“The player development is the main thing I like (about Michigan),” Williams said. “You can see that they develop their players. They get them in the gym and they work them hard. And their hard work pays off.”
3/14/2014 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 3 (OT) – 17-12-4, 9-8-2 Big Ten
3/15/2014 – Michigan 6, Minnesota 2 – 18-12-4, 10-8-2 Big Ten
Michigan is barely ahead of the pack. [Bill Rapai]
Imagine a man tied to a pole with a bungee cord in zero-G. Grip this man with an enormous metal arm and pull him until the bungee cord has no more give. Let go. Watch as the man flies back and forth at maximum amplitude forever, occasionally bonking his head on the pole.
I've just saved you 500 bucks for a hockey season ticket. You are invited to give me a cut with the donate button at right.
What can Michigan's hockey team do? Anything. They can beat Boston College, they can run out to a 10-2-1 start, they can thoroughly dominate Wisconsin in a weekend series, they can beat Minnesota by sniping the water bottle four times.
What can Michigan's hockey team do? Anything. They can lose to Penn State, lose to Michigan State, lose to Penn State, lose to Michigan State. They can let Western Michigan waltz, or possibly tango, through the slot a dozen times in a single hockey game. They can try some sort of center-ice pinch that was months ago but still remains crystal-clear in my memory as the most insane decision I've seen since Jack Johnson was around, making insane decisions seem like good ideas.
Yeah, actually. This hockey team is Jack Johnson, the hockey team.
But they have just about done it, with an assist from Minnesota's backup goalie. They have waddled their way into the NCAA tournament. Since they're on the bubble, their tournament starts one weekend early and has a very strange structure where one loss is permissible in most situations as long as it doesn't come against Penn State.
You may think this doesn't quite count. I do. I will be turning on a television at three on a Thursday to watch Michigan play a hockey game in front of 14 people as I try not to have a panic attack. If that's not the NCAA hockey tournament it's close enough.
If—if—if—ifffffffffffff Michigan does in fact get past Penn State, a possibility I am absolutely not taking for granted because this would be like taking a spiderweb for granted as you clung to it over the Grand Canyon, they will be in barring specific clusters of results. And that will be fine. Just making the tournament was everybody's first and only goal in a year when the second defenseman on the depth chart was terrifying—let alone the second pairing—and the goaltender situation was a cloud of question marks.
Even when they were rushing out to a blazing start, nobody who was watching them play was harboring delusions of grandeur. They're rickety on the back end and only flash their talent at forward often enough to drive you crazy when they go a month without scoring a goal on purpose. As the man said, they are who they are.
And since they are who they are—a man careening endlessly from one extreme to the other—they've got as much of a shot as anyone does in the barely-weighted plinko that is the worst championship format in sports. Once their spot is secured they could roll out onto the ice against the top two teams in the country and hold their own, as they did against Minnesota and Boston College.
They could implode in a pile of sawdust, yeah. Everyone can implode in a pile of sawdust. One seeds get plunked on the regular by random collections of initials that happen to have a hockey team. We've got one, and you don't want to face us, no way. Unless it's one of those days where you really do. But it might not be one of those days. It might be one of those other days. Nothing is certain, except that after it is over you will sit down and hold your head and wait for the room to come to a full and complete stop.
We're in! Ish! [Rapai]
Despite being a three seed if the season ended today, Michigan is not safe with a win over Penn State. Unfortunately, there are a number of scenarios that leave them the first team out if they go 1-1 at the Big Ten tourney. That's because the margins are tiny this year. The RPI gap from 11th—where Michigan sits—down to 17th is less than a point.
Michigan can't get passed by #17 Northeastern since they're out of the HE tournament, but Minnesota State, North Dakota, Vermont, Cornell, and Colgate are all within striking distance. All save Vermont are active in their conference tourneys. If Michigan beats Penn State they will finish ahead of the Catamounts; the rest is up for grabs.
Teams are so tightly packed that changing a single result has surprising and inexplicable consequences. In one scenario, Minnesota State beating Ferris in the WCHA final is the difference between MSU-Mankato finishing outside of the tourney or getting a three seed. It also knocks Colgate out as Michigan passes them for obscure opponents-opponents-win-percentage reasons.
