[Ed: Tim has also started a lax blog covering anything and everything in-state. Hit it up if you're part of the burgeoning lacrosse community.]
Giving the latest on the Michigan Men's Lacrosse Team.
The Wolverines have been pristine in their spring scrimmages over the past couple years, so to see a loss to Division-1 Bellarmine by a big score may be troubling, especially since the Wolverines bested the same squad last season. Howeva, Michigan was not at full strength and Bellarmine is probably a bit stronger than they were last year.
The Wolverines rebounded by knocking of D-3 Wittenberg by a 13-9 score. It may be a product of the competition, but they looked much stronger in this game despite still not being at full strength. I took some photos at the game, so enjoy a gallery:
The above-inked site is a little side project I just started working on, so I encourage you to check it out if you're interested in lacrosse.
In the final scrimmage, Michigan was as close to full strength as they have been all spring - the MCLA's best defensive player, Harrison Freid, had missed the previous two contests. The Wolverines raced out to a big 12-0 lead at halftime before emptying the bench and taking down Kenyon College 15-6. I only caught the second half thanks to the basketball team's win over Indiana, so no real thoughts on the performance.
As for the team on the whole, it's going to be what we expected. They'll struggle on faceoffs like they have at no point during the current run of MCLA dominance ("struggling" here meaning "not winning 60-70% of draws"), but the offense and defense are likely to be among the best we've seen in Ann Arbor. It's even possible that we'll see a more wide-open offense from the Wolverines this fall.
First Two Weeks: A Preview
In a departure from the standard schedule, Michigan opens up at home against Florida before embarking on their annual spring break road trip. The trip is usually their chance to play multiple top-level non-conference opponents over the course of a week, and boost the schedule difficulty.
Since the Gators are up first, I'll spend a little bit more time previewing the game against Florida. The game takes places this Saturday at 7PM in Oosterbaan Fieldhouse.
The Gators made the MCLA National Tournament last year as a 12 seed, bowing out to Minnesota-Duluth 12-6 in the opening round. This year, they've started strong by pasting fellow South East Lacrosse Conference opponents Miami (YTM) and South Florida by a combined 30-13 score. They also had a tuneup against MCLA D-2 squad Palm Beach Atlantic last weekend. This all means that the Gators will be much closer to mid-season form than will the Wolverines, but is that enough to get a road win where Michigan hasn't lost since 2007?
The Gators lost their four leading scorers from last year in Ryan Akin (2nd Team All-American), Alex Cervasio, Kyle Beckman (3rd Team All-American), and David Rule. That quartet combined to average 13.5 points per game in 2010, and the Gators need to replace that production. Junior attack William Buch, senior midfielder Ben Salo, and sophomore midfielder CJ Casselli have stepped up to fill that void, but they are untested against the top teams in the country.
The Gators have impressed on faceoffs early in the season, winning 27/36 (.750), and since that's an area of weakness for Michigan, we'll find out soon if Florida's success is based solely on level of competition. As noted above, Michigan's faceoffs have been inconsistent throughout the preseason.
Josh Hagerman from UMGoBlog previews the game, and talks to former Wolverine captain (now Florida assistant coach) Michael Bartomioli. The whole thing is worth reading, and Barto even gives a couple (homer) predictions:
14-13 Florida in OT or 13-10 Michigan… first one as a Florida coach, second one as a former U of M player.
Josh also talks to Florida's head coach, and makes a couple predictions of his own (including - I shit you not - evoking the "SEC SPEED" meme, which caused a unicorn to die, no doubt).
I would guess that Michigan gets a competitive game, but ultimately a comfortable win. SELC teams have yet to prove themselves on the biggest stage and aside from the MCLA Tournament playing on the road at Michigan is as big as it gets.
Once they hit the road, Michigan will face Oregon at a neutral site in Los Angeles. The two played a neutral-site thriller in Dallas last season as Michigan came away with a 5-4 win in overtime. They made the MCLA Tournament, falling 9-8 to Colorado in the first round. However, the Ducks may not be quite the team they were last year, as they've started their season 0-2, including a 10-2 pasting by Cal.
