[Photo: Michael Bruntz/247Sports]
Michigan added a huge piece to their 2017 class in four-star Aledo (TX) offensive tackle Chuck Filiaga, who announced his commitment to the Wolverines over fellow finalists Nebraska and Oklahoma live at the Army All-American Bowl this afternoon.
Filiaga is Michigan's 27th commit in the 2017 class and the sixth along the offensive line. Given Michigan's depth at offensive tackle, he'll have the chance to make an immediate impact as a freshman.
4*, #15 OT,
4*, #16 OT,
4*, 83, #14 OT,
4*, 94, #13 OT,
4*, #14 OT,
Filiaga's rankings are in a remarkably tight bunch; all four sites place him within a four-spot range in the offensive tackle position rankings and just outside the top 100 overall prospects.
Thanks to Filiaga's participation in the Army Bowl, we have up-to-date and detailed measurables:
The strength and conditioning program at Aledo High School has served Chuck well. He's trimmed down from the summer and he's looking lean at 326 pounds. He's massive at 6-foot-5 1/8 with 36-inch arms and the biggest hands in attendance at 10 3/4 inches. Oklahoma, Michigan and Nebraska are finalists.
6'5", 326 with long arms (second-longest at the Army Bowl) and big hands screams tackle, which is almost certainly where Filiaga will play at Michigan.
Filiaga was initially regarded as a two-way prospect. The first scouting report on him, from his sophomore year at Vista Murrieta (CA), mentions he played both offensive tackle spots and was a "powerful" run blocker. At the RCS and Opening Los Angeles regionals the next spring, however, he worked out at DT; 247's Barton Simmons said he was "extremely raw" but with "elite" length and size.
After his junior year, Filiaga began focusing exclusively on the offensive side of the ball, at least in camp settings. While still quite raw, he stood out to Simmons at this year's Opening LA regional because of his size and potential:
While Chuck Filiaga didn't make the final five on the offensive line, he remains one of the most intriguing prospects out west. He's gained 60 pounds in the last year and is embracing offensive tackle but he's extremely raw. The athleticism and movement skills are there, as is the size.
He used his power to earn a top performer mention at the RCS LA:
Filiaga has an excellent frame to play offensive tackle and the Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta four-star is physical, has tree-trunk legs and a powerful base. Sometimes, he lets defensive ends get into his body too much, but because Filiaga is so strong that usually doesn’t matter and he wins with power and technique.
247's Texas outlet did detailed film evaluation of their top offensive line targets and continued the theme—Filiaga showed great size and potential in his junior film but has a ways to go to reach that potential, especially in pass protection:
STRENGTHS: Shows good athleticism, size, quickness and agility for a big kid. Good bounce with good feet and mobility. Shows good hand placement, can lock out defenders, steer and control. Plays with excellent leverage and leg drive to overpower defenders. Has the ability to punish defensive tackles when he is asked to secure a down block. Excellent athlete with good upside.
AREA TO IMPROVE: Pass protection. Lines up in the back field at times and doesn't have a true kick slide, most of the time he just mirrors his opponent at the line of scrimmage. Does not play with great technique.
They mentioned that he has "good knee bend and flexibility," which is encouraging to hear; that can be a significant issue with bigger OL prospects and it's not something that's easy to develop.
Filiaga displayed improved technique at this summer's Rivals Five-Star Challenge. Rivals's USC outlet said he "had great technique and was very productive," while their Oklahoma site went into a little more detail:
You'd struggle to find a bigger player inside the GeorgiaDome but Filiaga isn't just a huge mauler. He didn't take many reps but when he did he showed an ability to move his feet and battle players on the edge though clearly he is a guy best built to operate with his hands locked onto a defender and running his feet.
That suggests he could be better-suited for guard.
