I did not make this headline up
Wrenches keep getting thrown into the system when it comes to Michigan’s 2014 running back recruiting. Until about two weeks ago it didn’t really look like Michigan had any realistic running back options in the 2014 class, then there appeared to be one, then he recommitted to Cal, and now there could be two and maybe a long-shot third.
On January 3rd Jeff Jones was offered after a stellar performance at the Under Armour game and it was quickly learned that the interest was mutual. He told me that it was a big deal to get the Michigan offer and he was excited to have it. Jones has been on campus before but wasn’t recruited very aggressively immediately following his brief visit to Ann Arbor. I’ve had limited conversation with Jones and he basically just told me that he has to finish all of his visits before he can make a final decision. The good news for Michigan is that he will take his final visit, to Ann Arbor, on January 31st, just five days before signing day. It’s believed that Jones is considering only Michigan, Florida, and the team he’s currently committed to, Minnesota, so with Michigan getting the last crack at him, there’s reason for optimism.
Just two weeks after Jones was offered another name was thrown into the hat when the coaches decided to offer Marlon Mack, coincidentally on the same day he decided to decommit from UCLA.
Jeff Hecklinski was at Mack's house and stayed for about an hour, with that visit culminating with an offer. Mack said that he was feeling Michigan quite a bit after meeting and talking with Coach Heck and news of his decommitment followed later that evening. He obviously has a lot to mull over and didn’t give me much about what he was going to do. He told me that Michigan definitely has a chance but right now he has no leader, no top group, and no timeline for when he’ll make his final decision.
Kalen Ballage is a name that Michigan recruitaholics are very aware of but fell by the wayside after he, somewhat surprisingly, committed to Arizona State on December 11th. I was able to confirm with Ballage today however that Michigan is indeed actively recruiting him again and that he has been in contact with Coach Funk.
Before Ballage committed to ASU he was always a bit tough to read and today was no different. I asked him if he was solid to Arizona State or if he was considering Michigan again and he cryptically said, “I’m not sure right now.” To me that means he’s at least entertaining the idea of reopening his commitment but right now there’s no real reason to think he’ll decommit or flip to Michigan or anyone else for that matter.
I feel confident in saying that Michigan will definitely add a running back to the 2014 class but right now it is very tough to predict who. Jones seems like option #1. He will officially visit Ann Arbor just five days before National Signing Day and that bodes well for the Wolverines but also leaves them little time to deal with surprises.
Mack is likely option #2 if Jones doesn’t pan out although Coach Heck being in his house and offering in person shows a high level of legitimate interest. Neither Jones or Mack was able to specifically tell me if their offers were committable, but with just 18 days until signing day one would assume that they both are. I never thought Michigan had a great chance with Ballage and I still don’t. He doesn’t appear to be solid to Arizona State but I just don’t think Michigan can suddenly become his leader and flip him within the next two weeks.
It’s been tough to get a good grasp on this situation. The vibes I’m getting suggest it’s about 60/40 in favor of Jeff Jones being Michigan's running back of this class, with Mack a possibility to join regardless of that decision, and the most likely to commit if Jones doesn't.
|WHAT||Michigan at Wisconsin|
|WHERE||Kohl Center, Ninth Circle of Hell, Wisconsin|
|WHEN||6 pm Eastern, Saturday|
|LINE||Wisconsin -8 (KenPom)|
Right: Bo Ryan during a 25-point win. Seriously. (Not pictured: Sam Dekker's face melting off.)
Good news, everyone! Michigan plays Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, where they haven't won since 1999, against a Badger squad that ranks third nationally in offensive efficiency and is probably real pissed off about losing at Indiana on Tuesday. Are you ready for the basketball equivalent of Chinese water torture? Trick question, because there's no preparing yourself for that.
This year's Wisconsin offense may be the best Bo Ryan has ever assembled; the starting five features two efficient, high-usage players filling the roles of leading scorer (Sam Dekker) and distributor (Traevon Jackson) ... and the other three all rank within the top 60(!) nationally in offensive rating. While the defense isn't up to Ryan's normal standards—"just" 24th in efficiency—the combination of lethal outside shooting and Fort Knox-level ball protection on the other end makes Wisconsin one of the most difficult teams to beat in the country, especially at home.
