We’re about halfway through the nonconference season (and exactly halfway through the 6 premier games), so it’s a good time to take a quick look
W/L - very good - We secured two (convincing) neutral court victories over teams that will likely be top-100 by any metric by year’s end with some chance to be top-50. Our one loss is on the road to a team that just smashed 'Cuse on a neutral court and will almost certainly be in the field, perhaps a relatively high seed. This is pretty much the best you can expect from a nonconference schedule unless you get a truly marquis win.
Defense - good - we have held every team below 1 point-per-possession, which is not something we did a ton the last couple of years, and sit at 31 in kenpom. DJ Wilson is often a defensive force at least by UM standards. We could still do better preventing offensive rebounds
Offense - pretty good - we’ve been getting good production out of the center position from Donnal and Wagner, with Mo showing potential to be a force on that end. We sit at 24 on kenpom, which is good, although not great for a Michigan team. South Carolina did throttle us, although they are probably going to be one of the best defensive teams in the country. They did expose a weakness, I think, which is a relative lack of guys doing damage off the dribble - which isn’t a total shock. MAAR and Irvin have not shot the ball well from 3, although Zak does take some really tough ones late in the clock. We’ve been a bit TO prone for a UM.
Bench - so-so. Good depth at center. Robinson has got to take and hit good looks from 3. Simpson looks solid but a little lost on offense. Watson hasn’t shown much, although he hasn’t had a ton of opportunities.
Biggest factor - DJ Wilson - his emergence as a defensive presence, who does enough on offense, has the potential to really upgrade the outlook for the team. If he can continue the D and keep working on getting some of those GRIII residual offense buckets and bring his 3 pt % up a few points, the team could really thrive.
General outlook - good. I still don’t see this being an elite team, but DJ’s emergence raises the ceiling a little bit and certainly makes it look like we have a better chance of being in the upper part of reasonable expectations. If we can keep up the defense or even pretty close, we have a good shot at racking up a bunch of good wins.
This has definitely gone better than I expected in terms of record, and 1000% in terms of defense. The SC game, while only one game, shows some troubling signs for our offense that it would be great to see reversed next time we are down 10/flustered by being more composed and ideally having some in-game adjustments to counter-punch effectively with (I put this one on coaching and senior leadership). Still lots of time to work on that, but has been a theme through all the non-caris games of the prior two years.
Love Donlon, and what an amazing step change we have seen on D-rating. The game v UCLA will say a lot about how we respond to teams that want to push pace. If we make Lonzo Ball look a lit more pedestrian, I would take it as a sign that this D and defensive strategy is 100% legit.
I know that the play of Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton and Mo Wagner, and even the development of Xavier Simpson, have been identified by many as keys to our season, but to me, a huge key is that MAAR has to play a lot better than he has to date. With the change at the 4 spot, MAAR is, on the one hand, driving into lesser spaces with more help from the weak side defender because Duncan Robinson is not out there spacing the floor and deterring help from coming, but on the other hand, being set up for wide open, standstill 3s off penetration by others because defenders aren’t respecting his shooting ability and are helping on drivers even on his side. Thus far, he is 6-26 from 3 (23%), and when he drives into traffic, he has few assists (only 9 in 6 games) and a negative assist/turnover ratio. This has to get better–if we’re going to play D.J. Wilson at the 4, as I believe we should for rebounding and defensive purposes, we need all of our perimeter players to step up. Irvin has to be more consistent and can’t have games like the awful one he had at South Carolina. Walton has to convert much, much better inside the arc (where he’s an abysmal 3-16). MAAR has to improve, period–if/when he does, there should be more room for the others (and himself) to operate near the basket.
I actually think Mo has been a disappointment on the offensive end so far. That one dunk and his last game were nice but Donnal is scoring more and on better percentages so far. Love them as a tandem but don’t think Mo has done much of anything to earn the starting spot yet other than being better suited naturally to play alongside Wilson.
