landing spot. will be interesting to see how he does.
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Even with McCaffery behind him and plenty ahead, we're still seeing Brandon Peters in our futures. After a shirt. [Upchurch]
Who redshirts from the 2016 class? Which of those has the biggest impact down the road?*
Ace: Michigan is finally in a position where they can default to redshirting freshmen unless they’re too talented not to see the field (Rashan Gary), happen to fit at one of the couple positions in serious need of depth (Devin Bush), or auditioning for a starting job next year (David Long, LaVert Hill). As such, the list of players I expect to redshirt is long, especially on offense.
OFFENSE: QB Brandon Peters, RB Kingston Davis, RB/SLOT Chris Evans, WR Brad Hawkins, WR Eddie McDoom, TE Nick Eubanks, TE Sean McKeon, OL Ben Bredeson, OL Mike Onwenu, OL Stephen Spanellis, K Quinn Nordin
DEFENSE: DT Michael Dwumfour, DE Carlo Kemp, DE Ron Johnson, DE Josh Uche, LB Devin Gil, S Josh Metellus
A few of those guys might end up seeing spot snaps or special teams duty, and I guessed a bit with the receivers; Dylan Crawford, Nate Johnson, and Ahmir Mitchell aren’t locks to play, either, but it’s probably safe to assume the coaches won’t keep all six receiver-types in the same class. Even Devin Asiasi, who’d see the field right away under normal circumstances, might sit a year given TJ Wheatley’s emergence and the overall depth at tight end.
As for which redshirting freshman I expect to have the biggest impact, those who listen to the podcast probably won’t be surprised that I’m going with Brandon Peters, even with a few really talented linemen on this list. Peters was lights-out as a senior and is an ideal fit in Harbaugh’s offense. Even with Dylan McCaffrey coming in a year behind him, I have a really difficult time not seeing Peters as a very successful multi-year starter.
[After THE JUMP we tweak Ace's answer]
Seth: I'd like to see them get Ahmir Mitchell a redshirt; he may be in the running right now by default but he's pretty raw at receiver. Extending his timetable also would dramatically increase the payoff for the kind of time investment it would take to make him a free safety. Harbaugh isn't averse to 3-wide sets but Michigan will have fewer snaps for WR types than all but a handful of triple-option offenses. Single-wide sets will be as common as Perry's appearances, and they need only two of the freshmen to play to go seven deep.
|I wanted to play early too, son, and I walked in here looking a lot more polished (and a lot more middle-aged) than you. Let me tell you if I could go back and do it all over again I'd rather start in 2017. [Fuller]|
Peters is justly off the board but the most important guy we won't see this year (probably) is Bredeson. Michigan graduates most of the Hoke guys who've seen a snap this year, and early returns on the rest have been dodgy, especially at tackle. If Bredeson is pretty good, the path is clear for him to be a four-year starter at RT.
Brian: I more or less agree with Ace's list of redshirts, give or take a wide receiver. If Hawkins or Evans ends up in the secondary they instantly become much more likely to play this year.
There's also been enough chatter about the early-enrolled McKeon to assume he'll get some scattered snaps.
And Metellus will probably play just because Michigan needs safeties badly next year.
Assuming the latter two play but the WR redshirts are correct, my guy is Joshua Uche. Uche was just named co-sleeper of the year and the other guy isn't on Ace's redshirt list; he's a tremendous fit as a blitz-mad LB under a guy who covets blitz-mad LBs. It is highly likely he emerges into a major role next year if and when Peppers heads to the draft; no offense to the linebackers on the roster but I have a hard time seeing Brown pick one of them at SAM when he's got a premium edge rusher available.
I expect Uche to have a Jake Ryan kind of career, hopefully minus the shift to MLB late.
David: I also agree with Ace, for the most part. On offense, I unfortunately would not be surprised to see Bredeson play some. While he does not have the frame that Newsome has, it seems that Harbaugh will throw guys out there in certain packages and see what happens. Plus, he's the most college-ready of the three OL and probably the most versatile. I think Bredeson could be the 2016 candidate for "Ugh, Why No Redshirt?!" Perhaps, that will be an upcoming TWO. The rest of Ace's list should be correct. It would be nice to possibly save a year with another WR or Asiasi, but I don't think Harbaugh is going to keep all of his new toys off of the field.
|Running backs don't typically wait. [Upchurch]|
On Defense, Bush, Long, and Hill are shoe-ins to play. Hudson is almost certain to get snaps, as well. EMB could get a shot if the line-backing goes worse than expected. After that, no one else seems ready or needed. Brian says Metellus and I suppose there is a case for that...hopefully not just downing kicks, if so. Obviously, Rashan Gary will not redshirt.
Biggest impact because of a redshirt? Let's go with Michael Onwenu. That man might actually be a real beast. I have never seen a dude of that size move the way that he does. There was a clip of him playing left tackle, sealing the end, and then caving him into the rest of the line like a bulldozer...and he is not even a true left tackle! He will obviously need some weight training and technique-sharpening, but the potential is certainly there. I think Onwenu's ceiling is crazy high, and if he comes close to hitting it, he could single-handedly cause more people to watch line play in football because they'll be scared of missing him consume a defender.
Adam: Here's my redshirt "hot" take: Asiasi won't get one. Jay Harbaugh has brought up Michigan's use of a four-tight-end set in a non-goal-line situation multiple times, which is indicative of the ample opportunity for guys in that position group to see the field; there's also a bevy of pretty large, pretty fast dudes vying for those opportunities. I think Devin Asiasi's too talented to not be utilized in 2016, especially since his size and recruiting profile seem to indicate that he's a blocky catchy type who should be more advanced at the blocky part than most young players. Otherwise, I think we've plowed the "who will redshirt" ground thoroughly.
