Why else would people keep leaving the Micigan (sucks!) program?
I'm enjoying the tears with an Allagash White. Join us, wont you?
Let's map out this sequence of events:
1) Justin Boren decries a "lack of family values" in the Michigan program, citing Rodriguez's unusual practice methods...
...and decides to transfer.
2) OH DB Justin Turner commits to Michigan.
3) MI RB Teric Jones commits to Michigan.
4) OH S Isaiah Bell commits to Michigan.
Blood orgies are good for business.
3/28/2008 - Michigan 5, Niagara 1
3/29/2008 - Michigan 2, Clarkson 0
Frozen Four berth
What happened? The last two years Michigan hockey seemed in the early stages of a Michigan State basketball-like gradual decline into boring super-mediocrity. Two straight first-round matchups with North Dakota resulted in two straight first-round exits. Said first round exits were the first Michigan had ever experienced since the tournament moved to twelve teams. Michigan State added insult to injury by clutchigrabbing themselves the national title.
Then out the door went the shoulda-Hobey winner TJ Hensick, God himself Jack Johnson, and dynamic sophomore center Andrew Cogliano. Johnson and Cogliano spent the entire year in the NHL; Hensick got in 31 games. Three other defensemen, including captain Matt Hunwick, graduated, as did useful forward David Rohlfs. The media and coaches picked Michigan an apocalypse-inducing fourth in the CCHA.
Fast forward through a bunch of goals for, not many against, and you get this year's inexplicable finish: the top overall seed, 33-5-4, and favored to beat Notre Dame, make the NCAA championship game, and win Michigan's tenth national title.
Uh... what? What the hell happened here? And how can we make it happen to everything else? An exploration below.
But first, one thing that's not the cause:
TJ and Jack say seeya. Michigan looks like a quintessential Ewing theory team: lose the big stars, instantly much better. I am here to say bunko, pal. Bunko. The problem with last year's team was not the nation's leading scorer, his 45 assists, his +24, or his 19% shooting percentage. Nor was it Jack Johnson, his 16 goals and better than PPG scoring pace, and his 30-35 minutes a night.
Sometimes I read things on the internet and they often claim that one or both of the above guys was somehow selfish or lazy or was not properly leader-y, and I don't get it. Hensick killed penalties as a senior, was tied for third in shots despite having more ice time than any other forward, and had the highest plus minus on the team. Jack reigned in his wild freshman year, saw his PMs halve, and was just generally the best player -- period -- I've ever seen at Yost.
It wasn't them.
It was this:
Sauer. Obviously. When you go from a .896 save percentage to a .927, you have significantly increased your team's chance of victory.
How much of this is an improvement in Sauer himself and how much of it is a more committed team defensive effort? It's obviously a mix of both; Sauer has a hand in it. Check last year's stats:
With the same same roster -- I guess Michigan did lose the most statistically ineffective hockey player they've had in a decade when Jason Bailey left at midseason -- and only a modest drop in shots faced, Sauer went from eye-wrenchingly horrible (a save % of .884 would have been good for 66th of 73 goalies who registered enough minutes to qualify last year) to average (.914 would have been 27th, just ahead of Jeff Lerg). This was a quantum leap in performance largely obscured by Sauer's first-half performance. It's hard to say "hey, this guy is playing pretty well" when the statistics still have that ugly "8" after the decimal point.
When people did notice this they kept it under their breath in case, say, most of the way through the best game of his career he went for a stupid poke check and let in an ugly goal that cost Michigan the CCHA playoff championship and the ensuing mental trauma resulted in seven North Dakota goals in something like four minutes in the NCAA tournament. Hypothetically.
And this year?
Hey, good job Billy. And look at that, a significant drop in shots against. Hmmm...
