|WHAT||Michigan v. Minnesota|
4:30 PM EST (3:30 Local)
February 26th, 2011
|THE LINE||Michigan +5.5.|
This is The Most Important Game of the Year
Until the Next Game. They're all equally important now. Unable to get the wins in excruciatingly close games against Illinois and Wisconsin, the Wolverines must sweep their final two regular-season games for a realistic shot at an at-large bid. A loss in either of the final two regular season games likely means no NCAA Tournament, barring an epic run through the Big Ten Tournament.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, the two games are winnable - though that doesn't mean they're sure things. The Wolverines have already beaten Michigan State in the Breslin Center, and the Gophers are very vulnerable right now. How vulnerable? Since Al Nolen went out of the Gophers' lineup (in the first game against Michigan), they're without a true point guard, and only have wins against Northwestern and at Iowa.
Minnesota has gone to a 4-big lineup, though it hasn't been all that successful, seeing losses to Purdue, Ohio State, and Illinois on the obvious end of the spectrum, but also road losses to Indiana and Penn State, and allowing Michigan State to control the final 5 minutes of the game in The Barn for a comeback Spartan win.
With a few games under each team's belt, it's finally reasonable to look at the stats. If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy.
|Michigan v. Minnesota: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Minnesota Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. Minn Def eFG%||57||73||M|
|Mich Def eFG% v. Minn eFG%||167||108||G|
|Mich TO% v. Minn Def TO%||22||282||MMM|
|Mich Def TO% v. Minn TO%||244||217||G|
|Mich OReb% v. Minn DReb%||321||138||GG|
|Mich DReb% v. Minn OReb%||49||13||G|
|Mich FTR v. Minn Opp FTR||340||28||GGGG|
|Mich Opp FTR v. Minn FTR||40||31||-|
|Mich AdjO v. Minn AdjD||64||53||G|
|Mich AdjD v. Minn AdjO||54||48||-|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
Minnesota's numbers are mostly OK, but keep in mind that these include the entire time that Al Nolen was in the lineup - they're trending downward since he broke his foot. That's most evident in Turnover Rate, where the Gophers are bad an getting worse offensively. The Wolverines haven't been a machine forcing opponents into mistakes, but they have a chance to make a big dent there.
On the other end of the spectrum, playing with 4 bigs has been a huge benefit in the rebounding game. The Wolverines were killed on the defensive glass in the first half against Wisconsin, and Minnesota is an even better rebounding team. Michigan will have to pound the glass and eliminate second-chance opportunities for the Gopher bigs.
Michigan is also going to have trouble getting to the line (no surprise there) against a tall Minnesota lineup. Forcing Minnesota to extend their defense all the way out the arc is going to be important, both for getting offense on the perimeter and opening lanes for cutting. I think - even though it will be a defensive liability - Michigan might go with more Smotrycz at the 5, in order to have serious shooting threats at all positions.
Dylan previews on UMHoops.
The Wisconsin loss was a gut-punch of epic proportions, but this Wolverine team is as hungry as can be after that. Minnesota is reeling, and if Michigan wants to make the NCAA Tournament, they need to prove it by taking advantage of the Gophers' poor form of late. It's going to be a shooting type of night with Minnesota short on guards, and I think Michigan shoots more than 25 3-pointers, making about 40%. Darius Morris gets a points-assists double-double, and Michigan gets the 69-62 victory in The Barn.
So yesterday I wandered over to USHR, which is pretty much the only reliable source of information on college hockey recruits aside from some regular posters on Hockey's Future, and wandered around a bit. They're a subscription service that frees up their content after a while and I ran across some newly interesting assessments from this summer's "Select" camps, which are nationwide things that attempt to collect the nation's best talent. The 17s don't have NTDP kids and a lot of OHL kids either don't show or apparently embarrass themselves doing so—Max Iafrate was a fighting, dumb-penalty taking machine—so this is not a comprehensive ranking. It's not far off for college-bound kids at the 15 and 16 levels, though.
