BIG TEN TOURANMENT STUFF: THOSE THREE GAMES
You can’t really get a whole lot out of three games in the conference tournament that you probably didn’t figure out during the course of the regular season, but for those interested, I thought at least a brief mention of the statistics from those games might be in order. I don’t think I will get terribly comprehensive because, well, Big Ten Tournament basically, but my hope is that you at least know some of the numbers from the tournament.
The four factors in those three games (I know, averages…..sample size…three games….season…grumble grumble):
Average eFG% - being a pretty good 3-point team saves you on this statistic typically, but we only bested our opponents by a slim margin. Michigan averaged 52.77% and those we played averaged 52.11%
OREB% - we’ve talked about this one a lot this year, and it didn’t improve much in the conference tournament. We don’t get a lot of offensive rebounds, it seems. Our offensive rebound percentage, as is typical for this team, lagged behind at 24.78%, compared to 35.62% for our opponents
Free Throw Rate – playing a typically clean game helps us keep this low whereas we enjoy more opportunities at the line on average, and that was the case in the Big Ten Tournament. Our free throw rate was 33.99%, whereas our opponents managed 24.57%
Turnover Rate – this battle was more or less a draw in those three games with the slight nod going to the teams we played actually. Our TOV% was 14.55% and our opponents averaged 14.22%. That’s despite having fewer total turnovers, but also one or two fewer possessions in a couple games.
We also averaged 1.13 for an assist / turnover ratio, which again – sample size – but it is significantly below the conference season average of 1.68, and indeed, our average points per possession, which typically sits around 1.20 or so, was 1.10 in the tournament.
In graphic form (we are the blue line, of course):
Romero continues to lead the way with her bat.
So I have grad school stuff to work on, but I don’t want to do that. Consequently, you all get more softball coverage! Hopefully that’s what you wanted…
In any case, with the postponement of today’s game against BGSU, the scheduled home opener, the bulk of the softball team’s non-conference schedule has come to an end. They still have a mid-week match-up against Western Michigan on April 8th as well as the make-up game for today, whenever that might be [update: this will be next Tuesday, March 25], but all the most serious opponents are behind us, and we can take a look at where things stand heading into Big Ten play. (All this comes with the caveat that I have yet to watch the team play, so I’m working off of stats & recaps. I’d love to hear some more comments from those who have gotten the chance to take in a game or two!)
Record, Postseason Outlook
As usual, the team put itself through the wringer, playing in six different tournaments/invitationals/etc., traveling to Florida, California, Louisiana, and Kentucky to take on many of the nation’s best teams. Michigan’s 19-6 record could have been a little better, but not much. The only bad loss was against an unranked and mediocre Houston outfit, and that came in the middle of the Judi Garman Classic where Michigan was facing a murderer’s row of top-ten teams. A little loss of focus is perhaps understandable. All the other losses came against ranked teams, and except for one loss to Louisiana-Lafayette at ULL’s home ballpark, they were all against top-ten teams. Two of those losses came in extra innings, including a heartbreaker in the season opener, when Michigan lost a 4-run lead in the 7th against Florida. When you play teams of this caliber, you’re going to take some losses, but it’s worth it for the wins you do manage and for the experience the players gain.
With the bad out of the way, let’s take a look at the positives from the non-conference slate. The Wolverines have accumulated five wins against ranked teams, including three against top-ten teams (Kentucky, UCLA, and Arizona). The UCLA win is definitely the crown jewel in Michigan’s resume right now, as the Bruins have torched their non-conference slate to the tune of a 26-1 record. After pushing the Bruins to extras before falling 4-1 on March 4th, the Wolverines came back the next day and torched UCLA to the tune of a 9-4 pounding which remains their only loss. Heading into Big Ten play, Michigan finds itself ranked #6 in the nation in the most recent poll. As long as the Maize & Blue stay in the top 16, we’ll have a regional in Ann Arbor, and if we stay in the top 8, we could end up hosting a super-regional as well, should we be fortunate enough to get that far. This is where Michigan wants to be at this point in the season.
