to play football, not to play trumpet
Apologies for the lack of posts over the weekend. My internet situation was... non-existent. There should be a good number of posts this week, and Brian returns tomorrow.
The Michigan men's hoops team has struggled to start the 2009-10 season; that's no secret. Entering conference play at 6-5 is no way to ensure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. While some analysts, including ESPN's Jay Bilas, have said that the Wolverines still have a chance at the tourney, they have a long and tough road ahead of them. The Wolverines will have to have a good season in the Big Ten in order to land a second-straight bid to the Big Dance.
A strong start to 2010 would certainly help grease the wheels for a Wolverine run to the top half of the Big Ten Conference. Fortunately, it looks like such a run may be in the cards, as Michigan gets a relatively soft slate to start the new year.
Dec. 31 @Indiana
The first year of the Tom Crean era in Bloomington was a horrorshow for the Hoosiers, as they easily finished in last place in the Big Ten. Year 2 was supposed to go much better, as Crean picked up such novelties as "scholarship players" for his squad. However, after a decent start, the Hoosiers have struggled, dropping a game to Loyola Maryland last week. Michigan needs to steal a couple road games in the Big Ten, and heading on the road to play one of the worst teams in the conference can spark a run.
January 3 Ohio State
The Buckeyes started the year as one of the favorites to take home the Big Ten crown. They've still had some success in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but going may be a bit tougher in the league - especially since they'll be without their star player, Evan Turner, for the first few games. Michigan is lucky to get the Buckeyes before Turner returns from some fractured vertebrae. Stealing one from a team that should still make the NCAA tournament would be a huge resume-booster.
January 7 @Penn State
The Nittany Lions were a bubble team last year, and although they just missed out on the NCAA tournament, they still did the conference proud by winning the NIT (We are! Number sixty-five!). This year, they're struggling without the likes of Stanley Pringle and Jamele Cornley. Talor Battle is still capable of winning games all by himself, but if the Michigan defense is as improved as it looked against Kansas, Michigan may just be able to steal a second road game to start conference play.
January 10 Northwestern
Northwestern came into the season looking to clinch their first ever(!) NCAA tournament berth. Things looked grim when their best player, Kevin Coble, was ruled out for the season, along with fellow star Jeff Ryan. The Wildcats were not deterred, however, starting their season 10-1, determined to make the tournament despite the personnel losses. Although they've run out to one of the best starts in Northwestern hoops history, they haven't done it against the toughest of schedules, and Michigan should be able to slow down the Wildcats in Crisler.
January 14 Indiana
The Wolverines face off against Indiana for the second time in 15 days as Martin Luther King weekend kicks off. The game in Bloomington should tell us a lot about how this one will go. Without looking up the evidence, MIchigan seemed to play much better against teams when facing them for the second time last season, a testament to John Beilein's coaching ability. As long as the Wolverines come to play, this game should result in a 2-0 mark against the Hoosiers on the year.
Non-conference Interlude: January 17 Connecticut
After the chance to (hopefully) build up some confidence, Michigan hosts the always-tough UConn Huskies. The Wolverines hung with Jim Calhoun's squad last year, and Hasheem Thabeet ain't walkin' through that door this time. This will be Michigan's final chance to make a statement in the non-conference schedule, so don't expect them to sleepwalk through the first 30 minutes like they did against Boston College. UConn will be a tough test, but a winnable game.
After UConn, the slate gets considerably tougher for Michigan. back-to-back road trips to Madison and West Lafayette will force Michigan to get right back into the mindset of winning tough non-conference games. These aren't impossible games, either, but they're much tougher than the start to conference play. Building up a 5-0 cushion will not only guarantee a better conference record, but hopefully also build the confidence necessary to pull a road upset.
Rich Rodriguez's elves are hard at work building wins for next year:
Non-Brian posting will probably resume tomorrow.
