and... i like them? I think I like them.
1/4/2009 – Michigan 74, Illinois 64 – 11-3, 1-1 Big Ten
With a couple minutes left in Saturday's game against Illinois the Illini brought the ball up down four. Even with the students absent, Crisler fairly buzzed with nervous anticipation at a critical juncture. Michigan went to man; Laval Lucas-Perry moved up to take the point guard on as he crossed midcourt.
Lucas-Perry was afforded a moment in the window provided by Illinois setting a play, and used it to smile, big and toothy, before returning to the task at hand.
The thing that jumped out the most in the pre-game was basically the same thing: DeShawn Sims smiling wide before he was introduced as the starter, then settling down to business. After the shell-shock of last year, of the last ten years, it seems that Michigan players are periodically struck by the thought "hey… this is fun!"
Fans, too. When Zack Gibson saw a vacated lane late in the shot clock and beat Illinois' lumbering center off the dribble and threw it down, everyone roared and I looked around me to make sure there were 10,000 people who also saw that. And I saw people smiling, shocked and pleased and I just can't tell you what else because what in the hell is going on?
In the next timeout, Eric Puls came up behind Gibson and put a towel on his shoulders like he was a prizefighter. Gibson tried, with only moderate success, to look nonchalant about the whole thing.
So here we are, two games into the Big Ten season and 1-1. The Illinois game was critical. Start off 0-2 at home in a league where friendly confines matter way too much and it's a tough slog to get to the 9-9 that puts you on the bubble (unless Michigan upsets UConn, in which case 9-9 is a solid berth). It's still a tough slog, but one that looks doable.
The danger of Michigan's wildly divergent nonconference schedule, which had four tough games and then cupcake city, baby(!) was that the UCLA and Duke games were extreme outliers and the game-in, game-out performance of the team would just not be good enough to claw into the top half of the Big Ten. A couple games later, that chance is more remote. Not a whole lot more remote, but they're at least in the class of teams like Wisconsin and Illinois and should be clearly better than the Indiana/Iowa/Northwestern/Penn State collection of teams towards the bottom of the conference.
Not that they won't lose a game or maybe two to that set of four teams, but if they go 6-1 against those guys they need find only two more wins against the rest of the conference to get to .500, and 3 to get to what must be a tourney-clinching 10-8. Baby steps, always.
- The observations about teeth were made possible by the students' winter break; that allowed yrs truly to sit in the second row behind the Michigan bench.
Unfortunately the ambient noise (WHO WANTS A FREE TEEEEEE SHIRT) of Crisler drowned out what Beilein was saying during commercial breaks and timeouts, but I did catch a couple things.
One: about midway through the first half DeShawn Sims pulls down an offensive rebound and goes back up with it, getting hacked from behind; no call. Illinois takes the transition opportunity down and scores. There's a timeout on the floor and Sims goes to the ref, declaring what just happened to be "bullshit". Beilein yanks him immediately, and chews him out—sort of, he's not exactly Bob Knight—about this being the second consecutive game he's done that and Michigan can't afford for him to get a technical every time the refs blow a call. (Word to that, yo. Michigan would give up 20 technical free throws a game and finish with just Eric Puls on the court.)
Two: every time Michigan would give up a bucket in the 1-3-1 in the first half, Beilein would explain to the bench what went wrong. "You've got to get up in that guy to prevent the skip," etc. etc. etc.
- Sitting close to the bench gave me some insight into the value of Merritt and Lee: they were chatty organizers on defense whenever in the game and (in Lee's case, from the bench), shouting out instructions and generally attempting to make Michigan's array of switches work.
- Speaking of which: it looked like Michigan's man to man has given up on the idea of fighting through screens and just switches all the time. Makes sense when you've got four guys basically the same size on the court, but it also leads to some awkward incidents where Kelvin Grady is under the basket checking a 6'6" guy. This ended poorly.
- Manny alternated some rough possessions with his usual slithering to the bucket. His three-point shooting was pretty rough, and he's got to be a little more aware of when to kick out. Too many tough shots and turnovers so far.
