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Posts Tagged ‘Spike Albrecht’

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.

Inside the Numbers: It sure is sweet

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014


Michigan huddle vs Texas(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

It sure is sweet.

On Saturday evening, No. 2-seed Michigan bombed No. 7-seed Texas, 79-65, with a school-record 14 three-pointers in an NCAA Tournament game to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. This is the second straight year and the 13th time in school history that Michigan will participate in the Sweet Sixteen. This also is the seventh time that Michigan has made the Sweet Sixteen when it did so the previous season.

The Wolverines will travel to Indianapolis this weekend, hoping they will be the lone school to survive the Midwest Regional. This will not be an easy challenge. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Wolverines will square off with the underrated No. 11-seed Tennessee Volunteers. With a victory, the Wolverines will play the winner of No. 4-seed Louisville and No. 8-seed Kentucky with a spot in the Final Four at stake.

John Beilein reached the 700-win milestone on Saturday and hopes to continue Michigan's Sweet Sixteen success on Friday (Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

John Beilein reached the 700-win milestone on Saturday and hopes to continue Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen success on Friday (Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

Michigan fans may be wondering what the Wolverines should expect from these three teams. “Inside the Numbers” will provide an in-depth scouting report for each of Tennessee, Louisville, and Kentucky and how Michigan can exploit those teams’ weaknesses tomorrow. Today, “Inside the Numbers” will focus on Michigan’s past performances in the Sweet Sixteen and why they should give fans a reason to be optimistic when the Wolverines and the Volunteers step on the hardwood on Friday night.

Before “Inside the Numbers” does so, a discrepancy needs to be clarified first. As aforementioned, this will be the 13th time that Michigan appears in the Sweet Sixteen. However, the University of Michigan’s Athletic Media Relations’ media guide lists a record for U-M in Sweet Sixteen games which suggests that the Wolverines already have played in the Sweet Sixteen 13 times before this season.

The confusion seems to stem from Michigan’s appearance in the 1948 NCAA Tournament. Prior to 1951, there were only eight teams in the NCAA Tournament, which means there was no “Sweet Sixteen.” After 1951, the NCAA Tournament expanded to 16 teams with the first round labeled as the “regional semifinals,” which now is nicknamed the “Sweet Sixteen.” Yet the media guide labels Michigan’s first game in the 1948 NCAA Tournament as a “regional semifinal” game. The result of this game seems to mistakenly have been added to Michigan’s listed record in the Sweet Sixteen. Therefore, the 1948 NCAA Tournament will not be discussed in this post.

With that discrepancy clarified, “Inside the Numbers” can finally reveal one reason why fans should be optimistic that the Wolverines will defeat the Tennessee Volunteers on Friday night. In its 12 games played in the Sweet Sixteen, Michigan has posted an 11-1 record. Yes, 11-1. This means that Michigan has a 91.7 win percentage in the Sweet Sixteen. Additionally, the Wolverines have won all five of their Sweet Sixteen contests since 1988.

Results of Michigan’s 12 Previous Sweet Sixteen Games

Year

Opponent

Result

Year

Opponent

Result

1964

Loyola

W, 84-80

1988

North Carolina

L, 69-78

1965

Dayton

W, 98-71

1989

North Carolina

W, 92-87

1966

W. Kentucky

W, 80-79

1992

Oklahoma St.

W, 75-72

1974

Notre Dame

W, 77-68

1993

George Wash.

W, 72-64

1976

Notre Dame

W, 80-76

1994

Maryland

W, 78-71

1977

Detroit

W, 86-81

2013

Kansas

W, 87-85 (OT)

Michigan has experienced a tremendous amount of success in the Sweet Sixteen. Only one other NCAA D-1 college basketball team that has made a minimum of five Sweet Sixteen appearances has won a higher percentage of its Sweet Sixteen games than Michigan. That team is Temple, which is 7-0 in the Sweet Sixteen. When the minimum number of Sweet Sixteen appearances is raised to 10 games, a feat 31 schools have achieved, there is no team better than the Wolverines.

Highest Win Percentage in the Sweet Sixteen (Min. 10 Appearances)

Rank

School

Record

Win Pct.

Rank

School

Record

Win Pct.

1

Michigan

11-1

91.67%

9

UCLA

21-10

67.74%

2

North Carolina

24-6

80.00%

10

Ohio St.

10-5

66.67%

3

Kentucky

30-10

75.00%

11

Michigan St.

11-6

64.71%

t-4

Georgetown

8-3

72.73%

12

Illinois

7-4

63.64%

t-4

Oklahoma St.

8-3

72.73%

13

Villanova

10-6

62.50%

6

Duke

19-8

70.37%

14

Cincinnati

8-5

61.54%

7

Kansas St.

11-5

68.75%

15

Connecticut

10-7

58.82%

8

Kansas

19-9

67.86%

16

San Francisco

7-5

58.33%

Among schools that have played in a minimum of 10 Sweet Sixteen games, Michigan is the only school to have won more than 90 percent of them. In fact, the Wolverines are the only such team to have won more than 80 percent of them. Even if Michigan lost to Tennessee on Friday, U-M’s win percentage in the Sweet Sixteen would drop only to 84.62 percent, which would still be high enough to be the best. Although other schools, such as North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas, and UCLA, have more Sweet Sixteen wins, no team has made the most of its Sweet Sixteen appearances than Michigan.

There are two trends that have been established in Michigan’s previous 12 Sweet Sixteen games of which fans should be aware. First, almost all of these Sweet Sixteen games have come down to the wire. Of the previous 12 games Michigan has played in the Sweet Sixteen, all but one of them were decided by single digits. Seven were decided by five points of fewer. The average margin of victory in these games is seven points. It would be fewer if not for Michigan’s 27-point win over Dayton in the 1965 Sweet Sixteen.

Trey Burke's three against Kansas last March kept Michigan's Sweet Sixteen success intact (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

Trey Burke’s three against Kansas last March kept Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen success intact (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

Michigan fans should not expect this to be any different on Friday evening. Generally, games at this stage of the NCAA Tournament pit two equal teams against one another. This definitely applies to the matchup between Michigan and Tennessee. The Volunteers may be only a No. 11 seed, but the computers and advanced statistics view Michigan and Tennessee as equals. So does Vegas, which has the Wolverines as only a 1.5-point favorite over the Vols. Michigan may have beaten Tennessee by 30 points in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, but do not expect a repeat result this week.

Second, as aforementioned, this is the seventh time that Michigan has appeared in the Sweet Sixteen one year after doing the same in the previous season. In the previous six such games, the Wolverines never lost. A repeat appearance in the Sweet Sixteen always has led to a victory for the Maize and Blue. There are lots of possible reasons for this: quality of team, quality of opponent, matchups, hot shooting, lucky bounces, etc.