Josh Furman and Richard Ash Go Blue
The audio is poor, but there is commitment video for MD LB Commit Josh Furman:
FL DT Richard Ash actually preceded Furman in commitment. He was snagged from West Virginia, since Rodriguez thought he needed more ways to make the citizens of his home state hate him.
For (much) more on Ash, check out Hello: Richard Ash.
The Wolverines are done on every offensive position except maybe offensive line, unless they can convince an elite recruit to commit (for example FL WR Kenny Shaw, who has Michigan in his final group of 4). In that case, they'd probably dive into the sketchy world of pulling scholarship offers. At this time, it doesn't appear that would happen, unless a couple guys don't look like they'll qualify.
So who's still available on the offensive line? FL OL Torrian Wilson held Michigan as a heavy favorite early in his recruitment, then abruptly committed to Stanford. Now, he's decommitted from the Cardinal and has a top 3 of Michigan, Tennessee, and USF. I would imagine he'll visit in January if he's serious about the Wolverines.
In other news on offense, MI QB Commit Devin Gardner may be able to enroll early at Michigan, after all ($, info in header). That would allow him to compete in spring and be more ready to play this fall, potentially avoiding a redshirt. There's still a lot that can be said about potential redshirts, the personnel at the QB position, etc., but we'll wait to see whether Gardner enrolls early and, if so, what happens in the spring between him, Tate, and Denard before we speculate on who is and isn't switching positions or taking a redshirt year.
Assuming the commitments of FL CB Tony Grimes and FL DE Clarence Murphy, and the strong possibility of a commitment from CA S Sean Parker, Michigan has to be very judicious with their scholarships, with only 1 or 2 to give out. The most likely candidates for those last couple spots would be a true nose tackle (OH DT Commit Terry Talbott and FL DT Commit Richard Ash are more 3-tech types), maybe a true pass-rusher at DE, an inside linebacker, or maybe even another defensive back.
GA DT Michael Thornton is still considering Michigan, and he's going on most of his official visits in January, with one of them possibly to Ann Arbor. Michigan is still behind for him, and would have to catch up to land Thornton.
TX LB/DE Holmes Onwukaife was at one time committed-ish to Michigan, before the Wolverines let him know they wanted him for a position that he didn't want to play. A fast-rising rumor last week said that he was reconsidering his Florida State commitment and would look at Michigan, but MGoBlog's own Tom Van Haaren reports that ain't true. Onwukaife will stick to his FSU commitment.
FL LB Darrin Kitchens will visit Michigan in January. The Wolverines are joined by the Florida Gators in his recent offer, so he's a prospect on the rise. He plans to commit to a school before making any visits, so unless the coaching staff really likes him, he probably won't ever come up to Ann Arbor.
- FL RB Corvin Lamb, a longshot to land at Michigan at this point anyway, has committed to Louisville.
- PA DT Sharrif Floyd can finally be completely removed from the board, as he's narrowed his choices to a group of 5 that doesn't include Michigan.
- MN DT Beau Allen has committed to Wisconsin. He is a 3-technique interior lineman, so Michigan didn't have a strong need for him anymore.
- MS DE Wayne Dorsey, a JuCo who Michigan was only kinda-sorta involed with, signed with Ole Miss.
- CA WR Kenny Stills and CA LB Tony Jefferson, picked Oklahoma, as expected.
- FL CB Travis Williams, who tried to commit to Michigan in the summer but was turned away, has committed to MIami (Not That Miami).
- CA S Dietrich Riley will not consider Michigan among his finalists.
- AZ S Marquis Flowers does not have Michigan in his final group.
- Cullen Christian's teammate and pal PA S Brandon Ifill committed to Pitt.
The Hopson Ripples
Michigan linebacker coach Jay Hopson will move on to Memphis, where he'll be the defensive coordinator. According to Rivals, he was the primary recruiter for the Talbott brothers and TX RB Tony Drake. It doesn't seem like those commitments are in jeopardy, since DT Terry Talbott solidified his Michigan commitment after visiting for the Ohio State game.