Anyway, persons of interest from the Select 15s:
4. J.T. Compher (#10 Red) 6-0/160 - 2-5-7 -- From Team Illinois Midget Minor. Aggressive and good-sized, with a sense of the game and anticipation. Competitive, too. Blocks shots. Plans to play in USHL for Waterloo this season. [Ed: Compher ended up sticking with midget minor.]
27. Tyler Motte (#18 Kelly Green) 5-10/165 - 3-2-5 -- From Honeybaked. Started slowly, but picked up the pace.
Compher's Team Illinois teammate Gabe Guertler was ranked #2 because of he's "a dynamic offensive player who made things happen every shift," FWIW. If Michigan can swing a package deal there that would be nice.
The Select 16s just had one player listed but it was a big one:
1. Boo Nieves (#12 Forest Green) 6-3/185 -- 1-1-2 -- Fascinating player. Has size and explosive speed. His ability to turn a d-man - to just blow past guys -- is breathtaking. Some people, notably the NTDP, have criticized Nieves' lack of engagement, which was actually not bad in Rochester. But consider the context: a 6'3" kid who can absolutely fly and is playing midget minor is expected to do one thing -- get the puck from one end to the other, and fast. And, man, can he ever do that. That said, several times we saw Nieves fly down the wing, turn the D, cut in -- and suddenly find himself in so tight that his options had dwindled severely. It's like the rink is too small for those strides of his. When Nieves gets to Kent, and plays with older kids for the first time, and works with Matt Herr, he will learn to use his speed to maximum advantage, to curl back and find space, etc., the way a pitcher uses his off-speed stuff to set up his fastball (sorry, it's July and 95 degrees). At the end of the day, Nieves has all the tools - size, big-time speed, nice hands, and a ridiculously high level of athleticism. Sometimes, though, the perfect is the enemy of the good, and Nieves needs to realize that it's OK to make mistakes, that it's through mistakes that you discover what you can become. We thought Nieves, and his highly talented linemates (Quentin Shore and Zach Stepan) were much too fine here, almost paralyzingly so - and they couldn't buy a goal. Nieves has high first round potential for the 2012 draft and, over the next two years, will, à la Chris Kreider, have every single game of his dissected. He's an exciting talent. It will be fun to see how good he can become. (Named to team going to Switzerland.)
Apparently Nieves's stock has not fallen much in the aftermath of his controversial omission from the NTDP. He's playing at a prep school under that Matt Herr so I imagine he's not an OHL threat, either—will be nice to actually get one of these top end guys on campus.
And the Select 17s:
8. Justin Selman (#18 Gold) 6-0/192 - 2-3-5 -- From NJ Avalanche; going to Des Moines. Really made a statement. Physical, hard-working two-way forward. A late '93. Not a natural scorer but does everything else.
Sounds like an Eric Nystrom, though undoubtedly with less hype—Nystrom was a surprising top-ten pick.
The other takeaway: be deathly afraid of Boston College. I checked out Chris Heisenberg in the aftermath of reading all these reports to see if various big names were available and it was all BC, BC, BC. Michigan is probably looking for another forward in the 2011 class, and I wonder if they'll try to pick off one of Michigan State's fairly good recruits now that Comley is out the door and no one knows who will replace him. They've got a little overage guy who is putting up a lot of points in the USHL (Matt Berry) and Shattuck C Tanner Sorenson got a good review from USHR—fourth in the Select 17s group. Either might be put off to 2012 at MSU; Michigan has room now. Could pull the reverse Lerg.
BONUS POSSIBLE SKETCH ALERT: Wisconsin's been the SEC of college hockey for a while with their controversial oversigning tactics and now Ohio State has hired a branch off that coaching tree. Mark Osiecki flat-out cut three players before the season, suggesting they weren't putting in sufficient work. Okay, maybe so. But while Ohio State graduates ten skaters and a goalie they're bringing in fifteen freshman, which would bulge the roster to 31 players. Watch to see if anyone gets cut over the summer.
|WHAT||Michigan @ NMU|
|WHERE||Berry Events Center
|WHEN||7:35 PM Fri/Sat|
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||Online streaming only ($7)|
Record. 14-15-5, 12-11-3 CCHA. Northern Michigan is miraculously fifth in the league despite having a –20 goal differential. They're +0 (-0?) in their nonconference schedule. Math thus requires a bunch of humiliating blowouts and indeed Northern's schedule features a 9-1 loss to Miami, an 8-1 loss to Notre Dame, a 6-1 loss to Western Michigan, and several other large margins of defeat coupled with narrow victories.
