i would find this more credible if it was about Tom Crean
Columbus (OH) Marion-Franklin WR Jaron Dukes may have grown up deep in enemy territory, but he's a lifelong Michigan fan. His childhood favorites extended a scholarship offer on signing day and the Wolverines immediately jumped to the forefront of his recruitment. The 6'5", 200-pound junior also holds an offer from Toledo and has interest from several prominent Midwest schools, but other suitors might have to hurry if they want a say before he makes a decision. I talked to Jaron last night and he made it very clear which team leads for him in a big way:
ACE: How is everything going with your recruitment, and which schools are going after you the hardest right now?
JARON: Everything's going great. I'm starting to hear from Ohio State, all of a sudden I'm starting to hear a lot more from Michigan, Michigan State, and I'm getting letters from Nebraska now and Illinois.
ACE: You got your Michigan offer recently. What was your reaction to that and what are your thoughts on the school and the program?
JARON: Ecstatic. (laughs) I'm going up there for a visit on Friday. When I first got the offer my mind was blown.
ACE: I know you're coming out of Columbus. Did you grow up as a Michigan fan or were you an Ohio State guy?
JARON: I was a Michigan fan all my life. I got a lot of criticism, you know, being a Michigan fan in Ohio.
ACE: Is that going to play a factor at all when it comes down to making a decision?
JARON: I think I kind of have my mind set on where I want to go. I think all I can do is pray on it and make sure, hope I make the right decision.
ACE: You said you've got your mind set on it. In terms of a timeline, when do you think you're going to make that decision?
JARON: I'm not sure. I'd like to talk it over with my coaches and everything and make sure that's what I really want to do—[see if I should] visit the college more than once, see it in different environments like dorm food, after school, and on weekends, make sure that's where I officially want to be, and do the same for other schools.
ACE: How did your junior season go and what kind of numbers did you put up?
JARON: I thought my junior season went very well. I didn't know it was going to be that good. My freshman year my coaches always said "you can't catch a cold," and I dropped everything that came towards me. Other than that, I think it went very well. I had 663 or 673 yards, 18.5 yards per catch, 36 catches, and seven touchdowns.
ACE: If you had to evaluate your game, what would say are your biggest strengths on the field and what are you trying to work on for your senior year and beyond?
JARON: My biggest strengths are being able to read the secondary, keeping a level head, going out there and having fun and being able to go out and catch, just catch the ball. I would love to get faster. They keep telling me speed kills, so I want to be the fastest one out there. I want to be the fastest one on the field.
ACE: I know it sounds like you're leaning towards Michigan right now, but in terms of when it comes down to making your choice, what are you looking for in a school specifically?
JARON: Academics, somewhere where I can be happy. The technique of the game, if they're a passing team, if they're going to pass me the ball when it's there or if they're just going to keep running the ball. Somewhere where it just feels right.
ACE: Moving off the field, what's one thing you'd want people to know about you that has nothing to do with football?
JARON: (laughs) Oh, man, I don't really know. I draw a lot. I love music. I like sitting—sometimes I just like being by myself and just relaxing.
ACE: What kind of music?
JARON: I listen to all types of music. Country, rock, metal, rap, R&B. The funny thing is, a lot of times, I don't like the new generation of rap now.
ACE: I'm with you there. I like the old school stuff, but the new stuff isn't really my thing.
JARON: Yeah, it's not mine, either.
This wasn't a bad year, was it?
