Coming into the year, expectations were high for the Michigan basketball team. They were fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade, returning two of the best players in the Big Ten. They had to replace only walk-ons and a Canadian.
So that worked out great, right? Most Michigan fans probably would have told you that #15 in the nation was too high, but nobody would have had the audacity to tell you that the Wolverines would remain mostly healthy and still limp to a sub-.500 record. In its 18 defeats, the Michigan basketball team had found just about every way to lose. There was the time they were run off the court by an inferior opponent, the time they stayed in the game against a much better opponent despite missing one of their best players, the time they almost upset their instate rival but fell just short, and all variety of just not being the better team. Also times where Evan Turner hit a 37-foot prayer at the buzzer.
There have to be reasons for these things happening, and no, Idiot Message Board Guy, that reason is not "JOHN BEILEIN SHOULD BE FIRED OMG."
As with most John Beilein teams, Michigan was expected to bomb away from deep this year, and bomb away they did. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to tell them that they were supposed to, like, make some of those shots. For the season, they shot 41.6% from the field, and 29.9% from long range. This constituted 43.2% of their shots. Put it all together, and it results in a crappy 48.1 eFG% on the season. That's good for about 230th in the country. Last year, they shot 50.3 eFG%, and finished 117th.
For individual changes in shooting, I think we're going to need a...
Chart. Players are arranged by the number of shots they took in 2009-10.
|Player||2008-09 eFG%||2009-10 eFG%|
Every returning player except Manny Harris and Zack Gibson saw a reduction in their shooting percentage from last year to this. I didn't check how many of those dropoffs are statistically significant (I imagine not very many of them, if any).
Also, for all the talk about how Michigan "only lost two walkons," everyone seems to have forgotten (and I'm guilty of this as well) that Kelvin Grady was an important part of last year's team, and a true point guard with some experience could have helped Michigan a ton this year. While some of the variation is probably luck, a team-wide regression points to poorer overall shot quality, and that starts with the gutted point guard position. This is true both with and without the ball: last year Lee, Grady, and Merritt were 1-2-3 in three point shooting. The three headed point guard took more threes than anyone on the team—172—and made more of them. This year the point guard was no-shoot Darius Morris and two guys, Laval Lucas-Perry and Stu Douglass, who struggled massively with at the spot.
OK, so I take it back: injuries actually might have played a significant role in the season. Michigan was expecting to have at least one more big man in Ben Cronin, and maybe another in Jordan Morgan. Cronin, a true seven-footer, saw his season (and probably career) come to an end in November thanks to a recurring hip problem that surgery couldn't repair. Morgan is just a freshman, and probably wouldn't have played a significant role on the team even if he hadn't had a shoulder injury that forced surgery and a redshirt.
With Zack Gibson and Deshawn Sims Michigan's only players above 6-8 (and in Sims's case, he's only listed as so), this team was never going to be able to play big. Sure, they could have used Gibson and Sims together a bit more, but that also carried a risk of one of them getting in foul trouble and not having either of them when the other needed a rest.
Zack Novak is not a true power forward. Anybody who has watched the game of basketball and notice that he doesn't even graze 6-5 can tell you that. But Michigan didn't have a ton of (read: any) other options. Criticizing Novak for not being tall enough seems a little unfair, since I think that's mostly out of his control.
So, for all the coach-fans that say Michigan should have gone big or pounded inside more or whatever, they really couldn't do it much more than they did. They went to Sims early in nearly every game, but the opponents would figure it out in short order, and the option would disappear when shooters didn't emerge as a serious threat. At 6'8"-ish, Sims always struggled against guys pushing seven feet tall and no amount of development can fix that when you're the biggest guy on the court.
It's natural to look at the coaching of this team as a potential weakness. For all the limitations of this roster, it was mostly Beilein-assembled, particularly the guys who we were supposed to be relying on as shooters and either couldn't find the basket (Stu Douglass, Zack Novak) or the court (Matt Vogrich).
