This year Tim and Paul went on journeys across the state in search of anyone willing to sign a letter of intent for a program that went 3-9 the year before but still had wings on their helmets. They even went into Ohio to find asylum-seeking young men. Sometimes their quarry was injured or irrelevant or playing a game at the same time as another player of interest, but they persisted.
When they returned it was with stunning high definition video invariably set to Explosions in the Sky, which makes some sense because they tend to write ten minute songs. In other ways, it makes no sense. But it makes sense for the site.
Paul put together a recap:
I realize it's just high school football highlights but I was strangely moved by it. Most highlight reels are just highlights. They give you the impression that if a player gets tackled, it's at least twenty yards downfield and after he kicked a guy's head off. Then they show up and usually they are just people. Here they're just people.
BONUS of a literal variety. Paul and Tim and Tom did a lot of work on original content this year and I told them that I'd set aside some time on the beveled guilt button to your right for them. This is a good time. All donations this week go directly to them.
Michigan 71 Minnesota 63, Michigan 12-12 (5-7 Big Ten)
With Michigan mired in the depths of a tailspin that included five straight losses to teams other than Iowa, the majority of them noncompetitive, it was easy to forget that this team is actually capable of playing basketball. Beating a Minnesota team playing for its tournament life on its home court was enough to remind us of what could have been. With the next two games coming up against Iowa and Penn State, these Wolverines may be capable of putting together the mythical "win streak." If they can defend the home court the rest of the way (while taking care of Iowa on the road), it's NIT all the way, baby.
[Editor's note: you're advised not to think about Michigan's record in close games at this point.]
There were a few interesting storylines in the game, with the most encouraging for Michigan fans being the continued maturation of Darius Morris at point guard . He played 33 minutes, made two of his three shots, collected one rebounds, and grabbed one steal while dishing out five assists to only two turnovers against Minnesota's pressure defense. As I've been saying over the second half of the season, if he improves his shooting (1/3 from the free throw line, 0/1 from behind the arc), he will be a very dangerous player in the Big Ten.
Another great story from the game, oddly, was Zack Gibson. DeShawn Sims was benched early in the game, and Gibby took advantage of the opportunity, nailing all three shots that he took—two from behind the arc—and snagging a couple rebounds. He did all this in just nine minutes.
Despite what it may seem like, I seriously don't like to whine about officiating. However, when even Bobby Knight (who pulls no punches in his commentary, thankfully) expressed his shock that Michigan was getting called for ticky-tack fouls on one end of the court (at least 2 or 3 times with literally no physical contact between players), while Minnesota was getting away with seemingly everything on the other end, something ain't right. Games must be officiated fairly, end of story. The Wolverines did end up getting the benefit of a couple bad calls that could probably fall under the "make up" category, everyone on both sides would probably be a lot happier if all the call were good, instead of an even impact of bad calls going both ways.
- [Editor's note: while I agree with Knight/Tim about the calls, man was that the worst charge ever when Anthony Wright set up almost literally underneath the basket and got a call. They just put in a rule change that makes that a clear block. When the Minnesota player got up hopping mad, I had to agree with him. The Minnesota crowd wanted blood, and the refs then spent the rest of the game calling BS on Michigan, further confirming that every conspiracy theory you've ever had about basketball referees is true.]
- Michigan... shot... well? The more I think about this game, the less it makes sense for the 2009-10 Wolverines.
- Despite his early benching, DeShawn Sims, continued to show why it is he, not Manny Harris, who is the lifeblood of this team. It's going to be hard to replace him next season.
- Argh free throw shooting. This team was #13 in the nation last year, shooting over 75%. They shot 12/19 (63%) in this game, and are under 72% on the year. This year they barely crack the top 100 in FT%.
- Turnovers were the name of the game. Michigan committed just 8 against Minnesota's defense (which excels in creating turnovers), and forced 15.
- This is more like the defense we had come to expect out of Michigan than the last two games. They're playing almost all man (while occasionally mixing in 1-3-1 or 2-3 zones), with a lot of switching on screens. I think this performance is more indicative of their ability than the Northwestern or Wisconsin games.
- I saw Anthony Wright pass up an open look from three. It was weird.
- I questioned whether the long rest between games would help Michigan enough in my preview. I guess I shouldn't underestimate John Beilein's ability to gameplan - nor should the rest factor be ignored with Michigan's small rotation.