|Scout (4th)||247 (8th)||ESPN (7th)||Committed|
|Ben Braden||OL||5.7 (3-star)||3-star||85 (3-star)||79 (3-star)||Mar 24|
|Kaleb Ringer||LB||5.7 (3-star)||3-star||88 (3-star)||78 (3-star)||Apr 12|
|Royce Jenkins-Stone||LB||5.8 (4-star)||4-star||93 (4-star)||80 (4-star)||Apr 16|
|Devin Funchess||TE||5.7 (3-star)||4-star||90 (4-star)||80 (4-star)||Apr 22|
|A.J. Williams||TE||5.7 (3-star)||4-star||86 (3-star)||77 (3-star)||Apr 22|
|Joe Bolden||LB||5.8 (4-star)||4-star||96 (4-star)||80 (4-star)||Apr 29|
|James Ross||LB||5.8 (4-star)||4-star||95 (4-star)||80 (4-star)||May 2|
|Mario Ojemudia||DE||5.7 (3-star)||4-star||89 (3-star)||80 (4-star)||May 7|
|Matt Godin||DT||5.7 (3-star)||3-star||91 (4-star)||79 (3-star)||May 12|
|Terry Richardson||CB||5.8 (4-star)||4-star||95 (4-star)||81 (4-star)||May 19|
|Allen Gant||S||5.6 (3-star)||3-star||85 (3-star)||75 (3-star)||May 31|
|Erik Magnuson||OT||5.9 (4-star)||4-star||96 (4-star)||79 (4-star)||Jun 10|
|Tom Strobel||DE||5.8 (4-star)||4-star||93 (4-star)||78 (3-star)||Jun 10|
|Jeremy Clark||DB||5.7 (3-star)||3-star||85 (3-star)||76 (3-star)||Jun 24|
|Blake Bars||OL||5.8 (4-star)||3-star||89 (3-star)||79 (3-star)||Jun 26|
|Jarrod Wilson||S||5.8 (4-star)||4-star||91 (4-star)||80 (4-star)||Jul 8|
|Kyle Kalis||OL||6.1 (5-star)||5-star||96 (4-star)||80 (4-star)||Jul 10|
|Sione Houma||FB||5.5 (3-star)||3-star||83 (3-star)||74 (2-star)||Jul 25|
|Chris Wormley||DE||5.7 (3-star)||4-star||96 (4-star)||80 (4-star)||Jul 31|
|Ondre Pipkins||DT||6.1 (5-star)||4-star||96 (4-star)||80 (4-star)||Aug 8|
|Drake Johnson||RB||5.6 (3-star)||3-star||85 (3-star)||72 (2-star)||Nov 10|
|Amara Darboh||WR||5.8 (4-star)||4-star||93 (4-star)||78 (3-star)||Dec 4|
|Jehu Chesson||WR||5.6 (3-star)||3-star||89 (3-star)||79 (3-star)||Dec 21|
|Willie Henry||DT||5.6 (3-star)||3-star||83 (3-star)||75 (3-star)||Jan 31|
|Dennis Norfleet||RB||5.8 (4-star)||4-star||94 (4-star)||75 (3-star)||Feb 1|
Considering how good things looked last July, people on the boards and whatnot are kinda disappointed that the class finished as only consensus Top 10. This was back when nobody but Ohio State thought its cars-for-commitments program would continue, if there even would be such a thing as Columbus when The Law was through with them.
But with no 'Pryor' testimony available, the NCAA effectively rubber-stamped the automotive business, OSU turned in their slightly used Tresselwagon for a shiny refurbished Urban model and the Big Ten race went from this in July:
…today. The above is a visualization of Michigan's 2012 class final rankings by Rivals and doesn't count Caleb Stacey and Anthony Standifer, who were in the class at the time. The red is 6.1, the yellow 5.8, yellow-green 5.7, everything right of the line is 3-stars. The link takes you back to July 18, when I used the same graphical representation to show just how good it was to be a Michigan Wolverine.
It wasn't just Ohio State blue was beating. Michigan was killing in the conference. This was then:
…and this is now:
Penn State's scandal turned them into Northwestern, while Ohio State's wasn't enough to counter the Urban effect. Michigan held steady but those late whiffs ended up with a class that's largely balanced between blue chips and the 60%-likely-to-be-"solid"-or-better-as-upperclassmen guys.
That's still good for among the top teams in the country:
Now this is Michigan, fergodsakes. More importantly Michigan, who by last July was already well extended into Ohio territory didn't seem to fall victim to the great Buckeye Reclamation of home state products late in the process. Gant, a legacy, and Wormley were Toledo-ish guys long considered Michigan's barring strange circumstances. Kaleb Ringer, A.J. Williams, and Willie Henry come from schools and have profiles that might have been automatic Buckeyes in a typical Tressel cycle but were probably second options for Meyer's late push. But I have to imagine Jarrod Wilson received a desperate phone call before he enrolled at Michigan in January, and we know Kyle Kalis did. In return Meyer convinced Bri'onte Dunn, a Tressel commit worried about the sanctions, to stay in the fold and beat Michigan head to head for Armani Reeves after he shook loose from Penn State's class. That's 2 for 4 in head-to-head battles in Ohio with Ohio State's new coach. This is important; if we're going to travel back in time to battle Buckeyes on their own turf, it's important to plant Woody Hayes or one of his ancestors in manure every 30 years or so.
So did we make it? Are we back?