Yet another potential explanation for this phenomenon is experience. When teams appear in the Sweet Sixteen for a second consecutive season, these teams likely have most of the roster intact from the previous season. These players have already dealt with nerves of playing in the Sweet Sixteen and have become accustomed to the high stakes of such a game. Six of Michigan’s eight key contributors participated in last season’s Sweet Sixteen showdown against Kansas—Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and Spike Albrecht. It is unlikely that any of these six players will be fazed by the circumstances of Friday’s Sweet Sixteen contest. The same may not be able to be said about the Volunteers, none of whom have appeared in the Sweet Sixteen before.

The one caveat is that historical trends generally have little impact on upcoming games. All trends are broken or snapped at one point or another as teams and rosters change over time. Michigan’s 11-1 record in the Sweet Sixteen does not guarantee that the Wolverines will advance to the Elite Eight on Friday.

However, it is much more reassuring for Michigan fans to hear that their team has been extremely successful in the Sweet Sixteen rather than not. Michigan fans would be much more concerned about U-M’s prospects on Friday if they learned that their team had only a 1-5 record in Sweet Sixteen games. Why a 1-5 record specifically? Because that is Tennessee’s record in the Sweet Sixteen. It sure is sweet.

Hooked ‘em: Michigan 79 – Texas 65

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014


Morgan dunk vs Texas 3-22-14(Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

On Thursday night Michigan looked sloppy in defeating Wofford, but was able to advance to the Round of 32. On Saturday night, the Wolverines made sure to avoid sloppy play, turning the ball over just twice and committing just three fouls in the first half while racing out to a commanding lead. Despite a comeback attempt by Texas in the second half, Michigan’s lead was to much and the Wolverines advanced back to the Sweet Sixteen with a 79-65 win.

Like Thursday, Nik Stauskas got the scoring started with a three-pointer, but this time Texas scored the next six. But another Stauskas three ignited a 10-0 Michigan run until Cameron Ridley scored on a tip-in. Glenn Robinson III answered with a three, followed by yet another by Stauskas to open up a double-digit lead at 21-10 midway through the half.

But Michigan wasn’t done. Over the next three minutes the Wolverines outscored Texas 9-2 to open up a 30-12 lead. Texas outscored Michigan by five the rest of the half to head into the locker room down 13 at 43-30.

Glenn Robinson III hit big shots at key times to preserve the win (Morry Gash, AP)

Glenn Robinson III hit big shots at key times to preserve the win (Morry Gash, AP)

Derrick Walton Jr. started the second half with two threes sandwiched around a Jordan Morgan dunk, and when Stauskas converted a pair of free throws at the 16:02 mark Michigan was once again back up by 18. But Texas’ zone defense finally started to pay off as Michigan went cold, failing to score for the next four minutes and 22 seconds. Stauskas ended the drought and Michigan’s lead matched its halftime lead.

Texas answered with five straight to pull within eight with 9:56 to play, but Robinson III made a pair of free throws to move it back to 10. Two straight Longhorn baskets brought it down to six and suddenly Michigan’s once-comfortable lead was down to two possessions.

Robinson answered yet again with a jumper and then a three-pointer on back-to-back possessions. Texas made a pair of free throws to pull within nine, but Spike Albrecht nailed a three. Texas once again cut it to eight, but this time it was Caris LeVert with a big three to squelch any hopes of a Texas run and the Longhorns would never get it to single digits the rest of the way.

Michigan scored eight straight to pull ahead 76-60 and that was all she wrote.

For the game, Michigan shot 44.4 percent (53.6 percent in the first half) and 50 percent from three-point range. The Wolverines set a program NCAA Tournament record with 14 made threes. Texas shot 37.1 percent from the field and 4-of-11 from downtown. Michigan was out-rebounded 41-30, but turned the ball over just four times and converted nine Texas turnovers into 15 points.

Michigan got balanced scoring from its starters, led by Stauskas’ 17 on 4-of-12 shooting (4-of-9 three-point). He also added a career-high eight assists and no turnovers. Jordan Morgan recorded his second straight double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Robinson III and LeVert scored 14 apiece. Walton Jr. added eight.

Michigan advances to the Sweet Sixteen for the second year in a row and will play the winner of Sunday’s matchup between 11-seed Tennessee and 14-seed Mercer. The game will take place on Friday in Indianapolis.

Three Stars

***Jordan Morgan***
15 points (4-of-7 FG, 7-of-8 FT), 10 rebounds (five offensive), two assists, two steals, one turnover in 35 minutes

**Glenn Robinson III**
14 points (5-of-10 FG, 2-of-3 3PT, 2-of-2 FT), five rebounds (two offensive), one block, two steals, one turnover in 36 minutes

*Nik Stauskas*
17 points (4-of-12 FG, 4-of-9 3PT, 5-of-6 FT), two rebounds, eight assists, one block in 38 minutes

Quick Hitters

 The win was number 700 for John Beilein, making him the sixth active head coach to reach the milestone.

 Michigan is 12-2 this season when Stauskas, Robinson III, and LeVert all score in double figures.

 Jordan Morgan recorded his third double-double of the season and seventh of his career. He is the first player to record back-to-back double-doubles since Mitch McGary against VCU and Kansas in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

 Morgan passed Chris Webber for 15th place on Michigan’s career rebounding list.

 

 

 

___________________________________________________________

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 5-10 2-3 2-2 2 3 5 2 14 0 1 1 2 36
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 3-7 2-4 0-0 1 0 1 2 8 2 0 0 0 29
11 Nik Stauskas* 4-12 4-9 5-6 0 2 2 1 17 8 0 1 0 38
52 Jordan Morgan* 4-7 0-0 7-8 5 5 10 3 15 2 1 0 1 35
23 Caris LeVert* 5-12 3-6 1-3 1 3 4 2 14 3 0 0 0 37
02 Spike Albrecht 1-2 1-2 2-2 1 2 3 0 5 1 0 0 1 11
15 Jon Horford 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 0 0 5
21 Zak Irvin 2-4 2-4 0-0 0 0 0 0 6 0 1 0 0 9
Totals 24-54 14-28 17-21 11 19 30 12 79 16 4 2 5 200
Texas 23-62 4-11 15-16 21 20 41 16 65 14 9 3 3 200
Full Stats

A win is a win: Michigan 77 – Purdue 76, OT

Thursday, February 27th, 2014


UM celebration vs Purdue 2-26-14(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Basketball, like most sports, is a game that can have wild outcomes from time-to-time. When trying to throw a nine-inch ball into an 18-inch rim from 20-some feet away, that is to be expected. Still, some guys are better at shooting that ball, and teams with those players generally prevail – but not always.

Michigan is a team this season that is incredibly skilled on offense, capable of dominating any team in the nation when the shots are falling. But when shots aren’t falling, weird things happen.

On Wednesday night, the Wolverines simply couldn’t throw that orange ball into the orange rim no matter how open their looks were. Purdue, their opponent, on the other hand, seemingly couldn’t miss – despite being a poor shooting team on average.

