You'll know this by the third word but this is a guest post from Johnny of RBUAS, who just popped up and was like "I've got this thing." Here it is.
He came from the internet, just like the rest of them. He was in California in barren gymnasiums, making no-look passes from half court with the audacity of someone who thought he’d be the best one there back when the bus was still idling in the parking lot waiting to depart, even though sometimes he wasn’t.
He was at Michigan last year when it was bad and was supposed to be good and when it wasn’t his team because it wasn’t really anyone’s team. And this year when he stewarded a sinking raft that became a submarine lurking just below the water’s surface.
And he was there in Charlotte with eight seconds left, clapping for the ball with enough intensity to turn carbon to diamonds between his hands. Not out of routine or even because it could be no one else but because he knew exactly where he was going and that he needed to get on with it. He needed only the ball and a chance and pursued it with the sort of maniacal focus that ends with you pulling your head inside your shirt completely when you miss because it is dark in there and calm, or at least calmer than the disorienting, vertiginous return to a reality you thought you had transcended in those brilliant moments.
It was a miss that leaves with it a haunting memory; seconds that play on a loop until you fall asleep and then you see them in your dreams. But sometimes they manifest themselves in the type of theatrical vindication accompanied by a montage and a soaring, orchestral soundtrack or at least a bodacious new haircut. I think, at least.
It's technically over but let's call this an interlude.
I think it was sometime in 2006 but all that matters is that it was years after everything happened that they said didn’t happen. Chris Webber was on The Best Damn Sports Show talking to John Salley and some men with spectacularly gelled hair who had never played basketball professionally. And then Jalen Rose appeared on screen via satellite.
Jalen and Chris existed then as they do now: in an impenetrable nebula with other wealthy people who build bowling alleys in Welsh castles and fill the moats with virgin blood and ride around on hover boards sipping Pterodactyl bone marrow straight from fossils. They were exactly where they told each other they would be.
They were there and I knew that they were there because I could see their bodies, and yet they were still mostly back in Jalen’s Dodge Shadow in jackets that were too big; half baffled that they’d made it, half amused that it had been so easy.
Chris said these things:
“Jay had old, beat up shoes, with holes in ‘em, that he would sit around cleaning with a toothbrush and white shoe polish.”
“You’d get a pizza card every day for five days … but me and Jalen would eat the same pizza, save (the cards), so the next week we could get like 15 pizzas.”
“When we were down to UCLA by 20 at halftime, Jalen came in, and Juwan said something, I might have cried, coach Fisher ain’t say nothing, and we walked right back out on the court.”
“Jalen had a green Dodge Shadow that had no back seat because all it had was speakers in the back, that one of his boys hooked up that probably was going to catch the whole car on fire, and all we would listen to was Scarface.”
“It was the best time of my life.”
When they were in that car they were in orbit, in a way, twisting the world in their palms like a tiny stone they’d found floating on their way to another galaxy. They were there and I think, sort of, they always have been.
Jalen told Bill Simmons, “When media members came into the locker room and they hear that kind of music, they’re looking at us like we’re from another planet.”
In some ways they were. Grotesquely fascinating and, in their most thrilling moments, frighteningly unstoppable. Five kids synchronize to create a monster the country struggles to interpret, let alone fathom. They can only stand and watch and listen to the noise and feel the ground shake beneath them. They were a marauding death squad worthy of a theme song and an action figure, shooting apples off each other’s heads once the curtain was drawn.
And so you can pull the banners down; burn them in an open field while orphans sing hymns around the flame. It happened. Something was there and it sort of isn’t anymore but mostly it is, like getting a tattoo of her name removed after she left you and then really left you. Bubbly, mangled flesh where a life once was. It’s gone except that you never forget the times you opened the door and she was there, just standing there, looking at you, waiting for you to let her in.
Brian’s frustration with Webber is not at all irrational. But I never knew them as something that grew, or simply emerged, and then broke everyone’s heart. I know them only filtered through the tumult and deification. Part of why I’m so capable of appreciating the Fab Five is specifically because I’m so detached. I know them through VHS recordings, retrospectives, and ultimately a reputation not so much for capturing the zeitgeist but for chewing it up and spitting it out unmistakably altered. They existed, somehow, and so that is enough for me. They are a geological force, a museum exhibit, an alien cadaver cryogenically frozen in a remote military base to be studied and dissected. It won nothing except everything that actually matters.
