Kind of a big deal. PG recruit Xavier Simpson won the Ohio Mr. Basketball award after averaging 27 points and 6 assists a game. You may remember that one Trey Burke won Mr. Basketball in Ohio, an award that comes with some heft. Recent winners include Luke Kennard, Burke, Jared Sullinger, William Buford, Jon Diebler, OJ Mayo, and someone named Lebron.
Both Beilein and Simpson welcome the Burke comparison:
"With me going to Michigan and seeing the success they had with [Burke]. What I'm hearing, from out of high school no one ever thought he would go to the NBA. And Michigan put the ball in his hand and helped him make the right decisions and get better as a player. That prepared him for the next level, so hopefully they can do that for me."
Simpson is a much higher rated recruit than Burke was, but I think we'll take Trey 2.0.
Let's stop doing the dumb RPI thing. College basketball RPI is broken. Broken things can be exploited, and the Pac-12 did that so successfully that they got a bunch of ridiculous seeds in this year's NCAA tournament. Those teams all bombed out of the tournament save Oregon, which got a one-seed everyone thought MSU had on lock. Ask the Spartans if that mattered, assuming you can keep a straight face while doing so. (You cannot.)
This was not an accident. In both men's and women's basketball the Pac-12 has made a concerted effort to game the RPI. It started with the Washington women's coach, and the league is so proud of it they've put up articles it on pac-12.com itself:
Neighbors’ work developing a mathematical picture of success for the Pac-12 inspired conference coaches to change the way their programs scheduled in the non-conference seasons and has strengthened the conference from top to bottom.
“It’s one of the most productive things we’ve done,” Close said. “The best part about this story is Mike’s selflessness, but also the coaches putting the conference above themselves.” …
“He came in with this huge packet, with color-coded graphs. The message was, ‘Everybody needs to get eight or nine wins (in the non-conference) and you need to play the best teams you can beat’,” Close said. “Everyone was brainstorming. Everybody understood this has to be bigger than just your team. We have to help each other.”
This worked, as the Pac-12's evidently mediocre teams got seeds they did not deserve. Meanwhile, a 15-3 Big Ten champion got a five-seed, and Michigan was relegated to a play-in game largely because the Big Ten didn't put anyone in the 50-100 range of the RPI. Some of this is the Rutgers effect. (Thanks, Delany.) Rutgers was a mandatory anchor on every schedule in the league. But some of it is the fact that the league is playing far too many voluntary games against Rutgers equivalents.
I complain about this just about every year. Four years ago I put a post together titled "How To Schedule In College Basketball" after a selection controversy between Drexel and Iona. What leapt out at me was Michigan's nonconference SOS. It was objectively much tougher than either of those teams but when it came to numbers it was barely better than Drexel's miserable schedule and far worse than Iona's mediocre one.
This is because Michigan fills out the bottom of their schedule with the very dregs of college basketball. Jason Lisk:
Then, you look at the non-conference. Michigan played Xavier, NC State, Texas, Connecticut, and SMU. That’s more top quality games then most programs played. But, from December 12 to December 23, they also played Delaware State, Northern Kentucky, Youngstown State, and Bryant. They won them by an average of 40 points. Each of those teams is at 275 or below in the RPI. Those teams are collectively 28-90 against Division I teams, and play against other low level teams (that whole opponent’s opponent’s record thing).
That’s killing Michigan.
If you just took out two of those games, and replace them with home games against mid-level MAC teams like Eastern Michigan and Toledo, the RPI goes from 66 to 55. With just that change alone. Heck, even if they lost one of those games (and they would be heavy favorites at home), the RPI actually goes up slightly. That defies logic.
For years I'd assumed this was a Dave Brandon thing. Towson is cheaper than Richmond, end of story. After Brandon's departure it's clear that John Beilein is the guy lining up Delaware State (#348 in Kenpom) and Bryant (#345) because he doesn't want the slightest chance at a loss.
This hurts Michigan and the Big Ten because the chance Michigan loses to the #200 team is also negligible. For example, per Kenpom Michigan had a ~94% chance to beat then-#203 Minnesota when the teams played at Crisler in January. Despite the very small gulf in likely outcome between a game against a bad team and an awful one, the RPI assigns very different values to those games.
