Monday, October 14, 2013


Prior to the start of this season, I was 50-50 to shut down this blog. Through the design of its content, BWS had reached the point of diminishing returns: was I really going to spend another season—another 5 seasons?—rewatching game film, taking screenshots, and chopping up video, hoping every day that I wouldn't meet the same legal doom that befell MGoVideo and MGoBlog? The one thing I knew I didn't want to do was start the season and quit after a week or two.  But anyone who visits this blog even semi-regularly can tell it's not coming back.

It is with a heavy heart that I am officially shuttering Burgeoning Wolverine Star.

I started reading MGoBlog in 2004 as a freshman at U of M. Before my freshman year, I was considering not buying football tickets: I never had any emotional connection to either Michigan or football, and spending $300 seemed like an expense I couldn't incur. My parents insisted, however, and I fell in love with the team. Prior to every game that season, I'd post one line on Facebook and AIM and whatever other social networks existed at the time: “Chad Henne, lead us to victory”, because that's what was most important every Saturday afternoon. Five years of reading MGoBlog, MVictors, Smart Football, and every other piece of Michigan-related content on the internet that I could, I knew enough about the sport to start the pretender's guide to Michigan football blogs.

But BWS didn't even start as a Michigan blog. It began as a college football blog, evidenced by the first 15 posts which range from “Debunking Alabama” (Lolz) to schemes about how to guard Georgia Tech's flexbone offense. When my passion and writing trended toward specifically Michigan, however, the site became exclusively M-focused. Then MGoBlog did this...

…and I felt a sense of pride I had rarely experienced. I had built something.

The last time I underwent a significant change in writing tendencies, it concerned music criticism. I had begun writing single reviews for Pitchfork, a lifelong goal, when my longtime girlfriend and I broke up (this blog took an extended hiatus then as well). This shutdown takes place under nearly identical circumstances, but that's not the driving force behind its collapse, despite it being the impetus for my recent lack of writing; I don't really enjoy watching this Michigan team knowing that I'll have to write about it in the future.

I am MGoEeyore, a designation bestowed to me by MGoBlog and just about everyone else in the blogging community. Because of the content on the blog, I spend all game looking for what's going wrong. If everything is going as planned, there's not much to write about, though Greg Mattison's blitzing schemes argue against that concept. The things that are currently going wrong with Michigan are both beyond my pay grade and outside of my interest. Specifically, the footwork of offensive linemen isn't something I'm qualified to write about, nor does it draw my interest the same way as gaming a defensive scheme into QB Oh Noes does.

With every passing season, there are more Michigan blogs as qualified or more than this one to produce the same content. Upward mobility in this blogging community is nearly impossible. MGoBlog is the Facebook of college football blogs: create a start up, get Brian's attention, and hope he snaps you up so you can do something more salient. But I enjoyed being the thorn in people's side and still feel that same tinge of pride when Brian namedrops me on podcasts talking about Courtney Avery's zone coverage responsibilities. I'll miss those moments, the back-and-forth with readers, and really feeling like part of the Michigan blogging family. But I also can't wait to watch Michigan games and just root for our starting quarterback to lead us to victory again.

Thanks are necessary. To Brian Cook: your support, links, and brilliance are what made Burgeoning Wolverine Star what it is today. You are a continuing source of inspiration and someone I strive to emulate. To my brother Andrew: for being the smartest person I know and calling me on my bullshit. You've made this blog far better than it would have been without your honesty and analysis. To Andrew McIntyre: for being my GChat sounding board and producing the play schematics that have come to define this blog over the last year. To Forest Casey: for the beautiful banners that made this blog look like something professional. To Ace, Chris Brown, Heiko, and the rest of the blogging intelligentsia: for producing excellent content on a daily basis and forcing me to be my best. To the readers: for your interest in and love for the program, for questioning my reasoning and helping me to produce the best content I could.

I am not disappearing completely. I recently began a Detroit Pistons blog (Isiah Was a Prophet), born of my growing passion for NBA hoops. And I'll forever be on Twitter, making snarky comments about Michigan et al. I hold out hope that Burgeoning Wolverine Star will reappear in the future in some form or another. Until then, thank you and Go Blue!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Status check

Melanie Maxwell |

So year two of graduate school is dramatically more taxing than year one. I had a few posts from the Notre Dame game that I intended on posting this week, but following Saturday's debacle and some complications in my personal life, the status of this here blog is in question. Don't expect much content around these parts this week; rewatching the Akron game strikes me as gratuitous masochism (my apologies to Brian at MGoBlog for being expected to write UFRs on this game).

In the coming weeks, I'd like to get my schedule a little more hammered out and begin writing here again. Updates are forthcoming.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Preview: Notre Dame 2013

#14 Notre Dame vs. #17 Michigan
Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Kickoff 8:00 pm EST
Forecast: Low-70s, 30% chance of rain 

Last Week
Temple 6 - #14 Notre Dame 28. Notre Dame welcomed the Temple Wet Owls to South Bend last week and won in marginally convincing fashion. Temple left 7 points on the field, missing two field goals and having an extra point blocked. Meanwhile, the Irish put up 14 points in the first five minutes of the game, and were only able to punch it in twice for the rest of the game. Worse still, those first two touchdown drives relied on huge plays (45, 32, 51, 32), of which the team only managed one more (a 66-yard pass for the team's third touchdown). Notre Dame's inability to put together sustained drives could have been anticipated after the loss of starting QB Everett Golson, but against a team like Temple, the offense should still be able to move the ball.

The vaunted Irish defensive line failed to impress as they were expected to; the Owls managed 4.5 YPC on 29 rushes. ND did keep junior QB Connor Reilly to a 50% completion rate and only 5.0 YPA. Then again, this marked Reilly's first game action, so a rough outing was expected.

Offense vs. Notre Dame
John T. Greilick | Detroit News
No matchup will be more important than how Michigan's offensive line manages Notre Dame's defensive front. The names to know are Louis Nix III (aka Irish Chocolate, apparently) and Stephon Tuitt. Nix anchors the defense, acting as a black hole in the middle of the defensive line. At 350+ pounds, Nix presents problems for the inexperienced interior of the offensive line. MGoBlog postures that Michigan introduced the zone stretch into the offense in order to attack Notre Dame's defensive ends rather than trying to push Nix off the line.

Flanking Nix at defensive end will be Tuitt, a havoc-sower for all teams that don't feature Taylor Lewan. Tuitt finished 2012 with a team-leading 12 sacks, and still stands at over 300 pounds, making him difficult to attack in the run game (unlike, say, Frank Clark). Michigan remains uniquely prepared to handle Tuitt with two senior offensive tackles, including the best left tackle in the country. The third lineman in Bob Diaco's 3-4 defense is sophomore Sheldon Day, a nondescript defensive end who should be a non-factor in this game.

Notre Dame's only other defender of note is senior outside linebacker Prince Shembo, who finished the 2012 season with 7.5 sacks, 21 solo tackles, and 27 assists. Shembo is pitch perfect for Diaco's aggressive, blitzing defense, and will challenge Michigan's running backs to block him on blitzes (of which, Fitz Toussaint did poorly in week one).

