this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
One of the great complaints about Michigan football as conceived under Lloyd Carr was its distinct funereal air. I was a Carr proponent in many things, but at times it seemed like he barely tolerated the fandom that paid his salary.
This on display most obviously when it came to the spring "game," which Carr canceled a couple times due to stadium construction and downplayed at all other times. Never in its history was it, like, an event, and that seemed like a missed opportunity to have some fun. You know… "fun"? Ah, hell, forget it.
Rodriguez likes fun:
In hopes of enhancing Michigan’s annual spring football game, the athletic department will offer additional activities this year, including a flag football game featuring former U-M players.
The hour-long event, scheduled to start at 10 a.m. April 11 at Michigan Stadium, will feature former U-M head coach Gary Moeller coaching the maize squad and longtime assistant Jerry Hanlon coaching the blue team.
On Friday, the athletic department announced that fans will be able to tour the Michigan locker room and take photos from 8-10 a.m.
The cheerleaders and the band will be involved last year, unlike previous ones.
Rodriguez wants to break the all-time attendance record for the spring game. This is going to take some doing. Some showmanship. And so forth and so on. Even attempting such a thing will transform the Spring Game from a sleepy thing attended mostly by diehards into something that fosters a connection with the program. I am enthused and grateful for this sort of thing.
HOWEVA, an email:
I just happened to catch Rich Rodriguez at UMDM on the live video at www.umdm.org. He mentioned this: (allow me some room for error, I don't have a recording)
"We want to make the Big House the most electric atmosphere in the nation. We're obviously gonna keep the band involved, and we're gonna try and play a little music, do a few new things with the scoreboard and stuff like that."
Feel free to interpret that as you will, but I'm worried about a little sparty creeping into the Big House...
Yikes. This is the flip side of that coin. It's not easy to protest this sort of thing without emitting a "get off my lawn, kids(!)" air, but: dude, seriously, get off the lawn you hippies.
An attempt: one of the most powerful things that forges a fan community is the shared culture that naturally arises when you can say things like "one second left against Penn State" and know that the person you're talking to is thinking and feeling the exact same thing you are. It sets the group apart. This apart-ness is fundamental to the passion sports fans experience: it's us and them, and the more us our us is and the more them their them is, the more important the thing beneath us seems.
Michigan has a lot of culture. That, fundamentally, is its main asset. From that culture flows the passion, and from that passion flows the money. Part of that culture is a public address announcer who embodies neutral gravitas. Part of it is the lack of advertising in the stadium. And part of that is the way the game is presented inside the stadium, with no "NoISe!!!" signs or plastic chariots or electromagic Spartys with frickin' eye lasers.
I like it like that. I like my church with incense and deceased Jesus, my Christmas carols by Bing Crosby, and my Michigan Stadium without frickin' eye lasers.
It's safe to say I'm torn about what's going on here. I'd like it if the spring game was a game. And if it was worth going to. But that's not worth making Michigan Stadium chintzy. Any stadium experience revamp should be made with Michigan's existing culture in mind.
For example: Michigan debuted a hype video for the first time ever this year. It was fine. I thought it was pretty good. But it could have been a hype video for just about any school that had so few offensive seniors it had to drag Mike Massey into things. It would have been much better if it had taken some Michigan themes and integrated them. One such change: instead of "I am Michigan," or whatever, have people say "the team." There: done. Bo invoked, Michigan-specific, hurray.
Go ahead and change things, but please have a delicate hand. Let's not rush to join the great sweaty mass of brahs all around us. Let's not toss away something unique.
STAYING PUT: DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris said they will be back next year, Sims for his senior year and Harris for his junior season, putting off the chance at a pro career.
"I never even have thought about it," Harris said.
Awesome; expectations are now pegged at a tourney return at the least.
The news about the News:
The Ann Arbor News will close in July and will be replaced by a Web-based, media company called AnnArbor.com, Laurel Champion, publisher of The News, announced in a 9 a.m. meeting with staff.
Ah but not so fast: the "web based company" will be run by the same people, hire some of the same people, and put out print editions twice a week plus print a "total market coverage" thing, whatever that means, once a week. This is basically a rehash of the Free Press/News changes with some extra frippery I assume is a way of avoiding Booth Newspaper's longstanding no-layoffs pledge. Or something else that has to do with financial wizardry. In any case, the way the story is framed—by the newspaper itself!—is a little dramatic.
