Reminder. Soccer liveblog starts at around 10:30.
Other soccer bits. AnnArbor.com has another story on Jeff Quijano and his journey from starter to backup and back. Quijano's the first Michigan athlete to cite Michigan Stadium's elaborate wave as a reason he came to Michigan:
“I know it sounds weird, but I saw the wave, all those people…it was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” Quijano recalls. “I was hooked.”
Everyone in the student section who does the arm-wave motion to cross the streams feels a tiny bit of pride about this. The Ultras have picked Buffalo Wild Wings as the gathering place of choice for those in the mood for compatriots. That's where I watched the USA-Algeria game, so hopefully we score the winner a minute into stoppage except stoppage doesn't exist in college.
The Daily actually makes a fairly good Miracle on Ice comparison; the US got blasted 10-3 by the Soviets before the Olympics, not unlike what happened to Michigan earlier this year. Like all Miracle on Ice comparisons it's still stretched.
Heisman back in the day. The Woodson presentation:
I still remember the dorm-wide "YEAH" that erupted. People who didn't care about football must have been mystified.
Blunt Brandon brandishes bludgeon. A brief interview excerpt from Sports Business Daily has some real talk about the NCAA investigation:
Q: What is more challenging, complying with NCAA rules or SEC [ed: Security Exchange Commission] rules?
Brandon: NCAA. I spent less time with lawyers doing a billion dollar transaction than I did with the recent NCAA case. The amount of resources and effort we used from something that started as a newspaper article was huge. If you aggregate the cost, it was between 1.5 and 2 million dollars in internal costs. My understanding is there are north of 80 to 90 cases currently in the NCAA queue. We’ve created a cottage industry that is stripping resources out of the athletic departments. It’s a broken system and needs reform.
That's to the point. I'm not sure what the reform would be, but we're heading towards an era with more enforcement, not less. He also says one of the things he's learned in the first nine months is "don't read blogs," which ouch. Pimp hand don't hurt me no more.
More maniacal bits. The Mississippi State defense against LSU:
I'm not sure how relevant that is against Denard, but it sure looks like they're going to damn the torpedoes and come after him when he throws. When Jefferson breaks contain early he's got acres of space.
Consider the following: our universities are flagships - meaning that they're the oldest, most well endowed, widely recognized, most highly publicized, and most readily associated with the famous and influential sons and daughters within our respective states. Our universities are liberal arts oriented institutions nestled in unique, quirky, and revered college towns. We revere and contribute to the arts and humanities. A significant portion of our alumni associations are attorneys who hate their jobs. Et cetera.
Undying loyalty is offered in exchange for victory, which I'll gladly take anyway.
Etc.: Bacon's latest is on the journey Red took from handing out tickets on State Street to playing in front of 100k. More on Mississippi State from BWS, with a season overview and analysis of how they held Auburn under 20 points. UMHoops previews the Utah game, starting in 1.5 hours. The HSR says Denard's melted bag of snow was a metaphor for the season.
|WHAT||Michigan v. Utah|
|WHERE||Ann Arbor, MI|
6:30 PM EST
December 10th, 2010
|THE LINE||Michigan -8*|
*Line provided by online sports betting site Sportsbetting.com.
These two teams squared off last year in Salt Lake City, with the Utes emerging victorious in an ugly 68-52 contest. Both of these teams have changed a lot in the year (exactly!) since that game, however. If it were to be played again with only current players' scores counting, the final score would be 16-15 in favor of the Wolverines. Yay! WE WON!
Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims were Michigan's only double-digit scorers in that game with 25 points and 10 points, respectively, and neither suits up in maize and blue anymore. Zack Gibson, Laval Lucas-Perry, and Anthony Wright all played at least 10 minutes in that contest, and aren't in Ann Arbor anymore. Even Eric Puls and Ben Cronin(!) got playing time in that game, and are no longer playing basketball. On the positive side of the ledger, Zack Novak had the flu and didn't travel. Darius Morris, Stu Douglass, Eso Akunne, and Matt Vogrich are the only players still on the team from that game.
The Utes have experienced similar turnover, though maybe not to such an alarming degree. Marshall Henderson (22) Carlon Brown (12), Luka Drca (12), and David Foster (10) were the leading scorers in that game, and only David Foster "my name distinctly lacks a Wallace" returns as a defensive specialist. Among other departures for Utah are Kim Tillie and Jordan Cyphers.
