|What:||Softball in Game 1 of the Championship (best of 3) Series|
|When:||Tonight, 8 ET|
|Where to watch:||ESPN2 or WatchESPN|
|Line:||There are two, one down each foul line. What?|
Preview: Florida is good at softball. They won the national championship last year, beat Michigan 2-1 at the start of this season when Michigan was mercy-ing everyone else, and rolled through the rest. They were the #1 seed with gusto, and beat Tennessee and LSU by a combined 11-2 before having some difficulty dispatching rival-like-thing Auburn 3-2 in extra innings. Like Michigan they are mentally tough as nails.
Lauren Haeger is their pitcher and if you put her on any team they might be where Florida is. She beat out the greatest player in Michigan softball history for the player of the year award and might have deserved to. If Sierra Romero is Miguel Cabrera: softball edition, Haeger is Babe Ruth if Ruth pitched every day. She had a .678 slugging and a 1.24 ERA, averaging a strikeout per inning. I don't have to show you a photo; if you tune in your lizard instincts will immediately recognize the threat.
Ringing the Bell
We also say adieu to baseball. I have two fandoms that predate memory: Tigers and Michigan football. I got on the Red Wings bandwagon about the time Cheveldae was the hot backup we all wanted to start, and Michigan basketball with the '89 run, trading that in for hockey when I got to college because 1998-2002 duh. Pistons were and remain a team I'm into when they're good—other than that I keep myself conversant on Steph Curry etc. because America cares. I keep a peripheral knowledge of other things in case something beeps.
Last month Michigan Baseball beeped.
An average team in a suddenly average league this year, Michigan was out of the bubble unless it could sweep its way into an auto-bid through the Big Ten tourney. This they did, taking out then #4 Illinois in the third of a four-game tournament.
If the alarm made an intelligible sound it was "Carmen Benedetti", Michigan's own Ruth-like object, though he only pitched 14 innings (and tallied 23 strikeouts in them). Benedetti hit .352 and led the team in power numbers from 1st base.
I'd like it if someone else wrote the epitaph on this team because I missed most of the fun; this week I watched the two Louisville games and missed the two against Bradley. L'ville was the host team so I got to see Michigan lose while getting boo'ed. They looked likely to steal the first one until the last inning when right fielder Johnny Slater dove to catch a foul ball with less than two outs and the game-winer ready to tag from 3rd. The second game was a blowout.
Bakich has them headed in the right direction and this year was certainly a step that way. It may have been the tourney taste that basketball got when they surprised Clemson then ran at Blake Griffin until Blake Griffin was like "you are Zak Novak!" If you look at the Wikipedia entry for Beilein's first team it's short and mentions Manny Harris. If you look at the second one there are individual game recaps and memes like "Queme los Barcos!" This team felt like that team.
Softball recap: You were alive for this.
I didn't get into Michigan softball until it was nearly too late—the summer after graduation while I was still hanging around Ann Arbor and umpiring the IM level of it. That was the Marissa Young team, with a young Jessica Merchant and Nicole Motycka on it. Young was the draw; you knew when watching her that you were seeing one of the greats. She'd do things like pitch a no-hitter in the first frame of a double-header, then hit two home runs in the second game.
It was so much fun. Unless you were around for the 19-teens or shortly thereafter (i.e you are Craig Ross) you have no idea how much of a blast it is to go to a ballpark and defy every somber convention baseball's built up since. They would sing at bat music for each other. They would hurl insults at the other bench. They had pepper cheers and everyone came out to greet home runs. Nobody knew what the limit could be so everyone showed up for the Big Ten championship game with MSU; they lost it.
Two years ago they adopted a kid. Not legal-adopted—they just had a little girl they adored so they put her on the team. That was the team with Wagner and Driesenga, and the more raw versions of this team's stars. It wasn't like they went away in the interim—Michigan softball has been an elite program for longer than I've followed it; Hutchins was an heir apparent assistant here when Harbaugh was the quarterback. But again you got that otherworldly talent vibe, especially from Wagner. Megan Betsa's commitment was a huge deal.
