An Early Look at the 2011-12 Rotation

Dylan Burkhardt

The Michigan coaching staff will be on the road for the next month but the team, both newcomers and returnees, is on campus and ready to work.

May and June provide opportunities for players to get better on their own. Go to China, Latvia or workout with a personal trainer. Now, as the clock rolls around to July it’s time to start putting the pieces back together as a unit. As far away as next season feels, the start of practice is just over three months away. The roster is finalized – freshmen are on campus and Darius Morris has been drafted away to Los Angeles – and it’s finally safe to begin examining the rotation for the 2011-12 team.

The most important thing to remember when analyzing potential lineup combinations is that John Beilein isn’t known for using a deep bench. Last year’s starters played 81% of the available minutes, a figure that ranked 337th among 345 Division I teams. If Beilein has a top group of 7 players he’s going to stick with that group. Last year Michigan had just six players play in all 35 games and only seven average more than seven minutes per game.

KJ, formerly of The Only Colors, created a stat called “depth ratio”, which is computed by dividing the minutes played by the top 2 players by the minutes played by the 8th and 9th players in the rotation. He concluded that the best Michigan State teams generally have a depth ratio of under 3.0 with the figure generally measuring somewhere between 2.0-5.0 over the last decade. For comparison, Michigan’s depth ratio last season was 7.38.

This year’s roster features an interesting combination of veteran talent, developing sophomores and exciting incoming freshmen. It will be a juggling act to involve everyone in a rotation. Does Beilein go with his normal seven-man rotation or does he expand to a nine man rotation? The easiest way to examine the roster is by breaking it down into tiers:

The Starters: Trey Burke, Zack Novak, Tim Hardaway Jr., Evan Smotrycz and Jordan Morgan

This group should be the everyday starting group to start the season and it’s their responsibility to hold onto their respective spots. Hardaway, Morgan and Novak are locks as they started all but one game combined last season. Burke and Smotrycz are the more interesting picks.
Smotrycz had an up and down freshman season, losing his starting spot, but finished on a high note. He spent the off season getting bigger, now weighing over 230lbs, and becoming more explosive. He made 38% of his threes as a 6-foot-9 freshman and if the rest of his game can start to catch up, he’ll be a factor offensively.

Including Burke in the lineup might raise some eyebrows, but the freshman will receive every opportunity to shine early on. Michigan needs Trey to play and play well. Darius Morris was handed the keys as a freshman and Burke should be in a similar position. Burke isn’t the passer or floor general that Morris was last season but his outside shooting will add another wrinkle to the pick and roll. How quickly can he pick up the offense as a freshman? That question will have lasting implications on Michigan’s season.

The Bench: Stu Douglass, Matt Vogrich, Jon Horford

The next tier is the primary group of substitutes. These guys are playing regular backup minutes in every game and are the first sub at their respective positions – guard, wing or post.

Stu Douglass is the perfect sixth man in this scenario because he’s able to play the one or the two, and has played both for significant portions of his career. Douglass started the last two seasons as the team’s sixth man but he finished both seasons as a starter, averaging over 32 minutes per game in Big Ten play. He’s not a natural fit at the point guard, but can suffice in a backup role. I’ve argued in the past that Douglass would be most effective playing around 25 minutes per game. With Morris on the roster this seemed possible, even likely, but without Morris it seems that Douglass will see his minute totals creep up yet again this season.

Vogrich had some impressive performances down the stretch, most notably his 11 points versus Tennessee, and has proven himself as a capable shooter. He’s the best fit to back-up Tim Hardaway Jr. at the three but backing up the team’s best player isn’t the easiest way to play more minutes. Vogrich earned some time at the two last year, and if he’s going to play more than the 14 minutes per game that he played last year, he’ll have to prove that he can play that position regularly.

Horford demonstrated his potential last season, mostly with his impressive rebounding numbers in limited minutes, but he also had his fair share of struggles. He seemed a step slow mentally on both ends, had some injuries and never managed to see consistent playing time. Reportedly up to 250 pounds, Horford is the natural fit to back-up Jordan Morgan if he’s able to make some natural progression this summer.

carlton-brundidge1[1]The X-Factors: Carlton Brundidge, Max Bielfeldt, Blake McLimans, Colton Christian, Eso Akunne

This group doesn’t appear to be in the day-to-day rotation, but does provide unique traits that are generally lacking throughout the roster. Whether it’s foul trouble, injuries or situational match-ups there are a number of scenarios where this group could be needed.

