Ann Arbor

Q&A with Dylan Burkhardt of UMHoops: Wolverine Genius

The forecast is for something called “snow” and I’ve packed little beyond a red shirt. I’m going to Ann Arbor. I’m headed out there to go to the Crisler Center, home of the Michigan Wolverines. Naturally, I needed to learn more of this enemy despite having Ohio State blood in me and RichRod as my coach.

For my education I took to the best, UMHoops.com, to learn about this basketball team. First of all, one has to appreciate a site that takes the naming structure of [topic prefix]hoops. It’s brilliant. Furthermore, Dylan Burkhardt has quite the operation over there. Wolverine genius. On WANE I called the site “comprehensive” but learn for yourself. What’s more – and you’ll learn this below – it really is brilliant. Dylan and his crew know this program in and out and by reading it you’re going to learn more about basketball than anything else. It’s a smart website for many reasons, but maybe not necessarily because they asked me questions on how to prepare for Arizona.

UMHoops  –  @UMHOOPS  -  UMHoops FB

A big thanks to Dylan for taking the time. Here’s to seeing you in Ann Arbor. The questions & answers:

I’ve only ever lived in Tucson, San Diego, and San Francisco. What is cold?

Considering the fact that you are going to the game and the forecast is 24 degrees and snowy, you’ll know soon enough. And you probably won’t be nearly as excited once you do.

You’ve seen a season and change of Mitch McGary. He’s a fine ball player who had a sound freshman season. Then the nation got to see him and he blow up like Ohio State’s BCS dreams (but in a good way). He’s subsequently been called a pre-season All-American. Now he’s been a little dinged up to date but: Is McGary AA good?

He has the ability, no question about that. McGary’s stamina isn’t where it needs to be right now after he missed the entire preseason and the first two games of this year with a back injury. John Beilein will tell you that and McGary would agree.

McGary can completely dominate a game with his size, strength and versatility. He was the reason Michigan made the Championship Game last season. They’ve brought him along slowly but he’s averaging just short of a double-double (9.7 points and 8.9 rebounds) and this week is really the first time Michigan has had an opportunity to integrate him into the offense with multiple practices in a row.

Speaking of making things better, the losses of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. is going to be hard for any program to absorb. But it seems to be – considering expectations – that maybe Glenn Robinson III really misses these guys. You wrote some about it this week but tell us about how his season is going and what you expect of this kid?

Robinson misses Trey Burke – a lot. Probably more than Mitch Mcgary even. Robinson is one of the best finishers in college basketball due to not just his ridiculous athleticism but also his ability to drift into space along the baseline and get out and run in transition. Trey Burke through him dozens of assists last year and he’s not getting as many open looks from freshman point guard Derrick Walton.

Those looks will come in time, but many expected Robinson’s game to blossom without Burke and Hardaway in the lineup. Last year Robinson rarely drove to the hole in isolation situations or ran high pick-and-rolls – he was a finisher not a creator. The hope was that his ability to create offense would take a huge step forward but through nine games it certainly hasn’t. Robinson has a somewhat deferential personality and he just hasn’t taken the next step (yet) this season.

A big part of a Beilein offense is the three-pointer. This season the Wolverines are shooting 40.7% of their shots from out there and connecting on 38.6% of them. Solid work. Now one surefire way to knock off Arizona is to hit from deep. Who do the Cats keep an eye on? Is it just the Stauskas show (58.5% of shots from three, 50% 3FG%, this)?

Michigan is always going to shoot a lot of threes and this year is no exception. This year’s team doesn’t play nearly as efficient offensive basketball as last year’s group (losing the Player of the Year will do that) but they still have plenty of perimeter weapons.

Nik Stauskas is a knock down shooter with significant range. As you mentioned, he’s shooting 50% from long range but the joke among Michigan fans is that Stauskas “isn’t just a shooter”. Announcers love to drop that line and it’s completely true. You have to close out hard on Stauskas and he has the driving ability, size and athleticism to drive to the hole and finish at the rim. Stauskas’s free throw numbers are way up (he’s attempting 69.5 free throws per 100 field goal attempts) and he’s a capable finisher inside as well.

Caris LeVert has improved his jumpshot significantly but is slumping while both of Michigan’s point guards, Derrick Walton and Spike Albrecht, are both capable of knocking down open jumpers. The other guy to watch right now is 6-foot-6 freshman Zak Irvin. Irvin started slow this year but has hit 10 of his last 18 long range shots

Speaking of being a predominantly jump shooting team, the new rules changes. Michigan has a low FTA/FGA ratio 34% (293rd in the nation). They also shoot at the rim just 23% of the time (343rd in the nation). Do you see this becoming an issue or disadvantage with the rules changes and/or as the season progresses?

