Malcolm Hill [Mike Granse – USA Today]
Basketball season will get here sooner than you think: this is the first of 14 Big Ten team previews.
One of the Big Ten’s most historically prestigious programs has fallen on hard times as of late: Illinois has won just two NCAA Tournament games in the last ten years and haven’t had a winning record in conference play since 2010. Last season, three long-term injuries to would-be starters put the Illini in free fall – they finished with a losing record and a 12th-place finish in the Big Ten. Of their five conference wins, four came against Rutgers and Minnesota (two historically bad teams) – and two of those games were won in overtime.
John Groce, a former Thad Matta assistant, is now in his fifth season in Champaign – Illinois’s Kenpom rating has fallen every year of his tenure and they have missed three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. While last year’s spate of injuries offers an excuse – and a very good recruiting class that’s entering its senior year of high school offers hope moving forward – Groce probably needs to show marked improvement to survive at Illinois.
The return of those three injured players will help: despite Tracy Abrams’s inefficiency, he’s a decided step up from last season’s point guards; Leron Black was a touted recruit and will improve Illinois on the glass; mammoth Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne could be a double-double machine. The Illini had two main scorers after the injuries – wings Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn. While Nunn was dismissed, Hill will be returning for his senior year after putting up 18.1 points per game as a junior. Black’s return will likely slide Hill (who operated mostly as a mid-range iso player a year ago) from the four to the three.
A jump into NCAA Tournament contention will require some significant changes, as Illinois was equally bad on offense and defense and finished –10 points per 100 possessions against Big Ten opponents last season. Even though any chance of success last season was effectively wiped out by those injuries, it’s debatable as to how much any of those players would have helped as the Illini lost to low-majors North Florida and Chattanooga at home even with Thorne and Black. Groce will get another go of it with a veteran-laden roster, but that roster falls towards the worse half of the Big Ten and an NCAA Tournament bid would surprise.
[More on the Illini after the JUMP]
[UM Bentley Library]
It was 1986 and Michigan’s senior quarterback Jim Harbaugh was 30 minutes away from having to eat his brash prediction. That’s when Bo’s top assistant Jerry Hanlon told his troops how they’d attack the Buckeyes in the second half: MOAR tight ends. By John Kryk’s count, Michigan came out in some kind of balanced (a tight end on either side) formation just 3/38 plays in the first half, when Ohio State mostly shut down the Wolverine offense. In the second half that went to 25/38. Their plan was to see where Ohio State’s great linebacker, Chris Spielman, would line up, and go the other way. Here’s how Cam Cameron—yes the same guy who got Les Miles fired at LSU—explained their reasoning at the time in Kryk’s HTTV article:
“Real simple,” Cameron says. “We were just trying to balance up Ohio State’s defensive front. Really, it gave us a double strength formation. It gave us a strong-side running attack either right or left. Once you balance the defense, now you can run strategically away from the safety, and you just get stronger at the point of attack. They had shifted their defense to our tight end, and any time a team did that to us we were going to balance them off with two tight ends.”
The tradeoff was going with just one wide receiver, at which point either your running game is going to win its matchups or lose the game, because passing is severely nerfed. What made that a win for Michigan wasn’t this macro strategy, however, but the subtle blocking tweaks that Bo—ever the offensive line coach—and Hanlon had instilled in their linemen.
~~~~~~30 YEARS LATER~~~~~~
Penn State is, by some margin, the worst-coached team on Michigan’s schedule this year. I’m nobody’s idea of a football coach, so when I was picking up on things Michigan was doing in the middle of a series and Penn State wasn’t reacting, either I’m just guessing really luckily or it’s a REALLY bad sign for the sideline.
Wilton Speight said this in the postgame presser:
“Yeah, I think there was one drive—I think it was the third or fourth quarter—where we called the same play like eight times in a row. We would just flip it back and forth, and I started laughing looking at the play call because they’d do the same signal, same number in every time. The linemen were getting so excited because I’d call the same play. I think we were getting like nine or 10 a pop, so when that happens it’s demoralizing, probably, for a defense. I’ve never played defense, but I can imagine that would suck to go through that every single play having someone just run you over. That builds our confidence and probably makes them lose confidence.”
Calling the same play and relying on minutiae is a bit old fashioned, but not completely out of style, especially if your opponent has already thrown in the towel. This drive occurred after Penn State punted on 4th and 1 while down four scores with about a quarter and a half left to play. Michigan picked up a big chunk on their rollout draw and Speight turfed a throw to Perry when Mason Cole uncharacteristically got bowled back into the pocket. Then this sequence happened.
Bo would have loved it. And Michigan’s upcoming opponent Wisconsin would instantly recognize it. Let’s jump and see what Michigan was doing.
