Mailbag: Season Preview

Thanks to those of you who e-mailed questions last week. Hopefully we can make the mailbag a more regular feature. If you have questions don’t hesitate to send them to umhoops@gmail.com.

It seems like we were outsized and outrebounded a lot last year, and everybody is claiming we need some size. However, doesn’t Beilein’s perimeter-oriented offense make us at a supreme disadvantage for rebounding as it is? If Beilein got a traditional big center or PF, such as Plumlee or Amir Williams, how would he use him at the 5? What role does the 5 typically play in a Beilein-style offense?


There is no doubt that Michigan was undersized last year, Beilein started a 6-foot-8 center and a 6-foot-5 “power forward” (and those heights very well may be exaggerated) night in and night out. This style of play clearly isn’t ideal — teams like Ohio State, Oklahoma, Illinois, and Michigan State exploited Michigan’s size.

sims-reboundA surprising fact that John Gasaway (Basketball Prospectus) pointed out to me was that Michigan wasn’t all that bad on the defensive glass. In conference games, Michigan ranked 3rd in defensive rebounding percentage, behind only Michigan State and Wisconsin. That’s not to say all the interior statistics are rosy, as Michigan ranked 9th in offensive rebounding percentage (conference only) and 10th in 2point field goal percentage defense (all games).

So while Beilein’s system might not emphasize offensive rebounds, defensive rebounding is still very important. Michigan was surprisingly good at it, mostly because DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris combined for stellar rebounding numbers on the year.

Beilein’s offensive positions essentially break into three groups: two guards, two wings, and a big. So if a traditional big like Marshall Plumlee or Amir Williams were to come to Michigan he would be used at the 5, where DeShawn Sims played last year. Sims averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds per game and did a majority of his work around the paint. While versatility is importance at every position, there is still the need for a post player. If you look at Sims’ role last year, it would be hard not to see the importance of a post player in this offense.

I was talking recently to a very successful Michigan high school basketball coach who speaks once in a while with Izzo. This coach told me that there is a feeling that Beilein’s teams will always have a ceiling in conference play because they don’t play good enough defense to win when the threes don’t fall. I am not suggesting that this critique is coming from Izzo; I  am only saying that this high school coach knows basketball and is connected, and he was critical of the defense that Beilein’s teams play.

My question: What should we think of this coach’s assessment? I remember some stats from Mgoblog showing that West Virginia improved a lot defensively when Huggins arrive. What’s the take away?

Brief aside: This coach also made an interesting point about the 1-3-1. He said that part of the value of running this defense is that it’s rare, so opposing teams usually aren’t able to invest lots of time figuring it out. In the Big East, only WV ran it. However, in the Big Ten, as Northwestern runs an almost identical defense, Big Ten teams now have an incentive to spend more practice time on the 1-3-1. The value of the defense might then be reduced.

The idea of Beilein teams having a ceiling was thrown around before Beilein’s plane even landed in Ann Arbor. If people still believe the ceiling talk at this point, I’m not sure what it will take to change their minds.

The first argument was that certain players don’t fit “the system” and Beilein’s recruiting would be limited. Manny Harris was always the prime example of this as people argued that he was better suited to play at a school like Tennessee. Two years later he is first team All-Big Ten and a preseason All-American.

The next argument was that Beilein wouldn’t recruit locally, wouldn’t recruit top talents, and would stick to “sleeper” recruits in Indiana. Darius Morris, Evan Smotrycz, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Carlton Brundidge probably disagree.

Beilein’s teams have been known for the 1-3-1 defense but they run a significant amount of man defense. The 1-3-1 is more or less a change of pace, Beilein will run it and if it works he’ll stick with it. If it doesn’t work, he’ll go strictly man-to-man.

There are ways to beat the 1-3-1 defense but it is designed to put pressure on another team to execute. When it’s clicking it can completely derail a team like UCLA, making it a valuable weapon.