Freed from the shackles that Ryan puts on all his freshmen, regardless of talent, 6'7" forward Sam Dekker has improved his efficiency as a sophomore while taking on the role of go-to scorer. He can score in just about any fashion—especially in transition, where he posts an absurd 81 eFG%—shooting 59% from two and 35% from three. He's Wisconsin's best offensive rebounder, as well; his only apparent offensive weakness is a surprisingly low 60% mark from the free-throw line.
Dekker is joined on the front line by 7'0" center Frank Kaminsky, who currently holds the #10 spot in the KenPom Player of the Year rankings* by virtue of being good at, well, just about everything. Kaminsky is shooting the lights out (60% 2-pt, 21-for-44 3-pt), rebounding well at both ends, rarely turning the ball over, and posting an impressive 6.2% block rate. John Beilein would do the most terrible thing he could imagine to have a Frank Kaminsky, which probably means he wouldn't say "thank you" to his Starbucks barista, because John Beilein is pretty much the nicest guy ever.
The Badgers go with a three-guard look featuring 6'2" junior Traevon Jackson—son of former OSU and NBA star Jim Jackson—running the point. With an assist rate more than double any of his teammates', Jackson's primary role is facilitating the offense; he's also got a decent outside shot (16-for-43 3-pt), and while he's not the most efficient scorer inside the arc, he gets to the line at a high rate.
Jackson is flanked in the backcourt by sharpshooters Ben Brust and Josh Gasser, whom you may remember from [TERRIBLE THING REDACTED] and [OTHER TERRIBLE THING REDACTED]. Brust has already attempted 111 three-pointers this season, the most of any Big Ten player, and he's connecting at a 42% clip; he's actually a worse shooter when he ventures inside the arc, but fouling him is ill-advised—he's 32-for-34 this season at the charity stripe. Gasser is a 39% three-point shooter who's much more effective than Brust as a slasher—he hits 52% of his twos, mostly at the rim, and 87% of his free throws with a FT rate just outside the top 100 nationally.
6'7", 250-pound freshman Nigel Hayes—high school teammate of Chris Wormley at Toledo Whitmer—has come on really strong of late as he's learned to use his solid frame to get to the line; this chart from SI's Luke Winn (published before the Indiana game) speaks volumes:
Hayes has now attempted nearly as many free throws (67, of which he makes 62%) as field goals (71, 52%); he's averaging 11 points in Big Ten play while playing ~18 minutes per in that span. While his rebounding rates are pretty low for a post player, Bo Ryan has been willing to put him out there in place of Kaminsky and play small-ball (or Wisconsin's twisted version of small-ball).
While Hayes has carved out a decent role for himself recently, the Badgers still don't use their bench often—they rank 338th in bench minutes. The primary backup guard is 6'3" freshman Bronson Koenig, a very low-usage player who hasn't attempted more than four shots in a conference game; he's shooting well from two and struggling from the outside.
Wisconsin jumped out to a school-record 16-0 start before Tuesday's loss at Assembly Hall, and they didn't do it against the proverbial tray of cupcakes: those 16 wins include nine KenPom top-100 teams, four of which rank in the top 25 (Florida, St. Louis, Virginia, and Iowa). Their most impressive win is probably the 48-38 suffocation of #17 Virginia in the B1G/ACC Challenge that set the game of basketball back a good half-century.
Now that we're partway into conference play, I'll start posting four factors charts for all the games and Big Ten games only, with sample size issues obviously coming into play on the latter for a while.
Four factors, all games (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||55.2 (12)||12.9 (2)||30.2 (218)||40.7 (173)|
|Defense||45.0 (41)||16.2 (297)||28.6 (59)||23.8 (1)|
Conference-only (four games, Big Ten ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||57.5 (2)||11.4 (1)||27.0 (9)||36.0 (7)|
|Defense||41.9 (1)||12.9 (12)||37.2 (11)||25.0 (1)|
The offense doesn't rebound well; they don't exactly have to, however, when they're shooting 39% from three and 53% from two as a team (and a remarkable 58% from two in conference play). The Badgers still hold the ball for an agonizingly long time on each possession and put up a high number of three-pointers; now they're just doing it more efficiently than ever before.