The players to watch for Utah are junior forward Will Clyburn, a Detroit native who's the team's leader in shooting and 3-point attempts, junior guard Josh Watkins and his older brother, senior forward Jay, and sophomore center Jason Washburn, a 7-footer who leads the team in blocks and is one of the top rebounders.
With a few games under each team's respective belts [Ed-M: ours is the one without the obnoxious buckle], it's finally reasonable to look at the stats. If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy.
|Michigan v. Northwestern: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Utah Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. UU Def eFG%||145||68||U|
|Mich Def eFG% v. UU eFG%||23||228||MMM|
|Mich TO% v. UU Def TO%||114||191||M|
|Mich Def TO% v. UU TO%||247||118||UU|
|Mich OReb% v. UU DReb%||144||167||M|
|Mich DReb% v. UU OReb%||17||241||MMM|
|Mich FTR v. UU Opp FTR||316||268||U|
|Mich Opp FTR v. UU FTR||10||8||-|
|Mich AdjO v. UU AdjD||119||78||U|
|Mich AdjD v. UU AdjO||39||162||MM|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
The Wolverines, with their personnel turnover, are a very different team than we saw last year. They've displayed some competency shooting the ball(!!!!), and have gone from a very bad rebounding team to a solidly above-average one. In the meantime, the Utes have gone in the opposite direction in each of those metrics, and have also gotten much worse in opponents' shooting.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, though. The Utes are yet again one of the tallest teams in the country, with an average height just over 6-6. Teams with size gave Michigan a host of troubles last year, but now... well, the maize-and-blue has a bit of height of their own. Adding a 6-6 small forward, a pair of centers with legit size, and a couple power forwards that aren't (very) generously listed at 6-5 can work wonders.
The one thing the 2010-11 Utes truly do well is get to the free-throw line, which is unsurprising given their size. However, they've played a motley crew of tiny opponents (and an oddly well-sized but horrible Pepperdine team), and Michigan should have the best combination of size and skill they've seen.
The factors that have the greatest effect on their efficiencies are shooting on offense (which is a huge advantage for Michigan) and offensive turnover percentage (a big advantage for the Utes).
Utah hasn't played a team with both the size and skill of Michigan, which should give them trouble. However, Jordan Morgan struggled against Concordia (which, you may note, is an NAIA school that started a 6-5 center), so expect Utah to get some production on the interior, and frustrate Morgan at times.
However, I think Michigan's letdown game against the Cardinals will serve as a serious wakeup call that they can't sleepwalk through any game, so they'll have a renewed focus against the Utes. That means a snap back to form for Tim Hardaway Jr. and Evan Smotrycz, with Darius Morris continuing his run of strong play.
Chances to look stupid:
Tim Hardaway Jr. or Jordan Morgan becomes the first Wolverine to foul out this season. Darius Morris records his third double-double of the year. Zack Novak puts together a solid game statisticaly to make up for missing last year's contest. Both teams trade some blows, but at the end of the day, I see a 70-58 game in favor of the Wolverines.
Why is your name all wavy, Wade?
Three years ago when Michigan was waddling about gently poking jowly coaches of the Midwest in search of their next head football coach, I relayed a ton of different things that hit my inbox about Kirk Ferentz and Jim Grobe and Greg Schiano and, yes, Brady Hoke. Many of them seemed ludicrous even at the time, like Michigan offering Ferentz a massive paycut to become Michigan's coach or Greg Schiano accepting the job before changing his mind (twice!), but are now part of what passes for the unofficial history of those maniacal three weeks. It was a weird time.
I tried to balance the inherently contradictory reports by relaying the things I'd heard and laying out what I thought based on those things, but from a distance of three years I think I made a mistake in my coverage. That mistake was assuming that all information being passed was a good-faith attempt to help Michigan fans figure out where the search stood at that point. It did not occur to me that while that assumption was probably correct about the people directly emailing me I had no way to judge the sincerity or connectedness of the people passing them information.
So. Any Michigan message board you pick has both shadowy insiders and now moderators throwing out Brady Hoke's name a "very serious" candidate to be Michigan's head coach. I've gotten the rumor myself from someone I trust, citing solid sources within the athletic department. But this is not then. I'm not going to rush to my keyboard and spit out all the reasons Hoke is not a plausible candidate for the Michigan job like I did three years ago.