We're back, but it's an alternate 2005, when 4-stars are just plain 4-stars not Taylor and Jamison and Antonio Bass, and the 3-stars are mostly the good type of 3-stars—Gordon-like 3-stars as opposed to lots of Mister Simpsons and Nerd Terminators. More importantly there's just more of everybody, and the old defensive line coach is rich and powerful and the head coach at Michigan, and the guy at West Virginia has been committed.
Many of the key contributors from the classes before this experienced above normal attrition. By some of the decisions made during this year's cycle—backing off Yuri Wright after his expulsion, and seemingly backing off a rumored grade risk in one of the top in-state prospects, hopefully Hoke's excellent class of of 2012 will make up for in staying power what it lost by the slow close.
The glory of signing with Alabama. Three-star DT Darius Philon announced he'd be going to Alabama on Signing Day. He did it like this:
If that seems unusual, it's because Philon had probably just been told that he wasn't actually going to Alabama. Alabama swung a decommit and pulled his offer; Philon ended up signing with Arkansas, a school he hadn't so much as visited. The actual video is… weird:
The AJC says the "moral of the story" is…
If you commit to Alabama, it’s safe unless you get injured or Alabama has the opportunity to upgrade at your position before you officially sign the paperwork.
Horford redshirt update: happening. Jon Horford's injury redshirt has been increasingly likely with every game he misses and now seems all but certain. Horford himself says as much:
"If coach said, 'We absolutely need you to come back,' I could come back," Horford said Sunday following Michigan's 64-54 loss to Michigan State. "But other than that, I've missed so many games that I feel like coming back at this point would almost be a waste of a season."
In the long run that's probably a good thing for the program as it will move Horford out of Jordan Morgan's class and give the team a fifth-year senior to rely on after he departs (and who knows what Mitch McGary's going to do). That will help bridge the gap between this generation of posts and the Bielfeldt/Donnal setup. Speaking of Bielfeldt…
Bielfeldt hype. Beilein talked up the redshirting freshman in a conference call recently:
He came in here with really bad tendonitis in his knees and was not nearly as athletic as he (had shown in the past)," Beilein said during the Big Ten coaches teleconference. "He was really just struggling. But he's young, with a young birthday, and given the fact that we were still evolving with some positions here, it did not make sense for him or for us to burn a redshirt."
The tendons have gotten better and allowed him to play scout-team center:
"He's a big man with good hands, and those aren't a dime a dozen," Beilein said. "He's a tremendous rebounder. Where he's not gifted vertically, he's really good in small spaces."
It'll be interesting to see what he plays like… and where. He doesn't seem like either a four or a five at 6'7", 240. Presumably he'll be a backup at both spots for his first couple seasons.
The move. I'm not in agreement that Belichick's decision to let New York score in the waning moments of the Super Bowl was "the ballsiest call in Super Bowl History." It was obvious. The choices there are between watching an NFL kicker attempt a virtual extra point with no time on the clock or giving Tom Brady a minute with which to attempt the comeback.
It would have been ballsy if Belichick had come out of the two-minute warning with a red carpet and instructed his defense to bodily carry any Giant with the ball into the endzone. It also would have been correct:
The smartest play of all would've been for Belichick to have allowed the touchdown even earlier. The Patriots certainly could have done so on the play prior to Bradshaw's touchdown run, when he was stopped for a one-yard gain, forcing New England to burn its second timeout. In fact, they probably should have allowed a touchdown as early as the two-minute warning.That's the point at which the Win Probability of receiving a kickoff down by four or six points (0.23) exceeds the Win Probability of trying to stop the Giants from bleeding the clock dry (0.2). The Patriots would have had almost two minutes, two timeouts, and all four downs available to get a touchdown and steal the win. The lesson: New England didn't lie down soon enough.
Always quit, son.
The difference. There are many reasons I couldn't give two craps about the NFL. Many derive from the fact that merely contemplating Tom Coughlin's staid, fun-murdering face seriously damages my quality of life.
Many others are summarized by the Lombardi trophy presentation. Michael from Braves & Birds contrasts Barca's celebrations after winning the Champions League with the ceremony last night:
Instead of a football icon handing the trophy over, we get Roger Goodell, a life-long NFL suit who is most noted for giving himself the power to suspend players for any reason he sees fit and for persuading Peter King to write the most sycophantic cover story that I can recall reading in Sports Illustrated. Instead of a [Barcelona FC] totem like Puyol or a cancer-survivor like Abidal accepting the trophy, we had the New York Giants' owners getting the honor. Puyol and Abidal got the right to hold the trophy aloft because they established themselves as some of the best players in the world at their positions; John Mara and Steve Tisch got the right to hoist the Lombardi Trophy because they inherited the team from their parents.
