Mike Lantry, 1972
The 4-3 is back, like it never sort of left and then really really left against Purdue and then came back and then altered into a slightly different version of itself and then mutated into a bizarre thing that was like the thing against Purdue but wasn't really because the person doing the mutating spent all his time watching his "Best of Just For Men Commercials" DVD. It will not suddenly be replaced by things that start with the number 3 and end with razorblades and pain. In the long term, this is delightful.
In the short term… eh… there might be some issues. This series is an attempt to fit Michigan's noses, ends, spurs, bandits, spinners, deathbackers, doombackers, dipbackers and frosting-covered gnomes into their new homes.
The defensive line appeared last week. This post covers linebackers, hybrids, safety-type objects, and, you know, whatever. There will not be a post covering the secondary since it shouldn't change much [Ed-M: he means in their job descriptions -- back away from the ledge...].
What we were forced to watch last year
God, who knows? Let's go back to that Wisconsin screenshot from the last post:
So. You've got Kenny Demens, the MLB, lined up about a yard behind the nose tackle. The nominal SLB, here JB Fitzgerald, is actually lined up to the weak side. The nominal WLB, Jonas Mouton, is lined up to the strong side and gets to line up a little bit deeper. Michigan compensates by drawing cornerback Courtney Avery into the box as a sort of Bieber-backer and half-rolling Kovacs down into the box. You can see Cam Gordon's feet to the top of the screen, covering the slot receiver.
Questions immediately pop to mind: why? what? argh? This was not really a 3-3-5, at least not one as run by Jeff Casteel. This was covered in an extensive picture pages after Penn State obliterated Michigan's defense in the game that was the beginning of the end, but it seemed like Michigan was keeping Demens in the same place in all formations. Here's 4-3 and 3-4 alignments:
Demens spent his year a yard or two back of a nose tackle, shaded to one side. Casteel MLBs lined up 5-7 yards deep and ran like demons to wherever the play is going; Demens got swallowed by unblocked guards through no fault of his own and left Michigan vulnerable to counter after counter.
And then in addition to the 4-3, 4-4, and 3-4 looks above we also got some glimpses of something that actually looked like a 3-3-5, except with two deep safeties and the MLB still too close to the LOS:
So the answer to the strangled yelps of misery was "Michigan ran everything… terribly."
Outside of Demens, Mouton spent the year as the WLB (apparently unless teams were putting twins to one side), where he ran down stuff, plowed fullbacks at the line, crushed blocks to make great individual plays, and lost contain over and over. The SLB was some combination of Craig Roh, JB Fitzgerald, and Obi Ezeh. All were confused, slow, prone to get lost in space, and ill-suited for the spot.
Further outside yet, Carvin Johnson, Thomas Gordon, and Cam Gordon split time at the spur with the larger Gordon seeming to lock down the position after his move from free safety(!). Yes, Michigan's starting free safety ended the year as essentially a strongside linebacker. Jordan Kovacs's role as a tiny weakside linebacker was actually more safety-ish than people thought it would be, but he still rolled down into the box plenty.
What we were forced to watch the year before
Michigan was a 4-3 under similar to the one above. Here's that shot from the 2009 Iowa game again. While the line isn't undershifted it does provide a canonical example of what the linebackers usually do in the system:
Now we're looking at the linebackers so note that Stevie Brown is lined up right outside of SDE Craig Roh, ready to take on a tight end. The other linebackers are at the same depth (five yards) lined up over the guards. Michigan's rolled SS Mike Williams into the box. Iowa ends up running a zone stretch right at Brown; he keeps contain and allows Mouton/Ezeh to flow over the top of Roh, blow up the fullback, and make a TFL.
There wasn't much else as far as the linebackers. Brown hung out around tight ends and slot receivers all year and the two MLBs were pretty much just MLBs. There weren't dudes at different depths, dudes moving all over the place, dudes playing 4-3 on one snap, 3-3-5 on another, 3-4 on another. The LBs lined up five yards deep over the guards, end of story*.
*[of course this is not literally true, but on the vast bulk of snaps this occurred.]
What can't possibly be quite as bad next year
Again, the assumption here is that Michigan is going to be running a 4-3 under similar to what they did in 2009. This assumption is an easy one to make since the head coach said it point blank. Details on what that means for the line—the "under" bit—can be found in the first post in the series.
As for what that means for the associated linebackers, look above. Against pro-style teams one linebacker will roll down to the TE side of the LOS and the other guys will hang out about five yards off the LOS.
