TO THE HOT TAKE CANNON
2/19/2009 – Michigan 74, Minnesota 62 – 17-10, 7-7 Big Ten
Last year's Minnesota game, an uncompetitive loss in a lost season and a game in which the bulk of the noise came from a bizarre collection of Minnesota students adrift in the upper deck, was so completely dire that in the aftermath I scolded Michigan for reminding Cazzie Russell that he Built This House:
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.
I titled that monument to self pity "It's only dark in your hearts," though I did have the self-awareness to tag that post "emo," at least. It was pretty bad. You might have been there, in which case you know.
Here is where the flash forward goes: this time when they played Minnesota, Michigan was up twenty with ten minutes left instead of down that many, and instead of leaving before the atmospheric pressure caved my skull in I was… uh… enjoying… the… basket-ball(?). It remains a bizarre concept even months after UCLA and Duke and the generalized creeping respectability. Michigan has completed step one of their three-part plan towards a long-overdue return to the NCAA tournament.
It's nice to be able to care again. That opinion is liable to reverse itself on a dime, especially if something equally inexplicable and foreboding and ridiculous as an uncontested Courtney Sims dunk goes awry and Michigan flails its way into the NIT one more time, but for the moment I'll take relevance in late February. If we are being honest with ourselves this was an NIT team that shot well in two critical games and twice managed to avoid season-killing awful losses by dint of grit and luck and many, many inadvisable three pointers.
Here they stand ahead of all reasonable projections, needing to split the next four and lift that ever-heavier burden on the program, thanks to a backdoor pass from Jevohn Shepherd and a rain of Zach Novak threes and a Laval Lucas-Perry three that caught the front rim and feathered its way home. Things could be much worse.
- Beilein should find some way to platoon CJ Lee and Kelvin Grady with Lee playing all the defense and Grady all the offense. I heard tell the Northwestern game featured some absolutely comical attempts to break a press that resulted in turnovers. Against Minnesota Grady just shredded it. But he couldn't stay in front of his guy on D again, giving up some easy buckets.
- The thing that really, really bothers me about basketball officiating is how demonstrative the refs are. This can best be seen on charges and continuations, when 90% of refs take the opportunity to let their inner Siegfried or Roy loose with hopping, pointing, slithering dance moves. No. You are supposed to be a robot. If you show more emotion than the Terminator you are failing at your job.
- The world makes much more sense when the three-pointers are falling, doesn't it?
- I hesitate to get ahead of myself here because for every ridiculous game Novak or Douglass turns in there's a clunker or three—see Novak's 21.5% on threes the last five games—but after a game like last night it's hard not to get excited about the program's future. Unless there's attrition Michigan will be replacing a few role players with Morris, Vogrich, McLimans, Morgan, and Cronin next year, and if you want to throw in Eso Akunne as a walk-on replacement go ahead. Even if the bigs are projects they should help immensely on the defensive end; Morris fills a big hole at point guard, and Vogrich will put heat on Douglass and Novak for playing time.
Guess it didn't go good. You might recall the stunningly annoying/developmentally disabled Notre Dame fan/future player standing behind yrs truly at the ND-M game at Yost; if so, know that I and a few others have concluded that that fan must have been Cam Fowler simply because he was too tall to be any of the other USNTDP kids committed to ND for next year. At one point Fowler jawed that if his grades went "good" he'd be playing for ND next year.
2010 NHL draft stud Cam Fowler of the U.S. under-18 squad has de-committed from Notre Dame. This is the first step toward an official announcement of his signing with the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires.
Algebra and geography and, you know, like, stuff did not go good, I guess. That's a major blow to ND; Fowler may have trouble spelling his name but is widely regarded a top-ten NHL draft pick.
Ha. I love this verdict to tiny little bits:
A Washtenaw County jury today found former Wolverine Marlin Jackson was defamed by a fellow student who falsely accused him of assault with a bottle at an off-campus party in 2003. The six-member panel also awarded Jackson, a defensive back with the Indianapolis Colts, $225,000 in damages --roughly the equivalent of a draft slot in the NFL, said his attorney, Ellis Freatman.