The Michigan equivalent would be handing the Sugar Bowl trophy to Dave Brandon. This, thankfully, does not happen. Instead we get Junior Hemingway breaking down.
Juxtaposing a Michigan-MSU game at Breslin with the Super Bowl on the same day really drove the point home.
I am much more invested in the stories of people who have reasons to do what they are doing other than "I have a contract."
Tooley. Derek Dooley is amazingly hypocritical:
“I’m still trying to figure out what I’m missing,” he said. “You have these contracts. It’s called quid pro quo. We give you this. You give us that. But if they don’t give us that and we decide not to give them this, then it’s the worst thing you can do. I’m still struggling to understand that issue…”
This verges on "I'm not even mad, I'm impressed" territory.
Etc.: Jim Herrmann might be coming back to be Iowa's DC, which would be the most Kirk Ferentz move ever. NCAA president urges school presidents to support multi-year scholarship offers. 2012 hockey recruit Justin Selman's stock seems to be on the rise.
According to 24/7's Steve Wiltfong, Michigan has picked up their third commitment in the class of 2013 in Detroit Crockett TE Khalid Hill. Hill received his offer from the Wolverines today and also had one from Central Michigan. He joins Maximum Exposure 7-on-7 teammate Shane Morris and Dymonte Thomas among Michigan's 2013 commits.
|NR TE||NR WDE||NR TE||3*, 86, NR TE|
Hill doesn't have rankings from three of the four recruiting services yet, but that shouldn't be of major concern—it's still very early in the process and the vast majority of juniors still haven't been evaluated. Three of the four list Hill at 6'2" (Scout has him an inch taller) and his listed weight ranges from 223-235 pounds—I'd guess he's closer to the higher number based on the picture above.
Hill was a standout at the Maximum Exposure combine at the Silverdome in December and he apparently developed a strong rapport with his future quarterback ($):
The other Hill at Crockett, Khalid Hill, already has good size. At 6-2, 230 he is big enough to be a good blocker in the run game, but what is most intriguing about him is his ability to run routes and catch passes like a receiver. Hill was clearly one of the top pass-catchers in attendance and has seemingly developed a real chemistry with Shane Morris.
In case you're wondering what "the other Hill" refers to, Khalid's brother Khalil—I'm sure that never gets confusing—plays cornerback for Crockett. Khalid's highlight tape, which you'll see below, jives with this evaluation; he's very adept at finding space over the middle and displays soft hands for a high school tight end. Rivals.com's Josh Helmholdt was also impressed by Hill at Maximum Exposure, naming him among the top performers of the event ($):
Hill has all the physical tools to be a Division I tight end, he just is a little on the short side at 6-foot-3. We'll see how he grows, but Division I programs are already showing interest.
Magnus has his evaluation of Hill up over at Touch the Banner, and he praises Hill's route-running and hands while having this to say about his future position and blocking ability:
With a short frame, it's likely that he's headed for the U position, which is an H-back type role. His size might be an advantage when playing in space or lead blocking from the move position, but he may struggle to add enough weight and strength to be an every-down tight end. He gets a little bit lackadaisical with his blocking at times, and he's going to have to be more consistent with his effort in the running game. That can be fixed with coaching, though.
Hill has the body to be able to play as a freshman if needed. He's not the most fundamental or explosive player, but he's not wispy like Devin Funchess and might be more college-ready immediately. I expect him to play a role somewhat like that of former Michigan tight end/H-back Aaron Shea.
Hill also took home MVP honors among tight ends at Michigan's summer camp in 2011, so the coaches were able to get an up-close evaluation that surely helped him land an offer. ESPN has yet to write up a scouting report on Hill and a tap-dancer of the same name is making a Google-stalk difficult, so for now the above camp reports are as much as I can find on Michigan's newest commit. Now that he's made his decision, I'm sure we'll read much more on him in the very near future. Since he plays at Detroit Crockett, I'll also likely be checking out at least one of his games in the fall.
Hill held one offer—from Central Michigan—before he pledged to Michigan today. Michigan State also reportedly showed interest. Considering how early in the process it is and the fact that Hill's camp appearances were in-state, the short offer list shouldn't be of much concern. His Michigan camp MVP honor says all you need to know about what the coaches think of his ability.
