Roll the dough!
NCAA Softball Super-Regional
Thursday-Friday, May 21-22
ESPN, ESPN2 & ESPNU
The NCAA super-regional is a best-of-three series. There will be one game Thursday and one Friday, with a third game following a half-hour after the second if needed.
Thursday, May 21
Game 1 -- #3 Michigan vs. #14 Georgia (ESPN2)
Friday, May 22
Game 2 -- #3 Michigan vs. #14 Georgia (ESPNU)
Game 3 (if necessary) -- #3 Michigan vs. #14 Georgia (ESPN)
Last year in Tempe, the regional was an emotional thrill-ride. Shoot-outs, come-backs, and one of the greatest games in Michigan softball history combined to put the Wolverines past Arizona State. Cardiologists throughout Southeast Michigan were probably happy to see this year’s affair cause the Maize & Blue spectators a great deal less anxiety. Apart from a spot of indigestion when Cal briefly took a 1-0 lead on Saturday, there was not much to raise heart rates or drive up blood pressure as the big Blue machine cruised to their regional coronation.
As the top seed in the region, Michigan drew the Oakland Golden Grizzlies in the opener, a middling team that snagged an auto-bid out of a lower-tier conference. Michigan was not as sharp as they could have been in their first playoff appearance, which Carol Hutchins attributed to the nervous energy of the first game of the playoffs. Even so, Michigan breezed by a badly out-matched Oakland team. The Grizzlies played into Michigan’s hands, handing out 6 walks, committing 2 errors, and plunking a pair of Wolverine batters. As she has done so often, Sierra Romero led the way on offense, going 2-3 with 2 RBIs as Michigan secured a 9-1 mercy-rule win.
Michigan had to shake off the jitters that slowed them down in game 1 quickly, as a tested California team came knocking on the door on Saturday. As mentioned, Cal took an early lead with a home run in the top of the 2nd. The first time through the line-up, Michigan continually made contact against Cal starter Stephanie Trzcinski, but couldn’t get much going beyond a manufactured run in the 2nd to level the score. Once they’d had a look at her, though, Michigan’s deadly line-up zeroed in and showed no mercy. Romero gave Michigan the lead on a deep solo-blast in the third, and in the 4th the rest of the team blew the doors down. Falk, Lawrence, and Christner each launched long-balls, and Cal was down 7-1 before they came back to the plate. Cal would continue to threaten throughout the day, but Betsa worked out of several jams with a little help from her friends. Abby Ramirez highlighted the defensive performance with a dynamite diving grab to rob a base hit. A two-run double in the 6th from senior catcher Lauren Sweet allowed Michigan to walk off early for the second day in a row, also by a 9-1 margin.
On Sunday, Michigan unexpectedly faced the Pittsburgh Panthers, who used a grand slam and some good freshman pitching to oust the Bears in the Saturday late game. As the away team on the scoreboard, Michigan batted first, and by the time they were done, the game was almost out of reach. Sierra Lawrence sprinkled the cheese from the lead-off spot, reaching 2nd base on a hard-hit ball down the right-field line. She would come in to score after two illegal-pitch calls. Pitt’s hurler hit Romero and walked Christner before giving up a 3-run blast to Susalla. Clearly flustered, she left the game without retiring a single Michigan batter. Aidan Falk added another run, and it was 5-0 by the time Pitt picked up their bats. It briefly looked as though Michigan might grab yet another mercy-rule win when the lead swelled to 8 runs in the 3rd, but Pitt got 3 back in the bottom of the same inning. Neither starter Wagner nor reliever Betsa had her best stuff today, as on-and-off drizzles, fatigue, and perhaps just a little complacency with the big lead kept them off-balance. They did what they needed to do, however, and the offense removed any doubt with a pair of insurance runs in the 5th inning. Alumni Field rose as one to cheer on Betsa as she gunned down the final Pitt hitter in the 7th, and Michigan could celebrate a 10-3 win and a regional championship.
