MI CB Ambry Thomas, the #2 player in the state, just announced his commitment to Michigan:
Thomas is the #3 CB and #31 overall player in the country to 247; he's 5th and 58th, respectively, on Scout. The other two services have him around 200th. Sam Webb on Thomas:
"I think he is a taller, faster version of Jourdan Lewis. He is an excellent bump and run defender. He has great feet, loose hips, recovery speed, and tremendous ball skills. Lewis was better technically at the same stage of development, but Thomas is more physical."
Michigan now has commits from 5 of the top 8 players in the state and hopes to add Donovan Peoples-Jones and Deron Irving-Bey in the near future.
A full post is coming tomorrow.
A few years ago it was de rigueur on this site to talk about how college rules allowed NCAA teams to use a different style of punting, and that this style (called spread or shield) of punting was demonstrably superior to NFL-style (tornado). Michigan has swung between them in recent years. Carr tested out something like shield punting in 2003 then scrapped it when it cost him a game against Iowa. Rodriguez took us to spread punting along with spread offense, and Hoke returned the program to pro-style as was his wont.
In 2015 Harbaugh brought in special teams guru John Baxter and the spread was once again installed, presumably for good. Then Baxter left, and this year Michigan used both. At first we wondered if this was, like under Hoke, some relic of a coaching staff that strove to be pro-like in everything. But as the punt blocks, and near punt blocks, and running-intos that by all rights should have been punt blocks piled up, a new thought emerged: maybe Michigan thinks they’ve solved the spread punt.
Shield punting refresher
The splits are huge: two yards between the snapper and the guards, and two more yards until the next guy. You don’t care who comes up the A gaps—the only thing the guys on the line of scrimmage have to do is redirect the man lined up outside of them then get downfield (you don’t want your snapper involved in blocking).
The three guys standing about 7 yards back are the “shield”. You want big burly dudes for your shield, and you tell them the Grand Canyon is just behind their heels so they’d better not give an inch. By not giving an inch, they create an eye in the middle of the storm for the punter to safely get the punt off.
Everyone else just has to force the attackers to widen to the point where they can’t get back inside in time to affect the punt. That’s why the guards split so far apart: anyone going outside of them should presumably be too far outside to affect the punt. Anyone coming up the middle will get stuck behind an immovable wall of beef.
In the linked video, Daniel mentions the way to attack it is put four guys into those big “A” gaps, because that could overwhelm the shield. The way the shield would deal with this is block out man-to-man, and let the guys in the A gaps try to get around the shield. As long as your three-man shield can still stop four A-gap rushers, you’ve got a sound punt blocking strategy with two to four more guys releasing downfield than you would in an NFL-style punt.
[After the JUMP we get around the shield]
Thursday, December 1, 2016
#6 Penn State 6, #20 Michigan 1
PSU 1 UM 0 EV 07:56 Assists: Richard & Smirnov
Nagelvoort’s standing to lock the post, which is perfectly acceptable and even favorable positioning-wise considering that open PSU skater drifting through the slot. Michigan loses a battle in the corner, and PSU now has possession of the puck near the net with a dangerous passing option open.
Richard decides that he’ll drive the net himself, which makes little sense to me but proves effective in stirring up a scrum in front of the net. Nagelvoort butterflies and stops the initial shot, but he gives up a rebound.
Defensively, Kile comes screaming in and goes right for Richard. Warren (whom the arrow is to the left of in the screen cap below) is also reaching ahead, apparently in an effort to knock the puck away. He soon realizes that he needs to cover the skater to his right.
Nagelvoort’s body is turned away from the middle of the crease because of the way in which he attacked the initial shot. He has to rotate around to get square to the shooters to his left. With so many guys in the crease unmoved, the task in front of him is monumental. The key to the goal is the skater underneath the arrow in the screen cap below.
I don’t understand why Shuart lets him skate into the slot unimpeded. It’s not like this is a skater who popped up out of nowhere; he’s been shadowing him since they were near the boards.
Sturtz gets to the loose puck an flips it up. The puck ends taking a strange path in, going up and rolling over Nagelvoort. Shuart then gives Sturtz a shot as guys jostle after the puck’s in, which…I don’t know. I don’t understand the lack of urgency and I don’t understand why he seemed to be so observant of what was going on behind and around the net but didn’t cover the skater right in front of him.
