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 (?)