What you need at each spot
To refresh your memory, here's an aerial view of a 4-3 under:
The strongside linebacker needs to be a magical athlete made out of beef and lightning who can take on a TE effectively, contain runs, and move out into the slot to cover little buggers. Oh and if he's an awesome pass rusher that would be cool too. So Lamarr Woodley except faster. Maybe Shawn Crable or Prescott Burgess. Failing that, teams pick one of two paradigms and make do:
Lumbering quasi-DE sort of like Roh who can take pressure off the SDE and do more than just force running plays inside of him when matched up against a TE.
A sort of super strong safety who may not be able to take on TEs except by setting up outside of them but is a fantastic tackler in space and a guy who doesn't have to come off the field when opponents go to spread formations.
When Greg Robinson wasn't denying its existence, the "spinner" was obviously concept #2. Stevie Brown had an excellent senior year doing that. Johnny Thompson was concept #1, and that burned Michigan badly. With passing attacks so effective these days most teams are moving towards #2. If you worried they'll go with #1, don't be: they don't have anyone on the roster who can plausibly be that guy.
The middle linebacker is a middle linebacker. In the under he has to expect more blocks since usually the bubble in the line is the guy lined up directly over him, so he has to be smart about where his help is and funnel guys back inside. Quick decisions and the quickness to get on the side the OL doesn't want you on are at a premium.
The weakside linebacker is a weakside linebacker. He's protected by the three and five tech, usually gets a free run at someone or another, and has to be an athletic tackling machine plus blitzer. Mouton, basically.
Or at least that's the book. In reality it's nowhere near that neat. The Iowa play linked above that shows Ezeh charging downhill at a zone stretch, getting outside of the fullback, and allowing Mouton to tackle is a canonical example of the responsibilities these guys have:
Everyone says the MLB is going to deal with a blocker and the WLB is going to have the play funneled back to him. This is what happens here. But in truth I think the differences between the two guys are overblown. On the losing contain play it's Mouton who needs to deal with a blocker and funnel back to his buddy. Plenty of times throughout the year it was Demens picking through trash to get to ballcarriers or Mouton thundering into a fullback at the LOS.
I think of the 4-3 under as something halfway between a 4-3 and a 3-4. The SLB and WDE are kind of versions of 3-4 OLBs—playmakers who can drop into coverage or blitz. The one-tech DT is sort of a version of a 3-4 NT. He doesn't need to control two gaps, but he's a big guy who needs to eat up two opponents. Etc. In a 3-4 the MLBs are interchangeable. That's not quite the case here but the two MLBs are more alike than different in the under, especially with all the shifting and motion teams employ in an effort to get you off balance and maybe force that WLB to take on a block or that MLB to run. Playing SLB is a different world entirely.
And since it seems silly to break out another post for one position that's changing, the strong safety wants to be Jordan Kovacs running a 4.5 at 220 pounds. What Kovacs did with Michigan last year will be about what the strong safety does next year—the "bandit" thing was overblown. Kovacs played plenty of deep half zones over the course of the season. He also rolled up to the line and blitzed, covered tight ends in man, etc. He was a strong safety on a team that was aggressive with its safeties.
Who goes where
Kenny Demens is the middle linebacker. Attempts to replace him with Obi Ezeh will be thwarted by a pucky band of kids ripping off the Mattison mask, etc.
On the strongside Cam Gordon is the clear leader after finishing the year as the "spur" in Michigan's 3-3-5. That is a very close analogue to the SLB in a 4-3 under. The guy next to you is still a strong, run-defending DE with a little more pop than a 3-4 end. You're still taking on tight ends against run and pass… unless you're getting dragged into the slot. Gordon's got the biggest frame of any Michigan linebacker, ballooning and buried Isaiah Bell aside, and can put on a lot of beef over the offseason to help him in his dual roles as tight end defender and roving punch-the-slot-in-the-face guy. He's got a season's worth of starting experience. He'll have to fight for it but he's got the edge.
This is where the linebacker who wasn't Demens or Mouton probably ends up competing, so seniors Brandon Herron and JB Fitzgerald are tentatively slotted as the competition. Neither has done much so far. Other options here include the other two freshmen spurs, but Thomas Gordon and Carvin Johnson might be needed elsewhere.
Michigan has a surfeit of options on the weakside, where Michigan's attempt to move to the 3-3-5 has left them with a zillion kinda-sorta safeties who can run and maybe, hopefully tackle. Pick any underclassman listed at strong safety on the depth chart by class and there's a 50-50 chance you'll see him competing at WLB in spring. Mike Jones was Mouton's primary backup and seemed to be the leader in the race to replace him, but one season-ending injury later he's just another guy with no experience. He joins Josh Furman and Marvin Robinson in that group. Also, this could be the landing spot for the little Gordon or Johnson.
