Just as Michigan appeared to be creating some momentum, it suffered a deflating home loss to Minnesota on Saturday. Now, it’s back to the drawing board for the Wolverines who have a pair of guarantee games — Southern Utah and Purdue Fort Wayne — before Christmas followed by a top-50 road game at Central Florida that will provide a last chance at a quality non-conference win.
With a bit of time to reflect, here are some thoughts on Michigan’s struggles, statistical anomalies, and potential avenues to improvement with conference play looming.
1. Part of Michigan’s defensive issues are by design
You might have seen the stat floating around that Michigan ranks in the 6th percentile in ball screen defense and the 2nd percentile in isolation defense. You also might have seen that the Wolverines are defending more ball screens and isolation plays than most other teams. And yes, the Wolverines are ranked 308th in percentage of ball screen plays faced and 276th in percentage of isolation plays faced.
That sounds like a bad-to-worse stat, but it is important to remember much of it is by design. The Wolverines run a defensive scheme designed to funnel opposing offenses into those shots. It is a good thing that teams are taking so many shots by ball screen and isolation ball handlers. It’s a bad thing that the Wolverines have been one of the worst teams defending those shots.
Establishing a baseline expectation with these statistics is important.
Last year, the Wolverines finished in the 27th percentile defending ball screens (and 346th in volume) and the 36th percentile defending isolations (and 339th in volume). That left Michigan as one of the worst teams defending ball screen and isolation shots on a points per-game basis, but it finished with the No. 4 defense in college basketball and the best defense in the Big Ten.
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