Now that football has ceased, a glance at some ongoing sports you may not have paid much attention to yet.
They're real bad
photo not meant to reflect poorly on Jack Lafontaine [James Coller]
Let us cut to the chase. This is the worst Michigan hockey team since Red Berenson rescued the program from its mid-80s doldrums. The three Michigan teams that missed the tourney prior to last year were at least within shouting distance of a bid. Flip a game or two and those guys squeeze into the tournament.
This year's team is 6-7-1 and currently 31st in RPI, in the bottom half nationally. Compounding matters: they're probably the luckiest team in the country. After getting bombed by Penn State their Corsi* is 59th out of 60 teams, ahead of only Alaska-Anchorage. They've survived because their goalies have a collective .927 save percentage, and that has nothing to do with the quality of shots they've faced. While having a good save percentage is, you know, good, SV% is a notoriously fickle stat requiring something more than a full NHL season to produce anything even sort of predictive. Michigan's ranking there could be skill; it could be luck. If it's the latter, Katie bar the door.
The eye test is little better. They were just blown off the ice by Penn State 6-1 and 5-1; when they played LSSU it looked like a bad WCHA team playing itself. Jake Slaker, a 20-year old former St. Lawrence recruit, went from nowhere to the top line. He's scoring some; he's also –9.
Without a turnaround for the ages the only thing keeping this team from the cellar of the Big Ten is Michigan State.
*[Your percent of all shot attempts in a game. Broadly more predictive than actual goals.]
Slaker, a late add, went from St. Lawrence commit to M's top line [Coller]
Last year's team was fool's gold that forestalled Red Berenson's perpetually impending retirement yet again. They had an insane amount of talent. Tyler Motte, Kyle Connor, and Zach Werenski went directly to the NHL, with JT Compher not far behind. Those four guys drove so much of Michigan's play, and they also lost two productive scoring line wingers in Justin Selman and Boo Nieves.
A decent but not great incoming recruiting class could not replace that production. The academic suspension of promising freshman Cooper Marody (10-14-24 a year ago) did not help. This team has two guys—Alex Kile and Will Lockwood—who look like top six forwards on a good Michigan team.
The defense is hypothetically deep and good, but in practice teams are piling up excellent scoring chances because Michigan can't exit their own zone, can't enter the opponent zone, and are giving up the constant parade of odd-man rushes that's been characteristic of the program over the past few years.
All of this traces back to the head coach. Every player with an opportunity to go pro does so as quickly as possible, even guys like Andrew Copp who are total shocks. Marody's suspension is just about unprecedented in hockey. For years Red has tolerated guys like Tristin Llewellyn and Michael Downing who take awful penalties and constantly pinch at the wrong time.
Even last year's massive pile of talent was outshot 49-27 in a 5-2 loss to North Dakota in the second round of the tournament. Michigan had an NHL first line and the most prolific rookie defenseman in the NHL this year and still got blown off the ice by a program it used to look at as a peer. What does this program look like with good, but not transcendent talent?
Is there any hope?
Not realistically. This isn't a one year issue, but a steady decline over the last half decade that last year's talent managed to defy. This team still has more talent (9 draft picks!) than the majority of teams they'll play in the Big Ten, but one of the teams they have more on-paper talent than just blew them off the ice. One of the others, Ohio State, is sixth in RPI.
Michigan teams have picked themselves off the mat at midseason before and gone on runs to make or narrowly miss the tourney; the difference between those teams and this one is the distance they'd have to go to go from losing games to winning them.
Suck it up and wait it out, I guess. I have to imagine that a fourth missed tournament in five years would be the point at which Red Berenson walks away to prevent damaging his legacy even further. Michigan would have good options afterwards, but the point to talk about that is later.
Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Wilton Speight
Wilton, what are your thoughts on Florida State and playing them?
“Yeah, pretty cool. I saw that the last team, the last Michigan team, to go to the Orange Bowl was Tom Brady’s team that went to overtime with Alabama, so that was a cool little piece of history that I saw. Really athletic team in Florida State. Lot of studs on that team and real well coached by Coach Fisher, so I’m excited to hit the film with Coach Fisch and figure out the gameplan for what we’re going to do.”
What was the rollercoaster of emotions today? Did you wake up feeling you still had a chance to get into the playoff and when you found out, how did you guys cope with that, deal with that, move forward from that?