Hill caught 29 passes for 448 yards and six touchdowns in 2011. He also added 55 tackles, nine TFLs, and six sacks while playing defensive end.
FAKE 40 TIME
Hill posted a 5.11 40-yard dash time at the Nike SPARQ Combine in Massillon (OH) last February, where he also recorded a 4.84-second shuttle and a 28.5" vertical leap. He looks faster than that 5.11 on film, and since that's an electronic time at a combine I'll give it a one FAKE out of five. If anything, he's probably a little faster at this point.
From a quick perusal of the film, Hill impresses with his ability to go over the middle and his soft hands, though he could do a little better at catching the ball away from his body. It's tough to evaluate his blocking from the few highlights available, but he seems pretty powerful while also possessing surprising athleticism for a player of his size.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
The evidence at this point is flimsy indeed, but Hill looks like a solid all-around tight end who's a real threat as a receiver. He's a little shorter than ideal for the position, which may limit his effectiveness as a downfield threat. Hill has solid bulk for a junior, however, and he shows no fear in going across the middle and extending to make the tough catch. Michigan will once again be in need of an infusion of depth at tight end after Brandon Moore graduates following the 2012 season, so Hill will have every opportunity to contribute early in his career, especially if A.J. Williams eventually outgrows the position.
Without much to go on beyond one camp appearence and his junior film, I can't say much more about how he projects, though his lack of height will likely limit how high he can go when full class of 2013 rankings are released. That said, this is a nice pickup at a position of need, and Hill fits the mold as a versatile player who can line up along the line, at H-back, or even split wide. Given that he has over a year-and-a-half to add weight before his freshman season, Hill should have the size to be an immediate contributor by the time the 2013 season rolls around—we'll just have to wait and see if he has the ability.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
It's still too early in the process to really project the number of open spots, but expect Michigan to end up with around 20-22 scholarships to fill for 2013, and they've now landed three commits. Given the need at tight end, I expect the Wolverines to take one more player at the position, so this commitment doesn't mean that they won't continue pursuing players like Adam Breneman, Jake Matuska, and Jake Butt.
2/5/2012 – Michigan 54, Michigan State 64 – 17-7, 7-4 Big Ten
Playing in Breslin without any tall people was exactly as frustrating as you would expect; Kenpom nailed that particular game down to the point. The way things played out was equally as easy to predict. Michigan struggled immensely to generate shots after Izzo locked down most of Michigan's tricks and niblets. Easy buckets reduced, State annihilated Michigan on the boards, and that was that.
It's hard to get worked up about that after the fact. It was painful during; after it was obvious. The four factors graph might as well read "chalk":
Michigan lost this game on the boards.
This is the kind of thing I was talking about after the Ohio State game. There's only so much you can do when you're running out one guy taller than 6'5" against very large men in a hostile environment. Michigan is at a severe disadvantage against teams with elite size and athleticism.
That's no shame. It does make games like Sunday's uphill battles dependent on lighting it up from three. If this was part of, say, a decade-long slump with no light at the end of the tunnel it might be an occasion to rend the garments a little further. In the context of the last two years of Michigan basketball it's just another indication that Michigan isn't quite there yet.
Since the direction is clear, patience is easy. Two or three hours after the game, anyway.
Michigan has pulled through their brutal Kenpom stretch 3-3 with only the first ten minutes against Arkansas a real disappointment. At this point a tournament bid is basically in the bag. They need two more wins to hit .500 and have seven opportunities to do so, two of which are against Nebraska and Penn State. After fighting through six games against Kenpom top ten opponents in the first 11 games, they have just one in their final seven. Realistic goals include a 12-6 conference record—Beilein's best ever in a power conference—and a Sweet 16 seed.
I'll take it.
Oh, Hardaway. That game was the tipping point when the internet stopped whispering about what's going on with Tim Hardaway Jr. and started yelling uncomplimentary things. And… after going 1 for 10 and meekly saying "thank you sir" on a first-half MSU layup in the midst of months and months of clanged long shots it's hard to disagree with even the foamiest internet commenters.
Hardaway has been a huge disappointment. Burke is a freshman and not Darius Morris. He can only do so much. He needs help and he's getting more of it from Stu Douglass than Hardaway over the past six or seven games. It would be one thing if Hardaway was just in a shooting slump; add in the bad defense and bad shot selection and it's… well, it's not good.
I'm at a loss as to where to go from here: Hardaway is hugely inefficient and his defense is indifferent at best but the main option off the bench in his stead is a three-point specialist shooting 21%. There's nothing you can do except ride the lightning and hope some of those twos from right inside the three point line go down. Michigan just has to live with it and hope he starts finding a scoring touch.