Concerns about moving the ball against Notre Dame have been tempered following a subpar performance against Temple. But as we've become all too aware, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio can look awful all season and still drag Michigan through the mud. Non-Gardner runs will be touch and go throughout the game. Nix and Tuitt are going to beat Michigan's offensive line a few times. Dispersing those negative plays across multiple drives and recovering quickly from them will be important if Michigan will produce multiple, sustained drives.

Because Notre Dame's defense relies heavily on blitzes, Gardner's scrambling could pay dividends. His ability to get out of the pocket may slow the Irish front seven, allowing Michigan to run from their base offense more easily.

In the secondary, Notre Dame is unexceptional. If nothing else, the Irish defensive backs have experience, boasting two seniors, a junior, and a sophomore. Most of the turnovers that the secondary produces are a function of Notre Dame's front seven getting pressure. Once again, blitz pickups from Michigan's backs will allow Garnder the space and time to find receivers downfield. As we've already seen this year, getting traffic in Gardner's face can end in turnovers.

The man behind the curtain, as always, is Al Borges. Michigan's offense against Central Michigan was vanilla. During fall camp, we saw plenty of footage of Michigan running the inverted veer and other spread concepts which were largely absent in the opener. I fully expect Michigan's offense to have a little more pizzaz against Notre Dame. What that entails, I'm not sure, but a few more zone reads are likely, as are play action off of those.

Defense vs. Notre Dame

Good news everyone! Tommy Rees is back. In spite of his perpetual derpitude, Rees set his career record for passing yardage against Temple and has been serviceable+ against Michigan in his career. But on the quarterback fear index, Rees ranks just above a half-slurped Go-Gurt. With Everett Golson getting booted from the team, this season was always going to be a reclamation project on offense. But it might be worse than originally thought, in spite of a solid performance against Temple. Rees' long passes last week came on a wide-open post route with no safety help, a bubble screen, a wide-open corner route with no safety help, and a wide-open seam route to a rumbling tight end. He has not developed into junior Chad Henne. This is just Tommy Rees.

Golson wasn't the only loss from last year's offense. Cierre Wood graduated and junior Theo Riddick entered the draft early, stripping Notre Dame of their top two rushers from a season ago. In week one, Notre Dame's running backs were not great. Nominal starter, junior George Atkinson, squeaked out only 34 yards on 8 carries--one of which was a 14-yarder. Junior Amir Carlisle had the highest YPC (68 yards on 8 carries; 9.7 YPC) but that number is bolstered by his 45-yarder that was handed to him after Temple's linebackers blitzed with no regard for running lanes.

On the outsides, Notre Dame's wide receivers do not intimidate. Gone are the Michael Floyds and Golden Tates of recent years. TJ Jones returns for his senior year after averaging 13 yards per catch last year. Against Temple, Jones had six receptions for 138 yards. He is your prototypical slot receiver and will be the recipient of many screen passes. He has good speed and will need to be tackled in the open field often; how Courtney Avery and Thomas Gordon handle Jones could go a long way to determining how this game goes. But other than Jones, the Irish receivers do not intimidate.

Michigan's ability to get pressure on passing downs with only four men against Central showed promise for this matchup. Notre Dame is going to spread the field on almost all downs, so to avoid big plays, Michigan will need safety valves for when man coverage invariable goes wrong. If Michigan's front four can generate a pass rush, that will help alleviate a lot of the stress on Michigan's safeties.

How does Michigan win? Notre Dame's defense didn't overwhelm Temple, which bodes well for Michigan's chances. Michigan's offensive line looks improved from week one and the team averages 5.5 YPC. Notre Dame's blitzes are occasionally effective, but more often than not, Gardner is able to scramble out of danger and either pass or throw for significant yardage. Defensively, Michigan's front four completely dominates the Notre Dame offensive line and the Irish can never get their running game started. One or two big passing plays from Tommy Rees are all that keep Notre Dame alive, but Michigan dominates the game throughout.

How does Notre Dame win? Nix and Tuitt look more like they did last year than in week one. Michigan's young offensive line struggles to block Notre Dame's pressure and the team averages only 3.8 YPC. The Irish blitzes also disrupt Garder who makes bad decisions and bad throws, tossing multiple interceptions. When Notre Dame has the ball, Michigan's young secondary struggles to contain Brian Kelly's spread attack and Tommy Rees avoids mistakes while throwing three touchdowns. Michigan's front four can't generate a pass rush and has to dedicate linebackers and safeties to the pass rush, opening things up on the back end.

Arbitrary chances that Michigan wins? 78.492%

Final Prediction. Week one matchups are only a single data point, but they can be illuminating. For example, we know that Michigan State's offense is going to be unwatchable this season. Michigan and Notre Dame's respective games leave very little doubt about which team is better right now. Notre Dame's offense struggled against a lowly Temple squad in ways that didn't look to be week one jitters. With an offense that appears to be boom or bust, the Irish are going to struggle to score against a Michigan team that has been stout against the big play for two years now. Rees will complete a 3rd and 18-ish that will infuriate Michigan fans, but Notre Dame's big plays work only toward self preservation. Tuitt winds up being a non-factor in the game, but Nix cuts a number of Michigan drives short by setting up third and long situations. Michigan's run game as a whole doesn't look devastating, but Gardner shakes off the game one interceptions and accounts for 350 yards. Notre Dame 17 - Michigan 27

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wide nine defensive front

At this point, even the most casual observer can see when Frank Clark goes tearing around the edge with no consideration of passing lanes. But while rewatching the CMU game, I noticed a play in which Mario Ojemudia and Brennen Beyer did the same, only in this instance, Greg Mattison called for the reckless rush from his defensive ends.

With CMU facing a third and ten in the second quarter, Mattison called for a formation that was all the buzz in the NFL two years ago: the wide nine. The formation is named because of the alignment of the defensive ends, who are playing "nine tech", or aligned outside of the tight ends. Even if there aren't tight ends (like on this play), the DEs still play at the nine tech. This is a pure pass-rushing formation.

Prior to the snap, the inside receiver from CMU's bunch formation motions into the backfield. Ojemudia and Beyer remain at the nine tech, but Beyer actually slides a few steps inside. My guess is that he lined up outside of the motion man in the original formation and moved after the offensive shift.

At the snap, Ojemudia rockets off the line and sheds the right tackle (highlighted; bottom). Beyer engages with the left tackle (highlighted; top) but will quickly shed him to get into the backfield. Neither player is considering their run fill responsibilities, opening huge holes between the offensive tackles and guards.

CMU is running a strongside lead iso, and because of the defensive front, Michigan has completely vacated the strongside B gap. You can see Ojemudia and Beyer now both closing in on the backfield, but neither has the momentum to get to the running back. Meanwhile, CMU's lead blocker has attempted to block one of Michigan's DTs who was already falling to the ground.

Central's fullback (#49) is now falling behind the ball carrier (#6). Without the lead blocker, CMU's running back is staring down Joe Bolden.

Bolden freezes and allows Central's running back to bounce outside.

Michigan has reinforcements rallying to the ball, including Ojemudia who you can see chasing the play. As a side note, how nice is it to see seven Michigan defenders in this screen?

The play ends here-ish.


