Wednesday Musings

Dylan Burkhardt



If you’re still trying to figure out why Michigan is struggling then you need to look no further than this chart. The chart graphs the proportion of three point field goal attempts (3PA/FGA) on the vertical axis versus 3PFG% on the horizontal axis. The origin of the graph is located at the conference averages (36% 3p%, 35% 3PA/FGA).

We’ve looked at this chart before, notably before the season when I plotted last year’s Big Ten conference-only numbers (there is also more explanation of the graph at this link) along with the numbers from Beilein’s past 5 teams. After plotting out all the data I concluded that Michigan was moving in the right direction, headed toward the upper-right quadrant where most of Beilein’s previous teams lived. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

While we are on the subject of preseason prognostication, give Luke Winn a little credit for identifying Michigan’s potential three point problems before the season.

I like this Michigan team almost as much as the Geeks do; my only hesitation is that they don’t have the same caliber of shooters that the Mountaineers did in ’05, when Pittsnogle hit 42.6 percent of his treys, and five others hit 34.5 percent or higher (Mike Gansey, Joe Herber, J.D. Collins,Tyrone Sallyand Patrick Beilein). The Wolverines don’t have a single returning player who shot higher than 34.4 percent.

But then take that credit away because it didn’t stop him from ranking Michigan 16th in his preseason rankings. For more sobering and bewildering graphs, check out the Big Ten Geeks preseason look at Michigan showing the yearly improvement of John Beilein’s teams at West Virginia from year 1 to 3.

Back to the three pointers. Michigan is by far the worst three point shooting team in the conference (country!) and they continue to keep chucking them up (but do they really have a choice?). Interestingly enough, the Big Ten teams who shoot an average number of three pointers or less (I’m including Wisconsin because they are so close to the average) are 16-6 in conference play compared to the three point happy teams which are a combined 5-15.

Does this give credence to the idea that a three point centric offense doesn’t work in the Big Ten? Maybe, but I think it’s much more likely that the perimeter oriented teams in the Big Ten just can’t hit enough shots. All but Ohio State fall below the average three point shooting percentage.

Let ‘Em Play

In a critique of whistle happy Big 12 refs, John Gasaway uncovered that the free throw rate in the Big 12 conference play is higher than any other league. What I found interesting but not all that surprising was that the Big Ten is at the bottom of the list:

Major-conference FT rates, 2009: conference games only

Big 12     0.39
ACC        0.34
Pac-10     0.34
SEC        0.34
Big East   0.33
Big Ten    0.32

The Big Ten would probably be considered the most physical conference. Michigan State and Purdue, rightfully so, have the national perception of extremely physical and tough teams.

Yet, somehow the conference has the lowest number of free throws attempted. This does nothing more than back up the point that Big Ten officials love to “let ‘em play”. They allow more physical play and enable teams like Purdue, Michigan State, and Minnesota to play their trademark defense.

Beilein is certainly one coach that would prefer to have the game officiated more strictly. After Michigan committed 23 fouls at Indiana, John Beilein actually praised the referees:

“I want the game to be officiated like it is. Hands on, we fouled three jump shooters and we’ve spoken to them about that,” Beilein said

The Extension

beileinAs I mentioned in the Northwestern post-game, John Beilein’s contract was extended until 2016 this week and the announcement happened to come on the heels of one of Michigan’s most painful losses of the season. I think Brian Cook hits the nail on the head when he points out that in no way was this decided after the season started. Michigan is not trying to reward him for this year’s gravely disappointing season, they simply worked out a deal to reward him for taking last year’s team to the NCAA tournament.

Was this deserved? It’s tough to say that it isn’t. Michigan hadn’t made the dance in 10 years and the breath of fresh air that Beilein pumped into this program is undeniable. There is no denying that this year has been painful and next year doesn’t look great on paper. But at this point Beilein has earned the right to play out his hand.

Other Notes

John Gasaway posted a very early version of conference-only efficiency margins. Interestingly enough, Michigan has a positive efficiency margin mostly thanks to their offense which is tied with Purdue for 2nd best in conference play.

Ken Pomeroy examines the first minute of a college basketball game and concludes that it is the least exciting.

Ohio State came away with a huge win at Purdue last night thanks to the play of Evan Turner (32 points, 9 reb, 3 ast) who managed to overshadow Robbie Hummel’s impressive 8 of 13 3 point shooting for 35 points and 10 rebounds. In tonight’s Big Ten action, Michigan State hosts Minnesota.

