there would have to be some to wash away
College football has either concluded its regular season or concluded its bowl season or announced matchups or failed to exist for eight months out of the year so it's time for another go-around about whether a playoff is a good idea or not. There are a thousand arguments too dumb to warrant a response—see the head of the BCS's post defending the system he's paid to defend. "Every game counts," he says, which is true as long as you're not Boise State or Cincinnati or TCU or Auburn in 2004 or LSU a couple years ago or… you get the idea.
Those advanced by Joe Posnanski are not among them, however. one playoff proponent's answers to a third party's skepticism follow.
Many of these answers are rehashes of the my previous thoughts on the matter, but that post is aged and I've learned that most of the people reading are relatively new. Forgive me, old-timers.
The Primary Challenge
So, I’ll open up this forum to you, the brilliant readers. But this is no place for screeching. This is your challenge: Tell me WHY there should be a playoff. I don’t want to hear why the current system fails. I don’t want to see your brackets — we have become a bracket nation, everyone can do brackets.
Let's go back to first principles. What is the point of a playoff? Most soccer leagues across the globe play a balanced schedule and eschew the playoffs entirely. The season determines the champion. To them, the American way of doing things is stupid. And when you've set up your league such that everyone plays everyone else home and away, it is. Around here, however, there are very big leagues where balanced schedules are impossible and at the end of the regular season you're not quite sure who the best team is. So it makes sense to have the teams that you think might be the best team play each other.
And then there is "off."
Playoffs are assets when both of the following criteria are met:
- The regular season is insufficient to determine a best team.
- The winner of the playoff can reasonably claim to be the best team.
If you don't have #1, then the only thing you can do with a playoff is hand the trophy to the wrong team. If you don't have #2, your playoff is too large and can be counterproductive.
The problem is that how well your league meets these criteria changes every year. Sometimes the top 12 teams in the NFL are all relatively even. Sometimes you could skip right to a conference championship game or a Super Bowl. You can either have your championship structure oscillate wildly on a year-to-year basis or live with some years where your structure is a little broken.
Sometimes playoffs are lame, like when the Cardinals on the World Series or any number of years when one particular NBA team was obviously dominant. Other times—almost every NFL season, literally every college basketball season—a playoff is the only reasonable way to distinguish between a set of nearly identical teams. Every playoff will have hits and misses. The important thing is to maximize the hits and minmize the misses.
Baseball misses a lot. It's a statistical fact borne out by (relatively) recent history that throwing eight baseball teams in a playoff blender is tantamount to playing plinko with your championship trophy. Elsewhere, an under .500 MLS team won it all* this year. On the other hand, March Madness almost never misses. Might not ever, actually. That's why there was outcry when baseball added teams. It was a dumb money-grab that compromised #2. And that's why there was an outcry when the NCAA floated expanding the basketball tournament.
Here's the thing about college football: #1 above is almost always true. There has been one season in the history of the BCS in which it was not (2005). It is more true than it is for any other American sport. Teams play twelve games, eight or nine of which are against an tiny interlocked subsection of of available teams. Two or three are against I-AA teams or total tomato cans. Maybe one or two are games between conferences. By the end of the year you have a variety of teams with virtually no common opponents, wildly varying (and largely unknown) strengths of schedule, and identical, or close to identical, records.
You have a good idea who the best teams in each conference are, but you have almost no idea how the conferences are relative to each other. Before the bowl games, the Big Ten played this many games against the SEC: zero. They played one against the ACC (Virginia housed Indiana). They played four against the Big East, three of which were against Syracuse, two against the Big 12, and four against the Pac-10. Intersectional information hardly exists. As a result, half the time you pick a BCS title game it's an ugly, uncompetitive blowout. This is because college football is the sport with the least information and smallest playoff field.
As far as #2 goes, the short season, large number of available teams, and numerous cupcakes work in favor of a playoff. It would be impossible for a 9-7 Arizona Cardinals team to get to a championship game. The equivalent of Real Salt Lake—this year's sub-.500 MLS champs—or your 80-some-win world champion St. Louis Cardinals would be in a December bowl game. No matter how you construct a playoff field for college football, the winner of that playoff will be coming off of three (or possibly four) consecutive wins against elite competition. The rest of that elite competition will have lost. In college football, the winner of the playoff has the best resume by default.