The Year of the Pizza
Like before, this team has been building over years and picked up fans in its swell. It has the pizza theme and Sierra Romero (and she has another year!) already puts Denard out of the conversation for greatest Michigan athlete of the decade. It marches to the beat, literally—she starts a beat and they all dance to it—of Lauren Sweet, the most catcher catcher in the history of the tools of ignorance.
I dunno do you really need to know how they beat up on UCLA (the Duke of the sport) and a bunch of SEC powerhouses, how this 'Ship series was ordained movie-style when Michigan opened the season against all-business, defending champion Florida and got thoroughly beat despite the closeness of the score? Do you really need a narrative, or unbelievable statistics, or any of the other accoutrements we pump into sports to keep them lively when they're not? Here's the softball update: they play incredible softball with incredible irreverence. Enjoy the game.
I May Have ~60 Tabs Open For, Oh, No Reason
Chris Evans is elusive!! Best rep in this drill so far: pic.twitter.com/2XJao1xvGc
— Allen Trieu (@AllenTrieu) May 31, 2015
Michigan's big recruiting weekend hasn't produced a commitment yet, but given the very positive reactions from several visitors, it appears to only be a matter of time.
In the case of four-star IN APB Chris Evans, who added an offer shortly after departing Ann Arbor, that time is coming soon. Evans will announce his decision on Saturday, and these tea leaves aren't hard to read—he told 247's Steve Wiltfong that Michigan leads following his weekend visit ($). Evans has been offered as an athlete; the shifty running back could also play in the slot or end up at defensive back. Harbaugh loves recruiting athletes who can play multiple positions, and Evans fits that mold.
Three-star Indiana speedster Kiante Enis is in a very similar situation. Like Evans, he could wind up at running back, slot, or defensive back. Also like Evans, he's a solid bet to wind up in Ann Arbor after a great visit experience, per Wiltfong ($):
Michigan may be hard to beat as the process continues.
“They pretty much shot to the top,” Enis said.
That Michigan offered Evans despite Enis (who already held an offer) giving off potential commitment vibes indicates the coaches would take both; Steve Lorenz has said as much in comments at 247. That makes the backfield class look awfully crowded, but positional flexibility is key. As was his style at Stanford, Harbaugh seems more intent on landing the type of athletes he wants, then sorting out the specifics once they get on campus.
The other prospect who some thought could drop in the near future is three-star Paramus Catholic WR Donald Stewart, who visited campus for the first time and got plenty of attention from the coaching staff, per The Wolverine's Tim Sullivan ($):
"The best part of the visit was being able to interact with the players, and also to interact with all the coaches. Every single coach from the staff talked to my parents and me, that was a great experience. I think that was the best part. Another part was how Coach Harbaugh told my parents how it's OK for parents to come to all the practices, come to all the home games: they're welcome on the field up until the game starts."
Sullivan mentions a decision won't come until later in the summer, but Michigan entered the weekend as Stewart's leader and it doesn't look like that will change unless another school blows him away—he plans to visit Northwestern and Vanderbilt this month before cutting his list.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
[Scheduling note: Brian is out today and tomorrow, I (Seth) am finishing up HTTV. There will be a softball and baseball post later this afternoon]
The Bill C preview. Bill Connelly's annual preview series now goes 128 programs deep; he hit Michigan on Friday. The long term:
Harbaugh is a weird dude who says baffling, Les Milesian things -- that they both played for Bo Schembechler probably isn't a coincidence -- and might be getting weirder with age. And no one is guaranteed success when taking on a new job. If previous history correlated with future success, the last two Michigan hires would have worked out.
But Harbaugh is as close to a sure thing as you can hire. In just 11 years, he has raised the standard at every stop. He hires hungry assistants, builds an ultra-competitive environment, and then wins. He has coaching in his bloodstream, and he's been successful just about everywhere.
