frank beamer #1
Getting started shortly before the game, which begins at 7.
In one of the most vexing, muddled and up-in-the-air bubble situations the college hoops landscape has seen in recent years, Michigan split their games last week, but in the process elevated their overall profile.
A week after nearly unanimously falling out of most mock brackets, Michigan regained some footing by thumping everybody’s trendy dark horse Penn St by 20 and then going toe to toe on the road against top ranked Uconn. While the Wolverines upset bid fell oh so short, the game effort against the Huskies helped prove to most college hoop observers that UM can compete and beat tournament caliber teams. Also helping Michigan’s cause this week was the continuation of collapses at Notre Dame and Georgetown, several Big 12 bubble teams going winless on the week and fellow Big 10 bubble mates Penn St and Northwestern stepping back to the pack.
Despite ending the week with a loss, Michigan found itself in more mock brackets this week. After losing four of five games to close January, Michigan entered February in only a smattering of brackets, many of which had not been updated to even include Michigan’s more recent losses.
One week into the new month, Michigan finds itself in 18 of 52 mock brackets tracked by the Bracket Project. Nearly 40 percent of the accredited bracketologists label Michigan a tournament team, despite having just gone through its biggest slump of the season. That bodes well for Michigan’s chances, if they can close out strong and bang out a few more impressive wins.
If Michigan can pull out a winning record in their final seven games, a stretch that includes marquee home games against MSU (tonight), Minnesota (2/19) and Purdue (2/26), then a tourney bid is theirs for the taking. A 9-9 league mark ought to do the trick, so long as they do not have an embarrassing flame out in the Big 10 tournament and lose to Iowa or Indiana in a first round game.
The final two teams in the Amaker era broke even in the Big 10, but were denied a bid. Those teams failed to close strong. With a bid on the line in the season finale in both those seasons, Michigan failed to deliver a home win against Indiana and Ohio State respectively. Those Michigan teams did not have anything to brag about in the OOC slate either and, in fact, was routinely embarrassed in their big time non conference games.
This year’s squad is much different. To get to a .500 record in league play, they have to close strong. And, if they succeed, they will have beaten several tournament bound teams in February. And, unlike those Amaker squads, this year’s Michigan team boasts as strong a pair of OOC wins (Duke and UCLA) as anyone else in the country.
With less than five weeks until Selection Sunday, the Michigan Wolverines control their own destiny as far as earning a tournament bid. The path begins tonight with rival Michigan State in town. While awaiting tip off, here are some other observations about the latest round of mock brackets.
Blue Grass Blues
Is Kentucky in trouble? It’s hard to imagine a member of the college basketball royal family missing out on the tournament, but the Wildcats could not have picked a worse time to embark on a losing streak. The SEC has been maligned all winter with experts forecasting as few as four or three bids into the field. You don’t want to be an SEC team on the bubble right now—especially on a losing streak—as public perception will work against you.
Losers of three in a row, the Cats are already finding that public perception betraying them a bit. In the week since UK last played a game, more than one quarter (15 of 51) of the updated mock brackets have left them out of their field. Michigan, for example, is in 8 brackets which UK has been left out of, including such notables as the Bracket Project and collegehoopsnet.com.
The Wildcats are a team in need of win. Tonight’s home game with Florida (on ESPN after the MSU/UM) carries as much import for the home team as the showdown in Ann Arbor does. A win for UK really cures a lot of ills. However, a loss extends the losing streak for a team that plays four of its next five games on the road.
You know it’s bad in Lexington when fans are pining for the days of Eddie Sutton. While his tenure led to crippling probation, some folks wish the Gillespie had a bit of Old Man Sutton’s imagination as they try to fight their way out of a losing streak and off the bubble.
It was a boring week in the ACC, right? Landmark wins by Clemson over Duke and Miami over Wake during the week was followed by a weekend chalk full of dramatic comebacks. Duke, Florida State and Virginia Tech all climbed back from large halftime deficits to secure key wins. Ho hum, just another boring week in the ACC where it seems every game is not only close, but also played between final four contenders and/or good teams residing on the bubble.