WS: “I think we all woke up hoping something might still happen. We knew Clemson or Washington had to lose for us to really have a solid chance, but it’s not done by computer; it’s done by people with brains and emotions and thoughts, so we thought there was still a chance. But we put ourselves in this position to leave it up to other people. Four points away from sitting here up in front of you guys undefeated. It’s tough, but at the same time we’ve got a lot to prove. We can really make a statement in Miami.”
RG: “Yeah, I agree with Wilton. I think that this game in Miami is going to be a statement game. We want to leave this program on top and [with] a step in the right direction. Chris and I are leaving, but Wilton has two more years here to lead this team. So yeah, we want to make it a statement game. We want to show that we’re in the top four teams in college football.”
CW: “I agree.”
Wilton, how’s the shoulder, collarbone, whatever’s going on? How healthy were you last Saturday?
“I was healthy enough to play, to be able to try and make as many plays as I could for the team. This week off has helped. We didn’t practice this past week; coaches were out recruiting. We’ll start back up on Tuesday. Not sure the extent of how hard we’ll go this first week, but the week off definitely helped. I’m getting healthier every day.”
[After THE JUMP: “I think we’re gonna be hungry, we’re gonna be angry, and we’re gonna want to take it out on a team, and Florida State’s the next team up.”]
"So you haven't seen us win many like that," said John Beilein to open his postgame presser. Truer statements have rarely been spoken.
Let's set aside, for a moment, the hideous nature of this game, and instead appreciate the future of Michigan basketball. That future is the big man pairing of Moe Wagner and DJ Wilson, which came up huge on both ends of the floor to pry a victory out of the jaws of defeat.
With 1:56 to play, Kerwin Roach gave Texas a 50-48 lead, and Michigan looked to be in a very tight spot when Zak Irvin's entry pass bounced out of bounds off Wagner's hands on the following possession. The Wolverines played suffocating defense to force an airball, and Wagner halved the margin with a free throw, then gave Michigan a 51-50 lead with a putback off a missed Irvin layup with 14 seconds to play.
With the game on the line, Texas first tried to run a play through Tevin Mack, who scored a game-high 18 points. Wilson stonewalled Mack as he tried to drive, then batted away a kickout pass to force the Longhorns to reset on an inbounds play. That play went to Eric Davis, who Wilson stuck with as he dribbled across the paint before seamlessly passing him off to Wagner, who emphatically blocked the potential game-winner. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman corralled the loose ball and put Michigan up three at the line; the ensuing midcourt prayer went unanswered.
A stylish finish (left) and the game-winning putback (right). [Campredon]
"I thought [Wagner] was the best player on the floor tonight," said Texas coach Shaka Smart.
There's plenty of evidence to back that up beyond the final sequence. Wagner paced the Wolverines with 15 points, made seven of his ten two-point attempts, pulled down five reounds, and added two assists, two steals, and a block. Beilein acknowledged that Wagner's defense has improved; he said, in fact, that he wanted to replace Wagner with Mark Donnal late in the game as a defensive substitution, but assistant Billy Donlon advised him not to do so—thankfully, he heeded Donlon's advice.
If Wagner wasn't Michigan's best player on the floor, it was Wilson. He required only seven shot equivalents to score his 13 points, led the team with six rebounds, and added two assists, two steals, and two blocks. He played great on-ball defense without getting into foul trouble.
The two bigs were Michigan's only effective offensive players this evening. Duncan Robinson was the only other Wolverine to finish in double figures, and he required 11 shots to score 12 points. Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin were a combined 4-for-17 from the field with ten points, seven assists, and eight turnovers. Other than the huge final rebound and subsequent free throws, MAAR was invisible, scoring all three of his points from the line.
Michigan will need much more offense to hang with UCLA on Saturday. The defense, built around the two bigs, allowed only 0.82 points per possession and forced 14 turnovers tonight; that is more than welcome to stay, even if it takes some time to get used to it.