Mattison can somewhat safely call for the wide nine in this scenario. With a chance to get Central off of the field, giving up 5-8 yards on a scramble or, as is the case here, designed run, won't hurt Michigan. But don't expect to see this strategy employed against Braxton Miller or Kain Colter. This play is designed to have the defensive ends disregard their run responsibilities in favor of getting into the backfield. The five-wide underneath zone defenders act as the safety valve if the offense checks into a play that will attack the relentless pass rush. However, had the CMU fullback blocked Bolden, Delonte Hollowell would have been forced to come downhill and make a tackle in the middle of the field, so this is still a risky proposition.

This play forces me to reconsider at least some of Frank Clark's irresponsible pass rush. Mattison values getting to the quarterback with only four pass rushers enough to install the wide nine. But Clark's history does not reveal many of these situations. Chances are good that Clark takes this aspect of the defense as a green light to so consistently ignore his run fits.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How Blake Countess saved a certain touchdown

Central Michigan didn't have many opportunities to put points on the board, but one innovative playcall nearly cost Michigan seven points until Blake Countess read what was developing and made a leaping PBU. No caveats about competition apply here. Countess' field vision and instincts are on full display here and hint at a special year to come.

It's early in the first quarter, and Michigan shows its base 4-3 under formation. The pre-snap alignment shows that Michigan will play single-high safety, man coverage. Josh Furman (lined up on the hash at at the first down line) will cover Central's slot receiver, and Countess is split out wide on CMU's outside receiver.

At the snap, Michigan's middle and weakside linebackers blitz. Central Michigan shows a zone read, leaving the weakside defensive end (Keith Heitzman) unblocked.

Heitzman crashes on the handoff, but doesn't overcommit, about which more next. Furman and Countess begin to head downfield as the CMU slot receiver bows out for a flare screen. This is a triple option look that Michigan deployed often with Rich Rodriguez. Often, after a mesh point in the backfield, Denard had the option to sling the ball outside to his slot receiver. However, the Chippewas tweak the receiver route slightly.

Heitzman realizes that CMU quarterback Alex Niznak pulled the ball on the read. He plants his foot and gives chase to string out the QB run. The ability to string out this play while also forcing the QB pull is not easy to do. This is a promising reaction from a player not expected to make a huge impact this season.

At this point, Furman dismisses his coverage assignment (highlighted). Cam Gordon is scraping over the top of the play to attack the QB run, and even Countess is crashing from the corner to defend the run.

What Furman doesn't realize is that CMU's slot receiver has turned the flare screen into a wheel route and is running upfield undefended (legs highlighted). Countess, being picked by the outside receiver, recognizes that Niznak is pulling up to throw.

As Niznak releases the ball, Countess has actually broken on the pass, recognizing the open defender. On first look, I thought Niznak threw a duck, but if you watch closely, you can see Countess actually tip the ball.

The ball falls harmlessly to the turf. Huzzah.


First, it should be noted that two of CMU's linemen were five yards downfield before the pass was thrown. If it was completed, a flag should have been thrown for illegal man downfield. But the real takeaway is Countess' play recognition and reaction. Not only did he realize that there was a triple option in play here, but he recovered for Furman who had blown his coverage. I was disappointed with the secondary in zone coverage, but don't remember Countess being the culprit on (m)any of those plays.

I've been high on Countess since he came to Michigan, and his junior season debut held nothing but upside. With unproven safeties, having elite cornerbacks will be crucial to relieving pressure and diminishing big plays. Next week, Countess will see more action, which will give us a better indication with how he'll fare this season. But this was a promising start.

Monday, September 2, 2013

No Surprises

Central Michigan 9 - Michigan 59
Courtney Sacco |

Michigan had an uneventful offseason, at least with regards to recent history. There were no questions about the starting quarterback, no concerns over walk-ons, and the incoming recruiting class was viewed as depth chart fodder rather than necessary reinforcements. Such is the arrival of Brady Hoke. So Michigan trounces Central Michigan in the season opener without any notable injuries or hiccups, and we all shrug. Well, most people shrug and I get panicky about the offensive line.

The box score says domination: 242 rushing yards on 47 carries (5.1 YPC), 221 passing yards on 21 attempts (10.5 YPA), 10 of 15 on third down conversions, and CMU averaged only 3.7 yards per play. But, like Holly Anderson's piece on Jadaveon Clowney's uninspiring 2013 debut says, "You already know that Week 1 college football games aren't all that useful in the discerning sports fan's quest to consume actual, compelling football … It's fun to be able to take one data point and draw a line to anywhere."

Per usual, my data points tends toward fear. My confidence in Greg Mattison, Brady Hoke, and the defensive unit could not be higher. Two seasons of transforming the scraps Rich Rodriguez left on the defensive side of the ball belies any doubt in this coaching staff defensively. Saturday served as confirmation of this belief: short the team's most impactful starter (Jake Ryan), the defense smothered CMU on short fields surrendered because of turnovers and never allowed a drive to exceed 59 yards (that one ending in a 33-yard field goal).

The concern comes from the other side of the ball, in spite of the team posting 59 points on 12 possessions; one punt and three interceptions were the only drives that Michigan came up empty. The game started inauspiciously as Devin Gardner threw a Denardian interception: he determined where to throw the ball before the play had started. His second giveaway was similar: he saw single coverage on the outside with Jeremy Gallon and decided to throw it regardless that Gallon was blanketed. While on the subject, that Gallon couldn't get on top of a CMU cornerback on a fly route does not bode well for his presence as the team's primary deep threat.

Those turnovers were disappointing but not the primary cause for concern: the offensive line's continued inability to get push on under-center runs. Michigan's running game remains either inconsistent or ineffectual. After one game with a new crop of interior lineman, speculating either with certainty is fruitless, but following last year's debacle, optimism (at least around these parts; shock!) is slim. There are caveats for the stumbling running game. Some of it appears schematic: Michigan ran into an overloaded defense several times when Gardner should have checked into a weakside run at the line of scrimmage. That could change as the season progresses. But other issues, such as Gallon's inability to get over the top of CMU's defense, allowing the opposing safeties to creep into the box, may be longer lasting. Or, this could have been the first game-time action from a new crop of interior line starters that just hasn't gelled together yet. But where's the fun in that? Largely irrelevant data point --> Doom.

There were clear positives--pass blocking, Derrick Green, the return of Toussaint, CMU's 2.3 YPA rushing on 29 carries, and Devin Funchess to name a few--but those were expected (perhaps known) before the season. The real insights from this game come from the mistakes, which I'm confident did not escape Hoke, Borges, and Mattison, and should be rectified, or at least patched up, in short order.

