somehow we're only 124th
3/19/2009 – Michigan 62, Clemson 59 – 21-13, 9-9 Big Ten
burning boat via falling sky @ flickr
"Ships, shoes, basketballs, whatever," Lucas-Perry said. "We're burning ours first, because we're coming to take theirs. We want it bad."
The most famous possibly-effective, possibly-useless motivational ploy in recent Michigan history remains Lloyd Carr's distribution of climbing picks and Into Thin Air to members of the soon-to-be 1997 national championship team, but "Queme los Barcos"—"burn the boats"—is rapidly gaining.
Motivation is a weird thing, and the popular conception of it is weirder. In the popular imagination these things act as functions or enzymes that take ordinary men and transform them in to something greater. Out the other end of these motivational processes come a national championship and Michigan's first NCAA tournament win since 1998.
But what strange items to function as motivation. Here we have 1) a book about people taking an insane risk and dying in the process of it and 2) an apocryphal motivational tactic by one of history's greatest bastards. Judged on the merits, these stories say "don't climb Mount Everest" and "don't get in a boat with one of history's greatest bastards." (Which latter might seem obvious.) Together they kind of say adventure—risk—is stupid, unless you like frostbite or malaria and definitely death.
So go get 'em, kids!
On the other hand we have a bunch of kids who love basketball—as walk-on lionizing story after walk-on lionizing story demonstrate—and are living through one of the most nerve-wracking times of their lives. Chances are they're plenty motivated.
They're also at risk. During the American-Villanova game, the camera lingered on Kermit Washington for a while. I had no idea Kermit Washington went to American, but I sure as hell knew he cold-cocked Rudy Tomjanovich in 1977. Even Washington's wikipedia page says "he's best remembered for" that incident. When it's on your wikipedia page your public image is well and truly screwed.
Meanwhile, Terrence Oglesby was 1 of 8 from the floor with a half-dozen stupid turnovers and fouls when he clocked Stu Douglass and got ejected. During Clemson's brief excursion into last year's NCAA tourney he was 1 of 11.
You can be nice and say he's a young kid with plenty of chances to make up for it and will have a fine life and etc etc etc, but he's got at most two chances to unbrand himself a choker in the hearts of Clemson fans, to turn future bar conversations from uncomfortable things like…
Oglesby: I used to play a little ball.
Random Albanian: Yeah, I was trying not to bring that up.
…into uncomfortable things where you probably won't get asked to sign a body part or a child. The latter seem preferable.
If you're being honest with yourself, Michigan fan, who is Todd Howard to you? Billy Sauer? Brian Ellerbe? Hell, Shawn Crable and Chris Webber? Pretty much everyone feels the same way about these guys, modulated by how much kindness and perspective they possess. The scale ranges from disgust to pity, which isn't much of a scale at all.
The popular conception is backwards: the actions of a select group of kids who accomplish something immortalize whatever story is behind it. Manny Harris' terrifying decision to punish Clemson for their press and the resultant and-one bucket that would force Clemson into fouling the game away work to heighten the fame of "Queme los Barcos." Flaming boats don't help shots go down.
And the popular conception is backwards: these stories aren't motivational. Motivation is not necessary. They're calming. They're stories about people who found themselves in positions they did not expect with more at stake than they had imagined, and dealt with it.
The boats have been burned. The mountain has been summited. The deranged hearts of people who clamor for risk by proxy have been engaged. Lives hang in the balance, and the only way to go is forward.
- Harris was obviously the MVP even if a large number of those threes caused me to cringe as they arced towards the basket, but a couple of supporting cast members deserve a shout out:
- Zack Gibson(!) was outstanding defensively, altering shots and causing a number of easy buckets to miss.
- Stu Douglass had 12 points on eight shots, and even had a drive to the hoop.
- Man, if Michigan managed to blow that the Grady debate would have been a permanent feature of offseason conversation. I have to say that with a lead and the clock running down the biggest risk is that you won't get to blow 35 seconds off the clock and whatever difference there was between Grady and Lee or Merritt in other aspects could not have made up for Grady's ability to get the ball across halfcourt without chucking it out of bounds.
- While I'm complaining: ohmygod foul when you're up three and there's like eight seconds left. Instead Michigan played outstanding D and Clemson had to chuck an airball prayer, but oh the horrible trajectory.
- Was anyone else hoping Oglesby wouldn't get ejected? I couldn't have been the only one.
- Given what Clemson did to us on the boards—they rebounded almost half of their misses—Blake Griffin is going to eat us alive unless Todd Bozeman comes out with his heel tag team and gives him a flying elbow drop.