It was a good week for the ACC as in some mock brackets, notably Lunardi’s at ESPN, the ACC now has 8 bids, the most of any other conference. The biggest team winner in all of this might have been Florida State. The Noles are one of five ACC bubble teams, but with all of them facing many hurdles between now and the end of the season, it’s really anybody’s guess how this whole thing will shake out. But, coming from behind to notch a road win at Clemson has the Noles, at least for now, standing out from the crowd. Most mock brackets have them securely in the field with a #7 seed or better. The Seminoles are close to being tournament locks and breaking their 10-year drought.
The rest of the ACC bubble still has work to do. Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami are still in most fields, albeit as double digit seeds. Neither of those teams can afford a losing spell or other teams will surely pass them. Maryland, the only league bubble team not in any recently updated mock fields, needs to go a prolonged winning streak to nudge back into contention.
Obviously, it’s a marquee week for the league with Wednesday night’s Duke/UNC showdown, but be sure to keep an eye on these games as their outcomes will go a long way in determining the next round of mock brackets: Clemson at BC, 2/10; Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, 2/11; FSU at WF, 2/14; VT at Maryland, 2/14; Duke at BC, 2/14; and UNC at Miami, 2/14.
Another week, another new contender in the Big 12
We’re in the process of a complete overhaul of the bubble picture in the Big 12. Spurred by preseason expectations, Oklahoma St, Baylor and Texas A/M was the conventional wisdom’s pecking order for the last few invites for a league that should be a 6-bid conference. However, those three schools are just a combined 9-17 in league play and had been ping-ponging between being in and out of the mock brackets for the last several weeks. Each school went 0-2 during the last week of play. All three have fallen off the radar of most bracketologists and will need to go on a major run from here on out just to finish break even in conference play.
What’s worse is they’ve been bypassed by new bubble teams right out of their own league. Kansas State burst onto the scene the final week of January with wins over Missouri and Texas. The Wildcats followed the act by winning two more games last week—including a gutsy road win in College Station over the Aggies—to run their winning streak to five games. After the win, it’s fair to ask if the balance of power in the league has shifted divisions. The Wildcats have a big week ahead of them. They host Texas Tech tomorrow and then welcome KU in a huge showdown Saturday afternoon. With a manageable slate down the stretch, it will be difficult to keep KSU out of the field if they notch another two wins this week.
Meanwhile a new contender for a bid also emerged in the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska followed the same model KSU did previously and used a marquee win over Texas over the weekend to jump into bubble discussion. Are they tournament ready just yet? One Nebraska bracketologist says not yet, but its just a blast to even include them into the discussion. Nebraska’s bubble situation is just like Michigan’s, in that they have plenty of big name marks on the schedule where wins could boost their resume right into the field. Unlike, Michigan, however, all those contests are on the road. In their final seven games, Big Red has to travel to Missouri, Kansas, KSU and Baylor. If they don’t get at least one win from that group of games, the Huskers will be a .500 team at best in league play. With an OOC resume devoid of any big time wins and marred with bad losses to Oregon St and Maryland Baltimore County, I doubt that will cut it come Selection Sunday.
Beware, Mock Bracket Darling
One of the more interesting trends this winter has been watching the rise—and subsequent fall—of the Mock Bracket Darling. I define this species as a team which nobody is even discussing, but after an impressive week suddenly shoots to the top of everyone’s bubble list. Two weeks ago, the Darling was Virginia Tech. After notching landmark road wins at Wake and Miami, the Hokies came out of nowhere and made appearances in just about everyone’s mock fields. Last week, bracketologists everywhere lauded Penn St, and 24 hours after their road win at Michigan St, the Nittany Lions made their own debut in the mocks.
Both teams found their new found status too much to bear. The Hokies immediately choked a big lead and lost at home to Clemson, followed by a buzzer beating loss to BC. While they won their only game last week, the Hokies place in any eventual field is far from secure. Penn St followed their appearance in the mocks by getting blown out at Michigan and losing at home to Wisconsin. After dropping a pair of bubble battles, the Nittany Lions find themselves out of most mock fields as quickly as they were placed inside them.
