Posts by All
Less than a week ago, Michigan hosted a bad Ohio State team and lost, even though the Buckeyes’ best player (JaQuan Lyle) was hobbled and a key cog (Jae’Sean Tate) spent most of the first half on the bench with foul trouble. The Wolverines allowed 16 offensive boards and took over two-thirds of their shots from behind the arc in the narrow defeat. At the time, it felt as if that loss signalled that Michigan wouldn’t be competing for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
A quick turnaround for the next game - a rematch against Michigan State soon after a competitive loss in East Lansing - wasn’t a problem; the offense caught fire in the first half and ran the Spartans out of the building, and the rest of the game was spent in garbage time with Michigan holding a commanding lead. Like they did against Indiana, the Wolverines managed to put together strong offensive and defensive performances at the same time and atoned for last season’s home no-shows against those teams: in 2016, Michigan lost to IU and MSU by a combined 39 points, and in 2017, they beat those teams by a combined 59 points in Ann Arbor.
If you’d have told me before the season that Michigan would blow out IU and MSU like that in the Crisler Center, I’d be expecting a shot at a top four seed in the tournament. As it stands, Michigan’s still squarely on the bubble; at 5-6 in a mediocre Big Ten conference, the Wolverines probably need to win at least four more to have a good shot at getting in. Road victories over Rutgers and Nebraska are a must, and Michigan needs to steal multiple wins from a group of games that includes trips to Indiana, Minnesota, and Northwestern, and tough home contests against Wisconsin and Purdue. A tournament bid is feasible, especially if Michigan keeps up its newfound defensive competence - after allowing 1.23 points per possession over their first five Big Ten games, they’ve given up 1.01 PPP over their last six, an improvement from historically bad to slightly above average.
As of right now, Michigan ranks 30th in Kenpom, 30th in Sagarin, and 31st in T-Rank, indicating that they have the quality of a tournament team, even if they don’t have the requisite resume. The Wolverines boast the best offense in the Big Ten because of elite shooting - especially due to easy 2-point looks created by their signature scheme - and elite turnover aversion.
Even with John Beilein’s most talented teams, there was usually a significant gap between the offense and defense; Michigan would score so efficiently that indifferent defense didn’t really matter. What Michigan has decidedly lacked since the exodus of talent following the 2013-14 season has been a dynamic playmaker who can take over and dominate in the spread pick-and-roll sets that have become deeply ingrained in the Beilein offense. Of course, Caris LeVert’s injuries were a big reason for that void over the last two seasons, and Zak Irvin has unfortunately been uneven at best as the focal point of Michigan’s attack.
[After THE JUMP: Walton fills the void.]
Ever since Maverick Morgan’s now-infamous characterization of Michigan as a “white-collar” program, Derrick Walton has taken the proverbial leap midway through his senior season and has been one of the best players in the Big Ten. In the seven games since that embarrassing blowout loss at Illinois, Walton has averaged 19.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game while shooting 56% from two, 58% from three, and 87% from the free throw line. Those are basically All-American numbers. In each of the last four games, Ken Pomeroy’s game score algorithm has deemed Walton the “MVP”; even though the Wolverines went just 2-2 in those four, it was through no fault of Walton’s, as he’s been consistently the best player on the floor in the last couple of weeks.
Beilein was effusive in his praise following Walton’s performance in the big victory over Michigan State. “Can’t say enough about Derrick Walton right now, of just the transformation in the last month … I think he’s finally comfortable with all that experience he gained throughout the time [earlier in his career], he really played with that extra that you need to be a really good player, especially at guard. He’s become so strong with the ball … I’m just really proud of him.”
A little bit of aggressiveness on the offensive end has gone a long way for the senior point guard, as the burden of responsibility has seemingly shifted from Irvin to him with great results. Walton has always been a sharpshooter from 3-point range, but he’s now letting pull-up threes fly in transition and he’s comfortable squaring up a defender and shooting from a standstill when he catches them sagging too far off. Typically those kinds of 3-point attempts are much less valuable than catch-and-shoot opportunities, but Walton has made more unassisted threes than the rest of the Wolverines have combined, per hoop-math. Even though he’s taken the most shots from long range of anyone on the team this season, he’s hitting at a team-best 44% (of players with at least one attempt per game). Like most teams, Michigan is obviously at their best when the threes are falling, and Derrick Walton has been the best at knocking them down.
Over the last several games, the biggest difference is that Walton has handled the ball with a different mentality than before: he’s attacking the basket, hunting shots, drawing fouls, and making decisive choices coming off of screens. For most of his career, he could have been accurately characterized as more of a 3-and-D point guard (which is somewhat of a rarity, as point guards usually score and distribute inside the arc). These last few games - which have coincided with an awful run of form from Irvin - have featured a different Derrick Walton, one who’s seemingly more willing to put the offense on his back and play with the type of control and assertiveness more characteristic of Beilein and LaVall Jordan’s best floor generals - Darius Morris, Trey Burke, and Nik Stauskas.
