Notebook: Scheduling, Defensive Box Scores, More

Dylan Burkhardt
Penn-State-at-Michigan-16-597x397[1]Much has been made of Michigan’s upcoming schedule and rightfully so. Fresh off of playing five games in 13 days, Michigan will enter what could be an even more difficult five game stretch.  The Wolverines have yet to win a true road game this season but will play five of their next six games on the road including games at Ohio State and Michigan State, two programs that haven’t been beaten at home this season.

The upcoming six games are (Pomeroy rankings in parentheses): at Arkansas (89), at Purdue (30), at Ohio State (1), Indiana (12), at Michigan State (6). This stretch might not make or break Michigan but it will certainly test this team’s intestinal fortitude. If the Wolverines can steal a couple of road games early, they remain in the Big Ten title hunt. If they fall into a losing streak, the subject of conversation moves toward potential NCAA tournament selection.

More on scheduling, three point shooting and a new approach toward analyzing defense after the jump.

Even beyond the immediate stretch, Michigan’s schedule is going to be difficult from here on out. Here’s a look at some key facts about Michigan’s final 12 games:

  • Eight of Michigan’s final 12 games are on the road.
  • Eleven of Michigan’s final 12 games are versus RPI top 100 opponents.
  • Nine of Michigan’s final 12 games are versus RPI top 50 opponents.
  • Ten of Michigan’s final 12 games are against Pomeroy top 100 opponents.
  • Ken Pomeroy’s algorithm project Michigan will finish 5-7 over the final stretch, finishing at 20-11 (10-8).
  • Pomeroy’s computers give Michigan a 3.5% chance of finishing undefeated at home this season with remaining games against Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State and Purdue.

Playing to the Competition

I had planned a full post on this but the numbers are slowly becoming dated. While examining Wisconsin’s over-ranking phenomenon, Dan Hanner stumbled upon some great insight surrounding the 2011-12 Wolverines. Hanner’s study focuses on the differences in teams performances against good and bad, top-100 and not, teams. Hanner’s observation on Michigan is pretty simple, the Wolverines elevate their level of play significantly against top-100 teams. The difference between Michigan’s pythag rating against teams rated outside of the top 100 (.7370) and teams in the top 100 (.9355) is significant, the second largest difference among the 10 teams that Hanner singles out for elevating their play. In Hanner’s ranking of teams solely based on their performance against top-100 teams, Michigan moves up to 14th nationally which is substantially better than Michgian’s 27th slot in KenPom’s ratings at the time. Here’s Hanner’s conclusion on the Wolverines:

Michigan doesn’t have the type of athletes that can just pummel a team from the Patriot League. But their offensive system is so difficult to defend, that elite teams usually cannot stop them from scoring.

This fits Michigan’s identity. Michigan doesn’t have the athletes, the depth or talent to run many teams out of the gym. What the Wolverines do have is the discpline, experience and system to compete in just about any game they play. These numbers were published before the Iowa game but the point still seems to hold. Would anyone question the fact that Michigan looked better against top-100 Michigan State than sub-100 Iowa?

More on Three Point Shooting

Today is all about the threes. I wrote a piece earlier regarding Michigan’s three point issues John Gasaway published two pieces today as well.

The first, at ESPN Insisder, focuses on Michigan’s dependency on the three point shot. Gasaway notes that Michigan hasn’t made threes but could be lethally efficient if they start falling:

With the Wolverines we encounter our first example of a team about which one can truly say, “If they ever start hitting all these 3s, look out.”

He goes on to note the Wolverines success inside the arc and Trey Burke’s great performance as a freshman point guard but the fact that Michigan’s offense has been relatively productive despite missing so many threes is impressive. Michigan’s in-conference offense ranks fifth, and is above the league average, even though it has struggled with the skill that it’s designed around. If Hardaway starts heating up from three point range (he’s accounted for 30% of Michigan’s three point misses in Big Ten games), this offense could go from above-average to exceptional overnight.

Over at Basketball Prospectus, Gasaway puts together a graph of the prevalence of the three point shot since its inception:

Examining Defense with Defensive Box Scores

The defensive box score movement picked up some traction when Andy Glockner wrote an article in Sports Illustrated during the off season. The concept is to chart defensive possessions throughout a game and come away with an improved way to analyze defensive performances on a game-to-game basis. It’s something that we’d love to do for every game here but don’t have the time and resources. However, Deuce 2 Sports has been putting together defensive box scores for Michigan State games which means we have a pocket of data to analyze from Tuesday’s game.


There are a lot of fuzzy numbers which might not mean much so be sure to read some of the definitions at this page. We’re going to focus on some of the basics: stop%, scoring possessions allowed (ScPos) and defensive rating (DRtg).  Stop percentage is the number of possessions where an individual player receives credit for a scoreless possession, scoring possessions are simply the number of scoring possessions allowed by a player while the defensive rating is an overall calculated value based on averaging stops and scoring possessions.