- Seriously: everyone saw the Griffin suplex, but with about eight seconds left and Oklahoma in transition another Morgan State player set up like he was going to try to take a charge, then gave the Oklahoma guy a flying body block. Todd Bozeman, keep it classy.
- Day's biggest disappointment was American blowing a 14-point lead against Villanova, as that robbed everyone of the chance to chant "U-S-A! U-S-A!" some more.
- Second biggest: VCU not getting a real shot off in the dying seconds against UCLA.
WOOOOOOO! WOOOOOO! MUPPET
BRAIN OFF WOOO ZACH GIBSON WOO MANY HARRIS WOOO
ONE… OTHER! WOOO
Perhaps the greatest legacy the Pistons have given to the metro Detroit area is an area-wide affection for the greatest hair metal hype-up song in the history of ever. The run-up to an important basketball game is incomplete without it:
It obviously hasn't sunk in yet, as I'm not nervous. Northridge and Memphis are tied at 13, the NCAA tournament is underway, and Michigan plays tonight and I don't even have the normal level of jitters you might have before a Michigan-Northwestern football game or a random midseason hockey game.
The only explanation is that the idea Michigan will participate in this excessively large, bombastic, chaotic, sort-of-merit-based-but-also-kind-of-not American institution has been proposed to the brain and been rejected. Rejected like Andy Katzenmoyer's NFL career. Like the Michigan State student body's collective application to Michigan. Like sanity as it applies to Ekpe Udoh's decision as to where he should spend his college career. You get the idea.
This will evaporate a nanosecond after Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims share a split screen and "7 Clemson Tigers vs 10 Michigan Wolverines" is superimposed over the wide shot of the arena, and then I'll be terrified and angry for two solid hours. Woo sports! Looking forward to it.
Some items of interest to complete your tourney prep:
Next up: a monkey, one glove, and pedophilia accusations. Reader Fred Simmons points out something… unusual about the SI cover with Manny Harris lost in a sea of players*:
Hello tinting! If (when) Michigan makes it next year, Michigan's representative on the SI cover:
*(Anyone notice that of late SI has gone away from SI-curse triggering covers? Part of it is regionalization and so forth, but now they don't even pick a national champion for football, they just put six different teams on six different covers. What a cop out. I blame that "Arizona is No. 1" debacle.)
- Wojo on where the instate programs find themselves:
Michigan opens its first NCAA Tournament in 11 years in the land of barbecue, hoping to lick its chops and stick its long shots. If you saw the giddy reaction when the players learned they were in, facing favored Clemson tonight, you know this is one excited team taking its important first step.
- Excellent diary breaks down Michigan's performance against top-100 opponents with variable amounts of rest. Correlation is not causation, but it's not exactly bad news to find out that Michigan on 4+ days of rest is ridiculously better than Michigan on three or fewer. (Until we get to the second round (hypothetically).)
- Dylan is in the house; he posts a final preview, and has had excellent content all week.
- Maize 'n' Brew interviews Clemson blog Block C about goings-on.
- There is plenty of Clemson-centric content at The OP.
- Rosenberg recaps the drought.
Early returns say: screw Kenpom, yo. Cal State is now leading tempo-free #1 Memphis; BYU is getting housed, and LSU is edging Butler. Let the defiance of nerd expectations last all day.
Tom's having computer problems so he forwarded this along to me. Don't be fooled by the name on it: it's his interview, as per usual.
Some background on Riley: he's got a wide array of impressive offers to play… somewhere. Michigan seems to like him best as a RB but he could play WR or DB or maybe LB in college. Conventional wisdom has USC the current leader.
Photo from the LA Times.
DIETRICH: I’m a team player. I’m not worried about the individual stats, and I don’t want the attention all on me. I want to compete and make my teammates better. I attack life every day. I go 110% on the field, and in whatever I do in life. I’ve got these scholarship offers, but it’s important to stay humble. Football wise, I can read plays on the field, and I can go both ways. Really my speed and size are my biggest assets.
TOM: You were just in Vegas for the 7 on 7 there. How did you and your team do?
DIETRICH: Our team had some great talent, and it was fun being on the field with those guys. We had Brennan Clay, DJ Morgan, Shaq Richardson, and a few other big name guys on our team. We lost in the first round to another California team. It was a bad call by the ref. They called pass interference on me when I intercepted a ball. It was more about having fun, learning, and getting to know each other though.
TOM: You’ve already got a number of big time scholarship offers. Which one were you most excited about?
DIETRICH: I got another one on Monday from Nebraska, so I’m at 10. Of course USC is up there, but Oklahoma and Tennessee was exciting. Competing in bowl games, championships, and the tradition those schools have is great. That just surprised me more than anything. It just shows the hard work is paying off. Not necessarily interest wise, but I was excited.