The defense looks really good on paper, especially when focusing on opponent eFG%, but they don't force turnovers or rebound very well; against Indiana, other flaws were exposed, per UMHoops:
Indiana handed Wisconsin its first loss of the season on Tuesday at Assembly Hall thanks to an impressive offensive showing. The Hoosiers racked up 1.17 points per trip against the Badgers in the worst defensive showing for Bo Ryan’s program in a Big Ten game since March, 2012.
The Badgers clearly have some defensive issues to work out and their issues against Indiana stemmed from a failure to stop dribble penetration. Indiana was 28-of-48 on two point attempts and Yogi Ferrell (9-of-16 on twos), Will Sheehey and Stanford Robinson got to the basket at will.
A numbers-heavy look at the Badger defense at that link reveals issues against the fast break, pick-and-roll, and isolation looks that Michigan can potentially exploit. The Wolverines will probably have to do most of their damage in those areas if they want to keep pace with Wisconsin, one of the very best teams in the country at preventing and defending opponent three-pointers.
Unleash Stauskas. Wisconsin's defensive deficiencies appear ripe for exploitation by Nik Stauskas, especially with how well he's working the pick-and-roll with both big men in recent games. The Badgers will do everything they can to run him off the three-point line; that can open up gaps inside for Stauskas to drive or dish off to an open big. Caris LeVert could also get his penetration game going against Wisconsin—with their small backcourt, he's going to have a size advantage against whomever is defending him.
Don't blow rotations, please. Perimeter defense, especially on switches, has been a sore spot for Michigan this season. They simply can't afford to blow assignments against this Wisconsin team; losing a man on the perimeter is just asking for three points against, and in what should be a slow-paced game those are even more difficult to overcome. This won't be easy—not only do the guards have to be at peak awareness, the bigs are going to play in some uncomfortable spots with Kaminsky stretching the floor.
Quick outlets. Michigan isn't going to force many turnovers against Wisconsin given their ability to take care of the basketball, but that doesn't mean they can't get out in transition. The Badgers aren't a great rebounding team and their transition defense is iffy—after every Wisconsin miss, Michigan's bigs should be looking to move the ball upcourt with alacrity. This may be the only way the Wolverines can consistently generate open perimeter shots, and they'll need to do so if Wisconsin is hitting threes at their usual high rate.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan has a chance here if they can strike a fine balance between exploiting Wisconsin's trouble defending penetration and creating enough good looks from the outside to keep up with their three-point makes. I'd actually be pretty optimistic about this if not for (1) Michigan's own defensive issues probably cancelling this out, and (2) the goddamn Kohl Center, which cannot burn to the ground soon enough.
UMHoops preview. Maize n Brew preview. MnB Q&A with Bucky's 5th Quarter. Fouad recounts Michigan's struggles at Kohl if you're looking for a good hate-read. I jumped on the UMHoops podcast this afternoon with Joe Stapleton, David Merritt, and B5Q's Phil Mitten—listen for plenty of Wisconsin talk, a look at the 4-0 start in B1G play, and lots of OutKast. You can never go wrong with lots of OutKast.
*Kaminsky will be the fourth member of the top ten to face Michigan this season, joining Arizona's Nick Johnson (#3), Iowa State's DeAndre Kane (#7), and Duke's Jabari Parker (#9).
RPI Effect Only Teams:
The Big Four RPI torpedoes remained on course this week. UMass-Lowell (3-12) beat Binghamton, and in doing so moved up to become only the second-worst team Michigan has played. They ceded that particular crown of used car parts to Houston Baptist (4-12), who lost to Stephen F. Austin, though I’m not sure whether we’re talking about the school or the long-deceased American empresario*.
South Carolina State (5-11) lost to Morgan State and Coppin State, but beat Maryland Eastern Shore, which is the second-toughest of the Maryland beaches. Coppin State (5-11) lost to Savannah State in addition to their glorious triumph over the aforementioned South Carolina State. The Fightin’ Coppinites are the only one of the Four Horsemen of the RPIpocalypse threatening to break into the Top 300.