- Club Trillion watch - Minnesota's Bryant Allen joined the club last night.
Michigan has the weekend off before traveling to Iowa City for the chance to sweep the Hawkeyes. Though the Wolverines could have played me at center the entire second half and still beaten Iowa last game, Iowa has been able to win a couple games against low-end Big Ten competition. The team will have to be on their game to ensure that they don't become the latest victims. The game is a late tip (9PM/8 local) on Tuesday night.
|WHAT||Michigan @ UNO|
January 22/23rd, 2010
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||CBS College Sports both nights(!)|
Record. 14-12-6, 10-11-3-2 CCHA. Not a team under consideration right this second. They're #26 in RPI. Currently fifth place with 35 points. Michigan is fourth with two points and two games in hand on the Mavs.
UNO has their usual team of pluggers mixed in with one or two really talented guys and they're in their usual spot in the middle of the CCHA and the cusp of the top 25 in RPI. They've been on a roll of late, going 4-1-1 in their last six. (They swept Northern, split with ND, and got an old-fashioned three-point weekend from Ohio State.)
UNO's always fancied Michigan as its main rival in the CCHA and this is the last time UNO will host Michigan as a conference foe. The Mavs are off to the WCHA next year. As a result, you get articles like so…
Big Blue. Evil Empire. Michigan. Michigoon. Say it any way you want, but say it for the last time this weekend.
…that can't deny the truth behind the "rivalry"…
UNO is 4-24-3 all-time against Michigan and 2-9-3 at home.
…is that there really isn't one. I've seen most of those games and even I'm shocked at how ugly UNO's record is.
Their schedule down the stretch here is brutal: Michigan, Miami, and national shocker Bemidji State, currently in the CHA but 18-6-2 and pushing for a #1 seed.
Dangermen. This is the polar opposite of top-heavy Ferris State: UNO's top scorer, defenseman Eddie Del Grosso, has a meh 22 points but the Mav's #9 scorer has seventeen, with two more guys cracking double digits. UNO has seven players with at least seven goals. They get scoring from all over.
If there's a guy to watch out for it's Jeric Agosta, who has 14-7-21 and just one power play goal. Linemate John Kemp has 4-17-21 and will be his setup guy. Kemp missed five games earlier this season, so his boxcar numbers are more impressive than they appear.
During UNO's recent hot streak they've found their offense, pouring in over 4.5 goals per game. This has gotten them to 2.84 per game for the year, 34th nationally. Before the hot streak, then, it was dire. Michigan is currently 24th in scoring.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. This number will look familiar: UNO is allowing 2.84 goals per game (32nd nationally). They are dead even on goal differential this year. (Michigan is currently fifth nationally at 2.23 per.)
Here Michigan finally meets a decent opponent with goalie issues equal to or worse than their own. Hogan's up to 48th in save percentage while the Mav platoon sits 52nd and 72nd (of 74!). Sophomore John Faulkner—#52—has gotten most of the work and will probably see both starts against Michigan.
Special teams. Your power plays per game stat:
|PP For / G||4.9||5.8|
|PP Ag / G||5.0||5.5|
UNO takes and draws considerably fewer power plays than Michigan and is a bit short on PP opportunities this year; Michigan can expect maybe one extra power play over the weekend.
UNO sits in the middle of the pack here, too: 18.5% on the power play is 28th nationally and a bit worse than that when you account for the five shorties. Michigan is slightly better at 19.4. On the penalty kill, UNO is 21st at 83.2; Michigan is still in the top five despite the disaster in the dying minutes against Wisconsin.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Maybe Caporusso? Caporusso scored a softie against Bowling Green and then added a close-in roof job when left totally unmolested in the slot. When left wide open he has soft hands, and when he's going up against weak defensemen his less than dirty dangles work fairly well. Against a mediocre defensive team with an iffy goalie, he could continue his return to the scoresheet.
Get it out. Michigan really struggled with a simple Bowling Green forecheck on Tuesday and they'll get hammered by a deep forward corps if they don't do better.
See what happens. Goalie is bad, throw rubber at him and watch it sail by or for fat rebounds to pop out. Reduced fancy stuff for most.