In six games against the league's upper tier (Miami and Notre Dame) the Wildcats are 1-5. There were the two massive blowouts plus a 4-0 loss to Miami, 5-2 and 3-1 losses to Notre Dame, and a single 3-2 win against the Irish in which Northern was outshot 53-15(!).
The Wildcats come in hot… sort of. The good: they've gone 3-0-1 in their last four and those were all on the road. The bad: they were against the worst two teams in the league and they come out of their series against awful BGSU with a tie and a 3-2 win. They'd lost their last four before that.
FWIW, it's spring break this weekend so the crowd will be relatively muted.
Dangermen. According to NMU head coach Kyle Walt via some guy on USCHO, NMU leading scorer Tyler Gron will miss his second consecutive weekend. That hurts, as he was on a PPG pace and the next guy is well back of that. In his absence Northern's main threats are juniors Justin Florek (12-14-26) and Andrew Cherniwchan (7-13-20) and seniors Phil Fox (11-7-18) and Greger Hanson (5-15-20).
This is not exactly going up against Miami here. NMU is 46th in scoring even and is missing their top guy. Chances are goals will come off of Michigan mistakes, of which there will be a few.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Junior Reid Ellingson and freshman Jared Coreau have split time. Ellingson gets about two-thirds of it and has a significantly better GAA and save percentage, so chances are Michigan sees him both nights unless Northern gets bombed Friday.
Northern's defense corps is young. They've got two seniors taking a regular shift and then it's sophomores and freshmen. NMU is better defensively than they are offensively but they're still giving up exactly three goals per game.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||3.9||4.1|
|PP Ag / G||5.5||4.4|
That's a huge gap for NMU, one that helps explain that goal differential. NMU gets penalties from all over but they're concentrated in the defense: only senior Andrew Fernandez has fewer than 35 PIMs and freshman CJ Ludwig has 78. It may even be worse than the PP numbers suggest since by the looks of it Northern is taking a lot of penalties longer than two minutes.
As to what happens when the specialty units get on the ice, NMU's power play is pretty effective at 18.8 percent (21st), but their penalty kill is very bad: they're 50th of 58th at 78.7 percent. They take a ton of penalties and don't kill them well, which is a recipe for getting bombed by Miami and their #5 PP.
Meanwhile, Michigan is mediocre at both, slightly worse than NMU on the on the power play but better killing penalties and less likely to end up with a deficit in power plays.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Don't give up two pure breakaways against a 5'7" goalie. Just sayin'. More to the point: like Michigan's series against Alaska earlier in the year it looks like this opponent isn't going to generate much you don't give them. No hockey team can go a game without making mistakes that lead to scoring issues but Michigan's had more issues than they're comfortable with lately; reducing those is kind of important.
Get a bounce-back from Hunwick. A rough outing here and there happens to the best; a second consecutive would be an ominous sign as Michigan hits the playoffs.
Demote everyone to fourth-line center. Then they'll be Kevin Lynch and imbued with super powers.
Let the Sparks fly. Hurr durr hurr! But seriously folks, Sparks has verve. He has panache. He has extra savior faire. I know defense and all that but frankly before Lynch blew up that fourth line has been a liability that gets stuck in its zone more often than not.
BONUS: "The Northerns." If you're listening to this on the radio be sure to listen for one of the most bizarre verbal ticks you'll ever hear: PBP guy Al Randall will call Michigan's opponent this weekend "The Northerns." It never fails to amuse and slightly alarm.
The Big Picture
The CCHA is simple. Michigan wins the league if they get one more point than Notre Dame does this weekend. They have a home and home with a reeling Western Michigan team. ND will get the Broncos' best shot: despite their four-game losing streak WMU is still hanging on to the last at-large bid*.
