Peppers at 10, which seems low.
PULL THE STRINGS. There was another round of echo-chamber Carrspiracy stuff on the various message boards over the past couple days. No idea why, unless Brian Griese expressing his opinion that he wouldn't go after Harbaugh is reason to envision Carr as a puppet master cackling behind the scenes. For the nth time, Carr is a civilian who only talks to the athletic department when they call him up. That is not frequently.
And then there's this, via Craig Ross by way of Sam Webb:
“I am not involved in the coaching search in any direct way,” Carr said. “However, I have been asked my opinion. My opinion was Jim Harbaugh would be my number one choice.”
We've confirmed with a few different sources that any animosities between former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr and Harbaugh have been mended, and very recently. Carr's influence at this point is unknown, but it's believed he had a hand in the hiring of Brady Hoke during the last coaching search, and there's been a history of a tenuous relationship between the two since Harbaugh's comments about Michigan football and academics when he coached at Stanford. This is mostly important in the idea that there's no doubt Harbaugh will be Michigan's top target when the job opens up, and it's looking more and more like it will be a full group effort with all the oars rowing in the same direction. That makes this likely coaching search different than the last two already.
Even that bit about "having a hand" in the last search conflicts with my information, in which Carr was asked if he thought Brady was a good dude and said yes because everyone says yes to that question.
Carr is not interested in machinations. Michigan might be better off if he was—if he was inclined to call his guys up and get them to toe the line. But that's not who he is, for better or worse. I look forward to my next item pointlessly begging the internet to stop it with the Carrmason stuff. Y'all should get a pool going. I've got two hours ago.
TIMEFRAMES. Hackett met with the players yesterday and told them they'd have a new coach within a month:
"He wasn't overly specific," one person said. "But he mentioned that in all likelihood the whole situation will be resolved before the players return from their Christmas break."
That would be the start of the new semester on January 4th, a timeline long enough to resolve the Harbaugh issue. Or it could happen any time before that.
HARBAUGH HARBAUGH HARBAUGH. Zero clarity. Sam threw some cold water on the idea($), citing a couple of sources who think it's going to be tougher than they previously thought. His best guess is still Harbaugh, FWIW. Those are gentlemen who have talked to Harbaugh directly, so I would take that seriously. Gregg Henson, who's been beating the ITSHAPPENING.gif drum harder than anyone for a solid month now, is also walking his position back a bit.
On the other hand, Rivals is emitting the kind of ambiguously encouraging bits that have little information content—they're enough to get people in frenzy mode but laden with plausible deniability. There was poll on their board about what people would do in the event of a Harbaugh hire; it was heavy on the wink-wink with "but it's still a coinflip" attached. That link above is to a "you're gonna like Jim Hackett!" tweet. I mean… cumong, man.
If Harbaugh doesn't end up at M a ton of people are going to be pissed at them and they'll blame the people who are praising them to the heavens now, just like they strenuously denied that Harbaugh and Brandon had a problem working together until the instant Brandon left.
But that's none of my business.
The upshot here: Sam's hearing stuff that we don't want to hear, Henson is still pretty gung ho but hearing some things that give him pause, and Rivals is on the optimistic side. 247 has not ventured anything($) resembling a "probably" or "probably not," which is where I'm at, too: at this point it feels like Harbaugh's yes or no is about which neurons fire in his brain at the critical moment.
Meanwhile, Wojo details why things might go better this time:
Interim athletic director Jim Hackett knows it can't be cursory, which was the case four years ago. Dave Brandon didn't want to play the wooing game and cede control. But now Michigan football sits at another dangerous juncture, and while Harbaugh isn't the only prime candidate, he's the first and best one, an instant infusion of energy and credibility. And I doubt he'd use his alma mater simply to get a better deal elsewhere. I think he'd tell Michigan if he weren't interested, and he hasn't done that yet.
Wojo's "sense" is that Michigan would pay in the Urban Meyer range, which is kind of close to the Godfather offer reports.
STOOPS STOOPS STOOPS. Also zero clarity, with plenty of people saying there's no way and plenty of other people saying that this might be a point at which a mutual separation from Oklahoma makes sense.
