Will Trade Soul For Pizza House
In the pre-season coaches' poll, we only got 1 vote. That leaves us tied with Minnesota, Houston, and Troy, of all teams, for 57th.
Other "notables" receiving more votes than us: South Florida (who went 2-5 in the Big East last year), Northwestern, Arkansas (2-6 in the SEC), Southern Miss (4-4 in Conf. USA), Colorado (2-6 in Big 12), Tennessee (3-5 in SEC) and Central Michigan.
I know we didn't have a great year by any standards last year (and I am usually one to urge caution in the pre-season), but are people sleeping on Michigan a bit this year? When was the last time that happened?
|USA Today Coaches' Poll|
Others Receiving VotesKansas 138, Michigan State 136, Texas Tech 114, Cincinnati 90, Pittsburgh 64, West Virginia 55, Rutgers 51, Miami (FL) 46, Missouri 44, Illinois 38, Clemson 30, South Carolina 18, UCLA 14, Auburn 12, South Florida 11, Nevada 11, Kentucky 9, North Carolina State 7, Wisconsin 6, Arkansas 6, Northwestern 5, Southern Miss 4, Wake Forest 4, Arizona 3, Boston College 3, CENTRL MICHIGAN 3, East Carolina 3, Colorado 2, Maryland 2, Navy 2, Tennessee 2, TROY 1, Minnesota 1, Michigan 1, Houston 1.
When watching the games last year, I was often left with the impression that the biggest problem with our defense was our offense. I would love to see some stats on average starting field position for opposing offenses, because I feel like our worst moments on defense always came after the offense coughed up the ball in a bad position.
According to http://www.cfbstats.com, we were ranked 84th in scoring defense and 67th in yards allowed. Again, I wish I had stats on average starting field position, but these two stats seem to indicate that our defense was better on a down-to-down basis than it was at preventing points. Maybe you can explain the disparity in scoring defense versus yards allowed by saying we gave up tons of TDs instead of FGs, but there were 14 teams above us in total scoring defense that allowed more TDs. I feel like the most likely explanation for this disparity is the fact that our offense put us in a terrible position so often. This seems to gel with my own impression of the games last year (like the Notre Dame game, for example).
Hopefully the offense turns around in terms of moving the chains and taking care of the ball. If it does, I think we might be able to expect more improvement from our defense (and in our overall record) than your average fan is predicting.
The NBA draft and all the trades surrounding it got me thinking about some "what-if" questions. If Beilein could draft a starting five to play in his system, who would be pick? I was trying to figure out which Michigan players he would take from the last ten years, which all-time Michigan players he would take, and which players he would take given his choice of any player ever.
Over the last ten years, I was thinking DeShawn Sims, LaVell Blanchard, Manny Harris, Daniel Horton, and Dion Harris. That team might be a bit small, but it can shoot. I had trouble thinking of a big man from recent Michigan history who could shoot at all. I am not in love with these picks, but it hasn't been a spectacular last ten years, either. I feel like we should be able to find a better shooting point guard, but none came to mind. I feel like Beilein would love someone versatile like Bernard Robinson, Jr., too, but I think LaVell was a better outside shooter and I didn't want to bump a guard for him because you need some ball-handling.
Picking the all-time, all-Beilein Michigan squad was fairly tough. I came up with Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Glen Rice, Louis Bullock, and Rumeal Robinson. I figure Beilein would love the versatility of Webber and Rose. Rice seemed like a no-brainer. I had trouble picking the guards, to be honest, and had to go back to some stats on Bullock and Robinson. Any thoughts/upgrades here would be appreciated, particularly given my dearth of knowledge about some of the older players. I thought about Cazzie Russell, but have never seen footage of him actually playing and don't really know his style. He played before they implemented the 3 point line, too, so that makes things tough to project just from the numbers. I had trouble coming up with the best Michigan big man, too. I think Rudy Tomjanovich warrants a mention, but I don't know if he was really a shooter. Juwan Howard's ability to play multiple positions might pique the Coach's interest, but I don't know if he is a good enough shooter to crack the top five.
The all-time squad is what really intrigued me. I certainly have a bias towards more recent players, but there are a lot of stellar options here. I was thinking Steve Nash at the point, Kobe at the 2, Bird at the 3, and Nowitzki at the 4. I think there are plenty of sweet-shooting options at the point, but Nash has to be amongst the best. I am a Bulls fan and love MJ, but I think Kobe might be a little better shooter. You can certainly make a case for Reggie Miller or Ray Allen as pure shooters, too, but I think Kobe gives you a better defender. Bird and Nowitzki seem like perfect players for a Beilein system. The center was a tough call. I think you could definitely move Nowitzki to the 5 and add Jordan, Ray Allen, or Reggie Miller to the mix. Of course Magic Johnson has famously filled in at center before, but I don't know if he is the pure outside shooter you want. When thinking about the best all-time shooting big men, Arvydas Sabonis came to mind. You obviously couldn't go wrong with an all-time great here like Wilt, Russell, Hakeem, Kareem, or Shaq, but I am hard-pressed to come up with a better outside shooter at the 5 than Sabonis.