At least the NBA isn't a threat, amirite?
BONUS disappointment: Michigan really needs Hardaway to rebound in this small lineup since he's the second-biggest and most-athletic guy; he had one offensive and one defensive as MSU grabbed almost half of their misses. On the season he's rebounding almost exactly as well as Trey Burke. I just don't know, man.
Novak and Douglass. Nails in this game just like they've been in virtually every other game. Novak was 5 of 8 for 14 points; Douglass only had five points but put up five assists and no turnovers. That's especially impressive when Michigan only had 19 made field goals.
Novak had a hand in Green's face as he knocked down a ton of tough fallaway jumpers; not much you can do about that.
There is small and there is too small. The Smotrycz at the five thing is maybe something you can get away with for a few minutes per game. It is not suited for all of Evan's minutes. Blake McLimans may not be great but at least putting him out there is less of a hilarious mismatch against whoever the post dude is.
Assuming the OSU game is a longshot this will not be hugely relevant down the stretch except against Illinois, whose best offense is tossing it to seven-footer Myers Leonard in the post and seeing what happens. The rest of their offense is Brandon Paul running around being inefficient. Michigan needs to find a way to neutralize the Leonard matchup, and that's not putting Smotrycz on the block.
Well fine then. Draymond Green backed it up.
It is difficult enough to win on the road, but with the current makeup of this team, we will lose to teams like Michigan State and Ohio and even some lesser teams--like Arkansas--that are able to surgically pinpoint our major weaknesses via their own specific approach to the game of basketball. I realize that is a little bit of an unfair (and crude) point to make, as teams like MSU and Ohio are very good teams; most teams lose to them. That is why they are ranked so highly. With that said, after these sorts of games have ended, I've been fairly at ease. As fun as this season has been, we are not even close to being on the same level as these sorts of opponents. Perhaps that will change next year when talented reinforcements will bring skills sets that Ann Arbor hasn't seen in some time. I guess this is all a roundabout way of saying that the way the Spartans beat us was not at all surprising, and that I guess this isn't so negative after all since I'm not all that upset. If you can't tell, sometimes I devote many more words to a simple concept than are probably necessary; it's a personal flaw of mine.
UMHoops recap. I don't think "chemistry" is the problem with Hardaway's play. It doesn't take chemistry to rebound and play D, or choose good shots. Photos from UMHoops. Baumgardner on how MSU slowed Burke. UMHoops rounds up Big Ten action.
2/4/2012 – Michigan 4, Miami 1 – 16-9-4, 10-7-4 CCHA
2/5/2012 – Michigan 3, Miami 0 – 17-9-4, 11-7-4 CCHA
Pull the string on a college hockey observer and you'll get a torrent of profanity about the latest refereeing injustices. Do it again and you'll get a statement about how it's a weird year. Do it a third time: more torrents of profanity. A fourth time and you get this: "there are no elite teams this year." Don't bother going any further. It's torrents all the way down.
It's just that… I don't know. I'm definitely not saying this, you know… but… would they be saying that if Jon Merrill hadn't been suspended for the first half of the year?
Consider Michigan's season. When Merrill came back from suspension Michigan was 11-8-3 and yielding 2.6 goals a game. Since, 1.25. They've gone 6-1-1 in that stretch against four opponents fighting for tourney bids with all but one win coming by multiple goals. Nine of Michigan's eleven non-wins in the first half were one-goal contests.
How many of those does Merrill—and the marginalization of Michigan's third pair—swing to the positive? How many goals per game is having him worth? The answer can be a lot less than 1.35 and still be enough to propel Michigan's season record into territory only Minnesota-Duluth is scraping this year. Past it, maybe. The idea I am creeping up to gingerly and fleeing in fear from after considering its audacious blasphemy is obvious.
What if Michigan is this year's elite team?
Look at it from a neutral observer's perspective: here's this team tied for second in RPI and PWR, third in KRACH. It's 10-1-2 in its last 13 games and midway through that stretch added a top-pairing defenseman from the WJC team. Their goalie has entered a new plane of existence in which it's reasonable to put up a .980 over a month. They are surging towards the top of what looks like college hockey's toughest conference. If not Michigan, then who?
Mentioning that point in November when it looked like the team was dead and buried and marveling at the huge distance from that point to this one is obligatory and discharged here. The shift has been abrupt and dizzying.
