediatric cancer? THREE PERCENT!

We’re not even talking pediatric brain cancer; that’s for all types of pediatric cancer. There is currently no cure for pediatric brain cancer and there are currently no drugs even in development to treat it.

Thus, The ChadTough Foundation needs your help.

Head basketball coach John Beilein is representing ChadTough in its quest to win $100,000 in the 7th Annual Infiniti Coaches Charity Challenge. The Foundation hopes to put that money toward the pediatric brain tumor center at UofM’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, helping to fund research for the disease that tragically took the life of Chad Carr in November 2015.

What do you need to do?

• Vote today, vote tomorrow, vote the day after tomorrow, and every day through March 11
• Share on social media
• Urge your family and friends to vote and share as well

How do you enter?

• First, visit ChadTough.org/vote to sign up for daily email reminders so you won’t forget
• Each day, visit the contest site and vote for John Beilein
• Wash, rinse, repeat

Contest details

As of Wednesday evening, Beilein barely trails Purdue head coach Matt Painter. The current round of the contest runs through Feb. 26 and Beilein has to finish among the top four to advance to the final round.

That’s where it gets most important. The votes reset to zero and the final round runs from Feb. 26 to March 11. This is where it’s important to get off to a fast start and keep the momentum all the way to March 11.

Michigan’s IMG contract prohibits its athletic department from promoting the contest. That means it’s up to you, me, your significant other, your ex, your mom, your dad, your grandparents, your friends, your teacher, your boss, your doctor, your dentist, and your mailman to spread the word.

Why?

Do this in memory of Chad. Do this for the Carr family who have suffered through a loss that no parent should ever have to. Do this for the other hundreds of children who suffer from incurable brain tumors each year, most of whom don’t live more than a year past diagnosis. Do this for Lloyd Carr, who has hope that someday we’ll find a cure.

“We’re going to beat this someday,” he said of Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). “I won’t be here, but there’s going to be some people who are going to be so lucky that when they take their child and he’s diagnosed and she’s diagnosed, there’s going to be something they can do.

“And a lot of that is going to come back here to the University of Michigan. We’re so fortunate to have this hospital and this university and people who are dedicated to dealing with problems like this.”

Visit ChadTough for more information about the foundation. To read more about pediatric brain cancer and the efforts being made at Mott Children’s Hospital, click here

In? Out? What’s the deal with Michigan basketball?

Friday, February 10th, 2017


(MGoBlue.com)

If there is one thing that every Michigan basketball fan, coach, player, or other affiliate of the program can agree on, it’s this: absolutely no one can get a read on this team.

The 2016-17 squad had an incredible break from the gates, easily dispatching Howard and IUPUI in their regional of the 2K Classic before making quick work of both Marquette and SMU – two victories that still look solid today – to take home the preseason tournament championship.

But since then, it’s been more topsy-turvy than a slinky falling down a staircase. There have been highs – take the two home drubbings of Michigan State and Indiana, for example – and there have been lows (see: a listless loss at South Carolina, a miserable second half faltering versus Virginia Tech, an annihilation by a bad Illinois team, etc.). And then there have been the classic play-to-the-level-of-the-competition heart palpitations against Iowa (loss), Penn State (win), Nebraska (win), Wisconsin (loss), and Ohio State (loss).

So what is the deal with this team? Well, you’d need to find a person willing to sell ice to an Eskimo to have the gall to answer that question with a straight face. The absolute truth is that no one knows what to expect. In fact, I don’t even really know if this team is more likely to finish 0-7 down the stretch or 7-0. It’s just been that type of year.

Derrick Walton Jr has averaged 22.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists the past four games (MGoBlue.com)

On the other hand, there is plenty of information we can glean from watching this team. As most John Beilein-coached teams have been in the past, these Wolverines play exceptional offense, score an inordinately high number of their points from three-point land, make their free throws, and hold onto the ball. They also play poor defense, don’t crash the offensive glass, and don’t see very many free throws taken on either end of the floor. These are pretty hard-and-fast facts.

What makes this team so hard to get a read on, however, is the game-to-game uncertainty of who is going to show up and what character the team is going to display.

We’ve seen Zak Irvin put the team on his back against Virginia Tech, Nebraska, and Wisconsin by attacking the basket (7 made 2pt. FGs in each of those three contests), fighting for rebounds (16 in those three games), and finding his open teammates. But we’ve also seen (or not seen, for that matter) the senior falter in important matchups against South Carolina, Texas, Ohio State, and Michigan State (twice).

Likewise, the team has ridden fellow senior Derrick Walton over the course of the last four games to the tune of his 22.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists during that stretch, but fans seem to forget about the three game stretch in December where the Detroit native failed to crack double digit points, or the 10 games that he’s made three or fewer field goals, or even the nine games that he’s recorded fewer than seven combined assists and rebounds (four of which were losses).

Similar Jekyll/Hyde performances can be found in the game-to-game outputs of the two other Wolverines who have led the team in scoring in at least three games a piece – sophomores Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson.

Rarely has more than one player had a bona fide game on any given night. Add to that a defense that has allowed opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from the field on seven different occasions while also forcing seven or more turnovers in seven different games and you have a recipe for uncertainty with a side of unease.

