12/6/2008 – Michigan 81, Duke 73 – 6-2
A little under a year ago I wrote one of MGoBlog's top five emo posts ever after a midweek loss to Minnesota in an mostly empty Crisler arena. About 100 Minnesota students with way too much free time were present and responsible for the only noise in the arena.
At halftime, there was a big to-do about Crisler's 40th anniversary and brought back most of the guys from the 1968 team, including Cazzie Russell. Crisler is sometimes called "the house that Cazzie built" and they told him this and I had this reaction:
So he stood with his bearing, and listened to his accomplishments -- which are many -- and was then told he stood in the House Cazzie Built and that seemed like kind of a cruel thing to tell a nice old man who never did you any harm. The House Cazzie Built is half-empty, overrun by bums from half a continent away, and home to a team likely to set records for futility.
Michigan has not so much as reached the NCAA tournament since 1998, an impressive feat matched by an ever-dwindling list of maybe ten major-conference teams. Being there is an act of masochism. But hey... new lights!
Beaten down by it all, I left halfway through the second half. Michigan trailed by 20.
On Michigan's last possession of the first half, DeShawn Sims got loose—barely—on a back cut and Jevohn Shepherd zipped a seeing-eye bounce pass through two Duke (Duke!) defenders. Sims threw it down with a roar, Crisler exploded, and Jay Bilas exclaimed "that is Michigan basketball!"
YEAH MICHIGAN BASKETBALL WOOOOOO—
This is Michigan basketball:
This is Michigan basketball: 226, 283, 199. That's Michigan's rank in turnover percentage in the final three years of the Amaker era. This is Michigan basketball: 1998.
I know this. I have seen my share of the stuff. I've created rules like "I stop this liveblog once we go down 20." I've specifically avoided any sort of drinking game involving number of turnovers or possessions that aimlessly pass it around the perimeter until someone has to chuck up a contested three as the shot clock expires because dying of alcohol poisoning after watching a Michigan-Boston U game seems like the most pointless way you could possibly go. Michigan basketball doesn't beat Duke, it starts a game down 34-2.
When you find a guy who can coach, things change. DeShawn Sims and, even more remarkably, Jevohn Shepherd have changed for the better. Crisler is on its way. It was sold out and raucous on Saturday. In January the regents will vote on first-stage approval of a practice facility. Next year the program will use its allotted 13 scholarships for the first time in recent memory. Shepherd is the only senior on the roster.
When you get a win like Duke a couple weeks after a win like UCLA, people call it a "program building" win. Programs are all about perception. What is Michigan basketball? Back door dunks and the 1-3-1 and wide open threes and great turnover margins and horrible rebounding. Floppy-haired white kids from Indiana and inexplicably faithful black kids from Detroit. Brandon Graham rushing the court…
…and DeShawn Sims finding his mother afterwards to hug her and cry.
This is Michigan basketball. That other stuff is the past, finally.
- Okay, now for the coldly rational section of the post: this whole tourney thing isn't in the bag. I think you're going to see this team gack up a couple Big Ten games it "shouldn't" because Manny has an off day and the interior defense gets crushed and the rebounding gets crushed and so on and so forth. I think we've seen Michigan play over their head a couple times and reality will settle in at Illinois or Iowa or Wisconsin or whatever.
They can go .500 in conference now, though, and probably get a bid, and 10-8 with a BTT win is a lock. 20-10 major conference teams with wins over Duke and UCLA get in.
- Those of you who took the under on patently false Bilas accusations that Tommy Amaker wasn't given enough time at Michigan get a dollar. I don't know if he just got over it or he was told, point-blank, to get over it, but there wasn't a peep about it all game.
And, like, good. Bilas occasionally latches onto something and just won't let go but other than that he's the best color analyst in college basketball outside of Bill Raftery (onions!).
