The 2015 BTPowerhouse Recapitulation Series will look back at the season of each Big Ten team through a 10 point analysis designed to reveal what went right, what went wrong, and whether the team met expectations in 2014-15. The series will be released during early summer in reverse order of conference standings, meaning the last place team will be reviewed first and the Big Ten champions will be reviewed last.
The 2014-15 season was a disastrous one for Michigan. Though the Wolverines still finished with a .500 record on the season, for a team coming off two straight Elite Eight appearances, it was a major step back. The majority of fans and media alike believed that Michigan could avoid a significant backslide in 2014-15 due to a few key returners and new additions to the roster, but after what appeared to be a solid start, the team suffered several massive upsets at home in non-conference play and several key injuries that prevented Michigan from doing any significant damage during the 2014-15 season. Despite a team with plenty of promise coming into the season, the Wolverines simply couldn't overcome the offseason departures and injuries and, ultimately, failed to make the postseason.
Let's look back at it it in its entirety.
1. Preseason Expectations
Coming into the season, there was some variation on where Michigan would fall in the Big Ten race, but overall, most were optimistic about the Wolverines. They were coming off an outright Big Ten title and an Elite Eight appearance, where they came just one 3PT shot short of potentially going back to a second straight Final Four. This was a team with a great deal of success over the preceding seasons and though they lost a lot in the offseason from players like Jordan Morgan, Glenn Robinson III, and Nik Stauskas, it still looked like a roster with enough proven and talented pieces to be competitive in the Big Ten. Particularly, the return of Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert, and Derrick Walton and the addition of 4-star prospects Kameron Chatman and Mark Donnal (coming off redshirt), set up to the team to have one of the more talented rosters in the conference. As such, I put Michigan at #2 in my Big Ten preview and figured it would be another successful year for the Wolverines.
Here was my preseason storyline for Michigan:
The biggest storyline for Michigan this season will be whether the team can once again replace key offseason departures and remain nationally relevant. This is the 4th year in a row that Michigan has lost key pieces during the offseason and Michigan will look to continue its recent trend of performing despite these challenges. The Wolverines will have their hands full upfront, but the team is relatively stocked considering the losses of Jordan Morgan, Glenn Robinson III, and Nik Stauskas. Michigan returns 2 starters in Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, returns a key bench player in Zak Irvin, and adds a major recruit in Kameron Chatman. The potential is there for Michigan to once again overcome offseason departures, but John Beilein will have his work cut out this year.
The Big Ten writers were not quite as high on Michigan as I was coming into the season, but they did feel confident enough to put them at #5 in their preseason Big Ten standings behind Nebraska and ahead of Minnesota. The Wolverines had to replace a lot of contributions from the 2013-14, but there were proven options in Irvin, LeVert, and Walton on the roster and key newcomers in Chatman and Donnal. Generally, most didn't predict Michigan to be quite as good as their 2013-14, but a comfortable NCAA Tournament team and a competitive team in Big Ten play.
2. Non-Conference Play
With plenty of roster turnover, most thought that Michigan would be an improving team during non-conference play. Plus, considering that several of Beilein's recent teams had started slowly in non-conference play, but improved over the course of the season, many thought it could be a period of growth for a relatively young team. Along with this, with many opponents that were perceived to be difficult coming into the season, Michigan would have to play well to have a realistic shot at 10 wins. Here is how things ended up playing out.
Michigan 2014-15 Non-Conference:
- Win (1-0): Hillsdale, 92-68
- Win (2-0): Bucknell, 77-53
- Win (3-0): Detroit, 71-62
- Win (4-0): Oregon, 70-63
- Loss (4-1): Villanova, 60-55
- Win (5-1): Nicholls State, 91-62
- Win (6-1): Syracuse, 68-65
- Loss (6-2): NJIT, 72-70
- Loss (6-3): Eastern Michigan, 45-42
- Loss (6-4): Arizona, 80-53
- Loss (6-5): SMU, 62-51
- Win (7-5): Coppin State, 72-56
3. Conference Play
Though Michigan had a rough non-conference performance, there was still hope for Big Ten play. The Wolverines would get plenty of opportunities to secure marquee wins and plenty of quality teams at home. Michigan would certainly have to improve its play if it was going to get back on track, but the opportunities were still there. Pull off an upset or two and take care of business at home and who knows where the team could end up by March. Here is how they performed.
