THAT'S THE SPIRIT. User "Number 7" on the correct way to take all information:
1. All good news is good news. (Because it's good news. Duh.)
2. All bad news is good news. (Because it's probably just a smokescreen, because timing.)
and, thanks to this,
3. No news is good news. (Because also timing.)
Don't forget "4. In case of 2, annihilate the messenger."
ON HARBAUGH'S INTEREST LEVEL. I like it when NFL guys fire off things that I know aren't true, because then I can rail against 'em. It provides a level of certainty that's rare in any coaching search, and especially this one featuring a primary candidate who's employed until the end of December.
So: I know that the Michigan end of things referred to here…
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 7, 2014
…certainly does not think they're going to have to move on, at least not to the point of being "convinced" about anything. There was a meeting of some variety—executed slightly better than Jeremy Foley's—but the aftermath of it has not seen any lack of pursuit or increased focus on guys other than Harbaugh. Since Michigan didn't advertise it to the nation, we can't be certain exactly who was involved. I've heard it was high-level, possibly a Hackett-Harbaugh face-to-face.
I don't know what's going to happen, but the NFL-facing sources have been so strident about things that I know are not true multiple times that I take every new report from them with a grain of salt. If they end up being right it's not going to be because they're super plugged in.
ALSO HARBAUGH. Heard that he took in the OSU game with a bunch of former teammates who were asking him to fix things, to which he said (paraphrased) 1) you'll have to wait a bit here and 2) I'll have to get paid like a top five college coach.
The upshot of the first bit: Harbaugh isn't going to to anything that would be seen as abandoning his team, even as their playoff odds get extremely long. Don't expect something until the 28th, if Michigan is still waiting then.
The upshot of the second: I don't think we're talking Godfather money here, but something approximately Saban/Meyer yes. This was apparently the subject of a brief tug-of-war at the AD/prez/regents level when Schlissel balked at the idea and the regents were like "no, actually, this makes sense because X and Y." They are good to go for compensation, with donor aid.
UNLESS! That is, unless Harbaugh gets canned before the season's over. That would be completely nuts on San Francisco's part, but guys who cover the team are broaching the idea:
With a trip to Seattle coming Sunday, where the 49ers haven't won since 2011, before Russell Wilson was drafted, there's a reasonable chance Harbaugh doesn't last the season.
The precedent is Harbaugh's predecessor Mike Singletary, who was fired in Week 16 of 2010, after San Francisco was eliminated from playoff contention. That year, the Seahawks won the NFC West going 7-9.
If they're so inclined Michigan could step in and save the 49ers a hunk of money. With Harbaugh's contract an asset, it's unlikely he gets fired-fired; SF would probably not want him across the Bay and if so would want to get at least a mid-round pick out of it. Speaking of across the Bay…
MARK DAVIS IS A ROMULAN
DON'T WORK FOR THE ROMULANS BECAUSE THEY'LL EVENTUALLY ENSLAVE YOU AND PUT YOU TO WORK IN THE DILITHIUM MINES OF PENTAX IV, THAT'S MY MOTTO
SHUT UP, IT'S A GOOD MOTTO
AM I MINING UNTIL I DIE ON A ROCK IN THE DEMILITARIZED ZONE? NO? QED.
THIS BETTING MARKET IS ALL OVER THE PLACE. After pulling their Harbaugh prop over the weekend, it returns with the Raiders a heavy favorite:
Harbaugh coaching odds opened OAK 5-6 Other NFL Team 2-1 Does Not Coach 5-2 SF 6-1 Michigan 6-1 Other NCAA Team 15-1 http://t.co/wgXQWIYuj0
— Sportsbook.com ® (@Sportsbook_com) December 8, 2014
And then a heavier one:
Re Harbaugh 2015 Odds...within minutes of tweeting out the new odds we took heavy action on Oakland Raiders so moved them from -120 to -200
— Sportsbook.com ® (@Sportsbook_com) December 8, 2014
That wild swing is likely because of the weekly NFL reporter scoffing and the fact that Harbaugh talked to Raiders owner Prince Valium after San Francisco lost to his team on Sunday. I'm a little skeptical Harbaugh's going to take the worst possible NFL job, one that might not even be in Oakland next year, but that ain't good. On the other hand:
.@Sportsbook_com If he's 6-1 to coach San Francisco next year, then what is "Raptured following glorious victory over Lizard People?" 8-1?