#27 Michigan (6-2) vs #71
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||9 pm ET, Tuesday|
|LINE||Michigan -10 (KenPom)|
PBP: Jason Benetti
Analyst: Dan Dakich
Right: Oddly enough, our file photo of Shaka Smart from his VCU days features him sporting an orange tie. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
John Beilein and the Wolverines are quite familiar with Shaka Smart and his Texas squad's style of play, most notably the aggressive "Havoc" press Smart made famous at VCU. Michigan, of course, picked apart that press in their tournament blowout of VCU on the way to the 2013 Final Four; they also had a relatively comfortable six-point victory over last year's Longhorns squad in the Bahamas.
To help break the press, expect to see a lot more of freshman point guard Xavier Simpson than the spot minutes he's played so far this season:
"It won't be a 'OK, we've got to play him against Texas because he has to get used to this stuff,' but it's more about (Texas' defense) and as much as they (press), it'll wear Derrick out," Beilein said. "The other day against Kennesaw State, he got wore out a little bit and it impacted his offense. He sat down for a little bit and came back more fresh.
"We're going to need (Simpson) to help Derrick. Not just to beat their press or attack their defense but to also give (Walton) a rest."
Simpson has shown the ability to be a defensive pest; his offense is still coming along, and he'll need to be careful with the ball against a team hoping to jump-start their lagging offense with easy buckets off turnovers.
In the bigger picture, Michigan could really use a home win against a power conference team after squandering a golden opportunity last week against Virginia Tech. Their only other chance at adding a signature non-conference win to the two victories in NYC is Saturday's game at UCLA, which is fresh off an upset at Kentucky; this game looks far more tractable.
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||12||Kerwin Roach||So.||6'4, 175||58||27||99||Yeah|
|Slasher at his best getting to hoop/line. Not much of a shooter. Turnover prone.|
|G||1||Andrew Jones||Fr.||6'4, 190||53||25||103||Yeah|
|Walton-like defensive rebounder. Another turnover-prone slasher/meh shooter.|
|G/F||0||Tevin Mack||So.||6'7, 220||60||23||112||No|
|Shooting very well after a rough FR year. Not much other statistical impact.|
|F||31||Jarrett Allen||Fr.||6'11, 235||70||23||98||Very|
|Good shot-blocker and offensive rebounder, decent finisher. Only 52% on FTs.|
|F||32||Shaquille Cleare||Sr.||6'8, 275||47||20||90||Very|
|Burly, good not great rebounder on both ends. Career 55% on 2P.|
|G||10||Eric Davis||So.||6'3, 195||67||20||87||Kinda?|
|38% 3P shooter last year mired in a 6-for-37 slump. Just A Shooter™, so lost starting role.|
|G||5||Kendal Yacey||Sr.||6'3, 210||57||16||109||No|
|Low-usage defensive specialist. Decent shooter.|
|C||4||James Banks||Fr.||6'10, 240||39||10||95||Very|
|Minuscule usage, good rebound and block rates, only 6/14 from the field.|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
Jordan Anthony: all but wrapped up?
The Big Weekend is upon us
Michigan's enormous visit weekend is in a few days. Folks who say they will be on campus:
- 5* CA RB Najee Harris. You may have heard of him.
- 5* MI WR Donovan Peoples-Jones. You may have seen him leap over a yeti to dunk a basketball. DPJ took a visit to FSU last weekend and came back with the same carefully positive take he's had throughout the process. While Michigan seems to have a strong lead he is the kind of guy who could shock the proverbial world because he's very reserved.
- 5* CA CB Darnay Holmes. Holmes had to cancel an official earlier this year so he could get some test scores. With those in hand he'll be on campus. Nobody really expects much since he's got a strong family connection with UCLA, but at least Michigan will get its at-bat.
- 4.5* NJ LB Drew Singleton. Singleton took a visit to MSU that nobody thinks will amount to much; Clemson chatter has faded.
- 4.5* MI CB Ambry Thomas. Scattered reports that Thomas was at MSU last weekend. This is kind of like the Lavert Hill recruitment where Michigan people are very confident and MSU folks are alternately either the same or saying there's a chance. There's even a brief flurry of PSU optimism. It should end the same way. Sam's gut is rumbling. With Thomas enrolling early a decision won't take much longer.
- Maybe 4* FL LB Jordan Anthony. Anthony—who just got a fifth star from Rivals—is planning to announce sometime in December. Lorenz reports that he did not make a scheduled official to Oklahoma. Maryland is expecting him this weekend; Wiltfong reports that Anthony "may" visit Michigan this weekend and would "like to" visit Maryland. This is the last visit weekend before the dead period and Anthony wants to announce this month. If he is in Ann Arbor it's a wrap. It's pretty much a wrap even if he does visit Maryland.
