[Ed: Bump. Also see Brooks's lax primer.]
A historic moment for U-M seems to be getting a little bit of a short shrift - mgolicious shouldn't be the most notable place for a mention of the first varsity NCAA lacrosse game in Michigan history - so for those interested in the game but who couldn't make it out to Pontiac or watch the live feed, here is a recap. This will be kind of a cheap diary entry, since most of it will just be copying and pasting my updates (plus a few others from other folks) from the de facto game thread. In other words I'm basically just rounding up the thread and its comments in a more digestible form. This way you won't have to do as much scrolling and you can get the feel of the game all in one.
A quick primer: yesterday, the dynastic Michigan lacrosse team took its first step into a larger world with a game against the other instate D-I program, Detroit Mercy, and lost, 13-9. It was a very even, back-and-forth game until about halfway through the third period. The game was hosted by UDM but took place at a neutral venue in Pontiac, which appeared to be almost - if not totally - sold out.
Quasi-play-by-play recap follows, as C&P'ed and polished up a little from the game thread:
- First ever goal in UM Lax D1 history-Bryant. 1-0 UM
- 2-0, Michigan. It's been a pretty defensive game. Neither team getting many shots.
- 2-1, Michigan, UDM with a goal.
- UDM's man-up opportunity amounts to nothing because UDM took an early shot and failed to back it up, U-M ran out the rest of it but gave up the goal shortly after. 2-2 now.
- Michigan up 3-2 after one and looking good in spots. Nice feed for the third goal.
- 4-2 score now with U-M converting a fast break chance.
- Always with the scoring exactly as I'm typing. 4-3. This game started off slowly in the offense department but has a chance to be very high-scoring indeed. Just to drive the point home, 4-4 now with a quick UDM goal off the faceoff.
- U-M looking sloppy now. Failed clear follows three lost FOs in a row.
- Goal UDM, 5-4 Detroit. Short-stick middie got beat badly on a run by the UDM middie.
- Michigan ball now, nice save by the Detroit goalie but a poor clear puts Michigan back on the attack.
- 5-5 now with about 3:30 to go in the half.
- 43 seconds left in the half, Detroit calls timeout to set up one last shot. Tied at 5.
- Halftime and we're all tied up at 5. I would say UDM has the ground ball edge but Michigan is holding its own. (Note: This proved to be a false impression, as Michigan actually had the GB edge in the game, 29-23, with most of that margin coming in the first quarter.)
- UDM up 6-5, early in the 3rd.
- Michigan had a great chance on a fast break but Levell made another beautiful save.
- Goal Michigan, 6-6 now, almost halfway through the third period.
- 7-6 UDM with a Detroit goal from close quarters.
- Sudden scoring spurt - 8-6 Detroit now on a semi-fast-break.
- UDM backs up a Michigan shot and gets the ball, about 5 minutes to go in the 3rd.
- 8-7, Michigan goal, very nice defense behind the net led to getting the ball and a goal with about 3 to go.
- 9-7 Detroit on a hard-fought goal. Michigan wins the ensuing FO and has the ball.
- Detroit with a steal off a terrible pass and a fast-break goal to go up 10-7. 35 seconds left. A lazy, sloppy play.
- 3rd period over with a 10-7 UDM lead.
- 11-7 now on a bounce shot....UDM starting to open it up. 12:18 to go.
- Looks like a UDM EMO coming up. The boys are starting to get a little too desperate.
- And UDM scores on the EMO. Michigan had done a nice job on defense and got the ball, but couldn't hold on as UDM used the extra man to double up and get the ball back. 12-7 Detroit now.
- Michigan scores, 12-8 now. 8:17 to go, so there's definitely plenty of time.
- Looks like an EMO coming for Michigan now. Silly, silly penalty by UDM, which is known to be a little bit of an overemotional team.
- Again nothing doing on the EMO. Detroit ball and Michigan doesn't seem interested in playing aggressively to get it back.
- As soon as the penalty was over, UDM went on the attack again and Michigan got the ball back pretty quickly.
- Time-out, 2:22 to go. UDM holds the 12-8 lead.
- And UDM with what looks like a clincher at 13-8, eight seconds after the end of the TO.