The Big Picture
The blown opportunities against Ferris State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State—though that last was not their fault—mean Michigan is on its eighth life. Michigan's 0.5253 RPI is 19th nationally and has to climb into the high .53s if they're going to get a shot. If they win five of six left they'll be at .5360 and probably on the right side of the bubble. If they win four, they might have a shot if they make the CCHA final and lose. Any worse than that and it's conference tourney or bust.
There is some good news. A quick glance at Michigan's PWR comparisons shows that Yale, Union, North Dakota, New Hampshire, UMD, Ferris State, Cornell, Bemidji State, Colorado College, Denver, and even Michigan State(!) can all be caught if Michigan passes them in RPI. There is zero chance that happens with some of them but if Michigan finishes on a tear the COP and TUC categories aren't going to submarine them.
Still: a sweep is imperative. The margin for error is gone, and splitting with UNO could put them and Michigan's hypothetically meh record against them into consideration.
I bolded this in the announcement about Adam Braithwaite's hire but failed to grasp its oddness and potential significance:
University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez announced Thursday (Feb. 11) the hiring of Adam Braithwaite as the program’s safeties/outside linebackers coach. … Assistant head coach Tony Gibson will coach the cornerbacks and free safety position.
Your response in the form of a cat—which they should totally do on Jeopardy, BTW:
Braithwaite now coaches the safeties and the outside linebackers. Greg Robinson now coaches the inside linebackers, emphasis on the plural. Tony Gibson now coaches the cornerback and… uh… one safety position. What sense does it make? It makes none. It makes less sense if you believe the premium moderator folk who have been asserting that Michigan is in the odd habit of calling its deep safety "strong" and the guy who rolls up to the line of scrimmage on occasion "free."
So what the hell is going on here? First: however deeply screwed up Michigan's internal lingo about safeties is, my assumption is that the free safety is your deep-zone ballhawk and the strong safety is the guy who rolls up to the line as a semi-linebacker. It would be totally insane to give Gibson the guy at the line and some cornerbacks and Braithwaite one guy at the line and one guy in a deep zone. (Wags may joke here about Rodriguez's previous defensive hires. Take my defensive coordinator… please!)
So that means Gibson is the secondary coach and he is a man in charge of three people. Meanwhile, the outside linebackers coach has a safety or two. Hmm…
Now, I know what you're thinking: ack Donovan Warren is about to get an eight-yard screen in his grill. Or ack Andrew Quarless is about to run straight downfield untouched for a 60-yard touchdown. Or ack… well, we were all around last year. The walls have dents to prove it. The only thing you're not ack-ing is the defensive line. This is a digression.
The particulars of Braithwaite's hire indicate the eight-man front Michigan ran much the second half of last year was not an immensely unsuccessful attempt at emergency triage on a walk-on-laden matador defense but rather the intended base defense going forward. With so many bodies ticketed for Craig Roh's "quick" position, I don't think this presages a move to a straight 3-3-5 like West Virginia ran. The 4-4-ish set above is likely to be Michigan's most frequent alignment, with quick-as-linebacker sprinkled in as a changeup.
It's half 3-3-5, though. Aside from the disposition of the line and the middle linebackers, that's what it is. The secondary aligns like it's a 3-3-5. The "spinner," while technically a linebacker, was safety Stevie Brown last year and will be either Josh Furman, Mike Jones, Isaiah Bell—though he may have moved inside—or Brandin Hawthorne this year. All of the candidates were high school safeties tagged as tweeners except Hawthorne, who was a safety-sized defensive end. Last year the strong safety was Jordan Kovacs (tweener safety), Mike Williams (just a safety), or Brandon Smith (tweener safety), but this year it's likely to be Marvin Robinson, Carvin Johnson or Vlad Emilien: more high school safeties tagged as tweeners. The distinction between the OLB and safety is also in keeping with 3-3-5 principles: most teams have wacky names for the strongside (spur, spinner, ferret) and weakside safety types (hero, bandit, saber-toothed dragon) because they have different roles. As Jeff Casteel explained so elegantly on the incredibly expensive and totally useless (at the time) 3-3-5 DVD I bought, the weakside guy "gets his meat cooked"—does not have to deal with lead blockers—and the strongside guy "gets his meat raw"—oh God, that's Owen Schmitt and I weigh 210 pounds.
