...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
1988: M 28, Alabama 24
Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
NOW ON THE ROAD!
PUNT/COUNTERPUNT TRAVEL DISPATCHES
12/30/12 – Dateline: Chattanooga
No two words make a vacation more festive than “Chattanooga, Tennessee.” Punt and I settled here last night into a hotel, after a mere 600 miles of driving, abbreviated by two social visits and swirling Kentucky snow. We lulled ourselves to sleep watching Sparty in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and awoke early for the 570 remaining miles to Tampa, with a breakfast stop at the Marietta (Ga.) Diner, a destination recommended by “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” Nothing like a Greek omelette with grits, especially when served by Bulgarian beauty Tatyana, prompting Punt to comment, “Isn’t immigration wonderful?”
Punt occasionally converses with me, but directs most of his comments towards other drivers, offering insightful observations about their lane usage, lack of turn signals, and general inattentiveness to the roadway. I am in the passenger seat, my mobile office cluttered with laptop, jet pack, Blackberry, iPod, and our GPS companion (Sari), who did not even bother with a “good morning” before brusquely directing us back to I-75 from the hotel. Car travel has its own rhythm, the hum of the tires over the undulating highway, sunlight and shadow through the Georgia Pines. We are then rudely interrupted by Sari’s snappish direction to turn right on South Marietta Parkway, Southeast – then sending us in a pretzel-shaped series of turns before landing in the parking lot of the diner. I suspect Sari’s irritation stems from her resentment over the success of her much more famous sister Siri, the voice of the iPhone, but who am I to psychoanalyze the disembodied female voices of electronica.
Far more genial is our UM talisman, “GnoMie,” content to be wrapped in a UM blanket in the back seat for most of the trip. We had been planning to arrive in Tampa by late afternoon, but after Punt’s expansive tour of the Atlanta metropolitan area in search of a car wash, I have revised that to evening. In the meantime, we roll down I-75, the sun continues to shine, Sari is blissfully silent, and even Punt seems momentarily content with his fellow drivers.
On to the predictions.
[ED: hey guys congrats on purchasing one of the most embarrassing things you can own as a Michigan fan look forward to your ski-jumping wolverine dispatch soonest.]
It’s been many a year since Counterpunt and I have taken to the roads to attend a Michigan bowl game. Not since the ’84 Sugar Bowl vs. the Auburn “War Eagles.”
When Counterpunt propositioned me with the prospect of attending the Outback Bowl, I figured, why not? Unfortunately it was too late to get a reasonably priced airfare, so this became a true road trip—me gassing up the Rav 4 for the 1000+ mile trip to Tampa.
After many miles, stops to see friends of Punt and Counterpunt, associates of Counterpunt, and attempts to see “clients” of Counterpunt—vetoed by yours truly—and getting served breakfast by a Bulgarian bombshell named Tatyana - we finally arrived at our destination. It now time to turn to the reason for our travels.
I’m having a hard time deciding how this game is going to go down. Some people are of a mind that Michigan has little to fear, that South Carolina is a predictable offense, and that Mattison will have had time to come up with the defensive scheme from Hell. But the Gamecocks are ranked #10 in the nation, are a top tier team in the all-powerful SEC and have the “Old Ball Coach,” Steve Spurrier, running the show. Hmm, who do I pick?
I think it’s clear that Michigan has more to gain from a win than South Carolina. They need to keep their momentum and return the Wolverines to the upper echelons of college football. My heart bleeds Maize ‘n’ Blue, but my head says:
MICHIGAN 26, SOUTH CAROLINA 31
My mind is still boggled at Seth’s detailed analysis of this contest (“Hokepoints Previews South Carolina” 12/27/12), fueled by six hours of watching Gamecock football, which is about 5 ½ more hours than my total bowl viewing thus far. I come at this game with a far less scientific mindset, tending to break down in adolescent laughter every time I see the word “Cocks.” But here goes my take on Michigan’s noble battle with the evil SEC and cocky Steve Spurrier.