- Michigan with a respectability goal to make it 13-9. 24 seconds.
- Detroit 13, Michigan 9 is the final.
And now for the editorial section:
- 1st quarter: Playing solid defense against what's supposed to be a solid UDM squad offensively. But you can also see why this team will struggle: faceoffs are about even against a team that's been absolutely worthless at the X, and the man-up chance didn't look good at all, no coordination or sense of urgency to attack.
- Halftime: Though only outscored by one, not a good half for Michigan. Only one goal on a settled situation, the other, IMO coming from taking advantage of mistakes that better teams don't usually make. Detroit exposed a weakness by attacking the SSDMs - didn't always score on it, but created chances. Part of the Michigan offensive slowdown came from improved defense by UDM, though, including one very, very nice save by Titan goalie Levell. Michigan got killed on faceoffs in the 2nd, though, which just can't happen against Detroit, by far one of the worst faceoff teams in the nation.
[Ed: second half and recap afte the jump.]
This from a Crain's Detroit interview with Dave Brandon got under my skin:
There was some chatter last year that the Ohio (State)-Michigan game could be moved in the future from its traditional spot in the schedule as the final game of the season.
Brandon dismissed such talk as gibberish.
"I think it's nonsense. I've never heard any talk of that," he said. "I don't think there's anything being contemplated as it relates to that. I think someone spewed something on a blog somewhere, and is usually the case by the time it gets told three times, people start to believe it. There's a pretty strong commitment on behalf of the conference that that game belongs as the last game of the season."
SAM WEBB: Would it be still be the tradition to keep that game [The Game] the last game of the season?
DAVID BRANDON: I think there's a distinct possibility that game will be a later game in the season, but not necessarily the last game of the season. …What you're really going to want is for that last game of the season to determine who's going to be the champion of that division and who is going to play for the Championship... Although I love playing OSU the last game of the year, I don't thinks it's necessarily a slam dunk.
That is all.
Freeroll part II. Late last year we had a Draftstreet freeroll for anyone interested in testing out their daily/weekly fantasy games, and they've given us the opportunity to run a basketball-focused one that kicks off Thursday. Purchase a starting five with a set salary cap [insert Ohio State joke here] and score more points than anyone else in the pool to win some money.
Enrollment is free and there's $150 up for grabs. Hit the link to sign up, or log in to your existing account.
App status update. I thought the apps were kind of a niche product that a couple twitter mentions and board threads would adequately handle, and in this I was massively wrong. That's good and bad news for me: it's good that we have that kind of engagement and bad because I've annoyed a bunch of people.
Anyway, our status:
- Android. The Android app works for reading. We are still working on getting logins going; hopefully that can happen within a week.
- IPhone. Pushing iPhone apps is a more involved process and we are a little behind here, but reads work on the development copy and a blocking issue with logins has been fixed. We should be able to get an update up within a week or two.
Again, this is my fault for not realizing the test server originally intended to be the place where these apps were developed was still pointing to the main database until it was too late. By that point I'd blown up the kludged-together existing infrastructure. I thought the best course of action was to quickly forge ahead with the new stuff instead of wasting time restoring a system I didn't want to keep around; unfortunately some login issues slowed us down. This is one of the downsides of being a totally independent entity, but the upsides are significant as well.
APR with teeth. Cynics everwhere are surprised by the NCAA's decision to uphold UConn basketball's 2013 postseason ban for crappy APR scores. Power conference basketball outfits have previously gotten hit with scholarship reductions—OSU, Purdue, and Indiana all suffered—but no one has gotten the nuclear bomb of a postseason ban.
High level players are likely to flee at the prospect of not getting to play in an NCAA tourney. With Jim Calhoun's health increasingly an issue, not keeping up with their books seems likely to bust UConn's program status down for years. The UConn Blog:
This would be devastating news for any program, but it is especially crippling for UConn. It will almost certainly encourage any NBA prospects on UConn's roster who had even the slightest doubt about staying to leave for the pros. Recruiting will certainly be hurt as well. Most importantly, Jim Calhoun, who is currently out on medical leave, would have to coach well into his 70s to get the program back to a position of strength. Realistically if he wants to hand off his program in anything close to its usually strong state it would probably require him coaching through the 2014 or maybe even 2015, at which point he'll be 71 or 72.
