What is Wrong with Michigan Basketball? [Guest Post]

3 12 2009

So, for the last week I’ve actually been swamped with work for the first time all semester. Unfortunately it has taken a toll on my blogging, as I haven’t been able to dedicate time to a legitimate long post about sports. Luckily one of my roommates was able to attend last night’s Michigan basketball game against Boston College and after a bad loss, he needed to vent. After some light encouragement [I berated him with insults until he agreed to write something], he agreed to a guest post. Below is his take after attending the game [with a few of my edits]. My next post will likely be my response with some of my own thoughts on the team.  But for now, enjoy the first official guest post on SwB:

After a 3-3 start, the University of Michigan basketball team is quickly sliding and many fans are starting to fear the reality that this team may be playing itself out of contention for the NCAA Tournament.  After three demoralizing losses to teams that were not expected to compete with the upper echelons of their respective conferences, Michigan finds itself desperately searching for a key out-of-conference victory.  Unfortunately, they only have 3 more opportunities left with road games at Utah and Kansas and a home affair against UConn in January.  We have no trouble forgetting the bubble talks that transpired last February and March. Every time that Michigan’s name was brought up, their upset victories over UCLA and Duke came right afterwards.  Many fans are having visions of the future bubble talks of 2010 where Michigan, Marquette, and Boston College are all fighting for tournament berths and Michigan is at a significant disadvantage due to their head-to-head losses.

However, these issues can be dealt with 25 games down the line after Michigan suffers a disappointing loss in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament to a mediocre Minnesota team [don’t you love my optimism?].  Tonight’s post is to deal with the current situation at hand, and that is: What the fuck is our beloved Michigan squad doing out there!?  Now, I do not consider myself a Michigan basketball know-it-all who can sit here and list for you Zack Novak’s plus-minus at Crisler Arena or tell you Manny Harris’ shooting percentage after he dribbles to his left, but I have been at this school for four years and am a very dedicated fan.  There are two main issues that the general population has decided are the cause of Michigan’s early season struggles: 3 point shooting and defense.  While others may point out that rebounding is a big problem for Michigan, John Beilein will simply point out that his teams at his previous college stops usually do not outrebound the opposition, yet have still managed to excel.  He also utilizes his 1-3-1 defense to ensure that his defense will get more steals than the other team, which in essence could be counted as rebounds because they represent an end to the other team’s possession.

In my opinion, the more important issue is team defense over 3-point shooting.  As Beilein loves to point out, we have to expect that over a 30+ game season, a player will shoot somewhere near the percentage that he has averaged over his career.  Guys like Stu Douglass and Manny Harris will not continue to shoot below 20% from behind the arc for the entire season, and we can all agree that a made 3 pointer here or there could definitely have given us another win or two in the standings.  Unfortunately, the team defense has been atrocious and there isn’t a giant green highway sign directing us towards better days where we will routinely defend a size-advantaged opponent.  Boston College began both halves of the game feeding the ball inside against whatever defense Michigan ran. Whether it was the 1-3-1 or man-to-man they got lay-up after lay-up against Michigan’s intimidating frontline of a 6’5 Zack Novak and a 6’8 DeShawn Sims [who managed to look like he was more stoned and confused on defense than, yes, a guy who actually was stoned and confused].  I mean honestly DeShawn, is it possible for you to look more disinterested out there on the court?  Boston College was running a simple flex offense in which a man-to-man defense merely needs to keep switching through screens to prevent the backdoor cuts and open elbow jump shot.  But from my bird’s eye view in the 5th to last row of Section 5 [I thought student tickets were supposed to give us good seats] it appeared that many of our defensive breakdowns stemmed from our failure to switch, which was usually in the area of Sims.  Nobody is challenging your talent DeShawn, but it would definitely be nice to see you put together a complete game on both the offensive and defensive end.

While we are on the topic of outstanding effort, why don’t we talk about the 1-3-1 trap defense.  As an esteemed middle school recreational basketball coach who loves to implore this defense, I have a few bones to pick with the way that Michigan utilizes it.  When you put out such an undersized, and quite frankly, less athletic line up, it is imperative that you are trapping up top. This takes away the cross-court pass to the weak-side block big man who is posting up a helpless Laval Lucas Perry.  Alabama must have run this play 146 times with Michigan refusing to put pressure on top [like I said, I had bad seats, so this is only a rough estimate].  What’s funny to me is that at the end of the BC game when Michigan was attempting to make a late run, behind a surprisingly loud Ann Arbor crowd, the defense became much more swarming to and around the ball and managed to force turnovers and rushed shots.  This effort and energy needs to be there consistently if Michigan wants to stop anybody on defense.  Michigan did seem to employ their man-to-man defense more than usual, but this was probably because they just weren’t scoring and could not set up the zone.

If it was because of our inability to score, then I suppose this post has come full circle.  Our defense sucks, but we can’t set up our effective defense unless we score on offense.  Unfortunately, our offense also sucks, and could use a boost from some easy layups created by turnovers off of the zone traps.  For all of our struggling shooters, an easy layup will help them get into the flow of the game and make outside shots seem more makeable.  Despite our losses of senior “extraordinaires” David Merritt, CJ Lee, and Jevohn Shepherd, we have essentially the same core of last year and know what this team is made of.  We are a year ahead of schedule in our rebuilding process and perhaps had unrealistic expectations heading into this season.  On the other hand, we have a battle-tested roster that has played in a ton of close games and nothing they see this year should be a surprise.  The reality is that this is still a relatively young team, and if we have any faith in Coach Beilein we will trust that he knows what is going on and will make the proper adjustments to ensure that Michigan continues its upward path towards success.

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2 responses

3 12 2009
Howard Levine

I think you have to be patient with this year’s team. On offense, it seems to me that they are sleepwalking through the motion offense vs. being more decisive and looking more aggressively for the back door cuts. Sims has to produce every night as the team only has two legitimate scorers at the moment. I think Coach Beilein will make the adjustments. UM is undersized so there is little margin for error. The biggest correction needs to be defending the basket down low — so many lay ups.

10 12 2009
Howard Levine

I watched the UM – Utah game last night. Michigan really needs to be committed to the motion offense. It appears they are sometimes just going through the motions for the first 20 seconds on a possession to move the ball and make their cuts. No one is fooled by this. They have to be more aggressive on the back door cuts and look to get open looks. Deshawn Sims is not a focal point and he needs to be. They cannot win with just Manny Harris (who is awfully good). Sims has to be getting 15 points a game to open up the 3-pointers for the guards. I think this will come in time but right now they are struggling so much on offense it’s hard to watch.

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