On the offensive side of the ball, I trust Al Borges about as much as Ronald Reagan trusted Mikhail Gorbachev; but if Borges utilizes Gardner and Robinson to maximum effectiveness, we should be able to neutralize Clowney’s disruptive domination. The Lewan/Clowney matchup is much anticipated, but even an All American will need some help against that beast, and Borges may have to utilize a blocking back to assist in this regard.
Defensively, without J.T. Floyd in the lineup, we may have some difficulty handling Carolina’s speedy Smurf-outs; but on the whole, I am less concerned with our ability to contain the ‘Cock offense than I am with intangibles like turnovers and special teams.
On the whole, I believe the circumstances are ripe for Michigan to go out on the winning side, which will certainly make the ride home a lot more pleasant. Who knows; if Punt is sufficiently elated, he may be inclined for a return to the Marietta Diner, and ask Tatyana if she wants to come live with him in the melting pot of Ann Arbor.
MICHIGAN 23, ‘COCKS 13
Hit 'escape' on your non-Chrome browser to stop animation.
I'm assuming #25's New Year's resolution involves never again being in the same zip code as Glenn Robinson III.
[Trey Burke doing good basketball things and Nik Stauskas hitting all the threes after THE JUMP.]
|WHAT||Michigan vs South Carolina|
Everybody Loves Raymond Stadium
Tampa Bay, FL
1:00 PM Eastern
January 1st, 2013
|THE LINE||South Carolina –5.5|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, mid-70s, minimal chance of rain|
Again this preview assumes that Denard Robinson is basically a wildcat guy when he lines up at quarterback now. Hoke just reiterated that Gardner will start and Robinson will play "some quarterback," and by "some quarterback" he means "wildcat guy."
Run Offense vs South Carolina
This was two things against Ohio State: Denard Robinson and disaster. Stripped of the one back with any credentials to his name by a gruesome injury to Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan all but abandoned any thought of running the ball with the men misnomered "running backs" in the first half, and then proved the wisdom of that decision—if not the wisdom of their second-half playcalling—by getting stuffed almost literally every time they touched the ball after halftime.
The results were grim. Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls had ten carries between them for a total of 14 yards. Rawls gained a total of two yards on five carries while turning in this career lowlight:
That is likely the point at which we remember Rawls hype deflating entirely as he's relegated to Kevin Grady duty for the rest of his career.
It's not like Rawls is alone in that department. Toussaint followed up a breakout 2011 (1041 yards on 187) by dropping almost two yards from his per-attempt average, going from 5.6 a pop to 3.9. Vincent Smith managed 2.8; Rawls is actually at the top of the heap with 4.2 thanks to a couple of garbage time runs against Purdue and Illinois. When Rawls was forced into the lineup in earnest this November, the results were ugly: 32 carries, 57 yards, less than two yards an attempt. I'd be more receptive to the argument that Rawls saw a lot of short yardage carries that artificially depressed his YPC if he wasn't a major reason he saw so many of those carries by failing to get any YAC on the goal line.
Anyway. The failure of the Michigan running game is comprehensive. The interior line can't block, the tight ends are too young, the tailbacks miserable. Except…
In this context Denard Robinson's season is nothing short of miraculous. His historic season has been obscured by injury and interceptions, but here it is: 1166 yards on 154 carries, an average of 7.6 per despite missing games against Minnesota and Northwestern. That will be a record dating back to at least 1948 (100 carry minimum) if he keeps it above Ty Wheatley's 7.3.
Meanwhile no other player on the roster can grind out half of that outside of garbage time. It is time to shake our fists at the fickle whims of injury and Rich Rodriguez's offensive line recruiting, with a bonus shake at the motley collection of tailbacks on the roster.
ok one more
Ok. Now, the opponent.
South Carolina's got shiny numbers that are a bit distorted by their rampant sackage. They're 16th nationally, giving up 119 yards a game. Removed 40(!) sacks for 253 yards and opponents do get up to 4.0 yards a pop. This is a good run defense, yeah, but it's not on the same level as Alabama, Notre Dame, MSU, or OSU (when OSU isn't giving up 70-yard touchdowns). The defensive tackles are not pocket-crushers, the safeties like to shoulder-block people down after they get first downs and stand over them like idiots, which might be an asset when Denard breaks into the secondary if any of them have the chutzpah to try that against 16.