- Sims and Harris were obviously brilliant. Somewhat less hyped: that was Kelvin Grady's best game ever. No one on Duke could stay in front of him and he used that to set up the back-to-back ONIONS threes from Novak, a Sims dunk when time was running out, and a sweet layup on which he looked off a Duke defender. Of course, there were also about three missed layups in there. If the guy can just learn to finish…
- Speaking of back-to-back ONIONS threes: Novak can play. He and Douglass are those guys who start for Butler for three years and are the stars of the show when they're seniors and everyone's like "how did this mid-major get so good?" Or they're Mike Gansey. Or Joe Alexander. I cannot stress this enough: when it comes to talent evaluation Beilein is as many standard deviations above the mean as Amaker was below it.
- Anthony Wright's second-half contribution was brief: comes in game, gets extremely unwise loose-ball foul that sends Duke to the line, exits game. The rotation changes I was complaining for (Shepherd for Wright, Grady for Merritt) were mostly executed, though Merritt continued starting.
- Football Muppet posts: 2. Basketball Muppet posts: 2. I think basketball is going to win.
Wooo! Eat it! NCAA Tournament here we come! Someone get me a Klingon battlecruiser! What does that even mean? Who cares?
And, of course, you can't have one without the other…
This is ridiculous.
A position-by-position look at Michigan's 2009 season.
The season preview's section on quarterbacks was pretty grim. The main comparison point was the 1995 season, when Scott Driesbach started as a freshman and was knocked out for walk-on Brian Griese. In retrospect, that's freakin' eerie, man. If the coaching staff hadn't inexplicably decided to go with Sheridan at the beginning of the year it would be a virtual carbon copy of that season's QB situation, except for the fact that Sheridan isn't going to lead a national championship team, get drafted in the third round, and have a decade-long NFL career.
That didn't mean 1995 was any good:
Michigan quarterbacks combined for 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, completed about 53% of their passes, and struggled to crack seven yards per attempt with an All-Star cast of future NFL receivers: Amani Toomer, Jay Reimersma, Mercury Hayes.
That set the stage for a discussion of the three options. Sheridan:
He’s the son of Bill Sheridan, currently the linebackers coach for the Giants and for three years a defensive position coach under Lloyd Carr. He was honorable mention all conference in high school. He’s about six foot, maybe six one, supposedly more mobile than the competition but more limited in terms of arm strength. And that’s all anyone knows about him.
What limited intelligence we have from practice reports indicates Sheridan is a typical Northwestern quarterback, noodle-armed but bright and mobile-ish. He’s been more consistent than the competition, throws well on the run, and contrary to rumor can heave the ball farther than five yards, as this video of the “Beanie Bowl” indicates. He could be a non-liability who successfully keeps the heat off the other skill position players, and how’s that for Backhanded Compliment Of The Year?
Threet is a classic dropback artillery piece in the Navarre/Mallett/Grbac mold, 6’5” and ponderous. He was a well-respected recruit, getting four stars from the gurus and landing in the top ten pro-style quarterbacks, but reports from practice have him tentative, erratic, and slow both mentally and physically. In the winter he was lauded as an emerging leader who the team actually liked, unlike that Mallett guy; this has not translated to the field. Sheridan’s likely to struggle at some point and Rodriguez keeps saying he wants “two guys he can win with,” so Threet will see the field at some point. He’s reputed to have a bigger arm and more big-play potential… for both teams.
He’s a heck of an athlete, the small-school player of the year in Florida last year and third in their Mr. Football voting. LSU and Miami offered him as a WR/DB.
Unfortunately, he does not appear to be much of a quarterback at this point. Rodriguez claimed Feagin would “have to make an impression in the first two weeks” if he was going to be a serious candidate for playing time; a recent curtailment of his snaps indicates this impression has not been made. A week or so ago, Rodriguez made it clear he was not an option early: “He's not close to being ready.”
I do have some inside baseball indicating that the coaching staff expects to work him in at some point during the season just to see what he can do; the most likely outcome is a few drives here and there that end poorly and a position swap once Beaver and Newsome hit campus in January.
