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PostPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2018 2:57 pm 
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Greetings Rambler fans. I just wanted to give a scouting report of Michigan basketball from a Michigan fan so you know what to expect and have ammo for discussions. Prior to the season the expectation was it was a 50/50 proposition that this team would make the NCAA tournament. The reason for this pessimistic prediction is that UM does not have the dead eye shooters that a Beilein team normally has. It was predicted that the offense was going to be inconsistent as when the rain of threes failed the offense would stall. This did not happen because this team is based on defense first which is a strange thing to behold from a Beilein team. This has to do with the addition of Luke Yaklich who you may recognize from ISU. Us UM fans are hoping his familiarity with your team will give us an edge. Everyone dwells on how to stop the Beilein offense. Yet three of the four tournament victories have been rock fights. So to beat UM, one has to look at the defense.

The strength of the defense is the perimeter. Xavier Simpson is not a typical UM PG in that he is defense first. He is a little undersized and can be shot over. However, that is the extent of his defensive deficiencies. He gets in the grill of PG’s, is difficult to drive against, gets through screens on pick & rolls, and thwarts post entry passes. One or two times a game he will just flat out take the ball straight up from opposing players. He is also a fabulous off the ball defender and helps off his man when appropriate. He can dominate a game without scoring a point. He has gone up against the best PG’s in the Big10 and shut them all down. The other perimeter players are almost as good. Charles Mathews has forward length but guard mobility to guard bigger burlier forwards but stick 3rd guards. The weakness of the defense is that the 4 and 5 positions when manned by those who get the most minutes are just passable at best. Neither Wagner nor Robinson are very good at post defense. UM will elect not to double and be content to allow easy two’s if either gets posted. DR is usually over matched and has been forced to foul because he is a guard playing the 4 position. The philosophy is stop the post from happening. The one bench player to be aware of is Jon Teske. Do not listen to Reggie Miller. He is a great low post defender. He plays Tim Duncan defense and unlike Wagner keeps his hands straight up. He is surprisingly mobile despite unable to jump. So he keeps his defensive position.

The philosophy of the UM defense like offense is money ball. They will close out hard to prevent a three even if someone gets a better look at a two. They are really good at the big man hedging high and running back to their spot. Wagner is not strong in the post. But he is really good at that kind of play. They are a great defensive rebounding team. Wagner is much improved over last year. All of the perimeter players are excellent defensive re-bounders. They are great at stopping dribble drives. They hope to force a team into lots of difficult mid range shots. Thus their defense is opposite of their offensive philosophy which is take lots treys and rim looks. The big key to this winning streak is flipping Duncan Robinson and Charles Mathews defensive responsibilities. Mathews is strong enough to defend even big fours. The problem is DR does not have DivI foot speed to stay on the perimeter. He was getting lit up so bad, it was hard to justify him staying on the court. Worse, it bugged him so much his offensive game suffered. DR will never be a good defender. However, his slowness of foot is less of an issue down low. Occasionally getting overpowered is worth it to Beilein to have an individual who on this winning streak is hitting 45% of his treys. DR is adequate enough and Mathews has not had issues guarding players on the perimeter. If anything he has thrived and the perimeter defense has tightened even more.

The offense is what Beilein has always run. It uses motion, picks & screens to free up perimeter players for threes and/or layups by big man on little guys or little guys driving by big guys. When everything is clicking you get something like what happened to A&M. Now A&M made it easy. But even when UM has gotten good shots this year, they have not always fallen. The outside shooting comes and goes. The best perimeter players are at the 4 and 5 position. UM will always try to exploit this match up by drawing traditional bigs away from the basket. Other than DR there is no sure fire Beilein style sniper. All of the perimeter players are capable of missing four straight threes as to hit one except maybe DR. The team shoots treys in the mid thirties. They will still take 25 a game because that is how the offense is supposed to run. Everything else they will try to take it to the rim. One of the big weaknesses of the team is the FT shooting. The two best slashers Mathews and Simpson are terrible FT shooters. The team hits about 65%. So if you have fouls to spare hack the right guy. The team puts a priority on stopping transition baskets on defense. This begins by not taking certain kinds of shots that put the defensive off balance is transition. This also includes the attitude towards offensive rebounding. One maybe two guys will try, but the team is content to run back on defense. Same thing for TO’s. The money ball attitude is don’t give up any easy points on defense by making bad decisions on offense.