The Ducks only lost a couple members of their scoring arsenal from last year, so their inability to score goals early in the season is a surprise, especially with Honorable Mention All-American Kevin Clark still in the fold. It's possible they snap out of it once they get into the swing of the season, or they may just be in for a down year.
They have the same goaltending contingent as last year (including 3rd Team All-American Nick Johnston), and have plenty of returning players in their defensive unit (3rd Team All-American Steven Brizie among them), so they are probably going to try to hold it together on the defensive end while they figure out their problems scoring.
The Lions missed the MCLA Tournament last year despite a solid 13-5 record, as they lost to Chapman in their conference tournament. They were a strong defensive team last year with occasional bursts of offensive firepower. So far this season, they've knocked off San Diego State 9-3 and will play three more games before they face Michigan.
2nd-Team All-American Alec Paul was far and away the Lions' leading scorer in 2010, but he's graduated. That leaves the magnificently-named Magnus Karlsson to carry the scoring mantle, along with fellow midfielder Travis Abraham and attack Chase Parlett. Sophomore midfielder Nolan Smith and attack Max Zeff were the big scorers against San Diego State, so we'll see if that production holds up over the course of the season.
LMU is breaking in a pair of new goalies this season, so if a team can break down their defense (especially early in the year), they should be able to beat the netminder as well. That should be no easy task, of course, as the defensive unit is senior-laden, including 3rd Team All-American Marc Napp.
Even those who aren't familiar with lacrosse may have heard of Connor Martin a.k.a. ConBroChill, likely the biggest celebrity among MCLA players all-time. Argue all you want about the negative impact his videos may have on the lacrosse community, but there's no denying Martin was a great player, as only the second MCLA athlete to be drafted by Major League Lacrosse. With him out the door (along with midfielder Blake Whitcomb, a 3rd Team All-American), Chapman's offense takes a big hit.
Andrew Clayton (HM All-American) and William Morrison should be the team's new offensive leaders, but it's the defense that should carry this team. Andrew Salcido and Spencer Halvorsen were 2nd-Team All-Americans last year, and LSM Matt Walrath earned an Honorable Mention.
Thankfully, Chapman lost their faceoff specialist from last year, as Chris Small was a 2nd-Team All-American last year, and Michigan would prboably get destroyed by him if he was still around this year.
After their road trip, Michigan opens up conference play with a healthy drive down to Athens, Ohio to face Ohio University. Since they're a first-year MCLA program, it's hard to know a whole lot about the team at this point in the year. I'll preview that game (and review the spring break trip) when the time approaches.
A third senior leader has been added to Michigan's contingent of captains. LSM Matt Asperheim joins Attack Trevor Yealy and Harrison Freid, and though he doesn't have as many honors (Yealy and Freid are both multiple-year 1st-Team All-Americans), may be just as important to the team's success as a good defensive player who can go forward with the ball in his stick.
The Men's and Women's lacrosse teams joined forced to participate in Wednesday's Mock Rock event, performing a couple dances from Grease:
|WHAT||WMU @ Michigan|
|WHERE||Yost Ice Arena
Ann Arbor, MI
|WHEN||7:35 PM Fri/Sat|
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||Friday: Comcast Local
(Friday replay: noon
Sat on NHL Network)
hey, baby, what do you say we go back to my place and become not terrible at hockey?
Record. 15-7-10, 9-6-9 CCHA. The Broncos fired Jim Culhane in the offseason and, like Notre Dame after firing Dave Poulin, immediately got a lot better after canning their long-term incompetent. After years and years of hanging out in the basement with Bowling Green with one of the nation's worst goals against average, the tie-happy Broncos are in a tier by themselves after conference leaders Michigan, Notre Dame, and Miami. They're the only team other than those three to have a positive goal differential in conference(+9). They're fourth in conference, three points clear of Ferris and six clear of the massive pack of basically .500 teams.
Of course, that might have something to do with the Broncos insanely back-loaded schedule: their last three weekends are against Michigan, Miami, and Notre Dame with five of six on the road. Last weekend was the Miami series, in which Western got a tie and a loss.