As for who's going to benefit most from not playing in 2016, I'm going with Nick Eubanks. He's pretty Devin Funchess-y right now: tall, lean, athletic, dozens of pounds from holding up at the point of attack. Eubanks' senior highlight tape starts not with a long touchdown catch or one-handed grab but a leveling of an unblocked DE opposite where he lined up and, two plays later, him ripping a DB to the ground in the red zone; he's already a quality receiver, and his penchant for blocking should help turn him into a very productive H-back if he's able to put some weight on during his year as an understudy.
Seth: So some kind of consensus:
Playing immediately: Gary, Walker, Bush, Long, Hill
Probably no shirt for depth: Walker, two or three out of Crawford, N.Johnson, Mitchell, McDoom (in that order), Metellus
Might have to burn: Asiasi or McKeon, EMB
Probably redshirt: Peters, Evans, Davis, Eubanks, Spanellis, Onwenu, Dwumfour, R.Johnson, Uche, Kemp, Gil, Hawkins, Hudson, Nordin
[Bryan Fuller. All the photos in here are. Also Fuller stayed on us 24/7 to get this out.]
A Fast Start That Felt Slow. Michigan softball came into the 2016 season riding a tremendous wave of momentum from their phenomenal 2015 performance that saw them fall just one game short of reaching the sport’s highest glory. The newfound momentum was a mixed blessing however, as it brought with it raised expectations and the pressure that comes hand in hand with success. The 2015 team was able to play free and have fun at every stage, in large part because they were supposed to be good, but not that kind of good. Their record-shattering performances were as much of a surprise to the players as to the fans, and we all went on the crazy ride together. In 2016, by contrast, Michigan came in bearing all the pressure that comes with a #2 pre-season ranking.
Even with all the pressure, if you focus on the win/loss column, Michigan blazed through the non-conference schedule with scarcely a bump in the road. Losses to #1 Florida and to then-top-ten Washington (now #13) are simply things that happen, while the Wolverines piled up plenty of signature Ws, including a pair at the home turf of a now-top-ten Florida State squad and a 16-9 slugfest triumph over Oklahoma that doubled as a Romero-family grudge match. An 8-6 thriller on the home turf of UCLA, the ultimate softball blue-blood, and a merciless 13-0 blasting of Missouri rounded out Michigan’s marquee victories.
Despite the glittering 22-2 record and persistent #2 national ranking, the mood in the softball fanbase was tending towards the restless side. The offense was effective, but had not been able to recapture the free-wheeling, long-bombing swagger of 2015’s “Year of the Pizza” unit. Meanwhile, injuries and official “points of emphasis” combined to hamper Michigan’s top two pitchers. Unquestioned ace Megan Betsa has always been queen of the rise ball, but a renewed emphasis on calling high-rise balls sent her walks through the roof early on, while Sara Driesenga took some time to get back up to speed after missing almost all of 2015 due to injury. Even more concerning was the fact that the loss to Florida was not just a loss, but an 8-0 5 inning mercy-rule shellacking that left many Wolverine fans questioning whether the Maize & Blue would ever be able to challenge the Gators’ national dominance. Worries persisted even into the early stages of the Big Ten season, as the Wolverines opened Big Ten play with a dismal defensive performance, dropping a 13-12 contest to a solid but unremarkable Northwestern squad.
In addition to the quantifiable problems, there was an intangible sense that the 2016 team hadn’t really come together quite yet. Hutch talked in interviews about how the team wasn’t responding well at the beginning of spring practice, and only locked in over time. The pizza-making passion of 2015 had not yet been replaced by any new charming quirks or wacky antics. Even many of the wins felt simply dutiful, rather than joyful. A 3-1 W over a mediocre Virginia Tech team or a 1-0 squeaker over an Illinois State team that would go on to post a losing record in the Missouri Valley Conference felt more ho-hum than hail, hail. The team was still a strong favorites to win the Big Ten and even to retain a super-regional (top-8) seed, but there was a clear need for something more.
[Hit THE JUMP for The Team The Team The Team, The Enemy, The Enemy, The Enemy, and The Hutch The Hutch The Hutch.]
Hutch Stands Alone
The wins piled up, however, one way or another. As important as the numbers were to Michigan’s 2016 fortunes, a grander milestone also crept closer and closer. Head coach Carol Hutchins has led the Michigan softball program since 1985 and racked up more than her fair share of victories over her 30+ seasons in Ann Arbor. Coming into the 2016, only the legendary Margie Wright had more career wins than Hutch, but as Big Ten season got underway, Michigan’s own legend was creeping steadily closer to Wright’s mark. The second weekend of conference play saw Michigan head to Bloomington, Indiana for a three-game set with the Hoosiers with Hutch needing only two wins to set a new all-time record.
The middling Indiana squad has often been a sacrificial lamb on the altar of Michigan’s Big Ten ambitions, but this year they would be blasted on the altar of softball immortality. On April Fool’s Day, the Hoosiers gave way to the Wolverines to the tune of an 11-5 trouncing, setting up a Saturday date with destiny. The Wolverines did not disappoint, dismantling IU in an efficient 5 inning, 8-0 run-rule affair. With a staggering 1,458 career wins, all but a handful of which have come wearing Maize & Blue, Carol Hutchins finally stood alone atop the mountain of softball greats.
Hutch’s praises have been sung far & wide by fans, reporters, fellow coaches, and above all her former players, and there is little that I can add to that chorus. All that I can say for my part is that if you want to know about the character of Carol Hutchins, all you need to look at is what she had to say upon achieving this milestone. The woman who came to Michigan as a combination head coach/groundskeeper/athletic department secretary and, by sheer force of personal will, fashioned a national powerhouse in the unlikeliest of locales only wanted to talk about everyone else. Hutch immediately turned all the credit for her incredible achievement over to her players and assistant coaches. If anyone still wonders why California girls jump at the chance to brave the Michigan winter to play for Hutchins, you’ve got your answer right there.
