Northwestern (17-10, 5-9 B1G) at
Michigan (19-9, 9-6)
|WHERE||Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||7 pm ET, Wednesday|
|LINE||Michigan -7 (KenPom)|
Right: Alex Olah, a candidate for the “wait, this guy is still playing?” award that would have been Spike Albrecht’s [Upchurch]
Caris LeVert is out for the third consecutive game, though Beilein has evidently not ruled out a potential return sometime later this season. Spike Albrecht is apparently doing some work in practice, but his return seems even unlikelier.
Michigan currently checks in as a ten-seed in the latest bracket matrix update; with the Wolverines in the suspect position of having its best bullet point on its resume be “no bad losses,” a home loss to Northwestern would be disastrous. With three regular season games remaining – at home against Northwestern, at Wisconsin, at home against Iowa – Michigan’s best chance of getting a win that would lock up a winning record in conference play is tonight.
It’s debatable if Michigan can get into the Dance with just two more wins total (including what will probably be a relatively easy Big Ten Tournament opener), but in almost any scenario, they need to beat Northwestern to avoid putting their tournament hopes in serious peril.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.
|G||30||Bryant McIntosh||So.||6'3, 185||87||25||No|
|Only Wildcat with a high assist rate (2nd B1G); eFG % has plummeted in B1G play|
|G||3||Tre Demps||Sr.||6’3, 202||91||23||Yes|
|Off-guard often forced to create late in shot clock, low TO, better at 2’s than 3’s|
|F||34||Sanjay Lumpkin||Jr.||6’6, 220||58||11||Sorta|
|Wallflower with just 79 FGA, terrible combo of efficiency and usage|
|F||35||Aaron Falzon||Fr.||6’8, 213||60||18||Not Really|
|Active on offensive glass, mostly shoots 3’s but only at 34%, low turnovers|
|C||22||Alex Olah||Sr.||7’0, 275||44||23||Very|
|Has dealt with injuries, but still a good rim protector, efficient scorer on offense|
|G||20||Scottie Lindsey||So.||6’5, 205||46||18||No|
|Other half of SF platoon w/Lumpkin, Northwestern’s best shooter at 41% from 3|
|F||44||Gavin Skelly||So.||6’8, 225||27||16||Very|
|Good rebounding rates in limited minutes, efficient from 2, rarely shoots|
|C||1||Joey Van Zegeren||Sr.||6’10, 235||26||20||Very|
|Great on off. glass, iffy on def. glass, bad at FT, blocks shots, fouls a lot|
|C||12||Derek Pardon||Fr.||6’8, 230||25||19||Very|
|Classic freshman big guy profile: rebounds well, fouls a lot, only 2’s (but at 67%)|
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
With the raging debate about where Michigan stands as far as what they need to do to make the NCAA Tournament, I wanted to take a look at teams that had similar records going into March Madness last year. Which teams made the NCAA Tournament? Which got sent to the NIT? To do this, I took a look at three crucial measurements the committee seems to use: RPI, Record v. RPI Top 100, and Non-Conference SOS.
Let's say Michigan beats Northwestern and Nebraska in the 1st Round of the BTT and loses to Iowa, Wisconsin, and the BTT QF.
That would put them at 20-12 with an RPI in the 50-55 range, a 4-12 record against the Top 100, and a NC SOS of 172.
|Team||Record||RPI||vs. Top 100||NC SOS|
First thing I noticed is that outside of UCLA (which was basically the last team in the field, the NIT teams had a record against the Top 100 that most closely resembles Michigan as well as very similar NC SOS. Teams with RPIs in the low 50s tend to make the NCAA Tournament, though. Once that RPI drifts past 60, you might as well start making plans for the NIT unless you have something outstanding on your resume.
What stands out is that Michigan would be the first team since 2013's Cincinnati Bearcats to not lose a game against a team with a sub-100 RPI. That Cincinnati team finished 21-11, with a RPI of 50, 9-11 against the Top 100, and a NC SOS of 171. They got a 10 seed.
And really, that should be Michigan's goal. If they hold serve against Northwestern and in the 1st Round of the BTT AND beat Wisconsin or Iowa, they'd have a very similar resume and I can't imagine they wouldn't get in. Also, Northwestern is currently at 103 in the RPI. Root for Michigan to beat them and then for the Wildcats to win their final 2 games and maybe pull an upset or two in the BTT.