An excellent post over at UM Hoops takes a look at the statistical trends behind Walton’s recent breakthrough. Among other interesting factoids, Dylan notes that “Walton is the only Big Ten player to create more than a point per possession out of ball screens (including pass outs) among players who have used at least six pick-and-roll possessions per game [this season].” Walton’s prowess on ball screens is being put to good use in an offense that has ideal spacing and a pick-and-pop center who can take slower defenders off the dribble. Beilein’s gorgeous set plays and traditional reads in a motion offense are still there, of course, but simple spread screen-and-rolls became a staple with Morris, Burke, and Stauskas - and Wagner provides an additional threat as Walton is frequently able to find the stretch-five for wide open threes on pick-and-pop plays against unaware big men.
Dylan also focuses on Walton’s 2-point shooting, which had been a bugaboo for him throughout his career; despite playing way bigger than his actual size as a rebounder, Walton often had issues finishing at the rim, especially over larger players. According to Beilein, his recent improvement on those types of shots didn’t come as a surprise.
“He just worked and worked and worked. I think he’s got confidence now that he can take shots that - he was always a low-percentage 2-point shooter so he worked at that. He worked at right- and left-handed layups with a guy pressing on him with a dummy on him and things like that. He worked really hard. With that hard work comes confidence. He’s just really playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
Walton was always a decent threat on ball screens, even with the major liability of not being able to take it to the rim and finish; opponents overplayed the pass on drives and he wasn’t quite as effective as he could have been. In recent games, though, his finishing has improved noticeably. If he’s able to maintain that, Walton will be truly lethal because of his passing and jump-shooting ability.
He’s been playing at a very high level during Big Ten play, but a regression to the mean seems inevitable - Walton’s jumper’s been hot and he’s finishing through contact in ways that are probably not sustainable. Still, he’s been the most efficient Big Ten player in conference play (of players who take up a minimum of 20% of his team’s possessions) and his offensive rating has crept up from 98.1 in an injury-riddled sophomore season to 108.7 as a junior and now up to an impressive 126.4 - all with about the same level of usage. Walton’s improvement has been undeniable and the latest surge could mean that there’s more to come.
Despite having a more reserved personality, Walton has emerged as the leader of the team as of late with his inspired play on both ends of the floor - and he seems to be relishing the role. Michigan’s variable defensive intensity and occasional passivity on offense are long-running issues that probably can’t be fixed, but Walton’s been a positive influence in regards to those problems as of late. With just eight games at most remaining in his senior season, he’s been playing the best basketball of his life and he might just be the determining factor in getting Michigan into the tournament. Of course, Zak Irvin will have to play better and Wagner and DJ Wilson need to avoid foul trouble for that to happen. Michigan also can’t afford to relapse into the bad defensive habits that doomed them in several games earlier this season.
If there’s anything that can take Michigan’s already outstanding offense up another notch, it’s the sublime play of Walton, who has become more impactful as of late. A star senior guard can carry teams a long way in college basketball, and Michigan will need Walton to help save what has been a largely disappointing season. His recent play has been one of the best subplots for Michigan this year, and hopefully he can keep it up to get Michigan into the tournament.
Ace Anbender transcribed the quotes in this piece.
Bracket Watch: Still A Thing!
Derrick Walton is settling in for a potential tourney run. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Michigan's NCAA tournament hopes were hanging by a thread heading into Tuesday's blowout of MSU. In the aftermath, well, they're still hanging by a thread, but at least the thread hasn't snapped. The Wolverines are the fifth team out of the field in last night's update of the Bracket Matrix, making 31 of the 99 included brackets. They're moving in the right direction, however, making 17 of the 40 that were updated on Wednesday or Thursday. That update doesn't include today's revised brackets; CBS's Jerry Palm, who already had Michigan as an 11-seed, bumped them up to a 10-seed today—clear of the last four in.
As ESPN's Eamonn Brennan points out in his latest Bubble Watch post, Michigan can strengthen their case for an at-large bid on Sunday by weakening the case for Indiana, a fellow bubble team:
Despite last week's home loss to Ohio State, this could end up being a net-plus week for Michigan's once-long NCAA tournament odds. The Wolverines blitzed Michigan State by 29 on Tuesday, and on Sunday they travel to Indiana, which is not only vulnerable but one of the bubble teams the Wolverines need to drift away if they want to secure their own bid in the coming weeks.
Not that you need the rooting incentive, but Michigan State is another one of those bubble teams that Michigan is hoping to pass; while they did so on Palm's bracket, most have kept the Spartans a couple seed lines above the Wolverines. Michigan still needs to win more than their fair share of coin-flip-ish games down the stretch to have a realistic shot at the field; a victory on Sunday would go a long way towards making that a reality.
