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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Somewhat obligatory! Somewhat rote! Definitely slapped together as an ill-thought-out-spur-of-the-moment replacement for UFR! Iiiiiiiiit's... MICHIGAN BASKETBALL.

(Most stats from the indispensable Ken Pomeroy. Conference specific ones lifted from Big Ten Wonk.)


Skilled, turnover-prone, oft-injured-or-suspended, and mercurial point guard Daniel Horton slipped through the NBA draft and is now plying his trade somewhere in Europe, no doubt, after getting cut by the Heat.

Skilled, turnover-prone, oft-injured, and mercurial power forward Chris Hunter has taken his game to somewhere in Eastern Europe. Probably.

Unskilled, turnover-prone, rock-solid rebounding machine Graham Brown could potentially be plying his trade in NFL Europe but probably isn't.



Skilled, wildly turnover-prone, mercurial post Courtney Sims and unskilled, turnover-prone human trampoline Brent Petway.

Sims is perhaps the most frustrating Michigan player since... um... Daniel Horton. Depressingly recent comparisons aside, give Sims the ball on the block against a single defender and he'll murder you. The guy had 226 shots last year, all within the arc, and made 63% of them! His usage rate was 24%, too. Maintaining that kind of usage and that kind of shooting efficiency is nearly unheard of. So why did he only average 10 points a game? Why did he only play barely half the time? Sims has two forms of kryptonite: little bulldog bastard defenders who can shove him out from the block and doubling. Look at Sims' points over conference games:

1/3 @Indiana L 70-63 19 2 4 1 2 5
1/7 Purdue W 68-65 27 1 3 4 4 6
1/14 @Illinois L 79-74 29 5 10 6 6 16
1/18 N'western W 68-51 18 2 2 1 1 5
1/21 @Minnesota W 71-55 14 0 6 0 0 0
1/25 Mich St W 72-67 17 1 3 2 4 4
1/28 Wisconsin W 85-76 15 8 10 2 2 18
2/1 @Penn State W 71-65 12 1 6 0 0 2
2/4 @Iowa L 94-66 27 4 6 4 7 12
2/9 Ohio St L 94-85 34 13 16 0 1 26
2/11 @Purdue L 84-70 23 1 2 5 8 7
2/15 Minnesota W 72-50 14 2 4 0 0 4
2/18 @Mich St L 90-71 14 5 6 5 5 15
2/21 Illinois W 72-64 30 3 7 5 5 11
2/25 @Ohio St L 64-54 30 5 9 0 0 10
3/4 Indiana L 69-67 22 0 0 1 2 1
3/9 Minnesota L 59-55 24 2 4 0 2 4

Are these at all explicable? 50 minutes versus Purdue yield 13 points while 15 versus UW yield 18? 13 of 16 versus Ohio State? Four field goal attempts in two games versus Indiana? I don't know. I do know this: I watched the Wisconsin and Ohio State games. Both teams placed an indifferent defender on him and did not double. (UW's entire defensive strategy is built around man-on-man defense, no doubling, and no fouling. OSU was trying to keep Terrance Dials in the game. I wonder if there was similar Augustine foul trouble in the first Illinois game.) End result was a torching. Teams that think they can play Sims man-up are wrong. The Purdues and Penn States and Indianas (remember, no DJ White and Killingsworth was a foul machine and indifferent defender) of the world who have no illusions about the defensive competency of their post players swarm Sims and force hideous turnovers. Then he is forgotten about.

By this point everyone's given up on Petway as anything other than decent rebounding and a couple of really fun blocks a game. If you get the ball to him somewhere near the rim he will throw it down and roar. That's fun, too.


Twin offensive engines and seniors Dion Harris and Lester Abram. Abram is a model of shooting efficiency... when he manages to stay on the court. This has been infrequently, something that cannot continue if Michigan is to have any chance this year. Remember 2004, when Harris was stripped of Abram and Horton? Yeah, that'll happen again.

Abram's ruthless efficiency is strictly a points thing, though. He doesn't provide assists or blocks or steals at an appreciable rate, though he is a decent defensive rebounder. He is an effective shooter but not a volume one, one of the many guys on the team who has a specific subset of things he's very good at but not at creating his own shot. He'll move around in the structure of the offense. Sometimes he'll find something he likes. Sometimes he'll move the ball to someone else, and sometimes this process will repeat itself until someone -- probably Harris -- is jacking up something contested with the shot clock winding down.