Some of these guys are ticketed for safety, but we won't know which ones until spring. Robinson and Johnson bounced back and forth as freshmen; Thomas Gordon spent his redshirt year there before getting the call at spur last spring. If you put a gun to my head I'd say Johnson and his tackling win the job, but this could be any of a half-dozen guys.
At strong safety, heroic efforts will be made to dislodge Jordan Kovacs. They will fail. The effort will be provided by some combination of Robinson, Thomas Gordon, and Johnson.
Awkwardness Rating On A One To Rodriguez-Interviews-Hoke Scale
Like the defensive line, operating in a 4-3 makes fine sense for Michigan's personnel. Ironically, it's the exotic wing guys with funny names who fit most neatly in to the new scheme, since they'll be doing pretty much what they were doing before. The biggest adjustment will be from the two middle linebackers, except the two middle linebackers did just fine as 3-4/4-3 guys—Demens, in particular spent two years playing MLB in 4-3 under schemes before last year's experiment.
Really, anything but the 3-3-5, especially the Robinson version, should be better. Michigan had their best day as a rush defense against Iowa when they replaced Ezeh and ran—drumroll—various 4-3s and 3-4s most of the day. Iowa couldn't get anything Jibreel Black being a freshman or Jonas Mouton losing contain didn't give them.
When they went to the bizarre non-stack it allowed Evan Royster to go from massive disappointment to massive disappointment with his usual billion yards against Michigan. In doing so stripped Kenny Demens of the ability he showed in previous games and put a ton of pressure on Mouton to do the contain thing he doesn't do so well. I don't think I'll ever understand it.
After a year of being "multiple" and cratering Michigan needs to establish a baseline defense that might be predictable and medicore but at least gives everyone on the team an idea of what they do, and if Gordon develops they should be fine in the front seven save the scary lack of depth on the DL.
We're onto the 2012 class, eh? How many scholarships does Michigan have to give? What's the breakdown on commits at different positions? Who are likely options at some of those positions? All that and more inside Wednesday Recruitin'!
The Numbers and Positions
Take a gander at the Depth Chart by Class, and you'll see there are 83 scholarship players on the 2011 football roster (including Jordan Kovacs as a scholarship player). That means there are two open slots for the 2012 class.
In addition, Michigan will have 15 scholarship players see their eligibility expire following the 2011 season - Shaw, Hemingway, Stonum, Odoms, Grady, Koger, Huyge, Molk, Martin, Van Bergen, Watson, Herron, Fitzgerald, Woolfolk and Williams. Whether or not Mike Williams sticks around for his fifth year doesn't affect the 2012 class because he's gone after this season either way.
Altogether, that means our operating number for the 2012 class starts at 17, before there's any roster attrition. Assuming a couple players ultimately leave the team for any reason (unrenewed fifth years, early NFL entry, etc.), we'll peg the starting number at 19.
Without going into too much (boring) detail, Michigan needs by position are approximately as follows:
- QB: 1
- RB: 1
- WR: 2
- Slot: 0
- TE: 1-2
- OT: 2
- OG: 1-2
- OC: 0
- DT: 2
- DE: 2
- LB: 2
- S: 2
- CB: 1
If you want the nitty-gritty, you can peruse the Depth Chart by Class. In next week's recruiting update, I'll run down all the prospects Michigan has offered once more, and hopefully a recruiting board will be operational by then. After that, recruiting updates should be back to normal.
Michigan decided to go on an offer blitz shortly after last week's recruiting update went up (great timing, guys!). Among the newly-offered prospects are:
Cass Tech teammates LB Royce Jenkins-Stone and CB Terry Richardson received offers ($, info in headers) from Michigan's staff on Wednesday. Richardson is turning into a serious bigtime prospect. Already holding an offer from Bama, USC entered the mix last week. Jenkins-Stone is planning to make an early commitment (HT: Mgomember LarryHarrison), and is getting bigtime offers of his own.
Unsatisfied with offering only one set of teammates on Wednesday, the Wolverines went up the road to Farmington Hills, giving offers to Harrison WR Aaron Burbridge, TE Devin Funchess, and DE Mario Ojemudia ($, info in header). FHH has been a Michigan State feeder lately, so it remains to be seen if Brady Hoke and Co. can steal any of these prospects away from the Spartans. 24/7 Sports fluff on the Harrison guys, and Burbridge tells them he's "always been a State fan."
OH QB Maty Mauk received a Michigan offer. He told Tom that he plans to make it up to Ann Arbor within the next couple weeks. As the younger brother of former Cincinnati QB Ben Mauk, most assume Notre Dame's Brian Kelly should be able to land him.