Is it going to matter? Probably not. In the game of "can Michigan run a football with Not Denard," bet on "no." Can Michigan effectively integrate Denard into a 20-carry presence if he's not playing quarterback? Well…
Key Matchup: I wonder if two months is enough time for Borges to figure out how to put Denard and Devin on the field at the same time. Denard's great; he can't beat out 10 guys going for him on the snap; just Percy Harvin the guy already and stop holding up a huge sign that says RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN when Denard is at QB. Also you can probably run Gardner some since it's the last game of the year.
[HIT THE JUMP for CLOWNEY THE DRAGON]
The recruiting roundup returns to cover... the dead period. Oh well.
While You Wait For The Others
I'm back from a vacation totally not spent playing an unhealthy amount of FIFA in my pajamas, but recruiting is still in a holding pattern—the holiday dead period continues through Thursday. It's the week for All-American games, however, so recruiting reporters have descended upon San Antonio and St. Petersburg to catch up with the nation's top prospects.
The latest on FL S Leon McQuay III does not sound promising. ESPN's Derek Tyson reports he'll announce his decision on Friday from three as-yet-unnamed schools, and the Wolverines may be on the outside looking in ($):
The four-star athlete has a top five of USC, Michigan, Oregon, Vanderbilt and FSU, but McQuay said he won't have all five hats for his selection on Friday.
"Yeah ... I don't know [if Michigan still in consideration]. I don't know how many hats I'll have up there," he said. "My dad said he wasn't paying for five hats. I'll probably only have three hats up there.
McQuay, who will enroll in January, said Florida State is the only school that has accepted him for admittance so far, but he is working with other schools to gain acceptance.
Sam Webb confirms he'll visit a Michigan bowl practice, so the coaches will get one last shot to sway McQuay, though with mere hours remaining until the Outback Bowl their priorities likely lie elsewhere. Insider rumblings haven't been particularly positive regarding McQuay and a choice for the Wolverines would surprise.
VA RB Derrick Green reiterated to Mike Farrell that Michigan is his favorite, with the rest of the picture murky—Florida State recently offered and could get an unofficial visit, while Oregon is now out of the picture ($). If a school is going to pass the Wolverines, it will have to be soon, as Green said "I definitely know [a decision is] going to be in January."
Let's just say there's more reason for optimism surrounding Green than McQuay.
One new 2013 name emerged in the last couple weeks: PA OT Jaryd Jones-Smith, a three-star lineman who could take an official visit on January 18th ($). He doesn't hold an offer yet, and it seems like he could be a backup plan for guys like Dan Samuelson and Cameron Hunt.
[Hit THE JUMP for an important hair-related bulletin, All-American week primer, and more.]
12/29/2012 – Michigan 88, CMU 73 – 13-0
Sometimes games just happen, and then we just write the bullets because it's hard to wax lyrical about rote blowouts against minor teams.
NEFARIOUS INTENT via Fuller
Photos. Via Bryan Fuller.
Hello Caris. With Hardaway nursing an injury Trey Burke called a "bone bruise" after the game, Caris LeVert inherited the large majority of minutes at the two. End result: 9 points on meh shooting (3/7 inside arc, 1/4 outside), a couple rebounds, and a 5-1 A:TO ratio.
A couple of LeVert's successful shots were tough two-pointers on which he dribbled to approximately the elbow and rose in the face of a defender, which is a mixed blessing. It's nice that he has that capability, but those are bad shots even if they go down; you'd like to see more of LeVert's game get to the rim, especially against a team that doesn't have any shotblocking.
That said, it's clear why Michigan took the redshirt off of him. he's got far more ballhandling/assist/shot creation skills than Vogrich, and if that's worth a couple points in an NCAA tournament game that's well worth it this year. You can see the potential there: tighten up the handle a bit, understand the offense, and LeVert can be a quality second or third banana on a good team—especially if his defense is as good as the coaches have talked it up to be.