It is like someone saying, “So tell me what it was like when you got electricity.” This is what I know because it has always been. Long ago it was dark when the sun went down and now I plug two metal prongs into a wall and can watch infomercials on a colorful rectangle. Only rather than a lab coat they were wearing black socks and an air of magnetic irreverence. I know only what they became.
This is not that team; it is not any team and I have no idea what it will be and for that reason I love it. It is not peculiar or compellingly flawed or even one of Beilein’s self-effacing, limitation embracing West Virginia teams. It is just a thing that is constantly turning into another thing and we see it happen in Jon Horford moving through the lane in what seems like a single step and in laser-precise backdoor bounce passes. In Tim Hardaway Jr. launching three pointers undaunted by distance or obstruction, knowing only of a force that overcomes his entire body and having no desire to suppress it, and a confidence that builds like a tidal wave in the distance and leaves in its wake snapped umbrellas and a 900-win coach’s emasculated smile after barely managing to make it out of there alive.
It is a team at once starkly pragmatic and gleefully ambitious, a kid posing in the mirror in its dad’s fatigues from Vietnam when no one’s home. It is proud and quietly defiant; it is something where things shouldn’t be. If the Fab Five was a seismic force capable of shifting the earth on its axis, this is a plant growing from the fractured pavement.
They came from the internet, obscure aside from their lineage and some of them, for a time, with hair like members of 60’s British rock bands. They are here now and they will be here and I am watching it happen.
Johnny used to write stuff like this at RBUAS before everything became too depressing. He met Lloyd Carr once because Carr liked what he wrote.
Photo from under-construction Crisler Arena. I already covered yesterday's most pressing issue, the potential early NBA entry of Darius Morris. The rest of John Beilein's post-season talk follows. If you're interested in the video, UMHoops has you covered.
Though the expectations for the 2009-10 team didn't pay off, this team has handled some increased expectations, even just over the course of the season. "We focus on just us getting better," rather than worry about expectations. "It's the ones that sort of sit back and rest on their laurels that won't get better."
On the drop-off in 2009-10: "I think most of us were part of that. Whether you're an incoming recruit - they were a part of that - and they know stories about it. So we don't have to talk too much about it, and I don't think we should beat them over the head about it."
Talkin' 'Bout Practice?
The team gets 8 hours of instruction time once the season ends. Yesterday, they did the fourth hour of practice, and the last one in Crisler Arena before the facility is closed until next fall. During those 8 hours, a lot of the time is spent showing the players the offseason practice routine the coaches want them to practice.
The coaches give players a written "shell" practice plan, and also instructional DVDs that demonstrate some of the drills. In terms of individual development, the next 5 months "are an important time for us. What our guys are going to do when the coaches aren't watching anymore." Stu went to a private facility last offseason to work on his game, and the coaches encourage the other players to get private instruction.
"We've got a bunch of self-starters, and you just never know how much they're going to improve. I think you saw that with Darius over the summer." It's hard to pinpoint any individual player to make a big step forward in the offseason. It all depends on how hard they work on their own. "I think when Tim Hardaway Jr. goes home and sees Tim Hardaway Sr., they'd be in the gym within hours, because Tim Sr. was in the gym for hours."
"What we're really working on right now is making sure that we have the option to just not go to four guards and play that way." It sounds like they're trying to develop more 4/5 players so that Novak is more free to play the 2 instead of guarding the likes of Bill Cole from Illinois. [Ed: or Trevor Mbakwe.]
"The competition level is gonna be very high, because we're going from 10 scholarship players to could-be 13 scholarship players."
Teams like Butler are good to observe playing in the Final Four, because they show how far a good team concept can take you. "But we're still the University of Michigan, and we love what the large University in a BCS conference can also bring to our recruiting."
There are no specific team goals for next year. Just like every year, they start out wanting to be in the top 6 in the conference (since those are usually the tournament teams), and then to win the Big Ten Championship once you reach that level.