[Hit THE JUMP to reset expectations]
Now that football has ceased, a glance at some ongoing sports you may not have paid much attention to yet.
They're real bad
photo not meant to reflect poorly on Jack Lafontaine [James Coller]
Let us cut to the chase. This is the worst Michigan hockey team since Red Berenson rescued the program from its mid-80s doldrums. The three Michigan teams that missed the tourney prior to last year were at least within shouting distance of a bid. Flip a game or two and those guys squeeze into the tournament.
This year's team is 6-7-1 and currently 31st in RPI, in the bottom half nationally. Compounding matters: they're probably the luckiest team in the country. After getting bombed by Penn State their Corsi* is 59th out of 60 teams, ahead of only Alaska-Anchorage. They've survived because their goalies have a collective .927 save percentage, and that has nothing to do with the quality of shots they've faced. While having a good save percentage is, you know, good, SV% is a notoriously fickle stat requiring something more than a full NHL season to produce anything even sort of predictive. Michigan's ranking there could be skill; it could be luck. If it's the latter, Katie bar the door.
The eye test is little better. They were just blown off the ice by Penn State 6-1 and 5-1; when they played LSSU it looked like a bad WCHA team playing itself. Jake Slaker, a 20-year old former St. Lawrence recruit, went from nowhere to the top line. He's scoring some; he's also –9.
Without a turnaround for the ages the only thing keeping this team from the cellar of the Big Ten is Michigan State.
*[Your percent of all shot attempts in a game. Broadly more predictive than actual goals.]
Slaker, a late add, went from St. Lawrence commit to M's top line [Coller]
Last year's team was fool's gold that forestalled Red Berenson's perpetually impending retirement yet again. They had an insane amount of talent. Tyler Motte, Kyle Connor, and Zach Werenski went directly to the NHL, with JT Compher not far behind. Those four guys drove so much of Michigan's play, and they also lost two productive scoring line wingers in Justin Selman and Boo Nieves.
A decent but not great incoming recruiting class could not replace that production. The academic suspension of promising freshman Cooper Marody (10-14-24 a year ago) did not help. This team has two guys—Alex Kile and Will Lockwood—who look like top six forwards on a good Michigan team.
The defense is hypothetically deep and good, but in practice teams are piling up excellent scoring chances because Michigan can't exit their own zone, can't enter the opponent zone, and are giving up the constant parade of odd-man rushes that's been characteristic of the program over the past few years.
All of this traces back to the head coach. Every player with an opportunity to go pro does so as quickly as possible, even guys like Andrew Copp who are total shocks. Marody's suspension is just about unprecedented in hockey. For years Red has tolerated guys like Tristin Llewellyn and Michael Downing who take awful penalties and constantly pinch at the wrong time.
Even last year's massive pile of talent was outshot 49-27 in a 5-2 loss to North Dakota in the second round of the tournament. Michigan had an NHL first line and the most prolific rookie defenseman in the NHL this year and still got blown off the ice by a program it used to look at as a peer. What does this program look like with good, but not transcendent talent?
Is there any hope?
Not realistically. This isn't a one year issue, but a steady decline over the last half decade that last year's talent managed to defy. This team still has more talent (9 draft picks!) than the majority of teams they'll play in the Big Ten, but one of the teams they have more on-paper talent than just blew them off the ice. One of the others, Ohio State, is sixth in RPI.
Michigan teams have picked themselves off the mat at midseason before and gone on runs to make or narrowly miss the tourney; the difference between those teams and this one is the distance they'd have to go to go from losing games to winning them.
Suck it up and wait it out, I guess. I have to imagine that a fourth missed tournament in five years would be the point at which Red Berenson walks away to prevent damaging his legacy even further. Michigan would have good options afterwards, but the point to talk about that is later.
Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Wilton Speight
Wilton, what are your thoughts on Florida State and playing them?
“Yeah, pretty cool. I saw that the last team, the last Michigan team, to go to the Orange Bowl was Tom Brady’s team that went to overtime with Alabama, so that was a cool little piece of history that I saw. Really athletic team in Florida State. Lot of studs on that team and real well coached by Coach Fisher, so I’m excited to hit the film with Coach Fisch and figure out the gameplan for what we’re going to do.”