[After THE JUMP: getting X going, transition threes, lineage of poodles, etc.]
Simplicity For Simpson
A smaller package of plays led to a bigger output from Simpson. [Campredon]
Xavier Simpson had by far the best game of his budding collegiate career on Tuesday. While the numbers may not pop off the page—7 points, 3/4 FG, 2 assists, 1 turnover—it was obvious Simpson was much more comfortable in the offense than before. After the game, John Beilein revealed that was far from a coincidence:
There’s been signs, slow signs. Saddi Washington’s done a great job. He really suggested that [Simpson] play more today, and he also suggested we just simplify his package. He understands everything we do, but the timing of it is still just a little bit off, and when you’re just a little bit off with Michigan State, they’ll get in the gap or they’ll get a hand on something or they’ll be physical with you, so we tried to really shorten his package today when he was in there, and he was really good at them. Saddi Washington, that wasn’t my idea, that was Saddi all the way.
I went back through the game and clipped the offensive sets that utilized Simpson. A common theme emerged: Michigan looked to get Simpson working off a high screen.
There are multiple benefits to this approach. With a simplified decision process, Simpson was able to be more assertive. Running high screens also drew MSU's big man away from the basket, a key factor in getting the diminutive point guard makeable looks at the rim. If the initial action was stymied, it was easy for Michigan to reset the offense, and Simpson did an excellent job of picking his spots to be aggressive late in the shot clock.
Even the missed opportunities were good ideas. On the play beginning at the 0:20 mark, a ball screen for MAAR gets MSU rotating, and Simpson only needs a small crease between two defenders to bolt to the rim—he doesn't quite gather himself to get the finish but it's a great look. The turnover at 1:18 is a similar case; Simpson has the right idea in lobbing the ball over the top for Moe Wagner but doesn't quite get enough air under it to prevent Nick Ward from making a strong recovery to knock the pass away.
With some help from the coaching staff, Simpson may have finally hit the point where the game is slowing down for him. He said as much after the game:
I’m definitely better. I’m improving every single day. … Mentally it’s changed, and also physically. The pace has slowed down. It’s not as fast as a month ago. Right now I have to keep working, don’t get satisfied with that. Hopefully we can create a little win streak.
Simpson as a viable offensive threat could be the key to the rest of the season. His presence in the lineup allows Derrick Walton to occasionally slide to the two, making him a deadly spot-up shooting threat, when both are on the court. His increased minutes against MSU also allowed Beilein to give a little more rest to Zak Irvin, who played his lowest minute total (32) in the last eight games. Simpson also took over the possessions that Michigan would normally run through Irvin; while Irvin once again had a quiet game, it was a turnover-free quiet game in which he only used 8% of M's possessions, by far his lowest mark of the season. I expect Irvin will bounce back from this unusually poor stretch of play; Simpson easing his workload may play a big part in that.
Adjusting on the Fly: Slipping the Pick
Wagner's ane-one bucket at the end of the first half came about due to a critical in-game adjustment from Walton and Beilein, who found a way to exploit MSU's aggressive pick-and-roll defense. Walton:
They do a great job of hedging, actually, making you really uncomfortable in the ball screen. After the first couple times, I kinda told Coach B that, they were showing so high that maybe we should just slip it. Moe’s a great guy catching it and making the next play, so we’ve got supreme faith in throwing him the ball in a crowd and for him to make a play.
Here's a compilation of Michigan's first-half pick-and-roll possessions (and a successful pick-and-pop after a stymied pick-and-roll):
While Michigan still had success early on without the big man slipping the screen, much of it was Walton making difficult shots. Successful dives to the hoop by Mark Donnal and Wagner started softening up the defense, though, and after Walton made a tough pull-up two with Wagner popping out, the setup was there for Wagner to slip for the late and-one.
I love the way Michigan is approaching transition offense. According to hoop-math, the Wolverines rank 18th nationally in transition offense eFG%, with transition offense defined as initial shots of a possession occurring in the first ten seconds of the shot clock after a steal, rebound, or opponent made basket.
The old way to run the fast break was to get the ballhandler flanked by one or two guys going hard at the rim, looking for a layup or a foul. The new way, certainly not unique to Michigan, is to spread the defense thin on the perimeter and look for a quick-hitting three. 42% of M's transition shots come from beyond the arc, and they're connecting on 46% of those triples.