Heating Up and Having Fun Again
Michigan had no chance to rest on the laurels of an all-time record, however, as they found themselves in the middle of a heated race for the Big Ten regular season championship with challenger Minnesota. The vagaries of Big Ten scheduling meant that neither team would see the other in league play, making the margin for error virtually nil on either side. After a loss in Lincoln, Nebraska, Michigan found themselves a game back of Minnesota, with no margin for any more slip-ups.
Fortunately, Michigan did not need any margin, as they bounced back immediately, taking the next two games from the Huskers, and avoiding a potential mid-week trap game, winning 3-0 over MSU on the road the following Wednesday. Just as importantly, the Golden Gophers were not able to dodge their trap, inexplicably dropping both games of a home double-header to thoroughly mediocre Wisconsin. Just like that, Michigan’s destiny was back in their own hands, with conference leaders Ohio State coming to town. Playing in front of sell-out crowds, Michigan emphatically put the Buckeyes in their place, sweeping the series and out-scoring the visitors 18-4 on the weekend.
From that point on, there would be no looking back. Keeping a firm grip on their narrow 1-game lead in the conference standings, Michigan embarked on a carpet-bombing campaign against their remaining Big Ten opponents. Following the OSU series, only two more Michigan games would last 7 innings for the rest of the regular season (a 4-2 victory in Happy Valley and a 5-2 mid-week win over Central Michigan). Michigan piled up 9 run-rule wins over the course of 11 games (8 of which were of the 5-inning variety), outscoring their opponents a staggering 103 to 10 during that stretch and securing their ninth consecutive Big Ten regular season championship, this one of the undisputed variety.
During this same stretch, Michigan found whatever it was that had been lacking in the early going. Betsa’s injury concerns faded away, and significant improvement to her drop ball helped offset the rule changes that hamstrung her early on, leading to a pile of double-digit strikeout games and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors. Early on in the season, the Michigan offense was effective, but too reliant on stars hitting high in the order. As conference play rolled along and the weather warmed up, the bats started to heat up as well. By the end of the regular season, virtually the entire Michigan line-up was hitting over .300 for the year. The fun was back as well, with dabs for doubles on the field and sold-out crowds packing the Alumni Field bleachers week in and week out. While the Big Ten tournament ended with a bit of a thud in the form of a 4-3 extra-innings loss to a solid Minnesota team, Michigan’s momentum remains strong. Any SEC, Big-12, or Pac-12 fans hoping that Michigan would come into the NCAA tournament still carrying the weight of 2015 on their shoulders are in for a rude awakening. This team has their identity, their ace, and their bats. They’re ready to take on the world.
Players to Watch
Michigan brings a true murderer’s row to the plate this season. The offense is 2nd nationally in batting average, and 1st in on-base percentage and runs per game. For the casual fan, here are two offensive players to keep your eyes on, and one pitcher.
Michigan’s offense is headlined by senior Sierra Romero, or “Romo” to her teammates. Her personal trophy case is packed with Big Ten & national awards, and she holds two all-time NCAA records (grand slams & runs scored). She is one of the most dynamic players ever to take the field not only for Michigan, but in the history of the sport of softball. As her grand slam record & eye-catching home run totals testify, she can hit for power with the best in the game. At the same time, she’s a fantastic singles hitter as well, as indicated by her .472 batting average. Even better, her plate discipline is off the charts, rarely striking out and reaching base nearly 60% of the time she steps to the plate. If you are new to softball & tuning in for the post-season, make sure your eyes are glued to the screen whenever she’s in the batter’s box. These are some of our final chances to see a truly special Wolverine ply her trade.
Sometimes referred to as “the other Sierra”, Sierra Lawrence or “Silo” is nobody’s second fiddle. While she doesn’t get quite the acclaim Romero garners, she has been a star for all four of her years in the Maize & Blue, and is having arguably her finest season in her last go-round. Lawrence is almost invariably Michigan’s lead-off hitter, and sets the table for the power hitters with regularity, reaching base well over 50% of the time. Her offensive numbers are nearly all just a tick below Romero’s on the season, with one notable exception – she is a flawless 20 for 20 in stolen bases. Her steals don’t all come at 2nd base, either. Fast & highly intelligent, Lawrence is a holy terror on the base paths. Especially if she & Romero are both aboard, be on the lookout for double-steals & all manner of other games.
While fifth-year senior Sara Driesenga has been a vital steadying force, and will almost certainly see some postseason action, the ace of the staff is without a doubt Megan Betsa. Betsa has significant tournament experience, but has yet to really excel at this level. Nevertheless, she locked down a well-deserved second straight Big Ten Pitcher of the Year award this year, and is surely chomping at the bit to get back out on the field. Betsa is a straight-up strike-out merchant, leading the nation with 11.5 Ks per 7-innings. Michigan’s bid for national glory may well hinge upon their ace’s performance, so keep a close eye on the junior righty. If the Ks start piling up, Michigan might be ready to make a deep run.
