coaches say you can't, so don't sign a loi
With the Thursday Recruitin' posts getting lengthy and signing day just over a week away, we decided—with the help of some reader requests—that it would be best to do two recruiting roundups per week. So, welcome to Tuesday Recruitin', which should serve to wrap up the happenings of the previous weekend and set the table for the upcoming week. Thursday Recruitin' will now be moved to Friday and focus on any upcoming visits while catching up with the events of the week. This new setup allows me to get more recruiting information to you each week and should cut down on the total link overload that was quickly becoming an unwanted staple of my recruiting roundups. Anyways, there is much to discuss, so let's get this party started.
Caleb Stacey Decommits; How Will M Round Out The Class?
Caleb Stacey announced on Saturday that he was changing his commitment from Michigan to Cincinnati, citing a desire to stay close to home during college:
"When it came down to it, Caleb just wanted to stay closer to home," said Oak Hills assistant coach Kyle Ralph. "He's a Cincinnati kid, and as it came down to it, he was more comfortable staying home in Cincinnati."
In fact, Stacey actually got in touch with the Cincinnati coaching staff himself, as they had respected his pledge to Michigan and backed off from recruiting him. Stacey's decommitment leaves the Wolverines with 23 commits (four along the O-line) in the class of 2012, leaving up to five spots available. While Michigan looks to have a good shot with higher-ranked offensive linemen Josh Garnett, Jordan Diamond, and Alex Kozan, Stacey's absence will be felt—he was the only current commit projected to play center, a position of great need for the Wolverines, and only Kozan looks like he could fill that void.
This week will be huge for offensive line recruiting, starting with Josh Garnett's announcement on Thursday afternoon. Garnett has officially narrowed his choices to a final two of Michigan and Stanford ($, info in header), as expected. Michigan did get the last word, as Brady Hoke made the final in-home visit to Garnett on Sunday. I expect Garnett to end up as a Wolverine, though that's admittedly based on zero inside knowledge of his recruitment.
Hoke also has the final in-home visit with Kozan, who will choose between Michigan, Iowa, and Auburn. Kozan told GoBlueWolverine that he will announce his choice "right after the Coach Hoke visit," which is scheduled for this Friday ($). He claims no leader at this time, and Hoke has the chance to make a very strong pitch—with Stacey out of the class, Kozan could be the most important recruit left on the board due to his ability to play center.
Jordan Diamond, meanwhile, will announce his decision on February 3rd—two days after signing day—between Michigan, Ohio State, Arkansas, Auburn, and Wisconsin. Michigan coaches have an in-home visit with him today, and he also maintains there's no leader in his recruitment.
Moving on to other position groups, two major targets formally decommitted this week: cornerback Armani Reeves from Penn State (same as Diamond link) and tight end Sam Grant from Boston College ($, info in header). Both could make their decisions as soon as this week. Reeves is now down to Michigan and Ohio State, and hosted Brady Hoke on Saturday before welcoming Urban Meyer—along with OSU assistants Everett Withers and Mike Vrabel—to his home last night. While some Buckeye insiders anticipated a commitment, none has come, and Greg Mattison will see Reeves tonight for his final in-home visit. This looks like a 50/50 tossup.
Grant, meanwhile, will likely choose between Michigan, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
A few happy trails: Yuri Wright found a home at Colorado despite recently being kicked out of Don Bosco Prep for his controversial tweets; Monty Madaris will decide on Wednesday, and he appears to be down to Cincinnati and Michigan State; four-star OL and soft Wisconsin commit Kyle Dodson plans to announce his choice on Saturday between the Badgers, Ohio State, Michigan State, USC and Auburn ($).
Receiver Commits: Anything But Divas
You have likely read the story of receiver commit Amara Darboh, who lost his parents to the civil war in Sierra Leone when he was just two years old before finding his way to Des Moines, where he found a family and eventually became a four-star football recruit. Chantel Jennings profiled Michigan's other receiver commit, Jehu Chesson, on WolverineNation today, and the article is well worth the cost of ESPN Insider. I'll do my best to block-quote as little as possible, and encourage you to read the whole thing, which details Chesson's charity work—along with his knack for juggling—as well as his path to the United States ($):
In 1993 Chesson was born in war-torn Liberia in the middle of its first civil war. The country had broken into factions, and by the time the war was over in 1996, nearly 200,000 Liberians had died. Chesson moved from Liberia to the Ivory Coast, and from the Ivory Coast to St. Louis when he was 5.