Duncan Robinson is 11-for-23 on such shots. He knows his role well. On this play from the Indiana game, he immediately gets to one of his favorite spots following a DJ Wilson block, and his teammates know to look for him right away—he launches only three seconds into the shot clock:
He's also lethal on the secondary break. From earlier in the same game, Michigan forces a turnover and looks for an immediate spot-up three from Walton. When IU collapses on Walton, he drives while Robinson fills his spot and ends up with an open look before the defense can recover—Robinson's quick trigger really helps here:
Walton has been even better on transition threes, going 12-for-22 this season. He benefited from his own steal and the looming threat of Robinson to get all alone from long range against MSU:
Michigan isn't passing up layups to get these shots—they're 52-for-63 on transition shots at the rim—but when there isn't an easy lane to the hoop, they've got a deadly fallback plan to take advantage of unset defenses.
John Beilein, Very Literal Motivational Speaker
Left: bad. Right: good.
Beilein was quite serious about getting his players to take on a "junkyard dog" mentality.
You can be pretty consistent about guys who are going to make shots, but what type of edge are they going to play with? That’s hard. And is the edge too much that they get emotionally drunk during the game? You worry about that a little bit. Today was, like, perfect. They were right there. They were angry. They were junkyard dogs. That was the whole idea, the picture of a doberman that I wanted them to go out and play like. I think it was a doberman but he had big teeth. We’ve got to go out there angry and play with that edge that we so desperately need. (You showed them a picture of the dog?) Yeah, I had a picture. (In their lockers or something?) No, we had it up where I do my talk. I showed it to them a couple days ago. I showed them dogs before a whole lineage of poodles, you play like this but this is who we have to be. That’s another story.
That is all.
- Women’s basketball: the best team Michigan’s ever had. Encourage everyone to get down there this year and see it (they’re 12-0 at home). Watch #1 Kysre Gondrezick their star PG, junkyard dog Jillian Dunston, and freshman center Hallie Thome (50 blocks this year!)
- Men’s basketball: the best game Michigan’s ever had against Michigan State? MSU shot clock violations: Derrick Walton preventing them from getting it to their PG. Finally DW’s becoming the guy we though we recruited.
- X-W Package!
- Defensive rebounding is worse than normal this year. #FreeTeske
- Everybody should name a good thing Brian said on the radio.
You can catch the entire episode on Michigan Insider's podcast stream on Audioboom.
THE USUAL LINKS
- Helpful iTunes subscribe link
- General podcast feed link
- Direct download link
- What's with the theme music?
Aidan Hutchinson with swaggy G
The Roster. Michigan took a horde of defensive linemen a year ago—7 or 8 depending on where a couple of two-way guys end up. They're set to lose just Mo Hurst after the year; they'll probably take another two or three to prevent gap years like 2017 projects to be.
The Recruits. MI DE Aidan Hutchinson is a Michigan legacy and likely a slam dunk. FL DE Nik Bonitto told 24/7 that Michigan led for him in November; he also said that Florida was his proverbial dream school. They had not offered at that juncture. Lorenz recently reiterated that Michigan was in a good spot.
At DT, Michigan is chasing FL DT Taron Vincent, an IMG kid who transferred in from Biff Poggi's old school. He's got a public pecking order on which Michigan is 5th at best right now, so it'll be one of those recruitments where an unofficial either kicks things off in earnest (Nico Collins) or functionally ends it. New Jersey has a couple of touted kids in Tyler Friday and Dorian Hardy, plus Jayson Ademilola could shake free if ND has another crater of a season.
The Projection. Hutchinson, probably Bonitto, and we'll say Friday because Michigan's gotten the top kid in New Jersey the last four cycles.
Reese is a cornerstone
The Roster. Michigan took three or four linebackers in last year's class, depending on where Ben Mason ends up, and loses just Mike McCray after the season... probably. Jared Wangler and Noah Furbush are both potential fifth years who haven't contributed much. Depending on how the depth chart shakes out this year there could be just a couple spots or up to four.
The Recruits. GA LB Otis Reese is already in the boat and both Scout and 24/7 have asserted that Michigan is super-high on him at VIPER. Long way to Signing Day and all that; with Solomon already in Ann Arbor and Reese currently not expected to take visits he seems likely to stick.
MI LB Kolin Demens is the younger brother of Kenny. Michigan offered him way back in April but there hasn't been much talk about him since. He's a 3.5* type in early rankings, so Michigan might not be pushing for him all out just yet. Michigan also offered MI LB Ovie Oghoufo; he went off the board to ND a couple weeks later but with ND coming off a 4-8 season and Oghoufo wobbling a little bit publicly he's at least somewhat in play.
Outside the state, Michigan is going to try with VA LB Teradja Mitchell but is currently trailing. OH LB Dallas Gant, the cousin of former Wolverine Allen, is in nearby Toledo and will be heavily pursued.
The Projection. Reese and one ILB type. Demens is the most likely.
Taylor-Stewart has a hyphen, you know
The Roster. Michigan took four and maybe a fifth if they move Brad Hawkins to safety, but they lost that many guys so there has not been a major influx. Everyone's young—no seniors—so Michigan will go relatively light here.