On a micro scale, there were individual strategic decisions in games that probably didn't make a lot of sense, either. Something with some guy named Turner comes to mind, I don't really remember. But for every one of those, there was probably a positive moment that either went unnoticed or, in one painful instance, un-capitalized upon.
At this point, it's far too early to even consider ditching the only coach who's taken Michigan to the tournament in the past decade. He has a track record of success at every level, and he hasn't done anything yet to show he's not capable of accomplishing that in Ann Arbor. For those who say "well he only lost walk-ons from a tournament team and went under .500," I reply: dude, you do realize that you just said this guy took a team to the tournament as he was forced to play walk-ons extensive time, right? As much as this team may have underachieved, it only looks worse because last year's squad overachieved so much by comparison.
There have been a lot of accusations over the past couple days that Michigan "underachieved" this year, which duh. However, those who say "Michigan only lost walk-ons off a tournament team should be in the tournament, bro" need to keep in mind that, as much as this team underachieved, last year's squad most definitely overachieved.
Luck most certainly played a role (F you, Evan Turner), and fortunately, Ken Pomeroy has a "Luck Rating" which measures a team's performance against expectation based on Pomeroy's rankings. Last year, Michigan was +0.004 in luck, 131st in the nation. This year? -0.086, 330th out of 347 D-1 teams. This team was horrifically unlucky this year, and slightly lucky last year, making the quality difference between the teams look much more severe than it actually was. In the end, Michigan finished 50th last year and 60th this year. The slide was real but not as severe as the numbers suggested.
For the record, this year's painfully inconsistent team was 238th in "Consistency" to Pomeroy. Last year's was actually worse at 266th.
Can It Get Better Next Year?
As the perpetually optimistic Michigan fan, I am inclined to say yes without even really thinking about the question. [Ed.: An exercise for the reader: if Tim is still perpetually optimistic, what short of a nuclear explosion centered on Michigan Stadium could cause him to lose this trait?] This team has to improve, right?
That partially hinges on the professional whims of Manny Harris. The eyeball test says he needs a senior, but he may be ready to move on. For what it's worth, Sam Webb suggests it's 65-35 Manny stays. The recruitment of Trey Zeigler is another huge factor, as he would be an instant-impact type.
The roster composition should be different next year either way, as Jordan Morgan and Blake McLimans will add some size. For the first time in Beilein's career at Michigan he'll have a true 4 for his system in the form of incoming freshman Evan "Metrics" Smotrycz. They'll have to be ready to contribute, since both of Michigan's post players are moving on after this season.
Michigan's shooting should (hopefully) improve after a decided downturn this year, and the roster should be much more experienced as long as Manny returns. Assuming "luck" is essentially random, the pendulum should swing back the other way (though that's not guaranteed - look at the football teams' turnover margin this fall), and hopefully break even at worst. If Manny comes back, it should be season in which Michigan contends for the NCAA tourney. Life on the bubble isn't satisfying four years into Beilein's tenure, but that's life.
The 2009-10 athletic season is on its way out, and bright times are ahead.
[Ed.: FL RB Demetrius Hart was high on every Michigan fan's list of desired and expected commits early in the recruiting cycle, but that was before a flurry of articles in which Michigan found itself on the outside looking in of a top three consisting of Alabama, Auburn, and Florida. Tom caught up with Hart and discovered a recent change in plans that should see Michigan re-enter Hart's recruitment as a serious player. Without further ado.]
TOM: There’s a rumor going around that you’re coming up to Michigan soon?
DEMETRIUS: Yeah, we’re coming up April 16th. I just wanted to see Ricardo, and see the spring game and everything. We’re all family, so we look out for each other. My mom is like Ricardo’s Aunt, so we’re all close like that.
TOM: What prompted this visit?
DEMETRIUS: My mom is going to have a meeting with Coach Rod, and talk to him about everything that’s been going on. She has a lot of say in this, so she needs to figure some things out. She wants to know about the allegations, and their plans for the future, and what they’re going to do from here on out.
TOM: Michigan’s out of your top three right now, but can this visit get them back in?