If you’ve become a Mock Bracket Darling, you had better watch your back.
If this trend holds up, that bears bad news for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Alleged to be a bottom half team from the Big East, the Bearcats have parlayed a recent hot run into an ‘in the field’ status by most accounts. The Bearcats run includes a win over Notre Dame and a sweep of Georgetown. With those programs cratering towards the NIT and Providence on a three-game losing streak, the Bearcats have found themselves as the last Big East team in the field. According the Bracket Matrix, 41 mock fields have posted since this weekend’s action and the Bearcats find themselves in 27 of those fields. In most of those mocks, CU is either an 11 or 12 seed and among the final teams overall placed on the board.
The Bearcats have one of the conference’s best scorers in Deonta Vaughn. They also have one the league’s top Diaper Dandies in Yancy Gates, who was just named Big Eat Rookie of the Week for the second time this season. Their coach highlights a down to the wire loss at Uconn as the season’s turning point. Hopefully, Michigan can follow suit after their near miss against the Huskies on Saturday.
Can they avoid the Mock Bracket Darling Hex? After a gimme at home against St John’s this week, the Bearcats still have games with Pittsburgh, Louisville, Syracuse and West Virginia between now and March 1. If they can come out of the stretch alive, we might need to find a permanent place in the field for them.
Un4gettable? You had to be there
Away from mock brackets, there was a dose of Michigan related hoops news over the weekend. Do you remember Chris Weber? He played on the Fab Five and advanced to a couple of Final Fours during his years at Michigan. Allegedly.
Anyway, the Sacramento Kings of the NBA retired good old #4’s number in a dramatic ceremony Friday night. All the luminaries that you would expect at such an event showed up. Like Scott Pollard and Doug Christie. Mateen Cleaves was even there and spoke to the crowd about C-Web.
There was a little problem, however, with the crowd that night. Apparently dozens of Wise Guys showed up to honor Weber as well. The Kings did not have enough seats for them, but I am sure Chris, good guy that he is, invited them all out to his post game celebration. It was touching moment, indeed.
It feels like it's been a long time since this game really mattered. Michigan has beaten the Spartans a couple times in Crisler Arena over the past few years, but they have fallen short of the NCAA tournament time and time again. The six years of the Tommy Amaker era saw Michigan take a couple steps forward, but in the end the improvements proved to be nothing more than a flash in the pan. Amaker did win a few more games than Brian Elerbee (Thank God) but another coach has come and gone, and now John Beilein gets his shot at steering this club into the tournament.
These two programs are on different levels, that much is undeniable. The Michigan program is showing signs of life and with a few more wins could be on the brink of their first NCAA tournament berth since 1998. In contrast, since UCLA knocked Michigan out of that NCAA tournament 11 years ago, Michigan State has won a National Championship, accumulated three Big Ten crowns, been to four Final Fours, and made it to the NCAA tournament each and every year.
Naysayers might say that a rivalry can't exist when you have two programs that have traveled down such different paths over the last decade or so. They are dead wrong, this rivalry is alive and Tom Izzo makes that much clear:
"Everybody wanted a rivalry, well, you've got one,"
This rivalry is very much doing just fine and Michigan has a chance to pump a little more life into the rivalry tonight. In-state rivalries are just different; households are divided, friendships are split, and pride is on the line. Try telling Manny Harris or Kalin Lucas this game doesn’t mean just a little bit more, that this matchup doesn’t get just a little bit more attention, and they might have something to say. Michigan-Michigan State is the rivalry that burns in my heart, every winter this is the rivalry that matters. I'll worry about that team in Columbus next fall.
In-state talent is the foundation of both programs, so naturally recruiting lies at the heart of the rivalry. Over 65% of both teams' scoring comes from in-state players and four of the five highest profile players in this game all hail from the state of Michigan: Manny Harris, Kalin Lucas, Goran Suton, and DeShawn Sims. You would be crazy to think that any of these guys don't understand the rivalry.