If this team can put together a stretch run to give themselves solid footing on Selection Sunday, the individual players are going to need to start producing with some consistency. No more can we see Derrick Walton look like the only interested party in Maize and Blue. No more can we see Wagner get into foul trouble or fade away from his strengths as a skilled inside-out big man. No more can we this team put it together with an invisible Zak Irvin.

A little help from juniors Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (who’s scored seven or fewer one more game than he’s reached double digits) and Duncan Robinson (double digits 10 times and seven or fewer nine times) could go a long way as well. Combine that with a sprinkling of Xavier Simpson (who looked like the solid point guard prospect that he was for the first time on Tuesday night) and you just might have yourself a recipe for success.

Forget to add a couple of these ingredients, however, and Michigan fans could be left with a bad taste in a month’s time.

Quick Hitters

My Oh My, the Inconsistency

How’s this for some mind-boggling numbers: As of today, Michigan has four wins over teams that should be dancing, according to BracketMatrix.com, in SMU (100% of brackets), Michigan State (92%), Marquette (92%), and Indiana (72%). Those four wins all came in blowout fashion by a combined 99 points, or about 25 points per game.

Michigan’s nine losses, on the other hand, have come by a total deficit of just 78 points, or just more than 8.5 points per game. Six of the losses have come by single digits and three of those were by four points or fewer. This is a team that has talent and can beat up on some pretty good teams but is also susceptible to taking a close loss on any given night as well.

Speaking of Brackets…

Right now, Michigan is the fifth team out of the Big Dance according to BracketMatrix.com (in on only 33.3% of the 105 submitted brackets. Note, however, that more than half of those brackets were last updated prior to Tuesday’s win over MSU) and the third team out in my good friend and trusted bracketologist Joe Cook’s projections at 131 Sports (updated daily – and better than Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm, and every other national guy since he started a few years back. He is an actuary, after all.). So, that means that Michigan would probably have their bubble popped if today were Selection Sunday. Today is not Selection Sunday.

Looking ahead

Michigan has an opportunity to easy play themselves into the tournament, easily play themselves out of the tournament, or to stay teetering on the same ledge they are staring off right now. There are seven games remaining on the Wolverines’ regular season schedule, including two home games (Wisconsin and Purdue) and five road games (Indiana, Minnesota, Rutgers, Northwestern, Nebraska), before the Big Ten Tournament kicks off for the first time ever in Washington, D.C. (hooray for adding Maryland?).

To me, this looks like a whole lot more good news/bad news. Michigan’s two toughest opponents must travel to Crisler, where the Maize and Blue have been mostly pretty good, with only three losses in the books at home and a couple of their mercy killings coming in Ann Arbor as well. On the other hand, Wisconsin and Purdue are going to be tough outs regardless of what floor they are playing on.

Meanwhile, Indiana has already felt Michigan’s wrath, Minnesota has lost five of seven, Rutgers is…Rutgers, Northwestern has lost two straight and is probably feeling the weight of one million Northwestern fans waiting to be let down once again on Selection Sunday, and Nebraska’s early season Big Ten exploits feel older than the age of the dinosaurs. On the flip side, Michigan has been…let’s just say not good on the road, with an 0-6 record to date.

Now the question we all want answered: What does Michigan have to do to Dance? My guess is that Michigan would be in the Tournament, historically weak bubble and all, with a 4-3 close to the regular season and a first-game win in the Big Ten Tournament. If none of those four wins are over Wisconsin or Purdue and if one or two of those three losses is to Rutgers/Nebraska, then I’m not putting money on it.

I know you want a prediction, but only a fool would be wise enough to give in to those demands.

Actually, who am I kidding? I’m a fool for college basketball: Michigan to finish out the regular season 5-2 with a first round BTT win and a second round loss to get pegged as a 10-seed.

M&GB Scouting Files: 2017 U-M hoops commit Isaiah Livers

Friday, January 20th, 2017


(247 Sports)

On Jan. 6, I took the opportunity to see class of 2017 Michigan basketball commit Isaiah Livers when his Kalamazoo Central Giants faced the Portage Central Mustangs. Livers’ squad won 71-36 and the power forward finished with a stat line of 19 points (9-of-18 FG, 0-of-2 3PT, 1-of-3 FT), nine rebounds, two assists, four steals, one block, and one turnover in three quarters of action.

Here is my scouting report.

Isaiah Livers – PF | 6-8, 205 | Kalamazoo, Mich. (Kalamazoo Central)
ESPN4-star, #12 PF Rivals: 4-star, N/A 247: 3-star, #37 PF Scout: 3-star, 35 PF
247 Composite: 4-star #30 PF, #129 nationally
Other top offers: Michigan State, Maryland, Xavier, Butler, Creighton, Cal, Notre Dame, VCU
Strengths

1. Ball handling:
There’s little doubt as to where Livers ends up in John Beilein’s offense – he’s a wing through and through. With his size, however, you might expect Livers to man the post on a high school team like most of the biggest high schoolers do. But that is not the case. Livers’ role at Kalamazoo Central is very much an outside-in wing role with the ability to slash to the rim, post up smaller defenders when the opportunity presents itself, and take the deep shot when open.