From the start of last season, conversations about individual player performances on Michigan’s softball team have begun with one player: Sierra Romero. She has not disappointed this season, leading the team with an absolutely absurd .493 batting average, good for ninth in the nation, with only a couple other major-conference players ahead of her. She has done this despite being walked more than a quarter of the time (24 walks to 67 at-bats), showing great plate discipline, only striking out 9 times thus far. While her six home-runs are a little off last year’s record-setting pace, this is to be expected, as terrified pitchers do everything they can to stay out of her way. At the end of the day, Romero is following up her Big Ten Player of the Year campaign in grand style (she has also improved defensively, with a .015 improvement in fielding percentage over last season).
While the conversation starts with Romero, it certainly does not end there. Eight different Wolverine batters are hitting over .320 (two of those have under 30 at-bats, the other six all have more than 60). Colie Sappingfield has been doing great work in her usual lead-off spot [edit: batting second], betting on-base over 40% of the time and batting just shy of .400. She even managed a home run, which for a pure slap-hitter must have come as quite the surprise! The highest-impact freshman on offense has been Abby Ramirez, hitting .324 in 67 at bats. She could use a little more plate discipline, having struck out 9 times to only 6 walks, but that’s the sort of thing this coaching staff can easily handle. That kind of hitting right out of the gate as a freshman shows a lot of promise. Overall, Michigan boasts the #18 team batting average (.329) in the nation and the #46 scoring offense (5.56 runs per game). Both of these numbers may very well go up as the Wolverines head into a weak Big Ten slate (more on that in a moment).
Unfortunately, Lauren Sweet hasn’t quite been able to match her play from late in the season last year, batting only .224. However, last year she did much worse in the non-conference schedule, and then turned it on once Big Ten play hits. If she makes a similar leap in conference play this year, she could quickly find herself as one of the top offensive threats in the conference. The bigger disappointment has been the pitching of last year’s ace, Sara Driesenga, which has really tailed off from last season. Her ERA currently stands at .319 [edit: 3.19] and she has yet to find her first win on the season. I haven’t heard any injury news (others may know something I don’t), so I’m not sure how to explain it. She has been playing better of late, however, and has found some success in a relief role, notching 3 saves on the season. Hopefully she too will make some improvements in Big Ten play.
Driesenga’s struggles have been offset by the rest of the pitching staff, however. Freshman Megan Betsa has faced a true baptism by fire, having pitched against many of the nation’s elite teams. While she has struggled at times, she has managed a respectable 2.27 ERA with 63 Ks to 23 BBs. The 63 Ks are especially impressive, and she leads the team in that category, despite having pitched more than 25 innings fewer than Wagner. She will certainly be an important piece going forward.
The biggest factor defensively, however, has been the resurgence of southpaw Haylie Wagner. After struggling through injuries last season as losing her role as the ace of the staff, she has reclaimed that spot with a vengeance. There are currently only 20 D-I pitchers with ERAs under 1.00, and Wagner clocks in at #17 in this crowd, currently holding opponents to a stingy .93, more than 1.5 better than she managed last season. She currently boasts a 13-0 record with 8 complete games, and leads the team in almost every pitching category. If she keeps up anything like this level of play, she stands a great chance of reclaiming her Big Ten Pitcher of the Year crown.
Big Ten Outlook
As usual, the Wolverines come into the Big Ten as the favorites to win the conference. Competition may be stiffer this year than usual, however, with Nebraska and Minnesota both joining the Maize & Blue in the top-25. The Huskers & Gophers haven’t taken on as challenging of non-conference slates as Michigan has, but both have notched Ws against at least one ranked team and stand to give Michigan a run for their money in the Big Ten.
Despite these challengers, I expect Michigan to take the crown, if for no other reason than that the schedule sets up much more easily for Michigan than their challengers. A mid-April home series against the Golden Gophers is Michigan’s only test against the top third of the conference, and a road series against Illinois represents the only time Michigan will travel to face a team with a winning record in the non-conference schedule. The Fighting Illini have managed a 14-7 record, but have yet to beat a ranked team. Other than 12-10 Wisconsin, whom the Wolverines get at home to close out the season, the rest of Michigan’s schedule is comprised of teams with losing records, some of them truly dismal.
Without a doubt, the Minnesota series is the key point in the conference slate. If the Wolverines can take care of business against the teams they should beat and take at least 2 out of 3 from the Gophers, the road to a seventh straight Big Ten Championship should be fairly clear. I can’t predict a perfect conference record, because that has never been done in Michigan history, but I have a tough time picking out more than 2 or 3 potential losses.