— Bryan Mac (@Bry_Mac) December 8, 2014
And they just dropped the M odds to 4-to-1 as money comes in on them once again. Woo!
PROPS TO NFL LLOYD CHRISTMAS, THOUGH. This is a good quote:
What did they talk about? I asked Davis, who laughed and said:
“I told him, ‘You stole our dysfunction!” Davis said. “‘That’s supposed to be our thing!’”
THE PLAN B TIER. With everyone laser-focused on Harbaugh there continues to be little clarity as to who might be the backup plan. Les Miles said he had not been contacted by Michigan, and I continue to believe that he's facing too much internal opposition to get a serious sniff.
Sam Webb has had a couple posts on Greg Schiano and Steve Addazio in the last couple days, names that alarm and boggle. The most recent was at least about how Addazio is a more likely candidate than Schiano; I choose to interpret that information as "we do not want Greg Schiano so passionately we would choose to hire Steve Addazio over him." Corroborating is Steve Lorenz, who says all the noise about Schiano has come from his end($), with no Michigan folk mentioning his name.
That leaves Addazio's presence. Bald Brady Hoke makes no sense as any kind of candidate except to your crazy old coot grandfather who has all his savings in gold and doesn't trust the FDIC. Unfortunately, we have a lot of those hanging around. FWIW, I haven't heard one thing about him.
I don't think anyone has a strong grasp on who Plan B is. Rivals is pushing guys like Sean Payton and Bret Bielema; meanwhile on WTKA this morning Sam was talking about Jim Mora. I have heard diverse and sundry names, none of which stand out from the crowd. Clint Brewster's five guys not named Harbaugh or Miles seems like a realistic baseline: David Shaw, Mora, Dan Mullen, Kyle Whittingham… sigh… Addazio.
kind of looks like Scott Bakula
PINKEL? Seeing chatter about Mizzou's Gary Pinkel, but… like… okay remember what happened when Nebraska hired Mike Riley? Gary Pinkel is a bit like that. He's obviously got a much better track record than Riley what with his five ten-win seasons in the last eight years, but he would be 63 by the time he coached one game at M. By the time he got his guys in here he'd be ready to retire.
Pinkel may be an excellent coach, but is he that much better than a guy a decade younger than him? Coaching transitions suck; do you want to guarantee yourself another one in 5-7 years?
HE DOES THIS EVERY YEAR. One of the most attractive candidates on the B tier is on the verge of signing an extension:
Scott Stricklin expects a contract extension for Dan Mullen soon.
"Dan, in his defense, his focus has been recruiting, being in bowl prep," Stricklin said. "But I'm optimistic we can get that wrapped up pretty soon."
Ah but there's a catch with the headline here:
Mississippi state law doesn't allow for a state employee's contract to extend more than four years. In each of the five previous seasons Stricklin and Mullen have come to an agreement. This year appears no different.
Iowa fans envy Mississippi State law so hard right now. But anyway: because of this law MSU has gone back to Mullen every year for a pro forma extension. That statement from the AD is based on hope and expectation and not nearly as meaningful as it would be otherwise.
There's been a bare minimum of Mullen chatter aside from some national guys on Scout saying he would jump if given the opportunity, so for whatever (probably bad) reasons are out there he does not seem like a likely option if Harbaugh falls through. That makes no sense to me, nor big chunks of the coaching fraternity. It is what it is. I'm still hoping this apparent lack of interest is because there is no serious interest in anyone not named Harbaugh just yet.
THIS, HOWEVER, IS THE END OF BUTCH. Butch Jones gets extended to 2020 at $3.6 million a year(!). In two years at Tennessee he's 11-13 and his best win is likely over South Carolina this year. Recruiting's going in the right direction, but as Hoke demonstrated that's not always enough.