Crystal Vander Weit, Kalamazoo Gazette

Perhaps his biggest strength at this stage, however, is his ball-handling. On multiple occasions, Livers collected a defensive rebound or received a quick outlet pass and took it coast-to-coast for a smooth finish. He’s very confident handling the ball in the open court and had little trouble with defenders trying to swipe the ball away despite weaving through sometimes three or four guys in one full-court attack.

2. Finishing:
Livers rarely missed when given a clean look within eight feet of the bucket, and used the glass effectively. There were a couple times when he missed awkward floaters only to rebound the misses himself and put it back up and in. The senior also had a monster one-handed alley-oop finish and another rim-rocking dunk when he found himself open underneath. When he has the chance to finish with a no-doubter, he does.

3. Court Vision:
Along with his ball-handling for a sizable wing, Livers impressed with his court vision and passing ability, setting up his teammates for wide open looks time and time again. He only ended up with two assists on the evening, but he could have easily added two or three more if guys were knocking down shots. Livers is certainly unselfish when the score doesn’t demand that he takes over, and Beilein will love his ability to find the open man.

My only knock on Livers here is that he seemed to get a bit too flashy with no-look passes that could have turned out to be turnovers, and certainly would more often in college. He needs to just trust his vision and make the clean dish when he sees an opening.

4. Size:
I’ve touched on this a bit already, but Livers looks to have solid size for a guy who will likely end up in the 3 or 4 wing position in Michigan’s offense. He has good length and height, enough leaping ability, and a good frame to put on some weight in Jon Sanderson’s strength and conditioning program. Livers is listed around 205 pounds right now. I would expect that his college playing weight ends up around 225-235 pounds, and he should be able to carry that just fine.

5. Hands:
This is often a trait that goes overlooked in basketball, but bad hands can just about spell doom for a college player. Livers has sure hands catching the ball cleaning on the wing and on post-ups and also displayed some very quick hands defensively, snatching four steals in the first quarter by baiting passes and swiping his hands in at the right moment. That trick won’t get you many turnovers at the next level, but Livers should still benefit from his good paws in college.

Weaknesses

1. Rebounding:
This is not to say that Livers was a bad rebounder – after all, he got nine boards in three quarters of play. But there’s plenty of room for improvement, especially for a player of his size. Livers rarely boxed anyone out and his only rebounds came when the ball bounced directly to him or when he rebounded his own misses that careened off the rim in his direction because he had at least a few inches on every Portage Northern player.

More often than not, Livers was ball-watching when a shot went up, and was actually boxed out by his opponents on occasion even on their end of the floor. I would like to see more grit down low from Livers and a desire from him to go after rebounds that are not in his zone.

2. Hustle/Grit:
Livers didn’t show a whole lot of hustle or grit in a game that was out of hand pretty early on. The 2017 Michigan signee seemed a bit lackadaisical defensively, while rebounding, and when not involved on the offensive end of the floor. That’s certainly not something that Wolverines fans will like to hear, given the current team’s seeming lack of effort on defense, and one game is not necessarily indicative of a player’s overall body of work, but I would have liked to see Livers pushing a little bit harder.

His athleticism and size made it very easy for him to have success even without giving 100 percent, but it was still notable to see Livers not even make it past half court on a handful of offensive and defensive possessions. To be fair, most of the time that happened was in fast-break situations, but I noted at least twice when Livers was the only man on the floor not past the timeline.

Livers was also not poor defensively and never got blown by, but his footwork and want-to could have been much better than what it was. You would expect a high school player with his size to really dominate on the defensive end and provide a blocking presence down low, but that was not the case.

X-factor

1. Shooting:
Livers has drawn praise for his shooting ability in the past, and he appears to have a nice, clean stroke, but he missed his only two three-pointers on this night and did almost all of his damage in the paint. I expect that he’ll develop into a fine shooter under Beilein, but there was not enough evidence in this game.

Overall

Livers is an intriguing prospect with a nice combination of size, ball-handling, and good enough athleticism to be a solid college player. He projects very well as a wing in John Beilein’s offense and should be able to develop as a backup for at least a season before getting a shot at a starting spot. I expect that Livers will end up at the 4, where D.J. Wilson will still have two years of eligibility remaining when Livers gets to campus, and Livers should see some spot minutes as a freshman with a relative lack of depth there right now.

Depending on where Charles Matthews ends up and how Ibi Watson progresses, Livers will also get consideration as a three-man when Michigan looks to go big. If Livers continues to develop, he should easily see starting minutes upon the beginning of his junior season in Ann Arbor.

Michigan 77 – Armstrong State 49: Wolverines win exhibition in Cazzie’s return

Saturday, November 5th, 2016


wagner-vs-armstrong-state(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Michigan easily dispatched of their first opponent of the 2016-17 college basketball season, the Armstrong State Pirates, on Friday night with former Wolverine great Cazzie Russell – a Pirates assistant coach – in the house. Despite a slow start to the second half, which featured a 13-4 Armstrong State run over a four-minute period, the Wolverines never panicked and coasted as one might expect against a Division II opponent. Given the nature of the game, the strength of the opponent, and the tendency to mix lineups quite a bit in exhibition matchups, a recap will probably not add much value, so let’s hit on some player observations and some general thoughts after seeing the Maize and Blue take the floor for the first time.