The Recruits. MI CB Kalon Gervin is your annual Cass Tech cornerback prospect. At 5'11' he's a little bigger than they usually are. CA CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart has a hyphen in his name, recently moved up to the #15 prospect in the country on 24/7, and says Harbaugh is his favorite coach. He recently backed off naming Alabama his leader, FWIW. FL Brendan Radley-Hiles is at IMG, has a hyphen, and visited Michigan over the summer.
At safety, TX S BJ Foster is a top ten player in early rankings who Michigan will try to get in with. They haven't had much luck getting guys out of Texas—even Chuck Filiaga was more or less from California—but it's de riguer to mention the five star you've offered in these things. Same deal with FL S Tyreke Johnson, who the nation is after, and FL CB/S Al Blades (yes that Blades). Blades has already committed to and decommitted from his father's alma mater Miami.
GA S Myles Sims is a less highly touted name who Lorenz says Michigan is after as if he is one of those top top guys.
The Projection. Gervin seems likely what with the Cass Tech thing, and then let's flip a hyphen for the second corner spot. Sims seems like the most realistic shot at safety.
Wild-ass guess that should be taken seriously in no way whatsoever
FWIW, the version of this that was published a year ago got 10 of Michigan's eventual 30 signees correct. We're projecting 20 this year.
A confidence level of "high" means approximately a 50/50 shot they end up in the class. "Low" means this is more or less a placeholder. The composite currently has zero fullbacks ranked and they'll probably go get a guy. This is denoted in the chart appropriately.
|State||Position||Player||Approx. Stars||Confidence Level|
|FL||TE||Will Mallory||4||Very High|
|MI||DE||Aidan Hutchinson||4||Very High|
This might be less of a blockbuster class since Michigan is not, at first glance, in on a bunch of five star sorts. That should change in 2019 when the state has two guys who will contend for that status.
Can you name all the Michigan players in this photo from the last Purdue-Michigan game in Ann Arbor? [photo: a much younger Eric Upchurch]
Since going to 14 teams the Big Ten schedule has been a mess. Some teams rarely face each other, other teams face each other twice a season. The divisions are historically and presently uneven. The last two years in a row this resulted in a Big Ten “champion” that had a demonstrably worse season than at least two other Big Ten teams. Congrats Penn State and Michigan State, but I think we can do better. In fact I have an idea how.
I’ll get into the details below but the idea isn’t for everyone to have to memorize the details. The simplest description is every year you play three locked-in rivalry games, three games of your choosing, and three games against schools near you in the standings. Your biggest rivalry is played at the end of the season, and its result (half) carries over to next season.
On FiveThirtyEight’s Solution: Nate Silver’s proposal and mine share a few concepts: locked in rivalries early in the year, a mini-playoff at the end of the year, and eradicating divisions (which is essential to any good schedule reform). But it has two big flaws I tried to avoid:
1) It puts The Game in September, which: no, or in Week 7, which again: no, and then you’re seeding with less information.
2) Teams at the top will rarely face those at the bottom. I don’t like that because it cuts down on variety and could easily lead to things like long droughts between Michigan-Purdue tilts which are one of the things we’re trying to fix. Also it’s not good for the long term health of the conference since it would redistribute more losses from the bottom of the conference to the middle and middle-high. In effect it would result in fewer and lower ranked teams at the top, and fewer bowl-eligible teams from the conference. A few more competitive games is good, but 538’s proposal takes that to an extreme to the detriment of other important considerations.
- Maintain the annual rivalries and maximize their importance, keeping the big rival games at the end of the season.
- Play 9 conference games.
- Split up rivalry games so every team has a compelling schedule every year to sell to season ticket holders.
- Produce a fair and least disputable conference champion by playing all or most of the relevant games during the season.
- Play as many competitive games between similarly ranked teams as possible.
- No rematches!
- See a variety of opponents over a 10-year period.
- Encourage Power 5 opponents in non-conference scheduling.
- Be relatively simple.
The system I came up with hit all of these benchmarks to varying degrees (#9 being measured in Kelvin). #5 conflicts with #7 so I left it up to the schools themselves to prioritize between them. As for #9 it’s actually complicated, but can have the appearance of simplicity.
The schedule has four components:
- Three locked-in games versus your annual rivals.
- Three games where the top teams draft their opponents.
- Three games where you play like competition, and the top four teams all play each other.
- A “Big Ten Showcase” invitational during conf championship week to play the best three games that weren’t played.