The stats throughout the weekend were impressive to say the least for the Maize & Blue. Michigan went 3-0, outscoring their opponents 28-5 along the way and posting a combined 1.84 ERA with a 26-5 K to BB ratio. 5 home runs on the weekend pushed Michigan’s season total to a staggering 112, now well past the 2005 team’s program record in that category. Junior wonder-worker Sierra Romero showed the full range of her abilities, going 5-9 at the plate, showing power with a home-run and blazing speed with a triple and a cheeky bunt-single against a backed-off infield. Freshman Aidan Falk made a big impression as well – as Hutch says, at this point in the year, they’re not freshmen anymore! She hit .600 on the weekend, grabbing 3 hits against both Cal and Pitt.
After Sunday’s game, Carol Hutchins told her team what she always does after a regional win – that they are one of only 16 teams in the country that gets to have practice on Tuesday. For a coach that wants nothing more than a chance to help her players get better, that is reason enough to be excited. One of those other 15 teams will be thinking along the same lines, however, and is headed for Ann Arbor with no intentions of bowing out early. Now it’s time for us to look ahead to our opponents in the next round, the Georgia Bulldogs out of the ESS-EEE-SEE!
Georgia tore through a thoroughly mediocre non-conference schedule, littered with the Elons and Winthrops of the world. The Mary Nutter Collegiate Challenge was their only real foray into serious opposition prior to conference play. There Georgia notched a shiny win over Oklahoma, but suffered losses to Texas and Notre Dame – tourney teams, but ones a real contender should be able to handle. The Bulldogs added a few more non-conference games in the midst of their conference slate, and did not fare so well in those match-ups, dropping a wild 15-9 affair to UNC and taking a surprise 4-3 loss against USC Upstate.
Within the SEC, Georgia’s season went largely according to plan, with few major upsets in either direction. A home win against Alabama and a road sweep of Kentucky mark the most impressive achievements of the Dogs on the season thus far. With the rise of the conference as a whole, however, simply navigating the schedule without excessive humiliation now buys a team not only a ticket to the big dance, but the right to host a regional as well.
Once in the regional, things got dicey for Georgia. Fans that came to Athens on Saturday got to watch MUCH more than they paid to see. Western Kentucky went 14 innings with Georgia, eventually winning a 2-1 pitchers’ duel on the arm of Miranda Kramer, who struck out 19, allowing only 5 hits and 1 run over the equivalent of two back-to-back games. After that, Georgia was pushed to the very edge of elimination, salvaging a 2-run deficit in the 5th inning against UNC before walking off in the 7th. Sunday went by more easily, as Kramer was unable to recapture the magic of her earlier performance, and Georgia cruised to back-to-back double-digit mercy-rule wins. They escaped ignominy and earned the right to travel north to Ann Arbor where, according to their football coach, they will surely freeze to death.
Digging into the stats, we see a Georgia team with a respectable defense and an elite offense. Chelsea Wilkinson is clearly the work-horse for Georgia in the circle, having hurled over 100 more innings than back-up Brittany Gray, and leading the team in ERA, strike-outs, and a number of other categories. She is a strike-out merchant, averaging a little over one per inning – not Betsa-level, but quite good. The one real knock on her is that she is significantly more inclined to give up the long-ball compared to her partner, ceding over 5 times more on the season. While this may be attributable to having faced better opposition, Georgia may want to consider giving Gray an opportunity if the home runs start piling up.
Meanwhile, at the plate, Georgia stands squarely among the nation’s elite. The Dogs .346 team batting average is actually a hair ahead of Michigan’s .344 number, and is tied for 10th nation-wide. While Michigan more than makes up the difference with a better on-base and more home runs, there is no doubt that the Bulldogs can plate runs when they need to. At the end of the day, what matters on offense is scoring runs, and Georgia is again tied for 10th in the country at 7.31 per game (Michigan, meanwhile, is in 2nd at 8.30).
The star of the line-up is Alex Hugo without a doubt. She hits over .400, gets on base over half the time she steps to the plate, and leads the team with an impressive 21 homers. Limiting her opportunities to get multiple RBIs will be essential for Michigan’s defense. That won’t be easy to do, however, as almost every major contributor on Georgia hits over .330. Sisters Cortni and Sydni Emanuel are both over .400 on the year (there are two other girls in the Emanuel family, Brittni and Whitni, which … ok). For one of the first times this season, Betsa and Wagner will really get a sense of what other pitchers feel like going up against our line-up – there simply are no easy outs available.
