Five takeways from the Puerto Rico Tip-Off


Charlotte 63, Michigan 61 - 11Michigan’s run in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off may have ended in frustrating loss — a last-second tip-in by Charlotte for the championship — but it provided the young Wolverines with an opportunity to learn about themselves. And if we know one thing about John Beilein, it’s that the coaching staff will encourage the players to “embrace” the loss in the championship game and “grow” from it. Here are five lessons we learned from Michigan’s play in Puerto Rico. (Photo Sanjiv Gupta)

1) As Nik Stauskas goes, so goes the team…for now

This first point is unfortunate because Stauskas appeared to twist his ankle badly during Michigan’s final game of the tournament. The injury severely limited his productivity in the second half of the championship game, but more pressing is how it will affect his productivity going forward. Luckily, Michigan is off until Friday, when the Wolverines play Coppin State at the Crisler Center. This should give the sophomore some time to heal up, but it’s impossible to know if there will be lingering effects.

Michigan fervently hopes that there aren’t, because Stauskas was the straw that stirred the drink for the Wolverines throughout the Tip-Off. He won tournament MVP honors, averaging just over 23 points, four rebounds and two steals per game. And right now, he’s the only Wolverine who has shown the ability to create with consistency. When Stauskas got hurt in the second half against Charlotte, Michigan’s offense struggled mightily until Caris LeVert took the reins late. As this team improves and players find their roles in the offense, the team won’t have to rely on Stauskas so much — but that day isn’t here yet.

2) The defense needs work, but the offense has some issues as well

Let me explain. Dylan illuminated an interesting statistic in his recap of Michigan’s loss at Iowa State earlier this season: over the past two seasons, Michigan is 45-3 when holding opposing teams below 1.05 points per possession. Last year, the offense was good enough to compensate for those decent-but-not-great defensive performances. This year, the offense just isn’t there right now. The Wolverines are actually ranked 33rd nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency and 28th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

How did Michigan’s defense fare statistically in Puerto Rico? Not bad: 0.91PPP vs. Long Beach State, 1.12 vs. Florida State and 0.89 vs. Charlotte. Florida State was the only game in which Michigan’s defense was glaringly poor, and the Wolverines managed to switch from their man-to-man to the 1-3-1 just in time to win.

Michigan’s defensive showing against Charlotte should have been enough for it to win the game, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t noticeable holes over the weekend. Specifically, Michigan’s perimeter defense got worked, with both Florida State and Charlotte finding open lanes to the basket consistently. Particularly troubling was Michigan’s late-game defense against Charlotte: from 5:16 to 0:37, Charlotte scored on every possession but one.

3) Mitch McGary should probably play the five

This one should be easy to figure out. Against Florida State, McGary played 33 minutes almost exclusively at the five; he wound up scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Against Charlotte, the big man spent much of his 30 minutes at the four and wasn’t nearly as effective, scoring just six points, and while he had nine rebounds, only one was offensive. His comfort level with the offense was night and day in those two games, and a big part of that was where he was on the court. There isn’t much difference between the one and two or the three and four, but the five is much different than the four in John Beilein’s offense, and it looks as though that’s where McGary needs to be.

To be fair: Beilein was between a rock and a hard place once Glenn Robinson III went down against Charlotte in the first half. He either went with the two big lineup, inserting either Jordan Morgan or Jon Horford at the five while McGary ran the four, or he played Zak Irvin at the four. But Irvin is so unfamiliar with the position that Horford and Morgan ended up playing a combined 27 minutes. The two-big lineup is good for rebounding, but it hurts the lineup for two reasons: the lack of explosiveness offensively from both Horford and Morgan, as well as the discomfort for McGary, unable to get those putbacks that are so essential to his production.

