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Posts Tagged ‘Trey Burke’

Stauskas, McGary, Robinson headed to NBA’s Western Conference

Friday, June 27th, 2014


2014 NBA Draft(Getty Images)

In last year’s NBA Draft, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr became the first Michigan basketball players to be drafted in the first round since Jamal Crawford was picked eighth in the 2000 draft. On Thursday night, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary followed suit, giving the Michigan basketball program multiple first round picks in back-to-back drafts for the first time in program history.

Stauskas was selected eighth overall by the Sacramento Kings and McGary was taken 21st by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Glenn Robinson III missed out on the first round, but was drafted 40th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, marking the first time since 1990 that Michigan has had three or more players taken in the same draft.

The Kings finished 13th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference last season with a record of 28-54. They were lead by a trio of big-time scorers, center Demarcus Cousins (22.7 points per game), point guard Isaiah Thomas (20.3 ppg), and small forward Rudy Gay (20.1 ppg). No other player on the roster averaged in double figures. Last year, Sacramento selected another shooting guard, Kansas’ Ben McLemore, but he averaged just 8.8 points per game and shot just 32 percent from three-point range. There was some talk prior to the draft that the Kings were looking to shop McLemore, but that didn’t happen. So now we’ll see how the Kings plan to use them both.

A scroll through the Kings message boards shows that the pick is met with mixed feelings. For one, the Kings were one of the worst defensive teams in the league and Stauskas isn’t known for his defense. But in all fairness, it’s probably a safe bet to assume that most Kings fans haven’t seen Stauskas play very much. Sacramento ranked 27th in the league in three-point shooting and Stauskas will help that immediately. He’ll also stretch the floor for Cousins inside.

In the days leading up to the draft, it became apparent that McGary would be selected somewhere in the 20s. Oklahoma City and Charlotte both seemed to value the big man, and when it came time for the Thunder to make their first of two first-round picks, they snatched him despite the fact that he played only eight games during his sophomore season and is coming off of back surgery.McGary OKC

It’s a great fit and situation for McGary as Oklahoma City finished second in the Western Conference last season behind San Antonio and lost to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals in six games. They went 59-23 on the season and were led by small forward Kevin Durant (29.6 ppg) and point guard Russell Westbrook (26.7 ppg). McGary will join Serge Ibaka (12.1 ppg) and center Steven Adams (3.9 ppg) and could be seen as a replacement for Kendrick Perkins, who may be done in Oklahoma City. Perkins is coming up on the final year of his contract, in which he is due $9 million. He played just 19.5 minutes per game last season and averaged just 3.2 points and 5.4 rebounds. McGary can fill that “glue-guy” role off the bench immediately, provided his back fully heals.

Robinson, meanwhile, gets a good opportunity to learn the ropes of NBA play for a team that isn’t stacked with talent, but isn’t quite a bottom-feeder either. Minnesota finished 10th in the Western Conference last season with a 40-42 record. The Timberwolves ranked third in the league in scoring (106.9 ppg), but 26th in defense (104.3). Robinson is a good defender and can help in that regard. They were led by power forward Kevin Love, who averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, though there’s a good chance he’ll be traded. Minnesota also had double-digit scorers in shooting guard Kevin Martin (19.1 ppg), center Nikola Pekovic (17.4 ppg), and small forward Corey Brewer (12.3 ppg).

Robinson is highly unlikely to crack the starting lineup in 2014, but will have a chance to continue his development while coming off the bench. Minnesota drafted a pair of small forwards in last year’s draft as well, UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad and Purdue’s Robbie Hummell, who averaged 3.9 and 3.4 points per game during their rookie seasons, respectively. Robinson will join UCLA point guard Zach LaVine, who was the Timberwolves’ first-round selection.

The last time Michigan had three players taken in the same draft was 1990 when Rumeal Robinson (10th), Loy Vaught (13th), Terry Mills (16th), and Sean Higgins (54th) were selected. Michigan is the first Big Ten school to have three players taken in the same draft since Ohio State in 2007. Michigan is also the first Big Ten program to have multiple players taken in back-to-back drafts since Michigan State in 2000 and 2001.

2014-15 Michigan basketball projections

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014


UMBB

This year’s Michigan basketball team finished just shy of a second straight Final Four, but they still turned many heads along the way. People were incredulous that such a young group of players could play so well after losing two non-senior guards to the first round of the NBA Draft — including the previous season’s Player of the Year — and a preseason All-America big man to a season-ending injury, and that always seemed to be one of the first things brought up in every Michigan broadcast.