Coming into last evening’s clash at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Michigan led the Big Ten with a 47.9 percent shooting mark from the floor, while Purdue lagged a ways behind at 42.7 percent. The teams’ three-point shooting numbers – 39.4 percent for Michigan and 33.9 percent for Purdue – also heavily favored the visitors.

Jordan Morgan came up huge, especially in overtime, finishing with 13 points and nine boards (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Jordan Morgan came up huge, especially in overtime, finishing with 13 points and nine boards (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

For the first half, however, things couldn’t have been more different. The Boilermakers, playing for pride and a potential NIT bid in a lost season, connected on their first three shots and ran out to a 19-point lead over Michigan just over 12 minutes into the first half on their way to making 52 percent of their field goals (13-of-25) and 45.5 percent of their threes (5-of-11). At the 7:43 mark of that first half, Purdue was more than tripling – TRIPLING – Michigan’s score.

The Wolverines, on the other hand, touting a roster with five regulars shooting better than 39 percent from deep, made just eight of their 27 shot attempts in the first half (29.6 percent) and a meager 2-of-10 threes (20 percent).

This wasn’t supposed to happen. After ousting Michigan State in a thrilling come-from-behind victory three days ago in Ann Arbor, Michigan was all but crowned conference champion with four games remaining over bottom-half Big Ten teams and a one-game lead over those Spartans. At some point, perhaps the Maize and Blue bought into the hype, or maybe Purdue was fed up with being walked all over.

Whatever it was, Purdue was cruising to victory. Near the end of a dominant first half, the Boilermakers took a brief stumble and allowed Michigan to cut the lead to single digits, but a couple of Wolverine mistakes and Boiler buckets later and the halftime lead was a still very large 13 points.

Then, inevitably, Michigan started clawing back into the game as we’ve seen so many times this year. Sure, the Wolverines’ poor opening play in some games has left all of us fans frustrated, but there is no denying the fight in this team.

As has been the case all season, Michigan’s deficit started shrinking – 11, nine, seven, then just four points with a whopping 12:44 left to play. Certainly, Purdue’s nominal lead would continue disappearing, all the way to zero, before the boys in Blue ran away with it.

But that didn’t happen either. In fact, Purdue never trailed Michigan for 40 minutes. Despite a continuous battle and even a couple of ties, Michigan never got over the hump and looked like they would fall victim to the trap game, giving Michigan State a glimmer of hope in the Big Ten title race.

Again, Michigan fought, earning a chance to win it with the final shot at the end of regulation. And despite Nik Stauskas’s clanger off the rim to end the second half, the Wolverines had to feel good about sending this game to overtime.

With A.J. Hammons out of the game on fouls and five more minutes of game time, Michigan had a golden opportunity to steal yet another road victory, and it looked like they would after grabbing their first lead of the night just 30 seconds into the extra period.

But Purdue wouldn’t go down easily either. Fueled by Ronnie and Terone Johnson and near-perfect free throw shooting, the Boilermakers proved resilient enough to grab the lead back with 31 seconds remaining, and seemed primed to close the game out when Kendall Stephens was sent to the line for a one-and-one opportunity with 13 seconds left. After 17 straight made free throws for Purdue, two more didn’t seem like a big deal, but Stephens missed, giving Michigan one last chance.

Glenn Robinson III somehow managed to get this winning shot to fall (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Glenn Robinson III somehow managed to get this winning shot to fall at the buzzer (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Caris LeVert, who struggled shooting the ball (4-of-12 FG), raced up the court, danced around for a second, and then huddled up with the rest of his team when John Beilein called a timeout with 2.9 seconds on the clock.

This was it. Michigan faced a one-point deficit with less than three seconds to go. Make a basket, and the game is won. Miss, and well, maybe missing was never an option.

Out of the timeout, LeVert inbounded on the side out-of-bounds line and threw a high rainbow to the far corner to a leaping Glenn Robinson III, whose 12 second half points had kept Michigan alive. Robinson, one of the best athletes in the country, leapt up high over Raphael Davis, came down with the ball, gave a quick head fake, took one dribble toward the basket, and threw up a shot off glass – all with his dad, former Purdue All-Everything forward and first overall NBA selection Glenn Robinson, watching. The ball, seemingly moving in slow motion, hit off the backboard, bounced a couple times off the side and front of the rim, then gently trickled through that 18-inch rim. The buzzer sounded, and the game was over.

On a night when Michigan’s two leading scorers combined for 29 points on a miserable 9-of-30 mark from the field, the Wolverines somehow got it done.

There’s a certain resilience about this team that is both refreshing and encouraging, but there’s also a certain tendency of falling behind that seems concerning.

But a win is still a win, and now only three games separate these Wolverines from an outright Big Ten championship and an almost certain top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Glenn Robinson III said it best after the game: “It’s a great win for us. We competed hard and came out with the victory.”

At this point in the season, every win is great.

Three Stars:

***Terone Johnson***
22 points (7-of-14 FG, 4-of-8 3PT, 4-of-4 FT), four rebounds (one offensive), three assists, three turnovers in 41 minutes

**Glenn Robinson III**
17 points (7-of-11 FG, 0-of-1 3PT, 3-of-4 FT), eight rebounds (two offensive), three assists, one turnover in 39 minutes

*Ronnie Johnson*
21 points (9-of-15 FG, 1-of-3 3PT, 2-of-2 FT), seven assists, four rebounds, two steals, four turnovers in 41 minutes

Quick Hitters:


 Senior Terone Johnson continued to be a big pain for Michigan, going for his third career 20-point game against the Wolverines — something he has only accomplished seven other times in his career. But this time it was done through some terrific outside shooting while brother Ronnie did major damage in the paint. The guard duo combined to make an excellent 5-of-11 threes and all six of their free throws while leading five Boilermakers in double digits.

 Michigan’s ball movement was mostly effective tonight, and it shows with their outstanding 19 assists on 27 made buckets to just seven turnovers. Five Wolverines – LeVert, Stauskas, Spike Albrecht, Jordan Morgan, and Robinson III – recorded at least three assists a piece and only Stauskas and Derrick Walton, Jr. turned it over more than once. Still, Purdue managed to win the points off turnover battles, getting 13 to Michigan’s 11 points on 11 Purdue cough-ups.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 7-11 0-1 3-4 2 6 8 2 17 3 1 0 0 39
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 2-6 2-6 2-4 2 2 4 0 8 1 2 0 1 24
11 Nik Stauskas* 5-18 0-4 5-7 1 1 2 2 15 3 2 0 0 41
52 Jordan Morgan* 6-8 0-0 1-3 3 6 9 3 13 3 0 1 2 33
23 Caris LeVert* 4-12 2-5 4-4 3 4 7 1 14 4 1 0 1 41
02 Spike Albrecht 1-5 0-3 0-0 0 0 0 2 2 4 1 0 2 21
15 Jon Horford 0-1 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 3 0 0 0 1 0 11
21 Zak Irvin 2-4 2-4 2-3 0 1 1 1 8 1 0 0 0 15
Totals 27-65 6-23 17-25 14 23 37 14 77 19 7 2 6 205
Purdue 26-63 7-24 17-18 14 25 39 17 76 15 11 4 3 205
Full Stats

Inside the Numbers: An offense on fire

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014


Michigan huddle vs Purdue(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan suffered its first conference loss to the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on Super Bowl Sunday. Assembly Hall has always been a “House of Horrors” for Michigan, as the Wolverines have won in Bloomington only once since 1995 and only twice since 1988. It was no different in 2014. Michigan struggled offensively. Its 52 points were the fewest it has scored this season, thanks in part to the contest having a very slow tempo at only 55 possessions. And Michigan’s 43.3 eFG%, which gives additional weight to three-pointers made because they are worth more points, was the lowest it has been in over two months. It was an ugly display by the Wolverines.