I personally doubt it's feasible because of the Florida search, but as I mentioned in the comments of the Mullen PIH "Jeremy Foley is not good at his job" is a reasonable explanation for a lot of Florida's actions over the last five years, so it is possible that they just overlooked the possibility. Also, Stoops has a game this weekend and may be evaluating his situation more closely afterward.
Stoops's justifiably pissy reaction to the "ARE U JOB X" question sticks out, though. Chatter is just chatter.
ON THE RADAR. A group of guys appear to be filling out the B list:
- JIM MORA, UCLA. Sam Webb broached his name in an article, and now Cowherd's chattering about a secret Michigan candidate who is thankfully not Greg Schiano. Cowherd is based in LA and would have more reason to know about a guy in LA; I've also gotten a little chatter to that effect. Former M OL Courtney Morgan is on Mora's staff, so he could be a point of contact. Sam also points out that Mora and Mike DeBord were on the same Seahawks staff($) five or so years ago.
- KYLE WHITTINGHAM, UTAH. Wittingham's well-known to the Michigan brass after multiple encounters with him in the recent past and has a solid resume. Poachability is a bit of an issue, and Utah had a rough transition to the Pac-12, but he's a solid option Sam says is getting some chatter from the West.
- DAN MULLEN, MSU. Sam says that "surprisingly enough," Mullen is getting attention. That this would be surprising bothers me, but there it is.
- STEVE ADDAZIO, BC. I hate this idea but it has enough chatter that someone somewhere clearly has him on the list. Again, Addazio is 55 and is coming off consecutive seven-win seasons at BC; he was the disastrous follow-up to Mullen as Florida OC. He makes no sense unless Mullen is off the table.
- Butch Jones is seemingly also a person of interest, but with Tennessee preparing to give him an extension after a 6-6 year when he's got four years left on his contract it looks like the Vols are trying to block interest before it gets started. Carr also pumped up Art Briles to Craig Ross when they talked, which is pretty interesting. Unfortunately you have to figure that if Briles wanted to leave Waco he'd be the guy at Texas right now.
OKAY THEN. Someone asked Teryl Austin about the Michigan job, and this is an actual-denial denial:
But Austin says he has no interest in pursuing the Wolverines' head coaching position, which opened after the firing of Brady Hoke earlier this week.
"No," he said. "I'm interested in this (Lions) job."
Michigan going after someone in his first successful season as a coordinator (and second overall) was a monster longshot anyway.
SORRY, THAT'S NOT ALL OF US. Local New Orleans reporter on the Sean Payton loves hotdogs thing:
— Fletcher Mackel (@FletcherMackel) December 4, 2014
Rivals broadened their hot board in response… by adding Mike Tomlin and Josh McDaniels.
|Head Coach, Mississippi State|
|OC/QB @ Florida||2005-08|
|QB @ Utah||2003-04|
|QB @ BGSU||2001-02|
|GA @ ND||1999-00|
|TE at Ursinus (PA) in 1992/93|
These again. We're skipping Harbaugh because it's not like you need to be told about Harbaugh. In the event M does hire him, he'll get one.
These are in approximate order of personal preference.
Nationally, Dan Mullen is regarded as the best available-ish college head coach in the market this year. This admiration has not extended to all corners of the Michigan fanbase for… reasons. Foremost amongst them are:
"He's a one-year wonder." (Who won two national championships at Florida as the primary play-caller and has built MSU into a contender in the toughest division in the country.)
"He's not a cultural fit." (He's from Pennsylvania and GA'd at ND. Hell, he coached at Columbia.)
"He runs the spread." (You have just slashed out 80% of plausible options. Also, Chris Leak was as mobile as a plant.)
"He's never won for real for real." (At the Indiana of the SEC.)
Mississippi State's winning percentage before Dan Mullen arrived was… not good. In the decade before his arrivals this was their power conference peer group:
Bulldog futility goes further back than that; you have to go back to the 50s before you find a MSU head coach capable of consistently keeping the Bulldogs above .500. His winning percentage of 60.5% is in the WVU-Miami-Utah-Iowa range and is virtually unprecedented. It's also better than Michigan's over the same time frame. At Mississippi State.