Scout got out to see him play live in November and saw a player who could make a big impact sooner rather than later:
The big man who transferred in from California plays with a chip on his shoulder and has the size and dominant nature to enforce his will and that is why you quickly see why there are so many top-tier college trying to convince him to come to their campus. What I really like about his game is that even though he is massive right now he still has a very high upside from a frame potential. He is going to be an absolute beast in a year or two from now.
He moved up to #125 overall in their postseason rerank:
On his senior tape, he has shown great strength and close-quarters power as a drive-blocker. He plays with a high motor and finishes blocks with his unusual tenacity. He could still improve his body control and balance, but that's a common trait for prospects who are as massive as Filiaga is.
At the Army Bowl, Filiaga has had some trouble in practice with elite edge-rusher Jaelen Phillips, the #5 player in the composite rankings, but otherwise performed well on day one, per TMI's Josh Henschke:
He has all the tools to be a good one at the next level. The first thing that stood out was how massive of a kid he is. He lined up versus five-star defensive end and UCLA commit Jaelan Phillips for several reps, winning only twice. Phillips is a monster, and beat Filiaga with his speed. Our scouts are bullish in their opinions that Filiaga is a great run blocker (mauler), but suggest his technique needs to improve as a pass blocker. Now don't get things twisted, he dominated in all his other reps. Again, it’s just a matter of him learning to play with consistent technique. The coaches had Filiaga pulling and trapping, so that kind of gives you an indication that he moves well.
There hasn't been much else on Filiaga from this week but there should be more to come after today's game. Based on the above, this week has confirmed the scouting reports: while Filiaga has the requisite physical ability to be a dominant tackle, he's going to need to improve his technique before he's going to be reliable in pass protection. While that's not at all unusual for a high school prospect with Filiaga's build, it could be an issue if he's pressed into immediate playing time.
Filiaga took his other official visits to Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Oregon, and he also held notable offers from Alabama, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, BYU, Cal, Colorado, Florida, Ole Miss, South Carolina, TCU, Tennessee, Texas, UCLA, USC, Utah, and Washington, among others.
Filiaga is a California native who transferred to Aledo (TX) for his senior season, so this isn't your normal recruitment from that state. Filiaga is the second-highest-ranked prospect to come out of Aledo in the Rivals era (2002-present) after 2012 five-star RB Johnathan Gray, who signed with Texas. Filiaga is the first Aledo prospect with a three-star or better rating to go to a school outside of Texas/Oklahoma.
OL, no stats.
FAKE 40 TIME
Filiaga has a SPARQ-measured 40 time of 5.59 seconds, which gets zero FAKEs out of five. He did relatively well in the more relevant testing results for an offensive tackle with a 4.66 20-yard shuttle and 39-foot powerball throw.
Junior highlights and single-game reels can be found on his Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
As we discussed extensively on Thursday, Michigan's razor-thin depth on the offensive line is going to provide Filiaga the opportunity to see the field right away, especially if Grant Newsome isn't healthy enough to play. If Michigan wants to keep Mason Cole at center, the only other competitors at tackle will be Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Nolan Ulizio, perhaps Ben Bredeson (if M can find another starting guard), and Filiaga's fellow freshmen. Filiaga is the incoming freshman most likely to be college-ready from a size and strength standpoint; he and Andrew Stueber have the best chance among the current commits of cracking the 2017 starting lineup. That battle should come down to how far Filiaga has progressed with his pass pro technique; if it's at an acceptable level, he should win the job.
Even if Filiaga doesn't earn a starting job, Michigan may have no choice but to play him as an extra tackle in 2017, much like they did with Newsome, in preparation for a potential starting role as a sophomore.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Filiaga is Michigan's 27th commit in the class and the sixth along the offensive line, joining Cesar Ruiz, Kai-Leon Herbert, JaRaymond Hall, Andrew Stueber, and Joel Honigford. Herbert's standing in the class is far from certain; he's taking visits to Auburn, Florida, and Miami (YTM) this month, with the Gators emerging as a serious threat to flip him. Expect the Wolverines to go after at least one more lineman in the class, with Virginia three-star OT Mekhi Becton the most likely addition to the class.