This year's team doesn't have to win out, but the margin for error is virtually non-existent.
Paul Sherman – MGoBlog
After Michigan and Maryland traded baskets in the first five minutes of the game, the Terrapins locked up the Wolverines defensively and put together one of those frustratingly common runs that seem to take U-M out of the game. Over a span of about seven minutes, Maryland went on a 17-1 run and the game was following the script of Michigan’s many blowout losses this season. For the first time all season, the Wolverines stood in after taking a big early punch and managed to erase the deficit by the first TV timeout in the second half.
That resilience wasn’t quite enough, as Maryland eventually managed enough stops late in the game to pull ahead in what was an entertaining back-and-forth second half without much defense – Maryland (1.17 points per possession) put up its best performance against a Big Ten foe in nine games on the offensive end, while Michigan (1.09) mostly kept pace until the very end. Though no losses can be considered moral victories by this time of year, Michigan still acquitted themselves far better than they had in any loss so far this season – today, they were just unable to make enough shots in the final possessions to get away with what is still a much-needed marquee win for their NCAA tournament hopes.
Surprisingly, it was Michigan’s role players leading the charge – Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin combined for just 25 points on as many shot equivalents (though Walton added five assists, six boards, and three steals). Mark Donnal was excellent against a very good center duo: he flashed his full arsenal of skills in a 20-point second half as he finished with an extremely efficient 25, two offensive rebounds, and five blocks(!) Yet again, there was a significant drop-off from Donnal to Ricky Doyle and Moritz Wagner – per SCACCHoops, Donnal was +8 in 29 minutes. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman also turned in one of the better performances of his season with 16 points and a career-high nine assists – as a team, Michigan had 22, indicative of the Wolverines’ excellent ball movement today. Duncan Robinson was largely off all day; Kam Chatman put in some of his best minutes off the bench and hit two threes (and no other bench player scored).
In Michigan’s win over Maryland, Zak Irvin won the battle of mismatched power forwards against Robert Carter – today, it was Carter who turned in a very good performance with an efficient 17 points, six rebounds, two blocks, and a critical tip-dunk to stretch the Terrapin lead to four with under two minutes left. Three others scored in double figures for Maryland: Jake Layman (16), Melo Trimble (14) – though he didn’t play well – and Diamond Stone (13). Collectively, UMD hit on 59% of its twos, 44% of its threes, and 90% on a high volume of free throw attempts; while both teams put up high eFG% marks and very similar rebounding rates and turnover rate, Maryland scored 12 more points from the free throw line than Michigan did. Michigan hit 13 threes on the game, which kept them in it; an atypically high turnover rate prevented them from getting as many looks as they should have.
Michigan now sits tied for seventh in the Big Ten at 9-6 and finishes the season with contests against Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Michigan needs two more wins to feel safer about a tournament bid – though if those wins are against NW and a weak first-round opponent in the Big Ten tournament, it might be dicey. Moving forward, we shouldn’t assume that the Wolverines will make it in, though as things stands right now, I think it’s more likely than not that they’ll be dancing in a few weeks.
I just finished re-reading Brave New World. Considered to be Huxley's finest work, it in fact deserves all the acclaim it receives. The beginning chapters of the novel move at a pace that likens to Michigan's rushing attack with Brady Hoke, extremely slow or nonexistent. Huxley drags us through this slodge describing gene slicing, Boknovasky Groups, bottle rooms, child conditioning, etc... The book finally picks up when a man named Bernard Marks and his ladyfriend Lenina decide to go on a date to the "savage" reservation where Native Americans still practice their cultural values. Bernard finds a white savage named John. Bernard calls the director that operates in London and the government brings them all back. This is where the book really gets interesting as it delves into themes such as love, god, death, happiness vs stability and most of all, the individual vs the masses. Over time Bernard makes a lot of fake friends that just despise him and his grand discovery. Lenina tries to sleep with every guy she meets ( which is what she is conditioned to do btw ), and John discovers that modern society is ROYALLY FUCKED TO THE MAX.John goes on an angry rampage when Lenina tries to sleep with him even though he loves her and he wants to marry her. John calls her a lot of bad names and physically abused her where shortly after he receives a phone call from a nurse at a local hospital that tells him his mother is dying. John goes to said hospital and little kids are crawling on her and making fun of her while John watches. He decides to throw out all of their soma ( a drug that makes you feel really good and forget all the bad things in the world ) and tell them that they are slaves to the government and not really free. The police are called and the handle the situation by subduing him.He is then taken to one of the WORLD CONTROLLERS( Name is Mustafa Mond) and talks to him.Turns out this bastard has a lot of books that are deemed illegal and keeps them for himself. Books like the bible and Shakespeare of course. The world controller tells him that because of his actions he will be sent to somewhere isolated and that it should be considered a reward since he won't have to deal with the modern world anymore. Because of the outside world always finding and bothering him, John eventually hangs himself. Sad ending I know, but I don't blame the guy. The world at that point was only about being satisfied and not really living. Sure, everyone was happy, but there was no substance. No love, no risks, and no art or beauty. Everyone and everything was built to stabilize society. After finishing BNW, I think Huxley was trying to ask us a question. Would we rather live in a world where there is no war, disease, or famine for the exchange of our freedom or live in a world with freedom in exchange for our happiness? A question I personally know the answer to, which is life with freedom and all the wacky bullshit that comes with it.