Michigan has offered NC RB Keith Marshall, who is likely to be among the top prospects in the nation. His highlight reel is a sight to behold:
CA TE Taylor McNamara has received an offer.
IL OL Dan Voltz was offered by the Wolverines and plans to make an early decision ($, info in header).
The Wolverines have offered CA OL Kyle Murphy, according to a local paper.
AZ OL Andrus Peat (younger brother of 2011 Nebraska signee Todd Peat) received a Michigan offer this week. He should be one of the nation's top offensive linemen in this class.
IL DT Tommy Schutt has a Michigan offer ($, info in header).
OH DE Se'Von Pittman received an offer from Michigan last week, along with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State.
“He is wide open,” [McKinley coach Ron] Johnson said. “There are a lot of different things he’s interested in. He’s going to go through the whole process and really get to meet guys. There are a lot of new staffs involved; guys he’ll want to meet and get to know. I just hope they go where they want to be, and where they’re going to have a chance for a good career.”
One of those places is Michigan. The Wolverines hired Brady Hoke to replace Rich Rodriguez. Hoke is from Ohio and seems to be making a renewed commitment to battling the Buckeyes in their backyard
Despite what his coach says, Pittman (pictured) is widely considered to be a heavy lean to the Buckeyes, and would be an excellent pull for Brady Hoke and Co.
WI LB Vince Biegel, who Tom says was offered Wednesday. Scout says he has three standouts ($, info in header), and considering the article was written by Sam Webb, smart money says Michigan is one of them. Biegel is a Mormon, but he says BYU doesn't have an advantage in his recruitment - although his father played there.
Michigan's new coaching staff is still interested in FL QB Bennie Coney. As mentioned in the fall, he didn't play football this season due to a disciplinary issue, but is still on good terms with his head coach.
Michigan State has offered and leads for OH RB William Mahone ($, info in header).
CA WR Bryce Treggs is hoping for a Michigan offer.
FL OL Cody Waldrop is hoping for a Michigan offer.
Michigan was "a childhood favorite" for IN DT Sheldon Day ($, info in header).
Tom gets an update from the coach of PA DE Noah Spence, who is one of the top prospects in the Keystone State:
"We'll try to get [Noah's highlight film] out in the next couple days, we'll email it to every program in the country probably next week," said Head Coach Jeff Weachter. "Michigan hasn't gotten it yet, but I'd imagine they will offer once they do, everyone else has."
Spence's father is researching every school in-depth, so Michigan's hire of Greg Mattison is certain to help the Wolverines. Mattison is also acquaintances with Spence's head coach.
Michigan's interest in OH DE Tom Strobel has "intensified" ($, info in header). He holds a Michigan offer.
OR DE Alex Balducci sent Michigan his film, and may get an offer soon.
Though he hasn't been offered yet, NJ S/LB DJ Singleton is expecting one from the Wolverines soon. Miami and Rutgers have already sent offers.
IN Ath David Perkins is interested in hearing from Michigan.
Tom's Weekly Update has a metric ton of information, and with limited space, I'm just going to link it and say read the whole thing. If you need more prodding, there's an update on LEVITICUS PAYNE within.
IL OL Jordan Diamond is the subject of this week's Sam Webb column in the Detroit News:
"I'm most definitely still a fan of Michigan. No doubt about it -- Michigan is Michigan. I still enjoy watching those guys play. I'm in the process of getting some old film from Michigan. I'm really excited... We talk about (going to the same school) all the time," Diamond said of he and [2011 MIchigan Commit Chris] Bryant.
Scout's Alen Trieu says he's a borderline 5-star entering his junior season. Diamond would be a great and for Brady Hoke's staff. He's certainly no lock, but a visit this weekend could be a great start to building a lead. Despite being on-campus, he will not participate in the Best of the Midwest...
Speaking of which, it's not a University-sponsored event, but the Al Glick Fieldhouse will again serve as the venue for the Best of the Midwest Showcase this Sunday (last year it was called the Michigan Football Showcase). Allen Trieu breaks down the linemen who will participate. In similar news, New Level Athletics will be hosting a 7-on-7 Tournament in Ann Arbor again this summer. SI.com's Andy Staples explores how such tournaments are changing football recruiting in that article.
Both of the above-linked events provide an opportunity for prospects to experience Michigan's campus, even if the coaches can't use them as recruiting visits.
AZ QB Connor Brewer left the board last week, as he committed to Texas, and now another prospect - this one already holding an offer - is off the table. FL RB Matt Jones committed to Florida.