You might want to get used to that talk.

The NBA’s April 27 deadline for early entries into the draft has come and gone, but unfortunately for Michigan fans, it was certainly not without lots of action in Ann Arbor.

With the big three heading to the NBA Michigan will once again have a very young team next season (Detroit Free Press)

With the big three heading to the NBA Michigan will once again have a very young team next season (Detroit Free Press)

On April 15, just a couple weeks after the Wolverines’ heartbreaking loss to Kentucky in the Elite Eight, sophomores Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III announced together that they would forego their final two years of college eligibility to enter the draft. Both were widely expected to leave — Stauskas after a breakout campaign that saw him take home Big Ten Player of the Year honors and Robinson III after he had passed on a likely top-15 selection a year before — but the departures will nonetheless make “what if” a common musing once again come basketball season.

A week and a half later, fellow sophomore Mitch McGary also declared for the draft – but without a press conference and just two days before the deadline. McGary, who didn’t play a game for Michigan  since the new year, announced that he would leave college after testing positive for marijuana during the NCAA Tournament, which would have resulted in a one-year suspension levied by the NCAA.

Many had speculated that McGary was going back and forth on his NBA decision until the bitter end, but his confession of the failed test and the NCAA’s denial of Michigan’s appeal brought light to the situation, and a source has confirmed that McGary would have returned to Michigan next season if he was not facing a suspension.

Regardless, all three have commenced their professional careers, leaving Michigan to regroup yet again.

So what does that mean for the Wolverines?

Well, for one, coach John Beilein and his staff are developing players at an incredible rate. Stauskas will be a first-rounder, and at least one of Robinson III and McGary will likely be there as well. If we can assume that, Michigan will have had four — maybe five — first round selections in two years.

Now, the philosophy of next man up must continue.

Most probably didn’t think this would be possible, but next season Michigan will be younger and less experienced than ever before in the Beilein era. Caris LeVert, Spike Albrecht, and Max Bielfeldt are the only three players that have been in the program for two full seasons, and with the recent commitments of Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan will have a whopping seven players with freshman eligibility. Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton, Jr., and a few walk-ons round out the roster with one year under their belts.

After butchering last season’s individual player predictions (but hey, I got the Big Ten record and the Elite Eight finish spot on), I think the time is ripe to look foolish again. So with that in mind, let’s take a wild guess at how the lineups will shape up, who will handle the scoring load, and how many games Michigan can pull out.

Mark Donnal has a huge task ahead of him in locking down Michigan's front court (Courtney Sacco, Ann Arbor News)

Mark Donnal has a huge task ahead of him in locking down Michigan’s front court (Courtney Sacco, Ann Arbor News)

The Bigs

Perhaps the biggest what if of next year would have been the “what if Michigan still had Mitch McGary, a potential big man All-American, along with a dynamic backcourt headlined by Caris LeVert, who is already garnering some All-American talk?” The same question could be asked of graduating senior Jordan Morgan and rising senior Jon Horford, who has transferred to Florida.

As my dad always says, though, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas.

McGary is gone and Michigan’s only center candidate with any college game experience is Max Bielfeldt. Let that sink in a little.

The two freshmen vying for playing time will be Mark Donnal, who turned some heads in practice while redshirting last season, and Ricky Doyle, a true freshman from Florida whose high school competition was somewhat questionable.

Donnal seems to be the clear front-runner to start, and I am a huge fan of his game based off one live viewing of him in high school. Donnal possesses excellent range for a big man, which could make for a devastating combination in Beilein’s jack-happy offense, has solid length that should make him a serviceable rebounder and shot-blocker, and seems to be able to score from anywhere on the floor. Without raising too many eyebrows, I have to say that Donnal’s offensive game most closely reminds me of Doug McDermott and Adreian Payne as a junior and senior; obviously he will not score as much as McDermott did right off the bat, but Donnal’s versatility makes him a real threat.

Doyle would have been an excellent redshirt candidate this season but will likely be forced into some action with the limited depth. He is more of a back-to-the-basket type with a developing shot.

Bielfeldt has played spot minutes before and clearly has the upper hand when it comes to experience, but I don’t see great potential. He is a little short on size, talent, and athleticism; his range could score him a few minutes again, but I expect Donnal to get the lion’s share.

Minute Breakdown:
Donnal: 25 Doyle: 10 Bielfeldt: 5

The Wings

Caris LeVert is the de facto leader for Michigan next season (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Caris LeVert is the de facto leader for Michigan next season (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

At the wing spots for Michigan, you will again find – surprise! – more youth.