But do not let Sunday’s performance fool you. Michigan has been outstanding offensively this season, to the surprise of many I would presume. John Beilein-coached teams generally shine on the offensive end, but many wondered how the Wolverines would overcome the losses of consensus National Player of the Year Trey Burke as well as Tim Hardaway, Jr. to the NBA. Although Michigan had offensive firepower in Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary returning, no one expected this year’s offense to be better than last year’s offense.

Yet that is exactly what has happened. In 2013, Michigan’s adjusted offensive efficiency, which calculates what an offense would score in a 100-possession game against an average NCAA D-1 opponent, was 120.3—the best in the nation. In 2014, Michigan’s adjusted offensive efficiency is currently 121.4. While it may only be the third-highest adjusted offensive efficiency in the country this season, it is the ninth-best since the 2002 season.

Ten Most Efficient Offenses Since 2001-02

Rank

Team

Adjusted Offensive Efficiency

1

2014 Duke

127.9

2

2014 Creighton

125.7

3

2005 Wake Forest

124.0

4

2012 Missouri

123.9

5

2011 Ohio State

123.3

6

2009 North Carolina

122.4

7

2005 North Carolina

121.9

8

2007 Florida

121.5

9

2014 Michigan

121.4

10

2012 Kentucky

121.3

Michigan’s offense showed flashes of this potential against non-conference opponents, but it was not until Big Ten play that it really found its groove. In U-M’s first eight conference games, the Wolverines exceeded 1.00 points per possession in each game and had an unadjusted offensive efficiency of 118.1—by far the best in the Big Ten. No Big Ten opponent could keep pace with the Wolverines as Michigan sprinted out to an 8-0 conference record for just the fourth time in program history.

Michigan’s unadjusted offensive efficiency against conference foes now is 115.8 after the blunder in Bloomington, but that still is the best in the Big Ten by a significant margin. Additionally, Michigan’s unadjusted offensive efficiency in conference play is tied for the fifth-best among all teams in the seven major conferences—AAC, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC.

Best Conference-Only Offensive Efficiencies Among Seven Major Conferences

Rank

Team

Unadjusted Offensive Efficiency

1

Duke

121.2

2

Creighton

120.1

3

Kansas

118.7

4

Villanova

117.1

t-5

Michigan

115.8

t-5

Connecticut

115.8

Michigan has been an offensive juggernaut mainly because U-M has shot the lights out of the basketball. In their nine Big Ten games, the Wolverines’ eFG% is 58.3 percent. That is by far the best eFG% in the Big Ten—Minnesota is second with a 52.8 eFG%—and the highest in the Big Ten since 2004. The only major-conference team that can say that it has a better conference-only eFG% is Creighton at 58.7 percent in the Big East. And Creighton could not say that until Sunday because U-M’s eFG% was 60 percent prior to the Indiana game.

To understand why the Wolverines have been torching the twine at such an efficient rate, I charted all of Michigan’s shots from its past five games. I used the shot-chart data provided by CBS Sports’ online GameTracker. I could chart only U-M’s past five games because the GameTracker feature is available only for games involving a ranked team, which was not the case for U-M’s first four Big Ten contests. Nonetheless, the following shot chart paints a picture as to why Michigan has its highest eFG% this millennium.

 

Shot chart

First, Michigan has been one of the best teams in the nation around the rim. In their past five games, the Wolverines have made 66 percent of their shots taken in the paint and no more than 10 feet away from the basket. This percentage is boosted by the fact that U-M rarely misses shots right at the rim. The only field goal attempts considered “at the rim” are dunks, layups, and tip-ins, and the average NCAA D-1 team converts 60.9 percent of them, per Hoop-Math. Yet Michigan has far exceeded that average by making an astounding 79 percent of its shots at the rim this season and 74.3 percent of them in the past five contests.

Michigan’s success at the rim has been a team effort. The only U-M player that has not made at least 70 percent of his shots at the rim is Spike Albrecht, who converts an average 60 percent of them. Jon Horford and Robinson III have been the leaders of U-M’s excellence around the bucket. They have combined to make 79-of-84 shots at the rim this season for a near-perfect conversion rate of 94 percent. If one of those two catches the ball next to the hoop, it is almost an automatic two points for the Wolverines unless the opposing defense chooses to send them to the free-throw line. But, even if it is not Horford or Robinson III, Michigan has done a fantastic job of capitalizing on opportunities to make the easiest shots in basketball.

Glenn Robinson III is (Jamie Owens)

Glenn Robinson III excels at finishing around the rim, combining with Jon Horford to make 94 percent of shots around the rim this season (Jamie Owens)

Second, not only are the Wolverines excellent at the rim, they also are excellent from long distance, too. Michigan has made 39.8 percent of its three-pointers during the conference season, which leads the Big Ten. Everyone knows that Stauskas is one of the best three-point shooters in the nation, but he is far from Michigan’s only long-range weapon. The Wolverines have five players—Stauskas, Albrecht, Derrick Walton, Jr., Zak Irvin, and Caris LeVert—that have attempted at least 40 three-pointers this season and made at least 37 percent of them. With no less than three of these players on the court at all times, opposing defenses have struggled to extend out on all of U-M’s shooters.

In the past five games, Michigan has found its sweet spot from behind the three-point line on the wings. The Wolverines have converted 49.1 percent of three-pointers on the wings, while making 36.8 percent from the corners and only 23.1 percent from straight away. Michigan has not shied away from its sweet spots either. Of the 85 three-pointers U-M has attempted in the past five games, almost two-thirds of them have been shot from the wings. Michigan has had an extraordinary amount of success from these spots recently, and U-M should continue to run plays that place its three-point specialists on the wings.

Third, and most importantly, Michigan has made a concentrated effort to eliminate long two-point jumpers from its shot selection. Those are the worst shots in basketball mathematically, and it is not even close. Two-point shots at the rim are much better than long two-point jumpers because there is significant discrepancy in their conversion rates. Three-point shots are much better than long-two point jumpers, despite having similar conversion rates, because three-point shots are worth an additional point. If a team is going to shoot a shot that will be made no more than 40 percent of the time, that team might as well try to get three points out of it.