- The above-picture dunk wasn't Gibson's only thunderous finish of the day, but on his first dunk he overestimated his athleticism and nearly killed himself. Ball still went in.
As long as we're on the subject: Gibson's always been shockingly good at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim when the lane gets vacated. He's too slow to do it most of the time, as he'll pick up a charge if there's anyone to rotate, but, man, as soon as he put the ball on the floor I was like "this is going to be a gumpy white guy dunk."
- Novak has won a lot of minutes, and deservedly, but what happened to Jevohn Shepherd? Shepherd was playing pretty well in the nonconference portion of the schedule and provides much-needed size and defense to Michigan's normally Lilliputian lineup. Surely he can pick up ten minutes spotting Harris and Novak?
- Good to see LLP taking some guys off the dribble; hopefully as he gets more comfortable we'll see an increasingly diverse game from him.
MI DT Will Campbell recommitted on Saturday. The dossier:
GURU RATINGS & CHATTER
|5*, #4 DT||5*, #4 DT, #25 overall||79, #22 OT|
Will Campbell first became known to Michigan fans when he committed at Michigan's summer camp a year and a half ago, when he was a rising junior. An early commit like that presaged big things—offers, rankings—and when Scout and Rivals started publishing lists of these things Campbell was indeed awarded the coveted fifth star and took his spot as the top recruit in Michigan's class. Then he decommitted, took a bunch of visits, scared the crap out of everyone, and eventually rejoined the fold. Relief goes here.
Campbell's guru ratings are reminiscent of those given to a Cass Tech defensive tackle from a couple years ago who considered Michigan and LSU but came up with the wrong answer: Joseph Barksdale. Michigan told Barksdale he'd be best as an offensive lineman, which he didn't want to hear, causing a rift. Meanwhile, both Scout and Rivals ranked him as a five star DT; ESPN said "no!" and declared him a good, not great, offensive tackle prospect.
Who was right? Eh, both, sort of. Barksdale came to LSU a defensive tackle and instantly ended up on the other side of the ball—ESPN was right—but then established himself an immediate, excellent starter as a redshirt freshman—ESPN was wrong. That latter accuracy is likely to repeat; on one side you've got two sets of recruiting analysts and virtually every program in the country. On the other you've got a few guys with a track record of goofily leaving off one or two guys every year.
A position switch a la Barksdale is not likely for Campbell, even if he played both ways at the Army All-American game, for one glaring reason: Michigan's depth chart. Michigan returns every offensive lineman on the roster and adds two highly-rated tackle prospects this year. On the other side of the ball, though, Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson exit and the candidates to start next to Mike Martin are a Canadian (Renaldo Sagesse) who saw little time a year ago and a converted fullback (Vince Helmuth) who saw none. Yikes. At a position that usually sees at least three players contributing, that's a scary depth chart.
Campbell's been the subject of dozens of articles since his decommitment, but virtually all of them are like "eeee where's he going." Not many were useful after that became clear, but a few remain relevant. The first came around this time a year ago, when Campbell smoked a wide array of the country's top talent at the Army combine:
Campbell, who is ranked as the nation's No. 55 player for 2009, wanted to show he deserves a much loftier ranking than what he's at currently. He set out to destroy every offensive linemen that was in his path. He did that and more. Using an array of spin moves, bull rushes and pure agility, Campbell couldn't be blocked.
Player after player wanted to test their ability against him, but it didn't matter.
"I want to be an All-American," Campbell said. "I want to be a five-star. That's basically why I came down to San Antonio. I wanted to show that I'm the best defensive tackle in the nation."
He might have just done that.
"He's got great size and great power," Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barry Every said. "I'd like to see him trim up in the belly area a little bit, but he's got it everywhere else. I can't wait to see what he looks like on game tape. He's got the potential to be a five-star guy."