  • My friend and I had a bet on what pass Shane Morris would throw his first interception. He said the third pass, I said the fifth. I won. A relatively uneventful debut from Morris, but it's obvious both where his upside stands and what his current flaws are.
  • Toussaint turned in a decent game but was still not the dominating back that we saw in 2011. He had few holes to work with, but made the most of what he was given. If the interior line can't get itself together, Toussaint's season will look more like 2012 than 2011. Also of note, his pass blocking was atrocious in this game.
  • Michigan's defense acquitted itself well as a whole, but the zone passing defense proved problematic (perhaps expected because both starting safeties were out). CMU's greatest offensive success came by throwing intermediate routes that the underneath defenders didn't sink on and the safeties weren't reading quickly enough. Northwestern looms large.
  • Frank Clark. Man. Lane integrity. Please. Otherwise, keep being fast.
  • Jibreel Black was a non-factor in the running game and made a few penetrating moves in the pass game. I don't know how his skillset will matchup against teams with heftier front lines, but for now, concerns about his size as the starting 3-tech are squashed.
  • It may be prudent for Michigan not to put a punt returner on the field. Just rush 11 guys at the punter and don't worry about getting any return yards. The returner isn't getting anything meaningful on rugby punts anyway and the team avoids Dennis Norfleet fumbling the ball on the 10 yard line.
  • I believe (perhaps hope) that Borges kept most of his tricks in the bag in week one. With Notre Dame coming to town next week, having a whole package of plays they haven't seen yet could pay dividends.

Next Week
Michigan gets Notre Dame under the lights. You know what happened last year, but against Temple, the Irish did not overwhelm. Temple > CMU, but Michigan's Week 1 > ND's Week 1. With Tommy Rees back under center for the Irish, and the loss of Notre Dame's top-two rushers from last year, Michigan's defense should smother Notre Dame, enabling the offense to slog through the game picking up points when they can.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Started from the bottom now we here

Presented without comment.

Monday, July 15, 2013

NCAA 14 review

By this point, you're probably already three seasons into your NCAA 14 Dynasty, but my review finally dropped on PopMatters. If for some reason you haven't already bought the game, let me try to convince you not to. Money quote:
What makes NCAA 14’s contemporaries engaging is the way in which players of MLB: The Show and NBA 2k create unique characters with strengths and weaknesses that can be felt in the gameplay. Too often in NCAA 14, playing as a quick-footed running back feels no different than a bowling-ball full back in the open field when a defender comes to make a tackle. Plowing over defenders requires pressing forward on the right analog stick while spin moves and a defender’s reaction to them still feel predetermined. There’s no learning curve to running with the football, creating an arcade-like experience.
The review more or less speaks for itself, but I'm disillusioned by EA's lack of progress. Not that this is anything new, but as another year passes with only minor changes, it's become clear America's Worst Company cares only about selling more copies, not putting out a quality product. It's disappointing watching this franchise deteriorate, and with any luck, EA will lose their exclusive rights to NCAA an NFL football soon.

Read the full review at PopMatters.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Trey Burke Summer League - Game 2

Were you to only look at the box score, Trey Burke would've appeared to have another bad game in the NBA Summer League. Burke's Jazz lost by 14 points to the Houston Rockets, and Burke didn't have the rosiest stat line: 11 points on 5-15 shooting, 1-6 3FG, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 turnovers. But Burke's struggles were not as pronounced as those numbers might indicate. A few of his missed field goal attempts were on putbacks/tips where he had no business being in the lane. And I also unofficially counted three open looks that should've been assists had his teammates hit open shots or finished alley-oops (no, really, a dude bricked a perfectly executed alley-oop from Burke). Certainly a better performance in game two, but still not the high-caliber outing Michigan fans grew accustomed to. Here are a few assorted thoughts:
  • Burke's off-the-ball movement in this game was abysmal. Once Burke passed the ball, he became a non-factor in the offense. This resulted in a lot of stagnation on offense and empty trips. Burke took a lot of shots at the end of the shot clock at Michigan. His ability to create his own shot was a major reason for this, but just as significantly, once Burke passed the ball, he would often stand 5 feet beyond the top of the arc, acting as an outlet. In yesterday's game, Burke would pass the ball and stand at the top of the key or use a few baseline screens only to end at the top of the key again. NBA defenses are too fast and recover too well for Burke to continue being a non-factor without the ball.

    Conversely, Burke was an entirely different player when he brought the ball up the court and attacked immediately. When he made a move early in the possession, he was able to draw help defenders and find his teammates for easy looks. But he rarely attacked this way and the Jazz struggled to get into an offensive rhythm.
  • Trey's defense was pretty bad in this game. He got picked off badly a number of times, forcing the Jazz to provide significant help defense, opening shots up for other Rockets players. He also got lost a few times in traffic, allowing wide open looks.
  • After struggling with the size of the Miami Heat inside in game one, Trey avoided shots in the paint for most of the game. Six of his 15 shots were from outside and most of his other looks were long two pointers and runners from the free throw line. I don't remember him making any of those runners, but that's a shot he'll need to improve significantly if he wants to attack the lane in the future.
This was an uneventful game for Burke. He failed to get to the free throw line because of a reticence to enter the lane. His defense was lacking, but that's not unprecedented. Burke is pretty far behind his contemporaries defensively simply because he hasn't played in an NBA defense before. More or less, Burke is progressing about as you'd expect albeit without the flare that many had hoped for.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Trey Burke NBA Summer League debut

The Utah Jazz just won their Summer League debut 69-59 over the Miami Heat. Relevant to your interests is the debut of Trey Burke, seen above wearing his shorts inside out*. Burke played most of the team's minutes at PG (32 of 40; there are four 10-minute quarters in the summer league) and struggled mightily the entire game. He shot just 1-12, scored 8 points (most of which came from the charity stripe where he went 6-8), dished 5 assists to only 2 turnovers, and nabbed 7 rebounds. But immediately evident were Burke's struggles with the speed of the game.

Burke shot 0-4** from outside, which isn't too disconcerting. A few of his long balls rimmed out and missing only 3 three-pointers isn't anything to get concerned about. However, his inability to score in the lane or even get off shots proved to be his biggest failing in this game. Burke had two or three shots swatted down, one of them violently from behind when he thought he had a clean fast break pull-up. But all of those circus shots he was hitting during his senior year at Michigan were flying wildly off the backboard as bigger, more athletic defenders were challenging his shots.

The other thing that proved problematic for Burke for the first three quarters was an inability to get any separation offensively. In the second quarter, he made a great in-and-out dribble that freed him for a mid-range jumper, but most of his drives to the lane were met with resistance, often forcing him back. Burke's lack of top-end foot speed really showed during this exhibition.

Burke had trouble running the offense and getting his players into positions to score. This should be taken with a grain of salt because the Summer League is basically a glorified pick-up game, but more than failing to find his teammates in the halfcourt, Burke seemed to be in a college mindset still when bring the ball beyond the timeline. Burke was frequently stepping over halfcourt as the shot clock hit 16 seconds and the Utah offense wasn't getting started until about 12 seconds left. This is easily correctable and I expect Burke to advance the ball with more urgency in Utah's next game.

It wasn't all bad. The Heat were down by double digits for most of the game and extended their defense. They often trapped Burke in the back court or just as he crossed the timeline, and Burke was able to confidently pass out of these traps. Late in the game, Burke was also able to drive and dish to a few of his big men. The Heat were challenging all ball carriers in the lane and Burke finally recognized the help defense, dumping the ball to his teammates for some easy dunks.

Summer League ball is sloppy and ugly and generally not indicative of future performance, especially for a PG like Burke who would've had four or five more assists had his teammates hit wide-open jumpers. But this was not a promising start for Burke who was visibly frustrated and struggled in the way that the more pessimistic scouting reports thought he might.