If there’s one guy on Michigan’s roster who learned firsthand just how heated this rivalry can be on the recruiting trail, it’s DeShawn Sims. DeShawn had narrowed his school list to Michigan, Michigan State, and Syracuse and started mentioning a "one school list" early in the summer of 2005. Izzo continued to recruit DeShawn throughout the summer despite the consensus feeling that Michigan was the school on that one team list. When DeShawn informed Izzo that he was headed to Michigan, Izzo reportedly let him have a piece of his mind in a way that only Tom Izzo can. Izzo berated him for wasting his time and told him that he should have just committed to Michigan instead of leading him on. Rumors and speculation spread like wildfire between enraged coaches, reporters, and message board posters in a nonsensical way that only an in-state rivalry could stir up.
The star studded sophomore class that will star in tonight's game is made up of long time friends from the city of Detroit. Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, and Manny Harris (pictured above) starred together for Detroit area AAU team The Family, tearing apart the best high school competition in the country. Manny and Kalin are still good friends, but that didn't stop Kalin from coming up with fake trash talk, that supposedly came straight from Manny Harris' mouth, to motivate Travis Walton to beat one of the worst Wolverine teams in recent history:
"I was telling Travis how Manny was talking stuff when actually he wasn't," Lucas said. "I was just getting him pumped up and juiced for the game and it worked."
What exactly was Lucas saying?
"I was just saying, 'Manny said you too little, you too small, you're 6-1, you can't hold him, you can't check him,'" Lucas said. "I just had to get in Travis' head a little bit and Travis went out there and played great defense."
How important is this game to John Beilein? The head coach -- widely regarded as one of the best teachers of the game by analysts, scouts, and coaches across the country -- was rejected early on by Detroit PSL coaches. Beilein dug himself further into a hole when he offered Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, two unknowns from Indiana, rather than pursue the mid-level talent available in the PSL. Leading two Detroit kids (Manny and DeShawn) to a win over Michigan State tonight would certainly be a message to those coaches that they should start to pay attention to the headman in Ann Arbor.
The first head-to-head recruiting battle between John Beilein and Tom Izzo was over Draymond Green. Green turned down the opportunity for ample playing time in Michigan's sparse front court, and is now playing only 9.3 minutes per game for the Spartans. Many recruiting analysts thought Draymond was headed to Ann Arbor before a late Michigan State offer swayed Day-Day to the green and white. It's hard to interpret that as anything more than a statement from Tom Izzo – stay out of my backyard.
The recruiting battle between these two schools will wage on. Both schools pulled in big men from Detroit in the 2009 class, but have yet to battle over any other recruits. All eyes are pointing toward the class of 2010 where top in-state talent like Trey Zeigler, Ray McCallum, Isaiah Sykes, and Alex Gauna are already drawing Michigan and Michigan State interest. Izzo drew first blood in the fledgling battle, gaining a commitment from Pershing High School 4-star point guard Keith Appling.
Forging An Identity
All great coaches and programs have an identity. One of the problems with the Tommy Amaker era was that those teams never really had something to hang their hats on. There are many ways to win in college basketball and every great coach has his own style. Tom Izzo built the Michigan State program on defense and rebounding, while John Beilein's teams have been constructed around the three point shot and eliminating turnovers.
Is one way better than the other? I don't think so. Izzo has the stronger resume at this point in his career but he's been at a high-major program for a much longer period of time than Beilein. Beilein has won at every level and right now appears to have Michigan headed in the right direction, maybe even ahead of schedule.
The contrasting styles of the two teams will make for an interesting game tonight, and a hell of a rivalry down the line. Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the country. They rebound 41.8% of their misses and 73% of their opponents' misses, the only team to rank in the top 10 in both rebounding categories.
Michigan shoots almost 50% of their shots from behind the arc and while they haven't knocked them down consistently, they have shown just how potent the offense can be when the shots are going in. Regardless of their shooting struggles, Michigan has turned into a team that values the ball. They turn the ball over on only 17.2% of their possessions, 15th best in the country. Holding onto the ball kept Michigan in plenty of games, and even helped lead to a couple huge upsets.
How did Michigan beat UCLA? Not with shooting or rebounding. They shot only 43% from the field and allowed UCLA to rebound over 40% of their misses. Michigan won that game by winning the turnover battle, turning it over on only 15.8% their possessions, while forcing UCLA to turn it over on 29.8% of theirs.