Other top targets include CA RB Najee Harris, GA DT Aubrey Solomon, UT DT Jay Tufele, AL WR Nico Collins, MS OLB Willie Gay, and CT CB Brandon Sebastian. With Georgia making a strong push for Collins, none of those guys are locks to Michigan, so expect some new names (and/or some old names with renewed interest) to emerge on the board, especially if M can't bring in one of the two DTs.
Here's the class as it currently stands:
Brian is out sick so this is my first shot at one of these. I’m not as plugged in as the other guys so if I missed something important leave it in the comments. Mostly this is going to be Army Game practice stuff.
No Blind Siding
Michigan target Chuck Filiaga, with normal-sized humans [U.S. Army All-American Bowl, via USA Today]
Let’s start with the good news: Crystal balls to Michigan are still flying in for 4* TX OT Chuck Filiaga, who’s a 6’6/335 pound shot at a starting left tackle that Michigan desperately needs. Filiaga will be at right tackle during the Army Game because his team is full of LTs. His decision, between Michigan, Oklahoma, and Nebraska is scheduled for noon.
Even if Filiaga enters the fold, Michigan is not done recruiting potential tackles. Next likeliest target, 3* OT Mekhi Becton, told Maize and Brew that Michigan remains “definitely high on my list.” Michigan also make the top three for AL 3* OT Toryque Bateman, though grades and the likelihood of other commits coming/sticking makes that seem unlikely now.
Obligatory Najee Section: We are linebackers
You have been a good recruiting follower so you’ve so far managed to refrain from watching the parade of ankleless linebackers following 5* CA RB Najee Harris to various endzones. The recruiting industry is finding him just as slippery. We are now officially past the Flight Aware segment of the recruitment and on to Flight Plan Aware. 247’s Bart Simmons first wrote yesterday that Army Bowl people said they’re flying Harris back home after the game, but then said a source told him Harris had requested a change to the wrong Birmingham:
Per a source, Harris has requested a flight change — asking to land in Birmingham now, instead of back home in California (Oakland). That would put the running back on Alabama's campus by Sunday evening at the latest as an early-enrollee, ending a dizzying back-and-forth between Alabama and Michigan that's worn on for months.
I maintain that you should ignore virtually everything until Harris is literally on campus at one school or the other on Monday, since that is quite apparently his preferred method of announcement. Bama people seem confident, Michigan people seem confident. Rivals had their national analysts weigh in, with votes going 2-1 in favor of the Tide. Harris has denied everything. Look closely at anyone new in your freshman seminar Monday.
Willie Being Silly?
The last round of interviews from San Antonio with MS 4* OLB Willie Gay have convinced reporters that LSU now leads Michigan and Mississippi State for what would be the first life form to ever escape “the Sip.” For their part LSU is taking Gay’s sudden interest very seriously, with Tigers linebacker commit Patrick Queen rescheduling his official to coincide with Gay’s. Sam Webb confirmed that LSU is the stated leader…
"Really all of my schools are even. LSU has probably got a little bit high, a little bit. I don't know where I'm going to go yet but LSU has moved up a little bit higher."
…but reported that Gay’s family is still heavily favoring Michigan, and this doesn’t sound like someone who’s moved on:
"They didn't move down,” he said. “When I went to Michigan it was like, perfect. Everything I ever wanted in a school… academics, I feel like I was at home still (and) the weather wasn't that bad to me. I was cool with the cold weather. I loved it."
Gay called the report that LSU leads “kind of accurate.” Call me a homer but I think this one has a lot of elements of a guy who’s messing with reporters. Michigan does still have to weather an official visit to down-the-street Mississippi State in addition to that to LSU on the 20th. I doubt it’s done.
Wille a Will? Possibly relevant, according to SEC Country LSU is recruiting him at WLB:
LSU is courting Gay as a WILL linebacker to help pad the team’s depth at a crucial position.