TOM: Which one were you most surprised by?
DIETRICH: Michigan. It’s the Big Ten. I wasn’t expecting that. They were sending me letters and everything. They told me about their players currently in the NFL. I was like wow; I can’t believe they offered me. Washington is also really catching my attention. The new staff up there is nice, and the graduation rate is 86%. That’s most important, my education.
TOM: What kind of offense does your team run now?
DIETRICH: We mix it around. Pro and spread, but it’s pretty balanced. Coach gave me some new plays to get me the ball this year. It’s going to be a whole different story. I’m bigger stronger and faster, and I’m just ready to go.
TOM: Would you like to find an offense similar to that, or will you adapt?
DIETRICH: I’ll adapt wherever I go. I like a mixed offense, with a little play action, and spread. Not too many teams in the NFL run the spread, so I like an offense that will prepare me. I do think Michigan’s offense would prepare me for the NFL. When looking at Pat White, he’s getting attention. My coach puts me in position to make things happen, and when I’m not, I make sure I pass block. I’m not selfish, and I want to do what’s best for the team.
TOM: What relationships have you built so far with coaches?
DIETRICH: The strongest relationship is with the USC coaches, we email every day or so. Second is Coach Morgan from Washington. He watched me grow up, and it’s a blessing to have him recruiting me. Coach Neuheisel from UCLA too. He was my coach’s quarterback coach when he played at UCLA.
TOM: Michigan recently offered you. What are they saying as far as where they want you to play, and how you fit in?
DIETRICH: They want me primarily as a running back, but also split me wide. They don’t have that complete back that can break the long run. I can either get out in space, or bust through and make room.
TOM: Being from California, what do you know about Michigan?
DIETRICH: I know that they’re on TV a lot, which is good. I’d be on TV all the time. They have a history of sending guys to the next level, getting guys their degree, great athletics, and the stadium is expanding. That’s pretty amazing. The weather, it’s cold, but I’ll get used to it. I’m going to have to someday.
TOM: You’re a bigger back already; do you plan on getting even bigger for college? Is that part of how you run?
DIETRICH: Coach Rodriguez told me they’re looking for the back with size and speed. I’m 6’ 1” and 195 pounds. I might be losing some of that weight. I don’t want to lose my speed and bulk up too much. I would like to stay around 205, no higher. I’m not really concerned about size though, just my playing ability, and keeping my lateral quickness.
TOM: Who are your leaders so far? Who are you still hoping to hear from?
DIETRICH: The schools I still want to hear from are Florida, Texas, LSU, and Alabama. I don’t really have a top list. All the schools that have offered so far I really like, and I’m honestly interested in. Once I take visits I’ll know more.
TOM: What camps and junior days will you be going to?
DIETRICH: Notre Dame’s in April. I've been saying I’ll go there for awhile. Oregon state, because my brother Kevin Walker goes there. The camps are definitely USC Rising star and FBU. I got invited to a 7 on 7 Academy at the Disney facilities, which is pretty cool. I’ve been talking with Markeith Ambles, and we’re going to try to set up some visits together. We’re friends, so it would make it easier to go through that together.
TOM: When are you planning on making your decision?
DIETRICH: National signing day. Depending on how many offers are on the table, maybe march. There’s going to be a lot of pressure, but I’m not worried about it. I’m already prepared for it. There’s going to be a lot of people in my ear about where to go, so I’ve got to develop a way to filter that out, and make my own decision.
Michigan Basketball: So how's the tourney, man?
NCAA Tourney: You don't know? Of course, you don't know anything. There's a 65th team.
MBB: A 65th team?
Tourney: Yeah, there was this new conference that got an autobid and no one wanted to take an at-large away… they play in Dayton. It's ugly. It's usually some .500 team that won its conference tourney against the third-place SWAC team.
MBB: How's Billy Packer? He ever get over that midmajor thing?
MBB: That ever work out?
Tourney: Come on, man, Packer's heart is a lump of carbon. They fired that guy. Last I heard he was working at Pizza Hut.
MBB: So let's not go there.
MBB: So… you look good.
Tourney: Thank you, you may have, uh—
TEN YEARS, MAN! TEN! Where have you been for ten years?
MBB: I freaked out… hired Brian Ellerbe. Recruited Avery Queen and Kevin Gaines and Maurice Searight. Got put on probation for kids taking money from a Detroit gambling kingpin. Fired Ellerbe and hired a guy who took a Sweet 16 team that returned virtually everyone and added an NBA lottery pick to the NIT: Tommy Amaker. Recruited Anthony Wright and Kendrick Price and Reed Baker. Turned the ball over on every other offensive possession for six years. The one year I was going to be back everyone got injured and the starting point guard got suspended for some sort of domestic violence thing. Walk-ons started at point guard. Then I hired John Beilein. We have basically one guy taller than 6'5", we still have walk-ons at point guard, and we're here.