Rivals releases their initial 250 to Watch, and Touch the Banner breaks down which guys might have Michigan interest. Maxpreps's Top 10 includes a couple Michigan targets. 2011 Commit Frank Clark wants to reopen a Michigan pipeline to Cleveland Glenville ($, info in header). Ohio State recruiting guru Duane Long says "Hoke ain't no Joke." Dr. Saturday breaks down 2011 recruiting geographically. Fox Sports's Dave Dye runs down the 2011 class. SBNation Pittsburgh has a semi-novel idea with a Penn State offer matrix, so I ask you: would anyone be interested if I repeated that for Michigan?
Offensive line is going to be a big focus for the Michigan coaching staff in the 2012 class. Since it's a harder position to evaluate there won't be as many early offers extended than at other positions. OL Tyler Alt (6'3", 265 lbs), from Greensburg, Pennsylvania is one prospect that the Michigan coaches have their eye on. Here's his offensive film, and where he's at in the recruiting process. Tyler also has a defensive film posted if you'd like to watch that.
TOM: Have you been in contact with the Michigan coaches yet?
TYLER: Yes, they told me they want me to come up to their junior day. I'm going to try to make it up for that, and if not then I'll try to go to a spring practice.
TOM: What coaches have you been talking to from Michigan?
TYLER: Coach Funk is my position coach, and Coach Mallory is my area recruiter. I've talked to both of them so far.
TOM: What other schools are in contact with you right now, and where are some other places you want to visit?
TYLER: I went to a junior day at Maryland, I'm going North Carolina next weekend, Michigan State at the end of the month, and then I'll probably go to Pitt at the beginning of March. I've been invited out to a lot of spring practices and games from Penn State, Michigan, Purdue, LSU, Oregon, FSU, and Maryland among others.
TOM: That's a good list to work off of. You play offense and defense now, what position are most schools recruiting you for?
TYLER: Most of them see me as a center on offense because I move well, and I have a 77 inch wingspan, but there are some that see me as a defensive tackle too. Michigan has said offensive line for me.
TOM: Do you have a preference of offense or defense?
TYLER: I'll play wherever they need me. I like both sides really; I just like hitting. My family is friends with Russ Grimm and he put it well in his Hall of Fame speech, "The ability to move a man from point A to point B against his will is a wonderful thing."
TOM: Since you're from Pennsylvania you probably have a good understanding for the Big Ten and their style of football. Did you have a favorite team growing up?
TYLER: I grew up a Pitt fan, but I've really gotten to see the Big Ten and ACC over the past year and I've become a fan of it all. I'm trying to take it all in and see the best place where I fit with them and vice versa. I know I really enjoyed my first two visits to Michigan already.
TOM: Let me rephrase that, are there any schools that you would really love offers from at this point?
TYLER: I would love offers from Michigan, MSU, Penn State, Purdue, Iowa, NC State, North Carolina, LSU, FSU, Maryland, Auburn, Syracuse, and Pitt.
TOM: When you're evaluating these schools what is going to be the most important factor for you?
TYLER: Academics is important to me. I have a 3.6 GPA, I take honors courses and two AP classes now. I'm getting some letters from some of the Ivy league schools. I want to be a teacher and a coach, so that is really important to me.
2/11/2011 – Michigan 3, OSU 2 – 18-9-4, 15-7-1 CCHA
2/12/2011 – Michigan 2, OSU 1 – 19-9-4, 16-7-1 CCHA
As with the basketball team, no grand soaring narrative bits as the hockey team did what it needed to do against Ohio State. They did in in the way they had to do it if they were going to do it. They further established themselves as a pretty good team that's obviously not great. They're going to have to deflect their way to glory.
On Friday an elderly gentleman sitting next to my friend said "there's just something missing with this team" out of nowhere—he was bothered—and my friend said "scorers" and that led to a conversation about all the various ways in which scorers are fun to have. I didn't participate. I sat there and thought "AAARGH" as Michigan almost scored on a dozen cross-crease passes. I've gone from missing TJ Hensick to missing Andy Hilbert to missing Brandon Kaleniecki, and now I'm missing all of them. Michigan can't score on two on ones, one-timers, or pucks that skitter a foot from the goalmouth*. At the same time their defense is probably the deepest and best Red's ever had. Watching them play is persistently odd, which is why old Midwesterners break with the strong and silent bit to complain to people they don't know.
The line revamp was interesting. Vaughn, Rust, and Glendening got the start on Friday, which was odd until it became clear that Red was matching that line against the Alberts/Somma line that provides the bulk of OSU's offense. That left Hagelin/Caporusso/Brown and Moffatt/Treais/Wohlberg against weaker competition. I'd say that's getting the bulk of Michigan's scoring away from top lines and allowing them to be more offensive minded, but Scooter scored his tenth of the year on Friday. So I can't. That's the idea, though.
