|WHAT||Michigan (12-6, 2-3 B1G) at
Wisconsin (14-3, 3-1)
|WHEN||9 pm ET, Tuesday|
|LINE||Wisconsin -10 (KenPom)
Wisconsin -11 (Vegas)
PBP: Dave Flemming
Analyst: Dan Dakich
Right: cheese. Cheese never changes.
Michigan exits the easy bit of their schedule at 2-3 in the Big Ten and now stares down a gauntlet-like substance. Since this is the worst Big Ten in a while—just two teams in the Kenpom top 25—that gauntlet isn't the death sentence it might have been a few years ago. It's still not good, and Michigan kicks it off with the Big Ten's one elite tempo-free team: eternal, unchangeable Wisconsin.
Good news: Michigan's the best offense in the league and by a bit of distance. Bad news: Michigan is the worst defense in the league by a thousand miles. They are currently on pace to be the worst Big Ten defense in the Kenpom era, which stretches back to 2002.
But you knew that already. You can see with your eyes.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.
|G||3||Zak Showalter||Sr.||6'3, 185||67||14||130||No|
|Barely shoots, low assist rate, good defender|
|G||24||Bronson Koenig||Sr.||6'3, 190||72||21||122||Not At All|
|Primary sniper, 40% on 119 3s. Efficient inside arc as well.|
|F||30||Vitto Brown||Sr.||6'8, 235||53||19||107||No|
|Low usage, high efficiency stretch 4. TO prone.|
|F||10||Nigel Hayes||Sr.||6'8, 240||74||25||115||Not Really|
|Lead dog shoots a ton of midrange jumpers w/ decent efficiency. Good passer. Gets to the line a lot, converts at only 63%|
|C||20||Ethan Happ||So.||6'10, 232||63||26||120||Very|
|Efficient, high-usage post scorer, passes well, dismal FT%|
|G||0||D'Mitrik Trice||Fr.||6'0, 178||45||16||123||Not At All|
|Clone of his brother Travis. Ululating woman on FTs will be his mom.|
|G||21||Khalil Iverson||So.||6'5, 212||40||18||111||Very|
|Petway-esque jumping-jack swingman will get his on putbacks mostly|
|F||25||Alex Illakainen||So.||6'9, 232||25||11||104||Not Really|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Anthony Cowan [Maryland Athletics]
Last Week’s Results
Indiana 72 - Maryland 75
Minnesota 47 - Michigan State 65
Michigan 69 - Illinois 85
Ohio State 66 - Wisconsin 89
Northwestern 69 - Rutgers 60
Purdue 78 - Iowa 83
Nebraska 85 - Michigan 91
Minnesota 50 - Penn State 52
Maryland 62 - Illinois 56
Rutgers 57 - Indiana 76
Michigan State 67 - Ohio State 72
Iowa 54 - Northwestern 89
1. Maryland (4-1)
2. Wisconsin (3-1)
T-3. Michigan State (4-2)
T-3. Northwestern (4-2)
T-5. Nebraska (3-2)
T-5. Penn State (3-2)
T-5. Purdue (3-2)
T-8. Iowa (3-3)
T-8. Minnesota (3-3)
T-10. Illinois (2-3)
T-10. Indiana (2-3)
T-10. Michigan (2-3)
13. Ohio State (1-4)
14. Rutgers (0-6)
A Dark Horse Emerges
Since joining the Big Ten for the 2014-15 season, Maryland has been one of the best programs in the conference, posting an impressive 30-11 record in league games and finishing in the top three in both seasons that have been completed with the Terrapins as a member. Despite losing four starters before this season, UMD is the surprising outright leader of the Big Ten early on this season (it’s worth noting that Wisconsin is tied in the loss column, but has played one less game than Maryland has). Non-conference play offered little indication that Maryland would get off to such a hot start; they barely beat a couple of bad teams and won three games against decent opponents by just a single point.
Melo Trimble has been a huge part of Maryland’s success, of course - although his offensive rating (92.9) and usage rate (30.7, third-highest among B1G players in conference play) likely aren’t sustainable. Freshman Anthony Cowan, who was correctly compared to Trimble often as a recruit, has arguably been better, as he’s been able to score at the rim and get frequent trips to the free throw line despite his lack of size. Another freshman - Kevin Huerter - has also excelled, shooting an impressive 46% from behind the arc with 13 made threes in five conference games. Damonte Dodd, a senior big man coming off of an injury-related absence, has been the cornerstone of Maryland’s excellent defense when he’s been on the floor; Ivan Bender and LG Gil also receive minutes at the five.