In any case, that's enough to knock Jones off the Plan B list.
like the mean streak, this coaching search will jerk you around
HARBAUGH HARBAUGH HARBAUGH: HOORAY. I hope you guys like rollercoasters. Yesterday it was all sun and butter, because when the money comes in someone's hearing something:
Jim Harbaugh 2015 Coaching odds suspended after a stream of bets on Michigan moved them from 8-1 to 2-1 yesterday afternoon
— Sportsbook.com ® (@Sportsbook_com) December 6, 2014
Note that this is not a "who will be Michigan's coach" prop, it's a "where will Harbaugh be" prop. The sportsbook had a low maximum bet on this event (2k) but had so much Harbaugh-to-M action coming in that they couldn't set the odds high enough to discourage it, and thus yoinked the bet.
At the same time this was going on the insider rumble got near-fervent at Rivals, partially from unofficial sources, partially from official ones. For the first time it really felt like it was happening; I heard some chatter that Schlissel and the regents have been brought into discussions. That implies that negotiations reached the part where numbers are involved.
The only pause came last night when Sam re-iterated that a couple of his sources were skeptical, and even he later said he thought Harbaugh was probable. Hooray! Stack the pancakes and get the syrup catapult out, we're having Harbaugh for brunch!
HARBAUGH HARBAUGH HARBAUGH: HELP. Then this morning the NFL guys weighed in with the same thing they've been saying since it became clear Harbaugh was headed somewhere else after the season: nope. Many of them did so.
The problem with these assertions is that many of them contain nonsense within them. CBS:
While many are connecting Harbaugh to the opening at Michigan, where he was a star quarterback, sources close to the coach maintain he is not interested. Harbaugh's family has close ties to outgoing Michigan coach Brady Hoke and Harbaugh is much more interested in NFL possibilities.
Ties to Brady Hoke are not a reason to not take the Michigan job. I'm sure these guys are all getting information from people who know something about something, but they seem to just repeat it without considering whether or not that source is reliable in this matter. The story goes on to assert that Steven Ross "could" end up being the primary competition with the Raiders for his services when people have reported that his focus at the moment is getting him to Ann Arbor—and away from the Jets.
So I'm skeptical of that, but poke an NFL insider today and he's saying Harbaugh to Michigan ain't happening. Ian Rapoport said Michigan "reached out" and "left convinced he wants to be an NFL coach"; FWIW he is the guy who asserted a few weeks ago that Ross wanted Harbaugh at M.
So the usual, with all sides escalating. Someone's going to look dumb.
NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO
MORE PLAN B STUFF. Michigan is still focused heavily on Harbaugh and will be until he gives them a flat no. But they're not putting all their eggs in one basket, which is an improvement from the 2007 search (no basket, eggs anywhere and everywhere) and the 2011 search (basket reads "
HARBAUGH!!! hoke i guess). I get the impression that Michigan is contacting a lot of people, either because it's a good idea or because it's the ultimate smokescreen.
So I have a series of unconfirmed reports, all about different people who have had the proverbial feelers extended to them. Along with the guys mentioned yesterday (Whittingham, Mullen, Addazio, Mora) I've had blips on David Shaw, Mora (again) and even Gary Patterson. Patterson is unlikely unless his team misses the playoff—we'll know that today. Previous reports that he'd flat turned M down are premature but likely to be correct in the long run.
And… ugh… people keep talking about Greg Schiano, who Florida passed over for a third year coach with a 7 million dollar buyout and Nebraska passed over for a 62-year-old. Scout's Brian Dohn reports($) that Schiano is making a "strong push for the job" after turning Michigan down in 2007; it should be noted that the strong push is coming from the Schiano side of things… which like yeah duh. I haven't heard anything about the interest being reciprocal.
In re: Schiano's attractivness. Nope! He had one really good year in 2006, and then spent the next five years going 16-19 in the post-defection Big East. He deserves credit for rebuilding Rutgers, but his star has collapsed since he seemed plausible in 07.