There’s the possibility that one or two players from this group could find regular backup minutes: Brundidge at the two? Bielfeldt or Christian at the four?

Brundidge is a smaller off guard that needs to find a position – on both ends of the floor. Bielfeldt could provide minutes at the four but would need to prove more effective than Smotrycz or the small lineup with Novak. McLimans’s redshirt freshman year was painful but if he can become consistent with his jumpshot there are situations when he could be an option. Christian provides a boost of athleticism at the four for short spurts but hasn’t provided much of any offensive production (besides this). Akunne is a potential back-up point guard option, but would have to do a lot to surpass Burke or Douglass on the depth chart.

This is how things look right now and there will certainly be questions answered throughout practice, exhibitions and early season games.

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  • Andy

    I think you’re probably right about this being the starting line up at the beginning of the season.  I think Douglass’ spot as the top outside defender will have him on the court 30 minutes minimum though.  And, if the game is on the line at the end, I don’t see how Douglass, Novak, or Morgan come out.

  • ScottGoBlue

    Horford has the potential to beat out Morgan, even though I love Jordan Morgan’s game.  But your starting line up seems most probable for the beginning of the year.

    I’ve wondered whether the coaches will have Brundidge play the 1 a little bit.  If you’re gonna break in one freshman at that position (Burke), what’s the harm in breaking in two guys?  We know Douglass isn’t a natural fit at the 1, playing the 1 would add to Brundidge’s versatility going forward, and his offensive strengths are the opposite of Burke’s (slasher vs. shooter).

    And at the 4, I think Novak will still get a fair amount of minutes there.  He’s effective at the 4 in his own way for spurts.  Again, it’s a change-of-pace thing, where Novak is the antithesis of Smotrycz at the 4.  It’s hard to totally account for both of their styles of play.  And it’s unclear that McLimans, Christian, or Bielfeldt would be more effective at the 4.  I wouldn’t be surprised those three each averaged 5-7 minutes this year.

    On the whole, I think we’ll see minutes go something like this:
    – Hardaway (35)
    – Novak (30)
    – Morgan (25)
    – Smotrycz (25)
    – Burke (25)
    – Horford (15)
    – Douglass (15)
    – Vogrich (15)
    – Brundidge (10)
    – leaving 5 minutes for everyone else … which is unrealistic, but it’s a rough estimate.

    • BlueRev

      I have very similiar projection below except I think Stu will play at least 24mpg and that will come from somewhere… and I guess I could Bielfelt get some minutes if he’s the man of steel they’re saying he is (and since he played so well against other conference recruits last year).

    • TMurda

      I agree re: Brundidge.  I think he’ll challenge for playing time at the 1 and the 2.  I also agree with you and Dylan that Horford could have a break-out year.

      Overall, I think there will be some good competition for playing time at the 1, 2 and the 5.  Looking forward to it…

      • If Evan makes significant improvements and demands more playing time then you run into a major log jam at the two. That means more minutes for Novak at the two which hurts Douglass, Brundidge and potentially Vogrcih.

    • SamGoBlue

      Stu and Vogrich playing the same amount of minutes? What are you smoking?

  • BlueRev

    Obviously the best situation is for Burke to be ready to start pg and play major mins… I still hope that Brunridge could surprise and back up the point, but based on commentary I’m not optimistic about that and will count on a Sr. Douglass as solid back-up.

    I do wonder if UM goines 8-deep this year–just not sure if that 8th guy is Brunridge or Biefelt. If Biefelt is ready to back-up 4 then Novak  plays almost all his 30mpg at the 2, otherwise CB backs up the 2 and we play small-ball when Smotz is out. JB has been clear he prefers to not do that again–so although CB may be a better overall player than Bielfelt, he may be odd-man out this year (since its unlikely he’ll play over Sr. Douglass backing up the 2).