As far as the Pairwise, it is a fickle beast and Michigan will probably lose ground no matter what this weekend. You want the following results:
- Denver to lose to Nebraska-Omaha
- Nebraska-Omaha to lose to Denver
- Minnesota-Duluth to lose to CC
- Boston College to lose to UMass
- Ferris State to beat OSU
- OSU to beat Ferris State
Ferris and OSU skated to 2-2 tie yesterday so you probably want OSU to win the remaining game.
Obviously some of those are direct contradictions; even with a sweep there are several sets of results that will see Michigan give back the ground it somewhat illicitly staked thanks to OSU getting into the TUC category. Looking at the comparisons, it's going to be hard for Michigan to stay in front of UNO if they sweep, so you probably want splits in both the DU/UNO and OSU/Ferris series and now we're proscribing very specific sets of results and you can see why Michigan's probably locked into about where they are now even if they end the year on a ten-game win streak.
Losing is bad for many reasons, one of which is that losing to NMU will give them a good shot at being a TUC at the end of the year with a record Michigan would rather not have featured, but it also doesn't matter a whole lot because Michigan's almost certainly going to be a two or three. What does matter is the conference race—the winner gets to avoid Miami in the league semifinal.
*[assuming that no one outside the top 16 snags an autobid, which is a dodgy assumption.]
On Motte’s character: “He was voted captain by the boys and basically that’s a result of not only his hard work on the ice but off the ice. He’s just a pure leader. There’s not much bad I can talk about Tyler.”
Motte will try to make the NTDP team in March.
Yes, pretty much. Not to dwell on a small monkey on a Caribbean island throwing a banana that turns into a tsunami because of chaos theory and wham(!) there's a coconut in Crisler, but people are saying that Tim Hardaway's facial expression after you know, that, was priceless and perfect and they're right:
Yes, yes, free throws, yes free throws. The most shocking stat from the game to me: Michigan rebounded 76% of Wisconsin's misses, which is actually better than their very good season average of 71% (50th nationally). It seemed like Wisconsin had one possession that lasted four minutes.
Dolla dolla bill yo. Michigan is officially one of those teams that has a head coach and then a guy making almost as much as the head coach:
Michigan, according to contract obtained today, will pay Greg Mattison $750K/year with chance to make $900K if the team wins Big Ten title
That's probably triple what any Michigan assistant has ever made and makes me wonder who Michigan could have acquired a couple years back instead of Greg Robinson. A: Damn near anyone. /kicks self in face
Compher fill-in. JT Compher is one of two recent 2013 verbals for the hockey team, but unless you're Jack Johnson it's hard to get a read on how big of a get any particular 15-year-old is. But he might be kind of a big deal if his local paper is to be believed:
"He reminds me of (Vancouver Canucks MVP candidate [ed: ??? - he's 20 points behind two teammates]) Ryan Kesler , who played in the program," said Ryan Resmierski, director of player personnel for the National Team and in charge of all the youngsters in the program.
"He's a good hockey player right now, but we think with our program in Ann Arbor, we can make him an exceptional hockey player. He has a huge upside. First of all, he's an outstanding competitor. He competes every game we've seen him."
[HT: Michigan Hockey Net.]
Compher is currently the only kid on next year's NTDP U17s, getting offered a spot four months before the annual tryout camp held in March. He held early offer-type-substances from Notre Dame, Miami, and BU; there was also some chatter about the guy getting selected in the first round of the OHL draft.
BONUS: His sister is a "talented volleyball player and dancer."
Meanwhile, Michigan's other early commit from the MWEHL, Tyler Motte, has gotten the "Seat Over There" treatment from Yost Built. Motte's averaging over a point per game for Honeybaked and Tim (Not That Tim) dug up this tantalizing quote:
"He's playing like an 18- or 19-year-old, and for a '95 to do that is pretty amazing ... If he plays with Honeybaked, they're going to have the best player in the nation."
That's just one guy's enthusiasm so we don't have quite as much to go on as we do with Compher but it sounds like both are high-end gets.
Usual caveat: even guys with Johnson's hype level come up short when we're projecting so far down the line. Both Luke Moffatt and Tristin Llewellyn were hyped as first round picks when they committed and fell well short of that. (Moffatt went in the seventh round; Llewellyn didn't get drafted at all.)