*I realized later that all of the Jazz were wearing their shorts inside out, but this still makes me laugh.
**It was really 0-3 because of a last-minute heave to end the first half.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Beilein's Time

Note: This post has needed a direction for about a week, and the Syracuse win finally afforded it that.
Melanie Maxwell |

Michigan fans know well the horrors of single-elimination postseason tournaments. The various heartbreaking hockey losses make these most explicit, but even the ups and downs of recent NCAA basketball tournaments have provided their fair share of disappointment. In the end though, those losses offer the denouement of the season's story and usually a fitting end that had been building until the final buzzer. Shawn Hunwick could only hold back the flood waters for so long without support before the team crumbled. 2011's NCAA heartbreaker against Duke showed that, though Michigan's basketball team wasn't at the mountaintop yet, it was on its way with a firm foothold.

I've never been good with historical context, so what happens when your team just keeps winning? The Fab Five comparison is embarrassingly easy to the point of being fiction--even Jalen Rose is calling for the end of this comparison now. The Fab Five won largely on talent alone: that many players with that much talent will win no matter what. Coaching becomes secondary in 90% of your games and only becomes important in those crucial moments when the heat is really on, say, when you're down two points in the NCAA championship game and you don't have any timeouts left. John Beilein remains widely heralded by his contemporaries as one of the best coaches in college basketball. His teams frequently exceed expectations, both during the season and in the NCAA tournament. Steve Fisher believes his team was just beaten by Florida State.

On a seven-point Likert scale, most readers would list my pessimism about this Michigan team well on the higher end. I've criticized the team's athleticism, Trey Burke, and Nik Stauskas, but the one thing I've maintained complete faith in this season is John Beilein. A few years ago, I complained that Beilein wasn't able to bring in the athletes that would allow Michigan to compete on a national level because at the time, Laval Lucas-Perry was Michigan's idea of a savior. Things were not going well. A few years later, Beilein is surrounding by his players and being crowned with a recently cut-down net before sheepishly taking it off and bestowing the honor to Tim Hardaway Jr.


Syracuse has been smothering teams during this tournament and it was up to John Beilein to figure out how to get Michigan quality looks on offense. Though it started defensively--rebounding the ball and getting buckets in transition--it became quickly clear that Beilein had a few offensive sets that were designed to beat the 2-3 zone. The most impactful was a 1-4 offensive set with the ball at the top of the key and four Michigan players lined up in the middle of the Syracuse zone.

Though not a great screenshot of exactly how this offense was working, it displays how Michigan was able to dominate Syracuse's zone. Trey Burke enters the ball into the high post for Mitch McGary. When that happens, the two wings players sink to the corners and the other high post player (GR3) dives to the basket.

The defender in the middle of the 2-3 zone has to stay high on McGary, forcing the back to defenders to guard three Michigan players: two corner three point shooters or a layup inside. It's football's smash concept run against a 2-3 zone, and one of the more spectacular schematic deployments I've seen in basketball recently (I might be biased). How else do you think Mitch McGary led the team with 6 assists? How did he get those wide open elbow jumpers (if the middle defender in the zone sinks with the inside dive, McGary was wide open)? How do you think Caris Levert got wide-open corner threes when Syracuse has the ability to close out like this?

Michigan ran this set over and over again in the first half and there was nothing Syracuse could do to stop it. The Orange had a scheme and stuck to it. Beilein had adjustments that broke Syracuse's only solution.

Michigan now goes up against a storyline in Kevin Ware and Louisville, but this feels like John Beilein's time. He embarrassed the "Havoc" defense and solved Syracuse's dominant 2-3 zone. And late in games, when lesser coaches would be wont to stick with their hot hand in Mitch McGary, twice now, Beilein has gone offense-for-defense allowing Jordan Morgan to make defensive plays to help seal Michigan wins.

Louisville's defense presents one final challenge for Beilein: breaking a trap, something that Michigan has done successfully all year under the guiding hand of Trey Burke. Beilein will be there to right the ship if things go awry, but against Louisville, he'll act more like the terrified parent giving the car keys to his recently licensed 16-year-old: I've given you the tools and the preparation not to steer this into a ditch; do me proud.

Regardless of storylines, Louisville and Michigan present an interesting matchup, but at this point, can anyone bet against John Beilein?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Official BWS Bracket

Click to enlarge

Monday, March 4, 2013

Acceleration and Michigan's personnel

One of the major trends that's taken over NBA basketball is SportVU, a series of cameras placed in the rafters of NBA stadiums that captures location and movement data. The early adopters of the system are the powerhouses of the NBA, most famously the San Antonio Spurs who first utilized the data to restructure its offense around the corner-3. The rise of people like Kirk Goldsberry is grounded in similar spatial analytics. At the recent Sloan Sports Conference, Goldsberry, among others, gave presentations relating to spatial analytics in the NBA as well as a host of other topics on various sports. The following is a Grantland production of Philip Maymin's presentation regarding acceleration in the NBA.

I bring this up because it helps define some of my issues with this Michigan team. After the Ohio State loss, I wrote about Michigan's lack of athleticism, which was met with criticism. And probably rightly so, because shortly after that game, Glenn Robinson III did this:

So sheer athleticism is probably not the problem for this Michigan team. Rather, it's their first step/acceleration that I've seen that I find problematic. Barring Trey Burke, whose hesitation is devastating and changes speeds relentlessly, Michigan's other guards and wing players struggle to keep up with opponents and generate shots for themselves because this acceleration is lacking.

Tim Hardaway Jr struggles mightily with this, in addition to his lack of dribbling skills. He has long strides, which creates high top-end speed and open-court athleticism, but struggles in the half court when you need the ability to quickly get by your defender. Glenn Robinson III also has trouble with a first step, which is one of the reasons why you don't see him making moves to the rim off the dribble much. While posting Robinson in the corner is part of the offense, he's playing out of position (he's naturally a SF, not a PF) and should be able to gain a step or two on larger, hypothetically slower defenders. The same applies to their defensive struggles, where staying in front of opponents is something both players struggle with.

On the other side of the coin is Caris LeVert, who, aside from Trey Burke, has the quickest step on the team. He's quickly becoming the back-up goalie of Michigan basketball: the guy that the fanbase loves because of his occasional flashes of potential. You can see the difference between LeVert and Hardaway when they get into the lane: whereas Hardaway tries to rely on his top-end speed to get to the bucket and often ends up out of control, LeVert uses a stutter and hop steps to generate open looks. This is not to say that LeVert is a better player than Hardaway; he's not--at least not yet--but Hardaway needs to realize his destiny as a set shooter*.

I'm preferable to players who are truly explosive if not the best basketball players--it's the FreeDarko model, which I've discussed here before. But Beilein's system requires the latter and becomes deadly when he recruits the players who who can do both (Burke, possibly GR3 in a year or two, hopefully Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton).

