If you wanted to concoct the most painful possible basketball game to watch, at least when it comes to mid-January non-conference road games, Saturday's 66-64 heartbreaker at Arkansas was about as bad as it gets from a fan perspective. We saw:
- The end of the Kentucky game go long, causing most fans—including myself—to miss at least the first few minutes of the game.
- Arkansas hit their first 11 shots from the field en route to opening up a 20-point lead.
- Michigan turn the ball over five times in the first ten minutes as they looked entirely unprepared to handle the Razorbacks's "40 Minutes of Hell" full-court press.
- The Wolverines embark on a lengthy comeback run, only Arkansas kept Michigan at arms-length until Zack Novak cut the deficit to two points with just 3:48 left.
- A four-minute stretch during that span in which neither team scored a point.
- Zack Novak almost kill a guy.
- Trey Burke's final shot go halfway down then cruelly bounce out as the buzzer sounded.
That was not fun. At all. The most joy I got from that game was watching Novak stick it to the Arkansas crowd by sinking clutch three after clutch three, only I felt guilty doing so because I'm pretty sure Novak should've been ejected. Yes, he made an effort to block the shot, but nailing an airborne player in the head with your forearm while running at full speed is pretty damn dangerous.
That's besides the point, though. The point is that Michigan could never quite put it all together, dropping a very winnable game and leaving the Wolverines still lacking a true road win this season. If M lands on the bubble come tournament time, this is going to be the "what if?" game that could come back to haunt them.
The key was that press, spearheaded by a deep Arkansas rotation that kept fresh legs on the floor while Michigan's fairly-thin core group of players tried to keep pace. The Wolverines looked blindsided by the press early on, and instead of slowing the game down and playing at their tempo, they sped up. I don't have video of the opening minutes, but the sequence that led to Novak's flagrant foul is pretty indicative:
I'm pretty sure that play violated Rush the Court's first three rules for breaking the Arkansas press. Even when Michigan was able to get through, settling down into their half-court offense was another issue entirely.
Other than Jordan Morgan, who scored 16 points on 7-11 shooting and had eight straight to key Michigan's second-half surge, no Wolverine had an all-around solid game statistically. Trey Burke dished out six assists to just two turnovers and grabbed seven (!) rebounds, but his 13 points came on 6-19 shooting and he was just 1-6 from deep. Novak led the team with 17 points and connected on 5-7 three-pointers, but he turned the ball over four times and struggled to keep pace defensively. Nobody else cracked double-digits in the scoring column, and it took the still-slumping Tim Hardaway Jr. eight shots to score nine points.
Michigan will look to move on from this game quickly, but the remaining stretch is brutal. The Wolverines head to Purdue tomorrow night (KenPom: 35% win probability), then play at Ohio State (5%), at home vs. Indiana (43%), and at Michigan State (13%) over the next two weeks. In fact, going by KenPom, the Wolverines are projected to win just four of their remaining 11 games. While that would give the team a 20-11 record (10-8 B1G), almost assuredly locking up a spot in the tournament, the team could be looking at another uphill battle to even reach the second day, let alone the Sweet Sixteen.
While that would still satisfy expectations, we all know from experience that life on the bubble is a stressful existence. With Hardaway struggling, Smotrycz disappearing, and the team leaning heavily on a freshman point guard, something is going to have to change—and soon—if Michigan wants to avoid a late-season swoon. I trust John Beilein to make the necessary adjustments, but once again, the burden will be placed on a group of mostly-inexperienced players to pull through.
And yet, Michigan remains tied atop the Big Ten standings. Please don't ask me to explain what's going on this year. It's probably best to strap yourself in, because it's going to be one hell of a ride from this point forward.
pictured: the NCAA's ideal crowd for a regional
College hockey is currently infected with two things that exacerbate the general meaninglessness of the regular season and often make tournament venues sterile, embarrassingly empty events. They are a fetish for neutral sites and a general agreement to ignore the Michigan/Ohio/Indiana nexus of college hockey in favor of putting everything out West. Only the miraculously blinkered Wisconsin athletic department and their press apparatchiks manage to combine both.
Neutral sites are stupid. They lead to things like sixty people in an NHL building in St. Louis hundreds of miles from any college hockey program. They should be viciously abolished wherever they don't obviously work already. This is something we can all agree on. Except Wisconsin. After months of reporting about how Wisconsin was unhappy with the way the Big Ten hockey conference was shaking out, Andy Baggot's back with a helpful suggestion.
