to play football, not to play trumpet
12/3/2008 – Michigan 70, Maryland 75 – 5-2
Well, they lost, but they did so in encouraging fashion. This is the place Michigan basketball finds itself in ten years after its last tourney appearance: losses to meh ACC squads—no one really expects Maryland to make the tourney—are signs of encouragement. Eh… I'm okay with that.
I hardly remember a good Michigan basketball team. I remember sitting in a couch stolen from the South Quad lobby and watching three-seed Michigan lose to UCLA in the second round, and then it's a black hole of Dom Ingerson and Pete Vignier and Maurice Searight and Courtney Sims and so forth and so on. Even that one year in which they looked pretty good and briefly led the Big Ten was followed by an epic, tourney-bid crushing collapse down the stretch. At work I listened to Michigan lose their first-round Big Ten tournament game to Minnesota, at one point giving up four straight fast-break buckets off turnovers.
And, honestly, I hated that 1998 team even before it became clear that Taylor, Traylor, and Bullock were strangling the program by taking money from a guy they had been explicitly told to avoid. Taylor was a sullen loafer who would become the NBA's worst-rebounding power forward; Traylor would lose 50 pounds right before the draft in order to get some idiotic team to pick him, then immediately gain it all back after he got that cheddar.
It was little surprise he was convicted of tax fraud for helping a drug dealer launder money. These guys were hard to root for even when they won, and that broken backboard picture is a perfect metaphor for what they did to the program: it's pretty now, but picking up the shards is going to be long, bloody work.
I haven't actually liked a Michigan basketball team since Jalen Rose was around. So I sort of like these guys and they might be sort of okay, and this seems just fine to me.
Last year Michigan lost for a lot of reasons, from terrible fundamentals to lack of talent to walk-on point guards. The walk-ons remain, but just for another three games. The fundamentals are better. The lack of talent remains apparent at certain spots in the rotation.
Add it up and you get a really fringe NCAA team that needed a couple of lucky games to slide in as a ten seed. They managed to get one against UCLA, and entered the second half against Maryland up six, opportunity beckoning. The NCAA tournament lay prostrate, saying "just finish this off and go .500 in the Big Ten and you can make a brief, unsuccessful appearance in me." Michael Scott materialized and exclaimed "that's what she said!" Two minutes later Michigan recovered from the shock naturally caused by the spontaneous appearance of a fictional character; they were down five and couldn't dig out.
This happened last year, too: I remember a competitive game with Boston College that went horribly awry early in the second half. That game got blown open, though, and this one see-sawed between one and four points for most of the second half until Maryland got a dagger three with the clock winding under three minutes. They stuck close, and had a chance. Having a chance is the difference between 10-22 and the NIT; taking it was the difference between the NIT and the NCAAs.
And I'm okay with that. The team is going in the right direction and there is a guy who wears 0 and another one who looks like Spock and another one who will probably play in the NBA but, like, be a good rep for the program. Ben Cronin is going to be endearingly awkward for four years. And the tourney will beckon again.
- This is going to be a lot of complaints, I realize after I wrote the below, but I'd like to stress I'm totally on board with Beilein and if Manny returns next year that team should break the ignominious streak.
- I'm sure this is a shared concern: what is with Beilein's rotation? David Merritt is a walk-on for a reason and Kelvin Grady is the perfect sort of point guard to break a press without a sweat. Grady should have seen like 35 minutes with Merritt coming in only when Grady's dead.
- Similarly, Anthony Wright killed us in the first five or six minutes, launching up a torrent of errant threes and making poor decisions. With Jevohn Shepard looking like a functional basketball player—which is a Beilein-induced miracle, I say—he should be getting Wright's minutes.
- …or Stu Douglass should. He was largely benched, as far as I could tell. (I watched the game at a bar because no one gets ESPNU.)
- Speaking of Douglass, does he have Spock hair or what?
Sorry I couldn't find a better picture, but check it out the next time you see a game. Kid's hair is way Vulcan. I am going to shout "highly illogical" whenever he makes a ridiculous three.
- After a few games of looking useless, Novak has really come around. Douglass and Novak are the kind of kids successful mid-majors are built around. Either one of them could play for Butler and one might pan out to be that scrappy 12-seed's best player as a senior. This is night and day from Amaker, who grabbed unheralded recruits like Ron Coleman and Jerrett Smith and Wright (who didn't even start for his high school team!) and saw them play like the kind of kids D-II teams use as role players: Smith is Grand Valley State's seventh-leading scorer and has an A:TO ratio of 19:17.
- Assuming a loss to Duke, the next major event on the schedule is the debut of Laval Lucas-Perry. If he's as good as advertised Michigan just might eke that tourney bid, as he'll be sucking minutes away from walk-ons. The leap to a functional player who looked pretty good as a freshman at Arizona should be vast.
