Michigan’s young front line has surpassed early expectations and controlled the defensive glass. Photo credit: isportsweb
It’s obviously too early, with just six games in the book, to provide concrete statistical observations. Michigan has faced three “good” teams (rated in the Pomeroy top 76) and three “bad” teams (rated in the bottom 100) but not many middle of the pack teams. Despite sample size concerns, here are some quick notes observations from early season play.
- Defense. I shared some thoughts on the Michigan defense before the season and noted that they have improved every year under John Beilein. Early returns point to this season being no different. Michigan has played stifling defense, holding opponents to just .84 points per possession (24th/4th) and an effective field goal percentage of 41% (20th/1st). The FG% defense has been driven by Michigan’s three point defense, which is allowing opponents to shoot just 24.4% from behind the arc.
- Defensive Rebounding: Michigan is the 23rd best defensive rebounding team in the country, rebounding 74% of their opponents misses. To put this stat into perspective, as things stand today, Michigan’s the best defensive rebounding team in the Big Ten. Surprisingly it’s Novak, not Morgan that has been Michigan’s top defensive rebounder.
- Darius Morris: A statistical gem at this point, Morris is averaging 14 points, 7 assists, and four rebounds per game. The turnover numbers (3 per game) are still too high but Morris’ improvement is obvious. When Morris is on the floor, he has assisted 50% of Michigan’s made field goals — for comparison Demetri McCamey led the country in assist rate with a mark of 48%.
- Offensive Consistency: At times, Michigan’s offense has looked nearly spectacular. Other times, it’s tough to stomach. Inconsistency was expected with such a young team but the season is definitely going to be a roller coaster ride. Against UTEP and Syracuse, Michigan was only able to muster .83 points per possession. Despite having a chance to win the Syracuse game with subpar offensive performance, it’s going to be very hard to win games when the offense is struggling to that degree. Even against Clemson, in perhaps Michigan’s best game, the Wolverines scored less than a point per possession in the second half while only making 7 field goals.
- 1-3-1 zone: Michigan’s defense has been great but the 1-3-1 zone hasn’t. I continue to think that, along the line, Michigan is going to need the zone. They don’t have the horses athletically to stick with some teams and having a change-up option is going to be necessary. Will the 1-3-1 improve? Will Michigan focus more on their 2-3 zone that they’ve started to utilize over the last couple games? It is certainly something to watch over the next month before Big Ten season.
- Three Point Shooting: Michigan is shooting just 29.6% from three point range (278th/11th) and has already attempted 142 three point attempts (41st/1st). Michigan averages 10 fewer three point attempts in wins compared to losses. Michigan shot just 29.7% last season, so it’s tough to be optimistic these numbers will improve significantly. Smotrycz (43%) and Douglass (42%) are the only Wolverines shooting over 30% while Morris (30%), Novak (28%), Hardaway (28%), Vogrich (20%), and McLimans (0%) lag behind.
- Dealing With Pressure Defense: Michigan’s weakness offensively has been dealing with defenses that overpressure the ball and deny passes on the wings. While their turnover numbers haven’t been terrible, they have been worse than years past (Michigan has been one of the best teams in the country at valuing the basketball under John Beilein). The greater problem is that the pressure on the wings slows Michigan’s defense and causes it to become dramatically less effective. The two guard offense is designed to make opponents pay for over pressuring but it’s clear that this squad isn’t quite comfortable throwing that back door pass routinely.