Tourney: Oh, sure. And Indiana hired Kelvin Sampson, too, and that's why they're mysteriously absent.
MBB: I think they did, actually.
Tourney: That's good… wow, yeah…
TEN YEARS, MAN— TEN— TEN YEARS! TEN! TEN YEAAAARS!
MBB: I freaked out, hired Brian Ellerbe, Recruited Avery Queen and Kevin Gaines and Maurice Seawright, got put on probation for kids taking money from a Detroit gambling kingpin, fired Ellerbe and hired a guy who took a Sweet 16 team that returned virtually everyone and added an NBA lottery pick to the NIT: Tommy Amaker. Recruited Anthony Wright and Kendrick Price and Reed Baker, turned the ball over on every other offensive possession for six years, the one year I was going to be back everyone got injured and the starting point guard got suspended for some sort of domestic violence thing, walk-ons started at point guard, then I hired John Beilein, we have basically one guy taller than 6'5", we still have walk-ons at point guard, and we're here.
THAT'S WHAT I DID.
Tourney: Can I join up?
Tourney: Come on, man… how's your mom?
"OP has a posse" from Clemson b-ball blog the OP.
What Say Tempo Free Stats?
Tempo free stats say we gon' die. Clemson's ACC performance on a possession-by-possession basis was better than anyone not named Duke or North Carolina:
Opp. Pace PPP PPP EM 1. North Carolina 74.7 1.16 1.01 +0.15 2. Duke 69.2 1.08 0.98 +0.10 3. Clemson 70.5 1.09 1.01 +0.08 4. Wake Forest 74.3 1.07 1.01 +0.06 5. Florida St. 69.1 1.00 0.98 +0.02
Meanwhile, Michigan was actually in the red in the Big Ten:
5. Ohio St. 60.8 1.07 1.05 +0.02 6. Minnesota 62.2 0.98 0.98 0.00 7. Michigan 61.0 1.01 1.03 -0.02 8. Penn St. 59.7 1.00 1.04 -0.04 9. Northwestern 59.6 1.03 1.07 -0.04
If you hold that the ACC and Big Ten are basically equivalent this year—generous—this bodes very unwell. I guess there's an argument that Clemson got way up there by whipping some teams badly and their week-in week-out performance is too erratic to take that number seriously, but, man, that's a big gap.
Kenpom also says this is a crappy draw for Michigan. It has Clemson the #22 team in all the land, which corresponds to a solid six seed in Tempo Free Ability Land, not the seven they got in reality. (This is not an attempt to imply the committee was wrong to make Clemson a 7; sometimes teams under- or over-perform their overall ability in the actual wins and losses. For example: Michigan, as you'll see.)
Michigan, meanwhile, is #49. If we took the top 65 teams by their ratings and broke them into seeds, this matchup would be a 6 versus a 13. Kenpom says we have a 32% chance of victory. This is considerably lower than the other ten seeds: Maryland has a 38% shot at Cal, Minnesota a 42% shot at Texas, and USC is actually a tempo-free favorite (65%) over BC.
Of course, these are just simple averages that take every possession in every game, adjust them for difficulty, and project future games based on that and a home/road adjustment. They don't take matchups into account.
Clemson Defense vs Michigan Offense
Turnovers. Clemson's major distinguishing characteristic is a 40-minutes-of-hell full press that sees Clemson force a butt-ton of turnovers: 24.1 percent of opponent possessions end without a shot. That's 16th nationally. You can see the costs of this strategy in a couple spots: a generous 2PT FG percentage allowed (46.1%; 89th) and horrible defensive rebounding.
Three-pointers. Bad news for Michigan: Clemson does a good job of protecting the three-point line. Only 28% of opponent's shots are threes, which is 26th nationally. They do allow a good percentage when opponents get a look.
Inside the arc. As mentioned, Clemson's two-point percentage allowed isn't good despite (yet another) huge block percentage: 14%, 14th nationally. They offset that with a healthy rate of fouls.
Specific People Who Are A Specific Height. The good news for Michigan is that Clemson's main lineup isn't Illinois huge or anything: the starting lineup has a 6'7" guy and a 6'9" guy but no 7-foot menace, despite the shotblocking prowess. Sims defied earlier predictions here about an inability to combat seriously large posts when he tore up Minnesota, but he tore up Iowa even worse and was then reduced to a wide array of outside shots against very large Illinois, none of which went down. I'm still much more comfortable when Sims is dealing with an opponent of approximately the same size.
