Rob Carr/Getty Images

No. 23 Michigan Wolverines: Reigning runners-up need every bit of Beilein’s brilliance

Leave a comment

Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 23 Michigan.


For the second time in six years, John Beilein will enter a season as college basketball’s reigning national runner-up.

And for the second time in six years, he’ll do so after seeing his best offensive weapons head to the NBA ranks. In 2013, Beilein lost National Player of the Year Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway to the league, and his program didn’t miss a beat. Michigan won 28 games in 2013-14, winning the outright Big Ten regular season title before coming within one Aaron Harrison jumper of getting back to the Final Four.

This year, Beilein will be looking to find a way to replace the production he got from Mo Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson from a team that was, frankly, unlike anything we have seen from Beilein in his career. Beilein’s reputation as an offensive mastermind precedes him. In three of the previous five season, his Michigan team had finished as one of the nation’s top four offenses, according to KenPom.com. But prior to last season, Beilein also had a reputation for being a coach that prioritized small-ball lineups and the offensive side of the ball over defensive stability.

He had never had a team that finished higher than 37th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. Last season, Michigan finished 3rd.

This season, the Wolverines lose their three best offensive weapons from a team that already had question marks on that end of the floor.

Beilein is one of the masterminds of the small-ball movement and the three-point revolution, and he is going to have his work cut out for him this year.

MOREPreseason Top 25 | NBC Sports All-Americans | Preview Schedule

MICHIGAN WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

Defensively, this team should be just as good as they were last season, if not better.

Zavier Simpson is the head of the snake. A pitbull at the point, Simpson is somewhere between Aaron Craft and T.J. McConnell when it comes to setting the tone for his team defensively. He has his flaws as a player — and, trust me, we’ll get into that — but when it comes to leadership, Simpson is at a level that very few players in the country can reach. His communication, his ability to hold teammates accountable, the example that he sets on a day-in, day-out basis, those are things that cannot be taught. Simpson has them, and when combined with his ability to get in the head of opposing point guards, it’s hard to quantify his value to this team.

But believe me, he matters.

Likewise, Charles Matthews also profiles as a talented wing defender. Combine him with Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers and Brandon Johns Jr., and the Wolverines will once again have a roster with more perimeter athleticism than we’re used to seeing out of a John Beilein team. Put another way, Michigan has an elite defender at the point and a wing that should be able to slow down any perimeter player they face. Throw in a couple of athletic, versatile pieces alongside them, and you get a team that is going to be a nightmare to run offense against.

RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games
Charles Matthews (Harry How/Getty Images)

The reason Mo Wagner needed to return to school for his junior season was because of his issues on the defensive end of the floor, and while no one is ever going to confuse him with Anthony Davis, Wagner eventually developed into one of the nation’s best defensive rebounders. Jon Teske and Austin Davis should, in theory, be able to cover that loss — both posted good defensive rebounding numbers in limited minutes — which is important for a Michigan defense that doesn’t force a ton of turnovers or block all that many shots. Their forte is making you take tough shots and ending possessions after one shot.

But the biggest reason I think the Wolverines will once again be an elite defensive unit is that Luke Yaklich is back on staff for his second season. For my money, his addition was the story of Michigan’s 2017-18 season. Yaklich, who spent four years at Illinois State after a long high school coaching career, is Michigan’s defensive coordinator. I detailed how that works and why it was necessary last spring, and that story still holds.

With Yaklich coaching up this personnel, I fully expect the Wolverines to be one of the nation’s top five defenses.

Zavier Simpson (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

BUT MICHIGAN IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

I am just not sold on this team being all that good offensively.

For starters, Michigan was just OK offensively last season. They finished the year ranked 35th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, and they will enter this season having lost their best shooter (Robinson), their best playmaker (Abdur-Rahkman) and the centerpiece of their offense, a 6-foot-11 center that shot 39.2 percent from three and was drafted in the first round (Wagner).

In total, Michigan made 361 threes last season. Those three players made 214 of them, or 59 percent. Michigan’s returning players shot a combined 32.4 percent from beyond the arc last season, a number that would have ranked outside the top 300 in college basketball last season.