DEMETRIUS: Definitely. I mean, Michigan has always been the best for me, but like I said, my mom needs to hear some things. I already talked to Coach Rod about everything, so he knows what’s up. After she talks to him, then we’ll sit down and talk and figure it out. I’ve always loved Michigan, though.
TOM: After this visit, what happens from here?
DEMETRIUS: I had a timeline, but I’m not sure. I want to take this visit, then one to Alabama. After that, I’m just going to go with the flow, and see what happens.
It has been a long journey through the desert but finally there is a t-shirt that says "Space, Bitches!" in commemoration of Michigan's killer Apollo PSA. Yea, and it came down from the mountain and it was good:
In commemoration, we'll make this MGoBlog Yahoo tourney bracket an officially sponsored thing. Top five get a freebie Space shirt and the winner gets a bonus of his or her choosing. Group #36042, password "mgoblog." Get to thy brackets.
Truth. From the message board: a post entitled "Jake Long is bigger than you" that is 100% truth.
The third guy in that line is a 6'1", 235 pound former D-III linebacker.
[David Chappelle racist white guy voice] "They have such animal passions." [/dcrwgv] One of the main tensions on the message boards around here is between people who reflexively attack people who write anything even slightly negative about Michigan and people who push back at them. I thought the latter group was more correct after the signing day press conference when Dave Birkett went into I Are Serious Reporter mode and latched onto Rodriguez's pant leg for a series of questions about Demar Dorsey.
Yeah, it was kind of a dick move, but if you're going to add every reporter who sees a piece of meat and goes after it to the enemies list there isn't going to be anyone left off that list in short order. QED: even Angelique Chengelis got knocked around after she said the Victors Rally was dumb. Birkett was one of the people pointing out that the ridiculous Freep story about Rodriguez invoking Hurricane Katrina left out that thing called context.
This from the latest chat on AnnArbor.com, however, is indefensible. Birkett is out and pops back in. He offers this apropos of nothing:
Dave Birkett: Sorry had to run for a more. A buddy came over to look at my home repair issue. I'm back.
Dave Birkett: If anyone needs any home improvement done, try Nelson Home Improvement. I've been using them for years.
Dave Birkett: And thanks Demar, I'll see you here shortly. No need to bring your crowbar.
There is absolutely no context for that. So… wow. Cheapshotting a kid who hasn't even enrolled, you've never talked to, and is trying to turn his life around. Classy. How about we wait for Dorsey to do something, maybe?
First in line. Due to a walk-on snafu, Michigan is only going to be able to enroll 26 of their 27 players this fall. This will leave at least one scholarship open, and the guy at the top of the list will surprise no one:
UM coach Rich Rodriguez maintained throughout the season that it's his intention to include Kovacs among his scholarship players. That process has seemingly progressed this offseason.
"He'll have the first one available in the fall, and it looks like one will be available," Rodriguez said. "I'm hoping it will be available for this summer because he's earned one."
I've seen a couple people react to this article as if Kovacs is now a full scholarship player, but that does not seem to be the case. If Michigan actually has 85 scholarship players on the roster in 2011, Kovacs will have to pay his way. Given the way Michigan recruits—not oversigning like a mother—that's not likely.
Also in that article is a rundown of the players who will be unavailable for spring: Brandon Herron, Mike Martin, Vincent Smith, and David Molk. Junior Hemingway has a minor injury and will miss a week or two.
No thanks. Chengelis suggests the spring game should be held at night. I'm not one of those guys who hates night games, but that seems like an epically bad idea. Reasons:
- In April it's often really nice out during the day and super cold at night. One of the main draws of the game is to have an excuse to sit outside in the spring sun after the traditional Michigan hibernation period.
- Attendance would be depressed since people aren't going to get a hotel room for the spring game.
- Michigan would have to shell out for portable lights.
- Any Michigan football game that starts after 3:30 is like feeding Gizmo after midnight. Do you want a zombie apocalypse?