Harris is basically Horton minus half the assists, most of the defense, and almost no free throws. No, seriously, his free-throw rate is amazing Despite playing over 70% of Michigan's minutes and firing 123 two-point shots (three-pointers hardly ever draw fouls), Harris had but 39 free throws a year ago. His free throw rate is one-third Horton's, probably because his 42% 2PT% strikes fear into precisely no one. The sad truth is that Harris is awful within the three point line, especially for a guy expected to be Michigan's primary scorer this year. If Harris sets for three, celebrate. If he steps inside the line, cringe.

Also returning are backups Ron Coleman and Jevohn Shepherd, though filing Shepherd and his 45 shots under "returning" may be generous. Coleman is a decent role player capable of stroking an open three but not much else. He hits but 45% of his two-point shots, doesn't dish assists, block shots, or rebound much. Shepherd came out of Canada with a fair bit of hype then failed to deliver. Last year would have been better spent redshirting, as when he came in the game he was incapable of doing much other than pass around the perimeter.

Defensively, both backups were complete and total nightmares. Coleman, in particular, was pressed into duty guarding actual wing players and put on clinics on how to not get out on three-point shooters or prevent penetration.

Point Guard

The basketball team's Garret Rivas Award Winner for Outstanding Impression Of An Athlete By A Slightly Pudgy Short Guy, point guard Jerrett Smith. Would you like to be terrified? Okay: forty percent of the time Jerrett Smith did something that showed up on a box score last year, it was a turnover. When he was on the floor teams pressed him mercilessly and were richly rewarded for their efforts. Now this man steps into the shoes of a guy who used 28% of Michigan's possessions a year ago. He has no real backup -- Dion Harris will see some minutes at point and I guess Reed Baker exists -- and not much in the way of upside.

The good news? The flipside of Smith's generous ballhandling is that it's also generous to Michigan players. When he was on the floor last year, 26% of Michigan baskets ended in Smith assists. He does have a knack for finding the holes in a defense forced by penetration. It's just that he's singularly incapable of getting that penetration. Combine his head with Jevohn Shepherd's body and you have an NBA star. The Life Sciences Institute is working on it as we speak.



Class star DeShawn Sims from Detroit, a 6'9" power forward with an advanced offensive game, the ability to score facing or with his back to the basket, and a recently deceased younger brother, shot in a burst of senseless violence. Who knows how available or into basketball Sims will be for the next year, and who could blame him if he's not? If he's with it, he should see lots ot time and soon.

Stealth recruit Epke Udoh, the player who may be the key to not only this year but Amaker's very survival as Michigan coach. Udoh futzed around this year sporting offers from Pitt and Michigan and talking longingly about schools like Kansas, UConn, and UNC. He announced that he'd be prepping for a year in the hopes of grabbing the attention of a powerhouse, then made a late 180 and committed to Michigan. Initial reports out of open gyms are unanimously enthusiastic. Udoh is one of those guys who looks like a permanently stretched Stretch Armstrong, a shot-blocker and rebounder who has a nice short jumper.


Wing K'len Morris, who's white (someone call the Freakonomics guys), is a 6'5" guy who hovered around the edges of the top 150 lists recruiting gurus put out. I have no handle on him or his projected role or ability.

Kendrick Price redshirted a year ago since he was 6'9" and 65 pounds. Michigan may deploy him either inside or outside but he's another player I don't know what to expect from. Either of these guys contributing would be a bonus.

Point Guards

Aaaaand Reed Baker, Rain Maker. You may remember Baker from such posts as "Shouldn't Tommy Amaker Be Fired For This?", "Seriously," and "Like, Seriously." Passed up by the Citadel and desperately searching for a scholarship anywhere, Baker arrived on campus, attended a Michigan open gym, and rode his Big Wheel home a Michigan commit. Of note: though Baker attended this particular open gym, Tommy Amaker did not. Site unseen, Baker showed up on campus and proceeded to drain 5/6 threes in Michigan's exhibition games. He's Steve Nash!


Rebounding. Holy pants: Michigan kicked ass at this last year, topping the Big Ten. Petway's crazy pogo legs -- dismissed below -- are a major asset in this category. For all of Courtney Sims' mincing with the ball in his hands, he's an able rebounder on both ends of the floor. Brown's lumbering, wide-body stance was a tremendous boon on both ends of the floor but had more impact on defensive rebounding; we should be fairly good here again.