It’s difficult to assess how much of Maryland’s early success in Big Ten play is schedule-related: they’ve swept a mediocre Illinois team, beat Indiana at home in what was essentially a coin-flip game, and won on the road against Michigan. Their only loss came after blowing a double-digit lead late at home against Nebraska. While their remaining schedule is relatively unchallenging compared to those of other teams, it’s probably more difficult than the games they’ve already played. Kenpom has Maryland just inside the top 50 nationally - a far cry from the quality of supposed Big Ten title contenders. A lot of that is due to their non-conference schedule, which resulted in a lot of wins that weren’t well-regarded by his algorithm.
Whether or not the Terps regress to the mean will be a major storyline. Many people (including myself) have been predicting that regression for quite a while, only to see Maryland continue to put up wins on the floor. Since they’ve been so dominant since entering the Big Ten, there’s good reason to think that they might continue to flaunt statistical wisdom, despite their youth. Maryland’s an undeniably talented team and having an excellent point guard helps bring everything together.
More on Big Ten hoops after the JUMP
Offseason Harbaugh is a go
The long desert before football season resumes is among us, so it's time for Jim Harbaugh Antics to provide us succor. Here he is with a small child in a tiger-themed go-kart:
— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) January 17, 2017
Yeah, that's the stuff.
As Webb mentions above, this was part of Harbaugh's in-home visit with 5* GA DT Aubrey Solomon. It appears to have gone well:
“Just finished such an awesome in home visit where we bowled, raced cars & finished a pre-k project celebrating 100 days of school for Lee County Pre-K, Solomon’s mother Sabrina Caldwell told The Michigan Insider. “He brought his daughter and it was the best visit ever.”
Or very well:
That's what 247Sports was told Tuesday morning.
Yep, Harbaugh brought his daughter on a recruiting visit, which is no doubt causing the inmates of the RCMB to splutter in impotent rage. (Also targets of their impotent rage: women, people who don't drink Faygo, algebra.) Webb says he doesn't have a gut feeling on Solomon, but that he fits many of the criteria. It's usually a good sign when Webb starts getting a ton from the parents.
A couple of 247 guys have joined Barton Simmons with Michigan predictions, and they're both guys covering UGA. Both flipped from Alabama predictions, and while opinion on Solomon has blown like the wind since his decommit there's not much time for things to swing back—Solomon now says he's done with visits after he heads out to USC. Rusty Mansell, one of the Georgia guys who CBed Solomon to Michigan, is hearing that Nick Saban and Kirby Smart might not even get in-homes. That would be game over.
Solomon is obviously the top target left on Michigan's board and would almost certainly be in the two deep as a freshman; as the First Look post from last week noted, Michigan's interior line depth is nonexistent.
The other major targets
Georgia is buzzing for 4* AL WR Nico Collins, which would be deeply irritating after they swooped on Isaiah Wilson out of nowhere. At least Alabama is "no longer considered a factor" for Collins, per Lorenz. Webb says it's "become more of a toss up" since Fisch departed; Pep Hamilton will have to build a relationship in a short period of time. He still gives Michigan the edge.
Wiltfong reports that Michigan is getting back in the game with IA WR Oliver Martin, who most were projecting in this class until Brad Hawkins suddenly re-emerged. Martin has two officials left and Michigan could get one of them—his October visit was an unofficial. Wiltfong is still riding with ND.
4.5* MS LB Willie Gay fielded an in-home visit from Chris Partridge on Thursday that didn't generate much content in the aftermath. Mississippi State firing its defensive coordinator probably doesn't help the Bulldogs, but LSU is looming.
Lorenz reports that *4.5 UT DT Jay Tufele is now expected by most to stick close to home. Michigan isn't expecting much there.
Wobblers still wobbling
4* FL OL commit Kai-Leon Herbert took a visit to Auburn this weekend, and had a very crootin' quote in the aftermath:
"I'm definitely going to commit before National Singing Day or re-afffirm my commitment if I happen to choose Michigan," Herbert said. "I'm not that guy who does the hats."
Herbert is more of a Walking Dead parody video kind of guy. Herbert's commit is obviously butter soft at this point, potentially opening the door for Thorpe. Lorenz reports that Michigan is going to try to solidify him with an in-home after he visits Miami and UF the next two weekends; he doesn't see it happening.