He doesn't have many memories from that early in his life, but he saw on TV when Liberia fought its second civil war and the unrest that has come from it.
He could be angry. He still has family in Africa. His grandmother is there.
But Chesson said the kids have taught him how to forgive. He laughs when he talks about two young kids at the camp who fight and punch one another, but 10 minutes later they're playing with each other again.
He said that even though some of those kids have very little, they have the capacity to forgive, which some adults -- who've been tarnished by money or pessimism -- can't do.
"The best and worst part of it all is that I can ponder a question about why some are born into greatness and others never get a chance," Chesson said. "I'll probably never get an answer. But I can give of myself, which is sort of like working toward an answer."
The level of maturity shown by Chesson—as well as Darboh—would put many 30-year-olds to shame, and I'm very excited to see him don the winged helmet and, more importantly, get the opportunity to earn a degree from Michigan.
The Detroit News is rolling out daily profiles of the recruits on their Blue Chip list, and so far they've covered Terry Richardson, James Ross, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Matt Godin, and Devin Funchess. Most of it is fluff—Richardson discusses his spirituality, Ross—like Ben Braden—played hockey, RJS wants to be a chef, Godin wanted to play QB as a HS freshman, and Funchess plans to become a coach—but for those doubting Ross's size and ability to play inside, he has a message for you:
"I believe my size benefits me," he said. "I'm quick to the ball. When I was at the Army (All American) Game, I was able to get to the ball quickly. I'm able to get through the holes. I make the reads, and at the snap of the ball I can step into those holes. Can I get stronger? Sure I can. And I will."
Ross said the U-M coaches have no plans to move him to another position and that he is slated to play weak-side linebacker.
"I'll be the linebacker that checks the slot receiver or the running back out of the backfield," he said.
We'll see in the fall if Ross is really 6'1", 220 pounds, as the article claims, but even if he's a little smaller I think WLB is the best position for him.
Quick 2013 Hitters; New 2014 (!) Offer
A quick roundup of the news on current junior prospects:
- Woodbridge (VA) C.D. Hylton linebacker E.J. Levenberry, who visited Michigan last weekend and holds an early offer, has the Wolverines in his top three with Florida and FSU ($, info in header).
- Top-ranked tight end Adam Breneman revealed a list of upcoming visits on his Twitter; he plans to take a trip to Ann Arbor in March, and he's also got visits set for Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame. He's also looking at Miami and North Carolina for potential unofficials.
- In case you missed it, Michigan was one of several schools to recently offer Monaca (PA) Central Valley receiver Robert Foster, an early candidate for five-star status ($, info in header).
- Four-star Pickerington (OH) North TE/DE Jake Butt had the coaches drop by last week ($, info in header), and he says Michigan will be in the mix when it comes time to narrow down his list of schools.
- Cleveland (OH) Shaker Heights ATH De'Niro Laster told Greg Mattison he plans to take an unofficial visit to Ann Arbor the weekend after signing day ($, info in header).
- Somerville (NJ) Immaculata four-star DE Tashawn Bower expects a Michigan offer soon after talking with Coach Curt Mallory ($).
- Sam Webb's weekly DetNews piece is on Lemont (IL) OL Ethan Pocic, who recently earned top offensive lineman honors at the Core6 Showcase in Westmont, IL, which also featured top junior linemen like Logan Tuley-Tillman and Colin McGovern.
- Happy trails to Trotwood-Madison cornerback Cam Burrows, as one of the top players in Ohio pledged to Ohio State last week.
Finally, Michigan gave out its second verbal offer to a class of 2014 prospect. Woodbridge (VA) defensive end Da'Shawn Hand picked up his sixth offer as the Wolverines joined Boston College, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, N.C. State and Rutgers. Hand tallied 21 sacks as a sophomore and earned district Co-Defensive MVP honors. Michigan's other sophomore offeree is also a defensive lineman, Highland (UT) DT Bryan Mone, teammate of 2012 pledge Sione Houma.
All The Bork That's Fit To Bork. Hagelin makes the new York Times, and if you were one of the people on the perimeter of the giant Swedish flag you may have as well.
