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Make it or Break it: the Curious Case of Stu Douglass and the One Guard at Michigan

Like any casual observer of the Michigan Connecticut game last Sunday, I came away thrilled with the outcome. Despite that something was bothering me. After I took a look at the box score, I knew exactly what it was. It's been no secret that Michigan has gotten little to nothing out of its supporting cast this year. Absent 20 point plus performances from both DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris, Michigan was unlikely to emerge from any game with a win. Laval Lucas-Perry, Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, Darius Morris, Anthony Wright, and Matt Vogrich all have yet to carry over any success in one game to the next. As a result, Michigan will be tipping off in New York for the NIT this March rather than the NCAA's, barring a miracle run in Big Ten conference play or outright winning the Big Ten Tournament.

There's a chance, it's remote, but there's a chance. Right?

But to make it a reality Michigan has to get the most out of the people on the floor. That's why this posting about the Michigan players' individual lus/minus rating at got my wheels spinning.

The Prospectus takes the +/- concept one step further, taking into account the margin while a player is on the court and while the player is off the court to combine them into a "net" amount which is also called a Roland rating in the NBA. So for example, Stu Douglass posted an "on" score (formerly the plus/minus number) of +13 versus Indiana however while he was off the court Michigan outscored Indiana by 11, giving him an "off" score of 11. His final Roland Rating is calculated by subtracting the off score from the on score which gives us a Roland Rating of 2.  DeShawn Sims posted an on score of 27 and an off score of –3 giving him a Roland Rating of +30. Etc. Etc.

Dlyan may have been using Douglass as an example, but looking at the numbers, I kind of doubt it. In 195 muntes of conference play (and UConn), Stu is a -27. Hockey players, like me, love the plus minus rating. While it's not perfect and can unjustly punish/reward players on bad/good teams, for teams in the middle (e.g., Michigan) it's a fairly good indicator of who's providing value to the team. And it can really surprise you from time to time.

Hence, Stu Douglass.

I was absolutely shocked to see Stu Douglass' horrific Roland Rating through the first few weeks of conference play. Watching him play over the last few weeks I thought Stu was definitely one of the better players on the team. He seemed to bring some stablility to the "point" position. We knew he could shoot. At least last year he could shoot. He seemed to know what he was doing on the defensive end. Naturally, I assumed he benefitted Michigan more on the court than off it. Um. Notsomuch

Michigan is just a plus 4 with Douglass on the court and a plus 31 with him off it. How is that possible? He's second on the team in assits with 45 and has a 45:17 assist to turnover ratio (that's 2.65 assists for every turnover)! He's even got 18 steals on the year, offsetting his turnovers. Seriously, how is his plus/minus this bad?

The answer lies in his shooting. Against UConn Douglass was just 4-12, trailing only Manny Harris in shots taken that game. Further, Douglass was just 3-10 behind the arc, taking more than double the number of threes that any other teammate attempted on Sunday. Taking a larger view of the season, this is kind of a theme.

In 17 games Douglass has the lowest field goal percentage of any player not named Anthonty Wright, making just 32% of his shots. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal but Douglass is third on the team in attempts with 119; leading Novak by 9 and LLP by 29 attempts. He's shooting 6% less from the field than the next closest shooter on the team. The disturbing thing is that despite his low shooting percentage, Douglass is second on the team in 3 point shooting at 31.5%. So yeah, just 31.5% of his team leading 91 trey attemps have gone in. He's lofted 12 more treys than Manny and almost 20 more treys than Novak. Making matters even stranger, he's launched 29 more treys than our leading 3 point shooter, LLP. If you're looking for a reason Douglass' plus/minus is so bad right now, it's because he hasn't been able to hit the broad side of a barn with a tractor, despite going through a John Deere factory's worth of tractors.

Also, when you're launching that many shots you need to grab a few boards, which Douglass is not. In nearly 500 minutes this season (478) he has just 35 rebounds. That's the same number that Darius Morris has in 100 fewer minutes and 12 fewer than LLP has in 60 fewer minutes.

Of the players on the roster and in the box scores, Douglass' position as starter seems the hardest to defend based on stats alone. So why is he starting and playing significant minutes over LLP or Morris? Personally, I think it's because he brings some stability to the "point" position. We've tried to make Manny a point guard. It didn't work. Douglass is an excellent defender and seems to have a grasp of what Beilein expects on the defensive end. Offensively, he's just crafty enough to handle the ball through traffic and is incredibly careful with the ball. For comparison's sake, LLP has 34 assists and 24 TO while the freshman phenom in Morris has 45 assists and 31 turnovers.

I have to believe that one reason Beilein's keeping Stu as a starter is because he stabilizes the offense, even if he's not contributing a whole lot offensively. Another reason, when the lid comes off that bucket Stu is going to drop 20 on someone. Finally, defensively, he's a much better option than LLP or Morris are at this point.

But let's be clear, the second LLP or Morris take that next step defensively, Douglass should probably sit. At least until his stroke comes back. Last season Douglass was a sniper off the bench. This season he's being called on to handle a far heavier load. I think he's capable of rising to the challenge, but with two talented players behind him, he may run out of time.

One thing is for sure, for Michigan to beat Wisconsin tonight and for the Wolverines to go on the run necessary for them to make the NCAA tournament, Stu's going to have to start making his shots. Or it will indeed break the season.