Previous meetings. No meetings this year. If you're looking for a gauge of how they've done against Michigan-esque competition, WMU swept ECAC power Union, split an earlier home and home with Notre Dame, and is 0-2-2 against Miami. They are dangerous.
Dangermen. There isn't a ton of danger on the roster, but senior center Max Campbell has 13-12-25 against just four penalties and freshman Chase Balisy has 11-16-27 against just four. After those guys it's an array of players with seven or fewer goals.
Unlike Michigan's last few opponents, Western does have a threat from the blueline in sophomore D Matt Tennyson. Tennyson has 7-9-16 and will be someone to look out for on the power play, where he's scored six of his goals. That leads the team.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. The fruits of firing Jim Culhane in one handy table, this detailing the career of starting goaltender Jerry Kuhn:
Kuhn is a 24-year old who has scuffled along doing not much over the course of his career as Riley Gill's backup.Gill was talented, but by the end of the year he'd been covered in enough rubber to [ANALOGY REDACTED] as WMU slid towards an eight-win season. This year Kuhn started on the bench behind Nick Pisellini, a Quinnipiac transfer, until he struggled and got injured, allowing Kuhn to Hunwick his way into the starting lineup.
So here's the thing about WMU: Pisinelli has a horrible .899 save percentage. Gill had a very good .923. Pisinelli's GAA is a half-goal better than Gill's was last year. Kuhn's 2.09 is on pace to set an all-time record for WMU as the Broncos—of all teams!—have cracked the top ten in scoring defense despite getting half of their goaltending from last year's version of Bryan Hogan. Jeff Blashill should be a slam-dunk CCHA coach of the year*.
Also you should regard the Bronco defense corps with respect no matter how alien this is. Their best guy is sophomore Luke Witkowski, a Lightning draftee (sixth round) who leads the team in +/- with +12 and penalty minutes with 46 (all minors). He's a big thumping stay-at-home sort who keeps a live bass in his room and has an outstanding hockey mullet. Watch to see if WMU tries to match him up with anyone in particular.
*[Culhane's best-ever CCHA finish in 11 years: fifth. Winning seasons: three. Last year: 8-20-8, 4-17-4 CCHA]
Special teams. This is another Blashill miracle:
|PP For / G||4.7||4.3|
|PP Ag / G||4.2||4.5|
Western never has an advantage in power plays. Unfortunately for the Broncos they're not doing much with that advantage. They've got the 42nd-ranked power play—actually worse than Michigan's—and their penalty kill is slightly below average. The two teams are tied at 81.2 percent. This looks like a push, with Michigan's slightly less depressing power play cancelling out Western's probability of getting more PP time.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Prepare for more of the same. This looks like another grind it out weekend where the newly assembled checking-plus-Scooter-domination line matches up against the team's top threats and hopefully allows the two scoring lines to outpace Western's second and third lines. Earlier in the year Balisy and Campbell weren't on the same line, but I can't find anything recent and assume that they're on the same one now. If not, the Hagelin line will probably match up with WMU's secondary scoring line.
Outscore with Moffatt/Wohlberg/Treais. They've been playing pretty well and they'll be up against bottom-six guys from Western. Michigan's main advantage is this line on the ice five-on-five.
DEFLECTIONS TO GLORY. What the bold said.
The Big Picture
The top of the CCHA is mired in a three-way tie for ninth in the Pairwise that Notre Dame wins on tiebreakers. Michigan can split their final four and enter the CCHA playoffs still in the at-large zone but it'll be scary if they do so. Winning three will at least see them tread water, and they'll enter the CCHA tourney a solid two seed if they get all four.
In other games, you should root hard for Ohio State and Lake Superior, both of whom are just below the new, stupid TUC cliff. Problem: they play each other this weekend. Lake Superior follows that up with Miami. OSU gets Ferris State. Since getting Lake State over the hump seems impossible, hold your nose and root for the Buckeyes. Getting that 3-1 record back in Michigan's TUC calculations would be big. Also root against MSU this weekend as they take on Alaska—Michigan does not want the Spartans sweeping their final four and entering the CCHA tourney with a shot at a .500 RPI. MSU closes with awful BGSU and will get to the magic number by winning their final four games.