- Damn you, Ekpe Udoh's AAU coach.
Why? There are certain things that burn themselves into your brain and never leave. These are unusual events, like a punt return touchdown against Ohio State or your brother setting his pillow on fire. Usually they don't involve charts:
What is this a chart of? Rick Reilly's dental jokes per year. It is part of an extensive article by Josh Levin that contains perhaps the most pointless project ever undertaken by man:
As a service to sportswriting and dentistry aficionados, I've compiled all of Reilly's tooth jokes on a single page, with a link to the relevant story when available.
I… what do you even say? I spend my life dissecting college football in minute detail and at some point I laughed out loud and asked "why? why would you do this?" One thousand cocktails to Levin.
Basketballin'. Michigan-Maryland at 7:30 tonight on ESPNU, which no one gets. I assume someone will ask for streaming info on the board and someone else will provide it, so if you're like most of America and don't have ESPNU you can watch it on the computer.
Assuming Michigan doesn't get any additional Savannah State-like scares from the smaller teams on the schedule, the upcoming game against Maryland looms as perhaps the biggest of the year. Win and you're likely to hit the conference schedule with just two losses, both to Duke, and the scalps of Maryland and UCLA. A .500 conference record probably gets Michigan in the tourney. Lose and you're probably going to have to go 10-8, which seems doubtful.
Oh, I guess they could beat Duke. But probably not.
While we're on the subject of Duke, this should be fun:
Jay Bilas, a former Duke player, is going to be the color commentator for Michigan's game against Duke on Saturday.
Over/under on patently false accusations Amaker wasn't given sufficient opportunity at Michigan is set at two.
LOL. A Scout headline($):
Muschamp to Visit Hicks in Ohio
Coach rotation? Brian Kelly is staying at UC? And they're renovating Nippert* Stadium? Charlie Weis is staying at Notre Dame? Is anyone hiring, firing, or accepting a coaching job going to make a decision that makes sense this year?
On the Weis thing: as mentioned, I'm torn. Weis has recruited a ton of talent over the past two years (his first real class has mostly washed out, with a number of four-star guys transferring) and eventually you figure Notre Dame is going to get results from it. Better to have Weis in charge than someone who's demonstrated an aptitude for anything other than recruiting, I guess. And if they struggle to 8-4 next year you'd have to imagine it will be tough for a coaching staff on terribly shaky ground to bring in more guys.
OTOH, Weis getting canned might have gotten Michigan a recruit or two and accelerated a critical building process as Rodriguez tries to stay ahead of the executioner's axe. And I generally root for chaos at rivals because unstable programs are bad ones, consistently. If Brian Kelly isn't an option there are precious few available coaches who strike me as fearsome. There's no Urban out there, and programs like Tennessee are reaching for guys like Lane Kiffin. Maybe next year someone will emerge.
*(Whenever anyone mentions "Nippert Stadium" I'm reminded of that scene in Christmas Vacation wherein Chevy Chase unleashes a torrent of accidental innuendos at a hot chick in the mall.)
Etc.: Smart Football on the Urban Meyer offense; some references to Rodriguez. A recap of the WLA-RBUAS mini-war from an unaffiliated source. Former Michigan safety Vada Murray has lung cancer. (HT: Spawn of MZone.)
To what extent do you think Paul Johnson's success this year implementing his option offense at Georgia Tech was a product of his coaching ability? Do you think RichRod could have had the success that Johnson had at Georgia Tech? Or would Johnson have had a better season for Michigan this year than RichRod did? While I have full confidence that RichRod will bring us to the promised land one day, I just don't see how you could completely attribute our season this year on lack of talent/players not meant for the system, when Johnson faced similar issues at Georgia Tech.
Thanks for considering the question,
I can't properly answer these questions without doing an in-depth survey of Georgia Tech's recruiting and retention similar to the one I did for Michigan in the "what talent?" post, and I'm not inclined to do that. I know, however, that a large part of Johnson's success is this guy:
That's Josh Nesbitt, and that lustful howl you hear is Mike Leach pining loud enough for you to hear thousands of miles away. (hhhhhyarrrr!)
Nesbitt was a linebacker-sized four-star dual threat quarterback in the class of 2007—he was part of the same class Steven Threet was. And while his year wasn't unbelievable or anything, grab him off GT and insert him into Michigan's starting lineup and how many more games do they win? Especially if you replace the Big Ten with the ACC and Notre Dame with Gardner-Webb?
Eh… probably three or four, which still brings them up short of GT's 9-3 record and status as likely the best team in the ACC. Paul Johnson's done a tremendous job and was an excellent hire.
