Hey we're talking about basketball again!
Michigan squeaked out a win without LeVert, but what's the rest of the season going to look like as they find roles for their shooting forwards?
Drew: It's not going to look pretty. Yes, Michigan is 5-2 in the Big Ten, but U-M has benefited from playing arguably the easiest conference schedule thus far. The five Big Ten teams Michigan has beaten are 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th in standings and have a combined 7-26 conference record. Further, Michigan eked out all five of those victories, winning each by single digits, while both of its losses were convincing defeats.
While Michigan's won the Big Ten games it's needed to win, the losses will begin to add up. The schedule is going to get much tougher starting tonight against Wisconsin. KenPom projects that Michigan will be the underdog in nine of its next 10 games with the exception being when U-M hosts Nebraska this Tuesday. And that projection is being made under the assumption that Caris LeVert will be playing, which we know is not the case. This doesn't mean that Michigan will lose every single one of those games, but U-M likely won't win more than three of them, ending its NCAA Tournament hopes.
But, after it was announced LeVert will miss the rest of the season, any on-the-court success is just an added bonus for Michigan because expectations are now rock bottom. The rest of this season is about seeing how Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin can handle being the leaders on the floor and how the freshmen develop with more playing time, especially Ricky Doyle and Aubrey Dawkins. So, though it may look very ugly at times on the hardwood for Michigan, know that progress for next season is already being made.
John: While odds are Drew is right about where Michigan is heading this year there is still a chance for greatness from the Wolverines. Aubrey Dawkins has shown flashes of greatness while Doyle has shown flashes of McGaryness. If Zak Irvin can become less Carmelo and more Klay Thompson with his shot selection and if Derrick Walton gets healthy Michigan could be a solid team in the Big Ten. The conference offers plenty of opportunities for quality wins that could give Michigan a strong chance on selection sunday. Is all this likely? Probably not, but you never know.
They've got Wisconsin coming in this evening, so what kind of lineup is going to slow down one of the most efficient offenses in the nation? Will they beat Wisconsin (note that chances are auto-diminished if Harbaugh isn't in attendance)?
Drew: Wisconsin has the second-most efficient offense in the nation according to KenPom's opponent-adjusted stat. A critical reason for that is because Wisconsin is averaging an unbelieveable 1.278 points per possession through its first six conference games. For context, that is 0.168 points per possession more than the second-best offense in Big Ten play, Iowa. So there's not much a defense can do to slow down and contain an offense as high-powered and efficient as Wisconsin's, which excels at knocking down jump shots, particularly from midrange, and not turning the ball over.
Wisconsin's offense runs through its big men, Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunner Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes, and Sam Dekker, so Michigan has a decision to make: allow them to operate mostly inside the arc, where all three thrive, or pack the paint and force Wisconsin to beat U-M from downtown, where the Badgers have made 40 percent of their shots in conference play. Pick your poison. The one that's less toxic is to pack the paint and force Wisconsin to make U-M pay from deep. It's a boom or bust strategy. If the Badgers get hot or even just hit at their normal rate, the Wolverines won't be able to keep pace. But, on the off chance that on this night, just this night, Wisconsin cools off from behind the three-point line, Michigan could have a shot to pull off the upset.
However, for Michigan to win, even if U-M slows down Wisconsin's offense, the Badgers' defense, which leverages offenses into a myriad of midrange jumpers, will feast on a poor shooting Michigan team that hasn't been able to get to the rim all season. Accordingly, Wisconsin wins by 15 points.
John: Yeah Kaminsky is gonna be a real problem for the Wolverines... and I don't think any lineup will help. I think Michigan has to load up with Donnal and Doyle to force Wisconsin to shoot the ball from deep and then pray the baskets at Crisler are on their side. If Wisconsin starts knocking down threes, which they always do, Michigan will be in trouble.
Different guys are putting in production each of these last few games, but who has impressed you the most among the freshmen stepping in for the hobbled regulars?
Drew: For me, it has to be Aubrey Dawkins. Despite being the son of Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins, as a recruit, Dawkins wasn't just under the radar. He was off the radar. And he wasn't expected to contribute much this season. But, in small doses, Dawkins has flashed some raw, natural ability that John Beilein will be able to develop in the future. He's already been a very good spot-up shooter and has the athleticism to be a strong finisher in transition, which is something Michigan hasn't had all season now that Glenn Robinson III is no longer on the roster. With Dawkins filling in for Caris LeVert in the starting lineup, I can't wait to see what he does with extended minutes.
John: I agree with Drew. Aubrey Dawkins is GRIII minus a little talent and a lot of hype. Given what previous summers have done to Trey, Caris and Stauskas I can only imagine how great Dawkins could be a year from now.
At this point in the season, what's Michigan's biggest detriment to winning games: turnovers, or poor shooting/shot selection?
Drew: Poor shooting/shot selection. On one hand, Michigan is 22nd in the nation in offensive TO%. It's actually the one thing Michigan does really well offensively. On the other hand, Michigan is 213th in eFG% and one of the worst high-major teams at penetrating into the paint and taking shots within five feet of the basket. It's not close.
John: Again I agree with Drew. Michigan has always taken threes like crazy, but the offense has looked very un-Beilein this year.
And what kind of schematic/playstyle shift might play to the strengths of the available players to make a charge for the NCAA Tournament?
Drew: At this point, there really isn't one, unless there's some magical potion that can cure each Wolverine's injuries and ailments instantly. With Caris LeVert out and a sprained toe hindering Derrick Walton, Michigan doesn't have anyone that can effectively create offensive for himself and his teammates throughout the course of a game. If Walton was 100 percent, maybe, just maybe, his ability to get into the paint could open things up for the offense and provide better looks for Zak Irvin, Spike Albrecht, and Aubrey Dawkins as spot-up shooters on the perimeter. But Walton's toe will nag him for the rest of the season, so I wouldn't expect Michigan's offense improve.
John: Beilein has to find a way to get this offense back on track. Sadly Walton's hurt, Spike is quite a true option, and Irvin hasn't shown the ability to find his own shot that made Stauskas so deadly. I'd suggest empty the playbook and run the offense through anyone and everyone. If anybody can find a way to make all these pieces fit together its John Beilein.
One final word: HARBAUGH