Jordan Dumars appears to be enjoying his first few days in Ann Arbor.

If you’re in the Lansing area, there is a nice opportunity to check out some quality high school basketball on Saturday at the Mr. Basketball Classic hosted by Lansing Eastern. 2010 Michigan target Jon Horford will be in action in the 4PM game when his Grand Ledge team faces host Lansing Eastern. The nightcap, Detroit Pershing vs. Detroit Country Day (8pm), should also be a great game matching up two of the top players in the state in Keith Appling (MSU) and Ray McCallum (Amir Williams is injured).

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  • I think that chart is a little misleading in its aim. Michigan is certainly struggling from beyond the arc, but it kind of misses the point that Michigan isn’t shooting all that much worse than they did last year. Last year, Michigan shot around 47% of their shots from beyond the arc, and hit only 33.4% of them, or approximately where 6-11 (0-4 BT) Iowa is situated on this graph. Last year’s three point output still puts Michigan squarely in the upper left quadrant.

    Yesterday, I did a statistical breakdown of Michigan, this year versus last ( Sadly, in almost all statistical categories, Michigan is outperforming what they did last year. And in terms of shooting, they’re taking more shots per game, less 3-point shots per game, and are shooting at a better percentage this year. Something I didn’t address there but just looked up, is that this year’s eFG% was 49.88% compared to 50.49%.

    Needless to say, I think there are many more problems than just shooting poorly from outside.

  • Correction: This year’s eFG% is 49.88% compared to 50.49% last year.

    Just wanted to clear up the phrasing so as not to confuse anyone.

  • jeepnut

    I like to see a similar FT rate graph showing how games officiated by Ed Hightower compare to the rest of the conference games. I think he can be as bad as the Big 12 refs sometimes.

  • A 4% increase would have pretty significant impact in my opinion. Michigan is undefeated (6-0) when they shoot over 33% from three point range compared to 2-7 when they shoot below 33%.

    Also, you mention this in your post that you linked but it’s also typically expected that stats will fall as you get into Big Ten play.

  • Also one other note on Chris’ point.

    KenPom’s eFG numbers are 48.8 this year vs 50.3 last year. I don’t think these include D2 games.

  • Gotcha. I just went and calculated them myself from ESPN’s team site.

    And while that 4% drop in 3-point% is significant, the team is also shooting 4% better on all 2-point field goals. Combine that with the fact that they are taking 4 more shots per game than they averaged last year (and .6 less 3-pointers a game than they did last year), and it nearly balances out.

    But in terms of the graph, what it charts is does not have a direct correlation to wins and losses, as last year’s team’s placement on that graph (approximately where Iowa is currently) was significantly more successful than the team this year.

  • I don’t think the chart has a direct correlation to wins and losses by any means but I think there is certainly a relationship. Obviously for the teams on the top of the graph, the percentage of three point shots they make is *much* more important than the teams on the lower half of the graph.

  • “If you’re still trying to figure out why Michigan is struggling then you need to look no further than this chart.”

    That’s more or less what I was responding to. This poor 3-point shooting is hurting Michigan, but by all accounts, there’s no correlation between wins/losses and that graph, especially when you take into account where 2008-2009 Michigan would place there. I just think there’s a lot more going into Michigan’s struggles than what the numbers indicate.

  • If you compare this year’s statistical profile to last year’s. There are really three differences statistically:

    -Worse three point shooting 33.4 to 29.2%
    -Better at forcing turnovers (20.8 to 23.5%
    -Worse three point defense 31.4 to 34.7%

    Are there other overarching leadership issues, mental problems, and statistical outliers? Yes of course. But statistically the major difference between this year’s team and last year’s is three point shooting.

    Also, a point about how Iowa’s in a similar spot to Michigan last year. This is going to apply differently to almost every team, it’s more a measure of how the three point shot is helping/hurting teams. Iowa’s statistical profile is painful across the board so there are clearly many more factors affecting them than their three point shooting.

  • But as we’ve seen, that statistic alone does not hold a correlation between wins and losses.

    I think saying, “make more shots and you’ll win more” is simplistic, especially when you have a team that, even last year, didn’t prove to be very good shooters. You can say that about just about any team in any sport: score more points and you’ll win more. But (and I forget how to find this), I’d be interested in knowing the statistical significance of Michigan’s three-point shooting, whether or not this is a random case or this output is pretty reflective of the team’s relative skill level.