*One of the things I've noticed this season from Hardaway is how much better his balance is on set shots, both compared to the same shots from last year as well as when he shoots of the dribble. I can't remember a player who has such a discrepancy between his set shot success and his success off the dribble. When Hardaway can catch and shoot, you know it's going in, but when he lifts off the dribble, it seems like the ball never drops. If you watch his core while he's shooting, you can see the difference.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A tale of two Burkes

Author's note: You're not allowed to read this post until you've read this. I don't want to deal with your freakouts.
Melanie Maxwell |
If you look at his stats, Trey Burke is having one of those seasons that you tell your kids about, as ESPN and BTN announcers have been all-too-happy to point out--Did you know that only Magic Johnson and Trey Burke have averaged 18 PPG and 7 APG during the Big Ten season? But in the last few games, Burke's play has seen a noticeable dip, punctuated by games like Saturday's against IU where he shot just 9 for 24 from the field and had 3 TOs (How lucky are Michigan fans to have a guy where that's a complaint? Have you seen Keith Appling play... ever?).

I was particularly incredulous about his shot selection on Saturday, which was mentioned in the most recent MGoPodcast, motivating me to see whether or not there was anything to my complaints. Burke has fallen in love with his mid-range stepback in recent games and it's significantly affected his efficiency. Against IU, for instance, the average length of Burke's shots was 15.375 feet. He took 12 three pointers; for reference, he's taken only 7 three pointers in a game two other times this season. Burke is trying to stretch his game out a little too far and has ended up settling for a a lot of mid-range jumpers and contested/step-back threes. This is not a recipe for Michigan victories, even if he's scoring 25 points.

But this post is the result of a clear downtick in his performance the last few weeks. So in order to quantify it a bit, I took a look at Burke's numbers from the the non-conference schedule compared to his conference stats and...

Non-conference play Big Ten Conference play
Points/game 17.8 18.9
Shots/game 12.92 15.33
FGM/FGA 90-168 (53.57%) 59-138 (42.75%)
3PM/3PA 23-60 (38.33%) 17-44 (38.63%)
Assits/game (total) 7.38 (96) 6.88 (62)
Turnovers/game (total) 1.92 (25) 1.77 (16)
% of team's shots used 22.07% 27.30%
Available minutes 82.00% 88.00%

So the obvious caveat: the Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball and you would expect a noticeable drop off in his performance playing against stiffer competition. Improving aspects like points per game and reducing his turnovers per game are no small feats. However, there are also some disturbing trends during conference play.

Burke is averaging about 2.5 more shots per game during the conference schedule than the non-conference and only scoring 1.1 more points per game. That's an important dip in efficiency that lends credence to his shot selection troubles. To my eyes, Burke has become somewhat isolation heavy in recent games relatively early in the shot clock (10-12 seconds left), and that has resulted in what isos always do: semi-contested mid-range jumpers.

The other disturbing trend is Burke's significant drop in field goal percentage despite holding steady at 38% from the three point line. During the non-conference season, Burke averaged 4.61 three-point attempts per game and is averaging 4.88 in the conference schedule, a negligible gain. You can surmise then, that the 11% decline in his overall shooting percentage comes on his two-point attempts. In non-conference games, Burke was shooting a blazing 62% on two-pointers but is only averaging 44% on twos in conference play.

So what's the culprit? Aaron Craft and Victor Oladipo for one. You'd expect Burke to struggle against two of the nation's elite perimeter defenders and his numbers concur (4-13, 4 assists/4 TOs against OSU; 9-24, 8 assists/3 TOs against IU). But Burke's numbers have also seen noticeable drops against Nebraska, Minnesota, Purdue, and Illinois: all games that were close after the first half. In the non-conference, Burke also struggled a bit against Kansas State and Pitt, games that were separated by no more than 5 points at the half. Are the games close because of Burke's struggles or does he press harder against better opponents, leading to worse outcomes? His increased usage rate in those games (28.73%) implies a tendency to overextend against more difficult opponents.

Burke definitely has national player of the year talent but his performances against elite competition this season--even games against average+ competition in which the opponent holds serve with Michigan for a while--have been distressing. With games against IU, OSU, Illinois, and MSU upcoming still, to say nothing of the NCAA tournament, Burke will need to reverse this trend if Michigan wants to make serious waves this season.

Monday, February 4, 2013


I majored in English at Michigan during undergrad. I didn't take many creative writing classes because that wasn't really my focus--frankly, I didn't have a focus but I knew it wasn't creative writing. My poetry and short stories were dreck and it's carried over to some of the flashier things I try to do here: I've done my best to write game columns without any sort of narrative because a) I'm bad at that kind of writing and b) I think narrative is tedious, but I digress.

I did, however, take a few creative writing class, and in one in particular--which I unknowingly took with Steve Lorenz of Michigan Tremendous/24x7 fame--we were tasked with writing personal essays and critiquing the writing of others. In order for people to feel comfortable sharing their experiences and opening up with their writing, we began every peer-critiquing class/session with 45 minutes of complements and discussions of what the author did particularly well, followed by 45 minutes of what seemed amis and needed to be changed in subsequent drafts. If you're reading this blog, you probably know what's coming next. I didn't participate much during the first half of the class exercises, opting instead to discuss where the author stumbled.

At the same time, I was writing music reviews for websites like Stylus Magazine and PopMatters, and working at the Michigan Daily in the Arts section. What I found out, albeit slowly, was that I wasn't a very good music critic. There's a certain level of connection and empathy that comes with critiquing music, a fluid, personal expression. I envied some of my contemporaries like Mike Powell and Derek Miller, the likes of whose prose poetically discovered aspects of the music I had never contemplated. My mind was stuck on the chord progressions, cadence, flows, and the complexity of the beats, which is not to say that this isn't a valuable way of addressing music, but to do it well--see: Ian Cohen, Jeff Weiss--you have to be on some next level shit that I wasn't close to. I've since moved on to video games, which are far more calculating, and in this space, sports.

I'm telling you all of this to try and give some context for this blog which has recently become the Self-Hating Jew of Michigan sports sites, culminating in the MGoEeyore designation on MGoBlog that inspired the title.

In that creative writing class, I didn't put my efforts toward critiquing other peoples' writing because I wanted to be the class prick. In my opinion, most people know what they do well. The few times I wrote something that still holds up, it was fairly obvious why. However, my mistakes are far less apparent but more valuable in the long run; you learn more by finding out what you did wrong than being told what you did right. I assume other people find the same value in criticism, which brings us to Michigan sports and this blog.

I like Michigan football. I also like this basketball team, and despite popular belief, think they're quite good. But I'm of the belief that most of my readers know what Michigan sports teams do well. MGoBlog exists and does a fantastic job of detailing how and why, for example, this basketball team has become one of the best in the country. I don't write about those things for the same reasons that I don't write posts about recruiting or random news bits: the mission of this blog has always been to supply content that you can't get elsewhere. During the football season, that means extensive film breakdowns, the likes of which MGoBlog could do but doesn't have the time (or page space) for. But it also means asking questions about why Michigan teams lose close games or individual players' limitations, which exist but often go brushed aside--we're all fans and it sucks admitting our teams are flawed.