This time around, Campbell was the only player at the Army game to play both ways. His coach (Terry Smith of Gateway High in Pennsylvania, who you may remember from the Justin King recruitment) was very positive about him:
"Campbell is a true Warren Sapp kind of athlete," Smith said. "I saw him out there catching punts, catching passes and then he's making all those tackles on the defensive line. He's fast, he's strong, athletic and he's big."
He's the East team's best defensive lineman according to most. (He was also ranked #12 in the state by SpartanMag.com. ROR.)
More from Smith:
Massive Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech lineman William Campbell has been working with both the offensive and defensive lines during practice, and Smith said the 6-5, 317-pounder will probably go both ways.
"He's enormous, he's explosive and he's really athletic for a big guy," Smith said. "He's a fast learner. He's a fun-spirited kid who loves the game and that's why we're able to move him on both sides of the ball because he can pick it up. He just enjoys playing the game."
In the game, Campbell consistently drove back double teams and flowed down the line to make a couple tackles, but appeared to take a few plays off. He might have been spying on the QB, or just tired since he was also playing offensive line as well.
Cass Tech coach (and Michigan alum) Thomas Wilcher on his charge:
"I think he's had perseverance," noted Wilcher. "He went through his career here and kept up great academics. He kept up all his schoolwork. He worked out hard every year and he did whatever it took to become the best athlete. No matter what you asked, no matter what you told him, he always achieved that level."
Everyone except USC, and USC seemed leery not because they were skeptical of his talent but because they didn't think he would seriously consider leaving. The finalists other than Michigan were Miami, LSU, Alabama and Florida.
I couldn't dig up any, unfortunately.
FAKE 40 TIME
Nor could I find a 40 time
Eeeeee he commits eeee:
And here's an interview from Scout:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Every signing day or thereabouts I run down the recruiting class in detail and provide a "YMRFSPA"—you may remember me from such players as—comparison. Sometimes these are a little flimsy. Jason Avant gets mentioned entirely too much. But here we have a rock-solid comparison: Gabe Watson. Watson was also a simply ginormous five-star defensive tackle recruit some thought would be better on offense. Watson also had rumored motivational issues, as is usual when you're talking about men with their own gravitational pull.
Watson was a slight disappointment during his Michigan career, but only a slight one. Instead of an All-American performer, he was an all-conference one—twice. He's currently contributing to an NFL playoff team.
Campbell's something of a goof but he's less of a softy than the legendarily nice Watson, and Watson's motivational issues were so extreme that he was benched in favor of Pat Massey for the first couple games of his senior year. He was close to the bad end of the effort continuum; Campbell is likely to be less frustrating.
Campbell's got some technique and Barwis issues to deal with, but is coming in early, which should mitigate his freshman unpreparedness considerably; with the depth chart looking like it does Campbell is at least 50-50 to start immediately and is a lock for considerable playing time as a freshman.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Well, if the other two DT recruits stick they're done at a postion of great need, and with great success. Unfortunately, it sounds like it's going to be a battle for both guys until signing day. OK DT Pearlie Graves has talked about a visit to Oklahoma for a while now. Recent scuttlebutt has been most positive, though. The commitment of Jamarkus "Texas Coke Orgy" McFarland helps, and may end Oklahoma's recruitment of Graves. It seems likely he sticks.
LA DT DeQuinta Jones, on the other hand, seems considerably more open. Keep in mind he's never actually been to Michigan's campus, committing unexpectedly after he figured out LSU probably wasn't going offer. That was seemingly because Jay Hopson is one suave dude. Hopson remains a suave dude, but Jones plans visits to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State prior to his Michigan visit.
Though the board doesn't reflect this, my current view of the situation: Graves and Campbell are commits; Jones is open but is probably going to Michigan. With no other recruits on the radar, his decision will determine whether M ends up with two or three DTs in the class.
Late notice, but: what the hell, let's do a CIL of the Army All-American Game. 1PM ET, NBC.