We saw what happened when Michigan struggled from beyond the arc during their run to the national title game. Outside of their blowout win over Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, when Michigan shot 14-for-24 from beyond the arc, they were 27-for-119 (22.7%) from distance in five NCAA tournament games and finished those five games averaging 0.95 points-per-possession. If it wasn’t for Jordan Poole (ironically) hitting a 30-foot three at the buzzer, they would not have made it out of the first weekend of the tournament, and I think it is fair to point out that they did not play a team seeded higher than No. 6 before losing to Villanova by 17 points in the final.

Should I mention that nine of the 14 threes they made against Texas A&M were made by Wagner, Abdur-Rahkman and Robinson?

When Michigan isn’t shooting the ball well, they aren’t all that good offensively. In three games during a tour of Spain in August, Michigan, as a team, shot just 7-for-40 (17.5%) from three, and only three players made at least one three-pointer.

Their issues, however, go beyond simply being able to make shots from beyond the arc.

Matthews did not take the leap forward that many expected of him. Beilein has thrived with wing players that can operate in ball-screen actions — think Nik Stauskas, or Caris LeVert, or Tim Hardaway Jr. — and it stood to reason that, after spending a year as a redshirt under Beilein’s tutelage, Matthews would find a way to work into a similar role. He was good last season, averaging 13.0 points and 2.4 assists, but he didn’t look anything like a guy that was capable of carrying the water for a Beilein offense.

Neither did Simpson, to be frank. He just was not a guy that could be relied upon to be much of an offensive spark last season. The continued development of those two will be critical for the Wolverines, as will the emergence of Poole and Livers into bigger roles this year. Poole looks like he could be in line for a breakout sophomore season after averaging 6.0 points as a freshman, while Livers is precisely the kind of athletic four-man with three-point range that Beilein has had so much success with in the past.

Ignas Brazdeikis (Cameron Browne, USA Basketball)

THE X-FACTOR

The one guy that I have not yet mentioned is Ignas Brazdeikis, a 6-foot-7 Lithuanian (by way of Canada) freshman that led the Wolverines in scoring and rebounding on their trip to Spain. He’s older than a typical freshman (he’ll turn 20 during the season) and has a build that has, according to The Athletic, forced Michigan’s strength coach to ban him from hitting the bench press. He’s ambidextrous around the rim, he’s a versatile offensive weapon that can play on the wing or at the four, and he has the explosion to finish above the rim.

Freshmen haven’t played a major role for Beilein in recent years, but it should be noted that he won a Big Ten title in 2012 when Burke started at the point as a freshman, and he reached the national title game with Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson Jr. all starting as freshman. When a player is good enough to step in and contribute immediately, Beilein has not shied away from letting him, and Brazdeikis may end up being the guy that can do that.

He is likely not going to help this group be a better three-point shooting team — he did not even attempt a three in Spain — but don’t be surprised when he ends up working his way into the starting lineup; I think that leading this team in scoring is in his range of outcomes.

And if Brazdeikis does end up being that good, then Michigan might have the go-to guy they need.

Jordan Poole #2,Isaiah Livers #4 and Zavier Simpson #3 (Elsa/Getty Images)

2018-19 OUTLOOK

The Wolverines are team that I think has both a high floor and a high ceiling heading into the new season.

There is no doubt in my mind that they are going to be one of the best defenses in college basketball. Last year, 17 of the top 18 teams in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric made the NCAA tournament; UCF, who lost their three best players to injury, was the only team that didn’t. Of the team that ranked in the top ten, the only team that didn’t win at least one game in the NCAA tournament was Virginia.

In the 17 seasons that KenPom has data for, no more than two of the top ten teams in his adjusted defensive efficiency metric have missed the NCAA tournament, and only five times in that span has less than 90 percent of the top ten gone dancing.

Odds are pretty good Michigan is headed back to the NCAA tournament.

And, frankly, I think there’s a chance they can get there as Big Ten regular season champions. A lot has to happen — Matthews needs to embrace being a go-to guy; Poole and Livers have to take significant steps forward; Brazdeikis needs to adjust to life in the Big Ten immediately; Simpson needs to lead the charge of improved three-point shooting — but all of those things are, individually, fairly likely to occur.

That’s before you add in the Beilein factor.

Having him as an offensive tactician immediately makes a team better offensively.

I’d put my money on this group likely ending up as a No. 6 or 7 seed with a chance to get to the second weekend because of the way that they can defend, but I wouldn’t put it past Beilein finding a way to get this group to end the year as a top three seed once again.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

Getty Images
4 Comments

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.