...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Northwestern|
|WHERE||Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, Sunday|
|LINE||Michigan -14 (KenPom)|
Right: Is "hitting hardwood bottom" a term? If so, it applies to Northwestern and Dave Sobolewski.
Northwestern's first season with former Duke assistant Chris Collins at the helm is off to a rough start; the Wildcats are 7-7 with no quality wins, two very bad losses, and they opened Big Ten play by getting pasted by 27 points at home against Wisconsin—the halftime score of that game was 40-14.
6'5" redshirt senior forward Drew Crawford, who missed most of last season with a torn labrum, is easily Northwestern's best player now that he's back at full strength. Despite his stature, he's the team's best rebounder on both ends of the floor, and the offense leans on him heavily—he takes nearly 30% of the team's shots when he's on the court. Almost 70% of those shots are jumpers, per hoop-math, and his shooting percentages reflect that: he's hitting just 44% of his twos while connecting on 39% of his threes, and he doesn't get to the line at a high rate—when he does, he shoots 81% there.
The next-highest usage Wildcat is 6'1" point guard Dave Sobolewski, whose junior year isn't going too well:
Dave Sobolewski's No. 1 basketball skill is exaggerating contact
— Sippin' on Purple (@sippinonpurple) December 28, 2013
It's worth noting that I have no idea what Dave Sobolewski's No. 2 basketball skill is.
— Sippin' on Purple (@sippinonpurple) December 28, 2013
On the plus side, he's got a very impressive free throw rate. On the negative side is, well, just about everything else: Sobolewski has hit 17-of-44 twos and just 11 of his team-high 59 three-point attempts, his assist and turnover rates are just about equal, and his offensive rating is a cringe-worthy 80.7—if Dave Sobolewski was a team, he'd rank seven points per 100 possessions behind last-place Grambling nationally.
Flanking Sobolewski in the backcourt is 6'4" junior JerShon Cobb, a solid outside shooter (37.5 3P%) who takes a ton of two-point jumpers (44% of his shots) that he makes at a paltry 25% clip; when he manages to get to the rim, he's a very efficient finisher, but that hasn't happened often this season. Cobb is a solid defensive rebounder for a guard—though, oddly, a complete non-factor on the offensive glass—and he distributes the ball pretty well.
Glenn Robinson III's status for tomorrow is officially questionable; if there's a game for him to miss, though, it's this one, as the 6'5" Crawford is Northwestern's nominal power forward, and the starting three—redshirt freshman Sanjay Lumpkin—is also listed at 6'5". Lumpkin provides decent rebounding and a solid 55.6 eFG%; he's also Northwestern's lowest-usage regular and, considering his lack of touches, a bit of a turnover machine.
The most intruiging matchup of this game will be Michigan's bigs against seven-foot center Alex Olah, whose season can be encapsulated in his last two games: after fouling out in just 12 minutes against DePaul while failing to record a point, he was the team's lone bright spot against the Badgers, scoring 25 points on 10/12 shooting with six rebounds (four offensive) and two blocks. Aside from the Wisconsin game, he's struggled against decent competition while having his best outings against the likes of Gardner Webb and Mississippi Valley State. He's most consistent as a rim protector, posting a block rate just outside the top 100 in the country.
The most notable reserve is 6'2" guard Tre Demps, who's third on the team in scoring, mostly on the strength of his 38% three-point shooting. He's much less effective inside the arc (42%) and doesn't add much to the box score otherwise. 6'7" forwards Nathan Taphorn and Kale Abrahamson also provide decent outside shooting off the bench; both take the lion's share of their shots from long range.
The Wildcats have only defeated two teams in KemPom's top 250, and those were home victories against middling teams: #149 Western Michigan and #192 Brown. They've been handled easily by the quality teams on their schedule—Stanford, Mizzou, UCLA, NC State, and Wisconsin—and have two ugly home losses on their resume to #150 Illinois State and #132 DePaul.
Four factors (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||47.5 (242)||17.2 (96)||25.8 (317)||40.6 (165)|
|Defense||45.7 (64)||16.1 (300)||28.2 (51)||41.9 (201)|
Pretty much the only good thing Northwestern does offensively is not turn the ball over; they're equally ineffective shooting from inside and outside the arc, don't hit the offensive glass, and don't get to the line frequently—they're also getting an astounding 14.5% of their two-point attempts blocked. Unsurprisingly, they rank 262nd in offensive efficiency on KemPom.