Caris LeVert is obviously the one that everyone is talking about as the next potential NBA early entry after a breakout sophomore season, and as a junior this coming year, is a shoo-in to be a captain and a starter. He’s also likely to be the guy, at least to start the season, who would be Beilein’s choice to take it on the last possession. If LeVert sticks around Ann Arbor this summer to work on his game and packs on a few more pounds to his lanky frame, the All-America talk will not fade any time soon.

Zak Irvin will be the only other wing with experience, and after a year of some excellent spot-up shooting for a true freshman, he will be asked to develop into more than just a shooter in the upcoming offseason. The former Indiana Mr. Basketball has shown in the past that he can be a great scorer, and his length makes him a strong candidate to emerge as one of Michigan’s best on-ball defenders. He flashed some encouraging signs late in the season. If Irvin sticks around for Camp Sanderson, expect many headlines on a potential breakout for him as well.

LeVert and Irvin should both see 30-plus minutes per game at some combination of the two and three spots in the offense, and Irvin could slide to the four on occasion as well. If Irvin sticks mostly to the three, however, it will be two true freshmen, just like at the five, earning the vast majority of playing time at the four spot.

Those two freshmen are Kameron Chatman of Oregon and D.J. Wilson of California. Chatman measures in around 6’7″ and comes in as the highest-rated recruit of the class, while Wilson is listed around 6’8″ and recently jumped up in the ranks after a solid senior year. Both players have range out to the three-point line and length to spare. Chatman seems to be a little more perimeter- and offensive-oriented at this point, but Wilson looks to have better bounce and shot-blocking skills. I would expect both to earn a good chunk of playing time right off the bat in what will be one of the more interesting competitions to watch.

Rounding out the wing depth are the two late signees in Abdur-Rahkman and Dawkins. I admittedly have to watch much more video on each before formulating any sort of scouting report, but they both are garnering the “Trust in Beilein” philosophy for now. After seeing unheralded late signees like Spike Albrecht and Caris LeVert pan out pretty well so far, that seems to be a fair approach. Both come in in the 6’4″-to-6’5″ range with solid athleticism and were on track to be mid-majors until Beilein came calling. Abdur-Rahkman is generally viewed as more of a slasher who needs to work on his shot while Dawkins has been called more of a shooter who needs to work on his handles. With hard work, both will certainly be given the chance to develop into rotation players, but they will likely play sparingly next year.

Minute Breakdown:
4 Wilson: 20 Chatman: 15 Irvin: 5
3 Irvin: 25 Chatman: 5 LeVert: 5 MAAR/
Dawkins
: 5
2 LeVert: 30 MAAR/
Dawkins
: 5
Albrecht: 5

The Point Guards

At perhaps John Beilein’s most critical position, Michigan will luckily have two players with a combined three years of college experience. Though Spike Albrecht will only be a junior and Derrick Walton, Jr. a sophomore, they will be the gray beards directing traffic.

Albrecht is a steadying force and a pretty decent bet to be the only player from the 2012 recruiting class to finish out his college eligibility. He is the known commodity – a plus passer, a plus ball handler, and a plus shooter with middling size and athleticism.

Walton is a prime candidate to break out, and if previous sophomore seasons from Darius Morris and Trey Burke are any indication, too big of a breakout from Walton could have Michigan fans shaking in their boots again. The quiet floor general has plenty of quickness, a shot that continues to improve, and a strong ability to finish at the rack after struggling with that early last season. He has also shown poise with some excellent late-game free throw shooting, which is always a great attribute for a point guard. One of the bigger areas Walton can improve on this offseason will be on the defensive end, where he could develop into a nice thief.

Minute Breakdown:
Walton, Jr.: 30 Albrecht: 10

Starting Lineup and Team Predictions

Starting Lineup:
1 2 3 4 5
Walton, Jr. LeVert Irvin Chatman Donnal
Team predictions:
MVP Caris LeVert
Most Improved Player Zak Irvin
Freshman of the Year Mark Donnal
Newcomer of the Year D.J. Wilson
Top 3 Scorers (in order) LeVert, Walton, Irvin
Players Shooting 40%+ from 3 (in order) LeVert, Irvin, Walton, Wilson, Albrecht
Projected Record 25-11 (11-7)
Projected Finish Sweet Sixteen
Bold Prediction D.J. Wilson earns Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors

What do you think? Do you agree with these projections? If not, what changes would you make?