4* NM RB commit O'Maury Samuels is the recruit most affected by Ty Wheatley's departure and has been somewhat soft for several months now. Michigan has an official remaining, which is good, and Sameul's father told Webb that there's only one other school in contention:
“I think (Arizona is the only other school being considered). I think he narrowed it down to Michigan and Arizona. There were other schools, but it’s Michigan and Arizona. If I had to bet on it.”
Much easier fending off one school, especially one coming off a tough year, than a full-court press from most of the SEC. Webb says it's "not a slam dunk"; Isaiah Hole reported that Samuels is "fully expected to qualify and to be part of the class."
2.5* GA RB commit Kurt Taylor landed a Michigan State offer and says he'll officially visit MSU on the 27th.
Weird guys watch
Happy trails to 3* CT CB Brandon Sebastian, who abruptly cancelled his upcoming visit and is now set to stick with BC. Brice Marich says it was a "mutual" decision—unlikely. This is made even weirder by another weird thing: 4* ND commit Elijah Hicks decommitted from ND... so he could immediately enroll at Cal, which did not have a head coach at that juncture.
Michigan now has zero realistic targets* at defensive back. Reports that Michigan is getting back in with IA WR Oliver Martin may not be entirely Collins related; it's possible the fifth DB is going to be a wide receiver they convert, probably NJ WR Brad Hawkins.
*[Definition of "realistic target": someone who has been on campus or scheduled a visit.]
4* VA LB Ellis Brooks tells Rivals he will "probably" take a visit next weekend; he's currently at LSU and Oregon is on the docket this weekend. Michigan bumped ND, so there's that. Brooks is a big dude at 240; any Michigan pursuit should not be interpreted as pessimism regarding Gay. Brooks just took an official to Northwestern, so he's got a super weird top five: NW, Oregon, LSU, Michigan, and Maryland.
A couple of OL prospects now seem like somewhat reasonable possibilities. Bradon Justice reports that 4* PA OL CJ Thorpe will take an official next week. This space has mentioned Thorpe in passing after Michigan started poking around, but this is is the first indication this pursuit is anything serious. Thorpe is a legacy—thus that quote from his dad about how Urban Meyer can't recruit him—but a late January visit is always a threat.
Clemson OL Jake Fruhmorgen is transferring; Michigan and Florida are the schools most prominently mentioned for him at this early stage. Fruhmorgen played in 11 games as a true freshman and started the first eight games of Clemson's national championship season before getting knocked out with a shoulder injury. PFF reports that he didn't grade out well, but he's a true sophomore who has eight starts; probably some potential there.
Lorenz reports that Michigan is interested enough to check him out; in his opinion Michigan was second for Fruhmorgen during his initial recruitment. He'd have to sit out next year and then would have two to play; if Michigan has some extra spots, as it looks like they might, Fruhmorgen would be an opportunity to patch some holes in the upperclass OL.
Finally, Marich reports that Michigan has been in contact with 4* TN RB Cordarrian Richardson, a Clemson decommit. Jay Harbaugh is going to make an in-home with him, no doubt in the hopes of securing an official from him. Richardson has just three crystal balls, two of which are foggy—this is a potential Alpaca Out Of Nowhere recruitment if things go well.
Rivals finalizes top 100
Ruiz is the top rated center in a minute
The post-All Star rankings are generally the last ones, and Rivals is first out of the gate with a finalized top 100. Michigan commits:
- #12 Donovan Peoples-Jones
- #26 Jordan Anthony
- #41 Cesar Ruiz (up from 77)
- #52 Drew Singleton
- #74 Luiji Vilain (up from 181)
- #76 Tarik Black
Dylan McCaffrey was the only dropper; he's now outside the top 100 after being #52. TTB points out that everyone except McCaffrey took big upward leaps since the initial Rivals 100 for this class, so maybe not so much with the tinfoil hats this year.
User Indonacious collected relevant scouting. On Ruiz:
“The rare polished high school center, Ruiz is a natural fit for the position. He shined at this year's Under Armour All-America Game, where he displayed impressive extension and solid power. The fact that he's spent his high school career snapping the ball from the center spot is a bonus for Michigan, which could use him at both guard and center early in his time in Ann Arbor.” – Rob Cassidy, Rivals.com Southeast Recruiting Analyst
“Vilain will be a great pass rusher at Michigan, but at the Under Armour All-America Game he showed that he's not a one-trick pony. He played with more power than ever before and had lots of success in practices. Vilain's presence in the backfield during the game showed he will have success against elite competition.” - Friedman
Lorenz reports that Michigan is really high on OH DT commit James Hudson. Same.