If you're interested in some serious back and forth sniping, check out Jim Carty's blog. Journo commenters can't just call you a d-bag, they have to write an article-length comment to do it. Fun for the whole family.
As for the Michigan sports upshot… eh. Chances are the new web-based company will focus about as much on Michigan sports as the existing newspaper; they'll actually have more motivation to do so as an online-oriented product.
I did love that mere days after interviewing Dylan of UMHoops for a story that mentioned he authored a Michigan basketball blog but didn't link to or even name it, the News managed to cram no fewer than eight links to their new URL in the story announcing the News' demise. Dips. I'm nofollowing links to the Ann Arbor News for the next week, starting with the above.
The above amply demonstrates that the current leadership of the News is extraordinarily ill-prepared to make this transition. They fail to understand the currency of the internet, that linking out spurs linking in. Trying to trap readers in a box made of a million holes is archaic; I wonder how long it will take for someone to thwack Unfrozen Caveman Newspaper Exec in the back of the head and stage a coup.
(Sorry if the tag seems insensitive; it's just what media discussion goes under around these parts.)
3/21/2009 – Michigan 63, Oklahoma 73 – 21-14, 9-9 Big Ten
The narrative of Michigan's basketball season was one of gritty, gutty, Eckstein-like overachievement, what with walk-ons at point guard and a 6'4" freshman at power forward and mismatched pieces in many places. It's not like this was a secret. I've typed "walk-ons at point guard" and "6'4" freshman power forward" probably a dozen times over the past couple months, often with exclamation points(!) in proximity.
But series finales are often overwrought things that take thematic overtones and bash them into your forehead, so Michigan drew the most un-Eckstein of opponents: Oklahoma and their THOG SMASH team. Then Manny Harris disappeared—maybe he's an angel—five minutes into the game and was replaced by Anthony Wright.
Wright proceeded to grit his way into 12 first-half points and Michigan went in behind by a single point at the half. They would have had a lead if not for the demands of the narrative, which caused them to blow a couple of easy fast break opportunities and the front-end of a one-and-one that would have pushed their lead to something substantial.
Halftime was spent in shocked contemplation of what had transpired. A brief attempt to calculate the probability of "Anthony Wright is Michigan's leading scorer at halftime of a second-round NCAA tourney game and the team is down one" was abandoned when one particular exponent was too large to fit in a 32-bit integer. A similar calculation for "Manny Harris plays five minutes in the first half and the team is down one" met a similar fate. ("Tim Brando is an abomination" came out to 1.)
So all this was clearly too good to be true, and Michigan duly proved that at the beginning of the second half when Harris emerged from the bench. But just as reality set in and began to harden, CJ Lee took a bite of his grit sandwich and gritted a gritty pair of gritballs, which in gritspeak are three pointers, three being the grittiest number and "balls" being the grittiest way to say "points."
Calculations begun! And hastily abandoned when Oklahoma threw it into Griffin and someone looked sideways at him and was whistled. Or something. Michigan loses, exeunt season.
And so. Here we are. This is going to be an embarrassing confession, but I remember standing in Crisler Arena on another Senior Day a few years ago and choking up a bit as the names along the lines of Chris Young were announced and the whatnot went on.
And I remember thinking that they should retire Lavell Blanchard's jersey, if only for sucking it up and staying home and enduring all the stuff you had to endure during that portion of Michigan's basketball history. At that point, anyone who managed to stay in school for four years without beating anyone with a belt or rolling an SUV or being Gavin Groninger seemed like a hero. I wanted to credit Blanchard with changing the culture of the program.
He actually which he may have done this, but the culture instituted was just a different kind of horrible. A much, much less horrible kind of horrible, but horrible just the same.
Thanks to Anthony Wright, we've all permanently lost our ability to criticize Beilein's rotation. This means we have to consider the walk-ons, and consider what it means when Jerrett Smith is deposited on Grand Valley State's bench and Kelvin Grady on Michigan's in favor of the above-pictured. In Smith's case, it just means he's bad at basketball. In Lee's case it just means he's better than Grady.