So, for some reason I started googling Michigan's 2010 hockey recruits. Coverage of junior hockey in the US being what it is,—nonexistent—this is usually a fruitless exercise, but Clare did turn up a couple of interesting items. Like this, for instance:
Clare is in white and the "clear loser" of this fight according to the 1996-vintage website dropyourgloves.com, but, hey, you can fight in college anyway. Meanwhile, I missed this article on Clare published shortly after his late November commitment. He's the captain of the U17 team:
The butterflies vanished when he walked into the locker room before his first game and found a 'C' stitched on his jersey, everyone crowding his locker and pelting him with congratulatory slaps on the back.
If anyone doubted the 'C' belonged on his jersey, he did his best to change their minds on his very first shift.
"We were on the faceoff and a kid was giving me crap about something, and he was like 'What you gonna do about it?' and I said, 'You wanna go?'" the 6-2, 185-pound Clare recalled.
They dropped the gloves. Clare's much more than a punching lunk, though. I get the impression he's on track to be picked in the top three rounds of the NHL draft, though that's a pretty vague impression.
Fellow 2010 D commit Mac Bennett came in from some praise from USHR in September*:
5’11”. 170 lb. Hotchkiss defenseman and Michigan recruit Mac Bennett is a smooth skater who reads plays smartly, and excels in the transition game. He’s going to be an excellent college player. Smallish for a pro defenseman, but rates highly in every other are, so he will be drafted.
I keep saying this, but I like saying it so here goes again: if the 2010 hockey recruiting class hits campus intact it will be ridiculous. Knock on wood.
*(USHR is a subscription service but one that frees its archives after three months.)
Why? We're 3-9 and have no bowl game, that's why. But also because I just found the stats interesting.
Michigan State played Georgia in the Citrus Bowl, prompting dual Georgia/Michigan fan Michael at Braves & Birds to ponder World War II (most things cause him to ponder World War II):
Michigan State came into the Citrus Bowl (I refuse to use the new name) in a position not unlike the one that Japan in 1940-41. MSU was opposed by a slumbering giant, an opponent that was complacent and unprepared for war at the outset, but an opponent with far greater talent and capacity for a long-term fight.
Long story short: the giant woke up in the second half and dropped bombs. Only Georgia's disinterest in the game kept Michigan State's 2008 from being a mirror image of Notre Dame's 2006 minus the undeserved BCS bid, a superficially pretty record marred by epic beatings at the hands of the few top ten teams on the schedule.
Here's a table.
|Team||Total Offense||Total Defense||Margin||Total Offense||Total Defense||Margin|
|Team A||352.4 (67th)||357.9 (40th)||-5.5||339.5 (8th)||375.4 (8th)||-35.9|
|Team B||416.8 (42nd)||345.5 (32nd)||71.3||431.1 (1st)||394.1 (7th)||37|
Which team went 9-4 and which team went 7-6? It's obvious. If team B went 9-4 I wouldn't be posting about it. Michigan State's offense fell off a cliff and the defense basically stayed level and the end result was a significant improvement. As a bonus, the real numbers are actually worse than what you see above since they don't include the Citrus loss in which State was outgained by about 100 yards.
Anyone who's read this blog for more than a couple months knows the a-ha moment that's coming up: turnover margin! Except the 7-6 team was slightly better than the 9-4 team that critical, near-random category. No dice there. Neither can the explanation be found on special teams. Punting was about a yard better this year, and while the punt returns got a lot better the kick returns got a lot worse. There's nothing in the stats that offers an easy explanation as to why Michigan State seemingly got much worse but won more games.
The nearest thing to an explanation I can come up with is the distribution of turnovers. MSU was in -7 in turnover margin against Ohio State and Penn State, both epic losses; in all other games they were +9. Since a large chunk of that yardage gap also came in those aforementioned epic losses, State played a large number of games in which they were on the whole equal with their opponents and won the turnover battle and therefore the game. State won three games in which they were outgained, sometimes badly:
|Opponent||Yards For||Yards Allowed||Margin||TO Margin||Final Score|
State had no games that went the other way; they had their crappy days against teams they were highly unlikely to beat anyway. The Spartans were a 6-6 or 7-5 team—again—that had the breaks fall in the right way for them to leap up a couple spots in the weakest Big Ten in memory.