The newbies

Ibi Watson – Most probably expected to see Xavier Simpson as the first freshman off the bench, but with an injury to Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, it was actually Ibi Watson that was the first new face to see action. He wasted very little time – 22 seconds, to be exact – to score his first bucket in a Michigan uniform on a fast break and generally acquitted himself well throughout the evening.

After the game, Watson said that the pace of basketball at the college level has just started to really slow down for him in the past week or so, and his calmness seemed to bear that out on the floor. Watson looks to be all of the 6-foot-5 he’s listed at and has a very smooth stroke despite going only 1-of-4 from deep. His third and final bucket came on an easy dunk that showcased some of the athleticism the Ohio native will look to bring to the table, and Watson’s four assists and three steals in 18 minutes are certainly a welcome sign. He even ran a successful pick-and-roll once with Mark Donnal that saw the senior convert a somewhat iffy pass from the freshman for a bucket.

Watson was very aggressive on both ends of the court – maybe even a bit too aggressive at times offensively – and should carve out a niche for spot minutes if his game continues to evolve. For now, John Beilein said that he envisions Waton’s role this season similar to what Tim Hardaway, Jr. looked to do as a freshman – knock down shots, play defense, don’t try to do too much. Beilein agreed that the game has certainly slowed down for Watson, but with the amount of information being thrown at him, there’s still plenty of work to do.

block-m-maize Final Team Stats  armstrong-state-logo
77 Points  49
32-63 (50.8%) FGM-FGA (Pct.) 17-63 (27.0%)
6-19 (31.6%) 3PM-3PA (Pct.) 5-27 (18.5%)
7-11 (63.6%) FTM-FTA (Pct.) 10-12 (83.3%)
13 Turnovers 19
42 Total Rebounds 38
9 Offensive Rebounds 13
33 Defensive Rebounds 25
25 Bench Points 10
5 Blocks 1
8 Steals 5
20 Assists 8

Xavier Simpson – Considered the jewel of the class, Simpson played a perhaps surprisingly low 14 minutes in the exhibition matchup and missed his only two attempts from the floor while recording a Walton-esque five rebounds along with a pair of assists and turnovers. The 2016 Ohio Mr. Basketball winner is almost certainly smaller than his listed 6-foot-0, 180 pounds, but he is built solidly and plays with a low center of gravity that allows him to weave decisively on offense and play pesky on-ball defense. We didn’t see as much Simpson/Walton two-guard time as Beilein led us to believe, but Simpson appears to be an able ball handler with fine court vision. For now, Simpson will likely remain a pass-first point guard looking to set his teammates up with open looks.

Jon Teske – As has been rumored in recent weeks, Teske appears to be ahead of fellow freshman Austin Davis in the rotation at the moment, and his play tonight probably only helped his case. Teske is a big, big body at 7-foot-0, 245 pounds, but his most impressive clip of the night was a 15-foot baseline jumper that was as pure as Gus Johnson’s game calls are exciting. Beilein mentioned after the game that he loves the rotation Teske gets on the ball (if you’ve ever seen the trademark Beilein Ball, you’d know this), and the jumper certainly looked natural for the big fella.

Teske also had a nice, ridiculously easy put-back dunk on a missed layup off the glass to give him four points in four minutes. He’ll never be the quickest guy on the floor, but if Teske can provide spot minutes in the case of foul trouble, be a threat from outside the paint, and box out, he should fill his role just fine.

Austin Davis – The only non-Ohio native in the freshman class, Davis didn’t get into the game until the waning minutes, but managed to catch a quick pass from Xavier Simpson and finish the easy lay-in for the last Michigan points of the game. Beilein praised Davis’s hands after the game in what felt like an unintentional shot at former Michigan center Ricky Doyle’s ability to catch any sort of pass, and the finish Davis had showed that. The pass appeared to be of the no-look variety in close quarters that came in quick and a bit high. Davis was able to secure it after a tiny bobble and go up for the finish.

The returners
dj-wilson-shorts

(Dustin Johnson)

D.J. Wilson – Wilson provided the most welcome play of the evening, showcasing a smooth offensive game that we had yet to see from him while being his normal disruptive self on defense. Wilson, now a redshirt sophomore, has always had the size and natural athleticism to be a gifted basketball player, but in his Michigan career to date he’s often resembled a headless chicken. Tonight, it was a whole different story.

Wilson looked comfortable operating in the offense while knocking down a short turnaround jumper and a three to go along with a high-flying dunk and seemed to contest just about anything in his vicinity defensively (two blocks) with his ridiculous length while also using that length and his newly added strength to grab a game-high nine rebounds (including four offensive).

