"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
|WHAT||Illinois at Michigan|
|WHERE||Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|WHEN||1:00 PM Eastern, Sunday|
|LINE||Michigan –11 (Kenpom)|
Right: John Groce's Jedi mind tricks weren't enough to stop a 14-point Michigan win the last time around. (Photo: Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)
When Michigan travelled to The Other Assembly Hall a month ago, they faced an Illini squad that had stumbled to losses in five of their last eight games; the Wolverines, on the other hand, had only suffered one conference loss.
This time around, the Illini are riding a five-game winning streak—including upsets of Indiana and Minnesota—while Michigan has lost three of their last five, with this game coming on the heels of an uninspired performance against a terrible Penn State outfit.
Since I previewed this Illinois team last month, I'll save a few words and point you in that direction. The short version: three guards—Brandon Paul (never met a shot he didn't like), Tracy Abrams (mostly inside the arc), and DJ Richardson (mostly outside the arc)—are all volume shooters. None are particularly efficient, but if they catch fire the Illini can beat anyone in the country. Wing Joseph Bertrand is a low-usage but efficient player, while backup forward Tyler Griffey is an extreme streak shooter who's been more cold than hot this season. Power forward Sam McLaurin is notable around these parts for his inconceivably low rebound rate (6.5 DR%(!)), as is center Nnanna Egwu (13.0% despite being 6'11"), who at least provides a strong shot-blocking presence.
Illinois has collected an impressive a set of signature wins, with triumphs over #52 Butler, #4 Gonzaga, #13 Ohio State, #2 Indiana, and #18 Minnesota this season. Aside from an ugly 14-point home loss to Northwestern and a 7-point defeat at Purdue, none of their losses has come to a team ranked lower than #23 (Missouri).
Four factors, conference play only:
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||46.6 (7)||17.4 (6)||33.0 (4)||30.6 (8)|
|Defense||49.2 (10)||21.5 (1)||34.3 (9)||42.1 (10)|
Illinois does a couple things very well. Offensively, it's scoring inside the arc, where they connect on 48.9% of their shots (#3 in the B1G); of course, they're largely content to shoot three-pointers, which they hit at just a 28.8% rate. Defensively, they force a ton of turnovers, but that's about all they're doing well on that end.
The keys from last time around still work pretty well:
Protect the rock. Illinois gets a ton of blocks and steals, but otherwise their defense is underwhelming. If Michigan takes care of the basketball, they should win, but they could get into trouble in their outside shots aren't falling—the turnovers could come if they try to force their way to the basket.
Hands off. The Illini have the best free-throw percentage in the conference and a couple guys who can attack the basket in Paul and Abrams. With their shooting struggles, Illinois would love to get opportunities for easy points; thankfully for Michigan, they're still #2 in the country in free throw rate against. Playing like they've been playing should take care of this.
Run, run, run. Michigan can really open up this game if they're able to get out in transition, and there should be plenty of chances off long rebounds when Illinois shoots (and misses) from outside. Illinois plays at a higher tempo than most Big Ten teams, but that may not play in their favor—Nebraska had success (or at least kept Michigan close) by grinding the pace to a halt and refusing to let Michigan get out on the break.
The biggest key for Michigan, of course, is making strides with their interior defense. The Illini, however, don't boast much in the way of an interior scoring threat, and Abrams is the only guy who attacks the rim with great frequency (Paul is very capable of doing so, but mostly chooses to shoot jumpers). This isn't a great measuring-stick game for Michigan's defensive progress, unless Illinois is getting tons of points inside, and then the situation may be even more dire than we thought.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 11
It went pretty well the first time around, and that was on the road. As long as Illinois doesn't catch fire from deep, Michigan should be able to handle this challenge, assuming they come out with more energy and focus than they did against Penn State.
Today's recruiting roundup covers a huge visit weekend, new offers, and more.