The one weakness in this buzz-saw of an attack is a dearth of true power hitters. Apart from Hugo, only one other hitter has double-digit homers on the year (Anna Swafford, a strike-out prone .342 slugger). After her, only one more player has more than 5 long balls. This team is almost certainly going to get hits, but as long as we can scatter them and get the timely K or double-play, we just might escape without too much damage. If they get on a roll and the hitting becomes contagious, however, the wheels can come off in a hurry, as WKU’s Miranda Kramer found out on Sunday.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Like last week, I’ll peg a couple Michigan names for newer fans to keep an eye on. It would be a little too easy to just name superstar Sierra Romero and ace pitcher Megan Betsa every time, so this week, let’s put the spotlight on a couple players who have been coming on strong of late – Lindsey Montemarano and Aidan Falk. In addition to starting the team’s pizza obsession, Montemarano has been a spark plug in the line-up in recent weeks after having to fight for her spot earlier in the season. She has become a highly disciplined hitter, using her diminutive stature (and accompanying smaller strike-zone) to draw more than her fair share of walks. Aidan Falk starred in the “regional review” above, and deservedly so. She has been dialed in of late, and is beginning to show more and more of the power she used to set state records in New York in her high school days. Carol Hutchins has often spoken about the importance of hitting through the line-up, 1-9 rather than just 1-4. Keep an eye on this pair as we look to continue that trend.
As much as I hate to do it, even a superstitious fan like myself has to make some predictions at the end of a write-up. Looking at Georgia’s numbers, it’s impossible for me to believe that we will hold them down all weekend. At some point they’ll string things together, somewhere along the line, Michigan’s defense will be stretched to the limit. All the same, when you stack things up, and as much as I hate to jinx anything with over-confidence, I just can’t see them beating us out. We hit just as well as they do for average, better for on-base, and vastly better for power. Their ace is very good; our back-up has better numbers than her and our ace is among the nation’s best. I see Georgia getting hot and winning a game, but Michigan will pull through in the end and return to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series next week.
I knooowww you belooooong to soooooomebody neeeeww.
But toniiiiiight you belooooong to me.
Is the state of Michigan driving kids away from in-state schools? This year Tom Izzo rode an easy bracket to a Final Four appearance with a down-year team, then put together a very good recruiting class, even if his top target went to Purdue. Since he really has no need to make excuses at the moment, his friends are doing it for him. Before the tournament it was "Tom Izzo doesn't cheat but everyone else does." Which is generally true—on a scale of "Look at our shiny Tommy Amaker" to "Ridin' this Calipari" MSU is definitely near the Amaker extremity of programs that regulate that stuff as best they can (nobody, including Michigan, would stand up to scrutiny, nor should).
The latest non-excuse excuse is MHSAA's arcane rule drives top 150 talent out of the state of Michigan, and thus away from the in-state schools. An article by Graham Couch—
Hey where are you going? Stop. At least see where I'm going with this. Yes the Couch article was exactly the paragon of crappy slappy journalism you'd expect from one of the worst journalists of my generation. He interviewed a couple of Detroit high school basketball coaches about the "parasitic" effect of AAU and national prep powers—as if anyone but the in-state schools would be helped if Miles Bridges was forced to live in Flint rather than a prep school down the street from Marshall University.
But that doesn't preclude a possibly real effect of talent leaving the state (and not looking back) due to overly stringent rules put in place by the body that controls high school athletics.
Couch cares because Michigan State in basketball is like an SEC football school (minus the cheating), in that their historical success is tied to proximity to talent. If the state of Michigan is systemically exporting more talent than it's bringing in, that's bad for the in-state schools. However if one program is suffering from greater national vagrancy because it's built on recruiting in-state talent and doesn't know how to compete for regional and extra-regional players, that's just that program falling behind the times.
Are more basketball players playing elsewhere in general? Is this state different somehow? I realized I didn't have a study to link to show this, so I made one.
And found M and MSU are getting less in-statey:
Bentley has a list of all Michigan basketball players except for 2008 (I added). For Michigan State I could only find a list of letterwinners, so I compared just Michigan's varsity:
A lot of wiggle: This isn't like football where there's over 100 players on each roster; if three freshmen from a prep school decide to attend the same college you'll get a big jump on the graph above.