If I'm right, this is one hell of a bold experiment for Rodriguez. His ass is in the wind right now and last year's attempt to implement this was a flaming wreck unprecedented in the modern history of Michigan football. I'm not a coach but I do watch unhealthy amounts of college football and I don't think I've ever seen anyone try this 4-2-2-3 style of D—please correct me if this is not the case. It's a gamble.
[Update: Corrected. Virginia Tech does this plenty. Tyler Sellhorn:
Please don't freak out about the defensive changes. Mostly it seems like a move to VaTech's defense. The high school where I coach plays a very similar scheme to VaTech (visited Blacksburg twice to commune with Bud Foster and his staff) and has a similar scheme to what you are suggesting M is declaring.
I think the best terminology for the setup is the 4-2-5 is "multiple" meaning that most of the defensive calls are intended to trick the opposing QB/coaches at the snap. The OLBs are really more like SSs and rotate up and back based on d-call and opposition formation/personnel, and the "FS" is nearly an identical player who can roll down to play the OLB spot as well based on motion/personnel. Up front, lots of stunting (lining up in one gap, crossing into another), lots of gap exchanges, lots of rolling coverages where the OLB/SSs will drop into deep coverage. The scheme is sound. Maybe you should do your HTTV tape study this summer on 4-2-5/VaTech stuff?
The biggest reason teams use the scheme? OLB/SS away from two-reciever side/strong side plays tight behind backside ILB so that he can flow hard to action away, OLB/SS has what you have called the scrape exchange.
Two notes: "flowing hard to action ", whether it was away or not, is definitely what Michigan was doing with Jordan Kovacs when he was the box safety and Woolfolk was deep, and who was the other team hard after Josh Furman? Virginia Tech.]
On the other hand, going from year one in a system to year two will be a rare privilege for these Michigan defenders—it will be the first time in anyone's career other than fifth-year seniors this is the case—and I'm heartened that amongst the flaming wreck at the end of last year there was a semblance of a long-term plan. By God, they were terrible, but they were terrible with purpose. This passes as optimism for the 2010 Michigan fan.
Anyway, we'll find out in spring if my speculation here is correct. I think they've tipped their hand. I have no idea how it's going to work out but at least they're sticking to one thing for the first time ever-ever.
Side note on Gibson-related special teams bitchin'. I've seen or heard a lot of this over the past couple weeks, and have to provide a "dude wait what" to that, too. Michigan's coming off a year in which they finished third in net punting, 23rd in kickoff returns, 62nd in punt returns, and was 11 of 15 on field goals. Taken together, the metrics indicate one of the best units in the conference, if not the country. Critics are likely thinking of Michigan's persistent inability to field a punt in the Rodriguez era, Zoltan Mesko going blue screen of death on his rollout option punt against Michigan State, and a couple roughing the kicker penalties.
Those things do detract, but they're offset by the kickoff coverage—I can't remember a big opposition kick return—and a few punt blocks. Special teams were the least of Michigan's problems last year. They have to replace both specialists this year so there might be a hiccup. Even so, I'm baffled by special teams criticism outside of HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL issues that I think are a little fluky. (Yes, even now.)
|WHAT||Michigan v. Minnesota|
|WHERE||St Paul, MN|
|WHEN||7:00PM EST (6PM Local)
February 11th, 2010
|THE LINE||Michigan +8.5*|
*Line provided by online sports betting site Sportsbetting.com.
John Beilein has had plenty of time to scheme and prepare his team, which I still maintain he's among the best at doing, so that counts for something. The Wolverines also don't need to worry about preparing for the next opponent, since they won't hit the court again until next Tuesday, taking this weekend off.
However, there's still that tiny factor in play that this is a fundamentally flawed, and simply not good basketball team whether it's because Manny Harris has regressed or is otherwise struggling, or the team just can't shoot (or defend), something isn't right. The Wolverines have very little to play for, and that's not exactly a recipe for a stunning turnaround.
The Gophers, like Northwestern, are playing undermanned this year, though for totally different reasons. Royce White was booted from the team for a number of legal problems, Trevor Mbakwe is in a similar boat, and Al Nolen scoffs at your notions that he should do such things as "go" to "class." With all their personnel difficulties, the Gophers are very much a team in turmoil. HOWEVA, they are also very much a team on the bubble. With a strong finish to the year, they can make it into the NCAA tournament, and a win over Michigan is key to that scenario.