This is the easy part. The teams are all separated into four pods of three or four with rivals they ought to be playing every year.
|East Coast Cable Subscribers||Intercollegiate
|Corn Corn Corn Corn Cheese Corn
|C||Michigan State||Penn State||Indiana||Iowa|
The division names are not important but the order is—if you want a clue as to why, look at the A-B and C-D matchups. Teams in your pod are the two or three teams you play every year. There are two ways to handle the three-team pods and I haven’t decided which I like better—either works about the same:
- Option 1: Lock in rivals. Each team gets an annual rival from the opposite division, e.g. Michigan-Maryland is played the week of OSU-MSU, PSU-OSU always comes when Michigan plays State, and Rutgers-Michigan State is played annually on the last week of the season for bragging rights and the Situation Trophy.
- Option 2: Rotate every 2 years. So after two seasons of the above, Michigan plays Rutgers on week 1, Ohio State plays Maryland, and the Land Grant Trophy becomes the end-of-year rivalry for MSU. Then after two years it becomes M-PSU, OSU-Rutgers, MSU-Maryland.
I sorta prefer Option 1 but Option 2 seems more feasible.
[HIT THE JUMP to see how I worked it all out]
HOME & AWAY
This looks a little complicated but the gist of it is that every year your school’s season ticket package will include either two rivalry games at home, or one rival and five conference games.
|Week||Group A||Group B||Group C||Group D|
|1||Home vs C||Home vs D||Road vs A||Road vs B|
|2||Road vs C||Road vs D||Home vs A||Home vs B|
|3-5||1/3 home||2/3 home||1/3 home||2/3 home|
|6-8||1/3 home||2/3 home||1/3 home||2/3 home|
|9||Home vs B||Road vs A||Home vs D||Road vs C|
These flip every year. Fans will be able to buy season tickets knowing when and where the rivalry games will be played, and how many home games they’ll have in the meat of the schedule.
Ideally they’d know the dates of all of their home and road games beforehand, so a Michigan fan living in New York can plan a buddies weekend on, say, Week 6 knowing there will at least be a competitive game.
START THE CONFERENCE SEASON WITH 2 RIVALRY GAMES
These games are pre-scheduled and played every year on the opening two weekends for the conference. They never change, so you can always count on Michigan-Michigan State being at X venue on Y week. The first week Team A hosts Team D, and Team B hosts Team C. The two team A’s who don’t have a game play each other. The second week Team A plays at C and Team B plays at D. So here’s how that looks for our example 2017 season:
|Week 1||Week 2|
|Mich. St. @ Ohio St.||Michigan @ Mich St.|
|PSU @ Rutgers||Rutgers @ Maryland|
|Nebraska @ Wisconsin||Wisconsin @ Iowa|
|Iowa @ Minnesota||Minnesota @ Nebraska|
|Purdue @ Illinois||Illinois @ Indiana|
|Indiana @ Northwestern||Northwestern @ Purdue|
|Maryland @ Michigan||Ohio State @ Penn State|
So far simple enough. It’s still September and we’ve gotten some annual rivalries out of the way. We also have every team with 2 games played: a home and a road.
When to play this is up in the air. There’s an argument to make these games start in mid-to-late September so teams can get themselves geared up for conference season, as it’s always been. On the other hand since we’re determining the next part of the schedule later I think it’s best to play these games starting Week 2 of the regular season.
DRAFT OPPONENTS FOR WEEKS 3-5
If Michigan-Minnesota want more Jug dates they can prioritize that. [Patrick Barron]
To make the schedule for the next three weeks, we let the highest-ranked teams choose their own opponents. First we need to seed them, which I do thusly:
- +2 points for every conference win this year
- -2 points for every conference loss this year
- +1 point for winning last year’s big rivalry game.*
- +1 point per victory over power 5 team this year
- Tiebreakers: 1) head to head, 2) current AP rank 3) wins over P5 schools, 4) wins versus FBS, 5) points scored/points allowed vs FBS**
* [Yes, the result of The Game last year counts for this year’s conference record. I’ll get into why I did this later on.]
** [Since we’re into unranked teams by this point running up the score is not so much a concern.]
The first two teams pick their three opponents. The next two teams pick two opponents. Then 5 and 6 pick one opponent each, and the conference fills in the rest. When choosing opponents there are rules:
- No rematches. Can’t take a team they already played or a final week rival.
- Can’t choose a team ranked directly behind them (so the #1 team can’t take the #2 team at home and take away the #2 team’s right to choose their 3 opponents).
- Must respect Home/Away splits (so for example if a Group B team already has a road game scheduled you can’t schedule them for a road slot).
The opponent draft will be held, ideally, on Sunday or Monday of the week prior to the week the next round of games will be played, so fans will have most of two weeks to make their travel plans.
Why an opponent draft? Mostly because this way there’s some flexibility. Rather than leaving it up to the conference to juggle everyone’s needs (rivalries, homecoming, distance, draw, time since we last played, better opponents, easier ones, etc.) the schools themselves get some measure of control over their conference scheduling.