    I’d love to see us go 9 deep with less pt per starter and room for both Bruridge and Bielfelt to play 10-15mpg, but I don’t see it. And I don’t see anyone else playing more than spot minutes unless injury.

    • JayRich

      We are 8 deep for sure: Burke, Novak, THJR, Smotz, Morgan, Stu, Vogrich, Horford.   I think that is what we will stick with as well.  CB and a big man may see a few minutes at the end of the half but nothing more.

      • BlueRev

        Oops–UR Right! Forgot tnt count Vogrich.. so I see us likely 9 deep–with either Beilfelt or CB in that rotation–and possibly 10 deep. This team is just plain deeper talent-wise than previous JB teams.

        • BlueRev

          Hardaway 32p
          Novak, Smotz, Morgan, Burke, Douglass 24-30m
          Horford, Vogrich, Bielfelt or Brunridge 10-14
          Brunridge or Bielfelt, McL, CC..seldom

          • ColinNer

            I am confused as why you mention brundidge and bielfielt as competing for the last spot in the rotation. Position-wise, you seem a little light on guards especially taking into account Bielien’s affinity to play small. This team will struggle to score at times and that would signal more pt for brundidge. Also, I think CC will be much more ready to contribute at the 4 than bielfelt.

          • BlueRev

            JB has said time and again he’d like to go bigger.
            OTOH he also likes versatile guys and CB offers that.
            A lot depends on whether Novak plays the 4–which will open or close pt at different positions.

          • Dgray

            Hey BlueRev, when you can spell Brundidge name right, then maybe you can gain some credibility in your opinion.  Most scouting services has Brundidge as a 4-star player and top 100 in his class.  Actually 74.  None of the players you have listed except maybe Smotrycz had that ranking by major scouting services.  Both Hardaway and Smotrycz were ranked lower by these services and look how much they contribute their freshman year.

          • BlueRev

            Well I’ve been following UM bball pretty closely for over 30 years and posting on our websites since they were invented, so I’m not worries about credibility, but yes I ought to spell a guy’s name right out of respect.

            I’ve never seen CB play in person (except video clips) since I’m out of state and we all know he’s well rated and tho I see him a key player down the road, his position is stacked next year. However, with DMo off to the pros CB has an opening and maybe he earns pt right away. I’m just guessing otherwise based on a lot of factors. Having said that I didn’t predict DMo or THARD to have the kind of season they had last year either, so the sky’s the limit.

  • Mattski

    Prediction: Burke struggles. Team struggles, has disappointing season. Bipolar fans who were exulting over Beilein at end-2011 call for his head in March.

    2012-2013 season, in turn, is rousing success. From there Beilein puts together a string of winning seasons. Michigan is (finally) really, truly back.

    I’ll be happy to be wrong, but freshmen point guards in the B10. . .  

    • Bosstothemax88

      I just disagree with that. I mean sure burke wont have experience but the rest of the team is solid so I mean I could see them having a similar record as this year,  But I could also see them going something like 27-10 if everything lines up.

    • The last All-Ohio Red PG did alright as a true freshman in the Big Ten…

      • Bosstothemax88

        Who was the last All-Ohio red Pg?

        • Aaron Craft.

          • ohiophenoms

            Drew Lavender-Xavier
            James Dews-Miami,Fl
            Jon Diebler-OSU
            Travis Walton-Michigan State
            Juwuan Staten-Dayton/West Virginia
            Aaron Craft-OSU
            Trey Burke-Michigan
            Terry Rozier-current
            Some of All Ohio Reds guards

    • BlueRev

      ohio did ok with one last year

      • Dylan Peiffer

        And Ohios freshman PG did not play but 10-14 a game If I recall right

        • Mattski

          Don’t think he started at the beginning of the season, either. But again, I hope Burke really excels. Just think the odds tend to be against high performance right away. Heck, D Mo did.

  • junderground

    Brundidge will probably play about 20 per game by season’s end, and will probably end the season with about 7-8 points per game. His playing style predicts a high points to minutes ratio, and that will get him minutes.

    • I agree on his style of play, but I think results will be hit or miss. I think that he’ll probably get a shift about 12 minutes into the first half of a game – get some shots up, if they go in then you ride him. If he’s turning it over or missing then I think you see his playing time limited for the rest of that game. Sort of a microwave role.