The Rest of the Line-Up
When the tournament bracket was announced, most Michigan fans were fairly pleased with the draw that the Wolverines got. There are challenges in every region, but this one seems navigable, especially given the double-elimination format that allows room for an off game (a fail-safe Michigan very much hopes not to invoke any time soon!). To conclude this preview, then, let’s take a look at the opposition Michigan will face in the Ann Arbor regional.
|Friday, May 20|
|Game 1||#2 seed Notre Dame vs. #3 seed Miami (Ohio), 4:30 p.m.||BTN/BTN2Go|
|Game 2||#1 seed Michigan vs. #4 seed ValpFriday, May 20||BTN/BTN2Go|
|Game 1||#2 seed Notre Dame vs. #3 seed Miami (Ohio), 4:30 p.m.||BTN/BTN2Go|
|Game 2||#1 seed Michigan vs. #4 seed Valparaiso, 7 p.m.||BTN/BTN2Go|
|Saturday, May 21|
|Game 3||Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, Noon||BTN2Go (BTN TBD)|
|Game 4||Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 2:30 p.m.||BTN2Go (BTN TBD)|
|Game 5||Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m.||BTN2Go (BTN TBD)|
|Sunday, May 22|
|Game 6||Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 2 p.m.||BTN/BTN2Go|
|Game 7 (if necessary)||Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 4:30 p.m.||BTN/BTN2Go|
|Saturday, May 21|
|Game 3||Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, Noon||BTN2Go (BTN TBD)|
|Game 4||Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 2:30 p.m.||BTN2Go (BTN TBD)|
|Game 5||Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m.||BTN2Go (BTN TBD)|
|Sunday, May 22|
|Game 6||Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 2 p.m.||BTN/BTN2Go|
|Game 7 (if necessary)||Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser, 4:30 p.m.||BTN/BTN2Go|
Michigan’s first opponent, the Crusaders represent one of the stranger entries in the 2016 NCAA softball tournament. They come in on an odd sort of hot streak, having won 4 straight to clinch the Horizon League Championship & the attendant automatic bid. At the same time, they have nothing remotely resembling a signature win on their résumé. Even worse, they lost their first 11 games of the season before finally squeaking out a 2-run win over the Blue Hose of Presbyterian College. With an 18-32 season record, Valparaiso may well be the worst team in the field of 64.
The impression given by their record is confirmed by a glance at the statistics. Despite playing an extremely soft schedule, only two players on the entire roster are hitting over .300. Carly Trepanier and Taylor Nadler look to be the Crusaders’ best hitters & most reliable at reaching base. Sam Stewart, meanwhile, leads the team in home runs and seems to be the biggest threat to go deep. On defense, Taylor Weissenhofer is the closest thing Valpo has to an ace, but with an ERA over 4 and an uninspiring K/BB ratio, that designation seems largely technical. The rest of the pitching staff is simply dismal, with the other three hurlers having ERAs close to or above 6, and more likely to issue a walk than a strike-out. Nothing is set in stone until the games are played, but a loss to this squad would be a massive disappointment and a serious warning sign in terms of Michigan’s high ambitions.
By far the biggest threat Michigan faces in the regional, Notre Dame is in Ann Arbor more for travel reasons than strict seeding. The Irish are firmly entrenched in the top-25, bearing a number of quality wins, most notably a 5-4 home victory over #8 national seed Florida State (they also lost to FSU twice, 14-5 that same day and 7-3 in the ACC Final). They have very few shady losses, with road slip-ups against Syracuse & NC State (two Ls to each) being the only major black marks on their record.
On offense, ND presents a deep, balanced line-up. 8 hitters are over .300 on the year, with sisters Karley & Ali Wester headlining the show with averages well over .400. Karley especially is found of swiping bases, with a very impressive 42 thefts on the season. With Michigan’s catcher situation being a bit of a sore spot this year, the Westers could be a danger on the base paths. Caitlyn Brooks and Micaela Arizmendi provide the power for ND, and the two are near carbon copies of each other. No other Domers are close to their team leading 11 & 10 HRs on the season, though. There won’t be any no-hitters against this team, but if Michigan can scatter the hits & avoid bringing Brooks & Arizmendia to the plate with runners aboard, the damage can be controlled.
In the circle, ND rotates pitchers frequently. Allie Rhodes is the most frequent starter, followed by Rachel Nasland, but neither has thrown many complete games – Katie Beriont, meanwhile, appears frequently in a relieving capacity while almost never starting, a relative rarity in college softball. All three have solid numbers, but none leap off the page. Rhodes is the most overpowering pitcher, leading the team in Ks by a wide margin. Expect the Irish to try to keep Michigan’s hitters off balance by switching their pitchers in & out. If they can keep the Wolverines from locking in on any one of the trio, they could make things interesting. Over the course of the weekend, though, it seems likely that Michigan’s mighty bats will figure something out.
Finally, the Miami Redhawks will also be making the trip to Ann Arbor. There is a fairly strong chance that Michigan will never see the MAC champions given the format, but the possibility is out there. Miami played about the sort of schedule you might expect a MAC team to play, and faired reasonably well, going 34-21 overall. The only thing remotely resembling a quality win on the record, however, is a late-February victory over a mediocre Maryland team.
Like Valparaiso, not many of Miami’s hitters have impressive average or OBP numbers. They do have a few boppers, though, with 5 players hitting 7 or more HRs on the year. Michaela Schlattman and Taylor Shuey are the biggest threats, leading the team in batting and long balls. If Michigan does face Miami, it might be a good opportunity to give Betsa a rest and put Driesenga in the circle, as she is a bit less prone to giving up homers, and should be able to limit Miami even without a pile of strike-outs. In the circle, Amber Logemann gets the lion’s share of innings for the Redhawks and has a respectable 2.40 ERA. She has a strong preference for the strike-out, but like many strike-out merchants, is also prone to conceding home runs. Against Michigan’s battery, that might prove her undoing.
Notre Dame should provide a challenge, but this regional sets up well for Michigan, deservedly so given their #2 national seed. An upset loss might beckon if the Wolverines don’t bring their A game, but failing to advance to the super-regionals would be a major shock. If you haven’t grabbed tickets yet, good luck scrounging some up! The entire weekend sold out in a matter of hours, and for good reason. We’re at the business end of the season, and everyone, from players to coaches to fans, has been waiting nearly 12 months for the opportunity.