What changed? Merrill is obvious but Michigan was already on a 4-0-1 move when he re-entered the lineup. The formation of a thunderous top line helps a lot, as does Hunwick going from "still a guy you can win with," as I termed him in a post around the midseason mark, to a surefire Hobey finalist*. And then there's just… this feeling. Of competence and confidence.
Whatever it is, Michigan has rarely found themselves threatened since the halfway point. If it's still a little shocking that this Michigan team is rolling everyone not named Notre Dame, it's true, and the longer it goes on the more confident you can be in your delicate assertions that Michigan might be pretty good at hockey this year.
*[As in top ten, not necessarily top three. That's a possibility, though.]
The throbbing pestilence
The fetid sore on hockey that is Keith Sergott cannot be better summarized than by the meaningless penalty to Blake Coleman with one second left in Friday's game. After they'd let Miami run Hunwick twice without putting Miami on the penalty kill, a pissed-off Coleman plows Hunwick. Sergott does what Sergott does by Sending A Message and making this guy's penalty a major.
This infuriated me. One: the penalty was not a major. It was not dangerous at all, not much of a hit, and warranted two minutes. Two: twice earlier in the game Hunwick had gotten run harder and Sergott either ignored it or evened penalties up. Since the player did not get a DQ, the net result is to make it look like you're being strict without actually penalizing the behavior on the ice in any way whatsoever.
That's Sergott's MO. That's why he was on the ice when Conboy and Tropp assaulted Steve Kampfer, and his inability to keep tempers in check is indirectly responsible for the suspensions handed out at the end of Saturday's game. His incompetence is total, which shouldn't be surprising since he is Bull from "Night Court."
Yost Built has a good summary of this guy's track record:
You'll remember that Sergott was the official a few weeks back at Notre Dame, when he let the Irish run Hunwick at every opportunity and usually just evened things up on the rare occasion that he did call anything. He was also the official when Steve Kampfer was attacked by Andrew Conboy and Corey Tropp. He was also the official of the ND/WMU game when the wrong player got ejected. Even if you set the bar for your officials at "Don't endanger players with your incompetence", Sergott fails in a big way. He shouldn't be reffing BGSU/Alabama-Huntsville, let alone high-profile games.
His existence as a referee is on the same plane as the CCHA adopting "gongshow" as a title sponsor.
Antidote. Denard was at the Friday game:
Further highlights from Friday:
Bullets That Shawn Hunwick Perceives As Lackadaisical Watermelons
Hobey? Yost Built lays out the case for Hunwick:
Hunwick moved into 4th place in the history of the program with his ninth-career shutout. He also now ranks second nationally in wins, is fifth in save percentage, and ninth in goals-against. Hobey. Seriously.
Of the eight guys in front of him in GAA, four come from minor conferences (Union, Niagara, RIT, Quinnipiac), and he's played twice as many minutes as Knapp and CJ Motte. Only Douglas Carr from UML and Kent Patterson from Minnesota are from major conferences, have played around as many minutes, and have a better GAA. And Patterson is only .01 ahead.
The four guys ahead of him in save percentage play for Niagara, Union, RIT, and Robert Morris. And none of them are within 225 saves of him.
He is obviously the best candidate amongst goalies. Can he win against the usual parade of scoring forwards?
Baseball standings. Here you go:
|4||Notre Dame||11||8||3||36||22||1 2/3|
|Ohio State||10||9||5||36||24||2 2/3|
|9||Northern Michigan||7||9||6||30||22||3 2/3|
|11||Bowling Green||4||14||4||19||22||7 1/3|
The conference title race is still competitive, but Ferris State has a clear edge since they're in first place and have a BGSU series left. Michigan will either have to fly through the last three weeks or hope for Ferris to drop some points this weekend at Notre Dame.
The final week could be a barn-burner: WMU plays a home and home with Ferris as Michigan travels to BGSU. If the standings look like they do right now that could be a weekend where a split in FSU/WMU gives M the title.
The call out. Red Berenson is not a guy who expresses much emotion publicly, so a relatively gentle statement like this…
"We'll keep sending the information to the league but the league has to respond. I don't know that they've done a good job of it so far."
…says a lot about how frustrating it's been to watch the league ignore opponents making the Hunwick a target part of the gameplan without consequences. After Saturday, Red's opening statement was this:
"Don't ask me about the officiating."