The Sacramento native will probably never be a natural ball-handler, but he showed enough to provide some relief to Michigan fans worried about this team’s depth on the wing. Beilein has been praising Wilson’s offseason effort consistently, and it came to fruition tonight in what was easily Wilson’s best game in a Wolverine uniform. I felt that Wilson showed a strong urgency tonight on the court that I haven’t seen before – he was consistently running from one end to the other looking for the ball and trying to get stops on defense. And his short shorts are absolutely on point.

Moritz Wagner – The sophomore from Germany picked up on Friday night where he left off at the end of his freshman campaign, showcasing an arsenal of offensive moves that could make him a unique offensive weapon in the Big Ten. Wagner finished naturally on both sides of the rim with either hand, used his quickness and plus handling skills to get a number of very easy looks right at the basket, and even swished a trey from the left side of the top of the key.

At this point, Wagner looks to have a pretty strong grip on the starting 5 spot and thinks he’s playing the best ball of his life after spending the summer working on his game in Ann Arbor. Wagner figures to have gained about 30 pounds of muscle since arriving at Michigan and is just now beginning to realize how to use that added weight to his benefit. He said after the game that he now knows what it feels like to initiate contact and wants to continue to develop all facets of his game. Perhaps most encouraging for Wagner was only getting two foul calls against him in 25 minutes of play after he often found himself taking careless fouls as a freshman.

Derrick Walton – Walton showed well tonight and quickly put to rest any talks of his job being overtaken by a freshman. The senior Detroit native knocked down a pair of triples and dished out a game-high seven assists to just two turnovers (one clearly not his fault) in 31 minutes of action. He also made all four of his free throws and tied for the team-high with five defensive rebounds – something we’ve become very accustomed to. Walton very much looks to be on track for a solid bookend to his career should he stay healthy, and some more off-ball minutes afforded him by Simpson can only help his dead-eye shooting.

Zak Irvin – Like Walton, there wasn’t too much of note on Irvin that we aren’t already very familiar with. Irvin made half of his 12 shot attempts but only one of his four three-point tries, grabbed four rebounds, and dished out four dimes while grabbing a pair of steals. Irvin’s bounce appeared to be back on the rise when he threw down a fast-break dunk early on after a back injury took some inches off his vertical leap, but Irvin later missed another wide-open dunk that was either blocked by the rim or slipping out of his hands. The senior Indiana native will need to make his free throws (only 2-of-5 tonight) and threes to reach full potential, but he should be in for a solid season.

Duncan Robinson – Beilein mentioned after the game that Robinson has been in a bit of a shooting funk in practice lately, and that showed tonight, as the sharpshooter missed all three of his wide open attempts from deep and seemed a bit hesitant to let it fly – never a good sign for a pure shooter. Hopefully Robinson will get over his confidence issues right now and start to knock them down like we’re used to before getting into the meat of the schedule, because he is easily Michigan’s best shooter and the best threat to stretch the defense.

Mark Donnal – Donnal has lost his starting spot to Moritz Wagner, but he’s still going to be a crucial piece for this team to succeed. Wagner has shown a tendency to foul a lot and big men will rarely get more than 25-30 minutes per game in Beilein’s offense. Tonight, Donnal was less than impressive early on, getting backed down easily for a layup on his first defensive possession then mishandled a loose ball right after, but he made up for it quickly with a couple rebounds and blocks. He finished with just two points but grabbed four rebounds (two offensive) in a short 7-minute outing.

Sean Lonergan – Lonergan got the start with Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman sidelined with what Beilein described as a minor ankle twist that occurred in the last minute of Michigan’s practice yesterday and made both of his shots in 20 minutes of play. The senior walk-on doesn’t figure to get much time once Rahk is back, but he showed a couple nice finishes Friday night while also recording two blocks with his underrated athleticism.

Quick takes

Defense – Much has been made of Beilein’s decision to fill one of his two vacant assistant coach slots with former Wright State head man Billy Donlon, a man known for his gap-style defensive philosophy, but we’ll give it some time before reading too much into the defense. Armstrong State shot just 27.6 percent from the floor, but it’s hard to tell how much of that was due to being overmatched in general. What is clear, however, is that Michigan appears to be going away from the hard hedge on ball screen defense, as noted by MGoBlog’s Ace Anbender.

Michigan’s defense will be designed to limit easy penetration while also focusing on strong close-outs for three-point attempts – generally speaking, the gap defense Donlon employs is similar to a pack-line style defense, which is predicated on stopping penetration and forcing opponents into long mid-range jumpers. The only potential issue I saw tonight was a lack of defensive rebounding on a couple of possessions, but I expect that to be addressed moving forward.

Turnovers – Everyone knows it, but John Beilein said it himself after today’s game: “I hate turnovers”. He made it especially clear that he cannot stand turnovers that result from “lazy” passes on failed alley-oop attempts, of which Michigan had two tonight. At one point, Beilein noted that highlights are highlights because they are rare, and he doesn’t want his team trying to fill the highlight reel every time down the floor. Ultimately, I don’t think the 13 giveaways Michigan had Friday night will become a trend, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Beilein sees turnovers as a primary driver of losses, and his teams normally value possessions more than most, but with a couple freshmen that figure to see rotation minutes, turnovers must be limited.