Reasons for hiring or not hiring a coach are not made in a vacuum, so if you'd like to make one of these arguments you have to bring along a guy who has a better resume than Dan Mullen. Gary Patterson? Sure! I'm totally down with Gary Patterson if you can crowbar him out of TCU, but you can't. Given the hires Nebraska and Florida just made I don't think anyone who could-might-kinda be available is. That leaves Dan Mullen and…
Seriously, I don't know. Mullen is the default college head coach choice. Fortunately, he seems like a pretty good one.
[After THE JUMP: the anti-Borges at QB, overblown oversigning concerns, and CEO stuff.]
Slidin' in your DMs like... Via Ace:
Oh, no reason. Wolverine Historian with a two-part Harbaugh tribute:
Hire this man. I would seriously give Ryan Van Bergen a job in the athletic department today:
"In my opinion, and this is going to upset some people, there have been times last three, four years, the environment has been almost toxic with the negativity surrounding the program," Van Bergen said.
"Everything about Michigan poises it for success. The things that obviously are contributing to our recent misfortunes have nothing to do with if we're able to recruit and our facilities. There is blame to be shared among everybody — players, coaching, administration and fans. Everybody who supports the Michigan program needs to evaluate how they're doing it. If they're being negative about it, change that."
Van Bergen has credibility as a guy who's been under all three of the recent regimes, was willing to tell it how it was when Hoke was there, had a superior senior year under Hoke, and will be honest about the issues facing the program even if they're inconvenient.
One less way we can differentiate ourselves from Ohio. This is potentially lame:
Michigan student-athletes at public universities would not be allowed to unionize under state collective bargaining laws if a bill introduced Tuesday in the Michigan House of Representatives becomes law.
House Bill 6074 would require all student-athletes be classified as “students” and keep them from becoming employees of universities. Because the student-athletes could not be classified as public employees, they would not be entitled to representation or collective bargaining rights under state law.
I'm not sure if that's the way the law-type thing works. Seems like work is work and a legislature can't wave a wand and declare it not so, but I'm just a common sense type guy, not a law-talkin' one. The guy who sponsored this legislation has the usual mish-mash of non-sequiturs—most college athletes don't go pro in their chosen sport—and false dichotomies—is college about getting an education or making money—in its defense, and I dislike him.
Well, yeah. Fred Jackson in the aftermath:
"I expected a decision to be made today, but I didn't know which way it was going, one way or the other, I had no idea," Jackson said reporters. "I didn't really expect it. I know we didn't play as well as people would like to see us play. I also understand that it's all about winning and losing.
"We didn't win enough games."
Ah, Fred. In four sentences he says 1) he had no idea, 2) he didn't expect it, and 3) they didn't win enough games. Truly a closing statement worthy of a man with sixteen different beverages on his desk, telling you that every back he ever coached was Adrian Peterson on top of a surly dinosaur.
Engineers in the marching band, you say? I am subscribing to your newsletter.
Nooooooo. David Jones has an entertaining article on the enormous, ridiculous Land Grant trophy, which is just getting to the age where its ridiculousness is a real asset instead of a detriment. Jones details its origin story…
When Hoffman picked up the shiny new Land Grant Trophy from a local Lansing sporting goods shop in 1993, he realized it wasn't quite what he'd pictured:
"I thought, 'My God, that's big.' I'll take the blame for it being so big and heavy," said Hoffman when reached on Tuesday in Cleveland where he's in semi-retirement.
The shop owner, whose name escapes Hoffman 21 years later, had taken all of the specifications and come up with something like a paneled rec room from the 1970s with knickknacks and photos attached to it – a Nittany Lion figurine mailed by Thalman, a Sparty gladiator statuette, a generic gold football player tacked on top, photos of Old Main and MSU's counterpart building – all built into a boxy wooden structure. And it had these decks and levels built onto it, like a committee kept deciding to add more stuff.
…and then suggests the thing might not be long for this world:
Alas, I come to you today with a heavy heart. Because I've been informed by powers greater than I that the end may be near for the LGT. For many of us, we'll feel as if an old friend is moving away. A particularly ugly old friend. It's going to be like comedians saying goodbye to Dan Quayle.
But Penn State officials have, as officials like to say today, "reached out" to Michigan State officials about the future viability of the LGT, "moving forward." When you have a traveling trophy, it's probably best that it can be transported in something other than the bed of a semi-tractor trailer.
To which I say fie. The Land Grant trophy may be the ugly duckling of the trophy world, but it has a charm the "Freedom Trophy" lacks. Keep it.