This is the long way of saying I'm not particularly afeared of Dantonio. While he seems like a better coach than the last two jokers at State (an honor also shared by Clay Aiken and jars of peanuts), Braves and Birds nails his ceiling:
Mark Dantonio is Jim Tressel without the talent base. Exhibit A: punting in the first quarter on 4th and 1 from the Georgia 39. Exhibit B: an offense built around running the same guy over and over between the tackles. (At least Tressel came out of the dark ages with Troy Smith.) Exhibit C: a kicker who attempted 25 field goals this year. Exhibit D: an on-field persona that makes Ben Stein's character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off look like Sam Kinison. With the way Dantonio's team approaches offense, I'm constantly reminded of the Japanese officer who said in 1944 that Japan didn't need radar because its soldiers could see perfectly well.
World War II analogies are appropriate because the last time Dantonio updated his thinking was during the Battle of Midway. At best he makes Michigan State into a Wisconsin or Iowa level program, and even that seems pretty doubtful.
Baby, please don't go. The looming terror hovering over Michigan's basketball season is the potential departure of Manny Harris, and looming terror two is the potential departure of Deshawn Sims. So let's see what Chad Ford has to say in his year-end "naughty and nice" list. Sims checks in on the nice list, (un?)fortunately:
DeShawn Sims, F, Michigan
Sims is a tough player to project. Many scouts question whether he's a 3 or a 4, and much dreaded "tweener" talk is out there. But his production of late has been undeniable. He scored 28 and 12 points in two contests against Duke and an impressive 20 points and 20 rebounds Monday night versus Florida Gulf Coast. If Sims can answer questions about whom he'll guard in the NBA (offensively, he can play both positions well), he could become a late first-round pick.
(The answer to "who can he guard," of course, is NO ONE. Not even Adam Morrison. I talked to Joe Dumars and Jerry West and God about this, I swear.)
"Could become a late first-round pick" sounds like a guy who's likely to return for his senior year in an attempt to guarantee himself that first round cheddar. Ford currently ranks him #46 on his top 100, safely in the return-to-school zone.
Meanwhile, Manny actually checks in below Sims at #48, which seems wildly improbable and totally awesome if it actually represents the opinion of NBA general managers. It might. After all, they continue to trade for Allen Iverson and could well be totally bats. Personally, I don't believe it and am bracing for a departure.
Tempo-free. Excellent chart from Spartans Weblog as we enter the Big Ten basketball season:
Teams to the right are good at offense, teams towards the top are good at defense, and vice versa. These are opposition-adjusted numbers, FWIW, so you can't plead schedule strength: Michigan has by far the best offense in the Big Ten. And, uh, the worst defense.
This comes as little surprise. Michigan's killer weakness in the post results in a lot of faulty man-to-man defending, an over-reliance on the not quite ready for prime time 1-3-1, and poor defensive rebounding. But it affects Michigan's perimeter-oriented offense not at all. Yeah, verily, Michigan is the platonic ideal of the Perimeter Oriented Team, so post guys can get bent. On offense anyway.
BTW: I watched yesterday's Purdue-Illinois game and I'm concerned about UI's skilled, 7'1" center, especially given Michigan's issues with the 1-3-1 of late. The only guys on the team who remotely match up with that guy are redshirting or stupidly at Baylor; I think the Illini are a bad matchup for us. Hopefully Alex Legion takes a zillion stupid shots with 30 seconds on the shot clock. This has a 50-50 chance of happening.
(Note that there's an entire Big Ten Wonk homage blog, a now-annual reprise of the Big Ten Wonk tempo-free aerial (above), and you can see terms like POT pop up on any half-decent blog covering Big Ten Basketball. Wonk is dead, long live Wonk.)