Final Individual Stats
Michigan
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
13 Moritz Wagner* (f) 7-9 1-1 0-0 0 2 2 2 15 0 1 0 0 25
20 Sean Lonergan* (f) 2-2 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 2 4 1 1 2 0 20
21 Zak Irvin* (f) 6-12 1-4 2-5 0 4 4 2 15 4 1 0 2 31
10 Derrick Walton * (g) 3-6 2-4 4-4 1 5 6 2 12 7 2 0 1 31
22 Duncan Robinson* (g) 3-7 0-3 0-0 0 3 3 3 6 1 1 0 0 17
00 Brent Hibbitts 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
03 Xavier Simpson 0-2 0-0 0-0 0 5 5 1 0 2 2 0 1 14
05 D.J. Wilson 4-10 1-2 1-2 4 5 9 1 10 1 2 2 0 24
14 Fred Wright-Jones 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
15 Jon Teske 2-2 0-0 0-0 1 0 1 1 4 0 0 0 0 4
23 Ibi Watson 3-8 1-4 0-0 0 2 2 1 7 4 3 0 3 18
34 Mark Donnal 1-2 0-0 0-0 2 2 4 1 2 0 0 1 1 7
51 Austin Davis 1-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 3
Totals 32-63 6-19 7-11 9 33 42 16 77 20 13 5 8 200
Armstrong State
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
04 Francisco Williams* (f) 0-2 0-0 0-0 1 3 4 2 0 0 1 0 0 15
23 KJ James* (f) 5-10 0-1 6-6 2 5 7 2 16 2 3 0 0 29
02 Montrel Goldston* (g) 4-8 1-3 0-0 4 2 6 2 9 0 4 0 1 23
03 Corey Tillery* (g) 3-14 2-8 0-0 0 1 1 1 8 0 2 0 0 27
10 Jamison Jeffers* (g) 2-11 2-9 0-0 0 6 6 2 6 3 3 0 2 34
00 George Brown 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 3
01 Denzel Council 1-6 0-2 2-4 2 2 4 1 4 2 0 1 0 26
05 Kalen Clifton 1-1 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 1 2 1 1 0 1 8
15 Logan Ballard 0-0 0-0 2-2 0 0 0 4 2 0 0 0 0 8
32 Larry Spicer 1-11 0-4 0-0 1 3 4 2 2 0 3 0 1 25
33 Matthew Beatty 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
41 Demarcus Cunningham 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Totals 17-63 5-27 10-12 13 25 38 17 49 8 19 1 5 200
Full Stats

Aubrey Dawkins to transfer to Central Florida

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016


Aubrey Dawkins(Dustin Johnson, UM Hoops)

The Michigan basketball program lost a third member of its team on Wednesday morning. Sophomore Aubrey Dawkins announced his intention to transfer to Central Florida to play for his father, new UCF head coach Johnny Dawkins.

“This was not an easy decision, however, the chance to play for my father is a special opportunity for me and my family,” Dawkins said in an official release. “Coach (John) Beilein and Michigan took a chance on me and that is something I will never forget. I want to thank all the coaches, staff and especially the U-M fans for making my time in Ann Arbor truly special. Go Blue.”

John Beilein compared Dawkins’ opportunity to one that he had while at West Virginia.

“While we certainly did not wish for this to happen, it is quite understandable,” said Beilein. “I was able to coach my son and see him grow as a person and player and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Aubrey is a wonderful and thoughtful young man who has a bright future in front of him. We wish him well.”

In two seasons at Michigan, Dawkins started 22 games and averaged 6.7 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. He shot 43.9 percent from three-point range, making 83 of 189 attempts. He scored a career high 31 points against Rutgers during his freshman season, making eight three-pointers, which is the second-most in a game in program history.

The elder Dawkins spent eight seasons as head coach at Stanford where he compiled a 156-115 record, including two NIT titles and an NCAA Sweet Sixteen. He was let go after the 2015-16 season and quickly hired by UCF just eight days later. The Knights went 12-18 each of the past two seasons and 13-18 the year before. Their last winning record was in 2012-13 when they went 20-11. Dawkins will have to sit out the 2016-17 season due to NCAA transfer rules and will then have two seasons of eligibility.

Following the transfers of Spike Albrecht and Ricky Doyle, which put Michigan’s scholarship situation at even, Dawkins’ departure gives Beilein a scholarship to work with. He could go after a late flyer, seek out a graduate transfer such as Valparaiso’s Alec Peters, or bank it for next year’s recruiting class.

Height of sincerity: A defense of John Beilein

Thursday, March 31st, 2016


Beilein and Spike(Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

Earlier this week, the University of Michigan announced that Spike Albrecht, fresh off a senior year in which he was only able to play nine games and thus was granted a redshirt, would transfer out of Ann Arbor to play basketball elsewhere next season. With that came the official end of the 2012 recruiting class’s “Fresh Five” era at Michigan, and a collective sigh across the Michigan fan base.

(As an aside, it’s worth noting that not a single player from that touted class will play a full college career at Michigan, as Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary left early, Caris LeVert played the equivalent of only two conference seasons, and Albrecht will transfer. That’s an even worse hit rate than the famed Fab Five, which saw two players – Jimmy King and Ray Jackson – play four full seasons in Ann Arbor and two more – Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose – complete their junior years.)