ON THE ACCESSIBILITY OF MULLEN. I forgot to include a link to a Matt Hinton piece on Grantland describing the various ways in which Mullen has cobbled together a top ten team from discarded ham and kumquat-flavored toothpaste. Hinton includes a couple of charts that demonstrate how impressive Mullen's season has been and why he's liable to GTFO of Starkville at the first reasonable opportunity:
I cross-referenced every player listed this week on official depth charts released by Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M against their original recruiting rating, and on paper, at least, the difference between the top of the division and the ostensible bottom is a yawning chasm:
Mullen’s only five-star signee, sophomore defensive lineman Chris Jones, is listed as a backup; of the four-stars on hand, only four of the eight are listed as starters, all on defense: senior defensive tackles P.J. Jones and Kaleb Eulls, sophomore linebacker Beniquez Brown, and senior safety Justin Cox. Everyone else on the no. 3 team in the nation, by the standards of the rest of its own division, arrived as an afterthought.
And this is a considerable improvement on MSU's previous recruiting! It is super-hard to maintain against that kind of recruiting thunder in a division where Hugh Freeze might be the worst coach. (Seriously. Who is the worst coach in the SEC West?)
And Scout's Jamie Newberg says "he just knows" that Mullen would leave for the Michigan job if offered it.
CUMONG MAN. The hotdog rumors will not die:
One bit of Michigan search info I can share--there’s one well-known current head coach who believes Michigan is going to hire Sean Payton.
— Ben Estes (@benestes91) December 5, 2014
Last January Payton signed an $8-million-per-year extension that extends to the 2017-18 season. It makes him the highest-paid coach, period. Buying him out of that and giving him a commensurate contract is a financial commitment on par with those debunked Godfather offers, and presumes he wants to leave the Saints franchise he's been with since 2006. Also, all he has to do is suck less than the Falcons to make the playoffs this year. This doesn't pass basic common sense.
CUMONG MAN II. Gil "Thorpe" Brandt has a case to make for Schiano:
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 5, 2014
It is not a good case. The NFL does not like him one bit. Also: remember how we thought Nebraska's search was nuts? They could have hired Schiano in a hot second. Schiano is the only way Michigan can come out of this hiring troika with a guy the other two definitively passed on.
Etc.: Les Miles tells a recruit he's not going anywhere. I think he thinks that's true because he thinks he's not going to get a sniff. Here is a comprehensive rundown of everything that's been said so far.
NOTE: Given Ace’s current situation, I volunteered to write the game wrap. I regret everything.
The stages of a shocking upset are predictable. It starts with amusement. Then it moves to concern about the effects on KenPom or the polls. Then it becomes a mild concern that this might actually become a problem. Then there’s a moment when you realize, “uh oh.” And it stops being fun.
When NJIT hit an uncontested layup with less than 12 minutes left to take a 46-44 lead, it stopped being fun. When they took a seven point lead with 9 minutes left, it became terrifying. And when Damon Lynn hit yet another three point bomb to give the Highlanders a 4-point lead with under 3 minutes left, you stared at the calendar and thought to yourself “I thought football season was over.”
Lynn was insane in the second half, scoring 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting from deep. As a team, NJIT came in shooting 33% from three, but shot 64.7% (11-17 )in this one. It was reminiscent of the Detroit game, with one exception; they never. Stopped. Hitting. Adding to the problem was that NJIT connected on a half-dozen back door layups. All of this added up to an eFG% of 70.7% for the game. But other than a few breakdowns, Michigan’s defense wasn’t obviously bad. NJIT was just better.
[…Nope. Re-reading that last sentence didn’t make any more sense than it did the first time…]
The first half was statistically bizarre. NJIT shot 75% eFG% from the field, but forced almost no turnovers, didn’t record a single offensive rebound, and didn’t shoot a single free throw. Michigan jumped out to an 8-0 lead with NJIT turning the ball over on its first four possessions, and it looked like the expected walk-over was underway. Michigan had a five-point lead at the break, but came out of the locker room stone cold. They were stuck on 44 points for nearly seven and a half minutes, during which time their six point lead became a seven point deficit.
