Well, last night certainly produced the most gif-able game of the season. Trey Burke crossovers alone were enough for a post—this one, in particular, just ain't right:
[The Trey Burke Crossover Series continues, plus much more, after THE JUMP.]
There were four of them, concerned—and perhaps a bit captivated—by Trey Burke's presence. Before the ball even reached his hands they converged, four Northwestern players ignoring the basic tenets of basketball defense in a desperate ploy to stop this whirling dervish.
Like a wide receiver coming out of his break, Burke planted, hard, exploding off his left foot. There was a man there harboring vague hopes of impediment, hopes that were dashed as Burke deftly whipped the ball behind his back. Screeching to a halt with one last dribble, he rose above the three remaining Wildcats and hit Nik Stauskas with a pass so pinpoint it seemed to initiate the Canadian's shooting motion.
Stauskas, naturally, drilled the corner three—a disturbing reminder to the Northwestern Four that, my god, Trey Burke has accomplices.
At this point, Burke had already scored 13 points on 5-6 shooting—his only miss a Kobe Assist—and recorded two steals. He'd just committed two turnovers so uncharacteristic that ESPN's cameras later caught Burke in the huddle looking less angry than befuddled. Retribution was swift, and Michigan now led 25-9.
The rest of the proceedings were purely academic.
Burke's final stat line—23 points, four rebounds, five assists, four steals—somehow belies his dominance. If he so desired, he could've scored 40; just ask Dave Sobolewski, victimized by so many Burke crossovers I'd no less blame him for quitting the game than Vincent Smith after the Clowney hit.
Instead, all five Michigan starters finished in double figures while shooting a combined 64.5%, a number that would've been even higher had Stauskas not surprisingly missed a few wide-open looks. Burke had done what he needed to secure victory with his opening foray; for the rest of the game he played the role of setup man, interspersing attacks to remind Northwestern whom they had to focus their attention upon.
2012-13 was supposed to be the Year of Prodigious Talent, the convergence of a pair of future NBA players with Michigan's best freshman class since the Fab Five. It still is, of course. But more than that, it's the Year of Trey Burke, Virtuoso. Come for the potential Final Four team, stay for the once-in-a-generation point guard.
Burke, quite literally, brought Northwestern to their knees. Ever the merciful killer, it took him a matter of minutes to put the Wildcats out of their misery. Surrounded by a fearsome gang—The Mississauga Sniper, Spawn of Killer Crossover, Spawn of Big Dog, The Big Puppy—he prepares to rampage through the Big Ten.
Consider the Massacre at Welsh-Ryan a warning.
Don't listen to anyone in the Netherlands who says otherwise: "Dennis Bergkamp neemt de bal aan" is Dutch for "Denard Robinson picks up a block!"
Between the WMU run and this week's bitterly unsatisfying conclusion we coined and created new uses for words like "Shoelace", and "Dilithium", and "ERMAGHERD", and "Eating" and "Robinson to Roundtree." Every sharp cut and rocket acceleration by his gangly, graceful legs created another moment pregnant with so much meaning you could utter gibberish about it in another language and the guy next to you would understand exactly what you're trying to say.
Think back on the Michigan you knew the moment before the camera first panned to 'Lace's shoes. Think how utterly un-Michigan it all looked: a Floridian freshman who couldn't throw the ball stepping into a role occupied by artillery pieces and disciplined option men since as far back as any reader of this site can remember, dropping the snap, wandering over toward the sideline, then hyperdriving through a field full of men bigger than he is. It used to be other teams' little jet mites doing that to our colossuses.* It was too astounding to be repeatable. How are we to crush souls if every few plays this sprite is jetting off to the end zone, then smiling at everybody? Doesn't he realize scoring touchdowns is just giving the other team more time of possession?
Here at the end we're all not sure what it is we just saw. The thing that turned some practice observers in 2010 into raving lunatics on these boards never stopped being a source of some sort of controversy, from spreadvocates who'd rather Borges run an offense he doesn't know than see him waste such a talent, to insufferable puritans who called him a running back.
To those last to whom circumstances and mankind's ill-planned brachial nervous system ultimately gave them their wish, I give you 100-ish yards on 23 carries, and a ho, and a hum, and a little secret…gonna have to lean closer…a bit closer…I need to whisper…DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP! DENNIS BERGKAMP! AAAAAAAHHHHH!