There are two major national events responsible for two huge dips: World War II (1942-1945), and the implementation of Title IX, which regulations were promulgated in 1974 and clarified in 1979. The "three-part test" comes from '79, and it's from then through '82 that the three-part standards, e.g. having as many girls on official athletic rosters as boys, truly went into effect.
That said, there's a historical mean of around 50% in-state for Michigan and about 60% for Michigan State—not enough difference on a squad of 16 players to make a difference. Both schools have recently gone more out-of-state, Michigan to a much greater degree.
What about the Wolverines?
[Hit the jump]
I was bouncing post ideas off my brother last night when he mentioned he didn't know much at all about Jim Harbaugh's playing career. I realized that outside of the pre-OSU guarantee, I didn't either—after all, Harbaugh's senior season occurred a year before I was born. I'm sure I'm not alone here, so I thought I'd do a series of posts on Harbaugh's best games at Michigan, with a huge assist from the incomparable WolverineHistorian.
The natural place to begin, of course, is Harbaugh's first start, when Michigan opened their 1984 season against the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes.
The Setup: After winning the 1983 national title under Howard Schnellenberger, Miami looked to continue their dominance with Jimmy Johnson at the helm after Schnellenberger bolted for the fledgling USFL. By the time the 'Canes traveled to Ann Arbor, they'd already begun the season 2-0, defeating #1 Auburn and #17 Florida to rise to the top of the polls—and extend their winning streak to 13 games.
Michigan entered the game ranked #14 in the country after going 9-3 in 1983. Much of the pre-game attention centered on Harbaugh, the kid with deep Michigan roots making his first start after attempting just five passes as a freshman backup to Steve Smith. Bo Schembechler went so far as to say his team could throw the ball around 25, maybe even 30(!), times in a game.
[Hit THE JUMP.]
"let's not have that tourney run" –Big Ten ADs [Fuller]
The Big Ten athletic directors have gathered in Illinois to stroke their chins and issue pronouncements about the state of the games. As per usual some of the things they're saying are from space aliens unfamiliar with English. Northwestern's Jim Phillips exhibits a mild version of the affliction. The reporter's paraphrase is the worst bit:
One-and-done play is symptomatic of the problems that plague college athletics, Phillips said at the Big Ten spring meetings, in that it does not benefit the student-athlete at large.
"Frankly speaking," Phillips said, "shame on us. We've allowed the National Basketball Association to dictate what our rules are, or influence what our rules are at the collegiate level."
Phillips said NBA executives "look at us as the minor leagues."
"Nobody feels great about kids going to school for a semester and then leaving," he said. "That's crazy. It's absurd. So we've got to fix it.
"Why have we accepted that? Why have we just allowed that to happen without any pushback?"
I do have some sympathy for the resentment colleges must feel that the NBA has imposed one-and-done on them. It really is the worst possible system for the NCAA, which draws piles of criticism for the way CBB feels right now despite having done nothing.
But as per usual with the NCAA, the proposals on the table to deal with the problem cling tightly to a blinkered image of reality developed by watching "Newsies" 24 hours a day for the last decade. One-and-done does nothing to anyone who's not a one and done. For those who are, the NCAA has no ability to "benefit" them. They're just cooling their heels for a year because they have to before they are very wealthy. One and done is an entirely cosmetic issue. It is an issue, as it leads to things like Kentucky. I find Kentucky under Calipari annoying.
But the Big Ten's freshman ineligibility proposal is the clumsiest possible way to address the situation. It is nuking an anthill from orbit. As John Gasaway mentions, one-and-dones were a mere 14 kids last year.
Statistically it would be similar to terming "adults who have to visit the ER after using a pogo stick" a "culture." http://t.co/ojPoHzzK8Z
— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) May 20, 2015
Mitch McGary is that culture's king. I digress.
The Big Ten is trying to sell us the idea that students are not prepared to enter college, go to class, and compete for its teams at the same time their APR scores look like this.