Big February Visit Weekend Is An Annual Thing, Apparently
It's that time of the year again, when Michigan rounds up a large group of highly-touted recruits, shows off their program with the coaches and current commits in full-on recruiting mode, and renders me unable to leave my laptop for the weekend. Those hoping for a repeat of last year's eight-man commitapalooza should temper their expectations, but there's nothing wrong with getting excited about the talent that will be on campus ($). Here's a rundown of this weekend's visitors (all are 2014 prospects unless otherwise noted):
- OH LB Michael Ferns and VA QB Wilton Speight — Two of Michigan's three commits—and the two that have been most active in recruiting other prospects—will be on campus doing their best Shane Morris impressions. Both have been mentioned by other prospects as doing an impressive job of selling Michigan.
- OH LB Kyle Berger — Berger hails from the same Cleveland St. Ignatius program that produced Jake Ryan, and it could come down to a Michigan/OSU battle for the four-star linebacker.
- FL OL Mason Cole — If a player is going to commit this weekend, it's probably Cole, a four-star guard who's already made multiple trips up from Florida. Getting Cole would be big in its own right, and it would also give Michigan the inside track at his high school teammates, four-star WR Artavis Scott and 2015 blue-chip ATH George Campbell—both have offers, and Campbell will accompany Cole on this weekend's visit.
- MI WR Drake Harris — This will be the first visit for Harris since his commitment to Michigan State; he's since opened up his recruitment after deciding he'll focus exclusively on football at the next level, though he still remains a soft Spartan verbal. Wilton Speight told Sam Webb he's been talking with Harris on a daily basis and convinced him to spend two days on campus this weekend. While Harris doesn't seem close to making a final decision, a productive visit could move him closer to making a change in his commitment.
- NC RB Elijah Hood — The four-star back had Michigan tied for fifth in his recruitment as of last week, but he's since updated that list and now has the Wolverines in fourth, per ESPN's Kipp Adams ($). This weekend will be key if Michigan hopes to make up ground on Notre Dame, Hood's leader, especially since he plans to make a decision before his senior season.
- MI DE Lawrence Marshall — Marshall briefly committed to Ohio State a couple weeks ago before opening up his recruitment after visits to Michigan State and Michigan forced him to reconsider. I'd expect the Southfield four-star end will take a little longer before making another pledge.
- MI DE Malik McDowell — While McDowell has been a familiar face around Ann Arbor, he's yet to spend a lot of time with the coaches—that should change this weekend, obviously. McDowell has been mum about his leaderboard, but it's believed that Michigan and Notre Dame hold an edge over Ohio State and Michigan State, and this will be a chance for the Wolverines to separate themselves from the pack.
- 2015 FL ATH George Campbell — As said above, Campbell is teammates at Tarpon Springs (FL) East Lake with Mason Cole and Artavis Scott, and he appears ticketed for five-star status when the 2015 rankings eventually come out. This will be his first visit to Ann Arbor.
- 2015 MI ATH Brian Cole — Cole projects to be one of the top athletes in Michigan's rising junior class and could end up at receiver or defensive back at the next level. The 6'2" product of Saginaw Heritage already holds offers from both Michigan and MSU. This will be his first visit to Ann Arbor.
- 2015 OH CB Shaun Crawford — Crawford doesn't yet hold a Michigan offer, but that didn't stop him from pegging the Wolverines as his favorites in an interview with Scout's Bill Greene ($). He already holds offers from Illinois and Tennessee and ran an electronic 4.52 40-yard dash at a Nike SPARQ combine last week, so don't be surprised if Michigan comes through with an offer sooner or later.
The only player on this list that can be reasonably expected to commit this weekend is Mason Cole, and that's by no means a guarantee. As we've seen in the past, however, strange things can happen when this many prospects get on campus at the same time.
[Hit THE JUMP for the early leading candidate for dumbest rumor of the 2014 cycle, a couple of new offers, and more.]