The short term is far more uncertain. But you probably know this. You also know the thing that leaps off the page on this chart, but my god to see it quantified:
Adjusted pace. Good lord.
There is some good news. The numbers reflect the massive improvement in line play that I kept promising everyone existed no matter how implausible it seemed given the play of the offense overall:
The line started with just 34 career starts but improved to 50th in Adj. Line Yards and 72nd in Adj. Sack Rate. Considering the level of recruiting, this isn't great, but you can only improve so much in one year.
Both of those were deep into triple digits a year ago, and Michigan returns everyone except Jack Miller to that line instead of losing two NFL draft picks at tackle. I will always wonder how much of the crater was on Darrell Funk and how much was on Rodriguez's recruiting and Al Borges's mad scientist meddling.
Connelly notes that the schedule sets up to be highly swingy. They've only got two teams that project to be very good—OSU and MSU—and relatively few cupcakes. All but one of the good-to-middling teams comes to Ann Arbor, as well. With some luck Michigan could win an encouraging number of games… but there's not much slack in there.
A recommendation. I've had these tabs open in my browser for a while now because I don't want to just toss them off in a UV, but I don't seem to be getting around to the meaty post about them they deserve. So: if you want excellent annotated posts about football, head to James Light Football. He covers all kinds of things from college and pro levels, and he frequently strikes upon Michigan itself. He was at the coaches clinic and has a series of posts detailing things Jedd Fisch, John Baxter…
Why do we play so many starters on special teams? What is a starter? Only the 5 offensive lineman and quarterback are starters. The rest is personnel driven. We don’t have starters, we have football players. You don’t play a position on this team, you play a role. What down is so insignificant that you can afford to have less than your best players?
…and DJ Durkin. Durkin's priorities say a lot about the state of what worries a modern defensive coordinator:
First thing Durkin and his staff do when playing a team is identify these three things. Tempo, Run/Pass Conflicts (RPO’s), Who’s their QB?
(RPOs have mostly been known as "packaged plays" around here.) Michigan under Hoke threatened in none of these categories.
Another point guard option. Michigan is focused on in-state PG Cassius Winston for their (currently) final slot in the 2016 class. They are not laser-focused, however, as Winston has given little indication what direction he might be leaning. They're keeping an eye on other options, though. One of them is Bruce Brown, a composite top 50 player who is listed as a shooting guard by most services. Michigan doesn't see it like that:
On Michigan: “Michigan they want me to run the one. And me and Tyus Battle in the backcourt, that sounds good. He’s solid.”
Indiana is also recruiting him as a point guard; St. John's, North Carolina, and Texas are other names in his recruitment. Brown is currently at a prep school in Vermont but I think he grew up in Boston.
Where are they now: not currently on fire. Quinton Washington seems to have a cool job except for the parts where he catches on fire due to proximity to other fires.
That is "Will Power," who is apparently a real person and not a character in a freshman's screenplay.
Hello again: Moritz Wagner. It feels like we've welcomed Mortiz Wagner to the program a half-dozen times, but here's another one since Michigan signed him and officially announced him. There was a bit of an uncomfortable delay in there that conjured images of Robin Benzing—who did not qualify—but now that's all behind us and we can focus on what we've won:
"Moe is a long and versatile player," Michigan coach John Beilein said in the release. "He has a great understanding of the game with a tremendous upside. As a product of Germany, he has always played against men five to even 10 years older than him, which has only helped his growth as a player.
"As he continues in his development, Moe's skill and athleticism will allow him to eventually play multiple positions for us. He just turned 18 years old, so we are excited about his potential. Moe's engaging personality and passion for the game will make him a very valuable asset to our team now and in the years to come."
Interesting: Michigan listed him at a full 6'10" and they tend to be pretty accurate with roster numbers. Even Trey Burke, who everyone assumed was being handed an inch or two, measured out at just about what Michigan listed him at when he entered the draft. (Spike is likely an exception to this roster fidelity.)