Giving the leading schools their pick of opponents gives more flexibility and lets fans have some input on who they play, for example Ohio State fans could push their athletic department to schedule Illinois if they haven’t played them very often in order to get the Illibuck Trophy back. Michigan might choose to schedule a game at Northwestern or Rutgers because they can knock out a road game and count on their fans to create a home atmosphere at those venues.
Let’s go back to our pretend 2017. Yellow means a team won their Week 1 or 2 game with said opponent, blue means they lost. Purple are the drafted matchups.
Undefeated Penn State was ranked higher than Wisconsin, and chose the easiest route with their two home games and one road, visiting Purdue and hosting Minnesota and Michigan State (they couldn’t take Rutgers since they already played). Wisconsin did the same, going to Purdue and Rutgers and hosting Illinois.
Michigan, held back by last year’s loss in The Game, is seeded 3rd, so we got two spots to fill, choosing to face arch-rival Illinois at home and, under immense pressure from Greg Dooley, taking Minnesota for their other road game. We wanted Northwestern but couldn’t choose them because they’re ranked directly below—Northwestern wanted no part of us, riding their easy early season schedule to an easier middle of the schedule with tilts at Minnesota and a visit from Rutgers. Ohio State opted for the Illibuck game in Week 4. Iowa chose Purdue. The conference filled in the rest.
Those games are announced, and then played, and everyone is re-seeded.
At this point we have a general idea of who’s in contention for the Big Ten crown and who isn’t. It’s time to punch your weight.
Note: I think this idea is cool and adds to the interest of a season, but it also can be done away with and replaced with pre-scheduled rotating games against the 10 teams you’re not locked into playing every year.
SEED OPPONENTS FOR WEEKS 6-8
This time there’s no draft—it’s seeded by the conference with the best teams playing each other and then working on down. First, any games between the top four league leaders that haven’t been played (or won’t be later) are locked in like so: Week 6 is 1v4 and 2v3, Week 7 it’s 1v3 and 2v4, and in Week 8 it’s 1v2 and 3v4.
The remaining empty spots are each filled, top-down, with the hardest opponent still available, with the higher ranked team getting the home game if they have one available.
For our example, I showed these mini-playoff games in salmon:
We now have a complete Big Ten schedule.
END THE SEASON VERSUS YOUR BIG RIVAL
The Game. Paul Bunyan’s Axe. The Oaken Bucket. The Situation Trophy. Whatever Illinois and Northwestern play for now. Something they came up with for Iowa-Nebraska. Penn State versus how stupid “Unrivaled” sounds. The BIG games! They’re all held the weekend before Thanksgiving.
You know, when the students are still in town, assholes.
And they are big, not just because they’ll determine your final seeding this year, but because you’re going to have to live with the result all next year as a +1 or –1 modifier on your conference record.
Let’s sim this out now and see where we stand. Remember scoring is +/- for last year’s rivalry game, +2 per win, –2 per loss, and +1 per non-conference Power 5 win.
So the winner of the Game takes the top spot in the conference. No need for conference championship games.
NO WE NEED MORE MONEY PLAY A CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Interdivisional championship games are dumb. What the end of the season should be used for is to play the best games that weren’t played all year. If I had my druthers, I’d say get the Pac 12 to play the same kind of schedule then play our champions against each other in the Rose Bowl.
But for plausibility’s sake let’s say the Big Ten is going alone. I’d suggest then that we have a three-game showcase where we play the best three games of the year that weren’t played.
PREFERRED OPTION: Play in the higher seed’s home stadium.
REALISTIC OPTION: Rent out some NFL stadiums. If we’re going this route, let the top teams, in order, choose from the available venues, be they Ford Field, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Green Bay, whatever. Most plausible system would be to put two games in Indianapolis or Detroit, and one in the other, with the first two “hosts” having their pick.
Back to our simulated season to see who didn’t play whom:
The best team Michigan didn’t play is #6 Nebraska. Ohio State missed #5 Northwestern. Wisconsin skipped #4 Maryland. Let’s play those the week after Thanksgiving, again with 2 points going to victors and –2 to losers. Those left out also get –2 points. Trust me, it’s fair. You could also award 4 points to the victors and nothing to losers—it’s literally the same difference.
Huskers have to visit Ford Field, Ohio State makes Northwestern travel to Indianapolis, and Maryland upsets Wisconsin in Indy. End of Big Ten season.
HOW DID WE DO?
Let’s check in on the goals:
1. Maintain the annual rivalries and maximize their importance, keeping the big rival games at the end of the season.
✔ The rivalry games all get played in predictable weeks, with the biggest rivalries haunting you all next year as effectively half a game in the conference standings.
2. Play 9 conference games.
✔ Plus we snuck in a 10th for 6/14 teams.
3. Split up rivalry games so every team has a compelling schedule every year to sell to season ticket holders.
✔ The divisions were organized to put your biggest rival in Week 9, your next rival in Week 2, and that team you happen to share a region with in Week 1, so your top two rivals are never both home or away any given year.