Big Ten APR Scores (football; basketball)
Illinois: 957; 957
Indiana: 972; 1,000
Iowa: 969; 971
Michigan: 975; 990
Michigan State: 962; 980
Minnesota: 962; 960
Nebraska: 980; 947
Northwestern: 991; 980
Ohio State: 972; 977
Penn State: 954; 964
Purdue: 961; 985
Wisconsin: 989, 975
So which is it? Do you "continue to shine", as this BTN article claims? Or is it dire enough for the Big Ten to want to impose ineligibility on the 95% of their athletes that are just fine thanks?
Part of the problem is that if the NBA does come to the table looking for a reasonable solution (like NHL style draft-and-follow), they're going to hear the most impossible nonsense coming from the other side. No, you can't go to summer league. No, you can't have an agent. No, you can't even go to pre-draft camps to get a more accurate picture of where you stand. We're gonna have a freshman ineligibly snit fit over 14 guys.
The Big Ten has a problem with one-and-done. Fine. But Jim Delany's proposal is unserious. It is never going to happen. Having a "national discussion" is rhetoric on the level of that Nationwide Your Kid Just Died commercial. You can have that discussion. It is going to be about how much you suck and nothing else.
This is a toddler saying "NO, MINE" to someone who can take the toddler's toys away whenever he wants. If the NBA is going to listen, the NCAA is going to have to come to them with a serious proposal instead of a temper tantrum.
Da-nah, dah nah, dah-nah-nah-nah-nah.
(I've been looking all over for a solid copy of the song that used to start Tigers games, in case someone reading worked for WDIV and has a copy.)
I realize I've been lax on picking games with our fantasy partner for the readers to play against each other. The $300k "Swing for the Fences" MLB contest however isn't once to miss.
|Holaday is my Tiger. Also Kinsler. And Cabrera. And still Scherzer. I have many Tigers.|
- $300,000 prize pool.
- First place wins $100,000
- Only $3 to enter (FREE with first deposit)
- Top 25,930 finishing positions are paid.
- Starts Wednesday, May 20th at 7:05 PM EST
- Salary Cap Style Drafting. $50,000 to select 10 players: 8 position players and 2 pitchers
- Roster Format: 2 pitchers, 1 C, 1 1B, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 SS and 3 OF
Brian mentioned in today's mailbag that any given baseball game is going to have a ton of randomness. However you get so many opportunities for data points that the stats end up pretty reflective. Even imperfect ideas like "let's divide all the hits by at-bats (and not count walks and sacrifices) and "how many runs per game does he give up?" were able to stand as a sort of consensus opinion on player values for a century.
(i.e. until Mitch Meluskey hit .300)
This helps—you know by now who's good—and hurts—a guy who's hitless in 11 games can go 4/4 with a homer. I've played just a few baseball games to get the mechanics down and found my pitcher makes or breaks me, and winners tend to pick medium-expensive guys who have a lot of power. If you've got a way to beat the system, put 'em in the comments. Or use it to win my money I guess.
Two freshman bigs, Diamond Stone (L) and Caleb Swanigan, have changed the B1G outlook.
For a day, at least, Purdue is the center of the college basketball world's attention after the Boilermakers added the commitment of five-star big man Caleb Swanigan, Indiana's Mr. Basketball and one-time Michigan State commit. Swanigan will team with AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas to form what will certainly be the conference's largest and most talented group of bigs.
In a Big Ten conference with one clear but unproven frontrunner in Maryland, followed by a pack of contenders with glaring questions of some sort, Purdue is now very much in that group of flawed teams hoping to make a title run. Even Maryland, the prohibitive favorite after landing five-star center Diamond Stone, has issues they'll need to address if they want to live up to the hype. Here's a quick look at next season's contenders, the strengths that could power them to a conference crown, and the weaknesses that may do them in.
This team, on paper, has just about everything. The Terps can put four solid outside shooters around Stone, whose offensive skills are very advanced for a freshman. Melo Trimble was one of the best freshmen in the country last year, his efficiency should improve, and his remarkable knack for drawing fouls makes it difficult to keep him from consistently producing. Power forward transfer Robert Carter is a double-double threat. Maryland was a good squad last year and they should only be better this year.
So what's the problem? For one, Maryland might not have been quite as good as their record suggested last season. They pulled out so many tight games that they finished second nationally in KenPom's "luck" metric. The Terp offense ranked only tenth in the Big Ten in efficiency.
