chance of bowl: 13.6%
Zone Gives, Zone Takes
This fall Michigan's run game took a radical departure from the pull-, iso-, and draw-heavy early 2000s. In the place of plays like "argh not another second and long draw," Michigan implemented an Iowa-like zone scheme. At first glance the results were encouraging: Michigan vaulted from 44th to 21st in total rushing. Yards per carry (discounting QB runs and kneeldowns) shot up from 4.3 to 4.9. This despite Michigan featuring an unbalanced offense that ran 56% of the time. So bully for all that.
But there was one major issue that our stretch-play-mad offense developed during 2006. UFR aficionados already know this deep in the marrow of their bones, but now I can put it in attractive graph format.
Here is the Michigan offense's third-down conversion rate by distance in 2005:
(How to read the above: the thick line is the NCAA average. The thinner line is Michigan's performance. You want this to be above the line for an offense; green is good.)
Poor performance on third and long was counterbalanced by a surprising competence on third and short.
Here is the same graph for 2006:
(Disclaimer: this data is sparse and may not breach the threshold of official statistical significance. I don't know. I'm not a statistician. I do know that this is all the data we have and that it can be useful when coupled with previous observation.)
It does not take a jeweler's eye to see that the graphs are near inverses of each other, even down to the weird aberration at third and 11-13. The improved performance on passing downs is easily explained by an improved receiving corps and quarterback. But the startling regression on short yardage is inexplicable given the improvement the zone brought to Michigan's running game.
Unless, that is, you watched Michigan roll out three wideouts and run a stretch play into nine penetrating guys far too many times. Which, uh, I did:
Why do we suck on third and short?
I dunno. We were actually really good last year, but it seems you put us in third and short this year and we run out three wideouts and run a stretch play into nine guys. This doesn't work so good, evidently. What's wrong with lining up in a big set and cramming it down their throats? We have the personnel for that sort of thing.
Hopefully, Michigan will identify this ugly tendency and stop actively trying to turn third and short into punts. In Michigan's transition year perhaps it made sense to focus on the stretch to the exclusion of all else, but now that we've established hadouken, we should try to work on some shoryuken for situations when the objective is closer at hand.
Remember 2005? (It's okay to say no.) Pat "Moonwalk" Massey and an occasionally interested Gabe Watson were the defensive tackles. David Harris and yuck were the linebackers. Alan Branch toiled out of position at defensive end. The short yardage numbers were ugly:
Yeah... not so much this year. Anyone doubting Alan Branch in even the slightest tiny way should look at this, tremble, and shut up:
You can see 6'6", 330 of angry New Mexican hauling the tail end of that graph down like a black hole in spacetime. That's Alan Branch. 33 percent! On third and one! Six of eighteen! SIX OF EIGHTEEN!
We are all going to miss last year's defense very much. Except for the secondary, which I fear I won't miss at all.
This post exists because the Blog That Yost Built posted on it first. Many thanks.
Kings fans are excited about Jack Johnson. They should be; dude is a can't miss first-pairing NHL defenseman who, freed of the NCAA anti-fighting strictures, is liable to lead the universe in penalty minutes. A propensity for enormous hits and a wicked shot that can be launched accurately from any awkward position Jack finds himself in complete the package. It's a beautiful thing. But... uh...
...Jack Mother Fucking Johnson:
... When the Kings fans discovered video evidence of the Dancing Official Dad of Jack Johnson, they dubbed him "Mr. MFJ."
So, uh, there you go. Enjoy what's probably the last few games of the JMFJ era.
(Two more years? One? Come on, Jack, you know you want to.)
I'm updating the third down stuff I did last year with 2006 data and have ran into some unexpected snafus, which I totally expected. Coming ASAP.
YouDump: Awesome video from the 1927 dedication of Michigan Stadium complete with old-timey "Henry Tappan Hall hasn't cheered so loud in 20 years!" silent movie dialog. Highly recommended:
Some history of the MMB (check the "related videos: for a million performances including Thriller complete with Thrillerdance):
Six and a half minutes of owning Sparty. Perfect "go cry, emo kid" music for any Spartan fans wishing to self-flagellate:
Um... some sort of puppet NYSNC thing at Michigan Stadium that makes no sense.
Jack Johnson nearly kills BC goalie Cory Schnieder:
Snaps back. I mentioned the Scoop-Whitlock-Simmons throwdown over the All Star Weekend, yes? Well, Simmons responded like whoah:
Once upon a time, the late Ralph Wiley repeatedly proved an African-American sports columnist could write intelligently about racial issues without using his skin color as a crutch. After Ralph passed away three years ago, Scoop Jackson vowed to carry Ralph's torch on Page 2.
I just wish he'd brought that torch to Vegas.