College football meets criteria #1 over 90% of the time and criteria 2 100% of the time. That's why a playoff is a good idea.
*(Sort of. MLS does award a regular-season trophy that may be more important to soccer fans than the President's Trophy—more of a laughable curse than something to achieve—is to hockey fans.)
Questions du Posnanski
Joe has a lot of logistical issues to be worked out. Let's do so:
1. Are you willing to tell unpaid college football players they now have to play an extra three or four games for free and for our amusement? Are you willing to tell NFL prospects that for the same price of education they have to put their knees and brains and shoulders at greater risk so that we can feel better about our champion? Or will some of the money go to the players? And are you willing to get into that mess?
Yes, I am willing to get into the mess of paying players, whether it's directly or (far more likely) by providing post-eligibility scholarships so more of them can actually get useful degrees once the dream of playing pro ball has passed.
For what it's worth, when ESPN surveyed 85 players in August, 75% of them wanted a playoff. Most of them look at it as an opportunity, not a burden, I'm guessing.
2. Would a playoff more definitively give us the best team in the country? Has the wildcard given us more legitimate World Series and Super Bowl champions?
This was discussed above, and the answer is yes. College football's structure means that every champion of a hypothetical playoff is satisfying. Especially if it has home games and byes, as my pet plan does.
3. Montana is one of the true powers in Division I-AA (I guess they call it the Football Subdivision now or something). Missoula has one of the great football experiences — the Grizzlies sold out every game during the season. Every one. OK, so Montana went to the Division I-AA championship game — which meant Montana had three home playoff games.
Not one of those playoff games sold out. Not one.
But even that doesn’t tell the whole story. Montana was the only school to draw more than 13,000 people to a playoff game. The Villanova-William & Mary semifinal drew 4,171 people (in a 12,500 seat stadium). So, you tell me: Why do you believe that a college football playoff would draw big crowds? I mean, it might the first year, and the second, and for a while after that. But after the novelty wears off, what makes you think that people at Alabama and Florida and Texas and USC and Ohio State and Penn State and all these places have the money and time and interest in going to two or three more games every year.
And those people who think these games should be played at neutral sites — how many people do you think are going to travel to THOSE games?
No offense, but that's like trying to argue against the NBA playoffs because the D-league doesn't sell out. A home playoff game in college football would be an incredibly tough ticket. I'm with him that multiple neutral site matchups are a bad idea, but just because bad playoff systems exist does not mean they have to be adopted.
(I'm pretty sure on review that Joe will find this objection silly, right?)
4. Who would a playoff be for? The college presidents absolutely do not want it. You might disagree with them, but they don’t have any interest in making the seasons even longer and more demanding and more disruptive for their students. The athletic directors and coaches are split — some probably want it for more money or potential glory, but I would bet that most are against it because it just adds strain and pressure to the must-win atmosphere. How about the players? You think they want to make their seasons longer and more demanding? Plus, from what I can tell, those guys LIKE the bowls. They get to spend a week in place, get treated like kings. Why not?
So it would be for the fans. But what fans? Most school-specific fans in college football probably like it just the way it is. Iowa State fans seem to enjoy going to their bowl game every year. A playoff would not affect them … unless the playoff eliminated bowls like it could. That’s how it would be almost every year for 80 or 90 of the 120 or so schools. So it seems to me it would be more for the GENERAL college football fan who likes to watch games on TV. Is that who this is all for?
As noted above, the players want a playoff. And a playoff would no more end the bowl system than the NCAA tournament ended the NIT. Iowa State fans could enjoy their Insight Bowl all the same.
Take it from a guy who spends much of his life reading and reacting to hard-core school specific (how many college football fans aren't school specific? 5%?) college football fans: almost all of them hate the BCS. Pick a number, any number: 90% "disapprove" of the thing, or 63 percent hate and 26 percent support it. Literally every survey that's ever asked about the BCS has come back with huge negative numbers no matter the questioned population.