If that can be managed, the Wolverines will be well-positioned to head into post-season play with plenty of momentum and experience. Weather-permitting, Big Ten play begins at the Wilpon Complex this Friday at 4 PM, as 8-17 Indiana comes to town. I wish I could be there; for those of you in Southeast Michigan, get out and support the team!
It's that magical time of year when the weather seems poised to thaw the cold of a brutal winter and March Madness is on the brink of wiping out all productivity I hoped to achieve at my job. At home, I spend my time trying to beat last year's wallpapers for the tournament. Here's a hint: I don't think (outside of another Final Four run) I can even come close to topping last year's bevy of well-crafted work I pulled out of my ass at 2 am. But, hey, I can try to at least give you something decent to work with. That being said, these are just some generic wallpapers I've been working on this week (yes, I know it's Monday...THIS WEEK...it's a sad obsession). Hopefully, you will enjoy at least one of these until I get a tournament-flavored treat ready for you. That is, if I don't collapse from sleep-deprivation before uploading them. Also, my keyboard and mouse are dying on me...
"We Focus" Desktop (1920x1080)
"Win the game!" Desktop (1920x1080) [Comic-style panel #1]
"How are we going to play?" Desktop (1920x1080) [Comic-style panel #2]
"Not just a shooter!" Desktop (1920x1080) [Comic-style panel #3]
Ok, so these were quick and fun. I enjoyed putting the three panels together to form one super widescreen set-up at home. As I mentioned above, hopefully you will find one or two to hold you over until the real wallpapers arrive with the tournament. As always, constructive criticism and/or suggestions for future wallpapers are welcome.
[EDIT: Normally, I don't dabble in making decisions about diary-worthy stuff, but I definitely think this is worthy - LSA]
Wofford – A First-hand preview - I didnt realize how much I wrote until I was done... If this should be a Diary or something, I am so, so, sorry.
I made the drive from Atlanta up to Charlotte for a Davidson game about a month or so ago. We chose the Wofford game, as they seemed to be one of the more competitive teams in the conference, and were close enough to the end of the schedule that Davidson would be playing with something on the line. I had signed to play athletics at Davidson back in November (humble-brag alert!), but had not attended any athletic events, as my recruiting trip was on a Friday-Saturday when the football team was out of town. So we wanted to go see a game to get the feel of the campus on a big weekend, and watch some good basketball. It was a great time, Davidson ended up prevailing in what was a low scoring affair, 59-49. At the time I would have thought that Davidson would be playing Michigan in a hypothetical tournament game, not Wofford. But that is not how it all worked out, as Davidson was bounced by Western Carolina in the semifinals of their conference tournament.
Here are some general facts to know about Wofford:
Name: Wofford College
Type of School: Private, Liberal Arts
Location: Spartanburg, South Carolina. About 45 minutes east of Greenville.
Size: 1,600 students (approximately)
Conference: Southern Conference (from here on referred to as the SoCon)
Wofford has a very nice, tree-filled campus, and is very academically challenging. I visited there, and was very impressed with the nice, small campus feel, and the mix of old and new buildings. They have a great student body, and a spirited and devoted alumni base.
Athletically, Wofford has been very competitive in the major sports within their conference, and nationally, especially within the last few years. Their football team is always a tough game in the SoCon (the conference that produced Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, who are now going FBS), and won conference championships in 2003, 2007, and 2010.
Their best sport is by far baseball, where they have put a good deal of players in the MLB.
Wofford was never good in basketball until very recent. In the ’09-’10 season, they won the SoCon, and made the NCAA tournament for the first time. They got a 13 seed, and almost knocked off Wisconsin, losing 49-53. The next year, in the ’10-’11 season, they made the tournament once again, this time losing by 10 to BYU. This year will mark their third appearance all time.
The game: To truly understand the Davidson-Wofford game, a little background is needed. Wofford came into that game (at Davidson) having won 9 straight games, all of them in-conference. It must be noted that the SoCon was particularly horrid this year, with 3 or 4 decent teams, and then just a bunch of horrid teams for those 4 decent ones to feast on. Davidson entered that game equally hot, having won 12 of their last 13 games (the lone loss being in OT against Elon). This game also held conference championship impliactions.
