It's hard to argue with anything Michigan coach John Beilein has done over the past month. His team has won 12 of 14 games, captured a Big 10 Tournament title and earned a trip to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
But there's sometthing about theseWolverines that truly qualifies as March Madness.
Michigan has made more 3-pointers than any major conference school this season. They pour in 9.5 treys per game and have knocked down 22 in the NCAA Tournament, best ofany teamstill alive.
Now,here iswhat’s so counterintuitive: At just under 64 possessions per 40 minutes, the Wolverines have played to the 344th slowest pace in Division 1, slower than every major conference team except Virginia.
To get an idea of how backwards this is, first take a look at the nation's highest-scoringteam in UCLA.The high-octane Bruins have made just five less threes than Michigan this season but playat the third-fastest pace among all major conference teams.
Michigan's pace becomes substantially more head-scratching when you look at the current hottest trend in the NBA, where prolific 3-point shooting andfast-pacedplay go hand and hand. Teamsfocused around talented 3-point shooters are encouraged by today's analyticsto go rapid-fire, thinkingthe shots worth the most points are also worth a high rate ofinvestment. This is facilitated by an increased tempo – amore open game should equalmore open shots.
Thatstrategy has been pretty successful. During eachof Steve Nash’s MVP seasons with the Phoenix Suns, who made back-to-back Western Conference Finals, the Suns led the league in both made threes and possessions per game. Those Suns became famous for their “Seven Seconds or Less” style, which valued shooting in transition before the opposition had a chance to get set on defense.
This season’s analyticallydevoted HoustonRockets, who are third in the West at 49-22, have made over100 more 3-pointers than any team while playing the fourth-fastest pace in the league. The Golden State Warriors have been atop the NBA in wins each of the past three years, while playing the fastest pace and making the second-most threes over that time.
Get the point?
Launching threes in an up-and-down contest would seem to benefit this Michigan team. Especially considering its 48 percent rebounding rate (percent of available rebounds grabbed) is by far the worst of any Sweet 16 team, which doesn’t bode well for a leisurely affair.
Michigan has five players who shot better than38 percent from deep in conference play at a relatively high volume, and that doesn’t include senior Zak Irvin, who’s made 44 percent of his threes in postseason play. Basically, every Wolverine who plays regular minutes is adept from beyond the arc.
Derrick Walton has coincidentallydone his best Steve Nash impression of late, leading the NCAA Tournament in total assists with 17.The senior point guard isalso the only major conference player to average at least15 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds per game since Feb.1.
Michigan played a little faster (69 possessions) during a wildfirst-round win over Oklahoma State, in which they shot a sizzling55 percent (16-of-29) percent from long range. Theywere slowed a bit to a pace of 65against Louisville, makingjust 6-of-17 from deep.
Oregon is another team that likes playing fairly slow, although it mightbe inclined to move a little faster with star big man Chris Boucher out for the season.
Beilein has done everything right so far. But if Michigan gets outscored by the Ducks in a slow-paced game, it will be fair to wonder whether the Wolverinesshould have sped things up.