I would like to see Michigan push the start time back to two or three so I can take the rare opportunity to tailgate properly.
In which you prove their point anyway. WLA tiff with the Buckeye Battle Cry, the new-ish SBNation Ohio State blog. In sum: WLA posts picture of Kevin from the Office on blog to imply that while the "writers" there are probably not handicapped that's something you would need careful examination and probably a DNA test to confirm. Kevin from the Office deletes, bans, and then contacts the poster's employer.
I'm not sure why SBN even has an Ohio State blog if that was the best one they could sign up. Talk about damaging your brand.
Etc.: Jimmy King interviewed by Lost Lettermen. New blog by a diarist around here is up: Wolverine Tactics opines on what to do with Denard. Discount tickets available for the CCHA Championships. Markus previews UConn. Yes, in March.
3/13/2010 – Michigan 5, Michigan State 1 – 22-17-1, 1-0 series
3/14/2010 – Michigan 5, Michigan State 3 – 23-17-1, 2-0 series
(Ariel Bond in the Daily)
"When I was in a barbershop quartet in Skokie, Illinois…"
The twist, if done properly, obliterates the thing you thought you were watching and replaces it with something completely different. This can redeem previously idiotic plot points, like Patrick Bateman charging down an apartment corridor, chainsaw blazing, without anyone noticing in American Psycho. Twists have enormous power. A really great one can launch an interminable directorial career even if no one ever likes another one of your movies again.
Michigan's 2009-10 season had a plot. After 37 games of erratic play, defensive breakdowns, soft goals, stopped shots, and the occasional monster performance that served only to get your hopes up so they could be suitably dashed later, we thought we were watching a movie titled "Death Wish III: You Thought Hockey Was Immune" or "500 Shots Of Bummer," for which latter I am deeply, deeply sorry.
Ah, but the twist. In the preview I mentioned that karma was busy with State's football team and had not yet attended to the Corey Tropp situation. I owe that fanciful concept an apology.
Tropp watched. He stepped on a puck in warmups and he watched Steve Kampfer and his teammates storm into Yost West, dominate on and off the ice, and forcefully boot Michigan State from the tourney bid it thought was guaranteed at midseason. After two periods, shots were 32-10. The only relevant scoring Michigan State had in the series came thanks to the generosity of Tristin Llewellyn and some iffy goaltending from a 5'6"-ish walkon.
Tropp and his entire team watched Michigan salute their students—who outnumbered Michigan State's—as they waited for no one to sing their alma mater. When the last of them headed off the ice, season over, a third of the arena gave them a "seeya." Karma has paid in full.
Never in the history of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has a comeuppance been so sudden, unexpected, and richly deserved. The road to 23-17-1 as been frustrating as hell, but as I raised my fist for the "hail" in the Yellow and Blue the season rearranged itself into a series of necessary evils. Tropp had to explode so his loss could be a crushing blow. Michigan had to lose to Bowling Green so the 2-7 matchup would be these two teams, and it would have to be at Munn for maximum pwnage.
Maybe not everything was necessary. Michigan didn't have to give it away late in nonconference games against BU and Wisconsin. If they hadn't Michigan would have probably punched their own ticket last weekend. As it is, they still have a mountain called Miami to climb before they can even play for a shot at the tourney. The frustration of this season is still real. But that's not what I'll remember it for anymore.
Because screw that guy in the ear, that's why. And screw the coach who thought a harsh conversation was sufficient punishment. Michigan has postgame video up and twenty seconds in someone walks up to the camera loudly declaring "THAT IS WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT." He passes the camera, and the back of his jersey reads "Kampfer."
He was the last guy off the ice. That's what I'll remember.
The sweep shot Michigan from 25th to 16Wth in the Pairwise and made the possibility of an at-large bid at least worth checking, but as of yet no one's put together a scenario in which Michigan splits at the Joe and manages to make the tourney.
