Some speculation about the team's struggles, inviting questions

My question: Does the fact that this team hasn’t really mastered the offense make the defense even worse? See if you follow my reasoning.

I start by saying that I’m generally a supporter of Beilein’s style of basketball, right down to de-emphasizing defense, as he does. My theory is that he gives almost everything to instilling his offensive style early, and as teams come to master it, begins to foreground defense as the season wears on. So what we’ve seen down the stretch in previous years is teams tightening up and getting just enough stops to win ball games. After all, there is no inherent reason why Beilein’s players can’t play D.

My feeling is that this year the team may be furthest from actually playing Beilein’s offense with any alacrity, flow, or mastery of any Beilein team since the start of his tenure. This could stem from injuries, lack of adequate subs, intelligence, chemistry, confidence–any one of many things, but the sheer pleasure and ball movement hasn’t been there; this team hasn’t played with consistency, hasn’t cohered. This is leaving Beilein between a rock and a hard place regarding how he uses what practice time they’ve got, and defense is getting even less emphasis/time. (The coaches also may simply lack the players to run good scrimmages.) A vicious cycle.

If we make the tournament I will continue to believe that Beilein’s achievement was considerable given the circumstances. But this team isn’t fun to watch. My theory is very much speculative, but I am curious whether other people, including Dylan, think there might be something to it.

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I don’t think you mentioned talent and athleticism as limitations. At the end of the day, they need more guys who can create their own shots and get to the rim. Ohio State – though young and inconsistent – is always going to look good against slower players who can’t outrun them, finish over them, or create any kind of separation. The worst thing is that it often didn’t even seem like OSU was trying that hard.

MAAR is the only (healthy) player who attacks the rim and finishes through contact. He is also the only guy possessed of above-average quickness. Most of last night he was glued to the (auto-) bench. And part of the reason he was on the bench in the first place is that he’s the only one who plays real defense.

I also think there is another dimension to the much-derided recruitment of bigs. It seems JB does a “bait and switch” thing where he recruits lanky guys as stretch-fours and then invariably forces them to play the five. He has yet to land a truly good four in the Dekker/Uthoff/Layman/Watford mold, although I suspect that even if he did land such a guy (Smotrycz, though very underwhelming, probably came closest), he would squander the opportunity by shifting them primarily to the five, where they are usually overmatched, since he seems to prefer mobile 6-foot-6 G/F types for that spot. Then we end up with a log jam at the five and paucity of depth at the other four spots.


This was a great analysis and I think you are spot on about the 4 and 5 recruitments.

I think it’s a collection of things and you touched upon some of them.

  1. Inconsistency of Irvin and Walton. Irvin is approaching 100 games played at Michigan, Walton is up over 80. We understand Levert has been out but as the saying goes this is when you need your best players to be your best players. Walton has had some very good moments eg. Maryland in the 2nd half, Minnesota. The are other times where he has been a complete no show Xavier, UConn, Purdue, Iowa, Indiana, MSU. You can’t have that many no shows when the ball is in your hand that much. Irvin is coming off back surgery but some of his inconsistencies come back to lack of agility/quickness, not the most consistent shooter either.

  2. The deterioration of the defense over the years. It wasn’t very good in 2014 but they got away with it due to a prolific offense. Defensive rankings the last 3 years for Ken Pom- 2016-154, 2015-107, 2014-109. There are 3 constants in those past few years Walton/Irvin/Levert have been on every one of those teams, as well Albrecht but he hasn’t played this year really. Hard to be a good defensive team when your PG at the top isn’t the best defensively. Some of this has to do with coaches and players not evolving and adjusting to the new rules. Of course the prior 2 years there wasn’t the directive like there is this year but the D the prior 2 years was still poor.

  3. Lack of development among certain players eg. Chatman, Doyle, and Dawkins. Beilein goes with a short bench as it is and it’s only magnified when 3 of your recruits haven’t developed quickly enough. Coach Sanderson does a great job of getting these guys in good playing shape but what about the skill development? Sanderson isn’t responsible for that end so what are the coaches doing to improve these individual players?

  4. Lack of toughness in general as a characteristic of this team. We saw toughness on display against Purdue but it disappeared against Indiana, MSU, and OSU. It wasn’t existent against Xavier either. This goes back to how they play D, to how a few players consistently go up with soft layups on offense. Irvin is 6’7 and he gets his shot blocked a lot. Toughness a lot of the time can be viewed as how your bigs play well they don’t bring it consistently. I saw Thompson, Giddens, and Tate have their way with everybody down in the post last night that can’t happen. Give a guy credit for a possession here or there but they pretty much owned the post last night.

  5. This one hasn’t been talked about but Beilein needs to change his attitude towards his players in the media. In private I am sure he can let them have it but the message hasn’t been getting through this year it’s clear. He said he refused to get after them after Indiana went on a 25-0 run because they were more shocked. Well how did that go the following game when your biggest rival ran crazy on you at home? Last night we start hearing about fatigue from Walton/Robinson how about discuss the poor shot selection and just being satisfied with shooting 3s? OSU had 6 teams fouls on them with 13 minutes left in the 1st half and you never saw anybody take the ball hard to the basket to create contact. This goes back to the offensive attitude of wanting to rely upon the 3 point shot though.