I think the frustration from readers arises because regardless of what I write here, it won't improve the team. Michigan teams won't learn from their mistakes because of posts on this site. So when I watch Michigan teams play, I know that Nik Stauskas is a great shooter but I want to see where his limitations lie. The same goes for a player like Trey Burke, who I'll be writing about tomorrow. So I don't pull my punches or hedge my bets: when I see a flaw, I write about it without qualifying, "But yeah, he's a really good guy and does all of these other things well." You know that already.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Stauskas answer

Because Michigan just beat Illinois and is poised to become the #1 team in college basketball for the first time since 1992, it's time for me to write something pessimistic--or so has become the narrative about this blog. In reality, this is something I have been interested in investigating for a while and finally hunkered down to do the research after some Twitter back-and-forth with Jamie Mac (Just Cover Blog) and Steve Lorenz (24x7). It has to do with Nik Stauskas and his, in my eyes, obvious desire to answer an opponent's made three pointer with a bucket of his own.

When watching Stauskas, it always struck me how aggressive he became after the opposition hit a three pointer, often resulting in an irresponsible shot--though occasionally flashing some of that "swag" the kids are so excited by. What I wanted to look at was Stauskas' typical usage rate versus how he responds to an opponent hitting a three pointer. Distilling all of the available data and filtering it properly--what 3-pointers was Stauskas actually on the floor for?--without watching every minute of every game again was difficult, but I found an easy workaround that stands up to a sanity test.

For starters, I took into consideration the total amount of three pointers that each opponent has made against Michigan. Finding how Stauskas responds to individual shots meant finding out which ones exactly he was on the court for. MGoVideo has YouTube links to each conference game Michigan has played. Using those and comparing them to the play-by-play data from ESPN, which shows the timestamp of made baskets, I was able to quickly skip through conference play to each opponent three pointer and see whether or not Stauskas was on the floor. Then, I could check the corresponding ESPN play-by-play to see the result of the next play.

In conference, Michigan has allowed 49 made three pointers. Stauskas was on the floor for 35 of those*. For the nonconference schedule (excluding the first three games of the season--Slippery Rock, IUPUI, and Cleveland State--during which Stauskas was not the Stauskas we know now; was not a starter, hadn't cracked 30 minutes in a game yet, etc), Michigan allowed 60 three pointers. To find a reasonably accurate number of threes that Stauskas was on the floor for, I took his use of available minutes (75.75%, 30.3 MPG) and multiplied it by the total three pointers, returning approximately 45 that he was on the court for**. Without further ado:

The Raw Data
Game # of made opp 3s # of opp 3s Stauskas on floor for # of following poss that end in Stuaskas shot/FT FGs 3 pointers Assists FTs
11/21 Pitt 8 N/A 1 0/1 0/1

11/21 Kstate 4 N/A 2 0/1

11/27 NC State 2 N/A 0

12/1 Bradley 6 N/A 1 0/1

12/4 WMU 2 N/A 0

12/8 Ark 10 N/A 3 1/2 1/2
12/11 Bing 7 N/A 2 1/2 1/2

12/15 WVU 6 N/A 0

12/20 EMU 7 N/A 3 2/3 2/3

12/29 CMU 8 N/A 1 0/1 0/1

Non-Conf Totals 60 45 13 4/11 4/9 1 4/4

1/3 NW 10 5 1 0/1 0/1 1
1/6 Iowa 7 6 2 1/2

1/9 Neb 6 4 1 1/1

1/13 OSU 5 2 0

1/17 Minn 8 6 0

1/24 Pur 7 6 2 1/2 1/2

1/27 Ill 6 6 3 1/3 0/2

Conf Totals 49 35 9 4/9 1/4 1 0/0

Season Totals 109 80 22 8/20 5/13 2 4/4

According to Kenpom, Stauskas uses 16.7% of Michigan's possessions this season. While Stauskas is on the floor following an opponent made three pointer, that usage jumps to 27.5% (or 25% if you remove the two possessions ending in free throws). In a season where Stauskas is taking 1 of every 7 shots when he's on the floor, that number jumps to 1 of every 4 following a made three pointer by the opposition. He's also shooting 9% worse on FG attempts overall in these situations versus his season average (40% vs. 49%) and 11% worse on 3FG attempts (38% vs. 49%), indicating potentially worse shot selection, though there are concerns about sample size...

I knew this would arise before I started. The sample size: it's small. But I also didn't grab this data in a vacuum. There's a reason I didn't look at, say, Trey Burke's tendencies following an opposing made three pointer or how Glenn Robinson III plays following a defensive rebound. Watching Stauskas on the floor following these three pointers, he's noticeably more aggressive. The numbers, I think, despite the small sample size, bear this out.

To test whether or not there was a real difference here, I did a test of statistical significance between Stauskas' usage rate on these 80 possessions vs. his usage rate for the season sample size. I used Kenpom's adjusted tempo statistics (64.4 poss/game) to get a count of Michigan's possessions this season (64.4 * 17 [Michigan's schedule sans the first three games] = 1,095 possessions). We know that Stauskas has used 175 possessions (153 FGAs, 22 TOs) with regards to Kenpom's usage rate, but using 1,095 team possessions, we come out with a 15.9% usage rate for Stauskas. If we tweak the numbers a bit (175 = .167 * X possessions), we get 1,047 possessions. Using these numbers, we find statistical significance at a 90% confidence level. (There may very well be something wrong with my logic and/or math here. If there is, feel free to correct me in the comments.)

Though Stauskas' shot selection occasionally bothers me, this isn't really a critique of his game. He's a freshman and appears to be a particularly excitable one. I like that and I think as time goes on, this aggressiveness will turn Stauskas into a legitimate #1 scoring threat. Right now, though, it's the kind of thing that needs to be reeled in.

This is the kind of thing I'd like to track throughout the season but will probably forget to. As the sample size grows, however, I may be able to see whether or not there's any veracity to this or if I'm just spouting off again.

*Since the Illinois game just ended, I haven't been able to rewatch it to determine exactly how many of their 6 three pointers Stauskas was on the floor for, so I just assumed he was on the floor for all 6, a number that is almost certainly too high.
**A sanity check of this number holds. In the conference schedule, we know he was on the court for 35 of 49 made threes. If you apply the same logic (49 * .7575) you get 37.117, or approximately 35. The reason this simulated number is slightly higher than the actual is likely due to late-game catchup scenarios when Stauskas may be on the bench. In blowouts, the likes of which Michigan has had plenty of, teams will start throwing up an inordinate amount of threes while Michigan is resting its starters.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On athleticism and OSU

Last week, instead of making a full blog post about random Michigan basketball pessimism, I took to Twitter:
Like a few years ago, I worry about this team against athletic opponents (Minny, IU, etc). Saw it against NC State.

Michigan's defense only works (not fouling, getting boards) when you have teams that will settle for shots. If you have opponents that attack the rim, you end up fouling a lot more frequently and giving up more OReb. Also, athletic teams rotate on defense better.

So I think this M team can finesse with most teams in the country. I see them struggling against athletic teams, even if they're not elite.

Also, think Ohio last year in the tourny. M would beat them this year, but they could run into a similar outfit later in the tourny who have more talent. Athletic teams with scoring capabilities (IU, OSU, Minny, Kansas, Louisville) really worry me.
I didn't have anything else to contribute aside from that. Anything more substantial would have required some kind of research that I a) didn't know where to begin on and b) didn't care to do if I could figure it out. So to Twitter it went, where 355 people ignored it. But in the wake of the Ohio State game, it seems appropriate to revisit those concerns.

