Mailbag: Bubble picture, complicated offense, Big Ten & more

Dylan Burkhardt

The UM Hoops Mailbag is a collection of questions tweeted (@umhoops), e-mailed or sent via our Facebook page. Submit your questions and we’ll answer as many as we can. 

I definitely think so. Let’s go down the schedule and take the 6 most likely wins, per KenPom. That’s Ohio State, Michigan State, at Rutgers, at Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin — all better than a 45% chance according to KenPom’s metrics.

If Michigan wins those 6 games to finish 10-8, it would have 11 top-100 wins and probably 4 or 5 top-50 wins depending on how the numbers shake out.  Last year Michigan had 4 wins over top-50 teams and 1 additional top-100 win. Because of the decent, but unspectacular midsection of the Big Ten, there are plenty of opportunities for solid wins in the top-100. At this point, Michigan just has to go out and win them.

Even at 9-9 in conference, depending on how they got there, the Wolverines could have a pretty strong tournament resume that would probably require only a bit of solidification in Washington DC.

In a word, no. Michigan’s offense is currently leading the Big Ten at 1.16 points per possession and it is ranked 11th nationally. The offense is complicated, but it is also consistently very efficient. Michigan’s roster is light on pros and might lack a true go-to player, but it is still humming along just fine.

Is it perfect? No, but it is far from the most important concerns that the Wolverines are facing.

I could start to buy into the argument that it can be hard for freshmen to transition into Beilein’s offense (see: Darius Morris, Xavier Simpson), but I think that phenomenon has as much to do with the difficulty of playing point guard as a freshman as anything else. We’ve also seen freshmen step right in and play great from their first agme.

As far as fundamentals, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that John Beilein has spent more time in practices on basic fundamentals than most other coaches in the country.

I’ve heard a lot of people calling for Jon Teske over Mark Donnal, but I’m not sure it is the best move at this point. If it was obvious, I think it would have been made.

Donnal is shooting 68% on twos and 55% on threes in limited playing time. He’s still a solid finisher and roll man in the ball screen game and he’s hit a three in each of the last two games. Is he frustrating to watch at times? Sure. Does he have an oddly stoic facial expression most of the time? Yep. Is he a more reliable option to play 10 minutes per game off the bench? Yep.

Teske is still very raw. He has great length and knows how to backtap an offensive rebound, but he’s still learning on both ends of the floor. He’s made 1 out of 6 shot attempts this year and doesn’t give Michigan as much on the offensive end of the floor.

It’s easy to say that the next option would be better just because you are frustrated with the current one and haven’t seen the new, but I’m just not sure we’ve seen enough from Teske to prove that he’d be a better option than Donnal.

Beilein has addressed this and said that Irvin said that he could go and they thought that he would move the ball better than other options. Michigan’s roster isn’t loaded with depth to begin with and Abdur-Rahkman’s foul trouble compounded the matter.

Robinson played 30 minutes in the game (14 in the second half) and that’s the most he’s played in a 40 minute game this year. Abdur-Rahkman didn’t play quite as much, but that’s because he was battling foul trouble.

Watson has played only 76 minutes this season and clearly isn’t ready to make an impact. He’s also just 1-of-18 from three-point range.

I understand not redshirting Watson because there just isn’t much other wing depth available, but this year is going to look like a redshirt year in his development cycle.

The good news for Watson is that next year is going to be basically open season for wing minutes after Zak Irvin’s departure. Kentucky transfer Charles Matthews is obviously a key player in that equation, but Watson should have the opportunity to crack the wing rotation next year. He’ll also have the leg up with a year of experience compared to incoming freshmen like Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers and Eli Brooks.

I’m not ready to give up on Watson because he’s been unable to crack a wing rotation that features a senior and a redshirt junior, but next year will be a make or break year for where he’ll fit in.

ChampionsBeilein said that MSU has better depth than we do, which I thought was strange since they have two guys out with injuries and are playing former walk on Van Dyk. If true, is it because they recruited better players (even the walkons), have developed them better or because they have given them more game experience (even if that was out of necessity)?

Michigan State plays its bench a lot, but its bench is Alvin Ellis, Kenny Goins, Matt McQuaid, Cassius Winston and Matt Van Dyk. Tom Izzo prefers to play a lot of guys and that’s just how he operates, but if you gave John Beilein that same roster I’d almost guarantee that many of the core guys would playing significantly more minutes and the bench would see less.