The defense is statistically pretty decent—61st in defensive efficiency—though that appears to be due to a litany of terrible non-conference opponents; Mizzou, UCLA, NC State, and Wisconsin each scored at least 1.15 points per possession against the 'Cats.
Get Olah away from the hoop. Olah is Northwestern's only real shot-blocker, not to mention the team's only viable big man—his backup, 6'9" senior Nikola Cerina, isn't nearly as good a rebounder or defender and he's currently posting a mind-blowingly bad 61.7 ORtg. With Michigan's size advantage on the perimeter, running lots of pick-and-rolls with Jon Horford or Jordan Morgan as the screener should get Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert good looks at the rim while also putting pressure on Olah to stay out of foul trouble.
Step up, Irvin. If GRIII can't give it a go tomorrow, the onus likely falls on Zak Irvin to match up with Drew Crawford defensively. While he's certainly got the size to defend Crawford, Irvin will need to focus more on the defensive glass than he has all season—not the easiest task since Crawford can step out and shoot from distance.
Run, run, run. Northwestern plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country, but they miss so many jump shots that there should be oppotunities for Michigan to push the pace even though the Wildcats prioritize transition defense over offensive rebounding. The results of turning up the heat are two-fold: Michigan can get some easy baskets on the fast break and a high-paced game could tire out a thin Northwestern front line. It all starts with Horford and Morgan; while their rebounding acumen isn't in question, neither has shown the same outlet passing ability as Mitch McGary, and getting the ball to the guards with alacrity will be key to getting upcourt in a hurry.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 14
On the status of Glenn Robinson III’s ankle injury: “I can’t give you much of an update. He had rehab all day yesterday. We’ll know more tomorrow, but we really don’t know right now.
On whether or not it’s a long-term injury: “We’ll know more. I’m not sure. We’ll have to just wait and see. We’d love to see him out on the court tomorrow. You and I and everyone else can find out tomorrow.”
“The young man, he eats right, he trains right, he’s in the gym all the time,” Beilein said. “I couldn’t be happier for any player ever that I’ve coached.”
I bet 2014 won't get rabies and try to kill me!
Let's have one more official reiteration: if the "2013 Must Die" meme shall go forth to the greater internet, let's all be on the same page as to its meaning.
Bronxblue in the Best & Worst* season finale:
While I contend any year when one of your major programs plays in the national championship game and has a player win all of the national POY awards can’t be that bad, the struggles by football and hockey were unexpectedly traumatic.
LSA's 2013 eulogy:
First, allow me to focus on the positive, for it wasn’t all gloom.
Ron Utah's bowl aftermath:
This sums-up our 2013 season
No. For that 2013 gif to be 2013 first you'd need a small child standing by who will be cured of cancer if he manages to break open 10 or more coconuts. The first four would explode, the fifth would almost, and only then would he start slamming his fist on the I-beam and such. Once it's clear he can't get to 10 it'll begin to rain and he'll get one to just barely crack, and that'll be Northwestern. And he'll have a perfect shot at a dark, evil, cancer-loving coconut but it'll rebound and defeat him.
The possibility for good is what separates a bunch of crappy things from real tragedy. 2008 was a bunch of crappy things. 2013 was soul-devouring tragedy. Without the plausible hope of McGary, or a triumvirate of elite commits, or offensive line improvement, or a sweep in Boston, there's no dong to be punched. Putting down a rabid offensive coordinator is one thing; sweet Heiko crying tears for the inarguably good guy he interviewed as he points a shotgun toward the cage is quite another.
Actually if you're looking for a good 2013 analogy, let's go back to the beginning of the season and Eye of the Tiger's comparison to A Game of Thrones. First you come to love the Starks and their dire wolves and their quaint ways, and believe in their mission of protecting mankind from the evils beyond the wall while we wait for dragons to show up and unite everybody. Then they are (SPOILER:) systematically raped, tortured, disfigured, and murdered by a world full of sociopaths. Dennis Norfleet is Aria: you like this character, huh? Okay we'll just leave her out of an entire book then.
* [Warning: The first two Gallon highlight links go to game reels that both begin with our defense getting shredded.]
We have subs but this is crazy. Inside the Box Score isn't a fan of Michigan's defensive substitutions:
|The most mystifying thing about the 2013 defense was QWash's disappearance from it.|
On the first drive of the game, I saw numerous subs get into the game. Are you telling me that our guys are getting tired 10 minutes into the game? I want the best guys out there who give us the best chance to win. I want guys to get into the flow of the game, read the queues and start figuring out the offense. Instead, there is a constant revolving door where guys are being shuttled in and out before they get a chance to get into the flow of the game or break a sweat and they spend more energy sprinting to and fro the sideline than they do playing the game.