The offense will improve, to the point that it should offset regression in the luck department, but it's certainly worth wondering if a team that's proven so little will really end up in the national title discussion.
Denzel Valentine flourished last season, and while the surprising Final Four squad loses Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, the rest of the supporting cast returns. Transfer wing Eron Harris should pick up much of the scoring slack left by Trice, while top-30 recruit Deyonta Davis helps make up for the loss of Dawson. Tom Izzo is still here, and that should be enough to consider MSU a contender.
|Indiana could have a tough time defending the rim in 2015-16. [Patrick Barron/MGoBlog]|
But can the offense thrive with Tum Tum Nairn running the show full-time? Nairn's jumper is so wonky—25/75 on twos, 3/10 on threes—that opponents can sag off him without fear, and he didn't make up for it by being an elite passer; his turnover rate outstripped his assist rate last season. With Trice gone and no point guard incoming, Nairn is the guy at point guard, and State's success will depend on his ability to become some sort of threat on offense, especially since his height hinders him defensively.
The backcourt trio of Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., and Robert Johnson is up there with any in the country, especially when it comes to raining in triples. Troy Williams is an explosive finisher on the wing. The starting five shouldn't have any trouble putting points on the board.
But, um, where'd everybody else go? Tom Crean is aware that five players are on the court at once, and at least one of those players is usually rather enormous, right? 6'10" forward Thomas Bryant enters with five-star credentials, but the depth up front is still a major concern, along with the usual concerns about whether this is the year Crean's unstable program finally collapses.
So many skilled wings!
So few proven bigs.
One should never count out a Bo Ryan squad, even in what should be a rebuilding year. Nigel Hayes is a legitimate NBA prospect whose game continues to evolve, and Bronson Koenig usurped Traevon Jackson as the team's best option at point guard even before Jackson went down to injury. Role players Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown will be juniors this season, and with Ryan's record of slow-build, big-payoff player development, it wouldn't surprise at all to see one or both experience breakout seasons.
On the other hand, I needed to bring up Showalter and Brown when discussing key returners, because the Badgers lost three starters, Jackson, and top backup Duje Dukan. That's a hell of a lot to lose for any team, and Wisconsin is only bringing in one top-100 recruit (SG Devin Pritzl) among their reinforcements.
The Buckeyes will need a heck of a youth movement to contend for the title, but they've got the talent to do so: five consensus four-stars, including three top-50 prospects, will join junior Marc Loving and sophomores Jae'Sean Tate, Keita Bates-Diop, and Kam Williams to form the core of this squad. Big man Trevor Thompson is eligible after transferring from Virginia Tech last year, giving the team a much-needed frontcourt presence.
The positive is also the negative here. Can such a young team find the right combination of players to make a run? This team lacks a proven point guard, doesn't have much big man depth, and will have to find a number one option with the departure of D'Angelo Russell.
They're going to be a load to handle inside, with two skilled seven-footers in Hammons and Haas alongside the 6'8", 265-pound Swanigan at power forward. With last year's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Raphael Davis, on the wing, it's going to be very difficult to score on the Boilermakers.
The team's roster construction could hold back Purdue's scoring, however. Spacing is going to be an issue for a team with only one above-average shooter, SG Kendall Stephens, projected to start. An offense can only be so efficient these days without boasting at least a decent outside shooting threat, but Purdue doesn't project to add much shooting after finishing last in the Big Ten from beyond the arc last season. Unless a returning wing—like sophomore Vince Edwards—really improves from the outside, the Boilermakers may run into trouble trying to bull through every team in their path.
I think I'm stretching the definition of "contender," but the Big Ten's middle is so murky it's tough to tell. The Illini have a couple very promising players, especially Malcolm Hill, and John Groce is bringing in a strong recruiting class featuring three four-star prospects. They also get PG Tracy Abrams back from a torn ACL, though how much that's worth is quite debatable.
Illinois loses Rayvonte Rice, who really came into his own last year, as well as Nnanna Egwu. Rice was the team's best bet to get to the basket the last couple years—and developed a lethal outside shot as a senior—while Egwu leaves a hole at center that'll be filled by either Maverick Morgan, who hasn't impressed thus far in his career, or an undersized, totally unproven option.