All seemed well and good until it was pointed out that the Big Ten restricts graduate transfers from playing immediately at another member institution. Shortly after that, it was revealed that Michigan coach John Beilein would restrict Albrecht from not only transferring within the Big Ten conference, but also to any other opponent on Michigan’s schedule in the next two seasons, according to MLive’s Brendan Quinn.

From there, all hell broke loose. Talks of Albrecht being a victim of an archaic NCAA system flooded social media, and critics of the restriction policies pointed out once again that the millionaire coaches have all the power while the peasant players – the ones who actually create the product that lines the pockets of coaches and administrators across the country with cash – are merely pawns of the system.

Perhaps the most outspoken of all the voices heard was Yahoo!’s Pat Forde, who presented Albrecht’s situation as the “height of hypocrisy” in a scathing column attacking both Beilein and the college basketball system as a whole.

Before I address these arguments, however, I wanted to make one point clear: every college basketball player seeking a transfer is doing so for his own reasons. To throw every single transfer into a basket and cover it with a single blanket is to ignore the uniqueness of each individual’s situation. So while I will defend Beilein’s reasoning to a certain extent in this case, I am not saying he is infallible when it comes to transfers; in fact, I was quite outspoken myself in his refusal to allow former Wolverine Max Bielfeldt back for a fifth season in Ann Arbor while also trying to prevent him from transferring to certain schools.

Now, on to this individual case. Instead of responding to Forde’s column with a winding essay of my own, I decided to break his arguments down into three points and address them one-by-one.

From my perspective, Forde’s issues boil down to the following:

1. Not allowing Albrecht to transfer within the Big Ten is “massively hypocritical” on Michigan’s part
2. Spike was “recruited over” and “has been told there is no scholarship for him at Michigan”
3. Rich, greedy coaches are allowed to move about freely from school to school without consequence while poor players are restricted from choosing where they wish to play

I’ll respond to these in order.

1. The supposed hypocrisy

Beilein and Spike 2(Melanie Maxwell, The Ann Arbor News)

Oh, the hypocrisy!

Let’s get Forde’s smelliest garbage – the idea that Michigan and John Beilein are being hypocritical by restricting Albrecht’s options because Jake Rudock just led the Wolverines’ football team to a solid season in his fifth year after transferring from Iowa – out of the way first. Yes, it’s true that Rudock left Iowa for Michigan and had a mostly excellent season as quarterback of the Maize and Blue, in what just so happens to be the most important position on the field. But according to my records — and, you know, Michigan’s schedule — the Wolverines did not play Iowa in Rudock’s lone season in Ann Arbor, so Iowa was never harmed by the transfer.

Now, it might take the intellect of a first grader to realize this, but as far as I know, Beilein does not run the football program at Michigan. To blame Beilein for being hypocritical when he was not even involved in one end of the equation is like blaming an eighth grade algebra teacher for a seventh grader failing biology. Sure, go ahead and argue that the conference is acting hypocritically, but don’t blame the coach that has never signed, and to my knowledge never even pursued, a transfer from another Big Ten university while at Michigan.

Even then, though, the Big Ten is not changing any policy. Rudock and Bielfeldt – who ended up playing his fifth season of basketball at Indiana – had to apply for a special waiver through the conference.

Furthermore, while it’s clear that Beilein has attempted to block his former players from transferring within the conference or to other future opponents, he has never fought extensively to prevent it after that waiver was granted. Indeed, the coach has lost two former players to future conference opponents in Evan Smotrycz (Maryland) and Bielfeldt, and a third, Laval Lucas-Perry, to a team on Michigan’s upcoming schedule (Oakland).

It’s also worth noting that this is not exactly a new issue. Beilein has made his policy very clear in the past – a policy that, according to Quinn, Albrecht was fully aware of – and is far from being alone in trying to avoid playing against athletes to whom he has spent years coaching up and teaching his intricate system. In fact, it was just a few seasons ago when Bo Ryan vehemently fought to prevent his redshirt freshman Jarrod Uthoff from transferring to Iowa, where the future star hailed from.

2. Spike’s scholarship was effectively pulled out from under him

Beilein and Spike 3(Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports)

While Forde’s ridiculous argument regarding hypocrisy is exactly that, this argument is even more outrageous to me. Let’s first forget about the fact that Forde never even interviewed Albrecht for his hot take laden article, but rather relied on a single second-hand source in the form of Spike’s father for all his information.

To say that Albrecht was “recruited over” shows a complete lack of understanding of the situation, so I will do my best to recap. Throughout his junior season, Albrecht played through pain in both of his hips, opting to withhold surgery until the offseason. Once the offseason came around, the rising senior from Crown Point, Ind. immediately underwent surgery on both of his hips to correct issues that his father has also experienced. Doctors and the Michigan basketball program alike, from Beilein to Albrecht himself, seemed confident that, with some intense rehab, Albrecht would be ready to go by the start of his senior year (approximately eight months after surgery).