The committee does attempt to see through these flaws, but everything is framed by RPI. Your RPI. Your record against the top 50 and top 100 in RPI. Conference RPI. Gaming the system clearly works; Michigan is doing the exact opposite of that. It just about cost Michigan a bid this year. It's well past time for the school and the league to figure that out and exploit it.
Precisely, good sir. Harbaugh on Sankey's Think Of The Children campaign:
“I thought it was fake outrage. I thought it wasn’t really real,” Harbaugh told Mike & Mike when asked his reaction to their reaction. “The moral high ground of the sanctity of spring break, that’s what people chose to use as their moral stance? I thought it was fake. I thought it was fake outrage.”
January February Middle Tennessee April. Pat Forde in the aftermath of MSU getting Giddy Potts'd:
Here’s what might also have played a part in Middle Tennessee’s calm reaction to shocking the world: the Blue Raiders knew they were no 15 seed. That was a joke, and part of a major choke.
By Michigan State, yes. But also by the NCAA tournament selection committee.
All hail MTSU, which put Murfreesboro, Tenn., on the map Friday. Its 90-81 upset of the Spartans is one of eight all-time victories for a No. 15 seed over a No. 2 seed – but Middle Tennessee never should have been a 15.
That’s on the committee.
The facts that Forde marshals for his argument are ridiculous. One: the winner of CUSA has never been seeded that low. CUSA used to have Memphis in it. This version of the CUSA had zero top-100 Kenpom teams. Forde cites the fact that CUSA was the #21 league at that very site without considering the fact that teams are not leagues. MTSU was not even the best 15 seed per Kenpom—that would be Cal State Bakersfield. The only teams in the tournament rated lower than MTSU above the 15 line were a couple of 14s.
MTSU was off by a seed line at most, which they promptly demonstrated by getting hamblasted by Syracuse.
Well, yeah. Kyle Connor left Penn State in a state of disbelief:
"I’m a firm believer that Kyle Connor is the best player I’ve ever played against and I even told him that in the handshake line,” Goodwin told reporters after the game. …
“[Connor] does everything very, very quickly,” Guy Gadowsky told reporters. “It’s amazing how he just gets himself into such an offensive advantageous position. I think it’s just what you can’t really explain that just makes him so darn good.”
After a few years of struggle against PSU, Michigan put the hammer down in 2016. They scored at least six goals in each of the five games, culminating in 7-1, 6-1, and 6-2 demolitions.
I mean I guess I'm not surprised. No idea if CBC News has the inside scoop on Kyle Connor but I'm not exactly expecting him back next year, and neither are they:
The focus on him is certainly justified and if Connor decides to leave school once his season wraps up (no decision has been made in this regard, though it would be a shock if he chose to stay at Michigan), signs with the Jets and eventually settles into the NHL game at the level that's expected of him, then let the good times roll.
I would assume that comes from the Jets' camp and indicates they intend and expect to sign him. I always think NHL teams are shortsighted to do this because the CBA accelerates free agency for players under 20; grabbing a kid at 19 is removing a year of team control at 27. But nobody seems to care for whatever reason.
Hockey incoming. NTDP forward Will Lockwood draws notice from NHL draft expert Kyle Woodlief, who names him a rising prospect:
Will Lockwood (U.S. NTDP U-18) — Showed lots of speed and was buzzing all over the offensive zone at last month’s Five Nations tournament, where he was one of the best U.S. forwards.
Lockwood is one of seven scholarship skaters* Chris Heisenberg shows as committed to Michigan next year; they are scheduled to lose two guys to graduation. Even if Connor, Werenski, and Downing** are all signing there's quite a logjam. Michigan has eight D this year and is set to carry nine next year even minus Werenski and Downing; they'll add an extra forward as well.
*[F Lukas Samuelsson is also listed but Michigan did not acknowledge him when they announced their incoming class. Generally that means the player is a PWO.]