    So sure, if Michigan hits more shots, they win more. My point is this, though: the 4% decrease in Michigan’s 3-point shooting does not seem like a statistical anomaly to me, and the fact that there is not a linear correlation between the above graph and wins and losses means that we need to look elsewhere.

    Is it possible that last year’s record in relation to the shooting percentage was an anomaly? That–and I think we can all agree that Michigan was overrated coming into this year–they are not necessarily struggling, but rather playing exactly to their skill level and happened to get lucky last year? Or is it something else?

  • Giddings

    We can only hope that the development of Vogrich and Hardaway, two of the nation’s best shooters in their classes, helps push us to the upper right quadrant…

  • Tweeter

    Charts and stats are nice to look at to justify things but I always like to just watch the way games are played and how the team is playing to compare. To me, this year has been all about defense. So because we are doing stats here, I thought I would check out some defensive stats over the last two years.

    In terms of points per shot, UM is giving up only a slightly higher number against – 1.21 compard to 1.19. But UM is giving up over two more shots a game – 55.4 compard to 53.25.

    An even bigger concern is that UM is not defending the three well at all this year. Opponents are shooting .330 on threes compared to .311 last year. And opponents are taking more threes against us – 18.6 compared to 18.

    Those numbers stand out to me more. Teams are shooting better, getting more shots off, as well as taking and making more high valued shots (threes).

    On the offensive side UM is shooting worse at 1.26 points per shot compared to 1.33 last year. But UM is taking nearly four more shots a game 58 compared to 54.57 last year. So that nearly evens out.

    This indicates that the tempo of games seems to be higher paced, yet we are struggling at that pace whereas our opponents are doing much better.

  • Jeff

    The defensive stats regarding 3 pt% don’t surprise me at all. There have been several games this year where very early in the game it was obvious the opponent had a shooter who was on fire but that player continued to get wide open looks for most of the game. The ones that come to mind are Crawford from NW, that dork from Utah, Babb from PSU, and Dumes from Indiana. Diebler also hit five against us, but for a change it looked like we made adjustments on him in the second half.

  • Giddings

    33% on threes allowed is still better than the national three point average (34-35% I believe but correct me if I’m wrong). So I wouldn’t look at that as one of our biggest problems statistically. Clearly the three point offense is our biggest concern, the awful percentage wouldn’t matter as much if we didn’t shoot so many based on Beilein’s philosophy.

  • El Capitan

    As soon as I saw that Rothstein wrote that article on Dumars, I stopped reading. How can you take an Andy Samberg look-alike seriously?

  • Andy

    My two cents, I don’t think this team is appreciably worse than they were last year. It’s disappointing that they aren’t better, but I don’t think they’re that much worse. If you really compare this year to last, I think two things jump out.

    One, Michigan got two big wins early that might not really be as impressive as they seem superficially. UCLA obviously didn’t turn out to be all that good. Beating a NCAA tourney team in MSG is certainly a great accomplishment, but they clearly weren’t the fourth best team in the country that their ranking billed them as. The AA Duke game was kind of a perfect storm of hot UM shooting and some pretty awful Duke shooting from the outside. Duke not having a big time post threat made it a good matchup for UM.

    Two, the non-conference schedule was a LOT easier last year. There just wasn’t the constant stream of creampuffs this year that we had last year, and that probably caught up with them.

    Going forward, the SOS will probably end up helping UM if they can put together some sort of run to a respectable record. This team is physically limited in terms of size and athletic ability at all but two positions and they will not be a consistent team until that changes (which I think it will with the direction of current recruiting). So basically, enjoy the ride, maybe they get hot and make some noise, maybe they don’t. I like the style of play, I like the coach, I like the players. I see no reason this won’t work out in the long run, but much like the Tigers in ’07, it just doesn’t seem to be happening.

  • AG2

    I don’t know if you guys watch Big XII basketball games (I monitored Baylor’s embarrassing loss to Colorado last night), but I don’t think its a disparity in officiating. After all, Ed Hightower actually officiates some Big XII games. If you ask me, the free throw rate disparity is because of teams like Missouri. The Tigers play “40 minutes of hell” defense, and when you play such an intense and reckless style of defense, you foul…a LOT. They usually go 8-9 deep and by the end of the game most of the team is in foul trouble.