So how to beat this team. Too many forums have been about stopping the Beilein offense. The basis of this team is defense first. Nice thing with defense first teams is defense never goes cold. If there is anyone to attack it is Wagner down low. He tends to drop his hands and pick up quick fouls. Duncan Robinson can also be isolated. He cannot guard on the perimeter. Considering that Loyola plays a lot of four guard offense DR might not get many minutes. Then UM has to decide whether to give Livers who is the nominal starter or Poole time. Both of these freshman will be exceptional players next year. But they have deficiencies to their game. Livers is limited offensively and Poole makes a lot of errors on defense. But this is something Loyola can dictate. According to Kempom this is a top 5 defense and it shows. There will be very few letdowns. All you can do is run your sets and try to be more efficient than the D. With a week put in wrinkles that are not in film and exploit them as long as you can.

On the offensive side I would play the percentages. UM perimeter game is hit or miss. A lot of times even with good looks they are misses. Make sure Wagner misses his first trey attempt and he will miss three more. The closest thing to a go to guy in the tournament has been Mathews. He is great when isolated on bigger players, but prone to turning the ball over against smaller defenders. And when in doubt foul, foul, and foul some more. There are games where UM can’t hit the broad side of the barn even from 15 feet. Because this offense has no high use player, a small ball team can cause a lot of problems. It is not a coincidence that both Houston and when FSU chose not to play any of their three ents that UM really struggled. Houston and FSU had swarms of athletic forwards that really throttled the UM offense. UM does not have an ISO guy who can take over a game. If you do not have big long perimeter players I would not recommend zone as UM’s best perimeter players are their tallest. If you are going to concede a trey attempt try to induce Mathews or Simpson as they are not as good as the others. Everyone else can be streaky hot or cold including Livers who I have seen go five for five from three in a game. Three times out of four a team has throttled this offense in this tournament. So likely to happen again.

As a Michigan fan as this team has advanced further I have become more relaxed because like the 97 football team it is so far beyond expectations. This was supposed to be an interlude where the foundation was set for next year. The thought was Livers would figure out offense, Poole defense, and some truly outstanding shooters would come in at the wings to give Beilein a good run. But to Beilein’s credit this old dog is willing to change based on the changing face of college basketball. We are seeing smaller teams and a lot of either four guard sets or swarms of mid sized forwards. This takes away the inherit advantage of a shooter or finisher at the stretch four. It is not coincidence that UM cleaned not only A&M’s clock, but MSU & Purdue, yet struggled against Montana State. The three former teams represent probably 6-8 NBA capable players including three lottery picks. This is occurring over and over in this tournament where as I write this only Duke remains and plays with the classic dominant front line. It is refreshing that in an age where shady programs are known to bribe one and done phenoms that a team like Loyola has a seat in the final four.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2018 9:48 am 
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Joined: Mon Mar 26, 2018 9:14 am
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I'll add some of my own commentary:

PG Zavier Simpson (6'0) - Nasty, nasty defender with a bulldog attitude. Takes pride in shutting down the opposing PG which he has done very well at for the last 15 games or so. Elite lateral quickness which makes it very hard for even the best offensive guards to get by. Not a shooter on offense but can get to the bucket efficiently when he attempts to. Some teams try to switch on ball screens to slow down the Pick-n-Pop action with Wagner. Usually this is successful until Simpson decides to iso on the 5 who is now guarding him after the switch and just blows by. Doesn't put up a lot of shot attempts but great finisher around the rim. Poor free throw shooter so a lot of teams have been intentionally fouling him late in games when down by a few points. Great ballhandler and doesn't turn the ball over much, which is a big reason Michigan is one of the top teams in the country in turnovers per game.

SG Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (6'4) - Probably Michigan's best overall offensive player. Can really catch fire from 3 but hasn't been hitting them in the NCAAT, other than the Texas A&M game. The 5 games leading into the tourney, I want to say he hit 17/31 from 3, but then went 1/13 in the first 2 tourney games. Also pretty adept at attacking and finishing around the basket. Solid FT shooter at about 75ish%. Not an elite defender like his counterparts but solid enough that he doesn't get toasted every time down the court. Very good in transition and also I believe leads the country in Assist-to-Turnover Ratio if I'm not mistaken.