The "usual root against anyone in Michigan's proximity" also applies: UNH, ND, UNO, UMD, Wisconsin, etc.
Rock Mocked. Are you up for some uncomfortable fun made at Tate Forcier's expense?
That's the hockey team's Mock Rock thing. The marching band won with the football team in second, says AnnArbor.com's Jeff Arnold in an article that emits the faint whiff of sarcasm. Selected highlights:
The band registered a string of six perfect 10.0 scores following a flawlessly choreographed routine … The two top finishes pulled away from the pack of other performances that ranged from the ridiculously creative Pokemon (men's and women's lacrosse) to the wildly entertaining "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (men's swimming); an act that ended in a speedo-inspired tribute to Michael Jackson.
Generic overwritten newspaperese or bitterness at drawing the short straw? We'll never know. I have no idea if the thing was actually entertaining or not since I was watching the basketball game.
In related news, here's an autotuned David Moosman snorting his phone.
Morris benching explained. You were probably saying something along the lines of "aaargh where Morris" with nine minutes left in the game. Even if he had done something wrong he was sitting on seven assists and one turnover at the time—he wasn't exactly a loose cannon. In the aftermath both Beilein and Morris are saying it was nothing except fatigue:
“I caught my breath,” Morris said. “They did a good job of pressuring the ball, and I was guarding McCamey as well. The coaches noticed I got a little bit tired and then when they took me out, we got on a little run before they separated again, but I felt rejuvenated when I came back in the game.
“It was the most rest I’ve gotten.”
Nothing to see here. /barbrady
Draft incoherence. The rejuvenated Bylaw Blog is admirably willing to say certain NCAA regulations don't make any sense, whether it's the NLI or the NCAA's willingness to let drafted kids play as long as they're not basketball (or I guess football) pplayers:
it is a violation to go through a draft if you decided you want to be in it. But it isn’t a violation in some cases if you are drafted and then attempt to negotiate the greatest possible compensation for your athletic skills. And it isn’t a violation to attempt that negotiation in order to enter the draft.
The fact that this is unfair to some student-athletes is secondary. Most important is that entering a professional draft is not sufficient evidence that you want to give up your collegiate eligibility. Entering a draft and deciding any contract offered would not be worth leaving college is no more or less an indication of a student-athlete’s intent to professionalize themselves than deciding a contract offer is not sufficient to leave college and enter the draft in the first place.
I'm not sure what harm would be done by allowing NBA teams to draft underclassmen, work them out at camps and whatnot, have them play summer league, and then send them back to school. Players wouldn't have a do-or-die decision to go pro or not and talented players might stick around another year or two. You'd also get some extra interest from NBA fans tracking their prospects.
That post also contains a discussion about NCAA president Mark Emmert's recent "over my dead body" statement about paying players. These things kind of go hand-in-hand. If paying players is a bridge too far I don't see why the NCAA can't allow players to sign with an agent or take some non-ludicrous amount of money from a pro team that's drafted them. Right now a major source of NCAA corruption comes from agents funneling money to players in the hopes of signing them; allowing kids to sign and take a bit of money wouldn't increase the amount of compensation they're getting.
Amateurism is all well and good if you can actually enforce it. If you can't—and it seems pretty clear that's the case—you should probably repeal Prohibition, make some reasonable concessions, and make your setup a little bit less hypocritical without actually spending any money yourself.
Morons on the loose, except no longer loose. You have probably heard that someone poisoned Auburn's trees at Toomer's Corner, then called into the Finebaum show to brag about it. The Auburn folk I follow on twitter and in my RSS feed spent yesterday pointedly not advocating the wholesale destruction of Tuscaloosa, which proves they're better people than I am. I'd be on the warpath. Here he is:
He was rapidly arrested because he is named "Harvey Almorn Updike" and lives in Dadeville—a town of approximately four people I drove through once en route to the Auburn-LSU game I attended—and told the radio he was "Al from Dadeville." This goes here.