Brave New World Score: 8/10
It’s hard to believe, but John Beilein’s now in his ninth season at Michigan. About a week and a half ago, he coached his 300th game for the Maize and Blue. After a coach has been around for a certain amount of time, he essentially becomes a known quantity: his offensive philosophies, defensive strategies, substitution patterns, recruiting priorities, and player development trends are all well-known among Michigan fans, and at this point, there’s little mystery about John Beilein or his methods.
In the wake of two embarrassing blowout losses to hated rivals, there was predictable bellyaching about Beilein’s level of job security – some fans even went as far as to call for his firing (while evidently forgetting the Ellerbe-Amaker purgatory that Beilein pulled Michigan out of in the first place). To be sure, it’s easy for people to harp on Beilein’s perceived blind spots and, to be sure, some of those complaints are valid. The reluctance to play guys in foul trouble has surely cost Michigan games over the years. Empirically, we’ve discovered that he manages to develop average defenses at best, and usually they’re far more mediocre than average. Sometimes it seems as if he struggles to accommodate players who don’t have skill sets tailor-made for his system. Gripes about his recruiting strategy and/or the outcome of his recruiting classes have varying levels of credibility.
Still, it’s important to remember Beilein’s strengths. He was well ahead of his time with his insistence on spacing, shooting, and using a non-traditional four in his signature four-out motion offense. There are several notable examples of his players vastly overachieving relative to what their recruiting rankings would project. He adapted to the unprecedented level of talent on his teams by implementing more pick-and-roll action into his offense – and indeed, the trend of his guards developing their passing ability in those sets can surely be attributed to coaching. He coached the best offense in the country in two separate years. He’s won two Big Ten titles – including an outright title in a year in which #2 finished three games behind Michigan in college basketball’s toughest contest. He was once a few possessions from winning a national title. He was once a few possessions from reaching another Final Four.
All of that is to say: you’re crazy if you legitimately want Michigan to replace John Beilein. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and it’s pretty green here already.
* * *
More or less, this has been a pretty frustrating season (and I’m convinced that the hideous shorts play a not-insignificant part in that). With the notable exception of wins over Maryland and Purdue – more on those in a second – Michigan has won as the favorite and lost as the underdog, and more than a few of those losses have been complete annihilations. Spike Albrecht’s senior season died before it could even begin. Caris LeVert missed over half of Big Ten play with an injury (but he’s back! Woo!). The reality has probably been better than the discourse would indicate: Michigan’s sitting in fourth in the Big Ten, should be safely in the NCAA Tournament barring an epic meltdown, and, critically, still has plenty of room to improve – especially if LeVert makes it back to his phenomenal early-season form.
Anyways, back to those wins over Maryland and Purdue. Those two wins are the linchpin of Michigan’s NCAA Tournament resume: without them, Michigan would be in the unenviable position of talented low-major programs that put up a gaudy win-loss record before losing in their conference tournament – without wins over good opponents, those teams typically find themselves in the NIT.
What do Maryland and Purdue have in common? Per KenPom’s “effective height” metric (which adjusts each individual’s height based on how many minutes they play), they are the two tallest high-major teams in the country. A common criticism of John Beilein teams is that they are ill-equipped to deal with teams with size: juxtaposed against the construct of the big, burly, physical Big Ten, Beilein’s teams – which prize skill and shooting – often match up poorly, in theory.
