he grew a beard
Kicking off a weekly Big Ten hoops column highlighting ten—not fourteen—of the most interesting teams, games, players, storylines, and statistics in the best basketball conference in the country.
1. The Big Ten has an enormous middle class
Wisconsin’s clear status as the frontrunner is the strongest preseason narrative surrounding the Big Ten and while the Badgers are compelling in their own right (aside from their unaesthetic style, of course), there’s another storyline that may not be getting enough attention: the middle of the Big Ten is as strong as ever and the fight for survival in the morass of teams directly behind Wisconsin will provide quality, reasonably high-stakes basketball on a near-nightly basis.
There are the Badgers, and there’s everyone else—you could take Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio State and put them in almost any order, 2-through-8 looks so fluid in the Big Ten. To the point, Ken Pomeroy’s ratings have one team in the top ten (Wisconsin), but eleven in the top forty. Dan Hanner’s projections corroborate: Wisconsin—and nobody else—is in the top ten, but there are five in the top 25 and nine in the top 40.
It’s unlikely that there will be eleven of fourteen teams in the top forty by season’s end—Indiana (26) and Purdue (40) immediately stand out as overrated by Pomeroy’s system—but there should be a great number of enjoyable games between the middle-tier teams. That should be the biggest intriguing thing about the league this season: the title race likely won’t be very suspenseful, but the jockeying for position in the standings (and eventually on the seed lines for the NCAA Tournament) will be fascinating. The Big Ten will be a conference of staunchly upper-middle class teams this season—filling new subdivisions along artificial lakes and living the American Dream.
2. Top-40 Kenpom teams often make the tournament
Since the tournament expanded from 65 to a nonsensical 68, only two top-forty teams per season were excluded from the NCAA Tournament. Of those, Wichita State—ranked 59th entering the tournament—won the NIT, Stanford—ranked 53rd—won it, Baylor defeated Iowa in the NIT final, and SMU lost in the final (to Minnesota) last season.
Pomeroy’s preseason top-forty has eleven Big Ten teams (Wisconsin 6, MSU 12, OSU 14. Michigan 15, Indiana 26, Iowa 32, Maryland 33, Nebraska 34, Minnesota 37, Illinois 38, Purdue 40) and, because of the inevitable cannibalization that comes along with the zero-sum nature of conference play, it’s essentially impossible for all of those teams to finish that highly. Still, the above chart is illustrative of a basic implication in Pomeroy’s ratings: the Big Ten probably has a lot of tournament-caliber teams and monitoring which ones fall on the right and wrong sides of the NCAA bubble will surely be a compelling late-season storyline.
[After the JUMP: who's in? Who's out? Does age help you anymore?]
De'Veon Smith broke the scoreless tie with 6:49 left in the third on a three-yard plunge, ruining the aesthetic, but this will forever be known as The M00N Game:
— MGoShoe (@MGoShoe) November 8, 2014
If it involved futility, this game had it. Northwestern lost on a failed two-point conversion with three seconds left when quarterback Trevor Siemian rolled out, saw Frank Clark, and fell over. That was just the final pratfall in this slapstick, however.
It started right away, with Northwestern taking an illegal formation penalty to negate a third-and-one conversion on the game's first drive. Devin Funchess returned the favor by dropping a third-down pass on Michigan's opening salvo.
The two teams proceeded in such fashion for the duration of the game. Michigan's final three possessions of the first half started inside Northwestern territory. They netted 29 yards and zero points, failing in three different ways: a punt, a pick, and a blocked field goal as the half mercifully expired.
The Wildcats pulled the same trick in the second half, missing a field goal, turning it over on downs, and punting on a negative-28-yard drive on their three possessions beginning on the Wolverines end of the field. The teams finished with a combined 504 yards; 256 for Northwestern, 248 for Michigan.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, Devin Gardner threw a second interception when he stared down Jake Butt, Michigan lost a fumble when Jack Miller's snap bounced off a motioning Devin Funchess, and defensive tackle Matt Godin picked off Siemian after Clark tipped a pass.
We should all be thanking Pat Fitzgerald for his fourth-quarter decision-making. After punter Will Hagerup pinned Northwestern just outside their goal line, Siemian engineered a 19-play drive that covered 95 yards, only for Fitzgerald to call for the field goal unit on fourth-and-goal from the four. The field goal cut Michigan's lead to 7-3. The Wildcats had literally just doubled their yardage total in one drive. Under seven minutes remained on the clock. He kicked anyway.
Michigan nearly managed to ice the game on the next drive, chewing up 4:16 and all three Northwestern timeouts on a 54-yard drive that ended with a Matt Wile field goal.