Unfortunately, it's too late for this incident to remove his genes from the pool—he's got kids named "Bear" and "Crimson."
Q: is this literally the worst possible thing a single fan could do to a rival fanbase? I think so. I can't think of another tradition that's so treasured and so vulnerable. You could cut off Bear Bryant's head* and they'd just put a new one on. It's metal. You could kill Uga, but Uga dies every year and they just keep making new ones. The trees are unique: iconic symbols of the university that can expire but don't do it on the regular.
The worst thing is it's not even clever. Boo, Alabama man. Boo.
Etc.: Grant Wahl is running for FIFA president. He's got my nonexistent unimportant vote. More on the first of the 30-for-30 style documentaries about Michigan football. Hockey's senior day is Saturday—a rare opportunity for students to be there. Yost fluff.
Buchtel High School is home to two big time prospects and good friends in WR Corey Smith and DB Jarrod Wilson. Both are Ohio kids who just happen to be playing for former Michigan running back Ricky Powers. Both of them are starting to pick up some momentum in their recruitment, and Corey talked to me about the latest with Michigan.
TOM: What have the coaches told you about an offer? Are they planning on offering you?
COREY: Jarrod [Wilson] got his offer today, and I talked to Coach Mattison and he wants to sit down with me and talk about everything before they offer. He wants to talk with me about whether I fit on offense or defense, and then we'll talk about an offer.
TOM: When are you guys going to sit down and talk?
COREY: I'm going up there Sunday [for the Best of the Midwest combine] and I'm going to try to stay an extra day, stay until Monday to meet with them. Jarrod will be up there, too.
TOM: What are your plans with your recruitment. You and Jarrod seem close, are you guys trying to go to the same school?
COREY: We're going to the same school, 100%. I don't know where we're going yet, but we're going to the same school.
TOM: How does Michigan play into that?
COREY: We both have very high interest in Michigan. Michigan is definitely in the top 10 with Ohio State, Tennessee, MSU, Nebraska, Georgia, North Carolina, Penn State, Illinois, and UCLA.
TOM: I know your coach is former Michigan player Ricky Powers, what has he told you about Michigan?
COREY: Coach likes to joke and say you lose your emotions when you go up there, you can't control your emotions. I went up there last year for the Michigan State game, so I've been there before.
TOM: How do you see your recruitment playing out? Are you guys going to wait to make your decision?
COREY: Yeah, we're probably going to wait until the Under Armour All American game to announce.
2/16/2011 – Michigan 52, Illinois 54 – 16-11, 6-8 Big Ten
Bear with me: if Michigan's basketball season was a hockey game, last night's basketball game was a really good scoring chance blown when you're down one with five minutes left. At that point you write the game off, because that was it. Objectively, your chance of winning hasn't changed much, if at all, but it feels like a door just closed.
Michigan's NCAA tournament hopes aren't much worse than they were 24 hours ago. Since Kenpom loves Illinois and Michigan outperformed expectations, its season prediction hardly moved. The evaporation of Michigan's 16% chance of winning in Champaign was made up for by significant positive moves in Michigan's four remaining games. But if Michigan's watching the NCAA selection show with a jaundiced eye, thinking about what could of been, they'll be thinking about ball after ball clanging off rims in Assembly Hall.
God, did anyone else scream horrible profanity at the world in general at that point in the second half when Zack Novak set up for yet another wide open three pointer that bashed the front of the rim? It's one thing if Michigan's firing awkward, contested threes deep in the shot clock and another when open look after open look isn't even close to going down. What's Stu Douglass—before yesterday a 40% three point shooter—supposed to do when he's standing still with the ball in his hand and no Illinois player within three feet? Shoot. He shoots, and this goes horribly, and Michigan still almost pulls off a statement win* and we're left to wonder what would have happened if they had just been miserable from three instead of abominable.
And then there's this: 4-28. That's what Michigan shot against Kansas in a game that went to overtime. Sometimes basketball makes you want to punch a wall even when you're in the bonus on the road with 14 minutes left in the half.