It's nice to go into 2014 with the 2nd team all having lots of reps, but it's a small nice with a downside of starters who aren't progressing.
By now Ross and Morgan and Wilson ought to be going all game, and the DL starters coming out only when they need a spell. The best line play Mattison ever got was when he was forced to roll with Martin and RVB all game and those two developed such a rapport that they could toy with offenses. "Everybody plays" was great for guys like me in Little League, but there's a reason teams stop doing that at about a middle school competitive level.
The other thing from the box score is Quinton Washington's continued absence. The most plausible explanation is Mattison thought to roll with penetrators against spread-to-run offenses. If that's true, it's more evidence that nobody on this staff even understands that offense, which bane is a two-gapping, double-team-swallowing nose tackle.
Etc. Hockey goal-by-goal analysis and poll updates. Great diary from JeepinBen wherein Fielding Yost reminds us not to listen to Sparties who can't fathom why people in their home state root for the other team in their home state. Course after this season I'm kind of wondering myself.
Photo via Marilyn Indahl/USA TODAY Sports
It looked for all the world like a road loss. Zak Irvin, with just five made shots, led the team in scoring. Nik Stauskas finished just 3/7 from the field. Glenn Robinson III left the game early in the second half with an apparent ankle injury, finishing with six points. Caris LeVert played easily his worst game of the year. Michigan was outrebounded by a whopping 44.1% to 17.9% on the offensive glass. Oh, and Minnesota's last-gasp shot even caught the backboard.
Somehow, some way, the Wolverines clawed their way to a three-point win to open Big Ten play. Irvin's five three-pointers on eight attempts kept Michigan in the game after Robinson fell awkwardly following his fourth block of the night; while GRIII eventually returned from the locker room, he never re-entered the game. While Stauskas struggled from the field, he made play after play down the stretch, dishing out a game-high seven assists—including two in the waning minutes to set up Jon Horford dunks—and throwing down his signature "Game ... Blouses" dunk to give the team a late three-point lead.
With Jordan Morgan in early foul trouble and Mitch McGary spectating in a suit, Horford came up huge, scoring 14 points on 6/8 shooting and pulling down nine rebounds—five more than anyone else on the team—while adding in two steals and a block. While Horford made a few defensive errors guarding Elliott Eliason, who finished with ten points and ten rebounds, his tireless effort in the middle was the difference in this game.
Minnesota took advantage of Horford's occasional mishap and Robinson's absence on the interior, but they couldn't get it going on the perimeter, hitting just five of 19 three-point attempts. They had a tough time finding a clean look on the outside, and Michigan also forced 15 turnovers, eight of those steals.
The end of the game got a little nerve-wracking, to say the least, as the officials initially botched an out-of-bounds call—not to mention missing at least one obvious foul—when Minnesota tried to pressure Stauskas down three points with 22 seconds remaining. While Michigan got the ball back after a review, they ended up with Derrick Walton going to the line instead of Stauskas, and Walton missed both free throws. Fortunately for Michigan, the Gophers' Andre Hollins couldn't tie it up on the next possession, and a Horford free throw extended the lead to four.
Even then, the game wasn't quite over, as Stauskas committed the cardinal sin of fouling a jump shooter, stepping under Malik Smith on a wayward three-point attempt. Smith drilled all three freebies with six seconds remaining to make it a 61-60 game; after a pair of Stauskas free throws, the Gophers had one last chance to tie with five seconds to play. Deandre Mathieu managed to get a decent shot for the tie on the run at the top of the key; to the considerable relief of Wolverines with still-raw wounds from Evan Turner and Ben Brust, Mathieu's prayer wasn't answered.
It wasn't pretty, and there's lingering concern about Robinson's health to boot, but it's tough to overstate the importance of a conference road win for this team. Michigan is 1-0 in the Big Ten (and UNDEFEATED IN 2014) after a game in which the tired coachspeak platitude of "facing adversity" very much applied. Not a bad start to the new year.
I managed to navigate New Year's Eve and a Michigan State Rose Bowl win without overindulging myself, so of course I'm currently suffering from some sort of avian death flu.* The combination of black tea, Ricola, ibuprofen, and pseudoephedrine in my system currently has my reality looking like something out of a Flaming Lips music video, so I apologize in advance if none of this makes any damn sense.
|WHAT||Michigan at Minnesota|
|WHERE||Williams Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota|
|WHEN||7:00 pm Eastern, Thursday|
|LINE||Minnesota –2 (KenPom)|
Right: 5'9" point guard Deandre Mathieu is a speedster (unsurprising), good shooter (ditto), and very solid finisher at the rim in both transition and halfcourt situations (wait, what?).
