The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Dylan Burkhardt

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.

The Good

  • 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%.

The Bad

  • 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.

The Ugly

  • 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.

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  • gordie bell

    Good stuff. Not much M could to against UTEP but take the poison. If your opponent is more athletic than you, and playing hard, aggressive D, you’re in deep doo doo. Nobody on any level likes playing against a good defensive team. Unfortunately MSU will probably do the same thing to us, we just have to match their intensity on the other end of the floor, and still, it probably won’t be enough.
    As an aside NC State’s effort against Wiscy was sickening, they didn’t even try to stop anyone. Clemson’s D in the first half was also pretty poor. If Clemson and NC State are an example of the D played in the ACC, M needs to switch conferences.

  • Placentasaurus

    It seems like our 3point shooting is better this year, but mclimans 0% is dragging the average back down to where it was last year. Still by the end of the year i expect our % to be up too 33-34%

    • MarcO

      McLimans has looked terrible overall. He needs to be relegated to 2 mins/gm where he proves he can play def and rebound before he’s given the green light again to shoot.

  • Beast1530

    Novak rebounding better is due to the fact that he played at SG more than PF. He doesn’t have to deal with bigger players and he can outmuscle players of his size for a rebound.

  • AG2

    I’m still a little worried that our defense is a result of playing teams that can’t hit wide open shots. Clemson and Syracuse have been struggling to shoot so far this season, to say nothing of USC Upstate and such.

    However, if we can keep taking advantage of our opponent’s poor shooting, we could be able to pull off a win against a team like Purdue.

  • maxwell’s demon

    The way I see it, we have a very solid-to-good starting line up but then have major drop-offs in talent at 3 and 5. Any games where Morgan is in foul trouble we are likewise in big trouble. I also think scoring will continue to be our biggest obstacle. THJr needs to get to the point where he can create his own shot, and then we just got to hope that at least one of Stu, Novak, or Smot is shooting well.

    • gordie bell

      I think Novak is going to get the majority of the bench minutes at the 3, giving Stu more minutes at the 2, leaving Vogrich the odd man out. Of course foul trouble or injuries can alter this. Maybe Vogrich can start making some 3’s, to earn the minutes, that would be ideal.

  • Evan

    Mclimans and horford should never shoot threes even if they are wide open. THey should take a few steps in and then shoot

  • georgeesq.

    Beilein doesn’t care about defense or rebounding, just has that gimmick offense where you jack up a lot of threes. At least, that’s what the conventional wisdom in many quarters has been. Glad to see us disprove that fallacy.

    • Champswest

      Yeah, and he can’t recruit either.

  • KingLouie

    More of the good, the bad and the ugly:

    Depth–While not all of equal talent, we have enough capable backups to spell our best players. This will be critical with so many young players who will tire mid-way through the season if they play extended minutes. Horford and Christian have been pleasant surprises and will improve over the course of the season. People are being too quick to get down on McLimans; he will continue to struggle this year, but will improve considerably in a year or two. Matt V needs to relax and get comfortable in his role; once he does, his excellent shot will start to fall and he should be good for 4-6 points per game, with an occasional double digit outburst against the right opponent.

    Balanced Scoring–You cannot shut down Hardaway Jr., or Evan, or Stu or Zack or Morris and assume that Michigan cannot score. Jordan Morgan has shown the ability to get points, and everyone else can heat up on any given night. Of course we will have challenges, especially on the road, but this squad gives every indication of growing into a team where opposing defenses will need to pick their poison.

    Quick Learners–This team seems to learn from its mistakes and make pretty rapid improvement. For too many years in the past, the problems were, to quote Yogi Berra “deja vu all over again”.

    Chemistry–The players seem to like playing with one another and seem pretty unselfish. This will mean that as the season progresses, we will see even better ball movement, cutting and screening, and open looks at the basket. It also means that the defensive intensity will do nothing but get better.


    Finishing at the rim–We don’t, or can’t, or haven’t yet learned, to elevate and dunk the way most of the elite teams do when they are within 5 feet of the basket, and as a result, have too many shots blocked. Also, being young and not yet as strong and polished, we tend to miss more shots going to the basket than we eventually will. This happened several times against Clemson on nice drives to the basket during the second half. As the players mature, at least the latter problem will diminish.

    Scoring Droughts– The team going too long without a basket is something that we will need to continue to watch this year; for reasons mentioned above, it should get better with time, but it is going to continue to be an issue until the Freshmen are no longer Freshmen.


    Airballs–We seem to fire up more than our share. Some of it is nerves, some of it is that Jordan needs to develop a 5-10 foot shot, some is Blake’s desire to hit the three, or Hardaway Jr’s getting out of rythm. Even Stu and Zack are susceptible. I have faith that it will improve–at some point.

    I like this team a lot. It is showing a lot of promise; it will take its lumps in a terrific Big Ten, but it should improve substantially even if the won loss record isn’t what we would like. With two outstanding guards coming in next year to help out Darius with ball handling and running the offense, we should be fun to watch for the next few years. GO BLUE

    • Kenny

      feel better after watched the MSU-Duke game last night, they can’t finish at the rim either.

  • JimC

    Matrix has been a really nice “surprise”, contributing so much right from the start.

  • tin mad dog

    Sidenote- Odd that the photo above shows the players in the older design of the uni. I like those better but the new ones aren’t too bad. At least Adidas isn’t as bad as Nike for creating bad looks (see Oregon every week in football and tOSU’s cherry-bomb look they had this past weekend at the Horseshoe).

    • tin mad dog
      • DoubES5336

        You know what isn’t a disaster: Josh Asselin throwing it down.

        • GregGoBlue

          with elbow pads!

        • tin mad dog

          I guess Asselin has had a good pro career overseas. Good for him! We can only hope that McLimans turns into somebody as successful as Josh.

      • Mason

        Ahhh yes, I have a replica maize jersey from that season. It’s a Josh Moore, if I’m not mistaken.

        • JimC

          Josh Moore…?! Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a very long time!

        • Brick

          I have the blue version of that jersey! It was Josh Moore. I guess someone expected him to be good.

      • georgeesq.

        Suggested caption: “Guess whooo?”

  • JimC, I believe the name is Metrics. From the mistake in the Free Press last year.

    • JimC

      So should we give him the nickname Metrics? Or Matrix? Or just call him Evan?
      I could swear someone wrote Matrix in here last year, but I could be remembering things.
      Metrics sounds good.

      Or if having nicknames is girly, like maybe a Josh Grobin song, then forget about it.

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  • Section13Row15

    Dylan, thanks for mentioning the fact that we take 10 more threes per game in our losses than in our wins. We are much better when we keep it right around 15 three point attempts per game and try to work the ball inside more. I can’t wait for that back door cut to open up more when teams start guarding the wings more closely. Hardaway started out hot from 3 against Clemson but I would’ve liked to see him give the shot fake, dribble once, and pull up when the guards started closing out on him. I love Smotrycz’s offensive confindence but on defense he is a little lazy and doesn’t close out on his man very well. If he improves there and Vogrich finds his role, watch out for the upset alert.