It seemed to work for the Wohlberg line. All those guys have some skill and Moffatt and Treais seem to be taking steps forward as the season progresses. Treais is now doing a couple of noticeably skillful things per game and Moffatt has had at least one shift in the last four games where I thought to myself "that's a really good shift"; they were the only two to come out of the Miami weekend with any credit. Moffatt opened the scoring in the 2-1 win Saturday, with Treais getting the first assist, and if Michigan can keep them out there against third lines they should outscore on the regular.
Hagelin and Caporusso were a little awkward but got goals even if they rode up a defenseman's stick or were unscreened shots that went five-hole or… well… you know the drill by now. A lot of Michigan's goals are weird bounces of the puck. They win by getting more opportunities at weird bounces against teams that can't break down their D.
So it goes. Three series left (including the playoffs), two against bad to very bad opponents, two at home, a tourney bid all but assured—feels like biding time until Michigan gets an opportunity to reprise their phoenix act from last year.
*[For those who don't remember Kaleniecki, imagine a 5'9" Thomas Holmstrom. This about sums it up:
I'm not sure he ever scored a goal from more than three feet, but despite that he always hit double digits by the end of the year. The definition of a mucker. Also he scored this very silly goal.]
With a couple weeks left in the regular season it's now feasible to look at the PWR with an eye towards its final incarnation. This is where I'd go into the individual comparisons and fish out which were gone and which were flippable but mfan_in_ohio has already done so.
The upshot: Michigan's only lost three comparisons irrevocably and has at least a slim shot at the rest. Realistically, comparisons against BC, Denver, and a few others are longshots dependent on a precise set of results Michigan has no control over. The reasonable best-case scenario is to move up from 9th to 6th or 7th, snagging a two-seed and removing any chance Michigan would play North Dakota or some other high-power WCHA team in the first round.
This year's a weird one as far as desired seedings go. Yale and Union are doing very well nationally—even schedule-obsessed KRACH likes them—but the ECAC hasn't had a national contender in a decade and I'm not sure how I'd feel if Michigan ended up eighth and got bracketed with Union with (presumably) Yale to follow. I don't think I'd like it much. Even if Yale is playing weak competition they're the top scoring team in the country by a half goal and are outscoring opponents by 2.12 goals per game. That's a lot of goals per game. A schedule argument only goes so far when KRACH likes you without even considering the fact that you're not just beating teams, you're bludgeoning them.
Non-bullets and stuff
For the record. This is my 12th year at Yost and while I haven't been to every game I've been to the vast bulk. I've never seen a three-for-three night at Score-O before. Can anyone recall the last time that happened?
Conference race. Michigan is a point behind ND after they swept Bowling Green. Miami took four points from WMU and is tied with M but both of those teams will spend their games in hand. Despite being a point back Michigan should feel they've got a good chance. This weekend Michigan gets Western at home; ND gets Ferris on the road; the next weekend Michigan gets Northern on the road as ND plays a home and home with Western.
Where did they come from? Usually opposing fans are limited to the parents section and maybe a pocket or two in the endzone. That was the case Friday, but on Saturday there were lots of OSU fans—probably more visiting fans than I've seen since MSU was in its Mason heyday. Where did they come from? Why did they only show up Saturday? Should I carry around a voice recorder just in case this happens again so I have proof of the things that come out of their mouths?
Aggressive. OSU's coach was very aggressive when it came to pulling his goalie. Both nights Heeter left with about two minutes left and stayed out the rest of the game; OSU didn't score but didn't get scored on either. I've been bugging my buddy about this for much of the year when opponents get an opportunity: if you're down one and you get a power play with 3 minutes left or whatever, shouldn't you pull the goalie?
Pateryn: erratic. Greg Pateryn is probably driving the coaches crazy, as he's alternating Llewellyn-like aggression at the blue line that gives up odd-man rushes with great passes and backchecks.
Brown: scores. Also guh. I wasn't sure Brown's major was a good call but Yost Built had the benefit of replay and said it was "obvious," so okay. In the immediate postgame Red said he hadn't seen it but had "heard it was a legitimate major penalty in college. You can’t do that." Also, the night before I thought Brown was definitely getting the gate for his other boarding/charging/general naughtiness, so if that played into the refs decision that's understandable.
Chris Brown: please stop doing this. The naughtiness, not the scoring.