Minnesota is a very different team from last year's squad after the departures of hyper-athletic terrors Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, the main reasons the Gophers were the nation's best offensive rebounding team, and the dismissal of head coach Tubby Smith, whose insane 11-man rotation strategy likely cost the team a couple wins. This year's team, headed by Richard Pitino—yes, son of Rick—is smaller, more perimeter-oriented, and far less terrorizing on the boards; they're also a quality outfit with a lot of experience.
The backcourt duo of Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins (no relation) returns, and they're the two highest-usage players on the team. Andre is the team's leading scorer (16.2 ppg) despite shooting a decidedly mediocre 49.0 eFG%; his decent three-point shooting (35%) and knack for getting to the free throw line, where he shoots 85%, help cover for too many two-point jumpers that he hits at just a 29% rate. Austin is also a decent outside shooter, more efficient inside the arc, and the superior defender, and while he lacks Andre's ability to get to the line frequently he's a very solid rebounder for a guard. Both players average right around three assists per game while doing a good job of taking care of the basketball.
Joining the Hollinses in the backcourt is 5'9" point guard Deandre Mathieu, playing his first season for the Gophers after transferring from Morehead State. He's been something of a revelation as the team's most efficient offensive player, posting a top-50 assist rate nationally with a very impressive 50/57/80 2P%/3P%/FT% split this season; that includes a 65% mark at the rim despite only half of those attempts coming in transition, per hoop-math. In addition to getting to the line frequently, he's got a top-50 steal rate nationally. Michigan's point guards must be very aware of his lightning quickness on both ends of the floor.
The guards do most of the heavy lifting offensively, as the starting frontcourt of 6'8" forward Oto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason play relatively limited roles on that end. Osenieks is in his third season of unsuccessfully trying to be an efficient stretch four; he's not much of a rebounder at either end, and while he's greatly improved his two-point shooting (56%, up from 42% last season), he's hit just 7 of 24 three-pointers after going 2-for-26(!) as a sophomore and 11-for-41 as a freshman. Eliason is the team's best rebounder by leaps and bounds—there's a pun in there somewhere—and his 10.5% block rate ranks 40th in the country. His shots, which don't come too often, are split evenly between looks at the basket, where he shoots 71%, and two-point jumpers, which he makes just 20% of the time.
The primary backup at guard is 6'2" senior Malik Smith, who came to Minnesota from Florida International along with Pitino; he's a pure three-point specialist currently shooting 37% from downtown. Providing minutes off the bench in the frontcourt are 6'9" sophomore Joey King, a good finisher around the rim who can't rebound a lick, and 6'10", 250-pound junior Maurice Walker, a productive rebounder, scorer, and shot-blocker who only plays ~20% of the team's available minutes because he's absurdly foul prone, committing 7.9(!!) per 40 minutes.
Minnesota is 11-2 on the year with both losses coming in the Maui Invitational, the first an eight-point defeat by #5 Syracuse—not bad—and the second by 14 points at the hands of #40 Arkansas in which the Gophers allowed 52 second-half points—bad. Minnesota has otherwise played relatively midding opponents in the comfortable confines of The Barn, where they defeated common opponent Florida State by ten, with the exception of a blowout road win over #72 Richmond.
Four factors (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||51.0 (107)||16.3 (65)||36.4 (59)||39.9 (181)|
|Defense||46.9 (95)||20.9 (50)||29.4 (90)||34.5 (73)|
Minnesota is quite solid across the board, ranking 25th in offensive efficiency and 68th defensively. With solid outside shooting (35.8%) and strong offensive rebounding, the offensive production appears to be quite sustainable. Defensively, however, some cracks may start appearing as the competition stiffens; despite ranking 248th nationally in 3PA/FGA allowed, the Gophers rank a fortuitous 28th in three-point percentage defense, with opponents currently hitting just 29.4% from outside. Arkansas managed to light them up from the outside, hitting 8-of-17 threes, and Syracuse connected on a respectable 5-of-13 shots from distance.
Fire away. Building on the three-point stats above, as well as the absence of Mitch McGary, I think it behooves Michigan to focus on generating good looks from the outside. They have a size advantage across the board in the backcourt, as the Gopher starting guards stand at 5'9", 6'2", and 6'4". Add in the serious shot-blocking threat of Eliason and it appears Michigan's best chance to produce points will be on the perimeter.