Names to keep an eye out for:
- NY TE Jeremy Ruckert, who has already been on campus and has a reputed top three of OSU, Michigan, and Alabama.
- TX TE Malcolm Epps, an Alabama commit who is "strongly considering" Michigan and OSU.
- NJ TE Elijah McAllister, who is still waiting on an offer, says he's got Michigan fans in his family.
- FL RB Chris Curry, who just got an offer.
- FL OL Curtis Dunlap, an IMG kid who says he wants to play with Jordan Anthony and Cesar Ruiz.
- FL OL Richard Gouraige, who Michigan is visiting during every evaluation period.
- GA OL Jamaree Salyer, who is almost named "Jamboree Slayer." In things that are actually relevant, he plans a spring visit.
- FL CB Asante Samuel, who has Michigan in his top six. Yes, he is the son of that Asante Samuel.
- GA CB Kyler McMichael, who has been on campus already. Florida is the early favorite.
Michigan will be heavy after tight ends in 2018 after taking a pass on the position this year.
Michigan needs to fill another offensive coaching position. Per multiple reports Tyrone Wheatley Sr. has accepted the Jaguars running backs coach job—yes the one where he gets to spend all day with Denard Robinson ahh now you understand! Here’s Rapoport, who had it earlier than most:
As the #Jaguars wait for an OC, they have hired Tyrone Wheatley as the team's running backs coach.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 17, 2017
Wheatley coached with new Jags HC Doug Marrone at Syracuse and followed Marrone to the NFL’s Bills in 2013 and 2014. When Marrone parted ways with Buffalo Michigan scooped up their old running back star, signing Wheatley to a two-year contract. It was assumed at the time that Wheatley would leave after that if a better job came along.
Returning to the League probably does help Ty move forward with his career, since it’s been no secret that Wheatley would like to eventually run a unit or a team. If running backs coach for Jacksonville’s NFL team seems like a lateral move to Michigan fans, it’s probably not as much to NFL GMs. With no OC signed as of yet, it’s also possible Wheatley could be more involved in the offense there than he was at Michigan.
One of Michigan’s best recruiters (he departs ranked 7th nationally on the 247 recruiter rankings) and a living legend in his own right from his playing days, it’s a loss for Michigan, if not an entirely unexpected one: Wheatley was recently interviewing for the Western Michigan head coaching job. For many reasons—former Michigan star, Denard, expanding Harbaugh coaching tree, universally acknowledged good person—we wish him the greatest success.
Running backs coach is reputedly easier to replace that most positions, though recent experience in Ann Arbor demonstrates the importance of a good one. Mike Hart, who’s served as running backs coach at EMU and WMU and is currently in that role at Syracuse could be one candidate. Thomas Wilcher, the longtime head coach of Cass Tech, is also available. Harbaugh might even look at someone who isn’t a former Michigan running back. His track record says whoever it is will be good.
The Defense, For A Given Definition Of The Term
Slicing through M's defense with little resistance. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Do you have a stick? Throw it. Congratuations, you have hit a horrifying Michigan defensive stat.
The Wolverines may have pulled out a victory against a Nebraska team playing without its only viable post player, but they didn't do it by solving any of their problems on defense; the Huskers scored 1.21 points per possession, a hair below the average performance against M's defense in conference play. Michigan is now 185th in adjusted defensive efficiency; their worst finish under John Beilein was 120th in his first year in Ann Arbor.
Through five conference games, Michigan has the worst Big Ten defense by 8.9 points per 100 possessions; B1G opponents are making 52.7% of their twos and 55.3%(!!!) of their threes—and they're rebounding 34.7% of their misses. Michigan is great at not fouling and above-average at stealing the ball; they're somewhere between below-average and terrible at everything else.
Dylan has a post today that goes into further, gruesome detail on Michigan's defense, with one area of focus being the collapse of their pick-and-roll defense:
Michigan’s pick-and-roll defense has completely fallen apart. In the last six games, the Wolverines have allowed .986 points per possession (including pass outs) in the pick-and-roll game. Compared to seasonal numbers across Division I, that would rank 336th nationally.
Only the first half of the Nebraska game is available on the YouTubes, which is probably for the best. This actually came out better than I expected and it's still far from good:
The issue, as Dylan mentions in his post, doesn't appear to be the scheme; no matter how Michigan approaching defending the high screen—usually either with a soft hedge or ICE technique—they're allowing baskets because of individual player breakdowns. Passes into the post, like in the first play, are too easy to make. Blown rotations, like in the second, lead to wide open three-point attempts. Michigan commits the cardinal sin of allowing the P&R ballhandler to split the hedge at the 0:34 mark, something that occurred at least once more in the second half.