All of this wasted a masterful second half performance by Caris LeVert. He finished with 32 points on 20 shot equivalents (including 6 of 8 from 3), 6 rebounds, and 3 steals. He and Lynn went back and forth trading daggers for much of the second half. Derrick Walton returned to the lineup with 16 points on 11 shot equivalents, though he turned the ball over four times. The problem was that LeVert and Walton didn’t get nearly enough help.
After a couple of solid outings, including a really good day against Syracuse, Kam Chatman came crashing back to earth with an 0-for-6 day. He repeatedly passed up open threes, instead dribbing into the lane (and into traffic). Those are shots Beilein’s offense needs the four-man to take and make at a reasonable clip, but Chatman doesn’t seem to have any confidence in it right now. Zak Irvin also had a rough day, going 2-11 (1-8) from the field for five points.
Possibly the biggest surprise (other than the obvious) was that Michigan’s bigs did almost nothing. Despite facing a vastly undersized Highlanders team, neither Donnal nor Doyle scored in the last 26:32 of the game. Donnal hit twice from the field (including his first three-pointer). Doyle grabbed four rebounds, but couldn’t corral a crucial defensive board
when he was absolutely mauled with no foul call with ten seconds left.
Michigan briefly busted out the 1-3-1 zone in the second half, resulting in one turnover and one wide open lay-up. We didn’t see enough of it to know how well the freshmen have grasped it, but at least we know it exists somewhere.
I've been conspicuously absent the past few days. I will not be covering the basketball game this afternoon, nor the game on Tuesday, and I'll be working in a limited capacity for the rest of this month.
Allow me to explain.
Over the past few weeks, my health has taken a turn for the worse. The diagnosis of gluten intolerance I received over the summer hasn't been the be-all, end-all answer I'd hoped; there is more going on, and right now I don't know what. I've been dropping weight at a rather alarming rate. I covered the Syracuse game on Tuesday while weighing 115 pounds. (I'm a hair under 5'11", and haven’t weighed this little since middle school.) My brother drove me to and from the game, because I didn't feel comfortable getting behind the wheel of a car—not the first time he’s done that over the last month, unfortunately.
That's the bad news. I'm very limited physically right now, to the point that covering games in person is not a feasible option, even though there's no part of my job I enjoy more than settling into my spot (or leaping out of it) on press row at Crisler.
The good news is I have no shortage of support. My physician came into the office on a scheduled day off to see me on short notice on Wednesday afternoon, and as soon as I left he was on the phone with specialists at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital; I'll be in and out of appointments at St. Joe’s this week to begin anew the process of determining what, exactly, is going on with my body. As far as doctors go, I'm in very good hands.
The same can be said for my support system at home and at work. My parents and my brother are doing everything within their power to ensure that I'm comfortable, supported, and in good spirits; other than going to appointments, I barely have to leave the townhouse I share with my brother unless I'm up to it—they are taking care of me. I have friends near and far checking in on me, providing moral support or much-needed distraction; those often go hand-in-hand.
Brian, as he has been throughout my time at MGoBlog, has been remarkably supportive, especially when considering I've often had to bail out of work on short notice, and it's not like this is a large operation in which one employee's absence can go unnoticed. He's allowing me to scale back how much I'm working this month, which I hope will be all that's necessary before I'm able to return to writing at full strength, even if it takes longer for my body to reach that point. I've been able to do so time and again the last four years. Very little can stop me from doing what I love: writing.
For their part, the people in the sports information department for Michigan Basketball—especially the SID par excellence, Tom Wywrot—have been extremely flexible and understanding during this time, and I cannot thank them enough for it.
Same goes for fellow MGoBlog writers Seth Fisher, Alex Cook, and Bryan Mac, who've covered my ass on more than one occasion* when I’ve been unable to write, as well as our photographers, Bryan Fuller and Eric Upchurch, who've been extremely generous in offering their support. Thank you, as well, to MGoRightHandMan Dave Nasternak, who filmed high school games this fall when I didn't feel up to it, drove me to games when I did, and even stopped by the studio last weekend to give me a loaf of gluten-free bread after a podcast recording. I’m so lucky to be able to work with you all, and I don't get to convey my appreciation enough.