**[Ben Clymer and Random Verb Guy were talking about Werenski and Downing like they were both out the door to the NHL after this year. Werenski we all expect to go; Downing hasn't been talked about much. I'm guessing they got word from someone or another and were impolite enough to repeatedly reference it on the broadcast because they can't talk about gritty grit heart for literally the entire thing.]
Etc.: More satellite camps: Dallas and Waco are on the table, with the Waco event a stop at Baylor's camp. That company that runs the summer soccer friendlies briefly listed Chelsea versus Real Madrid at Michigan Stadium on July 30th; it's since been changed to TBA. Harbaugh clinic notes.
[photo: Bill Rapai/MGoBlog]
Via Sam Webb (freebie), Orchard Lake St. Mary's linebacker Joshua Ross has committed to Michigan. Ross has been a regular visitor at his brother's practices for years, however the Ross family maintained that Josh would be dutiful to the recruiting process.
But when that familiarity combined with Don Brown arriving with a defense that looks for smaller, quicker linebackers who get upfield in a hurry, the likely college destination turned to obvious.
A 4-star recruit with plenty of scouting already, Joshua Ross appears to have more physical upside than James, but perhaps not the crazy instincts that made his brother an instant starter. At 6'2/225 his skillset projects well to the blitzy/edgy/tight-end cover-y Sam role in Brown's defense.
A more informative update will come later today or tomorrow, and by the time he arrives on campus in a year I'm sure we'll have this one thoroughly scouted.
Friday, March 18, 2016
#7 Michigan 7, #19 Penn State 2
SHUART GOAL, MICHIGAN
UM 1 PSU 0 EV 10:35 Assists: Downing & Dancs
Dancs knocks the puck away from a Penn State player trying to clear and then bobbles it as he heads toward the corner; he’s only facing the blue line because he whiffed on the puck a second before. He sees Downing at the point, though, and passes before getting hit.
Downing steps up and snaps a shot on net that Glen tries to pick off, but the puck goes hits his stick and then hits McAdam, who pushes the rebound aside.
Shuart tries to push the puck under McAdam, but he makes the save. The rebound stays right in front of the net, and Shuart has a second-chance opportunity with a defenseman and the goaltender falling down.
Shuart gets flips the puck over two fallen PSU players unimpeded. I’m a little surprised that Glen didn’t make any effort to get across and try to engage Shuart. A tenuous argument can be made that he was trying to cut off the path from the backside and make sure no one could cut directly to the front of the net in case there was a rebound, but I’d think he would slide across when it was clear that both his help was falling over and the puck was loose in front.
[After THE JUMP: Kyle Connor gif after Kyle Connor gif after Kyle Connor gif. That’s not an exaggeration, he had a natural hat trick.]
[Left and right: Patrick Barron; middle: Eric Upchurch]
Nik Stauskas, with his ability to make almost any shot a good one, made the game look easy. Trey Burke, with his varied and lethal methods for creating offense, made the game look easy, not to mention beautiful.
Nothing about this season's iteration of Michigan basketball felt easy. It's shown in the pictures, in which seemingly every layup attempt required a Herculean feat of strength and body control just to get the ball on the backboard. It's shown in the statistics; according to KenPom, 10.3% of Michigan's two-point attempts were blocked, a mark worse than all but 13 major-conference programs. It's shown in the despairing comments as the offense ground to a halt against Notre Dame before VJ Beachem delivered the coup de grâce to 2015-16 Michigan.
And that's on the good side of the court. Stopping the opponent has never seemed simple under John Beilein, especially the last few years. The flaws on defense have only been magnified as the offense has gone from historically great to merely good. Every flailing layup attempt swatted into photographers' row didn't just serve as a painful reminder of the team's scoring limitations, but also what they lacked on the other end.
[Hit THE JUMP for feelingsball.]
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A disappointing season. Where to go from here? Optimism levels for next year are calibrated. MAAR is praised. Weezy is prayed for.
Brian's Hockey Podcast
starts at 29:41
Ace actually watched both games this weekend so we'll cut him some slack. Kyle Connor is good, you shouldn't crosscheck people in the head, oh god the tourney. Good to have it back, need new pants.