It’s always going to be tough to win when shots aren’t falling but last year’s team managed to win plenty of games while shooting three point shots at a lower clip than any of John Beilein’s winning teams at West Virginia.

There is a lot of hype building in Ann Arbor for this season, however I’m not feeling great. Purdue returns all five of their starters, Kalin Lucas returns for MSU, and Ohio State brings back Evan Turner. Do you think we’ll be able to avoid a letdown or are we going to be a 10-seed again or possibly even in the NIT?
-Harry Kroll
Chicago, IL

One of the biggest keys to last year was how well the squad stayed away from injuries–especially to the key players. I know we added a lot of depth to the wings and the guard spots, but I’m concerned about our bigs–particularly if Sims went down for any length of time. I feel like he’s our most irreplaceable guy.
Your thoughts on how injuries could affect the team and what you think Coach B would do in the event Peedi went down?
Go Blue!

Blind optimism is obviously foolish but it’s hard not to be excited about this season. Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State are very good teams who will contend at the top of the conference. But at this point it’s hard not to put Michigan in that upper tier group. A pessimist could point to the fact that Michigan was one or two games away from not making the tournament, that Michigan went 1-4 against the presumed “top three”, or that Illinois and Minnesota should be very good as well. They are all fair points but I think there are a lot more reasons to be excited than to worry.

To start with, Michigan’s offense should be more diversified this year with the addition of Darius Morris and a couple bigger bodies. Michigan also has two of the top 5 or 6 players in the conference in Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. If there is ever a year to be excited for a basketball season in Ann Arbor, this is it.

Following up on the second point, injuries are also a constant worry. This year’s team is deeper than last year’s, but losing Manny Harris or DeShawn Sims for any extended period of time would be a huge blow. When a Michigan fan hears “injuries” they most likely point to the 2004-05 season when Michigan was derailed by injuries and suspensions and ended up 13-18 after a promising NIT championship the year before. Injuries are a real threat, but there is no way to predict them so at this point your best bet is to bask in optimism.

The No. 1 question mark coming into the season opening is the status of Ben Cronin. Is he fully recovered? Can he stay healthy? How much relieve he can provide to the lack of size and depth of last year’s front court.


What about Jordan Morgan.  I think if used correctly, he can become another Maurice Taylor.  An underrated recruit who becomes a big ten force.  As he and Cronin are the centers for the time being, can they have a true impact?


I am interested in the Redshirting process.  First off, who may redshirt from this class (Morgan with his knee, Vogrich with the depth at his position, Mclimans despite the fact we need big men) and if so, how does it affect our scholarships in the future years?

Jay Rich

morgan5 cronin3

These are three questions that mostly relate to the incoming big men, injuries, and red-shirts so I lumped them together.

From what I understand, Ben Cronin is good to go. You can see him participating in Beilein’s track workouts (he’s the giant one) and while no one really knows if he can stay healthy, he’s ready to go for the season.

Morgan, on the other hand is still rehabbing his knee after getting surgery this summer. I doubt he is ready to go at the beginning of the season but he should be ready during the season. Morgan and Cronin will definitely add depth to the front court but I’m not sure what sort of impact to expect. Neither of them are likely to be scoring threats early on in their careers but they should be able to provide minutes in the front court especially when teams are controlling the paint.

If I had to handicap the chance of any of the freshmen redshirting I’d say:

  • Morgan – 60% – Injury concerns linger, would probably be the third option at the five behind Sims and Cronin.
  • McLimans – 25% – Needs strength but provides height and shooting ability at the four position. I think McLimans could surprise some people this year.
  • Vogrich – 15% – Also needs strength but definitely can shoot it. Vogrich has the potential to be an impact player with his three point shot alone but the question is how quickly he adapts to the system and how aggressive he plays.
  • Morris – 0% – Not a chance.

In terms of the effect of redshirts on scholarships in future years, redshirting a player would give Michigan one less scholarship in the class of ‘13 when one of this year’s freshmen head into their fifth year.

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