If I haven't responded to your emails, phone calls, messages, or tweets in recent days, I hope this serves as a reasonable explanation. I'll get to them when I can, if they truly require a response—these last few days have been spent in near constant communication with doctors and my family so we can get this figured out as soon as possible.
If I've been an asshole to you recently, as I know I have been with a few of you (including some who were beyond undeserving), I apologize. This has been a very stressful time. That’s not an excuse for taking it out on others.
If I told you I'd make plans with you, grab a drink, be in touch, or the like, I must apologize as well; right now, my life is on hold. Trust me when I say that I'd like to see or hear from you soon, but my big mouth occasionally promises more than I can provide, and that's been the case more than usual lately.
I turn 27 tomorrow. I've been dealing with strange health issues that have affected my everyday life since I was 17, when I'd often shoot awake at night in a cold sweat thinking my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I've been able to get through school and largely work around my health problems for a decade. Now is the time I must put my health first and foremost. Diagnoses of de Quervain’s thyroiditis, depression, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and most recently gluten intolerance haven't fully addressed what's happening; this time around I'm determined to search until the true answer is presented.
I'm confident, with the remarkable support I have, that I'll get to the bottom of this. If there's a place to be sick, it's Ann Arbor, where it's hard to walk around the block without bumping into someone at the top of their chosen field. I still plan to write while the search continues, just not quite as much as I have in the past. I hope you’ll bear with me in the interim. If you’re looking for a way to support me, I hope you'll consider donating to MGoBlog. Brian is paying me full-time for work I don't fully have the capacity to do at the moment, and I don't plan on going anywhere. Supporting the site is the most direct way to support me both now and for the long haul.
Thanks for your understanding.
Now let's get Jim Harbaugh to Ann Arbor.
Michigan (6-1) vs.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||12:00 pm Eastern, Saturday|
|LINE||Michigan -21 (KenPom)|
With major preseason matchup with Oregon, Villanova, and Syracuse out of the way, and tilts with Arizona and SMU remaining, this… is a game that is in the middle of those games. It is of little value as a win. It would be of incredible schadenfreude value as a loss, not to mention an albatross around Michigan’s neck come NCAA Tournament seeding time. So that’s your only real motivation here. You just need to work hard enough not to get fired.
It sounds like Derrick Walton will return, but how much he will play is unclear, especially if the game is not competitive for the full 40 minutes. DJ Wilson remains out.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. %Min and %Poss figure are from this season now—yes, there will be a fair amount of noise in these numbers for a while. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open.
|G||5||Damon Lynn||So.||5’11, 165||95||29||No|
|Also known as “NJIT’s Offense” Volume shooter, mostly from deep. 48.3 eFG%|
|G||11||Winfield WIllis||Jr.||6'0, 180||68||18||Kinda|
|I have no valueable insight into Mr. Willis’s game|
|F||0||Ky Howard||Jr.||6'4, 185||83||20||Kinda|
|Splits between the three and four. three and the four. High 2pt%, good at drawing fouls. Lots of steals|
|F||5||Tim Coleman||So.||6'5, 210||53||20||No|
|Good 3pt shooter, but unrelated to Tevin, so relax|
|C||10||Daquan Holiday||Sr.||6'8, 205||45||18||Very|
|High block% and OR%. Coming off a battle with Christmas, this feels like a theme|
|G/F||23||Osa Izevbuwa||Jr.||6'3, 230||26||21||Maybe|
|A guy. He plays basketball|
|Splits minutes at the five, is 6’5. Good on the offensive boards.|
|Another guy splitting between the three and four|
The New Jersey Institute of Technology is the only Division I team that is not affiliated with a conference. They are best known for inventing the idea of “technology” in the late 1980’s. Just trust me.
Despite being 2-5 on the year, they are actually not as terrible as one might think when they see “New Jersey Institute of Technology.” They beat Duquesne (#156 to KenPom), Lost to Marquette (#102) by five. At the same time, their only other win was over Maine (#337) by four, and they lost to UMass Lowell.