Michigan 2014-15 Big Ten Play:
- Win (1-0): Illinois, 73-65 OT
- Loss (1-1): Purdue, 64-51
- Win (2-1): Penn State, 73-64
- Win (3-1): Minnesota, 62-57
- Loss (3-2): Ohio State, 71-52
- Win (4-2): Northwestern, 56-54
- Win (5-2): Rutgers, 54-50
- Loss (5-3): Wisconsin, 69-64 OT
- Win (6-3): Nebraska, 58-44
- Loss (6-4): Michigan State, 76-66 OT
- Loss (6-5): Iowa, 72-54
- Loss (6-6): Indiana, 70-67
- Loss (6-7): Illinois, 64-52 OT
- Loss (6-8): Michigan State, 80-67
- Win (7-8): Ohio State, 64-57
- Loss (7-9): Maryland, 66-56
- Loss (7-10): Northwestern, 82-78 2OT
- Win (8-10): Rutgers, 79-69
2014-15 Michigan's Big Ten Schedule:
Michigan's 5 Game Losing Streak:
- 100% to postseason teams
- 80% to NCAA Tournament teams
- 60% during road games
- 60% went to OT or were within 5 points
Michigan's Point Per Possessions Above Expected During B1G Play:
4. Postseason Play
With Michigan going 8-10 in Big Ten play and just 7-5 in non-conference play, the Wolverines were locked out of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid and were considered a bubble candidate for the NIT. For Michigan to potentially get into the Big Dance or the NIT, they would have to reel off some wins in the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago. Michigan was able to slide into the #9 seed in Chicago, but with a potential matchup on Friday against Wisconsin and four straight wins required to grab the Big Ten Tournament title, things would be tough. Here is how things went for Michigan:
Michigan 2014-15 Postseason Play:
- Win (2nd Round Big Ten Tourney), Illinois, 73-55
- Loss (Quarterfinals Big Ten Tourney), Wisconsin, 71-60
Though Michigan ended up getting placed on the same initial bracket with Big Ten regular season champion Wisconsin, there was still a decent amount of hope given the Wolverines improved play down the stretch. They would get their first opportunity against #8 seed Illinois on Thursday afternoon. Coming into the game, the Illini were a 63.5% favorite on KenPom and were fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid. Tensions would be high for Illinois and for Michigan to pull off the upset, they would have to come out with a focused effort.
Initially, Illinois kept the game relatively close, but thanks to some great shooting, Michigan pushed the lead to 14-2 by the 14:30 mark in the 1st Half. The Illini cut the lead back down for a bit and actually had the game tied at 19-19 with 7:19 remaining in the 1st Half, but thanks to some great play from Albrecht, Dawkins, and Irvin, the Wolverines were able to push the lead to 40-23 by halftime.
In the 2nd Half, it was all Michigan. Though Illinois had some solid possessions, they were never able to make any substantial run and by the 10 minute mark, the game was over. In fact, Michigan had at least 95% odds to win the game according to KenPom for the final 17 minutes of the game. Ultimately, Michigan won by a final score of 73-55.
Michigan's 2nd Round game with Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament really served as a wakeup call for not only the team and its fanbase, but also the conference and the country. Illinois was not a bad team and though they had to have things fall the right way to make the NCAA Tournament, they were a genuine bubble team. This game mattered to Illinois and Michigan demolished them. It was really a sign of how much the the Wolverines had grown over the final weeks of the season and how much better they were than the team that lost to EMU and NJIT.
Unfortunately, despite Michigan's great performance against Illinois, they would have to face Wisconsin in the Quarterfinals due to their bracket position. Just like in the sole regular season matchup, the two teams played a tight game that would be dedicated late in the action. At halftime, Wisconsin led 31-26 and the Wolverines were able to keep it close for most of the 2nd Half. With 10:32 remaining, the game was tied and with 3:48 left, Wisconsin had just a 58-56 lead. Ultimately, Wisconsin hit some late shots thanks to Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers moved on by a final score of 71-60. However, despite the final score, it was a very tight game.
The Wolverines played very well in its two Big Ten Tournament games considering the competition, but realistically, they had no at-large NCAA Tournament hopes and just an outside shot at the NIT. After failing to be selected to the NIT and declining a CBI bid, Michigan officially ended its season at 16-16 and with a 8-10 record in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines took a massive step backward during the 2014-15 season from their Big Ten championship performance in 2013-14, but they did still have some strengths on their team. As is typical of a John Beilein coached team, Michigan was very effective at avoiding turnovers, shooting from the free throw line, and avoiding fouls.
Michigan's offense was certainly a work in progress during the 2014-15 season. Rotating lineups, youth, and difficult matchups made it difficult for the Wolverines to develop stability and effective production. Still, the team did make significant progress and had one of the better offenses out there when the team finished their season. They certainly weren't great and were a good mark off their #1 overall KenPom rating in 2013-14, but it did have its strengths and was the side of the court where Michigan was stronger overall during the season.
The biggest strength of Michigan's offense in 2014-15 was easily its performance in avoiding turnovers. This was a team that not only finished #6 nationally in turnover rate, but also had some of the conference's top players in turnover rate last season. Take a look at how they compared.