    • Dgray

      I believe that everyone is selling Brundidge ability to be an impact player on this team short. Sure Brundidge did not have a stellar senior season, but anytime Beilein attended his games he raved about the things the kid could do in his system. On a bigger stage (Nike EYBL) where you got at least 8 First round draft picks in 2012: Austin Rivers (Duke), Marquis Teague (Kentucky), Anthony Davis (Kentucky), James McAdoo (North Carolina), Brad Beal (Florida), Mike Gilchrist (Kentucky). Brundidge was the LEADING SCORER of that league.  He put up 53 points against McDonald All-American (Anthony Wroten) (Univ of Washington) and Gary Bell (Gonzago) in Houston, TX when the Detroit Family played Seattle Rotary in league play. Other than Zach Novak (true warrior), CB is without a doubt the toughest player on the 2011-12 team. For God sakes, prior to Brundidge junior year, his high school team had not won a district championship in 30 YEARS.  The kid comes along and take the school to two final four appearances.  I would like the naysayers to ponder this thought. If Brundidge going to get about 7-8 minutes a game (which is nothing really). Why would Beilein and Izzo with their assistance attend all of his morning workouts (6:00am) trying to get the kid to commit.  I think these two outstanding coaches have seen Brundidge body of work on the National scene, to know that this kid can play.  If you study Beilein offensive sets, you will realize that when the shot clock is winding down, you need a person to create for himself.  Brundidge can do that as well as anyone on that roster. Nothing against 5th year walk-ons C.J Lee and David Merritt, but if those guys could get crucial minutes and occasional starts, during their senior year, are you telling me that Brundidge will get under 10 minutes a game.  My point is that Beilein offense can thrive without a true point guard.  If you watch film of the 2008-9 season you will see less individual dribbling and more ball movement. Beilein gave Darius some rope because he proved early in the season that he could make plays using his dribbling skills. Each viewer is entitled to his or her opinion.  Brundidge is  a legitimate 6′ 1.  Kalin Lucas, Taylor Battle, Korie Luscious, Northwestern point guard, Indiana point guards are smaller. My Opinion lies closer to junderground’s.

      • MGoTweeter

        Not to be mean, but paragraphs are your friend. 

        As for Brundidge, he has great talent and played very well against high school competition.  Playing in college is completely different from playing in HS, and much different than playing in AAU games.  Just the daily grind alone creates problems for freshmen over the course of the year. 

        He could come in and light the world on fire, but at this point it’s probably just as likely that he struggles to find a role and figure out how to score against good defenses.

      • Mattski

        Good info; I like this post. I think Tweeter (below) makes a good point about breaking it up a little–at first I thought it was just a rant, and skipped over it. Make sure you give your good ideas (and the skinny) a chance  to be heard. I love Brundidge, and think he could really blow up for M.

  • gpsimms

    it’s funny, i like all the kids on the team a lot, and am real excited about the ones coming in.  can’t they all play 35 minutes?

    • KRN

      Sure. Just as long as you don’t mind 44 overtimes every game.

    • TMurda

      They all will… in practice.

      • Dgray

        The current team has open gym  (IM Center)) 4:30-6:30 pm Monday thru Saturday.
        Go and observe for yourselves how Brundidge and Burke and even Bieldfelt is doing against current players. From my sources, the Killer B’s might be reason for some excitement in 2011-12.  I believe that Hardaway (US 19 under team and Horford (working out with his NBA brother in Atlanta) are the only players missing.

        • Mattski

          Neat! I too want to see Brundidge kill it. 

        • Gary

          I would be thrilled to see all three of them get significant playing time.  It is great to be in a position where we are arguing about too much talent rather than not enough.

  • Jubbathehut

    Jordan Dumars at the 5 spot.

    • Guest

      Not sure if serious?

      • gpsimms

         not that it’s my place to speak for jubba, but he is 100% serious, no sugarcoat.

  • MGoTweeter

    Definitely tough to predict how the rotation will play out.  About the only thing I can see for sure is that the rotation at the beginning of the year will be significantly deeper than the one used at the tail end of Big Ten play.  I agree with the projected starters and Douglass, but I think the rest of the spots are up for grabs.  There are really only four known quantities: Novak, Hardaway, Douglass and Morgan.  Everyone else will probably see a lot of fluctuation in minutes over the first half of the year. 