The LA Kings can eat this:
“Carl had the speed, but there wasn’t much to him,” said the Rangers’ chief scout Gord Clark, referring to Hagelin’s 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame. “But when they told me he committed to Michigan, it changed everything. Red Berenson plays an up-tempo system. It often doesn’t work out this way with a prospect because N.H.L. teams don’t have control, but Carl could not have gone to a better place to develop.”
Hagelin has 8-8-16 in 28 games and has likely ended his stay in the AHL permanently. Billy Powers is looking for more Swedes, as well:
“We’re trying to be active in Sweden,” Powers said. “I love going to Stockholm. I just haven’t been able to convince any top players to choose us over the hope of playing in the Elite League. Maybe Carl’s success will open some doors. He set a bar for student-athletes at Michigan that’s going to be tough for anyone to match, no matter where they’re from.”
Amen to that.
Movin' on up. Scot Loeffler is the man chosen to fill the big, wacky shoes of Gus Malzahn:
“Scot is a rising star who has worked with some very good quarterbacks, and has achieved a tremendous amount of success,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “He is a tireless worker, is an outstanding recruiter and knows the rigors of competing in this conference. We’re very excited to have Scot join our staff and we welcome him to the Auburn family.”
It's interesting how Michigan fans' perception of the various assistants who scattered to the four winds when Carr retired have generally to have been borne out by their landing spots. Campbell, Loeffler, and English were generally well liked. Loeffler's steadily moved up in the world, Campbell has been turning middling recruits into assassins for Iowa, and English was hired at a relatively analogous job (DC at Louisville) before becoming the most successful EMU head coach in a million years.
The assistants Michigan fans didn't like have been shuffled off to makework NFL jobs, mostly. Mike Debord was assistant (to the) Seattle OL coach for a couple years and is now a tight ends coach in Chicago. Andy Moeller got an analogous job with the Ravens; FWIW Baltimore is high up in Football Outsider's possibly-not-very-meaningful OL stats. (A point in FO's favor: Detroit finished 31st at run blocking.) Before that Jim Herrmann shuffled off to another NFL positional job. Mike Gittleson got really mad that when you search for "Mike Gittleson Wikipedia" you get Mike Barwis but doesn't appear to be coaching.
The main exception appears to be Steve Stripling, who was well liked after defecting from Michigan State in time to pilot Branch, Woodley, Taylor, et al. in 2006. He took a year off and resurfaced at CMU; he's now the Cincinnati DL coach.
[Not mentioned: Fred Jackson, for obvious reasons. Vance Bedford since no one had much time to get a new opinion on him during his one-year return. Steve Szabo was supposedly at the tail end of his career; he kicked around some small schools before abruptly resigning from NIU a couple months after being named there. He had only a couple years to establish a reputation at Michigan.]
Never fear. Lloyd Carr has said some stuff in favor of Loeffler that Auburn fans and Orson have either expressed trepidation or stifled laughter about, depending on their general desire to see Auburn win. But it's not that bad. Here it is:
"Scot is a team guy -- one of those coaches who will call a game with the mindset of doing whatever it takes to win," Carr said. "Some days it may be to protect the defense, and some days to light it up."
This is the nicest thing Lloyd Carr can think of to say about someone intimately involved with something as salacious as passing, and should not negatively reflect on Loeffler.
But seriously folks, failing to rehabilitate Tim Tebow's throwing motion should not invalidate his work with Brady, Henson, Navarre, and Henne. Especially Navarre, who went from statewide whipping boy to secretly good to All Big Ten over the course of his starting tenure. A specialized cadre of NFL experts still can't get Tebow to throw more accurately than Joe Bauserman. If Loeffler secretly chafed under Lloydball he'll be a fine hire for Chizik and his tire-fire defense.
And now a strange reason to root for Auburn. College football provides an ever-shifting set of motivations and Michigan fans just got a powerful desire to see Auburn's offense blow up. Loeffler's 37 and if he does well will be a hot coaching candidate in five years; in ten or so Hoke is likely to retire. If Loeffler's a good candidate maybe we can skip the three years of civil war.
One thing we do know: he's got the lingo down pat.
“at the end of the day, it’s our job to score football points.”
Must not make obvious comparison. Er. This is the picture people are passing around about the infamous Dantonio interuppting cow moment:
I just don't even.