I know problems. You have problems. Interesting Tim Kawakami article on the dysfunction in the 49ers front office, which is far from all Harbaugh:
York doesn’t like talking to the local media (but Harbaugh’s camp is sure York loves secretly talking to the national media and I can’t disagree with Harbaugh’s camp on that).
Baalke despises almost all media–Baalke really doesn’t like most people, period. He’s a pure scout, cold, clipped, anti-social and often angry.
That works tremendously in the film room or out on the road scouting (Baalke probably is on the road more than any GM in the NFL), but maybe not so well when personalities and philosophies have to be managed.
Oh, and you might’ve heard that Harbaugh is volatile and occasionally crazed. That Harbaugh actually likes it better when things are rattled and people are on edge, all the better to find out what his associates are made of.
Well, Harbaugh has found out exactly what York and Baalke are made of. And they’ve made their decision on him.
Good luck with that, guys.
Etc.: Player react twitter roundup. Almost all about how Hoke was a great dude without any shots at the decision or fanbase. Timely M Heritage article about dudes against football back in the day. Orson goes to Tallahassee. At least Hoke recruited really well. Tinder trolling is now a thing.
Meta: New interim column name is interim. Rhymes with "talkin' points" if you have a heavy Midwest accent. Hakn means to nag in Yiddish, literally to bang on […a pot or teakettle]. The reference.
Every touch is a little bit of magic. [Fuller]
Early last month Brian forwarded me a reader question about the relative experience of Michigan's players, and asked for a lot of research:
What has been the average age and game experience of each of the teams’ skill groups over the course of the season for each of Hoke’s years coaching here?
I’d love to see a table or graph that showed age/game experience by skill group by year of tenure for all the skill groups. Just data.
Everyone says – players aren’t developing. I’m not sure whether it’s true or a function of getting better but younger less experienced guys on the field.
My impression Defense is improving – and that’s where Hoke started recruiting (if memory serves) – those are some of his third year guys now (still juniors and RS Sophs) – getting better all the time. Offense – a year behind defense from age/experience. Mostly Sophs and RS Fresh. If that pattern is right and holds, a defense of 4th and 3rd year guys next year and an offense of 3rd and second year guys should continue to improve the product. No?
Off the cuff, we were plotting out age progression of Hoke's recruiting classes back in 2012 (when most of the 2013 class was signed) and concluding that 2015 was the probable germination point. I think a big part of why Hoke was let go was Michigan doesn't at all seem on track for that to happen. As Hackett mentioned in his press conference, the 2015 team should be one of the most experienced we've fielded in memory across the board (provided there's no mass exodus, which is hardly a guarantee).
Yay for Good News! How Good's Our GNews?
To get a real answer I really think we'd need other teams to compare it with, and that's way too much work. Also not all positions are created equal and relative experience does not say how quality the experienced players are: the 2003 and 2005 teams were nearly identical, but the 2003 was one of the best under Lloyd while the latter we thought of at the time as painful. Deciding which positions mature at what rate and have which effect of outcome is beyond the scope of this study. But I found two ways to approximate an answer:
1) Long ago I started keeping a spreadsheet of players, going back to the mid-'90s, with what years they were on the roster, when they left, and why. With some updating that was able to produce a list of how many scholarship players Michigan had available each year back to '97, broken up by year-in-program and eligibility and whatnot. By that count Michigan has the oldest team in 2015 in the post-championship era, with 85 accumulated years (average at UM for 1997-2014 is 68) since high school on offense and 83 (average is 61) on defense.
2) I scoured the Bentley team history pages (the links at the right on that page), for how many starts each player had. This turned out to be quite the rabbit hole, hence why it took me so long to produce a response. After fixing a bazillion duplicates and spelling errors and whatnots (like for example they have the Gordons mixed up), I had a list of starts by season of every Michigan player going back to 1994, which I've put on Google Docs for your perusal.
There's some other good tabs at that link if you like exploration.