Yost Built covers the weekend in depth and raises an excellent point:
I'm starting to think that you could make a damn fine case for Shawn Hunwick as the first team All-CCHA goalie. He's third in wins, despite playing 7 fewer games than Pat Nagle and three fewer than Mike Johnson. He's second in GAA to Connor Knapp, second in save percentage to Will Yanakeff (who has only played in 9 games), and tied for first in shutouts. I could see giving it to Nagle as he's put up killer numbers and has barely gotten two goals per game of support, but Hunwick has been really fantastic for the Wolverines after a slow start (and it's not like we've given him a ton of goals lately either).
That's amazing. Red said Hunwick was the starter point blank before the weekend and after saving 55 of 58 shots he's done nothing to change that.
Had some issues this morning; apologies for the late content.
Ambivalence at maximum. Michigan now has a Chief Marketing Officer, which is a development I meet with trepidation. On the one hand, maybe he'll think that Michigan's main asset is not being a pro sports team and he'll put a replica of Special K's head on a pike outside Michigan Stadium and we will never hear "Let The Bodies Hit The Floor" at a Michigan sporting event ever again. On the other hand, he used to work for the Knicks and might think the thing that's missing from Yost is Saliva.
I have to say the guy's quotes do not fill me with joy:
"Digital marketing is a huge emphasis in the social media world," he said. "How do you take that to the next level?"
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN I LIVE ON THE INTERNET AND THOSE ARE NOT WORDS OF SENSE
There's more like that. Hopefully the guy does more to fill Crisler than to explore "revenue opportunities."
As a side note: There's been some chatter on message boards from people who saw Brandon speak at one of those alumni things about Michigan charging for admission to the spring game and plastering ads all over Michigan Stadium for the event. We'll see if that actually comes to fruition or if it's just idle talk but it sounded convincing, and it was on the internet. So definitely true.
Impending largeness. Michigan's got five games left in the regular season, one against a Minnesota team that escaped Crisler with a narrow win earlier this season. There was a hockey game at the same time so I have no idea what transpired in that game but if it was anything like what happened against Iowa, it was large and lumbering:
That's the zone they played; 45, 50, and 32 are Colton Iverson, Ralph Sampson III, and Trevor Mbakwe, who are all at least 6'8". With 6'7" Rodney Williams getting a bunch of time and Al Nolen out for the rest of the regular season, Minnesota is just an enormous basketball team. They're 7th nationally in Kenpom's "effective height" metric. But wait, there's more: Michigan plays #1 Illinois next. Outside shooting is going to be important, as will the ball movement to exploit some plodders.
This film does not exist. The Fab Five beatiing Illinois in 1993:
The striking thing how Michigan just forces stuff up that goes down, but that might be an effect of Wolverine Historian clipping out possessions that don't end in scores. Also: remember when Chris Webber could jump?
They were totally voluntary, for real. Houston Nutt Roster Katana UPDATE:
Ole Miss releases scholarship numbers; Nutt says departures were voluntary
Houston Nutt Roster Katana UPDATE UPDATE [same article]:
[Nutt] encouraged me to try to talk to the players and ask them if he ran them off. I have tried, of course. Haynes wouldn’t comment when reached on Thursday. And attempts to contact the other players have been unsuccessful.
Houston Nutt Roster Katana UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE:
But soon after losing the competition for the starting job in late August, Bailey was approached by Nutt and (then-Arkansas special teams coach James) Shibest, who told the kicker he would have to pay his own way if he wanted to play football. As they explained at the time, they didn’t realize that Bailey’s partial academic grant would count toward the team’s 85-scholarship limit. …
Bailey and his family couldn’t afford the out-of-state tuition, room and board. His father, Gary, is a production technician at Metal Container Corp. who suffers from chronic rheumatoid arthritis. His mother is a wedding coordinator. So Bailey returned home before Arkansas’ 2006 opener and stayed there for several months. Here was the class valedictorian at Yukon Southwest Covenant, just hanging around doing nothing.
Etc.: Adorable child sings The Victors. I elaborated on the Fanhouse/Bleacher Report post for Dave Kindred, who published an article about sports media remaining relevant in the internet era. In a nutshell, I think guys like Luke Winn doing stuff so good ESPN steals it is the route forward for official journalists. Urban Meyer blasts NCAA corruption, provides no details. Darius Morris numbers: sexy.