Shifting Big Ten hockey to neutral site would eliminate WIAA conflict
Argh. Baggot is under the mistaken impression that anyone outside the state of Wisconsin gives sixth thousandths of a damn about some high school tournaments. This is the enormous problem that must be fixed:
UW officials wisely voted against this format for two reasons: One, it would create the current scheduling problems with the WIAA state tournaments for wrestling and boys' and girls' basketball; and two, there's a more sensible option.
There is not one person associated with the Big Ten who cares about option one. If the state of Wisconsin had a second arena, it wouldn't even be an issue. Hey, wait… THAT'S ANDREW BOGUT'S MUSIC
Milwaukee's Bradley Center
If the Bradley Center's too busy, Milwaukee has a 10,000 seat backup currently occupied by nothing at all. We have saved the children of Wisconsin from having to compete for state championships on Lake Michigan. Time to party.
As for two, the "more sensible option" is <drumroll>…
The Big Ten should revisit the idea of a neutral site tournament, which would bring all six teams to one location in a one-and-done format over three days. There are several possible venues and a future rotation could be devised, but the best for now is the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Not only is it a fantastic NHL facility, it's in the middle of a great hockey culture with a genuine appreciation for the college game. The building also has experience handling such an event given its work with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five.
…blithering idiocy. There are six Big Ten hockey schools. They are:
- Minnesota: zero hours from Minneapolis
- Wisconsin: five hours from Minneapolis
- MSU: 11 hours from Minneapolis
- Michigan: 12 hours from Minneapolis
- Ohio State: 14 hours from Minneapolis
- Penn State: 16 hours from Minneapolis
Only an idiot would suggest the fairest "neutral site" that could be proposed is the home city of the westernmost school in the conference, one that only two of the six schools could reasonably drive to. Arenas in Chicago, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Fort Wayne, Columbus, Toledo and Indianapolis would be better geographically and could probably handle the enormous strain of putting on three games over a weekend. Only an idiot would suggest throwing away the money four to six opening round games would generate*.
Instead, the Big Ten has decided to put the finals at the home rink of the top seed, something that both gives the conference winner a needed edge in the barely-weighted plinko that is single elimination playoff hockey and guarantees attendance between decent and sellout. This is "unwieldy at best and, at worst, irresponsible." No, seriously, dude said it was irresponsible.
This is the rationale:
Regardless of location, you're asking an awful lot of the six teams and their fans in terms of time and travel logistics. That's especially true of the four lowest seeds, which meet the week before the semifinals in a best-of-three series at the home of the higher seed. The survivors advance to the next round.
In a nutshell, the Big Ten is giving its members two weeks to ready an arena, sell tickets, secure hotel space, line up ground and/or air transportation and make sure its teams are ready to play.
Meanwhile, fans of those teams are being asked to be flexible and keep a credit card handy.
This is something literally every hockey arena in the country has to be ready for because they may host a first or second round playoff series. Unless I missed a spate of unprepared zamboni deaths, they've managed. The argument here is a campus site is just impossibly daunting to prepare on short notice, which is why every NCAA sport other than D-I football, basketball, and hockey uses such things for their playoffs.
If there's a cost analysis between the campus site and neutral site, I'll bet the difference is significant and it favors the neutral site.
If you're an idiot who thinks anyone cares about WIAA playoffs and believes that four Big Ten teams are going to vote to have the Big Ten finals at least eleven hours away, next door to Minnesota's campus. How about this: if Wisconsin wins the league they can hire the X. Problem no one cares about solved.
*[The problem with the Big Ten's format is it does not adopt the actually logical playoff structure: three weeks of best-of-three series at the higher-seeded-team's rink. That's more money, more games (always nice when you're competing against OHL teams that point out a relative lack of games in the NCAA), and avoids the strangeness of the current format wherein the second-place team gets no home games.]
1/21/2012 – Michigan 1, Notre Dame 3 – 14-9-4, 8-7-4 CCHA
1/22/2012 – Michigan 2, Notre Dame 1 – 15-9-4, 9-7-4 CCHA
Rudy does not impress Shawn Hunwick
At one point this weekend one of the announcers called Shawn Hunwick "Rudy" and then laughed about how Notre Dame fans would be mad about that comparison. I just don't even know where to start with that. Maybe here:
|Kent Patterson (COL)||Minnesota||SR||1618:54||56||2.08|
|Kevin Kapalka||Lake Superior||SO||1519:14||63||2.49|
|Andrew Hammond||Bowling Green||JR||1507:05||67||2.67|
|Paul Karpowich (STL)||Clarkson||SR||1458:58||51||2.1|
Rudy was an annoying twerp destined for sketchy pump-and-dump stock schemes who got in late in a blowout once. His life story is a tale of how plucky determination can turn you into a successories poster model and scam artist. Rudy's about as real as Notre Dame football's status as a national power.