How Michigan’s wings performed relative to expectations

Monday, April 21st, 2014


Stauskas dunk vs MSU 2-23-14

Back in November, as the Michigan football team was limping through the conference schedule and many of the maize and blue faithful started to turn their hopes to the hardwood, Sam penned a preview of the basketball season, complete with team and player predictions. It was no easy task as the Wolverines were replacing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Most anticipated a solid sophomore leap from Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, but Caris LeVert’s improvement turned out to be a pleasant surprise that no one saw coming.

Sam pegged Michigan to finish 30-7 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten, tying for the conference title and advancing to the Elite Eight. When the Wolverines started the season 6-4, it looked as if his predictions were way too optimistic. However, the young squad clicked and ran its way through the Big Ten, finishing 28-9 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten. Instead of sharing the conference title, Michigan won it outright for the first time since 1986 and then advanced to the Elite Eight, falling just short of a return trip to the Final Four.

In addition to the team preview, Sam wrote a series of player previews: the wings, the big men, the point guards. He made his predictions for each player’s points, rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, and minutes. Let’s take a look at how each player performed relative to Sam’s expectations. Today, we’re reflecting on the wings.

Nik Stauskas
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 13.5 3.5 1.0 0.5 1.0 33.0
Actual 17.5 2.9 3.3 0.6 1.9 35.6
Difference +4.0 -0.6 +2.3 +0.1 +0.9 +2.6
2012-13 Difference +5.8 +0.7 +0.1     +18.5

Stauskas blowing kissesRecap: Michigan’s second consecutive Big  Ten Player of the Year, Stauskas exceeded nearly every expectation. As a freshman, he proved he could snipe from three-point range, but because of Burke and Hardaway, he wasn’t asked to do much more. With those two gone, however, he took over.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “The sophomore claims to have increased his vertical leap by some six inches while putting on 16 pounds of muscle without losing his surprising first-step burst and shooting stroke. If true, Stauskas will easily contend for scoring leader on the team and will again be a nightmare for opposing coaches.” Stauskas certainly looked and played the part.

Future: Stauskas declared his intentions to enter the NBA Draft last week, and while Michigan fans hate to see him go, virtually no one can blame him. His draft stock soared to a potential lottery pick, so there’s no use risking injury by spending another year in college at this point. His production will be tough to replace, but as Beilein proved this year replacing Burke and Hardaway, it’s not impossible.

Glenn Robinson III
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 14.0 6.0 1.5 1.3 1.3 35.0
Actual 13.1 4.4 1.2 1.0 1.2 32.3
Difference -0.9 -1.6 -0.3 -0.3 -0.1 -2.7
2012-13 Difference 0.0 +0.9 -1.2 -0.2 +5.6

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at IllinoisRecap: Robinson was expected to be the team leader in the absence of Burke and Hardaway, but it was Stauskas that took on that role. Robinson was frustrating at times, but picked up his play over the last third of the season, playing his best ball down the stretch, scoring nearly a point more than his season-long average in the NCAA Tournament.

In his preview, Sam wrote, “The knock on Robinson all of last year was his lack of aggression and his inability to create for himself. And despite tying Stauskas as the third-leading scorer, Robinson always seemed to quietly go about his business throwing down alley oops and cleaning up a couple misses down low.

“This year, look for Robinson to make a little more noise, even if he isn’t scoring 20 points every night. As long as he can make defenses respect his shot and his slashing ability, he should highlight a team chock full of talented wings.”

For the most part, Robinson was still the player that quietly went about his business. He just did it a little bit better than last year.

Future: Like Stauskas, Robinson already announced his decision to enter the NBA Draft. Unlike Stauskas, this came as a surprise to many who thought he could use another year in college to prove he can be a go-to guy. His draft stock has hovered around the end of the first round based on his perceived potential. But that potential could also allow him to work his way up to a higher pick during pre-draft workouts.

Caris LeVert
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 8.0 3.0 0.5 3.0 1.2 25.0
Actual 12.9 4.3 2.9 1.2 1.7 34.0
Difference +4.9 +1.3 +2.4 -1.8 +0.5 +9.0

LeVert vs OSU 3-15-14Recap: In his freshman campaign, LeVert was a string bean that came off the bench to provide solid defense for less than 11 minutes a game. He showed potential, but nobody saw the leap he made during his sophomore season coming. He was easily the most improved player on the team, raising his scoring average from 2.3 to 12.9, rebound average from 0.8 to 4.3, and assist average from 0.2 to 2.9.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “Last year was Caris’s opportunity to learn the game and Michigan’s style in spurts. This year, Beilein seems to think he’ll be playing so much that the bigger concern is going to be finding time to rest him.