I tend to trust these numbers because the numbers back-up a lot of what I saw when I re-watched the Michigan State game. Adreian Payne and Travis Trice were brutal defensively for Tom Izzo and they rate out as the worst defensive players on the floor (ignoring McLimans’ two minutes). So what does this mean for Michigan? Some quick observations which will hopefully lead to some discussion:

  • Zack Novak rates out as Michigan’s least effective defensive player despite Draymond Green’s relatively average day. These numbers say that 6 of Michigan State’s 24 made field goals (25%) were directly attributed to Novak.  As Mackinder points out in his analysis, “I would argue that, 90 percent of the time, all Novak does is play help-side defense”, Novak was almost always floating in and around the paint trying to disrupt. Several of Michigan State’s threes were directly attributed to him as he collapsed around the lane. Much of this appears due to game plan but it would be interesting to see how these numbers averaged out in other games.
  • Evan Smotrycz had a couple of great individual plays – ripping the ball from Nix twice – in a short amount of time which leads to his team best defensive rating.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr.’s defense has been much maligned of late, and he had two terrible fast break defensive possessions in the first half, but he made some defensive plays in this game. He forced a team best six missed shots and drew two charges en route to 6.3 stops attributed to his name.
  • Jordan Morgan played a great defensive game from hedging the pick-and-roll to denying the post and the numbers back him up as one of Michigan’s best. He caused three turnovers which goes a long way toward proving just how disruptive he was in the middle of Michigan’s defense.

What are your thoughts on the numbers? Is there anything that stands out as particularly surprising?

  • maxwell’s demon

    Regarding Kenpom stuff:

    Well it’s not like Wisconsin has incredible athletes, but they can pummel bad teams. I think in their case though, they play phenomenal team defense and limit possessions, so any team without top athletes or playmakers will struggle mightily. 

    • ColinNer

      Wisconsin also presents some big match up problems for less talented teams. They always have about 3 PF types who can stretch the floor offensively with their shooting range (think keaton nankivil) and, as you mentioned, are great defenders.

  • MGoTweeter

    re defensive box scores: as deuce2sports points out in the notes to the data collection process, this is a subjective exercise.  Who gets credit for a particular good play and who gets blamed for a basket are usually things that most observers cannot cannot accurately point out without knowing the coaching.  

    I don’t think you can learn very much from looking at these numbers.  He blames Novak for some plays; pointing out that he mainly floats around in the middle.  Maybe the coaches are instructing him to do so and therefore he is going to struggle to effectively close out on a shooter.  Michigan changes how they switch screens all the time, they change how they double the post all the time, they change how they play the 1-3-1 depending on the team and situation, they change their help side defense and they change the amount of ball pressure or pass denials they use.  Without knowing exactly what Michigan was trying to do on a particular possession, it is nearly impossible to assign blame/credit for a play.  

    You can always get somewhat of a feel for what Michigan is trying to do on defense after watching them play a lot of games, but there are so many changes from game to game and during games, that I have a hard time believing anyone could accurately point out what is going on.  Especially considering basketball possessions can be very quick at times and the defense may never get totally set on a particular possession.  

    Certainly you can look at a steal or a block and say, good play.  But maybe that player only got the steal because two other guys did their job before that and forced the ball into a bad spot or forced a bad pass.  Also sometimes guys just luck into steals even though they were out of position or mad a bad play by going for the steal in the first place.  Maybe a player gets credited for challenging a bunch of tough shots, but he completely ignores playing help side defense even though the coaches have instructed him to do so.  

    Overall team numbers are fine to look at, but breaking down individuals like this is a fool’s task.  This is a lot like plus/minus numbers for basketball players, which completely ignores who they were on the court with and who was on the court for the other team.  

    • Agree that it’s subjective and we obviously don’t know every bit of the Michigan game plan but I still think there’s some insight to be gleaned. 

      • rlcBlue

        One of them being that Beilein knew what he was talking about when he said Smotrycz was worn down and might be able to play with more energy coming off the bench. Hopefully he can bring that effort for longer stretches as the off-days return to the schedule.

  • rlcBlue

    I’d say that one reason Hardaway’s defense is maligned around here is because Dan Dakich seems to enjoy ripping Timmy. Maybe this is due to his training at the Bobby Knight School of Double Standards, but Dakich seems to have a five minute tirade ready to go every time he sees Hardaway do something he disapproves of. I guess that just comes from being the top scorer on the team…

    The examples I’m thinking of are (against MSU) when Timmy declined to try to take a charge (ignoring the fact that a block call would have landed him on the bench for the rest of the half), and (against IU) when he found himself left alone to cover both Watford and Jones and allowed Jones to get past him for a mid-range jumper. Those plays won’t make the defensive highlight reel, but neither one called for the long repeated questioning of Hardaway’s character and ability that followed.

    One of the difficulties with the Defensive Box Scores is that they record events (shots, turnovers, rebounds) and often good defense results in non-events. If the opponent’s top scorer comes in averaging 18 points a game on 10 shots and your ace defender holds him to 4 points on 2 shots with no assists or turnovers, the Defensive Box Score will say the defender had a bad game, but the coach will give him the game ball.

    • I think your final point hits the nail on the head. So much of defense is observed through non-events, especially against good teams. Three other guys could have prevented good looks at the hoop which forced a bad shot by player X, for example. Good discussion.

  • eddieben

    Any word on Horford coming out of practice today? Very anxious to see how this situation plays out the next few days…

  • Wayman Britt

    I am not a big stats guy and I don’t really understand all those defensive stats, but for Duece 2 to say Novak is not a very good defender is something I disagree with.
    I think Dylan may have said this before, but I don’t think their is a Big Ten coach who would not want Novak to play for them, including defensively.

  • gpsimms

    what up sole possession of first place

  • Joel_C

    That picture looks like Zack just birthed a basketball.