The coaching staff is fielding calls from a lot of interested recruits, with the success on the court. "We feel positive momentum." The Player Development Center and Crisler renovations (pictured at right) are going to be a boost for recruiting, but more importantly for the team's practice. "We can practice any time that we want to, they can practice any time that they want to that fits their schedule in their free time." The new facility also allows the coaches to drill more concepts at once, and film everything, etc.
[Note: Max Bielfeldt wasn't mentioned by Beilein, I assume because they hadn't received his official LOI by yesterday's conference]
The incoming players are given a similar voluntary practice plan to the returning players. "We can only give them... 'these are some of the ways to improve as a player.'" Both Burke and Brundidge are going to enroll in summer term, and be here in June.
Trey Burke - "He truly is a point guard, he truly runs his team. He really has great pace to him, and his quickness is exceptional." He will add quickness to the roster - which Beilein talked about lacking several times this year.
Carlton Brundidge is also a quick player, and excels in ball-screen situations. He played well for a great high school program, "but I'm really looking forward to putting him in the Michigan program as well."
Darius had to play a lot of minutes this year, and adding these two guys will give the team more options to give him some rest. Zack and Stu will also get an opportunity to play a little less and get some rest. They want freshmen who want to compete right away for playing time.
Next Year's Schedule
Playing in the Maui Invitational, they'll have the opportunity to play three high-level opponents, and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge should give a solid opportunity for a home game (though there's a chance they may have to switch and play away).
"Now we're looking at several opportunities to do what we've done in the past with the Kansas, with the UConns, with the UCLAs." There's also an away game at Oakland already planned.
They're trying to line up the guarantee games right now, and trying to fill in to get a good strength of schedule. "I think we have understood what the committee is looking for."
This following item doesn't come from Beilein's conference, but it also relates to next year's schedule: The new 12-team Big Ten will feature seven 2-plays and four 1-plays, with the 1-plays from last year (for Michigan, that's Illinois and Purdue) guaranteed to be 2-plays this upcoming season. There are no protected rivalries, so there's a chance Michigan and Michigan State only play once.
Again with the killing. The Daily's latest feature is on Michigan's connection to the St. Mike's prep program that produced Louie Caporusso, Andrew Cogliano, Brandon Burlon, and plenty of other Wolverines over the years. It features a what-if on the level of "what if Kevin Garnett went to Michigan":
When Lindros first visited before the OHL draft, Berenson was sure to make the right impression.
Berenson called Lindros into his office with an offer he hoped the 6-foot-4 power forward wouldn't be able to pass up. Hanging in the coaches’ room when Lindros entered was a traditional white Michigan jersey, with the trademark 'M' on the chest. Berenson then revealed the back of the sweater: LINDROS 88.
Lindros had been No. 8 at St. Mike’s, but Berenson was making a statement.
“I didn't let anyone have a high number back then,” Berenson said. “But (Lindros) was big time, and we knew that. Gretzky was 99 — I gave Lindros 88.”
The offer was made and the decision was left up to Lindros. He chose Michigan.
The OHL promptly changed its rules against trading first-round draft picks and Lindros went there instead.
Also most of the pictures are credited to "Danger Nesbitt," which is either author Stephen Nesbitt's ironic nickname or ass-kicking nine year old sister.
Recruiting blitz. Lost in the most crammed sports day I can remember—basketball, hockey, and US soccer were all going on simultaneously—was the commitment of 2012 Canadian wing Nick Stauskas. Stauskas claimed a Kansas offer at one point and was definitely getting recruited by Wake Forest, Iowa State, Butler, and others. Scouting from UMHoops's "Hello" equivalent:
Strengths: Stauskas is a well built swingman who can really shoot the basketball. He has good size for the two-guard and has gotten noticeably stronger within the last year. He is a big time shooter who makes shots in bunches and can never be left unchecked anywhere within 25 feet of the rim. He can handle and pass the ball in the open floor, will attack bad closeouts off the dribble, and isn’t afraid to mix it up inside the paint to battle for rebounds.