  • wake up

    too many of you are sleeping on brundidge. trey’s training videos make you think carlton is busy eating potato chips and ice cream all day? carlton is really good, let’s stop jumping to conclusions.

    • MGoTweeter

      i dont think people are sleeping on Brundidge or think that Burke has outworked him to this point.  I believe it’s more that the PG position is up for grabs and Burke is a more natural fit there.  The 2 spot is perhaps the deepest spot on the team and may have the starter who is going to play the most minutes, in Novak. 

    • Steve2081

      But I just bought a new Jump to Conclusions Mat!

  • Champswest

    I will be surprised  (an impressed) if Burke starts the season at the point and is successful.  I expect to see Stu start earlly on, until Trey learns the offense and adjusts to the college game.

    • Forever Blue

      I too will be surprised and impressed.  The most important thing for Michigan’s starting PG (or most used) to have this season is ability to run JB’s system.  Second big thing to replace (with Morris’ departure) is leadership.  Stu is going to have a huge advantage.

      Another thing to consider is what Duke had to say after playing Michigan.  They said they were really difficult to defend with basically a 4 guard lineup.  If Smotrycz struggles I expect to see Michigan back to that as Burke develops.

      • gpsimms

         though the lineup i think they were referring to, specifically, was four guards with smot at the 5.

        duke’s bigs are pretty athletic, i was shocked to see smot take them off the dribble a few times like he did.

    • SamGoBlue

      I completely agree. I think we will see Stu start at the very least at the beginning of the year at the 1. We might also see Brundidge, people have to realize he will get his shot too. But Stu has too much experience, is too good a shooter, and is too loved by Beilein to ride the bench. 30+ mins for him again.

  • Great post Dylan.  Does anybody know if the preferred walk-on from Arizona is in town playing with the guys?  It will be a fun year to watch how Coach uses the guys with playing time and with substitutions during the games.  We all agree that Tim and Novak will be the minute leaders on the team.  how many will be determined.  I’m extremely excited for the upcoming season.  Much Love from Grand Rapids.

    • Sai Tummala, yes I believe he’s there.

    • A2JD

      I saw that Coach Alexander included him (Sai, is it?) in a Tweet last week.

  • Tenzin

    Why is everyone in love with Horford???
    What i saw of him last year he reminded me alot of McLimans, both lacked the knowledge, skill and confidence to play the game!  I hope im wrong but they are both disappointments

    • I agree that the game moved fast for both players, but they were also both freshmen. The reason people are higher on Horford, well the reason that I am higher on Horford, is that he proved to be a much better rebounder.

  • Junket

    Best lineups the last 2 years have had Novak at the 4.  He creates matchup problems on the offensive end and is gritty enough to hold his own on defense.  The cost/benefit is positive.  Until Horford shows he can elevate his game, I think you’re going to see the bulk of minutes at the 4 and 5 come from 3 players:  Morgan, Smotrycz, and Novak.  Like everyone else, I’d love for the weaknesses of the team (rebounding, shot-blocking) to suddenly disappear, but everyone should acknowledge that trade-offs exist when shuffling the lineup. 

    Furthermore, I don’t think Novak is very good as a wing.  Defensively, his inability to consistently stay in front of wings is a bigger issue than being undersized as a 4.  Novak uses positioning well and draws charges on 4s. Similarly, on offense he’s more effective at getting open looks when dragging a big guy out to the perimeter and is more inclined to force shots when guarded by a wing.

    For the above reasons I think we’ll see more of what we’ve seen the last two seasons. I don’t think JB is as focused on having a conventional lineup as most fans are.

  • redman345

    please believe carlton will be getting atleast 20 minutes.he is a combo guard.he will back up trey and stu.and its a chance he starts.i love trey but i think carlton will make a bigger the bench.he will be the x-factor.believe that.he will average atleast 8pts and 3 assist and 1 steal with 3 rebounds.and 18 minutes a game

  • ohiophenoms

    All the players will show up when they play. Has anyone heard about the open gyms?