While that's painful for Huskies fans it does provide the NCAA ammunition for anyone who suggests they won't hurt a power program. Here they even retroactively applied new standards to existing scores, preferring punitive measures over perfect fairness.
The dates! Spring practice dates:
Michigan's spring camp begins March 17, according to a team spokesman, and culminates with a public scrimmage on April 14.
Goodnight, sweet prince. Mike Comrie is calling it a career:
TORONTO -- Mike Comrie, who twice scored at least 30 goals in a season, retired from the NHL on Monday after a third hip operation in five years.
The 31-year-old center announced his retirement two weeks after his latest hip procedure, saying in a statement he was no longer able to "manage the rigors of NHL play." Comrie was limited to 127 games over the last three seasons.
My first year at Yost was also Comrie's first and the magic he worked with the puck was a major reason I fell in love with both Michigan hockey and 5'8" puck wizards. Here's to Comrie lighting it up at an alumni game in the near future.
This is not 'Nam… let's make it more like 'Nam. The NCAA would like to slash out various bits of their rulebooks to pave the way for college town Taj Mahals:
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Bring back athlete-only dorms with unlimited food. Let coaches talk publicly about their recruits. Allow transfers in all sports to immediately play.
Those are among the ideas being discussed as the NCAA tries to produce a slimmer and more efficient rulebook, according to documents obtained by The Birmingham News.
While I'm generally for athletes getting more freedom and money from the NCAA, I dislike the near-free-agency immediate transfers create. I'd love it if kids who got Sabaned could transfer immediately; for everyone else the one-year sit out seems appropriate. Even coaches who are taking advantage of the grad-year transfer rule like Izzo seem to think it's icky.
Everything else, whatever. The parade of secondary violations distracts from actually important matters. In a world where everyone has Facebook communication restrictions on phone calls and texting seem like laws prohibiting whipping your horse.
Nein, Doc Sat, nein. Hinton's suggestions for a four-team playoff:
- Keep the BCS ranking system.
- Put the semifinals at bowl sites.
- Bid out the championship game a la the Final Four/Super Bowl, etc.
- Restrict the field to conference champions (or Notre Dame)
He admits the first is likely to cause a spit-take; I think all but #3. It's unfortunate that many years the Rose Bowl will serve as a consolation prize for the second-place Big Ten team, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the prospect of home sites with real atmosphere for semifinals both as a person who will watch on TV and one who would attend any time Michigan makes it, home or road.
this >>>>>>> bowl game
I've mentioned this before: I'm probably not going to Dallas this year because I can get a generic NFL stadium experience at many bowl games. If the game was in Tuscaloosa you could not stop me from going. If you shot me in the head, my zombie would rise up and hitchhike to Alabama. A playoff semifinal on the road in Austin or Baton Rouge or Tallahassee is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity far superior to any bowl game. And at home? Good god.
As far as conference champs only, I'm torn about that. Notre Dame remains a problem. If a one loss ND team gets in over a one-loss major conference team ranked higher than them because that team didn't win something ND doesn't even try to, that would be annoying. Given the state of college football it's a much lesser threat than, say, a team that didn't win its own division getting in ahead of an impressive one-loss conference champion.
Etc.: ESPN post asking you to vote on your most disliked Big Ten coach features Bielema, Dantonio, Hoke, and Meyer. If someone on that list seems out of place it's because three of them are likely to coach in a future Rose Bowl.
2/12/2012 – Michigan 70, Illinois 61 – 19-7, 9-4 Big Ten
Sports have their own distinctive rhythms, sounds and moments and rituals that worm themselves into the observer's subconscious after repeated exposure. Basketball is rife with them. The seismic thud of the ball hitting the floor is shockingly tactile from time to time, especially during your first game of a new season. Back-to-back TV timeouts are agony and boredom. And the interval between a three-pointer's departure and arrival, when three fingers are raised in slow motion and a long heavy intake of breath fills the lungs, is the sort of intermittent reinforcement that ends with people saying "but she loves me… she's just misunderstood."
