Winning Without Rebounds

Dylan Burkhardt

It’s a consensus that Michigan struggled to rebound the ball last year. They played a 6-foot-8 center and a 6-foot-5 power forward so the results are not all that surprising.

On the season Michigan’s defensive rebounding percentage ranked 222nd in Division 1 while their offensive numbers were even worse at 282nd. They shored up their defensive rebounding in conference play, ranking 3rd, but were still 9th on the offensive glass. Despite the improved numbers in conference play, Michigan still had several painful rebounding games.

Luckily, John Beilein seems to have figured out a way to win without rebounding.

Using Ken Pomeroy’s correlation statistics, which compare the effect on offensive and defensive efficiency of each of the four factors (eFG%, OR%, TO%, FTR). Here are Pomeroy’s correlation numbers for Michigan last year:

                        to OE       to DE
                 Pace:  +0.18       -0.41

                 eFG%:  +0.87*      -0.23
                  OR%:  +0.07       -0.06
                  TO%:  -0.44*      -0.06
                  FTR:  +0.23       +0.00

             Opp eFG%:  -0.34       +0.72*
              Opp OR%:  +0.08       +0.17
              Opp TO%:  -0.17       -0.45*
              Opp FTR:  -0.47*      +0.52*

             Bold  values are significant with a 95% confidence
             Bold* values are significant with a 99% confidence

The effect of some statistics is blatantly obvious. Naturally, shooting percentages are going to have dramatic effects on offensive and defensive efficiency. Some of the other numbers allow us to make some interesting conclusions about a specific team. For a further explanation of the correlation numbers, check out Ken Pomeroy’s thoughts on the matter.

The issue at hand is Michigan’s rebounding numbers. There appear to be no significant correlations between Michigan’s offensive rebounding and their offensive efficiency. Similarly, on the defensive side of the ball, there is minimal correlation between defensive rebounding and defensive efficiency.

Judging by Michigan’s results, these numbers make sense. Michigan won plenty of games when they were dominated on the glass. They won seven of the nine games in which they allowed their opponents to rebound over 40% of their misses. On the other hand, they were 6-3 in their nine best rebounding games. In the remaining 16 games, Michigan was 7-9.

On a game by game basis, there are plenty of examples where Michigan was dominated on the glass and somehow came away with a victory. Here are visual representations of the four factors in Michigan’s five worst defensive rebounding performances of last season.

Against Minnesota, Michigan was able to pull out a narrow upset thanks to valuing the basketball and forcing a ton of turnovers.

Against Clemson, Michigan survived because Clemson couldn’t make a shot. Clemson put up a futile 36.2% eFG% compared to Michigan’s almost respectable 49%.

UCLA was another case of winning thanks to the turnover battle. Michigan hung around in an ugly low scoring game thanks to winning the turnover battle.

There are also cases where it just doesn’t work. Rounding out the bottom 5 rebounding performances were the Maryland and Connecticut games.

Being able to hold onto the ball actually kept Michigan in both of these games as well but they fell just short.

John Beilein clearly has a strategy in place. Looking at statistical profiles of old Beilein teams, the emphasis is clear: shoot threes, don’t turn it over, and keep opponents off the line.

The four factors were developed by people smarter than me to represent the most important factors to winning a basketball game. Dean Oliver’s original weights on each factor were 40% shooting, 25% turnovers, 20% rebounding, 15% free throws. In this case it appears that, for Beilein teams, rebounding is the least important of the four meaning it should probably be weighted a little less.

There are obviously many ways to skin a cat, or in this case win a basketball game. There are numerous examples in this very conference of differing styles Wisconsin slows the game down to a crawl, Michigan State crashes the glass, and Purdue plays in your hip-pocket all night on defense. You can make arguments over which style of play is best but at the end of the day winning is winning, whether you play a 50 possession game, shoot 40 threes, or rebound half your misses.

A common opinion among Michigan fans is that the team will be able to play big this year, shoring up last year’s poor rebounding numbers, with the additions of Ben Cronin and Jordan Morgan. The best way for Michigan to improve isn’t to improve what they were worst at. It’s to improve what’s most important to winning. The option to go big doesn’t hurt but at this point it’s not going to make Michigan the best team.