Unfortunately, all did not go according to plan. Albrecht’s pain affected his play in a major way, and soreness and stiffness reportedly followed him around like a Stage Five Clinger. During halftime of Michigan’s game at SMU, Albrecht informed coaches that he did not feel well enough to return in the second half, and a decision was made soon thereafter to shut it down for the remainder of the season.

At the time, Michigan announced that Albrecht was “retiring”, but there always seemed to be an underlying sense that he could return if things progressed positively. Fast forward to earlier this week, and Albrecht’s competitive attitude led him to extend his college career.

By all accounts, there was simply no way for Beilein to anticipate this situation. Seeing the developing state of his roster heading into this past season, Beilein went ahead last year and recruited a point guard by the name of Xavier Simpson to come in with the class of 2016 to presumably back up a senior Derrick Walton. At the time Simpson committed to Michigan on September 9 and later signed his Letter of Intent to play at Michigan on November 11, all parties expected Albrecht to play out his career in Ann Arbor. That, of course, changed in the following weeks, but by no means was Albrecht deliberately “recruited over”.

Additionally, there’s strong reason to believe that Albrecht himself did not even directly inquire about the possibility of returning to Ann Arbor for his redshirt senior season. In one report from Quinn on MLive.com, Albrecht said “I know there’s a slim shot of a spot opening up” and that his conversation with Beilein was “tough on both of us” and “difficult” for Beilein. He went on to say that Beilein would consider bringing him back if an additional scholarship opened up, but that Albrecht wanted to get his name out on the transfer circuit with spots starting to emerge elsewhere. In a similar report from The Michigan Daily, Albrecht was quoted as saying “I know the scholarship situation I’m going to be in and that there’s probably not a likelihood of me being able to come back” to Beilein.

To me, that sounds like the decision to transfer was 100 percent Albrecht’s call. Beilein did not force Spike out like he arguably did with Bielfeldt before. He even presumably agreed to assist Albrecht in acquiring an extra year of eligibility by preserving his redshirt. Whether Albrecht is transferring due to concerns over playing time next season or for other unknown reasons is beside the point here, as it appears pretty clear that Albrecht was never explicitly told that he would not be able to return to Michigan.

It’s also widely known that Albrecht is a favorite of Beilein’s despite being undersized and outmatched athletically by nearly every opponent – something that has seemed to fly under the radar as people pile on Beilein for being a monster.

3. Coaches are rich and powerful, players are powerless peasants

Beilein and Spike 4(Melanie Maxwell, The Ann Arbor News)

I’ll agree with the basic argument Forde (in solidarity with many other pundits) presents here. It’s true – big-time college basketball coaches make millions of dollars on the backs of their players while the players get nothing more than a free education, free coaching, gear, and a stipend in return (no, we will not be getting into the drawn-out amateurism argument here). Coaches are also free to pick up and change schools or retire on a whim, while players are often restricted from transferring to certain schools or forced to sit out a season in order to adhere to NCAA rules.

But let’s discuss a couple facts that are not pointed out in Forde’s article. The example that Forde gives to embody this argument is that if Beilein retired and Tom Izzo decided to take over as head coach at Michigan, “(Izzo) would be welcomed with open arms in about 30 seconds” without restrictions or having to sit out a season. Besides this being maybe the worst example ever given in the history of mankind, it also fails to acknowledge that players and signed recruits are almost always given a no-holds-barred release from their “contract” if a coach leaves his post. If Beilein were to retire or unexpectedly take a different job next year, his players and recruits would be allowed to leave Michigan – and even follow him to his new destination if desired.

This argument also fails to address another crucial fact. Sure, the player in this situation is being restricted from going anywhere in the country, and thus one could argue that he is hurt by the inability to transfer to the school that offers him the best opportunity. But what about his former teammates? In this case, if Albrecht were allowed to transfer to another Big Ten school or a different future opponent, does that not hurt Derrick Walton, Zak Irvin, and company? What happens if Albrecht went to Indiana and provided a full scouting report to his new coach and teammates, complete with inside information on Beilein’s system and certain tendencies of his former teammates? Is that not inhibiting Michigan’s current players from having a fair shake?

Now yes, every team scouts its opponents extensively, and Tom Crean is very familiar with Beilein’s system by now. A former college basketball player argued with me that even if Albrecht were able to provide play names to his new Big Ten team, conference opponents would have already scouted Michigan enough to know certain plays and individual tendencies. But in my book, any bit of an advantage helps, and allowing one player the chance to provide a full scouting report against his former team seems a bit one-sided to me.

And though Beilein’s comments have been largely dismissed, I’ll put forth his argument again: Does it really hurt a player that bad if he only has 330-some different schools to transfer to as opposed to 350 schools? Albrecht can still play for any number of big time programs throughout the country. He can still finish his college career in the tropics (Hawaii, Florida Gulf Coast) or in the tundra (UW-Green Bay, Maine). He can choose to play close to home for a highly respected program (Notre Dame, Butler) or far away for a program on the rise (Southern California). He can continue his education at an outstanding academic institution (Stanford) or take it easy on the books (IUPUI). Heck, if he’s feeling up for it, Spike could even play for any of the four teams left standing that we’ll all be watching this weekend.

That doesn’t sound so bad to me.