When those rhythms conspire against you in a cosmically unfair (and usually deeply random) fashion, building-wide manias develop. Rattling post after post in hockey, an avalanche of seeing-eye singles in baseball, the clang of iron on open look after open look—these things turn crowds into scalded, nervous things. When the shot goes up, the reaction is something it would take Steve Buscemi to adequately convey.
Oh no, here we go again
Maybe this time basketball will love me
Maybe this time basketball will care
Basketball is just misunderstood
No officer I would not like to press charges against basketball
Maybe next time
Probably next time
Definitely next time
Basketball is just misunderstood
When Tim Hardaway Jr. got an open-ish look from three early, he passed it up. He faked, got past the closeout, and took an open look from the elbow. He missed. He got another midrange jumper a minute later, which he missed. A minute after that he got an open look from three, and the building kind of moaned.
It was a complex moan. It acknowledged the fact that this was a very good shot and that if you are Tim Hardaway Jr. and you're not going to take this shot you probably shouldn't be on the floor at all and while there may be some basketball teams who could afford to bench Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan is emphatically not one of them. It also loathed everything about the preceding sentence because none of it meant Hardaway was at all likely to make it. It was a richly subtextual moan. Given enough time and processing power, Ken Pomeroy could calculate Hardaway's shooting percentage from it. He would find it is not high at all.
Hardaway made it anyway. The building thought maybe basketball would bring it flowers.
It was the other one, though, that really got hearts open again, really open and ready for a surprising reversal that is in no way surprising. It wasn't a good shot, really, but when you're 6'5" and can jump really high there are few truly contested threes. This has been a foundational component of Hardaway's game and seemed brilliant when he was hitting 42% of them. When you're hitting 27%, not so much. Hardaway was hitting 27% as he made a token move to the basket and stepped back for a semi-contested three.
He'd hit one earlier and maybe the wincing wasn't quite as overt as he rose up. This one was perfect. It hit nothing whatsoever on its way through the hoop.
Hardaway didn't push it. There was no heat check, because sometimes a thing like making more than half of your shots in a game is a delicate one that must be shepherded through dangers.
Hardaway wasn't the only struggler to prop up fading hopes of effectiveness. Matt Vogrich had eight points on three shots, all makes, and Novaked himself a game-changing play* when his super-quick rotation on Meyers Leonard condemned Leonard to the bench for most of the first half. Evan Smotrycz hit a couple threes and managed 13 points; though he turned the ball over twice he was also credited with four steals. Michigan did not get blown off the court in the long stretches where a foul-limited Morgan wasn't on it thanks in large part to Smotrycz.
Both Vogrich and Smotrycz followed Hardaway's example and didn't push it. Between the three of them they took eight threes and hit six. As a team Michigan attempted just 35% from beyond the arc. It was a strange mirror of the first half against Nebraska, when Michigan took two thirds of its shots from three against the worst interior defense in the league. Here they took most of their shots from two against one a team much better on the interior than the perimeter.
Whether that was just what Illinois does—they're second in the league at preventing three point attempts—or Michigan treating their newfound deep shooting touch like a Faberge egg, the end result was a building that did not moan. Primed to believe long shots could actually go through the net, when Vogrich rose in the second half there was just anticipation.
Long may it last. It won't last. It might last. Basketball has been more into flowers lately.
*[Except of course if Novak had tried to do the same thing they would have called a block on him because referees hate Novak even more than opposing fans do.]
Bullets Will Drive Us Apart
As always, rely on MGoBlog for your super accurate predictions. In the preview I openly quailed at the prospect of Meyers Leonard going up against Michigan's undersized front line. At halftime I felt like the six-point lead was a missed opportunity that would bite Michigan in the ass after Leonard returned from the game-changing charge Matt Vogrich took on him for his second foul. Leonard's 7'1" frame sauntered onto the court and… scored one point in the second half. He had all of three FGAs, all of which IIRC were putback attempts (he had four offensive rebounds).
That's the game right there. I'm not sure how much of that was Michigan's doing and how much was Illinois drifting away from the early game plan (in short: "ALL OF THE LEONARDS") in favor of whatever it was they decided to do instead. It felt like Illinois didn't even bother looking inside much in the second half. When they did, doubles convinced Leonard to kick it out and active hands from Morgan and Smotrycz forced a number of turnovers. It's a tribute to someone on the coaching staff—maybe various someones—that this motely crew of iffy athletes and short guys finds itself an above-average Big Ten defense.