Obligatory good gravy Trey Burke comment. Good gravy, Trey Burke: 5/5 from 2, 4/7 from three, 11 assistss, 1 turnover. Central was a terrible terrible defensive team, as they amply demonstrated by leaving Trey Burke wide open for three pointers multiple times in the first five minutes. Even so, boggleboggleboggleboggle.
Burke's one-game ORtg was 185. He's shooting 62% from two. He is a high-usage PG who never turns the ball over. He's kind of good.
It should be a shock to watch a guy hit five straight threes. Not even that surprised as Stauskas does it tonight.
Ah yup. Eight more attempts go in the sample size bucket, five of them are makes, and I'm getting curious about all time records. I have found them. Stauskas is 39/69 in 13 games for a 56.5% hit rate. Conservatively assuming Michigan plays the same number of games this year that they did last year, he's on pace to launch 180 on the season and hit 102. The NCAA rulebook has the following items he can go for:
- SEASON (50 made): A kid from Holy Cross was at 63.4%. This is probably out of reach. I imagine that guy must have gotten injured, because who takes only 82 attempts when they are hitting nearly two-thirds of them?
- SEASON (100 made): Steve Kerr (yes that Steve Kerr) hit 57.3% in 1988. It would only take a slight uptick to hit that number, albeit against tougher competition than Stauskas has seen so far. Stauskas is also operating behind a longer line.
- CAREER(200 made): Tony Bennett (yes that Tony Bennett, no not that one) hit 49.7% during his career at UW-Green Bay.
- CAREER(300 made): Stephen Sir, who transferred from SDSU to Northern Arizona, hit 46.9%.
School records are well within reach. Glen Rice hit 48% for his career, 51.6% in 88-89. I'm not going to track this or anything after jinxing Devin Funchess, but those are the numbers to reach for.
In other record news, Trey Burke is on pace to break Michigan's all-time season record in assists per game. At 7.4 he's ahead of Gary Grant by 0.5—Darius Morris is actually #3.
GRIII: a part of the assist machine. Every one of Robinson's nine makes was assisted, and seven of those were from Trey Burke. On the one hand, that means he's not generating a whole lot of shots himself—on the other, eight of ten from the field.
The subjective thing that jumps out is that GRIII's missed bunny rate is a lot lower than Jordan Morgan's. Generally I think Morgan gets excessive criticism for not hitting shots. He's hitting 63% this year, hit 62% last year, hit 63% as a freshman. There are plenty of big men with worse usage rates looking up at him. Morgan is an excellent fifth scorer.
But… yeah, some of those misses are frustrating. Robinson avoids many of them because he can just jump up and dunk from directly underneath the basket. He's pushed himself into the 2PT% lead after the Central game despite taking significantly more jumpers than McGary or Morgan. His TO rate is also significantly lower than either of the bigs despite taking on more ballhandling responsibilities. He's Michigan's most effective guy-to-throw-the-ball-to-in-search-of-assist-guy.
Outrebounded, finally. Stauskas was actually Michigan's leading rebounder on the night with seven defensive boards; on night Michigan actually lost the board war, rebounding a quarter of their misses while allowing the Chips to grab 36% of theirs. I'm pretty sure that's the first time all year Michigan has been outrebounded.
I file that under "fluke" since Michigan has held its own or better against burlymen like Pitt and KState; Michigan clearly got a little lazy and sloppy in this one after running out to a 20 point lead. They turned off about when GRIII took those two Manny Harris-ish rise-and-fire threes late in the first half. Until it happens in a Big Ten game I won't fret about it.
I do think that's a spot where Michigan missed Hardaway quite a bit. Hardaway's DREB rate is second only to McGary; LeVert is lower than Trey Burke (in an admittedly small sample size) and had only one defensive rebound in 32 minutes. That's an area for improvement for him.
The defense is a bit of a concern. While CMU is basically an inverted EMU—300 club defense, middling offense—Central nearly hit 1.1 points per possession and not all of that can be attributed to the rebounding. Michigan struggled with Central's quick transitions and allowed too many guys to get into the lane. Correctable? Some of it. Other bits are just going to linger. Michigan doesn't have shotblocking sans Horford and doesn't have an elite perimeter defender. They are a bit like last year's Indiana team: an all-world offense opposite a meh-at-best defense.