John Beilein and Tom Izzo certainly respect each other and will go out of their way to be extremely classy in public -- no short jokes or moments of silence here. But don't get it twisted, they aren't rooting for each other:
"Am I gonna sit here and look you in the eye and say, 'I'm pulling for Michigan?" Izzo asked. "Well if I do that, or John Beilein (says he's pulling for Michigan State), we're both drinking something funny."
There is no love lost between the Michigan and Michigan State fans, and with only one game scheduled this year, tonight’s result will be the center of any trash talk for the next 12 months. An airing of grievances could go on forever. Michigan State fans will complain about the Fab Five "disrespecting" the Spartan block "S" in the middle of the Breslin Center. Michigan fans will complain about Izzo running up the score on Mateen Cleaves' senior night, 114-63. If you’re a fan of a team of either side of this rivalry, something over the last 15 or 20 years rips you apart -- for me its hearing thousands of Michigan State fans in Ann Arbor chanting “We Own Crisler” during the darkest days of Michigan basketball.
Tonight's game is huge for each program for very different reasons. Michigan State is looking to get the proverbial monkey off their back and win their first Big Ten Championship since 2001. Michigan is trying to shed the weight of the 1000 pound gorilla that is the NCAA tournament. Remember, Manny Harris was only 8 years old the last time Michigan made the dance. Michigan athletic director Bill Martin was quick to call the Duke win "a watershed event", but if Michigan can't win a few more games down the stretch it won't be anything more than a preview of the Michigan team we might see down the road.
Dylan Burkhardt's work can be found on his own site, UM Hoops, which can be found at www.umhoops.com. UM Hoops focuses on all aspects of Michigan basketball. If you are looking for more coverage of tonight's game make sure to check out his statistics-centric preview, interview with KJ of The Spartans Weblog, as well as KJ's interview.
Since our fearless leader typically gives recruiting updates each Monday, I'll carry the torch in his absence. My site, Varsity Blue, is a little more recruiting-oriented, and already has updates on many of these guys.
Michigan will probably take 2, at least one of whom is a star.
Devin Gardner comes from Inkster Michigan. He will probably be a 5-star prospect, and is one of the Wolverines' top recruiting targets.
Malik Stokes is a dual-threat QB from Philadelphia Northeast High School. If the name and school sound familiar, it's because his older borther, Je'Ron, signed with Michigan last week.
Michigan will probably take 2 or 3 running backs.
Austin White from Livonia Stevenson will be among the top prospects in the state, but he comes from a Green-and-White family.
Brennan Clay hails from California, and is a high school teammate of Tate Forcier. He is a speedy prospect, but might lok to stay on the west coast.
Nick Hill from Chelsea grew up a Michigan fan, and most people predict he will commit if offered.
Michigan might take 1 tight end, 3ish wideouts, and a couple slots.
Ricardo Miller was Michigan's first commit in the 2010 class. The Florida WR is expected to be a 5-star prospect.
Jeremy Jackson is the son of Michigan's RB coach Fred Jackson, and was Michigan's second 2010 commit.
Jerald Robinson is expected to commit today, and would be Michigan's third in the class. He has potential to move positions down the line.
De'Joshua Johnson from Pahokee is a good slot candidate. He is electric with the ball in his hands, and the Blue Devils may slot him in at QB this year.
Chris Dunkleyalso comes from Florida, and he is yet another diminutive potential slotman.
CJ Fiedorowicz is the #1 TE in the country, an he reports a 40-yard dash time under 4.6 seconds, despite being 6-7.
Michigan loses a couple offensive linemen after 2009, and will likely take 2 or 3 in 2010.
Seantrel Henderson is the #1 overal recruit in the nation, and the Minneapolis product may not be a particularly realiztic target for Michigan.
Robert Crisp, on the other hand, isn't far behind Henderson, and he is mentioning Michigan as a school of interest early in the process.
Jose Jose has a spectacular name and good quickness, which is at a premium in Michigan's scheme. However, he hails from Miami, and grew up a fan of the Hurricanes.