At least I was on point with the increased use of zone—plenty when Leonard was on the court—and the total uselessness of the backup center (zero points, two attempts both on offensive putbacks against McLimans in 14 minutes). Didn't see Tyler Griffey as the guy who would light up Michigan's sagging perimeter defense.
Player items. Hardaway, Vogrich, and Smotrycz are essentially covered above. All had efficient shooting days for a change; as a unit that put Michigan over the hump despite a 5 of 15 day from Trey Burke. It certainly didn't feel like a 5 of 15 day from Burke, but there it is.
Not much stands out from the boxscore except another game in which Michigan had the crap kicked out of it on the boards. Illinois rebounded 40% of its misses. Michigan is now significantly below average in both offensive (10th) and defensive (8th) rebounding. This is an obvious consequence of moving Douglass into the starting lineup after they cruised through the nonconference schedule seeming like a good to very good DREB team. Not that doing that was a bad idea.
The upside of that. Michigan got a ton of fast break and secondary transition points; in the second half when Illinois was crashing the boards hard anything that didn't end up getting rebounded by the trees fell to a shorter faster Michigan player and the resulting transition opportunity was often an odd-man break. I'd be interested to see a breakdown of Illinios points off of offensive rebounds versus points in transition when Michigan actually got the board. I'd guess it would be a small advantage to Illinois, but not one that outweighs the benefits of going small to Michigan's halfcourt offense.
Small sample size. Vogrich is 5/5 from three in his past two games. Result:
Prior to the Nebraska win, Vogrich was shooting 20.5 percent on the season. Now, after one solid week, he's up to 30.8 percent from downtown.
Big Ten… um… title? It is vaguely possible. Via UMHoops, the four contenders (I've taken the liberty of bolding games versus the top four):
|MICHIGAN ST. (9-3)||OHIO ST. (9-3)||MICHIGAN (9-4)||WISCONSIN (8-4)|
|vs. Wisconsin (8-4)||at Minnesota (5-7)||vs. OSU (9-3)||at MSU (9-3)|
|at Purdue (6-6)||at Michigan (9-4)||at N’Western (5-7)||vs. PSU (3-10)|
|at Minnesota (5-7)||vs. Illinois (5-7)||vs. Purdue (6-6)||at Iowa (5-7)|
|vs. Nebraska (3-10)||vs. Wisconsin (8-4)||at Illinois (5-7)||at OSU (9-3)|
|at Indiana (7-6)||at N’Western (5-7)||at PSU (3-10)||vs. Minnesota (5-7)|
|vs. OSU (9-3)||at MSU (9-3)||vs. Illinois (5-7)|
You'll note that Michigan is one of them and that their last game against the cream of the crop is their next one.
It will take either a huge closing run or a specific combination of results to get Michigan a banner; I'd say we can forget about it if Michigan loses against OSU. Unless OSU loses at Minnesota that would mean Michigan was two back with four games left.
If they managed the upset, though…
Illinois team practice. In games they headbutt each other and are eaten.
Weber watch. The vibe I get from the various Illini fans whose blogs I read or who I follow on twitter is extreme frustration with Bruce Weber. That makes sense after concentrating on Illinois's play. The Illini are like a pack of gazelles: breathtaking to watch run around but utterly incapable of passing the ball. Gazelles have hooves, and this fact explains things. Only two or three of the Illini have hooves. The rest of that is on Weber.
I mean, Brandon Paul should be an All-American. Instead he has a lower ORtg than literally every Michigan player with enough playing time for Kenpom to register save Vogrich. If they miss the tourney dollars to donuts Weber is having his hissy fits at home next year*. Because he won't have a job. I'm saying they'll fire him.
*[Seriously. Weber's fits might be worse than those of Bo Ryan and Tom Izzo. At least Ryan and Izzo seem to have a tangible effect on their teams. The only way Weber's message is getting through is if he's screaming "DRIBBLE AIMLESSLY AND THEN TURN THE BALL OVER." I mean:
Three of 22 pictures from the Detroit News gallery above feature Weber having a fit.]