The consistent knock is raw athleticism; a half-dozen reports on UMHoops are split down the middle on whether or not he can actually create a shot for himself. On WTKA this morning Sam Webb said he was like Stu Douglass with a better handle, but once you start talking about a 6'6" Stu Douglass who can get to the rack are you really talking about Stu Douglass anymore?
Stauskas's commitment fills Michigan's roster for 2012 if there's no attrition. That's kind of a big if at this point, so Michigan should be planning to fill Darius Morris's slot. Most people talk about Indiana five star Gary Harris as someone to look at but that's something of a pipe dream. I'm still holding out for man-mountain Sim Bhullar because it would be terribly fun to have a 7'4", 300-pound Indo-Canadian on the team. As a bonus, envision Gus Johnson exclaiming his name.
BONUS: Remember the almost-but-not-quite recruitment of Nate Lubick? That paid off with dad:
Stauskas credited his high school coach, Dave Lubick, for helping to connect him with the Michigan staff. "He was the one who started the relationship with Michigan," Stauskas said. "They never would have seen me if not for him."
It was just a couple of years ago that Michigan recruited Lubick's eldest son, Nate, as hard as anyone in the country and while he ultimately committed to Georgetown, the process left Lubick extremely impressed with Beilein.
"I thought it was a gift that I was given, that I was now able to give to this family," Lubick said of getting to know Beilein. "This is a great man and a great coach. I have as much respect and admiration for him as I do anyone I've met in this business."
Invites questions as to why he went to Georgetown, but whateva. If you're curious as to how the younger Lubick did this year, he played half of Georgetown's minutes and shot well but was extremely low-usage. Like Petway low-usage.
As for Bielfeldt. Mike Rothstein got some clarification on just what he is in a Q&A:
…right now they like me playing the four and, depending how I develop, they said I might play a little five as well.
Q: Where do you feel the most comfortable in their offense and defense?
MB: Their four spot. They said next year they are thinking about running a little bit more two-post stuff. I think either one, they are kind of similar to us with the offense. If I can develop my game a little bit over the summer, I think I’d be comfortable at either one.
Bielfeldt says he shoots "when he has to" but is more of a post and short corner guy, so his fit in the offense is going to be interesting. Same goes for Brundidge, FWIW.
The first five. Now that we've got five full classes of Beilein recruits, a brief survey:
2008: Douglass, Novak,
Cronin, Benzing 2009: Morris, Vogrich, Morgan, McLimans
2010: Hardaway, Smotrycz, Horford
2011: Burke, Brundidge, Bielfeldt
2012: Robinson III, Stauskas
Since picking up Douglass and Novak in his first class Beilein has recruited just one unranked kid anywhere except the five—Bielfeldt. Pickups at those four spots all seem to be in the 75-125 range with at least one guy who seems to be (or has already proven to be) massively underrated per class: Morris, Hardaway, Burke, and Robinson III. Morris throws a wrench into theories about four-year players but I don't think anyone expected he'd be in a position to think about moving on when he was recruited.
Redux. I added this a few hours after I posted on the Zapruder goal, but in case you missed it and need to email a North Dakota fan or something:
The guy you're emailing will then say that's not conclusive and you'll throttle him with your mind.
Additional Fab Five stuff. Via Wolverine Historian, the 1993 Purdue game:
Bouncyfreude. Sippin' On Purple adapts This Week In Schadenfreude into This Tournament In Schadenfreude with awesome results:
want to throw up right now, i cried shortly after the loss. F*CK VCU with a capital FFFFFFFF. Your fans are all ugly decrepite mason nazi pricks who don't know the essense of our great program. they were lucky as hell.
If you thought incoherent rage was restricted to football fans… well, no one thinks that. Just click over.
Etc.: MSU C Garrick Sherman transfers. Slightly sketchy seeming since MSU does not have a scholarship for Harris at this instant, but Sherman did play 30% of MSU's minutes this year so it's not like he's a total scrub. Once Nix hits five bills they might regret losing him.
