Saturday, October 22, 2005
Countdown. . . . .
The return of live college basketball to Iowa City is mere hours away, with the Black and Gold Blowout set to follow that other sporting event in town today. I'm sure I'll have some thoughts on the scrimmage later tonight (and I might share them, too!).
The lineups will start out as follows -
|Jeff Horner||Carlton Reed|
|Adam Haluska||J.R. Angle|
|Greg Brunner||Doug Thomas|
|Tony Freeman||Mike Henderson|
|Erek Hansen||Alex Thompson|
|Kurt Looby||Seth Gorney|
|Justin Wieck||Ryan Kennedy|
I have to admit I'm more than a little excited to see freshman Tony Freeman get a chance to run with the regular starters, as I'm still not convinced that Henderson has any business playing 30+ mpg in the Big Ten. I was hoping Freeman would get a chance to prove himself in the early part of the year, and this looks like a good start.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Preview - Michigan Wolverines
Looks like it's gonna be a two-on-one, a menage a trois of pain. - Cotton McKnight
Usually you pay double for that kind of action, Cotton. - Pepper Brooks, Dodgeball
Michigan's total collapse last year was likely the most gruesome story of any of the Big Ten teams. By returning all but one of the significant players from a young NIT-winning team, they started the year with legitimate NCAA tournament aspirations. Those dreams had to be postponed, because a seemingly endless string of injuries and a suspension kept several important players on the sideline and forced Michigan to rely far too heavily on players that were rarely expected to leave the bench.
Trouble started early when Lester Abram, the team's best scoer, re-injured a shoulder in the third game of the year. He needed surgery and missed the rest of the season (but was granted a medical redshirt). Point guard Daniel Horton missed six games with a sprained knee, then missed 12 more while serving a suspension, including 11 conference games. Big man Chris Hunter missed a total of eight games after spraining his ankle on two different occasions, and forward Graham Brown joined the party with two absences of his own - he missed one game following a concussion and eight more after hernia surgery. Brent Petway was out for two games with a shoulder injury. Yeow. These five players combined to miss 37 Big Ten games (see Table 1). That's about the equivalent of taking your starting five off the court for seven full games, which makes Michigan's struggle seem rather reasonable. I shudder to think how Iowa would've survived the post-Pierre Pierce days if Adam Haluska had been out for the year.
Important Info, 2004-05Conf. games only
|Offensive Efficiency: 93.3, tenth|
Defensive Efficiency: 107.9, ninth
Expected Record: 3.0 - 13.0, tenth
Actual Record: 4 - 12, ninth
The most glaring defensive reversal was in Michigan's defensive rebounding. The Wolverines led the conference by grabbing 71.2% of its opponents' missed shots in 2004 Big Ten games. Those figures slipped to 62.0% and last place in 2005. The easiest place to point the finger is at the post players - a tall and established group of rebounders like Courtney Sims, Brown, and Petway shouldn't finish last in rebounding, right? I think that's where most pundits placed the blame, too. That's unfair to the big guys, though - almost all of the team's post players were better rebounders in 2005 than the year before. The 1-3 positions were manned by average to excellent rebounders in 2004, while the stop-gap replacements last year were atrocious, which created the main problem. In particular, Bernard Robinson, Jr.'s work on the defensive glass (16.9 dRb%) was outstanding for a SF, but his replacement (for last year anyway), Ron Coleman, was one of the worst rebounders in the Big Ten (6.8%). Check Table 2 for a more detailed breakdown. With all the important big guys back, and given a healthy Abram, Michigan should fare far better in this category in 2006, though I wouldn't expect a repeat of 2004. The difference between the 2004 and 2006 lineups will basically be a swap of Robinson for Harris, so there is quite a downgrade, but at least Coleman won't be expected to see nearly as much playing time.
|G||Daniel Horton||9.2||Dion Harris||7.9|
|G||Lester Abram||12.3||Sherrod Harrell||9.8|
|F||Bernard Robinson||16.9||Ron Coleman||6.8|
|F||Graham Brown||14.1||Graham Brown||17.7|
|C||Courtney Sims||15.3||Courtney Sims||17.1|
|B||Brent Petway||19.7||Brent Petway||19.7|
|B||Dion Harris||6.6||Dani Wohl||6.9|
|B||Chris Hunter||16.2||Chris Hunter||14.8|
It's reasonable to expect some bounceback here as well, given that Harris will be back to SG and that a lot of possessions will be run through Abram, the team's most efficient scorer, but don't get too optimistic. In the two years that Horton started at PG, Michigan finished sixth and seventh in TO%, with a rate below the league average each season. Middle of the pack looks about right for 2006, too.
I'll agree with most assessments that Michigan has the individual talent to compete with most other Big Ten teams. Abram is a very capable scorer, Harris should be much better off not having to shoot every time down the court, Petway is a defensive force, Sims can provide points in the paint and send back a few shot as well, and Horton will keep defenses on their toes. The freshmen should give the backcourt the depth that last year's team so badly needed. Can Amaker assemble the pieces in a way that maximizes productivity?