The atmosphere was pretty hyped up, as this was one of the best home games of the year for Davidson. Davidson has a small lineup this year – they run a 4 guard lineup, and their starters are by height: 6-7, 6-7, 6-6, 6-4, and 5-11, with nobody with any significant height on the bench. They have a bunch of 3 shooting stretch 3.5 types. The only exception is senior De’Mon Brooks. At 6’7”, 230lbs, De’Mon won the SoCon player of the year award. He absolutely dominated inside all year, and the Wofford game was no exception.
The first half started out great for Davidson, with a couple of threes bookended around some layups and dunk, and Wofford was forced to call a timeout at the 13:00 mark, down 13-3. The Terriers had no ball movement, and would often get the ball “stuck” on one side of the court without moving it around. They relied almost solely on individual creation by their guard Karl Cochran, as he started off cold from the field. On the defensive end, they left a couple trailing shooters open for good looks, which Davidson capitalized on. Most of the buckets Davidson made early were either off turnovers, in transition, or just off of transition before the Wofford defense could get set. Davidson runs an offense with 4 guards around the perimeter and De’Mon down low, but with hardly any ball screen action from the big, unlike Michigan. After that timeout, Davidson made a few more buckets, and then began to get sloppy, and a lid went on the basket. Wofford did three things with the score at 6-19:
1: They went right at De’Mon Brooks three straight trips down the floor, got him with two fouls, and forced him to the bench
2: They began foregoing offensive rebounds in order to get back in transition, and
3: started running Davidson off the three point line. Davidson doesn’t have superior athletes to drive the paint a lot, and their offense sputtered.
A couple of threes later, and Wofford’s offense was clicking. They channel their offense through three main players: guards Spencer Collins, Karl Cochran, and forward Lee Skinner. These three players played 35, 35, and 36 minutes respectively, which was 10 more than any other player on the team. Those three accounted for 13 of the next 20 points for Wofford, who went on a 20-2 run. Davidson was able to beat the buzzer with a three to keep it tied at the half, 26-26. Davidson had several good looks from the outside, but was unable to knock them down. If the Michigan big men go out or aren’t playing well, our ability to stretch the floor and shoot will be crucial, as Wofford ran both man-to-man, and a 2-3 zone. They ran kind of a sagging man to man that didn’t switch a lot. It was definitely a man defense with some zone elements incorporated. They did not display a tendency to pressure the ball on the way up until late in the game, which is something everyone does.
In the second half, with De’Mon Brooks back in the game, Davidson was able to play their game. The went inside out, throwing it into Brooks, and letting him shoot or kick. He is much better finishing version of Jordan Morgan. I can’t help but think that Mitch could tear this team up if he was healthy, with his distribution skills out of the post position. Davidson started on a 20-10 run over the first 10:00 of play in the second half. Brooks was the key here, registering at least 4 “hockey assists” on passes out of the post.
But with 5:00 to play, Wofford brought it back to a 3 point game, down 45-48. A key block inside by Brooks fueled a Davidson run, and they would hold Wofford to only one point for the next 4:30, with the final score being 59-49. Down the stretch, Wofford turned into a “Karl Cochran go do something while we stand here” team, and after a lot of late shot clock attempts didn’t go in, the game was all but over.
Key Stats and Notes:
· Guards Karl Cochran and Spencer Collins are the guys for Wofford. Wofford’s success goes as those two go.
· Cochran is 6-1, 175, but looks bigger. Collins is an accurate 6-4, 195, but plays most of his game on the perimeter. Cochran, while smaller, is a much better rebounder.
· In this particular contest, Cochran and Collins went a combined 11-29 from the field.
· Karl Cochran had a particularly bad night from three, hitting only 1/8, while Collins hit 3/5.
· Wofford isn’t a particularly big team- the rest of their starting lineup is 6-8, 6-6, and 5-11. Their most used benched players are 6-6, 6-6, 6-2, and 6-3. Not tiny, but no dominating force.
· Davidson’s De’Mon Brooks finished 6-6 from the field, 6-7 from the line, and with 18 pts, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists.
· Wofford shot free throws at a 67% clip (10/15)
· Davidson was able to take 14 threes, and make 6 of them. These were mostly wide open looks.