But here are some things I can tell you:
Michigan is (almost certainly) safe if they reach the Big Ten final. Even in the worst case scenario where somehow they face MSU and lose to them, thus crushing their RPI along with my skull and providing MSU a bid, they sneak in over the line unless there are two additional bid thieves. If it's Ohio State or Minnesota their RPI will land them as a three seed even in the event of a loss.
They could sneak onto the two line by winning the tournament. A low two is their top end.
1-1 is very likely good enough. It would take some seriously bad luck for every bubble team to man up in the fashion necessary to boot M from the tourney.
0-1 is not over. BUT LET'S NOT EXPLORE THAT OKAY.
Teams you hate. Life gets much, much easier for Michigan if Cornell and Colgate lose their ECAC semifinals to Quinnipiac and Union, respectively. Both of those latter teams are already in. The two C outfits are right on Michigan's heels. Their performance is almost more important than Michigan's—they can get in with a Penn State loss as long as the ECAC results fall right.
Bid thieves are always a bubble team's foe. Those are UNH in Hockey East, BGSU and Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA, Denver, Miami, and WMU in the NCHC, and any Big Ten university with "State" in the name.
Teams you like. Root for North Dakota in the NCHC and Lowell in Hockey East, the former because it's the only current at-large from that league, the latter because every bit of schedule strength is going to count down the stretch here.
Ballpark. Michigan is 99% to make it with a 2-1 record this weekend, 80% to make it with 1-1, and 50% to make it with 0-1.
So frustrating. I kind of get why Minnesota may have relaxed on Saturday after securing the conference title, but it's not like they had nothing to play for. The #1 overall seed gets the Atlantic Hockey opponent that is generally far worse than any other in the field (but will still have a goalie who makes 60 saves because goalies are all far too good these days). BC and Minnesota were competing for that.
It in fact turns out that they had nothing to play for because Boston College got knocked out of the Hockey East tournament, guaranteeing Minnesota the top seed in the tournament.
Minnesota didn't know that on Saturday, though and by the time their backup goalie had ceded his first truly bad goal he'd been beaten on a procession of perfect water-bottle pops that comprised the prettiest set of goals seen in Yost Ice Arena in a long time. And the previous night, when Minnesota was going all out for the title, Michigan played them dead even.
So if they'd done what a team that plays Minnesota dead even does against some of the worst guys on their schedule…
And the avatar of that. Alex Guptill came off his healthy scratch in the aftermath of one of those horrible losses and Got The Message for about the fifth time in his career, playing impressive hockey. Some of the stuff he does is NHL-level.
There was one particular rush on which he repositioned himself in just the proper way so he could snap a shot past the defender's leg. That shot was whistling towards the top of the net before the goalie managed to snag it. It did not go in, but I muttered "Jesus" under my breath because the move and shot were so nasty.
I just hope he doesn't run out of attention before the end of the season here. If he comes back for his senior year—no idea—with the intention of getting an NHL contract for serious he could be a Hobey finalist. Or he could just be the most frustrating player in the last 15 years of Michigan hockey. Enormous wild card.
Sinelli emerging. The crazy thing about Andrew Sinelli these days is that he couldn't manage to find his way onto the ice as a forward during his first two years. He seems so assured with the puck as a defenseman that it's hard to envision him as a healthy scratch. Now that he's settling into his new role he is activating himself on offense more, not only for his hat trick against MSU but also several times in the Minnesota series he found himself in a dangerous position with the puck after making a nice read as to how the play would develop.
Is he Michigan's #2 defenseman now? With Kevin Clare playing his best hockey, probably not… but it's close.
The Hyman breakout. Happy to be right about this:
Inexplicable player enthusiasm of the year. Always one guy on the team who does nothing statistically but I find a way to advocate anyway, and this year it's Zach Hyman. Hyman's 1-2-3 line is obviously bleah. I still manage to think that he's much better at coming out of the corners with a purpose than anyone else on the team and should be flanked by two skilled players to take advantage of his ability to create offense off the cycle.