Brian at mgoblog wrote a Michigan preview that predates mine by a full six months, but his prescription for the offense still looks golden - make Horton the fourth scoring option and force him to concentrate on creating shots for other players, at least until he proves he can score without burdening the offense with his missed shots and turnovers. If Horton is allowed to shoot whenever he pleases, Michigan will be a middle-of-the-road offense despite having several solid players. If he defers to his teammates, there's potential for a very nice offense to emerge. The similarities to Iowa's 2005 team are striking - both give free rein to overrated scorers (Horton, Pierce) while more efficient guards (Harris, Horner), versatile and very effective wings (Abram, Haluska), and productive post players (Sims, Brunner) stand idly by. If Amaker's job is indeed at stake, one hopes that he can learn from Steve Alford's mistakes.
Assuming that Amaker uses Horton in a similar manner as he has the past three seasons, it looks like Michigan's offense should be slightly better than average in the Big Ten. That could blow up in my face, of course, but I have enough faith in Horton's inefficiency to stand by the prediction. As for the defense, there's plenty to like. The rebounding should be better (it'll be hard not to improve, really), and a more veteran lineup should cut down on the foul issues (Michigan finished tenth in FTA / FGA, defensively). Still, it probably only adds up to a little better than conference average, as there look to be several other good defenses in this year's Big Ten. Michigan has one of the tougher conference schedules, in that they only get to play Northwestern and Penn State once each, so I'd look for about a .500 conference record from the Wolverines, which should put them on the fringe of making the NCAA tournament.
New readers might wish to refer to the Stats Primer.
All ages are as of January 1, 2006.
As usual, FT/FG and 3/FG are actually abbreviations for FTA / FGA and 3A / FGA.
Blk2% is an estimation of the other team's 2-point attempts that a player blocks while he's in the game.
The Michigan refrain has been the same for the past two offseasons - "If Horton just gets back to where he was his freshman year, we'll be in great shape." This raises at least two interesting questions.
(1) Was that freshman season really any better than the other two? Horton's year-to-year consistency has been amazing. The range between his best and worst 2-pt%, 3-pt%, eFG%, and TO% are essentially negligible. Most people got caught up in the 15 ppg he scored as a freshman, and assumed Horton was a star. They overlooked the 36 mpg it took to reach that level, and then wondered what happened when he could score "only" 12 ppg the next year (in a proportionately lower 31.6 mpg). Same player, varying levels of PT.
(2) Why would you want Horton to repeat that level of performance? His shooting (eFG%) and ballhandling (TO%) are far worse than what you should hope to get from the player leading your team in shot attempts. It becomes very difficult to have a good team offense when a fourth of your possessions go to a player as inefficient as Horton. One of his most telling stats - half of his shots are taken inside the arc, but he only hits 40% of them. Unless his shot selection significantly improves, it's hard to see Horton as a net positive for this team.
Brown has been a reliabe starter for three years, giving the Wolverines about 20 minutes of interior toughness each night. He doesn't add much to the offense, other than setting screens and grabbing a few rebounds, and only takes about 13% of the team's shots when he's on the court. His turnover rate looks high for a player in his role (putting back rebounds, passing off to players more likely to shoot), but he'll at least make more shots than he misses. Defensively, Brown's aggressiveness leads to an above average foul rate, but given his offensive limitations, it shouldn't cost him any playing time.
Who lit the fire under Hunter? He played two seasons while taking eight shots every 40 minutes, then put up 14 per 40 last year. Hunter no doubt tried to force the action a little too much, as his increased shooting was accompanied by a big jump in his turnover rate. Throw in the fact that he got to the free throw line at a decent clip, and you have a guy who ended 29% of Michigan's possessions when he played, a rate that trailed only Pierre Pierce and Bracey Wright among Big Ten players. The return of Abram and Horton means Hunter shouldn't have to shoot nearly as often this year, so I'd expect his rate stats to settle in between his sophomore and junior performances, which makes for a nice offensive weapon off the bench. His ability to score near the basket, outside the arc, and hit his free throws make him a difficult matchup for opposing big men. The rebounding is clearly not what you want to get from your 6-11 center, but playing alongside Brown and Petway should help hide that deficiency.
Guard / Forward
If Michigan's offense is to reach its potential, Abram will have to assert himself and take
Last year wasn't too pretty for Harris, but it's hard to expect a guy to take over the point and be the focal point of the offense while providing efficient scoring. Still, his line was remarkably similar to Horton's freshman season, which appears to be the new measuring stick for Michigan point guards, so it wasn't a total bust. He did a nice job of keeping his turnovers down at his new position, and that added experience should only benefit him this year, when he can exercise more discretion in his offensive participation. Harris's offense in 2004 was really pretty good for a freshman, and you would think he'll be able to improve on that this year, since he'll be back in his more natural role and sharing the court with competent scorers. Since so many of his shots are three pointers, an increase of a few percentage points there would really help his overall offensive numbers. Rebounding remains his major weakness - only three returning Big Ten players (with at least 25 %min) had a lower Rb%. Playing Harris and Horton together for significant minutes will likely cost the Wolverines on the glass.