Gimmicky Top Five: Kenpom Wishes
starts at 46:18
The five different things we want to see change in Kenpom this year. Yes, "minutes" count. No, "explosive dunks narrowly missed" does not.
"Across 110th Street"
"The Payback," James Brown
"It Hurts Until It Doesn't," Mothers
THE USUAL LINKS
3/18/16 – Michigan 7, Penn State 2 – 23-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten
3/19/16 – Michigan 5, Minnesota 3 – 24-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten, Big Ten Tourney champions
It takes me a while to grasp what a hockey player is like. Part of that is just the game: most of the time even the best players are on the bench, and then there are ten guys trying to control a puck that bounces around. It takes time for a player new to college to establish what he's going to be, and then further time for me to figure it out. Like, I thought Dylan Larkin was a good player. I couldn't describe his game like I could describe Zach Hyman's. Hyman, a senior, was excellent in the corners and capable of bursting from the boards to the net-front with little warning. Once there he had a deft touch at the net front. Larkin… scored a lot.
Like Larkin the year before, Kyle Connor has put up points in buckets without having a distinct on-ice personality for much of this year. That has gradually changed as the season progressed and Connor kept scoring on one-timers from absurd angles, kept dropping saucer passes directly on his teammates' sticks. A debate about which Michigan player should be their primary Hobey candidate went from wide open to probably Connor.
In the aftermath of a Big Ten Tournament in which Connor scored a natural hat trick in nine minutes and left Eric Schierhorn in a heap of self-loathing with this…
…both the Hobey and personality issues have been resolved. Connor for Hobey, because he is an all-around offensive dynamo.
He is fast. Everything is fast. His skating is fast. His shot gets out fast and travels fast. He is precise. Everything is precise. His ability to hit the water bottle from one knee on a one timer is something I've never seen from a Michigan player, even Hilbert or Tambellini. Seemingly every game now sees a saucer pass that elevates itself a good foot off the ice and then lands perfectly flat on a teammate's stick.
On Michigan's rampant power play he calmly checked options high and across before sliding the puck to Motte at the side of the goal. The pass was not remarkable in itself, but the process by which Connor moved the defense around with his posture and the fact that at any moment he might do something Kyle-Connor-esque opened up an opportunity. This was the weekend when Connor went from a guy on an awesome line to the guy on the awesome line, and that's no slight to Motte or Compher. I mean, go back to that Vine and check the pass that got Connor the opportunity and who it's from. JT Compher is awesome. He's not the guy.
And so Michigan grabs a banner. As banners go it's not exactly a monumental achievement—it's on par with the GLI in games played. But it goes up in the Yost rafters anyway. More importantly, Michigan got another week further away from the alarming Ohio State meltdown. I'll take two even-strength goals allowed on a weekend. Two goals is more or less a shutout for this team.
Even when Minnesota scored three consecutive goals to take the lead on Saturday those felt like things that will happen in hockey games, and not an endless parade of unchecked opponents in the slot. Sorting out the signal from the noise in hockey requires a lot of feelingsball, and my feeling is that the team has responded to the OSU debacle with four of their most defensively responsible games of the season.
Extending that streak of games that don't make fans want to pull their hair out was more important than the actual trophy; mission accomplished. Having Kyle Connor definitively stamp his name on this season, nationwide, is a bonus.
Michigan enters the most bowel-rending postseason known to man firing on at least most of their many, many cylinders. It could all blow up in a second, because hockey. It could all blow up because this hockey team has many guns, some of which point at their own feet. It could blow up because the universe hates you. There are many ways in which doom comes in single-elimination playoff hockey. But if you squint and forget about two weeks ago…
On the opposition. I haven't seen any Notre Dame hockey this year but at a glance they look like a typical Jeff Jackson team: fast, disciplined, slightly D-oriented. They score just over 3 goals a game (good for 15th)* and give up just over two (14th). They are reasonably good at everything and not great at any one thing. They're good-ish on the PP and good-ish on the PK. They spread their scoring out. Nobody's got more than 13 goals but six guys are in double digits.