In their past five games, 63.1 percent of the Wolverines’ field-goal attempts have either been at the rim or a three-pointer. Therefore, in its past five games, 36.9 percent of Michigan’s shots have been two-point jumpers. While that rate exceeds the NCAA D-1 average of 29.3 percent, it does not necessarily mean that Michigan is settling for long two-point jumpers. Of U-M’s 93 two-point jumpers in its past five games, 34.4 percent have been attempted in the paint and 68.8 percent closer than 15 feet away from the hoop. But, if the Wolverines plan to continue to take two-point jumpers, they need to do an even better job of taking them closer to the hoop because they converted only 31 percent of them outside 15 feet in their past five contests.

It should be noted that Michigan has superb shooters. U-M would not have been able to achieve such a high eFG% without having this type of offensive talent on its roster. Credit must be given to Beilein for recruiting and developing players that not only finish around the rim, but also drain shots from beyond the arc. But even more credit should be given to Beilein and his staff for deploying an offensive strategy that leads to his team taking the most valuable shots in basketball: dunks, layups, tip-ins, and three-pointers. As a result, Michigan once again is one of the most explosive offensive teams in the nation and in prime position to shoot its way to its second Big Ten championship in three years.

Still rolling: Michigan 75 – Iowa 67

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014


Stauskas 3 vs Iowa(MGoBlue.com)

For the second time in five days Michigan took down a top-10 team, this time beating the Iowa Hawkeyes, 75-67. On Saturday, third-ranked Wisconsin was the victim of a red-hot Michigan squad, and tonight’s victory over Iowa gives the Wolverines a chance to seize control of the Big Ten at Michigan State this Saturday.

Despite struggling out of the gate and trailing by five points early, the Wolverines made a run just before the half and led by four at the break. The lead grew to as many as 11 several times before a furious late run brought Iowa back to within four.

In the end, Nik Stauskas was just too much for another Big Ten team, dropping 26 points to go along with five assists and rebounds.

Spike vs Iowa 1-22-14

Spike Albrecht filled in valiantly for Derrick Walton Jr., tallying seven points, seven assists, four steals and no turnovers (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan had to overcome another key loss Wednesday when Derrick Walton sat out the entire second half with the flu. Walton missed a few practices during the week and played just three minutes in the first half before calling it quits.

Thankfully, Spike Albrecht stepped in nicely, dishing out seven assists compare to no turnovers. The scrappy sophomore also added four steals and seven points, knocking down key free throws to ice the game late.

Redshirt senior Jordan Morgan took care of the paint despite Horford’s struggles, with some help from Glenn Robinson III, who put in a nine-rebound effort. The two combined for 26 points and 16 rebounds.

The 67 points Michigan allowed were tied for the lowest Iowa has scored all season and 20 points below the Hawkeyes’ season average. Michigan also held its own on the glass against the Big Ten’s best rebounding team, pulling down 32 compared to Iowa’s 33.

John Beilein’s team has made a statement in the first third of the Big Ten season, winning three difficult road games and holding court in Ann Arbor. Michigan sits just a half game behind the 7-0 Spartans, but will get a chance to take sole possession of first place on Saturday in East Lansing.

If Spartan star Adreian Payne returns to action against Michigan this weekend, Jon Horford will need to be more effective than he was against a big Iowa team. In just eight minutes, Horford grabbed three rebounds and picked up two fouls.

Michigan is two thirds of the way through a three-game top-10 opponent stretch. The Wolverines and Spartans are the only teams with less than two losses in the Big Ten.

With a win in East Lansing on Saturday (7 p.m. EST on ESPN), Michigan would establish itself as the early front-runner in the conference. It won’t be easy, as the Spartans have pounded their in-state rivals at home the past two seasons.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 6-15 0-5 2-2 4 5 9 3 14 1 2 0 1 35
02 Spike Albrecht* 2-4 1-3 2-2 0 3 3 3 7 7 0 0 4 35
11 Nik Stauskas* 8-14 4-9 6-7 1 4 5 3 26 5 2 1 1 37
52 Jordan Morgan* 5-6 0-0 2-3 2 5 7 2 12 0 2 1 1 32
23 Caris LeVert* 2-9 0-3 1-2 1 1 2 2 5 1 3 0 2 34
10 Derrick Walton 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 3
15 Jon Horford 0-0 0-0 0-0 1 2 3 2 0 0 0 0 0 8
21 Zak Irvin 4-9 3-7 0-0 1 1 2 1 11 0 0 0 0 16
Totals 27-58 8-27 13-16 10 22 32 16 75 15 10 2 9 200
Iowa 25-53 2-10 15-21 10 23 33 17 67 14 14 2 6 200
Full Stats

Inside the Numbers: Developing the defense – the key to a Big Ten championship

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014


(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan can win the Big Ten regular-season championship. Even with no Trey Burke. Even with no Tim Hardaway, Jr. Even after Michigan opened with a lackluster 6-4 record. And even after Michigan announced that preseason All-American Mitch McGary opted to have back surgery and likely would miss the rest of the season. Michigan may be unranked, but many fail to realize that advanced metrics still view Michigan as a Top 25 team and Big Ten contender. But, if U-M wants to prove to the rest of the world that it is those things, it must improve its play on one side of the court.

To the surprise of some U-M fans, that side of the court is not the offense. In the preseason, there were questions about whether the Wolverines would be able to replace the offensive production of Burke and Hardaway, Jr. They were fair questions, too. Not only were Burke and Hardaway, Jr. first-round selections in the 2013 NBA Draft, they had the two highest usage rates for Michigan last season. More possessions went through Burke and Hardaway, Jr. than any other Wolverine for an offense that was considered by advanced statistics to be the most efficient in the nation. Overcoming two losses that significant is no simple task.

Yet, Michigan has done so. U-M currently does not have the most efficient offense in the nation like last year, but there has been only a slight regression. Last season, Michigan would have been expected to score 120.3 points against an average NCAA D-1 team in a 100-possession game. This season, the Wolverines would be expected to score 115.9 points against an average NCAA D-1 team in a 100-possession game. Accordingly, Michigan’s offense has been the 16th-most efficient offense out of 351 NCAA D-1 teams this season. This is still an elite offense.

How? Because five of U-M’s six non-freshmen that play significant minutes have increased their offensive efficiency while either maintaining or increasing their usage rage from last season:

Michigan Players’ Usage Rates & Offensive Ratings
Usage Rate Offensive Rating
2012-13 2013-14 Margin 2012-13 2013-14 Margin
LeVert 15.2 19.3 4.1 93.4 112.0 18.6
Morgan 17.5 17.4 -0.1 109.4 117.1 7.7
Stauskas 16.2 23.3 7.1 122.8 130.4 7.6
Albrecht 13.8 14.0 0.2 120.7 126.5 5.8
Horford 17.1 18.5 1.4 115.7 120.3 4.6
Robinson III 15.2 21.0 5.8 128.4 119.8 -8.6

Nik Stauskas has been the key to Michigan’s sustained success offensively. Last season, Stauskas’ offensive rating was 122.8, which meant he was the 36th-most efficient offensive player in the nation. So what did Stauskas do this season? He improved his offensive rating by 7.6 points, while becoming U-M’s “go-to guy.” As a result, Stauskas is the fourth-most efficient offensive player in the nation among those who use at least 23 percent of their team’s possessions. Very few players have been better offensively than Stauskas this season.