I would if I thought there was even the slightest chance Hoke would replace Rich Rodriguez in early January, because that would be the most insane coaching switch of all time. This is not going to happen. Brady Hoke is not a serious candidate for the Michigan job. He is not any sort of candidate. If Dave Brandon was willing to hire Hoke to coach Michigan, Rodriguez would already be out the door because there would be a dozen people he'd rather have coaching Michigan than Rodriguez. Unless meteors hit both Jim Harbaugh and Rich Rodriguez, the chance Brady Hoke is Michigan's coach in 2011 is zero point zero percent.
Yes, single sentence paragraph time.
Do you know how I know this? Because three years ago the rumors about Hoke were heavy enough that I scurried to the keyboard to point out this was a guy with one winning season, that 7-5, at a MAC school. While he's a plausible candidate for the Minnesota job now, back then he wasn't a plausible candidate for the job he was actually at. If Ball State's job was open they wouldn't have hired a coach with Brady Hoke's resume. And yet there were rumblings from within Fort Schembechler that had everyone panicked, just like today.
The obvious conclusion is that there are people who know and like Hoke in the athletic department, who hate everyone else who's ever been rumored for the Michigan job, and there are credulous people willing to relay anything that comes from a person with a job in Schembechler Hall. None of these people are Dave Brandon.
Brady Hoke will not coach Michigan in 2011. You may resume your day-to-day lives.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Michigan State|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:00 Eastern, December 11th 2010|
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||FS Detroit/Big Ten Network|
20% chance of rain/snow
The Only Colors has a preview from a Michigan State perspective that's essentially what I'd write if I was going to put one together. After a decent start Michigan State endured an awful 1-6 stretch that's put them behind the eight ball in the league and the (hypothetical) pairwise.
The last couple weekends they've recovered to split in the Showcase and against a decent Ferris State team, but the losses of Petry, Tropp, and Rowe have been too much for a talent-deficient MSU team to overcome. As long as Comley's around the Spartans are going to be bad or very bad when they only have two seniors and four draft picks. Both programs have fallen off from where they were ten years ago for the Cold War, which was a season-opener in October that saw #1 Michigan State take on #4 Michigan, but Michigan's fallen back from dominant to very good while Michigan State has turned into Northern Michigan, except Northern never ends up tenth in the league.
There's a big gap in the goal differentials:
MSU: 42 GF, 46 GA overall (2.47/2.71 per game), 23/29 in conference (2.09/2.63 per game)
Michigan: 58 GF, 45 GA overall (3.22/2.50 per game), 38/26 in conference (3.17/2.17 per game)
Michigan's goal difference is about where it was last year (higher in conference but lower overall). Ours, on the other hand, has gone well into the red. This time, the records actually match the goal difference numbers, unlike last year where we finished 2nd in conference and Michigan was 7th despite a better goal difference.
The guy to watch is Brett Perlini, a seventh-round pick of Anaheim who's Michigan State's leading scorer with an 11-5-16 line. Big and talented, he's the kind of player Michigan's finesse defense might have issues with. Daultan Leveille is a first round pick of the Thrashers and while he hasn't lived up to that hype in three years at State he's extremely fast and is the Spartan best able to take advantage of the Olympic sheet. Derek Grant is Perlini's setup guy and an Ottawa draft pick; past that the Spartans have diminutive senior Dustin Gazely, who is all right and has 5-6-11, and a bunch of guys named Chelios who are marginal players. Shut down the Spartans' top line and they have very little else. The only D who gets involved with the offense is Torey Krug
Michigan State goalie Drew Palmisano is having an okay year. He's about average in save percentage; given what I've seen from him in the past I'm betting he's facing an inordinate number of good shots.
I summarized the season to date earlier in the week and nothing's changed since then. To recap: Michigan isn't the team that went 10-10 before the break last year, but it's not the team that tore off ten straight to salvage an NCAA bid, either. It's a version of last year's team that's a little older and better. They spend most of the game in the opponent's end unless they're playing elite competition, get a lot of goals they don't really mean to score, and lack the top-end scoring star Red's teams have been built around for ages. When Berenson admits his group is "blue collar," you know there's a lack of flash. Yea, it is so.
They're still not bad or anything, but it doesn't look like this group is going into the NCAA tournament expecting to make a Frozen Four. Hoping, probably. Not expecting.
Hogan has earned the start this weekend, which may presage a shift in Michigan's goalie strategy long term. Two years ago Michigan split time between Hogan and Sauer, with Hogan taking over in the second half of the season. I wouldn't be surprised to see a repeat in the cards, with Hunwick getting a few games here and there.