*If I'd said "it used to be other teams' Vins doing that to our army of Koloss" would anyone have gotten the reference?
CHRISTMAS IS STILL RELEVANT. Enough so at least that there remains much to be gained in mistersuits's X-mas Eve basketball roundup, which does things like compare this team to last's, and compare this team to the Fab Five, and publishes the schedule reorganized by expected KenPom difficulty, and lots of analysis and good formatting and stuff. I was out on holiday (and watching SEC football) and missed the chance to bump it—even now it's front page material by a good margin, just a little bit outdated. The diary describes an SEC-like gauntlet of Top 15-ish teams that Michigan and Indiana will both have to navigate.
FILE UNDER NO FRIKKIN WAY: TSS has found an NCAA rushing stat that Michigan leads the country in. Seriously. He calls the statistic "open field rushing yards" and it tracks how many yards you got on top of every rush of 10 positive or more yards. Indeed when Michigan managed to get the ballcarrier into the secondary this year, more often than not he'd be going full DENNIS BERGKAMP! Or losing a shoe. Minnesota was second-to-last.
Actually that stat is just a byproduct of his real effort, which removes the Bergkamping after 5 and 10 yards and gives credit for the first bits back to the O-lines. Relevant results cropped:
Note Michigan's the huge outlier in "AOFY" which is "adjusted open field yards" to the OP, yet still hanging at the bottom of the conference with "AALY" which is basically how many yards per play the offensive line might take credit for. Of course they're also hindered by RBs missing cuts or being too small to carry momentum through a linebacker. Yeoman's work here, with scatterplots and a lot more than the above. Diary of the Week(s). Read it.
[The Jump: lots more diaries, and stuff, and stuff, and by now you should realize I always leave something nice for my clickers-through.]
|WHAT||Michigan at Northwestern|
|WHERE||Welsh Ryan Arena, Evanston, Illinois|
|WHEN||7:00 PM Eastern, Thursday|
|LINE||Michigan –8 (Kenpom)|
Right: Willie the Wildcat, presumably in happier times.
Poor Northwestern, man. The team that has never made an NCAA tournament appearance wasn't expected to make a ton of noise after losing all-time leading scorer John Shurna; slim hopes for postseason play were dashed entirely when Drew Crawford was lost for the season after tearing his labrum last month.
Now the Wildcats must open Big Ten play against Michigan without the services of leading scorer Reggie Hearn, who will miss the game with an ankle injury. Even though Tim Hardaway Jr. likely won't play tonight with an ankle issue of his own, this bodes unwell for Northwestern's upset hopes.
Sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski is the team's only healthy double-digit scorer, not to mention the lone returning starter from last year's team in the lineup. Sobocop takes a little over half his shots from beyond the arc, hitting those at a 49% clip; he's decent on the drive (52 FG% at the rim) but hasn't found his stroke on two-point jumpers, connecting at a 12% rate per hoop-math.com.
Hearn should be replaced at the two by senior Alex Marcotullio, a career role player who can knock down the three and otherwise doesn't stand out as doing anything very well or very not-so-well. Freshman Kyle Abramson steps in for Crawford at the three; he's another decent outside shooter (35.3 3P%) that doesn't do a whole lot else.
BONUS POOR NORTHWESTERN: Marcotullio has been limited by back spasms.
The Wildcats do have some size up front in 7'0" freshman center Alex Olah and 6'8" senior forward Jared Swopshire. Neither is a stellar rebounder, though Olah at least is a good shot-blocker. Neither hits 50% of their twos, though Swopshire contributes(?) 30.8% three-point shooting. Olah does boast an unusually high assist rate (26.2%); he also shoots 41.7% from the line. Advantage up front: Michigan.
The bench no longer really exists because of injury. Only seven Wildcats average over 15 minutes per game—two of those are Crawford and Hearn.
Northwestern currently boasts a 9-4 record with quality wins over KenPom #28 Baylor (by four on the road) and #43 Illinois State (in overtime, neutral site). Losses have come to #53 Maryland, #139 Illinois-Chicago, #41 Butler, and #50 Stanford, all at home.