Legolas is cooler than Treebeard. Brian's taking a short vacation and left me to write UV today. That's too bad because he's missing the party after Spath heard from Norfleet's mentor/7-on-7 coach ($) that the MGoFavorite little bugger's defensive foray was a temporary thing:
"He's supposedly going back to offense," Blackwell said. "They will use him in the slot and in the return game, and some as a running back. Coach [Greg] Mattison is saying he can still use him on defense and is making an argument to keep him there, but Dennis' passion is for the offense. That's where he wants to play, and from talking to Dennis it appears that's where he's going to play.
Putting him with the other elves made some sense when the cornerback two-deep was the starters, and what carries he could siphon last year from Toussaint, Rawls and Hayes would now have to be defended from Drake Johnson and three highly rated incoming freshman. The rooting for Norfleet to take over Smith's role comes from simple fan interest: it's way more fun to hold your breath and watch this guy scamper around like a maniac than to plunge a tree into the enemy lines and watch him fall forward for the same result.
Contempt for compliance, not photos of Donna Shalala. The Miami (of course THAT Miami) case was to be the Austerlitz of the new and improved NCAA enforcement empire; instead it's going to be a summer of Waterloo metaphors and Shalala vs. Emmert lead images. SBNation's Robert Wheel's afore-linked take calls for Emmert's resignation, while admitting that won't do anything to fix the underlying problem:
If the NCAA were enforcing rules that didn't require a lot of investigation, then this lack of power would not be a problem. But as long as college sports remain a big time moneymaker with rich guys who want to circumvent the rulebook to see their teams win, said rich guys will find ways to try to outfox the rules. Unless we want to give the NCAA subpoena power (we really don't) then this will always be a losing battle. The NCAA will never have the ability or the resources to catch up to people breaking its rules.
In a real legal system the Canes could discredit the prosecution's only witness and get the case thrown out. This isn't a real legal system: schools don't get in trouble for breaking NCAA rules, they get in trouble by publicly reminding everybody that the NCAA can't really enforce them. USC tried this and got slapped down despite the evidence in hand being too weak for any court. Meanwhile investigators with bees up their butts couldn't prove what every 4-year-old knows in re: Ohio State gives players cars, or really much of anything in the original Tatgate story until the NFL forced Pryor to talk. For stonewalling so politely the extent of the Buckeyes' punishment was to end a 12-0 season with Meyer on their sidelines and Tressel on their shoulders. The dumbest thing Shalala could do is comply.* The second-dumbest thing she could do is say na-na-na-boo-boo to an organization that only slightly cares if it turned up doo doo.
The obvious answer is pay the players (FoxSports in re: Clowney and the risk of injury) and end the shadow ring where guys like Shapiro are the only people who can perform the otherwise perfectly legal function of paying adult U.S. citizens for the services they provide.
* There are a select few schools like Michigan who don't have a choice because our whole thing is being the good guys, and because we're among those who would benefit the most if tradition, competitiveness and the quality of education were the only factors in recruiting and retaining college football talent. Kind of like how Great Britain would prefer to settle everything with a sea battle.
Basketball on verge of spread revolution. Weinreb dug up a budding Mike Leach from a D-II school in West Virginia to highlight a story about how pacing in basketball has slowed way down while the smart guys beating up the lower ranks are going the other way. That coach's motto is "Don't do it unless you can rationalize why you're doing it." He's too old to end up in Ann Arbor, but apparently the Yost alleles for engineering-minded coaches are still going strong in Appalachia. Beilein small ball isn't speed ball, but this…
When Crutchfield recruits, he looks for kids who react quickly — "You can make up for a lot of quickness and speed if you react mentally," he says — and play with high intensity: If they get beat on defense and they don't D up even harder the next time down the floor, he starts to wonder if they might not fit into his system.
That's part of a discussion on how road game success can be a strong predictor of postseason performance. I've used it for predicting NBA and NHL playoff results, and March Madness would be right there with them if it wasn't such a crapshoot in general. HT again from the board: SoFlaWolverine.