People who write about the NFL draft are probably the dumbest people putting words in sentences outside the USCHO.com message board. EBay watch hits on a highball glass I got for Christmas this year. It did not cost 65 dollars, I checked. Baseball swept by MSU for first time since 1955—yeesh. Jim Jackson says one more year for Morris. A Rich Rodriguez piece? Oh boy! KJ of The Only Colors says goodbye. /shakes fist at time
right via flickr user bre pettis
You've often mentioned how a single elimination hockey tournament is a poor indicator of who the best team is, due to the randomness that exists in hockey. There is one sport where the randomness of the winner is considerably higher - baseball. And college baseball deals with this by making the tournament, and the college world series, double elimination tournament up until the championship.
Do you think a double elimination tournament could work for NCAA hockey, or if not for the frozen four, at least for the regionals? Each regional would still fit nicely into a weekend, rather than needing to spread out over two weeks if it were a 3 game series at each round. As hockey is poised for a potentially cataclysmic change tomorrow, the time for changing the tournament would be now as well.
Double elimination doesn't work for hockey because it's just too many games. A first-round loser could hypothetically play five games if they reach the final and win the first game, and how are you going to fit that into three days? Even if you decide the final is one and done (presumably playing this exhausted team is advantage enough) you've still got a situation where someone's playing twice in a day. That's not feasible.
The thing that makes the most sense is to go back to the old best two-of-three series. Have two rounds of those and have a Frozen Four. Downsides: it takes a week longer and some schools don't control their rinks, making reservations awkward. Upside: massively more revenue and it looks like people care about college hockey.
Something like this may be coming. As mentioned this morning, the NCAA has not announced regional sites past next year. Last May this was apparently the hot idea:
Under the most popular proposal, the tournament would stay as a 16-team field, but the first round would be a best-of-three series played at the venue of the higher seed.
The eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals would play at one of two super regional sites. The quarterfinals would be one-game shots with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line. The Frozen Four would not change.
That manages to be only slightly better than the current system since you know you're going to this random "super regional" site to watch your team play once. There seems to be no reason not to play another campus series other than a desire to pretend you're a bigger deal than your are.
If hockey is truly insistent on having regionals, let's format them like the first round of the World Cup or Olympic hockey: everyone plays each other and the top two teams move on. That would force teams to play three straight days but without overtime everyone's on a level playing field. That should help attendance since you know you'll get to see your team play three times.
The biggest issue with that format is scheduling the last day. In the World Cup the last group games are simultaneous because there are situations in which teams can assure themselves advancement by walking around for 90 minutes and tying. You couldn't do that at a regional. I think if you're flexible with the final day's schedule you could avoid that by making the teams who are in that advantageous position play first, though.
More money, more reason to travel, and less randomness—it's better than the current setup. The tournament could start out with groups, have a campus weekend, and then have a Frozen Four.
If NCAA determines that OSU must vacate last year football wins, does that mean RichRod went 1-2 vs. OSU?
No. A vacated game never happened—unless you lost, I guess—so officially he'd be 0-2.
After reading your thoughtful post about Webber, I couldn't help but think about why, despite everything, I always loved the guy. Just to try to explain what it was like: The Fab 5 era has many of the elements of the last few years of Michigan football, except they were magnified. First, there was the culture clash. Fisher's coaching style, the new players, all of it received a very similar reception, but unlike RR he had the '89 national championship for protection. And of course the culture clash was magnified because it was not only a matter of a culture clash within the university but on a national level. Think of it as the culture clash times five.
Then there was the electrifying style of play. Every moment of every game at Crisler, you were just sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for something amazing to happen. Not just dunks, although people often forget just how incredible not only Webber but Jimmy's ups were. But an unreal block, an impossible pass, a quick as lightening steal. The only thing I can really compare it to in my life of watching sports was watching Denard last year. You were just sitting there with visceral sense of anticipation, knowing you just might witness something amazing. But now imagine if Denard and Rich Rod had taken us to a national championship game -- or two in a row -- and I think that will give you some sense of how it felt to be a student at Michigan in that era and why we simply can't not love those guys. We all knew those players personalities, their faces, their styles of play. It was something close to watching five Denards.