This has been too long of a post but this isn’t just a 2016 season thing this is something that has been slowly eroding over time.


You need to include the absence of Caris. I do believe he will be back but while he is out he hurts the team. When he is out he is a major distraction. I hope he will be back but who knows. He has 2 and a half weeks to be back for the conference tourney. I think he will be back soon but who knows. Keep our fingers crossed.

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Talent–for sure; it’s not out there on the floor. And this is on Beilein, to an extent, though the injuries can’t be ignored as a huge issue. But these things, clearly, aren’t an indictment of his coaching philosophy.

Would be interested in how many guys this actually includes. Doyle, Davis, and Teske all recruited as 5s, right? Donnal maybe as a 4 or to play both positions? Do we think that Donnal ever works at the 4 if he can’t make shots in games?

On a side note–it interests me that Beilein is leaking that these guys are all hot in practice but tighten up in games. Not sure I’m crazy about it. It’s on him to find the way to get them confident.

I have sometimes found it boring when people say we’ve beaten the teams we should, failed to beat anyone else. Kind of tautological. But in a simpler, similar regard–this team just hasn’t ever soared, caught on fire. Almost at all.

I’m not sure defenses “deteriorate over time.” And I don’t think that Beilein doesn’t think about it, care about, etc. I just think it has a very specific place in his scheme, as I tried to state above. And that the failure to really find confidence in the offense further inhibits the very limited amount of time given to defense.

I think it’s disingenuous to say that Beilein is pulling the bait-and-switch on stretch 4s. Your post implies that he is selling these players on playing the 4, while planning all along for them to play the 5. Do you think Beilein wants to have six 5s on the roster? Of course not.

Smot played the 5 out of necessity. Horford injured his foot 9 games into the season and ended up redshirting. McLimans couldn’t cut it, so Smot played some 5.

I think Beilein would love for Wilson to play the 4, and he expected him to primarily play the 4 and spell the 5 on occasion. Wilson can’t make shots during games (but evidently does not miss during practice), so he can’t space the floor in the way that a 4 is required to do.

Alum do you think Wilson has the ability to play the 4 in what this offense does?

Imo i do not think he has that ability and I’ve always seen him as a 5. I don’t think he has the ball handling skills to be effective out on the perimeter

I think Wilson could function as a 4 in the offense if he could shoot effectively. He’ll never be the kind of guy that you run PnR through or expect to create off the dribble in a one-on-one situation. But the same could be said about Dawkins.

Now, perhaps it was an evaluation error on Beilein’s part to think that Wilson could develop into a floor-spacing 4, but I’m pretty confident that he didn’t recruit him solely to play the 5.

So out of


who are the 4s and 5s of that group?

Wilson and Donnal played together last night, presumably with Wilson at the 4. The plan does indeed seem to be to have him play at the 4 as much as possible going forward. Smotrycz played at the 5 in part because of injuries to Cronin and Horford. He very likely would’ve played no minutes at the 5 if he’d stayed the next year when the team had McGary, Morgan, and Horford. Generally, the plan is to get at least some of these guys playing at the 4, especially as they become upperclassmen. Beilein has talked multiple times about players “migrating” down (5 to 4, 3 to 2). Wilson is a freshman and the 5 spot has had some weak play, especially earlier. If Donnal, Doyle, and Wagner are all on the team next year, I expect Wilson to get his minutes at the 4. Donnal probably could play the 4 but he will likely be the best option at the 5 and will start there. Wagner could see time at the 4 too as his career progresses.

It is true, though, the Beilein defaults small when the preferred scenario doesn’t play out.

In reality based on current skill sets or in theory based on potential/expected developmental skill sets?

In reality, we have a glut of guys who play the 5. Based off of what they currently show, they are all only 5s.

I believe–and have to believe that the staff also believed–that Wilson and Wagner could develop into effective 4s. There is no need to have 6 5s on a 4-out, 1-in team.

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You are right no need to have 6 5s for 4 out 1 in offense but as you said that’s what we have. I think we have the potential to be worse if we have Wilson or Wagner play the 4. That’s saying something with how much I dislike Dawkins on the floor

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Right. And that’s fine to call them evaluation errors insofar as they haven’t yet shown the skill set to play the 4. I just can’t believe that Beilein and staff have always had the intention of playing those guys solely at the 5.

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I just cringe every time I hear Beilein extol certain players as being great shooters in practice, but non producing in games.

Do I even need to make a comparison to the difference of going up against our defense in a practice setting and a motivated intense physical opponents defense on game days?

It seems like you hate absolutely everything possible about Michigan Basketball…

The direction this program is going it’s very easy to hate a lot of things that is going on. I’m not alone in this either.

Here’s an O/D efficiency rating table for Beilein’s tenure, conference-only. Source

The sad thing, probably all of those guys are fives, not fours, but only by default, because they haven’t shown promise as shooters/creators. So they join an increasingly long queue of screen-setters. None of them are “true” fives in the ability to block a shot or slam a putback at a high D1 level – maybe Teske will change that in a couple years but not holding breath.

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Being critical of the direction of the program = you hate Michigan basketball

Remember that.