In Merritt's case… well. Merritt brought very little on the floor. His playing time is most easily interpreted as a rebuke to whatever Grady was doing that Beilein hated. Merritt is the culture Beilein wants, and he's going to get it, but a half-foot taller and able to pass and maybe score more than a couple points a game. This is just the end of the beginning.
- Michigan fans can't even assert that it was Harris' two quick fouls that doomed them since the guy soaking up the vacated playing time was Wright.
- As obliquely referred to above: Michigan had an opportunity to push its lead out to seven or eight points in the first half, which would have made the final, post-CJ-Lee-apocalypse minutes frenetic as hell. But they blew two fast breaks when guys pushing up the floor just had to catch the ball and lay it up, one of which led to a fast break the other way, and Douglass clanked the front end of a one and one. That's probably a seven-point swing,—you have to credit Oklahoma with about a point for their possession—enough to turn that five point deficit that was the closest Michigan came after their disastrous first few minutes of the second half into a two point lead.
These are the kind of opportunities you have to take if you're the ten seed, I think.
- I see I wasn't the only one to dub Griffin's treatment the Full Tebow. What perfect misfortune to draw the loathsome Tim Brando for this game. I mentioned this on Saturday, but at one point when it was declared Griffin had a "quiet" 30-15 I enjoyed a brief, dark laugh.
- The 400 shots of Griffin's parents may have made me want to claw my eyes out but at least they explained that weird ginger ubermensch effect going on. Over and over again. In the most annoying way possible.
- Also explained: why Griffin's opponents occasionally suplex him. He, Devendorf, and Vasquez should let their powers combine ("Ginger!" "Domestic Violence!" "Inadvisable Media Handling!") to summon forth Captain Douchebag.
Well, that sucked, all of it. My favorite part was the foul on a box out. My second favorite part was the color guy saying Griffin had a "quiet" 32 and 15 or whatever when the announcing team couldn't go 15 seconds without suggesting Griffin be elected president of Awesomeonia. My third favorite part was death in the CCHA tournament.
But at least the other results in college hockey tonight fell in such a way that the most likely bracket facing Michigan tomorrow is:
4. Air Force
So there's that.
So: Oklahoma, possessor of the most terrifying quasi-ginger manbeast* in college basketball lo these many years, comes up against Michigan, possessor of exactly two guys over 6'5", only one of whom plays at a time. Yipes.
Though Kenpom's taking a beating in this year's tournament, it's worth noting that Oklahoma, at 15, is a weak 2-seed in according to the numbers. This is more like a 4-13 matchup than a 2-10. Which I have no idea whether that's better or worse. Given what happens with 4-13 games, we have around a 25% shot, which is about what Kenpom says anyway. FWIW, Oklahoma was only the third-best team in the Big 12 in terms of efficiency margin, finishing behind Kansas and Missouri.
*(I couldn't find a picture that showed it well. I am of the opinion that Griffin is pigmented oddly in a way that I can't put a finger on but is definitely ginger-esque.)
Michigan Offense vs Oklahoma Defense
Two pointers. Oklahoma's extremely good at defending them, 17th nationally at 42.3%, and extremely good at avoiding opponent trips to the line. Continuing a theme, the Sooners get a lot of blocks: 11.4%, 51st nationally.
Three pointers. Oklahoma gives up an average percentage but allows slightly more threes than the average bear.
Possession advantage. The one glaring deficiency on the Oklahoma resume is turnover percentage, at which they languish in the 300s. Opponents just don't turn the ball over, probably because Oklahoma's defense is considerably less in-your-face than that of Clemson or whoever. That makes sense. They can just funnel drivers to Griffin and rely on their outstanding two-point FG defense and rebounding to do the work without getting in foul trouble. This explains the FTA/FGA, too. Don't expect a whole lot of ball denial on the outside.
That defensive rebounding, by the way, is good but not outstanding. They're 119th, which is above average, but for a power conference team that plays a significant portion of its schedule against weaker schools it's probably just average when adjusted for opponent difficulty.
Well? Given Michigan's profile we should expect few turnovers, a ton of threes attempted, very few trips to the line, and the occasional offensive rebound. Sounds like any other Michigan game, actually. Key matchup is Sims versus Griffin; Michigan's going to need more than what Sims provided against Clemson, and it'll be interesting to see what happens if the Sooners try to play man to man and Sims drags Griffin out of the paint. The outside shooting threat Sims provides could seriously limit Griffin's effectiveness on the defensive end.