4) Caris LeVert is the team’s best creator, but he needs to be more consistent

By “creator,” I mean for others. Stauskas is the best option when creating his own shot, but LeVert has shown a knack for getting in the lane using the pick-and-roll and either finding shooters or hitting the roll man. Unfortunately, while LeVert has performed very solidly against smaller schools, against Michigan’s two major-conference opponents — Iowa State and Florida State — LeVert has been pretty less productive. Over the weekend, LeVert averaged 15.5 points against Charlotte and Long Beach State — but scored only five points against Florida State. To be fair to LeVert, he did pull down eight rebounds and dish out five assists in that game, but his scoring was still down.

That being said, if LeVert can be consistent, it will open up all sorts of opportunities for Michigan’s bigs, especially its two more offensively-challenged centers. LeVert is quick off the bounce and he knows how to use screens, often shielding his defender from the play with his body and getting the ball to the roll man at the exact right spot where he can finish easily — skills similar to one departed Player of the Year point guard I can think of. The season to this point has been centered around players figuring out their roles, and it seems as though this is Caris’s.

5) Michigan’s rebounding is actually pretty good

I’ve been seeing people on Twitter maligning Michigan’s rebounding, but the truth is it was pretty good overall in Puerto Rico. Here are the rebounding numbers for each game:

  • vs. Long Beach State: 22.3 OR%, 82.8 DR%
  • vs. Florida State: 35.7 OR%, 77.4 DR%
  • vs. Charlotte: 31.1 OR%, 61.9 DR%

All told, Michigan balanced one surprisingly dominant rebounding game (Florida State) with one pretty bad half (2nd half against Charlotte). Considering that the Seminoles are one of the tallest teams in the country and Michigan pretty much had its way with them on the boards, that performance was especially telling. Against Charlotte, Michigan had a dominant first half on the glass, but followed that up with one of the worst rebounding performances I’ve seen from a Michigan team in the latter frame. A true assessment of Michigan’s rebounding ability probably lies somewhere in between those two poles, and I’d bet it drifts toward the former.

  • jlustig22

    Good stuff Joe. Glad you dispelled some myths about this team to this point too. I have never understood the clamor for Beilein to play 2 bigs. McGary is definitely better suited to the 5 in this offense. He needs to be near the basket for offensive rebounding and available for dump offs after someone drives the lane. McGary standing out on the perimeter does very little as he hasn’t shown to be a threat from outside and can’t be used as a ball screener.

    Frankly, Morgan and Horford haven’t proven to be anything more than average players. They are ok in limited minutes but they are poor offensively and the team is clearly better with a LeVert out there than one of them.

    I think it will take time for the offense to gel. They were so reliant on ball screens last year but right now only Stauskas and LeVert are capable of using them. We’ll see if Walton or Robinson can get comfortable enough to utilize ball screens and make plays. I think once McGary gets back to 100%, they need to involve him more. He can create offense for himself and others.

    • Adam St Patrick

      Agreed about McGary — great stuff in this post about him at the 5 or 4, and it was frustrating to see him out on the wing like that, clearly neutralized.

      I don’t think though that the important distinction is between playing with two bigs or one. I think we need to find a 4-sized 4 that can do the things Beilein needs done in this offense, and that includes shooting. I always think of Christian Watford here, at 6-9/230 and with a nice 3 ball. GR3 is a not a 4-sized 4, and that’s why they were hoping to have him at 3 this year. We don’t have a proper 4 for Beilein’s offense right now. Donnal projects there quite nicely but it seems he’s not ready. It probably doesn’t make sense to have McGary there, or Horford or Morgan. Maybe because of the personnel it might make sense to tweak the offense to fit the available talent. Otherwise, we’re dependent on GR3 going up against bigger players most of the time without a reliable backup.

    • Voltron_Blue

      The “clamor,” I believe, is that the 4 is Mitch’s NBA position and so he wants work there, and Beilein is willing to accommodate. I’m guessing we won’t see much two-big lineups when it really matters unless matchups dictate.

      • Adam St Patrick

        GR3 is an NBA 3. Do you think Beilein decided to emphasize McGary’s pro prospects at the cost of Glen’s?

        • Voltron_Blue

          No, they go hand in hand, sliding them to 3 and 4 rather than 4 and 5, where they played last year.