He seems like a different player, even if the stats aren't showing it. Remember this if he blows up in the next 20 games. Forget it if he doesn't.
After starting out with that 1-2-3 line in 13 games he put up 7-8-15 in his next 21.
Shuart's potential. Max Shuart has a nice combination of size and speed that hasn't really done much in his limited opportunities, but he seems like an intriguing guy to keep an eye on for next year. Could develop into a third line/PK guy.
Surprise Visitor Surprised By Visit
Most of the recruiting buzz last week centered on a surprise visitor who didn't want his name to be revealed. That visitor turned out to be five-star CA QB Josh Rosen, the first quarterback offered by Michigan in the 2015 class. Rosen had already set a March 20th decision date before his trip to Ann Arbor, and UCLA was—and still is—his expected choice. He told Scout's Greg Biggins, however, that Michigan made the choice more difficult ($):
“I was honest and told [Doug Nussmeier] that I didn’t see myself picking Michigan. He told me I should still come up, no strings attached but said to just come up and check out the school for the experience and I have to, it was a lot better than I thought. I was actually hoping to get up there and not like it to reaffirm my decision but I really loved it there, Michigan is an incredible place.”
Just getting Rosen on campus is impressive; the program leaving that level of an impression even more so. Unfortunately, it appears this will be a moral victory, as Rosen still plans to keep his current timeline, and he told Rivals's Adam Gorney that his ultimate decision is unlikely to change ($):
"Coach Nuss is a very convincing guy," Rosen said. "He talked about the pro-style versus the spread offense and how my skill set would fit in one versus the other. He took me to The Big House and there were a lot of academic meetings and there is a great support staff at that school.
"I'm going to step back and think a little bit. I'm pretty positive, I'm pretty sure I'm going to stick with who I originally thought of, but it makes the decision harder.
While it's unlikely Michigan ends up getting Rosen, that doesn't mean the weekend was all for naught. Word spreads quickly among top recruits, and Michigan is targeting several California prospects. While Rosen will likely be recruiting for UCLA, the Bruins can't land everyone in the state, and a good word for Michigan could help get other recruits on campus—and that's often all this coaching staff needs to make a huge move in a prospect's recruitment.
[Hit THE JUMP for a potential commit watch from a big-time recruit, visit reactions, other 2015 QB updates, and more.]
Michigan's first round opponent is Wofford, the single representative from the Southern Conference. It will not surprise you that Wofford's mascot is the terrier. Since 90% of terriers are named something along the lines of "Wofford," this is a natural fit. Also Wofford has the best logo in college sports.
Anyway, Wofford finished in a tie for third in the SoCon, well behind regular-season champion Davidson. They won the conference tourney after Western Carolina took out Davidson in OT by beating WCU themselves.
Let's meet the Terriers.
As 15 seeds go, Wofford is a good draw. They're 184th; the other 15s are 98th, 129th, and 163rd. The only teams Michigan's played in that range this year they've blown out… or lost to that one time:
- #145 Long Beach State: W 85-61
- #176 Charlotte: L 63-61
- #151 Holy Cross: W 88-66
- #135 Northwestern: W 74-51
Meanwhile, Wofford's ventures into the Kenpom 100 have not gone well. At all:
- #75 Georgia: L 72-52
- #76 Iona: L 76-55
- #57 Minnesota: L 79-57
- #34 Saint Louis: L 66-52
- #12 VCU: L 72-57
All of these games were double-digit losses, as were Wofford's two conference matchups against #118 Davidson. In their only other game against a team in the top 200 on Kenpom they lost to William and Mary by three, at home.
Everything is crazy, etc., but Wofford hasn't been able to stay in contact with any team approaching Michigan's stature. Save an inexplicable reversion to Charlotte form complete with Caris LeVert sitting for most of the first half, Glenn Robinson getting only nine minutes, and Nik Stauskas limping around in the second half, Michigan should win the game.
Maybe You Should Play More Than Two Guys
In addition to William & Mary, Wofford also took on Emory & Henry and Johnson & Wales this year. Both of those are lower division teams; it is a great disappointment that Wofford's third game against a non D-I opponent was against Hiwassee instead of, I don't know, Steve & Bruce.
