Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Where did it all go?

I've been trying to figure out what's wrong with Michigan hoops this year. It's been tough. Ad nauseum, I've talked about Manny, and even lately, I've gotten on Beilein who, IMO, has been mostly absent in games this year. But I decided to look a little deeper into just the numbers, and where the team might be missing whatever it had last year.

The first thing that struck me when I looked at the sheer numbers is just how similar (or better) this season is to last. The assist/TO ratio of 1.5/1 bests lasts year 1.3/1, even with the loss of sure-handed Kelvin Grady and the two senior guards. Turnovers per game were down, too, 10.7 last year to 11.5 this year. Blocks per game were up slightly and personal fouls were down slightly. The shooting percentage is even higher this year than it was last year. But that doesn't really paint an accurate picture.

Let's start with points for and against. This year, Michigan is averaging 69.6 points for and 63.6 points against. In the 2008-2009 season, the team averaged 66.8 points for and 63.2 points against. By this measure, Michigan is scoring at a slightly higher clip than they were last year and allowing less than a half-point more against opponents. These numbers, as it stands right now, might be a bit misleading, though. Michigan has only played 15 games this year, and a number of them have been of the cupcake variety. They played the same kinds of games last year too, but in last season's numbers, those cupcake games are significantly more balanced by the rest of Michigan's schedule. As such, we can probably assume that both Michigan's points for will drop and points against will rise marginally, at least theoretically. But to that end, they're still remarkably similar to last year's numbers.

Next up: shooting percentage. Much has been made this year of Michigan's struggles from beyond the three-point arc. Last year, the team shot a pedestrian 33.4% from the outside. At this point of the season, they've gotten their three-point percentage up to 29.7%, which is still a marked decline, but not necessarily one that should result in a four game difference in the win column. More interesting, however, is that Michigan's overall shooting percentage is actually up this year: 43.4% this year to 42.5% last year. A small difference, sure, but given the struggles from beyond the arc, this means that Michigan is making their two-pointers at a significantly higher clip or taking noticeably less three pointers. And through the wizardry of math, we find that Michigan made 50.8% of it's two-point shots last year, compared to 54.0% of their two-point shots this year. As we've seen above, this actually comes out to a 2.8 PPG differential in favor of the 2010 season (given that Michigan is taking more shots per game--almost four--and less 3s per game).

So again, it doesn't look like shooting is what's killing Michigan. One of the only statistical categories that Michigan 2010 is trailing Michigan 2009 is points per shot: 1.20 to 1.23 respectively. This stat, while importantly, seems to be highly variable and may not, when you get down to differences like .03, have much of an impact on wins and losses. For example, the 2006-2007, 20-11 Michigan team scored 1.26 PPS, the same .03 difference the 2010 team has from the 2009 team. But in the case of 2007 vs. 2009, the win/loss difference is only one game, as opposed to the four game difference the 2010 Michigan is currently experiencing.

The point being, by most statistical measures, 2010 Michigan is at or exceeding 2009 Michigan. And on the defensive side of the ball, the trend continues. As noted above, blocks are up this year, and so too are steals. After some digging through the NCAA web site, I even uncovered that Michigan's defensive field goal percentage is almost identical to last year: 43.6% this year compared to 43.5% last year.

So after looking through all of this, I can't really come to a conclusion. One of a few different things has happened: Michigan has a few games that stand as drastic statistical outliers and their numbers are inflated this year, they've been wholly unlucky, or they're failing to manufacture wins. The first of these, we'll have to wait and see. If Michigan's season averages dip significantly as they traverse the Big Ten schedule, we can assume that they're just not as good a team. In terms of luck, the team has only had two games that, had they gotten one or two more rolls, would have tipped their way (2 point loss to Alabama and the 4 point loss to Utah).

And at this point, I think you have to turn to the fact that Michigan hasn't manufactured any wins, and that falls squarely on the shoulders of Beilein. His in-game presence has been lacking and the team hasn't really looked prepared or able to adapt. And at some point, some of that blame needs to go to Beilein. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to run him out of town. He's a great coach. But he's going to need to start proving it.


Anonymous said...

Interesting take on the numbers. Kind of backs up what I've been thinking. I think we all kind of have a revisionist history in our minds about last year. Pretty much every break went their way last year and they snuck into the tourney as a 10 seed. Without significant talent upgrades, there's no reason to think they would be considerably better this season. Hopefully some big moments are still to come against UConn, MSU, or Purdue, but I'm not holding my breath.

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