I’m not sure Michigan needs to get to the line more often. It would be nice but last year’s group was the most efficient offense in the country and ranked 329th in free throw rate.

They do need to do a better job of getting to the rim though because they are lacking some of the easy production that last year’s group got. Michigan’s point guards are much better at driving and kicking rather than driving and finding an option at the basket. Michigan also lost one of the best ball screen players around in Trey Burke and that’s taken away some of the production from the big men as well.

John Beilein isn’t going to make any drastic change in offensive philosophy but when his offense is working well, there are easy baskets at the rim.

Let’s try on a scenario question: Stauskas at the line for two free throws with 0:03 remaining and the Wolverines down a deuce. He sinks the first. Miller calls timeout and in Beilein’s huddle – where we now turn this into a pick your own adventure – does he A) Sink the second FT, take the extra point and send it to OT or B) Intentional miss and O board, go for two and the win?

While I would have gone for two on the football field against Ohio State, the obvious answer here is to make the free throw.

Ok, ok, joking aside, last season the Wolverines were third in the nation in points scored out of a timeout. Was Chris Webber just ahead of his time? (Side note: The footage of him walking down the tunnel after that game is the most heartbreaking stuff. Check out 30 for 30: The Fab Five if you haven’t)

Michigan has been great in dead ball situations again this year and there are very few people that will question John Beilein’s offensive coaching abilities. Even with young teams, Michigan executes out of timeouts, sideline and baseline out of bounds situations.

Ok now seriously, joking aside, in the last twelve months, Arizona has beaten Tommy Amaker once and Steve Fisher twice, how great of a coach is John Beilein? (token link to Bill Frieder v. Lute Olson commercial series)

Beilein is a great story, having worked his way up from Erie Community College to the Final Four last season – always as a head coach. He’s finally started to recruit and develop NBA talent and that’s paying off with a few very strong seasons. Beilein replaced Amaker at Michigan and did what Tommy couldn’t do (make the NCAA tournament) and whole lot more (Final Four, Big Ten Championship).

There’s been so much talk about the rules changes and the increase in Free Throw rate. Beilein teams are good at limiting a team from getting to the FT line, however. Tell me about Michigan as a defensive unit.

Michigan is very good defensively at not being whistled for fouls and ranked first in defensive free throw rate last season and third this year. The one element that has really hurt the Wolverines is the new block-charge guidelines. Michigan doesn’t have many great shot blockers and has relied on the charge quite a bit in recent seasons. The number of charges that the Wolverines have taken is definitely down by a wide margin this season.

Immovable object meet unstoppable force. Arizona’s strength lies in its front court. They get 40.6% of their shots at the rim which is actually a little better than average (38.3%) but they connect at a higher than average FG% (74.3% good for 9th in that nation). Michigan’s defense, meanwhile, limits opponents to just 18.2% of their shots at the rim (2nd best in the country). Explain to me how Michigan accomplishes this and how this “matchup” plays out?

That’s an interesting stat because Michigan isn’t really a great shot-blocking team and its two-point defense is just average. You should notice that Michigan doesn’t defend the looks at the rim very well (allowing 66.3%) and the low ratio may have something to do with the schedule.

Michigan plays a small lineup with Glenn Robinson III at the four position and watching them you wouldn’t necessarily think they would play strong interior defense. I would think interior scoring will be an Arizona advantage but Michigan’s big men have graded out fairly well defensively this year so could surprise.

If I hadn’t made it clear, I’ll be in attendance, what should I do in Ann Arbor? What can I expect from the Crisler Center and my re-living of a true college experience (I went to UCSD  which has zero semblance of school spirit. This is our mascot – Ariel’s dad from The Little Mermaid)? Suggestions? I’ve heard Zingerman’s and Rick’s

Zingerman’s is great but Maize and Blue Deli isn’t very far behind. Rick’s is a great late night spot after a long night of shenanigans but check out Ashley’s if you are interested in trying some different beers. Try to stop at Benny’s for breakfast if you get the chance

What happens Saturday at noon?

This is a game that Michigan really needs and with a chance to finally play a marquee opponent at home I think the Wolverines take care of business.

Can I buy you a beer?

Of course, I’ll never say no to that offer!