Michigan’s transfer last offseason (Chatman, Doyle, Dawkins) eliminated much of that bench as the freshmen class has largely been unable to produce at this point.

Michigan State’s 2016 class was clearly better than Michigan’s. The Wolverine freshmen made no impact on Sunday as Michigan State’s won the game. But I’m not really sure I’d chalk up the loss to ‘depth’ as some have. For Michigan, it’s all about its core group playing well — outside of Walton they didn’t.

manny.michigan1In your opinion, how have the new assistant coaches done in their first year?

Evaluating the performance of assistant coaches is always tough. At the end of the day, the bulk of the credit or blame for just about anything that happens in a program going to fall on the head coach and the players.

It’s also usually easier to give assistant coaches credit when you know that they were specifically involved in something, but it’s not like the media sits in on practice every day to see the minutiae of what is going on.

Through 22 games this year, Michigan’s defense has been worse than last year. Is that something that you can blame on Billy Donlon? No, that wouldn’t be fair to him because he’s not making every call. Certain elements of Michigan’s defense have changed, but he’s not a miracle worker.

Saddi Washington was brought in to work with Michigan’s big men and DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner have both flourished, he probably deserves some credit there. How much? That’s up for debate as well.

Both new hires have also already made an impact on the recruiting trail, one of their most important tasks.

So right now, I’d say they are doing their jobs and making positive impacts, but am just not sure it’s possible for assistant coaches to make some sort of seismic shift in a few months.

JBlair52: BIG 10 POY & COY if the season were over mid-way?

I feel like everyone expects Chris Collins to win the Coach of the Year award if he gets Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament, but I’d go with Mark Turgeon right now. Turgeon has taken the third-youngest team in the league to a 20-2 (8-1) start and he’s already won 5 conference road games.

Player of the Year comes down to Ethan Happ or Caleb Swanigan and I can see an argument either way. I’d probably go with Swanigan right now because he’s a bit more versatile and his rebounding numbers are incredible. But if Wisconsin wins the league, it might be hard to reject Happ for the title.

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  • gobluemd16

    As a follow-up to the first question about 9/10 conference wins being enough to get us into the NCAA Tournament, what do you put our odds of actually reaching that threshold?

    • AC1997

      As usual, I think you have to be careful on the bubble. Getting to 9/10 wins is doable if they play well, but I’m worried because they’ve lost so many close games already (USC, VT, Iowa, WI, MSU, etc.). I’d like to see Michigan close out a couple of tough close games.

      The other thing that has to be part of those wins is a quality road win. The 0-for-6 right now is going to be an easy excuse for the selection committee.

      • Again, to get to 9-9, you probably need 2 road games and I think that would be more than enough.

        • AA7596

          Just curious: What’s that belief based on?

          A 9-9 Mich would have several more top-100 wins than last season, I get that, but remember that last year’s team also had 4 road wins, which is likely to be 2 or 3 more than this team will. It’s not like this year’s resume is better in every respect than last year’s.

          Incidentally, South Carolina had 8 top-100 wins last year—3 more than Mich—and got left out. Top-100 wins aren’t everything, and when you look at the rest of our resume, there isn’t much there.

          It’s pretty clear Mich has a fine line to walk. If 9-9 is such a sure thing, then 8-10 should give us a decent shot as well—yet we all know that very few sub-.500 teams have gotten at-larges.

          • My point was that if Michigan got to 9-9 with one road win then it would have two top25 wins (Purdue and Wisconsin at home).

            If it wins 3 more home games it would have to pick up at least a top-100 road win (neb) otherwise a top-50 road win. Plus the win at Rutgers plus 1 top25 win.

            I think that would probably be a solid resume but obviously a lot to play out.

          • If my math is right… 9-9 would also be 10 top 100 wins and no terrible losses

      • bobohle

        I think a win @ Northwestern would seal it with a 6-3 mark the rest of the way with home wins against Wisc and Purdue.