  • Eddie

    Tweeter: excellent points. i’m curious if your last year stats were as of this point last year, or end of year stats. if they were from the end of the season, i would imagine that the stats you cite will ultimately skew toward a slower tempo as more and more in-conference games are played (with less possessions and slower paces).

  • Tweeter

    @Giddings: Dont know what the national average. would guess its around 34%. But I was just commenting on a difference between this years team and last, not that the team is doing a worse job than other teams. However, I would argue that a team with the talent of UM should be well above the average in most categories. Also, according to this website we are giving up nearly 35% on threes?

    Dont know how those stats can be nearly two percent different than the ones I got off the Big Ten conference site.

    @Eddie: The stats I did were from all of last year so you could be right. Slower Big Ten play may bring the numbers of shots back down towards last years, however the percentage numbers are still concerning. It could also be offensive rebounding numbers that are skewing it. According to the Teamrankings site, UM is giving up one more O rebound a game. That basically means that teams are gonna get another shot every game (or close to it, obviously turnovers would change that).

    Again, I enjoy looking at stats, but I far prefer to compare the play on the court with my eyes. And to me, this team just does not have the defensive intensity that last years team had. I believe that is largely due to the departure of CJ Lee and the better overall depth last year.

  • stevefisherbroughtushonor

    Aren’t most basketball writers/commentators Andy Samberg lookalikes?

    To the guy who said “that dork from Utah” — that’s what I was thinking. Although sadly, Novak fits the description also.

  • ToBlav

    Maybe these are some of the reasons our reality is what it is. We are, according to what I think I remember, the youngest team in the BT. We have three sophmores starters and there must be some reason for the phrase sophmore slump being well known. Two of our starters, Novak and Douglas, are playing out of position. Our two lastest best big man recruits have had injuries. Although our two starting upper classmen are good, contribution from the only other two upper classmen are often very limited. I’ve said before that the soph. recruiting class was stop-gap (picked over throughly before Coach Beilein was here). I will not question Coach Beilein until the current freshmen are seniors and we are still not competitive.

  • JimC

    Hummel was just amazing last night 8/10 threes and 29 pts IN THE FIRST HALF(!) if i remember right. That OSU comeback/PU collapse must have been WAAAAY worse on the die-hard Purdue fans than the NW game was on us.

    At least the conference race is really interesting, and our team doesn’t totally suck.
    Guess we’ll probably finish 8th, ahead of IA, PSU & IN.

  • Jeff


    I liked some of the points you made, however, in reality the non-conference slate this year has been a lot easier. Last year they played five games against NCAA teams in the non-conference, which is alot. This year, to date, they’ve probably only played one–Kansas. KenPom and the RPI back that up.

    I do think last year’s team was quite a bit better, but they had a thin margin for error. Being unable to replace the few contributors we lost has been a killer. We have about 5 1/2 players who contribute ANYTHING to this team. Last year Lee and Merritt were very important in their roles, and even though Sheppard and Grady didn’t play much, there were at least SOME games where they made important contributions. In the last month, Gibson, Wright and Vogrich have contributed very close to nothing. The only other options we have besides them are two freshman walkons. That is one of the many reasons we have this mess.

  • Jeff

    So to summarize the 3 pt% from last year to this year, in total we’re 7.5% worse. Offensively we’ve dropped 4.1% (33.4-29.3). Defensively we’ve gotten worse by 3.4% (31.4-34.8). That’s a pretty big difference. I got the numbers from the teamrankings that tweeter linked.

  • Tweeter

    yea Jeff I am not positive those numbers are correct. Both the Big Ten conference site and, have different numbers for opponents three point %. I think everything else was the same though, so I am not sure which is wrong. Dont really feel like looking into it in more detail. Suffice to say that we are worse statistically in those areas.

  • Ken in Vegas

    A bit off topic, but one thing that really worries me is the lack of improvement from Vogrich so far. I know that everyone will say he’s only played a handful of games in his freshman year, but look how much more comfortable Novak and Stu looked at this time last year. Each one had already put on some pretty heroic performances from behind the arc. Novak and Stu were only 2 stars and they learned to get their shot off much smoother and much quicker. At this point, Vogrich is not finding open looks and when he does….well, the recent airball comes to mind.

  • Douglass played 23 minutes and Novak played 28 per game.