When Beilein was hired about a decade ago, he had the reputation of being able to attract European recruits – after the Robin Benzing situation fell through early on in his tenure, that reputation sort of faded. I guess those connections never really went away, because Beilein recently pursued another German big man and this time, Moritz Wagner cleared all the hurdles on the path to becoming a Wolverine. Even though he’d actually seen the floor in an exhibition against the then-defending champion San Antonio Spurs, Wagner spent most of his time with the Alba Berlin B team, playing against more age-appropriate opponents. Predicting how well he’d adjust to the increased level of athleticism and physicality in college basketball was a fool’s errand, but it was clear from watching his film that Wagner had an unusual combination of size, handle, and fluidity and that he could potentially grow into an impact player at the college level in time.
Even though a player with his profile (essentially a wing transitioning to being a post player, a la DJ Wilson) would typically redshirt, Wagner did not; whether it was because he’s a Euro prospect – who are far likelier to leave college early than their American counterparts – or because the coaching staff thought he could contribute valuable minutes, I’m not sure, but either way, Wagner saw the floor last year. In the fifth game of the season, Moritz dominated a weak Charlotte team to the tune of 19 points on just 9 shot equivalents in 16 minutes(!) of playing time. He followed that up with 41 combined minutes in Michigan’s next two games (both against high-major opponents) and at the time, it seemed as if he was quickly becoming the Wolverines’ best option at the five.
It didn’t work out that way. Even before Mark Donnal emerged as a feasible starter with starter minutes, Wagner’s minutes evaporated: on the floor, he was turnover-prone (a casualty of his playmaking instincts, but an issue nonetheless), couldn’t avoid getting himself into foul trouble (7.3 fouls per 40 minutes on the year) and particularly struggled with defending and rebounding. A quote from a Brendan Quinn piece after his early-season breakout is instructive: "I've never been a natural rebounder, I guess. I think it (takes) a lot of experience to know when to watch the ball, how to box out your opponent and how to be in the right place. I think it comes with time." Once Big Ten play rolled around, Wagner became an afterthought in Beilein’s rotation, only totaling 55 minutes over 18 games.
[Hit the JUMP for more on Moritz]
Fortunately for Wagner (and for Michigan), his season didn’t end there. In the post-season, he came off the bench to make a big impact in the Indiana and Tulsa games, both must-win affairs that came down to the final possessions. In the Indiana game, he outplayed the Hoosiers’ star freshman big Thomas Bryant head-to-head and was kept on the floor during crunch time – before the Kam Chatman game winner, Wagner set the screen that freed up Derrick Walton. The 16 minutes he played were the most he’d gotten since a December cupcake game, and he made the most of them. Unsurprisingly, the game the following day against Purdue was more of a struggle, as their size, strength, and physicality seemed to bother Moritz.
It was the Tulsa game in the First Four where Wagner really shined. Against an undersized Golden Hurricane frontcourt, he put together a very solid stat line: only four points (but no missed shots), eight rebounds (three offensive) and four blocks, to go along with a steal and an assist. Moritz had shown that he understood the defensive principle of verticality, but hadn’t demonstrated that he could be an impactful rim-protector – and he was just that against Tulsa. Adding in his screening ability and the extra possessions generated by offensive rebounding, he has considerable on-court value – even without scoring. Against Notre Dame, he scored six points in eight minutes, but totaled four fouls, including a crucial charge call on a would-be and-one that gave him his fourth. It was clear that he was a better option than Donnal in that game, but foul trouble prevented him from staying on the floor and Michigan’s season ended.
The flashes he showed near the end of the year were enough to give Michigan fans a healthy dose of optimism heading into next year. For example, Ace considered Moritz’s late-season breakout to be one of the season’s biggest bright spots:
Weezy, Freed. Save a few anomalous performances by Mark Donnal, the center position was a major sore spot this season, but there's renewed hope for next year after the late-season breakout of Moe Wagner.
Over the last four games of the season, Wagner went 9/9 from the field—including a three-pointer—with six offensive rebounds and four blocks in only 55 minutes. He was far and away Michigan's best pick-and-roll big, catching opponents square with his screens—he freed up Derrick Walton on the last play of the Indiana BTT game, forcing the help that opened up Kam Chatman in the corner—and showing great instincts for when to slip to the basket; it helped that he was a more reliable catcher and finisher than Donnal or Ricky Doyle, too. Despite being a skinny freshman, he showed he can hold up in the post on defense and potentially be a sorely needed rim protector.
Wagner's potential is tantalizing. At 6'10", he's got the frame to easily add 15-25 pounds and return next season in the 240-250 range. He dunks when Michigan's other big men go for layups. He has the athleticism and length to alter shots, run the floor, and even beat big men off the dribble. He made 71%(!) of his two-pointers as a freshman. If he can stay on the floor—a big question given his 7.3 fouls/40 minutes mark—he could turn the center spot from a negative into a positive in just one season.
Moritz’s potential is pretty evident while watching him play, and if there’s a possible “x-factor” for next year, it’s the German big man who’s kind of still learning how to be a big man. Hopefully his first full offseason in the United States will provide him with more experience, because his skills and playmaking ability were readily apparent even when he was struggling with some of the more rudimentary parts of playing center in the Big Ten. Beilein’s only truly dynamic big man thus far at Michigan was Mitch McGary, but it’s really, really hard not to get excited about the possibility of Moritz becoming a similarly impactful player in time – of course, he won’t be able to replicate McGary’s ability to gobble up rebounds, but he’s already made a few threes and offers a different type of skill-set than Mitch did.
With lingering questions about Michigan’s ceiling as a team with Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin leading the way, a breakout sophomore campaign from Wagner could be the solution – Michigan’s big man play has oscillated between terrible and adequate over the last two seasons and the big German has the ability to inject some life into the center position for Michigan.
it’s back [Bryan Fuller]
Single digits. Via the twitters,various numbers for incoming freshman are now known. The most significant development for Michigan numerologists: Crawford and EMB are both getting the #1. This is good; the number had gotten too bound up in its history to actually get used most of the time. I’m willing to give it to a guy who isn’t AC yet just to get it out of mothballs. Issuing it to a defender too is an interesting twist, especially a linebacker.
