2008-2009 Season

Halfway Home

The Standings. Right now Michigan is 8th in the Big Ten, a half game behind Northwestern. It’s important to remember that the Big Ten schedule is very unbalanced this year. Some teams have played some teams twice already (e.g. Michigan and Illinois) and some haven’t even met once this year (e.g. Michigan and Minnesota).

In order to try and make some sense of the standings I pulled some simple data: home losses, road wins, games remaining against Indiana, and home games remaining. Home losses and road wins are crucial in a league where it is so important to defend home court. At this point Indiana is really the only cupcake in the league (even though they might still beat someone) so if you have games left to play against the Hoosiers that is definitely an advantage. The table is sortable and the team names are linked to their WarrenNolan RPI profiles.

Team Wins Losses Road
MSU 7 2 4 2 2 5
Purdue 6 2 3 1 1 5
Minn 6 3 3 2 1 4
Illinois 6 3 1 0 1 4
PSU 6 3 2 1 1 4
OSU 5 4 2 1 0 5
NW 4 5 1 2 1 4
Mich 4 6 1 2 0 4
Wisc 3 6 1 2 2 5
Iowa 2 7 0 2 1 5
Indiana 0 8 0 4 0 5

It is pretty clear that Michigan is not in ideal shape. They are the only Big Ten team that has already played 10 games, they have already dropped 2 at home, they have only one road win, and they don’t have any more games against Indiana remaining. Wisconsin looks like they could still make a run for a tournament spot thanks to two games against Indiana but their margin of error is slim after a 6 game losing streak.

Tempo Free. Spartans Weblog and Big Ten Geeks have all the tempo free Big Ten statistics that you could possibly need. KJ posted an updated aerial last night:

AerialBecause we have seen Michigan’s struggles first hand, it isn’t that surprising that Michigan has gone from the best offense (after the non-conference season) to the below average range with Iowa and Northwestern. Purdue and Illinois have the best defenses in the league and you will notice that the standings pretty much fall right in line with defensive efficiency. On the offensive side of the ball the top dogs are Michigan State and surprisingly Wisconsin. Wisconsin has struggled lately but apparently this is due to their defense rather than their apparently solid offense.

Three Point Shooting. It doesn’t take a statistician to know that Michigan had an awful time shooting the ball in January but the numbers really are ugly. Looking at Stat Sheet’s three point tracker it becomes pretty clear why Michigan is struggling to win games.

Michigan shot 37.9% from long range in December while taking 29 three attempts per game. They shot the ball well for pretty much the whole month and the three point shot helped them to the huge upset win over Duke. They are only shooting 27.8 attempts per game in January but they are shooting a dreadful 29.6%.

Announcers and writers love to make the point that Michigan is shooting the most three pointers in conference play yet they are shooting the lowest percentage. It is definitely important to score inside but the fact is that Michigan is not equipped to score inside. Michigan was already mediocre at getting to the line and the more physical Big Ten limits them inside the arc. The bottom line is that this team needs the three point shot to win games in conference play because they are so undersized.

If the three point shooting numbers in February don’t look more like December than January then it is probably a safe bet that Michigan didn’t turn their season around.

Tournament Chances. Michigan needs to win 5 more games to get to 9-9 and I have a hard time seeing a 19-12 (9-9) Michigan team that beat Duke, UCLA, Illinois and others left out of the dance. Adding in a first round tournament win and a likely second round loss and you are looking at a 20-13 overall record.

Andy Katz listed the teams that have made the tournament with losing conference records and there is more or less one per year and sometimes more. In my book Michigan would be one of the top candidates in the country to make the dance at 8-10. They beat Duke and UCLA in the non conference and play in the Big Ten which is arguably the deepest conference in the country and has the #2 ranked RPI. Not to mention Michigan’s strength of schedule will likely be top 10 when all is said and done.

The Penn State game on Thursday is looking more and more like a “must win”. If Michigan loses Thursday, a 5 game losing streak is not out of the question. However if they can knock off Penn State, the team that they appear to be competing with for a tournament slot, they will at least stop the bleeding a bit. The three other remaining home games are Michigan State, Minnesota, and Purdue and the “winnable” road games are at Iowa and at Northwestern. It would be ideal to get to 9 wins before finishing the season off with road games at Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The road certainly isn’t easy but I wouldn’t say it is impossible just yet. Then again, it’s hard to be confident when the major bracket projections (sidebar) don’t have Michigan any better than “The Last Four Out”.


To Top