To date Michigan has been better than the Hoosiers, and they were better than IU in conference last year by a significant margin, so they should expect to fare better than that team, which went 11-7 in the league and got a four seed.
LET 'ER RIP
Well. Here we are. Preliminaries down, the Big Ten enters conference play in four tiers:
MAKE IT STOP: Purdue, Nebraska, Penn State, and Northwestern have essentially no shot at the NCAA tournament and are going to get roughed up by the rest of the league. This tier went from a couple teams to four once Tim Frazier and Drew Crawford went out for the year; instead of a gradation from Iowa/Wisconsin to Northwestern and friends there is now a cliff. Yeah, Northwestern hung in against Stanford post Crawford. Yeah, they remain the most dangerous team down here. No, they aren't going to brush against the bubble.
For teams at the top, a loss to anyone in this crew will be a fatal blow towards title aspirations. For teams attempting to scratch out a seventh or eighth bid for the league, games against these folk are must-wins to get to that 9-9 mark that will guarantee entry. For teams in this category, 2013 will be an opportunity to build character, war-movie-POW style.
I AM PEOPLE TOO: Iowa and Wisconsin aren't dreaming of conference championships after nonconference schedules of some difficulty; both are aiming for tourney bids. In Wisconsin's case, they'd like to extend their streak in an off year. In Iowa's, they're looking to break a growing drought. Each is dangerous to any team in the league at home; neither can reasonably expect to pop its head much above .500.
Also thrown in this pot despite a stellar record to date is Illinois. The Illini bomb threes and run up and down the court and can beat Gonzaga on the road and Butler in Hawaii but also
- go to OT with Hawaii
- beat Gardner-Webb by 1
- struggle with Western Carolina, Norfolk State, and EKU
- beat Auburn by 2
They've done enough already to make it in with an 8-10 conference record—maybe even 7-11—and they will be thankful for that margin with a month to go in the season. They could determine the conference championship indirectly by bombing one of the contenders and going cold against another. They will blow too hot and cold to mount a serious title challenge.
IN WITH A CHANCE: Michigan State and Ohio State seem a half-step behind the elite in the conference. With OSU it's hard to tell because their schedule is bereft of Kenpom top 100 teams save Kansas and Duke, who are 4 and 5. With no middle ground to prove themselves on we just know they tend to fold up their offense against great teams and beat up on bad ones.
State has had the opportunity to establish what they are a bit more, and that's a team that will turn the ball over against anybody and play defense against anybody. Results include beating Kansas and struggling with Louisiana Lafayette and Bowling Green. They're going to be a tough out for anyone; they're probably going to end up 2-3 games back of the conference champ.
COME AND GET US: Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota are favorites for the title. Yes, I'm including the Gophers, who are still rounding Trevor Mbakwe into form after a tumultuous offseason. If they can get him up to starters minutes, look out: his rebounding is as crushing as it used to be and his block rate is excellent. He is an impact guy still forcing his way into the lineup and then you've got the Hollinses and Rodney Williams. The Gophers are legit.
You know about Michigan. Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Tim Hardaway Jr. are a deadly set of complimentary offensive players that has weaned Michigan away from an over-dependence on the three-point lottery—and that lottery doesn't seem as much like a lottery with Stauskas around, anyway. They have defensive weaknesses, but their offense may be able to outdistance anyone who comes at them.
Indiana is like Indiana last year except excellent defensively. Which… well, that doesn't sound very good for opponents. Victor Oladipo has taken The Leap and now threatens Burke and Zeller for the title of best player in the conference: elite defense, 75% from two, tons of offensive rebounds, etc. Indiana remains deadly from three as well, hitting 42%. Oladipo and Jordan Hulls are 1-2 in eFG%. Despite the defeat to Butler, they have to be considered the favorite in the league, as they have a couple things Michigan doesn't quite.
PREPARE FOR FUN*
*[unless you're Penn State]