Other numbers: Devin Asiasi and Lavert Hill are both #2—no pressure, Lavert—and Rashan Gary will retain his #3 from high school—no pressure, #3.
[UPDATE: Seth relates that some of these numbers are just sticky notes, not plates, and that those are not official. Never mind some of this, then.]
Goodbye, ESPN. The last guy left in Bristol who can call college football is Joe Tessitore. All games this fall will be called by him or the army of Pam Ward clones currently being decanted in the basement:
- Mike Tirico left for NBC,which caused the accursed NFL to yoink Sean McDonough for Monday Night Football.
- McDonough’s broadcast partner Chris Spielman left for FOX, where he, too, will call f-ing NFL games.
- There are plenty of rumors that Brad Nessler is leaving for CBS, which seem to be backed by the fact that Tessitore got promoted to Saturday nights.
- Brent Musberger is still in SEC Network purgatory.
Tessitore is fine, and Fowler is fine. It sucks to lose McDonough, Spielman, and Nessler, all of whom are great.
Not that it matters so much to the Big Ten. They must have had a teleconference, because various reporters are now quoting ADs and Delany about the second half of the Big Ten’s rights package. Is the following real or posturing for a better deal from suddenly-miserly ESPN?
“No one has amnesia about the relationship we have had with ESPN. John Skipper and that group, they have been a wonderful partner. But we’re at a different place and I think they’re at a different place in 2016 than we were in the last round (of negotiations). That doesn’t mean we can’t get to the altar together and get married again. But we’re at the dating stage right now. And that’s a process.”
Whenever this comes up you hear that coaches are loathe to not have a relationship with the gorilla in the sports media ecosystem…
“I believe the Big Ten schools are, at a certain point, going to demand from their leadership, ‘We have to be on ESPN, for recruiting and for publicity. We can’t give that partnership up, it’s too valuable for us in in terms of our conference competing against other conferences for high school players,’” Deitsch said on his podcast. “I’m going to bet, in the end, there’s a deal there.”
…but I’ll believe a college athletics conglomerate is willing to leave money on the table when I see it.
Departing ESPN wholesale for (probably) FOX would be interesting. Right now the Big Ten gets a ton of viewership—would that move tank it? Or would the prospect of having an army of Pam Ward clones do every game at ESPN do so?
On that Tunsil lawsuit. Tunsil’s stepfather is on the stepfather is on the warpath:
Miller met with an NCAA investigator in July and told him about other possible improprieties he had witnessed dating back to Tunsil’s high school recruitment, when Tunsil turned down Nick Saban at Alabama and Mark Richt at Georgia to sign with Hugh Freeze at Mississippi.
Miller claims Tunsil’s academic records were altered. He said Polingo used to receive Western Union deliveries of money from Barney Farrar, Ole Miss assistant athletic director for high school and junior college relations. An apparent reference to Farrar was made in the year-old text messages on draft night; when Tunsil asked the Ole Miss administrator for money, he responds, “See Barney next week.” Farrar has denied giving money to or being asked for money by Tunsil, Ole Miss is investigating and Farese predicts it will turn out to be “much ado about nothing.”
Some of that has already been accounted for in the allegations the NCAA has investigated. This lawsuit promises to uncover further things, because it looks like Ole Miss got caught giving him a bunch of different piddly stuff:
The NCAA said Tunsil was not initially honest but that five rules violations were confirmed: Tunsil improperly used three loaner cars without paying during a six-month period; received two nights’ lodging at a local home; accepted a free airline ticket; used a rental car for one day for free, and received an interest-free four-month loan to make a $3,000 down payment on a used car.
That’s not a one time thing, that is five different incidents of giving the guy cash, directly or not, and looks like the tip of the iceberg. What are the chances that this pattern is not repeated with other players? What are the chances that these are the only five things Tunsil was provided? Zero and zero.
Old school items. Via Dr. Sap:
I don’t know why people suspected Caris was soft. He has a broken foot:
LeVert revealed here this week that his injury -- the nature of which was kept under wraps during the season -- is a Jones fracture to the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. The injury, he said, is similar to the one he suffered earlier in his career.
He hoped the fracture would heal on its own, but when that process was slow-going, he opted instead to have surgery after the season by Dr. Martin O'Malley.
LeVert was still on crutches this week in Chicago, and said he will need to wear a boot on his left foot for another four weeks. That means he won't be doing any predraft workouts with teams.
The idea that Levert would try to avoid playing time this year was always goofy. Nobody wants to enter the NBA draft after two years mostly lost to injury. Even if he was only thinking of his draft stock, he would have played if at all possible. But rabblers gonna rabble.
Inevitable comparison. Beilein is going to go there with Xavier Simpson. He’s going with Trey Burke:
"I do," Michigan coach John Beilein was saying recently, asked if he sees significant comparisons between the two, other than they're both from Ohio.
"I see the dog in him, and I mean that in a positive. He goes out there and guards people and plays and he's a high competitor.
"This guy might be a guy that comes in the door with those competitive instincts."
A step towards sanity. The Big Ten will start using campus sites for hockey playoffs once ND joins, with a single week of best two-of-three games before a single elimination final four at an as of yet undisclosed location that I hope is the league winner’s home ice. The winner gets a bye, you see, and it would be weird if their reward was not playing any games at home.
John Gasaway compiles a list of the top shooting performances in the Kenpom era that surprisingly does not include a Stauskas or Burke team; it does include last year’s MSU game, with Michigan on the “whoops” side.