Christopher Devezin comes from Cass Tech, but it isn't clear if he has potential to be a Michigan recruit.
After missing on a couple of guys in 2009, DT is again a need in 2010. 2 or 3 might be necessary.
Jay Guy from Texas has a Michigan offer already, and like the Wolverines. He should be a highly-regarded prospect, and there will be plenty of competition for him.
Richard Ash, Doral Willis, and Anotnio Ford are all from Pahokee, and Michigan might change up the pipeline a bit and take a lineman from the school this year.
Michigan loses an impact player in Brandon Graham, but they have enough talent in the pipeline that they only need 1 or 2 ends.
William Gholston is a near-lock for 5-star status, and will battle Gardner for #1 prospect in the state. Michigan is on him early, battling State (the leader?) and Ohio State (which turned his cousin, Vernon, into an NFL first-rounder).
Derrick Bryant from Columbus Brookhaven has Michigan interest, and he's talked about wanting to make an early decision.
Darryl Baldwin from Solon Ohio is another prospect that Michigan has taken an early interest in - extending an offer.
Michigan doesn't lose any LBs off the 2009 roster, but they need impact players at the position. Maybe 1 or 2.
Austin Gray from Warren Fitzgerald is reporting a Michigan offer early in the process, and will be among the top LBs in the state.
Jewone Snow hails from Canton McKinley, and knows Jerald Robinson. He is also the son of Michigan great Garland Rivers.
VJ Fehoko from Hawaii is expected to be one of the nation's top linebackers. He is reporting early Michigan interest.
Daniel Easterly is a bit of an enigma. The Cass Tech product is athletic enough to play corner at 6-6, so if he can fill out his frame well, he could have tons of upside.
Michigan only loses Stevie Brown off the 2009 roster, and probably wants an impact player or two.
Marvin Robinson was once considered a Michigan lock, but now is looking to take his time with his recruitment. He is a probable 5-star guy.
Michigan will probably take a couple guys who have potential to make an impact.
Lorenza Wood from Orlando has had Michigan near the top of his list for some time. He is also expected to make an early decision, so the Wolverines are hoping he chooses them.
Dior Mathis out of Cass Tech is the mighty mite of the bunch. He is reminiscent of Boubacar Cissoko (though perhaps even smaller), but could end up as a slot on the other side of the ball. He grew up a Miami of Florida fan.
Cullen Christian from Penn Hills, PA has talked early about Michigan being one of his favorites. He would be a taller complement to a corner group.
Jerald Robinson is a 2010 wide receiver, from Canton, Ohio. He has just informed me that he will be committing to the University of Michigan today. Robinson plays receiver in a spread offense very similar to Michigan's. Take a look at his highlight video, and the conversation we had.
TOM: So you’re committing to Michigan, what stood out the most?
JERALD: I always had a feel for Michigan. OSU was my top school at one point, but I realized that Michigan is about to be in a good stage. I like the fans, and the atmosphere was nice too. I went to a game, and it was a lot of fun. I got the offer from them, and I talked to my family about it, and they thought it would be a good idea.
TOM: What positions do you play right now?
JERALD: I play receiver and safety. I like receiver more, and that’s what the coaches are talking to me. I play the X receiver, so they want me there.
TOM: Have you talked to any Michigan commits, or players?
JERALD: I talked to Ricardo Miller today, he texted me. We had a conversation, and I wasn’t sure when I was going to commit. I talked to Justin Turner today too. Ricardo told me the atmosphere, and the fans are crazy. The coaches treat you real good, and that made a good impression on me.
TOM: Did you just want to get your recruitment out of the way, or is this more of you’re committed, and see what happens?
JERALD: In some other peoples point of view they might want to look around, but I’m just committing. There are no other schools I’m going to be looking at. My recruitment is done after this, and I just can’t wait to be a Wolverine.
TOM: Are there any other recruits in your class you talk to?
JERALD: I talked to Jewone Snow, he’s offered by Michigan State already. I talk to Jamel Turner, but that’s it really.
TOM: What camps and combines will you be going to this summer?