Stauskas is not the only reason why Michigan’s offense still is elite. Look no further than Caris LeVert. LeVert has had a rollercoaster season, but he is one of the most improved offensive players in the nation. His offensive rating has increased by a whopping 18.6 points, and his usage rate has jumped 4.1 percentage points. That is a remarkable leap. And it is why LeVert has become one of U-M’s best scorers. Plus, Jordan Morgan, Spike Albrecht, and Jon Horford each have been more efficient offensively despite using more possessions this season than last.

The only non-freshman that has become less efficient offensively is Glenn Robinson III. But that does not mean he is an inefficient offensive player. Robinson III’s 119.8 offensive rating is in the Top 300 among all players. The regression is because his offensive rating was so high last season—the tenth-best in the nation. With an increase in his usage rate from 15.2 to 21 percent, it is no surprise that Robinson III’s efficiency has dipped. It is extremely difficult for a player to be more efficient when he uses that many more offensive possessions. Yes, Stauskas has done it, but Stauskas is a rare case. It should not be expected of Robinson III. Michigan fans should be pleased with Robinson III’s efficiency this season, especially the past few weeks.

Nik Stauskas is currently the fourth-most efficient player in the nation (Marilyn Indahl, USA Today Sports)

Throw in Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, Jr.—who are beginning to settle into their offensive roles—and the Wolverines’ offense will continue to be a terror for Big Ten opponents. But, if the Maize and Blue want to raise a Big Ten championship banner for the second time in three years, Michigan must solidify its play on the defensive side of the court.

John Beilein’s teams never have been known for playing superb defense, going back to his days at West Virginia. In Beilein’s five seasons as the head man in Morgantown, the Mountaineers never finished better than #70 in adjusted defensive efficiency—a metric that projects the number of points a team would allow against an average NCAA D-1 team in a 100-possession game. His defenses at Michigan have been better, but U-M has yet to finish in the Top 30 in adjusted defensive efficiency in six seasons under Beilein.

Michigan had a promising start defensively this season. Six of U-M’s first seven opponents have had one of their four least-efficient offensive performances of the season against the Wolverines. Five of those opponents were not even able to muster more than one point per possession. The sixth opponent—Iowa State—did not necessarily struggle offensively against Michigan, but the 1.04 points per possession the Cyclones averaged against U-M was ISU’s lowest of the season. Consequently, U-M ranked in the Top 30 in adjusted defensive efficiency.

However, in four of their next five games, the Wolverines began to show cracks defensively. And the one game they did not was against Houston Baptist—one of the worst teams in NCAA D-1 basketball. In those four games, Michigan allowed Duke, Arizona, Stanford, and Holy Cross each to average more than one point per possession. Further, the Wolverines allowed Duke, Arizona, and Holy Cross each to have one of their best offensive performances of the season against U-M. Hence, it was no shock that Michigan’s rank in adjusted defensive efficiency slipped out of the Top 30 all the way down to #51 once U-M’s non-conference schedule ended.

With an efficient offense, Michigan can afford those defensive lapses against lesser teams because the offense will carry U-M to victories by double digits. But Michigan cannot afford such lapses against quality opponents. And Michigan will face an abundance of quality teams in the Big Ten—the best conference in the nation according to most metrics. Seven Big Ten teams are ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s Top 50, and 11 of the 12 Big Ten schools are ranked in his Top 100. Simply: there are no easy games in the Big Ten, and Michigan will find itself in multiple down-to-the-wire contests that will be decided in the final few possessions.

The bad news for Michigan is that it had major problems defensively in the final minutes of close non-conference games. U-M played in five non-conference games decided by less than ten points. In its first two games decided by single digits, against Iowa State and Florida State, Michigan’s defense actually performed well in the final seven minutes of the game and in overtime relative to the first 33 minutes. But, as the table below provides, in its next three non-conference games decided by single digits, Michigan was a sieve defensively in the last seven minutes:

Michigan’s Defense in Single-Digit Games – Non-Conference Games
First 33 Minutes Last Seven Minutes & Overtime
Possessions Pts Allowed Pts Alwd/Pos. Possessions Pts Allowed Pts Alwd/Pos.
Iowa State 61 62 1.02 13 15 1.15
Florida State 48 59 1.23 23 21 0.91
Charlotte 59 46 0.78 12 17 1.42
Arizona 49 50 1.02 12 22 1.83
Stanford 52 46 0.88 12 19 1.58

Michigan allowed 0.64 more points per possession to Charlotte, 0.81 more points per possession to Arizona, and 0.70 more points per possession to Stanford in the final seven minutes than it did in the first 33 minutes. Further, in the final seven minutes of those three games, Charlotte, Arizona, and Stanford had 36 offensive possessions total. Yet, the Wolverines forced only six stops during those possessions. Thus, U-M’s defensive stop rate during the final seven minutes against those three opponents was a paltry 16.7 percent. And each of those games was decided by three points or less.

That is a recipe for disaster. One caveat is that defenses may make fewer stops at the end of games because teams are in the bonus and fouls send offenses to the free-throw line more often. But that alone is not enough to explain why Michigan struggled mightily to get critical stops at the end of tight games against Charlotte, Arizona, and Stanford. Basically, Michigan just played very poor defense in the final minutes against those opponents. And U-M did so differently each time.

Michigan's defense has struggled late in big games and will need to improve to give the Wolverines a shot at the Big Ten title (GopherSports.com)

Against Charlotte, Michigan’s perimeter defense struggled as the 49ers knocked down 5-of-6 jumpers, including two three-pointers, in the final seven minutes. This prolonged the time U-M—which trailed by 12 points early in the second half—needed to tie the game. The Wolverines finally were able to notch the game-tying bucket with eight seconds left. However, Charlotte tipped in its own miss with two seconds remaining, and Michigan’s comeback bid was over.

Against Arizona, Michigan led by eight points with seven minutes on the clock. Then, U-M did not grab another defensive rebound until the Wildcats missed a free throw with two seconds left. This allowed Arizona to score on all of its final 12 possessions and come back to beat the Wolverines by two points. Just like that, two potential Michigan wins went down the drain.

Against Stanford, Michigan almost coughed up another victory. The Wolverines led the Cardinal by ten points with seven minutes left. But U-M then committed seven fouls. As a result, Stanford shot 13 free throws in the final seven minutes and made 11 of them. Michigan could muster only two stops in Stanford’s final 12 possessions. Thankfully, for the Wolverines, one of two occurred on the Stanford’s last possession of the game when the Cardinal tried to send the game to overtime with a three-pointer, but missed.