BTW, the look on all people facing the camera says all you need to know about the way this went down.
Moving on up, or down. ESPN's latest 2012 basketball rankings see Mitch McGary slip to #21; Glen Robinson III rises to #26 and Nik Stauskas gets a slight bump to #79. GRIII is now on the cusp of a fifth star at ESPN and a recent Rivals mailbag named him as the most likely player to pick up a fifth star when they redo their rankings.
Overall that's a win if it keeps McGary in school a bit longer. Michigan's recruits other than the ineligible McGary were "nominated" for the burger game, but that's is an honor on the level of being on a preseason watch list: 600 kids were nominated.
Just moving down, thanks. BCS attendance is plummeting:
In 2005, the last season before the addition of that title game, the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar bowls had a total announced attendance of 319,936, averaging 79,984 per bowl. This past season the announced attendance for those four bowls had dropped to 293,247; an average of 73,311 per bowl.
While there was a slight increase in 2010, this year's attendance numbers were 8 percent lower than the 2005 figures.
Keep in mind these are announced numbers that bear a strong relationship to reality when things sell out and none at all when arenas are half-empty. The real decline is likely greater. Also the Rose Bowl is still a guaranteed sellout, so the effects on the other three bowls are larger still.
At this point the only bowl that brings something worth keeping around to the table is the Rose.
Wolves, Barwis, etc. Michigan's departing seniors have all chosen to get back with Mike Barwis in preparation for the NFL draft:
"He's the best, hands down," said center David Molk, who is recovering from surgery to repair a ligament rupture in his right foot suffered during Sugar Bowl preparations. "If you want to get ready for a combine, you want to get ready for a season, you want to be the best you can be, you go to Mike."
Some credence for the eeee Barwis meme there; if we never saw it on the field it was probably because Michigan never had enough upperclassman to look strong or conditioned. Also, here's another GET IN THE CAR IT'S MIKE MARTIN picture:
Daniel Mears/Detroit News
Yes this. I promise this is the last word on the Paterno thing. It's hard to pass up something that summarizes the whole cultural thing in two sentences:
The most salient example of this phenomenon is the recent push by Penn State alumni to oust their board of trustees for the perceived sin of succumbing to a witchhunt against Paterno, of not allowing him to retire with dignity. That's the essence of Paterno's legacy: creating an unthinking paternalistic monolith that valued complete fealty to his cult of personality beyond all else.
Our non-megalomaniac. This bit is about Bo, so promise kept. Paul Campos writes on Bo's departure from Michigan:
In 2004, I watched the Michigan State game with Bo in the Michigan Stadium press box. The ratty old press box featured a few private booths from which retired athletic department employees could watch the game; it has since been replaced by a phalanx of dreadful luxury suites — referred to by the euphemism-addicted university administration as “enclosed seating” — which are rented out by persons of quality for $80,000 per season, game tickets not included.
By then, it was clear Bo was not in good health – he was suffering from degenerative heart disease and diabetes – but his mind seemed as sharp and funny as ever. I asked him, among many other things, if he had ever regretted quitting when he did, and he said he had, many times. But, he added, if he had in fact quit too early, that was still “a damn sight better than quitting too late.” And then he laughed.
In the end, the worst thing Bo ever did to the program he built was die. Given how many people of his stature go out, that's something.
Lake City (FL) Columbia offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil may be the most sought-after lineman in the class of 2013; he's already ranked as a five-star to Rivals and 24/7, a four-star to Scout, and he's on the ESPNU 150 Watch List. The 6'6", 275-pound junior holds early offers from Michigan, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami (YTM), Notre Dame, Purdue, USF, and USC, while Texas and LSU are keeping a close eye on him. Tunsil has already taken visits to Florida and Georgia, but while it may be difficult to pry him from the grasp of the SEC, Michigan has positioned themselves well in his recruitment. Read on to find out his top five and more:
ACE: How is everything going with your recruitment? Which teams are showing you the most interest?
LAREMY: It's crazy, and a lot of them!
ACE: How do you handle the pressure and attention of being an early five-star recruit?
LAREMY: Take it one day at a time. I just keep working and getting better.
ACE: Who's your recruiting contact at U-M?
LAREMY: Coach Funk and Coach Montgomery.
ACE: Any early favorites right now? If you had to name a top five, who would be in there?
