96 Team March Madness
Say it ain’t so. According to Sports by Brooks, a 96 team NCAA tournament is a “done deal“. March Madness is easily my favorite sporting event but if this is true it will be a huge blow. I can’t see any way that this works. I don’t know why you have to mess with perfection. Let’s hope this rumor heads toward internet purgatory rather than reality but with all the talk, it’s tough to deny the fact that a 96 team tournament is coming at some point.
|Team||W||L||Poss.||Off. Eff.||Def. Eff.||Eff. Margin|
If you are looking for a sign that Michigan is playing better basketball in conference play then you need look no further than this week’s efficiency margin table. With 9 conference games played, Michigan stands 5th in efficiency margin even though they are only 4-5. Michigan ranks above Illinois and Minnesota but they are a ways behind the top 4 of Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Ohio State.
The most impressive point off this table has to be Michigan’s defense. Michigan has the #3 defense on a point per possession basis. There were times in November and December when I didn’t think Michigan was capable of getting a stop but the defensive improvement has been remarkable. It’s painful to think about what the season could have been if Michigan was playing defense at this level from day 1.
One guy who definitely deserves a shoutout for improved defensive performance is Laval Lucas-Perry. He hasn’t done much of anything in the scoring column but I’m convinced that he has stepped up his game dramatically in the last couple weeks. Here are his Roland ratings (I’ll post a full update later) from the last 5 games:
- Iowa: +8
- MSU: +15
- @Purdue: +10
- @Wisc: +10
- UConn: +13
In three of these games (Uconn, Wisc, MSU) he was top on the team in plus/minus and in most of the games he outperformed Morris and Douglass. Now, he just needs to start hitting some wide open shots.
Bring on the POTs
Michigan has defended the three point shot better than any other team in the Big Ten, holding opponents to only 27.5% from behind the arc. Michigan might not be able to make three point shots but at least they are doing a good job of defending them.
A lot of credit has to go to Michigan’s guards: Stu Douglass, Laval Lucas-Perry, and Darius Morris. They have done a much better job closing out on shooters. Zack Novak has also developed himself into one of the better off the ball defenders on the team. He fights through screens and does a great job of defending the three point shot despite spending plenty of his time defending the low post as well.
Michigan attempted to go out and schedule plenty of tough opponents this year including trips to Kansas and Orlando for the Old Spice Classic. At first glance, that plan appears to have backfired. Michigan’s RPI calculated strength of schedule ranks 65th in the country. Not bad but nothing compared to last year’s schedule (10th) and certainly nothing to write home about.
A deeper dive into Ken Pomeroy’s strength of schedule rankings reveals that Michigan’s schedule might be a little tougher than one would expect. Pomeroy rank’s Michigan’s schedule the 9th toughest in the country.
Why the discrepancy? The RPI strength of schedule is 2/3 opponents’ winning percentage and 1/3 opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage. This is based purely on how many games a team’s opponents win, nothing else. Pomeroy’s ranking is based on a team’s adjusted offensive and efficiency numbers — how good a team is statistically.
I’ve mentioned Pomeroy’s “luck” statistic last week and how it painfully measured how many times Michigan has come up short down the stretch (Michigan is down to 333rd in luck). Judging by the large discrepancy between the two strength of schedules it appears that Michigan’s opponents might be just as unlucky. So it’s not surprising to find Marquette, Penn State, Connecticut, Utah among thirty most unlucky teams.
Essentially, Michigan has been stuck playing far too many good teams that have underperformed. Michigan is in a situation where they’ve been stuck playing these solid teams where there is little to gain RPI wise and much to lose. That’s not to say that Michigan shouldn’t be kicking themselves, the Wolverines are 1-6 in games decided by 6 points or less.
The Unbalanced Schedule
The Big Ten schedule is incredibly unbalanced this year with many teams playing their two games within a matter of two weeks. Because of this funky scheduling, it’s tough to take too much from the conference standings at this point. There are plenty of teams who have a schedule that is setting them up for either success or failure down the stretch.
- MSU (9-0) – Final 9: @Wisc, @Ill, PU, @PSU, @IU, OSU, @Purdue, PSU, Mich
- Purdue (6-3) – Final 9: @IU, @MSU, Iowa, @OSU, Ill, @Minn, MSU, IU, @PSU
- OSU (6-3) – Final 9: PSU, Iowa, @IU, @Ill, PU, @MSU, @PSU, Mich, Ill
- Wisc. (6-3) – Final 9: MSU, @Mich, Ill, IU, @Minn, NW, @IU, Iowa, @Ill
- Ill. (6-3) – Final 9: @Iowa, MSU, @Wisc, OSU, @Purdue, @Mich, Minn, @OSU, Wisc
- NW(3-6) – Final 9: Mich, IU, @Iowa, Minn, PSU, @Wisc, Iowa, @PSU, @IU
- Minn. (4-5) – Final 9: @PSU, Mich, @NW, Wisc, IU, PU, @ILL, @Mich, Iowa
- Mich. (4-5) – Final 9: @NW, Wisc, @Minn, @Iowa, PSU, Ill, @OSU, Minn, @MSU
The obvious winner is Northwestern, who plays 6 games against the bottom three. The Wildcats have to be kicking themselves that they couldn’t steal one or two more games in early conference play. Illinois looks to be setup for failure. The Illini play 6 of their last 9 games versus to the top 4 and only one game against the bottom three.
In terms of the title race, Purdue looks like they need to sweep Michigan State to get back involved. Michigan and Minnesota are deadlocked right now but face each other twice down the stretch which could be pivotal games in terms of final conference standings.
Michigan’s home game versus Minnesota will be on March 2nd, at 7:00 PM EST on Big Ten Network.
Jon Horford (2010, Center) posted a triple double earlier last week with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 13 blocked shots in a win over Waverly. Trey Zeigler (2010 G/F) has led Mount Pleasant to 7 straight wins and has been putting up monster numbers along the way. As previously mentioned, Trey was in Ann Arbor on Saturday to see Michigan take on Iowa. Tim Hardaway (2010 commit, G/F) had 27 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals, and 4 assists in a 58-39 win over Homestead. Carlton Brundidge (2011 commit, G) had 26 points in a 64-63 loss to North Farmington.