· Wofford is well coached, doesn’t turn it over or foul a ton, and their coach isn’t afraid to make adjustments.
· Wofford doesn’t have names on the back of their jerseys.
The tips for Michigan:
· Penn State is the closest comparison I can make to Wofford on Michigan’s schedule with two good guards that run the show and not a lot of size and skill on the inside. Granted, Wofford is a worse version of Penn State. A slightly worse version of Penn State that’s won 11 of their last 13 games.
· Morgan, GRIII the keys. GRIII will be matched up against someone he can physically take to the rim and push around a little. Morgan will have to play a role of rebounding and distribution- not looking to score. This is something he can do.
· Put LeVert on Cochran. Let LeVert guard him. Davidson had a slow, Albrecht-esque defender on him, and time and time again had to rely on a double team because he was blowing past the defender. LeVert shouldn’t have an issue.
· Unleash Irvin/Stauskas. Let it rain from deep! Death from above! Let the threes happen! Both of these guys will have plenty of opportunities especially if Michigan is able to
· RUN! Get out in transition! Davidson did that very well until Wofford shut it down, and they are a relatively slow team.
· Finally, let Walton use his speed. I was not impressed by the Wofford point guard, a guy named Eric Garcia. They let Cochran run the show most of the time, but Walton should be able to take Garcia to the hoop and finish/distribute. Also would like to see some of that extended 1-3-1 to harass these guards.
I hope this covered it! I wrote literally everything I could remember. If anyone in the comments has questions about this game or anything else, please ask, and I’ll be happy to respond! I probably missed something. Go Blue!!! (and go Davidson in the NIT. Yaaaay!)
The NCAA tournament is right around the corner and there isn’t much of a secret sauce for winning six games in a single elimination tournament. Have a future NBAer or three, make your three pointers and hope you don’t face a team who goes on a shooting tear.
But this post isn’t about basketball. College football doesn’t have to face anything like a six game elimination tournament and tends to have a lower game to game variance than basketball does. Be in the top 2 after 12 or 13 games and then win a game after a month off. This year it becomes finish in the top 4 and win two games. What the system has done is create some common threads among its last ten champions.
I am approaching this look at what it takes to be a national champion in two phases. This article will focus on the talent portion and what the recruiting profile of past champions has looked like. Next week I’ll look into some of the advanced stats for on the field performance.
I’ll use a similar methodology as I have before for this work. All players are given a rating from 0 (anonymous 2 star) up to 99 (consensus #1). The ratings are based on all available services at the time of a players signing. The star breakdowns are approximately
5 Star: 70-99 points
4 Star: 40-69 points
3 Star: 20-39 points
2 Star: 0-19 points
The roster is then adjusted for age. First year players only get 25% of their total, second year players get 75% of their points and any players in at least their third year on campus get 160% of their recruiting points applied to the team roster total.* A three star who breaks out still counts for less than a five star who is busted. If you’re on the roster, you keep the points all the way through. It’s not perfect, but it is consistent and quantifiable.
*These numbers are based on historical usage/production of players.
Rosters are then added up based on the profile and age of all players still on the roster for a given season. Each team and unit is then ranked and those rankings versus other teams in that season is what I’ll be using to measure the quality of talent for a given group. A player that has a position change from recruiting keeps his points but they are applied to their roster position, not their recruited position.
I’ll be looking at the champions from the past 10 seasons, a nice round number that happens to correspond to the time period that the best information is available on.
Find out how high the beef (offensive line) ranks on the secret sauce
Average Rank: 11th
Top 5: USC 2004 (2), Alabama 2011 (3), Florida 2008 (4), Alabama 2012 (4)
Outliers: Auburn 2010 (22), Florida St 2013 (24)
2013 Michigan Rank: 25th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2007 (1)
Offensive line is one of the toughest positions to project at the collegiate level, but the shear quantity of players on the roster still leads to a strong correlation between overall recruiting prowess at the position to team success. Four out of ten champions were top 5 level rosters for their seasons but this year’s Seminoles were the lowest rated offensive line unit to hold up the Crystal Football.