As far as Drake goes, there have been no rumblings of a decommitment, but there has been a bit of talk that he still hasn't qualified through the NCAA Clearinghouse. At this point, he's more of a risk to end up not playing college football at all in 2010 than at a different school.
Torrian Wilson (mentioned above) was receiving in-home visits from Hopson, so it's unclear whether the departure will affect Michigan's chances of landing the lineman. Tony Grimes and Clarence Murphy also had Hopson as their primary recruiter, so it's unclear if their commitments are still a mere formality. I'll have to do more digging to see which other uncommitted 2010 prospects Hopson was recruiting.
On to the Next One
With the 2010 class all but wrapped up, let's shift focus to 2011.
MI RB Justice Hayes likes Michigan, Michigan State, and Northwestern, according to Sam Webb in the Detroit Free Press. He enjoyed Michigan's camp last summer:
"I stayed (at the Michigan camp) for three days," he said. "They told me to stay for one day, but I wanted to see what their dorms were like. It was very nice. Throughout those three days I was able to bond with Coach Rodriguez, Coach Jackson, and all the coaches. They were tough on me. Even though it was a camp, they were still tough on me like I was one of their players (laughing). I liked that. It was a fun experience."
But sees that Michigan State has so many disciplinary issues that he'd be able to climb the depth chart quickly (seriously!):
"Michigan State has been losing players like flies in the discipline areas, so that's opening spots on the depth chart," said Hayes.
RENEGADE PROGRAM, BRAH! Hayes prefers to play in a pro-style offense, because it would get him the ball more. He's apparently unaware that not all spreads are the same, and MIchigan's goal is to run it as much as possible.
ESPN's Gerry Hamilton reports that OH LB Trey DePriest will be a big target, not only for Michigan and Ohio State, but perhaps across the entire country:
On the recruiting front, Ohio State, Alabama, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Michigan, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have stepped up with offers. This past season, he made unofficial visits to Cincinnati, Ohio State and Michigan.
DePriest was impressed with the crowd at Michigan Stadium for the Ohio State-Michigan game.
"It was live up there," he said.
He also says that he wants to go somewhere that he can play early. With Michigan's depth chart at linebacker, he could probably freakin' start as a true freshman.
The same article confirms that Michigan will indeed pursue TX S Sheroid Evans (pictured at right). Evans should be a top player in the state of Texas, but he hails from the same school as current Wolverines Brandon Herron, Troy Woolfolk, and Darryl Stonum, giving Michigan a connection. He is a blazer who is still developing position-specific skills, but would be a hell of a grab for the Wolverines.
Another safety Michigan is going after is OH S Ron Tanner, but things don't sound promising from the start:
"Growing up I was a big-time fan of the Bucks, but after experiencing the (Michigan-Western Michigan) game, I really like Michigan," Tanner said during the fall. "I like how you can see everything when you're on the field. At the Horseshoe, the fans are sitting up real high. In the Big House it was like the fans may be a little closer. It doesn't seem like people all the way up into the sky."
Michigan is chasing the Buckeyes for Tanner, but they have a chance to catch up before Ohio State offers.
This qualifies as big enough news.
The twitters are reporting that linebackers coach Jay Hopson is expected to get the defensive coordinator job at Memphis. Dienhart:
Michigan LB coach Jay Hopson has been tabbed to be Memphis defensive coordinator.
Bruce Feldman is also reporting it.
Instant reaction: good luck with that, Memphis. This site's patience with Hopson ran out two plays into the Notre Dame game this year when Obi Ezeh failed to diagnose a screen and Armando Allen ran for 20 yards. That was Notre Dame's longest run of the year by 20 yards. (ZING!)