He only improved marginally as a sophomore. - Athlon Sports
Promising big m[a]n. . .Courtney Sims. . . fell apart. and Should bounce back after rough soph. year. - Lindy's
Sims. . .must be more consistent. - Street & Smith's
I think the last comment is the only accurate one here, and it seems to me that Sims received a lot of undeserved criticism this offseason. How can you not like a post player who increases his shot attempt rate while hitting 60% of his shots, gets to the line fairly often and makes 70% there, improves his rebounding, and is one of the better shot blockers in the conference? The only "marginal improvement" for Sims was in his playing time - 22 mpg as a freshman, then 23 mpg as a sophomore. It reminds me of Horton's "disappointing" sophomore year - people too often let per game averages be the major factor in how they perceive a player. "Oh, only 9.8 ppg and 5.2 rpg this year. . .what happened to this guy?"
Sims deserves a quick comparison to highlight how un-rough his numbers really were. I'll compare the 04-05 seasons of Sims and Terence Dials (Ohio State), when both players were 21.
Dials clearly deserves some credit for maintaining his performance level at a higher possession usage, and for the lower turnover rate, but why is it that players with such similar numbers are viewed so differently? Dials is seen by many as first team all-Big Ten this year, but Sims is more or less a bust. Considering that the two centers were also very similar (statistically) as 20 year olds, I won't be surprised if Sims can match Dials again this year, though his playing time will dictate much less gaudy per game numbers.
I shouldn't neglect the consistency issue - Sims scored 12 or more points 12 times, but had 13 games where he scored 6 or fewer. That's the definition of up and down. Brian tells me that Sims is often rendered ineffective against more physical defenders, and ends up on the bench for long stretches against teams that possess them. But when I looked a little closer, I had a hard time being persuaded. I divided the conference into teams that I thought were either bad or good post defenders, based mainly on who the starters were. The bad teams were Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State, and Purdue. In eight games against that group, Sims scored 15.5 pts / 40 min. In nine games against the rest, he averaged 17 pts / 40 min. That leads me to think that a major factor in his "inconsistency" is simply playing time.
OK, moving on. . . . .
Petway is one of the conference's better rebounders and shot blockers, which is a combination that is less likely than one might realize. He finished sixth in Rb% and fourth in Blk2% - no one else among the top ten rebounders was close to his block rate, and no other top ten shot blocker (save James Augustine) had a rebound rate even in the neighborhood. Many shot blockers compromise their rebounding position when they go after someone's shot; Petway has the quickness and extraordinary leaping ability to man both stations. Offensively, he contributes mainly by rebounding, and his dunking skills ensure that he's a high percentage shooter. If he stayed out of foul trouble, I'd be tempted to feed him some of Brown's minutes. Petway will be academically ineligible for the fall semester, and I'm interested to see what impact that has on Michigan's defense.
Guard / Forward
I'm sure Tommy Amaker never expected a scenario where Coleman would finish second on the team in minutes played as an 18-year old freshman, but he had no alternative after the losses of Horton and Abram. The experience shouldn't hurt Coleman, but he needs to make some major progress if he wants big minutes on this year's team. The three point shooting was pretty poor for someone specializing in the shot, and the rebounding was among the worst in the conference.
Guard / Forward
Shepherd has gotten some attention for his size, athleticism, and scoring ability, and should compete with Coleman to provide depth at the wing. Price sounds like he needs time to gain some mass before contributing, and Smith could fill in at point guard when needed. Again, I recommend mgoblog for information on the incoming class.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Checking The Calendar
It's been a few days since I finished my last team preview. They seem to be well-received so far, and have been fun to work on, so I plan to have another done tomorrow and hopefully one more before the end of the week. The original goal was to get through the conference before exhibition games started, but it appears that my preview-every-three-days or so pace isn't going to allow me to finish before that first week of November. If I maintain this twice-per-week schedule, I'll at least be done before any regular season games start. Other upcoming events worth marking your calendar for -
October 22 - A lot of Hawkeye fans are getting pumped up for Black Out Saturday (the home football game with Michigan), but my anticipation is instead building for the Black & Gold Blowout. To me, it's the official start of the basketball season, because it's the first chance to see the team running up and down the court in 5-on-5 action. It's also where I took the picture that sits atop this blog.
October 25 - While Lindy's, Street & Smith's, Athlon Sports and innumerable amateurs provide interesting previews for the season ahead, they are a mere warmup for the annual Blue Ribbon Yearbook, which ships one week from today. Given my insatiable appetite for all things college basketball, and after reading Chris West's assessment of basketball annuals, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy. You can pre-order yours here.
November 3 - The season finally kicks off with the first of two exhibition games. It's only 16 days away. . . . .