One Shahin Farokhrany—who certainly looks like an eminently punchable douchebag—sued Jackson for ten million dollars after accusing him of striking him with a bottle. Evidently this did not occur, and now EPD Farokhrany is on the hook for a cool two hundred grand plus attorney's costs. Score one for Jackson.
Croosh the Illini. I haven't embedded a Wolverine Historian video in a while, so here's ten minutes of Michigan beating Illinois 38-14 in 1995:
Speaking of. The JCCW says a prayer for beatwriters:
It's flattering, but the ironic truth is that I leach (not unfairly, but still) off the work of Auburn's beat writers 10,000 times more than I'm sure they leach from me. The number of times Messrs. Woodbery, Goldberg, Tate, Bitter, and Brietzke have felt the need to link to me can still be counted on one hand. … Without those guys, the JCCW doesn't have any news to report, no breaking stories to react to, no quotes to parse. At that point it's all Rumor and Speculation, and while there's always ways to dig through the topsoil of Rumor and Speculation to get to the truth buried underneath, it's not an easy or particularly fun process. Beat writers, in my view, are an essential set of cogs in this great big machine we call Being an Auburn Fan.
Which is why it always makes my skin crawl a bit when I see bloggers celebrating the death of the newspaper.
While newspapers are imploding in spectacular fashion you're not going to see them disappear of the map entirely.
Given the current vectors a couple of these guys will end up locked behind paywalls, but there's always going to be at least one free beatwriter sort; failing that you're going to see athletic departments get involved with the dissemination of information. How many articles about Steven Threet's transfer do you need? Before the internet the answer was "as many as there are newspapers"; now the answer is "one." Not one two three four five six and probably more that I can't be bothered to turn up right now. Unless said writer has some sort of special inside relationship with the program or coaches, as Angelique Chengelis did with Lloyd Carr, their work is completely redundant with everyone else out there, with limited exceptions. And since in Michigan's case those exceptions seem to be limited to the student newspaper unearthing more actual information than the professionals, let's not get too worked up over the imminent departure of some random guy writing the same exact stories as some other random guy at another news organization.
A beatwriter is important, and the one or two or three folks best qualified will see it through. The rest of them have a future in PR; their departure will be felt by no one. Kids, if you're angling to write about sports for a living don't make the vast bulk of your writing a commodity replicable by anyone with an editor. Pretend you're going to be asked to justify your existence, Onion-style, every week.
Do we have expectations? The good doctor has been wondering about Michigan with frequency of late, and his latest runs down the list of true freshman quarterbacks deployed at power programs with an eye towards the Forcier/Robinson pairing that will, ready or not, be thrust into the Michigan QB job come fall. The results are predictably grim, with no team on the list finishing with fewer than three losses and several cratering spectacularly:
A quick check of the successful teams reveals things like Beanie Wells and Braylon Edwards and Darren McFadden and Knowshown Moreno, and while Michigan isn't as bereft of talent as Baylor they aren't exactly sprouting obvious top ten draft picks from every available orifice.
DocSat ends on a grim note:
In the wake of last year's Chernobyl-like meltdown, .500 and a middling bowl game with a true freshman starter who eventually solidifies himself as a long-term answer might suit Michigan just fine. If you compare the Wolverines to the handiest available precedent, Notre Dame's rebound campaign last year, that's as far as the Irish bounced off their 3-9 disaster, and that was with a sophomore with a full season under his belt and the world at his feet as a recruit. Forcier is very, very reminiscent of a less-hyped, more athletic Jimmy Clausen, another relatively polished California kid preceded by in the big-time college ranks by his older brother. Unlike Charlie Weis, though, who was coming off a pair of BCS bowl bids in his first two seasons in South Bend, Rich Rodriguez can't really afford another mulligan.
I was basically with him up until the final sentence, which suggests that expectations for Charlie Weis' fourth year were softer than they will be for Rodriguez's second, something which might be true if Rodriguez had the same sort of head coaching resume Weis did: none. The BCS bowl bids Weis picked up his first two years may have bought him some time; shouldn't the BCS bowl bids Rodriguez acquired at West Virginia afford him the same sort of leniency?