The big question. Grady? Kelvin Grady, once Michigan's starting point guard, struggled badly in Michigan's ugly stretch midway through the season and got benched in favor of CJ Lee and David Merritt. Grady's limited but has one grade-A skill: handle. Attempting to press him is a futile waste of time. Merritt and Lee… eh, not so much. Beilein's not likely to start Grady or anything, but if Clemson forces a couple of ugly turnovers early he might get exhumed.
Michigan Defense vs Clemson Offense
How much of the Tiger offense is turnover based?
Opponent turnovers don't translate directly into offense unless it's a steal, which can lead to a fast break opportunity. This took forever and came out with bupkis, but it took forever so look at the graph you bastards:
That's a scatter plot of Clemson's steals against their points per possession. Correlation: eh, eyeballing it… just about zero. Where the pressing will tell is in Michigan's offense, it appears.
Their turnovers. Eh… they're mediocre, turning the ball over on exactly 20 percent of their possessions. That's about the national average. Michigan forces opponents into 21% turnovers.
Three-pointers. Clemson's Terrence Oglesby (the near-albino guy at right) is an excellent shooter hovering around 40% on his long range attempts; this is a major component of Clemson's excellent three-point percentage: 38%, which is 35th nationally. They take a slightly above-average number of them.
Michigan's been surprisingly effective at shutting down the three point line, though: 43rd in opponent makes and opponents get off a below-average number of triples. That might have something to do with…
Two pointers. Michigan is horrible at defending them, allowing opponents to shoot over 50%. Clemson is very good at getting them, making 51.4% of their attempts. Clemson's offense is mostly just good all around, with a high eFG and a very high offensive rebound percentage offsetting a crappy ability to get to the line and meh turnovers.
Past performance, future results. I kind of hate the "X-factor" as a concept/cliche, but there's an X-factor here in how the teams react to styles they haven't seen before. Michigan hasn't been pressed consistently all year; Clemson hasn't seen the Beilein offense or the 1-3-1. A lot of people are banking on Beilein's tendency to overperform in the NCAA tournament to see Michigan through, and that's usually attributed to his unusual style.
Here's some Debbie Downer: it could just be chance. Beilein's only made it a few times and has done well, but he's pulled a couple fortunate matchups, with Northwestern State blowing up Iowa before the Mountaineers had a chance; WVU also missed the three-seed in '05 and had an opportunity against an 11 in '98.
The other side of the coin: Clemson coach Oliver Purnell is 0-fer in five trips to the tourney:
- 1992: 15 seed Old Dominion, a 15-15 team is clunked by #2 Kentucky.
- 2000: 11 seed Dayton loses to 6 seed Purdue by one point.
- 2003: 4 seed Dayton loses to 13 seed Tulsa by 13.
- 2008: 5 seed Clemson loses to 12 seed Villanova by 6.
The 1992 and 2000 trips don't raise eyebrows, but Purnell's suffered two straight upsets at the hands of inferior competition.
There's a case the coaches' historical performance is more than a fluke.
Sliding. Though Michigan hasn't exactly burned up the nets of late, they are 3-2 in their last five with wins over Purdue and Minnesota. Clemson, meanwhile, has been in free fall: 1-4 to finish the season with the win over horrible Virginia and the final loss an opening-round ACC tournament matchup against last place Georgia Tech.
Common opponents. These do not bode well, but mostly because they encompass Clemson's best performances of the year:
- Duke: Michigan split a neutral/home pair; Clemson obliterated the Blue Devils by 27 at home.
- Maryland: Michigan lost a road game; Clemson obliterated the Terrapins by 29 at home.
- Illinois: Michigan went 1-2, with a ten point win at home and ten point losses on the road and in Indy. Clemson scraped a two point road win over the Illini.
- Savannah State: Clemson clubbed them; Michigan won in overtime, barely escaping a tourney-killing loss.
This will be a big test of the Beilein-as-impossible-to-prepare-for meme, because Michigan drew a tough, tough seven seed. Fellow 10 seed USC is staring at an ACC team that managed to lose to Harvard (which who does that, really) and finished 7th in conference when it comes to efficiency margin. In contrast, Michigan draws a Clemson team that, while sliding a bit, beat some good teams absolutely raw and is a solid third in conference, above 4 seed Wake Forest.
Meanwhile, Michigan is the team that finished 7th in efficiency margin in its conference, and you can tack on some uncomfortably close victories in the nonconference to that. I think Kenpom is about right here: Michigan is a decided underdog.