          • Adam St Patrick

            I guess I just don’t see that as an explanation given that GR3 doesn’t get what he wants in that way. Beilein isn’t going to have players in positions they want at a detriment to the team. Furthermore Mitch is 260 pounds and doesn’t really have much of a history of success outside the painted area save for his occasional leading of the fast break. When he hits the NBA he’ll already be one of its biggest, thickest bodies available for paint play. He’ll be matching up with the other team’s biggest player. So I suspect that Mitch is a C in the NBA.

            My guess is that the clamor, so to speak, is based on watching a smallish GR3 do his best but ultimately struggle to defend the position and to keep his man off the boards last year. Beilein seemed to see that too given what he said in the offseason. Ideally Michigan will have a four-sized four in the future, but for now the choice is a 3 playing out of position or a rather non-dynamic big man.

          • Voltron_Blue

            …and so he’s going to give those guys some time at those positions. I don’t think we’re in stark disagreement here, other than I think Beilein is willing to give those guys a bit of what they want within the confines of the team. If McGary wanted to play PG, then clearly that is not going to happen (fancy coast to coast dribbling notwithstanding).

          • jkuofm27

            Do you mean the tripping, falling down, ball slowly rolling to the corner pass? j/k

  • Ben Sheler

    The rebounds that weigh heavy in giving the appearance of bad rebounding are the ones where guys crash down without anyone trying to box them out. That’s what was happening too much and what Dakich was constantly talking about. Like the last basket where Stauskas was watching the ball and the guy just kind of jumped over him and put it back. The guards and wings need to find bodies and clear space whenever the ball goes up. It’s actually encouraging that they rebounded as well as they did despite their lack of boxing out at times.

  • Adam St Patrick

    “5:16 to 0:37, Charlotte scored on every possession but one.”

    Yikes. I knew it was awful down the stretch but I didn’t realize it was that bad. I think that yes the comically bad luck with jumpers in the first half was perhaps the difference in the game, but that’s gonna happen and you have to be prepared to win anyways. If you can’t guard anybody down the stretch then IMO it’s hard to say the defense played should have been enough. The last five minutes of the game are usually the most important five minutes.

  • Kam

    i hope Nik is ok… I’m also shocked they didn’t run 1-3-1 more

    • Beilein cited a few reasons for that. They ran it one time in the first half and gave up an open three. Also, Zak Irvin isn’t as comfortable playing in GR3’s spot on the wing there so they were hesitant to try it without Glenn.

      • Kam

        oh ok!

    • mikey_mac

      UM’s 1-3-1 is really only a great option against teams that aren’t disciplined or won’t take open 3’s. Perhaps if they were more focused on it as a scheme, they could utilize their length better and tighten it up, but it is very exploitable right now.

  • Champswest

    You are probably right that UM would be better with Mitch at the 5, but to be fair, they really haven’t had much time to work on it due to his back issues. He is more comfortable and productive at the 5, perhaps because that is where he played all last year. The rest of the team is used to him at the 5 also and will need time to adjust. I think it can work best when Mitch and Jon play together. I hope we continue to work on this line up because there will be time when we need it.

    • There’s definitely a comfort issue because McGary has hardly practiced. That’s obvious on defense, certainly with Mitch at the four and to a lesser extent with him at the five.

  • Kam

    Dylan, in your opinion what are the chances we see more pick and rolls with Caris and Nik(if healthy) because it seemed to work when they did it?

  • BlueBasketeer

    Hate to say it, but the one thing I’m taking away is that I’m just not sure this team is very good. We have serious concerns on both offense and defense going forward, and we’re going to finish non-conference play 7-5, maybe 8-4 if we’re lucky. Add that to a likely 10-8 conference record and we’re a bubble team for the tournament. It’s not at all clear at this point where significant improvement is going to come from for the rest of the season.

    • ChathaM

      The reality is that there are 50 to 60 teams in that exact same boat right now. Teams that don’t look very good today will end up having great seasons, while some teams that look solid today will not develop, and will get passed by any number of teams once league play begins. Given our reliance on less experienced players (thus, significant room to grow), and the faith that I have in our coaching staff, I like our chances of being good in February and March.