Oklahoma Offense vs Michigan Defense
Oh, lordy. While Michigan's offense has a decent chance of working just fine, the offensive numbers are intimidating.
Two pointers. Oklahoma makes 56% of its twos, fourth nationally, thanks to Griffin. He's hitting 64% of his twos(!). Oklahoma also has a huge FTA/FGA ratio that is also fourth nationally—they take a bunch of free throws. This is also thanks to Griffin, who is #1 nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. This is probably not news, but: Blake Griffin is good.
Three pointers. Oklahoma's slightly above average at hitting 'em and slightly above average at taking 'em, likely symptomatic of opponents collapsing down on that Griffin guy and leaving open shots for the guys on the perimeter.
Possession advantage. IE: turnovers plus offensive rebounds plus free throw percentage. This is where it gets dicey. Oklahoma's slightly above average at taking care of the ball and pretty good but not obliteratingly good on the offensive boards: they rebound 36.5 of their misses, good for 52nd.
The somewhat good news is that all those free throws taken aren't hugely efficient. Unlike Manny Harris, Michigan's main source of FTs, Griffin has an encouragingly crappy time of it at the free throw line, shooting just 59%. Yes, this means that Griffin averages 1.28 points on an average shot and 1.18 points on an average trip to the line and sort of implies that Eric Puls should see the floor and foul out as quickly as possible, but that's before taking turnovers and stuff into account. It's probably close, though.
What do you do with this stuff? It doesn't appear that Oklahoma crushes the boards quite as much as Clemson did against Michigan. Aside from Griffin, who's an absolute vacuum defensively and very good offensively, they've got one other guy who plays much and hits the boards, and he's 6'7".
As far as Griffin goes, I guess you have to front him, double him constantly, prevent him from getting the ball, and possibly give him a ninja suplex to stop him. Any Michigan player with spare fouls should use them liberally should Griffin find himself in an advantageous position. Michigan's status as a team that uses a few different zones should help limit the damage Griffin can do, as they can switch between a few different defenses and confuse entry passes and the like from Oklahoma's young and not that great guards.
Slidin', again. Michigan may be fortunate to have run across a team that, like Clemson, is sliding a bit as the season comes to an end. Oklahoma finished its year by losing four of six, including an opening-game loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tourney. I wouldn't get too excited, though: all of those losses game to quality tournament teams and only the Kansas game was at home. This is not analogous to Clemson's situation, which saw the Tigers drop games against the likes of Georgia Tech.
Coachin'. The Beilein-as-tourney-mastermind meme continues with another upset for his hall of heads, albeit against the active coach with the worst PASE score in all the land. Jeff Capel doesn't have much of a record, but it's better than Oliver Purnell's:
- 2004: Capel gets VCU in as a 13 seed, where they lose to #4 Wake Forest by a single point.
- 2008: Oklahoma makes the field as a 6, handily beating St Joseph's in the first round before getting clubbed by Louisville 78-48.
Capel went to Duke, for whatever that's worth. Anger about someone else getting a good coach from Duke? General anger about the white Devils? I don't know.
Common Opponent. There was just one: Oklahoma beat Purdue 87-82.
The General Feeling Of Foreboding
Yeah, I've got it too. Or, rather, I've got it as much as anyone can have it when you're dealing with this Michigan basketball team that has exceeded expectations so massively.
Michigan finds itself facing a team poised to exploit their greatest weakness. I mean…
For being a scout team player that saw all of 20 minutes of floor time this season, Eric Puls got plenty of attention Friday afternoon.
The 6-foot-10-inch University of Michigan redshirt freshman played the role of Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin during Friday's practice session at the Sprint Center as the Wolverines prepared for tonight's NCAA Tournament South Regional test against the No. 2-seeded Sooners.
…greatest weakness, man. I am racking my brain for things Eric Puls has in common with Blake Griffin and can come up with two: being 6'10" and having a cardiovascular system.
Playing man to man against Griffin is a recipe for points on your face and Michigan is going to have to do that after misses and turnovers, though thankfully there probably won't be much in the way of turnovers. They don't even have the post depth to foul freely.
I can see Michigan staying in the game for a while, but I can also see that one deadly Oklahoma run that pushes a close game to an eight or ten point gap all too clearly. This is probably it, but hey: okay.