SF Charles Matthews (6'6) - Kentucky transfer with NBA athleticism. Very good when going to the basket and finishing around the rim. Will knock down the occasional 3 but it's not his game. Guy can jump out of the gym whether it be for rebounds, finishing alley oops, or trying to get tip-ins on the offensive glass. Really good defender. Can guard anywhere from the 2-4 and even a PG if they're not super quick. Very good rebounder. Struggles at times with ballhandling and can be a little turnover-prone, but when he's got his offensive game going, he can take over. Has been Michigan's most consistent offensive player in the tournament. Was a poor FT shooter but has slowly started to improve as the season has gone on. I still don't trust him at the line, though.

PF Isaiah Livers (6'7) - True Freshman, starts every game but doesn't play starter minutes. Pretty good, strong defender with good athleticism. Won't do much on offense except maybe spot up for some jump shots or get some put-backs. Has a lot of potential but is still noticeably a freshman.

C Mo Wagner (6'11) - Fiery, passionate player that is hated by most of our Big Ten opponents because he's emotional which can sometimes come across as cocky, but as most saw after the Houston game, he stopped in the middle of the celebration to console one of the Houston players. As for his game --- very skilled, Euro-style big man. Shoots the 3 at around 40ish%, most of those coming off slips/pops after setting a ball screen. Adept at scoring down low as well, has a good array of post moves but Michigan's offense doesn't throw it inside much unless they get a switch with Wagner on a guard. He hasn't been hitting at the clip he normally did this year but if he gets on, Michigan's offense is very tough to guard. Defensively he has improved a little bit but is susceptible giving up baskets to big burly guys and can get in foul trouble easily.

Bench

PG Jaaron Simmons (6'1) - Transfer from Ohio U. Was an All-MAC level player who was expected to come in and contribute big time but really struggled the first half of the season trying to understand Beilein's complex offense. Has really come on as of late. Pretty good passer. Can knock down an open shot occasionally but isn't an offensive juggernaut that needs to be worried about. Not an elite individual defender but plays well within the team defense and isn't a liability by any means.

SG/SF Jordan Poole (6'4) - Hero freshman who saved Michigan's season. Very energetic, outspoken kid with limitless confidence. Not scared of the moment obviously lol. Elite 3-pt shooter with a pretty good offensive game and can create his own separation with stepbacks and jab steps. Has freshman moments and needs some work on defense but he can come in and heat up in a heartbeat. Cannot leave him open outside.

PF Duncan Robinson (6'8) - Division 3 transfer a few years ago. Pure shooter with deep range that can really torch a defense. Attacking the basket is not his forte, but can get bites with his shot fake which opens up a driving lane. Defensively, can be a liability on the perimeter but unlike the OP, I think he's turned into a solid low post defender. Not going to block shots or anything but he's smart and holds his ground well, unless your PF is a monster, then he struggles. Not a great defender but doesn't hurt Michigan's defense like he used to, unless he gets switched on to a quick guard.

C Jon Teske (7'1) - Your more traditional center. Great low post defender, strong and leads the team in blocks. Not really an offensive threat, other than he's a good offensive rebounder. Will finish around the rim but doesn't create his own shot. Has shown the ability to hit mid-range jumpers when left open, but he'd rather just bang around the basket and try to get some put-backs. Has been a relief to finally have a C who can come in when Wagner gets in foul trouble without a ton of drop off.

Have enjoyed watching Loyola-Chicago and their run to the Final Four. You guys have a lot to be proud of!


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2018 9:59 am 
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Sounds like Loyola will have its work cut out for them, not unlike each game to this point in the tourney. Should be tough and should be fun to watch.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2018 10:09 am 
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As an alum of both schools (BA from Loyola, JD from UM), I never thought I'd see this matchup. Of course, I will be cheering for my undergrad, but it's nice to know that one of my schools will be playing for the championship.

Is it Friday yet?


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2018 10:18 am 
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Great reports worthy of Ramblermania's high standards! Thank you both. It should be a good one.


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