5. College football is more popular now than it has ever been. There are big games throughout the season — huge, playoff-atmosphere type games. People point to March Madness as a reason for football to go to a playoff, and March Madness is special. But it is also true that the college basketball season is pretty close to meaningless. Texas played North Carolina earlier this year in what seemed like a BIG GAME. But it meant nothing, and nobody cared, and Texas and North Carolina will both be in the tournament with high seeds so … big deal.
I’m not suggesting, as some do, that a playoff would make Ohio State coaches rest players against Michigan like they do in the NFL. But it certainly could make Ohio State-Michigan mean a lot less … and also Georgia-Auburn, Alabama-Tennessee, Penn State-Iowa, USC-Notre Dame, Texas-Oklahoma, Kansas-Missouri, Mississippi-Mississippi State, Washington-UCLA, Kansas State-Nebraska and on and on and on and on and on. Is that worth the price of a playoff?
First: football is more popular now than it's ever been. The NFL grows every year as fast or faster than college football. Playoff or no, it's football that's surging.
Second: This is a completely subjective argument that's hard to refute because of that. But let me just say that the idea that a college football playoff would have any impact on the Egg Bowl or most of the other games on that list is preposterous. Meanwhile, saying Texas and North Carolina "meant nothing and nobody cared" is over the top. It drew 3 million viewers.
The primary thing that makes college football so intense is its scarcity. College basketball teams play three times as many games. Every other sport except the NFL more than doubles those numbers, and even NFL teams get two cracks a year at their division rivals. In college football you play once per year, or less frequently than that, even, and as a result serious college football fans can tell you all about the high and low points of any particular series off the top of their heads. I can say "Mario Manningham" and cause hundreds of Penn State fans to spontaneously throw up. That scarcity is the thing that drives the feelings of horror and joy in the big rivalry games, not some crazy aspiration to make the BCS title game. Exactly two of the games above had any impact on that game. In fact, wouldn't the Michigan-Ohio State game meant more if Ohio State was still battling for a shot in a playoff game?
It's inescapable that a playoff would reduce the intensity of certain games, like this year's SEC championship game. But what it takes away it also provides by giving a dozen more teams aspirations at the end of the season. And a properly constructed playoff with byes and home games could inject much of the lost drama back into the games between teams assured of making the tournament. If Alabama and Florida were playing to avoid a first-round game in Columbus, that would be a prize (other than, you know, the conference championship) worth fighting for.
6. How many teams would a playoff need to be “fair.” I know it’s easy to say that if you take 16 teams, who cares about the 17th? But does anyone really believe that the 16th best team in the country — this year, that would be 8-5 Oregon State — deserves to play for the national title?
OK, so you make it eight teams. Well, there are 11 conferences and Notre Dame so now you are leaving out conference champs which I thought was the point, to give everyone a chance.
So, you make it four teams — a little three game tournament at the end of the year. That’s OK — like a plus-one game — but there were five undefeated teams this year, and a Florida team that we now know was about about 12 touchdowns better than one of those undefeated teams. How do you fairly choose? And, larger point, how does this add more legitimacy to the system than just taking the two who seem to have had the best season?
The perfect is the enemy of the good. As discussed above, unless you want to change your playoff system every year it cannot be utterly fair. The real question is "can we construct a system that is more fair than the current one?" Since a tougher question is "can you manage to construct a more ridiculous system?" I submit that a playoff is probably a good idea.
I don't think the #16 team in the country deserves to be in a playoff but I also don't think that managing to construct a playoff that is a bad idea means that all playoffs are bad ideas. The point is not to "give everyone a chance." It's to construct a fairer, more satisfying system. I'm fine leaving Troy and Central Michigan and Oregon and Ohio State out.
You fairly choose by picking the teams that have assembled the most impressive resumes to date—the ones who "seem to have had the best season," as suggested. This adds more legitimacy to the season by making the winner of the playoff play a selection of elite competition that includes, say, a 13-0 team that shut out the Pac-10 champ and a 12-0 team that had more wins over top 20 teams than Texas.
No system can be perfectly fair. But even generic eight-team playoffs are self-evidently more fair and satisfying than the current mess.