With Indiana out of the way, Michigan has now reached a certain point in their season. Every game is The Most Important Game Of The Season until it's over, at which point it just makes the next one The New Most Important Game Of The Season. So, what will it take to make the NCAA Tournament? Let's look at the numbers in comparison to the last two Michigan teams.
|Conf Strength (Kenpom)||5th||4th||1st|
|Big Ten Tourney Teams||7||5||???|
This team has a lot more in common with the 10-seed of 2009 than the squad that didn't even make the NIT last season, but it's still a bit worse. With a 3-2 close to the regular season (no small feat), the numbers should be approximately equal to the Tournament squad, though the Big Ten is much tougher this year than it has been in either of the past two seasons. However, the 2009 team had signature non-conference wins against UCLA (a 6-seed) and Duke (a 2-seed). This year's team has beaten Clemson, Harvard, and Oakland. All three are likely to make the tournament - assuming Harvard exacts revenge on Princeton for their only Ivy League loss - but not as top seeds.
Let's look at some teams from last year that 1) had similar profiles to 201-11 Michigan, and 2) made the tournament. For the purposes of this exercise, only at-large teams from strong conferences are relevant. I've plucked a couple comparable teams from last year's tourney field. For the most part, these were the lowest-seeded teams from their respective conferences.
|2010 NCAA Tournament|
|Conf Strength (Kenpom)||1st||2nd||3rd||4th||5th|
|Conf Tourney Teams||6||7||8||5||4|
A couple notes:
- Georgia Tech was terrible in conference, but had good Kenpom and RPI numbers (they got into the tourney over 10-6 ACC Virginia Tech because the Hokies played a terrible non-conference schedule).
- MIssouri was by far the strongest team to Kenpom. They also had the fewest losses. However, they were one of only two teams to lose in the first round of their conference tournament.
- Louisville is the other first-round loser in their conference tournament. Their strength of schedule and decent finish in the Big East (a 16-team conference) got them in.
- Minnesota is probably the most comparable to Michigan this year. They have the most losses of any of these teams, but played their way into the tournament by reaching the Big 10 final.
- Florida played in the weakest conference of any of these teams, with the worst Kenpom and RPI numbers (taking strength of schedule into account). However, a winning record - and committee guilt about only three SEC teams getting in - helped them make the tournament.
Though they don't want to admit it--Tim Hardaway's epic coachspeak: "Make sure we take it one game at a time. The next game is the most important game."--the players are aware of the opportunity in front of them. The question becomes whether they'll rise to the challenge, as they did two years ago. or fold under the pressure. Here are a few other player quotes about looking to the Tournament:
- Stu Douglass, on whether the team has the tournament in the back of their minds: "We've said it out loud in the locker room. There's no hiding from it."
- Darius Morris, on the team's change after the MSU game: "From there on, we knew what kind of intensity we need to have."
- Darius Morris, on whether the team has talked about making the tournament: "You've gotta visualize your success before it can happen."
- Zack Novak, on watching other Big Ten games on TV: "If I'm watching, I kinda just watch as a fan... I think you usually know what team you need to win to help you out a little bit."
It seems like the team is determined to keep the NCAA Tournament run in the corner of their eye, but in order to achieve it, is focused on the old coaching cliche of "one game at a time."
What does it Mean?
If Michigan goes 3-2 over their final five games - as we'll see, that's no guarantee - their numbers should be comparable to their tournament team of a couple years ago, or Minnesota last year. However, they're doing it in a much stronger Big Ten. It's Kenpom's #1 conference; the past two years it was 5th and 4th. Reaching .500 in conference should land them around 6th, and going 1-1 in the Big Ten Tournament would likely be good enough to get into the tournament unless other results break against them, especially since there are three additional slots this year.
|Ohio State||24-1 (11-1)||1||3|
|Michigan State||14-10 (6-6)||48||48|
|Penn State||13-11 (6-7)||52||70|
That means your rooting interests are as follows:
- You want Michigan to win out (obviously). If they go better than 3-2 in their final five, I think they're a lock. Kempom predicts a win only in the season finale against Michigan State. He gives Michigan less than 25% chance of going 9-9 or better in conference (3-2 or better over the final 5 games).
- Cheer for all of Michigan's non-conference opponents. Bowling Green has a chance to win the MAC, Syracuse can win the Big East, UTEP can win Conference USA, Clemson can win the ACC(!), Harvard should win the Ivy League, and Oakland should win the Summit League. You want very badly for all of this to happen.
- In the Big Ten, cheer against the teams in Michigan's tier (see handy graphic at right), so the Wolverines finish as high in the standings as possible. This means pull against Illinois, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Penn State probably doesn't have a chance to make the tournament unless they win the Big Ten Tournament, but you still don't want them to finish ahead of Michigan.
- Also in the Big Ten, cheer against Purdue and Illinois, since those are the teams Michigan played once. When they play each other (as they did yesterday and will again on March 1st), you want Purdue to win, because of the above point.