Walkin' on. The Big House Blog has been rounding up various kids who have accepted preferred walk-on spots. There are a couple of linemen unlikely to ever see the field, but fullback Calvin Smith seems pretty relevant given Mark Moundros and Owen Schmitt and so on and so forth:
Smith, who played his senior year of high school at Joliet Catholic Academy after three years at Providence Catholic, has accepted an invitation to attend the University of Michigan as a preferred walk-on.
Michigan's coach, Rich Rodriguez, was at West Virginia through the 2007 season. He brought Schmitt on board as a walkon. Schmitt, now a rugged 6-foot-2, 247 pounder, earned a scholarship and, eventually, the opportunity to hear his name called on draft day.
So why not the 6-2, 235 Smith?
Michigan is going to need a fullback after Moundros graduates this year, and with Vince Helmuth currently trying to scratch out a living as a defensive tackle Smith looks to have the inside track. More walk-ons will join him, but Rodriguez isn't going to recruit anyone to be the heir apparent:
"There's only true fullback at Michigan now," Smith said. "Coach Rodriguez said all his fullbacks start out as walkons. But he has had 30 walkons total in five years who eventually were on scholarship.
Etc.: Ticket prices decline slightly; a diarist interviews TX DT Jay Guy but cannot forestall him from committing to Cal, unfortunately. Deadspin, which jumped the shark about six seconds after Leitch left, is now taking body blows from the internet for being wantonly retarded.
Okay, since my departure the following things went down with the basketball team:
- They clubbed Penn State by 20 at Crisler.
- They lost solidly but played pretty well against UConn.
- They were clubbed by Michigan State in an ugly game.
- They squeezed by Northwestern in overtime.
Michigan now stands at 16-10 and 6-7 in conference. The vast and wide assumption has been that a .500 Big Ten record gets them in, so to be assured of a spot in the tournament Michigan must go 3-2 against this schedule:
- @ Iowa
- @ Wisconsin
- @ Minnesota
Is this doable? Eh… it'll be difficult. Iowa is crappy and Michigan should be able to handle them on the road—if they don't it's pretty much over, anyway. Minnesota and Wisconsin aren't exactly tearing up the Big Ten, either, as both of them are just one game ahead of Michigan in the conference standings, but Wisconsin clubbed Michigan earlier in the year. Purdue is 9-4 in conference, 20-6 overall, and seems like a good bet to beat Michigan even on the road.
It's ugly at Kenpom, which has Michigan favored in exactly one game—tonight's matchup against Minnesota—and foresees 8-10. Which, credit to Kenpom, has been its stalwart prediction since the Big Ten season opened.
Could Michigan get in at 8-10? Eh… maybe, what with those dual UCLA/Duke wins from earlier in the season, but they'd almost have to win twice in the Big Ten tournament, which would require a second-round neutral court victory over Purdue or Michigan State, most likely: tough sledding.
That makes tonight's game huge. Michigan's best bet appears to be winning tonight and taking out Iowa on the road, which would give them three cracks at that ninth Big Ten win. Even if none of those cracks is particularly likely, the odds would be in their favor then. Now, not so much.
I wish I could provide some more detailed analysis, but I haven't seen anything in two weeks and just have the vaguest outlines of what's gone down: LLP imploded, Grady benched, Harris erratic but keeping the team afloat in some games, everyone tiny still, etc.
UMHoops has a more detailed preview. Minnesota's strengths include defense, forcing turnovers, and offensive rebounds; their weaknesses include turnovers of their own and shooting. If this seems a dire harbinger you're not alone:
This is a battle of two teams who are really struggling on the offensive end lately and it might be ugly, for our sake let’s hope its not as ugly as Penn State’s 38-33 win last night over Illinois.
|Detroit, Michigan – 5'10" 199
|Scout||2*, #115 S|
|Rivals||3*, not ranked|
|ESPN||77, #77 ATH|
|Other Suitors||Michigan State|
|Er… I didn't actually do a commit post. Bad me.|
|Notes||Nicknamed "Prison Abs" by Rodriguez.
Detroit Cass Tech (Campbell, Jones, Cissoko)
Image found at Next Generation Sports.
