College Basketball: What’s The Matter With Michigan?

Michigan is coming off back to back home losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, which are ranked 267th and 119th in the KenPom ratings. While the Wolverines were expected to take a bit of a step back this season, they were preseason No. 16 in KenPom, and were ranked 24th in the first regular season AP Poll.

So what happened?

For starters, although it’s not the most exciting answer, luck has played a role. NJIT shot 11-17 on threes against the Wolverines, and as of Thursday evening Michigan is a cool 300th nationally in opponents’ 3-point percentage. Michigan opponents are also shooting 75.5 percent from the free throw line, near the bottom of the national listings. This is a percentage that figures to even out a bit as the season progresses.

The Wolverines have real cause for concern, however. Via, they currently attempt 18.8 percent of their shots at the rim, the lowest percentage in the country. They also rank near the top nationally in mid range jumpers, the least efficient shot in the game.

Michigan is heavily dependent on 3-pointers as well, and when it shoots 4-21, as was the case in the loss to Eastern Michigan, upsets are going to happen. The Wolverines traditionally haven’t taken many shots at the rim, so they’re more dependent on jump shot luck than most teams.

At Michigan, John Beilein’s greatest strength has been taking underrecruited players and turning them into stars. Nik Stauskas was ranked 71st in his class by Rivals, and Trey Burke was was ranked 142nd. They are the back to back Big Ten players of the year. This year’s iteration is Caris LeVert, who was not ranked by the service, and had offers only from Michigan, Dayton, and Ohio.

LeVert has been very good for the Wolverines, shooting 46.3 percent on 3-pointers, grabbing defensive rebounds, playing very good wing defense, and even serving as Michigan’s second best assist man after Spike Albrecht. LeVert hasn’t shot well from two (just 42.2 percent), however, and hasn’t gone to the line enough for the Wolverines. The lack of easy points that he’s been able to score or create for others puts him a notch below Stauskas and Burke. Still, he’s not the problem.

The main problem for the Wolverines is a lack of depth. Currently the Wolverines’ bench players are playing just under a fourth of the team’s minutes. For comparison’s sake, that ranks 315th in the country. I don’t like being in the practice of dumping on college kids as individuals, but after LeVert, Spike Albrecht and Zak Irvin, the roster just isn’t good enough to compete. Ricky Doyle has promise, but is scoring most of his points off putbacks and dump-offs. The offense has stalled far too often with Derrick Walton in the game, and Michigan lags behind many of its competitors in height and experience.

John Beilein is one of the coaches I respect most in the country, but if he can rescue this season beyond a token NCAA appearance, he’s even better than I thought. The Wolverines aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong this year; they just aren’t good enough.