There was obviously a culture clash with Rodriguez's program as a whole but Denard isn't a part of that because Denard is the nicest kid in the history of the universe. I've been going to basketball and hockey games for years and when other athletes show up, they do so in a big group, come late, and leave early. This extends even to nonentities like the tennis team. They signed some autographs at Yost earlier this season and then watched a portion of the second period in seats directly behind mine, then took off.
Denard went to the DEATH TO BACKBOARDS Wisconsin game. He wasn't there with teammates (unless Drew Dileo was there—everyone around him was an average-sized white guy), stayed for the whole thing, and when handed a random maize T-shirt he put it over his futuristic Annie Lennox jacket. You can throw that on the pile of evidence that contains every press conference he's ever attended and every touchdown he's ever kneeled after.
But the larger point is good. Michigan swung away from its baseline attitude in the aftermath of the '89 championship because it won a lot for a brief period of time, and then when it won less and got the program in trouble they reacted by hiring Tommy Amaker and John Beilein. Even more telling was only after Amaker left for Harvard that people started complaining about his recruiting practices.
A lot of people have pointed at that reaction as the Fab Five's doing, but it's really just Michigan returning to its equilibrium state after being knocked out of it briefly. The same thing happened with Rodriguez except it didn't take nearly as long because there weren't any of those win things. At some point in the future Michigan will have a coach with a different idea of what football looks like*, and he'll be tolerated as long as he wins, and then eventually he won't win and Michigan will return to its equilibrium state.
*[Possibly a distant, Humans Are Dead future, granted.]
A Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure.
It seems just about everyone in the media has a "source" that knows what Darius Morris plans to do this offseason. Such rumored plans include:
- Returning to school for his junior year with 100% certainty.
- Entering his name for the NBA Draft, but not hiring an agent, so he can pull out of it.
- Absolutely, with 100% certainty, entering the NBA Draft - for keepsies.
The correct answer is... none of the above. At John Beilein's meeting with the media today, he went into great detail about Darius's (possible) upcoming decision.
There are effectively three phases for an underclassman who intends to enter the NBA Draft. The first phase, which is what Darius has done, is to submit an application to the NBA Draft Undergraduate Advisory committee. John Beilein recommended to Darius that he apply to this committee: "Within two days after the season was over, I called Darius into the office, and suggested that we go through the Undergraduate Advisory Committee and gather information - and that's all that's happening right now." This is not a decision that blindsided the coaches, and in fact was Beilein's own idea.
Phase two is declaring for the NBA Draft, which Darius has not done. In fact, the application for evaluation explicitly states:
Please note that submission of this application is not a declaration of eligibility for the 2011 NBA Draft. A separate letter must be sent to Commissioner Davis Stern (received by April 24th, 2011) declaring eligibility for the 2011 NBA Draft.
(Emphasis original to the source). The third phase is actually going through with the Draft, which means not withdrawing by June 13th, or hiring an agent, etc.
Beilein declined to discuss specifics of Darius's merit for the NBA Draft, only pointing out that conventional wisdom states that underclassmen who aren't projected to be first-rounders usually stay in school at least one more year. He's not a scout, and hasn't watched film on every player who's a senior or has submitted his name for evaluation, and so did not say whether or not he thought Darius met that standard.
He was adamant in pointing out that Michigan's coaches want nothing more than for their players to have successful careers (emphasis on career, presumably as opposed to a big draft payday) in the NBA. "It's not about getting drafted, it's about having success in the NBA."
"There's a lot involved in this, and you have to think about it; it's a very important decision," Beilein said. Manny Harris has proven in his first NBA season that he made the right decision, as he's a regular in the Cavs' rotation. It remains to be seen what the Committee will tell Darius, and he'll make his decision after that.
Other post-season notes from Beilein's luncheon are less pressing matters, so expect a recap tomorrow.
3/25/2011 – Michigan 3, Nebraska-Omaha 2 (OT) – 27-10-4
3/26/2011 – Michigan 2, Colorado College 1 – 28-10-4, Frozen Four
The course of the season showed that if Michigan was going to make the Frozen Four they were going to do it one way: narrowly. If you need a number, during the course of the UNO broadcast they put up a stat showing Michigan's record in one-goal games was 10-3. That's just how they do.