Wide Receiver & Tight Ends
Average Rank: 9th
Top 5: Alabama 2011 (2), Florida 2008 (5)
Outliers: Alabama 2009 (29)
2013 Michigan Rank: 34th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2009/10/11 (5)
Wide receivers are a tough position to differentiate the source and the cause but the more studies I do, the more I find wide receiver talent and experience to be highly underrated. Of the four position grouping on offense, none had a higher average rating than receivers and tight ends at 9th. In fact, the 2009 Alabama team was the only team ranked above 11th, even though only one team was higher than fifth.
Average Rank: 15th
Top 5: Alabama 2011 (3), Auburn 2010 (4)
Outliers: Florida 2006 (24), Texas 2005 (25), LSU 2007 (27), Alabama 2012 (34)
2013 Michigan Rank: 14th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2006 (1)
Like the common theme of underrated receivers is the overrated nature of running backs. My working theory on this is that running back success is tied so much to athletic differentiation. As the level of play increases, the margins to exploit that athleticism decrease, as does the value of the position. An elite high school running back can win a lot of games without much help, in the NFL I think you could swap anyone between the 2nd and 20th best back in the league and not see much difference. In college, six teams have won the championship with top 10 running back talent while the other four weren’t even in the top 20.
Average Rank: 18th
Top 5: Auburn 2010 (1), Florida 2008 (2), LSU 2007 (4)
Outliers: USC 2004 (52)
2013 Michigan Rank: 20th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2011 (7)
Quarterback is the one position that doesn’t really fit this study. Only one guy plays and depth is important in the long term but largely irrelevant in contributing to a championship season. More quality rated depth does increase the odds that not only do you have the best guy playing, but he is more likely to be a good option, not just the best guy on the roster. Outside of the top 3, no one else was higher than 10th.
Average Rank: 7th
Top 5: USC 2004 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Florida 2008 (3), Alabama 2012 (5)
Outliers: Alabama 2009 (15)
2013 Michigan Rank: 22nd
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2007 (1)
While none of the unit ranks averaged higher than 9th overall, the total for all offensive positions was higher at 7th overall. Having the best overall talent wasn’t necessary, but it was essential to be in the top tier. The first Saban championship at Alabama was the only one that featured an offensive unit ranked below 11th in talent.
Probably important to have some guys who can do this
Average Rank: 5th
Top 5: Texas 2005 (1), Alabama 2009 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Alabama 2012 (1), LSU 2007 (2), Florida St 2013 (3)
Outliers: Florida 2008 (14)
2013 Michigan Rank: 22nd
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2008 (5th)
Throughout the SEC’s championship run, defensive line frequently came up as the key source of strength. The numbers certainly back that up as defensive line has the highest average roster talent ranking of any position group on the field. Half of the last ten BCS champions have had top two defensive line rosters and only Florida 2008 wasn’t among the top 9.
Average Rank: 9th
Top 5: USC 2004 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Alabama 2012 (1)
Outliers: Auburn 2010 (26)
2013 Michigan Rank: 16th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2005 (6th)
Outside out the four units noted above, the remaining teams have all been between 7th and 12th in linebacker rating. Based on the rankings for linebackers, it’s imperative you’re at the very top, but being in the top 10-15 is critical.
Average Rank: 10th
Top 5: Florida St 2013 (2), USC 2004 (4), Alabama 2012 (5)
Outliers: Alabama 2009 (19), Auburn 2010 (29)
2013 Michigan Rank: 16th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2006 (1)
Like linebackers, the defensive back lineups of national champs is concentrated in a high second tier level. 7 out of 10 champs have been ranked between 4th and 9th.
Average Rank: 5th
Top 5: USC 2004 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Alabama 2012 (1), LSU 2007 (3), Alabama 2009 (3), Florida St 2013 (3), Texas 2005 (4)
Outliers: Auburn 2010 (15)
2013 Michigan Rank: 18th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2006 (5)
Seven of the last ten national champions have had rosters rated in the top 5 with two more at 7th. The only team that wasn’t in the top 7 still had the 6th rated defensive line and had Gus Malzahn and Cam Newton on the other side of the ball. Recruiting is important, defensive recruiting is really, really important.