You'll note that in the above picture Gordon is holding the ball as if to throw, which is not a common thing for safeties to do. This is because Gordon was Cass Tech's quarterback for the duration of his time in the starting lineup with the Technicians. Gordon had a trick up his sleeve, though:
Wilcher, the football coach at Detroit Cass Tech, was trying to persuade me to list Thomas Gordon among the state's top 25 football players in our preseason preview. He assured me Gordon was heading to a big-time Division I school as a safety even if the college coaches didn't know it yet. There was only one little thing standing between Gordon and a scholarship to a BCS school: He hadn't played a down of defense since he entered high school.
Gordon switched over to safety his senior year after he visited Michigan's camp, performed well there, and was told he was very likely to get an offer if he started playing defense. He did, and he did.
In doing so Gordon became Michigan's lowest-rated non-kicker commit in the class with the possible exception of Deerfield Beach tag-along Adrian Witty. Since recruiting rankings do matter this bodes slightly unwell for his future, but they don't matter so much that Gordon can be written off before he even gets to campus.
ESPN, probably the most positive scouting service, says he's got potential($):
Very raw in technique as DB at this point but is a good athlete with smooth movement skills and quality physical tools for a program to mold at the next level. Reaches top-speed quickly as running quarterback and is a very decisive cutter; should bring good recovery burst and sharp pursuit angles to the ball as a safety (although we did not always see it on film). … he needs to refine his pedal and diagnosing skills. Tends to free lance a bit. Pursuit angles are not consistently direct. … That said, Gordon brings good range, athleticism, ball skills and deceptive physicality to the table as a prospect.
As you might imagine, a guy who played all of one year at safety is something of a project. This goes double because Gordon's defensive playing time was limited late in the season because of a hamstring injury. It didn't prevent him from tearing things up on the ground in Cass Tech's playoff win over Cody, though:
Thomas Gordon, Cass Tech- Gordon could have also been MVP with his 146 rushing yards and two TDs. His play at safety was limited to long passing downs but you can't fault the coaching staff because Gordon is still favoring a hamstring injury and you can afford to lose your QB.
(Cass would get clunked by Southeastern and Will Gholston the next week.)
The potential he showed his senior year was enough to get offers from Michigan, who had seen him at their summer camp, and Michigan State, which jumped in with his first BCS offer in an attempt to pirate him away. Gordon warn't having that:
You'll note that in that interview Gordon says Michigan will give him a chance on the offensive side of the ball "if safety doesn't work out." So: safety, then maybe slot or quarterback or whatever if he can't adjust to the defensive side of the ball. Given Michigan's depth chart at safety—thin—and Gordon's apparently limited potential at quarterback, a switch back to offense is a last resort.
You can get an extensive taste of Gordon on offense and defense in this Max Preps video (set to wicked dramatic Jerry Bruckheimer music) of Cass Tech's 17-0 win over Detroit King; Campbell and Jones also feature prominently.
Why Brandent Englemon? Englemon was a lightly-recruited safety about Gordon's size with around the same ratings. Englemon was also a high school quarterback who projected to the secondary.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. Gordon was well known as a three-year starter at one of the state's most heavily scouted programs, but no one really knows how he'll do at safety.
General Excitement Level: Well… he is the lowest-ranked non-kicker in the class, and that's probably for a reason.
Projection: Obvious redshirt and will likely require at least two years before he's ready to see the field on defense. The most likely (but by no means assured) outcome is that he doesn't contribute much.
Last year I attempted to coin a clever nickname for the Feagin-Threet quarterback pairing: "Dual Threet." Dual is now a slot receiver and Threet is moseying on out of town, possibly to North Dakota State if you believe random guys on a message board. (Do not believe random guys on a message board. Believe specific guys on a message board.) So it goes for Michigan in the past couple years.
I've been a stalwart supporter of Rich Rodriguez since his arrival. I didn't think Ryan Mallett's departure was his fault, nor did he have much of an opportunity to land a dual-threat guy in the month or so he had to finish off Michigan's 2008 recruiting class. The one guy it seemed he did have a chance with, BJ Daniels, ended up at South Florida amidst a flurry of payoff rumors that even The Wolverine—normally a place that shies away from incendiary allegations like that—lent credence to. The hand he was dealt was an exceptionally poor one. I can find no better way to sum it up than this: how many walk-on quarterbacks can you remember at power (or even decent) programs, and how did they do?
I've got exactly two:
- Notre Dame's Matt Lovecchio, AKA A Major Reason Ty Willingham Was Fired.