If you remember your Wisconsin previews, Aranda’s 3-4 has a WILL that’s a second middle linebacker—think Mike McCray’s job—so no they’re not trying to make him Vince Biegel, but neither are they calling him a slot overhang guy. Michigan has made it clear he would play the multifarious Peppers SAM spot.
Possibly unrelatedly, this got tweeted:
Y'all gotta think... a kid will press one school to then choose the other for the surprise ... just think
— Tarik Black (@LetmeRockk_) January 5, 2017
Big Nose Tackle Options are Shrinking
You would think if there is only one word in the English language that an uncommitted prospect can put before “Michigan” to erase any doubt about his intentions, it’s “F---.” Well, 5* GA DT Aubrey Solomon dropped just that particular bomb this week in a Periscope to fellow former Michigan commit WR Jeremiah Holloman (now a 4* UGA commit). A day later Solomon apologized on twitter to Michigan fans.
So: we’re done? Not quite. Sam said on his segment today that Michigan is still after him hard, which WTF?
I guess there are two ways to look at it: On one hand perhaps Aubrey was consoling a friend who apparently got pushed out of the class by higher-rated receivers. The other way to look at it is “What is literally the last thing you want to hear from a guy Michigan is recruiting?”. The likelihood of Option B is the likelihood this is officially happy trails. If you’re holding out for the sympathy words excuse, Michigan still has a lot of ground to make up.
That leaves Michigan’s hopes for a guy who can instantly spell Mone next year down to just UT 4* DT Jay Tufele. While Ohio State was a major factor earlier in this recruitment, lately the sense has been that hometown Utah has moved ahead of both Midwestern rivals. Michigan’s former director of player personnel Tony Tuioti leaving to become DL coach at Fresno State could not have helped the Wolverines’ chances. However Tufele told Sam at the Army Game practices today that at least distance won’t be a deciding factor:
“It was never a factor,” he reiterated. “For me going away or going home… it’s either one. It’s just at the end of the day it is going to be wherever best fits me… that’s where I’m going to go.”
While painting the picture of a Ryan Glasgow-like player, Sam noted the relationship with Bryan Mone. Official visits to USC and Utah loom for a now-crucial recruitment that could go a lot of ways. Scout…uh scout Brandon Huffman also chimed in on why Tufele’s a big deal:
Through the first part of the week, Tufele has been the MVP of the defense. He's yet to lose rep in the one-on-ones and when he went against the East interior offensive linemen during Tuesday's practice, he was beating them repeatedly just as he was the O-linemen for the West team. Tufele has a cat-quick first step and grown man strength. Tufele is considering BYU, Michigan, Ohio State, USC and Utah.
While BYU and USC are probably placeholders, Michigan has at best as good a chance as the other two, which equals not a great chance.
At least our scouting works. Once again solid Oregon commit Rutger Reitmaier is making everybody’s lists for top performers at the Army practices. 247’s Bart Simmons’s East team update depressingly mentioned two names familiar to Michigan fans this cycle as standout defensive tackles: Reitmaier, and OG prospect Tedarrell Slaton, who’s expected to commit to Florida. Slaton was also the largest prospect in attendance, weighing in at 363 lbs.
The Sabanification of Georgia is Not a Good Development
After leading for a year for AL 4* WR Nico Collins, suddenly it appears Georgia has made it a game. Wiltfong:
A source close to Clay-Chalkville Top247 receiver Nico Collins told 247Sports this week he thinks Michigan and Georgia are on top.
He added he thinks will be the Bulldogs and not the Wolverines that ultimately sign the four-star recruit.
That would indeed be an upset of greater magnitude than turning around Isaiah Wilson, since Collins made multiple visits to Michigan on his own dime. He’ll announce on national signing day.