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||50.6 (96)||17.5 (34)||29.7 (242)||36.5 (140)|
|Defense||45.2 (77)||20.8 (173)||29.9 (92)||32.9 (125)|
These numbers are probably highly misleading with the absence of Crawford and Hearn, who have missed just four combined games, not to mention a schedule with seven opponents ranked #235 or worse on KenPom. Michigan can expect Northwestern to take care of the ball and shoot well from outside; without their two top players, it seems unlikely the Wildcats will be able to threaten inside the arc.
Defensively, Northwestern will break out the 1-3-1; while they've done well limiting opponent shooting, especially inside the arc, they're not forcing the turnovers one would expect from an aggressive zone defense. While the rebounding numbers are decent on their surface, Dylan points out that the Wildcats were abused on the boards by Stanford, Maryland, and Butler—the closest comparables on their schedule rebounding-wise to Michigan.
Key on Sobocop. The only conceivable way I can see Northwestern winning this game is by catching fire from three, and Sobolowski is by far their best outside shooter. If the Wildcats set a screen for him, Michigan should be going over the top and hedging like crazy—let anybody else on that team try to beat them.
Attack Sobocop. Hell, why not foul the guy out—he's committing 3.2 fouls/40 and hasn't faced a Trey Burke. If Sobolewski reaches a point where he can't commit to contesting Burke's drive because he's worried about fouling out and leaving the Wildcats with nothing, it's game over, man.
Do not contract Northwestern Injury Curse Virus. Please and thank you.
Keep doin' what you've been doin'. I mean, yeah.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 12, which is not KenPom's prediction because KenPom is accounting for data from Crawford and Hearn. This number would be higher if not for Big Ten road game.
How many injured players are there on Northwestern's stat sheet with more points per game than Dave Sobolewski, Northwestern's top leading healthy scorer?: That would be two.
How many teams in the country are ranked higher than Michigan: That would be one.
How many conceivable ways could Northwestern win a game in that scenario?: That would be zero.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
goodnight sweet prince
- QB Denard Robinson. Michigan's career leader for yards per carry (6.3, tied with Jon Vaughn, would best it if sacks were accounted for properly). All-time national record-holder for most rushing yards by a quarterback. Three-year starter. Only player who could run for more than two inches per carry behind last year's offensive line. Kind of a big deal. Did not start last five games at QB, which mitigates blow significantly since Gardner was a revelation.
- LT Taylor Lewan [assumed]. Future first-round pick was near flawless in pass pro his last two years. Penalties returned after refinement as a sophomore; got beat painfully against OSU, but nearly shut out Clowney in the bowl game.
- WR Roy Roundtree. Never really recovered his prominence after rampant 2010. Did bounce up to 31 catches as a senior at a nice YPC clip. Had clearly become the #2 option by the end of the year.
- OG Patrick Omameh. Four year starter was probably Michigan's best interior OL. Lacked desired power for manball run game. Pass protection was solid. Probably replaceable. Probably not getting drafted.
- TE Mike Kwiatkowski. Don't-call-him-a-walk-on tight end was Michigan's most effective blocker at the spot; not targeted much in the pass game.
- OC Elliott Mealer. Last minute switch to center didn't smooth over issues; seemed to mess up a bunch of line calls starting in the Nebraska game; graded out as an extensive downgrade from Molk.
- OG Ricky Barnum. Not very good. Got run over a lot.
RB Vincent Smith. Throwback screen merchant and pass-protector extraordinaire was never a great runner but leaves a hole at third down back. Admirably managed to not dissolve into component atoms after Clowney hit.
- FB Stephen Hopkins. Seemed to lose his job to Joe Kerridge and left the team after the OSU game.
- TE Brandon Moore. Barely played.
we gon' throw
- QB Devin Gardner. Blew in from wide receiver after Nebraska debacle to start final five games of the season, completing nearly 60% of his passes for 9.7 yards a pop with 11 TDs and 5 INTs. Added a couple hundred yards on the ground, sacks excluded. Those were mostly on scrambles. Fluctuating accuracy a concern.
- WR Jeremy Gallon. Gardner's favorite target was on pace for 80 catches and 1300 yards once Denard hurt his elbow. Diminutive but capable of leaping past defensive backs; quick enough to get open against almost anyone.
- RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. Gruesome break of both bones in his leg should actually be healed by fall. If available, Michigan needs the 2011 version of him badly.
- LT (presumably) Michael Schofield. Early struggles as he transitioned back to tackle did not last; established himself a good pass protector and adequate run blocker. With freshmen populating the depth chart everywhere on the OL, will likely move over to Gardner's blindside, allowing a burlier kid to play RT.
- TE Devin Funchess. After breakout Air Force game use steadily declined; he finished with only 15 catches for 234 yards. Did lead the team in receiving TDs with five. Passing game priority one needs to be getting the Devins on the same page.
- WR Drew Dileo. Sticky-fingered Louisiana gnome should have been targeted more. Catches quickly, gets upfield, small target but extremely reliable.
- TE AJ Williams. High school tackle was supposed to be Michigan's blocking TE but displayed horrendous technique and probably would have redshirted if Michigan had any options. Needs a big step forward with Kwiatkowski out the door.
- FB Joe Kerridge. Thumping fullback of the walk-on variety will be frequently used as Michigan transitions back to pro-style.
- RB Thomas Rawls. Flashed some tackle-breaking power in garbage time against Purdue and Illinois; proceeded to average under two yards a carry once forced into the lineup late in the year. Passed by Justice Hayes in bowl game and will likely fall behind freshmen when they arrive on campus.
- WR Jeremy Jackson. Lumbering possession receiver can't get separation from DBs.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
The offensive line. With Lewan taking his twosie to the next level, Michigan is left with Michael Schofield and a bunch of guys who haven't seen the field. Two fellows seem like locks to start:
- Redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center. It's possible Blake Bars moves over to challenge, and vaguely possible that Patrick Kugler—son of former Steelers OL coach and new UTEP head coach Sean—enters ready to play on day one. Miller has to be considered the heavy favorite. The coaches love his nasty, Molk-like disposition; they may not love his Molk-like size. He does have the asset of being a center from the get go, unlike the candidates in 2012.
- Redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis at guard. I bet if Michigan had to do it over they would have put Kalis in the mix to start from day one. Instead they preserved a year of eligibility for him, which will benefit them down the road. If Kalis, a proverbially nasty road grader, doesn't win a job with ease, it's time to start worrying about living up to the hype.
A third is not quite a lock but has a healthy lead in my head:
- Redshirt freshman Ben Braden at right tackle. Braden is a mountain of a man better suited to crubberate people off the ball than classmate Erik Magnuson, who's more of a left tackle type. Scuttlebutt reaching my ears is that the coaches are extremely high on him. Magnuson does have a shot.
The fourth is up in the air between these folk:
- Redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant, who remains a 320, 330-pound mauler. He missed the season with a leg fracture. Availability in spring will be key.
- Redshirt freshman Blake Bars, who's a lot smaller than Bryant and will probably have to wait a bit longer for a shot at the starting job. He was a 3/4 star borderline kid.
- True freshman Kyle Bosch, this year's edition of Kalis. While he's not quite as hyped, he's enrolling early and should find himself on the two-deep immediately. He could push through.
- Redshirt junior Joey Burzynski. I'd be surprised if a 6'1" kid can move past the aforementioned trio and into the starting lineup. That said, he's got the most on-field experience in this grouping.
Breaking in four new OL, three of them likely to be freshmen, is scary. On the other hand, it's not like they can be worse at run blocking.
A dang running back who can run the dang ball. Maybe this is Toussaint. It seems more likely it's either DeVeon Smith or Derrick Green, particularly the latter guy if he does indeed end up in Ann Arbor like it seems the world expects him to. Running backs don't need a lot of seasoning, and Green is college-sized and then some.
Also here's my candle for Dennis Norfleet, third down back kthx. Get some Muck in you, kid, and there's a job waiting.
African refugee wide receivers. Amarah Darboh pointlessly burned a redshirt; Jehu Chesson kept his. With no immediate help from this WR class likely, last year's folk will have to break in. I was pretty high on both those dudes, with Chesson a co-MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year with Braden. They both provide relatively big targets, and Chesson might have deep speed.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1972
Gardner to Gallon. As mentioned above, that connection was red-hot over the last five games of the season, and not just against tomato cans. Gallon's best game of the year was the nine-catch, 145-yard, two-TD outing against a top-shelf SEC defense in the bowl game. Those guys are in tune.