Michigan has an advantage in that they've practiced on the outdoor ice (and Olympic sheet) the past week:
"Now we don't have to worry about the sun or the rain or wind or snow or bad ice or good ice. Now we can just worry about playing hockey," he said. "We know the environment, we know the scenario is unique, but I think the novelty is wearing off a little."
MSU will have one practice outside today.
You may notice the threatening chance of rain above. The temperature is excellent for December… unless it rains, in which case everyone is going to be thinking of the 2008 Northwestern game and wishing it was 25. There are different forecasts at different sites. Weather Underground says there's a 20% chance of snow, which would be fine. The Weather Channel says a 30-40% chance of rain/snow, which would be miserable.
IANA meteorologist but it given the temperatures—barely above freezing and way colder in the cloud layer—and the dew point, which some guy on Yahoo Answers said had to be below freezing, it'll probably be a wet snow that melts when it hits. This section is evidence of a diseased mind.
Anyway, Weather Underground also says winds will be in the 10-14 MPH range, which may be enough for the CCHA to stop the game midway through the third and have the teams switch ends. This did not happen in last year's game against Wisconsin despite Michigan's request (Hogan's crease was faulty), but the CCHA's on top of things.
This is a game Michigan should win by putting Hagelin and company out against Perlini and relying on those guys to overwhelm the slower MSU team with their skating. Lines two through four are major advantage Michigan and the game should be largely focused in the MSU zone when they're on the ice.
Michigan has a hard time turning possession into goals, however, and plays a large number of games against obviously inferior competition that they can't break open because of their lack of firepower. They just did it twice against Ohio State, struggled to finish off Lake State, etc. If they played this 100 times Michigan might win 60 with 20 ties and 20 MSU wins, but they're only playing once, so here's a stupid prediction of a 3-2 Michigan victory and snow.
HATE THE BCS? HATE AMERICA
The dumbest thing ever written. This is not literally true, but it may be the dumbest thing ever written about college football. It is this Bill Hancock guy's shoddily argued nonsense about the BCS. I've become a playoff guy over the past decade or so but even BCS proponents in the blogosphere (of which there appears to be one, the guy behind Get The Picture) have to wince at statements like this:
College football was one weekend away from Boise State participating in the BCS National Championship Game because of what happened on the playing field — not in a chatroom, a boardroom or a newsroom.
In the event that Auburn lost and Boise State won, yes. The reverse happened and instead the BCS works and is fair and that's Gary Patterson's artery spraying a red mist over most of the Southwest but how did you think Sedona, Arizona, ended up looking like that? Do you want a thriving tourist mecca to evaporate overnight when college football coaches cease venting the bloodmist that gently descends on the mesas?
Orson has gone FJM on the thing—it exists to be fisked, I thought about doing it myself—but you don't have to do anything other than blockquote to obliterate this extremely stupid system:
A playoff also would mean the end of America's bowl tradition as we know it. As Rick Baker, president of the Cotton Bowl, said, "A playoff system would ruin the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic."
We can't have that.
BONUS: Putting "Classic" in the name of your thing is a 100% sure way to tell that your thing is neither classic nor an actual thing anymore, in the, you know, traditional sense where entities are somewhat authentic outgrowths of desires instead of remanufactured bullcrap like "chocolate" diamonds that make me wish that authentic outgrowths of desires that form entities like Adbusters weren't equally odious and even more shrill. The "Cotton Bowl Classic" is at Jerryworld, not the Cotton Bowl. It can die in a fire for all I care.
OBLIGATORY REMINDER OF MGOBLOG PLAYOFF PLAN: Six teams, no autobids, byes to the top two teams. No more than two teams per conference, and those teams can't play each other in the first round. Home games until the final, one the week after the championship games, one on January 1st, final at the Rose Bowl January 8th, leave bowl system alone.
This preserves almost all of the urgency of regular season and guarantees that the champion is also the team with the best season-long resume since five of the top six lose and anyone not 1 or 2 wades through three elite opponents, staking an undeniable claim.
This year's hypothetical bracket:
1. Oregon vs winner of 3. TCU / 6. Ohio State
2. Auburn vs winner of 4. Wisconsin / 5. Stanford
If Auburn had lost to Alabama they would probably have fallen to fifth (ballparking it) and gone from a first round bye and January 1 home game to a first round game in Madison or Palo Alto—a freaking huge deal. Losing one game boots Boise and Michigan State, and two is fatal for everyone. Since the current system frequently sees one-loss teams into the championship game it's difficult to argue this system cheapens the regular season.