The freshmen defensemen are outplaying last year's senior counterparts. I can tell because there is always at least one defenseman in my personal doghouse at all times. Said defenseman is responsible for all turnovers, goals, and undesirable global climactic
changes until such time as someone else enters the doghouse, they graduate, or -- in the case of Jeff Jillson -- a hockey team that drafted you way too high throws a bunch of money at you.
In that light, three enduring memories from the 2006 and 2007 teams:
Aside from a couple groan-worthy Langlais moments that were, IMO, not nearly enough to erase his consistently excellent play, has anything like this occurred this year? No. I literally cannot remember Scooter Vaughn or Tristin Llewellyn doing anything important all year. That's fantastic when you're freshmen defensemen on the #1 team in the country.
Do the stats back me up here? I think they do, at least slightly.
Dest last year: 1-10-11, +6. Cook: 0-4-4, +11. Hunwick: 6-20-26, +24
Vaughn: 0-4-4, +10. Llewellyn: 0-5-5, +9, Langlais 0-19-19, +20, "Other" (Quick): 2-2-4, +8.
That's about the same number of points and the same +/- (albeit in about 16 extra games between the four freshman) from four freshmen as the three seniors from last year. I know points and +/- are not great metrics -- if I had schmanzy stats like some of the NHL bloggers I would use them -- but there is also the lack of on-ice hatred for any of these guys.
Even if they're not actually better than the seniors, Chris Summers is better than he was as a freshman and so is Kampfer and so is Mitera.
I think there is one outstanding statistical anomaly that proves 1) it warn't Jack's fault, and 2) whatever the second and third defensive pairings were doing was messed up. This is it: Cogs last year: 23-25-48, +7. Kolarik: 18-27-45 +13.
Those two were the second line, basically. A rotating cast of Turnbull, Naurato, Miller, and others filled the other wing. Kolarik is awesome this year and was pretty darn good a year ago; Cogs has 45 points in the NHL thi
s year. Usually Jack came out with TJ and the first line, IIRC, and then saw another shift when the second or third line was out there. The second line was prime Dest-Cook territory, and those plus/minus results speak for themselves.
Kevin Porter was not a creation of TJ Hensick. One of the occupational hazards of putting your opinions on sports on the internet is that sometimes you write stuff like this:
We're about to find out if Kevin Porter, top five scorer, was entirely a creation of TJ Hensick. Survey says: hell yes. He's still probably the team's best player, but is uninspiring as those go.
Ha-HA! I suck.
Porter is the nation's leading scorer and since he hasn't taken any misconduct penalties will win the Hobey Baker on Friday. What's more, Red credits him with the work ethic and discipline shown by the entire team. When he missed practice Wednesday with a flu something or other, Michigan had what may have been its worst practice of the year.
And Chad Kolarik is just as good. Porter's going to win the Hobey, as he should, but Kolarik is the #6 scorer in the country and has transformed himself from a second-line offense-only forward (just +13 last year on 45 points) into a premiere penalty killer and effort guy. When he popped his hamstring against Lake State he new something was very wrong, but it was a five on three so he got to a knee and made himself a nuisance. Lake State did not score.
In both these guys, Michigan finally has a pair of senior top-liners on a par with the monster combos like Sertich and Sterling and all those guys from like UMD or Miami who are pretty good hockey players for a while until something finally clicks and they lay waste like McBain.
Virtually every freshman met or exceeded expectations. The jury is still out on Brian Hogan and Kevin Quick is an ex-Wolverine. I've discussed the defensemen. The forwards:
Everyone of these guys was a significant contributor save Winnett, and there are no Fardig-Bailey-Brown-Miller-MacVoy sorts in the bunch; every one is a potential scoring line player with offensive skill to spare.
The key to this recruiting class is the success of Hagelin, Langlais and Vaughn. All were relatively late pickups, which usually nets you questionable third or fourth line sorts and last pairing defensemen. Each of these guys showed up ready to play and will be mainstays for the next four years unless Hagelin gets really, really good and the Rangers sign him.