If Michigan wants to win the Big Ten championship, it must improve its defense, especially in the final minutes of competitive games. Over the next two months, U-M will find itself in many tight games and cannot afford to give easy points to its opponents at critical junctures of the contest. Michigan needs to get those stops. Otherwise, U-M can kiss its championship hopes goodbye.

The good news for the Wolverines is that they have made noticeable improvement to start the Big Ten schedule. In its conference opener against Minnesota, Michigan became the first team to hold the Gophers to less below one point per possession. Further, no one led by more than eight points the entire game, and, in the final seven minutes, U-M’s defensive stop rate was 50 percent. The Wolverines made just enough stops to eke out a 63-60 win on the road against a quality Minnesota club. In the following game, Michigan did not need to worry about its late-game defense because it held Northwestern to only 0.84 points per possession in a 23-point rout.

As a result of Michigan’s defensive improvement to open the Big Ten slate, its ranking for adjusted defensive efficiency has leapt from #51 to #38. Although their ranking still is outside the Top 30, the Wolverines are getting back on track. U-M should be able to work out the rest of its defensive kinks in its next two games against Nebraska and Penn State—the 121st- and 66th-most efficient offenses in the nation, respectively. If so, Michigan likely will improve its Big Ten record to 4-0 and just may see its adjusted defensive efficiency ranked in the Top 30.

And just in time, too. After facing the Cornhuskers and the Nittany Lions, the Wolverines will travel to the Kohl Center to clash with the Wisconsin Badgers—one of only five remaining undefeated teams as of this morning—and the 12th-most efficient offense in the nation. It is there and then when the public will learn if Michigan’s defense truly is prepared to contend for a Big Ten championship.

Sam’s 3 thoughts: Minnesota

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014


The first semester of the 2013-14 Michigan basketball campaign brought a roller coaster in Ann Arbor that took many by surprise. With a top-10 preseason team again, the Wolverines were expected to dominate most opponents before duking it out for a Big Ten title. Instead, Michigan finds itself heading into Big Ten season tonight at Minnesota (7pm on BTN) with an 8-4 record and plenty of question marks.

John Beilein’s preseason All-American, Mitch McGary, is likely lost for the year and inconsistency on both ends of the court have plagued the team so far, but there can be no excuses now that conference play has arrived. If Michigan is to compete in the Big Ten once again, they must take advantage of a relatively easy start to the 2014 schedule.

Here are my keys for tonight’s game.

Break the Zone: New head coach Richard Pitino has brought about a new mentality in Minneapolis centered on aggressiveness. Offensively, Minnesota will try to run often and will shoot from anywhere on the floor while defensively the Golden Gophers sport a 2-3 zone that will look to maximize turnovers.

For John Beilein’s squad, the opening Big Ten game is probably as good a matchup as possible, as Michigan can certainly shoot down any zone and will protect the ball with the best of teams, but road games have been anything but a relief for this year’s squad. To compete tonight, Michigan must come out of the gates with a calm and focused approach and run their offense perfectly. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert need to find the openings in the zone and make shots from the wings and corners while Jon Horford, Glenn Robinson III, and Jordan Morgan sit in the middle of the zone and make quick, smart decisions.

Andre Hollins leads Minnesota with 16 points per game (AP photo)

Michigan cannot play into Minnesota’s teeth and pass poorly, letting the Gophers get comfortable at home, but rather slow the game down, shoot with confidence, and find the openings down low. In Minnesota’s home win over Florida State earlier this season, the Gophers were outshot from the field by 12.5 percent but finished plus-11 in turnover margin, resulting in 10 more shots and two more buckets than the Seminoles.

Cage Mathieu: Deandre Mathieu, a junior transfer from Morehead State, was absolutely lauded by Beilein earlier this week in his press conference previewing Minnesota, being called “the difference” in Minnesota’s impressive 11-2 start. Beilein said that Mathieu makes both Andre and Austin Hollins better in the backcourt while also praising his excellent shot selection and an outstanding 2.4:1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio so far.

Standing at just 5’9″, Mathieu does most of his damage inside the arc and doesn’t get to the free throw line incredibly often, but he has made eight of his 14 three-pointers and is shooting 80.9 percent from the charity stripe on the season while also averaging a little over two steals per game. Perhaps most important for Pitino is Mathieu’s ability to handle the ball and let junior Andre Hollins play off the ball more and get more shots up.

This evening, look for Derrick Walton to draw Mathieu on defense and win the lion’s share of minutes at the point guard. Spike Albrecht continues to play well, but his defense will not be desirable against a quicker guard.

Win the Free Throw Battle: The Hollins brothers, who are actually not related, are without a doubt the guys who will do most of the damage for the Gophers, as they take 38.4 percent of Minnesota’s shots overall and nearly half of the team’s threes, but they are most dangerous when driving to the lane and getting to the free throw line. In addition to Mathieu’s 80.9 percent mark from the line, Austin and Andre Hollins make 84.5 percent and 73.2 percent of their free throws, respectively, but they combine to take just 36 percent of the team’s free throws on the year.

With an incredible 40 percent FTR, this Minnesota squad’s biggest strength has been in getting to the line. Mathieu and both Hollinses have taken more than 40 attempts at the line while six other Gophers have been to the stripe at least 16 times, and five of those have attempted more than 20 freebies, where as a team Minnesota leads the Big Ten at 76 percent. In their win over Florida State, Minnesota made a whopping 28-of-38 free throws, while the Gophers attempted an average of just 17 freebies in their two losses, against Syracuse and Arkansas.

Again, though, this is a strength that actually bodes well for a Michigan team that rarely fouls and shoots a respectable 74 percent from the free throw line themselves. Either way, however, the Wolverines need to keep their counterparts from getting too many free points and most definitely need to stay out of foul trouble with a squad already short in depth.

Prediction: Michigan has the talent to beat Minnesota tonight and matches up well with these opponents, but the road has been less than kind to Beilein teams in his Michigan tenure and The Barn will certainly provide a difficult environment for this young Wolverine team to kick off the conference stanza. If Glenn Robinson III is aggressive in getting to the basket again, the Maize and Blue can come away with a win at the free throw line and in the record books, but if the Hollinses are living at the stripe, it will be a tough day. In the end, I like Minnesota to close out a tough battle with a 78-75 win.

Sam’s 3 Thoughts: Holy Cross

Saturday, December 28th, 2013


With the recent news of Mitch McGary’s nagging injury likely resulting in season-ending surgery, Michigan fans around the country are bracing themselves for what appears to be a fight to get into the NCAA Tournament. Coach John Beilein has built a foundation in Ann Arbor that seemed primed to send the Wolverines dancing every season, but with such drastic adversity this year, Michigan’s postseason bid won’t be a cakewalk. Tonight, Michigan will take on the Holy Cross Crusaders (6:30pm, BTN) of the Patriot League in an attempt to get things figured out before Big Ten season arrives next week. Here are some quick thoughts to ponder as you watch tonight.