      • BlueBasketeer

        Well, that may be the case, but I think we could have hoped to do better than be in a scrum with 50 or 60 other teams to start the season, after coming off of a national championship game appearance, with most of our roster back, and an allegedly very good recruiting class. And I have to disagree that we’re relying on “less experienced players”. We were relying on 5 freshmen last year, and only two this year, and those two not even that heavily, and our performance is down significantly.

        We have three significant problems that unfortunately will probably not be fixing themselves any time soon:

        Robinson has clearly not come to play this year. Despite being touted as a high NBA draft pick, even last year, he’s flat and has not upped his game. If Robinson were playing with same intensity and aggressiveness as Stauskas, no one would even have been close to us so far.

        Our two most experienced players, Morgan and Horford, have been non-factors against every team worth a darn.

        Out team defense has been very poor, worse than last year, in fact. That’s one area where we needed to improve over last year if we were going to stay at anything close to a top 10 level.

    • geoffclarke

      We’re definitely not as good as we could be and there are concerns, but I think *most* teams will improve over the course of the season. We would just like to improve more and faster than the rest. It’s still early enough and we will make some improvements, and there’s potential for there to be vast improvements. Duke is in a similar situation (see MattD’s posts in the forum). We’ve got good players and coaches and there are a lot of reasons for optimism.

      • BlueBasketeer

        Not sure I see the potential for “vast” improvement. Right now, Stauskas, LeVert, Albrecht, Horford, Morgan and Beilfeldt are pretty much as good as they’re going to get this year (and only for first three is that as good as we need). McGary may do better coming off of his injury yet, but not enormously. Robinson SHOULD be much better than he is, but with a year under his belt, if he’s not there yet, I don’t see him getting there. He has no fire and no toughness. Will Walton and Irvin get vastly better as the season goes on? Not so sure. I have yet to see even a flash of a high talent level from either of them. Neither has made a single play all year that made you say “Damn, this guy’s going to be really good!”

        Other than McGary getting back into better shape, I think what we’ve seen so far is basically what we’re going to get this year.

        • guestavoe

          What? Irvin and Walton are guaranteed to get better. Levert and McGary aren’t being used correctly and thus have tons of room to get better.

        • geoffclarke

          I guess we’ll agree to disagree for now. I mean, you *could* be right and this *could* be one of those rare teams – and perhaps Beilein’s only one *ever* – that doesn’t improve over the course of the season. I agree that you usually don’t see much individual skill improvement over the course of a season – though there will probably some; but what you *do* see is players *and* coaches understanding players’ roles better, which can have a big impact. Like I said, what we want to happen is that we improve *more* than other teams.

          You could make an argument that MSU this year is like Michigan last year – basically starting out firing on all cylinders. But most teams don’t do that. I think we’ll see a better GRIII as the season wears on and games get more important – call it a hope, but it’s a hope based on information gathered from the offseason. I think you’ll definitely see better play from Irvin and Walton at the end of the year than now, much like McGary last year. Most importantly, I think at some point, and it might be gradual, the team will figure out its identity and the best way it needs to play to win.

          Michigan is currently #24 in KenPom rankings. This past spring and summer, my gut told me we’d be about the #10-12 team in the country (without much data), and I still think that’s reasonable. And my hope is that we can do better than that.

    • mikey_mac

      This is a team that was just going to be worse on offense this year compared to last. The hope is that the defense could improve enough to make up for a lot of it. We really haven’t seen that yet (the PPP by Charlotte is not a testament to a good defensive effort at all), but this is still a team with very little college playing time, individually and especially collectively. Some familiarity and confidence with one another and the defensive concepts could go a long way.

      That said, seeing our backcourt get worked over with their on-ball defense has been really disappointing so far.

      • BlueBasketeer

        Certainly we couldn’t expect our offense to be as good as last year..when we were clicking, it was almost unstoppable. But yes, it was very reasonable to expect that with five freshmen becoming five sophomores our team defense (our biggest weakness last year) would go up a notch. Unfortunately, it hasn’t, and it’s not certain at this point that it will.