JERALD: I’m going to the Michigan camp for sure, but I’m not sure about any other combines. There’s no reason to go to any really.
TOM: What are you most excited about for college, and Michigan?
JERALD: I’m excited to meet new people, and to be out of the state of Ohio. I want to get out of Ohio and experience new things. Justin Turner told me that you meet a whole different family, and you can start a new life. That’s what I think I need.
TOM: Where are you ranked with the recruiting services, and the coaches?
JERALD: I know I’m in the Rivals 250 to watch. But the coaches, just Michigan has offered, but everyone else was talking about spring offers. Coach Rodriguez told me once he started watching my film; he wanted me to pick Michigan. He offered on the spot. We run the spread too, so I fit into what he does.
It wasn't the dominating effort that the Wolverines had Friday night, but they grinded one out last night and got the much-needed sweep of the Lakers.
Bryan Hogan was pretty great in net, making 26 saves on the night. He was rock solid between the pipes and made a few huge stops.
His first big save was in the first five minutes. Langlais turned it over and a Michigan clearing attempt hit a Laker skate and bounced to Schwab right in the slot. Hogan was quick with the right pad from point-blank range to keep the game scoreless.
Pateryn was called for cross-checking on the play and Hogan made a stop on Sim once Sim stepped through our defense.
The Wolverines got it going after the penalty was killed off. Miller made a nice pass to Czarnik, but the Laker defenseman was quick with the stick to knock it away. Palushaj then found Rust in the slot and Rust just missed the top corner.
Caporusso, Lebler, Palushaj and Langlais all had good chances on Michigan's next power play effort.
Then late in the period Gysbers snapped one on net that hit a couple people on the way through. Hogan had a little trouble with it and pushed it out to the right. No Michigan defender was on that side of the net and MacVoy had a wide-open net. He buried it and gave the Lakers their second 1-0 lead on the weekend.
But just like the night before, the Lakers had a costly letdown right before intermission. Just 18 seconds later, Hagelin took the puck in the corner to the right of Inglis, carried it out to the blueline then wheeled into the middle of the ice. He cut right down the middle and sent a laser low on the blocker-side to tie the game back up. That was almost a carbon copy of one of my favorite Steve Yzerman goals.
Great news during the first intermission. Chris Summers is interviewed and says that every player he's talked to who has come through the program has told him to stay in school and enjoy it for as long as he can. He then says, "I want to stay. I want to finish. I've been here three years already, so what's another year? It's another chance for me to grow as a player and grow as a person. And I'll get my degree." Sounds like our on-ice captain will be back in 09-10.
Gysbers took a penalty early in the second and Michigan didn't get much going. Red had talked about making good decisions on the power play and they didn't on that opportunity. Langlais and Caporusso both passed up great chances while looking for the perfect pass.
Winnett had a great look and Inglis stoned him with the pad. Then Summers had a follow-up opportunity and Inglis got that one as well.
The Wolverines jumped ahead when Czarnik fed Palushaj with a pass. Palushaj ripped one off the pad of Inglis and the rebound went right onto Lebler's stick. Lebler didn't miss and the Wolverines had themselves a 2-1 lead. You would think that I wouldn't forget to mention such a crucial play in my original edition of this story. But you'd be wrong.
Llewellyn had a nice break-up on a pass through the slot that would've been an easy tap-in. Then the Lakers started hitting some beautiful passes where the recipient couldn't get a stick on it. Perkovich found Barczuk twice on one shift and Barczuk let it slide off his stick both times or he would've had two blockbuster scoring chances. Then someone hit Sim behind the defense and he couldn't handle it.
Hogan then left a soft rebound but completely redeemed himself by somehow getting across the net to make a huge stop on Nehring. Miller hooked Nehring as well, but Hogan still had to be sharp. He was shaken up for a minute but stayed in the game.
LSSU didn't do anything on the power play and then Burlon made a great pass to Czarnik, but Inglis got across with his pad and then stopped the Czarnik shot on the rebound.
Michigan got a couple of power play to start the third and Wohlberg thought he was in all alone but was whistled on the offside. He didn't like it, but a frame-by-frame replay showed he was off by a step. Great call by the linesman.