Find the right guy at the point. While Mathieu's size means he should be exploited defensively by Michigan's point guards, there are matchup concerns for the Wolverines against him, as well. Mathieu is quite the pickpocket, which could be tough on Derrick Walton, who's still pretty turnover-prone. That could mean giving Spike Albrecht, the better ballhander, the majority of the minutes is the play, but Mathieu's ability to get to the rim offensively could be a problem with that matchup. Michigan could try to go big and give Caris LeVert extensive time at the point, which would exascerbate Minnesota's size deficiency on defense, but is he quick enough to stay in front of Mathieu? I'm not sure, honestly. It'll be very interesting to see how Beilein manages his lineups tonight.
Close out. Almost 40% of Minnesota's shots are taken beyond the arc, and they're a better three-point shooting team (35.8%, 110th nationally) than they are at converting inside the arc (49.2%, 155th). Michigan has to stay disciplined with their switches on the perimeter, make sure to get their hands in shooter's faces, and generally do everything they can to force the Gopher guards to work for contested inside looks instead of open outside shots. If the perimeter defense isn't up to par, the Gophers could open up a big lead and get serious momentum on their side at home.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Minnesota by 2
*I'm not a doctor, but I believe that's the correct medical term for my self-diagnosed malady.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE
Black and Gordon are the only two starters departing. [Eric Upchurch and Bryan Fuller]
- DT Jibreel Black. Went from average-sized SDE to undersized three-tech to massively incredibly undersized NT over course of the season; effective pass rusher; clubbed by double teams a lot, especially late; NFL FA camp cut type.
- S Thomas Gordon. Inexplicably futzed with midseason as coaches were dissatisfied with him for reasons obscure to me; was that one touchdown on which he was a step late against MSU really that bad? Never a playmaker, but rarely busted large; a solid performer; coaches don't think they'll miss him, I guess.
- SAM Cam Gordon. Michigan's leader in sacks on the season, which says a lot about the Michigan pass rush, no offense Mr. Gordon; beat out first by Beyer and then by Ryan once he returned; did provide quality depth.
- NT Quinton Washington. Lack of utilization only explained by nagging injury, disease, or vampirism, assuming that really bright stadium lights also qualify in this version of vampirism. Like seriously they played Jibreel Black at NT over this guy after he was very good as a junior. Inexplicable. I guess they won't miss him much because they didn't play him?
- Nickelback/S Courtney Avery. Pushed out of corner rotation by freshmen; relegated to rotating in at safety, where he blew coverages because he played them like he was a nickelback. Missed a tackle on Braxton Miller spectacularly.
- SLB Jake Ryan. Was not the barbarian he was as a sophomore with just 4.5 TFLs in his eight games played, but came back from ACL tear in about three weeks so was probably not full-go. Michigan really needs him to return to his terrorizing ways as a senior.
- MLB Desmond Morgan. Better player than he's given credit for; had to deal with way too many free-releasing Gs who saw Michigan's DTs as no threat late; thumper; coverage was pretty solid, at least insofar as when someone tried to dump a ball over Morgan's head he was inches away from making a play.
- CB Blake Countess. Ruthlessly exposed by Tyler Lockett in bowl game; prior to that, largely avoided because when not avoided he was picking off six passes. When not put up against Tyler Lockett, very good, and as a redshirt sophomore. A step up would maybe put him somewhere in the vicinity of All Big Ten.
- CB Raymon Taylor. Targeted extensively; won some; lost some; four INTs of his own, most of them impressive. Run support a problem. Probably good! Probably.
- S Jarrod Wilson. Inexplicably benched midseason like Gordon, then explicably so in the OSU game because he had a huge cast on his hand. Not a playmaker, not a source of WHY DID YOU NO OUCH touchdowns, which is pretty good for a sophomore. Will be relied upon heavily in secondary with little experience other than his person.
- WLB James Ross III. Year lacked impact thanks to poor DT play in front of him; still second on the team in tackles with 85. Never going to be a big guy; needs the defense to shape itself around his abilities by having big ol' absorbers in front so he can slash. Prognosis: maybe.
- SDE Brennen Beyer. Impact rusher early in the year—at least in the context of Michigan's pass rush—faded later; when Ryan came back was shuffled from SAM to SDE, where he was wildly undersized. Hoping for a Roh 2.0 senior season.