The Dawgs showing some bite on the recruiting trail after Kirby Smart’s first season ended 8-5 in the Liberty Bowl has caused some people in our community to wonder what’s going on down there. The answer is that it was far more extraordinary that Richt had Georgia at merely Lloyd Carr level in the Age of the SEC. Georgia is twice the recruiting ground of any other SEC state save Florida, and in-state rival GT is less of a threat than Michigan State is to us. Plus, Athens is gorgeous, admittedly as nice a town/campus as Ann Arbor; I can personally attest that their gameday atmosphere is unreal. And Georgia's not a bad school either.
I’m sure some Bama stuff is going on there, but the real reason they’re a threat to Michigan now is because Michigan has chosen to invade SEC territory and compete against the best the SEC has to offer.
Scouting Updates on Committed Recruits
Sam Webb did a feature this morning on WTKA on the Michigan guys he’s watched and spoken to down in San Antonio, and while I couldn’t get the Audioboom recording to work MGoUser ColelsCorky kindly summarized it on our board. Among tidbits in there that weren’t mentioned already, Ambry Thomas looks like an early contributor, Deron Irving-Bey is unrefined but also Young Taco-like off the edge, and Tarik Black has been a “revelation.” Huffman’s scouting report agreed on the last:
The Michigan commit has consistently made plays all week and impressed with his smooth route running for being a bigger framed kid. He has shown good, reliable hands and ball skills as well.
Sam and Josh Newkirk caught up with Black on Wednesday and asked him to name his (homer) pick for top cornerback he’s faced, which offers us a nice segue into MI 4* CB Ambry Thomas:
“I’m not being biased or anything like that cause he’s a Michigan commit. But I do think he’s the best corner out here.”
Adding: “He’s a technician, a long ranging guy and has a lot of speed. You've got to work him to get open.”
Another Michigan recruit who could challenge for early playing time, DE/DT Donovan Jeter got a new eval from Brian Dohn, and it sounds like one of those that could accompany a ratings bump:
Final Thought: Jeter offers position flexibility, which is a great thing for a staff and a player. He can be a defensive end, particularly on the weakside where he can use his length and quickness in his first two steps, or he can add weight and strength and move inside. His body can easily handle 290 pounds, and keeping his quickness is not a concern. His hand speed will also allow him to be successful on the interior of the defensive line.
At 6’6/261 Jeter seems large enough to be in the mix for some standard-down spelling of Chase Winovich as a more Taco-shaped WDE, or Rashan Gary’s backup at SDE immediately. Since Gary is expected to take off some of Hurst’s load at tackle this year, the Anchor position has plenty of snaps available.
The Distant Future 2018
After talking up SEC football 6’6 NJ TE Elijah McAllister told Steve Wiltfong he grew up a Michigan fan and that Michigan has been in contact. I may have posted that just for this quote:
“I liked the SEC culture, everyone is great down South. Growing up in New Jersey, a lot of fast-moving people, not everyone is nice. Down South everyone is nice.
MGoBlog’s official Southern correspondent BiSB reports that “Bless your heart” is actually Tennesseean for “F--- you!”, but as we noted above that doesn’t necessarily mean they hate you.
#31 Michigan (11-4, 1-1 B1G) vs
#62 Maryland (13-2, 1-1)
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||3:15 pm ET, Saturday|
|LINE||Michigan -7 (KenPom)|
PBP: Jason Benetti
Analyst: Sean Farnham
Right: Melo Trimble once again leads the Maryland attack. [Paul Sherman]
Dylan dug up an illuminating stat on Zak Irvin after Wednesday night's win over Penn State:
Are mid-range jumpers good shots? The analytically inclined will tell you no, but for Irvin they aren’t bad. According to numbers from Krossover, Irvin makes 47% of his off the dribble mid-range jumpers compared to just 18% of his off the dribble three-point attempts (he makes 42% of his threes off the catch).