Forward Damian Johnson and center Ralph Sampson MCVII (actually the Third) are among the Gophers' leaders in offensive rating, though Sampson's effort has been called into question at times. Both of them are outdone by Blake Hoffarber, who leads the nation in offensive rating, with the best True Shooting% of any player in the country, as well.
If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy.
|Michigan v. Minnesota: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Minnesota Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. Minn Def eFG%||226||67||GG|
|Mich Def eFG% v. Minn eFG%||206||26||GG|
|Mich TO% v. Minn Def TO%||21||11||G|
|Mich Def TO% v. Minn TO%||54||86||M|
|Mich OReb% v. Minn DReb%||266||123||GG|
|Mich DReb% v. Minn OReb%||211||210||-|
|Mich FTR v. Minn Opp FTR||335||124||GGG|
|Mich Opp FTR v. Minn FTR||12||255||MMM|
|Mich AdjO v. Minn AdjD||126||21||GG|
|Mich AdjD v. Minn AdjO||43||75||M|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc. G is for Gophers.
Michigan has gone from a mediocre-yet-improving team to a flatly bad one over the course of a couple weeks. Minnesota is a pretty good squad, which means they will probably truck the Wolverines.
Michigan has an advantage in but two categories, which would be forcing the Gophers to turn it over (something they did well last year, forcing 30 Minnesota turnovers in two games), and not sending them to the free throw line. The flip side of that is that Michigan probably won't shoot a single free throw, and the Gophers actually have an advantage in forcing Michigan turnovers, something we won't see too many times this year.
On the road, against a team that is playing for its NCAA tournament life, I can't see the Wolverines emerging from the Barn with a win. Ken Pomeroy likes Minnesota by 9, and Vegas makes them the 8.5-point favorites. I see Michigan going to DeShawn Sims early, and managing to stay in the game, but not coming out with a win. The spreads look about right, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Michigan cover.
FL LB Kent Turene (#6 to the right in above photo) is a junior linebacker from Boyd Anderson High School and a teammate of Michigan signee Demar Dorsey. He’s been in contact with over 19 schools already, including Michigan, and plans on hearing from more very soon. I caught up with Kent, and here’s what he had to say.
TOM: You’re not as high profile as some of the other Florida kids, but you’ve got a chance to be the one of the best linebackers in Florida. Tell me about your game.
KENT: I don’t like to give up yardage, I’m hard nosed to the ball, and I like to hit hard. I just go after the ball. I go 100% on every play. I play inside and outside linebacker right now. I like both, so it doesn’t really matter which one I play. I’m just trying to work on my speed, and how to read the offense a little better. I think I play the run really well, and I’m good in coverage, though.
TOM: What schools have been in contact with you so far?
KENT: Miami, Florida, Florida State, Michigan; around 19 schools. Most of them have said that the offer will be coming soon. They’re just evaluating me, and then they’ll get the offer out.
TOM: How many offers do you have?
KENT: FIU and Nebraska right now.
TOM: Do you have a list of favorites so far?
KENT: I’m open to everybody. I wasn’t really a fan of anyone growing up, so I just want to go where I can play.
TOM: Has Demar Dorsey said anything to you about Michigan, now that he’s committed?
KENT: Yeah, he’s always telling me that he wants me to come up there with him. He was telling me that if they offer I should go up there, and play with him. We’ll see. He was telling me about the stadium, the facilities, and the coaches. He really likes the coaches.
TOM: Do you think that will factor in to your decision? Does it help Michigan to have Demar up there?
KENT: I’ve thought about it, I think I’d like to go to Michigan. I would like to play with Demar. I had a great time playing with him, and he’s a great teammate. So, yeah that helps.
TOM: Are you going to try to visit Michigan over the spring, or summer?
KENT: I would like to, I’m going to see if I can. Money and time will decide if I do.
TOM: Being from the south, do you think distance will factor into your decision?
KENT: I’ve never been that far north, but that doesn’t really matter to me. I just want to go where I can play. The weather wouldn’t bug me.
TOM: When are you going to make your decision?
KENT: I’ll make my decision pretty soon. I’m not going to wait until signing day. It will be before the season starts.