There are just a lot more good players. Okay, out went three excellent players: Jack, TJ, and Cogs. Out went two more good to average players, depending on how much you think of Matt Hunwick: Hunwick and Rohlfs. Out went three bad players: Dest, Cook, and Bailey.
I am of the opinion that Michigan picked up three excellent players -- Patch, Hagelin, Palushaj -- five good players -- Langlais, Rust, Caporusso, Llewellyn, Vaughn -- and one average one -- Winnett. Combine that with the slow and steady morph of Billy Sauer from an awful player to a good, maybe great one, and wham:
No, seriously. Flights out of Chicago are around 220 now -- yesterday there were in the 170s. Tickets will be available at face or below in Denver with both local schools knocked out. Hell, Notre Dame fans, it's your first Frozen Four ever. Go! Taste the sting of defeat, but go!
1) After a tense first period last night, Michigan blew the doors off Niagara and faces Clarkson (7 PM, ESPNU) in the regional final tonight.
2) Justin Turner, an Ohio DB from Massillion, Shawn Crable's old school, committed yesterday. Turner's currently in the top 50 at Rivals.
3) Teric Jones, a lightning-quick MI RB who turned in the fastest 40 at the Army All-American combine, just committed.
I'll have google-stalks of the new commits early next week; am in full-on-hockey mode.
Things to know as Michigan prepares to take on Niagara (7:30, ESPNU, if you're in AA best bet probably the Arena).
It might get messy. Mike Spath has some dispiriting news about the team's preparation:
Been a bad week of practice, largely because guys have come down with the 24-hour flu. Porter missed yesterday's skate and Red said the execution and effort was terrible. Scooter also has a bum shoulder. Everybody should be good to go for the weekend, but you're just forewarned.
Grudge. Mark Hartigan might be a little bitter about the infamous Molly game:
Told the Huskies were in the same regional as top-ranked Michigan this year, Hartigan bristled.
"Shocker," he said. "When we were in St. Cloud, we were rated higher than Michigan and were supposed to play Michigan at a neutral site, and it was at the Yost Arena."
The Huskies lost, 4-2, to the Wolverines, and Hartigan apparently hasn't gotten over it.
"Last college team I played against," he said. "I hope they lose, 8-0."
Hartigan's wrong, by the way. Michigan was the #4 seed; St. Cloud was #5. Top-seeded Denver might have a complaint.
How to win. Niagara has the #3 scoring offense in the country, though those numbers came against a schedule KRACH ranks 49th of 59 teams. As explored earlier, Niagara's results against teams from the Big 3.5 were middling at best, representative of a team that would finish somewhere in the middle of the CCHA.
By the second Yost regional the NCAA tournament had expanded to 16 teams and allowed a CHA autobid for the first time; in the first game CC took on CHA champ Wayne State. Wayne lined five guys up across the blue line and iced the puck 20 times a period, but managed to stay in the game by getting a couple power play goals. I mention it because 1) Michigan is #10 in penalty minutes and 2) Niagara is #3 in power play efficiency at over 23%.
Staying out of the penalty box is always a good way to win a hockey game; here its importance is magnified.
Danger men. Ted Cook is Niagara's big gun, though he's taken a significant step backwards from a Hobey finalist 2007 when he scored 32 goals and had 42 points. This year he's fallen off to 18, 12 of which are on the power play. It bears repeating: Niagara's best offensive player has scored seven goals at even strength this year. STAY OUT THE BOX.
Cook's also a blogger; in related news I might play never-ever hockey this fall. Suck on that, Ted!
Cook's got three years of big production that mark him as the #1 opposition forward but is actually getting out-pointed this year by the guys I presume are his two linemates: Vince Rocco has 14-31-45 and Matt Caruna has 16-22-38. (Side note: Niagara has some great names. Rocco is one, then there's an Egor and a guy named ...