- UCLA's McLeod Bethel-Thompson, AKA The Only Reason Notre Dame Beat A BCS Opponent In 2007.
There's almost no precedent for a quarterback situation like the one Michigan faced in 2008, and almost no way to claw yourself out of a hole that vast at the most important position on the field. Once that hand was dealt, Rodriguez was dead meat.
So the reasonable criticism of Rodriguez are mostly confined to his role in setting up his hand: "running off" Mallett, the Boren defection, the fruitless chase of Pryor, and so on and so forth. I didn't find any of these arguments compelling, since I knew Mallett had a foot and a half out the door even when Carr was running the team and that the Borens had major daddy issues and the options outside of Pryor were about nil. The decision to hire Shafer was a poor one, and that seemed like it should be held against Rodriguez. Other than that, it was Angry Michigan Whatever Hating God all the way.
You can tell there's a but coming, so: but. But the Threet transfer bothers me. Even with the recruitment of Forcier and Robinson, Threet is the most experienced quarterback on the roster by two years and has some decent starting experience. He will find no better situation wherever he transfers unless it's to some podunk I-AA school. The transfer makes little sense for him personally or professionally unless there's something behind the scenes we don't know about.
Meanwhile, Michigan now finds itself down to two true freshmen before they have to drag out another walkon, be it Nick Sheridan or Nader Furrha or whoever. Even if Threet was mostly poor a year ago, he was obviously far superior to the alternative, and at worst he would be the backup next year. With Denard Robinson something of a project, every one of Michigan's egg is now in Tate Forcier's basket. Threet leaving the program is an obvious negative.
So it doesn't make sense on anyone's part. Why did it happen? I go back to a quote from Calvin Magee in the aftermath of the Michigan State game. Dan Feldman's Daily article on the transfer highlights it:
By staying and giving Michigan another feasible option besides Sheridan, Threet opened himself to public criticism from the Wolverines’ coaches. Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee described Threet’s three-interception performance against Michigan State on Oct. 25 as “inconsistent, like it always is.”
Man, that's pretty rough. Behind-the-scenes reports from insiders always said Threet had major confidence issues and didn't respond well to this staff's high pressure style. Maybe they tried to adapt. That evidently didn't last, so Threet decided he'd be better off elsewhere.
It's obvious neither side had much faith in the other. That's not unexpected given the rickety nature of the pairing, but I can't help but think that Bo or Lloyd would have found a way to finesse it better. I don't know. Maybe I've been talking to John U. Bacon too much.
- Pretty sure Matt Hayes has no idea that Nick Sheridan is a walk-on. Asked "what does the Threet transfer mean for M" he responded "It means Nick Sheridan, who shared time with Threet last fall, is next out the door." This is unlikely unless Sheridan wants to go to UM-Dearborn or something.
- Maize 'n' Brew blows up a pretty dumb Blade article on the transfer. HT to them for the NDSU link, too.
- The Ann Arbor News thinks there's "no heir apparent," which, could not be more wrong since there is one obvious guy who is obviously the starter now.
- But, hey, Forcier seems slightly more confident than Threet (link ibid): "In this offense, there's always somebody open. You should never throw an incompletion.'' Forcier's cockiness should serve him well.
- Chengelis says you shouldn't anoint either freshman your lord and savior yet.
- DocSat has a take as well.
Mitera not ready. Mark Mitera has returned to full practices with the team but Berenson says he won't play this weekend against Ohio State:
He’s (been) a partial practice player. Now, we need to get him into the whole mix and see him fall down, get hit and realize he’s fine. He needs confidence so he can be himself. If he can’t be himself, then he’s not going to help the team.
Berenson seemed to think a return against Ferris State was probable, though:
“We’re going to day-to-day, week-to-week with him,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said, mentioning in passing that Mitera would probably be back by the end of the season.
That Daily post also contains a quote downplaying Chris Summers' potential return to forward. Which, like, good, because scratching a fourth-liner instead of Pateryn or Llewellyn doesn't seem worth the uncertainty of moving your best defender to a third-line forward spot.
