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Friday Hoops Tries to Make Sense of Things

For those of you who haven't been following the basketball program with all the Bowl game, Carr and Rodriguez related hoopla, you haven't missed much. To say the team has stunk wouldn't do it justice. They've been rancid. The season thus far has been god awful the dismal that it's beginning to warp the space and time surrounding Crisler. (There's a Steven Hawking joke here, but I'm not going there.)

Michigan currently stands at 4-9 (0-1) and dead last in the Big Ten in just about every category. Michigan has lost to three directional schools (Eastern Washington by 8, Western Kentucky by 4, and Central Michigan by 11) and has been blown out by every ranked or soon to be ranked team its faced. On top of that, Michigan lost by 11 to Harvard. HARVARD. A school WITHOUT athletic scholarships. A team comprised of short white and asian guys who can't even touch the rim let alone dunk. A school that is coached by Tommy Amaker. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARG!

In Latin it Means "Ha Ha!"

What about the numbers. Statistics lie, maybe there's something in there that'll make me feel better. D'oh. Based on the numbers Michigan is the worst team in the Big Ten. Michigan is dead last in scoring defense, three point defense, scoring margin, field goal percentage, and rebounding. Michigan is also second to last in such critical categories as field goal percentage defense, assists and scoring offense.

I'm of the opinion these things will improve with time, but a recent ESPN article on Bob Huggins' return to Morgantown didn't help my mood.

Overall, West Virginia's defense last season was effective, but it faded in league play because it was more gimmicky than solid. In nonconference play, against teams that rarely saw Beilein's man and 1-3-1 zone defenses, teams missed 3s and coughed up the ball at unsustainable rates. In Big East play, turnovers were way down and field-goal percentages went up, making the overall numbers look less formidable. West Virginia's 2-point field-goal defense -- the most accurate barometer of overall defensive quality -- was the worst in the Big East.

Ugh. While I disagree that FG% is the "most accurate barometer of overall defensive quality," it is a relevant statistic. You can't give up two free points in the paint every time down the court and expect to beat the other team by launching jump shots. If that worked the Chicago Bulls would've won the last three NBA crowns. It doesn't. You have to be able to defend the post, and score in it, to be able to win at any level of basketball.

Here are the Big East Conference Play Stats from the prior three seasons:

In 2006-2007 WVU was 9th in Scoring defense and 14th in FG% defense.
In 2005-2006 WVU was 4th in Scoring defense but 16th in FG% defense.
In 2004-2005 WVU was 10th in Scoring defense and 11th in FG% defense.$
($ Ed note - the Big East expanded from 12 to 16 teams in 2005-2006)

The reason for their success appears to be the ability to fill the hoop. From 2004 through 2007, WVU was 7th, 6th and 4th in FG% on offense, and 4th, 10th and 5th from Three, respectively. These defensive number are not very good, no matter how you look at them. I realize that Beilein took two of those teams to the NCAA's, but I'm scratching my head as to how.

Michigan is currently shooting 42% from the floor and 33% from three. These are not numbers you want if your offense relies on a jump shot. Beilein's system has been good at getting plenty of open looks for Michigan's players, but there's a catch, none of these kids are spot up shooters. N.O.N.E. They're mostly post players (Sims/Udoh), slashers (Grady) or tweeners (Harris). Asking these kids to become entirely different players over a summer is not producing particularly good results.

Making matters worse, Michigan is hemorrhaging scholarship players like a hemophiliac at a knife, scissor and pointy things factory. Reed Baker, the one guy who was tailor made for Beilein's system, had his scholarship yanked. Kendric Price was handed his walking papers over the summer and K'len Morris left for family reasons.

The latest victim of Beilein's scholarship machete was point guard Jerrett Smith, who hadn't played in a game in over a month. Smith's dismissal from the team was unusually made very public, and stated the Smith got the boot for academic reasons. To top it off, Smith is still in the picture advertising ticket plans despite being asked to pack his things and leave.

I started to feel bad about Smith getting wedgied on his way out the door, that is until until Ekpe Udoh was asked whether Smith's dismissal affected the team in any way.

"Nobody's really noticed it."

But you guys talked about what Jerret meant to the team, right?

"Yeah, we had meetings about that," Udoh said. "We put it into (Beilein's) hands and he made a great decision."

Okay, Udoh'd only been around him for a year, maybe they didn't mesh. What about Ron Coleman? They'd played together since high school?

"It's strange, because he's been around me since high school," Coleman said. "You've got to keep going and adjust to it. ... We're here just to play basketball. We don't let the other stuff impact us."

Mr. Smith, your parting gifts can be picked up by the dumpster.

This is not to say positives can't be found. I think Grady has been very good running the point. I think the system is working very well at doing what its supposed to, create shots. I think this team will get better... next year.

Michigan dropped its first Conference game in brutal fashion, spending most of the game down by double digits. They do however have the chance to make amends. Michigan plays Purdue in West Lafayette this Saturday at 2pm EST.