Yeah, MAAR could play better, thought I think there’s a certain limit to what we should expect. I don’t think he’s going to turn into a great shooter. Probably just taking fewer 3s - he’s taking 4 a game – and trying to use a shot fake more would help (but it’s hard if teams don’t respect your shot). He’s never been a great assist guy, though he can make some nice passes. He’s handled the ball nicely when teams pressure full court. Hopefully his shot starts falling a bit more and I think he can make some adjustments, but I’m not sure we should expect him to play “a lot better.”
As for Wagner, he’s leading the team in points per minute (just barely over Donnal, but the two are a couple points ahead of Irvni and Walton per/40), and shooting 55% from 3 (making 1 per game) and 56% from 2. It is concerning that he had two bad games against SMU and SC and that could be a sign that he’s having trouble against pressure Ds (or that the team is struggling even getting him the ball).
One of the problems the team has is that Duncan can not play the 3 defensively and allow Irvin to move to the 2 spot. MAAR as I have said even before the season began would be better served coming off the bench. He is more of an energy guy and would be a change of pace going to the basket and leading and filling fast break lanes. His handle is not crafty enough to create for his teammates and he can not shoot jumpers off the dribble at all effectively. As stated we need someone else to create going to the basket as well.
DJ Wilson has been all we could ask for so far this season with energy, defense and rebounding. I also think his handle is not half bad and Beilein needs to explore the possibility of pick and roles with him going to the basket. We have several cupcakes coming up to experiment. Also, Coach needs to get X and Ibi involved period or Walton and Irvin will be run into the ground once again.
While I was hoping for more from MAAR as well, in general to me, he at least hasn’t regressed the way Duncan Robinson has. He was the one I was hoping to make the most improvement as has adjusts to D1. If his shot isn’t falling (and for the most part it hasn’t been), he doesn’t really bring much else to the table.
As already mentioned by others, most pleased with Wilson’s improvement and the ‘D’. As for the freshman, would like to see more of Watson.
Far as I can tell, this team still lives and dies too much by the ‘3’.
I think with Walton, Irvin and MAAR, what we see so far is what we get. They have basically reached their ceiling, which isn’t bad. They can all have big games and carry the team for stretches, but I don’t see big growth coming.
Donnal, Robinson and Wilson can still make significant improvement in their games and I think there is a good chance that they will. If two of the three can take it up another notch, we could really be good.
Wagner is no where near his ceiling as a complete player and he may not get there this year. On the other hand, he could take that leap next month. If the light goes on soon, this team could shock.
Simpson, Watson and Teske remain unknowns and unproven. Of the three, Teske has impressed me most and I think he could really become a weapon this year. We need all three to be worthy of playing 6-10 minutes per game for us to achieve anything significant this year.
I still think this is a 21-22 win team heading into the NCAA Tournament — 10-3 or 11-2 out of conference, 10-8 in-conference, 1 win in B1G Tourney.
For the team to achieve more 2 players need to turn up their games:
Duncan Robinson – needs to become the 3pt threat he was last year (and it would be nice if he improve to just a below average defender)
XSimpson – needs to be able to emerge as a true 3rd guard, both allowing Walton cut his minutes closer to 32-33/mpg AND to allow Walton to play off the ball as a shooter in a 2 point guard set
As for the comments about Teske, Beilein is not going to play a 3 center rotation, so if he’s seeing anywhere close to 6-10 mpg it’s because of an injury above him on the depth chart (or because Wagner seriously regressed) … either scenario Teske would likely have to log more like 15-17 mpg.
I’m not giving up on maar. He’s starting slow but I am fairly certain his play will improve and he will be very important as we run into better and bigger teams who defend tougher. This is when he will show his importance like last year.
I’m his biggest cheerleader on here but I also feel like he along with the team would benefit from a higher usage rate. He starts to percolate when he’s being given the green light to take over. I still think we don’t shoot good enough from deep to be so reliant on the three ball. Id love to see more possessions with him/Derrick creating/ getting to the rim along with feeding Moe and mark in the post or on the roll and pop. These types of plays will get us better/ open threes when we do shoot them.
This team is about where I expected them to be on the whole but some individual players playing differently then I expected. DJ and Donnal have exceed expectations while Mo and MAAR haven’t played as well as I expected. I’d also like to see more from X and Ibi but they should progress as the season goes on.
The next few games should be pretty telling about which way this team is heading.