- 4* PA S Paris Ford. Ford is a new name on the board; he committed to Pitt in October but claims a bunch of big offers and is a top 100 kid on the composite. This is the first recruiting activity he's undertaken since his Pitt commit, so unknown how soft he is.
- 3.5* MI DE Deron Irving-Bey. Irving-Bey is coming off a trip to Maryland and is using his last official before his announcement on Michigan. MSU people still think they have a shot, and they may; Michigan people are confident.
- Various commits: MA RB AJ Dillon, NM RB O'Maury Samuels, OH DT James Hudson, MI S Jaylen Kelly-Powell—who will gently prod Thomas, MI OL JaRaymond Hall, and probably some more guys I'm forgetting.
As far as uncommitted recruits go this is just about everyone high on the board who has not already taken their official visit. 4* IA WR Oliver Martin, who apparently came in for an unofficial in October, and 4.5* FL OL Tedarrell Slaton, about whom more in a second, are the only players we have in "top group" or "leader" on the recruiting board who have available officials they are not using this weekend.
December is going to be emoji fire lit did I do that right
Here's a list of players who have set definite commitment dates; will be a busy December and early January:
- 12/9: 4* CA OL Aaron Banks. Banks is a mystery.
- 12/16: 4* CT WR Tarik Black. Black is not, despite a recent 'Bama flurry.
- 12/18: 4* FL OL Cesar Ruiz. Don't know who else is even really in on Ruiz.
- 12/25: 5* NY OL Isaiah Wilson, who is going to greatly please one fanbase and displease the other given that date. A 247 UGA mod just put in a crystal ball for Michigan after hearing that Georgia's a distant third behind M and Alabama.
- 1/7: 4.5* TX OL Chuck Filiaga, MI DE Deron Irving-Bey. Army game announcements.
Early-enrolling recruits with no set date who have to go off the board by the first week of January: Ambry Thomas, DPJ, and Najee Harris. As mentioned above, Jordan Anthony also wants to get it done.
Rivals re-rank uncommonly relevant
Rivals went through their rankings and a number of Michigan prospects saw their stock change quite a bit. GA DT Aubrey Solomon and FL LB Jordan Anthony(!) added a fifth star. Anthony's a bit of a surprise. Rivals was already higher on him than any other service—the other three generally have him around #200, and they had him 70th. Now he's all the way up to 26th.
FL OL Cesar Ruiz also moved up 41 spots to 77th; GA WR Nico Collins dropped from 23rd to 59th, which is more in line with where everyone else has him. Other Michigan prospects were static or close to it.
My other brother Tedarrell
Yes, I've used that joke before.
We've been relatively down on Michigan's chances with FL OL Tedarrell Slaton based first on various vibe things and then a cancelled official visit. While it would still be a mild surprise to see him end up in Ann Arbor, Scout's Corey Bender has an article that makes things seem a bit brighter:
"I talk to Michigan every day," Slaton said. "We're just in the communication part right now. They're looking forward to me getting the scores and up for a visit as fast as they can.
"I like the coaching staff, and I've built a good relationship with all of their coaches."
Slaton hasn't taken any official visits and won't until he gets his ACT score back. That will be an inflection point for Michigan's pursuit of him: either they ramp it back up to previous levels or there's a parting of the ways. Slaton is 100% a guard, and there's definitely room for an Onwenu in this class—virtually everyone they're pursuing other than Ruiz is a tackle.
Solomon tea leaves
GA DT Aubrey Solomon took an official to Alabama last weekend. One of the 247 Georgia guys interviewed him and has separate posts about the Georgia and Michigan sections of that; the Michigan one doesn't have many quotes but here's a transcript of one section:
They showed my mom the reason why I did commit there, you know. I *did* know what I was talking about—that's what my mom said.
He seems sold on the Michigan degree, especially in comparison to a Q from the Georgia side of things about what'll take for Solomon to spend his last official on the Bulldogs:
"They have to show me the academic part really hard," Solomon said. "I know they have a good sports management program. I have been there a lot. They talk about football, football, football, but I want to know about the grades. What am I going to get in return?"