Here is where the recap of my ideal system goes:
A six team playoff with no automatic bids chosen by a committee similar to the March Madness committee. Byes for the top two. Home games in the first two rounds, with the first round a week after the conference championship games and the second on or slightly after January 1st. The final is at the Rose Bowl a week later.
The byes and home games simultaneously make the regular season more important—finishing 1 or 2 is a major leg up—and give the teams at the back end more legitimate should they win since they slogged through extra opponents and road games. The number of teams includes all legitimate claimaints to #1 without allowing mediocrities like this year's Oregon State in. Leaving out autobids sidesteps uncomfortable questions about Notre Dame and the Sun Belt.
If anyone can give a single reason that would be worse than what we've got now, I'm listening.
Just because that one guy missed them. And because there are a thousand tiny newsbits this week.
Goodbye , Mr. Crankypants. Jim Leavitt is the third coach this season to get the axe for being mean. When was the last time even one coach fired for being a firebreathing monster to his charges? Was it John Makovic? Surely it hasn't been that long. (Gary Moeller doesn't count since his transgression didn't have anything to do with doing something mean and crazy to a student.) Inquiring minds would like to know.
Anyway, while Leavitt's lasting bitterness towards Rich Rodriguez induces a Nelson reaction the cause of that bitterness might come back to bite Michigan. Leavitt tends to react to cheatin' much like Angela Bassett, so I'm pretty sure the animosity stems from Rodriguez's tendency to pirate assistants from USF. Rodriguez yo-ho-ho-ed guys from USF three times (OC Calvin Magee, QB coach Rod Smith, and OL coach Greg Frey) in just a few years.
Now one of those guys might move into the captain's chair in Tampa:
Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville -- who has strong ties in the state from his tenure on Miami's coaching staff -- and Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee are expected to be candidates to replace Leavitt, a source told ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel.
Tuberville and McCarney are both semi-retreads who were well-respected coaches terminated prematurely—McCarney led Iowa State to its only sustained success in forever—and probably have the inside track. But Tuberville might end up at Texas Tech and Magee does have more connections in Tampa than those guys. He's virtually guaranteed to get an interview since there's a lot of pressure on schools these days to informally adopt a collegiate Rooney Rule. He'll be a serious candidate.
Losing Michigan's offensive coordinator going into a critical season would be bad. Obviously.
Well hang on just a minute. That Chuck Heater rumor I dismissed earlier now seems considerably more plausible:
For the second time this week, the Dolphins have lost a key linebackers coach to the college game.
Thursday it was inside linebackers coach George Edwards who, according to a source, has resigned his position. Edwards, who the source stressed was not fired, will become defensive coordinator at the University of Florida.
This means that Heater is not going to be the defensive coordinator at Florida and suggests he might either be on the outs with the new guy—thus prompting the trial balloon rumor from Huntington—or amenable to a move back to his alma mater. FWIW, Heater and new AD David Brandon overlapped on a few teams in the 70s.
If they can add Heater it would be a coup. He's been coaching in college since two years after his Michigan career ended and has been a recruiting coordinator since 1998 (he lost that title for a promotion to assistant DC at Florida two years ago). He's almost always coached the secondary in his tenure, so it's a little bit of an awkward fit that would require Greg Robinson to handle all the linebackers, but Heater's positives seem to far outweigh that small negative. He has vast experience, excellent recruiting ties, and would be coming home. It remains to be seen whether there was any credibility in that newspaper report; here's hoping.
We has him. So I'm bringing this article from the News up with a warning to remember the wholesale politics ban around these parts. I think this guy is pretty conservative and thus inclined to like David Brandon a hell of a lot but still, sign me up for some despondency at his removal from state politics:
The precise reasons that University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman so ardently wooed Brandon -- deep management experience, sound personnel judgment, crisp communication skills and an impressive leadership mien leavened with a knack for building teams -- are precisely why Brandon will be sorely missed from the public arena that matters most in Michigan.
This 57-year-old guy who played for the legendary Bo Schembechler is leaving the field too early, long before he's done delivering his best play and long before the final gun sounds.
May Brandon's reign be long and profitable. John Bacon also has a classic Bo story involving Brandon.
It is happening.