As late-clock shots go, Irvin's pet midrange pull-up—especially when he's coming off a screen while going to his right—is a pretty efficient look. That three-point stat, however, is alarming, and it shows why Irvin's shooting from beyond the arc has declined so much from his freshman year: he's not nearly as good creating his own three-point look as he is taking spot-up threes.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. 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. It's a free country.
|G||0||Anthony Cowan||Fr.||6'0, 170||74||21||109||Not really|
|A shorter Trimble: #1 in country in FT rate, good inside the arc, ok outside shot, turnover-prone.|
|G||2||Melo Trimble||Jr.||6'3, 185||80||28||111||No|
|Still Melo: huge usage, gets to FT line a ton, a little turnover-prone, shooting up from last year.|
|G||4||Kevin Huerter||Fr.||6'7, 190||67||15||110||No|
|Takes twice as many threes as twos, makes 38% of them. Disruptive on defense.|
|F||21||Justin Jackson||Fr.||6'7, 225||67||21||104||Not At All|
|Stretch four making 43% of threes, 46% of twos with high FT rate. Solid on offensive boards.|
|F||13||Ivan Bender||So.||6'9, 230||33||18||106||Very|
|Making 67% of his FGs and rebounding well; turnovers and foul trouble limiting his minutes.|
|G||1||Jaylen Brantley||Jr.||5'11, 170||41||17||103||Kinda|
|Just A Shooter™ type only making 40% of twos and 31% of threes. Hit 42% of threes last year.|
|F||10||LG Gill||Sr.||6'8, 230||33||14||90||Yes|
|11-for-36 from field this year. Decent offensive rebounder not adding much otherwise.|
|C||35||Damonte Dodd||Sr.||6'11, 250||21||21||90||Very|
|Very impactful rebounder and shot-blocker, but foul-prone and turns it over a ton.|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
There is no Brian (ill) or Sam (out) so you get Ira, Ed, and Craig Ross.
- E-sports are a thing, and not just in Ira’s house. WTKA actually had to talk about whether they’d start covering it as a sport.
- Craig recounts what hoops and hockey games were like in the Middle Ages, when “water boy” meant the kid whose job it was to mop up the puddles from the roof leaks.
- The Orange Bowl: Florida State’s got talent. Ed didn’t trust his numbers. How much of that was losing Peppers at the last minute? Could Peppers have blocked DeMarcus Walker, because our guards sure as hell couldn’t.
- Next year worries: they’re all concerned about the secondary. Best guess at offensive line makeup.
- Quarterback competition? Speight’s injury makes it way too hard to judge his last two games, but Iowa opens the door for a real ninja.
- Time management fail: hopefully we don’t see that again.
- Skill position guys: receivers to take a step back, RB check again later, TE should be okay.
- Throwing out names to replace Fisch: Pep Hamilton?
- Hoops is hard to judge.
You can catch the entire episode on Michigan Insider's podcast stream on Audioboom.
THE USUAL LINKS
- Helpful iTunes subscribe link
- General podcast feed link
- Direct download link
- What's with the theme music?
So, next year’s offensive line/defensive line…any conce…why did you just run under the bed?
Seth: I ask this because I was playing with a depth chart for next year and I'm kind of more worried about DT than OT.
Ace: It’s an understandable concern, especially now that it looks more likely Michigan could whiff on Solomon/Tufele/Reitmaier. While I’m still more worried about the offensive line, the lack of depth after Mo Hurst and Bryan Mone—who hasn’t been able to stay healthy for anywhere close to a full season—is worrisome. A couple freshmen are going to get pressed into service early.
Seth: That's the thing: there aren't a lot of bullets in that chamber.
Ace: With the number of SDE/5-tech types Michigan is bringing in this class (Hudson, Jeter, Irving-Bey), I wouldn’t be surprised if Rashan Gary slides inside to help out with that.
In related news, it’d be really nice if Lawrence Marshall finally broke through.