Assistant Coaches like money too. There's a rumor that Oklahoma may be going after Jerry Montgomery (Meinke via Footballscoop). Cam Cameron you may have heard just joined Les Miles's staff, further evidence to my theory that LSU is the In a Mirror, Darkly evil twin of Michigan from another dimension.
Dark universe Les Miles is in his 5th season as head coach at Michigan, where he's been slowly rebuilding the school's reputation shredded by win-at-all-costs Evil Lloyd Carr
Cameron will be making $3.4 million over 3 years, and this has made internet people start buzzing about top assistants commanding the kind of salary you give the school president. /mind blown. /thinks about the difference between GERG and Greg. /mind unblown.
It's right because the internet said so. The NCAA cover vote on Facebook has moved to a semifinals where the S-E-C!!! vote has been split (to Eddie Lacy's doom and random A&M guy's benefit) and Denard now leads. Every time this appears on the board cynical-me goes to erase it because it's playing to somebody's marketing ploy, and enchanted-me says "But Denard on the cover would be a wonderful thing!" I wish Denard would be on the cover because he is the living symbol of what is singularly spectacular about NCAA football; I also wish they could have come to that conclusion without somebody "developing an engaging social media campaign" that might only settle on Robinson because a cat playing guitar hero wasn't allowed in the race. #AIRBHG2014
Etc. People of the East Coast, check your DVR schedule or wind up recording a Virginia-BC game. UMHoops takes on Michigan's defense, scores a bazillion points (ha!). Zoltan's foundation update. FAU's marketing department derps stadium sponsor, double-derps wikipedia entry. MGoAndroid App is updated, report bugs here. NFL logos if they were designed by British people.
For the sake of helping to bring all the good stuff to the fore, we're going to start using the hashtag #MGoTWIT. If you see anything particularly noteworthy (or, more realistically, scornworthy), tag it with that hashtag and the internet hamsters will stop by to collect it. As always, feel free to send any TWIT-worthy content to @Bry_Mac.
Hoosier (Can No Longer Become a) Daddy
On Tuesday night, Michigan State faced off with Indiana in East Lansing. It was a matchup of Top 5 teams with serious implications for the Big Ten regular season title, as well as NCAA seeding and the overall future of mankind. Blah blah blah LET'S TALK ABOUT THE GROIN-PUNCH. Late in the 4th quarter, Cody Zeller threw an elbow to the nether-region of Derrick Nix en route to the bucket. Nix was displeased because, and I quote, "mmmmmnnnnnggggguuuuurrggggggghhhh [/labored breathing]." So shortly thereafter when Nix was defending Zeller in the post, this happened:
Congratulations Cody Zeller, you have joined the same exclusive club as Brian Cook's soul, Corey Liuget, and 80% of America's Funniest Home Videos participants. The video evidence is pretty damning, so let's consider how Sparty might respond:
DOOR NUMBER ONE: Blame the victim
Some believe that Zeller did this to himself; he pulled Nix's hand into his own manflesh in an attempt to draw a foul. [ED-S: Must include gif:
This is an interesting take on the classic "quit hitting yourself" employed by older brothers everywhere, but I'm not sure I buy it. For one thing, that's not a very effective way to draw a flagrant call; it's just too difficult to expect a ref to see that. Moreover, can anyone point to any time ever that someone hit himself in the dangly bits? Have you ever encountered a moment in your life when you thought to yourself, "if I can just rack myself in the huevos right now, everything will work out." The theory doesn't pass the smell test, and I think this is one of those situations where slow motion muddies the water a bit; remember when Michigan fans were all saying that Watford shoved GRIII's arm when GRIII decked Hulls, but a better angle showed that to be inaccurate? I think this is that. But I suppose the video COULD (through bleary, homer-tastic eyes) support that theory. So let's look at...
[After the thing where you do the JUMPING]