This is worth mentioning: Simmons has been very good of late. He's still Bill Simmons and that comes with some baggage (most notably from my perspective: a seething hatred for the Pistons), but he seem to have recaptured a portion of whatever he lost recently when the backlash began in earnest.
Moose loose, hide the paella. Or whatever the Portuguese equivalent is. Graham Brown is currently wrecking fools in the Portuguese basketball league. Two recent game reports:
The MVP of the round goes to Graham Brown (206-F/C-84, college: Michigan) of Lusitania, who made 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. A strong center in this LIga, performing a great season so far.
(All of that is very, very [sic], and "Round," as best I can tell, refers to a particular game date during which all teams play.) But wait, there's more:
The MVP of the round goes to LusitaniaÂ´s Graham Brown (206-F/C-84, college: Michigan), a "deja vu" situation. For the second time ina row Brown heÂ´s the best, this time he scores 19 points and grabs 11 boards.
Brown's "Lusitania" team (maybe Amaker can coach them next year... ZING!) appears to be third in the league at the moment.
Etc.: The NYT on NCAA
enforcement, which is increasingly outsourced to highly paid law firms.
Update: I've been notified that this is our punting Space Emperor's birthday. Two decades ago, Zoltan Mesko burst from Zeus's head fully formed, but his real age is as unfathomable as the stars. Congratulations to us all for not dying before this transpired.
Since the last time we took a detailed look at the Pairwise, Michigan split a pair at OSU and a bunch of other teams played a lot of games. Western fell out of TUCland; UNO and Lake State entered. Michigan's TUC record is now a mediocre 8-7-1 with a 1-1 record versus LSSU and a 2-0 record versus UNO hovering around the cliff. Northern, Michigan's opponent this weekend, is not a TUC.
- Denver. We're in a worse spot now that DU has drawn UW in the WCHA playoffs. If they sweep that series they'll win COP and probably move past us in RPI.
- Maine. [Last time: a solid comparison we lost.] Maine did cough it up against UMass, getting swept, and that was enough to flip the comparison... but only by a tiny amount. RPI is virtually tied. They win COP and we have a fair edge in TUC. Maine's first round playoff series is against the same UMass team that just swept them; if they win the series they'll probably take the comparison at year's end. If they lose it's ours.
- Miami. [Last time: a tossup we lost.] Margins are razor-thin everywhere. Whoever finishes better in the CCHA tournament will win the comparison. If one team wins the consolation game while the other loses the championship game, Miami probably takes the comparison.
- Colorado College. Status quo: decent RPI edge and unassailable in COP. We'd have to lose our series versus Northern for them to flip the comparison with a long WCHA playoff run.
- Michigan State. [was: tossup we won.] We now have a big COP edge and a medium RPI one. If we beat Northern, State will have a hard time passing us even with a H2H win.
- Dartmouth. Don't think there's any way for them to flip the comparison unless they win the ECAC and we lose to Northern.
- St. Lawrence. TUC is now very tight, but we win COP and have a 0.1 RPI edge.
Locks: LSSU, UNO, MSU-Mankato, Cornell, [was: solid win]. Wisconsin, Michigan Tech, Vermont. [was: solid win], UMass.
- North Dakota. NoDak's in a weird situation: their first round opponent, MSU-Mankato, currently sits #23 in RPI. If they sweep Mankato it's likely they'll no longer be a TUC; the Sioux are 3-0-1 against Mankato this year. Even if they lose the Screamin' Eagles, they'll still be ahead of us in TUC, but we win COP and RPI is pretty tight.
- Boston College. [last time: tossup we lost]. They made up a lot of ground by sweeping UNH.
- Boston University. If they lose their series against Vermont we can pass them. Otherwise they'll be ahead of us.
- Clarkson. [last time: lock we lost... guess not.] We own COP, they have a sizable edge in RPI. TUC could get interesting. If LSSU drops out and Clarkson loses to a TUC in the ECAC tournament, we could pass them with a CCHA championship. It's a longshot but just possible enough.
Locks: SCSU, [was solid loss]. Minnesota, Notre Dame, UNH.
Our position has improved. A couple teams have moved into the Lock Win category, Maine is now in a dead heat with us, and Michigan State is now significantly behind us. Only the BC sweep of UNH damaged any of our comparisons.
With our OSU split things are basically the status quo: we are locked into the 7-12 range. Denver gacked it up against CC last weekend and fell to 10th, which significantly reduces the chances we'll get paired with them in Denver, but we're now 9th and staring down a bracket featuring Minnesota. There's a tremendous amount of jitter in the PWR and things will change enough between now and the tourney selection that it's not worth getting exercised about yet, though. One thing that does seem likely: a bid in Grand Rapids. Most brackets I see from educated prognosticators give GR attendance the benefit of the doubt and put Michigan there whenever possible. Since Notre Dame is within driving distance of GR, there's also some sentiment to put the Irish there. No offense to ND, but as a relatively untested #1 seed who caught us when Billy Sauer was at his nadir and minus Cogs and Jack, I'd rather see them than any other potential #1.
