Mike Lantry, 1972
I find it exceedingly difficult to say things about teams that are performing in a negative fashion... sort of. It is, in fact, exceedingly easy to flip out and kill stuff. What's difficult is writing something that you can come back to in a week or two and not feel a hot flush of shame at every overheated, overreacting sentence.
So... yeah, hockey and basketball coverage has been light lately because strings of curse words, impreciations directed at referees who probably aren't Satan or even communist, and general incoherent gibbering do not make for fine reading. At least not in depressing bulk. Suffice it to say that I haven't really enjoyed a Michigan sporting event since the end of the Wisconsin basketball game. Things kind of go like that sometimes. Here's an attempt to say something rational.
Tommy Amaker shouldn't be fired if you care about being fair. When he arrived going on five years ago, the program was in shambles thanks to Steve Fisher, Ed Martin, Tom Goss, and (especially) Brian Ellerbe. Within months of his arrival he had booted Avery Queen, Maurice Seawright, and Dom Ingerson--all of whom were nasty people who couldn't even play basketball--and was faced with a roster consisting of Lavell Blanchard, Bernard Robinson, Jr., and... well, there is no "and." What he was faced with was a rebuilding job epic in its scope.
And build he did, at least at first. An 11-18 team and pending NCAA probation didn't prevent Amaker from recruiting Daniel Horton, Lester Abram, Chris Hunter, and Graham Brown--a class on par with any of Ellerbe's in terms of talent and far better in terms of arriving on campus and staying for more than half a season. The next year he went 17-13; the year after Michigan was 23-11 and won the NIT. Michigan was on the verge of relevancy... until someone pissed Jobu off.
What's followed in the last two years has been a epidemic of smiting from above that makes Angry Michigan-Safety-Hating God look like a rank amateur. Michigan fans spent most of last year watching Daniel Horton and Lester Abram watch two walk-ons watch Dion Harris attempt to get a shot, any shot. This year it's Abram and Harris watching Horton. Throw in some extended absences from Brent Petway (both years), Graham Brown (last year), Jerrett Smith (this year), Courtney Sims (about every other game, mentally), and Chris Hunter (both years, including the latest blow: a partially torn MCL that will probably end his career) and you have a nigh-insurmountable pile of bodies worthy of Pol Pot. Game, set, match to Angry Michigan-Basketball-Hating God.
So it's totally irrational to call for Amaker's firing. (Not that anyone of note is, I believe.) Take Ager, Walton, and Neitzel away from Michigan State and do the Spartans make the tournament? Doubtful. A healthy Michigan team is cruising towards the tournament instead of stumbling around like an Izzone member about to get some Ba up in his face. This is progress. This is a five-year sweep that shows upward mobility at every milestone if you control for AMBH God-smiting and the like.
Here's the but: But.
Even though I think you'd be hard-pressed to find many calling for Amaker's head, you'd have an even tougher time finding anyone who was anything approaching optimistic about the future. Graham Brown, Chris Hunter, Daniel Horton, and possibly Lester Abram are gone after this year. Amaker's failure to recruit anyone who looks to be more than an iffy role-player in the past two years leaves Michigan 2006 with two posts--still-sushi-raw Brent Petway and soft Courtney Sims--and one unprepared, turnover-prone point guard--Jerrett Smith. Ron Coleman is an okay Big Ten player; he is an awful Big Ten recruiting class. The talent pendulum has reached its apex. This is our "good" year.
The thing is, this really isn't Amaker's fault. He had Al Horford committed. He had Joe Crawford committed. He had Malik Hairston and Tory Jackson about to commit. All were diverted at the last second by people less than captivated by Amaker's turtlenecks and refusal to guarantee playing time and the presumptive NBA contract that came with it. The state of Michigan's tendency to produce basketball players fathered by lunatics isn't his doing, but it is his problem. It would be dextrous coach indeed who could recover from such a sudden shift in the current. Nothing that's happened over the past two or three years can be pinned on Amaker. He can't be fired. It wouldn't be fair. It would cause outcry.
Here is But #2: Joe Dumars would probably fire Amaker. He would be polite about it, but he would say something along the lines of "we appreciate the hard work you've put in to get us to this level and acknowledge the bad luck you've had, but you're going to have to go coach the Pacers now." And he would get away with it, because he's Joe Dumars. Joe Dumars walks on parquet water.
But we don't have a Joe D. As a result, we'll be watching Amaker twist in the wind for a while longer, not at fault for the losing, until his fireability reaches mortal levels. At least, that's what I think will happen. I'd like to be wrong.
Beckett says: $0.25 ^^
Michigan has received a verbal commitment from safety Artis Chambers from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Apparently he had this wicked sweet dunk when he was a 5'8" freshman, a tall tale confirmed by this mysterious biographical squib that mentions the windmill throwdown and also offers the critical information that Chambers enjoys chicken and golf. Don't we all. Except the part about the golf.
...and this is the part where I wake up the next day and see that Johnny has already googled the hail out of Chambers, referenced the chicken and golf thing, and found this beauty of a photo--it appears to be Chambers and an offensive lineman crooning something like "The Time of My Life" at some sort of public gathering. Good times. Seriously, just go over there and check it out, since it's exactly what I was in the midst of doing last night before going to bed.
If you don't care about Michigan football enough to click a link: Chambers appears to be one of the top prospects in Indiana and thus will likely end up a solid four-star and could slide in at the bottom of a top 100 or two. An early offer is always a good sign.
(Note: I disagree with Johnny's assessment of the safety situation in a couple ways: Indianapolis Warren Central's Jerimy Finch could play linebacker and Ronald Johnson could play corner, so I don't think this closes any doors. Also, the cavemen at Buckeye Planet are muttering positively about Clifford after writing him off earlier in the year--not conclusive but not good, either.)