2014-15 Big Ten Turnover Rate Stats:
*Minimum 40% of minutes played to be listed.
Wisconsin actually came out on top of this list, but for a team that failed to even make the NIT, having three major contributors who turned the ball over that rarely was a big strength to the team. The Wolverines similarly came in at #2 during conference play in turnover rate only trailing the Badgers. Considering that Wisconsin massively led the Big Ten in this conference - the gap from #1 to #2 matched the gap from #2 to #12 - this was a really solid performance for Michigan and substantially helped their offseason during 2014-15.
Michigan also did a nice job of converting once the team got to the free throw line. The team came in at #18 nationally in free throw rate and ended up at #2 in the Big Ten during conference play. This was thanks to have 5 players that shot over 80% over the 2014-15 season. The Wolverines had trouble getting to the line, which will be discussed below, but once they got there, they converted very well.
Defensively, the biggest single area for Michigan was its ability to avoid fouls. The Wolverines ranked #348 in total personal fouls during 2015-16 and were #9 nationally in free throw attempt to field goal ratio. Essentially, when opponents played Michigan, they may score, but they were rarely doing it at the free throw line. In a sense, the Wolverines were making opponents "earn" their points in other ways. That may not meant the defense is elite, but it certainly helps in keeping players on the court. Just look at Michigan player fouls last year.
2014-15 Michigan Foul Stats:
*Minimum 40% of minutes played to be listed.
Realistically speaking, Michigan did pretty well overall in terms of fouls. Not only did they trend well as a team, but to have just one major contributor be in foul trouble in 30% of his games is certainly a solid performance and the fact that a major contributor only fouled out in four games all season is perhaps even more significant. Doyle certainly had some issues with fouls, but outside of him, Michigan's top contributors did a good job of staying on the court.
The Wolverines had their share of struggles during 2014-15, but their ability to hold onto the ball, shoot from the charity stripe, and avoid fouls were high points for the team.
The Wolverines had their solid areas in 2014-15, but there's no doubt that the team regressed significantly and particularly on offense, where they had been one of the top teams over the preceding seasons. In fact, Michigan had finished #19 or higher in KenPom offense for each of the preceding seasons including back-to-back seasons where the Wolverines came in at #1 overall. This was an offense powerhouse that took a major step backward.
To be fair, this is largely an unfair comparison for the 2014-15 Wolverines. Just about all teams would fall short of the offensive performances Michigan showed in 2012-13 and 2013-14. Both of those teams made the Elite Eight and were legitimately Top 5 to Top 10 teams nationally. Still, one can't help but notice the severe regression for the Wolverines in one offseason. Take a look below.
Michigan Offensive Stats:
Knowing the offseason losses and the injuries suffered by Michigan, those numbers probably aren't all that surprising, but in purely statistical form, that is mind boggling regression. They went from being the nation's best offense to a bottom half offense during Big Ten play.
So how did that regression happen? Generally speaking, Michigan regressed across the board. There really weren't any significant statistical measures where the Wolverines got better in 2014-15. However, two areas specifically highlight this regression and they were 3PT shooting and the inability to get opportunities inside.
In terms of 3PT shooting, Beilein teams have been known for being effective from outside the arc. His teams rely on good outside shooters that can create shots and guards to get wings open. For the Wolverines, it was guys like Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Caris LeVert, and Nik Stauskas in 2012-13 and 2013-14. However, in 2014-15, the team lacked the outside efficiency. Here is how they compared.
Michigan 3PT Stats:
The impact of the Wolverines outside the arc was significantly less in 2014-15 than it was in 2013-14. Not only is this evident from the fact that they had a substantially higher 3PT percentage in 2013-14, but that they did this while attempting roughly the same number of 3PT shots per game. Michigan was making less shots from 3PT range, but still attempting virtually the same number, which is not generally a formula for success.
The reason that Michigan kept attempting the same number of shots despite less efficiency was simply because the team wasn't all great at creating other looks in 2014-15. They didn't have players likes Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, or Nik Stauskas to get inside. In fact, Michigan went from having 4 players in 2013-14 that had a higher free throw rate than any Michigan player in 2014-15. This was a team that could not make plays inside and its backcourt could not get inside. Just look at this comparison.
2014-15 Big Ten FTRate Stats:
*Minimum 60% of minutes played to be listed.
That chart alone would be telling, but what is most significant is that Michigan technically didn't even have enough players to qualify for that rating as they only had two players who played at least 60% of the team's minutes. They may have been even lower in that comparison if another player had qualified.
The Wolverines were not a terrible team in 2014-15, but their massive regression from one of the nation's best offenses and its inability to create inside ultimately limited the team's performances over the season.