    • ChathaM

      I could see going anywhere from 5-4 to 3-6 over the final 9 games. The talent level is definitely high enough to go 5-4 (maybe even 6-3 if you squint), but the bottom line is that you just can’t predict what this team will do on a given day. With this little depth, we can’t afford bad nights from more than one guy in order to beat Purdue or Wisconsin at home, or to beat anybody on the road. It’s easy to get trapped into thinking that at Rutgers is a layup, for example, but it simply isn’t. I’d say that our chances of getting to 9 conference wins is a bit under 50%; call it 40%. Realistically, it’s us and maybe 30 other teams just like us battling for 15 or so at large spots. I agree that if we get to 9 wins, it’ll be enough. Those Marquette and SMU neutral court wins look very good, even though they feel like they happened last season.

      I find myself watching other games and hoping team X wins because that would help out our tourney resume a bit. That seems to be the case too often. I hate thinking like that, and wish our program were at a level where we’re more concerned about eventual seeding than about getting into the tourney at all. But, I guess there really aren’t many programs that are consistently at that level.

  • MAZS

    I remember when many were sure that Horford should play instead of Morgan because, despite shooting 60% from the field, he sometimes mishandled passes and blew bunnies. That is until Horford actually played. Now we all miss what Morgan brought. Not saying it’s a perfect analogy to Donnal-Teske, but the coaches are the only ones who get to watch them in practice every day.

    • Madrox

      I never understood the Morgan hate, especially when clamoring for Horford over him. But as the person who asked the question (thanks for answering Dylan), I just feel like every time Donnal comes into the game the opposing team goes right after him on offense and seem to score with ease. Despite Teske being raw and unfamiliar with system I just feel like he brings a much better defensive presence.

      Perhaps I am being unfair to Donnal in the same way people were unfair to Morgan in discounting his offensive game, but I just don’t see what Donnal can or does offensively to make up for his obvious defensive deficiencies.

      All that being said, I trust Beilein knows far, far more about this team then I do, sometimes I just feel like he is to slow to pull a veteran in favor of a young guy. Oh well, I really don’t think Donnal v. Teske is what is going to prevent this team from making the tourney, I would just like to see more from the freshman.

      • MAZS

        My intent was not to necessarily disagree with your assessment, but rather to simply point out one possible analogy. And Donnal is certainly no Morgan. Donnal knows the system and playbook, can execute the high pnr and can pop a 3. He should be an asset. Unfortunately, that is too often not the case. And while it shouldn’t really matter, Donnal’s lack of demeanor sadly projects indifference.

  • Wayman Britt

    I think Ibi Watson’s development, talent level is a concern. The Big Ten is riddled with freshman who are contributing. At this point he cannot even get into the game. Even though he has seniors ahead of him, if he had talent Beilein would play him. Starters need rest.

    In other UM freshman you could see some talent (Dawkins, Wagner, Wilson even Walton and Irvin when they were freshman). We have not seen any innate talent in Ibi. I hope I am completely wrong, but if he stays at UM might be hard for him to become a major contributor/starter.

    • Dawkins didn’t play really until Michigan’s season had gotten off to a terrible start and then he hit all those threes. Wilson didn’t really play until this year.

      A lot of the teams in the Big Ten that are relying on freshmen are playing like it (ups and downs). Let’s just see what Ibi can do in the offense after a year of experience.

      • section13row15

        Dylan, are you ever concerned that Beilein might be taking on too many projects in his recent recruiting classes? Wilson took three years to look like a real basketball player, guys like Watson, Teske, and Davis seem raw. Duncan Robinson can shoot but is a swinging gate on defense (I realize he’s a transfer but again overvaluing shooting over strength and toughness, i.e, defense). At what point does Beilein start to look at some defensive studs with big ten ready bodies but no jump shot? I’m looking ahead to next year and although Simpson is getting baptism by fire, I dont see how he’s going to lead us any further than where this season is headed.

  • David Miller

    Donnal averages 3 PPG and 2 RPG in Big 10 play. Limited minutes of course, but gives up way more on the other end because he couldn’t guard a chair if his life depended on it. He can’t rebound because everyone just jumps over him. That and his effort on block outs is pretty abysmal. I swear to god he couldn’t jump over two nickels stacked on each other. Teske could at least be an improvement on the defensive end.

    Donnal wouldn’t even get 10 MPG if he played for Ball State.