It's hard to tell how much bonafide offensive talent the Purple Eagles have with that wonky schedule. Their GFA takes a hit if you only consider Big 3.5 games but remains respectable: 28 in 9 games or 3.1 per, significantly down from 3.53 but still hypothetically good for 13th in the country. Two wins over Quinnipiac both saw five goals scored; two against Cornell saw a shutout and then three. GAA increases slightly from their overall average of 2.58 (24th nationally) to 2.77 (hypothetically 35th).
I reiterate: Niagara is a team Michigan should beat but absolutely can lose to.
Are you there? It's me, Brian. Look. I know things between you and Michigan haven't been so good lately -- I'm sure all those safeties deserved your divine wrath -- but could we maybe see to it that Michigan doesn't get humiliatingly dispatched by Niagara tonight? I can take a second round loss, I think. But I have to warn you that if Michigan goes out in the first round again, I'm going to have to start believing in Ryan Seacrest.
Brian @ MGoBlog
PS: Love what you're doing with Notre Dame. Fabulous work.
Since every email I've gotten in the last few days is titled "Boren" or "Justin Boren"...
Not really. Well, maybe. I don't know, really. But certain things become clear as Borens continue to talk to people in the paper. One: dad isn't that bright.
"We wanted to have this go away quietly..."
This is best accomplished by publicly bemoaning the erosion of family values in the program. (Insiders indicate that Rodriguez had an odd policy where a player could not practice unless he brought a used, preferably fur-covered condom to Oosterban.)
Two: they're looking out for number one.
"...but we didn't want people to think he's a quitter or couldn't handle the system."
So there you go. Sell out the program because you're worried about the public perception. Congratulations. The public perception has changed from "that's weird and disturbing" to "oh, they're just assholes." (Perception, mind you. I have no evidence to suggest that Justin Boren is an asshole except for the fact that he's enormous and plays football. His dad, on the other hand... I think it's clear that all the stuff in the media is the product of the supposed adult; Justin probably just wants to go somewhere and play.)
It sucks that Boren hated the new staff so much he wanted to transfer, and that's his prerogative. A multi-day campaign of offense against the University when the only statement it issued on the matter was a factual "Boren has left the program" is grounds for excommunication. Stone the witches!
The difference. This, from a Notre Dame blog, is too perfect:
Clearly, Rich Rodriguez is an Unmitigated Jerk
Why else would people keep leaving the Micigan (sucks!) program?
I'm enjoying the tears with an Allagash White. Join us, wont you?
In three brief lines they've encapsulated everything about internet Notre Dame fandom that is hilarious and deranged. You've got the juvenile name alteration, the "I am drinking, this is what I am drinking, I am so cool" name drop, and, of course, the walleyed inability to perceive anything wrong with a 3-9 program. Clearly, one player who bothered to stay for spring practice deciding he's going to leave is unshakable evidence. It's way better evidence than, say, four midseason transfers of kids you recruited during your third year with the program. Keep on reachin' for the stars.
There is one point incidentally made here that troubles: the looming specter of Weis-like incompetence hovers over the departure, blotting out the sun. True sophomore starting guards do not generally transfer away from what one presumes is a short jaunt to the NFL.
What Rodriguez has that Weis does not is a track record of head coaching excellence spanning seven years at West Virginia in which his used, preferably furry condom policy turned a bunch of overlooked recruits into a two-BCS-bowl winning juggernaut of confusion, speed, and knives. Until such time as Rodriguez has failed to reproduce that success at Michigan he has scoreboard against all critics that predict his failure.
There is obviously a chance that Michigan has chosen... poorly and that Rodriguez will see his coaching career end in a brief, damp squeak. This is a nonzero risk, especially with the culture shock he is bringing to the program. There is always a nonzero risk. Michigan has minimized that as much as possible by acquiring a wildly successful college coach.
Ohio State, 2001. This was Jim Tressel's first year, during which they went 7-5, and only got to 7-5 because John Navarre turned in the worst half of football by a Michigan quarterback since... uh... probably 1984 or something. Since them, Tressel has had some modicum of success.