When watching the game, it was immediately clear that athletically  OSU simply outmatches Michigan. The proof is in the pudding: Michigan's shot chart

Throughout this entire game, Michigan couldn't get near the basket. The much-hated long two-point shot became the team's go-to attack, not because they lost their composure--as story-driven announcers would have you believe--but because Michigan simply wasn't fast or strong enough to get into the lane. Nik Stauskas' disappearance comes hand-in-hand with this inability to get into the lane: as a spot-up shooter, he relies on drive-and-kick opportunities created by Trey Burke and others, but without a need to collapse on the lane, Stauskas becomes a non-factor.

It may be safe to assume that Aaron Craft was the driving force behind this denial--when he exited the game late in the first half, Michigan went on a run that would carry over to the second half--but that's reductive. Not only did Craft frustrate the Michigan offense by harassing Burke, but OSU's rotation defense was simply faster than Michigan's offense, and when the ball was eventually dropped into the post to an unguarded big man, only Mitch McGary was able to convert (yet another instance of the increasing distance between his and Jordan Morgan's capabilities).

The other place that Michigan's inferior athleticism appeared was on the glass, previously a point of dominance for Michigan. On the season, Michigan has rebounded 35% of their misses. Against OSU, that number was a mere 13% (snagging only 4 of their 29 misses).

This brings us to the future of the team this season. Michigan has 6 more games against Big Ten opponents that I deem to be more athletic (the usual customers: Minny [1], Indiana [2], OSU [1], and Illinois [2]). The problem that Michigan faces is that the good teams in the Big Ten are specifically designed to beat the precision-focused offense of Beilein. While there's only so much a team can do to prepare for the complex schemes, having sheer athleticism that can recover from mistakes defensively is the greatest attribute when trying to beat a team that's built like Michigan (see Ohio in the Tournament last year). With three of those games coming on the road, Michigan is probably more likely to end up 2-5 or 3-4 against the Big Ten elite than it is to finish with a winning record.

What people have been looking to for hope after this game was how poorly Michigan played in the first half, but OSU played nearly as badly in their second half, allowing Michigan to climb back into the game. While the common refrain is, "Well, Michigan played its worst basketball in the first half and still had a chance", OSU fans can nearly point to the same phenomenon in the second. But both of these arguments ignore the real takeaway from this game: there's probably a reason both teams played so poorly for 20 minutes. For Michigan, it was because the team was simply outmatched physically and struggled to get the looks they had previously. For OSU, it was because the shots that were falling in the first half weren't going down in the second. Ultimately those are a wash (see: 3-point margin of victory), but I'd probably rather go with the athletic superfreaks than the kids that rely on spot-up jumpers.

There was a lot of speculation about why Sunday's game was actually a positive sign for Michigan, but I couldn't look past the glaring lack of athleticism that this team still offers. As the season goes on, how Michigan responds to athletic (but raw) teams will be something to keep an eye on, but this game was a stark reminder that Michigan still has a ways to go before they can hang with the nation's true elite.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Denouement 2012

#18 Michigan 28 - #10 South Carolina 33
Melanie Maxwell |
There are no storylines here or poorly relayed personal anecdotes that can be shoehorned into a story about yesterday's Outback Bowl. After two years of getting to and even winning bowl games on the strength of miraculous wins that were unsustainable, it's only fitting that Michigan finally arrive on the other end of the spectrum. Even more appropriately, the secondary, which had been heralded as one of the nation's best, was finally shown to be the straw house that we all suspected it was; the unit that was largely responsible for yesterday's loss. Michigan was outgained badly, lost the turnover battle, revealed a still-inept secondary, and had an offense that averaged only 4.3 yards per play. They deserved to lose and they did.

For most, this game marked the final appearance of Jordan Kovacs and Denard Robinson in a Michigan uniform, regardless of the outcome. For me, this is the end of my most frustrating season as a Michigan fan since my senior year (2007). When Rich Rodriguez was the head coach, it was easy to dismiss the losses and near misses: those teams simply weren't very good. There was solace that could be taken in inevitability. This season was supposed to be the swansong of the program's most electric star with a revamped defense and deadly offense. Instead, it was a team that was closer to being 6-7 than 10-3. And in the end, it was the team's defensive anchor who was badly beaten in coverage on the losing touchdown of the bowl game.

I'm happy this season is over and Michigan ushers out another class of Rich Rodriguez players. The Borges/Denard transition has been an outright failure, but anyone could see yesterday that Borges has a plan for this offense and there exists a path forward. The defense was more distressing--a safety blitz that Mattison dialed up early resulted in an unsound secondary leading to yet another huge South Carolina play, for example. The secondary showed either its lack of talent or lack of experience, getting beaten over and over again for big plays. Raymon Taylor showed his youth, and it may be time for even me to admit that Courtney Avery can't guard anyone in man coverage.

Next year, this team only gets better at just about every position save left tackle. The losses of Kovacs, Denard, and Kenny Demens will be covered by players already on the depth charts, while replacements to the likes of Elliott Mealer and JT Floyd will be automatic upgrades. The hardest spot to fill will be Craig Roh--and Taylor Lewan, about which more later--but Jibreel Black has acquitted himself nicely this season and stands primed to slide into the strongside defensive end position next year. Devin Gardner's early flashes of brilliance gave way to the inconsistency that plagued his career to date, but even he will be pushed by Shane Morris early and often during the season.

There exists a path forward and Hoke, Mattison, and Borges are leading this team down the right path. The further this program moves from the three treacherous years of Rodriguez recruiting, the better off it becomes.


  • Though the story that most publications will have you believe is one of Jadeveon Clowney flatlining Vincent Smith, the dynamic defensive end was pretty quiet all game because Taylor Lewan was out to get himself some first-round money. Lewan will be the biggest loss of the offseason with only faint hopes of finding an adequate replacement from the collection of freshmen and Michael Schofield.
  • Speaking of NFL monies, Denard can be an NFL running back and probably did a lot of good for his draft stock in this game. What was most impressive about his running from the halfback position was how decisive his cuts were. Obviously, we knew that already, but seeing it from a different position really illuminated how effective he can be at the next level.
  • Brendan Gibbons will be a big asset next season.
  • The Michigan defensive line absolutely dominated the South Carolina offensive line, as evidenced by their complete abandonment of the running game. Remove the one or two blown assignments by defensive ends on the inverted veer, and this defensive front was dominant.
  • Except when trying to sack the QB.
  • Al Borges finally proved he doesn't know how to use Denard with those two-point conversions. The loss of Denard will have one very positive effect on this offense: Borges will no longer fumble around with personnel that he has no idea how to properly utilize. That said, Denard's one pass acted to reconcile some of Borges' shortfallings and the questions about his playcalling: Denard still cannot throw with his injury.
  • If you watched the game on TV, you already know this, but those jerseys were an abject failure. I'm not one to complain about this sort of thing, but the numbers and names were illegible and neon. Hopefully this teaches the athletic department some sort of lesson, but probably not.

Next Week (?)