[Money chart and more after the jump]
All Harbaugh photos are hilarious
HARBAUGH HARBAUGH HARBAUGH. More NFL people saying no one ever leaves the NFL. Since these guys are all talking to NFL people that's not a surprise; it is a fact that he is telling his Michigan guys that he's seriously thinking about it. A bunch of people telling each other things they want to hear; won't have any clarity on it until there's a signature and a press conference. Steve Lorenz had an interesting quote in a considerably larger piece that sums it up($):
One source we've talked to extensively regarding Harbaugh had the following to say: "Jim can be a flake. That will be the major concern for Michigan. Anything at this juncture saying he's not interested is a smokescreen. His father, and both he and his brother, have a ton of respect for Brady Hoke and would not want to make it appear publicly like Jim is taking his job from him. From their end, they will want this process to appear as quiet as possible."
Whether Harbaugh flaked on Brandon or wisely avoided a guy he knew he couldn't work with is
in the eye of the beholder obviously the former. That was posted smack dab in the middle of Hoke's firing, so the quote was addressing a situation that no longer holds. We may see some definitively yes or no action in the near future.
And I know people are inclined to discount Jeff Moss because he's never found a bomb he didn't want to throw, but he did have the Brandon firing presser before anyone, AFAIK, and his Michigan connect tells him that M will go after Harbaugh with many dollars and boxes of khakis:
The DetroitSportsRag has learned that the University of Michigan has offered their former quarterback and current San Francisco 49ers head coach a financial package that would make him the highest paid football coach in the world.
I doubt that, frankly. But there's been enough other chatter about how Michigan understands that this is a situation where spending marginally more money on the new guy will pay off in spades for me to believe that they're not going to come at Harbaugh with an offer that isn't at least top 5 college money.
ON MULLEN. Clint Brewster told the Michigan 24/7 site that he talked to three different college coaches over the weekend and all of them brought Mullen up as the guy who makes the most sense.
If Hackett's serious about demolishing the Michigan Man thing he's got to kick the tires there—ask about the QB grayshirt, MSU's tendency to recruit 30+ guys every year*, find out if he's going to be able transition to a very different style of recruiting. I'd think he'd be able to adjust better than Rodriguez. His previous stops at ND, BGSU, Utah, and Florida give him significantly more diverse experience than RR had. Florida's not Michigan (they take JUCOs) in terms of restrictions but they're certainly a lot closer to M than Mississippi State is, and then Utah and ND are close enough to M that there's not much difference.
*[A lot of those are sign-and-place JUCO deals because of the Bulldogs' status as the low man on the SEC totem pole, so the oversigning concerns are significantly fewer than those numbers imply.]
WHY GUNDY MIGHT BE AVAILABLE. This would still be a longshot, RR-ish secret mission type thing, but it is vaguely possible. Why? The last few days have seen the rumblings about discontent in the Oklahoma State program hit the papers:
If there were a device that could measure stress, Gundy would have buried the needle. I’ve covered more than 220 Gundy news conferences. There were times when he wasn’t very excited to be there, and there was one time – during the 2007 “I’m a man! I’m 40!” news conference – when he was really excited. Monday was different. I’ve never seen him like he was on Monday. …
I believe that 98 percent of the Gundy stress centers on his issues with Boone Pickens. I’m sure some of the stress is related to the current performance of his football team. Since OSU beat Baylor last year – in a performance that was as complete as there’s ever been by any Gundy team – the Cowboys are 5-8. In its last seven meetings with ranked opponents, OSU is winless.
That comes in the aftermath of a press conference in which Gundy spent a lot of time looking at his phone. Also:
Boone Pickens doesn’t run OSU football. Boone’s influence on the program has been greatly overstated. We know that because if it was up to Boone, Mike Gundy wouldn’t be the Cowboy football coach. …
Boone obviously doesn’t care for Gundy, Gundy expresses no concern that Boone doesn’t care for him, and everyone who cares about Cowboy football wonders how long this can go on.
This is followed with some conflicting information about how on the one hand you "couldn't run Gundy off with a shotgun" and on the other Pickens's disdain for Gundy arose when he poked around the Tennessee job.
That's why you call… just in case. Small chance anything happens other than "nope," but if Oklahoma State loses Bedlam it might be time for a jump. Stranger things have happened. Like…
UNDERWHELMING AND WEIRD. Jeremy Foley flew Florida's plane to Fort Collins in full view of the Flight Aware-monitoring public and was rewarded with a crowd consisting of every member of the sports media within 500 miles. He went to Jim McElwain's house; media members knocked on the door and were surprised they didn't get an answer, and then they had serious conversations without even drawing the blinds.