Something good. Brief excerpts from a few different "Boren" titled emails:
Please tell me things are going to get better for UM football.
Can you please write a post about some good news?
Needless to say, I'm terrified. What if Michigan only wins like 3 games next year, a la Weis-e-coyote? The horror (as you would say).
A reader to the rescue:
I just wanted to say something about the whole Justin Boren situation. Now I understand that a lot of "Michigan Men" are freaking out about this, or have turned bitter towards this kid, but let me explain how getting rid of these kids that aren't committed to the "new" Michigan regime will benefit us in the long run.
From 2004-2007 I worked for the BYU football team. Gary Crowton was the head coach at BYU when I started working there. Gary Crowton is a really nice guy and a pretty good offensive coach, but he wasn't a very good head coach. His problem was that he was too much of a "player's coach" meaning that he let the kids run the team. The offense loafed around during practice and didn't work hard. Crowton's DC was a young guy named Bronco Mendenhal who believe that you can compensate for lesser talent by working harder than your opponent. So the team was split, the offensive players were lazy, while the defense was hard working and intense. Not only did the defense work harder, they cared a lot more about the game and team.
After the season ended Gary Crowton was fired and BYU hired Bronco Mendenhal as the new head coach. Within a week of announcing Mendenhal as head coach, a handful of players decided to transfer because they didn't like Bronco's "style". Bronco worked his players harder in the offseason than they had ever worked before. When spring practices began 15 players had either transfered or quit the team...15!!!!! Once again they didn't like how Bronco was working them too hard. Bronco's intent was to get rid of all the players that didn't want to be there. He needed and wanted players who would commit 100% to the program and the system. Once he got rid of those players, the team quickly came together and fought for each other. They all knew that everyone was working just as hard as everyone else.
Now I do understant that there is a huge talent disparity between BYU and Michigan, but the results for BYU has been better than expecte. They have gone 11-2 each of the past two years. I attribute their success to Bronco's hard nosed no-nonsense approach with his players. He did not lose any sleep crying over the transfer of the #1 QB prospect in America Ben Olson (UCLA), but focused on his team and prepared his team no matter who was playing. I see RR doing the exact same thing. Michigan needs players who are going to work hard and be 100% committed to his system and work ethic. This transition has been relatively smooth compaired to other coaching changes around the country. We must remember that Michigan hasn't gone through this process for almost 40 years and we all know how that turned out. Go Blue!!
Carr, for all his positives, had started checking out the past few years. You could tell. More of the burden of leadership fell to the coordinators, one of whom had already proven he can take an above average MAC program and turn it into a zombie gerbil apocalypse. The results were obvious on the field, and off of it. 2008 is going to be a detox year, but things will improve.
Not Maize, but crose enough!
West Virginia is currently in the Sweet Sixteen. Michigan would not have made the Sweet Sixteen in a seventeen team tournament that featured M versus
One team is coached by John Beilein. Correction: John Beilein looks at one team with a visage of perfect exasperation and incredulity. It was recruited and assembled by Tommy Amaker. The other team was recruited and assembled by John Beilein. It is coached by Bob Huggins.
The question for beleaguered Michigan basketball fans: how much of West Virginia's current success can John Beilein take credit for? The answer is somewhere between "all" and "none."
Some context for your consideration:
Why is West Virginia better this year?
|Team||O. Efficiency||Adj. O. Eff||O SOS||D. Efficiency||Adj D. Eff||D SOS|
|2006||112.5 (20th)||118.3 (13th)||66th||97.8 (72nd)||94.0 (57th)||75|
|2007||111.3 (26th)||116.3 (20th)||47th||95.1 (32nd)||89.9 (21st)||39|
(A reminder: these are all Kenpom numbers and are as such adjusted for tempo; the "adj" efficiencies above are also adjusted for quality of competition and cannot be questioned in any way ever.)