- WDE Frank Clark. Total non-factor for first half of season, and just when everyone had given up turned it on and turned in a Tim Jamison-as-a-senior year with 12 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. Somehow became second team All Big Ten with those numbers and 43 total tackles; next year may deserve that.
- DT Willie Henry. When Willie Henry says he trusts a man as far as he can throw them, he means it as a compliment. Massively strong freshman alternated person-hurlin' with guys getting under his pads and blowing him up. Needs technique badly; if he gets it will be fantastic.
- NT Ondre Pipkins. Making some progress when he tore his ACL midseason, complicating many things. Can a very large man keep up the conditioning and recover in time to be effective by fall? Let's hope so.
- MLB Joe Bolden. Sophomore essentially a third starter behind Ross and Morgan; still tends to take hits rather than deliver them; blew a lot of coverages early in the season; figures to reprise role next year.
- SDE/DT Chris Wormley. Tall guy; made a few plays; mostly a nonfactor; freshman.
- An Enormous Pile Of Returning, Undifferentiated Defensive Linemen. Ojemudia, Charlton, Glasgow, Godin, Heitzman, etc.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
Pipkins and Henry are big boys. [Fuller]
A nose tackle! Probably. Also, more size. Michigan's line went from somewhat undersized to massively so when Pipkins went out and Beyer moved from SAM to SDE, giving you a line that often read: Beyer(250 lbs), Black (285), Henry (306), Clark (280). In retrospect, that was asking for it, and Ohio State gave us what we asked for.
Next year Black is out, replaced by some combination of Pipkins, Henry, Maurice Hurst, and maybe Richard Ash. If Henry does get drafted into the nose rotation, Godin and Wormley will probably man the three-tech at 300-ish pounds each. Beyer, meanwhile, will embark on the bacon smoothie diet Craig Roh did as he prepared to play his senior year as an undersized SDE, and while he's still going to be less than ideal at that spot he'll be a lot more plausible at 280.
Jabrill Peppers. Is it too much to hype Jabrill Peppers up as a potential program-changing dude? In year one, probably. But there's an obvious role for him on this defense: boundary corner. Michigan's DBs are generally tiny dudes, and the guys who aren't, like Channing Stribling, are skinny. Michigan could use a 210 pound corner, especially since that pushes Taylor to the nickel package, and that seems like a pretty good nickel package.
Someone next to Wilson. The greatest uncertainty on the defense is who takes over for Thomas Gordon. Josh Furman is an option after getting some playing time late last year; he does not seem like a good one. The other candidates:
- Delano Hill. Claim to fame is being in the middle of OSU fracas that got a couple of contributors booted. Supposedly a guy with a good understanding of safety; definitely a quality athlete.
- Jeremy Clark. 6'4" potential ballhawk will be a redshirt sophomore.
- Dymonte Thomas. Supposed lock starter after spring marginalized; blocked a punt in the opener and missed a tackle when forced into the lineup in the Nebraska game by Countess's concussion.
- Converted Corner. There are a lot of corners and one may get a look further back. Stribling and Reon Dawson are the most likely, because they're not 5'10".
It's nice to have four options instead of two, or one, or zero; there is no indicator who's going to get the nod. Something to watch in spring.
WHAT'S THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Veterans. I've piled the various returning DL into one bullet point and glossed over Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis; Michigan loses just two starters and three contributors while returning everyone else. They'll have three year starters at CB (two, in fact), LB (also two), and on the DL (possibly two, depending on how you classify Brennen Beyer).
Depth. Five guys go out the door, and in compensation Michigan gets to age 14 defensive linemen and welcome in Bryan Mone early. Michigan has a solid two deep everywhere on the line save NT, which is still in the air; they return three ILBs with a lot of experience; they may be bumping a senior three year starter to nickel depending on Peppers, and where do Lewis and Stribling go this year, let alone the two corners they redshirted a year ago?
WHAT'S THE LAST SEASON OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Pass rush. Michigan was 70th in sack percentage (sacks / (passing attempts + sacks)) this year, which is worlds better than it felt like. It is still not good. A half step forward from Frank Clark gets him to 8 or 10, and then a full year of a healthy Jake Ryan adds another 5 or 6, and… actually, you're getting towards pretty good already there. There is the potential for this to move into the 30s, which would be a huge boost to every unit's pass defense.
Getting crushed by spread 'n' shreds. This post was going to be a lot sunnier before the last two games of the year, in which Michigan was bludgeoned. Before that they'd turned in a lot of good performances in which they gave up the ghost late. Their one truly bad performance was getting smoked by Indiana, and that was seemingly more for reasons of unfamiliarity and lack of preparation than out-and-out talent.