The hot blog groupies ("Hot Blog Groupies" was a much better joke when I could accompany it with a link to Google showing no results, but that's life) should be rolling in any minute now, I guess. A lot of people found the pretty graphs to be interesting, which is good since they took more time than I thought they would. The third down stuff was supposed to be a sanity check/proof of concept for the stats database and my php skillz... but I wanted the graphs to look a certain way (the red/green) not facilitated by the software package I was using. Thus I had fun with line intersection algorithms. Yay.
Anyway, a selection of the blogosphere's finest chimed in with their own analysis. Braves & Birds highlighted several graphs of interest, including Miami's horrific third and short performance. Burnt Orange Nation and Section Six took a look at local favorites Texas and NC State, respectively. Paul W took a look at Georgia's performance. EDSBS's take-home lesson is what it always is: "Jeff Bowden sucks." Aye.
Favorite reaction, though, was that of He Is Manpundit(!), who derided all the effort that went into making said graphs and then... um... made a graph of it:
I won't address the content of the assertion -- dude is outvoted badly -- but I will make fun of his intelligence: he screwed up his axes. They should be reversed. Typical.
You could probably start referring to the "Michigan Basketball is Michigan State Football and Vice Versa" thing as "eerie" if Michigan were to beat MSU tomorrow, officially kicking off a Spartan season of infinite pain, sending the RCMB into a conniption fit, and causing Brent Petway to chang his IM screenname. The good news is that Dion Harris and Jerrett Smith are expected to play, but Abram is still out and blah blah blah Refs Izzo blah.
My opinion? Well... Michigan State is ill-suited to go all Iowa/OSU on us and bomb away from three: they're tenth in the league, ahead of only Minnesota. If Harris can go full speed Michigan will have a shot, but MSU is one of those teams that understands how to guard Sims (remember: the key is to try)--without Harris playing well we're screwed. Officiating will be huge again. Will the refs call this game as tightly as they did the first one? Will MSU refuse to change the way they play? Can Paul Davis look any more like a pale 6'11" Eeyore? Find out Saturday!
One additional bit of basketball news: last-ditch 2006 recruit Patrick Beverly was recently named to the Roundball Classic roster and elicited the following praise from Adidas honcho Sonny Vaccaro:
"Beverley was not even on the top 100 list for McDonald's,'' Vaccaro said. "He was one of those non-entity guys who didn't get a big-time name in the summer. He was good last year, and his high school was good. But the kid was still a mystery. This is a kid from Chicago, not from rural Tennessee or Mississippi. The only one I can think of to compare him to is Dwyane Wade.
"Beverley is the best-kept secret in the country. All over America, he is the singular guy who has put himself in an all-star game. All these guys that people recruit and he was going to [Toledo], and now he has a list of major schools that are after him.''
That list is Arkansas, Michigan, St. John's, and Virginia... plus Indiana, but now that Mike Davis is officially resigning (and not doing so until season's end) you can scratch the Hoosiers off the list. Bonus ewwww note: Four Ohio State recruits are playing in the game.
For personal bookkeeping and as a rudimentary "open issues" system:
- Turn the raw numbers graph red and green for consistency
- Add the year the stats were taken from on the header
- Add a legend
- Fix the ugly scrollbars on IE
- Make the graph change on selection instead of focus-loss in IE.
- Fix the y-axis on efficiency graphs so that it goes from 0-100.
Expanding Existing Stats
- Incorporate "third and zero" into the distance graphs.
- Calculate a "first down conversion rate."
- Look into redoing the smoothing so each point has a certain amount of data behind it.
- Calculate an "expected conversion rate" for each team based on their distance distribution and their divergence from this--essentially the red/green proportions in numeric form.
Totally Different Stuff
- Find the success rate of 'desperation drives' of various lengths and use them to beat the don't-punt-with-a-chance-to-kill-the-game thing into the ground.
Cool But Unfeasible
- Conversion rates based on an individual player's third down attempts (Reason: insufficent data.
- Exploration of Michigan's "scoring offense" phenomenon (insufficient data).
And I'm always soliciting ideas in the comments or email.
Hello persons from around the Internets. For context on the below, see Part I for an extensive discussion of what exactly is going on here (warning: math) and Part II for some examples of why I think this is a useful exercise.
(Performance note: generating these graphs is a dynamic process, so they can take several seconds if no one else has looked at the requested data recently. Cached ones should come up immediately.)
First: Third down efficiency. The thick line in the center is the NCAA average (e.g., approximately 68% of third and ones were converted last year). There is a second line that represents an individual team's third down efficiency. Where there is a gap between the lines that gap is filled in with either red or green depending on whether it is "good" or "bad". Being above the line is good for offenses--you convert more often. Being above the line is bad for defenses--you are converted upon more often. You want to see a lot of green in these graphs.
Second: Third down distance distribution. Again, the line in the center is the NCAA average and the thinner line is the individual team's. Green is just "above"; red just "below," since there's no clear distinction on good or bad based solely on what side of the line you're on.
Third: the raw numbers. The following graph shows the underlying data used to construct the first two. Each bar represents one yard line. Blue segments are failed conversions. Red segments resulted in first downs.
(A note on reproducing these graphs: feel free. Right click and "Save As" to get a static copy that won't break if I decide to change the URL... which I might. Please drop a link. Also: if the idea of maize and blue on your site is revolting, you can give me two other colors (specified in hex--ie, #A30924--, please) and get pretty team-color-appropriate ones.)