LAREMY: Michigan, LSU, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.
ACE: Do you have any visits planned for junior days or camps during the offseason? Any places you'd be interested in checking out?
LAREMY: I'm not sure yet, but I have Michigan in mind!
ACE: What attributes about a school will factor in the most in your decision?
LAREMY: The coaches, academics, and tradition.
ACE: When do you think you'll make your decision?
LAREMY: Signing day. [To be clear, that would be 2013, not 2012. Laremy's got a few offers to sift through first.]
If Strobel/Pipkins/Godin/Wormley/Ojemudia had Mii's
Body Mass Index (metric weight divided by height-squared) isn't supposed to apply to athletes. It's a health heuristic used to calculate obesity, and according to the health professional I asked, it's not really that good at calling you fat because it doesn't say how much of that weight is muscle. It just guesses that your ratio is normal; for athletes that ratio is definitively not normal. Fortunately I'm not interested in whether our extant and incoming defensive linemen are in shape; I care about identifying which DL are what shape, how this applies to what positions the 5-man 2012 DL class* will likely play, and what the success/ failure/ mehness of similar looking players might suggest what we might expect out of next year's linemen.
* There's a chance Ojemudia may move but for now I'm counting him as a WDE.
The data. Thanks to Bentley we have an historical record of player weights: Google doc'ed here for your ease. For our purposes I'm taking the mid-'90s—when player size made its big leap—through the present. Height and weight data are bountiful, but making any use of them has been hard going. However the BMI seems to have one good use in determining who plays what spot in an unbalanced defensive line. Right away there's a noticeable difference among the playing BMIs at the four DL positions:
|Pos||Ht.||Wt.||Fr BMI||Playing BMI|
|1T (Nose Tackle)||6'2 2/3||299.4||35.4||37.7|
|3T (Def. Tackle)||6'4 2/3||291.6||32.1||35.0|
|7T (WDE)||6'3 2/3||260.4||29.4||32.0|
As you go from outside to inside height remains steady as weight goes up. Interestingly NTs are the shortest on the line as well as the largest, speaking to a certain shorter/stouter body type preferred at the position. Reported heights are not always accurate but the listed height on Rivals tends to match the freshman heights in Bentley's database, so I've used those across the board; the DL I expect has the least amount of height gain (most of these guys have more facial hair at 18 than I could produce at 22). It tells the story:
Lots of these guys moved about too, especially between SDE and DT, but you can kind of see why. What I'd like to do from here is take a position-by-position look at the size of all of these guys as freshmen versus the Class of 2012, and their growth over their careers (to test if hanging weight on a large frame can "build" a great DL) and finally put the playing BMIs versus the guys left on the roster to see if the 2012 DL at least looks like defensive lines of yore.
Renes talking down to lil bro | Bowman not being held | Watson being gravitational
Nose Tackle (NT, Nose Guard, 1-Tech) is the guy usually lined up shaded over the center. This job (most recently Mike Martin's) in a 4-3 under and 3-4 is similar in that the lineman must often stand up to double-teams or fight off a single-block lined up playside of him in order to cover two gaps. (Current players in bold, 2012 recruits in italics).
|Name||Class of||Ht.||BMI as Fr.||BMI-Ply||% Change|
Good news: Ondre Pipkins is as large as any NT to come in, in the top group with Watson, Kates and Ash. Watson and Ash both were asked to lose weight (Ash is now being rebuilt) while Kates lost his ability to play after adding another 4.1% to his body weight. The comparable here is something between freshman Gabe Watson (2002) and freshman Terrance Taylor (2005). The recruiting hype is in that range as well, but this is a kind of hard position to rank out of high school because most of these dudes just murder your typical suburban offensive linemen/future economics majors. They also get chopped a lot. Watson's high school career is responsible for at least three later shoulder surgeries I know of.
This is not necessarily such good news. Both Watson and Taylor played as true freshmen which suggests Pipkins's size should make him instantly plug-in-able. However they both had to wait to become starters; Watson was behind Lazarus and then Bowman before playing as a junior, and Taylor sat behind Watson (and Pat Massey at DT) for a year. The other guy with the same BMI as Pipkins—in fact he's almost identical—is current depth guy Richard Ash. But then here's where knowing the background of the players helps because Ash was kind of an out-of-shape flier expected to be Barwicized , while the book on Pipkins, like Watson and Taylor, is that he's carrying a lot college muscle already.