Then OSU and KSU laid waste. Now you go back and look at Northwestern clubbing Michigan last year only to lose on a Hail Mary and South Carolina's crew of 5'9" speedsters slicing up M's secondary as South Carolina used their QB to paper over the fact their OL couldn't block for their tailback. Or Ohio State putting up 34 in their lost 6-7 year. There seems to be a developing narrative of Michigan failing to contain spread-to-run offenses more often than not. For every 2013 Minnesota there are two 2011 Ohio States. I would say this is reminiscent of the Carr era, but Michigan would have to be a lot better for that to be true.
Getting crushed generally, up the middle. I want to move Henry to nose tackle in my mind, but then 3-tech becomes this jumble of Wormley/Godin/Strobel/Poggi and I'm not sure how confident I am in that. But then: can you rely on Pipkins, and who is your 0.5 starter at nose? Hurst? Ash? I don't want to move Henry out of the starting lineup, but I don't want him trying to play two positions, and I don't want a questionable Pipkins backed up by a freshman.
WHAT'S INEXPLICABLE JIMI HENDRIX
Are the corners actually good? Now we get to extend this argument about Taylor to a larger stage. PRO: between them the two starting CBs had ten interceptions, virtually all of them the impressive sort where the corner makes a play. No batted balls here. CON: Michigan was 49th in YPA allowed at 6.9. PRO: with a crappy pass rush and safety issues. CON: what safety issues?
I'll take 10 INTs and slightly above average pass defense with that pass rush and those huge chunks of yards Stribling and Lewis gave up because of phasing/gypsy issues. Yes, Tyler Lockett annihilated them. Tyler Lockett does that to everybody. Every-damn-body. Against mortals, I would expect Taylor/Countess to be a high quality pairing. But, you know… Lockett.
What about James Ross? He was supposed to be the bees' knees according to someone. Oh, right, me. He was kind of eh, his year bookended by passing spread after passing spread in which he was mostly dropping into zones effectively and injury. More than anyone else he was hurt by having Black and Henry as DTs, as those guys tended to dart into the backfield to do something and get all the credit or get blown up. In the first case there was a guy releasing into him free; in the second he had to try to pick around three guys moving the wrong way to make his read worth anything.
I think Ross will be good if Michigan can keep him clean.
Oh good another new safety. I hate new safeties.
MANDATORY WILD-ASS GUESS
Despite the alarming trend at the end of the year, the arrow does point up for this outfit, which loses very few contributors and has a ton of guys competing to break through into the starting lineup. There are something like five cornerbacks I'd be relatively confident to see on the field, which is 3-5 more than usual. The linebackers return almost entirely intact; the line does as well. They should be better—possibly a lot better.
The major looming issue is defensive tackle. The Pipkins injury was the worst possible one for the defense to suffer, as they have scant options right now a position on the field where you need at least 1.5 starters.
I don't think I can predict this is a top 10-ish defense without one elite DL, and I don't think I see that happening. Clark and Henry both have potential; I don't think either is going to truly blow up. But plenty of depth and experience everywhere should provide Michigan an opportunity to cut down on the mistakes significantly and ramp it up against everyone who can't just maul them on the line. How many teams will be able to do that… let's say two? Two.
I still think this is a unit that takes a leap forward next year. It's a leap forward from ten spots further back now, but a legit top 20 outfit is my median expectation.
Yea, and God did say unto his people, “hot damn, I’m glad it’s basketball season, for verily, football season sucked.”
~ First Letter of St. Paul to the Annarborites
With the dong-punching albatross of 2013 behind us, we can move fully into winter sports season with vigor and aplomb. But without Mitch McGary. Worst. Trip. Around. The. Sun. EVER.
Every week we’ll keep tabs on Michigan’s non-conference opponents, the state of the Big Ten, the potential NCAA Tournament draw, and the suggested viewing /rooting guide for the upcoming week.