Alabama-Huntsville winning the last CHA tournament moves the line to make to at least 14, and it will be 13 unless Cornell wins the ECAC, and it's really hard to move up by going .500, even against good competition. So Michigan will have to flip at least three comparisons. I don't see that happening. Sioux Sports has a new view where you can see the comparisons at a glance and it appears that Michigan has flipped all the comparisons they're going do. Actually going through the individual comparisons is blindingly painful: each common opponents category is a litany of missed opportunities. If Michigan wins two of the games they gave away—BU, BGSU, Ferris, UW, etc etc—over the course of the year they're probably a solid three seed.
That didn't happen, though, and it's win or go home.
- Finally the Big Ten Network comes through: Friday's game against Miami is at 8 and is on BTN HD.
- From time to time in Billy Sauer's first two years—when he was clocking with a season save percentage under .900—I felt panicked any time the opponent entered the zone, let alone put a harmless shot on net. That panic was orders of magnitude greater Saturday as Shawn Hunwick gamely tried to avoid blowing the above, awesome storyline in whatever way he could. That wander out of the net nearly killed me, and for large portions of the third he appeared to be throwing his glove out aimlessly.
- I'm all for Hunwick as a concept but when your coach is calling you Rudy, there's not really any question about who the starting goalie is. Hogan (and Summers) "should have a chance to play" on Friday according to one of the assistants on WTKA, and while they're making noises about it being a tough call I will assume that Hunwick in net means Hogan is not ready to go.
I wonder how the guy who inexplicably knocked Langlais in the preview post by way of defending Tristin Llewellyn—who wasn't even mentioned—is going to justify that in the comments. It's the internet, after all. Changing your mind is not allowed. And this guy suggested that Eric Elmblad was a better option than Langlais, so he's not one of those people who is sane.
Llewellyn was in the box for all three Michigan State goals on Saturday, the first two of which came when Llewellyn ignored a loose puck he could clear out of the zone to drive some guy into the boards… on a penalty kill! Bler. The tripping call he took later was just a run-of-the-mill penalty anyone could have taken; the first was totally insane.
[Update! Llewellyn is +9 in the tournament! No one wants to play against him after he takes two penalties that make a laugher a tie game!]
- Over the past couple week's I've been talking myself into the idea that Michigan could be really good next year based on their goal differential (now 10th nationally), the relatively light losses Michigan should experience this offseason, and Michigan's still-killer recruiting class.
On that recruiting class, specifically the defense: Michigan loses Kampfer and Summers to graduation. They bring in John Merrill, Mac Bennett, and Kevin Clare. Merrill will be a first round pick in the upcoming NHL draft. Bennett was already drafted in the third round by the Canadiens. And Clare is a polished stay-at-home defenseman who will probably go sometime in the middle rounds. Michigan is going to be scratching two scholarship defensemen unless someone moves to forward. So… should Langlais move to forward? He's probably the best puckhandler on the team right now and if he can adapt to the forward spot I envision him setting up Caporusso for his lethal wrister plenty. At a generous 5'9" he doesn't have an NHL career that would screw up.
Would you rather scratch Rohrkemper or one of the freshmen defensemen/Llewellyn?
- Lebler is probably replaceable but that "probably" is a testament to how well he's played as a senior. When he came to Michigan he had, I believe, 14 points his final year of junior. He's mixed grinding boardwork, big hits, and the occasional impressive snipe to best that considerably the last two years. He's developed to the point where I'm a little worried about his departure when Michigan has the #2 pick in the OHL draft and Jacob Fallon coming in. He's a totally different player but I'd compare his career track to John Shouneyia, a guy who started slow and was never a star but developed into a very good college player by the end of his tenure.
- How about that Caporusso goal on Friday? I talked to like four people about it and everyone invoked Hensick. That's the kind of stuff that's been almost totally absent from not only Caporusso's game but that of the whole team. I still remember goals Hensick and Cammalleri and Comrie scored, and I'll remember Caporusso's cruise through the slot. Hopefully that, and the ridiculous tear he continues to be on, carries over into next season.
- …assuming that there is one. I don't think he's at a point where a team is going to scoop him up but it's vastly more possible now than it was midseason. He's a Senators draftee and went at the end of the third round in his draft year, FWIW.