The Wildcats marched right back down the field, cutting the M lead to 10-9 on a three-yard throw from Siemian to Tony Jones. Fitzgerald, slightly more bold than before—or perhaps just wanting the game to end—sent the offense back on the field. Michigan's pass rush had landed home all night, sacking Siemian six times, and they anticipated the Northwestern call to roll the pocket right; Clark shot past two blockers and Siemian slipped in an effective but fruitless attempt to avoid him.
One kneel later, the game ended. Nobody was sad to see it go.
the editor can only post the wallpapers people put in the diaries
By Heiko "4 AD" Yang
There’s football today. Michigan visits Northwestern for part II of Who Can Score Less During Regulation. That game will be followed by Ohio State and Michigan State in another installment of My Enemy’s Enemy Is Enemy When Other Enemy Is Not Good.
Michigan doesn’t have a new athletic director yet. I haven’t heard back from the department about my application, if you were wondering. Meanwhile we still have all of our 27 varsity sports, the Big House is still standing, and Stephen Ross hasn’t reneged on any of his donations. I’d say Jim Hackett is doing just fine. I had to look up his name just now because I haven’t heard his name mentioned since the day he was hired, which is an excellent sign. No one can call for your head if people don’t know who you are.
Oh hey, it’s snowing. Of course it is. There’s a giant storm in the Pacific sending cold air our way because This Is Michigan, and this is where winter has come and won’t be going away for the foreseeable future. It’s going to be cold until May, and we’re not going to be good at football for another couple seasons at best.
The last time I like this was during Rich Rod’s tenure. That feels like forever ago, doesn’t it? Before Denard, before Tate, before the new luxury boxes in the stadium even existed, we all said, “Just wait till he gets a quarterback who knows how to run his system.” Didn’t realize that we would also have to wait for a running back who knew how to run north and south, a secondary that wasn’t either injured, slow, or running the wrong direction, and a defensive coordinator who didn’t think his middle linebacker was a standup defensive tackle.
This feels different in an important way, though. Whereas I deeply wanted Rich Rod and his players to succeed until the moment he was fired, I’m pretty disinterested in what happens the rest of this season. I’ll watch today, sure. Will it break my heart if Michigan doesn’t win another game? The answer is not yes.
I ran into Vincent Smith last night, said hi and took a picture because I couldn’t help myself. And then I realized exactly what’s different: I freakin’ loved Rich Rod’s players. For whatever reason, Rich Rod’s players made you want to root for them. It didn’t matter how disappointing their performance was, you always felt terrible for them when they lost. Even after Hoke started bringing in stellar recruiting classes, my favorite players from the last few years are primarily Rich Rod’s guys – Denard (obvi), Gallon, Kovacs, Smith, Lewan, Roh, Roundtree … Probably the only guy that comes close now is Dennis Norfleet, and we all know Norfleet might as well have been a Rich Rod recruit.
There’s probably no fundamental difference between the players that these coaches recruited. Yeah, the Pattern™ and whatnot, but I think it has a lot more to do with the Message™, and that all comes back to Hoke. Under Hoke there was a radical change in the way players talked to the media and in public. Their PR training under Hoke and Brandon taught them to downplay their individual personalities and focus on the Team (x3). That’s great and all, but as a result there’s none of the same energy or swagger that four years ago inspired me to blindly apply for a press correspondent job at this blog because I wanted to meet them.
At this point all I see is a bunch of anonymous winged helmets. I couldn’t care less about the guys under the winged helmets, which is a terrible sign and something worth noting for the next head coach -- we can’t root for your players if we don’t know who they really are.
Northwestern 9, Michigan 6
by Nick RoUMel
Picking this one is a struggle.
No, not Michigan-Northwestern. Who cares? The season has become irrelevant, and pales in comparison to the administrative intrigue. Who will become the Athletic Director? Will David Brandon continue to foment conspiracy theories involving hostile fans and a cabal of scheming Democrats? Will Brady Hoke ever grow a pair?
the editor thinks this is slightly unsubtle
"Gosh I'm so sorry, Coach Dantonio. I prostrate myself before you and grovel! I kiss your steel-toed jackboots in supplication, because my reckless players damaged a square inch of your precious and consecrated holy turf. I do this even though you have yet to apologize for Chris Frey's ejection for targeting of Amarah Darboh, or Chris Frey's helmet hit on Devin Gardner, or when William Gholston tried to screw off Denard Robinson's head like a bottle cap and then punched Taylor Lewan:
“I do apologize, because I recognize that an injury that caused about as much damage to your grass as Dennis Norfleet making a fair catch (or dancing to Atomic Dog), is a far more serious transgression than anything your championship-caliber team may have ever done to ours.
“Plus I don't want you to beat me up and take my lunch money again."
So - back to today’s big game. I mean the one at the bully's house, in East Lansing. The Buckeyes visit the perpetually slighted Spartans, a team that can be favored and still manage to convey being disrespected. This is a team that wears not pads, but the chips of a thousand casinos on their shoulders, led by their fire-breathing coach, who would strangle a kitten for hissing at him wrong.