In the long view Michigan exceeded expectations again, if slightly, and has managed to stay in games even when threes aren't available or falling. Hope for next year increments slightly again. Right now, argh.
*[Statement is "hey, seriously guys we're on the bubble, seriously." That qualifies for the 335th-most experienced team in D-I]
Non-bullets that do not go in at all ever
Bruce Weber: not so much. That was a terribly coached basketball team that let Michigan hang around despite their inability to throw the ball in Tim Doyle's bad nickname repository by making inane turnovers and taking terrible shots. I'd be pretty upset if I was an Illinois fan. They are huge, veteran, talented, and headed for a second-round matchup with a one-seed.
Tim Doyle: not entirely horrible. I still cringe at "The Butterfly" and believe we should start calling Doyle "The Argyle Sock" in retaliation, but after listening to Stephen Bardo fire out two hours of inane cliches I appreciate Doyle a bit more. Anyone wondering what the hell Michigan could do to stop Tisdale from catching the ball two inches from the basket got some great analysis when Doyle pointed out that Zack Novak was way too far from the guy throwing the entry pass—far enough away that the guy could chuck a chest pass.
Doyle needs to realize his bid to nickname Michigan's point guard has failed and start using an outrageous Russian accent when he makes his Rounders references, but I'm slowly warming to him.
The rack: terrifying. Illinois's length started bothering Michigan immensely towards the end of the first half. After getting a couple shots blocked and seeing a couple others altered beyond recognition, Michigan players were extremely hesitant to take driving lanes and started settling for meh midrange stuff. Morgan was the lone exception, which was good—he was productive in the second half—and bad—a couple of the shots he put up were poor decisions early in the shot clock. Still mostly good.
This tendency had its worst expression on the back-to-back possessions late where Douglass and Morris both took step-back jumpers from the women's three point line. Those were bad shots for a lot of reasons, and it's hard to imagine either of them getting launched against, say, Penn State.
Final shot. Saw some e-complaints about Smotrycz not driving to the hole on Michigan's final possession but don't understand them. Smotrycz may not have been lighting it up from three but he also got blocked when he tried to go to the hole that one time and is not shooting a great percentage from inside the arc. Help defense would have arrived, and time's running down. You get an open three to win and you're a 38% shooter I think you should take it.
Bit before the final shot. The look on Beilein's face as he called timeout after Michigan had run 17 seconds off the clock when a two-for-one opportunity was staring them in the face was not exasperated enough, but for it to be exasperated enough he would have had to break the laws of physics. File under "young team" unless it happens again.
Seriously, make a shot. I have nothing useful to add. Just argh.
Mets Maize. Best bit:
Morris and Hardaway Jr. leadership dynamic. At this point, it's pretty clear they're the leaders of the team but it was interesting to watch them communicate between whistles. At one point, Morris yelled at Hardaway Jr. to "chill out". Unfortunately, they just never got on the same page: Morris with at least a half dozen forced penetrations without a single pass in the half court set, Hardaway Jr. hesitant to pull the trigger, pump fakes and generically drives and kicks. Early in the 2nd half, there was an awkward, back-and-forth turnover-fest by both teams that resulted in Tim Hardaway Jr. trying to push the ball, getting it stolen and an Illini cherry-pickin' jam on the other end.
As UMHoops pointed out on the twitters, Illinois has the best eFG% defense in the league for a reason—and Michigan let it get to them.
Dylan also points out that this was Michigan's best defensive game in a while:
Lost in the offensive struggles is the fact that this was Michigan’s best defensive game in Big Ten play. Michigan held Illinois to .90 points per possession and more impressively just .73 per trip in the second half. Michigan was abused by the high-low in the first half but made the right adjustments to negate Illinois’ size advantage in the second half. Illinois posted an eFG% of 48% – 56% on twos & 22% on threes – and only attempted 9 free throws on the game. Most importantly, Michigan did a great job on the defensive glass, grabbing 76% of Illinois’ missed shots.
A chunk of that was due to Illinois's troubles from three, but those rebounding numbers are impressive against a huge team. Michigan's moved up to 41st in defensive rebounding. (The one major misstep from Doyle and the PBP guy last night was repeatedly claiming Michigan was not a good rebounding team. They're well above average defensively; they get zero offensive rebounds but the overall gap is small. They're about average.)