Trillion watch. McLimans had a rare first-half trillion in four minutes.
Sold out? The game was technically sold out. Emphasis on "technically": large chunks of the upper-bowl endzones were empty the whole game. Who is buying those tickets and then ignoring them? I know they're not season tickets up there, so someone must be purchasing and then not using large chunks of the endzone upper decks. Strange.
Incredulous block/charge of the week. Brandon Paul's late first half clobberation of Trey Burke. Burke was set well outside the charge circle and Paul blew him up; this was an and-one instead of Paul's second. I haven't seen a replay but live it was a crazy call.
The only thing I can think might even vaguely justify the call is that Paul didn't hit Burke in the dead center of his chest. For some reason refs have a tendency to call blocks when a stationary defender takes an off-center or glancing blow from the offensive player. Why I don't know. In a situation like the Burke/Paul confrontation it seems like there are only two possible outcomes: a charge or a no-call. Referees disagree.
UMHoops recap. They went inside the play with some Jordan Morgan bunnies. The Crimson Quarry breaks down Indiana's deployment of the 2-3 zone. Michigan ran a lot of 2-3 in the second half yesterday and may resort to it at times down the stretch when they're at a significant size disadvantage (most of the time). Just Cover on the argument about 8-10 Big Ten teams making the tournament.
People are talking about seeding. A four, a five? There are distinct loci on the map of college basketball that Michigan now firmly occupies instead of the Purgatorial listlessness that once loomed over the program for over a decade. People are talking about Michigan's chances to win the conference title, regular season and tournament. That's not to say that Michigan will win either (the former hinges upon whether or not Michigan can beat the Buckeyes at home on Saturday), but people are talking about it. Think about how insane that is, as a concept and as a potential reality. A little over four years ago, Michigan was busy losing to an Amaker-coached Harvard squad, a moment in history that typifies the Universe's mischievous sense of humor.
It's worth noting that with Michigan's ninth win of the conference season they have permanently taken themselves off the bubble. For the first time since [REDACTED] Michigan's not going into Selection Sunday on pins an needles, even if they lose out. That was a preseason goal Michigan has met with authority.
St. Paul (MN) Cretin-Derham Hall ATH James Onwualu recently picked up a Michigan offer as the Wolverines joined Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Purdue, and Stanford among schools to extend him a scholarship. I interviewed Onwualu back in January, before receiving his offer, and recently got the chance to talk to him again now that his recruitment is quickly picking up steam. Onwualu told me prior to the interview that he planned on graduating early, so we discusses his accelerated timeline, new offers, and more:
ACE: You just got your Michigan offer recently. Who have you been talking to from Michigan and what was your reaction to getting the offer?
JAMES: I've mainly been talking to Coach Mattison, but also talking to Coach Hoke. Obviously that's a big offer for me, a big-time school. They're really making a lot of different changes and really coming up as a program. It's a huge offer for me. I was excited.
ACE: What's your impression of Michigan as a school and a football program?
JAMES: I think they're one of the best in the nation, personally. I think that their academics are extremely high, their business school ranks high, which means a lot to me. Also their alumni base ... is huge. Then I think everybody pretty much knows what their football traditions are, what they look to in every season.
ACE: You pulled in a few other offers recently. What other schools are showing interest in you now and how do the schools stack up in terms of your interest?
JAMES: I haven't really made a list of where I'm going to go yet, I haven't come up with a top ten list or anything. I'm just kind of pulling everything in. But Notre Dame continues to show a lot of interest, Stanford, Florida, Ohio State, Texas, a lot of big schools have been showing a lot of interest. I'm just keeping it open right now.
ACE: Do you have any plans in terms of taking visits to schools now that you've got offers coming in?
JAMES: Yeah. I'll definitely go up to Michigan. I haven't gone out there before so it'd be good to go out there. I'll probably go back down to Florida and go down to Stanford, possibly.
ACE: Coming from Cretin-Derham, that's a school that's obviously produced a lot of football talent. Do you ever talk to some of the guys who have gone D-I from there and got an impression of what going through the recruiting process is like?