Long Beach State (5-11) beat UC Davis, but lost to UC Irvine, and this week they take on UC Santa Barbara. What, are you afraid of Riverside? Holy Cross (7-9) lost to Bucknell, and dropped to 1-3 in the Patriot League. Charlotte (10-5) suffered a really bad loss to UTSA.
*[NOTE TO MY BIOGRAPHER: Please refer to me as an “American empresario” at every opportunity. We should probably work it into the description on the dust jacket. Call me to discuss.]
Big Sorts of Teams
#8 Iowa State (14-2, 2-2 Big 12)
This week: Lost to Oklahoma (87-82); Lost to Kansas (77-70)
Rough week for Iowa State, though losses at Oklahoma and at home to Kansas aren’t terrible. They play at Texas this week in essentially a coin-flip game. They also continue to play at a ridiculous tempo; their last three games have seen the Cyclones with 74, 78, and 79 possessions. Michigan, by comparison, hasn’t cracked 61 possessions in Big Ten play, and only exceeded 71 possessions once, when they played… Iowa State.
Florida State (11-4, 1-1 ACC)
This week: Beat Clemson (56-41); Beat Maryland (85-61)
Florida State’s defense remains really good, though given that they are the giant walking trees from the Lord of the Rings* that is probably to be expected. They are only allowing an eFG% of 41.0%. This is especially impressive when you take into account the amount of transition opportunities created by Florida State’s Indiana-like turnover numbers.
#23 Dook (13-4, 2-2 ACC)
This week: Lost to Clemson (72-59); Beat Virginia (69-65)
Beating UVA, even at home, is a quality win for Duke, and they might have had another one had they not blown a late second-half lead at Clemson.
With none of Jabari Parker’s Duke, Andrew Wiggins’ Kansas, or McDonald’s All America’s Kentucky being in the AP Top 10, you have to wonder if this signals a move away from individual play, and that the basketball world will once again begin to focus on teamwork and… yeah, sorry, probably not so much.
#1 Arizona (16-0, 3-0 PAC 12)
This week: Beat USC 73-53
Easy week for RichRod and company.
Stanford (9-4, 0-1 PAC 12)
This week: Lost to Oregon State (81-72); Beat Oregon (82-80)
That Oregon win was in Eugene, giving Stanford a second nice road win to pair with its victory at UConn in December. Weirdly, they don’t have home win over a top-125 team, losing their only two such chances to BYU and Cal. They are still a bubble team, and will probably need an upset or two to get to survive on the bubble.
* [ed-S: Treebeard if you're reading this they're just regular ents, not the entwives; sorry, we still haven't seen them, have you tried West Lafayette?]
[AFTER THE JUMP: The Big Ten and other assorted things]
Derrick Walton's halfcourt buzzer-beater provided one of those GIFs that's impressive at first glance and even better upon multiple viewings. Walton's one-footed leaping release, perfect shot, and understated fist-pump celebration are all visually appealing. The real gold is in the stands, however, with the synchronized exasperated head-clutching by seemingly the entire section to the right and then, well, this:
A few things:
- Hello, Broncos jersey guy. While your reaction is stellar, I have some questions. Why are you wearing a Trindon Holliday jersey at a Nebraska basketball game that you seemingly care a great deal about? Do you not own Nebraska gear? Why do you care this much about Nebraska basketball in the first place? This seems unhealthy.
- A couple rows above Broncos Guy are two Michigan fans wearing gray who seemingly knew the whole damn time this shot was going in. While the one on the left lets his emotions get the best of him, throwing a Jersey-worthy fist pump, the dude on the right holds the pose perfectly. Nailed it, man.
- Just above the fist-pumper is a Nebraska fan staring at the aisle, planning his exit, and is blissfully unaware of everything that happens.
- The entire Nebraska bench, as well as the section in the corner, has zero reaction whatsoever. They've seen a lot of Huskers basketball. They are immune to pain.