I'll forgo the microcosm bit: Saturday was not Amaker and Michigan writ small. It was in many respects the complete opposite. Michigan kept its turnovers under control, ran a semblance of an offense, and played what appeared to be generally smart basketball. Two small miracles happened: Amaker got a technical and Jerrett Smith, Brent Petway, and Courtney Sims completed a gorgeous pick-and-roll-extra-pass-dunk combo that looked straight out of actual basketball. Even though Michigan lost, it was perhaps the best game they played all season. The team looked competent. This was not Michigan basketball in a nutshell (Help! I'm in the NIT! What am I doing in this tournament! Sex me, Elizabeth Hurley!). Blaming Amaker for a mindbending missed Courtney Sims dunk and Dion Harris bricking the front end of a one-and-one is wanton. That was the universe being an asshole to me, personally, and not Amaker's fault. Michigan played well and Amaker deserves credit for that.
Where the condemnation comes in is in virtually every other game this season. For the sixth straight year, Michigan played stupid. They turned the ball over, gave up offensive rebounds, and wandered themselves into terrible shots all too often. They blew a huge lead and gacked up a win to Iowa. They got obliterated by an NC State team down to five scholarship players and missing their star. They were an awful, unwatchable basketball team most of the year; the OSU game was notable only as a remarkable outlier in the Amaker catalog, which stretches for six long years of head-pounding frustration.
But whether or not Tommy Amaker is a good coach or not is no longer all that relevant -- though for the record all available evidence indicates they he is not. He has had six years to produce a basketball team that fans are capable of watching for more than two minutes at a time without screaming something profane and punting the cat into the next room. This he has not done, and he must be fired, even if none of what's transpired over his tenure is actually his fault. The popular perception of Michigan is no longer the Fab Five, who are increasingly creaky old men in the NBA (or accountants or gym teachers or whatever). It is this:
You can't really mess with Duke, but Alex [Legion], we're like, do you know how many NITs they [Michigan] have gone to? Are you sure you want to play your college ball there, Alex?
Amaker, already tarred with NIT feathers, will labor under that perception until he forcibly changes it. It's yet another millstone hangs around the program's neck. Those who blame everyone except the actual people on the court for its problem must add it to practicing at the IM Building, OMG NCAA probation(!), Crisler Arena, Crisler Arena's lighting, the broken sign in front of Crisler, and Everything Ever when compiling their list of reasons that Michigan will never have a successful basketball program. Coupled with his obviously questionable ability to recruit and coach, Amaker's ability to get his teams to the NCAA tournament will only lessen in the near future -- and he's already 0 for 6.
Most of these excuses are not valid, anyway:
- He has labored under NCAA sanctions. A 2003 postseason ban robbed Michigan of another NIT bid, most likely, but by the time Amaker arrived the NCAA had levied all the punishment it was going to. Michigan got a second year of postseason ineligibility lifted and weaseled its way out of a reduction of one scholarship for four years by counting three against Amaker's first year. Since Amaker's second year he has operated free and clear of any NCAA penalties.
- Facilities kill recruiting. Many of Amaker's problems are of his own making. He offered role players Ron Coleman and Jarrett Smith as sophomores. Smith is the only point guard he's recruited since Daniel Horton largely because Michigan walked away from Tory Jackson, last seen helping Notre Dame -- not a program noted for its Billy-Donovan slickness -- to a nice seed in this year's tournament. He's blown scholarships on total nonentities time an again.
- He's cleaned up the program's image. This is not an accomplishment. This is the lack of a negative. Michigan should shoot higher than "not Brian Ellerbe."
Allowing Amaker to stay on any further is tantamount to waving the white flag. Even his wife is a very nice lady who's obviously better at her job than Tommy is at his. Even though Crisler is not a new building. Even though he had all those injuries two years ago. It doesn't matter. Now that he's proven beyond a doubt that a new coach can't possibly find worse results, he must be replaced.
Side Note: I am going to miss Brent Petway. It's a shame he couldn't have been a celebrated role player on an actual team, but when someone busts out a winged helmet for Senior Day...
They earn my admiration forever. Godspeed, Brent, and please enjoy blocking the everliving hell out of 5'10" Europeans.
Side Note II: Do you know what the first hit for "Tommy Amaker" is in Google Images?
Do you know why? An Every Three Weekly article I wrote announcing a haiku contest:
Do you know who she looks like?