[After the JUMP, small-ball defeats bully-ball]
I’ve been wanting to write up a diary on the ridiculously early start dates for spring sports and how they affect the lacrosse, baseball and softball programs.
Personally, I’m excited the season is here so soon and that lacrosse already has a significant win under its belt. But, it sucks when May rolls around and their season is already over. And for a sport that is always seeking new audiences, it doesn’t make sense that they pit themselves against the still-ongoing winter sports season.
I believe the February start dates are hampering these sports’ popularity. The structure of the semester as well as the sports’ postseasons are creating a situation in which the first games creep earlier and earlier and significant portions of their schedules are played in the depths of winter. It’s miserable for the athletes to play these games and even more miserable for the fans to watch them. As a result, spectators don’t show up and this makes it difficult for these programs to get the attention and support they deserve.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and softball and lacrosse have already played multiple games. Baseball starts on Friday. But the winter sports season isn’t close to being over yet. March Madness doesn’t start for another month and the Frozen 4 won’t be played for another seven weeks. Let’s take a look at these team’s schedules to see just how ridiculous they are. **I left the golf, tennis and track & field programs out of this analysis primarily because I don’t understand their seasons. Plus, I am more familiar with lacrosse, baseball and softball which I consider to be more spectator-oriented**
Lacrosse is already 1-1, opening their season last weekend, February 6th at UNC. It was clear and cold. Despite the early February weather, 2,000 fans came out to see the game, which isn’t bad (and yesterday they had the fortune of playing in the friendly climate-controlled confines of Oosterbaan Fieldhouse). UNC is a program that usually brings in good crowds, especially in late-spring warm-weather matchups versus its hated rivals Duke and UVA. But, look at what the Michigan game was up against: that night the top 10 Tar Heels hoops team was hosting ACC foe Notre Dame. The lacrosse game wasn’t streamed either - the athletic department’s streaming service showed a gymnastics meet instead. Even if it was streamed the game was on at the same time as Michigan’s only regular season basketball game vs in-state rival Michigan State, so the small community of Michigan lacrosse fans on this board likely would’ve focused on that instead. Oh and the Carolina Panthers were in the Super Bowl that weekend. If you were a casual observer of UNC sports who had an interest in lacrosse, you likely had much bigger things on your plate that weekend.
This year, Michigan plays five games in the month of February, and a total of seven games before the ides of March. That’s half their schedule. This was unheard of in Division 1 even just a few years ago. They also only play one game on their spring break trip and they play zero regular season games in the month of May, when it’s actually nice.
Why does the season start so early you ask? Well, the college lacrosse season is built around Memorial Day which has been the traditional date for the national championship game. The schedule is created backwards from that. But, in the last several years the NCAA tournament field expanded to 16 teams and then again to 18 with play-in games. Also, the ever-shifting conference landscape has created bigger and bigger conferences and now most of them hold end-of-the-year conference tournaments to determine their champions and AQ bids. As a result there are virtually no dates in late April/early May to host home games. Teams compensate for this by scheduling games earlier and earlier which is how we end up with pre-Super Bowl lacrosse. If we’re playing lacrosse games before the NFL is even finished, then there’s something wrong.
Here are some examples of how this is hurting the game. On Saturday, #11 Loyola beat #7 UVA in Charlottesville in 25 degree weather. Only 1,200 fans were in the stands - in milder weather later in the season, that game brings in another thousand fans at least. Even worse, last week Hopkins and Navy played another chapter in their historic rivalry - on a nasty cold Tuesday night. Inside Lacrosse reported that in several recent meetings of the two teams attracted more than 10,000 fans. Hopkins-Navy is basically the equivalent of the Michigan-Notre Dame football rivalry, but on an awful, cold Tuesday night in February 2016, only 665 fans came out to see it. They might as well have played it on Christmas morning in a dark basement with the lights out.
Here is a great discussion on how even the coaches and players hate it. http://www.insidelacrosse.com/article/video-coaches-on-february-lacrosse/33897
Winter and early spring in North America, especially in places like Big Ten country, is not a particularly nice time to do things outside. Nor is it a nice time to do summer-time activities like play baseball. This of course is a major obstacle for the northern teams, most of whom spend the first month of the season on the road in warm places like Florida, Texas and California.