The new "hard edge". Motivational whatnot ho:
The little text below says "State of Ohio High School Coaches Clinic," if you're wondering why you've never heard that before. So we've come to this, have we? Countdown clocks and quotes on the wall for Michigan State? A team that scrapes over seven wins twice a decade? /kicks self in face*
*[Not a Hoke criticism. Hoke uber alles.]
And then he stage-dove at a Whitney Houston concert. I've met Mike Spath and he's a nice guy but what in the holy hell is this?
Three years earlier, Rich Rodriguez donned a Maize and Blue hockey jersey and took a stab at Score-O – …. The student section roared with delight. That was Rodriguez's way and that didn't make it wrong but his occupation of the spotlight did offend some folks.
Flash-forward (or rewind) to Friday night. Hoke stepped onto the ice from the north entrance wearing jeans and an untucked collared blue shirt. He looked uncomfortable as the patrons rose to their feet just as he appeared a bit out of sorts at a men's basketball game a few weeks ago. Hoke probably would have retreated quickly, disappearing out of sight, but the band broke into a rendition of The Victors and Hoke was soon pumping his fists in unison with the crowd.
That has got to be the dumbest criticism ever leveled. Braves & Birds obliterates it and the thinking behind this, convincingly pointing to the repeated uninspiring, cheap hires the filthy rich Big Ten makes as a major reason they've fallen behind in the race to not get destroyed 49-7 by Alabama:
Heaven forbid that the highest-paid employee at the University of Michigan, the man up front for the winningest program in college football history actually acknowledges that he is in the spotlight! Thank goodness that we’ve hired a guy who is going to do his work in front of 110,000 paying customers and millions watching on TV, but is uncomfortable with attention. This is bound to work out well!
At the same time Dave at Maize 'n' Brew pointlessly deconstructs Rodriguez's recruiting classes in an effort to… do… something. What other than piss people off is unclear.
So now we're positioning Hoke as a socially anxious Fred Flintstone and pretending that Rodriguez wasn't playing Sisyphus on the recruiting trail. I really want Michigan to win but this crap saps my enthusiasm because accompanying the wins will be yet more articles about how Brady Hoke "gets it" that claim "it" to be ineffable qualities like looking sloppy and knowing the fight song instead of having an upperclass quarterback and extant secondary. I'll deal with that should the time come.
I'm sorry if this occasions more eye-rolling from people who just want to leave Rodriguez dead and in the ground. I know I should just let it slide, but I can only take so many stupid things before I blow up. Otherwise I will die.
Etc.: Steven Threet retires due to concussion issues; here's his 58-yarder against Wisconsin. Brabbs profile in AnnArbor.com; The Daily profiles Carl Hagelin. AnnArbor.com also sets a new record for most extraneous words at the beginining of a headline: "Swedish Michigan hockey captain Carl Hagelin finds a second home with Wolverines." That's five. Hot diggity SEO. /kicks self in face
2/23/2010 – Michigan 52, Wisconsin 53 – 17-12, 7-9 Big Ten
For a while, the house we lived in—1331 Geddes, AKA "the Unlucky Palindrome," the purple-doored white house almost but not quite right next to the CCRB—had a fairly sizeable hole in the wall. Raffi's hip put it there. I put Raffi's hip there with a sort of flying tackle.
After this we were both on the ground. This was Raffi's territory. He has cerebral palsy, which means he can't walk that well or supinate his hands—he got around with the aid of crutches. As a result his arms were thick, meaty bludgeons. Since I'd just delivered a wall-shattering flying tackle to a guy who can't walk very well he used them to hit me, hard. It hurt.
This was "man fun." It was a semi-regular occurrence when someone had been studying too long or just felt like delivering a flying tackle. You would pick an available person and hurt them, and they would hurt you, and everyone would laugh.
Watching a freshman shooting 28% from three missing his buzzer-beater badly enough to make it was like absorbing one of Raffi's flat, heavy blows. I'd never witnessed something like that in person, and… yeah. Being in Crisler was to viscerally understand the cliche about the air going out of the building. The transition from a standing, raucous crowd to a bunch of pissed off people looking for their jackets was instant, and the ride home was mostly silence.