    Vogrich is playing 6 minutes per game… just 95 total for the year. That means Novak/Douglass played about as many as he has played all year in just 4 games.

    When you are playing that much… you are bound to improve. On the other hand when you are playing just a few minutes per game it is tough to really get in a rhythm or improve.

    That’s not to say there aren’t reasons to worry about Vogrich. Just that his situation is worlds different than Stu and Novak’s.

  • maxwell’s demon

    If nothing else Vogrich’s airball was pretty disconcerting…

    As far as the significance of our 3 pt shooting: looking at the chart Dylan linked to, within the past month relative to the same time period last year, we are averaging about 5% worse in 3 pfg%. If we take 30 threes a game that’s 4.5 pts. To me that is very significant.

  • JimC

    Vogrich looks so skinny out there, and he seems to hop around the floor instead of being quick on his feet. If he can build his strength and quickness in the next 10 months, hopefully without screwing up his shooting mechanism, he could play a much better 2 guard.
    Plus all these guys, even the “old” seniors, are probably still growing.

  • JimC

    One last thing way off topic (sorry i can’t contribute to the stats discussion b/c i do that kinda thing at work all day): just consider if you were a TN football fan for a minute. You know that feeling of despair we have around here sometimes? I think they should expect that for many years! Ouch, thanks Lane Kiffin.

  • Giddings

    Anyone think UConn loses their 3rd straight game on Sunday?

  • Giddings

    By the way, the national 3-point % is 34.2% so far this year. I love this page, really interesting to see the effect of the new 3-point line especially:

  • Tweeter

    I dont think you can tell what the impact of the new three point line has had on the game yet, if any. All that it shows me is that it has gone done since the previous year highs. But when you go back ten years the percentage was just as low. So maybe there was just a high period of great shooting in college basketball from approx. ’03 thru ’07. Or maybe it just takes a little time for shooters to adjust to the new line.

    From what I remember reading, shooters shots pretty low from the three point when it was first initiated back in the 80s. My guess is that over time, the shooting evens out to where it was on average before the move. I just dont buy that that moving the line back one foot has any drastic change on the game as a whole.

  • Tweeter

    gone *down. not *done. sry.

  • Kevin

    Dylan, I agree about Vogrich. To add to your point he did catch fire in his very first college game. But I’m definitely a little worried as he seems sort of out of it whenever he goes in.

  • Deacon Blues

    Vogrich is an interesting case. The main reason his situation is different than Novak/Douglass’s was last season, of course, is he isn’t ready. Surely he’d be playing more if he could handle it; it’s not like we have Texas’s depth.

    But on the other hand, there’s hardly been a chance to run him out there since the opening two games. We’ve seemingly been in desperation mode in every minute of every game since, save Coppin State (his last significant minutes) and Pine Bluff. And now that we’re in league play, it’s probably too late for him. It’s disappointing that he’s practically turned out to be a redshirt, but it’s understandable given how the season has gone.

    Hopefully JimC is right–that his shortcomings are the sort that can be improved on.

  • It would take too long to type out here, but I did the leg work–well, sort of anyway, I let the internet do the leg work–concerning the statistical significance of the team’s three-point shooting woes. Check it out:

  • Defense, clearly, is the place they CAN clamp down, if they want to eke out a few more wins. And getting it into the low post.

    The question for me is: how does John Mr. Three Beilein end up w. such a lousy-shooting (3 pt) team? In a certain way, he and RichRod have both been singularly unwilling to bend their philosophies to suit their personnel. I’m a fan of both guys, but it remains to be seen whether it pays off. I’m much less hopeful about either’s prospects today than I was even two months ago, in part because the competition seems to be moving fwd at a faster rate. I think we may be destined to a long stretch of Michigan mediocrity helmed by mildly interesting helmsmanship.

    Great article on Jamal Crawfod here, btw:

  • David F.


    “In a certain way, he and RichRod have both been singularly unwilling to bend their philosophies to suit their personnel.”

    I don’t think anyone is going to agree with you there. Both coaches have definitely changed the types of athletes U-M recruits.

  • David F.

    Oops! Mattski, I misread your comment. I actually agree.

  • Deacon Blues

    Hey: Aren’t the axis labels backwards? The vertical axis should be labeled 3PA/3FGA. (As it is, it’s saying that Northwestern makes roughly 50% of its threes.)