Just running one offense, thanks. No longer will Michigan be at war with itself about what it wants to do. A section a bit later in this post hopes they'll run the QB some; this should not detract from the fact that Michigan moves from a system Borges never quite got the hang of to his bread and butter. Gallon's performance once Michigan had a quarterback who could stand in the pocket and deliver entices.
Presumably large improvement from the tight ends. Devin Funchess and AJ Williams got thrown into the fire a year too early; now they can add 20 pounds each and learn how to block and add a couple new guys in the hopes of Stanfordizing this offense.
Funchess seemed like a matchup issue last year, but if you were a defensive coordinator considering him a wide receiver, how wrong would you have been? Not very. Getting him to a point where he is a credible blocker is what'll get him open on seams and whatnot.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2013
Offensive line depth x2. This isn't quite as bad as it was last year, when there were essentially no backups—the sixth OL was a walk-on. It is still not good. If you make the reasonable assumptions that the freshman class redshirts and Bryant wins the other guard job, Michigan has Burzynski, Bars, and Magnuson available. Freshmen and that walk-on. Suboptimal.
But hey at least next year this problem goes away: Schofield's gone; everyone else returns.
Offensive line starters, probably. Four new ones; asking a lot for all of them to be good from day one.
WR depth? I'm not entirely sure this is a huge problem with Gallon stepping up and Dileo presumably establishing himself an excellent slot option. But they need some other guys; the incoming class provides little immediate help, so then it's down to Darboh and Chesson. Either or both could break out—Michigan needs one to.
QB depth. Bellomy or a true freshman.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
The offensive line can't be worse, right? The running backs didn't help sure but when you return a thousand-yard rusher and his YPC average dips almost two yards a carry, the finger points squarely at the blocking. Lewan will be missed. The other guys are replaceable.
But replacing them is not a great thing. Michigan needs an upgrade.
How accurate is Devin really, and how much progress can he make in one offseason as the man? The overall numbers are good; his last two games left a bit to be desired. Hopefully he can refine down those misses by 20-30%, at which point Michigan is in the proverbial business.
How hard are we jamming the pro-style pedal down? Petrified at the prospect of having Gardner go down when it seemed like the alternative was Jack Kennedy, Michigan all but dumped quarterback runs from its playbook once Gardner entered the game. Was that circumstance or preference? And if it was the former, how comfortable will Michigan be incorporating Gardner's legs as an intentional part of the gameplan if the alternative is Shane Morris?
We won't know that until fall. I'm hoping Michigan keeps the inverted veer around, because that's a pretty good play.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CAN ANYONE OTHER THAN DENARD ROBINSON PICK UP THREE FEET ON THE GROUND? Freshmen will get opportunities, yes. Toussaint may be back. The youngsters will be a bit older, and at least Hayes and Norfleet came with some scatback hype—though I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see Hayes move to slot receiver since there's no one on the roster who won't be a senior next year. Only the seeming likelihood that Michigan acquires Derrick Green prevents this from going in the Rod Stewart 2013 category.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
Improvement as long as Gardner stays on the field. This edition of Michigan limped to middling numbers everywhere. Next year's offense figures to have a better fit with the offensive coordinator, a better offensive line if only because of reversion to the mean and having non-walk-on options outside of the starters, and at least equivalent playmakers at the skill positions with an outside shot at much better if the running back situation gets an injection of talent.
So then, how are you feeling about Denard Robinson's legs versus Devin Gardner's arm+legs? I'm thinking that's a push once turnovers are accounted for and we bake in an offseason of Gardner improvement. Guy was the #1 dual threat QB of his class, after all, and displayed some excellent potential on the ground in his tenure as a starter. And in a Borges offense, there's no comparison in the passing game*.
A lot rides on Jack Miller and the tackles; I figure the guards will be an upgrade. I'd guess we see an improvement—not that it'll take much to get that with Alabama sliding off the schedule and hopefully not having a half against Nebraska where the offense goes to die. Gardner bails Michigan out from some tough times.
*[Let's say we had that argument about the spread 'n' shred and not have it, okay?]