- I missed this when it happened, but apparently someone printed up a long screed against Comley when he didn't dress a senior defenseman on Senior Night. Said defenseman, who hadn't played all year, immediately quit the team, and his girlfriend or a relative went all manifesto.
Charles Burks is a defensive end from Huntington Beach, California. Burks will be making the haul from CA to Ann Arbor this weekend for Michigan's Junior Day and Night of Champions. He currently holds an offer from Stanford, but hopes that Michigan extends one his way this weekend. Here's his highlight video, and what he had to say about Michigan.
TOM: Can we read anything into this visit? It’s pretty far to come all the way from California to Michigan.
CHARLES: I’ve always been an Ohio State fan, but I’ve always liked Michigan a lot, too. My dad is a big Michigan fan. They have the most wins out of any college, which is awesome. I’m definitely interested because of all the history and all the tradition. I’m interested because of all that, but I actually want to meet the coaches and see the campus. I want to get a feel for everything, and see how it is up close. Distance doesn’t matter to me, either, at all. I want to go where I can make an impact, and enjoy playing football. I just want to go to a school that can get me a good degree.
TOM: What coach is recruiting you? What have you guys talked about so far?
CHARLES: I’ve just gotten a lot of letters, and all of them have said Coach Rodriguez. The one about the junior day came from him, too.
TOM: Where does your interest in Michigan come from, besides your Dad?
CHARLES: It comes from my dad, but also everything that Michigan has to offer football wise. Michigan will always be one of those schools that will always have a great program. They’re consistently good. The past couple seasons don’t bother me, because I know they’re on the upside. They’re rebuilding, and they’re going to be good before you know it.
TOM: What other schools have offered you, and who’s been in contact with you so far?
CHARLES: Schools that have been in contact with me are ASU, Michigan of course, Kansas, Oregon State, and my first offer was from Stanford two weeks ago.
TOM: Are you going to any camps this summer? What other visits do you hope to make?
CHARLES: I’m going to all the major combines; the Under Armor, Rivals, and Scout. I’ll be at pretty much all of the bigger ones. As far as camps; I’ve considered Oregon State and Kansas. I might go to a couple, but I might go to the USC because they’re local.
TOM: Do you have a top list yet?
CHARLES: I’m kind of trying to feel everything out. As of right now, Stanford, Michigan, and Ohio State are the top three. If I had a top five, it would be UCLA, and Oregon State, too.
TOM: You said you were an Ohio State fan growing up. If they offer, is that it for you? Are you going to jump at it, or is it not like that?
CHARLES: My interest in MIchigan is higher right now, because I haven’t heard from Ohio State. I’m a fan of them, but I won’t just jump at an offer. I’m going to take my time, and see where I feel most comfortable. Just because I’m a fan doesn’t mean that’s the best fit for me. I went to Ohio State last year for a wrestling camp, so I want to see how Michigan is, and how I feel there. Who knows, maybe after this visit Michigan will be my leader, we’ll see.
TOM: You play defensive end right now. Do you play any other positions?
CHARLES: I play tight end, as well. I’m starting to work out at outside linebacker, too. I’m 6’1 and I weigh 230, and my 40 time is 4.6 or 4.7. Last time I ran it, I ran a 4.6.
TOM: What sets you apart from the competition? What are you going to be working on?
CHARLES: I had 14 sacks in 10 games, which is one sack shy of our school record, so I almost broke that. I broke my fibula, though, so I only played 10 games. I’m real quick off the edge. I’m going to try to work on the fundamentals a lot, too. I don’t want to get caught up with tackles, too much. I’m also going to try to adjust to my new position of linebacker.
TOM: What are you looking for out of this visit? What’s an ideal visit look like for you?
CHARLES: Just meeting the coaching staff, feeling comfortable, meeting the players, and feeling comfortable with them. I want to see how the coaching staff runs the program. Ideally, I’d love to get an offer from Michigan.