Thank you. Darren Everson is, AFAIK, the first person to acknowledge that the Big Ten might not be a nuclear wasteland full of things that are bad at football:
In fact, the Big Ten does just fine year after year—in the early New Year's Day bowls that no one remembers. (It's the big games that have been the embarrassments.) Over the past dozen seasons, the Big Ten is now 13-11 against the SEC in the Outback and Capital One bowls. That is a winning record over a significant time span against upper-level SEC teams in SEC country. …
Another myth that needs to die: the belief that Big Ten teams are boring and stuck in the Stone Ages strategically. Northwestern put on arguably the most entertaining bowl performance since Boise State's classic Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma following the 2006 season.
It's a delightful novelty when someone actual forms an opinion based on data coming into his senses.
Etc.: Three Penn State blogs consolidate into one borg blog. DocSat with sympathy for Colt McCoy. I would also like to extend sympathy to everyone who watched that eye-bleeding game in which both coaches seemed determine to out-caveman each other after the McCoy injury.
Michigan 64 Penn State 55, Michigan 8-6 (2-1 Big Ten)
So, uh, What Happened?
I have no idea. I can't afford cable, so I was taking in the game at a local drinking establishment. It was turned off for maybe 5 minutes so we could watch the AWESOME PREGAME for the BCS National Championship game. By the time I convinced the waitress to get the Michigan game turned back on, the margin had gone from 16 points to a more manageable 7. The Wolverines continued to make buckets, and Penn State threw the ball away time and again, resulting in a Michigan victory that actually could have been by a slightly wider margin. I think the difference between halves can be best illustrated by a...
|Stat||Half 1||Half 2|
|Michigan Free Throw%||0.00||83.33|
|Talor Battle Points||9||0|
|Michigan Bench Points||0||0|
So it was a difference of night and day, especially considering that most of the Wolverines' improvement came with less than 12 minutes remaining on the clock. John Beilein's rousing halftime speech (saying absolutely nothing) must have made a huge difference. [Editor's note: this tactic sometimes works in Football Manager.]
Ken Pomeroy was so inspired by this game, that he wrote a blog post about whether it's even possible for a team to win a game without making a 3-pointer (he concludes probably not), since Michigan didn't do so until 11:59 remained in the game. However, it should be noted that it's not like Michigan wasn't trying to make threes, it just so happened that they missed their first 14(!) attempts.
Zack Novak broke the seal with just under 12 minutes to go, Laval Lucas-Perry gave an inspired performance (as he only seems to do on the road), and Michigan drilled 7 of their final 10 attempts to steal the road win. Aside from the inconsistency between halves, there were other causes for concern, of course. As noted above, bench players scored exactly 0 points, though Darius Morris contributed in other ways. There is still a lot of work for this team to do if they want to reach the top half of the conference, despite the 2-game winning streak (the first winning streak of any kind since November).
So What Now?
Michigan fought through one of their worst single halves of the year, and managed to win a game on the road. It remains to be seen whether making it past such adversity will make the team stronger, or scare the crap out of them as they realize how fragile their season truly is. With upcoming home games against Northwestern (Sunday at 2:30 in Crisler) and Northwestern looking more winnable, this season has a chance to make the postseason after all. NIT or Bust, Baby!
Ron Tanner(video) is a junior safety prospect from Columbus, Ohio (I know). Tanner is participating in the US Army All American Junior Combine this week. The combine for juniors starts tomorrow, and Ron will be running a 40, shuttle, vertical jump, and doing some one on one drills. I caught up with him after the check in, and here's what he had to say.
TOM: You’re at the Army combine, did you just check in today?
RON: Yes sir, we checked in tonight, and our performance is tomorrow. We checked in today, and had to fill out a sheet with our top ranked schools on it. I ranked Michigan number one right now, then Northwestern, WVU, Pitt, Ohio State, Miami, and I didn’t put them on there, but Alabama is up there, too.
TOM: So, Michigan is number one for you right now?
RON: Yes, sir.
TOM: What about Michigan makes them number one?
RON: I feel like I could get good playing time up there, and Rich Rodriguez is an excellent coach. He’s rebuilding the program, and I see that. Being at West Virginia, it took him a couple years there to build it up, too. Now he’s recruiting the way he wants to, and they’ll be back at the top. Also, academically, they are at the top.