- There are approximately 17 other hidden gems in here, including girl in blue jacket just sippin' her water, guy in button-up throwing his hands up and possibly doing a pit-check, lady whose prayers go unanswered, and the two stoic bros behind Broncos Guy.
- Late addition, pointed out by MGoCommenter Bengalfang: right as the shot goes in, you can see a kid behind the Nebraska bench throw an impressively aerodynamic paper airplane for... reasons, I guess.
Given Michigan won by one, this shot turned out to be rather important.
[Hit THE JUMP for a halfcourt alley-oop, Nik Stauskas trick shot magic, Tim Miles unveiling a... toilet, Spike Albrecht giving Andrew Dakich a hearty tweak (trust me, there's no way to describe the GIF that doesn't sound weird), and much more.]
The best guy. When it comes to outperforming seed expectations, John Beilein is it.
He was eighth before last season's run, so this is a list that can change quickly even for a veteran. Beilein also has the relative advantage of having a low average seed compared to guys like Krzyzewski and Calipari, who are impressively high on the list for teams that get such high seeds.
Draft bits. Large chunks of the basketball team are playing or not playing their way into the Interesting Decision section of NBA draft hopefuls. Certainly-gone Mitch McGary's back injury now sees him slip off many first round boards and Nik Stauskas turning into Darius Morris + 45% three point shooting has put him on many radars.
UMHoops runs down the opinions out there at the moment:
- GLENN ROBINSON III has seen his stock drop into the fringe of the first round, as he no longer has Trey Burke feeding him regularly. A lot of the evaluations seem to have some lag in them, as they complain about his inability to shoot. Chad Ford: "can’t hit a shot right now and is stuck in tweener land until he develops a reliable jumper." Okay, but I'm kind of expecting him to hit at least one 18-foot pullup per game these days.
- MITCH MCGARY is old, turning 22 in June, and will have a difficult decision. Some guys say he should absolutely return, others go with the tough decision song and dance. McGary either not on first round boards or hanging on at the very end at 29 or 30.
- NIK STAUSKAS comes up when people get detailed enough to list second-rounders. He's not in anyone's first round right now, though he's on the fringe of it at Draft Express and moving up into the mid-40s on Chad Ford's board. That, too, may be lag as Stauskas's offensive arsenal continues to expand. (Will the NBA care about his defense? I don't actually know.)
If Robinson continues playing like he has been the last couple weeks he'll bounce back into the late lottery range he was in last year and be gone; if the other two want to be first round picks it sounds like they would both lean to a return. Early yet, obviously.
It may have been brutally disappointing and eventually soul-crushing, but at least it was fun for neutrals? Michigan makes the top ten in Bill Connolly's top 100 games of the season, in a loss, naturally. They also check in at 24 (a win!), 17 (a win… against Akron), 42 and 43 (OT affairs against PSU and Northwestern), and 92 (the inexplicably included Iowa loss that was brutally unwatchable all the way through). That's six games, which seems like a lot for a totally nondescript 7-6 outfit.
Gallon continuing on. Always difficult to make a living in the NFL as a 5'7" guy, but Jeremy Gallon just might do that. He's at the Shrine Bowl this week, trying to make a name for himself. He is doing so:
One of the shortest players on the field, Gallon has probably been told he's “too small” his entire life, but he certainly doesn't play like it, displaying a competitive chip on his shoulder in every drill and each snap. Despite his shorter stature (5-foot-7), he has good-sized mitts and is a natural hands-catcher. Gallon has excellent controlled momentum in his routes to catch-and-go in the same motion to be a threat after the reception. As one scout put it on Tuesday: “I know he's small, but look at the production. The kid's just a football player.”
This opinion is not a solitary one:
-The best receiver today was Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon, who consistently got the type of separation I was optimistic we’d see this week. The smallest receiver here, Gallon needed to prove he can get free route-wise other than on underneath drag routes and deep comebacks. So far, he’s done it this week. Much of it is thanks to his quickness at the top of his routes. He snaps his head around so quickly, transitioning from a smooth, appearing-to-be slow start into a quick burst away from his defender.
Gallon's not going to go early at his height but I bet he goes in the mid rounds and hangs around forever as a slot receiver.