JAMES: Yeah. Actually, [former Heisman winner] Chris Weinke is one of the guys who's kinda guided me through this whole thing, along with [former Notre Dame receiver] Mike Floyd, and also [Baltimore Ravens Pro-Bowl center] Matt Birk. Oh yeah, and also [Denver Broncos offensive tackle] Ryan Harris. Having people like that around me, it really helps being able to manage the schools and balance out what the coaches are actually saying and what I actually want in my future.
ACE: I know you did the Army All-American combine, but do you have any more plans for doing training or camps over the summer?
JAMES: Probably not. I train seven days a week with the best trainer in the nation, Ted Johnson. I don't really find the need to go to any more camps. I think that I can really start focusing in on what I want to do in college. I'm looking to be committed here so I'm going to be spending a lot of time with the school that I'm going to.
ACE: The last time I talked to you, you said you were looking to commit in the spring, and you mentioned the possibility of graduating early. Is that timeline still holding true right now for you?
JAMES: Yeah, as of right now, I think so. It may be pushed back a little bit into the summer, but as of right now, I think I'm going to get it done with and start focusing on what I have to do, like I said.
ACE: In terms of focusing, in terms of improving on the football field, what do you think are your strongest qualities on the football field as a player right now, and what are you looking to improve as you work towards the next level?
JAMES: I think the main thing I'm good at is really making a play after the catch. That's probably just because of my base in playing running back, being versatile all over the field. I really think that I'm going to start working on—there's so many different styles of play around the nation—just learning different styles of DBs and just getting more experience.
ACE: What position did Michigan offer you for? I know you're listed as an athlete. Do you know what position you'd play if you decided on Michigan?
JAMES: Well, as of right now, they just have me offered as an athlete. We haven't really talked position-wise. Since I've been talking to Mattison a lot of people assume I'm going to be playing safety or corner, but as of right now I don't really know.
ACE: Do you have a preference in terms of where you fit best on the field? Do you prefer offense or defense?
JAMES: I don't know, it could change. Next year I'm going to be all over. We've got a really good running back, [2014 RB] Blake Banham, who's going to be playing next year, so I'm not going to playing as much running back. We've also got a safety, [2014 S] Tim Gordon, so we're going to have to see, I might be playing corner and receiver.
ACE: Going away from the football field, what's one thing you want people to know about you that has nothing to do with football?
JAMES: That's a tough question. I'd say I like going and watching my friends play sports, like Cortez Tillman, I don't know if you've heard of him, but he plays basketball at my school, so I like going and watching him on the weekends.
Thanks to James for taking the time to do the interview. He made sure to tell me before we ended that I should be keeping an eye on his class of 2014 teammates—he sounds like a great guy to have alongside you on the team.
Warning, this post is meta-stat nerd.
What is Success Rate, and How Did It Come To Be?
The first question is pretty straightforward and the second I can only guess.
Success Rate is a measure is an attempt to measure how good a player or team is at the traditional concept of “staying ahead of the chains.” There are some slightly different calculations but for the most part a success is defined as at least 40-50% of yards to go on 1st down, at least 50-70% of yards to go on second down and first down achievement on third or fourth down. Typically the target is 50% success rate.
Although I doubt there is any recorded history on how this came to be (I believe its origin or at least its popularization comes from Football Outsiders) I have two theories. The first is that this is how football fans, players, and coaches have been conditioned to think, especially old school, grind-it-out football folks. You still hear it often among clichéd commentators: the offense’s number-one priority is to stay ahead of the chains, don’t put yourself in bad down and distance, stay away from obvious passing downs. All of these things are good things for a football to do.
The second reason I think it came to be is that advanced football stats came to be after advanced metrics for baseball had come a long ways. One of the key tenants of Moneyball/SABR revolution in baseball is that On Base Percentage >>> Batting Average. On top of that, one of the fundamental advanced baseball stats is OPS, On Base Percentage Plus Slugging Percent, a combination of Success and Magnitude. One paralleled by Football Outsiders* in their S&P metric.
*I want to be clear that this is not a critique of Football Outsiders. They do tremendous work and are at the forefront of advanced football analysis.