When pressed (by myself) for a definitive answer on the quarterbacking situation in the "five answers, five questions" post, I provided this:
It is possible this ends well. Michigan will surround Sheridan with a deep and varied set of receiving targets, and the spread ‘n shred can turn a wobbly-armed but heady passer into Zak Kustok or Bret Basanez. It doesn’t demand the precision howitzer Carr’s pro-style system did. The physical limitations (and senior year injury) that forced Sheridan to walk-on somewhere don’t have to be fatal.
But if we’re being honest with ourselves there’s little chance it starts well. The note of distress coming from practice observers and press conferences is clear, and the scary thing is a lot of the reported problems are things like “throws bubble screens backwards.” (Michigan fans are going to find out how spoiled Chad Henne’s unerring accuracy on screens made them.)
(Oh Holy God how I wish that sentence was not 100% accurate. Also the sentence before it.)
Though practice reports got less alarmed as fall camp progressed—there was even video evidence of Sheridan completing passes farther than six yards downfield—Michigan's best hope here is for something functional, a guy who can throw a bunch of screens and keep the offense moving.
This was the best hope. It did not come to fruition.
The Horrible Truth
It was immediately, bloodily obvious that whatever hopes Michigan had for the quarterback situation should be tossed out the window. The Utah game aftermath:
Every rational thought in your head suggests that the whole walk-on or freshman-the-coaches-are-panicked-about at quarterback, the line of baling wire and the occasional confused chicken, and freshmen everywhere at the skill positions will combine to yield an offense worthy of Yakety Sax, but until you actual see the damn thing in action you can hold out hope it will be otherwise.
We have seen it in action. It could have gone better.
There was a single-sentence bullet that's so very poignant now:
Feagin? I mean… he couldn’t have been worse.
Thus dies optimism in the House of Bo.
Threet then came in as a starter for the Notre Dame game and played spectacularly given the situation:
…that was a massive step forward from Threet, a performance virtually any freshman would be pleased with. Threet was confident, mostly accurate, and mostly right. Mental mistakes were limited to a couple of open receivers he passed up for more difficult throws and that one pass that should have been intercepted. (The other BR was a fly route on third and long which would have been a punt if intercepted.) He looked like a viable quarterback now and for the future.
That didn't last, though. Wisconsin:
As far as how the day went? Poorly. In past years we've had a metric where you add up all the good (CA+DO), add up all the bad (everything else other than PR), and take out all the screens to come up with a Competence Ratio. Threet's competence ratio in this game is 48%, which is below the 50-50 Mallett line and well short of the 2/3rds ratio that is a normal good quarterback. This was a major step back from the Notre Dame game.
Toledo was bad, too, but I chalked that up to Threet being injured, and that was obviously accurate. This from the Penn State game was, too, except I had to go back and chart him after the Minnesota and Northwestern (and upcoming Ohio State) games:
I'm not charting Sheridan anymore, by the way, as there's no point. We're very clear on his deficiencies by now and he won't see the field again after this year unless he's the last survivor of a meteor impact.
Threet returned for Michigan State:
So, yeah, ugly, ugly performance from Threet, back on the downswing from a good half against Penn State. I don't think this is all on his head, though. As Sean McDonough noted, it looked like Threet was really looping passes out to his receivers. He reminded me of no one so much as deposed Auburn starter Chris Todd, who can rainbow slants. I saw it, man.
Anyway, that elbow is obviously still bothering Threet.
And then Sheridan came in, got nicknamed Death, defied that nickname by going 18 for 30 in a dominating win over Minnesota, got re-nicknamed Suicidal Kitten in the aftermath, and didn't defy that nickname at all. Exeunt 2008.
2009, And Beyond
I mean no offense to Nick Sheridan, a scout-team quarterback pressed into service by a series of unfortunate events so vast in their scope as to be unprecedented at a program like Michigan, but God willing we never see him on the field again. And The Coner(!) is behind him. And Justin Feagin is a slot receiver.