By contrast, no one in the country is more important to their team than Hunwick. He plays every minute unless he's probably concussed or Michigan is up 10 goals. He is top ten in save percentage despite getting bombed, despite playing behind a poor penalty kill and mostly without Jon Merrill. He's so good not even the CCHA Gongshow can deny him his rightful place as the all-conference goalie this time around. (Surely. Surely?)
Like Jordan Kovacs, Hunwick long ago left walk-on territory. The journey looks like this:
- We're starting a walk-on? Death!
- He's tolerable for a walk-on but this is a signifier of how far we've fallen and we'll never get good until we get some talent in here.
- He's really good for a walk-on. I should probably stop calling him a walk-on.
- He's pretty good. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.
- He is my binky.
For both of those guys the term "walk-on" is no longer a signifier of anything other than an improbable backstory. Rudy they are not because they are actually good at things.
It's time to ask the question: is a five-seven walk-on who came to Michigan never expecting to play a game the best goalie in the history of the program?
Statistically, the answer is yes. Al Montoya put up an .895 as a disinterested junior and is out. Marty Turco's billion wins and tourney heroics obscure the fact he put up sub-.900 save percentages until his senior .907. I can't find full Steve Shields stats; the one year hockeyDB has also shows a .907.
Michigan's record book goes back to 1962 and currently lists Billy Sauer's 2007-2008 season at the top of the heap because it hasn't been updated in a couple years. Hunwick's two seasons as the out-and-out starter be 1-2 if whoever's responsible for the book could be convinced you weren't having them on. It's not even a debate when it comes to save percentage. Unless there's a sumo wrestler from the 1920s everyone's forgotten about, Hunwick is the all-time best.
However, hockey's changed considerably even over the last 15 years. In 1996 and 1998 when Turco was regarded as a god despite having those ugly numbers. That was not all in fans' heads, either. Turco went on to a long, successful, colorful NHL career. His first year in the AHL he put up a .920; two years later he was in the NHL. Clearly there was something about Michigan's mid-to-late 90s firewagon hockey that exposed goalies to a lot of high quality chances.
Save percentage alone is insufficient and if there were sports talk radio dedicated to Michigan hockey, people could rage about their favorites without anyone stepping in to say "you're wrong." Because who knows?
But it's not that we can answer that question definitively. It's that we can ask it at all.
It is a sad but undeniable fact that Sauer will mostly be remembered for tourney meltdowns. Hunwick has last year's North Dakota game to his credit. Montoya had a couple of stolen tourney games on his ledger; those are the only ones I can remember that came anything close to last year's grand theft. How close was that? Not close at all.
In the end answering the unanswerable question is going to come down to a few games in April. At this point there's only two ways the question can be answered: maybe, and yes.
*[Michigan's hockey statistical DB doesn't go very far back.]
A good weekend. Speaking of! Hunwick had a second consecutive monster weekend, giving up three goals on 74 shots. One was a no-chancer on a cross-crease pass, another a slot rebound that is the one consistent weakness of his game, the third a close-in shot it was hypothetically possible to stop but very difficult. Last week Ohio State managed one goal.
Michigan's third pairing got stuck in the zone against ND's hard forecheck, the second line seemed to spend most of its time futilely attempting to get the puck back from the Costello line, and defensive breakdowns put him under duress. He still cracked the top ten in save percentage.
You can argue he's the best in the country. The top four are at Union (ECAC) and three Atlantic Hockey schools; #7 is an ECAC guy; #9 is another AH guy. NMU's Jared Coreau and Miami's Connor Knapp are platooning. That leaves Hunwick, OSU's Cal Heeter, Merrimack's Joe Cannata and Mass-Lowell's Doug Carr at the top of the leaderboard in the Big Three conferences.
No one in that group has a huge lead in save percentage and Hunwick's ominpressence would seem to give him an edge. He's logged more minutes than anyone other than Minnesota's Kent Patterson; he has four full games on Cannata. He gets bombed, too. Michigan is yielding a blizzard of shots. That may hurt him when voters look at goals allowed, but he's got a shot at All-American type things.
A bad weekend. No one player is 100% responsible for any goal but Luke Glendening was the guy trying to check the guy shooting on all three of Notre Dame's goals (ENG ignored). Notre Dame's second on Friday was a backcheck he did not get position on and did not control the opponent's stick; the other two were just derpity doo.