If you want a lengthier explanation I pretended I was talking to Joe Posnanski about it last January. In sum, there is no reason people who do not stand to lose money would oppose the idea.
This Week In Less Charismatic Than Stalin. Terrelle Pryor:
"I'll put it like this: You put me in any of their offenses — any of them — and I'd dominate," Pryor said, when asked about the attention afforded the likes of Newton, Robinson and Persa. "I'd dominate the nation. What those guys do, that's what they're supposed to do in their offense."
He goes on to say the usual boilerplate about how he's all about winning, which could be interpreted as a mitigating factor if Pryor didn't manage to twist every bit of boilerplate into another reason to think Pryor should be locked in the basement by Tressel until his graduation. Doctor Saturday looks at the numbers and says pretty much what I did in the OSU preview—against defenses that are actually good Pryor folds alarmingly.
Robinson said he also remembers picking up some snow, playfully chucking it at Rodriguez, "and then running pretty fast after that."
Robinson also packed snow into a plastic bag for his return flight.
"Melted on the plane," he said.
How does Robinson know if he's running fast?
This Week In Coaching Blah Blah Blah. Have fielded a couple inquiries as to why I'm not covering the "coaching search" or "situation," depending on your point of view. I'm not because there is no "search" and there is no reliable information on the situation. Time and again I have been told by people one or two or three steps removed from insiders that Rodriguez is going to get fired after the Ohio State game. Or on Monday (yes, as in three days ago, which makes absolutely no sense). Or pretty dang soon. Or that Brady Hoke is a viable candidate. Or etc etc etc etc. I got so much chatter in my inbox that made no sense that even the plausible stuff now carries the sheen of ulterior motive (not necessarily from the emailer, but from the discontent insider-type person) or wishful thinking (from Brady Hoke's friends and family).
I have no updates that are reliable enough to relate. There is a cottage industry of people telling other people that Rodriguez is definitely gone that has proven inaccurate multiple times so far in the past month, so I probably won't be able to say much definitively unless I get something solid from a few established guys.
To reiterate, I've run everything I've heard through filters of reliability and making a damn lick of sense and come up with this:
- There is a nonzero chance Rodriguez is not brought back or Brandon would have/should have already announced it.
- There is a nonzero chance Rodriguez is brought back or ditto.
- One game is probably not the deciding factor.
- Harbaugh exists. No other candidate strong enough to make a move compelling does.
- You cannot start a real coaching search that takes two to four weeks a month before Signing Day.
The conclusion is that on January second Harbaugh or Rodriguez will be Michigan's coach and that person will be the coach in 2011. No one peddling a story other than that is credible unless their name is Dave Brandon, and even then he's probably just having you on.
I don't know which is more likely. If I get anything that changes my opinion I'll mention it.
BONUS: A scientific poll shows that Michigan fans are split right down the middle: 35 percent want him gone, 32 percent want him to stay, and 33 percent are unsure. That's amazingly apropos. Too bad it doesn't include a section asking people "have you raged incoherently at someone about this opinion?" Three percent said they'd prefer Brady Hoke over Harbaugh (64 percent) or Miles(23 percent).
Penn State exodus? With Joe Paterno slightly old and doddering Penn State relies heavily on its ancient, incredibly stable coaching staff to prop up the ship. There was slight panic when DL coach Larry Johnson Sr. seriously considered taking the Illinois DC job a few years ago—it's testament to the loyalty of the staff that he stayed—and now with Pitt searching around BSD's a little concerned the Panthers might look at the blindingly obvious candidate: Tom Bradley. Bradley's considered the be the heir apparent to Paterno and probably should be since he's been the motive force behind the good bit of Penn State forever, but if he can't leverage the Pitt opening into something approximating a guarantee he's the guy he could be tempted to go. Too bad the NCAA put a kibosh on that coach-in-waiting stuff.
Meanwhile, LB coach Ron Vanderlinden is "linked to" the Ball State job. This will probably lead to nothing except a couple of raises but it's worth keeping an eye on if only to see how easy OSU's path to the Big Ten Championship game is going to be.