If this was a kid from Kentucky, done deal, Michigan. The hometown pull is still pretty powerful, though, and M will have to weather some storms if they're going to pull this one out. From watching the two interviews it seemed pretty clear which one had the edge with Solomon as of early December: Michigan.
Meanwhile the Alabama side of things:
"A lot of stuff they had, Michigan had," he said. "I'm not saying it was the same, but they had some sort of it. So that really hit me hard being closer with that. It really took effect on me."
So where does the Crimson Tide stand coming out of the visit?
"I really couldn't tell you that right now," Solomon said. "I'm not saying it's a tie, because I don't believe in ties, but Alabama really impressed me and my mom."
No video there, unfortunately. Alabama is always a threat.
I'm not too worried about January visits to Oregon(?!) and "maybe" USC; further Georgia visits would be the biggest red flags in the future. I'm not saying he's a lock but the difference in his demeanor when talking about Georgia and Michigan was so notable that even the Georgia 247 board was skeptical he'd end up in Athens.
James Hudson's senior film is all right
Skip the first minute of blindside blocks and witness Willie Henry 2.0:
That's a pretty high level of high school football he's playing and he's tossing people around like they are sacks of grain. Scout recently gave Hudson a fourth star—he's got the full set now. Their reasoning:
His film looked more explosive and athletic than it did a year ago and, as he has continued to grow, he has been evaluated more as an inside guy or an inside-outside guy rather than purely an edge prospect, which is what we ranked him as initially.
He does play a lot of end in high school but that's a DT all the way.
Michigan reportedly offered CO DE Will Rodgers, a teammate of the elder McCaffrey, a grayshirt. Rodgers transferred from Saginaw Arthur Hill a year ago to play for Valor Christian; prior to that he was a 6'4" basketball center. He's barely got a 247 profile; we'll see where this goes.
AL OL Toryque Bateman has fallen by the wayside of late—I didn't even mention him amongst the OL Michigan was pursuing in the recent recruiting overview—but still lists Michigan in his top two along with Louisville. The Cardinals seem like a good bet at the moment.
Status quo with AL WR Nico Collins, who told Steve Wiltfong that Michigan was "different"; Wiltfong feeling good about his CB to Michigan. One complication: unlike a lot of guys on the board, Collins is taking his recruitment through Signing Day. Michigan will have to weather some officials.
Tom Herman gets after TX OL Chuck Filiaga. Texas people seem to think they have a shot; they are not as yet issuing that emoji with the cocked eyebrow.
Jake Butt and Mason Cole
Jake, talk about how it’s your last game coming up and what do you know about Florida State and that matchup?
“Yeah, first on Florida State, we’ve gotten the chance—they play a lot of night games down there in the south to stay out of the heat a little bit, so after some of our noon games I got watch them play Clemson and Ole Miss. Just kind of flipped it on, so, I mean, we haven’t studied them yet. That’ll happen here in the upcoming weeks. We do know they’re a very good team and they’re gonna be hungry for that win. With it being the last game, gotta lay it all out there.”
Mason, what are your thoughts on playing the Seminoles? Being a Florida guy, you’ve been familiar with them a long time.
“Yeah, just really excited to play another Florida team. We beat Florida, we beat UCF, and hopefully we beat Florida State. Just exciting to go down to Florida and play a really good team. Excited to play in front of family and friends. It’s gonna be two great programs going against each other.”
Did you guys get together and watch the selection show today? What was the general [feeling]? Were you disappointed? Were you excited? Can you take us through the emotions from this afternoon?
JB: “This was our first weekend off in a while, so I know most guys were home. We didn’t have a watch party or anything. I’d say it’s mixed emotions because you set out goals at the beginning of the year and obviously one of those was to be in the playoff, but we weren’t and really we can’t blame it on anyone but ourselves. We left our fate in the hands of other teams and we understand that. That being said, we’re excited about this game. It’s a big game, great opportunity for us to compete against a really good team. We’re really excited to play in this game.”
MC: “Yeah, same thing. We had an opportunity at the end of the year to be in that playoff, but they put us in a great bowl with a great opportunity to go play a really good team. We’re just excited for that now.”
[After THE JUMP: how Butt will look back on this year a decade from now and which way Cole’s leaning re: turning pro]