You'll Hear About
Primary game storyline will be about Aerris Smith, a senior with a senior citizen's knees who gutted out this season despite having no business doing anything more strenuous than thinking about chess while lying down and having a lemonade.
His minutes plummeted due to health issues this year but he played a few painful possessions for most of the year. He won't play against Michigan; he will get a soft-focus feature.
Also not playing: spectacularly-named junior Indiana Faithfull, who's injured.
You'll Actually Watch Play
Terrier point guard Karl Cochran is a Russ-Smith-level go to guy and a magnificent statistical oddity. For one, last year he launched 40% of Wofford's shots when he was on the court. This was a situation of desperation as the 2013 Terriers were horrendous—like 339th horrendous—on offense and he was the only semblance of a pulse. His usage was second in the country.
This year he's dialed his role in the offense back from insane to implausible. He still launches a third of Wofford's shots, but he's matured into a terrific all-around player. He's near the top 100 in steals, hits 40% from deep, has an Albrecht-level assist rate with a low TO margin, and does all of this with astronomical usage. And then there's his incredible 18% DREB rate, equivalent to Jordan Morgan's. Karl Cochran is 6'1".
Cochran's main problems: he does not get to the line much—just 74 FTAs despite the huge usage—and he is not effective inside the line. He is taking a lot of Dion Harris shots, I'm sure.
The Terriers are very small. Wofford's primary interior dude is 6'6" junior Lee Skinner, who has very good rebound rates, doesn't shoot well, and gets to the line. The backup posts are 6'7" and 6'6"; Wofford plays two of those three post-type objects the whole game. Except for that bit about fouls, that sounds like a good matchup for Jordan Morgan. Hopefully Mike Kitts is somewhere far away with a sock stuffed down his mouth.
Wofford gets some three-point shooting from a couple of freshmen who occupy a designated corner gunner role, but outside of Designated Corner Gunner and Cochran none of their guys are a threat to pull up unless a 30% shooter is a threat. Shut up about Shannon Scott.
They've Got The Same Shirts
Adidas: not even trying.
"You want us to design MULTIPLE shirts? Like, more than one? As many as several? What do we look like, an enormous international clothing retailer?"
Also, all of those guys have a career in voiceovers waiting for them when they're done. Those are some sonorous mofos right there.
The Future Should Michigan Be Fortunate Enough To Advance
Michigan did get stuck in a loaded regional, but it's mostly loaded for everyone else. Wichita draws the #17 team in Kenpom (Kentucky) as a potential second round matchup and the #2 (Louisville) in a potential Sweet 16 game. UMass will enjoy being a major underdog against a play-in game winner, whoever it is. Tennessee is somehow ranked above(!) Michigan.
Michigan did field the minor misfortune of drawing Duke—both the committee's and Kenpom's top #3. This is a tiny disadvantage relative to other threes. The difference between the Blue Devils and Creighton is nonexistent and Michigan also had a road loss to Iowa State. I only regret not drawing a flailing Syracuse outfit.
The only bad thing about the regional from Michigan's perspective is the very low chance their hypothetical elite eight matchup will be a non-elite team. That is not a big deal. If they were relying on an Arizona/Florida/Virginia upset in the other regions that wasn't likely to happen anyway.
Rick Barnes answers the question "how many NCAA wins do I have since 2009?"
The more important thing is that the potential second round matchup against Texas or Arizona State seems comfortable. Texas is the worst 7 by some distance; their lone nonconference game of any credit to them is a narrow win at North Carolina and they went 11-7 in the Big Twelve. They are atrocious shooters in all departments and rely on offensive rebounding to prop their offense up. They try to block everything and give up a bunch of OREBs themselves. Anything can happen, etc. It's not a scary profile.
Arizona State is in largely on the strength of a double OT home win over Arizona. Their most notable nonconference win is over Marquette; they got blasted by Creighton on a neutral court; they went 10-8 in the Pac-12 and got blown off the court by Stanford in their conference tournament opener. They're almost the complete opposite of Texas on offense: good shooters who abandon the offensive boards like crazy. On defense they are just like Texas, anchored by a shot-blocker.