— John Leyba (@Presto89) December 3, 2014
The good news: Jeremy Foley has never done anything remotely criminal in his life. You can tell because he's not in jail. The bad news: he's hiring a decidedly B-list target who's only had three years of head coaching experience and rode an anomalous talent, Dee Hart, to a 10-2 Mountain West season. The MW is not quite the MAC but this feels more like hiring Darrell Hazell than it should for Florida. Darell Hazell with a $7.5 million dollar buyout they "might" be able to bargain down if CSU is feeling generous for some reason. (Florida @ CSU? Might be happening.)
At least it's not Josh McDaniels?
Let us now reflect on what a miracle it is that Dave Brandon got fired what with Jeremy Foley's job not under a whisper of pressure. It takes a truly exceptional man to get axed from an AD job.
SO THEN WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT MICHIGAN? Unless Foley is truly bonkers he called the Pattersons and Shaws and such of the world and was turned down. I would assume that anyone who isn't clearly available is not available; Mullen is an exception because of personal animosity.
OOOH. Matt Hinton's rundown of the open Florida, Nebraska, and Michigan jobs doesn't have any news in it that Michigan diehards aren't aware of, but his suggestion for the open Nebraska job is on point:
Perfect Fit: Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. …Narduzzi has spent 25 years as an assistant, the last 11 of them as Mark Dantonio’s defensive coordinator at Cincinnati and Michigan State. But Narduzzi has been up for multiple head-coaching gigs in that span, turning some down while building one of the most reliably suffocating defenses in the nation. Think of him as the upper Midwest’s answer to Charlie Strong, who spent years bouncing around the SEC as an assistant before finally landing his big break at Louisville at age 48, the same age Narduzzi is now. Unlike Louisville, Nebraska isn’t a stepping-stone to a glitzier gig (Texas, in Strong’s case), but neither does it have proven winners leaping to leave their current posts.
Keep the offensive staff, which has created a nouveau-option system that fits Nebraska and its available talent, and you might be in business in Lincoln.
UM. OOOOKAY. BUT NO. If you're wondering why anyone is chattering about New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, he once went to a Michigan basketball game in a Michigan hat and bought a hot dog. Seriously. This makes him more of a possibility to Rivals($) than Dan Mullen, as he's on their hot board and Mullen is not.
Is it because Mullen is supposedly not a good dude? Well, they've got Bret Bielema—who defended a kid who tried to tear Steve Breaston's ACL and was widely regarded as sketchtastic in Madison even when he was the coach—on it, so no. The grayshirt thing is a problem, but we are talking about hiring Jim Harbaugh, who bombed Michigan in a presser. The grayshirt is something you can get over in a way that a flat-out scholarship yank would be tougher to. And Mullen has Midwest roots. To not even consider him would be insane.
Rivals keeps throwing out an Anonymous High Profile College Coach who is interested in the job; if the thing they heard is the thing I heard that would be Bob Stoops. Stoops is also prominently absent from their This Guy or This Guy and What About This Guy paragraphs.
ALSO NO. EDSBS threw out Steve Addazio's name on a whim, because he associates Michigan with boring offenses and bald guys. Our great and good friend Football Scoop chimed in that he was hearing that too, probably for the same reason he was doubling down on Michigan "struggling" after watching Hackett's presser.
Addazio is 55 and has two years at Temple and two seven-win years at BC to his name; tha andt he was a terrible OC at Florida. I mean, here's Athlon making the case:
Addazio wouldn’t be a splashy, name hire like Jim Harbaugh or Les Miles, but he’s a good coach that would win a lot of games at Michigan. In two years at Boston College, Addazio is 14-11 and has recorded a .500 record in conference play in both seasons. Prior to taking over in Chestnut Hill, Addazio spent two years at Temple and went 13-11 during that span.
Sign me up?
Addazio is Brady Hoke's resume without the Michigan connections. I can no longer say never, but that has a 1% chance of happening, if that. Addazio would be tragic Michigan Manball thinking in everything but actual presence in Ann Arbor. He is a low-upside pick in an environment where MSU and OSU are at peaks.