College baseball is ruled by southern schools and those in places like California and Arizona. They can play outdoors year round and can recruit talent that often times is in its own backyard. A look at the past winners of the College World Series show that a northern team has not won the title since Ohio State in 1966 (Fresno St, Oregon St, Wichita St, Vandy and UVA are all non-super warm climate teams who have won, but in that time period there are no winners from east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon).
The warm weather schools also don’t suffer road fatigue the way the northern schools do. Look at Michigan’s first month of games - they play five straight weeks of road games. That’s 19 consecutive away games including a pair of Saturday doubleheaders. Before they play their first home game on March 25th, they will have logged thousands of miles going to Florida, Hawaii, Oklahoma and five different cities in California. Contrast that with the schedules of teams like Texas, LSU and UCLA who host games in February and hardly have to go anywhere when they do go on the road.
Michigan baseball has a nice long homestand in April, but they play 36 games of their 50 regular season games on the road. If they make the tournament and CWS they could be playing as late as June 29th.
Like baseball, softball spends the first several weeks of their season in far-off warmer corners of the planet because it’s simply too cold to play in the midwest in February.
This year, Michigan kicked off the season in Tampa. Then they go to Tallahassee. Then it’s on to Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Fullerton and then Louisville. They finally play their first homestand on March 16. Out of 50 regular season games on the schedule, 34 of them are somewhere other than Ann Arbor. Their last home game is May 8 before finishing up the regular season on the road and then heading to the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
Softball is dominated by Western teams. Before Michigan won its first national championship in 2005, no team east of the Mississippi had ever won the Women’s College World Series. A look at the past winners of the WCWS shows that Michigan is the only northern team that consistently competes for the national title. Having one of the best coaches in all of sports may be the thing that helps Michigan get over its climate handicap.
If Michigan goes deep this year, as expected, they could be playing as late as June 8th.
From a markets perspective, the spring sports season is saturated. The month of March is dominated by the NCAA basketball tournament, to the point that most people stop paying attention to the NBA and NHL (I definitely do). After that we have Major League Baseball’s Opening Day. Later in April, the NHL and NBA begin their marathon playoff slags that go to June. Also in the spring we have other American sports traditions like the Masters, the Triple Crown, the Indy 500 and the NFL Draft. Niche and non-revenue sports are going to have a hard time trying to compete in this media landscape.
But there is a simple solution - move the seasons back, even just a few weeks. If these sports play most of their meaningful games when people will see them, their popularity is likely to grow. While the field is crowded in spring, there is a significant drop-off in late May. By the end of May the NBA and NHL have whittled down to only a few teams and their games are often few and far between. They’re done in mid June at the latest and unless it’s an Olympic or World Cup year, there is only pro baseball for the next three months until football starts up again.
Sports-wise there is little to do on college campuses once the basketball and hockey programs finish up their regular season. But, by the time it’s actually nice enough to sit outside and take in a game, the baseball, softball and lacrosse teams are wrapping up their seasons. Summer in AA is great, but I would’ve loved to have played some home lacrosse games in early May and been able to go see some baseball and softball games in June.
For lacrosse, the answer is simple - just move the championships back a week. Memorial Day can still be a huge weekend for the sport - they can even play the first two rounds of the tournament on the Saturday and Monday - the way they do with the Final 4 now. This would essentially shorten the tournament and open up more days in early May for on-campus games. More importantly, it would eliminate the need for early February games. They could also create a hard start date of March 1st (more realistically February 21st) and require all teams to play 3 or 4 games on their spring break.
Baseball/softball should also push back a few weeks. I would love to see them start the season in March and play both the CWS and WCWS on the July 4th weekend or even later. The northern teams should lobby hard for a calendar change like this so they don’t have to spend the first six weeks of their seasons on the road.
Alternatively, they could move to a summer season. There has been talk on mgoblog that the Big Ten should consider scrapping baseball/softball as spring sports and create a summer season. Of course the downside of this would be that B1G teams wouldn’t be able to compete in the NCAA tourney/CWS. And it would make it difficult for these student-athletes to rest and get important summer jobs and internships. Nevertheless, I am intrigued by this idea. I think it would add an interesting feature to college towns in the summer and would make the sports more popular.
And while these sports are non-revenue, I wonder if they would make more money if they were played in the summer. And that’s really the only language the NCAA understands.
Of course, these sports will always have to compete with other college and pro sports for the hearts, minds and eyes of fans. But, I think the current set-up makes it difficult for these programs to succeed. The NCAA should make it easier for athletes and fans to enjoy the spring sports season.