Neither of these outfits is a UConn or Memphis or Kentucky that would veritably loom as a potential second round exit. Then once you get to the Sweet 16, you're going to be playing someone pretty good, and Duke's hardly invulnerable against lower-level teams. In the past month they've lost to Wake Forest, scraped by Clemson by a point, scraped by Maryland by a point. They could go down.
Yeah, it's loaded. For Wichita. I'll take a rematch against Duke in Indianapolis with a healthy Nick Stauskas as a potential coinflip S16 matchup.
Michigan lost the Big Ten title game but did get to Indianapolis as a two-seed in the Midwest region. Their first round opponent is Wofford. The local bracket:
10. Arizona State
Should Michigan reach the Sweet 16, Duke is the 3 with UMass the 6, facing down the worst possible Kenpom 11 in the Iowa/Tennessee winner. Potential elite eight matchups include Wichita State, Louisville, and Kentucky.
So… positive early, ramping up late.
Michigan opened the Big Ten title game with consecutive three-pointers.
That was the good. From there, the game became a slog. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford each picked up two fouls early in the first half, leading John Beilein to play Max Bielfedt for 12 critical first-half minutes. Morgan's absence proved especially integral; without him on the court, the interior defense suffered, MSU dominated on the boards, and Michigan couldn't find a rhythm offensively.
The officiating didn't help matters; while both teams were victimized with early foul trouble, the Spartans weathered it much better than the Wolverines. Mostly, the constant whistles just made the game unbearable. Both teams were in the bonus around the midway point of the first half; in the second half, neither team got there until the waning minutes. The inconsistency was maddening, albeit not determinative.
The real problem for Michigan was the offense; the Wolverines shot 36% from two and made just six of their 23 three-point attempts. Given the numbers, it's frankly surprising that the final margin wasn't larger. Nik Stauskas went just 4-for-14 from the field with three turnovers, needing six free throws to reach 17 points, a team high. Caris LeVert shot 2-for-10 with three turnovers of his own. Glenn Robinson III went 2-for-8, and didn't hit a field goal until the second half. Aside from Derrick Walton's 11 points on eight shot equivalents, Michigan got almost nothing in the way of secondary scoring, either.
Michigan got outplayed, plain and simple. Those hammering the panic button, however, should keep last year's Big Ten Tournament—and subsequent run to the NCAA title game—in mind. Now the Wolverines wait to see if today's loss cost them a one-seed.
3/15/2014 – Michigan 72, Ohio State 69 – 25-7, 15-3 Big Ten, BTT Finalists
Sometimes when you're on. Good lord man. This team is capable of sending anyone watching into a fit of giggles as shot after shot splashes down. The general process:
- All right, here we go.
- ON FIAH!
- /giggling fit
As Michigan extended to a 16-point lead early despite Ohio State doing offensive things that are well out of character (IE: making shots), it was giggle fit time. Michigan has previously done this to Nebraska and Illinois in the process of running them out of the building. If they're fortunate enough to make a tourney run at least one win will be reminiscent of the Florida game last year, wherein there is a period of death from above that leaves the other team looking like Dresden.
Welp. I don't know, man. Michigan's defense looked pretty good to me in the mirror universe where Shannon Scott remains Shannon Scott. Scott entered the game a 28% three point shooter and a 38% shooter on two point jumpers. He got zero looks at the rim and yet exited with 18 points on ten shots. Yeah, most of his jumpers were not particularly contested, but there's a reason for that. When Scott elevates for a jumper you have just done a good job as a defense.
The other problem with the defense was a problem with the offense. Steve Kerr mentioned that all of Michigan's seven first half turnovers were live-ball situations. Live-ball turnovers lead to transition, and transition leads to sadness. Michigan failed to push the margin out to crippling levels because of uncharacteristic sloppiness when Ohio State turned up the pressure.
Other than that, the defense did what it wanted to do: protect the rim and live with whatever else happens. OSU just hit shots they usually don't.
Hidden in the terror is a comfortable-ish win. Michigan was 10/19 from the line, well below their season average. Jordan Morgan was the biggest part of that, as he went 2/7. That dropped his season total from 62% to 57%.