This is a game where I pray with all my might for both teams to lose, for the Spartans to be embarrassed, for Urban Meyer to remember that he retired three years ago to spend more time with his family, for the "Little Penguin," Jim Tressel, to cast a shadow over the game as long as Maurice Clarett's prison sentence.
But these are pipe dreams. The best I can hope for is for Sparty to be silenced at home, to come to work on Monday with excuses already rehearsed, for the playoff nonsense to stop, and for Dantonio to apologize for his general dickishness.
And if Michigan can manage another game winning field goal in the last micro-second, with the referees’ speedy ball-setting assistance, so much the better:
Michigan 12, Northwestern 10
[ed: the editor does think someone will score a touchdown]
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan debuted a Stanford-esque formation on which the entire world lined up across the front:
This had three tight ends (Williams, Kerridge, and Erik Magnuson, usually) and Funchess. I called it "Ace Errybody" because I feel we've forgotten about Antoine Dodson's raconteur status.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL as per usual, with Magnuson donning 81 to moonlight as a blocking tight end. Bo Dever got some late run at WR, seemingly after Norfleet was injured. RB actually started out with Hayes and then mixed Smith in; when both Hayes and Smith ended up dinged Johnson got his shot.
[After THE JUMP: precisely calibrating how fast our Drake Johnson roll should be.]
It's Ace, filling in for Brian today on the preview. You will skip over this and address your comments to Brian because that's what always happens. If I'm horribly wrong about anything, though, this is totally Brian.
|WHAT||Michigan at Northwestern|
Big House West
November 8th, 2014
|THE LINE||M -1.5|
|TICKETS||Currently 27 bucks|
partly cloudy, 20% chance of rain dropping to 0% after kickoff
low 40s dipping to high 30s, ~15mph winds
Northwestern is a tough team to figure out. They looked pretty bad during the nonconference portion of the schedule, started Big Ten play by blowing out Penn State and knocking off Wisconsin, then lost their last three, culminating in a 48-7 thumping at the hands of Iowa last week. Vegas thinks this is pretty close to a coin-flip; the line opened Northwestern -2 but has been bet all the way to Michigan -1.5. Both of these teams are obviously having a rough go; at least one InsideNU contributor is totally stealing our schtick:
It's almost basketball season... it's almost basketball season...
Michigan 23, Northwestern 10
This seems to be one of those games where fans of each team are by and large expecting the other team to win.
Run Offense vs Northwestern
Chi Chi Ariguzo (#44) is one of the B1G's better weakside LBs. [Fuller]
Until the last two weeks, Northwesterns rush defense had been quite good outside of an understandably rough outing against Wisconsin. Those last two weeks don't look so good, however, as both Nebraska and Iowa rushed for four touchdowns on around 45 carries that averaged ~5 yards. Mark Weisman (Mark Weisman!) was able to turn the corner on several outside runs against the Wildcats last week.
The rush defense's dropoff coincides directly with senior MIKE Collin Ellis missing these last two games due to a concussion suffered against Minnesota, and Ellis isn't expected to play this weekend. His replacement, Anthony Walker, is a redshirt freshman—he looked like one against Iowa. Chi Chi Ariguzo is a quality weakside linebacker, but all it takes is one inside LB getting out of his lane for a solid gain to open up.
The Northwestern defensive line is solid but unspectacular, with only one DL (DE Dean Lowry with 5.5) posting more than three tackles for loss this year. As a team, the Wildcats have just 44 TFLs in eight games—they don't give up many big plays, but they also don't make many.
That could be very good news for Drake Johnson, who should get the chance to build on his breakout performance against Indiana; with his speed, getting to the line of scrimmage clean should be enough for him to crank out 3-4 yards with relative regularity, which is really all M fans can ask for by now. Iowa's repeated success getting to the edge is also encouraging; even after last week, the Hawkeyes are 101st in rushing S&P+, while the Wolverines are a downright average 45th.
One thing to watch: Northwestern likes to get a little aggressive with their strong safety, whether it be four-year starter Ibraheim Campbell—who's missed the last few weeks with a hamstring injury and may or may not be able to play Saturday—or talented but raw redshirt freshmam Godwin Igwebuike.
I'm a little afraid to declare this publicly but I think Michigan might actually be able to run the ball a little bit this weekend.
Key Matchup: Michigan blocking backs and tight ends versus Northwestern's aggressive safeties. If NW is rolling a safety into the box and run-blitzing, the ancillary blockers—as well as the line—has to be able to recognize and pick up their assignments. If they do so, the zone stretch should be there for the taking, and that seems like the play Drake Johnson is most comfortable (and productive) running.
[Hit THE JUMP for the REST of the PREVIEW]