Turnovers. Will be even more rampant than last year. We lose three turnover-prone players only to replace them with even more turnover-prone players, Smith in particular. Without a reliable ballhandler or an identifiable way to create shots (more on that later), we will be much like last year's team: damn good at knocking down the open shots we manage to get off but horrible at getting those open shots. Dion Harris will again be forced to hurl up a wide array of prayers at the buzzer.

Shooting. As above. Everyone on this team except Petway can shoot and shoot they will. I expect a modest downturn since Horton's efficiency and ability to get others open looks is gone, but this is still an above average team when the ball has been released.


Rebounding. Looks poised to drop off a cliff if you look at Pomeroy's statistics, but Michigan's non-conference schedule full of schools from the Yukon and North Korea wildly inflated our competence in this area. In conference, Michigan was only "meh" in defensive rebounding despite Brown vacuuming up anything in his vicinity: 7th at 67%. This could be a real worry. Though losing Hunter is no big deal, Brown was an astoundingly good rebounder for someone who couldn't jump at all. Despite Petway's "mad hops," as the kids say, he only rebounded 18% of opponent's misses when he was on the floor, a far cry from Brown's 24%. Since Michigan did not often deploy the total offensive black hole represented by a Brown-Petway front line, his numbers can't be excused by Brown's presence. Petway's leaping is more than offset by his failure to box out and his tendency to attempt spectacular blocks on anything and everything, leaving the weakside wide open.

Unless the freshmen help significantly or Petway suddenly gets basketball fundamentals religion, Michigan will remain mediocre here. Sims is good but not great; he'll need help.

Shooting. Michigan will not yield 39% shooting on three-pointers two years in a row. Regression to the mean. Even if Michigan's defense was awful, it wasn't that awful. Whoever replaces Graham Brown will be more of a shot-blocker, be it Udoh or Petway or Sims, but less likely to apply his muscle cleverly or take charges. The net effect should be similar for post defense, but the forest of potential shot blockers will make driving the lane a dodgy proposition, and that's good, because there are going to be a lot of drivers.

Jerrett Smith has shown no inclination to get between men and the basket -- another nasty habit for a point guard -- and now will be squaring off against the opposition's primary ballhandler. This is going to end badly.


Who in the sam-hell is going to create shots? Separately Michigan appears to have three proven collegiate scorers in Courtney Sims, Dion Harris, and Lester Abram, but not one of them consistently gets his own shot. Harris' distinction is stark: outstanding when he finds himself a three-pointer to take but saddled with a 2FG% frankly awful: 42%. Whoah, there, Iverson! Abram and Sims have consistently shot the lights out but have coupled that with eye-gouging assist-to-turnover ratios, Sims in particular. He's a black hole in the post. Once it goes in, it's going up or it's dribbling weakly out of bounds as Sims shrugs in disgust.

For all of Horton's faults, he was a somewhat reliable penetrator who occasionally created something for another player. Michigan doesn't have anyone matching that description this year.


Michigan has scheduled itself into a corner. Like Wisconsin football, it will be hard to get any respect in the early part of the season, as the schedule is divided into two sorts of teams:
  • "I didn't know they had a college called that."
  • Georgetown and UCLA.
Unless we pull out an upset in our two opportunties, the committee will have every reason to look down its nose at our candidacy, especially if the Big Ten is as bad as it looks like it will be and if this team fumbles its way to a mediocre record in the league. Can this team get to 11-5? It may have to.

I don't pretend to know enough about the rest of the league to provide a solid prediction, but here are some things I think will happen:
  • Petway is replaced in the starting lineup by the Big Ten season.
  • Jerrett Smith is not quite a disaster but is an obvious millstone around our neck on both ends of the court.
  • Sims rolls up huge numbers against the weaklings on our schedule, gets everyone excited, and then pulls the same disappearing act he did last year.
  • The team looks about as well-coached as Michigan State... football.
  • We miss the tournament.


Jerret Smith has to function. He doesn't have to shoot but he does have to maintain a respectable A-TO ratio and find his teammates open shots. There is some hope here: as a freshman he looked frankly better at that than Horton ever did. (Horton was always more of a shooting guard with a nice handle.) But his ballhandling and defense must improve radically for him to be anything other than a liability.

The other thing that could tip the balance is DeShawn Sims and/or Udoh busting out like whoah. Either could; much has been said positively about them. A major post threat would open up all sorts of excellent kickout options.

The rest? Name someone Amaker's coached other than Graham Brown who has changed as a player under his tutelage.


12-3 OOC, 9-7 in conference, second round of BTT, 22-11, NIT bid.