Etc.: The Daily's Nicole Auerbach scores a WSJ article about the Big Chill and the growth potential of college hockey. Big Ten Hockey cannot come fast enough. Thoroughly patronizing AA.com article explains to you what "faceoffs" and "hat tricks" are. Dave Brandon says Michigan is "highly interested" in adding D-I lacrosse if it proves viable. Monumental's series of awesome wallpapers continues.
|WHAT||#10 Michigan vs #3 Akron|
|WHERE||Harder Stadium, Santa Barbara, CA|
|WHEN||11:00 Eastern, December 10th 2010|
|THE LINE||College soccer lines, junkie?|
|WEATHER||Sunny, around 60
0% chance of rain
Right: meet the only context in which this is 100% appropriate.
Livebloggin' is in effect starting maybe a half-hour before the game.
And here's where the problem kicks in: how does one preview a soccer game? Stats are sparse on the ground, there's not a clean division between units that allows for easy compartmentalization, I haven't seen Akron play and have rarely seen Michigan, and while I am outstanding at Football Manager—truly righteous—most of my skill comes in identifying hot young talents other teams are content to give away for peanuts.
Let's start with what we know: Michigan's last loss was against this Akron team. It was not a pretty one. Michigan got clunked 7-1—Akron's biggest margin of victory on the year. They also lost 1-0 in a spring exhibition at the Silverdome.
Ives Galarcep's most recent MLS draft "Big Board" has Akron players at…
1. Darlington Nagbe, M/F
2. Perry Kitchen, DM
3. Kofi Sarkodie, DR
5. Darren Mattocks, F
8. Zarek Valentin, DC
18. Anthony Ampaipitakwon, M
25. Michael Nanchoff, ML
…this is seven of a starting eleven in the top 25. Michigan has one player, Justin Meram, at 25. (In the comments, a "Seth Brokekicker" admonishes Galarcep for hyping Meram up when he's needed on campus next year.) Someone asks about Soony Saad and Galarcep says he's on the 2013 board.
I bet not even Jamiemac of Just Cover can find a line for tomorrow's game, but if he does Michigan will be an impressive underdog. Akron is be the #3 seed and while Maryland was the #2 and beat Akron 3-1 in an exhibition last spring it's hard to find a reason Akron wasn't far and away the #1 seed in the tournament if they don't manage a single loss against Cleveland State(!) in late October. Their schedule wasn't great and as a result their RPI was fourth. Michigan's was worse. Before the tournament they were third in a stretch of Big Ten teams ranging from 12 to 15; Indiana was 12th and first in the league despite going only 9-7-2 against D-I.
One man's scouting report follows. This guy has seen three games this year, has not had the benefit of replay except once, and is not Zonal Marking, so bear with me.
Meram vs Maryland. Jake Fromm/Daily
Anyone will tell you that Michigan's strength is in their attackers and this is true. Freshman Soony Saad is the nation's second leading scorer and rookie of the year with 19 goals; he's a crafty shooter who scored from his own half this year and scared the hell out of UCF's goalie when he tried it again in Michigan's tournament opener. Strike partner Justin Meram is a soccer version of TJ Hensick or Mike Comrie, a gifted dribbler and accomplished sniper who's all right physically but will not wow you. At the UCF game a friend of mine turned to me and said in all seriousness "he's better than Robbie Findley," and I thought to myself "this is literally true." When in doubt Michigan chucks it up to Meram and hopes he can run onto it.
Soony's brother Hamoody alternates between a central attacking midfield role (Michigan plays with a dedicated destroyer behind him, relieving Hamoody of many defensive duties) and a wing spot, where he interlinks with both forwards. He's often the player who touches the ball right before the guy who gets the assist. He's not as much of a threat with the ball at his feet as the two strikers but is good at getting them involved in space.
The two wingers are usually senior Alex Wood and sophomore Latif Alashe; Alashe is more immediately impressive but Wood was the guy who sprung Meram for the tying goal against UCF. Alashe deflected the winner into the net. Those five attackers are the strength of the team.
so gritty snow follows him around in the hopes it will become sand.
On defense it's considerably wobblier. The defensive midfielder is redshirt junior Adam Shaw, who is a gritty, gritty man. By this I mean "5'8" and not very fast." He makes up for this by being dogged. The word just sort of leaps into your mind as you watch him play. That kid—dogged, that kid. He could be to be a weak link against a rampaging Zips midfield. With Hamoody Saad upfield and multiple Akron players capable of dropping into the hole or effectively transitioning into attack he's going to have his hands full unless Michigan makes a tactical change.