I expected the grin-off to be close. In one corner, there was Harbaugh at the spring game, soaking in the emotions from his return home and smiling at the prospect of a bright future. In the other corner, there was Harbaugh after the bowl victory, unable to contain his joy after his team fulfilled the potential he saw in the spring.
I did not anticipate it would be this close.
I refreshed the poll more times than I care to admit over the last few days; I don't believe either GIF had more than a 20-vote lead at any point. A mini-surge in the final minutes before this afternoon's cutoff produced a winner. The full Elite Eight results:
THE GOOD TIMES
#1 Harbaugh As Grinch: 2,096 (50%)
#2 Spring Game Grin: 2, 110 (50%)
THE BAD TIMES
#1 Rage Stripping: 1,696 (47%)
#3 WELL OKAY: 1,892 (53%)
HARBAUGH IN ACTION
#1 Dr. Harbaugh: 1,055 (30%)
#2 Punt Demo: 2,434 (70%)
#1 Good Shit, Jedd: 1,113 (33%)
#3 Pffffffhahahaha: 2,245 (67%)
Just like that, not a single one-seed remains.
THE FINAL FOUR
(2) Spring Game Grin vs. (3) Pffffffhahahaha
This has to be the odds-on favorite after emerging victorious from the grin-off.
Then again, this is the first time the Spring Game Grin has come up against a GIF of Harbaugh sideline antics.
(3) WELL OKAY vs. (2) Punt Demo
If there's going to be a Cinderella run of sorts, it's going to come from this GIF, which knocked off Bad Times region favorites Rage Stripping and Slow-Motion Meltdown to earn its spot here. WELL OKAY has had, without a doubt, the toughest path to the Final Four.
That path isn't exactly getting any easier. Punt Demo demolished Dr. Harbaugh by a margin that caught me completely off guard. Either GIF in this matchup would be a worthy champion.
|Miami, FL – 6'2", 212|
|Scout||3*, NR overall
|Rivals||3*, NR overall
#22 WDE, #53 FL
|ESPN||3*, NR overall
#44 OLB, #133 FL
|24/7||3*, #1016 overall
#60 WDE, #130 FL
|Other Suitors||UF, Auburn, Miami, SoCar|
|YMRMFSPA||Mario Ojemudia or
|Previously On MGoBlog||Hello post from Ace.|
Unspecified highlight reel that was updated in January so probably all senior stuff:
Josh Uche, along with previously-covered Elysee Mbem-Bosse, is one of the first Don Brown guys. He was the first player Brown offered, and he was so enthused with the dude that Uche's official visit quickly overturned the conventional wisdom he was going to Florida. Thus Uche is not just an OLB/DE but a window into what Brown prizes above all else. Steve Lorenz touched on that in the midst of an Inside Michigan Recruiting shortly after his hire:
What will Brown be looking for? I got some insight on that after talking to someone who knows what he looks for in prospects.
"Whoever can create chaos," they said. "Pass-rushers are where he builds his defense, and he'll go with a raw, explosive player over a more refined one that may have possess the athleticism to eventually become a game-changer at the end spot."
It will not be a surprise that Uche is exactly this. Brown:
The number one thing he can do is he can pass rush with anyone in the East. He has a great get off and can turn the corner. Josh uses his hands really well. We’re projecting him as a SAM linebacker. Has shown some ability to defend on the edge but can also play in space. … We really think his pass rush ability is unique.”
“He fits that scheme perfectly,” Cassidy said. “If that’s what Don Brown wants to run, Uche is that kind of guy. Uche’s whole game is based on agility, speed, and blowing by tackles off the line. Linemen just can’t set their feet fast enough and Uche is by them.”
Nick John, teammate: “When it comes to working out, everything is just explosion, you know, he’ll usually do like heavy weight and, you know, just explode when we do our workouts.”
Pedro Marti, DL coach: " …never a kid that I really had to coach his effort, always just came in and gave me his best effort every day. Even as a young kid, a sophomore, his get-off was the best I’ve seen as a high school coach.”
Performance: Uche lived in the offensive backfield during his team's game against Hallandale. He was responsible for a number of quarterback hurries and was in on more than one tackle for a loss. Uche has decent length for a weakside end and is incredibly quick with his first step.
Uche is an explosive edge rusher. And mean. ESPN:
Uche is a unique prospect with a relentless mentality. … Has good height with a solid build. … Shows solid instincts as a pass rusher. Will bend and turn the corner with an explosive burst to close and chase down the ball carrier. … Comes in hot and will violently throw his hands to dislodge the ball from runner. … Uche is relentless and physical. Will need to transition to playing without his hand in the ground but could fit in a defensive scheme as a pass rushing outside linebacker.
I'm assuming that part of the reason Uche fired off a commitment right after his M visit was Brown's ability to sell him on his fit in Ann Arbor. Brown uses Uche's skillset extensively. His ability to "bend" or "dip" and get around the corner is a constant refrain. Touch The Banner:
Uche is a compact athlete who has a very good first step from a three-point stance. He has a short, powerful punch that helps him shock linemen and lead blockers. He is able to dip his inside shoulder and get around the corner as an edge rusher, and he’s able to change direction well.
What people mean by "dip" is that Uche gets low when he makes contact with an OL and can then turn around the corner because the OL has a tough time controlling Uche with his hands. Brandon Graham was really good at doing this as a much bigger player, and that's why he was an NFL first-rounder. Uche's not Graham; he seems to have that quality nonetheless.
That skillset is heavily concentrated in pass-rush areas at the moment. Uche did not play a full season of high school football until he was a junior—he actually elected not to play as as sophomore—and a lot of reports will mention his rawness as a result.