RPI Effect Only Teams:
It’s becoming clear that Michigan’s non-conference schedule was assembled by people who either don’t know how RPI works,* don’t know how math works, or aren’t sold on this whole “Arabic numerals are the wave of the future” thing. Three of Michigan’s opponents, UMass-Lowell (1-11), South Carolina State (4-8) and Houston Baptist (3-9) are below the 300 mark to KenPom, and Coppin State (4-9) fails to crack the super-elite group in the Top 270. Ben Folds Five wrote a song about these teams. Hint: it is not “The Luckiest.”
|RPI: drowning slowly.|
Outside of these masonry-like objects, Michigan played three of the ideal good-enough-to-not-kill-your-RPI-numbers-but-not-good-enough-to-beat-you-unless-LeVert,-Stauskas,-and-McGary-all-miss-significant-time type teams. Long Beach State (4-9) has won three in a row, including wins over Nevada and USC, and gave VCU and NC State some real competition. Holy Cross (6-6) hasn’t really beaten anyone, but they have beaten six non-anyones, so that’s something. Charlotte (8-4) has wins over Michigan and Kansas State, presumably because they were mad about not being invited to the BWW Bowl.
Big Sorts of Teams
Iowa State (12-0)
Significant Wins: Michigan, Iowa, @ BYU, Boise St.
Losses: [404 file not found]
The Cyclones weren’t ranked when Michigan played them, but they definitely are now. Forwards Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang are both shooting around 50% from the field, with Ejim nearly averaging a double-double (18.0 ppg and 8.8 rpg). One caveat is that they have only played one game away from
Iowa City Des Moines Corn Rapids Ames, that being a 2 point win over BYU.
Florida State (9-3)
Significant Wins: VCU, UMass
Losses: Michigan (waives tiny flag), @ Florida, @ Minnesota
How important does that crazy-ass Michigan comeback in Puerto Rico feel now? At the time it was an amusing, “oh that’s a nifty little win,” but in hindsight it is a “THANK YOU BASED GOD” non-conference salvager.
Florida State could easily be 10-1 right now. They blew a 16 point lead against Michigan (including an 8 point lead and possession with 3 minutes left), and lost to Florida by 1 on a last-second offensive rebound despite outshooting and generally outplaying the Gators. Still, they look to be in that second tier of the ACC behind Pitt, Syracuse, and Duke, and MAYBE UNC. They are far from the most skilled team in the country, but will pose some significant matchup problems for a number of teams, given their overall largeness/tallness and tendency to be freeking huge. As Michigan’s best NonCon win, you will want to cheer hard for the Seminoles.
Significant Wins: Michigan, UCLA
Losses: Kansas, Arizona
From the makers of Jadeveon Clowney comes: Jabari Parker!!! Now with kung-fu crossover and Dick Vitale utility belt!!! Duke’s true freshman guard/wing/forward/goalie/ambassador/imperial wizard has been exactly as advertised, looking like the most college-ready of the mega-frosh. He’s averaging 22 and 8, and has scored 19+ points in every game but one this season. Guess which one.*
|Duke is really missing the Yellow Plumlee|
The weird thing is, we really don’t know that much about Duke. They lost to the two elite teams they played, beat Michigan (at home) and UCLA (at MSG), and beyond that have dispatched a large pile of unconvincing opponents by occasionally unconvincing margins. They beat Vermont by 1 point, ECU by 9, and Alabama by 10. Maybe it’s the fact that they are down to three Plumlees on the roster, which isn’t enough to form up the Megazord. They have played great offense and middling defense, and are probably among the favorites in the ACC once Parker settles in (/shudder).
*to those who accused GRIII of not being “into” that game, I suggest you try to stand between a bull mastiff and a squirrel for 40 minutes and tell me how it goes for you.
Significant Wins: San Diego St, Duke, @ Michigan
Losses: [Should have lost to Michigan but KenPom lied to all of us]
They’re okay, I guess. Arizona is deservingly number one in the polls, based on how the polls work, and are definitely among the elite teams, but… eh? Purported super-frosh Aaron Gordon has had a whelming start; according to people who watch last night basketball regularly, he's playing great defense and flashing hilarious athleticism, but isn’t consistent or diverse on the offensive end of the court. Arizona continues to look to Nick Johnson as their primary scoring option, and he’s dropping about 16 ppg. They’re clearly the class of a middle-heavy PAC 12.
Significant Wins: @ UConn
Losses: BYU, Pitt, Michigan (/blasts Katy Perry, waives crap out of tiny flag)
Stanford isn’t all that good. But they are okay. And Michigan beat them. So we will continue to treat them as if they are good. We call this the Akron Delusion.
Pay no attention to the fact that Stanford’s only remotely impressive win was a grinding, brick-laden slugfest over a UConn team that decided to play the entire second half in the style of breakdance-fighting. Seriously: Stanford was down by 10 at the half, scored 25 points in the second half, and won. That’s a crime against ManBearPig.
[After the jump: objects ahead, and the return of THING THEY ARE LIKE]