That record is now up to 12-3 after history's greatest video review and the Joe Howe show (wsgs Joe Howe's Posts) and if there was ever any chance we remembered this hockey team as the weird one that kind of reminded you of Ron Mason that's gone now. This team isn't trying to win games –1 to –2 but you'd be forgiven if sometimes you thought they were.
It's working, though. I spent the second intermission Saturday thinking about Buffalo, when Michigan dominated Minnesota for two periods but didn't put enough of that domination on the scoreboard to prevent Minnesota's rally from tying the game; Michigan lost the game and Al Montoya's brain in overtime on one of those bizarrely frequent OT goals that comes from almost the goal line on the left side of the net*. I spent the third period thinking about how beautifully boring it was until Red channeled into Lloyd Carr by slipping Jeff Rohrkemper out there for a power play shift. He was immediately punished for punting from the 34 by a Rohkemper boarding penalty and nine seconds later CC fumbled a puck into the net. Everyone braced for a storm. That storm was a single pea-sized hailstone. The most nervous moment after that was a bunch of players rooting for the puck on the boards with the goalie out and twenty seconds left.
Michigan had outshot their opponent 43-22, played a game universally acclaimed as their best of the season, and won 2-1 because Scooter is an animal and pucks that come off Lee Moffie's stick will hit the post and go in even if they have to deflect off three guys to do it. There is a natural inertia pulling them towards narrow wins you're uncertain about; even now that they've reached the Frozen Four there's a feeling they don't really match up with a North Dakota.
There's also the feeling they just might, though. Because what the hell, Michigan's 11-1 since the line shakeup after Michigan's dismal 0-3 stretch against MSU and Miami. Season goals slipping away and faced with the question of how to get the most use out of some good forwards who never, ever score Michigan put together a vintage Todd Marchant checking line and let anyone who might put the puck in the net forget about guys like Jaden Schwartz.
This has been remarkably effective. If the announcer didn't bring his name up every time he wasn't making a joke-type assertion about the "hockey hotbeds" of California, Texas, and Arizona, the viewer could have forgotten about Jaden Schwartz. Lingering irritation at Matt Rust's bad OT penalty against UNO evaporated as his line erased Schwartz, Schwartz, and Schultz with a healthy assist from Jon Merill at his most subtly awesome. The Schwartzes got their goal on a four-on-four scramble; everything other than that was frustration. In the second period they started jawing and shoving people because they were getting nothing. This was one day after they turned defending national champs Boston College into a lump of smoking carbon.
I watched North Dakota pummel two teams, one of them not even in the ECAC, this weekend. I remember Michigan's last two not-very-competitive matchups against them. I have considerable doubts that Michigan will beat them since they're by far the best team left standing. Doubts about doubts come when you close your eyes and see Jon Merrill gently shepherding you, the puck, and a hockey team into a deep, peaceful sleep as Matt Rust obscures the face of North Dakota Hobey finalist… oh… you know… what's his name.
*[Almost certainly an artifact of my introduction to college hockey but they seem to happen all the time: Josh Langfeld's championship winner, the Vanek goal (at 1:00) that put Michigan out in Buffalo, and ND's winner against Merrimack were all bizarre nothing shots from the same area of the ice that took the goalie by surprise.]
A Tiny Window Of White Bullets
Also the other two goals but mostly Scooter!
You do not have a twitter account that concerns itself with Michigan hockey if you didn't tweet "Scooter" followed by one to three exclamation points after his goal, which was completely unbelievable even as it was happening. CC does not have the greatest defensemen in the world but holy crap where did that come from?
Monster faceoffs. Michigan both faced and received extended periods of 5-on-3 time in the first period, and during both they got clean, critical faceoff wins. Moffie's goal was a direct result. The lack of a CC goal on their terrifying PP was greatly aided, as well.
Clare escape. To recap the thing I kept talking about during the game: after a tough shift in which Pateryn and Clare got caught in the zone forever, allowing the Schwartz line to get out against them and some other random non-Rust forwards, Red pulled Clare out of the lineup for more than a period. Pateryn took shifts with the second pair D to give guys a break. Clare returned about halfway through the second and actually got some PK time a bit later, which I guess makes sense because your breakout on the PK is slapping the puck down the ice. I saw him out there a couple times in the third, as well, but his minutes were minimized.
