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(Note: I wrote this before today's game against Penn State. So obviously a few things have changed, but I do think parts of the argument were validated in GR3's 21 points in today's game. Either way, I wanted to post it just because I thought the trends leading into this game were interesting)
The big story of the past few days have been Michigan's recent struggles and their first back-to-back losses of the season against Wisconsin in overtime and MSU. Many players have received skepticism during this time, but perhaps one of the biggest surprises has been the dropoff of GR3. He was one of the brightest stars on this team in early games, but has lost some of that sparkle in Michigan's last few games.
Leading into the Wisconsin game, GR3 had been really good for Michigan. He had scored at least 10 points in 4 of the last 5 games, averaged just over 5 rebounds per game during the previous 6 games, and had been improving as a consistent defender. Along with this, the big thing that he did really well was be efficient with the ball. During the five games before the Wisconsin game, GR3 averaged 7 shot attempts per game and shot an impressive 57% on those. Of course, he was not even close to being the leader on the team in shot attempts (Burke took 45 more attempts during the same period), which shows his contributions were limited, but that's still very efficient.
This production was a big boost to Michigan as a team. The primary two players for Michigan, especially on offense, are Burke and Hardaway, but this gave the Wolverines a viable third option that didn't eat up possessions, but gave Michigan a scoring boost. If the Wolverines needed about 10 points from players like Stauskas and GR3 in a game, they could get it in just a few attempts from GR3. This is big because it leaves more possessions for the other players to convert and does just enough to force the defense to play honest against him. A big part of this high efficency rate was due to his effectiveness in transition. For much of the year, he was Michigan's most deadly transition player. He missed on a lot of dunks early in the year, but he was able to land some big ones later on and was really able to use his athleticism to create space and get Michigan easy baskets. For a team that does like to use transition, this is something that's big.
However, these things haven't been happening in the last two games and on top of that, the recent trend for GR3 has been down. There is no doubt that the last four opponents have been tough for Michigan. In fact, that was probably the toughest 4 game stretch any team in the country will have this year, at least in the regular season. There's no doubt that players aren't going to do as well against the better defensive teams, but the drop-off for GR3 has been pretty significant. Up until the last few games, he was averaging around 12 points and 6 rebounds per game. For a true freshman who is probably the team's 3rd or 4th option offensively, those are pretty good numbers. However, he has averaged 4.5 points and 3.25 rebounds per game during Michigan's brutal 4 game stretch. That's a pretty big drop-off.
There have been many potential explanations for the drop-off of GR3. These include explanations of a lack of effort, his exposure to quality competition, or just a dry spell. Some of these have some logic behind them, but perhaps the most logical explanation has been his playing time. As he has developed, Beilein has been using him more often on the court. This has caused some heavy use in recent weeks and for a true freshman, this can take its toll. They don't have the conditioning level of more experienced players and haven't had a full offseason to develop the strength to carry themselves through the entire season. And if you look at his playing time leading into his off games against Wisconsin and MSU, this argument actually seems pretty logical. Excluding the last two games, GR3 has played at least 30 minutes in every game since January 3rd and played 40 and 41 minute games immediatley preceding Wisconsin. Just take a look at his season trends.
He looked tired and worn down in his last few games, which accompanied with his season trends, makes this argument seem like the best explanation. Will he recover in the future? It seems likely considering that he only averaged 27 minutes in the last two games, has 5 days before Penn State, and Michigan only plays twice over a 14 day period. Whether GR3 can completely recover remains to be seen, but with the way things lay out, it seems logical to expect a return to form in the coming weeks.
This post was edited by Thomas Beindit on 2/17/2013 at 9:42 PM
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