Beilein has drawn up some easy layups for Wagner. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
I'm gonna try something new here with our hoops coverage. The Basketbullets posts have mostly been game column type things; I'm repurposing the name for what I plan to be a weekly or sometimes semi-weekly post with a couple regular staples—picture page play breakdowns and the KenPom Stat of the Week—and any other items of note. This is a work-in-progress; suggestions for regular features to include are more than welcome in the comments.
Kennesaw State Not-A-Recap
I took a rare weekend off, so I wasn't at the 82-55 Kennesaw State blowout on Saturday, and the time I set aside to go over the game today ended up dedicated to the next section instead. Dylan's recap and Five Key Plays should have you covered.
While rote destructions of teams ranked in the 300s on KenPom are to be expected, this one contained some encouraging signs. Moe Wagner scored a career-high 20 points, making all four his his twos and 3-of-4 three-pointers in 25 minutes; he had no turnovers and one foul. DJ Wilson avoided the foul trouble that plagued him against Virginia Tech and posted an efficient 15-11 double-double. Every Michigan player to see ten minutes of action posted an ORating of at least 106 except Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who continued a troubling stretch of poor games with an 0-for-5 performance. Highlights. Full box score.
[Hit THE JUMP for a seemingly unstoppable set, the KenPom Stat of the Week, and more.]
Moving Picture Pages: An Easy Layup
I got too deep into post defense to examine this last week, but a few plays from the Virginia Tech game stood out for the good, as John Beilein's offense did a beautiful job of freeing up Moe Wagner for easy buckets. I've done my best to diagram these in a way that's hopefully not confusing. Orange lines are the ball; green lines are player movement—I made the line solid is a player is getting the ball off a cut and dotted if they aren't. Here's the first of two second-half layups by Wagner [click to embiggen]:
This one is pretty simple. Derrick Walton takes the ball up the floor, passes to DJ Wilson—who's come from the corner to the wing—and clears out to the corner. Wagner starts on the near side of the free-throw line, walks to the other side as if he's preparing to set a high screen for Wilson, then doubles back and pops out to the three-point line as he gets an off-ball screen from MAAR. Wagner's man can't fight over the screen in time to cut off a drive and MAAR's man stays home instead of providing help, leaving Wagner an easy path for a layup.
In addition to potentially freeing up the center for an easy layup, this play has some obvious counters. If Wagner's man ducked under MAAR's screen, he would've had ample space for a three-pointer, and that's no empty threat at the moment—Wagner is 9-for-15 beyond the arc this season. If MAAR's man overplays the screen before the pass, he can slip to the rim for an open layup of his own. Finally (or probably not given the myriad options of every Beilein set), Wagner could kick it out to Walton for a wide open corner three should one of the help defenders successfully cut off his drive; in this case, they were too late to prevent the layup, but Walton was wide open if he was needed.
Moving Picture Pages: A Killer Set
The next set requires its own section because Michigan ran it twice in a row, getting two layups as VT reacted to the success of the first play and in doing so opened up another way to get a bucket from the same set. I've diagrammed the first basket in two parts [click to embiggen].
MAAR starts with the ball and gives it off to Walton, then heads below the free-throw line. Walton swings it to Duncan Robinson, who's arcing to the wing. Walton runs to the corner as Robinson passes it to Wagner, who's popped outside the three-point line. This is where it gets fun.
Wagner pivots to face the near side, causing his defender to take a step in that direction. As he does this, Robinson cuts across the court, which accomplishes two things: he effective sets a screen for Wagner, and as he continues across he clears out enough space that his man can't help on a Wagner drive. Wagner pivots back to face the far side and performs a give-and-go with Walton while MAAR picks off Wagner's man. MAAR's defender is in a tough spot. He doesn't react to the screen and impede Wagner, allowing another open layup.
That is gorgeous.
Beilein dialed up the same set on Michigan's next trip down the floor. This one plays out slightly different and still manages to get a layup. Robinson's cut across the floor is shallower and doesn't impact Wagner's defender as Wagner pivots and gives the ball to Walton. MAAR's defender recognizes the pick this time and helps cut off the potential give-and-go, so MAAR pops out to the top of the key—nobody contests the pass from Walton to MAAR because all the focus is on Wagner's cut.