By BMI, Campbell is in the second group because of his height. Like OL/DL/Fck Lion Proprietor Marques Slocum, this method shows BWC's height as a disadvantage, making it harder for him to get his weight under offensive linemen. However his prodigious 5-star strength is still occasionally on display, and he admits part of his thing is effort. Quinton Washington, if he was an NT, would fit in this group.
The shorter guys in this part of the list finds some big successes among people coached by Hoke or Mattison: William Carr, Rob Renes and Mike Martin. But we don't have a guy like that right now.
The ones that had to be built—Bowman, Patterson, Wilson, Lazarus, Miller and Horn, came in about the size of Godin and Wormley and put on a lot of weight to be productive as upperclassmen (or in Patterson's case, a much needed body with functioning circulation and eligibility). Wormley could turn into a Lazarus or Wilson, who like Chris had the proverbial "frames" to put on a lot of muscle, and did so.
Next week: the DTs, the SDEs, and the WDEs.
You can't throw a rock today without hitting a piece on Joe Paterno, and I'll add my bit. I've read a half-dozen of them and feel myself drawn to the portions that focus on his ignoble demise at the hands of a long-overdue grand jury investigation into Jerry Sandusky. The ones that skip it entirely, as many PSU-based POVs do, or attempt to put it "in perspective" seem to be succumbing to the same disease that felled everyone when Nixon died and people scrambled for good things to say about him other than "he's dead."
Paterno is not Nixon, obviously. Nixon is the most obvious public funeral held in which ill things were not spoken of the dead due to social taboo, rather than reason. I dislike that natural impulse to whitewash. When Christopher Hitchens died I spent a lot of time reading his withering obituaries just to watch him stick the knife in and twist. If that makes me ruthless, okay.
I just can't get over how it all came crashing down. Not only did Paterno and the culture he created shelter Sandusky, Paterno did not seem to feel remorse for half a second. Maybe this is just an addled old man speaking but it is appalling that this came out of his mouth at the impromptu pep rally at his home in the immediate aftermath of the grand jury's testimony:
The kids that were victims or whatever they want to say, I think we all ought to say a prayer for them. Tough life, when people do certain things to you. Anyway, you’ve been great. Everything’s great, all right.
Virtually the entire media edited Paterno's statement into a less awful version because their sense of propriety could not grasp the words that had actually come out of his mouth. This was Joe Paterno. He couldn't have said that. He shouldn't have said anything. He should have been in his house crying to his wife, finally realizing the monstrous consequences of his inaction.
Instead he seemed to think of himself as a victim. A lot of people find ways to blame themselves for massive tragedies they are not responsible for. Paterno was oblivious to his role to the end. Maybe that's forgivable to some people who look at the donations and the football coaching and the Great Experiment. Not me. I have great respect for Chris Grovich of Black Shoe Diaries but I can't read this…
Behind Joe Paterno's Beaver Stadium statue are the words, "Educator, Coach, Humanitarian." They really could have been arranged in any order.
…without inserting "child rape enabler" in any order. That phrase overwhelms the rest. If he did lead a program that strove to prove it was capable of operating at a higher plane that just makes it worse. He was held up—he held himself up—as a man who could achieve success on and off the field in a way that others could not.
Maybe any one of us would have done the same thing if confronted by the terrible truth about a long-time friend. Maybe 90% of people would not have had the courage to blow up a reputation so carefully crafted over such a long period. Maybe Joe Paterno was just being human.
That's not enough when you have a statue. Paterno wasn't supposed to be human, he was supposed to be Joe Paterno. He wasn't and now he never was. He had over a decade to do something about Sandusky and did not. That is no mistake, or misjudgment, or error. It is immensely sad, but in the end Paterno failed his charge more spectacularly than a man who dared less would have. You can call him Icarus if you want; I'm not inclined to give him that benefit of the doubt. The costs were not worth the attempt.
The statue is Joe Paterno now. The man is dead. Hopefully the idea behind the statue can help people be better than the man turned out to be.
[Editor's note: Orson and I both go for the statue conceit. We've seen people crying or overturning news vans in its vicinity it every 30 seconds over the past few months, so maybe not a huge surprise.]
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.