(It's possible Merrill was more at fault on the last one.) Glendening also took two dumb penalties, one boarding, one interference.
So… like… he's the captain and everything but he has nine points in 28 games, three in 20 CCHA games; he's –3 in those 20. PDG is +4; Treais does not have conference stats listed at MGoBlue for some reason. Anyone else with those numbers would be fighting Andrew Sinelli for playing time. I'm just this guy on the internet but it's hard to see what Glendening is bringing to the table in terms of stats or the eye test.
Even if Michigan doesn't have a cornucopia of great options, the lines after the raging goal-fest that is Guptill-Wohlberg-Brown haven't been producing much of anything of late. It's time to throw the bottom nine in the blender and see what comes out.
An ugly weekend. Notre Dame was thugtastic to the point where Berenson's biting his tongue:
“They play an overly — I don’t know if it’s overly physical, but some people would say it’s — you know, there’s — I’m not going to say it. But yeah, it’s physical hockey,” Berenson said.
Guptill did not mince his words, though:
“I think they played a really dirty game, I’m going to be honest,” said freshman forward Alex Guptill on Saturday. “It was dirty; it was a mean series. You had to be playing tough out there to get any kind of ice.”
Hunwick is a hothead who will take retaliation penalties; Notre Dame was clearly trying to get him off his game with constant late chops that never get called and a bunch of stuff that probably should have been, most notably a cross-check to Hunwick's head. Hunwick kept his head for the most part. While he picked up a penalty it was a hockey-ref cop-out special wherein a bunch of guys end up in the box and no one gets a power play.
None of this rises to the level of OUTRAGE, but it's annoying when your goalie is under assault constant enough for announcers to delicately bring it up both nights and the referees won't put someone in the box for a couple minutes to stop it. I guess I shouldn't be surprised.
Pairwise bits. Michigan stays fifth in RPI and slides a spot in the PWR for reasons I won't bother figuring out until a couple more weeks are gone.
LIES! A quick glance at Michigan's comparisons is encouraging. Duluth and BU are likely out of reach unless those teams fade hard down the stretch. Comparisons lost against CC, Denver, Lowell, and Ohio State are within reach.
Michigan has significant RPI edges on the first two schools but that Union loss kills them in the COP; everyone is two games above .500 against teams under consideration but CC and DU have had fewer TUC games and therefore have a higher winning percentage. Michigan ties Lowell in COP and will remain tied unless Lowell faces BC or Northeastern in the Hockey East playoffs. Lowell has a significant TUC advantage; the teams are virtually tied in RPI. Because RPI is the tiebreaker, whoever wins that will win the comparison.
Ohio State, meanwhile, got just a tie from a series against Ferris State. They're now 0-3-3 in their last six and have finally bled off their huge advantage in PWR. They've dropped to 4th and are also a tiny hair above Michigan in RPI. OSU has slightly more than a one game lead in TUC; they do have a significant common opponents advantage but not one that Michigan can't make up what with OSU being in the same conference at all.
Michigan can of course slide down by losing a bunch of games. The point of this section: a one-seed is very much in play. Michigan has at least six more opportunities against TUCs and the toughest four games of the brutal stretch run are in the books at 3-1. They've got a bye week, Miami, a road-and-Joe with State, Northern, and then @ BGSU.
Weekly "I can't believe all these CCHA teams are in the tourney" update. Still six or seven. OSU-ND-M-FSU comprise a block from 4 to 7, Northern is 10th, and MSU and Miami are tied for 14th.
Weekly CCHA cat-in-sack update. Nothing is resolved. Miami swept WMU, making things even worse. Baseball standings:
Eight of eleven teams are within a weekend of first place; the difference between the conference champion and not even getting a bye is four points.
Steve Mike Chiasson scratch. Saturday. Got away with it. Still don't understand it.
Argh argh argh argh 2 on 0. It is emblematic of Michigan's odd-man-rush struggles that Guptill and Brown—two of the top three scorers—broke in alone on struggling Steve Summerhays and didn't even got a shot off. They had the right idea but Brown's pass was too far in front of Guptill. That would have made the last period a lot more relaxed.
In all other matters, first line uber alles.
On Friday, Notre Dame made it their goal to seemingly hit Shawn Hunwick as much as possible and try to get in his head. They ran into him, slashed him after the whistle, high-sticked him, at least a half-dozen times (many in the first period alone). The first instance led to a power play. Then the incompetent boobs officiating the game, Keith Sergott and Barry Pochmara, decided to basically let ND do whatever they wanted to our goalie. At one point, Hunwick got frustrated enough that he threw his stick to the ice after a scrum. I thought they then called him for unsportsmanlike conduct--that seemed to be the consensus on the telecast as well--but in the box score they've got him down for slashing. I'm guessing the reaction was based on them evening it up after he got slammed into for at least the fifth time.