The defense has scared me in games against mediocre opponents this year and was obviously gunned down in spectacular fashion in the game against the Zips earlier in the season. Since it is my fate to not like the left fullback on any soccer team I've ever watched I haven't been a big fan of Chase Tennant; he was pretty weak in two of the three games I saw and while he was better against UCF he still gives away possession flamboyantly. He's not an offensive threat.
Right back Jeffrey Quijano is a senior who fought through a challenge for his job and reclaimed his starting spot midway through the season. He's prone to leave his feet in bad situations but is much better on the ball than Tennant and can be a threatening presence down the wing. Quijano scored one of Michigan's goals against Maryland and put Meram's on a plate after slaloming through several defenders. (Or so Goal.com says. I have no idea since I was at the basketball game.)
The central defenders are okay. I like Kofi Opare better, as he seems less prone to misjudge long balls and better at developing possession from the back. Brian Kemczak is his running mate and has come off like Jay Demerit—solid defensively but a hoofer as soon as it touches his foot. I have gotten a sense of vague disquiet whenever the ball is bouncing around the box and can't tell if that's justified or just how I watch soccer.
I didn't notice much about goalie Chris Blais but the guy next to me at the UCF game muttered something to his friend about how he had "frankly been a weak link." That guy sounded like he really liked Prairie Home Companion and said something patronizingly moralistic about a yellow card he thought had gone to Soony Saad for rolling around theatrically after someone had stepped on his foot. Said yellow had actually gone to his brother for dissent. So take that with a grain of salt. I thought he could have done better on the UCF goal, which pinged around the box and probably should have been fisted away*.
Miscellaneous bits. Michigan is very good at set pieces. Soony Saad is a bomber who's a threat to score by shooting; Hamoody takes the corners and usually drives hard in-swingers. He was the motive force behind Michigan's game-winner against UCF when he swung in a terrific ball that was headed for the net and just needed a tiny deflection to wrong-foot the goalie. It reminded me of David Beckham's World Cup goal against Paraguay:
In this case the touch was from a Michigan player; on both the initial ball did 90% of the work.
Michigan did catch a bout of short corner disease against UCF, so be warned.
Search me. They're really good, tied for the national lead in scoring at 2.65 goals per game (tied with most recent Michigan victim Maryland) and sixth-best defensively, ceding just 0.63 per game. Michigan's at 2.17 and 1.42, respectively, so they're close to the Zips on the front line but not so much on the back. If you take out the Akron game those margins get way smaller, but hey—we're playing Akron.
Coach quote from the Tulsa guy after getting whipped:
"They're very opportunistic," Tulsa coach Tom McIntosh said. "And they are very good on set pieces. They don't need many chances for goals. The problem is we got two goals down, then we had to chase the game. This is not a team you want to chase a game against."
Michigan can vouch for that. There's an interview with a couple recent alums that is beyond boring.
Grant Wahl** names literally half of Akron's outfield players as people to "keep an eye on" and naturally picks them for the title:
Keep an eye on Akron forwards Darlington Nagbe and Darren Mattocks, midfielder Perry Kitchen and defenders Kofi Sarkodie and Zarek Valentin; Michigan forwards Justin Meram and Soony Saad; North Carolina midfielder Michael Farfan; and Louisville defender J.T. Murray. The national semifinals will be broadcast on ESPNU and ESPN2 on Friday, with the final being shown at 4 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2.
I'll go with Akron to win it all. Coach Caleb Porter has had the most talent in the country for a while now, and all he needs to validate his program's success is an NCAA championship.
Wait… what? Their coach is 35? That's loony.
Soccer predictions are even dumber than football ones, which are dumb but I feel I have to do. But: given the previous matchup, the ridiculous concentration of talent on the Akron roster, and the feeling they're the heavy favorite to win the entire tournament, I'm not expecting victory.
On the other hand, Cal almost ended them in OT and soccer specializes in WTF moments. Back in 2002 I've got no idea what's going on when I turn on the TV in Ireland and catch Manchester United playing the improbably-named Zalaegerszeg. Man U dominates but never cracks the defense and then in stoppage time this happens:
This would not be anywhere near as titanic an upset, obviously, but it's tonic for anyone looking at 7-1 earlier in the year and wondering how the rematch could play out the other way.
*(If you're looking to start a soccer blog you could do worse than "Fisted Away.")
**(Prepare to experience the odd frisson of a relevant Grant Wahl tweet in a liveblog, kids.)