Craft. When Craft does something Crafty and wins, there is a collective old white sportswriter dude explosion, and when he does something Crafty and loses, the OWSD collective sighs and shakes their head at a world full of haters. Forde is on it:
For all the many people who hate Aaron Craft, here’s your chance to pile on.
You’re a strange, sad lot. You’ve got issues. Ripping a guy with a 3.9 grade-point average who plays his guts out is a weirdly trendy thing to do for college basketball fans.
But for those disposed to do so, congrats. Today is Bash Aaron Craft Day.
I'm not here to bash Aaron Craft, but let's be clear: he is a role player. He is the apotheosis of the role player, sure, but the reason people get cranky about Aaron Craft is the never-ending hagiography for a guy who is merely a pretty good player.
There is frankly a racial component to this. You don't see people falling all over themselves to hype up Briante Weber, whose VCU team is ranked and headed for about the same seed as OSU thanks in large part to Weber's third consecutive year at the top of the Kenpom steals leaderboard. Or his teammate Shannon Scott, who is also top ten in steals. It's Craft that gets glorified as the underrated gutty gritty leader in a way that is out of proportion to his talent.
That's unfair to the his teammates and Craft himself. I've long defended the guy whenever people try to trash his game (no offense to Derrick Walton, but put Craft on this Michigan team and oh my gawd), but that's because I love guys who can make an impact without using possessions. They need to be put with high-usage guys, though—you know, stars. Craft is not that. But he comes with an avalanche of hype enough to get him on the midseason Wooden list as he leads his team to a 10-8 Big Ten record while taking 15% of OSU's shots.
At its heart, Craft backlash is Forde-and-company backlash. Some of it's misdirected; a lot of it is from 14 year olds; everyone would be much better off if people in the media would just acknowledge that Craft is who he is. GIFs of aairballs are prominent because the media is insistent on pretending Aaron Craft is something other than what he is.
Please be a new meme, please be a new meme, please be a new meme. We've had planking and Bradying and all sorts of ing ings, and now there needs to be an internet full of pictures of clothed people sitting in bathtubs looking hard.
YOU DON'T WANT THIS
Is Glenn On Fire Watch. Another efficient game with 11 points on 9 shot equivalents, and he brought defensive impact with a couple of blocks and three steals. He's still alarmingly light on rebounds.
There is the hint of a recovery in his three point shooting, as well. Over the last four games he's 5/13. Not much to go on for a guy who was at 32% last year and is at 28% this year, sure. Still another data point for those hoping Glenn is this year's tourney Mitch.
Is Stauskas Human Watch. NOPE.
I mean, he does that crossover to three pointer thing.
Death from above watch. Michigan's quest to end the season with five guys shooting 40% from three is very, very close. Walton is at .398, Spike at .390. LeVert has pulled himself a couple points above the line, sitting next to Irvin. Stauskas can't even see 40% unless he's got binoculars.
Seeding business. Most observers from Lunardi to the Bracket Matrix have moved Michigan to the one line after Wisconsin's Big Ten Tourney exit, and a lot of folks are speculating that Michigan may be locked in to that spot no matter what happens today.
Here’s my prediction: Michigan gets the fourth No. 1 seed today regardless of whether it wins or loses the Big Ten title game.
— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) March 16, 2014
Seems pretty easy for the committee to have a contingency plan based on the result of the championship game, but in past years it has seemed like they ignore or at least downplay Sunday results.
If Michigan does get that one seed they'll be in the East and acquire a Michigan-friendly Madison Square Garden. In that event I withdraw my Syracuse request, as they're one of the few schools that could overwhelm Michigan's NYC fanbase.
It's pointless to mention this when they're just going to unveil the brackets in a few hours but I started this sentence anyway so I will proceed by mentioning that I am not a huge fan of Lunardi's bracket, which features Oklahoma State as the eight seed, and greatly prefer the GW/Stanford setup presented by Palm.
Another motivation to get that one: Louisville has moved up to the three line on just about everyone's bracket, so a one can't draw the red hot 'Cards until a regional final.