He did improve his stats and play dramatically over the final two years of his his school career, going from 34 tackles and 8.5 sacks as a junior to 66 and 14 as a senior. He was on the Florida 8A All-State team along with Michigan's three Flanagan commits. Uche told 247 last May that he'd put on 20 pounds without losing his hair-trigger first step, which 1) suggests he was 190 tops when Miami took him and 2) offers hope that he will be able to continue this process until he's 230 or 240.
Rankings sites didn't seem to notice this. I mean, they're not necessarily wrong to rank a 212 pound DE as a generic three star, but a number of big time programs saw something in Uche that they did not. Cassidy explains the situation pretty well:
"The reason he’s modestly rated is because he needs to add some size and muscle. He’s got the frame to do it but he’s pretty slight right now. … In camps and in games we’ve seen him struggle when bigger offensive linemen get their hands on him" …
"He’s as quick as they come really. Michigan will put some weight on him and he’s got a chance to be really special. I like his upside a lot.”
Uche fired off a very early commitment to hometown Miami. That commitment was always a soft one, and when Al Golden got fired he officially decommitted. Don Brown was after him hard when he was BC's defensive coordinator and his first act upon accepting the Michigan job was to offer him again.
These days there are "offers" and OFFERS. Uche's offer from Alabama, which was never followed up on by school or player, is likely the former. The offers from Florida, Auburn, and Miami are the latter—Lorenz reports that people close to the Florida program were shocked when Uche went off the board before he could even get his official visit to Gainesville in. The rankings sites seem to be going off his size and their expectation he is a DE; various power programs saw something else.
In addition to getting around the corner, Uche's tape has a number of nice plays in space. That is a reason I deployed Ojemudia as his YMRMFSPA: Ojemudia's best asset as a player was his ability to play both ends of a read option. Uche demonstrates a similar ability.
Only a few mention this in their scouting reports. Scout had a brief reference this this ability in a report from his time as a Miami commit…
The athletic hybrid is one you like more each time you see him. He is quick to the ball, he chases well, and he is athletic. Another note on Uche is his age — he is not 17 years old yet.
…and Brown talks about him "playing in space" above. Tim Sullivan also mentioned it when Uche committed:
He's a terror off the edge, and gives opposing offensive linemen fits because they can't pass-set fast enough to get a hand on him. If going around the outside was his only move, he'd still be an extremely dangerous player. …athletic moving side-to-side, and more comfortable playing in space than many high school linebackers - to say nothing of defensive linemen.
Clint Brewster was the most impressed, and the guy paying the most attention to that part of the game:
…he’s got outstanding agility and the strength of a much bigger prospect. He doesn’t miss tackles. Uche really plays well out in space. His ability to close on ball carriers is special. I like how physical he is with his hands and he’s got a really good motor.
That kind of thing gets overlooked a lot, but these days it's absolutely critical to have guys on the flanks of your front seven who can form up and chase effectively when someone tries to option them off. Uche's film isn't proof he's good at it yet, but does indicate he can be good at it in the future.
Uche is a LOS-oriented spread LB or (maybe eventually) WDE with awesome pass-rush upside and the lingering possibility that he ends up too small to be an effective run defender. Upside in spades and a long way to go.
Etc.: 50/50 to be nicknamed GQ at some point in his tenure here:
He was definitely the best-dressed young man on his official visit. He has got a flair to him and he really enjoys style.
I'm probably the only one who noticed this but at the spring game he was the only recruit to wear slacks and dress shoes when they were introducing the recruits at halftime.
Why Mario Ojemudia? For one, death stare.
I know Uche is slotted at SAM to start but Ojemudia had such a similar trajectory that I'm going with him. Ojemudia was a 215 pound high school DT(!) who had to make a position switch when he got to college. After a couple years of being radically undersized he managed to get up to around 250. Along the way he lost some of the explosion that made him a tiny Mo Hurst at Harrison. Despite that he was rounding into a solid starter on a great defense when he blew out his Achilles one dang game after he could get a redshirt.
In addition to the obvious physical similarities, Uche's highlight reel has a lot of good plays on the edge against spread concepts, which reminded me of Ojemudia. It is possible that Uche will retain more of his get off as he bulks up—it does happen—and end up with a higher ceiling.
Jake Ryan is another good comparable: a SAM/WDE type for a couple years and then a middle linebacker late, Ryan was at his best attacking off the edge. The SAM version of Ryan is a good approximation for what Uche will be if Michigan rolls double sixes with him, except hopefully he won't get chopped down on the edge as much.
Guru Reliability: Low. A lot of fire and forget here after a super-early commit to Miami; Uche didn't hit the camp scene. Meanwhile the offers here are completely out of whack with his rankings. Lorenz even says his ranking is one you should "completely ignore."
Variance: High. DL who projects to linebacker. Barely 210 pounds, may be only 6'1", but relentless dude. Could lose his explosion upon adding weight. Boom or bust type.
Ceiling: High. Could maintain his explosion at heavier weight, and then you have a dude.
General Excitement Level: High. Uche is co-sleeper of the year along with a guy we've yet to cover—I could not pick just one guy from this year's crop of athletes. Uche's explosion, ability to get around the corner, and fit in Don Brown's defense mean that he's likely to blow past his recruiting rankings en route to piling up a ton of TFLs during his career.
Projection: All but certain to redshirt. Michigan doesn't need a SAM backer right away; Uche will be transitioning from DE and needs a year or three in the weight room. After probable redshirt year Uche will have a shot at SAM if Jabrill Peppers leaves for the NFL, which I think is the expectation. Other candidates there are Noah Furbush and Jared Wangler, neither of whom has made much noise yet, so he could be in line for a job as early as next year.
I don't think he'd be very good as a redshirt freshman—too many LB nuances to pick up, not enough time to add weight—but in year three and beyond you can easily see Uche as Don Brown's blitz terror du jour. Brown's top sack man in 2015 was a 220 pound linebacker. Uche is on deck for that role.