Three point shooting is an area that will have a much more tangible effect. I analyzed the three point shooting of last year’s team and there is certainly room for improvement. And we all know that when the threes fell, Michigan won. They were 15-5 (75%) when they shot over 31% from three point range but only 6-9 (40%) when they shot 31% or below.

As much as it may sound like heresy to basketball traditionalists, it’s possible to win without crashing the glass.

There is no question that Michigan is going to be a perimeter oriented team again this year. I think it makes more sense to be excited about becoming a better one rather than shifting style of play. Ben Cronin will be useful in situations against oversized teams like UConn last year but he’s not going to change what Michigan does night in and night out.

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  • Drew

    Great analysis! It explains some of those hard-to-explain victories last year, when UM got pounded on the boards.

  • Ironically, Michigan was the only Big Ten team to rebound MSU to a draw last season.

    It would be interesting to draw up a list of the most and least important of the eight factors (four on each end of the court) for each Big Ten team/coach.

  • maxwell’s demon

    Based on what Beilein has been saying, sounds like we might not see much out of McLimans or Morgan and I wouldn’t expect a lot of minutes out of Cronin unless severely undersized in the post. So doesn’t really sound like our post situation will be dramatically different. Only place where we really should be adding size is with Morris, but not sure he’ll have an impact on rebounding. Regardless, as Dylan said there’s no reason this should be a huge concern because if you win playing small ball then play small ball.

  • Rebounds? We don’t need no stinking rebounds!!

  • mmccrae

    I was just reading Espn the magazine, and Jay Bilas, yes Jay Bilas ( I doubled checked) has Beilien as his coach of the year. Cheers.

  • Giddings

    Bilas has nothing against Beilein and never did… he may have been a little ticked at Michigan as a whole for firing his old teammate and friend (TA), but he has always been a huge fan of Beilein. That is pretty crazy though, Coach of the Year…

    Best lines in this analysis: “The best way for Michigan to improve isn’t to improve what they were worst at. It’s to improve what’s most important to winning.”

  • Kainkitizen

    Shooting 3’s and No Turnovers =’s Beilein ball. Make more shots then the other team and there won’t be any rebounding needed.

  • gpsimms

    Come on, Dylan, where’s our Wayne State preview? I want to know details of the zone defense they run!! Who’re the scorers we have to look out for? What are their tempo free numbers from last year? Who does kenpom think will win? I demand video breakdowns of the offense they run.

    This is an outrage.

    end sarcasm.

  • Tom, Too.

    Giddings—-Don’t you remember during year 1 when Beilein kept preaching about teaching the basics and teaching the players how to pass and shoot correctly? Jay Bilas really ripped into Beilein by saying something to the effect “Beilein treats his players like a bunch of idiots.” I remember.

    That is why this Coach of the Year from him is a very big deal coming from the Dukie.

  • Tom, Too.


    Bilas – “Beilein makes his players sound so stupid and clueless that it is insulting.”

    That is the quote I was looking for. Google Bilas rips Beilein and then tell me Bilas has nothing against Beilein and never did.

  • Sid

    There was a phase at the beginning where some of Beilein’s remarks did indeed make it seem as if the players were so fundamentally flawed that it was no wonder the team was losing. I remember thinking it would be better if he would just stick to the usual, non-committal, “we’re working hard and building for the future” kind of stuff. It made it seem like he was trying to cover his own a**. Fortunately, they did start winning so it became a non-issue.

    All this by way of saying that I don’t necessarily interpret Bilas’ assessment as a grudge again Beilein.

  • Tom, Too.

    That was brutal when Harvard beat UM…..

  • PVK

    Unfortunately the first year….everything Beilein said was true….

    if you ever watch them practice they actually practice passing every day….

  • Giddings

    Tom, Too… good point. I missed that quote. Also, I just thought back to last season after “elbowgate” when Bilas said on College Gameday that Beilein was “losing control” of his players.

    Still, during broadcasts of Michigan games (like Duke last year), he has been very, very complimentary of Beilein.