Rodriguez… eh, not so much. I'd like to clarify my position on Rodriguez's culpability for this year's struggles: it's not "he has none." It's "I don't have any idea how much he has." I think there's a reasonable case to be made that this was a 3-9 team given the roster composition and injury situation under just about anyone. I can understand people who think that's being too kind.
What I do think: we're here now, down at 3-9, and Rodriguez has proven he can pull programs out the fire before. I'm pretty confident he can do it again.
This showed up in the inbox titled "Why I drink":
( The reader noted that a hat tip should go out to This Is Indexed.)
This is not relevant but I have to get it off my chest, as they say:
Brian, doesn't it seem like Tennessee is making the same mistakes that Nebraska, Notre Dame and Syracuse made by hiring NFL coaches? Lane Kiffin, really Vols? How did it come to this guy down in Knoxville?
Absolutely. What on earth made Lane Kiffin a hot coaching candidate? Even if you don't hold his tenure with the Raiders against him, and you probably shouldn't, you're hiring a guy whose main accomplishment was not screwing up USC's offense the year after Norm Chow left. Once the Chow-taught guys exited, USC's offense sank considerably.
His main assets are a reputed ability to recruit (which would be great if he was your offensive coordinator) and his 68-year-old father showing up as a defensive coordinator. Which, okay. How long, exactly, is Monte Kiffin going to keep coaching? Minnesota just made the same hire, basically, by picking Brewster. And I guess that's fine if you're Minnesota, but Tennessee should be able to get someone more proven.
Also stupid: Clemson hiring a WR coach instead of going on a search. The only program out there who seemed to know what they were doing was Syracuse, which was pursuing Chip Kelly, and now Kelly is the coach-in-waiting at Oregon so they're SOL. I don't understand why someone hasn't thrown stupid money at Brian Kelly, even if he is a legendary jerk.
Update: Clay Travis, Tennessee fan guy, is also kind of leery.
Your top ten is pretty boring, but we do answer the question "Texas or Oklahoma" emphatically: Oklahoma. This is far different than the results in the Coaches/Harris polls, which are virtual ties, and speaks to the poll's emphasis on overall resume as a guiding factor.
Much discussion of that, and the rest of the top 25, is available at CBS Sports.
Only one change: moving Texas above Alabama. There was a fierce, intelligent discussion in the comments that I considered but ultimately didn't change my mind, as I found this argument from LandonC most compelling:
As for Oklahoma/Texas debate... here's my problem with the argument of going straight to head to head. If Oklahoma had merely beaten Tech by 14, most people would still consider all three as being more or less tied. Then Oklahoma's advantage in non conference schedule would obviously carry the day. So Oklahoma is being punished for clobbering tech by 41 or whatever.
Also of note, If you look at the computer rankings they go Okla 1, UT 2, and TT 4, roughly tied with UT getting the bump over TT by having played Missouri. In my mind there's only two reasons for TT being completely eliminated from the conversation: Polling bias early in the year against TT and Oklahoma's outstanding game. Neither reason is good enough in my mind to eliminate TT from the comparison and thus turn to TT-Okla head to head results.
In my mind we're still picking from three teams that are 1-1 against each other, and the head to head Texas win can't be considered in isolation. Before Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State by 20, Texas had the better overall resume; now Oklahoma does. I would again like to stress that There Is No Right Answer here and that many of the Texas arguments are convincing.
Side note: why even have divisions? If the Big 12 did away with the N/S distinction we'd have a super easy way to figure out the answer to "Texas or Oklahoma": the Big 12 championship game. CFB would be better off if the 12-team conferences added another conference game, got rid of divisions, and just took the top two teams for the championship game.
On Monday I posted my blogpoll draft ballot and, I guess, in it is contained my opinion on who should play for the national championship: the SEC champion and either Oklahoma or Texas. This is not controversial. My exact ordering of the teams, however, may be:
MGoBrian's got his draft ballot up and he decided on Oklahoma ahead of Texas, for the reasons we've discussed multiple times here already. Though he mistakenly replaces on Texas' schedule Kansas with Kansas State, I'm certain getting that right wouldn't make a lick of difference based on his ballot and published reasoning.
No, what makes Brian's ballot a frontrunner for the wack ballot watch this week is not OU at #1, but Texas at... #4?
You read that right. Brian offers the standard TCU-Cincinnati bit, decides to toss out head-to-heads and common opponents, and rolls with OU at #1. Fine. I dislike the analysis (and find it comically thin considering its publication immediately following a highly nuanced ND 2007 vs Michigan 2008 analysis), but have acknowledged repeatedly that the adopted line of argument clears the lowest bar: Not Irrational. Where Brian really falls off a cliff is in sandwiching Florida and Alabama between the Sooners and Longhorns.