About this time of year I start seriously breaking down the various possibilities in the PWR rankings that choose and seed the tournament field; this will be coming up later in the week. To whet your math-dork appetite, however, the Hoover Street Rag talks about the various components of the PWR and how very unstable they are. (One clarification: Miami's TUC record is actually 6-4-2, but head to head games are excluded from that category in each individual comparison, leaving Miami at 4-2-2 for the purposes of its Michigan comparison. Michigan has a slim edge that doesn't count until Miami takes on Ohio State in the final week of the regular season.)
The upshot: Michigan's put itself in a good spot but has in no way separated itself from a pack of chasing teams. A season-ending stumble and Michigan will probably find itself a two seed. Also, next weekend you're pulling for Ohio State.
(Trivial side note: Michigan is one of only two teams in the NCAA without a tie. The other is Princeton, an Ivy school that plays a restricted schedule.)
Bad decision delayed. The NCAA's potentially disastrous implementation of a "regionalization" scheme that would see teams funneled into the nearest available regional with little regard to seeding has been delayed at least a year:
The Championships/Sports Management Cabinet is voting this week on whether to make regionalization of brackets something that is mandated across most NCAA sports. If they do, Cady said it wouldn't take hold until next year.
But even then, because of the cooperation the committee received on delaying it until next year, Cady is optimistic that the more drastic regionalization proposals will not be passed, and instead hockey will be allowed its compromise proposal.
"I feel very good they did listen to us," Cady said. "I think we can make significant improvements to cut costs, and still keep the integrity alive with such a small bracket."
The NCAA's "compromise" is to seed the field as they've done before but move teams around based on their geographical location as long as they don't cause first-round intra-conference matchups. How bad is this? It depends heavily on how geographically diverse the seeding bands are. If every 2-seed is in the West it doesn't matter. Here's a look at what that proposal would do to this week's pairwise. Here's a comparison of brackets. The left one is under the current rules; the right one is under the revised ones.
|4||15||Air Force*||4||15||Air Force*|
|3||12||North Dakota||3||12||North Dakota|
|1||4||Notre Dame||1||4||Notre Dame|
Well, that's an anti-climax. As you can see, in this bracket there are no changes. However, this is a hugely restricted bracket since three hosts are in and most of the potential moves butt up against intra-conference matchup problems. For instance, Vermont would normally be swapped into Bridgeport or Manchester under the new rules but can't be sent because UNH is hosting as a three seed in Manchester—intra-conference matchup—and Yale is hosting as a three in Bridgeport. North Dakota can't move to either of the West regionals because that would cause an intra-conference ECAC matchup. Similarly, it works out such that neither of the top two seeds, who have earned the right to face the weak auto-bid teams, gets robbed of that opportunity.
But if Minnesota moves up to a three seed you could easily see Air Force shipped to Minneapolis to play the #4 overall seed. If the hosting restrictions weren't so, uh, restrictive, you could see a lot of swapping going on and a segregation akin to that one tournament they had a few years ago where all the eastern teams played in the East regionals and all the western ones played in the West regionals, which was terrible.
This is an NCAA-wide cost savings mechanism, but the hockey tournament is one of the few that actually makes money, and it should be left alone. If the NCAA is really going to push it they should abolish that idiotic St. Louis regional coming up, which is going to be abandoned, and should really consider awarding the #1 seeds home regionals, which would make more money and provide greater protection to top seeds.
(HT: 60 Minutes.)
I'm just going to pretend his name has an I in it. Michigan's got a few open scholarships they might hand out if the right player gets the right test score, and one of those is SC ATH Larry Raper. We should know about Raper today:
Michigan coaches told Larry Raper that they will have a decision tomorrow. They are deciding whether or not to offer him. He told me, as well as others, that he will commit if offered.
Raper was a Clemson commitment until the Bowden firing, at which point the Tigers decided they didn't want him. He looked unlikely to qualify until his most recent test score, which explains why he's still out there and why his offers are currently Toledo and South Carolina State. Raper quote:
“Some in-state people swung and missed again,'' he said.
The most intriguing current situation for Raper is Michigan, which reportedly still has some scholarships available for next season.
“The thing with Michigan has been going on now for about two weeks,'' Norman said. “We've had conversations as late as last Thursday. To my knowledge, they have not tendered an offer. But they told me they do have scholarship money left.''
Michigan's looking at Raper as a cornerback.