4. Produce a fair and least disputable conference champion by playing all or most of the relevant games during the season, and play as many competitive games between similarly ranked teams as possible.
✔ The mix of the middling in Weeks 3-5 and the mini-playoff at the end made sure that the closer you got to the Big Ten crown, the harder your schedule was likely to get, producing a champion who’d already faced any other contender. Adding half-wins for last year’s rivalry game and power 5 opponents added information to produce far fewer ties. The best team that either Michigan or Ohio State didn’t play was #8 Iowa.
The winner of this was Northwestern, who got to skip Wisconsin and Maryland while playing two easy rivals to start the seeding, but that ultimately earned the Wildcats a visit from Michigan, and trips to Penn State and Ohio State.
5. No rematches!
✔ We made a rule.
6. See a variety of opponents over a 10-year period.
✔-minus. The pick-your-poison round provides an opportunity to schedule teams and head to venues that fans haven’t seen recently, if their schools so desire. Over time the top teams will miss the middle tier unless they choose to schedule them. That might be a good thing—is that 8th win for Iowa or 9th loss for Purdue more important to those respective teams?
7. Encourage Power 5 opponents in non-conference scheduling.
✔ Scheduling more P5 competition is incentivized by making those victories part of the conference formula. That doesn’t differentiate between Alabama or Vanderbilt but you don’t really want Big Ten teams playing Alabama outside of the playoff. There are no points to lose if you don’t win except in AP poll tiebreakers.
8. Be relatively simple.
Fail. This is a long article. But I think most people could behind “9 games: 3 vs rivals, 3 vs your choice, and 3 vs someone your own size, and your biggest rivalry counts for half a game next year.”
The draft portion should create a little bit more engagement. Also the teams are still going to be ordered by conference record—the difference between 8-2 and 7-3 is four points, so to make up that difference a team would need to have beaten its big rival last year and have three Power 5 wins in the non-conference portion AND have a head-to-head win or be ranked higher. At that point it makes sense.
OTHER PROBLEMS INHERENT IN THE SYSTEM HELP HELP MICHIGAN STATE IS BEING REPRESSED
I told you, we’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune.
There are some issues.
Michigan State has to start 0-2 every year. By locking in rivalries early in the year you’ll end up seeing a lot of the same teams drafting. If Northwestern beat Illinois the previous year and can get past Indiana and Purdue, they’ll usually be in a position to choose their opponents. By contrast Michigan State would have to defeat Ohio State and Michigan to ever pick whom they play. Hopefully it’s some consolation that a game with Rutgers is worth extra. Also catching their 5-star-recruitin’, high-turnover rivals earlier in the season should be an advantage a good MSU team would be in position to use. This isn’t a problem.
Fans don’t know who/when they’re playing. While the rivalry games are known far out in advance, imagine trying to plan a homecoming game in there. I tried having specific weeks be home/away ahead of time but it severely cuts down on the matchups you can offer/create in weeks 3-8. But we can have soft home dates (subject to change), where matchups get shuffled around after they’re made in order to fit each team’s home/road schedule.
Last year’s Game affecting this year? On one hand college football is about continuity and rivals, so making a rivalry game hang around your neck for another year is right in line with how things should be. But I get that wiping the slate clean every summer is part of the game. Ultimately this was the way to preserve the higher importance of end-of-the-year rivalries versus the rest of the schedule, but I acknowledge there’s something wrong with that.
Something else I didn’t think of? You tell me.
TALK THAT TALK @Lanky_Smoove
— Tim Hardaway Jr (@T_HardJR) February 8, 2017
Like a 29-point soul-snatching win over Michigan State wasn't going to merit a GIFs post.
[After THE JUMP: more dunks, glorious double Izzoface, the walkoff, and more.]
10. X AND THE FOUL
This is a rather welcome development, not to mention impeccably timed for a matchup with Cassius Winston.
9. PILFER AND PROFIT
This is 90% Walton but that's some pretty english on the outlet from Simpson.
8. MO STEALS/MO BUCKETS
Perhaps not the prettiest of plays. Impressive balance, though.
7. HOT SAUCE
Take a seat, Matt McQuaid.
6. BIG MAN TAKEOVER
Eron Harris wisely wanted no part of that finish.
5. GIVE 'EM THE SLIP
Kenny Goins did not have a good night in the post-basket staredown department.
4. HAPPY CAPTAIN
3. WALKOFF FROM CARIS CORNER
Why, yes, we have seen this before.
2. WORTH THE TECH
Hell, it was probably worth two. Alternate angle.
FRAMES OF THE GAME: SAD IZZO BALL TOSS DOUBLE IZZOFACE SPECTACULARRRR
The Izzo head in the stands at the very end elevates this to legendary GIF territory.