So people figured out ways to ask him about the officiating without really asking him about the officiating. It was like watching JoePa interviewed at Media Day, when every question was not about retiring (nudge nudge wink wink). So Red said "we should not have to kill that many penalties in a game like that" when asked about the penalty kill and "it was the way the game was being handled" when asked about the emotions escalating at the end.
Legion of Boom! Top line nickname? No? Maybe? Yes? Needs more brutal hits, probably. Whatever.
Level up. When AJ Treais got a pass from Lee Moffie, held it… held it… held it(!) and then passed it back to Moffie at just the right moment for him to bang it into the net I was not surprised.
This was surprising. After a couple years of watching Treais be not Mike Comrie I'd resigned myself to the fact that he wasn't going to be the devilishly entertaining short guy that is my favorite hockey archetype*. But dang if he isn't basically all of Michigan's secondary scoring in the Legion of Boom era.
A lot of this has come from sniping. See his first goal Friday above. Yeah, Reichard could have done better there but Treais had about a square inch of real estate to make that relevant and nailed it. Then he zinged himself:
I saw a very small spot. I was just trying to get it to that spot, and the puck went in. I haven't done that since juniors. Usually my goals are back-door tap-ins.
This has not been true of late. High-variance shooting percentage aside, Treais has started walking dudes and generating chances. It seems like the light has gone on.
Moffatt and Brown are also contenders in this category.
*[Austin Czarnik's a good example. Western's captain this year is the best I've seen, though.]
You knew this was going to be in the post halfway through Saturday's game. I find it inexplicable that Lindsay Sparks ever gets scratched. He makes that line with Moffatt and Hyman so much more dangerous. Multiple times against Miami he set up excellent scoring chances by driving into the offensive zone and then pulling up to survey guys diving to the net or setting up in the slot; he also rang the post on a wrister.
Maybe he's not the greatest defensive player in the world but he's a chance generator. Against the flailing bottom sixes of the CCHA he's got to be a net positive.
Next up on "I can't believe this guy is a scratch": Mike Chiasson.
The Keith Sergott of power plays. A salute to the Miami PP, which sunk further into the depths after going 0/12 on the weekend. They dip to 13% on the year even without considering the shortie; Michigan's penalty kill is up to 16th.
Miami is now 8 of 94 on CCHA power plays.
Goal controversy. I will trade Blasi the goal they got double-reviewed Saturday for Fort Wayne, and I'll include Tayshaun Prince.
Vogelhuber. I'm little surprised "Vogelhuber" is not a rank in Vogon society.
I did mention that Michigan's bye-week fall was mostly illusory and a strong weekend would see them pop up. I didn't think it would be all the way to second, and it really isn't all the way to second: they're in a three-way tie with Mass-Lowell and UMD that sees each competitor take one comparison and lose one from the other. Michigan wins the tiebreaker by the hair on its chinny-chin-chin.
There's not a whole lot of complexity here. Michigan will win comparisons based on RPI against virtually everyone with two exceptions:
- #1 BU. Michigan probably has to have BU get at most a tie out of a weekend series with Northeastern to pass them before the playoffs give people a bunch of unplanned series not accounted for in the TUC stuff.
- #4 Duluth. M is going to have a hard time winning this comparison unless Duluth spits the bit down the stretch and they play very well. COP is basically Duluth's without very specific events unfolding and they have a ~1.5 game edge in TUC.
If M goes 3-1 in the next two weeks they're in great shape; 2-2 and they are probably going to drop to fourth or fifth. The margins here are very narrow, just like they are in the CCHA. Michigan is assured of nothing but has positioned itself well.
Random factoid: every game Michigan has played has been against a TUC (above .500 in RPI) save for their opening swing against Bentley, SLU, and Niagara. This will be an even more impressive statement in two weeks because both MSU and Northern are also TUCs.
Despite forbidding any questions on the matter, that Berenson spent much of his time speaking about officiating and taking shots at Blasi (after a dominating sweep, no less) says quite a lot.
Referees Brian Hill and Keith Sergott lost control of the game, Blasi lost control of his players, and Michigan was the team getting penalized.
For those keeping track at home, yes Keith Sergott is that Keith Sergott, the one who presided a particularly touchy and physical Michigan-Notre Dame series two weeks ago.
So, in honor of Berenson and in the spirit of reticence, I too ask that you not question me about the officiating.
So after the first 13:50 of the game, the RedHawks had had nearly eight full minutes of power play time. In that 7:57 span with Miami up a man, shots were 5-5 and goals were 1-0 in favor of the Wolverines. That is some penalty killing!
There is also a quality ref rant in that post.