Friday, September 5, 2008

2008-09 Preview: Michigan

Michigan (Last season: 10-22, 5-13, #112 Pomeroy ranking): John Beilein's first season in Ann Arbor was a rocky one. The Wolverines lost 4 productive seniors from the 06-07 squad, and consequently saw their record flipped upside-down. Like Lickliter, Beilein also carries the "system" tag, and it's pretty much the same system – keep the ball on the perimeter, keep the turnovers low, and don't be shy about taking three pointers. Unlike Lickliter's Iowa squad, Michigan did keep the turnovers down…somewhat. The figures didn't threaten to break the 15.0% threshold (as they did with Beilein's West Virginia squads), but Michigan did see its TO Rate go from 23.1% to 19.7%. And that's while losing your four best players and relying on a freshman to handle the ball. Sure, maybe not a runaway success, but it was certainly progress.

That's not the only bit of progress we can see in Michigan. While it did not appear spectacular on the season, Michigan's defense was significantly improved in the second half. Through the first 22 games, Michigan held only 3 opponents to an offensive efficiency under 100: Radford, Brown, and Eastern Washington. However, in the last 10 games, only 3 teams had an efficiency over 100. Among those held under the 100 threshold were conference powerhouses Wisconsin and Purdue. Oddly enough, Beilein's West Virginia teams were not especially great on the defensive end, so it will be interesting to see whether the trend continues into the new season.

On offense, it's clear that Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims own this team. Last season, they combined to take 58% of the available shots while on the floor. Of course, the shots didn't necessarily go in the hoop. Sims sported an eFG of 45.2%, while Harris checked in at 43.2%. For Harris, that figure is almost sure to go up. For one, it really can't get much worse. Secondly, it's unlikely that an 82% free throw shooter continues to shoot 32% on three pointers. Sims also figures to improve on that (a 6-8 player with his ability is unlikely to shoot 45% on the 2 pointers again), but might not be an ideal fit for Beilein's system (69% free throw shooter shot 30% on three pointers). Furthermore, Sims' more frequent three point shooting likely impacted his offensive rebounding percentage (from 12.5% as a freshman to 8.1% last season).

Michigan returns more than Harris and Sims, however. In fact, the 73% of the minutes will return to Ann Arbor this season, so it's likely that the Wolverines will see significant improvement. On the other hand, some the lost minutes were pretty big, literally and figuratively. Ekpe Udoh is taking his game to Baylor. While not a big contributor on offense (14.9% Shot Percentage), Udoh was a force on defense (12.3% Block Percentage). Not surprisingly, Michigan's D was relatively stronger in 2 point defense and shotblocking. Without Udoh, this will almost certainly cease to be the case. Whether the rest of the team can step up on defense remains to be seen.

Projected Michigan rotation (statistics are for conference games only):

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