After that game I laid out a bunch of facts that pointed to a post-season exit:
Mouton and Ezeh belong to Jay Hopson, and the inside backers are the only guys who belong to Jay Hopson, and they're playing terribly. As far as recruiting goes, Hopson got shut out of Mississippi last year and was the guy responsible for recruiting both defensive tackles who bolted on Signing Day. …I don't recall any recruit mentioning Hopson this year. This blog's even got a tag about Mississippi because of it, and Michigan has shifted its focus away from all the places Hopson has connections. The number of kids they're recruiting in Mississippi is zero, and I can't recall anyone they're seriously involved with who's in the deep south.
Unless the two inside guys get radically better over the rest of the season, I wouldn't be surprised if Hopson was replaced.
After the Wisconsin debacle:
Wisconsin's passing game was almost exclusively zingers over the middle to incredibly open receivers 20 or even 30 yards downfield. On every damn one both MLBs were vastly out of position and the throws were easy. The pair was also very poor in run support: Graham and Martin combined for 21 tackles. They [Ezeh and Mouton] combined for eight!
These are returning starters and redshirt juniors. They have gotten so much worse this year, and it's obvious to everyone from Bret Bielema to stupid bloggers with charts. There is not quite enough data to outright support the ouster of a coach but I find it hard to believe that Jay Hopson could be any good. Maybe he just got stuck with mugs, but Jesus these guys can't even scrape to the right hole when Wisconsin is literally running the same play to different sides of the line four times in a row. Is this a defensive scheme change? I don't think so. Run to the damn hole.
Now that he's actually gone, it's no sugarcoat time: Hopson failed at all aspects of his job at Michigan. At least Tony Gibson can point to the walk-ons and whatnot when attempting to explain what went wrong with his section of the defense; Hopson had two redshirt juniors with three years of starting experience between them. They went backwards, and the big-time recruit backing them up also proved unready.
Meanwhile, a—possibly the—primary reason Michigan lacks depth on the defensive line and might have to turn down a couple of recruits who want to come was Hopson getting "commitments" from two defensive tackles who eventually went to Arkansas and Texas Tech on signing day. Arkansas and Texas Tech! It's not like Florida or Oklahoma or LSU swooped in on these guys.
When Michigan pulled out of any area Hopson had recruiting connections in and the linebackers imploded, this was a matter of time. Hopefully Michigan takes the opportunity to pick up a coach with serious experience or established recruiting chops. Michigan fans will immediately turn their eyes to Corwin Brown, who killed Michigan as Notre Dame's DB coach/DC, but he's an awkward fit because neither he nor Tony Gibson has ever coached linebackers. If Michigan hands the linebackers to Greg Robinson they might be able to use Gibson and Brown as ninja recruiters who split the secondary. I have no idea if that's possible; Robinson's last job as a position coach was a stretch as a DL coach for the Jets from 1990 to 1993. Since then it's been coordinator or head coach.
This makes Rodriguez 0/2 on his new hires since coming to Michigan, with Greg Robinson currently sporting an incomplete. If Rodriguez doesn't make it at Michigan the guys he picked to run his defense will be a primary factor.
Michigan 76 Coppin State 46, Michigan 6-5 (0-0 Big Ten)
Make no mistake about it, Coppin State is a horrible team. But for the first time since the very beginning of the year, Michigan did what they were supposed to do to an overmatched opponent, and completely ran them off the court. For a basketball team that had (and, in all fairness, probably still has) a lot of ills, the Eagles definitely treated most of the symptoms at the very least.
The shooting woes were dramatically improved, and although making a third of 3-point baskets is nothing to stop the presses over, it's a hell of a lot better than Michigan had been doing. Stu Douglass, in particular, was finally able to get going from beyond the arc, nailing 6 of 10 from long range. Zack Novak, on the other hand, struggled to the tune of 1-7 from 3-point land. If he can get into the same rhythm as Douglass, this team will get a lot better very quickly.