Average Rank: 5th
Top 5: USC 2004 (1), Alabama 2011 (1), Alabama 2012 (1), Florida 2008 (5), Florida St 2013 (5)
Outliers: Auburn 2010 (10)
2013 Michigan Rank: 16th
Highest ranked Michigan roster: 2007 (3)
You know recruiting is a good metric of national champions when your outlier is still ranked 10th. When you extend the group to BCS Championship participants, there is still only one team ranked higher than 11th (2010 Oregon) to even make it to the title game.
Recruiting isn’t everything but this is a pretty conclusive look that if you are picking title contenders, you can shorten the list very quickly. All champions were in the top 10 in roster talent and all but Florida 2006 and Auburn 2010 had least one side of the ball in the top 4.
With the field expanded to four that at least theoretically opens the door to a more diverse group of candidates. Of teams ranked 3rd and 4th in the final BCS standings, 8 of 20 met the same criteria as the eventual champs. The average roster of the remaining 12 was over 30 about in line with last year’s Michigan State squad that ranked 26th. With four teams in the final playoff, there are certainly more opportunities for an non-elite talent team to win the title, but it will likely take two wins as an underdog to make it happen. I would expect over the next ten years to have a team or two outside of the mold to win a title, but the trend to remain largely intact.
Also clear from this study is the reinforcement that recruiting rankings mean more for defensive players and that the having highly touted and experienced players on the defensive line is the most critical position group on the field.
How Far Away is Michigan?
From a talent perspective, getting closer but still probably another year away. The 2014 team is projected to be #12 overall in roster rankings, with the offense coming in at #14 and the defense ranked #10. The critical defensive line spot is projected at #13. Oregon 2010 is the only team to make the National Championship without better rankings, but 11 additional teams have cracked the top 4.
Michigan’s projection is still climbing. 2015 will be the year that upperclass is dominated by the stronger Hoke classes and overall talent ranking should have a good shot at cracking the top 10. There are still plenty of other issues to be addressed, but from a purely roster stand point, 2015 should be the first year that Michigan’s roster fits the National Champion profile for the first time since Lloyd Carr left in 2007.
Next Week: the on-field metrics strongest correlated to BCS Champions
In the future, lacrosse nerds and scholars will measure the history of the game in B.M., Before Michigan and A.M. After Michigan eras. So, in Year 3 A.M., I thought it would be interesting to check on the young programs out there. I often find myself pulling for these teams to have successful seasons. I think that if they succeed it should bode well for the further expansion of the men's game in Division 1. While lacrosse is growing like wildfire in Divisions II & III and on the women’s level, there has been a mini-wave of new Division 1 teams. Here’s a look at a few of the new(ish) programs, many of which have Michigan on their schedule.
UDM’s program is still newish - only 6 years old. It had the perfect recipe for adding lacrosse - a small school from outside traditional lacrosse areas that wanted to up its athletic department profile. And best of all - no football. After a winless first season, UDM put up a 3 win season, two 6-win seasons and a 5 win season, advancing to their conference championship game the last three years (it helps to play in an outrageously weak conference). Last year the Titans found themselves matched up in the first round of the NCAAs against Notre Dame and lost 9-7(!) after actually blowing a sizable lead.
Poor Furman. They’re having a rough go of it in their first year. Winless in all games so far and they’ve really only been competitive against Michigan. After a game vs Duke on the 18th, their schedule eases up and they may be able to get their first ever victory. Down the road, however, Furman should be set up for success. They’re helmed by longtime Navy coaching legend Richie Meade, which shows commitment to the sport on the part of the athletic department. They’re also the only D-1 team in South Carolina and one of few in the Deep South so that should count for something.
The Macon, GA school has been taking its lumps so far but is getting better. In 2012, Mercer had a chance to notch the program’s first historical win vs Michigan but our boys came away with their first D-1 win instead. Combine a warm spring climate with being the only game in town in a region where the sport is growing and that should put some butts in the seats and attract recruits. The Bears managed 4 wins last year and they opened 2014 with a 17-6 win over newbie BU. They also lost a close one to Detroit before dispatching Richmond. For some reason, I find myself really pulling for Mercer to do well to keep its program alive. There are no heavyweights on the schedule so maybe they can make some strides this year.