Yeah, sure Wake Forest, go for it. Even if ESPN was trying to get the ACC to poach Big Ten schools, that was probably some mid-level exec humoring the dude he was talking to at that moment. "Yeah, Wake Forest dude," said the incredibly bored man, "you should totally turn the tables on those jerks, and it will totally work. A-C-C."
We have the money. You have the numbers. Fight. They're having some sort of NCAA jamboree in San Diego this week, and the primary topic is schools with buckets of money no longer putting up with the idea that the Indiana States of the world should be able to rein them in.
At the annual NCAA convention, a sub-committee of the Division I board of directors proposed a rough governance model that would give more autonomy to the five power conferences -- the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC -- and give a stronger voice to athletic directors with respect to how student-athletes are supported.
IE, we want to give some more money to these guys and if you can't afford it pound sand. This in particular is a good idea:
The ongoing education element would allow student-athletes to leave school for an extended time, but retain their scholarship so they could graduate. For example, a player drafted could go on to have a career, but not give up the academic portion of their scholarship and they could return to finish their education at a later date. A player leaving early would still give up their athletic eligibility, but not their academic eligibility.
Regretful and broke now that you're 25 and your pro career didn't work out? Come back to school and get serious, on the NCAA's dime. Jam that through as fast as possible and make it retroactive.
Meanwhile in Emmert complaining. The jamboree is derided as "all for show" by industry insiders in a Stewart Mandel article, with various athletic directors upset. Which ones makes all the difference:
"A lot of us are concerned about where this is headed," College of Charleston AD Joe Hull said after the first seminar broke up. "We're concerned about where this thing will end up."
These are the right people to be upset. UConn AD, Michigan alum, and potential future Michigan AD Warde Manuel got in a zinger that Lloyd Carr would approve of:
And Connecticut AD Warde Manuel cynically suggested the word "revenue" should probably be included among those core values. So at least some people that work in college athletics are just as jaded about the state of college athletics as you are.
Other issues on the table include redefining agent rules (please) and changing coaching personnel rules to limit the increasing use of gray-area guys.
Chris Brown on Pete Carroll. Carroll is a 4-3 under specialist who has huge corners that he plays press coverage with in a cover-3, which seems like a direction Michigan might be headed what with Mattison's under adherence, Michigan's tendency towards cover 3 this year, their obvious desire to grab jumbo corners (Stribling and
Conley Dawson), and Jabrill Peppers coming in next year.
Sherman’s skills allow Carroll to put his spin on old, conservative Cover Three: While this is zone coverage, Seattle’s cornerbacks play tight press coverage on the outside wide receivers as long as a receiver’s initial steps are straight downfield. Notice the coverage drops from the underneath defenders in the GIF below: This is a zone defense all the way, except for those press corners.
They are not likely to be as good, of course, but Mattison does want to be aggressive—remember the ND touchdown in 2011 where all eleven Michigan players were within five yards of the LOS?—and if he acquires confidence in his secondary, they might end up with something not entirely unlike what Seattle does.
Just try not to play Tyler Lockett next year.
When I did the UFR of Bama's bowl game this week I ran into the same content fight that Brian vs. had with companies who license X conference's games then go around abusing YouTube's preference to stay out of fair use debates. As an alternative to the videos they harassed me about, I placed some of the analysis from the article right into the video. Somebody asked me to do that with Michigan's plays so I gave it a shot:
If these are helpful I might make it into a feature. If they're just repeating what you get from UFR and picture pages I'll drop the idea.
Eye of the Tiger has started going this direction as well, changing "Reading the Tea Leaves" into "Zone Blocking Zealot," and promising stuff like this:
The next question is: which of the OL on the double releases to the second-level defender? In some cases, this will be determined by the nature of the double—if one of the OL has a bad position on the defender, he will release. But if it’s a good double, where either OL could sustain the block, the releasing OL will be determined by the danger posed by the nearest second-level defender. Take this example from the Jaguars link:
This blogger votes yea.
Basketball2000. LSA switched up too: the regular statistical analyses and charts and lolcats thing is covering the cagers now, starting with a look at the non-conference schedule. The team has fared as well as their ballhandling:
[Jump for the board.]