“Most people would have been skeptical of that quote just before the summer, but after seeing LeVert dish out 10 assists in the first exhibition game and record 16 points in 28 minutes two nights ago, it’s clear that the Pickerington Central product is ready to shine.”

Shine he did, especially in games in which Stauskas was shut down. LeVert scored 24 against Duke, almost single-handedly keeping Michigan in the game, and had a four game stretch late in the conference schedule in which he scored 22, nine, 25, and 23.

Future: With Stauskas and Robinson gone and Mitch McGary still undecided, it’s now LeVert’s team. The lightly recruited, baby-faced kid from Columbus weighed making the jump to the next level as well, but elected to return. As the leading returning scorer, he’ll be tasked with the role of go-to man and try to become Michigan’s third straight Big Ten Player of the Year. If he shows even the slightest improvement throughout the offseason, that’s certainly a realistic possibility.

Zak Irvin
Points Rebounds Assists Steals Turnovers Minutes
Predicted 9.5 3.0 1.5 1.0 1.5 21.0
Actual 6.7 1.3 0.3 0.2 0.4 15.4
Difference -2.8 -1.7 -1.2 -0.8 -1.1 -5.6

Zak Irvin vs NebraskaRecap: Irvin came in with a lot of potential, but it’s never easy to forecast the production of a freshman.

In Sam’s preview, he wrote, “For the freshman, it will be all about consistency this year. Irvin has all the tools to be a very good defender and a diverse scorer, but he needs to realize that Michigan has a bevy of riches on the offensive end and pick his spots wisely.”

In reality, LeVert’s progression from gangly defensive sub to a very good offensive threat probably limited Irvin’s production a bit, but that’s okay. Irvin was called upon to play a similar role to Stauskas last season: three-point sniper. The Fishers, Ind. native is capable of much more than that, and will be able to prove it next season, but was simply needed to knock down threes in 15 minutes a game. And he did just that, making 62, second only to Stauskas.

Future: Irvin will be tasked with making the sophomore leap next season. He’s in line for a starting role and will need to be much more than simply a three-point sniper. He has the game to do much more, but come November it will be time to prove it. He’ll need to raise his scoring average at least into double digits to make up for the production lost by the departures of Stauskas and Robinson.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Come back later this week for a look back at how the big men and the point guards performed relative to expectations.

Stauskas, Robinson III declare for NBA Draft

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014


Stauskas-Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Inside the Numbers: The fifth golden era of Michigan basketball

Friday, April 11th, 2014


Michigan(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

Years

Overall
Win Pct.

Conference Win Pct.

B1G Titles

Sweet Sixteens

Elite Eights

Final Fours

1964-66

79.27%

83.33%

3

3

3

2

1974-77

79.31%

79.41%

2

3

3

1

1985-89

78.31%

72.22%

2

2

1

1

1992-94

78.43%

72.22%

0

3

3

2

Other 58 Years

52.65%

43.46%

1

0

1*

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The M&GB Hail Awards: Basketball 2013-14

Thursday, April 10th, 2014


Pregame huddle(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To revisit our football Hail Awards: 20132012, 2011.

Player of the Year Nik Stauskas

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

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

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

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

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Guard of the Year Nik Stauskas

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

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

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

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

Big Man of the Year Jordan Morgan

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

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

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

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newcomer of the Year Derrick Walton Jr.

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

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

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

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Those Who Stay Senior of the Year Jordan Morgan

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

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

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

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

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Most Improved Player  Caris LeVert

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

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

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

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

Votes: 4
Others Receiving Votes: None

Inside the Numbers: Best offense of the KenPom era

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014


Michigan huddle vs UK(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

Boy, were we wrong.

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

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

Top 10 Kenpom era offenses

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

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

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

Off efficiency & Usage rate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 4th, 2014


Stauskas - McGary(MGoBlue.com)

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

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

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

But is Stauskas ready to take the leap?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: 95 percent chance Stauskas enters draft

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: 85 percent chance Robinson enters draft

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: 60 percent chance McGary enters draft

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

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

That close: Kentucky 75 – Michigan 72

Sunday, March 30th, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Stars

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

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

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

Quick Hitters

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


_______________________________________________________________

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

Glenn Robinson III boosting Michigan in March

Thursday, March 27th, 2014


GRIII block vs Texas(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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