Physician, heal thyself. I read a lot about the decline of newspaper because it's a business interest—and, yes, I relish the day when I get off the freeway and see Drew Sharp holding a sign that says "will annoy for food"—and one of the most common complaints from the old guard is about how darn unreliable those blogs are in comparison to newspapers. This is sort of true, but it's sort of true in the way "average quality" goes down whenever barriers to media contribution are lowered. Any whippersnapper with an e-blog can post whatever they want, sure, but if it's crap the reader will move on, never to return. When there is a panoply of sources the average quality of items written goes down; the average quality of items read goes up.
Anyway, if you're trying to make the case newspapers are more reliable you probably shouldn't do this:
Departed defensive coordinator sworn to not rip Michigan
That's the title of a Mark Snyder post on the Free Press' website that details the verrrry suspicious clause in Scott Shafer's contract that says he can't disparage the university in public and keep his moneys. People contacted for blog post: 0. Disclaimer-type verbiage that would indicate uncertainty about how significant this is, as you would find on many of the "this is speculation!" sort of posts here and elsewhere in the blogosphere: 0. Blog posts that completely blow this out of the water: 1.
Instead of speculating on this I shot a quick note to local attorney Nick Roumel whose firm (Nick Roumel and Associates) handles sports and entertainment contracts. I asked for his take on these terms and in particular, whether this language prohibiting Shafer to “demean or disparage” the football program is unusual.
Roumel responds that the terms sleuthed out by the FIOA experts at the Free Press are "typical for most employment separation agreements"; MVictors then notes that's just one lawyer's opinion—see what I'm saying about proper framing of information?—but that "it's one more attorney than was asked to comment on the Snyder post."
Owned picture goes here.
Meanwhile, the New York Times just published an article in which an Oklahoma commit—five-star DT Jamarcus McFarland—claimed he visited a wild Texas-sponsored coke orgy with naked women "romancing each other" and painted Mack Brown—perhaps the country's most successful recruiter not named Pete Carroll—as a self-centered jerkass more concerned about his flatscreen TVs than this kid and didn't bother to ask Brown for comment. The author of this hit job used to work for Oklahoma's Scout site! McFarland himself admitted the passages in his school paper about the Studio 54 scene were "spiced up" when Scout/Rivals reporters asked him about it, which this Thayer Evans didn't think to do before he published his gullible article in the New York Times(!).
One: though blogs traffic in information far less certain than do mainstream newspapers, they do a much a better job giving you a certainty level for that information and do a much, much better job of swiftly punishing idiots.
Two: your content is as good as the people writing it, and when it comes to sports my money is on nuclear engineers and bored lawyers over journalists who other journalists scorn for playing in the kiddie pool.
Never punt. So there's this insane high school coach in Arkansas who never punts. "Never" as in twice last year, once because they were trying not to run up the score. This insane guy just won the Arkansas state championship. Insane like a fox!
As you might expect, Kevin Kelley—the coach in question—was inspired by one paper in particular:
Kelley had tinkered with eschewing the punting game since winning his first state championship in 2003. He became further emboldened after reading several studies, including "Do Firms Maximize? Evidence from Pro Football," by University of California-Berkeley economics professor David Romer.
The Romer paper put together a statistical model of a football field and concluded that NFL head coaches were way too conservative when it came to going on fourth down, but not even "Do Firms Maximize?" does away with the punt entirely. The only place I've seen that suggested was at Football Outsiders, which published a guest article about eschewing the punt a couple years ago. The idea was so weird that FO took pains to clarify their editorial stance on the matter:
There are many writers at Football Outsiders, and sometimes its hard to convince people that an article on our site represents "the author says X" rather than "Football Outsiders says X." This is extra true for guest columns. This article should not be taken to mean "Football Outsiders says never punt."
That out of the way, the article launches into a discussion of "actual turnover ratio" that counts punts and successful onside kicks and etc etc. It's very dense, and I don't agree some of the lot of assumptions made, but at the very least it's interesting.
My off-the-cuff stance: this strategy works well enough in high school, but that's a land where kickers are often dire and so are defenses. High-level college stuff is much closer to the NFL than high school, and the Romer paper, which suggested you punt on fourth and long yardage, as much better argued. I don't think this applicable past high school.