TOM: A recruit from Columbus always makes Michigan fans nervous. Is Ohio State going to be in the picture soon?
RON: I was a fan of Ohio State growing up as a kid, but I can’t look at my recruitment as a fan. I have to put all that aside, and choose what’s best for me. I really want to look at all the schools, and see where I feel the best, no matter where it is.
TOM: Who’s recruiting you the hardest right now, and how do you see your recruitment playing out?
RON: Northwestern is probably coming at me the hardest right now, but Michigan and West Virginia are showing a lot of interest, a long with Ohio State. I’m going to try to take some visits early on. If I feel comfortable with a decision, I’ll end it, but it could drag out a bit. I’m just going to play it by ear.
|WHAT||Michigan v. Penn State|
|WHERE||University Park, PA|
January 7th, 2010
|THE LINE||Michigan +1.5*|
*Line provided by online sports betting site Sportsbetting.com.
Michigan came into the season with a lofty ranking and proceeded to drop a winnable games left and right. Part of the blame for that may have been going from the hunter to the hunted. The team got complacent. "Understanding success is more difficult than understanding why we played so poorly against Indiana," said John Beilein. Now that the Wolverines are coming off an emotional high against Ohio State, it's important to remain hungry. Beilein: "The overconfidence carried over a little bit, so we had to set that straight in practice."
Two other important factors for Michigan will be more tangible: continuing to get production from members of the team other than Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims, and expanding the amount of time for bench players. "Darius [Morris], Matt [Vogrich] gave us a lift off the bench, Zack Gibson, hopefully those guys will just keep giving us more," said Beilein.
For his part, Morris is comfortable coming off the bench. "I'm able to see before I go right into it what they're running on offense," he said, "and how certain players aren't guarding screens properly, and I make that adjustment when I go in the game."
The Nittany Lions are 8-6 on the year and have lost both of their conference game (at Minnesota and home against Wisconsin). Outside the conference, they've played one heck of a weak schedule, and losing to historic programs like UNC-Wilmington and Tulane. They've also got respectable losses to Temple and Virginia Tech, though the Tech loss came at home. The only top-100 squad that they've beaten is Virginia. Michigan must win to have even a vague chance of a tournament bid.
Any discussion of Penn State's roster starts and ends with Talor Battle, with a few words about some other guys sprinkled in the middle. "They've surrounded him with more shooters again, just like they have in the past," said Beilein. It's clear that Battle is the lifeblood of this team. Zack Novak: "He's really talented and we definitely have to contain him."
Battle is top-20 in percentage of available minutes played, uses more possessions than anyone else on the roster, and has the team's second-best assist rate. Other important Nittany Lions include big men David Jackson, Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones, who are 1-2-3 in effective field goal percentage on the team. They're the leaders in playing time outside of Battle. 6-10 Jones is the leading rebounder on both ends of the floor.
Penn State doesn't have a single senior on their roster, so Michigan may have an experience advantage for once. "That's the thing we're searching for now, that poise," said Beilein. PSU lost Stanley Pringle and Jamelle Cornley off last year's roster. They're feeling both departures.
If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy.
|Michigan v. Penn State: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||Penn State Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. PSU Def eFG%||194||133||P|
|Mich Def eFG% v. PSU eFG%||198||135||P|
|Mich TO% v. PSU Def TO%
|Mich Def TO% v. PSU TO%||51||39||P|
|Mich OReb% v. PSU DReb%
|Mich DReb% v. PSU OReb%||270||192||P|
|Mich FTR v. PSU Opp FTR
|Mich Opp FTR v. PSU FTR
|Mich AdjO v. PSU AdjD||77||114||M|
|Mich AdjD v. PSU AdjO||98||94||-|
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 statistical matchup is interesting here, with huge advantages in a couple categories for both teams. Penn State has a consistent advantage overall. Michigan should be able to hold onto the ball, Penn State should be able to rebound most of Michigan's misses, and the Nittany Lions won't likely send Michigan to the line a lot.