Seth: I figure the starting four are locked: Gary at SDE (anchor), Hurst at DT, Mone at NT, Winovich at End. For passing downs they go with a 30 front, pulling Mone and having Gary and Hurst slide down. The top DL backup then is your backup anchor: Kemp, Reuben Jones, Marshall, whoever, who comes in for Gary when Gary is in for Hurst who may be in for Mone. But then Mone hasn't stayed healthy for a year yet. And if you lose any of them we're down to....Dwumfour?
Ace: Paea is the least college-ready of the incoming DTs; I still like him more at guard, to be honest. I think Dwumfour and Hudson are the best bets for those backup spots if Michigan can’t land Tufele. Practice reports from the Army Bowl have been pretty positive for Irving-Bey, as well, so perhaps he could get into the rotation.
Mone’s health is paramount, which is rather terrifying.
Seth: Yeah, none of those guys are likely going to be ready to play nose, and that would be a colossal waste of Hurst.
Ace: I don’t see many scenarios in which Hurst doesn’t see a fair amount of time at nose, unfortunately. He should be much better at it next year than he was in 2015, though.
Seth: The playbook has Hurst-style nose tricks, and I agree 305-pound senior Hurst >>> 275-pound sophomore Hurst. But when you put a guy with his skills over the center and leave him to doubles forever those glorious plays when he's in the backfield before the quarterback has pulled up his read buttons disappear.
Ace: You can still slide Gary inside on those snaps, insert one of the young guys at SDE, and have a pretty decent line out there, though.
[After the jump: we scrape the bottom of the snap stats for potential contributors, and then we do the OL.]
Walton's play in transition late sparked M's comeback. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
It wasn't impressive, or encouraging, or—at least for the first 30 minutes or so—fun, but Michigan pulled their proverbial asses out of the fire with a strong finish against Penn State, closing the game with a 30-15 run to erase a 14-point deficit and steal much-needed conference win.
"Their seniors made plays at the end," said PSU coach Pat Chambers.
"They got the stops when they needed," he added. "That's what senior-led teams do."
"Our seniors, who were not on their 'A' game, were nothing short of spectacular in the last four minutes," John Beilein concurred.
You, Michigan fan, may have cocked an eyebrow at those statements. For tonight, at least, they held true. While they struggled for most of the game, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton both came up big down the stretch. Walton nailed a three to pull Michigan within one, then fed DJ Wilson on a fast break for the go-ahead alley-oop. When PSU's Lamar Stevens grabbed the lead back with a jumper, Irvin answered with his pet midrange shot. Walton extended the lead at the free-throw line, Irvin drilled a tough stepback shot, and the two combined to ice the game at the line, going 6/6 in the waning moments to fend off PSU's comeback effort.
|The game proved frustrating at times for both coaches. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]|
The Wolverines didn't open the game nearly as well as they closed it, of course. This was a boring slog for a half-hour of game time. Penn State got into the paint time and again, while Michigan couldn't do the same or hit their outside shots, going 1-for-9 from three-point range in the first half.
"They drove us wherever they wanted to in the first half," said John Beilein. "And we let them."
The second stanza began much the same way; PSU's first two buckets came in the paint before three straight triples extended the lead to 14. The turning point, according to Beilein, came during an emotional huddle at the under-12 media timeout.
"I didn't have to say anything," Beilein said. "It was all, the circle that I was in, they were all extremely charged up and upset at each other. And I'm not meaning pointing fingers [at each other], they were very encouraging, and very strong words that, no, we're not losing this game. We're not starting off in the league 0 and 2. We're going to make this happen."
Duncan Robinson entered the game shortly after that timeout and proceeded to account for a five-point run of his own with two shots to cut the deficit to eight. The Wolverines steadily chipped away at the lead from there, benefiting from some PSU turnovers to get out in transition for easy points. Then the seniors closed it out.
The season can take two forms from here. Michigan can carry the emotion from that huddle over to the rest of the Big Ten schedule and fight their way into the tournament, or they can play the listless brand of basketball we saw for much of this game and settle for an NIT bid. Only time will tell.