That's Burnt Orange Nation, and they're a little cheesed off. Obviously.
My first thought: "who cares? It will all work itself out this weekend." I was a little taken aback by the stridency of the response to a ballot that's just a draft (and, yes, admittedly a little thin on the justifications), especially when it would be moot a week from now.
Then I remembered the reason Oklahoma was going to the Big 12 Championship game. No wonder Texas fans are a little punchy about polls.
My ballot was apparently the last straw for Peter's faith in the rationality of humanity. The title of the post: "The Day That Common Sense Died." At he throws his hands up in the air, defeated. Um… sorry about that?
Thus a meme is born, the kind that will live on forever in Longhorn and Red River lore; if Texas fails to slide into one of the top two spots next Tuesday, opinion is unanimous and vociferous enough around UT that 2008 will always be "The Year Texas Got Screwed," joining the illustrious company of Ohio State (1998), Miami (2000), Oregon (2001), USC (2003), Auburn (2004), Michigan (2006) and, if you ask them, Georgia (2007) on the wrong end of the BCS' annual stick. It could have just as easily -- and just as maddeningly -- been Oklahoma's turn this time around, given the Sooners' exceptional resumé and dominant stretch run, but their time will come. Everybody gets their turn at outrage.
Every one of those teams outside Georgia has a valid bitch, making it 6 times in 11 years the BCS has either totally failed (picking Nebraska over Oregon, leaving #1 USC out) or run across an intractable problem (three undefeated teams, six indistinguishable one-loss ones).
Every year there is some complaint and the BCS goes about fixing the problem that came before, then announcing a new Pax Idiotica in which there will be no problems forever. Wrong. As long as college football is settled on the world's dumbest playoff system, this will continue to happen.
So, I say this to Peter and Texas fans everywhere: I don't know. I don't know if you are a better team or had a better season than Oklahoma. I don't know if Florida or Alabama did. I don't know if USC or Penn State did. Since the devolution of college football scheduling has deprived us of more than a half dozen meaningful comparison points between one conference and another, I am guessing. Totally. And in this case attempting to pick between Texas and Oklahoma is impossible. I read Texas supporters' justifications and think they're totally reasonable.
This is only okay because the BlogPoll does not count. I wouldn't participate in a poll that contributed to the current BCS rankings, because the BCS is an abomination. It is the worst of all possible worlds.
You cannot oppose a playoff and be in favor of the BCS in any form: the BCS is a playoff. It is a two-team playoff in a field of 119 teams. Those teams play 12 or 13 games and have schedules so segregated it's impossible to distinguish between one-loss teams in difference conferences. It is the worst playoff that has ever been conceived. It sanctions the idea that there is a real national championship to pursue, then awards it in the worst way possible. I would prefer anything to it.
- A return to the old bowl system and entirely mythical championships
- A four team playoff
- A six team playoff
- An eight team playoff
- Anything at all, anything, God, anything
My personal playoff plan has been expounded upon on this site already, but a recap:
Six teams. Six is a great number, big enough to include all reasonable contenders, small enough to fit, and lopsided enough to make finishing #1 or #2 really worth it, as they get byes.
Home games in the first two rounds. Reward better teams for their seasons. Value the regular season. Reward loyal fans. Avoid corporate whoredom.
The first round is the week after the conference championship games; the second round is January 1st. The final is the next Saturday at least a week out. First-round losers (and everyone else) are welcome to participate in whatever bowl games they feel like participating in.
No Autobids. Autobids are stupid. Ask the Orange Bowl.
Max two teams per conference.
Final at the Rose Bowl. Obviously. Kickoff at 4:30.
Assuming Florida and Oklahoma wins in the conference games, this year's bracket:
#1 Florida vs #4 Texas/#5 Penn State
#2 Oklahoma vs #3 USC/#6 Alabama
I've futzed the seeds to prevent second round intraconference matchups.
Is this perfect? No. It's hard to leave Utah out.* Does it crown a better champion? Yes. Does it maintain the drama of the regular season? Hell yes. The SEC championship game is the difference between a first round bye and a second round home game and a first round road game if you even make it. Is it 10000% better than what we've got now? Yes.
I'm not a big fan of the eight-team playoff proposal with autobids for all the BCS conferences. Frankly, no one in the Big East or ACC has any business playing for a national title this year, and in previous years that goes for the Pac-10 or Big 12 or Big Ten or SEC, too. But it would be so much better than what we've got now. I no longer care about the tradition of the bowl games. They've sold out for more money and more games and this whole fifth game was a transparent money grab that gives us a slew of awful matchups every January. It's impossible to love something with "Fedex" as part of its name. The bowls can die for all I care, with the exception of the Rose.
*(I've done these the past three years and this is an unusual situation. Most years Utah would get in.)