Certainly Michigan is a game to worry about on paper. But the reality is that they're sloppy on offense, they take too many quick shots, they don't value the ball and they play multiple defenses, none particularly well.
Michigan is 19th nationally in turnover margin, 321st in pace, still 19th nationally in turnover margin, and plays 95% man with the occasional 1-3-1 possession. That's amazing.
|WHAT||Michigan v. Illinois|
8:30 PM EST
February 16th, 2011
KenPom: 16% W
|TELEVISION||BTN (Eric Collins, Tim Doyle)|
As I said in Monday's The Path, every game this season is The Most Important Game of the Season Until the Next One. Michigan needs every win they can get from here on out. This one is of particular importance because it's an opportunity for a road win against an RPI top-50 opponent. Winning this game takes the chances at an NCAA tournament bid from "a nice longshot" to "actually possible."
Losing it doesn't doom the chances at a bid, but it makes them unrealistic. They would need at least a couple upsets in their last five games. This is a can't miss any opportunity at one.
If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy:
|Michigan v. Illinois: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Illinois Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. UI Def eFG%||48||26||I|
|Mich Def eFG% v. UI eFG%||181||40||II|
|Mich TO% v. UI Def TO%||25||193||MM|
|Mich Def TO% v. UI TO%||239||98||II|
|Mich OReb% v. UI DReb%||313||192||II|
|Mich DReb% v. UI OReb%||39||156||MM|
|Mich FTR v. UI Opp FTR||341||99||III|
|Mich Opp FTR v. UI FTR||64||302||MMM|
|Mich AdjO v. UI AdjD||48||19||I|
|Mich AdjD v. UI AdjO||77||28||I|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
The stats are daunting, and I'm going to add another to the mix: Michigan is #231 nationally in effective height (this happens when you play 6-4 Zack Novak at the 4 spot), and the Illini are #1. Like Michigan, they start a tall point guard in 6-3 Demetri McCamey, but unlike the Wolverines, they have a 7-footer and a pair of 6-9 players in their starting lineup.
Against other tall teams, Michigan has had some struggles (Minnesota is #7 in effective height), but also exceeded expectations (Syracuse is in the national top 40). It's hard to say whether the height difference played a role in the Minnesota loss, as that game was at the end of Michigan's poorest stretch of play on the season, but it's certainly not a good indication that they'll handle size well. Another thing to be antsy about: the Wolverine bigs have had trouble avoiding fouls. That could spell doom in this game.
As for the tempo-free stats, a lot of Michigan's numbers - particularly shooting the ball - have been trending upward lately, so they are probably playing a little bit better than the season-long or even conference-only stats indicate. On the other side, the Illini are slumping (HT: UMHoops), so who knows which team is actually playing better at this point in the year?
Thanks to Mike Rothstein of AnnArbor.com for pointing this out yesterday: only two of Michigan's players (Stu Douglass and Zack Novak) have ever played in Illinois's Assembly Hall. Two years ago, the Wolverines were pounded 66-51 on the Illini's home court. In last year's only meeting, Darius Morris went 1-7 from the field and recorded a 3-2 assist-turnover ratio in a 44-51 Wolverine loss at Crisler Arena. Novak had a decent game, but Douglass went 0-8 from the floor.
UMHoops's Joe Stapleton has video from yesterday's Darius Morris/Jordan Morgan and John Beilein press conferences. It doesn't come across in Joe's video, but I though Morris seemed very zen about things, FWIW. Dylan previews the game - and points out that Michigan's D is on the upswing in addition to the shooting improvement. Mike Rothstein previews the game for AnnArbor.com.
Michigan is a hungry team at this point, and they know the opportunity that's in front of them. That said, there is more to winning basketball games than hunger. Height throughout the roster is often one of them. I think Darius Morris will win the statistical battle against Demetri McCamey, but at least one of Michigan's big men will foul out. Illinois escapes with a win against Michigan, right around the expected spread. 73-65, Illini.