Zack Gibson continues to leave Michigan fans scratching their head and longing for more. He manages to display just enough of his potential every couple games to make you realize that he could play at this level. The problem is that those flashes of potential are nothing more than a tease. At 6-foot-10 he has enough ability to be a valuable asset in the Beilein offense but he just can’t turn his skill set into consistent production.
In a year that was defined by improvement across the board, Zack Gibson managed to take a step backwards. Zack regressed in almost every statistical category: minutes per game (13.9 to 12.1), offensive rating (106.2 to 97.3), eFG% (52.4 to 51.2), free throw percentage (72.2 to 50.0), points per game (5.4 to 3.9), and rebounds per game (2.8 to 2.2). The most frustrating part of Zack’s regression is the fact that, with Ekpe Udoh’s departure, there was ample opportunity for him to step up and become a contributor.
As we are all too aware, Michigan desperately needed size inside last year. With a 6-foot-8 starting center and a 6-foot-4 starting power forward there was plenty of minutes available for a 6-foot-10 big man. Zack didn’t necessarily seize the moment, he played more than 15 minutes in only 6 games last year (Duke #1, UConn, Northwestern (OT), Illinois, and UCLA). This was partly because he never played alongside DeShawn Sims but mostly because he didn’t produce when he was on the court.
Zack’s first problem was that he couldn’t stay on the floor without picking up silly fouls. He averaged 4.9 fouls per 40 minutes, the highest mark on the team with only CJ Lee and Dave Merritt breaking the 4 fouls per 40 minutes barrier. A high number makes sense for Lee, the team’s most aggressive defender, and Merritt, who almost always was facing a more athletic guard. Gibson just couldn’t seem to avoid cheap fouls.
When Zack was in the game he tried his best to make himself noticed. He used more of his possessions (20.2%) than anyone on the team beside Manny, DeShawn, and Laval. However, Gibson’s 97.1 offensive rating was the third lowest on the team, only ahead of Anthony Wright and Dave Merritt. For those unfamiliar with tempo free stats, ideally you want the players with the highest offensive rating to be the ones using the most possessions. Gibson’s statistics are just the opposite, he was near the bottom in terms of efficiency and the top in terms of usage.
Anyone that watched Zack play would guess that he didn’t shoot the ball well from long range last year. His 23% three point shooting percentage was absolutely dreadful. After shooting under 30% in each of his two years in the Maize & Blue, it’s hard to encourage Zack to launch anymore up from behind the arc.
There are a couple positives to point out on Zack’s statistical profile. He actually shot a very high percentage on 2 point field goal attempts, his 56.5 2pfg% was the best on the team. This is all the more reason that Zack needs to start shooting more shots from inside rather than outside. Zack also did a great job blocking shots while he was in the game, his 7% block percentage was more than double DeShawn’s 2.9%.
- vs. Illinois — 10 points on 4 of 5 (1-1 3pt) shooting, 1 assist, and a block
There is no doubt that this was Zack’s best performance of the year. Gibson iced the win when he blew past Tisdale and finished with a slam with 4 minutes to play (the biggest snub of the plays of the year poll). Zack scored 8 of his 10 points in the second half and was the difference between Michigan winning and losing. This Illinois game is often overlooked but it turned out to be one of Michigan’s more important wins of the year.
- at UConn — 7 points on 3-6 shooting (1-3 3pt), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block
After this game I commented on how impressed I was with Zack’s effort against UConn’s bigs. The numbers aren’t overwhelming but Zack played hard and gave Michigan productive minutes. A back-up big man doesn’t need to provide scoring, they need to not hurt the team and try to provide a boost with some energy. Michigan obviously lost this game, but it was still one of their more impressive performances of the year.
- NCAA Tournament
-Clemson – 10 minutes, 2 points, 4 rebounds, and a block
–Oklahoma – 14 minutes, 5 points (2-4 fg), 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block
Another two games that weren’t the most impressive on paper but two that convinced me that Zack might be starting to turn the corner. Clemson and Oklahoma were both tough inside but Zack battled against the likes of Blake Griffin and Trevor Booker in a way that we have only seen occasionally. He scrapped and hustled and gave Michigan a lift in two games where DeShawn Sims was invisible at times.
Final Grade: D+
Overall it was a disappointing year for Zack. He had all the opportunity in the world to take on a bigger role but he just didn’t step up. Will he turn the corner before his senior year? Perhaps the competition in the frontcourt with Cronin, Morgan, and McLimans will help push him along but I’m having a hard time seeing it. Despite Zack’s solid play in Kansas City, at some point you have to stop saying that a fifth year senior has potential and start to admit that he is what he is.