Winning Without Rebounds

It’s a consensus that Michigan struggled to rebound the ball last year. They played a 6-foot-8 center and a 6-foot-5 power forward so the results are not all that surprising.

On the season Michigan’s defensive rebounding percentage ranked 222nd in Division 1 while their offensive numbers were even worse at 282nd. They shored up their defensive rebounding in conference play, ranking 3rd, but were still 9th on the offensive glass. Despite the improved numbers in conference play, Michigan still had several painful rebounding games.

Luckily, John Beilein seems to have figured out a way to win without rebounding.

Using Ken Pomeroy’s correlation statistics, which compare the effect on offensive and defensive efficiency of each of the four factors (eFG%, OR%, TO%, FTR). Here are Pomeroy’s correlation numbers for Michigan last year:

                        to OE       to DE
                 Pace:  +0.18       -0.41

                 eFG%:  +0.87*      -0.23
                  OR%:  +0.07       -0.06
                  TO%:  -0.44*      -0.06
                  FTR:  +0.23       +0.00

             Opp eFG%:  -0.34       +0.72*
              Opp OR%:  +0.08       +0.17
              Opp TO%:  -0.17       -0.45*
              Opp FTR:  -0.47*      +0.52*

             Bold  values are significant with a 95% confidence
             Bold* values are significant with a 99% confidence

The effect of some statistics is blatantly obvious. Naturally, shooting percentages are going to have dramatic effects on offensive and defensive efficiency. Some of the other numbers allow us to make some interesting conclusions about a specific team. For a further explanation of the correlation numbers, check out Ken Pomeroy’s thoughts on the matter.

The issue at hand is Michigan’s rebounding numbers. There appear to be no significant correlations between Michigan’s offensive rebounding and their offensive efficiency. Similarly, on the defensive side of the ball, there is minimal correlation between defensive rebounding and defensive efficiency.

Judging by Michigan’s results, these numbers make sense. Michigan won plenty of games when they were dominated on the glass. They won seven of the nine games in which they allowed their opponents to rebound over 40% of their misses. On the other hand, they were 6-3 in their nine best rebounding games. In the remaining 16 games, Michigan was 7-9.

On a game by game basis, there are plenty of examples where Michigan was dominated on the glass and somehow came away with a victory. Here are visual representations of the four factors in Michigan’s five worst defensive rebounding performances of last season.

Against Minnesota, Michigan was able to pull out a narrow upset thanks to valuing the basketball and forcing a ton of turnovers.

Against Clemson, Michigan survived because Clemson couldn’t make a shot. Clemson put up a futile 36.2% eFG% compared to Michigan’s almost respectable 49%.

UCLA was another case of winning thanks to the turnover battle. Michigan hung around in an ugly low scoring game thanks to winning the turnover battle.

There are also cases where it just doesn’t work. Rounding out the bottom 5 rebounding performances were the Maryland and Connecticut games.

Being able to hold onto the ball actually kept Michigan in both of these games as well but they fell just short.

John Beilein clearly has a strategy in place. Looking at statistical profiles of old Beilein teams, the emphasis is clear: shoot threes, don’t turn it over, and keep opponents off the line.

The four factors were developed by people smarter than me to represent the most important factors to winning a basketball game. Dean Oliver’s original weights on each factor were 40% shooting, 25% turnovers, 20% rebounding, 15% free throws. In this case it appears that, for Beilein teams, rebounding is the least important of the four meaning it should probably be weighted a little less.

There are obviously many ways to skin a cat, or in this case win a basketball game. There are numerous examples in this very conference of differing styles Wisconsin slows the game down to a crawl, Michigan State crashes the glass, and Purdue plays in your hip-pocket all night on defense. You can make arguments over which style of play is best but at the end of the day winning is winning, whether you play a 50 possession game, shoot 40 threes, or rebound half your misses.

A common opinion among Michigan fans is that the team will be able to play big this year, shoring up last year’s poor rebounding numbers, with the additions of Ben Cronin and Jordan Morgan. The best way for Michigan to improve isn’t to improve what they were worst at. It’s to improve what’s most important to winning. The option to go big doesn’t hurt but at this point it’s not going to make Michigan the best team.

Three point shooting is an area that will have a much more tangible effect. I analyzed the three point shooting of last year’s team and there is certainly room for improvement. And we all know that when the threes fell, Michigan won. They were 15-5 (75%) when they shot over 31% from three point range but only 6-9 (40%) when they shot 31% or below.

As much as it may sound like heresy to basketball traditionalists, it’s possible to win without crashing the glass.

There is no question that Michigan is going to be a perimeter oriented team again this year. I think it makes more sense to be excited about becoming a better one rather than shifting style of play. Ben Cronin will be useful in situations against oversized teams like UConn last year but he’s not going to change what Michigan does night in and night out.

To Top