    • Justin

      Come on, the worst case scenario is 8-4 in the non-conference. Where is the 5th loss? Stanford? Stanford is horrible, and the crowd will be 80% Michigan fans.

      I think the worst case would be 8-4 with a 10-8 conference mark which probably puts us in the 8-9-10 seed range.

      I think the more likely case is we go something like 21-9 and are in the 4/5 seed range with a chance to move up a line or 2 with a strong B1G tournament showing.

  • guestavoe

    Can anyone name more the 2-3 teams that look elite right now? I’m curious…

    • jkuofm27

      I agree. For the most part, the best teams best players are freshman or sophomores. This means that most teams have huge holes to fill and are going to be vastly different at the end of the season than they are now. Even MSU (which is the senior citizen) has a sophomore as their best player. But to my point, they might be the best team right now, but don’t we already know what Appling, Payne and Dawson are? Teams that are younger could potentially pass MSU as the season goes on, because of upside. They barely held off Kentucky now, when Kentucky looked completely out of sorts. In March I could see Kentucky being a double digit favorite over MSU.

      If Michigan can improve like we all hope they can we won’t have anything to worry about. We knew Burke and Hardaway were going to be hard to replace. I think the huge improvement of Stauskus and Levert has been a surprise to most everyone. McGary being hurt has caused us to start out slower than we anticipated and I think caused the lack of continuity that we saw in PR. GRIII has been less than most of us thought he would be. His “team first” and nice guy attitude has to translate to “the best thing for our team is for me to take over this game.” Walton has been about what I thought he would be and maybe a little bit better with his fearlessness, shot and ability to control tempo. Irvin has been a little bit of a disappointment with his inconsistent shot, but I like his effort and shot selection. Sometimes you can’t effect the results only your approach and he seems to have the right approach. I think the shot will come. I know he has the stroke. By the end of the year he should have more confidence attacking the basket too.

      Ultimately, if the team is going to end up with similar results to last year the lineup I think they will need on the floor is Walton, Stauskus, Irvin, GRIII, McGary. Horford is not a long term answer and I like Levert, but I still think he is a spark and situational player against top competition. I think he has the talent, he just needs to believe it. Irvin will need to be able to produce at least as much as Stauskus or GRIII did for us last year if the team is going to have the same success.

      I am not saying I’m not nervous, but this is a young team and they should have meteoric success and equal disappointments throughout the year. Only what’s done in March/April will last.

      • guestavoe

        I was with you until you said Levert is a 6th man. Can’t have your best shot creator and second best scorer off the bench.

        • guestavoe

          Unless you think Spike should be phased out of the rotation?

      • Kam

        dont understand how u can have irvin starting over caris when he has been bad against all competition.. probably you because see his 5 star rating. i cant see irvin over caris this year

  • Chris De Sana

    I think your comments on Mitch assume that Coach has no other offensive formations other than the 5 coming out of the paint to set a screen and rolling to the basket while the the 2,3 & 4 stand still around the arc. I hope coach is more creative than that and has plays that can better utilize two bigs.

    I am shocked that GR3 and his play to date was not mentioned.

  • Daoofgeek

    People, they are going to be fine. You do understand that last year’s NCAA Finals team lost to Penn State who was not good AT ALL. Add to the fact that they lost so early in the BTT, how many people had any faith of them doing much in the NCAA’s?

    I’m tired of this doom and gloom scheisse people spew out as if it makes them feel better. This team is good, if they end up clicking, they will be very good. The expectations of them being as good as last year straight out of the box is foolish and unattainable.

    Guys, just learn to watch sports and have fun; so many of the comments I read on message boards are those spreading the worst-case scenarios and for what?

    If they play to their potential there is not one game Michigan cannot win. They’ll split on the road and maybe have 1 loss in conference play at home. They will be a 4-5 seed in the tourney at worst. (*my “at worst” assumes there are no major injuries).