Play Smart D: In a big win over Stanford last Saturday, Michigan’s big men struggled mightily to stay on the floor, and without McGary available, John Beilein had to resort to playing Max Bielfeldt for extended first half minutes. This evening, Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan need to know who they are guarding and simply defend intelligently. Holy Cross’s best player is 6’9″ senior forward Dave Dudzinski, a guy who averaged 18 points per game against North Carolina and Harvard and who is able to score from anywhere on the court, as he shoots 45.8 percent from downtown, 51.4 percent from two-point range, and 80.4 percent at the line. Horford and Morgan need to be aware of Dudzinski at all times and be sure to stick with him on the perimeter. On screens, Michigan’s bigs will still hedge, but it will be extremely important for the two Wolverines involved defensively to communicate and cover both the drive and the potential pick-and-pop.

Jordan Morgan will need to play a bigger role due to Mitch McGary's injury (MGoBlue.com)

Rebound Aggressively: If there is one area McGary will be missed most, it is on the boards. McGary always seems to want the rebound just a little bit more and is an expert at combining his size, length, hustle, and athleticism to create a vacuum off of misses. Tonight, look for Horford and Morgan to dominate the glass against a Crusader team that will not go for many offensive rebounds but is excellent in corralling 72.4 percent of their opponents’ misses. Dudzinski does the majority of the rebounding damage for Holy Cross, grabbing 7.6 per game, while the rest of the team is mostly a rebound-by-committee. Much of McGary’s scoring came off easy offensive putbacks, and Michigan is going to need to score some easy points for the rest of the season throughout conference play; the effort and hustle levels need to be amped up tonight and stay high going into the new year.

Experiment with the Rotation: Holy Cross is not afraid to stretch the bench, and with eight active players averaging double digit minutes, the Crusaders will be fresh throughout. In response to McGary’s injury and Holy Cross’s aggressive lineup shuffling, look for John Beilein to go to the bench early and often to experiment with some different lineups himself. I expect to see the same starting five of Derrick Walton, Jr., Caris LeVert, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Jon Horford, but Jordan Morgan, Zak Irvin, and Spike Albrecht will also be playing major minutes with different teammates on the floor. Bielfeldt may also be used for a few minutes of spot duty or in case of foul trouble, but I also think there is a very slight possibility of burning Mark Donnal’s redshirt for an extra body. Donnal provides a skill set unique to this Michigan squad, and the time is certainly ripe for experimentation. If Michigan is serious about competing in the Big Ten and fighting for a decent seed in March, Beilein must not be afraid to pull out all the stops.

Prediction: Certainly Mitch McGary’s injury was going to be inopportune regardless of the timing, but at least Michigan has had two games to prepare before facing the gauntlet of the schedule. Last week’s win over a very big Stanford team should give the Wolverines confidence heading home this evening, where they are 16-point favorites in Vegas. I expect to see Stauskas and LeVert really control the game as Michigan takes advantage of Holy Cross’s turnover problems and rolls to an 81-64 win.

Sam’s 3 thoughts: Stanford

Saturday, December 21st, 2013


Michigan entered this 2013-14 college basketball season as a consensus top-15 squad, but so far, they have not lived up to the lofty expectations. After making it all the way to the NCAA Championship game earlier this year, the Wolverines are clearly missing their star point guard from a year ago and have yet to record a noteworthy win on the season. Now with four losses already in the books, Michigan needs to start digging themselves out of the small hole they find themselves in. The first opportunity to start that journey is tonight, as the Wolverines travel to the Barclays Center for a clash with a quality 8-2 Stanford Cardinal team (8:30pm on Fox Sports 1). Here are my three thoughts on tonight’s match-up.

Contain Chasson: Much has been made recently of the struggles of this Michigan team in finding a reliable point guard. Freshman Derrick Walton has started every game of the regular season thus far, but his inability to facilitate strong offense in the half court has become increasingly apparent and his turnovers are also concerning. Spike Albrecht is the other option, and while the offense seems to run smoother with the native Indianan on the floor, Michigan becomes vulnerable to attacking guards with the sophomore running the show. John Beilein’s solution to the problem thus far has been to ride the hot hand, and we should see much of the same tonight. With Stanford’s size, however, a bigger lineup featuring Caris LeVert at point guard and two bigs could be deployed frequently this evening.

Johnny Dawkins' squad picked up a signature win at #10 UConn on Wednesday (Jared Wickerham, Getty Images)

Stanford, on the other hand, has had no problems figuring out who their contributors are, and it all begins at the point guard spot. Sophomore Chasson Randle has been money all season, averaging 18.6 points per game while shooting 52.1 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from downtown. At just 6’2″, Randle is Stanford’s shortest starter by four inches and would normally draw the opposing team’s point guard, but the answer tonight might be to put LeVert on him and hope to limit his shots. In Stanford’s blowout loss to Pittsburgh, Randle only mustered 10 points on eight shots, but in this week’s massive win over UConn, Randle poured in 22 on 16 shots. Three other Cardinal players, Anthony Brown, Dwight Powell, and Josh Heustis, are also consistently good scorers, but Randle is the one to get everything going. If Michigan can successfully limit Randle’s looks, the Wolverines should pull out a victory, as the Stanford star only tallies two assists per game.

Want it More: Sometimes a basketball game simply comes down to willpower. Tonight, Michigan finds itself in what most are calling a must-win game, and with a crowd that should favor the Wolverines, the Maize and Blue need to bring lots of energy. Mitch McGary has been the guy to bring that energy seemingly everyday, but with a recent spat of injuries, McGary will most likely not be 100 percent tonight. Michigan can ill afford to lose five games before Big Ten season even rolls around, and while three of Michigan’s losses so far have been to high-quality opponents, the time is now for Michigan to show that it can win a game from start to finish. The loose balls, hustle points, and free throws all need to be going Michigan’s way if this team is to compete in the long haul.

Shoot the Lights Out: In losses to Iowa State, Charlotte, and Duke, Michigan’s struggles can basically be boiled down to poor shooting, as the Wolverines never shot better than 27 percent from deep. Tonight, Nik Stauskas and company are going to need to let it fly from long range with confidence. On paper and on film, Michigan is the better team, but their road woes so far are cause for concern. Last season’s games at the Barclays Center saw Michigan shoot very well, but the Wolverines simply haven’t found their offensive groove away from Crisler. With Stanford turning the ball over 12 times per game, and 30 total times in their two losses, Michigan needs to create some havoc on defense, run the floor, and find easy fast break layups and threes.

Prediction: A loss tonight for Michigan could potentially spell doom for their postseason aspirations, but a win would give them a quality neutral court win that should give the Wolverines some confidence with just two weeks to go until conference play begins. I think Nik Stauskas scores 20-plus and Michigan plays two bigs with LeVert at the same time for extended periods of time. It should be a competitive game for a while, but Michigan pulls away midway through the second half for a 78-67 win.