At times, the team seemed to be overly deliberate in running the offense, as they made passes instead of taking marginal looks, and got the shot clock well below 15 on most trips down the court. It didn't make for an exciting game of basketball most of the time, but it resulted in 25 assists on 30 made shots - and a 30-point win.
As good as Michigan looked last night, it's hard to take too much away from the performance. This was basically the basketball edition of Baby Seal U. But if the basketball team can do what the football team didn't, and regain some confidence and polish their game, it certainly looks a whole lot bright for the future.
- Manny Harris ended the game with 5 points. That's a tie for his second-worst scoring output since he's been at Michigan. He still had 7 assists, and would have had more if Michigan's shooters would have made a couple good looks. With more than a week to rest the hamstrings, this performance isn't too discouraging, right?
- In a 2-game sample size against teams at the opposite end of the "quality" spectrum, it appears safe to say that Michigan is better with Darius Morris coming off the bench. He had another solid performance in limited minutes.
- Speaking of Morris's minutes, I was a little disappointed to not see some of the bench guys get a little more time. The game was out of hand within a few minutes, so I would have liked to see Manny and the starters play less than 32 minutes, and get Gibson, Wright, Vogrich, and the depth players that will be needed during Big Ten play to get a little more comfortable on the court.
- It's nice that DeShawn Sims scored 18 points, and that's not even notable enough that I wouldn't have mentioned him except in this bullet, right?
- In a similar vein, it was nice to get a couple walkons and Cronin some playing time at the end. It was not nice, however, to see that Cronin is still very, very hurt.
- Sam Coleman for the Eagles played very well. He also received chants of "A-va-tar!" from the student section, because he looks like a character from the movie.
- The student section was tiny, by the way, and even those who were there were only half-hearted. It's hard to complain too much during Christmas Break, but it was a poor showing.
- The rest of the fans, however, showed up in strong numbers considering the timing and the opponent. There seemed to be at least as many people as were at the Detroit game.
"All I can say is it felt good, and basically everything that was going up I thought was going in." Stu Douglass, on his shooting performance.
"They were playing the zone, and I kinda felt bad sometimes I was so wide open up top. I didn't wanna shoot, I wanted to get the clock going a little bit. It was going in if I was gonna shoot it that wide open though." Stu Douglass, on his shooting.
"Kansas definitely helped. We kinda got our edge back and we kept it going here. It's huge for our confidence going into the Big Ten." Stu Douglass, on being prepared for conference play.
"I think it's more mental. I just gotta step up and shoot it and not think about it." Zack Novak on his shooting troubles.
"This is the right time for us to be shooting the ball a little better. We shot 33%, and it's sad to say that's improvement, but it's a big improvement" Zack Novak.
"I've got a lot of friends that go to school there, and it's almost like a high school game again for me, having all my friends in the stands. It'll be cool." Zack Novak, on travelling to Indiana next week.
"I come in every game trying to get guys involved... guys like Stu and DeShawn was making shots, so I just was driving and trying to set them up in good position to keep making shots." Manny Harris, on his distributor role.
"The main thing is I'm just happy that our defense was there tonight, and I know that's going to carry oer into the game with Indiana." Manny Harris.
"As far as our shooting woes, I don't think 33% answers the question, but it's double what we did at Kansas, so it's a step in the right direction." John Beilein.
"I still think he's a little slow trying to get by people, and they really packed it in on him, so one of his things was to make that extra pass. If we make a few more shots, he's got 10 assists a game." John Beilein, on Manny Harris.
"They just need to make these shots in games over and over and over again to get used to it again." John Beilein, on team shooting.
The Wolverines have a nice long break to rest and get healthy before they kick off Big Ten play. They'll head to Bloomington on New Year's Eve to face the Hoosiers. Indiana is improved from last year (when they nearly beat the Wolverines in Assembly Hall), but lost to Loyola Maryland last night, and trailed by 18 points at half. They are definitely a beatable squad.