Etc.: Hiring criteria. Not too sure about the "has to be a head coach already" thing when Fisher, Stoops, Mullen, Gundy, Patterson, and even David Shaw are amongst the most successful guys in college football right now.
12/2/2014 – Michigan 68, Syracuse 65 – 6-1
It wasn't quite as audacious. Michigan had actually run some offense and the launching point wasn't halfway between the three point line and half court. But it wasn't uncontested, and neither was it anywhere near the line. Spike Albrecht raised up, and it felt a lot like a game a couple years ago in a much bigger arena.
Spike wasn't even a novelty at that point. A 5'11" freshman averaging eight minutes a game with Brent Petway-level usage, he was a weird spare part people were still ticked at Beilein for snatching away from Appalachian State at the last second. He'd hit some threes; a couple games earlier he'd unleashed a wicked court-length bounce pass to GRIII long after the VCU romp had descended into delightful farce. That was about all anyone knew about him.
So he comes off the bench for a whopping four minutes against the Orange, in the Final Four, and this guy who looks like he's president of the local chapter of the Young Insert Political Party Heres ends up taking a 35-footer. It goes down, because that game featured a ton of tiny guards against the tiny-guard-murdering Syracuse defense and Michigan beat it by shooting from the courtside seats.
A game later Spike was a national fave-rave tweeting at Kate Upton specifically because he was a nobody. In living rooms across the country, Carls cried out to Mabels that the kid from Pleasantville—Tobey something—was winning a national championship. A nation got its cheek-pinching muscles nice and limber.
Yesterday a healthy swathe of Syracuse fandom saw this shot go up and thought not that guy. Anyone but that guy. I project that at least a half-dozen fell to their knees in despair before the shot even went down.
These people were not just thinking about one shot two years ago. They were thinking about the Globetrotters-but-necessary behind the back assist to Ricky Doyle that had Crisler about losing its mind, about Spike defying every piece of conventional wisdom about Syracuse's long-ass 2-3 zone. That conventional wisdom: small guards perish.
As conventional wisdoms go, this is a good one. There is a ton of evidence in favor of this point of view. Trey Burke had three points in that Final Four game. That year's highly-touted one-seed version of Indiana looked hopelessly inept as they went down in a Sweet 16 game. Iowa barely crested 0.9 PPP earlier this year, with PGs Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons putting up 77 and 56 ORTGs in 52 minutes between them. Six-foot guards loathe the appearance of Syracuse on the schedule.
5'11" don't curr though. Michigan's offense functioned best when Albrecht plunged into the middle of these five gentlemen, a gnome amongst the ents, and invariably found the open man. It was stunning as it was happening and the box score is just as jaw-dropping.
Nine assists. Zero turnovers. 11 points on eight shots. Two very sneaky steals. Hell, three rebounds. In a game where scraping over a point per possession was a Christmas miracle, Spike put up an ORTG of 177. 177!
It's not a fluke. When Derrick Walton missed a game against Iowa last year, Spike had seven assists, no turnovers, and four steals in 35 minutes. It was midway through his seventh Big Ten game last year when he coughed up his first TO. His A:TO ratio this year is 34:4. Michigan is increasingly relying on him as a de-facto starter. He had 32 minutes against Detroit, 35 against Oregon, 27 against 'Nova, 27 against 'Cuse.
Those are the numbers. The eye is even more excited. Spike has gone from a guy who can take the pressure off your main ball handler to a guy extremely aware of the gaps his penetration opens up. His previous tendency to dribble the air out of the ball is all but gone, replaced with an incisiveness that, yes, reminds you of That Other White Point Guard.
As Dakich said on the broadcast after Spike's Globetrotter assist: that was not flash. It made the play. I got a bit frustrated at the passivity of the Michigan offense in the first half, and then I got leery when Michigan tried to screen its way to the interior, because doing that against 'Cuse is asking for a long arm to poke the ball away. I got a little despair-y about it. Then Spike started slashing his way in, utterly confident in his handle, using the fact that he's low to the ground as an advantage. By the time he blew the roof off the place he wasn't a bench player with a cute story.
He was a crutch.
Spike has arrived. He still looks like a whippet interning for Senator Gnome Butterpants IV, but if you try to pinch his cheek your hand is going to look like Syracuse's vaunted zone after he plunges into the lane.
[After THE JUMP: some all-time Kenpom territory approaching?]