The Spiders almost pulled off the upset of the century in the program’s inaugural game against Virginia. UVA had to sweat out a tight 2nd half against Richmond to avoid their own lacrosse version of The Horror. If there is such a thing as a good loss, this is probably the greatest loss of all time. Richmond could end up being very good in the future. It has what I consider to be the recipe for success - strong academics, lots of east coast appeal, relatively warm spring weather and an athletic department that doesn’t have an insane focus on football. It’s also in lacrosse country. Sadly, after taking UVA the distance, its possible they don’t win a game all year.
Oh boy to have Monmouth’s schedule. If JP could go back in time to play Monmouth’s first season schedule, he would kick Doc Brown right in the balls and hijack the Delorean. The Hawks’ inaugural season schedule features only two teams (Marist and Lehigh) who had winning records in 2013. The rest of the schedule is made up of your typical new teams and perpetual cellar dwellers. But they’re 0-5 thus far on the breezy schedule so we’ll see how it turns out. Monmouth is in lacrosse-heavy NJ which should help with recruiting.
So when my father, who seemingly knows every college in the U.S. heard Bellarmine was adding lacrosse he asked “where the hell is Bellarmine?”. He never heard of it - but has anyone? Well, Bellarmine is a small (football-less) Catholic liberal arts school in Louisville, KY founded in 1950 which added lacrosse in 2005. I was sure Teams 1 & 2 would tally victories against them, but Bellarmine is actually proving pretty legit. They went 7-7 last year with impressive, close losses to Ohio State (7-9), Loyola (6-8), and (Denver 10-11 in Double OT!). Bellarmine is already dangerous and this could be the year they finally pull an upset for that program-defining win. They could be 5-1 by the time they play Ohio State which could be that win ( hopefully Michigan will take them down this Saturday and they’ll be 4-2 instead).
Marquette’s 5-win inaugural season vs a fairly serious schedule will be the gold standard for new programs going forward. The Golden Eagles’ seamless leap to the NCAA ranks is especially surprising because Michigan used to mop the floor with them at the club level. In their first season they even upset Bellarmine and Air Force. So far in 2014, they’ve lost to Lehigh and Ohio State but shocked Hofstra. Its interesting to see where they’ll go this year.
HP surprised Michigan last year in its first season, taking what Michigan thought was going to be a sure victory. The Panthers also stunned Towson in its second game ever. HP had the optimal conditions for adding lacrosse - a small east coast private school looking for increased exposure and applications and to beef up its athletic prowess, in a warm weather climate and no football. Hopefully it’ll catch on down there and they’ll make some waves. They’re 5-2 so far and beat our Michigan boys again this year.
The only Division 1 program in the state of Florida, Jacksonville, a smallish, private institution added lacrosse in 2010. The Dolphins haven’t been bad. They won 6 games in their inaugural campaign, including a W over a Denver squad who would end up in the tournament that year. Jax followed with a 5-win season in 2011, a 6 win season in 2012 (including one over Michigan) and an 8 win season in 2013. They’re 0-4 so far this year though, but the schedule is going to ease up to what they’re used to.
Like Furman, BU is winless in its first year so far. Unfortunately, unlike Furman, the schedule gets tougher down the stretch with games against Harvard, Loyola and Duke in 3 of their last 4. They had their chance earlier in the season against perennial scrubs like Mercer, Vermont and Canisius but came away with a few close losses. BU is a hockey school with no football so the choice to go D-1 was probably easier than it was for most schools.
Well, you know all about them. M had a much slower start than anticipated (I fully expected them to storm into Division 1 and rack up 6 or so wins in their first season). Sadly, my prognostications have been more on the mark for other teams. Nevertheless, they are starting to turn it on now with 3 wins in 2014, tripling their 2013 total. After getting run off the field by Penn State in the opener, Michigan responded with a blowout win over Mercer and a tight victory over Detroit before a sloppy but admirable effort against Hopkins. M almost landed their signature win against Cornell in OT, but alas it wasn’t meant to be. They then followed it up with a clunker vs High Point and a close win over Furman. So, in conclusion this team is still a total mystery. The good news is the conference looks pretty weak and AF, Fairfield, Bellarmine and Ohio could all be winnable games. Go Get ‘Em Blue!
Of course, I wish the new D-1 programs out there were Stanford, Texas, Florida and UCLA but that’s another story. I also have a diary about former big-time DI lacrosse programs which I’ll put up soon, but I figured the lacrosse nerds would enjoy this in the mean time.