The numbers indicate that under Huggins an outstanding offense got slightly less outstanding and a pretty good defense got significantly better.
What's completely fascinating is the wholesale makeover the offense made while still maintaining approximately the same level of production. Under Beilein, the offense was a manic exercise in extremes. Under Huggins it's much more conventional. Effective, but conventional:
Raw Efficiency : 112.5 ( 20) 111.3 ( 26)
Adj Efficiency : 118.3 ( 13) 116.3 ( 24)
Effective FG% : 54.7 ( 17) 51.6 (102)
Turnover Pct. : 17.0 ( 10) 16.2 ( 7)
Off. Rebound% : 30.2 (270) 34.4 (107)
Free Throw Rate: 20.1 (306) 25.0 (182)
3-Point FG% : 37.4 ( 62) 36.4 (108)
2-Point FG% : 53.4 ( 22) 50.1 (102)
Free Throw Pct.: 71.3 (108) 68.7 (175)
Block Pct. : 8.6 (133) 6.7 ( 15)
Steal Pct. : 9.2 (111) 8.2 ( 29)
3PA/FGA : 49.0 ( 5) 34.4 (165)
A/FGM : 68.7 ( 3) 58.2 (100)
About the only things that remain constant are an extremely low turnover percentage and , to a lesser extent, three-point and free throw percentages. The rest of it tacks to the center like a presidential candidate after he locks up the nominaiton.
Herein you can see the way a Beilein offense is supposed to work: pass it to the wide open guy, wide open guy shoots. That explains the incredible EFG%, the incredible assist percentage, the incredibly bad free throw rates and offensive rebounding. Huggin's team is pretty good at a lot of things but only great at avoiding turnovers.
Let's look at the six returning players:
Nichols suffered. His usage, eFG%, FTRate, and assist rates all dropped precipitously, as did his shooting. Interestingly, Nichols actually took more threes this year.
The slide could be an effect related to the graduation of Frank Young, WVU's best player in 2007 and the recipient of most of the defensive attention.
Ruoff's usage dipped a bit and his assist rate collapsed, but holy hell: 62% on twos and 40% on threes. Ruoff was the nation's 50th best eFG% shooter and I'm betting half of the guys ahead of him are Brent Petway sorts with usages around 10%. I think we'll see why Ruoff got this bump in a bit.
Butler is the starting small forward and saw himself become more of a slasher and interior player: three point attempts dropped as most everything else remained stable. Note the significant bump in offensive rebounding: Butler was closer to the basket.
Alexander upped his already high usage, held his eFG steady, increased his FTrate enormously, and actually increased his assist rate; three pointers plummeted to 9% of his shots. What this says to me: the WVU offense moved to a heavily Alexander-based isolation-kick game. This killed everyone's assists except Alexander, upped Alexander's usage, and turned Ruoff into Kyle Korver.
Mazzula took so few threes this year that the huge jump in percentage should be dismissed as small sample size.
Smalligan, a Zach Gibson type whose main asset is his outside shooting, got killed and is now a bench guy who hardly sees any time because the offense can't figure out how to use a big man outside the arc.
So what in this is relevant? I think there are two things.
While the "low ceiling" point hasn't exactly been dispelled by the exploits of a seven seed that finished fifth in the Big East, Beilein recruited every player who's seen the floor for WVU this year and is there any one of them that you wouldn't trade for the Michigan player at his position? These guys are talented enough to run Beilein's system one year and then something entirely different the next and finish with a top 25 offense both years. Beilein finds talent that the recruiting services do not. I don't know why, but think it has something to do with an increased focus on guys who just love basketball and would rather shoot 4000 jumpers than play My Little Pony.
The one evident downside: maybe Beilein just can't coach defense? Huggins took the supposedly unathletic group Beilein left him and radically improved their rankings. I'll take a look at the other side of the ball sometime next week.