As far as common opponents go, ND split with Penn State, Minnesota, and BU. They're just 19-10-7 but KRACH ranks their schedule difficulty 10th; Michigan languishes in 32nd. Both KRACH and RPI have this a game between #7 and #12, so Michigan got a slight break there—emphasis, however, is on slight. ND is a whisker behind Yale and Harvard.
Should be an exciting game. ND has a lot of draft picks and gets in your face on the forecheck.
*[Yes, the #15 O in the country is almost two goals a game worse than Michigan.]
Michigan's Michael Downing ejected after a crosscheck to the head of Penn State captain David Glen pic.twitter.com/iIg7Tfueb5
— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) March 18, 2016
Welp. Downing picked up a game misconduct for a crosscheck to the head delivered to a player who was on the opposite side of the ice from the puck and not even looking at him. That was his third of the season and brought with it a mandatory suspension from the title game; given his track record I wouldn't have been surprised to see another game added on for an incident that was pure violence without even the whisper of a legit hockey play.
At least that incident seems like a relapse by now. Downing got chippy late in those Ohio State games but so did a lot of Michigan players; when faced with games that were not inexplicable three or four goal deficits Downing's been even keel for the last couple months.
In his absence… Sam Piazza stepped in and Michigan didn't skip a beat. They even inserted Piazza next to De Jong on the nominal top pairing, which speaks both to Michigan's confidence in their D one through six and their confidence in Piazza—who also absorbed Downing's PP minutes—himself. And he's repaid that confidence, with a 1-5-6 line, a +7 rating, and zero penalties in 16 games. That is an incredible luxury to have as your seventh defenseman.
Getting more active. Both De Jong and Boka have been much more noticeable presences near the opposition's goal over the past few weeks. Michigan is doing a lot more rotation between forwards and D, which goes a long way towards making your cycle unpredictable enough to generate 5x5 chances. I still remember a vintage Minnesota team from a while back—the one on which Jordan Leopold, a defenseman, won the Hobey—that was terrifying specifically because they were the best at using their defensemen to generate 5x5 scoring chances. Michigan is not that, but I think they'll be in good shape next year as those two guys get older.
Good lord, the power play. Yes, I expect to score on every power play now. Michigan was 6/9 this weekend. (Nice.) They had excellent chances on two of the three they did not manage to convert; it is a machine unlike any I've seen at M. They lead the country, converting at 32%(!), and are 17/29(!!!) over their last six games.
Mandatory attendance rant. There was nobody at this tournament even when Minnesota was there. It's embarrassing, and it's unnecessary. Michigan and Penn State averaged 97% of capacity this year and played in front of a few hundred people. A best two out of three series at Yost ends up with 40-60 times the attendance of this neutral-site farce.
There is no fixing this. Nobody but Minnesota fans and the odd Wisconsin fan will show in St. Paul. Nobody but Michigan fans will show in Detroit. The geographic realities of the Big Ten demand a return to home sites if anyone is ever going to show.
College hockey refuses to acknowledge this. Just yesterday the WCHA commissioner unveiled the "Big Idea". Prepare to be underwhelmed:
While the logistics, of which there would be many, still need to be worked out, the basic idea is to host all three conference tournaments for the WCHA, Big Ten, and NCHC in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area on the same weekend, and stagger the start times as much as possible to allow fans the opportunity to see as many games as possible. While not mentioned in the article, one rumor suggested all three conference tournament finals then being played on the final day of the season at the XCel Energy Center. The idea is to turn the weekend into a festival of college hockey for the city.
That's great for St. Paul, I guess. It's terrible for everyone in the Big Ten other than Minnesota and should be a non-starter. The idea that people who aren't interested in going to their own conference tournament will be convinced because teams they don't play against are also having a tournament is fanciful, and that permanently shuts out every Big Ten fanbase other than the Gophers. It's an idiotic idea. So of course:
The Big Ten seems the most interested at the moment, with B1G deputy commissioner and most hated man in college hockey Brad Traviolia admitting that is one of many potential options they will discuss and consider for the future, saying "We recognize that the attendance hasn’t been what we had hoped" under the current set-up.
College hockey is not big enough for neutral site playoffs other than the Frozen Four, period. I will never understand why they keep trying.