He mentions how Friday's game was frustrating for the large quantity of chances against an iffy goalie that were spurned; co-signed.
Penn State picks up their first ever NHL draft pick. Max Gardiner was third rounder in 2010. If you're counting on your fingers trying to figure that out, Gardiner spent a year at Minnesota, where he was 1-2-3 in 17 games and then made a dash for the USHL. Michigan will see him when he is an upperclassman.
Cass Tech linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone was just the fourth player to commit to Brady Hoke's class of 2012, doing so last April. The consensus four-star recruit has since won a state championship with the Technicians and played in the Army All-American Game, and he's looking to continue that run of success at Michigan. I got the chance to chat with Royce over the weekend—via text, hence the short-ish answers—and we discussed his goals for his freshman year and career along with a few other topics:
ACE: How was the Army Game for you? It had to be fun being there with James [Ross, Royce's childhood friend] and your future teammates.
ROYCE: Yeah, it was a great experience. Everyone competed and had fun.
ACE: What are your goals for your freshman year?
ROYCE: Get my weight to 235 [Royce is currently listed at 215 on Rivals, though he looked bigger in person this fall], learn the defense, and see if I can at least get in the rotation.
ACE: You and the whole 2012 class come in with some big expectations. Do you ever feel pressure from that, or more just excitement?
ROYCE: Just excitement because everyone in this class is all about getting better and getting on that field.
ACE: What's it like to know you'll be playing for Greg Mattison as your defensive coordinator next year?
ROYCE: It's good to know you have a coach that knows what he's doing and not leaving when you get there.
ACE: When your Michigan career is over, what do you want to look back on and say you've accomplished.
ROYCE: [I want to say I've been an] All-American and All-Big Ten in my sophomore, junior, and senior year.
ACE: Do you expect to go out on top at Michigan like you did at Cass Tech?
ROYCE: Yeah. I plan on getting a national championship when I get there and before I leave.
The recruiting rankings are front-paged this week as we have a change at the top. Unfortunately, you probably know the change, and you're almost certainly not going to like it: Ohio State jumps Michigan after picking up four recruits (and the Wolverines losing Caleb Stacey, though that wouldn't have mattered in terms of the standings). Otherwise, the team rankings hold steady as we near signing day. Action since last rankings:
1-15-12: Taylor Decker changes commitment from Notre Dame to Ohio State. Illinois picks up T.J. Neal.
1-16-12: Penn State picks up Jordan Lucas.
1-17-12: Ohio State picks up Joey O'Connor. Gunner Kiel changes commitment from LSU to Notre Dame. Minnesota picks up Roland Johnson.
1-18-12: Ohio State picks up David Perkins. Minnesota picks up K.J. Maye.
1-20-12: Camren Williams changes commitment from Penn State to Ohio State.
1-21-12: Caleb Stacey changes commitment from Michigan to Cincinnati. Nebraska picks up LeRoy Alexander. Zach Jackson changes commitment from Illinois to TCU. Illinois picks up Justin Hardee. Minnesota picks up Ben Lauer.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||ESPN Avg||24/7 Avg||Avg Avg^|
*ESPN doesn't rate JuCos, so they are counted as unranked recruits for the sake of consistency (trust me, it makes sense when you look at the spreadsheet).
^The average of the average rankings of the four recruiting services (aka the previous four columns). The figure is calculated based on the raw numbers and then rounded, so the numbers above may not average out exactly.
On to the full data, after the jump.
I'll have more on the ramifications of this during the week, but 2012 OL Caleb Stacey announced on Twitter today—and it has been confirmed by multiple sources—that he has switched his commitment from Michigan to Cincinnati:
Before it gets out from anyone but me I have decided to decommitt from Michigan to stay home and play ball at the University of Cincinnati
— Caleb W. Stacey (@Caleb_Stacey) January 21, 2012
An assistant coach at Cincinnati Oak Hills, Stacey's high school, told The Wolverine that Stacey wanted to stay closer to home ($), and that was the reason for the switch. Michigan now has 23 commits in the current class with room to take up to five more players, and they are among the finalists for three offensive line recruits: Josh Garnett, Jordan Diamond, and Alex Kozan. It's feasible that the coaching staff could take all three, bringing the total to seven offensive linemen in the class, if they desired to do so.
I hope you all will join me in wishing Caleb the best of luck at Cincinnati.