No graphics today. Golden Retrievers aren’t as good at technology as, say, the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Take advantage of size. As you may have noticed, NJIT is very widdle. Their effective height is 346th in the country, and that runs across all five positions. Half of their center minutes go to a guy who is 6’5”. You may see some significant MAX time for the last time in a while.
Get out in transition. NJIT turns the ball over on nearly a quarter of their possessions. Michigan should be able to turn those into a lot of easy buckets.
Don’t miss everything. It’s hard to see this one being competitive, but if it does end up anywhere close to being close it will be because MIchigan just can’t make any of their many open looks.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 21.
I tend to trust KenPom here. And everywhere. But especially here.
Bryan Fuller / MGoBlog
Tropes about white basketball players – specifically smaller white players – are an inextricable part of basketball discourse, particularly at the college level. Take Aaron Craft, a very good (but inherently limited) player in his own right, who was incessantly inflated by platitudes about toughness, grittiness, the will to win, and all of those tired concepts that fail to explain the eminently explainable.* There’s something about that tiny white guy with immaculate hair, one who was the hometown hero of Everytown U.S.A., the Prom King of Everytown High, that kid who you look at and feel compelled to suggest a better hobby – chess maybe? – but that kid can ball, he really can, even though you know there’s no way in hell he’s going to make it to the NBA because look at him.
*For example, Aaron Craft was a great defender because of his amazing technique and lateral quickness. He was a very good player because of that tenacious defense. He wasn’t capable of somehow lugging the Ohio State offense to solid efficiency mark as a senior because of his leadership abilities once he was thrust into a feature role with players who weren’t as good as the ones he’d played with before. In the end, Craft’s offensive skill-set was lacking and no amount of “intangibles” would fix that.
Spike Albrecht fits that trope so well. His story is well-chronicled: he went to prep school in hopes of netting an elusive D-I scholarship offer, eventually managed to find one because of an amazing confluence of opportunity and luck, and played well on the big stage. He’s little – particularly relative to other basketball players – plays point guard, and if you’d like to play the “white basketball” word association game, you’ll find plenty of appropriate adjectives: scrappy (sure), heady (fine), feisty (yeah), dependable (why not). Spike Albrecht is just a blue-collar guy who heads to the court 9-to-5 every week, Monday-through-Friday, hard hat on his head and lunchpail in hand because he’s a company man and no sir, he doesn’t need the double overtime, he’s just here for the love of the game. He’s even from Indiana, if you want to throw Hoosiers in there, go right ahead. His given name – Michael – wasn’t enough, he’s “Spike” because, evidently, he wouldn’t ever take off his baseball spikes as a kid.
You have to talk about that magical first half in Atlanta when you talk about Spike. He assured that, with every time he appeared in a game, for the rest of his life, someone would mention the one half he lived a basketball fever dream and became somewhat of a legend. It’s almost comical. Trey Burke, the consensus National Player of the Year, has to exit the game with early foul trouble and his backup – the guy that the announcers barely research for their pregame notes – checks in, just to hold steady and “Oh God, just please keep the game close until Trey gets back, Spike, please.” Louisville runs a vicious trapping press defense and Michigan’s backup point guard is a true freshman that looks like he was plucked right out of the makeshift student section behind the Michigan basket.
That’s it right there. That’s every suburban kid in every flyover state who rubs his hands together to keep them warm, who navigates the patches of ice in the driveway, who dribbles that ball outside, by himself, as he counts 5, 4, 3, 2… and throws the ball at the hoop as he yells 1. Spike was the unheralded recruit who managed to find his way to a major program, managed to find his way onto the floor at the freakin’ Georgia Dome, and just decided to go for it* instead of simply “managing” the game.
*The behind-the-back pull-up three in Russ Smith’s face (Russ Smith was probably the best defender in college hoops that year) was Spike’s ultimate I’m-playing-out-of-my-mind-let’s-test-if-this-is-a-dream-lol-yep-it-is moment in that entire sequence.
The story ended and the plucky underdog who came out of nowhere to play the game of his life eventually lost the Big Game. He didn’t even get the girl afterwards either (she’s dating another athlete now).