If Michigan wants to win this game, they'll have to continue the defensive renaissance that started with Kansas, took a game off against Indiana, and returned with a vengeance against Ohio State courtesy of surprising Diebler-stopper Stu Douglass. Michigan held the Buckeyes below 45% eFG, after allowing previous opponents to shoot above 50% (and letting Jon Diebler start the game 4/6 on 3-pointers). The Wolverines, despite forcing a lot of opponent turnovers, actually won't have the advantage coming into this game. All of the teams Penn State has lost to have been heavy on man defense, so that may not play into Michigan's advantage.
This game could play out a lot like the Indiana game. If both Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims show up to play, the Wolverine will have a chance to win. They need will require a 40-minute effort to come away with a win. When Penn State goes on a run, Michigan needs to answer. "We just need to keep our poise and become more solid," said Novak, "rather than coming down and thinking 'they're making a run, we need to make the spectacular play." Alas, this looks like another close loss for Michigan on the road.
Beilein gave an endorsement of Brandon's credentials as an athletics guy and not just a businessman as well, saying, "I think he took care of that in the interview process, if there was a concern."
Outside the Lines put together an excellent piece on John Calipari brooming five players from Kentucky's roster as soon as he arrived. (It's technically six but one guy was a potential fifth-year, not an underclassman; ESPN's stretching a bit to make their case.) They mention that other people playing this game are Nick Saban, Billy Donovan, and… John Beilein!?!
Yes, actually, they do. It comes deep into the piece and is a tiny aside but they bring up the guy freakin' heading NCAA basketball's new ethics committee for Michigan's roster turnover amongst the usual sea of sketchy guys with slick hair:
A quick glance at the six departures over two years cited:
Ekpe Udoh. Udoh just turned in a triple-double for Baylor; Beilein obviously didn't want to lose him. Udoh saw 65% of available minutes in Beilein's first year and every time he is brought up a little part of a Michigan basketball fan dies. (Sorry, Eldridge P. Murthel of Saline, but that toe is never going to feel again.)
Reed Baker. Baker was offered an explicitly one-year deal sight unseen by Tommy Amaker (who feared that Dion Harris may have ended up academically ineligible) and took it; Beilein did not renew it. Baker landed at Florida Gulf Coast, where he's playing about 30 minutes a game.
Jerrett Smith. Smith was Kelvin Grady before Kelvin Grady was Kelvin Grady, a point guard who got buried on the depth chart. I believe he didn't come close to meeting Beilein's newly-instituted physical requirements. He transferred to GVSU and played the final year of his career there.
K'Len Morris. Morris also transferred to GVSU. He''s a junior this year; last year he saw 12 games before an injury ended his season. This year he has eight minutes in one game. (Injury again?)
Kendrick Price. Price quit the team when Beilein came in and now plays for the Vermont Frost Heaves of the Premier Basketball League. He is listed as a rookie from Michigan, so I believe he finished his degree at M instead of transferring somewhere else.
Kelvin Grady. Grady ended up buried at the end of the bench behind two walk-ons and decided he wasn't a fit for Beilein's offense. He's still at Michigan, playing receiver for the football team.
Only four of the departures were unexpected or something other than a total disaster for the interior defense and only two of those saw the players actually leave school—this is about academics, after all. Even leaving aside that, Michigan spent last year with ten scholarship players and the year before that with nine. No one was removed from the team to make room for a hotshot freshman. Creating standards your players have to meet to find playing time and seeing them transfer or quit because they don't, as Smith, Morris, and Price did, is totally different than cutting players so you can sign John Wall.
I don't bring this up to be defensive; it's just that the most common defense of this stuff on the part of folk who should be defensive is to bring up normal, un-sketchy attrition and attempt to draw a comparison. John Beilein (of all people!) is nothing like John Calipari.
Other than that, though, the piece is excellent. Three former UK players are quoted on-camera saying that they were cut. Cut with weaselly plausible deniability, but cut. Predictably, the comments are a horde of UK fans talking about haterz seeing them rolling. Jemele Hill's claim that UK fans would root for Charles Manson if he won is the most accurate statement that's ever been apologized for.
Broken record time: the NCAA should do something about this. Kudos to ESPN for ratcheting up the pressure.