A better three-point marksman would probably just shoot this; there's enough space to pull without much of a shot contest if MAAR goes right up with it. Even without the shot, this action allows Michigan to reset quickly, and you can see that Beilein has designed this play so there's still ideal spacing to set up the next action from this set, a downhill handoff to Zak Irvin.
MAAR starts to drive left into the heart of the defense, causing a chain reaction. Irvin's defender has to help cut off the drive, but as he's diverting his attention to MAAR, Irvin cuts over the top of MAAR and gets running handoff. The effect is akin to a reverse in football; the defense is all moving one way as Irvin is going the other with a lot of momentum. MAAR's man tries to switch onto Irvin, but with the laws of physics being what they are, he can't prevent Irvin from getting to the rim for a layup—one that's barely contested because Wagner moved to the other side of the pain, taking the rim protector away from the side Michigan wanted to attack.
This is a small part of why Beilein is rightfully regarded as an offensive genius. There are, without a doubt, more wrinkles and counters built into this set; we just happened to see two of them on consecutive plays. If Michigan runs the set correctly, it's remarkably difficult for a defense to shut down all the available options.
It's also a big part of why any "Fire Beilein" talk is still completely, utterly insane. Michigan is only 154th in three-point percentage while attempting the 21st-highest rate of threes in the country. You'd think that would spell doom for a Beilein offense, yet they have the nation's 19th-best adjusted efficiency. They don't have a great shot creator or a dominant post presence. I don't expect Michigan's outside shooting stuggles to continue; once those start falling, M's offense is going to rank among the elite once again.
Meanwhile, Michigan's defensive efficiency has risen from 95th to 41st, which would stand as their best season-long mark since 2012-13 and the third-best of Beilein's ten-year tenure in Ann Arbor. It is way, way too early to dismiss the Wolverines despite the disheartening losses to South Carolina and Virginia Tech. Remember when the 2013-14 team was 6-4 with a neutral-site loss to Charlotte? They turned out okay.
Quick Post Defense Follow-Up
Beilein's preference for Donnal on defense isn't unfounded. [Campredon]
I thought this comment from jackfl33 on last week's post defense, er, post was important, because it demonstrates what Beilein is looking at versus what I'm looking at when evaluating Wagner and Donnal:
Wagner's possession at :47 is so inexcusable it blows my mind. Beilein mentioned it specifically in the post game, it just makes no sense. He is in good position on the line up the line to start but shows zero urgency to get back as the ball swings. He is totally out to lunch.
The possession at 1:09 is much the same thing. He switches from a hedge to an ICE ball screen coverage halfway through and allows penetration as a result. As the big, it is his responsibility to call out the screen and determine coverage.
That is the stuff that I'm sure drives Beilein crazy and makes it feel like he can't play him. If you kill all the X's and O's and preparation the coach puts together, JB can't just watch that happen. It's like a direct slap in the face to him personally regardless of PPP differences.
This is on point. Donnal's issues on defense aren't mental; his problems arise from his relative lack of strength and athleticism in the post. While Wagner is better in both of those areas, he makes some confounding mental errors, and that undoubtedly rankles a tactician like Beilein.
When Beilein says Donnal is the better defender, his focus is on the fact that Donnal makes fewer easily preventable mistakes, and he's sending a message to Wagner—a message he's sent time and again for the last two seasons—that you can't mentally check out of possessions and expect to stay on the floor. That message should help Wagner improve over the course of his career. My issue is that Beilein sometimes chooses the wrong time to send it, and at some point he may have to accept the tradeoff of a few additional tear-your-hair-out plays for Wagner's generally higher level of play on both ends. I'm still hoping that point comes soon.
KenPom Stat of the Week
After Saturday's ten defensive rebounds in 28 minutes, DJ Wilson now boasts a 29.2% defensive rebound rate, which ranks 17th in the country. He's also nationally ranked in offensive rebound rate (10.1%, 258th) and block rate (6.3%, 130th). If the Virginia Tech foul-out was an anomaly—and Wilson's reasonable 3.5 fouls/40 minutes this season suggests it is—then he's doing everything Michigan needs from him.