So. We are left with this guy:
Steven Threet. At times (specifically, the Notre Dame game and the first half of the Penn State game) Threet looked like a D-I quarterback you can make a New Year's Day bowl with. He looked bonafide. And some of his less stellar moments can be blamed on youth, a new system, a shaky line, a horrible set of receivers, rain, elbow injuries, and the general bloody-mindedness of the universe. He even proved somewhat nimble.
You are waiting for the "but." Okay: but I just don't see it. On those keepers he was somewhat nimble on he was injured, twice, and that seemed like no accident. Threet's reaction to incoming defenders was to sort of slow down and attempt to Heisman them or juke them or something—what, exactly, was never clear—and that lead to a lot of incidents where Threet's upper and lower bodies were in extreme disagreement as to which direction the whole should be going. Separated shoulders and elbow injuries and concussions followed. There's a reason football put in that slide rule for quarterbacks, and it's because of guys like Steven Threet. He gon' die if asked to run 15 times a game.
And I don't think that's fixable. That's an instinctual thing. Running back is the spot in both college and the NFL at which you can throw in a freshman or rookie and do pretty well for yourself. You are trying not to get yourself killed, and you revert to base instincts.
So can Rodriguez deal with a quarterback who will die if you ask him to run 15 times a game? Probably not. Or, at least, there seem to be no point when you've got a couple guys who can do that and probably won't be that far off him in the passing game, at which Threet was incredibly inconsistent last year.
I'm not writing him off. Threet, unlike Sheridan, will be a viable competitor for the starting job next year. I even expect him to be the opening day starter. I don't expect he'll make it through the year as the starter, though. A discussion of Shavodrick Beaver and Tate Forcier is more properly executed in a recruiting post, but suffice it to say both are guys Rodriguez brought in for his system, and they'll get a spring to see what they can do.
(Threet picture found with aid from the indispensable Mike DeSimone.)
Hockey-izing. Michigan takes on Michigan State in a home-and-home this weekend and desperately needs a sweep to keep on any sort of pace for the NCAA tournament. Fortunately, Michigan State looks far more obliging this year when it comes to that sort of thing:
MSU is 10th place in the CCHA with an overall record of 4-9-3 and a conference record of 2-6-2-2. They haven't won a game since Halloween night when they beat WMU 3-1. Since then they lost seven in a row, bookended by two ties. Before exploding for four goals in a 4-4 tie against Minnesota, the Spartans had scored 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1 goal in their last seven games. It's like they're starting Billy Sauer in net every night. They've scored more than 2 goals just three times this season.
Hogan will play Friday and if things go well is expected to get the start Saturday.
If you're interested in going to Munn, there are huge numbers of tickets still available. I will be in attendance.
Looking a little farther down the road than this weekend: Matt Rust and Aaron Palushaj have been selected to the USA World Junior Championship team and will miss the GLI. Michigan takes on Tech in the first round and either State or North Dakota in the second. Also, Steve Kampfer's return looks to be sooner than anyone expected:
Junior defenseman Steve Kampfer is back skating with the team and could return by the Great Lakes Invitational according to The Wolverine. Kampfer had said a few weeks ago that he was about a month from being full strength and that any decision to return to the team was in the hands of head coach Red Berenson.
That would put his return in early January, which would be great. Given Michigan's scoring struggles it also might mean a return of Chris Summers to forward.
Scapegoatin'? People have been muttering about a potential change at defensive coordinator ever since Justin Siller turned Michigan's secondary into Swiss cheese, and this might be an indication the mutterings have some validity:
Miami (OH): We hear that Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer is interested in the Miami (OH) head coaching position.
That's from "Football Scoop," which is a website I've never heard of and may not be credible. I tend to give any site that reports on the fate of schools from Michigan to Eureka College the benefit of the doubt.