What was the rollercoaster of emotions today? Did you wake up feeling you still had a chance to get into the playoff and when you found out, how did you guys cope with that, deal with that, move forward from that?
WS: “I think we all woke up hoping something might still happen. We knew Clemson or Washington had to lose for us to really have a solid chance, but it’s not done by computer; it’s done by people with brains and emotions and thoughts, so we thought there was still a chance. But we put ourselves in this position to leave it up to other people. Four points away from sitting here up in front of you guys undefeated. It’s tough, but at the same time we’ve got a lot to prove. We can really make a statement in Miami.”
RG: “Yeah, I agree with Wilton. I think that this game in Miami is going to be a statement game. We want to leave this program on top and [with] a step in the right direction. Chris and I are leaving, but Wilton has two more years here to lead this team. So yeah, we want to make it a statement game. We want to show that we’re in the top four teams in college football.”
CW: “I agree.”
Wilton, how’s the shoulder, collarbone, whatever’s going on? How healthy were you last Saturday?
“I was healthy enough to play, to be able to try and make as many plays as I could for the team. This week off has helped. We didn’t practice this past week; coaches were out recruiting. We’ll start back up on Tuesday. Not sure the extent of how hard we’ll go this first week, but the week off definitely helped. I’m getting healthier every day.”
[After THE JUMP: “I think we’re gonna be hungry, we’re gonna be angry, and we’re gonna want to take it out on a team, and Florida State’s the next team up.”]
"So you haven't seen us win many like that," said John Beilein to open his postgame presser. Truer statements have rarely been spoken.
Let's set aside, for a moment, the hideous nature of this game, and instead appreciate the future of Michigan basketball. That future is the big man pairing of Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson, which came up huge on both ends of the floor to pry a victory out of the jaws of defeat.
With 1:56 to play, Kerwin Roach gave Texas a 50-48 lead, and Michigan looked to be in a very tight spot when Zak Irvin's entry pass bounced out of bounds off Wagner's hands on the following possession. The Wolverines played suffocating defense to force an airball, and Wagner halved the margin with a free throw, then gave Michigan a 51-50 lead with a putback off a missed Irvin layup with 14 seconds to play.
With the game on the line, Texas first tried to run a play through Tevin Mack, who scored a game-high 18 points. Wilson stonewalled Mack as he tried to drive, then batted away a kickout pass to force the Longhorns to reset on an inbounds play. That play went to Eric Davis, who Wilson stuck with as he dribbled across the paint before seamlessly passing him off to Wagner, who emphatically blocked the potential game-winner. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman corralled the loose ball and put Michigan up three at the line; the ensuing midcourt prayer went unanswered.
A stylish finish (left) and the game-winning putback (right). [Campredon]
"I thought [Wagner] was the best player on the floor tonight," said Texas coach Shaka Smart.
There's plenty of evidence to back that up beyond the final sequence. Wagner paced the Wolverines with 15 points, made seven of his ten two-point attempts, pulled down five reounds, and added two assists, two steals, and a block. Beilein acknowledged that Wagner's defense has improved; he said, in fact, that he wanted to replace Wagner with Mark Donnal late in the game as a defensive substitution, but assistant Billy Donlon advised him not to do so—thankfully, he heeded Donlon's advice.
If Wagner wasn't Michigan's best player on the floor, it was Wilson. He required only seven shot equivalents to score his 13 points, led the team with six rebounds, and added two assists, two steals, and two blocks. He played great on-ball defense without getting into foul trouble.
The two bigs were Michigan's only effective offensive players this evening. Duncan Robinson was the only other Wolverine to finish in double figures, and he required 11 shots to score 12 points. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin were a combined 4-for-17 from the field with ten points, seven assists, and eight turnovers. Other than the huge final rebound and subsequent free throws, MAAR was invisible, scoring all three of his points from the line.
Michigan will need much more offense to hang with UCLA on Saturday. The defense, built around the two bigs, allowed only 0.82 points per possession and forced 14 turnovers tonight; that is more than welcome to stay, even if it takes some time to get used to it.