All this invites questions about Burlon's availability. He's got two weeks to recover from his strep and penicillin reaction, so I imagine he'll be in the lineup. Losing 15 pounds is kind of a lot, though, and I wonder how effective he'll be.
RNG in full effect. Hockey's vaguely weighted plinko system was a little more random than normal this time around: FF participants are two three-seeds, a two, and a one. One seeds went 2-2 in the first round, bringing their record against fours to 11-9 the last five years. That goes beyond "anything can happen" into "your excellent season gets you nothing."
What's wrong? I don't think you can blame the Pairwise. The "better"* ranking system, KRACH, already updated for the weekend's results and still has Yale a #1. The only difference between KRACH's top seeds and the PWRs is putting Denver above Miami, and there's a fair chance that wasn't the case before the events of the weekend.
You can blame insular schedules. Yale's nonconference schedule consisted of single games against CC, Air Force, Cornell, and Vermont and an "Ivy Shootout" against other ECAC members. The only evidence we had that Yale was a top seed other than their ECAC schedule was a 5-1 win over a .500 WCHA team and a 2-1 record against Atlantic Hockey—yeah, they'd already lost to first-round opponent Air Force.
This vapor-thin trail coupled with some other ECAC nonconference games convinced the ranking systems the conference didn't suck despite years of evidence to the contrary. The last ECAC team to make the Frozen Four was Cornell in 2003 and that last to win a title was Harvard in 1989.
That only explains perpetually disappointing ECAC #1s, which are rare. The rest of it is on a tournament format which has #1 Miami play #4 UNH in New Hampshire in a single-elimination game.
*[FWIW, KRACH is mathematically pure but has a tendency to go nuts about nonconference results. In certain years it would put up to eight WCHA teams, some well below .500, into the field.]
Abandabuildings. It was no surprise to see literally every seat in the upper bowl in St. Louis empty. We wondered if a couple of friends had actually made the trip despite stern clucking about teaching the NCAA a lesson, and I said "if they did they'll be on TV because they'll be the only people there," and midway through the second there they were. Even the NCAA's comically generous numbers only show 55% capacity.
Every year we get sterile half-full buildings as teams get shipped halfway across the country and fans have to deal with the possibility they'll get on a plane to see their team play once, or if they're lucky play twice and make the Frozen Four and then you've blown your budget on regionals already. Insert usual rant about using home sites here.
The good news is the NCAA has not selected regional sites past next year. In the past sites have been selected three to four years out, so that's a clear sign this failed format is on its last legs. Last year there was a report out of Grand Forks that change was coming, with home sites and "super regionals" of an undetermined nature.
The bad news is that once again the CCHA has no regionals within hundreds of miles of it—the closest is in Green Bay as the St. Louis regional moves to St. Paul. At least Michigan's getting out of that rinky-dink operation, and as a bonus the failures of its commissioner* now directly benefit it.
*[Seriously, what has Anastos done since 1998 that a lump of quartz couldn't? The CCHA has gone nowhere, and has clearly become the region of the country that either gets screwed over by the committee or can't scrape together a bid that makes any more sense than having a regional in St. Louis.]
I am Jack's total lack of surprise. The crew doing the Yale-UMD game that chucked Yale's best player out of the game for a clean open-ice hit were from the CCHA. Yale's coach was infuriated enough afterwards to lead his presser with "the game was taken away from us." Yet more reason to be happy we're getting away from the league—hopefully most of the refs don't follow.
Via Boyz in the Pahokee as per usual.
Daily game story and gallery featuring a great shot of the Scooter(!!!) goal:
Everyone in the shot including Scooter is thinking "WTF?"
“I think they did have a few pretty good shots early on,” Hunwick said. “But this is an opportunity to play for the Frozen Four. I think I made a couple good saves. It’s pretty easy to stay in the game when you’re playing to go to the Frozen Four. They didn’t really get anything going too much until they got into the power play. Once they got into the power play, I really had to be sharp.”
Seriously, that power play was terrifying. That first period five on three was awful.
Torrent of the CC game.