Now that the NBA finals are over and sports enters the dark period know as baseball season, I am trying to get back in the swing of Michigan football. There has been a lot of grumbling recently about our recruiting of non-blue-chip recruits. The 3-9 season with losses in the top-flight rivalry games, loss of actual or expected impact players via transfers, and (to a much lesser extent) the aspersions on Rodriguez's character (see, e.g., snake oil, lack of family values) have also caused some heartache for Michigan fans.
So here's my question, if you wound the clock back and could choose between Les Miles and Rodriguez (I'm not saying this was the situation we actually found ourselves in), who would you choose?
Personally, I am drinking the Rodriguez Kool-Ade. I am sold on the spread as an offensive system and think that it will pay dividends once we get the right personnel installed. I was a fan from the beginning of Barwis and the long-overdue revolution in the weight room. Rodriguez’s track record is obviously stellar even though he isn’t a Michigan Man in the traditional sense. I am confident that greatness will ensue in the next year or three.
I was also, however, intrigued by Les's 4th down gumption and success at LSU. I have no clue if the transition with Coach Miles would have been smoother. Would we have performed better last year and maybe lost fewer players to transfers if we weren’t installing the spread on the fly? Would we be recruiting four and five star players in droves right now? I don’t know. If it was your pick, who would you have at the helm of the leaders and best?
For some reason, I was 100% positive that Michigan would make the tournament after the Iowa win (if the internet says it, it must be true!). I had no doubt that our name would appear eventually, so I was focused on our match-up. When I saw Oklahoma was the 2 seed in the South, I correctly figured that they would be our most likely potential second round opponent. I freaked out. "Wow, if our team has one crippling weakness, it's handling a dominant big guy," I thought. I resigned myself to - at best - a one game run in the tournament.
I was pumped to see Michigan's name finally appear, but I didn't know anything about Clemson. Imagine my chagrin at learning that they press every opponent for the entire game. "Wow," I told myself, "I forgot about our other crippling weakness: ball-handling under pressure."
So here's the dilemma. We have Mr. Grady growing roots on the bench. Say what you want about his defense; he is essentially the Hammer of God against a press. Our other guards are VERY shaky under ball pressure. I would trust Manny to help bring the ball up, but we don't want him tired out. If Beilein keeps Grady nailed to the bench, Clemson will be licking its chops after watching tape of our guards struggle under pressure (see, i.e., the end of the Northwestern game).
From what I hear, Clemson relies on TOs to feed its offense (hey, stat wizards of the world - is there any way to scrounge up some numbers on how Clemson's winning percentage, FG percentage, and three point percentage fluctuate with the number of TOs they force?). If we can take care of the ball, especially in the backcourt, can we dry up the well for Clemson? We are going to have to contend with their big hoss of a PF, but that's largely going to be on DeShawn (and maybe Gibson). The conventional wisdom seems to be that Grady is a vastly inferior defensive player to our other guards, but the best defense against Clemson might be to limit turnovers against the press. I don't there's even a plausible argument that anyone else on our squad can do that like Grady can.
Clemson apparently shoots a high percentage from outside (which would play into the hands of those that argue that Grady refuses to properly fight over screens), but I wonder if most of those threes come either in transition or off of kick-outs from their big guy. Anyone watch a Clemson game recently? What does their half-court offense look like?
This Minnesota game is just the sort of effort we need from Grady if we ever want to become an elite team.
The entire game tonight, Grady broke the back of Minnesota's press. They would commit two defenders to try to trap him in the backcourt, and he would effortlessly slip around or between them. The team got into position faster on offense, we didn't have stupid turnovers that led to easy baskets, and on several occasions Michigan had a brief numerical advantage after Grady left two defenders sputtering behind him.
Grady's handle doesn't just help with breaking the press. Against Northwestern, when our guards would penetrate, they were often out of control. We had a ton of turnovers in the paint. Even when they didn't turn the ball over, our guards couldn't deliver a precise pass to our shooters on the outside, so the few threes we got off of kick-outs weren't great looks.
When Grady knifed his way into the lane tonight, the defenders didn't seem to even bother him. He might not be an premier finisher in the paint, but he delivers some pinpoint passes to shooters on the outside. When you're committed to living or dying by the three, you need someone that can get your shooters quality shots in rhythm. Grady certainly didn't cause tonight's rout by himself, but he definitely helped quite a bit.
Hopefully Beilein keeps Grady in the line-up going forward. He doesn't need to bench Lee to play Grady, so let's not pretend that it's necessarily a decision between the two of them. I trust Beilein's instincts as a coach, and I have heard all the criticism of Grady's defense. When it comes right down to it, though, I don't think we can be an elite team without Grady in the mix and playing well. Our ceiling without him his just not very high. Our offense with him can be supremely menacing.
The team we saw tonight is the sort of squad that could pull an upset or two in the tournament. Let's hope the team takes care of business these next few games and earns that opportunity.