But I'm not upset in the aftermath despite this being objectively worse than the Evan Turner half-court dagger last year. Last year's team was under .500, a miserable disappointment after being ranked #15 before the season. Even Michigan fans who thought that was a bit much didn't expect the massive regression we got. That shot just meant Michigan didn't get their very narrow chance at winning two more games and the automatic bid that went with it. Losing was the merciful end, but it stood as a symbol for everything that went wrong. It was somewhere between irritating and infuriating.
Josh Gasser punting it in off the backboard—BACKBOARDS DIE—is probably going to cost Michigan an at-large, and it comes after a season of near-misses. I already wrote the bit about that scoring chance you get with five minutes left in the hockey game. It turns out that if Michigan is watching the NCAA Tournament selection show with a jaundiced eye they'll be thinking about threes clanging off rims in Champaign and a one-armed freshman shooting a three pointer so wildly errant it hit a courtside photographer before going in. And not being able to finish the deal against Ohio State earlier. And needing one measly point to avoid overtime against Kansas.
By all rights we should be waking up today like most Sundays the past three falls: hungover, pissed off, and mopey. It doesn't seem like we are, collectively—aside from one nutball on WTKA this morning the mood was downright chipper for the first time since the Notre Dame game.
It's obvious why. Just being in a position to be hurt is good after what happened last year and what the expectations were for this one. I admit that as I edited Tim's season preview I cocked an eyebrow at Tim's sunny conclusion:
The one thing they can promise, though, is that they'll be fun to watch. Maybe not in every individual game, but seeing these young players grow over the course of the season should be an entertaining - if often frustrating - experience all its own.
31 games later that may be the most accurate season prediction ever purveyed in this space*.
It sucks that a blind Chinese six-year-old threw a ball through the center of the earth that just happened to have enough momentum to pop up through the underside of the basket and fall back through, but Michigan has the most improved player in the conference, the best freshman who will be around next year, no seniors, the 336th most-experienced team in the country, and two good guards on the way to fill out the roster. According to Kenpom this is already the best team Beilein's had at Michigan—they are 48th while the tourney team was 50th. There has been no point in the post-sanctions history of Michigan basketball where optimism is as warranted.
In the light of morning not even a tiny meteor launched from Tralfamadore billions of years ago falling through the Crisler arena roof and subsequently the net can take away the feeling that sometimes it's good to hurt because at least you know you're alive. Michigan basketball is alive.
*[Although I did say football would go 7-5 this year. Third time's a charm.]
Non-bullets of glassy destruction
Novak no shoot. Beilein apparently said that he doesn't believe playing Zack Novak at the 4 is affecting his shooting but it's hard to see the correlation as something other than causation. I don't think Michigan has a choice—in the Iowa and Wisconsin games when Smotrycz was put on Basabe/Leuer it led it instant easy baskets and a quick switch. I think the reason Michigan's mostly playing Smotrycz at the five is because he gets annihilated by guys with ball skills.
Getting Smotrycz to improve and getting Christian to the point where he can do at least one thing on offense—corner threes maybe—are key points for next season. I'm not sure how much more Michigan is going to get out of Morgan and Morris and we have an idea of what Hardaway will become. The shooting guard will be a white guy who shoots threes and occasionally Carlton Brundidge. The four is the biggest issue.
Beilein's bedroom. Has a poster of Jon Leuer where other people put Megan Fox. Jesus. He has a 119 ORtg and he's taking nearly a third of Wisconsin's shots! Random mock draft has him going in the second round to the Pistons, which okay. I'm all over that. I can't imagine him being not useful.
Also, Beilein has to be looking at Keaton Nankivil and thinking "where can I get a 6'8" to shoot 48% from three?" Either that or "was that guy in The Usual Suspects?"
Late game strategy. I was fine with it; the problem came on the last foul when Michigan could only burn a second or two off the clock. If they get a bit more Wisconsin is trying to shoot with three seconds. As it was, Michigan really needed to not have three guys in the paint by the time the pass was made. That ball was going up.
Senior day? What are they going to do for it? Are they going to bother with it?