They did a little better towards the end of the half, as you can see in the video, but I also forgot to include this abomination:
It was more of the same in the second half. There are two common threads: Michigan has zero rim protection, which allows opponents to attack without fear, and their help/rotation off the ball is awful. I grew up on the suffocating team defense of the mid-aughts Pistons. This is the opposite of that. The problems are so widespread that it's impossible to suggest one or two solutions that could turn things around.
[After THE JUMP: That said...]
1/13/2017 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 5 – 1-4 Big Ten, 8-10-1 overall
1/14/2017 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 4 – 1-5 Big Ten, 8-11-1 overall
Here are Michigan's shot margins since December started: –10, –19, –9, –16, –16, –20, –35, –19. The good news, such as it is, is that Michigan managed to win two of those games. One was against Michigan State in overtime. The other was a 2-1 win against Wisconsin before two ENGs. Michigan got outshot 35-19. This is not just bad. This is astoundingly bad.
If you prefer a grizzled hockey veteran offering up the eye test, color guys at both games this weekend were clearly upset—even depressed—about what was going on in front of their eyes. On the Minnesota-centric Fox Sports North broadcast, Ben Clymer said that "this just wasn't the same Michigan team" they're used to seeing. He was probably feeling the same way I was, having just seen the season's most exciting series—Michigan-Minnesota on the big ice—reduced to a methodical execution. I've felt that way about Michigan State, of late. It is not the same when Ryan Miller is a faint memory and the present day is all pratfalls.
I didn't catch who the BTN guy was on Friday, but I think it might have been alum Sean Ritchlin. If so his extended lament about Michigan's complete lack of a defensive system bites even deeper. No matter who it was, you don't often see that kind of pointed criticism from announcers. Usually they default to talking about how young a team is, which, yep, happened a bunch on Friday.
This is the wrong age-related malady to cite. It's inescapable now: Red Berenson's in the twilight of his career and has hung on too long.
The slide has been gradual but it's also been a long time coming. The last Michigan team that felt truly elite was the 2007-08 squad that made the Frozen Four and was downed by Nickelback and Creed in the semis. The 2010-11 team that made the national title game was driven by Sean Hunwick's absurd save percentage. The semi against North Dakota saw Michigan outshot 2 to 1; it felt worse than that. It felt like being hunted.
Hunwick barely got them to the tournament the next year and they broke the streak the year after; in the five-years post Hunwick their conference record is 44-41-8. Last year's incredible pile of talent got them to the second round of the tourney, where they were once again outshot 2 to 1 by North Dakota. Michigan hasn't played an even game against the artists formerly known as Sioux in over a decade. Now they can't play an even game against anybody.
It's never been this bad; the arrow has been pointing this direction for a long time.
Now what? I don't know. I hope there are some tough conversations that take place and there's a new coach next year. I worry that won't happen because the narrative around the program often doesn't make any sense.
If you've paid close attention over the past few years you've seen Berenson throw Andrew Copp under the bus after his NHL departure. (Copp played 77 games his rookie year.) You've heard the rumor that Red stayed on another year because Warde Manuel asked him to. Even if this is true, Berenson could have said three words—"hire Mel, bye"—and resolved this impasse.
You'd think this would be the end of the road, but since the end of the road should have come a few years ago and did not there is a chance this will continue. You see it when a coach becomes synonymous with a program and nobody can tell him it's over. Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden are the prime exemplars. Those regimes had upward blips that were just enough ammunition to say "he's still got it" amidst a steady long-term decline, and ending them was either a nasty fight (Bowden) or only triggered by something unthinkable (Paterno).
I think the hockey program is unlikely to dig out without a new coach; I think a nasty fight might be necessary despite Mel Pearson hanging around; I don't know if Manuel has the stomach for a nasty fight, especially at a program that doesn't drive the revenue bus. At some point a football coach has to go because of the financial imperatives. That is not the case in hockey.
Maybe this is just a one year thing, as they say it is, and a new era can start next year. But I've been hearing that a change is imminent for seven years now. I'm worried it won't happen, and that's the thing that sucks most of all: Red Berenson, the guy who created Michigan hockey out of whole cloth, might keep damaging his legacy by returning. Time makes beggars of us all.