Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Basketball [Print without images]

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Michigan clicks on offense

By Michael Rothstein
WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Tim Hardaway Jr. saw the precocious freshmen in practice before Michigan's basketball season started, asking questions of the veterans, buying into everything the Wolverines' coaches were trying to sell them.

Believing and actually doing are two different things. It is why the junior guard is somewhat surprised with what has transpired this season for Michigan. It is possible Michigan coach John Beilein is as well.

Michigan's Trey Burke
Trey Burke says he's not the only setup man on the Michigan roster.
Beilein thought there would be a chance for games with high turnovers this season due to the turnover of his roster. Experience graduated or transferred, leaving Michigan with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores in the rotation other than Hardaway Jr. and junior forward Jordan Morgan.

The opposite happened. This might be the most offensively efficient team of Beilein's career while also being one of his youngest.

"You could see it in the preseason when they were practicing," Hardaway Jr. said. "They were asking us veterans a lot of questions."

Questions are good, but actual application is the main key. That application of Beilein's principles led to the nation's highest efficiency rating -- 122.6 -- according to statsheet.com. The Wolverines' 1.23 points per possession is also the best in the country, and this after two subpar offensive games against Nebraska and Ohio State.

All this while Michigan has, according to statsheet.com, the 16th-youngest rotation in the country.

There have been a lot of keys to this success. Some comes from having one of the nation's top point guards, sophomore Trey Burke. Beilein pointed to the Michigan schedule, which has been heavy on home games and will only become harder starting Thursday, when the Wolverines travel to Minnesota.

Then there is this -- the passing. Not only is Burke one of the country's best passers, but as a team Michigan has a 1.65 assist-to-turnover ratio.

"That is something that is overlooked on this team," Burke said. "Guys look at my assist numbers and think it is just me that is passing, but we have a lot of guys that can pass. Our efficiency rate and percentage wouldn't be as high as it is if we didn't have guys who could pass."

Michigan is averaging 15.8 assists as a team and its top five non-post players are averaging more than one assist a game. But the passing is more about things which don't show up in the final statistical line.

The Michigan efficiency goes into the pass to get to the pass and in deciding to turn down, for the most part, an early shot in favor of finding a better shot.

Those shots have gone down, too. Of the top six players in Michigan's rotation, none is shooting under 50 percent from the field. Its top four scorers are all shooting 36.7 percent or better from the 3-point line, a place the Wolverines have thrived over the Beilein years but for the first time have not heavily relied on.

"[We] have a group that has really bought into this team concept," Beilein said. "Looking for not the first shot or my shot, but the best shot. That makes you really efficient.

"It cuts down turnovers, which leads to higher percentages."

The turnovers were a valid concern of Beilein's entering the season. Turns out Michigan is turning the ball over less than all but one team in the country -- Wisconsin -- on only 14.8 percent of its possessions. Its 9.5 turnovers a game are fourth best in the nation behind only Wisconsin, Cal Poly and Pittsburgh.

These qualities are something Michigan wasn't sure would show up before the season. How could it on a team of freshmen and sophomores, some of whom played together before but none of them in this kind of environment.

But Beilein and his staff drilled their expectations early, and other than small moments here and there, Michigan's young players have acquiesced and turned the Wolverines from a team with a lot of potential to one of the most potent in the country.