Why Football is Not Baseball
Good OBP is critical for baseball because you are dealing with a finite, irreplaceable resource, outs. You get 27 of them per game. Once you generate an out there is no way to get it back; you are 1 step closer to the end of your chance to score, and you only have 27 total steps per game. OBP measures a team or individual’s ability to forego outs when they come to the plate. Not getting out will always improve your chances of winning while getting an out will almost always decrease your odds of winning (this is not an article about the sacrifice bunt).
Contrast that with football, where the only finite resource is time. Even if the quarterback gets sacked and loses 10 yards, one play later the effect of that loss can be wiped out. In a sense a set of downs is finite, but not an individual set of downs. If there were a team correlation, first downs converted would be more appropriate and I don’t really see a true individual equivalent.
The Goal Is To Score Points
Consistently being in good down and distances is not a bad thing, but it’s not nearly as important for today’s offenses. Modern offenses have a much greater ability to convert unfriendly down and distances than offenses of old. Plus, the offense’s goal is to score points, not get first downs. Getting first downs obviously helps score points, but a metric like EV/PAN that directly accounts for how each play contributes to scoring is a much stronger measure, not just a complimentary stat like Slugging Percent. In baseball the complimentary stat is needed because of the finite nature of outs. In football, everything is a sliding scale and categorizing plays as pass-fail is simply too black and white for a sport that has more gray.
A couple of examples of how success rate can be misleading (first down gain, second down gain, third down gain):
4,3,2: This is a 67% success rate but is a three and out.
3,3,4: This is a 33% success rate but a first down, plus the first two plays are nearly identical but the first two downs of the first group are both successes and the second group are both failures. Over a large group of data some of these will iron themselves out, but why put such a black and white metric over something that is not. 2nd and 7 is almost the same as 2nd and 6, but 2nd and 1 is very different from 2nd and 6. Success rate completely misses the magnitude of plays.
This is why for football, an Expected Value model is much more valuable. With an enough data, you can get a pretty good description of the expected points based on all down, distance and yardline combinations. Once you have this you can evaluate the shades of gray for each play. A three yard carry on first and ten is nearly as good as a four yard one. A nine yard carry is even better. Expected Value can quantify the subtle and substantial differences between plays. The value difference between first and ten and the twenty and first and ten at the thirty will be the same whether it was one ten yard play or three runs totaling ten yards, although the value per play will justifiably be better. Success rates can vary wildly based on how you get from point A to point B, EV only carries where you start and where you finish.
What is Success Rate Good For?
It is an interesting stat and isn’t totally without value, I just think that it is unnecessary and shouldn’t be a fundamental part of team evaluation. There are lots of stats that fit this characterization. For a lot of teams it’s how they mentally operate, especially in the running game. Success rate does a good job evaluating running backs in traditional ground games. It might not totally align with scoring points and winning games, but it does align well with accomplishing a team's offensive objectives. Running backs often get tightly bunched near the mean in an EV model but success rate can be a way to further separate individual backs. Success rate will hold up between the tackle pounders but knock down the home run threat. EV may consider them the same (or more likely the home run threat will be higher) but the consistency of the old school back will be valued better by success rates.
I don’t think success rate has much value for the passing game. Completion percentage and YPA are more than adequate to indicate both explosiveness and consistency.
Coming Next: The Wisconsin Case Study and Optimal Offense and Defense Response
The underlying context of “ignore success rates” is that the traditional running game is overrated. If your main goal as an offense is to avoid bad third downs, and you are good at it, you will likely end up with a lot of third and short or third and manageable. Even if you they are all “good” third downs, each third down is a chance for the defense to take the field. We all remember the classic drives with multiple third down conversions, but we forget all the ones that could jump the odds and failed after giving the defense one too many chances to get off of the field. Explosive plays are essential to a productive modern offense and unless you are running a Chip Kelly or RichRod style ground attack, explosive plays are much more likely through the air than on the ground.
Next week I will follow up with a detailed look on the relative values of Russell Wilson and Montee Ball to Wisconsin’s 2011 offense. Ball had the TDs and the hype and Wilson was considered a quality second option. I’ll dig deep into the numbers and show why Wilson was the real threat of the Wisconsin offense.
Following that, I’ll have the final article in this series looking at how offenses (and maybe moreso defenses) can effectively maximize their expected points for and against through a better perspective on managing offensive output versus managing each down’s success or failure.