[After the JUMP: balanced formation and inside zone]
David and I traveled to the friendly confines of Wayne State’s Tom Adams Field last Friday to watch Orchard Lake St. Mary’s take on De La Salle. It was a beautiful game for a certain definition of the word; if you like heavy sets and spread-to-run offenses, then this was a game for you. It was also kind of ugly. Neither team had much of a passing game to speak of, and a fairly strong wind made punting an adventure, as one punt looked like it was going out of bounds before a gust sent it careening past the sidelines toward the stands. OLSM ended up eking out a 14-7 win while holding De La Salle to 63 yards passing and 81 yards rushing.
De La Salle’s offense may not have been able to get much going, but their zone read and jet sweep action made it an interesting game for linebackers. It just so happens that a linebacker is exactly who David and I were there to watch, as we wanted to get a look at how Michigan commit Josh Ross had developed halfway through his senior season.
[Video and scouting of Ross after THE JUMP]
"I've been thinking a lot about this over the last four, five, six weeks," Harbaugh said after No. 4 Michigan's win. "Because I am the football coach doesn't mean I can dictate to people what they believe. I support our guys. I think this is something, it's not going away, it's gonna keep happening."
Jim Harbaugh didn't know ahead of time about the pregame display of unity and strength by members of the football team, but hearing his postgame comments, it's clear his players have his full support. That became even more important yesterday, when racist propaganda was posted around campus, prompting a denouncement of the fliers from the University and a protest at the Fishbowl.
I know how our readers feel about getting politics mixed with their sports, so I'll keep this brief, though as Harbaugh said, this isn't something that's going away. As a human being, I was horrified to see what appeared on campus yesterday; as a Michigan grad, I could not be more proud of the actions and statements from the players, the support and response from the program, and the swift action taken by many on campus. I hope we can all agree that hate has no home at U-M. For far more nuanced thoughts on this, I strongly encourage you to read these pieces by MTV News's Jane Coaston, a Michigan grad, and SBNation's Spencer Hall.
And now, let's see that ref take a football to the face again.
[Hit THE JUMP for the Penn State game in GIFs.]
How this works again:
- Readers predict the final score of a designated game by placing a guess in the comments, preferably in the format of [M score][hyphen][Opp score], for example "41-30" or "35-31 Michigan", or "28-24 Go Blue", or "38-0 Harbaugh!" etc.
- The three guys who read this part holler at people who post in a different format
- First person (by timestamp) to post a particular score has it.
- If you got it right, I contact you for an address by your MGoBlog account email, and you give me some time to get that to you.
- If nobody got it right or I don't hear from the winner(s) we push it to next week or let it go.
Last Time: I forgot to run one for Penn State. Nobody guessed Colorado would be this good.
This Week’s Game:
Wisconsin at Michigan.
And on the Line: Milk.
Real milk, not that candy-ass white water. Thanks to BiSB for the design:
One entry per user. First user to choose a set of scores wins, determined by the timestamp of your entry (for my ease I prefer if you don't post it as a reply to another person's score--if you do it won't help or hurt you). Deadline for entries is 24 hours before the start of the game. MGoEmployees and moderators exempt from winning. The algorithm finds the winners as it chooses. The algorithm is self-correcting. The algorithm consistently runs inside zone. The algorithm is banned in Jersey. Algorithm’s sorry. Except to Scott Frost. And the NBA. And the NCAA. And Scott Frost’s mom. This is not Scott Frost’s mom. It is an algorithm.
Ben Braden and Khalid Hill
Ben, you struggled with injuries in the early going. How are you doing now and how did you feel on Saturday?
“Feeling really good. Saturday was a good feeling being able to go through a whole game. I feel solid. Yeah, it was a rough start in the beginning but the training staff’s been great and all my teammates have been really encouraging. Physically, I feel great. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
The whole team, it seemed like, gathered around Jeremy. How tough is it to see someone like that suffer a season-ending injury?
KH: “I feel like it was real tough to see Jeremy go down. He’s like my brother and to see him fall down--I’ve dealt with the same injury he has, and to be in a game in your fifth year, it’s not how you want to go out. I wanted to shed a tear with him when he was on the field and went to him and told him everything was going to be okay, if he needed me I’d be there for him.”
BB: “Yeah, being the same class as Jeremy, you see that and…I was speechless watching it because he’s worked so hard since he’s been here, and to have something like that happen, I feel for him and his family. Anything he needs, the whole team will be there for him.”
Khalid, it wasn’t this particular game but the game against Colorado, what’s your reaction when you’re going out to block on the edge and you see a defensive back turn away from you and want no part of you?
“I mean, it’s sometimes funny because they act like they want to hit me and then they run away. When you see a big guy coming, I mean, you try to get around him or attempt to run back, but it’s whatever, you know. I don’t like when they chop me, but it’s cool.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]