Rust was left open in the slot on a turnover and the Wolverines got him the puck. It was hard to tell if Inglis got that one or if Rust shot wide, but either way it was a great opportunity.
The Lakers came out two-on-one and Burlon did a great job of taking the pass away. Schwab had to shoot and Hogan was able to get out to the top of his crease and smother it.
Palushaj hit the post off a great drop-pass from Rust and then tipped a shot from the point right on, Inglis made a great save.
The last 7 minutes of the hockey game was all special teams. The Lakers got the first crack at a power play and Schwab just walked Summers, but Hogan was strong again. MacVoy then had a golden opportunity to get his second of the night. On the replay I couldn't tell if it hit the post or if Hogan got it, but I think our keeper made the save.
Two hits from behind on the Lakers gave Michigan 4 minutes of power play time over the last 4 1/2 minutes and that was pretty much all she wrote. Caporusso tried to snipe one and just missed. For the second PP, Michigan pretty much went with the prevent and threw out our best defensive forwards—Miller, Hagelin, and Rust—to prevent any short-handed chances (or maybe the other units were just tired).
The Lakers pulled the goalie and Michigan missed on about six cracks at the empty net. LSSU never came close to getting the game tied with the goalie out and Michigan came out with a 2-1 win.
Hogan was fantastic. He made several stops on guys who walked in all alone and his stop on Schwab early in the game was flat out robbery. The defense was pretty good, though they let LSSU walk in untouched a little too often for my liking, but Hogan bailed them out when he needed to.
Hagelin was great yet again—by the way, I absolutely love the Swedish flags in the student section…that's kind of awesome. As was the case Friday night, a Michigan goal late in the period prevented LSSU from carrying momentum into the intermissionn. And that was a highlight-reel goal for sure.
I also thought Winnett had a very good weekend. He wasn't the best player out there or anything like that, but he drew several penalties, and showed a lot more offensively than he has at any point in his Michigan career.
The line of Hagelin, Rust, and Palushaj was really fantastic. They had a ton of chances—how Rust didn't pot one I don't know—and provided the typically awesome defensive play that line is known for.
We made up our games in hand on Miami this weekend and we're now just two points behind them in the standings. We're 2 ahead of Alaska (still with two games in hand) and two ahead of OSU after they knocked off the Irish this afternoon. (By the way, how big are those blown calls by Brian Aaron now? We'd be two points back with six games to play, and we'd have the tie-breaker on them.) We face Omaha next weekend and the best they can do is tie us in the standings, but we'd still have two games in hand. With six games left to play, we're sitting in really good shape to get a first-round bye in the CCHA Playoffs. We're also sitting in a tie for third in the Pairwise now, which would give us a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They've done a really nice job pulling themselves off the bubble and turning into a team that no one is going to want to face come late-March.
The one thing that could end up being our Achilles heel is the power play. 0 for 7 on the night with just seven shots. They had some decent looks, but you gotta put some pucks in the net. We're the #11 scoring offense in the country, but just #42 on the power play at 14.3%. Ohio State and Denver are the only other teams in the country who have had similar struggles on the power play while remaining in the top 10-15 in offense. And they're still 10+ positions higher in the national PP rankings than we are. There's no reason for a team with this much talent to be that bad on the PP. They've still got some time to figure it out before the tournament.
Jim Roque was apparently very unhappy with the officiating at the end of the game, and Art Regner indicated Roque thought the Wolverines were diving a lot. I'll agree that the hit from behind on Palushaj with 2 minutes left probably could've been let go—it wasn't blatant and it was a pretty physical series—but his team had four more power plays than we did the night before, despite getting soundly outplayed (and it would've been five more save for a penalty with a whole 35 seconds left in the game). I can't say I have a lot of sympathy for him on that one. The other calls in the third were all legit, in my opinion. Despite the McInchak presence, I actually thought it was a pretty well-officiated weekend. Definitely better than we saw against Notre Dame and FYS, that's for sure.
If you're interested in additional hockey coverage, you can read a lot more from me at The Blog That Yost Built