7. Top Player
Coming into the season, Michigan appeared to have a clear leader for its top player in Caris LeVert heading into the season. He was selected as a preseason All-American and was expected to be a serious contender for Big Ten Player of the Year. He did not appear to live up to those comparisons early on, but his injury during Big Ten play ultimately took him out of the running once and for all. Still, there were several players who contributed significantly over the course of the season for Michigan and in the running for top player.
Let's take a look at the traditional stats.
Michigan 2014-15 Stat Leaders
- Minutes - Zak Irvin
- Field Goal Attempts - Zak Irvin
- Points - Zak Irvin
- Rebounds - Zak Irvin
- Assists - Spike Albrecht
- Blocks - Ricky Doyle
- Steals - Zak Irvin
Irvin also held up well in the advanced stats.
Of course, advanced numbers may not necessarily be a perfect reflection compared to how a player performs in big games and whether he can push them over the top. To help assist in this, KenPom does an analysis of an MVP in each game and awards it to the best player during the game. Here is how Michigan stacked up.
The stats are very telling in this comparison for two purposes. First, it clearly implies that Zak Irvin was Michigan's top contributor during 2014-15. He had the best overall stats, advanced stats, and single game performances on Michigan's roster last season. However, it also shows the importance of players like Caris LeVert, who still held up well in season comparisons, despite missing large segments of the season.
8. Sixth Man
Whether the Wolverines wanted to tap into their bench or not, they didn't really have much of a choice due to the string of injuries the team suffered in Big Ten play. The rotation was constantly moving around and only one player started 60% of the games for Michigan last season. In fact, Michigan ended up finishing #48 in bench minutes last season, which led the Big Ten.
Last season, Michigan's most started lineup was Spike Albrecht, Ricky Doyle, Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert, and Derrick Walton, Jr. This was certainly not the lineup at the end of the season, but these were the most started players, which is the measure for this comparison. Several of the "bench" players were in the lineup late in the season, but in this, they will be treated as bench contributors. Here is how they broke down in traditional stats.
Michigan 2014-15 Bench Leaders
- Minutes - Aubrey Dawkins
- Field Goal Attempts - Aubrey Dawkins
- Points - Aubrey Dawkins
- Rebounds - Max Bielfeldt
- Assists - Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman
- Steals - Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman
Here is how they held up in the advanced stats comparison.
When you look at the culmination of all of these different stats, it's pretty clear that Aubrey Dawkins was Michigan's top guy off the bench in 2014-15. He eventually would secure a starting spot, but it was a massive rise for a relatively unheralded 3-star recruit. The Wolverines tapped their bench quite a bit during the 2014-15 season, but Dawkins was the top guy on this comparison.
9. Top Storylines
The storyline for Michigan's 2014-15 was one of adversity and bad luck. The Wolverines were never a great team over the course of the season, but if they had avoided some key injuries and improved a little in tight games, the team could have very reasonably had a much more successful season than its failure to qualify for the NCAA Tournament or NIT.
Before the season started, expectations were high for Michigan. Though the team lost star players in Jordan Morgan, Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and several rotational players, the team was expected to return enough talent and depth to be a quality unit in 2014-15. They were not expected to maintain their elite play from the last two seasons, but at least be competitive in the Big Ten and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately, due to a rash of injuries, close losses, and youth, the Wolverines were unable to meet expectations. In fact, the team actually slid out of the NCAA Tournament and the NIT by season's end. Particularly, the losses of Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr. during the first half of Big Ten play were severe blows. Michigan did make substantial improvements over the final months of the season, but ultimately, it was too little, too late.
There was promise, talent, and experience on Michigan's team in 2014-15, but things had to break right for the Wolverines to continue their successful run. Unfortunately, things not only went awry, but took a team that showed improvement and pushed them to an underwhelming 16-16 record.
10. Final Verdict
Michigan's season is a simple one to grade out on paper. This was a team with NCAA Tournament expectations coming into the season that failed to make the NIT. Michigan was able to finished at #9 in the Big Ten standings and easily beat Illinois in the 2nd Round of the Big Ten Tournament, but overall, it was a disappointing finish.
However, the adversity for the Wolverines in 2014-15 was substantial. Not only did they suffer two season ending injuries to two of their top contributors, but they also had several others players were forced to play through injury and Michigan was forced to use an incredibly inexperienced bench for much of the year. It would be unfair not to at least recognize the significant impact these events had on Michigan's season.
The Wolverines were never a great team in 2014-15. They were upset by EMU and NJIT in non-conference play and lost 10 games in Big Ten play. However, it was also a team that continued to improve, despite seeing key contributors limited by injury and was playing at a pretty solid level late in the year. As such, Michigan avoids the lowest of grades, but ultimately, a season without at least an NIT bid can only go so far.
Season Grade: C