Unless Wagner is a super prospect, he has an uphill path to playing time this year if Zak Irvin can handle the defense and rebounding aspects of the 4. John Beilein loves shooting and he's got a couple of prime wing options in Duncan Robinson and Aubrey Dawkins; if one of the forward-sized fours is going to wrest significant playing time away from those guys he's going to have to be really good.
Claiming poverty. Andy Staples on the "schools don't make a profit" argument put forth when people want to defend the NCAA's version of amateurism:
Athletic directors will claim their programs don’t make money, but that’s also a lie at most Power Five schools. They would make money if they weren’t giving their coaches huge raises and putting gold-plated waterfalls in their locker rooms. Do not confuse an inability to manage money with a lack of money, and don’t believe people who just got $10 million more when they say they can’t pay for the programs they were already funding with $10 million less.
At this point I think everyone understands this except the people charging hundreds of dollars an hour to not understand. October is the inconveniently-timed next potential NCAA-in-court bombshell, as the Jeffery Kessler case—that's the one that explicitly wants to blow the whole system up—will have its class certification hearing.
That lawsuit could put sufficient pressure on the NCAA to make certifying and negotiating with a union look like the best course of action.
Etc.: John Gasaway on deceased former NCAA head Walter Byers, and how he is often misunderstood.
State hockey loses Josh Jacobs to the OHL. That's a different league from guys signing OHL contracts. How long before MSU gets serious and replaces Tom Anastos with a hockey coach?
LSU had Hoover, Michigan had Betsa. Each lineup had stars and superstars, and each scored three after four innings. When LSU got to three Michigan sat Betsa and brought in Ace #2 Haylie Wagner. When Michigan got to three in the bottom half of the inning, LSU... left in Hoover.
Michigan struck for three runs in the bottom of the sixth, the winning two off a single by Sierra Lawrence, and Wagner shut the door.
And you can't have one without the other...
It's now a best of three against the best team in softball for the national championship.
Oh and the last run? Sierra Lawrence stole home!
— ASA and USA Softball (@ASAUSASoftball) May 31, 2015
In case you couldn't tell I'm pretty excited about this softball season you guys. When I get excited I make t-shirts.
Quick refresher on The Pizza Rules:
Single: Roll out the dough.
Double: Sprinkle the cheese.
Triple: Rain pepperonis
Home run: Surrounded by a circle of cheese-sprinkling chefs she "CHOMP" eats the pizza.
(Also comes in cheese-colored)
NOTE: Michigan baseball plays their NCAA Tournament opener against Bradley starting RIGHT NOW. You can watch it on ESPN3.
Harbaugh is a draw, but recruits will need to see results. [Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog]
As Michigan heads into a big visit weekend before what should be an eventful month of June, when the coaches make their satellite camp tour, it's a good time for a recruiting mailbag. No need for a preamble; let's get straight to the questions.
— MysterA (@NateAdema) May 29, 2015
This will depend on the prospect to a certain extent. For recruits focused more on relationships with coaches, facilities, academic support, and the like, on-campus visits should be the primary way Michigan pushes for a commitment. For recruits intent on competing for conference and national titles, Michigan is going to have to show some progress this season before they haul in guys hell-bent on collecting rings.
That's oversimplifying matters, of course; recruits rarely commit to a school without a great on-campus visit experience, and winning is going to help no matter what. After the way last year's recruiting deteriorated along with the team's performance, however, it's safe to say on-field results will be more important this year for recruiting than a normal year. (Whatever that is.) Jim Harbaugh's reputation may precede him, but the program has been down for long enough that a lot of top prospects—especially from outside the region—are going to want to see the Wolverines take a step forward before making a four- or five-year commitment.
[Hit THE JUMP for a comparison of Harbaugh's offer approach to Hoke's, the position group in need of a solid '16 haul, and a guess or two at M's next commitment.]