There have been some rumors—nothing solid—suggesting that Shafer was not likely to be back next year; this could be a symptom of that. For the record, I remain ambivalent about a potential change.
Rick Leach. No one in associated with the program has been more publicly supportive of Rich Rodriguez than Rick Leach, and here's another example:
“I’ll make you a promise before I go,” he said. “My promise to you is, I know that day’s coming. Maybe you had your fun and got your pound of flesh out of Michigan after 33 years. I don’t care if it’s Mark Dantonio, Charlie Weis or - you better believe it - Jim Tressel. Your freakin’ day is coming.”
This will draw immediate comparisons to Charlie Weis' statement last year that people should "have their fun now" (or, if you're Syracuse, in the future) but here it's a loose cannon ex-quarterback and not, like, the freakin' head coach.
Not a good week for Michigan State receivers. Remember Charles Rogers? Yeah:
Jail records show the 28-year-old Rogers has been locked up since Wednesday.
I still think Plaxico wins.
So, the football bust was last night and word has spread that a few players weren't present: Carson Butler, Avery Horn, and Sam McGuffie. This is obviously a sign they won't be around next year. Some brief words on their status.
A couple sources suggested Butler was the guy who Rodriguez mentioned had not been present at the first team meeting after the season. Supposedly he was part of that flareup on the sidelines in the Ohio State game and challenged Rodriguez to an honor du-el or threatened to St. Valentines Day Nerd Massacre him or something. That sounds farfetched but I've heard the exact same story from two different sources. Butler was already hanging by a thread under Carr and quickly found himself in Rodriguez's doghouse for, you know, never blocking anyone.
Personal opinion on his departure: extremely likely.
Horn got to return like one kickoff the whole year even when two or three of the running backs in front of him were out. The writing is on the wall; I haven't heard anything specific on his status but a playing time transfer (Fresno State?) would make a lot of sense.
McGuffie. Hey, this electrical socket seems fun to stick my hand into. Ouch. Let's do it again!
So, yeah: yesterday Tom got a couple of independent reports that McGuffie was out again, and then came this bust thing. I think he's gone this time, and also expect him to change his mind fifteen minutes after this post goes up.
If that's the whole flood of transfers—and these remain unconfirmed—Michigan got off easy. Other than McGuffie, the guys leaving (Babb, Chambers, Horn, Butler) were noncontributors. Babb and Butler did play a bit, but not well, and it was clear the staff was looking for better options.
Chambers was a potential contributor at safety or linebacker and his departure does thin the ranks at an already thin position, and McGuffie showed potential before his concussions.
Okay: we are in MGoBlog's annual season-over-I'm-burned-out period. Posting slows and for the next few weeks you're not going to get many 5000 word exegeses; I will get the OSU UFR done sometime before Christmas.
At that point I'll look towards the summer and various improvements that can be made to the blog. Last year's project was the move off blogspot to the current digs. This year's projects are still up in the air.
A list of things under consideration:
- The addition of a rating system for diaries and posters in general that will bubble high-rated things up to more prominent positions and bury low-rated ones.
- More prominent access to diaries and the like; a better page for each user.
- Creating a full-fledged recruiting wiki.
- Similar to the above, adding in player pages and so forth.
- A revamp of the comment system.
- Improving the interface for posting diaries and comments.
- Fixing the stupid bug that never sends emails to some people who register.
A couple things I'm committed do doing:
- Restoring tags to all the posts moved over from blogger and all the posts from this season I was too lazy to tag because Drupal made it a pain to do so from Windows Live Writer.
- Creating a local streaming video solution so I can host UFR clips without someone shutting an account down.
I know there were a number of complaints when the site first launched but I figured a good portion of them were just the natural tendency to hate change; anything that's still bothering you is an issue. If you've got something you're wishing for, leave a comment or send me an email and I'll add it somewhere on the list.
Oh, yeah: how is the performance of the site? It seems slow to me but has gotten better of late. Is it a problem for people?